Labour MP condemns homosexual claims


A Labour MP, Mr Brian Wilson, yesterday condemned "gratuitous" media speculation about whether the Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Peter Mandelson, was homosexual. Mr Wilson said such "saloon bar" gossip had no place on television.

The dispute stemmed from comments made by a homosexual journalist, Mr Matthew Parris, in the wake of Mr Ron Davies's resignation last week as Welsh Secretary. Amid speculation, since denied, that Mr Davies might have been involved in homosexual sex, Mr Parris told the BBC's Newsnight programme there were two homosexuals in the Cabinet, including Mr Mandelson.

Mr Wilson's comments came after it emerged the BBC had issued an edict to all staff not to refer to claims made on Newsnight that Mr Mandelson was homosexual. The Tories attacked the ban, calling it "extraordinary" and the Shadow Culture Secretary, Mr Peter Ainsworth, demanded an explanation from BBC Director-General, Sir John Birt.

Over the weekend the corporation removed references to Mr Mandelson's private life from a radio programme, but allowed the original claims to be rebroadcast twice on TV.

On Friday the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, attacked the ban as "insulting" when she was told to abide by it during a live radio discussion.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "The producers' guidelines says that we do not report speculation about the private lives of public figures unless there is a wider issue of public concern. The BBC have merely reminded programmes that the guidelines apply as much to Peter Mandelson as anyone else."

Meanwhile, Mr Davies responded to further press allegations about his private life. He claimed the media were out to destroy him with "vicious and hurtful rubbish".

Mr Davies resigned from the Cabinet and as Welsh Labour leader after an incident on Clapham Common in south London. A man has been charged with robbery in connection with the episode.

Yesterday several British newspapers made further claims about the incident and Mr Davies's past. In a strongly-worded statement he responded: "Everybody has a fundamental right to a private life. I am no exception. The fact that I have acknowledged a serious lapse of judgment in a particular situation is not an excuse for the media to pay money to any liar who comes along and claims to know me." Downing Street also denied reports that MI5 had warned Mr Blair that Mr Davies's private life made him a security risk.