Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant has described Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shirley Williams as “sickeningly homophobic,” following her appearance on BBC1′s Question Time last night.

Mr Bryant was responding to Baroness Williams’ comments about Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes, who is openly bisexual.

Yesterday evening she criticised the Lib Dem MP’s opposition to the party’s flagship free school meals policy, and said his position had been guided by the fact that he “is not a parent.”

Baroness Williams was asked about Mr Hughes’ opposition to the policy when it was introduced by his local Labour council, and said: “I think Simon is not a parent, if he was he would have never had made those statements.”

Commenting on Twitter, Mr Bryant tweeted: “Shirley Williams is shickingly [sic] homophobic. She says Simon Hughes is wrong on school meals because he doesn’t have children.”

Mr Bryant then tweeted that Baroness Williams’ comments were in the same vein as those of Conservative MP Tim Loughton – who recently suggested that Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather failed to support tax breaks for married couples because she “doesn’t really believe in family” – and “certainly didn’t produce one of her own”.

Mr Loughton and Ms Teather both served in government as ministers in the Department for Education but were fired in the 2012 reshuffle.

Both MPs were strong opponents of the coalition’s commitment to legalise equal marriage in England and Wales: they voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at third reading in May. 

Earlier this month Ms Teather announced she would be stepping down at the 2015 General Election because “she no longer feels that Nick Clegg’s party fights sufficiently for social justice and liberal values on immigration.”

Mr Bryant’s tweets about Baroness Williams being “homophobic” generated a mixed response. Some questioned whether it was fair or accurate. Mr Bryant then cited the 83-year-old peer’s voting record.

When asked by Twitter user Nigel Coldwell if he would apologise for branding Baroness Williams “homophobic” – and if he had been “drinking” at the time of the remarks – Mr Bryant tweeted:

Baroness Williams recently claimed she had a “good record” on voting for equality.

In June, she announced her support for an amendment, which could have fatally stalled progression of the same-sex marriage bill through Parliament. 

Lord Hylton had suggested that the word “union” is strong enough to describe the bond between same-sex couples.

Announcing her support for the unsuccessful amendment, Baroness Williams argued that as well as biological differences, men and women approach relationships differently – making opposite-sex couples the most “stable” parents.

The peer said: “Equality is not the same as sameness.”

She also supported an unsuccessful amendment to allow civil registrars to opt out of providing same-sex marriages.

However, Baroness Williams voted against Lord Dear’s ‘wrecking amendment’ to deny the bill its second reading on 4 June. 

Originally a Labour Member of Parliament and Education Secretary under former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, Baroness Williams was one of the “Gang of Four” rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981.

The party merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988.

From 2001–2004, the Baroness served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

She voted against the Equality Act in 2007 – and was absent from the 2003 vote on repealing Section 28 – a law which previously banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.