Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush put Legislative Assembly members and the local media on notice Wednesday that he intended to adopt a strict interpretation of rules for parliamentary procedure and privilege during the current government’s term.
“Members should be aware of the protection they have when speaking because there is parliamentary privilege,” Mr. Bush said. “But it is exactly that protection that dictates decency and truth, not speculation or hearsay.”
“[Parliamentary] privilege cannot be abused,” he said. “Members or those outside the House who disregard these rights and immunities are in breach of privileges and can be punished. This applies to the media and any other entity or person.
“We have the right to punish actions that obstruct or impede the assembly in the performance of its functions and are contemptible offenses against its authority.”
Parliamentary privilege gives lawmakers the absolute right of free speech within the confines of the assembly during its proceedings without fear of being cited for defamation, even if the claims they make are untrue or misleading. Generally, reporting of all such matters in the press is considered to have the same legal protection, as long as those reports are a fair representation of what is said and done.
During his speech Wednesday morning, Speaker Bush warned the media that publishing accounts from the House proceedings that only “suit them” could lead to legal action.
“It is one thing to report debates of the Legislative Assembly as a matter of public interest,” Mr. Bush said. “It is quite another for the media to carry any irresponsible or scandalous words that may happen to fall from the lips of the members speaking in the Legislative Assembly, whether they are relevant to the matter being debated or not.
“If a member does abuse his privilege, not for making a real contribution to the question being debated, but as a license to speak irresponsibly about someone, and especially someone who has no standing [in parliament] and cannot defend himself, the media should not add to the wrong.”
Mr. Bush said the same principle would apply if words spoken in the assembly were later expunged from the official record because they were deemed “scurrilous.”
The Speaker also noted that he would keep a close ear on debates to ensure the matters being discussed were relevant to the issue before the House.
“A member who persists in irrelevance or tedious repetition may be directed by the Speaker to discontinue his speech or resume his seat,” Mr. Bush said.