Let me begin by apologising for the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, who is en route back from Vancouver.
I intend to make a decision on this issue as soon as possible following the close of the Government’s statutory consultation.
When considering representations from the England and Wales Cricket Board, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that grass-roots cricket receives as much money from the lottery and the Sports Council as it does from broadcasting, that the principal sponsor of English cricket says that it is far more likely to renew its sponsorship if there is some free-to-air exposure, and that the proposal to relist the Ashes effectively means simulcasting one series from 2017 on free-to-air and subscription television?
As my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say, grass-roots sports benefit not only from the revenue raised by the selling of television rights but from significant central Government funds, through our sporting bodies and the lottery. I am well aware of the strong support in the House and the country for the return of test cricket to free-to-view television. We will consider all representations very carefully before making a decision that we think will be in the interests of the public.
Notwithstanding that, does the Secretary of State accept that our success in a number of sports in recent years, particularly cricket and golf, has been largely due to the huge amount of money that has gone into those games as a result of the sale of broadcasting rights? The ECB has estimated that listing the Ashes tests will cost it £100 million. Will the Secretary of State think about that very carefully when he considers the Davies report? If he proceeds with the listing, huge damage will be done to grass-roots sports throughout the country.
We will consider all representations very carefully. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point about the potential impact on some of the sporting organisations, although some of the figures that are being bandied about may be open to challenge. There is a balance to be struck between the understandable desire of sporting organisations to make a lot of money by selling television rights and the right of the public to have access to some of the big sporting occasions that the nation enjoys.
Whatever the final decision, it will have different impacts on different parts of the country. I am thinking particularly of the impact on grass-roots football. Before the final decision is made, will my right hon. Friend receive a representation from Scottish football fans and members of the Scottish Football Association to ensure that there is very little impact on grass-roots football in Scotland?
A considerable number of county cricket chairmen, including one whom I believe has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), are writing to Members in all parts of the House about the listed events review, and they have been joined today by the International Cricket Council. Given that Sport England grants cricket—I think—£37.8 million, and given that, as my hon. Friend said, the county cricket chairmen claim that the hit to cricket will be £100 million, will the Secretary of State confirm that, having extended the review to the middle of March, the Government intend to conduct an independent economic assessment? Without such an assessment, it will be almost impossible to reconcile the two conflicting claims.
I can confirm that, but I urge the hon. Gentleman, who regularly raises sporting bodies’ concerns about this matter in the House, to recognise that there are two sides to the debate. I was surprised to read last week that he thought it would be foolish to list test cricket, and that listing events was
“an artificial interference in the freedom of a sport’s governing body.”
That is the complete opposite of what was said by the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), the shadow Secretary of State, who, only last November, welcomed the Davies report and the principle of listing. That further U-turn from the Conservatives demonstrates their complete confusion over their policy.