(by Private Novice) asked Mr. Speaker whether he will make inquiries into the circumstances in which the word "detached", in the daily edition of HANSARD recording the speech of the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) on 26th February, 1964, was altered to "attached" in the Bound Volume.
As soon as I read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee yesterday, I made my own inquiries. The facts are these. What the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) in fact said was "attached". The daily report of HANSARD reported that as "detached". When attention on behalf of the right hon. Member was drawn to the error, I cannot tell the House with complete precision what happened, for no more mysterious reason than that the Editor could not now commit his personal memory.
What the Editor normally does in such circumstances is to send for the reporter and his note and to check with that. That is what he would suppose he did in the normal course. Whether he did so, he could not swear now, because it might obviously appear to be a mishearing of the most minimal kind.
I can tell the hon. Member that the correction was certainly properly made, because last night, when the hon. Member was good enough to raise the matter, searches were made, the original shorthand note was found and it clearly records the word "attached" in respect of which the correction was made.
I owe the House an apology, because the OFFICIAL REPORT is within my care. But it is not possible now to say how the error arose. Whether it was that the reporter dictated his own script wrongly, whether the typist misheard him, whether the typist mistyped, or whether the printer got it wrong, one really cannot tell. I know, however, that the House will accept in general the view that the prodigious degree of accuracy attained by the OFFICIAL REPORT justifies our confidence in it.
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker, for your answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] Would you not further, perhaps, agree to consider the rules of HANSARD in connection with these changes, having regard to the fact that there are many technical terms the precise meaning of which it is difficult for the Editor to know and that hon. Members who desire to make changes of this nature ought surely to follow the usual procedure of the House?
There are two points there. HANSARD being my responsibility, I would say that if anybody has a concrete suggestion for the improvement of our doings, I would gladly personally consider it, wholly without commitment.
The rule as we work it is to be found on page 269 of the current edition of Erskine May. It is that a discretion rests in the Editor:
Verbal corrections are allowed to be made in the reports of speeches in the daily part for reproduction in the bound volume, but only if, in the opinion of the Editor, they do not alter substantially the meaning of anything that was said in the House.
As far as I know, that rule and entrusting the Editor with discretion has served us very well across the years and I suggest that we might safely continue it. I know that technical words are, perhaps, hard to hear, but one can trust the Editor, if he did not know the meaning of "dinoseb", DNOC, or one of those things, to refer the matter to me or otherwise to make inquiries.
I did not finish answering; the fault is mine. What hon. Members ought to do when they discover an error, or what hon. Members ought to do when other Members think that they should apologise, cannot be a matter for me.
Are you none the less aware, Mr. Speaker—as you were not yourself in the Chair, since the House was in Committee—that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) made it absolutely clear that he was imputing to my right hon. Friend a definite intention to mislead the House and that in those circumstances the matter should not be allowed to pass without a withdrawal?
In the first place, it is not a matter for me. In the second place, had the Chair taken the view of what was said as indicated by the hon. Member, it would not have passed without query by the Chair. Therefore, I cannot accept that view. I dare say that it having been made perfectly clear that the correction was rightly made, the matter might be allowed to pass; but that is not for me.
I did not in any way impugn the honour of the right hon. Gentleman in question. All I said was that the former Administration had no objection to cooking the books as far as the defence of the realm was concerned.
Order. I am becoming too indulgent in my old age. This all represents a gross irregularity. When somebody wants to make a statement in personal explanation, there are procedures to be gone through. What happens now is: the Prime Minister: Statement.
I deprecate on all occasions the use by anybody of language of that kind, for the simple reason that it does not facilitate debate in a decent way. If I am asked whether it is in order, the distinction is this. To say that the right hon. Member or any other hon. Member had cooked the books would be out of order. To say it of a group of persons like a former Administration is different.
Order. I am in the course of saying something, which was that I thought the House would like to get on with its business, and that in order that we might do so it was essential that there should not be so much noise that I could hear the point of order being addressed to me. Sir Rolf Dudley Williams.
Mr. Speaker, I was only going to say that I agree that we must accept remarks from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) which are foreign to the House, but he made a reflection on the integrity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), and, that, whatever he says, that was the way in which his words were interpreted.
If there was an objection to what the hon. Member said, it should have been raised with the Chair in Committee, and it was not. It is, therefore, not now a matter for me.
What the hon. Lady has to accept, or does not have to accept, is not a matter of order for me. I have to rule on matters of order on which I am asked to rule.
I wish to raise a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. Your Ruling just now seemed to suggest that the remarks of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place any more, were directed not against any hon. or right hon. Gentleman individually, but collectively against this side of the House, and that, therefore, you could take no further action.
I should like to draw your attention to the words and to ask whether you could give further consideration to this matter either today or tomorrow. What the hon. Gentleman said was:
I do not want to kick the backside of the right hon. Member for Harrogate, but he and his hon. and right hon. Friends in the former Administration have been fully exposed in matters of national defence as a bunch of incompetent twerps, and, what is even worse, there is evidence that they cooked the books to suit their party instead of making sure that our country was adequately defended …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 72–73.]
My representation to you, Mr. Speaker, is that this is directly directed against my right hon. Friends and also directly against right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. Therefore, I wondered whether you would be willing to reconsider the Ruling you gave, perhaps tomorrow.
Let me deal with this point of order first.
What was said was said in Committee, when I was not in the Chair. I am not criticising anybody else, but I cannot deal in any way with matters spoken in Committee. I am not in charge of order at that time, nor is there any form of appeal, as it were, if that be desired, from whoever was in the Chair in Committee to myself. It just cannot be done. I explained the rule in connection with what the hon. Member was supposed to have said this afternoon in my presence. I cannot go any further in the circumstances. I am not in charge of the Committee.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you consider what was said this afternoon? The matter raised a direct complaint about what was said and done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden). It was a question addressed to you and it related to his conduct in dealing with HANSARD and what was said in the House. When that had been properly cleared up, and the explanation given, the House expected, I think, an apology from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell). What he said was that it was just a general charge on the question of "cooking the books". Surely that general charge was based on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate was supposed to have said and done.
I cannot say that I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said here; it was, in fact, that he was making a general charge. I think that all this is entirely deplorable. I do not think that the House should spend its time abusing one another, or insulting one another; and I deprecate such language. But when challenged strictly on my duty on matters of order, that is the position. I cannot say that it is out of order.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would not it solve all these problems, if my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) did say some things that were improper, if, instead of saying them in this House, he said them in the Spectator where, apparently, one can say anything with impunity?
I do not think that it is for me to rule upon the hypothetical circumstances of such an article being written. I think that the House would like soon to get on with its business.
If an hon. Member—in this case, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell)—gives a report to you, Sir, about something which has gone on in Committee which proves to be false, and misleads you as to the Ruling you have given, what redress have we got? You ruled this afternoon on what the hon. Member for Buckingham said from the bench opposite this afternoon. He did say last night something which was wholly unacceptable to the Committee and denied it this afternoon. Is not that very reprehensible conduct? Should not he be asked to apologise and should the matter not be referred to the Committee of Privileges?
No complaint of privilege can arise now in respect of something said last night, or in my presence this day, because it would be my job myself to draw attention to it if I thought that it arose. It is not for me to dictate how hon. Members should behave in a matter of apologising or not. I cannot add to what I have said.
I do not accept the proposition that it was a bogus point of order, which means that the hon. Member's point of order does not arise—if it was a point of order. Let us get on.
With respect to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I should like to bring to your notice that since I attempted to raise a point of order from this side of the House there have been at least four speeches from hon. Members opposite. I appreciate your difficulty in differentiating between one and another.
At the same time, may I ask whether it is strictly in order for the Leader of the Opposition to raise his point of order after my hon. Friend Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) has left his place, when it could have been more properly done when he was in his place?
It is quite in order. The right hon. Gentleman expressed regret at the fact that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) was not in his place. It does not make it out of order. Let us move on.
We are in a considerable difficulty, Sir. When this all took place earlier you did not, at that stage, in any way give an indication that you thought the behaviour of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) was deplorable. Now, at a later stage—and there were certain results arising from the fact that you did not say it at that stage—I understand you, Sir, to give the impression that you thought that perhaps the behaviour of the hon. Member for Buckingham was deplorable—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am very sorry, but I thought that that was what I heard you say three or four minutes ago. This has, of course, had a very considerable effect on the temper of the House.
I am not certain what the hon. Member's point of order was. If I had any effect on the temper of the House, I should regret it greatly. I should like the House to get on to other business. I do not deplore the conduct of hon. Members. It is not my job. It is my job to deprecate language, and that I did. Let us get on.