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Laura Trevelyan reports
"Mr Hague is unapologetic"
 real 28k

Conservative leader William Hague
"All members of the frontbench must support the policies of the party."
 real 28k

Shaun Woodward
"I had to live with my conscience on this issue."
 real 28k

Friday, 3 December, 1999, 17:08 GMT
Tories split over gay rights sacking
Section 28 bans local authorities from promoting homosexuality

William Hague has come under fierce criticism from within his own party over the decision to sack MP Shaun Woodward from the front bench over his position on gay rights.

London Mayor
Mr Woodward was dismissed as the party's London spokesman on Thursday after refusing to back the party against Labour's plans to allow local authorities to promote homosexuality.

He had told his party he could not support Conservative policy to keep the so-called Section 28 ruling as it might lead to teachers being unable to deal with homophobic bullying within schools.

Tory transport spokesman and Essex North MP Bernard Jenkin will now be spokesman for London, it has been announced. The brief will be handled at shadow cabinet level.

Conservative leader William Hague defended the decision to sack Mr Woodward, saying all his front bench team had to be loyal.

But Steven Norris, who has announced he will run to be Tory candidate for the Mayor of London, said the party's stance on Section 28 was "homophobic", and he backed Mr Woodward.

The former transport minister said such matters should be down to an individual MP's conscience, and decided on a free vote.

He was supported by another potential Tory candidate, businessman Ivan Massow.

Mr Massow described Section 28 as an "outdated and pretty nasty piece of policy" and said Mr Woodward's dismissal showed the party was in the grip of the "loony right".

Gay rights groups and Labour have also condemned Mr Hague for playing the "gay card".

Shaun Woodward: Sacked by pager
Mr Woodward described how he found out about his dismissal by pager message.

At a meeting with Chief Whip James Arbuthnot on Thursday, Mr Woodward was told he must support the party's opposition to abolishing Section 28.

Mr Woodward said: "I left the chief whip's office at 1730 yesterday afternoon under the impression I had several hours that evening to try to come up with a good amendment that everybody would be satisfied with and I believed we were going to be able to do that.

"I discovered when I was talking to my wife on the phone that my pager had some messages on it and by the time I got those messages at 1840, an hour and quarter or so after I left the chief whip, I didn't have as it turned out have the rest of the evening to make up my mind.

"I had until 1830 and as it was 1840 I no longer had a job on the frontbench."

He said Mr Hague was right to enforce discipline on policy issues but the subject for him was troubled by serious evidence about bullying in schools.

Mr Woodward, a director of Childline, said: "I had to live with my conscience on this issue.

"I had to live with talking to every headteacher in my constituency and I had to live with the fact that I am very loyal and had been extremely loyal to William.

"I am extremely sorry the party would not give me the time to sort a way through this and took the action it did."

Ivan Massow: Candidate opposes Section 28
But Mr Hague defended the decision: "All members of the front bench must support the policies of the party and where they don't in any case they obviously have to leave the front bench.

"That will always be true for all frontbenchers and all policies. We have learnt to our cost in the past that if discipline is not enforced then the party suffers from it, so discipline will be enforced."

Section 28 was introduced under the 1988 Local Government Act to prohibit "the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" and ban authorities from the intentional "promotion of homosexuality".

The shadow cabinet agreed at a meeting last week to put a three-line whip against a forthcoming government amendment to repeal Section 28.

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See also:
03 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
The full text of Shaun Woodward's letter
03 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Tory MP sacked over gay row
01 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Gay Tory stays in mayor race
31 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Gay promotion ban to be lifted

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