HL Deb 09 February 1967 vol 279 cc1507-49

6.35 p.m.

LORD FERRIER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what part they propose to take in furthering the campaign to counteract the dangers of the threatening over-population of the World. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. This specific subject was last debated in your Lordships' House on a Motion by my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton, who was then the Chairman of the United Kingdom branch of the International Family Planning Campaign, in July, 1964, since which date the population of the world has increased by 170 million—at least, that is the estimate. I am Chairman of the Scottish branch of this Family Planning Association and we have an extremely active committee. Indeed, my committee is more active than the one in England at the moment, for reasons I will explain. This committee have urged me to put down a Motion for some time, and during last summer my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton agreed with me that the time had come for another debate, and that is how the Motion, which has stood in my name for so long, appeared on the Order Paper at the beginning of the Session.

Meanwhile, Mr. Edwin Brooks has tabled a Bill, the National Health Service (Family Planning) Bill, which is to be debated on Second Reading in the House of Commons on February 17. This move takes care of the immediate family planning issue in this country; and many of us hope that this Bill will soon reach this House, when it will be time to debate the specific issue of this country. It is not my intention, therefore, to make further reference to his Bill, other than obliquely, or indeed to the United Kingdom situation, directly in this debate, because it would be improper for us to do so while the Bill is on the Table in the other place. However, we shall contribute by this debate a background for any later discussion on this country's needs in this respect. The strength of the speakers who have put their names down is gratifying, especially as it has simplified my task, and it is only for me to set the ball rolling, as it were, which I shall do as briefly as I can.

On January 27, last year, the noble Lord, Lord Todd, promoted a debate on technical assistance to developing countries; and on November 10 last your Lordships debated the Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Hunger on an Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. During these debates, of course, constant reference was made to population pressures. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder—who, I am glad to see, is to speak to-night—in the F.A.O. and World Hunger debate looked forward to this present debate, as indeed I do.

My Lords, I need not go over all the population calculations which give rise to the world's present anxieties. The situation is well known to your Lordships. The salient facts are that, from the beginning of mankind till 1830, the population of the world grew to 1,000 million. A century later it had doubled. To-day it is over 3,000 million, some say 3,400 million. And in another thirty years—within the ordinary span of a number of Members in this House—the growth rate indicates that the world's population will be 6,000 million at least. Almost more significant to me is the fact that, at this moment of time, to-day, and despite the best efforts of UNESCO and such organisations, the number of illiterate adults in the world grows apace. Even basic education is failing to keep abreast of the ordinary increment of men and women.

If disaster of some sort is to be avoided, a measure of population control will have to go hand-in-hand with increased food production. In advanced countries improved standards of living and higher levels of education have already begun to have the effect of limiting procreation. Not so in the underdeveloped countries. However, in the more enlightened ones, such as India and Pakistan, strenuous efforts are being made to stem the flood. But unaided, even they will be overwhelmed. There are great experiments, with progress being made in North Africa, in Tunisia, at this moment. Great efforts are being made, but unaided they are likely to be unable to stem the flood.

What form of assistance is available to our hands? The International Planned Parenthood Federation (which I will refer to as the I.P.P.F.) and the Family Planning Associations everywhere have been studying the matter for many years. But it is not only the techniques which have to be overcome. There are traditions and taboos; there are superstitions and sincerely held beliefs, all of which are formidable obstacles to planned parenthood. An important factor has emerged fairly recently, and that is the indication following the Vatican Council of some modification of the Roman Catholic attitude towards family planning.

What followed almost immediately? The U.S.A. and Sweden subscribed large sums, with a promise of more to aid the I.P.P.F. The Victor Fund in the U.S.A. has added its large resources of money and energy. But money cannot buy trained personnel "off the peg", as it were, especially when they do not exist. This increase in financial resources, as I see it, was so sudden that the I.P.P.F. is taking some time to adapt itself to the new conditions of comparative affluence, and this perhaps is the main reason for the pause, to which I referred at the beginning of my speech, in regard to activities in England.

A conference of the I.P.P.F. is to take place in Chile in April, with delegates from all over the world. The object of this conference is to focus world attention on the world population explosion, particularly as it applies to South America. Let us hope—and there is reason to hope—that something more dynamic than any efforts hitherto made will emerge from this conference. Meanwhile, many willing minds and hands in this country are doing what they can. But, as I see it, some measure of confusion arises from the fact that so many bodies are concerned, and from so many different angles.

Is it possible that the momentum of the United Kingdom effort is being impaired by the lack of some co-ordinating authority? One has only to rattle off the initial letters of the organisations involved—I.P.P.F., N.H.S., F.P.A., W.H.O., UNESCO, F.A.O., M.O.D., UNICEF, W.P.C., O.E.C.D. and others, to realise what exists in the way of what might be called a "polychotomy". May I suggest that some instrument should be forged to coordinate the world efforts in this country? This is my first suggestion. Perhaps some specific proposal may emerge from this debate.

I think it is a justifiable digression to ask how the demographers estimate that this country is going to obtain its food if no other country is going to export. Where does the population of these islands stand? Where does British agriculture stand in this event? Is it possible that wholesale emigration is the solution? Would such a co-ordinating authority act, as I visualise, as a guide or early-warning system? What about the desperate problem of immigration? Incidentally, the President of the British Association suggested last year that 40 million might well be the long distance target figure for the population of this island. We have 54 million to-day, and a forecast of 64 million in the 'eighties; so that would be a long-range forecast. Incidentally, an article in this week's Economist, with a bearing on the working population, deserves some study. I will make only a passing reference to that angle.

So much for my first suggestion. Let me now turn to the other suggestion I have to make before I conclude. It is rewarding to study your Lordships' debates and the numerous reports, periodicals and articles on the subject. The most recent of the latter, and perhaps one of the most important for many years, is Sir Theodore Fox's valuable Bloch Lecture, published in the Lancet of December 3 last. He calls it "Noah's New Flood". From all these studies it emerges that the promotion of the various techniques of contraception are of great importance, and, indeed, research is proceeding at such a pace that existing techniques may be abandoned and others take their place with bewildering rapidity. But it is equally clear that, without improved standards of civilisation, without education, without literacy, without the will to learn—without all these, no massive impact can have hope of more than partial success.

During a good many years in India I had some peculiar opportunities of being in contact with, studying, and indeed serving, the needs of backward people. This is not an occasion to go into any details, but, rightly or wrongly, I have always attributed the rapid expansion, the quickening of India's urge for independence during the 'twenties, to the impact of the cinematograph. And why? Because, as I see it, the cinema in the backblock (if I may use an Australian phrase) brought a window on the world to Indian women. Even the illiterate—and few Indian women were otherwise in the 'twenties—could see how the rest of the world lived.

If this was the case, then what of to-day? To-day the window has been further opened to let in the words of the "talkies" in many tongues, and gradually television is spreading its beneficent tentacles. In this sense they can be most beneficent tentacles. These, and of course sound radio, are the ideal media for communication with the masses. May I ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether it would be possible to arrange that any aid to developing countries should be linked in some proportion to the promotion and visual dissemination of information aid, which would otherwise go abroad without strings? A simpler, and perhaps additional, method would be to substitute for direct aid financial assistance to existing organisations, whether religious or secular, who already have an established web, no matter how tenuous.

At this juncture I express the hope that the Government will revise their decision about increasing the fees of certain overseas students. What is done about the future is another matter, and no concern of ours in this context. But it seems to me not only clumsy, but foolish, to cut down the number of students from developing countries at this particular moment of time. To-day's students will be the leaders of the 'eighties, and the best possible ambassadors of a doctrine of modern life and of planned parenthood.

Many speakers in previous debates have made the point that the emancipation of women is more important than anything else for promoting family planning, and I am sure, from my experience, that they are right. After all, the basic cause of the anticipated rise in the birth rate is the increased expectation of life of women of childbearing age.

It only remains for me to thank noble Lords and Ladies who have put down their names to speak, and I look forward to hearing them. Thus I leave your Lordships with my two suggestions: first of all, some co-ordinating body in this country—a permanent commission, as Sir Theodore Fox calls it; second, accentuated encouragement to mass communication as part of aid, coupled with as generous provision as possible for training folk who come here from the developing countries to study. Having put forward those two suggestions, I beg leave to ask my Question.

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for initiating this debate by putting down his Unstarred Question. It is a subject some of us have been living with for a long time—in fact, all of us in these days of automation. Ten years ago when I was speaking or broadcasting on this problem of increasing population I used to say, "Every time the clock ticks there is another mouth to be fed in the world." Five years ago I had to change that to, "Every time your wrist watch ticks there is another mouth to be fed." To-day I have even given that up because every time your pulse beats there are two more mouths to be led. Since the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, rose to put this Question another 2,100 hungry people have joined the queue. The increase is now 8,000 an hour, nearly 200,000 a day, over 70 million a year.

How can you convey such figures to the public imagination? At one time I could compare the daily increase to a Wembley Cup Final crowd or, as we know it in Scotland, the Hampden Roar. But now it is double that. The space age analogy of which one might think is 20 divisions of Martians arriving on this planet every 24 hours without their rations. If that were happening homo sapiens, Thinking Man, would forget his nation or his political blocs or his individual selfishness or prejudices and, as mankind, do something about it. At the moment homo insapiens, Unthinking Man, is doing precious little.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has told us that last year, with an increase of 70 million population, the world's food supply did not increase. I know that adverse weather conditions had something to do with it, but climate, droughts and floods are a permanent hazard which have to be taken into all our calculations, with the wisdom of Joseph and the fat and the lean kine. It is an explanation, but it is not an excuse. Of course, the food shortages were worst in the countries badly hit by the population explosion, and only the provision of massive supplies of grain from the abundance of American technologically advanced farming saved India, with its sub-subsistence farm economy, from catastrophic famine.

If it is difficult to convey the number of people involved, it is even more difficult to convey the magnitude of the problem of feeding them. Many of your Lordships may have seen, as I have, the nightmare face of hunger, and I can put faces and even names to statistics. For instance, I was in the Congo when, on top of the famine threatening 300,000 displaced tribesmen, 150,000 refugees poured over the border from Portuguese Angola. The United Nations, with voluntary help from all over the world, had to feed them. All it could provide was a glass of UNICEF milk, a handful of dried fish and a hunk of bread or a bowl of cassava—the meagre survival ration for a human being for a day. But suppose, like the population increase, the influx had gone on for a year. To maintain that survival ration for that rate of influx would have meant 4½ million more cows to provide the glass of milk; five times the annual catch of fish of all the fishermen round the 3,000 mile coast of India and an additional crop acreage as big as Ireland. Such are the dimensions of the problem. And we are obviously not multiplying the cows or the fish catches or the acreages at anything like that rate. So the number of people actually starving is increasing by millions and the number of people suffering from malnutrition is increasing by multi-millions.

I know that there are statisticians who quarrel with the figures of hunger, but it is a callous argument about definitions—nothing more. "Undernourishment", in the gobbledegook of statisticians, seems an adequate term for starvation, and "malnutrition" covers a huge area of damaging deficiencies. Even the hardest of hard-faced statisticians concedes that 300 million people are "undernourished" and suffer from calorie-deficiency, but there is evidence that at least another 1,000 million are not getting protein sufficient for well being.

Your Lordships, I know, will recognise hunger without my recapitulating the accounts of famine, of corpses in the gutter, of Belsen skeletons, or the evidence of marasmus, the calorie-deficiency of the emaciated children of the OXFAM and War on Want pictures, or of kwashiorkor, the protein-deficiency, which is known as the "sickness the first baby dies of when the next baby comes"—when the child is taken from the mother's breast—or of xeropthalmia, the vitamin-deficiency blindness or hunger toxicosis. I have seen them all in areas which used to export food and where chronic starvation now exists because the population has exceeded the most energetic efforts to increase the food. If you increase food by 2½ per cent. per year—a considerable achievement for peasant farmers—and the population increase is 3 per cent. per year, there is no longer any question of exporting food; the peasant's children are hungry and suffering from famine. I would ask your Lordships to accept my generalisation that undernourishment or malnutrition, whatever the quibbles about definitions, affects half to two-thirds of our fellow human beings. That situation is worsening, I repeat, by 200,000 extra mouths every day. It cannot go on at that rate—and I repeat "rate", because it is the rate and not the ultimate figures that is relevant.

The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has reminded us that the present figures will double in 30 years. It may be that the estimates of 6,000 to 7,000 million in 30 years' time will prove an underestimate. People get cynical about statistics. They say, "The population experts are always changing their estimates". Yes, but they are always changing them upwards. One of the reasons is that many countries are only now getting fairly scrupulous and reliable census figures. Before it was largely guesswork, like the post-war estimate of 400 million for mainland China when it was actually 600 million, or 8 million to 15 million query for Afghanistan because the Moslem tribes would let their camels, their cattle, their sheep or their goats be counted, but never their wives, which was rather awkward when one was taking a census, particularly when the wives were about to have a baby and would increase the census still further. The revised estimates are accounting for more people than were suspected, and accordingly the fecundity rates have to be adjusted, upwards.

But there is one inescapable figure: the population will have increased by at least 1,000 million more mouths to be fed by 1980. It may be more—in fact I am prepared to risk my neck and say it may be considerably more—but it cannot be less than 1,000 million more mouths to be fed. The reason is that it is a biologically committed figure, because the parents are already growing to manhood, and even if they had only two or three children the 1,000 million would hold. What does it mean? Can we treble the food yields of the world in 13 years? That is what it means. With the present deficiencies and the future increment of population we shall have not to double but to treble the food of the world.

The population explosion is not—I repeat, "not"—a vast orgy of procreation. Parents are not conceiving more children. More parents are conceiving children. More mothers are surviving the hazards of childbirth to go on having children. More children are surviving birth and infancy and what were once the killer diseases of childhood, to marry and to multiply. People live longer; they do not die prematurely, and they have to be fed. The increase is due to the survival rate and not just to the birth rate.

We can date the nuclear explosion—the atom bomb—to the exact count-down second: 5.30 a.m., July 16, 1945. We can date the population explosion with somewhat less precision to February, 1935—ten years before—when a desperate father injected a red dye into the veins of his daughter who was dying of generalised septicæmia. She survived. The red dye was prontosil, the first of the sulpha drugs, and the German father was Domagk, who got a Nobel prize later for its discovery. It was proved at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London within a year that it was effective in saving the lives of mothers suffering from puerperal sepsis, from childbed fever. But it also demonstrated that specific germs could be killed within the human body.

The importance of this, scientifically, was that this prepared the way for the rediscovery by Florey and Chain of Fleming's penicillin—re-discovery, because it had languished since 1928 when Fleming himself discovered it, and because its famous discoverer had not recognised its special virtue that it would inhibit germs, not just in surface sores or wounds like other antiseptics, but within the human body. There was then the beginning of a new range which could be directed against specific germs within the living body. How effective it was we all know. More lives have been saved by penicillin alone than have been lost in all the wars of all human history—all within the last twenty years. Other antibiotics followed. We had D.D.T. and the other insecticides to curtail the vectors of disease. We could, by direct intervention, instead of by the laborious methods of public health education—un-known, anyway, in the countries which we are talking about—attack the mass killers, the infections and pestilences and insect-borne diseases like malaria. We achieved, on a universal scale, death control.

Let me give one example of what it has meant. In 1946, in India, the expectation of life of a new-born girl child was 27. To-day it is 48. Your Lordships will realise what this means. The average Indian girl will live through her whole reproductive life—20 more years of possible childbearing. None of your Lordships, I imagine, will suggest that somehow we should have withheld the humanitarian benefits of medical science—I say "somehow" because I am sure you would not have succeeded even if you had tried, because knowledge exists and knowledge once given cannot be taken away. Penicillin plant, for example, was barred from export to Red China, but the Chinese built the equipment and made the penicillin and have a population problem.

But if we have death control, we must have birth control. Homo sapiens is the only creature which can control its environment and master the invisible enemies of disease. Homo sapiens is also the only creature which can separate sex from reproduction. We have to do it. Family planning does not mean not having babies; it means having wanted babies. To have a family at all used to mean having many children, because many died. To-day parents can have just those children they can bring up "in human dignity". I repeat "in human dignity", because that phrase is Pope John's, although he said in the same encyclical that birth-control was not yet necessary. How can families exist in human dignity when there are more children than they can feed, more children than they can care for, more children than they can educate? People who in poverty breed like animals, live like animals.

What we are asking the Government to do, with all the resources we can offer, is to back up the efforts of Governments in the developing countries to promote family planning. Let us be quite clear. The only thing we can do is to help the countries and the people themselves to do it. Let me say this. If in the days of the British Raj Britain had tried to introduce birth control into India, not only would that have been a fiasco; it would have looked almost like genocide. We were at that time looking as though we were trying to restrain the Indians. But their Government can do it. May I add that there is no place in the world of which I know, except those which follow a certain dogma, where family planning is not accepted. You can talk about Islam, you can talk about China and family worship, you can talk about India and Hinduism and cracking the father's skull and the burning ghat. But this does not affect in any way the practical arguments for family planning which these people need.

It is an enormously difficult task because of the already vast number of families scattered in villages. The provision of the mechanical means is easier than the spreading of the knowledge and the clinical facilities. We in the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, in the Scottish World Population Crisis Campaign, conceive as a most useful function the bringing of doctors and student nurses to this country, and sending out instructors and mobile clinics to the countries which need them; and I may say that with Sir Dugald and Lady Baird, Aberdeen is already doing this. They are sending out a mobile clinic to India. But we should like to see this work extended. I should like to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench, please, to try to use his influence to get it extended by a declaration of Government intent and of Government support; and if this is not a tactless suggestion, following the point of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier—we are all rather sensitive about this in Scotland—when we are increasing overseas students' fees, we should have increased places for training in our hospitals and in graduate nursing centres such as we have in the University of. Edinburgh. We have the first-of-all graduate nursing centres in Britain.

I cannot sufficiently stress the urgency and importance of such help to population control—200,000 more a day, 70 million a year, at least five cities in India of 60 million population each by 1990, within thirty years. I said that it was not the ultimate numbers which were alarming, but the rate which is outstripping all developing countries' rate of development and the world food supply. Professor Colin Clark believes that the world could support 47,000 million people. We now have a world population of an estimated 3,400 million people. I am not going to quarrel with that figure, because I suppose the world could support it if you could stack all the people up vertically like battery-fed chickens in urban hutches; but that figure is pretty near another estimate, that of 52,000 million, which Professor Harrison Brown has suggested is the limit of the world's capacity. He has suggested that that is the limit of the world's capacity, not only in terms of natural foodstuffs but, indeed, of artificial, because, as he points out, when we reach about 52,000 million we shall in fact be eating rocks; that is to say, we shall be making our food synthetically from the elements.

My Lords, let us pause and think. Whether it is the 47,000 million which Colin Clark is predicting or is saying is possible and tolerable, apparently, or whether it is 52,000 million, at the present rate that figure could be reached in 150 years, which is just as far ahead of us as the Battle of Waterloo is behind us.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure all noble Lords will agree that it is high time that this Question which we are debating was asked, and I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Ferrier for raising it tonight. There is surely no doubt, particularly after what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down, that we are dealing with a very real and urgent threat. I could reinforce the noble Lord's arguments at some length, but all I shall do is to select a small number of quotations which serve that purpose.

First, in the Food and Agricultural Review of the Decade 1955–1965, we read: The population explosion in the developing countries is undoubtedly the most important single factor dominating the world food and agricultural situation during the whole post-war period". Secondly, the Secretary-General, addressing the United Nations recently, said: On present showing there simply is no prospect of growth in agricultural production sufficient to accommodate the rising flood of people". Thirdly, Her Majesty's Government in Overseas Development: The Work in Hand (Cmnd. 3180), in paragraph 25, say: This"— that is, the restraining of the birth rate— is the most urgent task in the whole field of international development". So there is widespread recognition now from Her Majesty's Government, and many others, of the scale and urgency of the threat that we are debating.

The Question is one for Her Majesty's Government, and asks them what part they propose to play in the campaign to meet this threat. One would hope, having read the passage I have quoted from Chapter I of this Report on the work of this Department, that one would hear something about what the Government are doing to meet what they describe as, "the most urgent task in the whole field of international development". We move on from Chapter I to Chapter II, entitled "International Organisations"; to Chapter III, "The British Aid Programme"; and to Chapter IV, "Aid Management". Then come Chapters V, VI, VII and VIII, and we still have not come to what the Government propose. Then we get to Chapter IX, which deals with the training of dentists. This is also an important task, but it is not "the most urgent task in the whole field of international development".

Then we come to, "Population Control and Family Planning", on page 69. I would submit that here, my Lords, one would expect to find something pretty dynamic going on, if this is "the most urgent task in the whole field of international development", but this is what we find: …a growing realisation of the importance of this factor… …a wide range of attitudes to the problem of high population… The General Assembly in 1965 deferred discussion of the population question… The United Nations Children's Fund Executive Board decided, in May 1966, to defer a policy decision… The British Government is deeply aware of the importance and the difficulty of the population problem and of the gravity of the consequences which would follow from neglecting it. Britain's own resources of knowledge and experience are limited. The Ministry seeks to respond to particular requests… We need to improve our ability to help in the future… …the Ministry is considering the possibility of establishing a Population Bureau…", and so on. My Lords, is this the way to meet the most urgent task in the whole field of international development"? I am afraid that strikes me as being a rather feeble response, and I hope very much that we shall hear from the noble Lord opposite that the Government are going to do something rather better in the very near future.

Now it is possible that there are explanations for this lack of response so far to "the most urgent task in the whole field of international development". There could be the view that family planning is not a matter for Government—and if one is thinking of having health visitors going around telling individual couples what they ought or ought not to do as parents, then I would absolutely agree with that view. But this view does not preclude Government support and Government backing on a massive scale for research, social work and education, in this country and overseas, designed to help couples in the exercise of their responsible parenthood, which is quite a different thing.

On the other hand, there might be the excuse that important religious issues are involved here, in which the Government do not want to get involved. There certainly are most important religious issues involved, because, after all, my Lords, this is a matter of life or death. But there are no standpoints or positions taken by the Churches at the present day which are a bar to the Government's taking action in this field. The Anglican Church gave positive support in quite clear terms at the last Lambeth Conference. The right reverend Prelate who is going to follow me in this debate will probably want to expand this point, but I should like at this moment to read the relevant resolution: The Conference believes that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere: that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should he the result of positive choice before God. Such responsible parenthood, built on obedience to all the duties of marriage, requires a wise stewardship of the resources and abilities of the family as well as a thoughtful consideration of the varying population needs and problems of society and the claims of future generations". There is nothing there, my Lords, to stop the Government from getting on with it.

I believe (though I must admit I have not checked this recently) that the view of the Free Churches is similar to the one that I have just read out. At any rate, Christian Aid, which acts on behalf of the Anglican Church and the Free Churches in this country, is supporting family planning projects in Zambia, India, Nigeria, Brazil and, no doubt, other places, too. The attitude of the Roman Catholic Church on this issue, to which reference has been made, is perhaps at the moment not quite so clear. I asked my colleagues in that Church whether they could give me something which I could see before this debate which could be used in the meantime to indicate their attitude. I have ben given an article from the Concilium which they describe as one of their leading authorities on this subject It reads: The solution to the population explosion must come from a responsible attitude to the sacred privilege of passing on new life. Even though methods of family planning still leave much to be desired from the point of view of acceptability, ease of use, safety, thorough clinical testing, cheapness and security, as much use as possible must be made of existing methods which are morally acceptable, and a crash programme of research into new methods must be pursued with unremitting zeal. Obviously, the present rapid increase of population cannot go on indefinitely, and it is completely naive in the new circumstances of lessened mortality rates to expect nature unaided to redress the balance. That is what I was given for this debate by the Roman Catholic Church. Surely, none of this need inhibit Her Majesty's Government from taking action on the grounds that there are religious barriers to that action. It did not prevent President Kennedy from leading his Government, when he was in charge of it, to give considerable support to family planning projects all over the world.

There could be a third reason for the Government's inaction in this field, the diplomatic one. How can you go to another sovereign State and say: "Look here, there are really far too many of you Indians or Pakistanis, or Javanese. Let us help you diminish your numbers." As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said, we could not possibly do that. But that is not the position. Take India, to which the noble Lord has already referred. It is the most populous country in the world which we are in a position to help—China is the only country with more people. Here is a country which has already decided for itself that it has more citizens being born than it can cope with; a country which is determined to bring the birth-rate down from 40 per thousand to 25 per thousand as soon as it possibly can. It is a country which is spending—and I am grateful to the High Commissioner for India for these figures—in its First Five-Year Plan, 1 million rupees; in its Second Five-Year Plan, 21 million rupees; in the Third Five-Year Plan (the one we are now in) 257 million rupees; and in the Five-Year Plan which is just about to begin, 950 million rupees. There is no doubt that India is a country which is doing its very utmost to help itself, and which deserves help from us. Surely there cannot be any diplomatic explanation for not offering assistance to countries of that kind.

Note here, again, that there is no religious difficulty. The Indians say they are not experiencing any difficulty—there are no barriers on religious or social grounds, or on the grounds of tribal custom, to the development of this campaign. Exactly the same applies in a Moslem State like Pakistan, for which I have a similar set of figures, but which there is no need for me to quote in support of this argument.

There is another possible excuse for this inaction: a view that this is a problem which will in time solve itself. It is the view that, as people become more prosperous and better educated, the birthrate will fall away of its own accord. This is true; it has happened, and does happen. The birth-rate begins to follow the death rate down with increasing standards of living and education. But when this happened in this country—and the details I am now giving come from World III which is published by the Overseas Development Institute, but I have not checked them for myself—and when the death rate began to fall in about 1750, it was another 130years before the birth rate followed suit, and it was another 50 years before it steadied at the lower rate. Can we really wait while the most urgent problem in the whole field of international development solves itself? Can we wait for 130 years or even13 years? I submit that we cannot.

The only other possible explanation of this relative inactivity by Her Majesty's Government is the feeling that perhaps we have only limited resources for development aid, and that we must apply them where they have most effect. All I would say in answer to that is that when President Johnson addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1965, he made this point: Less than five dollars invested in population control is worth 100 dollars invested in economic growth. If the Americans take note of their priorities in those terms, how much more important is it that we should. Quite apart from the urgency of the problem, it is the economic and efficient place in which to apply our aid.

I would conclude with a quotation from the British Development Policies 1966 by the Overseas Development Institute, an Institute which I am sure commands the respect of all quarters throughout the country and in this House for the objectivity and penetration of its research. They said: The rapid growth in population may well come to dominate all other problems faced by developing countries. Yet only a minute fraction of resources given in [British] aid is devoted to the search and application…of ways and means to check the population explosion…we are convinced that the low priority assigned to population control is the most serious shortcoming in the present [British] aid programme.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, not only for introducing this debate, but for the terms in which he worded his Question, which I paraphrase: To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to combat the danger of the escalating world population. I am the fourth speaker in this debate, and I think it must be rather unusual for the fourth speaker to agree with everything that the previous three have said. I am very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, and I, too, am going to be rather critical of the Government. But I think he should have extended his criticism of the Government to the previous Government. During their 13 years they had a fairly good economic time and fewer troubles than we have had—and they too did nothing about it.

Many people would not acknowledge that there are dangers in the over-population of the world. They are both fatalistic and optimistic about this. I myself, however, can see two immediate dangers in this over-population. One is that millions of people are condemned to the misery of living on the borders of starvation; the other danger is the widening gap, which everyone knows about, between rich and poor nations with the present level of aid, and that the present level of aid is an ultimate threat to peace and likely to lead to both civil and national wars. In fact, I believe that if the present population trend continues, so that in the year 2000 we shall have about 8,000 million people in the world, it is possible that the wars and the pestilence and famine that before 1830 reduced population might once again become the principal agents contributing to that end.

There is little reason for complacency, or even a feeling of security, among the more affluent societies. Aid from richer nations will have to become much more realistic, judged by the poor results we have had so far from the technical and economic aid given, because it has achieved very little in raising the standards of people living in poorer and developing countries. What it has done is to maintain more people to live in poverty. The increase in population has sometimes actually cancelled out benefits accruing from some project even before it has been completed.

In Egypt the Aswan Darn has been constructed to reclaim 2 million acres, but between 1952 and 1972, when the reservoir is going to be full, there will have been an increase of 13 million more human beings to feed off those same acres. A country can double its population in twenty years; Ceylon and Mexico are two examples. It seems to me, my Lords, that the time has come to have a new look and to make a new approach to the dangers inherent in an uncontrolled population explosion, both for ourselves in the more advanced societies, and for the developing countries.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said, we are not more fertile than we have been in the past, but we have concentrated on death control. We have reduced infant mortality, and one of the results is that millions of children have to grow up in a world where there is not enough food, not enough shelter, not enough education, and where there are not enough jobs for them. To-day, whether it is an affluent or a poor country, the task of government is to consider their economic policy and their population policy together. All planning becomes meaningless when these are considered separately.

I suggest that family planning should be given absolutely top priority in the world to-day, and that we should adopt a much less sentimental attitude to the idea of children coming into the world by chance and not by choice. Let us take Japan. She has cut her birth rate by half within a generation, and is one of the most prosperous countries in the world to-day. Certainly the choice before a developing country is that it can have a great many children, or it can have prosperity and a higher standard of living, but it simply cannot have both. This, to a lesser degree, goes for the more affluent societies as well, like ours, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, said, giving a quotation from Lyndon Johnson, a small sum spent on birth control is worth a hundred times more than the same sum spent on increasing economic growth.

It was Keynes who said—I am afraid that this debate is absolutely full of quotations: A country is overpopulated if its standards are lower than they would be if it had fewer people. The Government and the Ministry of Overseas Development are aware of all this, and the complaints and requests for more aid underline the disappointing results of their contributions to poorer countries. The Government have begun to stir. In 1964 the Ministry of Overseas Development said that it would provide help for population control in the official aid programmes, and announced that training and expert advice for family planning would be made available in the technical assistance programmes to those countries requesting it They have recently encouraged the provision of expert assistance by the United Nations. The Ministry of Overseas Development have set up a Working Party which includes representatives of the Family Planning Association and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and other specialists in the population field. But these moves seem to me almost of a token nature; good intentions and declarations. So far, practically all the work which has been done and the results which have been achieved, which are truly remarkable, are due to the endeavours of those two non-Governmental bodies, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Family Planning Association of which it is a member.

What has been achieved by a small handful of voluntary workers in the Family Planning Association during the last thirty years is little short of a miracle. I think that the Government should first build on the experience of these two organisations. I think, too, that the Government might give them some kind of direct financial help. The Government are not in a strong position to set an example to other Governments, and to advise them on family planning and encourage them in family planning, if they cannot show that they are encouraging family planning in this country. The Government praised the ECOSOC Resolution which authorised the Secretary-General to provide advisory services and training on action programmes in the field of population at the request of Governments—then it goes on to say that its own resources of knowledge and experience are limited. But they need not he limited. The opportunity is there, and it is open to the Government to draw on the groundwork and experience of the F.P.A. and the I.P.P.F.

The Government have expressed a desire to set up a population bureau and training centre, but the International Planned Parenthood Federation has already begun to plan for this. Here both the British and immigrant doctors could be taught all the best contraceptive methods. Few of our own medical schools provide this information and training. It seems to me that once again a non-Governmental organisation like the I.P.P.F. will beat them to it. Altogether the Government have been, and are still, much too hesitant about this terrible problem of population control. They show no great initiative in this matter.

Finally, my Lords, last year no less an eminent person than the Pope came to address the United Nations at the General Assembly. Among other things, he said: Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind and not to encourage an artificial birth control in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life. These are noble and compassionate words, but how do they add up with the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who said: On present showing there simply is no prospect of growth in agricultural production sufficient to accommodate the rising flood of people."? The sad truth, my Lords, is that to-day millions of children are born, not to be "guests at the banquet of life", but to scrape the begging bowl.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lady a question? I did not want to interrupt her admirable speech, but I want a little information. What I want to know and what I am sure that she can tell me is this. Is it not the case that methods of family planning or birth control have advanced very rapidly in the last two to three years? I agree with the noble Lady, and I am not trying to make a political point, but she said that the last Government had done remarkably little. Has not this Government had more opportunity to do more even than the last Government, because of the advanced methods of birth control? I should like to know whether that is true.


My Lords, I do not think that that is relevant to the problem. There are many methods of birth control. Some are very controversial, as the noble Viscount knows. Birth control has been in existence in some form or another since the beginning of Man, but certainly in the last thirty or even forty years there have been satisfactory methods. They have not been absolutely foolproof, but they have been very satisfactory. Again, I cannot let off the Tory Government for doing as little as, if not less than, the Labour Government have done to-day.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lady whether it is not the case that the modern methods are more easily applied from the financial point of view?


My Lords, I am afraid I do not think that even that is true.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I should like to add my voice to the chorus of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for having put down this Question in order that this burning issue may again be debated in this House. I should like to draw attention to the growing consensus of Christian concern to which the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, has already referred. In a similar debate in this Chamber in July, 1964, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London referred to the Lambeth Conference Resolution, which the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, has repeated and which I need do no more than mention. I think that it is significant that, since that 1964 debate, the second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church has been held and there are words in the Resolution of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World which are of significance and carry great authority: Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted.… They will thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which may be foreseen. For this accounting they will reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they will consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society and of the Church herself". I believe that those words are significant because in this period when we are awaiting with anxiety further definition of the attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church, it is important to remember the principles stated in that decree of the Vatican Council, which could have a profound effect in interpreting the most authoritative decision of the Church.

The point I want to stress is that both in the Lambeth Resolution and in the Vatican Council decree the essential conception is that of responsible parenthood. In a sense, what we are debating to-day is the meaning of that word "responsible", for among other things it subsumes an awareness of what governmental and inter-governmental action would be needed to achieve a solution. This means an awareness of the different dimensions of the problem in the fully developed and still developing parts of the world. For this is not only an Afro-Asian problem. It has a Western and, therefore, a British aspect, and unless we in this country can learn to take it seriously on our own doorstep, we are likely to be irresponsible in our attitude towards the rest of the world.

Sir Joseph Hutchinson, in his presidential address to the British Association, concluded, after a careful survey of British agricultural and economic resources: For, make no mistake, this country already carries a population as great as the environment can support without degeneration, and it will call for all the knowledge and skill we can command to prevent irreparable damage before we achieve a stable population, even if we set about stabilisation without delay. And he drew attention to the important conception of Allan's critical population density—that point at which the whole surroundings of man begin to deteriorate irreparably. In this country perhaps the more serious aspect to which we ought to attend is that the highest reproduction is among the least stable and responsible element of the population. A medical social worker in Bristol has told me that, of 600 cases in the last 12 months of application for I.U.C.D. advice, the greater part came from "problem families", yet she knew perfectly well that they were precisely those most unlikely to seek advice and therefore the section most neding it. So we find a situation where an ever-increasing proportion of the skill and care which the community has at its disposal has to be devoted to that part of the population which least profits. We face a bottomless abyss of need, detracting from the resources available.

This touches upon the concerns of a Bill which is being promoted in another place and which, when it comes to your Lordships' House, may add other aspects to the English scene, not least the questions raised by members of the Christian Church about the application of National Health Service facilities to making contraceptive advice and appliances available to the unmarried. This is the type of question which would call for a careful factual survey, because the statistics are not available which would allow us yet to draw certain deductions. I think that we need to look most clearly at the facts, lest we should be in danger, in a mistaken compassion, of proposing remedies which would betray to still greater suffering those whom we intended to help. But all this is part of the awareness that is implied in speaking about responsible parenthood.

When we turn to the underdeveloped countries, the problem is enormously magnified. Obviously, as other speakers have made clear to your Lordships, there is every need for assistance in educational and economic advance. This is a part solution, but it is in itself a losing battle. I, too, was struck by the example of the Aswan Dam, which so dramatises this tragic loss. It is also clear that everything that needs to be done must be done to offer to Governments which would accept it the technological and technical skills needed and which the West has so much more abundantly at its disposal. Again, these measures are inadequate unless millions of ordinary men and women can begin to conceive of new ranges of responsible parenthood.

It seems that one of the most urgent questions we can ask is: What could be the content of that responsibility? If another quotation can be borne, I would cite this passage from Sir George Staple-don, the author of Human Ecology, a great pioneer of agricultural discoveries: A change in point of view is comparable with a mutation; it happens suddenly with consequences of profound significance. It is like the bursting of a dam, but instead of water it is knowledge and facilities that suddenly take shape, and flood the world with possibilities for good or evil. It seems to me that the essential ingredient in this debate would be to ask ourselves what could be the content of a change in point of view which could have this effect of a mutation in man's evolutionary development. For man has become man over endless millenia, and as part of his development an adventurous adaptability has enabled him to master his environment, but hitherto thought of primarily in terms of quantitativeconquest—quantitative conquest of space and resources. Now we must face the fact that continued human progress itself involves a greater degree, not so much of quantitative, but of qualitative conquest. This, it seems to me, gives meaning to responsible parenthood, for such a change of point of view is to go against deeply inherited assumptions.

First of all, it means a much more vivid recognition of limits; a recognition of the limits of the earth's resources and of the earth's area, and all that is involved in that concept; a recognition, too, of the critical population density, which is practically at the point of being global, if it is not already so. There then sets in a deterioration which cannot easily be arrested. There is a limit to the use of the earth's resources and the earth's space, and not least if there is to remain any reverence, any basis of husbandry, as distinct from exploitation.

Secondly, this change in point of view involves a far more conscious recognition that there is a pursuit of both equality and excellence open to us. Hitherto, mankind has had to struggle to achieve any degree of security or satisfied hunger. Now all mankind knows that these things are potentially within reach and must be shared. All mankind knows that we have the resources to control both hunger and poverty, and that these need not last forever. The paddy-fields and the jungles rustle with the rumor that these things can end. This new vision of the fact that both equality and excellence lie within our grasp if we accept responsibility is something which millions of ordinary men and women need to be encouraged to understand.

Thirdly, and above all, it means a qualitative understanding that human life is, above all, personal life; that to be fully human is to live in personal relationships, and that these involve qualities of personal contact, qualities of decision about family life and its priorities—priorities of mother-child relationship, which alone lay the foundations of outward looking and secure maturity. These are elements of quality in personal living which must become part of the widespread change in point of view.

My Lords, I am really suggesting that the relevance of all this to the Question that has been laid before us is that it is surely the purpose of governmental and inter-governmental action precisely to provide the channels along which such ideas may flow; that all that is proposed in the way of administrative action will sterile unless it can be the means by which countless millions of ordinary men and women get this mutative change of point of view which will enable them to be responsible parents. If there are too many humans, they will become subhuman. That, my Lords, is the state of the question: it is as simple, as urgent, as that.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I think we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for bringing up this subject at this time, because what has been said so far has been well worth while said, and I am sure that we all agree with practically every speaker. I think the object of this debate is to urge the Government forward. There is criticism of lack of action in the past by all Governments. But now the problem is clear before us. We must urge the Government forward to use every weapon at their disposal to endeavour to combat this terrifying prospect.

Before I address the House with the remarks that I wish to make, I should like to express the keen sense of loss of everyone connected with the family planning movement in the passing of your Lordships' friend and Member of this House, the late Lord Brain, who played such an active and splendid part in this work. And I wish to mention the other great loss which the movement has suffered in the last twelve months, that of Margaret Pyke, who was an inspiration in all work of family planning and international planned parenthood for so many years. We owe them both an enormous debt of gratitude.

I wish very much to welcome Mr. Brook's Bill which is being introduced into the House of Commons, and I trust that it will have an easy passage, both there and in your Lordships' House. There is an important point which the right reverend Prelate raised, of the communication of knowledge to the unmarried. On that I would say only one thing. In my opinion, the real sin is bringing an unwanted child into this world. It is interesting to note that Marie Stopes, who with Lady Denham was the start of the Family Planning Association as we know it in this country, at her first clinic in March, 1921, put up a notice appealing to the patients who came. That notice said: To hand on knowledge of our existence to others and to create a public opinion which will force the Ministry of Health to include a similar service in welfare centres already supported by the Government in every district. That was in 1921. Yet, although over the last forty years practically every form of social provision has been taken over from voluntary associations by the Government, in whole or in part, this one fundamental form of social welfare provision has up to now been left entirely dependent upon voluntary help, charitable contributions and occasional ex gratia payments from some enlightened local authority. So when the International Planned Parenthood Association calls on other nations to do something and set their house in order, they can reply: "What are your Government doing at home?" As we all know, we have a Minister of Health now very much in line with us in what we are thinking on family planning, and I hope that the Government will put their whole force behind Mr. Brooks' s Bill and bring it into law as a first step towards bringing the Government actively into association in this country.

I must confess that, like other speakers, I have taken a great deal of my remarks from quotations made by other great people, and I, too, wish to mention the brilliant article of Sir Thomas Fox in the Lancet which has been repeated in the last issue of Family Planning. I trust he will not mind if he hears me taking some of his thunder. We had this debate about two-and-a-half years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has reminded us, and then it was remarked on all hands what a tremendous awakening was taking place about this whole problem which, up till then, had been comparatively unknown to great masses of the population. The squeamishness, the prudery, in the discussion of family planning and contraception was being rapidly swept away, and I think now it has been completely swept away and people discuss the problems of birth control in this country and family planning overseas with a freedom that certainly was unknown five years ago. This is a splendid thing and it needs to be built upon.

It was claimed in the debate, and was not contradicted by anybody, and I could not help thinking of it again as we listened to that great speech in the Royal Gallery this afternoon, that really the population explosion is the most dangerous threat that we have—more dangerous to mankind even than the hydrogen bomb. Nations, like individuals, are members one of another, and the economic gap to which the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has referred, is so great and so dangerous that its reduction is an early necessity. I believe is it calculated that 1 per cent. of the total incomes of the richer nations is now subscribed towards helping the poorer ones, but if that were doubled or trebled or even quadrupled it would be of little value unless the nations concerned did something about their populations. We had that remarkable quotation from President Johnson. Nations with growth rates—and there are many of them to-day—of 2½, 3 or even 4 per cent. must see that they are heading for absolute disaster. Probably even now they could regain the road to economic progress if they could cut their birth rates in half over the next generation. Japan has done it, with remarkable results in the increase in prosperity there. But time is running out and urgent methods are necessary.

If a nation has half its population under 15 years of age—and this is by no means the exception in many of the underdeveloped countries—then the number of people who are dependent on the wage-earner to support them becomes quite unmanageable. For example, I am told that the people of Costa Rica have to support nearly twice as many children per head of the adult population as, say, Sweden. I will quote again President Johnson's remark: Less than five dollars invested in birth control is worth 100 dollars invested in economic development". Some of us have been engaged in collecting money for the international family planning work. America and Sweden and other countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, have been remarkably generous, and I do not think this country need be ashamed of the fact that we have raised nearly a quarter of a million pounds over the last three or four years for work overseas. OXFAM and the Nuffield Foundation and other great organisations have joined in this work, but we could have used very much more money if we had been able to obtain it. Requests for help come in from all over the world and only a fraction of them can be attended to by voluntary aid and organisation.

So far as the Family Planning Association is concerned, I understand that for thisyear—and I applaud it—they are concentrating on collecting for the foundation of a training centre, as a memorial to Margaret Pyke. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has put it to us that trained people in this field are a primary necessity if we are going to do good work overseas. I trust that this centre will have all possible success.

But let us not delude ourselves. The principal obstacle to the spread of planned parenthood is still the Roman Catholic Church, and I do not think it is any good glossing over the matter. I have a cutting here which I should like to read to your Lordships. It is from a well authenticated and widely read business magazine in America, the U.S. News & World Report of January 30, 1967. It is headed "Rome" and is as follows: A Vatican weekly magazine has taken President Johnson to task for suggesting that birth conrol be used to curb the world's growing population and avert widespread hunger. Observers said the magazine, Osservatore Della Domenica, made one of the most outspoken Vatican criticisms of an American President in recent years. The magazine said the President's state-of-the-union proposal for family planning in underdeveloped countries posed 'serious problems of a moral nature'. It called the growing public support for birth control 'one of the saddest signs of the times'. Mr. Johnson was accused of being unaware of the moral problem. Instead of birth con- torl, the magazine urged efforts to raise food production. Is it not lamentable at this time, with all the authoritative statements made by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, U Thant and all the others that there should come from the ivory tower of the Vatican the statement that all will be well if food production can be increased? I can only hope that the fears expressed in this short article, that the article was widely interpreted as a further indication that Pope Paul VI would prefer not to modify the Catholic Church's ban against artificial contraception is not true. We can only pray that it is not.

Although this subject is such a serious one and is fraught with such great danger, I would suggest that while it sounds so complex it is in fact comparatively simple. Man is a fertile animal, capable of multiplying rapidly. In the past half-century he has gradually escaped from the high death rate that formerly kept his numbers in bounds and he is now, as we have heard, replenishing the earth at an unprecedented rate. Figures have been given this afternoon of 3,500 to 3,750 million in the world to-day, rising to 7,000 million at the end of the century. I would only say that if this growth rate continues, when my youngest grandson reaches my age there will be something like 14,000 million people on this earth.

The first result of this excessive breeding must be that man remains poor, and we all know that in the mass he is now getting poorer; and the last result must be, if man does not control the position, that war, pestilence and famine will come in to control it for him. But I do not consider that these things are inevitable. The flood is advancing but the remedy is available. It is to show people everywhere that if only they can refrain from multiplying too rapidly then they can live prosperously and decently in the land that the good God has given. We have the knowledge and resources that we did not have fifty years ago. Not to use this knowledge, not to use these resources, now, when we all recognise the danger before us, is for mankind deliberately to choose disaster.

8.10 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, recalled the debate which occurred in this place some years ago on this subject, but my memory goes further back than that to a debate which I had the pleasure of hearing from behind the Bar. It was in 1926, and in that year, as I think the noble Lord reminded us, birth control was a subject not discussed in polite society; and only a few months previously another place, which prides itself on being a democratic and progressive assembly, had refused to touch it.

In 1926 Lord Buck master moved a Resolution asking the Government, or the Ministry of Health, to withdraw a prohibition imposed by an earlier Minister of Health, a Roman Catholic, on maternity and child welfare centres, prohibiting them from giving contraceptive information to their mothers. That debate was ably supported by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Wrenbury, and it was opposed on behalf of the Government by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Cave, who opposed it, not, he said, on the ground that he was opposed to birth control as such, but that it was really quite unnecessary and would complicate the work of the local health authorities; that women did not really need it because they could always get such advice from a private practitioner or panel doctor—and he added, "After all, everyone at least has a panel doctor". I think that was one of the most astonishing statements ever made in this House by a Lord Chancellor, who showed absolutely abysmal ignorance of the structure of the Lloyd George Insurance Act. But that is by the way. The interesting thing about that debate was that the Motion was carried against the Government by a majority of 57 votes to 44. Some time later the prohibition was removed, and local health authorities were permitted to give such information on health grounds. I may say that for many years very few of them did; only recently have they fortunately become more active in that respect.

What is interesting about that debate is that it was carried on entirely in terms not of population problems at all. Population problems were never really mentioned, except for one speaker who suggested that a diminished birth rate might bring about the extinction, or more or less the extinction, of the British race. It was all discussed in terms of maternity and child welfare. In the years that fol- lowed it continued to be discussed in this country in those terms, and if anything troubled public opinion with regard to population problems it was the fear that a declining birth rate would bring about the extinction of the British race somewhere about the year 2,000.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, will remember a statistical formula which used to be known as the net reproductive rate, which frightened people very much until it was found to be inaccurate in some way. So much was the fear of under-population, that in 1944 it inspired the Government to appoint a Royal Commission on Population. Happily, at the time the Commission reported there had ceased to be any fear of under-population, and they reported that contraception should be made readily available as part of a national health service, and we can still hope that it will be in a little while.

That may seem rather irrelevant to the questions we are discussing; that is to say, world over-population. There is still, I think, no general fear that Great Britain itself is over-populated, certainly not in the Malthusian sense of fertility outrunning material production. But as I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol has suggested, overpopulation can take other forms, because man does not live by material production alone, but also by space and leisure, and "time to stand and stare". It may be that we need a breathing space to catch up with our housing problem, to thwart urban and suburban spread, and to plan our traffic and enjoy solitude, if there are still spaces in which we can find it. I sometimes wonder whether the utter dependence of our 50 million well-fed, highly mobile Britons, on the shifting sands of complicated international exchanges in a world obsessed with economic nationalism, is a really very secure state of affairs. We might, if the great nexus of international exchange were to fail, become very overpopulated in this country, as indeed Austria was after the First World War.

But, of course, it is with areas outside Great Britain, or outside Europe, that we are concerned to-day and, as has been pointed out, the world-wide achievements of very recent years of death control unaccompanied by birth control. Here, I think the British experience is relevant in connection with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford. He pointed out that in the past this country has had a differential birth rate. It began to be obvious in the last one-third, possibly the last quarter, of the nineteenth century, when we became aware that higher income levels acted restrictively on the birth rate, as indeed they did; as income levels went up, the birth rate seemed to go down, and it was at the lowest levels of income that the birth rate was highest. That was a familiar phenomenon, and the interesting thing is that it just happened; it was not a result of any policy in regard to population, or any national policy in regard to family planning; it was not a result of any propaganda at that time. It just happened. It was a natural reaction of individuals to certain external circumstances.

But how far can we hope that, given the spread of contraceptive knowledge, economic assistance given to less developed countries will have the same effect? The noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, said that if it did have any effect it was going to take a jolly long time. I think that was the point he made. But it did not take a long time in Great Britain; it happened remarkably quickly as an almost immediate response to improved conditions. I agree with the noble Lord that it is unlikely to happen as a solution to our world over-population, but I think there is more to it than the time-lag, and it is this. In Great Britain birth control and death control sprang from the same root of politically conscious indigenous self-help. We cannot, I think, readily assume that in less politically experienced countries, where death control and economic aid are conferred either from outside by international agencies or from above by benevolent dictatorships, that result will occur as a natural reaction to improved conditions. I do not think it will; and we are not going to solve our problem that way. But, of course, time is short in which to mobilise world opinion and bring it into relation with the real menace of overpopulation.

Here I should like just to trace the brief pilgrimage through time which was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. Since the dawn of history, and even before, until quite recent times, as he pointed out, human survival has been continuously engaged in a precarious contest with the great killing agencies of disease and famine. Since the dawn of history, and even before, human ideas have reacted to this situation by a glorification, almost a deification, of fertility which has expressed itself strongly in religious attitudes, ranging from primitive, rather crude fertility worship and cults to the sanctions of modern Christian Churches in regard to contraception, sterilisation and abortion.

Now, in this latest age of human history human survival, apart from the menace of nuclear warfare, is no longer on the defensive. It has no need of its fertility cults, whatever form they may take, and ideas are on the move. But we all know that ideas move more slowly than the economic conditions which generate those ideas. The time lag is particularly noticeable when you come to religious sanctions. This is, I am sure, quite understandable. After all, the great religions of the world are concerned with eternal verities, concerning man's spiritual nature and destiny; and the various applications of those eternal truths to changing economic conditions are a little too apt to acquire some of the immutability of the truths themselves. For instance, it is, and I hope it always will be, a precept of the Christian Church not to take advantage of one's neighbour's necessity, from which in an age of simpler and more direct economic relationships the Christian Church deduced the wickedness of lending money at interest. This prohibition was embodied in the canon law which long outlasted the conditions which had brought it into being and justified it, and it had to go through some tortuous evasions during the period of readjustment. But I think that to-day no good Roman Catholic would regard it as sinful to own debenture stock which involves one lending money at interest.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, pointed out, it would seem that the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to birth control is undergoing some modification. I hope it is. But if it is, it has been quite recent. Those of us who, like the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, have worked in the family planning movement, know that in many cases local health authorities have been intimidated and prevented from either grant aiding or providing family planning facilities by really organised opposition on the part of local Catholic churches. I do not know whether that is still going on. I do not think it is, because some time ago I wrote to the Family Planning Association to ask whether they had had any examples of this, and they could not give me any. I hope they have not got any. because it is time it stopped.

But it is still true, as the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, pointed out, that there is a lot of solid Roman Catholic opposition which has cramped some of the international agencies, and which I think possibly affects Governments. It is not long ago that the Governor of Mauritius called for a report on the economic condition of the island which was obviously suffering from overpopulation and insufficient outlets for migration. In fact he called for two reports. One of them was made by Professor Titmuss of the London School of Economics, who based his report on the primary recommendation that family planning was essential. What was the result? The Roman Catholic bishop caused a letter to be read in the churches in Mauritius calling on congregations not to adopt the methods of family planning recommended in the report by Professor Titmuss.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has pointed out, it is but a short time ago that the Pope took the opportunity, when he made a most important speech to the United Nations, in effect to condemn the efforts to limit local populations by family planning. So it would appear that there is still a certain amount of opposition to overcome. Let us hope that our Government will have the vigour to overcome it.

So far as the Vatican is concerned, I believe that the question has now been referred to a conclave of non-medical Italian bachelors, which does not sound too hopeful. But, still, these things move. Churches move. The Church of England has moved quite effectively fairly recently. But still, it has moved. Let us hope that the Vatican will move in due course. Meanwhile, it is essential that our Government should move with great vigour.

8.27 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate, not only for the quality of its speeches, but for the extraordinary extent to which there has been almost unanimous agreement about the appalling implications of this problem of what has come to be called the population explosion. I should like to follow other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for asking this Question and giving us the opportunity to hear some remarkable, deeply felt and deeply thought out speeches. I shall not try to single out any of them; they have all been of absorbing interest to me.

Before I begin the few remarks that I should like to make on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I might perhaps just take the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, gently to task. He was relentless in his criticism of Her Majesty's Government, but I fear that, so far as I could see, he offered no really constructive and detailed suggestions of his own, other than the suggestion of a programme of massive aid. But he did not enlighten us about where the resources for that massive aid were to come from. Indeed, I must echo the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, when I say that if really all that is needed is a programme of massive aid, I am at a loss to understand why it has not been done long before now. After all, the population explosion did not begin in October, 1964.

But I will not spoil a debate of this quality in Party polemics. I think all of us here agree that there are two major developments that are likely to affect the power structure and the peace and prosperity of the world in the last quarter of this century and beyond. One of these, of course, is the nuclear weapon, and the extent to which we can be successful in bringing it under our control. As quotations seem to be in order in this evening's debate, perhaps I might recall to the House the words of that great American statesman, Adlai Stevenson, when he said: It has taken a scientific revolution to produce the nuclear weapon, and will take a political revolution to control it. As your Lordships will know, Her Majesty's Government are at present very actively engaged in the negotiations which are going on to conclude a treaty to bring this terrible weapon under control, and to create conditions in which it will be possible to go forward to more comprehensive measures of nuclear and general disarmament.

Although some of the Press reports on this subject may have been a little premature, I think that it is possible to say that, certainly so far as the great nuclear super-Powers are concerned, the United States and the Soviet Union, we are now very near to agreement. Your Lordships will have heard Mr. Kosygin, in his very significant speech in the Royal Gallery this afternoon, say something that must have brought a feeling of optimism to the heart of everyone present. He said that he believed—and he, after all, is one of the two most powerful men in the world—that we are very near to agreement on this problem, perhaps one of the greatest problems that face us to-day. I am very hopeful that when the negotiations begin in Geneva, as they will in a few days' time, we shall before very long be able to report some success.

The second major element in the development of the world's power balance, its prosperity and peace is the question of population, the extraordinary rate at which the population of the world is growing. This growth, especially in what are now fashionably called the developing countries of the world, will of course inevitably have an effect on the foreign policies of those countries. Perhaps the most significant example of this, which has been touched upon only briefly in this debate so far, is in the future of the People's Republic of China. Apart from the fact that it is relevant to this whole great problem that Communist China shows signs of developing into the world's third nuclear super-Power, their population growth is likely to have a spectacular impact on world affairs over the next fifteen or twenty years. Already the population of China is generally estimated as being somewhere around the 700 million mark. If it continues to grow at this rate, the end of this century will see it grow to something like 1,200 million people.

This sort of "population explosion" is taking place, as we have heard, not only in China, but in other countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. If we connect this problem, as I think we must, in our minds with the other problem of the possible spread of weapons of mass destruction about the world, I think we can hardly fail to be appalled by the dangers which have been mentioned more than once to-night of a growing conflict between the rich and the poor people of the world. If we contemplate the possibility of a conflict of that sort in a world in which nuclear weapons have become as familiar and as commonplace as tanks and guns and aircraft are to-day, I think we are faced with an awful and appalling possibility indeed.

As I have said, your Lordships will be aware of the efforts that are being made to bring nuclear weapons at any rate under control; and I do not propose to say any more on that subject in this debate. But I should like to take the opportunity to say that on the other problem, the problem of population growth, Her Majesty's Government are as deeply concerned as anyone else about its implications. We do not ignore it or underestimate it. It is the most urgent task in the whole field of international development. The noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, mentioned two fronts on which this problem should be attacked. I agree with him in that analysis; although I would suggest that the two fronts are slightly more equal in their importance and their possibilities than he suggested. The two fronts are, of course, on the one hand, we must see how we can limit population growth; and, on the other hand, we must see how we can stimulate economic development, and particularly, of course, how we can increase the food production of the world. These two things are of equal importance and must be attacked together.

Let us look for a moment at the question of population control—it is an awful phrase, I am afraid, but there is no other simple way of describing it. It seems out of place to talk about living human beings and the miracle of birth in a term like "population control", but I am afraid that that is the phrase we are landed with. In the short term it is probable that some sort of control of population growth, particularly in the developing countries, is going to be essential to their economic and social progress—I think that much is obvious—otherwise the rate of growth of population will inevitably outstrip the rate of economic growth and, equally obviously, living standards will decline. In the long term the whole political stability, prosperity and economic well-being of the world is going to depend, in large measure, on the adoption of farsighted policies in the field of population control here and now.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has said, it is not for us or for anyone else to impose population control on other countries. Family planning programmes can be put into effect only by the Governments of countries concerned. We must understand and sympathise with the difficulties of those who, for a variety of social, religious and other reasons, have declined in their countries to adopt active family planning policies. But where such policies have been adopted, we are very ready to encourage them and help them both through our bilateral assistance programme and through the various international organisations that exist in this field. I would draw your Lordships' attention to paragraphs 208 and 209 of the recent White Paper on Overseas Development (Cmnd. 3180) which sets out what we are doing bilaterally to help to solve this problem.

The rôle of the United Nations is of great importance in this matter. It is important first of all that there should be a general awareness and understanding of the problem, and the British Government have worked long in the United Nations to try to get a consensus there in favour of the Organisation's playing an active rifle in the field of population control. In December the General Assembly of the United Nations endorsed an active United Nations work programme, including the provision of assistance for population control programmes at the request of Governments. The United Kingdom co-sponsored this Resolution and it was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

Then, again, we welcome the important declaration on population growth and human dignity and welfare signed by 12 heads of States and published on December 9 by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Now that the General Assembly has unanimously authorised a comprehensive programme of action in the population field, Her Majesty's Government will co-operate in every way possible with other member States of the United Nations to develop this programme. We shall be looking for ways to improve the facilities available to get better co-ordination between all the United Nations bodies engaged in this field, including the Specialised Agencies. We have already drawn attention to the need for this in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. We shall also want to make sure that better emphasis is given to measures directly related to family planning.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, that no amount of technical aid is of much use if the people for whom it is intended are not receptive to its purpose; in other words, if they are unable to make the best possible use of it because of lack of understanding or any other cause. So, as he suggests—and the Government agree with him—education is a very important element in technical assistance.

I note that President Johnson has recently lent his support to the proposition that a proportion of aid in the family planning field should be used directly for education about the problem. This is certainly a very sound principle and, as has been suggested, this whole business of the electronics and the transistor revolution—the revolution in communications—makes it a more relevant and a more urgent problem than ever. But, of course, circumstances vary greatly from country to country, and it would be very difficult to apply any general rule of thumb about this.

Let me turn for a few moments to the other question of economic development, the other side of the coin of this population problem. Because of various reasons—droughts, floods and other natural calamities of that sort—food crises in certain parts of the world are already with us. Starvation is already with us, and it may get worse. The problem of population and food is, obviously, essentially one of the general areas in which all our efforts must be directed to increasing the general growth rate of the underdeveloped economies. But since agriculture is, of course, the key sector of most developing economies, and growing populations must be fed, with a margin for those shortages caused by crop failures and floods, much more food production is essential.

It is generally accepted, I think, that food aid from outside is not, and cannot be, the whole or the ultimate answer, although, of course, it is still needed in emergencies and in some cases to assist local development schemes. The main effort—and I think most of your Lordships will agree—must be to get the developing countries to increase their own production, their own growth rate. This is well within modern technical capabilities, but there is no universally valid, no universally applicable, formula for this, and money alone will not do it. I think it is now well recognised that food productivity is linked in a very complex relationship with the rest of the economy, and that institutional reforms, for a start, particularly land reform, and incentives to farmers in those countries arc necessary if this technical knowledge is to be effectively applied.

Apart from food aid, on which, incidentally, our own record in this country, especially considering that we are a net food importer, is good, the role of developed countries, the prosperous countries like our own, is surely to assist the governments of developing countries to create the means by which their farmers can and will have the incentive themselves to produce more and to distribute it better. In addition to our own bilateral aid, capital and technical aid, for crop improvements, land settlement, marketing, co-operatives, and research, we actively support the efforts of the international organisations, particularly the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, in this direction.

The subject of this debate is a major and desperately important world problem and there is, as in the case of most of the other great problems of the world, no simple solution to it. In the last resort, this must he a matter for individual will and individual conscience, and it will really be the decisions of individuals which will count. But, as many noble Lords have pointed out, Governments have a duty to give a lead. Every country should be aware that population pressure is a world problem, and it will ultimately affect all of us, not just those who are at present faced with a rapid rate of population growth. Every country in the world should be ready to play its part, whether it is national or bilateral or multilateral, in the many different schemes, not necessarily all vast in scale, which coming together in a cumulative whole might help to solve it.

Before I finish, I should like to refer very briefly to a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. I think it is only very marginally, and in a very elastic way, a part of the subject which we are discussing. But as he mentioned the question of the increase in the fees of overseas students in this country, I think perhaps, without entering into a close and direct debate about this, I should mention three points which might be of interest to your Lordships' House. First of all, all overseas students on British Government or British Council grants in this country will have these higher fees paid by the British Government out of an increase in the Overseas Aid Funds. Secondly, no student who has already embarked on a course will have to pay more than £50 increase in the annual fee for that course. The third point, which I think is relevant, is that we are establishing a fund to reimburse the governments of developing countries with the £50 in respect of students whom they are financing, and who have already embarked on courses. I make those points simply to show that this is a problem which we have very much in our minds at this moment, and will indeed, of course, keep in our minds.

But this is not, and cannot be, simply a matter of organisation and administration. No programmes of aid, no educational programmes, however imaginatively conceived or however efficiently executed, can solve all these complex problems of peace and power and prosperity which will face us in the last part of this century and beyond. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has suggested, we cannot expect that the millions of people in India and China, and South-East Asia and Latin America, will be content forever to see the wealth and the resources and the happiness of the world concentrated in the hands of a few prosperous and developed countries. As the right reverend Prelate said in a memorable phrase, the paddy fields and the jungles rustle with the rumour that these things can end. Unless we, the fortunate ones, are prepared to regard their problems as ours; unless we are prepared to recognise the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has said, in many countries millions of children go to bed hungry every night, when they have a bed to go to; and unless we all see this as an intolerable affront to human dignity and to our own concepts of humanity and equity, then we may be sure that sooner or later these people will lose their patience and will take affairs into their own hands.

The problems of population control which we have debated this afternoon are an important aspect of this problem, but they are only one aspect. As I suggested earlier, we shall need to go even further than the constructive and imaginative suggestions which have been put forward in this debate to-day. We shall need to assist in nothing less than a revolution in our political thought and our political attitudes, if we are to fashion a world in which the technological and scientific revolution is used as it should be, to bring peace and happiness and dignity to the whole of the human race. In this, as in most other fields of international affairs, the actions of the British Government and the British people alone will not be enough. But I hope that I speak not only for Her Majesty's Government, as I do, but for all the people in this country as a whole, when I say that we are prepared to play our part in it to the very limit of our resources.