Parliamentary Privilege First Report



  The House of Lords and the House of Commons have established a joint committee of the two Houses to review parliamentary privilege. The Joint Committee consists of 12 members.

  Parliamentary privilege consists of those rights and immunities which the two Houses and their members must have in order to carry out their work properly. It includes the right to speak freely and without fear in Parliament, and the right of each House to regulate its own affairs free from outside interference, including the courts. Parliamentary privilege is not a licence for members of Parliament to behave in ways which are unacceptable to society at large. It has its roots deep in history, and as it has developed over the centuries it has in some respects become obscure and uncertain. It is full of technicalities. The Joint Committee will be looking at ways to clarify the whole subject and make it better understood both in Parliament and outside.

  The Joint Committee will be investigating:

    —  what is the purpose and scope of parliamentary privilege?

    —  what uncertainties are there at present in the application of parliamentary privilege?

    —  should the scope and application of parliamentary privilege be modified to meet present day needs: what are the essential protections each House needs for the proper conduct of parliamentary business as we move towards the 21st century?

    —  what are the merits of having the necessary protections of the two Houses codified, either comprehensively or in part, in legislation or in a new set of Resolutions of each House?

    —  is there a more modern and better phrase to replace "parliamentary privilege"?

    —  what are the issues arising out of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights (1689) and freedom of speech?

    —  what remedies should there be for citizens wronged by words or actions in Parliament?

    —  what is the scope of the phrase (used in the Bill of Rights) "proceedings in Parliament": what aspects of parliamentary activity (in addition to freedom of speech) should be treated as "proceedings in Parliament"?

    —  what issues arise from the exclusive jurisdiction of the two Houses over their members and internal proceedings?

    —  what issues arise from Members' freedom from arrest and molestation and protection from outside interference?

    —  what response should Parliament make to the announcement by the Government that it intends to legislate on corruption? Should the improper influencing or bribery or attempted bribery of Members of either House be subject to the criminal law and the jurisdiction of the courts? If so, are safeguards necessary to protect Members' freedom of speech? The Joint Committee wishes to make an early report on the improper influencing or bribery of Members.

    —  section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996: to what extent (if any) should proceedings in Parliament be subject to the scrutiny of the courts in actions for defamation?

    —  what in modern circumstances should constitute contempt of the House: should those actions which either House may treat as a contempt be codified either by Resolution or in Standing Orders or even in legislation?

    —  the powers of each House to punish those who have committed contempts of the House; whether the penalties for contempt of the two Houses need to be modified and updated (for example, should the Commons have the same power as the Lords to impose fines on non-Members, and should the two Houses have power to award damages?);

    —  what are the implications for parliamentary privilege of:

(i)  the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law;

(ii)  a Freedom of Information Act;

(iii)  the Official Secrets Act?

    —  any other relevant issues;

        and the lessons which can be drawn at Westminster from the experience of other countries with similar parliamentary systems.

  The Joint Committee welcomes written submissions from anyone who wishes to comment on all or any of these points. Submissions should be made not later than 13 January 1998 and sent to the Clerk of the Journals, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW.

25 November 1997

The following replied to the original invitation to give evidence dated 25 November 1997:

Volume 3

HM Attorney General

Faculty of Advocates of Scotland

Crown Prosecution Service


Mr Francis Bennion

The Guild of Editors

The Newspaper Society

The House of Commons Librarian

Mr Michael Ryle

The Law Society of Scotland

Mr James Price QC

Mr Geoffrey Locke

The News of the World

Mr Christopher Price

Trade Union Side, Whitley Committee, House of Commons


Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop

Clerk of the Australian House of Representatives

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory

Clerk of the Legislative Council of New South Wales

National Assembly of Que«bec

House of Representatives of New Zealand

The following replied to a questionnaire of 23 February 1998 addressed to Commonwealth Parliaments:

Parliament of New South Wales

Legislative Assembly of Queensland

Parliament of Tasmania

Parliament of Victoria

Legislative Assembly of Alberta

Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

House of Assembly of Nova Scotia

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

National Assembly of Que«bec

Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

Legislative Council of South Australia

Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick

The following submitted written evidence in reply to the newspaper advertisements of19 January 1998 (The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent) and 20 January 1998 (The Times):

Mr Walter J Ablett C Eng

Mr Stuart Adair

Mr David Allen

Mr R H C Anwyl

Mrs Maria C Andrews

Anonymous (x 2)

Stephanie Bailey

Mr Brian Barker

Mrs A R Barrett

Mr James Baxter

Mrs Lorna Beavis de Jong

Mr Peter Bench

Mr J Bennett BSC ACMA

Mr Martin Berkeley

Dr John J Birtill

Major S D Bolton MA

Mrs E A Booth

Mr Derek Booth

Mr Albert Broadbent C Eng

Mr Charles Brodie

Mr Nicholas Bromley

Mr Peter Browning

Councillor Richard Buckley, Brent Council

Mr Kenneth Bulmer

Mr Peter J Buonacorsi-How

Mr R D Burston

Mr David M Buxton

Mr P J Byworth

Mr H A Chapman

Miss Nicola Chapman

Margaret Charlesworth

Mr John J Christie

Mr J A Church

Mr Douglas Clare

Mr R Cockerill

Mr Donald A Cole

Margaret Collins

Mrs Sheila Conrad

Mr T M Corson

Mr Simon Cussons

Mr Michael Dauncey

Mr R A Davenport

Mr Ian Davidson

Mr Michael F Deller

Mrs Angela Dimond-Collins

Mr Lewis Doig

Mr John Durkin

Mr Alan Dyke

Mr D W Edwards

Mr C B Elliot

Mr H M Elliston

Mr V B English

Mr J D Evans

Mr J G Ferrie, Director, The Bristol and Western Engineering Manufacturers' Association Ltd.

Mr L Fisher

Mr J H Fisher

Mr Colin Ford

Mrs Anne Fowler

Mrs P Frankel

Dr David H Frean

Mrs Audrey D Gandy

Mr C J O Garrard

Mr M B Ginns

Mr B H Gobbi

Mr T Grandidge

Mrs Elizabeth Greenwood

Mr F J Harvey

Mrs J J Hatcher

Jillian Hawkins

Mr Gerald Hohler

Mr R G Holland

Mr John A Howard

Mr B A Howlett

Sara Huggard BSc(Econ)

Mr D H Hughes

Mr Roy Hunter

Mr Alan Hurst-Brown

Councillor Bob Ingham BSc

Mr M Jolley

Mr D E Jones

Revd John Kennedy, Public Issues Office, The Methodist Church

Mr A D Kirkby

Mr V D Lane

Mr Chris D Langdon

Mrs E Lewis

Mr D F Linsell

Mr Duncan Longden

Mrs Patricia Maltby

Mr C A Manners

Mr Derek Martin

Mr M E Martin

 Mr G G Mason

Mr Robert McCoig

Mr Grant R McKenzie, Hon Secretary, and Mr Thomas H Appleby, Chair, North West Civil Liberties

Mr John McLeod, Chairperson, Association of Scottish Community Councils

Mr Arthur E Millard

Mr J D Moore FAIA

Renata Muller

Mr S J Mustill

Louise Muston

Yvonne D New

Mr Eric Newman

Mr M Oaten

Mr J V Oxenham

Mrs Lyn Pardo

Mr A F Parr

Mr S K R and Mrs A E Patel

Mr P J M Pellereau

Miss J M Pick

Mr D H Pickett

Mr L B Pinnell

Mr Robert Pollard

Mrs Rosemary B Pratt

Kathleen Preston-Goddard

Mr David M Proctor

Mr Keith Pudney

Squadron Leader J B Raglan RAF Rtd

Captain D C Ramwell

Mr Martin Rathfelder

Mr K G O Read

Mr Samuel Reid

Jennifer Elizabeth Rice

Mr Evan Roberts

Councillor Robert Rowden, City of Worcester

Mr Derek Rudd

Mr J H Rumball

Mrs B Santa-Cruz

Mrs Jo Saunders, Social Responsibility Officer, Oxford Diocesan Board for Social Responsibility

Mr I Scott Cooper

Mr Julian J Sewell

Mr Reginald G Sfpkianos

Mr Stuart Henry Sharp

Mr D E Shearman

Mr K James Sibley

Mr David Simmons

Mr D N and Mrs T J Simpson

Councillor David Skinner BSc MA

Mr S O Smith

Mrs E A Statham

Mrs B Stenhouse

Mrs H Stirzakon

Mr Thomas Stubbs OBE

Mr Andras Szucs

Mr K Tatlow

Mr Michael L Taylor LLB LLM, University of Greenwich

Constance Thompson

Mr Eric J Thompson CB

Suzanne Thompson

Mr Michael Townley

Mr Howard A Tribe

Mr P True

Mrs Mary Vickery

Mr Michael Vidal LLB

Mr Simon Warren

Mrs Eileen Webb

Mr P Webster

Mr O W Wilkins

Mr C M Williams

Captain James H G Wilson, Royal Marines

Mr David W Wooderson

Mr Simon Wormleighton

Mrs Marjory Young

Mr Peter Zander, Churchill Fellow, GODA

  The written evidence submitted by the above witnesses has not been printed to save printing costs. Copies have been placed in the Record Office, House of Lords, and are available to members and the public for inspection. Requests for inspection should be addressed to the Record Office, House of Lords, London, SW1. (Tel 0171-219 3074). Hours of inspection are from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm on Mondays to Fridays.

  The following evidence was also received:

Volume 3

Joint Memorandum by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons

Letter from the Committee Clerks to the Parliamentary Commission for Standards, and reply

Further Memorandum from Professor Anthony Bradley

Letter from the Chairman to the Master of the Rolls, and reply

Letter from the Attorney General to the President of the Council

Letter from the Chairman to the Lord Chief Justice of England, and reply

Letter from the Chairman to the Lord President of the Court of Session, and reply

Letter from the Chairman to the Home Secretary, and reply

Letter from the Chairman to various newspapers and broadcasters, on the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, and replies

Letter from the Chairman to the Minister leading each government department

Letter from Leader of the House of Commons in reply to letters from Chairman of the Joint Committee to various government departments on the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840

Letter from Chairman of the Joint Committee to the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, and reply

Further memorandum by Clerk of the House of Commons: Papers ordered to be printed by the House of Commons

Memorandum by Professor G J Lindell: Use of parliamentary proceedings for judicial review of governmental action in Australia

Correspondence between the Chairman of the House of Commons Liaison Committee and the Chairman of the Joint Committee: transcripts of uncorrected evidence on Internet

Letter from the Attorney-General to the Chairman of the Joint Committee: `place out of parliament'

Letter from the Attorney-General of Australia

Further replies to the Chairman's letter (p 155) to various newspapers and broadcasters

Letter on freedom of information from the Home Secretary to the Chairman of the Joint Committee, and reply

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Prepared 9 April 1999