Maureen Colquhoun, the former Labour MP, economist and first openly lesbian representative in the House of Commons, has passed away today at the age of 92.
Serving as a Labour councillor in West Sussex between 1971 to 1974, Colquhoun stood for the Tonbridge parliamentary seat in 1970. She was later elected to represent the newly created Northampton North constituency in 1974.
Colquhoun quickly emerged as a leading voice for women’s rights in parliament, working to end discriminatory practices preventing women from standing for public office and arguing for equal representation.
Shortly after entering the Commons, the Labour MP introduced the balance of the sexes bill. Although unsuccessful, as the vast majority of private members bills are, it drew the support of many outside Westminster.
“We in parliament who believe in making life better for women and that they should be the legislators as well as the makers of cups of tea,” she told the Commons during the second reading of the proposed legislation.
“Believe that our aims must be translated into laws, which will be binding not merely on the present government but on future governments. That is what I consider I am here for.”
During her time in parliament, Colquhoun challenged the convention of using masculine pronouns in legislation and became the first member of the House to be addressed by the Speaker as ‘Ms’.
In 1976, it became public knowledge that she was in a relationship with the publisher of the lesbian magazine Sappho, Barbara ‘Babs’ Todd. The following year, Colquhoun’s local party attempted to deselect her as their candidate.
The general management committee of her Constituency Labour Party demanded in a meeting in March 1977 that she be removed as their candidate for the next general election and six months later voted, 23 to 18 in favour, to deselect her.
The chair denied that this was due to her sexuality, but journalist Polly Toynbee wrote at the time: “I find it impossible to believe that they would have removed Maureen Colquhoun had she still been quietly married.”
After a successful appeal, Colquhoun continued as an MP until she lost her seat in the 1979 election. Before leaving parliament, she introduced a bill for the “better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation”.
“The amendment will abolish prison sentences,” she told MPs at its first reading. “Women should not be imprisoned for soliciting. That view is supported by probation officers, lawyers, social workers and even the Police Federation.”
Colquhoun continued to be active in the labour movement after leaving parliament. She worked as an assistant to several Labour MPs and served as a Labour councillor on Hackney Council in London between 1982 and 1990.
She later moved with Todd to the Lake District. They remained together until February 2020 when Todd passed away.
Reacting to reports that Colquhoun had passed away, Labour MP Angela Eagle tweeted: “This is very sad news. Maureen Colquhoun was a feminist pioneer and paved the way for all those of us who came after her RIP.”