Gay equality organisation Stonewall has criticised the Prime Minister’s decision to give Labour MPs a free vote on provisions in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that aim to give gay and lesbian people equal access to NHS fertility and assisted conception services.

The bill, currently before Parliament, would replace the current need for doctors to consider the need for a father when decided whether or not to provide such treatments with the need for supportive parenting.

Many lesbians face discrimination from medical professionals when trying to access assisted conception or IVF treatments, with some clinics banning them altogether.

Yesterday the Prime Minister, in the wake of an Easter weekend of sustained criticism of the bill, said that Labour MPs would be given a free vote on three issues, one of which is the “need for a father.”

The leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland had accused Mr Brown of “promoting a bill which denies that a child has a biological father, allows tampering with birth certificates, removing biological parents, and inserting someone altogether different.”

The legislation proposes new recognition of same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

A woman who gives birth and her civil partner will both be recognised as the parents of a child conceived through assisted reproduction.

Two men will be able to apply for a parental order to become parents of a child conceived through a surrogacy arrangement.

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“We are disappointed that once again some ministers seem to feel that lesbian and gay people should not have equal access to public services that they have paid for themselves.”

As many as 12 ministers who are also Roman Catholics, such as Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, Defence Secretary Des Browne and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, reportedly threatened to resign unless they were allowed to opt out of voting in favour of parts of the bill.

“Perhaps Ruth Kelly, as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will now consider giving tax concessions to people who are only allowed partial access to public services,” said Mr Summerskill.

“We are saddened that a basic issue of equality has been mixed up with genuine issues of conscience such as advanced embryology.

“We have been talking to MPs and ministers in the past few days and we will continue to fight on. We fight to win.”

The Roman Catholic church and others object to the proposed creation of so-called ‘saviour siblings’ and of human-animal embryos, the two other issues on which MPs will get a free vote.

It is thought that up to 50 Labour MPs will vote against aspects of these aspects of the bill. Some may try to move an amendment reintroducing the “need for a father” provision.

The Conservative party confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk that their MPs would be given a free vote on all parts of the bill.

“A final decision will not be made until today’s meeting of the parliamentary party,” a Lib Dem spokesperson said.

It is thought that the votes of Lib Dem MPs will ensure the gay equality parts of the bill pass.

The party’s manifesto at the last election explicitly mentioned ending discrimination against lesbians in accessing fertility treatments on the NHS.

No date has been set for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to come before the Commons.

Sources in Westminster told PinkNews.co.uk it is likely to be delayed until after the local elections on May 1st.

The government is said to be anxious that it does not become a doorstep issue during the campaign.

While MPs will get a free vote on gay equality and other issues at when the bill comes before the Commons, they will be expected to support the government to make sure the bill becomes law.