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
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.
Proceedings in parliament are often described in theatrical terms; and the budget is one of the most theatrical of all parliamentary performances.
Daisy Cooper, the new Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, wrote yesterday in incredulous tones of her discovery in the cloakroom of the House of Commons: On my second day as a new MP, during my induction tour of parliament, I was shown the members’ cloakroom, but it wasn’t until last week that I had… Continue reading On Swords and Pink Ribbon
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
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
The first Speaker? The remarkable account in the Anonimalle Chronicle of the so-called ‘Good Parliament’ of 1376 provides what is generally taken to be the first reference to a ‘Speaker’ of the Commons, Sir Peter de la Mare. The account is extraordinarily detailed and circumstantial – so unusual for an account of any event in… Continue reading The Election of a Speaker
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
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
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