John Prescott, the former British Deputy Prime Minister, joined European Parliamentarians yesterday in petitioning the head of the Russian Orthodox Church about his homophobic views.

The petition read: “We urge Patriarch Alexy to avoid the use of language inciting intolerance and to respect, rather than seek to deny, the fundamental rights of sexual minorities.”

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II had called homosexuality an “illness” and attacked what he called “homosexual propaganda” influencing young people during an address to the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly earlier this week.

The patriarch was there as part of council’s regular debates with political and religious leaders.

Prescott joined parliamentarians from all the assembly’s major political groups saying that any dialogue between cultures and religions must be based on mutual respect and tolerance.

The patriarch has spoken out against gays and lesbians before and supported the banning of a gay parade in Moscow.

Mr Prescott spoke up for gay rights while in goverment. In 2006, standing in for Tony Blair at Prime Minister’s Questions, he rejected religious objections to the Sexual Orientation Regulations raised by a DUP MP.

“I am not a religious man, but I always understood that religion was about tolerance,” said Mr Prescott.

“There is not much tolerance being shown in what the hon. Gentleman has said.

“It is a pity that we do not show more tolerance to different cultures and different religions. We would be a lot better off for it.”

Mr Prescott stood down from the role of deputy PM in June and later announced he will not be standing for Parliament at the next election.