Language and allegations in relation to other Members and Members of the House of Lords

21.24The general requirements of moderation in parliamentary language, reflected above, are viewed as particularly important when Members are speaking of other Members, not because other Members require specific protection, but in order to preserve the character of parliamentary debate.1 Words which may be tolerated by the Chair in other circumstances may therefore be discouraged or required to be withdrawn as unparliamentary when used in connection with other Members;2 though, as already indicated, what is unparliamentary is subject to the context in which a word or phrase is used.3 Expressions that are unparliamentary when applied to individuals are not always so considered when applied to a whole party.4

Expressions when used in respect of other Members which are regarded with particular seriousness, generally leading to prompt intervention from the Chair and often a requirement on the Member to withdraw the words, include the imputation of false or unavowed motives;5 the misrepresentation of the language of another and the accusation of misrepresentation;6 and charges of uttering a deliberate falsehood.7

If a Member wishes to pursue accusations of a kind not permitted because of these principles, the proper course is to table a distinct motion about the conduct of the other Member as indicated at paras 20.10 and 21.23 above.

The Speaker has ruled that a Member who intends to mention another Member's name in the Chamber in a form which amounts to a personal reflection – but which is short of the kind which anyway would require a substantive motion – should (unless the other Member is present) inform the other Member in advance, in a timely and reasonable manner.8

Although it is perfectly in order to criticise the role and functions of the House of Lords,9 abusive language and imputations of falsehood uttered by Members of the House of Commons against Members of the House of Lords have usually been met by the immediate intervention of the Chair to compel the withdrawal of the offensive words,10 or, in default, by the punishment of suspension.11

Footnotes

  1. It is not out of order, however, to cast aspersions on former Members of the House, even if they are Privy Counsellors, HC Deb (1933) 277, cc 1222–26; ibid (1983–84) 53, c 75.
  2. Recent illustrations of expressions which, in context, have drawn rebuke from the Chair include calling another Member a ‘preposterous buffoon’, HC Deb (31 January 2013) 557, c 1048; an ‘idiot’, ibid (7 January 2015) 590, c 292; ibid (12 June 2014) 582, cc 730–31. Charges of hypocrisy, particularly to the extent there is a personal imputation, have routinely drawn an intervention, for example ibid (1 February 2012) 539, c 814; ibid (14 May 2012) 545, c 383; ibid (13 September 2012) 550, c 410; ibid (17 October 2012) 551, c 340. A charge that a Member has obstructed the business of the House or that a speech is an abuse of the rules of the House is not out of order, Parl Deb (1886) 308, c 1170; ibid (1903) 125, c 945; HC Deb (1909) 6, c 2046
  3. See para 21.21, fn 2 above and HC Deb (17 December 2013) 572, c 641. See ibid (1989–90) 177, c 1477 and ibid (16 April 2013) 561, c 310 for cases in which the reaction of a Member who had been criticised was relevant to the Speaker's judgment.
  4. HC Deb (1945–46) 414, c 794; ibid (1978–79) 965, cc 56–57, 68; ibid (2003–04) 419, c 894; though accusing a group of Ministers of deliberate deception was not acceptable, ibid (9 July 2014) 584, c 295.
  5. See HC Deb (1961–62) 663, c 1485, ibid (1967–68) 757, cc 1740–42; ibid (1975–76) 916, cc 2293–94 (6 August 1976); ibid (1983–84) 58, c 213; ibid (1985–86) 101, c 290; ibid (8 December 2010) 520, c 438; ibid (7 November 2012) 552, cc 884–85; ibid (23 January 2013) 557, c 361.
  6. See 2 Cav Deb 118, 120; HC Deb (1930–31) 256, c 1596; ibid (1962–63) 681, c 190; it has been held that the accusation must be of deliberate misrepresentation (Stg Co Deb (1959–60) Stg Co C Public Bodies (Admission of the Press) Bill, cc 92, 113); HC Deb (26 February 2013) 559, cc 154–55; cf ibid (1959–60) 620, cc 893–94. See also ibid (11 December 2008) 485, cc 703–4.
  7. See HC Deb (1948–49) 467, cc 439–40; ibid (16 April 1973) 855, cc 28–30; ibid (1979–80) 984, cc 1788–92; ibid (1983–84) 61, cc 473, 523; ibid (1992–93) 233, cc 789–90; ibid (2002–03) 404, c 549; ibid (20 October 2003) 411, c 388; ibid (26 November 2014) 588, c 997. In recent times, accusations of disingenuousness or being misleading, and similar phrases, save where qualified by context or by inadvertency, have regularly incurred interventions from the Chair, for example, ibid (22 June 2011) 530, c 425; ibid (25 June 2012) 547, c 69; ibid (10 July 2012) 548, c 173; ibid (6 November 2012) 552, c 716; ibid (15 January 2013) 556, cc 721, 777; ibid (19 March 2013) 560, c 852; ibid (26 February 2014) 576, c 347. A Member was asked to rephrase an allegation of regular misuse of statistics at the dispatch box, ibid (15 October 2014) 586, c 363. An allegation of ‘spectacular insincerity’ was tolerated, ibid (3 September 2012) 549, c 37.
  8. See eg HC Deb (1993–94) 246, cc 1124–29; ibid (8 December 2008) 485, c 267; ibid (16 December 2013) 572, c 587; ibid (7 March 2013) 559, c 1158; ibid (27 February 2017) 622, c 40.
  9. Parl Deb (1893) 8, c 1780; ibid (1906) 167, c 1771; language has been permitted to describe Members of the House of Lords collectively which would not be permitted to describe individual Members of the House of Lords.
  10. HC Deb (1960–61) 629, c 358; ibid (1977–78) 944, c 1313; ibid (1977–78) 954, c 797. A Member of the other House may be mentioned in debate in relation to their activities in another capacity, eg as a newspaper proprietor, ibid (1948–49) 467, c 2668.
  11. CJ (1890) 72; Parl Deb (1890) 341, c 1570.