Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

rated as a great restriction to the establishment of many of the smaller religious, be nevolent, and literary societies of the kingdom. In many schools the requirements of the Mortmain Act were dispensed with by law altogether. All that he wished was that charitable institutions, not exceeding two acres, should be freed from the expense which the present state of the law cast upon them. Since the passing of the Mortmain Act thousands of deeds, made and executed for full consideration paid, had become void in consequence of their not having been executed in the form prescribed by the Act and enrolled, and Acts of Parliament had from time to time been passed for the purpose of restoring deeds. of this character to their full legal operation. There was already an Act to allow trustees to apply at any time to the Court of Chancery to be allowed to enrol, and thus make good, their deeds; and since 1860 there had been several thousand deeds enrolled in the Court of Chancery, and thus made legal and binding, under recent Acts of Parliament; whereas for many years they had been illegal. One remarkable instance of the bad effect of the old law was that, many years ago, of the Manchester Infirmary, in reference to which the requirements of the Mortmain Act had not been for fifty years complied with, and during this time the heir to the estate might have taken possession; but instead of doing this he nobly completed the title of the trustees.

MR. HEADLAM said, that some years ago he was Chairman of a Committee upon the Laws of Mortmain, and he might say that though, in that Committee, there was great variety of opinion upon the general subject, yet there was perfect unanimity upon this point, that there should be an exception in favour of institutions such those mentioned in this Bill. In a former Committee, also, he believed that there was similar unanimity in favour of such an exception.

[blocks in formation]

LIBEL BILL-[BILL 3.]

(Sir Colman O'Loghlen, Mr. Baines.)
SECOND READING.

Order for Second Reading read.

SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN moved the second reading of this Bill.

SIR ROBERT COLLIER wished to guard against its being supposed that he assented to a portion of this Bill, which some persons thought was a very essential part of it-namely, the third clause, by which it was proposed to make every speaker at a public meeting liable for words spoken to the same extent as if he had sat down and deliberately written and published them. He did not wish to discuss the question on the second reading of the Bill; but he begged to give notice that in Committee upon the Bill he should move that the clause to which he referred be struck out. In the Committee the question could be fully discussed.

MR. WHALLEY said, he would also abstain from discussing the Bill at its present stage. He hoped there would be a discussion of the principle of the Bill, to a certain extent when it was in Committee. The law of libel affected the liberty of the subject almost more than any other branch of law. So far as he had heard every one of the petitions in favour of this Bill had originated, if not directly emanated, from parties who were interested in the matter as-namely, the representatives of the Press. If there was any injustice whatever in the present law of libel, such was the elasticity of the Common Law of England that any man could go before a Court of Law and say, "Here is an unjustice, it is not right that a man should be punished for this transaction." If that could be made clear to the common sense of those who presided over the Court, they could adapt their decision according to the circumstances. If this Bill were passed, it would be impossible for any man to understand the law of libel. The Bill, which had been prepared in Ireland, struck at the root of freedom of speech. The Courts of Law, having administered the law of libel for centuries to

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL said, he should offer no objection to the second reading of the Bill. Last year a clause had been moved in "another place" which had induced the hon. Gentleman to give up his Bill; but that was a clause which it did not appear necessary to insist upon in a Bill which applied only to the objects which this Bill contemplated. He by no means said that it was unnecessary to keep up those restrictions on grants and alienations of land which were imposed by the

the satisfaction of the country, the House | reports not being privileged. The principal was now called upon, for no valid reason, object of the Bill was to allow newspaper to take the matter into its own hands. He proprietors to publish the proceedings of implored the House not to allow the laws meetings lawfully assembled for a lawful of England to be hampered at the caprice purpose with a certain amount of impunity, of any hon. Irish Member, however learned and to enable them to plead in the form or however eloquent, more especially if pointed out by the Bill that the report was that hon. Member must be supposed, in his an accurate report of those proceedings, attempts to introduce such alterations, to published without malice and in the ordibe influenced by a spirit of favour to an- nary course of business. The hon. and other system of laws which was in direct learned Member for Plymouth (Sir Robert opposition to the laws of this country. Collier) had objected to the third clause, by which a speaker of defamatory words at the description of meeting contemplated by the Act was rendered liable to an action for libel. Now, the speaker at such a meeting would be perfectly well aware that his words would be reported in the newspapers and circulated, and that was very different from the case of a man making use of hasty words under circumstances where he could not suppose they would be pub

He knew that there was a marked distinction between the law of slander and that of libel, but it was all founded on this that words uttered orally were fleeting, and were not intended to be permanent. But the distinction in fact between slander and libel was much modified at the present day. At all events, if the first clause of the Bill was carried, and they allowed reports of the proceedings of public meetings to be privileged, they should afford a person defamed by a speaker some opportunity of coming into Court and showing that the charges that had been brought against him were false. The subject was a fair one for discussion in Committee, when he should state at greater length his reasons for believing that some clause should be inserted in the Bill giving the person prejudiced by words published an opportunity of disproving the truth of the charges made against him.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL said, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) was mistaken in supposing that this Bill had been prepared in Ireland in the form in which it now came before the House. It underwent considerable examination and alteration last year in Committee of that House and in Select Committee. He did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, although it was a fair matter for discussion in Commit-lished. tee, whether the measure ought to receive the sanction of that House or not. There was an important principle involved in the Bill-he should rather say in the first section, by which it was proposed for the first time to allow an editor or proprietor of a newspaper to show that an alleged libel was a true and fair report of the proceedings at a meeting lawfully assembled for a lawful purpose, open to reporters for the public newspapers, and at which a reporter was present for the purpose of reporting the proceedings of such a meeting for a public newspaper, and that the report was published in such newspaper by the defendant bond fide, without malice, and in the ordinary course of business, and to allow "not guilty" by statute to be pleaded, under these circumstances to an action. It was a fair matter for discussion whether it was expedient that such an extensive alteration in the existing law of libel should be made. MR. AYRTON said, that the hon. and It was said that the Bill had been promoted learned Member for Clare (Sir Colman merely in the interest of newspaper pro- O'Loghlen) in introducing this Bill in prietors; but he should rather say that it November last, intimated that the Bill had been introduced for the purpose of would have been passed into a law in the protecting the proprietors of newspapers previous Session had it not been for his from being liable to actions for libel in cases (Mr. Ayrton's) opposition to it, and, in where they had admitted reports of speeches truth, the remarks of the hon. and learned which, as far as they were aware, contained Member, instead of being addressed to the accurate statements of fact, and where they merits of the Bill, had rather been adhad published them without malice, merely dressed to his demerits. In his opinion for the purpose of informing the public up- the Bill had passed through that House on matters of interest. It had been shown last Session in consequence of an assurthat, on more than one occasion, pro-ance that it would go no further. Being prietors of newspapers had sustained considerable hardship in consequence of such

one of the many efforts of the hon. and learned Member for the benefit of mankind

If

it was suffered to pass in the full conviction and write them out just as they were that it never could be recognized as part of uttered, instead of engaging gentlemen of the law of the land. The hon. and learned education, intelligence, and discrimination, Gentleman had told them that the Bill had who were competent to perform the task been approved by an illustrious Commit- of reporting a speech in conformity with tee; but, as far as he could test the opinion decency and with law. The Bill was just of that Committee, he did not think that they such a one as the most ignorant and illhad been so highly in favour of the Bill as disposed members of trade unions dethe hon. and learned Gentleman supposed. manded, in order to enable them to escape A very eminent Member of that Committee the consequences of their illegal acts. It disapproved of one fundamental principle of would be a great misfortune if a class of the Bill, while another had told him that he ignorant and incompetent persons were, by regarded the Bill as most mischievous. It an Act which afforded them protection from was clear that some distinguished Members the responsibility which naturally attached of the Committee did not appreciate the itself to their profession, placed upon an legal difficulties of the Bill. He was pre- equality with gentlemen of education and pared to show that, even upon the prin- intelligence. He thought the subject was a ciples which had been laid down, the very grave one, as it involved the high leading provisions of the Bill ought to be character of the press of this country. struck out. He was, however, willing to this Bill were passed he was afraid it would permit it to be read a second time on the prove but the first step in a course of legisunderstanding that he should take the op- lation which would be likely to endanger that portunity of examining into the character freedom of the press which we at present of its provisions in Committee. He was enjoyed. He had used his best efforts to ready to admit that the Bill contained some free the press from the fetters imposed clauses which, when amended, might be upon it by taxation, and he should deeply useful; and that the clause which placed regret to see it oppressed by a censorship prosecutions for libel upon the same foot of any kind. On a future occasion a much ing with another class of prosecutions would wider view of this subject would have to effect a desirable amendment in the law. be taken than that suggested by the AtThe remarks of the Attorney General torney General, whose address upon this would be found on examination to furnish Bill, instead of being that of a statesman, no satisfactory reason for adopting the pro- had been that of a nisi prius lawyer fresh visions of the Bill. It was said that the from the defence of his client. And beBill was introduced for the benefit of news- fore the Bill was passed he should like to paper proprietors. That might be so; but see some one on the Treasury Benchthe question was, whether newspapers pro- if such a person ever sat there-capable of prietors ought not to be treated like others grappling with great public questions, who who entered into commercial enterprizes would enter into this grave question with for their own profit and advantage, and earnestness, instead of allowing the time whether they should not incur the respon- of the House to be frittered away in listensibility that naturally attached itself to ing to legal quibbles. such enterprizes. He could not understand how Parliament could pass a law by which a man deriving profit from an undertaking should be protected from all the consequence that might arise from his own negligence in the conduct of that undertaking. If he were to sum up in a few words his opinion of this Bill, he should say that it was an attempt to degrade by law one of the most honourable and useful, and, at the same time, most intellectual professionsthat of reporting for the public journalsto the level of a mere mechanical process. The effect of the Bill if carried would be to induce newspaper proprietors to employ mere mechanical reporters, mere stenographers, at a salary of a few shillings per week, to take down the words of a speaker,

MR. MILNER GIBSON said, he was convinced, from the evidence which had been laid before the Select Committee appointed to consider this Bill, and of which he was a Member, that the Press of this country was entitled to some legislative protection against vexatious actions for libel, which were frequently brought by speculative attorneys and involved costs amounting to hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, even although only one farthing damages might be awarded to the plaintiff. Under these circumstances he was prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill, on the understanding that several material alterations should be made in it in Committee. Although he was willing to give reasonable protection to the pro

of agreeing to such Amendments as the discussion in Committee might show to be right.

prietors of newspapers against vexations actions, he was by no means prepared to go the length of exempting them altogether MR. HENLEY said, he also had served from the necessity for the exercise of that upon the Select Committee upon this Bill, discretion which everybody was bound to use and fully appreciated the great difficulty in dealing with the affairs of other people. that existed in dealing with this question. The first clause of the Bill proposed to give He agreed, on the one hand, that the Press newspaper proprietors the opportunity of should be freed from all undue restrictions, pleading that the report complained of was while, on the other, it should be rendered published without malice, and that it was answerable for any abuse of its privileges. a true and faithful report, produced in the As to the question whether the provision ordinary course of their business. It fur- in the Bill rendering a speaker amenable ther provided that the proof this plea for the words he used should be retained, should amount to a defence. He thought he must inform the House that the clause it would be an improvement that such plea as it now stood was altered to its present should be received in evidence, but that it form in Select Committee. The case of a should be left to the Court to decide whe- man who deliberately used words at a ther such proof in all cases constituted a meeting where he knew reporters were defence. He confessed he was unwilling present for the purpose of publishing his to take from the Court a discretion upon speech was very different from that of the this point. It might so happen that man who casually uttered words which he though there was no malice on the part of believed would, in all human probability, a newspaper proprietor in publishing a go no further, and it was worth the consicertain matter, he might nevertheless be deration of the House whether some difmade the means of circulating the malici- ference should not be made in the law with ous statements of others. The provision regard to the two cases. The words of in the third clause requiring the person the Bill upon this point were very precise, uttering the defamatory words to publish a as they strictly limited its operation to a retractation of them in the same newspaper certain class of meetings at which reporters in which his speech had appeared was, in were known to be present. On the whole, his opinion, not quite satisfactory, seeing was it not of great advantage to the public that a large number of the edition contain- that publicity should be given to the proing the libel might be circulated through- ceedings at the vast number of public out the country, while a limited number of meetings at which reporters were present? copies of the paper only might be pub- The question must be judged by the balished containing the retractation. Some-lance of convenience. The hon. and learned thing ought to be done to secure the defendant, in a vexatious action, his costs. While he was of opinion that the Press should be free from all previous restraints, he had never gone the length of saying that it ought to be exempted from those penalties which justly fell on it, for the careless or culpable circulation of calumnious and libellous matter. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Sir Robert Collier) that it was not advisable to alter the law of slander in the way proposed by the Bill, nor in any way to curtail the liberty of speech, for the sake of giving protection to the newspaper proprietors. It might frequently happen that at vestry and other meetings a speaker might properly, on public grounds, bring against a person provisional charges which called for investigation; and it would be unfair, in such a case, to render the speaker at once liable to an action for libel. He should give his assent to the second reading of the Bill, with the view

Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had objected to relieve those who published newspapers from their responsibility, on the ground that by adopting such a course Parliament would be degrading the office of reporter. But when hon. Members recollected what the gentlemen of that profession-whose vast skill and accuracy in recording speeches he readily admitted-had to do they would see that it was hardly possible that they could think of anything except of making a faithful transcript of the speaker's words; and really this was all they had to do. It was, therefore, not the reporters, but the proprietors of newspapers, for whose relief the Bill had been introduced, and even they had but little time for exercising their discretion as to what should and what should not be published. It was sometimes extremely difficult to determine what was and what was not a libel, and frequently it puzzled both Judge and jury to determine the question, and yet newspaper proprie

tors were expected to arrive at a sound by 79 to 18. The effect of that notice legal conclusion at a few minutes' notice. was to delay the Bill in this House so long Under these circumstances, he thought that it could not be considered in the Lords that, trying the question by the balance last Session. The first clause of the Bill of convenience, it was preferable that the was agreed to unanimously by the Select newspaper proprietors should be protected Committee, and Clause 3, which was obwhen giving faithful reports of such meet-jected to by the hon. and learned Member ings as were contemplated by the Bill than for Plymouth (Sir R. Collier), was the rethat they should be made defendants insult of a compromise, and was agreed to by actions whether real or vexatious, brought a large majority of the Select Committee. against them by those who felt aggrieved He should be prepared to defend the prinby the language of the speakers. It was ciples of these clauses in Committee. not right that the newspaper proprietors should be subject to such actions while those who uttered the defamatory words in the presence, perhaps, of 5,000 people, with the full knowledge that they would be reported and published, escaped scot free. He had assented to the Bill in the form in which it left the Select Committee, and unless he heard stronger reasons against it than had yet been adduced he should support it in Committee.

MR. REARDEN gave his cordial sup. port to the Bill, which he believed was very much wanted. Newspaper proprietors had done their duty admirably, and should not be subject to such restrictions as at present. Being a great reader of newspapers, and a subscriber during thirty-five years to no less than nineteen of them, he thought he was entitled to express an opinion on the subject.

Motion agreed to.

for Wednesday, 20th May.
Bill read a second time, and committed

ARTIZANS' AND LABOURERS' DWEL-
LINGS BILL-[BILL 1.]

Locke.)
COMMITTEE.

Order for Committee read.
Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 5, inclusive, agreed to. Clause 6 (Officer of Health to report as to Condition of Streets).

MR. HARVEY LEWIS objected to its terms as giving too much power to medical officers of health.

SIR COLMAN O'LOGHLEN said, he did not intend at that moment to enter into any general defence of the Bill, believing that the House was favourable to its second reading, and that it would be better to discuss it clause by clause when they got into Committee, as each of the first five (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens, Mr. Kinnaird, Mr. clauses involved an important principle. Under these circumstances, he should fix the Committee for such a day as would enable the whole subject to be fully discussed. In answer to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), he begged to state that he had not charged that hon. and learned Gentleman with having prevented the Bill from passing into a law, but merely with having prevented it from getting into the House of Lords in sufficient time for it to be carried last Session. The Bill was introduced last March twelvemonth, and after being read a second time, was referred to a Select Committee, which included among its Members the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe), the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), the Attorney General, and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck). Having been fully considered by that Com mittee, the Bill in an altered shape came down to that House, and was discussed clause by clause in Committee. On the third reading of the Bill the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets thought fit to put a Notice upon the Paper to read the Bill a third time on that day six months, but was beaten upon a division

MR. SERJEANT GASELEE agreed with the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. Harvey Lewis), and said that in legislating on this subject they must take care not to introduce continental despotism.

MR. LEEMAN said, this was one of the most useful clauses of the Bill.

MR. HENLEY complained that as the clause was now drawn the report of the officer of health could be carried out without giving the owner of the premises notice, and his only remedy would be by an appeal. The clause ought to be amended so as to give him notice in the first instance, and allow him to be heard upon the complaint made of the state of his property.

MR. GOLDNEY said, this clause merely provided how the Act was to be put in

« AnteriorContinuar »