Patricia Hewitt 'called for age of consent to be lowered to 10'
A civil rights group press release from 1976 with only the name of ex-Labour minister Patricia Hewitt on it called for the age of consent to be lowered to 10, The Sun claims. She has apologised for the organisation's links to paedophile campaigners.
Prime Minister David Cameron believes Patricia Hewitt's apology over the NCCL's links to paedophile campaigners was "the right approach", Number 10 said.
Pressure continues to mount on Harriet Harman to follow Ms Hewitt's example and apologise with Tory defence minister Anna Soubry telling BBC1's Question Time the Labour deputy leader had handled the story "very badly."
"If she had just come out and apologised, it would have gone away. I don't think she has done herself any favours. Neither has Jack Dromey," she said.
Asked if Mr Cameron agreed, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "It's a matter for Harriet Harman but the PM thinks that what Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti and Patricia Hewitt have done is the right approach."
Shadow minister Jack Dromey said he did not give his approval to a call for the age of sexual consent to be reduced to as low as 10-years-old that was issued by a civil liberties organisation he chaired in the 1970s.
The Sun (£) claimed that a meeting of the executive committee of the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), attended by Mr Dromey in 1976, agreed that the body should propose lowering the minimum age for sex to 14, or 10 in certain circumstances.
In a tweet to The Sun's Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn, Mr Dromey wrote:
@tnewtondunn My explanation is simple, Tom. I led the charge against the loathsome Pie. Men who abuse children are the lowest of the low.
Mr Dromey, now a home affairs spokesman in Ed Miliband's Labour frontbench team, said in a statement: "I did not agree with the proposal in February 1976 to lower the age of consent.
"When elected chairman of NCCL weeks later, I made it clear that my first priority would be to take on the child sex abusers of PIE. I then defeated them by a massive majority at the annual conference in April."
An NCCL press release published in March 1976 with only Patricia Hewitt's name on it called for both the age of consent to be lowered to 10 and for incest to be legalised, according to The Sun (£).
The newspaper claims the document says: "NCCL proposes that the age of consent should be lowered to 14, with special provision for situations where the partners are close in age, or where consent of a child over ten can be proved."
Referring to an NCCL report on reforming sex laws, it reportedly says: "The report argues that the crime of incest should be abolished. It says, 'In our view, no benefit accrues to anyone by making incest a crime when committed between mutually consenting persons over the age of consent'."
The Sun also claimed to have seen minutes of an NCCL executive committee meeting in London in January 1976 which proposed reforms saying that a person under the age of 10 in a sexual relationship is incapable of giving consent.
But, the minutes said, if a sexual partner is over 10 and under 14, while there is a "rebuttable presumption" that no consent was given, a defendant "should have to prove that the child consented and understood the nature of the act to which consent was given".
Patricia Hewitt defended the roles played by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and her husband Jack Dromey - who is also a Labour frontbencher - who were both prominent figures in the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty).
"When Jack Dromey, as NCCL chairman in 1976, vigorously opposed PIE at the NCCL AGM, he did so with the full support of the executive committee and myself as general secretary," she said.
"Harriet did not join the NCCL staff until 1978. She was one of two legal officers, neither of whom was a member of the executive committee."
Patricia Hewitt said that a proposal by the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) to reduce the age of consent had not been hers, although she acknowledged that it had been the policy of the organisation and the executive committee.
I do not support reducing the age of consent or legalising incest.
As the NCCL archives demonstrate, I consistently distinguished between consenting relationships between homosexual men, on the one hand, and the abuse of children on the other.
Patricia Hewitt said that as general secretary of the NCCL in the 1970s, she took responsibility for the mistakes that had been made at that time.
The former Labour cabinet minister, who said she had been away for the past 12 days while the controversy was raging in the the press, said any suggestion that she had condoned or supported the "vile crimes" of child abusers was completely untrue.
"NCCL in the 1970s, along with many others, was naive and wrong to accept PIE's claim to be a 'campaigning and counselling organisation' that 'does not promote unlawful acts'," she said.
"As general secretary then, I take responsibility for the mistakes we made. I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so.
"I should have urged the executive committee to take stronger measures to protect NCCL's integrity from the activities of PIE members and sympathisers and I deeply regret not having done so."
These were her first public comments since the latest controversy over The Mail's claims that the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) had alleged historic links to PIE, a paedophile rights campaign.
Patricia Hewitt said that as general secretary of the NCCL in the 1970s she took responsibility for the mistakes that were made and apologised for having "got it wrong" on the Paedophile Information Exchange.
Former Labour Cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt has said the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) was "naive and wrong" to accept the claims by the Paedophile Information Exchange that it was a campaigning and counselling organisation.