HC Deb 16 July 2001 vol 372 cc2-4
2. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

What discussions she has had with those involved in the building of a new national football stadium for England. [2421]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

In the light of the Football Association's announcement on 1 May, the Government have asked Patrick Carter to conduct a review of the English national stadium project to examine whether it can be funded and managed at Wembley or, if that proves impractical, at another location in England. We expect to receive his report in late August, and I shall meet the key stakeholders shortly after.

Mr. Pike

My right hon. Friend will know that for many years I have pressed for a new national stadium for both football and rugby league. Whatever facilities there are in other parts of the United Kingdom, there should be a national stadium in London, preferably at Wembley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Football Association and others have messed about with this and that it is becoming something of a fiasco? People in the football world want a solution as soon as possible.

Tessa Jowell

My hon. Friend has long advocated the case for Wembley, but the fact is that the projected costs of the project more than doubled during the planning stage. The FA has so far not been able to develop an effective business plan, nor has it secured any substantial financial backing. The Government support the FA's desire for a modern national stadium. However, the prime mover is the FA; the Government, in this context, are not a walking cheque book or a stadium developer. We must remember that any cost overruns that require public funding, often running into millions, represent money not spent on refurbishing inner-city sports facilities for our children who want the chance to be the champions of the future.

Nick Harvey (North Devon)

In view of the continuing questions about Wembley or any other national football stadium and the linked problems with Pickett's Lock, does the Secretary of State not think it time that the Government took responsibility for taking the key decisions about whether we will bid for prestigious games? Do not the legacy of the Sheffield student games and the possible deficit of the Manchester Commonwealth games, and now the embarrassment of finding a stadium for the 2005 world athletics championships, mean that the Government should take decisions about whether we are going to bid for prestigious games? They should decide whether or not we have the resources to hold them; they should take responsibility and drive them through from start to finish.

Tessa Jowell

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that any sports project on the scale of Wembley or Pickett's Lock can proceed only with Government support, but not, in every case, with Government as the principal or even substantial funder. There will always be infrastructure and other planning issues that require Government support to resolve them.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

If we are just talking about a national football stadium, it could be anywhere in the country; it does not have to be at Wembley. But if we are talking about a national stadium for athletics, and given that, as Beijing has now been nominated to hold the 2008 Olympic games, London could possibly be a candidate city for a later Olympic games, we have to look again at the deck solution for providing athletics facilities there. Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether or not she has ruled out, or whether she has an open mind about, the original design, which involved a deck proposal for athletics at Wembley?

Tessa Jowell

Patrick Carter's review is considering all options, but I am advised that any proposal to link a possible development at Wembley with the world athletics championships would be impractical, because a stadium would not be ready on time.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I warmly welcome the right hon. Lady to her new responsibilities, and I wish her well and certainly better luck than, her immediate predecessor, whom I am delighted to see in his place this afternoon.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that of all the problems that have landed on her desk since taking up her appointment—the dome, falling lottery sales, regional arts funding and the Minister for Sport's views on tennis—the most pressing by far is the crisis over Wembley? I am in danger of agreeing with the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), but was it not wrong to kick athletics out of the Wembley plans, putting at risk £120 million of lottery funding and Britain's ability to host the 2005 world athletics championships? Does she agree that, if we wave goodbye to those championships, we can wave goodbye to hosting the Olympics for at least a generation?

Tessa Jowell

I do not accept that Wembley is the biggest issue facing me or my ministerial team. The biggest issue facing us is implementing the promises that we made to the people of this country on being re-elected on 7 June, key among which is getting sport back as part of the life of every child in the country and encouraging a generation of young sportsmen and women on to the ladder of success and opportunity; and the big sporting projects—whether Wembley, Pickett's Lock or any other—must be part of that strategy, not a distraction from it.