Clip Murdoch's wings, senior MPs tell Blair

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PRESSURE is growing on Tony Blair from senior Labour MPs to back new laws on press freedom to limit the power of Rupert Murdoch over the British media.

Clipping Mr Murdoch's wings would be one way of answering the claims that Mr Blair is "cosying up" to Mr Murdoch."There are quite a few MPs who are deeply concerned about Murdoch and want to stop him. There is a considerable feeling that we want to do something about Murdoch," said Clive Soley, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Action to preserve a diverse press to challenge Mr Murdoch's influence could also be used to head off the threat of a Labour backbench revolt on the Competition Bill, over a clause to outlaw predatory pricing by the Times.

The Government has delayed the second reading of the Competition Bill until after Easter, but the controversy over Mr Murdoch's access to Mr Blair continued to embarrass the Government after a weekend disclosure that a Labour official in charge of high value fundraising, Amanda Delew, had written a memorandum last May saying big business donors would want access to Mr Blair and Jonathan Powell, the No 10 Chief of Staff.

Senior Labour sources last night said that the reports of a revolt on the Competition Bill by 50 Labour MPs were "over the top - it will be a handful". But there is a growing call among party backbench leaders for action. The MPs were alarmed at the apparent editorial interference by Mr Murdoch over the decision by HarperCollins, another Murdoch publishing house, to cancel the book by Chris Patten, the former Governor of Hong Kong, allegedly because it clashed with Mr Murdoch's business plans in China.

Tam Dalyell has already warned the whips he cannot support the Government, when it asks MPs to overturn a defeat in the Lords on an amendment to the Competition Bill to outlaw predatory pricing. Mr Murdoch's senior executives have been mounting a counter-offensive at the Commons to reassure Labour MPs.

Peter Stothard, the editor of the Times, had a meeting last week with David Winnick and Robin Corbett, after they had criticised Mr Murdoch's influence in the Commons.

The Chief Executive of News International, which owns the Times, has called for a meeting this week with Mr Soley. But in spite of the assurances from Mr Murdoch's men, Labour MPs are keen to see some action. Mr Soley said he did not believe the amendment by Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat peer, outlawing predatory pricing, would work, and Mr Murdoch would circumvent existing laws. "I would like to see media legislation," he said. "Clause one would be on a free press and everything else would be set out - privacy, harassment, and media ownership. This is not just a can of beans we are talking about."

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