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

Contracting out

That the draft Local Authorities (Contracting Out of BID Levy Billing, Collection and Enforcement Functions) Order 2004, which was laid before this House on 15th December, be approved.—[Gillian Merron.]

Question agreed to.

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Listed Events (Sports)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Gillian Merron.]

10.33 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): For the many, not the few is one of the principles on which this Government are built, and I would contend that, in a modest way, listed events in their various guises since their inception in the 1950s reflect this aspiration. I would not argue that this is one of the most important debates to come before the House—it is not a matter of war and peace or poverty, or concerning the many threats to our environment—but it does affect the quality of life of many of our citizens, young and old, rich and poor, throughout the land.

As I said, listed events have come in many guises down the years. They first came about through the Television Act 1954, which prevented any one broadcaster from obtaining exclusive rights to certain sporting events of national interest. Of course, in those days there were only two broadcasters: the BBC and ITV. The Broadcasting Act 1990 prevented listed events from being shown on a pay-per-view basis. Then the Broadcasting Act 1996, recognising the threat of subscription as opposed to pay-per-view television, protected the availability of live coverage of listed events on free-to-air television channels with national coverage. That is the basis of the current rules, which were enshrined in the Communications Act 2003.

Although the legislation has changed down the years, the general principles underlying it have remained the same—that is, that some events are of such national significance, and in some cases of such international significance, that a large part of the nation wants to be part of them. People want to feel that they are in the stadium watching the Olympics, the grand national or the World cup finals. These events in some way bind the nation together.

No one is saying that the terrestrial TV stations should have these events for free. They must pay a fair and reasonable price, and if there is a dispute, the price could be judged by the regulator, currently Ofcom. It is interesting that down the years the list has largely policed itself. As far as I am aware, there has never been a case in which Ofcom has had to deliberate on a fair and reasonable price.

The recent history of the football World cup and the broadcasting of it illustrates the importance of the list to our nation. Some hon. Members may recall that the rights to the 2002 and 2006 World cup were sold by FIFA to Kirsch, a German broadcaster that tried to find a way round our listed events legislation—any possible loophole. In the end it did a deal with the BBC and ITV whereby both those broadcasters paid far more than they had paid in the past—undoubtedly a fair and reasonable price—but everyone in Britain will be able to see all the matches in Germany in the football World cup. That will not be true, incidentally, in Germany, where such stringent rules do not exist. Even though much public money will have gone into the stadiums in Germany, many of those matches will not be seen.

At some stage in the next Parliament we need to review the list, particularly the A list consisting of events that must be shown live. It is live sport that quickens the
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blood, thrills the nation and inspires the young. The list was reviewed in 1990 and in 1998. The event that led me to seek the debate tonight occurred just before Christmas, when the England and Wales Cricket Board sold itself lock, stock and barrel to BSkyB. That came as a shock to many people. There were editorials about it in most of the national papers.

The Prime Minister often says to the parliamentary Labour party—and of course I listen to everything the Prime Minister says—that one of the best things in government is the small decisions one makes that can affect people's lives in various ways. I believe we made the wrong decision, though it was a small decision, when in 1998 the Government decided to remove test cricket from the A list—from live coverage. BSkyB and the ECB lobbied for that. Subsequently the Secretary of State at the time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), said he thought he had a gentlemen's agreement with Lord MacLaurin of the ECB that at least some cricket would remain on terrestrial television. That happened for a while under the subsequent television deal, and Channel 4 covered test cricket very well.

However, as some of us warned, once my right hon. Friend and Lord MacLaurin were long gone from office, the next deal came around and the ECB sold out, as I said, lock, stock and barrel to BSkyB, and not for a great deal more money. The best figures that I have seen suggest that the difference between the Channel 4 bid, which was much the same as its previous bid, and the BSkyB bid was perhaps 10 per cent.—not a large sum. Cricket will rue the day the deal was signed, for a number of reasons, the first of which is financial. When a sport sells out to satellite TV or subscription TV, sponsorship tends to decline. We have seen that in rugby. The Heineken cup has gone to satellite TV, and apparently Heineken is thinking of pulling out of the sponsorship. English rugby union sold itself entirely to satellite TV, but then stepped back.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the financial costs are not the only consequence? More important is the fact that by removing itself to, say, Sky, with an audience of 400,000, compared with the 9 million that the Rugby Football Union would have got on BBC with the six nations tournament, it is denying the next generation of sporting heroes the opportunity to see the current sporting heroes? Often, people get involved in sport because they see Kelly Holmes or Martin Johnson doing their work week in, week out. That encourages people to get involved at local community level. The trend is dangerous because of its effect on sporting access for the future.

Mr. Grogan: My hon. Friend puts his finger on the key point in this debate. We are all looking forward to the test match series this summer, when England will play Australia for the Ashes, and it is instructive to see how our major cricketing rivals deal with this issue. They have what they call anti-siphoning legislation, as they do not want their top sporting events to be siphoned away so that only a few people can see them. The extensive list that has been drawn up includes not only test matches in Australia, but test matches involving England and Australia that take place in England, as well as all cricket world cup matches.
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This year's series will be shown on Channel 4, because the old contract will still apply, but the next Ashes series will be shown only on BSkyB. Perhaps the Australians realise that some poor boy in 2009 in some Australian suburb may get up in the morning, watch the end of the test match, perhaps at Headingley, and be inspired to go out and play cricket. Even if he sees the match on a battered television set and his parents will never be able to afford subscription TV, he may go out and play a makeshift game all day long and perhaps one day open the batting for Australia. Is it not sad that, when that same series and Headingley test match take place, a lad from not well-off circumstances in Hunslet or Harehills, just miles from the ground in Leeds, will not be able to be inspired by watching the match live? Highlights are not really the same thing; they do not quicken the blood in the same way.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making a very strong case. Does he agree that the problem is that we have lost not only test cricket, but all cricket, from mainstream television? Even with rugby or football, there were opportunities to watch the games, whether they were in the FA cup or different cup competitions in rugby. That will not be true of cricket, which has sold its soul completely in respect of terrestrial television. That really is unacceptable.

Mr. Grogan: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The only cricket that will be shown is highlights on Channel 5, which is not available in some parts of the country. It is sad that the only listed event that was not shown even in highlights form on terrestrial TV was the cricket world cup in 2003, which featured on the B list. Perhaps it would be appropriate to say a gentle word to the BBC, suggesting that it may have a role in the televising of cricket in future and should perhaps bid for the highlights of the cricket world cup in 2007 as a way back into cricket. If Parliament puts these events on the list, our major public service broadcasters have a responsibility to at least try to show them.

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