New Clause 4 — Publication on matters of public interest

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 12th September 2012.

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Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 4:15 pm, 12th September 2012

I listened with the greatest possible care to what Simon Hughes said in moving his new clause, but I confess that I was either unconvinced or did not entirely understand the thrust of his argument. I am sure that that is entirely my fault. I also listened with care to Paul Farrelly, and I found him a little easier to follow. Both those contributions have persuaded me, however, that the amendments are not helpful to the wider debate. They have further persuaded me that, if we are to legislate, clause 4 is the way to do it.

Clause 4(2) proposes that, when determining whether a publisher has acted responsibly, the court may have regard to a list of factors, “amongst other matters”. The phrase “amongst other matters” reminds us of the words of Lord Nicholls in the case of Reynolds. His list of factors was non-exhaustive. In an ideal world, however, legislation is not the right way to go about this. The proposals in clause 4 are better to be found in the common law and in the development of case law. I appreciate that if courts are to develop the common law, that leads to a need for litigants to litigate, but such an approach provides necessary flexibility. By setting in stone clause 4, or another version of it, we will face the problem that it might not always be fit to deal with future circumstances. We are probably unwise to be doing that, albeit not so unwise that I would suggest removing clause 4 from the Bill. I do not think that we should have started from where we are, but I did not draft the Bill, and in so far as I had any influence on the people who did so, they sensibly ignored my opinion.