rose to ask Her Majesty's Government where they consider that the national stadium should be sited.
My Lords, this debate concerns the question of where Her Majesty's Government consider that the national stadium should be sited. If the Minister were to say Solihull, Birmingham, I would be perfectly willing to sit down and we could all go home! It was worth a shot.
Plans for an English national stadium for football, rugby and athletics are already four years behind schedule and up to £300 million beyond the original budget. As things stand, six years after Sport England selected Wembley as the preferred site for the stadium and put £120 million of lottery money behind it, not one brick has been laid upon another.
It is to no one's credit that there have been six years of dithering. It is bound to lead to the question: if the FA has got nowhere in six years, what real prospect is there that it can get all the finance, procurement and planning permission in place by April, the deadline, or perhaps I should say more accurately, the new deadline, set by the Government? Only yesterday the Secretary of State insisted that,
"by the end of April we [shall] know once and for all whether the national stadium will be built at Wembley".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/2/02; col. 428.]
Those are no doubt words that all noble Lords will recall.
The Government claim that they are neutral over the stadium's location. The Secretary of State in her Statement of 19th December last year, at col. 302 of the Official Report, spoke of "government support" for the stadium and, at col. 308, she described the Government's role as that of a "facilitator". I welcome that in the sense that it leaves the Government free to support the Birmingham-Solihull bid if Wembley cannot get its act together and meet the new deadline. But, more widely, I do not believe that the Government will be seen by the public as neutral, any more than the last Conservative government were over the siting of the Dome. The people of Birmingham and the West Midlands remember how they were cheated out of the national millennium exhibition by that government fraudulently altering the wording of the bid document after the tenders were in. Their claimed neutrality was no more than a mask.
I take the view that government have a right and a duty to act in the national interest to decide upon the best location for the stadium in consultation with the FA and others and then to give their support as a willing facilitator.
The development of major sports facilities is a matter of legitimate interest to the Government. The choice of site for this stadium involves judgments about the value of the regions and how it can assist regional development, investment and employment and ensure that London and the South East do not automatically get every plum that is going.
I can tell the Minister that if either the Government or the FA think that a new Wembley would assist a London Olympic bid, they are wrong. Mr Simon Clegg, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, was quoted in the Guardian on 9th February this year as saying:
"The focus for any British Olympic bid is very much on the east end of London. The Mayor of London has made it clear that he would not allow the bid to go ahead unless it were centred on the East End".
The requirement that major Olympic venues are within 30 minutes travelling time of any Olympic village would rule out Wembley anyway.
The International Olympic Committee did not insist on the capital hosting the last Olympics in Australia. Nor did it do so when they were last held in America. It has no right to try to dictate which cities should be able to bid for the games. In the United Kingdom there is every good reason why the games—like the World Indoor Athletics Championships scheduled for Birmingham next year—should not take place in this overcrowded capital.
I believe that the FA's preference for Wembley is based on a single fallacious financial claim. That is set out in the Carter review, at page 13. It states that,
"the FA's view [is] that premium seat income will be significantly lower in Birmingham than Wembley".
This is crucial because premium seat income—that is, corporate hospitality, parking, private boxes, restaurants and income from television rights—accounts for £70 in every £100 of stadium income. It is only the other £30 in every £100 that comes through the sale of tickets, in other words through the turnstile.
Given a theoretical choice between Wembley and Birmingham-Solihull, it is no surprise that the premium seat income is assessed as potentially higher at Wembley. But that is not the choice. Mr Doug Ellis, the energetic chairman of Aston Villa FC, tells me that Bastion, the company that specialises in corporate sales for stadia world-wide, is confident that once a Birmingham-Solihull stadium is standing there, the premium seat income will equal that expected by a Wembley site.
In any event, looking at the designs for both stadiums, as Mr Ellis points out, corporate facilities at Birmingham-Solihull are far superior to those envisaged at Wembley. There is just one example that I should like to give. A 12-seater box at Wembley would come with just one reserved parking space. That means that the other eight clients would have to rely on very inadequate, tatty public transport serving the stadium. There is no guarantee of transport improvement since the Government have neatly passed that burden on to the Mayor. At Birmingham there is room for four reserved parking spaces for each 12-seater box. These matters are extremely important, given the money that rides on the back of the sale of boxes.
There are other strong arguments why the Government should get behind the Birmingham-Solihull bid. First, the project is cheaper and needs no government or lottery money. Secondly, it will be managed by the NEC Group which welcomes 5.5 million visitors a year to more than a thousand events at five of Europe's leading venues in the area. Thirdly, Birmingham and the region have a track record for developing major capital projects and events on time and on budget, such as the Millennium Point, the project which is leading the regeneration of Birmingham's east side. Fourthly, the site is at the heart of the country's transport network—motorways, a mainline railway station and an international airport, none of which applies to Wembley. Fifthly, and most importantly, the Birmingham-Solihull stadium is backed in a survey by 69 out of every 100 football fans and 55 out of 64 premier and league football club chairmen.
At the very least I should like the Minister to repeat the undertaking given by the Secretary of State in December that, should the Wembley bid fail by the end of April,
"the strong proposals from Birmingham should be taken forward".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/01; col. 302.]
I also want the Government to insist on a stadium which can host national and international athletics. The technology now exists to achieve that without the need to erect and dismantle an elevated track.
This is not being anti-London. It is a plea to site the English national stadium where the fans and the clubs want it and where access is easiest from all parts of the country. I want the Government now to listen to fans and clubs and to support a home for the game at the heart of the nation to be located at the heart of the nation—at Birmingham-Solihull.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, for giving us another opportunity to discuss and debate this very thorny problem.
With noble Lords' agreement, I should like to take a few seconds out to pass on the congratulations of this House to all those medal winners in the recent Winter Olympic Games and to all those coaches, leaders and managers of a super performing team.
I return to the subject. We now have the third Minister for Sport since 1997 and the second Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the same period. The national stadium concept was started by my party in 1996. So far as I can see, the only significant happenings since have been a grant by Sport England of £120 million to the FA and the closure of the Wembley Stadium by the FA. If anyone thinks that the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and I have colluded on this matter, please be assured that we have not. This is a sad and sorry story as told in the standing committee's report, The unpicking of Pickett's Lock, to which I referred when last we debated this topic, and also of course in some detail in the excellent report recently produced by Patrick Carter.
The national stadium project is for a national stadium for Association Football only, as stated yesterday in another place by Mr Olner and not corrected by the Secretary of State. In the light of this, a number of alternatives have to be re-examined: first, and in particular, the need for a national stadium at all; and, secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, has already said, its location.
The alternatives basically are four. These are analysed very clearly in the excellent report by Patrick Carter. They revolve around Wembley, Birmingham, Coventry and the no stadium option. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that I, as a Millennium commissioner, was a supporter of Birmingham.
Let us look at the no stadium option first. The no stadium option, or "England on the road", has many good facets. It is economical; it puts lumps of money into a number of clubs around the country; it does not have a residential overhead cost for the FA, the Government or for anyone else; and, perhaps most importantly of all, it spreads the opportunity for that huge band of supporters of English football to get first-class viewing of British internationals in different parts of the kingdom without having to travel from, for example, the North East to London.
However, there are also countries in Europe that do the same thing—Germany, Italy and Spain—none of which have national stadiums; all of which have seriously high-level international football teams. But there is one major difference—the size of the stadiums currently available in this country, excluding Twickenham, which has severe planning limitations, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which is of course in Wales. England's six largest stadiums are all in or north of Manchester and hold only between 40,000 at Everton and 67,000 at Newcastle. That compares with Italy's four largest stadiums in Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin—arguably, spread well around the country's major population zones—which hold between 69,000 in the smallest and 86,000 in the largest.
So if the no national stadium option is to be chosen, funding will clearly be needed significantly to enlarge the nation's top stadiums and we will need to find one suitable club or location in the South and one in the South West—which are not obvious.
Perhaps the way forward is a national stadium, but where and how should it be funded? An athletics stadium incorporated within the Football Association's national football stadium is unrealistic. If that fact is accepted, Sport England's lottery grant should be returned forthwith. That grant of £120 million was arguably given to the FA before there was any certainty of a financially viable project. It was spent on purchasing the land at Wembley and, we are told, various design fees. The money is secured on the land value, which Mr Carter now tells us in his report is likely to be only £30 million. It is time to examine in some detail how Sport England came to allow that grant to the FA in the first place, how the procurement procedures have been followed and how the money will be repaid should it be found that the grant agreement and financial directives have not been fulfilled.
I declare an interest—as perhaps I should have done earlier—as a Millennium commissioner, which I have been since the commission's inception in 1994. During that time, I have had considerable experience of the funding of and the necessary business plans for projects worth £100 million-plus, including the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Scotland's Hampden Park of Dreams and the Dome, among others. As has been pointed out by both Patrick Carter and Gerald Kaufman and his committee—albeit in different contexts—government should not interfere in the management of such projects or the decision-making process.
If government money is to be used—and in the case of a national football stadium it should not be—it should not be committed until all matching funding is secure and a robust business plan has been submitted and tested by the relevant professionals. That was my case when supporting Birmingham for the Dome—the economics seemed more easily to be met. The business plan and the inherent debt management will obviously relate directly to the overall capital cost and the income streams when in operation.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was completed for less than £150 million, as I discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, at the weekend. It holds 73,500 people. It has the versatility of an opening and closing roof. It is used as a national stadium not only for football but for rugby—which is not available for our national football stadium because the Rugby Football Union will not get out of Twickenham. At present, for five years it has the benefit of hosting the major events of the FA and the Football League, such as that of last weekend. However, Cardiff is still finding it difficult to pay off its debts and pay its way, despite holding 73,500 people, costing only £150 million and having a really full programme.
This is a project for the FA and the FA alone. Rebuilding Wembley at a cost of £600 million to £700 million as an Association Football stadium only will make no difference to our ability to attract world-class sporting events other than football. If we were at some time to attract the Olympic Games to London, the money would become available to convert a rebuilt Wembley, or to allow for the use of Twickenham over a very restricted timescale for sport other than football or rugby. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, said about half an hour's travel ride. I have competed in three Olympic Games and can assure him that I have certainly travelled for considerably longer than half an hour between venues. I suspect that my noble friend Lord Coe will support me in that assertion.
From all the £100 million-plus projects that I have seen I find it impossible to believe that a national stadium without a permanent tenant and costing more than £500 million could ever be viable. However, the Government appear to have got themselves well and truly committed to that course. If that is the case, they should get off the fence, decide on the place and say so.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, on raising the issue this evening. I was a neighbour of his for more than 20 years when we had adjoining constituencies in Birmingham. We battled against governments of both colours; all that unites us even more is that we have both been unsuccessful in our battles. Nevertheless, what the noble Lord said this evening had force. Of course, I join in my noble friend's congratulation of our medal winners in the winter Olympics. I also agree that there are some fundamental questions to be answered about the financing of the national stadium project and the pledges that have been given. What my noble friend said went to the heart of one of the central issues.
I should like to take a rather different course from that of my noble friend. I remember with some pain, as does the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, the history of the Millennium Dome. I remember the mistakes that were made in financing the project and the fundamental mistake of siting the exhibition in Greenwich. Above all, I remember listening to the barely disguised and rather patronising message that, in contrast to Greenwich, the Midlands was incapable of organising and hosting such a national exhibition. It was suggested that such national events could take place only in London; London was the only choice.
Of course, the Dome was a fiasco; there is no question about that. It was a very public failure. Most of those who advocated the Greenwich site as the automatic and only choice have now mysteriously melted away. The so-called obvious site became a music-hall joke, with few public friends left.
If I may put it this way, the danger for the Government is that, unless they are lucky, the Wembley project will go the same way. So far, it has been characterised by dispute and argument, by an inquiry into procurement and by all kinds of questions about the financial arrangements. A so-called troubleshooter has already been imported to try to sort out the mess and we have not yet laid a single brick—the project has not yet got under way.
If I may put this gently to the Minister, that hardly bodes well. Through its constant change of Ministers, the Government are hardly helping the process. Indeed, the latest ministerial intervention, that of the Secretary of State yesterday during Questions in another place, trying, as she put it, to clarify the position in relation to athletics, succeeded only in further obscuring the position. If that was clarification, I should hate to see her in a deliberately obscuring mood.
There are many negative things that can be said about the planning of the Wembley stadium, but that is not the fundamental point that I want to make this evening. My central point is that, in planning on Wembley—going for the Wembley option—we are losing an enormous opportunity to have a stadium that would be better in every respect. The country would do better. It is worth remembering how much lottery money is pledged and how much taxpayers' money could go in. There are national issues involved, and there are certainly governmental issues. The national stadium should be sited next to the National Exhibition Centre on the outskirts of Birmingham.
I say that for several reasons. First, there is a greenfield site that would be substantially easier and cheaper to develop. That would have the undoubted support of the public in the Midlands and, I suggest, the public further afield. It would also have the support of a formidable number of dedicated people in the Midlands, including people such as Doug Ellis, who has already been mentioned. Secondly, the site in the Midlands already has excellent communications by rail and motorway. The contrast is stark: Wembley has always been a nightmare to get to and to get away from.
I shall point out just one deficiency with Wembley: it needs a new Underground station at Wembley Park. There is no conceivable question about that, but it is anything but clear that that is on offer. In fact, there is the prospect of a planning dispute involving Brent council and possible further delay in the whole process. In contrast, the basic communications infrastructure in Birmingham is already there; the facilities already exist.
The opportunity to go to Birmingham should be taken for those reasons, but from the point of view of the public—perhaps the most important—it is the most convenient and accessible venue. Wembley is not the middle of the country: no doubt, it has many advantages, but it cannot claim that. Birmingham is. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, said, all the surveys that have been carried out show that opinion is heavily in favour of Birmingham and the Midlands. By any objective analysis, the figures are overwhelming.
My last point is that, apart from those practical reasons and arguments—which I think are overwhelming—a decision to move to the Midlands would have enormous symbolic importance. It would mean that, as a nation, we were saying that important national meeting places could be sited successfully outside London and that there is no reason why they must be in the capital and many reasons, given the congestion, why they should be moved outside. London is not the automatic first choice. Over the past 20 years we have seen the renewal of our big regional cities. That is one of the most dramatic things that have taken place in this country. The big regional cities outside London have come back into their own, and we have seen a marvellous regeneration in cities such as Leeds, Manchester and, of course, Birmingham.
I fear that the signal that we will give if we persist with Wembley is that we intend to continue with the same old tired and often unsuccessful policies that we followed in the past. That is the signal that we will give if we go the Wembley way. There is an opportunity to move away from that, and we are likely to be more successful. I hope that we will take that opportunity.
My Lords, I declare a non-remunerated interest as a non-executive director of the Cardiff Millennium Stadium, nominated by Cardiff County Council. Like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Corbett of Castle Vale on initiating the debate and on the vigour with which he has put the case for Birmingham. It is a pleasure to find myself a sandwich between two distinguished Olympic gold medal winners on the other side of the House, the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Coe.
The debate over the siting of the national stadium has not, so far, reflected well on some of the individuals and organisations that have taken part in it. It contributed to the premature ending of ministerial careers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and to the removal from office of people in the sporting and business worlds who used to be part of the process. The "Now you see it, now you don't, now you see it again" approach to the inclusion of athletics in the Wembley design lay at the heart of the problem. Most people assumed that, if Wembley were to be a genuine national arena, as opposed to simply a football and rugby stadium, it had to include a provision for athletics and, ideally, be suitable for at least the opening and closing ceremonies of an Olympic Games.
A further difficulty was that the earlier designs for Wembley were far too grandiose and contained provision for an hotel and office block. The business plan that contained those did not work, and the FA—in desperation, I suspect—asked the Government to join it as partners in the project, just before last year's election. Ministers refused to do that and, instead, commissioned the review chaired by Mr Patrick Carter, to which noble Lords have referred. The interim report was published on 19th December, and it is a model of good sense and clarity. It pulls no punches on why the original project failed and offers a logical way forward.
Mr Carter did, however, draw attention to several concerns relating to corporate governance, the earlier procurement process and potential conflicts of interest. In his covering letter to the Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, he said that she should satisfy herself,
"as to the achievement of Government value for money in procurement standards and any associated accounting issues".
The Secretary of State accepted that advice and refused to give the green light to Wembley when she made her statement in another place on 19th December. The final decision will now be taken in April.
The Football Association is devoting all its attention to establishing whether Wembley can work. For the moment, it assures me that Birmingham has been put on the back burner, as indeed is the option of having no national stadium. That is an interesting thought, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred. I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said. That is because we have the best range and the largest number of modern, safe, top-class football grounds in Europe. The practice of "England on tour", necessitated by the closure of Wembley, has worked well with fans in all parts of the country enjoying the experience of seeing England play in their home city.
However, there has been the problem that we do not have sufficient club grounds with a big enough capacity, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I am told that tickets for recent England matches played out of London have tended to sell out in only four hours. A beneficial side-effect of this has been an improvement in the standards of crowd behaviour at England matches, with fewer displays of xenophobia and racism from sections of the England crowd, which many of us always found so unpleasant at Wembley.
Let us assume that what one might call the historical issues relating to the choice of Wembley—matters of corporate governance, procurement practices and the like—referred to in the Carter report and described by the Secretary of State in her statement on 19th December, are satisfactorily resolved and that Wembley and Birmingham are judged together on a fair basis. Which of the two projects is likely to produce the best outcome for football? I shall deal first with football.
I am concerned that, wherever it is sited, the national stadium does not become a drain on the finances of the game as a whole. As the governing body, the Football Association has a responsibility for football at every level. Its commercial activities should be sufficiently successful to allow it to support and subsidise the game at the grass roots. Noble Lords will have heard me point out on previous occasions that the task would be easier if the wealth generated at the very top via the Premier League was to be redistributed more generously. But I fear that every urge to redistribute is then subsumed in the Premier League by an obsession to avoid relegation, which leads to players being bought for ridiculous transfer fees and often paid obscene salaries to be in the squads.
Meanwhile, although such wealth exists in the Premier League, seven Football League clubs are now up for sale, a number are on the brink of administration or are already in administration, and a few could collapse at any moment. Against that background, it is vital that the Football Association does not threaten its viability and hence its capacity to help the game's development by pouring money into a national stadium and receiving no return from it. I am assured by the FA that it would not allow that to happen. That is obviously an important part of the deliberations it is conducting at the moment.
The Carter report makes it clear that a critical element in the funding projections is premium income, to which my noble friend Lord Corbett referred. At Wembley, 70 per cent of the income would come from only 15,000 premium seat holders. What is more, according to the Carter report, some £50 million of that premium income could be underwritten and paid up front. I have no difficulty in the principle of encouraging people with money effectively to subsidise the less well-off in the crowd. Indeed, that was a recommendation made in the final report of the Football Task Force. There we considered that at club level the income generated from what one might call the high rollers should keep down the prices for other fans.
I was interested in the comments made by my noble friend with regard to Birmingham and premium income, but we have to acknowledge, as does the Carter report, that there is nothing like the same prospect that Birmingham could attract the same amount of premium income as could a successful Wembley. A further factor—I accept that this is hardly Birmingham's fault—is that if a choice is made anywhere other than Wembley, the £120 million worth of lottery money paid by Sport England will have to be repaid. Mr Carter reckons that the Wembley land value is only about £30 million, so that the FA would lose £90 million on that basis.
I will support the Wembley decision if it is possible to prove that the athletics element in it can be retained. Noble Lords have referred to the Questions put yesterday in another place when the Secretary of State stated that:
"If athletics events are not to be hosted at the stadium, the money—as the FA has always made clear—would be returned".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/2/02; col. 428.]
I made some inquiries of the DCMS via the Library of this House. The department has been informed that the Secretary of State has asked Sport England to examine and evaluate the revised proposals for the national stadium, and that both the IAAF and UK Athletics must have the power to insist that their technical requirements in terms of athletics facilities will be taken into account. If that is so and it is possible for athletics to be accommodated in a new design, I am willing to support Wembley—perhaps the only person in this debate to do so.
The Secretary of State said yesterday that there is no question of further Government money being put towards the stadium, apart from £20 million for transport infrastructure. However, I understand that there may be £21 million available from a London development agency. When my noble friend replies, perhaps he can give some indication of where that money will be spent. If those amounts are spent, the public commitment to Wembley would be £161 million, out of the £835 million that the stadium will cost—including the £120 million lottery grant to buy the site.
As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran said, that contrasts with a lottery grant of just £46 million from the Millennium Commission towards the cost of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, plus relatively minor contributions from the county council and the Welsh National Assembly. Even if the cost of the land is removed from the Wembley total, the resulting £715 million construction cost for a stadium with a 90,000 capacity is more than five times that of Cardiff. I wonder whether an additional 16,500 seats can account for a difference of £575 million.
I commented in the exchanges on 19th December that this match had gone into extra time. I was wrong. It looks to me as though we are having a replay. We all hope that the match will soon come to an end and that we will have a decision.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the president of the Amateur Athletic Association of England.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, on instigating this debate. He was a doughty fighter and advocate for his constituents when he was in another place and no less doughty when fighting on behalf of sport in numerous Select Committees. His case tonight—elegantly made, together with that of my noble friend Lord Fowler—is that our national stadium should be sited in Birmingham. After the past seven years of muddle and confusion bordering on farce, I am tempted simply to settle for a stadium anywhere.
I do not wish in this short debate to enter too deeply into the arguments for location, important though they are, but to examine the dilemma that faces UK athletics wherever the national stadium is built. I wish that its location were the only issue in this sorry saga that is still to be settled.
Your Lordships will need no reminding that the original proposals for a national stadium were for three sports—football, rugby league and athletics. My noble friend Lord Glentoran was right that those proposals were clear that the stadium was supposed to meet the standards necessary for international events without unacceptable compromise by any of the three sports. The lottery funding agreement that paved the way for the use of £120 million of public money by Sport England for the stadium was given to protect the status of all three sports. It is clear that that has not been the case.
Rugby league has made its arguments. I will speak about athletics, which have emerged as the losing triplet in the relationship. It is now clear that UK athletics were from the outset never fully involved in the project. Key decisions were often made with little or no reference to athletics. There have been examples of changes of plan, design and strategy that left athletics with little more than 24 hours to respond before public announcements were made.
The lack of a viable athletics component within the national stadium proposals set off a trail of events that led to the embarrassment of losing for London the World Athletics Championships in 2005 and the equally embarrassing search for an alternative—that included, for a year or two, Pickett's Lock. It also left the Government with a dilemma over the status of the £120 million of lottery money that was given to the project.
I find it surprising and more than slightly alarming that lottery funding was granted to a project that had demonstrated neither viability nor planning consent. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee described the premature grant by Sport England as a cavalier and egregious use of public funds—and I agree. Now the Government propose that Wembley will revert to the 1999 plans for a football stadium that would be athletics compliant at additional cost, by way of a demountable athletics platform. Upon that compliance rests the destiny of £20 million that the Football Association agreed to repay Sport England if athletics could not be accommodated.
Upon that compliance rests too the destiny of the £120 million lottery grant made available to the Football Association and the £40 million that has so loosely been talked about by Tessa Jowell as a legacy for British athletics and compensation for losing a world athletics championship as a result of the muddle.
Three questions need answering. I am sure that the Minister will address them in his concluding remarks. First, why have athletics, the prime loser, been consistently marginalised in so many of the decisions—including key discussions in 1998 and 1999 and about the repayment of the £20 million of lottery funding to Sport England? Secondly, Sport England committed itself to build an athletics compliant stadium. An athletics compliant stadium and a stadium capable of staging major track and field events are two very different things. I could spend a large part of the Summer Recess making my garden athletics compliant. But I doubt whether I could pull the wool over the eyes of the International Association of Athletics Federation sufficiently for it to have confidence in my claim to send the stars of track and field to Dorking for a world championships.
If a national stadium is to meet full compliance without compromise, we need to be able to examine the proposals for essential ingredients such as warm-up tracks, jump areas and throwing areas. Without them, the stadium may still be described as compliant but the UK would not realistically be in a position to bid for and host major championships.
Will Wembley have these ingredients? Only yesterday, Tessa Jowell, when asked about these matters in the other place, said that,
"there is a difference between being athletics capable and actually being able to host athletics events".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/2/02; col. 428.]
Thirdly, the erection of an athletics platform will be a major effort, both physically and financially. For both these reasons, there would seem to be little incentive for the stadium owners to bid for events that will cost them millions of pounds and put the stadium out of use for lengthy periods in order to stage an athletics meeting.
The debate is about more than the location of a stadium. We have already lost a world athletics championship and, with it, much international credibility.
An athletics compliant stadium is not enough. If the selective use of the word "compliant" is simply a way for the FA to hold on to public money by appearing to fulfil its lottery agreement but with no real intention of creating a stadium fully capable of and owners fully committed to holding major events, then once again athletics and the public are losers.
Ministers should be open about this. I am sure that noble Lords would be very grateful for a reaffirmation from the Minister today that any national stadium will have an athletics track and will be designed in a way genuinely to afford athletics the opportunity to mend some of its bridges internationally and stage leading events. But I fear that he cannot give that.
Of course the location of any stadium is important and every major population centre will have just cause to make a claim. I hope that over the next few years the UK can find a political and sporting unanimity of purpose to forge a successful Olympics bid. I have to say—probably to the dismay of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett—that experience tells me that for a bid to be successful the games will have to be in London and, as the noble Lord said, probably to the east of London. If that is the case, it would seem appropriate for a national stadium to be sited in our capital city.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, for allowing us to discuss this subject today. I am particularly grateful to the usual channels, which have placed me in my traditional position of tail-end Charlie at the back, with what I call the tin medals among our golden gods, whom I admire greatly. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Glentoran has spoken. I used to know him as "Mr Dixon" at school 50 years ago. I remember being in the students bar in Glasgow University in 1964 and watching him. He may be amazed that last week, at home, I was drinking a toast to Mr Alain Baxter, who trains not in a huge stadium but in a wild area of the Cairngorms. He at least won a medal, which was particularly welcome for those of us who ski throughout the winter with the parliamentarians, and drew admiration from the champion couch potatoes of your Lordships' House.
To me, the national stadium at Wembley means two words—"Empire Stadium". I believe that the existing site was prepared around 1923. I am just old enough to remember the 1948 Olympics, where a splendid lady from the Netherlands called Fanny Blankers Koen won a number of medals. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Coe will be able to enlighten me on that.
To me, Wembley as a national stadium should be "compliant", as my noble friend put it. When the Minister winds up I hope that he will be able to explain to me and my noble friend why it is that in Italy, Roma and Lazio play at the Stadio Olimpico and Bayern Munich play at the Olympic stadium. I am not too sure about the Stade de France, and whether that is athletics compliant. Why is it that England and the Football Association, which wishes to hold the Government to ransom as we have been hearing this evening, say that the stadium must be for Association Football only?
If the stadium is used for other purposes, then one will have serious problems. I recall that in 1970 the Cup Final at Wembley was almost dragged down to becoming a shambles in that divots were coming off after five minutes since the stadium had been used for equestrianism and horse jumping just one week before that game. No doubt that situation was assisted by financial demands and problems, but that can be taken into account if a stadium has to meet costs. The point of premium income was raised very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and the money needed for the upkeep of the stadium. That comes very much into play.
As regards pure geography, I speak as a Scot who spends a good deal of his time in England. I believe that I have paid twice to go to Wembley. On the last occasion I was a guest of the Swiss to watch the opening game of the European Championships, 1996. I went with a police escort in the Swiss ambassador's car. It took one and a half hours to get there and another hour to get back. I believe that the road and railway system will get better. Then one will be able to get to Birmingham. The point was raised very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, about a premium box, which I believe we call an executive suite in football. To have one box with one parking space is ludicrous. As the noble Lord pointed out, one box with four or five car parking spaces and room for plenty of visitors, plus the station at the National Exhibition Centre, are very big pluses.
I begin to worry about what happens when the lights go out. I think of the great amounts of money and the hype about 25 years ago in Montreal. It was a wonderful stadium. I understand that the liability has been paid off. Is it ever used? I suspect that it is a mere ghost.
As regards Sydney 2000, I have been reading of rumours already that there are problems and that the financial clouds are just beginning to appear on the horizon concerning the upkeep of that marvellous stadium. That can be done during an Olympic year and during major events, but the stadium is there for life.
I shall be impudent tonight and ask your Lordships to look at what a tiny nation like Scotland can do. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, raised the point about the enormous value for money which has been achieved in the Millennium Stadium at Cardiff. We have our own opinions about a purely football stadium in Glasgow. There is a national football stadium at Hampden Park which meets the five-star UEFA standard. I am not quite sure whether it is dancing girl compliant or for all kinds of other sports. It will seat 52,000 persons and the total cost was £74 million.
That shows what can be achieved with value for money for one sport. For Wembley the figure is £835 million and rising. Can one compare any other nation with England—or, in the case of my noble friend Lord Coe, it will be the United Kingdom—for athletics, but also for football and rugby? What else is going to be performed at this national stadium? I can see exactly what is going to happen. There will be pop concerts and all kinds of other events because the overheads are fairly fierce and the costs will have to be met.
I do not believe that there is a limitless pool of people who will be prepared to scatter money around for these premium and directors' boxes. I find that very hard to believe. Perhaps noble Lords have observed that I have two letters after my name—CA. I also have two others; namely, CB, which stand for "cynical so-and-so". I am afraid that I am beginning to worry about this whole affair.
I was most interested to hear the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I agree with him. Since the demise of Wembley, the England football team has gone around the nation. I agree with him about loutish behaviour. I have visited Wembley when the England team has been playing, not necessarily when they have been playing Scotland. What upset me, and, interestingly enough, very many other people—not just foreign visitors, but more percipient English commentators—was the booing and appalling racket and cacophony that arose when the visiting team's national anthem was played. I am sure that that did not happen at Newcastle, Manchester, or at any other of these stadia.
It is not necessary to draw the biggest crowds, particularly with Association Football, if the event is played in the capital city. As far as concerns Scotland—if I am treading on some corns I do so ever so lightly—we have our own national stadium. But 10 years ago, thanks to Hampden being redeveloped, international matches were played in Aberdeen. I remember going to Aberdeen one evening where I watched an under-21 match featuring Scotland versus Germany. Normally, all over Europe, such a match would attract 3,000 to 4,000 people; but, in Aberdeen, 28,000 bodies were present. It was a full house, completely sold out. Why? Everyone was proud of his team and got a chance to see them play. Above all, the result went very well for Scotland. I am given to understand that the new Scottish coach still remembers that result. It shows what can happen. It is not necessary to have a national stadium: all that is needed is the chance for all people in the nation to see their boys—perhaps girls—playing in a stadium elsewhere around the country.
I begin to worry when I hear talk of these enormous sums of taxpayers' and of lottery money being spent on developments that seem to be a little like some of the foundations that might be around Wembley; in other words, on shifting sands. Therefore, I await with interest—indeed, with bated breath—to hear the noble Lord's response.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, advertised this debate, it seemed to me that the time-scale between 19th December, when the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, repeated a Statement made by the Secretary of State in response to a Private Notice Question, and tonight was a little too short. However, I am very grateful to him for having introduced the debate because we have been able to address a number of issues that we were not able to cover on the previous occasion. It has concentrated our minds marvellously.
On the previous occasion, the noble Baroness and I banded words about definitions as regards what was a "national stadium". My view—one that I still hold—is that it is necessary to be quite precise in that respect. We are not talking about a national stadium; we are talking about a national football stadium. The noble Baroness disagreed with that view, but, judging by his remarks, I believe that I have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Coe, correctly said, the basis of the funding put in by Sport England (£120 million of lottery money) was that a national stadium was one that could accommodate the national game of football, rugby league and athletics.
I absolutely agree with the view expressed about the rapidity with which Sport England was prepared to grant this money, which has been described—and repeated, again, by the noble Lord, Lord Coe, in words that I like because they have a good ring to them—as being a "cavalier and egregious" use of public funds. It is a lesson for the future and one that I hope will not be repeated.
The pro-Birmingham lobby has come on a good deal since 19th December. I congratulate those who are totally committed to that on the way in which they have "honed their weapon". I am now almost convinced that they are right—certainly as regards a national football stadium. Time is short and I shall not repeat the reasons why I thought that Wembley was not a starter—not least because of the difficulty of access. Even with the moneys pledged by the mayor to increase the transport links, the situation at Wembley was unsuitable. I believe even more so now that it is unsuitable, either for a national football stadium or for a national stadium.
I do not know whether Birmingham is the answer, but I am very much persuaded by what the noble Lord said, particularly in relation to what he described as the premium seat income position. I do not think that he entirely convinced the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, if I understood his remarks correctly, but these are interesting points. We are now getting to the nitty-gritty of the problem—the way in which people see their investment being returned. We look forward to further debate on the matter and possibly to an answer from the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench when he replies to the debate.
A number of questions were raised on 19th December which, although only a short time has elapsed, need an answer. What is happening consequent on the interim report of the Patrick Carter review of the English national stadium? Has anything happened since 19th December? Wishes were repeated on 19th December for firm proposals—which are eagerly awaited—from the promoters of the world stadium team, and that they should come within a reasonable time-scale. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked quite correctly: what is a reasonable time-scale? Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us in his reply. Are we in the middle of that time-scale? Are we at the beginning of it? Birmingham's interest must be becoming even more lively—which is why the noble Lord has honed his arguments. It was stated that if it was not done in that time-scale Birmingham must be considered as a possible alternative.
There is a great deal of talk about government standards of propriety and so on, and a lot of high-flown language is used. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us precisely what "propriety" and "irregularity" mean in relation to this project. "Best procurement practices" were talked about, as were "corporate government arrangements". What is more appropriate at this time is for the noble Lord to answer one simple question. He need not worry about "corporate government arrangements" and all the high-flown terms—which I believe are a bit of a smokescreen for government confusion about where they should go next. The question to answer is: are the Government happy about the way in which the Football Association is leading the project? I think we should know that.
We are all concerned about the £120 million of lottery money, and the Government must be concerned about it. Very good arguments have been made in the debate as to how the money was granted, and also for its return if the criteria are not met. What is the reaction to that? What about the independent value-for-money assessment that was mentioned? Has too short a time elapsed to deal with it? I repeated a number of semi-jocular comments that were made in the newspapers about the contractor, Multiplex, and received quite persuasive letters from the construction company saying that I should certainly not believe what I read in the newspapers as most of it was incorrect. The company said that it was absolutely guiltless of the charges made in certain newspapers. What has the Comptroller and Auditor-General said? He was mentioned on 19th December. Has he had time to consider these matters?
I dare say the Minister does not have time to deal with those issues tonight, but I expect that we shall address the subject again and again. I hope that it does not become what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has already described as a sad and sorry story. The project shows all the signs that should make us nervous. We need some firm leadership and reassurance tonight from the Government. We did not get that on 19th December, but I hope that we can be at least partly satisfied tonight.
The noble Lord, Lord Coe, obviously knows all about the technology involved in the proposed alteration of the plans to produce a platform for athletics, but it sounds a very Lego-like solution to me and hardly one that stands up against international comment and criticism of what we should do. Somebody asked whether the Stade de France is athletics-compliant. Of course it is athletics-compliant; it is compliant with everything. It is compliant to the extent that it can hold concerts by Céline Dion for 80,000 people. Johnny Hallyday—for those who are familiar with that old-time singer—has also attracted huge numbers to that stadium. It is compliant with everything and it cost only £240 million. The estimate for Wembley is more than £700 million. I would not bet on that being the final figure. I would bet on at least a 25 per cent escalation.
I see the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, laughing. I am glad that what I am saying is not a message of sorrow and anguish. I hope that the Minister can reinforce that sentiment.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, for giving us the opportunity to return to the important subject of the national stadium. The Government's Statement in December should have lifted the veil on the future of the national stadium. However, if, before it, the Minister might have been wearing seven veils, Salome-like, afterwards the number had gone up to 70 veils. I hope tonight that he will take the opportunity to be more transparent.
In December, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that the question of where the stadium was to be sited could be resolved only if the FA met the four criteria set by the Carter report. By saying that, the Government made clear that they had a vital role to play in the siting of the stadium because they are setting the standard. It is therefore right that they should be asked to make a progress report. The Minister has been asked some specific questions that could be answered tonight. Even if we are told that we have to wait until April for the final score, extra time or a replay, there are some questions that should be answered tonight, which is perhaps half time.
It is already more than 500 days since the last ball was kicked at Wembley. We have heard many reminiscences tonight about the historic stadium. As a young person—far too many years ago to recall—I saw Wembley stadium almost empty as I watched schoolgirls play hockey. Even then it was not easy to get there and back, and I only lived north of London.
Returning to the important issues raised in the Statement on 19th December, can the Minister assure the House tonight that the scheme is now on time and that all the details will finally be resolved in April? If the Government's timetable for finalising the project is not met, of course supporters of other bids, which naturally include Birmingham, have a right to expect that their proposals will be considered. As ever, I listened with great interest to the forceful, eloquent and definitely consistent advocacy of my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, on those matters. Birmingham certainly has good advocates in this House.
One has to recall that, in the past five years, the Government have done their level best to distance themselves in Parliament from taking responsibility for decisions on the national stadium. They said that the decision about whether there was a national stadium at all and where it was to be built was for the FA and the FA alone. For example, on 19th December 2001, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that,
"it is for the Football Association to take the project forward and . . . the Government's role is to act as a facilitator".—[Official Report, 19/12/01; col. 308.]
As noble Lords have pointed out today, so far the story has been one of too much meddling by the Government and not enough leadership. Indeed, Patrick Carter, in the foreword to his interim report, stated that,
"the Government was perceived as interfering in the project to its detriment and the very public difference of opinion between Government and the FA led to a loss of confidence on the part of potential lenders" to the Wembley project.
First, the Government decided that there should be a national stadium at Wembley with athletics. The stadium concept was launched on 29th July 1999. That design was presented in November of that year, at the same time as planning permission was sought. Then, the right honourable Chris Smith decided that there should be a national stadium at Wembley without athletics. Noble Lords will remember that that decision was branded by the Select Committee of another place, at paragraph 23 of its report, as one that was beyond the proper responsibilities of the Secretary of State and taken in a hurry on flimsy and subjective grounds.
Then—as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said—in a case of, "Now you see it, now you don't", the Government decided that they could not decide what to do. They could not decide whether there should be a national stadium, or whether athletics should be a part of it anyway. So, in December, in another place, the Secretary of State made that memorable statement—if she ever writes a dictionary, heaven help us all—that the stadium must be "athletics capable". My noble friend Lord Coe rightly pointed out that saying that something is athletics capable is not the same as saying that it is capable of hosting athletics events; otherwise, just about anywhere could be athletics capable. I suppose that even your Lordships' Chamber could be used for a steeplechase. I am not volunteering, by the way.
It is important for noble Lords to be told by the Government just how far they have progressed in obtaining from the FA assurances that the plans for Wembley will ensure that the stadium can be used to host national and international athletics events. If not, as my noble friends Lord Coe and Lord Glentoran have pointed out, a series of pertinent and serious questions must be asked about the £120 million grant made by Sport England. I certainly look forward to the Minister's response to the searching questions asked by my noble friends on the lottery financing.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, recalled, in December, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that it was up to the FA to come up with a timetable. I was therefore keen to find out just what kind of timetable we are talking about—this year, next year, sometime or whenever. In December, the noble Baroness said that she had,
"every expectation that it will do so quite soon".—[Official Report, 19/12/01; col. 308]
One might expect "quite soon" to mean two months. Has it happened yet? Are the Government still waiting?
On 19th December 2001, the Minister told the House that the Government had told the FA and Wembley National Stadium Limited that if they were to continue with the Multiplex contract, they must set in train an independent assessment of the value for money which it represented, and that they must ensure that corporate governance and procurement arrangements hereafter represented best practice before the Government would proceed any further with support for the project. I thought that my noble friend Lord Lyell made some interesting and valid points about value for money from the Scottish experience in Glasgow.
Are the Government now satisfied that all aspects of the stadium procurement meet government standards of propriety and regularity? Has that independent value for money assessment been commissioned in relation to the proposed contracts with Multiplex? If so, which company has been commissioned to carry it out? Does it meet the standards set out by the Minister in December? Can the Minister assure the House that the company has no previous or likely future involvement in the project?
I turn to a matter reported in the Daily Telegraph of 16th January—I do not know whether the Minister is aware of the report—which stated that,
"The Government will now play a more direct role in the running of the Wembley project with ministers approving those who will form a new board for Wembley National Stadium Ltd".
That has serious implications. Is it true that the Government have been involved in scrutinising, along with Sport England and the FA, the list of possible candidates of those who will serve on the board in the future?
Serious problems have been raised by all noble Lords tonight with regard to the issue of the siting of the national stadium and whether there will be a national stadium at all. It is a matter of great national interest and pride. It is vital for the future of our sporting reputation and for our sportswomen and sportsmen that the Government show leadership—not meddling—and ensure that the question of where the national stadium is sited is resolved, and resolved now.
My Lords, this is the first debate since the conclusion of the Winter Olympics. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, indicated, our successful competitors in those Olympics are to be congratulated and it is only right that a former gold medal winner should have led the way in offering those congratulations this evening. I take pleasure in joining with him.
The second group of congratulations is to my noble friend Lord Corbett on introducing the debate with his characteristic vigour and also with his innate sense of timing. As was indicated from the nature of the debate this evening, this is an extremely live issue. We are on the point of important questions being resolved and it is vital that the House has this opportunity of contributing to the debate and eliciting further information, which I hope to be able to provide to reassure noble Lords on a number of issues.
I praise my noble friend's contribution and the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on the Birmingham proposal but should perhaps make this point. The Government are neutral in this sense: should the FA make the decision that it does not intend to go forward with the Wembley project, Birmingham has put forward a most coherent and persuasive viewpoint which ought to be looked at with the greatest seriousness. We expect that to be the course followed if the FA decides not to pursue the Wembley project. Of course, at this point the FA has still to make that decision.
This House is rightly concerned about the Government's responsibility for aspects of public money with regard to the proposal. I hasten to add that we are predominantly talking about lottery money and not about taxpayers' money, though of course there is an element of taxpayers' money with regard to aspects of infrastructure. Nevertheless, the Government's interest in this debate relates to the fact that the prime mover is the Football Association and it is the Football Association which will take the decision. The Government have made absolutely clear that that decision will be backed by the support of public funds only if it meets the proper criteria.
The reason the FA must take the lead is that there is no question of public money guaranteeing the future viability of the stadium. It must be run as a commercial development in terms of the football fixtures, possibly rugby league fixtures and athletic fixtures which it merits and which produce revenue for the stadium. After all, it is a commercial venture and it is only right that the Football Association should address itself to the issue of what it regards as the most viable financial proposal.
The Carter report, to which several noble Lords referred, reflected the fact that the likely revenues from Wembley were greater on the premium seat issue than those likely to emerge from Birmingham. But, of course, as my noble friend indicated this evening, Birmingham has fought back by indicating that there are arguments to suggest that a stadium in Birmingham could guarantee high levels of premium seat returns. At the end of the day that is a matter that the Football Association must take into account. The Government are neutral on the issue of location. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned, we are massively concerned about the viability of any proposal and, therefore, the appropriateness of the allocation of moneys from the lottery which have been identified up to now—hence the four conditions established on 19th December in the Statement made in the other place and repeated in this House.
I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that considerable progress has been made. An exchange of letters has occurred between the Secretary of State and the chairman of Wembley National Stadium Limited which indicate just what the four criteria establish and make absolutely clear that the Government's interest will be sustained by ensuring that those criteria are met. It is the responsibility of the Football Association to ensure that those criteria are met. I say as categorically as possible that there is no question of fudge and potential delay. As regards the timescale for the operation, there is a deadline of the end of April. If the Government are not assured of the viability of the Wembley proposal and the Government's criteria have not been met, we shall have to consider whether or not to invest lottery money in the project.
I indicate clearly and straightforwardly that a decision will be taken in the fairly near future. I reassure my noble friend and his supporters who advocate Birmingham's case that, should the Football Association reject Wembley and if it wants to attract public moneys to the venture—everyone can see that the viability of the project depends upon a certain contribution of lottery money and support for the infrastructure—it would need to consider the Birmingham proposal, which has been formally presented and carefully considered, as an alternative.
The debate was bound to focus on the crucial issue to which, as we would expect, the noble Lord, Lord Coe, referred; namely, athletics. It has been suggested that perhaps the Government have not been entirely clear about what they expect from Wembley in terms of athletics and in terms of that part of the lottery grant which relates to athletics. The noble Lord clarified all our minds when he indicated that the stadium is not conceived as the basis for an Olympic Games bid. It is clear that the structure of the stadium and the multiple role that it will play will not meet the criteria of international athletics. If we are to make a bid for the Olympic Games in the future—I for one, as a keen enthusiast of sport, hope that we do—we shall need another stadium specifically for athletics. I reassure the noble Lord that that concept still needs to be realised.
I refer to the moneys that were potentially to be devoted to Pickett's Lock. However, that stadium was not constructed. It is for the athletics authorities to decide whether that concept is to be realised in terms of a whole range of support for our future athletes or whether a stadium suitable for an Olympic bid should be constructed elsewhere.
But Wembley must have athletics capacity if it is to meet the requirements of the moneys allocated to it against the expectation of such capacity. The difference is straightforward. The facilities which are needed to host a major athletics event over a series of days will be beyond the capacity of Wembley. However, the project clearly can envisage athletics events which will bring in considerable revenue and it will provide a focal point for significant events in this country. But the hosting of those events will be different from the hosting of events as significant as the World Athletics Championships or the Olympic Games.
I am eager to emphasise—reference has been made to the fact—that the Government are working closely with the National Audit Office and the Office of Government Commerce to ensure that all due issues of propriety relate to this commercial project. Clearly we have an obligation to do so. Public moneys are being allied to a predominantly commercial venture and it is only right that the correct processes are followed.
On 19th December considerable anxiety, reflected in a Statement on that occasion, was expressed about the progress that had been made at that point with regard to the stadium. There will be no question of the project being viable in terms of claiming public funds unless it meets the criteria. As I said, the deadline is 30th April. Therefore, I believe that we are in a position to respond to the anxieties which were clearly expressed in this House in December.
All those who hold sport dear have expressed considerable anxieties over a number of years about the delay in relation to this project. My fondest memory of the old Wembley was when I had the fortune of attending a Cup Final with a ticket which cost 50p—such were the glories of pre-inflationary days a long time back. One cannot get away from sentiment with regard to the twin towers if one was present at the World Cup Final.
Having said that, we all recognise that the new Wembley must be a commercially viable project. It has received a significant allocation of public money. If it does not meet the criteria, then the issue of the return of the public money becomes a very live matter. I am sure that all noble Lords expect and hope that, with the judicious application of public money from the National Lottery, we shall in due course see a national stadium which will greatly enhance our sporting capacity in this country. On that basis, I commend the processes which are being pursued by the Government. Although my noble friend has used the occasion of this evening's debate to stress the claims of Birmingham, I believe that he and I share a commitment to the development of a national stadium, whether it is at Wembley, in Birmingham or elsewhere.