Parliamentary Privilege and Libel, Part II: from Wilkes to 1835

This is a series of three blogs about Parliament and Libel. The first, Privilege, Libel and the long road to Stockdale v. Hansard, Part I: from Strode’s Case to Article IX, dealt with the earliest encounters, in the seventeenth century, between parliamentarians and the court over the publication of material that the parliamentarians believed was… Continue reading Parliamentary Privilege and Libel, Part II: from Wilkes to 1835

Zoom and the Technology of Parliamentary Debate

The current controversy over the extension of the house of commons emergency procedures is very much sui generis. The technology to enable parliament to debate and vote without most members being physically present is only a few years old and was of course not available when previous public health crises of this order occurred: the… Continue reading Zoom and the Technology of Parliamentary Debate

The Zircon Affair, Parliament and the Courts

The Zircon Affair The Zircon affair concerned a BBC programme made in 1986 by the investigative journalist Duncan Campbell. It covered a secret defence project, an intelligence-gathering satellite named Zircon, and particularly the failure to submit it to parliamentary scrutiny. The BBC, under pressure from the government and its governors, decided not to screen it.… Continue reading The Zircon Affair, Parliament and the Courts

Yonge, Haxey, and the Privilege of Freedom of Speech in Parliament

These days, the parliamentary privilege of free speech is regarded as deriving from the assertion in Article IX of the 1689 Bill of Rights 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’. That it is considerably older than that is certain, but how old, very much not so.

Black Rod and the Door of the House of Commons

  Image: UK Parliament via Flickr CC The earliest description of the ceremony in which the Commons are summoned to the Lords by Black Rod comes in a notebook that belonged to Sir Thomas Duppa, who filled the position between 1683 and 1694, and had been deputy to his predecessor, Sir Edward Carteret, from 1675.… Continue reading Black Rod and the Door of the House of Commons

The Address in reply to the Queen’s Speech

Though a speech from the monarch or the chancellor at the opening of the session had long been one of the main rituals of each session of parliament, the process of giving formal thanks for the speech is not recorded in the Commons journal before the Restoration in 1660. It became common in the 1660s… Continue reading The Address in reply to the Queen’s Speech

Qualifications for the Speakership

Left: Sir Arthur Onslow, by George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend ink drawing, 1751-1758; Right: Arthur Wellesley Peel, Viscount Peel, photogravure after Sir William Quiller Orchardson, 1898, both NPG: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Often, in descriptions of the office of Speaker, Christopher Yelverton’s speech of 24 October 1597, on being elected Speaker, is quoted.… Continue reading Qualifications for the Speakership

Prorogation and Adjournment

The modern practice of prorogation and adjournment is in theory, at least, clearly enough understood. Prorogation is an act of the Crown, usually used to mark the end of one session and fix a date for the start of another. Adjournment is an act of each House of Parliament, used routinely to end each day’s… Continue reading Prorogation and Adjournment

Votes of no confidence

The principle that an administration can only function if it has the backing of a majority in the House of Commons is acknowledged to be a fundamental part – perhaps the fundamental part – of not only the British, but of any parliamentary constitution. It expresses the idea that Parliament itself cannot exercise executive power,… Continue reading Votes of no confidence