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NHS Direct

9. Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): What plans he has to extend NHS Direct. [52780]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): Building on the very successful roll-out of NHS Direct, I expect the service to expand its capacity significantly over the next six years. By 2008, NHS Direct will be able to deal with more than 30 million callers a year. It will, for example, handle all out-of-hours calls to general practitioners and be in a position to deal with up to 1 million lower priority ambulance calls.

Mr. Levitt: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I congratulate NHS Direct and its partner BT on having recently answered their 10 millionth call since NHS

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Direct was set up. I am sure that she agrees that there is still a need to educate some parts of the population about the use of NHS Direct, especially in respect of out-of-hours service replacement. Will the extension of NHS Direct be not only quantitative, as she has described, but qualitative, in terms of bringing new services into the NHS Direct family?

Ms Blears: Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right; NHS Direct can really help to contribute towards the reform agenda. For example, in west Yorkshire, NHS Direct is involved in an innovative scheme for people with long-term lung complaints. They can be monitored at a distance via the telephone and computer software, and when their life signs start to deteriorate an emergency response can be triggered. Similarly, Hope hospital, in my constituency, has an innovative programme for people with diabetes. NHS Direct can offer a contact centre to all patients around the country with diabetes, who can get advice through e-mail, the telephone and interactive online services. NHS Direct is truly the kind of service that we want for the 21st century; it is a very exciting development indeed.

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Wembley Stadium

3.30 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on Wembley stadium following the passing of the 30 April deadline that she set.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I explained to the House on 19 December that the Government were willing to support the Football Association's national stadium project, provided that the Football Association and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. came forward with fully detailed and funded proposals within a reasonable time scale. In the light of the David James-Berwin Leighton Paisner report, I asked that they should deal with four points: first, to commission an independent value for money assessment of the proposed contracts with Multiplex; secondly, to make papers relating to the project available to the Comptroller and Auditor General; thirdly, to make corporate governance changes to produce a management structure capable of delivering a complex project with procedures acceptable to the public sector; and, finally, to confirm that financial support is adequate and fully committed. I also explained to the House that I had asked Sport England to commission a detailed technical evaluation of the new proposals for athletics in the stadium.

Since 19 December, the Football Association and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. have worked closely with stakeholders and banks to develop the stadium project at their preferred location—Wembley—and to address the issues that I have outlined. Significant progress has been made.

Wembley National Stadium Ltd. carried out my request to make available to the Comptroller and Auditor General papers relating to the project. WNSL also commissioned Cyril Sweett Ltd.—a company with no previous or known likely future involvement in the national stadium project—to undertake a value for money study. Cyril Sweett Ltd. concludes that the Multiplex contracts represent value for money. I have considered the company's report carefully and accept its conclusions. The full report necessarily contains much commercially sensitive information and therefore cannot be published. However, I have asked WNSL to commission a publishable study, which I shall place in the Library.

WNSL has committed itself to meeting the required standards of corporate governance, and I am pleased to be able to say that significant improvements have been made. The WNSL board has been strengthened with experience in construction, financing and marketing. The new chairman, Michael Jeffries, has construction and project management experience. The Government remain in discussion with the FA, WNSL and other stakeholders about these issues.

WNSL also invited the Office of Government Commerce to undertake a gateway review of the project, which recommended that the project should proceed to contractual completion and that it was well managed and viable.

Sport England has completed its athletics study, which was prepared in close co-operation with UK Athletics, the British Olympic Association, UK Sport and the

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International Association of Athletics Federations. My predecessor rightly drew attention to the extremely long time scale and exorbitant cost involved in the installation and removal of the original platform, and to the fact that there was no legacy for the sport from the project.

I am pleased to report that the new design conforms to the standards required by the IAAF, is considerably quicker to install and remove, and the costs associated with it have been substantially reduced. I have asked Sport England to publish its study. The matter of a legacy for athletics is the subject of separate discussions between my Department, Sport England and UK Athletics. I hope that they will be concluded in the next two weeks.

Although much of the necessary work to secure the financing of the stadium project has been completed, the Football Association has requested more time to enable it to conclude its discussions with the banks. In the light of the progress that the FA and WNSL made in fulfilling the conditions that I set out on 19 December, I have agreed to refrain from reaching my final decision on Government support for the national stadium project at Wembley at this point.

I understand that that decision will disappoint many people in the west midlands, and hon. Members who represent that region. However, it would be wrong for the Government to withdraw their support at such a crucial stage. The FA is closer than it has ever been to making Wembley the home of English football again. I do not believe that it would be right or reasonable to pull the plug on its project when the prospects of success look better than ever.

Subject to the successful conclusion of the continuing discussions with the FA and WNSL, final confirmation that the financing is adequate and fully committed, and the terms of Patrick Carter's final report, the Government will be pleased to support the national stadium project at Wembley. My decision will be taken after full consultation with Sport England and in the light of Patrick Carter's final report. I fully recognise the public and parliamentary pressure for an end to the process and the start of the construction of a world-class stadium. I will therefore make a further statement to the House before the Whitsun recess.

Mr. Kaufman: My right hon. Friend talked about parliamentary and other pressure to conclude the matter, but she gave the House a firm and unequivocal commitment to bring the matter to a conclusion before now. On 19 December she set out her "four fundamental points" and said that they "must be addressed first". They included

In reply to parliamentary questions on the matter on 10 April, my right hon. Friend said:

Is it not a fact that the work has not been completed by the FA and that it therefore does not satisfy the conditions that my right hon. Friend described as "fundamental points"? Is it not a fact that the money is not "adequate and fully committed"? Is it not therefore a fact that the undertakings that she gave the House on 19 December and 10 April have not been fulfilled?

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How can the Government continue to embrace the tar baby? It is not simply a matter for the FA, because it involves £20 million of public subsidy, which my right hon. Friend promised the FA and £120 million of lottery money, which Sport England irresponsibly and disreputably gave the FA before planning permission had even been sought. It is time to put an end, one way or another, to this travesty of a process and settle the matter.

Tessa Jowell: I know that my right hon. Friend, for whom I have the highest regard, has never been the greatest fan of the national football stadium at Wembley. Let me deal, however, with the serious points that he raised. First, he raised the question of the deadline set for the end of April. He is absolutely right to say that the Football Association set the end of April as the point by which it expected to have met the four tests that formed the condition for Government support for the project. As I have outlined to the House this afternoon, in my judgment, and on the basis of the evidence that has been made available to me, it is clear that the FA has made good progress on at least three of the tests. The outstanding matter relates to the financing of the project, on which—[Interruption.]

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