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Libel Laws (Science Sector)

Volume 503: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010

11. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the effects on the science sector of libel laws. (310586)

Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have held no recent discussions with ministerial colleagues on the effects of libel laws on the science sector. The Justice Secretary leads on the issue of libel law. Professor Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, and officials are in discussions with colleagues from the Ministry of Justice to ensure that science and engineering receive appropriate attention in their consideration of libel law.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will be aware that Professor Beddington has set out his concerns and will, I hope, be feeding them into the Government review. However, does the Minister accept that there is genuine concern among publishers of medical journals, for example, about the chilling effect of the threat of libel actions? Would he, or one of his colleagues—perhaps the Minister for Science and Innovation—be willing to meet a delegation of scientists so that they can effectively feed in scientists’ concerns to the Ministry of Justice?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The Department is aware of the concern in the scientific community relating to the chilling effect to which he refers. As I said in my response, the Ministry of Justice leads on this matter. I shall refer his remarks to it, and I undertake to ensure that its Ministers are aware of what he has had to say today. I shall keep in touch with him on this matter.

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that he as a Minister should have an early meeting with the Justice Ministers on this issue? It directly affects his Department because these wretched libel laws will restrict the publication of scientific research, which will have an effect on research and development and, in particular, on manufacturing in our economy, which is his responsibility.

I fully accept that science, innovation and manufacturing are at the heart of this Department’s agenda. This is a very important issue: it is important that we have responsible, intelligent and creative scientific debate, and the review is taking place under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice because we want to ensure that we have the correct legal environment for that debate to happen.