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Lord Howell moved Amendment No. 3:


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Broadcasting sports rights: Sports Council code

(" .--(1) It shall be the duty of the Sports Council to draw up and keep under review a code giving guidance to the Commission, the BBC and the Welsh Authority as to the carrying out of their duties under section ("Unbundling" of sports broadcasting rights).
(2) In carrying out their duties under section ("Unbundling" of sports broadcasting rights) the Commission, the BBC and the Welsh Authority shall have regard to the code mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) The Sports Council shall lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report on the extent to which the code has been complied with.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 deals with the difficult subject of whatever is left, the other sports not included on the list of events. Those sports are important. They include such events as the Rugby Union Five Nations Championship, motor

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racing, open golf, Ryder Cup golf, Royal Ascot, Cheltenham racing and so on. We have to consider the rights of the public to see those events should the governing bodies of those sports wish to dispose of them exclusively to one television channel, which might not, as is the case with Sky, be happy to provide highlights to other channels.

No doubt, like me, noble Lords are a little weary with the constant cross-communications we have all received in recent times, from the sports bodies on the one hand and the television authorities on the other. They show the importance of the subject. This amendment is an alternative means of tackling the problem, as distinct from the purely statutory manner in which we have dealt with listed events.

Subsection (1) of the amendment states that it will be the duty of the Sports Council to draw up a voluntary code of conduct on the question of highlights. Secondly, the amendment requires the relevant regulating bodies to have regard to that code when performing their duties under the Act. Thirdly, it requires the Sports Council to report annually on how far the code has been complied with.

I have had the advantage of seeing the proposals which I believe the Sports Council has delivered to the Government by way of a first draft of its code. It seems to me that they go a long way--if it is possible to bring them off--towards meeting some of our fears. The draft does not go the whole way, for reasons I shall return to in a moment, but it certainly goes a long way.

I am told that the television companies have indicated to the Sports Council the likelihood that they will support such a code. I know that some sports--including, as I particularly appreciate, my own sport, football--have tried to be extremely helpful. The Sports Council is confident that it can, in a reasonable time, get all the major sports we refer to to sign up to the code.

The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, made a point a moment ago with which I entirely agree. We cannot have a voluntary code of conduct if we believe it might be undermined in any way. That is one of the reasons we seek to have statutory backup in this amendment: to say, for example, that the Sports Council has to report annually to Parliament, in case anyone wishes to break the code having once entered into it, be it sport or television, and also to call upon the regulatory bodies to have regard to the code when issuing licences.

The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, is quite right. There are effectively four to six weeks, perhaps more, before the Committee stage of this Bill is taken in another place. My judgment is that the Sports Council ought to be able to produce a code by then. We have to take that on trust. I take it on trust. I know that the council will do its utmost. The chairman and director of the Sports Council and their senior officers have worked ceaselessly, especially in the past seven days, to try to bring us to this situation and avoid further confrontation. The House may therefore feel that they should be supported and be allowed to produce a voluntary code if they can do so. That is certainly the view to which I am inclined.

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However, there are difficulties in this area. Hardly a day goes by when I am not told one thing by some of those parties which is contradicted the next. That makes it very difficult to reach agreement with anybody. For example, last week I was told that the copyright provision which would allow access to highlights from the Bruno/Tyson fight had all been settled and solved and there would be no difficulty at all; they would all appear. But the very day after I was told that by the appropriate television company, it issued another statement saying that it would not allow the BBC to show the actual knock-out if one occurred. That seemed odd to me, since in my judgment there almost certainly would be a knock-out. There are difficulties. People say one thing one day, no doubt in good faith, and then are under all sorts of pressures to change their stance the next. I concede that that makes it very difficult for the Government, as well as for us and for the Sports Council.

I am glad that the Minister mentioned in his earlier remarks the question of extended listed events. There is not the slightest doubt that, unless we can get some sensible agreement about highlights and the right of the public to see them, there will be a great demand to extend the number of listed events. We cannot have a situation in which 33 million households, or even more, may suddenly be deprived of any sight of the major sporting events in this country outside the listed events. That would cause enormous difficulties and problems throughout the land. So one of the reasons for supporting our approach today is to prevent the need to add to the listed events. There would certainly be a movement towards that in another place if the code of conduct has not come into operation. I hope that the voluntary sports bodies will remember that.

I shall deal with two of the objections with which we have all been flooded. The major spectator sports division of the Central Council for Physical Recreation--spectator sports are the great sports of our nation--wrote to me, and I suspect to other noble Lords, in terms which suggest to me that its intellectual capacity seems to be withering. It says, for example, that we have to have regard to the effect of our measures on husky racing, sheepdog trials and darts--none of which I regard as sports, and so far as I know they are not affiliated to the Central Council for Physical Recreation.

Mr. David Elstein, of Sky, has gone even further. He says, that we have to have regard to topless darts. I do not think that sport is affiliated to the CCPR, but if it does become affiliated, since I attend all the conferences, I look forward to exhibitions of what is involved in that activity. The mind boggles. When representatives of major sports and Sky Television tell us that we have to have regard to husky racing, sheepdog trials and topless darts, I wonder where on earth we are, and whether these protagonists are all quite right in the mind.

I turn to the competition argument, which is important. It has to be met and dealt with in just a moment or two. The major spectator sports tell us that sport has a right to sell its wares to the highest bidder.

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So it does, and we have protected that right in our amendments and in our legislation. We are not trying to undermine the right of sport to sell what it can.

Perhaps I may illustrate the position by reference to one sport. If it wants to sell its products to Sky Television for exclusive use, under these proposals it must separate the negotiations for the highlights. That means in practice that if the rights are sold to Sky the governing bodies of important spectator sports will then have to negotiate the highlights with the BBC, Independent Television or Channel 5. If that is opposed, it seems to me that what the spectator sports are saying is, "We don't have any confidence in our ability as negotiators in the marketplace to get a fair deal, even though there are three television companies with which to negotiate".

Let me illustrate the effect. The House will recall, when we discussed earlier the world cricket championships (we congratulate Sri Lanka on its astonishing victory in that competition), at the start, no highlights were to be made available to the BBC. After discussion in this House, highlights were made available and the BBC paid £1 million for them. It is quite ludicrous that the BBC should pay £1 million for the highlights of world cricket when it could have paid £1 million to the cricket authorities themselves. As suggested in the amendment, the cricket authorities could negotiate directly with the BBC and the other two companies. I wish that the marketing men would have confidence in their ability to negotiate properly.

I say again to the governing bodies of sport that not once in any of the letters that I have received this week have they answered the point that we repeatedly made; namely, that they should face up to their social responsibilities as sports bodies. As well as earning as much money as they can for the sport, quite rightly, they have a duty to millions of sports lovers who cannot afford to watch Sky, especially those in infirmity or old age. They should be allowed to watch excellence in their living rooms, as indeed should the young. The sports bodies will undermine their own future if they acquiesce in taking out of the living rooms of most houses in this country excellence in sport through the terrestrial broadcasting which is currently available to them.

There is another financial argument to consider. At the moment the Test and County Cricket Board feels aggrieved because it has 30 days of test cricket. It feels that it can get more money from Mr. Murdoch, if it negotiates with him, than out of the BBC. I myself heard the chairman of the Institute of Sports Sponsorship say, "Don't think that if you go to the minority audience on Sky you will take our sponsorship with you. The value of our sponsorship and the value of all the perimeter boards around the grounds when seen on BBC for 30 days is something that money cannot buy". That is the other part of the economic and financial argument and it is often left out of the equation by the sporting bodies. It is our duty to remind them of that.

I regret their repeated silence in not answering the question: how do you intend to fulfil your social responsibilities? How do you intend to look after those who cannot receive the television programmes in their home? There is great silence on those matters.

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There is silence in other quarters. We rightly pay tribute to the Minister in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. Perhaps noble Lords, like me, have felt it extraordinary that over the months of argument about this matter, which is probably the most important matter concerning sport that is before Parliament or the nation, not one word has been heard from the Minister for Sport, Mr. Iain Sproat. There has not been one word from him during all the months that we have been conducting the negotiations. Where is that mystery Minister? Is he about anywhere? Will he emerge at any time to give us the benefit of his leadership? He should have been doing that a long time ago.

I am prepared to take the Sports Council's voluntary code on trust, if the Minister intends to give us reasonable news, as I hope he might do; namely, the assurances that the Sports Council will be given every encouragement to produce such a code. I hope we can be assured that the sports bodies will play their part, as will the television companies. It is now time for the Sports Council to produce such a voluntary code. This amendment is designed to allow the Minister to encourage it and tell us in detail how it will work. It also takes regard of the fact that, when we have a voluntary code, should any of the participants wish to withdraw after Parliament has given the code its blessing, then the other place, having taken careful note of that, might have no alternative but recourse to further statutory measures. That ought not to be necessary with the good will of the major voluntary sports bodies in this country, supported by the Government and by the Sports Council. I hope so.

I look forward to the Minister's response. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I find myself in some difficulty in speaking to the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is a doughty champion of the interests of the general public in British sport. I have always been content to defer to his judgment. At his request, mine is the second name on his two amendments on the Marshalled List. I did not learn from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that he proposed not to move the first amendment. I knew that he had reservations as to whether it was wise to ask your Lordships' House to come to a view on it. I feel that there should have been rather more adequate consultation on these matters.

We are now asked by the noble Lord to abandon any idea of having some statutory back-up for so-called "unbundling", enabling the general public to have the right to see the highlights of sporting events when the exclusive live rights have been bought for subscription. He prefers to go for a voluntary code. At this moment I do not quite know what the noble Lord means by a voluntary code. I have glanced at a piece of paper that I found just now on this Bench. It seems a rather vapid and general document. For my part, I prefer to stick to the views on which the amendments were formed; namely, the need for some kind of statutory underpinning and then, no doubt, the advantage of an effective voluntary code.

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There is here a matter of procedure which I do not quite understand. Amendment No. 3 on the Marshalled List asks the Sports Council:


    "to ... keep under review a code giving guidance to the Commission, the BBC and the Welsh Authority as to the carrying out of their duties under section ('Unbundling' of sports broadcasting rights)".
There is no such section now. The amendment goes on to say:


    "In carrying out their duties under [this] section ... the Commission, the BBC and the Welsh Authority shall have regard to the code".
The amendment is meaningless as argued by the noble Lord. I do not know what the Opposition generally or the Labour Front Bench will do, but I propose to argue our considered case on this matter. We remain of the view that there should be some statutory underpinning, even though it may be reinforced by a voluntary code of conduct. If duties are to be placed on the Independent Television Commission and the BBC, they ought to be spelt out in legislation and not put forward in this rather curious way in terms of a proposed voluntary code that none of us have had the opportunity to study.

Behind the amendments as they stand is an underlying situation of legitimate conflicting interests in the sporting field. Those interests are in many ways locked in a conflict as dramatic as the Bruno-Tyson fight. Mr. David Elstein of Sky Sport and Will Wyatt of the BBC are more evenly matched than Bruno and Tyson; but they are in conflict with each other.

I do not take sides one way or the other. The reason we on these Benches feel that a statutory power is required is that our interests--they should also be the Government's interests--are those of the ordinary viewer and listener. I fully recognise that even the interests of the ordinary viewer and listener in regard to sporting events beyond the listed events are not straightforward. There is an important minority of viewers--of whom I am one--who want much more sport than is practical on the four terrestrial channels and are prepared to pay for it, even at 3 o'clock in the morning, although my sporting enthusiasm does not extend that far. There is probably a bigger minority of viewers who feel that there is too much sport on public service channels and believe that more should be shunted onto subscription.

However, we are concerned with what I believe to be the middle mass of viewers, some of whom are not able to pay a subscription and who feel that they should have a fair share of the most interesting sporting events; that they should be able to enjoy live coverage of the special national occasions which come under the listed events--we welcome the Government's decision in that respect--but who feel also that they should enjoy a decent view on the day of the highlights of other important events. That seems to us to be a public interest that the Government should try to secure. What the debate in your Lordships' House has done is to provide evidence that the market place is not enough. I remain to be convinced that a code of conduct of the kind described in the amendment will be enough.

There has been the rather farcical wrangle over whether ordinary terrestrial viewers should be allowed by Sky Television, which was in total control, to see the

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final punch of the Bruno-Tyson fight; and at what time they should see it, the next morning or 48 hours later. An operator like Sky has a powerful financial incentive right up to the last minute to persuade viewers that the only way they can obtain even a glimpse of the great sporting event is to sign up and pay for it. Some holders of sporting rights are tempted to take the short-term view that more money and fewer viewers is in their best interests. There seems therefore to be a need for some degree of public control in the interests of viewers and, although I am a strong supporter in general of self-regulation, there are cases where it needs to be reinforced by some statutory backing.

We have talked mainly about viewers. What about listeners? They tend to be overlooked. There is not and cannot be--thank goodness!--subscription radio. Nobody can operate a "pay-per-listen" service on the old steam radio. But a satellite operator like Sky, without radio facilities of its own, can and does buy up the exclusive radio rights as part of a total package. It is then in a position to hold the public service radio channels to ransom for the live radio rights. BBC's Radio 5 Live, which does so well in providing live radio commentary of sporting events, finds itself from time to time in that situation. For instance, with only three months to go to the start of the cricket World Cup, the BBC discovered that the full broadcast rights, including radio rights, were held by Sky. It had been in negotiations with the original holders of the rights in India for over a year and it was not until the deal was closed with Sky that the BBC was informed that the whole package, radio as well as television rights, was being sold to Sky. Over the three months of negotiations with Sky, the rights holders did not volunteer the knowledge that they were in negotiation with Sky and the price was going up and up. It was only the extreme pressure of the debate in your Lordships' House and impending legislative change that finally forced Sky to agree a deal just one week in advance of commencement and at a price double that paid for the last cricket World Cup.

There is a question looming over Rugby Union. I understand that the BBC is currently negotiating with the RFU for the radio rights for the 1997-98 tour. But there is a possibility that Sky will again go for full broadcast rights, including radio that it does not itself operate, so making radio suffer in terms of obtaining the rights agreed. That is extremely unsatisfactory from the public interest point of view. A satellite broadcaster like Sky can delay a deal until the last minute to prevent the radio channel giving advance publicity and thereby create the impression to the rest of us that if we are anxious to partake of the live broadcast in one form or another of a specific sporting event the only way we can do so will be on subscription TV. That is an abuse of a dominating situation. Until this afternoon, on the basis of the amendments tabled on the Marshalled List, I assumed that that was the general view of the Opposition. We felt that it was necessary, along with a code of conduct, to have reinforcement of statutory rights. I am sorry to have to say to the noble Lord,

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Lord Howell, to whose judgment in these matters I normally defer, that I remain unconvinced by what he said; that is, that a code of conduct by itself is adequate.


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