HC Deb 09 July 1992 vol 211 cc624-41

2.4 am

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad of the opportunity to raise a matter which should concern not only this House, but all the Parliaments of the European Community. It is slightly strange that this matter should be discussed immediately after a debate about the European fighter aircraft. It is as though nobody has noticed that the cold war with Russia has ended and that the biggest threat to world survival is not bombs or fighter aircraft, but people. The problem is that there are too many people. It is not an external problem—it is within man himself. It is the very way man has been designed that puts the globe at risk and the future of human life in jeopardy.

I will explain the scale of the problem. First, three babies are born every second. While I have been speaking for the past two or three minutes, many hundreds of babies have been born. Some 300,000 babies are born every day, and there are 90 million new mouths to feed every year. In a little more than 50 years, it is estimated that the world population will have doubled from the present 5..4 billion to 10 billion in the year 2050.

Sir Crispin Tickell put it very well when he said: the logic is relentless. This animal—you and 1—cannot continue to multiply, consume more natural resources, and do more environmental damage indefinitely. Our long suffering earth simply cannot take it. We have a global problem, which can be tackled only by international action. It is only a total world effort that can stop the world community committing hara kiri.

Just as we are mutually assured of destruction if we do not control weapons, so we are mutually assured of destruction if we do not take action on the population problem. When Nietzsche said that the world is a great death cell he must have foreseen man's potential for massive self-destruction—not creating anything outside that will destroy him, but destroying himself inside. Suicide is no longer about bombs or fighter aircraft, but about the manufacture of too many babies for the world's natural resources to sustain.

The world can sustain 5 billion people, which is the present population, but the train is moving inevitably forward and we cannot stop the world population doubling to 10 million by the year 2050. The question is whether we can stop the world population tripling. If we cannot, the world cannot sustain itself with its current natural resources because they will have been exhausted.

This is a world problem which requires a supranational response. The European Community is one of the world's greatest trading and economic blocks. It must take the lead, force the pace, and drive forward the programme to curtail the onward movement of the train and the seemingly unstoppable growth in the world's population. The EC should not just be imposing the optimum length of the cucumber, considering whether federalism is desirable, or determining fish quotas.

The debate on fish quotas is nevertheless illuminating. We are running out of fish. Too many people want fish and there has been overfishing. Already, the EC is having to curtail the amount of fish caught because the demand for fish by the ever-increasing population cannot be sustained. Fish quotas are an early warning of the problem. We need to realise that our fishing problems are the result of an ever-growing and demanding population. During our presidency of the EC, we should be moving towards a new priority on the world agenda in terms of how to deal with the world population.

I am delighted to see one of my favourite Ministers on the Front Bench tonight. He has already replied to one debate. In case my hon. Friend has any doubt about the scale of the problem, I will give him some figures which may help him to see just what I am getting at and why this is probably one of the most important debates that we have had in the House for some time.

The world population stands at 5.5 billion. The population of the more developed countries, including the EC, stands at 1.25 billion, leaving about 4 billion from the under-developed or less developed countries. At the present rate of population growth, it will take 148 years for the population of the more developed countries to double. In the developed world, the 1.25 billion will double to 2.5 billion in 148 years. But the population of the less developed countries—about 4 billion—will double in 34 years. By 2025 the population of the under-developed countries will have doubled.

Let us look at where the problem is. North Africa has a population of 147 million. That will double in 27 years. West Africa has a population of 182 million. That will double in 23 years. Nigeria has a population of 90 million. That will double in 23 years. East Africa has a population of 206 million. That will double to 412 million in 22 years. By 2020 the population of eastern Africa will go from 206 million to 412 million. Ethiopia has a population of 54 million. That will double in 25 years. Kenya has a population of 26 million. That will double in 19 years. Zambia has a population of 8 million. That will double in 18 years. Tanzania has a population of 27 million. That will double in 20 years.

The problem occurs not just in north Africa, west Africa or east Africa, but also middle Africa, where a population of 72 million will double in 23 years. In south Africa, 47 million will double in 26 years. So Africa has a problem, but it is not the only country with that problem.

Western Asia has a population of 139 million; in 24 years that will have doubled. Iraq has a population of 18 million; in 19 years that will have doubled. Turkey's present population of 59 million will double in 32 years: southern Asia's population of 1,231 million will double in 31 years. If the present birth rate continues, India's population of 882 million will double in 34 years, and Pakistan's population of 121 million will double in 23 years, though it will take 270 years for Japan's population of 124 million to double.

We see a dramatic and appalling picture in Africa and western Asia, but it is not confined to those countries. There are 453 million people in Latin America; if the present birth rate continues, that population will double in 34 years. North America's population of 283 million, though, will take 89 years to double. In other words, Latin America's population will double three times as fast as north America's.

From those figures, it seems that populations are doubling every 20 to 25 years in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Now let us consider the figures for Europe. The European Community—if we include Scandinavia—contains 511 million people. If the present birth rate continues, it will take 338 years for that population to double. It will take 753 years for Denmark's population to doube, and 257 for the United Kingdom's to do the same. Germany already has a minus population trend and Austria's population will take 495 years to double.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Are not all those figures based on the assumption that no major advances will be made in birth control technology? The hon. Gentleman has referred to population's doubling in 20, 30, 50 or 300 years. Surely it is inconceivable that major advances will not be made in that time. Although the hon. Gentleman's statistics may appear very dramatic today, I do not think that they will materialise.

Mr. Steen

That is, of course, an important point. We are always hearing scare stories about terrible things which are going to happen. The technology, however, is not the problem. The technology is there; the problem is access to it. It is not available to some of the world's poorest countries. Populations in western Europe, America and Russia are now under control, but unless we can persuade the developing countries to practise controls which will reduce the current alarming birth rates, the population increases that I have described will come about just 20 or 23 years from now.

There is now way in which we can stop the world population from doubling: it is inevitable. By the year 2050, the world population will be 10 billion. The machinery has already moved into position. What we must do, now that Britain is president of the Community, is to find a way in which to stop it from tripling.

Why, then, are we experiencing this appalling problem of population growth? The reason is the reduction in infant mortality rates, about which we should of course be delighted. People also live longer because of the progress of modern medical technology. But there has been no corresponding reduction in the number of children born. That is why populations have continued to rise so dramatically all over the world.

People's habits are lagging behind technology. The fact that millions of the poorest people have not had access to the technology has resulted in the problem. I draw the attention of the House to an important article on that subject in The Economist on 30 May, which said that 300 million of the poorest couples in the world want to restrict the size of their families but cannot get access to family planning services.

It is not a matter of shoving family planning down people's throats, if that is the right metaphor. The problem is that people cannot get access to the facilities which would allow them to control their own destiny. That is the root of the problem now.

Power stations in the third world are pumping out noxious gases which require flue gas desulphurisation and other expensive systems to prevent the pollution of the atmosphere. They may have to be rebuilt at enormous cost. There is a thrust to cut down carbon dioxide e missions, which is difficult, expensive and unpopular. In contrast, family planning is cheap and effective, and people are crying out for it. Furthermore, it has a lasting impact on the environment. The technology is readily available. The problem is that the world's poor cannot get hold of it.

The European parliamentary conference, promoted by the British all-party parliamentary group on population and development, of which I am proud to be a member, was held in London on 31 January. At that meeting, Sir Crispin Tickell considered the impact on the environment and said that the civilisations of Crete, Petra, central America, the Mexican plateau and Easter island had all collapsed because of an imbalance between population and the environment. He explained that population increase was a major contributor to environmental change and that it put severe stress on the life-supporting capacity of the planet.

We should consider the use of land, water, energy and air. In Ethiopia the fertile upland areas where 88 per cent. of the population live have been losing between 1.5 and 3.5 billion tonnes of fertile topsoil per year. The population was 20 million in 1950; it is 50 million today. During the famines of 1984–85, when an estimated half a million people died of hunger, that number was replaced by new births in little more than six months. When there was such interest in Ethiopia with the national media and enormous sums raised, when we had airlifts and fund raising by pop stars, all the people who died were replaced by new births within six months.

Access to uncontaminated water has barely kept pace with population growth. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.6 billion additional people were given access to water of a reasonable quality. In rural areas more than 855 million people have no access to safe water Most of the countries with limited renewable water resources are in the middle east, north Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa—the regions whose populations are growing fastest.

In developing countries, resource consumption per capita is lower, but rapidly growing populations and the pressure to develop their economies are leading to substantial and increasing damage to the local environment. That is caused by direct pollution through energy use and other industrial activities, clearing forests and unsympathetic agricultural practices.

One fifth of humanity—more than 1 billion urban dwellers—breathe unhealthy air. In the 1980s, Bangkok, Beijing, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Teheran exceeded the World Health Organisation's guideline of 200 days per year of maximum urban air pollution levels. We have seen examples of such damage in Madagascar, with deforestation and all the other environmental issues.

Someone must take the lead. Britain's presidency of the European Community provides us with a great opportunity to change the order of priorities. There are many short-term and medium-term competing demands, but the United Kingdom could rejig the priorities—realising that the population issue is more important than any of the short-term environmental problems that it may be politically expedient to defeat, but that that will not deal with the long-term issues.

A policy paper published by the Commission's Directorate General VIII, with much input from our own Overseas Development Agency, was discussed by development Ministry officials in Brussels on 4 June. A redraft is being circulated in the corridors of the Commission, but I am not sure what will happen next. It might go before the Council of Minister in November, and be debated in the European Parliament. The most important issue facing the world just might be debated in the European Parliament in November.

The EC development budget, known as 'B/75050 Budget Line"—that is how they talk over there—provides for 2 million ecu for demographic programmes. I believe that that is code for family planning, and two million ecu is about £1.25 million. When the EC is spending so little money on the problem, it is hardly surprising that it does not give the problem a high priority.

Can my hon. Friend the Minister reveal the timetable for discussion on the issues paper? When will the European Parliament debate the subject? What funding is currently devoted to population-related activities within the EC development budget? Which director-general is responsible for that funding, and for policy? Has the possibility of establishing a health and population unit, on the lines of our own Overseas Development Agency, been examined? How many health and population experts are there working in the Commission, and for which director-generals do they work? We ought to know what is going on in the EC, and what hope there is of the Community taking a lead, with us pushing from behind.

EC representatives should have attended the Rio summit, but Ripa di Meana did not feel like going, for understandable reasons. I believe that the Pope and other religious leaders should also have been there, because the population problem has religious overtones. Not only was the Pope not at Rio, but population was barely on the agenda. The debates were on the more fashionable environmental issues like global warming, biodiversity, chlorofluorocarbons, and carbon dioxide emissions from car exhausts, but ignored the major, all-embracing world population problem which should have been on the front page and at the top of the queue. It has been waiting long enough for international recognition and for the international community to take action. The subject has been shouting to be taken seriously, but it was hardly noticed in Rio.

The £500,000 that it cost the British delegation to travel to Rio, with Ministers and their private secretaries flying first class and the rest of the officials flying club class, might have been better spent on a grant to increase the work of organisations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other non-governmental organisations which are trying to reduce the population problem that threatens the stability of countries all over the world.

The problem is not just about the priorities at Rio or in the EC. Opposition Members will share my concern about the equally important problem of how we can educate and train women to develop their interest and concern about the population problem. There cannot he many other issues where investment could do more for the development of the environment.

Studies by the World bank have shown that when women have no secondary education, they have an average of seven children. If even 40 per cent. of the women have been to secondary schools, family size drops to three children. Better educated women also have healthier babies. If they are farmers, they are better at managing the environment on which their livelihoods depend. They are more likely to find employment, financial independence and thus the sexual independence that they need to decide how many babies to bear.

Educating women may be less intellectually challenging than keeping the planet cool, but few investments would do more for development and the environment. The EC could play a part by providing greater funds to educate and train women. That is the key to starting the process of reducing the world's population. Before the world's powers look around for enemies to fight with increasingly sophisticated weapons, they should first identify the enemy. The enemy is not outside. The enemy is actually staring us in the face. The enemy is ourselves. The enemy is not a soldier with a gun, but the life force within the human race.

The task, therefore, is gargantuan. My hon. Friend the Minister has no time to sleep tonight. He should go back to his office immediately after the debate, call out his civil servants, send a fax to all his ministerial opposite numbers in the EC, jump on the first plane to Brussels in the morning and say that population must move up the list of priorities on the agenda. He should also adopt a target of 4 per cent. of this country's overseas development finance for population activities.

We give about 1.5 per cent. of our overseas aid—a substantial sum for which I give credit to my hon. Friend the Minister—to family planning and population activities, but that is wholly inadequate. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to urge the Commission that population priorities should be translated into action as a matter of urgency. Stronger initiatives should be taken in the Community to assist in making family planning universally available before the end of the decade for more than 100 million couples who want it, but have no access to it. Or do my hon. Friend and the world want to wait until it is standing room only and too late to do anything?

2.34 am
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

About 18 months ago, the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and I were privileged to go on a trip, which was organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, to Malaysia and Thailand to study population techniques in those countries.

I could not possibly disagree with many of the interesting comments made by the hon. Member for South Hams. I agree wholeheartedly with his point about the importance of investing in women. We cannot say often enough that it is the best investment that Governments can make. That is why I have frequently questioned our Overseas Development Administration on its policies on population assistance.

It is regrettable that, until very recently, we spent only about 1 per cent. of the budget on population assistance. From 1979 to 1990, we cut by about 63 per cent. our contribution to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. It is regrettable that that should have happened, particularly as the Minister for Overseas Development made many speeches in Rio and elsewhere about the importance of population assistance. Of course, she omitted to mention that the Government have been lax in pursuing that important policy.

In the past, when I have questioned the Minister for Overseas Development about what percentage of the ODA budget was focused on women, the answer has been that, as 50 per cent. of the world's population are women, it was assumed that 50 per cent. of the budget was spent on women. By no stretch of the imagination could that be considered fine tuning. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will tell us that the ODA can be more accurate in its answers on that matter. There is no point in the Government's paying lip service to the importance of investing in women if they cannot guarantee that some of their main policies and expenditure are directed at investment in women.

As the hon. Member for South Hams said, rapid population growth imposes an enormous burden on mothers, communities and the earth's resources. Mothers who have many children are more likely to suffer ill health or to die in childbirth than those who can space their children. Their children, too, are more likely to be ill. As population growth outpaces economic growth, more people sink into poverty and are forced to scratch a living from the diminishing natural resources around them.

There is no easy way to stabilise population growth. Widespread access to family planning, education of women and of men, and measures to raise family income and reduce health risks must all go together. One of the clearest lessons of the past two decades is that investment in women—that is, raising their status, providing access to education, to health care and to family planning—not only improves the quality of life but is the best and quickest way to reduce population growth rates.

A recent report published by the World bank makes the same point. Educating women is the biggest single solution to poverty and environmental destruction. Women hold the key to prosperity because they control their fertility and the fertility of the soil. A secondary education reduces family size from seven to three children. Nothing could be clearer than that. I still find it incredible that the rich countries of the world do not respond to the challenges that such reports place before us.

In many developing countries—I have had the opportunity to visit several of them to see United Nations programmes in action—the lack of knowledge of contraception or access to family planning denies women the chance to space their children. A study in Nepal showed that almost 40 per cent. of women with children did not want another child. But 90 per cent. of married women in that country did not know where to obtain contraception advice or supplies. Every year the complications of unplanned pregnancies and abortions kill 200,000 mothers in that country.

I went to Ethiopia about two years ago and saw the United Nations programme on population in action. I saw the long queues of women outside the rural clinics. Many of them would be turned away that day because the staff simply could not cope with the demand. I realised that Britain had cut our contribution to that important United Nations fund. I hope that we shall revoke that particularly bad decision and increase our contributions to those United Nations funds which everyone knows make a worthwhile contribution throughout the world.

Mr. Steen

Perhaps the hon. Lady is coming to what Britain could do as president of the European Community. If she is, I shall not say any more. If she is not, I hope that she will.

Mrs. Clwyd

The hon. Gentleman is impatient. He gave us a tour around the world. I suspect that if he had had the opportunity to display his visual aids and maps more prominently, many hon. Members might have benefited. So he must forgive me if I take not quite such an extensive tour as he did but nevertheless mention parts of the world where I have seen important programmes in action.

Women need to be confident that, if they limit the number of children, the children will survive into adulthood. With up to one in three children dying before their fifth birthday in some of the poorest countries, it is not surprising that some parents feel that as an insurance policy they need to have several children. Therefore, investment in primary health care is essential. It is estimated that simple measures could save about 11,000 children who die from diarrhoea every day in the developing world and 8.000 who die from six major preventable diseases every day. Obviously, that must be tied up with the level of overseas aid that developing countries are prepared to devote to reducing such problems.

In the west and some middle-income developing countries, growing economic security has, for example, brought slower population growth. In most developing countries, the downward spiral of poverty, large families, ill health, lack of resources and increasing poverty still predominates.

In the long term the key to stabilising the world population is to support broad-based development and to promote economic security throughout the third world. That will require increased aid, debt relief, trade reforms and an international commitment to invest in the poor. That is the only way in which to give women, their children and the planet a fair chance.

Those of us who were able to attend the Rio conference deeply regretted that the rich countries were not prepared to address themselves to the agenda of the poorer countries. That agenda calls for increased aid flows, reductions in debt, increased trade possibilities and the transfer of technology. Whatever rhetoric the richer countries care to use to describe their so-called achievements in Rio, they cannot get away from the fact that they were not prepared to offer to meet any of those requests. Rio gave us the opportunity to redress the inequalities in the world and it was deplorable that the richer countries were not prepared to promote third-world issues.

If the Government had maintained their contributions to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities at the 1979 level up to 1990, the UNFPA would have received an additional £42.3 million. That substantial sum of money has been denied to the developing world because of the priorities that our Government have chosen to adopt. In 1979, UNFPA received £9.2 million at 1991–92 prices; in 1991–92 the sum stood at £7.5 million and in 1992–93 the planned figure is £9 million. I hope that the Minister can give us better news on that UN fund.

Last month's report from the UNFPA, "State of World Population 1992", the first for 10 years, shows how serious the situation has become. In the 1980s, food production fell behind population growth in 69 out of 102 developing countries. As the hon. Member for South Hams said, in the next decade world population will accelerate by the fastest rate in history. Almost all the population growth will take place in Africa, Asia and south America—more than half of that in Africa and south Asia, which are already suffering the greatest difficulty in meeting food, health and hygiene needs. As the hon. Gentleman said, further delay could be fatal.

Some third-world countries have already shown that family planning can succeed. The key to success is, once again, secondary education for women, plus access to land, jobs and family planning methods. One need only consider what has happened in certain states in India to see what a difference in attitude can achieve. Kerala and states in the north of India have been extremely successful in their control of population. The "State of World Population 1992" report is worth reading because it makes that achievement clear.

The report states: Kerala's female literacy rate of 66 per cent. is almost double that of its nearest rival. In the five northern states, only 11–21 per cent. of women can read. Kerala has the lowest infant mortality rate in India…In the northern states infant mortality is between four and five times higher. Kerala's fertility rate has fallen to the astonishingly low level of 2.3 children per woman—lower than Thailand or China, the former USSR or Ireland. Contraceptive prevalence is three times the national rate. The report suggests that two factors explain Kerala's success in human development: One is the priority given by the state government to spending on education and health, continuing a tradition that reaches far back into colonial times…Kerala is the only state in India…where the rural death rate is lower than the urban. A far-reaching land reform from the 1960s, has benefited three million tenants and landless. The second factor, whose roots reach even further into history, is the status of women. I recently heard a group of women from Kerala take part in an Institute of Development Studies seminar at the university of Sussex. It was fascinating to listen to some of them argue for improving the status of women in many other parts of the world.

In Kerala, as in the north and many other parts of India and Africa, women inherit land. In Kerala, the husband's family pays the bride price to the wife's family on marriage and women—unlike some other parts of India—are considered an asset. In the north they are considered a burden. In reality, they are a wasted asset.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and I saw and heard of some of the attitudes towards women in India, especially in northern India, recently and saw the different approaches to their importance in that country. The waste of that asset has immense human costs and has led to economic stagnation and rapid population growth in the north of India.

Thailand has reduced its fertility rate, from an average of almost seven children per woman to just over two, and I must pay tribute to what we saw in that country during our visit. Kenya, which used to have the world's fastest rising population, has apparently turned the corner. It is interesting that for every priest in Africa preaching against modern contraception, there are five Catholic nurses urging women to go to family planning clinics. That is also a welcome development.

Whatever the Minister says about population policy, I am sure that he will use many encouraging words. However, in the context of an expanding aid budget— although I suspect that it is likely to continue to shrink as regards some of the poorer developing countries as resources are channelled towards central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—the problem is that the Government analysis treats effects—population growth—not causes. The Government do not often talk about poverty. If Government policy is based on diverting funds away from poverty alleviation, it will be self-defeating. Family planning must be seen as part of a wider health care provision.

The hon. Member for South Hams mentioned the United Kingdom presidency and the Development Council of the EC. He scoffed at some of the budget lines in the European Community, but, as a former Member of the European Parliament, I found the budget lines of considerable advantage because, in contrast with what happens in the Westminster system, Members of the European Parliament can amend the budget line by line. If some of his colleagues in the European Parliament wished to put in additional lines on population assistance in the Community budget, they would be able to promote such a policy. Unfortunately, we do not have such an opportunity in Westminster. An Opposition Member has considerably more powers in the European Parliament to promote policies and obtain funds for subjects that he considers important.

As we all know, there is a logjam in the Community, and it is important that, as the United Kingdom holds the presidency, the Commissioners, and particularly some of the Development Commissioners, are encouraged to move rather faster on certain policies than they have done. I hope that, during the United Kingdom presidency, and while we have the chair of the EC Development Council, the Government will be extending their policies on the debts of developing countries to take into account debts to multilateral institutions and to commercial banks. After all, in 1990, for the first time, Britain received more in debt repayment from the third world than it gave in aid and new loans.

I hope that the Government take the lead in the Community in dealing with the enormity of the famine in Africa. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Hams would not like to see population decline as a result of famine. Africa needs something on the scale of a Marshall plan. What is offered is a desperate, last-minute reliance on emergency aid with no timetable for delivery. It is to the shame of the House that we have not had an opportunity to debate the crisis in Africa before the recess, because, before we meet again, it will have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, unless the EC and the Government move swiftly to do something about getting food aid faster to those African countries suffering from drought and famine. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurances on that.

Will the Minister assure us—again as the United Kingdom holds the presidency—that we shall address the trade issue, and stop treating the floundering GATT negotiations as a panacea for the ills of the developing world? GATT is a United States-EC dialogue and any advantage to the third world will be only a spin-off from that. I hope that the Government will back up their rehetoric on GATT with action and announce a strategy for improving the trading position of developing nations.

I think that I have made it clear, as the hon. Member for South Hams did, that population assistance cannot be treated in isolation. It must be treated in the context of all the subjects that I have mentioned. The figures tell a story of considerable cuts and disregard for the needs of women in the third world.

Despite what the Government said about population, at the Rio conference they gave no strong commitment to increase population assistance within the present meagre aid budget. I hope that the Minister will be able to address that on behalf of a Government who have done little about population over the past 13 years.

3.2 am

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on their constructive and well-informed speeches. They have obviously travelled widely and have had a great chance to study the problem in detail. I shall be brief in addressing one or two important aspects.

The matter was last debated in the House on 25 June during the debate on the Rio conference. It was heartening to hear many hon. Members speak about the vital and immediate problem of the huge growth in world population. I put the topic into context when I spoke in that debate and I gave the figures—an increase from half a billion people at the time of Christ to today's world population of 5 billion, a number which will roughly double in the next 30 to 40 years.

After Rio, an article in The Economist stated that the growth in world population was a severe hindrance to economic and environmental improvement.

I hope that the amnesia of Rio can be more than rectified at the EC Development Council meeting on 18 November. As a result of the debate, I hope that the Minister will pass on to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister our pleas to move this vital issue up the agenda during our presidency of the EC so that it is discussed not only in the Development Council but at the summit in Edinburgh in December. If the problem is placed nearer the top of the agenda, we might start to get some action.

I listened carefully to the debate and noted the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams that the resources devoted to the UN FPA are insufficient. It is sad that such cost-effective aid was not increased. I join in urging the Minister to see whether some of the new resources promised by the Prime Minister at Rio can be used to help solve the world's population problem.

One cannot totally separate the problem of population increase from economic growth and the exploitation of environmental resources; the three are inextricably linked. It is a sad fact that in poorer countries as economic activity falls, poverty and the population increase. As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley said, the extra children born often do not live beyond the age of 30.

As I said in my speech on 25 June, there is a clear case for increasing resources to educate women. That will enable us somehow to break out of the vicious cycle in which women emerge from the family unit when very young and immediately start to bear children. If we could improve education in some of the poor countries so that people delayed having children, and brought them up and fed them better, and had improved health resources, housing and schooling, we could start to break the cycle.

That process is not without success. The link between population and economic growth has been proved in the four "dragon countries"—Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea—which have dramatically stabilised their populations as a result of improved economic activity. One of our major contributions is to try to reduce third-world debt. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimated that, in 1989, the level of third-world debt had reached record proportions.

I welcome the initiatives of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to ensure that the Trinidad terms are not only adhered to, but advanced. That is a significant contribution to reducing world poverty, particularly in the third world, and is a subject of which we do not hear enough.

It is vital to increase trade in third world countries. We have heard much this evening about the growth in the world population. At the height of the growth of the western world during the industrial revolution, the population was growing at about 1–5 per cent. per annum. My hon. Friend the Minister said earlier that that means that the population would double in 30 years. At its height, when there was a great economic push for people to emigrate to north America, the world population was increasing at about 2 per cent. per annum. It is a sad fact that, of the 42 countries where population is increasing at more than 3 per cent. per annum, 24 are in the African continent. It is a great pity that we do not hear enough about a strategic plan for helping the African continent.

The EC Development Council has produced a paper called "Horizon 2000"—to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams alluded. He rightly asked which directorate of the commission was responsible for that paper and which was responsible for financing it. I suspect that it is a little like the "Agenda 21" document at Rio —it lacks teeth. The issue must be moved up the political agenda. It is a sad reflection of the importance of this subject that, despite the lateness of the hour, there are not more hon. Members present to debate it.

I do not know whether there will be sufficient action at the European development summit. I hope that one day, within my lifetime—certainly in this Parliament—the issue will take on greater urgency. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider whether we can meet the United Nation's target of doubling our aid from 1 to 2 per cent. of the United Nations population fund by 1995, as that would be an extremely cost-effective way of alleviating some of the worst poverty in the world.

One of the major problems relating to third world poverty, debt and population explosion is the sort of Government with whom we have to deal. In aiding countries in one way or another, we are trying to help them to help themselves. I think that Christopher Patten was the first person I heard talk about the problem when he was Minister for Overseas Development. It is no good flooding countries with emergency aid. The aid must be properly structured and planned.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams said, there was a great deal of razzmatazz in 1985 when 500,000 people died in Ethiopia and Bob Geldof proposed Live Aid to raise about £20 million. Sadly, within a year, that population had been replaced. Such aid is typical of what I call "fire brigade aid" going to a despotic, tyrannical Government. We need to continue what Christopher Patten began and link our aid to democratic government.

Progress is being made in some parts of the world, as we heard in our earlier debate on south America. Some countries there have a growing population problem and are progressing to good democratic government. We heard in an earlier debate how Venezuela and Colombia in particular have now had two terms of democratic government.

I see that the lateness of the hour is getting to us all. It is time for me to finish and let the Minister wind up. I hope that he will bear my comments in mind. I also hope that he will bring the debate to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and move it up the political agenda so that we get some action.

3.11 am
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I had not intended to speak in the debate, so I rise without notes, but I should like to say a few words in response to some of the issues that have been raised.

I wish to place on record the appreciation of many of my hon. Friends for the important work done by the all-party group on population and development and, in particular, to express our appreciation to miss Dilys Cossey for the way in which she advises Members of Parliament. I know that many of my hon. Friends are deeply indebted to her for her work.

I mention the personal position of women in third world countries who are faced with the problem of fertility and their considerations when deciding—if it can be said that they have a choice—the size of their families. Millions of women have no choice.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and I were in India, we were fortunate to be able to interview a young woman outside the Rihand power station in central India. We asked her about problems of contraception and how to decide the size of her family. It was a very personal conversation and, within a few minutes, she was reduced to tears, but we learned the truth. She lived on very little money in an area with very little primary health care cover.

She faced a dilemma. She had a very low income but recognised that, if she were to live to 50, which might be deemed an old age in India, she would need some form of financial security in her old age, which she believed meant having children. Therefore, there were economic considerations to be taken into account when discussing children. However, she could not afford to raise children as her husband was unemployed so, in effect, she had no choice. It was only when we provoked the discussion with her that she broke down and explained her dilemma in detail.

If we are to resolve these matters in the longer term we shall not do so simply by education, although that is extremely important. We must secure economic development so that people are enabled to take real decisions on whether it is necessary to expand their families. That brings us back to the allocation of resources. I think that the European Community has a special role to play in developing programmes for sustainable development so that women know that they can look forward to longer-term economic security.

We were able to visit a clinic in India. It was not particularly hygienic. As we walked into it, we saw several women lying on the floor who had just had sterilisation operations. When we went into the so-called theatre at the back of the clinic, we saw that the conditions were pretty poor. The authorities in the area were clearly quite proud of the provision that was being made, but I left with a great sense of unease about whether population controls could be dealt with in that way.

It cannot be beyond the wit of man in coming decades to find ways further to improve the advanced technology that now exists. Some of us object to the proposition that we can leave these matters to market forces and that private companies will develop the technology. A huge international effort is required. States, Governments and research institutions must be involved if we are to make further major advances so that women are not required to go through the indignity of the operations that my hon. Friend and I saw being carried out in India. Even today, crude technology is applied to women who face the difficulties that have been described. Equally, a huge effort must be made to ensure that that does not continue.

We must avoid reliance on private sector industry initatives operating in commercial market conditions. Governments are invariably the purchasers and states must be involved. They must promote research so that people throughout the third world can benefit.

3.17 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

With the leave of the House, perhaps I might speak for a second time in this debate on the Consolidated Fund.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) on drawing an important subject to the attention of the House. I extend my congratulations to the all-party group on population and development for the constructive role that it plays in the continuing debate. We shall certainly continue to listen to what it has to say on this important subject. It is a critically important topic, which is central to the goal of overcoming poverty and achieving sustainable progress within developing countries. I am glad to say that it is of particular and growing interest to many hon. Members.

I believe that the Government can claim some credit for the role that we have been playing internationally in ensuring that population is given the attention that it deserves. Over the past year or so, our voice was significant in helping to ensure that population was placed firmly on the agenda of the Earth summit in Rio. It was an initial disappointment when it seemed as though the summit would not address the issue, but latterly it did. The subject was recognised by the participants for its importance.

During the summit, my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development made a notable speech —it has drawn praise from many quarters—pressing the case for population to be tackled seriously by the international community. We have also been pleased by the support that we have been getting from many quarters for the principles and goals that we have adopted under the Overseas Development Administration population initiatives, "Children by Choice not Chance", which was announced last year, accompanied by an admirable pamphlet which I know that my hon. Friend will have seen.

The subject of the debate relates particularly to the Government's population policy with regard to the European Community and to the period of the United Kingdom's presidency. This debate provides a welcome opportunity to explain our intentions during the presidency. We believe that the European Community's aid programme should pay more attention to supporting programmes which extend women's and men's right to choose whether, and when, to have children. Its present involvement in this area is not substantial. Fortunately, there are a good number of people in Brussels who share our view that that needs to change.

We are not actively involved with the European Commission in an initiative, to which my hon. Friend referred, which we hope will significantly enhance the support that the Community provides to population programmes in developing countries, especially in the strengthening of family planning services. We are very pleased that the Commission—the DG8—has already acted by organising a recent meeting of population experts from EC member countries. I could say more about that, but I want to make progress. I will write to my hon. Friend and deal with any points that I cannot answer in detail tonight. Unfortunately, I have only 14 minutes left.

That meeting was especially useful in helping to move towards a more coherent European position on the essential components of family planning programmes and how donor countries should be helping.

The next important step, in which the United Kingdom presidency will again be collaborating closely with the European Commission, will be to ensure that population features as a key item of attention at the next Development Council in November. I am pleased to confirm that my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will be in chair at that important meeting. I shall be representing the United Kingdom.

The Government's aim is that the Development Council will agree a new, stronger resolution on population which will build on the existing rather imprecise declarations of principle in favour of population support contained in the Lomé convention. We hope that that will provide the Commission with a clear political push for greater involvement in support of population programmes and also specific operational guidelines for the Community's aid programme in that area. It is our hope that such an outcome will also encourage member states to pay greater attention to population programmes within their own national aid programmes, as we have already been doing in the United Kingdom under our own population initiative.

I wish to rebut some of the points made by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). She failed— characteristically, I regret to say—to give any credit to the Government on the Toronto and Trinidad terms, which have been a major initiative over the years and a major engine to help reduce the burden of debt in the third world. I fear that she was not sufficiently generous to the Government in relation to their enormous promotion of the Uruguay round on the GATT negotiations, which is absolutely essential to the Government's policy on aid. We never stop emphasising that it is an essential feature of our policy to help the third world to trade with the rich world and to raise its standard of living in that way.

I wish to correct two errors in the hon. Lady's speech. She repeated the canard that, in 1990, third-world countries paid more back to the rich west than they received in aid and loans. That is not true—it is merely an accounting factor, because when debt has been written off it is considered as a debt repayment. That is the reason for that statistical misinterpretation. If the hon. Lady does not accept what I say, I will ask my right hon. Friend to write to her in graphic detail so that the point is put clearly and she can be relieved of any misapprehension.

The hon. Lady was under another misapprehension in suggesting that in some way our aid programme for the third world will be reduced because of commitments to the former Soviet Union. She knows that that is a different budget. It is perfectly true that raising Government expenditure generally in one area affects the potential for Government expenditure in another. If that is what the hon. Lady is saying, fine, but that is not an argument of any substance. We are helping the former Soviet Union from a different aid resource, as she well knows. She should not use that argument to suggest that in some way aid to the third world is threatened.

The amount that we devote to population within the aid programme has risen from 1.1 per cent. to 1.5 per cent. of our aid budget during the last two years, and it is likely to continue to rise during the next two years in the same sort of way.

My hon. Friend the member for South Hams brought to the House some alarming statistics on world population and how the less developed countries are growing in such a frighteningly fast way. He gave graphic examples from Africa and Asia.

My way of understanding that terrific explosion is to say to myself that anyone who is a shade older than 40, or about 40—we are all a shade older than 40—will have seen the world population double in his or her lifetime. In the next 30 years it will double again. That means that in 30 years' time the world's population will have quadrupled in the lifetime of a 70-year-old person.

That is why, with the best will in the world—I know that it was not mentioned in a tendentious way—the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was being a little complacent when he intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams. Of course science may solve the problem, but it is precisely to ensure that people who are in a position to influence world events do so that we are having this debate. It is crucial that the issue should not just he left for wise men to come to the right conclusions about. It must be constantly repeated for people to realise the enormous importance and priority that must be attached to it. We do that within the aid programme.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman accuses me of being complacent. All that I was pointing out was that the assumptions are predicated on the bases of existing technology. Inevitably, there will be technological advance which may to some extent mitigate matters.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I accept that, but the important point of my hon. Friend's contribution is to ensure that people address the issue.

Our aid programme spending on direct population activities has grown fourfold since 1981 and it was £26 million in 1991. That is a 55 per cent. increase during the past two years. I gave the percentage figures earlier.

We plan to do more. By next year we intend to have established at least 15 new projects aimed specifically at strengthening the coverage and quality of family planning and maternal health services, improving the reliability of contraceptive supplies and enabling women to take greater control over their lives. We are on course to achieve that target.

It is inevitable that population policy should play a large and growing part in our aid programme. It is precisely because the rich world has been successful in humanitarian relief from famine of the kind experienced in Africa and described by by hon. Friend that we must pay particular attention to population principles.

We attach particular importance to some guiding principles in our population aid. First, individuals, and women in particular, should be entirely free and able to choose for themselves when to have children. Secondly, those choices should be fully informed and not subject to pressure or coercion of any kind. Thirdly, the quality of family planning services, as well as their availability, must be improved if they are to win people's confidence.

Let me say a little about the ODA's support for multilateral population agencies such as the UNFPA, which was mentioned by both the hon. Member for Cynon Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown). A major part of our assistance is channelled through the multilateral population programmes. Our support for the United Nations Population Fund has increased by more than 50 per cent. over the past two years, to £9 million in 1992. That is a substantial increase. Dr. Nafis Sadik, the UNFPA's executive director, has publicly expressed her appreciation of the United Kingdom's example to other donors.

Our support for the International Planned Parenthood Federation has also grown, to £8 million this year. In 1990, our contribution to UNFPA amounted £6 million. It was paid over two periods, in 1990 and at the beginning of the calendar year 1991. The hon. Lady seemed to want to establish that a cut had been made in 1990; in fact, the money was paid over two calendar years but in the same financial year.

Mrs. Clwyd

I have before me a table showing the United Kingdom's contributions to multilateral agencies between 1979 and 1990, in real terms. It shows that in 1979 our contribution was more than £8 million, and that it declined each year between 1979 and 1990. The Minister said that the contribution spilled over into 1991, but the 1990 figure shown here is £3 million, compared with £8 million in 1979. Until very recently, each year showed a steady decline. I do not think that anyone would congratulate the Government on that.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The important point is that our contribution has grown significantly in the years to which I have referred.

The hon. Lady spoke of the need to educate women. Women's literacy is a vital element of any influence on population growth. There is clear evidence that better-educated women, able to receive the written message on family planning and child spacing, have smaller families, and that the children of those smaller families are healthier and better educated as a result.

Progress is being made globally in terms of population dynamics. Fertility levels are declining, as were mentioned by the hon. Lady and others. The average family size in developing countries has fallen from six to four in the past 30 years, and more than half the couples in the world are now using some form of family planning. Of course much more needs to be done to extend reproductive choice; otherwise the health and welfare of countless millions of women and children will continue to suffer and we shall be unable to prevent the world population from trebling, or even worse.

I end by quoting what was said by my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker in her important speech at Rio last month. I think that it summarises the Government's position on population very succinctly and very well: My Government's position, is that women and men should be able to choose when to have children, and should have the means to put their choices into effect. We know that even the poorest people in the world want to make these choices and will make them readily when given the opportunity to do so. Hundreds of millions of couples throughout the world need family planning services to exercise their right to choose. We must not fail them. I assure the House that the Government will keep that goal —indeed, necessity—clearly in view during the period of the United Kingdom presidency and beyond.