Commons Speaker in new row with journalists over advance copies of speeches

Commons Speaker Michael Martin has stormed into a new row with journalists – and upset Downing Street – by barring ministers from handing them advanced copies of their ministerial announcements.

Since 2003 the Speaker has allowed copies of ministerial statements to be distributed discreetly in the parliamentary press gallery so reporters can check them for accuracy when they are being made.

But the Speaker has rescinded the concession following Tory complaints about Chancellor Alistair Darling’s statement compensating low income tax payers who lost out from the abolition of the 10p tax band.

The Speaker told MPs: “Since it is clear that this arrangement is not operating as intended, in fairness to members I have now decided that statements will be distributed to members and the gallery at the same time when members sit down.”

Journalists noted the move comes shortly after the Commons committee, which the Speaker chaired, backed down and allowed embarassing details of MPs’ expenses to be disclosed following a High Court challenge by journalists.

Colin Brown, chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, told Press Gazette: “This policy is mistaken because one of the first complaints I had about this move was from Downing Street.

“They understand the advantage of being able to issue the statement while the minister is speaking so that complicated announcements are reported with complete accuracy.”

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