HC Deb 23 May 2002 vol 386 cc400-14 1.17 pm
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to make a statement on the progress of the national stadium project. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) must wait and see. It fulfils my commitment to the House on 7 May to update hon. Members before the Whitsun recess.

I want to deal with four main points. First, I shall consider the extent and nature of Government responsibility for the Football Association project. Secondly, I shall deal with the allegations that arise from the James and Tropus reports into the early stages of the tendering process. Thirdly, I shall update hon. Members on progress since my last statement on 7 May—perhaps it was not technically a statement, because it was made in response to a private notice question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Fourthly, I want to comment on the lessons learned and the changes made consequently.

Clearly, the project is primarily a matter for the FA. It wants a national stadium at Wembley and it is prepared to pay for it. However, it is a clear principle that big infrastructure projects require some Government engagement, whether financial or facilitating. Patrick Carter's report made that clear. Government support is plainly a factor in the market's assessment of such a project. The first Wembley proposal was over-ambitious and poorly managed. The tendering process was flawed and secure bank lending was not achieved. Costs escalated and the Government's role was ambiguous. It was these weaknesses that led to delays, to the request from the FA for extra public funds, and to the Government's decision to ask Patrick Carter to carry out a full review of the project's feasibility.

The Government can decide to support the Football Association or we can walk away. If we walk away, it will almost certainly stop the project in its tracks. We cannot, should not, and will not take over the direction of the project. That remains clearly with the FA. However, when public funds are committed to a project, the Government clearly have a responsibility to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to safeguard public investment, and to secure the improvements to the management and governance of the project necessary for success. That is what we are doing.

We are insisting on best-practice public sector standards—which are higher than those that apply in the commercial sector—to protect the taxpayer and the lottery player. That should also reassure the market that this is a worthy project to invest in. Once those measures are in place, it will be appropriate for us to meet some of the non-stadium infrastructure costs, and we have identified £20 million for that purpose. Of course, we also need to stay engaged with the project to protect the public interest in the £120 million lottery grant made by Sport England.

Hon. Members will have read much in recent days about the James and Tropus reports into the procurement of the stadium project. These reports investigated alleged irregularities in the tendering and procurement processes, and weaknesses in the corporate governance of the project. The allegations applied specifically to the period from 1999 to the summer of 2000, and they make disturbing reading. That is why, when I saw the James report in December last year, I set clear conditions that this project had to be cleansed before any further commitment could be made by the Government. [Interruption.] We note the hoots of laughter from the Conservatives, for whom such matters of public finance are clearly irrelevant.

It is important that the allegations are now considered in the context of the progress made since my statement to the House on 19 December. The four conditions set as a result of the availability of David James's report were: a full value-for-money assessment of the construction agreement to be undertaken by an independent assessor; that Wembley National Stadium Ltd. supply a copy of the James report to the National Audit Office; that significant changes be made to corporate governance; and that legally binding agreements for the financing of the stadium, from whatever source, be concluded.

I should make it clear to the House that I do not believe that there have been any new disclosures which add to the concerns previously identified. It is important to note that David James's report did not find any evidence of criminal impropriety; nor did it recommend re-tendering the contract for rebuilding Wembley. The most important question to be answered, therefore, was whether the flaws identified by the James report in relation to procurement and tendering had irrevocably damaged the project, on grounds of cost, propriety or deliverability. The expert judgments suggest that they have not.

In December, I asked both the FA and WNSL to publish the James-Berwin Leighton Paisner report. For legal reasons, however, WNSL felt unable to do so. A publishable version has now, finally, seen the light of day. Much of what I have set out is history, but it is history from which we must learn. Changes have been made, particularly since December. I now wish to look to the future, because in many ways as much progress has been made on this project in the past five months as in the previous five years. I believe that the three conditions—assessment of value for money, consideration of the relevant papers by the National Audit Office, and the strengthening of project management and corporate governance—have broadly been met.

I will not repeat to the House what I said on these matters two weeks ago, except to say that a copy of the Sweett report—the independent value-for-money assessment—is available in the House of Commons Library for those who wish to read it in detail. It confirms that it is unlikely that re-tendering of the construction contracts would result in significant savings.

I do wish, however, to bring the House up to date on the question of the project's financing. On 7 May, I informed the House that the lead bank had agreed in outline to proceed. The FA has since said that it expects to sign a "heads of agreement" term sheet and an exclusive mandate with WestLB—the lead bank—in the next seven days, which will agree the project's overall financial structure. They have said that they expect to complete all the financial contracts at some point in the next 10 weeks. The bank is satisfied that it has access to all the information that it requires, including the James and Tropus reports. I should make it clear that I regard these time scales—which are not under my or the Government's control, and which relate to the contract between the FA and the relevant banks—as indicative, rather than definitive.

The prospects are good and the progress is promising, but the outcome is not yet certain: this is not yet a done deal. Accordingly, I will not give final approval to the Government's contribution to the non-stadium infrastructure until a final report on the extent to which the four tests have been met has been produced by Patrick Carter, after proper banking arrangements have been concluded and assessed.

It is clear to me—as indeed it is to the FA—that the current negotiations represent the last chance for Wembley. Should a Wembley deal not prove possible, I would expect the FA to enter into discussions with Birmingham about its proposals, as I have maintained in December and since. The FA has repeated its assurances that if Wembley fails to proceed, it will look to other options, including Birmingham. That is what it said in December, and yesterday I confirmed the position with the FA's chief executive, who also issued a statement to that effect.

The Birmingham bid, which was and is credible, has been examined by Patrick Carter and by the FA in good faith. However, the Carter report supports the view that Wembley would deliver higher revenues, hence its status as the FA's declared preference. The Birmingham bid remains only embryonic; planning permission for what is a green belt site has not been given; the detailed design has not been completed; final costings for the stadium have yet to be made; the business plan has yet to be thoroughly tested, or backed by market research; and there remains a significant funding gap to be bridged. So moving the project to Birmingham is not a straightforward process with a guarantee of success. However, if Wembley fails, Birmingham deserves the chance to make its case.

In that context, I want to clear up one matter. Some people have mistakenly assumed that a secret agreement exists between the FA and Sport England to reopen the old Wembley stadium if the new project fails. That is nothing more than a misunderstanding of the staging agreement between Sport England and the FA. It is the security obtained by Sport England for the £120 million lottery grant. It could, in theory, allow Sport England to require the FA to stage events at Wembley for 20 years in the event of the project failing. In reality—let us focus on the reality—the stadium would be very expensive to reopen, and would be increasingly sub-standard as a venue. The Carter report indicates that it would cost around £40 million for a quick fix to open the doors: a solution that would require a second, major refurbishment only five years later, costing tens of millions of pounds more.

The FA made it clear in its statement yesterday that reopening the stadium is only one of the options that might be available m the event of a failure to proceed with the new stadium; given the cost, it is an unlikely option for the FA to choose. However, it is for Sport England and the FA to decide how and—in the event of the project failing—when the grant is repaid.

I come now to the last point. Hindsight shows what a high-risk project this was. However, lottery money is not about risk avoidance. It should be much more about risk management. I believe that more work needs to be done with distributors on risk assessment in relation to large projects such as this. One solution that I intend to pursue is to involve the Office of Government Commerce in all high-risk lottery projects—the project has now been subjected to this process—to ensure full scrutiny of proposals before their approval. The OGC's report, in the light of the changes made and proposed, supports the stadium plans and recommends that the project should proceed to contractual close.

I intend to include this issue in the forthcoming consultation on the future of lottery distribution, which I have announced to the House and which I intend to bring before the House before the summer recess. It is important for the future of the lottery to get this issue right.

One year ago, the national stadium project was flawed, tainted and unsustainable. Since then, the efforts of the FA and other stakeholders, working with Patrick Carter and his team, have yielded results in governance, transparency and the potential to attract financial support to a much more credible project.

Because of that, the money sought from Government is still on the table. It forms part of the financial package and it will remain there while the present negotiations with the bank continue progress to a conclusion. There is some distance still to travel. If the four conditions that I have set out are met in full, the House can be assured that Government support will be given to a project that will have demonstrated that it deserves it; a project with the potential to benefit sport in England at all levels for generations.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I thank the Secretary of State for making the statement today, as she promised to do, and for an advance copy of it.

Here we are again: another day, another statement, another mess. We are told that the prospects are good and that progress is promising, but that the outcome is still not yet certain. We now have the deeply damaging contents of the Tropus report and the James report, in spite of which the Secretary of State says today that she believes that there have been no new disclosures that add to the concerns previously identified.

The House would like to know when the Secretary of State knew about the Tropus report. When did her Department have the report? Was it before 19 December 2001? Why were the FA and WNSL so slow to publish the James report? We have had sight of it only thanks to the vigilance of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, under the skilful chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).

The Secretary of State plays down the contents of the two reports, taking comfort from the fact that the James report did not find any evidence of criminal impropriety and did not recommend retendering the contract for rebuilding Wembley. She focuses on whether flaws identified had irrevocably damaged the project on the grounds of cost, propriety or deliverability. It was yet another last chance for Wembley, and the possibility still existed that FA could enter into discussions with Birmingham on its proposal.

The statement gives rise to several questions. What matters remain for negotiation on Wembley? Are they matters of principle or of detail? How much longer is the Secretary of State prepared to give Wembley, and where does that leave Birmingham? What is Coventry's position?

Why did the Secretary of State tell the House earlier this month that the detail of that progress is shrouded in commercial confidentiality"? Was she partly referring to the staging agreement? Did she know about the staging agreement giving a commitment that all football internationals and FA cup finals to be held until 2019 would be at Wembley? When precisely did she know that? Was that information made available to the other bidders?

On the position of athletics at Wembley, the Secretary of State has said that the Sport England report will be published shortly".—[Official Report, 7 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 23–4.] Where does the whole sorry saga leave Birmingham and Coventry? Would she support the reimbursement of the costs of the teams from those areas incurred in compiling their bids? What lessons are there for the lottery, and does she really think that this statement will reassure the market that the project is a worthy one to invest in? When can English sports fans expect to see a new national stadium opened? How many more drinks will Wembley enjoy in the last chance saloon?

Tessa Jowell

I do not wish to be disrespectful to the hon. Lady, but I am sure that she wishes that her senior colleague had been here, because her response to the statement that I made was pathetic.

I became aware of the James report in December last year. As the hon. Lady says, it was shrouded in commercial secrecy, because it was highly sensitive. It was made available, as I made clear to the House on 19 December, on grounds of legal privilege. That limited the number of people who saw the report and the use that could be made of it. However, it is because of that report and my insistence that it be passed to my Department and made available to the National Audit Office—and because the steps that I have reminded the House of today were followed—that the project is now in the state that it is in today, instead of the flawed, tainted, unbankable state that it was in a year ago. That is a matter of fact.

The question of whether the financial deal will now proceed to a commercial close is a matter for the FA and the banks concerned, but the indications are that the banks will be encouraged by the consistency of Government support for the project and the fact that a commercial project has been subjected to a degree of rigour and scrutiny equivalent to the standards expected in the public sector.

In my statement, I set out the position in relation to Birmingham: when the Football Association made it clear that Wembley was its preferred location, the Birmingham team agreed—rightly—that it would undertake no further work on the proposal for the time being. I have set out, as made clear by the Football Association, the further steps that would need to be taken if Wembley fails and Birmingham is then considered as an alternative.

The hon. Lady asks what I meant by "shortly" as regards publication of the athletics report. I suggest that when she gets back to her office she tell off her researcher, because the information has been in the Library, in response to a parliamentary question, for about two weeks. It is also available on the Sport England website.

Finally, I have made very clear the lessons for the lottery and the steps I intend to initiate in order to ensure that the lottery does not become risk averse, and that where lottery money is invested in risky projects, that is done on the best known understanding of the likely effect of those risks.

The project is now moving forward. The hon. Lady's contribution shows that none of that progress has been achieved with the help of the Opposition.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

What is pretty clear is that if a new Wembley stadium is built, it will be coated with high-gloss whitewash.

My right hon. Friend will understand that, as far as I am concerned, what matters is the House's custodianship of the expenditure of public money. Will she therefore make it absolutely clear that in no circumstances whatever will a penny above the £20 million to which she has previously referred be given by the Government for this project?

My right hon. Friend talked of the need to protect the taxpayer and the lottery payer. She will be aware that the David James report—which, like the other documents, was published only because the Select Committee forced their publication—identifies serious breaches of the lottery funding agreement and subsequently a complete failure by Sport England to do anything about it. There has been a serious dereliction of duty by Sport England, which flung £120 million at the project and did not lift a finger to monitor how the money was used.

Will my right hon. Friend hold Sport England to account? My view is that there should be sackings at Sport England—especially Mrs. Brigid Simmonds, who seems to take pride in the neglect of Sport England. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that never again, in any public project, will such negligence be allowed? Furthermore, will she ensure that my constituents' money, whether paid through lottery tickets or taxes, will be safeguarded and not used to provide a free gift of a stadium to the FA?

Tessa Jowell

If I may take my right hon. Friend's third point first, I have made it clear on the Floor of the House and before his Select Committee that there are lessons to be learned in relation to the stewardship of lottery grant. That point was also recognised in evidence to the Committee from David Moffett, now the chief executive of Sport England. I shall study carefully the Select Committee's conclusions on the specific points where it considered that Sport England had not offered proper stewardship.

Throughout this process, however, it is important to separate the allegations of negligence from the fact of negligence. Certainly, the lottery agreement has been altered and there were not proper and sufficiently close relationships between WNSL and Sport England, as evidenced by the fact that when the stadium was closed Sport England was not aware of that fact. I am entirely persuaded, therefore, of the need for some changes, but it is important to focus on fact rather than allegation.

On my right hon. Friend's second point, the House will be clear about the sources from which public money for investment in Wembley stadium will come: there will be £20 million for non-stadium infrastructure and £21 million from the London development agency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions recently announced the plans to upgrade Wembley Park tube station. I am clear that that is the proper limit of public investment in this project. Indeed, part of the financial deal on which Patrick Carter's advice has been taken is intended to ensure that the FA bears the risk for the project.

Finally, on my right hon. Friend's point about publication of the James report, the Tropus report to which he referred is a dossier of allegations. The James report has now been slightly amended and is in publishable form. At Christmas, I called for its publication. It has now seen the light of day and I welcome that.

Nick Harvey (North Devon)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement today, but I regret that there is not a little more progress to report. I also commend her fortitude in riding out the embarrassment that the Government should feel about the entire Wembley saga. At this stage, she is right to see this bid through to an actual conclusion one way or the other. Will she confirm that the banking arrangement is 95 per cent. agreed and that it is a process of due diligence that is now under way? Is it not time that some due diligence was shown in this project?

As the Wembley bid is nearing a conclusion, one way or another, surely it would be perverse in the extreme to exaggerate the significance of a few weeks' delay now and to favour another bid that, for understandable reasons, is not even on the starting blocks in terms of planning, costing or funding.

Finally, should the new Wembley stadium project fail for one reason or another, I urge the right hon. Lady to keep a rather more open mind than seems apparent from her statement about the possibility of breathing some new life into the old Wernbley stadium. If a new stadium is to be in Birmingham, east London or anywhere else, it will take many years to deliver and some extended life for the old Wembley might well be a useful transitional phase.

Tessa Jowell

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's practical and sensible approach to the financing of the project. I will not make any predictions about the probability, and so forth. This is a matter for negotiation between the FA and the lead bank. I have made it clear that the money that the Government have offered for non-stadium infrastructure is on the table and will remain there while the process of negotiating the deal to a close takes its course.

On the allegations, it is important to be clear that the allegations made by David James in his report became known to me and my Department in December, although there was certainly a belief before that that there had been some impropriety in the procurement of the contract—it had been known to Patrick Carter. Progress has been secured since that time. The focus on the allegations now should not cloud the progress that has been made in the intervening six months.

Finally—as I have said too many times to repeat, but I shall say it one more time—the decision on the location of the national football stadium is a matter for the FA.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, in her future consideration of this issue, she will not be swayed by the anti-London hysteria that is being whipped up by Conservative Members against the Wembley option? Will she also assure me that she recognises the fundamental importance of a rebuilt, modernised Wembley stadium to many businesses in my constituency and to the wider north-west London economy? When does she expect that we can have some confidence in the FA's ability not to be completely and utterly incompetent at building national stadiums again?

Tessa Jowell

Well, first, the Opposition's attitude is opportunist, rather than particularly anti anything at all. Secondly, yes, of course the national football stadium will be a very important source of regeneration in a part of north-west London that badly needs such investment and regeneration, and I welcome that fact. As for the time scale, I have made the position clear.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

Several years on, there is still no real plan or clear way ahead. Is not this whole saga a classic example of the syndrome of paralysis by analysis? Now, the Secretary of State's latest wheeze appears to involve four key tests. If those four key tests are met, can we have a referendum?

Tessa Jowell

The hon. Gentleman has worked hard on that one, hasn't he? [Interruption.] I suspect he has been practising all day. There are two worlds in all this: the world of the FA, the Government trying to make things work, the lead bank negotiating on due diligence and the other stakeholders making the project happen; and there is the world of the Opposition, who are increasingly irrelevant.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the clarity of her statement and the seriousness with which she has approached this issue of national importance, in marked contrast to the official Opposition's absurd responses. I endorse her concerns with regard to regenerating a part of north-west London that needs it and, indeed, sustaining that economy in London for the future, but when she is being firm about there being no public money in addition to that already stated, will she consider the fact that there are serious concerns about how fans would travel to Birmingham if the plan were moved to the midlands, as it would be almost exclusively car based?

Tessa Jowell

I thank my hon. Friend. Obviously, the benefits if the national stadium proceeds at Wembley will be felt by her constituents as well. I have to say with the greatest respect that, at the moment, I am more focused on how fans will travel to a national stadium at Wembley than on any of the other options, which is why I welcome the announcement of investment by London Transport and the Mayor in upgrading Wembley Park tube station. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) for his advocacy and determination in securing that improvement for his constituents.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

To say that the attempt to provide a new national stadium at Wembley has been a sorry saga rather understates the case, but will the Secretary of State confirm that she said in her statement on 19 December that she had asked the FA to deal with four points? Those four points, which she listed in her statement today, have all been dealt with and the heads of agreement between the banks have been confirmed. Although the detail has to be sorted out, surely the only choice now is to conclude those negotiations successfully and build a new stadium at Wembley, which will come sooner than any alternative, generate more income and, in fact, be cheaper. It is now absolutely essential, after the farce of Picketts Lock, that the decisions be taken and the infrastructure put in place so that north London's economy can be regenerated.

Tessa Jowell

I welcome that unexpectedly sensible intervention from the Opposition Benches. I am not wholly satisfied that all the conditions have yet been met. I have made clear the work in progress in relation to the financing of the project, and I wait to be assured that all the corporate governance changes necessary, as identified by the James report and others who have examined the project, are in place and are secure. I will ask Patrick Carter, who has had an independent and advisory role in relation to this matter, to advise me that the four conditions have been met and that the Government can have confidence, when investing the £20 million to which I have referred, in allowing the project to proceed. That is the proper and prudent way to approach the matter, and that is what I intend to do.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire)

Wembley is—in my right hon. Friend's words—not yet a done deal. If the west midlands option can therefore be revived, will she confirm that the £20 million from the Government will still be on the table? What will happen to the £120 million from Sport England?

Tessa Jowell

I have, I hope, made the position absolutely clear in relation to the Birmingham bid—it is an option that the FA will consider if its preferred option of Wembley fails. I spell that out because I do not want anyone to be in any doubt about that. I made it clear in December, and it remains the case, that if the Wembley project fails I would ensure that the £20 million that would be made available for infrastructure there would be made available for the Birmingham project. I have also made it clear on several occasions that, in the event of failure in relation to Wembley, I would expect the lottery grant to be repaid. That would be a matter for further negotiation between Sport England and the Football Association, but that would be the clear expectation.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on not setting a deadline today? Is it a coincidence that she represents a London constituency, her predecessor represented a London constituency, two of the three people who have held the job of Minister for Sport represent London constituencies, and the present holder of the job represents a Sheffield constituency? Is that why Birmingham does not stand a chance? Why does she not say so?

Tessa Jowell


Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

In case the point gets lost in this debate, the majority of football supporters would welcome siting the national stadium in Birmingham. Equally, the majority of football clubs would welcome siting it in Birmingham. Many Labour Members are very concerned about the way in which the FA has handled this situation, for many reasons. In particular, we do not want to find, at the end of this period, that our Government cause the opprobrium and embarrassment to rest with us and not the FA.

What is the Secretary of State's or her Department's judgment of when we shall get to the end of this saga of the FA and Wembley? The negotiations continue. What is her estimate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)


I wonder when the hon. Gentleman might get to the end of his question. There are quite a number of other hon. Members to fit in.

Mr. Turner

What is the Secretary of State's estimate of the final outcome of these negotiations?

Tessa Jowell

I am well aware of the level of popular support and support from hon. Members on both sides—my hon. Friend made this clear—for the Birmingham option. However, as I have done on a number of occasions, I remind him that the decision about the location of the national stadium is a matter for the Football Association. It is not a matter for me.

In my opening remarks, I set out the indicative time scale that the FA has notified for the next stages in relation to banking. That is the best indication that we have. I have also made it clear to the House today that the Government's offer remains on the table while the negotiations proceed. However, I do not know by precisely what date they will conclude.

I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for his unfailing advocacy of the west midlands and its bid. I wish him well in his continued pursuit of his cause.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

As a Tottenham supporter from Northern Ireland, I have not been to Wembley often enough. However, I first went to Wembley in 1966 for the match to determine third and fourth places and then to the World cup final when I supported England.

This is not a parochial issue, but it has become all about Birmingham and Coventry. As I said, I am a Tottenham supporter from Northern Ireland and, back home, there are United and Liverpool fans as well as a few Rangers and Celtic supporters. We want the national stadium to be at Wembley. We want to go to London, to go up Wembley way and to see the twin towers. Does the Secretary of State agree that, in the national interest, she should stop passing the buck, show some leadership, support Wembley and rebuild it? That is where we went in the past and it is where we want to go in the future.

Tessa Jowell

I shall be delighted to pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to the Football Association. I can be absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman about the practical steps that the Government have taken with the FA—I have set them out to the House—to enable the project to make progress.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed that an option was agreed between the FA and Sport England in 1999 that the national stadium could remain at the current site in Wembley. However, she said that she thought that there had been a misunderstanding about the nature of that agreement. May I draw her attention to the fact that, on 4 July 2001, the chief executive of the FA wrote to the chief executive of Birmingham city council confirming that there were three—I repeat, three—options for the national stadium? The chief executive of the FA said that the options were:

  1. "1. The current design proposal for a 90,000 stadium at Wembley,
  2. 2. A new 80,000/85,000 design for Wembley,
  3. 3. A new 80,000/85,000 design in Birmingham."
He said that he was being "completely open".

As there clearly was a further option—let us put it no stronger than that—it remains a fact that Birmingham and, I believe, the country have been misled. As a result of that, is not the FA obliged to do two things? First, if it has misled Birmingham, it should compensate Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands for the expenditure that they have already incurred. Secondly, even at this late stage, it should play fair and give Birmingham a fair deal and respond to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) correctly said was the choice of the fans—to bring the national stadium to Birmingham.

Tessa Jowell

I think that there was some misrepresentation of remarks made by the FA's company secretary to the Select Committee earlier this week. That led the chief executive of the FA to set out yesterday very clearly the nature of the FA's position on Birmingham and to confirm to me by telephone yesterday that nothing had changed in the FA's position on Birmingham between now and last Christmas, which is when the announcement that the FA would proceed with Wembley was made.

For my hon. Friend's information, let me quote the chief executive. He said: Nothing has changed since then and, as far as The F.A. is concerned, Birmingham would remain an option for the national stadium should the new Wembley not proceed. As has always been the case, this would of course be subject to discussions by all the stakeholders on how best to abort the current project and any agreements relating to it. He finished by saying: I am very clear therefore that Birmingham have not been misled by either the Carter review team, government or The F. A.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Following on from what the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) said, is the Secretary of State aware of the enormous pride in our greatest sporting triumph of 1966, which took place at Wembley stadium? Is not the present shambles regrettable in view of those memories? Has it not brought international shame on this country and on the greatest game in the world? How does she see the role of the Government, not only in the shambles, but from here on in? Is the national stadium the Government's responsibility, or is it not?

Tessa Jowell

I will not rehearse the arguments that I have already made. What I will do is send the good wishes from every corner of the House to the England team. I hope that they repeat their magnificent achievement of 1966 in the next few weeks.

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

This is obviously a game of three halves. When the Secretary of State sends her greetings to the England team, will she tell them that we are going to extend the principle of the timeless test to football matches? If players find themselves 1–0 down at full-time, the referee will not only extend the game until they score two or three goals, but suspend the offside trap and probably go around chopping off the legs of the opposition as well. That is how sponsors and supporters of the west midlands bid feel, as other hon. Members have said.

Some 69 per cent. of fans throughout the country want the stadium to be in the west midlands, as do 55 of the league clubs. Anyone with any sense wants the stadium there. The deadline of 30 April set by the FA and the Government will be passed by several months because it will be the end of July by the end of the 10-week period. When, and under what circumstances, will the Government ensure that the FA honours its undertaking to Birmingham so that its bid can be considered properly and given a fair chance in line with the views of the fans, the clubs and the game in general?

Tessa Jowell

I will provide my hon. Friend with a copy of the letter sent by the chief executive of the Football Association, to whom his comments should be addressed.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

The right hon. Lady does herself no favours by blaming the previous Secretary of State and the Football Association. However, in response to the question asked by her hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), she said that what was said on Tuesday had been misrepresented. The transcripts of that will be available, but let me tell her that Mr. Nick Coward, the company secretary of the FA, made it clear that Birmingham was never in the running. Mr. David Moffatt, the chief executive of Sport England, speaking of the deal to return the £120 million and the fact that Binningham was never in the running, said that Birmingham looks extremely remote because of that. There was no misrepresentation.

If the Football Association has changed its mind, I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that progress has been made on Wembley, and I hope that it goes ahead. However, if it does not, and in light of the Football Association's apparent change of mind, how will the £120 million be repaid?

Tessa Jowell

The position of the Football Association on the potential Birmingham bid was clarified yesterday by Adam Crozier, the chief executive of the Football Association. I ask the House to accept that.

On the repayment of the £120 million, I am not going to speculate either on the circumstances or on the negotiations that would lead to its repayment, save to say that it is subject to a contract between the Football Association and Sport England. I think that every party to the deal understands that if Wembley fails, the money will be repaid.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

Is it not the case that, with £120 million of lottery money devoted to the scheme plus the £20 million additional public money pledged by my right hon. Friend, more money than it cost to build the Millennium stadium in Cardiff has been put into this project, just to cover one fifth of the overall cost? Is there not a third way available? The stadium is not needed—it is not even wanted by many England fans, who are happy to see their team travel around the country. Should we not close the roof on the deal altogether, cut our losses, and make Cardiff the permanent home of the FA cup final and the play-offs?

Tessa Jowell

No doubt my hon. Friend will suggest that to the Football Association. He never loses an opportunity—nor should he—to praise the excellent Millennium stadium in Cardiff.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Is my right hon. Friend as fed up as I am with the moaning voices who continue to try to derail Wembley by highlighting two-year-old management defects as though they were today's current news? Will she confirm that the Sweett report has concluded that the new stadium represents good value for money, and that the independent National Audit Office and the Office of Government Commerce have said that the project is now well managed and should proceed? Will she confirm that the new Wembley stadium will bring regeneration and an estimated 20,000 jobs to my part of north-west London? In the expectation that the FA concludes the deal in the next 10 weeks, does she look forward with me to the silencing of the moaning Mancunian, extinguished once again by the Wembley roar?

Tessa Jowell

Yes to the first point, yes to the second, and yes to the third, but I am not absolutely sure how many jobs will be created as a result of the stadium. As for the fourth point, I look forward to progress on the stadium. Everyone who has played a part in the scrutiny, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), deserves credit.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

When did my right hon. Friend and her Department become aware of what she has described as a theoretical commitment by the Football Association to continue to use Wembley even if the plan for a new stadium fell through?

Tessa Jowell

That was part of the staging agreement that formed part of the lottery agreement that settled the payment of the money from Sport England to WNSL. In January 2000, the Select Committee was informed by Sport England of the existence of the staging agreement.

Miss McIntosh

When did the Secretary of State know?

Tessa Jowell

I became aware of the staging agreement when I became Secretary of State and examined the terms under which the £120 million had been paid.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)

I draw the attention of the House to those parts of the Secretary of State's statement that deal with the FA's comments to the Select Committee. It was in response to my questions in the Select Committee, especially those addressed to Mr. Coward, that it was revealed that, in the worst-case scenario, the £120 million could be repaid only if the contractual agreement to FA events being held at Wembley were broken. Only if that agreement were broken could the project go to Birmingham, and the only way to get the £120 million is to honour that contractual agreement. There is therefore a conflict in the position that the FA is trying to promote. The FA is speaking with a forked tongue in suggesting simultaneously that Birmingham is in with a chance if everything else falls through, and that the money can be paid back. Both cannot happen because of the contractual agreements.

However, on a more positive note—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must hurry. Her question is becoming a statement.

Ms Shipley

How will the Secretary of State, as design champion for architecture and the built environment, ensure that, wherever the stadium is built, we will have excellence?

Tessa Jowell

That is a very good question. The Foster design has attracted both support and admiration. Ultimately, the choice of architect and design is a matter for the Football Association, and it wants to stick with the Foster design for the reasons referred to by my hon. Friend.

I hope that I have made clear to the House the position regarding the staging agreement. I believe that the chief executive of the FA clarified the position in his letter yesterday. The staging agreement between Sport England and WNSL would clearly have to be renegotiated, but we must add to the fact of its existence the fact that after the agreement was settled, the stadium was closed in October 2000, and as Patrick Carter's report makes clear, it would cost an estimated £40 million to reopen it. In those circumstances it would be fit probably for about five years, after which a further substantial sum would have to be paid. Those are the sorts of complexities that would have to be addressed in the event of the Wembley project failing and the money being due for return.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, and I concur, probably for the first time in my life, with the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside). As a Scot, I believe that Wembley is important to the whole of the UK, not just England. I also have a personal interest because for many years I have bored my family and friends with a video of me scoring a goal at Wembley, and when I start to bore my grandchildren, I want it to mean something to them.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the project is now making progress not because of the FA but in spite of it? Does she also agree that the Tropus and James reports confirmed that the FA acted in a cavalier and arrogant manner, and one of the lessons that we should learn from the whole experience is that lottery funding agreements must impose much more robust standards on the recipients of funds, and, even more importantly, that those standards must be enforced?

Tessa Jowell

Yes, I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point about lottery agreements. The terms of the Government's continuing support—the four tests to which I have referred—were made clear to the FA as being non-negotiable. The FA accepted that, which means that we have been able to make the progress that has undoubtedly been achieved. I hope that shortly my hon. Friend will be able to go to Wembley for his encore.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although there might be differences of opinion about Wembley and Birmingham, Coventry, which has been mentioned today, meets the criteria? It is a brownfield site, it has planning permission—unlike Birmingham—and it has been well costed, despite what the Secretary of State may think.

Tessa Jowell

As my hon. Friend knows, Patrick Carter, with the FA, considered the Coventry bid. The FA has decided to go to Wembley, and, as I have made clear, it is a matter for the FA. However, I know that that is a disappointment for my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

The Secretary of State has conducted herself impeccably in the course of this difficult matter, and the fact that we are now closer to starting the construction of a new national stadium at Wembley is very much due to what she has done in the past 12 months.

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that when people say that the Japanese, the South Koreans, the French, the Australians, the Spanish—

Kevin Brennan

The Welsh.

Mr. Banks

And indeed the Welsh—They have all managed to construct magnificent stadiums and to organise big international events, but it is mainly because their Governments were prepared to take over the projects and to run them. In this country we have the worst of all possible worlds for such projects: minimum Government financial contributions but maximum Government interference. On my right hon. Friend's part, of course, that has been highly constructive. It is about time that we looked at these projects and decided that the arm's length principle simply does not work. If we are going to run national projects, and the Government are going to start taking the blame for some of the things that go wrong, they should run them from the outset. I look forward to the point at which 'we can get on and stop nitpicking, so that my right hon. Friend can echo the famous words of Kenneth Wolstenholme in her next statement.

Tessa Jowell

I join my hon. Friend in saying that now, I hope, is the time to move forward. He is right that claims about the success of stadiums in other countries sometimes bear closer scrutiny. Stadiums funded by the commercial sector that fail become a burden on the taxpayer. I am determined that that will not be the case with this stadium.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must move on. I have programmed business to protect, and no doubt there will be opportunities for this matter to be aired again.