Amendment 51A envisages introducing a regulation-making power to set out the specific procedure to be followed in relation to the making of an application for an order under Clause 13(1). We do not believe that this amendment is necessary. Clause 13, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, was introduced in the other place to address the concern that the claimant who had successfully brought an action against the author of defamatory material online may be left in the position of being unable to secure removal of the material. This situation might arise as a result of the fact that an author may not always be in a position to remove the material and the new Clause 5 defence might prevent the website operator being required to do so. The clause, therefore, applies only where the claimant has brought proceedings against the author and is completely separate from the process under Clause 5. As drafted, it enables an order for removal of the material to be made during or shortly after the conclusion of those proceedings, or on a separate application under Part 23 of the Civil Procedure Rules. Part 23 governs applications for court orders and sets out in detail how the process should work, including rules in respect of how an application is to be made, where it should be filed, what information should be included and how it should comply with any relevant time limits, among other matters. To the extent that any supplementary provision might be required, it is the Government’s view that the existing power to make rules of court is entirely sufficient to enable such a provision to be made. A regulation-making power is therefore unnecessary and could perhaps add confusion about the relationship with Part 23 and possibly cast doubt on the scope and applicability of the existing power in the Civil Procedure Rules.

Amendment 51B provides that the removal of allegedly defamatory material from a website and the publication of an apology or correction should not prevent an action for damages being brought. It is not clear how this amendment fits specifically with Clause 13. As I have said, this clause is to address situations where a claimant brings a successful action against the author of defamatory material online but where the author may not be in a position to remove material which has been found to be defamatory from a website. Where the content is removed by website operators in other circumstances—for example, after following the Clause 5 process where the poster chooses not to engage or agrees to removal—there is nothing in either Clause 5 or Clause 13 which would prevent a claimant bringing a defamation action seeking damages against the poster. Clearly, there may be cases where the damage caused by a defamatory statement is so serious that simply having it removed from the website will not provide the claimant with sufficient remedy. In these cases, it is right that the claimant should be able to pursue an action against the poster, and if that is the intention behind this amendment, then we agree entirely with the principle and the sentiment. However, we do not believe this amendment works in conjunction with existing provisions in Clause 13 and, for the reasons I have given, such a provision is deemed unnecessary. Where a statement is removed by a website and the claimant still wishes to pursue an action against the author, there is nothing to prevent them doing so.

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC358

In light of the assurances I have given and coming back to the issue of the scope, which the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, addressed earlier, I hope the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw the amendments.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I thank the Minister for that. He is right about Amendment 51B; that was the intention. His assurance that although defamatory material has been taken down there can still be an action for damages meets the point that we were trying to raise. On regulations and his reference to Civil Procedure Rules, the problem is the same. To expect an ordinary citizen to know that there are even such things as Civil Procedure Rules, let alone where to find them or what they say, is difficult. When the Government come to look at the guidance and other regulations attached to this, I urge them to look at whether the Civil Procedure Rules may be incorporated, even if they are word-for-word the same. Asking ordinary folk to go through lots of rules or even to know that they exist is a tall order. I will leave that thought with the Minister. I beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51A withdrawn.

Amendment 51B not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Amendment 51C

Moved by Lord Browne of Ladyton

51C: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Disapplication of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

Sections 44 and 46 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 shall not apply in relation to civil actions for defamation, malicious falsehood, breach of confidence, privacy or publication proceedings.”

Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, Amendment 51C would disapply the LASPO Act in relation to defamation proceedings and Amendment 51D would apply one-way costs shifting to defamation proceedings. Both the amendments are probing amendments. I have some sympathy with the Minister in being prodded on this issue again. He may have thought that he had seen it off with his letter of 10 December and the assurances that he has repeatedly given us, but I am afraid that I shall invite him to discuss again costs in relation to defamation.

As noble Lords will be aware, and as I think the Minister is acutely aware, this issue was addressed during the passage of the LASPO Bill, when calls were made to disapply it in relation to defamation and privacy proceedings. Assurances were given by the Minister that this would be addressed in the Defamation Bill. I do not seek to keep him specifically to that assurance, because I suppose that, on one view, a substantial amount of water has passed under the bridge since that debate and many other things are going on. Whatever intention other noble Lords may have in the debate that will ensue on this, I have no intention of transgressing into the debate about the

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC359

Leveson recommendations and their consideration in tri-party talks; I have managed until now not to mention “Leveson” anywhere in your Lordships’ House, and I had intended to keep it that way.

Throughout the passage of this Bill, we have had further assurances that something will be done to address the cost of defamation proceedings, and the Government recently gave a commitment that LASPO would not apply to defamation until they had resolved the situation in relation to costs. That stay of execution, as it were, is very welcome. Our amendments are, however, designed to elicit further information from the Government as to the timing of these proposals and what they will consist of, to the extent that the Minister is in a position to share that information with me.

I want to make one very specific point to the Minister which I hope he will address when he responds. I have before me his letter of 10 December 2012, which was very welcome and very helpful in covering a number of issues before the Committee convened to consider this Bill in detail. Under the heading “Cost Protection in Defamation and Privacy cases” it sets out that,

“the Government is keen to provide some form of cost protection so as not unduly to damage the interests of impecunious parties. The Government has asked the Civil Justice Council (an independent advisory body, chaired by the Master of the Rolls) to advise on this by the end of March 2013”.

So I realise that we will have to be patient until the end of March 2013 to see what the council under the chairmanship of the Master of the Rolls advises. In order to instruct those deliberations, we have the benefit of annexe A to the letter, which sets out the terms of reference of the Civil Justice Council’s remit.

I am limited in my understanding of all of this, never having practised in this jurisdiction, but I understand that cost protection is designed to protect a party from the liability to pay the other side’s costs if their case fails. If my case fails, cost protection is designed to protect me from the liability to pay costs, or to reduce my liability. That addresses half of the problem. The serious part of the problem is how does one deal with the impecunious client who does not have the ability to institute proceedings in the first place if LASPO and the Jackson reforms are applied to defamation? How does one encourage lawyers to take on cases on some form of contingency basis, in the light of the application of LASPO and the Jackson reforms? The Government may believe that that is dealt with through the cost protection order process, but I am not satisfied that it is. Will the Minister address that issue? I beg to move.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I cannot clearly say whether I do or do not support these two amendments as they have all sorts of ramifications and implications. What is common ground between the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is that the position of not only the impecunious would-be litigant, but that of the not-well-off would-be litigant in relation to defamation, whether as plaintiff or defendant, is astonishingly unsatisfactory. It makes this branch of law, more than any other, one in which equality before the law is frankly mythical, unless one

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC360

finds an extraordinarily public-spirited solicitor who will in effect act for nothing if his client’s case collapses. Even then, there would be costs possibilities for the poor litigant, whether as defendant or plaintiff, in that he or she may end up having to pay the other side’s costs. All I am doing is sympathising with my noble friend Lord McNally in having to answer these two issues. At the moment, there is no ready answer, although the idea of changing the recently passed LASPO legislation for defamation has its own problems if one believes, as I do, that the methods of paying lawyers under the conditional or contingency fee system have led to great problems of public interest. That is a rather ineffectual contribution to the debate on these two amendments.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I will not, at this hour, reopen the debate on LASPO except to say that what we were addressing, following the advice of Mr Justice Jackson, was the inflationary effect of the no win, no fee regime that we have replaced. How it will work out in terms where any success fees will be paid from damages we will have to see. But let us not be in any doubt that there was a problem that was generally agreed had an extremely inflationary effect on the cost of justice in this country.

5.45 pm

On the matter of getting involved—my noble friend Lord Phillips touched on this problem with a welcome candour— much as we like to believe that access to justice is readily available, deciding to go to law is an extremely risky and potentially very expensive business for any individual.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, what I have said from Second Reading: I recognise the problem of costs. However, as Minister, I had to take advice on how this was best dealt with. The best advice I got, as he has pointed out, was to ask the Civil Justice Council and the Master of the Rolls to take on this task and to report back by March. We will then have to examine how it will affect the civil procedure rules and bring forward proposals in the hope that they will be in place by October.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I have tried to resist references to Lord Justice Leveson, but when I read his recommendations on costs in defamation my heart leapt. It is amazing how great minds think alike.

I know this is a probing amendment. I have said that we have deferred the implementation of LASPO until we can look at it all of a piece. I do not think anyone can seriously doubt my intentions to deal with this matter. We will have to take it in time, when we get the advice and can see the whole of the piece, but deal with the matter we will.

Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, the Minister shares with me the view that this is a fiendishly complicated challenge. I welcome his reluctance to embroil us in a debate on the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson’s report but I hope that before Parliament’s deliberations on the Defamation Bill are concluded, we will know the recommendations of the Civil Justice Council and have some clarity on the way forward in relation to

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC361

Lord Justice Leveson’s report and, in particular, his recommendations about costs in defamation actions. We will then be at least in a position of knowing that when the seal is put on the Defamation Act—which broadly we all support and consider as progress in the development of the law—we will not have to revisit the issue quickly thereafter. That would be nonsensical.

I know that sometimes it is not possible get all stars aligned but surely it must be possible with draft legislation of this nature, where there is such substantial agreement, for parties to timetable the proceedings of Parliament in such a way that we maximise the possibility of coherence and consistency rather than minimise it. I hope that we do not get caught up in the demands of people who are timetabling other business, the usual channels and so on, and are railroaded into a timescale on this Bill which makes our deliberations look foolish shortly after we have concluded them.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. We will certainly return to this issue on Report; there is no question about that. The application of the LASPO Act to these proceedings sits in the context of a very clear undertaking, which we intend that the Minister and the Government will live up to. We will come back to that and I hope that we will have more specification of some description, or at least that the tripartite talks may have concluded in relation to Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations. Pending that day, I will keep the rest of my powder dry and, for the moment, seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51C withdrawn.

Amendment 51D not moved.

Amendment 51E

Moved by Lord Browne of Ladyton

51E: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—

“Defamation county courts: special jurisdiction

(1) The Lord Chancellor may, with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, by order made by statutory instrument designate any county court as a defamation county court and confer on it jurisdiction (its “special jurisdiction”) to hear and determine such descriptions of proceedings—

(a) relating to defamation, or

(b) ancillary to, or arising out of the same subject matter as, proceedings relating to defamation,

as may be specified in the order.

(2) The special jurisdiction of a defamation county court is exercisable throughout England and Wales, but rules of court may provide for a matter pending in one such court to be heard and determined in another or partly in that and partly in another.

(3) An order under this section providing for the discontinuance of any of the special jurisdiction of a defamation county court may make provision as to proceedings pending in the court when the order comes into operation.

(4) Nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting the ordinary jurisdiction of a county court.

(5) The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales may nominate a judicial office holder (as defined in section 109(4) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005) to exercise his functions under this section.”

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC362

Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, this amendment is designed to probe the Government on the possibility of creating a defamation county court. The idea of having such a court has already been discussed in a previous session of your Lordships’ Committee. It was a recommendation of the Joint Committee, at least in a pilot sense. At this time of day, I shall spare your Lordships the pain of having to listen to me read the whole of the paragraph that refers to this from the Joint Committee’s report.

However, for the purposes of the record it is paragraph 87, which I will read in short. It starts with a sentence that I think we would all agree with:

“Some witnesses argued that costs would be reduced if libel cases were generally dealt with by county courts rather than the High Court”.

It goes on to make a good argument, concluding:

“The Ministry of Justice should implement a pilot scheme to determine how this proposal might work in practice”.

This amendment is our attempt to set a statutory framework for such a pilot scheme. The idea behind it is to significantly reduce the costs of defamation proceedings; an issue that we have agreed is a shared concern.

The drafting of this amendment will prove not to be perfect but it is intended to be a probe. However, it is based on the Patents County Court. By way of background, the Patents Court is not a county court in the usual sense but a specialist court for the resolution of intellectual property disputes. It was originally set up in 1990 but was set up under its most recent guise in late 2010, with the aim of providing efficient intellectual property case trials as an alternative to costly and time-consuming High Court trials.

The key provisions of the Patents County Court are that costs are on a fixed scale, capped at £50,000, while the damages that the court can award are limited to £500,000 and each trial is aimed to be concluded—wait for it—within two days. The court has recently started giving non-binding opinion, generally during the case management conference stage of proceedings and before trial, as to the likely outcome of the case. I suspect that all noble Lords in this Committee would welcome that environment for the early and swift deliberation of cases that got to trial, never mind the issue of some pre-trial provision or alternative dispute resolution, which noble Lords have previously discussed.

When this idea was discussed during our previous session, the Minister said that he would go away and think about the idea. With this amendment I am providing an opportunity for the Minister to tell us where his thinking presently is. For the purposes of the record, the exchange that I am referring to was with the noble Lord, Lord Faulks during the first day in Committee at col. GC 458. I beg to move.


Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, I strongly support allowing county courts to hear all but the most serious defamation cases. As the noble Lord has said, it was a recommendation of the Joint Committee; indeed, it was the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I who advocated it very strongly on that committee. Quite apart from the complexity of the law and the arcane procedures that we have developed, one of the main reasons why costs have become so

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC363

high in these cases has been the development of a highly specialist Bar and specialist solicitors, all conducting cases very expensively exclusively in the High Court.

The simplification of the defences in this Bill, coupled with the simplification of procedure and more extensive and earlier case management, should make it possible to reduce the complexity of defamation cases substantially. In those circumstances, the development of county court expertise with designated judges to manage and hear these cases would make justice, importantly, more local, quicker, cheaper, simpler, and in all ways more accessible. Of course there will always be cases that are complex, difficult and paper-heavy. They will require High Court expertise and the attention of specialist High Court judges. However, I hope that for the generality of cases county courts will become the norm and that therefore the cases will become simpler to sue, to defend and to resolve. We recommended trialling county courts for defamation cases; I ask that that happens soon.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, just as I paid tribute earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for his contribution, so I pay tribute also to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks. Without them I am not sure that the Committee would have come to this conclusion. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, has just eloquently explained our thinking and our reasoning. Indeed, my noble friend Lord McNally may remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, had one or two questions for him on this subject when he came to give evidence.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, said that we proposed a pilot, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has confirmed that. I would add that we proposed a pilot in part because we thought that this was such a radical idea that the Minister would need some help in dealing with the legal profession. We could hear the legal profession lining up against this idea and we wanted to side with the Minister, so we suggested a pilot. However, he should not be unaware of the fact that he will have one or two sessions of arm-wrestling with people who were not overly persuasive to the Committee before, hopefully, he gives effect to this particular amendment.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I add my strong support for this amendment. You could almost say that we have been mourning the failure to provide justice in the defamation field for more years than I can remember. The Society of Labour Lawyers published a document, Justice for All, back in the 1960s. The Society of Liberal Democratic Lawyers published its blueprint 20 years ago. Every legal body that I am aware of has bemoaned the intractable problems related particularly to defamation. However, I see here the seeds of a breakthrough. It is very difficult for us lawyers to accept that sometimes the best is the enemy of the good, and I would far rather have some rough and ready justice within a sensible, practical framework such as might be provided under this amendment than I would see justice spurned. I hope that we can be open-minded and a bit imaginative and, before this Bill is done, provide something that will remedy what is at present a shame for us all.

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC364

6 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, it has taken me till the fourth day of this Committee to rumble the noble Lord, Lord Browne. Beneath his metropolitan, urbane and sophisticated exterior, there is a canny Scot. My absolute copper-bottomed assurances on dealing with costs are met with a clear assurance that that will not be delivered without him battering us on to deliver. Now he notices a bandwagon on county courts that was rightfully set rolling by the Committee and he immediately claims it as his own. I can see him now, ticking off in his memoirs the influences that he has had on the Bill. I hope that when he gets home tonight he will read to his wife the passage about “metropolitan, urbane and sophisticated”.

Let me be clear that defamation cases can be started in a county court at the moment, although both parties must agree to this in writing. That is the position under Practice Direction 7A to the Civil Procedure Rules, but I freely acknowledge that it may be that we should revisit those procedure rules. We will give the issues involved very careful attention, and I sincerely welcome this very useful debate and the suggestions that have been made. The Lord Chancellor already has broad powers to allocate business between the High Court and the county courts. When the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, raised the matter earlier in our proceedings, I think I mentioned that the Lord Chancellor has expressed his interest in this idea. The Lord Chancellor’s broad powers are under Section 1 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. The provisions in the Crime and Courts Bill to establish a single county court, which the House has approved, will preserve this power.

I therefore assure noble Lords that we are very interested in this idea, but it does not need primary legislation to carry it forward. If we consider the use of county courts to be appropriate, the necessary procedural changes to enable that to happen can be put in place. I hope that that is a firm enough indication of direction of travel. I tore up my notes and changed them to that very positive response because of the persuasive case that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, made in opening this debate. In the mean time, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and Lord Mawhinney, but I am not surprised by it because the amendment draws support already from the report of the Joint Committee. I am grateful also for the overt support of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.

I have to thank the Minister for his flattering if somewhat inaccurate and probably libellous description of me. It is unworthy of him to suggest that I am a bandwagon-jumper in any sense. I will privately produce evidence to him that this is an issue which I have been discussing with members of the legal profession in England in various guises for some months now, because it is not entirely what he and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, described and discussed. This very specific provision is presented in this fashion, taking advantage of the specialist Patents Court, to make another criticism

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC365

that I think the Minister will have to face should he seek our shared ambition of moving these cases to the county court—that is, there are already specialist judges who do these cases, but they are in the High Court. There will be, I predict, resistance on the part of the judiciary, among others, who will say that this difficult, complicated work, which requires High Court judges, has to be kept there.

The reason why I presented the amendment in this fashion, having thought about it for some time—since long before the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and the Minister took place—is that I cannot think of a more complicated area of law and fact than patent law. If a specialist court at county court level, with specialist judges, works for that area of the law, then I believe it can work for defamation.

I am also told that it is in the nature of the legal profession that our very senior judges tend to have been in the profession for a period of time and retire. I am not entirely sure what further lifespan on the Bench—that is the wrong phrase—what further time on the Bench the judges in the High Court who are specialists on defamation have. Although I do not know this, the suggestion was made to me that there is a probability that they will retire, or at least that a significant number of them may, within a comparatively short time. I am not sure whether that is right but they will have to be replaced sometime, and it should not be beyond the ability of the legal profession to produce judges at county court level who have this specialism.

I am not entirely sure whether the Minister is right that the creation of a specialist court or courts, such as the patent courts, does not require primary legislation. If it does not then I am interested to know why the patent courts were created by primary legislation if we can create specialist county courts without it, but maybe the law has been changed since they were created.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Might the noble Lord encourage the Government to look at the possibility of empowering registrars of county courts to do much more of the preliminary work? They could have a much bigger role, but again that might require primary legislation.

Lord Browne of Ladyton: I am grateful for that intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. The best that I can say is that I am sure the Minister has heard that suggestion, and when he is deliberating further on this potential development I am sure that he will take into account.

I am reassured that this is sufficiently high among the Government’s priorities to be a possibility—that is the best that we can expect at this stage. We will continue to keep an eye on this issue while the Bill is before the House.

Lord McNally: The noble Lord asked a specific question on the powers to create a court in this area. The amendment is clearly based on the provision for the Patents Court in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which is being repealed as part of the

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC366

provisions of the Crime and Courts Bill for establishing a single county court. It is superfluous because powers already exist to allocate jurisdiction as between county courts or, in future, in the single county court and the High Court under Section 1 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.

This also gives me the opportunity to withdraw my scandalous assertion; I was just getting a bit demob happy in asserting that the noble Lord jumps on bandwagons. I stick by “metropolitan, urbane and sophisticated”, though, because I know how much trouble that will give him back home in Scotland.

Lord Browne of Ladyton: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51E withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed.

Amendment 52

Moved by Lord Mawhinney

52: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—

“Civil Procedure Rule Committee Guidance

The Secretary of State shall publish guidance for the Civil Procedure Rule Committees proposing procedural reforms in the case of defamation proceedings.”

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, at the end of his last contribution to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the Minister talked about the importance of procedural change. This amendment is about procedural change. The committee got frustrated at times because to us the single most important thing was cost and bringing this legislation to literally millions of people who are at present prevented from getting coverage by the law. I will not take the time of the Committee at this late hour to read into the record the evidence that the Minister gave when he came, but we were encouraged that he was of a similar mind to us. The Government have the power to interact with the senior levels of the legal profession and the judiciary to require them to do things. We were hugely impressed by the cost attached to the management structures of the judiciary at this time. They could be streamlined, enhanced and quickened, and all of that pulls down the cost and therefore makes legislation available to millions who at the moment are priced out of the market.

I know my noble friend is going to tell me about the Master of the Rolls. I understand all of that. I have noted very carefully that he hopes to be in a position to press a button of some description by October of this year and I am sure we are all going to hold him to that. But I cannot let this opportunity pass. This looks on the face of it a fairly obscure, perhaps mildly boring, not very important amendment but it may be just about the most important amendment that the committee made and it comes with a lot of feeling, a lot of passion and a lot of importance. If Parliament does not legislate to make remedy available for the millions, it is legitimate to question what Parliament is all about. If my noble friend will accept this amendment and then put his shoulder to the wheel and push aside

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC367

those who will line up to thwart him in every direction, he will have the thanks not only of our committee, not only of this Committee, not only of the House and Parliament; he will have the thanks of millions and millions of people who will look at our deliberations tonight and think, “It is all very well for them but we do not have any say in this procedure at the moment”. I strongly commend this amendment to the Committee.

Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I wish strongly to associate myself with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney. It must be possible for Parliament through this Bill to find a conduit to the appropriate Rolls committee to express the unanimous view of Parliament that access to justice in this area must be improved and it can only be improved if we reform the way in which these cases are conducted to reduce the cost and delay of them. I am not entirely sure whether this is the appropriate way to do it and I do not think it matters to the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, whether it is. There must be a way of doing that without transgressing on the appropriate separation of powers. There must be some way of getting that message across. It is undoubtedly the case for those of us who have practised before the courts, whether in this jurisdiction or in other jurisdictions, that whether there is a specialist Bar, whether there is a complicated area of the law, whether there are litigants with deep pockets, the one thing that is most important to the efficient conduct of business is the maximum appropriate judicial intervention to concentrate the minds of parties on the real issue and to get them to resolve those issues in the minimum of judicial time. If we can find some way of doing that, while at the same time ensuring that those who do not have deep pockets have a right to redress, we will have done our work. Raising the bar, simplifying and explaining the defences and preparing the best suite of defences the world has ever seen will mean nothing if all we have done is recreate the issues of dispute for the same tediously long processes and complicated debates that eat up vast amounts of people’s time and resources. They also destroy lives—much more quite often than the remarks that were made about them in the first place.

6.15 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I was getting a little frivolous earlier because we have had a long day, but I associate myself absolutely with the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Mawhinney. Just as at the beginning of this exercise, the question of costs and cost protection has been one of the keys to this problem of defamation. I share exactly the views expressed. It is a little sad that our distinguished judicial Members are no longer with us, and perhaps we will return to this. The noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, will remember when I and the previous Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, gave evidence to the committee. I know that Ken Clarke was absolutely convinced that this was one of the keys to the whole thing. I have not discussed this in any detail with the present Lord Chancellor but I cannot imagine that he is any more or less convinced on this.

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC368

That said, we do not consider the amendment necessary. The rule committee does not operate in a vacuum and civil procedure rules are made by a process that requires the approval of the Lord Chancellor for rules made by the committee. I take it on board; I have been in this job long enough to realise that you have to be careful in the separation of powers that we have in our system between the responsibilities of the judiciary, the Government and Parliament. But that does not mean that Parliament or the Government cannot send the clearest messages to the judiciary. That is why I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, earlier that case management is a major responsibility now for judges, and in this case in particular.

The Government can and do put before the committee proposals for amendments to rules of court. The Lord Chancellor is also able by virtue of Section 3A of the Civil Procedure Act 1997 to notify the committee that he thinks it expedient that rules should achieve a specified purpose, and in such a case the committee must make rules as it considers necessary to achieve the specified purpose. Ministry of Justice officials have discussed the contents of the Bill and related procedural issues with members of the senior judiciary on a number of occasions during the period in which the Bill has developed. Most recently, a meeting has taken place to discuss these issues with the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, who heads the Civil Procedure Rule Committee. The Government will put proposals for procedural changes to support the new Act before the Civil Procedure Rule Committee shortly. Our intention is to ensure that these are in place when the Act comes into force. I hope on that basis that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I offer warm thanks to my noble friend for what he has said. He pointed out that arrangements already exist for the interrelationship between government and the judiciary. That was the point that I sought to make in moving the amendment. No one on the committee, and no one I know, is trying to challenge the separation at the very heart of our democracy; that was not the issue. However, having been told that there are ways in which those who are elected can relate to those who sit in judgment, we took the view that the more that people understood that those ways existed, the more they would be used, the more the Government’s arm would be strengthened and the more people would benefit in their advocacy and involvement.

I reassure my noble friend that he and I are approaching this in exactly the same way. He will notice that I did not table any amendments on arbitration and mediation, which were very much parts of the committee’s report. I did not do so because they are all wrapped up in this question of cost; I mention them now so that he will not forget them when he reflects further on how best to reduce costs. Very much in the spirit that he has outlined the issue, in which I wish to share, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 52 withdrawn.

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC369

Amendment 53

Moved by Lord Mawhinney

53: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—

“Reporting to Parliament

The Secretary of State shall report to Parliament annually on the codification of this Act; and in particular on its impact on accessibility and clarity of the law.”

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I feel, on a personal level, the need to start, not exactly by making an apology, but by recognising that I have been playing far more of a role in this Committee than my record over 30 years in Parliament would have caused anyone to anticipate, or than I would find comfortable. I have interpreted my responsibility as chairman of the Joint Committee in carrying through the work of the Joint Committee to this Committee so that when the government Bill did not cover what we recommended I could at least draw the issues to the attention of this Committee. In that sense and spirit I move my last amendment; I am probably as pleased to be at the end of the process as much as the rest of your Lordships are.

We were conscious that we were doing two things. Defamation seems to be one of those areas of law where the common law has prevailed. What has been codified has been minimal, and judges have been left to move the thing forward. The argument for that has been the great flexibility of common law. We got evidence that not many people understood the common law and that there was benefit for the citizenry to have more codification in this area than has traditionally been the case. Hence this final amendment, to set out some help: to ask the Government to help people to understand the codification, what is left of the common law, and what more might be usefully codified and then to undertake to report to Parliament annually, so that all of us can see that as what is agreed in Parliament is implemented, so the public benefit. I thank my colleagues for their patience and, for the last time, invite them to allow me to move the amendment.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, the Committee has heard from me before, as has the House at Second Reading, on my admiration for the concentration of the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, both on the ordinary citizen—particularly in Peterborough—who might get caught up in a libel case, whether as claimant or defendant, and also on the need of anyone involved to be able to read and understand the Bill after enactment without the need of lawyerly guidance, as he has just outlined. This is his final throw and we should support him.

We do not want the courts to so run away with interpretation and reinterpretation of the Act that a simple reading of it would give very little guide to the current law on defamation, so nuanced will it have become in learned judgments. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, would want Parliament to come back to this at that stage and say, “Look, the Act no longer represents the law; we should amend it”. We concur completely with his desire that untutored people

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC370

should know their rights and their duties in regard to defamation and we hope that the Government can respond positively to the amendment.

In the mean time, as we close this part of our scrutiny of the Bill, I thank the Lords Deputy Chairmen who have guided us through procedures; the Bill team, who have assisted us throughout, both here and in other meetings, for their patience; the Ministers for their mostly good humour and occasional cheekiness; and our colleague, Sophie Davis, for keeping my noble friend Lord Browne and myself as close to the straight and narrow as was in her ability to do.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I associate myself and these Benches with the most recent remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.

Lord McNally: A few weeks ago in the House I tried to make a Churchillian quote and got it completely messed up. I shall have another go.

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.

I have got it right this time.

The only doubt I have had is about how vigorously the Committee have taken up my invitation for discussion. I will not make that mistake again. Next time, I will be utterly Stalinist in ramming the Bill through.

Our considerations of the Bill have been extremely useful. The constructive way in which the Opposition have approached the Bill and brought their experience to it, and the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, has seen his duty as chairman of his committee not ending with the delivery of the report but has helped and guided us on the thinking behind so many of the recommendations, have been extremely helpful. My colleagues on these Benches have been extremely helpful and it has been great to have the help of some distinguished judges.

We now move on to Report and it is rather sad that I cannot accept the final amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, as it stands. He was an experienced Minister and will know that the two things that I have been told to avoid, even in my brief ministerial career, are annual reports to Parliament and sunset clauses, which are usually the stuff of Opposition amendments. I cannot accept an annual report because, as the noble Lord will know, arrangements already exist for post-legislative scrutiny. The Ministry of Justice is committed to fulfilling the requirements of post-legislative scrutiny in relation to this legislation.

However, taking up the point which was partly implicit in what the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, said and in the final remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, I cannot make commitments on spending money in the Ministry of Justice because we have not got any. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that once this legislation is passed, a simple guide for laymen and laywomen on what we have done, how we have done it and how it will be applied, both on our website and in printed form, would be extremely useful. In that spirit I will take away the amendment and hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC371

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Would it not be possible to think of what was done in the Charities Act 2006? This is landmark legislation in defamation. Could there not be a review within four or five years, which would not impose, obviously, the obligation of an annual review but would ensure that this did not go by the board because there was another Government with other priorities?

Lord McNally: But, my Lords, that is exactly what will happen. There will be post-legislative scrutiny within three to five years of this Act passing.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I salute my noble friend the Minister. I thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. We as a Committee have been well

17 Jan 2013 : Column GC372

served by the Ministers. They have undertaken to reflect on what has been said, and I have the confidence to believe that a little of what was said that initially did not please them may turn out eventually to be slightly more persuasive than originally they may have thought. I look forward to Report and I make a promise to colleagues that I shall not be as visible then as I have sought to be here. I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 53 withdrawn.

Clauses 15 to 17 agreed.

Bill reported with amendments.

Committee adjourned at 6.31 pm.