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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 11 March 2021

I would like to make a statement. All members of the parliamentary community will have been deeply affected by the distressing news relating to Sarah Everard. The House service will be issuing a clarification for the media about certain matters which have been reported. I remind hon. and right hon. Members that it is extremely important now to exercise caution and avoid references to any ongoing investigation. Although the matter is not at this stage formally covered by the House’s sub judice resolution, we all need to be very careful to make sure we do not say anything which could prejudice any such investigation.

Before we come to the business question, I also want to make a statement following the point of order that was raised at the end of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions by the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) concerning the accuracy of the statement made by the Prime Minister. I want to make it clear what my responsibility is with regard to answers, and what the responsibilities are of those giving them. It is long established that the Speaker is not, and cannot be, responsible for the content of ministerial answers. “Erskine May” says:

“The Speaker’s responsibility for questions is limited to their compliance with the rules of the House. Responsibility in other respects rests with the Member who proposes to ask the question, and responsibility for answers rests with Ministers.”

All Members should correct the record if they make an inaccurate statement to the House. They can do so by raising a point of order or in debate, or, in the case of Ministers, they can make a statement or issue a written ministerial statement. The Government’s own ministerial code could not be clearer about what is expected of Ministers. It says:

“It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.

The Speaker cannot be dragged into arguments about whether a statement is inaccurate or not. This is a matter of political debate. All Members of this House are honourable. They must take responsibility for correcting the record if a mistake has been made. It is not dishonourable to make a mistake, but to seek to avoid admitting one is a different matter.

I said when I was elected Speaker that we needed to treat each other and the electorate with respect. What I have talked about today is an important part of that, and I hope all Members will act in that spirit. I have been very clear, and so I do not wish to take points of order on this matter now. If necessary, I have no doubt that we will return to this issue some time in the future.