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A leading public health expert has called for a national debate on lowering the age of consent from 16 to 15.
Those backing the move say a third of 15-year-olds are sexually active - and they need better access to contraception and advice.
Those opposed say there's already too much pressure on young people to have sex.Neil Connery reports.
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.
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."
Nick Clegg said he was "not in favour" of lowering the age of consent from 16 to 15 following calls from a leading health expert.
The Deputy Prime Minister told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, "The age of consent has been in British law for generations in order to protect children.
I think this health expert is right in saying there's a problem - we have far too high levels of teenage pregnancy.
"Do I simply think that a blanket reduction in the age of consent is the answer to this difficult dilemma? No".
Downing Street has said there are "no plans" to change the age of consent after leading health expert Professor John Ashton said the law should be changed to allow 15-year-olds to have sex.
The NSPCC said it was welcome to a debate on the lowering of the age of consent but would want to see the evidence for the claims it would benefit 15-year-olds.
The children's charity's head of policy David Tucker told the Sunday Times:
Professor John Ashton told the Sunday Times that lowering the age of consent by a year could "draw a line in the sand" against sex at 14 or younger.
The Faculty of Public Health, part of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, gives advice to ministers and civil servants although it is independent of government.
A leading public health expert has called for a renewed debate on the age of consent, arguing it should be lowered from 16 to 15.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said our society sends "confused" signals about when sex is permitted.
He said it means 15-year-olds who are in sexual relationships "don't have clear routes to getting some support".
Up to a third of teenagers have had sex before the present age of consent, according to official figures.