CHILDREN as young as 13 should be provided with contraception, and sex education should be given in schools from "the earliest age possible," to tackle the urgent problem of teenage pregnancies in Scotland, a Holyrood inquiry has recommended.

After a six-month investigation found Scotland's rate of teenage pregnancy is higher than most other Western European countries, MSPs called for a new blueprint to tackle the problem.

The MSPs' research, disputed by the Scottish Government, indicated seven out of every 1000 girls under the age of 16 were pregnant in 2010.

Duncan McNeil MSP, convener of Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee, said its six-month investigation was not meant to demonise teenage parents.

But he warned it was impossible to ignore high rates of young teenage pregnancy which have a long-lasting impact on generations of people.

Mr McNeil brushed aside critics of his committee's plan, insisting: "This is not about showing youngsters a diagram of what goes where, but about teaching them how we treat each other."

The report recommends refreshing the way pupils are educated about sex, with extra input from young people.

He said providing sexual health and relationships education (SHRE) from the earliest age possible was likely to be controversial as this in theory could take such lessons into nursery classes, which some parents would to object to.

The curriculum does not set an age limit, giving discretion to teachers in consultation with parents. Concern was raised about how a consistent approach can be taken with Catholic schools.

Mr McNeil said the committee had in all cases followed the evidence, looked at the damage caused by current policy failings, and assessed possible solutions.

He said: "Improved access to contraception or better access to high-quality sexual health education won't in itself tackle our rates of teenage pregnancy. Our committee is confident that implementing this package of measures will bring about the step-change we need to make a real difference."

The report says the Scottish Government should be accountable to parliament for delivering any new policy.

The report concluded: "The committee accepts the majority of the evidence presented to it that SHRE needs to begin earlier and that the majority of parents, many of whom feel ill-equipped to discuss sexual matters with their children, would welcome and support quality SHRE provisions from an early age."

Responsibility for the provision of these services should lie with councils and headteachers as MSPs ruled out a controversial call for schools to offer emergency hormonal contraception such as the morning-after pill.

It added the focus should be placed on improving access to emergency contraception through specialised drop-in youth services.

Sandy Fraser, convener of the Church of Scotland's education committee, said the Kirk believes sex and relationship education should be prepared by parents, carers and teachers, be appropriate for the age of the pupils, and include moral education.

He said: "The core message of any sexual health and relationship education must be that the healthiest relationships are grounded in love, fidelity and commitment."

A Catholic Church spokesman said: "The Church suspects we cannot keep going on with an approach which, by its own measures, accepts it has failed so far. The Church suspects it is time to re-orientate our approach to relationship and sex education."

The committee found there has been a small, steady decline in pregnancies among older teenagers but little change among under-16s.

A Scottish Government spokesman welcomed the conclusions, but disputed some of the data, adding: "The conclusions they have drawn about rates of teenage pregnancy in Scotland are factually incorrect. Data in the committee's own report demonstrates Scotland's rate of teenage pregnancy is lower than the rest of the UK."