HC Deb 24 October 1952 vol 505 cc1506-28

Lords Amendment: In page 7, line 8, at end, insert: or of any foreign country or province or state of a foreign country.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. N. H. Lever

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

These words, which have been restored in another place, were considered by this House on Report stage and were rejected by a small majority. In another place there was unanimity in feeling that they are desirable and, therefore, action was taken to enable this House to have another look at the matter.

The effect of the Amendment is to extend qualified privilege to fair and accurate reports, published without malice and in the public interest, of proceedings in foreign Parliaments. I propose, briefly, to put the case for the Amendment, because in spite of the earnest consideration I have given to the very considerable arguments directed against the words I still hold the view that this Amendment is a desirable one.

This paragraph was not put in the Schedule to protect newspapers. It is in the Bill to protect the right of the public to have information about what goes on in foreign Parliaments. The question to be decided is whether newspapers shall be precluded from reporting what takes place, or what is said in a foreign Parliament because it contains libellous matter—not necessarily, incidentally, libellous of people resident in this country, but libellous matter on anybody.

If we impose upon newspapers the liability to pay damages in respect of libel for reports they publish of what takes place in foreign Parliaments, we are to that extent curtailing the right of the British public to have information about what is being transacted in foreign Parliaments. For example, if the President of the United States were to go to the Senate tomorrow and say that in his opinion on certain matters a member of the British Cabinet was a liar, no British newspaper would be entitled to publish that fact without the risk of libel proceedings.

Mr. S. Silverman


Mr. Lever

Because the statement would be libellous.

Mr. Silverman

Would it?

Mr. Lever

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has expressed the opinion sotto voce that it would not be libellous to say that a member of the British Cabinet was a liar.

Mr. Silverman

We say it every day.

Mr. Lever

That certainly does not preclude an argument as to whether the statement would be libellous. I would venture humbly to advise the House that such a statement would be libellous, and could only be published at the risk of an action for damages.

If Mr. Mossadeq, between tears, were defending his position in relation to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, if he wished to justify the actions of the Persian Government and felt it necessary to criticise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and to say many severe things about them, true or false, the British public would not have the right to know the attitude of the Persian Government or what was being said in the Persian Parliament. If it came through on the tape, and a director of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company warned the entire Press that they would be sued for heavy damages—or if no such warning of liability was given—the Press could not publish the statement without incurring the risk of an action for libel in respect of it.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

The tape is not protected.

Mr. Lever

No, it is not. Certain other considerations might apply in relation to the tape.

Mr. S. Silverman

Suppose, in one or other of the two cases we have had by way of illustration, the statement turned out to be wholly untrue, mischievous and damaging to the reputation of a person in the highest possible degree. Would the newspaper, in the view of my hon. Friend, be entitled to blazon it in headlines throughout the country, and the person defamed have no remedy of any kind? Is my hon. Friend really saying that that is desirable?

Mr. Lever

If my hon. Friend strips the rhetoric from his proposition, if he withdraws, "blazoning it in headlines" his question is whether fair and accurate reports of what took place in the Persian Parliament and the American Congress should be available to the British public. My answer, bluntly is, "Yes," even though it may cause some inconvenience and pain to the person affected.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

There is one point about this which worries me. There are here two parts to the Schedule. In the first part reports are privileged, whether or not the newspaper publishes a reasonable letter at the request of the person defamed. In the second part it is only privileged subject to the newspaper publishing a reasonable letter from the person defamed. In the instance given to us would it not be reasonable to require the newspaper to publish the reply of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company officials who were defamed? Is it reasonable here to give to Senator McCarthy and Mr. Vyshinsky a privilege which in the second part we deny to the London County Council?

Mr. Lever

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has put the matter most fairly, and I think there is an arguable case for having put this in the other part of the Schedule. But I think it is a case which must be rejected, because we are dealing with foreign Parliaments; and if newspapers knew that when they reported the proceedings of those Parliaments they would be obliged to put in letters on every occasion from anyone who claimed he was defamed before they could get protection, it would limit the protection in practice and there is something to be said against it.

I would have welcomed the intervention of my hon. and learned Friend at a stage in the progress of the Bill when we might have debated whether it ought to go in the first or the second part of the Schedule. Unhappily, he did not press this upon me at a stage when we might have given it consideration.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

It was pressed on the Report stage.

Mr. Lever

With respect, no. I have reason to be fairly accurate in my recollection. What was discussed on a previous occasion was whether or not these words should remain in the Bill. No one moved any Amendments to put this in another part of the Schedule.

Mr. S. Silverman

Surely my hon. Friend is a little unfair to the House. On the Report stage the House could deal only with what was proposed by the promoters of the Bill. If this ought to have been and would have been better in another part of the Schedule, it is not the fault of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) or myself. If it is not in the other part of the Schedule, my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick (Mr. N. H. Lever) should have put it there. The fact is we are being asked to say now we should have added it to the Schedule, allowing people to be defamed in a foreign Parliament without there being any right of reply.

Mr. Lever

My hon. Friend must not mislead the House about this. The Committee and the House had facilities for doing this if anyone had thought it a useful thing to do. But that was not the proposition. It was simply whether or not we should keep these words in, and not whether we should remove them to any other part of the Schedule. Either in Committee or on Report there was an opportunity to decide into which part of the Schedule it should go, but nobody moved any such Amendment. I did not do so because I think it should be where it now is, and so do those who supported me. My hon. Friend, had he thought that it should be retained in the Bill, but in the other part of the Schedule, had ample facilities for having that point discussed. Unfortunately, nobody espoused that cause in an effort to get it effectively placed in the Bill.

Therefore, the House is in the position of deciding whether the law shall stand as it is now, whether reports of what is being said in foreign Parliaments are not to be privileged, and, if defamatory of anybody anywhere in the world, that person can come into this country and issue a writ for libel, or whether we are to have the British public properly informed on these matters.

I want to answer in advance the kind of argument which caused me some trouble on the last occasion, and which I have since considered as fairly and objectively as I can. It seems to me to put the case of the opponents of the Clause at its strongest. I am asked why we should give privilege to what Senator McCarthy may say in the Senate or what Mr. Vyshinsky may say in the Russian Parliament. The answer is that the British public ought to know what is being said by statesmen in these countries, even when they will reject the views expressed or even when they will not believe the charges being made. It is important that the British public should be able to assess the calibre of foreign legislatures and foreign statesmen and of the things being said, and they cannot do that if we stop the Press from publishing these things on pain of libel.

Newspapers get these reports, and it is true that a good many of them—the great majority—are not libellous of anybody, but, as long as the law remains as it is, it means that these reports have to be scrutinised by lawyers, who must decide, often on inadequate material, whether the report is libellous of somebody and whether that person is likely to bring an action.

If we really want to encourage the public to be better informed about what goes on in foreign Parliaments, let them be given the privilege that is provided in this Clause. That was the unanimous view in another place—not of one side of the House, but of all sides, and I only put it before the House today because it was very carefully considered, and this is not a party matter. It is a question whether to take the liberal view, which is the view that it is an overwhelming benefit to have these matters reported in the public interest, or to take the illiberal view, which is to torture oneself in nightmare fashion about the worst possible misuse by the worst possible people when deciding to prevent the public having the overwhelming benefit of such reports.

I urge the House to reconsider the matter, and to agree with the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

I beg to second the Motion.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

This is an important Amendment, which was discussed at considerable length both in the Committee stage and on the Report stage. Though on all occasions on Friday there is a thin attendance in the House, I think that on the Friday when the Bill was considered on Report, there was not a bad attendance.

I hold the view, for what it is worth, that a Bill of this importance is quite inappropriate to be dealt with by the House of Commons on a Friday, when there is a thin attendance. It is a Bill of such importance, because it affects the freedom of the subject and freedom of speech, and those are matters which should receive the full consideration of a representative assembly. We do not have a fully adequate representative assembly on a Friday, and to that extent I agree with the observations of my hon. Friend.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

High quality.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I cannot dissent from what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said about the quality of the attendance on the Committee stage, and I also accept what the hon. Gentleman opposite says without any cavil at all.

My hon. Friend was also concerned about what happened in another place. I have the very greatest respect for the noble Lords who dealt with this matter, but perhaps, in view of what he has said, it is fair to say that the matter was dealt with, very properly, as a comparatively small matter. I think it is also fair to say that there were no reasons adduced other than the reasons which had already been canvassed in this House at an earlier stage. I make those obervations because my hon. Friend referred to the matter.

The matter to be decided by the House on this Amendment is not a legal matter. There are legal points and there is legal phraseology in the Clauses of the Bill, but the question really is a very simple straightforward question for commonsense decision, preferably by people other than lawyers. The question is whether a newspaper publication of a defamatory statement made in a foreign legislature is, in the circumstances to which my hon. Friend referred, to be privileged and free from damages for defamation. I should like to look at the Clauses of the Bill a little carefully. There must be certain conditions, and I want to be completely fair and put the whole case quite openly to all hon. Members, some of whom, perhaps, did not have the privilege of dealing with it in detail in Committee.

There must be no malice on the part of the newspaper proprietor, but that does not preclude deliberate malice on the part of a foreigner who makes defamatory statements. All that it implies is that there should be no malice on the part of the newspaper. Secondly, the matter must be of public concern and the publication of it must be for the public benefit.

Let us take the first phrase—"the matter must be of public concern." No neswpaper of consequence is going to publish anything with news interest that is not a matter of public concern. One can assume that. As for the phrase "the publication of which is for the public benefit," the whole basis of the case for including this provision about foreign Parliaments is the attitude that it is for the public benefit that defamatory statements made by a foreigner in a foreign legislature should be made available in this country, even though they cause damage and defamation without remedy to an individual citizen in this country.

I must say that this seems to me to be an intolerable situation. We are not dealing here with cases concerning Dominion Parliaments or even this Parliament. We are dealing with foreign Parliaments, and, as I said on the Report stage, there are foreign Parliaments whose standard of conduct, whose traditions and whose sense of responsibility can be safely relied upon; but this provision here extends to foreign legislatures and those of any State or province of a State. Something of considerably less importance than the London County Council, if reported in an English newspaper, can be defamatory, and will leave the person defamed without remedy whatever.

A person can get up behind the Iron Curtain in one of the several Reichstags which they have and can make the most outrageous personal statements and attacks upon leading statesmen in this country. These statements can be published in the kind of newspaper which would revel in publishing that kind of material, and, nevertheless, there would be no remedy at all, not even the remedy of the newspaper being required in all decency to publish a denial from the statesman concerned. That really is impinging on the right of the individual to an extent which I suggest the House should not accept.

It is suggested that the public benefit should over-ride the honour of the individual—and, of course, I am assuming that there has been defamation and that damage has been done. There should be no remedy of any kind, it is suggested, because the public benefit should over-ride the rights of the individual. Where are we going? It is not suggested as a principle of the law of defamation that public benefit should over-ride the individual's right to his individual reputation and honour; that is not the case. That is not suggested as a matter of principle of the law of defamation.

It is merely suggested that it should apply in these two cases—where a defamation is made in a foreign legislature or a Dominion legislature, and secondly, if it is published in a newspaper. The provision does not extend to anything at all except newspapers. It does not extend to publication on the tape——

Mr. S. Silverman

Or in a book.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

And in a book? If the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) does not understand the provisions of his own Bill, he should consider them again.

Mr. Silverman

I interrupted my hon. and learned Friend to say that not merely would it not be protected on the tape, but it would not be protected if it were printed in a book.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

That is so. I am sorry; I misunderstood the intervention. I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham was extending his Bill a stage further in an interruption. I fully appreciate the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) makes.

Let us consider what is outside the scope. The proceedings of foreign courts are not to be protected; they are treated differently. Why are they not to be protected? The answer is—for reasons which are given in the Porter Committee Report: and I should like to bring to the attention of the House what those reasons are and invite the House to look at them a little carefully. They are: Had not the practical difficulties proved insuperable, we should have desired to add to the list of reports entitled to qualified privilege, reports of proceedings in some foreign courts. But the legal systems of the different countries of the world vary considerably and drastic changes in the character of their judicial tribunals may occur with little previous warning. I ask the House to bear in mind the application of those words in the Porter Committee's Report to foreign legislatures as well as foreign courts. The quotation continues: Legal proceedings may be of a political character, and may take place in absentia. We have found it impossible to put forward any criterion of general application which could be adopted to limit and define such foreign courts as maintain a standard of justice and a method of procedure which would justify our recommending that reports of their proceedings should be entitled to qualified privilege without any droit de reponse on the part of the person defamed. All of it, almost word for word, is equally applicable to foreign legislatures. It says: legal proceedings may be of a political character; but the very justification for reporting the proceedings in a Legislature is that they are of a political character. The Report says, "May take place in absentia." Of course, that is so in a foreign legislature. All that is said in the Committee's Report about the different standards in different foreign countries is equally applicable to the different legislatures. Some are most honourable and responsible and some are as ramshackle as the courts which they have in those countries.

Foreign courts are excluded and similarly, I suggest, foreign legislatures should be excluded, too, and the reasoning in that part of the Porter Committee's Report should be applied equally strongly to foreign legislatures. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether I should be in order to make a comment on the next Amendment, which follows immediately after this.

Mr. Speaker

If it is connected with the subject matter of the first Amendment, I think that would be in order.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

The Amendments proposed extend the provision not only to foreign legislatures but to any public inquiry made by the Government or the legislature of the foreign country. It is not merely a question of the reports of foreign legislatures but also of the reports of inquiries made under the aegis of foreign legislatures.

Contrast how the Bill deals with our own local Government. I suggest that this privilege is to be extended by the Amendment not only to reports of the legislature of the central government of any foreign country but also to the government of any province or state of a foreign country. If we come to bodies like the L.C.C., where do we find any privilege for reports of big and responsible bodies of this kind within our own country? They come within that part of the Schedule which obliges the newspaper to publish a correction or an explanation of the report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheatham suggests that at some stage we should have put down an Amendment to include this in Part II. What we are considering here is its inclusion in Part I. All hon. Members will recognise that the proposal brought before the House is not that the publication should be privileged subject to a requirement that an explanation or correction is published in the newspaper; but a proposal that it should be free from any such explanation or correction altogether. In that respect it is a proposal that defamatory statements by foreign legislatures which are published in this country should be accorded a privilege which is not even accorded to our own local authorities and our own local organs of government. I am aghast at the suggestion that we should deal with the matter in this way.

This attitude is not some new innovation on the part of hon. Members who oppose the Amendment. It is an innovation in the law introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheatham. As far as I know, the newspapers of this country have got on extremely well without having any such provision covering defamatory statements made in foreign countries. I am not aware that the people of this country have suffered in their liberties or been hamstrung in their political development because we have not had published in this country's newspapers defamatory statements made in foreign lands.

3.0 p.m.

I ask the House to consider in this case primarily what I, personally, have throughout considered the most important factor to be borne in mind in approaching this Bill, and that is that we should protect the liberty of the subject in his honour; that if there is any intrusion upon it or any weakening of the defences available to it, then it should be done in such a way as to provide an adequate remedy; that there should be no incursions upon the liberty of the subject except so far as it is essential, and only then with the safeguards that common sense would indicate

The least of the safeguards that common sense would indicate when dealing with these foreign countries whose standards are different from ours and whose standards and sense of responsibility are different from ours, is that if the newspaper is accorded the privilege of publishing that defamatory statement, it should at any rate be under an obligation to publish the correction and explanation of it, too.

Mr. Boothby

I intervene for only one minute to say that I have listened with great interest to this debate, because when I read this Amendment I was uneasy, and I wanted to hear whether there was any fresh argument which could be adduced in its favour. I must say that I have heard nothing today that in any way satisfies me.

I do not know what the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) suggests we should do. It does not seem to me that there is very much we can do. This Amendment does not seem justified on grounds of public interest. It is not vital to publish in this country a report of every Parliament, legitimate and phoney, however defamatory, and that the subject should have no redress seems to open real dangers

I have risen simply for the purpose of expressing, as a layman, my deep apprehension, and to suggest that if it is possible to get this provision out of the Bill without any great danger, it would be a very good thing.

Mr. Weitzman

I confess that this is not an easy matter. It is a difficult problem when one has to deal with two conflicting interests. In this case we have first of all the public interest which must require full and free publication of matters of public concern. Then there is the private interest, which certainly requires that a private person should be protected from the repetition of any injurious statements made under the cover of public concern. I recognise fully that in considering this matter we, as a House of Commons, must weigh up very carefully both those considerations.

I wish now to deal with one point put forward, that the privilege given with regard to publication in newspapers of reports of foreign legislatures is not given to the publication of reports of matters in the courts of foreign countries. It has been said that the standards of judicial courts vary. It may equally be said that the standards of legislatures vary. It has also been said that judgments are made in absentia. Again, it may well be said that statements are made in legislatures in the absence of the person involved.

On the other hand, when dealing with courts of law one is dealing with matters which are primarily questions of private interest. There is no need for the public to know the position with regard to dealings in the courts of law in foreign countries; or at any rate not so great a need to know these matters from the point of view of the public interest.

There is the further point that, with the judgment of a foreign country the layman may very often be misled into thinking that what has been found as a fact or what is announced as a finding in a court of law is something which has been arrived at judicially, and it will be accepted as something which is true. Therefore, it seems to me that the publication of reports of matters in a court of law is on an entirely different footing from matters reported in legislatures. What we are really concerned with are principles of foreign law rather than the details of cases and the decisions thrashed out in a court of law.

My own view is that, although there is a great deal that may be said about this matter on both sides, when considering the reporting of proceedings in legislatures one is dealing with matters on an entirely different basis. A legislative body, a legislature, is sovereign in its own country, whether it acts in an arbitrary or an unreasonable manner. We have to deal with the legislature as representing that country. We have to deal with it in many ways. We have to conduct our foreign affairs, and to know what these other countries are thinking and doing.

For example, references have been made to McCarthyism, and references have been made in another place to what may be said by way of report on the Congress of the United States. Is it the feeling of this House that when there are reports of foreign legislatures a newspaper ought not to publish them, and that if it publishes any statements made in such a way it runs the risk of action being taken against it?

Mr. Boothby

Only if they are defamatory.

Mr. Weitzman

We are discussing the publication of such reports when they are defamatory. That is the very essence of this debate. I thought that it was needless to say that. I am putting forward in this House the plea that in a democratic country like England it is surely essential we should have the fullest possible publication of anything said in any foreign legislature.

We have to make up our minds as citizens of this country on what is happening in other countries. We should be given the right to have that material even if it is defamatory. One recognises that a private individual may suffer. We know that, but one has to weigh the question of public interest as against the question of private interest, and, in my submission, it would be a very bad thing for this House to say that we should not be able to get free, untrammelled, unhindered publication on a matter spoken in any foreign legislature.

I say free, untrammelled and unhindered but, in point of fact, the House will remember that it is not even unhindered because there are safeguards here. One must remember, for example, that there is proof of malice and one must not neglect the fact that on proof of malice on the part of a newspaper the plaintiff has the right to obtain damages. It does not rest there. There are two further points to be borne in mind. One must remember that there is no protection if the matter is not one of public concern or if the publication is not for the public benefit. They are not idle defences. It is open to the plaintiff to raise them, and if the jury find that the matter is not one of public interest or not of public concern, the plaintiff has the right to recover damages.

Mr. Paget

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman think of or imagine any case of a newspaper—and we are concerned here with newspapers—in which he thinks that defence can possibly apply?

Mr. Weitzman

I can certainly imagine cases in which an argument could be put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman with great force before a jury; and he would be the first one to put it forward, and I do not see why the jury should not accept the argument put forward by my hon. and learned Friend in such a case.

I conclude on this note. I recognise the difficulty and I recognise that there are arguments on both sides, but I suggest to the House that it would be a retrograde step not to accept this Amendment. There is nothing in the argument which says, "We have managed all right for many years and nothing has happened." All progress would stop if we accepted that sort of plea. We are here to consider what can be done to improve a state of affairs however long it may have been in existence; and in order to assist facilitating free discussion in this country, I suggest that this Amendment ought to be accepted.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I speak against this Amendment. It is, in my view, opening the door much too wide if we allow everything that is said in any part of the world—and by that I mean in foreign parts—to be reproduced in this country to the hurt and detriment of private individuals here.

I consider it our duty in this House to consider the rights of private individuals in this country. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) that there are arguments on both sides, and I fully appreciate that facts should be brought before the people, but I think that it would be wrong to deprive the private individual of the right to bring an action to protect his honour when he has been defamed merely because a small country has made an attack upon him, which probably would never be noticed in this country if it were not repeated by the very wide publication given to it in newspapers in this country.

I do not wish to delay the passage of the Bill, for I consider it to be, generally speaking, excellent, and the sooner it comes into law the better. I ask the House not to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Paget

In this argument we have been appealed to from opposite sides of the House in the name of high liberal principle. I am not impressed by the pleas. I believe that the talent of this nation has lain largely in its capacity to take a common sense view and not to be unduly worried by either principle or doctrine. I approach the matter purely from a practical point of view.

We are asked to change the law. I am of a very conservative way of mind. I do not approve of changing things unless I can find good reason for doing so. For a very long time we have had a state of affairs here which seems to have worked very well indeed. I should have thought that we are sufficiently informed as to what happens in foreign Parliaments, and those who wish for particular information are always in a position to get it.

I have had contacts with many libel actions in my time. I was for some years "devil" to Sir Valentine Holmes, who represented a very large number of newspapers, and I cannot recollect ever having encountered a libel action which arose from a report of a foreign legislature. If the newspapers were capable of exercising restraint which protected them effectively from publishing these defamatory statements, why should they not go on doing so?

The real danger is that if we grant a privilege which, in practice, is an absolute privilege—on the very arguments advanced, if something occurs in a foreign legislature it is in the public interest and to the public advantage to know what happened there, and thus it will cover the whole field and will be an absolute privilege—we allow things that happen in foreign legislatures to be used for quite different and propaganda purposes.

For instance, the proceedings of the Un-American Activities Committee are proceedings of a foreign legislature. That is a committee of foreigners. Wild charges of treason, without any foundation at all, are brought against public characters, not only American but also British. At elections and other times the greatest use could be made of such charges and it could be made in safety, whereas at present the law prevents that sort of misuse of proceedings in foreign Parliaments.

My hon. Friend is not in a position to say today that nobody suggested putting this into another part of the Schedule. I am quite happy to leave the law where it is and not put this in any Schedule at all. It is outrageous to say, on the one hand, that a man must be protected against what is said of him in the L.C.C. or any of the other great local government bodies of this country to the extent that the newspaper which prints the defamatory statement must at least publish his reply, and, on the other hand, to say in respect of anything which any legislator may say in any little tin-pot Parliament in any little republic of the world, or in any senatorial committee, that that can be published and that the newspaper is under no obligation to publish the man's defence if he asks to defend his reputation—in other words, to give to Senator McCarthy and to Mr. Vyshinsky a privilege which is denied to the L.C.C. or to the Corporation of Edinburgh.

3.15 p.m.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) said, "What can we do about this?" We can do the simplest thing in the world. We can say that we do not agree with their Lordships in this Amendment. That will not in any way imperil the Bill and we shall keep the law in this respect as it has always been and as it has always worked very nicely.

Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)

I want to say a word in support of this Amendment. I do so without feeling any very passionate interest in the matter, because I do not think that the value of the Bill depends on the decision of this question, nor do I find in it any vast question of principle.

In considering this Amendment we have come to a marginal point in the debate, as between public interest and the rights of private individuals. That explains the difficulty in which the House finds itself and the disagreement there is on this point. We have long ago accepted the principle that things which are said in this House and in the British Parliament must be fully reported without any question of private interest intervening between the right of the public to know what is said here.

It is the fact that things are said in this House which gives the public the right to know those things, whether or not they may do injury to private individuals. That has long been accepted as a basic principle. We are already agreed upon a considerable extension of that principle, because we are applying it to reports of public proceedings in the legislatures of any part of Her Majesty's Dominions outside Great Britain. That is a wide extension. I think we have already accepted the fact that it is in the public interest that our newspapers should, without risk of being exposed to proceedings for defamation, be able to give the public a free, fair and accurate report of what goes on in any of the Dominion Parliaments.

Now we come to what I call the marginal point, the question of whether that principle should be further extended so as to apply to the legislatures of foreign countries. I appreciate the force of what has been said, that foreign legislatures vary very much in their character, and that not all of them are of anything like the same standard as this House or as the legislature of most of the countries of the Commonwealth; but it seems to me that, on balance, to exclude the rights of the newspapers of this country to publish without fear of action for defamation what has been said in a debate in the Congress of the United States is going rather too far. The fact that it is said there is a fact which the public of this country should be entitled to know.

Mr. Boothby

If we pass this Amendment what protection is there against an evilly-disposed person in this country who, wishing to injure another person in this country, persuades a member of a tin-pot foreign legislature to make a defamatory statement against that person?

Mr. Bishop

Is not that going rather far? If such a thing could happen at all it could happen in this House. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) says that we are calling ourselves liars every day or something like that. I do not wish to misrepresent him. Such things are possible, but some credit must be given and some reliance must be placed upon the responsibility of newspapers to publish things which they believe to be of public importance and of interest to the people of this country.

I support the acceptance of the Amendment, on a balance of what I believe to be the advantages of it. I recognise that there is another point of view, but whichever view the House takes I do not think that this very important and vital Bill will be wrecked by the decision on the Amendment.

Mr. S. Silverman

I hope that no one will think it reflects upon the arguments which have been put if I say that it seems to me that the balance of argument falls overwhelmingly on one side. Let us remember, first of all, that the House is being asked to change its mind. We are not being asked to consider this matter de novo. It is not a matter to which we have not addressed our minds before. We are being asked by another place to reconsider a decision we have already given. I have no complaint about that. We have a Second Chamber, and one of the most useful functions, and indeed the only useful function, it can perform is that of a revising Chamber. I have no complaint that the other place, in their consideration of this matter, should invite us to review a decision which we have already reached.

Though one in such circumstances is very willing to look again at a point, the onus is still on those who wish us to alter a decision that we reached last time. There ought to be some new argument or new way of putting an old argument to persuade us that a decision that we did not lightly reach last time was wrong and that we ought to change it now.

We have been told that this was not a party matter in another place. It was not a party matter in this House either. If it had been, the House would presumably have come to a different decision. There were as many Members on this side as there were Members on that side who voted in the majority on the last occasion. To do justice to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever), he said when he recommended this change to us that the Lords, in inviting us to change our minds, intended no more than to give us an opportunity of looking at the matter again. That is all right. It does not mean that the Lords had any very strong view themselves. Their discussion, if I remember rightly, did not take very long.

I do not want to say anything disrespectful about it, because I understand they wanted us to have another look and did not go beyond that. I cannot quote the debates of another place, but anyone looking at them would feel, I think, that the other place did not examine the matter quite so fully or so carefully as we did. In the absence of any new balance of argument, I think the House would be ill advised to change its mind.

I did not know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was conservatively minded. I know that I am, and I always have been, especially in these matters. I had a rather left-handed compliment from my hon. and learned Friend earlier about my devotion to the common law. I am not so devoted as all that. If a lady makes mistakes, she must be corrected like anybody else. However, in matters of this kind I think that the onus of proving the desirability of a change lies upon those who want the change to be made. It has been put forward today as a fine balance of argument, and if that is as high as it can be put, then one ought not to insist that the majority of the others, who feel that the balance of argument is heavily the other way, ought to be called upon to change their minds.

If this House rejects the advice of another place on this matter, I do not believe that there will be heartburnings or bursting of blood vessels in the other place. I think they will accept our decision. My hon. Friend will get his Bill and we shall all congratulate him upon it. It will be better that way than to make a change which, at the best, is put forward as being of doubtful advantage and, at the worst, seems to be an intolerable invasion of the right to his reputation which is the right of every citizen of our country.

The Attorney-General

I do not think it is necessary to remind the House that this is a Private Member's Bill and that, therefore, the House is fully entitled to do exactly what it pleases about it. As far as I am concerned, I believe that everyone in the House today has the right to make up his own mind on the matter. At the same time, it is even more important than usual to remember that we have Second Chamber Government and that what happens in another place on a Private Member's Bill should be taken into consideration. However, after reading the account of what took place there, I think their Lordships would be the first to admit that the case on the other side was not developed in the way it has been today. We have had two speeches, one from each side of the House, which must have caused everyone seriously to think about the matter.

As the debate has been so complete, it would be a pity to leave out two additional considerations. The first is that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) referred to the Porter Report, but he did not make it quite clear—probably that was because he had it so clearly in his head and many of us have read it so often—that the committee, when taking one view with regard to the courts of other countries, went on to deal with the question of legislatures.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I do not want any misapprehension about this and I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for enabling me to remove any false impression. I was reading that passage precisely. I was drawing a distinction between the courts and legislatures and all my argument was intended to be directed to the point that the distinction they drew was not correct because what they said about the courts was equally applicable to the legislatures.

The Attorney-General

I thought it would be a pity if, in view of its lucid and persuasive terms, anyone in the future reading the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, might say it was vitiated in that way.

3.30 p.m.

There is another consideration that should, I think, be mentioned. Hon. Members may think that it can be set aside, but if it is the fact that there is a deterrent upon newspapers to publish matter of this kind, it would be an unfortunate thing if for any reason famous statements, such as those by Senator McCarthy, and that kind of thing were not published. Whatever view one takes of them, the fact that they have been published is a very material factor in subsequent discussions. The House may, however, come to the conclusion that that is a consideration that does not weigh sufficiently heavily.

Therefore, all that I would seek to do is to re-emphasise that everyone is entitled to make up his own mind on this. It is fairly clear that the preponderance of opinion is one way, and I have only one suggestion to make. If it were possible for the House to come to a unanimous conclusion upon this without having the necessity for a Division, even if that resulted in our disagreeing with the Lords Amendments, I feel quite certain that no difficulty would be provoked and I believe that the matter could be dealt with.

I understand that in those circumstances certain formalities have to be complied with. The time is short and co-operation is required to produce some body by co-operation between Members on both sides. I am quite sure that I should have the assistance of my hon. Friends on this side as well as of hon. Members opposite in doing anything that was necessary for that purpose. Therefore, I should like to suggest for the consideration of the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) that his work in connection with the Bill might very well be crowned by a unanimous conclusion.

Perhaps it would not be considered improper or out of order if I were to conclude by saying that the Bill is remarkable in one or two ways. It is remarkable as a Private Member's Bill in that we have succeeded in coming, at any rate, within a very short distance of passing into law a Measure which is generally regarded as being of quite substantial importance. I think it is also true that it has had very careful consideration. The mere fact of our discussion today, in which we find ourselves reluctantly compelled to differ from an assembly which contains very eminent personages with great experience of this branch of the law, shows in itself the care with which the whole matter has been considered.

Finally, it shows the value of the Private Member's Bill procedure and the very welcome fact that, in spite of our differences on many other matters, in spite of the very small difference in numbers between the two main parties, we are able to co-operate, amicably discuss and finally knock into shape a Measure of this kind.

Question put, and negatived.

Lords Amendment: In line 24, at end, insert: or of any foreign country or province or state of a foreign country.

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment"—[Mr. N. H. Lever]—put, and negatived.

Remaining Lords Amendment agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their Amendments to the Bill: The Attorney-General, Mr. N. H. Lever, Mr. Paget, Mr. S. Silverman and Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas; Three be the quorum.—[Mr. N. H. Lever.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.