§ Mr. Tim Yeo(by private notice) (South Suffolk)
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on the siting, purpose and funding of a national stadium.
§ The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)
I have today published the interim report of Patrick Carter's review of the English national stadium. His key recommendations are set out clearly in the report. They deal with the importance of the promoters presenting final proposals that represent fully committed funding, final design, cost and procurement details. Should those proposals not be delivered within a reasonable time scale, Birmingham should be considered as the alternative. No commitments should be made by any party until such time as final agreements have been reached as regards funding and procurement. Finally, the Government must be satisfied that all aspects of the stadium's procurement meet Government standards of propriety and regularity.
Patrick Carter's report also recognises that the leadership of the project must fest with the Football Association—we agree—whose final decision it will be what stadium to build and where. Its preference, on the ground of greater return, is to go ahead with a modified version of the Foster design at Wembley. However, it has accepted that should that fail, strong proposals from Birmingham should be taken forward. It also accepts, as do the Government, that it remains a possible outcome that no national stadium will be developed.
As the FA has made clear, it does not believe that the project can move forward without Government support and facilitation, but I make it clear to the House that any further financial support is conditional, limited to covering non-stadium infrastructure costs and the Government's interest in protecting the £120 million of lottery money already invested.
There is much work to be done before there can be a final decision on a national stadium. Patrick Carter's report describes the many uncertainties that need to be resolved. Any Government support for infrastructure would not be committed until they were all dealt with. I must alert the House to issues relating to the proposed procurement at Wembley that need to be fully dealt with.
The House will be aware that I had intended to make an announcement about the national stadium on Monday. I shall explain the reasons for the delay. It came to my attention at the end of November that concerns had been expressed that Wembley National Stadium Ltd. had not adhered to best procurement practices or corporate governance arrangements in relation to the new Wembley stadium. I was told that those complaints involved no suggestion of fraud, but implied a lack of transparency in part of the process and a failure to deal properly with actual or potential conflicts of interest. I was told that an investigation of the complaints, commissioned for Wembley National Stadium Ltd., was under way,
On 13 December, I requested a progress report. I was given oral assurances that there was no impropriety, but that the chairman of WNSL would contact my permanent secretary the following day. Officials discussed the report in draft on Sunday 16 December with the FA, Wembley 292 National Stadium Ltd. and its authors, and asked that it be finalised and made available to the Government for consideration before we made any decision on going forward with the national stadium project. A final version of the report was received yesterday. I have suggested to both the FA and WNSL that they should publish it. I have asked for it to be made available to the National Audit Office, and they have agreed. At present it is bound by legal privilege and confidentiality, but I can say that it confirms the existence of a number of serious concerns.
WNSL made a statement today outlining the report's principal conclusions.It stated: "No evidence whatever had been found of any criminality or impropriety at any stage of the process, but the report was critical of the procurement process up to September 2000 and recommended specific steps to be taken by WNSL for close monitoring of the project. The review addressed issues relating to value for money, but found that there was a sustainable argument that best value today was likely to result from enabling WNSL to proceed through Multiplex to build a new national stadium. The report recommended that WNSL review aspects of corporate governance.Patrick Carter alludes to those concerns in the covering letter accompanying the report, which I have published today.
I have told the FA and WNSL that should they wish to continue with the Multiplex contract, they must set in train an independent assessment of the value for money that it represents, and must ensure that corporate governance and procurement arrangements from now on represent best practice, before the Government will proceed with any further support for the project—financial, moral or otherwise.
Four points must now be addressed by the FA and WNSL. First, an independent value-for-money assessment of the proposed contracts with Multiplex must be commissioned, and conducted by an appropriate company with no previous or likely future involvement in the project. Secondly, at my request WNSL has ensured that papers relating to the matter are available to the Comptroller and Auditor General so that he can decide whether to look into the matter further. Thirdly, we seek confirmation that corporate governance changes will be made to produce a management structure capable of delivering a complex project within procedures acceptable to the public sector. Fourthly, we seek confirmation that financial support is adequate and fully committed, after all relevant factors have been taken into account in a process of due diligence.
Finally, let me refer briefly to athletics. Sport England and the FA will look at that during the next stage of discussions. I hope that the House understands why that next stage is so crucial. Sport England now believes that a different platform solution can be developed more cheaply, and without the disruption associated with the original proposals. Before any further decision is made, however, I will ensure that Sport England commissions a detailed technical evaluation of the proposals to make certain that they fully meet the technical criteria of the athletics governing body. It will also prepare a proper cost-benefit analysis comparing the new proposals with those of 1999.
In short—although I am afraid that I have spoken at some length—the Government will work with the FA to resolve these issues. The end result that we want is a 293 national stadium, but those four fundamental points must be addressed first. Then we will have a national stadium of which we can be proud.
§ Mr. Yeo
Does the Secretary of State realise that the Government's handling of the national stadium issue has led to a series of disasters, caused directly by the dithering and blundering of successive Ministers?
Four years ago, the Government decided that there should be a national stadium at Wembley, with athletics. Two years ago, they decided that there should be a national stadium at Wembley, without athletics. When the Secretary of State took over six months ago, she could not decide whether there should be a national stadium at all, whether it should be at Wembley, or whether athletics should be part of it. Judging by her reply this afternoon, she is still dithering. Few who heard it will be reassured that she has any more grip on the issue than her predecessor.
How watertight does the Secretary of State expect the arrangements for the new national stadium at Wembley to be by 31 March next year? Will the contracts involving the Football Association, WNSL, International Management Group, Multiplex, Sport England and the Government be available for public inspection? Will planning permission have been granted?
As it has taken the Secretary of State more than three and a half months just to publish the Carter report on which her statement is apparently based, does she really believe that the complex negotiations under way and still to be concluded can be completed in the same time frame?
Does the right hon. Lady believe that Wembley will host athletics, as is now proposed? If not, when will the £20 million promised by her predecessor be repaid? Will she confirm that if by any chance Wembley stadium does not get built, all the money paid by Sport England will be repaid, and promptly? Will she also confirm that the plans that she has outlined require a further £20 million of public money to be spent, and will she explain precisely what that extra money will be spent on, or is it just another figure plucked out of thin air?
Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the report about the probity of the procurement process is published before a penny more of public money is spent? Will she confirm that in the past few days, her Department, without consultation, has intervened to cut out of the scheme altogether the £19 million rebuilding of Wembley Park tube station? Will she confirm that the cut-price alternative of tarting up the existing station means that the stadium could not be cleared of spectators within an hour, and disabled access would be greatly reduced?
Will the right hon. Lady explain the main features of the Wembley proposal that she considers superior to the excellent Birmingham bid? Is it the design of the stadium, accessibility to sports fans or value for money? In the House on 2 May this year, the Prime Minister gave an assurance about the Wembley project. He said:we must now sit down and work out a way through it so that we have a proper national stadium."—[Official Report, 2 May 2001; Vol. 367, c. 841.]Does she agree that that assurance means that the Government have accepted responsibility for seeing this project through to its conclusion?
294 Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, after four and a half years of Labour Government, England is still without a national stadium, football is without a flagship ground, London has lost the world athletics championships, Britain has lost the chance to host the World cup, Birmingham and Coventry have been encouraged to spend money and time on bids that Ministers had no intention of taking seriously, and Britain's reputation in international sporting circles has never been lower?
§ Tessa Jowell
There is all the difference in the world between the rant of opposition, which is what we have just heard, and the serious business of government, which recognises that this is an enormous, expensive and complex project. We will give Government support to the project when, and only when, the issues that I raised in my statement have been properly addressed.
As recently as the end of October, the Football Association and Sport England made it absolutely clear that if the national football stadium at Wembley was not capable of hosting athletics, the £20 million would be returned. The precise terms of the lottery agreement require an athletics-capable stadium. I require additional work to establish whether the athletics capability meets the requirements of the athletics governing body. The Football Association has clearly shown its willingness to undertake that exercise.
The hon. Gentleman can rant, but we will get on and negotiate in the public interest, safeguarding the Government's position. However, we need to establish a clear dividing line, because ultimately the funding for, and the location of, the national stadium are football's responsibility. Once the outstanding matters have been settled, we will announce how to proceed.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Of course, from a constituency point of view, I welcome the announcement today by the FA and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I wish to focus on two points. First, she was right to commission the Carter report, because it has exposed all the weaknesses of the financial arrangements into which the FA had entered. It will enable the project to be driven forward properly. Secondly, can she offer confirmation on the important issue of Wembley Park tube station and the commitment of London Underground? I trust that she will have words soon with the Metropolitan police so that she is sure that they are convinced that it will be possible to clear the stadium in a timely and effective manner, that proper crowd control will be possible and that there is no danger to the security of the public. Those are essential infrastructure elements on which the success of the stadium will ultimately rest.
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive approach today and throughout what have been difficult months for the project. He has a clear constituency interest, and I thank him for that. I take this opportunity to thank again Patrick Carter for his valuable work for the Government and the FA. The decision on infrastructure support for the project will clearly be part of the consideration in the next stage, as the project is taken forward. As of now, I must make it clear to the House that the number of matches and events that the FA would intend to hold at a new stadium would not exceed the number on the licence attaching to the planning consent, so regeneration or rebuilding to increase the 295" capacity of the tube station is therefore not a requirement. My hon. Friend also mentioned the wider issue of regeneration of the area around the stadium, which will be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to consider as the project moves forward.
§ Nick Harvey (North Devon)
Does the Secretary of State think that it is right that £120 million that was given to the project for a multi-purpose stadium should remain available to the company if the stadium will be used only for football? Will not the athletics platform be a temporary structure put in place only for a specific games, and is she not shutting the door after the horse has bolted, given that we have lost the games? Will not it be ironic if, as football figures have suggested in the past few days, the new stadium opens in time for a cup final or charity shield in May or August 2005, exactly when the world athletics championships are due to take place? Given the popularity of England playing their matches around the country, does she agree that England fans from more distant areas should be assured of improved transport connections to Wembley before any such decision is made?
§ Tessa Jowell
On the final point, I accept that if the FA decides to proceed, subject to the conditions that I have set out this afternoon, the infrastructure support for the project must be adequate. It is a good example of why the Government need to facilitate the project, but that is different from it being a Government project. It will be Government supported and Government facilitated precisely so as to address those issues. The terms of the lottery agreement are also clear. The lottery money—the £120 million—was provided to acquire the site for a stadium that would include an athletics capability. I have already mentioned the recognition by the FA and Sport England that if it will not include that capability, £20 million should be returned. However, there is more work to be done on that.
Finally, I respectfully suggest that in this complex set of relationships, the hon. Gentleman needs to be clear about the differing responsibilities of the Government, the Football Association and Sport England.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
This matter began with the previous Government and Sport England's totally unjustified decision to hand over £120 million. May I plead with my right hon. Friend to steer clear of what has become a grubby and dodgy project? The Football Association has shown itself to be greedy in holding on to £120 million of public money to which it has no conceivable right. It has also shown itself to be neither competent nor trustworthy. In addition, Sport England has recklessly handed over public money without any safeguards, and its appropriateness as the agency to deal with these matters needs to be considered. Will she assure the House that a firm, clear time limit will be set for the project, so that either it can go ahead or the £120 million can be returned in full?
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will make it clear that not a penny of taxpayers' money will go into the project unless it goes forward within a reasonable time limit? Wembley was 296 never a national stadium, and the FA should not bamboozle the Government into putting up our constituents' money to buy it a stadium.
§ Tessa Jowell
As usual, my right hon. Friend has expressed his views forcefully and unequivocally. I have three things to say in response.
First, I do not think that it is helpful to rake over the ashes of past decisions about Wembley, beyond the point that I made earlier about the Government's responsibility to safeguard the public investment that has been made already. Secondly, my right hon. Friend is right to say that the project cannot be let drift indefinitely and that firm and clear deadlines for agreements to be reached must be set. Finally, he is also right to say—as I made clear earlier—that Government support and the FA's decision to proceed should be conditional on the terms that I set out in my opening statement being met.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)
The Secretary of State's statement at least left the door ajar for Birmingham's excellent bid, but does she accept that there will be huge disappointment that it has not been accepted outright? Does she appreciate that some 75 per cent. of football fans live north of Watford? Has she had a chance to study the report produced from a survey conducted by Sky, which shows that more than 70 per cent. of football fans do not want the stadium to be built at Wembley? Will she bear in mind that, to many people, this is a classic example of London-based decision makers making London-centric decisions that are not in the interests of the wider country?
§ Tessa Jowell
I entirely accept the disappointment felt by those who have promoted Birmingham's bid to build the national stadium there. Moreover, I take this opportunity to commend—as Patrick Carter does in his report—the quality of the bid that Birmingham submitted. However, as I hope I have made clear, the decision about where the stadium is to be built is for the Football Association to make. The Football Association has decided that its preference is to develop the site at Wembley because that is at present a better commercial proposition than Birmingham. It has made a commercial decision. I understand the disappointment that is felt and, of course, the voice of fans should be heard. I welcome the FA's confirmation that if the Wembley proposal does not proceed, Birmingham is the alternative.
§ Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)
I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Birmingham bid would give the FA the 21st century- class stadium that it requires. Many of us in the House and many thousands outside are extremely disappointed at the FA's decision, which we think is wretched. There is overwhelming support for the Birmingham bid from football fans, football clubs, the business community and the general public. Will my right hon. Friend explain why that has been ignored?
§ Tessa Jowell
My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate of Birmingham as the host for the national stadium. I simply reiterate that, as I told the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), the decision on location is for the Football Association. It has taken that 297 decision on commercial grounds, subject to the caveat that should Wembley fail, it will look to Birmingham as the alternative.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)
Would the Secretary of State care to comment on the role of Mr. Ken Bates in this fiasco? Will she also satisfy the House that she believes that all public funds have been properly accounted for?
§ Tessa Jowell
No, I do not wish to comment on the internal affairs of WNSL. I have outlined the report's conclusions and the action that will be taken in the light of that report.
§ Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that the decision on the financing and siting of a national stadium is the business of the FA. However, if the decision is taken to site it at Wembley, surely it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that the desperately needed regeneration of an area that was grossly neglected during the 18 years of Conservative Government is properly served by a truly integrated public transport system. Surely that means that Wembley Park requires more than just regeneration.
§ Tessa Jowell
Let me separate out two issues. First, I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier remarks on the necessary capacity of the tube to support the demand placed on it by spectators travelling to and from the stadium. Secondly, I entirely endorse her remarks about the blight in that part of London as a result of 18 years of neglect, indifference and failure to invest under the previous Government. One very important gain of a development such as this, whether it is in Birmingham or Wembley, is that the regeneration of the area means benefits for local people.
§ Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)
Is the right hon. Lady not embarrassed about the fact that in the years since the Taylor report, clubs the length and breadth of the country from Livingstone to Blackburn to Arlesey in my constituency have developed wonderful stadiums without any of the fuss that she has been through? Is she not embarrassed about the fact that on being given the World cup to host, the French developed a superb stadium at the Stade de France to cater for their national needs? Why on earth were those plans not simply picked up and implemented?
Is the right hon. Lady not further embarrassed that the Government of a country that can produce the perfection of Michael Owen and David Beckham can make such a Horlicks of producing a national stadium in which to display their talents?
§ Tessa Jowell
I am not remotely embarrassed about gripping a difficult issue on which decisions will need careful handling so that we reach a conclusion that is in the interests of sport and spectators. The Stade de France was extremely expensive. We should consider the experience of the development of stadiums throughout the world. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman do that so that he might understand more fully than his question suggested the complexity and difficulty that face us. I want to make it clear that this is football's national 298 stadium. It is the sport's project, for which it seeks help and support from the Government, and I have set out the conditions under which that will be forthcoming. Yes, there are those—members of the FA and fans—who take the view that no national stadium is necessary because England are doing better travelling around the country than they have done for many years.
§ Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
The Secretary of State mentioned the lottery agreement. Is she aware that a substantial part of that dealt with the proposal that the national sports stadium should be suitable for the Olympic games? Has the FA—not the Government—consulted the British Olympic Association during the past six months about its views? Will she please take my advice, even though she may not want to do so? Having been fooled by the FA before, it is important that she ensures that the FA does not call the shots on this project.
§ Tessa Jowell
My hon. Friend should accept that the FA also recognises the importance of transparency and public confidence in the project as it moves forward. I hope that I have also made it clear that decisions about athletics and the capability of a proposed stadium to host sporting events other than football and rugby need to be assessed with the relevant governing bodies. They would obviously include the British Olympic Association, which is meeting Sport England and UK Sport to consider the feasibility and desirability of an Olympic bid. Those discussions will have a part in any future decision about the place of athletics at Wembley.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
Does the Secretary of State expect a national stadium to be built and if so, when?
§ Tessa Jowell
I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I have already said. I set out the position in some detail.
§ Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
Is not the concept of a national football stadium, as envisaged at Wembley, a relic of the past in an over-centralised Britain? Should not a Government with an intelligent regional policy tell the FA that it is time to use the excellent grounds in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and even Sunderland?
§ Tessa Jowell
There is extensive representation of interests outside London in the FA as a body. In the context of the broad regional and national spread of its membership, the association has reached the conclusion that it wants to proceed at Wembley. It is the FA's decision and, in that respect, a matter for the association.
§ David Burnside (South Antrim)
Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a time in life and in politics to cut and run, and that it is time to cut and run from this national disaster associated with not only her own Government but the previous one? Why will she not consider taking ownership of the site around that other national disaster, the millennium dome, and making that the site for the national stadium? Why does she not enable Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, to be given Home Office authority to raise private sector funds to finance such a national stadium and maintain it in London—the 299 capital of England? I would rather have a national stadium in the capital of England, just as I would rather have one in Belfast than in my home town of Ballymoney.
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advice. I am certainly not cutting and running, so I reject that part of his proposal. In relation to the remainder of his remarks, I think that he makes his point, but it is not advice that I intend to pursue.
§ Derek Twigg (Halton)
While the national stadium will be a very important issue in my constituency, the bigger issue is what will happen to the twin towers at Wembley. Before the last debacle, there was a prepared proposal on the table that the twin towers should come to Halton to front the new national rugby league museum in Widnes. There is no reason why that should not happen, if the decision is as we heard today. Will my right hon. Friend do all that she can to ensure that the twin towers come to Widnes in my constituency?
§ Tessa Jowell
I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that matter needs to be addressed and settled between the two relevant authorities: the Rugby League and the FA.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)
The Secretary of State will understand that all members of the all-party sport and leisure group, of which I am one of the vice-chairmen, have been very concerned about the saga of disasters connected with this matter. She will also recognise that just about every commentator outside this place has ridiculed all the disasters since she and her team took over from a previous Secretary of State who was sacked after agreeing to mishandle £20 million of public money on a handshake in a private house—a scandal that was successfully exposed by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Will the Secretary of State not recognise that, to paraphrase the words of a former Prime Minister, this has been a fiasco, wrapped in a shambles, surrounded by disaster, and that it is her fault?
§ Tessa Jowell
We have an Opposition in full rant this afternoon. I am not sure what that adds—it adds nothing to the necessary decisions and serious work in hand to deliver a national stadium.
§ Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
While I appreciate that the Secretary of State has the difficult task on her hands of bringing this matter to a successful conclusion, may I tell her that although those in Birmingham will appreciate the positive remarks in her opening statement, they will find it extremely difficult to understand what more they have to do to be given a chance to confirm their extremely good track record? We have built an international convention centre and an international exhibition centre. We have been able to deliver where other people have simply made empty promises, and to us what is happening seems like asphyxiation by procrastination.
§ Tessa Jowell
I give some advice to all my hon. Friends who have deployed their advocacy for Birmingham, and that is to lobby the FA because, as I have made absolutely clear, the Government hold a neutral position on the location of the stadium. The decision on the location of the stadium—[Laughter.]
300 Again, we see the pointlessness of the Opposition, as they behave pathetically. The point is that the decision about the location of the national stadium is a matter for the Football Association.
§ Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)
Does the proposal have the required agreement of the Mayor of London, who may well have a final veto in the matter?
§ Tessa Jowell
The Mayor of London has certainly been engaged in preliminary discussion about the development of the stadium, but that is a matter for the Football Association. As the hon. Gentleman will see if he studies the fine detail of the Carter report, the London development agency has offered up to £20 million in the event that the stadium proceeds in London.
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Given the number of qualifications in my right hon. Friend's statement, does she realise that, not just in Birmingham but throughout the country, people will be mystified as to how she and the faceless wonders at the FA can have any confidence in these proposals?
May I put two simple questions to my right hon. Friend? First, can she say categorically that this is an FA project and that the Government are not partners in it, as certain people in the FA are claiming? Secondly, what will she do if the investigations reported in Australia into the activities of Multiplex reveal further damning condemnations of the activities of that company?
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank my hon. Friend, but there are two Birmingham clubs in the FA—Birmingham City and Aston Villa—and they should be taking part in the debate in the FA, because it is a decision for the FA. I do not propose to comment on the newspaper reports to which he referred. I have set out very clearly the action that the FA proposes to take, and I would not add to that.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State's answers, and I appreciate the great problems that she has inherited and what she is trying to do to sort them out, but does she agree that this is a national stadium and, therefore, that the Government should have more say than they have apparently had to date? I strongly support locating the stadium in Birmingham because of that city's location and infrastructure, particularly its transport infrastructure, but will she not accept that a lot more people should be involved than just the FA, given that it is a national stadium? Will she consider suggesting that the FA and others should consult Manchester city council and the others who have been involved in producing some wonderful facilities for the Commonwealth games in Manchester next year?
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and I am glad that, unlike his colleagues, he recognises the complexity of this issue. I reiterate the points that I have made about the representations to be made to the FA about the stadium's location. He asks whether a national stadium is a decision for the Government, and the answer is no. In a democracy, not every decision that affects our nation is taken by the Government, and this decision on a national stadium is being taken by the FA, assisted and facilitated by the Government. He is right to draw attention 301 to the preparations in Manchester for next year's Commonwealth games, which, I hope, will make people throughout the country feel proud and do an enormous amount for sporting morale here.
§ Andy Burnham (Leigh)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the Wembley project was the pressure created by false deadlines for events that had not been secured? Anyone would think that the Conservative party was blameless, but does she also agree that the commitments to stage the World cup, the Olympics and the world athletics championships were first given by the Conservative party when it chose Wembley as the site for the national stadium?
In endorsing the cautious approach that my right hon. Friend has announced today, I urge her to consider the wider issues raised by the Wembley saga. The truth is that the project has taken off in a way that it should never have gone—it was too extravagant, it was based on an experimental design and there was far too much commercial development. Will she consider the arm's length principle in the handling of sports funding? Will she also consider reviewing the outdated decision-making functions of some of our major governing bodies of sport?
§ Tessa Jowell
I thank my hon. Friend very much for his remarks. He is right that false deadlines can create more problems than they solve. I have made it very clear this afternoon that this project should proceed, but, as I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), it is important to establish a time frame to create discipline. I also agree very strongly with his point about the importance of protecting the public interest. I do not for a moment underestimate or undervalue the significance of the fact that £120 million of lottery funding has already gone into the putative Wembley project. That money was raised by the public for the causes that they hold dear, and we have a special responsibility to ensure that that money is properly safeguarded, which is the whole driving purpose of the approach that I have outlined to the House this afternoon.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Only a few hon. Members remain to be called. If they each ask one brief question, I shall be able to call every one of them.
§ Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
When I and my constituents have had the chance to study Patrick Carter's report, are we likely to be convinced that my right hon. Friend's announcement is the logical outcome?
§ Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough)
Does not the business case for Wembley revolve around the fact that the FA already has £120 million of lottery money? Will the report into the feasibility of the stadium hosting athletics be carried out independently? It is obviously in the FA's interests to ensure that there is a favourable report that suggests that the stadium can host athletics, because that would mean that the FA could hold on to £20 million.
§ Tessa Jowell
First, the business case is certainly influenced by the fact that £120 million has already been 302 spent on acquiring the Wembley site. Secondly, I hope that I have made it clear that the further work that needs to be done on the practical feasibility of holding athletics at Wembley involves a further investigation that will take time, but that needs to be carried out with the governing bodies of athletics. They will be the real judges of whether a potentially athletics-capable stadium can host athletics events.
§ Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
For people not just in Birmingham but throughout the regions, today's decision by the FA will send out an appalling signal. They will regard the FA's decision as having—I must say this—sweet FA logic.
Given that Birmingham put forward a bid that was costed, that was ready to go and that had the support of the fans and the clubs, just how long will Wembley have to come up with something that is viable? It has not come up with anything viable so far. Although I appreciate what my right hon. Friend says about deadlines, if she is saying that there is a time frame, what will it be? In Birmingham, we are ready to go and want to get on with the job.
§ Tessa Jowell
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts to maintain the case for Birmingham, but he must refer his remarks to the FA. In due course, the time scales for the decisions at the next stage and for the completion of the work that I have outlined will be published. However, the important point is that the project moves ahead with public confidence and with the confidence of those whose support is essential to securing it.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
I am a Burnley supporter who has always supported the Wembley option, but will my right hon. Friend assure us that we will now see an end to the talking and that the stadium will be built? Can we be assured that the transport links will be brought up to the standard that we need and that there will not be too many seats for the snobs and executives—and more for the fans who support the game throughout the length and breadth of this country?
§ Tessa Jowell
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has just insisted that I remind the House that the national stadium will not go to Burnley. I can inform my hon. Friend that the lottery agreement sets out terms and conditions in relation to the balance of seats that he describes, and the material fact that led the FA to conclude that Wembley was more commercially viable related to the level of premium seat income. However, such matters will be judged more closely over the next few months as final decisions are reached.
§ Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that this is known as the national embarrassment stadium. She has inherited these problems and we all want them to be resolved, but I believe that Birmingham has a strong case and we should not rule it out or string along the people involved.
Rugby league has not been mentioned, but is my right hon. Friend aware that Wembley is the national home of rugby league as well as of football? As a Bolton Wanderers fan, I recall the white horse final when Bolton beat West Ham.
§ Tessa Jowell
I remind my hon. Friend that the project is complex, as I am sure he recognises. It has taken a very 303 long time to get to this stage. The first decisions were taken in 1995 and 1996. My job, and that of the Government, is to ensure that the final decisions represent the public interest and public value for money.
§ Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)
May I tease my right hon. Friend about athletics? It is unlikely that we will bid for the world athletics championships until at least 2011, and the next Olympics that we could bid for will be in 2016. The technology for an athletics system might be outdated by then. If we are serious about going for 2011 or even 2016, we have to put the necessary infrastructure in place now. There is no point in having a system for athletics unless we are serious about 2011 and 2016.
§ Tessa Jowell
That is precisely why the technical matters to which my hon. Friend refers need to be considered by those who know about the standards that athletics bodies require to host an athletics championship. That is part of the business to be completed, which I mentioned earlier.
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)
I am grateful to get in just before the final whistle. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the stadium is not needed and, as far as I can see from surveys of England fans, not wanted? Would it not be better to pledge no further public money to the project, which would have the merit of ensuring that England football fans get what they want and that the FA cup final finds a permanent home in the finest stadium in the United Kingdom, Cardiff's millennium stadium?
§ Tessa Jowell
Nice try. My hon. Friend's arguments should be referred not to the Government, but to the Football Association, which will decide whether there is a national stadium and where it should be located.