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Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I also seek your advice on nuclear safety? I have received a fax from one of the scientists at the nuclear science institute at Vinca, which has a research reactor that has not been used for 15 years but where there is a great deal of uranium 235. There is a possibility not only that it might be hit but that the electricity supplies may be disrupted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, with the effect that the uranium would be released into the atmosphere. I plead with you to continue your good work, Madam Speaker, in trying to keep the House informed about the war. Apparently the Government do not think it necessary to inform us on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a request from the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House on his successful visit to Albania and his speech to the Albanian Parliament? Perhaps you might accept such a request in the light of the fact that I understand that throughout his visit, wherever he

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has been, but particularly in the presence of refugees, everyone has congratulated him on his decision to be part of a NATO force to bring democracy to Kosovo and relieve the suffering of millions of people.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. So that there should be absolutely no misunderstanding, many of us are concerned about the effects of the bombing raids, but we also recognise that the way to stop them is for the President of Serbia to come to the negotiating table and agree to what NATO has asked.

You will know, Madam Speaker, that Westminster Hall is used on various occasions for dignitaries visiting both Houses. I mentioned in Business questions on Thursday the "Panorama" programme that showed the terrible crimes and atrocities committed against ethnic Albanians. Will there be an opportunity to use Westminster Hall to show that film and perhaps other films so that Members of both Houses can see what has been happening in Kosovo, see the crimes that have been committed, and see why it was necessary for military action to be taken?The reason has been explained on several occasions in the House.

Madam Speaker: The last point is a matter for the Domestic Committees in the first instance and the hon. Gentleman may wish to put it to an appropriate Committee. I am of course anxious for the House to be kept informed on the other matters raised. I believe that the Government, too, are anxious that the House be kept informed about developments in Kosovo and the whole of that region. I have not been informed that any Minister seeks to make a statement. I am anxious for Ministers to do so and I am at the disposal of any Minister who wishes to make a statement.

I hope, however, that points of order will not be used to make political statements. I fear that it is coming to that. I understand the anxieties of all hon. Members. We all feel passionately one way or the other about the matter, but I ask them to use points of order simply to raise points about the order of business. As soon as a statement is available, I shall be here ready to deal with it. I am most anxious that the Government keep the House up to date on developments in that area.

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Sex Education in Schools

3.37 pm

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I beg to move,

We are failing the young people of our country in a key area of their health and education. The United Kingdom has the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Europe and the second highest number in the developed world. In England and Wales, 9.4 girls of every 1,000 under16 become pregnant. The number of under-age pregnancies increased by 11 per cent. in 1997-98.

An article in the British Medical Journal by the distinguished Professor Michael Adler in June 1997 summarised the picture at that time:

It went on to propose other methods of improving the sexual health of our young people.

It is not only in teenage pregnancy that there is failure. Britain has an unacceptably high rate of teenage abortion. For some people, abortion is an ethically outrageous exercise, and for others who do not take that view, it is nevertheless an avoidable medical procedure that can leave some psychological effects on some patients. It is entirely appropriate that all measures be taken to reduce the number of abortions, especially among the young, whatever side of the argument one is on.

There is an increasing number of single parents, with the social exclusion that the Government have recognised stems from that. Many single-parent families are unplanned. It is my contention in the Bill that education could be part of a strategy to reduce the number of single-parent families.

There is a huge demand for information from young people. A recent report by Childline entitled "I Can't Believe It Has Happened To Me" said that 7,317 girls and 434 boys called the line about pregnancy in 1997-98. Almost 80 per cent of those who gave their age were under 16; some were as young as 12. More 14 and 15-year-old girls called Childline about pregnancy than about any other issue.

The confidential young persons' sex information telephone line Sexwise is inundated with calls. It is not widely advertised: it cannot be more widely advertised, because it lacks the capacity to cope. When I visited its headquarters, I was shown that five or six calls were queueing up for every operator. That represents a failure to deliver the confidential advice and education that young people require.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Madam Speaker: Order. An hon. Member cannot give way when speaking on a ten-minute motion.

Dr. Harris: Currently sex education is provided in both primary and secondary schools, but I contend that it is

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not adequate. Statutory sex education is not compulsory, apart from what is included in the science curriculum in primary schools. At present, at key stage 1, for pupils aged between five and seven, that covers

    "the naming of the main external parts of the human body, knowing that humans can produce babies and that these babies grow into children and then into adults."

In key stage 2, for children aged between seven and 11, as part of the science curriculum pupils are taught

    "the main stages of the human life cycle",

and at key stage 3, pupils aged between 11 and 14 are taught about

    "the human reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle and fertilisation."

What is missing from that bare-bones science curriculum is anything to do with relationships, responsibility and empowering young people to have control over their bodies and be able to resist the peer pressure that leads people into unwise sexual activity at too young an age.

Primary education should include a series of other items that are currently non-compulsory. Pupils should be able to

At present, that is not compulsory information for those aged between five and seven at key stage 1.

At key stage 2, for pupils aged between seven and 11, the non-compulsory sex education programme urges schools

When young people are asked whether they feel that they are receiving adequate sex education, the message that they convey is no. One in 10 young girls admits to being given no education about periods before they occur, and there is a well-established void in terms of sex education available to boys, who bear at least half the responsibility for conception.

Of course, not just sex education is necessary. Conception in the case of those under 16 depends on the number of young people who are having sex, the number who are using contraceptives and the number who are using them effectively. What is required is education, along with advice and free and confidential access to that advice.

The problem has been dealt with much better on the continent. Teenagers in both the Netherlands and Scandinavia have wide access to early, clear sex education. Not only do those countries have the lowest rate of teenage conceptions in Europe, and also the lowest rate of teenage abortions; in the Netherlands, on average young people become sexually active at a much later age. That shows that the delivery of education, and the empowerment of young people to resist pressure from others--including peer pressure--can deter them from engaging in under-age sex, which many of us, and probably all hon. Members, consider not to be good for them.

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We in the House have a duty to be politically courageous. There are those who have other views, but I believe that it is incumbent on those of us who feel that there is a need to improve the sexual health of young people to give a lead. We should not be dissuaded by sensationalist media coverage, often by the very papers that use their pages to portray over-sexual images--particularly of women--aimed at young people.

We have to recognise that young people are exposed to sexuality through the media, through television, even through soap operas and through films. We live in a world where young teenagers are sexually active. We as legislators, as well as the medical profession, teachers and the nursing profession, have a duty to support those young people and to give them the education that they need.

My move is backed by the British Medical Association, which said in a statement:

Throughout the schools system, we require improved education. I commend the Bill to the House for that purpose.

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