HL Deb 09 July 1888 vol 328 cc706-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it had passed through the House of Commons. It proposed to alter the law in two directions. First, it proposed to extend the conditional privilege now enjoyed, and in the next place to amend the law of libel in the direction of restricting to some extent the costs and damages. It was proposed to give not an absolute but a qualified immunity. If there was absolute privilege it would be impossible to break down a plea on the ground of malice, but that was not so where there was only a qualified privilege. The word "scandalous" had been used in connection with the words "blasphemous and indecent" as destroying the immunity which might be otherwise claimed for a report. But if "scandalous" were taken by Judges in the ordinary sense of the word, its retention would do away with all privilege, as every report affecting character might be considered as scandalous. Clause 4 would extend the law of privilege to fair reports of meetings of County Councils, when established, Town Councils, and Board of Guardians as to which the public would naturally desire to know what was going on. But nothing contained in the clause would affect anything which was not of public interest. He ventured to think that that proviso was not necessary. Clause 7 proposed that a person charged with libel should be capable of showing by evidence that the person who complained of being libelled had already received compensation in other actions he had brought. He ventured to think that the measure was a very moderate one, and that it had been conceived in the interest of the public, as well as in the interest of newspapers. It did something to mitigate the present state of the law when it was brought into operation by unscrupulous and designing persons.

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


said, he had no intention of moving the rejection of the Bill at the present stage, but he wished to give Notice that when the Bill went into Committee he should certainly move either to omit or modify the 4th clause. That clause was very much dealt with in "another place," and he thought that some of the modifications there made should be got rid of. The language in regard to what were public meetings should be carefully guarded. The Act of 1831, which justified the publication of proceedings in public meeting, carefully guarded the privilege, and made it a qualified privilege by enacting that the publication must be for the public benefit. In this 4th section the "public benefit" had been converted into "public interest." What did those words mean? He was afraid it was only true to say that if matter was particularly slanderous it was particularly interesting to the public. The whole substance of the section appeared to him to be open to exception, as there were meetings of various kinds described. He thought that the clause was an extremely dangerous one, and when it came on for discussion in Committee he should, as he had said, either move to omit it or to considerably modify it.


said, he did not wish to oppose the Bill at this stage, but he should have an Amendment to propose which had been suggested to him by a committee of very respectable provincial newspaper proprietors. He wished to give Notice, therefore, that he should move an Amendment to the clause which dealt with the powers of the Public Prosecutor. He thought that further protection was needed against criminal libel actions.


said, he gave his hearty support to the Bill. He thought it was desirable that the law should be amended in the manner suggested. It was quite true that the provision affecting the publication of the proceedings of public meetings might be open to observation as being somewhat too large; but as the proceedings in Parliament, in which the public were interested, had been held to be privileged, so the public were interested in the proceedings of local bodies which, at present, were not privileged, but to which privilege should be extended. The public took an interest in the proceedings of local bodies, and it was for the public advantage that they should be published, but there should be some limitation. The reports of such proceedings should not be protected if the public were not admitted. He agreed with the noble Lord who introduced the Bill that the word "scandalously" ought to be omitted. It seemed to him to have been inserted inadvertently. One clause in the Bill extended the immunity from criminal proceedings. With regard to that matter, he thought it was only right that, if the immunity was extended, it should be extended only on the condition that the offending newspaper should insert a contradiction or correction of the libellous matter.


said, his principal objection to the Bill rested on Clause 4. He had been unable to gather what was to constitute a meeting a "public" meeting. A meeting of shareholders in a railway or other undertaking was not a meeting to which the public were admitted; but it might be a matter of interest to shareholders who were not present to know what had taken place. He hoped that in Committee those who were interested in the Bill would determine what was meant by a public meeting.


said, that as the phraseology of some of the clauses had been criticized in this stage, he thought it might be useful to mention, that in the description of meetings as "lawfully convened, or held for a lawful purpose," the disjunctive "or" was improper, and that it ought to be the conjunctive, "and."

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 17th instant.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.