Cabinet steers a careful course: Education guidelines emphasise traditional family values

TEACHING children to say 'no' is one of the least controversial options for tackling unwanted teenage pregnancies considered by a ministerial group on family policy, which is setting the foundations for John Major's strategy of going 'back to basics'.

Ministers have ruled out as too controversial the options of lowering the age of consent below 16 and allowing children to be given more contraceptive advice. These were contained in the Cabinet papers leaked last month to the Labour Party.

John Redwood, the Cabinet minister who raised the issue of lone parents, made it clear yesterday that the Cabinet was steering a careful course.

'We think more pregnancies are happening than need to happen. Some of these measures, such as better sex education, better leadership by adults in the community, better understanding of all in society that having a child is a great responsibility, can greatly cut down unwanted pregnancies or the numbers of pregnancies to teenage unmarried mothers.

'We are very keen to promote the idea of responsibility to yourself and those around you . . .'

'It starts with the family unit: don't have children until you have the maturing to look after them; don't have a family until you have the love and support to help you,' Mr Redwood said on BBC Radio.

The top-level ministerial group was left in no doubt about the urgency of action on teenage pregnancies.

Civil servants warned the ministers that England and Wales had one of the highest rates of pregnancies among 15- to 19-year-olds in Western Europe, seven times the figure in the Netherlands.

Abortion rates in this country are also higher.

Tom Sackville, the Under- Secretary of State for Health, said: 'We suspect part of the reason for this is the fact that they are much more pragmatic and less coy about the way they deal with the subject in Dutch schools.'

Mr Sackville confirmed that there were no plans to allow a more liberal supply of contraceptives to those aged under 16.