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Holyrood to probe report corrections

HOLYROOD'S Presiding Officer has called for changes to a controversial rule which allows MSPs to correct the official record of parliamentary proceedings without alerting the public.

DISPUTE: First Minister was attacked after changing record.
DISPUTE: First Minister was attacked after changing record.

Members of Parliament's watchdog standards committee will consider tightening up the system at a meeting next week, following the intervention by Tricia Marwick.

The move follows a row over First Minister Alex Salmond correcting an error last month.

During clashes at First Ministers Questions in October he wrongly claimed Scotland's green energy industry supported 18,000 jobs. He amended the Official Report – Holyrood's equivalent of Hansard – to give the correct figure of 11,000.

But the correction only came to light later after it was spotted by an energy expert, prompting calls to make MSPs highlight any changes they make.

In a letter to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, Ms Marwick asked members to "look again at the current process, in terms of transparency and general understanding".

She said there remained some confusion over the corrections system, which was agreed in 2010 and adopted last year. Her request followed talks with the powerful Parliamentary Bureau, the cross-party group which agrees Holyrood's day-to-day agenda.

A briefing note circulated to members of the standards committee ahead of its meeting next week says: "The issues raised have mainly been about how a correction is publicised rather than the fact that a corrections mechanism exists.

"The committee may therefore wish to consider what steps would be appropriate to publicise the existence of corrections and whether any elements of the current guidance need to be clarified or strengthened."

Under the present guidelines MSPs are encouraged to correct the record if they become aware of making straightforward factual errors. They are not obliged to contact other MSPs to flag up the correction.

The Official Report shows clearly where alterations have been made and they are noted on an obscure page on the Parliament's website. The standards committee is expected to consider whether they should be announced on the widely-read Business Bulletin, the daily digest of Parliamentary business.

Among those who have demanded a change to the rules is Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative MSP whose question on green energy jobs elicited the incorrect answer from Mr Salmond.

In a letter to the Presiding Officer she wrote: "Clearly, if this is accepted practice then it effectively means that any member may correct the Official Report as they see fit without the openness and transparency which, I believe, are two of the founding principles of the Parliament itself."

The row over Mr Salmond's correction sparked furious demands from the SNP for other MSPs, including Labour leader Johann Lamont and Tory leader Ruth Davidson, to correct alleged errors of their own.

However, the MSPs insisted their statements were justifiable and they had no need to change the Official Report. All corrections are voluntary.

SNP MSP Dave Thompson, convener of the standards committee said: "The mechanism this committee put in place ensured there is a full audit trail behind any correction, so that you see the original Official Report and also how a member has sought to correct the record."

He added: "Our committee recognises this is an important issue. We will consider the Presiding Officer's request to revisit the mechanism at our next meeting."

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Local government

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