HC Deb 27 April 1983 vol 41 cc853-4
8. Mr. Weetch

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has had any consultation with the Football League or the joint ITV/BBC committee regarding the future prospects of televised football.

12. Mr. Robert C. Brown

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will consult the football authorities about the future of televised football.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

The televising of football is a matter for the football and television authorities. Recognising, however, the considerable public interest in recent developments, I have been in touch with both sides. I hope that a satisfactory agreement can be reached, as I believe that the game and the public are best served by some continuation of the present arrangements.

Mr. Weetch

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he realise that there is a great deal of serious public concern about the possibility of football matches disappearing from television screens and going into public houses on video? Does he further realise that that would be a blow to family viewing and that it is undesirable for football as a spectator sport to be linked with the sale of alcohol? Will he continue to use his good offices to see that some other financial solution to the difficulty is found?

Mr. Macfarlane

I cannot undertake to achieve the hon. Gentleman's last request, because that is very much a matter for the Football League and television authorities. Negotiations are still continuing. As for his assessment of the overall impact of football, I strongly sympathise with his views. I think that the combination of the alternative facilities which are being suggested are certainly not conducive to all that we have been trying to ensure for the future of this great national game of ours.

Mr. Brown

Does the Minister agree that it would be an absolute scandal if children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the needy were prevented from viewing televised football, our national sport? Is he aware that the Football League has rejected what would have been an increase of 16 per cent. on the 1979 agreement and that in that period there has been an increase in the rate of inflation of 60 per cent.? Does he not feel that shirt advertising would be the answer to the problem?

Mr. Macfarlane

Shirt advertising is very much a matter for the BBC and ITA. Sometimes I cannot help feeling that Opposition Members are closer to the source of influence than I am on some of the negotiations, and they may feel that they have greater influence in some of these matters. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has voiced the disquiet that is felt by many people—that if we are still trying to envisage the success of football not only as a family entertainment but as a means of sustaining the game outside the professional levels, it is best served by the continuation of the present arrangements.

Sir Hector Monro

While appreciating that it is not my hon. Friend's direct responsibility, may I ask him to knock heads together a little harder so that the British public can see football on a limited scale on television at home? Does he agree that it really is not acceptable that, to see a recorded television match, one must go to a public house or a public place?

Mr. Macfarlane

These exchanges have been most useful. I believe that those outside this House who are responsible for conducting the negotiations will take note of the general view of hon. Members. I personally hope that they will echo the sentiments expressed this afternoon.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Minister call a meeting of the Football League and television authorities and put it to them strongly that millions of people want to see football continue to be shown on television and that the gap between them is not large? If he uses his good offices in that way and seizes the initiative, I am sure we can keep football on the TV screens.

Mr. Macfarlane

One must remember the locus of the Minister with responsibility for sport in these affairs. I assure the House that I have had detailed meetings—as indeed have my officials, on more than one occasion—with representatives of the BBC, IBA and the Football League. Meetings are to take place later this week, and I shall certainly draw to the attention of those representatives what has been said in the House today.

Mr. Squire

Will my hon. Friend nevertheless undertake to resist any calls for grants to be made available for those who suffer from deprivation of televised football?

Mr. Macfarlane

I take note of my hon. Friend's comment.

Mr. Denis Howell

Does the Minister appreciate that we welcome his intervention in a matter of great public concern? Will he intervene even further if necessary, supporting the Office of Fair Trading, which is reported today to be intervening because the public interest would not be served if young people, the housebound and the ill in our society were prevented from watching football without having to enter licensed premises? There is much disquiet about that. On the other hand, I hope the Minister has represented to the television authorities that they should pay an adequate sum for the hours of television they get and, if necessary, relax their advertising rules about shirt advertising to bring them in line with other sport to provide the financial assistance which football needs. Is the Minister aware that we will support any initiative he takes to bring that about?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those observations. I shall certainly maintain the closest contact with the individual authorities in the ensuing 48 hours. As for the Office of Fair Trading, the right hon. Gentleman must understand that this is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I counsel the right hon. Gentleman not to believe all that he read in one newspaper today. I understand that the Office of Fair Trading has yet to receive any draft documents, and clearly it has not been able to form a view. However, I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's comments.