Tim Farron has accused a Conservative MP of spreading a “downright lie” about him telling LGBT politicians he would “pray” for them.
The Lib Dem leader appeared alongside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin and SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson at the Women and Equalities Committee on Wednesday.
The four men were called to explain what they were doing to increase the number of women in parliament as well as MPs from other minorities.
During the exchange, Bath MP Ben Howlett accused the Lib Dems of having a “problem” with homophobia.
He told the Lib Dem leader: “There are huge number of rumors about what was going on during the gay marriage debate, particularly with yourself Tim, when it is alleged when you came up to my colleagues, openly gay MPs, who said ‘don’t worry I’ll pray for you’, how is that right?”
Farron hit back: “That’s a downright lie. It’s a downright lie.”
Howlett asked how the rumour was still “going out” if it was not true.
Farron replied: “Well because you’ve just repeated it Ben. Ben, this on the record and on TV and you have repeated an untruth. So that’s why it’s out there. It would be good if you withdraw that.”
He said his party had a good record of promoting LGBT rights and any incidents of homophobia by his MPs or candidates would be “outrageous” and action would be taken.
During the same committee hearing, Jeremy Corbyn said he was “sympathetic” to having all-LGBT shortlists when selecting Labour candidates for parliament.
And the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said he was pleased at the number of LGBT MPs on his benches. “I’m very proud to be the leader of the gayest parliamentary party,” he said.