Hewitt apologises, but not Harman or Dromey.
Byline: Andrew Woodcock
SHADOW minister Jack Dromey insisted he did not give his approval to a call for the age of sexual consent to be reduced to as low as 10 that was issued by a civil liberties organisation he chaired in the 1970s.
Former Labour Cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt apologised for the links between the NCCL and a paedophile rights campaign group and said that, as general secretary at the time, she took responsibility for mistakes.
According to reports, Ms Hewitt's name was on an NCCL press release in March 1976 which called for a reduction in the age of consent and the legalisation of incest.
But in a statement, Mr Dromey said he did not give his agreement to the proposal at the committee meeting a month earlier, and was "a resolute opponent" of the Paedophile Information Exchange when he became chairman a few weeks later.
"I did not agree with the proposal in February 1976 to lower the age of consent," said Mr Dromey, now a home affairs spokesman in Ed Miliband's Labour frontbench team. In her first public comments since the current controversy broke, Ms Hewitt said the NCCL had been "naive and wrong" about the PIE in the 1970s.
The former MP, who served as health secretary in Tony Blair's government, said: "I got it wrong on PIE and I apologise for having done so."
Ms Hewitt - who said she was able only now to respond to the reports, having been away for the past 12 days - said any suggestion she had condoned or supported the "vile crimes" of child abusers was "completely untrue".
Ms Hewitt's was the only name reportedly on the press release publicising the NCCL's call for a reduction in the age of consent.
The documen apparently said: "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 10 can be proved."
Referring to an NCCL report on reforming sex laws, it 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'."
Ms Hewitt acknowledged it had been NCCL policy to cut the age of consent - although she said the proposal to do so had not been hers. "I do not support reducing the age of consent or legalising incest," Ms Hewitt said. "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."
Ms Hewitt's willingness to apologise for errors is in sharp contrast to Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman.
She has insisted she has nothing to apologise for over her involvement with the NCCL at the time.
Ms Harman has accused the Mail of mounting a campaign of "smear and innuendo" after it used documents unearthed in the NCCL's archives to highlight its links with PIE at a time when she, her husband Mr Dromey, and Ms Hewitt were all prominent in the organisation.
In her statement, Ms Hewitt, who was general secretary until 1983, said she should have done more to protect the integrity of the NCCL.