Saying what we mean

Lord Norton

The House is now back from the Easter recess and busy debating.  Peers have a reputation for being extremely polite to one another.  Even insults are couched in language that sometimes means it is a few minutes before victims realise they have been criticised. 

Given that we sometimes hide what we really mean in decorous language, I thought it may be helpful to identify phrases that are variously employed and, in parenthesis, explain what is really meant.  Here are some of the most utilised phrases and what they mean:

‘With all due respect….’  (That was rubbish)

‘If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will not follow him in the line that he has taken…’  (That was nothing to do with what we are talking about)

‘The noble Lord, for whom I have the greatest respect…’  (You’ve lost it this time)

‘The noble Lord makes an interesting point…’  (I have no idea what the answer is)

‘I hear what the noble Lord says….’  (I take a different view)

‘The noble Lord, who is an experienced member of the House….’  (You’ve forgotten the correct procedure)

‘I would remind the noble Lord that this is a time-limited debate’  (Shut up)

‘If the noble Lord will allow me…..’   (Sit down)

‘My Lords’, if repeated several times within the course of a few sentences  (Help!)

Readers may possibly find this helpful when listening to debates.  There is one minister in particular who has a tendency to resort to ‘The noble Lord makes an interesting point’ and another senior member of the House who is prone to scatter his sentences with ‘My Lords’.   I’m sure there are phrases I have overlooked, but no doubt readers – or colleagues! – will be able to identify others. 

3 comments for “Saying what we mean

  1. Stuart
    23/04/2008 at 7:43 pm

    This question is kind of related to this post, so I hope it’s okay.

    Anyway, what I wanted to ask was this: there has been lots of TV coverage today of the Commons exchanges on the 10p tax rate story. At times of high political tension like this, we see lots of footage of the Commons on our TVs, with lots of huffing and puffing and indignation. Do high-tension stories like this also raise the temperature in the Lords? For example, has the 10p tax story been mentioned today at all?

    And this is kind of related to this post because I wonder how much of the forceful and very direct politicking of the Commons makes it into the Lords.

    Thank you in anticipation and in advance for any comments you may give.

  2. Bedd Gelert
    23/04/2008 at 8:22 pm

    Hmm.. I’m all for politeness, but sometimes I, as a Welshman, would wish the English were a little more direct in what they say..

    Yorkshire folk are a refreshing change. If the ‘polite’ way can so easily be translated as ‘Sit Down’ or ‘Shut Up’, there seems little advantage, or indeed politeness, in the way that it is said. It could even be seen as duplicitous, sneaky or sarcastic. Maybe that’s the point ? Alternatively, if it is too subtle, and people don’t get the hint, then who would then get the blame for that ?

    That said, let us hope we never get to the level of the Australians whose Tourist Office is insisting on those ridiculous adverts with the question ‘What is your location’ spoken in the vernacular…

  3. lordnorton
    24/04/2008 at 8:52 am

    Stuart: The answer is yes, up to a point. There was a good example yesterday (Wednesday) in Question Time when the fourth question was on the decision to abolish the 10p rate of income tax! It led to some clashes on the topic, but nothing on the scale witnessed in the Commons.

    On being polite, I think it is an advantage. Insulting one another directly just creates a bad termpered debate and leads to festering ill will. Being polite allows one to disagree with one another and yet work amicably on other issues. It is actually quite important in facilitating the effective work of the House.

    Insults can be subtle; there’s no point, though, in employing them if they are too subtle!

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