Gay Age of Consent: Currie needed just 14 Labour supporters: 'Noes' from opposition parties that were natural supporters of equality amendment are focus of recriminations

IT WOULD have taken just 14 more Labour MPs supporting 16 as the age of homosexual consent for Edwina Currie's amendment to have won the day on Monday. Instead, the provision, which 42 Tories supported, was defeated by 27 votes.

Ire has since rained down on Labour MPs from within the Parliamentary party and elsewhere. It was the opposition parties, not the Tories, who were the age 16 lobby's natural supporters.

While many Tories who backed 18 were content to follow the lead of John Major and Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, some Labour MPs were staggered that frontbench Labour spokespeople on the key areas of health and education - David Blunkett and Ann Taylor - did likewise.

Mr Blunkett, the MP for Sheffield Brightside, said in his defence: 'I felt that the amendment as put didn't take account of the very different circumstances that exist in homosexual relationships, circumstances which are taken into account in France, Spain and Denmark.'

Those three countries were used by advocates of equality at 16, but they had sub-clauses dealing with residential schools and children's homes, and circumstances in which heterosexual activity would not be permitted, he said.

Mr Blunkett said he had voted as an individual 'with my own conscience and the knowledge that I am in fact going further at 18 than many of my constituents would wish me to go'.

But the recriminations, spelled out forcefully by the modernising Labour Co-ordinating Committee yesterday, could rumble on for some time. The shrewd Mr Blunkett might conceivably even have to consider his position, as critics have termed it, in the run- up to the elections for the National Executive Committee constituency section, which is due to lose one seat this year.

Some MPs went to the opposite extreme, voting against 18 because of their strong commitment to 16. These include Labour MPs John Heppell (Nottingham East), Keith Hill (Streatham), Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate), Ian McCartney (Makerfield), Michael Watson (Glasgow Central) and the Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey, MP for Devon North.

Constituency pressure undoubtedly played a prominent part in the decision of the 37 Labour members not to vote with most of their colleagues. Calum MacDonald, an instinctive liberal, represents the Western Isles. 'Constituency opinion was a primary factor,' he said. Contrary to some reports, however, opposition 'refuseniks' were not heavily represented in traditionally religious areas such as Scotland and Wales.

With the lion's share of Labour noes recorded among north of England MPs, there were signs of an English north- south divide. Derek Foster, Labour's chief whip, his deputy, Don Dixon, the left- winger Bob Cryer, Dale Campbell-Savours and all but two of the rest represent north of England seats. But given the great swath of northern MPs who did support 16, that analysis begins to break down.

Richard Caborn, the MP for Sheffield Central, who voted for 16, suggests an additional motivation for individual cases. 'It's all right for you, Dick,' some colleagues told him, 'your children are in their twenties.'

Other oddities revealed by Monday night's votes include a distinct under-representation of what might be termed the 'libertarian' wing of the Tory party among supporters of 16. Hanging, meanwhile, was characterised not only by its comprehensive rejection but also by the right-wing Peter Lilley joining the noes and the absence from the lobbies of Michael Portillo.

Leading article, page 15

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk