Equalities secretary Liz Truss has rejected the suggestion she lacks passion for the role but admitted that she had “fundamental disagreements” with the government’s former LGBT+ advisory panel, which she disbanded last month.
Her acknowledgement came in an evidence session with members of parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee yesterday, which was probing the work of the Government Equalities Office. Last week former members of the LGBT+ advisory panel told MPs Truss had sidelined them and did not understand the people she was there to champion.
Former panel member Jayne Ozanne quit her role in March, ahead of the panel being disbanded, in protest at what she described as a “hostile environment” being created by ministers.
Quizzed about last week’s damning concerns about a sea-change in the equalities brief since she became secretary of state in 2019, Truss told MPs on Tuesday that she differed with some panel members and also had a different outlook on the brief.
“The LGBT panel were appointed by the previous government and they were appointed on a time-limited basis until the end of March this year,” Truss said. “Of course, we’re grateful for the contribution they made, but there were fundamental disagreements – namely members of the panel supported self-ID for gender-recognition certificates and I very strongly feel, as I’ve made clear, that there need to be checks and balances. So I think the issue here is fundamentally a difference of opinion on that issue.”
Truss pointed to this month’s Queen’s Speech commitment to introduce legislation banning gay conversion therapy as an example of the government’s intentions towards measures outlined in 2018’s LGBT Action Plan. It was produced when Theresa May was prime minister and Penny Mordaunt was equalities secretary.
But Truss also said she saw the equalities brief in different terms to her predecessors and believed it also had a strong connection with the government’s levelling-up agenda.
“My aim isn’t to exclude people, my aim is to make this not a specialised conversation amongst a few groups but a much broader conversation amongst the whole country,” she said.
Last week’s session heard Truss’ commitment to the equalities brief questioned – particularly against the backdrop of her role as international trade secretary. Panelists said she had met the panel just twice over a period of 18 months and called for a full-time equalities secretary at cabinet level.
Truss insisted she was “very passionate” about the equality agenda.
“It’s something I’ve believed in since I got involved in politics,” she said. “I believe that everybody should be treated equally, regardless of their background, their sex, their sexuality. And it’s one of the factors that motivates me in politics.
“What we’re doing with our work through the Equality Hub is really looking right across the board at where are the greatest issues of concern and how we can address them.”
Truss said she believed that having a dedicated equalities secretary with no other departmental responsibilities could be counterproductive.
“Of course I’ve got a busy job at the Department for International Trade,” she said. “I feel this job is very compatible, that we embed equality right across the government.
“I very firmly feel that it works better when it’s embedded as a core part of government and every department – whether it’s the Department for Education, the Home Office or the Foreign Office – feel it’s their responsibility to deliver as part of their agenda.”
Truss told MPs that she would shortly be putting out an “expression of interest” notice for members of the successor body to the disbanded advisory panel.
“What I’m keen to do is to make sure that we are recruiting people from right across the country, not just the big metropolitan areas but also towns and villages to get a broad national representation,” she said.