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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Cocoa and Chocolate

20 Jan 1998 : Column 915

Test Match Cricket

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. McFall.]

10.2 pm

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this Adjournment debate. It is timely, given the current review of listed events and the attempt by the England and Wales Cricket Board to get test match cricket and live test match cricket de-listed. My purpose in seeking the debate and the purpose of Members of Parliament of all parties who signed my early-day motion--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. Hon. Members must leave the Chamber quietly.

Mr. Rammell: My purpose and the purpose of colleagues is to preserve for everyone the right to be able to watch live test match cricket on terrestrial television.

I should declare an interest, in that I am an inveterate sports fanatic. Although many things have changed over the course of my life, two of my abiding passions for the past 30 years have been football and cricket--watching, playing and endlessly talking about them. I am sure that other hon. Members will relate to that.

My personal enthusiasm for both sports originally derived in large measure from watching them on television. Although I am happy to pay tribute to my parents for almost every aspect of my upbringing, they would be the first to admit that they were not and are not sports fans. Had it not been for sport on television, I am by no means certain that I would have developed an interest in football and cricket. It is through television that one develops such enthusiasm.

I remember, as a child and as an adolescent, watching matches on television, going out with a burst of enthusiasm to play with friends in the park and attempting--and failing--to replicate the feats that I had seen. That is the sort of commitment and enthusiasm that can be generated by watching sport on television.

Had cricket and football been available only on satellite television, I am not certain that I would have developed that interest. Millions of people are in a similar position. Therein, in essence, lies my fear for the future of cricket if it is hidden away exclusively on satellite television, as the England and Wales Cricket Board wants. If youngsters do not develop interest, passion, and enthusiasm for cricket through television, tomorrow's players, club members and viewers risk being lost to the game.

If anyone needs convincing about the scale of that risk, they should consider how many fewer people will be able to watch test match cricket if it is available only on satellite television. The evidence available for football shows that only 16 per cent. of households have access to Sky Sports because they or their parents have chosen to purchase the channel.

When the Euro 96 semi-final was held between England and Germany, the BBC had an audience of 24 million, yet a game of similar importance--the World cup qualifier between England and Italy last October--had an audience of only 4 million. That was one sixth of the audience available to watch it on the BBC. Proportionately, that difference would apply to cricket as much as to football.

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The vast majority of families cannot, or choose not to, purchase sport on satellite television, so they, and particularly their children, are denied access to sport that is exclusively available on satellite television. As Jack Bannister aptly said recently:

That is absolutely true.

Although I support that view, I am by no means a wholesale critic of sport on satellite television. Sky Sports has brought major gains and benefits to a host of sports. A major cash injection into football has led to the premier league being rightly regarded as the best in the world.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Does my hon. Friend accept that there have been benefits with the introduction of satellite television, which has enabled us to watch South Africa versus Australia, and that we should not simply go back to the days of the cartel, when the BBC and ITV could deny many sports fans access to the sport that they wanted to watch? Test matches should be available on the BBC, but satellite broadcasters provide added value.

Mr. Rammell: My hon. Friend makes an effective point. I was about to say that Sky Sports has brought added value to the coverage of sports, particularly those never previously available for viewing on terrestrial television.

Sky has also vastly improved the quality of sports coverage. It uses virtual reality technology to analyse moves within a game, to look at offsides in football and to determine whether a referee was sighted in a certain situation. That has been revolutionary, and I pay tribute to it. Sky has therefore been good for sport, and I want that contribution to continue in the sports that I have mentioned. However, Sky in particular, and satellite television in general, need constraints to control them. That is what the listing of major national sporting events is all about.

May I deal with some of the arguments put forward by the England and Wales Cricket Board in favour of de-listing live test cricket? First, it claims that cricket should be de-listed to get the market rate for television coverage, and says that, without such a cash injection, it fears for the game's future. None the less, the price which the BBC pays for the right to show test cricket has risen by more than 645 per cent. since 1990. That could hardly be described as a bad deal. When the present contract with the BBC was announced in 1994, the deal was variously described by the cricketing authorities and the media as "a bonanza for cricket" and

Those statements hardly square with the current ECB view that, unless the framework that enabled those deals to be struck is done away with, the game will face a financial crisis.

The ECB has also said that live test cricket is not the be-all and end-all, and that highlights could be made available on the BBC even if live cricket went to satellite television. For cricket enthusiasts, watching highlights of test match cricket is not the same as watching it live. Test cricket is about tactics and pressure building: it is an unfolding drama. That can be properly appreciated only by watching live coverage.

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The ECB has said that cricket needs a huge cash injection to nourish grass-roots development, yet there is no guarantee that, if test match cricket went to Sky, the money would be used for that purpose. Football has had a cash bonanza, but where has the money gone? Has it gone to grass-roots development? I think not.

A major part of the money that has been generated has gone into inflating players' salaries to astronomic levels. An average premier league player today expects and demands a salary of £1 million a year. I have nothing against players receiving the going rate, but I do not understand why the vast majority of people should be denied the opportunity to watch their sport on television simply to push up players' salaries.

Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): Does my hon. Friend agree that the involvement of young people in the game will not only improve their sporting excellence in the future, but build up their leadership and teamwork skills? It is important to encourage young people to use cricket to develop skills for their future.

Mr. Rammell: Absolutely. Sport is an effective way for young people to develop community and leadership skills, and cricket is a fine example of that.

There are no guarantees that, if cricket were de-listed, the money would go to the grass roots.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): As the hon. Gentleman knows from our exchange of correspondence, I strongly agree with the points that he has made. I argued this case in the previous Parliament. Does he accept that, as the distinguished journalist Mihir Bose showed in a series of good articles in The Daily Telegraph in the months leading up to Christmas, one of the difficulties about the way in which money from satellite television has been used in other parts of the world is that, once the satellite providers have frozen terrestrial providers out of the market, the money has dropped away? The ECB may be naive in believing that the money would always be available if we were to have a monopoly satellite provider.

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