“No honourable member on any side would actually mislead or lie to the House.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, House of Commons

March 17, 2021

Facts

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle told the House of Commons that “no honourable member on any side would actually mislead or lie to the House.”

The Speaker was accurately setting out the parliamentary convention that MPs are honourable women and men and would not mislead, let alone lie to the House of Commons. This convention explains the strict rule that no MP can accuse another MP of lying. (MPs are also prohibited from using abusive language or accusing another MP of being drunk). 

But the Speaker’s remarks were not accurate. Furthermore he must have known that. By the time he issued his statement,  he had received protestations, and a great deal of evidence, that Boris Johnson consistently misled MPs. 

Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister there have been numerous examples of members lying and misleading the House of Commons. Many of these lies and misleading statements are recorded on this website, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson - by some distance - the worst offender

Yet under Commons rules MPs are not allowed to accuse another MP of lying, on the grounds set out by Speaker Hoyle that “no honourable member on any either side would actually mislead or lie to the House.” 

This means that MPs have no means of challenging the lies told by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others. Those that lie can do so with impunity. But those who accuse other MPs – however correctly – of lying are breaking the rules.

This explains the episode involving Labour MP Dawn Butler last July during the final debate in the House of Commons before the summer recess.

Dawn Butler attacked the Prime Minister for "misleading this House" during the Covid pandemic. She cited Boris Johnson’s past statements on economic growth, nurses' bursaries and investment in the NHS as proof of his dishonesty.

There is no disputing the accuracy of Dawn Butler’s speech. Indeed all of the charges she made are vindicated on this website as well as on the reputable fact checking site, Full Fact.

Yet Acting Deputy Speaker Judith Cummins had no choice under Commons rules but to interrupt Dawn Butler and asked her to "reflect on her words and perhaps correct the record". 

Dawn Butler replied: "At the end of the day, the Prime Minister has lied to this House time and time again and it's funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie, rather than the person lying."

The Deputy Speaker again urged the MP to withdraw her comments.  Dawn Butler said, "I have reflected on my words and somebody needs to tell the truth in this House that the Prime Minister has lied."

The Deputy Speaker then ordered Dawn Butler to withdraw from the Commons for the rest of the day's sitting. 

Verdict

Speaker Hoyle is an honest man. But he is himself open to the charge of misleading the Commons when he made this assertion. His statement that “No honourable member on any side would actually mislead or lie to the House” was either demonstrably wrong in the face of the contrary evidence or else a tautology, since all MPs are referred to as “honourable.” 

Hoyle’s remark shows how Boris Johnson’s habitual dishonesty places all round him – even a man as decent and straightforward as Speaker Hoyle – in a position where they are obliged to lie or make false and misleading statements. 

We suggested as much to the Speaker’s Office. The spokesman replied: “Mr Speaker was enforcing that long-established practice, which reflects the presumption that Members are honourable, and so your claims that he misled/lied to the House are inaccurate and unfair, imputing intentions to him which are completely unsupported by the facts.”

To sum up. It is against Commons rules to challenge the lies told by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other ministers. By contrast the Prime Minister can and does lie to MPs with complete parliamentary impunity.

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