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.
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.”
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