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Mr. Reed: Particularly with the advent of BBC 3 and BBC 4, does not digital television give the BBC a significant opportunity, bearing in mind the difficulties of broadcasting cricket and the length of the game, particularly in comparison with the capabilities on Sky? Would my hon. Friend encourage the BBC to look at using BBC 3 and BBC 4 as sports channels so that sports fans can have genuine access on terrestrial television?
Mr. Grogan: The BBC needs to use all its channels to show some sport. Indeed, there have been some very good sports documentaries on BBC 4, and a few sporting events have been shown on BBC 3. As we move into the digital future, BBC 3, which is aimed at least partially at the youth market, would be a natural home for some sports.
Before I mention a couple of other sports, I wish to underline that cricket gets a lot of public money each year. Between 2000 and 2004, cricket at national and club level got more than £50 million of Government and lottery cash. If public money is being used to build some
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of the stadiums, it behoves the cricket authorities to ensure that people can see a little bit of what goes on inside them. The fear must be that cricket has sold its soul to BSkyB. Who will bid next time? Will the terrestrial broadcasters do so, or will BSkyB be the only bidder?
I said that I would mention a couple of other sports. Tennis is worthy of mention, because it might be the next sport under threat. In Britain, only the Wimbledon finals are listed, not the Wimbledon fortnight. It was listed until 1991, but is now on the B list, not the A list. In Australia, strangely, the whole of the Wimbledon fortnight is listed and must be shown on terrestrial television. What a tragedy it would be if we could not see Tim Henman at Wimbledon. He may make the finals one day, but so far he has appeared only in the earlier part of the two weeks, when matches are not listed.
The same applies to golf. Again, it is strange that the British Open is listed in Australia but not in Britain. There is also a case for listing the last day of the Ryder cup. Europe may be at its most popular in Britain during the Ryder cup, and it is a pity that we cannot see it live.
I am not concerned with broadcast considerations, but with ordinary citizenssports fans, and sportsmen and women who play their sport in a village or suburban team for many years, then make the teas, coach, and try to find the next generation. They will never sit on the CCPR or in hospitality boxes, but if they are not well-off in their old age, should not theyand their grandchildrenbe able to see the great events live? I think that the CCPR, which calls itself, "One voice for sport and recreation", but is really one voice for sports administrators, should rethink its policy.
I want to draw the Minister's attention to two specific points. First, we need to review the legislation in the run-up to digital switchover, because it is not clear that it will all work, technically speaking, when that happens. Secondly, the European television without frontiers directive is to be reviewed in the next year or so, and I hope that during their presidency the Government will ensure that the clauses affecting listed events are retained.
There is no better measure of the success of the policy of sporting listed events than that of the TV programmes that did well in viewing figures last year. The England-Portugal game had 20.7 million viewers, peaking at 24 million during penalties, and was the most watched TV event of last year. The England-France game had 17.8 million viewers. Other events that feature in the top 50 are the never-to-be-forgotten Saturday night of the victories by Kelly Holmes and the 4 x 100 m relay team; the Olympics opening ceremony, and the grand national. If those events were not listed and went to the highest bidder, much of the nation would not talk about them at the bus stop, in the school hall and in the office, because they would not have been able to see them. That would diminish our nation.
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My requests of the Minister are modest. We are approaching the election, and I suggest that it would be appropriate to include in our manifesto a couple of sentences about listed events. That would show, first, that we are proud as a Government of our record on keeping and, indeed, extending them, and that we are committed to them post-digital switchover; and secondly, that at an appropriate time we will review them and decide whether there is a case for adding to them.
The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) on securing the debate and the duo whom he has brought with him, my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), on participating in it at this late hour.
I acknowledge the interest and expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and the part that he played in scrutinising the Communications Act 2003. Although that measure offered no major changes to the aspect of communications that we are discussing, it considered it.
I join my three hon. Friends in acknowledging the importance of sport on television. The instances that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby gave, for example, of Kelly Holmesher first victory was named the top television moment of 2004 by viewersclearly brought the nation together during the Olympics. Two and a half times as many people watched England lose the match that my hon. Friend mentioned. I was interested to hear that the number of viewers increased during penalties. I suspect that if the people who genuinely watched the penalties were counted, the figures would drop dramatically, because it was a case of watching with our eyes shut. However, it was a special evening that brought the nation together.
Indeed, when we think back to 1966, such occasions provide several moments that we continue to talk about. They can still be unifying factors even three and four decades on. There is no difference of opinion between my hon. Friends and me about that. Sport is about national identity and national pride. When we get it right, sport at its best allows us to be different and to support different teams in a collegiate and friendly manner. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the list and sport.
My hon. Friend, however, began by referring to the many, not the few. It is important to emphasise that even 21 million are the few, not the many. We must remember that a majority chose not to watch the penalties in the European championship match when England was knocked out. We must ensure that terrestrial television offers something for all viewers, whatever their interests. It is not a matter for Government, but perhaps terrestrial channels sometimes do not bid for some sports, especially cricket, because the matches last far longer than 90 minutes, plus 30 minutes for extra time and 15 minutes for penalties.
Let me outline Government policy for listing sport. My hon. Friend reasonably mentioned the future. He made a generous speech, and although he expressed his unhappiness about the England and Wales Cricket Board's decision, he looked to the future and to safeguarding something important. Let me therefore
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bring us up to date by stating Government policy. As my hon. Friend said, it is important that key sporting events are made available to all television viewers, including those who cannot afford or choose not to spend their money in that way. That has led to the solid protection by law of the listed events.
We all agree that we cannot possibly list all sports. The listed events are those that are believed to have a special national resonance. There is a dangerand an understandable trendamong sports enthusiasts that they want their sport listed so that they can watch it free on terrestrial television. However, that is not the purpose of the list, which is to involve the nation and ensure that the unifying factor can be brought to bear.
The listing process was reviewed in 1998 to ensure that it was as open and transparent as possible. As my hon. Friend said, the Government consulted on the criteria and then appointed an independent advisory group to make recommendations on listing. It is worth putting on record the criteria on which consultation was held and that were subsequently agreed for listing events.
Listed events must have a special national resonance and not simply be significant to those who follow the sport. They should unite the nation in a shared point on the national calendar. The Wimbledon finals are key examples. Consideration should be given to events that are likely to command a large television audience, such as pre-eminent national or international sports events and those involving the national team or national representatives.
The advisory group to which my hon. Friend referred considered the number of events. At that point, the notion of groups A and B came into being. Perhaps if we had not split the list into groups A and B, we would not be conducting a debate today that is based on dissatisfaction about the decision about cricket. However, it could have appeared on list A, although obviously it was put on list B. That meant that it would no longer be guaranteed to be shown live on terrestrial television, and although I accept that cricket is popular, I believe that lists A and B as a mechanism have provided an alternative in sometimes difficult times for audience share and pleasing everybody. As well as list A, which guarantees live coverage, we have list B, which guarantees showing highlights at some point. And of course, Channel 5 was able to do that with cricket. I accept the argument that Channel 5 is not as readily available throughout the nation as other terrestrial channels, but the establishment of groups A and B has enhanced the number of opportunities for our citizens to watch key events, rather than reducing it.
There is another side to this argument. When we talk about what sports terrestrial television is not able to broadcast, we must also remember that BSkyB is able to broadcast them. We should not therefore say that everything is lost if BSkyB gets a particular contract, as long as the rules are followed. Because of the way in which the market works, the price being paid for the television rights to both live broadcasts and recorded highlights is going up and up. I suspect that that is one factor that causes difficulty for the BBC and other terrestrial channels when they are considering their need to ensure that the wider audience is catered for. In
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regard to terrestrial channels other than the BBC, advertising revenue might be put at risk in certain circumstances.
I hope however that my hon. Friend will consider it a good thing that, following the signing of the Central Council of Physical Recreation's voluntary code on sports broadcasting rights in 1997 by major organisations including the England and Wales Cricket Board, those organisations are now pledging 5 per cent. of their revenue from television to grass-roots schemes.
We can always argue about which determining factor might have made a future captain of Australia's cricket team become the brilliant player that he or she might be. They could have watched great matches on television, and I do not argue with the contention that there is nothing like watching a live match to enthuse people and to allow them to dream. For young people, such dreams are important. Equally, however, the enhanced sports facilities at grass-roots level, paid for by that 5 per cent. of the television revenue, might have been a determining factor in that young person's life.
This is a time of great change. Ten or 15 years ago, the issues involved would have been significantly different. At issue today is the number of viewers who can watch BSkyB and who have access to digital television. My hon. Friend rightly asked why the Government did not review the list in the light of the changes, and whether we would give an undertaking to do so. I certainly cannot give him an undertaking to put such a commitment into the manifesto, as he asked. However, I could give him an undertaking to review the list, because that is absolutely essential.
We know from other deliberations that we have had in the House that, as we move towards 2012, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State carries out her review of the BBC, we are in a time when things move fast. Predicting the future is becoming increasingly difficult. However, there will presumably be an increase in the number of people subscribing to Sky and other digital outlets in the next few years, alongside the growth of freeview. That will naturally change the landscape. Nevertheless, sports rights contracts run for a number of years, and I do not see a pressing need to pledge to review the list now, or to feel under pressure to
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do so, given that it was reviewed in 1998. But I recognise that the list has to reflect not only the changing views of broadcasting. I do not want to fall into the trap that my hon. Friend mentioned. This is not a policy for broadcasters; it is a policy for sport and for most people who watch sport through the medium of broadcasting, so the list also has to reflect the changing views of the sports concerned. Successes in certain events resulting in increased viewer loyalty could mean that the 1998 list should be reviewed in due course.
Looking back, it is amazing how little the sports and events that one would assume to be the most popular have changed. My hon. Friend mentioned the most popular sports and they are, in the main, the same ones that bound the nation together when I was a teenager, which was more years ago than I care to remember. We must always bear in mind, however, the potential for changing views in sport. The switch to digital broadcasting, and the move towards a multi-channel environmentwhether subscription or free to airchange the landscape. I think it not unreasonable for the Government to pledge to take that into account, and to announce, at the appropriate time, what they will do about reviewing the list. I do not know when that will be. Things may be changing too quickly for us to be able to predict it, and certainly the Government have no plans to make an announcement or name a date yet.
The debate is timely. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Selby for initiating it, and thank my other hon. Friends for contributing. I think it behoves the Government to make it clear to broadcasters, citizens and sports players that although the arrangements may be set in stone now, they will not be set in stone for ever. We shall want to ensure that we make the necessary changes, so that the fundamental idea that live television coverage of these key events should be a great unifying force for the nation continues to hold.
No doubt in future years my hon. Friend will be back, asking when the Government will review the list. Long may he continue to do so. I am grateful for the opportunity to put the Government's case during this short but important debate, and to confirm their commitment to listed sport.
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