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Volume 86: debated on Tuesday 12 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now issue fresh guidelines to doctors regarding the prescription of oral contraceptives to girls below the age of consent.

The existing guidance is being reviewed, taking into account the detail of the House of Lords judgment and the wide range of views expressed on this issue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recent narrow Law Lords decision is highly damaging to family relationships and that it has virtually abolished the age of consent? It means that a few doctors will shell out the pill like jelly babies to very young girls. Will he issue guidelines seeking to restore the status quo ante the Law Lords decision?

I do not accept the exaggerated comments of my hon. Friend. His comment about jelly babies is a slur upon the medical profession and upon others involved. As I have said, the existing guidance is being reviewed, taking acount of the Law Lords judgment and of other views that have been expressed.

Is the Minister aware that the BMA has already issued careful guidance on this matter to all its members? We have no reason to doubt that the members of the BMA are adhering to that guidance. Bearing in mind that the overwhelming majority of girls who seek help from their general practitioner are already in a relationship, is it not better that they should get advice about how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, rather than bring into the world children they do not want and with whom they canot cope?

The fact that the existing guidance stresses the quite exceptional circumstances in which doctors or family planning clinics should act in the way described underlines the importance of obtaining parental consent whenever possible. I found considerable support for the five Fraser points, if I may so describe them, contained in the House of Lords judgment. I hope that they will be reflected in the revised guidance that will follow the review.

Will my right hon. Friend resist what some may see as an automatic next step following the Law Lords decision—namely, a lowering of the age of consent? Will he bear in mind that young girls are just as much, if not more, in danger today than they were in Victorian times when the law came into effect?

Questions about the age of consent are for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I know of no proposal whatever to seek changes in the law to that effect. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be concerned to see that the figures show that there were more than 4,000 abortions for girls under 16 in 1984, and equally concerned to see from the figures of the family planning clinics that 17,000 girls received advice and help, some without parental consent. Both those figures should generate concern on both sides of the House.