HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc624-7 4.41 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise a point of order about what should, or should not, appear in the Official Report, I should be grateful if you would give consideration to a matter arising out of an incident on Wednesday 1 February. "Erskine May", quoting a previous Speaker's ruling, says: The Official Report is a full report, in the first person, of all speakers alike, a full report being defined as one 'which though not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report, with repetitions and redundancies omitted'".

On Wednesday there occurred at the beginning of an Opposition Day debate a slight hiccup—as it is called in some quarters — when the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) was not in his place at the moment when he had intended to move the motion standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. All was not lost, because the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) — like Horatio on the bridge—moved into the appropriate place and made the necessary remarks to get the debate under way.

It was, therefore, a little surprising when, having seen newspaper accounts of this incident and the sterling conduct of the hon. Member for City of Durham, I looked to check the precise record in the Official Report, only to find that it had not happened at all. There was no reference to the hon. Member for City of Durham. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney appeared to have opened the debate uninterrupted by any such incident. I made inquiries about it and discovered that there was, indeed, an accurate record of precisely what had happened when a Principal Assistant Editor of the Official Report wrote to me and said: The facts are these. Mr. Shore, who was to have moved the Opposition motion, was not present. Mr. Mark Hughes rose instead and said exactly the following words: 'It is with some surprise that I find myself moving the motion in our name, but clearly there has been a minor mix-up. My right hon. Friend had anticipated a vote on the recent ten-minute rule Bill and therefore was not quite in his place. With permission, I would wish to give way to my right hon. Friend.' Mr. Speaker then said: 'I think that I had better help the hon. Gentleman by proposing the question again'.

There were brief further exchanges which I shall not trouble to read, and in his letter the Principal Assistant Editor said: I believe that the report as I chose to edit it more faithfully reflects both the occasion and the mood of the House. I must submit that the report reflected neither the occasion nor the mood of the House, which clearly enjoyed this minor incident and would have expected to find it recorded.

I want to place on record, Mr. Speaker, that at no time did I suppose that either the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney or the hon. Member for City of Durham had in any way sought to have this incident removed from our annals. Indeed, I read in my own local paper a day or two later an item headed, with a touch of humour— Lost forever—my finest hour in which the hon. Member for City of Durham was interviewed and was described as being more than a bit miffed when he was "mysteriously excluded" from the Official Report. He said: It seems I have become an unperson. I should not like such a fate to overtake the hon. Gentleman.

When looking for some kind of guidance or explanation for the way in which these things are dealt with, my mind went to the fact that with a sedentary intervention the Official Report sometimes finds it necessary to quote it because it has influenced the course of the subsequent debate and an hon. Member has referred to it. However, I am bound to say that, on looking at recent copies of the Official Report, that does not seem to be a governing practice, because sedentary interventions are reported quite extensively on very many occasions. On this occasion, however, it is clear that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was aware of what had happened and referred to it in his ensuing remarks when he said: I begin by apologising to the House. I feel a little better about this apology in view of the slight touch of the late delivery problem with the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) today." — [Official Report, 1 February 1984, Vol. 53, c. 293.]

Therefore, in this case the matter was referred to subsequently in debate, which strengthens the argument for its inclusion in the normal way. I ask you, therefore, Mr. Speaker, after consideration, to advise the House on what should, or should not, be included in the Official Report, on whether, in particular, hon. Members who are called to speak by you and who rise at the Dispatch Box or in their places to speak should be recorded, and perhaps on whether on all occasions those who interrupt from a sedentary position should have the same facility.

Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for calling me, because the chance of ephemeral immortality is very rare. I believe that the Editor and you, Mr. Speaker, were quite entitled to take the view that what I said on that occasion did not materially change the activities of the House. But, as a fellow historian of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I believe that Hansard should check very carefully what it chooses to delete on terms simply of editorial discretion.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House will welcome the presence and learning of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on this occasion, and the great and assiduous attention that he has paid to this matter. I must say that I share his view that this is an important issue. First, I do not think that posterity should be denied the words, however brief, of wisdom that were contributed by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes), who intervened so effectively, if so briefly, on Wednesday afternoon.

The important principle that lies behind what has been said so far concerns whether or not matters that are within the recollection of the House should be recorded and printed in Hansard. I believe that such matters should be so recorded and printed, and I very much regret that they were excluded. I very much hope that they will be included in the bound volume and that those responsible will take full notice of what has been said this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker

I thank the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for raising this matter as a point of order. He quoted from page 263 of "Erskine May", but he did not complete the quotation. May I remind the House of the well-known words about Hansard given in "Erskine May"? It is that it should report that 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. Within those restrictions a certain amount of discreet tidying-up is done by the editors, which is to everyone's benefit.

I support the decision not to record the momentary confusion in which last week's proceedings began, but I should like to take up the hon. Gentleman's second point, which is of some concern to me and, I think, to other hon. Members. A remark was made last week by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore)—who is not in the Chamber at the moment—which I did not hear. I do not always hear at this end of the Chamber exactly what is said below the Gangway. Had I heard it, I should have ruled it out or order.

One of the problems that the House faces is that of our proceedings being recorded as well as being taken down by Hansard. I hope the House will agree that remarks delivered from a sedentary position or in an otherwise disorderly manner should not normally be included unless the hon. Member in possession of the House specifically comments upon them, or if the expression requires comment from the Chair. That is why an hon. Member serves best the interests of the House and himself by ignoring such interruptions.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I respectfully submit to you that the reference to "mistakes" in the passage in "Erskine May" on editorial discretion does not refer—and in this context does not refer — to the occurrence which was the subject of the original submission to you? It relates to errors such as the substitution of one word or one name for another used by an hon. Member in the course of his speech when he obviously intended something else than that which he was heard to say. It cannot be held to cover the events in the course of proceedings in the House when, owing to one right hon. or hon. Gentleman not being present, another hon. Member, on being called by the Chair, validly addresses the House. In that sense I respectfully submit that it was not a mistake but an actual event and proceeding in the House which in this case was editorially omitted.

I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will take time to consider whether in this case, for the purpose of precedent, a direction should be issued to the Editor of the Official Report to restore some reference to a matter which became public knowledge.

Mr. Beith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You referred in your ruling, for which I am grateful, to the hon. Member "in possession of the House". Will you give further consideration to this incident in relation to that phrase? My submission was that the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) was in possession of the House at the time. He was the person who had been called by you. No criticism could be made of him for having intervened from a sedentary position. On the contrary, according to your ruling he had been given the status of the person whose words should be recorded.

I should like to put a secondary point to you, Mr. Speaker, for your leisurely consideration. If an hon. Member's remarks have been left out of the Official Report, is he entitled to go to the Official Report and ask for a correction reintroducing those remarks if he was the Member in possession of the House at the time? Would that right extend to other hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

I thank right hon. and hon. Members for raising the point. I do not think that I need give any further consideration to it. I am the servant of the House. It is obviously a fact that the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) did rise and speak to this motion last week. I shall see that the report is corrected in the bound volume.

  1. STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. 23 words