Parliamentary privileges are special rights, immunities and exemptions enjoyed by the two Houses of Parliament, their committees and their members. They are necessary in order to secure the independence and effectiveness of their actions. Without these privileges, the Houses can neither maintain their authority, dignity and honour nor can protect their members from any obstruction in the discharge of their parliamentary responsibilities. The Constitution has also extended the parliamentary privileges to those persons who are entitled to speak and take part in the proceedings of a House of Parliament or any of its committees. These include the attorney general of India and Union ministers.
Any act or omission which obstructs a House of Parliament, its member or its officer in the performance of their functions or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly to produce results against the dignity, authority and honour of the House is treated as a contempt of the House. Though the two phrases, ‘breach of privilege’ and ‘contempt of the House’ are used interchangeably, they have different implications. ‘Normally, a breach of privilege may amount to contempt of the House. Likewise, contempt of the House may include a breach of privilege also. Contempt of the House, however, has wider implications. There may be a contempt of the House without specifically committing a breach of privilege’. Similarly, ‘actions which are not breaches of any specific privilege but are offences against the dignity and authority of the House amount to contempt of the House’. For example, disobedience to a legitimate order of the House is not a breach of privilege, but can be punished as contempt of the House.
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