A Labour MP has said a new special parliamentary committee that will examine ways of making the House of Commons more diverse should include gay, lesbian and bisexual people as an under-represented group.
The House agreed yesterday to establish a Speaker’s Conference.
A Speaker’s Conference is convened by the Speaker of the House of Commons following an invitation from the Prime Minister.
Under the impartial leadership of the Speaker, MPs from both the major and minority parties are brought together to consider issues within the electoral system. It must report before the end of this Parliament.
Speaker’s Conferences are rare. The last one took place in 1977-78 and there were only five conferences in the 20th century.
Commons leader Harriet Harman told MPs it would “make recommendations for rectifying the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large.
“As Members of this House, we represent 646 different constituencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, it is not enough to have a geographical representation.
“For people in this country, their identity comes not just from where they live, but from whether they are men or women, whether they are disabled, whether they are black or white and whether they are gay or lesbian.
“Society has changed and we must recognise that the House of Commons needs to change, too.
“As women in this country, we now regard ourselves as equal citizens, yet we are not equal in numbers in this House. We are out-numbered by men by five to one.
“This country is ethnically diverse now—indeed, it has been for many decades—but of 646 Members, only 15 are black or Asian. To be representative of our population, we should have more than four times that number.”
Ms Harman said that she hopes at least one gay MP is appointed to the committee and expressed a hope that gay equality organisation Stonewall would “make an important contribution” to its work.
17 MPs and the Speaker will consider how to achieve greater diversity in Parliament and then make recommendations.
Simon Hughes for the Liberal Democrats said:
“It should also be about gay people and young and older people, and about having a diverse Parliament. Unless we see that in the broad spectrum, we are not fulfilling Parliament’s expectations of us.”
Backbench Labour MP Emily Thornberry said:
“The proposed Speaker’s Conference should expand its remit to consider the increased representation of lesbians, gay people and bisexuals, because to have only one out lesbian in this place of 1,300 politicians is not sufficient to be able to speak about the lived experience of Britain’s 1.8million lesbians.”
Tory MP John Bercow supported her suggestion.
Minister Angela Eagle is the only out lesbian either the Commons or Lords. There are around a dozen out gay MPs and three openly gay peers.
LGBT Labour Co-chair, Katie Hanson, said:
“Labour has lead the way in making the Commons more diverse and more representative – but there is still a long way to go. LGBT Labour welcomes the Speaker’s Conference as a way of moving this forward, and we support the call from Labour backbencher Emily Thornberry for the conference to include LGBT representation as part of its remit.”
A Stonewall report released in April and based on responses to a YouGov poll of more than 1,600 gay, lesbian and bisexual people across Britain found that respondents thought they would get worse treatment on the grounds of their sexuality if running for office.
89% of those polled think they would face barriers from the Conservative party if they wanted to be selected to run for Parliament.
61% said the same about Labour and 47% about the Liberal Democrats.
Of those respondents who are party supporters, 71% of Conservatives, 46% of Labour and 28% of Lib Dems thought they would face barriers if they wanted to stand for Parliament.