UK Politics

I punished Osborne over leaks, says Speaker John Bercow

Commons Speaker John Bercow has said he punished Chancellor George Osborne with a three-hour session at the dispatch box after the Autumn Statement on the economy was widely trailed.

Mr Bercow told the BBC's The Record Review he was "displeased" that the contents had been "brazenly leaked".

He agreed three hours of questioning was a punishment for Mr Osborne.

But he said he was also trying to do the right thing by giving the issue "a very full airing".

The chancellor gave the Autumn Statement on 29 November to the House of Commons, but much of its contents - including £1bn to tackle youth unemployment and £5bn for infrastructure projects - were revealed in the days beforehand.

'Fuller exchanges'

Following the statement, Mr Osborne answered 96 questions from MPs.

Asked whether this was a punishment for the leaks, Mr Bercow told the BBC: "Yes, and I just make the point that the Speaker's powers are limited in these matters, but the Speaker does have the power to say this will continue, this will run, and it's not a question of asserting myself for my benefit but of trying to do what I think is right by Parliament."

Mr Bercow said he had "a track record of facilitating and presiding over much fuller exchanges on statements in the past".

But he continued: "It is absolutely true that I was displeased that the contents of the statement had been brazenly leaked and chatted about in the public domain long before Parliament got to hear about them, and to question the Chancellor.

"And apart from anything else I thought, well, let's have a very full airing of the issues, not least so I can hear whether the chancellor of the exchequer has anything to say in the chamber about these matters that he hasn't already said in the media."

When he appeared before the Treasury select committee earlier this month, Mr Osborne said some of the stories that had appeared in advance of the statement were down to "pure speculation".

He said he had talked about credit easing plans on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, but this was because it was something which was important to business but "would never get any attention on the day".

Balance of power

Since becoming Speaker in June 2009, Mr Bercow has not been afraid to ruffle feathers, cutting off David Cameron during an answer at prime minister's questions and summoning several ministers to the Commons to answer urgent questions after stories have appeared in the press.

Mr Bercow said popularity was not something he thought much about.

"I think it would be a silly Speaker who didn't try to enjoy good relations with colleagues, to see the best in his colleagues, and to ensure that no grudges are borne.

"I believe in the profession of politics so, yeah, sure, you want to get on with most people, but if you're asking me, do I think, 'Ooh, I better not intervene here, or I better not criticise this one, or I better not rebuke that one for fear that it's going to cause me to be unpopular with that person,' no, that's no basis for operating as Speaker."

The Speaker said MPs and peers had "started the process of recovering respect for Parliament" following the expenses scandal.

He also said a healthier balance of power was beginning to be restored between government and the rest of Parliament, having "titled overwhelmingly" in favour of the former.

"I think what has happened over the last couple of years is that, to put it bluntly, Parliament has got off its knees and rediscovered its collective balls."

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