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Official Report Correction

Volume 931: debated on Saturday 5 March 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Prime Minister's remarks, may I raise this point of order with you? Can the House be protected from this situation? In the hearing of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, during Prime Minister's Question Time on Tuesday the Prime Minister answered a Question on the subject of the attitude of mind of the Maputo conference by saying that it had always been the Government's purpose to give humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements, and he did not specify which liberation movements.

When Hansard appeared the following day we saw that it had corrected that statement, but The Times of the same day repeated exactly what we had heard the Prime Minister say. Hansard corrected that statement and eliminated the word "always". The report read:
"We have given humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements".—[Official Report, 3rd May 1977; Vol. 931, c. 226.]
I expressed to the Foreign Secretary my relief that that change had been made. [Interruption.] I call the right hon. Gentleman to witness that I expressed my relief. I shall read what I said.

I shall willingly repeat precisely what I said, which was:

"Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there are two matters for relief? The first is the correction made to Hansard, by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the words that the right hon. Gentleman actually used in replying to me yesterday on this self-same subject, in which he said—and I quote The Times—that…".—[Official Report, 4th May 1977; Vol. 931, c. 433.]
and so on. I said that that was a relief to those on the Opposition Benches.

The Prime Minister now declares that I have misrepresented him in what he said. Mr. Speaker, may I now point out that I have received a letter from the Editor of the Official Report saying that he was in error in having corrected the phrase which we all heard—[Interruption.]—and which the Prime Minister actually uttered. [Interruption.]

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The complaint that I have is that the right hon. Gentleman alleged that I had altered Hansard. [Interruption.] If am allowed to, I shall repeat his words. He said:

"The first is the correction made to Hansard, by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the words that the right hon. Gentleman actually used in replying to me yesterday…".—[Official Report, 4th May 1977; Vol. 931, c. 433.]
As I have always understood it, it is the most serious offence for an hon. Member to go to Hansard to correct his own words. Mr. Speaker, if the right hon. Gentleman had been in touch with me—[An HON. MEMBER: Or to send anybody.] Or to send anybody. [Interruption.] Sometimes I wonder about the standards of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I did not go to Hansard myself. I have made inquiries at No. 10, and nobody went on my behalf. Nobody having any responsibility to me has altered the words in Hansard. What I complain of about the right hon. Gentleman is that a simple inquiry at No. 10 yesterday morning would have shown him that I had done nothing of the kind, nor had anybody on my behalf. That inquiry would have saved the headlines in a newspaper this morning stating "Callaghan Alters Hansard." It is totally false and untrue, and I expect the hon. Gentleman, having made a direct allegation, and having told an untruth about it, to apologise.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out that not only the Opposition Benches heard but the report in The Times clearly recorded and reported the Prime Minister's words, but Hansard appeared in a different form. There is every evidence that a correction has been made. I repeat that the letter that I have received from Hansard is a disgraceful action because it invalidates the very questions that we had occasion to put to the Foreign Secretary yesterday.

Order. I do not think it is to the advantage of the House to pursue the matter. There has clearly been a misunderstanding between two right hon. Members of this House.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that neither he nor his servants altered Hansard at all, and I think the House will have heard that answer and will accept it.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am quite ready to leave the matter there, because the House, I hope, will know what I have said and what is the truth. It is, of course, only a matter of good taste whether the right hon. Gentleman withdraws his charge. [Interruption.]

Order. There are a lot of hon. Members jumping up to pursue this matter on a point of order. I believe I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that the Editor of Hansard had taken responsibility for a mistake in altering Hansard.

Order. The hon. Gentleman really must not give way to these outbursts. I am considering the goodness of the House in this matter and I believe that to pursue it when we have had clear statements is of advantage to no one.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the Prime Minister has accepted your suggestion, but this is a matter that concerns every Member of this House, because it may happen to others and not only to the Prime Minister.

The right hon. Gentleman has said to the House—and he was listened to carefully—that the Editor of Hansard has said that an error has been committed. But the burden of complaint against the right hon. Gentleman is that, without taking any steps to make sure whether the Prime Minister had corrected Hansard or not, he publicly committed himself to that statement and thereby committed the serious offence of alleging that the Prime Minister had done something unparliamentary and wholly out of keeping with his record of over more than 30 years.

The right hon. Gentleman ought now calmly to get up and apologise for having done that.

On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. I willingly accept the letter that was sent to me by the Editor of Hansard in which he takes the blame for this correction, and therefore I totally accept that. But I cannot, I am afraid, withdraw my concern at the fact that a statement that was clearly made by the Prime Minister, heard by us all reported in the Press, was then otherwise reported in Hansard and corrected since

The House knows me well enough to know that I would never make a statement in disrespect to the Prime Minister without due cause.

I withdraw wholly anything which in any sense is thought to damage the Prime Minister's honour or position in this matter. That was not my intention.

I do, however, maintain the objection that I made originally to you, Mr. Speaker, that this House was led by the reporting in question to put questions to the Foreign Secretary which were not in respect of the real responses of the Prime Minister.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have always found the right hon. Gentleman a fair controversialist. He has now said that he withdraws the charge that I altered Hansard. I am very content to leave it at that, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for withdrawing.

Order. I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no advantage, when the Prime Minister has accepted the statement, in pursuing the matter.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The position as it has been left is that Hansard is not at present a true record of what was said, and, as I understand it, what was admitted to have been said. My right hon. Friend has accepted what the Prime Minister said by way of explanation. Are we not entitled to ask of the Prime Minister that he should do what he is now entitled to do; namely, to have the record put straight?

The House knows that ultimately I am responsible for Hansard, and I shall see that the necessary correction is made.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, of course, want the record to be accurate, and I am willing to accept any verdict that Hansard cares to pass. But if I am asked, as I was a moment ago, what I actually said, I am bound to tell the House that I do not quite remember whether I used the word "always" or not.