Examination of Witnesses (Question 40)|
28 FEBRUARY 2007
Q40 Chairman: One of the things that
irritates me and always has done is that when you have made the
decision about a statement in the House, information about this
can then seep out. Sometimes it seeps out in an unauthorised way,
which is what happened with the Iraq troop drawdown last week,
when I know for certain it was not authorised or initiated by
senior ministers. Sometimes it is initiated and authorised by
senior ministers. If we were much more disciplined in ensuring
that there was an element of the first people to know, not the
last people, were Parliament, would there not be more coverage
of those announcements?
Mr Riddell: Yes.
Mr White: Yes.
Mr Robinson: The first test we
have on stories is: "Didn't I read that yesterday? Didn't
I already know it? Why should I cover it?"
Mr Riddell: That is an argument
against your colleagues of pre-briefing. If we are going to be
pre-briefed, we are going to write the story, of course we are.
I remember classically, very early on in the Government, when
the Financial Services Authority was being set up, that there
was a thing on the annunciator, because it was very market sensitive:
"Bank of England statement by the Chancellor". That
got a lot of coverage because it genuinely had not been pre-briefed.
Mr White: It is a function of
24/7, of fighting for your bit of time and ministers sometimes
thinking: "This won't get in the papers because there is
a big event tomorrow so I'd better pre-brief it so it will get
into the morning papers."
Mr Robinson: I think it is based
on a ten-year-old view. It was Alastair Campbell who was a master
of this, and the idea was that you would get the same bit of news
on for days running: you would preview it, then the adverse feeds
and then you have the reaction. The newly competitive media say,
after the pre-brief: "We've already heard it. We won't go
to the speech." It is a change, even in a decade.
Chairman: When I had to execute a tiny
manoeuvre in respect of the new voting system, which is now the
Sir Nicholas Winterton: Very gracefully
Chairman: Thank you very much. Because
I kept it quiet, because I was working out what to say until that
morning, there was some disproportionate interest in what I was
saying both from the House, because the House thought this was
a bit of sport, and the journalists upstairs too. May I thank
you three very much indeed for what has been an extremely useful
conversation which we hope will be reflected in a relevant select
committee report and some changes then.