Parliamentary Privilege Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 603)

TUESDAY 10 MARCH 1998

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE LORD WEATHERILL

  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 in Parliament?

  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 accused—and one thinks of the people like Rachman and so on who were exposed in Parliament for being villains—then 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 been summoned.

  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 very much.





 
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