MPs were accused yesterday of "an absolutely disgusting display" of mocking behaviour at the Chinese accent of National list MP Pansy Wong while she asked questions in Parliament of Immigration Minister David Cunliffe.

MPs smiled through the questions and Mr Cunliffe answered one by recommending she "wead", rather than "read", a particular document.

He later said his remark was accidental and did not know he had said it.

Mrs Wong's colleague Tau Henare made a strenuous objection about "the most absolutely shocking display of what somebody could call racist behaviour, mocking behaviour."

Acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen acknowledged that Mr Henare had "a fair point" but added that National MPs had "also been smiling at one or two comments".

"Many of us know that the member sometimes has trouble with some words, and it is not meant in any kind of derogatory form at all."

Mr Cunliffe said he had telephoned Mrs Wong to assure her his use of "wead" had not been deliberate.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't take the mickey out of an Opposition member, but I hope it would be a bit more high-brow than that."

Mrs Wong, who arrived from Hong Kong in 1974, told Parliament she was not aware which part of her question the minister did not understand.

"So I would be delighted if the members on the other side ... would give me the courtesy of raising those difficulties in person and point it out what is their problem."

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said last night: "I think it's inappropriate to mock someone's accent in the context of a parliamentary debate.

"The fact of the matter is a lot of New Zealanders speak perfect English with different accents."