MPs back new rules for fixing on-the-record mistakes

Vote expands corrections process, which was previously only open to ministers
Commons speaker Penny Mordaunt said the change would "improve clarity and transparency". Screenshot: Parliament TV

MPs are now able to correct the official record if they make an incorrect statement in the House of Commons – a procedure previously only available for ministers.

In a vote this week, MPs backed the recommendation put forward by parliament’s Procedure Committee in a June report that said the existing mechanisms for backbenchers to correct the record were “not fit for purpose”.

The committee recommended expanding the corrections process for ministers to all MPs, as well as a number of changes to the Hansard website, the official online parliamentary record, to make it easier to navigate and identify corrections.

In a letter to the committee, penned in July but published last month, leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt said the government welcomed the proposed expansion of the corrections process.

“The lack of a formal mechanism for members of the official opposition and backbench MPs means there is no clear way of identifying and linking an original statement to the correction given and the public should not have to work their way through Hansard before finding the correction,” she wrote.

“The government believes that this change would improve clarity and transparency of corrections.”

She added that “ultimately, this is a matter for the House to decide” and that she would facilitate a motion for the House to decide whether to endorse the Procedure Committee’s recommendations.

Putting the motion to the House this week, Mordaunt said she hoped MPs would back the changes. “Trust and confidence in our democracy and its institutions are vital, and it is therefore important that we have clear and transparent processes when MPs make inadvertent errors,” she said.

The motion carried after a debate in which several MPs voiced their support for the proposals. Shadow leader of the House of Commons Lucy Powell, who said the existing system “can be opaque for members and members of the public, and bringing corrections together in one place will make these more accessible and transparent”.

However, she noted that the Procedure Committee had not made any recommendations that could make it easier for MPs to challenge inaccurate statements made by their colleagues or ministers, despite having received evidence during its inquiry that there are “few effective mechanisms” to do so.

The committee’s report said existing mechanisms to challenge the accuracy of contributions to the House were “sufficient” and urged MPs “to take advantage of existing mechanisms available to them”.

SNP chief whip Owen Thompson said the changes will create a “level playing field” for MPs.

“The process if a member realised that they had misspoken in the House was rather cumbersome. The member made a point of order to draw attention to the fact that they had misspoken. That is then not in any way linked or joined up to the comment that they originally made, which stands in Hansard,” he said.

“Putting in place these changes makes a lot of sense for openness and transparency and making it easier for members of the public to find their way around the comments that have been made.”

‘Important day for our democracy’

The fact-checking organisation Full Fact has welcomed the change, following a months-long campaign urging MPs “to agree new rules to make it easy to correct mistakes and stop politicians from misleading parliament”.

More than 50,000 people signed a petition launched by the charity in April 2022 calling for change.

“When our politicians don’t correct their mistakes, everybody loses. The public’s trust is undermined and bad information can spread further, with consequences that affect all of us,” the petition read.

Following this week’s vote, Full Fact chief executive Chris Morris said: “This is a really important day for our democracy, and for our work at Full Fact. Over 50,000 of our supporters backed our campaign to fix parliament's broken corrections system, and we are delighted to see that MPs have listened to our calls for change.

“But this is just the first step – we now need to see additional measures that hold MPs to account when they refuse to correct false or misleading claims, whether they were made in or outside parliament. Failure to do so will mean that public trust in politics will continue to be corroded.  

“MPs must now do more to get their house in order. We will continue to campaign to protect our democracy and fix honesty in politics.”

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