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Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman said that Conservative Members wish the project well, but it was difficult to discern that in his questions. He asked a number of specific questions to which I shall respond. He said that the BOA had written at the start of January and on a number of subsequent occasions to Sport England and to my Department about its concerns. That is the case, and my Department responded similarly on a number of occasions. On 28 May, 2 July and 21 July 1998, and12 January 1999, my Department had meetings or correspondence with the Sports Council and others, specifically identifying the concerns that the BOA had raised. What the BOA was questioning was the suitability of the stadium for the hosting of a potential Olympic bid.

Everyone involved in the project at that stage consistently assured us--the BOA and Government--that there would be no difficulty in ensuring that such an athletics event could indeed be hosted in an adapted stadium. That assurance was brought into question only when we saw the detailed designs for the first time, in the middle of July this year. As soon as I had seen them I called a meeting for 21 July, at which I made it clear that I was concerned about the particular proposals that were being adopted for the transforming of the stadium into athletics mode. Subsequently, we have asked for further detail, and analysed it together with the BOA. Because the answers were not fully satisfactory, we did what I believe was absolutely the right thing and appointed a distinguished group of outside non-partisan experts to have a look at the detailed design and advise us. That advice came to us on Monday of this week, and we have placed it in the House today, Wednesday.

I can tell the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that yes, we want to avoid further delay; yes, we want to ensure that Wembley can be the centrepiece of our bid for the FIFA world cup in 2006; but yes, we also want to get it right for athletics. Getting it right for athletics does not necessarily mean the current design, nor does it necessarily mean insisting that football and athletics share the same national stadium. That is an issue that we will now examine urgently.

Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government are not putting a single pound into the project, apart from the £120 million of lottery money that has just paid for the site? All the rest must be raised from the City, or from the football authorities.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that stadiums in Cardiff, Paris and Berlin, and, for instance, Hampden Park, have cost about £100 million, while a figure of £400-odd million is already being mentioned in connection with the new Wembley stadium? Surely it would be better to keep the existing Wembley stadium, renovate it for the purpose of either athletics or football, and then put a separate stadium for either football or athletics beside the Dome, where there is ample room. That is still a brownfield site.

Yesterday, an all-party group met the International Olympic Committee, and last night we met officials from Wembley. It seemed to us that there was very little chance of both sides agreeing, and that we would end up with a

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camel designed by a committee that had been trying to design a horse. As has been the case for 70 years, the fans inside the stadium will not have a proper view; they will have to stand up to see across to the far side. It will be a disaster, and we and the public auditor will probably have to become involved because of the involvement of, for instance, Brent council.

It is too late to start again, but it is not too late to keep the existing Wembley stadium for either football or athletics and to build a new one beside the Dome.

Mr. Smith: I fear that the existing Wembley stadium is beginning to show its age. If we are serious about wanting to make a substantial bid to host the world cup in 2006, I do not believe that basing it on the existing stadium would necessarily be the best proposition. My hon. Friend is, however, correct in saying that the£120 million that Sport England intends to put into the new Wembley stadium is money from the national lottery, not from the Exchequer.

We must ensure that when Sport England is making difficult decisions about the deployment of lottery money, it weighs up the interests of the different sports of which they must take account. One consideration that we must bear in mind, in the light of the current proposal to insert a deck in the stadium to host athletics, is the sheer cost involved. That money might be better deployed in another way to secure a proper athletics venue.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Does the Secretary of State accept that it could be argued that the performance to date in this particular game has not been wonderful, but that it is far more useful to concentrate on winning than wondering why we might have failed so far? Given that, I want to ask him a couple of specific questions.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, whatever happens, we will have a replacement for the Wembley stadium? I disagree with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton)--the existing stadium is clearly not up to a bid for world cup football in 2006. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that that will be the first objective and that we achieve it?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that if it is possible to come up with a stadium that both fulfils the time constraints for the 2006 football bid and could be enlarged to include athletics and other sports, then, and only then, will such a stadium be considered? Does he feel that the experience in Spain with the Barcelona stadium, in Cardiff with the stadium for the rugby world cup, and with many other stadiums, has led the world of professional sport to conclude that it is better for stadiums that can be used for football and other ball games to be separate from stadiums that can be used for all other sports?

If it is better to have a football stadium at Wembley and a stadium for international athletics, Commonwealth and Olympic games somewhere else, let us do both and not waste money delaying the first and achieving neither.

Mr. Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive way in which he has approached the issue. His forward-looking remarks contrast sharply with the backward-looking remarks of the official Opposition spokesman.

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My aim is to ensure that, whatever happens, we have a world-class replacement for the existing Wembley stadium that can act as the centrepiece of our 2006 football world cup bid. That is an absolute aim that must be met.

Is it possible to have a stadium that does both? The answer is yes, in theory, but a perfect athletics stadium is far from perfect for football and rugby, and vice versa. What can be achieved, as the Stade de France in Paris showed, is a compromise between the two--a stadium that allows the space that is needed for athletics events, but at the same time can be used extremely happily for football. However, spectators are much more distant from the pitch than they would be in an ideal football configuration. We are talking about two different animals: one that is good for football, the other that is good for athletics. The two do not necessarily match.

The DLA Ellerbe Becket report identifies that the current solution that Wembley National Stadium Ltd. has come up with does not work particularly well. What we need to do now--I have put the work urgently in hand--is to analyse whether a Stade de France-type solution will work at Wembley; whether the timing of any such solution would endanger our 2006 bid, which we do not want; and whether we need to look at something completely different, which keeps Wembley for football and rugby league and provides a stadium somewhere else for athletics.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Does my right hon. Friend recall the response by the former Minister of Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), to my question:

He replied:

    "The British Athletics Federation were fully involved in the selection process for the National Stadium and in defining the requirements for the project. Further discussions with the athletics governing body will take place as the design brief is prepared to discuss proposals for athletics facilities."--[Official Report, 10 July 1998; Vol. 315, c. 661-62W.]

In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend pursue with Sport England, which was responsible at that stage for the integration of the facilities, the reason why such involvement and discussions clearly did not take place about the design brief? I understand the Government's dilemma. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said, they have the project at arm's length and have no financial involvement, so it is difficult for them to have the influence at all stages that they might wish.

I tabled a further written question--

Madam Speaker: Order. Other hon. Members want to ask questions. This is an inordinately long question. We are almost having a debate. Please put the question directly.

Mr. Gardiner: The former Minister for Sport said:

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    Will my right hon. Friend be looking into that to ensure that athletics receives a share of the £120 million, as was planned, and that the Football Association uses that money to contribute to the restructuring of the area under section 146 agreements?

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