Angry scenes as minister calls MP 'Iraqi mouthpiece'

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Indy Politics

The firebrand Labour MP George Galloway faces the threat of suspension from the Commons today for repeatedly accusing the Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw of lying during an extraordinary stand-up row that halted a Commons debate.

But Mr Galloway, the maverick left-winger who once defied the Labour whip to meet President Saddam Hussein after the Gulf war, immediately complained to the Speaker about Mr Bradshaw's accusation that he was the "mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime".

Accusing a fellow MP of lying is regarded as one of the cardinal sins of parliamentary debate, and always leads to a rebuke by the Speaker. Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary procedure, rules that "the suggestion that a member is deliberately misleading the House is not parliamentary".

The dispute follows angry scenes during a debate on Iraq in Westminster Hall, the parallel chamber set up to allow less confrontational debates than in the Commons. The row erupted as Mr Bradshaw was winding up a debate after Labour MPs expressed grave reservations about the prospect of military action to topple President Saddam.

The Deputy Speaker, John McWilliam, was forced to suspend the sitting and report the incident to the Speaker, Michael Martin, after Mr Galloway repeatedly refused to withdraw his charge. Mr Martin is expected to rule on the matter today after reading the official transcript of the exchanges.

Mr Galloway leapt to his feet, red-faced with fury, as he heard Mr Bradshaw, a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, responding to his impassioned speech condemning the idea of military action against Iraq as "insane".

Mr Bradshaw said: "As to my Honourable Friend, the member for Glasgow Kelvin, he makes his familiar views in his inimitable way. It is a shame he spoilt some good points on the Middle East peace process.

"His good points on the Middle East peace process would have more credibility if he had not made a career as being not just an apologist but a mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime over many years."

Mr Galloway's anger boiled over as he tried to intervene and shouted across the room: "That's a lie. That's slander."

He said: "An allegation of dishonourable conduct has been made against me by the minister. It is an assumption in this House that members are honourable gentlemen and ladies. This imputation that I am a mouthpiece for a dictator is a clear imputation of dishonour. He is the one who should be withdrawing, not me."

The row continued outside the chamber, with Mr Galloway insisting that he had campaigned for more than 30 years for democracy in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

Downing Street said: "We do not believe that Mr Bradshaw overstepped the mark."