Speech

Queen's Speech: Parliamentary Privilege Draft Bill

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Notes on: "A draft Bill will be published on reforming parliamentary privilege."  

The draft Bill is part of the Government’s programme of political reform to increase accountability and transparency.

The purpose of the Bill

Reform the law on parliamentary privilege to clarify its extent and application.

The main benefits of the draft Bill

  • To restore faith in Parliament by ensuring that the law which enables MPs to do their job is fair and adapted to modern circumstances.
  • The draft Bill will build on a report by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament in 1999 which indentified problems and made recommendation on how parliamentary privilege should be reformed.

The main elements of the Bill

  • The Bill would define the extent of parliamentary privilege whilst still ensuring that it still protects freedom of speech within Parliament.
  • By clarifying the extent of parliamentary privilege, this would ensure a common understanding of the scope of privilege.
  • The Government will be publishing a draft Bill in the course of this session.

In 1999, a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament issued a report on parliamentary privilege. The Committee recommended that privilege be dealt with in a new Parliamentary Privileges Act.

Existing legislation in this area is

  • Parliamentary Privilege is primarily set out in Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689 which provides that “freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any place or court outside Parliament”.
  • Section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996 allows individual MPs to waive Parliamentary privilege where his or her conduct in Parliament is in issue in defamation proceedings. This enables, for example, MPs to use parliamentary materials in defamation actions to defend their actions.

Devolution

This is a reserved matter and the draft Bill will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom.