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
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
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
25 November 1998
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
26 November 1998
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