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 should like to comment on what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I am sure he will realise that this is rather an embarrassing sort of subject to discuss. As he has asked me the question I must answer it. I should like to suggest this point to the Committee. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows from personal experience, there are often difficult and delicate questions which have to be decided by the Law Officers. They manage to do that, I believe, without any terrible consequences.

It is always possible for them to take a second opinion on the subject from an expert. I admit that I can do that profitably on some occasions. If one was considering whether or not a matter was defamatory, much the best course to take would be to get the assistance, to which we are always entitled and on which we rely very strongly, of someone who was an expert in that branch of the law.

I should have thought that there was not much difficulty about that. If allegations or criticisms are made on political grounds, our backs must be broad enough to carry them. The proper thing to do is to decide according to our conscience and according to our legal views and knowledge, and not to mind very much what people say about it.

One has to weigh one consideration against another. We have to put in the balance that awkwardness and difficulty which sometimes arises and, on the other side, the consideration that this idea of publishing extracts from one Member's speech is one that does not deserve a great deal of stretching of points to support. It is highly desirable that the general public should read what an hon. Member says in the setting in which it was said, not only that they should read the whole of his speech—which this does not require—but also that they should read the rest of the debate.

Therefore, I feel that one should not have a great deal of sympathy with someone who wants to take one sentence out of his speech and get 40,000 copies of it printed and spread all over the place. That may give a totally misleading impression. One needs to have a sense of proportion in this matter.