More under-age girls to get Pill

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CONTRACEPTIVES ARE to be made more freely available to under-age girls by the Government as part of wide-ranging plans to tackle Britain's teenage pregnancy rate - one of the highest in the world.

The Department of Health confirmed last night that the report of the Social Exclusion Unit, to be published soon, would spearhead attempts by the Government to reduce Britain's record level of unwanted teenage pregnancies.

Several Catholic groups and Ann Widdecombe, the Tory spokeswoman on health, criticised the Government for providing under-age girls with the Pill, describing the move as "irresponsible".

The Department of Health said that family doctors were already authorised to use their clinical judgement to prescribe contraceptives to teenagers under the legal age of consent without their parents' knowledge. However, reports that school nurses were to be empowered to prescribe the Pill in schools were dismissed. "That is not what school is for," said a senior Whitehall source.

The Education minister Margaret Hodge, a member of the Social Exclusion Unit, discussed the issue yesterday on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost. "There is a difficult balance to strike between giving children the right information ... and trying to think you are being moral by not giving them the information," she said.

Ms Hodge added: "We want to see girls progress at school, so they feel they have something to contribute to society as young adults."