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Viscount Whitelaw: My Lords, this is an important advance. My noble friend Lord Thomson--if I may call him so--has put forward a generous offer. He believes that it is the right way for the Government to go forward. I understand the important way the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has put forward the matter. It should be considered carefully, but when one hears what my noble friend the Minister said--he has worked extremely hard in a difficult situation--I feel that it is an opportunity for the House to make a valuable advance which can be taken forward by the Government when the Bill goes to another place.
This seems to be a sensible plan for many people who are anxious and want to see the service developed. I thank my noble friend the Minister for having made a considerable effort in moving in what I believe to be the right way.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I believe that the Minister has done a marvellous job generally in his handling of the Bill. I would be the first to concede that he has done an excellent job generally throughout our discussions. The discussions I have had with him have confirmed that.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that he did not understand the issue of unbundling. Perhaps I may try briefly to explain. For example, last night--the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, with his previous interest in the north east may be sorry to know this--Newcastle lost to Manchester United. I was pleased about that, but I did not have an opportunity to see the match. I should have liked to have seen it. Under my noble friend's amendment, we would have had a chance to see it on terrestrial television. That must be helpful. I see that the noble Viscount agrees. I hope that if the Minister does not accept the amendment today he will at least come back, as he has done on the main amendment, at the next stage of the Bill.
It is important that the ITC, and no one else, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, should have the responsibility. That is not because, as he said, the BBC and ITV are knights in shining armour. As a former vice-chairman of the BBC I never saw myself as a
There would be no question of doing anyone out of the responsibility of presenting the sporting programmes that we all want to see. I see that one noble Baroness, the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, does not want to see them. I know that there are some people who do not want to see sport on television, but they can watch other channels or not bother at all.
To answer the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, the matter is simple. There are no complications about this. Anything a monopoly television power has on its subscription or other channel should be available elsewhere. Even if it is a monopoly to the BBC or ITV, that should equally be available elsewhere. That is all that is being said by my noble friend Lord Howell. The change would work in the interests of viewers, listeners, and the sporting bodies themselves. It is also in the best long-term interests of stopping monopolies emerging anywhere.
Lord Newall: My Lords, at first glance I had great sympathy with the amendment, but after looking at it more carefully I feel that it is not right. Many of the movers of the amendment are friends of mine. I have supported them and they have supported me. I support the Government over my noble friend the Minister's recommendation that the so-called unbundling provisions are neither desirable or necessary.
As noble Lords know, and as I have said on many occasions, I have an interest to declare as chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board. Greyhound racing, together with all other major spectator sports in this country, strongly opposes the suggestion that rights for live and recorded television and radio rights should be sold separately.
Recorded rights could lose all their value, as any broadcaster could claim them by statutory right. That is not what we want. The bidding process would be almost impossible. It would be impossible for a rights holder to agree a price with a broadcaster for exclusive rights if neither party knew the extent or the price of the highlights package. That is important, although it is complicated.
We have to ask what are the reasonable terms which the amendment suggests, and how are they arrived at. Who would have to agree them? It is a minefield. The Government are wise to oppose instant legislative solutions in this area. We need to look at this issue in much more depth in the future. Without taking a great deal of time, I agree with my noble friend the Minister and oppose the amendment for the reasons I have given.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I support what my noble friend said. Perhaps I may comment on the amendment and say who it affects. The main beneficiaries will be those who operate the terrestrial television channels. It is worth noting that the ITV Association, which represents all ITV companies, has said that on balance it prefers to allow the market to take its course on unbundling within existing competition rules rather than the complicated legislative process which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is suggesting. We must remember that competition rules carry weight. If there is any anti-competitive behaviour those who feel hard done by can go to the OFT. The problem with the amendment is that it is extremely complicated and, I believe, unworkable. The terrestrial broadcasters who are affected say that they would prefer the market to take its course.
The BBC, which is also affected, states that it is in favour of the amendment. However, we must remember that the BBC is a past master at anti-competitive behaviour because it does not make its highlights available to other broadcasters. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, criticised the Minister's consultation exercise as ludicrous. I offer the same criticism of the noble Lord's survey, which was the same as asking, "Do you wish to have everything for free?". Of course, the answer is always yes and we must not read too much into the survey. We must look at what those in the industry say and take their comments to heart. My noble friend the Minister has made an offer which we should consider most carefully.
The Earl of Harrowby: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Astor said that the main beneficiaries will be the organisations concerned. Perhaps I may remind him that the main beneficiaries should be the viewing public, who we must also consider.
When the related amendment was debated in Committee I was snow-bound and regretted that I was unable to support it. When I entered the Chamber I intended to support the noble Lord's amendment and I still intend to do so. However, I would qualify that because I would wish to read what my noble friend the Minister has said. His comments were difficult to follow exactly and they could alter one's opinion.
Two issues are involved. The first is that we are dealing with individual assets and it has been asked whether it is right to circumscribe one's rights to deal with those assets. That is not a unique problem and it would not be a precedent to say, "No, you cannot". Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that, for instance, I am not allowed to sell a mantelpiece in a house that I happen to own freehold. There are innumerable instances of inability to have freedom to deal with assets.
The second issue is the financing of sport. The phrase "short-termism" has been mentioned and I endorse the comment. In my view, the opponents are adopting extreme short-term attitudes if they believe that by eliminating 85 per cent. of the viewing public they are advancing the interests of their sport. In the short term
I conclude by asking the Minister to mention to the Secretary of State the fact that I can think of no better way of losing for her party and mine 500,000 votes at the next election than by denying the general public the opportunity to watch not the finals of Wimbledon but the whole of Wimbledon.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I fully support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, but I understand what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, about the screening of a football match last night that he was unable to watch. But why does the noble Lord believe that if the amendment were accepted he would be able to watch such a match? If no one could afford to pay the subscription he still would not be able to see the match. I support the Government and I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, that we need to consider the matter again. I oppose the amendment.
Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, I support the idea because it is important that the highlights should be shown separately from the main event. Time is of the essence for television because many people are not at home when events are shown live during the afternoons. It is desirable that highlights are shown in the evenings, perhaps on a different channel.
The Minister was sensible in proposing flexibility because that is also desirable. Circumstances are changing fast, not only technically but in sport too. The Boat Race used to be one of the highlights of the reserved sporting events. Although it is still televised it is not a protected event. Rugby League was played mainly north of The Wash but now it is a popular event and the finals must be considered. There will be many more changes and I am in favour of flexibility and consultation taking place over the years. These items are not set in tablets of stone and they will change. Therefore I ask the Minister to build flexibility into the system.
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