Press versus Parliament

Under-fire MPs hit back at the media this week with two Early Day Motions calling for greater scrutiny of the press.

But journalists struck a blow for the public’s right to know on Tuesday when the Information Tribunal ruled that MPs must publish detailed lists of their expenses; claims.

MPs have voiced their anger at the press this week following weeks of media coverage questioning MPs’ expenses after scandals surrounding Derek Conway’s payments to his sons and further articles at the weekend about the expenses of Commons Speaker Michael Martin.

At time of Press Gazette going to press, some 52 MPs had signed a Motion calling for BBC political editor Nick Robinson’s expenses to be revealed.

The Motion, tabled by Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle, was written after MPs were angered by a post on Robinson’s BBC blog on Monday – speculating that journalists were supporting the Speaker out of concern that their own expenses would be probed next.

It said: ‘This House deplores the innuendo of the blog of Nick Robinson.”

Robinson declined to comment to Press Gazette.

A second Motion from MPs this week called for Parliament to investigate the revelation in investigative journalist Nick Davies’s book Flat Earth News that only 197 out of 28,227 complaints made to the Press Complaints Commission were upheld in the past 10 years.

Shamed MP Conway is among those backing the Motion which called on the Government to ‘investigate the working of the Press Complaints Commission in the light of the findings by Mr Davies”.

Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News and head of the Parliamentary Lobby, said: ‘I think the real animosity is between the Government and journalists. It’s an indicator of how long the Government’s been in power – the longer a government’s been around the more resentment they have for the media.”

News on Tuesday night that MPs would have to disclose detailed breakdowns of their expenses spending came after an Information Tribunal ruling on a three-year Freedom of Information battle by journalists Heather Brooke, Ben Leapman of the Sunday Telegraph and Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas of the Sunday Times.

The Information Tribunal ruled that the current system of regulating members’ £22,110 a year Additional Costs Allowance was ‘a recipe for confusion, inconsistency and the risk of misuse’and ‘deeply unsatisfactory’with a ‘shortfall both in transparency and in accountability”.

Journalists will now be able to request a detailed, itemised list of MPs’ expenses claims under theAdditional Costs Allowance.

The decision to order MPs to release details of their Additional Costs Allowance spending was made after a two-day hearing earlier this month.

Brooke said: ‘By their secrecy, these officials have severely damaged public trust in Parliament. The only way to salvage its reputation is to embrace transparency and the public’s right to know.”

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