HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc259-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wells.]

10.4 am

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

In this debate, I want to make two fundamental points. First, I acknowledge that coercive practices take place in international population programmes and I join all those who condemn those practices. No family planning programme will ever be successful unless it is run on a voluntary basis with full respect for human and reproductive rights.

Secondly, at the heart of international population programmes are two organisations: the UNFPA, which is not the United Nations Family Planning Association, but the United Nations Population Fund—why it is called the UNFPA, I have no idea—and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. While those organisations give aid to population programmes in countries where coercion takes place, they do not assist or condone coercion and we should not withdraw their funding.

I fundamentally believe that the root cause of many of the world's problems is excessive population growth. I was born at the end of the second world war and my life has coincided with Europe's post-war experience. Many things have happened and there have been many shifting patterns of history and mankind, yet as we reach the end of the 20th century, the global issue which stands out more than anything else is world population growth. Since I was born, the world's population has doubled. By 2000, it will reach 6 billion. The impact of that is huge, with environmental consequences, resource shortage and immigration tensions. Population growth affects the globe's economic prosperity and its quality of life.

Against that background, the international conference on population development, organised by the UNFPA, was set. It took place in Cairo in September. A year earlier, the G7 summit in Tokyo had recognised the increasing importance of world population growth and called on the Cairo conference to put forward a solution. At Cairo, politicians from such diverse cultures as President Mubarak of Egypt, Gro Brundtland of Norway, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Al Gore, the Vice-President of America, all rose to argue that whatever one's backgrounds and beliefs, the situation could no longer be ignored.

The breakthrough at that conference was that almost every country in the world—including China—was present and almost every country in the world agreed. As a result, it produced a programme of action, with recommendations to the international community. The recommendations are a set of important population and development objectives for universal reproductive health rights in the next two decades in a framework of poverty reduction, women's empowerment, economic growth and changing lifestyles—obviously without the threat of coercion.

The conference received a great deal of publicity, mainly due to the Vatican's attempts to resist the inevitable. People may not have been sure of precisely what had happened in that conference and the conclusions that it had reached, but at least they knew that it had happened. The Cairo conference was not just about abortion—I regretted the singling out of that controversial issue—but much more. Its main objective was to place the individual at the centre of the population debate and to acknowledge that reproductive rights are recognised by Governments as international human rights.

That acknowledgement of the role of the individual must be set firmly in the context of the stark reality that population growth is at an all-time high: a rate of about 90 million people annually or 10,000 an hour. At that rate of growth, it will take only 11 years to add the next 1 billion individuals to our world.

It is inevitable that with such huge numbers involved. the globe's population programmes will be extensive. It is equally inevitable that when sensitive issues such as sterilisation and abortion are involved there will be abuses. Those abuses must be condemned.

As is well documented, many coercive practices take place in China. I do not seek to defend China's population programmes, but the demographic challenge for that country is undeniable. It has 21 per cent. of the world's population—1.2 billion people—but only 7 to 10 per cent. of the land suitable for cultivation. With growth at 1.5 per cent., 160 million more people will be added to its population within a decade.

In response to that challenge, the Chinese Government began the vigorous promotion of family planning in 1971. In 1979 it announced the controversial "one child" campaign, introducing rewards and penalties to induce couples to limit their families to one child. Not surprisingly that campaign was unpopular, especially in rural areas. In the early 1980s intensive family planning campaigns aimed at meeting strict demographic targets led to at least some instances of forced abortions and other abuses, although there is no consensus on how widespread those were.

By 1984 the programme had reached another turning point. Since by then party officials, perhaps recognising that the one child goal was unpopular and unrealistic, have gradually increased exceptions to it. Outside China the one child policy is widely perceived to be universally and strictly implemented, whereas in fact official regulations relative to family size vary substantially within that country. It may be more correct to say that nationally, China has something like a 1.6 child policy. However, official policy notwithstanding, on average Chinese couples have had 2.5 children, compared with the 2.1 child average required to achieve an eventual stable population.

All over the world our experience shows us that family planning programmes should be voluntary if they are to succeed. Countries that have succeeded in stabilising and lowering the rate of growth of their populations have done so almost exclusively by voluntary methods. I always hold out our own family planning programme as a model—free contraception, available on demand at a source of the client's choice.

It follows that if a country engages on a one-child programme it is bound to cause tensions and concerns. However, that should not be grounds for picking up our bat and ball and walking away in protest at practices that we find unacceptable. Our attitude should be to try to persuade, influence and assist wherever possible.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Can my hon. Friend give the House any evidence that in the 10 or more years that those organisations have been involved—in China and the third world, for example—they have been able to persuade or cajole, or in any way to change the policies of Governments on coercive sterilisation and abortion?

Mr. Ottaway

If my hon. Friend will allow me, that is the point that I intend to deal with next. I shall describe what the organisations have done and explain why the abuses are not grounds for picking up our bat and ball and walking away. Those organisations have influenced and assisted. Indeed, one of them has done much to stop coercive practices.

Family planning programmes in different parts of the world are run in two ways—first, through the country's own family planning association and, secondly, through non-governmental organisations that run their own population programmes. External funding for the FPAs and NGOs comes from third-party governmental bilateral and multilateral aid. It also comes from the UNFPA and the IPPF. The UNFPA is unequivocally committed to the principles of voluntarisrn in its programme of assistance throughout the world. It categorically condemns the use of coercion in any form or manner in any population programme.

The right to plan and regulate family size is widely accepted as a basic human right. The executive director of the UNFPA, Dr. Nafis Sadik, who has shown outstanding leadership on the issue, said in her speech at the preparatory committee for the Cairo conference: The principle of free choice is essential to the success of such programmes. Coercion whether physical or moral, has no part to play. Coercion is a breach of human rights; it is also unsuccessful from a practical point of view". The UNFPA is supported entirely by voluntary contributions, not by the United Nations' regular budget. It directly manages a quarter of the world's population assistance to developing countries, and in 1994 provided support to 150 countries, including China.

Many countries believe that by providing assistance to China the UNFPA is uniquely positioned positively to influence China's population policies and to promote human rights. It has dialogue with China's officials at every level, and its projects require observance of human rights. It insists on approaches to service delivery grounded in informed consent, free choice and quality care, and its programme introduces China's officials to international standards through international training in foreign institutions.

Over the past 15 years the UNFPA has supported the development of 23 contraceptive production facilities, and China is now totally self-sufficient in the production of modern contraceptives and can offer a wide variety. The fund has also provided counselling that focuses on individual choice and informed consent and—this is particularly relevant to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton)—it has helped to establish population science curricula in 22 Chinese universities.

Working with the World Health Organisation and with UNICEF, the UNFPA has supported massive training of physicians and health care workers in 300 poor rural Chinese counties to increase their skills in the provision of quality maternal, child health and family planning care. It has also initiated projects in 11 provinces in China to promote women's status in a culture in which women are traditionally held in much lower esteem than men. Its role in China and its commitment to that country has been effective and influential.

The IPPF is a different type of organisation altogether. After the Red Cross it is the largest international voluntary organisation in the world. It has 112 member associations and 136 individual country associations. It gives technical and financial assistance to the work of national family planning associations in more than 160 countries throughout the world. Like the UNFPA, the IPPF entirely rejects coercive practices. I am proud to say that its headquarters are here in London.

The important feature of the IPPF is that it works through its member country family planning associations and has no direct involvement itself. It has many aims and objectives. In simple terms its goal is to meet the unmet demand for quality family planning services and to promote sexual and reproductive health through its strategic plan, Vision 2000.

The IPPF's involvement in China is carried on through the China Family Planning Association—the CFPA—which was founded in the 1980s as a nationwide NGO. The federation's assistance to the CFPA takes the form of technical and financial support—that amounted to about $1 million last year—the bulk of which is used for audio-visual equipment, education materials and administrative support.

The CFPA became a full member of the IPPF in 1986, confirming agreement to the IPPF's standards and responsibilities of membership, which explicitly state that family planning services must be voluntary and non-coercive. It was founded to promote the cause of voluntary family planning using information and education throughout China, and it has never been involved in any way in the distribution of contraceptives or other clinical services.

It is important to remember that China's family planning programme is run not by the CFPA but by the state. In 1991, at the request of the Chinese Government, the CFPA, whose only source of funding was the IPPF, started to observe the state of family planning programmes to identify and report on reproductive rights abuses. That supervision role is new for the association, and represents an important step in the recognition of the safeguarding role of an NGO, affording a crucial point of leverage for modifying over-zealous efforts that cause allegations of abuse. That role continues.

Personally, I would like the Chinese Government to allow couples greater choice over the number and timing of births, while continuing to advocate small families. I believe that China could start to achieve its demographic targets by promoting the two child family, with special emphasis on delaying the first birth and spacing the second.

However, the role of the UNFPA and the IPPF is genuine and sincere. Both organisations are firmly opposed to coercion and are committed to implementing non-coercive practices. The IPPF's main role in China is the funding of programmes preventing abuses, and I hope that I have demonstrated that its funding is closely monitored and is not used in the manner set out in early-day motion 1251.

Withdrawing funding to those organisations would be counter-productive. In the 1970s, the withdrawal of US aid to Pakistan as a protest at human rights abuses achieved nothing, and it was left to the rest of the world to pick up the pieces of Pakistan's family planning programme. We have seen the good work of the UNFPA and the great successes it has achieved, but withdrawing funding from the IPPF would be the most ridiculous. There are numerous examples where the IPPF's monitoring of abuses of state programmes have achieved success and lowered tensions. By education, it has shown that it is in the population's interests to have a small family.

What would we gain by withdrawing aid? We would lose our influence. Our view should be to offer constructive help. It is easy to be critical and condemnatory, but it is less easy to offer a positive way ahead which would take account both of a nation's cultural heritage and of the economic and social restraints. Horror stories, such as the documentary on television the other day, "The Dying Rooms", grip the headlines, but practical help is difficult to offer and is less likely to attract attention. Yes, there are abuses, but we should seek to minimise them and influence the perpetrators. We should make every effort to impose the standards for which we have become an example to the rest of the world.

10.21 am
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) on his speech and on raising the topic today. It is extremely valuable that we should have an opportunity to discuss the role of the family planning programmes of the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and the role of the British Government in assisting people to control their fertility.

There are oddities about the debate. No one in the House would be in favour of coercion, but, as I shall demonstrate, there are different forms of coercion. There is the coercion that we all deplore which was revealed in the television programme to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. But there is also the coercion caused by ignorance. There are people who would deny access to modern family planning methods to millions of the poorest people in the world.

I hope that some of the Members who catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will make it clear whether they are in favour of giving voluntary choice about methods of family planning to every woman, man and couple in the world. Or will they continue to deny human rights to people by denying them access to the facilities which we treasure in this country? That is an absolutely fundamental question.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

The hon. Gentleman said that no people in the House advocate coercion, and he must therefore assume that no people in the House oppose the voluntary principle. The hon. Gentleman must tell the House whether he supports funding programmes which have cost the British taxpayer £100 million in the past 10 years and which have allowed forced abortion, forced sterilisation and the forcible fitting of inter-uterine contraceptive devices to women. Those are abuses of human rights.

Mr. Worthington

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has risen so early in my speech, as it gives us a chance to have a genuine debate. Where there is no question of coercion, does he advocate organisations such as the Overseas Development Administration, the IPPF and the UNFPA providing the means for poor people in ail parts of the world to use the pill, condoms, spermicides and the other contraceptive methods used at present in this country? Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of that voluntary principle?

Mr. Alton

These are not legislative matters, but relate to a personal code of morality. The issue is whether we should continue to fund forced abortion and sterilisation and the forcible fitting of IUCDs.

Mr. Worthington

Rarely have I heard such evasiveness. It is a simple question. Where there is no question of enforcement or coercion, is the hon. Gentleman in favour of public resources being used for such schemes? He must acknowledge that it can only be done with public resources, and that the projects cannot succeed on a wish and a prayer. Resources are needed to fund pills, condoms, spermicides and vasectomies. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of the world's public resources being used to aid such voluntary programmes?

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am in favour of the alleviation of poverty, but not the subjection of populations. If the hon. Gentleman studied the history of Ireland, he would see how those arguments were used by British economists and politicians during the 19th century to achieve precisely the objective he is outlining today. The issue is not about voluntary decisions made by individuals, but coercion. That is the issue that he and the House must address today.

Mr. Worthington

I have struck gold there. The hon. Gentleman has not found himself able to say that resources should be made available, despite the fact that the projects cannot be operated effectively without financial resources.

In this country, in Italy and in other countries of the west, people who have been given the resources and choices have voluntarily chosen to restrict the size of their families. To do that, they had to have access to modern methods of family planning. An old saying about natural methods of family planning is "Show me natural methods of family planning, and I'll show you a parent."

It is a fundamental human right that the women of the world in particular should have access to the methods of family planning which have done more than anything else to transform the lives of women in Britain and in Europe. It is fundamental that that same technology and choice is available to people in other parts of the world. But because of their poverty, it cannot be made available to them without the intervention of the aid programmes of the western world, such as the UNFPA and the IPPF. Until the hon. Gentleman stands up and says that he is in favour—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not appropriate to pillory an hon. Member when we are dealing with overseas programmes this morning.

Mr. Worthington

I accept your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it will be interesting to see whether the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members are willing to accept the voluntary principle. All I ask of them is to accept that choice should be provided, and that one cannot have a choice when one is ignorant. There can be no choice when there are no resources.

When abuses in human rights are occurring in China and in many other countries, it is absurd that one should deny resources to the organisations which are most likely to be able to bring a cessation of those abuses.

It is quite clear from my contacts with the UNFPA and the IPPF that their work is founded on voluntarism, choice and women's empowerment. To argue that they should stop working in China, where their programmes are a seed-corn, in order to introduce voluntary methods of family planning in that country is simply absurd. One would simply be shooting oneself in the foot.

I am sure that the debate will make it clear that those who argue for change in China are not arguing about coercion there or elsewhere. China is a bad example of what can happen, but it is just one country. Those who pick on it do so in an attempt to remove voluntary choice from other parts of the world. They are seizing upon the weaknesses in the Chinese programme to put forward a hidden agenda, as we shall see, to deny Chinese people the choice of access to the very contraceptive means that are available to us.

As the hon. Member for Croydon, South said, population control is an issue of fundamental importance to the world, because 95 per cent. of population growth is occurring in the poorest countries. It is estimated that their populations will double in 25 years. It would concentrate our minds if the population of Britain was expected to double from about 55 million to 110 million by the early years of the next century.

What gives ground for hope is that, in country after country, men, women and politicians want access to resources to enable them to control their own fertility. The request for contraception is demand-driven. They understand that the empowerment, enfranchisement and liberation of women is possible only if they can have control of their own bodies. When they are given that choice, they use it. What is sick about China is that, in the long run, there is no need for coercion. If the Chinese women were given proper choice, as must happen, they would seek to control their own fertility. In that movement, based on education and health, they would turn their backs on the repulsive aspect of their own culture which does not treasure women. Female infanticide was common long before mountain methods of family planning were followed by the Chinese. We must deplore that appalling practice.

We must aid organisations such as the IPPF and the UNFPA to introduce the voluntary principle to China. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that that is the number one target. Once that principle is established, every child born will be equally valued whether it is male or female.

10.32 am
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

When I first took my seat in the House way back. in 1983 I accepted, like many other people, almost without question the doomsday propaganda of the population control lobby. I thought of the IPPF and the UNFPA—to assist my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), that stands for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities—as good, altruistic organisations, interested in the betterment of the poorer peoples of the world.

I then came across papers written by a leading black American social worker, Erma Clardy Craven, who was chairman of the Minneapolis Commission of Human Rights. She reported the grim story of the Kaw indians of Oklahoma, whose tribe would be virtually extinct by the end of the century because virtually every woman full-blood had been sterilised by groups affiliated to the IPPF and, more indirectly, the UNFPA. She also produced figures to show that three times as many black, Indian and Puerto Rican women than white women were being sterilised in the United States. Far from family planning or voluntary population control, that practice was, to use a term more widely understood these days, "ethnic cleansing".

Any reference to those disconcerting activities was glibly dismissed by apologists for the UNFPA and the IPPF. They justified the statistics by observing that there was a greater statistical representation of such ethnic groups among the poorer sections of society—as though social status was any more justifiable than ethnic origin as a basis for sterilisation.

It was then, too, that I heard about the ruthless manner in which the one-child policy was being implemented in China. Although reports of that policy had been made for some considerable time, it was first given widespread publicity through the work of an American, Dr. Stephen Mosher, a China scholar. In 1979, he was one of the first western scholars to be allowed to visit the People's Republic of China. He was the only one allowed to conduct a village study, when he lived for more than a year in a country area, where he got to know the people and their way of life.

During his stay, Dr. Masher witnessed at first hand how women who were five months, six months, or even eight and nine months pregnant were rounded up if they refused to have abortions. They had their pregnancies terminated forcibly, in the most bloody conditions. Sometimes they were compulsorily sterilised as well. He was appalled by what he saw and determined that, on his return to the United States, he would expose what was happening. He found that he was subject to considerable pressure from the population control lobby to stay silent. He refused and succeeded in gaining coverage in the Washington Post and Time for what he had seen. He finally published a book exposing the brutality of the population control regime.

Although that happened in the 1980s, it is important for the House to be aware that the IPPF and the UNFPA went into China together in 1979 and were involved on the ground through their programmes throughout the time in question. There can be no doubt that both organisations were fully aware of what was happening, not least because, in 1983, the UNFPA made the head of the Chinese Family Planning Association joint winner of its population award.

I support the right of couples to plan or space their children in accordance with their wishes and beliefs. I have no ethical objection to the practice of contraception, but such voluntary activities bear no resemblance to what is happening in China, as the film, "The Dying Rooms", broadcast last week on Channel 4, has unequivocally shown. That documentary, produced by Brian Woods and Kate Blewett, records how they travelled throughout China amassing first-hand evidence of the brutal results of the state population control programme, which restricts families to one child. It confirmed that that programme includes compulsory abortion and sterilisation. The cultural bias has resulted in girl babies and those who are disabled being abandoned in orphanages. It highlighted the plight of children in state asylums, with their arms and legs tied to seatless chairs with potties underneath, who were left to die from absolute neglect. That is a grim indictment, as horrifying in its content as any atrocity ever captured on film. It left me in no doubt that the IPPF and the UNFPA, and indeed our Government—in the first two cases through their involvement and in the latter by turning a blind eye—must bear the responsibility for the impact of those draconian policies upon the women of China and their dead and abandoned children.

Mr. Ottaway

Does my hon. Friend have any evidence that funds from the IPPF or the UNFPA have been directly used for coercive practices, as she alleges?

Mrs. Winterton

The very fact that both organisations are involved in family planning in China props up the regime of the Chinese Government; my hon. Friend must be naive if he believes otherwise. The coercive programme will be changed only if the British Government stand up to the Chinese Government, for the simple reason that the Chinese bow only to strength. Unless we show strength, they will merely use the funding in whatever way they can, and indirectly it will prop up the coercive practices that are being used at present. My hon. Friend should remember that, and perhaps think a little more deeply about those matters before he merely offers 100 per cent. support for what is being done in China.

Mr. Worthington

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Winterton

No. I have just given way to my hon. Friend, and I intend to continue with my speech. [Interruption.] I have given a full explanation to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ottaway

My hon. Friend has no evidence.

Mrs. Winterton

Perhaps the evidence could be provided at a later date; I could not give it now.

The attitude of my hon. Friend and the apologists whom he represents will ensure that those coercive practices will continue for the next 10, 20 or 30 years, because the position has not improved while those programmes have been in place in China and other third world countries.

The plight of unwanted girl babies in China does not result purely from cultural bias in favour of boys, as some people have naively sought to suggest. It is not as simple as that. For thousands of years in rural China, when a girl married she left home to live with her husband's family. Even today, old couples have no state benefit in the country districts of China, with the result that, if couples are allowed to have only one child and that child is a girl or is disabled, they will be entirely alone in old age and virtually left to starve. That is the brutal truth.

Speaking as recently as last month, on 26 May 1995, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, who introduced the debate, addressed, the inaugural meeting of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population in his capacity as its founding chairman. He told the meeting that in the year 2000 the programme of action that had been agreed at the United Nations conference in Cairo in September 1994 would cost an estimated £17 billion for the implementation of reproductive health programmes in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition. He said that, by the year 2015, that will have increased to a staggering $21.7 billion.

The conference in Cairo was supposed to be the international conference on population and development, yet the entire sum allocated was—as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South told his meeting in Brussels—$17 billion for population control, with not one dollar for development.

The answer to the intervention of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) is that we shall reduce the number of children being born by aid for economic development. That has been the result of economic development in the western world and elsewhere. Security of employment, pension arrangements and so on reduce the numbers of people who are so fearful.

Mr. Ottaway

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Winterton

No, I will not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on population and development, which published a report in March 1994, arguing that non-governmental organisations seeking overseas aid funding should expect such funding to be reduced unless they agreed to a commitment to population control.

Not only are poor countries to receive nothing from the programme agreed last year at the Cairo conference, but even charities that rely on help to develop their vital work are to be deprived of any assistance at all if my hon. Friend has his way.

Mr. Worthington

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Lady has not deliberately misled the House, but I do know the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) very well, and he is not associated with any population control—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am the judge of whether an hon. Member has misled the House, not the hon. Gentleman or Back Benchers.

Mrs. Winterton

Some people have sought to portray the anxieties raised about Cairo as being exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church. That is not a Church to which I belong, and although the Vatican certainly has been outspoken in its condemnation of that diversion of resources from aid programmes to population control, its anxieties are widely shared by many people in the third world and by the Muslim community.

Commenting on the Cairo conference, 50 eminent Muslim scholars wrote to every Member of the House, observing that it was stage-managed by the wealthy western nations, who were seeking to manipulate the people of the third world. They urged us strongly to support the making of legal international agreements to bring to an end coercive population control programmes.

After watching "The Dying Rooms", I endorse such an opinion. We should not rest until we witness the end of any type of coercive or manipulative population control, whether it be the tying of the development of a village well to limits on family size, or the cutting by our Government of grants to charities that refuse to conspire with the population control lobbyists.

I invite the Minister to assure the House that, pending a full and exhaustive investigation, he will suspend the funding of the IPPF and the UNFPA and, as my early-day motion 1251 suggests, urge the United Nations to transfer from Beijing the proposed Fourth World Conference on Women and hold it instead in a country with a more civilised policy towards women and girl babies.

10.45 am
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I support the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), especially her remarks about the unsuitability of Beijing, of all places, as a centre for the holding of a conference discussing women's rights. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to sign the early-day motion that the hon. Lady has tabled, which I believe describes the true position in China.

It has been extraordinary to listen to the speeches, especially those of the hon. Members for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) and for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), in defence of practices in China. Implicitly, whether they like it or not, they are defending those practices if they accept that the programmes that are being used in China to fund forced abortion and forced sterilisation should continue to receive resources from this country.

The hon. Members for Croydon, South and for Clydebank and Milngavie have adumbrated the voluntary principle, and they have said that they oppose coercion. Of course everyone in the House would share those opinions; they sound wonderful, but that is not the issue. The issue is what is happening on the ground. Are we financing it? Are we prepared to aid and abet it? If not, what will we do about that?

The approach of the hon. Member for Croydon, South is revealingly illustrated in his book, which is curiously titled, "Less People, Less Pollution". That is an extraordinary way of regarding the population question—fewer people equals less pollution. The issue for the House is not the pollution that people may cause but the respect that we place on the very right to life itself. It is about the respect that we place on human rights; it is about the position of women in society; it is about the voluntary principle; and it is about poverty.

I will not listen to the speeches that have been made, implying that those of us who share the opinions that will be expressed on the Floor of the House today are reactionary or oppose development. I strongly support the increase of our overseas aid programme and the principle that we should attack poverty at every possible level, but there are ways of doing that. It is never, and surely should never be, part of our approach to defend the discredited policies of a regime that uses such unacceptable methods against its own population.

Hon. Members have intervened to ask, where is the evidence? I intend to discuss that later, but I would especially draw people's attention to the congressional debate that took place on May 24 1995 and the evidence that led Congress again to decide that it did not want to fund those programmes—evidence that led the previous American Administration not to fund the programmes.

Anyone who saw on their television screen the events in Tiananmen square hardly needs to be convinced that evidence is required about the brutality of the Chinese regime. The Human Rights Law Review provides evidence, if that is what hon. Members are looking for. I shall refer to that later in my remarks.

I have followed the issue for several years. I have been to see Ministers, presented petitions and tabled motions and questions about what I believe constitutes the most pernicious and evil abuse of women and human rights anywhere in the world today. I am utterly mystified as to how anyone could watch the programme, "The Dying Rooms", to which the hon. Member for Congleton referred, or last year's BBC programme, "Women of the Yellow Earth", and still offer a defence of the payment of £100 million of blood money over the past decade.

In 1994, the United Kingdom Government gave £8.5 million to the UNFPA and £7.5 million to the IPPF. British taxpayers have been underwriting forced abortion, forced sterilisation, the forcible fitting of IUCDs and even infanticide for more than 20 years. Successive Ministers have defended one of the greatest scandals in the use of overseas aid that I have ever come across. They have used a succession of arguments.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I have one simple question. The hon. Gentleman is speaking from the Bench of the leader of the Liberal party. Will he make it clear whether he is speaking in a personal capacity or on behalf of the Liberal Democrats?

Mr. Alton

In 1992 my party had quite a divisive argument about whether abortion should be party policy. I am glad to say that, unlike the Labour party, we ultimately decided that it should be a matter for personal conscience. I speak today on my own behalf from this Bench. I should be interested to know whether, when the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) speaks today, he will do so on behalf of the official Opposition. I should be interested to know whether he will state that the Labour party will continue that policy. The hon. Gentleman is confirming to the House on behalf of the Labour party—it is important to have it on the record—that if the Labour party forms the next Government, they will continue to fund such programmes in China.

Mr. Foulkes

I am confirming that if I have a chance to speak in today's debate, I shall be doing so on behalf of the official Opposition. As to what I shall say, the hon. Gentleman will find out then. He should not try to anticipate it.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman sought clarification from me and I am simply seeking clarification from him. I am trying to clarify whether he will be speaking on behalf of the official Opposition in such a way that we can assume that the Labour party will maintain the present Government's policies and offer the same arguments advanced by Ministers over the past two decades.

The first of those arguments was expressed by Lady Chalker: funding such programmes enables us to influence them. There is no supporting evidence to show that funding leads to influence over policies.

The second argument that has been advanced by Ministers is that there is insufficient evidence—even though, naturally, they did not approve of coercion. Ministers' next argument was the rural aberration argument. They argued that such policies might be pursued, but they were only the work of a few over-zealous officials in some backwoods area of China.

I have received a succession of identical replies to the parliamentary questions that I have tabled. The Government say that they are "deeply concerned". However, they are not concerned enough to do anything to stop the systematic abuse of women and children. The greatest deceit of all that they commit is to trot out the platitude that we are all opposed to the principle of coercion, while continuing to fund those who perpetuate the crimes against humanity, which is precisely what they are. The Nuremberg war trials tribunal rightly judged the forced abortion of Polish women to have been a crime against humanity. The shocking thing is that it has taken something as horrific as "The Dying Rooms" to shake us out of our complacency.

At the height of the mass sterilisation campaign in the 1970s the UNFPA gave China the first ever UN population award for its success in curbing population. The UNFPA provided training for central Government officials responsible for the policy. It provided computer systems that monitor the effectiveness of the programmes in reaching their targets. It funded the building of two facilities that have made China self-sufficient in IUD production. Some 41 per cent. of Chinese women now have IUDs, which, once inserted—often against their will—they can do little about. X-ray machines are used to ensure that women have not removed them.

The UNFPA is a United Nations agency. The UN purports to guarantee the right to freely found a family and decide on the number and spacing of the children". Yet, in direct contradiction of that, the communist Chinese Minister for family planning, Qian Zinzhong, has said: The size of the family is far too important to be left to the couple. Births are a matter of state planning. China's one-child policy uniquely marks it out as a country where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister; where little girls are eliminated in favour of their brothers and where eugenics laws—like those so favoured by the eugenicists who founded the IPPF—now permit the killing of disabled children.

In October 1994 the People's Republic of China passed a law on maternal and infant health care that came into force just a couple of weeks ago. It allows the Government to force newly married couples to be sterilised and unborn babies to be aborted, where there is disability, illness or "relevant mental disorders". Poor people from ethnic minorities and disabled people have always been the target of racists and eugenicists everywhere. The simple test is whether we would permit such procedures here and, if not, what in the world are we doing funding them in China?

The latest reports from Feng Jia Zhuang and Long Tian Gou reveal a combination of religious repression and political coercion. Using their slogan, "It is better to have more graves than one more child", the local authorities repeatedly raid people's homes, confiscate the family's property, round up the people and beat those who escape into nearby fields. Forced abortions have been performed on women in their last weeks of pregnancy. Several women have been forcibly sterilised against their will. Monstrous fines—bigger than an annual average income—are imposed on couples who do not comply. One villager had his legs so badly broken that he nearly died. When concerned relatives enquired about him they were arrested, abused and forced to pay a huge fine. Another villager unsuccessfully tried to sell his two children in an effort to have his wife freed from gaol.

People are subjected to terrible torture. Men and women have been hung upside down; some have been squeezed into tiny spaces, such as under chairs; some have been exposed to the elements during extreme weather conditions for sustained periods. Some people have had their tongues burnt with electric batons to prevent them from invoking the help of God. Through our funding, we are collaborating in those crimes against humanity.

The systematic killing of little girls is now beginning to reveal itself in the population shift in China and in slave trade in women. At least 114 boys are now born in China for every 100 girls. The plight of women beyond birth is equally harrowing. The Human Rights Law Review details instances of women being taken from bed late at night and brought to 24-hour sterilisation clinics. It records examples of women being inserted with IUDs without their knowledge or consent immediately after giving birth and newborn babies being killed while still partly in the womb. Local officials who violate women's rights are promoted for their ruthless cold-blooded efficiency.

Far from condemning such practices, the executive director of the UNFPA, Nafis Sadiq, said: China has every reason to feel proud and pleased with its remarkable achievements in its family planning policy and control of its population growth over the past 10 years. Now China could offer its experiences and special experts to other countries. Britain should have no part in the programmes. We should use our overseas budget to help those 800 million people who are racked by starvation or despair and who live below any rational definition of human decency. We should not use resources to fund such evil practices.

Wilberforce said in this Chamber nearly 200 years ago that we should Disclaim that dangerous sophistry that out of doing evil some good may come. I hope that it will not be long before we end the evil practice of funding forced abortions, forced sterilisation and oppression of women's rights in China.

10.58 am
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)

I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate, but I shall not become involved in the subject of China for two reasons: first, it has already been clearly aired and, secondly, there are other issues in the world relating to population problems that we need to consider. I should prefer to look at the African continent, where poverty has increased markedly over the past 10 years.

I do not want to follow the route taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and condemn the UNFPA, but I support her call for the conference for women not to take place in Beijing. However, I do so for a completely different reason. Apparently the non-governmental organisations—which my hon. Friend and I both support—will be located some 30 miles from Beijing and there is no way of travelling to Beijing except by bicycle. As some hon. Members may know, the eminent members of NGOs are perhaps not capable of travelling 30 miles by bicycle, so the conference may not be of great help to women.

I turn to the issue of population problems in Africa. As in China, cultural and religious differences in Africa have led to the prevalence of large families, if only to ensure that there is someone to look after aged relatives and younger children. We in the west have solved that problem by increasing our prosperity, which is also the best way of solving the problem throughout the world.

In dealing with the population problem, we must move in two directions. First, we must alleviate poverty; and, secondly, we must work within third-world societies to help women—who, as the child bearers, are the key—to control their own fertility. The best way to control population growth is to improve medical services and to ensure that women are empowered to control their own lives. In many cases, that means that we must ensure that they have access to farm implements, water and grain so that they can produce food for their families. If their children survive infancy, they will realise that they do not need to have so many children and, with that realisation, will come the reproductive control that is so crucial to solving the problem of overpopulation.

We must also address questions such as why water is not readily available, why medical services are difficult to access and why poverty is prevalent in so many countries. Those problems are often the result of governmental mistakes. Many foreign politicians were educated as socialists in this country. They then returned to their own countries and tried to impose socialism on their culture. Those cultures were simply not ready for socialism and were often very anti-democratic.

The Overseas Development Administration can best assist population programmes by building up a belief in democracy in such countries. The people must remove from the control of the centralised state the levers of economic power which it has signally failed to use effectively. Governments must ensure that they release the energies of their people so as to produce the wealth that is crucial to the delivery of medical care and roads and farming infrastructure. That is vital if women are to feel that they do not need to produce a child every nine months and if men are to recognise that they do not need to prove their virility by fathering large families.

11.3 am

Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I am very grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has given the House the opportunity to debate coercive practices in population programmes overseas. I suspect that the debate—I shall speak directly to it—might have been triggered by the ten-minute Bill that I introduced last month. On that occasion, the House agreed that coercive practices should be condemned.

My hon. Friend used a cricketing metaphor in his speech and I also rather liked the cricketing metaphor used by the previous Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher. Earlier in the debate it was said that the House condemns coercive practices in population programmes overseas. I was very pleased to hear that and I am sure that hon. Members are united in their desire to do good—even though our approaches may differ.

Two years ago when I attempted to introduce a ten-minute Bill outlawing the practice of determining the sex of a child, the House voted in favour of that practice by a majority of 18 votes. One would have thought it extraordinary that the House of Commons should approve the practice of sex selection, but that is what it did. Therefore, I think that it is wonderful that today hon. Members have made their points with passion, vigour and conviction. If the House is to remain relevant, we must continue to argue about such matters in that way.

This morning I received a letter from a constituent who viewed the television programme to which hon. Members have referred this morning. Life may be cheap in China, but it is completely worthless if one is female. More than 6 million Chinese women are called Lai-Di or Zheo-Di, both of which mean "next time bring a boy". Female infanticide is rife, as is the abandonment of female children. The growing gender imbalance in the Chinese population—currently there are 60 million more men than women—has resulted in the kidnapping of village women who are often raped before being sold.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South spoke of the size of the world population.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) mentioned the appalling gender discrimination in China which is smiled upon by the communist authorities. Will he refer also to the Chinese Government's racist activities in areas such as Tibet, where the Tibetan population is subjected to extreme population controls but the Han Chinese—who have been deliberately settled in Tibet in order to ensure Chinese domination of that previously free country—are allowed to reproduce much more freely?

Mr. Amess

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that situation to my attention. Last month during my speech on my ten-minute Bill I told the House that I was to visit China with two United States Congressmen. Sadly, the day before we were due to leave the visas of the two Congressmen were withdrawn. I hope that we wiil make that trip later this year when I shall explore the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South referred to the size of the world's population. The world has become smaller with the advent of air travel and I wonder whether we should challenge the premise that the world is overpopulated. According to United Nations figures, only 40 per cent. of agricultural land in China is cultivated—and I am delighted that the Fiat tractor plant in my constituency is exporting more of its small tractors to that country to help with the more efficient production of food. Agricultural land in China is cultivated so inefficiently that, during the past 15 years, the World bank has threatened to withdraw its funds unless practices improve.

Only about 10 per cent. of the world's land area has been developed into cities, towns, roads, villages and farm land. Furthermore, in Europe and America we arc urged to set aside land because we are producing too much. In 1975, Mr. Henry Kissinger presented a 250-page document to the then US President, Gerald Ford. It warned that uncurbed population growth in less-developed countries could adversely affect US commercial interests. It stated that more people in poorer countries would mean an increase in demand and a subsequent call for greater economic control. The United States of America had to promote population control in order to safeguard its own interests.

I am a great fan of the United States of America. It is interesting to note that the presidents who most strongly opposed recommendations of the national security study memorandum were both Republican—Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush banned funding to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation because of the abortion policies of both those groups.

Finally, I return to my ten-minute Bill because I recognise that the whole House condemns coercive practices. I note that the Government are also concerned, as was demonstrated more than a year ago when the ODA promised action. I am most grateful for that, but we must go further. The House should be prepared to take a stand against the funding of oppression by calling upon the IPPF, the UNFPA and the ODA to withdraw from the Chinese population control programme.

My Bill proposed, in order to avoid inadvertently supporting those programmes or withdrawing funds for legitimate purposes, that we attach clear and unambiguous conditions to all future contributions and exact full accountability. At the same time, we should make it clear that any support for the practices in China that I have described from the spokesmen of any of those organisations would result in the withdrawal of future funding altogether.

11.10 am
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) on securing a debate on a subject of great concern to the developing world and one which creates great passion among hon. Members on both sides of the argument, as we have seen today. I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the subject—and pay tribute to it—from his chairmanship of the all-party group on population development and reproductive health, of which I am also a member.

The Minister and I participated in the first Wednesday morning debate on Pergau, which was a fiery affair. This morning, the two Front Benches are in somewhat greater agreement.

The growth in human numbers that lies ahead is the fastest in history—a growth in population widely recognised as resulting in serious economic, environmental and political problems in the developing countries and posing real problems for the developed world. As hon. Members have said, that was recognised at Cairo.

The balance of the world population over the next decade will switch dramatically. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) rightly said, free access to all forms of family planning means that population growth in developed countries has slowed to less than 0.6 per cent. In Europe, it is less than half that. Within 10 years, populations in most European countries will probably start to decline.

In contrast, the population in the developing world will increase dramatically. Some 94 per cent. of the increase over the next decade will be in the developing world and the prospects for some countries are daunting. As hon. Members have said, we are not discussing only China. According to World bank demographers, the population of Nigeria will rise from 100 million at present to an eventual 382 million before stabilising towards the year 2100. The population in Tanzania is predicted to increase five-fold from about 25 million at present to 116 million. It is a major, daunting prospect.

The Government have already been told on many occasions—I took the opportunity to do so again on Monday—that more than 1 billion people in the developing world now live in abject poverty. It is to that end that measures have been sought and many groups throughout the world are seeking, through respected and organised programmes of family planning, to reduce the number of people suffering from poverty.

Family planning, reproductive health and female education are some of the best aid investments available. That was recognised in Cairo, where a programme of action was agreed to improve access to quality reproductive health care, child health care and educational opportunities and to help reduce child and maternal mortality.

The Labour party supports the range of measures agreed at the conference. We recognise the continuing priority that the Government have given to the problems of population growth, notably in their programme Children by Choice and not by Chance". We stress again that it must be considered in the light of an ever-decreasing aid budget and that action should be taken to maintain and continue that support.

It was agreed at Cairo that the implementation of the agreed programme of action is the sovereign right of each group consistent with national laws and development priorities with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognised human rights. We are aware of the key concerns of some Catholic and Muslim countries expressed at the conference. However, the overwhelming majority of countries support the programme agreed in Cairo.

Criticisms of certain countries' human rights records and their approach to family planning is legitimate. The exposé of methods prevalent in China by the recent Channel 4 documentary was welcome. Abuse has been documented in other countries, but the removal of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations working within those countries would serve only to isolate them from world opinion and would not in any way help to solve the problems.

Since 1979, the Chinese state has recognised the problem. China has one fifth of the world's population and only 10 per cent. of its arable land. However, it has over-aggressively used birth targets to curb its population growth. People in cities are limited to one child and those in the country to two. The Opposition state quite clearly that the methods highlighted by the media are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) on one point. It is a tragic irony that the conference on women is to be held in Beijing. There have been calls from hon. Members on both sides of the House for that to be reconsidered.

Any implication that people working in those countries condone or help to facilitate any such programme is completely false. Some people are using allegations of coercion in China's population programme to justify calls on the British Government to withdraw their funding from the UN Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie called it a hidden agenda; it is a different agenda, and that should be made absolutely clear.

The Opposition support the contributions to the UN population fund and to the IPPF. Both those organisations publicly affirmed their opposition to any coercive methods adopted by the countries in which they operate, with the Chinese family planning association, like all IPPF member associations subscribing to the principles agreed at Cairo.

In practice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie rightly said, the right of access to effective means of family planning is often denied. An estimated 350 million couples world wide do not have ready access to family planning. UNICEF figures show that the unmet need of women for family planning is nearly half in sub-Saharan Africa.

Reducing the population growth of the developing world should not be seen in isolation. There is no intrinsic benefit in a reduction of the world's population; the primary concern is the alleviation of the appalling, grinding poverty which currently exists, and to that end the consumption of scarce resources has been looked at in terms of population. It should not detract, however, from the duty of the industrialised world to the developing countries and it is incumbent on any population programme to form a wider strategy aimed at tackling poverty.

The rights to family planning and health education are basic human rights. The attitude of certain states and the use of coercive methods cannot be tolerated. The British Government should stress that fact to countries where infringements of human rights take place and I hope that the Minister will repeat it today. I hope that the Minister will also assure us that in the forthcoming UN world conference on women the Government will press for the cessation of such practices, which are clearly intolerable. Equally intolerable, however, is the suggestion from some quarters that such practices should be used as an excuse for withdrawing funding from the vital programmes carried out by non-governmental organisations and by the IPPF. We oppose such suggestions and, for once, we agree with what I hope the Government are about to say.

11.19 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry)

This has been an extremely helpful debate. Contributions from hon. Members on both sides have illustrated the sensitivity of the issues. I know that several hon. Members who wished to contribute, including my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight), have been unable to do so due to lack of time.

I have listened carefully to all the speeches. Those of us who take an interest in population and development policies are deeply concerned about reports of human rights abuses linked with family planning. Human rights are indivisible and sacred, and it is quite proper that wherever we discover abuses of human rights we should protest about them. We shall, of course, thoroughly investigate recent media reports which have understandably created considerable concern in this country about China's population policies. We shall carefully examine links between the Chinese population programme and UNFPA and the IPPF—

Mr. Alton


Mr. Baldry

I have very little time in which to reply, and I hope to answer the hon. Gentleman's points in due course.

We shall of course protest whenever we see abuses of human rights. Coercion of people in any regard is unacceptable; coercion to use particular types of contraception, or to be sterilised, or to undergo induced abortion is never and never can be acceptable.

Last September I led the United Kingdom delegation to the international conference on population and development in Cairo. Many people regard that conference as one of the achievements of the United Nations and its member states. In Cairo, we agreed on policies which take as their starting point the need to increase choices for women and men. At the conference, the international community explicitly rejected any idea of coercive population control programmes.

The Cairo programme of action introduced new and more positive concepts—most importantly, reproductive health, which embraces health associated with sexuality, conception and child bearing. The underlying principle is that we should seek to respond to people's needs. We believe that men and women have the right to enjoy good reproductive health, not just access to family planning services.

The conference stated: Reproductive health care programmes should provide the widest range of services without any form of coercion. All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so. No one in the House could possibly disagree with those principles.

Since Cairo we have continued, as part of the overseas development programme, to help developing countries as well as those in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to move towards reproductive health care for all; and many countries in the United Nations are deeply committed to delivering on the promises that were made at Cairo.

Despite all this, there are those who argue—we heard their concerns mentioned today—that the UNFPA, the IPPF, and the British Government, in some way support population control. I want to make it clear again: we wholly and forcefully reject the concept of population control. We believe that individuals should be given good opportunities, information and health care, and the opportunity to have children by choice, not by chance.

The reproductive health programmes that we support are fully consistent with the principles agreed at Cairo. They aim to enable women and men to choose when to have children and to enjoy better reproductive health. We want to enable more women to go through pregnancy and child birth safely, and to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections. We also want to enable more people to have access to family planning information and services.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lail.) reminded us, this is a worldwide debate about men and women's rights and their entitlement to better reproductive health. We believe that all people have a right to these services; they should not be denied them simply because they are poor. Of course, reproductive health for all remains a formidable challenge. That is why, through the aid programme, we continue to help countries to find new ways of responding to the unmet need—ways that make the best use of scarce resources. When we believe that they can make the best use of our funds, we channel some of our aid through the IPPF and the UNFPA.

Anxieties have rightly been raised today about China's population policies. Neither we nor anyone else in the House would endorse China's one child per family policy, but that is not the issue. We do not sponsor family planning programmes in China, and we never have. As part of our multilateral assistance, we contribute to the general funds of the UNFPA and the IPPF, which carry out work throughout the world. We believe that both organisations have helped the Chinese to understand better how their population policies are viewed by other countries and how approaches based on voluntary choice could be introduced, in line with the principles agreed at Cairo.

We have no evidence that the UNFPA or the IPPF is siding with or abetting officials in the denial of reproductive rights in China. If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) or any other hon. Member has any such evidence, I hope that they will forward it to me. I will consider it in great detail and with great care.

We consider that those respected international organisations are best placed to make judgments about the nature of their assistance to China, and we see no need to place restrictions on the use of our funds or to reduce the size of our overall contribution. If we withdrew all our support from the UNFPA and the IPPF, we would remove one of the few channels through which we can seek to influence China's population policies.

The UNFPA's spend in China is around 1 per cent. of total Chinese Government spending on population activity, so its withdrawal would not hurt the Chinese financially. Indeed, I doubt whether it would affect them at all. We believe that these organisations can be an influence for good, as demonstrated by the UNFPA's support in China, which has helped with the production of safer contraceptives. Earlier Chinese-designed and manufactured contraceptives were harming women. The UNFPA's support has also improved mother and child health for vulnerable groups in some of the poorest and most remote regions of the country.

Wherever it works, UNFPA's status as a neutral international voice can be as important as its actual programmes. Both the UNFPA and the IPPF continue to act as advocates of reproductive rights. I very much doubt whether any other organisations in the world can match the record, credibility and impact of those two organisations on population and development policies—seeking to ensure that men and women have choices and enjoy decent reproductive health. Having listened carefully to arguments that we should stop funding the two bodies, I would pose several questions in response.

Would a cessation of donor funding bring about the changes that its proponents claim to want? If we stopped funding those bodies, would it have any effect on the Chinese Government? I doubt it. What of the millions of poor women and men who as a result would be denied access to reproductive health services and who would lose this important means of controlling their own lives? The House must ask itself how many additional abortions and unsafe births would result; how many more women would be maimed or killed and how many people would be infected with a sexually transmitted infection or the HIV virus because they were unable to obtain condoms.

We are talking about the lives of real people. There is broad consensus in the House today that coercion is totally unacceptable, that human rights should be protected, that people should have the opportunity to have children by choice, not chance, and that wherever possible the Government should support responsible organisations which promote responsible reproductive health programmes. Where there are concerns about human rights abuses, we should use our influence—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. We now move on to the next topic.

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