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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The dilemma facing Ruth Kelly

I commented a few weeks ago that as Government Minister it seems that Ruth Kelly has a problem with Labour Party principles. Well she is at it again with an attempt to undermine her own party's anti-discrimination laws by seeking to build in an exemption that will let Catholic adoption agencies turn away gay couples:

Ms Kelly, a devout Catholic and member of the Opus Dei sect, remains determined to include a loophole for her church in the Equality Act 2006 which comes into force this April. A spokeswoman for Ms Kelly, who has overall responsibility for equality, said the minister wanted to "protect the pool of prospective parents" and would be trying to find a "pragmatic way forward" this week.

The Catholic church has threatened to close its seven adoption agencies rather than comply with laws that forbid them to discriminate against gay couples.

Ms Kelly, already at the centre of controversy after admitting sending her son to private school earlier this month, insists she is acting in the best interests of the thousands of children placed for adoption each year.

Her efforts however, have sparked off massive opposition within the Government from such influential Ministers as Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, who refused Mr Blair's request to grant the exemption when he was responsible for the issue last year, Jack Straw, David Miliband, Des Browne and Peter Hain. Blairite loyalists such as Tessa Jowell and Lord Falconer have expressed their dismay as have Angela Eagle, the vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Rhondda MP, Chris Bryant. Mr. Bryant makes the very valid point that her opposition would have the effect of denying vulnerable children "a loving home".

The sting in the tale is that Kelly is not just trying to impose her personal prejudices onto laws for England and Wales but she is also planning to override the Scottish Parliament's own legislation, thus negating one of the key principles of devolution.

The Scotsman reports: "MSPs took the step of allowing gay adoption barely a month ago when they passed the Adoption Act despite furious opposition from conservatives and church groups.

But Kelly, a devout Catholic, now threatens to overturn the Holyrood legislation with an amendment to her own hugely controversial proposals to outlaw sex discrimination in the business and services industry."

We all know that Blairism was about abandoning key principles to make the Labour Party more electable, but surely even they must know when it is time to stop and start acting in the interests of vulnerable people rather than pandering to their own prejudices.
I can't fathom why Ruth Kelly is communities secretary. For me it smacks of veggie Christine Gwyther's time as agriculture minister at the Assembly. Even as Wales' foremost member of the vegetarian political blogosphere (members: 1), I could see Gwyther had to go. And so must Kelly.
This highlights the problem with devolution - it is power handed down from on high which can be taken back on a whim.

The only solution is Home Rule (as part of the UK).
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