Constitutional Affairs Committee

Press notice/ 08 of session 2003-04                                 1 April 2004


The Committee on Standards and Privileges has today published its Fifth Report, Privilege: Protection of a witness.

Commenting on the report, Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, the Chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee said:

"The Committee on Standards and Privileges has carried out an extremely thorough investigation and has found that a series of contempts of the House have been committed by Mr Anthony Hewson, former Chairman of CAFCASS, by Mr David Crawley, Head of Office, Scotland Office, Department for Constitutional Affairs and in the issuing of the letter of 11 December from the Lord Chancellor.  I welcome the fact that the Lord Chancellor has accepted responsibility.

"I also welcome the fact that the Standards and Privileges Committee has firmly asserted the right of Ms Weleminsky and any other witness to give full and truthful evidence to select committees of the House of Commons.  Its report has revealed the inadequacy of the guidance on parliamentary privilege issued to departments and public bodies, which the Government has undertaken to remedy.

"I agree with the Committee's view that the House should be consulted about this guidance and I will want to see a debate in the House on the Committee's report at which the draft guidance needs to be available for consideration.

"The Constitutional Affairs Committee brought this matter to the attention of Mr Speaker and the House because we considered it our duty to protect witnesses who give evidence to us.  The Committee's inquiry and Report and the issuing of new Government guidelines should achieve this".