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Lord Howell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may inform him that the views that he ascribes apply to one part of the council; namely, the major spectator sports division. It makes them no less important, but that is the case. The chairman and the executive of the Central Council for Physical Recreation represent 300 bodies and they have never been consulted about these matters since the letter was sent out in the past few days, which I believe the noble Lord mentioned.
Lord Aberdare: My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord says. I am not in any way denying how he criticises the leadership of the CCPR. What I am saying is that all major national sports bodies are not anxious to have statutory interference with their negotiations on their own rights.
I believe that the present system of freely negotiated coverage is the best for all parties. But I do welcome also, like the noble Lord, the idea of a sports council and a voluntary code of conduct. I believe that would fill the bill admirably and would be much preferable to the present idea of statutory interference. I hope that your Lordships will not accept this amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My Lords, my noble friend Lord Aberdare is much quicker on his feet than I am. I hope that it might be of assistance to your Lordships, before we turn to the specific amendments, if I outline the Government's
I am sure that we shall have another useful debate. No one can be in any doubt about the strength of feeling on this issue. Parliament has the last word on it and it is for Parliament to decide. Your Lordships' House is playing a full part in that process. The Government will take careful note of all the points of view expressed this afternoon.
Since your Lordships last debate in Committee on 6th February, the Government's consultation exercise has proceeded and is now effectively complete. We have had meetings with broadcasters, regulatory authorities, consumer groups and sports bodies. I shall willingly send a list of them to the noble Lord, Lord Howell. We have received a number of written representations to supplement extensive correspondence from Members of Parliament, sporting and other interests and, above all, from the public. We have reviewed the recommendations of an earlier report on this subject by the National Heritage Select Committee in another place. Of course, we have had very much in mind your Lordships' earlier contribution in discussion of the Broadcasting Bill.
Overall, the consultation process has proved useful. It was welcomed by all the participants. It has given everyone concerned the opportunity to put their case when they knew the matter was under consideration. It has allowed the Government to reach a clearer and better informed understanding of the complex issues involved.
There are no easy answers here. Current arrangements for the broadcasting of sports events have brought significant benefits for sport in the form of investment in new facilities and training programmes at all levels. There is more sport on television than ever before. But the Government recognise public concern that the next stage in the development of subscription television could affect the ability of terrestrial free-to-air broadcasters to provide coverage of key sporting events--that is to say, those which have a resonance not only to sports fans--and we believe that legislative change to secure this is justified. In deciding the terms of such change, we need to find a measured balance between all the interests involved.
It is clear from the representations that we have received that the public's primary concern relates to listed events and to how coverage of them should be protected for free to air terrestrial television. In that context, I am referring to the vast majority of letters from members of the public direct to Ministers or via their Members of Parliament. They are concerned at the loss of live coverage of sporting events and are not seeking extensive highlight coverage.
That moves me towards the issue covered by the noble Lord's amendment on which your Lordships voted in Committee, and which now stands as Clause 1 of the Bill. It extends the existing controls in the Broadcasting Act 1990 to prevent the live transmission
For that reason, the Government propose to introduce at Third Reading an amendment to guarantee the availability of live coverage of listed events to terrestrial television and to provide for a number of associated measures to secure the best deal for sports bodies, broadcasters and the public. I am sorry that it has not proved possible to table an amendment for Report stage, but I hope that it may help the House if I outline now the main elements of the Government's proposed approach.
Our intention is that a subscription or pay-per-view service would not be permitted to broadcast live coverage of a listed event unless rights were made available to a terrestrial service on fair and reasonable terms. Equally, on the basis of reciprocity, a terrestrial service would not be permitted to broadcast live coverage of a listed event unless rights were similarly made available to a subscription or pay-per-view service. Within classes of service, exclusive sales to individual broadcasters would be possible.
Such an approach would safeguard listed events for terrestrial television, but at the same time be more liberal than the controls in the 1990 Act which imposed a rigid ban on the live coverage of listed events on pay-per-view services. It would help to sustain competition on price in the interests of sports bodies. There would be scope for subscription broadcasters to offer alternative or fuller coverage of a listed event which was shown on a terrestrial channel. This would be to the benefit of the viewers who might wish to avail themselves of it. Enforcement would be through the ITC by analogy with the 1990 Act provision; and we should expect the BBC to commit itself to a regime along similar lines. There should be a review mechanism to reflect the need for flexibility in the fast-moving broadcasting sector.
Such an approach goes fully with the grain of the amendment passed by your Lordships' House. It is also in line with an earlier recommendation of the Select Committee of the other place. We believe it strikes a fair balance between the reasonable interests of all those concerned; and I hope that our planned amendment to this effect will commend itself to your Lordships when we present it to you.
I have said that public interest has focused very largely on listed events. Alongside calls for added protection for coverage of listed events there have been various suggestions that the list itself should be modified. The Government keep the list of listed events under continuing review. Any proposals to add to or subtract from it need to be considered carefully in consultation with the various interests specified in the
This might be an appropriate moment for me to sit down because, with your Lordships' leave, I should very much welcome the opportunity to hear the comments of other noble Lords on the amendment before commenting on it myself on behalf of the Government.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is indebted to the Minister for what he has just said which is for the convenience of the House. It will be helpful to discuss the amendment which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, against the background of the announcement that the Government have just made.
We should also congratulate the Minister on having conducted one of the fastest processes of consultation in the history of this somewhat slow-moving and dilatory Government. If there were an Olympic gold medal for speed of consultation, I think that the Minister should now be enjoying it. We shall want to study carefully the detail of what the Minister has said about the amendment which he is to move on Third Reading to deal with the listed events provisions which your Lordships passed at an earlier stage.
I shall say no more about that at this stage beyond underlining what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about one aspect of the consultation. If I remember rightly, the consultation paper relied largely on statistics provided by BSkyB. The Minister seemed to rely on the rather speedy consultation process and on letters that he has received on the matter. He should not rely too much on the fact that ordinary, concerned citizens who give their views should, as he put it, have an interest only in protecting listed events and do not have an interest in the wider area of the broadcasting of sporting activities. I do not think that the ordinary concerned citizen can follow the detail of these matters too closely. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, quoted a figure from one newspaper opinion poll suggesting that 80 per cent. of people felt that Parliament should legislate to protect sporting events more generally rather than simply the listed events. That figure should be given due weight.
Having said that, I turn to the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has great knowledge and experience of these matters. He put his case extremely modestly and fairly. It is important to realise the distinction between listed events and protected events and what we are discussing in this amendment which goes a great deal wider. The listed events, the so-called "Crown Jewels" as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, called them, are more than sporting events. They are national occasions. They are part of the social cohesion about which the noble Lord spoke.
In my judgment, given the spread of the broadcast of sporting events, our starting point ought to be that there is now ample money to go round if no one is too greedy or too shortsighted and if there is a willingness to put the interests of the general viewing and listening public first.
We must bear in mind that for some years ahead the vast majority of people will depend on the main public terrestrial channels for their viewing of sporting events. All the research indicates that well into the next century main viewing will remain with the terrestrial channels. The rights to television highlights or to live radio should therefore not be "hoarded", to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Where a broadcaster has bought exclusive live rights for subscription, there should be a legal obligation to make the highlights available to channels with a universal audience.
We believe that the ITC should be responsible for regulating that. It can do so through the conditions that it already imposes in licences on subscription broadcasters. One should not forget that once the Bill becomes law the ITC will be able to regulate the BBC if the BBC decides to go in for a minority subscription channel in the future in just the same way as it can regulate BSkyB and other satellite operators.
The amendment does not prefer one channel to another. The ITC would regulate those over which it had coverage; the Radio Authority would regulate the radio channels; and the Director General of Fair Trading would, of course, have the ultimate sanction. If concern remains about the BBC avoiding regulation, the provisions can--I would support this--be made binding upon the governors. It goes without saying that the changes that we propose in the amendment are in no way retrospective. There is no question of existing contracts being hit.
The change can help the sports bodies--I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare--if they take other than the most short-term view of where their interests lie. It will help to create a longer term market--a new set of secondary sporting rights. They will be able to negotiate in different markets and extract the highest price from them all.
My experience of the preparations for the Bill, and the vigorous lobbying that we have all received from the various interested parties, has been a vivid insight into the fact that the market place for sporting rights has become a jungle in which everyone fights fiercely, and understandably, for their own interests. I do not in the least regard the BBC or ITV as knights in shining armour with regard to operations within that
In the amendment we are genuinely trying to strike what the Minister called the balance of various conflicting interests. From these Benches, we believe that in the interests of the viewer and listener the marketplace requires some statutory regulation. It cannot be left just to voluntary codes of conduct and to the chance of agreements being made, as they have sometimes been made recently, at the very last minute. In such cases, I believe sometimes that it is only because the matter is being debated in your Lordships' House. For those reasons, we believe that the amendment is the best way to look after the interests of the viewer and listener, and it is the best long-term bet, incidentally, to stop undesirable monopolies emerging.
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