Dismay as Shadow Cabinet fails to back gay rights Bill

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Indy Politics

The Tories' claim to be a party that would govern on behalf of the whole of Britain - including gays and lesbians - was thrown into doubt this week after half the Shadow Cabinet failed to back a bill giving gay couples the right to register their relationships.

The Tories' claim to be a party that would govern on behalf of the whole of Britain - including gays and lesbians - was thrown into doubt this week after half the Shadow Cabinet failed to back a bill giving gay couples the right to register their relationships.

Modernising Tories expressed anger last night that senior figures on the Tory front bench were absent from the vote - despite instructions not to try to wreck the bill.

John Bercow, who was sacked from his job as shadow international development secretary in Mr Howard's recent reshuffle, said he was "disappointed" that so many senior Tories had not supported the Civil Partnerships Bill.

Another Tory moderniser said he believed Shadow ministers who failed to turn up to vote had done so "accidentally on purpose - to make a point".

He said the decision to abstain "sent the wrong signal about us with regard to gay people".

"It makes it look as though we are still hung up on gay people rather than moving on from that," he said.

Among the front bench Conservatives who failed to turn up to vote on Tuesday night were right wingers John Redwood, David Davis and Liam Fox.

Mr Fox, the Tory co-chairman, is reported to have missed the vote deliberately.

The bill which would give gay and lesbian couples official recognition under the law and new rights with regard to inheritance and pensions was backed by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, and most Labour and Lib Dem MPs.

Alan Duncan, the front bench Tory MP, spoke in favour of the bill and other frontbenchers including Theresa May, spokeswoman on families, supported it.

But many Conservatives complained privately that the bill sanctions "gay marriage" and several voted against.

In the House of Lords leading Tories have spoken against it vociferously and tried to water it down.

Many Tory MPs are expected to withdraw their support again when the bill returns to the commons in November following the committee stage.

House of Commons observers predict the bill will be even stronger in its support for gay partnerships when it returns from the commons committee because MPs are planning to remove an amendment, inserted by the Lords, which would give elderly sisters or people in long term but non sexual relationships similar rights as lesbians and gays.

Yesterday John Bercow MP said he hoped more Tories would offer their backing for the symbolic bill.

"Although I was pleased to see a sizeable number of Conservatives backing the bill I was disappointed that more did not. I am certainly sorry that more members of the Shadow Cabinet did not vote for it," he said.

Michael Howard has since taking over as Tory leader tried to shrug off the Conservative's reputation for being homophobic. The party has already ditched its support for Section 28 which made promotion of a homosexual lifestyle illegal by local authorities.

But under Iain Duncan Smith the party was divided over the issue of whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children in local authority care.

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