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Lord Elton: My Lords, I rise first to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that my noble friend Lady Young lives in the real world. I have often met her there and she speaks from it, from a wealth of experience gathered in many ways, particularly as a parent and grandparent.

I find this a difficult and sad debate. There are genuinely important considerations in both directions. One cannot simply rely on habit or friendship when making up one's mind. However, considering the context in which we hold it, I am saddened by the change in the attitude to love which has taken place in the past half-century and the relationship between sex and love. That relationship is central to a healthy society. If we divorce the two, we revert to the animal. If we ally the two, we move towards the human and the spiritual. I am sorry if that leaves some of your Lordships completely baffled. To me, it is real and important.

I am troubled by the fact that the Government have shown so little willingness to offer what I would regard as common-sense moral advice. They are happy to tell people that it is wrong to smoke, and the consequences of so doing. They are happy to tell people that it is wrong to drive and drink, and the consequences of so doing. But nobody has said that it is wrong to take the risk of siring or begetting illegitimate children. The purpose of the sexual mechanism in the human race is to produce children. That is completely forgotten in most of our contemporary literature and contemporary films. It is seen as an end in itself. My noble friend referred to a child who asked, "What's the point of having sex if it isn't fun?" The answer is that it is tremendous fun but that is not the end purpose. The end purpose of it is to have children within marriage; and if we stop doing that, we stop having a viable society. Therefore, there is a political as well as a spiritual priority and I deeply regret the Government's reluctance to see that, to take it on board and to give moral as well as medical advice.

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I hope that the noble Lord will not disappoint me by failing to offer such advice in the context of his reply. If the issue is treated purely as mechanical and medical, I shall find myself unable to go other than with my noble friend into the Lobby. If he can tell us that it is about something else, I shall find it much more difficult to accompany her.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I wish that like some noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the Prayer I was confident in the belief that I had a special insight into the conscience of the nation. I do not claim that credential for speaking in this debate. However, I claim two other credentials. The first is the special misfortune during the past 30 years of having appeared all too frequently in cases involving the deaths of babies who were virtually condemned to death when they were conceived in haste. The second is the much happier credential of being the parent of three adult women.

Some parents, unlike me and many of my friends, may have been extremely lucky. Their daughters may have passed seamlessly from the age of reason to the age of responsibility. But I do not believe that that is the general experience of many of us. We must protect our daughters and the girls of this country by the best means available, combining good moral sense and good medical science.

There is a moral issue which concerns me greatly. I start from the viewpoint that in this country there are far too many abortions of viable foetuses well embarked upon gestation. My observation and understanding is that abortion is physically and emotionally a potentially disturbing experience for almost all who undergo the process and that for many it is a completely ruinous experience which affects and damages for them for the rest of their lives.

Wherever it is realistically appropriate to avoid abortion, abortion should be avoided. I do not accept for one moment the proposition put by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the use of the morning-after pill prescribed by pharmacists will increase the number of abortions. That seems a completely perverse misuse of logic.

Another moral issue seems to me to be held in the answer to the following question--

Baroness Young: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord and thank him for giving way. The point I made was that although more than 800,000 morning-after pills were supplied last year, the number of abortions has risen.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that the sexual habits of young people are complex issues. I know of no research material which suggests that the availability of such a pill over the counter from a properly regulated pharmacist will do anything other than reduce the number of abortions.

However, another important moral issue seems to me to be held in the answer to the following question. Are we prepared to respect women of 16 and upwards

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as the custodians of their own bodies, in the absence of a paramount public interest to the country? After all, girls of 16 may lawfully have sexual intercourse, so why should they not control the consequences of that sexual intercourse? They can purchase contraceptive devices before they have intercourse, so why should they not purchase a contraceptive device, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, described it, after they have had intercourse--because that is the scientific way in which it works? They may even marry lawfully at the age of 16.

It seems to me that to allow young women the option offered by the order is both consistent and logical in giving women greater custodianship of their own bodies. That is particularly so, as the scientific advice is clear, because the new morning-after pill is far safer than its oestrogen-strong predecessor. Furthermore, let us not forget that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which is an extremely responsible professional body and regulator of its profession, has introduced and will enforce stringent professional standards concerning the supply of these pills.

It has also been suggested by some noble Lords that this order--this change in the law--will lead to more casual sex by the over-16s. I am afraid that that view beggars reality. That particular horse bolted years ago! Appalled as I am--and I genuinely am--by the sexual content of many teenage magazines aimed at girls--I recall an occasion when my wife went around the house throwing out every one she could find because of its content--I believe that one must recognise the truth of their content. They are no more than a reflection of their readership's life and times. However uncomfortable are the facts of life for older teenagers, the life of facts is that most teenage girls are sexually active before they reach the age of legal consent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke of the desirability of dealing with these issues by girls going with their mums, or possibly their dads, to see their nice GPs who knows the family history. I have to ask the noble Baroness whether she has looked at the demography of this country and at the lack of interest of some parents in what happens to their children. I ask with great respect to the doctors in the House whether the noble Baroness really believes that one can rely on the wisdom of every general practitioner in this country to aid that process. The truth of the matter is that, as regards young women over the age of 16, now that the science is safe these matters are surely best left in their hands.

The order recognises changes in science and in society. I hope that this House will not thwart that recognition.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I shall speak but briefly today. However, I am extremely concerned about the issue. I believe that anyone who is concerned about abortion rates and about unintended pregnancies producing unwanted children, cannot support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, tonight.

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I shall not concentrate particularly on young women but on women in general, for it affects them. "Emergency contraception", to give it its correct title, is not an encouragement to promiscuity; it extends a woman's choice of whether or not to risk pregnancy in emergency. I emphasise the word "emergency". Emergencies happen; condoms split and people have unprotected sex whether or not that is wise or responsible. Pharmacies are convenient and accessible, as was stated by my noble friend Lady Gould. People go to their pharmacy for advice and service for many items. It is not always easy to get to a doctor or a clinic. Your Lordships have heard the medical evidence described so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Patel.

There is no evidence that women are using emergency contraception repeatedly, either in the UK or in France where it has been available since 1999. I stress what other noble Lords have said; that one survey showed that only 4 per cent of women used emergency contraception more than twice a year. That is a small number.

This pill is not an abortion pill, as is sometimes stated. It cannot terminate a pregnancy which has begun. I am not pro-abortion as such. I am pro women having choices about whether or not to have children. Women who make that choice are behaving responsibly, not irresponsibly--and it is mainly women who make the choice. Methods of male contraception are limited; certainly, there are no emergency contraceptives for men.

Who is most likely to use this pill? Not teenagers. The notion that under-16s will line up to pay 20 for this contraceptive in a pharmacy, or that it will be doled out in schools, is ludicrous and untrue. In a pilot scheme in Manchester the average age of women who used emergency contraception was 24, not the under-16s. That is not surprising, given that most unintended pregnancies occur in women aged between 20 and 25, not the under-16s. The average age of first sex in England is 17. Of course some have sex earlier and, unfortunately, become pregnant. Those who avoid having an unwanted child are behaving responsibly, not irresponsibly. Unwanted pregnancy can still result in young women in particular attempting to use dangerous methods to self-abort. None of us wishes to return to that, certainly not parents. Emergency contraception is legally available to the over-16s. Some girls under 16 will obtain it--even when not sent in by newspapers. I doubt that there will be many genuine cases.

I respect principles, idealism and certainly love. There is a good deal of moral advice in the new personal and social health education guidelines for schools. People should behave responsibly. I do not advocate that anything goes as long as pregnancy does not occur. However, to be charitable, I believe that idealism must be tempered with pragmatism and reality. People will continue to have sex and some will take risks or make mistakes. We should do all that we can to ensure that those risks and mistakes do not result in unwanted children. Emergency contraception is safe and extends a woman's choice over her fertility.

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A women is unlikely to make much use of this method of contraception, and in the vast majority of cases it will be used by women over 16.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has spoken in this House about fighting to the death for principles. I and others will fight to the death to preserve and extend a woman's right to control her fertility. If we remove one possible method--the ability to purchase emergency contraception from pharmacies--we shall not be thanked.


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