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Sir Norman Fowler: In view of the undertaking and assurances that the Home Secretary has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New clause 1

Reduction in age at which certain sexual acts are lawful


'.--(1) In subsections (1A) and (1C) of section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (buggery), for the word "eighteen" there shall be substituted the word "sixteen".
(2) In subsections (1) and (6) of section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 (amendment of law relating to homosexual acts in private), for the word "eighteen" there shall be substituted the word "sixteen".
(3) In section 13 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (homosexual offences)--
(a) in subsections (1) and (5)(c), for the word "eighteen"; and
(b) in subsection (8), for the word "18", there shall be substituted the word "sixteen".
(4) In paragraphs (1) and (5) of Article 3 of the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (homosexual acts in private), for the word "18" there shall be substituted the word "17".'.--[Ann Keen.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

7 pm

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Amendment (a) to the proposed clause, in line 2, after 'sixteen', insert


'(except when one party is in a position of authority, influence or trust in relation to the other, in which case both parties must have attained the age of eighteen).'.

Amendment (h) to the proposed clause, in line 2, after 'sixteen' insert


'(except when one party is over the age of twenty-one years, in which case the other party must have attained the age of eighteen).'.

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Amendment (b) to the proposed clause, in line 3, leave out 'and (6)'.

Amendment (c) to the proposed clause, in line 4, leave out 'word "eighteen"' and insert 'words "eighteen years"'.

Amendment (d) to the proposed clause, in line 5, leave out 'word "sixteen"' and insert


'words "sixteen years (except when one party is in a position of authority, influence or trust in relation to the other, in which case both parties must have attained the age of eighteen years)".'.

Amendment (i) to the proposed clause, in line 5, leave out 'word "sixteen"' and insert


'words "sixteen years (except when one party is over the age of twenty-one years, in which case the other party must have attained the age of eighteen years)".'.

Amendment (e) to the proposed clause, in line 5, at end insert--


'(2A) In subsection (6) of that section, for the word "eighteen" there shall be substituted "sixteen, or as the case may be, eighteen".'.

Amendment (f) to the proposed clause, in line 10, at end insert--


'(3A) In that section, after subsection (8) there shall be inserted--
"(8A) Where one of the parties to a homosexual act is in a position of authority, influence or trust in relation to the other, subsections (1), (5) and (8) shall have effect as if "eighteen" were substituted for "sixteen".'.

Amendment (j) to the proposed clause, in line 10, at end insert--


'(3A) In that section, after subsection (8) there shall be inserted--
"(8A) Where one of the parties to a homosexual act is over the age of twenty-one, subsections (1), (5) and (8) shall have effect as if 'eighteen' were substituted for 'sixteen'.".'.

Amendment (g) to the proposed clause, in line 13, at end insert--


'(4A) In that Article, after paragraph (5) there shall be inserted--
"(5A) Where one of the parties to a homosexual act is in a position of authority, influence or trust in relation to the other, paragraphs (1) and (5) shall have effect as if '18' were substituted for '17'.".'.

Amendment (k) to the proposed clause, in line 13, at end insert--


'(4A) In that Article, after paragraph (5) there shall be inserted--
"(5A) Where one of the parties to a homosexual act is over the age of 21, paragraphs (1) and (5) shall have effect as if '18' were substituted for '17'.".'.

New clause 4--Circumstances in which certain sexual acts are lawful--


'.--(1) In subsections (1B) of section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (buggery), the words "(a) when more than two persons take part or are present; or (b)" shall cease to have effect.
(2) In subsection (1) of section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 (amendment of law relating to homosexual acts in private), the words "(a) when more than two persons take part or are present; or (b)" shall cease to have effect.
(3) In subsection (2) of section 13 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (homosexual offences), the words "(a) when more than two persons take part or are present; or (b)" shall cease to have effect.
(4) In paragraph (2) of Article 3 of the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (homosexual acts in private), the words "(a) when more than two persons take part or are present; or (b)" shall cease to have effect.'.

New clause 8--Abuse of position of trust--


'(1) It shall be an offence for a person to whom this section applies to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 18 years.

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(2) This section applies to a person in a position of authority, influence or trust in relation to the girl with whom he has sexual intercourse.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for not more than two years.'.

Government amendment No. 1.

Amendment No. 6, in clause 119, page 95, line 14, at end insert--


'( ) section (circumstances in which certain sexual acts are lawful)(3);'.

Amendment No. 61, in page 95, line 21, at end insert--


'( ) section (Abuse of position of trust)'.

Government amendments Nos. 2 and 3.

Amendment No. 7, in page 95, line 31, after 'Sections', insert


'(circumstances in which certain sexual acts are lawful)(4),'.

Amendment No. 62, in page 95, line 31, after 'Sections', insert


'(Abuse of position of trust)'.

Government amendment No. 4.

Amendment No. 8, in schedule 8, page 157, line 21, at end insert--


'113. In section 1 of the Sex Offenders Act 1997, there shall be inserted the following subsection--
"(4A) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, a person subject to the notification requirements of this Part by reason of an offence which ceases to be an offence after the commencement of sections (Reduction in age at which certain sexual acts are lawful) and (circumstances in which certain acts are lawful) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 shall no longer be subject to those notification requirements after the commencement of those sections.".'.

Government amendment No. 5.

Amendment No. 9, in title, line 5, after 'trial;' insert


'to bring the criminal law affecting homosexual acts more in line with the criminal law affecting heterosexual acts;'.

Ann Keen: This debate is about equality. The purpose of new clause 1 is to make the age of consent equal for everyone. It is an all-party clause, which will be decided, as I believe it should be, on a free vote.

It is fundamental in any democracy that the rights and responsibilities of all citizens are protected equally under the law. The question is whether that principle of equality should extend to gay men. We are one of the last nations in the European Union yet to legislate for equality on the age of consent. Just over a week ago, the Finnish Parliament passed a similar law, on a unanimous vote, without one speaker opposing it. A spokesperson for the Parliament said:


Many of us taking part in this debate and the campaign as a whole regard the case for equality as so obvious that a full debate is needless, but I know that there is some opposition in the House. Not only do we have a tradition of full debate in the House, but I believe that it is important to have the arguments for new clause 1 recorded.

The debate is definitely not about whether 16 or 18 is the right or wrong age for sexual activity to commence; it is about the abolition of discrimination, upholding the rights of individuals and supporting a community in

22 Jun 1998 : Column 757

which responsible people seek to behave within the law, a community that feels the right to challenge archaic laws. Our legal structure discriminates against a part of our society. It has asked the House to reconsider an aspect of the law that perpetuates that inequality. I am confident that by objectively considering the facts before us on its behalf, we can uphold its request and amend our position to reflect today's values.

When the age of consent was last debated in 1994, I listened from the Strangers Gallery. I heard the impressive contributions of the main proposers of the amendment: Edwina Currie, Neil Kinnock and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). I heard the dire protections of the opponents of equality and I heard our Prime Minister make his memorable speech. I heard the dire predictions of the opponents of equality, that any change in the law would lead to innocent young men being recruited into homosexuality. Of course, that has not happened--the sky has not fallen in--but in 1994 there was a fudge. The age of consent for gay men was reduced from 21 to 18, and the inequality remained. I believe that the law should be clear, certain and enforceable.

The uneasy compromise of 1994 has already been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. In the case brought by Euan Sutherland and Chris Morris, who were 16 and still criminalised by our law, the European Commission of Human Rights condemned our unequal age of consent. Such an inequality is a violation of article 8 of the convention--the right to privacy--and of article 14, which provides that the rights set out in the convention are to be enjoyed by all citizens without discrimination.

The court did not accept that disapproval of homosexuality can ever in itself


In our country, with many different religions and cultural traditions, there will, of course, be those who regard lesbians and gay men as abnormal. I recognise that those views are sincerely held, but, as the European Court has said, they cannot be the basis of our criminal law. As the Wolfenden report said so long ago:


    "There must be a realm of private morality that is in brief and crude terms not the law's business."

It cannot be the role of the state to work out people's sexuality for them. It is for individuals to work it out for themselves. The purpose of the criminal law in this area should not be to put police into bedrooms or to coerce gay men to be heterosexual. The purpose of the law is to protect the vulnerable and punish those who exploit them.

My hon. Friends will agree that adolescence is not an easy time in life. For young gay people, it is often an especially difficult period. The higher age of consent for young gay men adds to their worries. The threat of criminal prosecution serves only to add to their sense of isolation and loneliness. How dare we rob young men of their teenage years, denying them years that they should use to prepare for adulthood?


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