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Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK

UK Politics

Peers clash on gay consent

Gay rights campaigners want the age of consent dropped to 16

Conservative peer Baroness Young is leading an attempting to block a government measure to lower the age of consent for homosexuals.

Baroness Young, a former Tory leader of the Lords, said lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16 would "send out the wrong signal" to young people.

Young boys in particular needed protecting from relationships with much older men, she said. Teenagers were often ambivalent or confused about their sexuality.

[ image: Lady Young: Young men are often
Lady Young: Young men are often "ambivalent" about their sexuality
Lady Young told the House of Lords: "Good parents do not want their sons to be encouraged to take up homosexual relationships at such an early age."

She added a change in the law would encourage homosexual behaviour.

"We wouldn't pass laws if we didn't think they were going to influence behaviour."

The Lords blocked a similar proposal last July.

'Equality before the criminal law'

Explaining her calls to defy the will of the House of Commons for a second time and to block the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, Lady Young said the measure had not been included in Labour's manifesto.

It was therefore not covered by the Salisbury convention under which peers defer to the will of the Commons.

Introducing the bill for the government, Home Office minister Lord Williams said: "My belief is that we should, as a matter of duty, ensure equality before the criminal law for young homosexuals and heterosexuals.

"We believe this is a fundamental principal of equality, the bill would bring that about and that is why I personally support it.

He added: "I know others do not take that view and I respect that."

[ image: Lord Annan: British boys do not need special protection]
Lord Annan: British boys do not need special protection
Crossbench peer Lord Annan urged support for the bill which he believed would strike a blow against homophobia.

Comparing legislation in the UK to Europe, he said British boys were not "sissy" or inferior to their European counterparts and did not need special protection under the law as a result.

He compared those who disagreed to "that nasty thug, the Liverpool striker Robert Fowler, who taunted, on the football field, an opponent about being homosexual when he was a married man with children simply because he didn't share the footballers' culture of snooker and the pub".

OutRage! hold vigil

Pressure from outside Parliament to allow the bill through has been mounting.

The gay rights group OutRage! is planning a candle-lit vigil outside Parliament to coincide with the Lords vote on the bill and adverts backing the bill have appeared in national newspapers.

Speaking for the bill Labour peer Lady Young of Old Scone said the current legal position put the UK in violation of the Human Rights Convention.

And in a joint statement health organisations - including the National Aids Trust, the Family Planning Association, Brook Advisory Centres, the Sex Education Forum and the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health - said the present legal position was unfair and unhealthy.

If Lady Young succeeds in killing the bill the government will re-introduce it during the next parliamentary session and may use the Parliament Act to force it through.

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