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Points of Order

12.30 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): 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?

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): 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?

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You, of course, are the guardian not only of the House but of each Member of

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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 even-handedness 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.

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Mr. Salmond: 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?

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): 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 words "that will continue" are important, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman went on:

However, today, The Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales, states:

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

25 Jun 2003 : Column 1053

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?

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): 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.

Mr. Speaker: 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.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): 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?

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

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Historic Counties (Traffic Signs and Mapping)

12.40 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law so as to require the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to mark the boundaries of the historic counties on its maps; to require traffic authorities to cause traffic signs to be placed on or near roads for the purpose of indicating the location of historic county boundaries; and for connected purposes.

We live in an era when so much of our heritage and traditions seem to count for nothing and when, seemingly on the whim of those who find history an irrelevance, institutions can be dispensed with, without so much as a by your leave. Yes, I will unashamedly admit that I am in favour of traditions. However, sad though it is to admit, I have to acknowledge that things move on. To me and to many others, the historic counties of this country have a real significance.

I am not trying to turn back the clock for counties to become the administrative authorities once again. I am not even attempting to get self-rule for Middlesex, however tempting that might be—I hope, perhaps, to return to that another day. All that I am asking is that those historic counties' place in our heritage is recognised. They have played a prominent role in our national life for more than a thousand years, and their names and areas are widely used in tourism, sport, business, local and family history, military history, literature and the arts. They are a source of identity and affection for many people, and they have been the basis for an unchanging, recognisable and stable geography.

Now, all that is at risk. The link between local government and the historic counties has been broken throughout much of the country. Quite frankly, some of the names of the more modern administrative areas have not really got the same ring to them. In Scotland, for example, in my opinion the title "Central Region" is not exactly evocative. Goodness knows what the bureaucrats will come up with in the future. They will probably number the counties, so I might live in region 3B.

My Bill would introduce just two of the measures that have been proposed by the Association of British Counties, under the admirable chairmanship of Mr. Michael Bradford. Those aspirations are shared by many other county trusts, such as mine in Middlesex, where Mr. Russell Grant is such a champion, not just for us Middle Saxons, but for all the counties. All I ask is that signs, such as the brown and white tourism signs, be placed to mark the county boundaries and a duty be placed on the Ordnance Survey to mark those boundaries on larger-scale maps.

Perhaps it is unfashionable to be proud of our past and our heritage. I am self-evidently not cool, and some Labour Members—and even people outside the House—may say in today's parlance that I am quite sad. [Hon. Members: "No."] Sad I may be, but I am immensely proud of the history of my county and my country. That is why I ask the House to support the Bill today.

Question put and agreed to.

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Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Randall, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Harry Barnes, Mr. David Curry, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. Adrian Flook, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Hugo Swire, Mr. David Wilshire and Sir Nicholas Winterton.

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