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7th Report, 2010 (Session 3)

Accuracy of Contributions in Parliamentary Proceedings - guidance and
Official Report correction mechanism

Remit and membership

Remit:

1. The remit of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is to consider and report on—

(a) the practice and procedures of the Parliament in relation to its business;

(b) whether a member’s conduct is in accordance with these Rules and any Code of Conduct for members, matters relating to members’ interests, and any other matters relating to the conduct of members in carrying out their Parliamentary duties;

(c) the adoption, amendment and application of any Code of Conduct for members; and

(d) matters relating to public appointments in Scotland.

2. Where the Committee considers it appropriate, it may by motion recommend that a member's rights and privileges be withdrawn to such extent and for such period as are specified in the motion.

(Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Rule 6.4)

Membership:

Robert Brown
Aileen Campbell
Angela Constance
Marilyn Livingstone (Deputy Convener)
Nanette Milne
Gil Paterson (Convener)
Peter Peacock

Committee Clerking Team:

Clerk to the Committee
Gillian Baxendine
Alison Walker

Senior Assistant Clerk
Mary Dinsdale
Roz Wheeler

Assistant Clerk
Catherine Fergusson

Support Manager
Stephen Fricker

Accuracy of Contributions in Parliamentary Proceedings - guidance and
Official Report correction mechanism

The Committee reports to the Parliament as follows—

Introduction

1. In May 2009, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee (“the Committee”) published its 5th Report 2009, Accuracy of Contributions in Parliamentary Proceedings.1 The report was the result of the Committee’s deliberations on issues raised by the Presiding Officer in relation to the procedures governing the accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings. The Presiding Officer was of the view that there had been numerous points of order during this session on the matter.

Issues considered in the Committee’s 5th Report 2009

2. In its 5th report 2009, the Committee considered a significant number of issues relating to the procedures governing the accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings, including: current rules and practices; the role of the Presiding Officer; the Scottish Ministerial Code and the use of independent advisers and use of points of order in this context.

Current rules and practices

3. The Committee noted that current procedures relating to this area are set out in the relevant provisions of Standing Orders (Rule 7.3)2, the Code of Conduct for MSPs (Section 7.3)3 and the Scottish Ministerial Code (section 1.1(c))4. In summary, the Standing Orders and the Code of Conduct for MSPs apply to the conduct of all members in the Chamber and refer to the high standards expected of members. It is left to the Presiding Officer’s discretion to rule on such conduct and there is no specific enforceable rule about veracity. Separately, the Ministerial Code refers specifically to the standards expected of ministers, including the First Minister, to provide “accurate and truthful information” and sets out the penalty for knowingly misleading the Parliament.

Role of the Presiding Officer

4. The Committee supported the Presiding Officer’s view that it would be inappropriate for the Presiding Officer to have any role in ruling on questions about accuracy as it could compromise his impartiality. Issues raised about statements made by ministers, in their capacity as ministers, are regulated by the Scottish Ministerial Code. The Presiding Officer has no role in relation to the content or enforcement of the Ministerial Code.

Scottish Ministerial Code and independent advisers

5. The Committee noted that section 1.4 of the Scottish Ministerial Code allows the First Minister to refer matters to the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code—

“to provide him with advice on which to base his judgement about any action required in respect of Ministerial conduct. The findings of the independent advisers will be published”.

6. The Committee agreed that it was right for the First Minister to have responsibility for enforcing the Ministerial Code for his ministers, given that he appoints ministers, and also noted that the First Minister’s accountability was to the Parliament. The Committee noted the Ministerial Code requirement that ministers, including the First Minister, would be expected to resign if they knowingly misled the Parliament.

Points of order

7. Committee members supported the view that, where possible, the Presiding Officer should be notified of any allegations of discourteous conduct in writing. Committee members also noted that, while it is likely that the Presiding Officer would be unable to rule on such issues, limited use of points of order to put something on the record has sometimes in itself resolved such a situation.

Further possible action recommended by the Committee in its 5th report 2009

Joint Protocol

8. The Committee believed that there could be merit in developing a joint protocol between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government which clarified the respective provisions of the Standing Orders, the Code of Conduct for MSPs and the Scottish Ministerial Code insofar as they relate to conduct in the Parliament and, in particular, procedures relating to the accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings. The Committee agreed to recommend the development of a protocol in principle and to ask the Scottish Government to respond to the Committee’s report.

Correction mechanism

9. Committee members recognised that occasional inadvertent errors are an inevitable feature in debates, given the nature of parliamentary business. Where such an error is made and is acknowledged by the member making it, however, there should be a mechanism to allow the appropriate correction to be made known to the Parliament. Members noted that one possible mechanism to correct inaccuracies might be the Official Report.5

10. It was noted that there is an existing mechanism for publishing corrections to Written Answers (which obviously only applies to those members who answer such questions (i.e. ministers)). The Scottish Government issues a corrected answer to the member whose question has been answered inaccurately, along with a letter which may outline what the correction is. This correction is forwarded to the Chamber Desk (who deal with written answers) as well as the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). The corrected version of the answer appears in the Written Answers report on the day that it is received. So far this session there have been 49 corrected answers. At present such corrections (unless they are significant enough to merit a statement in the Chamber) are likely to be addressed in correspondence and, although such correspondence is generally placed in the SPICe library, there is no other mechanism for drawing it to the attention of all members or the general public.

Guidance

11. The Committee noted that there was currently no guidance available on the steps for members to take where it is thought that other members had given inaccurate or incomplete information to the Parliament. The Committee agreed that it could be helpful to provide guidance on practical courses of possible action in such circumstances.

Further consideration of accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings and the Committee’s conclusions

12. Since the publication of its 5th report 2009, the Committee has considered further the issues raised in that report, and continues to recognise that fully policing the accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings through procedural mechanisms is a difficult, if not impossible, objective.6

Political debate and individual member’s responsibility

13. This view was supported by a quote from Sir Philip Mawer the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests to the Prime Minister in the UK Government (and former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards). In his annual report 2008-09, Sir Philip stated that—

“…the Adviser is not appointed to provide a running commentary on matters concerning the standards of conduct of Government Ministers. Ministers are accountable to Parliament and it is in that forum, and through the cut and thrust of debate, that their actions should primarily be questioned”.7

14. The Committee also notes the terms of the following relevant extract from an announcement by the Presiding Officer in the Business Bulletin on 22 November 2007—

“I would reiterate what I have said in the Chamber previously: members are themselves responsible for what they say during proceedings. I am not responsible for establishing veracity of what is said during those proceedings as this is not covered by either Standing Orders or the MSP Code of Conduct.”

15. The Committee wishes to reinforce that it is for individual members to ensure that what is said in parliamentary proceedings is accurate.

Joint protocol

16. In relation to the Committee’s view that there could be merit in developing a joint protocol between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, the Committee sought the views of the Minister for Parliamentary Business to ascertain whether the Scottish Government supported the proposal.

17. At the meeting of the Committee on 8 December 2009, the Convener reported that, on 2 December 2009, three members of the Committee had met with the Minister for Parliamentary Business and it was agreed that further work should focus on whether there was anything to be added in a protocol which would supplement or further clarify the Code of Conduct for MSPs and the Ministerial Code. The Committee subsequently agreed that there may be limited benefit in the development of a joint protocol which may duplicate existing information available in the Codes. Nonetheless, the Committee is of the view that there is scope for helpful material to be provided in the form of a correction mechanism in the Official Report and guidance for members on steps to take where they believed that inaccurate information had been given in proceedings.

Correction mechanism

18. The Committee agrees that there would be merit in pursuing the concept of a mechanism to allow a correction which has been made to inaccurate information to be made known to the Parliament through a more formal system than the current one which is likely to involve correspondence between the members involved without it being drawn to the attention of all members or the general public.

19. The Committee supports such a mechanism being provided through the Official Report, which would involve a dedicated page in the Official Report on which all corrections would appear and for this to be published whenever a correction was made. Corrections could be made to any proceedings, such as in answers to oral questions, statements and debates, in the Chamber and in committees.

20. Further details of how the Committee envisages the mechanism would work and admissibility criteria are detailed in Annexe A to this report.

Other steps to highlight where a correction has been made

21. It is the over-riding responsibility of ministers and members to ensure the accuracy of their statements. Should a minister or member become aware that they have made an inaccurate statement during proceedings they should, where possible, make the correction on the record during the same proceedings. Where they become aware that a significant correction is required after those proceedings have concluded, they should seek to make a statement in the Chamber (or committee) at a later date. In cases of more minor corrections, where a statement is not merited, the following steps also exist to make the correction more widely known

  • writing to the member who raised the matter;

  • placing a copy of the correction in the SPICe library;

  • copying any correspondence to the Presiding Officer, relevant party spokespersons and business managers.

Guidance on processes to request corrections to possible inaccuracies in parliamentary proceedings

22. The Committee notes that there is a range of possible measures which might be adopted by members to pursue resolution of an issue where he/she is not satisfied that an inaccuracy has not been corrected. However, such measures do not appear to be documented in one location and the Committee agreed that being able to access one source for this information would be helpful to members.

23. The Committee agreed that guidance on this be drafted and subsequently approved the material contained in Annexe B.

Conclusions

24. The Committee continues to recognise that the policing of the accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings through procedural mechanisms is a virtually impossible task. While there may be some straightforward factual statements on which a judgement about veracity could be made at the time, there are occasions where concerns about the accuracy of a statement arise only on checking subsequent to the point being made in a statement, question or debate. In many cases, views on accuracy are likely to vary depending on perspective or interpretation of information.

25. The Committee agrees that, where a correction to an inaccuracy in parliamentary proceedings is made, there should be a mechanism to make this more widely known and has therefore agreed to the introduction of an additional correction mechanism using the Official Report (detailed at Annexe A). (An announcement will be made in the Business Bulletin when the correction mechanism has been put in place and is available for members to use.)

26. The Committee also approves the terms of draft guidance (Annexe B) setting out a number of ways in which members may seek to highlight and request corrections where it is believed that inaccurate or incomplete information has been given in parliamentary proceedings and such information has not been corrected. (This guidance will be made available on the Parliament’s website once the Official Report correction mechanism has been implemented.)

Annexe A: Draft guidance on the correction of inaccuracIes of information provided in parliamentary proceedings through the official report

1. This guidance applies when a member supplies incorrect information that the Official Report is unable to correct, either before or after publication, because such a correction would not reflect what happened during the meeting or accord with the understanding by those who were present of what was said. The Official Report’s remit, which governs pre and post-publication corrections, is not affected by this guidance. Further information about its remit can be found on the Official Report web pages.

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/officialReports/about.htm

2. If the member realises during the debate (or during the committee meeting) that the error has been made, he or she may correct it immediately, for example by making a point of order. Such an error might, for example, be saying that something cost £1 million when it fact it cost £1 billion.

3. Any member may request that an error that they have made and which has been recorded in parliamentary proceedings be corrected to reflect the accurate information. (“Parliamentary proceedings” includes answers to oral questions, statements and debates, in the Chamber and in committees).

4. Such a request should be made to the Parliamentary Business Team. The format for the request is provided at the end of this guidance.

5. Each request should reproduce the text that is to be corrected, followed by the text of the correction.

6. The correction should be published as soon as possible after it is notified, on a dedicated corrections page.

7. The corrections page should be used for no other purpose and should not present new information.

8. Only the member who made the error in the first place may request a correction (and not anyone “on behalf of” the member).

9. Members may also wish to inform other members of their correction, especially if the incorrect information was given in direct response to another contribution.

10. There will be a hyperlink from the correction to the Official Report containing the original error.

Admissibility criteria for requesting a correction

The correction should—

  • be made to factual information only (i.e. to matters of fact such as dates, figures, names of organisations);

  • not be used to provide new information or to continue an argument;

  • be made at the earliest opportunity;

  • be sent to the Parliamentary Business Team in writing (Room T1.01, Scottish Parliament) or by email (businessteam@scottish.parliament.uk);

  • be signed and dated by the member or sent direct from the member’s parliamentary email account;

  • set out—

    • the name of the member requesting the correction,

    • what the original error was (with a cross-reference to where the error appeared),

    • the correction that is to be made.

Example of correction format:

Correction to the Official Report

X MSP

I made an error in my speech on 1 September 2010, which is recorded in the Official Report at col 999.

Original text:

“X MSP: The project will cost £100,000.”

Corrected text:

“X MSP: The project will cost £200,000.”

Resolution of disputes on admissibility

If a member disagrees with a clerk’s decision on the admissibility of a correction, the clerk will refer the matter to the Parliamentary Business Team Leader or the Head of the Chamber Office. If the member remains dissatisfied, the final decision rests with the Presiding Officer.

[Note: It should be noted that the Official Report correction mechanism is not yet in operation. An announcement will be made in the Business Bulletin when the mechanism has been introduced.]

Annexe B: Draft guidance on steps to request corrections to possible inaccuracies in parliamentary proceedings

1. This guidance sets out a number of ways in which members may seek to highlight and request corrections where it is believed that inaccurate or incomplete information has been given in parliamentary proceedings and such information has not been corrected.

2. Members (and ministers) have a personal responsibility to be accurate and truthful.

3. Where a member believes that a member (or minister) has been inaccurate during parliamentary proceedings (such as in a plenary debate, during Question Times, in proceedings on a statement or in committee proceedings), he or she may consider taking the following steps—

  • Resolution during the proceedings

Where a member believes that there has been an inaccuracy during parliamentary proceedings, that member should seek to intervene during the proceedings to make that point, inviting the member to reflect on the veracity of what has been said.

  • Resolution in person/through correspondence

If it has not been possible to raise the matter at the time, the member may wish to raise the matter in person or in writing with the member (or minister) in question.

  • Seek action through other parliamentary processes and/or procedures

Other action which the member may wish to pursue could include—

  • written questions/follow-up questions;
  • lodging a motion calling for a debate on the policy matter in question;
  • where the incident involves a minister, writing to the First Minister/lodging a motion urging the First Minister to refer the complaint to the independent advisers established under the Scottish Ministerial Code.

Publicising where a correction has been made

4. Where a minister or member has made a correction to an inaccuracy, they should take steps to make the correction widely known, such as—

  • ensuring that the correction is made at the earliest possible opportunity in the Official Report (see Guidance on the correction of inaccuracies of information provided in parliamentary proceedings through the Official Report);

  • writing to the member who raised the matter;

  • placing a copy of the correction in the SPICe library;

  • copying any correspondence to the Presiding Officer, relevant party spokespersons and business managers.

[Note: It should be noted that the Official Report correction mechanism referred to in paragraph 4 of this guidance is not yet in operation. The other steps set out in this guidance may still be used to correct an inaccuracy.

An announcement will be made in the Business Bulletin when the Official Report correction mechanism has been introduced and this guidance will then be posted on the Parliament’s website.]

Annexe C: Extract from Minutes

10th Meeting, 2009 (Session 3), Tuesday 8 September 2009

Accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings (in private): The Committee considered a response from the Scottish Government to its 5th report, 2009, and agreed to recommend the development of a joint protocol between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.

14th Meeting, 2009 (Session 3), Tuesday 8 December 2009

Accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings (in private): The Committee agreed its approach to proposals for a protocol and guidance.

5th Meeting, 2010 (Session 3), Tuesday 20 April 2010

Accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings (in private): The Committee considered a note by the Clerk and agreed to consider draft guidance and a draft report in private at future meetings.

11th Meeting, 2010 (Session 3), Tuesday 5 October 2010

Accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings (in private): The Committee considered and agreed a draft report.


Footnotes:

1Scottish Parliament Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. 5th Report, 2009 (Session 3). Accuracy of Contributions in Parliamentary Proceedings (SPP 254)

2 Scottish Parliament. Standing Orders. Available at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/so/sto-3.htm#7

3 Scottish Parliament. Code of Conduct for MSPs. Available online at:http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msp/conduct/coc-v2-2.htm#s7

4 The Scottish Government. Scottish Ministerial Code. Available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/06/18095600/2

5 A dedicated corrections page operates in the House of Commons Hansard, an example of which can be viewed at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/corrtext/90209c0001.htm#column_9MC

6 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/committees/stanproc/reports-09/stprr09-05.htm
Paragraph 2

7 Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, Annual Report 2008-09, para 6.2. Available at: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/135230/mawer_annualreport.pdf