I wish to raise a point which was not originally raised by me, but by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, Neep-send (Sir F. Soskice) who, unfortunately, is not here today. It is a point on which I would be grateful if the Attorney-General could enlighten us.
I appreciate what he says about the Crown Proceedings Act, and the position of the Stationery Office before the passing of that Act, and since. Obviously, what he has said completely changes the whole atmosphere in which the debate took place in Committee. The difficulty is that I do not know how often it has occurred in the past. We are, in this Clause, dealing with a case where a Member of Parliament wishes his speech or an extract from his speech to be published by the Stationery Office or by the Queen's Printer or whoever it is.
The question may then arise whether or not, apart from this Clause, there is any defamation contained in the speech and whether it should be published. I understand that in the past the printers have taken an option on that. What my right hon. and learned Friend was deeply concerned about was that that case for opinion should find its way to the Law Officers of the Crown, and if it should that they would be in an extremely invidious position. If that position can arise, it is obviously one of extreme difficulty. It would mean that the Law Officers would, in effect, have to decide that a speech made in the House of Commons by another Member of Parliament should not be published.
There may be some cases where defamation, admittedly, would be so clear that no question could arise and there would be no difficulty. But suppose the problem arose over a matter of acute political controversy, and the Law Officer in question had to advise on the publication of a speech made by an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House on a matter on which there was great party controversy and on which it might not be too clear that there was, in fact, a defamation, although the Law Officer held the view that there was.
If that position can arise, or is likely to arise, as things are now it is a matter to which the House should give its consideration. In those circumstances there would be a great deal in favour of this Clause. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows of this point and that what he has to say on it will be listened to with great interest.