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Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Rural Economy Committee 3:30 pm, 3rd February 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Snape, who has intimate knowledge of Birmingham. He has raised issues which I am sure the organising committee and the Minister will be taking up.

I am standing in for my noble friend Lord Addington, who is, as we speak, rushing back from Paris. I suspect that he did not enjoy the 24-17 defeat of England by the French, but I know that he would share the desire of the Minister and everyone on these Benches for the Bill to have a speedy passage. Already the organising committee has been playing catch-up. It took over after Durban pulled out, and things have not been helped by the number of false starts the Bill has already had. Such delays cause significant problems for property deals and in creating the overall development timetable referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. We want to get on with it as quickly as possible.

Reference was made to the Gold Coast. I was there in 2018, and saw the excitement, and the large involvement of local people in the Games, which brought significant benefits to the area, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, said, a £1.3 billion boost to the local economy. I am certain that Birmingham, Solihull and the West Midlands in general will benefit hugely from the Games. As has already been said, those activities will be showcased to 1.5 billion people around the world. There will be jobs created, skills uplifted, improved sporting facilities, and so on. Local people will have the chance to see some fantastic sporting and—I am pleased to say—cultural activities but, critically, we must not forget that a large number of local people will be involved as volunteers, helping ensure that all the people who come to these friendly Games will have the best time possible. I am sure that we all remember the fantastic contribution to the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in London made by those games makers. They made such an incredible addition to the enjoyment that we all got.

I was in Singapore when Great Britain learned that it would be hosting the 2012 Games. I then served in the other place on the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill Committee; I went on to serve on the organising committee. My greatest joy was being appointed deputy mayor of the Paralympic Village. I saw first-hand the enormous contribution that this country has given to Paralympic sports. Many noble Lords may be unaware that during our Paralympic Games, we provided the most amazing facility whereby Paralympic athletes could have any broken equipment repaired. I have checked in the last couple of days with the organising committee for Birmingham 2022, and am delighted that it will be replicating that brilliant facility. Perhaps noble Lords do not understand the full import of something like that, but an athlete from a third-world country came in with a broken running blade and asked to have it repaired. It was a very old, cheap, running blade. When he went to pick up his repaired blade, he said, “This can’t possibly be mine,” because it was a brand new, state-of-the-art blade, but he was persuaded to take it away at no cost. We should never forget that those sorts of things are going on behind the scenes and will be the sorts of things that the organising committee in Birmingham will be working on.

I have seen the highs and lows of planning a major sporting event. I am well aware that the Bill before us has the benefit of similar legislation for other multisport events, including of course the 2012 Games and the 2014 Glasgow Games. That said, as the Minister knows, a number of concerns have been raised and I want to pick up one or two to give the Minister a chance to respond to them. We are well aware that Birmingham City Council and its partners are going to raise 25% of the estimated cost of the Games—£184 million. Given some of the problems that have already occurred, such as the need to relocate the bus station, which I understand is now going to cost eight times the original estimate—so that is already an additional £15 million to be found—I know that the council has proposed that it should be allowed to introduce a hotel tax of £1 per bed per night, which, over three years, would bring in £15 million. I know there are concerns about that on all sides of the House and within the Government, but it would be helpful if the Minister could bring us up to date with that situation.

However, I suggest an alternative way that the Minister could help Birmingham and others find money in terms of tourism. She may be aware that the UK is one of only three EU member countries that have not reduced the rate for VAT on accommodation and attractions. We have nearly double the 10.8% average rate of VAT across the European Union. No doubt that contributes to the fact that we are now 135th out of 136 in the World Economic Forum’s price competitiveness ranking. The Minister might like to go and discuss with her right honourable friend at the Treasury a reduction in VAT for tourism, because the figures show that after five years over £1 billion a year would be raised by that reduction—after 10 years that would be over £5 billion a year—which would go a long way to paying for very many multisport events in this country in the future.

Another concern has been raised by some elements within the media about the parts of the Bill dealing with the power of the organising committee to authorise and charge businesses to be associated with the Games and gain commercial benefit from so doing. I absolutely support all the measures in the Bill, but the News Media Association has recently written:

“The Bill’s provisions could have a particular detrimental impact upon local newspapers, print and online, serving the communities hosting the Games and most concerned in promoting and celebrating their success.”

I am well aware of the exemptions already in the Bill for reporting and editorial content and the trading exemption for selling newspapers, but is the Minister at least willing to have further consultations with the news media industry to ensure that its concerns have either already been addressed, as I believe they have, or could be with appropriate changes to the legislation?

Like the Minister, I welcome the excellent social value charter, referring to the importance of inclusivity, and she will be well aware that the sporting world has made huge strides in recent years; for instance, in terms of gender equality, the Gold Coast Games was the first major multisport event to have an equal number of medal events for men and women, and there have been huge strides, as I have already mentioned, in terms of competition for athletes with disabilities. We have much to be proud of in the UK, having started the Paralympic Games, and a lot of exciting things have gone on since that time.

Perhaps the biggest innovation was at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where para-athletes were fully integrated into their national teams, making those Games the first fully inclusive, international multisport event. I am delighted to say that Birmingham is doing exactly the same. However, while we have made huge strides in terms of para-athletes, I am not entirely convinced that we have made enough strides in terms of spectators with disabilities. While I very much welcome the setting up of the accessibility forum, I hope the Minister will ensure that, for instance, inclusivity is fully covered in the transport plan; for example, the 2012 Olympics were in many ways excellent, but it was very difficult for people with a disability to get a suitably adapted taxi. The other important issue is seating arrangements. It is accepted that there will be sufficient seats or seating spaces for people with disabilities, but the question is whether there will be sufficient flexibility in the seating arrangements to ensure that people with disabilities will be able to sit with their family and friends. I hope the Minister will keep an eye on that issue and have discussions with the organising committee about it.

There is continuing uncertainty about archery and shooting and we need to wait for the outcome of the consideration by the Commonwealth Games Federation. So that there is absolutely certainty, can the Minister confirm that if the federation agrees to allow archery and shooting events to take place in India, the Indian Olympic Association will have full responsibility for all the costs and no additional costs will have to be borne by the Birmingham 2022 committee?

Finally, will the Minister take a particular interest in the important issue of legacy? Every single Games around the world has said that legacy is central to its planning. Legacy has very often been successful in terms of venues that have been left and other developments; for instance, not only will we have a wonderful athletes’ village for Birmingham, but it will subsequently create 1,400 homes and, eventually, more than 5,000 homes. I am well aware that there will be structural legacy benefits as a result of the Games. There will be some welcome upskilling and some jobs may continue, but there are a number of areas where there has been real disappointment, not least in sporting legacy. At a time when we are desperately concerned to deal with obesity, type 2 diabetes and so on, it is important that we have robust plans that are followed through with government support after these Games.

I shall end as I started: we hope that the Bill will have a swift passage through both Houses.