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Lord Weatherill: One of the blessed things about your Lordships' Chamber is that, unlike the other place, there is no need to repeat arguments that have already been well made. Now that I am a "free man" and travel by buses and on trains, I am occasionally accosted by members of the public. In recent days I have lost count of the number of people who have said to me, "What are you going to do about the so-called crown jewels of sport?".
I should declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of United Artists, which is a cable company with a pay-as-you-view channel. Nevertheless, it is because 85 per cent. of our countrymen do not have cable or Sky TV that I attached my name to the amendment.
I am aware of the consultation document produced by the Government. The trouble with consultation is that it takes time. Your Lordships would therefore be wise to consider carefully the amendments on the Marshalled List this afternoon tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and others. They seek to ensure that the majority of people in our country--the old as well as the young--are able to continue to watch the highlights of the eight major events of sport as was envisaged in the 1990 Act. It is for that reason that I strongly support the amendment to which I attach my name today.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: I warmly support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and supported by the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Weatherill. In the debates in the passage of the 1990 Bill through this House, I moved an amendment with a similar purpose. But those were the days before Mr. David Mellor saw the light in these matters and my amendment was soundly defeated. It did not at that time enjoy quite the strength of support across the Chamber that has been engendered by this amendment today. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will be able to accept the amendment or, if he does not, that the sense of the Committee will find itself in support of it.
Since the 1990 Act the problem has become more urgent with the immense growth of broadcast sport on satellite television. I recognise that that growth is largely due to BSkyB and it deserves credit for widening the
My view--I hope it is not unduly naive; after spending 10 years as chairman of one of the broadcasting authorities it is difficult to retain any naivety about broadcasting matters--is that these conflicts are reconcilable if the Government will give a lead and those concerned show a little less greed and a little more willingness to consider the general public interest; that is, the interest of the viewers and the listeners.
It is sometimes forgotten that BSkyB, for all its enterprise in this matter and for all that it has widened the choice for those of us who are addicts of specific sports, and despite commanding a number of different satellite channels, has only 4.5 per cent. of the total television audience in this country. It is those who use the terrestrial broadcasting system that provide more than 90 per cent. of the television audience. It may sometimes be forgotten when we argue about the pros and cons of subscription broadcasting that the 90 per cent. plus of ordinary people using terrestrial channels are themselves engaged in a form of subscription broadcasting. It is a positive form because they all pay a licence fee and thus they are entitled to have their interests properly taken into account.
I do not believe that those interests can be left adequately to the sporting organisations, despite the eloquent letter in The Times quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The timing of the letter must have seemed somewhat unfortunate, since it coincided with the announcement by the Office of Fair Trading that it was referring to the restrictive practices court the activities of one of the major sporting organisations in football associated with the activities of BSkyB. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, quoted the rather devastating information that the licence agreement between one of the great golfing organisations--the PGA--and BSkyB specifically excluded any possibility of the Ryder Cup highlights being shown on BBC for the general benefit of the British public.
I applaud the public spirit of the IOC--the International Olympic Committee--in deciding to accept the lower bid of the European public service broadcasting organisations rather than the higher bid of Rupert Murdoch's news corporation, which would have put the Olympic Games, until the year 2008, into the hands of his organisation.
It is the Government's responsibility to define the public interest and then to defend it. I do not believe that in tackling that we needed the consultancy exercise which took us all by surprise at the end of last week. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for whom we have the greatest respect as a responsible Minister in this Chamber, made two good speeches on the Second Reading of this Bill. But I did not hear him whisper in
We all know that the real purpose behind the consultation exercise was cosmetic; it was a way of dealing with a divided Cabinet--divided on the issue of how far it should go down the purely market road in the matter of broadcasting where public interest should be dominant, and perhaps not so divided in its collective funk in facing up to the influence and power of Mr. Murdoch in a pre-election year.
It is important to remember that the listed events that we are discussing in this amendment are, in fact, only a small proportion of total sports broadcasting; but they are a special bit of it. They are not merely sporting occasions; they are national occasions of a special character. The listed events are now 40 years old and represent occasions which, in many ways, help to hold the nation together and give it a sense of being "one nation"--to quote a familiar phrase. There are all sorts of dear old ladies in Monifieth who apply themselves to watching the listed events on the television screen but who otherwise have no knowledge of the sport that they are watching and would not dream of attending a football match or a cricket Test match. They are special events and deserve a special degree of protection from the Government.
It is important to emphasise that in preserving the listed events we do not give to the terrestrial broadcasters--who compete with each other; there are now three or four competing terrestrial broadcasters--the exclusive right to those events. If the satellite broadcasters want to include these listed events in their package, they should be perfectly free to do so--it is important that they should be--or perfectly free to negotiate highlights of them. Banning exclusivity in the broadcasting of sporting events is the essence both for listed events and indeed for the rather wider and perhaps in some ways more important aspects of general sporting events, an area to which we shall come in the next clause.
I heard the Secretary of State today saying that one of her reasons for going through this curious period of consultation was that she wanted to try to ensure flexibility in relation to sporting events. I was puzzled by that because, if ever there was a flexible instrument of government, it is the sporting events. They are entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can recommend adding to them or taking away from them. They can therefore be adjusted to take account of changing circumstances.
I have had a case put to me in the past few days from the Test and County Cricket Board. It was not seeking to be disengaged from listed events but the force of its argument was that test matches are a rather exceptional sporting special event. They go on for five days several times a year and therefore they are quite different from a football match which takes place over 90 minutes. I am a heathen Scot and I hesitate to make remarks about
I have some final remarks about the future. In pressing this amendment, all of us are aware that the world of broadcasting is changing fairly quickly. One of the main areas of the Bill that we shall come on to and try to understand is digital broadcasting, with its increased number of channels. It may well be that by the end of the century there will be a need to review this formula. For my part, I should be content if there were some provision for that kind of view. I am reinforced in that by having looked up the debate during which my original amendment on these matters was turned down in July 1990. At that time the Minister responding was the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. In sustaining the Government's position at that time, he set out the reason why the 1990 Act applied only to pay-for-view and did not mention subscription services generally. He said that the only way for the foreseeable future that those channels would be able to show listed events profitably would be by charging for them on a pay-per-view basis. What has happened is that BSkyB has been extraordinarily profitable by offering a general subscription service. This country does not yet enjoy any pay-per-view service, although I understand that BSkyB is thinking about it for a great boxing match that lies immediately ahead of us.
I urge the Government to accept the amendment. They should do so looking forward to the future. They should hold the present position to at least the end of the century and make sure that, while the present situation exists, in which less than 5 per cent. of people enjoy BSkyB offerings and more than 90 per cent. depend on the public service broadcasting channels, the protection of the listed events should be extended and preserved.
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