A few weeks ago, we asked PinkNews.co.uk readers to submit questions to Conservative leader David Cameron. Today he publishes his responses to the most popular questions and begins with an explanation of his and his party’s views on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) rights.
I welcome this chance to answer questions from readers of PinkNews.co.uk, and I’d like to use this opportunity to make one thing absolutely clear – we are totally committed to the fight for gay rights and there will be absolutely no going back on equality legislation if a Conservative government is elected next month.
From my first speech as Party leader, I have made it clear that the Conservative Party supports the gay community and wholeheartedly supports gay equality. We have backed tougher legislation to crack down on gay hatred and we will extend tax advantages and new rights to flexible working to those in civil partnerships. On top of these policies, we have selected some brilliant gay and lesbian candidates – and in safe seats. And on behalf of the Party I apologised for Section 28.
I believe heart and soul in equality: the whole idea of prejudice towards people on the basis of their sexuality is quite wrong and that’s why I back civil partnerships, why I told the Tory conference that commitment through marriage was equally valid whether between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman – and it’s why a Conservative government will put new rules in place to tackle homophobia and support gay couples.
Despite this, I am aware that there will remain some doubters. But have no fear: the Party has changed, the changes we have made are supported by those serving in my team and those changes are lasting. So far as I am concerned, it is one of the touchstone issues that define the modern Conservative Party.
Just as my party has changed, so I am determined to change the country. We want to stop Labour’s increase in National Insurance, which will destroy jobs and risk the recovery. We want to get Britain working and tackle the record youth unemployment. We want to clean up politics, reducing the number of MPs and introducing unprecedented transparency on government spending. We are committed to increasing funding for the NHS, tackling the growing gap between the rich and poor and ensuring that local people control local communities. Ultimately, we want your support so that you can determine your own future and your country’s future.
Whatever happens, please vote. The General Election is your chance to have your say on the direction of our nation. I hope these answers – together with our manifesto, published next week – will inform you about our beliefs, our aims and our intentions.
Will a Conservative government allow gay men who were convicted of gross indecency under past homophobic laws to have their convictions quashed? I would also like to ask whether the Tories would change the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 so those old convictions do not have to be disclosed under any circumstances and would you allow those gay men to be automatically pardoned? Steven Pruner
Yes. I can announce today on PinkNews.co.uk that a Conservative government will change the law so that any past convictions for consensual homosexual sexual activities, which have since become lawful, will be treated as spent, and will not be disclosed on a criminal record check when applying for a job. This is a question of justice – and it’s right that we should change the law and wipe the slate clean.
Mr Cameron, do you support marriage equality in this country? Civil partnerships were a great step forward and I admire your support for it but until there is marriage equality in this country and the union of same-sex couples will be recognised as a ‘marriage’, then I will not be satisfied. Neil Young
I am so glad that we now have civil partnerships. They have helped remove discrimination and have given gay people the rights that they deserve. I want to do everything I can to support commitment and I’m open to changing things further to guarantee equality. But I also accept there are some gay people who want civil partnerships to be a distinct status from marriage. Whatever view you take, I think we should support any arrangement which is built on shared love and commitment, which is why we would give a tax break to both married couples and those in a civil partnership.
For the last two years, Gordon Brown has held an LGBT reception at Downing Street during LGBT History Month. If you become prime minister, will you do the same? Laura Davies
I really don’t think I can start putting things in the diary yet – we’ve got to win this General Election first and that’s a massive task. But whether or not the Conservatives get elected, I would of course be delighted to mark LGBT History Month in some way.
Would you and your wife join this year’s Pride parade in London? Colin Bridge
Samantha’s going to be very pregnant by July, so I can’t make any promises. But as I said, I do want to play a part in the Pride festival again this year and I’ll plan my diary after this election is over.
Under a Tory government, will lesbian and straight couples should continue to be treated identically with regard to sperm donation and inclusion on the birth certificate? Emma Reisz
Yes. When the birth certificate issue came up as part of the HFE Bill in 2008 we gave Conservative MPs a free vote on this issue and that’s the way it will stay.
As a disabled person I am worried about what spending cuts will mean for me and others - pensioners and the poorest. I feel that Labour has wasted money on benefits and child credits but can you reassure those who are in need that they will not find themselves suffering financially when they already are struggling? Harvey Whitehouse Smith
What we’ve said, and it’s incredibly important, is that yes, we do have to deal with this debt crisis, and yes, some tough things will have to be done. But whatever happens, we must not pay down our debt on the backs of the poor or the most vulnerable. And that’s why we’ve not only pledged to keep those benefits – like the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licences for pensioners – but we’ve also campaigned to protect those other vital benefits, like the Disability Living Allowance for the over-65s and the Attendance Allowance that Gordon Brown is threatening to cut as part of his ‘Death Tax’ proposal.
And it’s not just about money – it’s about making life simpler and easier for people who are vulnerable and have disabilities. So I want to see more personal budgets, where people with disabilities and the carers who look after them can take a look at the total budget they can get and then choose what they want to spend the money on. That means making the direct payments system a lot simpler and less bureaucratic and getting rid of the endless rounds of form-filling and paperwork and long and exhausting phone calls trying to work out what you are entitled to.
Teachers are currently not given compulsory training on equality and diversity issues. Will you pledge to implement this training for all teachers on PGC courses and ask schools to devote one day a year to these issues? It is clear from the work we have done with teachers that they would welcome more training on homophobic bullying. Sue Sanders (Schools Out)
Homophobic bullying in schools is a massive issue and we’ve absolutely got to root it out. I think the first thing teachers need to deal with it is more power to tackle homophobic bullying. Under Labour, homophobic bullies excluded from schools can be returned to the classroom by a bureaucratic appeals panel, and teachers are often unable to break up violent homophobic bullying because of “no touch” policies that prevent teachers from intervening. I know Michael Gove has plans to deal with homophobic bullying with new powers for heads and improving teacher training in a way that gives teachers the tools they need to deal with all sorts of prejudice – from anti-semitism to homophobia.
You are proposing to provide state funding for any group of parents who want to set up a school and can attract pupils. Homophobic bullying is common at many schools, but religious schools (where kids are often taught that homosexuality is sinful) seem to be significantly worse than the norm. Can you reassure us that if you win the election, your government will do enough to protect gay young people? Ralph Wedgwood
My view is very simple – there should be zero tolerance of homophobic bullying in any school. Unfortunately, Labour have failed to do enough to stamp it out. Right now, pupils excluded from schools on the grounds of homophobic bullying can be returned to the classroom within weeks by an appeals panel, which can be very upsetting for the victims of bullying. What’s more, teachers are often unable to break up violent homophobic bullying because of the Government’s “no touch” policies that prevent teachers from intervening. This isn’t good enough – more needs to be done to stop bullying in schools before it leads to violence at a later age, such as the sickening and tragic killing of a gay man in Trafalgar Square last year. Homophobic violence is not acceptable on our streets, and it’s not acceptable in our schools either.
Where do you stand on providing correct and countrywide NHS treatment for transpeople? Currently, decent treatment for gender dysphoria is only available privately and funding for gender surgery is at best considered as very low priority. I suffered years of mental illness and had to work and save for years to pay for my treatment privately. The money I cost the NHS for my mental ill health could have been saved had the current Labour government not cut back “non-essential” NHS treatment. Michelle Gardner.
I’m sorry that you’ve had problems and things have been difficult for you in your dealings with the NHS. We support the current guidelines which and we also realise the need for a sensitive and inclusive approach when dealing with the issues that arise amongst the transgender community. If there are postcode lotteries or a lack of services in a particular area that is something I will get my Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his team to look at.
What efforts will Mr Cameron make, together with the Conservative MEPS, to ensure that the British civil partnerships are mutually recognised in the EU and does he intend to promote legal recognition of gay relationships abroad? Ben Hepworth
The first thing we need to remember is that in the EU, discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in the Treaty of the European Community, so when countries join the EU, they are required to adhere to these laws. There’s a real power of transformation within the EU and within the policy of expansion, and that’s something we’ve got to encourage. Of course, there’s more to do and further to go. I don’t think we should get to a situation where the European Parliament is dictating social legislation to every single member state, but I do think we can make a real difference by working with other parties in Europe to change attitudes and make clear that equality matters, and should apply no matter what your sexuality or race or belief.
How serious a statement against homosexuality would your European allies [the Polish Law and Justice Party] have to make for you to condemn them? Jamie Barker
Let’s get this clear. We are not allied to homophobes. Yes, some of the parties in our group in the European Parliament do have socially conservative views – views that we do not agree with – but this isn’t some isolated issue. You see it right across the political spectrum. For example, the Labour Party is grouped with Lithuanian partners that include an MP who said homosexuality is a “disease”, and one of Nick Clegg’s senior Latvian partners thinks that homosexuality is a “plague”. This is wrong and it needs to change – and we will work with partner parties to help change attitudes.
Can you give any specific examples of how life for LGBT people will improve under a Conservative government? Simon Murphy
Obviously, our policies to stop Labour’s jobs tax, build a stronger society and clean up politics will benefit everyone in the UK – including LGBT people. In terms of policies that will benefit the LGBT community specifically, here are four concrete examples: First, we will recognise civil partnerships in the tax system, which is something that neither of the other main parties will do. Second, our proposals for flexible parental leave will benefit parents regardless of their sexuality. Third, we will adopt a zero tolerance approach to homophobic bullying in schools. And fourth, as I’ve said, we will quash convictions for homosexual sexual activities that have since become lawful.
Do you confirm that a Conservative government under your leadership would not seek to change current legislation enabling gay and lesbian couples to be considered for adoption? Would you consider permitting ‘opt out’ clauses for adoption agencies to refuse to place children with gay or lesbian couples (or, indeed, single people)? Patrick Palmer
My view on this is very clear – gay people should be able to adopt and with a Conservative government that would remain the case. I’ve argued for this when I’ve spoken to faith groups and faith leaders, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Scotland. But what is really important is that we encourage adoption into stable families. Children do best when there are two parents there to help bring them up, and we need to make sure that we’re always thinking about the welfare of the child and the best prospects for the child.
If there is unfairness in the asylum system against LGBT people (as you suggested in your Attitude interview) what do you plan to do about that? Paul Canning
As I said in the interview, this does have to be looked at on a case by case basis, but if you are fleeing persecution and that fear is well-founded, then you should be able to stay. As things stand, the 1951 Refugee Convention doesn’t mention sexuality but because it mentions membership of a social group, that phrase is being use by the courts, rightly in my view, to say that if someone has a realistic fear of persecution they should be allowed to stay. It’s also important that the guidance the Home Office produces for asylum adjudicators to use in judging claims provides up-to-date and accurate information on homophobic persecution in every country.
Nick Herbert recently sent a list of prospective Tory candidates who are gay or lesbian to the Mail on Sunday. However, of the 20 referred to on this ‘rainbow list’, almost half did not want to be named. Are they ashamed of their sexuality? And why did you include these closeted candidates in your lesbian and gay statistics when they are not out and did not want to be counted? Murray Healy
No – that’s not the case. I’m not going to speak for individuals, and if people want to put their names in the Daily Mail, well, that should be up to them. But the point Nick was making – and it’s a key point – is that if you look around the country at this election, you see a Conservative Party that has changed and is changing, with a number of openly gay Conservative candidates fighting for really winnable seats. People like Margot James in Stourbridge, Nick Boles in Grantham and Stamford, and Iain Stewart in Milton Keynes South – they’re Conservatives selected by the grassroots, and I’m proud of how they show we have changed.
Please note that the questions to Mr Cameron were submitted by readers prior to the publication of secret recordings of the shadow home secretary Chris Grayling.
In the next of our series of Q&As with party leaders, we will be welcoming questions for the leader of the Labour party and current prime minister Gordon Brown. To send us your question please click here