Peer says public are 'begging' to keep Section 28

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Indy Politics

The government faced a bitter clash with the Lords last night over plans to repeal Section 28, the clause banning promotion of homosexuality by councils.

The government faced a bitter clash with the Lords last night over plans to repeal Section 28, the clause banning promotion of homosexuality by councils.

Ministers were stepping up efforts to gain support for its abolition as Baroness Young, a leading Tory supporter of the clause, said that members of the public had been "begging" her to remain firm over the issue.

Launching an appeal to the Lords, she said children would be at risk if the legislation werescrapped.

"One thing I am quite certain about is that the overwhelming majority of the British public don't want Section 28 repealed. If we abolish Section 28 we send out a clear signal to local authorities to promote homosexuality. I will fight for the rights of children as long as I have a breath in my body," Lady Young said.

If peers decide to continue their opposition to the Government's plans, ministers have indicated that they may be forced to drop the repeal for now, because they fear that the Local Government Bill could be delayed otherwise.

As well as repealing Section 28, the Bill includes an overhaul of local government, creating elected mayors and cabinets for councils and introducing ethical guidelines.

The Government was badly defeated in the last vote on the section's repeal in the Lords. Since then Tony Blair has created 30 new working Labour and Liberal Democrat peers but victory is still far from secure.

Ministers hope that the peers' opposition has lessened, because several bishops accepted new sex-education guidelines last week. The peers also threw out Lady Young's plans to underline the importance of marriage in comparison to stable relationships.

Lord Whitty, local-government minister, said during yesterday's debate: "I hope now, with the adoption of this new guidance, we are now in a different position."

He said that the situation had significantly changed since peers last voted on the issue because of the adoption of the sex guidelines. "We have a heavy responsibility to protect minorities and act as the defender of all citizens. We have the duty to protect human rights of minorities."

Earlier, peers supported plans to modernise town halls with "cabinet"-style executives and local mayors.

The move, during the final stages of the Local Government Bill, came after a last-minute Liberal Democrat compromise deal which allows smaller councils with populations below 85,000 to choose alternative arrangements.

But Conservatives, led by the opposition frontbencher Lord Dixon-Smith, protested that deals would in future be made behind closed doors by a small executive cabal, denying proper scrutiny and accountability.

Lord Dixon-Smith's amendment to keep the committee system of local authorities failed on a vote by 169 to 221, a government majority of 52.

Lord Whitty told the House that backing the Conservative move would mean "councils standing still".

Lord Whitty said that although there were some members of the Local Government Association that did not like the Bill, the organisation recognised that change in the structure of local government was necessary.

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