HC Deb 20 August 1881 vol 265 cc603-5

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now road the third time."—(Mr. Hutchinson.)


said, he was strongly opposed to the Bill. The alteration in the law that was contemplated was most extraordinary. It was suggested that anybody might libel anybody else by publication in a newspaper, provided that it was established that the original statement was made at a public meeting, and that it was for the public benefit that the publication should take place. These words were copied from Lord Campbell's Act, but with one remarkable distinction to Lord Campbell's Act. For the purpose of enabling the question of the truth or falsity of the libel to be raised, it was enacted that if the person indicted should be able to show that the matter published was true, and its publication was for the public benefit, this should be regarded as a sufficient defence. That was intelligible enough; but this measure, if it were passed, would establish that, without reference to the truth or falsity of the thing published, if it was for the public benefit, it should be known this would be the justification of the person publishing. This was a serious proposal, which should not be agreed to without full consideration. Another important provision was that no proceedings for libel should be taken under the circumstances specified in the Bill without the assent of the Attorney General. Hitherto every subject of the Queen might put the Criminal Law in motion. ["Divide"] He heard the Chief Secretary for Ireland saying "Divide!" If that was the way in which the Government were disposed to treat the matter, it were idle to discuss it, and he could only pro-coed by way of protest. He held that the Government were going to inflict on the Attorney General a most disagreeable function. [Mr. COURTNEY: The Public Prosecutor.] The Public Prosecutor acted under the Attorney General. [Mr. COURTNEY: The Home Office.] That was worse and worse. They were to have the Home Office, the Public Prosecutor, and the Attorney General to exorcise a fiat in relation to these indictments.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


resuming, said, that in cases of a semi-political character the position of the Attorney General in exercising a veto respecting indictments would be most invidious. He should oppose the Bill, because, in his opinion, it would seriously curtail the liberty of the subject.


said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was under a misconception as to the scope of the Bill. The measure would make no change in the Law of Libel, except in respect to reports of public meetings, where what was published was in a fair and open manner published, and was understood to be for the public benefit. Every other form of libel would remain in exactly the same form as before. The Bill had been considered by two Select Committees, and had been unanimously approved by the House. It had been blocked in its third reading for two or three months, and he hoped the House would mark its sense of the reduction of legislative proceedings to an absurdity by passing the measure.


opposed the Bill. The Prime Minister stated yesterday that, in addition to Supply, only the Regulation of the Forces Bill and the Irish Church Act Amendment Bill would be put down for to-day; but this Bill and other Bills had been put down, in violation of the pledge. He was thankful to say that. though the opposition to the measure had been received with impatience, there was "another place" where a better temper, more justice, and a sounder judgment prevailed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.