HL Deb 26 January 1995 vol 560 cc1175-7

Lord Donoughue asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they accept the recommendation of the House of Commons National Heritage Select Committee that listed sporting events should not become available exclusively on subscription satellite or cable television services.

Baroness Trumpington

No, my Lords. The Government believe that sporting rights owners should be able to realise the full market value of their events and should be allowed to judge the balance between the level of income from the broadcasting rights, the size of the television audience, the amount and type of coverage and the impact on potential spectators and players. A copy of the Government's full response to the Select Committee is in the Library.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I thank the Minister for reporting that rather unfortunate decision. Will she inform the Secretary of State that the free market and selling to the highest bidder is not the only issue at stake here? Will she tell him that the basic principle of guaranteed national access to great national sporting events is of great importance and that the Government, in eroding that principle—a principle set out in the Broadcasting Act 1990 and reaffirmed by the all-party committee—will cause great unhappiness to the millions of elderly, poor and unemployed people who cannot afford to pay the price of subscribing to Murdoch's satellite subscription channels? Will she ask the Secretary of State to reconsider this decision?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with regard to people on fixed incomes, the Government can understand and sympathise. But, on the other hand, the organisers of events and the holders of broadcasting rights want to be able to sell the rights to obtain what they believe to be the best advantage. When the list was drawn up certain events were included. A new list of events was drawn up by the then Home Secretary in April 1991. There are eight events on the list. They are: cricket Test matches involving England; the Derby; the FIFA World Cup finals; the FA Cup final; the Grand National; the Olympic Games; the final weekends of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships; and, additionally, in Scotland, the Scottish FA Cup final. Recommendation No. 8 of the committee's report was accepted and the list will be kept under review. It would be impractical to seek to protect through any statutory listing system coverage of every sporting or other event.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that my noble friend Lord Donoughue is correct that under the present legislation, as it is being applied by the Government, there are two different sets of viewers—those who can afford to see these events and those who will never be able to afford to see these events which are the prerogative of Sky Television? Will the noble Baroness seriously consider pleading with the Home Secretary to reconsider the decision in order to make it a completely national franchise and not a selective one?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong. It is no longer the responsibility of the Home Secretary. It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for National Heritage. I shall, of course, ensure that my right honourable friend reads this part of Hansard from cover to cover. Consumer choice is being enhanced by the introduction of specialist sports channels increasing the extent and variety of sports coverage on television services generally. Satellite services have provided for the first time live ball-by-ball coverage of overseas Test matches involving England. There is still plenty of sport on terrestrial television.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that since the advent of satellite television there has been very much more sport of all kinds on television and in particular some of the minority sports which were never shown on terrestrial television beforehand? Is not the income from satellite broadcasting very welcome indeed to those sporting associations?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to thank him, as vice-chairman of the Sports and Arts Foundation, for the marvellous work that it does. He has made an important point. Sky now shows martial arts, snowboarding, powerboat racing, ten-pin bowling, equestrianism, vintage auto-racing and a montage of fringe sports.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify her earlier remarks and the list she gave of what the previous Secretary of State said in 1991 would be available to all television companies? Does her answer mean that the Government have decided that that list can be eroded if satellite television wishes to do it?

Baroness Trumpington

No, my Lords, that is not what I said. I said that the list will be kept under review and that it would be impractical to seek to protect through any statutory listing system coverage of every sporting or other event. That is in the acceptances sent by the Secretary of State to the committee. That is No. 8.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who are associated with the Football Trust are delighted at the Home Secretary's announcement yesterday that the pools companies are to be allowed to advertise on television and radio?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, that is not exactly pertinent to this particular Question, but again it gives me an excellent opportunity to comment on the wonderful work done by the Football Trust. I believe that my noble friend is chairman of that organisation. If he is delighted, then so am I.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, it appears from the Broadcasting Act 1990 that the Secretary of State, in compiling his list of great sporting events, has completely unfettered control, is answerable to nobody and can change the list of sporting events at will without being answerable in any way to anybody. Is that the case, and do the Government believe that that is a satisfactory situation?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, when the list was drawn up the Government gave broadcasters the opportunity to comment. They consulted the Sports Council and the Central Council of Physical Recreation.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I do not fully understand the answers given by the noble Baroness. Is it right that the list she read out of events which are at present not exclusive to the television service or anything else will continue in that way, or is it possible that for the future they can say "We are going to keep them all to ourselves and nobody else can have them"?

Baroness Trumpington

No, my Lords. If we are talking about the list, as I have already said, it will be kept under review.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, will the noble Baroness now answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale?

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the noble Baroness does not understand the question. The noble Lord is asking whether the present position will remain and those sports will continue to be available. Will that list still be available to everyone?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, yes.

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