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Personal Statement

Volume 467: debated on Wednesday 13 July 1949

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I desire to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, as a matter of Order, a question of which I have given you notice. It happened that yesterday in Question time I asked a supplementary designed, I think, to support the authority of the Chair. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) interjected,

"The hon. Member is 'nuts.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 210.]
He was referring to me. I heard this language of the gutter at the time, but I regarded it as an aside which would not be reported, and I was prepared to treat it with the contempt it deserved. Now, however, that I find it printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT, where it stands between a Question by me and a Ruling by you, I must take notice of it. I, therefore, appeal to you to give me redress in one of two ways, either by causing the insulting language to be deleted from the OFFICIAL REPORT—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—or, alternatively, by calling upon the hon. Member for West Fife to apologise. You Sir, are the only one to whom an hon. Member can appeal for protection from a grossly insulting attack; there is, indeed, no one but you to whom an appeal can be made. I look with confidence to you, Mr. Speaker, to respond to my appeal.

As the hon. Member said, I made that footling aside. I did not myself expect to see it in HANSARD. I have the deepest sympathy with the hon. Member, for while I was at home the other weekend something went wrong, and I said to my wife, "I think I am going nuts," and she, who knows me very well, said, "Oh, you only think you are."

I take it that that is something in the nature of an apology, and so I am not disposed to use the language that I contemplated using in other circumstances, and say that the hon. Member is a liar.

The hon. Member may not call another Member a liar. He must not do that.

In so far as the hon. Member meant that I was unbalanced, he was a liar.

I am sorry, but the hon. Member must not call another Member a liar, however he puts it. He may say that he is mistaken, or that he is in error, or that he is wrong, but he must not call him a liar. If the hon. Member will say of another Member that he is mistaken or that he is wrong, that will be perfectly all right and quite as clear.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I have a great respect for the Chair, and I have always shown that respect, but I have a still greater respect for the truth. I will not call the hon. Member a liar, if you forbid me to do so, but I will say that what the hon. Member said was a lie.

I do not want to engender heat over this, but it really is a serious matter. The hon. Member must not say that another hon. Member has told a lie, because that means that the other hon. Member has deliberately told an untruth. Anyone may say that an hon. Member is in error, or is wrong, or is misinformed—anything which conveys the same meaning—but he must not call him a liar; he must not say that the hon. Member has told a lie. I must direct the hon. Member, with all the authority I have, although I do not wish to create heat, to withdraw.

If my memory does not mislead me, in the last few years Rulings have been given by the Chair that the word "lie" or the words "That is a lie" are not disorderly, although, of course, the expression "liar" is. I was going to suggest that, as the introduction of the word "lie" into our legalised, orderly discussions is quite an innovation, that both "lie" and "liar" should be barred from the practice of the House.

Further to that point of Order. It is just as well for the dignity of the House that we should get this matter straight. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, it has been ruled on more than one occasion—I think by yourself, Sir—that the word "lie" is in Order. What we now seek from you is a Ruling as to whether the word "lie" is or is not in Order?

The noble Lord says I have ruled that the word "lie" is in Order. I have no recollection of that whatever.

I want to offer an apology to you, Mr. Speaker, to the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), and to the House for the use of the expression which has caused so much unnecessary trouble.

I really think we might end this matter in harmony now, without saying any more.

I hope we may get other advantages of a permanent character out of this discussion. May we take it that your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, is that to characterise a statement as "a lie," or to insult an hon. Member by saying that he is a liar, are both entirely out of Order in the House of Commons?

I thought that had always been the practice of the House. It was certainly my intention that it should be so.