Lies, Personalities and Unparliamentary Expressions

Reformation to Referendum: Writing a New History of Parliament

It often puzzles people that accusing someone of lying in parliament seems to be taken more seriously than actually lying – at least that there is some consequence. The member who has made the accusation is called on to withdraw, or rephrase, the allegation; whereas it is rare that anything is done to reprove the member who is alleged to have lied. The reason probably lies in the sixteenth-century conventions of gentlemanly violence.

The Hansard report of the debate on Roman Catholic emancipation on 17 April 1823 records a heated and tense exchange between the prominent and bitter-tongued opposition spokesman Henry Brougham and George Canning, now foreign secretary and effective leader of the House of Commons. Brougham, in the course of a strenuous attack on Canning, a previous supporter of Catholic rights, accused him of abandoning his principles in order to secure office in an anti-catholic administration. It was…

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