By Joseph Willits
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Proposals to give Parliament the power to take action on ministers who leak announcements to the media, before informing the Commons, have failed. The motion tabled by Phillip Hollobone MP (Kettering), aimed to be as "non-partisan as possible", was defeated by 228 votes to 119. Hollobone accused all three major parties of mistreating the House of Commons:
"All Governments, whether this Government, the previous Government or the one before that, have leaked information, and that is not how our great House of Commons ought to be treated".
On Sunday, Tim outlined the Speaker's exasperation, after last week's Autumn Statement was the latest example of policy being leaked to the press beforehand. Naturally, Hollobone expressed the same sentiment as the Speaker, saying that Parliament "should be the first place to hear of major new Government policy initiatives". He continued:
"Should it be “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the “Today” programme on Radio 4 in the morning or ITV’s “Daybreak”; or should it be the Chamber of the House of Commons?"
Parliament was, he said, "our chance to say: are we going to hold Her Majesty’s Government to account for the principle, which they uphold in their own ministerial code". Hollobone accused the coalition Government of having "increasingly enhanced" the "bad practices of the Blair Government and the Government before them".
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (North Somerset) suggested that the current trend to leak policy benefited the Government, saying that:
"Control of the news agenda gives the Government an extra advantage over the Opposition, over their critics and over those who wish to hold them to account, which they would not be able to afford themselves. That advantage is paid for by public money."
MPs Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) and Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) both issued warnings about the Speaker being drawn into politics. Bottomley said:
"Are we in danger of putting him in charge of what people say outside the House unnecessarily, and does that pose the risk of his being not tempted to become, but drawn by his job into becoming, more of a player and less of a referee?"
Pincher asked whether "protocols introduced for the best possible motives can be taken over and run as political vehicles for the worst possible motives." He continued:
"Not only might Mr Speaker be dragged into a political argument but, heaven forfend, he might be deluged with requests to investigate breaches, which would become just another part of parliamentary graffiti".
Greg Knight MP (East Yorkshire) said that under the system being proposed:
"Any complaint that was a mere cover for a party political row or dispute would be dealt with by you [The Speaker] and … would never reach the Standards and Privileges Committee, which would be asked to determine only serious or complex breaches of the rules"
It seemed, Knight said, "a natural extension of the role of the Chair to act as gatekeeper in this process".
Leader of the House of Commons, Sir George Young MP, responded to Hollobone's motion, suggesting it was impractical and unrealistic, failing to propose an "appropriate path for what might follow from a departure from the standards". Young continued:
"The motion seeks to lay down a blanket requirement for statements to be made to the House first “on all occasions”, without any exceptions or qualifications. Let us consider a recent example. Does the House seriously imagine that the Government’s policy on the advice to be given to British nationals on travel to Iran should not have been announced before the House sat? Equally, the motion contains no recognition that certain market-sensitive announcements must be made when financial markets are closed."