The Opening of Parliament to the Press

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The opening of Parliament to the Press in the eighteenth century was perhaps the most decisive of the steps which have gradually led to Parliament's being broadly based, as it is today, on the people's will. For this service the country is indebted (though it may not know it) to the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of London.

Parliament, until 1772, was a secret society. It was a breach of privilege to make public any report of the opinions expressed in either House with regard to the laws which the people had to obey and the taxes which the people had to pay.

Certain London newspapers tried in 1771 to justify their existence and enlighten their readers by publishing news of Parliament. The editors and printers were arrested on warrants issued by the House of Commons.

Brass Crosby, then Lord Mayor, and Alderman Oliver, sitting together at the Mansion House, ordered their release; and this having been declared by the House of Commons to be a breach of its privileges, Lord Mayor and Alderman were both committed to the Tower.

The indignation of the public could hardly he restrained. Public addresses from all parts of the country were presented to the prisoners. The Speaker was burnt in effigy on Tower Hill. At the close of the Parliamentary Session, when warrants of the House of Commons lapse, the Lord Mayor and Alderman were set free.

They were received at the gates of the Tower by the Aldermen and Common Councillors, all in their robes, and a salute of 21 guns was fired on Tower Hill by the Honourable Artillery Company.

The result of the contest was that the newspapers in the Session of 1772 were permitted to report the debates, and since then no attempt has been made to restrain the publication of the proceedings of Parliament.

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