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Defamation

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Defamation Bill has been introduced into this House as part of the Government's programme for this Session. The text of the Bill and accompanying explanatory notes were published on 11 May.

I thank the Minister for that answer. After campaigning for many years for libel reform, it was excellent to see the Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech and published—and in better form than it was in the draft, which says something about pre-legislative scrutiny. I particularly welcome the protection for academic and scientific articles and for operators of websites. The Bill talks about regulations applying to website operators to deal with anonymity and other issues. There are many nuances to that, so will the Government publish a draft of that order together with the Bill?

My hon. Friend sat on the Joint Committee and I know that he has long taken an interest in matters pertaining to scientific freedoms. I fully agree that we must ensure that the threat of libel proceedings is not used to frustrate scientific and academic debate and that the law must be reformed to provide an appropriate libel regime for publications on the internet. The Defamation Bill aims to address both those areas fairly and effectively. I look forward to further debate as it proceeds.

What discussions has the Minister had with his Scottish counterparts about the Government’s proposed reforms, and what assessment has he made of their impact on Scotland?

I am not the lead Minister on the Bill, as it has been led from the House of Lords. I am sure, however, that I will have discussions with my Scottish counterparts before long.

In order to save the Northern Ireland courts and the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland from becoming, in the words of Geoffrey Robertson, QC, who works for the United Nations, “an international laughing stock” in defamation cases, have the Government decided to abolish the arcane defamation crime of “scandalising” judges, thus protecting the rights of Members freely to express their views in this House without hindrance from the courts?

That is not part of the Bill as it stands. No doubt, from what the hon. Gentleman says, this is a matter that will be discussed.