§ Order for Committee read.
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
, in moving "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," expressed a hope that his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) would not move the Amendment of which he had given notice, "That this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee." Last Session the Bill, after very ample discussion, passed that House by a majority of 70 or 80, and this Session, on the Motion for the second reading, it was again discussed at some length. Every objection that had been made could be discussed on going through the clauses in Committee. As the Bill was in no way connected with religion, it was not one in respect of which he should have supposed his hon. Friend would take so extraordinary a step as that of opposing the Motion for going into Committee. It was true that last November some parties issued a circular in which it was stated that the measure was a bribe to the Press to advocate Popery; but he could assure his hon. Friend that the Bill had not emanated from the Jesuits, nor been submitted to the Propaganda.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Sir Colman O'Loghlen.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
observed, that the thin state of the House would in itself be a justification for the Amendment which he intended to move. With respect to the observations of the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen), he had only to observe that the hon. and learned Baronet himself had introduced the opinions of the Papacy against free discussion; and that he must leave to the hon. and learned Baronet the responsibility of having cited those opinions. He opposed the Bill because its principle was a reversal of the principle of Lord Campbell's Act. In his early years that eminent lawyer was engaged in reporting in both Houses of Parliament; so that his 593 career afforded him a most favourable means of forming a correct judgment on the question of responsibility for libel. In his Act the publisher was made responsible; but the principle of the hon. and learned Baronet's Bill was to relieve the publisher of a newspaper from the responsibility of publishing any libel contained in the report of a speech, and to make the supposed speaker, who had no necessary connection with the reporter or with the publisher, liable for what the latter had published. This was, in fact, making a man responsible for the acts of another, and that other not his agent, In support of the Bill some hon. Gentleman argued that it was hard to throw upon the publisher the onus of judging whether particular words spoken at a meeting were libellous; but if the Bill passed, the publisher would be bound to publish a refutation of the libel, and the onus of judging whether the refutation was libellous would be thrown on him. Was it not better to compel him to exercise his judgment in that way before any libel whatever was published?
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day sis months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Newdegate,)
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he was in hopes that the hon. Gentleman would have acceded to the request made by the hon. and learned Baronet beside him (Sir Colman O'Loghlen), because all the objections to the Bill might be dealt with when considering the clauses. The Bill did not interfere with Lord Campbell's Act. But did the hon. Gentleman intend to divide? Because if not, he would not trouble the House further at present.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he would divide, if only for the pleasure of hearing a speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, then he must go on. The Press was a great advantage to this country in propagating information; but the value of reports of public meetings depended on their truth, and their truth on their completeness. Suppose that at a meeting a man in a tipsy state got up and made a slanderous attack upon another. If that incident should be left out of the report it would not be a truthful report. It was not right to punish the man who gave a true account of what took place 594 and to leave unpunished the author of the slander, the fons et origo mali. In such a case as that which he had just supposed the slandered person would be able to obtain redress under this Bill. But more than that, the best way to prevent the mischief was to go to the fountain-head, and tell the speaker that if he told a He lie would have to suffer for it, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had suggested that the speaker of the slander might be a man of straw; but there was in truth no force in that objection, because if the man could not pay in purse he would have to pay in person, On every principle this was a right Bill, the hon. Gentleman had said that there was a combination to carry this Bill, and seemed to be under the impression that the Jesuits had something to do with the; matter. Did the hon. Member believe that; he (Mr. Roebuck) was influenced by Jesuits? Did he believe it; or would he dare to say so? The idea was one of those marvellous hallucinations which every now and then took possession of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
reminded the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was not he who had introduced the subject to which he (Mr. Roebuck) was referring.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that the hon. Gentleman had said that there was a combination to carry this Bill, and that behind there was—some terrible phantom of his imagination. He called that an hallucination; and although the hon. Gentleman might object to that word, it was an exceedingly applicable one. He was no; friend of the Jesuits; but he did not think that the House of Commons was likely to be influenced by anything that they might do. Hon. Members might relieve their minds from that terrible phantom, and he asked them to look at the matter by the calm light of reason, and not through the lurid gloom of bigotry. He trusted the House would go into Committee
§ Mr. T. CHAMBERS
said, he must point out that it was not the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), but the author of the Bill, who had introduced the religious element in the present discussion, which ought to be conducted without reference to any supposed combination out of doors. For his own part, he was far from being convinced by the arguments adduced in favour of the Bill. In the first place, he denied the correctness of the proposition that the propagation of all things which happened to be true was for 595 the public advantage. Because a thing was true it did not follow that it ought to be multiplied by millions of copies and spread all over the country. That depended upon whether the propagation of that truth was calculated to do good or evil, Could it be for the interest of any person or class that all the slanders and spite of every petty local meeting should be accurately published? Suppose a gas meeting in some provincial town, the speakers at which departed from its object into personal disputes and slanderous altercation—would anyone say that it was for the public advantage that these slanders should be printed in newspapers, and dispersed (over the whole country? Nothing but mischief could follow. Such a report indeed was not true in the proper sense of the word; and the newspaper containing it only became a vehicle for the dissemination of libels that would otherwise have been strangled in the moment of their birth. Newspapers, it should be remembered, wore published in the way of trade, and for purposes of profit, and had no care about the propagation of truth. At present there was sufficient security for the fidelity of reports in the mere circumstance that in order to maintain the reputation of a news paper such fidelity must be a conspicuous feature. The supporters of the Bill asked why the editor should be liable; the answer was that he was the person who did the real mischief. People in the country were not so dexterous as hon. Members in that House in the selection and application of epithets and in running close by the edge of slander, without passing over it. A man under the influence of momentary passion or of liquor made an angry speech at an acrimonious public meeting; the mischief done by his slander was aggravated an hundred, nay, a thousand, times by its publication. Only imagine the pain inflicted by the dissemination of the slander in hundreds or thousands of copies. It was said that the publication was only in the ordinary way of business; but the ordinary way of business ought to be different. It was the obvious duty of a newspaper editor to look through the reports of such meetings, and to take care that nothing was published which was calculated to inflict injury on individuals. It was said that newspaper reports were brought out in a hurry, and that allowance should be made for that circumstance. But journalism was as much a trade as any other calling in life, and those who followed 596 it ought to be as much responsible for what they did in the way of their calling as the chemist or druggist for what he sold in the way of his business. The argument of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), was that the person aggrieved would have a remedy against the original utterer of the slander. Now on this he had to observe, that this was the first time that an attempt was made to punish A B for a crime he did not commit, and to make C D irresponsible for a crime which he did commit. The original utterer was liable already, but not for libel. Such a man might speak from misapprehension; he might be convinced of his mistake a few days after he had made his speech; might offer an apology and have it accepted; and yet, in the course of the following week, several thousand copies of the libel might be circulated over the kingdom in the columns of a newspaper. At the present day the Press was so admirably conducted that he should be sorry to see any measure passed which would tend to make its managers less careful in excluding libellous matter. On these grounds he should certainly support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire.
§ MR. NEATE
said, he thought the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had done quite right in taking issue before going into Committee, especially as the Bill was a very short one, and as an attempt was about to be made to strike out the 3rd clause, and thereby to deprive aggrieved persons of the remedy which the Bill, taken as a whole, would give them. That remedy, however, was quite insufficient. For instance, it was no uncommon thing, in railway meetings, for some ignorant person to charge Members of that House with having a corrupt interest in railway legislation; and though it might be published in all the newspapers, yet according to this Bill there would be no remedy except against the utterer of the slander, who, as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had said, might be a mere man of straw. Newspaper editors usually exercised their discretion very judiciously in eliminating objectionable remarks made at public meetings, and as an instance he might mention that the reports of a recent meeting, where very strong intemperate language was used respecting the conduct of the House of Commons, contained no allusion to that language. He was willing to admit that whatever the state of the law was the present race of 597 newspaper editors would take care to publish only that which was fit and just; but if the law were altered, they might have a lower class of editors who would adapt themselves to the tastes of a lower class of readers. The allusion made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire to a combination had, he believed, no reference to the Jesuits, but to a newspaper association which had the means of exercising considerable pressure upon the Members of that House, and which was at present exercising its influence in rather an objectionable manner.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that having spoken on this Bill on more than one previous occasion, he would not now trouble the House at any length. He must, however, remind the House that this Bill was not, as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) supposed, the introduction of a new principle. The principle had been introduced by the Act 6 & 7 Vict., by which it was provided that where a newspaper editor had without malice repeated the proceedings of a public meeting, he could, in the event of being charged with libel, insert an apology, and plead it in mitigation of damages, paying a small amount into Court by way of acknowledgment that he had been in the; wrong, and on payment of costs the action would be stopped. The object of this Bill was to extend that principle, and to provide that where a newspaper proprietor, bonâ fide and in the course of his business, published that which did not at the moment strike him as slander, he should not be liable to have an action brought, against him by an attorney with the object of compelling him to pay costs up to the time when the apology could be pleaded. The defect of the present law was that actions were sometimes brought against newspapers for the sake of the costs. This he thought was a hardship which newspaper proprietors ought not to be called on to bear. He admitted there might be hardships on the other side; but he was in favour of going into Committee, because he thought that upon the whole the hardships to newspaper proprietors preponderated. But he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) that if the 3rd clause were struck out the Bill would become vicious in principle. If they took away the power of action against a newspaper, they ought to retain it against the original slanderer. He believed that the provisions of the 3rd clause would prevent 598 the occurrence of any of the mischiefs of which some hon. Members had expressed apprehension. A speaker was only made responsible for defamatory words which were spoken at a meeting where reporters were present, and for which he refused to apologize. When the Bill was before the Select Committee, they had some trouble to find a definition which would protect the newspaper proprietor, and they agreed to the definition that if in an action for libel a newspaper proprietor was able to prove that the alleged libel was a true and faithful report of the proceedings of a meeting lawfully assembled for a lawful purpose, open to reporters, and that a reporter was present, and that his report was published in the ordinary course of business, and without actual malice, then the paper should be free from the charge. If, on the other hand, a newspaper published what was scurrilous language, then he had no doubt that the good sense of the jury would find that that had not been published in the ordinary course of business, but from malice. The effect of the whole would be that if an action were brought against a newspaper proprietor for a report of proceedings of a public meeting, it would be a sufficient answer that the newspaper had subsequently published a refutation of the former report, which refutation was required to be of reasonable length and without libellous matter on other parties. This was an extension of the Law of Libel as it was settled in 1843. He did not understand the argument of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire that by this Bill an action would be brought against the wrong person. The person who was alleged to have used the defamatory words was not to be bound by the report of the newspapers. It would be open to him to tender evidence that he did not use those words. But it would not be fair that the person of whom defamatory words were used should not have a right of action; and it would be difficult to show that a person uttering defamatory words in a lawful meeting, open to reporters, did not know that reporters would be present. He admitted there were difficulties in the case; but the advantages, in his view, outweighed the disadvantages, and he considered it would be eminently unfair if the 3rd clause were taken out of the Bill. He altogether denied that any pressure had been put upon him by the Press to induce him to support this Bill; but as, in his opinion, the reasons in its favour preponderated over 599 those against it, he should vote for going into Committee.
§ MR. J. GOLDSMID
said, he was in favour of the Bill as an extension of the Act of 1843. He thought the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) had absurdly exaggerated what he considered the- dangers likely to flow from this Bill. It was not at all likely that any respectable paper, with a large circulation, would trouble itself to insert slanderous or scurrilous matter spoken by some worthless person at a small local meeting. The Committee who had inquired into the subject were of opinion that, when defamatory language uttered at a meeting was afterwards published in the ordinary way in the newspaper, the action should not lie against the proprietor of such paper, but against the person who deliberately uttered the language alleged to be libellous.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he must oppose the Bill. He could not help apprehending that things might occur such as were suggested by the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers). He had known things said about himself, conveying the most offensive imputations about the motives of his public conduct and proceedings, which were actually printed and disseminated in newspapers by hundreds and thousands over the country. The mischief that was done by a report of slanderous statements could not be measured by the circulation of the small country paper in which it might originally appear; because that report might be copied into other journals and circulated all over the world, Some severe remarks had been made in a country paper upon his conduct as Chairman of a Railway Company; and though the proprietor was afterwards compelled to confess in a Court of Law that those remarks were false and malicious, yet they were copied into all the journals that were opposed to his (Mr. Whalley's) public conduct; and copies of those journals were forwarded to his constituents. The real object of the Bill was to convert slander into libel; and he submitted no case had been made out for such a change. He called upon the House not to commit itself to a measure which might seriously compromise the public interests. The proper course would be, if a change in the law were to be made, for the Government to take up the question and deal justly in the matter, in a large spirit—not prompted merely by the consideration of cases of individual grievances. For his own part 600 he considered that the change was not required, and that there could be very little doubt that the Jesuits were at the bottom of the matter. The Protestant associations of this country—no matter what might be the contempt with which they were regarded by this House—were likely yet to influence the public opinion of this country considerably, and it was the object of the Jesuits to put them down; and, as a first step to that, to fetter the newspapers which went against Jesuitism, by converting slander into libel. He had declared, Session after Session, for five years—in season and out of season— what would happen. They were not at the end, but at the beginning of their difficulties—brought about, to a great extent, by the perseverance of the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen), who was undoubtedly inspired by the Jesuits.
§ MR. SERJEANT ARMSTRONG
said, there was no novelty of principle in the Bill, while the state and progress of public society rendered it a necessity. He thought that the 3rd clause of the Bill was a necessary corollary to the 1st and 2nd; because, if it was just to afford protection to the newspaper proprietor, it would be unfair to give the maligned party no redress against the author of the slander. He believed the Bill would really prevent slander.
§ MR. COLERIDGE
said, he coincided in the objections which had been taken to the Bill by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, and should vote with him in case he divided the House, though not from the fear of any combination of Jesuits or other persons. He did not agree with the assertion of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Serjeant Armstrong) that the Bill made no important change in the law, for it really made a most important one in the wrong direction. The strongest argument against it was that it required the introduction of the 3rd clause to make it palatable, and the opinion of the Attorney General was that unless the 3rd clause was retained the Bill would prove most mischievous. Already public comments upon the public acts of public men were privileged. It was only when private character was attacked that the law was stringent, and it was right that in such cases there should be some restriction on publication. Why should a private, harmless man be dragged out of his privacy by the publication of a slander in a news- 601 paper? Why should he be put to the; annoyance and expense of defending his character? Why should he be put to the trouble of writing a long letter to a paper to refute that which would not be worth the trouble of refutation but for the importance given to it by its appearance in print. At present protection was given against the publication of defamatory matter, and he did not see why the publication of personal slanders uttered at quasi-public or semi-private meetings should have any peculiar and exceptional privilege thrown around them. Under the 3rd clause, if the newspaper proprietor refused to insert a retractation of alleged defamatory matter, the person aggrieved might bring an action against the speaker as if he had written what the newspaper reported. He thought this a very ineffective kind of remedy. The remedy against the utterer of a slander was more difficult than against a newspaper, for there was more difficulty in proving spoken than in proving written words. The Bill would give the remedy against the wrong person, for the great mischief was caused by the publication. The newspaper, and not the obscure slanderer, ought to be held responsible, His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) had said that truth in reporting was the great object. Now, although truth was a most desirable thing, accuracy was not so very desirable if the matter stated was not true.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. WARREN)
said, he hoped the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) would persevere in his opposition to the Bill, which would be mischievous and dangerous in its results, and was not called for by the present state of the law. He thought the House ought to hesitate long before introducing the change now proposed. Its object was to protect a newspaper proprietor from liability for printing a libel, provided he did not originate the injury, and he might therefore publish it from printed matter. If newspaper proprietors were thus protected in the publication of second-hand libels there would be no limit to them. The defence had been already set up in Ireland, but without success; and, indeed, if such a defence were admissible, it would be possible to re-produce in this country slander or treason spoken at a legally convened meeting in New York and reported in the American papers. He believed that newspapers had all the protection that was 602 necessary, so long as sufficient care wag exercised in their management.
§ VISCOUNT AMBERLEY
said, the main question was—who was the guilty party; the speaker who uttered the libel, or the newspaper which published it? He contended it was perfectly plain that the speaker was the guilty party. He quite agreed that it was not desirable to report every word spoken at every little village meeting; but, at the same time, there was nothing to prevent the newspaper editor exercising proper discretion. There were discussions of great public importance which it was well to have fairly and fully reported, and this was especially the case with respect to the proceedings of great public companies. In his opinion the most dangerous calumny was not a statement in the public Press which might be publicly contradicted, but a private slander repeated from mouth to mouth. For his own part, if a charge were made against him at a public meeting he should prefer the exact words of the speaker to be given in the report. He hoped the 3rd clause would not be omitted, for if it were it would be impossible to bring an action against either the newspaper proprietor or the speaker in the event of the report being accurate. The feeling of the majority of the Members of the Select Committee to whom this Bill was referred was that it was just and right to transfer the responsibility from the newspaper to the person who uttered the libel.
§ MR. LAWSON
, as a Member of the Select Committee to whom this Bill was referred, wished to say a few words on the subject. He conceived it to be the interest of the public to know what took place at public meetings, and this Bill was inertly an extension to other cases of a well-known principle already acknowledged in the law, and that was, that if a newspaper gave a bonâ fide, truthful report of what took place in a Court of Justice it was protected from any action. And why? Because it was the interest of the public to know what took place in Courts of Justice, and because: the fact that a person was merely communicating to the public what had really taken place removed the impression that he was actuated by malice or any other motive that would render him liable to an action. It was often equally the interest of the public to know what occurred at a meeting of shareholders of a public company, Should not the shareholders know what was said at meetings of their company about 603 the doings of their Directors? The Attorney General for Ireland spoke of the case of a Fenian meeting in New York. He (Mr. Lawson) contended that it would be to the interest of the public that the proceedings of the meeting should be made known. The substance of the matter was this—were they to protect the public Press in the bonâ fidedischarge of a difficult and arduous duty, in which their interest concurred with that of the public, or were they to leave the newspapers subject to frivolous and vexatious actions which were often instituted for the sake of costs? This was the real point of the case. It was not the duty of a reporter to expurgate from the proceedings of a public meeting matter of a libellous nature, but to give an accurate account of what occurred. Was the reporter or editor to constitute himself the judge of what the speaker ought to have said?
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he did not desire to restrain the liberty of the Press in any way; but he thought that newspaper proprietors were sufficiently protected at present, and that Parliament should pause before it did anything which would be an encouragement to penniless persons to publish slanders upon private character. That would be the effect, he feared, of this Bill should it become law. He did not think it right that parties should be put to the expense and trouble of repudiating charges which might be altogether unfounded. If slanders were uttered, he trusted Parliament would not give facilities for promulgating them. Generally speaking, the English Press was an honour to the country; but there were badly-conducted journals whose interest it might be to publish calumnies.
said, that law should be founded on justice; and, in the present instance, justice demanded that the man who uttered a libel, being the really guilty party, should alone be made responsible.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the question was not a party question, nor was this a Government Bill. He confessed that he was disinclined to the Bill, which he thought would be a protection for the careless and ill-conducted newspaper, and was not wanted by the well-conducted Press of the country. It was said that the guilty person was he who uttered the slander; but the question was, whether the mischievous person was not he who gave it publicity? Slander when uttered at a small meeting, in a small place, might be of no great importance; but when circu- 604 lated throughout the country it might have a most injurious effect. He agreed with the Attorney General that if the 1st clause of the Bill were passed the Bill would be a most mischievous one if the 3rd clause were not passed also. His hon. and learned Friend accepted the Bill solely on the supposition that the 3rd clause would be passed if the Bill were passed; but, for his own part, he must say that not even the 3rd clause could reconcile him to the Bill.
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
denied that this was a Bill introduced in the interests of the ill-conducted journals. A hundred petitions had been presented from newspapers in favour of the Bill, together with a petition from the Provincial Newspaper Press Association, which included the proprietors of 200 newspapers; and it would hardly be said that all these were "ill-conducted." The organs of all shades of opinion were in favour of the measure; and he reminded the House of the great expenses to which newspapers were put by actions of this class, though juries might return verdicts against them for merely nominal damages. The privilege which newspapers now enjoyed in publishing the proceedings of Courts of Justice was mere Judge-made law; and it was actually doubtful at this moment whether the same privilege attached to the publication of the proceedings of Parliament. In the case of "Wason v. The Times" the Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench had decided that there was such a privilege; but the question was still sub judice. This was not a state of the law which ought to be preserved, and it should be decided by statute how far the Press had a right to go in reporting proceedings of Parliament or of public meetings.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 108; Noes 38: Majority 70.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair,'' put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (No Proprietor of Newspaper shall be liable to an Action or Prosecution for a faithful Report of the Proceedings at a Public Meeting, and Proof that it was such shall amount to a Defence).
§ MR. SANDFORD
moved, instead of the word ''proceedings," to substitute "speeches." Persons who were in the body of the meeting might get up and utter 605 slanders — might cry out that such and such a man was a bankrupt or a scoundrel —and that might be reported in the proceedings; and if the names of those who uttered the slanders were not given, the parties aggrieved would have no remedy either for the slander or the libel. Again, a contra diction given to a slander in a public meeting might be suppressed, yet, as the clause stood, the newspaper would not be responsible.
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
said, that in case such a contradiction were given and suppressed it would be for the jury to say whether the publication was, in the words of the clause, a fair report of the speeches in the ordinary course of business.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that the Amendment would serve no purpose, inasmuch as any sentence uttered in the way of interruption at a meeting was necessarily a speech.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he thought the Committee were entitled to ask the hon. and learned Member for Clare for a fuller explanation than had yet been given of the probable effect of this clause. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would press his Amendment to a division. The Bill was only brought forward in consequence of the importunity of the Press.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. NEATE
said, that in his opinion the editors of newspapers should not be altogether exempted from the necessity of exercising discretion. He had known at railway meetings charges of general dishonesty brought against Members of that House in consequence of their connection with companies. He moved that at the end of line 15, after the words "bonâ fide, without actual Malice, and in the ordinary Course of Business," these words should be added, "and in the exercise by the editor of such newspaper of a reasonable discretion."
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, the proposed words would be mere surplusage, inasmuch as the question of the reasonable discretion on the part of the editor or proprietor of a newspaper would be left for a jury to consider.
§ MR. J. G0LDSMID
said, it would be a physical impossibility for the editor to read every report that was going into his paper.
§ MR. T. CHAMBERS
contended that, if the hon. Gentleman's argument were valid, that would be the strongest reason for inserting the words, which would make 606 it the duty of the editor either to personally examine the reports or employ others to do so. If slander was published and circulated all over the world, some one ought to be held responsible for exercising a discretion in the publication
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he felt confident that when the Bill went to the House of Lords it would he rejected.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, the Amendment would almost nullify the effect of the Bill, because its words might mean that the proprietor of a newspaper, before he published a report, must ascertain whether the words of the speaker were true or false.
MR. SERJEANT BARRY
said, he took the same view. By this Bill it was sought to shift the responsibility of a libel from the publisher to the speaker; but if this Amendment were adopted, it would shift the responsibility back again to the publisher. It would involve the clause in considerable confusion, and give rise to a great deal of litigation.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
asked whether the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to make the proprietor of a newspaper a co-defendant? [Mr. NEATE: No!] He (Mr. Newdegate) did not mean that such a proposal was contained in the Bill; but the hon. and learned Member suggested it in his speech. There would be some sense in such a proposal.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, he held that the words were necessary, because otherwise the whole onus would be thrown on the speaker, while the person who circulated and multiplied the slander was allowed to go entirely free. The law of the land punished the utterer as well as the forger; why not, then, the editor as well as the speaker?
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
said, that if the Amendment was adopted, it would defeat the object of the Bill.
§ MR. T. CHAMBERS
said, that at the most inconsiderable meeting the reporter might take down the most reckless speaking, and the editor publish it without fear of punishment. Was that a thing which should be allowed? The editor in such a case should certainly be held responsible.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, the Committee 607 were now re-discussing the principle of the Bill. He protested against arguments, which had been answered over and over again, being dug up in that way. The principle of the Bill had been settled by a large majority, and they had now only to deal with the clauses.
§ VISCOUNT AMBERLEY
said, it was an error to suppose that there would be no responsibility left if this Bill passed. Discretion would still have to be exercised, but by the speaker instead of by the editors of newspapers. Surely, it was better that that discretion should be thrown on the speaker, and that a slander should never be uttered than that it should be uttered but never published.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
held that both the man who uttered, and the man who published, should be liable. It was not right that the person who did most mischief should escape scot free.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that in that case the hon. Gentleman ought not to have voted for going into Committee. The words in the clause, "bonâ fide, without actual Malice, and in the ordinary Course of Business," would, in his opinion, be sufficient to meet the justice of the case without the proposed addition, and would not afford a justification for publications of every description. If the editor of a newspaper published scurrilous matter against any individual, a jury would know how to deal with him. The bondâ fides of the publication would still be matter for the jury.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he must again protest against this alteration in the law, which had been objected to by Lord Campbell and Lord Wensleydale. The whole weight of legal authority was against the principle of the Bill. A speaker, under the excitement of addressing a public assembly, may scarcely know what he says, or mean what he says, and the law at present takes cognizance of such a possibility; but by this Bill a speaker is to be made responsible for the circulation of his statement throughout the world by another person, and thus the freedom of speech is to be restricted. At present if a man said anything indiscreet, the law considered it merely as slander, and that he should not be held liable to as severe punishment for hasty and inconsiderate expressions uttered in the excitement of the moment as if he had deliberately written the matter. It was the publication that did nearly all the mischief.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that the Attorney General rested his defence of the clause on the bondâ fides of the publication. Now, he wanted to know in what that bonâ fides consisted. Was the editor of a newspaper to be held free from malice if he published a report believing that it was full and correct, or was it to be understood that he was still bound to exercise that discretion which the Amendment was intended to secure—a discretion as to the truth, the moral tendency, the political admissibility of the words spoken? The words of the clause bonâ fide admitted of such a latitude of interpretation that no one could define their precise intention, and yet it was to rest upon the interpretation of these wide words whether the speech was spoken, and the report published without malice, which words followed, and were governed by the words bonâ fide. In one newspaper you might see a report extending over a column, while in another and cheap paper that report might be given in a paragraph. Were both of these to be considered fair reports? The truth was, that this 3rd clause was an apology for the unwarrantable character of the two first clauses of the Bill; for the injustice and the harshness of the principle of those clauses. As he had said before, the Bill was a Bill for publishing slander and legalizing apologies.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, that the argument of the Attorney General only showed the necessity of inserting the words of the Amendment.
§ MR. SERJEANT ARMSTRONG
maintained that the Amendment was altogether unnecessary. The words "actual malice in the clause had a well-known and clearly defined meaning.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (A Speaker of defamatory Matter not amounting to Slander shall be liable in certain Cases to be sued as if the same were printed or published).
§ SIR ROBERT COLLIER
, while approving the principle of the Bill, objected to the extension of liberty to newspapers at the expense of speakers at public meetings. At present a man was not liable for spoken words unless they imputed an in- 609 dictable offence, or were attended with actual damage, while written words, holding up a person to ridicule or contempt, were actionable. Now, this clause would render actionable spoken words reflecting on a person's character, which, if written, would be libellous. He was not sure whether, but for the privilege they enjoyed, speeches of eminent Members of the House would not come within the scope of this provision. The speeches for instance delivered by the present Prime Minister against Sir Robert Peel certainly had a tendency to bring Sir Robert Peel into ridicule and contempt. It might apply inconveniently to hustings' speeches—such, for example, as that delivered on one occasion by Lord Palmerston at Tiverton, in which he cast such ridicule on a gentleman who had interrogated him as to make him a laughing stock. A certain class of attorneys would always be ready to promote actions where the slightest pretence existed for the charge of holding up a man to ridicule or contempt, and many persons would be inclined to bring such actions on the chance of recovering small damages. The effect of the clause would be to curtail the liberty of free discussion, and to exclude reporters from many meetings to which they were now admitted to the advantage of the public. Railway directors were sometimes suspected of "cooking" accounts, and at present their conduct might be freely canvassed by the shareholders, but this provision would place a restraint on such discussion. It was an attempt to establish something intermediate between slander and libel; and it would make the character and liability of spoken words depend on the mere accident of a reporter being present. He could not help thinking that if the clause were passed reporters would be excluded, very much to the public injury, from many meetings to which they were at present admitted. He was aware that the clause contained words which would to some extent limit its operation; but it appeared to him that it would upon the whole unduly interfere with the freedom of public discussion, and he begged leave, therefore, to move that it be struck out.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that the Bill had been greatly modified by the Select Committee, and that he now supported it to a certain extent because it appeared to him to be a beneficial measure. He was himself responsible, in a great measure, for this clause, as agreed 610 upon by the Committee. It was quite true that it altered the law of slander to some extent. He thought the clause was a natural consequence of the change in the law which the two preceding clauses would effect. Those clauses would exempt the proprietors of newspapers from any liability on account of fair reports of the proceedings at public meetings; but the same privilege ought not to be extended to persons who uttered defamatory language at meetings at which they must have known that reporters were present, and who afterwards refused to apologize for that language. The clause would not apply to privileged persons—such as railway shareholders who, at meetings of their companies, might attack their directors who were believed to have "cooked" their accounts. The object of the clause was to render actionable defamatory words spoken at a meeting open to reporters, to the extent to which they would have been libellous had they been written. A person defamed at a public meeting obviously ought to have the right either of bringing an action so as to clear his character, or of requiring a retractation.
§ SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN
said, he thought the clause was a perfectly fair one, and that it was rendered essentially necessary by the protection given to newspaper proprietors by the two clauses which preceded. He contended that a person who went to a public meeting and deliberately made a statement was not entitled to the benefit of the distinction between slander and libel. The late Lord Lyndhurst, in a speech delivered in the House of Lords in 1858, pointed out the injustice of allowing a man who made a defamatory speech, knowing that it would be published, and probably with a view to publication, to escape with impunity, while the reporter, who could have no malicious motive, and who perhaps did not know the point on which the calumny turned, was made the scapegoat. As to frivolous actions, a jury had to decide whether matters were libellous or not, and if a man who had been ridiculed in Punch or elsewhere brought an action they would in all probability decide against him. The clause, as settled by the Attorney General and the Select Committee, rendered the utterer of defamatory statements liable to an action unless he published a full apology and retractation, and he did not believe this would infringe the privilege of public speaking.
§ MR. T. CHAMBERS
said, he would remind the Committee that, in the warmth of debate or in the excitement attending public meetings, persons often exceeded the bounds of propriety, and used strong language, which they would shrink from committing to writing. The 1st and 2nd clauses conferred exemption from liability on persons who had no claim to it; while this clause inflicted penalties on those who did not deserve them. Generous and high-spirited men were apt, in the agitation of popular debate, to use language from which they would revolt in calmer moments; yet it was proposed to let the person escape who, for his own profit, circulated the slander, and thereby did all the mischief. This was not the case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but of robbing Peter to make an unnecessary and mischievous present to Paul. The measure, instead of protecting an innocent Press, would remove the responsibility which made the Press a blessing to the country; and it would fetter freedom of speech by requiring the observance of greater caution and self-control than was always possible, under penalty of an action or of a servile apology, to which not one man in fifty would stoop. The argument of Lord Lyndhurst supposed a case which was not likely to occur; and it was, therefore, of no authority in the present discussion. He was ready to admit that if the principle of the 1st and 2nd clauses wore adopted it would be necessary to qualify the concession to newspaper publishers. But there was not much in the whole Bill of which he could approve. He should support the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth (Sir Robert Collier) for the rejection of the clause.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, the object of the Bill was to convert slander into libel, and to compel everybody to be as careful of what he spoke as of what he wrote. That was certainly a consummation not to be wished. The whole tenour of Lord Lyndhurst's speech in 1858 was contrary to the change now proposed. The existing distinction between words inadvertently spoken and statements deliberately committed to writing ought to be retained. He might illustrate the evil working of this clause by referring to the case of the lecturer Murphy. That gentleman was only the representative of a class of men who went about the country, actuated by strong feeling, with the single desire of making known the doctrines, discipline, laws, and 612 usages of the Church of Rome. It was impossible for these persons to describe these doctrines and usages without speaking in tones of contempt and ridicule of some people who believed in them. Should this clause be adopted it would be out of the question for these conscientious persons to prosecute labours which they believed to be useful and profitable. He would ask whether anyone had pointed out any real grievance in the present law? Riotous persons had interfered with the free discussion in which Mr. Murphy was engaged. [Cries of "Divide !" "Oh!" and "Question!"] The interruptions to which he was subject was a proof that those matters could not be fairly discussed.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, he objected to the clause because it made speakers at public meetings answerable for words which they might not have uttered, but which were attributed to them in reports which they had had no opportunity of correcting. A speaker's words uttered in haste, and upon the spur of the moment, might be twisted and distorted by a reporter, and the speaker might be prosecuted for an offence which in reality he never committed. There was, therefore, a practical objection to the proposal. Only that morning he had seen words attributed to himself which he had not used; and if they had been libellous he might, under this clause, be sought to be made liable for an authorized report. He objected, moreover, to the provision requiring an apology to be published in any paper selected by the person who felt himself aggrieved—a provision which might be used for purposes of offence; some papers regarding certain individuals with known aversion, and other papers having no other object than to obtain notice, and thus increase their circulation by these means. It would be impossible to treat such papers with contempt, if their unauthorized reports were thus to be made the foundation for proceedings against a speaker. The clause would fetter the freedom of discussion throughout the country, and would, in his opinion, complicate rather than simplify matters; and he would, accordingly, give it his utmost opposition.
said, he also objected to the clause. Two persons belonging to opposite political parties might have an encounter of words at a public meeting. The editor of the local journal might favour the gentleman who held the same political 613 opinions as himself, and keep out of print anything strong which he might have said; while he might publish all the strong statements of his opponent; and the latter might, in that case, be subjected to an action for libel by the other man, who, perhaps, had made as libelous a speech.
§ MR. SERJEANT GASELEE
said, there were so many objections to the clause and to the Bill that he did not know where to begin in opposing it. It made it dependent upon a reporter whether a man was a libeller or not. A man was to be hell liable, not only for words which he had used, but for words which he had never used. The speaker would be at the mercy of the reporter, and unscrupulous journalists might use this power to bring men into trouble and difficulties. Very often a reporter must be highly educated to understand properly what you said. Of course it was some comfort to be reported by an educated reporter. But in many parts of the country reporters wore not highly educated, and you could easily hit above their heads. If the party who made a speech said he was entirely misrepresented, what was he to do? How could he be expected to insert an apology? And be was not permitted to justify himself by inserting a denial. The effect of the clause would be frequently to compel a man to apologize for words which he had never uttered. It was a dangerous and uncalled-for Bill; and he hoped it would go back to Ireland and never show its face in that House again.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to apprehend that an action could be successfully maintained against a man whose speech had been misrepresented. [Mr. Serjeant GASELEE: Not with success.] If that was the learned Gentleman's objection, anyone was liable to have an unjust action taken against him; but the law provided for such a case by mulcting the plaintiff in costs. The publication of the apology might be made in the paper in which the libel was published; but if that were objected to, a paper might be selected by the person libelled. Having passed the 1st clause, the Committee could not, he thought, do otherwise than pass this; but he was in favour of omitting the words, "reflecting upon the character or conduct of another," and of inserting, "reflecting upon the personal honour or honesty, or professional, mercantile, or business character of another."
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he did not think that the intention of the Committee was to create a new offence—namely, that of throwing ridicule upon a third person. He did not think that the clause had that effect; but if there was any doubt upon the subject it ought to be removed. Hon. Gentlemen seemed to have forgotten the conditions of public speech in this country. If a twin made an oration in public, the probability was that it would be reported; and the man, therefore, who made it ought to do so under the fullest sense of the responsibility he incurred. He did not think it was fair to attempt to shift the responsibility on to the shoulders of others. A person who, at a public meeting, uttered reflections upon another ought to be held liable for so doing. Even if reporters were not present, great mischief might be done; and the slanderer should not be allowed to escape. He did not think that the clause would have the effect of limiting freedom of discussion, or that men like the lecturer Murphy would be rendered liable to action for libel because they saw fit to ridicule the doctrines and tenets of the Church of Rome. But to remove the doubt that had been thrown out, he should move that the words "reflecting upon the character or circumstances of another" be omitted, and the words" reflecting upon the personal honour or honesty or professional, mercantile, or business character of another" inserted.
reminded the Committee that they were discussing the question whether the clause should stand part of the Bill.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he wished to point out that the effect of the clause would be to attach the same responsibility to words spoken as now attached to words written. The clause, moreover, made a speaker liable for an action on account of a paragraph in a fragmentary report; whereas, had the whole speech been reported, the passage, which printed alone might appear libellous, might have been perfectly harmless. The clause was a dangerous one; for if a man in the course of a long speech dropped one word to which exception could be taken, he was to be liable to an action for libel. There was no provision that the jury should take into consideration the whole speech, or even that the whole speech should have been properly and fairly reported. If a man bad been grossly slandered, and said of his slanderer that ha was unworthy of belief, he would have 615 committed an offence under the Bill. He trusted the Committee would not sanction such an alteration of the law. If the Bill were to pass, it would, in his opinion, prove exceedingly destructive to the freedom of public discussion; for it would render public men continually liable to actions at the hands of persons upon whose conduct they thought it necessary to comment. A man who uttered slander at a public meeting was now liable for such slander; a man who furnished a report of his own speech could, if it contained anything libellous, be proceeded against under the present Libel Act; but what the measure now before the Committee proposed to do was to render a man responsible for what might be published by a third party, with whom he had no connection, and in whose profits he had no share. Moreover, the Bill did not refer to public meetings only. A meeting where three persons attended might be brought within the scope of the Act. It might be said that the Bill only applied to open meetings where reporters were present; but it often happened that speakers did not know that reporters were present, and they might utter something which, if reported, would make them liable to an action. The clause did not contain a single word protecting a public speaker. They knew that the most careful and experienced speaker did not always express his meaning precisely, and was often surprised when reminded of what he had really said. But the law was for the whole community, and they all knew that there was rarely a public meeting in which an esteemed Mr. Brown or Mr. Jones was not invited to speak and—although perhaps a very sensible man—found great difficulty in expressing his thoughts in words. It was very rarely, too, that reports professed to give the words employed by the speaker; and they all knew how often letters appeared from gentlemen who stated that what had been attributed to them in print had never been uttered by them, or that if it had it was entirely different from what they had intended to say. The condensation to which speeches were subjected was no doubt advantageous; but still, even in the change from bad to better, the application of the speech might be materially altered, while there could be no doubt that the report, the moment such a change was made, ceased to furnish an exact reflex of the opinions of the speaker. A speaker would be bound hand and foot to the reporter, against whom, on the production 616 of his note-book in a Court of Justice, he would have no chance whatever. If the speaker was to be held liable, it ought only to be where an accurate short-hand note of every word that he had spoken was placed before the jury, to enable them to come to a conclusion as to what he had said, and not the more impressions of the reporter. For these reasons, he objected to the clause in its present form, and maintained that no case had been made out for altering the law of England on that subject, which had worked well for 500 years.
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had carried them back 500 years, to the time when a difference was made between written and spoken words, but the distinction between the two things had been drawn long before there was any question of reporting. When a man spoke with reporters before him, and knew that what he said would probably be published, there could be no reason for the existing distinction. The hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) had said that it would be a hard thing to call upon a man who had unwittingly gone just beyond the line at a public meeting to make "a servile apology;" but he asked, what necessity was there that the apology should be servile? If led in the heat of speaking to go beyond the truth and beyond what he meant to say, surely the first thing any honourable man would desire to do would be to relieve the person he had unintentionally injured from the injury he had inflicted on him. As to a speaker having no chance against a reporter when he came into Court after the lapse of three months, the speaker might easily answer that his words had been taken down wrongly, or that he had not intended to say what was imputed to him, and that was as good an apology as any man need require, while it was also one which any honest man could readily make. That there was considerable difficulty in the matter he had felt in the Select Committee; but he thought the clause as drawn by the Attorney General in the main met the requirements of the case. He entirely approved the principle of the clause, holding it to be of great public advantage that there should be reporters present at public meetings, and thinking it only just that the Press should be relieved of responsibility if it fairly published what passed.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
thought the clause ought to be more guarded and re- 617 stricted, and he would suggest, as the words He had proposed could not then be regularly submitted to the Committee, that the hon. and learned Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) should allow the clause to be negatived, with the understanding that another clause embodying his Amendment should be brought up on the Report.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the Committee had already decided that defamatory matter, whether spoken intentionally or by accident, should be published; and he maintained that it was morally and practically impossible, by any contrivance, to insure for the subsequent apology and retractation equal publicity with that given to: the original slander.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
hoped that the clause would be negatived, in order that a better one might be prepared.
§ MR. WHALLEY
wished to confirm what; the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had said as to the absence of; proper protection for public speakers. Any observations that he himself ever made on any subject were always misreported. That Bill was intended to give form and substance to a professional and organized system of misreporting. At present there was, he believed, an influence exerted on the Press which rendered it impossible for any person who spoke on a certain subject, to which he need not more particularly refer, to rely upon being fairly and accurately reported. ["Name."] He might mention the name of the lecturer, Mr. Murphy, whoso addresses were said to have produced riots and disturbances in the country. His own name having been mixed up by the Press with Mr. Murphy's, he had made two special journeys to Birmingham to ascertain whether the reports in the newspapers purporting to give what that lecturer said were true or untrue. On the one occasion he questioned twelve, and on the other twenty persons on the subject, and he had found that a report professedly of what that gentleman had said had been entirely fabricated to bring derision and obloquy upon him, and make him appear 618 to be responsible for the riots that followed his lectures. A London paper had inserted a detailed contradiction of a report which it had previously published, charging Mr. Murphy with having used language calculated to bring him into general odium and derision.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be postponed."—(Sir Colman O'Loghlen.)
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 54: Majority 35.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Friday.