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Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, before the Minister replies, this issue of unbundling is of importance, as I am sure the whole House agrees. Can he say what will happen if the voluntary code of practice--in general, I am in favour of voluntary codes--seems to be unsatisfactory and is not working? Will it then be possible, without more primary legislation, to come to a statutory code? What is the position on that?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, much the same thought has been worrying me. Under Amendment No. 3 there is no code having legal efficacy. It is a code of guidance. The only statutory duty is on the Sports Council to draw it up. As my noble friend Lord Astor has pointed out, the Sports Council does not have a remit over many things which my noble friend and I consider sport. But I shall leave that aside for a moment. If this code is a code of guidance--this amendment says that it is--it will have no legal efficacy at all. That was the point being made by my noble friend Lord Caldecote. If it does not work, what will happen? This is an experiment and all that can happen is that one will have to come back to primary legislation.
Lord McNally: My Lords, there is an old saying that sometimes you can be so sharp that you will cut yourself. I have the feeling that having got one part right--the protected list--by a full debate of this House and considered thoughts by the Minister and then amendments to the Bill, we have not done very well with the unbundled list. There is a great danger, as the noble Lord has just said, that the unbundling of television rights will be botched as the House has not had proper time to consider the full implications of what has been put before it in this last minute way.
As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, one does not get that many bites at legislation. If we take this pig in a poke of a voluntary scheme and it does not work, what will be the protection for sports and viewers? Who is putting this together for us?--sports bodies, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, have shown themselves to be failures in accepting their social responsibilities in guarding their sport and negotiating on television rights, and the television companies. If one reads Mr. Elstein in the Guardian and elsewhere one sees that he is still bent on all-out war with the rest of television so far as concerns sporting rights. Who will bring these bodies together with the wisdom of Solomon?--none other than Mr. Iain Sproat, the Minister of whom the noble Lord, Lord Howell, spoke so warmly. It does not fill me with the same confidence as the procedure we followed when we had that magnificent debate on the protected list. The Minister went away and came back with considered amendments and wrote protection into the statute. This House would be well advised to go no further with this because we are heading for a botch-up.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I find myself becoming a trifle confused about where we are. The House has certainly had the opportunity to have a full debate on this issue and I do not think we can run away with the excuse that we have not. There was certainly no objection when the noble Lord, Lord Howell, decided not to move his amendment. Therefore, it seems to me that the speech we have just heard and the one that we had from the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth--I hope he will forgive me for saying this--are what I would call the equivalent of the highlights of rounds four to 12 of the Bruno-Tyson fight, because they are after the event and are therefore best left.
Perhaps I may come back to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. During the course of his remarks he said that he was prepared to leave the matter to voluntary agreement. If he is prepared so to do, it seems to me that we do not need the amendment anyway. We have heard from the Minister that he is well disposed to the issue of voluntary agreement and that this is in fact the proper way to decide it. I would rather like to hear what the Minister has to say in winding up and I hope very much that after that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will find it possible to withdraw his amendment.
The Bill now goes to another place and today there is still an opportunity for this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, has done and as my noble friend did, to make the arguments to the Minister as we move towards the conclusion of this story. The case for protecting highlights, as has already been put and as is secured in the amendments on paper, remains overwhelming. It is a logical extension of Clause 1 which was based on the overwhelming view of this House. The Government have commendably accepted that clause and so logically should accept the spirit and thrust of what is being said on the highlights.
What we have before us, although it is of a rather ill-defined shape, is the Government's compromise proposal--the voluntary code. That is fine. The amendment on paper supports that principle. However, there are problems. Will it actually happen? Will it stick? We know that the problem with voluntary codes is that participants can voluntarily leave them.
This code, so far as I have studied it, involves some sports bodies who are clearly reluctant to be part of it; they prefer the short-term money, as they see it. It involves at least one broadcaster who is not enthusiastic about it. So this is not a secure vessel. At this stage we have to--if we do--take it on trust. I am not sure we can do that. My noble friend Lord Howell, who is always a much more trusting man than I am, inclines to that.
Perhaps I may tell the House what our fear is. It is that those who are part of this voluntary code and who do not really want it will use it as a device to divert us from today's vote--although they do not need to do so because we have our own devices--and to delay it until the threat of statutory backing is past and then, when what they see as the parliamentary danger is over, pull out.
The code is based on the Sports Council. As an ex-member I am very sympathetic towards that body. But we must bear in mind that it is a fragile one. As the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said, it does not represent all sports and has little power over many, and none over television. I suspect that knowing that it is a fragile vessel the Sports Council, or some of its more responsible members, will welcome the kind of statutory backing suggested in Amendment No. 3 because it gives them clout over the constituent members. That is our thinking on the amendment. It is not an amendment of government interference but leaves the negotiations and the detail to the sports industry and gives the Sports Council statutory backing.
The Government have been a main engine of the voluntary compromise. The Minister has said and, I am sure, will say again, that as far as he and the Government are concerned the voluntary code is going
Amendment No. 3 would have secured that statutory backing and I believe that a majority of the House would have supported it. Now we shall not have it. I say to the Government and to the sporting bodies that they must make sure that the voluntary code happens and sticks before the Committee stage in the other place because I believe that Parliament will not tolerate it not happening. The public want the highlights protected. I believe that a majority of this House also want that and indeed the majority of Parliament. If anyone disrupts the voluntary code and treats it cynically as a way of bypassing Parliament, there is one logical conclusion to be drawn.
If we do not have highlights we must have a longer protected list. That is the reality which the sports bodies have to face. And it is why they really must work as enthusiastically as possible to get it in place. The alternative in due course will not be that choice but a longer protected list. We sincerely hope that the sports bodies and the Government will produce a voluntary code that sticks. It is on that basis that I shall listen very seriously to what the Minister has to say about how this whole business goes forward.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, perhaps I may preface my remarks by saying that we believe that television should provide widespread access to different sports. It is an aspiration of policy that we have. But we differ from those on the Benches opposite over whether that aspiration should be given effect by statutory or voluntary means.
I explained where the Government stand on the issue and the position I believe the negotiations have reached. In that context I pick up a point made by my noble friend Lord Caldecote and echoed by the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Donoughue. In bringing forward a voluntary code we cannot wait indefinitely. It is important that what is agreed is available for Parliament to look at.
The approach that we have adopted I wish to explain in some detail. We believe that our approach is consistent with the basic policy which is wanted on all sides of your Lordships' House. There is an issue about highlights of major national and other events, which are not listed and quite properly so. It is desirable that coverage should be made available but it should be done in a sensible and practical way which works with the market and does not cut across it. It should be done in a way which recognises that there is only a limited amount of time available for sports programmes on terrestrial television. It should be done in a way which recognises that there are limits to the public interest argument, perhaps even to the public wish to watch sports which would be covered by the amendment we
We believe--and I think many noble Lords share this view--that the sports should be given the opportunity to show, through a voluntary code, how they will strike a balance and how they will invest television revenues in improved performance and greater spectator safety and comfort.
We believe that the approach which lies behind the amendment is likely to hinder rather than assist the Sports Council in its present efforts. The strength of the voluntary approach is that it is freely and willingly entered into and does not require the sort of unparalleled and novel intrusion into property rights which we believe is unjustified in the present circumstances. This is an important point when considering how everybody must work together to give effect to the ideas that we are debating. It is the Government's belief that to oblige the Sports Council through statute to draw up a statutory code is unhelpful. We also believe that the approach inherent in the amendment is likely to confuse rather than clarify responsibilities. That point was touched on by my noble friend Lord Astor. Essentially, we are being asked to agree that one public body should have no choice but to draw up guidance for another public body on how to regulate the broadcasting industry on unbundling sports rights. The rights holders themselves seem to be left somewhere outside all this advice and guidance although, after all, at the end of the day it is their rights which are under consideration.
The Sports Council was never intended or equipped by its charter, or at any subsequent stage in its history, to be a body responsible for giving guidance to broadcasting regulators. The Sports Council undertakes a central role in promoting sport in this country. We believe that it can effectively, sympathetically and appropriately encourage and guide co-operation among sports governing bodies. But having a quite different duty of this kind imposed on it would entirely change its nature which would only weaken its ability to carry out its core remit and its relationship with government.
Furthermore, it seems to us that the approach suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in his amendment perhaps paradoxically risks the perverse effect of actually prejudicing the prospect of securing a voluntary code which, as I have explained, is the approach that we believe to be right. It would inevitably lead to sports bodies focusing their energies on campaigning against those draconian provisions rather than working constructively with the Sports Council and the broadcasters on an agreement to secure their mutual interests and to provide benefits for viewers. I accept the remarks that have been made about the need for clarity in this respect and that there must be no potential for obfuscation and brinkmanship in the arrangements that emerge.
I think that all concerned have taken careful note of the interests of Parliament in this issue, not least in the comments made in your Lordships' House today. Indeed, they echo some remarks made by my noble friend Lord
Lord Howell: My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may make just a few short points. First, I must express my profuse apologies to my old colleague the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. I must accept full responsibility for what has happened, and I do. In my defence I can say only that the news about the negotiations between the Minister and the Sports Council did not reach me until mid-morning with the result that I did not have the required time to consult that I would have wished for. In addition, I had been told--I had expected--that Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 would be taken together. Obviously, I was not quick enough on my feet to be able to object to their being considered separately--nor was anyone else--but that was the situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is right. There was an attempt on my part to give statutory backing to what we are seeking to do in terms of a voluntary code of conduct, and for the very good reasons which my noble friend Lord Donoughue outlined. For the remainder of this debate I can do no better than adopt all the arguments advanced by my noble friend who put them extremely well.
This matter is now passed over to the Commons. I hope that my sporting colleagues there, some of whom are listening to this debate, will take note of the mood of this House. If I withdraw the amendment, as I intend to do, we shall be trusting to a voluntary code of conduct. We expect that trust to be honoured. We expect the spirit of this debate to be honoured. If that does not happen in the four or five weeks now available, we expect that the matter will be more firmly dealt with in another place. However, in the belief that the voluntary code of conduct will work and can be backed up by the constant vigil of the Sports Council and the Government, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.