This week, Jeremy Hunt was forced to correct official parliamentary records after FactCheck exposed his false claim over the NHS.
But Mr Hunt is not the first minister to re-write the books.
Transcripts from the House of Commons – called Hansard – can be quietly edited to include corrections if politicians’ claims are proved wrong. The corrections are published on Parliament’s website, but are hard to search for. And the public rarely hears an apology. *[see update]
Here are ten incorrect claims we discovered which were made by ministers in Parliament. They were all corrected afterwards – but often not for weeks.
1. Israeli demolitions
February 2017: Rory Stewart (International Development Minister)
This Conservative minister clearly denied allegations that the Israeli government had demolished community facilities which had been paid for by British taxpayers. Mr Stewart claimed:
“The British taxpayer has not funded any structures that have been demolished by the Israeli Government.”
Nearly a month later, the records were quietly edited:
“The British taxpayer has not directly funded any structures in recent years that have been demolished by the Israeli Government.”
June 2014: Theresa May (then Home Secretary)
Amid growing concerns about a huge backlog of passport applications, Theresa May tried to assure the MPs and the public. She claimed that millions of passports had already been quickly processed.
“Her Majesty’s Passport Office has issued 3.3 million passports in the first five months of this year.”
But she was quoting the wrong figure. This wasn’t the number of passports being issued – it was the number of applications that had been received, so it actually reinforced the concerns of a backlog crisis. Mrs May quietly issued a correction.
3. Child abuse
November 2016: Sarah Newton (Home Office Minister)
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has now been denounced as “not fit for purpose” by victims. But back in 2016, Home Office minister Sarah Newton defended it, claiming:
“It has referred roughly 80 cases a week to the police.”
But she was off by miles. Instead, she should have said:
“It has referred roughly 80 cases a month to the police.”
4. NHS pay
March 2015: George Freeman (then Health Minister)
The government has come under fire over the public sector pay cap, but ministers have been keen to play down its impact on wages.
In this case, George Freeman wrongly claimed:
“[Nurses, midwives and health visitors] will get the 1% rise, which is an extra £800.”
In fact, the rise was just £300.
5. Playing for time?
January 2017: Sajid Javid (Communities and Local Government Secretary)
This government minister was discussing a proposal which had been submitted to him the previous summer. But when asked to make sure there was sufficient time to deal with it, he claimed:
“We have only just received the proposal.”
However, the transcript of his comment was later edited to say:
“We have received the proposal.”
6. Prison officers
January 2017: Liz Truss (then Justice Secretary)
Conservative minister Liz Truss told Parliament about the apparent success of a government-run graduate scheme. It was designed to help solve the recruitment crisis in the Prison Service. She told MPs:
“Within 24 hours of announcing that scheme, we had expressions of interest from more than 1,000 candidates.”
But that wasn’t true. The real number of candidates was just 350.
7. Youth unemployment
November 2016: Robert Halfon (then Education Minister)
This was the impressive claim about youth unemployment made by Conservative minister Robert Halfon:
“We have the lowest level of youth unemployment on record and the lowest number of those not in education, employment or training.”
However, the first half of this claim was later deleted. It read simply:
“We have the lowest number of those not in education, employment or training.”
8. Prison riots
July 2016: Michael Gove (then Justice Secretary)
In a House of Commons debate about prison safety, one MP asked Michael Gove how many times anti-riot squads had been called out to deal with emergencies.
Before responding, he asked MPs to “excuse me as I turn to my notes in order to give her the exact figure”. Then he said:
“The National Tactical Response Group was called out 400 times”.
But despite looking at his notes, he was still wrong. The correct figure was 360.
9. Science funding
28 June 2016: Jo Johnson (Universities and Science Minister)
Mr Johnson claimed that science budgets would rise in line with inflation.
“We have protected science spending until the end of the Parliament – a decade of real-terms protection.”
Later, the transcript was edited to remove the words “real-terms”. This effectively admits that science budgets were not protected to keep up with inflation – and could mean a real-terms cut.
10. Solar panel
10 June 2015: Amber Rudd (then Energy Secretary)
How should the government increase solar energy? Is it down to individuals, or should big factories and big business take the lead?
Speaking in 2015, Amber Rudd couldn’t have been clearer about her opinion:
“Solar energy is best dealt with by community energy projects. It should not be on people’s houses.”
But the next day her opinion was “corrected”:
“Solar energy is best dealt with by community energy projects. It should be on people’s houses.”
That clears that up then!
*[The House of Commons has asked us to clarify that the corrections to Hansard are published separately and appear in a separate section of Hansard and do not change the original record. We are happy to do so.]