Top Ten...Unparliamentary Language

Written by Gavin Whenman on 21 January 2009 in Culture
Our run-down on unparliamentary language shortlists the things that should remain unsaid.

Our run-down on unparliamentary language shortlists the things that should remain unsaid.

1. Stupid cow

Conservative MP Tony Marlow let this slip during a debate on the BSE crisis in 1996. He was referring to Harriet Harman, not the infected cattle. It was withdrawn.

2. Direct accusations of lying

Similarly, another member cannot be called deceitful, hypocritical, dishonest, misleading or as having given a ‘misstatement of truth'.However the term ‘terminological inexactitude' is an accepted euphemism, first deployed by Winston Churchill in 1906.

3. A member may not call another drunk...

Even when they patently are. Clare Short attempted to circumvent this rule in 1983 when she accused Conservative Minister Alan Clark of being "incapable" at the dispatch box. She was forced to withdraw the remark.

4. Stool pigeon

Allan Rogers wanted to complain about the number of English MPs clogging up Welsh question time in 1993. Not only is a stool pigeon a decoy bird, it is also unparliamentary and Mr Rogers had to withdraw the remark.

5. White-livered Liberal

The Christmas spirit didn't fill Sir Cyril Osborne on 20 December 1961, when he called an honourable member on the opposite bench a "white-livered Liberal" during a debate on the length of the recess. The Deputy Speaker asked him to withdraw the insult and he promptly did.

6. Traitor

Labour MP Dennis Canavan was not allowed to call SNP politician Donald Stewart a traitor in 1976. He was, however, allowed to call him "anti-Scottish and anti-working class".

7. Damned and bloody

Even the relatively mild words "damned" and "bloody" are not allowed in the chamber. An exception is made for "shit" when used to refer to faeces.

8. Calling another MP the "dishonourable member for..."

This is obviously not allowed, except when that member has not taken the oath. MPs are therefore free to refer to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as dishonourable members.

9. A mind on all fours with a London County Council sewer

Labour MP William Thorne employed this inventive expression on 12 July 1926 during a debate on the coal trade dispute. Alas, it had to be withdrawn - London County Council sewers took great offence.

10. And finally...

Dennis Skinner deserves a special mention for his contribution to unparliamentary language. During his 39 years in Parliament he has been suspended from the House of Commons for accusing the government of conducting a crooked deal to sell off coal mines (1995), calling John Gummer a "little squirt of a Minister" (1992), accusing George Osborne of snorting coke (2005), calling David Owen a "pompous sod" (1984), accusing the Deputy Speaker of bias towards the Conservatives (2006) and calling Jim Prior, then Secretary of State for Employment, the "Minister of Unemployment" (1980).

Mr Skinner is also (in)famous for his traditional interjections during the State Opening. For his most recent outburst he went with the line "any Tory moles at the Palace?", referring to the recent arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green.

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