House of Lords
Monday, 14 June 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
Several noble Lords took the oath or affirmed.
Death of a Member: Baroness Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn
Elections: Fraudulent Registration
My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling electoral fraud by speeding up the introduction of individual electoral registration. This will improve the accuracy of the register and ensure that only those entitled to vote get on to the electoral register. We are also considering the Electoral Commission’s report on the queues at polling stations on 6 May and the Government will take any appropriate steps necessary to prevent a repeat.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that succinct Answer. Is he aware that on 23 February I asked a supplementary to a Question for Oral Answer about how many recommendations from the Electoral Commission the then Government had implemented? I received a holding response that afternoon and later a letter was placed in the Library which indicated that there were a great many outstanding items. In the light of the last election when over 1,000 queued up and then could not vote, and there were serious problems with the register itself, as indicated by the Commonwealth monitoring group, is it not time to look at the role and powers of the Electoral Commission so that we have full and fair elections and can trust in the results?
My Lords, I share the aspirations of my noble friend, but it is fair to put the case into perspective. There were problems at 27 polling stations out of 40,000. That was a bad piece of public relations and terrible pictures went around the world, but in fact represented a very small percentage of the actual turnout.
On the powers of the Electoral Commission, I think it is true to say that it has few teeth; whether it should be given more teeth or its powers transferred elsewhere is a matter for discussion and examination after we have its report on the recent general election.
My Lords, all sides agree that individual registration is the way forward. However, does the Minister agree that the danger is that if we move too quickly, it is a near certainty that many of our fellow citizens will drop off the register, thus adding to the 3.5 million people whom the Electoral Commission estimates are currently unregistered? Does not the Northern Ireland experience, where 10 per cent of the population immediately fell off the register following a sudden switch to individual registration, show us how careful we must be?
My Lords, it is quite clear that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is holding on to his old briefs. Yes, that is exactly why the implementation of the new form of registration has been taken at a measured pace. The experience in Northern Ireland was of a very large drop. However, again, we have got to get into perspective the fact that 91 or 92 per cent of people are on the electoral register. We are trying to balance the need for a clean and credible register against the points of caution the noble Lord has pointed out.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is now time to consider changing polling day from a Thursday to avoid the kind of problems we had in the recent general election, with large queues of voters unable to vote in the middle of the evening? By switching voting to the weekend we would avoid disruption to schools and enable more people to participate in our elections.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend’s argument for weekend voting. However, he may well be aware that the consultation on this matter did not show a great deal of support for the idea. We may come back to this issue, but the problems on 6 May, the day of voting, lay elsewhere.
My Lords, given the long queues to which the Minister referred, particularly in the evening, which prevented so many people getting to a polling station in time to vote, will the Government consider making polling day a bank holiday so that voting can be spread throughout the day? This would be of help to people who have to work in the daytime and cannot get to the polling station until the evening, sometimes after travelling long distances.
Such questions are always extremely difficult to answer because we never know what is going on at No. 11 Downing Street, as the noble Lord knows well. One of the commitments of successive Governments has always been that they supply sufficient budget to enable our democracy to function properly. I cannot imagine that we will move from that situation.
Is it not a cause for concern, and no cause for complacency, if we have only 91 per cent of the eligible population registered? What steps will the Government take to ensure that the figure does not fall below 91 per cent? If possible, will they take steps to try to increase it?
It is not a reason for complacency, and there is none. People are encouraged to register. Interestingly enough, the figure for registration in Australia, where there is compulsory voting, is 95 per cent, so we are not far off. Ours is a voluntary system of registration. We should continue to promote in our society the social contract that registration and voting involve. We should not chase voters by making it ever easier to vote without putting some challenge to the rest of the population and making it clear that there is a responsibility. If you have the honour, the pleasure and the freedoms of living in democracy, you participate by voting.
Health: Isle of Man
My Lords, the current reciprocal healthcare agreement between the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man is due to end on 30 September 2010. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will consider this matter, in consultation with other relevant parties, in good time to reach a decision by September.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. At the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary last March, it was unanimously resolved that the Government should continue with the reciprocal healthcare agreement. It would be very ageist if that agreement were rescinded, because people such as me—I declare an interest—could not get the personal health insurance that would be needed to go to the Crown Dependencies. Is this not a form of discrimination which is totally unacceptable?
My Lords, it might be helpful if I were to clarify the current position. If the noble Lord were to go the Isle of Man, the agreement in place at the moment would enable him to receive emergency healthcare there—that is, healthcare that is immediately necessary—free of charge should he need it. The only reason for requiring travel insurance in addition would be to cover the cost of, let us say, an air ambulance back to the mainland or any extra costs that were non-medical arising out of the emergency. In that sense, the Isle of Man is no different as a travel destination than, let us say, the United States.
My Lords, the previous Government rightly trumpeted one of the important advances of the Good Friday agreement: the establishment of the British-Irish Council, bringing together government representatives and Ministers from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Did the previous Administration raise this question at the British-Irish Council, which would seem the appropriate place to explore it? If they did, what was the response?
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot help my noble friend as I have not had access to the papers relating to the previous Administration. However, I can tell him that very cordial discussions and negotiations are proceeding at the moment, and the devolved Administrations will be consulted.
My Lords, the Minister in an earlier answer referred to the United States as being a parallel, but does he not agree that what we are after is that British tourists who go on holiday to the Isle of Man feel that they are covered at least as well as if they had gone on holiday to France? Does he agree that that is not the case and, unless insurance arrangements change, our people will suffer, as will Isle of Man people? Surely the right thing to do is to keep these reciprocal arrangements going.
My Lords, if a UK resident were to travel to the Isle of Man, as I have said, and were to fall ill and need emergency care, they would receive that care free of charge. That is what the agreement currently covers. It was extended by the previous Government in March and will last until the end of September. We are using that window of opportunity to negotiate with the Isle of Man Government and, as I have said, these discussions at official level are proceeding very cordially.
My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about reciprocal arrangements in Europe, as I understand it we have to have a card, which we present if asked to do so, if we go for treatment in Europe. What is the position here? Are people coming from mainland Europe asked to present an equivalent card here? We hear so much about NHS tourism that it rather concerns me.
My Lords, the rules are quite complicated. In the case of EEA countries, including the European Union, the UK has an obligation under EU law to pay what it is liable for in healthcare costs. Therefore, visitors from EEA member states are provided with NHS healthcare when visiting the UK and, indeed, vice versa. However, under the same regulations, the UK is entitled to claim the cost of treatment provided to citizens from EEA member states whom it has treated. Similarly, other member states can charge the UK for the cost of treating our citizens.
Health: Government Spending
My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing bureaucracy and improving efficiency. By streamlining and simplifying the infrastructure, we can ensure that clinicians focus on what really matters: delivering the best possible health outcomes for patients. All non-front-line organisations will be expected to operate efficiently and contribute to the Government’s commitment to reduce central administration spending by one third. That is why we are reviewing how best to organise the national infrastructure. The review will report in due course.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Notwithstanding the Government’s proposed intention to create the biggest quango of all in the NHS board, what can the Human Tissue Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority expect from the bonfire of the quangos? Will it be a third of their work, for example? I choose those two because the Minister and many noble Lords in this House were closely involved in considering the legislation that led to the creation of those two important bodies.
My Lords, the focus of the exercise that is going on at the moment is, on the one hand, to look at value for money and, on the other, to look at how best we can deliver quality. Therefore, the review will consider which functions should be carried out at a national or arm’s-length level, which could be stopped with no detriment to the delivery of front-line services and which could be undertaken elsewhere in the system or, indeed, left to the market. So there is no target as regards getting rid of a certain number of bodies. The point of view from which we come is that of functions.
My Lords, can my noble friend help me? He implied that savings were to be made, which is excellent. If we are going to make savings in the National Health Service budget, why is the rest of the budget ring-fenced? If you can save £20 here, why not cut the budget by £15 and keep £5 for something else? Why undertake to spend all the savings rather than make them contribute to help after the ghastly state of affairs that was left to the Government?
My Lords, the simple answer is that we have a duty to ensure that every pound that we spend is spent efficiently, wisely and with value for money at the end of it. As my noble friend will know, the cost of healthcare in this country has traditionally risen at a faster rate than inflation, so even if we are advantaged in the sense of being a protected department, we still have to find savings in order to continue to ensure that we can deliver quality care at an acceptable price.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Can the Minister assure the House that public authorities will be able to meet their mandatory equality duties, including carrying out equality impact assessments for all relevant policies and decisions, in spite of the difficult financial constraints?
My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the imperative to ensure that quality and equality are considered is uppermost in our minds as we proceed with this exercise, and indeed as we go forward into what will be a very difficult financial year next year.
My Lords, given the huge success of the tobacco-control legislation passed in the previous Parliament, which has already produced so many benefits including, as we have seen from recent statistics, a dramatic reduction in the number of heart-attack victims admitted to hospital, will the Minister give an assurance that the excellent smoking-cessation programmes run by his department will be exempted from any programme of cuts?
My Lords, smoking cessation is extremely important as a public health measure. I am sure the noble Lord will know that the coalition Government have set great store by their public health agenda. I cannot imagine that smoking cessation is going to disappear off the radar.
My Lords, in respect of a number of agencies within the health and social care field, it is clear to practitioners that some of them have been inadequate in their regulatory and monitoring function and others have gold-plated way over the top in a quite counterproductive way. In his search for which agencies could be brought together and their experience shared or which could be changed in other ways, what are the principles that the Minister intends to use to produce a better and more appropriate regulatory monitoring framework within health and social care?
My Lords, there are several principles. A reduction in the number of arm’s-length bodies is only one of the possible outcomes. As I have said, we are not looking necessarily for a large-scale reduction in numbers, but we want to see both efficiency and the delivery of quality. With those two ends in view, the bodies that we end up with have to make sense in terms of what matters in our wider system reform, which is, as I have said, to deliver quality.
My Lords, the Minister has said that he will be looking at functions in the review of bodies and that he will be looking to save one-third of running costs. In carrying out this review, will PCTs be examined carefully in terms of divesting themselves of their provider-arm functions so that they can concentrate on their commissioning functions?
My Lords, strictly speaking, primary care trusts are not considered to be arm’s-length bodies, but the coalition agreement, which I am sure the noble Lord has read from cover to cover, indicates the new role and the functions envisaged for PCTs. Further details of our plans will be announced very soon.
My Lords, will the Minister be prepared to consider joining together animal and human medicines and health? With global warming, with so many of our illnesses now zoonoses—in other words, caused by animals—and with so many antibiotics and other drugs used in common, would it not be a good idea?
My Lords, if the Food Standards Agency is to be wound down, which would be regrettable since it would mean the loss of an important, independent voice, will its science-based public health work on nutrition continue to be funded at least at the present level, if not augmented, which it needs to be?
My Lords, the Government fully recognise the important role that the Food Standards Agency plays in food standards, nutrition and food safety. Public health is a priority, and I reassure the noble Lord that the function that the FSA currently fulfils—to advise the Government and the public on nutrition—is one that we believe is equally important.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He is right to suggest that we should look not at each body individually but perhaps at several across the piece to see whether there is scope for rationalisation in a way that does not detract from the quality of service.
My Lords, the noble Earl has frequently argued in this House in favour of there being arm’s-length bodies to protect the patient’s interest in the NHS. Will extra resources be found to enable this aspiration of his—and I am sure, of the coalition’s—to be fully funded?
My Lords, the budgetary implications of our plans are being worked through at the moment but we are clear that we need to have a more powerful patient voice within the system than at present. I believe that that goes hand-in-hand with our agenda for patient choice, greater quality standards and more information being made available to patients to enable them to make choices.
House of Lords: Post-legislative Scrutiny
My Lords, I am happy to participate in discussions on post-legislative scrutiny in this House. It is of course open to committees in both Houses to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of Acts of Parliament, either as part of a broader inquiry or on the basis of a specific post-legislative memorandum published by the Government. Noble Lords will no doubt have views on how this process has been working.
My Lords, I am grateful for that positive Answer. Does the Leader of the House agree that pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny are part of the same exercise, in that each informs the other in moving forward to improve legislation? Does he also agree that it is work to which this House could make a very particular and good contribution?
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. I have always been a supporter of post-legislative scrutiny, but I have discovered in recent days that there is a gap between desiring the idea and making it a reality. There are substantial issues involved in the practicalities of making post-legislative scrutiny work. I am delighted that there is a system of post-legislative memoranda being published by the Government, as a result of decisions taken by our predecessors some years ago. It remains to be seen how that works over the next few months.
Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be beneficial if this House at least initiated discussions with another place about whether a joint committee was beneficial, but that if it decided, for whatever reason, not to proceed with a joint committee we ourselves should start action on this, as we have been talking about it for 20 years now?
My Lords, would it not be better following this discussion to make it imperative that every bit of legislation that we pass is subject to post-legislative scrutiny? That would mean that people could not slide out from under but would be held to account. One of the awful allegations levelled against us is that we are not held to account, but this is one way in which we could be. Indeed, we could show the other place how to do it.
My Lords, that is the nub of a decision that was taken in March 2008 by the Leader of the House of Commons, committing the then Government to enable post-legislative scrutiny for all Acts of Parliament passed during and after the calendar year of 2005. Since then, six or seven of these memoranda have been published, although many are left in the pipeline. We wait to see what attitude the Select Committees in another place or, indeed, in your Lordships’ House will take to these memoranda.
My Lords, is it not particularly important that there should be post-legislative scrutiny in Parliament following this Session, for which the Government have promised—or threatened—a prodigious quantity of legislation, most of which, in the nature of the situation, will be pretty hastily cooked up in Whitehall and which Parliament will have only cursory opportunity to examine properly because of the scale of demands?
That is really rich coming from the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. He supported a Government who, over the past 13 years, gave rise to an outpouring of legislation quite unlike anything that we have ever seen in our history. Constitutional changes were dreamt up on the back of an envelope and introduced to Parliament with minimal thought and discussion and with no pre-announcement.
Order! Wrong Bench!
My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate for polluting his bit of the Bench. [Laughter.]
Is the Leader of the House aware of what I think is a military tradition, whereby the top brass who devise strategy are supposed to live with its consequences in practice? Would it not be a good idea if we learnt something from the military and stopped the mad ministerial merry-go-round, whereby Ministers, who are progenitors of legislation in this place, rarely if ever have to face the music?
My Lords, pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny were two of the issues that were raised in the excellent debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in February of this year. At the end of that debate, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that early in the next Parliament a Leader’s Group should be established to look at various procedural issues. Will he tell us when such a group might be established?
My Lords, it is certainly my intention to have discussions with the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition and with the Convenor of the Cross Benches as to how we should progress this and whether, before doing so, we should perhaps have a more general debate on the working practices of the House.
My Lords, would the noble Lord be prepared to consider introducing sunset clauses to all legislation as a means of reducing the volume of legislation from recent levels? If not, what about introducing the repeal of legislation to reduce some of the legislation that we have had?
My Lords, it is certainly our intention shortly to bring before Parliament a Bill that will repeal some of the highly authoritarian legislation that was passed under the previous Government. As far as sunset clauses are concerned, in many instances they are extremely desirable.
Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills
My Lords, this Motion would increase the number of Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills from two to four. It follows the decision of the House on 8 June to refer the Local Government Bill to the Examiners. If appointed, Mr Roberts, who is one of my counsel, and Mr Davis, who is one of the counsel in the House of Commons, will examine the Bill, together with Mr Simon Patrick, the Clerk of Bills in the House of Commons, who is already an Examiner.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, at a convenient point after 3.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will repeat a Statement on Afghanistan. The debate on the Olympics will resume and then, at a convenient point after 5 pm, my noble friend Lord Sassoon will repeat a Statement on the Office for Budget Responsibility, followed immediately by my noble friend Lord Marland repeating a Statement on the implications of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill for the UK.
Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for securing this debate. This is a terrific opportunity for the House to take note of the excellent progress that is being made by all parties in delivering the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The Games are on track to be a nationwide sporting and cultural celebration unrivalled in a generation. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to work to ensure that we deliver a safe and successful Games in 2012.
In reviewing the list of speakers for today’s debate, I am aware that several noble Lords who are thoroughly involved personally in the planning for and after 2012 are speaking, as are others with tremendous sporting interest and insight. I and the whole House look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, whose own Olympic achievements and involvement give her special expertise to take part in the debate today. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, who has real concerns about the legacy for east London, is unable to be present today, but many look forward to joining him on a visit to the Olympic Park tomorrow, and to seeing how the landscape of this part of east London has been dramatically transformed.
I will focus my opening remarks on the progress made since the House last debated this subject in January of this year, addressing the Government’s plans for delivering a substantial sporting legacy from the 2012 Games. In coming to this subject with fresh eyes, I am amazed by the complexity and detailed dovetailing needed. In very simple terms, there are three strands. First, there is the work of the Olympic Delivery Authority—the ODA—in preparing the facilities for a successful Olympics. Secondly, there is the work of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games—LOCOG—which is responsible for the operation of the Games themselves. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, is unable to be present today but I have received a briefing from him. Thirdly, there is the legacy of 2012, both in terms of interest and involvement in sport and tourism, and the physical legacy, particularly in east London, and the work of the Olympic Park Legacy Company. Beyond the three strands, there is the import and involvement of the British Olympic Association, the International Olympic Committee, myriad sporting bodies and, not least, the Cultural Olympiad, taking the 2012 experience beyond sport.
On ODA progress, the construction of the Olympic Park and venues continues to be on time and on budget. More than 54 per cent of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s programme is now complete. I pay tribute to the way that the ODA, led by its chair, John Armitt, and chief executive, David Higgins, have managed this extremely complex project. The Olympic stadium, now at its full height with all 14 lighting towers recently installed, can be seen from across east London. Work on the stadium is expected to be completed by spring 2011. The Aquatics Centre, the iconic venue and gateway to the Olympic Park, is also structurally complete and is on course to be fully completed on time in June 2011. Construction of the Olympic Village is proceeding on schedule, with three of the 11 residential plots structurally complete. Work on the roads, bridges and utility networks between the sites is well under way and work on the new education campus, the Chobham Academy, is also under way. The majority of these homes will be structurally finished by summer 2010, with construction complete by the end of 2011.
Not only is the ODA delivering this work on time, on budget, and to a high quality, it is doing so while setting new standards for sustainable construction, ensuring that the Games will be a catalyst for genuine behavioural change in the construction industry. The ODA has supported a range of measures in place to ensure that local people are well placed to benefit from employment and training opportunities on the park, helping more people to gain lasting employment or a more highly skilled job.
In a difficult economic environment, the ODA has managed its resources extremely well. It has realised more than £600 million worth of savings throughout the programme, £130 million in the last quarter alone. When this Government came into office, they indicated that one of their first tasks was to secure £6 billion worth of savings to help reduce the budget deficit. The Government are committed to delivering a successful Games in 2012, but the preparations for the 2012 Games cannot be immune to the need to reduce the budget deficit. Therefore, we have asked the ODA to find £27 million worth of savings from its budget for 2010-11. The Government will be working with the ODA to deliver these savings, but we are clear that any savings should not detract from the quality of the facilities that the ODA is constructing. I am confident that the ODA can deliver these savings, which represent less than 2 per cent of its £1.7 billion budget for 2010-11. Further details of where these savings will be found will be published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in its quarterly economic report on London 2012 in July.
The Olympic Delivery Authority has put in place the building blocks for the regeneration of east London, including world-class sporting venues for both elite and community use; major utilities, transport and environmental improvements and a stunning new parkland; and the Olympic Village, which will be converted into nearly 3,000 new homes in legacy. The Olympic Park Legacy Company is also in place to oversee the future development of the area, which will see up to 12,000 additional homes and thousands of job opportunities being created on the park site. All this activity is inspiring a raft of new private developments and accelerating the delivery of existing schemes in the surrounding areas. For example, the £1.45 billion Westfield retail development at Stratford City, when it opens next year, will be the largest urban shopping centre in Europe, offering thousands of employment opportunities for local residents.
The regeneration of east London cannot be achieved by government alone. This has to be a partnership between local communities and councils, central and regional government, local businesses and the voluntary sector. I welcome the work of the east London host boroughs in leading the delivery of social and economic regeneration for local communities in and around the Olympic Park.
Ensuring the safety and security of the Games will be one of the biggest security challenges that the UK has ever faced. None the less, normal life will go on alongside regular summer events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and Her Majesty the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations. Our aim is for everyone to enjoy the 2012 summer of celebration safely and securely without security measures adversely affecting their experience. We are confident that this is a challenge that the police and security services are well placed to meet.
While the UK has an excellent track record of successfully hosting major events safely and securely, the coalition Government will be reviewing Olympic safety and security plans. This will make certain that delivery is on target and that the work done to date is sufficient. I want to make it absolutely clear that the safety of the Games is of paramount importance, and we are committed to ensuring that everyone can enjoy the celebrations peacefully.
Security is just one of many issues where the Government need to work closely with the organising committee of the noble Lord, Lord Coe, to enable it to deliver a stunning Games in 2012. That committee continues to make good progress in ensuring that the London 2012 Games will be everyone’s Games. The committee has already launched the ticketing sign-up programme, which aims to increase interest prior to tickets going on sale in spring 2011. The Olympic and Paralympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, representing the heritage of the Olympic and Paralympic movements, have been launched. We are also looking forward to the launch of LOCOG’s volunteering recruitment programme during the summer. The Government will ensure that they meet all the commitments given to the International Olympic Committee during the bid, and we will continue to work closely with and support the organising committee in any way that we can.
What is key for the Government is delivering not just the physical regeneration programme in east London and a truly great Games in 2012, but ensuring that there is a distinctive, lasting and visible sports legacy from the London 2012 Games. As set out recently by the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, there are five aspects to this Government’s plans to deliver on this aim. The first stage of creating a truly distinctive sports legacy is the commitment to encourage more young people to take part in sport. Taking part in sport is a positive thing for young people, and competitive sport can build self-esteem, teamwork and respect among them. It helps them to develop their potential, whether in terms of sporting or academic success or their personal and social well-being.
While the previous Government made efforts in this area, there is much further to go. Only one out of five children participates regularly in competition between schools; and fewer than one in three participates regularly in competition within their schools. We want to use the Games to revive competitive sport in all schools. We will launch a new national Olympic-style school competition in which all schools will be invited to participate. It will not be a single competition but a package of events and activities across the country, culminating with the first national event in the summer of 2012. We have said that this will be financed with up to £10 million per annum through lottery funds. We are working with Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust—I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for her vision and achievements in improving the quality of sport for young people—to develop our plans for this competition.
Secondly, we will meet the Conservative manifesto commitment to return the share of National Lottery funding of the arts, heritage and sports to its original level of 20 per cent. We are moving ahead with this and have already begun the consultation process. We expect to lay the order before Parliament after the Summer Recess. We believe that each year this will secure in the region of a further £50 million in lottery funding for sport.
Thirdly, we are aiming fully to develop a truly world-leading organisational structure for sport in the UK, and believe that we can do this by bringing UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust together under one roof. Given the current economic environment, it is more important than ever for our sports organisations to demonstrate that they can do work and together as effectively and efficiently as possible. However, we are committed to listening to sports bodies in agreeing the best way to approach this and will bring forward proposals for consultation in due course.
Fourthly, we want to make it easier to bid for major events. We are looking to bring forward, at the appropriate time, a specific major sports events Bill to help to make the UK a natural home for international governing bodies’ major events.
Finally, we are under no illusions that achieving a step change in adult participation in sport is easy. However, the Government have asked Sport England to lead a programme of activity and investment to deliver a legacy from the 2012 Games of lasting mass participation in sport. We will announce further details of these plans in the coming months.
We remain committed to delivering a wide legacy from the 2012 Games—the regeneration of east London, as I have already mentioned, and also the creation of a lasting legacy of cultural participation and community action, as well as making a real difference to the life chances of disabled people in this country.
The Government have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver an outstanding Olympic and Paralympic Games, alongside a strong and lasting legacy. Working closely with all our stakeholders, it is our intention to make that happen. I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions to this debate.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to take part in the debate today. Before I begin, I convey to the House apologies from the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, who would normally be here to participate but has been held up on business in the north of England. Noble Lords know what a great champion he is for the legacy and regeneration of east London, and I am sure that he will continue to be every bit as diligent over the next two years and thereafter.
The Government inherit the preparations for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in excellent shape. I have no doubt that the Minister will find many challenges in his new post but I suspect that none will be so satisfying or so enjoyable as the 2012 brief. I wish him well in continuing the successful work done to date.
I am looking forward to hearing from my noble friend Lady Morgan, who, I am sure, will tell us about the great work being done by the Olympic Delivery Authority on constructing the venues and facilities for 2012. I had the pleasure of taking visitors around the Olympic Park, which is absolutely amazing. It is difficult to convey in words without going there what an immense achievement and complex project it has been. I urge any noble Lords who have not recently been on a visit to the park to do so. It is a marvellous tribute to British construction and project management expertise.
I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, is not in his place today, but I know from my frequent discussions with him about the great progress being made to stage a spectacular and very British Games. He and his team deserve enormous credit for achieving such a positive level of sponsorship in trying economic circumstances. They have done an absolutely fantastic job there.
I very much look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, about the preparations of our elite athletes. However, I do not want to let the moment pass without also paying tribute to my right honourable friend Tessa Jowell MP, whose vision, skill and tenacity have held this amazingly complex project together and handed to the new Government a very strong legacy, as well as an immense challenge for incoming Ministers. These are very big shoes to fill.
Of course, one of the great aspects of this project is its non-partisan nature. The new Olympics Minister, Hugh Robertson, was fully engaged, very knowledgeable and thoughtful in opposition and, for my part, hugely supportive of the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I am sure that he will be a great champion in his new role.
My primary interest in the Games is in the legacy that endures in the Olympic Park and surrounding area. Uniquely among host cities, a dedicated company was set up to focus entirely on securing the strongest possible legacy from the Games. The Olympic Park Legacy Company, which I am privileged to chair, was set up almost 15 months ago, and I think that we have made a really good start.
We have completed the master plan that will guide the sustainable development of this park for the next 25 years. This is not a short-term project. In time, more than 10,000 new homes will be built in the park and the surrounding areas, as well as the marvellous legacy of beautiful open space to which the Minister referred, fantastic waterways and world-class sporting venues. It is important to us that we create a high-quality neighbourhood which provides much-needed family housing in this part of east London.
We will also create a super visitor attraction, helped by the sporting and leisure facilities on offer in the park and enhanced by the iconic ArcelorMittal Orbit. That magnificent structure—I know that there are different views about it, but I think that it is magnificent—was commissioned by the Mayor of London and will be a major addition to the London skyline and a magnet for visitors to the area in the years to come. I think that it will underline the park as a must-see, must-return destination for people who have been inspired by the Games and who want to return again and again to use the great facilities on offer there. Also in that mix, we will attract commercial activity to the park that complements and sustains the residential, sporting and leisure offer there.
What specifically do we have to show for 15 months’ preparation? We have a great working relationship with the five excellent Olympic host boroughs, which are doing tremendous work in preparing for the Games. I was so glad that the Minister mentioned that, because we should never forget that it will be the host boroughs that will inherit the legacy and live with the decisions that are taken. Working very closely with them, we have a new master plan with a sharpened focus on sustainability, on family housing, as I mentioned, and, of course, a sporting legacy.
Secondly, the process to create a final use for the Olympic stadium is also well under way. I am confident that we will soon be able to announce a commercially viable, sustainable use for this beautiful stadium that guarantees a top-class, long-term home for UK athletics. Thirdly, the process to determine operators for the remaining park venues is also well under way, and we have had tremendous interest in them. We have no intention of waiting until the Games are over, as other countries have done, to determine the use of those venues. Their future will be absolutely secure well in advance of the Games.
Fourthly, we have created a new approach with Olympic sponsors. I think that it is absolutely right and proper that in this, the first Games to be won explicitly on legacy, the sponsors widen their approach to ask not just how they support the Games but how they invest in and support the legacy. I am delighted to report to noble Lords that they have responded incredibly positively to that. Last month, we announced our first investment in the park. The excellent Field Studies Council, well known to many noble Lords, will work with us to create a residential centre in the park, the first ever urban field studies centre. I could not be more pleased that our first investment will be educationally led and will benefit young people locally in east London but also students from the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that noble Lords will see that we are making tangible progress.
However, an important part of making all that work has been the need for the legacy company to have freehold control of the land in the park, unencumbered by debt. A deal to do that was struck earlier this year by the Mayor of London and the previous Government. That deal is now being re-examined as part of the overall Treasury review, despite the fact that the deal was fiscally neutral, so I ask the Minister to underline the importance of the deal for a successful legacy and press colleagues for an early endorsement of it.
Preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games are well advanced, although many, many challenges still lie ahead. The same is entirely true of legacy. However, everywhere I go, there is tremendous good will and a real passion for the legacy of the Games to be every bit as successful as the Games themselves. Working with the Mayor of London and the five host boroughs, I know that the legacy will be something of which we can all be immensely proud.
My Lords, with permission, I would like to repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on Afghanistan. First, I am sure the whole House will want to join with me in paying tribute to Private Jonathan Monk from 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, and Lance -Corporal Andrew Breeze from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment, who have died in Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends. Their service and sacrifice for our country must never be forgotten.
This was my fifth visit to Afghanistan, but my first as Prime Minister. I held talks with President Karzai and visited our troops in Helmand. I want to set out for the House how this Government will approach our mission in Afghanistan and how that mission is progressing. But, first, let me stress the importance of such updates. The whole nation is touched by the heroism of this generation of our Armed Forces who are fighting to protect us in harsh conditions far from home. And I believe that the country, and this House, is entitled to the facts. That is why this Statement will be the start of a pattern. There will be regular updates to the House, with quarterly statements by the Foreign or Defence Secretary and we will on a monthly basis publish much more information on the progress we are making. This will include updates on the security situation, recruiting, training and retaining the Afghan security forces; on progress in appointing and supporting provincial and district governors; and on progress in terms of development work, including health and education.
Our main focus will be on the security situation. For example, in the six months to March 2010 the Afghan National Army grew by almost 20 per cent with over 17,000 joining the ranks. But, at present, the Afghan police are assessed to be ineffective or barely able to operate in six of the 13 key provinces in General McChrystal’s plan. Good news or bad, we want to take the country with us in what is this Government’s top foreign policy priority.
Let me address the first question people are asking: why are we in Afghanistan? I can answer in two words: national security. Our forces are in Afghanistan to prevent Afghan territory from again being used by al-Qaeda as a base from which to plan attacks on the UK and our allies. Of course the al-Qaeda training camps and the Taliban regime that protected them were removed from Afghanistan in the months after 9/11. But the presence of NATO forces prevents them from returning.
Afghanistan is, however, not yet strong enough to look after its own security. That is why we are there. Together, with the greater efforts of the Pakistanis to hunt down al-Qaeda in its own country, al-Qaeda is now under pressure on both sides of the border. Eighteen months ago, the then Prime Minister told this House that some three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against Britain had links to the border area. Today, I am advised that the threat from al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and Pakistan has reduced. But I am also advised that if it were not for the current presence of UK and international coalition forces, al-Qaeda would return to Afghanistan and the threat to the UK would rise.
The next question is: how long must we stay? The Afghan people do not want foreign forces on their soil any longer than necessary and the British people are rightly impatient for progress. Our forces will not remain in Afghanistan a day longer than is necessary and I want to bring them home the moment it is safe to do so. The key to success is training and equipping the Afghan security forces at every level to take on the task of securing their country, so that Afghans can chart their own way in the world without their country posing a threat to others and our forces can come home—the job done and their heads held high.
That is why we back the strategy developed by the ISAF Commander General McChrystal and endorsed by President Obama and NATO. That strategy involves protecting the civilian population from the insurgents, supporting more effective government at every level and building up the Afghan National Security Forces as rapidly as feasible. We want to transfer security responsibility for districts and provinces to Afghan control as soon as they are ready, but this should be based on the facts on the ground, not on pre-announced timetables.
The current year is the vital one. We are six months into an 18-month military surge and we must now redouble our efforts to drive progress. Central Helmand, along with Kandahar, has been the heartland of the Taliban. It is from here that they gave safe haven to the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. That is why the operation in central Helmand is crucial to the success of the whole mission.
Four years ago we went into Helmand with 3,000 troops. I do not think anyone now seriously argues that was sufficient. Today there are around 30,000 there; 8,000 British working alongside 20,000 US Marines. In total, we have more than 10,000 troops in the country as a whole. With the arrival of reinforcements and the continued growth of the Afghan security forces, we are now evening out the ISAF presence in the main populated areas in Helmand. This is a crucial point.
In the past, we have simply not had enough soldiers per population for an effective counter-insurgency campaign. Today, although the rebalancing is still work-in-progress, the situation is much improved. The arrival of a US Marine expeditionary force, combined with additional contributions from other ISAF partners, including the UK, has given a huge boost to the resources available to ISAF in Helmand. For example, the Marines have arrived with some 80 aircraft and helicopters of their own, which are now available to support all ISAF forces in Helmand and it is clear that we have made real progress in central Helmand this year.
A degree of normal life has returned to places like Nad Ali, where the bazaar is open again and people are going about their daily business in an area that was, until recently, infested with insurgents. But the progress is not yet irreversible. Inevitably, there will be tough fighting as Afghan forces, with ISAF in support, hold the ground that we have taken and push the insurgents out of further towns and villages. But I can also assure the House that this Government will do everything in their power to make sure that we give our forces the protection and the state-of-the-art counter-IED capabilities that they need.
During my visit, I was able to announce a further £67 million to double the number of counter-IED teams to tackle the most serious threat facing our young men and women. So, with the improvements made in the past year, many of the acute shortages, which hampered us so severely in our initial deployment in Helmand, have been dealt with. But I do not pretend that every equipment shortage has been resolved. We will need to adapt constantly and to deal with problems as they arise.
I regard it as my most important duty as Prime Minister to make sure our forces have what they need to do what we ask of them, and that they are properly cared for and respected for the extraordinary work that they do. The whole country is incredibly proud of them and I believe we need to do more to recognise the remarkable men and women of our Armed Forces and to place them at the front and centre of our society. That is why I announced a doubling of the operational allowance for service in Afghanistan, back dated to 6 May and that is why I believe it is right that we renew and reaffirm our commitment to the military covenant, that crucial contract between our country and those who risk their lives to ensure our security.
However, I do not pretend that we can succeed, either in Helmand or in Afghanistan as a whole, by military means alone. Insurgencies usually end with political settlements—not military victories—and that is why I have always said that we need a political surge to accompany the military one. We need better to align our development spending with our overall strategy and I have announced £200 million to be spent on vocational training, strengthening the police services and government institutions. And we need a political process to bring the insurgency to an end.
As a first step, this means getting individual Taliban fighters to put down their weapons, to renounce violence and to reintegrate into Afghan society. The successful peace Jirgah earlier this month should enable that process to move ahead swiftly. But it means more than that. For long-term political stability, everyone in Afghanistan, including those in the south, must feel that it is their government, their country and that they have a role to play. As I agreed with President Karzai, we must start working towards a wider reconciliation process, leading to a political settlement that works for all the peoples of Afghanistan.
We are seeing a good example of the dual approach of a political surge combined with a military surge to deliver greater security in the second city of Kandahar. Importantly, the process getting under way in Kandahar is largely Afghan-led. Alongside military operations by Afghan security forces together with international forces, it included, for example, a Shura of several hundred local elders conducted yesterday by the local governor, which President Karzai attended. And it includes a major drive by the Afghan Government, with our support, to improve public services and the rule of law.
We want to create a situation where the people of Kandahar look to their Government, not the Taliban or militia groups, to deliver security, justice and a better quality of life. From now on, what is happening around Kandahar and in Helmand will reflect a deeper understanding of the influence of the tribal structures in Afghanistan. In the past, we have simply not paid enough attention to this, and to the unintended consequences of some of our policies. I want, for example, for us to take a careful look at the contracting policy of ISAF to ensure that the money going into the local economy from the huge logistical contracts has a positive impact and does not help fund local militias or, even worse, the insurgents.
As I have stressed, this is the vital year for our mission in Afghanistan. We have the forces needed on the ground; we have our very best people, not just military, but leading on the diplomatic and development front as well. I do not pretend it will be easy. As the last few weeks have shown, I must warn the House that we must be ready for further casualties over the summer months as the so-called fighting season resumes and ISAF extends its activity. But I say to the House what I said to our young service men and women in the dust and heat of Helmand on Friday: they are fighting thousands of miles away to protect our national security here at home. There is no national interest more vital than that. Like their predecessors, they have the support and the gratitude of the whole nation.
When we have succeeded in enabling the Afghans to take control of their own security, our troops can begin to come home. But even after our troops have left Afghanistan, the relationship between Britain and Afghanistan must continue as a strong and close one. Likewise, we want to continue to build on our relationship with Pakistan. These long-term relationships, quite simply, are essential for our national security.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I join the Leader of the House, who has spoken on behalf of the Prime Minister, in paying tribute to the two soldiers who have been killed: Private Jonathan Monk of 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment and Lance-Corporal Andrew Breeze of 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment. Our thoughts are with their families and their grief at their loss.
I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement today and for giving me advance notice of it. It is certainly welcome that the Prime Minister and other Ministers have visited Afghanistan so early on in the formation of the Government. I thank him for that and I welcome the decision to increase the operational allowance for our troops in the field. I also welcome the support that he and the Government have shown for our troops. All those who are serving in Afghanistan should know that they have the admiration and respect of all sides of this House and the other place, and indeed of the whole country. I welcome, too, the Government’s continuing commitment to Armed Forces Day on 26 June and make clear our continuing commitment to it.
On the question of our troops’ families, will the coalition Government continue the important work we in government were doing to support the wives, partners and families of all our Armed Forces? It is common ground that our work in Afghanistan needs to bring together security, development and diplomatic efforts. Will the Leader of the House update the House on the discussions the Prime Minister had with President Karzai? I assure him that the Government will have our support to take through a strategy that sees the Afghans strong enough to take responsibility for their own security and prosperity. We on this side of the House welcome the £200 million that the coalition Government have announced for building up the Afghan army, police and civil service. Can he reassure the House that this will not be at the expense of existing programmes? Can he also update noble Lords on discussions the Prime Minister has had with the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and whether they addressed the proposed withdrawal of Canadian forces in 2011?
A stable Afghanistan requires a stable Pakistan. Will the Leader update the House on what discussions the Prime Minister has had with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan?
I turn now to the Strategic Defence Review. Will the Leader reassure the House that the front line will not be affected? Will the Prime Minister arrange for a Statement to be made to both Houses to explain how he is taking forward this work? Perhaps he would wish to include this in the next quarterly statement.
Will the Prime Minister agree to the commitment we gave to have an annual reception in Downing Street for the families? Has he met the formidable women who lead the Army Families Federation, the Naval Families Federation and the Royal Air Force Families Federation? Will the Prime Minister and all Ministers who are going to a base in theatre find time to meet wives and partners separately?
Can the Leader of the House reaffirm that, despite the challenges we face in Afghanistan, progress has been made? Can he confirm that the Government are continuing the strategy which the United Kingdom has pursued, with our partners in the international coalition, and that it has not changed? If it has changed, can he tell us in what respects? I am sure that all noble and gallant Lords will be as vigilant in respect of the strategy under this Government as they were under the previous Government.
Returning briefly to the issue of spending, in opposition the now Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary argued for a bigger Army and for its expansion by three battalions. Are the Government going ahead with that?
The Strategic Defence Review gives rise to the statements made over the weekend by the Secretary of State for Defence on the future of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence—statements to the media, of course, not to Parliament. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to Sir Jock Stirrup and Sir Bill Jeffrey for their public service to the nation? Will he explain to this House the reasons for their departures? Will he confirm that they will both play a role in the implementation of the Strategic Defence Review and remain until it is completed?
I restate our support for the mission in Afghanistan, which is, as the Prime Minister has rightly said, first and foremost to protect our national security. As this is the noble Lord’s first Statement to this House on Afghanistan on behalf of the Prime Minister—and, therefore, the first occasion on which we have responded as the Official Opposition—I assure him that, as the Government proceed to take difficult decisions in the best interests of our mission in Afghanistan and of our troops, they will have our full support.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for what she has said and for the questions she has posed. There were quite a few and I do not pretend for one moment that I shall be able to answer all of them right now. She is only too aware of the difficulties in replying on behalf of the Prime Minister, who speaks in another place, while being asked questions here. However, I shall do my very best.
I also thank the noble Baroness for the broad statement of support for what the new Government are doing. In many instances we are following the footsteps of our predecessors. As a generality, it is important to our forces abroad that they feel there is combined and united political support. I do not take that, of course, as stopping the noble Baroness from asking her incisive questions; I would be amazed if she did not continue to do so.
On the question of continuing the strategy, it has not changed fundamentally; we have very much the same interests in mind. However, there are different priorities, particularly in trying to press forward more political change. We are trying to promote a political surge at the same time as a military surge in order to win the military war and the people-and-minds war on the ground, and to encourage the Taliban to understand that the time for laying down its weapons has now come.
The noble Baroness will have seen in the newspapers this morning and over the weekend that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence is due to retire. That was envisaged a while ago and there is nothing extraordinary in it. It is true that Sir Jock Stirrup is leaving early. However, I am informed that he will play a full role in the Strategic Defence Review and that that role will be important and significant in it coming to its conclusions.
The noble Baroness asked whether we would continue to support the families. I can confirm that we shall do so. That is why we have also announced that we should look again at how the R&R rules work in terms of travel time for soldiers returning to this country, as well as looking at the review of the military covenant, putting at the heart of that covenant the welfare of our military.
I cannot confirm that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has met the formidable women of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force families federations, but I am sure that their interests are very much uppermost in his mind and those of the Secretary of State for Defence and his ministerial team.
The increase in funding of £200 million that we have announced is substantial. I can confirm that it is new money; it is not at the expense of existing programmes. Of course, I cannot say that in the future there may not be some reordering of it, but it is new money, to be spent during the next few years on trying, as I have explained, to unfold the strategic objective of helping the restoration of a civil society within the nation of Afghanistan.
As the noble Baroness correctly noted, the relationship with Pakistan is vital. It is extremely well understood. The sacrifice that the armed forces of Pakistan have made these past few years is equally recognised and understood, as are the close links that exist between this country and Pakistan. I am glad to say that, in general, the relationship between us and Pakistan is extremely good, and the amount of money which is spent by various agencies from the United Kingdom to Pakistan will be continued.
I am unable to tell the noble Baroness when the Strategic Defence Review will report. We are in the very early days of working out exactly how it will take place, but as soon as I have more information on it, I shall let her know.
My Lords, I thank the Leader for repeating this constructive Statement. I add on behalf of the Cross Benches to the tributes already paid to those who have died in the line of duty.
It has been persuasively argued by long-term Afghan experts that the war against the Taliban is unwinnable for many reasons, some of which have been listed by the noble Lord. One of them is that the training camps supplying fresh batches of suicide killers for export are now based largely in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which are on the whole outside the reach of the Pakistan authorities. The link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is almost negligible now. Nor is the Taliban centrally involved in exporting terrorism; it is concerned much more with domestic control. It would seem that the justification for the surge looks increasingly thin. Does the Minister therefore agree that a different, perhaps more limited, strategy is called for? I suggest, for example, as have others, that a strategy which focuses on protecting the main cities, together with maintaining a highly trained, mobile force to take out any remaining training camps, is possible, desirable and therefore to be recommended.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers, makes some important and valid points, but it is the view of the Government that the key area for us to spend time and money on is the reintegration and reconciliation process of dealing with Taliban leaders. The noble Baroness rightly said that it is an unwinnable war if the only means at our disposal are military. It is not a war that can be won simply with guns and arms; it needs to be part of an overarching political process. That is why we are very glad that the peace Jirgah that took place early in June was a success. It was part of what we believe to be the inclusive political settlement, which is so necessary in restoring the peace and security in which prosperity can increase. We are trying to support the emergence of a strong and stable Afghanistan state. There will be parliamentary elections in September, all part of the process of creating that strong and stable state, and a great deal of work is ongoing to ensure that those elections are a success. The Prime Minister himself will see President Obama in July, when no doubt this will be uppermost on the agenda.
I share the views expressed on both sides of the House about the soldiers who have died recently in Afghanistan. Can the noble Lord say what is happening immediately to enable the Afghans to become a more effective fighting force? What programme is contemplated to give that aim practical effect?
My Lords, a key plank of the role of British forces is to help and encourage the Afghan national security forces themselves to become better able to provide the security that is required. There are currently around 120,000 Afghan national army personnel and 105,000 Afghan national police personnel. It was agreed at the London conference a few months ago to set targets for the ANSF growth by the end of 2011 of 171,000 for the ANA and 134,000 for the ANP. That means that there is a huge role not just for British forces but for our NATO allies and partners in helping, training and encouraging Afghan national security forces to take more of the burden. It is our wish that, as they do so, we will be able to withdraw.
My Lords, I welcome this Statement from the Prime Minister repeated in this House. The Prime Minister is right when he talks of the need to accelerate the process which will lead to the eventual withdrawal of Britain’s 10,000 deployment. Can the noble Lord indicate whether there is a timescale for the withdrawal? That would put an urgency on the Karzai Government to reach some sort of decisions on the basis of which they can take fuller control rather than depending on British soldiers to maintain the situation in Afghanistan. Is there any further information about the recent revelation of the news about the ISI in Pakistan collaborating with the Taliban in Afghanistan on the basis of which the insurgency seems to be gathering quite a lot of pace?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dholakia asked about timetables for withdrawals. The view that I have always held on these matters, which is shared by the Government, is that rather than giving artificial dates we should do what we can when we can. No British soldier wishes to stay one moment longer than needed and required in Afghanistan. The steps that we are taking and continue to take are those designed to ensure that that withdrawal can take place. We hope, as the current mission unfolds over the next two or three years, that a substantial change will take place.
I cannot comment on the question raised by my noble friend about the ISI collaboration in Pakistan, but if I have any further information I shall certainly let him know.
My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House touched briefly on the point raised by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in relation to Sir Jock Stirrup but he did not answer the specific question that my noble friend put. Will the noble Lord tell the House why it is thought necessary that the Chief of the Defence Staff be asked to leave his post at this juncture?
I think that the noble Baroness is trying to stir up trouble for the Government on this subject, but I really do not think that there is any. There are no particular reasons. I am sure that there is a series of different reasons for why this decision has been taken, but Sir Jock will be staying in post until November. That also allows me to answer the noble Baroness’s question that I did not answer before: that is around the same time as we hope the SDR will be published. Sir Jock will be playing a major part in that, and he would not be if there was any discomfort or unhappiness between the Government and him. I can confirm that the relationship is as good as it should be.
My Lords, I welcome the statement. I notice, however, that there is a lot of emphasis on the subject of our troops coming home, which is laudable in many senses but is in danger of perpetuating the uncertainty with which this whole operation has been run for the past four years. Can the House be reassured that the Government will give full and strong emphasis to this being a fully fledged campaign, something to which the noble Lord the Leader alluded in the answer before last?
Yes, my Lords. I have said that no British soldier wishes to stay in theatre a minute longer than is required, but we have a job to do. We will stay there to complete the job that needs to be done, and today was an opportunity to lay out our general strategy and priorities. We will fund and support our troops on the ground and take steps to make sure that they are given the very best of equipment, political support and everything else that they require.
My Lords, in warmly welcoming the statement made in another place by my right honourable friend, I wish to raise a question concerned not with great matters of security or strategy but rather with the emotional and spiritual problems that face our brave young women and young men who are serving in Afghanistan. Does my noble friend agree that they are greatly helped by the advice and counsel that they receive from chaplains of all sorts? I use that term generically, from Muslim via Jewish to Christian and back. Will he confirm that such spiritual and emotional support, which is so valuable to people on the front line, will continue to be available for just as long as our troops stay in Afghanistan?
Yes, my Lords. My noble friend has made a good point and asked an important question about how we see the welfare of our troops, not only when they are in theatre but also when they return to this country. I can tell him that my honourable friend Dr Andrew Murrison has been asked to carry out a study into the health of those in the Armed Forces and veterans to see what more can be done to assess and meet their needs. I would be surprised if that did not also look at their spiritual needs, which are all-important.
We want to put our Armed Forces in the front and centre of our national life again. We are going to rewrite the military covenant and look after their families. There is a key role for civil society in working with people who work in our Armed Forces and those who are retiring. We are also going to look at how to improve accommodation for Armed Forces families and channel more funding into state schools in barracks towns. There is a substantial agenda but we have a great opportunity, with so many members of the Armed Forces in theatre at the moment, to get it right. It was correct for the Prime Minister to lay this out right at the beginning of our term.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the intention to do more for the military covenant. The Americans and President Obama have talked about withdrawal starting in 2011, and now we appear to be talking in the same terms. Can I take it that we and our American colleagues will be moving together on this, not separately?
As I am on my feet, I should like to say how important it is that the Government’s confidence in the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, is loudly and clearly enunciated, particularly bearing in mind the avalanche of adverse criticism that has appeared in the media—in a most co-ordinated way, it would appear—following the statement by the Defence Secretary at the weekend.
My Lords, on that point I reiterate the full confidence that we have in the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, for the work that he has done—and, indeed, for the work that he is going to do over the next few months. As for a longer-term withdrawal, that will happen in discussion and by negotiation with our military allies in ISAF. However, I repeat: there is no intention to leave Afghanistan until the job that we have set out on has been done, and done effectively. That is, not least, because we feel that we are at a vital stage of the job that we are doing there and can see the creation of a strong and stable society in Afghanistan becoming a reality.
My Lords, I welcome very much the Statement by the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister today, and the commitment to funds for the future of the Ministry of Defence. More importantly, however, there is also the commitment to the funds for development. That is extremely important for women and children in Afghanistan. We made a commitment at the London conference to assist women and children in education, not only in schools but at university. By a quota system, almost 50 per cent of the MPs in Afghanistan are women. Those women do not have access to the President or proper access to Ministers. As well as a commitment to education, we should also have a commitment to those women who are elected MPs; they should be able to meet together as a caucus and be assisted in that way, not just kept in their constituencies.
The noble Baroness is quite right. Development goes hand in hand with the work of the military and, as the Statement laid out and as I have said again this afternoon, this is very much a partnership and it must, almost by definition, include qualitative improvements in education and health throughout Afghanistan, helping younger women and young men to meet their potential. Since the London conference, good progress has taken place on commitments made there on a number of important areas: on corruption; on development and governance; and on reconciliation and reintegration. I very much echo what the noble Baroness has said this afternoon. It is uppermost in our minds.
My Lords, the Leader of the House referred to the success of the Jirgah earlier this month. Can he say in particular whether greater acceptance was manifested at the Jirgah by the people of Afghanistan of the Karzai Government as representing their interests, and whether specific measures were taken—or have been indicated—on the corruption which has been undermining the acceptability of that regime?
My Lords, it has long been well known that there are problems of corruption in Afghanistan, but a presidential decree has strengthened the high office of oversight and the refocusing of Afghan ministries on tackling corruption. I do not think that any of us would be complacent in saying that the problem faced in Afghanistan is very substantial. My noble friend mentioned the Jirgah; that is but part of a process, but it is an important part in gaining the confidence of people and thus the greatest possible acceptability of the Government to govern in Afghanistan. As I said, parliamentary elections will take place in September. That is a further step on the way. If those elections can, as I very much hope, take place well away from a background of political corruption, that will be another way of demonstrating support for the new Government through normal parliamentary means.
My Lords, given that we have little time on our side, may I ask my noble friend a personal question? His courtesy to your Lordships’ House is such that it is difficult to imagine that he could increase that courtesy but, when he is repeating a Statement made by the Prime Minister, will he contemplate rising to do so after the Prime Minister has sat down? Unless he does so, it is impossible for the Printed Paper Office to release the Statement to Back-Benchers. Alternatively, will he contemplate changing the rules of engagement of the Printed Paper Office?
My Lords, my understanding has always been—this just goes to show how you can get things wrong—that the prime ministerial Statement is issued as the Prime Minister stands up, but perhaps that is not the case. I shall certainly make inquiries, as I think that it is helpful for noble Lords to have a copy of Statements. I hope that I can encourage my noble friend by saying that I will look into this and that, if any action is required, I shall see whether it can be taken.
Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012
Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, let me pick up the baton of the Olympic and Paralympic debate before my noble friend’s welcome Statement. I remind the House that a good maxim in the planning of great public projects in London is: “Never forget the Dome”. Another maxim is: “Always stick closely to the core reasons why any public project in London is being brought into existence”. There is much talk in the media and by the commentariat about everything connected to the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, ranging from urban renewal and legacy, via green initiatives, to the better understanding of foreign languages, but it can be much too easy to lose focus on the core considerations. The last Government disastrously and hilariously lost control of the Dome project because they had wandered off from the core considerations that the Dome was all about.
I believe that there are three core considerations affecting the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. The first are the competitors—the athletes who compete in the Games. That is why we have the Olympics in the first place, although sometimes when one listens to debates one wonders whether other people realise that. The second core consideration is the security of those athletes and of those who watch them in ever more threatening times. The third is the ability of athletes and spectators to get with ease to all the venues. I am thinking not just of the Olympic Park in east London, which is what we hear about most of the time, but of all the other venues to which people will wish to go.
On the first core issue—the athletes—I must declare my interest as a member of the advisory board of the British Olympic Association. I am convinced that athletes’ interests have been constantly advanced by the British Olympic Association under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Moynihan—whose speech we look forward to almost as much as we do to the maiden speech that is coming down the track from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, which is why so many of us are in the House this afternoon—and, in relation to the staging of the competition itself, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Coe. We could not be in better hands than those of those two great Olympians.
Secondly, I am very far from convinced that the previous Government’s legacy on Olympic security is good. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland—my noble coalition partner—made only a short mention of security; we heard almost as much about the wonders of the two Olympic mascots, Mandeville and Wenlock. I think that security may deserve greater consideration, so I shall now give it that consideration. I was lost in admiration at the persistence of my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones, now the Minister for Security in the Home Office, in trying to extract information on these issues from the then Security Minister, the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who is not in the House this afternoon. The Minister winding up will be relieved to hear that I do not hold him responsible in any way for the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead.
I think we all share the pleasure in the fact that the Winter Olympics 2010 passed off in Vancouver and elsewhere without any serious security incident. Many congratulations to the Canadian Government on this great achievement, which was, however, costly. The Canadian Government’s original planning assumption was that 175 million Canadian dollars would be spent on security at the Winter Olympics. That grew in predicted cash expenditure to around 1 billion Canadian dollars by the eve of the Games. I think that figure will have grown considerably because of the extra military deployed around the Games themselves.
We must now turn our attention to the protection that is needed in London. Much has already been spent in the run-up to 2012 on security precautions. I pay tribute to John Armitt and his colleagues in the Olympic Delivery Authority and the precautionary actions they have taken against the insertion of latent explosive devices in the pipe work of the buildings in east London. I hope that exactly the same precautions are being taken—here I seek reassurance from the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland—in any building activities at any other Olympic venue. The fact that there are so many different venues is something that will present opportunities for those who wish to disturb the Games in different ways. In the mean time, while we all welcome the fact that the Olympic Park in east London has been brought in on time, it will be empty for a long period and there will be considerable cost associated with the successful guarding of the venue.
Once the Games commence, the opportunities for attack are manifest, probably much more tempting at the secondary venues, and even more so at the training camps, where athletes will be in the run-up to the Games. Thus, while the high level of security at the Olympic Park is welcome and evident, the other venues are, in part, at present, on all the publicly available information that we have, wide open to severe security risk. This is something to which those with responsibility in this area must turn. I do not believe that it was looked at seriously at all by the last Administration. We all think about explosives; we just heard about improvised explosive devices when my noble friend repeated the Prime Minister’s Statement from another place. However, I am advised that the threat represented by explosive devices can be nothing compared to the threats represented by ICDs—those improvised chemical devices that have not yet been successfully used at any great sporting event, largely due to good chemical prevention plans. There will doubtless be lessons to be learnt about these preventive strategies from Vancouver 2010. In the mean time, the classic model remains how apparent specific threats in the run-up to the football World Cup in 2006 were dealt with by the German authorities. I commend their approach to their chemical surveillance plan—which was barely noticed by visiting spectators—to those concerned with trying to prevent any use of ICDs in the Olympic Park, at secondary venues or in training camps.
Finally, I come to transport. We should all remember, again, the dreadful Dome experience of the last Labour Government—not just for its inability to set the Thames on fire as promised, but its total inability to get people to a venue with ease, most notably on the first night, with the poor VIPs struggling to get in and those endless queues. Transport for London and our mayor bear a heavy responsibility and burden in getting spectators in and out while ensuring that the rest of London gets about its daily business unaffected. That is an issue on which many a London taxi driver has given me their opinion in recent weeks and months, generally starting, “I dunno, guv”, and going on in ways that many noble Lords can imagine.
So far, so good; doubtless security on different transport modes such as rail or bus is being considered just as much as it is at the perimeters of venues large and small. However, the timing is misfortunate as these transport issues are likely to be highly politicised in the run-up to the Games given the cauldron of London politics and the fact that the run-up to the Games is paralleled by the run-up to the 2012 mayoral elections. Transport and transport issues will probably break out of the cosy bands of bipartisanship that link us in your Lordships' Chamber and another place, and doubtless in the mayoral elections. I suspect that politics will out. Amidst all the attention on transport delivery, we also have to consider ticketing. Ticketing is vital—this is my last point—because there is a potential threat of cyber attack on transport infrastructure ticketing as there is on ticketing in the park and the subsidiary venues. The previous Government badly lagged in their efforts to achieve a properly integrated national cyber security strategy. I am far from convinced that we have our defences up to deal with these issues. If my noble coalition partner Lord Shutt of Greetland has time to answer that point, I should very much welcome assurances that security issues at secondary venues and training camps are being taken just as seriously, and that we are looking hard at how we mount our defences against cyber attacks on ticketing of anything from buses and trains to hotels and getting in and out of the Games themselves.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a debate that is so important to many of us. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Shutt and Lord Moynihan, for initiating it. In passing, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Billingham on speaking in this debate from the opposition Front Bench. She has much to contribute.
I am pleased to see so many noble Lords who can speak with such authority on this subject. I hope that I shall be forgiven for reminding the House—as I have done in the past—that I was the only MP to defy the boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and witness the noble Lord, Lord Coe, winning the 1,500 and the 800 metres. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on winning a silver medal at those Olympics. I do not see something as important as the Olympic and Paralympic Games as a partisan issue. I place on record how pleased I am that the noble Lords are so intrinsically involved in the delivery of our Games, particularly given their sporting heritage. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said about that.
I take this opportunity to welcome another of our country’s greatest athletes, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, of Eaglescliffe, who I am sure will make an impressive maiden speech today. She is the most successful disabled athlete in our history with 16 paralympic medals, 11 of which are gold. We all know that her influence stretches beyond medal success. As an ambassador for sport, particularly paralympic sport, she has inspired many and changed the way people in this country and around the world view disability sport. Retirement has perhaps made her busier than ever with her roles at UK Sport, UK Athletics, Transport for London and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. She is helping to shape the future of sport in this country at a strategic level. I am so pleased that she will be able to do that in this House. She is certainly an inspiration to me. On a personal note, I am delighted that she will be involved in the All-Party Group on Sports, which I chair, and into which we are hoping to breathe fresh life over the course of this Parliament.
In the short time available to me, I want to touch on a few different aspects of the magnificent prospect that the London Olympic and Paralympic Games offer us. They are a unique opportunity to allow us to inspire the whole nation. The building of the Olympic Park is taking place, the velodrome’s foundations are laid, the flagship Aquatics Centre will be a sensation, and the stadium is an established feature of the London skyline. If the progress on the facilities is anything to go by, our Games will be something to be proud of. The regeneration of east London is firmly under way. I am looking forward to visiting the Olympic Park tomorrow with the Mayor of Newham, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and other Members to see this progress with our own eyes.
The question remains, however: will we have the athletes to grace these fine arenas? There are noble Lords in this Chamber who are better placed than I am to provide an update, but if British performances in the Swimming World Championships and the Duel in the Pool last year, as well as in the cycling World Cup series, are anything to go by, we are in great shape. We have the European Athletics Championships to look forward to this summer. I am confident that the unprecedented levels of investment in and support for our sportsmen and women will allow them to take this form into the Games. The signs are certainly encouraging.
However, we have to be realistic. We know that budget cuts are inevitable. Indeed, they have already started, with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announcing that the budget for the Games will be reduced by £27million. It is clear that widespread public spending cuts will be felt throughout society. If that is to be the case, one can only hope that the Secretary of State will do his utmost to limit the worst effects of these cuts as they bite into the Olympic budget. I heard what the Minister said about this, and we wish him a fair wind in taking part in these debates and ensuring, as far as possible, that the cuts will be mitigated. In other words, any budgetary constraints in this area must be sensible and strategic. This is too important to jeopardise by slashing crucial budgets, and in the long run that will do us no good, given that we all know that the Games, if delivered properly, will be good for the economy. I urge the Minister to ensure that this Government bring the commitments that they made in opposition into government, and remain absolutely committed to delivering an incredible Games.
One area where I have been encouraged by statements from the new Ministers is in the area of legacy—not the hard legacy of new world-class facilities, but the soft legacy of sustained increased participation in sport. This will be the focus of the rest of my speech. For me, legacy is arguably the most important aspect of the whole issue. The 2012 Games provide us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inspire a generation—an entire nation—through sport. Nothing brings people in this country together more than sport, and we must not waste this opportunity. The future of an entire generation depends on it.
Let us be clear about the facts. As I stated in a previous debate which I initiated in this House, too many people in this country are overweight or obese. Far too many of them are children. In fact, the NHS Information Centre report on obesity published last year stated that 30 per cent of girls aged between two and 15 and 31 per cent of boys are classed as overweight. Of those girls, 16 per cent are obese, and the figure is 17 per cent for boys. These figures are the result of a steady and worrying increase in recent years. Its direct cost to the NHS has reached £500 million per year, with a further £2 billion cost to the wider economy. The worst-case projection of recent trends suggests that 75 per cent of the population will be suffering the ill effects of excess weight within 15 years, with spiralling annual costs. If the Games can inspire the generation of children and young people who are suffering those ill effects, the trend will reverse. Their physical activity will bring many other benefits, too, in terms of education, community cohesion and tackling anti-social behaviour.
We need to get real about legacy and take it seriously, and there are some basic but vital starting points. CCPR has found that millions of pounds have been diverted from grassroots sport into the delivery of the Games. This cannot happen any more. We need more joined-up thinking about how we treat community sports clubs. We need to move on from the current ludicrous situation where a Minister in one department waxes lyrical about the amazing contribution that sports clubs make to our national life, while another department adds yet another layer of regulations on to the volunteers who run the clubs.
Business rates are going through the roof for amateur sports clubs; utility and water drainage costs are calculated at commercial rates for amateur clubs, which they just cannot afford; music and alcohol licensing costs and requirements are far too high for clubs to be able to handle; and amateur clubs receive widely unsympathetic VAT treatment by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Those are big problems on their own but, when combined, they are terminal for many clubs. CCPR’s Sports Club Survey found that the average amateur club operates at a margin of £1,300 a year, and volunteers now spend more time in the office than they do delivering sport. More costs and more administration will kill clubs up and down the country, and that cannot be allowed to happen. Without them, the legacy cannot be achieved, as there will be nowhere for people to go to play sport.
We need recognition from the Minister today that this legacy, which we all support, can be delivered only through a thriving community sports network, and we need a clear commitment from him that he will work across government to help community sports clubs. On the whole, they do not need charity or government handouts; they need our genuine, thoughtful, meaningful support and the space to be able to deliver the sports that they love in their communities.
The new Government are building on a good base. There are some fantastic initiatives and programmes out there. I shall not waste the House’s time by covering them in detail, but the free swimming initiative is having a huge impact at grassroots level, the Football Foundation, of which I am president, does fantastic work providing sport to young people throughout the nation, the legacy action plan is a good start and the appropriate steering groups are in place. It is now time to bring all these programmes and strands of work together in order to seize this incredible opportunity for our country. The Games will be a success—of that I am sure. It is our duty as politicians to ensure that no one involved rests until the inspirational legacy is secured. It is a duty that we should not take lightly.
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I address this House for the first time on a debate that is close to my heart, but first I should like to say what a privilege it is to be a Member of this House—something that I, and perhaps my politics professor at university, never thought would happen.
I have been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me before and since my introduction into this House. I express my deep thanks to my sponsors, the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I also thank the Convenor of the Cross Benches, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the many other noble Lords who have taken the time to welcome me.
I also take this opportunity to thank the numerous members of staff—the Doorkeepers, Attendants and police of the parliamentary estate—who appear to be able to spot a confused glance at 20 paces and who have kindly and gently guided me in the right direction.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, was very keen to contribute to the debate today. However, he is tonight hosting an annual fundraising event for the charity established in the memory of his mother and, as he is unable to stay for the whole debate, he has asked me to pass on his great regret that he cannot contribute. However, he assures noble Lords of his continuing thanks for their interest in the progress being made towards staging the Games in 2012.
I spent 20 years of my life having the privilege of wearing a British tracksuit competing for our country. That is something that will always be truly special. I hope that I have learnt through my athletics career that to be successful requires time to learn the rules, persistence but, above all, hard work. I sincerely hope that I can serve this House well.
While competing, I recognised that the career of an athlete can be relatively short, so I involved myself in the wider aspects of sport, such as the Sports Council for Wales, UK Sport, UK Athletics, the London Marathon, the London bid for the 2012 Games and, to widen my experience, other organisations outside sport such as the National Disability Council and Transport for London. In this debate, I declare an interest in that I sit on a number of LOCOG committees.
When I started in athletics some 27 years ago, the United Kingdom was a very different place for disabled people. My parents fought hard to get me into mainstream education—something that I strongly believe gave me the right platform on which to build my sporting career. Back then, the word “Paralympic” and the spirit that the Games came to represent were not yet known. As I am sure many noble Lords will be aware, it was at Stoke Mandeville that Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the eminent spinal surgeon, recognised that disabled people not only enjoyed doing sport but indeed were competitive. Sport then and now continues to help challenge attitudes towards disabled people, and in 1960 the first international games for disabled people were held.
In my early career, two things had a profound effect on me: watching the 1984 Olympic Games and the noble Lord, Lord Coe; and, in 1985, seeing a fellow Welsh wheelchair athlete, Chris Hallam, win the London Marathon. Those inspired me to take sport more seriously. I am very proud of my Welsh roots and the support that I received there. The same goes for the north of England, where I now live.
It was not until 1988 that the term “Paralympic” was used and, as that was my first Games, it changed my life. I became involved in the bid for 2012 because from the beginning it was not about hosting the Olympics and then having to put on another event a couple of weeks later; it was about organising the Olympic and Paralympic Games with one committee of the same high quality. For me, the Paralympic Games have two messages. They are about one person or a team winning and the rest not—about sport at its purest level—and about spreading inclusion and change.
The Games that we expect, and I know we will see, will be well organised, with exciting sports presentation, but it is behind the scenes—the Games that we do not immediately think about—that has the ability to promote significant change. London has led the way in organising a Paralympic Games that will raise the bar for sponsorship, sustainability, transport and inclusion that other countries will want to follow. The Games grow every quadrennial, and nations want to be part of them, but for that they need social provision for disabled people. This is just one way in which the Games extend influence. One has only to look at what the Chinese Paralympic team was able to achieve in a few short years, finishing top of the medal table in both 2004 and 2008, to see that change can come. I sincerely hope to welcome their team to London in 2012, along with many other countries that are finding it the right time to think about how they provide for their disabled people.
There are many examples of good practice within LOCOG. Because of its passion for diversity and inclusion, unprecedented numbers of disabled people are applying to work for it, and the organisation has become one of the most attractive employers of choice for disabled people. That has happened because we aimed high. At the 2012 Games, the British Paralympic team will have about 300 athletes, and through them we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase disability sport and to educate and enthuse the British public, who already show great support.
I recognise that the legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics is not the responsibility of the organising committee nor of the Games—I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, is working on that. We know from previous Games that in the autumn of 2012 there should be a spike in participation rates in physical activity, but we need to work hard right now to maximise that, because I believe—perhaps surprisingly—that elite competitive sport is not quite for all. Involvement in physical fitness can help lead to improved learning, greater confidence and general wellness: all the things that we want for our young people.
I recognise that we have to face many challenges in sport in the tough economic times ahead. We need to ensure that all young people continue to have access to great physical activity both in and outside school; that disabled children have the right and the opportunity to be included; and that girls find the right environment in which to develop their skills to allow them to compete in the wider world. We know that currently women are employed in only one in five of the top jobs in sport. To be a successful nation, not just in sport but in business, we should challenge that, because sport is a microcosm of society.
The few weeks of the Games cannot change all these things, nor are they meant to. They are meant to be a spectacular showcase of the best that we have to offer. We all need to grasp the opportunity of the Games being on home soil to inspire our nation to think differently and to include every part of our great nation. It is an amazing opportunity for us all to pull together.
There are 807 days until the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games and 774 days until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. For the athletes hoping to compete, there are perhaps 1,700 or so training sessions. There is a lot to do and much that we should hope to do. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, success with their work, and wish our Paralympic and Olympic teams the best of luck in their preparations.
My Lords, it is an honour to speak in today's debate after the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I congratulate her on her maiden speech, which demonstrated how significant her contribution will be in this House. She is not only one of the great figures of British sport in the past 20 years, with an astonishing 11 Paralympic gold medals and six London Marathon victories, but has done much to promote sport in this country through a wide range of community and voluntary-sector initiatives, as we have heard a little about today. Her significant expertise and experience on Olympic and Paralympic issues will be a tremendous asset to the House. Many of us have watched her feats with open mouths over the years. It is indeed a pleasure now to be able to gain from that experience in our debates.
The last time we discussed the Olympics was on a spectacularly snowy evening, as I recall. Many people disappeared into the blizzard to try to get home, so it is good that it is an altogether brighter spectacle today. As usual, I declare an interest as a board member of the Olympic Delivery Authority. The broad support for the project from all sides of the House evident in the debate earlier this year shows the strength of the political consensus that exists around the successful delivery of the Games in 2012. The very fact that 2012 was barely mentioned as an issue during the general election is testament to that. Therefore, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said, I am reasonably optimistic that even the 2012 mayoral elections will stay as one on the Olympics.
I should like, first, to acknowledge the strength of the relationships across the key the 2012 delivery agencies. I pay testament to the work of noble Lord, Lord Coe, and his team at LOCOG; the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and his team at BOA; and the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, and her team at the Olympic Park Legacy Company.
Our success to date has been built on partnership and I like to think that the whole 2012 project in all its enormity has been a coalition project before coalitions became so fashionable. We are now approaching two years to go before the Olympic and Paralympic Games begin in 2012, and there is growing interest and scrutiny of the Games’ delivery plans. I welcome today’s debate as an opportunity to give the House a progress report on the 2012 construction programme, for which the ODA is responsible.
I am pleased to tell the House that the ODA remains on time and within budget to deliver its construction programme, with more than 65 per cent of the venues and infrastructure for 2012 now complete. Personally, I remain hugely impressed by David Higgins, chief executive of the ODA, and his team. It is almost impossible not to underestimate the enormity of the task that they have undertaken. They have been utterly focused, resilient and effective since they began in 2006. As a board member, I have found it remarkable to come across so many impressive people, all working with the same commitment—whether they are engineers, the team working with local communities or logistics, or so many others. The enthusiasm is tangible.
Of course, it is the measure of their success that the media have got pretty bored. After all, where is the fun in on-time and on-budget? The continuing support of the public has been crucial in preventing the expected dip in decent and fair coverage. The detailed scrutiny in Parliament has also been a vital part of this. That is not to say that it is all done and dusted. We are 65 per cent there, but some of the most difficult parts of the construction remain. However, it is going well. It is important to remember that our target date for completion for the majority of the programme is the summer of 2011 in order that venues can be handed over for testing.
In the six months since 2012 was last debated in this House there has been significant change in the park. For example, the 14 lighting towers on the Olympic stadium have been lifted into place. The roof is going on and seats will shortly be installed. The three swimming pools in the aquatics centre have been completed and tested.
Construction is well under way across the Olympic village site, including the academy, the new world-class education campus being built within the village. The transformation from a brownfield site to a new park in London is under way, with planting starting next week in the north of the park. The work on the Olympic park is more than just another construction project; it is something that encapsulates the very best of the UK. I take this opportunity to talk briefly about one specific venue, the velopark, which epitomises that. It contains the five characteristics which are integral to and which are reflected across the whole park: notably, the commitment to regeneration and legacy; excellence in design; sustainability; accessibility; and engineering and project delivery.
The site of the velopark in the north of the Olympic site has a historic relationship with cycling. It was the home of the Eastway Cycle Circuit, a course formerly used by Olympians such as Bradley Wiggins, and now relocated to another part of east London. It was also the most contaminated part of the site as it had been a post-war tip. The 6,000-seat velodrome will host the Olympic and Paralympic indoor track cycling events in 2012, alongside the BMX circuit. After the Games, these facilities will be joined by a road-cycle circuit and a 7.5-kilometre mountain-bike course. Furthermore, you will be able to hire a cycle and bike around the park, so it will be accessible to everyone.
The legacy velopark will be unique worldwide in combining all cycling disciplines in one cycling hub, and its legacy has been developed in consultation with the cycling governing bodies and the community users. The 2012 velodrome has a perfect success model to follow in Manchester, which has become the busiest velodrome in the world, with an oversubscribed track programme, producing 40,000 rides per year for all riders—novice to elite, from 9 to 79 years old. Following the success in Beijing, cycling is one of the fastest growth sports in the UK. With a legacy operator secured—the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority—the facilities will be available for both elite and community use for generations to come.
The design team for the velopark was chosen following a lengthy competition. The shortlisted teams were assessed by a jury which featured leading names from the design world and Olympic champion Chris Hoy. This ensured that the track was designed around the needs of the athletes. Design, innovation, and creativity lie at the heart of this project and the innovative design of the velodrome has challenged the notion that velodromes have to be functional, dark, unremarkable buildings. The ODA wanted to create something special and if you drive along the A12 you will see that the velodrome dominates the skyline with its iconic roof designed to reflect the geometry of the cycling track.
We also want to make this the fastest track in the world, so the designers and contractors have procured hard-grown pine from Siberia, which will then be planed in Germany, and brought to the site in the coming months to help to create a record-breaking track. The facility is a beacon to sustainability and it has a unique cable-net roof which weighs roughly half that of any similar building, helping to create a highly efficient building. It will include the use of daylight through roof lights and external glazing which reduces the need for artificial lighting and allows natural ventilation. Also, water-saving fittings built into the design allow the collection of rainwater for reuse in the building, helping to reduce water consumption.
Ensuring accessibility to the venue presented real challenges for the design team. Most other indoor cycle tracks offer only limited accessibility as a result of the complexity of accessing all areas around the track. Our design overcomes this by adding two ramps beneath the track area which access the infield. The 6,000 seats are split above and below a fully accessible public concourse that runs around the perimeter of the trackside seating, allowing wheelchair access to the best viewing points in the venue.
The velodrome will showcase the best of UK engineering and construction with companies from across the UK coming together to build the venue. It is on time and within budget and will be the first venue on the park to be completed next year. It is being constructed by a British company, ISG, which was also responsible for replacing the track at the Manchester Velodrome. Suppliers from across the country are also involved, with the steel coming from Bolton, for example, which is providing jobs in difficult times. We are the best in the world at track cycling and we want to give our Olympians and Paralympians the best chance of success in 2012. Testing the venue for a year and training inside it will be an important part of that, so it has to be finished on time.
In conclusion, the project remains on track and within budget. It will create a park that showcases the best of UK plc in all our venues. I think we would all agree that the economic, sporting and social benefits of 2012 are already showing. When you look at the effect that the World Cup has had on South Africa, you start to grasp the effect that will be created here in 2012. The spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games speaks to the whole country, young and old, and is especially vital in tough times.
Finally, as my noble friend Lady Ford said earlier, I would be extremely happy to arrange visits to the site in east London for fellow Peers who have not visited the park. By seeing the construction at this stage, rather than when it is finished, you start to understand the scale of the work that has been undertaken.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I take this opportunity to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, from these Benches—or rather from this tier of these Benches, as I am sure my colleagues in the coalition will also take the chance to welcome her. I still keep thinking of her as Tanni Grey-Thompson rather than as a Baroness.
I got accused of being an expert on sport when I spoke in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. I told the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that I would eventually forgive him for that slight. There is expertise in this debate, and the noble Baroness encapsulates it better than just about anyone else here. I hope that we will see her speak here not only on this subject but also on disability matters. Once again, I speak with a degree of self-interest because I was disability spokesman for my party for 14 years, and I currently speak on sport. I suggest that the noble Baroness and I will be bumping into each other a fair bit in this Chamber, and I welcome her to it.
The main thrust of this debate about the Olympics is that we are getting ready and have got over the hard yards. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, used that expression when congratulating the entire Olympic movement on being fairly boring as far as the press are concerned because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, there were dozens of very grumpy journalists who had articles about how the Games would be delivered late and over budget. They have dumped them. We have got to encourage everybody to make sure that they have to think of something new to say. We are on the edge of being able to go for it.
No matter how great the venues are, if they are the only thing that is left, they will not touch more than a very small percentage of the population. Enthusiasm for sport in general and for participation and volunteering can be generated by these Games, which have the opportunity to go beyond a small section of the sporting public and touch those beyond that group in a way that nothing else can. We must encourage that.
When he opened this debate, my noble friend spoke about school sport. I will upbraid him slightly for that because schools cannot deliver this by themselves. People who have been involved in this for many years have always recognised that they are merely a part of it. It is the link between school-age sport and clubs that will lead to growth. I have given my noble friend a little notice that I hope that when he answers, he will let us know the intermeshing of clubs that will allow competitive sport to go on—I do not know why I am using the phrase “competitive sport”; I think non-competitive sport is simply exercise—and be a part of people’s lives. The drop-off ages are 16, 18 and 21, and it does not take a genius to work out why—that is when people stop going to institutions where sport is compulsory or easy. It does not matter about making it easy or compulsory in those places if you do not have somewhere to go. If the Government do not do this, in effect they will be systematically wasting quite a lot of money. They have got to build up the link.
Also, to be honest—and this is true of all Governments; there is nothing I am saying here that I did not say a few months ago, so I might be forgiven if I get mostly the same answer again because it is a work in progress—we must make sure that sport is taken seriously by the rest of Government, not just by the DCMS, although now that it has the Olympics it should be more coherent. However, unless the Department of Health and the Department of Education are prepared to ensure that sport really fits in, and unless local government decides that it is really going to integrate sport and allow it to have a place, it does not work. You have got to make sure that it all meshes together. In the time I have been here, this has become better understood across government; it is not a party political issue. Sport and government have got to come together.
There has got to be more drive towards this, but it is always a case of “Oh, that’s not really my responsibility”, so it does not happen. I have heard that for most of the 13 years I have been here. The whole of government as well as Ministers at the top have to make sure this happens. I have also spoken more times than I care to mention about having to punch through the Chinese walls in Whitehall to get anything done. We have to make sure that there is a central drive. If the Olympic Games achieve their potential, they will provide a wonderful way of kicking some holes in those walls and making sure that people understand what they are doing.
I will not ask my noble friend a specific question about the importance of integrating sports medicine more closely in the medical structure. All these things must take place to make up the whole, but we must remember the central theme. We have an opportunity of doing ourselves a considerable favour in the long term and of throwing the biggest party on earth. If we mess this up, we will deserve everything we get.
Office for Budget Responsibility
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on the Office for Budget Responsibility, which this Government created on coming into office. This morning, for the first time in British history, we have opened up the Treasury books and allowed the publication of an independent and comprehensive assessment of the public finances. From now on, Governments will have to fix the budget to fit the figures instead of fixing the figures to fit the budget. I would like to thank Sir Alan Budd, the members of the Budget Responsibility Committee, and all the staff for the impressive work they have done.
There has been some interest in whether the OBR will publish all the relevant underlying assumptions and judgments driving the forecast. Today’s report does more than that. There are over 70 pages of detailed material, much of which has never been seen before. For the first time ever, the Government are publishing the assumptions that lie behind the estimates for average earnings, property prices, interest rates, financial sector profits and, crucially, a five-year forecast for annually managed expenditure. This includes a forecast for the amount of debt interest that we as a country will pay over the coming years.
The creation of the OBR has already impressed the international community and has been praised by the International Monetary Fund and the G20. We will now move to put the OBR on a statutory footing with legislation included in the Queen’s Speech. So from now on, Members of Parliament sent to this House to scrutinise how the Government spend taxpayers’ money will for the first time have access to the honest figures.
Let me now turn to those figures and what the OBR has uncovered. First, the forecasts for growth in the economy. The OBR is forecasting growth to reach 1.3 per cent this year and 2.6 per cent next year. In future years, the OBR’s forecast is for growth of around 2.8 per cent in 2012 and 2013, and then 2.6 per cent in 2014. The forecasts for growth are, sadly for our country, lower in every single year than the figures that were announced by the previous Chancellor at the time of the last Government’s Budget in March. He told us that growth would soar to 3.25 per cent in 2011 and then to 3.5 per cent in 2012. At the time these forecasts were given, neither the Bank of England nor 28 of the main 30 private institutions producing forecasts for the UK were offering such an optimistic central view of the economy. We can only speculate as to why such rosy forecasts for a trampoline recovery were produced only weeks ahead of a general election.
Let me now turn to the OBR’s forecasts for the public finances. The latest out-turn data show public sector net borrowing for the last year was £156 billion. The OBR is forecasting that it will be £155 billion this year. It is the highest budget deficit of any country in the European Union with the exception of Ireland. It is £10 billion less than the forecast given only a month before the end of the last fiscal year, but I can tell the House that, based on the OBR’s figures, the £10 billion advantage we start with decreases to only £3 billion by the end of the Parliament. The reason for that is that the cyclically adjusted current balance—commonly known as the structural deficit—is forecast to be higher in every single year than what this House was told in March.
This is the most important figure in this report because the structural deficit is the borrowing that remains even when growth in the economy returns, and it is the structural deficit that is a key determinant of whether the public finances are sustainable. This year, the structural deficit is forecast to reach 5.2 per cent of GDP; that is £9 billion higher than we were told in March. Next year, the structural deficit will be £12 billion higher than we were told.
Turning to debt, the OBR’s forecast sees it rising as a share of GDP throughout the Parliament, and the interest on that debt, which we as taxpayers have to pay, also grows every year. Let me be the first Chancellor in modern history to give you those numbers for the coming years. The OBR forecast is that this is what Britain will have to pay for its debts: £42 billion this year, then £46 billion next year, then £54 billion, then £60 billion, reaching £67 billion in 2014-15—more than a quarter of a trillion pounds coming from the pockets of the taxpayer over the course of this Parliament simply to service the debts left by the previous Government.
The figures produced by the OBR also give us a new insight into the spending plans we inherited as a Government. They show that, given the OBR’s assumptions, the previous Government would have had to find £44 billion of spending cuts in departmental budgets in order to deliver their plans. I can confirm that I have found no evidence at the Treasury for how even a single pound of these £44 billion of spending cuts were ever to be achieved.
There are two other very important considerations that relate to these forecasts, and which understate the situation we inherited. First, these are central forecasts with a fan chart around them to represent the great uncertainty that exists, rather than a Treasury forecast based on an arbitrary reduction in the trend level of output. As a result, they understate the increase in the structural deficit and the reduction in growth. Secondly, these projections have been based on recent markets interest rates, which are about a third of a percentage point lower in Britain than at the time of the election, and, as is widely acknowledged, this in part reflects the investors’ confidence that the new coalition Government will take action to deal with the deficit. As a result, as Sir Alan points out in his report,
‘in present conditions the likely result is that these economic forecasts are biased upwards’.
This is absolutely crucial to understanding today’s figures, because if we had followed the fiscal path set out by the previous Government it would, in Sir Alan’s words,
‘lead to higher interest rates and so lower economic activity’,
than forecast in the OBR report.
Let me conclude with this. The independent report published today confirms that this coalition Government had inherited from its predecessor one of the largest deficits in the world; forecasts for growth lower than the country was told at the time of the election; a larger structural deficit than previously admitted; a debt interest bill larger than the schools budget. It is indeed worse than we thought. And the public would have known none of this if we had not set up the Office for Budget Responsibility. Next week I will return to the House to explain what we will do about it. In the mean time, I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. This is a remarkable Statement, not only because so little of it relates to the concrete forecasts in the document that it purports to describe but also because it fails to note comments that the OBR makes on the earlier analysis of the economy presented by my right honourable friend Alistair Darling.
During the past few weeks, since the formation of the coalition Government, we have been subject to a barrage of statements from the Prime Minister claiming that the underlying position of the economy is far worse than that laid out by Mr Darling in his March Budget. For example, the Prime Minister said on 7 June:
“The overall scale of the problem is even worse than we thought”.
Yet what does the OBR report argue? I quote the OBR’s press notice:
“The nominal figures for the deficit and net borrowing are better in all years than in the March Budget”.
On numerous occasions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has cast doubt on his predecessor’s integrity in presenting economic forecasts—he could not even resist the odd snide remark today. Yet the OBR report states:
“The forecast is based on a range of possible outcomes around a central view … This differs from previous practice under which some assumptions were designed to add caution to the fiscal forecast”.
As the official press notice puts it, the methodology of the OBR replaces,
“in some cases, deliberately cautious assumptions”.
So not only have things turned out better than Mr Darling argued in March but the reason is probably that he was so persistently cautious. Mr Darling is owed a formal apology. I hope the noble Lord will make that apology which the OBR report demonstrates in all common decency to be necessary.
The general forecast in the OBR report is for a lower trend rate of growth than was presented in the March Budget. What is not made clear is how the assumptions made by the authors of the OBR report differ from those on which the earlier forecast was made. It is the variation in the assumptions that is the source of the different forecasts.
In the limited time available, I have managed to unearth the fact—and it took some unearthing—that the assumed rate of growth of the eurozone is significantly lower, which, given what has happened since March, is perfectly reasonable. Will the Minister tell us what other key assumptions have been changed, and why? How has the assumed rate of growth of consumer expenditure been changed, and why? How has the assumed rate of the growth of business investment been changed, and why?
There is but one key element in the OBR report which might be deemed critical of the previous Government, and on which Mr Osborne focused in the Statement. It is the so-called structural budget deficit—not the actual budget deficit—which the report shows to be worse than was reported in the March Budget. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I spend a few moments unpicking this disagreement.
The structural budget deficit is an estimated deficit when the economy is operating at an estimated normal level. The OBR finds that this is worse than was reported in the March Budget. Why? The problem is estimating what is the normal level of the economy and how far below it we are now. The OBR makes a crucial assumption: that instead of the economy operating 6 per cent below normal in 2009, it was operating only 4 per cent below normal. Everything hangs on that single, crucial assumption. For if we are nearer normal operation than we thought, then the deficit under normal circumstances would be bigger than we thought. But what about this assumption? The OBR admits that it is “very tentative”. It says:
“Estimates of the underlying supply potential of the economy and the amount of spare capacity are uncertain at the best of times. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, which is likely to have had an adverse effect on the supply potential of the economy, such estimates are subject to greater uncertainty than usual”.
This—a figure subject to great uncertainty—is described by Mr Osborne in the Statement as,
“the most important figure in the report”.
He is grasping at straws. The key case for his deficit hysteria is based on an estimate,
“subject to greater uncertainty than usual”.
Then we have the debt interest figures, of which Mr Osborne makes so much. But again he cannot resist fiddling the figures by giving the total of debt interest, not the increase in debt interest due to the recession, including amounts that would have had to be paid anyway.
The Statement also makes much of the independence of the OBR—an independence which we applaud. When the Minister replies, will he confirm that all the assumptions in the forecast for Mr Darling’s March Budget were audited independently by the National Audit Office, and that the assumptions in the OBR report have not been so independently audited? Would he also confirm that it is normal practice that ONS statistics are seen by Ministers just 24 hours before their release? Would he tell the House when Ministers had sight of the OBR report? What is remarkable about the OBR is that it demonstrates how damaging would be the substantial cuts that the Government declare that they plan to make in public expenditure. The report demonstrates that the measures taken by the previous Government have set the economy on a path of steady deficit reduction, halving the deficit in three years, and setting the economy on a path of fiscal stability. All that will be threatened by the deficit hysteria of the coalition. The OBR report demonstrates with unerring clarity that their masochistic desire for an age of austerity is not only bizarre but unnecessary.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for his points, but it really is not a picture of the public finances that this Government have inherited that I recognise at all, or of the history nature of the formation of the OBR and the publication today of this astonishing new document which, for the first time, lays out transparently and independently the forecasts and numbers on which the Chancellor can form his budget. A position in which the public sector net debt is forecast to continue to rise from the 2009-10 level of £53.5 billion up to £74.4 billion at the end of the forecast period in 2014-15 speaks for itself. The reason that the deterioration in the numbers is so striking today is partly because the structural deficit turns out to be significantly worse and the sustainable growth rate to be not nearly as it appeared from the numbers that the previous Chancellor set out, which were thought to be completely incredible by forecasters at the time—and the OBR has confirmed this today. The document also sets out that, even in the numbers that the Chancellor presented in his March Budget, £44 billion-worth of cuts were assumed which were not explained anywhere in those numbers. They are set out for the first time today in a full forecast of total managed expenditure, for the full five-year forecast period. So the document exposes the total size of the inheritance that we were left—the fact that the plan for dealing with the deficit did not exist and that the structural problems of the economy are far worse. All we have in response from the noble Lord is to pick at the quite proper caution with which Sir Alan Budd and the OBR present their numbers. This is the first time that numbers like this have been presented. They have presented them quickly and at a time of an inheritance of huge problems in the economy, and all that the noble Lord can do is draw attention to the proper caution with which the OBR has rightly presented its numbers.
The noble Lord also questions the independence of the OBR’s numbers in relation to those presented in the past by the Treasury. It is indeed the case that Treasury numbers have been ticked up by the National Audit Office, but it is false to compare an independent forecast produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility with the NAO audit of the Treasury numbers.
In answer to a question from the noble Lord about when the Chancellor saw the forecast, I assure him that an initial view of the numbers was shown to the Chancellor on Friday 28 May with a further update on Thursday 3 June. The OBR then shared the report with the Chancellor on Wednesday 9 June.
It might help further to clarify that the document that sets out the forecast is not required to be audited by the NAO under the code for fiscal stability in the Finance Act 1998, which applies to the Budget itself, although I do not think that the noble Lord was suggesting that the OBR numbers should be subject to NAO scrutiny.
My Lords, I have not had the opportunity to go through as much of the detail as my noble friend Lord Eatwell, who I thought did very well and exposed so much of this so-called “independent” report. We were told just now in an answer by the Minister that the Chancellor saw some figures on 28 May, so the so-called “independent” OBR was consulting the Treasury all along. Is that true? Was it really being consulted all along, or is it truly independent—any more independent than all the other “independent” forecasts we get from all kinds of sources?
More important is the accusation by the Chancellor that the figures previously issued in the name of Treasury officials, not by the former Chancellor, were dishonest—that they were fiddled by Ministers and yet Treasury officials allowed them to go out in their name. Is that not rather insulting of officials?
More seriously, how many Treasury officials who were doing this job before are still there? Or are they now working for the OBR? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. He also referred to this five-year forecast. Most people, including myself, would be reluctant to forecast a few months ahead, let alone five years. Will he reassure us that that forecast will not be amended every few months by the independent OBR?
More importantly, will he confirm what the assumptions were for unemployment if the Chancellor’s deficit reduction programme, to be announced in the Budget, is anything like the rhetoric we hear at the moment?
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. He enables me to confirm the nature of the independence of the OBR. To call into question the independence of Sir Alan Budd and his committee—as he went on to say, that is not the most important thing, so perhaps I should pass over it and move on.
I also rather resent, on behalf of the Treasury officials with whom I work every day, the thought either that they were in some way party to some conspiracy before or that they are not capable of doing work, then or now, of the highest quality. The difference now is that the OBR has set out critical fan charts to show central forecasts and probability distributions around those forecasts. Noble Lords may tut-tut, but this is a practice that has been adopted by the Bank of England in its forecasts for many years.
The forecasts are transparent; people have been able to see how it has formed its views on all its forecasts. As for Treasury Ministers in the past, they have plucked numbers out and it has been non-transparent. Here we have a degree of transparency by which you can hold the Treasury to account, going forward. The noble Lord also asked whether the five-year forecasts will be amended very regularly. Certainly, the OBR will be publishing in conjunction with the Budget again, and, as it said in its document and terms of reference, it will be publishing its forecasts regularly.
My Lords, we have just witnessed a great display of who said what to whom, and of “Oh yes he did” and “Oh no he didn’t”, that would frustrate every businessman and woman in this country, because—I hope that the Minister will comment on this—without doubt, whoever is right or wrong, this country is in the economic dippy-doo. The only way out of this is to trade our way out, to generate the wealth that will create the jobs in the private sector and generate the taxation to pay down the deficit.
When the Minister was repeating what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said in another place, at the end I heard that next week we are going to hear what he intends to do about it. I urge the Minister to go back to his colleagues and, whatever they do next week and however or whenever they cut—when we hear so much about public spending, of how much or how little we are going to spend and, at the end of the day, of ring-fencing it or cutting it more quickly—to ask whether anybody has ever thought about earning the stuff, because without earning it you cannot cut it. I would welcome a comment on what we are going to do about generating the business growth that will render all of this at least relevant.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, raises a critical point: how are we going to get growth going again, as none of this public expenditure gets paid for unless we get the private sector economy growing strongly? While my right honourable friend the Chancellor will be setting out in his Budget next week the important strands of our growth strategy, I stress that what is so critical about the creation of the OBR and the early action that was taken on the initial £6 billion of cuts is the credibility that gives to the new Government’s plans to grip the appalling economic situation we have inherited. That has already started to give confidence to the markets, as has been seen in the low interest rates. The critical importance of keeping interest rates low has to be one of the first foundations on which we can rebuild sustainable growth in the private sector.
My Lords, arising from the point that has just been made, does my noble friend agree that while it is important to grow our way out of the problem it will not be the case that we can grow our way out of the structural deficit? By definition, that is something quite separate from the possibility of growing one’s way out. This is indeed a very depressing report, although it is extremely helpful to have the figures which have been given. I have two points for my noble friend.
First, it is clearly extremely important that we should reduce the deficit as soon as possible, but what has not been mentioned at all is the extent to which it is proposed to fund the deficit meanwhile. That does of course have very important implications for the level of aggregate demand. Can my noble friend say what the policy is on funding the deficit as we go along in advance of actually managing to reduce it?
Secondly, in the same context, one of the extraordinary things that happened under the previous Government was the policy of so-called quantitative easing. There is a general assumption, not least in the financial press, that this to some extent increased the money supply and therefore increased economic growth. As far as I can establish, that simply is not true, certainly in relation to the size of the so-called quantitative easing. The reason is that, while the Bank of England was increasing the quantity of money by purchasing it in the market, the Debt Management Office, which Mr Brown had removed from the Bank to the Treasury, was busily selling debt, so the two totally cancelled each other out, as far as one can establish. Does my noble friend agree that it is important to get the Debt Management Office back in the Bank of England so that two completely contrary policies are not pursued at the same time?
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Higgins for his questions. Funding the deficit will be critical. As I pointed out, the level of borrowing will continue to rise throughout the forecast period to £74.4 billion in public sector net debt terms in 2014-15. The scale of the task should not be underestimated. What is critical to funding the deficit in a safe way is maintaining the UK’s credit rating and central to that is having a credible plan. The foundation stone of that credible plan is the revelation today of the true state of the nation’s finances, with some decent forecasts five years out on which all else, including the funding plan, can be built.
My noble friend’s second question was about the mechanics of selling debt. The Debt Management Office operates under a clear and transparent plan, which sets out exactly what the Treasury requires it to raise in the markets each year, consistent with the Budget forecasts. So far this year, the office has carried out that plan successfully and I have every expectation that it will continue to do so.
My Lords, if the Office for Budget Responsibility is to be independent, it is essential that its report should not be made a political football—we do not discuss the MPC’s report in the manner in which we discuss the OBR’s report. I particularly welcome the fact that the OBR has not only a fan diagram for the growth rate but one for public sector net borrowing. However, it would have been better if the report had presented a range of numbers for the debt and the deficit, as well as for growth. If growth is uncertain, as it surely is, especially as you go forward, all the numbers on the deficit and the debt are equally uncertain. I am speaking neither for nor against what the Government intend to do but, if we set up a specialist agency, it should perform its function in a way that illuminates the uncertainty surrounding public policy. That uncertainty will help the Minister’s right honourable friend the Chancellor as well as everyone else, as it is important not to pretend that the numbers for 2014-25 are hard and fast, as the noble Lord wishes to do.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has made an important point by drawing attention to the huge illumination, to use his word, of the public finances and the forecast going forward. He makes some interesting technical points about how some of the data should be forecast. All I can say is that, if Sir Alan Budd is not listening now, I will take back the noble Lord’s points and relay them to him, as it is for him to decide how he lays out his forecasts in future.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their commitment to a level of transparency that we have never before seen. This is a wonderful first move. We should also congratulate the Office for Budget Responsibility on producing in a very short time what I think people have to accept is a very impressive document.
Does the Minister agree with my noble friend Lord Higgins that the report is a depressing read? Nowhere is it more depressing than on the fact that the structural deficit is much worse than we were previously led to believe. That makes the call from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for an apology quite inappropriate, as we were led to believe that the structural deficit was different. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has tried to pick holes in these calculations, but does my noble friend agree that realism and transparency will serve the people of this country much better than unwarranted and hidden optimism, which is what we had from the previous Government?
The Office for Budget Responsibility will be an important part of the way in which Budgets and economic management are handled going forward. It is clearly important that the status of the office is put on to a permanent footing as soon as possible, so that we do not have to take the criticisms from the Benches opposite about its independence and so on. Will my noble friend say when we are likely to get legislation to achieve that?
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Noakes for her remarks and I echo her congratulations to Sir Alan Budd, the OBR and the Treasury officials who have been moved across into the OBR, as what they have produced in such a short time is a remarkable achievement. I agree that the report makes a depressing read in that it exposes how threadbare the inheritance from the previous Government was. On the other hand, it makes a stimulating and positive read, in the sense that we can use it as a basis on which to construct credible Budgets from now on. I also agree that it is important to put the OBR on to a permanent footing. Legislation will be brought forward as was set out in the Queen’s Speech.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, for not being here when he made his Statement. I was trying to get here but unfortunately I was blocked by the Armada in the Royal Gallery and had to go round another way. I thank him for repeating in this House the Statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I am struck by the harshness of the Minister’s attacks on the previous Government and by the fact that he says that what the Office for Budget Responsibility has done is transparent. The difficulty is that what it has done has been done incredibly quickly and, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out, has inevitably been based on assumptions that are difficult to make. The most significant thing is the political interference. I was amazed when the Minister said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken to Sir Alan Budd on 28 May, on 3 June and again on 9 June. In order to deliver on transparency, will the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, tell us what was said in those conversations? If not, there will be doubt about the transparency.
My Lords, first, I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was not defeated by the Armada and managed to come through triumphantly, although it sounds as though it was a close-run thing. What I said and what I will repeat is that the Chancellor saw an initial view of the forecasts on Friday 28 May and saw a further update on Thursday 3 June. The OBR then shared its report with him on Wednesday 9 June. I am completely at a loss to know why sharing numbers and the final report should in any way impinge on the office’s independence—
Perhaps I might explain and give the noble Lord an opportunity to comment. This is the reason why the rule was made that numbers were not to be shared with Ministers except during the few days before. I am sorry that I did not make that clear.
I begin by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who said that what is most welcome about this report is the extent to which it explains the uncertainties that the Government face in producing detailed economic forecasts. I also find the fan charts very welcome. It is extraordinary that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, finds them risible when they are used, as the Minister said, by the Bank of England and reflect a better view of reality than a single headline figure.
When the Office for Budget Responsibility was being established, the Government said that its members would be available to give evidence to relevant parliamentary committees. Given the importance of the work of the office, will the Minister urge its members to come before the relevant committee of your Lordships’ House—namely, the Economic Affairs Committee—so that there can be a forensic discussion of their work, along the lines that noble Lords would clearly like to see?
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Newby. I will certainly pass on his request that members of the OBR come forward as he suggested. I am sure they would want to. It would reinforce the fact that, as they clearly set out in the foreword to their document, all the judgments in the forecast have been made or agreed by the Office for Budget Responsibility. There has been no ministerial involvement, so it would be entirely right that the office, rather than Treasury Ministers or anybody else, should answer for its forecasts.
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in another place. The Statement is as follows.
“The House will wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy for those bereaved or injured in the explosion on 20 April, and for all the individuals and communities affected by spilling oil, or fearing that they will be affected over the days and weeks to come. Our thoughts must be first with them. On 20 April, an explosion and subsequent fire on board a drilling rig operated by Transocean, under contract to BP, in the Gulf of Mexico tragically killed 11 workers. On 22 April, the rig sank. On the seabed, 1,600 metres below, substantial quantities of oil were leaking into the ocean. The blow-out preventer, which should have sealed this leak, failed. The causes of the accident are now subject to a US presidential commission of inquiry and to civil and criminal investigation.
There has never been such a large leak of oil so deep in the sea. Attempts by BP, working under the direction of the US authorities, to seal the leak were not successful. The company then pursued a strategy of capturing as much oil as possible. In recent days, more than 15,000 barrels a day of oil have been recovered. However, it is also now thought that the leak is worse than previously thought. The US Government’s estimate of the daily flow of the leak is now 35,000 to 40,000 barrels per day. BP hopes to be able to increase significantly the amount of oil it is capturing, but very large quantities of oil continue to be released into the sea. Moreover, the leak will not be fully stopped until August at the earliest, when the first relief well which BP is already drilling should enable the original well to be plugged. There is also an enormous operation to address the impact on the environment of oil already in the water. Working under US Coastguard Admiral Thad Allen, over 2,000 boats have been involved, skimming the water and using dispersant chemicals. Thousands of workers and volunteers onshore are removing oil and maintaining coastal defences. The House will wish to join me in paying tribute to those involved in this work.
We understand and sympathise with the US Government’s frustration that oil continues to leak at the rate it does. To appreciate the scale of this environmental disaster, each week a quantity of oil equivalent to the total spillage from the Exxon Valdez is escaping into the Gulf of Mexico. The US Administration have said that BP is doing everything asked of it in its effort to combat the spill. We of course look to the company to continue in this and will do everything we can to help. The key priority must be stopping the environmental damage. In their phone conversation at the weekend President Obama reassured the Prime Minister that he has no interest in undermining BP’s value, and that frustrations in America have nothing to do with national identity. We have offered the US authorities dispersant chemicals, and will respond quickly and sympathetically to any request from the US authorities for help.
Honourable Members will remember that in 1988 the Piper Alpha rig in the North Sea exploded, with 167 fatalities. Following that disaster, our regulatory regime was significantly tightened, and we split the functions of licensing and health and safety in the UK. The US has announced that in future in the US these functions will be dealt with by separate organisations. We hope that we have useful experience to offer of building and operating such a system. Officials from my department and the Health and Safety Executive have been discussing this with their US counterparts. Here in UK waters, it is my responsibility to make sure the oil and gas industry maintains the highest possible standards. I have had an urgent review undertaken.
It is clear that our safety and environmental regulatory regime is already among the most robust in the world. The industry’s record in the North Sea is strong. However, with the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, we must be vigilant. Initial steps are already under way, including doubling annual environmental inspections by DECC to drilling rigs. I will review our new and existing procedures as soon as detailed analysis of the factors which caused the incident in the Gulf of Mexico is available, building on the work already begun by the newly formed Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group. Given the importance of global deep-water production during our transition to a low-carbon economy, I will also ensure that lessons and practice are shared with relevant regulators and operating companies.
I now turn to the position of BP. It is hugely regrettable that the company’s technical efforts to stop the spill have, to date, been only partially successful. I acknowledge the company for its strong public commitment to stand by its obligation to halt the spill, and provide remedy and payment of all legitimate claims. As BP’s chairman has said, these are critical tasks for BP, which it must complete to rebuild trust in the company as a long-term member of the business community in the United States, in the United Kingdom and around the world. BP remains a strong company. Although its share price has fallen sharply since April, the company has the financial resources to put right the damage. It has exceptionally strong cash flow, and will continue to be a major employer and vital investor here and in the USA. In many ways, BP is effectively an Anglo-American company, with 39 per cent of its shares owned in the US, against 40 per cent in the United Kingdom.
There has been much speculation in the press about the impact on UK pension funds and whether the company will pay a quarterly dividend. This is entirely a matter for the BP directors, who will no doubt weigh all factors and make a recommendation to their shareholders that is in their best interest—which of course includes the best interests of many UK pension funds. Many citizens have real and legitimate worries about their pensions, but I reassure the House that not only is BP financially sound but pension funds that hold BP shares generally also hold a very diverse portfolio of assets. Their exposure to a single company, even a company as economically important as BP, is limited.
In concluding my Statement, I wish again to express the Government’s profound sympathy to those in the US affected by this accident and its aftermath. The priority must be to address the environmental consequences of this spill. Our concentration is on practical measures that can help in this. This disaster is a stark reminder of the environmental dangers of oil and gas production in ever more difficult areas. Coupled with the impact of high-carbon consumption, this highlights yet again the importance of improving the energy efficiency of our economy and the expansion of low-carbon technologies. We must and will learn the lessons of these terrible events”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for giving advance notice of the Statement and for keeping the House informed of developments. I join him in expressing sorrow for the 11 people who died in the original accident, for those who are injured and for the many communities affected. It is a reminder of the dangers that come with life in the oil and gas industry, as we saw in the North Sea last year and, as he said, in the Piper Alpha tragedy so many years ago. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who work in such a crucial industry. I also join him in expressing concern about the environmental impacts of the spill, which cannot be underestimated. The efforts being made to try to minimise the damage are to be applauded and supported. I agree that the key priority must be to stop the environmental damage. I am glad that this country has offered help to the US authorities. Has that help been accepted? Does the Minister acknowledge that his department’s international energy division has enormous experience and expertise to offer in that regard?
I wish to ask the Minister more specific questions arising from the Statement. First, given the scale of the spill and its consequences, there can be no question that those responsible must be held accountable. However, that accountability should be judged and discharged fairly. I have noted his comments on the position of BP. Does he agree with me that all the companies involved—Transocean, Halliburton, BP and others—should be subject to investigation, and that finger-pointing at BP alone is unhelpful? I echo his remarks about BP’s importance and strength as an international company.
Secondly, does the Minister agree with me that any process of learning lessons needs to look not just at the actions of private companies but at those of the United States Minerals Management Service and at the general level of regulatory standards for deep- water drilling in place in the US and around the world? Will he comment on his specific understanding of the regulatory standards in place in the Gulf of Mexico, and whether they were relaxed in any way?
Thirdly, in the review that he has announced of the UK’s licensing regime, including that for drilling in deep waters such as west of Shetland, will he confirm that not only will the lessons of the incident in the Gulf of Mexico be fully learnt but that our own regulatory and licensing capacity will be enhanced, not diminished? Is it not ironic that we learnt only over the weekend of the coalition’s review of health and safety law? It is very easy to sneer at and criticise the Health and Safety Executive, but I am proud of its achievements since the passage of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Will the Minister assure me that this review will not undermine the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive in the North Sea? I pay tribute to the work of the Minister’s department, based in Aberdeen, which licenses oil and gas in the UK continental shelf. I had the privilege of visiting the department’s office in Aberdeen on a number of occasions and was impressed by the commitment, dedication and hard work of its staff. Will he assure the House that the requirement to ensure an effective licensing regime in the North Sea will be fully taken into account in any budgetary cuts envisaged in his department?
Fourthly, does the Minister agree with me that the central lesson of what happened in the Gulf is that the world cannot simply rely on digging deeper and deeper for oil? Following the Prime Minister’s call with President Obama, I was disappointed that there was not a clearer message from both sides of the Atlantic on the need to make the transition to a post-oil economy. In that context, does the Minister agree with me that the best thing that could emerge from this tragedy is a renewed push towards low-carbon energy, with Europe moving to 30 per cent emissions reductions, America passing a climate and energy Bill and the securing of an international treaty at Cancun in December?
The Statement emphasises the need to expand low-carbon technologies. Does the Minister agree with me that we need to play our part by maintaining, not cutting, the industrial policy support for the low-carbon transition, including the money for Sheffield Forgemasters, ports for offshore wind and support for tidal and wave power? Why are the proposed loans to a number of key companies in that sector now in jeopardy? Will he commit to report further to this House on the important matters contained in the Statement?
I thank the noble Lord for an excellent speech, as we would expect from someone who has only recently left the department. I will pass on his tributes, which will be warmly received, as I passed on their tributes to the noble Lord at an earlier Question Time.
The noble Lord asked whether help had been accepted. The answer is yes. We have had a very good dialogue across the water since this dreadful event occurred. This is amplified by the fact that the American Government will adopt the excellent measure that we initiated—both Governments were very heavily involved in this to their great credit—of separating the Health and Safety Executive from licensing. That is a fundamental issue. As yet, our help in providing such things as detergents has not been accepted—I think because the Americans feel that they have that in hand. As to our future regulatory standards, the Minister and the department have carried out a very quick and detailed review. I am sure the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that we have seen nothing which suggests that we do not have very high standards in all that we have done in the North Sea. The previous Government should also be congratulated on all the fine work that they have done in that regard. However, we have set up OSPRAG to review the aftermath of this incident. That body has practitioners from the industry and is chaired by Mark McAllister, the chief executive of Fairfield, an oil operating business. They will have already met and are earnestly reviewing the situation.
I make no comment on budgetary cuts until after the Budget—noble Lords would not expect otherwise. However, I completely agree with the noble Lord—this was made clear in the Statement—that we must accelerate the development of low-carbon energy that he so carefully pronounced.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. He will be aware that many of BP’s US assets, particularly those in the Gulf, came via the takeovers of Amoco and ARCO. Is there any evidence to suggest that these operational assets were not properly integrated within the BP structure and have been managed almost as a quasi-independent operation? Can I push the Minister further on the US regulatory regime, because there is a view in the industry that the US has failed to learn from the lessons of others, particularly those learnt in the North Sea? I understand that some aspects of drilling this particular well would, for example, have been illegal in the North Sea.
I thank the noble Lord for his two questions, both of which were extremely valid. I can state categorically that there is no evidence that this project was not managed properly. I think that I am right in saying that Transocean is the largest contracting operator in the world. It has great experience and this was very much an integrated programme. On US regulation, as I have mentioned, I am sure that there will be a lot of deep thinking—as there always is after such a tragic and dreadful environmental disaster—by the US Government, who will be searching deeply for the changes that they should make. We commit to keeping noble Lords advised on those developments.
Obviously, I cannot go into specific detail as to insurance coverage; that is for the companies and their balance sheets. I admit that I used to be in the insurance business and have a rough idea of what is going on. I am sure that some insurance salesman will be keen to sell a little more as a result. The message that we have received from the London insurance market is that the insurance companies are there to pay for the losses, which they have already estimated. They are in the process of providing for those losses and, indeed, have already paid north of half a billion pounds-worth to some of the companies involved.
My noble friend put his finger on a broader point. Only 65 per cent of the oil well was owned by BP; 25 per cent was owned by an American company called Anadarko and 10 per cent by Mitsui. As regards the drilling well itself, Transocean was the drilling contractor, Cameron was the manufacturer of the blow-out preventer, Halliburton was responsible for the cement casing, and we should give great credit to BP that it has stood up to be counted through these very difficult times and has been prepared to stand in the spotlight. It has behaved extremely properly in this regard, as one would expect of a major multinational corporation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for an excellent exposition of the consequences, and I am grateful to the Minister—especially for his last comments. Perhaps I may ask for his response on two aspects. First, the Statement in another place mentioned that the payment or not of the dividend from BP, which concerns pension funds on both sides of the Atlantic and will further affect the share price in one way or another, was a matter for BP and did not concern this Government. I should welcome the noble Lord’s comments on the fact that that is clearly not the attitude of the gentleman to whom the Prime Minister spoke on the telephone over the weekend, given that President Obama made it very clear that it is very much the business of the White House as to whether BP pays a dividend. How will this Government stand up and be counted on behalf of the pensioners of Britain?
Secondly, the Statement mentioned, and we read last week about, the possibility of criminal proceedings coming out of this. Will the attitude of the United Kingdom to any request for extradition of people who might be indicted be, I trust, the same that the Americans would apply to any request to extradite people from America to Bhopal in India?
The noble Lord poses some interesting questions. He knows as well as I do that BP is a $100-billion company with a $35-billion cash flow—even after the recent reduction in its share price. It is in a strong balance-sheet position to suffer the losses from this horrendous disaster. The noble Lord may also know that BP pays its dividend quarterly, unlike many corporations. The BP board has agreed, and is committed, to a review of that position before 27 July and we are in that period. The noble Lord would not expect me to comment on criminal proceedings, would he? I am afraid that that is a matter for the law courts, not me. Doubtless we will follow the issue with interest. As regards the Government, I admire the way that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has handled this matter; he has dealt with it in a calm and steady dialogue, rather than volatile rhetoric. In these circumstances, we have to be very careful to follow that path, because there is an awful lot at stake, as I hope I mentioned in the Statement.
My Lords, will regulation of novel technologies be looked at? The disaster happened at the very limits of the technical abilities that we are considering, and other technologies are particularly worrying. The development of unconventional gas fields, using geological processes which have not been tried or tested, could cause untold damage. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will look very carefully at unconventional gas. I hope that he will also recognise that many of us have been impressed by President Obama’s level-headed approach, considering the view taken by the British press. We are not talking about a disaster just in cash terms; this disaster could lead to the extinction of a number of species. The brown pelican may well be brought to the edge of extinction. If an American company had brought about such a disaster—although I am not saying that BP alone brought it about—in the North Sea, the political pressure from the press to point the finger of blame would be extremely strong. In the light of such enormous pressure, the attitude of the American President is to be commended.
I thank the noble Lord, my coalition colleague, for his kind remarks. I was rather heartened by the recent pictures that I saw in the papers of the effort being put in to saving the pelicans, although I do not know how true they are, because you can never believe everything you see in pictures. That effort has been paid for by someone, and I suspect that BP has a strong hand in ensuring that it takes place, because it is deeply committed to restoring the Gulf to where it was. New technologies will of course be looked at carefully. This demonstrates that the world is searching high and low for carbon-intensive energy, and we are moving towards scraping the barrel. As I said earlier, we have to accelerate our low-carbon development because this is a massive environmental wake-up call, so of course we will be looking at the new technology.
As I also said earlier, I think that the rhetoric and conversation between President Obama and our Prime Minister was exactly what one would want to hear following this recent tragedy, in that it was calm, sensible and not inflammatory, as has been reported. That is what is required in solving any problem.
My Lords, I think it would be as well to recall the remarks of the American ambassador for fisheries and oceans, Mr Bolton, who commented four years ago that many parts of the Gulf of Mexico were ecologically dead due to the vast quantities of nitrogen coming down the Mississippi. Enormous areas of that ocean are in a very bad state. I do not want to go into what is tiny or trivial; an integrated approach is important to the whole ecology of the Gulf of Mexico in the context of this accident and indeed other incidents. In the UK we have the Natural Environment Research Council, and I strongly recommend the Minister to get in touch with it. We have excellent scientists who are able to take an overall view and from that we can perhaps then get a more rational approach.
My Lords, one of the great things about a debate such as this is that one learns so much. I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s comments on nitrogen flowing from the Mississippi; it is true that we have a very heavily polluted world. As I said earlier, if nothing else, I hope that this will be a massive environmental wake-up call, and I should like to take up the opportunity of meeting the noble Lord’s colleagues.
My Lords, perhaps I may take the Minister back to day one for a moment. The cause of this accident was the failure of the blow-out preventer. Do we know whether it was a failure of the equipment, which was owned and provided by Transocean and was therefore the responsibility of that company, or whether it was a failure of the fitting of the blow-out preventer, which I understand was done by Halliburton, as was the concreting? Either the equipment or its fitting failed, and that will be a very important point for the future. I simply ask whether we know that already or whether we have yet to find out.
This morning I met Iain Conn, the chief executive of refining and marketing for BP, who is on the board of BP. He gave me a very clear picture, which has been developing over time. Seven safeguards failed, so it was a most exceptional accident. As the noble Lord rightly said, the concrete casing and the blow-out preventer failed, but another five things should have locked in to prevent that happening. It is remarkable that all those safeguards should have failed. Clearly, the finger of blame will be pointed in all sorts of directions but I do not think that that will help to solve the current problem. We will doubtless be left with the presidential inquiry, which will take place afterwards. Our own OSPRAG group will review that and ensure that lessons are strongly learnt.
My Lords, first, I declare my interest as a non-executive director of Rowan Drilling, a US-based shallow-water jack-up drilling company. I was one of the Energy Ministers responsible for implementing the recommendations emanating from the Piper Alpha disaster, and I congratulate the Minister on immediately undertaking a review of the UKCS operating and drilling activity. Will he ensure that the safety case regime is at the heart of that review? Will he also reflect that the response by the British Government to the Piper Alpha disaster was measured and constructive, without emotive political rhetoric from either side of the House, and underwritten by seamless, calm and reasoned collaboration between the British Government, their agencies and the American operators in the North Sea? Does he agree that that is the most effective response, however tragic the human and environmental consequences?
I thank my noble friend Lord Moynihan for his comments; again, it is very useful to have the input of someone who has experience in this field. I well remember the Piper Alpha incident and the horrific pictures surrounding it, and I was deeply involved in the insurance loss. What was vivid in my mind—and I hope that it will be vivid in our minds at the end of all this—was the incredible effort made by people such as Red Adair in dealing with that dreadful disaster, as noble Lords will probably remember. All efforts were made from both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that the problem was solved, and that, I am reliably informed, is what is happening now in the US. BP is not alone in this; it has the full support of the oil industry companies, and that, I think, will be obvious as time passes by.
Safety is at the heart of this and must be in the future. We need to ensure that an accident such as this one or Piper Alpha does not happen again on our shores. I do not have the statistics with me but let us remember that more than 4,000 deep-water wells have been dug since 1980. Therefore, to date this has been a very satisfactory and productive development. It is dreadful that this accident has happened but one hopes that it is a freak event.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement and especially for its measured and moderate terms. However, is it not important not to get emotional about this subject, not to become personal and not to express oneself in crude terms, such as “kicking people’s asses”? Does that not let down the people of the United States of America?
As I said earlier, I am very impressed by the calm rhetoric that has been shown from this side of the Atlantic and by the response from President Obama to the conversation that he had with our Prime Minister. At our level, we have been having very constructive and positive dialogue with our respective departments in the US, trying to find a constructive way forward. Clearly, with horrendous disasters on a scale such as this that affect the environment and many people’s lives, there is bound to be volatile and probably over-the-top rhetoric. However, I am glad to say that from the Government’s point of view the matter has been dealt with calmly, and I applaud the fact that that is as the noble Lord would wish to see it.
My Lords, the Minister’s tone has been very measured and I congratulate him on setting up the OSPREY exercise, which is very useful. However, the learning curve will be travelled up only by the United Kingdom. We have an international business with British associations but it would appear to adhere to different safety standards in different parts of the world. People do what they need to do or what they can get away with, rather than having a gold standard. Once we get OSPREY and look at the picture against the experience of Piper Alpha, would it not be better to try to get international agreement which is binding on all the players so that we do not have the kind of pantomime in which people say, “Oh yes we do, oh no we don’t”, every time there is a disaster? We have learnt a lot from Piper Alpha. Let us hope that we are not too complacent about it but that, as a consequence, we feel emboldened to say to other people, “We’ve tried to get our house in order. Why don’t we try to get all our houses in order at the same time?”.
The noble Lord makes an incredibly valid point, which I hope I have answered. I should mention that the name is OSPRAG, which is difficult for me, let alone the noble Lord, to say—I have to have it written down in front of me. It stands for Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group, and I am glad that he welcomes it. As I said earlier, we are communicating at all levels with US government departments to ensure that we achieve this gold standard. As the noble Lord rightly said, the world cannot march out of tune. I think that the early steps by the US Government to separate safety and licensing are a major breakthrough. That separation was started in this country and it delivers a gold standard. I can only assume that everyone will learn a lot from this incident, as they did following Piper Alpha, and that they will adopt the very important safety standards that are now required.
Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012
Motion to Take Note (Continued)
After those two very important Statements, I return to the Olympics debate. First, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on her wonderful speech. It brought to the House her experience in her particular field, and the fact that she is working so hard to make the Olympic Games a success. I thank the noble Baroness very much indeed, and all of us here look forward to hearing from her in future; I hope that she will keep us informed on progress.
We have talked about the achievement of the Olympic legacy. My noble friend Lord Pendry said that that is one of the most important things that will come out of the Olympics. I agree with him completely. I do not want, any more than he did, to go down the path of the pessimists who are saying that nothing can be done and that the Commonwealth Games did not bring any more participation. That is not the way to look at it; we must look at how we are going to improve it and what we are going to do about it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, whose expertise in sport I have listened to on so many occasions, that it is about bringing together schools and sports clubs and, if I may say so, the important role of local authorities in this direction. We have already seen the success in the provision of free swimming; more than 80 per cent of local authorities participate in that. All those roles must come together if we are to achieve the result that we all desire: that more people participate. According to last figures that the Sports Council produced, although there was an overall increase in the number who were participating—and a very welcome one, if I may say so, in non-white groups participating in sport—there was a drop in the number of women and people with disabilities who were participating, so we have a lot of work to do there. I have one or two questions for the Minister. Have the Government now abandoned the target that we gave to Sport England of 2 million people participating by 2012? Is that still a target or not? I would welcome anything that he has to say about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, dealt with transport. I agree with him to some extent: we must not be complacent about that. We have to move a lot of people to and from the Games, as well as keeping up the normal public transport services. We cannot rely on saying that there will be fewer people or cars on the road in August. A lot of work has been done, but I hope it is sufficient to move those people. I want to ask the Minister about the VIP routes which are being set up. As we know, there are many venues, including Wimbledon. I say to my noble friend who will reply to the debate that playing the tennis there will be a world’s first in that it is being played on grass. I know that she will correct me if I am wrong about that. There is Wembley, Earls Court, Eton and all the other areas. What is the position of the VIP tracks which are being established for the athletes and officials to move quickly from one venue to another? As I understand it, a lot of people would not mind disruption to their normal life for a few days, but if it is to go on for six weeks, we might find a lot of opposition. If the Minister could update me about that, I would be very pleased.
Another thing is the transformation of east London. We have heard a lot of the positive aspects about that. How far are we going in relation to the additional housing that will come after the Olympics have finished—not only taking over where the athletes have lived but expanding—and the social housing, of which more than one half is scheduled? Are the plans going ahead? Are we on schedule to achieve that?
While we are talking about construction—I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Morgan is not here at the moment—I am very pleased that construction is going to British companies, but it was also said that local people would be employed by the contractors. Is that happening? Equally importantly, how many unemployed local people are now working on those sites and how many of the apprenticeships are going to local youths? Those are the kind of measures by which we can judge how positive the results are.
We are all proud of what is being achieved in the Olympics themselves, and we all want to make it a blueprint for the future. We want to demonstrate—we have made a very good start on this—that it is wonderful not only to live in the United Kingdom but to visit it. The Olympics provide us with a lot of business opportunities. Our companies which are participating are gaining expertise for future world events that I hope will stand them in good stead.
I am also pleased that there will be a future for the stadium. In instances in the past, stadiums have been neglected after the Games are over. What has been a showpiece at the time has been quickly forgotten. None of us wants that, and it looks as if there is a future for the stadium. In the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, there was a future for the stadium, where Manchester City now plays. That has been a very useful development, because it means that events are taking place there all the time, crowds are going there, and work has been brought to the area by people coming to watch the game. It is important that we mention what might happen to the stadium.
I know that I have asked the Minister quite a few questions, but what about green sustainability? I am sure that he has something about that in his notes. We know the record of his colleagues in that part of the coalition: they have always been interested in sustainable energy. Therefore, why has the green turbine been abandoned? After all, 20 per cent of the renewable energy was going to come from it. I would be very pleased to hear from him why they have gone down that route.
Overall, all of us must say, so far, so good; it is a real success story. I believe that, the way that things are going, we can present something of which we can be proud. Many of the Olympic Games of the past have been wonderful events for the country that staged them. In our case, I want to see not only that it is a magnificent event at the time but that we look to the future and sustain what has happened for the development of the East End of London for the wealth of the people who live there and for the benefit of the country, and that having invested so much money in this project we get a return from it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for attributing success in securing this debate to me. That comes as something of a surprise since I was grateful to the usual channels for securing a debate on this subject before the general election. But a two-for-the-price-of-one Motion on the Order Paper is always worth while, especially when it comes with a brilliant maiden speech from my noble friend in sport, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. First, I declare my interests: I am chairman of the British Olympic Association, a director of the London Organising Committee and a member of a number of International Olympic Committee and European Olympic Committee commissions and committees.
The debate will focus on progress made towards the successful hosting of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. The theatrical analogy sometimes employed is that it is the Government who are building the Olympic theatre, the London Organising Committee which is putting on the show, the British Olympic Association which selects, manages and leads the British actors and actresses word perfect, and the mayor, who has the legacy for the Olympic park when the curtain falls.
It is right that we can report that most of the focus in this debate is on how well all four players comprising the four members of the Olympic board are progressing. The starting point is the host city contract signed between the mayor, the British Olympic Association and the International Olympic Committee. The contractual undertakings, including the duty to establish the London Organising Committee on which both the mayor’s office and the British Olympic Association are represented, have been honoured. The Government, with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, through the Olympic Delivery Authority, have ensured the efficient delivery of the sites under the leadership of John Armitt and David Higgins. The staging of the Games is making progress, on time and on budget, within the £2 billion LOCOG budget which was secured under the outstanding and astute direction of my noble friend Lord Coe and without recourse to public money. His team is making good progress.
The British Olympic Association has announced that it intends to take a full team to the Games. Despite signing away the rights in early 2005 for significantly less value than the income required to undertake its duties as a host nation Olympic committee, the BOA has, under the direction of its chief executive, Andy Hunt, and chief commercial officer, Hugh Chambers, managed to strengthen its balance sheet, governance and organisational structure from what only six years ago was to many a glorified travel agency and which today is a strong national Olympic committee. It is in line with the NOCs of Germany and the United States, where it plays a key role in the working of the International Olympic Committee, the wider Olympic family and, as evident by the Minister for the Olympics and Sport, Hugh Robertson, in choosing to make his inaugural speech at the new BOA headquarters in Charlotte Street last week, it has taken a seat at the top table of policy formulation and administration in British sport.
The announcement last week that the British Olympic Association would have a powerful athletes’ commission demonstrates that it will place the interests of the athletes first and will ensure that their interests are always at the heart of policy formulation within the organisation. The Minister announced to the press that he would be looking to the BOA to consult on a wide range of sporting issues as he implements the far-reaching changes to the structure of sports administration throughout the United Kingdom.
In this work, we at the British Olympic Association will support the Government in a constructive and comprehensive way. It is written into the Olympic charter that the national Olympic committees should be constructive in their engagement with government. It is also a key component of the IOC objectives that the autonomy of a national Olympic committee should be respected by government. I believe that on both those issues significant and positive progress has been made with the new Government since 9 June.
Today, we also have far more representation than ever before on International Olympic Committee and European Olympic Committee boards. I know that your Lordships will be delighted that in recent days Sir Clive Woodward has been appointed to the International Olympic Committee coaching commission, the Entourage Commission. Adam Pengilly, one of the skeleton athletes in the winter Games, is the first to be elected by his peer group from this country to membership of the International Olympic Committee. At the European level, Andy Hunt, chief executive of the BOA, has been appointed to the EOC Games Commission and Jan Paterson, also from the BOA, has been appointed to the European Olympic Committee’s Sport for All and Youth Commission.
Finally, in the context of the theatrical analogy, the major’s office, under the leadership of Ken Livingstone and, more recently, Boris Johnson, has been consistently supportive in prioritising the Games as a showcase for London and for sport in 2012, and for preparing the way for the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. I am confident that all parties will retain the all-party approach to the Games, about which the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, spoke and which was a feature of the debate in your Lordships' House in 2004. That debate unanimously supported the British Olympic Association’s proposal to bid to host the Games in London in 2012 and did much to persuade Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, and his Cabinet to support the bid and, in the case of Tony Blair, to undertake so much work to secure the Games with his presence and personal contribution in Singapore when the decision was made.
If I were to be asked what are the two major challenges to a successful Games, I would say security and transport. Noble Lords have addressed these items, not least my noble friend Lord Patten with his expertise and eloquence. Despite the challenges, I believe that everything possible is being done to minimum the risks that they pose. However, there is a third area of concern and it is one shared by many noble Lords in their contributions today. That is where I will focus my remaining comments—the area of legacy. The Games will of course be judged by the British people, not primarily on the magnificent Olympic park or the tremendous support of the volunteers, although these are key and critical issues. As has been pointed by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, they will be judged by the success of Team GB and a strong medal tally, boosted by the sound of the national anthem being played at medal ceremonies.
The next generation will judge the success of the Games by the legacy endowed to the people the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. The legacy from the Games will come in two areas of activity. The first is the urban regeneration legacy from the Olympic park. In too many countries that legacy has led to expensive white elephants populating the landscape and budget deficits of host cities for decades after the curtain falls on closing ceremonies. I believe that that will not be the case in London. If I am right, that will be directly the result of the strong oversight of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, as chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company and the day-to-day leadership provided to that organisation by the chief executive, Andrew Altman.
The noble Baroness shares the vision of many of us that the Olympic park needs to become a great place for events, a centre for high performance, a resource for community sport, a focus for active recreation, a magnet for sports tourism and a catalyst for education, Olympic legacy and sports-related research and culture. It needs to be bold in its ambition and its aspiration. The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, fully understands this challenge. She has worked hard with the British Olympic Association to ensure that sport was properly placed at the heart of this programme—for sport had been lacking in written documentation when she arrived and in the many speeches on this subject.
Working with the mayor’s office, the Olympic Park Legacy Company is creating a signature urban park, which will build communities based on family housing—both private and public sector—to be a catalyst for regeneration and convergence and a premier centre for sport and leisure. Let us take the handball venue, from which a multi-purpose facility can emerge after the Games to cater for commercial and community use and elite sport. It can also be a centre for economic innovation: for example, the vast media centre can house research, media and university facilities. They are all capable of holding a mirror to the diversifying economy of London.
In all those areas, the new Government can rightly shine a torch on how the private sector can play a greater role and on how savings can be made on the delivery mechanisms while not impacting the front-line benefits of this vision. Every step should be taken based on planning, promotion, partnerships and cost-effectiveness so that the reinstatement and handover of the facilities during the period from 2012 to 2014 can be transformational, delivering activation and regeneration. I hope that the same approach will be applied to the sports venues outside the park, from Eton Dorney to Weymouth, to take two examples. For the ministerial team and the mayor that is a major challenge and I hope the Minister will comment on it. If they empower the Olympic Park Legacy Company, those aspects that I have outlined today of the legacy challenge will be secure.
A second aspect to legacy is sports legacy. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, echoed the concern of many about the lack of sports legacy to date. The delivery of a successful sports legacy from the Games will, I contend, be more challenging. To date, five years of multiple committee work with red threads, a lot of papers and cross-departmental bilaterals led by civil servants have delivered very little of substance save for some rays of outstanding good practice—for example, in the case of swimming which has been alluded to—to dampen the voices of the critics who fear that the Olympic Games will leave no more sporting legacy than tennis has derived, on occasions, from Wimbledon following a wet August when the rackets which were dusted down in the enthusiasm of the championships are put back in the cupboard until next year.
A week ago, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who was right to focus on this, Sport England, the body created to ensure that more people participate in sport as a result of the 2012 Games, announced a drop in participation among some absolutely key groups. The National Audit Office report contained the following criticism:
“In the North East and London, participation fell across all priority groups, with London showing a decrease in women’s participation of 9 per cent”.
That is despite London being the host city of the Olympic Games 2012. The National Audit Office concluded:
“Linking financial information to performance information is crucial for the Department and for Sport England’s Board in determining the value for money of Sport England’s activities and making strategic decisions”.
This situation is wholly unacceptable for a nation enthused by sport, by the World Cup and by the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Five years ago, Kate Hoey and I chaired an all-party group and the Independent Sports Review was produced. We reviewed the multiplicity of quangos involved in the delivery of sports policy and we wrote:
“The hands-on running of sport and recreation in the United Kingdom is now largely undertaken by the five National Sports Councils, nine Regional Sports Councils in England and nine Regional Sports Boards in England”.
It was described by the Olympics Minister of the time as an organisational nightmare. The use of those quangos allowed Government to influence matters from a distance, keeping problems at arm’s length.
Last week, the Minister took the final step in a reform process which, in my view, had been long overdue since the introduction of the lottery by the Conservative Party under Prime Minister John Major. It has since been diverted into a range of government initiatives; it has deviated from the original pillars and spawned a bureaucracy. The decision made by Hugh Robertson, the Minister, and echoed by the Minister on the Front Bench today, to return the lottery to its original objectives and establish a one-stop shop with three divisions—the Youth Sports Trust, Sport England and UK Sport—can deliver a lean, efficient and focused one-stop shop, working with the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association to empower the governing bodies, clubs, schools and volunteers of the country. Such empowered people are the only people capable of arresting the decline in sporting activity in our host city. Bringing together those three divisions will be an important step forward. I hope that Hugh Robertson, the Minister, who has already earned significant respect from all sides of the House and support from the world of sport, will chair the new body in its initial years. His authority will be needed to bring about the process of change necessary to provide a sports legacy from 2012.
In conclusion, the policy for sports legacy should focus on a few well targeted and clearly defined sports legacy objectives. I know and commend the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, in this context. Competitive inter-schools sports leagues and nationwide school games, based on primary and secondary schools, need to be included. That also was announced by the Minister and I warmly welcome that initiative. I wish him and the Government every success in delivering an urban regeneration legacy and a sports legacy worthy of the Games.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on her maiden speech. It was a truly inspiring speech from someone who has inspired so many people.
I want to speak about the cultural side of the Olympics and what it means for this country. I must declare an interest as chairman of the Cultural Olympiad and a member of the board of LOCOG.
In 2005, the strength of our cultural offering played a significant part in our bid to host the Olympic Games. The originator of the Games, Baron de Coubertin, believed in a link between sport and the arts. Indeed, in 1948, the last time the Games were hosted by Great Britain, medals were given for the arts. Of course, de Coubertin was inspired by the ancient Games in which artists played their part alongside sportsmen. When London won the Games we promised to put culture back at the core of the Olympic programme. Our Cultural Olympiad was launched at the end of the Paralympic Games in Beijing nearly two years ago. It is a four-year programme of events inspired by the Games which will run until the last day of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. It is designed to give everyone in the country, especially young people, a chance to be a part of London 2012. The aim is to make a real impact which will leave a legacy lasting well beyond the Games themselves.
Just under a year ago, I was asked by the then Government and the Mayor of London to chair a board to run the Cultural Olympiad. I did not then, and I do not now, underestimate the challenge that we face. I said yes because I believe that this country has an enormous opportunity, with the spotlight on us in 2012, to showcase the breadth of our creativity, and the vitality of our arts and culture and heritage.
To do that we put together a board that met for the first time last autumn and which I believe includes the key organisations and key people who can help to deliver something very memorable indeed. We have also brought together the key stakeholders and funders. As I believe that broadcasting will be central and defining to people’s perception of what we offer culturally, the BBC’s director-general is also on the board. As with everything—perhaps even more so in the area of arts and culture—joining together to make sense of this extraordinary opportunity is phenomenally important.
Once formed, our first priority was to appoint someone to direct the Cultural Olympiad. In January this year, we announced the appointment of Ruth Mackenzie, formerly an advisor on broadcasting and cultural policy for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Before that she was the general director of the very successful Manchester International Festival, and has had many other jobs too. We have also brought in some real heavyweights to help her so we have a team in place now which is focused on delivery.
Many things have already been put in place for the Cultural Olympiad and are already involving people right across the UK. In 2008 and 2009, more than 1.5 million people participated in almost 1,500 events during what is called Open Weekend. That is an annual event which, this year, takes place between 23 and 25 July. On top of that, more than 180 cultural projects have been awarded the Inspire mark. That is a new idea which allows projects inspired by what the Games can do to attach the 2012 logo to their work. Through these projects there have already been 1,000 public performances and 2,200 workshops with audiences totaling almost 4 million people.
I shall give an example of what has been going on. Two years ago, at the time of the Beijing Games, the Essex Jiangsu festival took place celebrating 20 years of relations between Essex and the Jiangsu province in China. It brought performances and events to the UK for the first time, and gave local people the opportunity to take part, make new international relationships and develop new skills.
Another, but very different, project is the bandstand marathon. This is a national celebration of music performed by local musicians in their local cities, towns and villages, and is the most widely spread Inspire mark project in the UK. Last year, there were 120 simultaneous concerts in bandstands across England and Wales with more than 3,000 musicians from traditional brass and silver bands. In the south-west, they played to more than 50,000 people.
Those are just two examples—there could be many more—of how all sorts of people right across the UK are already getting involved. This is exactly what the Cultural Olympiad should be about at this stage: people and communities coming together. Listening to conversations about things that the Olympics are allowing to happen is really quite humbling. People are able to plot things because 2012 is happening, and they are things that they otherwise would not have done. That in itself will be a legacy.
Quite apart from the Inspire mark projects, some big programmes have also been announced for 2012. One very significant programme, which is especially appropriate for the country that led the world with the Paralympics, is called Unlimited. Led by the UK’s arts councils, it is the country’s largest-ever commissioning pot for art made by people with disabilities. In fact, we think it may the largest ever in the world. We have just announced some of the commissions which we hope will change perceptions in the ways in which the Paralympics, in the sports world, have changed perceptions. British companies such as the Graeae Theatre Company and Candoco Dance Company are world leaders, and they have already been commissioned for 2012. Candoco will engage two disabled choreographers to each make a large-scale dance piece for disabled and non-disabled dancers, including people from Beijing and Rio de Janeiro. Another big project is River of Music. It will be the largest series of free concerts ever on the banks of the River Thames and will involve musicians from all 206 countries participating in the Games. Young people from all over the UK will perform alongside some of the greatest pop and world musicians. It will be a very exciting weekend.
We have also announced a programme called Film Nation: Shorts, which will involve young people under 25 years old developing their film-making skills alongside professional film-makers. Some of the best films will be shown at the Olympic Park. Tate Movie will give school groups a chance to work together to create an animated film, working with some of the best animators in the world from Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation company that made Wallace and Gromit. The Tate Movie project will be the first of its kind: an animation made by children for children.
There is a lot already happening, but a couple of months ago the Cultural Olympiad board announced that the finale of the London 2012 Olympiad will be a 12-week festival across the nation opening on midsummer’s day and running until 9 September, which is the last day of the Paralympic Games. We all hope that the festival will be a way in which everybody in the UK can get involved and will give people a summer to remember. I love what Kofi Annan said about the Olympics:
“When the Olympics are staged in London in two years time, competitors from every nation will find fellow countrymen and women living here to cheer them on. The very diversity is what makes London such a dynamic, exciting and successful community”.
I hope that is what we can display to the world in our arts and culture.
There is another point about legacy. For my colleagues on the Cultural Olympiad board, developing skills and the legacy of the Games will be as important as the programme of outstanding art and culture. Planning in this area is under way, and we hope to have that completed by late autumn. Until recently, I was the founder chair of the skills council for the creative and cultural sector, so I have seen at first hand just what you can do by attaching young people to creative projects. There are lots of people who may not be able to sing, dance, paint or make music, but they can still be part of the creative process by building sets, marketing, looking after audiences or doing myriad other tasks involved in making performance happen. This is a big opportunity for us, as I know that it is for the Games as a whole, and it is an opportunity that I, and my colleagues, want to grasp in very concrete terms. To be able to say after 2012 that many young people have been given the chance to work alongside professionals backstage and that, through that, they have sorted out what they want to do with their lives is very important.
Equally, I hope that the Cultural Olympiad will show to the world what an extraordinary creative place east London is. What I see in those five boroughs is not the caricature of old. East London feels like a new city. I hope that the legacy of the Cultural Olympiad will have helped to build the creative skills and employability of the next generation of young people growing up in the boroughs around the Olympic village. Developing that is a major task for me, my board and the team.
The opportunity for us is enormous. An Ipsos MORI survey released in the past fortnight said that 87 per cent of parents felt that it was important that their child took part in cultural activities on a regular basis. I hope that the Cultural Olympiad and the festival will provide that opportunity to many young people. As if to underscore that finding, I shall end with a quotation from the mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, about the importance of culture for the winter Olympic Games. He said:
“The arts and culture I think has been the secret to our success, bringing crowds out and celebrating downtown, adding more depth to the whole event”.
In my own view, the greatest legacy for the Cultural Olympiad will be if we show not only how central culture and creativity is to huge events such as the Olympics, but how central the development of creative skills is for all our young people and how vital culture is for the country as a whole.
My Lords, the House has heard a lot of good news and enthusiasm about the Olympics and about the need to ensure success. I shall focus on two things: the project and sustainability. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, mentioned that the project is on time and on budget, which is clearly good news, but I heard him say that it is 54 per cent complete although the briefing that we have received from the ODA says 65 per cent complete. It may be that it is somewhere between the two.
Some time ago, I heard that the intention is to have the buildings up and running a year before the start of the Olympics so that everything can be bedded down and checked out. Whatever the progress, there are two years to go, and I worry because projects with a committed end date tend to suffer serious last-minute cost overruns. We saw that with the Jubilee line extension, which had to be open to get people to the Dome for the millennium celebrations. Something went wrong—it is usually the electrics or the signalling that goes wrong on these things—and although it was open on time, the signallers were probably paid 10 times the going rate per hour, the costs went through the roof and the work had to be redone. I hope my noble friend can give me some comfort that that will not happen this time because as a country we cannot afford the enormous threat of a cost overrun. The project has to be finished on time.
My next concern about the project is a major building contract worth £1 billion that has been let to Lend Lease as a PFI. The chief executive of the ODA, David Higgins, was previously chief executive of Lend Lease, which was a convenient arrangement. The problem is that the PFI has gone wrong. My understanding from press reports is that the ODA has had to bail it out with £400 million from the contingency fund.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that correction. I had not picked that up from the website. However, the point is still there. There has been a £400 million grant from the contingency fund to Lend Lease. When the noble Lord responds, will he explain whether the building contract was put out to competitive tender, because many of the building contractors whom I have talked to say that they could have done the job for many millions less if it had gone out to competitive tender? It is another example of things that get rushed when one is up against a deadline. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, to be able to answer this evening, but it would be useful if we could have a letter setting out progress on the total budgets of the Olympics from the date the decision was made to bring them to London, the total revenues as the project has gone on, how they have changed and the outturn costs. That will help us to monitor the costs in future.
The other issue I need to raise follows on from the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that the Games are a good example of sustainable construction. That is interesting because the ODA report, which I suspect most noble Lords have been given, mentions very little about sustainability apart from the fact that 300 trees have been planted. That is clearly a good thing, but there is not much else about sustainability. I think that the design will probably be good, but as I have mentioned in previous debates, I question the procurement policy’s failure to use rail or water for transport and deliveries—here I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group—which has resulted in a probable 800,000 extra trucks delivering to the Stratford site during the construction period. One might say that that does not matter much, but it is a serious issue for both the Government and the mayor.
It appears that the so-called sustainable Olympic Games are going to be held in air that exceeds EU limits for PM10s, which are the small particulates—NOx and SOx—and for which the Government may well be fined £300 million in the next year or so. I want the Olympics to be a success and for them not to be compared with the Games in Beijing in terms of air quality because we ought to do better than that. I talked about this in a debate held on 5 January—I see that the previous Government applied for an extension to the time limit to comply with the PM10, which is the most urgent one, to 2011—but even as we were debating the issue in January, the hourly legal standard for ambient nitrogen dioxide for a whole year was breached in London, exactly as I predicted it would be. We will have more breaches and threats from the European Union unless we sort this out. The coalition Government’s comment on air quality on page 17 of their programme is that:
“We will work towards full compliance with European Air Quality standards”.
The Liberal Democrats did rather better by saying:
“We will aim to fully meet European air quality targets by 2012”.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, in his Front-Bench role as the coalition spokesman, can make sure that happens. We need an answer on when the Government are going to meet these limits.
The Mayor of London has, frankly, not done very much over the past two years, but he has admitted that 4,300 premature deaths in London each year are due partly to long-term exposure to dangerous airborne particles. It is time that this issue was tackled at a very high level. It is important to discuss the solutions because, while I can go on explaining the problems, it is the solutions that we need to talk about because there are some. The problem with PM10s comes from older diesel engines that do not comply with the latest technical standards, and involves most vehicles that are more than four years old: lorries, buses, taxis, cars et cetera. It is interesting to note that in Paris there is now a plan for all diesel lorries to be banned within the Périphérique and replaced by electric vehicles. The French Government and the mayor of Paris can probably make changes like that more easily than we can, but it certainly would be possible for the Mayor of London to ban diesel vehicles.
Another solution would be to say, “Right. None of these vehicles will be driven around London for the month before and the month of the Olympics”, which I believe is what they tried to do in Beijing. We should do better than Beijing, and it is time to take urgent action. We cannot be compared with the air pollution found in Beijing because that is hardly the showcase for London that we want. I know that the mayor is keen to pursue this—the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said that he is—but we need action both from the Government and the mayor to get these levels of pollution down.
My Lords, it has been a tremendous privilege to listen to this debate, which is the type that provides a kind of warming for the recession-battered soul. We have heard from many quarters that things are happening on time and to budget and that expectations in so many areas are actually being exceeded. That is wonderful to hear and to behold. I particularly welcome my noble friend Lord Shutt to his new responsibilities on the Front Bench, and my noble friend Lady Rawlings to her new responsibilities alongside him. This debate has also been graced by the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, whose inspirational speech has been fitting for this setting. Although she is a Welsh-born athlete, she makes her home in the great north-east of England and in that we share great pride. I am sure that she will make a strong contribution to this House.
We have heard about the tremendous work that has been done in so many areas in terms of the legacy and the organising committee, as well as on the cultural aspects of the Games as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hall. All that is welcome. But there is one important aspect of the Olympic Games that has been omitted. I think that I have heard every single debate on the Olympics, and I do not think it has been mentioned once: it is the issue of the Olympic truce. Today this is seen as a symbolic gesture that surrounds the Olympics, a bit like the torch relay. Everyone is a little uncertain about what it means. I have to say that I come here with no sense of piety. Were it not for a rather zealous supervisor who made me do an extended literature review for a research degree on ethics and foreign policy, I would not have come across the Olympic truce either. While it may be tangential to the modern Games, it was central to the ancient ones. The truce was actually their raison d’être. In 776 BC, the Greek King Iphitos, frustrated at the perpetual state of war, consulted the oracle at Delphi, who proposed a sporting competition to be held every four years which would have as its aim the bringing together in one place—and under a sacred truce—of all military and political leaders so that they could resolve their differences by non-violent means.
The sacred truce ran for three months and sanctions were agreed against violators. It was remarkably successful. The ancient Olympics ran, unbroken, for 1,168 years until they were ended under the Romans. During that time, violations of the truce were extremely rare. The most serious violation was an attack by the Spartans—there is a surprise—on the Persians, which earned them a suspension from the Games for that year. They did not reoffend and they were reinstated the year after.
By contrast with the record of over 1,100 years of the ancient Olympiad, built on the Olympic truce, the modern Olympiad was established in 1894 and focused on an elite sporting competition with only a symbolic truce. During the 116 years of the modern Olympiad, the Games have been cancelled three times due to war, have experienced major boycotts at least five times, and have been the focal point and the victim of terrorist attacks on two occasions. Why is this so? Is it that we are less civilised and more warlike than our Greek and Persian forebears? I think not. Of course, the world has changed and there is no longer a unifying deity in whose name a sacred truce could be called; there is no neutral ground, such as Mount Olympus and the temple of Elis, in which the Games could be held, and there is not the proliferation of non-state actors. I believe that we have not given the truce a real chance to work because of a lack of real political leadership and vision.
Attempts were made in the heady international optimism which existed after the Cold War and before the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States to give that political leadership through the United Nations, where, in 1993, all 193 states adopted unanimously resolution 48/11, which urged member states to,
“take the initiative to abide by the Truce, individually and collectively, and pursue in conformity with UN principles the peaceful settlement of all international conflicts”.
This was very successful. In 1992 the truce was used to secure access for athletes who were caught in war-torn Yugoslavia to attend the Barcelona Games; in Sydney in 2000 it was used as a vehicle to arrange for the North and South Korean teams at the Olympics to parade together as one team; and in the Athens Olympics, a permanent body—the International Olympic Truce Centre—was established. However, throughout my research I could find no record of any action by any Government or combatant, at any time during the modern Olympiad, to take the opportunity offered by the Olympic truce to abide by the UN resolution in seeking to resolve their differences by non-violent means.
I believe, to coin a phrase, that there is a real opportunity to do things differently this time. First, London is without doubt the most ethnically diverse city ever to host the Games—a true crossroads of the world. However, it is also one which bears the scars of the aerial bombardments of World War I and World War II and terrorist attacks in the name of Irish republicanism and Muslim fundamentalism, the most recent and most deadly being the 7 July 2005 bombings, which claimed 52 lives and injured 700, and came the day after it was announced that London had been awarded the Games. It is also the place where the world came together in 1946 for the first General Assembly of the United Nations at Methodist Central Hall across the road. It is the place of the Downing Street declaration. It is the place that hosted the Live Aid concert, which drew an international response to famine in Ethiopia, and the Live 8 concert which led the jubilee campaign for debt forgiveness at the millennium.
Secondly, we have a coalition Government who have transcended narrow partisanship to create a new politics. They are uniquely positioned to secure maximum leverage for the truce should they wish to do so. They have a pivotal role as the country is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the host to the Commonwealth, and a key member of the EU, NATO and the G8, as well as being a centre for world finance and trade.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Coe, who has patiently heard out my claims in this area for a more serious and meaningful treatment of the Olympic truce. It is, in my view—and probably in his—unfair and inappropriate to place such a serious international matter on the shoulders of LOCOG, which is already under enormous pressure to deliver a world-class sporting event, or on the IOC, which is a non-governmental body, when most conflicts involve at least one governmental party. If this is going to be a meaningful truce then it needs to be led by the Government, for they alone have the diplomatic and political apparatus of state with which to pursue it.
Many would see such a call in the present climate as at best naive and at worst dangerous. Clearly this is not an easy issue when the threat level is real and the first duty of the Government is the safety and well-being of their citizens. However, no one can be in any doubt that security concerns, as my noble friend Lord Patten said, are significant in the run-up to the Games. Surely, therefore, anything which can be done to defuse international tensions ahead of the Games is an act of enlightened self-interest.
Indeed, I was struck by the Statement on the situation in Afghanistan, delivered by the Prime Minister in another place, which interrupted this debate. Some of the turn of phrase gave me hope that perhaps the message of the ancient Olympic truce has resonance within the current corridors of power. The Prime Minister stated today that insurgencies usually end with political settlements, not military victories. That is why I have always said that there needs to be a political surge to accompany the military one. We need a political process to bring the insurgency to an end. This strikes a chord with the original objectives of the Olympic truce.
Advancing a meaningful Olympic truce and using it as an opportunity to resolve differences between and within member states is surely the greatest prize the founders of the ancient Olympics have given to the modern era. It does not require a new international mandate; it only requires us to take seriously the one that is already there. It requires the same scale of ambition and courage to be shown by political leaders operating in the corridors of power as will be evident in the sporting arena by the athletes competing in the Games. If just one gun falls silent, one life is saved, one hopeless and intractable conflict is given the prospect of peaceful negotiation and end, then it will prove to be a legacy of which this city and this nation can rightly be proud.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Shutt and Lord Moynihan, for initiating this debate. I declare an interest as chair of two of the three bodies that have repeatedly been mentioned today—UK Sport and the Youth Sport Trust.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson, who is not only an exceptional athlete but a remarkable role model. What makes our great athletes role models is not the medals but the journeys they take to achieve those medals. They are role models for every young person to learn that, despite any set-backs, if you set your mind on a dream you can make it come true. She is also a woman of great principle and immense integrity, and I have no doubt that she will make an important and positive contribution to the House.
I congratulate John Armitt and David Higgins of the ODA and the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and his colleague Paul Dayton at LOCOG. They have set a new standard for us in sport of excellence, ambition and innovation. I hope the rest of us can achieve the same standard as we pursue the future of sport in this country. Finally, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, who, with her energy and dynamism, has brought the Legacy Company to life and driven it forward with immense purpose. I am sure that the legacy she leaves will be one that we will all treasure for a very long time.
I shall focus for a few moments on the preparation of our athletes. I believe that nothing will convince the British public more that the Games have been a success than our athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics winning medals, those glorious moments when individuals’ dreams come true. Indeed, at the Winter Olympics recently in Vancouver, the Canadian athletes not only managed to galvanise a nation together in a way that Canada had never dreamed possible but when surveyed later, not only in Vancouver but right across Canada, more than 90 per cent of the population felt that the Games had been worthwhile. I have no doubt that a great part of that was due to the athletes’ performances, which were quite outstanding.
So how is our team being prepared? I am pleased to say that we have the best resources that any team has ever had. I am the chair of UK Sport and have been so since 2003. We have four very important constituent parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, each playing a significant part in the preparation of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes. UK Sport is investing more than £100 million a year of Exchequer, Lottery and private sector money in the preparation of our team. Following the Athens Olympics and prior to the Beijing Olympics, we introduced a policy of no compromise, which meant that our intention was to drive results through targeted investment. Our fourth place in Beijing, our best in Olympic Games for 100 years, and the continued success of our Paralympic team, finishing second in the medal table in Beijing, are testimony to the way in which that system has worked.
Not only is it the best resourced team in our history but it is also the best prepared. We have been fortunate enough to recruit the best performance directors from around the world. We have now a growing number of outstanding coaches. Initially, many of them were imported from overseas; now, we are home-growing our world-class coaches. They are supported by four home-country institutes that provide sports science and sports medicine support of the highest quality to every individual athlete wherever they are. There is a programme of research and innovation, linking with some of the biggest businesses in the country and finding that cutting-edge, 0.01 per cent difference in performance between gold and bronze medals. We have a new and creative talent identification programme, searching out those young people with talent who did not even know that they had it. A simple example was our tall people talent identification programme, which found a young woman who, three years on, has just won a medal in the women’s under-23 rowing world championships.
Not only are our athletes the best prepared in terms of the support system around them and the coaches and performance directors leading them but we are also staging between now and 2012 60 world and European events in 30 sports across 20 cities, giving our athletes home-country advantage. However, it is not only our athletes whom those events are preparing. More than 10,000 technical officials and volunteers will be involved in them, helping them develop the expertise that they need to be world-class at London 2012. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that if our resources and support stay constant, I believe that this British Olympic and Paralympic team is on course for the best results ever: more medals in more sports and, most importantly, more inspiration for more young people across the whole of the United Kingdom.
However, not only do I hope that we will produce a better medal count but I also believe that, in this short time, we have produced a world-class system that is among the most envied of the world. If we can continue the investment through to 2016 and 2020, we will continue to build on the success of 2012. That is something that no other country has succeeded in doing.
I shall talk finally about youth sport and the inspiration of young people across the UK—my noble friend Lord Pendry eloquently addressed the issue earlier. As chair of the Youth Sport Trust—which is an independent company, limited by guarantee and with charitable status; it is not a non-departmental public body—I know that it has worked tirelessly for the past 10 years to create an infrastructure for school sport that many countries see as the most outstanding in the world. I have just recently returned from a visit to New Zealand and Australia to help them understand the way in which we have structured school sport in this country, which they now both envy and wish to copy.
It is critical that we sustain participation among our young people, which is the greatest legacy that we can achieve. During the past few years, all four home countries have invested in their school sports structure. In England, we have developed 450 school sport partnerships. Let us be clear: they are not just about schools. Those partnerships include every primary, secondary and special school, but, just as importantly, they include the community providers—those clubs that we talked about earlier, those community coaches, those volunteers. Each school sport partnership covers a local area which is equivalent to what might have been once the old districts. Within those, we have been able to drive opportunities for young people to participate, to perform and to lead in sport. All of that has been possible because of the investment in an infrastructure of people that stands ready to deliver the most exceptional legacy programme of all time.
This army of people is capable not only of creating new opportunities for young people, which is the easy thing to do, but of sustaining their commitment to participate, perform and lead in sport. That is equally important. The work that we do in the next two years could make a transformational difference to the lives of millions of young people.
At a time of considerable national challenge, I am reminded of a quote from Nelson Mandela:
“Sport has the power to change the world, the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else can”.
Sport can spread hope and inspiration to the world. I hope that we take the opportunity presented by London 2012 to spread hope and inspiration to the youth of this country.
My Lords, it is a joy and a pleasure for me to make a contribution. Every now and again, though it is not very often, I have sat down after making a speech and heard someone say, “Now, follow that”. How on earth can we follow a speech such as the one that we have just heard, delivered with such authority, such conviction and such warmth and humanity about what we are all about? The House of Lords is enormously privileged to have within its ranks those who have contributed to this debate, whether they have done so as professionals, members of quangos or in any other way. The House has been not only well served but brilliantly served. The person who will be most indebted to those contributors is the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, who began by reminding us of how amazed he was at the detailed planning that had been done.
I do not have a prepared speech. I have listened with admiration for and been impressed by those who have given prepared speeches. Although I have a different view on prepared speeches, I understand what is happening: this is a report of work in progress. It is all around the theme which the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, outlined—I congratulate him on his new position and wish him well. It is to do not only with letting members of the groups that the contributors represent understand that their case has been made, but with telling the rest of Britain and the Houses of Parliament that any fears about whether things are being done are misplaced. For my part, I have never had any doubts; if I had, they have all been allayed. I have been an enthusiast for sport. However, there are some aspects which I should like to touch upon.
My wife Margaret attended the 1948 Olympics as a spectator. When we were in company talking enthusiastically about sport, Margaret would look around and simply say with a smile on her face, “I was there”. That is what we will give to millions of people in two years’ time. Whether they are there in person, watching on television or listening on radio, they will smile and say to their children and grandchildren: “You talk about the Olympics of 2012. I was there”.
In 1948, I happened to work for the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Co-op. We had a sports field at Cowgate—those who know Newcastle will know where I am talking about. On that sports field in 1948, after the events, I saw Arthur Wint and McDonald Bailey. After any big sporting event, the stars who have come from all over the world go around. I am looking forward to people saying, “Do you know, I went to an event in Belle Vue in Manchester and I saw the great runner, Bolt, and Asafa Powell”.
The spin-off from enthusing people and getting them to believe that it has been well worth the time and the money cannot be measured. There are people who normally do not get excited the way we do about certain events, and yet they get carried away. For the past few months it has all been about world football—and I shall not mention the 1-1 draw last Saturday more than once. People get excited about the event. It is not only commercially exploited, as it is these days, but it takes the sport right into the room. In 1948, we did not have a television set and relied on other ways, but I remember the excitement that came from that—and so it goes on.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, should be congratulated on beginning a process for the past three or four hours of a report, not just to Parliament but to the country, that the slight apprehensions that might have been there five or six years ago are in practice being put behind us. That is not to say that it is going to be an easy journey for the next two years or the next 22 years, but at least we can be satisfied that the planning that was done will come to fruition.
I turn to the contributors, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Ford, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and of course our wonderful noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson—along with the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and Tessa Jowell. We have a marvellous team of people involved in one way or another who are to be congratulated. What will we achieve? One can see the pride that comes over in South Africa at the moment at the fact that this world event is being held in that country. That gives pride to people; they know that their country is respected by the rest of the world. That is marvellous. That is what I hope we will feel at the end of the Olympics, although of course we must think of the money and the difficulties.
When I take my son from Loughton in the middle of Epping Forest to the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green, I pass the site. I have seen it grow, and I have been staggered at its enormity. I reflect on the fact that in 1966 I was a member of the founding committee of the Lee Valley Regional Park. I pass that regularly as I go backwards and forwards from here to there; every time I pass it, 40 years on, I reflect on the fact that it is an established part of our local landscape, but also nationally and internationally known. Just to be associated with it is important. Our first sports director was Ron Pickering, who was a great man who inspired us to do a great many things. The authorities that formed the committee were termed riparian authorities; Newham and the River Lee were exploited and developed and grew, and the people of the area are very proud of that. In five or six years’ time, I look forward to going to Newham, Bethnal Green, West Ham and East Ham and so on, and finding people who—without their saying anything to me—I know are proud of the fact that not only the Games have come to their area but that they were there doing their bit.
As to the reservations that have been mouthed tonight over whether the legacy will be used, all we can do is be ambitious and hope that it is. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, on indicating to us that the transfer from one Government to another—that is, one manager to another—has been done seamlessly. There is no change in the direction or the policy, and no change in the ambition. I congratulate all those who have spoken with authority on behalf of their organisations, especially the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan —I was going to call him Colin—whom I have known ever since we both came to this House, many years ago. He gave us a marvellous résumé of what is happening as well as a forecast of what he hoped that we will see.
I speak with some emotion because in future I want to do what my wife was so happy to do, and say in a conversation, when I talk about the Olympics in 2012, “I was there”.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, to the government Front Bench, and thank him for introducing the debate today.
I look forward to this being the first of many debates on the Olympics over the coming months, right up to 27 July 2012. I know that the noble Lord will use his forensic skills and judgment to help to ensure that the Games will be an outstanding success. In his comprehensive opening speech, he outlined for us the progress of a project already in play, and it was a very welcome starting point. As such, I offer my good wishes to him as one Dispatch Box debutant to another.
All today's speakers have great expertise in the Olympic project. We are, indeed, so fortunate to have contributors of such calibre who can be relied upon as a unit to hold the Government to account. We welcome the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, whose expertise and involvement is acknowledged by all of us. He reminded us of all the key factors of the Games, and sport has no greater supporter. But be warned, Minister, we will watch you like hawks and hound you like tigers if you do not ensure that London's Olympic Games are the best ever.
Before moving on to the major points to be raised by the Opposition today, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on her maiden speech. How lucky we are to have her in this House. Her experience is unique. She has long affected us in countless sporting events, and we have cheered and—I have to admit—sometimes shed a tear at her exploits. Her qualities of skill and determination ensured her world success and fame. Those qualities will ensure her success in this House. We look forward to many more contributions from her.
So let us briefly look back to the beginning of our Olympic dream. With a mixture of apprehension and excitement, the positive view prevailed, and once the decision was taken, the nation got behind it. Doubts about affordability were upset by the promise of the regeneration of one of the poorest areas in London. I know only too well, as a former chair of an urban regeneration company in Corby, how the quality of life of local residents can be transformed. It was a major factor there and will be so in east London. The Labour Government were absolutely wholehearted in their support, and I am delighted to say that today’s coalition Government are taking exactly the same approach.
The new Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson, is on record as saying:
“The Games have been part of my life for so long and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to help steer the project though to the home stretch”.
Such an endorsement is invaluable, as is the team who, from the outset, has proved itself quite brilliant in turning the project into reality. However, many speakers today have warned against budget cuts affecting the Games. Please relay the concerns from all sides of this House to the Minister.
At this moment, of course, we are all obsessed with World Cup football, and quite rightly so—let us get over Saturday and look to next Friday—but if ever a team led by Tessa Jowell and Seb Coe were to take to the Olympic stage, there would be only one winner. Quite simply, they have been fantastic and have gathered around them a team of men and women of peerless skill. Does Britain have talent? Clearly it does. Today those skills allow them to proclaim that the project is, in the jargon, “on time, on budget and on track”, and how many projects in the past decade have been able to claim that? We salute them.
My noble friend Lady Ford reminded us that the preparations for the legacy project are well under way. I know that the Minister will wish to respond to her concerns, coming as they do from such a knowledgeable source. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, spoke of our athletes winning Olympic medals—and who understands more than her how that success is to be achieved?
I would like to rewind the tape and remind us why the Olympic project is so important to Britain. In June 2007 the Government set out five major legacy promises that they pledged to deliver. They were to make the United Kingdom a world-leading sporting nation; to transform the heart of east London, which contains some of the five poorest boroughs in the capital; to inspire a generation of young people to take part in local volunteering, cultural and physical activity; to make the Olympic park a blueprint for sustainable living; and to demonstrate—this is particularly important—that the United Kingdom is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in and visit, as well as for business.
Meeting those targets will define the project’s success. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, reminded us of the broader implications of sport in clubs, schools and colleges. Utilising the impetus of volunteering was another factor. I am sure that the Minister will wish to endorse these facets of the Olympic legacy. If we add the Olympic movement values of respect, courage, excellence, ambition and determination, the aspiration for changing people’s lives becomes apparent.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, took us for a stiff jog around the background of the modern Olympics. We were left breathless but much better informed as a result of his input. Today, though, we have challenges. The financial collapse is impossible to ignore. Fortunately, funds are in place and the project is sound, but a belt-tightening Government will have difficult decisions to make. There are those who opposed the Games from the outset; they may well believe that their time has come and will become vocal yet again. Those voices must be countered.
The success so far of the construction of the project points the way to future economic success. It can act as a blueprint for Britain’s revival in the years ahead, building our way out of recession. My noble friend Lady Morgan reminds us that the building and engineering innovation is unique, and that is a message that we should be proud to proclaim. The regeneration of the heart of east London has the potential to transform the lives of people who live there now and, most importantly, of those who will live there in the future. So will the Government meet the demands of the local people—the legacy that was promised them: 12,000 new homes, many affordable; local jobs going to local people; and the promise at the end of the day of a stunning park that will be enjoyed for generations to come?
Will the security provisions be strong enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, has asked? He gave us grave warnings, and these questions must be answered. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised similar concerns, and his timely warnings cannot be ignored. Will the transport system be in place to make a journey to the Games a pleasure, not a penance? Even the Mayor of London seems to have misgivings about that. I, too, echo the warnings from the noble Lord, Lord Patten; I remember the opening night of the Dome. Add to that the current horrors of the Jubilee line—you try getting on that at the weekend—and I assure your Lordships that we have much work to do.
I hear rumours—I almost said “ugly rumours”, but I thought better of it—that the compulsory two hours of PE now enjoyed by 80 per cent of children in state schools is under threat. Can that be so? Will the promise of a new sporting generation of young people be realised? It has taken us a decade to repair the neglect in the 1980s and 1990s of the place of sport in the curriculum. The loss of competitive school sports was immeasurable. All those teams of excited youngsters were cast aside. Now we can rebuild on the time that is spent on this in state schools.
The Minister must make his voice heard. We must give all our children a chance to play sport, regardless of their background. In so doing, we should reverse the trend where the vast majority of Olympic medals are won by those who come out of the public school system, which, unlike the state sector, has prized and encouraged sporting excellence and never let dogma destroy its sport and games systems. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, made a timely contribution on participation in sport, and I echo his question about whether the targets are being achieved. If we are “all in this together”, this could be a very good place to start.
Time is against us today. I know there are many more issues, such as women in sport and encouraging more people to participate in the Paralympics. These have been touched on by others and I am sure that the Minister will touch on them in his reply. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, gave us an encyclopaedic outline of the matrix of the various parts of the many contributing organisations and associations involved in the project. We are indebted to him not only for that but for the foresight in securing this debate today.
This is but the opening set of a very long match. We look forward to the Minister’s replies and the continued cross-party support that has been, and will be, so crucial to the success of the London Olympics—surely a project of a lifetime. This has been an uplifting debate that has shown this House in the best possible light, and we can be proud of it.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to today’s debate. The delivery of an Olympic and Paralympic Games has been referred to as the world’s biggest peacetime logistical operation—the equivalent of 26 world championships back to back, followed two weeks later by another 20. It will be a defining moment, when the focus of the world will be on the United Kingdom and when the people of the UK and UK business can show to the world what they can deliver. There will be many challenges along the way but I am delighted that, two years out, the key parties responsible for delivering the Games are working together to overcome them.
Many interesting points have been raised by noble Lords today, and I will do my best to respond to them in as much detail as I can. There have been two forms of speech today. I am not talking about quality, you understand; rather, there have been those who have been giving information and those who have been seeking it. Both have been welcome. It has been helpful to have givers of information; there are many people in this House in positions of influence in the whole business of the Olympics, their preparation and their aftermath, and we are fortunate that we have all these talents who can take part in this way.
People have different enthusiasms, too. Some are looking at the wonders of present-day construction, others are concerned about the Olympics themselves and some are excited about the aftermath—for them it may be a little incidental thing to host the Olympic Games, but what wonderful things we can have afterwards. Others, too, can see other things alongside these considerations, such as the culture that the Games can bring with them.
If I might look at specifics, the first speaker was the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. She told us that we had a strong hand to start with; I hope she is right. Everything that I read tells me that there is a certain strength here, so perhaps she is. Yet it was very interesting to hear from her of all the work that she is doing for the OPLC, for which we congratulate her, and of the news about the residential field study centre that she mentioned. The one question that really concerned her was on the whole business of the company that she operates obtaining a freehold without debt. All I can say there is that Ministers are aware of the strong arguments in favour of that deal and I am sure that I, and others, will encourage the review that has been undertaken to be completed quickly. In the end, it is a Treasury decision; all I can do is to hope that that goes right, because it is important that the work that she is doing goes forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, warned us of the snow, with two potential winters before we get to the date of the Olympics, and mentioned sticking to the last. Yet it is quite interesting how so many people have referred to areas where perhaps a little bit could be done, here or there, that has just not been thought of. I will refer to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, later, because that brings other opportunities, but the noble Lord’s main concern has been on security. Safeguarding London 2012 and the rest of the country during the Games is one of the largest and most complex security operations ever undertaken. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, is currently undertaking an audit and review of Olympic security planning to ensure that that is on track, which will provide a platform for a transition to a security test and exercising, looking into where things are over the coming period.
There is a very substantial budget for security—and this is a public figure—of £600 million. Some of that is contingency and not yet committed, but the whole business of security is of tremendous importance. If we look at it as a percentage, at 6 per cent or so of that which is being spent on the whole of the Olympic preparations, it is a very high figure. The noble Lord also referred to cybercrime, which the Government are keeping under review and planning accordingly. To that end, additional funding has been provided to build capacity in the police central e-crime unit and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred to transport, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. Of course, the aim is for 100 per cent of spectators to get to the Games by public transport. London 2012 will leave a legacy of permanent, major improvements to the transport infrastructure. We are determined to ensure that Londoners are not negatively impacted by the Games and will publish during this summer a consultation on plans for the Olympic route network—the means by which athletes and officials will travel to and from the events.
I move on to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, who referred to the opportunity to inspire. I mentioned in my opening speech that Sport England has been asked to develop plans for the delivery of a mass-participation sports legacy. That work will necessarily consider the role of community sports clubs. The Government will be making further announcements on these plans in due course. My noble friend Lord Addington also referred to that. If one thing struck me as a theme during the debate, it has been that whole business of building up the concern about athleticism and imbuing that spirit, making certain that what is done with schools does not somehow come to a full stop when someone leaves school, but that there is a follow-through. If there is one thing that this Government must consider if they are not doing it, it is that. Reference was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, to the possibility of budget cuts. I do not believe that the Olympic budget is immune and I agree with him that any cuts to the budget should be sensible and strategic, but it has to be efficient.
I move on to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. It was indeed a splendid speech and I must congratulate her not just on the speech but on her skill in making a maiden speech when the right topic for her came up bang on cue. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, was one of those who were able to give us information. She spoke of the impressive people she had come across during this and went into great detail about the excitement of the velodrome.
I think that I have indicated that my noble friend Lord Addington referred to the need for the follow-through and the fact that that is the one of the biggest challenges we face in developing a truly sporting nation. Keenly aware of the need to address this, we are looking to ensure that there are strong links between schools and the national governing bodies as we develop plans for delivering a new, national Olympic-style school competition. Further information will be given in due course on that issue.
I then come to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who had a splendid list of questions—yes, he hit the jackpot on questions. He talked about there being 2 million participants by 2012 and asked whether that has been abandoned. On that, all I can say is that those targets are currently being considered. There are no particular guarantees on that but they are looking at targets. I think that I covered the point earlier about the routes—
Yes, indeed; I think that I did cover that. Something is going to be put out during the summer for consultation about those routes and on getting the VIPs, as it were, from various places to the stadiums. On the issue of homes, the likelihood is that the Olympic village will become 3,000 homes and that 50 per cent of those will be affordable. Wider developments in the Olympic park will be of mixed tenure, with homes available for sale and rent, and 35 per cent of what is believed to be 10,000 to 12,000 new homes will be affordable housing. Those are the existing plans on that.
On the numbers of people employed locally, I have seen those figures in depth somewhere. I am pretty certain that the figure is that 20 per cent of the workforce on the ODA construction is people who live locally. Bearing in mind that the jobs are open for anybody to go for, that is a significant figure. Yes, it is here; of 6,442 at the end of March, 20 per cent were host borough residents and there was a target of 10 to 15 per cent, so it has gone beyond that. Currently, 199 apprenticeships have been placed with contractors. The ODA is on track to place 350 by December 2010.
The noble Lord referred to the wind turbine being abandoned. It was thought that it was safe and feasible to deliver the turbine, but new safety legislation for the particular turbine design and feedback from the industry mean that this wind turbine will not be appropriate at the Olympic park. The decision was taken on 30 April, when many of us were off electioneering. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of the renewable energy target will be met by the state-of-the-art energy centre at the Olympic park, which is due to be operational in the autumn.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was one of our speakers who by and large gave us information. He referred to security, transport and legacy. For him, there are three elements of legacy: urban regeneration; a sporting sense in the locality; and sport generally. I found the points that he made interesting. I also found it interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, warm to the theme of the Cultural Olympiad and of a summer to remember.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to the budget and worries about cost. When I saw the percentages, the figure of what was complete was 54.4 per cent. The idea is that, when that was written, the figure should have been 54.7 per cent, but I thought, “Well, that’s about the same”. For the infrastructure of the eight venues, the figure is 65 per cent. The difference arises between the figure for the totality of things and the figure for the venues—65 per cent and 54 per cent. Lend Lease won a contract to build the village. Given the economic downturn, it was unable to raise funding for the project, so the Government committed contingency funds to ensure that the project was built on time. The Government now own the village and will benefit from its sale post-Games.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to the Olympic truce. In many ways, his was one of the most fascinating speeches that we heard, as it was totally unexpected by me. He gave the historic context of the Olympic truce. He said that the Games began in 776 BC and lasted for 1,168 years, after which they started again in 1894. I was wondering whether all these numbers divide by four. If anyone has done the sum, please let me know. It was well worth while putting the historical context. People talk about piggybacking on something else, but perhaps piggybacking is possible. Down the road from me is the University of Bradford’s peace studies department. We could ask it whether there is an opportunity for peacemaking. That may be the opposite of sticking to the last in putting on an Olympic Games, but perhaps this is a real opportunity to look for peacebuilding.
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Loughborough, was another of our speakers who gave information, showing her enthusiasm for sport, particularly youth sport.
Like me, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has been impressed by the information that he has received. As he spoke about 1948, I was thinking that one of my earliest childhood memories is of the Festival of Britain in 1951. I did not come down to London—I went to Woodhouse Moor in Leeds—but I remember it. The noble Lord talked about people’s pride in being able to say, “I was there and I remember the Olympics”. Going even to one of the cultural events, if not to the Olympic park in the East End, will stick in the memory. The ability to say, “I was there”, is important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, thanked me, so I thank her and I welcome her to her role. She said that she would be hawk-eyed. Well, perhaps I will be, too. I endorse the five points that she raised, relating to the sporting nation, east London, inspiration, sustainability and the UK. Most of them had been raised by others, which is the position in which one finds oneself in summing up debates, as I know. Nevertheless, I thank her for her contribution and look forward to further opportunities of hearing from her.
I conclude by saying that now is the time for some of the final decisions to be made that will ensure a lasting sporting legacy of the Games. Along with a continued focus on ensuring the delivery of a safe and successful Games, ensuring a lasting sporting legacy for young people in the UK will be a key focus of this Government over the next two years and beyond.
House adjourned at 8.07 pm.