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Dr. Reid: Yes, any time spent with the dual objective and purpose of clarifying the Government's position on the matter, and of magnifying the deep divisions among Opposition Members, is time very well spent.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Further to the reply that the Leader of the House has just given, will he now answer the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) about the Prime Minister? Yesterday, the Prime Minister said in terms that, if there were to be a referendum on the new European constitution and the country were to vote no, that would block enlargement. Was the Prime Minister right, or wrong?
Dr. Reid: I am not sure that the Prime Minister[Interruption.] I am trying to reflect on the words used by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister used the words attributed to
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week on the discussions that he is having with the Israeli Foreign Minister today? Such a statement should cover the position of foreign nationals working for aid agencies in the Gaza strip and other occupied territories. My right hon. Friend will know that it was reported last week that foreign nationals were being asked to sign a waiver authorising the Israeli military to shoot them. He will be aware also that many Governments, including our own, have received a letter this week from the aid agencies, which states that visa restrictions and other restrictions make it almost impossible for them to enter the Gaza strip, or continue their vital aid work there. Does he agree that that is against the spirit of the road map? Given that levels of poverty in the area are equivalent to those in sub-Saharan Africa, is not it time for the international community to act?
Dr. Reid: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will have heard the specific comments that my hon. Friend makes. With regard to the general issue of the middle east peace process, I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that the House has spent some time discussing the matter, despite considerable time pressures, and that the Government, from the Prime Minister down, have done all that they can to bring the parties involved together, and to ensure publication of the road map so that there can be a viable state for the Palestinian people and a secure future for the state of Israel. Eventually, both sides will need to talk, and to reduce the tension in the area. Presumably, that means that they will have to deal with some of the matters raised by my hon. Friend.
David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rise to ask what you can do to force Government Departments to follow the normal convention in the House that statements are given to Opposition spokesmen a reasonable time before they are made by a Secretary of State in this House. The statement that is about to be made was faxed through a mere 15 minutes ago. That is not the fault of the usual channels or of the Leader of the House's office. I believe that staff there were in despair that another Government Department had not given reasonable notice to the House authorities that an important statement was coming.
The statement has been in the pipeline since January. We all saw on the news last night that a huge press conference was planned for today; journalists are en route there at this moment. We were told that this statement was going to be made, and in those circumstances there is no justification for giving the text to Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen a mere 15 minutes beforehand.
Finally, Sir, I must warn the Government that if they persist with this behaviour, as Opposition Chief Whip I will have no option but to find what measures Standing Orders allow me to take to buy some time for Opposition spokesmen to read a statement. I may have to disrupt procedures accordingly.
Mr. Speaker: I would not want the right hon. Gentleman to disrupt procedures but, if what he says is true, I am very disappointed indeed. I was informed that a statement would be made this morning before my conference at 10.30 am. Therefore, I would have expected Opposition parties to be given at least an hour to examine the statement, so that they are able to put a decent case from the Dispatch Box. I shall have to investigate the matter but, if the circumstances are as described, I hope that it does not happen again.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Dr. John Reid): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course we will take your strictures to heart on this matter. However, I hope that you will understand that it is possible to give notice of a statement days or months in advance, but not to decide its exact terms until the
Dr. Reid: This is an important point about how we govern the country. Opposition Front Benchers are the first to declare at every opportunity that there is no collective Cabinet discussion. There is such discussion, and it results in decisions. Even when such a decision is known to have been reached some time in advance, its terms can still alter. The Cabinet meeting finished two hours ago. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been finishing the final version of the statement that she is to make in that period.
Finally, I do not know on what evidence the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) based his statement that I was despairing this morning. First, I am not the type to despair and, secondly, that certainly did not happen this morning.
Mr. Speaker: I do not wish to prolong the argument. I can well understand that the Cabinet has to take a decision and that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport then has to prepare a statement to the House. However, the statement does not need to come before the House until circumstances allow the Opposition to be given at least an hour's notice, so that they have time to examine the statement. That is what I am saying today, and I would be very disappointed indeed if what I have heard were true. I remind the House that, less than a week ago, I used my discretion to allow a Minister to make a statement to the House at a rather strange hour. By all means allow the Cabinet to take a collective decision, but Opposition partiesI am not referring to the Conservative party alonemust be allowed an hour to examine a statement.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am sure that the House is grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your response. Quite apart from the startling revelation that this morning's Cabinet meeting lasted all of 20 minutes, the key point for the Houseand for you, Mr. Speakeris that the problem is partly due to the ridiculous new hours that we are forced to sit. The fact that there is now a conflict
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): May I begin by saying how seriously I take the remarks that you, Mr. Speaker, have just made? I apologise to you and I want to assure the House that no discourtesy was intended. As the Opposition spokesman will make clear, as a matter of courtesy I took the trouble to ring him at 8 o'clock this morning and, about an hour ago, I spent some time taking him through what I was going to say. I similarly informed the Liberal Democrat spokesman.
That said and placed on the record, the purpose of my statement is to inform the House that, following discussion in the Cabinet today, the Government have decided to give their wholehearted backing to a bid to host the Olympic games and the Paralympics in London in 2012. This morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister telephoned Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, to inform him of our decision. He has told Mr. Rogge that the Government will back to the hilt the efforts of the British Olympic Association, to which I wish to pay tribute, alongside the Greater London Authority, the London development agency and others[Interruption.]and, of course, the Mayor as part of the apparatus of the Greater London Authority.
The bid will be a huge stimulus for elite sport. Lottery investment in our athletes helped us to our best medal haul for decades at Sydney. A London bid will allow us to build on that and to raise standards and aspirations even higher. But our Olympic bid will also rest on our growing commitment to grassroots sport. It will be central to our efforts to increase physical activity, and identify, nurture and develop talent in our young and up-and-coming athletes.
We want to harness the power of sport to inspire people and to address some of the key issues that our nation faceshealth, social inclusion, educational motivation and fighting crime. We want to spread the benefits all around the countrypromoting tourism and business for the whole of the UK, staging a four-year cultural festival, investing in community sports facilities to offer to the visiting teams to prepare and train here, holding football competitions as part of the games, and staging some other events outside London.
I warmly welcome the pledge from all parties to support the bid. Such cross-party support is important, because it gives us the best chance of winning and of making the games a resounding success. I have previously set out for the House four tests, that an Olympic bid would have to meet before the Government could give it their backing. The tests were: can we afford it? Can we win? Can we deliver a strong bid and high quality games? What legacy would the games leave behind? We have spent the last few months applying those tests rigorously.
I believe, on the basis of rigorous scrutiny, that a London bid passes those tests on every count. I would like to take the House briefly through each one. First, the cost. We estimate the cost of bidding will be about £17 million. Business, the London development agency and the Government will bear that cost. If we win the bid, the cost of the Olympics should be borne, at least in
The next test is whether we can win. Other confirmed bidders to date include New York, Leipzig, Madrid and Havana. No doubt others will emerge in the coming weeks. It is a strong field, but London has many advantages over the other cities, and our bid will be the equal of any. The third test is whether a bid could really be delivered. As the jointly commissioned Arup report shows, we can deliver a high quality and competitive bid based around an Olympic zone in the Lea valley.
The last test is the legacy. The games will bring great benefits to London. The economy and tourism will benefit. The lower Lea valley will benefit from new facilities and regeneration. So the work starts now. I am perfectly realistic about the work involved and the risks that lie ahead. I know that public opinion will ebb and flow in favour of the project. We will set up a dedicated organisation to develop and market the bid, with the very best people from both the public and private sectors, and with strong leadership. The bid team will act at arm's length from the Government, but we will pull out all the stops to bring the Olympic games to London.
Staging the Olympic games in 2012 is a prize well worth the fight, and 2012 is also the diamond jubilee year of Her Majesty the Queen. We are bidding because we believe that it will be good for sport, but it will also be good for London, and good for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a declaration that we are proud of our country and confident of our ability.