Legalise sex at 13, says Prof on BBC

The BBC will broadcast a show featuring an academic’s plea for the age of consent to be lowered so that young teenagers are free to have sex.

Professor John Spencer will set out his views on the Radio 4 programme Iconoclasts, due to be aired tomorrow night, before answering challenges from a panel.

According to previews of the programme, Prof Spencer will argue that the current age of consent of 16 criminalises “half the population” who broke the law as youngsters.

He will call for the age of consent to be lowered to 13 so that all teenagers can engage in sexual activity legally.

But supporters of the current law say it protects youngsters from exploitation.

Prof Spencer is professor of law at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is known as an outspoken critic of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which confirmed the age of consent at 16.

He has previously called it “deeply unsatisfactory” and “exceptionally heavy-handed”.

Iconoclasts, presented by Ed Stourton, will air on Radio 4 at 8pm tomorrow evening. The BBC’s decision to broadcast a challenge to the age of consent has been branded “ludicrous” by MPs concerned with paedophilia and high teenage pregnancy rates.

Conservative MP David Davies said: “It is vital that the law protects vulnerable young people from exploitation by adults.

“I’m astounded that the BBC is giving airtime to someone with such views.”

Former Conservative Home Office Minister Ann Widdecombe MP said: “The proposition that the age of consent should be lowered is absolutely appalling. The situation is bad enough at the moment with high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexual diseases.

“I don’t detect a great deal of public support for this. If there was, I would argue that it should be debated. I can only assume the BBC is trying to create the debate.”

The Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy aimed to cut teen conceptions in half by 2010 but is likely to fall desperately short of this target.

Although the strategy has cost £250 million, the latest figures show that 41.9 girls per 1,000 aged 15 to 17 became pregnant in 2007, compared with 40.9 in 2006.

A BBC spokesman defended the decision to broadcast Prof Spencer’s views, insisting the subject would be dealt with in a “sensitive manner”.

He said: “Iconoclasts is a live discussion programme, in which a controversial viewpoint from an individual who has professional credibility in his or her field is discussed, explored in detail and robustly challenged by panellists.

“The programme does not advocate the issue, but is a platform for an individual viewpoint and a starting point for serious debate.”

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