HC Deb 01 December 1988 vol 142 cc897-9 4.48 pm
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you have anything to add to the statement that you made yesterday about the debate on the Loyal Address? You may recall that a number of my colleagues pointed out in the subsequent exchanges that the House was in some difficulty because it had not had sight of a letter which the Editor of Hansard apparently sent to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) some weeks ago.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)


Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)


Mr. Speaker

No, I am on my feet.

I have had a letter from the Editor of Hansard. However, before I read it to the House, it would be appropriate for me to give a full account of what took place. My statement is rather long but I ask the House to listen carefully.

It is necessary for me to set out the sequence of events as they have now been established in order to be entirely fair to all involved in this incident. It is clear that there were facts to be established, and that, in the first instance, the wrong information was given about what happened.

The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) knew that the Official Report of 25 October contained an error. As a result of the matter being raised, it is now possible to set the record straight. On 25 October, in a debate on the economy, the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) as follows:

The hon. Gentleman talks of the need for self-discipline. In view of his party's wild promises to spend money, will he say how much more than £38 billion his party would now spend? The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) is recorded in Hansard as replying: I do not know from where the hon. Gentleman gets his figures, but they are clearly wrong. If he produces a list for me I shall look at it, but I can tell him that there is no such commitment."—[Official Report, 25 October 1988; Vol. 139, c. 174.] It is now agreed on all sides that what the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East actually said was, "there are no such commitments."

On 27 October, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) asked me about the accuracy of the report. I informed the House that the report was wrong and added: On reflection, the Official Report accepts that this change should not have been made and has expressed its regret"—[Official Report, 27 October 1988; Vol. 139, c. 494.] That statement left the House with the impression that the change had been made at the request of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East and that misapprehension arose because at the time the Editor thought that that had been the case.

The Editor subsequently wrote to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East apologising for the error and explaining that he had since discovered that the change had been made by a member of his staff. The Editor sent me a copy of this letter, but since it was not addressed to me I was not at liberty to read its terms to the House as I was asked to do yesterday. I was, however, in a position to correct the hon. Member for Suffolk, South when he alleged on Tuesday that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East had sought to pressurise the Official Reporters to amend Hansard."—[Official Report, 29 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 582.] I also made it clear, in column 583, that this was on the basis of fresh information supplied by the Editor since my statement on 27 October, which I now know to be misleading.

I now confirm that there is no truth in any suggestion that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East either changed the text of what was proposed to be reported or asked for it to be changed.

So that the precise order of events may be placed on record, I have asked for a letter from the Editor which I shall now read:

You have asked me for an explanation of how the misreporting of Mr. Gordon Brown on 25 October occurred. Initially, the reporter reported exactly the words used by Mr. Brown. That is to say, Mr. Brown's response to Mr. Peter Thurnham's intervention was in the plural. The senior sub-editor decided that the response was more grammatically put by using the singular. On reflection, he reverted to the plural but after more consideration he went back to the singular. These several changes of mind resulted in the typescript being untidy. When Mr. Brown read the typescript, he improved the legibility of that final sub-editorial alteration. He did not make any alteration to what the sub-editor had finally decided. When, following normal practice, the sub-editor checked for any alterations by the Member concerned, he saw that Mr. Brown had merely improved legibility. He saw no reason to assume that an alteration of fact had been made and had he done so, again following normal rules he would not have allowed the change. At no time did Mr. Brown discuss that or any other part of his speech with the sub-editors. I stress again that the responsibility for the error is entirely mine. I deeply regret the embarrassment that has been caused to you and the House, especially to Mr. Brown and Mr. Yea. That is the text of the Editor's letter to me.

The House is aware that I have already regretted the way in which the issue was raised. I also referred yesterday to the fact that I would deplore it if there were any truth in the suggestions that there had been an organised attempt to disrupt Tuesday's debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "There was."] Order. Perhaps in my own interest I should make it clear that I was not making an accusation that there had been such organisation, let alone suggesting who might have been responsible for it.

I apologise to the House for the length of this statement. It cannot be debated now. If there is a desire to pursue any of the matters my statement contains, I hope that the House will first take time to consider it and then seek advice about the appropriate ways of taking the matter further.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is normally an extremely tolerant place. The House understands perfectly well that some hon. Members use intemperate and perhaps unparliamentary language. The House also understands that sometimes in the passion of events some hon. Members behave in a way which, on reflection, they would rather not have done. However, the tolerance of the House is such that if an hon. Member, even on reflection, finally apologises, that is accepted and is the end of the matter. I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the way in which the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) refused to do that means that the continued efforts to raise the matter are a sad attempt to rescue the tattered reputation, credibility and future of the hon. Member for Suffolk, South.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the House will do as I said in my final comment and reflect carefully upon the matter. I called upon the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) at the time to withdraw an allegation that he made, and he did so.