A Labour MP refused to withdraw the word “dodgy” three times, as she claimed she did not think “another word suffices the level of corruption and what we have seen from the Government”.
During business questions in the Commons, the MP for Coventry South, Zarah Sultana, accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg of being “dodgy”.
Ms Sultana said: “It has been reported that the Transport Secretary used public money to create a departmental team that lobbied against plans to build on airfield sites, including a giga-factory at Coventry Airport.
“Disgracefully, that would mean he used public funds to lobby against green investment and jobs coming to Coventry.
“And why? We know he is an aviation enthusiast. From a dodgy Transport Secretary to a dodgy Leader of the House who last week tried to rewrite the rules to let his mate off the hook. This Conservative Government is rotten to the core. Is the Leader of the House proud of this shameful record?”
Interjecting, Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing told her to think of a different form of words, as she did not like the word “dodgy”.
She said: “She can make clear she disagrees with what has happened. Perhaps she could put it in different words.”
Confusing Madam Deputy Speaker for Madam Deputy Secretary, Ms Sultana replied: “Thank you, Madam Deputy Secretary. I don’t think another word suffices the level of corruption and what we have seen from this Government, so I think that term suffices.”
Dame Eleanor insisted that while “it is absolutely in order to have disagreement here”, we must “moderate our language and be careful of the adjectives that are used about a member by another”.
The MP for Coventry South claimed once again to be “confused” as she could not think of a different word.
Dame Eleanor said it would suffice to withdraw the word “dodgy” to ask her question, but this went ignored, and then the Deputy Commons Speaker seemed to lose her patience.
Raising her voice, she said: “Order! Order! She misunderstands me, I am asking her to withdraw the word ‘dodgy’. I have given her the opportunity to put her question in other words. If she doesn’t want to take that opportunity, she doesn’t have to.
“I am not stopping her from making the point she wants to make or asking the Leader of the House the question she wants to ask and indeed drawing to general attention the points that she wishes to draw general attention. I am asking her to moderate language in doing so. Would she like to put her question in moderate language?”
There appeared to be confusion in the Chamber about whether Ms Sultana finally withdrew her remarks.
Hansard, the official report of parliamentary debates, recorded Ms Sultana as saying “I will withdraw those remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker” – thereby suggesting Dame Eleanor believed the word had been withdrawn and that the MP could stay in the chamber.
And Dame Eleanor “thanked” Ms Sultana after she appeared to say she “won’t withdraw those remarks”.
Ms Sultana subsequently wrote on Twitter she “didn’t” withdraw the word “dodgy” and said her office said she was seeking a correction from Hansard.
The Speaker and his deputies are responsible for ensuring no unparliamentary language is used in the chamber as it breaks the rules of politeness.
The occupant of the Speaker’s chair during a debate will direct an MP who has used such language to withdraw it and refusal can result in them being asked to leave the chamber.
In a debate on standards in public life on Wednesday, Ms Sultana labelled Boris Johnson a “dodgy Prime Minister” – with Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans not raising any objections.
In 2016, former Labour MP Dennis Skinner was kicked out of the Commons by John Bercow after repeatedly saying “dodgy Dave” in reference to the then prime minister David Cameron.