MPs in united front against Murdoch

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MPs from all parties united in condemnation of Rupert Murdoch's proposed rugby league Super League yesterday.

The Sports Minister, Ian Sproat, urged the all-party National Heritage Committee to conduct a "forensic inquiry" into the £77m Super League deal and invited David Hinchliffe, the Wakefield MP who initiated a Commons debate on the subject yesterday, to lead a delegation to talk to him.

Sproat, replying to the debate in which northern MPs echoed the anger of their communities at the creation of Rupert Murdoch's Super League, said the media tycoon's activities involved "very serious principles indeed". He was particularly alarmed at the prospect of players not on Murdochised contracts being barred from the national team, highlighting the case of Wigan's Phil Clarke ,who has agreed to play Australian Rugby League - under the sway of Murdoch's rival tycoon, Kerry Packer.

He confirmed that consideration was being given to requests by Jack Cunningham, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, to Sir Bryan Carsberg, the Director General of Fair Trading, and Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, for a monopolies investigation.

The Super League has aroused anger in league country, much of it, as of M62 corridor MPs made plain, directed at the RFL's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, and chairman Rodney Walker, for agreeing the £77m Murdoch deal with scant consultation.

Ian McCartney, Labour MP for Makerfield and chairman of the all-party Rugby League group, questioned what confidence could be placed in Walker as chairman of the Sports Council when he was involved in a deal giving a media tycoon from outside the UK control over virtually every aspect of a whole sport. "A sport has been purchased, lock, stock and barrel," he said.

Warning others not to gloat, Hinchliffe said: "What is happening now in rugby league will be frankly a vicarage tea party to what is going to happen in rugby union ... It will be hit in a big way and the game will be fundamentally changed." Taking up the point, Sproat said that with the World Cup coming up, he was sure Murdoch and Packer would turn their sights on rugby union.

Strong on gritty emotion, the 90-minute debate was chaired by a former Featherstone Rovers player, Geoffrey Lofthouse, a deputy speaker and MP for Pontefract and Castleford.

Hinchliffe complimented members of Featherstone on voting against a merger with Wakefield and Castleford as "Calder" - a river which to some in the close, ex-mining communities was "as remote as Ganges or the Volga".

"On Sunday I attended what may well be the last match that my team, Wakefield Trinity, will ever play," Hinchliffe said. "Grown men wept. But that grief has turned to anger."

Tom Pendry, Labour's frontbench spokesman on sport, said restriction and discrimination ran through the Murdoch deal "like letters through a stick of rock. Rupert Murdoch's News International effectively becomes Rugby League's governing body."