Clause 5. — (Justification.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Defamation (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1952.

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Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes 12:00 am, 27th June 1952

I beg to second the Amendment.

This Amendment has been moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) in a very clear manner. The exposition which he has given of the legal position covers the entire matter, and I have no desire to detain the House by covering the ground which he has already covered.

Looking at it as an outsider and not from the point of view of an experienced practitioner, I think the discussion which took place upstairs and which has been summarised so ably by my hon. and learned Friend turns on two points. First is the technical point which he mentioned, which obviously weighed very considerably with the Porter Committee. I also think that the point he made, that the particular difficulty can be dealt with perfectly well by the rules of procedure, seems to me a conclusive answer to the matter which weighed so heavily with the Porter Committee.

The other fact which entered into the question is a more general and a broader one. It is a point of view which has weighed heavily with those of us who have been rather critical of what have been called the defendant Clauses in this Bill, that it is rather contrary to one's idea of fair play that a man should be hit when he is down. The fact that somebody has a character which does not stand up to the glare of cross-examination in every respect does not mean that his interests should not be considered. Far be it from me who has never been cross-examined by hon. and learned Members of this House to imagine that any one could stand up easily to that kind of treatment.

I see the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster), whose cross-examination I have often admired from a safe distance, showing signs of lusting to get at me in the witness box. The fact that the plaintiff's character was not spotless would be no reason why the defendant should be able to ride off on the whole issue and to say: "I have said things about you which are untrue and which have subjected you to ridicule, hatred and contempt, but after all you are no person to complain because you have a pretty spotty character, anyhow." That is not the kind of argument which should appeal to the House, and is one of the good reasons why the House should reject the Clause.

In the debate in Committee it was impressive to note the weight of professional opinion behind this point of view, quite apart from those who looked at the matter from a broader point of view. In fact, the Clause was maintained in the Bill by only one vote. In the minority was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East who then, as today, presented a conclusive case. He had the support of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) and of the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon), whose views on this matter carry great conviction.

It is clear that there is a very strong weight of the highest possible professional opinion against this Clause on the technical side. Those who look at the matter from a broader point of view need not be terrified or frightened by the fact that those who are practised in the law of defamation in the courts think that the Clause is desirable and necessary. The misgivings which prompted the Porter Committee to recommend a Clause of this kind can be met by procedural Regulations. I ask the House to reject the Clause by carrying the Amendment.