Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading. Free-to-air broadcasting is something that is very good because it helps the entire sporting structure by encouraging people to watch sports events, which in turn may make them actually get out there and play some sport, a point that has not been mentioned yet. The fact is that if you have not seen something you cannot get involved in it, and equally, unless it is culturally acceptable you do not get involved. This is an odd and imprecise correlation that everyone knows about. The effort to build a healthier nation is helped by broadcasting. Oddly enough, being able to watch sports while sitting on the sofa encourages people to go out and try them, and thus makes them likely to spend slightly less time on that sofa.

The most important part of Amendment 224 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wood, is that the affirmative procedure would have to be used to make any changes. That, along with a commitment to ensuring that Parliament takes an interest in this issue and monitors it carefully, is probably most important in terms of reflecting the spirit of the amendment. If we were to leave this to some sort of outside structure, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, it is going to be difficult to pin down in a fast-changing world. Unless we have something that states that PSBs must continue with this provision, it will come under pressure and people will always be sniping at it. The fact is that sport seems to be something which people want to pay to access and view, so there will always be pressure. Representatives of the big five who came in to talk to my colleagues about this issue said that they are happy with the situation as it is at the moment, but there will always be someone who will think, “We can get so much more money and could do so many wonderful things if we restricted viewing”. As I say, there is always that bit of pressure.

We owe it to the public to make sure that any change that is made to something like this, which is a very good thing, is done in the full glare of public scrutiny. I hope that my comments are taken in the spirit in which they are intended, which is that this regime is bigger than the sports events themselves. It is part of our current fabric and we should take an interest in it. Whichever criteria are used, making sure that Parliament, to which the public have democratic access, is involved in the discussion is essential. If any changes are made, we will want to know why, because a price will have to be paid no matter what benefits are gained for certain sports.