HC Deb 11 April 1877 vol 233 cc915-51

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he thought it desirable in the first in-stance to get rid of one or two misconceptions with respect to it which appeared to have obtained considerably not only amongst hon. Members, but amongst persons outside the House. It seemed to have been supposed—and he saw that one of the newspapers which would undoubtedly become the subject of this legislation had stated in its leading article to-day—that the purpose of the Bill was to introduce some novelties of his own invention of an oppressive and annoying character into the law regulating the Newspaper Press. It was right, therefore, that he should begin by saying that he was seeking by the Bill simply to restore by legislation that which had dropped out of the Statute Book per incuriam, and not in any way to introduce any innovation whatever. He had carefully adhered, not only to the spirit, but to the words of former Acts of Parliament. The Bill introduced nothing whatever that was new, and, properly looked at, nothing whatever that was oppressive. The mistakes that had arisen in regard to the measure had arisen from the by no means uncommon cause of persons not having taken the trouble to read the Bill they attempted to criticize. Ho would now state that this Bill was simply a Bill for the assistance of the Judicature of the country by simplifying the procedure—beyond that he did not desire to go. It was not intended to infringe in any way whatever upon the rights, privileges, and courtesies of the public Press. He had been asked several questions which showed that wrong impressions prevailed as to its character. He had been asked whether it was not something to do away with the terrible and unknown editorial "We," or whether it was not a measure affecting the registration and copyright of newspapers. It was nothing of that kind, but only a measure which sought to make the course of law simpler in the matter of evidence. There had formerly been in force an Act from which this had been mainly copied—namely, the 6th and 7th Will. IV., cap. 76. This Act had a double aspect, for it had reference in the first instance to the stamp duties imposed on newspapers, and then placed certain restrictions upon them, and required the proprietors to make a declaration as to the ownership, in order that the Revenue authorities might know from whom to collect the stamp duty. In the year 1869 the then Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), on behalf of the Government of the day, introduced into the House a Bill repealing a number of Acts affecting the Press, and the right hon. Gentleman in introducing that Bill described it as one for repealing Acts which had been passed in very troubled times, and the necessity for which had entirely passed away. The Schedule to that Act contained a large number of Acts, amounting to something like 20 or 30, some of them, no doubt, Acts passed in troubled times, and the necessity for which had passed away, but amongst them was this Act of the 6th and 7th Will. IV., cap. 76. One Act was said to have been passed with the object of preventing French subjects from using the English Press for seditious purposes; but not one word was said in either House with regard to the use of any of these Acts for the purpose of evidence. The repealing Act came into operation on the 12th July, and it was not until after it had so come into operation that the extent of the legislation it had introduced had been inquired into. He found that on the 23rd July Questions were put in that House which showed that certain principles in regard to proof and evidence were swept away by the repealing Act which it was never intended to repeal. It was clear also that the person who drew the repealing Act had looked upon this 6th and 7th Will. IV., cap. 76, merely as a Stamp Act, for he did not attempt to deal with that Act as related to evidence, but merely as regarded the declaration of ownership required to be represented before the newspaper was printed, and the provisions for securing the payment of the stamp duties on the papers and the advertisements. The Act was clearly looked upon as a Stamp Act, and had no reference to the manner in which the publication of a newspaper was to be proved. What was the real effect of that legislation? Up to 1869 there were two provisions in the law in regard to the ownership of newspapers—one was that the owners of newspapers were required to be registered for the purpose of the collection of the stamps and taxes, and in addition to that was another provision equally, and from some points of view almost more, important, that wherever newspapers were indicted for an infringement of the law of libel the declaration which had been lodged at the Stamp Office could be used as evidence, and the mere production in Court of the certifi- cate of the Chief Commissioner of Stamps and Taxes was sufficient and conclusive proof of ownership of the paper, and who was its printer. But this Act had been repealed not only in regard to the stamp duty, but also in regard to the proof in evidence which the certificate of the registration afforded as to ownership. As a matter of fact, there had been instances in which a newspaper had been conducted in a most disgraceful fashion, and where the aggrieved persons, with the fullest right, had commenced actions and criminal proceedings; yet, though it had been a matter of perfect notoriety who was the guilty party—though no well-informed man throughout the whole country had the slightest doubt as to who was the man upon whom the finger ought to be placed, and who ought to be punished—the technical difficulty of proof was so great as entirely to cause the escape of the offender and a perversion of justice. That was a sort of thing which ought not to be; yet it was a difficulty which had been felt in the Courts on several occasions. There was, therefore, a real necessity for an alteration in the existing practice, and either there must be a restoration to the custom which existed before the unfortunate slip was made in the 32nd and 33rd Vic., cap. 34, or some other system must be proposed. He had thought, on the whole, it was desirable to escape from the charge of novelty, and the objections which would be sure to arise on any attempt to initiate legislation in a fresh direction, and to do so by simply reverting to the old law on the subject. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) he saw had given Notice of his intention to move the Adjournment of the Debate, on the ground of the shortness of time which had elapsed since the Bill was printed. It was, of course, undesirable that any measure should be brought and pressed of which the House had not ample Notice; but that was not the case with this Bill, and, therefore, he trusted that upon consideration his hon. and learned Friend would not think it desirable to press that Amendment upon the House. The Bill involved no new principle, and in addition it should be remembered that, with the exception of one small matter of detail, it was precisely the same Bill as he had introduced last year. Last year he had only revived the provisions of the old law; but upon being informed by a Member of the Government that there was a difficulty in regard to placing the duties upon the Office of Stamps and Taxes, he had this year substituted the name of the Queen's Coroner and Attorney. He would also say that it was entirely owing to an accident that the Bill had only been printed two or three days ago. He found also that besides, there were no fewer than five Motions meeting the principle of the Bill with a direct negative, and the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) had given Notice of an Amendment which, though not a direct negative, was yet crushing the Bill down by placing upon his shoulders a burden in passing it through the House which he did not feel himself competent to bear. And now a word or two as to the necessity of moving at all in the matter. A decision given by Mr. Justice Lush a short time ago in Chambers had, it was true, partially removed the difficulties which lay in the way of getting at the real proprietors; yet that decision did not really remove the difficulty with which the Bill proposed to deal. He did not suppose anyone could be found to maintain that there should not be some system of reaching the responsible owners of newspapers of the class to which he had alluded. The power of the Press was enormous, and it was right it should submit to restrictions which its very influence and power rendered necessary. The present system was entirely inadequate. Mr. Justice Lush, in the judgment to which he had referred, decided that the power of administering interrogatories under the Judicature Act could be used for the purpose of eliciting this information. But he (Mr. Waddy) would point out that the power was entirely inadequate to meet the worst cases, inasmuch as it was beneficial only to persons bringing civil actions. There were cases in which a merely civil remedy was entirely inadequate. There were instances in which persons were so entirely lost to all sense of decency and morality that it would be idle to try and inflict a merely pecuniary penalty upon them. A man who deliberately set himself—as some men had been known to do—to be a general nuisance to society, and to inflict injury upon his fellow-countrymen—and not for the purpose of raising the character, but of making pecuniary profit for his paper, pandering to the vilest tastes of the lowest, basest, and most offensive of our people—those were a class of men with whom they did not deal properly by extracting from them some portion of the money which was stained with the very iniquity to which they had pandered. When they came to deal with this class it must be, not by appealing to their pockets, but to their persons. There was another class of newspapers which rendered it necessary to retain the power of resorting to criminal information, and that was the class which, fortunately, formed the overwhelming bulk of newspaper proprietors, whose wealth rendered the infliction of a pecuniary penalty a very trifling matter. It was right that such a power should be used very sparingly, and the Courts had always so used it; but it was only proper that there should be some power by which, in extraordinary cases, they could reach the wealthy proprietor in a manner which would fall more severely upon him than by the infliction of a fine. It was to such cases as these that the decision of Mr. Justice Lush would not apply, for the interrogatories administered under the Judicature Act could not be used in a criminal proceeding. Moreover, it was the law that the commencement of civil proceedings deprived a person of afterwards claiming the assistance of the criminal law in respect of the same matter. Then, again, there was a difficulty from which even hon. Members of that House had suffered. A man was libelled in the public Press. What did he do? In the first instance he found the name of the printer, who might be a man of straw; he found, perhaps, on the very front of the obnoxious publication the name of the professed editor—yet all that did not assist him, and he had still by some other means to find out the real person against whom the action ought to be brought. He was put to enormous trouble and expense, and after doing all that, it was both possible and probable that the real culprit would escape; and. if he did not altogether escape, the only thing that could be done at present was to abandon criminal proceedings, and have recourse to the very inadequate remedy of civil proceedings. But when he had done that, he found himself in this difficulty—he must bring his action against somebody, and he might administer his interrogatories to that somebody; and then it might turn out that he was proceeding against the wrong person after all. The person aggrieved ought to be able to ascertain the author of the annoyance without a moment's delay. He proposed, therefore, that whenever a newspaper was about to be started, a declaration should be made at the office of the Queen's Coroner and Attorney, setting out the title of the paper, where it was to be printed, the name of the printer and publisher, and also to give some knowledge of the real proprietors—those who owned the goodwill of the paper. It was not enough that they should find themselves, after all, going against a man of straw; but that they should be enabled to proceed against the persons who were really making money by the paper. It was suggested in one of this morning's papers, that the names of all the members of a joint stock company would have to be given; but it would he well before persons criticized the Bill, that they should give five minutes to the study of its provisions. No such thing was proposed. It was proposed, for obvious reasons, to compel every proprietor who resided out of the United Kingdom to declare his connection; and also every proprietor who resided in the United Kingdom, where the number of proprietors did not exceed two. In cases where the number exceeded two it would be sufficient if two only were named; but in order to guard against their being men of straw, it was provided that the two whose names were given should leave an interest in the paper not less than any other two persons. For the life of him he could not understand what objection there could be to that. There was no disgrace in being proprietor of a newspaper, and therefore there was no reason why the name should be concealed. In reference to the Amendments which had been put down, they emanated from Gentlemen who no doubt had the best reason to be heard on one side of the question, for in every case the Movers were Gentlemen who had had acquaintance with newspaper life, and who understood the nature and working of newspapers; and he had no doubt the House would hear from them some reason why this mistake which was made in 1869 should not at once be remedied. In regard, however, to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen), he wished to point out that it opened up a tremendous field. The hon. Member proposed to move— That, in the opinion of this House, no legislation for the compulsory registration of the proprietorship of newspapers can be considered satisfactory which does not provide for the repeal of the exceptional Law which renders newspaper proprietors criminally as well as civilly responsible for the acts of their employés. It might be right or it might be wrong to do what the hon. Gentleman would wish to see effected; but, considering that it was entirely wide of the scope of the Bill, he sincerely hoped they should not have a mere matter of procedure and proof—a mere matter of the law of evidence—complicated by an infinitely wider and, perhaps, more important question. The proprietors of newspapers wielded an exceptional power, and it was right that there should be exceptional means of dealing with them. As long as there were men who, while a disgrace to a noble Profession, were at the same time a nuisance to their country, it was right that exceptional legislation should be provided to hunt them down. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Waddy.)


moved the adjournment of the debate, on the ground that the Bill had been printed only 48 hours, and there had been no time for considering it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Forsyth.)


hoped the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone would withdraw his Motion, in order that those who had put down Amendments on the Paper might have an opportunity of dividing upon them. Ho also wished to suggest, to save the time of the House, that the Bill might be referred to the Copyright Commission now sitting, before whom the news- paper proprietors also might lay their views.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


in moving the following Amendment:— That, in the opinion of this House, no legislation for the compulsory registration of the proprietorship of newspapers can be considered satisfactory which does not provide for the repeal of the exceptional law which renders newspaper proprietors criminally as well as civilly responsible for the acts of their employés, said, the career of the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Waddy) had been somewhat unfortunate. It had been three years on the Order Book of the House; but it had never come up for discussion until now. In 1875 the day for the second reading arrived before the Bill was printed at all. Last year it was only printed a week before the second reading was fixed, and this Session it was only distributed on Monday, and they were asked to read it a second time that day. He (Mr. Cowen) did not think—and he certainly did not say—that there was any intention to take advantage of the House, or the opponents of the Bill, in this delay in making its contents known. His hon. and learned Friend was incapable of seeking to promote a measure, either by subterfuge or surprise. But still, the fact that it had been so long in reaching hon. Members created a prejudice against it, and was calculated to hinder rather than to help its progress. There was no reason why its publication should have been delayed. The Bill this year was but a re-production of that proposed last year, and that of last Session was simply a copy of an Act passed 41 years ago, in the 6th and 7th of William the Fourth. The hon. and learned Member, therefore, had really himself to blame for not having the Bill distributed at an earlier date, and any injury he sustained in consequence could not be laid to the account of anyone but those who had charge of the measure. There was no necessity for all the present hurry. He knew if the Bill was not discussed that day that it would be practically shelved for the Session. Still, there was no occasion for any precipitancy. There was no interest suffering, there was no loss being sustained, there was no popular demand for a fresh mode of registering newspapers. Indeed, the only persons whom he had ever heard of wanting such a Bill were his hon. and learned Friend himself, and some old and cantankerous Members of the judicial Bench. The newspaper proprietors were anxious for an Amendment of the law of libel; they had long sought for a change, but the Bill went entirely in a wrong direction. It was retrogressive and not progressive. It went backward and not forward. It was bounded by petty pains and penalties, by fines, and unnecessary restrictions. It was more suited to the dark and distrustful days of the Regency than to the hopeful and trustful times in which they lived. The newspaper proprietors complained of the law of libel, in the first place, because it was capricious and uncertain. No one clearly knew what was and what was not a libel; the law really was a Judge-made law. One Judge took a broad and comprehensive view of the duties and responsibilities of the Press, and interpreted the law liberally; another took a narrow, technical, and jaundiced view, and decided in accordance with the conception of the subject. An article was declared one week by one Judge to be within fair bounds of legitimate criticism, and next week another Judge pronounced an article, almost identical, to be highly libellous. Newspapers demanded to be relieved of this uncertainty. He knew the difficulty of fixing the phrases of a libel, because it greatly depended on the spirit and tone of the article, and upon the circumstances and conditions under which it was made public; but still, any change of the law could not fail to be an amendment. Certainly, it would be somewhat difficult to invent a law more uncertain and undependable than at present. Within recent years great complaints had been made of the manner in which legislation had interfered in the direction of various businesses. Within a Session or two that House and the country had been made vocal with the sufferings of the shipowners. When the Mines Regulation Bill was under consideration, they were wearied with a recital of the woes of the coalowners; but he made bold to declare that there was no body of tradesmen who conducted their business in this country under more stringent restrictions than the newspaper proprietors. They were held to be not only civilly, but criminally, responsible for the actions of those in their employment. It was a principle of English law that' no man should be held criminally liable for the wrong doings of another; yet that principle was directly violated in the case of newspaper owners. Only last year, the proprietor of an influential London journal, when travelling on the Continent, many miles from home, read an intimation of criminal proceedings being taken against him for the publication of an article which, up to that time, he had never seen, and was entirely ignorant of. He (Mr. Cowen) had been in a like position. Not very long ago a paragraph was printed in the paper of which he was the proprietor, reflecting on the conduct of an official personage. He knew nothing of the cause of complaint against the gentleman in question, nor had he ever seen the paragraph. The first intimation he received of it was by reading, when many miles from home, that an action for malicious libel had been commenced against him. Gentlemen connected with the Press would remember the case of Mr. Goldschmidt. A paragraph about his wife, the once famous singer, Jenny Lind, was published in America. That was copied, quiet inadvertently, into Public Opinion, and one or two other highly respectable metropolitan publications. Notwithstanding apologies made by the proprietors of the paper, Mr. Goldschmidt was not satisfied, criminal proceedings were taken against the parties, and each of them was called upon to suffer for an offence of which they had not been individually guilty. The case of The Sheffield Telegraph was still more recent. Mr. John Leng, the proprietor of that paper, was known as an able and experienced journalist. The paper he owned and directed was one of the most influential of the provincial daily Press. A paragraph sent from London to Sheffield, late on the Sunday evening, was inserted in The Telegraph. Its admission was more accidental than designed; yet Mr. Leng, who never saw the paragraph, was prosecuted most bitterly for its publication. No apology or explanation he could offer, no attempt to buy up all the copies of the paper that he could lay his hands on, was sufficient to ap- pease the irritated individual; and if it had not been for very strong and powerful representations made on Mr. Leng's behalf, he might have been sent to prison for the publication of a piece of news that he was ignorant of, and as little concerned in as any Member of that House. No newspaper proprietor was anxious to evade his civil responsibility. If Mr. Leng or any gentleman in like circumstances had been assessed in damages for the injury that had been sustained by the libellous matter, no one could complain; but what proprietors did complain of was that they should be held criminally responsible, and that they should be charged with malicious libel for the publication of articles and paragraphs which they did not sanction and could not control. In most instances—he might say in all instances—these libellous publications were made not only without the knowledge of the proprietors, but in direct contravention of their instructions. Another hardship under which newspaper proprietors lay was their being held accountable for reports of the proceedings of public gatherings. They could print what transpired in a Court of Justice, because that was deemed to be privileged. If a barrister attacked a person in the prosecution of his case, and he carried his criticisms to the full limit of the liberty enjoyed by the bar, the newspaper could not be prosecuted for the publication. A speech delivered in that House, commenting very bitterly on the conduct of a public man, could also be recorded without fear, but a notice of the same speech delivered by a Member to his constituents could be treated as libellous matter. He instanced the case of The Manchester Courier. This was an influential, well-conducted, and high-class Conservative journal. It reported a meeting of a Lancashire Board of Guardians. It appeared that the medical officer in one of the Lancashire Unions had neglected his duty towards some of the pauper patients. His remissness was complained of by the chairman of the house committee, by the master of the workhouse, and by several guardians. The matter was referred to a committee and inquired into. The committee presented its report, and upon that report a discussion took place. The Courier gave the discussion fully, faithfully, and fairly—without malice and without feeling—yet the medical officer felt himself aggrieved at the publication of the charge, and commenced an action for libel against the Manchester paper. A verdict was given against it. In an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, three Judges held that the publication was libellous, inasmuch as the matter was not of public interest. The case was carried from the Common Pleas to the Court of Appeal, and the Judges there overruled the decision of the Court of Common Pleas, and held that the matter was of public interest, but that the conditions under which it was published still rendered it libellous. He cited that instance to show even among Judges that much difference of opinion existed. What he contended was this—that if the proceedings in the national Parliament at Westminster were allowed to be printed as privileged matter, the proceedings of a little local Parliament sitting in any provincial town ought to have equal protection. The constitution of the two bodies was the same. They both represented the ratepayers. They both were elective. Ono levied taxes, the other levied rates, and the people in the locality were as much interested in the doings of a Board of Guardians, or a Town Council, as the nation at large was interested in the Imperial Parliament. He maintained that it was unjust to newspaper proprietors to hold them responsible for the speeches of a public man, while the public man himself was allowed to go uncensured or unpunished. They had no objection to be held responsible for the leading articles of the editor, for the summaries of the sub-editor, or the narrative and descriptive accounts of the reporters; but they did complain, and with justice, of being held accountable for the utterances made in public gatherings, when those were fairly and dispassionately reported. No settlement of the law of libel would be considered satisfactory or complete by newspapers until the points he had raised were fairly grappled with and adjusted. There was another aspect of the question he would call attention to. It was not one on which newspaper proprietors were all agreed, but still it was worthy of consideration. The owner of a journal had only a property in the title of his paper. He had no property really in its contents. He owned the type, the machinery, and the unprinted paper. He owned, too, the intelligence in manuscript form; but as soon as the paper, type, and news were brought into contact, and the sheet was issued to the world, his right of property ceased, and any man a few minutes afterwards could appropriate the intelligence that a newspaper proprietor had collected at vast expense, and had caused to be telegraphed probably from the other side of the globe. They recognized the right of the composer of doggerel verses like "Tommy make room for your Uncle" and "Champagne Charlie;" but they did not recognize the right of newspaper owners to the very valuable and costly communications to which they daily gave publicity. At the same time that a newspaper proprietor ceased to have a property in his intelligence, his responsibility for that intelligence was augmented. The Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Barnstaple dealt only with one aspect of the question. As the law at present stood, every newspaper proprietor was compelled to print the name of the publisher at the bottom of the paper, and to give his address in full. Anyone who issued a paper without the name of the publisher was liable to a fine of for every copy sent into the world. That, he contended, was a sufficient means of verifying the responsible persons in connection with any paper. What the Bill proposed was that the printer and proprietor, as well as the publisher, should have their names registered. The last Bill proposed that the names of the editors also should be registered. That, however, had been abandoned in this Bill. When a newspaper had many proprietors, it was proposed to take two of the largest shareholders and register their names. The machinery for accomplishing this was of a complicated and restricted character. Now, what he wanted to ask was, What ground had there been shown for making this change? Had the newspapers, as a rule, attempted to evade their responsibility? He did not think such a statement could be justly made. There were upwards of 1,700 newspapers published in the United Kingdom, and there were 50 trials for libel in the year. There was a large number of other cases commenced, but some were compromised by apologies, or by other arrangements being made. He did not mean to say that the newspaper proprietors were either better or wiser, more upright, or more trustworthy than any other body of tradesmen; but what he did assert was that he had a fair knowledge of the Press of this country, and he was not aware, within a period of 20 or 25 years, of more than one instance, or at most two instances, where a newspaper proprietor had attempted to evade the full responsibility of his publication. There had been no attempt to set up dummy publishers, or to seek protection behind a man of straw. Nor was he aware of a single instance where a verdict, having been given against a newspaper, the proprietor did not discharge the liabilities entailed upon him. There was no reason shown, therefore, for the change proposed. It was absurd for them to make an alteration of the law simply to meet one case. Hard and exceptional cases always made bad laws. They should legislate for the mass of the parties interested, and not for a single one or two. Newspaper men, like all other bodies, had black sheep amongst them. Barristers were not entirely free from stain in that respect, and the Profession to which his hon. and learned Friend belonged would not care to be judged by the exceptional and erratic proceedings of one or other notorious members of their body. Why, then, should it be attempted to treat owners of newspapers in this exceptional manner? What he objected to was the animus that underlay the measure. The imputation was that newspaper men were not to be trusted, that they ought to be called upon to give guarantees as to their character and their commercial stability. They did not ask that of other tradesmen. If he started business as a pork butcher and sold putrid meat, or as a greengrocer and sold rotten vegetables, thereby poisoning half the inhabitants of a district, the inspector of provisions would proceed against him. If he was convicted he would be fined. If he was unable to pay the fine, his goods would be seized, and if they could not liquidate the debt, the tradesman would be there personally to answer for his offence. But no one attempted before a pork butcher or a greengrocer commenced his trade to enforce securities that he would not dispense unwholesome food. Why, therefore, should they raise a presump- tion against the character and mode of action of newspaper owners? They were surely as much worthy of credit as an ordinary tradesman. This legislation was in keeping with the spirit that characterized the proceedings in Parliament, on the Judicial bench, and in the country 50 or 60 years ago. The Press was always at that time regarded with jealousy and suspicion. It was looked upon as a rival authority to the Legislature. It was fastened round by all sorts of fetters and bound down by all sorts of restrictions. The raw material of newspapers was taxed, a stamp was put on the papers, and another on advertisements. No newspaper proprietor was allowed to commence business without being licensed and giving heavy guarantees as to his character and commercial standing. He was not allowed to publish news except at a date when its novelty was destroyed, and then his paper only could be issued at a price fixed by Parliament. All these restrictions had been removed one by one. They were told when they were taken away that the stability of the national institutions would be imperilled, and that the Throne would be endangered. None of these disastrous consequences had arisen from the change. On the contrary, the very reverse had been the result. There was no Press in the world freer than the English Press of the present day. There was none, too, conducted with greater energy or superior ability, and he made bold to say, take it as a whole, there was none that was purer. Newspaper proprietors and those connected with them felt the responsibility of their position. The Press was really carrying on a work of voluntary national education by supporting and sustaining every benevolent educational and progressive agency in the country. He thought the Bill under consideration was a reactionary step, that no reason had been shown for the change proposed, and he trusted the House would reject it. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.


in seconding the Amendment, remarked that, as his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had said, newspaper proprietors did not object to the fullest civil responsibility for their employés, nor did they object to criminal responsibility for their own acts, nor to criminal respon- sibility being imposed upon their employés for their acts; but they did object to the vicarious criminal responsibility which the Bill before the House would impose upon them. He did not believe that there was any necessity for anything more than a civil responsibility to keep in check any evils that might result from libel. In Scotland, in effect, there was nothing more than this civil responsibility. No criminal proceedings could be brought in Scotland without the concurrence of the public prosecutor, and the result was that, so far as he was aware, a criminal proceeding for libel was altogether unknown in that country. He had no objection to every facility being afforded to the public for the identification of the proprietors of newspapers. By all means let them be registered for the purpose of civil actions. By all means let the property of newspapers be liable for any verdict or judgment given against the registered proprietor. But that was a very different matter from what was proposed by the hon. and learned Member who had introduced the Bill. He did not believe that any change in the laws was necessary for the purpose of securing civil responsibility. The hon. and learned Member himself told them that a judgment had recently been delivered in a Chamber case which enabled the plaintiff in a civil cause to interrogate a suspected proprietor, and so to point out who was the real proprietor for civil purposes. [Mr. WADY said, it enabled him to interrogate the defendant after the action was commenced.] He thought that for civil purposes that was sufficient. The plaintiff was able to interrogate the suspected proprietor, and the fact of his having interrogated one suspected proprietor did not prevent him, when he found out who the real proprietor was, from the bringing a civil action against him. He (Dr. Cameron) could not conceive what possible necessity there could be for the printer and publisher to be registered, as was proposed by the Bill. They were subordinate servants in a newspaper office; they were altogether under the control, not merely of the proprietor, but of the editor of a paper; and to hold them civilly, or, worse still, criminally responsible for the acts of their employers or superiors, appeared to him a monstrous proposition. As the law at present stood in England, newspaper proprietors and printers were theoretically responsible—criminally as well as civilly—for the acts of other people; but, in point of fact, as the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Waddy) had explained, it was impossible to get at them when those obstacles were placed in the way, which the most respectable journalist would place in the way of the institution of criminal proceedings, with the view of forcing the injured party to seek redress by civil process. The Bill before the House, however, sought to alter this, and to restore the law to the condition in which it stood previously to the passing of Mr. Ayrton's Act. He (Dr. Cameron) wished, therefore, in order to exemplify the great hardship of the existing law with respect to the criminal responsibility of newspaper proprietors for the conduct of other people, to refer at greater length than was done by his lion. Friend (Mr. J. Cowen) to the case of Mr. Long, of Sheffield, for it appeared to him that his hon. Friend had omitted one or two points which illustrated the hardship of the present law in a most striking degree. In this case the proprietor of The Sheffield Telegraph did not happen to know anything about the paragraph on which a criminal information was granted against him. This ignorance was not attributable to any carelessness upon his part, for Mr. Leng was actually in his office when the libel was inserted in his paper. The paragraph was sent down through a telegraphic agency, and related to a cause celebre which the writer asserted might soon be expected in the Divorce Court, and which would create great public excitement. The then sub-editor of The Sheffield Telegraph, no doubt to show how well-informed he was without consulting Mr. Leng, added to that paragraph that he understood it related to persons of very high rank in the country, whom he named. The paragraph in question was never submitted to Mr. Leng, and he knew nothing about it until he saw it in the paper the next morning. The moment Mr. Long saw it he took every step in his power to remedy that evil. Ho did his utmost to prevent the further circulation of the paper containing the libel. He published a statement in a conspicuous portion of his next impression rectifying and apologizing for it publicly. He apologized privately to the injured parties. The sub-editor also wrote to the injured parties, explaining the whole facts of the case, and taking upon himself the entire responsibility. Mr. Leng also avowed his full civil responsibility; but, notwithstanding all this, criminal proceedings were taken against Mr. Leng, and were carried out to the bitter end; and the fact that he finally escaped with a fine of was owing to the Judge who heard the case, and not to the law, for that learned authority held that, under the circumstances, it was a most extraordinary thing that Mr. Leng should have been prosecuted in such a manner. He (Dr. Cameron) knew of a similar case in which it was discovered that there existed a sleeping partner among the proprietors of the paper concerned. He took no part in the management of the paper, and knew nothing of the libel; but the fact of his proprietorship becoming known, he, too, was threatened with criminal proceedings. If the hon. and learned Member's Bill were carried, then there would be nothing to prevent persons totally innocent of any possible connection with the insertion of a libel being saddled with a criminal responsibility for the acts of a man they might never have seen. It might even be that they might be proceeded against criminally on account of the publication of some libellous statement made at a legally constituted municipal or school board meeting. The hon. and learned Member who introduced the Bill had told them that he had provided 'for the case of papers owned by joint-stock companies. He (Dr. Cameron) should like to know how he proposed to fix criminal responsibility upon them? He thought it had always been hitherto admitted that a joint-stock company, like a corporation, had neither a soul to be saved, nor a body to be kicked. But the hon. and learned Member proposed to get over the difficulty by having the two largest shareholders registered as the proprietors, and putting upon them all the criminal responsibility of proprietorship. That certainly was one of the crudest devices he (Dr. Cameron) had ever heard of. A man who was the largest proprietor to-day might not be the largest proprietor tomorrow, and ho became a larger or a smaller proprietor not by any action or desire of his own, but by the action of buying or selling by the other share- holders. As he had said, newspaper proprietors had not the smallest objection to full civil responsibility for the actions of their employés, they had not the slightest objection to criminal responsibility for their own acts; but they objected to the vicarious criminal responsibility which the hon. and learned Member proposed to re-impose upon them. They protested against it as being a vicarious responsibility of the very worst kind, not merely a vicarious criminal responsibility of the employer for the employed, but a vicarious criminal responsibility of an employé for the deeds of his employer, or of a superior in the same employ. He begged, therefore, to second the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no legislation for the compulsory registration of the proprietorship of newspapers can he considered satisfactory which does not provide for the repeal of the exceptional Law which renders newspaper proprietors criminally as well as civilly responsible for the acts of their employés,"—(Mr. T. Cowen,) —instead there of.


said, that the two last speeches that had been addressed to the House had come from interested parties, who represented the proprietorship of newspapers—but it was just possible that others than those connected with the Press might have rights and liberties on this question which ought to be protected. Only the other day he had occasion to bring before the House the case of a distinguished Colonel who had been grossly libelled in one of the newspapers. He was a perfect stranger to him (Sir Charles Russell), and it was by mere accident that his attention was called to the case. The gallant Officer consulted his solicitor as to how he should obtain redress, and was told he could proceed against the publisher by way of action for libel, and that if he was fortunate the case might probably be decided in a year and a-half. He, however, took the advice of friends, who suggested that a Question might be put in that House. He (Sir Charles Russell) undertook to ask it, and he obtained from the Secretary of State for War an answer, totally exonerating the distinguished Colonel of a distinguished regiment from the gross and cruel imputations under which he was lying. He might be told this did not touch the case. So far as he understood, the state of the law was this — they must proceed against the printer of the paper; and although it might seem extremely easy to prove who the printer was, it was sometimes by no means an easy task. A difficulty presented itself at the very threshold as to proof of the publication—that involved both time and expense. He would put a case which had occurred within the last two months. An individual was grossly libelled in a newspaper. He was advised to proceed by criminal information. The publication was proved against the printer, and costs were incurred to a very considerable amount. The printer was a highly respectable man, and was wholly innocent of the libel—which, indeed, he had never seen. He tendered £10 as all he was able to pay for damages exceeding £300. The individual so aggrieved went to his solicitor and asked him what he should do. The solicitor informed him he might take further proceedings against the printer, and possibly he would be imprisoned. But what could be done in such a case? Here was the printer in his shirt sleeves, utterly without means, and having a wife and family to support. Would any hon. Member in these circumstances proceed against him? All this Bill did was to provide that there should be some responsible person who on conviction after a fair and impartial trial should be in a position to be answerable for the consequences. As the law stood it was absolutely a farce. It was a mere triangular duel, like that so amusingly narrated in Midshipman Easy. A insulted B, and B called out and shot C. That was really the state of the case at present. Something had been said as to the respectability and high character of the Press; he thought it quite unnecessary to say anything on that subject. But, on the other hand, it was well-known that there was a class of newspapers established to write up bubble companies; but under the present state of the law, it was impossible to get at the parties answerable for any misrepresentations. Another class had been started for the purpose of ransacking the private lives of individuals and invading the sacred privileges of homes to pander to the prurient feelings of a certain portion of the public; but in these cases the registered printers and publishers were men of straw, against whom it was useless to proceed, and against whom very few would care to proceed; while the real authors of the scandals could not be got at. He thought, therefore, the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Waddy) had done well in bringing forward this Bill, which was exceedingly moderate in its character. If there were any defects in the measure they could be amended in Committee; but do not let them continue this sham any longer, and have to proceed against a poor printer or publisher, with a wife and five children to support, whilst the actual offender went free. He hoped that the House, for the credit of the Press as well as for the good of the public, would read this Bill a second time.


said, they were not then discussing the general question of the law of libel, and certainly the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir Charles Russell) had not correctly stated the present law. It was not the printer who was the responsible party for what appeared in a newspaper; it was the publisher who was liable to be sued, and the printer was sued only because he took part in the publication. His hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle was, he thought, wrong in supposing that the "imprint" giving the name of the publisher supplied evidence as to the proprietor. Then, as to what this Bill did. The individual proprietor was only liable to an action for libel if anyone could prove the buying of a paper at his office. The law was the same in respect to the publication of every pamphlet and book that was brought out; but there was something peculiar in the nature of the newspaper publication. If a book libelled anyone, the libelled party could send to the shop where it was sold, and most probably would have no difficulty whatever in buying a copy. But the publication of a newspaper was temporary, and had ceased probably before the person libelled knew that he had been libelled; and if the publisher refused to sell him a copy of the paper, there was a difficulty in bringing home the case. That was the reason why there should be some peculiar facility for tracing the person who was responsible; and he was very far from believing that those diffi- culties did not often occur in fact. The way in which this Bill proposed to deal with the subject was as follows:—The old law required that the names of the printer and publisher should be registered. In the last statute that provision was omitted, probably by a mere accident, and by a slip in legislation such as frequently occurred in their law-making. That old law also contained stringent conditions of security that the party registered should pay the damages in any action against him. Everyone wished to be rid of such restrictions as these—the time for them had gone by; but he thought unintentionally there was got rid of in getting rid of those restrictions the facility for proving the ownership of the paper. This Bill restored that. But in the manner in which it proposed to restore it there were two objections. It obliged the proprietors of a newspaper to be registered. Now, he was not quite sure that they ought to call upon everyone who happened to be a proprietor of a newspaper to register his name. It did not affect the responsibility which the law placed upon the paper. He thought a much better way would be to require every newspaper—every person publishing a newspaper—to register some one as the publisher of the newspaper, who, if damages were recovered against the newspaper in a civil action, should be treated as the proprietor, so that the plant and copyright of the newspaper would be answerable for the damages. In suggesting this, he did not think he was going much beyond what the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) would consent to.


said, he wished to establish a system which would enable a person libelled to get at the real man.


said, the real men could be got at by another process; but he thought it would be sufficient for all purposes of just liability that for the purposes of an execution or a judgment against the paper, they should declare that the property of the paper should belong to the man named. If they made everything connected with the paper the property of the man named, they went far to accomplish all that was desired. But there was another, and he thought a more serious question—namely, whether this evidence ought to be used in a criminal trial. He did not think it ought, and there was an obvious reason why not. His opinion was—perhaps he was speaking rashly—that the law as to the responsibility of men for the acts of their servants was very often in criminal prosecutions for libel very far strained. He thought the principle of the old law in almost every case was that the act of their servant was primâ.facie evidence against them that they authorised it, because it was laid down in old books to the effect that in former times they might show in a criminal case that the act of their servant was not their act at all, and that they never authorized it. He thought that had been too much lost sight of in recent criminal prosecutions for libel. But from experience in defending such cases his hon. Friends at the Bar knew that all the effort was directed to this point, and the juries were implored by their verdict to mitigate the severity of the law which bore hardly upon a man who had no connection with the offence. The reason why he objected to allowing this to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings was that it was giving legislative sanction to an extension of the doctrines by which they held one person responsible for the acts of another. That principle was contrary to the whole spirit of the English law, and if they enacted that registering a man as publisher—as would probably be most convenient—was to be evidence against him in a criminal prosecution, they were sanctioning the principle that he should be held responsible for what he knew nothing about. He believed there was a necessity for some change which might enable them to hold some one responsible; but in some cases very highly respectable men, who knew nothing whatever of the offence, and with which they had had nothing to do, were threatened with criminal proceedings, and this was felt to be a practical injustice. There ought to be the means of bringing a civil action, and he had suggested the mode which he thought might be adopted. He was disposed to support the second reading of the Bill, but only to the extent he had stated, and with the view and hope that it would be modified in Committee. Perhaps he ought to say one word in reference to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). It had been ruled that they could interrogate a defendant whether he was the proprietor or not. That was an inversion of the old principle that a man was not bound to criminate himself. But what did that do? They could not by that means get at the real proprietor. They had a right to ask—"Are you a proprietor?" But they had no right to ask—"Who is the proprietor?" He thought the subject was deserving of great consideration, and that there was a necessity for some action, and with these views and feelings he should vote for the second reading.


said, he had listened with great attention to the very able speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), and to a certain extent he agreed with some of observations he had made. He thought it very doubtful whether those who had to do with the publication of newspapers as proprietors should in all cases be rendered liable criminally for what might appear in a newspaper, unless to the extent to which they knew of the contents; but no one should be liable criminally for what appeared in newspapers, unless it were absolutely proved that he had personal knowledge of the insertion of the libel or had directed the insertion of it. But when they considered the evils that arose from the publication of libels—the agony of mind they caused and the ruin they brought upon individuals, the blast they brought upon their future prospects in life — it did seem absolutely essential for the protection of the community that somebody or other should be responsible for the matter which found its way into a newspaper. He did not care whether they called him proprietor, printer, or editor, if only somebody was responsible — some one whose business it was to take care that no libel detrimental to individuals should be published. If that duty was neglected, or if its performance were avoided, let him be civilly responsible, together with those who were the proprietors who had reaped, or might reap, the fruits of what had been done. So far with respect to those who should be civilly responsible. But let the man whose business it was to protect the public and see that injurious matter was not inserted in the paper be criminally responsible where he had written or directed the insertion of that matter. With regard to the general law on the subject, it was difficult to deal with it on so short a notice. The question was a most important one—a more important, a more intricate, and more difficult question could not be brought before Parliament;—but it was not now necessary to go into the wide question of the general law of libel. The question now before them was this—Was it or was it not desirable that some easier means should be afforded than they now had of proving the publication of a libel? As the law now stood no doubt there was a difficulty; because in case of a libel, whether they proceeded civilly or criminally, they could not question the man against whom they proceeded without rendering him liable to give an answer which might subject him to an indictment. Then they could get information from him only to a limited extent. It had now been held by one of the learned Judges that a defendant in an action might be interrogated whether he was proprietor of a newspaper—he (the Attorney General) did not know whether it went further than that—but, in order to get that limited amount of information, they would have to bring an action; he might say on speculation. Besides, the answer might be unsatisfactory; and they could not interrogate him with reference to the particular libel; so that in the result, perhaps, they would be no better off than they were before. He certainly agreed with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Waddy) that there ought to be some easier way of proving the publication of a libel in civil and criminal cases than at present, and, so far as the object was concerned which his hon. and learned Friend sought to attain, he entirely sympathized with it. In these days libels had appeared so foul and abominable that there ought to be no difficulty in bringing the authors of them to instant justice. But while he sympathized with the object of his hon. and learned Friend, he could not say that he at all approved of the means by which he intended to carry that object into effect. The Bill "bristled with penalties," and would impose all sorts of restrictions and obligations on proprietors of newspapers. As a rule, the newspapers of this country were excellently conducted. They were an institution of which Englishmen might be justly proud—they did infinite good to the community—therefore he thought they ought not to impose any unnecessary restriction or any condition which would be harassing or irritating to them, if it could possibly be avoided. He did not think it necessary in order to accomplish a very simple object to resort to the cumbrous and unwieldy provisions of this Bill. He did not think that for the purpose of bringing two or three wretched offenders to justice they should adopt a machinery which might have a seriously injurious and, at all events, a harassing effect on the great bulk of newspapers. They ought to treat the Press leniently, and not unnecessarily interfere with it. Although, he repeated, he sympathized with the object in view, he could not approve the means by which his hon. and learned Friend sought to carry it out, and therefore he could not support his Bill.


said, that after the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General, it was not necessary for him to make many remarks. Speaking for himself and other proprietors of respectable newspapers, he desired to repel the suggestion that the proprietors of newspapers were actuated by interested motives in opposing the Bill. He could assure the House that it was their earnest desire to eliminate from their midst any black sheep who would bring the profession into disrepute. Although the object of the hon. and learned Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Waddy) might be a very commendable one and worthy of support, the Bill itself would not effect the object at which it aimed, for a newspaper proprietor wishing to publish a malicious libel could evade the provisions of the Bill by having other persons as proprietors, who might be men of straw. At present there were great facilities for putting a stop to a newspaper, and he should not object to seeing greater facilities afforded. He did not see why, when damages had been awarded against a newspaper, the Judge should not make an order that unless the sum awarded was paid in a certain number of days, the paper should no longer be issued.


said, the Bill proposed a return to legislation that had been discarded because it was felt to be out of harmony with the spirit of the time. The hon. and learned Member in charge of it (Mr. Waddy) ought to have adduced instances in which the provisions of the present law fell short of what was required; there might be such instances, but they were so few as not to justify the placing of additional restrictions on all journals. He never heard of a case in which a person proceeded against was not substantial enough to pay the damages and costs awarded by the Court. Instead of furnishing a victim for a reformer and requiring additional restrictions, journalism was too easily assailed, and needed, if anything, defensive legislation.


said, they were placed in a dilemma by the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General, who admitted that something ought to be done, and he hoped the Government would give an assurance that they would take the matter in hand with a view to legislation that would enable the hon. and learned Member to withdraw the Bill.


said, that while the Members of that side of the House on which he sat loudly professed to be advocates of the liberty of the Press all over the world, not a single prominent Leader of the Opposition had entered his protest against this Bill, which was retrogressive and almost mediæval in its character; and it had been left to the Tory Party, who had been so long and persistently maligned as enemies of popular rights, to make a stand against this despotic measure. He entirely dissented from much that had been said about the incorruptibility of the English Press; and it was not upon that ground that he would oppose this Bill. Upon some questions it might be that the Press was sometimes honest; but upon certain other questions, to which he need not more particularly refer, there was no Press more corrupt and infamous than the English Press. This, therefore, was not the source of his opposition to this measure. He opposed it, because he held it to be perfectly unnecessary.. The law had already sufficiently hedged round and guarded the personal rights of all, so that there was no difficulty for any man in getting redress for any wrong done him by the Press, if he pleased. Everyone knew that this Bill was introduced to the House under judicial auspices; and it could hardly appear under any that were worse. The upholders of contempt of court doctrines had already manacled the Press. They now sought further to enslave it. He did not intend to have addressed the House at all upon this question, but for certain things that he had heard advanced by the Attorney General; yet neither he nor the hon. Member for Barnstaple, as it had been well pointed out by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Hutchinson), had adduced a single instance where a person supposed to be a victim of what the Attorney General had called "false and abominable libels," had not, under the existing law, full means of prosecuting and punishing the offenders. There were ample provisions for such a prosecution. A proprietor of a paper was obliged to register his copyright in it; and he was generally a person of means and substance enough to answer any proceeding, civil or criminal. It was a false pretence, therefore, for any man to get up and say" I do not prosecute for libel, because I cannot get at any man who is responsible for it." A great deal of misrepresentation and misapprehension had been spread throughout the House upon this. It was hinted that there was a large number of injured and interesting individuals, who had been the victims of "false and abominable libels;" and who went about complaining that they took no steps in defence of their characters, because they were unable to reach the offenders. The whole of this was false. They could reach the offenders if they thought fit. But it seems they were not satisfied, unless they could get further facilities for sending the offenders to prison—it might be to the treadmill. They were not content with their civil remedy. In an action, both sides could be heard—the man libelled, as well as the supposed libeller. But this did not satisfy them, so they preferred criminal proceedings, where all that they alleged could be heard upon oath, but where the lips of the man accused of libel were closed; and he was a prisoner in the dock. The House could not approve of such tactics, or give further aid to those who used them. For what was the object of a proceeding for libel? Was it the gratification of vengeance? Was a would-be prosecutor to say—" I will not be satisfied with money damages in a civil suit; I want to send the offender to gaol and to the treadmill. I should like to see him pick oakum." That was not the theory of English law in prosecutions or proceedings for libel. Libels were prosecuted, not for the gratification of private revenge, or in order to retaliate upon the writers, but for the vindication of character wrongfully as- sailed. Further than that, no right-minded man can desire to go. Let us put a case. Suppose that any man had published of him (Dr. Kenealy) that he had made a corrupt and wicked contract to buy another man's wife, or get her from him by means of a divorce, founded on perjury; or had alleged that he had been guilty of card-sharping, cheating, or embezzlement—did anyone suppose that he would hesitate to prosecute or to vindicate his character against such "false and abominable libels," because he would not have the luxury of sending the offender to prison? He would prosecute, or proceed for the vindication of his character, for his own honour's sake; and would not allow the wretched question of revenge to operate upon his mind in the least. He would not avail himself of such a false and miserable pretext, and say—" Oh I did not prosecute because I could not send the writer to gaol." That was a position unworthy of encouragement by the House, and one that would not be entertained by the country. The pretended instances, therefore, of abstention from proceedings for "false and abominable libels," were imaginary. They had no existence in fact. The House had been glutted with the cry of "libel, libel," got up by the promoters of this Bill. But it was not because a newspaper attacked public persons, that those attacks were therefore "false and libellous." They knew very well that there were persons guilty of the most infamous, corrupt, and profligate conduct in high places; and were they to be told that a newspaper was to shrink from the duty of calling the attention of the authorities and the public to these infamous characters? It had been taken for granted, almost throughout the entire debate, that the difficulties in the way of bringing offenders to justice were almost insurmountable. There was not a syllable of truth in such representations. It had been laid down by Mr. Justice Lush at Chambers that a man might be interrogated, if he was a defendant, as to his connection with libels or libellers. He might be asked whether he was the printer, or publisher, or writer of the libel. He might be asked from whom he got the "copy," or who was his employer, or who paid him for the printing. Neither was there much difficulty, under circumstances, in getting the actual manu- script copy of the libel itself. How, then, could it be said that there were such irremediable obstacles in the way of obtaining justice? How could it be alleged that such actions were speculative, after the ruling of Mr. Justice Lush—a ruling, however, the legality of which he very much questioned. However, it had not been questioned upon appeal, though it probably might. The real difficulty in the way of those suffering victims who had been "falsely libelled" was, that they dared not face a Court of Law, so as to have the truth or falsehood of the libel examined. The case of Sir Travers Twiss was before many of them, and it had a deterrent effect. They preferred therefore to pocket their libels, and raised a howl of imaginary incapacity to obtain satisfaction. The hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell) had mentioned the case of an unfortunate individual who could not discover his libeller, and therefore proceeded by criminal information against the printer, the printer subsequently declared that he was not worth £10, after the prosecutor had expended £300; and he made a piteous appeal to the hon. Baronet, whose benevolence was moved by the wife and five children of the printer. If the hon. Baronet would allow him to say so, he ventured to think that he had been very badly advised in that case. A more skilled adviser would have told him how to get hold of the proprietor of the paper, and probably of the actual libeller, without resorting to such a ridiculous proceeding as he had. It was not, therefore, that because the hon. Baronet had received bad advice that the House was to enact a stringent measure that was totally uncalled-for. The printer of the libel in question must have been a man of considerable means, as the hon. Baronet, if he had had good counsellers, might easily have discovered. This grievance, therefore, melted away when it was examined. It had been assumed all through by the parties to the Bill that its main, primary, and most beneficial object, was to get somebody who should be held responsible for libels; but there were already several persons who were responsible. The printer was responsible; any newsagent who sold the libel was responsible; the hon. Member for Westminster, if he sold it at his bookstalls, was responsible; the proprietor of the copyright was respon- sible? What more was wanted? In truth there was no difficulty whatever in getting hold of those imaginary libellers. The real difficulty, as he had already stated, laid with those innocent victims themselves, who dared not confront their supposed libellers by prosecuting them civilly, and who now sought to increase the powers that already existed of shutting up their mouths by treating them as criminals. He could give many instances of the horrible tortures to which innocent persons had been subjected under the present state of the law. A man of means and position might be brought before a criminal Court, because an errand boy, or a printer's devil, or some subordinate, at the last moment, and in the hurry of business, in the haste to fill up some vacant corner of the newspaper, which must be ready probably in an hour, had inadvertently inserted something which turned out to be offensive to some one. The proprietor of the paper might be 100 miles away at the time. Yet for that insertion, by an unauthorized person, the unfortunate proprietor of the copyright might be brought before a criminal Court, or placed in the dock at the Old Bailey, as had indeed happened, for an act of which he had no more cognizance than the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair of the House. There was no want, therefore, as had been pretended, of persons of responsibility, as the proprietor of the copyright, or the owner of the printing press and plant, were commonly persons of means, and substance, and capital; not such printers as the hon. Baronet had met with, who pleaded poverty and five children. There was another danger to which newspaper proprietors were exposed. There were persons of bad character, who had nothing to lose; and these persons, trading upon some accidental allusion to them in newspapers instituted criminal proceedings, and had the owners of the papers brought before magistrates. If the magistrate was a man of sense, and dismissed the summons, these persons could go to the Central Criminal Court and get a bill found by a Grand Jury, and the proprietor might have to stand in the dock and take his trial without any guilty breach of the law. And he could have no redress for these prosecutions, which were instituted either out of malice, or to extort money; for the proceedings were probably originated by men or women of straw, who had been put on him by his enemies to harass him; or who sought to frighten him to buy them off. Surely, all these were enough to satisfy the most ardent hater of libels or of the Press. It was not by despotism that "false and abominable libels" could be put down. They generally carried with them the seeds of their own destruction. He fully agreed with those who thought that if any man conducted a newspaper upon the principle of libelling honest, honourable, and virtuous people, the good sense and good feeling of the country would revolt against him; and his newspaper by the mere force of public opinion would come to a speedy end. But that was a very different thing from holding up to public scorn infamous characters in high public position, who might use that position for purposes as vile and infamous as themselves. To do this was not to libel, but to do a public duty, and accomplish a public good. He was no advocate for libel, or for making false charges. But he had been an advocate for outspokenness, and had been so as long as he had been a member of the Bar. And that outspokenness had worked his ruin. Had he been a slave, a coward, a liar, ready to justify falsehood, as he had been asked to do from the Bench, he would not now be in his present position, and a ruined man. [Ironical cheers.] He did not repent his course, and be could therefore bear with philosophy the ironical cheer which had just come from the miserable quarter below the Gangway. He concluded by again expressing his thanks to the Government for the line it had taken on this Bill; while there could be no feeling but that of scorn and contempt for the absence of all the Leaders of Opposition from their bench, where they ought to be to give their voice against the measure.


I object to the Bill before the House, because admittedly it is levelled at the one disgraceful exception to the splendid character of the British Press. With one exception, the journalists of this country when challenged to account for the contents of their pages have manfully avowed their responsibilities. Once within my memory has a man professing to own a newspaper proved himself "a slave and a coward." I have owned four journals, and, feeling strongly how mean and despicable it would be to evade the responsibility, I adopted the course of not even putting in the imprint at the foot the name of my printer. I registered myself as proprietor, and publisher, and printer. And, because I did so, I bore the penalty both civil and criminal of publications which I had never seen—as a matter of fact, I state it now—until they were read against me. I had four members of my family connected with me in the publication of those journals. If I were a coward I would have put at the head of my paper, "Edited by Sullivan," in order by that mean and despicable dodge to baffle an honest man whose character was calumniated in my pages. We know of only one such coward pretending to belong to our honourable Profession, and yet that man might be a man who would mouth about the liberty of the Press. I could imagine such a character talking of this House as a mean, and tyrannical, and corrupt Assembly until he found a seat in it. I could imagine such a mean and despicable coward as would mention you, Sir, by name in terms of opprobrium, and yet when he came into this House to talk of "this hon. Assembly," no man in the Assembly believing the "hypocrite, slave, and coward" who used the terms. I hope no Member of this House will vote for a Bill like this, promoted because of the revulsion of the public conscience against an excrescence upon the journalism of this country. I have been concerned as plaintiff and as defendant in libel actions. The House has discussed this Bill as if journalists were always defendants; but occasionally they are plaintiffs, for a journalist may complain of a journalist. I need only refer to the libel action of Kenealy v. The Belfast Daily Mercury, in the city of Kilkenny, where my old friend, whose death I regret, the proprietor of a Kilkenny journal, sued the proprietor of another journal for libel. It seemed that some wretched man in this country had been punished for maltreating or neglecting in some way his illegitimate child, and The Kilkenny moderator at once imputed to my friend that he was connected with this wretched individual in England—in fact, that he was the man himself—and a libel action arose out of this. My friend, the late proprietor of The Kilkenny Journal, was able to show that he was not married yet, and had no child, either legitimate or illegitimate, and that he was not the person referred to. I have myself also been a plaintiff in an action for libel, and I say, having been plaintiff and defendant, it is necessary that the public Press of the country should be held to be responsible morally and legally for its conduct, although no doubt fetters upon publication may hamper the independence and freedom of the Press. But it will be a very bad day for the country when the journalists of the country claim any immunity from accountability, personal or public, for their conduct. At present I believe the public opinion of the country is the tribunal which a journalist most fears and feels, and as long as this reverence for the moral sentiment of the community prevails in this country we shall need few penalties to regulate the public Press. I appeal to this House not to be led away into adding fetters upon the public Press of the country, which is admittedly a credit and an honour to the land, and a public service to the country, because one wretched individual exception may for a moment have arisen to shock and outrage the public morals and the public conscience.


should vote for the second reading of the Bill, because a newspaper proprietor ought not to be made criminally liable for what was published unknown to him. He had forborne from speaking on another matter that sometimes came before the House, in which he was personally interested; but as the Members connected with newspapers had set a different example, he should feel warranted in addressing the House on some future occasion upon a subject in which he also felt personally interested. He was liable for damages if his coachman ran against another carriage and injured it; but it would be very bard for him to be tried for manslaughter if his coachman ran over anyone in the streets. On the same principle a newspaper proprietor ought not to be made criminally liable unless he was directly cognizant of the libel in question.


in reply, said, it was a mistake on the part of newspaper proprietors to suppose that this Bill would increase either their legal or criminal liabilities. It left the law of libel ex- actly where it was, and only removed the difficulty in carrying it into effect. It was hardly a dignified argument on the part of newspaper proprietors to say that they did not want a change in the law, because they were already protected by being so difficult to be got at. He had intended to take notes in order to reply to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan); but the truth was that while the hon. Gentleman was speaking he forgot to take notes. All those who had opposed this Bill were newspaper proprietors, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Stoke. He had been told he had given no instances in which injustice had been done, or a failure of justice had occurred for the want of the provisions contained in the Bill. It had never occurred to him that it was necessary to mention such instances. He thought they were known to every well-educated Englishman. There was not only the flagrant instance mentioned by the hon. Member for Louth, but the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) showed a great many actions of this description had been brought, while others had been threatened. It had been said that newspapers that supplied such garbage as had been adverted to would speedily descend into well-merited oblivion. He wished it were so; but the mere instance in question showed that sometimes when violent and wicked attacks were made upon perfectly innocent men—the higher their station and the more sacred their functions the better—a large and rapid increase in the circulation of such a journal occurred. And if any person owning a publication like that could put up his groom, or his footman, or his sons, and endeavour under a cover like that to escape from the consequences of an action, that, it must be admitted, was an unsatisfactory state of things and a blemish upon the statute law. If the House would give his Bill a second reading, it might be amended in Committee; or, if the Government would give a pledge to deal with the subject, he would withdraw his Bill in a moment.


regarded the law of libel as defective in many particulars; but he agreed with the hon. and learned Attorney General, that the Bill was objectionable in placing the whole Press under torture and ban. Unless, however, the Government held out some promise to deal with the subject, he should reluctantly vote for the Bill, if the hon. and learned Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Waddy) went to a division.


said, he would recommend the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Waddy) to withdraw the Bill, and introduce a more limited measure, in accordance with the suggestions of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. The Government would be prepared to give their support to such a Bill, and as it would be in accordance with the feeling of the House that due responsibility should attach to the proper persons, it would no doubt become law. To ask the Government to pledge itself to deal with a general revision of the libel law was, however, a serious matter, and he was not prepared, on the part of the Government, to give any undertaking of that kind. He would ask the hon. and learned Member for Barnstaple, whether he would not be furthering his own views by withdrawing the Bill and bringing in an amended measure?


thought that if anything were to be done this Session, it must be done now. The Bill might be referred to a Select Committee, or it might be amended in Committee of the whole House; but to withdraw the Bill would be to put an end to any hope of legislation during the present Session. He trusted the Government would allow the Bill to be read a second time.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 69; Noes 149: Majority 80.—(Div. List, No. 65.)

On the numbers being declared—