Condoms for girls aged 13 defended by minister: Contraceptives offered 'as last resort'

A health minister yesterday backed giving free condoms to girls as young as 13 and 14 in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Baroness Cumberlege, Under- Secretary of State for Health, was speaking after it was revealed that North Birmingham Health Authority was providing free condoms 'as a last resort' for girls aged 12 to 18 attending 'Health Yourself' sessions at a youth club in the city.

Lady Cumberlege said family planning nurses should 'use their professional judgement' in deciding whether to provide condoms to under-age girls.

That, amid the 'back to basics' climate, was given a warm welcome by Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, who said: 'It is very important that we have at least one government minister who is realistic about the problem of under-age pregnancies. We have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the Western world and we cannot just wish it away. It is really important that at least one government minister has publicly recognised that it is a big problem for the whole of the country.'

June Clark, president of the RCN, called for family planning nurses to work not just in schools but 'in places where teenagers gather - in the Virgin superstore or the Body Shop'.

As one of its Health of the Nation targets, the Government aims to halve by 2000 the number of under- age pregnancies - currently about 8,000 a year.

However, Dame Jill Knight, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and chairman of the Tory backbench health committee, attacked as a 'disgraceful exercise' the issuing of condoms at the advice sessions run by a family planning nurse at the Shard End Youth Club in the city.

Lady Cumberlege, who had been speaking at the RCN's congress in Bournemouth, said advice and education were the main way to cut teenage pregnancies. 'But in the end if a nurse recognises there are one or two teenagers who are particularly vulnerable they should give them the best advice they can and if necessary the means to prevent pregnancy.'

Asked if that applied to girls as young as 13 or 14, the minister said they would be 'very much a minority' but it remained 'up to the nurse to use her professional judgement'. North Birmingham, she said, had one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the country, with 80 under-age pregnancies last year, two-thirds of which ended in abortion.

In a statement made later last night, Lady Cumberlege said she wanted to stress that she did not believe condoms should be made freely available to girls under 16.

'I'm sorry that my remarks have been taken out of context,' she said.

'North Birmingham has an extremely high level of teenage pregnancies and those nurses who are working there to reduce it deserve our support. It is certainly not my view that contraceptives should be freely supplied to under-age girls and I believe that wherever possible parents should be fully involved in the advice given to their children.'

Ambulance delay, page 3

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us