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British Olympics Bid 2012

January 14, 2003

British Olympics Bid 2012

I must confess that I instinctively support the enthusiasm shown in the positive comments about sport made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I am a keen sports fan and, without going too far down memory lane – I could not go as far as the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) – I, too, recall the first time that I came to London to watch a sporting event. It was the Ashes test match at Lords in 1972, and it has left me with a very positive approach towards sport over the past 30 years. I am sure that that experience is replicated by millions of schoolboys and schoolgirls on an annual basis.

I share some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). We must take a hard-nosed view of this issue and I know that he, too, is a keen sports fan. One might ask how any London Member of Parliament could possibly oppose these plans, but we have to ask whether this is a realistic proposition, or whether there is a great danger that, in spending the £13 million to £30 million that it would cost simply to put a bid together, we might be throwing good money after bad.

We have seen the story of the London Olympics bid in recent weeks, and, as ever in recent London governance, it has been a shameful mix of Mayor Livingstone’s grandstanding and central Government’s dissembling over their financial obligations – to the capital, at least. Of course, the Mayor desperately needs a PR win. He has an election of his own to run within the next 18 months, and there has been an apparent lack of delivery in the two and a half years that he has held office. Transport is in a desperate state, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) rightly pointed out that Crossrail is key to what we are trying to achieve in London. Above all, the Mayor sees this as a way of distracting attention from his own failures with a prestige bid, but we should not be fooled. This is opportunism masquerading as vision. Rather like King Midas in reverse, anything that Mayor Livingstone has touched has tended to turn to dust.

I know that we have all tried to have a positive outlook in this debate but, without being over-critical, I believe that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has lived up to its reputation as one of the most monumentally useless Departments of Government. Its lack of clout means that the Treasury’s view prevails too often. An Olympics bid would detract from other sporting priorities. I was sorry that the Secretary of State put the dampers on matters by saying that schools, hospitals and transport could suffer. I should like to believe that that would not happen. However, other sporting priorities throughout the United Kingdom would inevitably suffer if we won the bid.

Many hon. Friends drew attention to the great worry that the Treasury appears to have changed the financial goalposts several times in recent weeks. The initial report suggested a subsidy of approximately £495 million. Even on the Secretary of State’s figures, that sum has increased to £2.5 billion, possibly rising.

After the Wembley fiasco and, perhaps more important, the Picketts Lock debacle, when financial squabbling resulted in our being forced to give up the 2005 world athletics championships, we must ask whether there is a realistic chance of winning a 2012 Olympics bid in the next two years. We cannot assume that the International Olympic Committee has suffered collective amnesia.

I am worried that the Government want to get out of a hole and are keen to find a pretext, as the Secretary of State showed today. We must wait and see what happens in the Cabinet discussions in a fortnight. The Government would ideally like to find a financial or, at worst, logistical reason to walk away from the bid. Perhaps the decision will depend on the "winability test", whatever that means. The Secretary of State did not make that any clearer during her comments.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Is the hon. Gentleman personally in favour of bidding for the Olympics? Is he expressing unequivocal support for Conservative Front-Bench Members’ positive view of a bid?

Bob Russell: The Secretary of State refused to say whether the Government supported the bid.

Mr. Field: It is a rare occasion on which I take advice from the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), but he is right. I have spoken for five minutes; the Secretary of State’s speech was six times as long, yet we did not get an answer to the question that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) asked.

I personally support making a bid, and I should like the Olympics to take place in London. However, I am worried about "winability" or other tests. If we have no viable, realistic chance of winning, there is little point in making the bid. We need leadership, support and vision, unfortunately not from the Conservative party but from the Secretary of State. Mr. Reed: I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman’s points, but the matter comes down to a crucial question, which the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman should answer. At what level does the cost become unacceptable – £2 billion or perhaps £5 billion? I support the bid, but there must be a cut-off point at which it becomes too expensive; the Government cannot write a blank cheque. Has the hon. Gentleman any views on what that figure should be?

Mr. Field: That is a fair point. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my constituency contains this country’s economic powerhouse. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) pointed out that even in depressed economic times, London tends to provide a net output of £15 billion to £20 billion. That contribution alone probably means that we should run with the bid if there is a realistic chance of success.

Clearly, the tourism benefits could be huge. A conservative estimate is £750 million. The benefits for my constituency, which contains the west end and its hotel trade, would be enhanced not only during the Olympics but before and after the games. However, it would be best for the Government either to commit themselves wholeheartedly to a bid for 2012 or to take the longer-term view of making a bid sometime in the future. Much depends on who wins the 2012 Olympics. If the winner is a non-European country, London would be in the running for 2016. Above all, I hope that Ministers, not only in the Department but throughout the Government, and especially in the Treasury, commit themselves to spending the next four years in the run-up to any formal bidding procedure improving London’s infrastructure, especially its transport. Only then can Londoners be confident that our city is worthy of being home to the global showcase that we are considering.