HC Deb 22 January 2001 vol 361 cc639-42
5. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

What recent representations he has received regarding the future of a national football stadium at Wembley. [144783]

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

I have received a number of representations about the future redevelopment of Wembley. In addition, I met Sir Rodney Walker, the new chair of Wembley National Stadium Ltd., on 10 January when he updated me on the progress that had been made on restructuring the Wembley project.

Mr. Pike

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he recognise that football supporters throughout the country increasingly take the view that the future of Wembley has become a farce? Many people are wrongly blaming the Government for that. Will my right hon. Friend now spell out to those responsible for the development of the new stadium and all the facilities that go with it that they must achieve a solution and an end to the current farcical position as soon as possible?

Mr. Smith

Of course, we have two principal objectives. First, we want to ensure that Britain can host the 2005 world athletics championships in a good-quality, specific stadium. The decision that we made a year ago to take the athletics championships from Wembley and create a new stadium at Pickett's Lock in the Lea valley in Enfield has been proved absolutely correct by the events of the past month or two. We will now be able to provide a good location for those championships.

Secondly, we want a good, high-quality national stadium for football and rugby league at Wembley. The Football Association and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. are leading that project; it is not a Government project. However, I am pleased that the Football Association has taken greater control of the specifics of the project, and I am especially pleased that Sir Rodney Walker is now in place as chairman of WNSL. I have full confidence that he will be able to raise the funds, get the project under way, and get a really good stadium built.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

But does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that what the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) describes as a farce, and everyone else calls a fiasco, simply reinforces the Secretary of State's incompetence? He was happy to take the credit for a plan, which he described in glowing terms but has now rejected.

Will he accept that there is further inconsistency between him and the Minister for Sport about whether there will be standing room for spectators at football matches? He slapped down the Minister when she put forward that proposal, and suggested that there was no question of going back on his decision. However, as recently as last Thursday, Lord McIntosh of Haringey said that the issue was not closed. Is not everything to do with football and sport over which the Secretary of State presides a shambles and a fiasco?

Mr. Smith

No. It is entirely as a result of the Secretary of State's competence that we made the right decisions in December 1999 to ensure that we have a location and a venue for the world athletics championships in 2005. If we had taken the Conservative party's advice, we would have been left without a venue and any prospect of hosting the championships, and with egg all over our face.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Does my right hon. Friend know that there is a view that what has happened is a shambles? Appointing the vice-chairman as chairman of the board gives no confidence to the football and rugby league world—far from it. The whole board should have been dismissed and replaced with people who have sport at heart.

Mr. Smith

Of course, the Secretary of State and the Government have no power to do any such thing. The project is owned and led by the Football Association. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), it is up to the Football Association to determine how to proceed with the project. I am pleased that Sir Rodney Walker is in charge, and I have genuine confidence that he will be able to raise the necessary finance and get the project under way.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

It is not edifying to watch the Secretary of State floundering this afternoon; indeed, the spectacle has not been edifying for the past two years. First, Wembley was to be a magnificent venue for athletics as well as football. The Secretary of State then decided that there should be no athletics at Wembley. At first, it was supposed to be the centrepiece of a British bid to host the Olympic games, yet yesterday morning the prospect of London hosting the Olympic games "filled him with alarm". By yesterday afternoon, he had remembered Labour's election pledge and was confident that Britain could host a world class, memorable and highly successful games in 2012. I am tempted to observe, "Not with him in charge." With the Secretary of State in charge, we can be confident only of muddle and dither. I am genuinely embarrassed for him.

Is it not the case that the failure of the Secretary of State's policy on the national stadium is not the fault of Sport England, the Football Association, Wembley National Stadium Ltd. or even the Minister for Sport, as the Secretary of State would sometimes have us believe, but his fault? Will he apologise in advance to his successor who will shortly take over responsibility for these affairs and have to clear up the mess that he leaves behind?

Mr. Smith

The only thing that should embarrass the hon. Gentleman is his continuing failure to ask sensible and serious questions. I counsel him against believing all the lurid headlines that he reads in the newspapers. All I said, I think quite sensibly and rightly, was that if we were to host a high-quality bid for the Olympics in London, as I very much hope we will, we needed to do so seriously—we needed to be prepared to invest not just in the athletics facilities but in the transport and accommodation facilities that such a bid would require. That is sheer common sense.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are the Government who have established 10-year plans to improve the transport infrastructure that will deliver the investment and the improvement. The Conservative party would cut those plans, and would deliver the investment failure that would make a bid unsuccessful.

Mr. Ainsworth

We shall have to put up with this Secretary of State for a little longer, I fear, so will he answer the following question? Given his wrong-headed and stubborn decision to kick athletics out of Wembley, when will WNSL start repaying the £20 million that it owes athletics?

Mr. Smith

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is still arguing that athletics should be at Wembley for the 2005 championships. We now know that Wembley could not have delivered a venue for them on time. If we had adopted the hon. Gentleman's policy, we would now be left with no venue. It is clear that we made absolutely the right decision in ensuring that we had an alternative location.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)

I welcome the decision regarding the 2005 world athletics championships. Wembley was, in fact, always a distraction from the best option available, at Pickett's Lock. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm his commitment to Pickett's Lock as the best location for athletics, and will he find time to visit the site in the near future"

Mr. Smith

I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. Indeed, one of the major advantages of the site, which is in the Lea valley at Enfield, is that all the relevant authorities— the Lea Valley authority, the borough of Enfield, the Mayor of London, Middlesex university and UK Athletics—are all very much committed to ensuring that it is a success. David Moorcroft of UK Athletics has said: It really is the number one choice for a national athletics centre as it will create a dedicated, purpose-built stadium, high performance centre, throwing field and warm up track. That is what we are going to achieve at Pickett's Lock. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for the help that he has given so far, and I look forward to collaborating closely with him for a long time to corn to ensuring that the venue is a success.

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