Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been accused of slipping up over his party’s votes on gay equality issues.
Mr Cameron agreed to an interview broadcast on Channel 4 News, which Conservative party sources said he was not expecting to be filmed.
In it, Mr Cameron was asked why did not force his MPs and MEPs to vote for gay equality measures, rather than allowing free votes.
Tory MEPs in the European Parliament refused to support a motion which condemned a new homophobic law in Lithuania last year. The law bans the promotion of “non-traditional” families.
When asked why he did not force his MEPs to support the motion, Mr Cameron said he “barely ever” instructed his MEPs to vote in certain ways and usually allowed free votes.
Martin Popplewell, who conducted the interviews said: “If you had taken a stance on it [the homophobic law in Lithuania], then it would have sent a very clear message, and you didn’t take that stance.”
Mr Cameron replied: “Um, well I don’t – I mean the trouble is you’re – I mean I’ll have to go back and look at this particular – this particular law.
“I barely ever issue instructions to my MEPs to vote in this way or in that way. The MEPs have their own leader.
“They have their own group and I just don’t routinely look at their voting behaviour and say ‘will you do this rather than that’.
“That’s not the way the party runs. I am responsible for the whip in this parliament and how we vote in this parliament, and so for instance over things like the equality regulations or whatever.
“I try to have free votes where possible on these sorts of issues. Sorry it’s not a very good answer. I’ll have to go and look at this particular vote in the European parliament.”
The interview returned to the issue of Tory votes later, with Mr Popplewell asking whether Mr Cameron would instruct Tory
peers to support the amendment allowing religious civil partnerships. The intervew was filmed before this month’s vote.
Mr Cameron said: “Well it’s a free vote. There’s going to be actually a Conservative front bencher Baroness Noakes, who’s signed the amendment.
“I think it’s an important debate this and I don’t rule out changes. I think it’s right there should be a free vote. It was a back bench amendment.”
Mr Popplewell said: “You said free vote. You want us to vote for you. If we vote for you – we want you to vote for us.”
Mr Cameron said: “I do, I do. Do you know – can we stop for a second. . . Either can we do a television interview or a press interview?”
He then continued to answer questions off camera. PinkNews.co.uk understands that Mr Cameron was not aware he was to be filmed for a television programme. We were told he was taken aback by the “three camera tv shoot” that was pitched to be a conventional magazine interview.
Labour MP and culture minister Ben Bradshaw, who is openly gay, attacked Mr Cameron.
Mr Bradshaw told Channel 4 News he thought it was “extraordinary” that equality matters were a free vote and called the interview “a major gaffe”.
He added: “[Mr Cameron's] talked a good talk on some of these issues but his voting record hasn’t been very good. He’s learned a script but when he’s actually scrutinised and forgets the script, he doesn’t have the fundamental core belief to support him in his argument.”
Following the interview, Mr Cameron told Channel 4 News: “The point is, in the European parliament, our MEPs have a general approach of not voting on the internal matters of another country, even if we disagree with the particular law that there is.
“And I think it’s a balance to get that right, but I can see why, if you believe in a looser federation, if you believe that the European Union should be about cooperation rather than about one nation called Europe, then actually, it does make sense in many circumstances to say ‘look, these are internal matters for other countries, rather than things we should vote on ourselves.’”
“But no-one should be in any doubt that the Conservative party abhors homophobia, that we support equal rights, that we support civil partnerships, that we think that part of being a strong central right party in Britain today.
“One of the bedrock issues is being in favour of proper equality for people whether they are straight or gay, or black or white, or men or women, or whether they live in the town or the countryside or whatever God they worship – important points.”