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Monday, March 1, 1999 Published at 22:06 GMT

UK Politics

Gay consent clears Commons

Peers are now expected to oppose the Bill in the Lords

The bill lowering the homosexual age of consent to 16 has cleared the House of Commons.

MPs voted on Monday to give the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill a third reading by 281 votes to 82, a government majority of 199.

The bill equalises the gay age of consent with that for heterosexuals. MPs were allowed a free vote on the issue.

The measure now goes before the House of Lords, where peers are expected to attempt to repeat their blocking of a similar measure last year.

Peers rejected equalising the age of consent by a majority of 168.

[ image: Paul Boateng: The new clause will help protect young boys and girls from predatory elders]
Paul Boateng: The new clause will help protect young boys and girls from predatory elders
In an attempt to forestall a repeat performance this time round ministers have included a new offence of "abuse of trust" to protect vulnerable children from falling prey to older people in children's homes or at school.

During Monday's debate a government amendment to ensure that children under 16 who have homosexual sex with adults over the age of consent should no longer face prosecution was backed by 274 votes to 64, a majority of 210.

Home Office minister Paul Boateng said the move would protect children, particularly boys, from predatory older people.

Mr Boateng said the bill was about "equality before the law, respect for vulnerability and trust".

He warned the Lords not to try to overturn the bill but to listen to the "democratically expressed" wish of the Commons.

'Chattering classes' pressure

During the debate Tory Teresa Gorman accused Labour of giving in to pressure to reduce the age of consent for male homosexuals by influential gays within the media and the "chattering classes".

[ image: James Clappison: Eighteen is
James Clappison: Eighteen is "far too young" a gay age of consent
"I believe that, to some extent, the government has played up to that very powerful and influential group within our society," she told the Commons.

But Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Alan Beith backed the bill, describing the current law as "an indefensible anomaly".

He said: "The fact that the bill deals in a non-discriminatory way with these things is right."

Tory former Cabinet minister Douglas Hogg said he did not want to "persecute" homosexuals, but added that he did not believe their way of life was "a wholly satisfactory existence".

He said: "I am very reluctant to see this House to do anything which might encourage to adopt a homosexual way of life which they would not otherwise have done."

Equality necessary 'for health'

Liberal Democrat Evan Harris said equalising the age of consent was necessary to improve sexual health among young homosexuals.

Dr Harris, a former hospital doctor, warned: "Where you criminalise and activity and drive it underground, you are not able to give the information that people are entitled to.

"The same thing applied in the Victorian era in terms of backstreet abortions and backstreet pregnancies. What is needed is more education."

Tory Desmond Swayne argued that the bill "will serve to entrap a small number of young men in a lifestyle that is gross and unnatural, and who might otherwise have led a life that was not blighted in that way".

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