Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Annan: There is only one real issue, which is: do we put the interests of the consumers--that is, the viewers--first? I very much hope that the Committee will believe that we should do that. The second point is that if the proposals contained in the amendment were not given top consideration and the amendment failed to be accepted, I wonder how long the licence fee would last. Surely the licence fee exists to ensure that terrestrial television should be able to show all events of this kind.

Lord Aberdare: I had no intention of speaking in the debate but the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned my name and the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, took up the point. Perhaps I should put the record straight. My comments are related to the claim by BSkyB that all the £400 million-odd which has been put into building magnificent new football stadia came from its sources. That is not true. My organisation, the Football Trust, of which I am happy to be chairman, subscribed approximately one-third of that money and it is proud of what has been achieved. It is also most grateful to the Government because, indirectly, that money comes from the reduction in the football pools betting duty via the football pools companies. The remaining two-thirds came from the clubs, which are deserving of considerable praise as regards the money that they have given, and no doubt they were helped to a large extent by the money that they received from BSkyB. That is the situation in reality.

Perhaps I may add that I came into the Chamber today not having made up my mind about the amendment but being unconvinced and undecided about what to do. However, from what I have heard I find the case for the amendment very convincing.

Viscount Caldecote: There is little more to be said in favour of the amendment, but I wish to make one point that has not yet been made. The issue is in danger of being seen merely as striking a balance between the financial benefits to sport and an excessive monopoly which is detrimental to the public interest. However, there is more benefit from sport than money. The public have given enormous support to sport, and without the expansion that the public have helped to generate there would not be nearly so much high-quality sport to be televised. The Central Council for Physical Recreation states in its briefing:


I do not agree with that. The vital issue is to give the greatest possible opportunity to everyone, in particular the young, to watch sport on TV. That is also in the best interests of sport and of improving the quality of life in this country.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 141

Lord Donoughue: It is not flattering the Committee to say that this has been a marvellous debate and that we have had fine contributions from all sides. As a signatory to the amendment, I believe that nearly all Members--and I almost include the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt--one way or another ended up on our side.

I do not wish to make a long speech, but I shall try to focus on the points that have arisen. As was said in a nutshell by my noble friend Lord Callaghan, the central issue is to ensure that the nation can watch national sports and that no minority monopoly can shut out 85 per cent. of sports lovers. Accordingly, the amendment is based on the 1990 Act. The Minister, putting that Act through another place, stated his support for our amendment.

The amendment is not intended to ban sports from Sky television. It bans monopoly, whether it is Sky or terrestrial television. That is most important. The amendment is not against market forces. I am not against market forces. I believe that I am the only former member of the London Stock Exchange ever to sit on this Front Bench. I am certainly in favour of market forces. All will be free to bid non-exclusively for live coverage, for highlights, for news extracts. A later amendment covers the question of highlights.

The amendment is against monopoly control and its possible potential practices. Action taken today by the Director-General of Fair Trading, which I need not go into in detail, reinforces our anxieties. I should be surprised if the Government wished to extend the listed events into waters which potentially contain such practices. I have a copy of the Ryder Cup contract which illustrates how the public can be shut out.

I am not against sports receiving a fair return from broadcasting rights. A few sports governing bodies--and it is a few--are taking what I believe to be a short-term, money-only view. Not all, I may say. Today I saw that the Football Association made an excellently balanced statement. However, it is not in the long-term interests of sports to offer broadcasters what will ultimately be monopoly rights. It will be a monopoly because, as has been said, if the BBC and ITV do not receive a share of the sports rights they will shrink and will not have the resources to compete. When all the sports are in that monopoly cupboard the payments will be cut, because that is normal monopoly behaviour.

It is not in the interest of sports to shut out 85 per cent. of their supporters; to shut out the pensioners and the unemployed who in good times were able to go to the matches and who might be able to afford Sky television but certainly not the licence, which is 400 per cent. more than the BBC licence. As the noble Baroness said, it is not in the interests of any of us to shut out the youth of this country and to shut out young sportsmen so that they cannot see their good role models.

I now turn to what actually faces us today; namely, the consultation issue and whether to vote. Like the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, I must confess that it

6 Feb 1996 : Column 142

crossed my mind that the consultation process was a sort of device to bypass this Chamber during the Committee stage. That happened to be my subsequent reaction. But, being a trusting man, it merely hovered a while. It occurred to me that the Bill has been two years in preparation. It was published last year. We had a magnificent Second Reading debate when, as has been said, the Minister made a wonderfully long speech. But there was no time to mention the point of consultation.

Who are they going to consult? Surely they have no need to consult any friends in Sky, or Sky Sport's clients, because their views are fully reflected in the consultation document which has nine quotes from Sky's PR document. In fact, the nation has already discussed the matter and thrashed it out. It has already been consulted and that has shown that 90 per cent. of the nation support our position; as, indeed, do two-thirds of Sky's sport viewers, among whom I am one.

The all-party Select Committee with a Conservative majority has already been consulted and, with that majority, was unanimous in support of our position. MPs in another place were polled over the weekend by MORI. That poll showed that a majority of Conservatives, and an overwhelming majority of all others, support our position. I believe that the Government should consult this Chamber today and not try to avoid it. There is no need for delay.

I wonder why the Government are still apparently siding with a minority monopoly. I would say to the Minister that if he can tell us today that the Government will go away and return with draft clauses or proposals which meet the spirit of our amendments and of what the nation wants, then I am sure that we would sympathetically consider withdrawing the amendment and supporting the Government on Report. Our amendment may be defective, but, as my noble friend said, many defective amendments have been put before this Chamber by the Government.

However, if the Government simply ask us for delay because of some potentially spurious further consultation to avoid the will of this Chamber, then I believe that we should vote to show that we do not like being bypassed; to show our opinion that the nation should have access to televised sport; to show that we are not toothless; and to show that, ironically, on this issue, as on a number of others, this Chamber stands in the mainstream of national popular opinion. I believe that it is our historic role to express our view in Committee and to send it to another place.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: The Government welcome the helpful and high quality debate that we are having on this important issue. Parliament has the last word in this matter and it is, therefore, for Parliament to decide; so a proper understanding of noble Lords' views is essential for us.

This is a topic which quite properly and understandably is of concern to many noble Lords. It is equally so to sporting bodies, to broadcasters, and to

6 Feb 1996 : Column 143

the wider public, be they regular viewers of sport on television, occasional watchers, participants, or those children and young people who may be inspired to take part. The Government recognise those concerns and, as I said, we value what has been said in today's debate. We are grateful for the spirit in which the debate has been conducted. Perhaps I may thank noble Lords for their kind personal remarks about me, albeit recognising the fact that they were, normally, a shield for rather more barbed comment about the Government.

I should like to say something about the general issues which are relevant in considering new controls in this area. I shall then turn to the specific amendment that has been moved. But, before I do so, I want to respond to some of the procedural comments made about the Government's position paper which, as has been said, was issued last week.

The Broadcasting Bill before the House establishes new structures for digital terrestrial broadcasting, and sets out a new framework for the ownership of licensed services. Throughout the work that we have done bringing the Bill forward we have deliberately endeavoured to consult widely in respect of the matters that it covers. That process has, I think and hope, been generally welcomed and we intend to proceed with the Bill on that basis because it seems the right way of dealing with such legislation. It has enabled us to be more sure that we have got to the bottom of the issues on which we propose to legislate and that we have taken proper account of the legitimate interests of those affected by them.

The amendments that we are discussing today are entirely distinct from the proposals in the Bill as introduced. They seek to introduce new controls on broadcasting sports rights beyond those in the Broadcasting Act 1990. The issues may look relatively straightforward alongside some of the technical broadcasting matters that we shall debate later in Committee, but, in reality, they are no less complicated for reasons that I shall try to explain. Equally, they affect significantly a wide range of interests.

Hence, just as we did for media ownership and digital policy, we concluded after careful thought that it was right to put out a discussion paper to inform this new debate and to give those whose interests might be affected to their own detriment the opportunity to put their case. Surely that is only fair. It will also improve our understanding of the issues.

We accordingly published a discussion paper last week. It is just that--a discussion paper. It does not advocate any particular proposal. It derives much of its factual content from the Heritage Select Committee Report to the other place in 1994. Within the next fortnight we aim to conclude a series of discussions on it with groups of broadcasters, sports interests, regulatory bodies and bodies representing viewer and consumer interests. In the light of this, the Government will decide on the merits of proposals for possible legislative change. The timetable is compressed. That is because sports rights did not form part of the Bill as introduced before Christmas. We are proceeding with all possible speed, and I plan to make clear the Government's

6 Feb 1996 : Column 144

intentions as to how they mean to proceed no later than Report stage. We will clearly need to take full account of opinions aired in this Chamber today, and shall do so. That will provide the basis for plenty of fuller discussion and debate.

I can specifically reassure Members of the Committee that that process is not intended to cut across parliamentary debate, but to assist it. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton for his kind comments in reference to the remark about "a grubby manoeuvre". I was so busy working on problems relating to free-to-air broadcasting that I did not have any time to listen, so I was not actually aware of those comments.

I really believe that what we have done does not raise constitutional issues which damage, demean or in any way impugn the role played by this Chamber. On the contrary, I can assure Members of the Committee that today's debate will be a very significant contribution to our thinking. Noble Lords will have ample opportunity to return to the matter on Report and beyond, and to do so on the basis of fuller information on the implications of action in the area and of the Government's intentions. In short, further consideration of these matters can only increase noble Lords' input on this aspect of the Bill and our scope for influencing this matter for the best.

However, as we all know, there is increasing and understandable public concern that the next stage in the development of subscription television could pose a serious threat to the ability of terrestrial free-to-air broadcasters to provide coverage of key sporting events--those which have a wider resonance than just to the committed fan. In considering how to respond to those concerns, we need to reflect on and accurately and precisely analyse the complex and changing balance between the interests of the sporting bodies, the new cable, satellite and digital terrestrial television services, the traditional broadcasters, the general viewing public's wishes and aspirations and the interests of those who participate. In particular we must ensure the interests of the disadvantaged, the disabled and the least well off are not lost sight of.

It is clear, however, that the development of subscription television for sport alongside terrestrial television, whatever problems it may pose, has had some beneficial effects. Significantly increased income for broadcasting rights has benefited sport at all levels. For example, it has enabled the TCCB, to give but one example, to invest substantial sums in cricket training at grass roots level. More sport is covered on television and in greater depth than ever before because of the development of subscription services which are in turn part of a wider television revolution. Alongside increased provision on subscription services, many major events are still available on terrestrial services. It is worth noting that no listed event covered by terrestrial channels has been lost to subscription television.

There are no easy answers here. If there were, I should already have come to the Chamber with them. We need to find a measured balance between all the interests involved. In doing so we need to assess a number of matters. First, if guaranteed access to sporting events is secured to a particular category of broadcasters

6 Feb 1996 : Column 145

through a list as in the 1990 Act, what events should be included in the list, and how should it be altered? Secondly, can guaranteed access to key sporting events on terrestrial channels be secured without undue damage to the ability of rights holders to exploit their rights in the interests of their sports thereby seriously harming the sports themselves?

Thirdly, what might be the effect of any change on subscription broadcasters' ability to develop their industry in the interests of the public at large? This may be an important element in determining the success or failure of digital terrestrial television. Fourthly, how far is any approach compatible with the flexibility needed at a time when broadcasting technology is changing rapidly? Finally, and arguably most fundamentally of all, will any of the suggested changes actually work, thereby delivering the benefits their proponents contend for them? No one should underestimate the legal and administrative technicalities involved, which have to be got right to get it right. That, as my noble friend Lord Whitelaw said, is important. We need to find out more of what are the views of those actually involved and the exact nature, scale and characteristics of the issues and problems involved in order to assess fully and responsibly all the implications for change included in the amendments before the Committee.

I now turn to the amendment proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Peyton, Lord Weatherill and Lord Donoughue. The amendment is close to one of the possibilities canvassed in our discussion paper and which we wish to see examined in more depth as part of the debate about these issues. In detail we believe the amendment flawed. That does not mean that the idea underlying it is not one which might provide the basis for change.

We fully understand and recognise the concern underlying the amendment. It seeks to give effect to one of the options to which I have already referred. But the issues are perhaps not as straightforward as they appear at first glance. The amendment raises a number of general questions which the debate has left unanswered. It is also not clear that it will work. I am not talking about technical drafting deficiencies--I fully understand the comments made--but about possible major shortcomings leaving loopholes. I cannot see any point in legislation which does not work as it is intended.

Perhaps it would help the Committee if I were to illustrate briefly some of the difficult issues to which the amendment gives rise. It raises major questions as to regulation and enforcement which in turn highlight some general problems. It is proposed that the Independent Television Commission should do all it can to restrict live exclusive broadcast of listed events by pay-per-view and subscription television and to ensure the live broadcast of listed events on television services for general reception. How is the commission to ensure that listed events are included in television services for general reception, not least when it has no regulatory role in respect of the BBC? It has no powers of direction in this field. Nor can it be right that it should have the power to stipulate that a particular channel shows a particular programme at a particular time.

6 Feb 1996 : Column 146

It is unclear how any restrictions of the kind proposed are to be made enforceable. Obviously, they cannot apply to sporting events where the rights belong to international bodies and which are negotiated with broadcasters collectively, such as the Olympics. More fundamentally, the controls as proposed could not prevent United Kingdom sports rights holders selling broadcasting rights to companies based abroad and providing entirely lawful satellite uplink services from outside the United Kingdom. That would appear seriously to undermine the value of the proposed restrictions. The amendment would also fundamentally and radically alter copyright legislation in a hitherto unanticipated manner.

As I hope I have made clear, the debate we are having is helpful for the Government, even though the amendment upon which it is hung is one we believe would be positively unhelpful to Parliament in achieving the outcome it wishes. We believe that that outcome can be best achieved by allowing the consultation process to go ahead as I have described. We believe that an amendment of the kind we are discussing can only box the Government in in their efforts to find the best and most satisfactory and workable solution to the difficulties that beset us.

Having heard what has been said this evening, we are now fully apprised of the sense of the Committee and we shall draw that into our deliberations. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that is what the Committee should aim to achieve from this debate.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page