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Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, made a powerful speech in favour of statutory regulation. But that is not what the amendment is about. The noble Lord's speech related to the previous amendment; we must be clear on that.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I am not sure what the rules of order are in this situation, but perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to interrupt. If I had dreamt for one moment that the first amendment was being withdrawn without consultation, I would have objected.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord says. All I am seeking to do is to put the argument in context. It is important that we look at the amendment as it stands. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that it does not stand on its own.
There has been, I understand, a voluntary code which is either agreed or is about to be agreed. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will have something to say on that. We should listen very carefully. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said. In particular, I agree that the amendment cannot stand on its own. I believe that the amendment would be damaging to sport.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he can help many of us who have a great interest in this particular subject. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, believes that the amendment is imperfect, but so was the very important amendment which we all agreed in Committee. Because the Government have responded, in the end the House has obtained what it had been looking for, despite the imperfections of the amendment.
I understand in this respect that there is a question of whether there is a statutory code of practice or a voluntary code of practice. My noble friend has moved an amendment proposing a statutory code of practice, but I gather that there were rumours floating around the House during the morning that the
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall willingly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Without wishing to give the entire remarks that I had intended to deliver at the conclusion of this part of the debate, it may be helpful to spell out where I believe we are on this subject now.
The Sports Council has advocated a voluntary code of conduct for governing bodies on unbundling and is discussing this with sports' governing bodies. The Government, along with other noble Lords, have welcomed that idea in principle, because we believe that a voluntary code offers to provide greater access to sport for the public on television and is the best way forward in this particular area.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, intimated in his remarks, good progress is being made in preparing the voluntary code which the Sports Council has proposed and which has already been referred to. A draft for discussion has been issued and I understand that the main governing bodies of sport are already discussing what it might say with the Sports Council. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred rather by his absence earlier in this afternoon's proceedings, has had a meeting about it with the Central Council for Physical Recreation and with the major sports' governing bodies.
The Government's view is that a voluntary code is the right way to proceed with this matter. We are encouraging the various parties involved to draw up such a code, and meetings are currently taking place to that end although at the moment no conclusion has been reached. However, that process is still under way and I am advised that there is no reason to suppose that a successful outcome will not be achieved.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder if he would care to mention to your Lordships the purely technical point that Amendment No. 3 cannot possibly be accepted. It makes a nonsense without Amendment No. 2 having been moved, because subsection (1) of Amendment No. 3 refers, in effect, to Amendment No. 2.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, perhaps I may make this one point. It was suggested that this is a voluntary code but, as I read the amendment, if it is accepted by the Minister, it would be a statutory duty written into the Act, would it not? It is a statutory duty of the Sports Council to draw up and keep under review a code. That must be, in the legislation, a statutory duty. Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may respond to those two points. First, with respect to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Renton, of course, my noble friend is right. On the other hand, I was anxious that we discuss the substance behind the amendment because that is a matter of wide interest to your Lordships.
The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is absolutely correct that the amendment which is being discussed refers to a code which is enshrined in statute. That is a proposition which the Government do not consider to be the right way forward, because we believe that the right way is to have a voluntary code agreed by the various parties concerned. I hope that that clarifies the position.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the substance of the debate. I, like many of your Lordships, have received an enormous amount of briefings at every stage of this Bill, but more on this one amendment than on any other aspect. I have read them with great care, as it is an extremely complicated subject, especially for the layman.
I have no declaration of interest to make, and hold no brief for either side of the debate. My nearest interest would be my great admiration for many years for the BBC World Service, but I feel that sports--or, as my noble friend Lord Astor, calls them, sport and games--play an important role in many people's lives.
The amendment, on the face of it, looks very attractive, yet it has many anomalies. It would be wrong to take into account only the viewers and listeners and not all the people who are involved in sport. We have a fine tradition of the highest class in all sports and in sportsmanship in Britain. Alas, today, we are no longer the major winners, but merely showing more sport on television is not instantly going to produce gold medallists or cup winners. We all know that there is much more to world class winners than that.
I have always believed that sport is vital for youth. It encourages a good, healthy, competitive spirit and, more often than not, keeps the mind and the body out of trouble. I would encourage more sport in schools as part of the curriculum, with more funds made available for facilities.
In Raising the Game, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that sport enriches the lives of thousands and millions of people of all ages around the world, who know and enjoy it. It cannot be true that if we continue to have some major events on satellite or cable the vast majority of viewers could soon be unable to see any coverage of sporting events that are able to inspire and unite the nation.
The amendment, as it stands, is muddled and will, as a result, only bring unhappiness. Differences between sports are not provided for. Surely, there would be very few people who would pay extra for highlights when they could see the live broadcast for only the annual TV licence. After all, if you cannot watch it live you can always video it.
The current situation where broadcasters are freely able to bid for rights of both live coverage and highlights is in the best interests of both viewers and sports bodies. There are many programmes covering sport on both terrestrial and satellite, but let us get this into the right perspective. Perhaps I may quote a few figures. The top three television programmes last week were: "Coronation Street", "Coronation Street" and "Coronation Street". The viewing figures were 19.57 million, 18.55 million and 18.44 million. The top sporting programme, "The Match Live", came 36th on the list with 9.11 million.
Many of us would ideally like sport to be all amateur again with the great gamesmanship that was shown in the past and broadcast regularly on our BBC. This might even attract those 19 million viewers. We were perhaps the last to have the great amateur sportsmen in the Olympics with those outstanding skiers like the Palmer-Tomkinsons and Gina Hawthorne. Those days are over. We must face reality. Today a great amount of money is involved. The amendment has potentially disastrous financial consequences for all sport in Britain. What right do we have as legislators to deny people the right to sell a legitimate product? I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his broadminded approach to this highly complex Bill. The system that we have at the moment, which is freely negotiated, with a voluntary code of practice and with no statutory interference, is surely right. I would urge your Lordships not to support the amendment.
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