Former prisoners of war claimed yesterday that some of the companies who had been invited to exhibit in the Millennium Dome in exchange for contributing up to pounds 12m had used slave labour during the Second World War. And the Tories warned that the "Britishness" of the project was being diluted.
But sources close to Peter Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio, who is in charge of the Dome, stressed that while it was British-designed and almost entirely British-built, it was also an international attraction and no one, without or without a United Kingdom presence, should be excluded.
However, the Prime Minister runs the risk of being accused of inviting in foreign companies largely to ensure that sufficient private-sector funds are raised towards the projected pounds 758m costs.
A spokesman for Tony Blair said Japanese firms had expressed enthusiasm about involvement when Mr Blair met representatives of the Keidanren - Japan's equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry - in Tokyo last Saturday. Mr Blair told them that the Government was keen to see them get involved.
Sir Colin Marshall, the chairman of British Airways and president of the CBI, has been pivotal in urging Japanese firms to think "Dome". He said: "We have made some selective pitches to certain of the major Japanese corporations that have substantial interests in the UK. We will be following through with them over the next few weeks to see if we can get them directly interested in it."
The attraction of 12-20 million visitors, many from abroad, to the Greenwich site in south-east London was self-evident, he said. Motor manufacturers could be particularly interested in offering futuristic ideas about their products.
But Sid Tavender, a British former PoW, was outraged at the prospect of Japanese involvement.
Mr Tavender, vice-chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors' Association, said it would be inappropriate until the Japanese Emperor had made an unqualified apology.
"I am not happy about this at all. It is wrong at this time and I will definitely be bringing the matter up with our members," he said.He added that somecompanies had used PoWs as slave labour during the war.
Mr Mandelson said: "It has always been clear that we want companies which are based here to be part of the Millennium Experience. That goes for any well-known household brand which manufactures in the United Kingdom, employs British people and invests in our country. They are companies which are part of the British way of life and who we hope to attract in backing a great British enterprise."
l The Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, has admitted for the first time that his country caused "tremendous damage and suffering". Writing in today's Sun newspaper, he admitted "deep remose and heartfelt apology". He said: "This will not bring back the dead but I hope the British people will see it in the spirit in which it is intended, one of reconciliation and peace and hope for the future."Reuse content