Updated: 17:02 GMT

Liberal Democrats president Tim Farron spoke out in defence of the internship scheme funded by religious charity CARE this week, saying it provides valuable access to Parliament for young people, but his office will look into indications gay MPs have not been allowed to participate.

Labour MPs David Lammy and Liz Kendall have both cut their ties with the internship scheme, backed by the Christian Action Research and Education charity (CARE), who co-sponsored a ‘gay cure’ event in 2009 and whose Chief Executive is a director of the limited company behind the Coalition for Marriage, which is campaigning against equal marriage rights for gays.

A petition launched by Phillip Dawson calling on MPs to distance themselves from the charity’s internship scheme now has nearly 9,000 signatures.

Mr Farron said he had received an intern from the charity in previous years and backed the scheme because it opens doors for young people who could not work for free in Westminster.

A public statement issued by Mr Farron said: “As soon as I was told about the ‘gay cure’ conference I asked my office to investigate as a matter of urgency. I am a Christian, and I am also a liberal who strongly supports equality in all areas.

“I chose to participate in the Care internship scheme because I believe that interns should not be unpaid for the work that they do on MPs’ behalf. As a working class lad, I am aware that most people do not get the chance to work in parliament unless they have connections or financial backing. This is something I have always been very concerned about.

“Currently most MPs do not pay their interns and this is something that should change – otherwise only those from wealthy backgrounds can afford to benefit from internships. This is wrong – but the Care scheme allows young people to enjoy the benefits of an internship while also receiving a decent grant.

“I have never been lobbied by Care or my intern on any issue. I make my own mind up, and strongly value my independence.

“I am incredibly proud to be President of a party that has made a strong stand on the issue of equality and I oppose homophobia of any kind.”

PinkNews.co.uk asked Mr Farron’s office whether, although Christian interns may not do any lobbying, the scheme is appropriate following indications it may only have been prepared to give support to straight MPs.

Openly gay Ben Bradshaw MP has recently repeated claims that he was denied a CARE intern because of his homosexuality, which led him to label them “a bunch of homophobic bigots”.

In 2000, he told the Guardian he was questioned by CARE’s then executive director: “They were asking me about my sexual orientation. I was told after that that they were sorry, but the girl would not be working for me.”

Mr Bradshaw repeated the claim on BBC London’s Sunday Politics Programme this month saying there was “absolutely no doubt about it” that he was denied an intern over ten years ago because he was gay.

CARE has not responded to requests for comment on the internship scheme from PinkNews.co.uk.

In a statement earlier this month it said it seeks “prospective placements in the best interests of interns without discrimination and irrespective of the policy or theological views of Parliamentarians”.

It added: “This scheme is an effective outworking of Care’s charitable objects because many of those who have benefited from the training programme go into areas where they make a significant public benefit contribution to society in the UK and around the world.”

Mr Farron’s office told PinkNews.co.uk it would investigate further today.

The internship programme also “requires and expects” Westminster interns, at least one of whom, Stephen Crabb, has gone on to become an MP, to now subscribe to CARE’s Statement of Faith, which includes belief in the “entire trustworthiness and supreme authority” of the Bible.

The introduction to a brochure for CARE’s internship programme written by Chief Executive Dr Nola Leach, a director of the Coalition for Marriage Ltd campaign against marriage equality, says: “Combining cutting-edge Christian thinking with the practical experience of voluntary educational placements, the Programme equips graduates to think seriously about our faith, our increasingly secular culture, and how they fit together.

“More than 220 people have now graduated through the Programme and are making a real contribution to their world; playing their part in changing the future. I hope you will consider joining them!”

Phillip Dawson, who started the petition, told PinkNews.co.uk today: “It is misleading for Tim Farron to suggest the scheme open doors for people from poorer backgrounds. The intern programme is highly selective, only open to Christian candidates who are willing to sign up to its statement of faith – something not even all Christians would be prepared to do.”

CARE co-sponsored the “Judaeo-Christian” event ‘Sex and the City: Redeeming sex today’ which included talks on “mentoring the sexually broken” from speakers including Jospeh Nicolosi, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and author of books on how to clinically “treat” being gay.

But in his earlier statement, Mr Farron said: “I have spoken to Care and they have made it clear that they absolutely do not support the notion of ‘gay cures’. You won’t be surprised to learn that I consider the notion of a gay cure utterly offensive, and have made my view on this very clear to Care in the last week.”

PinkNews.co.uk has not been able to ascertain CARE’s public position on ‘gay cure’.

Mr Dawson added: “The public records show that one of CARE’s Trustees and Directors [Rev Paul Perkin] is also a Trustee and Director of Anglican Mainstream, an organisation which promoted the “gay leper” event in January this year on its website.”

CARE’s website urges readers to sign the Coalition for Marriage, opposing equality for gay couples citing a risk of polygamous marriages and “other forms of relationship”, restrictions on freedom of speech and the belief that “clergy may be called upon, against their beliefs and conscience, to perform ceremonies”.

Separately, Devon South West MP Gary Streeter told the People’s Republic of South Devon of Phillip Dawson’s petition, which calls on him to distance himself from the charity: “The allegations against CARE are false. CARE’s intern programme is superb.

“If you want to live in a country where we pander to an aggressive campaign based on falsehoods, then buckle away. If not, stand your ground.”

Petition-writer Mr Dawson told PinkNews.co.uk: “As a Christian myself, an active member of my local church and a member of its PCC, I am not prone to aggression.”