Gay marriage vote plan welcomed

 

The Government has responded to warnings that time pressures could wreck its controversial gay marriage legislation by delaying a crucial vote in the House of Lords by a day.

Some 86 peers have asked to speak in the second reading debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill when it arrives in the Lords on Monday, sparking fears that the vote would not be held until 2am or later if the Government insisted on completing it in a single day.

Labour has been warning ministers over the past few weeks that the bill could be lost if a vote was forced in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as planned.

Some MPs were concerned that peers who are strongly opposed to gay marriage would be more motivated to stay on late in Westminster in the hope of killing the bill, while there were also worries that a narrow victory would mean that it would be more vulnerable to being wrecked in the subsequent committee stage.

Now, the Government has agreed that if the debate over-runs, the Government and opposition wind-up speeches and the vote itself will be held over to Tuesday. A free vote is now expected to be held at around 4pm on Tuesday.

Labour said that ministers had "seen sense" and that a daytime vote will allow more peers from all sides of the argument to express their views.

A Government source rejected any suggestion that ministers had deliberately opted for a late-night vote in the hope of scuppering the legislation, which has sparked deep divisions within the Conservative Party.

"The Government wouldn't do anything to jeopardise the equal marriage bill and it's disingenuous to pretend it would," said the source. "If we need to have the vote in the Lords the next day because second reading is likely to run past Peers' bedtimes, then that's fine.

"It was the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats that sought to back bill wreckers with the civil partnership amendment in the Commons and it was our efforts that prevented others imposing a £4 billion pension cost and an 18 month delay on the bill. It's laughable to suggest we would try and jeopardise the bill now it's in the Lords."

The bill is expected to face a stormy passage in the Upper House, after encountering stiff opposition from Conservative backbenchers in a free vote in the House of Commons.

Crossbench peer and former West Midlands chief constable Lord Dear has tabled an amendment to refuse the legislation a second reading.

Labour equality spokeswoman Kate Green MP said: "It is disgraceful for anonymous 'Government sources' to be lashing out at the Labour Party over their own poor handling of the same sex marriage bill, when it was Labour votes that got it through the Commons, in the face of opposition and division within the Conservative Party.

"Labour in the Lords has been warning for weeks that the Government risks losing the bill in the Lords if they hold the vote in the middle of the night.

"We warned them strongly about this again this week and we are glad they have finally listened.

"The Government has failed to persuade their own members to support this bill and they have left it to Labour to sort much of the handling - including us proposing a last minute amendment to address the issue of opposite-sex civil partnerships and avoid a wrecking amendment, as well as getting the timing right for votes in the Lords.

"We strongly support the this bill because we believe in equality, which is why we have pulled out all the stops and done all we can to help the Government deal with the mess its own divided party has created.

"The Conservatives should stop thrashing around and lashing out at everyone else and get their own house in order."

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