The Queen's Speech: Age of Consent - Teacher-pupil affairs illegal

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS, FOSTER parents and social workers who have sex with young people in their care will be guilty of a criminal offence under a new Bill to cut the gay age of consent.

The move to protect minors from those in a position of trust over them will apply to men and women regardless of sexual orientation. However, it will also be used by the Government to ease the fears of some MPs and peers that reducing the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16 will leave teenagers vulnerable to exploitation.

The Age of Consent and Abuse of Trust Bill will provide a criminal offence limited to areas where youngsters are considered most at risk, such as residential care homes and schools. It will criminalise only the older partner, but will effectively outlaw teacher-pupil love affairs as part of a wider aim to protect the young from adults who abuse positions of power.

The Bill, which will be subject to a free vote in the next session of Parliament, was welcomed yesterday by gay rights campaigners as the final stage in their battle for legal equality, but some activists warned that the House of Lords may still try to scupper its progress.

The Bill is likely to be introduced as soon as possible to allow the Government to meet its commitment under the European Court of Human Rights to cut the age for gay sex.

Peter Tatchell, of the gay activists group OutRage, said: "We have grave concerns that the peers will continue to try to water down and block this Bill even though it has overwhelming support and agreement."

He added that "there should be no attempt to criminalise consenting sexual behaviour to which both parties have freely agreed".

The gay rights group Stonewall was worried about the anti-abuse law, saying it must apply to both sexes equally.

The Bill will equalise the age of consent at 16 in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the age limit will be 17.

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly this summer to equalise the gay and heterosexual age of consent, but the House of Lords rejected the plan. Many peers,and some MPs said it would leave youngsters at the mercy of "predatory" homosexuals.

Teachers' unions have already condemned the "abuse of trust" proposals as "repressive" and claim that a teacher who has a love affair with a sixth former could end up in jail.