EXCLUSIVE: Standards Commissioner rules four journalists broke Parliament’s rules

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, has ruled that Martin Bright, Melissa Kite, Andrew Neil and Fraser Nelson all broke Parliamentary rules by failing to fully declare their financial interests in the Register of Journalists’ Interests. The ruling follows a complaint I lodged with the Commissioner.

They have all been lobby journalists, giving them special access to Parliament and politicians. Given the possibility of lobbyists and interest groups paying members of the lobby to raise issues on their behalf, there is a financial register which – in theory – provides a degree of transparency and hence protection against abuse of the system. Parliament’s rules require lobby journalists to declare the sources of their income, where the income is based on their access to Parliament.

However, all four failed to enter accurate records on the register. It was not simply a matter of missing the 28 days deadline required, but the register has contained information that is out of date by months, and even in the cases of Andrew Neil and Fraser Nelson by years. As an updated version of the register is published each month, it should have been repeatedly obvious that the rules were not being followed.

Of the four, Fraser Nelson no longer has a lobby pass. The Standards Commissioner has decided that for the other three for the next year their entry on the register will be marked to show that it has been corrected following a complaint.

In each case the records that were not updated reflect journalistic employment, rather than payments from third parties such as lobbyists, though their own failure to follow Parliament’s rules does contrast with the frequent demands in the media that MPs should follow Parliament’s own rules not just to the letter but beyond.

John Lyon is also asking the secretary to the Parliamentary Press Gallery to remind all journalists with lobby passes of their need to follow the rules.

UPDATE: Martin Bright received his copy of the ruling before I saw it I suspect as he blogged about it over the weekend, with a good humoured headline and post, concluding: “Despite my initial annoyance, I think it is only right and proper that journalists should be held to account in this way. If we are to pass judgement on the conduct of MPs then we should understand that we are not immune to scrutiny ourselves.”

UPDATE 2: An ironic footnote to this sort from Guido Fawkes’s blog about Kevin Maguire:

Guido has just got off the phone with our Kev after reading his column in Public Affairs News about hacks failing to declare other work in the register of journalists’ interests. The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner recently ruled Martin Bright, Melissa Kite, Andrew Neil and Fraser Nelson should have declared their outside interests while in possession of Lobby passes. Maguire was quick to have a go at them in his column, and Guido thought he better check Kev’s own glass house was in order…

Before he went on the attack you would have thought he would have registered his very obvious outside interest – his column in Public Affairs News that he admitted, with a raucous cackle, having had for two years.

In true Labour style Kev says he is going to report himself after being caught out.

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  • It’s hardly an exclusive; Martin Bright blogged about it over the weekend. Nor is it something to gloat about Mark – to me your complaint appears petty and poorly justified. I really hope it was made in a personal capacity, I’d hate to think you involved either the Liberal Democrats or LibDemVoice with it in any way. Maybe you could update this blog post clarifying that?

  • Lurking Spider 27th Jan '10 - 6:50am

    “…that would be fair game too…” in this spirit can we take it you wholeheartedly condemn Sarah Teathers misappropriation of expenses in direct and flagrant contravention of the rules?

    “I’m frankly astonished that when we’re in the middle of a recession and constituents are coming to us complaining they can’t afford to live, they can’t afford to pay their bills that MPs are still claiming money that they must know is morally unjustified” – Sarah Teather

3 Trackbacks

  • [...] findings were reported by Mark Pack at LibdemVoice, who made the original [...]

  • By The LDV Friday Five: 29 January 2010 on Fri 29th January 2010 at 5:01 pm.

    [...] EXCLUSIVE: Standards Commissioner rules four journalists broke Parliament’s rules (4) by Mark Pack 2. Oaten reduced to tears in new Channel 4 documentary (29) by The Voice 3. [...]

  • By LDV doesn’t do statporn, but if we did (Jan. ‘10) on Mon 1st February 2010 at 6:33 pm.

    [...] Revealed: the Lib-Con pact election poster (34) by Stephen Tall 2. EXCLUSIVE: Standards Commissioner rules four journalists broke Parliament’s rules (6) by Mark Pack 3. What do we want? Section 63 of the Metropolitan Paving Act 1817 of course (22) [...]

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