Speaker’s statement “was leaked to the BBC” before MPs heard it

July 3, 2009 at 11:55 am Leave a comment

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Since becoming Speaker last month, John Bercow has made it clear that he feels the government should tell MPs about a change of policy before the press.

Yesterday Speaker Bercow made a statement to the House about his proposals for the election of the Deputy Speakers and his decision to ask ministers to answer all outstanding written questions from MPs before the Commons rises for the summer.

However, Tory MP Simon Burns was concerned that details of the Speaker’s statement “was a significant story on the BBC news website half an hour before he made it.”

“That suggests that it was leaked to the BBC,” he said.

“I was wondering whether Mr. Speaker would like to carry out an inquiry to try to find out how the statement was leaked and given to the corporation prior to its being made in the House.”

Deputy Speaker Alan Haselhurst said he “could not possibly begin to opine about what may have occurred.”

“I should just add that the fact that Mr. Speaker was going to make a statement was certainly in the public arena, in the sense that it was displayed on the annunciators in the House. I know no more than that.”

Mr Burns said that “although the fact that Mr. Speaker was to make a statement was on the monitors, in no shape or form was it clear what the statement would be about.”

“The other point is that if the Government have to bring statements here first rather than leaking them, no one—whether it is the Government or any other body with advance notice—should leak Mr. Speaker’s statements to the media,” he said.

The Deputy Speaker refused to speculate.

“I say again to the hon. Gentleman that he has put his concerns on the record.

“If something injudicious or accidental has occurred, there will no doubt be opportunity for further comment. The issue is hardly more urgent than that.”

In another point of order, Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith asked why the nationalisation of the east coast rail line was announced on BBC Radio 4 before the House of Commons was informed.

“Are you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, aware of whether Mr. Speaker has now reached any conclusions about this matter, and whether he plans to make any statement at all about the Government’s disgraceful behaviour in not coming to this House until very late in the evening—after most people had gone?” he asked.

“The other place (the Lords) heard a statement much earlier, and we had an indication from a Minister on a broadcast that some very important act was taking place, but this House was literally the last place in Britain to hear about it.”

Sir Alan said the Speaker had ruled on the issue yesterday.

“I think that Mr. Speaker expressed his satisfaction that, on the nature of the statement, nothing very different could have happened.

“The Secretary of State was obviously confronted with a very unusual situation; there was then a separate matter as to when that could be brought before this House; and there is always a dilemma for the Speaker, when he has timetabled business in the House of a very special nature relating to the House, as to whether it is proper to take further time out of that in order to advance a ministerial statement to this House.

“I think that it was a combination of very special circumstances.”

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