HC Deb 16 February 1998 vol 306 cc748-9
6. Mr. Pickthall

If he will make a statement on the future status of televised test cricket. [27589]

Mr. Chris Smith

As my hon. Friend will know, I have established an advisory group to consider this issue in general and I expect it to publish recommendations before Easter.

Mr. Pickthall

My right hon. Friend knows that the audience for live coverage of test matches on the BBC is about 2.5 million; that that is important for the maintenance of enthusiasm for and participation in cricket at all levels; and that, by contrast, the audience for one-day test matches on Sky is only 413,000. Does he agree that it is absolutely vital for cricket to maintain its mass audience on television, and that it is wrong for cricket fans who cannot really afford it to be effectively blackmailed by delisting into subscribing to Sky?

In any case, the England and Wales Cricket Board is perfectly entitled to sell broadcasting rights to the BBC and to Sky. Will my right hon. Friend champion the millions of cricket fans out there by ensuring that cricket remains free to air?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend will know that at present, some cricket is on the list of events that have to be shown on free-to-air television. Lord Gordon and his team are currently reviewing the list, and one of the criteria that we have clearly set in place is that if an event has a special national resonance, and not simply a significance to those who ordinarily follow the sport concerned, it should be considered for listing. The committee will bear those principles in mind when it comes to advise me later this year.