If you speak in the House, or in a committee, your words are recorded, either in Hansard (for the chamber or Grand Committee) or in the committee proceedings. Your words are then in print permanently, available to be read by anyone. I console myself that if I ever make a bad speech or a less than lucid comment, then the chances are that hardly anyone will read it anyway. The bad news is that the same probably applies to my good speeches as well.
The fact that you are on the record, and cannot unsay what is said, was illustrated recently in the Constitution Committee when we took evidence from Lord Hennessy on the draft Cabinet manual. He was asked if he agreed with a former Cabinet Secretary that a quote from Nick Clegg, embodied in a footnote, should not be included. He responded:
“Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: It should not be there. I suspect it is there because he is chairing the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee which did the work on this. I do not want to be unkind to him, but he is not Dicey on stilts, is he? I take that back. I know you can’t expunge it from the record, but that footnote stands out in a very odd way – if I can put it tactfully. It would be better if it were not there.”
I think Lord Hennessy was not intending to lose any sleep over his observation. I must keep an eye open for other such comments….