Speaker’S Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee 3:34 pm, 19th December 2018

As I promised the House, I have looked at the television footage of the Leader of the Opposition reacting to the Prime Minister, allegedly saying “stupid woman” to those seated next to him. Having heard the allegation against the Leader of the Opposition and having watched the footage, it is easy to see why the Leader of the Opposition’s words might be construed as “stupid woman”. That was also the opinion of lipspeakers—and I emphasise, lipspeakers rather than lipreaders—whose advice was sought and obtained at short notice.

As may be known to Members of the House—it is important in terms of establishing the context—but may not be known to others watching or listening to our proceedings, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was seated at the time and not addressing the House, so whatever he said was not, and is not, audible on the House’s audio-visual record. As I have told the House, I neither saw the incident nor heard anything. It was, for the same reasons, neither heard nor seen by the Clerks or by my private secretary, nor was there any immediate reaction in the House.

I believe that the allegation made by a number of hon. and right hon. Members was based upon the visual evidence from Parliament TV. I also have to rely purely on visual evidence. I am not a lipreader, or indeed, a lipspeaker. Nobody can be 100% certain. That includes professional lipreaders, but I will naturally take, and would be expected to take, the word of any right hon. or hon. Member. It is reasonable to expect the House to do the same. I therefore invite the right hon. Gentleman, who has at my request returned to the House for this purpose, to make his explanation to the House, which again, I expect to be heard without interruption.