Speaker apologises to Tory minister for comparing her to washing machine

Old Washing Machine

The Speaker of the House of Commons has apologised to a female Conservative minister for comparing her mode of speech to a washing machine that will not stop going round.

John Bercow, who made the remark on Monday afternoon, said he was sorry for his words to the employment minister, Esther McVey, which may have been “foolish”.

The Speaker issued his rebuke to McVey after deciding her answer to a question was too lengthy.

“I am reminded of the feeling when one thinks the washing machine will stop – but it does not,” he said.

He was then challenged in the Commons on Wednesday in a point of order by Conservative backbencher Heather Wheeler, who said: “You have always advised members of this house of the importance of showing respect to others in the workplace.

“In that regard, is it appropriate in this house – which is a workplace – that a female minister should have been referred to as a washing machine?”

Bercow said he had never compared McVey to a washing machine but added: “If I caused offence to an honourable member on Monday afternoon in the course of question time in rebuking her for a long answer – though it did result in a somewhat shorter one after that – but if I caused offence by what I said I very happily apologise to that member.

“I intended to cause no offence to her. I hold her in the highest esteem. I hope I ordinarily treat members with great courtesy. It was an off-the-cuff remark, it may well have been a foolish one and I apologise for it.”

During Monday’s debate, McVey also complained about a remark made by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, who referred to her as a “hard-hearted Hannah”.

She replied: “I do hope your opening comment wasn’t a sexist one, because I’ve had very many from the opposition benches.”

McVey later raised a personal point of order, saying: “It is not the first time the opposition benches have been like this to me. John McDonnell actually came to my constituency, using unparliamentary language I know, he asked for people to ‘lynch the bitch’.”.

Labour MP McDonnell told an event in McVey’s Wirral West constituency in November that he had heard an activist say: “Why aren’t we lynching the bastard?” and defended himself, saying he was simply repeating the words of a constituent.

Sheerman defended himself at the end of the debate, saying he had been a “long-term champion of the equality of women in our society and at work”.

He added: “I think she thinks that was a sexist remark, it wasn’t meant as that. It is actually a name of a famous song sung by Ella Fitzgerald,” he added.

“But she has a reputation for being a very hard champion of the welfare reforms this government has introduced and I believe it was fair comment, and unfair to call me a sexist.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Wednesday 11th March 2015 14.28 Europe/London

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