Teenage Pregnancy

Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th February 2008.

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Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Shadow Minister, Health 2:30 pm, 4th February 2008

What steps he is taking to tackle teenage pregnancy through the Every Child Matters agenda; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children and Youth Justice) (and Minister for the North West)

The teenage pregnancy strategy is based on the Every Child Matters principles of integrated working, early identification and prevention, and draws upon the best available international evidence on reducing teenage conception. Since we launched the strategy, there has been a steady decline in England's under-18 conception rate, and it is now at its lowest level for 20 years. However, as we discussed last week in an excellent Adjournment debate, that progress nationally masks a wide variation in progress between local areas. We have identified what is working in the best areas, and we are now pushing all areas to incorporate those lessons into their local strategies.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Shadow Minister, Health

The Minister mentioned a decrease, but she will acknowledge that there have been local increases—particularly in Southampton, which has been dubbed the teenage pregnancy capital of the south. Does she agree that many young people have unprotected sex after alcohol, and what is her Department doing to ensure that children realise that there is a clear link between the overconsumption of alcohol and unintended pregnancy? They may go home with more than a hangover.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children and Youth Justice) (and Minister for the North West)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Alcohol contributes to a significant proportion of unwanted teenage pregnancies, which is why it is important that the strategy adopted locally by local authorities, primary care trusts, youth services and schools—all working together—addresses a comprehensive approach to young people. Those bodies must offer all the support they can in relation to alcohol and the other factors that make young people vulnerable.

As I explained, although some areas are not doing well and need to do better, the areas that have done well have reduced their unwanted conceptions by up to 40 per cent. If all areas performed at the rate of the best 25 per cent., national progress would be double what it is at the moment. It is a comprehensive local approach, addressing all those factors, that makes the difference.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Labour, North West Durham

Will my right hon. Friend do what she can to encourage local authorities to aim their strategy at preventing first-time pregnancies? In my experience, too many strategies concentrate on young girls' second pregnancies, and we want to ensure that the first baby is prevented. I hope that she will encourage local authorities to use programmes that concentrate on that issue, including provisions to ensure that nurses work in those schools where early pregnancies are most prevalent.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children and Youth Justice) (and Minister for the North West)

My right hon. Friend is expert in this area because she spent a lot of time in her previous position in the Cabinet Office striving for progress. She is absolutely right; about 80 per cent. of teenage pregnancies involve first-time mothers. It is right that we address that matter in every way we can, and it is also right that schools play their part in a clear way by providing, where appropriate and with the agreement of governors and parents, good advice centred on young people, on school sites where necessary. That includes sexual health advice, as well as other advice relating to young people's problems.

However, it is also important that we address second pregnancies because it is a really serious failure when 20 per cent. of teenage pregnancies are second or subsequent pregnancies involving young women who are still teenagers. If services cannot capture women who have already had a baby, and help them to avoid a second or third, they need to do a lot better.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

The Minister is right to talk about integrated working, but she has no reason for complacency. If the Government have done so much on sex education, why did the UK Youth Parliament reveal that almost half of teenagers rate their sex education lessons as "poor" or "very poor"? The World Health Organisation said that more children in this country have sex than those anywhere in Europe, and there has been an alarming 43 per cent. increase, not in second pregnancies, but in the number of children having abortions for the second time. If everything is going as well as she claims, why has her Department halved the number of staff in its teenage pregnancy unit? Does that not show that the Government's 2010 target for halving teenage pregnancies is another failed ambition?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families; Minister for the North West), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children and Youth Justice) (and Minister for the North West)

I really welcome the hon. Gentleman's indication that he supports much more systematic, rigorous and consistent sex and relationship education in schools. Frankly, that is not the message we get from many of his hon. Friends.

In relation to the teenage pregnancy unit, the focus is now on local areas. We cannot command strategies from the centre. Having developed the strategies and given local areas the tools they need, we need only a small team at the centre. We need local areas to improve their focus on and investment in local activity because we will make the difference there, not through command and control from Whitehall.