Repeal of Section 28 postponed if vote lost

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The government is likely to dismay gay rights campaigners by postponing its plans to repeal Section 28 until after the general election if it is defeated on the issue tonight in the House of Lords.

The government is likely to dismay gay rights campaigners by postponing its plans to repeal Section 28 until after the general election if it is defeated on the issue tonight in the House of Lords.

The fate of the clause, which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools, rests on a knife-edge vote on the Local Government Bill in the Lords.

With scores of Tory and crossbench peers lined up to express their opposition, ministers are not confident of success and have already decided to accept defeat so as not to lose the whole of the Bill.

The Government could continue a "ping-pong" battle between the Commons and the Lords and try to fight on by holding another vote in the autumn. But according to senior sources in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, ministers are not prepared to risk losing the Bill in this year's parliamentary session.

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

Gay rights activists will be unhappy at the move, but the Government will stress it is still committed to reform and will hint that the change will be tacked on to a new Bill in the Queen's Speech in November.

With a general election expected next spring or autumn and further opposition in the Lords guaranteed, such a move would inevitably mean no change could be implemented until the next parliament. "It's about losing the battle to win the war. We'll win repeal Section 28 in the long run because it is our manifesto commitment. But this Bill is too important to lose," a source said.

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, is understood to believe the issue is an unnecessary distraction and vehemently opposed by many voters. But other ministers such as Margaret Beckett, Leader of the Commons, have stressed that Section 28 is a highly discriminatory piece of legislation and has to be scrapped.

Downing Street refused to contemplate yesterday the possibility of defeat or dropping the section from the Bill. "We do not comment today on what may happen tomorrow," a spokesman said.

Tony Blair's recent leaked memo highlighted his personal belief that Labour's support for homosexual rights made it look "weak" on the family. Although the Prime Minister has been appalled at the Tory campaign against the reform, he has taken advice that the issue could be damaging to the party.

The Government was badly defeated in the last vote on the issue in the Lords, losing by 210 votes to 165. Since then Mr Blair has created 30 new working Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, but victory is still far from secure.

Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage! said that Labour had only itself to blame because it had introduced the reform in a Lords Bill, which meant it could not invoke the Parliament Act to force through change.

Comments