Examination of witness (Questions 240
THURSDAY 8 MARCH 2001
240. I say that because he appeared to suggest
that he enjoyed the support of Ministers for the project whilst
you were in office but things changed when you were not in office
and he certainly believed, as you outlined earlier, that Government
should have no involvement and no influence in these sort of projects.
(Mr Banks) He is entitled to his views. A change certainly
did come about after I ceased to be Minister. I have to say in
fairness to the Secretary of State who is a good friend of mine,
both personally and politically, he was expressing doubts at the
time about the deck, and I said this in the Committee as well.
He went along with it in the end and made the statement that he
did about the design because I felt that he was convinced by the
case; clearly time showed that was not so. I just feel why Ken
Bates felt he could get on better with me than perhaps with others
was because I was prepared to acknowledge that Government had
a role to play here, but since we were not paying, as it were,
I did not see why we should be laying down the law all the time.
I would have loved to have just been given the budget myself and
been asked to get on with the job but, unfortunately, that was
not the case. I felt that we needed to be as supportive as we
possibly could, not of Ken Bates but of the Football Association,
because I desperately wanted Wembley to be constructed. As I said
in an Adjournment Debate on Wembley, we must not allow this to
go badly wrong. This was a scheme of national significance and
although the Government were not paying for it clearly we were
going to be blamed if something went wrong. They were not necessarily
prophetic words, they are the obvious words that you say as a
Minister involved in this. If it goes wrong the Ministers always
get the blame and if it goes well then everyone else takes the
credit. I understand that, that is the nature of politics, we
all understand that. I just had a different approach to all of
this. I just wanted to get that thing working. There was all this
chopping and changing, when you have made a decision stick with
it. There might be some problems but the worst problem of all
is not to make up your own mind or to muck around with things,
to have it in one day, to have it out the next day, to have it
in the next day, and then you see the mess that we are in. I do
not see that we have moved on from July 1999 to be perfectly honest
that I can discern. Again, I hope that I am going to be proved
wrong on this one but so far I have not been and it is a matter
of great distress. There is no satisfaction in pointing that out
to the Committee or to anybody else.
241. That leads me on to what is confusion,
not just in my mind but probably in the minds of lots of other
people too, as to why the Secretary of State gave you support
at the time for the project and then changed his mind.
(Mr Banks) I do not think you want to describe it
as my project in that sense. It is the Secretary of State's project.
The Secretary of State is the man in charge of the department.
I was always, and remain, a loyal junior Minister to the Secretary
of State. I believe that loyalty is an important thing that junior
Ministers should give to their Secretaries of State, and I cannot
be faulted on that at all, but I am now entitled to express my
opinions, and they are only my opinions. The Secretary of State
clearly listened to others. It was certainly something that was
in the conclusion from the last hearing with regards to Wembley
that the BOA certainly exercised a great deal of influence, perhaps
excessive influence, on what subsequently happened and perhaps
they found a more sympathetic ear than they found with me. These
are matters that are best answered by the Secretary of State.
242. Do you think that Picketts Lock is viable?
(Mr Banks) It will be viable providing we are prepared
to spend enough money to make it viable. The transport is a very
important matter. I keep saying this. I know the area pretty well,
it is not a million miles from my own constituency of West Ham.
Of course it can work. It cannot work as an Olympic site in my
opinion, certainly not, but I have heard some pretty wild talk
that it might be viewed as such. It cannot work as an Olympic
site apart from some attendant sporting activities with regards
to Olympic Games. It cannot be the main site for an Olympic Games.
The transport is going to be a problem but I think the real problem
is where is the package coming from. There is a bit here, there
is a bit there, there is a bit there maybe. If you can get all
of that together and get agreement on the transport infrastructure
it will certainly work, but looking at it from this end of the
spectrum and viewing it from the experiences over Wembley you
have got to be a very, very optimistic person indeed today to
believe that this is going to work.
243. That underlines, I think, the real problem
of a lack of a strategy for where we want to go in terms of bids
(Mr Banks) Yes.
244. Do you think that we should actually be
putting some money, whether it is public money or Lottery or other
form of Government money, into Picketts Lock when there are alternatives
that may actually be far more cost efficient?
(Mr Banks) It is probably too late now because we
have moved down the road but I personally think for the 2005 World
Athletics Championships Wembley should be the venue, and should
be the venue for a future Olympic Games bid as well. I have not
changed my mind whatsoever since July 1999. I certainly believe
that there should be more direct Government involvement in these
decisions and there should be far more Government resources placed
following the decisions as well. I prefer the way the French do
it, the Japanese do it, the Australian state government and federal
government have done it, the way the Greeks are doing it. It is
not as if there are not examples around the world where it has
actually operated successfully. I do believe that we should do
this. The trouble is every time you now talk in the City, and
I have discussed this with a number of financiers in the City,
when you start talking national prestigious projects they all
run for cover, they think over-run, they think bad publicity,
they think re-budgeting, re-financing. There is something called
the Dome Syndrome around at the moment, I am afraid, and it certainly
affects financiers in the City. We really have got to get away
from this thing about how can we find someone else to pay for
it. I say this passionately because it distresses me to see the
way that we cannot do things in this country that other countries
can do. I do not want to divert the Committee or myself excessively
but even when I travel on Eurostar I still feel a sense of shame
crawling through the Kent countryside and then straight through
the tunnel and out the other side. I still feel a sense of shame
thinking what do visitors from overseas feel when they come through
the other way and see it all happen. It is a sense of shame frankly.
If we really are concerned about the reputation of our country
and the image of our country as a can-do place around the world
then Government has got to take more of a leading part in that.
This means not just standing around and telling other people how
to spend their money but actually doing it by spending our money,
which of course is taxpayers' money.
245. Mr Banks, you talk about the Dome Syndrome
but the interesting thing about the Dome is it is practically
the only public building project that was delivered on time and
to budget, whatever other controversy has surrounded it. We see
what is happening to Wembley, we see what is happening to Picketts
Lock. The Millennium Bridge was planned in 1996 and we still cannot
walk across it. The British Library took 20 years from inception
to completion and cost six times more than was originally budgeted.
I am a great admirer of your enthusiasm and willpower but it is
an interesting question, is it not, as to whether governments
are the best bodies to get involved in construction projects?
(Mr Banks) They are when they are in that sense. I
would not suggest that the Government should be responsible for
building every single project that we can think of. There are
some that clearly they are best left out of altogether, but there
are others that they clearly must be involved in. If I might just
come back to the Dome, you are absolutely right, it is a fabulous
structure which regrettably now looks as though it could be going.
It was the contents more than anything else because they said
"How can we fill this up? Let's go to Ford's and ask `if
you put some money in what would you like'", "we would
like a travel zone", obviously they are going to say that.
You go to the Hinduja brothers and they say "we would like
a passport zone". These are other matters. That is where
I would be critical of the Dome, it was the contents. I am one
who still gets misty eyed when I think of the Festival of Britain
in 1951 that I was old enough to attend.
246. You are far too young.
(Mr Banks) There are a number of projects where clearly
governments must be involved. Having said that, there must also
be political will to get things done. It is not just a question
of paying. This comes back to the recommendation of the Select
Committee to have someone put in charge of it as a Minister because
in the end someone has to be held to account. We are great believers
in this place, Chairman, are we not, in holding people to account?
If someone is given the job and the resources then Parliament
can hold them to account and if it goes wrong then hopefully heads
will roll and it will start with the Minister's head. I am perfectly
prepared to accept those sorts of conditions. It is not just a
question of putting the money in, it is also taking political
control and having the political will to drive the project through.
247. I think this Committee will agree with
you. I think this Committee has got many achievements which it
has the right to be credited for. Following the recommendation
the Prime Minister did appoint Mr McCartney for the Commonwealth
Games. It is always a great pleasure to have you here, Mr Banks,
and hear you speak. Every word is a privilege.
(Mr Banks) Thank you, Chairman. May I say I am a very
happy man this morning having witnessed my team, Chelsea, getting
their first away victory, unfortunately at the expense of my constituents
in West Ham. Hopefully the Budget will have given them enough
comfort to get over the tragedy of last night.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Banks.