Skip to main content

New Clause A —(Television Broad- Casting Facilities In Respect Of Certain Sporting And Other Events)

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords Amendment: In line 9, at end, insert:

A.—(1) With a view to preventing the making of exclusive arrangements for the broadcasting to a restricted audience of sporting or other events of national interest, the Postmaster-General may make regulations as to the grant to the Authority and programme contractors and to the British Broadcasting Corporation respectively of television broadcasting facilities in respect of such events.
(2) Regulations made under this section shall not apply to the broadcasting of a record of any event specified therein unless the visual images are transmitted within seven days after the happenings represented by those images respectively.
(3) The power to make regulations under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, and before making any such regulations the Postmaster-General shall lay a draft thereof before each House of Parliament, and shall not make the regulations until a resolution has been passed by each House of Parliament approving the draft.

8.45 p.m.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is the point on which I commenced to embark on the forbidden sea of a future Amendment, and I now move it in its proper place. I was informing the House that when we dealt with this point in Committee we agreed to come to no final conclusion in the matter, but to leave it to my noble Friend the Postmaster-General to have further negotiations with the sporting interests and the B.B.C. to see if some final solution could be arrived at.

At that stage, as I reminded the House, the Bill still contained the provision by which my noble Friend could draw up a list of public ceremonies and public sporting events for which there should be no exclusive right to broadcast; but I also pointed out that it has always been clear since we first considered this matter that no sporting promoter should be compelled to have his sporting event broadcast unless he wished to do so. I do not think it has been anyone's intention that anything else should obtain.

In Committee my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General said that the sporting interests were not very happy about this proposal because it would have meant that we were detracting from the cash value of the most important of their events by preventing them from selling the rights of transmission to some particular broadcaster, and we, on the other hand, felt that we had the national interest to consider, and that is why this provision was put in the Bill.

Since then, the idea has gone through a number of stages. At one time an Amendment was proposed drawing up a list of the sporting events which any programme company would have to share with the B.B.C., and vice versa. The next proposal, which was made in another place, was for a new Clause and a Fourth Schedule which empowered the Postmaster-General to schedule a limited number of events subject to a Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. This Amendment laid down that a request had to be made for broadcasting facilities, by the B.B.C., the I.T.A. or the programme contractors five months before the event took place and if agreement on terms was not reached arbitration had to be resorted to. Then on Report this procedure was considerably simplified by an Amendment which was moved by the Leader of the Opposition Peers, Lord Jowitt, and a simpler Clause was put down which had far less rigidity, and it is this Clause which I ask the House to agree to.

I cannot do better than put the argument as it has been put before, far better than I can:
"In fact, we will keep Parliamentary control over what is a difficult situation and, at the same time, give considerable latitude to the Postmaster-General to deal with this situation —and I think it is going to be a very difficult situation. I feel certain that that is a much wiser course than putting ourselves, as it were, in a strait waistcoat with regard to a matter about which we know very little."
That was the argument of the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, and in reply my noble Friend the Postmaster-General said:
"I welcome the suggestion of the noble and learned Earl, which has been very well received "—
I ask the House to note the words of my noble Friend—
"not only by the sports promoters but by the B.B.C. itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 20th July, 1954; Vol. 188, c. 1218–1219.]
I think that this House has always realised that it is a difficult question on which to legislate, and to legislate in detail at this stage. We might bind ourselves too tightly, or devise an arrangement which would be cumbersome or unworkable in practice. I think the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition in another place—that the whole matter should be left to be regulated if necessary by Statutory Instrument at a later date, and that any order would have to come before Parliament for approval—is a wise suggestion, and, as such, I commend it to the House. I would remind the House of what I said about the B.B.C. and the sports promoters. I am informed that they have been consulted and are content with the solution now proposed.

We shall have to see how the matter works out and in what ultimate guise and form the regulations will have to be made, but I am grateful to everyone who has shown patience and co-operation in arriving at what I think is the best present solution to a very difficult problem.

This Amendment represents an advance on the previous position, but it does some contradictory things. First, it prevents commercial television from obtaining a monopoly of the great sporting events; secondly, it prevents competition between the B.B.C. and commercial television, and thirdly, it makes one or the other programme not an alternative programme. It is apparently the intention of the Government to provide that any great sporting event shall be transmitted both by the B.B.C. and by commercial television. In other words, commercial television will not provide an alternative programme—which was one of the fundamental reasons mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman for introducing commercial television. This is a dilemma of the Government's own creation.

The Lords Amendment does not provide a solution to this problem. All it does is put off the solution. I should be the first to admit that this is one of the most difficult fields in the radio set-up. If the B.B.C. were to run both the first and the second programme, we should have an alternative programme, because the same programme would not be broadcast on both transmissions, but, as the Government have decided that the second programme shall not be run by the B.B.C., we must face the problem of commercial television outbidding the B.B.C., or vice versa, for the transmission of these great national sporting events.

It is right that commercial television should not be entitled to make an agreement or a contract which prevents the vast majority of viewers from seeing the great sporting events. How does the Amendment propose to deal with the matter? It proposes to give the Postmaster-General authority to make regulations. What those regulations are to be, no one knows. All we know is that it is the intention of the Government to see that neither system obtains a monopoly. If both are to show great national events there will be no alternative programme.

I know how difficult this is going to be, but whatever solution is arrived at, that solution should come before this House for examination, and it is right that the Postmaster-General's regulations should have to be brought here and approved by affirmative Resolution. However, I still cannot see any sign that a solution can be obtained, and we have no indication from the right hon. and learned Gentleman what form the solution ought to take. In a sense, what we are doing is facilitating the passage of the Bill by deferring the whole problem. What we do in this regard we should do with our eyes open, and what we ate doing is passing the Bill and leaving for future discussion and settlement the problem that goes to the root of the matter.

That is not a satisfactory way of proceeding. We have been discussing commercial television for over two years. Back in 1952 we had the declaration about what the White Paper called the "competitive element," sponsored television, and I should have thought that there had now been sufficient opportunity to have arrived at least at the heads of an agreement about these great sporting events. The problem was so difficult that the Postmaster-General, realising its difficulty, proceeded in the silly way in which he generally has proceeded with the Bill, and dismissed the Sports Television Advisory Committee that was helping to solve the problem.

When I was Postmaster-General we set up that Committee consisting of very responsible people in sport, and the B.B.C. was associated with it, as were the Radio Industry Council and educational interests. We had them all in, to try to devise the best means of obtaining the televising of great sporting events in such a way as not to kill the promotions.

That will be the problem, as probably the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. If we transmit a picture of a great boxing event as it is taking place the stadium will be empty. The result will be that there will be no more big promotions. If Wales is playing Ireland at Rugby football and the game is televised at the time it is being played, there will not be a single person attending a football match, for everyone will be watching the television. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. It is a fact. When England plays Wales at Twickenham, there are no club matches in Wales, and the club matches around the periphery of London are played in the morning, so that everyone can go to the international match in the afternoon, because otherwise no one would watch those club matches. I am merely indicating the nature of the problem. There is a lot to be said on both sides—a lot to be said on the part of the promoters and a great deal to be said on the part of the viewers.

9.0 p.m.

This is a difficult matter and I would not underestimate the difficulties before any Postmaster-General. It is right that whatever he does should be brought here. We are quite certain that the B.B.C. must not be isolated in this matter. It must have its fair share. It ought not to outbid for every great national sporting event, and neither the B.B.C. nor commercial television should be allowed to obtain an exclusive right to transmit such events. Whatever transmissions are to take place should take place as a result of consultations between the B.B.C., on the one hand, and the I.T.A., on the other hand, with the Postmaster-General holding a balancing position in between.

If that is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, no doubt it will commend itself to us. The provisions to bring those regulations before us in that sense are welcome. I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, that the Amendment deals with a dilemma which the Government themselves have created. If we had a unified, co-ordinated transmission of the second programme, this problem would not arise. It is a consequence of the Government playing up to a very small number of people who hope to make a lot of money out of the second transmission.

I should support the Amendment with the alteration of one word. The Postmaster-General "may make regulations." If it read, "shall make regulations" I should support it, and I cannot understand why the word "shall" is not used. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has had before him the Report of the Copyright Committee dealing with this problem. The question of copyright has led to difficulties in the broadcasting of these sporting events, as has been generally recognised. That Report has been in the Minister's hands for some time and I should have thought that he had had time to examine its implications and to change the word "may" to "shall." If that were done, we should then be in the happy situation in which both organisations could broadcast these sporting events. I do not know whether I am in order—

The hon. Member would not be in order in suggesting an Amendment to the Lords Amendment at this stage.

I am suggesting that I would have supported the Amendment with the alteration of that word.

The hon. Member cannot bring himself within the rules of order by that ingenuity.

I appreciate that.

One final question: are these regulations to be subject to negative Resolution or affirmative Resolution?

In the first place, I congratulate the Home Secretary on being able to give us a sound legal opinion on this Amendment, although he put himself out of order, strictly speaking, in doing it, because I understood him to quote verbatim from a speech which my noble Friend, Earl Jowitt, made in another place. While the Home Secretary is entitled to give us the offhand reflections of the Lord Chancellor and other lesser legal lights in another place, provided they are Members of the Government, as I understand it he is not entitled to reinforce his argument with a verbatim quotation from one of my noble Friends. Nevertheless, it is a good thing that he did so, because for the first time today we have had some sound sense from the Government side of the House.

I want to thank the Assistant Postmaster-General for his reference to a speech which he had previously made in the House on the subject of televising the Derby. I wrote to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who hopes to get somewhere near the winning post at Epsom in the near future—the nearer and sooner the better, although I hope he gets pipped at the post. I want to thank him for the investigations he made and the Assistant Postmaster-General for the speech which he made as a result, and to reinforce what my right hon. Friend said with regard to there not being alternative programmes for these great events.

After all, most great sporting events in this country are viewed from diametrically opposite points of view by large sections of the public. I am very interested in the Derby, but a great many of my Nonconformist friends regard that as a signal falling from grace on my part. If they were forced to view the Derby and nothing else on a certain Wednesday afternoon, in what we hope would be an English summer, they would find themselves in very great difficulty. I recollect what happened when "Ladas" won the Derby and Lord Rosebery stood open house to all the people of Epsom and had the mass bands of the Guards there to entertain them. My parents went, but most of their co-religionists walked up Chalk Lane so that they could hear the bands but not see the revelry that was associated with them.

Surely it is clear from the debates which we have annually on the Budget that there are certain hon. and right hon. Friends of mine who take very different views about big boxing matches—and the Government will be faced with the same thing there. I would point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, if competition is the basis of the Government's proposals, then when these great moral problems present themselves to certain sections of the public they are left quite defenceless, and the Government have failed.

Question put, and agreed to.