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Orders of the Day — Defamation Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:09 pm on 21st May 1996.

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Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery 10:09 pm, 21st May 1996

I have, and I will deal with it in my next point but one. My hon. and learned Friend suggested that I might be interested in the odd wee briefie in Scotland. The answer is, of course, any time that I am free. Perhaps he would like to have a word with his clerk.

Clause 8 deals with the summary procedure. I am concerned that the damages limit of £10,000 is much too low. A point was made earlier about the money that newspapers make from sensational stories—and no doubt they do. What is more, there is no doubt that newspapers calculate the effect on their circulation of publishing a sensational story which may have risks attached to it. They are prepared to pay not very reliable witnesses sums far in excess of £10,000 just to be able to quote them, and photograph them for the story.

The damages payable under a summary procedure, which we do need, should be proportionate to the sums that the newspapers can make from the stories. If we do not do that, newspapers will make £50,000 or £60,000 clear profit from the story, which they will have assessed with great and cynical care. Paying £10,000 to the poor person who has been libelled will pale into insignificance and will go down as a small business expense.

Those who have been libelled, and there are quite a number in the House now, including one or two who share this Bench with me—they will go to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for advice next time—would share the view that it is important that newspapers should not be able to see libel as a profitable business to be indulged in at will.

I want to make a point about clause 8, and clause 9, which is associated with it. It has been put to me by an entirely partial organisation—the Fleet Street Lawyers Society—but it has expressed it well and may be on to something. In clause 9(2) there appears to be a provision which will enable a judge to draft an apology and direct that those words should appear in a particular form and in a particular place in a newspaper. I am all in favour of newspapers being called to account when they defame—