A row has broken out at Parliament after a Labour MP was thought to have brought a person's ashes into the debating chamber.

Labour MP Sue Moroney has positioned a small box on her desk during the debate on the controversial health and safety law changes.

She said the families of victims who had died in their workplaces had asked her to take the taonga into the chamber.

Education Minister Hekia Parata took offence to the object this afternoon, wrongly believing it to be carrying someone's ashes.

Advertisement

"These particular signs of death, which are tapu, should not be brought into the house for the purpose of a member making a political point," she said.

The minister urged the Speaker and the Clerk of the House to ensure that MPs were "not subject to this deeply offensive practice".

Ms Moroney quickly clarified that the box did not contain ashes, and that she was fulfilling the request of grieving families.

"They asked me to bring this symbolic gesture into the House during the debate and I am honouring their wishes."

The memento was given to her by the family of forestry worker Lincoln Kidd, who was killed on the job in December 2013.

The family had written on it: "In loving memory of New Zealanders killed at work".

After seeking advice, Deputy Speaker Chester Borrows said he was likely to rule that the object was "inappropriate" if Ms Moroney attempted to use it as a visual aid while she was speaking.

As a result, Ms Moroney agreed to put the object away.

Advertisement

defended the use of the memento, saying no one had been offended by it over four hours of debate yesterday.

Families of people killed at Pike River and other workplaces have been in the debating chamber's gallery throughout the discussion on the bill.