Lib Dem peer Lord Russell-Johnston fought back today when Russian Patriarch Alexy II called homosexuality an “illness” at an international human rights conference.

Addressing international MPs at well-respected human rights watchdog the Council of Europe, the Patriarch said: “This [homosexuality] is an illness, a change, a distortion of a human person.”

Referring to his successful attempt to ban a Moscow gay rights parade earlier this year, he added: “It’s an illness like kleptomania – so why don’t we advertise that?”

The Patriarch was confronted by Lord Russel-Johnstone when the peer used the one question allotted to him to accuse the Russian figurehead of hypocrisy by preaching tolerance but practising something else entirely.

“I think throughout the world tolerance for homosexuality and lesbianism is increasing,” the peer said afterwards.

“Being a long-standing heterosexual I have no physical understanding of it, but I am certain, however, that people of the same sex in loving relationships should be respected.

“I certainly want to respect that – and I would not want to live under the Patriarch, that’s for certain.”

Lord Russell-Johnston mentioned that he had not been surprised by the Patriarch’s views, but was shocked to notice the smattering of applause which followed them among some of the MPs representing the Council.