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The Bishop of Winchester, Michael Charles
"Simply to remove Section 28 would be an unwise move"
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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Ministers back down on gay ban

Ministers may decide to put repeal on hold until after the election
Ministers have backed down on scrapping controversial Section 28 before Parliament goes into recess at the end of this week.

The measure banning the law, which prevents local authorities in England and Wales from promoting homosexuality, was defeated for the second time in the House of Lords on Monday night by a majority of 270 to 228.

We remain committed to the repeal of this unnecessary and divisive legislation, and are considering the options for achieving the repeal at a later date

Hilary Armstrong
The prime minister's spokesman said the government remained committed to scrapping Section 28, but was not prepared to continue its fight with the Lords and risk losing the Local Government Bill altogether.

Ministers are now considering their options. It is possible they may introduce a one line bill to repeal the clause in the Queen's speech in the autumn, but it is more likely that the government will rule out a change before the next election.

'Piece of prejudice'

The spokesman said Tony Blair regarded the law as "a piece of prejudice", and "the government will not stop doing what is right."

"We have given it our best shot in this session," he said, but added that ministers would now consider their next step "in slower time".

Local Government Minister Hilary Armstrong said: "This is an outdated and discriminatory piece of legislation which is a barrier to creating a more tolerant and supportive society".

'Remain committed'

"Let there be no doubt. We remain committed to the repeal of this unnecessary and divisive legislation, and are considering the options for achieving the repeal at a later date," she said.

House of Lords
Ministers have retreated from a costly battle with the Lords
But the leader of the Conservative peers, Lord Strathclyde, said: "The government has done the right thing in dropping it.

"The House of Lords yesterday spoke up on an all-party basis in a non partisan manner, for the mainstream of British opinion.

"The government are right to take notice."

Shadow education secretary Theresa May called the defeat "a victory for commonsense" and urged the government not bring back the legislation


The goverment's decision to give up on repeal of Section 28 this session saves a costly bout of "parliamentary ping-pong" between the Commons and the Lords.

The House of Lords yesterday spoke up on an all-party basis in a non partisan manner, for the mainstream of British opinion

Lord Strathclyde
.It also means the government will get throught the rest of the measures in its Local Government Bill, which includes plans for more directly-elected mayors and structural reforms to councils.

But the government faces intense pressure from gay rights groups, like Peter Tatchell's OutRage!, to push through the repeal as soon as possible.

As last week's leaked memo revealed, however, Tony Blair is keen not to be seen as "anti-family", and he may decide not risk another fight on the issue this side of an election.

If Labour includes the commitment to repeal the section in its next election manifesto, peers might not vote against the leglisation if Labour wins.

Under the so-called 'Salisbury Convention', peers do not vote against commitments set out in a winning party's manifesto.

However, it is possible that the convention could lapse now that the Lords has been stripped of its hereditary element.

Second defeat

Monday night's vote was the second time the Lords had rejected government plans to scrap Section 28, and this time more peers voted in favour of the status quo.

Lady Young
Lady Young says children must be protected
The vote followed a heated two-hour debate, which saw impassioned pleas on both sides.

Conservative Baroness Young, who spearheaded the campaign to save the legislation, said the section provided essential protection for youngsters against gay "propaganda".

Repeal would be deeply unpopular with the public, she told peers before the vote.

Eighteen Labour rebels, four Bishops and a former Archbishop of York, Lord Habgood, were among the 270 peers who supported Lady Young's amendment.

The clause in the bill affects authorities in England and Wales. Section 28 was scrapped in Scotland last month.

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Section 28: An overview
25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Blair move backfires again
25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
The new Iron Lady
25 Jul 00 | Scotland
S28 repeal 'on course' in Scotland
24 Jul 00 | Education
Section 28 more symbol than substance
18 Jul 00 | Education
Sex guidelines threat defeated
31 May 00 | UK
The Section 28 battle
24 Jun 00 | Scotland
S28 debate - one to remember?
20 Jan 00 | Scotland
When gay became a four-letter word
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