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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.[1]

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.

Contents

Partial list, by country

Australia

In the Australian Parliament, the word "liar" is unparliamentary.[2]

Canada

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:

  • parliamentary pugilist (1875)
  • a bag of wind (1878)
  • inspired by forty-rod whiskey (1881)[3]
  • coming into the world by accident (1886)
  • blatherskite (1890)
  • the political sewer pipe from Carleton County (1917)
  • lacking in intelligence (1934)
  • a dim-witted saboteur (1956)
  • liar (consistently from 1959 to the present)
  • a trained seal (1961)
  • evil genius (1962)
  • Canadian Mussolini (1964)
  • pompous ass (1967)
  • fuddle duddle (1971)—probably the most famous example in Canada
  • pig (1977)
  • jerk (1980)
  • sleaze bag (1984)
  • racist (1986)
  • scuzzball (1988)
  • weathervane (2007)

Hong Kong

The President of the Legislative Council ordered out for using the following phrases:

  • 臭罌出臭草 (foul grass grows out of a foul ditch), when referring to some of the members (1996).[4]

The following phrases have been deemed to be unparliamentary by the President of the Legislative Council:

  • 仆街 (literally stumble on street), widely considered by Hongkongers as unacceptable language in civil settings, akin to "go die" in English (2009).

Ireland

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.[5] Also, the reference to "handbagging", particularly with reference to a female member of the House, has been deemed to be unparliamentary.[6] 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.[7][8] In December 2009, Paul Gogarty apologised in advance for using "unparliamentary language" prior to shouting "fuck you!" at an opposition chief whip.[7] This phrase was not one of those listed explicitly as inappropriate, prompting calls for a review.[9]

New Zealand

The Parliament of New Zealand maintains a list of words, and particularly phrases, that the Speaker has ruled are unbecoming, insulting, or otherwise unparliamentary. These include:[10]

  • idle vapourings of a mind diseased (1946)
  • his brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides (1949)
  • energy of a tired snail returning home from a funeral (1963)

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:

  • commo (1969) (meaning communist)
  • scuttles for his political funk hole (1974)

Norway

In 2009, a member of the Progress Party was interrupted during question period by the Speaker for calling a minister a "highway bandit".

United Kingdom

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.[11] Apparently, the word shit is not unparliamentary language when used as a noun to refer to faeces.[12] 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)[13]

Northern Ireland

The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly[1], 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.

Wales

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".[14]

Avoiding unparliamentary language

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.

Notes

  1. ^ Colin Pilkington (1999). The Politics Today Companion to the British Constitution. pp. 157–158. ISBN 9780719053030. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oSYdxnZrzqUC.  
  2. ^ http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/dailys/ds160697.pdf page 38
  3. ^ http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/house/speaker/speeches/speeches_4_5_e.html
  4. ^ http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr96-97/english/lc_sitg/hansard/961113fe.doc
  5. ^ Salient Rulings of the Chair (2nd ed.). Dublin: Dáil Éireann. May 2002. §408.  
  6. ^ "Dáil code: 'handbagging' not allowed". The Irish Times. 12 December 2009. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1212/1224260596889.html. Retrieved 13 December 2009.  
  7. ^ a b Marie O'Halloran (14 December 2009). "Changes expected to Dáil code after use of 'f-word'". The Irish Times. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1214/1224260654123.html. Retrieved 15 December 2009.  
  8. ^ "Dáil Debate Vol. 697 No. 5 "Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Committee and Remaining Stages." Personal Apology by Deputy". Houses of the Oireachtas. 11 December 2009. http://debates.oireachtas.ie/DDebate.aspx?F=DAL20091211.xml&Node=H6#H6. Retrieved 21 December 2009.  
  9. ^ "Irish MP's F-word outburst sparks parliament review". BBC News. 15 December 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8413122.stm. Retrieved 21 December 2009.  
  10. ^ "Special topics: unparliamentary language", Parliament of New Zealand website, dated 28 July 2006, retrieved 3 April 2009.
  11. ^ "Unparliamentary language", BBC News website, 31 October 2008, retrieved 3rd April 2009
  12. ^ http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2007-01-08a.23.1#g61.0
  13. ^ MacDonald, Alistair (2009-06-19). "Parliament Finally Sees Some Beauty in Britain's Beast of Bolsover". Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124533884172427813.html. Retrieved 2009-11-13.  
  14. ^ "AM expelled for 'Mrs Windsor' jibe". BBC News. 2004-12-01. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4060043.stm.  

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