HC Deb 30 June 1944 vol 401 cc969-77
Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

I feel that I owe the House some slight explanation of the fact that I am not raising on the Adjournment to-day the subject which the notice behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker, says that I am going to raise. The explanation of that is the simple one that I did not give notice of my intention to raise that subject and never had any intention of doing so; I think there must have been some slight misunderstanding in your Office. On the other hand, I am equally not raising the subject which I had intended to raise on the Adjournment to-day, for the equally simple reason that I have received satisfactory assurances from the Department concerned with it. What I am raising is a minor and technical matter which is not, however, I hope, altogether without importance or interest. No Government reply is needed, because, indeed, I am informed that it comes within your scope, Sir, rather than within the province of the Treasury. I want to draw attention to what seems to me to be the increasing prevalence of misprints and slips in the OFFICIAL REPORT of this House. The acoustics of this venerable Chamber do not seem to get any better as the centuries wear on, and no doubt that is a primary cause of these very unfortunate and irritating mistakes that do creep into HANSARD so fre- quently. The matter seemed to me to be brought rather to a head in the report of last Friday's Debate, the third day of the important Debate on employment policy, when there was a serious error in the reporting of one of the three main Ministerial speeches in that Debate—the speech by the Minister of Production. Towards the end of his speech, in column 576, he is reported to have said: It is human to be prudent in almost all forms of life, and to draw in one's horns and cut down expenditure when income tends to decline, and that is the process to which we are asking both private and indeed public enterprise to revert."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1944; Vol. 401, c. 576.] That, of course, is a complete contradiction of the whole experimental principle of the White Paper, and what the right hon. Gentleman actually said, as hon. Members who were present will probably recall, was: and that is the process which we are asking both private and indeed public enterprise to reverse —exactly the opposite of what he was reported to have said. There have been several other recent instances: some of the liveliest sallies of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) have been missed. For instance, when the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) was denouncing carpet-baggers the other day, and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale interrupted to ask if he realised what a very unfair attack he was making on his own leader, the last few words of that interruption were completely omitted from the OFFICIAL REPORT. In the same Debate, I think, the hon. Member for Oxford used the admirable word "indefeasible," which appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT as "indivisible"—quite a different thing. I ought also, as a final instance of the kind of thing I mean, to draw attention to the lamentable fact that the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. H. Brooke), than whom there is no more loyal supporter of the Government, was made by the OFFICIAL REPORT to say that the Government's objective was to achieve "a high and stable level of unemployment."

Now, Mr. Speaker, I am, of course, casting no reflection at all on the staff of HANSARD, who do their very arduous duties with the greatest possible competence and assiduity in exceedingly difficult circumstances, often working very late hours quite unexpectedly, and in all sorts of difficulties. But I do feel that something should be done, if possible, to improve the standard of accuracy of the OFFICIAL REPORT. I suppose the only radical and primary remedy is that we should all learn to speak more audibly; but that is perhaps Utopian. A secondary remedy, which is not without its dangers, is that more hon. Members should take the trouble to go and read through the typescript of their speeches in the HANSARD office. A great many of them do so already, but undoubtedly if the hon. Member for Oxford and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale had bothered to go and read through their speeches on the day I have referred to, they would have probably noticed those slips, and put them right—for the benefit of us all.

It may be that those mistakes which are obviously mere misprints, in the strict sense of the word, are due to the manpower shortage, to labour trouble at the printers. That quite probably is so. It may be that they are short of proofreaders or other skilled staff. If so, I think that the Minister of Labour ought to be asked if he can help at all, because I feel that the printing of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Parliament deserves as high a priority as any other kind of printing. All of us, Mr. Speaker, whatever our political views may be, are united in desiring to maintain the prestige of this House, and I feel that the possession, of a complete and accurate record, as nearly verbatim as is possible and reasonable, can contribute not inconsiderably to that prestige. I do not think that we ought even to be afraid of occasional colloquialisms. I think it would be a pity to iron out, so to speak, all the homely colloquialisms which are used in this House. For instance, I hope that we shall have on record that very human little touch, just now, when the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) said, "I've rather forgotten where I was"—after that Marathon series of interruptions by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we do iron out all those colloquialisms, apart from making the report less entertaining to read, we are really giving a false impression of the atmosphere of this House to readers outside and, if we may be so bold, to posterity. Now, Mr. Speaker, that is all I have to say. I am sorry to have detained the House——

Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)

Would my hon. Friend allow me for one moment? He does realise, does he not, that some of the colloquialisms are, unfortunately, ironed out by hon. Members themselves? I do not know whether he was in the House at the time, but there was an example of that within the memory of most hon. Members when the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) delighted the House by affirming that he was a democrat from his top to his bottom. Subsequently, with great loss to the reading of posterity, that was taken out of HANSARD. I hope it is back now.

Mr. Driberg

That is a very good point indeed, and I think that hon. Members should not iron out colloquialisms themselves. On the other hand, I myself have had great difficulty in persuading the Editors of HANSARD not to iron out my own occasional colloquialisms. One is occasionally strictly out of Order, Mr. Speaker, without being called to Order by you. For instance, hon. Members will often say "you," though not referring to you, the occupant of the Chair, and it is the accepted practice of the Editors of HANSARD—quite rightly, in accordance with their instructions—to change that generally to "the hon. Member," or "the right hon. Gentleman," or whatever it may be. I think that is rather a pity, and I think that if we could leave rather more of those colloquialisms in, it would, as I say, give a truer impression to the world outside of what the proceedings in this House are like.

Mr. Speaker, as a comparatively new Member of this House—it was two years ago this week that I took my seat—I offer these observations with humility and with some diffidence, but in the hope that they may be of some use.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I really think my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) is taking both himself and us a little heavily. I do not think the purpose of HANSARD is to provide an exact phonographic reproduction of the atmosphere in this House, because, for one thing, that would be impossible —the spoken word is only a part of the atmosphere in this House. I think the purpose of HANSARD is to provide for such of the public at large as are interested a reproduction of the serious political arguments that are produced. The mere fact that the. hon. Member for Maldon uses the second person plural instead of the third person singular is not of very great political consequence——

Mr. Driberg

May I interrupt the hon. Member for a second? I was led into that digression at the end merely by the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). I really did not raise this as a matter personal to myself at all. I said specifically that what had brought it to a head was the very important misrepresentation of what the Minister of Production had said last Friday, which was a serious political matter.

Mr. Nicholson

Of course, I was not making a personal attack on my hon. Friend—he must not take things quite so heavily. He himself gave the answer. He said that if hon. Members—I presume that includes Ministers and their Secretaries or Private Secretaries—take the trouble to go up and correct their speeches, they can generally draft them into fairly good English and make them represent fairly accurately what they said. I see no objection to that practice provided the alterations are not outrageous. However, I do say this: I am not a shorthand writer myself, but I know there is nothing more difficult than taking down the remarks of hon. Members of this House. Very often their remarks are made amidst a general hum of conversation; the speed at which hon. Members speak varies considerably; their diction and enunciation vary enormously. I want to pay this tribute to HANSARD. I think that nine times out of ten the success with which they reproduce verbatim what hon. Members say is amazing and worthy of the greatest admiration. I know my hon. Friend did not mean to make an attack on the reporters, but I do think he implied a definite criticism of them and, as far as I am concerned, I want to say that I have no criticism to make.

As for misprints, Mr. Speaker, the world would be very much duller without them. There is that famous story—I think it was in a New Zealand newspaper report of a public speech. The speaker had meant to refer to the "detective branch of the police force"; he was reported as referring to the "defective branch of the police force," and it was corrected next week that he had meant to say "the detective portion of the police farce." Then there is the famous occasion in this House, in the last century, when an hon. Member concluded his peroration by saying, "Mr. Speaker, Sir, in the immortal words of Lord Tennyson in "Locksley Hall" ' Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.' "Unfortunately, HANSARD tripped up and reported him as saying, "Mr. Speaker, Sir, in the immortal words of Lord Tennyson in "Locksley Hall," Better 50 years of true love than a circus at Bombay.' "

Well, Sir, I maintain that life would be very dull if there were no misprints. I must say it would tend to render HANSARD slightly ridiculous if every single trivial remark, every single error of grammar, every single interruption were reproduced exactly. There is such a thing as the dignity of this House. We are not always dignified in our words, but we are dignified in our attitude towards the business that we have to undertake, and I think that anything which would give the impression to the outside world that we treat lightly or frivolously the heavy responsibilities with which we are faced, and which we endeavour to bear properly, would be unfortunate. I hope we shall remember that, and not fall into the error of thinking that every single syllable that is uttered by any Member of this House is worthy of preservation for posterity. As far as I am concerned, I do not think posterity will ever read a single one of the speeches I have ever made or ever will make.

Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)

With reference to the point made by my hon. Friend opposite, he will perhaps know, though I might perhaps remind him, that it is quite clearly laid down in a Ruling how HANSARD is to treat the Debates. The words are: …a full report…which, though not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report, with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes corrected, but which on the other hand leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument. That is the definition adopted by the 1907 Select Committee on Parliamentary Debates, by which the Editor, under your instructions, Mr. Speaker, is guided at the present time.

At the same time I think there is some substance in the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), and I think that there are two things which might be done to assist the Official Reporters in their work, because I think it is agreed that probably the reporting they are doing is the most difficult shorthand reporting in the world in the circumstances in which they do it. It is essential, I submit, that in the arrangements in the new Chamber, the Official Reporters should be given a much better gallery from which to report the proceedings of the House than is at present the case, where, as one can see, they are mixed up with a large number of other reporters who come and go every quarter of an hour. I frequently observe the HANSARD reporters finding difficulty in hearing what is going on, due to the conversation and interruptions among them. I think it would not be difficult to give our reporters a specially good gallery.

There is one other point that I wish to make before I sit down, which is the direct concern——

Mr. Speaker

I must point out to the hon. and gallant Member that if he is discussing the arrangements of this House, they are covered by a Select Committee and therefore cannot be raised now.

Commander King-Hall

The second point I wish to suggest for your consideration, Sir—this would be entirely for your decision, and I hope you may see fit to submit this to the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports for examination—is that I think it would be of very great benefit to posterity and would also deal in cases of dispute with matters such as have been raised to-day, if a sound record were taken of the proceedings of this House. It may or may not be known to hon. Members, that on a small cylinder of thin wire a complete report of a full day's Debate can be taken, perfectly automatically, without anybody in the Chamber even knowing that it is taking place. I am not suggesting that these reports should be issued or released to the public at the present time, but I do sincerely believe that, in 30 or 40 years from now, it would be of immense historical interest, if people were able to go to a sound library and listen to the Debate, for instance, which preceded the formation of the present Government, or Debates on other famous occasions. I respectfully suggest, Mr. Speaker, that it would be interesting to posterity if they could hear the Debate which preceded your elevation to the Chair. If these reports were released 3o or 4o years hence, or when it was thought fit, there would be a permanent sound record of the proceedings of Parliament for all time. It would be most interesting if we now could go into a sound library, and hear the voice of Mr. Gladstone, and test for ourselves the extent of his great eloquence in, and power over, the House of Commons of his day.

If my suggestion was adopted it would, of course, clear up immediately any serious incident of dispute which might arise between an hon. Member and the reporting staff as to what was said. I can imagine certain circumstances in which it might be important to have the exact record of what was said. My real desire in making this suggestion is for the sake of posterity, and I respectfully submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that you might see fit to submit this matter to the Committee which exists to advise you, for it to report thereon.