Tories in Turmoil: Close vote likely on age of consent: Justice Bill: Heather Mills reports on a sample of MPs' opinions

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The Independent Online
AN ALL-PARTY amendment being tabled tonight to legalise homosexual sex for males of 16 and above is likely to set up a close vote in the Commons on the issue next week, a survey of MPs shows.

Access Opinions has found that 48 per cent of Conservatives (equivalent to 160 MPs) and 21 per cent of Labour (57 MPs), believed the homosexual age of consent should stay at 21.

Only 8 per cent of Conservative MPs (27) believed the age should be lowered to 16, with 27 per cent (90) favouring a reduction to 18. Among Labour MPs, 40 per cent (108) favoured 16, and 21 per cent (57) opted for 18. Undecided MPs number about 78.

MPs seeking to amend the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill tonight, to lower homosexual consent to 16, include the former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, Edwina Currie, Conservative MP for Derbyshire South, and Robert MacLennan, Home Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.

Mr MacLennan said yesterday that the age of consent amendment was designed to protect young men. 'The criminal law harms young gay men. They are at greatest risk from exploitation and abuse by older men if their relationships are criminal and they are precluded from seeking advice on Aids prevention,' he said.

But ministers will avoid committing themselves until MPs have exercised a free vote over the issue, expected early next week. By then other amendments are expected to propose a compromise option legalising homosexual sex at 18, which most Westminster observers believe has a better chance of being passed.

That would satisfy neither side of the debate. It will still be regarded as discriminatory by the homosexual lobby, and any lowering of the age of consent will upset those bitterly opposed to any change in legislation.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists last night gave its support to the amendment, saying that there were 'no developmental reasons' for not reducing the age for homosexual consent to 16.