By Matthew West
David Cameron has been urged to sack one of his front bench team as it emerged that he had made remarks that compared gay sex to the front line in war zones.
Home secretary Alan Johnson has written to Mr Cameron calling for shadow defence minister Julian Lewis to be sacked after he told a hustings at Brockenhurst College that gay sex presented an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Dr Lewis added that, as 16- and 17-year-old military personnel are protected from frontline duties, so they should be protected from homosexual activity.
Mr Johnson says in the letter: "As a frontbench defence spokesperson for the Conservative Party, Mr Lewis is responsible for guiding your defence policy. That would include allowing gay people to join the military, which was a reform Labour introduced.
"Labour also introduced an equal age of consent, which Mr Lewis apparently opposes. You have been actively seeking the votes of gay people throughout Britain, but your frontbench team includes people who are evidently against any notion of homosexual equality.
"You need to show some leadership and sack Mr Lewis. Otherwise your claim that the Conservative Party represents change will prove to be nothing but a shallow public relations exercise."
Dr Lewis' comments, made earlier this week, were first revealed on the left-wing blog Left Foot Forward after Andrew Tindall, a student at the college, used his Twitter account to comment: "just spent an hour listening to the scaremongering of a corrupt, paranoid homophobe - Julian Lewis, New Forest East CON MP/PPC".
Asked for further information, Mr Tindall emailed the blog claiming: "Questioned on his gay rights votes, he continued his claims that homosexuality/anal sex alone poses risk of HIV/AIDS, and that is why he still opposes gay sex at 16.
"Someone put it to him that it is no more dangerous than any sexual activity, to which he insisted on proof, but when asked to do the same - over ten years after he already made up his mind - he said he didn't have figures and it would have to be a project to find them.
"He then made a comparison that gay sex is as big a health risk as joining the army, and that they don't let people join the army until the age of [maturity], so why should gay sex be allowed at 16 if joining the army isn't?"
When approached to clarify the comments, a spokesman for Mr Lewis claimed they had been reported by the blog incorrectly.
In a statement Dr Lewis said: "The account given by Andrew Tindall is both incomplete and inaccurate. What I said at the meeting is exactly what I always say on this subject as spelt out in a recent letter to a constituent, who asked for my view."
In that letter seen by politics.co.uk Dr Lewis suggests that gay sex is as dangerous as fighting on the front line in the armed forces.
He says: "I was strongly against lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16. My reasoning was that there is a seriously increased risk of HIV infection arising from male homosexual activity. When it comes to legalising practices that involve serious physical risk, I believe the higher limit should apply. This is the reason why we no longer allow 16-and 17-year-olds into frontline situations in the armed forces, for example.
"On the other hand (though no-one seems to have noticed), I voted in favour of the civil partnerships bill. One of the criticisms commonly made of gay relationships is that very often they do not last. It therefore seems obvious to me that, when a gay couple wish to commit to each other, by forming a permanent relationship, they should be encouraged and assisted in every way. We are talking about adults and so my reservations about the age of consent issue do not apply."
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused the MP of ignorance as well as of making a rather bizarre comparison.
Mr Tatchell said: "I'm sure most 16- and 17-year-old gay men know that condoms are much safer than Al-Qaida road side bombs.
"Most gay men of all ages do not have HIV and will never have HIV. Many do not anal sex or if they do they use a condom which is a proven way to prevent HIV transmission.
"This is more evidence that there are plenty of Conservative MPs who do not support gay equality. It shows that David Cameron's claim that the Conservative party has changed is spin and PR."
On his personal website Julian Lewis carries a message of support from the Conservative party leader David Cameron, which states Dr Lewis "has brought... real experience and expertise to my frontbench team".
But Dr Lewis' comments will cause further embarrassment to his party leader who has made repeated attempts to shed the 'nasty party' tag that the Conservatives have laboured under for the past decade.
Earlier this month David Cameron's shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, was forced to apologise for comments he made in which he said bed and breakfast proprietors should be able to refuse to allow gay couples to stay at their establishments if it was their own home.
In an interview with Dermot O'Leary, called 'Dermot Meets', on BBC3 on Wednesday evening David Cameron said: "Well what [Grayling] said was wrong and he shouldn't have said it, but I mean the thing is he did actually vote the right way, in terms of the vote on the equality regulations, which was all about saying to business you cannot discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality.
"I mean the truth is that, you know the Conservative party now accepts wholeheartedly the equality agenda for people, whether you're black or white or straight or gay, man or woman, really important, that's the bedrock of our manifesto."
This evening a Conservative spokesman said of Dr Lewis' comments: "These are Dr Lewis' long held and personal views, they are not the view of the Conservative party and the terms in which he expressed them is wrong."