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Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, it may well be a large one, but that is exactly why we have made sure that the alternative for those who do not want to pay that large subscription is not nothing but secondary coverage, which should be quite meaningful.
I therefore feel that the ITC is the proper body to administer this. We considered, obviously, the report of the DEMOS think tank which recommended that we should have an "Ofsport" just as we have Oftel and Ofwat. We decided that the ITC was the proper body to do this. But we must ensure that the secondary coverage provided is a meaningful alternative for the viewer who does not subscribe to cable or satellite. By meaningful coverage, I mean that within perhaps an hour of the finish of the event proper edited highlights are available. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that in many cases that is not perfect. I accept that, but there are many cases where it is slightly better. Those of your Lordships who have watched the Open Golf Championship will be aware that in the last few minutes there is only one couple coming down the fairway. The whole thing slows up. Highlights can remove the long hours. Talking of long hours, I take the broad hint that I may be indulging in them unless I finish rather quickly, so I will.
It is important that the Secretary of State accepts the recommendations. It is important that the ITC ensures that secondary coverage is meaningful. As a final point I would simply say that if eight people drawn from widely different backgrounds, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, says, reach a unanimous conclusion, perhaps that augurs well for the general acceptability of our report.
Lord Orme: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend's analogy with supermarkets cornering the milk market could get him into some difficulty because that market is being cornered already in certain products and certain areas.
I am very disappointed with this report. It has weakened the case for national sporting events to be on television, both terrestrial and independent as a right. That is a blow to millions of people on small incomes who cannot afford cable television. I can afford it and so can many other people, but many people from inner city areas, who I represented when I was in the other place, cannot. People complain about the cost of a television licence for BBC, which is £92 a year, but to watch sporting events on Sky costs me and other people £360 a year. Many people cannot afford to have cable TV.
I should like to deal specifically with the issue of cricket. My noble friend mentioned cricket coverage 25 days a year. That is exactly what Sky intend to show if it takes control of the coverage. It will put cricket on a sports channel. I would like to know why BBC and ITV cannot have a sports channel. Why should it just be Sky? Let us face it, at the back of all this we are dealing with the Murdoch millions. That is where the pressure is coming from; he is capturing markets. One can already see in pay-to-view television, for instance, how boxing started out at £15 for an evening's entertainment. That has gone up to almost £17 and is increasing all the time. What would happen if the company finished up with a complete monopoly? There is a real problem in that regard.
I turn to the issue of cricket. I declare an interest here as a member of Lancashire Cricket Club and a lifelong cricket supporter. I believe that Test Match cricket is second to none in its appeal to millions of people. But, compared to soccer and rugby, cricket is a minority sport. We want to get more people playing and more people watching, but the one way not to do so is to put it on Sky or cable television because they will remove it.
I know that those involved in cricket want more money. I know that they lobbied my noble friend's committee very strongly with regard to cable TV companies being able to buy out television companies. In the short term, they may receive the money, but in the longer term there is the question of attracting young people into watching and playing cricket like many other sports.
We can see what is happening now in soccer; how it is being handled and diverted into certain areas where it is impossible for people to watch. I know that cable television operates very professionally, but there is a real danger here. It is a danger that the advisory committee, in my opinion, did not take into account. I believe that it has seriously weakened the case for listed events, and I believe that is the thin end of the wedge.
If we give cricket to cable television it will be game, set and match so far as the major sporting events in Britain are concerned; that is, soccer, rugby, tennis, which is going in that direction, and cricket. That is the area where it will have an effect upon our national viewing. For instance, on the question of 25 to 30 days coverage of cricket, many older people watch Test Match cricket in the daytime. Many of them are retired, many are on low incomes. They cannot afford Sky or cable TV and therefore have to rely on terrestrial
I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say about the Secretary of State. I believe that the Secretary of State must take into account the many views which have been expressed in reply to my noble friend's advisory committee. He must look at the issue from the point of view of what is best for the majority; what is best for those who cannot afford cable television; what is best for those who want to see such events. I hope that the Secretary of State rejects many of the proposals.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse, has done the House a good service by introducing this timely debate on an extremely important report. I very much agree with the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have spoken that it would have been an even better debate had Lord Howell been spared to take part in it.
The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, and his colleagues have made a courageous attempt to balance the intensely opposing and difficult conflicting interests in the broadcasting of great sporting events. From these Benches, we broadly support the conclusions that the committee has reached.
I am a Scot and I speak about cricket, as did, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, conscious that cricket is not a major sport in Scotland. But I should say to noble Lords who are concerned about it that there is a real practical problem about cricket in the modern broadcasting scene because of the length of each match--a Test Match is a five day match--and the cumulative effect of 30 days. If only cricket were like Wimbledon, for example, where you could have a final day or two with the climax of the event as operates in relation to Wimbledon, it would be a different matter. But sadly cricket is a very special sort of game which does not lend itself to that kind of finality. Given the present state of the England cricket team, generally the fifth day is not required for that purpose.
Therefore, I personally support what the committee has recommended to the Government in that respect. However, I do not underestimate the courage that the Secretary of State may require if he is to remove the home Test Matches from among the "Crown Jewels" of protected events. I hope that he will have that courage.
As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, emphasised--and I very much agree with him--the price of the kind of proposals which the committee makes, and which applies in particular to the major changes that there would be in relation to cricket Test Matches, is that there should be effective arrangements for secondary coverage. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and his committee had the terms of reference and the framework set for them. But we on these Benches take the view that the report itself does not and, indeed, could not really go to the root of where the public interest lies in achieving the right balance between the free-to-air viewing on terrestrial channels, which is still the major
The heart of the problem is that paid-for broadcast sport has been allowed to become a virtual monopoly of one operator; that is, Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television. In the absence of effective statutory regulation, Sky Television has naturally made the most of its monopoly. We should not complain about it acting as a monopolist does act, but we do complain about the inadequacy of the legislative arrangements to deal with that.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, mentioned the English Cricket Board. The information which the BBC has given to me--and perhaps has also given to him--is rather different from the view which the noble Viscount expressed. In relation to next year's cricket world cup, the BBC reports that,
Therefore, within the two-tiered system that the committee has recommended to the Government, it will be vitally important to have effective arrangements for secondary coverage. That was the issue with which we wrestled during the course of the 1996 Broadcasting Bill in which Lord Howell played such a prominent part. The result of that was the voluntary code and the compromise arrangements which arose out of that.
I do not follow those matters as closely as I once did, but I do not know whether I am pleased or puzzled by the fact that the code and monitoring arrangements do not seem to have been needed to be brought into operation at all. I feel very sceptical about the way it is operating and I feel that there is a great need to strengthen those arrangements. Speaking personally, I know only that to watch live Premier League football, I not only have to subscribe to BSkyB but I also have to buy a bundle of other channels to which I do not wish to subscribe. I only know that to watch "Match of the Day" on BBC--and that is a poor substitute for live BBC football--I have to sit up too late on a Saturday night for a septuagenarian like myself, or get up too early on a Sunday morning, which is even worse.
Surely in a world where the digital channels are now going to proliferate--and I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Orme, said--it should be practicable and possible as a matter of public policy to ensure that some of these new digital channels can be dedicated free-to-air channels, covering the sports that substantial sections of the population enjoy. It is my hope that what will eventually arise from this useful report will be the Government's acceptance of its recommendations.
Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, perhaps I may, first, add my tribute to those already expressed to the late Lord Howell, whose contributions on sporting matters will be sorely missed in this House, not least tonight. I, too, welcome the report. I believe that the Government are in a quandary over the live coverage of sporting events on television.
The Secretary of State has given a commitment that major sporting events will remain on what is mistakenly called "free to air" television. I say, "mistakenly", because of course it is not free. On the other hand, the Government are under pressure from sporting bodies to allow them to strike the best deal that they can. That deal will almost certainly be with Sky, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who naturally wants to increase the number of subscribers to his programmes. It is a nice circle to square, and the Government sensibly set up a committee which has produced a sensible report--a report, which the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse, has given us the opportunity to discuss tonight.
As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, reminded us, his report was in response to published criteria which had been issued. A-listed events must be broadcast live on BBC, ITV or Channel 4--the main ones being the Olympics, international football championships, the Wimbledon finals, the Grand National and the Derby. There is a further category of B-listed events which can be broadcast live on satellite TV, provided that edited highlights are also available on free to air terrestrial channels.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, objected to edited highlights. I must confess that I am an unrepentant highlight person, except for Jimmy Connors of whom I can never get enough; indeed, I buy all full-length videos of his matches. I even hold the heretical view that edited highlights of our own debates in this House
I said that I welcome the report, but I wish it had been a bit more forward looking. I shall return to that point later. I agree with the report when it says that sporting events which have a "national resonance" and represent a,
However, the fact remains that these events would not be available to the whole population if they were shown exclusively on a subscription or a pay-per-view basis. Indeed, 97 per cent. of households have television but, whereas the licence fee is £91 a year, Sky Sports costs £300 a year. I did not quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Orme, that people have an unlimited right to watch as much cricket on television as they like. That seemed to be the thrust of his argument. But I believe that other viewers have rights. Public service broadcasting has to strike a balance between the rights of aficionados and those who want to watch other programmes.
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