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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 16:56 GMT
Profile: Baroness Young
Baroness Young
Unlikely as it may have seemed at the close of the 20th Century, a former city council leader in her seventies became the de facto head of a national phalanx against what used to be known as the permissive society,

But while Baroness Young of Farnworth's enemies believed that she had arrived to the debate 30 years too late, her admirers saw in her a beacon of hope, harrying government in a crusade to reverse reforms they claim damaged the building block of society - the family.

Few would dispute that the Conservative working peer's finest political moment in 20 years came when she spearheaded a devastatingly successful campaign to block reform and repeal of laws regarded by many as discriminating against the gay community.

Daughter of a don

Janet Mary Young was born in 1926. Her father, John Baker, was an Oxford don.

Educated in the UK and America, she took an MA at St Anne's College in Oxford and married a fellow of Jesus College, Dr Geoffrey Tyndale Young, in 1950. The couple have three children.

As regards human rights, I do not believe that there is any human right to commit buggery

Baroness Young

She joined Oxford City Council as a Conservative member in 1957 and became its leader 10 years later.

Shortly after entering Downing Street in 1970, Sir Edward Heath offered her a life peerage.

Under Lady Thatcher, she was made leader of the Lords (the only woman ever to enter a Thatcher cabinet) and later joined the boards of National Westminster Bank and Marks and Spencers.

Westminster reputation

At Westminster, she is said to have a "razor sharp mind" and is regarded as a vital backroom fixer for the Conservatives.

Both colleagues and opponents have long regarded her as courteous to the last.

And she appeared to be granted a new lease of political life with the advent of New Labour.

Here was a government that had grown up with the permissive society.

Many members, the prime minister included, saw it as only fit and right that social equality should be extended to the gay community.

But Baroness Young, a sponsor of the right-wing and Christian-aligned pressure group Family and Youth Concern, saw it as a step too far.

'Sending the wrong signals'

Indeed, the gulf between the two camps could be summed up in one comment she made in a recent interview: "I heard someone the other day refer to Britain as a secular society and I was astonished."

It is clearly not wanted by the public at large, many of whom are quite fearful about what is happening to society. Homosexual practices carry great health risks to young people

Baroness Young

Baroness Young says her arguments against lowering the age of consent for gay men are simple.

She says it "sends the wrong signal". It "undermines good parents and puts young people at risk" - comments which draw accusations of homophobia.

Labour's Baroness Mallalieu and Lord Alli, the only openly gay peer, said reform would protect young men from being driven into secrecy and isolation.

During the three attempts to push the legislation through the Lords (the Commons giving it overwhelming backing each time), Baroness Young and her supporters frequently referred to boys in their mid-teens being "vulnerable and lonely", the potential victims of sexually predatory older men.

Campaigners angered

Furious campaigners regarded this as equating homosexuality with paedophilia and representative of a generation that did not want to accept that homosexuality exists.

Baroness Young sought to kill this argument by saying that she regarded homosexuality as a private matter.

Why then, said her opponents, has she frequently told interviewers that if one of her own daughters had been lesbian "I wouldn't stop loving them but would still feel that it was wrong".

Such was the tension outside Parliament on the night that the anti-reform lobby first won the battle, the police provided Baroness Young with an escort.

"I am not against anybody, but I am for young people," she said later that night.

Meeting with mothers

During the second attempt to get the legislation through the Lords in 1999, a delegation of mothers of gay men met Baroness Young to appeal to her as a fellow mother.
Age of Consent (Lords majority against)
July 1998 (168)
April 1999: (76)
Nov 2000: (61)
Parliament Act used November 2000
The delegation came away impressed with Baroness Young's "genuine interest", but the lady was clearly not for turning.

Valerie Riches, the founding president of Family and Youth Concern, told BBC News Online that Baroness Young's supporters saw her as a "courageous woman with high principles".

"She sees the family as too important to be part of normal political debate," said Mrs Riches.

"It's the foundation of society and it can't be seen as a simply conservative issue."

With the age of consent legislation now on the statute book - will Baroness Young be giving up?

"No," says Valerie Riches. "She won't give up easily. She believes in defending children and she knows she has public support."

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