Journalists who report government announcements before ministers have made a statement in the House of commons should be stripped of their Parliamentary passes, a senior MP said today.
Former minister Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, raised the issue with Commons Speaker John Bercow in a point of order.
He said that while Bercow was restricted in terms of how he could stop ministers briefing reporters “there is not just the question of supply, there is also the question of demand”.
Bryant said: “The Government is regularly now briefing the press before briefing the House of Commons.
“I realise it is very difficult for you to exercise any direct powers in relation to the Government, but there is not just the question of supply, there is also the question of demand here.
“Might I suggest that any journalist you find to write an article which says ‘tomorrow the Government will announce that …’ has their pass withdrawn so they can’t work in this House any longer.”
Bercow joked: “It’s extremely naughty of you to tempt me in that way. I think you should be careful about such an approach.”
But he warned the Government that “retaliatory action” could result in its time for business in the Commons being lost.
“I think it is extremely important that the responsibility of Government to explain and answer first to Parliament is accepted and that effect is given to it,” Mr Bercow said.
“It would be very unfortunate if a regular pattern were to develop of the kind about which you have been complaining.
“If, in extremis, this were to continue to happen and as a consequence the Government’s own business were to be damaged or lost as a result of what might be described as retaliatory action, that would of course be very unfortunate.”
Later, Philip Hollobone, Tory MP for Kettering, asked Commons leader Sir George Young: “What has been your role in framing the new construct for the release of Government information – namely a written ministerial statement, a press conference, and then an oral statement to this House?
“And given the Speaker’s very clear pronouncement on this issue, can you assure the House that it won’t happen again?”
The minister said the coalition was following the precedent established by the Labour government, adding: “I recognise there is a balance to be struck between on the one hand observing the proprietries in the House and on the other informing the public.”