Skip to main content

Here on sufferance

In 1963 the press gallery launched an inquiry into 'the status, rights and working conditions of parliamentary journalists'. Its report, Partners in Parliament, resulted in many concessions, including allowing journalists to see division lists on the evening of the vote instead of the morning after.

But still a 1738 resolution, stating that the reporting of parliamentary proceedings was a breach of parliamentary privilege, technically remained in place, although it had not been enforced since 1771.

As Sir Barnett Cocks, Clerk of the House, told the press gallery inquiry in 1964: "The press, constitutionally and historically, is here on sufferance." In December 1967 a select committee on parliamentary privilege declared that coverage of debates should no longer be considered in contempt of Parliament, but only in 1971 did the Government implement the committee's report.

More Clashes

In the 1970s and 1980s Parliament often clashed with journalists over leaked reports from select committees. In December 1975 the Commons even debated the suspension of two reporters from The Economist for running a story about a proposed wealth tax based on a leaked draft report. The reporters escaped punishment, but when The Times published a story about the nuclear industry based on a leaked report from the environment committee in 1986, John Biffen, the Leader of the House and chairman of the privileges committee, moved to ban the responsible journalist from the House. It was debated on 20 May 1986 but defeated by 158 votes to 124.

Parliamentary pages

In 1990 The Times stopped devoting a full page to Commons and Lords debates and within a few years most other newspapers had followed suit. Nine years later parliamentary reporting made a temporary comeback when the Daily Telegraph and two other broadsheets revived their parliamentary pages.

Parliament also made attempts to encourage greater coverage of debates, including by allowing use of tape recorders in the gallery, but there were also nods to older battles. For instance, on 5 December 2001 the Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler moved that the House should sit in private to protest about the time set aside for a debate on the anti-terrorism Bill.

Related information

Historic Hansard

A debate on suspending journalists in 1975

A debate on breach of privilege in 1986