|Introduction: Contextual introduction.|
Body: Explain rules regarding making allegations in the Parliament. Also write about speaker’s power to expunge words from the speech on the ground that they are defamatory.
Conclusion: Write a way forward.
Accountability to Parliament requires the government to respond adequately to the questions raised by MPs in the debate. Under the Rules of the House, it is the Prime Minister who replies to the debate in both Houses.
Rules regarding making allegations in the Parliament:
- Article 105 of the Constitution confers on members, freedom of speech in the House and immunity from interference by the court for anything said in the House.
- Under Rule 353 of the Lok Sabha, the MP is required to give “adequate advance notice” to the Speaker as well as the Minister concerned. The allegation which necessitates advance notice, etc. is of a defamatory or incriminatory nature. If the allegation is neither defamatory nor incriminatory, the above rule would have no application.
- The “adequate advance notice” rule does not apply to an allegation against a Minister in the government. Since the Council of Ministers is accountable to Parliament, the Members of the House have the right to question Ministers and make imputations against their conduct as Ministers.
- The presiding officers have carefully laid down a stipulation that the MP who makes an imputation against a Minister of the government should be sure about the factual basis of the allegation, and that he must take responsibility for it. If the MP complies with this stipulation, then the allegation will be allowed to remain on record.
Issue of defamation:
- Rule 380 of the Rules of procedure of the Lok Sabha and Rule 261 of the Rules of the Rajya Sabha give the power to the presiding officers of these Houses to expunge any words used in the debate which are defamatory, unparliamentary, undignified or indecent. Once expunged they do not remain on record and if anyone publishes them thereafter, they will be liable for breach of privilege of the House.
- Under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, any statement respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public function not defamation. If such a statement is made in the House against a Minister who is a public servant, it does not come within the ‘mischief’ of Rule 353 or Rule 380. So presiding officers can’t expunge words in or portions of a speech on the ground that they are defamatory.
It also needs to be ensured that the freedom of speech enjoyed by the Members in the House is not needlessly curtailed.