Tory MP Mark Francois criticised after using 'outdated' racial slur in Commons

A Tory MP has been criticised for using an "outdated" slur in the Commons.

Speaking yesterday, Mark Francois referred to Japanese people as "Japs" when asking a question about ship building.

Sarah Owen, a Labour MP and the first of Southeast Asian heritage, raised his remark to the Speaker today, saying it was a "crass racial slur".

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Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he recognised "the casual use of racial terms causes upset and should not be used".

On Tuesday, Mr Francois said he "meant absolutely no disrespect or offence to anyone by using the phrase" as an abbreviation, adding that he had "actually complimented the Japanese shipbuilding industry" in his remarks.

But in response to his statement, Ms Owen told Sky News he "should have just said 'Japanese'," adding: "We all know what he really meant.

"'Japs' has a long history of being derogatory and should be avoided, in the same way we say 'Pakistanis' and 'Chinese', rather than short terms which have offensive connotations."

'Respectful language'

During defence questions, which opened this week in parliament, Mr Francois, a former minister and the chair of the European Research Group, asked: "Given the defence budget is likely to come under great pressure, why does it take BAE Systems 11 years to build a ship the Japs can build in four?"

Neither Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, nor Sir Lindsay commented on his language at the time.

Ms Owen raised a point of order in the Commons today, saying: "Mr Speaker, you rightly and regularly remind us to use respectful language in this House, but unfortunately, this outdated and crass racial slur has fallen well below the bar we should expect."

She also referred to previous remarks made by Mark Spencer, the food minister, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary.

Pointing to a newspaper article asking why "there are only two MPs who identify as East and Southeast Asians in this place, despite making up 1.2 million of the country", Ms Owen said: "Perhaps it is comments like this by the member for Rayleigh and Wickford or 'the little man in China' trope trotted out by a government minister [Mr Spencer] last week, or when the former leader of the House [Mr Rees-Mogg] said the word 'Yellow Peril' from that despatch box."

Mr Rees-Mogg has since apologised for his language, saying he did not know the term racist and had used it "out of ignorance".

Ms Owen asked the Speaker for advice on how to discourage MPs from using ethnic slurs "because progress is not inevitable, it is something that we must consistently and constantly strive for".

Sir Lindsay said "good temper and moderation are the characteristics of the parliamentary language", asking all MPs "to remind themselves of that principle in choosing the words they use carefully".

He added: "People reflect also the language that we use - if we set the best of language, therefore others might follow."

Responding to Sky News' request for comment on Tuesday, Mr Francois said: "I meant absolutely no disrespect or offence to anyone by using the phrase 'Japs' during Defence Questions in the House of Commons yesterday.

"I merely used it as an abbreviation for Japanese, as I had, by then, been asking an admittedly rather wordy question, about naval shipbuilding.

"Moreover, in the course of that same question, as the record clearly shows, I actually complimented the Japanese shipbuilding industry, for building warships much faster than here in Britain."