Standing head and shoulders above the privileges enjoyed by our MPs, is the legal immunity against defamation relating to statements made within the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. It allows them to speak freely without fear of legal action on the grounds of slander, contempt of court or breaching the Official Secrets Act.
Huppert had twittered “Ah, Andy Burnham’s real agenda leaks out. Simon Hughes, in charge of developing a better replacement, offers to work with him. He refuses.”
Kevin Brennan then complained that this statement was untrue – Andy Burnham had already met Simon Hughes.
The Deputy Speaker, trying to calm matters, initially ruled that MPs could not tweet from inside the chamber. This was later overruled – they can.
Interesting – if an MP, sitting in the house, engaged in parliamentary business, tweets a defamatory remark, is he covered by the ancient privilege of immunity? Is he ‘speaking’ within the grounds of Westminster? Are those who retweet his words ‘republishing a libel’ or are they exempt on the grounds that this was a privileged statement? It won’t be in Hansard. How do we know that the MP was in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster? Do we take their word for it as a gentleman of honour…..