Tory Conference: The new tolerance fails to extend to consent for gays

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John Redwood yesterday said he would vote for the age of consent for gays to be increased to 21. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, finds that the Tory party supports William Hague's revolution on family values, but only up to a point.

Some Tory traditionalists were ready to accept the need for tolerance towards gays, single parents, and the changing British family. But tolerance did not extend to reducing the age of consent for gays from 18 to 16.

"I believe in the institution of marriage," said Stanley Rendall, a grandfather and chairman of the Norwich North association. "However we would rather not have had all the changes we have had, we have to be tolerant. We must accept there is a lot of change in the world." The change should not extend to legalising gay sex at 16, he said.

Carrying a Union flag and a St George's flag, Brenda Collins, 62, returned to South Holland and the Deepings in Lincolnshire uplifted by William Hague's speech. Like many traditional Tory activists, she said the trend away from married life was "unfortunately a sign of the times".

She added: "I'm not against gay people. In fact, some of them are really nice but they should never have children." She was also opposed to reducing the age of consent to 16. "No way - and I don't like paedophiles. They should lock them up and throw away the key."

John Redwood, the leading right-wing voice in Mr Hague's Shadow Cabinet, was relieved that the passage in the leader's speech on the family was not as liberal as had been billed in some newspapers. He said Mr Hague had reinforced support for the family, not undermined it by support for gay relationships. "If they are not breaking the law, that's fine by me," he said about gays. "I would go for the higher age of consent. I voted for 21 and I would do that again, but that is a free vote matter. I don't go round campaigning on it."

Iain Duncan-Smith, social security spokesman, said the family had to be supported through tax and benefits. "I am simply saying we believe in the traditional family," he said.

Shadow Home Secretary, Sir Brian Mawhinney reflected the mood of many traditionalists when he said the Tories had to accept that the traditional family was changing, through divorce and life-style. "I thought his [Hague's] explanation was exactly right. We have spent so much time defending the concept of Conservative values that impressions were created that didn't accurately reflect the Conservative Party ... we created the impression that if you weren't in a traditional nuclear family, we weren't interested in you. I don't think that was ever true."