Plans to repeal the law that bans local authorities from promoting homosexuality are likely to be shelved until after the next general election in a retreat by the Government.
Ministers are furious that their attempts to scrap Section 28 have been blocked by the House of Lords. If peers reject the move when they vote on it again this summer, the Cabinet is expected to drop it rather than try to overturn the decision in the Commons.
The rethink follows private polling by the Labour Party, which suggests that voters are hostile to the Government's plan and do not understand why it is spending so much time on what they regard as a marginal issue.
The polling found evidence that people do not think the Government is "on our side".
But shelving the plan to scrap Section 28 would infuriate gay rights campaigners and many Labour MPs. Although the law introduced by the previous Tory administration is seen as a largely symbolic measure that has had little impact in practice, the MPs believe it sends the wrong signal and should be abolished.
David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is furious Tory peers are maintaining their opposition to the repealing of Section 28 even though he introduced guidelines on sex education in schools which highlight theimportance of marriage and stable relationships.
If the Lords reject theGovernment's proposal for a second time, Mr Blunkett will urge the Cabinet to withdraw it rather than risk the loss of the entire Local Government Bill, of which it forms part. The Bill also extends plans for directly elected mayors to other citiesand includes measures to combat town hall sleaze.
"David is fed up with the whole business," one colleague said yesterday. "He reached a compromise with the Tories but they reneged on the deal."
A minister added: "There is a growing feeling that we will not press ahead if the Lords reject it again. We might upset a few liberals, but it is not a big issue for most voters."
Although a short Bill to scrap Section 28 could be included in the Queen's Speech in November, ministers say they are unlikely to find time in what is likely to be a short parliamentary session because a general election is expected next spring. Alternatively, they could include the measure in their programme but not allocate parliamentary time for it before the election.
Downing Street insists the Government remains committed to scrapping Section 28.
If ministers back down, they would promise to return to the issue if Labour wins a second term.
However, Labour MPs would press ministers to bring in legislation this autumn. "We can't wait until after the election," said one backbench leader. "This is a horrible piece of legislation and we should take on the Lords until they give way."
Tory peers, led by the former cabinet minister Baroness Young, argue that teachers could still promote homosexual lifestyles to their pupils because Mr Blunkett's guidelines mention stable relationships as well as marriage.Reuse content