Unsayable in the House – On issue of unparliamentary words

Source: The post is based on an article “Unsayable in the house” published in the Indian Express on 19th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 Parliament and State Legislatures—Structure, Functioning, Conduct of Business, Powers & Privileges and Issues Arising out of these.

Relevance: Parliamentary Discussion

News: Recently, there has been controversy surrounding the release of a Lok Sabha publication which contains a list of unparliamentary words.

About the Parliamentary rules for unparliamentary words in India

Parliamentary rules specify that presiding officers can delete words from the day’s proceedings that they consider defamatory, indecent, unparliamentary, or undignified in the parliament. Therefore, the presiding officers of Parliament have the final authority on what gets recorded in the day’s proceedings.

Members of Parliament (MPs) can also draw attention to any unparliamentary words and urge the chair to delete them.

Further, Parliament television also edits its video recording of the debate to reflect the deletion.

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.

Origin of the exercise of deleting unparliamentary words

This exercise started in parliamentary functioning in England. The Speaker of the House of Commons started removing the offending words from the written proceedings of the house.

In 1873, the constitutional theorist Erskine May started recording words and expressions that the Speaker considered unparliamentary in an eponymous guide to parliamentary procedure.

Further, later editions of this book laid down the principle of parliamentary language. It states, “good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language.”

In 1983, the Speaker of the House of Commons held that “whether a word should be regarded as unparliamentary depends on the context in which it is used. The context is critical and all-important. Here, “Context” means how the word is said, the circumstances in which it is said, and when it is said.

History of application of this rule

(1) In 1956, a Lok Sabha MP referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse during the debate on a bill. The presiding officer deleted the name from the day’s written record, and the parliament secretariat added the word to its compilation of unparliamentary expressions.

(2) In 2014, Hemant Tukaram Godse was elected as the Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP). His surname was considered unparliamentary. Therefore, the presiding officer of Rajya Sabha deleted the word “Godse” from the House proceedings.

(3) In 2020, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha deleted the words used by the Prime Minister while replying to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, from the day’s proceedings.

What are the issues around deletion of unparliamentary words in a Lok Sabha publication?

First, Even if Parliament edits its record, the unparliamentary expression will be available online as a ready reference for using such words. In such a scenario, such a compilation of the words classified as unparliamentary will not deter a Member of Parliament from using them on the floor of the House.

Second, in a political discussion, a restriction of unparliamentary expression, without considering context, will unnecessarily stifle the voices of MPs.

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