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Janet Anderson: Yes, I could not agree with my hon. Friend more, and I am grateful to him for making that point. I reassure him that the Government are taking a robust stance and that we will continue to do so. It is essential to protect those crown jewels, and I was interested that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby said that Germany is considering a similar system.

The figures for some individual games were remarkably high, with 10.2 million people watching Jamaica v. Croatia, 9.3 million tuning in to Morocco v. Norway and 9.8 million watching Germany v. Iran. Against that background, I can well understand the concern, expressed not only in the House, but among the general public--

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hon. Members are reflecting the public's views--that UK viewers may be denied the opportunity to watch the whole of the 2002 World cup live on free-to-air television.

As we have heard during the debate, the German media company--the Kirch Group--acquired the rights to the 2002 and 2006 World cup matches from FIFA in September 1996. I was interested that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove quoted Mr. Greg Dyke, the Director- General of the BBC, and I could not agree with him more. He said:

As my hon. Friend the Member for Selby said, he continued:

I hope that that message will go out from the House tonight.

As we have heard, the Kirch Group acquired the rights in September 1996. Sadly, negotiations between Kirch and the BBC and ITV for the sale of the rights to the 2002 tournament fell through because Kirch did not consider that those broadcasters' joint offer reflected the true value of the rights. From what we have heard in the debate, it is clear that BSkyB has confirmed that it is not interested in bidding for the rights because it thinks that the terms that Kirch is considering are outrageously high, especially when one considers that the BBC and ITV paid about £4 million each for the rights to the 1998 tournament. Negotiations with the BBC and ITV fell through, and the Government clearly cannot comment on the rights and wrongs of Kirch's decision, but we expect it to comply with the listing legislation. We have protected these special events in law, and we want to see the objective of that law upheld.

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To that end, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has written to Dr. Dieter Hahn, the managing director of the Kirch Group, and our officials have held a meeting with representatives of the group. It has been made fully aware of the requirement in our legislation that the whole of the World cup tournament is a listed event and that any broadcaster purchasing live rights from Kirch would have to comply with the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1996.

We understand that Kirch now intends to hold an open auction for the live UK broadcasting rights. The auction rules are expected to be published in the next few weeks. Kirch has said that it intends to comply with the legislation and with the ITC code. Although we cannot foresee the outcome of that auction, we are confident that the ITC will take all proper steps to ensure that the law works in the way that it was intended to so that UK viewers have the opportunity of seeing the whole of the 2002 World cup finals on free-to-air television. That is the result that we want to achieve.

This has been an interesting exchange. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Selby for bringing the issue to the attention of the House. I shall conclude by quoting a further extract from Greg Dyke's speech in Brussels in March this year. He said:

I reassure the House that there is such a will in the British Government and that there will continue to be so. I hope that that message will be heard loud and clear by the Kirch Group and by FIFA itself.

Question put and agreed to.

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