POLITICS

On the radio the other day I heard a man describe how, at 15, he had been raped in Auschwitz by an older inmate who deliberately stole his cap in the knowledge that the penalty for losing one's cap was death.

What did the young man do? He stole someone else's cap, heard the pistol shot which killed the stranger he had robbed, and has lived another 55 years, long enough to write a book, The Cap , or the price of a life .

Survival at all costs, that had been his instinct.

I thought of horror and survival the other day, not once but twice, as MPs and peers staggered through the Queen's Speech debate. First the Lords. Here Labour's Baroness Rendell of Babergh (Ruth Rendell the crime writer) spoke out against the 'conspiracy of silence' - parents' and doctors' - which allows female circumcision to be performed in this country without fear of prosecution.

Like you, very probably, I thought I had a rough idea what this meant, something a bit nastier than what Lady Rendell called 'the harmless surgery carried out on Jewish male babies'. Far worse, she said, a gross mutilation designed to deprive women of 'any kind of sexual pleasure or satisfaction in the process of giving birth'.

Far worse, too, she went on to explain, because the risks include shock, tetanus, septicaemia, haemorrhage and - in the extreme form known as Pharaonic circumcision - the loss of ability to have babies other than by Caesarean section.

It is, of course, all illegal under the 1985 Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, but no prosecution has ever taken place. There are help groups, some Department of Health-funded, and modern techniques to reverse the damage. Some 15,000 girls in Britain are said to be at risk.

It's not that easy though, is it? We are talking deep cultural structures here, cultural relativism which 'obliges' us to respect quaint foreign habits, though not quaint hereditary peers. As with arranged marriages and boarding school, people do what they think best for their kids, horrible though it may look to outsiders.

After all, the same debate heard Tory Baroness Seccombe remind everyone that the government's plans to equalise the age of consent will legalise what she called 'consensual buggery' of girls of 16, a contraceptive option, she explained.

Horror and survival rates of a different kind in the Commons, where MPs are anxious to show they are not indifferent to the perils of prostate cancer, a threat which does not prompt men to respond with the primitive survival instinct shown by that Auschwitz survivor. Since the Daily Mail launched its 'Dying from embarrassment' campaign - to raise£1m for research and greater awareness, The Sun and The Times have both joined in.

To its credit, The Sun has even printed a DIY series to show us all how to check for different types of cancer. I always get irritated when MPs toady up to newspapers ('Will the minister join me in congratulating the Daily Beast. . .') . All the same, it's a good effort.

Well done, Currant Bun!

With the tabloids in the lead, William Hague cannot be far behind. Sure enough, the Tories want three yearly screening for all men between 50 and 70 (note that ageist cut-off point). Women already know there is controversy over the effectiveness of such campaigns. Indeed the Tory small print has a 'subject to effectiveness' get-out clause.

Public health minister Yvette Cooper has the department's standing group on health technology re-examining the options, and ministers claim to have raised the prostate research budget from£100,000 to£800,000 since 1997. As is now clear with most cancers, UK survival rates from prostate cancer - at about 45 per cent for five years - is barely half Japan's.

That, too, may be a function of culture, medical technology and diet. The Japanese weakness for smoked fish, as I recall, gives them stomach cancers but not heart attacks, which they only get if they move to California. But it translates as one prostate death per hour in Britain. 'Even my husband, an excellent GP, failed to spot his own prostate cancer. . .' one woman told the Mail .

Thanks to its campaign I have almost persuaded myself I've got it. Are GPs' surgeries now full of cowardly hypochondriacs, I wonder? If so, is that progress? And can the budget cope?