Honesty in Politics Campaign – FAQs
What are Full Fact’s current concerns with 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. Currently, there is no way for an MP who is not a government Minister 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. But since this cannot be done officially, MPs' mistakes stay on the record.
The current system for correcting inaccuracies made in Parliament was created in 2007. It allows Ministers to correct the official report of parliamentary debates (Hansard) when they make an inadvertent error in speaking. However, the process is out of date. It does not extend to non-ministers and therefore the vast majority of MPs have no official means by which to correct the record. This includes Shadow Ministers and high profile MPs.
Many MPs have made efforts to correct their mistakes in Parliament, usually through raising a Point of Order with the Speaker or in the course of another debate. These methods are not the most efficient use of Parliament’s time, and mean that readers of the original debate in Hansard will not see the correction.
What change 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. Parliamentarians need to work together to agree on a straightforward system so that MPs' mistakes can be corrected officially.
This new system could look like the one in the Scottish Parliament. This system was introduced in 2010 and allows all Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to put forward corrections to the official record when they misspeak.
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.
How could improvements to correcting the record in Parliament come about?
It is for MPs to agree to new rules. There are some key groups of MPs that can speed up the process. For example, the Procedure Committee can make recommendations to MPs on any aspect of House of Commons procedure and practice. That committee has acknowledged that the system could be better and that it would take evidence on the corrections process.
The House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle sees Full Fact as making a very valid and practical suggestion which he agrees could help improve the ability for all MPs to make corrections and ensure they are accurate. Mr Speaker has also asked the Chair of the Procedure Committee to examine this proposal.
With leadership and increased pressure from the public and other MPs, including party leaders, this process could be speeded up so that proposals are made sooner than later.
What new rules should MPs agree to stop politicians from misleading Parliament?
Full Fact wants to see a new system for MPs to use to both correct the official record when they make a mistake, and for holding 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 - this is where the change of process needs to happen, MPs must be able to correct the official record on Hansard in the same way that Government Ministers can.
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 another 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.
How can Parliament uphold these new standards?
The system to allow all MPs to correct the official record would be self referring. So where MPs fail to correct inaccuracies on the official record via the channels available to them, there must be a mechanism to ensure the rules of the House of Commons are upheld.
Full Fact recognises that conduct in the Commons Chamber means that the Commissioner for Standards may not investigate complaints about matters which fall under the jurisdiction of the Speaker and his deputies in respect of orderliness and conduct during sittings of the House. However, there are instances where an instant judgement by the Speaker is not possible and further investigation may be necessary. The Speaker could have the option to refer a matter of conduct to the Commissioner for Standards for investigation where an MP makes consistent and egregious inaccuracies, fails to correct the official record, and does not meet the expectations of being Honest in public life.
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. Exploring this should not stop a system for correcting mistakes by MPs in Parliament being put in place as soon as possible.