HL Deb 23 August 1881 vol 265 cc717-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was based on the Reports of two Select Committees, and had been fully discussed, and virtually passed unanimously in "another place." The noble Lord proceeded briefly to explain the existing law with regard to libels in newspapers, and the manner in which it was proposed to remedy the defects therein. The Bill was introduced at a very early period of the Session; but the delay arose in consequence of the known inability of private Members in the other House to press forward measures they had brought in. The provisions of the measure had been carefully considered by the Law Officers of the Crown, and were approved of by them. The Bill, whilst it would protect private individuals from injury, would afford security to newspaper proprietors in the matter of the publication of the proceedings of public meetings. He hoped it would receive a second reading at their Lordships' hands.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Waveney.)


approved of the check which the Bill proposed to place upon criminal prosecutions for libel. The only objection he had to the Bill was that, to entitle a newspaper proprietor to protection, it was necessary that the report should be accurate, and he maintained that it was impossible for a perfectly accurate report to be furnished on all occasions. As an instance, he would refer to a passage in Mr. Gladstone's eulogium upon the Earl of Beaconsfield in the House of Commons, which none of the newspapers had given correctly. He believed the Bill was in the right direction, and thought that Clauses 2 and 4 were even too hard on newspaper proprietors.


said, that the House was giving a second reading to a Bill of which they knew nothing, for although he came down to the House at 3 o'clock he could not obtain a copy of the Bill until 10 minutes to 5 o'clock, and therefore there had been no time to properly consider the provisions of the measure, which was an extremely important one, especially in one respect where it made one man responsible for the act of another, though the man proceeded against might not have spoken the words imputed to him. The editor of a newspaper in which a libel appeared would be irresponsible provided the report of the speech containing the libel was accurate and was published without malice, but the person who made the speech was made liable to an action for damages; and there might be other objectionable provisions in the Bill. Sending up such a Bill at this late period of the Session was not a proper way of treating that House. No doubt, there had been an unfortunate interruption to Business in the other House, and he was sorry for it; but that must not be allowed to interfere with the responsibility of that House in passing Bills of such great importance. He was always opposed to hasty legislation, and he never knew a stronger case than this for more time to be given for consideration—the more so as there was not a single Law Lord present to give an opinion upon the Bill. The Bill might be read a second time, but he hoped that the Government would not press it through, the further stages.


said, he hoped that the House would not follow the course proposed by the noble Earl. The Bill would not, in fact, make any alteration in the law with regard to the liability of persons speaking at public meetings. It had received the approval of the Law Officers of the Crown, of at least one of the Law Officers of the Party to which the noble Earl belonged, and of his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who was not then present, and he hoped it would be proceeded with.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.