Chris Bryant: A few sex education lessons might benefit Ms Dorries

Political Life

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On the whole, Parliament doesn't do sex very well.

But next week when we return, we shall debate the proposals tabled by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries to make it more difficult for women to get abortions. Dorries is the woman who earlier this year proposed that, in order to cut teenage pregnancies, we should introduce abstinence education for girls only.

Now, as a gay man, I'm no expert on getting pregnant. Indeed on one occasion when an ITV journalist asked me the hilariously inept question "what causes teenage pregnancy?", I looked perplexed before suggesting I thought it was something to do with sexual intercourse. Nonetheless, I'm pretty certain that it takes two to make a baby, so if you want to tackle teenage pregnancy, you've got to deal with the boys as well.

But the Dorries madness goes further than that. She fails to spot that, by definition, a termination ends an unwanted pregnancy, so by far the best way of cutting the number of abortions must be to cut the number of conceptions.

I know this seems pretty basic stuff, but next week will see the first free vote in Parliament on social legislation since the general election. The whips won't be on hand for helpful advice. Instead, the lobbies will be crowded with people urging their colleagues to uphold supposedly liberal or conservative principles. For many, many new MPs, it will be a first chance to demonstrate their credentials. So I fear Parliament may divide, not according to the facts, but according to Tea Party-style ideology. But in something as vital as this, it should be reason and science that determine how we vote.

In short, I hope MPs will not vote to force women to receive additional advice from organisations that refuse to provide terminations, which is almost certain to be biased. The present system works and the proposed change will lead to more, later abortions.

I care about this because the map of teenage pregnancy – and of teenage mothers – is the same as the map of deprivation. The daughters of teenage mothers are far more likely to become teenage mothers themselves and never finish their education or go to work. Which is why teen parentage is as sure a means of perpetuating poverty as inheritance is of wealth.

The numbers have come down in recent years from their peak under the Tories, but we still have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe – five times higher than in the Netherlands. And what's the big difference between us and other countries?

Instead of waiting until the teenage years, by which time youngsters have picked up all sorts of inaccurate messages about sex from magazines, movies and TV, as happens here, sex and relationship education everywhere else starts early enough and is thorough enough to make a difference.

So instead of obsessing with putting condoms on bananas or cucumbers (a particularly useless skill), the rest of Europe has talked about sex in the context of self-esteem, mutual respect and personal responsibility from an early age.

And instead of preaching only the value of condoms, which have a singular knack of being unavailable or inoperable when you're blotto, the rest of Europe has promoted "double Dutch" contraception, the pill and the condom. The Government should be ensuring that every child gets that kind of high-quality sex and relationship education – recent reports on schools show it is very patchy – and it should put it on a statutory footing as part of the Personal Health and Economic Education curriculum, rather than worry about its conservative credentials.

On your bike? Not so easy for homeowners

A conundrum for you. In the Rhondda (my constituency), there are 82 people on jobseeker's allowance for every job that is advertised locally. In the Oxfordshire town of Witney, it is two to one. Harsh market economics would suggest that all the Rhondda's jobseekers should move to Witney. The good news is that 76.1 per cent of people in the Rhondda own their own home, courtesy of the old Coal Board, a higher ownership rate than in most of the rest of the country.

The less good news is that the average value of a Rhondda home is just £82,000, while in Witney it is £266,000. So if Rhondda's unemployed were to sell up and move, they could barely afford the deposit on a Witney home and would almost certainly have to move into rental accommodation, thereby abandoning the habit of homeownership and self-reliance. In all of the debate about the "squeezed middle" and about benefits changes, that is the conundrum I need to solve.

Don't assume the worst about a green-ink letter

One of the stranger elements of the ongoing phone-hacking saga is the number of whistle-blowers who have got in touch with me, by phone, email, or via Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes they give their name. Often they don't. Needless to say I don't have the means or powers to investigate all their claims. So what have I learnt?

Some of the most outlandish allegations about what went on at the News of the World and inside the Met have, of course, turned out to be true. And just because someone writes in green ink doesn't mean they are deluded. And, as my colleague Tom Watson has proved, persistence pays dividends. In the words of Browning's poem "A Toccata of Galuppi's": "Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to!"

Patriotism can make fools of MPs

One thing Parliament does very well is patriotically agree with itself. We had a bout of it in the summer over the riots and there may be another dose on Monday over Libya. Such moments remind me of a conversation I had with a stranger in a bar in Chicago a few years ago.

"You enjoying the US?"


"How do you like this American music?"

"Well, it's actually Amy Winehouse who is playing. She's British."

He was adamant. "No, you're wrong there, she's American. Look at the video, it's full of black guys."

I tried to be patient but probably sounded patronising. "Well, there are black guys in Britain as well."

The music changed. It was "Faith". My American friend:

"You Brits! You're going to tell me George Michael is British next."

Chris Bryant is a Labour MP