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14 Jan 2003 : Column 644—continued

6.46 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): One of the facts of life on the Opposition Benches is that we always seem to be opposing things. Being negative sometimes gets depressing so it is a great pleasure for me to endorse something enthusiastically. An advantage of being called at this late stage of the debate is that although I am short of time most of what I wanted to say has already been said.

I shall briefly reiterate what the Olympics would mean not only for London but for the country more widely. An important aspect of the bid is that it would give us a deadline for dealing with some of the problems in London—on law and order or transport. We keep talking about all those problems, but nothing seems to happen. If there were a deadline, we could finally sort them out.

The Paralympics were mentioned. All the facilities generated by a successful bid would be replicated for disabled people. They would come to this country from all over the world and that would give us the opportunity to ensure that our facilities in London and elsewhere were up to scratch and were the best in the world. We should flag up the importance of the Paralympics.

I do not want to echo the comments about the Secretary of State sounding downbeat on the radio, because she has been enthusiastically nodding throughout the debate, to show that she really loves the whole concept and will put everything into it. Of course, I do not blame her for sounding downbeat. The trilogy of Picketts Lock, the millennium dome and Wembley is a little depressing and gives the impression that the Department cannot even run a bath.

There are some successes, however: the Millennium stadium in Wales, for example. The bid would be an opportunity for London and for the whole country. Football matches would be held throughout the country—apart, I think, from Northern Ireland because there is not a big enough stadium there.

There will be opportunities for tourism. With our skills in that industry, I am sure that once people arrive in this country for the Olympics we will be able to persuade them to travel throughout the country.

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I am most enthusiastic about what the bid will do for our young people. We need to get a culture of sport under way and ensure that it brings fresh impetus to sport in schools and elsewhere.

As we know, the lottery has lost some of its popularity. I like the idea that the bid might bring some excitement back to the lottery and get the nation behind it again. I have pride in my country and in London—my city—but the Olympics would be an advertisement for British business and expertise and for the British people.

I am rather worried by the word Xwinnability". When athletes go out to compete—whether they are disabled or able-bodied—are they really thinking about winnability? Do they say that they will not enter because they may not win? They go out to try to win because they believe in themselves.

Of course, we must consider the bid carefully, because we cannot rush around spending lots of money. However if we do not go ahead with the bid, that will show an incredible lack of ambition by this country. It would be an opportunity wasted.

6.50 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): If being a new Member making a speech were an Olympic event, it would be a sprint. We always speak at the end of the debate and we do not have much time.

I am not a London Member of Parliament; I represent a seat in the capital of Wales. However, I want to make it clear that I am a strong supporter of the bid for London to hold the Olympic games, for a number of reasons. The first is that Britain has not held the Olympic games since 1948. It is about time we did. Secondly, the bid has the potential to bring benefits to London, as many hon. Members have said, and to the whole country. Thirdly, I am pretty sick and tired of the country's growing reputation for not being capable of organising world-class events. We should be able to take on the challenge and to do it with enthusiasm and effectively. We can win the bid.

This country has held world events in recent years. The Commonwealth games are mentioned very frequently, but the rugby world cup has been ignored. It was held in 1999, with the final in Cardiff. The event was spread around the country and to Ireland and France. It was hugely successful and showed that this country can hold world-class events. I am not suggesting that the Olympic games are not much larger than the rugby world cup, but the evidence is that we can host such events if we get our act together. It can be done.

We should, however, be clear about one or two issues. Despite Manchester's laudable ambitions and the bids that it has made in the past, I seriously believe that no Olympic bid from Britain would be successful unless it were a bid from London. Ironically, that is also a weakness. Many Members have pointed to the weaknesses in London, not least the political weaknesses in the lack of cohesion between the Mayor of London and the Government. The failure of Britain to hold the 2005 world championships in London also represents a serious handicap. We must try to overcome it by bidding for events such as the Olympic games.

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I believe that the bid for the world championships went wrong mainly because people gave in to the football lobby over Wembley stadium. It will be a huge white elephant unless it finds a tenant, as it will cost #700 million to build. Although I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) about the Millennium stadium, it is becoming a millennium millstone round the neck of the Welsh Rugby Union and it nearly bankrupted Laing's construction division. Although it cost more, the Welsh Rugby Union paid only #100 million for it, and #46 million of that came from the lottery. However, the debt on the stadium, even with the low interest rates that we have now, is already a millstone round the neck of the Welsh Rugby Union. It is actively considering selling the stadium.

The cost of Wembley stadium and the debt that will be carried on it will be huge. As I have argued all along, a Stade de France option should have been chosen for Wembley, as such a stadium could then have been used to host an Olympic games. If we are building an athletic stadium for the Olympic games in London, it is vital that it will provide a legacy and can be used by a football club afterwards; otherwise an 80,000-capacity athletic stadium will become a huge white elephant. Let us make sure that that point is built into the plans.

Despite that warning and despite what I have said about the Millennium stadium, it has proved a huge success. It is important that we remember the economic regeneration impact and benefit that can be brought to London and to other parts of the country by a London Olympic bid. I hope that rugby—perhaps its seven-a-side version—will be in the Olympics by 2012. Along with other events such as football, rugby could be played around the country. The competing teams will need training facilities around the country and I hope that some of them will base themselves in south Wales and in other parts of the country. However, I want to make it clear that, even if there were no direct economic spin-off to my constituents, as a Member of the UK Parliament I would support a bid for this country to hold an Olympic games.

Several people have been mentioned during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) mentioned Sir Steven Redgrave in his very clever little name-drop during the debate. Well, I want to drop in a name that many people may not have heard of before. [Interruption.] The Whip is waving at me, but I will finish this point. Before Sir Steven Redgrave, Britain's greatest Olympian was undoubtedly Paul Radmilovic. I see nods of recognition around the Chamber. He was born in Cardiff; won four Olympic gold medals and competed in five Olympic games if the interim games of 1906 are included. He would have competed in two more if Britain had bothered to enter the 1904 games in St. Louis and if it had not been for the first world war. He won three gold medals for water polo and another gold medal in the four by 200 m freestyle relay. We have heard a lot about swimming, and, in the spirit of Paul Radmilovic, I wish to say that he would not shilly-shally about our bidding to hold an Olympic games in Britain. He won two gold medals at the 1908 games in London. Let us have an Olympic games here in 2012.

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6.56 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): This has been an excellent debate, although a little curtailed by the time allotted. We welcome the Government's decision to hold this debate on a very important issue, and we look forward eagerly to the Government's decision in a few weeks' time.

I should like to reiterate the key points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) in his excellent speech. Although he pointed out some of the difficulties, he was positive and bullish about an Olympic bid and its likely success. That view is shared by all in the shadow DCMS team. It is still not clear, however, where the Government stand on this issue. Perhaps the Minister can come a little closer in his winding-up speech to mirroring my hon. Friend's enthusiasm.

Several hon. Members commented on the Secretary of State's rather downbeat contribution. That may have been because of her delivery or body language, but I am sure that she will want to give a slightly different impression from that which she gave. Indeed, with so many doubts being raised in her contribution, and with only two and a half weeks before a decision will be taken, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) feared that a negative decision had, in fact, already been made. That view was endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), who bemoaned the impression of a Xcan't do", rather than a Xcan do" or, better still, Xwill do" mentality.

Most hon. Members spoke positively and supportively, none more so that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). The negative contributions came from northern Members, such as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), both of whom challenged the costing and the provision of adequate infrastructure and housing.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley went even further and challenged head on the accepted wisdom that London is the only possible location. Although his idea of holding a competition between London and other centres for the privilege of bidding for the 2012 Olympics has some merit, no doubt the Minister will confirm in his winding-up speech the Government's view that London is their only realistic choice on grounds of winnability alone.

There is no question among Conservative Members but that London is indeed the one and only location. We were grateful to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) for his support. He represents a northern constituency, but he recognises that London is indeed the only viable location throughout the United Kingdom.

Other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), emphasised the fact that the United Kingdom's bid would be not just London-centric, but would involve many other regions and cities in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale emphasised the knock-on effect of investment in sporting facilities across the board and throughout the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South primarily supported London's bid in his contribution, particularly because of the opportunity that it will

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afford regeneration in the city. However, he referred to the role of the Mayor of London, who appears to have adopted a slightly ambiguous position. He says that he is for the bid, but he seems keener on the parallel improvements to transport and housing infrastructure. Perhaps the Minister will clarify in replying to the debate the significance, as he sees it, of the relationship between the Government and the mayor and whether the current political difficulties represent a hindrance or a benefit.

The Secretary of State referred in her comments on funding for a bid to the potential distortion of other areas of Government spending, and implied that if the choice were between money for schools and hospitals versus an Olympic bid, there would be only one outcome. In addition, she implied that the sporting community may have to adjust its spending priorities to accommodate an Olympic bid. That view was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). Both expressed incredulity that, given the huge importance of the Olympic bid for the nation as a whole, the Government were not prepared to commit their resources fully to the success of that bid. Will the Minister confirm the Government's position on that when he winds up the debate? If the Government decide to back the bid, will they finance that independently of other investment in sport?

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