Michael Fabricant grilled the Prime Minister when Tony Blair agreed to be
questioned by the Liaison Committee (the Committee of Chairman of House of
Commons Select Committees). "As Chairman of the Information Select
Committee, I was tasked with asking the Prime Minister about his
relationship with the press and the whole question of ‘spin’ in this
Government", says Michael Fabricant.
"I am particularly concerned that Tony Blair has plans to emasculate the
Press Lobby which by thorough questioning has exposed a number of honours
for favours scandals among Labour Party donors. I believe the Prime
Minister intends to replace the Lobby with more general Presidential-style
press conferences which won’t allow sustained probing by experienced
journalists", Michael adds.
An extract from the questioning follows below (from Hansard):-
Michael Fabricant: What about the lobby because you know the lobby is a
very different sort of organisation? There can be sustained questioning,
rather unlike this Committee, I might add. You have got a small group of
people who can pursue a particular issue and some would say that Mittal
would not have been exposed if it had not been through the thorough
questioning of two or three very able journalists. What is the future of the
lobby because it has been said that the lobby is going to be replaced by
this new form of press conference?
Tony Blair: No, it is not that, but it is simply important to open the
lobby up, and there is no great mystique about it. I think, and I may be
wrong about this, but I think we are the first people to actually put it
all, as it were, on the record and the official spokesmen-the two civil
servants that do these lobby briefings for me-if you have occasion to read
the notes they have to be pretty quick on their feet, and it is like 45
minutes of Prime Minister’s Questions twice a day.
Michael Fabricant: Well, they are on the website and we do read them, and
they are going to continue?
Tony Blair: Absolutely, we have briefings for journalists, but how we
change that over time and make it so that it is more open to other
journalists as well, that is an issue too.