Last month I emailed my local MP, Jenny Willott (Lib Dem, Cardiff Central), regarding the Draft Defamation Bill and the ‘Leveson clause’ using The Libel Reform Campaign‘s Don’t kill the Bill. I received the following response this morning:
Ref: LS/TC/270313/Defamation Bill 2013
8th April 2013
Dear Dr. Crick,
Thank you for your email about the Defamation Bill.
The Defamation Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation that I strongly support. Over recent years, Britain has become a laughing stock as libel tourism has been on the rise and cases have been brought against various high profile scientists and journalists. This has to change, and as my party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, made clear in a speech on civil liberties last year, libel reform is a very real priority for this government.
That’s why I have been disappointed that this Bill has been held up in the House of Lords by the Conservatives after Labour Peers tabled amendments to introduce the Leveson reforms. However, now that the three main party leaders have agreed the way forward to implement the Leveson reforms, the path is clear for the Defamation Bill to proceed.
As part of the deal between the parties, the Prime Minister announced to the House of Commons that the Government’s legislative programme would now be unblocked, including the Defamation Bill. The changes proposed by Leveson and the reforms in the Defamation Bill are badly needed, and I am pleased that we have now been able to agree a way that we can deliver both.
The right to freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our constitution, and the need to reform our 19th century libel laws is great. The proposals in the Defamation Bill will ensure that the threat of libel proceedings is not used to frustrate robust scientific and academic debate, or to impede responsible investigative journalism and valuable work undertaken by non-governmental organisations. Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of the campaign for reform, and I am looking forward to the Defamation Bill completing its stages in the Commons in the next few weeks and becoming law.
Thank you again for writing, and please do not hesitate to contact me again if you have further concerns about this or any other issue.
MP for Cardiff Central
My response from Don Foster (Bath) is word-for-word identical, from “The Defamation Bill …” down to “… and becoming law”.
I suppose this is encouraging, in that we can be assured that party MPs are communicating effectively, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed that MPs don’t write their responses to constituent letters.
On the other hand, of course, this may be justified when they’re responding to what is in effect an orchestrated campaign: many constituents are likely to have copied their letters to their MPs, so perhaps shouldn’t be surprised when MPs do the same.
Having said that, I want to think that my MP (and Tom’s) holds himself to higher standards of openness and honesty, so next time, I’ think I’d rather have something like this: