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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am on the verge of achieving one of life's ambitions, which is to wish the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a happy birthday. It is a very narrow squeak because the efforts of noble Lords on both sides of your Lordships' House earlier have just enabled me to speak before midnight. It is on occasions like this that one remembers what a pleasure it is to have a jury in defamation cases because one has at least a guaranteed audience of 13, which is rather more than one has at this hour in your Lordships' House.

I join the noble and learned Lord in what he said about Lord Justice Neill. He has been pre-eminent as a judge, both at first instance and in the Court of Appeal, in this arcane area of defamation, but much more than that--he has been a constant source of inquiry and suggestions for reform. He is a judge who is universally regarded with affection, respect and esteem.

Other than that, I have nothing to say to Amendments Nos. 1 to 3.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his good wishes and the timeliness with which he was able to express them. I join him in expressing admiration for Lord Justice Neill not only in relation to this field of law in which he is, indeed, pre-eminent but also for the great service he has given to the law in all sorts of other spheres. I commend Commons Amendment No. 1 to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1436

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

2

Clause 1, page 2, line 6, after 'equipment' insert ', system or service'.


3

Page 2, line 7, leave out 'or distributed' and insert ', distributed or made available in electronic form'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 en bloc.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 and 3.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

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.

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1437

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

5

Clause 15, page 12, line 6, at end insert--


'(4) In section 8(6) of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and in Article 9(6) of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 (defamation actions: reports of court proceedings), for "section 3 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888" substitute "section 15 of the Defamation Act 1996".'.
6

Clause 17, page 12, leave out lines 28 to 30.


7

Clause 19, page 13, leave out line 13.


8

Page 13, leave out lines 16 and 17.


9

Page 13, leave out lines 31 and 32.


10

Page 14, leave out line 5.


11

Page 14, leave out lines 8 and 9.


12

Clause 20, page 14, leave out line 25.


13

Page 14, line 27, leave out from 'the' to 'so' and insert 'repeals in Schedule 3,'.

2 Jul 1996 : Column 1438


14

Leave out Schedule 2.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 5 to 14 inclusive. I have spoken to Amendments Nos. 5 to 14 with Amendment No. 4.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 5 to 14.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, we too on this side of the House wish the noble and learned Lord many happy returns.

        House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past eleven o'clock.


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