Written supplementary evidence  from Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, Former Clerk of the House


  1. In previous evidence to the Committee, I have suggested that the Australian Privileges Act 1987 would be a good model for the House of Commons to adopt, with necessary modifications as I have outlined in my memorandum (SC0022). My view is that the opportunity should be taken to codify privilege more widely rather than for legislation only to cover the narrow matter of witnesses’ non-compliance with Select Committee requests. Legislation should apply to Parliament as a whole.
  2. I turn to answering the consultation questions:

While the reforms of the Select Committee system of the late 1970s focussed on their role as scrutinisers of government departments, increasingly Select Committees have broadened their scope to examine matters of public interest, for example into areas to do with climate change and sustainability. This is a return to the traditional, wide areas of Select Committee investigations of the nineteenth century, for example into slavery.[i] The new areas of interest will   involve summoning witnesses from outside Whitehall and Academe, less attuned to Westminster conventions and practices. Select Committees in any case report to the House; their terms of reference are set out in the Standing Orders.


It’s too narrow in scope. I would prefer that it was set in a broader privilege context as is the case in the Australian Privileges Act, 1987.

Fine to be determined by Court and imprisonment perhaps 6 months is adequate.

Yes, I think I make my view clear in paragraph 1 above. Privilege extends to both Houses of Parliament and legislation should not be confined to the Commons alone.

A properly worked-out Code for fair treatment must be established and incorporated into Standing Orders so that witnesses know exactly what rights and duties they have. Protection of witnesses from interference should be incorporated in the legislation as it is in the Australian Act.[ii]

Both Houses have Codes regulating behaviour expected of Members and disciplinary powers. Therefore probably not necessary.

This takes us back to paragraph 1 above where my view is that codification of privilege is long overdue, and a Parliamentary Privileges Act is needed to provide an accessible, modern code as recommended by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, 1998-99.[iii]


21 May 2021





[i] For an up to date discussion of new areas of Select Committee inquiries, see “Climate Change and Democratic Representation: Can Select Committees influence a company’s environmental, social and governance credentials?” by Stanley Kwong, The Constitution Society, UK.

[ii]  See Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 Section 12.

[iii] See Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, Report, Session 1998-99 HL Paper 43-I HC 214-I, paras 376-385.