Kelly faces Commons questions on gay rights

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Two MPs have challenged Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly about the delay in implementing new guidelines protecting gay people from discrimination.

At Communities questions yesterday, the Conservative MP for Buckingham, John Bercow, demanded that the government set out when the new rules would be laid before Parliament.

Kelly replied that the new regulations would be presented to the House of Commons in good time for them to be introduced by April 2007.

The new rules will outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Mr Bercow was not satisfied with Kelly’s answer:

“Does the right honourable Lady agree that, subject only to the very limited doctrinal exemption that the Government already propose, the sexual orientation regulations must apply in full to all organisations, religious or otherwise, including adoption agencies, charities, general practitioners, housing trusts, nurseries and youth groups, because the principle of equality before the law must take precedence over the views of a vociferous religious minority which, however sincere, is fundamentally opposed to that important principle?”

Ms Kelly has been heavily criticised for delaying implementation of the regulations, and she once again tried to strike a balance in what she called a “complex issue.”

She said there were passionate views “on each side,” and said there had to be a balance between protection from discrimination and the religious views and beliefs of some people.

She was attacked from her own side for this equivocal stance by the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, Des Turner.

Speaking up for his numerous gay and lesbian constituents, he said:

“I reiterate the call for the orders to be published in draft form before they are laid in Parliament. That could lead to a much more sensible and rational debate when the time comes.

“I cannot emphasise too strongly my agreement with the words of my colleague the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Any excessive exemptions granted in the orders would undermine the principle that Parliament has adopted.”

Kelly responded that the regulations will be in place by April, and that MPs would have ample time to discuss the proposals – despite the fact that Parliament have already approved them.

Kelly’s response to Mr Turner betrayed her own views on the issue:

“In the consultation, passionate views were expressed on both sides, some of which, I fear, are completely misleading-for instance, the thought that the regulations would in any sense force Churches to marry gay people or schools to promote a homosexual lifestyle.”