Gay Adoption Rules ‘Rail-Roaded’

The government has been accused of “rail-roading” through gay equality laws that, Catholic adoption agencies argue, will force them to close. Some Tory MPs criticised the “unseemly haste” with which ministers sought to pass regulations through Parliament.

But an attempt to get them thrown out was defeated, by 310 votes to 100. A cross-party working group has been set up to try to find a compromise and a way to allow Catholic agencies to keep working under the new law.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations are aimed at outlawing discrimination against gay people by businesses and service providers. The government has refused to allow faith-based agencies an opt-out, and has instead given them a 21-month transition period, from April, when the rules are due to come in.

But the Catholic Church says it will have to shut its agencies, which handle some of the most difficult-to-place children, after that – rather than go against its beliefs. Earlier the Catholic head of England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, said the government was rushing through the regulations – after MPs were asked to approve them without debate.

He accused the government of “an abuse of parliamentary democracy”, adding: “Profound public concern about aspects of these regulations has not been heard.” And some backbench Tory MPs agreed with him, with many flooding into the Commons chamber to raise a series of points of order about the way the regulations were being handled.

Tory former home office minister Ann Widdecombe said there had been an “almost unprecedented shortness of time” from the regulations being introduced and moved into the Commons. They were being moved with “extreme and unseemly haste,” she said.

Tory MP Roger Gale said they were being “rail-roaded” through and Tory MP Peter Luff said he had been unable to answer constituents’ queries about the regulations, because he had not had time to discuss them with ministers.

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, who supports the new regulations, also said he was concerned they were being rushed through without proper debate.

But the regulations were approved by a majority of 210 votes, after some Tory backbenchers forced a vote. Labour MP Dennis Skinner said the Conservative front bench supported the government in holding the debate in a committee.

Deputy speaker Sir Alan Haslehurst said Commons rules had been followed. And deputy minister for equality Meg Munn said later: “It’s standard practice for debates on secondary legislation to take place in a delegated legislation committee. The timing and venue for the debate was agreed between all three main parties.” She said the period for considering views had been extended by five months already and there had been opportunities to raise the issues.

The draft regulations were debated in a 90-minute committee meeting but did not have to be debated by MPs, because they formed part of the Equality Act – two thirds of which has already been approved.

But the House of Lords will debate them on Wednesday. Ministers hope setting up the cross-party group to liaise with the Catholic Church, and showing willingness to compromise might help stave off a likely defeat in the Lords.