MPs take a moral stand on gay sex

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The Independent Online
PLANS TO lower the age of homosexual consent to 16 would be unnatural and promote gay sex, Conservative MPs argued last night.

As MPs passed the amendment - which forms part of the Crime and Disorder Bill - by a 207 majority, Christians on both sides of the House attacked the proposal.

Patrick Cormack (Con, Staffordshire South) said his religion held that homosexual practices were not normal or equal. "I believe that many of those who are seeking to protect homosexuals are actually doing more than that, they are seeking to promote homosexuality," he said.

Stuart Bell (Lab, Middlesbrough), the Parliamentary representative of the Church Commissioners, restated the view of the bishops that the change was morally wrong. "It is my personal view ... that soon we shall be asked to vote for a reduction to 14. There has to be a line in the moral sand," he said.

Ann Keen (Lab, Brentford and Isleworth) proposed the motion. She said the House had an opportunity to end discrimination. "We can take from the past those values of respect for others which are most enduring and translate them to the modern world, or we can simply cling to those old prejudices which have been most damaging, which have forced generations of lesbian and gay men to live as second class citizens," she said.

Joe Ashton (Lab, Bassetlaw) moved an amendment calling for criminal charges against adults who have sex with 16- or 17-year-olds in their care or charge. He said government suggestions that employment law could be changed to protect these young people would not cover foster parents or stepfathers.

"My amendments are not anti-gay. They are not against equalising the age of consent. They are to protect children," he said.

Eleanor Laing (Con, Epping Forest) sponsored the motion. "It is nonsense to say that there cannot be equality between 16-year-old boys and 16-year- old girls. Young people need protection, but young people are not protected by being made into criminals," she said.

Gerald Kaufman (Lab, Manchester Gorton) said the move was belated, reluctant, and long overdue. Young men were preyed upon now, they had been preyed upon when the age of consent was 21 and they had been preyed upon when homosexuality was illegal. "It is not as if some terrible door is being opened through which all kinds of horrors will rush."

Richard Allan said the Liberal Democrats came down clearly in favour of equalising the age of consent. "I can remember being that age not so long ago and I can honestly say I did not frequently consult lawyers before exploring my own sexuality," he said.

How MPs Voted on Age of Consent

Labour MPs opposing lowering the homosexual age of consent to 16:

Donald Anderson (Swansea E); Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough); Gerald Bermingham (St Helens S); Jamie Cann (Ipswich); Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow); Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich); George Mudie (Leeds E); Bill O'Brien (Normanton); Sir Ray Powell (Ogmore); Allan Rogers (Rhondda); Ted Rowlands (Merthr Tydfil); Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale); Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby).

Tories supporting :

Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness); Tim Boswell (Daventry); Peter Bottomley (Worthing W); Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale W); Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster); David Curry (Skipton and Ripon); Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton); Michael Fabricant (Lichfield); Sir Alastair Goodlad (Eddisbury); Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup); Robert Jackson (Wantage); Robert Key (Salisbury); Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham); Andrew MacKay (Bracknell); David Prior (Norfolk N); Andrew Rowe (Kent Mid and Faversham); Shaun Woodward (Witney); Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) sponsored the motion and did not vote because she was a teller.

Cabinet ministers who did not vote:

Margaret Beckett; David Blunkett; Gordon Brown; David Clark; Robin Cook; Jack Cunningham; Donald Dewar; Frank Dobson; Mo Mowlam; John Morris; Ann Taylor.

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