LAST week I watched an interesting feature on Sky News about sexism in Parliament. Presenter Sophie Ridge was joined by Jess Phillips, Nus Ghani and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who spoke candidly about their experiences of being women in Parliament.

It is worth reflecting on a statistic at the outset here. It is widely known, and often cited, but I really think it cannot be said enough.

There are more male MPs sitting in the House of Commons right now than there have been female MPs, ever.

It doesn’t matter how many times I read that, it stuns me every single time. That women are so historically underrepresented in Westminster can perhaps go some way to explaining the rampant, boys' club atmosphere that we so often see.

During the segment with Ridge, Ahmed-Sheikh spoke of the sexist comments and attitudes she has experienced since becoming an MP. From remarks about her having "nice stockings" and being told she "doesn’t understand" to the barrage of noise directed her way when she stands to speak.

Anybody who regularly watches proceedings in the House of Commons will be familiar with that boorish, often quite juvenile atmosphere.

If you listen closely, you can often hear remarks directed towards certain female MPs shouted from the backbenches. Given the level of noise in the chamber during the debates, it’s not surprising that most of these comments go unheard by the Speaker and even other members.

But occasionally they are clear enough amidst the din that they are caught and challenged.

That’s what happened last night, during an Emergency Debate on Donald Trump’s divisive and discriminatory "Muslim Ban" executive order. Ahmed-Sheikh stood to condemn Trump’s policy, and the UK Government's weak and slow response to it.

While she was doing that, the usual noise and barracking broke out – and then something quite extraordinary happened. Sir Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, senior and longstanding member of Parliament – woofed at her.

Just think about that for a second. A Scottish Muslim female MP stands and speaks out against racism, and a male MP – a Sir no less – responds by directing "woof woof" noises towards her.

What level of contempt and disrespect must you feel towards a fellow MP that you consider that acceptable behaviour?

We didn’t have to wait long for an answer, because Ahmed-Sheikh took the brave decision to stand and raise the behaviour of Soames in a point of order. I say brave, because calling men like Soames out isn’t as easy as it should be. The House of Commons operates on a basis of deference to seniority. Informally at least, all MPs are not created equal. For a relatively new MP to stand and directly challenge an MP of Soames's standing can’t have been a comfortable thing to do.

After being afforded the opportunity to clarify what happened by the Speaker, Soames admitted he did make "woof woof" noises to her. He then explained it was because he thought Ahmed-Sheikh had "snapped" at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Then came the real clanger. He said that this meant he decided to offer her a "friendly canine salute". His flowery use of language to describe barking like a dog towards a female MP did not disguise his misogyny.

He went on to apologise "if he offended" her – a cowardly phrase that doesn’t offer any real apology at all. Incredibly, that frankly half-arsed response was enough for Speaker John Bercow to declare the matter closed. He even praised Soames for his "considerable grace". I know "alternative facts" are all the rage right now, but describing a man who has just woofed at a female MP as gracious is taking it a bit far even for 2017.

What we saw during that exchange was a small glimmer into how sexism prevails in a place like the House of Commons. Bercow looked embarrassed by episode and uncharacteristically unsure on how to proceed. Soames's admission that he did behave in the way Ahmed-Sheikh said meant the Speaker couldn’t give a generic "I didn’t hear it, but members should conduct themselves in a courteous way" statement.

In that moment, he could have reminded members about appropriate behaviour, properly admonished Soames and said it was never to happen again. Instead, he chose to let it slide.

Instances like this should not be viewed in insolation. They are part of a wider, more pernicious culture to which women in public life are too often subjected. The fact that Soames felt entitled and able to behave in that way demonstrates how ingrained the old boys club ethos really is.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh did the right thing by calling him out and sending a message that female MPs won’t tolerate disrespect. In future, let us hope that the MPs sitting around men like Soames, and the Speaker himself, might be brave enough to say the same.