Listed Sports (BBC)

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 9th July 2015.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 9:30 am, 9th July 2015

What assessment he has made of the BBC’s financial capability to broadcast listed sports events in preparing for discussions on the BBC’s next charter renewal and future funding.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

This will be among the many issues up for consideration as part of the charter review, and I shall be making an announcement about the review in due course.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

The Secretary of State will be aware that Ofcom is currently reviewing who is entitled to broadcast listed events. We are in Wimbledon fortnight, and the whole country is united in watching this great event, but with the BBC so financially constrained, how can he assure people that the whole country, regardless of ability to pay, will be able to follow the dramas and successes of British sports people in the future?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we maintain a list of events that are required to be shown on free-to-air television, and the Wimbledon tennis finals are on that list. The non-finals matches are on the B list, which ensures that secondary coverage is protected. It is ultimately a matter for the sport, however, as to who it sells the rights to.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

The Secretary of State is obviously well aware of the debate about the effect that taking an individual sport off free-to-air television has on long-term participation in that sport because it does not get the exposure. Is his Department doing any work on assessing the effect that taking live action off free-to-air television has on long-term participation in those sports?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but as I have suggested to Daniel Zeichner, it is a matter for individual sports governing bodies as to who they sell their rights to, and each governing body will want to weigh up the balance between maximising the revenue that will go into sport and trying to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity not just to watch but, I hope, to participate.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly how he plans to involve the Scottish Government in the charter renewal process? Lord Smith says that the Scottish Government should be involved, but he is a bit vague about the process itself.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I have been in correspondence with the Scottish Government Minister and we have given an assurance that we will abide by the terms of the Smith commission agreement. We will, therefore, involve the Scottish Government and, indeed, the Governments of the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies in the charter review process. I shall give further details in due course.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether decriminalisation of non-payment of the TV licence formed any part of his recent negotiation with the BBC when it agreed to fund the over-75s licence fee? Has he already conceded to the BBC on this issue?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

As I announced to the House on Monday, that does form part of the agreement we have reached with the BBC, in that we have said that decriminalisation will be considered as part of the charter review process. I shall publish David Perry’s report on that matter very shortly.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

BBC Sport is phenomenally popular: 51.9 million people watched at least 15 minutes of the London Olympics—that is a whopping nine out of 10 people in this country—and this year’s England-France six nations match drew the largest ever rugby audience of 9.63 million. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the Olympics will remain fully on the BBC and the six nations will be free-to-air?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Olympics are in the group A of listed sporting events, so there is a guarantee that they ought to be shown free-to-air. As he will know, the pan-European rights have been acquired by Discovery. Whether or not the BBC reaches a deal with Discovery over those rights is something for the BBC and Discovery. However, I can give him the assurance that, because they are part of the list, the Olympics will be shown free-to-air.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Well, I am not sure that the Secretary of State is right about that, because the Office for Budget Responsibility says that the shabby little behind-stairs deal that he cooked up this week for the licence fee represents another 20% cut in real terms to the BBC. That is not a cold bath: it is a prolonged period in the deep freeze. Is it not the case that, when sports rights inflation is running into double digits, this BBC settlement means that the Secretary of State is in effect forcing sport off the BBC? Does he not realise that sport belongs to the fans, not to BSkyB, BT or Discovery, and the fans will be furious if the BBC can no longer compete for these important sports rights?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

It is a matter for the BBC as to which rights it seeks to acquire, but the hon. Gentleman seems to ignore the contribution of other public service broadcasters. I point out to him that every single match of the rugby world cup will be shown free on ITV and that Channel 4 has developed its racing coverage, which is widely watched and admired by many people.