A LABOUR MP who branded a Foreign Office minister a liar escaped punishment for unparliamentary language yesterday.
George Galloway apologised for his comment, which halted parliamentary proceedings on Wednesday, and withdrew his allegation against Ben Bradshaw in a personal statement to the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, Mr Bradshaw offered his own apology for branding the veteran left-winger a "mouthpiece" for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
A debate on Iraq in the Commons’ "parallel chamber", Westminster Hall, was suspended yesterday after the bitter exchange between Mr Galloway and Mr Bradshaw.
Mr Galloway, MP for Glasgow Kelvin, was told to retract his comment by Deputy Speaker John McWilliam, and risked suspension from the House by refusing to do so.
He told the Commons: "Exchanges on both sides of the argument were decidedly robust. Nonetheless, I would like to say that I am sorry for stepping out of parliamentary order and for my failure to withdraw my remarks when asked to do so, and now do so withdraw them."
Mr Bradshaw agreed that "it would have been better if I had not used the phrase that I applied to him [Mr Galloway] and I’m sorry for the offence that was caused."
Despite the apology, which was made with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw by his side, Downing Street made clear that Tony Blair did not feel that Mr Bradshaw had "overstepped the mark".
Yesterday’s exchange came during a debate in which Mr Galloway made an impassioned plea for Britain to take no part in military action against Iraq.
Mr Bradshaw retorted: "Some good points that he made on the Middle East peace process would, I believe, carry more credibility if he hadn’t made a career of being not just an apologist but a mouthpiece to the Iraqi regime over many years."
Mr Galloway, a consistent critic of international sanctions against Iraq, tried to intervene, shouting that the minister was a liar and that he had been slandered.
Mr Galloway refused to retract his allegation, which is outlawed under the conventions of Commons debate.
Mr McWilliam then suspended the sitting to report the matter to Speaker Michael Martin.
Yesterday’s apologies were expected to bring the matter to an end, but Mr Galloway made clear he would continue his opposition to military intervention.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: "The bigger question remains: Are we going to have a proper national debate in this country about whether we are going to war in the Middle East when there is already a war waging there?"
More than 50 MPs had signed an early-day motion expressing unease at US President George Bush’s apparent determination to take on Saddam, he said.
"They include many names who could not remotely be described as the usual suspects.
"It is picking up steam because people don’t trust George W Bush to lead us into a conflagration involving hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers in an Arab country. I think people are very worried about that indeed."