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EDITIONS
Monday, 4 November, 2002, 16:20 GMT
Tory resigns over adoption vote
John Bercow, with Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith, left, has lost John Bercow, right.
Conservative shadow cabinet member John Bercow has resigned over the party's opposition to allowing unmarried couples - heterosexual and gay - to adopt children.

Mr Bercow, shadow pensions minister, stepped down from Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith's front bench arguing it was an issue of conscience.

It is a great pity that Conservative MPs are not to be given a free vote

John Bercow
Mr Duncan Smith is imposing a three line whip on the vote - but former leadership challenger Michael Portillo is expected to be among Tory MPs who defy those orders.

Tory chairman Theresa May denied that the decision to oppose the change to adoption rules was another case of the Conservatives being the "nasty party".

She said that it was motivated by the desire to provide the most stable future possible for children being adopted.

Married couples were likely to stay together longer than unmarried couples, she said, and therefore provided a more stable background.

People were interested in the adoption issue, she insisted, not the politics behind the Tory voting orders.

Mixed messages?

Earlier, Mr Portillo told BBC Radio 4's Start The Week: "The Conservatives in this country are presently inconsistent.

"They do not maintain a message about their belief that people should be free to lead their private lives on their own terms," he said.

Amid rumour of plotting against Mr Duncan Smith, Mr Portillo ruled himself out from ever standing for the leadership again.

Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith's leadership has been under fire

Mr Bercow is the first person to resign from Iain Duncan Smith's shadow cabinet over a matter of policy.

In his resignation letter Mr Bercow said extending the pool of potential adopters "would allow more of our most damaged children to have the chance of a secure and loving home with two parents who share responsibility for them".

Mr Bercow continued: "I agree with the case for reform and it is a great pity that Conservative MPs are not to be given a free vote."

While he "reluctantly" stayed away last time the issue came before the Commons "I really do not wish to do so again", he said.

"Instead, I shall speak in the debate - if I am called - and shall vote in favour of change.

"For this reason, and this reason alone, I am stepping down from the shadow cabinet."

Rumours of plots

It is understood that there was a row at the recent shadow cabinet meeting where the party line was decided.

Mr Bercow was the most vociferous supporter of the liberal amendments with David Davis and Michael Howard being the staunchest defenders of the status quo.

Andrew Mackay
Telling people how to behave is 'abhorrent', says Mackay
Other social liberals who have abstained in Commons votes on the adoption issue include Tim Yeo and Damian Green.

Former shadow cabinet ministers Andrew Mackay and Andrew Lansley are others who have expressed their disquiet over the voting orders.

A new Mori opinion poll suggests 44% of people think gay and lesbian couples in stable, long term relationships should be allowed to adopt.

According to the poll, 36% are opposed to the idea, with 20% undecided.

Mori interviewed 1,836 adults in 187 areas of the UK between 5 and 10 September.

Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was "very sad" that Mr Bercow had felt it necessary to resign.

Which century are the Tory party living in?

Sophie, UK

He said he did not want "to bash or discriminate" against anybody.

Instead, Mr Letwin saw the Conservative position as one which would best protect children by placing them with parents who had the greatest chance of remaining as a couple.

Asked about whether Mr Duncan Smith had been right to impose a three line whip, Mr Letwin said it was "a very, very difficult judgement".

He said there had been a compromise to make it a "soft" three line whip - with those opposed to the party line allowed to be elsewhere on "important business" on that day.

Mr Duncan Smith has refused to be drawn on possible punishment for rebels, insisting "only a few" were opposed to his strategy.

He added that heterosexual couples who were "serious" about adoption could always get married.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Vicki Young
"Senior MPs and officials were putting a brave face on this"
Conservative Party chairman Theresa May
"I'm sorry John feels it is necessary to step down"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should gay couples be allowed to adopt?

Yes
 52.19% 

No
 47.81% 

12237 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

04 Nov 02 | Politics
04 Nov 02 | Politics
03 Nov 02 | Politics
04 Nov 02 | Politics
16 Oct 02 | UK
04 Oct 02 | Politics

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