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Orders of the Day — Defamation Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:40 pm on 21st May 1996.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham 10:40 pm, 21st May 1996

I shall intervene in the debate for about 60 seconds. On Report, we may be able to go into clause 14 and, in Committee, I hope that I will not have to draw on my personal experience of libel and defamation, but I must repeat the notice that I gave my hon. Friend the Minister about the judgment in Northern Ireland in the case involving The Daily Telegraph. I am glad that paragraph 12(2) of schedule 1 states: In this paragraph a 'public meeting' means a meeting bona fide and lawfully held for a lawful purpose and for the furtherance or discussion of a matter of public concern, whether admission to the meeting is general or restricted. This is not a criticism of the judge, but it is incredible that a press conference—with members of the press invited to give more publicity to an issue—could have been determined in any court in any part of the United Kingdom as not being a public meeting.

I have no interests as a long-term reader of The Daily Telegraph, but it should be disqualified from trying to argue that it had qualified privilege, subject to explanation or contradiction, in reporting what was said at the press conference. I hope that that can be overturned on appeal, but I certainly believe that that part of the schedule should be sufficient to ensure that a newspaper trying to do its duty in sharing honestly expressed views with the public is able to do so without being liable to being left without any defence if the matter becomes the subject of a libel case.