Role & Status of Individual MPs
With limited exceptions, the basis of a parliament is the concept that each individual MP is elected to speak on behalf of the citizens that elected him or her. As such, MPs have the right to vote as they wish, based only on their conscious and the need to be accountable to their constituents. In the modern state this power is tempered with the fact that almost all MPs are elected as part of a political party and must work within that party’s parliamentary group if they are to accomplish much in parliament. But parliaments are still very much organised around the rights and responsibilities of individual MPs.
With regard to rights, an MP generally has two key rights – the right to speak and the right to immunity. There are also responsibilities imposed on MPs, one of which is the need to report on their financial status on a regular basis. For more information on the financial status of MPs, please click here.
Freedom of expression is an important right for any MP. In general, this right allows an MP to say anything while giving speeches in the plenary sessions and committees of a parliament. It does not include statements made outside the chamber to the media or that are not otherwise put on the official record of the parliament. It also does not allow a MP to use unparliamentarily language and or talk that impugns the character of another MP.
The reason for this right is to allow MPs to avoid civil and criminal prosecution for what they say. Otherwise, it would be commonplace for people to sue MPs for libel, thus preventing them from speaking on issues that were before the courts.
Immunity varies from country to country, though there are two major systems. In systems based on Anglo-Saxon law, MPs immunity is limited to the words spoken in the parliament. In systems based more on the continental European tradition of law, criminal immunity is also extended to MPs. This right to immunity can be revoked by the parliament but can still lead to abuse by MPs. For more information on immunity, please click here.
In recent years it has become a standard of a democratic parliament that MPs must file reports before election and annually thereafter, that provide details as to their financial status. This is critical for the public to be confident that MPs are not in conflicts of interest and are not benefiting unjustly from their work in parliament.
These rights and responsibilities, among others, are critical to the role of an MP. When one is elected to represent citizens in a parliament, there are great expectations on what can be accomplished. It is important that MPs have increased rights and responsibilities to do this important work.