Parliamentary privilege – UPSC Prelims

What is parliamentary privilege?
Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunities enjoyed by Parliament as an institution and MPs in their individual capacity, without which they cannot discharge their functions as entrusted upon them by the Constitution.
Are these parliamentary privileges defined under law?
According to the Constitution, the powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and MP’s are to be defined by Parliament. No law has so far been enacted in this respect. In the absence of any such law, it continues to be governed by British Parliamentary conventions.
What is breach of privilege?
A breach of privilege is a violation of any of the privileges of MPs/Parliament. Among other things, any action ‘casting reflections’ on MPs, parliament or its committees; could be considered breach of privilege. This may include publishing of news items, editorials or statements made in newspaper/magazine/TV interviews or in public speeches.
What is the punishment in case of breach of privilege or contempt of the House?
The house can ensure attendance of the offending person. The person can be given a warning and let go or be sent to prison as the case may be.
Role of the Speaker/Chair:
  • The Speaker/Chair is the first level of scrutiny of a privilege motion.
  • The Speaker/Chair can decide on the privilege motion himself or herself or refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament. If the Speaker/Chair gives consent under relevant rules, the member concerned is given an opportunity to make a short statement.
Rules Governing Privilege:
  • Rule 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and correspondingly Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha Rule Book governs privilege.
  • Rules say that a member may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or a committee thereof.
Committee of Privileges
Function: The functions of this committee are semi-judicial in nature. It examines the case of breach of privileges of the House and its members and recommends appropriate action.
Composition: The Lok Sabha committee has 15 members, while Rajya Sabha committee has 10 members.
Nomination: The member are nominated by the respective chair of the houses i.e. Speaker in case of Lok Sabha whereas Chairman in case of Rajya Sabha.

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