We have come a long way over the years—this country, this Parliament and even myself. Growing up in Swansea, I wondered whether it was braver of me to come out as a Conservative or gay. I have tried both and it does not seem to have done me any harm. Look at the journey we have made even in this Parliament: that we have more openly gay Members of Parliament than any other Parliament in the world is a fantastic thing of which we should proud. I congratulate the Scottish National party, which has the highest percentage of openly gay MPs.
I remember David Cameron, when he was the Prime Minister, asking me, “When are you going to become Speaker of the House of Commons?” I said, “Well, Prime Minister…” and he said, “You’d be the first gay Speaker.” I replied, “I don’t think so, Prime Minister. I suspect there’s been a few others.” [Laughter.] We know at least one Deputy Speaker was gay. In 2010, when I was in the Speaker’s apartments for that fantastic reception when I came out as gay, I said to the Speaker, “The only thing more gay than me is the apartments.”
Each and every one of us who comes out as gay, and each and every one of us who is not gay but who speaks up for LGBT+ rights, is vitally important throughout the world. We all know that there are people living in fear of persecution for being gay. In some cases, it is not about having fulfilling lives, but about being fearful for their lives. That is appalling. We have already heard the number of countries where being gay is a capital offence, and on too many occasions we sadly read in our newspapers about people being pushed off the top of tall buildings, simply for the “crime” of being gay.
I remember in a Westminster Hall debate talking about the two young people in Iran I had read about in a Sunday magazine. They were teenagers—16 or 17—and they were strung up for being gay. At an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting, I confronted the Iranian delegation, asking, “Why is it that young gay people are being executed in Iran?” They said, “Well, if it’s done in private, nobody knows, but if it’s public, they will be tortured.” They actually used the word “tortured”. I was so angry. I said, “Yes, you tortured them first, then you hanged them.” That is totally unforgiveable.
My own party has not always been as liberal towards LGBT+ rights as it is now. At selection meetings, the question was always asked, “Is there anything in your cupboard?” When he was asked that question, Alan Clark replied, “I couldn’t get anything more in my cupboard,” which I thought was rather brave of him—he still got selected, of course. That question is not asked any more. In fact, it is not only the Conservative party that has come a long way on these issues; I think it is almost—not quite—compulsory to be gay to get selected.
My right hon. Friend mentioned Taiwan. I chair the all-party group on Taiwan and I was there just a couple of months ago as a guest—it is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am proud of what the Taiwanese have done. Australia is going through the same process now. I believe that the chief executive officer of Qantas has been named as the most influential LGBT person in the world for speaking up rather bravely. Sadly, a lot of CEOs are afraid to come out as gay.
The situation is exactly the same in the world of sport, particularly football. I just wish that more sportsmen who are gay would be as brave as Tom Daley and come out, because that would send a massive signal. A lot of Commonwealth countries are obsessed with football, and if only more sportsmen were prepared to do that, it would send absolutely the right signals.
In the world of politics, I am proud that former Prime Ministers of Iceland and Belgium, and the current Prime Ministers of Luxembourg, Ireland and Serbia, are all gay. That also sends the right signals.
I have just returned from an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Russia, where the human rights sub-committee decided to raise at next year’s Geneva conference what Parliaments can do to stop LGBT+ discrimination. It was wonderful. The chairwoman was from Botswana and said how important it was to discuss the issue. We were not passing a resolution; we just wanted a debate. A number of countries spoke in favour, including MPs from Cuba and Malaysia, and said, “Yes, let’s talk about this. It’s an important issue.” The proposal was passed, but then right at the last moment it was defeated in the full plenary, when most people had started to go home. Politicians from countries such as Iran, Uganda and Morocco banged the table and said, “This can’t be discussed or debated.” It is appalling that politicians from those countries and others banged the table and said that they were not even prepared to discuss LGBT+ discrimination and what their Parliaments can do about it. That just shows how far we have to go.
And what about that incident in the United Arab Emirates the other day, when that chap ended up being prosecuted for bumping into somebody and touching them on the hip? I mean, come on—this is the 21st century! Fortunately, he is home now, but that incident did not do the UAE any good. I cannot imagine that many gay people will want to go there in the future.