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Cameron slips up on gay equality

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 23 March 2010

In an interview with Gay Times magazine, Conservative leader David Cameron displays uncertainty over support for key votes on equality legislation in European and UK parliaments. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has called it a "major gaffe."

David Cameron

In the interview, which will be shown exclusively on Channel 4 News at 7pm tonight, the Tory leader becomes confused when questioned on MEP votes for homophobic legislation, and UK votes on civil partnerships in Quaker churches – specifically on whether those votes would be free or whipped for his MPs.

In the past, Cameron has apologised for Section 28, the law Margaret Thatcher passed to stop schools promoting homosexuality. He has also voted in favour of civil partnerships.

However, in the European parliament, his MEPs last year refused to support a motion which condemned a new homophobic law in Lithuania.

Cameron told the Gay Times: "I don't know about that particular vote. What I do know is that we have made very clear our own views about Section 28 in this country; I couldn't have been more clear about that."

In the interview with the writer and broadcaster Martin Popplewell, Cameron agreed that gay equality was a fundamental human right.

Cameron sought to clear up the issues raised in the interview today, after Labour minister Ben Bradshaw described his comments as a "major gaffe".

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."

Gay Times interview transcript:

Popplewell: "If you had taken a stance on it (homophobic law in Lithuania), then it would have sent a very clear message, and you didn't take that stance."

Cameron: "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.”

As the filmed interview draws to a close as Cameron also struggles to answer a question on whether Conservative peers would have a free vote on civil partnerships, or whether the voting would be forced by the Tory whip.

Popplewell: "Back to the UK, and the Quakers want to allow civil partnerships in their places of worship.

"At the moment that's actually illegal. There's a vote coming up. How are Conservative peers going to be voting?” (This has since been passed by the House of Lords.)

Cameron: "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.”

Popplewell: "You said free vote. You want us to vote for you. If we vote for you – we want you to vote for us."

Cameron: "I do, I do. Do you know – can we stop for a second?”

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