Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 15:03 UK


Members of both Houses of Parliament are granted special rights and privileges, including immunity from laws on slander for any statement made in a parliamentary debate.

These privileges are affirmed in the Commons by the Speaker at the beginning of each Parliament.

Parliamentary privilege guarantees the rights of MPs and peers to enjoy freedom of speech and freedom from arrest (on civil matters) in the House, and the freedom of access to the monarch.

These rights have evolved over hundreds of years and originate from the many battles which Parliament has fought to establish its right to be free from interference by the King or Queen.

The House of Commons also retains the right to make its own rules and to discipline its own members if they abuse their parliamentary privileges. The Committee on Standards and Privileges is responsible for investigating such matters.

The Bill of Rights of 1689 declares that "freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any place or court outside Parliament".

The detailed law of parliamentary privilege has been built up from individual cases where Parliament has decided that certain acts interfere with the essential rights of MPs. These are known as "contempts".

Examples include giving false evidence to a committee, threatening an MP if he votes in a particular way, or the offering of bribes to MPs. If the Commons finds that a contempt has been committed it has the power to punish the offender. If the offender is an MP then that Member may be suspended or even expelled from the House.

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