HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1515-6
Q3. .Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Prime Minister whether he will appoint a Minister with special responsibility for Government policy on population.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. It would be premature to reach decisions on this before we have considered the recommendations of the Population Panel, which are due by the end of the year.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are people who take the view that the population is too high, and others—like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—who take the view that it is uncomfortably high? Is not it vital for the Government to discontinue the practice of the last Government of being hazy on an issue which is all-important for the future of the country?

The Prime Minister

I was responsible for setting up the Population Panel. I think that it would be right to await the results of its activities before taking further action.

Mrs. Renée Short

If the Prime Minister is not yet willing to appoint a Minister to be responsible for this matter— which the whole House wants, and which has been recommended by a Select Committee of this House—will he urgently consider the possibility of removing charges for family planning, so that it may be provided under the National Health Service? Vasectomies are now available on the National Health Service, and it seems to be appalling sex discrimination to make women pay for their family planning advice and supplies.

The Prime Minister

I recognise that a Select Committee of this House has twice recommended that there should be a Minister for population policy. However, I do not believe that a single Minister could cope with this problem. Therefore I do not propose to appoint one.

The second part of the hon. Lady's supplementary question is largely a matter for local authorities. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services expects to make a statement before long on the future development of family planning services under the National Health Service.

Sir Gilbert Longden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is to be hoped that he will not be influenced by people who foolishly describe as "doomwatchers" those who predict a population explosion if nothing is done soon?

The Prime Minister

They have been in existence for more than a century—in fact, since the time of Malthus. I do not think that we should pay them any more attention now than was paid to them then.

Mr. David Steel

Returning to the question of a free birth control service, can the Prime Minister be a little more forthcoming about when we may expect a policy announcement on that?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give a specific date, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services expects to make it soon.