HL Deb 02 July 1996 vol 573 c1436

4 Leave out Clause 13.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4. I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 5 to 14.

The Government reflected deeply and carefully before deciding to accept Amendment No. 4 when it was moved in the other place. An amendment to similar effect was put down by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when your Lordships were debating the clause. We had some discussion of it. The clause would have reversed the rule known as the rule in Scott v. Sampson, which prevents defendants from pleading and proving specific acts or omissions of the plaintiff, which might be thought discreditable, for the purpose of reducing the level of damages.

That rule can, on occasion, cause injustice. The intention underlying what was Clause 13 is right. But the concern is that the reversal of the rule could cause other injustices and encourage some defendants to use tactics to intimidate those they may have defamed. We have acknowledged the difficulty inherent in framing an alternative rule which takes care of those concerns and provides a better balance.

In the result, having regard to the balance of opinion in the Standing Committee in the other place, the Government decided that Clause 13 should properly be deleted. Amendments Nos. 5 to 14 are consequential. In the meantime, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No.4.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. I was concerned that the Bill might have the defects and vices to which the noble and learned Lord has referred. My proposal was that, if it be introduced at all, it should be specifically limited to a stage in the trial following a finding on liability. It is possible that reform along those lines can be achieved. In its former incarnation the provision appeared to offer more mischief than benefit.

On Question, Motion agreed to.