Outdated parliamentary processes should never hamper politicians from acting honestly
When a backbench MP says something wrong in the House of Commons they can't correct it.
Let that settle in for a moment: most MPs, our elected representatives, including the Leader of the Opposition, are stopped from doing what we tell any six year old to do - owning up to their mistakes. Cynics will say that MPs don't want to correct their mistakes but many do.
In April, Full Fact launched our petition calling on MPs to admit publicly when they get things wrong, and along with all MPs, to agree new rules to make it easy to correct mistakes and stop politicians from misleading Parliament. Since we launched our campaign more than 34,000 joined us in calling on their MP to stand up for honesty.
Then in June, the House of Commons Procedure Committee —a group of MPs who consider practice and conduct inside the House of Commons— announced its inquiry on correcting the record. Recognition by MPs across the political spectrum that changes must be made to Parliament’s corrections system. If MPs agree to change the system, this will be a first step towards more honest politics in Parliament; and a win for us and our thousands of supporters.
As it stands only Ministers can correct any mistakes they make on the official record. Senior MPs, including the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer MP, are not able to do this. Most MPs have to rely on making time consuming and ineffective Points of Order in a separate debate to correct their mistake, but this does not cross-reference to the original debate nor change the official record on Hansard.
Today I gave evidence to the Procedure Committee. I told MPs that the out-of-date parliamentary system they rely on to correct their mistakes prevents MPs from acting in the spirit of honesty and leaves a litany of mistakes on the House of Commons official record.
Because the visibility and searchability of Hansard has increased in recent years, it is easier now than ever for the public to view debates on Hansard and share these online. This means that the potential for misleading statements made in Parliament to spread and fuel misinformation and disinformation is high.
We know that it is unlikely a person reading a debate that contained an error would see a Point of Order correction raised at a later date. If MP corrections cross-referenced to the original statement made it would improve the information environment.
A system that allows elected representatives to correct their mistakes already exists in the UK. The Scottish parliament has a system which allows all MSPs to correct the record. For MSPs (including Ministers) this has become an everyday part of fulfilling their personal responsibility to be accurate and truthful in their contributions during Parliamentary proceedings.
Public trust in politics is low, and for good reason. However, there is no shame in being honest about making mistakes. Earlier this week, Liz Truss apologised to the nation and said admitting a mistake is the mark of an honest politician.
We agree, and so do almost 35,000 others. If you think the Prime Minister's actions—and those of all MPs—should match her words, tell them for yourself: sign our petition today.