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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Major Geoffrey Bing Major Geoffrey Bing , Hornchurch 12:00 am, 27th June 1952

In these circumstances, I am quite prepared, in view of what my hon. Friend has said, to clear him personally.

I did not intervene, much as I would have liked to have done, during the whole day which we spent on this matter on the last occasion, but I wanted to urge on the Committee the importance of trying to meet this particular Amendment, and I do not see why, in those circumstances, I should abandon that attempt now, despite the intervention of my hon. Friend.

This really is a very serious point, and the Attorney-General has said quite rightly that, while, obviously, the speeches of some hon. Members would be better not printed, the speech that is probably of value is the one that deals with a local issue and some important local matter which, owing to the shortage af newsprint, is not fully reported in the local newspaper. This Bill will do a great deal for local newspapers in making it more difficult for someone, faced with a difficulty in misreporting, to get the matter corrected. My hon. Friend says not; I do not know, but this Bill does a great deal for the newspapers.

In these circumstances, I hope that the Attorney-General will allow the continuation of a Clause the purpose of which is merely to protect the right of an hon. Member to circulate his speech, if he so desires. In fact, it does much more for the other side of the House than for us here. It would be unfair to give examples which I have discovered of speeches which have not been circulated for various reasons, but it does place an hon. Member in a very difficult position.

Let us suppose that he has a point of great local importance, and that he goes to the Stationery Office and invites them to reprint his speech. They take advice of the Treasury Solicitor without consulting the hon. Member at all, and they merely tell him that they consider that there is something libellous in his speech. If he goes to any other printer, what is he to say? In all honesty he must say that he tried to get the speech printed and that the Treasury Solicitor said there was something libellous in it. "All right," says the printer, "cut out the libellous part." "Oh," says the unfortunate Member, "I do not know what it is, because the Treasury Solicitor will not tell me what he considers libellous." Therefore, the position is that an honest Member is not only unable to get his speech reprinted by the Stationery Office, but also reprinted by anybody else.

That seems to me to be an unfortunate position. The Attorney-General has been courteous over this, but I do not think he appreciates the point. In the last Parliament—and I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) would back me in this—I took the opportunity of consulting both my right hon. and learned Friends who held the offices of Attorney-General and Solicitor-General respectively. Both agreed with me that the present position of the law was bad and wrong, and both agreed that this was a result of a condition that nobody expected to occur from the Crown Proceedings Act, and that we should take the opportunity of correcting the matter when we could.

This Bill is going from us to another place, and it will have the opportunity of expert legal scrutiny there. I appeal to the Attorney-General to leave this Clause in the Bill and to leave the matter to the judgment of the other place. If, after letting the noble Lords there see what the arguments are, he is proved right and I am proved wrong, then let it be struck out there. But if I am right, let us take this opportunity of putting right a small though an extremely aggravating difficulty in which hon. Members can be placed.

At a critical time in General Elections or local elections it may often be of great value to an hon. Member to get a quick reprint of a speech and to circulate it in his constituency. But, as matters stand at the moment, he is prevented from doing that not only by the Stationery Office, but by any other printer as well. In those circumstances, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will fall in with the suggestion I have made.

I would not generally be in favour of this House relying on a decision taken elsewhere. Having heard my explanation, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree to that view. In these circumstances, I would certainly press for the retention of the Clause, which was put in by the Committee. As I say, I apologise to the House for my absence, but I suppose that I have to get some sleep some time.