Letter: Gay consent at 16 a civil right

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was primarily responsible for the Act of Parliament making homosexual acts, committed in private, between consenting male adults, no longer a crime.

In December 1965, I was second in the draw for Private Members' Bills and I decided to introduce the Sexual Offences Bill. The second reading took place on 11 February 1966 and the Bill received a majority of 167 to 104. I had previously been to see Roy Jenkins, at that time the Home Secretary, and he told me that if I obtained a majority on the second reading the Bill would be given government time. This is essential if a Private Member's Bill is to become an Act of Parliament. Only 42 Conservatives voted in favour of the Bill.

I and my co-sponsors wished to reduce the age of consent from 21 to 18 but it became clear that we would not get a majority if we were to do so. Therefore, the age of consent was set at 21 in line with the recommendations in the 1957 Wolfenden Report.

I was Conservative Member for Lancaster and lost my seat when Harold Wilson called a general election at the end of March. The swing against me was twice that against other Conservatives.

Because Roy Jenkins undertook to give government time the Bill was picked up by Leo Abse under the 10-minute rule procedure and it became law in 1967.

I support those Members of Parliament who wish to lower the age of consent for homosexuals from 21 to 16.

Yours faithfully

HUMPHRY BERKELEY

London, W4

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