London (CNSNews.com) - A British Conservative lawmaker has been denied the opportunity to chair an key parliamentary committee because Labor colleagues feared he would try to impose Catholic norms relating to birth control and abortion on their work.
In what his electoral office said could be described as a case of religious discrimination, Edward Leigh was forced to withdraw his nomination as chairman of the House of Commons select committee on international development.
Although Conservative and Labor had previously been agreed on his chairmanship, when it came before the committee for what was assumed would be a rubber-stamping, Labor members of the committee objected.
Leigh was questioned for half an hour on whether he would toe "the Vatican line." He was left with the impression that if he repudiated the church's view on abortion and contraception he would have been approved for the post.
Leigh was away on vacation Friday, but a spokesman for his constituency office in Gainsborough, 150 miles north of London, said that the main issue raised by the Laborites was contraception.
"There was an argument [from the critics] that in the Third World, with AIDS problems and so on, that he would not be able to put forward a detached view rather than a personal view."
Leigh had told them that, when acting as chairman, he'd put forward the views of the committee, and not "seek to impose his own personal morality" on the situation.
"The phrase he used was, he wouldn't be acting as a papal envoy but as chairman of the committee, reflecting the views of the committee," the spokesman said.
Leigh had been surprised by the row, because as far as he could recall, his own views on contraception had never been made public.
In the end, he had been forced to stand down. It was clear that, the Conservatives were going to retain the chairmanship, it would have to put forward an alternative candidate.
"It could be argued that it's a case of religious discrimination, but he's not pursuing the matter in any way - it's the rough and tumble of politics," he said.
A leading pro-life group, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, criticized the development.
"Had Mr. Leigh's chairmanship not been blocked on nakedly discriminatory grounds, I am sure he would have allowed the committee to consider alternatives to promoting abortion, which is neither a solution to third-world poverty nor a legitimate means of family planning," a spokesman said.
Forced abortions, sterilization
Through its international development department, the British government provides funds for agencies that promote abortion and other "reproductive" policies, including China's controversial population control scheme.
Although the government denies funding Beijing's "one child" program, in 1999 it gave some $21 million to the United Nations Population Fund and around $8 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In that same year, the UNPF and IPPF gave around $6 to population control programs in China.
During a recent debate in the upper House of Lords on international development legislation, Conservative lawmakers proposed an amendment reading: "Assistance may not be provided to any person or body that is assisting, promoting or practicing coercive population policies."
The debate heard charges of how forced abortion, forced sterilization and the forcible fitting of abortifacent contraceptives for women had become commonplace in China since the "one-child" policy was introduced in 1980.
The Conservative motion was held over until the next stage in the legislative process, scheduled for October.
But during the discussion, Baroness Amos, a foreign office minister, said she did not agree that the Bill under discussion should include a requirement that the government take into account "a government's human rights record in determining the nature and scale of assistance for its people."