Correcting the Record

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 24 October 2023.

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Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip 4:45, 24 October 2023

I echo the comments of the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House, Lucy Powell, in welcoming this report and the work of the Procedure Committee, its members and its Clerks, and that is not just because I am a former member of that Committee who was serving on it when this inquiry started. That is purely coincidental.

With these changes, we are effectively creating a level playing field. Ministers currently have the ability to issue corrections, but other Members do not. 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 That is then not in any way linked or joined up to the comment that they originally made, which stands in Hansard. 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.

It is easy at times to get carried away by what we mean when we say “correcting the record”. It could be something as simple as what Richard Foord mentioned in a debate yesterday in Westminster Hall on honesty in politics; it could be as simple as someone saying “billions” instead of “millions”. That is the sort of thing we could be talking about, albeit we all know there are situations where it is taken significantly further than that. We have seen now former Members of the House perhaps almost doing it deliberately.

On a lack of willingness to correct the record, that probably does need a bit more work, but that is not a matter for today or this situation. But we need to look at that. If there are persistent offenders who simply refuse to acknowledge when mistakes have been made, a system is being put in place that makes this very straightforward. That will warrant further attention. It is in all our interests to get this right. Openness and transparency and honesty in politics are what our constituents expect. It is the very least they can expect from all of us, and it is incumbent on us all to make sure that we can find mechanisms, where appropriate, to make that as easy as possible. For most of us, it would be a genuine mistake—an accidental misspeak—and something that, if this proposal is agreed, will be easily corrected.

I look forward to seeing how this proposal can work in practice when the Committee goes off to work with digital services to implement it. I look forward to what comes next.