Parliamentary Privilege First Report

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

  The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege has been examining the extent to which the privileges of the two Houses need to be modified to meet present day needs. Over the past year the Joint Committee has taken extensive evidence and hopes to complete its work shortly.

  There is one aspect on which that evidence is incomplete. The reporting and broadcasting of parliamentary proceeding is regulated by common law and statute law rather than the law and custom of Parliament. While in recent years there have been changes in the law of defamation which affect Parliamentary reporting, some of the relevant statute law is quite old: in particular the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840. The Joint Committee would like to know whether there is any aspect of the law relating to the publication or broadcasting of proceedings in Parliament which is unsatisfactory from your point of view which we should take into account? If so, could you supply details of any problems which you have encountered.

  The Joint Committee would be grateful for an early reply, if possible before 8 December 1998.

18 November 1998

Replies from newspapers to the Chairman's Letter of 18 November 1998

The Daily Mail London

  Thank you for your letter of 18 November about Parliamentary Privilege.

  While the Defamation Act 1996 has cleared up a large "grey" area and our political staff are, in the main, happy with present arrangements, there remain two aspects which we feel need further attention.

  The first concerns drafts of Parliamentary or Committee reports that are yet to be placed before Parliament.

  As you are doubtless aware these drafts often become "available" to reporters. The present position is that any treatment of these drafts is automatically regarded as a breach of privilege, thus placing us in a position where we can be accused of comtempt of the House.

  A set of firmer guidelines would be an advance. Certainly we feel that publication of articles about these drafts should be protected by some sort of privilege.

  The second concerns documents which are "placed on record in the Commons library". This seems to be a half-way house between public access and confidentiality. For reporters cannot gain easy access to the library and therefore the documents are not open to inspection.

  It seems to us that this anomaly should be addressed and that access to the Commons library should be made much easier.

  Beyond these points we are not experiencing any difficulties.

Paul Dacre, Editor

1 December 1998

The House Magazine

  Richard Hall, at The House Magazine, has passed me your letter of the 18 November. I am the Editor.

  No, we have not had any problems which we need to ask you to place before the Committee.

  With all good wishes.

Sir Patrick Cormack, Editor

26 November 1998

The Sunday Telegraph

  Thank you for your letter of 18 November. We at the Sunday Telegraph have no difficulties with respect to the law relating to the publication or broadcasting of proceedings in Parliament.

Dominic Lawson

25 November 1998

"PA" News

  I am responding to the letter you sent to our Editor-in-Chief, Paul Potts, on 18 November, about the work of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

  With regard to the reporting of Parliament I have consulted my colleagues and we do not find that the present position impedes our work in any way.

  Thank you for asking for our views.

Peter Willoughby, Westminster Managing Editor

PA News

26 November 1998

Evening Standard

  Thank you for your letter regarding the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, but after consulting with our parliamentary staff we do not wish to submit any evidence.

Philip Evans, Executive Editor

23 November 1998

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