Mr President, fellow parliamentarians. In my two minutes I want to speak about the importance of parliament reflecting and representing diversity and minority interests, and put this into a British context.
Britain is an increasingly multi-ethnic and diverse community. Those of you who watched the Olympic Games this summer will have seen how many of Great Britain’s medal winners were from non-traditional British backgrounds – and what was particularly heartening was the way the British public took them all to their hearts, cheering equally loudly for stars such as Mo Farah as for Bradley Wiggins. The non-white population of the UK is now 10 per cent overall, and much higher than that in major cities such as London, Birmingham, Leicester and Bradford.
And the huge success of the Paralympics also turned disabled sportsmen and women into national heroes.
In our two houses of parliament we try to ensure that this ethnic and cultural diversity is properly represented. We have certainly made a start, but there is still a long way to go. The 2010 general election returned a record number of black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates to the House of Commons – a total of 27, but that’s still only 4 per cent of the total representation.
Only a handful of MPs identify themselves as disabled, and the number of openly gay MPs is just 17. There are 143 women members - more than before – but at 22 per cent far short of equal numbers to men.
The situation in the House of Lords is rather better. Since 2000, when new appointment arrangements came into force, 37 per cent of new peers have been women. Four out of the last six leaders of the house have been women, as have both the first and the current Lord Speaker, and the present government chief whip. The Lords have 48 ethnic-minority members.
Disability causes are well represented, with a number of active wheelchair users - including Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain’s most successful Olympian athlete - plus a highly articulate campaigner for blind people.
And the house has members, male and female, who are gay, and recognises peers with civil partners in its policies relating to travel, security passes and so on.
Because we do not elect members of the House of Lords, the house can be genuinely representative of the nation, as the appointments process caters for almost every minority interest.
It is essential, Mr President, that parliaments are able to represent the whole communities which they serve. That means adopting policies that are friendly towards those who are outside the mainstream of majority society, and ensuring that they contain members who can speak up for them.