Schedule. — (Newspaper Statements Having Qualified Privilege.)

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

I beg to move, in page 7, line 8, to leave out from "Britain," to the end of line 9.

This Amendment refers back to Clause 6. I ought to draw the attention of the House to the provisions of Clause 6, because it is difficult to appreciate the scope of the Schedule unless hon. Members have in mind what the Clause says. The Clause is a repetition of the existing statute law. It provides that publication in a newspaper of certain reports is privileged unless the publication is proved to be made with malice. That is the substance of subsection (1). Subsection (3), which is a limitation of the Clause, says that: Nothing in this section shall be construed as protecting the publication of any matter the publication of which is prohibited by law, or of any matter which is not of public concern and the publication of which is not for the public benefit. The protection given to newspapers for their reports is limited by the fact that it must be a matter of public concern and that it must be a publication which is for the public benefit.

The Schedule gives two lists of statements which are to be protected under that Clause. The first group are statements which are protected without any need to publish an explanation or a contradiction of what has been said. The second group are only privileged if the newspaper is ready to publish an explanation or a contradiction by somebody who has been defamed.

The part of the Schedule with which my Amendment deals is the first part. Line 8 begins: A fair and accurate report of any proceedings in public of the legislature of any part of Her Majesty's dominions outside Great Britain or of any foreign country or province or state of a foreign country. In other words, the position is that up to date the statutory protection given to a newspaper has not included the proceedings of any legislature outside Great Britain.

Statements made in this Legislature are not covered. We have discussed them at some length on the Amendment dealing with the reprinting of Parliamentary reports. This Schedule deals with legislatures outside Great Britain, and the purpose of my Amendment is to limit the protection to those legislatures in the Commonwealth and not to include reports from foreign legislatures.

There is one interesting point to which I want to draw the attention of the House. In the case of reports of the proceedings of foreign courts that distinction is drawn. There is no statutory protection for reports of proceedings of foreign law courts, but this Schedule is proposing to introduce protection for the proceedings of foreign legislatures, and that would seem to be an entirely contradictory thing to do. The question was discussed by the Porter Committee, and the reason for this distinction arises from the views taken by that Committee. They say, in paragraph 108 of their Report: Had not the practical difficulties proved insuperable, we should have desired to add to the list of reports entitled to qualified privilege, reports of proceedings in some foreign courts. But the legal system of the different countries of the world vary considerably and drastic changes in the character of their judicial tribunals may occur with little prevous warning. Legal proceedings may be of a political character, and may take place in absentia.We have found it impossible to put forward any criterion of general application which could be adopted to limit and define such foreign courts as maintain a standard of justice and a method of procedure which would justify our recommending that reports of their proceedings should be entitled to qualified privilege without any droit de reponse on the part of the person defamed. That is a clear statement of the difficulty of the problem: that one cannot look at all the courts of the world, with their manifold procedures, different legal bases, and so on, and be sure that a fair report of those proceedings is a fair report of what is in general a court according to recognised rules which civilised countries would accept. Therefore, the Porter Committee were forced to suggest, against the general trend of their views, that it was not possible to extend this protection to foreign courts.

I am suggesting that if it is not possible to extend it to foreign courts it is an extraordinary situation to extend it to foreign legislatures, because if one cannot be sure in the case of a court that they give the person a right of reply to any personal attack made on him, if one cannot be sure that they may come to a decision without giving someone due notice of the allegations to be made, if one cannot be sure that they maintain a standard of justice and a method of procedure which would justify our recommending them to have the protection—all those criteria may apply even more strongly to a foreign legislature.

It seems to me that if we cannot extend the protection to a court—which, at any rate, goes through the forms of having some kind of just procedure regulating the proceedings—it is quite absurd to extend the protection to every legislature in each totalitarian country, to every country behind the Iron Curtain, to every obscure legislature in the obscure State of some federation, with all those manifold and varied bodies, many of them sharing none of our ideas of fair play and justice.

Mr. Lever:

Is not the distinction, briefly, this: that in the first case—the legislatures—the public know that they are getting the report of a debate, and in the second case—the courts abroad— where the public may think, and wrongly think, as far as some countries' courts are concerned, that they are getting reports of judicial proceedings, and those reports cannot be admitted because there is a danger of the public being misled into thinking that they are having actually judicially found facts reported to them? In the case of the legislature, the public realise that they are debates of foreign countries' Parliaments, and in the other case, judgments of a supposedly impartial court.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that assistance. I was about to deal with the explanation given by the Attorney-General, which differs some- what from that of my hon. Friend. When I asked this question in Committee, the hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to say: The argument is that it is in the public interest that an account should be given of the proceedings in legislatures, but there is no need for the public to have an account of what goes on in law courts. Therefore, these two things are on quite different footings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 25th March, 1952; c. 440.] I do not think that the Attorney-General was necessarily adopting that argument; he was saying that that was the argument that was behind it. In a way, it quite contradicts the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend, because it implies that law courts are to some extent a private affair, a matter between the State and the individual, and not a matter of general public interest, while the proceedings of public legislatures are matters of general public interest.

I should have thought, on the contrary, that if a person was going to make a defamatory statement about somebody, it was a good deal better that it should be made in the proceedings of a court, where it could be tested by cross-examination, than as an allegation in a legislature, where it may not be tested in that way.

We know here that if I was to make an allegation against my hon. Friend, or if I was to take advantage of the protection given to these proceedings to make an allegation against some political opponent of mine, some enemy of mine outside the House, Mr. Speaker would at once pull me up and point out that I was not right to do that, that I was abusing the privilege given to me if I was taking advantage of my position to make defamatory attacks on people which were not germane to the issues under discussion.

That is because we are a civilised legislative assembly. We have generally recognised democratic proceedings, which we obey and which give a protection to people's characters. Therefore, it is reasonable that newspapers should have protection when they report our proceedings. But that is not true of a great many legislative assemblies, and it is quite impossible for the public to know of which legislative assemblies it is true and of which it is not true.

It seems to me that the principle or what we are trying to do in the Bill, and what my hon. Friend the Attorney-General have time and again both said they were trying to do, is to prevent the abuse of the law of defamation by unscrupulous people being able to bring blackmailing actions in which newspapers, for example—small local newspapers, with inadequate capital behind them—might find themselves involved in crippling legal actions.

If that is the grounds for bringing forward the Bill, why take the opportunity to extend the protection which is given under it to lying statements which are repeated all over the world? What real mischief is caused, what real interference is there in the liberty of the Press to report matters of genuine concern to people in this country, if they are to be told that slanderous and libellous statements made in foreign legislatures are not to be taken on their face value, and that if they are wounding to people's characters, they are not to be repeated except at the risk of being tested in the courts? It seems to me to be a reasonable safeguard to make and no interference with the reasonable discretion of the newspaper to give fair reports of political and legislative proceedings.

2.45 p.m.

Therefore, what my Amendment proposes to do is to extend the protection to legislatures of the Commonwealth. I recognise that a very arguable case can be put forward. These legislatures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) reminded us in Committee upstairs, are the Queen's legislatures. They are subject to more or less the same kind of protection for the individual and for the character of the individual that our own proceedings have. We obviously have a common interest with the people of the Commonwealth in knowing what is going on, because we are members of one community. Therefore, I am not being exaggerated in my claims. I am not asking that there should be no protection given, but I am suggesting that the line should be drawn for legislatures as it is drawn for courts.

We are accepting the principle, as did the Porter Committee, that in the case of courts we have to look at the nature of the proceedings and to limit our protection to that area in which we could be sure that the proceedings were fair. Therefore, there is no reason at all why we should not apply the same test to the reports of legislative proceedings.

My hon. Friend pulled me up and said that in one case people were listening to the cut and thrust of debate. But that is not always so. It is 'a reasonable assumption that if I said that my hon. Friend was a corrupt and incompetent member of the Bar, he would reply in similar language; and the readers of newspapers would be able to form their own opinions of our comparative credibility. But there are legislative assemblies where minorities cannot be allowed to speak at all, and where motions may be passed and allegations or statements of fact made about people accusing them of all sorts of personal immoralities which have nothing to do with the matter under discussion; they would be under no protection and they would not be able to make any reply. They would have much less chance, probably, of making a reply than if the allegations were being made in a court of law in a great many countries.

We are anxious to reach an agreed Bill. We are anxious to defeat a mischief of which many hon. Members are very conscious. This part of the Schedule is not really necessary at all—it is an unnecessary extension. There may be some Members who feel that it is desirable, but there are many others who feel that it is undesirable; and I put forward the arguments which upstairs led to the Committee tieing on this question—the voting was equal. Therefore, I suggest that it is not an unreasonable thing to say that this part should be dropped because it does not affect the substance of the Bill; it does not affect the real mischief against which the Bill is levelled. Therefore, it is something which might reasonably be dropped without any serious interference with its general effect.

I finish by saying one thing to my hon. Friend. Upstairs, he made this comment about what I have said: While I recognise that he" — that is, myself— is perfectly right to be vigilant on behalf of those who may suffer some inconvenience, he must remember that we also have the good sense of the people of this country, and the fairness of at any rate, some sections of the Press."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 27th March, 1952; c. 449.] It is that kind of attitude towards the Bill by my hon. Friend which has led to so much acrimony and has taken so much time in the discussions. He has always had the feeling that people who claimed about being libelled and who wanted to protect their characters were those who suffered only a slight inconvenience, which could not be balanced against the enormous advantages of allowing the Press to print what they like, and when and where they like.

I put it to my hon. Friend in this way: that it is really a test of the spirit with which he is tackling the Bill. If he really is anxious to reach a Bill which is to be fair as between plaintiff and defendant, which is to give reasonable freedom to the Press but not unnecessarily to run the risk of injuring people possibly in a very grievous manner, this is a case where he might well accept the Amendment without in any way harming his Bill and its effectiveness and the contribution that he is so anxious to make to the reform of the law of libel.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am sure the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) for the very full and extremely able exposition he has given in opposition to this provision. It is one which troubles me very much, and I very much hope that it will be possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) and the Attorney-General to do something to meet us on this matter.

The position in regard to the legislatures of the Dominions is, of course, entirely different from that of other countries. All recognise at once that there are other countries to which this extension could be made in the same way as to the legislatures of the Dominions. I do not suggest for a moment that all foreign legislature are open to the kind of objections to which I personally think many of those which would be included in this provision are. What we are doing here is to give the advantage of the defence of privilege to repeating what is said in a foreign legislature—in a foreign legislature of any foreign country, or puppet state of a foreign country.

I am sure that my legal hon. Friends have considerable knowledge of the exercise of foreign jurisdiction and what happens in foreign courts. One knows that while large numbers of them are immaculately conducted in every possible way, there are others the whole of whose attitude is very different from that of the attitude we, fortunately, have in this country.

Similarly, in regard to the legislatures the whole attitude and sense of responsibility in a number of foreign legislatures is entirely different from that which we have in this country and in the Dominions. In our country and in the Dominions we have a sense of inherent responsibility which is brought to bear, and to all Members of Parliament here and in the Dominions it of itself provides some guarantee. So far as the Dominions and ourselves are concerned we are all members of one community, with one attitude of mind. I recognise that it is not only not objectionable, but most desirable that this extension to the Dominions should be made in this Schedule. But the position of foreign countries is entirely different.

The one point to which I wish to address myself is the provision which my hon. Friend read in Clause 6 (3) and the reliance which may be placed on that Clause by those who support the Schedule as it stands: Nothing in this section shall be construed as protecting the publication of any matter the publication of which is prohibited by law, or of any matter which is not of public concern and the publication of which is not for the public benefit. That might be quoted as a kind of omnibus provision which should be sufficient to provide protection for the individual subject to libel. We start on the footing that this is a libel; otherwise there is no point in it. Here is an individual who is being libelled. Then it is said that if it is by repetition of what is said in a foreign legislature it is all right if it is of public concern or for the public benefit. No one in this House suggests that where a libel is published on an individual otherwise than in a foreign legislature it should be a defence to say that it is for the public concern or for the public benefit.

We are not proposing that public concern and public benefit should override the right of the individual to have his honour immune from defamation. No one suggests that, yet it is proposed in the case of a foreign legislature, if the libel is repeated in the foreign legislature —a foreign legislature whose conceptions of justice, of fair play and everything else, are entirely different from those of our country—it is a defence in that case to say that it is for the public benefit and the public concern.

If anyone looks at it in that way it will be seen as a monstrous proposal which cannot possibly commend itself to any fair-minded person. In dealing with this we have to assume that there is a libel and that we in the House of Commons do not believe in the public benefit and the matter of public concern overriding the honour and freedom from defamation of the individual. I suggest that in these circumstances the House should not accept the inclusion of such a proposal in the Bill.

I am as concerned as my hon. Friend that we should finish the Bill in time today, and I hope it will be possible for him and the Attorney-General to give us some really satisfactory assurance on this important matter.

Mr. N. H. Lever:

I hope that my hon. Friends who moved and seconded this Amendment will believe me when I say that I sincerely respect the fears that they have expressed but cannot share them. I feel that my hon. Friend, however unwittingly, has been somewhat less than fair in quoting a snatch of what I said in Committee when I spoke after the Attorney-General had spoken at some length about the Clause and he had given reasons which I also adopted. I said on that occasion words which precede those which my hon. Friend has quoted: I then said: I understand the fears which have been expressed and I do not dismiss them lightly, but it really comes back to this: Either the public of this country are to be reasonably informed about what goes on in the world or they are not, and there are some moments when the inconvenience caused to private citizens, or which may even be caused to the Attorney-General, by such publication must be borne in order that some reasonable flow of information about what goes on in the world shall be available to the British public."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 27th March, 1952.]

3.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

This is exactly the argument to which I addressed myself. If that is my hon. Friend's proposal, it follows inevitably from what he said that he is in favour of matters of public concern and public benefit overriding the immunity of the individual from defamation. Why, therefore, limit it even to foreign legislatures. The principles he is now advocating as justifying extension to foreign legislatures would involve public concern and public benefit overriding the immunity of the individual from defamation in every single case, whether it is from a foreign legislature or not, and to my mind, and I think to that of every responsible Member, that is utterly intolerable.

Mr. Lever:

With great respect to my hon. and learned Friend, because I am advocating that in certain cases the public interest should override private convenience is no authority for tagging me with the belief that in all cases the fact that a matter is of public interest means it shall override the private man's right to protect his reputation. It has long been an established principle of the English common law that there are cases where, in the public interest, private convenience and the desirability of being able to protect one's reputation has to yield to the public right to have information. One example is our own Parliament, which has already been quoted.

There are many other instances where the public need to have information about what is going on in the world overrides the sacred right of a man to have his reputation protected. If in the course of this or any other debate it became necessary to attack the reputation of a private citizen of this or any other country, that attack is privileged, and the report is privileged, and we all agree it is right that it should be.

My hon. and learned Friend has got himself into a somewhat extreme position and has rather overstated his case in supposing that it is a monstrous proposition to defend the Schedule as it now stands. As it now stands the Schedule is approved unanimously by the Porter Committee. I have never said that the Porter Report was sacrosanct. All I said —and I venture to repeat it—was that where the Porter Committee, consisting of some of our leading writers, lawyers and judges, have unanimously been of a certain opinion it would at any rate be wise to suppose that what they proposed was not monstrous; that what they proposed was not altogether a complete wrecking of the principles of our libel laws. They may be wrong. I have often disagreed, very respectfully, with the Porter Committee myself, but I have never supposed that any of their recommendations were imbecile, monstrous or calculated to wreck the fundamental principles of our law.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

Nor have I suggested anything of the kind, and my hon. Friend really must not suggest that I have. I made it perfectly clear that, not only in the case of the Dominions but in the case of a number of foreign legislatures, as I mentioned in my speech, I accept that it would be perfectly fair, right and proper. But one remembers, having served on committees, that committees deal merely with the general principles, by and large, and this Schedule is drafted in such a way as to include every foreign legislature of every State in any part of the world, however completely contrary its ideas are to those of this country.

Mr. Lever:

That is what was recommended unanimously by the Porter Committee.

Mr. Lever:

But that is the fact. The Porter Report is there, and that is the explicit recommendation of the Porter Committee. I think it is right that the newspapers of this country should be privileged from libel action if in good faith and in the public interest they report the debates of foreign legislatures. I do not think we can place upon newspaper editors in this country the burden of analysing all these reports that come through in the heat of the day purporting to report what goes on in foreign legislatures. We cannot put upon them the burden of examining those reports to see whether they libel someone, any more than we can put on them the burden of doing that with the reports of our own legislature. It is vital that the public should have these reports. It is impossible to have them printed as fully and frequently as they should be if they are to be subject to libel proceedings.

I ask my hon. Friends to believe that, while I am not anxious that anybody should have his reputation impugned lightly, I am as firm in my own mind as they are in theirs to the contrary view that it is honestly of public interest that we should encourage the free and privileged reporting of what goes on in Parliaments of foreign countries, even when those Parliaments are not constituted according to our tastes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) misunderstood me when I ventured to interject. I did not say that the distinction between a foreign court and a foreign Parliament was necessarily that the foreign Parliament represented the bona fide cut and thrust of debate. What I said was that the good sense of the British public reading the report would tell them that what they were reading was a debate in a foreign Parliament, the value of which they could assess for themselves. They would not think that they were reading something which had been impartially and judicially established. They would know that what they were reading was an allegation made in debate.

In those circumstances, it seems impossible that we should not in modern times give to newspapers the right to report foreign Parliaments. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) seemed to think that if we drew up a list of Parliaments it would be better. It is a little difficult to know whether we should include, for example, the United States and exclude another country. What my hon. and learned Friend wants to do is to exclude all foreign Parliaments.

Mr. Lever:

As we always have done. But, as the Porter Committee said, and as I think the House agreed in general, the law which governs this subject, the 1888 Act, was apt for the conditions of that time. But the time and opinions have changed, and there is a different sense in 1951 as to what subjects should enjoy immunity of reporting given to a limited class of matters. In those circumstances—

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

Surely the Porter Committee addressed itself to this problem of distinguishing between foreign countries when dealing with the courts in the passage I quoted and tried to make a distinction between what we might call civilised courts and other courts. They cut out foreign courts and make the distinction, is it a Queen's Court or is it not? Surely it is logical, sensible and consistent with principle that precisely the same criterion should be applied, is it Queen's legislature or not? It is not a question of whether it is American legislature or something else because that is something we cannot go into.

Mr. Lever:

I will accept the point that it is the logical thing to do, but it is one thing to exclude court proceedings from the protection of this Bill and it is quite another to exclude any foreign legislature; because the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend involves whether it is the legislature of France, or the United States, or Belgium and many other—

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

Only of course with regard to defamation. It does not prevent reports being published. It only means that newspapers have to take care that no defamation is published.

Mr. Lever:

That is so. But in practice a burden is imposed on those publishing these reports as they come which, in my submission, is calculated to make it difficult to have the free reporting desired by the Porter Committee which is reasonable and fair. I do not think this is a case where my hon. Friends can say there is a real danger of malicious defamation of a country.

All that is involved is the reporting of what takes place in foreign parliaments, but my hon. Friends have made up their minds that they would rather extract the reports than have the risk of defamation uttered in these foreign parliaments being reported to the public of this country. I rely upon the good sense of the British people to know that they are reading debates of foreign parliaments, and to know that those debates can often contain wild inaccuracies. I feel this is a step forward in providing more up-to-date provisions so far as qualified privilege is concerned and that it would be wrong to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

It is quite obvious from what my hon. Friend has said that no amount of argument, even were it to extend from now until four o'clock, would persuade him, and therefore I do not propose to take up the time of the House for more than a few minutes.

I say most earnestly to the Attorney-General, who has a responsibility in this matter, as have the promoters of the Bill, that he should find an opportunity after this House has parted with the Bill, before it goes to another place, to consider this matter again. I hope he will feel able, at the end of the argument, to say that, at any rate, he proposes to do so. My hon. Friend may not be satisfied with the arguments advanced to the House in reply to the points raised against this Amendment. I hope that he will not think I am offensive. I sometimes have a habit of convincing people that I am offensive when I am only trying to be helpful.

I hope he will not think I am seeking to say anything that could in any way impugn his personal reaction to these matters or his conduct of the case if I say, very sincerely indeed, that I am sure his argument does not convince the majority of those most qualified to judge this kind of argument. I doubt very much indeed, whether, when the heat of the debate has passed, when he has got his Bill and it is on the Statute Book, the argument he has advanced today would continue to convince him either.

It is an astonishing thing which the Porter Committee has recommended. It is true that if they recommend something, and especially if they recommend it unanimously, we ought to approach the matter from the point of view that there must be something to be said for it and that there is probably a reasonable prima facie case in its favour. But that is all. It does not go beyond that. It does not excuse us as a House of Commons from refusing to examine it anew for ourselves, giving full weight to all the arguments advanced which influenced the Porter Committee, and any other arguments as well, but not regarding ourselves as bound by them if in the end in our consciencies we are not convinced.

How can we be convinced by this? It is suggested that there is an overriding public interest which is that the newspapers of this country shall be allowed to publish any piece of defamation in the world, no matter how gross, no matter how malicious or how unfounded, provided only that some member of some foreign legislature should have been indiscreet enough, or malicious or dishonest enough, to have said it.

Mr. N. H. Lever:

Provided that it is in the public interest.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

My hon. Friend is wrong. There is not a single word about public interest.

Mr. Lever:

Look at Clause 6.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I am reading the Schedule.

Mr. Lever:

Clause 6 governs the Schedule.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Clause 6 says: Subject to the provisions of this section.… Does my hon. Friend mean that it is a qualified privilege?

Mr. Lever:


Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

That only means that the matter concerned shall be a matter of interest to the public and that the newspaper which publishes it shall not itself be guilty of malice. That is all; but that is not inconsistent with what I said. Provided that a member of some foreign legislature is reckless enough or dishonest or malicious enough to say it, then any newspaper in this country, provided that it is not itself malicious and provided that the matter is one in which people generally are interested—it goes no more than that—may publish it, and the man defamed has no remedy of any kind.

Photo of Mr Frank Bishop Mr Frank Bishop , Harrow Central

Provided that it is of public benefit.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I do not think that that is any qualification of what I am saying.

The whole argument on which Clause 6 was presented was that it is for the public benefit to publish news of what has happened in these foreign legislatures. It is always put forward on that ground. A newspaper is not likely to publish it unless it is a matter of interest to a great number of people about something which is of some importance in the world. That is what gives its news value—provided that it has some news value.

We are doing that in circumstances in which we do not give the same protection—and the Porter Committee expressly decided not to give the same protection —to reports of proceedings in a court of law. I cannot understand any more than my hon. Friend can understand on what basis the Porter Committee recommended the protection for legislatures and not for the courts.

One would have thought that if we were to make a distinction it would be in favour of the court against the legislature. In the courts there are presumably no politics connected with the matter. Theirs is a judicial proceeding. It might be said that many of these courts would not be recognised as judicial, but neither would many legislatures be regarded as legislatures as we accept them.

3.15 p.m.

May I just say, in concluding, that the reason, I would have thought—though I do not think there is any judicial authority for it; it is only common sense— why the proceedings of this House have an absolute privilege, and why the proceedings of a local government authority have a qualified privilege, is because, some day, somewhere, we are each one of us answerable to somebody for what we do or what we say.

Anyone whom we defame is not wholly without remedy. He has not got the ordinary remedy in the courts, because it is right that we should be free here to say what we think it right to say, and that the public should know what it is that we are doing and saying. So there is that absolute privilege for us here, and absolute privilege for reporting what we are doing and saying.

But that does not mean that everything we do remains subject to no check or remedy at all, because our position and our public reputations and our fate here ultimately depends on that, and no man could keep his place for long in the British House of Commons if he used that privilege here so as to defame recklessly and maliciously a whole group of people who were defamed outside.

It is because there is another remedy that we are given privilege here, and the same privilege ought reasonably to extend to any other of Her Majesty's legislatures in any part of Her Majesty's Dominions. But, if we extend it to all the other countries in the world, we are exposing people, who cannot defend themselves at all, to an absolutely unlimited opportunity for defamation which it may be of the greatest possible public importance that it should be denied and disproved, but we are denying those people the opportunity to do that.

I am reminded that these statements are statements that are to be privileged, without explanation or contradiction, so that the man defamed has not got the right that we are giving in this Bill to the victims of unintentional defamation. We are saying to a defendant, "It may be right that you should be excused from paying damages in these circumstances, but you must put the damage right." There is no provision of that kind in this Clause.

We are giving an unlimited and completely free licence to every foreign legislature and every member of it, no matter how constituted and no matter what kind of authority they have, to say anything at all, about anybody in the world, with or without any degree of justification, and taking from that person any possibility at all of protecting his reputation in any way. I am sure it is wrong, and I hope that, if we do not think so, another place will.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I should like to help in this matter if I can. I rather feel that we may be in danger of getting things slightly out of perspective. Some of us have been in this Chamber for 12 hours out of the last 18; I certainly have, and I am prepared to admit that I may not be seeing quite as straight as I did last night.

I wonder whether sufficient weight has been paid to subsection (3) of Clause 6, because, with the greatest respect, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said just now that there was completely free licence to publish anything, no matter how offensive it was or who said it, said in a foreign legislature. Let me read the words of the subsection: …any matter which is not of public concern and the publication of which is not for the public benefit. To get this protection, we have to show these two things—that it has news value and is of public concern, and that publication is for the public benefit. I wonder whether that has really been fully appreciated.

I want to make this appeal. We have got through today without any Division, and I am quite prepared to say— although as the House knows very well, I have absolutely no power or right to say what will be done anywhere else; and, therefore, I must be careful what I say— that I will do all I can to see that if and when this Bill is considered in another place this subject is raised. There will be at least one eminent member of the Porter Committee, and there will be other people present. It may well be that some of them will not have considered the argument put forward so strongly this afternoon, but would it not be possible to allow this to go to another place as it stands and to let it be raised and dealt with there?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I am rather disappointed in the attitude adopted by the Attorney-General. I thought, listening to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), that his arguments were quite conclusive on this point, and I should have thought that the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) and the promoters of the Bill would have been well advised to accept this Amendment for the reasons given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas).

There is a great distinction between what is said in our Legislature or in any other legislature of Her Majesty's Dominions, on the one hand, and what is said in a foreign legislature on the other. As my hon. Friend pointed out, all of us who speak here, and all who speak in any British legislature, are ultimately responsible for what we say. I think it right that anything said in this Legislature or anywhere else throughout the Dominions may be republished in a newspaper with the immunity which this Bill will give.

I can see no reason why, in the public interest, that immunity should be extended to words spoken in some foreign legislature set up under a different Constitution, where people are able to speak quite irresponsibly, and, if they wish, to defame British subjects. I can see no reason, in the public interest, why newspapers should, with impunity, be able to repeat and publish such statements in the Press of this country.

I have the greatest respect for the Report of the Porter Committee, but I find it very difficult to see on what logical basis that Committee felt able to extend this immunity to a foreign Legislature while denying the same immunity to a foreign court of law. As my hon. Friend said, I think there is something to be said for enabling British newspapers to publish what appears in judicial proceedings abroad, because prima facie,they are judicial proceedings and the publication of such proceedings may well be of public interest.

But one knows of a multitude of examples where all kinds of completely reckless and irresponsible statements may be made in legislatures abroad, and I see no reason why British newspapers should be able to publish in the British Press defamatory statements spoken in foreign legislatures. I should have thought that any newspaper that felt obliged to publish such statements in the belief that their publication was in the public interest should have imposed upon it the ordinary duty to make inquiries, and, before allowing publication, to satisfy itself that no injury would be done to any individual.

I hope, therefore, that we shall not allow this matter to be left for a quite arbitrary review in another place. This is a very important matter in which we have the duty to the British public to see that the subject of this Amendment is dealt with here in the British House of Commons. I hope that, in view of the speeches made, the promoters of the Bill will feel able to accept this Amendment.

It would be a great misfortune if they tried to get into this Bill far more than they are reasonably entitled to have; and for all these reasons I hope very much that, after consideration, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) will accept this or, if he does not that the House will accept the Amendment.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

Would the hon. Member be good enough to direct his attention to Clause 6 (3) which he has completely ignored in his argument? In accusing me of being unreasonable I think he might at any rate address reasonable arguments to the House on a relevant point.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) said that I had misquoted him. I quoted from the OFFICIAL REPORT and he asked me for the page from which I quoted. I gave him the page number and he looked it up and read out a further passage which enabled him to put in its right context what I have quoted. That is Parliamentary procedure, fair play in a legislature, something to which we are so used that we take it as a matter of course. What he has to appreciate is that that is something which he cannot rely upon to happen in every legislature, and that is why it is necessary to consider this definition.

Let me give a practical and concrete instance of what might happen. Suppose a paper in this country published a statement that in the Ruritanian House of Assembly the Minister of the Interior, justifying his refusal to allow the Socialist Member for Widnes to visit the country, said, "We must protect our women. This politician is well-known to have polluted their morals and to have a mistress in every country which he visits." That would be a matter of immense public concern to the people of Widnes, and the sales of the newspapers would go up enormously during that week. No one can deny that it would be a matter of public interest and public concern.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

And for the public benefit.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

It is obviously highly desirable that the facts should be disclosed.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

Will my hon. Friend be careful? His electors are not possessed of a sense of humour and they may get his speech wrong.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

Were it not for the fact that I know that the people of Widnes have a particularly acute sense of humour I would not have taken the risk. But I agree with my hon. Friend that even my saying this as an illustration is a risk. It might start seeping round that the hon. Member for Widnes is not all that he should be.

Under the Schedule of the Bill as it stands the report I have mentioned can be published, and there is a complete defence without any need to publish a statement from me that I have never been to Ruritania or even crossed the Channel. No statement or denial or explanation is required. The protection is there; it is a fair report of what the Minister of the Interior said and of the reasons he gave. And as it affects a public representative in this country it is a matter of public concern. I quote that merely as a concrete example.

I should have liked very much to have met my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham on this point. We had a debate on it upstairs, we divided equally on it and for that reason we have an opportunity of taking the opinion of the House. We have given in on a number of points. We have not pressed a number of Amendments previously; we have even allowed the Government to take out Clauses which were already in the Bill, and we are prepared to accept a decision. In those circumstances, if there had been the slightest sign from my hon. Friend that he was prepared to meet us, there would have been a

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I beg to move, in page 8——

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

On a point of order. Do I understand. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are not calling my second Amendment, in page 7, line 25, to leave out from "Kingdom" to the end of line 26?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris):

The other Amendments have not been selected.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

I am entirely in your hands, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am in

reasonable ground on which we could have withdrawn. However, my hon. Friend feels that on this point he can make no concession and he has left us with no alternative but to press the matter.

3.30 p.m.

I am very glad to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). He has not had the privilege of hearing me move the Amendment. Whether that was an advantage or not I do not know, but it may be the reason why he is convinced that this is a desirable Amendment to press. In view of what he has said and in view of the attitude taken by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), I cannot withdraw this Amendment.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 28; Noes, 38.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

I cannot hear any argument upon that point. The selection is in the hands of Mr. Speaker, and I am bound by that selection.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

I am suggesting that, in a large measure, the proposed Amendment is, in substance, consequential upon that which has been carried, and I hope, therefore, that it will come within the spirit of Mr. Speaker's indication. I would like just to make my point, and you can say whether it is a valid one or not. In Part I of the Schedule, paragraph 5——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

Forgive me. This is arguing the selection.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

I am not arguing the selection now at all. I am merely suggesting that, by reason of the selection, the proposed Amendment should be called because it is consequential, in substance, upon the other. It is for that reason, and to bring it within the direction, that I am addressing my observations upon paragraph 5. That paragraph, on page 7——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

I am sorry, but I cannot accept the observations. Once the selection is made, Mr. Speaker's selection, I am bound by it and I cannot hear arguments addressed to me for taking Amendments which he has not selected.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but perhaps I might take the case a little further. An Amendment which had been called has been carried, and an admittedly consequential Amendment has not been selected. If the consequential Amendment is not called its absence will make complete nonsense of the Bill. I am suggesting that the proposed Amendment is consequential.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

I appreciate the argument that the proposed Amendment is consequential. There may be other methods of addressing that argument, but at the moment I am bound by Mr. Speaker's selection.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

This is an important issue. You say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are bound, a previous selection having been made by Mr. Speaker. I will address this argument to you on that point. As I understand the position, the selection of any particular Amendment must depend upon the decision of the House upon any previous Amendment. The position at the moment is that the House has accepted an Amendment contrary to the advice of the Attorney-General and presumably against what Mr. Speaker imagined would be the case. Surely the moment for deciding whether or not the proposed Amendment should be selected or not is now. That question can only be decided in the light of the decision of the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

The moment for that selection is not now. Under the Standing Orders, the selection is in the hands of the Chair—of Mr. Speaker— exclusively. Mr. Speaker has made his selection and by that selection I am bound.

Photo of Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas Mr Lynn Ungoed-Thomas , Leicester North East

Surely what is contemplated by the Standing Orders is that Mr. Speaker should make his selection at the moment the time comes for calling an Amendment, and not on some previous occasion without regard to what has happened in debate. Surely what is contemplated is that Mr. Speaker, or whoever is in the Chair, should, in fact. make the selection.

3.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

May I put this point shortly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? We have to do our best to make our procedure work reasonably. Therefore, we must look at the reasons which prompt the selection of Amendments. I should have thought it would be obvious that the reason which made Mr. Speaker select the first of these two Amendments——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

Order. The hon. Member is inquiring into the reasons why Mr. Speaker selects. That is what I am saying cannot be done.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

With great respect, I am only pointing out that in all probability there has been a change of circumstance since the selection was made. It is obvious that we do not have two debates on exactly the same point and the same point exactly is raised by these two Amendments. If the Amendment which the House has just been voting upon had been rejected, then it would obviously be logical that the House would not want to waste time debating the same point on Clause 5.

But that is not now the situation. The House has accepted the first Amendment, so that the second Amendment becomes virtually consequential upon it. If the original selection makes it impossible to move a consequential Amendment, then surely the original selection ought to be capable of revision. If only Mr. Speaker can do it, perhaps Mr. Speaker ought to come and do it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

These Amendments, I understand, were discussed separately in Committee——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

Therefore, this one is not selected. In any event, whatever may be the reason for the non-selection, Mr. Speaker has exercised the discretion which the Standing Order vests in him.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

Would you accept a Motion for the adjournment of the debate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? It is quite obvious that you are in a difficult position and I am certain that the logic of the situation is with my hon. Friends who are pressing that this Amendment should now be brought before the House.

I cannot help thinking that, when the selection of Amendments is made, it is sometimes done on the assumption that a certain course will be followed by the House on one of the early Amendments. For instance, if it is a Government Bill, the general assumption is that the Government will have its way—in the present circumstances that is not a doctrine which appeals to me very much.

Let us assume that you had been in the Chair when a series of such Amendments was before the House and the first one, if carried, would involve consequential Amendments being put in the Bill or the Bill being left in a state of complete nonsense. Surely then it would have been your duty, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in the interests of the proper conduct of the debate and of the House not making itself foolish, for you then to have put other Amendments which might not have been selected in the belief that the first would not be accepted by the House.

I suggest that the House cannot make itself foolish. I regret having to suggest this course, but the only thing we can do in the circumstances is to adjourn the debate. We cannot deal with the matter now, and I am quite certain that my hon. Friends will not desire to prevent the Bill going through the House. It is desirable that the Bill should leave us in a thoroughly workmanlike state and we cannot do that now unless we adjourn the debate.

I therefore beg to move, "That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker:

I accept that Motion from the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I most sincerely hope that this Motion will not be persisted in. The Bill will be wrecked if the debate is adjourned.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I ask hon. Members to reconsider their decision. Time after time during the progress of the Bill through the House, the same thing has re-appeared—a desire to destroy the Bill—and I ask hon. Members to think twice before they do this.

It is not true to say that the carrying of this Amendment will make nonsense of the Bill. There is an inconsistency which can be removed in another place. I ask hon. Members to pause before they consider doing this. It may be that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will find it possible to deal with this matter. I sincerely hope that that will be the case. Surely it would be better to let the Bill go through with the slight inconsistency in it, which can be remedied in another place, rather than destroy it and deprive the Press of a benefit that every reasonable person in the House decides that they ought to have.

I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite will realise what they are doing. I do not suggest for one moment that the right hon. Gentleman has done this purposely, but one hon. Member did come into the House recently, quite clearly, with the intention of obstructing business.

Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The House is in some difficulty, Mr. Speaker, because an Amendment was carried which' put a rather new turn on the Bill. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, quite rightly, felt that he was bound by your selection in not putting an Amendment which to several of my hon. Friends, who had voted in the majority, appeared almost to be consequential. That created a difficulty, and I have moved the adjournment of the debate so that the matter may be considered after you had had a further opportunity of doing so. Now that you are in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion, so that you can consider the situation that has arisen.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am afraid that the fault is entirely mine. I have said that the second Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), in page 7, line 25, to leave out from "Kingdom," to end of line 26, seemed to me to follow the same sort of argument as we had on the first point. It was really on the assumption that the first Amendment would be defeated that I decided it would be a waste of the time of the House to take the second one. I failed to make that sufficiently clear to Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I think the fault is mine.

Now that the first Amendment to the Schedule has been carried, I shall ask Mr. MacColl to move the Amendment in page 7, line 25, if he can do so briefly.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

In view of the explanation which you, Mr. Speaker, have been generous enough to give to the House, would it be proper to ask the Attorney-General to withdraw the extremely offensive remark which he has made?

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

My remark was not intended to be offensive. I expressed a view which I am not going to persist in now, and I withdraw what I said and am sorry if I have offended anyone.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

I beg to move, in page 7, line 25, to leave out from "Kingdom," to the end of line 26.

It would have been understandable, Mr. Speaker, if you had under-estimated my eloquence in moving the previous Amendment. This Amendment is a stronger case——

Mr. Lever:

Just move the Amendment formally.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

If, without assistance from the touch-line, I might be allowed to move the Amendment formally, that is what I was trying to do. This Amendment makes the position on all fours following the previous Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I beg to move, in page 8, line 47 after "authority," to insert "or."

This is to remove from paragraph 12 the qualified privilege given to the board, executive committee, or other body of a nationalised industry. The intention is to prevent an addition being made to those bodies which at present have qualified privileges. If this provision remains in it would allow a public relations officer of a nationalised board or an organisation of that kind to have qualified privileges and in Committee it was generally agreed that that should not be the case.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 48, leave out from "police," to end of line 51.—[The Attorney-General.]

Bill (changed to Defamation Bill) read the Third time, and passed.