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Sex Education

Volume 454: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2006

2. What steps the social exclusion taskforce is taking to ensure that sex education addressing teenage pregnancy rates takes into account the emotional context. (108605)

Rates of teenage pregnancy have fallen in recent years, but across Government, we are working to bring them down further. As part of that effort, the Government’s recently published teenage pregnancy strategy sets out a strong focus on personal, social and health education. Good quality PSHE can make an important contribution to young people’s emotional development. Young people value sex education that is set in the context of discussions about relationships and the responsibilities involved, and that is what the Government aim to provide.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but I am still concerned about the fact that if we are really to tackle the high levels of teenage pregnancy in this country, we can do so only by radically changing the way in which we teach children at school about sex. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that unless we teach them about the emotional side, and about self-esteem and self-confidence, at a much earlier stage than secondary education, nothing will have an impact on the country’s high levels of teenage pregnancy.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that education should prepare young people for life, and that the emotional aspects of sex education are important. In addition to providing PSHE, we are putting an emphasis on sex and relationship education. A programme on the social and emotional aspects of learning, known as the SEAL programme, is already in place in one third of schools, and another third are expected to introduce it by mid-2007. All that is part of the effort to increase confidence and maturity, and to help to prepare young people for coping with making important decisions later in life.

Although I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), may I point out to the Minister that there will be no success on the subject unless parents are involved? Will he note that the only time that teenage pregnancies and abortion rates really fell was during the Victoria Gillick case? Hon. Members will remember that she tried to ensure that parents were informed if their under-age children were given either abortions or contraception. After all, parents have to give permission if a child is to have a tooth extracted, but not if he or she is to be provided with sexual education.

It is absolutely right to say that parental involvement and a parental role is important. It is important, both for parents and schools, that we have a full and frank discussion about the issues. We should discuss them openly and not try to sweep them under the carpet, and in that way, we can prepare young people for the important decisions that they have to make in life, and ensure that they delay making important decisions about pregnancy until they are fully equipped to do so.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on teenage pregnancy advice, but that advice is desperately needed for people with severe learning difficulties, too. Although some attempt has been made to address that target group, provision has been immensely limited. Will he extend that advice and support to carers of people with severe learning difficulties, who want to be better advised so that they can assist the person for whom they are caring?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it illustrates that if a strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy rates is to be successful, it has to involve a wide variety of people. Where it has been successful, it is because parents and the people involved in education, in local authorities and in local health care have all contributed to the strategy. I very much agree with my hon. Friend that when people work together, we can have an impact on the issue.