Paul Farrelly, Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Member of CMS Select Committee.
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- The hon. Gentleman said that it is absurd to say that we cannot regulate the internet, but it is a myth that the internet cannot be regulated. Too often, people say, "Oh, it's the internet; we don't know where it is. It's around the world, so it cannot be regulated." That is a recipe for inaction. In fact, as we found out, everybody who connects to the internet has to do so through an internet service provider in their home country. We are not sufficiently advanced that people can connect without those intermediaries via satellites, and connections can be regulated.
Farrelly largely supports the Defamation Bill, however has raised some questions about it.
- I support the thrust of the Bill, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a danger in carrying out piecemeal reform, and in saying that certain tasks will be dealt with by Leveson and others by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, because, as he rightly says, there is no guarantee that they will be dealt with?
- I hope there will be cross-party support for an improvement to our libel laws, and in keeping with that spirit I join other Members in congratulating the Secretary of State on making sure the Government have found time for this Bil.
In turn, Farrelly spoke of a number of 'sensible reforms' to the bill that should be considered.
- First, in the public interest, we would like the “chilling effect” to be properly addressed. A writ for libel requires no more than a rubber stamp, whereas to defend one, however trivial or vexatious it might be, takes precious time, effort and lawyers. As we have heard, lawyers and courts cost money—an awful lot of money in libel. Too often the system is weighted in favour of deep-pocketed claimants whose threats are an all-too-effective deterrent to investigation and publication in the public interest.
- Secondly, and this is a corollary, we want to jettison London’s reputation as “A city named sue”. It tarnishes our country and our democracy. The situation is not overblown, as certain judges have suggested. One cannot measure the attraction and impact of our libel laws by the number of cases alone, but one can listen to the voices of publishers, non-governmental organisations, scientists, medics and academics in relation to what they will and will not publish, around the world, for fear of being sued in London.
- Thirdly, as we have heard, there needs to be a proper balance between freedom of speech, especially in the public interest, and reputation. As the phone hacking scandal has once again shown, there is a world of difference between the quality press and the gutter press. There are responsible bloggers and evil people whom I understand are called trolls. Often, getting a simple correction or apology from the highest-minded newspaper is like pulling teeth. 
- HC Deb, 13 November 2008, c368WH; They Work for You
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