In a Westminster system, unparliamentary language is words or phrases that are deemed to be inappropriate for use in the House whilst it is in session. This includes, but is not limited to the suggestion of dishonesty or profanity. The most prohibited case is any suggestion that another member is dishonourable. So, for example, suggesting that another member is lying is forbidden.
Exactly what constitutes unparliamentary language is generally left to the discretion of the Speaker of the House. Part of the speaker's job is to enforce the assembly's debating rules, one of which is that members may not use "unparliamentary" language. That is, their words must not offend the dignity of the assembly. In addition, whilst in the house legislators in Westminster systems are protected from prosecution and civil actions by parliamentary immunity and consequently are expected to avoid using words or phrases that might be seen as abusing that immunity.
Like other rules that have changed with the times, speakers' rulings on unparliamentary language reflect the tastes of the period.
These are some of the words and phrases that speakers through the years have ruled "unparliamentary" in the Parliament of Canada, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, and the Legislative Assembly of Québec:
The President of the Legislative Council ordered out for using the following phrases:
The following phrases have been deemed to be unparliamentary by the President of the Legislative Council:
In Dáil Éireann, the lower house in Ireland, the Ceann Comhairle (chair) has ruled that it is disorderly for one TD (deputy) to describe another as a brat, buffoon, chancer, communist, corner boy, coward, fascist, gurrier, guttersnipe, hypocrite, rat, scumbag, scurrilous speaker or yahoo; or to insinuate that a TD is lying or drunk; or has violated the secrets of cabinet, or doctored an official report. Also, the reference to "handbagging", particularly with reference to a female member of the House, has been deemed to be unparliamentary. The Dáil maintains a document, Salient Rulings of the Chair which covers behaviour in and out of the House by TDs; section 428 of this lists unparliamentary speech. In December 2009, Paul Gogarty apologised in advance for using "unparliamentary language" prior to shouting "fuck you!" at an opposition chief whip. This phrase was not one of those listed explicitly as inappropriate, prompting calls for a review.
The Parliament also maintains a list of language that has been uttered in the House, and has been found not to be unparliamentary; this includes:
In 2009, a member of the Progress Party was interrupted during question period by the Speaker for calling a minister a "highway bandit".
In House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the following words have been deemed unparliamentary over time: blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, ignoramus, liar, rat, swine, stoolpigeon, and traitor. Apparently, the word shit is not unparliamentary language when used as a noun to refer to faeces. Furthermore, 'sod', 'slimy', 'wart', accusations of 'crooked deals' or insinuation of the use of banned substances by a member are also considered unparliamentary language (all attributable to Dennis Skinner)
The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay MLA, gave a ruling in the Chamber on 24 November 2009 on unparliamentary language. In essence rather than making judgements on the basis of particular words or phrases that have been ruled to be unparliamentarily in the Assembly or elsewhere the Speaker said that he would judge Members' remarks against standards of courtesy, good temper and moderation which he considered to be the standards of parliamentary debate. He went on to say that in making his judgement he would consider the nature of Members' remarks and the context in which they were made.
In the Welsh Assembly the Presiding Officer has intervened when the term "lying" has been used. In December 2004, the Assembly notably ordered out Leanne Wood for referring to Queen Elizabeth II as "Mrs Windsor".
It is a point of pride among some British MPs to be able to insult their opponents in the House without use of unparliamentary language. Several MPs, notably Sir Winston Churchill, have been considered masters of this game.
Some terms which have evaded the Speaker's rules are:
Clare Short implicitly accused the Employment minister Alan Clark of being drunk at the despatch box shortly after her election in 1983, but avoided using the word, saying that Clark was "incapable". Clark's colleagues on the Conservative benches in turn accused Short of using unparliamentary language and the Speaker asked her to withdraw her accusation. Clark later admitted in his diaries that Short had been correct in her assessment.