Clause 9. — (Limitation on Privilege.)

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

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1.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I beg to move, in page 4, line 38, to leave out from the beginning, to "published," in line 39, and to insert "A defamatory statement."

Perhaps, with permission, I might also discuss the following Amendment: In page 4, line 41, at the end, to insert: shall not be deemed to be published on a privileged occasion on the ground that it is material to a question in issue in the election, whether or not the person by whom it is published is qualified to vote at the election.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris):

If the House is agreeable they can be discussed together.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I shall not occupy the House for more than a few moments, but I am afraid it is necessary to explain the purpose of these Amendments quite briefly. In Committee the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) moved a new Clause, which was agreed to, the effect of which, as stated by the hon. Gentleman, was so that a candidate at an election should not be able to claim some special privilege by reason of the fact that he was a candidate. There was a case in the courts, with which I need not weary the House, which raised that point, and I thought at the time there was no doubt that the hon. Member had the object I have just stated. I am bound to confess—and I apologise for it—that I had to be absent during the discussion and was not present when this matter was dealt with, although I heard the opening remarks of the hon. Gentleman.

That new Clause was accepted in a form which had the effect that, while a candidate who was not an elector in the Division was deprived of any special privilege when he was speaking as a candidate, a candidate who was an elector in the Division would have been able to claim that he was speaking as one elector to another, and therefore, in accordance with settled legal principles, was entitled to some qualified privilege. When the matter was to come before the House again at this stage I put down an Amendment to delete Clause 9.

Having carefully read the debate again, and appreciating that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne had a quite clear idea of what he wanted to effect, I reconsidered the matter with some of my hon. Friends and came to the conclusion that it might be a way of arriving at a peaceful settlement if I were to propose a new Clause in which I would effect the intention that I believed the hon. Gentleman had.

I therefore put down an Amendment which provided in effect, that no candidate at an election should have any special privilege by virtue alone of his being a candidate, and that he should not be able to secure that privilege by a side-wind, as it were, by saying, "Well, as a matter of fact, I am an elector. Therefore when I was speaking on that platform as the candidate at that election I was speaking as one elector to another, and not as a candidate." So I put down that Amendment, and I am very glad to see that my name is followed by that of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, as well as that of the originator of the Bill, and I feel that that is something about which we can all be happy.

In Committee we had some rather lively times, and I think it is just worth while mentioning that the Committee stage of this Private Member's Bill lasted 10 days. I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will be able to give me an example of one taking much longer, but it seemed to me quite a long time. If, now that we come before the House again, I appear perhaps as the villain of the piece, at any rate I am accompanied by two of those hon. Members who engaged in a certain amount of Homeric battle during the Committee stage, and I hope the House will feel it possible to accept these Amendments, thereby making some admirable progress towards the final goal of this Bill.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I am quite certain that the House would not desire the Attorney-General to think that anyone feels that he is the villain of the piece. We all realise that he has been the honest broker, and the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) today shows how successful he has been.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

I should like to say how glad I am to see these Amendments on the Order Paper. I appreciate very much that it has been possible to reach a settlement on this question. I think it worth pointing out the implication of the settlement, because it amounts to a departure from the Porter canon. It is interesting to see that, although we were told the Porter canon was sacrosanct and we were not to be allowed to depart from it, that this proposal put forward by my hon. Friend had been considered by the Law Officers and the Lord Chancellor and been turned down, and that therefore there was no point in discussing it any further, it has been possible to reach an agreement and to meet the feelings of both sides on this question.

I only hope that precedent will be followed on one or two other Amendments and proposals before the House on this Bill, because I have not the slightest doubt that the 10 days to which the Attorney-General referred would have been much less than 10 days had it been possible to meet some of the other attempts made to improve the Bill in a rather more reasonable frame of mind than was then shown. I hope the harmonious beginning of our proceedings today means that we shall be able to reach agreement on some of the later matters.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4. line 41, at end, insert: shall not be deemed to be published on a privileged occasion on the ground that it is material to a question in issue in the election, whether or not the person by whom it is published is qualified to vote at the election.—[The A ttorney-General.]