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Points Of Order

Volume 407: debated on Wednesday 25 June 2003

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

12.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order relates to you, as you are responsible for the accuracy of the Official Report, according to "Erskine May". On 12 June, the Prime Minister, in answer to a question from me, attributed words to me that were wrong. I took up the matter with the Editor of Hansard, who explained that he accepts the word of 10 Downing street as to the accuracy and origin of quotes supplied to Hansard. However, I now have a letter from the Prime Minister that fails to substantiate the words attributed to me, or their origin. Instead, it refers in general terms to a pamphlet on the European constitution that I wrote, which again does not contain the words attributed to me that were recorded in inverted commas in Hansard.

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you instruct that the Official Report be amended and corrected to make it clear that I did not use those words? More importantly, may I ask you to ensure that in future Hansard does not accept at face value assurances, quotes and information from 10 Downing street that are clearly—in this case and in others—designed to confuse and mislead?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of that point of order. If he feels that he has been misrepresented, he must take the matter up with the Prime Minister. Hansard must report what is said in the House. It is for the hon. Member concerned, and not for Hansard, to take responsibility for remarks that are made and for any quotations that are used.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At Scottish Question Time yesterday, in the full hearing of the House, the Secretary of State for Scotland described the Scottish Parliament as an "assembly". The matter has been taken up substantially in the Scottish press today, the suggestion being that the Secretary of State is too busy to be in command of his brief. However, if we look at column 847 in the Hansard report for yesterday, we see that the word "assembly" has been deleted and the word "Parliament" inserted. Hansard staff are excellent, but that is a material change of meaning, as detailed in "Erskine May". Will the Secretary of State for Scotland have the opportunity to tell us whether any of his staff, or the parliamentary secretary, had a hand in seeking that change? Will the Official Report be altered to reflect what actually happened, as opposed to what the Secretary of State for Scotland might want to have happened?

I understand that yesterday the Official Report did edit the reference by the Secretary of State for Scotland to the "assembly" in Holyrood, and that it used the word "Parliament" instead. As "Erskine May" makes clear, it is normal practice for Hansard to correct obvious mistakes. That is what happened on this occasion.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You, of course, are the guardian not only of the House but of each Member of the House. Am I right in saying that it is normal practice, if one Member of the House misrepresents another, deliberately or inadvertently, for the Member who had committed that inadvertent misdirection to correct themselves on the record? That would be an even-handed approach from one Member to another. The Prime Minister is a Member of this House; surely you, Mr. Speaker, have the right and—dare I say it?—the responsibility, in regard to the Prime Minister as a Member of this House, to exercise the same evenhandedness that, as we know, you exercise with other Members. I simply ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you would like to ponder this as an issue, with regard to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said a moment ago. If not, there may be a suspicion among Members that the Prime Minister can get away with anything in this House and that he is not expected to meet the same standards of probity as other Members, rightly, are expected to do.

Past events have shown that the Prime Minister knows that he does not get away with anything in this House. I am being asked to be a referee in these matters. I cannot instruct an hon. Member to withdraw in these circumstances. The Prime Minister will be able to note the right hon. Gentleman's point of order and my response; it is up to the Prime Minister then to decide what he might do about that matter, but it is not for me to instruct.

Further to my earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. Your reply was excellent, as usual, but may I seek your advice? Is there any way, in parliamentary terms, for me to find out whether the staff of the Secretary of State for Scotland or the parliamentary secretary sought that change, which is of considerable moment and interest in Scotland?

This is a matter for the Editor of Hansard, not the staff. As the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have said, Hansard gives us an excellent service that is second to none.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I refer you to business questions last Thursday, when I posed a question to the Leader of the House? In reply, the right hon. Gentleman said:

"The vote for the Welsh block comes to the Secretary of State, and I then make a subvention for the purpose of running the Wales Office—that will continue"—
The words "that will continue" are important, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman went on:
"and the remainder goes to the National Assembly."—[Official Report, 19 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 513–14.]
However, today, The Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales, states:
"The Wales Office confirmed last night that it had not yet been decided whether Lord Falconer, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, or Leader of the House of Commons Peter Hain would be responsible for 'top-slicing' the cost of the Wales Office from the Assembly's budget allocation."
On Thursday, the Leader of the House cum Secretary of State for Wales cum Lord Privy Seal said that he would be responsible. Last night, his office told The Western Mail that it had not yet been decided who was responsible. As that money comes from the House's allocation, is top sliced by the Secretary of State and only then goes to the National Assembly of Wales, how can we clarify this matter and how can we ensure that there is cross-examination?

That was not a point of order, but I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. Every week, Thursday comes around and we always have business questions; so perhaps, if he catches my eye, he can seek clarification tomorrow.

Further to the points of order made by my right hon. Friends the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the shadow Leader of the House, Mr. Speaker. It is a rather old-fashioned concept, but one that I value, that all Members of the House are honourable Members and that is at the core of our procedures. You would, therefore, reprimand any Member who suggested that another Member had misled the House—that is something that we try not to say in our proceedings. However, Mr. Speaker, the counterpoint is that if a Member, including a Prime Minister, says something that, on examination, proves not to be the case, it must—if we are all honourable Members—be incumbent on the person who is found to be guilty of misleading to come to the House voluntarily to put the matter right on the record. Unless that honour is upheld, there will an increasing demand from Members that it should be the norm to identify when a Member has misled the House, because it clearly happens.

I have nothing more to add to the previous statements that I have made, but, once again, I say that I cannot be the referee in these matters; it is up to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and the Prime Minister to sort this matter out.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Most Members of Parliament have experience of using quotations and of being asked, absolutely properly and in accordance with precedent, by the Hansard writers to provide the source of those quotations. In absolutely accepting your ruling, as all Members do, may I simply ask for confirmation that it is the responsibility of a Member who quotes another to prove that the quotation is correct, not the responsibility of the Member aggressed against to disprove it?

Once again, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I cannot be drawn into these matters.