Minister: What we need here is a free, frank and open debate about the whole matter.
Member: Hogwash! When the minister speaks of a free, frank and open debate, we all know that what he really means is that the government has no intention of doing anything about the problem. We require action.
Minister: We have already done a great deal. Does the honourable gentleman not realise that we are a world leader in the field of which we speak?
Member: Balderdash! Allow me to translate. The truth is that, as in so many other matters, this government has ensured that we are a world leader in talking about the issue. Virtually nothing practical has actually been done.
Minister: That is not true. We have spent almost ten million in setting up a study group comprising some of the finest minds in the country to advise us on the way ahead. That could hardly be called inactive. It gives an indication of our serious intent.
Member: Twaddle! The minister has recruited a bunch of otherwise out-of-work academics and is paying them handsomely for what it has proved to be: a master class in procrastination. As ever, the government is using this chamber as a talk shop.
Minister: Oh dear, the honourable gentleman seems to be having some difficulty with the English language. If the word ‘parliament’ does not mean talk shop, I am bound to wonder what it does mean.
Member: Well, it doesn’t mean endless temporising and prevarication, which is the government’s approach to any troublesome affair. This whole administration is characterised by indolence and indecision.
Minister: The honourable gentleman is once again in error. I have already indicated that we cannot be regarded as indolent. As for indecision, I have repeatedly made my attitude clear in the plainest possible terms.
Member: Tripe! What the minister has clarified to any but the most obtuse minds that he is sitting on the fence and has no idea how to get off it. I hope the splinters are not too uncomfortable. I am mindful of some famous words of Oliver Cromwell, which are appropriate here. I believe they were as follows: ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!’
Minister: That’s interesting coming from the honourable gentleman. His party sat even longer than we have and did far less good.
Member: Never mind what we did or did not do. The point here is what the minister is doing or rather not doing. He is simply kicking the ball into the long grass in the hope that the question will disappear and he will not have to deal with it at all.
Minister: The honourable gentleman has already shown that he has trouble with one aspect of our language. Now he is struggling with metaphors. If a ball is kicked into the long grass it is indeed likely to go out of sight. However, that has not happened in this case. I suspect that what the honourable gentleman really intended to say was that the can has been kicked down the road, which I think implies that it is still visible, as it is on this occasion. The fact is that when in office the party now in opposition kicked the can so far down the road that it took a little time to reach it. However, after doing so, we have made much progress.
Member: The government has not done any such thing. In fact it appears to be paralysed. I would say it could be regarded as more in traction than in action.
Minister: Oh, very good. What a pity that the honourable gentleman’s wisdom does not equal his wit.
Member: Not so great a pity as that the minister’s sagacity does not match his mendacity.
Speaker: That remark must be withdrawn. I have allowed hogwash, balderdash, twaddle and tripe, but mendacity is going too far. It means lying and that has long been considered unparliamentary language.
Member: Thank you for reminding me, Mr Speaker. I will change my comment by harking back to 1906 and substituting Winston Churchill’s reference to terminological inexactitude as a variation on untruth, but you might admit that it hardly has the same ring as my observation.
Speaker: I accept that you have a way with words but we are here to deal with politics rather than poetry. However, you may continue after the minister has responded.
Minister: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was about to express my regret that the honourable gentleman’s intellect is in inverse proportion to his invective. No doubt that explains why he failed so lamentably when he was in the seat I now occupy. Sadly, his conduct at that time was nothing short of treasonous.
Speaker: Oh, so the minister is at it now. An accusation of treason falls into the same category as one of lying. This argument must now cease and the two of you will be allowed to resume it when I am satisfied that your intelligence exceeds your intemperance. See, you are not the only ones who can produce catchy quips. We shall now proceed to the next item on the agenda.
Note. Anyone unfamiliar with the kind of parliamentary protocol demonstrated above may wish to note that in such exchanges the participants do not normally use the word ‘you’ to the opposing party because remarks are indirect, being addressed to the speaker, who need not observe the same nicety.
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