Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: I have a curious interest to declare, in that I have long been writing articles in Mr. Rupert Murdoch's newspapers and I own a few shares in News Corporation and in News International. But I had them long before I came into this House and they do not arise from my being a Member of this House or of this Committee. I also have an interest in how racing is affected in this matter. I have been chairman of the Tote since 1976 and I came into this House in 1987. Therefore, although I declare it, I have no interest that arises out of being a Member of this House.

I was afraid that the occasion of moving the amendment would become a Murdoch-bashing exercise. It owes more to that than it does to common sense. I was very sorry that my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Howell, took the extraordinary view that he did. Nearly every person and every organisation connected with sport, including the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which represents 300 organisations, want to be able to see the highest bidder get these great sporting events in order to fructify the sports which receive the money so that they may find the people and train the people who are going to be the great heroes and play for England in the future.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 132

The Ryder Cup was mentioned. When the BBC had the Ryder Cup, it did not cover every day. Since BSkyB has had the Ryder Cup, it has covered every day and all of it. That shows how much more dedicated BSkyB is and how much better it is at showing sports programmes than the BBC. There was also a reference to the elderly and the infirm. They are always trundled out on these occasions. Perhaps I may say that more than 30,000 pubs and clubs provide free entry to elderly and infirm people, who can go there to watch free all the sports on BSkyB. So that argument is a non-starter as well. There is also the point that the friends or relations of the infirm may be willing to subscribe for them in order that they may have BSkyB programmes, whether they pay for a particular item or for the whole lot.

We were told that the BSkyB contribution to football stands has been nothing at all. That is not true. It has contributed a good deal to football stands, as have the organisations to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred.

Then we had the question of highlights. What are highlights? How long are highlights to be? The argument for the showing of highlights concerns how much will be used and how long they go on for. That is what the argument is about. As I understand it, Sky has no wish to stop the selling of highlights, provided it can get an agreement on how much will be used.

Lord Howell: I have read out the contract under which Sky prevents the BBC from showing any highlights.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: But I have later information than the noble Lord has.

Great play was made with restrictive practices and there were suggestions of a cartel. That has nothing to do with BSkyB. If there is a cartel, that has to do with the clubs themselves. If the matter goes to the restrictive practices court--and BSkyB has nothing to do with it--BSkyB is quite happy to deal with all the organisations involved separately if they wish. BSkyB has no standing in this matter at all. The matter has been raised as a smear against BSkyB to suggest that it will fall foul of the restrictive practices court.

My old friend the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, made an extraordinary statement. He said that Mr. Murdoch was a Canadian and what a terrible thing that was. I am sorry, he said that he was an American. I have got that wrong. I was thinking of Mr. Black, who is the main owner of a newspaper which I thought was sacred to the Tory Party. There has been no complaint about him being a foreigner. I thought it was very xenophobic for the noble Lord to refer to Mr. Murdoch as he did.

4 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I should like to get this matter absolutely straight because we are on sensitive ground. I do not believe that I ever mentioned Mr. Black and I certainly did not mention the word "Canadian".

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: I have already accepted that. He was referred to as an American citizen and Mr. Murdoch was named. That was the xenophobic part.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 133

Why is it that there was no reference or smear as regards Mr. Black, who is also a foreign owner in this capacity; namely, a Canadian? He is not a British citizen. It is because he is the promoter or controller of the Daily Telegraph.

Lord Thomson of Fleet, as he was called, said that his ownership and monopoly of Scottish television was a licence to print money, and no one complained at all in the Tory Party, although he was a Canadian. He owned the Sunday Times as well, which in those days was a fervent supporter of the Tory Party. It is rather disgraceful to introduce these xenophobic criticisms into the situation.

So far, less than 1 per cent. of sport previously shown on BBC and ITV has been transferred to BSkyB, so I do not see a great threat of a monopoly in this regard. It is not a monopoly at all. It is a field of intense competition and I thought the Tory Party believed in competition, but it appears that they do not if Mr. Murdoch is allowed to take part.

From the racing point of view, we would like to see every important race such as the Derby, the Grand National, the Queen Elizabeth and King George VI Stakes, the Diamond Stakes and so on, sold to the highest bidder because we have been hit very badly by the lottery and racing deserves to be able to get as much money back as it can. It is very negative of people to say that the Derby has necessarily to be shown by the BBC or whatever terrestrial station it may be. That is a very negative approach. The race should be open to free bidding. It is, in a sense, because it has already been sold to sponsors. I do not believe it is wrong for anything owned by racing to be sold to the highest bidder in order to gain some benefit to counteract the lottery among other things and also to promote the interests of racing. I am sorry that noble Lords take an opposite view. Many noble Lords here today are so determined to blacken Mr. Murdoch that the entire sky is filled with soot and a television could not be seen if there was one in front of us!

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: That is so. This is a ridiculous, concerted attack on one man because he has been more successful than others. After all, he was the person who put up satellites when no one else dared to do so. He showed the way at Wapping so that at last newspapers were able to be printed, which could not have taken place before.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: We are discussing Sky television and television broadcasting, not industrial relations in the printing industry. However, if the noble Lord is willing to table a Motion to that effect, I shall be happy to debate it.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: I am sorry to say to the noble Baroness that we have been discussing at length the character of Mr. Murdoch.

Noble Lords: No! No!

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: Oh yes we have! If noble Lords have not noticed that they must be stone deaf. That is a very big part of the story. Mr. Murdoch has

6 Feb 1996 : Column 134

been a great entrepreneur who has freed up competition. He is envied because he has been successful. Many people in this country do not like those who are successful. I am enjoying myself!

A Noble Lord: Dig deeper!

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: The BBC forces the elderly and infirm to pay licence fees even if they do not want to watch BBC. In 1994, 763 people were jailed for non-payment of their licence fee, but no one is jailed for taking Sky programmes, whether for sport or anything else. No one is forced to watch those programmes because most people have "turn-off" switches on their television sets. Anyway, I believe that I have said enough.

Noble Lords: Hear! Hear!

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: I have said enough to show that the whole of this amendment is directed ad hominem, and absurdly, against someone who has done much for television in this country and for satellite television. He has risked a great deal of his own money and nearly went bust in doing so. Therefore, I very much hope that the Committee will reject this amendment.

Lord Barnett: I doubt if the Government--

Viscount Whitelaw: I do not intend to take a very long time over this matter. It is very important to get the measure we are discussing this afternoon exactly right. I personally am just as keen as many other noble Lords who have spoken about the various issues. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said that he did nothing, but that is not quite true. I know what he did at the time and he did quite a lot. It is wrong to say that he did not. He did many things very well indeed and I admired them very much. I do not believe that it is worth his while getting up. He knows that perfectly well.

We have a very difficult decision to make. I do not believe that it is easy simply to say, "I want various sports and I am going to have them in this way". I have great sympathy with many Members of the Committee in what they say, including the noble Lord, Lord Howell. But I do not believe that it is right for us to decide at this time that we are going to have a measure of this kind changed. There is a great deal still to be done. Perhaps I am not allowed to call the noble Lord, Lord Thompson, my friend, but he is. He said that he thought that it was very important to get the matter right. I could not agree with him more. It is very important to get the matter right.

How is that to be done? I do not believe that we shall do it by approving this measure at this time. Equally, I accept at once that something needs to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, made some very wise and true remarks. However, I do not want to see the Committee deciding at this moment on the measure before we have the opportunity to talk to more people and discuss it further.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page