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Tuesday, July 28, 1998 Published at 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK

UK Politics

Commons bows to peers on gay consent

Straw: new Bill on gay consent promised for the autumn

The House of Lords' rejection of measures to equalise the gay age of consent has been accepted by the Commons without a vote.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, promised MPs new legislation on homosexual consent when Parliament returns from its recess in the autumn.

Mr Straw said he was "reluctantly" urging MPs to pass the Crime and Disorder Bill as amended by the Lords in order not to prompt a constitutional clash with the peers.

A row over gay consent would risk losing the whole of the flagship Bill for the parliamentary session, he said.

The government's decision not to challenge the Lords was supported by the Conservatives.

'Peers closer to public'

[ image: Sir Norman: peers are closer to public than Commons]
Sir Norman: peers are closer to public than Commons
The Shadow Home Secretary, Sir Norman Fowler, said: "You do have to expect on occasions with any kind of second chamber that they are going to disagree with this House ... for perfectly sensible reasons."

He added "At least two opinion polls have shown that the House of Lords more accurately reflect public opinion to date on this subject than the vote in the House of Commons."

'Capitulation to peers'

Labour left-winger Tony Benn said the government's decision to drop the amendment was a "total capitulation" to peers who were elected by nobody and accountable to no-one.

[ image: Benn: hoped to force a vote on the issue]
Benn: hoped to force a vote on the issue
"I listen to the House of Lords saying that young people are not fit to make a judgement, but what they didn't say was: 'Whatever age you are you are not fit to elect us because we are here for life'," he said.

The Commons backed gay sex at 16 last month by a 207-vote majority - only to see peers overturn the measure by a majority of 168.

On Tuesday, 81 MPs who support lowering the age of gay consent signed a Commons motion tabled by Ann Keen, whose amendment the Lords overturned, demanding a change in the law as early as possible in the next parliamentary session.

The Crime Bill

The Crime Bill, which is now awaiting the Royal Assent, contains measures such as child curfews, reducing the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 10, introducing new offences of racially aggravated assault and harassment, and sex offender orders to protect the public.

The Bill, which contains a total of 12 Labour manifesto Commitments, was described by Mr Straw as "tough and practical".

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