Clock ticking on gay discrimination regulations
The controversial Sexual Orientation Regulations, the source of a battle with the Roman Catholic church over adoption and a Cabinet row, should be published next week.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Communities and Local Government confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk that they expect the regulations will become law by April as promised.
The new rules protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination when accessing goods, services and facilities.
However, the text of the regulations has not yet been released, and the government have left themselves only six weeks to get them past both Houses of Parliament.
The regulations were due to come into force on January 1st, but were delayed after the Department for Communities and Local Government received thousands of submissions.
Secretary of State Ruth Kelly came under intense criticism for the delay, and assured the gay community that they would be in place by April.
Ironically, Christian objections to the bill may well have ensured they will get a smooth passage through Parliament.
Moves by Tony Blair and Ms Kelly to grant an exemption for Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies caused a huge Cabinet row and led the majority of Labour MPs to declare their opposition to any exemptions to discrimination legislation.
This means that when the regulations are finally laid before the House next week they should command an impressive majority.
Some Tory MPs may wish to challenge the legislation to try and re-introduce amendments allowing a Catholic opt-out, but they are certain to be defeated.
The regulations came into force in Northern Ireland in January, and Unionist peers forced a Lords debate on them at the start of 2007.
The new rules were backed by peers by a margin of three to one, which should mean the regulations covering Britain should be ratified by their Lordships again without much debate.
However, the Roman Catholic adoption issue may once again come to the fore.
The timetable is tight. Parliament is currently on a mid-term break, which is why the regulations will not be published until next week.
MPs and peers go on their Easter holidays on 29th March.
The regulations are government business, which means they can push them through both Houses quickly.
They may be criticised for rushing them through some procedures, such as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which scrutinises regulations like the SOR.
Civil servants have had to insert new passages to accommodate the Prime Minister’s decision to allow adoption agencies a ‘grace period’ to adjust to the new rules.
From the end of 2008 it will be illegal for any church-run adoption agency to discriminate against LGB people on the grounds of sexuality.
Stonewall, the gay equality organisation, worked closely with the government on the new regulations. They are confident they will become law in time for Easter.
“We are still expecting the laws to come in on the 6th April and look forward to seeing the details soon,” Alan Wardle, Stonewall’s director of public and parliamentary affairs, told PinkNews.co.uk
The Catholic hierarchy seemed to accept defeat philosophically last month, but may well think their best chance of an opt-out lies with religious MPs and peers.
Given the numerous public commitments the government has made about the regulations however, it is likely they will ensure they are law before Parliament goes on holiday again.
The regulations will most likely be very similar to the ones already in force in Northern Ireland. You can read the full text of the NI regulations by clicking here