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14 Jan 2003 : Column 632—continued

6 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): We have just listened to a most fascinating contrast in styles. When we read Hansard tomorrow, we will see that the message from the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is pretty similar to that of the Secretary of State. However, we got a Xcan do" message from the hon. Gentleman, while from the Secretary of State, we got not just a Xcan't do", but a Xwon't do" message. That is very sad, as having an Olympic games in London is the most exciting and thrilling prospect that we have to look forward to. I hope very much that the message from this debate and all the work that the Secretary of State says that she has set in train will change her attitude to a Xcan do" one and move it away from the negative and very low-key response that we got this afternoon.

I should like to point out to everybody who has mentioned Crossrail, which is a key part of any Olympic bid, that contrary to what the hon. Member for West Ham said, I understand that London Regional Metro has just formulated a proposition that it is putting to the Government in which the private sector would build and run the project without any cost to the Government and in time for the Olympics. I hope very much that the Secretary of State for Transport will hear the message from London Regional Metro that it can deliver Crossrail on time and at no cost to the public purse.

The reason I wanted to contribute today was not to put in a second bid for the site of the Olympics, as there is clear agreement that it should be in the east end of London, but to raise the constituency issue of the future of Crystal palace. The Secretary of State will know Crystal Palace well, as it is next door to her constituency, although it lies wholly in mine. It has been the national athletics centre and is still very well used as an athletics centre. I am sure that Ministers will know that the lease that Sport England has on Crystal Palace is due to come to an end, and that it had a full repairing lease. There are #20 million worth of dilapidations to the centre to be made good when Sport England gives up the lease, as I understand that it plans to do. There have been negotiations about a very exciting and innovative renovation, working with Bromley council, and a situation in which minimum dilapidation costs are paid and the whole thing reverts to Bromley.

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I do not want to go into the ins and outs of the situation, which are far too tortuous. Indeed, I am conscious that a lot of hon. Members want to speak and I do not want to take too long on this point, but until a stadium is built in the east end, there will be no athletics venue in London for grand prix events other than Crystal Palace. Once a stadium is built in the east end, it is possible that it may continue as an athletics stadium after the Olympic games, but it sounds more likely that a football ground will be used. So London would be left yet again without a venue for grand prix athletic events.

There is a real need for the Government to make absolutely clear to Sport England what they see as the future of Crystal Palace, so that London is not faced with an interim situation in which there could be no grand prix athletics events at all between the end of this lease and the Olympics events and beyond. That is the crucial matter that the Government have to clarify, because I am sure that, without that pressure from the Government, Sport England will dither and duck and dive so that we may be left with no athletics for London held in London and no grand prix events.

I very much hope that the right hon. Lady and the Minister for Sport will take on board this constituency point, which, while it directly affects me and everybody in Bromley, is also key to the future of athletics provisions in London. It is also key to attracting the elite athletes, a group whom, with their investment in sport, they are trying to develop not just in London but throughout the rest of the country. If there is no venue, it will be a very sad day for athletics in London.

6.6 pm

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley): I should like to make it clear that I believe that at some time in the future it would be right for this country to host the Olympic games. In many ways, I regret the advice that I shall give to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which is not to support the British Olympic Association in its bid for the 2012 Olympics. I regret it not least because I formed many friendships with members of the BOA when they supported the previous two British bids for the Olympic games, in 1996 and 2000.

There are three prime reasons—one could have a longer debate and go into many more—why the Government should not, in the next two and a half weeks, rush into a bid for the 2012 Olympics. The first reason, which annoys me the most, although it is probably not the most important issue, is that every other time this country has decided to bid to host the Commonwealth games or the Olympic games there has been a national competition in which any city in the country that wanted to bid to host them could put its case forward and it would be considered by the Commonwealth Games Council for England or the British Olympic Association. On this occasion the British Olympic Association has decided that it can only be London. I find that completely unsatisfactory.

It may well be that, in competition and under examination, it turns out that London is the best bid. I doubt it, because over the past 18 years or so London has bid three times, twice to host the Olympic games and

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once to host the Commonwealth games. Each time when the issues that are important to hosting the games—transport, legacy, the local political structures—have been examined, London has been found wanting. I believe that if the British Olympic Association organised that competition as it has in the past it would look at the political structures in London, which are defunct, look at the relationship between the Mayor of London and the Government, which are not good, and have second thoughts. It would examine the transport structure in London and find that it would be very difficult to host the Olympic games within London.

Mr. Banks: I would ask my hon. Friend to clarify the point about London having bid before. We had the Olympic games in 1908 and 1948, but I do not remember our being a bidding city. We might have been interested in becoming a bidding city, but it was at a time when we had no one to represent London at local government level, because the Conservative party had abolished the Greater London Council.

Mr. Stringer: I am sorry if I was not clear. London tried to be the bid city for both the 1992 and 2000 Olympic games, as well as the 2002 Commonwealth games. When its case was examined by the appropriate bodies, it was found wanting. Such an examination should have been undertaken on this occasion, not least to assure the Government and everybody else of the viability of the bid.

Tom Brake: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the BOA did not receive advice that, from an international perspective, only London would have competitive status, or that that advice was wrong?

Mr. Stringer: I was going to come to the reason why the BOA made that decision after receiving advice on an IOC survey. Before I answer the hon. Gentleman, I advise my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench not to take seriously anything said by the Liberal Democrats in support of an Olympics bid, as they opposed holding the Commonwealth games in Manchester, even though they supported such a proposal in the Chamber. That is exactly the kind of problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) referred.

On the specific point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), the IOC conducted a survey in 1994 after the failure of a previous bid. IOC members, some of whom have since been sacked for corruption, found people who were willing to say that only London should be considered. Over the years, I have talked to IOC members, and a body of them holds that view. There is also a body holding the opposite view—six of the last eight cities chosen to host the Olympic games have not been capitals. The most important power of IOC members is their power to choose a bidding city, and they do not tell the absolute truth when asked which city they will support. The voting population is 100 or so, but when we talk to bidding cities we find that their votes add up to about 500.

The Government are mainly interested in the issue of whether London and Britain can win the bid. I do not believe that they can, partly for the reasons that I have already given. It was a mistake not to hold a competition

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for other parts of the country to bid, and it is now difficult to get them to back an Olympics bid. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham—if we spend the public money envisaged by the Government, that sum is almost guaranteed to double. At a time when the health service, the transport system and the criminal justice system are not perfect, within six months of a bid many people will say that the money spent on it and the facilities required should have been spent on health. One of the enormous strengths of the Manchester bid was the fact that, until the very last minute, when the Government put in #30 million and Manchester city council put in #30 million, we did not use ratepayers' or council tax payers' money—that advantage will be absent from a London bid.

It has been assumed in our debate that the successful bid will come from a European city. Toronto and New York made increased television rights part of their case, so it is highly likely that many IOC members will be seduced by the prospect of having more money. Atlanta, not the most attractive city in the world, managed to win the 1996 bid basically because of the television rights it offered. The value of such rights is always higher when the Olympics are held in US time zones.

There has never been a time when British sport has had a weaker position in international sport's corridors of power. A small number of people make and have influence over decisions. We have two members of the IOC but, as far as I know, we do not have a single officer in international sporting federations for any of the recognised sports in the summer games, which puts us in a weak position, particularly when combined with the legacy of bad feeling after Picketts Lock and the bid for the world athletics championship. On that occasion, we promised to do something, but failed to do it, and that is remembered.

It is also remembered that, apart from at the Commonwealth games, we have not performed at that level for many years. We have been going backwards. It is false logic to say that because we organised the Commonwealth games in Manchester very well, we can also organise the Olympic games well in London. That logic does not follow when we look at the different projects that have taken place in London: the Wembley fiasco, Picketts Lock and the dome, for example. Those projects were not supported nationally, and they have given us a bad reputation internationally, in the case of two of them, and nationally in the case of all three.There is a long discussion to be had about whether we could win the vote. I do not believe that we can, at our current strength in international sport and with our recent legacy.

I realise that my final point will not be popular with hon. Members from London. If London represents the best bid, which has not been proved, we also have to ask ourselves whether the bid is a national priority. The Minister for Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), regularly tells us about regional disparities, and about the fact that London is, with the possible exception of Luxembourg, the richest region in Europe, while every other English region performs below the European average. If we are going to put investment into east London over and above the investment that would naturally occur, when more public money per head already goes into London than anywhere else, will that make regional disparities

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greater or will it lessen them? Frankly, I do not believe that spending what may well be #10 billion in London is a national priority when we have those regional disparities. If London is the answer to that level of investment, it is a very strange question.

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