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Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL]

Volume 801: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

Second Reading (Continued)

My Lords, we resume the momentous Second Reading of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill. The delay we have experienced has allowed me to find and display a badge indicating my support for this extraordinary event that will take place in two and a half years’ time, which has been echoed and portrayed from all the Benches.

My noble friend Lord Grocott said that because the Bill had already been discussed last June it made it easy for him, since he already had his speech done. It is much easier for me; not only is it done but I can refer all Members of the House to Hansard, where they can read it for themselves.

The one advantage of the delay—not the delay immediately before this moment but the months that have passed since we first considered these matters—is all the measurable progress that we can see has been achieved by the organising committee, the city of Birmingham and related regions, to take everything forward and be ready in time. It has been an astounding effort. Senior people for the organising committee have been appointed; I have spoken to them and sensed their energy and commitment, and many of the issues that we raised last time are being and will be addressed. I have to say that I am now much more familiar with the difficulties of New Street station and, indeed, with the nature of shooting in India. These are new areas for me to have explored in such detail.

The range of things that have been discussed is truly across the spectrum. We have heard about legacy, accessibility, sustainability—wise words about the needs of disabled people as competitors and spectators, their families and all the rest of it. We have had some pretty picturesque although galling examples to consider on that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, put words in the Minister’s mouth when he suggested that she would say that we would not have to wait until after 31 March next year to get the first reporting done. If the Bill had passed when it should have passed, we would be ready to get some reports pretty soon. To wait a whole year in the light of the amount of work that has been done seems excessive, so I hope that the Minister will live up to the prophecy uttered by the noble Lord.

The sporting legacy was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others. Of course, we hope that there will be such a legacy. I have to say that recent experience does not suggest that it will happen just because we want it to happen or because we can find noble words to express our desire for it to happen. Let us hope that Birmingham does what other places have not done regarding the national need to address obesity, participation, community action and so on.

Therefore, with that said, and with my confidence about what has been said about human rights, the need to equip our grounds appropriately and to use the community, and all the rest of it—and of course with reference to the speech I made a year ago, to which I refer your Lordships once more—I am happy to leave matters there. I look forward to Committee, where some of these things will be looked at in greater detail.

My Lords, I thank your Lordships for your valuable contributions to the debate today. I will try to address some of the points raised during the debate but if I am unable to respond fully, I will ensure that I will follow up with a letter on any points that I have not covered.

I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, about the progress, energy and commitment that we have seen since we last met in this place to discuss the Bill. That energy also relates to reporting to both Houses and keeping them up to date with progress. I am also happy to discuss issues raised today in further detail ahead of Committee, if noble Lords feel that that would be helpful.

I start by addressing some of the transport issues raised, as I now understand, by the world’s leading train expert, the noble Lord, Lord Snape. He will understand that transport for an event of this scale and profile requires a huge amount of planning and co-ordination, which is why a detailed transport plan is being developed. Given the shrunken timetable for delivering the Games, local partners have already started work on the transport preparations in the absence of the legislation. The transport plan underwent a 12-week period of engagement; partners are now looking at the findings and will report back in due course.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, were obviously traumatised by their experiences of Birmingham New Street station. I must say, it is vastly better than it used to be, but as part of the detailed operational planning, the Games partners are looking at the signage and wayfinding for all users, including spectators.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asked why the Games traffic measures need to be in place 21 days in advance of the Games. That is a purely precautionary measure. In relation to Kings Heath station, I assume that we will need to agree a date when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be there to open it, because clearly it is his divine right.

The noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Hunt, and others mentioned funding and a hotel tax. Noble Lords will remember that, as part of the process of being awarded the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the Government committed to underwrite their organisation and delivery, providing suppliers and contractors with the confidence they need that there is a robust financial framework behind the Games. The Government and the council have developed robust financial governance and change control processes to monitor and manage the spend against the Games budget, and control access to the contingency. I am pleased to confirm to my noble friend Lord Moynihan that the Games delivery is on time and on budget.

A number of noble Lords suggested that a local statutory hotel occupancy tax be supported to generate income to make a financial contribution to Birmingham’s share of the cost of the Games. My understanding is that Birmingham City Council said that this would provide only a small contribution—perhaps £5 million—to the £40 million revenue requirement. It also said that such a tax is not necessary for the city to meet its share of the costs. I think I disappoint several noble Lords by saying again that the decision for a new tax sits with Her Majesty’s Treasury, which has confirmed that local authorities already have a range of income streams from which to deliver local services and that it has no current plans to support increased local fundraising through this type of taxation. It would be up to Birmingham City Council to present a case to Her Majesty’s Treasury if it wished to proceed with this. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, about reviewing the rate of VAT, all taxes are kept under review but there are no current plans to review VAT.

The noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord Holmes talked about the hugely important Games legacy. Clearly there are many aspects to legacy but a number of your Lordships’ comments focused on the health legacy. As was mentioned, Sport England has already invested £10 million in Birmingham and Solihull to tackle physical inactivity; recently, the Department for Education also announced funding for a programme to encourage more young people to volunteer for grass-roots sport and in the wider community ahead of the Games.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned the links between universities and the Alexander Stadium, as well as the commitment to Birmingham City University being a tenant, if that is the right word, of the stadium going forward. There are plans for usage of the major facilities for 365 days a year. Similarly, plans for how the facility at Sandwell will be available for community use are well advanced; we can all agree that that is hugely important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us of the need to stay vigilant on human rights, modern slavery and trafficking risks around any event of this type. I am glad that she recognises the thought around modern slavery that has gone into the plans for the Games. The organising committee is absolutely committed to protecting human rights in the delivery of the Games. The charter was published in December and has been made public on the Games website. It looks at the working and procurement practices that will go to make up the Games, and human rights are at the heart of that. The committee will report annually on its progress and obviously noble Lords will have a chance to review that, as I am sure they will.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in absentia the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Foster, all talked about the critical issues around accessibility to the Games. The accessibility strategy has been set up with spectators, athletes, the broadcast media, the local workforce and the volunteers in mind, so that all groups should be able to access the Games. As was noted, the organising committee has appointed an accessibility manager and established a forum, and the accessibility strategy will be published this year.

I will need to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the number of homes in the athletes’ village that meet the lifetime homes standard. She also asked about accessible venues and stadia. The aim for all the Games partners is that the venues and the services around them are designed, operated and delivered to ensure that everyone has a positive Games experience, which by definition means that you are not parked somewhere on the outfield. Similarly, we expect all sports clubs to take the necessary action to fulfil their duties under the Equality Act.

Is the noble Baroness aware that all those aims and good words are exactly the same as they were for Glasgow, and therein lies the problem? My question was about the standards that would be expected. It would be helpful to know whether there will be specific arrangements in place, for example, for people in wheelchairs to sit with their families, as opposed to having to sit separately.

I shall write to the noble Baroness with the detail on that, but I absolutely hear what she is saying. Although I am not familiar with what was done for Glasgow, I know that in a number of areas, such as the recruitment of volunteers and the workforce for these Games, disability is central to the standards that have been set. There is a clear intention to meet that, but her critique would be welcome.

I turn to the question of Games lanes for use by athletes. At this stage, it is too early to say what temporary measures, such as a Games lane, will be needed, but obviously any such measures implemented will seek to minimise disruption for transport users, local residents and businesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lord Holmes talked about transport between hubs and Games venues. The draft Games transport plan states that

“for persons with specific accessibility requirements, and; accessible bus shuttle services will be provided from key transport hubs and Park & Ride sites.”

I hope that goes some way to reassuring both noble Lords.

I turn to the specific questions about seating. I do not know whether this will go some way to responding to the question asked earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, but the organising committee has committed to meet the requirements of the International Paralympic Committee for accessible venue seating. At the risk of repeating myself, noble Lords will be able to scrutinise the organising committee’s approach to accessibility when it publishes its accessibility strategy in the spring. The committee particularly welcomes any feedback or input from noble Lords. The sustainability strategy will also be published in the spring.

My noble friend Lord Holmes asked about diversity in the organising committee. As I mentioned, a diversity recruitment plan has been developed and work is going on towards a “leaders in diversity” accreditation, which we hope will be achieved by the summer. While I do not have the exact figures on the breakdown, I am happy to write to my noble friend. I think I have already touched on the volunteer recruitment programme, where there is a campaign to recruit and engage a workforce that reflects the diversity of Birmingham as a city as well as the diversity of the UK.

The noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Foster, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan talked about shooting as part of the Commonwealth Games. The Government very much welcome the confirmation from the Indian Olympic Association that India will be taking part in the Games. We also welcome India’s proposal to the Commonwealth Games Federation to host the additional events for shooting and archery. The federation is currently considering the proposal with its member associations and will confirm its response to India.

I thank the noble Baroness for that positive response from the Government to support India hosting the shooting and archery events. What I did not make clear in my speech was my request that, for future Commonwealth Games, the Government should support shooting being a compulsory sport, rather than an optional one.

I will be happy to raise that with my honourable friend the Minister for Sport in the other place and make sure that he is aware of that suggestion. In fact, he is meeting representatives of the Commonwealth Games Federation as we speak to discuss this very point. I can also confirm that the costs for the events will be met by the Indian Olympic Association.

A number of noble Lords asked about the News Media Association. The Government welcome the engagement of the association on the development of the Bill. It places on the Secretary of State a duty to consult specific people before making the exceptions regulations for advertising and trading. We are keen to continue working with the News Media Association and others as work on potential exceptions develops.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, asked about government support for enforcement and trading standards. The Government are working with local authorities, the organising committee and West Midlands Police to create a co-ordinated approach, but the restrictions placed on ticket sales, advertising and trading are designated primarily as a deterrent. Obviously, we very much hope that is effective.

The noble Baroness also asked about community involvement, as did my noble friend Lord Holmes. I think it was my noble friend Lord Coe who, at Second Reading last time, talked about the critical importance of involving the community when launching an event of this type. There is already a programme to link schools with the Games. There is a programme of creating community champions and, if noble Lords have suggestions for who those might be and would like to nominate anyone, the opening date is 14 February. This is an absolutely critical part, and a lot of work has already gone into the community programme, thinking about skills, volunteering opportunities and the environmental implications of the Games.

As I said in the opening sentences of my speech, I would be delighted to meet noble Lords ahead of Committee to discuss any points they would like to raise. As we bring this debate to a close, I again thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I am delighted by the continued support for the Games, and listening to your Lordships gives me a sense of the real enthusiasm that this House has for playing its part in delivering this important legislation.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.