Private and Confidential
Notes on the Practice of Lobby Journalism, July 1969
1. The Lobby journalist's authority to work in Parliament is the inclusion of his name in a list kept by the Serjeant at Arms for the Speaker. He has complete freedom to get his own stories in his own way: there are no restrictions of any kind on personal initiative. But he also owes a duty to the Lobby as a whole, in that he should do nothing to prejudice the communal life of the Lobby or its relations with the two Houses and the authorities. This is in the Lobby journalist's own interest and that of his office, as well as in the general interest of the Lobby. It is a responsibility which should always be kept in mind. 2. There is no 'association' of Lobby journalists, but in our common interests we act collectively as the Parliamentary Lobby Journalists. It has been found convenient to have an organisation consisting of Chairman, officers and committee for that purpose.
3. The work of a Lobby Journalist brings him into close daily touch with Ministers and Members of Parliament of all parties and imposes on him a very high standard of responsibility and discretion in making use of the special facilities given him for writing about political affairs. The cardinal rule of the Lobby is never to identify its informant without specific permission. In any case, members of the Lobby must always take personal responsibility for their stories and their facts. 4. Care must be taken not to reveal anything, even indirectly, which could lead to identification of informants. There are, of course, numerous instances when an informant is perfectly willing to be identified. This is in order as long as the journalist has obtained his permission. 5. The Lobby regularly receives Advance Copies of official documents to facilitate its work. All embargoes on such documents and on all information given orally or operationally in advance for the Lobby's convenience, must be strictly observed.20
6. The Lobby frequently invites Ministers and others to meet it collectively, to give information and answer questions. Members are under an obligation to keep secret the fact that such meetings are held and to avoid revealing the sources of their information. 7. It is recognised, however, that a correspondent has a special responsibility to his Editor. The following Resolution was therefore passed by the Lobby in July, 1955: 'That it is consistent with Lobby practice that members of the Lobby may tell their Editors, or Acting Editors, the sources of their information at Lobby meetings on the rare occasions that this may be vital, but must, on every occasion that such information is passed on, explain to their Editors or Acting Editors, that the source is strictly confidential.'
8. Don't talk about Lobby meetings before or after they are held, especially in the presence of those not entitled to attend them. If outsiders appear to know something of the arrangement made by the Lobby, do not confirm their conjectures or assume that as they appear to know so much they may safely be told the rest. 9. The Lobby correspondent should bear in mind that the purpose of a meeting is to elicit information not to score political or debating points. 10. It is a point of honour to stay to the end of a meeting. If there is some compelling reason for a correspondent to leave, he is under an obligation to obtain the permission of the Chairman to do so and, if released, is under an equal obligation not to make use of anything that has been said at the meeting before it ends. 11. When meetings are arranged on the Lobby's behalf, every correspondent should endeavor to attend. The Lobby works most effectively when the courtesy and co-operation by Ministers and others are reciprocated in this way.
12. Do not 'see' anything in the Members' Lobby or any of the private rooms or corridors of the Palace of Westminster. It is the rule that incidents, pleasant or otherwise, should be treated as private if they happen in those parts of the building to which Lobby correspondents have access solely because their names are on the Lobby list. 13. Do not run after a Minister or Member. It is nearly always possible to place oneself in a position to avoid this. 14. When a member of the Lobby is in conversation with a Minister, M.P., or Peer, another member of the Lobby should not join in the conversation unless invited to do so. Nor should the Lobby activities of any colleague ever be the subject of published comment. 15. Never in any circumstances make use of anything accidentally overheard in any part of the Palace of Westminister.
16. On questions of Parliamentary privilege, an up-to-date edition of Erskine May's 'Parliamentary Practice' will be found a useful guide. In case of doubt, officers of the Lobby and of both Houses are available for consultation. 17. As the case law of privilege is constantly being developed and amended, it is essential that members of the Lobby should acquaint themselves with current practice and bear it in mind when writing anything which might conceivably be held to be a breach. 18. Select Committees of the House frequently meet in public and are reported in the normal way. But any reference to the proceedings of a Select Committee held in private will almost certainly be raised on the floor of the House with the Speaker, with a view to obtaining his opinion as to whether or not it constitutes, prima facie, a breach of privilege. 19. References to the reports of Select Committees are covered by the following ruling given by Mr. Speaker King on 24th March, 1969: 'Any publication of a draft report before the report has been agreed to by a Committee and presented to the House is treated as a breach of privilege; but when the report has been presented to the House, though not yet available to hon. Members in printed form, it is not an offence against the House to publish the findings of the Select Committee. It is certainly inconvenient, however, and discourteous to the House when this is done. I cannot go further than that.... No question of privilege is involved.'
20. In consequence, the Lobby passed the following Resolution at a special meeting on 23rd April, 1969: 'That the Chairman and Secretary of the Lobby inform the Speaker that, in the absence of any positive and public ruling, members of the Lobby are free to use any information reaching them concerning reports of Select Committees of the House of Commons, once they have been technically laid before the House.' The Speaker was informed accordingly.
21. Finally, if you are in doubt about any point of Lobby etiquette or practice, consult the Chairman or Secretary of the Lobby. They will be glad to help and guide all newcomers, especially in identifying those parts of the Palace of Westminster to which Lobby correspondents have access. 22. Every Lobby correspondent is under an obligation to ensure that a deputy acting in his absence understands Lobby practice.