Late deal saves Housing Bill

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The Government avoided defeat by just two votes on its battered Housing Bill in the Commons last night, after making a series of frantic behind- the-scenes concessions to backbench Conservative MPs.

But it suffered an embarrassing defeat in a Labour ambush on a key Commons committee which voted against a rise in prescription charges. The standing committee on Statutory Instruments voted 9-8, with two Tory MPs absent, against the rise, in what Donald Dewar, Labour's Chief Whip, hailed as a victory in his campaign of "trench warfare" to harry the Government.

On the Housing Bill, John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, risked the fury of the Tory pro-family lobby by conceding the principle of equal tenancy rights for homosexual couples.

In a last-minute deal with Tory gay rights campaigners Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) and Edwina Currie (Derbyshire South), ministers agreed to amend the wording of proposed guidelines for local councils.

The guidelines will recommend that councils should "normally" treat a same-sex relationship in the same way as a heterosexual one. This concession was enough to secure Mr Brown and Mrs Currie's support to reverse the Government's defeat at the committee stage last month.