In a nutshell
A series of votes on whether the homosexual age of consent should be lowered. MPs had liberty to vote according to their conscience on all votes.
- Until 2003, the homosexual age of consent was composed of two criminal offences. First ‘buggery’ (the legal term for anal intercourse) and second ‘gross indecency’ (which covers all other homosexual acts).
- Homosexual acts between men aged 21 or over were decriminalised in 1967. In 1994 the age of homosexual consent was lowered to 18.
- From 1998 the Government said it would initiate legislation to lower the age of homosexual consent to 16. Significant Government time was allocated for the debates. Because the Government lost every vote in the House of Lords, the whole process took three years and was only ended by the use of the Parliament Acts to override the Lords’ opposition.
- At every stage the legislation was drafted in such a way that the age at which buggery could be committed on a girl was also reduced from 18 to 16, as well as permitting homosexual acts at 16.
- A final compromise amendment from the Lords would have kept the age for buggery at 18 for boys and girls, whilst not amending the provisions in the Bill permitting other homosexual acts at 16. This compromise was rejected by the Government. The Parliament Acts were invoked without the Commons ever voting on the compromise amendment.
The present law in England, Wales and Scotland
Following the use of the Parliament Acts, the age of homosexual consent has been lowered from 18 to 16. In addition the age at which girls can be legally subject to buggery has been lowered from 18 to 16.
It is important to note that the 2003 Sexual Offences Act sought to remove any legal distinction in the criminal law between heterosexual and homosexual activity. All sexual activity with under 16s, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is now covered by the same laws.
Buggery of a female in Northern Ireland was legalised in 2003, under the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2003. Later, the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 reduced the age of consent (heterosexual and homosexual) to 16, despite widespread opposition.
The five most significant votes
There are many stages and votes on a Bill. Since there have been many Bills and amendments on the age of consent, the five most significant votes have been selected covering the period between 1994 and 2000. The votes were held on 21st February 1994; 22nd June 1998; 25th January 1999; 10th February 1999 and 28th February 2000.1
In 1994 two votes were taken one after another: the first on an amendment to reduce the homosexual age of consent from 21 to 16 and the second on another amendment to reduce it from 21 to 18. The vote for 16 was rejected by 309 to 282, but the vote for 18 was passed by 429 to 164 votes. This then became law. From 1994 until January 2001 the homosexual age of consent was 18.2
1998 – 2000
Each vote from 1998 onwards attempted to reduce the age at which homosexual acts could be committed from 18 to 16. A ‘yes’ vote would legalise buggery (anal intercourse) of boys and girls aged 16 and permit other homosexual acts with boys at 16.
It was the ongoing opposition of the House of Lords that led to so many separate votes on the measure in the House of Commons. In 1998 the Commons voted by 338 to 131 to reduce the age of consent to 16.3In January 1999 the Commons vote was 315 to 132 in favour of reducing the age; in February 1999 it was 332 to 128; and in February 2000 it was 319 to 119.4After having consistently failed to get the House of Lords to back the Commons in agreeing to the reduction in the age of consent, the Government invoked the Parliament Acts at the end of the 1999-2000 session.5 As of January 2001 the homosexual age of consent, and the age at which it is legal to commit buggery with a girl, have been 16.
How we recorded the vote
An MP’s most recent vote has been taken to be their current position.
- Voted for reducing the homosexual age of consent to 16
- Voted against reducing the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16
Abstained or was absent consistently on the votes for reducing the homosexual age of consent
MPs who have not voted on the age of homosexual consent.
Voted consistently against reducing the homosexual age of consent
The MP has consistently voted against attempts to lower the age over the past seven years. When the age of consent was 21, the MP opposed lowering it to 18. When it was 18 the MP opposed lowering it to 16.
Voted against reducing the homosexual age of consent from 21
A few MPs voted for the age of consent to remain at 21 in 1994 and for a variety of reasons (such as becoming a Speaker or Deputy Speaker or not being elected as an MP for a period of time) have not voted since.
- 1House of Commons, Hansard, 21 February 1994, cols. 115 – 124; House of Commons, Hansard, 22 June 1998, cols. 805 – 808; House of Commons, Hansard, 25 January 1999, cols. 206 – 207; House of Commons, Hansard, 10 February 1999, cols. 382 – 383; House of Commons, Hansard, 28 February 2000, cols. 129 – 130
- 2The amendments were debated as part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. The amendment lowering the age to 18 became Section 145 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
- 3An amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill in 1998
- 4MPs voted on an amendment to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill on each of these three occasions.
- 5The reduction of the age to 16 is laid out in Section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000