MPs urge end to 'routine' government leaks to press

Government ministers who leak statements to the press could face new sanctions under plans being proposed by MPs.

Earlier this year the procedure select committee put forward a series of recommendations aimed at stamping out the routine practice of ministers leaking statements to the media before they are made to parliament.

MPs described these leaks – whether intentional or not – as ‘grave discourtesies to Parliament”.

At a Commons debate last week the Leader of the House Sir George Young was urged to bring forward proposals to implement the recommendations of the committee.

Conservative MP Peter Bone told Young: ‘Under the last Government, it was routine for ministerial statements to be leaked to the press.

‘There was a media grid and they were leaked, before a statement was made, in a routine manner. Unfortunately, that has continued under this Government.

‘Until we have sanctions against Ministers for leaking, we will never get the problem under control.’

Under the proposals being considered, responsibility for punishing ministers who leak information would be passed from the Prime Minister to the Speaker.

If the case is deemed serious enough then the Speaker could ask the committee on standards and privileges to launch an in-depth investigation.

If a minister did not spontaneously offer an apology, the committee investigating the breach could force him to make one and – if the breach was particularly serious – a motion of censure could be moved on the floor of the House.

The report concludes: ‘Information about government policy has for many years found its way into the public domain at times when the house is sitting before it is announced to Parliament.

‘We strongly deprecate this practice. There must be consequences for Ministers who find that information, by whatever means, has been ‘pre-released’ by their departments. We hope that the changes we have proposed will act as a necessary deterrent to Ministers and officials who are tempted to make announcements or leak information before a statement has been made to Parliament.”

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