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12 Jan 2010 : Column 208WH—continued

12.19 pm

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on securing the debate. He has always been a courageous politician, who speaks out on the issues that matter most to him, and I hope that he has a successful year. I also congratulate him on how he has advanced his cause. Many of us saw the horrific events last year, and have responded all around the world with heartfelt concern for those affected. My hon. Friend put his case very well.

The Government's position starts firmly from the belief that, in all our responses, we should focus on the desirability of an enduring peace in the middle east. All hon. Members will know the Government's position, but I state for the record that we believe in a two-state solution, with a viable-not violable, as I believe I heard the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) say-Palestinian state and Israel secure within her borders.

Of course, as two of my hon. Friends said, Israel has an absolute right to protect itself. However, that does not give it carte blanche to use any means that it wants, and nor does it allow it to stray beyond the bounds of what is morally right or what is legally right under international law-or, for that matter, under its own law.

Similarly, Israel has a right to build homes for its people, but it does not have the right to build homes exactly where it chooses. We have made it absolutely clear that we are critical of all plans to continue with the settlement process, particularly in East Jerusalem. We believe that Israel should stop all illegal settlements. Indeed, that is why we supported the statement made at the European Council's December meeting:

That is strongly our view as well.

We also urge upon Israel the absolute seriousness of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which was mentioned by several hon. Members. It is morally indefensible to
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kettle the Palestinian people. The hon. Member for Braintree asked about the Government's view on enabling the reconstruction of Gaza. We do not believe that that is moving fast enough. With our colleagues in the European Union, we have urged Israel to be open to much more humanitarian aid. We are not able to provide the support that we stand ready to give, and we urge Israel to do more.

Mr. Carswell: The Minister says that we should ensure that we do not kettle the people of Gaza. Two countries border Gaza. Egypt, too, has responsibilities in that regard.

Chris Bryant: Yes, of course. That is why we want to ensure that humanitarian aid can get through. However, aid is also needed to enable people to rebuild homes that were destroyed a year ago. To us, that seems a vital part of the ongoing peace process. That is why I am glad that the European Union came to a clear view on the matter before Christmas. The continued policy of closure was unacceptable and, we believe, politically counter-productive.

Jane Kennedy: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend when he is in full flow. The EU passed a view on that point, but may I press him on the matter? Will the EU, and my hon. Friend in discussion with other Ministers, do more than take a view and come together to see whether solutions cannot be found to help Israel find ways to open the border crossing?

Chris Bryant: Yes. There is constant discussion between our Prime Minister and others, particularly Mr. Sarkozy, the President of France, about how we might do that. However, I do not want to underestimate the difficulties. Of course, while Hamas refuses to renounce violence, it will always be more difficult. I return to the fact that, especially in winter months, there is a real humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We want to see humanitarian aid and other aid get through as fast as possible.

Several hon. Members spoke of universal jurisdiction. We wholeheartedly support that concept. That is why we have always supported the International Criminal Court. On a slightly different point, it is why we have always supported the European arrest warrant. There are crimes that need to be prosecuted, whether through the European arrest warrant or the international arrest warrant. We need people to appear before a court, and to be prosecuted. However, the direct parallel with General Pinochet drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is a slightly different matter.

I was disappointed that, for a time, it was not possible to bring Pinochet to trial for the undoubtedly criminal acts that he ordered in Chile, not least because several of my friends were killed there under his dictatorship. That case was slightly different, however; the problem was extradition. In the present case, it is vital that international war crimes are prosecuted. It seems odd and unusual that in England and Wales-but not in Scotland, which has a different legal system-arrest warrants can be sought and issued without the prior request of the police or the advice of a prosecutor. That is different from what pertains in many other countries. The key point is that we wholeheartedly support the
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concept of universal jurisdiction. The question is how it is prosecuted in individual countries. Discussions about how we can move forward are ongoing, and I hope that they will bear fruit in the near future.

Jeremy Corbyn: The problem with the Minister's description is this: if the law is changed to allow the universal arrest warrant to be issued against individuals only with the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General-or the Home Secretary, the equivalent of the Minister of the Interior-one moves straight into the political field. We have already heard statements from Ministers here that Israeli Ministers and leaders, whoever they might be, must be free to travel in this country. That suggests that the ability to obtain an arrest warrant through a district judge is a powerful and important instrument for human rights and humanitarian law.

Chris Bryant: In some aspects, my hon. Friend has a point. It is not that the Government want literally any politician, anywhere in the world, to be free to come to the UK because we want a conversation with them. However, I push it back to my hon. Friend: if we are to secure peace in the middle east it would be difficult were politicians-it is different for Ministers, as they would not be caught-not able to travel to the UK. We have an important role.

Several hon. Members rose-

Chris Bryant: I give way first to the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell).

Mr. Carswell: Briefly, on the Tzipi Livni case, will we change the law? Yes or no? If so, when?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman did not quite catch me saying that discussions are ongoing, but I am sorry to say that I shall disappoint him. I am not able to reveal what the Government intend, but I hope that we will soon be able to do so. We support the idea of universal jurisdiction, but how it is applied in the UK is a matter for us to consider. None the less, other countries would not be able to move to a prosecution without a prosecutor having made a case, and without the police having requested a warrant. It is important that we move to a system under which politicians from Israel-and, for that matter, other countries-should be able to travel to the UK, but as I said earlier, it should not be a carte blanche arrangement for all.

Richard Burden: That goes to the heart of why people believe that there are double standards. The Minister refers to what the Government are looking at doing in relation to the question of international jurisdiction and its applicability in the UK. In relation to settlements, the blockade and Goldstone, he speaks not of what the Government are doing but of what they are saying. If they are going to do something about universal jurisdiction, what will they do to ensure that the Goldstone report is properly investigated and the matter tried in an internationally recognised institution?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Incidentally, I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews);
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it is a sadness that Parliament will not have the benefit of his counsel after the election. However, he and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) both said that evidence needs to be tested. They are right.

I pay tribute to many elements of the Goldstone report. There were 188 interviews, and more than 300 reports were reviewed. However, it does not provide the whole story. The report itself acknowledges that, but it was for reasons to do with Israel's not providing evidence and not engaging with the report, which we deprecate. We wish that Israel had taken part.

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Davies Review

12.30 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): This is the fifth time that I have had the pleasure of initiating a debate on free-to-air sporting events. The first such occasion was on 2 April 2003-we were all so much younger then-and that was followed by debates in January 2005, in 2008 and in April 2009. However, I have never been more optimistic or more chipper about the future of listed sporting events than I am on this occasion, and that is largely because of the findings of the Davies committee review of listed events. The Davies review is the fifth such review since 1981, when the then Conservative Government passed the Broadcasting Act 1981, which put listed events on a statutory basis for the first time; before that, there had just been an agreement between the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. With some reservations, I welcome many of the recommendations in the Davies committee report.

Three fundamental principles underlie the report. First, it recognises the relevance of listed events in the digital age. Although there will be far more channels than in the past, not everyone will be able to afford the £400 that Sky Sports, for example, costs, so the basic divide will remain.

Secondly, the report provides interesting analysis of how many people have access to premium sports channels. Frontier Economics did a study for the committee and calculated that on the basis that 60 per cent. of BSkyB customers and 25 per cent. of Virgin Media customers subscribe to premium sports channels, and given that Ofcom estimates that there were about 12.5 million pay-TV households in 2008, about 6.1 million households have access to premium sports channels, which means that an awful lot of households have no access.

Thirdly, the review provided statistics underlining the fact that an event will attract far more viewers when it is on the A list than when it is on subscription TV. There are many examples of that. When Andy Murray was in the final of the 2008 US Open, viewing figures on Sky peaked at 1.4 million, compared with 12.7 million on the BBC when Nadal played Federer at Wimbledon. In the same year that viewing figures for Open golf reached about 13 million on the BBC, those for the Ryder cup reached about 3.6 million on Sky.

I welcome the fact that the Davies review reinforced all those points. I also welcome the additions that the review proposed to the A list of events that must be made available to free-to-air TV.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to the debate about the A list, may I congratulate him on bringing to the House a debate that affects the quality of life of millions of people? People are really interested in this issue and want us to address it and get policy right. Before he moves away from Sky, however, does he deplore its charging policy for pubs and clubs, which adds to the divide that he mentioned and denies access to key sporting events to a group of people who work hard all their lives and who deserve to see sporting events?

Mr. Grogan: As chairman of the all-party group on beer, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the issue of subscription TV access to sport in pubs is often pressed on me. Sky's charges have gone up by about 800 per
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cent. over the years, which makes it difficult for many publicans to show subscription sport. It is also unfortunate that publicans can access Sky Sports channels only through the Sky Sports platform and not other platforms, which is a restraint on competition.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing a debate on a long-held interest of his, which I share. Although I accept that the viewing figures are much lower on paid-for TV channels such as Sky, does he accept that Sky has done an enormous amount to raise the standard of TV sports coverage?

Mr. Grogan: I accept entirely that Sky Sports coverage, for those who have access to it, is magnificent. Sky has developed its platform and its business in an era when listed events have been part of our lives, so the two are not incompatible. For the serious sports fan who can afford subscription sport, Sky and ESPN-there could be other players in the future-play a magnificent and important role.

The six events that the Davies committee suggested should go on the A list were the home Ashes cricket series; the qualifiers for the European football championships and the World cup in the home nations concerned; Welsh rugby union matches in the Six Nations, for broadcast just in Wales; and the Open golf championship, the rugby union world cup and the Wimbledon tennis tournament in their entirety.

I have two qualifications, however, about a couple of the deletions that the report proposes from the A list. First, it is interesting that the British Olympic Association has opposed the deletion of the winter Olympics. We are all looking forward to Vancouver in a few weeks' time, and who knows when we will have another curling moment or another Torvill and Dean moment, when the nation, to its surprise-certainly on the former occasion-was gripped by British success at the winter Olympics? The British Olympic Association is wise to suggest that the winter Olympics should remain on the list. Similarly, the rugby league challenge cup final has been discussed in a separate debate, so I will not dwell on it, but it is seen as a central event in national life, particularly in the north of England, and there is a case for keeping it on the list, particularly as that is the view of the rugby league authorities themselves.

Secondly, Davies suggests dropping the B list of events that must be made available in highlight form. Highlights were extremely politically controversial last year, when the highlights of the England versus Ukraine football match became available only at the last minute and those of the British Lions tour of South Africa were available only in Wales. That shows the potential for the B list to help viewers.

The central point I want to address is that the governing bodies may not have reacted quite so positively to the Davies committee report. Some have suggested that expanding the A list will have a real impact on grass-roots support, and I want to rebut that argument in a number of ways.

First, it is worth remembering that many of our sporting competitors have protected-list events. In Australia, for example, cricket test matches are listed, and Australians
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could sit up through the night last summer watching their national team's defeat, even though we could not have the pleasure of doing so in the UK without access to Sky TV. I have spoken to Cricket Australia, which is much more positive about Australian legislation on the issue-also being reviewed at the moment-than the England and Wales Cricket Board is about proposals here, and it is possible that some 2020 events will be listed in the Australian review. In Australia, people argue that English cricket is an example of why the country needs to retain its list. Equally, in Germany, France, Ireland, Belgium and Italy, the national football team's qualifying matches are currently listed.

It is also worth remembering that free-to-air broadcasters do not get their rights for free when it comes to the A list; they have to pay a fair and reasonable price. The rights holders-the ECB or anyone else-can appeal to the regulator, Ofcom, to set that price, which is partly based on past prices and the state of the market. Most governing bodies recognise the need for balance and share their rights between free-to-air and subscription broadcasters. Rugby league famously does that and has seen a continuing increase in its income over the years, sharing coverage between the BBC and Sky. Rugby union and golf also adopt such an approach. The ECB has adopted a rather different approach in recent years, but it has been controversial in English cricket, and indeed was one of the major issues dividing the counties the last two times that Giles Clarke stood for election to the ECB.

I would argue that in the national interest, some limited intervention is necessary, and I look to the views of Andrew Strauss, the England cricket captain. On 20 November 2009, The Times reported that Strauss had declined to support the ECB's campaign to continue being allowed to sell broadcast coverage of the Ashes to the highest bidder in the free market:

That statement was brave and important.

Mr. Wilson: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely powerful case. Does he agree that coverage of the home Ashes could be shown on both free-to-air and pay TV, as in South Africa?

Mr. Grogan: Absolutely, and the listed events regime allows that to happen. For the Ashes, we are in effect talking about 2017 because the 2013 series has already been sold. However, that seems to be the obvious solution, and there are precedents for it. This year and in previous years, Sky and the BBC have both shown the FA cup final live, and in the future that will be true of ESPN and ITV. In all cases, only some of the rights of any governing body will be listed. For cricket, the vast majority of test matches, one-day internationals and so on will be up for sale to the highest bidder, should the ECB so wish. It is unlikely that Sky and other subscription broadcasters will walk away from the table, particularly if there is the potential to simulcast the Ashes series in 2017, which is some way away.

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There are also the national football teams of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a great pity that until Scotland qualifies for a European championship or a World cup, someone could grow up in Scotland and never see their national team on free-to-air TV. It is important to recognise that the Davies proposals suggest that qualifying matches be listed only in the home nation concerned. Football authorities in Scotland would still be able to sell the rights to the rest of the United Kingdom, and there would probably be competitive bidding, particularly between the BBC and ITV. With digital expansion, many more channels will meet the qualifying criteria of availability to 95 per cent. of the population. Once we have digital switchover, instead of five channels qualifying for those criteria, there could well be 10, 15 or more.

Most governing bodies receive public money from the lottery and the Sports Council to fund grass-roots sport and other activities. That is explicitly recognised in the Government's consultation document, which states that

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