The Children’s Secretary, Ed Balls, is suggesting that binge drinking – not bad policy – may be responsible for the rise in teenage pregnancies.
But others blame the rise on failed Government initiatives like free condoms and more explicit sex education.
In December The Christian Institute reported on official Government figures which showed a rise in teenage pregnancies in the 12 months leading up to September 2007.
Figures for the last three months of 2007 have yet to be officially published but they are expected to show a further rise because the last three months of the year traditionally bring the highest pregnancy rates.
The Government knows it is not on track to meet its 1998 pledge to halve the under-18 conception rate by 2010.
Weekend press reports quote Ed Balls as blaming teenage binge drinking for the rise.
This could be seen as softening up the ground for embarrassing news when the figures for the last quarter of 2007 are officially released later this year.
Mr Balls told the Sunday Telegraph: “The good news is that the number of young people who drink is coming down. But I’m concerned that those who do drink are drinking more, more often and at a younger age.
“They are also now more likely to drink outside in the street or parks. We know that there is a clear link between drinking and having unsafe sex and we also know that the number of unwanted pregnancies has gone up recently.”
Young people were putting themselves in “real danger” by having “unplanned and unprotected sex” after drinking, he said.
He added: “We’ve worked hard over the last few years to bring down the rate of teenage pregnancies in this country, with the latest annual data showing the teenage pregnancy rate at its lowest level for over 20 years.
“But now the number seems to be creeping up. Young people themselves tell us they go further sexually than they planned when they are drunk and it stands to reason that when drunk they might be more likely to bow to pressure to have sex – possibly without using contraception.”
When figures for the first three quarters of 2007 were announced last December, Jill Kirby of the think-tank Centre for Policy Studies said: “It is very worrying, given teenage pregnancy rates are already ahead of those in the rest of Europe, that the slight decline [in 2006] has now gone into reverse.”
She added: “We need a new policy of parental consultation, limited access to contraceptives and a climate in which sexual activity among teenagers is discouraged rather than encouraged.”