Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend's Answer mean that it is the policy of the Government not to allow the grant of legal aid to people of ample wealth but to restrict it to those who need legal aid if they are to be legally represented?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that is the policy and that is the way in which the regulations are framed. The regulations apply to everyone. Faced with an expensive criminal trial, it may be that a person who might enjoy some financial resources will not have sufficient to deal with the case, and the legal aid arrangements take that into account. The important point is that the regulations are the same for everyone but there are situations whereby, because of apparent

5 Mar 1996 : Column 154

support from friends and relatives, people seem to enjoy a better lifestyle than their position would suggest under the exact terms of the regulations. That is why I propose to change the regulations, as I said. I believe that that will address this problem in a fairly fundamental way and will be in pursuance of the objective that my noble friend has just enunciated.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the regulations need drastic amendment so far as concerns the Legal Aid Board? Can he confirm that under no circumstances should an illegal immigrant obtain legal aid which is funded by the taxpayer? Does he further agree that it is a complete and utter waste of taxpayers' money given to illegal immigrants?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the circumstances in which legal aid is available are set out in regulations which, on the whole, are fair and reasonable in application. But one must take account of the possibility that I mentioned earlier of people being supported outside the scope of the present regulations. Perhaps I should mention in fairness to the Legal Aid Board that, where it is a matter of legal aid in criminal proceedings, generally speaking the legal aid authority is the court rather the Legal Aid Board. But the court applies the regulations under which legal aid is available.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is a certain amount of public disquiet about very substantial sums disbursed in legal aid for criminal trials. Over what period of time following the conclusion of a trial is the remit of the investigations unit intended to extend? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that circumstances may differ quite substantially at the time legal aid is granted before a criminal trial and after the conclusion of some trials?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the principal objective of the unit is to investigate the situation at the time the question arises of whether or not legal aid should be granted and the conditions under which it should be granted. Those can be reviewed, as the noble Lord will know, in the light of changes of circumstances, when they come to the notice of the legal aid authorities. But the primary purpose of the unit is to deal with people whose finances appear complicated at the stage at which legal aid is being considered.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord must be aware of the recent case of a person who was shot by the police during an armed hold-up being granted legal aid. If my information is correct, certain other information was then discovered and the legal aid was withdrawn. I put quite a pointed question. It would appear that the amount of legal aid depends on the amount of information submitted by lawyers on behalf of the claimant. If a lawyer acting on behalf of an accused person deliberately or knowingly withholds information or perjures himself by giving wrong information to the board or court, can he be brought before the court for perjury?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, if a lawyer is party to any kind of fraud on the legal aid authorities,

5 Mar 1996 : Column 155

consequences will follow. But in relation to the specific case to which the noble Lord refers, it is worth pointing out that the legal aid granted was only at stages; it was not full legal aid to pursue the whole matter.

The Legal Aid Board is dependent on the information submitted to it. It is not a court of trial. It must proceed on the basis of the information supplied to it, and that information may develop as the case develops. It is therefore right that it should review the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said, that is what happened in the case to which he referred; further information came to the knowledge of the Legal Aid Board after the initial information had been given which led it to initiate the proceedings to discharge the certificate in question.

Broadcasting Bill [H.L.]

3.10 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

"Unbundling" of sports broadcasting rights

(".--(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 182 of the 1990 Act, the Commission or the Radio Authority shall do all that they can to ensure that broadcast sporting events are available as widely as possible in the United Kingdom and in particular shall ensure that, in respect of any person who is a licensee either of the Commission or the Radio Authority--
(a) where such person is the holder of exclusive live rights for the broadcasting of such an event, if he proposes to exercise those rights in the course of providing a subscription or pay-per-view service, he shall offer, upon reasonable terms, to a universal broadcaster (whether or not the same person as the provider of the subscription or pay-per-view service), the right to broadcast television highlights of that event on the same day as the live broadcast of the event taking place; and
(b) where such a person is the holder of exclusive live rights for the broadcasting of such an event, if he proposes to exercise those rights wholly or partly by means of a universal broadcasting service, he shall offer, upon reasonable terms, the right to broadcast television highlights of that event on the same day as the live broadcast of the event taking place to a person offering a subscription or pay-per-view service (whether or not the same person as the universal broadcaster);
(c) where such person is the holder of exclusive rights to broadcast television coverage of any sporting event, if he is also the holder of the right to broadcast live coverage of the sporting event on radio ("radio rights") and is not able to exercise those radio rights, he shall offer the radio rights, on reasonable terms, to a universal sound broadcasting service;
(d) where such person is the holder of exclusive radio rights which he will not be exercising to a substantial extent he shall offer such radio rights on reasonable terms to a universal sound broadcasting service,
and for the purposes of this subsection "television highlights" means a recorded extract of the coverage of a whole sporting event, such selection to be made by the universal broadcaster for the purposes of paragraph (a) and by the subscription or pay-per-view broadcaster for the purposes of paragraph (b).
(2) For the purposes of this subsection--
(a) a programme is included in any service on pay-per-view or subscription terms if subscribers shall or may be obliged to pay a specified fee or

5 Mar 1996 : Column 156

charge specifically in consideration for the right to view a particular transmission or a particular television channel; and
(b) a broadcasting service is universally received if it is received by or delivered to over 90% in aggregate of all households in the area appropriate to the sporting event, and
(i) the terms "universal broadcaster" and "universal broadcasting service" shall be construed accordingly, and
(ii) "universal broadcaster" shall be deemed to include Channel 5.
(3) Every licence granted by the Commission and the Radio Authority pursuant to this Act and the 1990 Act shall include such conditions as are necessary for securing compliance by their licensees with directions given by the Commission or the Authority in the discharge of their duties under this section, and such directions shall be enforceable at the suit of the Commission or the Authority as the case may be.
(4) In discharging their duty under subsection (1)(c) and (d) the Commission or the Radio Authority shall have regard to the interests of the local area or national region as far as the sporting event is concerned.
(5) If the holder of exclusive rights is a licensee neither of the Commission nor the Radio Authority, and is not S4C or the BBC, and he fails to make those rights available on reasonable terms for the purposes of subsection (1) the Commission or the Radio Authority shall refer the matter to the Director General of Fair Trading who shall determine the terms on which those rights or any of them are to be licensed.
(6) The Governors of the BBC shall be under a duty to ensure that the BBC complies with subsection (2) as if the BBC had been expressly referred to in that subsection.
(7) The Welsh Authority shall be under a duty to ensure that S4C complies with subsection (1) as if S4C had been expressly referred to in that subsection.
(8) For the purposes of subsection (1) above any agreement for exclusive rights for the broadcasting of any sporting event shall be registered with the Director General of Fair Trading.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 1 is concerned with a subject with the unfortunate title of "unbundling"; or, to we laymen, the right to show highlights of sporting events on television on any channel when those events have been negotiated live by another channel. It follows naturally from our discussions in Committee and the vote taken by this Chamber on that occasion to protect the eight listed events so that they are always available on terrestrial television.

The Government announced yesterday that they have accepted the will of the House on that matter. I immediately welcome that decision and thank the Minister for it. So far so good. Such a decision will be appreciated throughout the country by the millions of people who do not have access to Sky or cable. However, we have not yet had sight of the amendment and need to look at that before giving the statement a total and unqualified welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said in his statement that one of his objectives was to make the list "more transparent", whatever that means; to establish a criteria,

    "as a reference point for the future";
and to give further consideration to this "interesting suggestion". I have no quarrel with any of that. However, the Minister will appreciate that we must wait to see what that means in practice, especially in relation to any period of time for review of the matter.

5 Mar 1996 : Column 157

I turn to the amendment, which deals with the question of highlights of all sporting events outside the listed events; that is, the majority of sporting events which appear on television. It is a question of major importance for the sporting public and for television viewers. Your Lordships will have some idea of the events in question when I refer to the Ryder Cup in golf, the Open Golf Championship, the Cheltenham Gold Cup Festival, Royal Ascot, the Five Nations Rugby Tournament, the European Golf Tour and the Rugby League Cup, among others. That will tell the House how important is the matter that we are discussing.

Unless action is taken to protect the rights of the public, those events could disappear from the television screens in millions of homes. I illustrate the point by reference to the Open Golf Championship, for which I understand Mr. Murdoch offered £24 million. It has not yet been signed up. If he secures that event, and if there is no provision such as is sought by the amendment so that the highlights can appear on the BBC, independent television or Channel 5, then three-quarters of this nation will see nothing of the event on their television screens. If we apply that argument to the other events I mentioned, the House will gain an insight into the seriousness of the situation that will arise.

I cannot believe that the Government want that to happen. Undoubtedly there would be an uprising in the land if all that sporting excellence is suddenly removed from the television screens in the homes of so many people, which is what happened in regard to the Ryder Cup. The House will recall that when we last debated the matter I quoted the exclusion clause which excluded the BBC. Sky has since told me that the BBC got it wrong and was in fact referring to other golfing tournaments. I do not accept that, but as I have only just been given that information I shall need to look at it with care.

In my judgment it will do a great disservice to sport as well as to the national interests of the viewing public if we allow the dangers I outlined--which are very real--to exist. The Murdoch millions could remove a great chunk of British sport from the television screens of the great majority of British viewers.

The amendment seeks to say that where a pay television broadcaster has exclusive live rights it must make the highlights available to a terrestrial broadcaster; where a terrestrial broadcaster owns the exclusive live rights it must make highlights available to a pay TV broadcaster; and, where a broadcaster holds the radio rights but is unable to exercise that right because, for example, it does not have a radio station, then it must ensure that the live rights are sold to another broadcaster and are not hoarded.

The amendment attempts to be even-handed and provide the rights to both terrestrial and subscription television. It places a specific duty upon the Independent Television Commission to ensure that, if live rights have been sold into one market, then the highlights should be sold into another. If a pay channel has exclusive live rights--as, for example, in the forthcoming boxing match between Tyson and Bruno--then highlights

5 Mar 1996 : Column 158

should be offered on reasonable terms to universal broadcasters, and vice versa. The Radio Authority is given a similar responsibility in respect of rights holders which are commercial radio stations.

The term "television highlights" is given a legal definition with the selection of extracts to be made by the purchaser. The legislation is intended to cover the BBC, with clear obligations on the governors to ensure, first, that it complies, and on the Welsh Authority in relation to S4C; and, secondly, that the matter is effectively dealt with. That obligation is also upon Channel 5, where it is included in the universal market to reflect the obligations it has taken on to maximise its audience by spending money to retune video recorders.

A new duty is created to register all those deals and to give the Office of Fair Trading the power to unbundle where the offending party is not a licensee of the ITC or the Radio Authority. The price for these events-- a reasonable price--would be decided between the purchaser and the vendor. That is happening today--this very day--with cricket World Cup highlights being shown to BBC viewers under an agreement between the BBC and Sky. Noble Lords will remember that we informed them of that in the previous debate. I believe that it came about largely because of the tabling of the amendment we are now discussing. The offer was made again to the BBC and taken up at a price of £1 million. Whether I am right about that is a matter of small consequence. What is important is that the highlights have been made available. Every night we can watch World Cup cricket. We can hope that the England team get it right and do a bit better. I am happy to say that I think the £1 million well spent. I hope that it will be better well spent when we reach the quarter finals of the competition in a few days' time.

On the "Today" programme on 6th February Mr. David Elstein, head of programmes for Sky, told James Naughtie, that our proposals would be,

    "wonderful news for Sky. We would now get highlights of all the listed events".
Exactly, my Lords. He got it right. I am very pleased that it is good news for Sky. I hope that Sky and Mr. Elstein will maintain that posture about the rest of the highlights we seek to protect. I hope that they are not opposed to the amendment. From discussions I have had I fear that I may be hoping in vain.

The Minister will tell us, according to the statement he issued yesterday, which again we appreciate--he was being very helpful as he always is--the result of the Government's ludicrous consultation exercise. We were told that the Government would consult all and sundry--everyone in the land--over a period of two years. I am sorry, I should have said two weeks. Two years would have been more appropriate. I am sorry for that slip. He will claim that that is what they have done. He will say, I believe, that his consultation exercise shows no substantial demand for protecting the highlights and that all the concern is about the listed events. That is not the case. I am sorry to say to the Minister that I take issue with him about his interpretation of his consultation exercise, although we really do not know much about it.

5 Mar 1996 : Column 159

For example, the Independent CHA Sensor Poll, carried out on 20th February, which is only a week or two ago, found that two-thirds of cable and satellite viewers were unlikely to take up pay TV and that 80 per cent. of all viewers think the Government should legislate to protect the highlights. I hope the Minister will tell us today the organisations which were consulted and which could speak for the 30 million people without cable or Sky television. That is an important matter. I, for one, would like to meet the organisations the Government believe speak for the nation in order to find out exactly what they said and why the Government have not accepted their advice. They have rejected their advice.

One of the organisations consulted was the Voice of Listener and Viewer organisation. I have had the opportunity this morning to speak to Professor Vincent Porter of Westminster University who tells me that he was consulted. He spoke to officials in the department for one-and-a-half hours. What he told me is quite fascinating. He said that he drew the Government's attention to the fact that the Copyright Act guarantees,

    "freedom to report news and current events".
That removes from our discussion any doubt as to whether the terrestrial channels can show on news programmes events which Murdoch has bought. That seems to have been cleared up, and I should like the Minister to confirm that.

Professor Porter drew my attention to a case in the European Court. I know that this is not a good day to quote in aid the European Court; nevertheless it decides what European law is. Therefore, we have to take account of it. The professor told me that it had recently made case law in a case which the BBC lost. The court determined that any holder of a contract for live television would be in breach of competition policy if it did not provide for the separation of highlights. That is a recent decision of the European Court. Not to do so would be contrary to the competition directive of the European Commission. The European Commission is apparently following up the matter.

The key is that the policy has to be exercised for the maximum benefit of the viewer. The European Court decided that not to allow highlights would not be for the maximum benefit of the viewer. If that case law is right there is no need for my amendment. I am anxious to hear what the Minister has to say. I assume that the Government know about the decision of the European Court. No one has informed us about it until now. I assume that since the professor spoke to the officials in the department the Government have had the opportunity to examine what the professor told them. I hope that the Minister feels able to give an authoritative comment and ruling today. If this viewers' organisation is wrong, we must persist with our amendment. If it is right, we shall probably need to think again. We await the Minister's response.

There is one final point. If we cannot protect the highlights of so many events of such importance to millions of people, and if, as appears to be the case, the Government do not wish to assist us to do that, then almost inevitably we shall have to do the job ourselves

5 Mar 1996 : Column 160

at Third Reading. We shall have to seek to add to the list of events. The Five Nations Rugby and some of the other events I read out need to be protected. That is my judgment and, I believe, the judgment of many of your Lordships and certainly masses of the public. If the Government will not protect them, and if they are not protected, I hope the Minister will take note that inevitably we shall have to return to the matter at Third Reading and attempt to extend the number of listed events in order to achieve our objective.

As I said, I hope very much that, having moved this amendment in what I hope is a reasonable spirit of conciliation with the Government, we can get some movement. I am aware that the Sports Council is trying now to draw up a voluntary code of conduct in these matters. I am not usually very enamoured by voluntary codes because often people find ways to break them. It will be a significant advance if a voluntary code is drawn up and all the television companies and sports bodies agree to accept it. We shall have to wait and see how that goes. I do not expect the Minister to be able to tell us much more about it now.

I hope that I have done enough to convince your Lordships that this is another matter of major importance, but perhaps we might have to do more work on it. However, it is right to raise it now and possibly to seek a vote either today or at Third Reading. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Aberdare: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his success at Committee stage in getting the present Clause 1 written into the Bill. I also join with him in thanking my noble friend the Minister in having agreed that this is a worthwhile clause and that he is to produce another amendment at Third Reading which will help it along.

At first sight, and from what the noble Lord said, this amendment too is very attractive despite that most unattractive word "unbundling". The amendment has been eloquently moved. But I have come to the conclusion that it is not an amendment which your Lordships should accept. It is immensely complicated. Your Lordships have only to look at the amendment on the Marshalled List to see how difficult it is to understand. Even after the noble Lord's explanation, I do not believe that I really understand what it is all about. I am sure it will cause great difficulty in its implementation, both to broadcasters and to the governing bodies of sport.

More importantly, it interferes radically with the rights of the sports bodies to negotiate freely with the broadcasters. They own these rights and they are used to negotiating with the broadcasters, covering all the various alternative arrangements that are available, from live broadcasting, recorded broadcasting and radio broadcasting. It is one thing to interfere with the so-called "jewels in the crown". That covers an already existing list, presently applied to terrestrial broadcasting only, and great national sporting occasions, which should indeed be available to the widest possible public. It contributes to that expression which we were discussing recently in another debate, "social cohesion".

5 Mar 1996 : Column 161

But to go further and interfere by statute in all sporting rights is a much more serious step. Is it really necessary? Rights holders with sufficient mass appeal are already unbundling their rights. Cricket, football and Rugby Union authorities have all chosen a mixture of satellite and terrestrial coverage. The noble Lord mentioned the World Cup. I saw the England v. Pakistan World Cup highlights and I agree with him that it was not always pleasurable viewing; but there it was on Channel 2. Sports authorities are perfectly well able to decide between the large financial incitements offered by BSkyB and the far greater audiences offered by BBC and ITV. That has proved the case where the Olympic Games and lawn tennis have both opted in favour of large audiences.

These are complicated negotiations that have to take place each time and in my opinion they are much better left to be decided without statutory interference. Moreover, there are a number of minority sports where compulsory unbundling would be quite inappropriate and probably to their disadvantage. Is it intended, then, to issue another list of sports liable to unbundling?

Recently the noble Lord, Lord Howell, criticised the Central Council for Physical Recreation. I say nothing about his criticism, but I believe that even he would recognise that the views expressed by the CCPR do represent those of most, if not all, the governing bodies of sport. They have benefited greatly from the increase in sports broadcasting and they would greatly resent any statutory interference with their rights.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page