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Review of correction rules

A HOLYROOD watchdog has said it would look favourably on tightening the rules so that corrections to the Official Report of parliamentary proceedings are published far more openly.

APOLOGY: Alex Salmond and Mike Russell were found to have given incorrect figures
APOLOGY: Alex Salmond and Mike Russell were found to have given incorrect figures

It follows a storm of protest over a "Tipp-Ex culture" of clandestine amendments.

The issue came to a head in recent days when First Minister Alex Salmond and his Education Secretary Michael Russell were forced to apologise for giving the wrong figures on college funding, and it then emerged that Mr Salmond had amended the Official Report to correct the number of jobs in the renewable energy sector from 18,000, as he had claimed in the chamber, to 11,000.

This latter correction had been made quietly, prompting the fury of Tory MSP Liz Smith, who had been involved in the original exchanges.

The Herald understands it is likely that a change in procedures could be fast-tracked in order to restore confidence in a system that allowed corrections to be carried out on the quiet.

The current arrangement for corrections to the Holyrood equivalent of Hansard was introduced in 2010 by the Parliament's standards committee and is regarded as fine up until the correction is made – but at that point the fact of the alteration is left on a relatively obscure part of the Parliament's website.

Now there is a drive for any such changes to be publicised on the front of Holyrood's daily Business Bulletin, a move that would have the support of Dave Thompson, the convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

He said of revisiting the 2010 rules: "It's not in our work plan at the moment, but if members want us to have another look at this I am certain that we would treat that favourably. It would need to be done through proper procedures and with full consultation, but I am sure it could be expedited fairly quickly."

Ms Smith said she would be amenable to the idea of all corrections to the Official Report being flagged up on the front page of the daily Business Bulletin. "The important thing is that there should not be a system whereby some can get in behind the scenes and clandestinely change the report."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: "The First Minister has been found tinkering with the Official Report so it reflects what he wishes it said, rather than what he actually said in the chamber. If this is what we have to learn to expect from the SNP Government, then they should at least have the courtesy to draw our attention to such changes.

"Changes to the Official Report shouldn't be shoved at the back of the book. Parliament must take the appropriate steps to ensure that any edits to the Official Report are published in an open and transparent way."

During angry exchanges at First Minister's Questions yesterday Alex Salmond pointed out that only SNP Ministers and MSPs had taken the opportunity to correct errors of fact while Opposition MSPs had never done so, in spite of Labour mistakes such as the war in Iraq and PFI deals. He added: "This apparent position of [Scottish Labour leader] Johann Lamont where she never makes mistakes, is in severe variance with the fact."

Meanwhile, a Labour MSP has complained that the SNP are using their majority to undermine the integrity of Parliament after he was banned from the Holyrood chamber for shouting at the Presiding Officer.

Labour's Michael McMahon was banned for a day for yelling "You're out of order!" at Tricia Marwick.

In a strongly worded statement yesterday she said he was guilty of "gross discourtesy and disrespect".

But Mr McMahon, the MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill, hit back, insisting his punishment was disproportionate and blaming his outburst on frustration at Parliament's failure to hold ministers to account.

He called for wide-ranging reforms to parliamentary procedure following a series of rows over ministers misleading MSPs. He said: "While I fully accept that I was wrong to make the comment I did, I do not believe that the punishment I have received is proportionate.

"I certainly do not believe that its justification stands comparison with those who have previously been suspended and I believe that it is wrong for Government Ministers to mislead Parliament free of any punishment."

He added: "Ministers are consistently misleading Parliament without sanction.

"The SNP use their majority to close down committee inquiries and edit out criticism of the Government from reports."

He said Parliament should "look again at its rules" to ensure that ministers caught misleading MSPs faced greater scrutiny, and he also backed reform of the corrections system.

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