No holds barred over vote on gay sex

ANXIETY, dismay and old-fashioned fury - but also some strong reformist nerves - are evident among Tory MPs.

Their comments offer a dress rehearsal of the arguments that will be heard in the Commons debate a week tomorrow, and suggest that no holds will be barred. David Evans, the outspoken MP for Welwyn Hatfield, will vote for the age of consent to remain at 21. 'I'm old-fashioned. I'd rather it was 90,' he confessed.

Characteristic of the old guard, John Townend (Bridlington), chairman of the Tory back-bench Finance Committee, harrumphed: 'I'm going with the status quo. If the law were changed, it would send out the wrong signals.

'If we changed the age of consent it would put young people at risk from predatory old men.' He had made up his mind 'before the death of Stephen Milligan'.

Others take a more pragmatic line. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) wants the age of consent to remain unchanged but will vote for consent at 18 'to stop consent at 16 going through'. He added: 'The issue of equality with heterosexual sex is not relevant, as one is natural and the other is not.'

Conservative MPs planning to vote for lowering the age of consent were less free with their observations. One with a northern industrial constituency intending to vote for reform said: 'I'm voting for 16 because I can't see any reason for not having equality for both heterosexuals and homosexuals and recent events haven't affected my opinion.' Another, in a largely rural Midlands constituency, added: 'It's a basic civil right.'

On the centre-left of the party, Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster), offered: 'I suspect that I'll go for 18, but there's a possibility that it might be 16. I have received some extremely good letters from homosexuals which I'm going to consider further, but I will vote with my conscience.'

Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading East), one of the few medical doctors in the House, insists there is 'no way' he will support 16. 'Maturation is not until later. At that age people can be very confused. This applies to heterosexual marriage as well.

'I don't accept homosexuality as a normal kind of behaviour which should be normalised, which is what bringing the age of consent down to 16 would do.'

Most backbenchers have already made up their minds, but the militant abstentionist party may have a good night.

Research by: Allister Harry, Rachel Ward, Christine Smith, Jeremy Monblat, Yvette Sitten, Vicki Graham and Sian Evans.

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