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Lord Orme: My Lords, I said, in effect, that there will still be 30 days of that viewing if it passes to cable television, as cable has three sports channels. The point I was making, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, endorsed, was that ITV and BBC should have their own sports channels; in that case the viewing I mentioned would not impinge on other programmes.
Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. That may well become possible when digital television is introduced. I shall discuss that in a moment. I am presenting one side--the side for listing. On the other hand, it is undoubtedly true that more money would come into sport if franchises were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Funds from satellite television have transformed football finances, the current contract being worth £742 million a year to the clubs. The noble Lord, Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, argued last year that the Government should lift restrictions on the sale of test match rights on exactly those grounds. The ECB has commended the advisory group's report which proposes in effect to do that.
The broader context for this debate--as my noble friend Lord Astor has pointed out--is the huge increase in choice of programming that the new technology makes possible. I believe that will help to solve many of the problems of access which have troubled some noble Lords this evening. The current analogue terrestrial broadcast technology offers five channels. Digital terrestrial television will offer 30 channels from
A general, all-purpose TV channel, which is all the current analogue terrestrial channels can ever be, cannot compete with the scope for specialisation which the new technology offers. The likely growth of subscribers to digital terrestrial will surely undermine not only the monopoly of Sky as at present but also the case for the old licence basis of financing. Eventually people will pay for whatever package of channels they want. In the meantime I wish to congratulate the advisory group on a balanced report. I am sure that the Government will give serious thought to its recommendations as well as to the views expressed here tonight.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this debate is, of course, overshadowed by the sudden death of Denis Howell. I cannot hope in any way to emulate his lifetime of experience, skill and knowledge in sporting matters. I remember that he never took himself too seriously and was always willing to accept or even make jokes about himself. I was reminded by an obituary today of his story about refereeing a match in which the young Jimmy Greaves played. He had cause to be in dispute with Jimmy Greaves and asked, "Who do you think is refereeing this match?", to which Jimmy Greaves replied, "I don't know but I'm sure it isn't either of us." Denis Howell was a great man and we would have benefited greatly from his presence tonight. He had intended to be present.
I suppose that I have peculiar qualifications to speak in this debate in the sense that I vary between having a small interest in sport and no interest whatsoever, with no interest in sport being the dominant characteristic. Perhaps that is a good thing, as I can be entirely neutral as between the claims of different sports for attention and coverage. As noble Lords know perfectly well that my response to the Question of my noble friend Lord Lofthouse will be to stonewall rather than to give the Government's response to the advisory group's report, I can do so with a good deal of conviction without any personal prejudices coming into the matter. I suppose I also represent a group referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky--those who are interested in other subjects on television or radio; those who believe (to adapt the famous phrase) that coverage of sport has increased, is increasing and should be diminished. I hasten to say that that is not the view of the Government.
The advisory group's report is a quite remarkable document in a short space. It recognises the argument for wide availability of sport. At the same time it recognises the needs of the sports themselves. Noble Lords are right to demand that the Government should think carefully about the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Gordon and his colleagues before coming to a conclusion and making that conclusion public. I can confirm straight away that this debate will be an important part of the consultation process. For that reason again I shall not attempt to pre-empt the conclusions the Government may draw.
It is significant that my noble friend's report was unanimous despite the wide variety of membership of the group--a deliberately wide variety consisting of members of great distinction in all matters relating to sport and broadcasting. Reference has been made to the criteria which the Secretary of State set down for the report. Minimal criteria are prescribed in the Broadcasting Act 1996, but after extensive consultation the Secretary of State felt--I have heard no disagreement with that tonight--that it was necessary to be more explicit in setting out the criteria for listing than was possible in legislation.
Of course the advisory group could have taken the populist view and simply recommended a much longer list, as my noble friend Lord Gordon rightly said. But the group recognises that, whether or not we like it, sport is now big business. It requires investment in facilities, in providing for the safety and comfort of those who go to see sporting events, and in particular in training and bringing new people into sport. When I read some of the reactions to the report, and having heard some of the contributions tonight, I wonder whether it follows that the best deal, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, will almost always be Sky. I thought that the example given by my noble friend Lord Gordon of the Scottish Open was a good one.
It is important to remember that, in considering the best deal for them, the governing bodies of sports in this country will not simply take the largest amount of money available from the deal itself but will be concerned with the possibilities of sponsorship, advertising support and, above all, the popularisation of the sport. As has been rightly said, that is more possible from terrestrial television with its much larger audiences than from Sky. Sky, pay-to-view and subscription television will always be more restricted to fans for obvious economic reasons--and, as my noble friends Lord Lofthouse and Lord Orme rightly said, on the whole to the better off fans. That is a serious problem. But the popularity of sports will be very much greater if the boards of control take into account what can be achieved indirectly by making their sports available on terrestrial free-to-view television. I do not know any alternative to that phrase.
At the same time, it is quite right to say that none of these issues is set in concrete; they are not going to survive the arrival of digital television from the end of this year--although I suspect it will take much longer to be fully operational than some people now think. Clearly, digital television will need attractive
So I do not accept the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that somehow my noble friend's report is detrimental to the development of digital television. I take rather the view of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that we shall have to see how digital television advances. It may well be that whatever decisions we take now in relation to listed events will have to be changed when digital television takes root.
There have been a number of references to individual sports--notably and most powerfully to Rugby League by my noble friends Lord Lofthouse and Lord Orme. We recognise the devotion of many thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands or millions, of people to Rugby League. However, it is important that we should not get into the habit of thinking of listing, in the sense in which it is used here, as an honours list, and that if an event is listed it is somehow a better or more important sport. That is not the issue at all--
Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will give way. I certainly appreciate the point that he just made. However, does he not think that the request that I have made on behalf of rugby--namely, one match a year, to the massive benefit of the youth who have an interest in the game and the elderly who want to watch television--is a rather modest request and that serious consideration should be given to it?
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