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Friday, July 24, 1998 Published at 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK

UK Politics

Gay vote 'will not stop Crime Bill'

Gay rights campaigners have pledged to fight on

The government has said that nothing will stop the Crime and Disorder Bill becoming law by the summer - whether or not the lowering of the homsexual age of consent is included.

Peers vote to overturn the proposed legislation on the age of consent
On Wednesday evening, peers voted against a Commons decision to reduce the age limit from 18 to 16. The issue is included as an amendment to the Bill, a flagship programme of youth justice reforms.

On Thursday morning, the prime minister's official spokesman said the government had not yet decided whether to drop the clause from the Bill or whether to try to force it through.

In the recent row between Commons and Lords over Scottish university tuition fees a compromise was eventually reached, and the spokesman said that a judgment would have to be made soon as to whether a similar deal could be reached.

'Absolute priority'

He said that ministers had met to discuss tactics, but no decision needed to be taken until the Bill returned to the Commons next Tuesday.

But the spokesman emphasised: "Our absolute priority is that we will do nothing to endanger Royal Assent for the Crime and Disorder Bill by next Friday. We will not allow the Lords to prevent (that), whatever happens."

He added, however, that if the gay consent clause was dropped, then MPs would have another chance to bring it back in another Bill.

Straw hints at delay

Earlier, Home Secretary Jack Straw hinted that moves to lower the age could be delayed following the Lords vote.

Jack Straw says he does not want to lose the Crime and Disorder Bill
He said that he might put back the move by up to a year to ensure the passage of the Crime and Disorder Bill.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We don't want to lose the Crime and Disorder Bill."

[ image:  ]
BBC correspondent John Pienaar believes another option may be to try to get past the Lords one more time, hoping that many opposing Lords will back down having made their stand.

The home secretary said the action going on now before the European Court of Human Rights, sponsored by gay rights campaign group Stonewall, had pushed forward the debate.

'Bring it back next year'

Baroness Young, who proposed the amendment which blocked the reduction, insisted the measure should be brought forward in its own Bill in the next session of Parliament.

"The House of Lords has a constitutional right to ask the Commons to think again," she told BBC TV's Westminster Live.

"The proper way to proceed is to take the whole thing back and for the government to introduce its own Bill in the next session of Parliament."

She said her opposition to the move had the backing of the public: "The overwhelming majority of the population of Great Britain does not want gay sex at 16."

Arguments in favour 'have won'

She was opposed by Ann Keen, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, who introduced the amendment in the Commons, who accused the Lords of "playing for time".

Ms Keen said she was holding talks with Jack Straw to decide tactics and that: "At the end of the day we have won the equal age of consent and last night's vote in the Lords was totally irrelevant."

"The moral argument has been won, the legal argument has been won, the human rights argument has without question been won. The Lords are just playing for time until they see themselves out."

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23 Jul 98 | UK Politics
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