HC Deb 09 May 1990 vol 172 cc349-58
Mr. Lester

I beg to move amendment No. 282, in page 123, line 31, at end insert `(1A) The Independent Television Commission shall do all that they can to secure that a listed event shall not be included live in any programme broadcast in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland unless that programme is capable of being received by a substantial proportion of the population of each such country. (1AA) Where any person has acquired broadcasting rights in respect of a listed event, that person shall be under a duty to make those rights available on reasonable terms to persons providing a domestic satellite service, a non-domestic satellite service or a cable service. (1AAA) The Independent Television Commission shall do all that they can to secure that the requirements of subsections (1A) and (1AA) are complied with.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 361, in page 123, line 31, at end insert— `(1A) Section 14(1) of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 shall continue to have effect subject to the following modifications—

  1. (a) references to "the Authority" shall be construed as being references to the Commission, and
  2. (b) the words "and for the purposes of this subsection an opportunity given to the Welsh Authority, the IBA's subsidiary or a programme contractor to acquire broadcasting rights in respect of a listed event shall be treated as given to the IBA" shall be deleted.'.

No. 601, in page 124, line 19, at end add— `(8) The Secretary of State shall monitor the availability of major sporting or other events of national interest on terrestrial channels after the implementation of this Act and do all that he can to secure, if necessary, any changes required to ensure the availability of such events to the general public.'.

No. 602, in page 124, line 19, at end add— '(8) Nothing in this section shall affect the availability of any extract from any sporting or national event for inclusion in any service providing a news programme and it shall be the duty of the person including such an event in their service to make such extracts available.'.

No. 369, in schedule 17, page 202, line 30, column 3, `after `Act', insert 'except for section 14(1)'.

Mr. Lester

I pay tribute to the stamina of the Minister, because this is his second day on the Front Bench, listening to the debates on the Bill. He has also listened carefully throughout the passage of the Bill, and made many sensible concessions. We have heard what he has done for deaf people, which is greatly to his credit. Through this amendment, I appeal to his logic, and his understanding of the broad mass of the people. As all hon. Members will know, the listed event was brought in by a Conservative Government because it was recognised that such events as the cup final, which many of us will be watching on television this weekend, the Grand National, the Derby, the all-England championships at Wimbledon and test matches are not simply sporting events. They are events that belong to all of us—because we all have an interest in them. Whether we watch racing or not, we all take an interest in the Grand National.

It seems illogical that, having established the list of events, we should go on, as we have in the Bill, to take the risk that, when they come up for option, any one of them could be purchased by any one of the satellite companies, and used as a trading mechanism. They could say, "If you want to watch the cup final when the present system runs out, the only way to do so is to buy Sky or BSB equipment." That seems entirely wrong in the sense of what we seek to do by listing events.

In drafting the amendment, I have tried to be helpful to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and to the industry. I request in the amendment that no one should have the sole rights to any listed event unless he has a substantial viewing public. That means that either the BBC or ITV can buy the rights. It is suggested that they should have to make them available at reasonable cost to either of the satellite companies, or alternatively the satellite companies can buy the event, but only if they are in partnership with either the BBC or ITV. That means that the free market principles of my hon. and learned Friend are satisfied, and we ensure that the vast majority of the population can view these events live in the way they traditionally have.

I hope that neither amendment will appear to my hon. and learned Friend to be contentious. Both are intended to be helpful to him. I am on the side of the viewing public and not on that of any group which seeks to purchase or to use the events for commercial purposes.

Mr. Hattersley

I rise partly to support the arguments of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and mainly to draw the attention of the House to amendment No. 361, which was tabled by the official Opposition. It attempts to achieve the same effect as the hon. Gentleman's amendment.

The Minister has been so reasonable on so many issues throughout the consideration of the Bill that I hope that he will be helpful on listed events. It may be that neither the solution proposed by the hon. Member for Broxtowe nor that which has been proposed by the Opposition is technically the best one to achieve the results that, I believe, most of the House wants to secure. If the Minister tells us that he wants to move towards our view and general public opinion on listed events, I shall be happy to withdraw the Opposition's amendment. I think that the principle should be stated once more, however, in the hope that the Minister, in his reasonableness, will accept it.

The 12 listed events are, I suppose, with the possible exception of the boat race, regarded by an overwhelming majority as national events. The boat race enables people to make claims, of course, about the universities that they once attended. Apart from that, the other 11 events are matters of general national interest. People watch them because they seem to be occasions that concern the whole nation and its interests and not only because of their sporting interests.

In our view and, if the opinion polls are to be believed, in the view of the entire nation, or the vast majority of it, it would be an absurdity if such national occasions were seen only by a small proportion of the population. I do not want to feed the neuroses of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) by suggesting that our concern is restricted to one satellite company. It extends to every cable or satellite company that might bid for and obtain exclusive rights to one of the events and prevent the majority of the population from seeing it.

On Saturday, 12 million people or more will watch the cup final. Were the final the exclusive property of a satellite company, the proportion who would watch it would not be anything like that. If, however, the listed event system is changed, there is a clear possibility that a satellite company will bid for and obtain exclusive viewing rights over these events. It would be a sensible commercial decision to do so. It would be a loss leader that would encourage millions of people to buy a dish and install the necessary equipment on the basis that it was the only way in which to see the event.

The one occasion when I was tempted to buy a dish was when I discovered that a satellite company was broadcasting a test match live from the West Indies.

Mr. Cryer

But my right hon. Friend resisted the temptation.

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend, who has known me for 30 years, knows that that is the sort of temptation that I resist. I confess that there was a moment when I felt that such a sacrifice of principle might be worth it to watch the ball-by-ball transmission of a test match from the West Indies.

Seriously, millions of people would be attracted to the new market if it was the only way that they could see, for example, the cup final. However, there would also be millions of others who would not. While it might be a commercial proposition for a satellite company, it is not the right proposition for the nation as several million people would be prevented from seeing an event that is central to the life of the country. Such events are of interest to men and women who are not usually interested in or likely to watch such sporting occasions. They are national events as well as listed events.

12.15 am

I understand that the BBC, concerned about the Government's enthusiasm for competition, has suggested a compromise. It is neither exactly that proposed by the hon. Member for Broxtowe nor that proposed by the Opposition. It suggests that the national networks—ITV and BBC—should bid against each other for the listed events, thereby ensuring that there is some competition. The price would be bid up so that the cup final, the Grand National or the Derby would receive a market-oriented price from the two national networks bidding against each other.

There should then be a second bidding—not a second coming—so that the satellite companies can obtain the rights to show those programmes on the Sunday after the event, late at night, as a recording. That would be a second opportunity for the listed event companies to obtain some revenue from selling a second right.

The BBC's suggested alternative is acceptable to the Opposition. All that we want is the prospect of all 12 listed events being available to every family with a television set. The scheme by which that is achieved is less important than the principle.

Mr. Gale

The right hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants satellite television excluded from the marketplace for the live transmission of listed events. He said that he was tempted to buy a satellite dish—although he did not —to watch a match that neither of the other companies chose to show. The BBC has purchased Wimbledon, but it has not shown many matches for a long time. It is time that the cartel was broken.

Mr. Hattersley

I said earlier that I hoped that hon. Members would not see this issue simply in terms of protecting the interests of satellite television. We are trying to protect the interests of the consumer—the viewer. The simple fact is that, if a satellite company, whichever it may be, bid for the listed events—which it might well be in its commercial interests to do—and obtained the exclusive rights to show them, the inevitable result would be that several million British viewers would not have the opportunity to see events which previous Governments, of both persuasions, believed to be the property of the whole nation, and which should be available for viewing by the whole nation. Put in those terms, it is not easy to argue against the principle that the hon. Member for Broxtowe and I have attempted to outline.

By describing the compromise suggested by the BBC —which provides a place for satellite broadcasting—we want to secure the broadcasting opportunity. How it is done is much less important. If the Minister tells us that, in another place, he will ensure that listed events are universally available, we will gladly withdraw the amendment to give him time to think of the best way to meet that desirable objective.

Mr. Mellor

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has spoken effectively. I know that he is a genuine sports fan, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). So, too, am I. I shall be among those at the cup final and I am looking forward to the game.

This is not an issue that I regard as purely academic. I have thought about it quite deeply. I am sorry that my reputation for reasonableness will not, in the eyes of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, be much enhanced by my reply. However, I accept that it is one of those issues on which people of goodwill should find it possible to agree. It is not one about which there is any absolute truth.

The present arrangements give no absolute guarantee that a sporting event will be made available to everyone who wants to see it. At the moment there is a right to match and a non-BBC or ITV company could put in a large bid and both the BBC and the ITV could refuse to match it, in which case it would go exclusively to that other channel. There is no absolute right at the moment. We propose to maintain the prohibition on pay per view. which is the only way in which it is likely that a channel which is not a mainstream channel will be able to afford the kind of bid that they would have to put in.

There is no duty on sporting bodies to sell television rights and any one of the 12 could decide that it did not want to sell them and any right the public might have to see the event would fall by the way.

By the same token, the broadcasting organisations are placed under no obligation to carry the programmes. I fully accept that channels would want to show most of the events on the list. There may be genuine reservations about the boat race, although it has the advantage of starting in my constituency. Apart from that, one cannot make a big case for it, particularly now that Cambridge seem to be losing all the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear "]I knew that I should get an appreciative cheer for that. There might be some doubt about whether the race should be shown.

Most hon. Members would agree that the sporting event which held the most interest for people in the past six months was the England-Scotland rugby game. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook shakes his head, but even a non-rugger fan like me got quite interested in it. Although I went to see my football team instead of watching the match, I was notionally interested in the rugby match.

None of the rugger internationals are listed events, which suggests that the list is somewhat arbitrary. I also think that all sports fans should be ambivalent about the list for this reason. I remember as a child going to events organised by the Dorset Schools Football Association, of which my father was the secretary. Those events were funded by the Football Association on the basis of the moneys they received from various activities, not least television rights to the cup final. The grass roots of sport are watered by media fees and I am not sure how justifiable it is for BBC and ITV to have an inside track to such events at a relatively low price if, as a consequence, the sports concerned cannot finance their activities as well as they might have been able to do. Sports fans must feel ambivalent about that.

While some companies may have to spend more for such rights, I do not think that the proprietors will sell to satellite stations because they have an interest in their sport having a shop window and major access to a lot of homes. The organisers of Wimbledon have stated that in their terms.

Also every time one watches a Wimbledon player drinking some substance—legal or illegal—out of a cardboard cup, whatever it might be, it alleges that it is a particular soft drink. No doubt it is not entirely coincidental that the label is on the drink as someone has paid a large amount of money for it. The sponsors will not welcome the prospect of that sporting event being seen only in a limited number of homes. Wimbledon said in its terms that it is not interested in a small audience.

It is not insignificant that all of the sporting bodies concerned have welcomed the freedom that the arrangements in the amendment give. It will allow a normal, sensible and rational set of decisions to be made about the broadcasting of events which will militate in favour of a large audience. It would be much better for that to be done in the normal way in which such transactions take place, rather than through some arbitrary imposition that has become increasingly irrelevant.

Mr. Hattersley

I wonder why the Minister is so optimistic about the organisers of sporting events wanting a larger audience as distinct from a smaller but more remunerative one. Although the Minister reminded us of what Wimbledon said, organisers of two major race meetings which get some coverage but are of no intetrest to me have written in strong terms saying that they want the right to get the biggest bid and the biggest income irrespective of the size of the audience. Why does the Minister think that Wimbledon will continue behaving in the way he described rather than behaving in the same way as the German lawn tennis association behaved? When Germany had world champions in the men's and women's singles events at Wimbledon, only 4 per cent. of the German public could see the matches which were not shown on general German television.

Mr. Mellor

I understand that point, but for what it is worth my prediction is that Wimbledon will stick to its clear statement that it wants a mass audience in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) said that there is plenty of scope for many more games at Wimbledon to be shown. Games on the centre court and sometimes on court No. 1 are shown, but there is plenty of scope for other television organisations to cover the games on the other courts. It may just be bad luck, but whenever I have centre court tickets there is usually something much more exciting happening on court No. 16.

However, all good things must come to an end and it is 25 minutes past 12. Suffice it to say that I understand that there is a populist sentiment behind the case for retaining the limited list. I understand that we run the risk that at some point in future a major sporting event may go to a minority channel, but there is no continued justification for a fetter on the discretion of the sporting bodies to sell their product where they wish and common sense will Insure that the British public continue to have the opportunity to see those great events on live television.

I am sorry but I cannot assist my hon. Friend. I have given the matter intense consideration, but I cannot undermine the central pillars of the argument in favour of the major sporting bodies enjoying the same sensible and free rights of contracting as owners of important commercial products enjoy.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

The Minister was quite right to say that the England-Scotland rugby match was the most important sporting event of the year. For those of us who were there it seemed rather more like a rally against the poll tax, but we need not dwell on that.

The speeches have revealed two apparently irreconcilable points of view. That is why I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to amendments Nos. 601 and 502 in the names of my hon. Friends. Amendment No. 601 places a duty on the Minister to monitor the circumstances Following the enactment of the Bill. The truth or otherwise pf the assertions which have been made on both sides of the House is bound to be demonstrated in due course. For that reason, I hope that he will look with some favour on amendment No. 601, which allows the freedom for which he argues to be instituted but provides protection, if necessary, for those who are most keenly interested in sport.

Those who obtain the exclusive right to broadcast the events that we are discussing are extremely reluctant to make extracts of them available for news purposes and often particular sections of the total coverage are important for strictly news considerations. Amendment No. 602 is directed to that issue.

I hope therefore that the Minister will be willing to give the amendments some sympathetic consideration, even if le is not willing to accept the more radical proposals which nave been referred to in previous speeches.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I agree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said. If we are serious about finding ways of making it impossible for a single satellite or cable company to acquire the sole right to national events, we must support amendment No. 361.

I do not share the Minister's confidence that many of our sporting governing bodies will consider the long term rather than the short term. Given the many difficulties facing sport and the paltry increase that once again the Sports Council received this year, I am afraid that, despite what ordinary members of that sporting body may want, the enormous amounts of money available for satellite companies to show national events will win.

12.30 am

Much has been said to the effect that the Bill is about competition and quality, but little about the choice of the majority of people in this country who do not have access to satellite or cable television. I am not being anti-satellite or anti-cable television. As BSB and Sky become more available, there will be partnership between the BBC and the satellite broadcasting companies. We were able to get cricket from the West Indies, and we will see more football.

There is room for partnership, but it is important that the listed events are available to everyone. This Saturday, the cup final will take place between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Thousands of genuine supporters of those clubs will not be able to obtain a cup final ticket. People who have watched their matches week in and week out will not be able to get to Wembley. Many hon. Members will attend Wembley on Saturday who never go to football matches. I am not referring to the Minister because I know that he is a genuine football supporter.

Mr. Corbett

No, he is not; he supports Chelsea.

Miss Hoey

He supports Chelsea, and he is likely to be at the cup final.

It is important to elderly and house-bound people for national sporting events to be available on television. The Minister has not given way on this in any way, but I hope that even at this late stage he will consider some way of ensuring that our national events are available on television for everyone and not just a few people who can afford or who have access to cable or satellite.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I speak for a particular purpose. What we are really talking about again is the old profit motive—pouring money into certain people's pockets. It is a right old racket. Here we are talking about how it is happening with sport.

There is a sport known as the noble art. We have an all-party boxing group in the House. It has not been in operation very long, but it is a successful group. I am proud to be standing next to one of the stewards of the British Boxing Board of Control. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and I, when we get the opportunity, regularly watch the noble art on BBC or ITV.

I am proud because I was lucky enough to see on BBC 1 Kirkland Laing win the European welterweight boxing championship. That is what it is all about. Millions of people could switch on BBC 1, while on ITV there was a potential heavyweight champion who won quite easily in the first round.

The problem is cable television because not everyone can afford it. That is where the unfairness comes in.

Mr. Skinner

And the ugly.

Mr. Haynes

That is right. There is the good, the had and the ugly. I remember the picture in The Star yesterday of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. He was likened to Clint Eastwood. We get Clint Eastwood films on TV and they also appear on that other channel that is piped in. The ordinary person in the street cannot see those films if they do not appear on BBC, ITV or Channel 4. I object to those films appearing on cable. However, that wonderful picture of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover appeared in The Star yesterday and he was likened to that marvellous cowboy actor. I felt right proud when I saw it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has an interest in the noble art just like me. The all-party group will continue and it is connected with the British Boxing Board of Control with a view to ensuring fair play. However, we also need fair play with the TV channels.

It is all right for the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). He has a real link with TV—he came from it. He protects the people who are raking it in day after day. Those people could not care less about the ordinary people in the street. There are many old miner pensioners in my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

You are one yourself.

Mr. Haynes

Wait a minute. Was it the hon. Member for Thanet, North who said that I was one of them? If so, he is right. I will be 65 next March and I am proud of that. I am fighting fit, but I am not fit to go in the ring. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and my other colleagues are concerned about the quality of television that our pensioners will see back in our constituencies. We want them to have channels that they can switch on and watch without having to keep on paying through the nose for it.

I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who tabled amendment No. 361. However, I felt drawn into saying something about sport on TV. When the Labour party gets back into office, people who think that they can just walk into this country from the United States or wherever and set up their TV channels and make a fortune at the expense of the pensioners in our constituencies will have another think coming.

The Minister of State mentioned the boat race. That might be on his doorstep and many other people can enjoy the race because it is covered by BBC and ITV. However, there are many sporting events that people cannot see because they cannot afford it. We must be fair to the people who really cannot afford to pay. We must give them a fair deal. I have got that off my chest now, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Lester

I suspect that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is busy trying to become a listed event himself in terms of his parliamentary performance. I do not know what fee he might attract for that. However, I will resist his strictures about Conservative Members, because I moved the amendment.

I was disappointed by the response from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, after having read the reports of all the debates in Committee. I crafted my amendment to deal with the points that he made in Committee. I cannot conceive of any reason why one should not require that a substantial proportion of the population should be able to see any programme.

I have dealt with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). The second part of the amendment says: Where any person has acquired broadcasting rights in respect of a listed event, that person shall be under a duty to make those rights available on reasonable terms to persons providing a domestic satellite service, a non-domestic satellite service or a cable service. One could not be fairer than that. It brings in the whole range of activities that people should be able to view.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will consider the proposition in the amendment. I do not consider it unreasonable. I recognise that, at this time of night, it does not make a lot of sense to divide the House on the amendment. Therefore, I am prepared to withdraw it. However, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will think again in time for the other place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Hon. Members


Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 361, in page 123, line 31, at end insert— '(1A) Section 14(1) of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 shall continue to have effect subject to the following modifications—

  1. (a) references to "the Authority" shall be construed as being references to the Commission, and
  2. (b) the words "and for the purposes of this subsection an opportunity given to the Welsh Authority, the IBA's subsidiary or a programme contractor to acquire broadcasting rights in respect of a listed event shall be treated as given to the IBA" shall be deleted.'.—[Mr Hattersly]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 31, Noes 83.

Division No. 199] [12.40 am
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McKelvey, William
Caborn, Richard Maclennan, Robert
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Marek, Dr John
Corbett, Robin Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cryer, Bob Morley, Elliot
Cunliffe, Lawrence Nellist, Dave
Darling, Alistair Pendry, Tom
Dixon, Don Pike, Peter L.
Fisher, Mark Rowlands, Ted
Foster, Derek Skinner, Dennis
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Wallace, James
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Wareing, Robert N.
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretlord)
Loyden, Eddie Tellers for the Ayes:
McAllion, John Mr. Frank Haynes and
McAvoy, Thomas Mrs. Llin folding
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Amess, David Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Amos, Alan Carrington, Matthew
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Chapman, Sydney
Batiste, Spencer Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Boswell, Tim Couchman, James
Bowis, John Cran, James
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Brazier, Julian Dorrell, Stephen
Dover, Den Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Durant, Tony Neubert, Michael
Franks, Cecil Nicholls, Patrick
Freeman, Roger Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Gale, Roger Paice, James
Garel-Jones, Tristan Patnick, Irvine
Goodlad, Alastair Patten, Rt Hon John
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Redwood, John
Gow, Ian Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Sackville, Hon Tom
Gregory, Conal Shaw, David (Dover)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Hanley, Jeremy Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Harris, David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hawkins, Christopher Stern, Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, David Stevens, Lewis
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Thurnham, Peter
Irvine, Michael Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Jack, Michael Tredinnick, David
Janman, Tim Trippier, David
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Waddington, Rt Hon David
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Warren, Kenneth
Kirkhope, Timothy Watts, John
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Wells, Bowen
Knowles, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Yeo, Tim
Lilley, Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tellers for the Noes:
McLoughlin, Patrick Mr. John M. Taylor and
Mans, Keith Mr. David Lightbown.
Mellor, David

Amendment accordingly negatived.

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