Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK Politics
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Talking Politics 
Mayor News 
Government Guide 
Diary 
A-Z of Parliament 
Political Links 
Despatch Box 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Sport 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Audio/Video 
Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 20:59 GMT
MPs back gay sex at 16

The proposal now goes to the House of Lords


MPs have voted to lower the age of consent for gay men from 18 to 16 - with shadow chancellor Michael Portillo backing the move for the first time.

The legislation was agreed in the Commons by 263 votes to 102.


For me the issue raised in this bill is one of equality, of seeking to create a society which is free from prejudice
Jack Straw
The bill now goes to the House of Lords, where it is likely to face sterner opposition - with the government ready to use special powers to force it through Parliament.

Mr Portillo, who voted against the move in 1994, was under pressure to support lowering the gay age of consent after admitting having had "some homosexual experiences" as a student when he was under the then age of consent of 21.

Opening the debate on Thursday, Home Secretary Jack Straw said cutting the age of consent for gay men to 16 would create a society free from prejudice where people do not live in fear.

The sexual offences (amendment) bill would end the anomaly that heterosexuals and lesbians can consent to sex at 16 while gay men have to wait until 18.

The bill would also reduce the age of consent for gay sex to 17 in Northern Ireland.

Jack Straw: Issue of equality
And it introduces a new offence where someone over 18 - such as a teacher - can be prosecuted for an abuse of trust by having sex with a youngster in their care.

Mr Straw told MPs: "For me the issue raised in this bill is one of equality, of seeking to create a society which is free from prejudice, of one where our relationships with others, including with strangers, are based upon respect and not upon fear."

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe warned the bill was a "dangerous move," sending the wrong signals to teachers, parents and young people.

She said: "It is wrong that a young person of 16 should be free in law to embark on a course of action that might lead to a lifestyle which would separate him, maybe permanently, from the mainstream life of marriage and family."

'Big trouble'

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said his party had campaigned for a lowering of the age of consent since it was formed in 1988.


It is wrong that a young person of 16 should be free in law to embark on a course of action that might lead to a lifestyle which would separate him from the mainstream life of marriage and family
Ann Widdecombe
He said: "You cannot say to gay people that you value them as equals if the law does not treat them as equals. If in the year 2000 we cannot move forward, my friends we are in big trouble indeed."

Mr Portillo's change of heart was welcomed by Peter Tatchell of the gay pressure group Outrage, who said: "Outrage welcomes Michael's vote for equality - we have always wanted him to be a supporter of the gay community rather than an opponent.

'Misery and fear'

"I hope he will now follow up his opposition to a discriminatory age of consent by voting for the repeal of Section 28."

Another Tory also changed his position on the issue. Buckingham MP John Bercow said he was now convinced the current law was a "recipe for confusion, for misery and for fear".

The government is introducing the move after a ruling that the existing law was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The House of Lords has twice rejected the proposal since 1997.

However, even if peers do throw out the plan, Mr Straw is likely to use the Parliament Act to force it into law.

The bill comes hard on the heels of the government's defeat by peers this week over plans to repeal Section 28, which prevents local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE

See also:
07 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Government suffers Section 28 defeat
17 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Gay age of consent bill returns
23 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
Rethink for gay consent age
02 Mar 99 |  UK Politics
Gay consent clears Commons
02 Nov 99 |  UK
Is gay equality any closer?
11 Feb 99 |  UK Politics
Law change on gay sex

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories