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National Stadium

3.30 pm

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on the siting, purpose and funding of a national stadium.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I have today published the interim report of Patrick Carter's review of the English national stadium. His key recommendations are set out clearly in the report. They deal with the importance of the promoters presenting final proposals that represent fully committed funding, final design, cost and procurement details. Should those proposals not be delivered within a reasonable time scale, Birmingham should be considered as the alternative. No commitments should be made by any party until such time as final agreements have been reached as regards funding and procurement. Finally, the Government must be satisfied that all aspects of the stadium's procurement meet Government standards of propriety and regularity.

Patrick Carter's report also recognises that the leadership of the project must rest with the Football Association—we agree—whose final decision it will be what stadium to build and where. Its preference, on the ground of greater return, is to go ahead with a modified version of the Foster design at Wembley. However, it has accepted that should that fail, strong proposals from Birmingham should be taken forward. It also accepts, as do the Government, that it remains a possible outcome that no national stadium will be developed.

As the FA has made clear, it does not believe that the project can move forward without Government support and facilitation, but I make it clear to the House that any further financial support is conditional, limited to covering non-stadium infrastructure costs and the Government's interest in protecting the £120 million of lottery money already invested.

There is much work to be done before there can be a final decision on a national stadium. Patrick Carter's report describes the many uncertainties that need to be resolved. Any Government support for infrastructure would not be committed until they were all dealt with. I must alert the House to issues relating to the proposed procurement at Wembley that need to be fully dealt with.

The House will be aware that I had intended to make an announcement about the national stadium on Monday. I shall explain the reasons for the delay. It came to my attention at the end of November that concerns had been expressed that Wembley National Stadium Ltd. had not adhered to best procurement practices or corporate governance arrangements in relation to the new Wembley stadium. I was told that those complaints involved no suggestion of fraud, but implied a lack of transparency in part of the process and a failure to deal properly with actual or potential conflicts of interest. I was told that an investigation of the complaints, commissioned for Wembley National Stadium Ltd., was under way,

On 13 December, I requested a progress report. I was given oral assurances that there was no impropriety, but that the chairman of WNSL would contact my permanent secretary the following day. Officials discussed the report in draft on Sunday 16 December with the FA, Wembley

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National Stadium Ltd. and its authors, and asked that it be finalised and made available to the Government for consideration before we made any decision on going forward with the national stadium project. A final version of the report was received yesterday. I have suggested to both the FA and WNSL that they should publish it. I have asked for it to be made available to the National Audit Office, and they have agreed. At present it is bound by legal privilege and confidentiality, but I can say that it confirms the existence of a number of serious concerns.

WNSL made a statement today outlining the report's principal conclusions.

Patrick Carter alludes to those concerns in the covering letter accompanying the report, which I have published today.

I have told the FA and WNSL that should they wish to continue with the Multiplex contract, they must set in train an independent assessment of the value for money that it represents, and must ensure that corporate governance and procurement arrangements from now on represent best practice, before the Government will proceed with any further support for the project—financial, moral or otherwise.

Four points must now be addressed by the FA and WNSL. First, an independent value-for-money assessment of the proposed contracts with Multiplex must be commissioned, and conducted by an appropriate company with no previous or likely future involvement in the project. Secondly, at my request WNSL has ensured that papers relating to the matter are available to the Comptroller and Auditor General so that he can decide whether to look into the matter further. Thirdly, we seek confirmation that corporate governance changes will be made to produce a management structure capable of delivering a complex project within procedures acceptable to the public sector. Fourthly, we seek confirmation that financial support is adequate and fully committed, after all relevant factors have been taken into account in a process of due diligence.

Finally, let me refer briefly to athletics. Sport England and the FA will look at that during the next stage of discussions. I hope that the House understands why that next stage is so crucial. Sport England now believes that a different platform solution can be developed more cheaply, and without the disruption associated with the original proposals. Before any further decision is made, however, I will ensure that Sport England commissions a detailed technical evaluation of the proposals to make certain that they fully meet the technical criteria of the athletics governing body. It will also prepare a proper cost-benefit analysis comparing the new proposals with those of 1999.

In short—although I am afraid that I have spoken at some length—the Government will work with the FA to resolve these issues. The end result that we want is a

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national stadium, but those four fundamental points must be addressed first. Then we will have a national stadium of which we can be proud.

Mr. Yeo: Does the Secretary of State realise that the Government's handling of the national stadium issue has led to a series of disasters, caused directly by the dithering and blundering of successive Ministers?

Four years ago, the Government decided that there should be a national stadium at Wembley, with athletics. Two years ago, they decided that there should be a national stadium at Wembley, without athletics. When the Secretary of State took over six months ago, she could not decide whether there should be a national stadium at all, whether it should be at Wembley, or whether athletics should be part of it. Judging by her reply this afternoon, she is still dithering. Few who heard it will be reassured that she has any more grip on the issue than her predecessor.

How watertight does the Secretary of State expect the arrangements for the new national stadium at Wembley to be by 31 March next year? Will the contracts involving the Football Association, WNSL, International Management Group, Multiplex, Sport England and the Government be available for public inspection? Will planning permission have been granted?

As it has taken the Secretary of State more than three and a half months just to publish the Carter report on which her statement is apparently based, does she really believe that the complex negotiations under way and still to be concluded can be completed in the same time frame?

Does the right hon. Lady believe that Wembley will host athletics, as is now proposed? If not, when will the £20 million promised by her predecessor be repaid? Will she confirm that if by any chance Wembley stadium does not get built, all the money paid by Sport England will be repaid, and promptly? Will she also confirm that the plans that she has outlined require a further £20 million of public money to be spent, and will she explain precisely what that extra money will be spent on, or is it just another figure plucked out of thin air?

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the report about the probity of the procurement process is published before a penny more of public money is spent? Will she confirm that in the past few days, her Department, without consultation, has intervened to cut out of the scheme altogether the £19 million rebuilding of Wembley Park tube station? Will she confirm that the cut-price alternative of tarting up the existing station means that the stadium could not be cleared of spectators within an hour, and disabled access would be greatly reduced?

Will the right hon. Lady explain the main features of the Wembley proposal that she considers superior to the excellent Birmingham bid? Is it the design of the stadium, accessibility to sports fans or value for money? In the House on 2 May this year, the Prime Minister gave an assurance about the Wembley project. He said:

Does she agree that that assurance means that the Government have accepted responsibility for seeing this project through to its conclusion?

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Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, after four and a half years of Labour Government, England is still without a national stadium, football is without a flagship ground, London has lost the world athletics championships, Britain has lost the chance to host the World cup, Birmingham and Coventry have been encouraged to spend money and time on bids that Ministers had no intention of taking seriously, and Britain's reputation in international sporting circles has never been lower?

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