Penny Mordaunt: The MP who repeated the word 'cock' in House of Commons speech after losing a bet

Penny Mordaunt arrives in Downing Street (Rick Findler/PA Wire)

Theresa May’s new International Development Secretary is a former Royal Naval Reservist who repeatedly said the word ‘cock’ during an innuendo-laced speech in the House of Commons – because she lost a bet.

Penny Mordaunt, a former magician’s assistant, will be familiar to fans of the ITV diving competition Splash, which she appeared on in 2014 to raise money for charity.

The Portsmouth North MP joined the Cabinet after Priti Patel’s resignation left the Prime Minister facing her second tricky reshuffle in two weeks.

Brexit-backer Mordaunt was also viewed as a contender for the Defence Secretary role vacated by Michael Fallon last week.

Her appointment was seen as a move by May to reassert her authority after her appointment Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary following Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation last week was openly criticised by some of her MPs.

The choice of a female Brexiteer offered an appeasement to Eurosceptic MPs on the Conservative benches, as well as allowing the Prime Minister to maintain the sensitive balance in the Cabinet of the current split between male and female, and pro-remain and pro-leave, ministers. 

Penny Mordaunt MP back dives from the 7.5 metre board on ITV’s ‘Splash’ (Rex features)

Mrs Mordaunt, who was named Minister of State for Disabled People in July 2016, came to the public’s attention in 2013 after delivering a speech in Parliament about poultry welfare in which she repeatedly said the word ‘cock’.

In part of her speech she said: ‘The Government should consider the value of labels that would show the origins of eggs when used as an ingredient and when a chicken is an end-of-lay bird as a means of promoting high welfare standards.

‘I also entreat the Government to stick to their plan to hold a thorough investigation into beak trimming in 2015. When we eventually head into spring, let us have no cock-ups on hen welfare.’

Her reasons only came to light many months later when she revealed her motive whilst picking up an award at The Spectator magazine’s Parliamentarian of the Year Awards.

Penny Mordaunt is a prominent brexiteer. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

She said: ‘Let’s face it, the reason I won this award is not because of the hours I put in or the carefully crafted speech, it’s because I referred to male genitalia during the course of it.

‘When I was at Dartmouth doing my reservist training some of my marine training officers thought it would be a good idea to try and break the ladylike persona that I maintained throughout the whole of my course by getting me to yell particular rude words during the most gruelling part of our training, and I’m happy to say that they failed in that.

‘But during our mess dinner at the end of the course I was fined for a misdemeanour, and the fine was to say a particular word, the abbreviation of cockerel, several times during a speech on the floor of the House of Commons and mention all of the officer’s names present.’

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Her actions were criticised in an editorial by the Mail on Sunday, which said: ‘It is tempting to laugh off her silly speech on poultry welfare, apparently made for a bet, as a harmless jest.

‘Yet it would be wrong. We have to take Parliament seriously, for in the end it is the heart of our constitution.

‘There is no harm in making jokes there – we could do with more.

‘But treating Parliament as a joke is something else altogether.’

Here is the speech in full: 

This year we have an early Easter, though not so early, perhaps, that we needed to provision ourselves with chocolate eggs as soon as the Christmas decorations were down at Epiphany. As some supermarkets seem to have substituted Easter eggs, fluffy chicks and chocolate bunnies for tinsel and crackers at cock crow on 7 January, the animals of spring have been a common sight in our supermarkets for some time. But even though the weather continues to be distinctly wintery, there is no reason to give the real egg layers the cold shoulder.

The cause of hen and cock welfare is one raised with me by many constituents, particularly with regard to beak trimming and battery cages. Although inhumane battery cages were banned at the start of last year, and even though we are assured by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers that beak trimming will be banned in 2016, hen welfare is not a done deal, and we on the green Benches should take a keen interest, both for the sake of animal welfare  and because our constituents increasingly expect to eat food that either was or is from an animal that was treated well.

At one time, consumers would not deign to notice what, if anything, was said about welfare on food packaging. Now, thanks in no small part to the efforts of well-known TV chefs, we want to know from where our food has come. Indeed, the term “higher welfare” has even found its way into the ingredients list of the king of school dinners, Jamie Oliver, and there is undoubtedly a culture in which it is considered poor form to offer for sale food that is lower welfare. In a January 2010 survey, twice as many people as in 2006 said that animal welfare informed their shopping choices—that made 19%, and I am sure that the figure would be higher today.

The previous Prime Minister’s GOAT—his Government of all the talents—might have been a tur laid to rest by the British people, but that was either the exception that proves the rule on our love of animals or an act of mercy that confirms it. It should be the proud boast of British farmers that no land does more to ensure the welfare of its animals, and the success of the ban on inhumane cages in this country is a case in point. There was concern that increased prices would lead to a drop in demand for eggs, but the reverse was true and the British consumer bought 5% more eggs in 2012 than in 2011.

Concern for welfare does not stop at the good treatment of hens during their working lives, and the British Hen Welfare Trust should be cock-a-hoop about its successful record since 2005 of re-homing 360,000 laying hens of pensionable age that were otherwise destined for slaughter. The British public should be applauded for their adoption of so many of those creatures, and those acts of mercy will, I am sure, continue.

Keeping hens is somewhat in vogue at the moment, despite the prospect of heartache. Many a hen keeper will be prepared for the early morning discovery of scattered feathers and an empty coup, but how many are ready for the emotional business of dispatching unwanted chicks? In “The Good Life” idyll one imagines several hens and a single proud cockerel, but one strutting coxcomb will lead to many chicks and what is to become of the male contingent with not a layer among them? I encourage people to consider homes for hens, but to think carefully about a coop for a cockerel.

Despite the positive step of banning battery cages, many British consumers might be surprised that 17 million hens are still housed in cages, albeit of an enriched variety. These birds provide the eggs that are sold as a constituent part of another product and then, despite the efforts of the British Hen Welfare Trust, sold for the table. The Government should consider the value of labels that would show the origins of eggs when used as an ingredient and when a chicken is an end-of-lay bird as a means of promoting high welfare standards. I also entreat the Government to stick to their plan to hold a thorough investigation into beak trimming in 2015. When we eventually head into spring, let us have no cock-ups on hen welfare. 

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