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Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): I am delighted that the House is debating this timely and comprehensive report. It has been a high-quality debate. There is much expertise about sporting matters in the House and much of it has been on display. I pay particular tribute to the speeches of the two former Ministers for Sport, the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for West Ham (Mr. Banks). Even though they were not always in harmony, they made powerful contributions. The hon. Lady was also very frank.
I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) although I much regret the news that he brought to the House about the third consecutive Oxford victory this afternoon. Looking at him, I find it difficult to believe that it was only 20 years since he represented the university. However, I consulted "Dod's Parliamentary Companion" and I discovered that he was a postgraduate student and already in his 30s at that time.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook), who is one of the newer members of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. He made a thoughtful speech. In particular, however, I congratulate the Committee's Chairman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who has led the Committee for four and a half years. It has produced a series of remarkable high-quality reports. Although I have had a long-term lay interest in the subject, I come fairly new to the issues and I have read the reports with great interest and found real insights into the sporting and broadcasting worlds.
I welcome the Minister for Sport to the debate. I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not stay for the remainder of the debate, but that is a creeping case of Byers syndrome in which a Secretary of State responsible for a Government policy attends part of the debate but does not wait for its conclusion. After all, the Secretary of State's decision 10 weeks ago put the final nail in the coffin of London's bid for the world athletics championships, the latest in a series of Government- sponsored sporting disasters. Labour's attempts to bring a major sporting event to Britain have been wrecked by a total lack of vision, an abject failure of leadership, grossly incompetent management and a pattern of broken promises.
In the past four years, Ministers have made Britain a laughing stock in international sporting circles. They have denied sports fans here the chance to see top athletes perform on British soil and they have effectively thrown away Britain's chances of hosting a major international event in the foreseeable future.
London's bid to host the world athletics championships degenerated steadily from the start in January 1999, although all appeared to go well to begin with. Launching the new Wembley stadium concept in July 1999, the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who has apologised for his absence from the Chamber for the winding-up speeches, said that the new stadium
Mr. Yeo: I have little time, so I regret that I cannot give way.
The Secretary of State has suddenly left London without a venue for the championships, but the Government's commitment had been confirmed at the very highest level. In a letter of January 2000, the Prime Minister said:
By the time the IAAF council accepted London's bid, Picketts Lock had been identified as the venue for the championships. The bid was accepted on the condition that UK Athletics could demonstrate that clear progress had been made on the stadium by October this year. No Minister, then or subsequently, can have been in any doubt about what was needed if the Prime Minister's promises were to be honoured. Alas, no Minister, then or subsequently, did what was needed to honour those promises.
Despite Ministers' failure to act, however, they did not lose confidence. On 21 March 2001, the former Secretary of State said:
On the world athletics championships, this year's Labour party election manifesto stated:
At this point, Sheffield suddenly appeared on the scene. The city has featured prominently in the Government's sporting policies before. In December 1997, the Government announced that a UK Sports Institute would be built there and, in the Government's mind, that project came to fruition splendidly. Their annual report for 2000 stated:
Mr. Yeo: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that clear. The fact that the spanking new facilities did not actually exist and were a figment of the imagination of the report's authors represents one of the most remarkable examples of unjoined-up government. The authors were not even aware that an announcement was made in 1999 to say that the Sports Institute would be situated in London. The only explanation for how the report turned from fact to fiction on sporting matters must be that the Prime Minister wrote the introduction.
The Prime Minister is known for his flights of fancy when it comes to sport. He claimed that, as a youngster, he sat watching Jackie Milburn at St James' park. The seats turned out not to exist and he was watching a player who had long ceased to play for Newcastle by the time the Prime Minister was a school boy.
While the Government waited for the consultant's report, the Minister for Sport went to Edmonton and to this year's world athletics championships. According to The Standard, he was still quite keen on London as a venue for 2005. On 8 August, it reported that he reaffirmed the Government's commitment to staging the world athletics championships in London in 2005. The article reported him as saying:
However, the curtain on this ministerial farce had still not come down. One act remained to be played. Ignoring the fact that the IAAF had awarded the world athletics championships to London, a city, and not to Britain, a country, Ministers took up the cause of Sheffield. A good case could have been made for that city had it been submitted at the proper time, two and a half years ago. Sheffield has a fine sporting tradition. The Don Valley stadium could have been helped to stage the championships, but the last-ditch attempt to divert attention away from the disastrous handling by Ministers of the London bid merely dragged Sheffield humiliatingly into the fiasco.
Among those who were not impressed was the president of the IAAF. The Select Committee Chairman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, quoted the Financial Times. The president of the IAAF wrote to his council members after he met the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport on 5 October. He said:
I declared that this was not acceptable and explained that if London formally withdrew before the deadline of 26 November, the IAAF had no alternative but to open the bidding process again."
The extent to which Ministers were living in a fantasy world is demonstrated in the Secretary of State's press release, issued on 4 October. At the time of her meeting, she said that Labour had
The report contains many recommendations that the Opposition strongly support and others that deserve further discussion, but it contains nothing to alter the basic conclusion that Labour has let down British sports fans and British sportsmen and women. No matter what excuses Ministers concoct to explain their actions, it will take years for our reputation to recover.
I recognise the Minister's predicament. He is the man entrusted by the Prime Minister with the task of persuading this country and the world that the Government are interested in sport and that they bring some passion to the pitch. Alas, he is also the Minister for Sport who went to Wimbledon to announce that he did not like tennis. If the Government accept the Select Committee's recommendation for a dedicated Minister for events, I invite him, in the interests of the country, not to apply for the job. I urge him to abandon his usual bluster and admit that the blame for the series of disasters lies fairly and squarely with the Government.