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The BBC's Guto Harri
"Friends of Shaun Woodward suggest the clarification of the law would have met his concerns"
 real 28k

Saturday, 11 December, 1999, 05:30 GMT
Tories change stance in gay row

William Hague and his shadow cabinet William Hague and shadow cabinet will try to "clarify" law


Conservative leaders have softened their stance on a controversial law which stops local councils from promoting homosexuality.

The move comes just days after one of the party's front-bench spokesmen was sacked for refusing to support its official line on section 28 of the Local Government Act.

A Tory spokesman said on Friday night that the party - while still resisting government moves to scrap section 28 - would now try to clarify the legislation.

Friends of Shaun Woodward, dismissed as the Conservatives' London spokesman for insisting section 28 should be modified, immediately said the decision could have averted his sacking.

Mr Woodward told PA News that he welcomed the latest move.

"Whilst I am pleased to hear from the press reports that the Conservative Party is now changing its position on Section 28, I am sorry that it could not have acted sooner on such an important issue of human rights," he said.


shaun woodward Shaun Woodward was told he was sacked in a pager message
Mr Woodward was dismissed by Tory leader William Hague for refusing to agree that the law should stay on the statute books without being changed.

The Witney MP, a director of Childline, insisted that the law as it stood could prevent teachers from offering advice to children being bullied because of their sexuality.

He had been seeking a compromise over section 28 when he was sacked - and the Tories' change of stance would, said his friends, have satisfied his demands.

Mr Woodward's sacking now appeared to be "both unnecessary and embarrassingly ill-judged", they said.

But Andrew Lansley, from the Tories' shadow Cabinet Office, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Woodward was sacked to preserve discipline on the shadow front bench, where ministers are required to follow the party line.

He added that it was quite clear that work on an amendment to clarify the party's position was in the pipeline when Mr Woodward raised his objections.

'Ghastly taunts'

Mr Woodward - regarded as a loyal and promising front-bencher - was told he was sacked in a message on his pager shortly after a meeting with Tory chief whip James Arbuthnot earlier this month.



I simply want a decent environment for young people to grow up in and not be bullied because of their private sexual orientation
Shaun Woodward
Following his sacking, Mr Woodward wrote in a letter to Mr Arbuthnot: "Bullying is a very serious problem in schools, particularly when it is directed at young people who may be unsure of their sexuality or simply on the end of ghastly taunts."

Mr Woodward, who is married with four children, said he did not want the existing law to be scrapped "but to be improved to end the discrimination".

He added: "I do not wish to 'promote' homosexuality. I simply want a decent environment for young people to grow up in and not be bullied because of their private sexual orientation."

Section 28 was introduced amid a storm of protest by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1988.

It was passed following several tabloid newspaper stories about "loony left" councils spending taxpayers' money on gay and lesbian groups, and aimed to stop councils from promoting or encouraging homosexuality through publications, campaigns or in schools.

But gay rights activists, and a number of child welfare groups, said it was a prejudicial law which left teachers fearing they could not advise troubled gay teenagers.

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See also:
06 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Peers urged to repeal Section 28
03 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Tory MP wanted gay rights deal
03 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Tory MP sacked over gay row
31 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Gay promotion ban to be lifted

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