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Stonehenge: Route for A.303

2.48 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Highways Agency has appointed Dr. John Samuels to give advice on the archaeological aspects of A.303 improvement schemes near Stonehenge. The agency has discussed the schemes with other government departments and with English Heritage and has now arranged a planning conference as a forum for debate between all interested parties. The Highways Agency is not promoting any specific route.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will he explain to the House why the Highways Agency, contrary to earlier assurances, has not involved the Department of National Heritage or English Heritage in the organisation of the conference? Why is the notorious yellow route put forward in the brochure as one of the options when it was withdrawn by a previous Minister of Transport as unacceptable on environmental grounds in July 1994? Will my noble friend assure the House that there has not been a change of policy in the department on the yellow route and so direct the engineers who are running this curious conference?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I can confirm that there has been no change of policy and that the yellow and grey routes were withdrawn by my honourable

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friend Mr. Norris. They remain withdrawn. They are included in the brochure to show those interested what work has already been done. The brochure makes clear that the routes have been withdrawn. On the question of consultation, I must emphasise that the Highways Agency has worked very closely with English Heritage throughout the process. A large number of meetings have taken place between the Highways Agency and English Heritage. I am pleased that English Heritage will take part in the conference.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, is it not strange that the agency has put forward for public discussion routes which it no longer wishes to build and therefore presumably will not build however much the public approve of them? Is it not even more strange that the agency has not put forward for public discussion the only route to meet with the general approval of the archaeological community in the country, including the Government's advisers, and all others who care for Stonehenge as a monument, namely a long tunnel under the existing road, which would be the shortest long tunnel there could be?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord questions why a number of options have not been put forward. We have put forward the work that has been done, routes that have been worked up and those that are considered affordable. As for English Heritage's preferred route, that has changed as the process has been taken forward. English Heritage now sees considerable merit in the so-called northern purple route, which is one of the options on the table, albeit with a length of tunnel in the north-eastern corner.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is a very important road? It is needed, but it must be right. It is not acceptable that routes should be rejected as being unaffordable, as was indicated in my noble friend's Written Answer yesterday. It would be much better not to build the new road until the Government can afford the right solution. I am sure that the Government would not wish to leave a cheap and inappropriate heirloom at this crucial site. Can we be reassured on that point?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, we have to live in the real world and have some consideration for cost. We are talking of a very long tunnel and costs of a magnitude of some £300 million as against perhaps £40 million for one of the other routes. It must be true that all the routes considered so far produce real environmental gains and real benefits for the world heritage site itself. We have not decided on a route. We are not even proposing a route at the moment. The purpose of the conference is to get everyone together to talk over the issues in a less formal setting than a public inquiry and to see if some consensus can be reached.

Noble Lords: My Lords—

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, one at a time!

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am only going to ask one question at a time. The noble and learned Lord

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can feel satisfied about that. Does the noble Viscount agree that the inclusion of the yellow and grey routes in whatever indicative way was capable of being totally misunderstood by the local population and that it would have been better for that not to have happened? Is he also aware that we on this side of the House believe that the overriding concern must be the protection of the world heritage site of Stonehenge? Will he give a complete and firm undertaking that that will be the ultimate consideration?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the protection of the world heritage site is a very high priority. We must also consider safety, traffic and the needs of local people. There is a wide variety of issues. I can confirm that we give the highest possible priority to the great importance of Stonehenge as a world heritage site in this country.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people find it puzzling that after 10 years of consultation about the route of the A.303—discussions in which I was involved for many years—there is now to be yet another inquiry which I gather will not be a statutory inquiry so there will have to be a public inquiry afterwards anyway?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is right. It is not a statutory process but it is a device that we have used in other circumstances where there is a clear polarity of opinion. We have chosen to take the process forward in this way because the very consultation which my noble friend described was inconclusive. We did not get any firm idea of what was the best way forward. That is why we are proceeding in this manner.

The Earl of Strafford: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the aspirations of archaeologists, important as they are, cannot be the sole criterion for judging which is the best route?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords, I agree with the noble Earl.

Sporting Events on Television

2.55 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take steps to ensure that all major sporting events are made available to terrestrial television viewers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): No, my Lords. With the exception of listed sports events which cannot be shown on a pay-per-view basis, sports rights holders should continue to be free to dispose of their rights to broadcast in the way they choose. It is for them to judge the best balance between the level of income from broadcasting rights, the size of the television audience, the amount and type of coverage and the impact on potential spectators and supporters.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when the existing television contracts for our

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main sporting events end shortly, Sky television will bid for the first time? There is no doubt that Sky can easily outbid the BBC and ITV. That means that some of our major sporting events such as the FA Cup Final, the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Grand National will be seen only by those people who can afford to pay £180 a year for the Sky sports channel. That is about 20 per cent. of all households. Therefore, will the Government not admit that the present situation is lamentable and that in two years' time the FA Cup Final will only be seen by those people who have Sky television? That is a disgraceful situation. I hope that the Government will do something not only about that event but about all national sporting events so as to make sure that everyone can see them without having to pay the extra fee charged by Sky.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I can only reiterate the point that I made in my first reply. It seems that the noble Lord is jumping an awful lot of hurdles in one bound in assuming that Sky will acquire these rights. There is a variety of possible interests and permutations. I can only refer the noble Lord to a report in the Independent of the 13th of this month, in which a representative of football interests says that:

    "anybody who thinks Sky has it all sewn up just does not know the facts".

Lord Stodart of Leaston: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a certain royal and ancient game is involved in this particular subject? Will he please consider that, while his answers so far appear to be par for the course, many of us would like to see him strike a few birdies?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his golfing question. Since I am no golfer myself I am not entirely clear what he meant. In a sense, that illustrates some of the problems in this area. There is a list of events, to which I have referred, and golf is not included on it. No doubt the golfing industry and golf in general has benefited greatly from the recent contract with Sky.

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