HL Deb 15 March 2001 vol 623 cc983-6

3.14 p.m.

Lord Hylton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will study the progress made in the state of Illinois in reducing the incidence of teenage pregnancies, including Project Reality.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, our teenage pregnancy programme is based on evidence of what is likely to be most effective. We are aware of abstinence programmes in the United States, including Project Reality. However, a recent expert review found no robust evidence that these programmes are effective.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that, not only in the state of Illinois but throughout the United States, young people are receiving the message that it is in their own interests to abstain from sexual relations until marriage? Has this not had a marked effect on reducing teenage pregnancies and abortions? Is there not a strong case for putting in place similar programmes in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I have studied a paper produced by the Resource Centre for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention in the United States. It undertook a review of the published studies in this area. The centre found that only a limited number of studies were sufficiently robust to stand up to analysis. Indeed, the only study sufficiently robust to enable a comparison to be made between one approach and another found that the programme did not delay adolescent sexual activity. Like many noble Lords, we are concerned about the level of teenage pregnancy in this country. An important part of our own programme is a strategy to help young people to resist having sex before they are ready. However, the strategy also involves helping teenagers to understand and avoid the risks of unprotected and uninformed sex. I believe that a rounded programme in this area is likely to be more effective.

Earl Howe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, when a teenage girl finds that she is expecting a baby, it is important that she is able to gain access to advice about the options open to her? Can the Minister say whether the forthcoming Adoption Bill will contain measures to ensure that girls receive advice not simply about abortion, but also about the opportunities for adoption?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Earl has raised an important point. I agree with him that young girls in that situation should have access to a range of advice so that they can make informed choices. I would wish to see that all is done to ensure that that is the case.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that to offer so freely to girls who have become sexually active at such an early age the morning-after pill, either through school or over the counter at a local pharmacy, is a policy of despair?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

No, my Lords. We have debated this matter thoroughly and at length in your Lordships' House. The fact is that in the event that a young woman wishes to seek emergency contraception, the rules that have been approved by this House allow for professional advice to be given. Ultimately, faced with the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy and the availability of emergency contraception, I believe that such contraception should be made available.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the efforts being made to delay adolescent sexual activity, everything possible should be done to improve the sense of self-esteem of young people through education, meaningful youth activity and so forth?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Yes, my Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Earl. Such efforts should move alongside a rounded approach to sexual health and education. That is why the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, developed by this Government, is very much concerned with taking a holistic view of these matters.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister expand on his address to the Pharmaceutical Service's Association committee dinner, at which he was the guest speaker? He said that he would like all pharmacies to contain an area for private consultation. Can he reconcile that comment with his statement of a moment ago that opportunities for confidential consultation were already available?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am not aware that I said that confidential booths were available in every pharmacy. However, it is certainly my hope that, with the introduction of local pharmaceutical services, we can put in place an incentive programme that will encourage community pharmacies to install private consultation areas. Having seen some community pharmacies introduce them, I am sure that that is the best way forward. It will enable us to Look to community pharmacists to give even more advice to the public.

Lord Rea

My Lords, has the Department of Health paid due attention to the sex education programmes in the Scandinavian countries and in the Netherlands, which have the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Yes, my Lords. Another contrast between this country and the Scandinavian countries—perhaps I may mention the Netherlands in particular—

A noble Lord

That is not a Scandinavian country.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I was not allowed to take O-level geography—your Lordships will understand why! One point to note about countries that are more successful in this area is that they have had very proactive sex education programmes. Also—this is why I was about to raise the issue of the Netherlands—young people in some of those countries seem much more willing to discuss sex and health education matters with their parents. I am keen to see parents in this country encouraged to do the same. It is a great disappointment that the research suggests that fewer than a quarter of the young people in the UK talk with their mother about sexual relationships, and only 10 per cent with their father. It would be a jolly good thing if we could do better than that.