Harman opposed over plan to boost gay MPs

Equalities minister Harriet Harman has apparently faced opposition over her plan to fast-track openly homosexual MPs into Parliament.

Miss Harman wants new measures to ensure that more women, disabled people and ethnic minorities become MPs, such as ensuring individuals from these groups are selected as parliamentary candidates for certain seats.

But Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House of Commons, reportedly blocked a Parliamentary motion to include reference to homosexuals on the list.

He is said to have argued that the motion failed to cater for MPs who would rather not disclose details about their private lives.

The issue is to be discussed at the upcoming Speaker’s Conference – a rare cross-party meeting of MPs dealing with electoral issues – on modernising Parliament.

Miss Harman has said there is “no limit” to the proposals to be considered at the conference.

She told MPs last week: “For people in this country, their identity comes not just from where they live, but from whether they are men or women, whether they are disabled, whether they are black or white and whether they are gay or lesbian.

“Society has changed and we must recognise that the House of Commons needs to change, too.”

Homosexual lobby group Stonewall will play an important part in the conference, according to Miss Harman. The group is expected to push for new measures to ensure more seats are occupied by MPs who are openly homosexual.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill says that since around six per cent of the population is gay, there should be 39 homosexual MPs. There are currently eleven.

The six per cent figure, used by Government actuaries calculating the financial implications of civil partnerships three years ago, has been called into question by official statistics released earlier this year.

The Office of National Statistics revealed that just one per cent of Britons described themselves as homosexual.

Philip Johnston of the Daily Telegraph today criticised MPs from all three major parties for accepting the proposal for a Speaker’s Conference, and says that if Parliament focused more on what the public cared about, it would attract more diverse candidates.

He writes: “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.”

Earlier this year, Ann Widdecombe MP protested against Miss Harman’s plans to use all-women shortlists for the selection of Parliamentary candidates, calling upon “all women of character to repel such patronising interference”.

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