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Business Of The House: Defamation Bill Hl

Volume 571: debated on Monday 29 April 1996

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3.7 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Since the terms of this Motion are unusual, it may be for the convenience of noble Lords if I take a moment to explain what it is that I am inviting the House to agree to.

At both Committee and Report stages of the Defamation Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, tabled a new clause. At present the privilege conferred by Article IX of the Bill of Rights of 1689 means that a court may not inquire, even at the behest of a Member of Parliament, into anything that he has said or done in Parliament. The proposed new clause provides that an individual member may waive that historic privilege if he wishes the court to take account of proceedings in Parliament in considering a case of defamation. These are potentially grave matters for Parliament.

In debate, arguments were put both for and against the proposed new clause. At Committee it was withdrawn in order that further consideration could be given to those arguments. On Report, a Division was called; but when the Question was put a second time, there were no voices on either side, the Division could not take place and accordingly the amendment was negatived.

The Companion to the Standing Orders makes it quite clear that,
"it is undesirable that an issue which has been fully debated and decided upon at a previous stage of a bill should be reopened by an amendment on Third Reading".
It is clear therefore that as matters stand your Lordships would have no further opportunity to debate the noble and learned Lord's proposed new clause. However, it was equally clear from debate in the House at Report stage that noble Lords wished and indeed expected that they would be invited to consider the amendment again on another occasion. It seems likely that this expectation contributed at least in part to the fact that the Division on the amendment did not take place.

In those circumstances, it seems desirable that we should seek to find a way of permitting the noble and learned Lord to table his amendment for Third Reading, if he should choose to do so. For that reason, I invite your Lordships to agree that on this occasion we should set aside the guidance of the Companion to the Standing Orders in relation to amendments at Third Reading. I hope that my explanation is of some help in asking your Lordships to agree to this Motion. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to consideration on Third Reading of amendments which have been fully debated and decided at a previous stage of the Bill, an amendment to insert a new clause (Evidence concerning proceedings in Parliament) may be considered on Third Reading of the Defamation Bill [H.L.].—(Viscount Cranborne.)

My Lords, as I must accept some responsibility for what happened at the Report stage, I should like to support what the noble Viscount has just proposed. I would add only one point. There is an unreasonable and very inconvenient rule that manuscript amendments may not be moved at Third Reading. Although that has twice been considered by the Procedure Committee, the rule still stands, so, unless the amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Hoffmann is promptly tabled, there will be no opportunity to move an amendment which may well be desirable if the matter is to be decided at all in your Lordships' House rather than in the other place which is primarily concerned.

My Lords, I note what the noble and learned Lord has said and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, will also have noted it. I certainly look forward to the debate at Third Reading if the House approves this Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.