POINT OF ORDER – PRESS LEAKS – 7 December 2000
Dr Julian Lewis: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that after the statement on the rural White Paper on Tuesday 28 November I raised a point of order about the fact that I had been contacted before the statement by a journalist who gave me detailed information about the content of the White Paper. You responded by saying that I would
"have to provide some clear evidence that the journalist was in fact in possession of the White Paper before it was presented to the House." – [Official Report, 28 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 832.]
At that, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Steen) said that he would be able to supply you with an e-mail containing the relevant information, which he did.
I have now seen your reply to my hon. Friend, in which you state:
"I agree that the article contains an accurate account of some of the content of the Rural White Paper and I can understand how your suspicions were aroused that the P.A. had received an advance copy of the White Paper. I have, however, been given an assurance by the Department ... that copies of the White Paper were not made available to the press ... I conclude that the article ... was a piece of intelligent speculation by a well-informed journalist."
Will you reaffirm for the benefit of the House and reassure me that it is not simply that a Department must not give journalists advance sight of a White Paper, but that it must not give them advance knowledge of its contents before it has been made available to us in the House?
[Mr Speaker: That is the case. The content of any White Paper should not be given to anyone until it is put to the House. I would disapprove of giving someone sight of a White Paper or of any discussion of its content. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.]