HC Deb 02 May 2001 vol 367 cc851-61 3.31 pm
Mr. Peter Ainsworth(East Surrey)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement about the Wembley national stadium project.

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

The Football Association's announcement yesterday that it could not deliver its plans for Wembley was very disappointing news, all the more so given the repeated assurances given to Sport England and the Government over the whole of last year, by the Wembley project team, that everything was on track. The Government have consistently supported the concept of a national stadium, and have done so on the basis of continued assurances from football that its project would be delivered.

In 1996, the then Great Britain Sports Council decided that Wembley should be the location for a national stadium. From 1998 onwards, the project has been led by the Football Association via a wholly owned subsidiary, Wembley National Stadium Ltd. From that point, the Football Association and its subsidiary drove the project forward in negotiation with Wembley plc over the acquisition of the land and in agreement with Sport England over the terms of lottery funding for the acquisition, the design issues and, most importantly, securing the necessary financing to make the project viable.

Wembley National Stadium Ltd., under its chairman Ken Bates, consistently assured everyone that all was well with the project. That has proved not to be the case. The first occasion on which that was demonstrated was in the autumn of 1999, when it became clear that the needs of athletics could not sensibly be met by the WNSL scheme. That was a result of the costs of creating and dismantling the concrete platform for athletics, the costs of acquiring the necessary land for the required warm-up track and the fact that there would be no lasting legacy for athletics at the national stadium.

I therefore decided that athletics should be removed from Wembley, and subsequently Lee Valley athletics stadium was chosen by UK Athletics as the national centre for athletics and the venue for the 2005 world athletics championships. That decision has been entirely vindicated by subsequent events, and work is now well advanced on the designs for the Enfield stadium.

The second occasion on which WNSL's assurances that all was well with the project proved to be misplaced was in November last year when the loan syndication to finance the whole project failed. The principal reason for the banks' reluctance to provide finance was their doubts about the WNSL business case and, in particular, the ambitious projections of hospitality and premium-seat income. Let us not forget that the project had escalated in estimated cost from a little over £300 million to a total of £650 million. The banks were also concerned that the FA stood to gain from the project but carried little or no risk.

At that point, some much-needed realism was injected into WNSL and the Football Association's thinking on the project. Following the failure of the loan syndication, the FA replaced Ken Bates with Sir Rodney Walker as chairman of WNSL and took a much closer interest in the project. The FA made clear its intention to address the banks' concerns that the FA itself was not taking its share of the risk in the project. Regrettably, the Government learned last week that the Football Association did not feel that it could do that without a further significant injection of funds. The FA initially requested up to £300 million from the Government. I am afraid that that is simply not on, especially when the scale of the current costly design of the new Wembley is due to the needs of the commercial interests in the project.

In the light of the FA's announcement yesterday, the Government will review all the options for a national stadium. To assist in that process, we have asked the existing ministerial group looking at cross-governmental issues surrounding the Commonwealth games to look at alternative solutions. I should stress at this stage that no options are ruled out. Therefore, a solution might be found to develop a new-build or a refurbishment solution at Wembley. Other alternatives may be considered. We want to play our part as the Government in securing a good, affordable and sustainable national stadium for England. That is what we will now do.

Mr. Ainsworth

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Does he accept that the failure of the national stadium project is a failure of public policy? Does he accept that the collapse of the project has brought humiliation to Britain and that people here and all over the world are shaking their heads in disbelief and asking why, under this Government, nothing seems to work any more? Does he accept that he carries heavy responsibility for the failure of Wembley? Does he acknowledge that his attempts to shuffle the blame on to Ken Bates and the Football Association are widely regarded as futile and cowardly? Did he not give his blessing to the appointment of Sir Rodney Walker, and did not Sir Rodney give his approval to the Bates plan earlier this year?

Does the Secretary of State accept that his claim that the project is not a Government one looks ridiculous, when it was his decision—and his alone—in autumn 1999 to abandon the original design after it had been approved by the British Olympic Association, the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, Sport England and his own architectural advisers? If it was not a Government project, what right had he to intervene in that fatal way? Does he now accept that he was wrong to ignore the advice of the Select Committee, and that it was inexcusable, arrogant and contemptuous to dismiss that advice within minutes of it being offered?

Does the Secretary of State accept that his intervention plunged the project into controversy when none had previously existed, provoking 18 months of appalling publicity, when the project—of which we all wanted to be proud—became a fiasco and a byword for Government incompetence? Did not that do more than anything to undermine investor confidence in the project? Does he think it was helpful or responsible to describe the design as "stunning" and "magnificent" on 29 July 1999, when he later said in the House that at the time, I was concerned about the viability of the proposed solution".—[Official Report, 1 December 1999; Vol. 340, c. 305.] Does he understand that the present appalling situation stems directly from his actions and the train of confusion that they set in motion? Does he agree that he is responsible for 18 months of dither, delay and millions of wasted pounds?

What does the Secretary of State think his shambolic handling of this national project will tell the world about Britain's ability to host a future Olympic games? Is there not now, as a direct result of his actions, a real possibility that we will face the further humiliation of having to tell the International Amateur Athletics Federation that we cannot, after all, host the 2005 world championships?

The whole House wants to see the Wembley project back on track, but, if it cannot be revived, what will happen to the £120 million of lottery money that has already gone into it? Will the Secretary of State confirm that Wembley remains the Government's preferred venue for the national stadium?

It will be a relief to all who care about our national game that the Secretary of State has been shunted to the sidelines by the Prime Minister, but it is too late: the damage has been done. The Secretary of State has lost the confidence of the sporting world and of the public. He has lost the confidence of many of his right hon. and hon. Friends, including, by implication, the Prime Minister. If he had done the right thing and resigned when the first disastrous consequences of his actions became apparent, I honestly believe that we would now be looking forward to the opening of a great new national stadium. Instead, we are faced with a humiliating fiasco.

The Secretary of State is widely regarded as a decent man, but he has repeatedly proved himself to be an incompetent Minister. Will he resign today?

Mr. Smith

On my calculation, this is the 39th time that the hon. Gentleman has called for my resignation. I refer him to my first 38 answers.

The hon. Gentleman began by describing today's announcement as a "failure of public policy." I remind him that it was public policy put in place by the previous Government. It is their project that the Football Association has been valiantly trying to take forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked one or two questions. One related to the decision taken in December 1999 to take athletics out of the then scheme. I outlined in my initial answer why we took that decision, and thank goodness we did. If we had not taken that decision, we would now, as advocated by the hon. Gentleman, have no venue for the 2005 world athletics championships. We do have such a venue. Work is proceeding apace on that. The design work is well advanced and the Lee Valley stadium will be an excellent athletics-specific venue for those championships, with a long-term sustainable legacy for athletics as well.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the £120 million of lottery funds. Under the terms of the lottery agreement, if a national stadium does not proceed at Wembley, the money is returnable to Sport England for further use under the usual terms of the lottery.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether Wembley is the Government's preferred location. The answer is yes, because the Wembley site has been purchased with lottery funds. It is owned by the FA. It is the sensible place to start looking for alternative schemes, but we are not at this stage ruling out other options. We need to look first at Wembley, but other alternatives may emerge, at which we will want to look carefully and closely.

The hon. Gentleman says rather breezily that under the Government nothing seems to work any more. I refer him to the Cardiff Millennium stadium, the Eden project, Tate Modern, the British museum great court, the Magna project in Rotherham, the Science museum extension, the Lowry centre, the Walsall art gallery, the Manchester stadium and swimming pool and countless other projects—indeed, more projects than the number of times that the hon. Gentleman has demanded my resignation.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Given that one English football team has just spent almost £20 million on one player, and given the enormous sums that both the Premier League and the FA obtain from television to show football, would it not be totally wrong for the British taxpayer to subsidise the building of a national football stadium? If the Government have such money available, would it not be much better spent providing facilities and coaching for the many youngsters who want the play the game of football, rather than simply watch it?

Mr. Smith

We already provide substantial funds for precisely the purpose of coaching, training and educating young people across the board in sport, and that includes large amounts for the sport of football.

My hon. Friend is right that we need to be prudent in our use of taxpayers' money, which is why, when a specific request came to us last week for an immediate Government injection into the project, particularly given the scale of the project, which is far in excess of the estimated cost of any other stadium anywhere else in the world, we did not feel able to agree to it.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

I welcome the Conservative Opposition to their latest bandwagon. I have heard some things for the first time today.

The Secretary of State reeled off a list of great successes, but he seeks to deny any responsibility whatever for the Wembley fiasco. Surely he will not claim that what happened yesterday came as a surprise. Six months ago, the national media and the City warned us of what was likely to happen, and it happened yesterday. There is cross-party support for early-day motion 1, which, in case the Secretary of State has not read it, I will put on the record.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not going to put it on the record.

Mr. Russell

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the cost of the scheme was £660 million and rising. What is the point of destroying arguably the most famous stadium in the world, the scene of our most successful English sporting triumph, and replacing it with a McDonald's arch?

The right hon. Gentleman also has responsibility for tourism and heritage, and he knows that the demolition of Wembley is not helpful to football. As has been pointed out, we need to look again at whether Wembley is the right place for such a stadium. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that even a new Wembley stadium will still be accessed by inadequate rail, road and air links? The case for looking elsewhere for a national stadium should be considered—if we need a new national stadium.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State should have an opportunity to answer the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Smith

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that six months ago I publicly expressed alarm at the way in which the figure was escalating, as a result of which the FA took a much closer interest in the project, under the leadership of Adam Crozier. It put in Rodney Walker to try to sort the matter out, and he did a valiant job of trying to make the figures work, but, at the end of the day, he was not able to do so to the FA's satisfaction.

Refurbishment of the existing stadium has to be an option. It would impose constraints on the number of people who could be accommodated in the stadium, but it is something that we need to consider carefully and seriously.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Does the Secretary of State share my incredulity that the FA, which, during the past two years, has had an income stream of £1.8 billion, and which, only on Monday, announced £48 million in sponsorship from Barclaycard for the Premier League, will not put up the money to adopt an equity stake in the project to the tune of £125 million? Does he also share my concern that £170 million worth of infrastructure projects that are already under way, such as the stadium corridor, the refurbishment of Wembley Park, Wimbley Central and Wembley Stadium stations, are put in jeopardy by the decision taken by the FA, and that regeneration projects to the value of £620 million in north-west London submitted on the back of the stadium development are also in jeopardy? I welcome the Government's assurance, as well as the assurance that he gave earlier, that Wembley is still the preferred location, but will he ensure that the voice of local people and the importance of regeneration to the local community are among the prime considerations of the Cabinet Committee when it considers the issue?

Mr. Smith

I can indeed give my hon. Friend that assurance. The regeneration aspects of the area surrounding the stadium, on which the Wembley taskforce, under the chairmanship of Sir Nigel Mobbs, is working hard, are extremely important for the whole of north-west London. We will bear those issues very much in mind as we now look as rapidly and sensibly as we can at the various alternatives.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

The Secretary of State says that he will review all the options for the national stadium. I hope that he will learn from experience and remember the disaster of the dome at Greenwich. Above all, I hope that one of these national projects can be situated north of London, preferably in Birmingham, where the transport is in place, the land is available and public support is absolutely assured.

Mr. Smith

I noted this morning that Birmingham city council made an interesting proposal of precisely this nature. As I said, we want first to consider what is possible at Wembley, but we are not ruling out any other alternatives and we will look carefully at the propositions that are put to us.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that now is an appropriate time, given the review of Wembley stadium, to consider the future of Picketts Lock? As £120 million of public lottery money was originally put into Wembley stadium and a deal has been done for part of that money to go to Picketts Lock, is not it time, as we are going back to the drawing board, to consider the whole future for a stadium that can serve all our sports?

Mr. Smith

I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend on that point. The 2005 world athletics championships have been bid for and won by London, and we must ensure that we provide a high-quality stadium for that event. The Lee Valley stadium at Picketts Lock is in the design phase. It is an extremely good design that gives us an opportunity to provide not only a good venue for the 2005 championships, but a high-class performance centre in perpetuity and very good community facilities for the whole of north and east London. That is a prize that is very much to be won, and we want to ensure that we win it.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

The Secretary of State will recall that the Prime Minister gave his personal support to the millennium dome and endorsed the view that it would form the first paragraph of his party's next election manifesto. He will also recall that the Prime Minister took personal charge of the foot and mouth crisis, and turned it into a disaster that has devastated rural communities. As football is rather important in England, will he give the House an assurance that the Prime Minister will not seek to take personal charge of the Wembley stadium?

Mr. Smith

I cannot accept either the conclusion or the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision taken to establish an athletics stadium in the Lee valley was absolutely right? When the athletics championships come to this country, many people in north, east and other parts of London will recognise that the Government made a wise decision.

On the future of the football stadium at Wembley, does he recognise that a large number of clubs in London, which are looking for new grounds, might be persuaded to reconsider moving to a new facility if the plan goes ahead?

Mr. Smith

I can wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend's endorsement of the Lee valley option for the 2005 world championships. As I said, work is well advanced. I am proud that we will have a purpose-built, dedicated athletics facility for those championships. One of the reasons why we were so successful in winning IAAF approval for the proposal in Paris last year was the fact that that facility would be designed and built specifically for athletics. We want to stick to that.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

The Secretary of State knows that, in the four years of the Labour Government, I and other members of the all-party sports committee have repeatedly questioned him about the project. On many occasions, he has preened himself in front of not only hon. Members but the world's media and taken credit for what he described as a "magnificent" and "stunning" project. Does he now acknowledge that his ambitions are crumbling to dust, that his claims that the stadium is not a Government project and that Macavity's not there and his attempts to distance himself from events have no credibility not only in the House but in the eyes of the world? Does he further accept that he must take responsibility and resign?

Mr. Smith


Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

My right hon. Friend's friends in the north are fed up with projects being directed to the southern part of the country. We cannot prevent the private sector from investing where it wishes. However, in the case that we are considering, the private sector has decided that Wembley is not viable because of the additional costs that such a location incurs. If any public money, including lottery money, is to be used, can we have value for money by considering options in other parts of the country? They include refurbishing existing football stadiums and spreading international football and rugby league matches throughout the country. Other countries, such as Italy, do that.

Mr. Smith

As I have already said, we are prepared to consider other options, and I will bear my hon. Friend's comments in mind. I am delighted that major projects under the Department's umbrella will go to the north of England. I am especially pleased that the Baltic flour mills and the Gateshead music centre are well under way.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

I welcome the Secretary of State's comments about keeping options open. He mentioned the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002. They will be the first big international sporting event in this country after the foot and mouth crisis and will afford great opportunities for regenerating international tourism. Will he assure hon. Members that he will bear regeneration in mind when he considers the stadium, which could properly be located in Greater Manchester?

Mr. Smith

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the importance of the 2002 Commonwealth games, which constitute a major sporting event. They will draw people from all around the world and we can use them in our campaign to boost tourism in the sad aftermath of foot and mouth disease. The announcement that we made this morning of an additional £12 million for the British Tourist Authority's promotion budget will help in that task.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's work to try to find a solution. Football is our national spectator sport, and it is therefore essential to find a long-term, sustainable solution. We want not a stadium that will cost people far too much to visit, but a venue that ordinary football fans and their families can afford. I welcome my right hon. Friend's decision not to rule anything in or out at present. I ask him to consider all the options. If Wembley cannot be refurbished, will he consider the principles of environmental sustainability in, for example, the distances that fans travel to and from football matches? Will he consider the possibility of a Wembley of the north, or even of the midlands?

Mr. Smith

We will consider all the options. I agree with my hon. Friend that is essential to find a good solution. We want a national stadium in England, and it is demonstrably possible to achieve that. The Millennium stadium in Cardiff was built for £126 million, a fifth of the estimated cost of the current Wembley project. Let us learn some lessons from the enormous success of that project and apply them to a national stadium for England.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Today is the fourth anniversary of the Labour Government, and what an appalling birthday present the Secretary of State has given the nation. Wembley stadium was world famous for all the right reasons, and the dome is world famous for all the wrong ones. If the new Wembley project had been a great success, the Government would have claimed credit for it. Now that it is an appalling fiasco, they are rubbing their hands and not taking any of the blame. In the dying days of this dreadful and appalling Government, will the Secretary of State—who obviously has a problem with the word "resign"—at least come to the Dispatch Box and say that he is sorry?

Mr. Smith

The one thing on which I can agree with the hon. Gentleman is that this is, indeed, the fourth anniversary of the election of this Government. I look forward to many more such anniversaries.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

My right hon. Friend will know that I have asked questions consistently on this subject over the past 10 years. Indeed, I had a question on it on Monday's Order Paper, which, unfortunately, we did not reach. I have always supported the need for a replacement Wembley. Wembley stadium, as it was, was not up to standard for the 21st century. We need a replacement that will provide good facilities for the majority of the crowd—ordinary people—and it need not cost £400 million. This is not the Government's fault, and they should tell the FA to get itself sorted out. We need a new national stadium, and I believe that it should be in London, and at Wembley. The FA needs to sort this out, because there is enough money in football to do so.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has, indeed, been consistent in pursuing the need for a national stadium that will offer considerably better conditions than the rather dilapidated ones at the existing Wembley. We wish to see a national stadium, but we must get this right and we must not break everyone's bank in the process.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Will the Secretary of State accept that it was a terrible decision to take Wembley out of service before plans for a new stadium had been agreed? Will he also accept that he has totally underestimated the affection that the British public have for the old Wembley stadium? I say that as one who was lucky enough to go there with his father, on 30 July 1966, to watch that great World cup final. Is not the solution for the Secretary of State to make good as best he can the circumstances at Wembley, and to take up the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and build a new stadium and all its ancillary facilities in Birmingham—in the heart of the midlands—to give the midlands a little? Is not it a fact that this problem is a national humiliation, and that it is happening on the fourth anniversary of this Government?

Mr. Smith

The decision to take Wembley out of service was taken by Wembley National Stadium Ltd. As I have already said, we shall consider a range of options to see what is most affordable and sustainable, both environmentally—as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) mentioned—and economically.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I find myself in a minority here. May I say, as a socialist, that although the Secretary of State's job is to promote sports and to provide all the academies, providing an affordable and sustainable—to use his words—national stadium for the industry of soccer is not core Government business, bearing in mind the critical issues now facing us in this country? In my view, it is good that the Government should try to facilitate and encourage this project, but not with public money or with too much energy.

As a socialist, I think that market forces should prevail in this case. We should call the bluff of the Football Association, because the money is there, and the FA will provide it and refurbish Wembley stadium. The one condition that I would like to lay down is that the towers should not be removed. Where else would a heritage building be allowed to have such features removed? I will tell the House why that is happening. It is because of the disproportionate clout and influence of the football industry. That needs to be curtailed, and the industry's bluff needs to be called.

Mr. Smith

I believe that it is the job of the Government to facilitate a good and sustainable solution to this matter. The twin towers are, indeed, deeply loved across the country, and that is why we will, of course, consider refurbishment as well as new-build options. We need to assess the aesthetics, the heritage, the football and the economic case for the various options in front of us.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

In the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has wrested control of foot and mouth away from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and taken it on himself. Now we hear that control over this fiasco has been taken away from the Secretary of State and given to the Home Secretary. Given that, and the stinging criticism made by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport of the Secretary of State's intervention in 1999 and other issues, how does he feel about his stewardship of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport over the past four years?

Mr. Smith

Very confident.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

Does it remain the aim of the Government to ensure that the new national stadium will cater for sports other than association football—in particular, of course, the great game of rugby league? My right hon. Friend was at Twickenham on Saturday, with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sport, for the rugby league Challenge cup final. For one or two of us—certainly those of us who are banned from rugby union for life—it was a rather uncomfortable experience. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we will not have to go there again? He will be a popular man if he can ensure that rugby league is not played at Twickenham again.

Mr. Smith

The location for the rugby league cup final is a matter for the rugby league authorities, not for me. I suspect that my hon. Friend has influence in that quarter, and he may wish to make his views known there. However, his central point is important. It has always been envisaged, and should still be envisaged, that a national stadium should cater for football and for rugby league.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

To prevent the project from collapsing altogether, what is the maximum expenditure of lottery or taxpayers' funds that the Secretary of State is prepared to endorse?

Mr. Smith

There has already been a contribution of £120 million of lottery funds to the purchase of the existing stadium.

Mr. Paterson

How much?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let the Secretary of State answer.

Mr. Smith

We need to consider—

Mr. Paterson

It is an easy question. How much?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I tell the hon. Gentleman again: let the Secretary of State answer.

Mr. Smith

We need to consider all the various alternatives and the costs. We must also consider where the money can be raised. Those issues will be determined over the next few months.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend might ask the FA whether it might like to buy Picketts Lock. Rugby union, the sport with which I am familiar, rebuilt two thirds of Twickenham 10 years ago, based on the premise of debenture tickets and media sales of television rights. Am I right in thinking that debentures were ruled out completely for Wembley? If so, who made the decision?

Mr. Smith

The decisions about the methods of financing for the Wembley project were made by the FA and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to Twickenham, which represents an extremely good example of a sport deciding to reconstruct its stadium and doing so successfully by raising the money itself.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

It is a pleasure, albeit a rare one, for me entirely to concur with the views of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). I seek a categoric assurance from my right hon. Friend: if Birmingham is able to show that it can provide a first-class, easily accessible, brand-new stadium at a fraction of the cost of the Wembley project, will he ensure that no sleight of hand will be allowed to sabotage our efforts?

Mr. Smith

We shall consider any proposals that are put to us completely fairly and completely openly. We shall make an assessment based on what would provide the best stadium for football and rugby league and the most affordable cost.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

Towards the end of last year, a deal to move the Wembley towers to Widnes in my constituency, where they would have formed part of the new national rugby league museum, was all but completed—the ink was nearly dry on the paper. If another opportunity to move the towers arises, will my right hon. Friend give his support for that?

I welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to take a fresh look at the problem of Wembley. We have heard nonsense from the Tories, who have put nothing of substance on the table today. It is right not to rule out other locations and my right hon. Friend might consider the north-west of England, where he will find the best rugby league and soccer teams in the country. Building a national stadium in the region would save supporters money as they would not have to travel back and forth to other venues.

Mr. Smith

There is a practical difficulty with moving the Wembley towers, because of the nature of their construction. However, if ingenious methods of moving them can be found and if the finance for the operation can be put together, such an option may be considered. I note my hon. Friend's bid for the north-west of England to host a national stadium. So far, we have had bids from Wembley itself, the north-west, the north-east, Birmingham and other parts of the midlands. Indeed, if market forces are operating, perhaps such competition is the best possible way to secure a good stadium at an affordable price.

Mr. David Taylor North-West Leicestershire)

Was it not chronic and perverse metro-centricity that left the national showcase for the national game in a shabby stadium in an inaccessible, expensive and congested north-west London suburb when decades ago it could have been moved to the midlands or the north? Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the potential of the east midlands to provide a home for the national game that is accessible, affordable and closer to the real supporters of football?

Mr. Smith

One of the good aspects of the Wembley project so far has been the commitment of all parties—the single regeneration budget panel, the Wembley taskforce and the mayor of London—to improving the accessibility of the Wembley area, and the regeneration of that area is one of the benefits that have been sought. I reiterate, however, what I have said to others: we will look at all the options, and we will consider alternative locations. We want to do the right thing and ensure that we end up with the best possible national stadium.