HC Deb 18 November 1968 vol 773 cc1073-5

So much of the Lords Message [14th November] as relates to the appointment of a Committee to consider and report whether any and, if so, what changes in the law of defamation and of Parliamentary Privilege are desirable in relation to the publication of the proceedings in Parliament, to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. Harper.]

Lords message considered accordingly.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee of Three Members be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords to consider and report whether any and, if so, what changes in the law of defamation and of Parliamentary Privilege are desirable in relation to the publication of the proceedings in Parliament: That Mr. Charles Pannell, Sir Peter Rawlinson and Mr. S. C. Silkin be Members of the Committee: That leave be given to the Committee to hear parties interested by themselves, their counsel, or agents, so far as the Committee think fit: That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; and to report from time to time: That two be the Quorum.—[Mr. Harper.]

12.4 a.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Without wishing to oppose the Motion in any way, may I seek elucidation from whoever is dealing with the Motion and in particular ask the one question, whether the Committee will specifically have in mind the Ninth Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons Services and the Report of Sub-Committee on Broadcasting contained therein, in which we made very clearly the point that, if the House were subsequently to agree to sound broadcasting of its proceedings, the matter of the law relating to Parliamentary Privilege would have to be examined. I ask this because the Motion as tabled refers simply to "publication of the proceedings ". All I want to do is seek an assurance that publication includes a reference to the possibility of sound broadcasting.

12.10 a.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Like the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), I think it useful that there should be some explanation of this Motion. Originally, when the Select Committee on Publications discussed the question of broadcasting our proceedings, it was pointed out that the B.B.C. is at present more restricted than any organ of the Press in relation to defamation. This is so whether we broadcast the proceedings of the House or people on radio or television merely repeat in their own voices the words which we say here, as is done now.

The matter was then referred to the Select Committee on the Reform of the Law of Privilege, which in turn referred it to the Sub-Committee on Broadcasting, of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles is the Chairman. All these Committees felt, and the last Sub-Committee mentioned specifically recommended, that a Joint Committee should be set up to consider the issue, since another place is interested in it, too.

I, therefore, welcome the Motion now before us, and I hope that the Joint Committee will report fairly soon, as the B.B.C., irrespective of the broadcasting of our proceedings, is in the anomalous position to which I have referred.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

For how long has the B.B.C. been in this position, and what difficulties has it encountered?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot join in a general debate, tempting though the question is which the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) has raised. Only questions for elucidation are in order at this point.

Mr. English

It would be difficult to elucidate that point, since the Press was in a difficult position before the 1952 Defamation Act, which, unfortunately, did not apply to broadcasting. I can only say that, in my view, the Motion should be welcomed. I hope that the Committee will report as speedily as possible upon that issue and any other issue which may come within its terms of reference. The particular issue to which I have referred is at present before a Committee of the House and will in due course, I hope, come before the House as a whole. I hope that we shall have an early report so that we may at least put the B.B.C. in the same position as the Press, and, second, clear the way, if the House so desires, for the broadcasting of our proceedings.

12.13 a.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) have raised important points. I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomed the Motion. I am sure that the three distinguished Parliamentarians who are to be members of the Committee will take careful note of what has been said. I shall do all I can to make sure that there is a speedy report.

Question put and agreed to.

Message to the Lords to acquaint them with such of the said Orders as are necessary to be communicated to their Lordships.