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Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): Does my hon. Friend agree that the national bodies take only a short-term view in securing funding? The problem is that young people will not have sporting heroes and be encouraged to take up those sports. The national bodies are denying those young people, who need national sporting heroes to become involved in sport, access to sports such as rugby, cricket and football, for short-term cash benefits from Sky television and others. That is only a short-term solution, and will lead to long-term problems for those sports.

Mr. Fisher: As I said, I think that the matter is more complicated than that. It is necessary to fund sports properly, so that they not only nurture the grass roots but reach the widest possible audience. The Government and the advisory group that we have appointed will have difficulty in judging that balance.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) is a member of the advisory group. As a member of Surrey county cricket club, she will bring

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to the group particular knowledge and sympathy for cricket. Nevertheless, she and the other group members will have a difficult job in balancing the objectives.

Let us be clear about it. The Government are committed to the variety of principles underlying the protected list, but those principles must be weighed against other considerations. The future of the sports cannot be taken for granted. Therefore, difficult choices will have to be made.

The Government have stated that the main criterion for inclusion in the list should be national resonance--which is very important, because it goes beyond a sport's immediate significance. However, we must also consider other matters. In considering whether to list an event, the Secretary of State will have to have regard to such factors as whether it is practical to offer extensive live coverage on a general channel. He will also take into account the impact of listing on the sport's income, which is an important factor, as hon. Members who feel strongly about the matter must realise.

The advisory group announced by the Secretary of State is considering those issues, and it is judging the position of a number of major sporting events against those criteria. We have conducted wide consultation, which has broadly dealt with the issues.

The group has been asked to make its recommendations before Easter, which gives it very little time to consider a complicated matter. I am confident, however, that its recommendations will be clear and objective. We have deliberately chosen people with a wide knowledge of sport, and particularly of the key sports that are being considered.

The group will have to consider whether test cricket meets the criteria for continuing inclusion on the list. Test matches feature prominently on the sporting calendar and command wide interest--as demonstrated by the number of hon. Members in the Chamber for this debate. The Government realise that test matches are events that unite the nation, and I am sure that every hon. Member can think of one or more specific test matches. The first match that I remember was when Laker took 19 wickets. I sat there watching, in black and white, praying that Tony Lock would get a couple of runs. All of us can remember such events.

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There are other points of view, some of which we have heard in this debate. Some people argue that the matches appeal primarily to cricket fans, and that average audience ratings for BBC transmissions are a little under 2.5 million. That factor, too, must be taken into account.

The advisory group will also consider prospects for the coverage of sports events on general terrestrial channels. All parties believe that the BBC's coverage of test cricket is of an exceptionally high standard. The corporation's charter, however, states that it must offer programming of general interest to everyone. Scheduling to achieve that objective is a difficult matter.

Whatever the merits of those arguments, the sport of cricket is clearly in need of further funds, as people like my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow realise. In the past four years, the England and Wales Cricket Board has invested £10 million in development of its development arm, the Cricket Foundation. My hon. Friend will be aware that Lord McLaurin's ambitious plans for the reorganisation of cricket involve an investment of £150 million at county grounds, which have a real need for that level of investment. That money will have to come from somewhere. There is therefore a difficult balance to achieve.

Although the test's intrinsic national resonance will be central to the advisory group's deliberations, the group will even-handedly consider its resonance against the case for participation, coverage and funding. As well as the ECB and the BBC, the views of other people will be considered.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me that the needs of sport must be considered in an even-handed way as well as the needs and desires of those of us who love sport and want to see it on our national television channels. I am confident that the group's recommendations will balance the good of cricket with that of the television viewer.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government's position on the issue, and I suspect that cricket fans all over the United Kingdom, and perhaps all over the world, will be grateful to him for raising such an important matter and putting the case with such passion and persuasion.

Question put and agreed to.



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