A Lib Dem MP who had called on the Office for National Statistics to include a question on sexual orientation in the 2011 Census has welcomed their decision to start asking survey participants if they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or other.

The ONS announced yesterday that all of their major surveys on everything from households to the workforce will from January include a question on sexual identity.

Stephen Williams is Lib Dem frontbench spokesperson on Innovation, Universities and Skills, and MP for Bristol West.

He was named as one of the most influential gay people in British politics by PinkNews.co.uk last year.

“I think it is a welcome step forward that they will be asking these questons,” he said.

“It’s important we understand the pattern of gay life in modern Britain.”

ONS surveys are voluntary, while every household in the country is legally obliged to take part in the Census, conducted every ten years.

There will be a civil partnership option in the 2011 Census, which must be approved by Parliament, but the ONS told PinkNews.co.uk that the White Paper to be published later this month will not include a question on sexual orientation.

In 2007 Mr Williams tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons asking the government to ensure that a question is asked in 2011 about sexual orientation.

“A question on sexual orientation would help to monitor equality legislation and improve service provision to lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” his motion read.

From January all major ONS survey participants will be shown a card and asked: “Which of the options on this card best describes how you think of yourself? Please just read out the number next to the description. Heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual, other.”

Mr Williams said that while the Census “would have told us a little bit of information,” the ONS surveys would provide more detail.

“We may discover more about the lives of gay people,” he said.

“There is potential for discovering a lot more – if they’re really are going to be open minded about taking advice on the questions they could be asking.”

Stonewall had lobbied the ONS to improve its data gathering on the UK’s gay population.

“We believe that solid evidence is essential to good policy making,” a spokesperson for the gay equality organisation told PinkNews.co.uk.

“We are pleased therefore that at long last lesbian, gay and bisexual people will be counted in government statistics.”

Former Tory Home Secretary turned reality TV performer Anne Widdecombe condemned the ONS.

“‘I would ask them to mind their own business,” she told the Daily Mail.

“This is going completely over the top and is state intrusion of the very worst kind. It just goes to show the level of obsession there is out there with this subject.”

A new Equality Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week will extend the existing duty on public bodies to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices, and service delivery can affect people according to their race, disability, or gender to include sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief.

Without reliable statistics on how many lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans people are in a specific area, it could be difficult for some public bodies to carry out their new duties effectively.

The ONS will be able to provide information on LGB people in a wide range of settings from the workplace to households.

This in turn will inform a local authority how many LGB-headed families live in their borough or how many lesbians live in a primary care trust area.