The Government has rejected calls from a leading public health expert to lower the age of consent, from 16 to 15. Professor John Ashton says society sends "confused" signals about when sex is permitted.
Professor John Ashton, a leading public health expert, has criticised Downing Street's response to his call for a debate on lowering the age of consent and improving sexual health support to teenagers.
A Downing Street spokesperson earlier rejected his call to reduce the age of consent from 16 to 15, but Professor Ashton told ITV News that this was a "knee-jerk" reaction, and complained of a "leadership vacuum" on dealing with teenage sex issues.
Professor Ashton, who is president of the Faculty of Public Health, also criticised the Labour Party, which called for more sex education, saying: "They had 10 years to do it and they didn't really do it."
But he welcomed the reaction from a lawyer representing 72 of the victims of Jimmy Savile, who warned that lowering the age of consent would "send the wrong message to predatory adults", saying the comments would add to an open debate on the subject.
Professor Ashton called for better sex education in schools and bemoaned the lack of specialist teachers, adding: "We haven't invested adequately as a country in sex education in schools.
"That kind of education should be a total priority in school, as important as Maths and English."
ITV viewers have responded on Facebook to calls by health expert Professor John Ashton to drop the age of consent from 16 to 15.
It doesn't matter what the age of consent is, if kids want to have sex they will. Maybe we should be concentrating on giving our kids a better sex education and being open and honest with them from a young age._ Amanda Jane Lewis_
Lowering the sexual age of consent would do nothing but encourage youngsters to engage in sexual activity at 15 and probably younger than this. I actually think 16 is too young, and should be increased to 18. Calum Crichton
Won't make any difference, kids will still have sex no matter what the age of consent is. Make it easier for them to get condoms, go on the pill. Push safe sex. No good raising it either that won't stop them. Wendy P Skelton
Labour has opposed calls by a leading health expert to lower the age of consent, calling instead for mandatory sex and relationship education.
Shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said the party had tried to get such changes enshrined in law but Tory MPs blocked the moves in Parliament.
Lowering the age of consent is not the way to tackle teenage pregnancy and we are against such a move.
The teenage pregnancy rate fell substantially under the last Labour government. But sexual health clinics are now closing their doors and young people are struggling to get appointments.
Labour has called for improved sex and relationship education, and tabled amendments to recent legislation for it to be made mandatory, not voluntary, in all schools. Regrettably, the change was voted down by Tory MPs.
A lawyer representing 72 of the victims of Jimmy Savile has warned that lowering the age of consent would "send the wrong message to predatory adults."
I have real concerns about the prospect of the age of consent being lowered.
Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attentions on even younger teenagers and there is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14-15-year-olds is also acceptable.
My work with victims of abuse results in me talking to many who felt pressurised into having sex at a young age but have gone on to live a lifetime of regret.
– Liz Dux, head of a specialist child abuse team at Slater & Gordon