BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 18:00 GMT
A House full of insults
House of Commons
The word 'twerp' has a chequered history in the House
Labour's Dennis Skinner is not the first MP to face the music in the Commons for flinging insults about another member across the chamber.

In fact, over the years there have been many who have gone much further with their hair-raising, savage abuse.

Some of the language has been so insulting that it would cause shock and outrage outside Westminster.

But while some of the catcalling is considered par for the course, other remarks - at first seemingly innocuous - incur the wrath of the Speaker and must be withdrawn.

Not bothered

For instance, former Labour MP Martin O'Neill had to take back "without reservation" his description of Tory front-bencher Angela Browning as "a second-rate Miss Marple".

She remained remarkably unbothered by the epithet.

Equally, John Major, when Prime Minister, was ordered to withdraw his summing up of Tony Blair, then Opposition leader, as "a dimwit".

Former MP Tony Banks
Tony Banks escaped reprimand for his jibes, earning a peerage instead

Yet the former Labour MP Tony Banks escaped rebuke for accusing Margaret Thatcher of acting "with the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor".

He also once described - with impunity - the former Tory MP Terry Dicks as "living proof that a pig's bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament".

Mr Dicks himself once described Scottish football supporters as "those pigs from Scotland" and got away with it.

But accusations of lying always mean expulsion from the chamber unless withdrawn or amended. Only Winston Churchill got away with describing a lie as a "terminological inexactitude".

Labour's Tam Dalyell was twice ejected for calling Margaret Thatcher a liar. On one occasion, after describing her as "a sustained brazen deceiver" he went further, adding: "She is a bounder, a liar, a deceiver, a cheat and a crook."

The two of them did not speak to each other for the next 17 years until they "got on famously" when he escorted her at a formal dinner at the Colombian Embassy.

Technical 'twerp'

The word "twerp" has had a chequered history.

When used in 1956, the Speaker ruled it in order because, inexplicably, he assumed "it was a sort of technical term of the aviation industry".

But when, years later, the late anti-monarchist Labour MP Willie Hamilton described Prince Charles as "that young twerp" he was instantly ordered to withdraw the epithet.

Former prime minister Sir John Major
Former PM John Major was reprimanded for insulting Tony Blair

In 1896, the term "Tory skunk" was ruled admissible - "but only just". Yet the term "political skunk" was ruled out of order a century later.

Oddly, "political weasel and guttersnipe" passed muster, but the term "rat" has sometimes been in order and sometimes not.

One Labour MP was called to order for saying that a Tory was a member of the SS. As he withdrew the term, he pretended he thought the letters stood for "silly sod".

Ex-Labour MP Paul Boateng was once hauled over the coals for using the term "Sweet FA" because the authorities wrongly thought it was a way of using the "F-word".

In fact it is 19th century naval slang for packed mutton.

It refers to Fanny Adams, who was murdered in 1867, cut into pieces and thrown into the river at Alton, Hampshire.


Michael Foot did not get into trouble for calling Norman Tebbit a "semi-house-trained polecat". Instead Tebbit used a polecat in his coat-of-arms when he entered the House of Lords.

Several people were ejected from the chamber after a melee on April 5, 1949. A contemporary described the scene, after one MP had called another a fascist: "A socialist hit Beverley Baxter in the face. Waldron Smithers, who was well away, tried to push into the middle of the scrum, and shoved Lady Davidson out of the way.

"So she turned on him. He told her to shut her bloody mouth - so that was a private Conservative row."

The late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn escaped rebuke, but not disdain, by describing women MPs as "mostly hideous - they have no fragrance and I dislike women who deny their femininity. They are just cagmags, scrub heaps, old tattles".

One of the oddest rulings was by Speaker Bernard Weatherill during the Thatcher years. He ruled the word "poppycock" unparliamentary .

Apparently the original meaning in Dutch was rather rude.

MP banned for Tory cocaine jibe
08 Dec 05 |  UK Politics

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific