HC Deb 20 January 1992 vol 202 cc16-8
34. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Minister for Overseas Development will attend the conference from 31 January to 1 February 1992 for European parliamentarians on action on world population, sponsored by the British parliamentary group on population and development.

Mrs. Chalker

I much regret that I will be unable to attend that conference because of my forthcoming visit to southern Africa. My noble friend the Earl of Caithness has agreed to attend in my place. My officials will play a major role in support to European action on world population. I look forward to the conclusions of the conference with considerable interest.

Mr. Steen

The House is sorry that the Minister cannot attend the conference. All European Members would have liked to pay tribute to the splendid work that she and the Government have done for overseas development. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ever-growing problem of street children is a consequence of overpopulation? Does she consider that some new initiative is needed to stem police brutality in countries such as Brazil—where there are 10 million street children—Guatemala, Mexico and other countries? Would my right hon. Friend feel able to lead a crusade with other European countries to put pressure on the Governments of central and south America so that every child there has a home, food, clothing and education and is not allowed to fall prey to the worst excesses of human nature?

Mrs. Chalker

I agree that the situation for street children not only in Brazil and Guatemala but in certain other countries is extremely serious. That is one good reason why we have been supporting several nongovernmental projects in the region and why we have made representations to presidents and other leaders about the state of children in those countries. It is difficult to provide advice on population planning in some Catholic countries, but I am pleased at the progress that we are beginning to make. The more children who are born by choice and not by chance, the better, as we said in August of last year when working our our programme.

Sir David Steel

Although it is understandable that the Minister cannot be in two places at once, will she assure the House that her noble Friend will make a strong contribution to the conference? Does she agree that some of our overseas development programmes have been vitiated by the rise in population in some of the countries concerned?

Mrs. Chalker

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my noble Friend will make a very strong statement of Government policy, even though I wish that I could do it myself. Of course the increasing population in some countries is harming the progress that they could otherwise make on development issues. However, it is good to note that because the contraception prevalence rate has increased considerably since 1985 in countries such as Bangladesh and a number of African countries, we are beginning to make more progress. By spending more resources on this matter, as I intend to do, having tripled our programme in the past 10 years, I believe that we shall make still further progress, with the help of education, too.

Sir Charles Morrison

Although I fully understand why my right hon. Friend cannot attend the conference of Parliamentarians, will she tell the House now whether the Government support the recent call by Mr. Robert McNamara for a global commission on population in preparation for the 1994 United Nations conference on population? Secondly, are the Government currently involved in giving advice or assistance to the Russian republics and to other east European republics?

Mrs. Chalker

In answer to my hon. Friend's first question, we believe that the UN conference on population in 1994 will he an important focal point and that all possible work to support it should be carried out. We have not yet concluded whether that work should be in the form suggested by Mr. Robert McNamara or be carried out in other ways. Nevertheless, we shall support such work.

In answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question about population planning assistance to the former Soviet Union, although we have not been asked for such help, last week I agreed that £2 million-worth of medical aid should be spent in the republics of the former Soviet Union. That aid is already going out, starting with a specific gift that was made today in Moscow.

Mrs. Clwyd

In so far as the population of Africa, and especially that of Somalia, is clearly at risk from internal conflict and where the aid agencies cannot deliver any assistance because of that conflict, is it not time for the British Government to urge the United Nations to take a more interventionist and far stronger role in resolving those disputes?

Mrs. Chalker

Having visited homes for abandoned children in Somalia a couple of years ago, I can well understand concern not only about young children in that country, but about all its people. That was why, when meeting the United Nations new Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Ghali, last Monday, I took the opportunity to suggest to him the need for more action in Somalia. James Jonah's visit on behalf of the secretary-general looks like producing some suggestions, but we shall continue to fund British non-governmental organisations that are providing relief in Somalia in the form of both food and medicines. We hope that there will be peace soon so that we can do still more effective work.

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