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MPs set to give the Speaker powers to punish ministers who leak policy announcements to the media

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Backbench Business Committee has scheduled two motions for tomorrow. One concerns extradition procedures and Dom Raab MP writes about this issue for ConHome this morning. The second motion is "relating to Ministerial statements to Parliament" and will be proposed by Philip Hollobone.

The innocuous sounding motion relates to the tendency of ministers to tell the press about major policy announcements before they tell the House of Commons. The motion will give the House the power to punish such ministers. Last week's extensively pre-briefed Autumn Statement was the latest high profile example of this longstanding phenomenon. The Speaker, John Bercow, expressed his displeasure last Wednesday. Tory MP Julian Lewis asked why the Speaker had allowed ninety-six questions to George Osborne after he had given his Autumn Statement. This was Mr Speaker's amusing reply:

"I am always keen to ensure that as many Back-Bench Members as possible should have the opportunity to question Ministers of the Crown. Secondly, as the House will be conscious, I am insistent that statements of policy should first be made to the House of Commons, not outside it. There have been notable breaches of that established protocol and they are a source of concern. To the hon. Gentleman, I say explicitly that yesterday I was particularly keen to ensure a full airing of the issues, not least because I wished to hear whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had anything to say in the Chamber that he had not already said in the media. I hope that that response to his point of order satisfies the hon. Gentleman’s curiosity."

Hollobone_phillipInterviewed on Friday night's Today in Parliament programme Mr Hollobone said the situation has been getting worse and that the Coalition was now "routinely leaking" policy announcements to the media. The issue, he told the BBC's Mark D'Arcy, was whether the House of Commons is at the centre of the nation's political life or that it becomes a "sideshow".

Mt Hollobone is suggesting that if policies are leaked in future a complaint could be made to the Speaker and the Speaker would then decide on an appropriate sanction. That sanction might include calling the minister to the bar of the Commons to account for his/her behaviour and that of their department or, ultimately, referral to the Standards and Privileges Committee could be considered. The S&PC has "unlimited powers of punishment" including powers to suspend members and dock offending MPs' pay. Mr Hollobone hopes that matters would never come to that level but he is confident that his motion will pass tomorrow. 

> You can listen to Mr Hollobone's short interview here, beginning at about 16 minutes 30 seconds into the programme.


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