HC Deb 14 October 1991 vol 196 cc17-8
40. Mr. Grist

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on population assistance through the United Kingdom aid programme.

Mrs. Chalker

The ODA booklet "Children by Choice not Chance", published in August, explains the developmental priority of our population initiatives. Health services must expand to meet the demands of couples to choose when to have children. At least 15 new projects are planned. The specific budget has expanded from £6.5 million in 1981 to £24 million in 1990, and will steadily expand further.

Mr. Grist

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that statement is very welcome indeed, but that the underlying funding is still in considerable doubt as only 1 per cent. of our overseas aid seems to be going on that measure which must be one of the most important facing mankind? Surely we should be giving more in absolute and relative terms.

Mrs. Chalker

I understand my hon. Friend's desire to increase that. aid. In fact, our spending on direct population activities has more than tripled since 1980. If we add to the £24 million that we spent last year and the larger amount this year, the £91 million on other projects which actually helped in population planning, the picture will look a little different. We are taking more money from the country allocations where Governments will agree to it and through non-governmental organisations to try to increase still further population planning activities.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I have a yes or no reply to my very simple question? Is it true that last year, as a proportion of GDP, Britain spent less than it has ever done since the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development began keeping records? Yes or no?

Mrs. Chalker

The answer is yes. I do not like it any more than anybody else does, but I rely on the facts. The facts are that Britain has the sixth largest aid programme. It has been growing in real terms over the past three years. It is closely targeted. We intend to ensure that the quality of it remains high. It has been repeatedly praised by the OECD. Above all, we insist on having tight evaluation procedures for everything that we are doing, and I am determined to see that that happens.

I inform the House also that the financial year 1991–92 shows a planning figure, as a proportion of GNP, of 0.31 per cent. and that much of the expenditure in the first quarter of 1991 would have been in the calendar year 1990 but for things way beyond Britain's control.

Mr. Sayeed

Does my right hon. Friend accept that large families are economic necessities for many in poor countries? Children provide sustenance when their parents grow older. Therefore, before we start cutting the size of families, is not it necessary to decrease infant mortality and provide a market for the goods of poor countries so that they can actually earn income to sustain families?

Mrs. Chalker

As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), economic growth and access to markets are vital. That will help families but it does not remove the fact that a doubling —possibly even a tripling—of the current population of 5.4 billion during the next century will eat up more environmental and economic resources that growth could ever provide or conserve. That is why population planning is not only necessary but desired by hundreds of millions of couples who cannot get it.