Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
TUESDAY 10 MARCH 1998
600. Should a member of the public have, in
some form or another, a right of reply to any allegation made
about him by a Member of Parliament in the course of proceedings
A. I was occasionally on my feet reminding Members
as Speaker of the House that, in making allegations about individuals,
those individuals had no right of reply in Parliament. In equity
it does seem to me that a member of the general public should
have some recourse if allegations are made against him. Natural
justice, it seems to me, means he should have some method of reply.
I think the problem is how he would actually achieve it. Other
Parliaments in the Commonwealth have looked at this problem, for
example, in Australia, and my surveys into this indicate that
although they did in Australia give a right of reply to individuals,
they found it very difficult to find a method of achieving it.
It was a very complicated matter. It seems to me that natural
justice should really be observed in these matters and that, if
some member of the public in a free society is accused, he has
an equal right of free speech to put his side of the case.
Sir Patrick Cormack
601. That totally demolishes the argument for
a special position of a Member of Parliament and I think it is
a most dangerous course to advocate.
A. It is natural justice.
602. If any member of the public who has been
accusedand one thinks of the people like Rachman and so
on who were exposed in Parliament for being villainsthen
has, as it were, a right of access to Hansard or whatever, that
is terribly dangerous.
A. Everybody has the right of access to Hansard
and, if it is broadcast, they can hear the recording.
Lord Archer of Sandwell
603. One brief supplementary in relation to
your former answer about protection for witnesses appearing before
Select Committees. I ask the questions quite neutrally: would
you draw any distinction in this respect between someone who had
appeared because they had been summoned before a Select Committee
and someone who had volunteered?
A. I think there would be that distinction.
My reply was in regard to those who had been summoned, as I have
Chairman: I think we have to draw proceedings
to a close. We anticipated when you came that it would be the
greatest possible assistance to us, particularly because of your
practical experience in occupying the Speaker's chair for some
time, and our hopes have been more than fulfilled. You have been
extremely helpful and we are very grateful for you putting your
knowledge and experience at our disposal this morning. Thank you