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Teenage Pregnancies

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 25 March 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the target to halve the rate of teenage pregnancies is not on course to be met.

My Lords, our target is to halve the 1998 rate of teenage conceptions by 2010. Data for 2010 will not be available until February 2012. While we accept that we are currently behind the trajectory needed to achieve the target, real progress has been made in tackling our historically high teenage pregnancy rates. Between 1998 and 2008, the under-18 conception rate fell by 13.3 per cent to its lowest level in over 20 years.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Teenage pregnancy is indeed a complex social issue, on which the independent advisory board has made a lot of sensible recommendations. I would like to ask her about two of them. The first is for early identification of risk, followed by early intervention. Can she say how much money the Government have spent on that programme, and what are their plans for the long-term evaluation of its benefits? The second is for statutory sex and relationship lessons in school. Will she join me in urging parents to engage with schools so that they can satisfy themselves that this very sensitive subject is being taught appropriately and therefore refrain from withdrawing their children?

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness; I shall have to write to her on her first question because I do not have that information with me today. However, I agree that early intervention is vital. That is why the teenage pregnancy prevention strategy the Government have been promoting for the past 10 years has worked to ensure that there are co-ordinated services and that PCTs are working with the education sector and so on. Since we relaunched our strategy, that has been very important.

On the question of parental involvement in schools, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We must ensure that all schools have policies around sex and relationship education and that parents are consulted and involved. And, yes, while parents can at present withdraw children up to the age of 19 from sex and relationship education, we would like to see that limit lowered to 15. That is why the Children, Schools and Families Bill is so important.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, a very complex issue? Does she further agree that it is clear from the evidence that, both in this country and abroad, girls who are encouraged to have aspirations tend not to get pregnant? Therefore, what will the Government do to encourage girls to have such aspirations in order to defer pregnancy?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in her analysis. We know that teenage pregnancy rates are highest in areas and wards associated with the lowest educational outcomes. As well as ensuring that we have the right of early intervention and that we continue to reduce the rate of teenage conception across the board, we must focus our efforts to enable all girls to attend the best possible schools. Where there is a risk of teenage pregnancy, we have to ensure that we intervene early, offer advice and support and do the best for all the girls of our country.

The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to early intervention. Can the Minister define what she means by early intervention, which she says is so essential?

My Lords, the teenage pregnancy strategy, which has six strands, has invested £246 million over the past 10 years. It is looking at the co-ordinated delivery of services for early intervention; at media campaigns to raise young people’s awareness of the value of avoiding engaging in early sex; and at driving up the quality of advice to young people and making contraception and other services more accessible to them. This is all early intervention. We also ensure that parents have access to information through helplines and so on in order that they, too, can be a key part of early intervention and provide confident advice to their children when they engage in such conversations.

My Lords, did the Minister wonder, as I did this week, about the quality of sex education in our independent schools when David Cameron, in reference to his wife’s pregnancy, said:

“Sometimes it takes a while before the stork pops one down the chimney”?

More seriously, can the Minister tell the House what measures the Government have taken to make teenage boys more responsible in their sexual activities? What steps are being taken to make them and their families support the babies they create?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the role of PSHE in ensuring that sex and relationship education becomes statutory is key, along with making sure that advice and information services are accessible to teenagers—not only to teenage girls but to teenage boys. Where boys engage in sexual relationships, it is vital that they do so when they are over the age of 16, or older wherever possible. Our strategy is always to encourage young people to delay engaging in sexual relations.

My Lords, given the complexity of communicating with young people about these issues and the importance of being effective, is the Minister concerned that more and more teachers are having shorter training? For instance, this weekend I spoke to a young woman who wants to train as a teacher. She will go to one school where she will be trained, rather than doing the postgraduate certificate of education and getting a range of placements. Will the Minister look at this and try to ensure that all our teachers get the very best and widest foundation for their teaching?

My Lords, part of this Government’s achievement in transforming the status of the teaching profession has been to transform the training opportunities for teachers, and we expect that teaching should in time become a Masters profession. Far from reducing the opportunities for training for teachers we are increasing them. There is a range of options for initial teacher training, but we are ensuring that PSHE becomes a much more focused, professional subject with the kind of initial teacher training that noble Lords would expect.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the £280 million that the Government have spent on trying to tackle teenage pregnancy is just the tip of an iceberg on which they have wasted money, and that what they are really ignoring is our broken society?

My Lords, I was wondering whether I would get the opportunity to make reference to the Conservative analysis of teenage pregnancy. I will answer the question, because the suggestion is that the investment in preventing teenage pregnancy is not an effective use of resources. That investment has resulted in 42,000 fewer pregnancies in underage and teenage girls, which has led to an enormous saving of costs elsewhere in public services.

I do not trust Her Majesty’s Opposition’s analysis of the position regarding teenage pregnancy. Only recently, the Conservatives put out a document in which they completely missed the point, suggesting that 52 per cent of girls in poorer areas were falling pregnant as opposed to 5.1 per cent.

My Lords, it is clear that most people agree that teenage pregnancy is not desirable, but it does happen and some young people engage in their parental responsibilities very seriously. Can the Government say what is being done to support teenage couples who decide to take a responsible attitude to bringing up their child together?

My noble friend makes a very important point. For some young people it is a very positive choice to have a child. It is essential that all our services for children and young adults work to support these families. There is a whole range of services, such as family intervention services and nurse practices, which are designed specifically to support young people who opt for parenting.