HC Deb 14 November 1929 vol 231 cc2228-33

On a point of procedure as to the publication of the OFFICIAL REPORT, I see by the OFFICIAL REPORT of to-day that in it are included, not only yesterday's proceedings, but part of the proceedings which lasted through the night before. The Division Lists are set out until, I think, about One o'clock in the morning, but there are 10 subsequent Divisions where simply the figures are given and the names are not entered. As some of those Divisions were dealing with very important matters, and any one Member of the House may be challenged at any time as to the position he took in relation to them, may I ask that steps may be taken to ensure that all the Division Lists may be entered, inasmuch as there are 10 Divisions, I think, for which no names are published?


I understand that through some circumstance over which the printers have no control, they could not publish these lists in the OFFICIAL REPORT which appeared this morning, but these lists will appear in the one that is being printed to-day.


I desire to raise a point of Order, or rather a point of procedure or practice, arising out of an incident which occurred yesterday in the House, when the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) drew attention to the fact that the OFFICIAL REPORT of an answer to a question in this House had been altered after the question was answered and before the OFFICIAL REPORT came out next day. I should like to make it perfectly clear that I do not wish to cast any reflection or aspersion whatever upon the hon. Member concerned, namely, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, because he explained with the utmost frankness exactly his attitude about it, and said, quite openly, "I altered what I actually did say into what I ought to have said." It seems to me that, if the matter is to be allowed to rest there, the whole question of the OFFICIAL REPORT is in a very unsatisfactory position. Surely, if we are going to have official reports in this House, they should be reports of what is actually spoken in the House. Those Members who have been in the House for some time, as I have, have often heard the remark thrown across the Floor of the House after some dispute as to what was said, "Oh, we shall see it in the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning." Surely, that ought to be the test. The OFFICIAL REPORT ought to be a kind of arbiter whose relentless accuracy is beyond any question. That being so, I do ask you for a statement in the general interests of the House.

There is one other point that I wish to mention. If Members can correct their speeches and entirely alter the sense of their speeches before the OFFICIAL REPORT is printed, surely that is throwing a very difficult task upon the Editor of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and upon the official reporters. After all, the Editor of the OFFICIAL REPORT, as an officer of this House, occupies a position of great responsibility. His duty is to see that the records of this House are accurately reported. In regard to all these matters that I have raised, I desire to ask these questions: (1) Whether it is the fact that the OFFICIAL REPORT should be an exact record of what is actually spoken in this House? (2) If so, to what extent is a Member entitled to make alterations in the transcript of the Report before it is printed? (3) Is the Editor of the OFFICIAL REPORT bound to accept any corrections which a Member might make, even though there is no question of the accuracy of the transcript?


As my name has been mentioned, I think I should be allowed to say a few words. It is only fair to state that I might have been notified that this matter was to be raised to-day. I want to point out that the position is not quite as it has been stated by the right hon. Member who has just spoken. The matter to which I referred yesterday arose in this way: Owing to the confusion and noise, an announce- ment was not heard in the Gallery, and a slip was sent to be filled in. That was the position. The other thing is that it is not quite the case that there was a misstatement. As the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) will bear in mind, there was, as he showed by his next supplementary question, some confusion between him and myself as to the nature of the question asked and my reply. The hon. Member said that I was confusing two things, employment and engagement. Therefore, the confusion arose. It is not a question of altering that has arisen in this connection, as has been stated by the hon. Member who has just sat down.


I would like to say, as I said yesterday, that of course I accept entirely what the Parliamentary Secretary says. I put to him a question, and in reply he made the statement that the number of persons employed in the dockyard was twice as great as before. When he made that statement, I felt that he was making a quite excusable mistake, and, because I knew that the statement would be circulated, I asked him two supplementary questions upon it. My supplementary questions appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but the Parliamentary Secretary's answers did not appear as they were given in the House at the time. Therefore, my supplementary questions looked positively ridiculous in the OFFICIAL REPORT. If I had been consulted when the transcript was sent down to the Parliamentary Secretary, I would willingly have made any arrangement that would have suited the hon. Gentleman, so that both our statements would at any rate have been consistent. I quite realise the circumstances in which this particular statement was made, and I entirely realise that the right hon. Gentleman who has raised this matter is raising it purely as a matter of principle and not in relation to any particular personalities concerned.


Further on a point of Order. Do you, Mr. Speaker, approve of arrangements being made between the Labour party and the Liberal party as to what is to appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT?


Questions were put to me yesterday by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), and, as I had not had any notice of them, perhaps I did not make myself quite clear in the Ruling that I then gave. On the other hand, I am sure hon. Members will realise that to give a definite Ruling on all the circumstances that have been raised this afternoon would be a very difficult thing to do. Anybody who knows the difficulties connected with the reporting of the OFFICAL REPORT will fully realise that.

But I shall be glad to give some Ruling on the questions put to me by the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill). As regards the first question that he raised, it is, unfortunately, the case that it is not given to all Members to speak with the grammatical precision which is desirable when the spoken word has to be transcribed for the OFFICIAL REPORT. An hon. Member obviously is entitled to correct an error which arises in his speech and to put the speech in grammatical form, but at the same time it is often the case that an hon. Member is imperfectly heard in the Gallery and that a word, perhaps a very important word, is omitted from his speech. Obviously, again, he is entitled to insert that word if it has been spoken in the House and has not been heard in the Gallery. I am ashamed to say that that has happened to myself.

As regards the last question which the right hon. Gentleman raised, if any great difference occurs between what is reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT and what an hon. Member thinks ought to be there, inquiries by the reporters in the Gallery are made, and great care is taken that no untrue report appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think the House will generally recognise and be aware of the immense difficulties of the reporters in the Gallery in making their reports. I think it will also be generally agreed that they do their work with great efficiency and to the satisfaction of all Members of the House. I should be very sorry, by any definite Ruling that I gave here, to make any alterations in the existing system, which, as far as I am aware, has for many years been giving entire satisfaction, as I feel sure it will continue to do in future. I feel sure, too, that Members will fully realise their responsibilities.


It will be within your recollection that in former days the practice prevailed of indicating by 'an asterisk attached to the report of a speech any report which had been corrected by the Member concerned. I believe that that system was instituted by Mr. Gladstone when he found words quoted against him which he was certain that he had never approved. Accordingly, this practice continued for many subsequent years; a star was put against any speech which the Member who delivered it had thought proper to correct. That arrangement had the additional convenience that it absolved the Member whose speech was not so starred from responsibility for a report which, owing to the accidents of which you have spoken, might not be entirely accurate. I believe that the system broke down, because at a certain stage the then Editor of the Parliamentary Report undertook to put a star beside, not every speech which had been corrected, but every speech of which he had received no corrections, thus falsifying the entire intention of the star. I ask you to consider, perhaps 'after consultation with other authorities in the House, whether it might not be desirable to revive the practice of marking with a star those speeches which have been corrected by their authors.


Are we to understand, Mr. Speaker, from what you have just said that a distinction should be drawn between what may be called mere alterations of grammar and alterations in speeches which really change the whole sense of what was spoken?


On the question of literal reporting, so far as verbal and grammatical substance is concerned, is it not the case that at least 50 per cent. of the coherent and readable speeches which appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT are the work of the gentlemen in the Gallery 'and not the delivery of the Members of the House?


Is it a desirable practice that sentences should be omitted from speeches made by Members on one side of the House or the other?


I thought I made that clear in my statement just now. Any real alterations of meaning are not allowable.


I was not referring to the alteration of a word, but the omission of whole sentences. I have noticed it myself.


That would alter the meaning, I think.