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Stuart Bell
"I'm asking for a free vote."
 real 28k

Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 18:01 GMT
Section 28 row intensifies

The bill lifting the ban is being debate in the Lords


Members of Parliament at Westminster may be allowed to have a free vote on government proposals to lift Section 28, the ban on the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, Downing Street has confirmed.

But the minister in charge of taking the reforms through Parliament has already expressed her disagreement with suggestions that the issue might be treated as one of individual conscience rather than party line.


Section 28 was introduced in 1988
Local Government Minister Beverly Hughes told the BBC she believed the matter should remain one for the party whip: "No, I don't think they should have one [a free vote] personally. I think this is a matter of government policy.

"It was in our manifesto. We've made it clear and in the normal course of events as government policy it would be a whipped vote."

Scottish bandwagon gains speed

Her comments followed confirmation from the prime minister's official spokesman that government Chief Whipe Ann Taylor was to hold discussions on whether a free vote could take place on the issue.

He said: "It wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened. "Nearer the time, the chief whip will have the usual discussions. But it's not impossible."

The repeal is being opposed by the Conservatives, peers and by some Labour MPs who have threatened to rebel on the issue unless it goes to a free vote.

The government is anxious to avoid the sort of confrontation sparked by the Scottish Executive's bid to repeal Section 28.

Opponents in Scotland included the owner of the Stagecoach bus group, Brian Souter, who donated 500,000 to a campaign against lifting the ban, and Cardinal Thomas Winning, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics.

In recent days the bandwagon against a repeal has grown in England with the Right Reverend James Jones, the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, joining the debate in favour of keeping the ban.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has also called for safeguards in schools, warning against homosexual relations being given an equal footing to marriage.

Free vote

Former Tory London spokesman Shaun Woodward MP defected to Labour over Section 28
Prime Minister Tony Blair has appealed for a "rational and sensible" debate on the issue and Downing Street underlined that repeal would allow teachers to discuss issues concerning homosexuality without fear of prosecution.

Peers debated the Local Government Bill, which contains the repeal of the ban, on Tuesday although peers were not expected to debate the proposal relating to Section 28 until next month.

But Labour MP Stuart Bell, who represents the Church Commissioners in the Commons, opposes the repeal and has warned of a rebellion if MPs do not get a free vote on the issue when they debate it later this year. He told the BBC: "We have to remember that we are dealing here with children, we're not dealing with mature adults in discussing these matters, and Section 28 does say 'intentionally promoting homosexuality'."

He expressed concern that repealing the rule would give homosexual marriages an equivalence with heterosexual marriages within teaching at schools.

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

Opponents of the ban have argued that it prevents teachers combating homophobic bullying.

Tory former Lords leader Baroness Young, who is leading the fight against repeal, said there was huge public concern about the issue.

She plans to stage an exhibition in the Lords of photographs, literature and a video of the material being shown to school children about homosexual lifestyles.

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See also:
25 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28 backers lose support
20 Jan 00 |  Scotland
When gay became a four-letter word
18 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Section 28: Your questions answered
21 Jan 00 |  UK
Brian Souter: Stagecoach's straightman

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