HC Deb 22 May 1969 vol 784 cc657-9
Q7. Sir D. Renton

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to establish permanent and adequate machinery for examining the difficulties to which population growth gives rise, for giving early warning to Parliament of such difficulties and for advising what steps should be taken to overcome them well in advance of crisis point.

The Prime Minister

Growth in population and its consequences are already among the factors which existing Departments, particularly those concerned with social and environmental questions, take into account in their medium and long-term planning. In addition there are interdepartmental arrangements for the study of those longer-term aspects of the problem not immediately related to operational planning.

Sir D. Renton

I express my appreciation to the Prime Minister for his having come at least some way to meet the point of view expressed by more than half this House in the last Session. Is any study taking place of what the maximum or optimum population of the United Kingdom should be, bearing in mind that, if we are not to exceed that population, it will take many years of planning by voluntary means in order to achieve such a result?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's case has been taken seriously by the Government not only in his interventions in the House but in the lengthy correspondence which he and I have had. We have strengthened the inter-departmental machinery co-ordinated by the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government. It is too early yet to say whether it will be possible to give an answer to the question which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. Obviously, it cannot be an easy question to answer. But a population bureau has been established in the Ministry of Overseas Development to deal with the world population question.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

In assessing the effects of population change, is it not necessary to give wider publicity to the figures which the Home Secretary announced recently, indicating that there had been a 10 per cent. drop in the immigration of dependants from the Commonwealth last year, with a 20 per cent. drop in the first four months of this year?

The Prime Minister

Those are important figures announced by my right hon. Friend. The House will, of course, remember that my right hon. Friend had to ask Parliament for special powers 15 months ago to ensure the control of abuses in the matter of immigration.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to co-ordinate the policies of the Minister of Overseas Development and the Secretary of State for Scotland in this matter of population growth? Is he aware that the Minister of Overseas Development has just made a welcome increase in the grant to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, while the Secretary of State for Scotland has refused to allow local authorities to implement the Public Health Act and provide local authority family planning clinics?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that there is a contradiction or inconsistency such as that which the hon. Gentleman has in mind in this case. I believe that most people in this country are aware of the facilities. This has been a matter of great public controversy among what is a totally literate population who know all the issues. The grant for developing countries given by my right hon. Friend is, of course, directed at people who do not know the issues or the means of keeping their populations within control.

Mrs. Renée Short

Would my right hon. Friend venture to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services about this matter and ensure, first of all, that he sees that local authorities are carrying out their responsibilities under the Family Planning Act? Is he aware that, far from what he said, very many people in this country do not yet know that these facilities are available, and that many authorities are not providing them?

The Prime Minister

I would be charmed to have a word with my hon. Friend on this or on any other subject. I am sure that my hon. Friend, who I know has studied this matter in a number of areas where difficulty has been experienced, would be fitter than I to have a discussion with my right hon. Friend.