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Lord Elton: One does not often in Committee have to rely on the Government to explain the workings of an Opposition amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will forgive me if I ask him to be a little more specific about what he intends to be the effect of the amendment, apart from the obvious lacuna pointed out by my noble friend.
Lord Lyell: I support the remarks of my noble friend the Minister on this amendment. When I examined subsection (1) I was somewhat chilled by the words. Indeed, the Minister covered most of my comments, and quite beautifully.
I too was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, introduced his amendment so briefly. With his memory, above all of the Government, let alone individual politicians, mingling in sport (not to mention the noble Lord's previous great sporting prowess) he will know that the Government's entry into sporting matters did not always meet with enormous success. I recall the dramas of the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. The Government became heavily involved in 1980 in whether the team should or should not go to Moscow, and whether the 1980 Moscow Olympics should or should not be shown. I also recall the events of 1988, which will no doubt be seared into the memory of the noble Lord, Lord Howell--to wit, the proceedings on the Football Spectators Bill. Events in this Chamber and in another place showed that when government tried to become involved in matters of sport, let alone what is shown on television, they got into very great difficulty.
Subsection (1) contains the kernel of the amendment. My noble friend sets out what is "reasonable". He has also stressed the powers given to the commission, which is no doubt composed of reasonable people. Looking at my noble compatriot, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, I think that nobody could be more reasonable than he is. Even he might admit that the powers in subsection (1) are pretty draconian. Perhaps they are not intended to be, but their effect certainly would be.
Perhaps the noble Lord, when he comes to speak, or the Minister, might lay my curiosity to rest on one point. Subsection (5) refers to the "national interest". I have not been able to grasp the definition in Section 182 of the original Act. Does "national interest" refer to the United Kingdom?
Perhaps I may explain matters in this way. Let us suppose that a young Scot does extraordinarily well in a skiing event. To my knowledge only one major international skiing race has been held in Scotland. However, given some good skiing weather, there could be events in the future. The young Scot does particularly well, and the rights to that event have been sold to Sky, to subscription television or to a pay-as-you-view channel. Suddenly, along comes the BBC or ITV--
I have mentioned skiing and "Ski Sunday". It is a minority sport. I declare an interest as former chairman of the Lords and Commons Ski Club. I have been a skier for 23 years, together with my noble friend Lord Oxfuird, who is in the Chair, and with other noble Lords. I believe it was 20 years ago that the BBC introduced "Ski Sunday". One evening I took the step of telephoning the BBC to say thank you for what I appreciated was a minority sport being shown on terrestrial television. The BBC took an editorial view that there was sufficient interest in this particular sport to project it at peak time, apparently between "The Money Programme" and "Rugby Special". I am advised that 10 to 12 years ago the viewing figures were 4½ million for "Ski Sunday" on BBC 2.
I rang the executive producer this morning. We spoke about the fees and the prices for sport referred to in the previous amendment. He told me that the cost to the BBC, thanks to the European Broadcasting Union, has quintupled over the past 12 years. The BBC is happy to pay that. That just shows what is covered by our £86 licence fee--in this case, a minority sport which only in exceptional circumstances can be practised within the United Kingdom under the scope of this Bill. The BBC needs the facility. I am delighted to tell the Minister and the Committee that the BBC is pre-eminent in this particular sport in the United Kingdom.
That said, I really do wonder whether the proposers of the amendment before us realise the draconian nature of the powers set out in subsection (1). Indeed, I wonder whether they mean what is printed there. I look forward to my noble friend's reply and to any corrections that he may wish to make.
The Marquess of Reading: I shall be very brief. As I understand it, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that, where a subscription channel holds all the rights to a sporting event that does not appear within the group of eight listed events, the rights to TV highlights or live radio rights cannot be hoarded.
We all accept that sports will want to maximise revenues. We have set out a very limited list of events which the nation believes must be protected by legislation to show live on mainstream channels. However, there are many other events which, while not necessarily falling into the group of "crown jewels of sport" are nevertheless important events which people want to see in highlight programmes--for example, "Match of the Day"--or perhaps want to hear on live radio. If there is a powerful media player in the field with deep pockets and a virtual monopoly, that player is in a strong position to say to the sports body: "That's what we will offer and we want all the rights for that amount".
This amendment is necessary. It would ensure that, where a subscription channel has live rights, the rights to highlights or radio rights have to be sold on to other channels with a universal audience. The amendment would not be retrospective. There is no question that existing contracts would be hit. It could help the sports bodies to create a new set of secondary sporting rights. There will be live rights on TV, recorded rights and rights to highlights. There will be live radio rights. No large media owner will be able to tell the sports rights holders, "We will negotiate only if you sell your rights to us". They will be able to negotiate in different markets and extract the highest price in each. This amendment works in the interests of the viewer, the listener and the sports bodies. It is the best long-term bet to stop monopolies emerging. The World Cup Final could be bought by a minority channel and tiny numbers would see it. That cannot be right. The amendment is about events that unite our nation and allow us to share moments defining our culture and our heritage. I hope that the Committee will support the amendment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I wish to make a comment which I hope will be helpful to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I believe that those concerned with the last amendment have won an important argument. I suggest to the noble Lord who proposed the amendment that enough is perhaps enough for the day. If my noble friend on the Front Bench is prepared to say that he will carefully consider all the issues raised by this amendment along with the last one, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will agree to withdraw the amendment. My name is not in fact attached to it. It raises very complicated issues, to some of which my noble friend has referred.
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