22 November 2023

Home Secretary denies using derogatory term about MP’s constituency

22 November 2023

Home Secretary James Cleverly has denied an allegation that he called a Labour MP’s constituency a “shithole.”

Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North, alleged the comment was made during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Speaking in the Commons later, the Labour MP for Stockton North called out the Home Secretary and demanded an apology.

There is no doubt that these comments shame the Home Secretary, this rotten Government, and the Tory Party

Mr Cleverly’s spokesman said: “He did not say that, and would not. He’s disappointed people would accuse him of doing so.”

The alleged incident was said to have taken place after the Prime Minister was challenged by Mr Cunningham on the level of child poverty in his constituency in north-east England.

Making a point of order in the Commons later on Wednesday, Mr Cunningham said: “Before the Prime Minister answered, the Home Secretary chose to add in his pennyworth.

“Yes, I have contacted his office advising him I planned to name him, but sadly he has chosen not to be in the chamber.

“He was seen and heard to say ‘because it’s a shithole’. I know he is denying being the culprit, but the audio is clear and has been checked, and checked, and checked again.

“There is no doubt that these comments shame the Home Secretary, this rotten Government, and the Tory Party. He is clearly unfit for his high office.”

We all know that it's very difficult in the noisy atmosphere of Prime Minister's Questions to discern exactly what someone says

Mr Cunningham, asked how he could secure an apology from the Home Secretary for “his appalling insult and foul language” about his seat in the North East.

Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing said it was her understanding that Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle “didn’t hear any remark of the kind from the chair at the time when the honourable gentleman was asking his question”.

She said: “I understand that the alleged words were not actually used, though I appreciate what (Mr Cunningham) says.

“But I think we all know that it’s very difficult in the noisy atmosphere of Prime Minister’s Questions to discern exactly what someone says. So I can make no judgment here from the chair as to what was or wasn’t said.”

She said she understood Mr Cunningham’s concern, and added: “I would remind all honourable members of the need for good temper and moderation in the language they use in this chamber.”

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cunningham had asked: “Why are 34% of children in my constituency living in poverty?”

Responding at the despatch box, Rishi Sunak said: “It’s this Government that has ensured that across our country 1.7 million fewer people are living in… poverty as a result of the actions of this Government.”

Mr Cunningham could then be heard calling out “it’s not true” to the Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak went on: “Yes that is true. Not only that, hundreds of thousands fewer children are living in poverty, and income inequality is at a lower level than we inherited from the party opposite.

“But we don’t want any child to grow up in poverty, and the best way to make sure that happens is to ensure they do not grow up in a workless household.

“And that is why the right strategy is to ensure that we provide as many children with the opportunity to grow up with parents in work.

“And because of the actions of previous governments, several hundred thousand more families are in that position.”

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