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Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK

UK Politics

Gay age re-think urged

Gay rights' supporters say the Lords vote will be overturned

The government is considering forcing through its plans to lower the age of consent for gay men after they were defeated in the House of Lords.

Christine Stewart: "The Lords have only delayed matters"
Peers passed an amendment proposed by Baroness Young by 222 votes to 146, effectively killing the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.

Home Office Minister of State Lord Williams of Mostyn has said the government would now consider invoking the Parliament Act to over-ride the Lords.

This would force through the change in the law to equalise the age of consent for male homosexuals with that for heterosexuals.

[ image:  ]
But Lady Young on Wednesday urged the government to reflect before it made the change law.

"All opinion polls show that the public overwhelmingly oppose reducing the age of homosexual consent to 16," she said.

"In the light of the very low level of support from Labour peers, the strong public opposition, I very much hope that the prime minister will think again before resorting to constitutional reserve powers and invoking the Parliament Act."

The government previously used the Parliament Act - then used only twice since World War II - when it was defeated by the Lords over its plans to change the system of elections to the European Parliament.

The government is under a legal obligation to lower the age of consent following a case brought to the European Court of Human Rights.

The proposals would lower the age of consent for homosexual men to 16 in England, Scotland and Wales and 17 in Northern Ireland.

The vote was immediately condemned by gay rights' groups, but they hope this will be the last time that peers can block the legislation.

Chris Morris of the pressure group Outrage! told the BBC: "I'm not surprised, but disappointed.

Chris Morris: "The law is not protecting young people, it is punishing them"
"It's been an amazing debate because so many people stood up to talk about protecting young people.

"But at the end of the night they have gone away and kept a law which in many cases criminalises young people, and in some cases puts them in prison."

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

'Protection from older men'

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

[ image: Chris Morris: 'Vote was not a surprise']
Chris Morris: 'Vote was not a surprise'
Lady Young told peers: "Good parents do not want their sons to be encouraged to take up homosexual relationships at such an early age."

It was the second time a government move to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16 has been defeated in the House of Lords. The legislation had earlier been backed in the House of Commons.

During the debate, Labour's Lord Alli, at 34 the youngest life peer, said he was gay - and that had been the situation when he was 16.

Equal before the law

The millionaire managing director of television company Planet 24 called on peers to back the bill.

[ image:  ]
"I would like you to speak out for me and millions like me, not because you agree or disagree, not because you approve or disapprove, but because if you don't protect me in this House, you protect no one."

Speaking for the first time on the issue in the Lords, he said equality before the law sometimes meant supporting things that "we don't personally believe in."

The gay rights' group, Stonewall, said Baroness Young's majority on this occasion had been slashed from 168 to just 76.

But Angela Mason, executive director of Stonewall, said it was a very sad night for those who believe in equality.

"It is quite clear that the Lords are completely out of touch with modern Britain."

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Relevant Stories

13 Apr 99 | UK Politics
Peers clash on gay consent

12 Apr 99 | UK Politics
Peers prepare for gay consent clash

01 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Gay consent clears Commons

10 Feb 99 | UK Politics
Law change on gay sex

Internet Links

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill


Stonewall's Age of Consent Web site

Liberal Democrats for Lesbian and Gay Action

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