The Queen's Speech: Lords to fight lowering gay age of consent

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The Independent Online
PLANS TO lower the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16 were welcomed by gay rights groups but are expected to lead to a clash with the House Lords.

An attempt to introduce the measure was thrown out by the Lords in April. This time the Government said it was prepared to use the Parliament Act, which allows it to reintroduce a Bill that has been blocked, to get it past the upper chamber.

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill will bring the age of homosexual consent into line with heterosexuals and head off a potentially politically embarrassing test case due to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Bill will also make it a criminal offence for people in positions of trust, such as teachers or care workers, to have sex with a child in their care and under the age of 18. And it will change the law so that under-age children who engage in homosexual acts with someone above the age of consent will no longer be committing a criminal act.

Another measure welcomed by gay rights campaigners is the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which bans councils from promoting homosexuality. Section 28, a law still emotively associated with Margaret Thatcher, will be scrapped in the Local Government Act.

Section 28 stopped libraries from stocking books promoting homosexual issues and banned teachers from portraying homosexuality as a "pretended family relationship".

Angela Mason, executive director of Stonewall, hailed both Bills and said Labour was "finally delivering on its promise. An unequal age of consent denied young gay men access to advice and information they need at a very vulnerable time of their life. It can never be argued that making them criminals protects them."

However, OutRage! the gay rights protest group led by Peter Tatchell, said scrapping Section 28 was "inadequate", as it would still not guarantee teachers "will challenge anti-gay prejudices." He said the Bill must be amended to place a legal duty on councils to combat "homophobic bullying" and provide factual information about homosexual issues.

Teachers' unions criticised plans to make it an offence for teachers having sexual relations with pupils aged 16 and 17.

Robert Verkaik

Legal Affairs