It is with very great reluctance that I differ from the views just expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) but I must differ from him on the fundamental position he has adopted, that a Member has the right to have his speech reprinted by the Stationery Office. I think that is a privilege; I do not think it is a right.
Neither do I think it would be right that a person who happened to be libelled or defamed in a speech reprinted in those circumstances should not have the usual right of a defamed person to proceed against the printer, the publisher and the author, but only against the author, because it may very well be that the author might be a person against whom any remedy normally obtained in the court might, in fact, be unenforceable. That is something of which I think we should not lose sight.
Of course, Members are sometimes challenged—I have not heard it much in recent years, but it was a practice some years ago when debates were far more personal—to repeat outside the House a statement made in the House because it might very well be that while it was privileged in the House it would not be privileged outside. The person defamed might then have the opportunity of proving before the courts that the statement made about him was, in fact, a defamation of his character. I think we ought to preserve that position as much as we possibly can. I dissent entirely from the view that a Member has the right to have his speeches reprinted by the Stationery Office as if it were something which attaches to membership of the House.
When I made my maiden speech, a relative of mine who owned a local newspaper published it in full, with, of course, the necessary embellishments of loud cheers and laugher which, after all, make a speech far more readable than a mere reprint from HANSARD. I paid for several hundred copies of that report to be reprinted and circulated to people whom I thought might be duly impressed when they received it. It was not until afterwards that I discovered that it is cheaper to get one's speech reprinted from HANSARD, although I do not happen to have had a speech reprinted for the last 17 years. My style of oratory has deteriorated during that period.
I share the view expressed by the Attorney-General that it would be a mistake to continue this Clause in the Bill, and although my hon. and learned Friend apologised for it I must say that I always view with misgiving anyone on this side of the House thinking that right will be done in another place when he has not managed to secure it here, because I have no trust in the other place at all.
As I say, I regret having to differ from my hon. and learned Friend, and I would not have spoken but for the fact that he claimed this reprinting as a right. In my view it is only a privilege, and I think it right that legal opinion should be taken as to whether the proposed reprint is, in fact, defamatory before it is printed and published by the Stationery Office. If the Stationery Office reprint something that is defamatory, I can see no reason why they should be put in a privileged position as compared with other printers and publishers who could be sued if they published a defamatory article.