HC Deb 25 February 2002 vol 380 cc427-9
4. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

If she will report progress on the redevelopment proposals for the Wembley stadium site. [34230]

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

I made clear to the House on 19 December 2001 the Government's commitment to support the Football Association's national stadium project, subject to the FA meeting a number of conditions that I set out at the time. The Government fully recognise that—as Patrick Carter made clear in his interim report published on 19 December—the project will not be delivered without Government support. The project is now in a process of due diligence with the FA and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. undertaking the necessary work to fulfil the Government's conditions and working with the lead bank on financing the project. Sport England is progressing the study on athletics in consultation with UK Athletics, the British Olympic Association and the International Association of Athletics Federations. I expect the FA's work to be completed in April.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that comprehensive reply. On reflection, does she agree that the decision to exclude athletics from a rebuilt Wembley stadium has turned out to be a disastrous misjudgment? Will she confirm beyond any doubt that when the stadium is rebuilt it will have athletics facilities? Does she agree that the delay in coming to a conclusion about the form that the stadium should take means that football will not have been played at Wembley stadium for five years?

Tessa Jowell

The design of the stadium is athletics capable. The FA is now acting on that and Sport England is in the lead. I made it clear in December that there is a difference between being athletics capable and actually being able to host athletics events. The important fact is that money was awarded as part of the lottery grant, which, if the stadium cannot host athletics events, would have to be returned; so in order to complete the negotiations and settle the future of the national stadium project once and for all, discussions are under way. I have made it clear that a condition of finalising the Government's support for the national stadium project is that the position in relation to athletics be clarified. If athletics events are not to be hosted at the stadium, the money—as the FA has always made clear—would be returned. If, however, the stadium is capable of hosting athletics events—because of the improved technology of a more easily dismantled platform—obviously the money would be retained. That is part of ensuring that the project makes progress and that by the end of April we know once and for all whether the national stadium will be built at Wembley.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Will my right hon. Friend give the House a categorical assurance that she will not repeat the blunders of her predecessor by getting ensnarled in this such that the Government will not be able to evade responsibility for the culpability of Wembley National Stadium Ltd. and the Football Association? Will she give the House an absolute assurance that not a penny of Government money will go directly or indirectly into subsidising the FA and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. and that the Government will not support any effort by the FA and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. to raise money in the markets? The organisation should do that on its own credit and in no other way. Will she make it clear that, if the stadium does not go ahead by April at the latest, legal action will be taken to recover the £120 million to which the FA is clinging like a leech and which it will have no possible legal right to retain?

Tessa Jowell

A number of my predecessors have concerned themselves with the national stadium project. At various times, each of them took decisions on the basis of the best advice and consideration available to them.

On my right hon. Friend's second point, there is absolutely no question of any further Government contribution to the financing of the national stadium. As I have made clear and will continue to make clear, the additional Government support is limited to a further sum of up to £20 million to meet infrastructure costs.

Thirdly, there is no question of the Government bearing any of the risk in relation to the borrowing. The full risk will be borne by the FA.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

I am afraid that the Secretary of State's answers will have raised more doubts in the minds of most listeners in the past few minutes than she perhaps wished. Anxieties already exist about the progress of this project and the achievement of the timetable in April to which she referred. Will she say categorically whether the Government are still committed to rebuilding Wembley stadium and to incorporating an athletics facility? Will she also say whether she is completely happy with the proposed roles of Multiplex, IMG and the FA in this project? Will she confirm that the infrastructure spending that she mentioned involves the rebuilding, not just the upgrading, of Wembley Park tube station? If she is in doubt about whether that is needed, I invite her to do as I did last Tuesday and pay a visit by tube to Wembley.

Tessa Jowell

The hon. Gentleman's contribution makes it clear why the second world war was won in about the same time that it has taken to achieve no progress at all on Wembley. This project was initiated in 1996 by the last Conservative Government, who began with a catalogue of errors.

I set out clearly to the House on 19 December the four conditions that the FA had to meet, in the light of the David James report on the procurement of the stadium, in order for Government support to be settled with a further investment of £20 million. That has been clearly established. Brent council gave planning permission to the stadium in 2000 without any precondition requiring an increase in the capacity of Wembley Park tube station. If new conditions are to be introduced by Brent or, rhetorically, by the hon. Gentleman, they should realise that they are once again putting the national stadium project at risk.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Wembley was very prematurely closed by the FA? Does she also agree that the FA is still prevaricating about a national stadium for one of our most popular games, association football? While prevarication about Wembley continues, there are two excellent sites in the west midlands, at Coventry and at Birmingham, which are less expensive than the Wembley alternative.

Tessa Jowell

In fairness to the FA, there is no prevarication. It is now engaged with the lending banks in the process of due diligence and is proceeding to meet the four conditions that I set out to the House before Christmas. That process will conclude with the signing or not of binding contracts by the end of April. Work is in progress, and my job—and the Government's job—is to provide every possible support, to ensure that the national stadium is realised.