Liberal Democrats have lodged a formal complaint against a county councillor and council leader who used language that they say is “sexist".

Conservative councillor Morris Bright – who is also leader of Hertsmere Borough Council – made the remarks during Hertfordshire County Council’s budget debate in February.

He was questioning the right of the Liberal Democrat group to criticise the council’s spending proposals.

In pointing to the party’s role in central government between 2010-15, when may of the cuts were made, he used the phrase “. . . they bent over, they took it. . . “.

Cllr Bright says he used the phrase to refer to someone allowing an authority figure – be it a teacher, police officer or parent – to give a reprimand, without fighting back.

He says he has also heard it used referencing the use of corporal punishment, when caning was permitted in schools.

However the Liberal Democrats point to a different meaning of the phrase, which they say is “sexist”, “homophobic” and “offensive”.

At a meeting of the full council on March 26, the Lib Dems said they would not agree to the minutes from the meeting, because they did not include a reference to the remark.

Group leader Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst told members: “In view of the offensive, sexist and homophobic comment made by a deputy executive member, this group will not accept the minutes and wish a recorded vote – unless that member so apologises.”

Cllr Giles-Medhurst has lodged a formal complaint against Cllr Bright with the county council’s chief legal officer.

He says the comments – which he says can refer to “rape” – breach the council’s ‘code of conduct for members’, which states that members should “show respect for others”.

However Cllr Bright says he never intended to cause offence with his ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks.

He has pointed to the different ways the phrase has been interpreted.

He said: “Different people have different understandings. There was no malicious intent. If anyone was offended I apologise. There was no intent to do so.

“My understanding of what this means is obviously different to others and I am sorry for any offence – that was not my intention.”

Cllr Bright, who was awarded an MBE last year for his services to government, says he sent a written apology to a member of the Lib Dems within 24 hours of the meeting , which was not accepted.

But he did not apologise at the meeting of council, because – he says – the only apology the Liberal Democrats would accept was the one they had drafted.

“I am not going to have words put in my mouth,” he said.

Following receipt of the formal complaint, chief legal officer Kathryn Pettitt will now have 28 days to review it and determine what action will be taken.

She could decide to take no action, to require a formal investigation, take ‘action other than investigation’ or refer the complaint to the county council’s Standards Committee.