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Mr. Rammell: That point is well made. The hon. Member describes the ECB as naive. There is concern about the way in which the board is handling these issues.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): Since 1994, we have had four-day instead of three-day county cricket matches. County cricket has lost a whole day of entertainment and investment. The money that is derived from television goes to test cricket and to the counties. If the Government will not guarantee that money to test and county cricket, why should the authorities not be free to choose how they sell their rights?

Mr. Rammell: We are talking about a national institution, in which not only the cricketing authorities, but the ordinary paying and playing public have a stake. The public also have rights, which is why our regulatory regime should prevail.

The ECB has also said that it is not necessarily campaigning for cricket to be removed from terrestrial television: it just wants the freedom to obtain the best deal

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for cricket in the circumstances. It wants an open contest. It may be an open contest, but it would not be a fair one. On each and every occasion, Sky would initially be able to outbid the BBC, which is limited to its licence fee income.

The ECB's implicit argument seems to be: "Trust us. De-list test match cricket and we shall do our best to get the best deal, yet keep terrestrial television in the picture." I believe that any organisation should be judged not only on its words, but on its actions. Already, although it is not subject to listing, the 1999 cricket World cup has been handed to Sky exclusively by the ECB, although it was aware that the BBC was preparing a bid. Those actions do not fill me with confidence, or make me inclined to trust the ECB if cricket is de-listed.

The Government have set out criteria for the listing of major national sporting events. I maintain that test match cricket meets those criteria. First, test match results have been widely reported for generations on main news bulletins, which suggests a national resonance. Not just cricket enthusiasts but people with a far looser connection with the game have been following the fortunes of the national team.

Secondly, it is clearly practical to have coverage on terrestrial television, not only because that is already happening but because that is the position that the BBC wishes to maintain. Thirdly, there is a long history of broadcasting test match cricket on free-to-air services. The relationship between cricket and the broadcasting authorities at the BBC goes back some 60 years.

For me, however, a more persuasive criterion is the degree to which top stars in a particular sport are widely recognised, and are part of what I would describe as the media establishment by dint of their sporting success. I do not think that any hon. Member who is present would deny that people such as David Gower, Graham Gooch, Ian Botham and Mike Atherton meet that criterion.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): And Alec Stewart.

Mr. Rammell: Indeed--and many others. Those people are widely known: I would guess that seven out of 10 of the population could identify them, and they associate them with cricket. They are certainly part of the establishment that I have described.

The one aspect of the ECB's arguments that I think has an element of plausibility is its fear that--with test match cricket more effectively protected by listing as a result of the Broadcasting Act 1996, and with no effective competition from either ITV or Channel 4--the BBC will not be pressured or feel obliged to agree a reasonable deal. If that is indeed the ECB's concern, I feel that it should be addressed in a number of ways.

First, the Independent Television Commission has powers to intervene if the BBC will not, or does not choose to, agree a fair price. Secondly, there is no indication that the BBC is not prepared to agree a fair deal. Thirdly, if the ECB is really concerned, I think that it should act now. It should approach the BBC while consultation is taking place, while it has some political leverage. It should sit down and negotiate a deal, and, if necessary, seek the imposition of a formula agreement for uprating. I am sure that that would meet with widespread approval.

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I consider that the arguments in favour of retaining listing are overwhelming. I believe that there is a conflict between the desires of the ECB and Sky in the marketplace on the one hand, and, on the other, the community's right to watch one of its premier national sporting events. I am sure that hon. Members will agree with me that the rights of the community should prevail.

10.18 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby): Let me make two brief points. First, between 1995 and 1998, 405 different cricket clubs received nearly £50 million, allocated by the Sports Council from the proceeds of the national lottery. Cricket receives a larger share of lottery capital awards than any other sport, including £5.2 million for the redevelopment of Trent Bridge as a residential centre of excellence. I feel that the receipt of vast amounts of public money brings with it public responsibility. If cricket wants to receive cash from the people's lottery on such a scale, its greatest occasions must remain accessible to all the people who watch terrestrial television.

Secondly, and perhaps most important, if we exclude the next generation from watching cricket on the box, the old cricketing enemy, Australia, will be laughing in our faces. In Australia, people treat sport seriously. In the land of Mr. Murdoch's birth, they not only nurture their sporting elite in academies, but ensure that all the top sporting action is available to everyone on television. To the Aussies, inspiring future generations is as important to sports development as training today's champions.

Down under, the anti-siphoning list system was established in 1992 and ensures that free-to-air channels are given first option on no fewer than 41 sporting events, including every rugby and cricket international involving Australia. Recent results tend to show that Australian sport does not appear to have suffered too much from the constraints placed on the governing bodies in relation to selling their rights to the highest bidder.

I implore my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that all my constituents, rich and poor, can watch future England versus Australia Ashes tests--whether they be at Lord's, the Oval, Old Trafford, Headingley, Edgbaston or Trent Bridge--live on television.

10.20 pm

The Minister for Arts (Mr. Mark Fisher): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) on securing a debate on the position of test cricket on the list of events protected under part IV of the Broadcasting Act 1996, and on setting out the case for its retention on that list with such clarity and passion. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) on his short but telling speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow describes himself as a sports fanatic, but he is more correctly described as a sports lover. The House is fuller tonight for an Adjournment debate than I or, I suspect, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have ever seen it in all the years that we have been in the House. Usually, only the hon. Member concerned, the Speaker and the Minister are in

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the House. To have the Benches full of hon. Members who love and take an interest in the issue is a testament to the seriousness with which it is taken.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): We have considered the issue of sport on television, but it is equally important that we examine sport on local radio, particularly BBC radio.

Mr. Fisher: My hon. Friend makes a good point.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I have received many representations about the list, and some are specifically about the listing of test matches. We recognise that the issue generates strong views in this place, as this debate has shown.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow was correct to say that the issues that he raised concern more than just cricket. I agree that cricket and other sporting events have great significance for many people in this country and generate interest among those who do not normally follow the sport concerned. Events such as the Cup final, the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Grand National are national events. They bring us all together around an event of common interest, so they have a significance far beyond the sport.

I do not dispute the right of sports bodies that organise major events to seek to increase the income for their sport, and the sale of broadcasting rights is one of the ways in which they seek that revenue. They have a duty to do so, and they do it with some vigour, but their pursuit of that revenue is not the whole story. The Government's view is that some major events are so much a part of our national life that they are, in a sense, public property.

The widespread interest that such events generate is only partly a result of the efforts of the promoters. In many cases, it is also the result of the long history of the event, of the fact that it brings together major national and international participants, of the involvement of British national teams or, in the case of cricket, of its deep roots in our national community, going to the grass roots of the game in villages, village greens and cricket matches throughout this country.

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