South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss got a ticking off from the speaker of the House of Commons during a debate on the public pay cap on Wednesday.
Conservative Ms Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had accused Labour MP and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell of being “disingenuous” during the heated exchange.
Mr McDonnell had raised the urgent question seeking clarity on the Government’s position on public pay.
A vote to lift the public sector pay cap of one per cent, a Labour amendment on the Queen’s Speech, was defeated 323 votes to 309 in June.
Public sector pay freezes have been in force in various guises since 2011.
The Shadow Chancellor told the House of Commons on Wednesday: “The Government’s own report on Monday showed how much doctors’ and nurses’ pay had fallen. Does the Chancellor think that is fair?
“Given the chaos on the Government Benches over this policy, can the Chief Secretary tell us when an actual decision will be made about the future of the pay cap? Will public sector workers have to wait until the next Budget before finding out whether they will have decent pay for the next two years?”
Ms Truss responded: “As has been outlined by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor already, our policy on public sector pay remains in place, because it is the responsible thing to do. It is the responsible thing to balance the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality people in our public services with making sure that our public finances remain sustainable so that we can continue to see the improvements in our public services that we have seen under this Government.
“Some of the shadow Chancellor’s comments were disingenuous.”
But John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, intervened: “The Right Honourable lady must resume her seat.
“I’m sure the honourable lady has got a very versatile vocabulary, she must deploy some other term.
“She can’t accuse a member of being disingenuous. That is an imputation of dishonour .
“The Right Honourable lady has been in the House long enough to know she shouldn’t say that.
“It is very simple. No debate required, Simple withdrawal. Thank you.”
Ms Truss responded: “I do withdraw that Mr Speaker and apologise.”
She continued: “Perhaps the Right Honourable gentleman was mistaken in what he said, because in 2015-16 we saw teachers get 3.3 per cent worth of progression pay, we saw more than half of nurses and NHS workers get over 3 per cent, and we saw military service personnel receive 2.4 per cent.
“I therefore suggest that he include those facts in the figures next time he speaks. As for the fire service, he knows perfectly well that those pay policies are set independently and are covered within the local government budget.”
The Speaker of the House of Commons can force MPs to withdraw language he deems unparliamentary – which includes the insinuation other members of lying, even if they are.