Business of the House: 15 October 2009

16 October 2009

Following her statement on forthcoming business in the House of Commons on 15 October, Harriet Harman, Leader of the Commons, responded to questions from MPs, including a request for an urgent debate on press freedom.

Ms Harman:

"The right hon. Gentleman asked about press freedom in respect of reports of proceedings of this House. That is an issue of great importance and concerns rights and democracy in this country.

It is about more than just press freedom; it is about the importance of this House doing its job, and about people in this country knowing what we have said in this House. It remains the case, as it should, that the Speaker, or whoever is in the Chair, decides what can be said in this House. What is said in this House has absolute privilege.

The only control comes from the Chair, which is exercised judicially, and always has been. What is said in this House can be reported. So long as it is fair and truthful, it can, and must, be reported by newspapers and other media outside. It should not be subject to rulings by the courts.

This House decides its own proceedings, subject only to rulings by the Chair and qualified privilege in respect of truthfulness and fairness. Subject to that only, the proceedings of this House can be reported, and cannot be impinged upon by the courts. That is our responsibility.

Obviously, it is difficult to defend that, in respect of this House, if the House is not aware that our proceedings have been the subject of an injunction and prevented from publication. The House, the Table Office and the Ministry of Justice were not aware that there was an injunction on reporting proceedings in this House.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is liaising on the matter with myself and the Speaker. I assure the House, and people in this country, that we will continue doing our business. We will make absolutely sure that it is reported and that it is not for the courts to stop that."

A statement is made in the Commons by the Leader of the House every Thursday when the House is sitting, setting out the forthcoming business for the next two weeks. After the statement, MPs may ask the Commons leader questions about the statement.

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