My Lords, this is pretty much the same Bill that we gave a Second Reading to last June, which makes things a little easier for me because it means I can make pretty much the same speech I made then. At least it enables me to say once again with enthusiasm that I support the Bill, which will bring the Commonwealth Games to the West Midlands. Noble Lords would expect me to say that because I live there, but perhaps I can make a wider national and, indeed, international point, which was very much echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria.
These are Commonwealth Games, with 71 competing countries from all parts of the globe. During the past three years we have been talking a great deal about Britain’s place in the world and the extent to which we engage beyond our shores. Perhaps it is a good time to mention just what a remarkable, successful and, indeed, unique institution the Commonwealth has become. And it is growing: among the countries competing this time are two recent entrants to the Commonwealth, Rwanda and Mozambique. There are more at various stages waiting to join. By the way, the new ones, unlike the rest of the Commonwealth, do not have a history of being parts of the former British Empire. Its appeal now goes much wider than that.
I have no doubt that these Games will further strengthen the friendships and relationships between these 71 nations and the people who live in them. That is something to celebrate, and what better place for a Commonwealth celebration than Birmingham and the West Midlands? There cannot be many countries of the Commonwealth, if any, that do not have direct contact—family and friends—with people in our region. That is, again, something to celebrate.
The Commonwealth Games will be a showcase for the West Midlands. I saw a figure that 1.5 billion people will watch these Games on television. I do not have the faintest idea how anyone calculates such a figure, but it sounds like an awful lot of people. I very much hope that the various TV production companies will give some nice shots of the region in their opening titles, not just of the sports stadiums where the Games will be held, but of Birmingham’s vibrant city centre and the Canalside, which has been mentioned, as well as of views and landmarks from the wider region. I will put in an early bid, which I am sure the whole House will agree with, that they should include a picture of the world-famous Iron Bridge.
I of course welcome the investment in jobs that the Games will bring. I have seen estimates of up to 4,000 jobs. Another really heartening figure is the expected community involvement. We are told that the Games will need the assistance of some 10,000 volunteers. No wonder there is support for the Games not just in Birmingham, but across the region and across the political divide, with Ian Ward, the Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, and the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, both emphasising the benefits to business and tourism from the Games being located in our region. I add by proxy the supporting voice of my noble friend Lord Rooker—Jeff. As the House will know, he contributed at pretty well every stage of the previous Bill’s consideration. He is convalescing after a period in hospital. He would undoubtably agree with pretty well everything that has been said. We all look forward to his authentic West Midlands voice being here with us again very soon.
Things have not been standing still since we last considered the Bill in November. One of the key developments was announced only last week, with the approval of planning permission for the development of the Alexander Stadium, which, when completed, will house more than 30,000 people. It will be not only a world-class stadium for the Games, but part of the legacy that we will have long after the athletes have gone home.
This is not exactly a sour note, but I am allowed to be grumpy occasionally at my age. The previous Bill first came before the House in June last year. It probably deserves a footnote in Erskine May. It is a House of Lords Bill, introduced in one Session of Parliament last June, then—quite unusually for a House of Lords Bill—carried over to another Session in October and reintroduced in yet another Session this January. That is three Sessions of Parliament to deal with one relatively small, simple, uncontroversial Bill. Why on earth it was not dealt with in the wash-up last October, as it would have been in the old days, I do not know, but the House knows well enough that we did things much better in the old days. Far beyond a procedural point, it would have had the benefit of everything being completed last October. Two or three months is not a lifetime, but we already have a truncated period in which to prepare for these Games. At least the Bill is here, with very few minor changes. The most important, albeit short, part of it remains the section on finance, which, as ever, is a complicated matter, involving, as it does, a 75:25 split between national and local government. We are told that the final Games budget will soon be published; I hope the Minister can tell us when that is likely to be.
On the subject of finance, I add my support to all my noble friend Lord Hunt said about a tourist levy and the possibility of a pilot scheme being authorised. This was debated in Committee last year. At that time, a different Minister replied that such a proposal would not be appropriate for this Bill, which is what Ministers often say. I hope that this Minister’s reply will be a little more forthcoming—although I am not too optimistic—or at the very least that she will tell us whether anything can be learned from similar proposals elsewhere, and whether it is something that the Government will be looking at.
Another, perhaps minor—though not for people trying to get around the city—query that I have is about transport. I echo everything said about Birmingham New Street station. Part 4 of the Bill says that road and pavement closures can be made up to 21 days before the opening ceremony. Anyone who travels regularly to the centre of Birmingham—as most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate do—knows that in recent years, with the redevelopment of the city centre, there have been numerous road closures and diverted traffic signs; they are all too frequent. Why are powers needed for road closures up to three weeks before the Games begin? Three weeks is a long time in road-closure terms.
In conclusion, I emphasise that these are minor points, which in no way detract from my enthusiasm for the Bill. In 18 months, people from a third of all the countries in the world will come to Birmingham for the friendly Games, which thousands will watch in the venues and millions will view on television. The Bill further facilitates these Games; that is good enough for me.