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Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

The Minister for the Olympics was asked—

Beijing Olympic Games

I shall speak very quickly, Mr. Speaker.

I plan to attend the whole of the Olympic games and part of the Paralympic games, including both closing ceremonies, with the handover to London, at which point London becomes host city for both the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that we have more chance of achieving human rights reforms in China if we engage with the Chinese than if we boycott the Olympics?

Will the Minister be accompanied to Beijing by the Sports Ministers of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies of the United Kingdom? If so, will she discuss with the Minister from Northern Ireland its prospects of getting some of the Olympic games when the London Olympics take place? What is in it for Northern Ireland?

I understand that a meeting of the sports cabinet will take place tomorrow, which will be an opportunity to discuss some of the issues. In advance of the Beijing games, I will be spending two days in Northern Ireland, when I will have an opportunity to discuss its preparation for the Olympics.

Amnesty International recently reported that the current wave of oppression in China is occurring not in spite of the Olympics but because of it. Does the Minister intend to attend the Beijing Olympics regardless of China’s clear breach of its commitments to the International Olympic Committee?

In practice, the commitments made by China to the IOC were specifically about increasing press freedom. Eighteen months ago, I secured, as did other colleagues in negotiation with counterparts, the free movement of accredited and non-accredited journalists in the run-up to the Olympics. That is a specific and important freedom, which we must now ensure continues after the games in continuing dialogue with China.

2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

2. What recent discussions she has had with the Mayor of London on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. (204431)

I shall be meeting the new Mayor of London on Wednesday to discuss our preparations for the Olympic games. I welcome the fact that he shares the great priorities of his predecessor: to ensure a positive legacy, and to minimise any further cost to the London council tax payer.

Just as I worked closely with the last Mayor, I shall work closely with the new Mayor, who will co-chair the Olympic Board. However, I am sure that the whole House will want to take this opportunity to record its gratitude and appreciation for the long service—eight years—of Ken Livingstone as Mayor. He brought enormous distinction to the first mayoralty of London and great wealth and benefit to London, which included his playing a key part in London’s securing the Olympic games.

I am enormously grateful to the Minister for her reply, particularly her reference to the last Mayor’s ability to keep the Olympic budget down. As she will know very well, he recently said:

“I decided to bid for the Olympics…because…it was the only way of getting any government…to invest billions of pounds in rebuilding the East End”.

When he was told that that made it sound like a con trick, he said “Literally, absolutely!” Given that it was a con trick, is the Minister pleased that the new Mayor of London, with whom she will co-chair the board, is a much more serious politician, who will be an asset to London and to the Olympics?

I think we have gone beyond the point at which campaign insults can usefully be traded across the Dispatch Box. The Government made the clear decision that if we secured the Olympics, they would be used to drive the regeneration of the east end of London. That was not a con trick, but a clear commitment by the Government to bringing new homes and jobs to one of the most deprived parts of London.

I firmly believe that my right hon. Friend is well placed to hold discussions not only with the Mayor of London, but with all other people who are determined to make the games successful. Will she be sure to oversee such matters as transport, so that my constituents can get the very best out of what I expect to be fantastic games?

Of course. The opportunity to upgrade London’s transport infrastructure is one of the great legacies that the games will leave, while the Olympic transport plan will enable my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of other Members to travel to them safely and easily.

In a recent article in the Manchester Evening News, Lord Coe said he regretted that London’s sporting facilities lagged 30 years behind those of the great northern cities. Given that enabling young people through sport was one of the key commitments of the London bid, what will the Minister be doing—both as Olympics Minister and as London Minister—to correct that?

There are two issues. It is still true that too many of our sporting facilities are too old to be attractive to young people, but over the past seven or eight years some 4,000 new facilities have been built, many with lottery money and increasingly as part of Building Schools for the Future. Hosting the Commonwealth games was a great driver of sport regeneration for Manchester and the north-west. The hon. Gentleman has already heard this afternoon about the remarkable achievements of the school sport programme, which is transforming sport for young people in schools. It will continue to build an element of the great legacy towards 2012 in ensuring that a generation of young people’s lives are transformed through sport.

2012 Olympic Games (Budget)

3. What is her most recent estimate of the budget for the 2012 Olympic Games. [Official Report, 2 June 2008, Vol. 476, c. 8MC.] (204432)

In March 2007, I announced a funding package of £9.325 billion for the Olympic games. That has not changed, and I confirmed to the House earlier this year that the budget for the Olympic Delivery Authority remained the same, with £2 billion of contingency funds untouched. In January this year, we published the scope of what would be delivered from the funding package.

The Public Accounts Committee reported recently that there were foreseeable costs that had been omitted from the original Olympic budget. That is, of course, the same budget that Ken Livingstone agreed had been a con trick. What confidence can we have in the current figures that the Minister has just given the House? Will there be an element of independent scrutiny, so that we can all be assured that the budget has been properly handled?

First, there is independent scrutiny, quite apart from regular scrutiny by this House. I invited the National Audit Office to provide continuing advice on value for money, and in due course a proper reply to the Public Accounts Committee will be provided. The increase in security, for instance, in the wake of the 7/7 attacks in London could not in fairness be regarded as a foreseeable cost. VAT and contingency are the other two costs, but the fact is that the budget is now on a secure footing, as is testified by the NAO.

Can the Minister say what proportion of the budget is earmarked for Northern Ireland? [Official Report, 2 June 2008, Vol. 476, c. 8MC.]

The budget is not apportioned regionally, but the opportunities for hosting training camps and volunteers, and particularly the opportunity to take up the some 750,000 contracts that will be let during the development of the Olympic park and the preparations for the Olympics, mean that, as is the case with Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland businesses should benefit. The CompeteFor network is designed to ensure that they do so.