Gay people are being asked to add their names to a petition calling for a question on sexual orientation to be included on the census.

The petition is on the Prime Minister’s website. The next national survey will take place in 2011.

It is conducted every 10 years by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), who announced last year that they did not think a question about sexual orientation would not be suitable.

The petition, created by Chris Whiting, reads:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to include the question of sexual orientation in the 2011 census.”

Liberal Democrat frontbench spokesman Stephen Williams tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons earlier this month asking the government to ensure that a question is asked in 2011 about sexual orientation.

Mr Williams, the MP for Bristol West, welcomed the decision to ask a question about civil partnerships, but said that is important to know how many gay people there are in the UK.

“There will always be some dispute as to the proportion of people that are gay, lesbian or bisexual – is it 5%? 8%? 10%?

“It is important that the make-up of society is understood.”

A spokesman for the ONS said:

“The Office for National Statistics recognises that there is some user demand for information on sexual identity but considers that the census is not suitable for collecting information on sexual identity for the first time.

“The main priority for the census is an accurate headcount. There are significant concerns about privacy and acceptability and the effect that such a question could have on the overall response.”

Mr Williams told PinkNews.co.uk:

“I do not buy this argument that this is not a suitable question for the census, every census since 1901 has added questions – we now ask people about their race and even if people are white and Irish.

“In 2001 I wrote onto my census form that I am Welsh, because there was no way of recording that as I live in England, and that I am gay. “

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, supports Mr Williams’ call for a census question on sexual orientation.

“We have raised this with ministers,” he told PinkNews.co.uk.

“We think there is a serious risk that if the ONS is not required to behave professionally you will end up with many hundreds or thousands of young people deciding that their faith is lesbian just like in 2001 many decided they were Jedi.”

Final decisions on the content of the 2011 Census will not be made until the consultation and testing programme is complete and Parliament gives formal approval in 2010.

A White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals is scheduled for autumn 2008.

To sign the petition click here