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Volume 885: debated on Thursday 6 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will propose to reduce the age of consent for homosexuals to the same as that for heterosexuals.

My right hon. Friend has no present plans for amending the law in this respect.

Is the Minister aware that there is no evidence that homosexual acts by males over the age of 16 lead to permanent homosexuality and that the law regarding the homosexual age of consent is the only law which defines as an adult a male person over the age of 21? Does this not create a class of persons unique in attracting social penalties at a most sensitive time in their development, and is it not unjust?

I am not unaware that 21 is higher than other ages in relation to the age of consent. But when the Latey Committee proposed 18 as the age of majority, it recognised that this particular age should be left as it was. We have so far accepted that point of view. The Law Commission in its second programme recommended that it should be allowed to study the whole of the law relating to sexual offences, and in preparation for that we, in the Home Office, have initiated research into the whole range of sexual offences, including this particular problem.

Is my hon. Friend aware that even at the time when the legislation was introduced—a measure which removed sexual activities among homosexuals from the category of criminal offences—the age of 21 was considered by most people to be much too high? In view of the changed public opinion in this matter meanwhile, will my hon. Friend take active steps to reduce the figure from 21 to 18, or will he at least give further consideration to this matter and, if necessary, support any Private Member's Bill which may be brought forward to carry out this reform?

I listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) with considerable respect on this subject, but I do not accept his premise. It was not the case that most people regarded the age of 21 as too high. The Wolfenden Committee did not regard it as too high and urged that it should be kept, even though in some ways there seemed to be anomalies when set against heterosexual offences. But the House at the time accepted the situation and I have no reason to think that the matter has changed.