Murdoch's bid is shown red card by MPs

By Paul Waugh Political Correspondent
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The Independent Online
A CROSS-PARTY coalition of MPs yesterday called on the Government to refer BSkyB's bid for Manchester United to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Forty-six MPs signed an early-day motion deploring the impact on football clubs and television viewers of the proposed takeover. Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has until 2 November to decide on referral, when the Office of Fair Trading will publish its advice.

The motion is the latest stage in the campaign by MPs of all parties and may be backed by a Commons debate within the next two weeks. Yesterday Labour MPs also disclosed that they were told at a private meeting on Tuesday with lawyers from the Premier League that the sport's governing bodies had "serious concerns" about the deal.

The motion came as BSkyB underlined its determination to complete the takeover by buying an extra 5.3 million shares, taking its stake to 11 per cent. The Commons motion says the pounds 623m bid will create "an unacceptable situation" where BSkyB becomes the biggest purchaser of televised football and the owner of Europe's largest football club.

Signed by 39 Labour, four Tories and three Liberal Democrats, it adds that they are certain the deal is "not in the best public interest of fans, clubs, television viewers and sport in general."

The MPs urged Mr Mandelson to refer the bid to the MMC in tandem with setting up an inquiry into all funding of football by television. Joe Ashton, chairman of the Commons All-Party Football Group, said it was increasingly apparent that Rupert Murdoch would distort the British football market.

He also disclosed that MPs had tried to get permission for a debate on the issue but had been delayed by parliamentary lawyers claiming that the matter was sub judice.

They later relented and a debate may be held in two weeks. United supporters meet MPs on Tuesday to keep up pressure on the Government. Rhodri Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff West, said it was clear there was a strong public interest argument in blocking the takeover. "Sky have ... referred to using football as a battering- ram to get into the TV market. This bid takes that strategy a stage further by using Manchester United as a battering- ram to get into a new European league. I, like many MPs, have many Manchester United fans in my constituency and they all believe that Rupert Murdoch should not be allowed to get his hands on the club."

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