Tories attempt to delay Sexual Orientation Regulations
New rules outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation have been approved by MPs, despite attempts by some Tory members to disrupt proceedings.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations are due to become law on 30th April.
Yesterday morning a meeting of the Commons Committee on Delegated Legislation saw all three political parties pledge their support for the regulations, which bar discrimination against gay, bisexual and lesbian people when they access goods and services.
However, around 20 Tory MPs repeatedly attempted to disrupt proceedings by constantly raising points of order.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader, was among those who protested that MPs had not been given enough time to debate the regulations.
Other senior Tories who attempted to disrupt the passage of the regulations included John Redwood, a former Shadow Cabinet member.
Mr Redwood and Mr Duncan Smith are heading up party policy reviews for leader David Cameron.
Gerald Howarth and Edward Leigh were also among the disruptive Tory protestors.
Both are senior Conservative MPs.
Mr Howarth is a shadow Defence minister and Mr Leigh is chairman of the powerful Public Accounts Select Committee.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, was present at the committee meeting yesterday.
“The atmosphere was so unpleasant that I had a sense of what it must have felt like in South Africa during the final days of apartheid,” he said.
“Red-faced and furious, they shouted and harrumphed and claimed, improbably, that they hadn’t had sufficient opportunity to debate the regulations.
“The idea that the government has not properly consulted on these regulations, when the arguments have been very well ventilated in the public domain, is ridiculous,” added Mr Summerskill.
Equality minister Meg Munn and the Lib Dem spokeswoman on equality, Lorely Burt, both spoke in favour of the regulations at the committee.
Ms Burt told PinkNews.co.uk that the behaviour of the Tory MPs was unlike anything she had seen in her time in Parliament.
“It was absolutely stunning – a Tory ambush,” she said.
“More than half the time allocated, which was only 90 minutes, was taken up with Conservative after Conservative raising points of order and trying to persuade the chair to stop the committee and to reconvene it on the floor of the House of Commons.
“I thought it was appalling behaviour – where were these MPs when we debated the regulations for Northern Ireland?
“I just felt that it was political mischief-making from the Tories.”
A Conservative party spokesman told PinkNews.co.uk:
“There were several Conservative MPs who were concerned that the procedure used has rushed this legislation through Parliament without proper debate.
“Eleanor Laing, Conservative party spokesman on equality, supported the legislation and said that tolerance should be our main principle and to develop a harmonious society we must live and let live.”
Tory MP John Bercow was singled out for praise by MPs at the committee for making a constructive and sensible contribution.
The Conservative spokesman pointed out that three out of the five Tory MPs on the committee voted for the legislation.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Ruth Kelly told PinkNews.co.uk:
“The aim of these regulations is to tackle the practical barriers and everyday problems facing lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
“If, like the Labour Government, the Tories want a decent, tolerant society, then they should support these regulations and stop carping from the sidelines.”
The Sexual Orientation Regulations will progress to the House of Lords next week, where a Tory peer has tabled an amendment designed to scupper them.
Baroness O’Cathain’s amendment is likely to be put to a vote in the Lords.
Peers are expected to spend around an hour discussing the regulations on Wednesday evening.
Her amendment reads:
“This House, having regard to the widespread concerns that the draft Regulations compromise religious liberty and will result in litigation over the content of classroom teaching, and having regard to the legality of the equivalent regulations for Northern Ireland, declines to approve the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.”
Peers will then be asked to vote to strike down the regulations.
This is a similar tactic to the one tried by DUP peers in January, who attempted to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations for Northern Ireland, which have been in force since the beginning of 2007.
On that occasion, a motion by Lord Morrow was defeated when the House of Lords voted 199 to 68 to retain the regulations.
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Baroness O’Cathain, an Irish-born businesswoman who was ennobled by John Major in 1991, has previously tried to stop gay couples adopting.
She sees herself as the leading opponent of gay rights in the Lords since the death of Baroness Young.
She was accused of trying to wreck the Civil Partnerships Act when it came before Parliament.
If the Sexual Orientation Regulations pass the Lords they will come into force on 30th April.
Click here to read a full transcript of the meeting.
Click here to hear a recording of the meeting, which lasted 90 minutes.