By David Rose
Westminster-based political reporters have been presented with shattering news that some of them may lose their desks, at the very time they are celebrating the bicentenary of the parliamentary Press Gallery.
Just a few weeks ago, Tony Blair joined journalists at a celebration dinner to mark the historic decision 200 years ago to reserve seats for reporters to cover debates.
Blair then spoke of the Gallery’s unique practice, whereby journalists from different newspapers and broadcasting organisations share offices. “It’s what marks out the Press Gallery as a very special place. And long may it continue,” Blair said.
Now, political reporters have been told that the Commons authorities have deemed they are overcrowded and desk space might have to be cut.
“It has been put to us that the enforcement of health and safety regulations may potentially require a substantial reduction in the number of journalists allocated office space in the Gallery,” said Greg Hurst, Parliamentary correspondent of The Times, and the Gallery’s honorary secretary.
Currently there are 318 accredited political reporters and 156 desks set aside for full-time use.
The Commons authorities have asked the Gallery to put forward ideas and journalists are examining plans to make more use of space by installing common working areas with hotlines for journalists without desks.
But Hurst said: “We could not accept the imposition of an arbitrary reduction in the number of journalists allocated permanent desks, which would seriously and permanently reduce the ability of the British media to report Parliament.”