Historical development of privilege

12.3At the commencement of every Parliament it has been the custom for the Speaker, in the name, and on behalf of, the Commons, to lay claim by humble petition to their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges; particularly to freedom of speech in debate, freedom from arrest, freedom of access to Her Majesty whenever occasion shall require; and that the most favourable construction should be placed upon all their proceedings. The Speaker's pronouncement is of symbolic importance rather than of practical effect.

The Presiding Commissioner of a Royal Commission under letters patent, replies to the Speaker's petition that, ‘Her Majesty most readily confirms all the rights and privileges which have ever been granted to or conferred upon the Commons, by Her Majesty or any of her royal predecessors’.1

By contrast with the Lords, the acquisition and enforcement of these privileges by the Commons was both complex and prolonged. The importance of privilege today cannot be entirely divorced from its past. Each of the Speaker's petitions is briefly considered in its historical context in this chapter, together with related powers and privileges. Subsequent chapters then develop each of the themes in current procedure.


  1. 1. LJ (1841) 571; Votes and Proceedings, 14 June 2017, HL Deb (14 June 2017) 783, c 4; for the form of words used at the opening of the first new Parliament after an accession to the throne, see LJ (1906) 18; ibid (1911) 9; ibid (1945–46) 22; ibid (1955–56) 13.