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Here we are again: another day, another statement, another mess. We are told that the prospects are good and that progress is promising, but that the outcome is still not yet certain. We now have the deeply damaging contents of the Tropus report and the James report, in spite of which the Secretary of State says today that she believes that there have been no new disclosures that add to the concerns previously identified.
The House would like to know when the Secretary of State knew about the Tropus report. When did her Department have the report? Was it before 19 December 2001? Why were the FA and WNSL so slow to publish the James report? We have had sight of it only thanks to the vigilance of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, under the skilful chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
The Secretary of State plays down the contents of the two reports, taking comfort from the fact that the James report did not find any evidence of criminal impropriety and did not recommend retendering the contract for rebuilding Wembley. She focuses on whether flaws identified had irrevocably damaged the project on the grounds of cost, propriety or deliverability. It was yet another last chance for Wembley, and the possibility still existed that FA could enter into discussions with Birmingham on its proposal.
The statement gives rise to several questions. What matters remain for negotiation on Wembley? Are they matters of principle or of detail? How much longer is the Secretary of State prepared to give Wembley, and where does that leave Birmingham? What is Coventry's position?
Tessa Jowell: I do not wish to be disrespectful to the hon. Lady, but I am sure that she wishes that her senior colleague had been here, because her response to the statement that I made was pathetic.
I became aware of the James report in December last year. As the hon. Lady says, it was shrouded in commercial secrecy, because it was highly sensitive. It was made available, as I made clear to the House on 19 December, on grounds of legal privilege. That limited the number of people who saw the report and the use that could be made of it. However, it is because of that report and my insistence that it be passed to my Department and made available to the National Audit Officeand because the steps that I have reminded the House of today were followedthat the project is now in the state that it is in today, instead of the flawed, tainted, unbankable state that it was in a year ago. That is a matter of fact.
The question of whether the financial deal will now proceed to a commercial close is a matter for the FA and the banks concerned, but the indications are that the banks will be encouraged by the consistency of Government support for the project and the fact that a commercial project has been subjected to a degree of rigour and scrutiny equivalent to the standards expected in the public sector.
In my statement, I set out the position in relation to Birmingham: when the Football Association made it clear that Wembley was its preferred location, the Birmingham team agreedrightlythat it would undertake no further work on the proposal for the time being. I have set out, as made clear by the Football Association, the further steps that would need to be taken if Wembley fails and Birmingham is then considered as an alternative.
The hon. Lady asks what I meant by "shortly" as regards publication of the athletics report. I suggest that when she gets back to her office she tell off her researcher, because the information has been in the Library, in response to a parliamentary question, for about two weeks. It is also available on the Sport England website.
Finally, I have made very clear the lessons for the lottery and the steps I intend to initiate in order to ensure that the lottery does not become risk averse, and that where lottery money is invested in risky projects, that is done on the best known understanding of the likely effect of those risks.
My right hon. Friend will understand that, as far as I am concerned, what matters is the House's custodianship of the expenditure of public money. Will she therefore make it absolutely clear that in no circumstances whatever will a penny above the £20 million to which she has previously referred be given by the Government for this project?
My right hon. Friend talked of the need to protect the taxpayer and the lottery payer. She will be aware that the David James reportwhich, like the other documents, was published only because the Select Committee forced their publicationidentifies serious breaches of the lottery funding agreement and subsequently a complete failure by Sport England to do anything about it. There has been a serious dereliction of duty by Sport England, which flung £120 million at the project and did not lift a finger to monitor how the money was used.
Will my right hon. Friend hold Sport England to account? My view is that there should be sackings at Sport Englandespecially Mrs. Brigid Simmonds, who seems to take pride in the neglect of Sport England. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that never again, in any public project, will such negligence be allowed? Furthermore, will she ensure that my constituents' money, whether paid through lottery tickets or taxes, will be safeguarded and not used to provide a free gift of a stadium to the FA?
Tessa Jowell: If I may take my right hon. Friend's third point first, I have made it clear on the Floor of the House and before his Select Committee that there are lessons to be learned in relation to the stewardship of lottery grant. That point was also recognised in evidence to the Committee from David Moffett, now the chief executive of Sport England. I shall study carefully the Select Committee's conclusions on the specific points where it considered that Sport England had not offered proper stewardship.
Throughout this process, however, it is important to separate the allegations of negligence from the fact of negligence. Certainly, the lottery agreement has been altered and there were not proper and sufficiently close relationships between WNSL and Sport England, as evidenced by the fact that when the stadium was closed Sport England was not aware of that fact. I am entirely persuaded, therefore, of the need for some changes, but it is important to focus on fact rather than allegation.
On my right hon. Friend's second point, the House will be clear about the sources from which public money for investment in Wembley stadium will come: there will be £20 million for non-stadium infrastructure and £21 million
Finally, on my right hon. Friend's point about publication of the James report, the Tropus report to which he referred is a dossier of allegations. The James report has now been slightly amended and is in publishable form. At Christmas, I called for its publication. It has now seen the light of day and I welcome that.
Nick Harvey (North Devon): I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement today, but I regret that there is not a little more progress to report. I also commend her fortitude in riding out the embarrassment that the Government should feel about the entire Wembley saga. At this stage, she is right to see this bid through to an actual conclusion one way or the other. Will she confirm that the banking arrangement is 95 per cent. agreed and that it is a process of due diligence that is now under way? Is it not time that some due diligence was shown in this project?
As the Wembley bid is nearing a conclusion, one way or another, surely it would be perverse in the extreme to exaggerate the significance of a few weeks' delay now and to favour another bid that, for understandable reasons, is not even on the starting blocks in terms of planning, costing or funding.
Finally, should the new Wembley stadium project fail for one reason or another, I urge the right hon. Lady to keep a rather more open mind than seems apparent from her statement about the possibility of breathing some new life into the old Wembley stadium. If a new stadium is to be in Birmingham, east London or anywhere else, it will take many years to deliver and some extended life for the old Wembley might well be a useful transitional phase.