The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for a forthcoming conference on the lack of representation of minority groups in Parliament to include gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
The House of Commons agreed last month 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 his impartial leadership, 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.
Some MPs expressed displeasure at the remit of the conference.
It will “consider, and 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.”
PinkNews.co.uk has learned that the conference originally was only to deal with women and ethnic minority representation, but both disabled groups and gay groups lobbied for inclusion.
The disabled groups were successful, but sexuality was excluded.
The Daily Mail reported “a fierce backlash led by devout Catholic Mr Martin (the Speaker Michael Martin), who says MPs’ sex lives should stay private. He vetoed a government bid … to include a reference to gays in a Parliamentary motion.”
The official announcement about the setting up of the conference said: “It may also agree to consider other associated matters.”
17 MPs from all sides of the House will be appointed to the conference – they will ultimately decide its remit. They will be chosen after the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow.
A spokesperson from the Equality and Human Rights Commission told PinkNews.co.uk:
“The Commission welcomes the decision to create a Speaker’s Conference and the recognition that Parliament is lacking in diversity with too few women, black and ethnic minority members, disabled people, gay and lesbian members and people from working class communities.
“We believe a Parliament that better reflects the population will produce better laws and be held in higher esteem by those it seeks to serve.
“We look forward to making an early submission to the conference and will urge them to consider not just in the areas identified in their terms of reference but also why people representing whole sections of our communities are missing from Parliament.”
Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, said that she hoped at least one gay MP will be appointed to the Speaker’s Conference and that gay equality organisation Stonewall would “make an important contribution” to its work.
“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,” she told the House last month.
“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.”
The Treasury estimates that 6% of the UK population is gay, lesbian or bisexual, that means there should be at least 39 LGB MPs and 42 peers.
At present there is only one openly lesbian MP, Angela Eagle, a dozen out gay male MPs and three openly gay male peers.
“Stonewall strongly hopes that the forthcoming Speaker’s Conference will take this rare opportunity to address the chronic under representation of out lesbian, gay and bisexual peopple in the House of Commons,” a spokesperson for the gay equality organisation told PinkNews.co.uk.
“Given that one of the problems is that politicians are out of touch with young people, to exclude a community whose absence young people would immediately notice seems daft.”
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.
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.