Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Tuesday, 19 July 2011 09:32 UK

Draft Defamation Bill: Paul Dacre and Matthew Parris

Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre has told a committee of MPs and peers that he had never known the newspaper publish a story based on phone hacking.

He gave evidence on 18 July, 2011, to a joint committee set up to investigate the government's Draft Defamation Bill on reforming libel laws in England and Wales.

Asked if the Daily Mail had ever published a story that "you knew at the time, or subsequently came to know", was based on a hacked message "or any other source of material that had been obtained unlawfully", he said: "Absolutely not."

The Draft Defamation Bill was presented by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke in March, following concerns that existing libel laws were damaging freedom of expression in scientific and academic debate.

Supporters of the proposals say the new laws will make it tougher for people to bring overseas claims which have little connection to the UK.

Mr Dacre warned that the "parlous" financial situation of much of the newspaper industry should be taken into consideration before making any changes.

The committee also heard from Times journalist Matthew Parris, who said that the internet was a "sphere of its own" and should be given separate consideration to the written or spoken word when discussing libel or defamation.

He said that small or specialised publications were at greater risk of being sued as they did not have the financial backing and support of large media organisations.

On the issue of hacking, Mr Parris said that he could argue that it was "because we set the bar so high, that journalists do sometimes resort to subterfuge because they feel they must have gathered the information they are going to need should they be sued and actually if we had more of a free-for-all in the press, people might not try so hard to tap people's telephones and find out what the truth was beforehand".

Conservative MP Peter Bottomley questioned whether the law could be reformed to prevent "abuse of libel laws".

Paul Dacre criticised the "predatory" nature of certain libel lawyers who made "vast sums of money".

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all committed to reviewing libel law in their election manifestos.

The common law defences of "justification" and "fair comment" are proposed to be scrapped and replaced with new statutory defences of "truth" and "honest opinion".

Labour have welcomed moves to crack down on so-called "libel tourism", but shadow justice minister Robert Flello has said "the devil is in the detail" of the bill.


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