HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc513-6
9. Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

If he will make a statement on the report on the future of the Wembley Stadium project. [102003]

10. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

If he will make a statement on the progress of the new National Stadium project at Wembley. [102004]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

We have now received comments from all the relevant parties on the Ellerbe Becket report. I am grateful for the detailed work that has been undertaken by everyone involved. Although many of the issues have been resolved, concerns remain about the quality of the sightlines, the costs and time involved in reconfiguring the stadium for athletics and the long-term value for money involved.

My statement to the House on 1 December and subsequent work have ensured that all parties are now working closely together to find the best possible solution for both football and international athletics. Further detailed work is under way. I hope to be in a position to report good progress within the next few days.

Mr. Greenway

The whole House will be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's answer. However, how often has he discussed the project with the Prime Minister—bearing in mind that, on the world cup 2006 bid brochure, the Prime Minister's photograph was taken against an artist's impression of the revamped Wembley stadium? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the project could be built on time to secure the world cup 2006 bid? If not, and if the whole thing goes belly-up, does he agree not only that he and his Department should be in the dock but that the matter should be seen as a major embarrassment for the Prime Minister?

Mr. Smith

Wembley remains the centrepiece of our world cup 2006 bid, and one of the strengths of that bid is that the Government continue to give it the strongest possible support. Yes, Wembley will be there in time to form the principal stadium for the 2006 world cup, which we hope to secure for England.

Mr. Clappison

Is there still a place for future Olympic games at Wembley?

Mr. Smith

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not listening carefully to my previous answer. As I said, concern remains about sightlines and cost in relation to international athletics events at Wembley. Those issues are currently under very detailed analysis.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his remarks about being on track for the world cup in 2006, which I am sure will be well received by everyone. Will he just confirm that his Department will continue to liaise very closely with Sir Nigel Mobbs and the Wembley task force to ensure that, in the reconstruction of the stadium, sight is not lost of regeneration of the whole area—which the Wembley task force has been established to procure?

Mr. Smith

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I have met Sir Nigel Mobbs on three occasions in the past two weeks, and we are absolutely determined that the future of Wembley as a premier stadium—be it only for football, or for football and athletics—should enable wider regeneration of the area around the stadium, which is so greatly needed for my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, if it is true that Twickenham is to get the world cup athletics, before that announcement is made the Government will provide no money, and no lottery money, until a proper infrastructure report has been done on Twickenham?

Mr. Smith

Twickenham is, indeed, a potential option that is being considered as an alternative venue for international athletics. We are still undertaking substantial detailed work on the matter, but shall of course want to ensure that absolute confidence can be had in Twickenham's suitability for athletics in all its aspects before lottery money is committed.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

In the light of the almost unbelievable shambles surrounding the project, what assessment has the right hon. Gentleman made of his own credibility as Secretary of State?

Mr. Smith

Excellent, as always.

Mr. Ainsworth

I am afraid that that will not do. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, whatever he may think of his handling of the Wembley project—he may think that it is excellent, but he is the only one who does—the entire sporting world regards it as a painful embarrassment.

Mr. Smith

I am afraid that the last two words more accurately describe the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ainsworth

The Secretary of State is wriggling badly, but he will not get away. Is it not the case that, in May, he knew that there were serious problems; in July, he described the design as "stunning"; in November, his Minister said that the design was no good; and, in December, he proclaimed a 15-day deadline to sort the whole mess out? The 15 days of dither have ended, but no solution has been found. Every day that passes represents another blow to our bids for the world cup, the world athletics championship and a future Olympic games. Having floundered around looking for solutions, the Secretary of State is now on the lookout for scapegoats. May I suggest to him that all he has to do is look in the mirror? If he cannot get a grip of the project, why does he not make room for somebody who can?

Mr. Smith

Oh dear. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Government are not playing silly games but conducting the serious business of sorting out serious problems. We are close to a solution of those very real problems, and, as I said in my initial answer, I hope to be able to report good progress within the next few days.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

Should not my right hon. Friend ignore the comments of the Conservative party? The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) is merely talking down Britain's hopes of staging international competitions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if he can make the correct decision by bringing football and athletics to the proper arenas—a separate football stadium at Wembley and provision elsewhere for athletics—and if he carries on ignoring the Opposition by getting on with the job that he is doing excellently, all will be well?

Mr. Smith

I should prefer not to ignore the Opposition as I should prefer an Opposition who would approach matters sensibly and constructively. Sadly, we do not have them.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

Does the Secretary of State agree that if he wants a premier stadium at Wembley, we will need facilities to allow people to reach it by road and rail? What is being done in that regard?

Mr. Smith

That issue is of course important to any major stadium. The flow of people to and from events in concentrated numbers during concentrated periods is one of the major issues that must always be considered, and we must do so for Wembley. That is why Sir Nigel Mobbs—together with the London borough of Brent—has been asked to establish a Wembley task force so that the wider regeneration of the area and infrastructure issues can be addressed.