Parliamentary Prvilege Act 1770 and "proceedings in parliament"
Section 342 says:Ashby v. White, 40 and Reg. v. Paty, 41 and to the difference between the views as expressed in the first edition of Blackstone's Commentaries in 1765, which were not unfavourable to the House of Commons, and those in the fifth edition, which was published a year after the Parliamentary Privilege Act: see 1st ed., vol. 1, p. 159; 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 165.]
The Attorney-General has referred to four cases in which one would have anticipated this privilege, if it was thought to exist against proceedings, being raised, and there are others, mainly of libel of a criminal nature, which may be relevant: Rex v. Lord Abingdon 42; Rex v. Creevey. 43 Stockdale v. Hansard 44is the most important decision for the purposes of the present case, the importance of it being in its decision that the lex parliamenti is part of the law of the land and it is for the courts alone to decide what it is. [Goffin v. Donnelly 45 was also referred to.]
In paragraph 8 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges in the present case it is stated that: "No one today would question the claim that the system of questions by members to Ministers and the answers given by Ministers are 'proceedings in Parliament,' even though the question be written down outside Parliament and sent by post to the House of Commons." That statement is inaccurate and I certainly question it. The Report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act in 1938, with which the House of Commons agreed, and which in part is set out in the Report of the Committee of Privileges in the present case, stated in paragraph 3 that: "The article in the Bill of Rights is not necessarily an exhaustive definition of the cognate privileges. But even assuming that it is, the privilege is not confined to words spoken in debate or to spoken words, but extends to all proceedings in Parliament. While the term proceedings in Parliament' has never been construed by the courts, it covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice of such question, and includes everything said or done by a member in the exercise of his functions as a member in a committee of either House, as well as everything said or done in either House in the transaction of parliamentary business." The submission is that that is not really supported by any legal authority. "Proceedings in Parliament" mean proceedings which take place either in the Chamber or committees.
This is the main legal authority in defining what are proceedings in parliament. It tends to endorse my arguments that the courts can require ministers to answer questions.