About turn for Labour over gays in military

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The Independent Online
THE MINISTRY of Defence is set to defy Labour MPs by keeping a ban on homosexuals in the armed forces until after the next general election.

In a move that will hearten Tories and dismay gay-rights campaigners, John Spellar, the Armed Forces minister, said yesterday that there were no plans to end the ban before 2001.

With Tony Blair likely to call an early general election next year, the delay would effectively defuse a difficult political issue for the Government.

Mr Spellar said no action would be taken before Parliament's five-yearly review of the Armed Forces Bill. "The next relevant Bill is due in 2001. At that time, the Government will form a view," he said.

Pressure on ministers to "come off the fence" intensified yesterday when Tories condemned Labour's failure to state its position.

Labour's election manifesto called for a free vote on the ban in the Commons this Parliament, but the Government has refused to indicate its wishes.

The European Court of Human Rights will deliver its long-awaited judgement on the legality of the ban on 27 September, it was revealed yesterday. MoD lawyers and gay rights groups expect the court to declare the ban illegal, but military chiefs believe that they can delay acting on the verdict.

Hardliners hope the appointment, expected within weeks, of John Reid, the Secretary of State for Scotland, as Secretary of State for Defence, will bolster their cause. When he was armed forces minister, Dr Reid supported the ban.