Byline: Steve Doughty
THE number of teenage pregnancies leapt last year, despite all Labour's efforts to increase sex education and contraception among children and the young.
The increase appears to have struck a death blow to the Government's long-standing pledge to halve rates of pregnancy among girls under 18.
It means Britain will entrench its position, already deeply embarrassing to ministers, as the country with by far the highest teenage pregnancy levels in Europe.
Officials in Whitehall admitted yesterday that last year, far from falling, the figures were 'slightly higher'.
In fact, the indicators show that 2007 is likely to have seen the first major jump in teenage conceptions in a decade.
The sudden rise may have inspired a series of new efforts by ministers to intensify sex education and persuade more girls to use contraception.
This week the Health Department announced trials of a scheme to allow women to get the contraceptive Pill at chemists without a prescription.
The idea - aimed mainly at teenagers - is likely to develop into a nationwide system to make the Pill available over the counter.
In October Schools Minister Jim Knight ordered that primary school pupils should for the first time have compulsory sex education from the age of five. But critics of the Govern- ment's Teenage Pregnancy Strategy said the contraception and education doctrine has failed and that instead there should be state-sponsored attempts to persuade teenagers to avoid having sex. The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, launched by Tony Blair in 1999, is a centrepiece of Labour's attempts to cut poverty, benefit dependency, and the number of troubled children.
Half of teen pregnancies end in abor- tions and many of the rest in single mother families.
It set an ultimate target of reducing the teenage pregnancy rate - the number of girls out of every 1,000 in England who become pregnant before they are 18 - by half.
A reduction of 15 per cent on rates in the base year, 1998, was supposed to be achieved by 2004 and the full 50 per cent cut by 2010.
The 2004 target was missed but ministers have pinned their hopes on the small but steady reductions that have been achieved each year, except in 2002, which saw a small blip.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics suggest that the 2007 increase will dwarf the 2002 rise.
The ONS published figures for under-18 pregnancies in England and Wales, which tend to run parallel and slightly higher than those for England alone, show a rise of at least 2. …