We need more “liars” in Parliament
The rule on unparliamentary language is in need of a re-think
It is well-known that MPs are not allowed to call each other “liars” in the House of Commons. When Labour MP, Dawn Butler, used the term in July of this year to describe the Prime Minister, she was asked by the chair of the debate to “reflect on your words and withdraw your remarks”. Ms Butler refused. The chair promptly ordered the MP to leave the House for the rest of the day, citing Standing Order 43.
There is nothing wrong with the Standing Order. It deals with “grossly disorderly” conduct. But there is a problem in the notion that MPs shouting and baying at each other, drowning out each other’s words, as happens frequently, is not a gross disorder, but quietly and patiently pointing out a lie is.
Folklore has it that Winston Churchill used the term “terminological inexactitude” to get around the rule when he accused another MP of lying, although the record suggests that he was doing no such thing (see, for example, the final paragraph here).
Parliament’s own website explains that unparliamentary language is “language [that] breaks the rules of politeness in the House of Commons Chamber” and gives the following examples of language deemed unacceptable by Speakers in years gone by: blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor.
It is noticeable that most of these terms are subjective and/or metaphorical. They are objectionable because, when levelled at another MP, they are almost certainly used as an insult. But “liar” is not an insult; it is an accusation. The accusation is either false, and therefore defamatory, or it is true. It is not possible to sue for defamation (or for anything else) as a result of words spoken in Parliament because proceedings enjoy legal immunity. That immunity should not be abused. It is part of the Speaker’s role to regulate what MPs may say.
But it is absurd for that power to be used to exclude an MP from the House for calling out a liar when the accusation is fully justified. The justification threshold needs to be a high one. It is eminently sensible that MPs should not be allowed casually to accuse each other of lying. And it is not feasible for the House of Commons to become a forum in which accusations of falsehood are routinely tested. But there are occasions when statements made by MPs have plainly and demonstrably been false.
Peter Stefanovic, lawyer, vlogger and filmmaker, has garnered more than 40 million views for a two-minute film on Twitter showing a succession of lies by the Prime Minister on topics ranging from the Covid app to CO2 and from poverty to hospital car parking. They are easily checkable.
The public is entitled to elect a Government led by a man who makes statement after statement which is known to be false if that is the public’s choice. That is the nature of democracy. But what does it say about that same democracy if the other elected representatives are not allowed to draw attention to the adverse outcome for truth from the despatch box following that election?
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 A couple of others at the end of the video strike me as more judgemental than factual.