Parliamentary Privilege

Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 22nd January 2009.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 10:30 am, 22nd January 2009

What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the arrangements for parliamentary privilege in protecting the rights of hon. Members.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The right of Members of Parliament to speak without fear or hindrance, and their duty to speak without favour are essential parts of our parliamentary democracy and will always need a stout defence.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I am pleased that the Deputy Leader of the House rightly considers parliamentary privilege to be essential, critical and vital if Members of Parliament are to carry out their duties and responsibilities without fear, hindrance or favour, but does he not agree that implementation of the statement made some while ago by Mr. Speaker that a Committee should be set up to look into this matter is very long overdue? Bearing in mind not only the case of my hon. Friend Damian Green but the more recent case—I am not entering into its merits—of my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski, it clearly is time that the House had an opportunity to look deeply at how parliamentary privilege might be safeguarded.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know, parliamentary privilege has been fiercely debated for many centuries; indeed, elements of it go back to 1515. It is important that we have a clear understanding of parliamentary privilege. Any hon. Members who have not read the 1999 report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege should do so; it is a fine exposition of the issues. On the question relating to Daniel Kawczynski, I think that you, Mr. Speaker, are likely to cover the matter in your statement in a few moments. On the Committee that was set up, we would be more than happy for it to meet. Unfortunately, we have not had the support of Opposition parties on that. The Committee could choose a Chairman, and as soon as police or any other investigations are completed, it will be able to get on with its business.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am glad that the Deputy Leader of the House referred to the 1999 report; I was a member of the Committee that produced it. The Government have never implemented the recommendations, even though they indicated sympathy with them. May we have an early debate on that report, with some definitive statements from the Government?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, not least because the report highlighted the significance of freedom of speech, which is vital to our parliamentary democracy. The report reiterated article 9 of the Bill of Rights of 1689, which says that

"freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament".

There were a series of recommendations. Some of them have been followed through in the business of the House, and some of them have not yet been put into law. The hon. Gentleman perhaps makes a good point about the need for us to have a full debate, so that people can fully understand the nature of parliamentary privilege, which is not quite as some members of the press have suggested it is.

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