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Olympic Games

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 4 March 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the success of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in relation to their preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012.

My Lords, I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating Amy Williams on her gold medal, and Vancouver on its organisation of an excellent event. Attending the Games was an invaluable opportunity for Ministers and officials to study Vancouver’s experience in staging an Olympic Games and, shortly, a Paralympic Games, to learn lessons for London 2012. In particular, Ministers and officials considered issues related to the Games’ operations, security, human trafficking and legacy.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he indicate the Government’s thinking about the role of parts of government in allowing the party atmosphere to function, which was so commented upon in Vancouver and is still going on? Do the Government have strategies in place for making sure that various tiers of government allow the party to take place and that it is not constantly stopped by the NIMBY aspect which says, “We should have a successful Olympics provided that it does not inconvenience me in any way, shape or form at any time”?

These are important general considerations for the organisation of the Games. We are concerned that the Games are the London Games and predominantly take place in London, but we want the whole country to participate in and enjoy them. That is why we are placing great emphasis on preparation for the Games, the cultural dimension prior to them and the legacy after them. There is no doubt that Vancouver’s great success was its ability to canalize the enthusiasm of the Canadian nation for the Games. We need to do that for Britain in 2012.

My Lords, is the Minister aware, as I am sure he is, that during Olympic Games there is always a considerable increase in prostitution and particularly in trafficking? I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Human Trafficking. Will the Government give sufficient additional resources, particularly to the Metropolitan Police, to deal with this real problem?

My Lords, the noble and learned Baroness is right to identify an additional, sad burden that will undoubtedly be attendant on the Games in terms of the extra pressures upon the Metropolitan Police. We have a general security budget of significant proportions related to that. Officers were also sent to Vancouver to work with the Canadian police on exactly this issue and to draw experience from that. The House will know the great difference between Vancouver and London as regards the dimension of these potential problems. The Government are, however, fully seized of the necessity of meeting the threat in the way in which the noble and learned Baroness indicated.

My Lords, could the Minister say what action has been taken to ensure that genuine sports fans can obtain tickets for the 2012 Olympics, as they have been able to in Vancouver?

That is a very important point. We are concerned about the affordability of tickets in order that all can participate in the Games and not just those who can afford the sometimes very high prices at certain major events. We will not be able to do exactly what the South Africans did because the World Cup allows the country to dictate its own terms for the sale of tickets. We are governed by Olympic rules—the International Olympic Committee—and we cannot give favours to British people over Europeans because of our membership of the European Community.

And therefore we are concerned to have a large number of tickets at a low price, as it was quite clear from the planning for the Games that that will encourage the fullest participation of our people.

My Lords, there is much to celebrate, and indeed emulate, as my noble friend and the Minister have very clearly pointed out: the volunteers, the enthusiasm and a British gold medal. However, does not the very sad death of Nodar Kumaritashvili demonstrate the clear need for a strong safety culture and a clear assignment of responsibility for safety and of liability for safety?

The noble Lord is right to emphasise that point, although intrinsically the winter sports have a greater danger element to them than the majority of the summer Olympics because of the speed of many of the events. He is absolutely right that safety is a great priority, but the Government’s record on health and safety stands out from that of any other country.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, following the removal of children from the indigenous people in British Columbia by missionaries in the 1930s, which separated them from their families and caused great harm to the local tribes, the organisers of the Games have taken this opportunity to highlight the importance of these ethnic indigenous peoples, including opening two cultural centres, one in Whistler, for them? Might we not learn from this in our Games and use that opportunity to promote the interests of our most vulnerable people—children in public care who have been separated from their families—and seek to ensure that they feel that they are at the heart of what the Government are undertaking in the Games?

My Lords, at the risk of sounding complacent, I do not think that the Government need to learn from that example. After all, the House will recall that children from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds were absolutely crucial to the success of the London bid, which has been infused by concern for the safety and welfare of children and for the part that they can play in the Olympics, not least with regard to some aspects of voluntary support. We want them to participate in the cultural side of the Olympics as well as witness the sporting part. In this area, I do not think that the London Olympic Games will be anything other than a children’s festival.