Bercow should not have allowed the l-word
John Bercow has been a good Speaker of the House of Commons on the substance if not the form. He interrupts too much, but he is jealous of backbenchers’ rights, assertive in allowing urgent questions to bring ministers, including the Prime Minister, to the House and generally quick, accurate and fair in chairing proceedings.
But I was incensed by his ruling today that it was acceptable for Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, to say that Jeremy Hunt had “lied” to the House. Formally, I can see that the ruling was justifiable. The opposition motion before the House concerned “whether he [Hunt] breached paragraph 1.2c (giving accurate and truthful information to Parliament) … of the Ministerial Code”.
Bercow therefore ruled that this was a special case; that, because the subject of the motion was whether or not Hunt had lied to Parliament, the usual rules of “unparliamentary terms” did not apply.
I do not agree. Linguistic restraint is a virtue in itself. I would prefer the Labour side to make its case by setting out how and why Hunt “misled” the House, which I think he did. It is a matter of courtesy that they should allow the possibility that he had done so inadvertently. If their case is strong enough, people can draw their own conclusions as to whether he intended to do so.
At the most, I think Bercow could have allowed “untruthful”. But I think to use the “lie” word cheapens and coarsens debate. Fortunately, I do not think that using it enhances Bryant’s reputation in the slightest.chris bryant, house of commons, jeremy hunt, john bercow, the speaker
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