HC Deb 17 February 1949 vol 461 cc1347-50
Mr. Churchill

May I ask you, Sir, whether you have anything to add to the statement which you made yesterday concerning HANSARD and the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Speaker

I really have very little to add. It is one of the difficulties of the English language that one word can really have two shades of meaning. That is perfectly true of the word "official."

HANSARD is the Official Report of Parliamentary Debates. That means, it is a report by gentlemen, and in one case by a lady, who have the very difficult job of reporting what is said in this House. It is a report by people who are officially appointed as part of the staff of the House of Commons. That is the extent of the official position of HANSARD. There is no authoritative matter in its record. I put that first. It is official in this respect, that it is the report of officers who are appointed by this House to report what is said in the House.

But if we are going to take "official" in another sense—and I thought the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) yesterday was taking it in another sense, when he adduced proof of "The Times" to show that HANSARD had make a mistake, and that the word should be changed—it would be perfectly simple merely to ask the question if the official record, which was the Votes and Proceedings, showed whether the Amendment had been passed. HANSARD said it had been negatived. The only thing was to ask that the words "agreed to" should be substituted to show that the Amendment had been carried.

However, let us go a little bit further than that, because I want to point out that HANSARD has no effect whatsoever on the proceedings of this House and no authority whatsoever. Neither is HANSARD accepted in the courts of law. I am advised that the courts take judicial cognisance of the order and course of proceedings in Parliament. Under the Evidence Act, 1845, copies of the Commons Journals are admitted in evidence without proof of the printing. Copies of HANSARD, however, are not so admitted as evidence of facts therein stated.

May I add, as further proof of that, that there was a case in 1917 where a common informer sought to recover a penalty from a Member of the House on the alleged ground that he had sat and voted whilst disqualified. The learned judge refused to allow the Member's presence in the House to be proved by the publication of what he called "the Official Debates of the House of Commons." Witnesses had to be called into prove his presence in the House. This explanation, I hope, will prove the two shades of meaning of the word "official" and the meaning which I put on to it when I was replying yesterday to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Mr. Henry Strauss

Is it not completely accurate to say that the document you referred to yesterday—the Journal—is the official record which is received in courts of law as evidence of the acts of the House with which the courts are generally concerned, such as Amendments, Divisions and so on, but that, in so far as anything is a report of what is said in the House, HANSARD is that report?

Mr. Speaker

HANSARD is that report but it is not accepted in the courts of law. That is the advice I have received.

Sir Peter Macdonald

In view of the fact very large numbers of people and businesses in this country subscribe to HANSARD, is it not true to say that HANSARD is a pretty accurate record of the Debates in this House and is called the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Speaker

I should like to say to the Hon. Member that I agree that HANSARD is extraordinarily accurate. It very seldom makes a mistake. It is not any ordinary reporter who can become a reporter on HANSARD. He has to write down the words of some hon. Members here who speak very, very fast. He has not only to do that; he has to he able to name the Member, to say who is speaking and also to have a good knowledge of procedure, to know whether an Amendment has been withdrawn or accepted or what has happened to it. It is not every reporter, however skilled he may be at shorthand, who can become a HANSARD reporter, and I should like to, pay my tribute to them.

Hon. Members

Hear, Hear.

Mr. Chetwynd

Would it not remove all doubt if the word "Official" were dropped from the front page of the Parliamentary Report?

Mr. Speaker

I think not. I have looked into it very carefully. "Parliamentary Debates, Official Report," I think, really means Parliamentary Debates—what has been said, and not procedure.

Mr. Churchill

Your explanation, Mr. Speaker, makes matters very clear. I should like to say we all have great confidence in HANSARD. Its early publication is an immense convenience to Members, who are glad that there is, as it were, a further check, in case large questions of law are involved.

Mr. Gallacher

May I, as one who does his very best to speak English, pay tribute to HANSARD for the way they report my speeches?

Mr. H. Strauss

Is it not a fact that, while HANSARD could not in any event be accepted as evidence in a court of law on account of the rule against hearsay, no court has ever raised the least objection to its being described as the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think I have raised any objection to that. I have merely pointed out that one report is more official than the other.