Clause 10. — (Extracts from Parliamentary Reports.)

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 Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey 12:00 am, 27th June 1952

I beg to move, to leave out Clause 10.

I am afraid that here I have not been able to find any way of appeasement. This is rather a tiresome little point which I shall have to explain, I hope not at any length, but I think I must -explain the position in detail. The Clause as it stands says: No proceedings for defamation shall be taken against Her Majesty's Stationery Office or against any other publisher or printer who at any time shall be authorised by either House of Parliament to publish or print any proceedings of that House by reason of the fact that such publisher or printer shall have published or printed any extract from the Official Report of either House of Parliament. As we are all aware, there is no doubt about the privilege which attaches to the OFFICIAL REPORT itself. But this Clause refers to an extract from it, and it is particularly relevant in connection with the practice, indulged in more by some hon. Members than others, of securing extracts from those speeches and sending them round in large numbers to their constituents—grateful or otherwise. The object of this Clause apparently was to secure that the maker of the speech should be able to do that whenever he wished; in other words, to give him almost carte blanche to get those extracts and circulate them. It was on that basis that the Clause appears to have been passed during the Committee.

Again I have to apologise for not having been there at the time. I can only say, in mitigation, that I was concerned in a case dealing with the liberty of the subject in the High Court and that that does take precedence, of course, over everything else. I read the debate carefully and I venture to think that there is some misunderstanding about this matter. It was first said that the Crown Proceedings Act, 1947, had altered the position; that before the Crown Proceedings Act this would have been done, this extract could have been published, even though it contained something alleged to be defamatory.

With respect to those who put forward that argument. I think they were unintentionally misleading the Committee. It was the fact that before the Crown Proceedings Act the King's Printer was liable to an action. Compensation would be paid, if it had to be paid, on his behalf by the Crown no doubt, but the King's Printer was liable to an action, and in 1947 the Crown Proceedings Act did not alter the position.

The position was that in every case the Stationery Office took it upon itself to decide whether there was anything objectionable in the extract, and I am informed that that is exactly the same position today after the Crown Proceedings Act; and that it would be exactly the same position if this Clause was passed. The Treasury, who is responsible, would instruct the Stationery Office that they should always scrutinise an extract, and if there were something really undesirable in it they should exercise the right they undoubtedly have, and indeed the duty they feel they have, not to allow it to be circulated.

I venture to think that that does very materially alter the situation as it appeared in Committee, because this Clause, if it is passed, will not give any kind of vested right in every case. The Stationery Office will consider that it is bound—and I venture to think hon. Members will think it ought to consider itself bound—not to say, "We can circulate anything," but to look at it on its merits. Those are the instructions they have, which is not what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said, or was understood to say.

I think I am not doing him an injustice, I sincerely hope I am not, if I say that he said the Stationery Office wanted it. I would hate to quarrel with the hon. Member at any time, and particularly today, after what we both were doing during the early hours of the morning, but I think that he misunderstood. It may be that at some time someone informed him that the Stationery Office wanted it. All I can say is that my instructions are that today they do not want it.

In those circumstances is it really a desirable thing that we should pass this Clause giving this added privilege which is not wanted, and which will have no useful effect at all? I do not think I can add anything to that. I will take it on the broad line that this Clause was inserted under a misapprehension in the Committee stage, and my advice to the House is to exclude it.