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Tessa Jowell: Progress has been made on the financing of the project. Hon. Members will understand that the detail of that progress is shrouded in commercial confidentiality. This is a difficult matter of judgment, but, in my view, it would be unreasonable and unfair to fail to give the Football Association, which is now in negotiation with the bank, the opportunity to conclude those negotiations. To do so would be gratuitously to wreck a project on which good progress has been made. I do not think that that would be right or proper, and that is why I have agreed to allow more time to complete the negotiations on the financing.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Does the Secretary of State regret her original plan to try to sneak out this announcement on Wembley by means of a written parliamentary answer on a day when she was known to be making a major statement in Parliament on the Communications Bill? Is there ever going to be an end to her dithering on this subject? On top of the Government's inability to honour their commitment to staging the world athletics championships in London, does the Secretary of State recognise that Britain has now become a complete laughing stock in international sporting circles?
Will the Secretary of State confirm that her statement breaks the promise that she gave to the backers of the Birmingham bid? Is she willing to set any date after which Birmingham can have its proposals seriously considered? Will she confirm that describing the latest stadium design in oral questions before Easter as "athletics-capable" was just a device to allow Sport England to avoid asking for £120 million of lottery money back? Does she seriously believe that Wembley, given the geographical constraints surrounding it, could ever form the centrepiece of a British bid for the Olympic games?
When does the Secretary of State honestly think that work on building the national stadium might actually start? When will Wembley Park tube station be rebuilt? Is it not true that, five years after lottery money was provided for a national stadium, and 18 months after Wembley shut its doors, the Football Association has, in fact, delivered its side of the bargain, and that the real reason for this project now being stalled is ministerial dithering? While footballers, athletes, rugby league players and fans wait in frustration, Britain's international sporting humiliation continues.
Tessa Jowell: I hardly think that I sought to sneak out an answer on the national football stadium when this is the first day after local election purdah on which it has been possible to inform the House of this matter. Secondly, I took the trouble to telephone the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) this morning to draw his attention to this question. I also telephoned my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
In relation to the status of athletics, I made it clear earlier that a working group involving Sport England and the key athletics governing bodies has been considering the position of athletics at Wembley. As I have told the House, the Sport England report will be published shortly, but it shows that the stadium is capable of taking a track that is cheaper and can be dismantled much more quickly than that in the original proposal. As the hon. Member for South Suffolk is also aware, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions made an announcement about financing the upgrading of Wembley Park tube station.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), as ever, does the House a great service. He has chronicled and pursued the trials and tribulations of the national stadium project for the past five years. Indeed, I have often fought in the trenches with him shoulder to shoulder in cataloguing the past failures of the Government and the FA. However, we part company on one fundamental issue, and west midlands Members would do well to take note of it. Although he may be their hero of the moment, it is clear that he wishes the project to fail completely. I wish it to succeed.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the four conditions that she set on 19 December have been substantially met and that, in the light of that progress, it would be foolish, wasteful and perverse to abandon the Wembley bid in the 89th minute? Will she also convey to the FA the House's frustration at the fact that it has not yet concluded its financial contract? Will she urge it with all speed so to do?
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend. It is important to remind the House that the four conditions in relation to Wembley that I set before Christmas are attached to the investment of a further £20 million of Government money
This is not a Government project but an FA project. It is led and financed by the FA, but it is dependent on further Government money, for the reasons that I have outlined. As those who have taken the trouble to read Patrick Carter's report will understand, the FA is also dependent on support from the Government to facilitate aspects of this complex project, such as the infrastructure issues. That is why the Government have a role, and it is my judgment in the context of the progress that has been made that the FA should be allowed further time to conclude negotiations on funding the project.
Nick Harvey (North Devon): If the FA is expected to raise all the money for the project, what exactly is the Government support that the right hon. Lady has yet to decide whether to give to it? If the FA takes another month to raise the money, surely it would be perverse for her then to refuse to support the transport infrastructure to which she refers. As for the Sport England analysis of athletics, will she tell us categorically whether the revised design would be adequate for an Olympic tournament to be held in the new stadium? Is it still the FA's intention that the new stadium should open in the spring or early summer of 2005, precisely when we were supposed to have held the world athletics championships in London?
Tessa Jowell: The further support from the Government is the £41 million to which I have just referred. In relation to the opening date and the hon. Gentleman's question about the status of the track for Olympic events, those judgments will have to wait until I have had time to study the Sport England report, which has not yet been submitted to me.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): This is, of course, a considerable problem for the whole of football, and I am afraid that my right hon. Friend will find it difficult to rebut accusations of muddle and, certainly, delay. The delay is no longer acceptable; we must soon have decisions. It would help if she could say today, clearly and without equivocation, whether a national football stadium that is worthy of the name will be built at all if it is not to be built at Wembley? In short, if Wembley cannot produce the goods, must we assume, as I fear we must, that there will be no national football stadium, simply because all the eggs have been put into one basket andas I feartoo many have already been broken?
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I recognise that he has advocated for a long time that the stadium be built in the west midlands. As Patrick Carter's report assessed, if Wembley failswe hope that it will succeed, given the provision of additional timeBirmingham is an option, but it is a more expensive one. However, the decision on locationBirmingham as an alternative to Wembleyis a judgment not for the Government but for the Football Association, because it is the FA that will pay for the project.
Tessa Jowell: No, I do not accept the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's questions. I fully recognise the passion in Birmingham and the west midlands for trying to secure the national stadium for Birmingham. The negotiations will be conducted by the west midlands and the FA with full understanding and recognition of the costs involvedthat is the beginning and end of the matter. This is a question not of letting anybody down but of taking a difficult decision and making a reasonable judgment, so that a project that has made progress can have every reasonable chance of succeeding at Wembley.