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Broadcasting: listed sporting events

Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 17th March 2020.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must designate the Games as a Group A listed sporting event.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a ‘Group A listed sporting event’ is an event included in Group A of the list maintained by the Secretary of State under section 97 of the Broadcasting Act 1996.” —

This new clause would direct the Secretary of State to make the Games available on free to air television.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is a very topical debate. Many Members will be aware that the future of the BBC is high on the list of priorities for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the shadow DCMS team. Of course, it is not only the BBC that provides sport free to air; other channels do so as well. In this crisis of coronavirus, it is increasingly clear how important the concept of free-to-air viewing is. We do not want people to feel that they have to rush to spend hundreds of pounds to watch sport, particularly given that they cannot, at the moment, pop down to the local to watch a match any more. The shadow team has campaigned on this issue for different sports, and I am keen to reflect that campaigning and those values in the Bill.

I am keen to hear the Department’s thinking, and an efficient way to do that is to move a new clause so that we can have the debate and the Minister’s response recorded in Hansard. This simple new clause seeks to have the Commonwealth games on free to air so that everyone can enjoy them. The BBC has its networks around the world—the fantastic international service it offers and its different language services. The issue is particularly important for the 54 nations participating in the Commonwealth games. I would be pleased to hear from the Minister what the current thinking is about free-to-air broadcasting, and in particular whether the games will be classified under group A, rather than group B, under the broadcasting categories.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. May I also wish everyone a happy St Paddy’s day?

I rise to support new clause 4, in the name of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. In keeping with this stage of the Bill, I will be relatively brief. We have seen from the decline in participation in many sports—notably cricket and others—that when live broadcast is moved from terrestrial TV to subscription TV, participation rates can plummet, and that sport is then affected in the medium and long term. The current issues surrounding the Six Nations coverage highlights that we need a much broader debate on this matter. In the meantime, I am happy to lend my support to the new clause to protect the games.

The SNP fully supports the Birmingham Commonwealth games. Everyone in Scotland was very proud of Glasgow’s Commonwealth games, and I hope the games have the same impact in Birmingham as they did in Glasgow. But I do have to note—as we always do—that the Glasgow games were delivered without any financial support from this place. I can sense that the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk straining to tell me that this matter is devolved, and he would be right, but that cuts both ways. We had to go 10 rounds with the Treasury to secure any appropriate Barnett consequentials flowing from the London 2012 games and, prior to that, the Manchester Commonwealth games. We would appreciate that not being the case. We will table an amendment on Report to try to ensure that 100% Barnett consequentials are secured. That assurance has been given over the Dispatch Box, but we would feel a lot more secure if the commitment were part of the law of the land.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank Opposition Members for their comments. This topic will be hotly debated, and I know that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is aware of these issues and concerns.

On the Government’s support for the games in Scotland, hosting major events is indeed, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North acknowledged, a devolved matter, with responsible agencies in each of the devolved Administrations. Support from DCMS and UK Sport complements and aids the ambitions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in identifying and securing events across the whole UK. The UK Government also support Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in UK-wide matters, including the delivery of Government guarantees on reserved policies areas. The hon. Member mentioned the great success of the Glasgow games. I completely agree. The whole of Scotland can be very proud of those games, which I will mention further in a moment; they were an incredible success.

The Commonwealth Games Federation and Birmingham 2022 are committed to ensuring that as many people as possible can access the games via their TV, mobile phone, computer screen and tablet—whichever device they choose. I have been assured that, as part of its digital strategy, the organising committee is looking to provide content on a diverse number of digital platforms, with a view to maximising audience and reach. As the Commonwealth games are a listed event, broadcasting rights must already be made available to the qualifying free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters on fair and reasonable terms. In any case, the listing regime ensures only that events are available to qualifying channels, and does not guarantee that an event will be broadcast by a free-to-air broadcaster.

Free-to-air channels have the opportunity to bid to show live coverage of group B events and have done so successfully in the past, as with the BBC’s live coverage of previous Commonwealth games held on the Gold Coast and in Glasgow. The Commonwealth games have been in group B since the list was put together in 1998 and have had excellent live coverage on free-to-air television, with 35 million domestic viewers in total for the Glasgow games. The event’s group B listing helps to enable extensive free-to-air coverage for the nation and allows the organising committee to agree live free-to-air coverage as it sees fit.

We believe that the current list strikes the appropriate balance. Reconsidering which group the Commonwealth games sit in would not be appropriate, as the organising committee is in the middle of a competitive commercial process with potential rights holders, and cannot pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that any change to the listed events regime at this time could therefore significantly and detrimentally affect the ongoing negotiations. However, I appreciate and share the spirit of the new clause, which aligns with the organising committee’s vision to ensure Birmingham 2022 is the games for everyone, with everyone having the opportunity to access and experience them, should they wish to do so.

In that vein, let me remind hon. Members that over a million tickets for games events will be available across 11 days of elite sport. Fairness, affordability and accessibility will be the central underpinnings of the organising committee’s ticketing strategy. I am therefore confident that there will be many ways for people to access and enjoy the games, whether on TV, mobile, computer screen, tablet or in person. Accordingly, I hope that the Committee can see that the new clause is not required, and that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green sees fit to withdraw her new clause.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I am pleased to sum up on new clause 4. I accept the Minister’s point that we are in the middle of a competitive tendering exercise, and I am happy to hold fire. However, I welcome the debate we have had, and it is important to have had it at this stage.

I also welcome the thoughts of the SNP spokesman—particularly his reference to the 35 million viewers who watched the games in Glasgow and to the Six Nations competition. I shadow declare an interest, with a Scotland rugby supporter in my household.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

Not that it is always a happy Saturday. Hopefully, the games will lead to more grassroots participation. I would be interested, at a future date, to hear the assessment of Scottish MPs of the participation rates in grassroots sport as a result of the Glasgow Commonwealth games.

I note that the DCMS Committee has opined on broadcasting, and that is a live and ongoing debate. On value and the importance of as many people watching the games as possible, the London experience in 2012 sadly coincided with mass cutbacks to municipal and school sport. During 2012, high-achieving local authorities —I am sure Merton was one of them, Ms McDonagh —allowed all under-18-year-olds to pay £1 a swim, for example, which promoted swimming as a sport that many people could enjoy. If young people watch those fantastic swimming races, I hope that families will not have to spend £20 to go swimming, but will pay £1 a swim. I hope that local authorities in Birmingham and the west midlands will take up the challenge of increasing municipal sport, that schools will grab the opportunity and that the tickets will be available to schoolchildren, so that they can watch water polo, the exciting swimming races or any other sport.

Ms McDonagh, I am coming to my concluding remarks, but I would glad of advice on whether there will be a concluding debate or whether this is the end of the sitting.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

There will be a general debate on everything following this debate.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

Thank you. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

I thank hon. Members for their patience and for the combined efforts of both sides of the House. I thank the Scottish National party spokesman for his depth of knowledge of the Glasgow experience.

I would like to conclude on some of the values I introduced in the four clauses. First, there is the importance of a carbon-neutral games, and some of the specifics around transport. I hope civil servants will look carefully at the bus networks, which seem to be a point of contention for local people, who will enjoy these sports, but who would enjoy them even more if the air quality was as good as it possibly can be.

I was also pleased to move new clause 2 in relation to the living wage. It would have an incredible impact on local people in terms of their day to day experience. I hope we can come back to that at a further stage of the Bill.

The Minister and I share concerns around gambling. I hope the Committee’s concerns about gambling advertising are noted as we go forward in the organisation of the games.

We talked in new clause 1 about the hotel levy. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, and others in the region, who brought this to our attention. There is cross-party support for the new clause, which would lead to a lessening of the financial burden on the local authority. I hope we can continue to look at it, particularly in relation to the question of how we can ensure that VAT goes to the region and is not just swallowed up by the Treasury.

I was pleased to talk about grassroots sports and other issues, including the importance of free-to-air broadcasting, the impact on community cohesion and the sense of purpose for the Commonwealth itself. I look forward to the next stage of the Bill.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 10:15 am, 17th March 2020

On behalf of the SNP, at the conclusion of the most bizarre Bill Committee I have been involved with in five years, I thank you, Ms McDonagh, the Clerks, the Doorkeepers, the millions watching at home—

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

On free-to-air television. I thank all Members present, even the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk—he is in Hansard now, so he has had a mention. I thank everyone present, and I look forward to further robust debate on Report.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank all hon. Members for their participation today, and I thank everyone else involved. The speed of progress today should not be misinterpreted as lack of scrutiny. We have had intense scrutiny in the Chamber and outside, in the House of Lords and on Second Reading. As testament to the preparation of my team, I should say that hon. Members did not get to hear all the speeches I had in my folder today. Maybe I can get them out at some other point.

I thank everybody for their engagement and involvement with what we know will be a fantastic games; they are something we can look forward to in these challenging times, as sport can unite the nation. I thank everybody who has been involved in their development to date, including the stakeholders, the organising committee and the partners of the games. I thank the parliamentary staff, the Doorkeepers, the Clerks, hon. Members here today and the public observing. I particularly thank the team at DCMS, who have worked hard pulling the Bill together, and, of course, you, Ms McDonagh—the vision of green today.

Thank you to everybody involved. We will continue the robust debate on many of the important issues raised today. I do not dismiss them; they are all valid topics for debate. We have a shared intent and purpose, and I look forward to working with everybody involved in the coming weeks and months.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

BCGB01 News Media Association

BCGB02 Advertising Association

BCGB03 Phillip Johnson