Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Curtailing ‘unparliamentary’ expressions could stifle voice of MPs

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Curtailing unparliamentary expressions

Context

The Lok Sabha secretariat recently released a booklet of unparliamentary words that will henceforth be banned and if used, will be expunged, it created an uproar among the opposing parties.

Historical Background

  • In the early days of parliamentary functioning in England, members would challenge one another to a duel if they felt dishonoured by another member’s speech.
  • It led to the Speaker of the House of Commons removing the offending words from the written proceedings.
  • In 1873, the constitutional theorist Erskine May started recording words and expressions that the Speaker considered unparliamentary in an eponymous guide to parliamentary procedure.
  •  Later editions of the book laid down the principle of parliamentary language.

Who decides the nature of a word

  • MPs have freedom of speech in Parliament.
  • But the presiding officers of Parliament have the final authority on what gets recorded in the day’s proceedings.
  •  MPs can also draw attention to any unparliamentary words and urge the chair to delete them.
  • Any reporting of the parliamentary discussion that includes the deleted portion is a breach of parliamentary privilege and invites the ire of the House.
  • Deleted words are then added by the parliament secretariat to its compilation of unparliamentary expressions.
  • Why context is important? In any language, the context in which an individual uses a word is critical.
  • “Context” means how the word is said, the circumstances in which it is said and when it is said.

Issues with addition of unparliamentary words

  • Effectiveness of measure: The first issues about the list is its effectiveness in maintaining decency in parliamentary debates.
  • Impact on the debate: The second that that needs to be considered is the effectiveness of such a list help in promoting or stifling discussion.
  • Role of technology: Technological advances have ensured that Parliament can no longer control how its proceedings are recorded and disseminated.
  • As a result, even if Parliament edits its record, the unparliamentary expression will be available online.
  • In such a scenario, a compilation of the words classified as unparliamentary will not deter an MP from using them.

Conclusion

Parliament is all about the cut and thrust of debate. And in a political discussion, a restriction of unparliamentary expression, without considering context, will unnecessarily stifle the voices of MPs.

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