Honesty in Politics Petition – FAQs
Why is Full Fact concerned about honesty and accuracy in Parliament?
We believe that the role of Parliament in upholding the highest possible standards of honesty and accuracy is absolutely crucial for democracy.
By mid-2023, only 5 out of the 29 MPs Full Fact has asked to correct themselves have actually done so.
Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders Keir Starmer and Ed Davey are among those MPs who have yet to correct false or misleading claims after we have asked them.
As it stands, only Ministers can correct the official record, but they do not always do so. Most MPs, including the Official Opposition and Shadow Cabinet are not able to correct the official record when they make a mistake in the House of Commons.
There are lots of examples where MPs respond positively to correction requests by Full Fact and make ‘Points of Order’ to correct themselves, but since this cannot be done officially, MPs' mistakes stay on the record. This wastes MPs time, is inefficient and encourages political point scoring.
The current corrections process comes from a 2007 Procedure Committee report which introduced a system for Ministers to be able to correct inaccurate information provided to the Commons to improve the clarity and visibility of corrections.
But this is out of date. Sixteen years on there has been a significant transformation in how information is communicated, with same-day publication and online video coverage - making what is said in Parliament available more quickly and widely than ever before.
The Scottish Parliament has a system that allows all Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to put forward corrections to the official record when they misspeak. It gives the House of Commons a clear example of what a new corrections system could look like.
What changes do we want to see?
There are some very basic changes that could be made to the Parliamentary process and enable all MPs to correct inaccuracies.
Following calls from Full Fact the Procedure Committee held an inquiry on Correcting the Record. After taking evidence, the Procedure Committee’s June 2023 report responded to Full Fact’s asks with the following recommendations:
- Extending the corrections process for all MPs
- Improving the visibility of corrections on Hansard
- Creating a new page for corrections on Parliament’s website
Full Fact is now calling on MPs to adopt these recommendations without delay.
What happens next with the Procedure Committee report’s recommendations?
Soon MPs will debate the Procedure Committee’s recommendations. You can write to your MP and ask them to stand up for honesty and to support these recommendations.
The Government will also write its response to the recommendations. The Procedure Committee’s report highlighted Government support for them, stating that: “There is clearly an appetite to extend the ministerial corrections system to include backbenchers. HM Government made clear that it supported formal corrections mechanisms for backbenchers.”
Full Fact will continue to campaign for these changes and ask all MPs to adopt these recommendations as soon as possible.
Do the Procedure Committee’s recommendations go far enough?
Full Fact is calling on MPs to go further than the Procedure Committee’s recommendations and introduce new measures to hold MPs accountable when they fail to correct their mistakes.
In our evidence to the Committee, we set out the challenges MPs have in the current system to call out bad behaviour and to hold their fellow MPs to account. The Committee responded in its report and stated that they “do not believe the introduction of new procedural mechanisms to be necessary” and that they instead encourage MPs “to take advantage of existing mechanisms available to them”.
We agree with the Committee that the House of Commons does provide numerous ways that MPs can challenge the accuracy of contributions by other MPs. But we do not believe the current mechanisms are sufficient. If they were MPs would not have to ask repeatedly, without success for Minister’s to correct their mistakes.
MPs have an obligation to uphold standards of Honesty as set out in the Members’ Code of Conduct, and for them to be able to do that, there must be a better system for MPs to use to hold others to account when they fail to correct their mistakes.
What new rules should be agreed to ensure MPs correct their mistakes in Parliament?
Full Fact wants to see a new system to hold MPs to account when they consistently mislead Parliament and do not correct their false claims.
There are a number of ways that this could be done. One way that Full Fact has proposed largely uses mechanisms that already exist. When an MP thinks another MP may have made a mistake, they can use resources from the House of Commons Library and UK Statistics Authority to assess the situation. They can then ask the MP to correct the official record.
If the MP in question fails to do this, their colleagues should be able to ask the Speaker to authorise a debate or an Urgent Question, as they can under the existing powers for Government Ministers. Where there are continuous and egregious failings - this is where a new change of process needs to happen, the Speaker should be given the power to refer this pattern of behaviour to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for investigation. If the Commissioner for Standards, an independent officer of the House of Commons, finds that the MP in question has persistently failed to correct their mistakes, the Committee on Standards should be able to impose appropriate sanctions.
MPs may decide on a variation or an alternative to the system above, but what they should not do is leave a broken system as it is.
What are the consequences of mistakes by MPs going uncorrected?
Admitting you got something wrong is perceived by many politicians as a show of political weakness or vulnerability, used only to score party political points. The fact that only Ministers can correct Hansard perpetuates this. By making it possible for all MPs, not just government Ministers, to correct Hansard simply and efficiently, it would become incumbent on all parliamentarians to champion honesty and accuracy in public life.
Corrections to Parliament’s official record should be made in a way that is in the public interest - where the electorate can clearly see the corrected information alongside the error. Raising a Point of Order does not support this.
Public debate is increasingly toxic and divided, and the accuracy of information coming from our elected representatives matters. A simple and efficient system that allows all MPs to submit corrections to Hansard is a basic and practical change that could be significant in moving towards a culture of correcting mistakes.
What about mistakes that happen outside of Parliament?
When MPs make a contribution in a public setting, such as social media, broadcast or print media, or a public setting outside of Parliament, they are speaking in a public forum, engaging in public debate, and making statements in their capacity as public representatives.
Full Fact sees the extent to which a tweet that contains an inaccuracy by a high profile MP with hundreds of thousands of followers can reach and inform public debate. This reach can be far greater than an inaccuracy made in the House of Commons.
Current processes to tackle mistakes outside of Parliament do not work. We want Parliament to look at this again and consider how a corrections process could work for inaccuracies made outside of Parliament.