In a public General Election hustings meeting held in Penarth today Stephen Doughty – the former MP for Cardiff South and Penarth – told an audience of approximately 140 members of the public that he is gay.
The statement came in the course of a debate between six of the seven candidates who are hoping to be elected as the constituency’s next MP on May 7th.
The hustings – organised by Penarth Cytun – the former Council of Churches began with a prayer for the candidates – or at least six of the candidates; the seventh , Ross Saunders of the Trade Union and Socialism Coalition had not been invited . Neither his name nor his candidature were mentioned at any point.
The proceedings began with complaints from the audience about the public address system saying they could not hear the remarks being made by the Reverend Sue Fender . Although the volume was increased, the quality remained variable making some parts of speakers’ remarks very difficult to hear.
The audience was invited to participate in a short prayer asking for divine help in making “tough decisions for ourselves, our neighbours and our nation” ‘
With the audience still having problems in hearing – and indeed seeing – the candidates, members of the audience asked them to stand-up when speaking .
The moderator, Gareth Lloyd, who handled the proceedings unobtrusively and with aplomb, asked the candidates to rise to their feet to answer questions and imposed a brisk time limit on replies to the pre-submitted questions.
The Labour candidate, Stephen Doughty’s statement – which perhaps surprised only some of those present – came when the candidates were answering a question from a member of the audience who had said that in the previous election no party had given any indication in their manifestos of their intention to introduce legislation on same-sex marriages .
The resultant act – the questioner said – had been introduced without any opportunity for the electorate to consider the matter or for whom to vote. The Government had then made it compulsory for schools to give a “positive portrayal of same-sex relationships”. He asked the candidates whether – in their view – “we still have freedom of conscience in this country” .
John Rees-Evans (UKIP) said he needed to be very frank at this point – although he was sorry if his remarks might offend anyone. He said that what the Government was doing was really undemocratic ; they were changing our country in a way it was quite hard to reverse . He had long been concerned about local authorities insisting that “children as young as five years of age” should be taught about “the physical aspects of what certain people who choose certain life-styles do together “.The Government was working on its own remit he said .
Ben Foday (Plaid Cymru) said introducing same-sex marriage legislation was “wrong” without proper consultation. MPs – he said – should have more respect for democracy.
In terms of being a Christian country he had read the comments of a noted legal figure who when considering a “similar topic” who had asked “Who am I to condemn?” . However “personally” – Foday said – “I am very against it”.
Stephen Doughty (Labour) said he wanted to knock down the idea that somehow this (the equal marriage legislation) was “somehow anti-democratic” . It had been a fully democratic process with the elected MPs – elected by the constituents of this country. Consultations had involved representatives of all faiths and of secular organisations and the opponents of the bill had been heard. It was also “clear that public opinion was strongly in favour” . There had been three votes in Parliament on the matter and the “idea being put about by some opponents that it is now somehow being imposed on churches or schools is simply not the case” .
Doughty said this was about the idea of civil marriage – state-authorised marriage – and it would have been wrong for the state to discriminate against same-sex relationships. It was for churches to agree to what they proposed to agree. In civil marriage the legal process in Britain ensured it was not acceptable to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexuality or gender or race any other matter.
He said the country had made huge progress recently in terms of Section 28 and this bill and he did find it offensive when “people like John” [ John Rees-Evans (UKIP] talked about the “moral character of this country”. “Whose moral character?” he asked.
Doughty said people wanted a tolerant respectful and inclusive society and not a state which was discriminating against people on the basis of their sexuality.
Doughty went on to say “I’m gay ” and said he wanted gay people to marry if they wanted to marry . He said “I am also a practising Christian” . It should be about love, respect and tolerance in society; that he said was the “Christian way forward. That is moral character of this country and I really take issue with those who suggest otherwise “.
There was spontaneous applause from the audience at this point.
Nigel Howells (Lib Dem) queried the allegation that equal marriage legislation had not been in any of the party manifestos . He said the Lib Dems had been the first party to adopt the policy of equal marriage in 2010. Howells said equal marriage legislation had been a democratic process .
He said that “marriages between two men and two women who are committing themselves to each other” were no different to ordinary weddings. He admitted he had not yet attended an equal marriage but was free if anyone wanted to invite him to one. This was – he thought – the kind of discussion that would have happened 60 or or 70 years ago in the case of mixed-race marriages. He fully supported it
Anthony Slaughter ( Green) thought there was not a lot to add.
Equality – he said was “non-negotiable“; it was for everyone – regardless of race or gender.
Slaughter said “the indication from John” [John Rees-Evans (UKIP) ] “that somebody’s lifestyle is morally repugnant, is dangerous and should not be tolerated in a society like ours”.
Emma Warman (Conservative) who is deputy chair of LGBTory, (the affiliated national organization for lesbian, gay, and bisexual Conservatives) said she agreed very strongly with what the other speakers had said .
It was a Conservative Prime Minister who had brought this forward. She did not agree that the proposed legislation had not been in party manifestos. David Cameron had spoken several times very prominently about the issue and it had been included in the ‘Equality Manifesto’ published before the 2010 election. The Government had consulted very widely she said.
Warman said churches and other religious instititutions had a choice. Some had chosen not to facilitate equal marriage – others had chosen to do so. It was entirely up to them and entirely up to the public whether to participate in them. She emphasised that the legislation was an important step forward.
On the issue of education – Warman said she thought it important there be “age-appropriate education about relationships” in schools. “And let’s not get too bogged down with the idea that you a teaching 5 year olds complex and very difficult physical details “. It was actually about families – and explaining that the families of some 5-year-olds were not necessarily like those of others. It was a case of mutual respect.
Invited to respond from the floor , the original questioner said there had been many references to “respect” but asked whether those who refused to adopt the revised teaching guidelines or be involved in equal marriage could be brought before the courts.
Stephen Doughty (Labour) said under the bill no one would be compelled to be involved in equal marriage in churches and religions institutions – but at the same time “state officials – teachers, registrars and others needed to carry out the Government’s duties “. The state – he said – had a duty to ensure that people of the same gender could get married and were not discriminated against.
Earlier, the panel had dealt with a question on the influx of refugees from Libya and elsewhere being taken in small boats by people-traffickers across the Mediterranean – and in many cases losing their lives in the process.
Nigel Howells (Lib Dem) said “You can’t fail to have your heart-strings plucked when you see images of people desperately trying to flee their country to better their lives “.
He thought Britain should be working with European countries to find out why people were fleeing . He thought action should be taken against people-traffickers.
Anthony Slaughter (Green) said he wanted to echo the comments of the bishop of Manchester, David Walker made in that morning’s Observer newspaper in which he had said there was a duty to treat the survivors with compassion.
Slaughter agreed with the bishop when he said the refugees were not being “pulled” to Europe but were being”pushed” to Europe by chaos, famine and wars
In many cases he thought the conditions from which they were fleeing were situations which the “we in the West” had helped bring about.
Emma Warman (Conservative) said people were not fleeing poverty as such – they were fleeing war zones and being exploited by people traffickers .
It was simplistic to suggest this problem had been created by Britain’s policy on Libya – as Labour Leader Ed Miliband had suggested. The trafficking of people in unseaworthy vessels was “ disgraceful” and Britain was going to do what it could to stop it.
The Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark was being deployed to the area and the Government’s COBRA committee was meeting that very afternoon to further consider the situation . What had caused the problem, she said, was the instability in the counties from which the refugees were coming.
Stephen Doughty (Labour) agreed with “Nigel and Anthony” – [thereby side-stepping Warman’s condemnation of Ed Milband] . He said the situation had been going on “for years and Years” and he had dealt personally with a number of people who were fleeing Libya Syria and the Yemen.
Doughty said he had been “shocked by some of the things he had heard recently on the doorsteps” (of Cardiff South and Penarth) . He quoted one constituent who he claimed had said “ Let them drown!”.
In another dig at his UKIP rival he said the situation as a “consequence of the kind of debate which has been generated about immigration in this country by certain political parties ” and said it was “wholly unacceptable” .
John Rees- Evans (UKIP) did not respond to Doughty’s comment . He said the primary cause was “military intervention” . He reminded members of the audience that they could read the part of UKIP’s manifesto which said that UKIP opposed ”aggression against countries which do not pose a direct threat against Britain” .
He said much of the military intervention served what he called “corporate interests”. Many of the interventions had no kind of moral remit. He registered concern about the EU and TTIP (which cuts non EU members out of contracts) and said Britain should regain its seat on the World Trade Forum and initiate trade deals directly with third world countries. It would be better to trade with these countries rather than “patronise them with aid “
Ben Foday (Plaid Cymru) asserted that more people were leaving Britain than there were coming in , Foday said “This is a Christian Country . Look after other people as yourselves” . He said the power rested in the hands of the British public to put pressure on the Government . People should tell their MPs “This is what we want”. The refugees could be accepted into Britain without any danger to anybody.
Nigel Howells (LibDem) said his party in the Coalition had ensured that .7% of Britain’s Gross National Product was set aside for International Aid .
Over the last five years he said , British Aid had funded the eduction of 10 million children, brought sanitation to 45 million people and taught 50 million people how to look after their own finances .
Britain’s aid contribution was now enshrined in law he said – and it was the right decision.
Anthony Slaughter (Green) said the Greens would increase Foreign Aid from 0.7% to at least 1.0% of GDP over the Parliament, [costing around £6 billion a year in 2019] .
It was in recognition of” our duty” , of the West’s responsibility and for mitigating Climate Change. This needed to be tackled “head on.”
Emma Warman (Conservative ) said her party’s manifesto undertook to carry on with the 0.7% of GDP international aid budget . “I know this is not always popular with a lot of people on the doorsteps” she said – but she was glad this commitment had been made.
One of the most important aspects of aid would be going to the education of girls .Countries in which girls were well-educated tended to be “much more progressive” and less susceptible to radicalization by ISIS and its like. This actually protected Britain against radicalism. She also said that there was now more scrutiny of where aid went with ministers now having to sign off on projects exceeding £5 milllion rather than £40 million as had been the case.
Stephen Doughty (Labour) said he had been involved in foreign aid issues throughout his career . He pledged that Labour would absolutely continue with its policy of donating foreign aid and tackling climate change .
John Rees-Evans (UKIP) took a different tack from the consensus around the table . He said he could ” see that the idea of people in rich countries giving aid to poorer countries was a noble thing” – but he said we should “look at the reality of what happens to that money” .
He said he had spent a good part of his professional life working in East Africa, . He said the people who actually benefitted from the aid for the most part were all too often government officials who lived in “very nice houses” and drove around in “sports utility vehicles”. Only a small proportion of projects actually benefitted ordinary people. He gave the example of aid-funded water projects which were installed , but which later failed because they were not maintained as part of the aid project. Rees-Evans said a better way of developing third-world countries was through trade rather than aid.
Ben Foday criticised the giving of foreign aid to countries with developed economies like China and India .
He said it was also necessary to ensure that aid went to the people it was intended for and not to “dictatorships”.