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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 03:30 GMT
Dome a national embarrassment - Tories

The Dome is a "noisy, brash, part dull, part sensational exhibition"

Government meddling was responsible for the problems being faced by the Millennium Dome, MPs have heard.

Shadow culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth was leading the debate on a Tory motion on the government's interference in the Dome which said it had become "a source of national embarrassment".

The Tory motion was defeated by 275 to 141.

Mr Ainsworth told MPs he was originally a supporter of the Dome and enthusiast for the site at Greenwich as he acknowledged there were "domophobes" on both sides of the House.

'Meddling ministers'

He paid tribute to the role of Michael Heseltine in the conception of the project before the general election.

But the problems with the Dome have resulted directly from the "interference and meddling" of ministers, Mr Ainsworth told MPs

This included nine months which were lost while Labour decided to continue with the project, he continued.

The Dome was sold out on Tuesday
The result was a "noisy, brash, part dull, part sensational exhibition".

The government then made a "big mistake" by appointing Labour's "arch spin-doctor" Peter Mandelson as the minister with responsibility for the Dome.

This was made it obvious that the success of the Dome was harnessed to Labour's desire to win the next election, the Tory spokesman continued.

Mr Ainsworth went on to criticise the "obsessive secrecy illumined occasionally by flashes of the absurd and the surreal" including trips to Disneyland and the "infanticide of baby dome".

Attacking the Dome had become the nation's favourite sport, Mr Ainsworth told MPs.

He went on to criticise the appointment of Lord Falconer to replace Mr Mandelson.

On the additional grant to the Dome offered at the beginning of this year, Mr Ainsworth said: "I have yet to meet anyone who favours giving more money to this project and want to know what guarantee there is the Dome won't be back for more."

Mr Ainsworth praised Jennie Page, the chief executive who stepped down from her post last month.

"She had possibly the worst job in Britain and she did it very well. It was made even worse by the constant interference from ministers, which she found so exasperating," he said.

'A few glitches'

Culture Secretary Chris Smith said it was Tories' idea to establish the Millennium Commission and develop the Dome.

He rejected the allegation that there had been political interference in the project. "The government is not running the Millennium Experience, nor should it."

The government believed in "proper accountability, not in unnecessary interference. We are not in the business of directly running visitor attractions".

Mr Smith admitted there had been "a few glitches" when the Dome opened, including the delays at Stratford tube station for those travelling to the Dome for the opening celebrations.

But he continued: "When I visited the Dome myself as a paying visitor on Saturday - and indeed had an extremely enjoyable time in the Dome - it was very obvious that the very large numbers of people who were there were enjoying themselves and quite a number of them came up to me and made that very point to me."

The Dome had experienced its "four best ever days of attendance".

On Friday, 27,000 people visited, on Saturday, 24,700 and Sunday 26,200. "This morning the Dome was totally sold out by 11.30am," said Mr Smith.

Mr Heseltine, a New Millennium Experience Commissioner, said press criticism had made the task of raising 150m sponsorship for the Dome "well-nigh impossible".

Mr Heseltine also accused some sponsors of trying to turn their zones into glorified trade fair stands.

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See also:
15 Feb 00 |  UK
Dome ops director quits
17 Feb 00 |  UK
'Month to rescue Dome'
21 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Dome an 'embarrassment' say Tories
21 Feb 00 |  UK
Dome attacked for selling out

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