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Tessa Jowell: There is all the difference in the world between the rant of opposition, which is what we have just heard, and the serious business of government, which recognises that this is an enormous, expensive and complex project. We will give Government support to the project when, and only when, the issues that I raised in my statement have been properly addressed.
As recently as the end of October, the Football Association and Sport England made it absolutely clear that if the national football stadium at Wembley was not capable of hosting athletics, the £20 million would be returned. The precise terms of the lottery agreement require an athletics-capable stadium. I require additional work to establish whether the athletics capability meets the requirements of the athletics governing body. The Football Association has clearly shown its willingness to undertake that exercise.
The hon. Gentleman can rant, but we will get on and negotiate in the public interest, safeguarding the Government's position. However, we need to establish a clear dividing line, because ultimately the funding for, and the location of, the national stadium are football's responsibility. Once the outstanding matters have been settled, we will announce how to proceed.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Of course, from a constituency point of view, I welcome the announcement today by the FA and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I wish to focus on two points. First, she was right to commission the Carter report, because it has exposed all the weaknesses of the financial arrangements into which the FA had entered. It will enable the project to be driven forward properly. Secondly, can she offer confirmation on the important issue of Wembley Park tube station and the commitment of London Underground? I trust that she will have words soon with the Metropolitan police so that she is sure that they are convinced that it will be possible to clear the stadium in a timely and effective manner, that proper crowd control will be possible and that there is no danger to the security of the public. Those are essential infrastructure elements on which the success of the stadium will ultimately rest.
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive approach today and throughout what have been difficult months for the project. He has a clear constituency interest, and I thank him for that. I take this opportunity to thank again Patrick Carter for his valuable work for the Government and the FA. The decision on infrastructure support for the project will clearly be part of the consideration in the next stage, as the project is taken forward. As of now, I must make it clear to the House that the number of matches and events that the FA would intend to hold at a new stadium would not exceed the number on the licence attaching to the planning consent, so regeneration or rebuilding to increase the
Nick Harvey (North Devon): Does the Secretary of State think that it is right that £120 million that was given to the project for a multi-purpose stadium should remain available to the company if the stadium will be used only for football? Will not the athletics platform be a temporary structure put in place only for a specific games, and is she not shutting the door after the horse has bolted, given that we have lost the games? Will not it be ironic if, as football figures have suggested in the past few days, the new stadium opens in time for a cup final or charity shield in May or August 2005, exactly when the world athletics championships are due to take place? Given the popularity of England playing their matches around the country, does she agree that England fans from more distant areas should be assured of improved transport connections to Wembley before any such decision is made?
Tessa Jowell: On the final point, I accept that if the FA decides to proceed, subject to the conditions that I have set out this afternoon, the infrastructure support for the project must be adequate. It is a good example of why the Government need to facilitate the project, but that is different from it being a Government project. It will be Government supported and Government facilitated precisely so as to address those issues. The terms of the lottery agreement are also clear. The lottery moneythe £120 millionwas provided to acquire the site for a stadium that would include an athletics capability. I have already mentioned the recognition by the FA and Sport England that if it will not include that capability, £20 million should be returned. However, there is more work to be done on that.
Finally, I respectfully suggest that in this complex set of relationships, the hon. Gentleman needs to be clear about the differing responsibilities of the Government, the Football Association and Sport England.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): This matter began with the previous Government and Sport England's totally unjustified decision to hand over £120 million. May I plead with my right hon. Friend to steer clear of what has become a grubby and dodgy project? The Football Association has shown itself to be greedy in holding on to £120 million of public money to which it has no conceivable right. It has also shown itself to be neither competent nor trustworthy. In addition, Sport England has recklessly handed over public money without any safeguards, and its appropriateness as the agency to deal with these matters needs to be considered. Will she assure the House that a firm, clear time limit will be set for the project, so that either it can go ahead or the £120 million can be returned in full?
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will make it clear that not a penny of taxpayers' money will go into the project unless it goes forward within a reasonable time limit? Wembley was
First, I do not think that it is helpful to rake over the ashes of past decisions about Wembley, beyond the point that I made earlier about the Government's responsibility to safeguard the public investment that has been made already. Secondly, my right hon. Friend is right to say that the project cannot be let drift indefinitely and that firm and clear deadlines for agreements to be reached must be set. Finally, he is also right to sayas I made clear earlierthat Government support and the FA's decision to proceed should be conditional on the terms that I set out in my opening statement being met.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): The Secretary of State's statement at least left the door ajar for Birmingham's excellent bid, but does she accept that there will be huge disappointment that it has not been accepted outright? Does she appreciate that some 75 per cent. of football fans live north of Watford? Has she had a chance to study the report produced from a survey conducted by Sky, which shows that more than 70 per cent. of football fans do not want the stadium to be built at Wembley? Will she bear in mind that, to many people, this is a classic example of London-based decision makers making London-centric decisions that are not in the interests of the wider country?
Tessa Jowell: I entirely accept the disappointment felt by those who have promoted Birmingham's bid to build the national stadium there. Moreover, I take this opportunity to commendas Patrick Carter does in his reportthe quality of the bid that Birmingham submitted. However, as I hope I have made clear, the decision about where the stadium is to be built is for the Football Association to make. The Football Association has decided that its preference is to develop the site at Wembley because that is at present a better commercial proposition than Birmingham. It has made a commercial decision. I understand the disappointment that is felt and, of course, the voice of fans should be heard. I welcome the FA's confirmation that if the Wembley proposal does not proceed, Birmingham is the alternative.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Birmingham bid would give the FA the 21st century- class stadium that it requires. Many of us in the House and many thousands outside are extremely disappointed at the FA's decision, which we think is wretched. There is overwhelming support for the Birmingham bid from football fans, football clubs, the business community and the general public. Will my right hon. Friend explain why that has been ignored?
Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate of Birmingham as the host for the national stadium. I simply reiterate that, as I told the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), the decision on location is for the Football Association. It has taken that