§ Mr. Harold Walker
I wish to raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising from the reporting of an exchange with the Prime Minister that occurred in the House at Question Time yesterday. You will recall that a reply by the Prime Minister to a supplementary question by me evoked, I admit, a rather intemperate response on my part and that of some of my hon. Friends. It did so, because the words were of such a nature as to be indelibly imprinted on my memory.
In order to confirm that the words used by the Prime Minister were in fact those which I thought he had uttered, I checked with the report on the tape within half an hour of the exchange, and read that they were as follows:The Prime Minister has said 'that from the point of view of running the economy and what measures need to be taken, it is the temporarily stopped, most of whom are on strike of one kind or another …'and it was at that point that the right hon. Gentleman was interrupted.
This morning I checked The Times, which the House usually accepts as a reliably accurate guide to the proceedings of the House, and found that it confirmed that the Prime Minister had used those words. According to The Times he said:Everybody knows when one is dealing with unemployment figures that the temporarily stopped are mostly those on strike.That accords with reports in several other newspapers.
On reading HANSARD, however, I see a different form of words. According to the OFFICIAL REPORT, the Prime Minister said:The analysis of unemployment is set out in the White Paper, and everyone knows that when one is dealing with the unemployment figures from the point of view of running the economy and what measures are needed to be taken for it, the temporarily stopped, who are mostly the result of those who are on strike for one reason or another.It was at that point that the right hon. Gentleman was interrupted.
We all understand and accept that there is a long-standing practice whereby hon. Members may scrutinise and tidy up their speeches before their words are committed to print and that Ministers 1301 have private secretaries who usually do the scrutinising for them and check their speeches before they are finalised in the official record, and I make no complaint about that.
But what the Prime Minister said, and what is within my recollection and, I am sure, that of the House, and is confirmed by newspaper and other reports, is different in substance and in considerable material degree from the words in HANSARD. The difference is between the allegation, on the one hand, that most of the temporarily stopped are strikers, and. on the other, the more reasonable and moderate assertion that most of the temporarily stopped are laid off as a consequence of strikes.
I submit that the record ought not to be tampered with in this way. If the Prime Minister intended to utter the words recorded in HANSARD but, because of a slip of the tongue, failed to do so, the proper course is for the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement to the House, and I am sure that the House, in its usual generous way, will readily accept it.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)
The hon. Gentleman is right. I am sorry if yesterday, with the noise going on, I said that the temporarily stopped were themselves those on strike, because it is well known that they are in that situation as a result of others being on strike. That is what I intended to say, and I think that that is borne out by the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, when responding to my remarks about this, used the same phrase, "apart from strikes", and addedand the effects of bad weather."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1972; Vol. 846, c. 1083–4.]That is what I intended to say to the House. That is the case, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.