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Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): The greatest disappointment arising from last week's Divisions on the Select Committee motions was the House's failure to back a call to increase representation on Select Committees for the smaller minority parties such as the Ulster Unionist party. All right hon. and hon. Members have to respect decisions of the House, but can the Leader of the House assure me and my colleagues in the minority parties that this most important of issues will not simply be forgotten about?

Mr. Cook: I know most of those who voted, although I do not have the list entirely off by heart.

Mr. Forth: I bet you do.

Mr. Cook: Yes, and I have a long memory, too.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was a pity that the vote on the size of Committees fell owing to a technicality, because it referred to the Committee of Nomination after that proposal had been defeated in an earlier Division. If it is the will of the House, I am not averse to considering ways in which the House can have an opportunity to reach a decision on the matter, although I see no point in revisiting the prior decision.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I support the call for a debate in the House on the importance of science policy, not least because a document that has come into my hands, apparently produced by officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the behest of the biotech industry, would severely restrict the rights of scrutiny of genetically modified crop approvals. As the Leader of the House probably knows, it is currently possible to present in hearings scientific evidence about damage to soil ecology, the wider environmental impact, genetic contamination and the impact on the feed and food chain. Under the proposals circulating in DEFRA, all those grounds of scientific objection would be removed from the scrutiny process.

I am sure that hon. Members understand that the gap between sound science and soundbite science is filled by scrutiny and liability, and it would be disastrous if Government policy were seen to become a cash crop for private gain. Will the Leader of the House assure me that

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we can have a full debate in which the House can assert the principle that the shaping of Government science policy will be driven by the precautionary, not the contributory, principle?

Mr. Cook: We apply the precautionary principle to all environmental issues. I am not familiar with the document that my hon. Friend cites, and I would like an opportunity of studying it before I comment on it. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that we are undertaking a rigorous farm-scale evaluation of the trial of GM crops. The conclusions will appear in the next six to nine months, if I remember rightly. They will form part of an informed debate on the way forward for GM crops.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): We have just passed the first anniversary of the creation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Curry commission on the future of food and farming has reported; the European Union is formulating its proposals for a mid-term review of the common agricultural policy; throughout the countryside, there is increasing anxiety about bovine TB, and as we have heard, further concern about GM crops. Despite all that, there has been no debate on agriculture and food-related matters in Government time in the past 12 months. Will the Leader of the House review the matter and ascertain whether we can hold such a debate before the House rises for the summer recess?

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman makes a splendid case for DEFRA, which was created to bring together all the issues that affect not only agriculture but the wider economy in the countryside, other rural issues and the environment. I am pleased to say that DEFRA has worked hard and successfully on that in its first year.

I am aware of the request for a debate on agriculture and wider countryside affairs, and I appreciate hon. Members' interest in the subject. I cannot promise a debate before the Whit recess, but I shall tuck the matter away for future reference.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): Will my right hon. Friend consider the World Health Organisation's statement that it is worried about the childhood asthma epidemic in Britain? There is an obstacle in the form of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 because although it covers children's medical needs, it does not allow for people who look after children in schools to minister to those needs.

Mr. Cook: I am well aware of the alarming increase in respiratory diseases, of which asthma is one. That is one of the reasons why the Government have placed greater emphasis on and given greater priority to public health issues. We must focus on prevention as well as the much greater resources that we have provided for more nurses, doctors and beds and the treatment of diseases. I was not aware of my hon. Friend's specific point, but I shall draw it to the attention of the Department of Health.

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English National Stadium

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

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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

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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 in 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

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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.

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