The government is targeting the 48 local education authorities with the highest number of teenage pregnancies to enable young mothers to return to education, said Barbara Roche, newly-appointed minister in the cabinet office - the department for 'joined-up government'.
Replying to Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North, she said the social exclusion unit set out the government's plan in June 1999 to halve the number of teenage pregnancies and help more teenage parents into education, training and employment. Latest figures showed a 7% fall in pregnancies among girls aged under 16.
Ms Jones said one of the keys to to breaking the cycle of poverty and disadvantage associated with teenage pregnancies was education and the current situation, where many young mothers had only a few hours of home tuition a week, was not satisfactory.
She asked the minister: 'Will she ensure there is some joined-up government on this issue so that we have proper education and child care policies in place to keep teenage mothers in education and to allow them to move into work, which will benefit them and their children?'
Mrs Roche said this was a key issue and progress was being made. It was not an easy matter, nor was there a magic solution, but there were a number of things government could do.
'For example, we are testing how best to provide child care for teenage parents to help them to return to education or work. We are also targeting the 48 local education local authorities with the highest pregnancy rates in order to enable young mothers to get back into education.
'Currently, 31% of teenage mothers are in education, employment or training, compared with only 16% in 1997'.
Vernon Coker, Labour MP for Gedling, said policies should also focus on teenage boys and the role they played. To tackle teenage pregancy, greater responsibility should be encouraged among not only teenage girls but also among boys, who too often walked away from their responsibility.
Mrs Roche agreed, saying: 'One issue is the role models that we present to young women and young men to show them the need to care for themselves, their partners and their families. We need to present a model that young boys can look up to and respect, and that is part of the strategy.
Ann Winterton, Conservative MP for Congleton, said sex education in the UK had failed, perhaps because it focused too much on the mechanics instead of engaging young people of both sexes in a dialogue, giving them valid reasons for postponing sexual activity and concentrating on the importance of stability in relationships.
She asked the minister to consider why Holland had been more successful in its sex education policy. Parents also had responsibilities and needed to be involved.
Mrs Roche agreed that parents had an absolute responsibility and should be fully involved, but factors of poverty and inequality were also involved. The risk of becoming a teenage mother was almost10 times higher for girls from the poorest backgrounds than for girls from the richest backgrounds.
Hansard 11 July: Column 779