The public body responsible for enforcing equality is throwing its weight behind plans to boost the number of homosexual MPs in Parliament.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission wants the issue to be discussed at an upcoming Speaker’s Conference – a rare cross-party meeting of MPs that will be looking at electoral issues.
This puts the Commission at odds with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin. Mr Martin is reportedly opposed to the idea, arguing that MPs’ private lives should remain private.
As it currently stands, the Conference will “consider and make recommendations for rectifying the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons”.
However, it reserves the ability “to expand its remit to consider further associated matters if its members agree”.
Commons leader Harriet Harman hinted last month that she would support the inclusion of homosexuals as a group that should be more heavily represented.
Now a Commission spokesman has echoed a similar line, adding “gay and lesbian members” to the groups it wants to be included in discussions.
In yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, plans for an Equality Bill were announced. Among other things, the Bill will allow political parties to use all-women shortlists for candidates until 2030.
Some homosexual activists are pressing for all-gay shortlists to also be allowed. They are demanding a target of electing 39 gay MPs.
That number is based on a Government estimate that six per cent of the population is homosexual. But earlier this year a Government survey revealed that just one in every 100 people in the UK describes themselves as homosexual.
The survey of 4,000 people was conducted by the Office of National Statistics. Statisticians took two years to decide how to phrase the question in order to get the most accurate result.
Critics have questioned the plans to introduce ‘diversity quotas’ for the Commons, suggesting that Parliament would not need to deliberately make itself more diverse if it dealt with issues people cared about.
Philip Johnston of the Daily Telegraph wrote last month: “Black people lose jobs, gay people have mortgages, women worry about child neglect.
“It is because the Commons does not talk enough about their lives that most people are put off the place. If it did, there would be no need for quotas to improve representation.”
What is the EHRC?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.
According to its website, “the Commission is well equipped to take legal action on behalf of individuals, especially where there are strategic opportunities to push the boundaries of the law.”
And, “the Commission has significant powers to enforce the equalities duties of organisations and authorities, including, ultimately, launching official inquiries and formal investigations.”
Last month it was criticised for funding atheist group, the British Humanist Association, to run a series of events where known opponents of Christian liberties were invited to train the public in issues of religious freedom.
In September, it failed to give assurance that it would protect Christians expressing their beliefs about sexual ethics after The Christian Institute discovered that one of its senior figures had promised to root out ‘homophobia’ in religion.
It has one Christian Commissioner, former head of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) Joel Edwards, although his appointment was heavily criticised because of EA’s activities in campaigning for Christian freedoms to be protected from the impact of recent gay rights legislation. Other EHRC Commissioners include Ben Summerskill, head of homosexual lobby group, Stonewall.
Calls for the Commission to more closely resemble the Canadian model have raised further concerns. Canada’s human rights board last year fined a Christian pastor for expressing his views about homosexual practice, and banned him from speaking on the issue in future.