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Parliamentary Procedures: Unparliamentary Language

One of the more confusing aspects of parliamentary procedure is knowing what constitutes unparliamentary language.

This article is taken from The Backbencher, the weekly newsletter from The Guardian.

Unparliamentary Language

It’s alarmingly easy for new MPs to slip up in the early days of a parliament. MPs are not allowed to accuse each other of lying or inebriation – a rule once flouted by Clare Short during a drunken speech by the late employment minister, Alan Clark – and the Speaker has also objected to various terms of abuse, including “blackguard”, “git”, “rat”, “traitor” and “stoolpigeon”.

But, like schoolchildren telling tales to the teacher, MPs sometimes feel the need to inform the Speaker of another’s transgressions.

Back in January 1998 John Wilkinson (Con, Ruislip-Northwood) told Betty Boothroyd: “You may not have heard, but… [Paul Boateng] used what I thought was a most inelegant abbreviation; inelegant at the best of times but, in terms of parliamentary conduct, thoroughly unbecoming of a Minister of the Crown. Could you rule whether ‘sweet FA’ is parliamentary language?”

The Speaker replied that she was not sure whether it was unparliamentary, but it was “certainly most undesirable”.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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