It also emerged that at least one middle-of-the-road Cabinet minister is minded to vote for equalising the law for gays and heterosexuals rather than for a compromise of 18, favoured by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and John Major.
Up to three more Cabinet members might well back reducing the age to 16. Ministers are also coming to realise that a vote for the 18 compromise would only postpone a final resolution of the issue.
Tory MPs signing yesterday's declaration, published as a full-page advertisement in The House Magazine, the MPs' and peers' journal, include Tristan Garel-Jones, the former Foreign Office minister; Bernard Jenkin, MP for Colchester North and member of the right-wing 92 Group; and Gary Waller, MP for Keighley.
The letter, drawn up by Stonewall, the moderate gay rights group, has been signed by Rabbi Lionel Blue, Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Rabbi Julia Neuberger and the Bishops of Edinburgh and Monmouth. Signatories from the arts include Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Joanna Lumley, Dame Maggie Smith, Sting, Dame Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lord Attenborough, Bryan Ferry, Jane Asher and the writers Margaret Drabble, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Iris Murdoch, Melvyn Bragg and Beryl Bainbridge.
Trade unionists include John Monks, Bill Morris, Alan Jinkinson, Tony Dubbins, John Edmonds, Campbell Christie and Roger Lyons. Sir Terence Conran, Richard Branson and David Sainsbury also signed.Reuse content