'Back to basics' invoked in gay discrimination fight: MPs urged to resist constituency pressures. Patricia Wynn Davies

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The Independent Online
THE TORY leading the campaign to equalise the age of consent at 16 yesterday invoked the 'back to basics' furore to urge fellow MPs to end the discrimination against homosexuals.

Edwina Currie, the former minister and MP for Derbyshire South, said she hoped that 'back to basics' could also be taken to mean 'personal responsibility, acceptance of responsibility, talking straight and talking honestly about what we believe in'.

Mrs Currie's clear message to MPs was that they should not be diverted by constituency pressure that ignored blatant discrimination in the current law, which outlaws homosexual sex for under-21s.

'I believe we should not discriminate against young men when it comes to their personal relationships,' she said in an ITN interview.

Meanwhile, it emerged that almost half of the 25 'gayest' constituencies outside London and the immediate South-east identified by Stonewall, the moderate campaigning group, are represented by Tory MPs, some of them ministers.

Stonewall compiled the list after ranking the 'commitment' levels (from passive support for change to willingness to write to MPs or attend surgeries) of a 10,000-strong computer database of gay and lesbian supporters.

Seats where the gay vote is likely to count most include those of William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister in charge of the Citizen's Charter, Sir Derek Spencer, the solicitor- general, Tim Sainsbury, a minister for trade, and Brian Mawhinney, the health minister. Also included are those of Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the 1922 backbench committee of Tory MPs, and Dame Jill Knight, one of its vice-chairmen.

The amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, tabled by Mrs Currie, is also sponsored by Robert Maclennan, Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs, Harold Elletson, Conservative MP for Blackpool North, Jerry Hayes, Tory MP for Harlow, Neil Kinnock, former Labour party leader, and Mo Mowlam, Labour's heritage spokeswoman.

MPs will be allowed a free vote during the Bill's Committee Stage, along with one on hanging, which is traditionally put before each Parliament. Mrs Currie told a Westminster news conference yesterday that the burden was on MPs who wanted to retain the discrimination over age of consent to explain why.

Mr Maclennan said: 'Family values are not strengthened by treating the younger members of the family as potential criminals because of their sexuality.'

Chris Smith, a Labour environment spokesman, the only serving MP to have openly acknowledged his homosexuality, said that the discrimination created first and second class citizens before the law.

Britain's 'gayest' parliamentary constituencies outside London and the South-east are:

Cambridge (L), Brighton Kemptown (C), Bristol West (C), Brighton Pavilion (C), Hove (C), Manchester Withington (L), Edinburgh Central (L), Shipley (C), Birmingham Selly Oak (L), Manchester Gorton (L), Southampton Test (C), Sheffield Central (L), York (L), Birmingham Edgbaston (C), Exeter (C), Ceredigion & Pembroke North (PC), Swindon (C), Glasgow Hillhead (L), Bath (LD), Cardiff West (L), Leeds North West (C), Falmouth & Camborne (C), Peterborough (C), Plymouth Devonport (L), Aberdeen South (C).

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