Debaters look to ancient Delphi

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The Independent Online

A bid for pounds 50m to set up a national debating centre is being considered by the Millennium Commission.

The project is the brainchild of the National Forum Trust, whose trustees include religious leaders, politicians of all parties, academics and artists, and international figures including the former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev.

The trust to establish a national forum for public debate, analysis and problem solving was founded in the Eighties by Hugh Berger, the founder of a charity for the unemployed, and his wife Margaret.

They have attracted support of trustees including Lord Dahrendorf, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Richard Rogers, Rabbi Lionel Blue and the Archbishop of Wales. The Prince of Wales has called it a "brave and exciting idea".

The trustees want to buy and convert a country house outside London, and Mr Berger has commissioned designs for the conversion from the former Royal Academy president Sir Hugh Casson and the architect Quinlan Terry. Mr Terry's idea is a classical fantasy deriving from the trust's objective of having a 700-seat forum based on Delphi's Tholos ("the conscience of the ancient world.")

Mr Berger has proposed to the Millennium Commission that the forum would hold residential debates at weekends involving experts and members of the public, some invited, some who would simply choose to come. The forum would have no legislative power, but would provide a nationally recognised base for independent long term planning.