HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 c510W
Mr. Paterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on Government policy on football clubs buying media rights to football coverage. [67334]

Dr. Howells

[holding answer 27 January 1999]: I understand that the hon. Member is referring to the general issue of closer ownership ties between football clubs and media companies, and the possible impact which any such ties may have on the televising of football matches, football merchandising, and the choice available to football supporters.

On the question of ownership, the Director General of Fair Trading (DGFT) advises on acquisitions which qualify for investigation under the Fair Trading Act 1973. Where a merger raises concerns it can be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) for investigation. All cases are considered on their individual merits.

Separately from the arrangements for scrutinising mergers, if any links between media companies and football clubs were to lead to allegations of anti-competitive behaviour or abuse of a dominant position, then, in the first instance, it would be the responsibility of the DGFT to investigate the matter.

In addition, in April 1996 the DGFT referred to the Restrictive Practices Court (RPC) the FA Premier League rules and certain restrictions in agreements between the Premier League, BSkyB and the BBC for televising football. The case is now a matter for the RPC. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has no role in the RPC's procedures. It is for the parties to the agreements to demonstrate to the RPC that the restrictions in the agreements are not contrary to the public interest.