HL Deb 10 February 1971 vol 315 cc145-65

2.50 p.m.

LORD SNOW rose to call attention to the problem of the rate of increase of world population, relative to the supply of food and natural resources; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce the Motion standing in my name. Most of what I have to say will be familiar to your Lordships, which means that I can be reasonably brief. But that, I am afraid, is the only cheering remark that I have to make this afternoon. For, my Lords, the future is black. We are moving into a situation which the world ha, never known. One dislikes absolute statements, but that is the truth. We are moving into this situation every hour, every week, every month, every year. We are not moving into it exactly blindfold, for a great many people all over the world have seen what lies ahead. One of the unique features of this unique situation is that we know all about it—or at least enough about it—beforehand. We can see the crisis. The trouble is that, having seen the crisis, we then look away; we look into our own parochial concerns. This appears to be true all over the advanced world.

Sometimes in my blacker moments I think that we in this country may be worse than any other country that I know. We are tending to become more parochial, more bowed down by troubles which, though they are genuine, really do not weigh against the great troubles that the world faces. I do not mean by that that successive Governments of this country have been totally unaware of the world's greatest problem. That would not be fair. In fact this Government and the last Government have supported bodies such as the United Nations Agencies, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the O.E.C.D. I believe that there is a statement about support for the I.P.P.F. coming to-day; I have not yet seen it. That is good, so far as it goes; but this concern, or this appearance of concern, has not gone at all deep into the whole society. In general we are looking inwards, not outwards; we are continuing to look inwards until the crisis comes.

The first fork of this crisis is, of course, population. I do not know about your Lordships, but I tend to find it very difficult to assimilate figures if they are given in a speech: figures are made to be read and not listened to. But I must give one or two, and I shall give them in billions, adopting the American usage, which has now become international. It is also the shortest. My Lords, from the time that man became man—roughly half a million years ago—until 1830 the population of human beings on this planet rose to about one billion. From 1830 to 1930 it rose by another one billion; it was about 2 billion in 1930. From 1930 to 1960 it rose by one more billion, to 3 billion by 1960. By now it is about 3½ billion. By the end of this century it will be 7 billion, give or take one or two per cent. on either side.

That increase to 7 billion is quite inevitable. Nothing we can do, even if we take the wisest actions in the world, can stop it. Unless we take wise actions to save ourselves, by quite early in the next century that population will have doubled again to 14 billion; and obviously, unless we try to save ourselves, this process will go on indefinitely. These are terrifying figures, of course. Our ancestors, when death was more frightening than birth, used to have a skull on their desk reminding them that they, too, must die. I sometimes think that every politician administrator, decision-maker in the world ought to have a chart of this progress of births in front of him, every day of the week, to remind him that they, too, will be born. The prospect is perfectly clear. There it is.

One can ask quite reasonably why it should have happened, and the answer is curiously simple; it is almost entirely the effect of medical technology. Medical technology, which entered in a primitive way with the Industrial Revolution, succeeded in greatly abating infantile mortality; and from then on the process is automatic. This medical technology has spread all over the world faster than any other, so that the infantile mortality in any part of the world, poor as well as rich, is dramatically reduced. That is not the entire explanation, but it is the main reason for this extraordinary flood of population. Technology, remember, is a queer thing; it brings you great gifts with one hand and it stabs you in the back with the other. No one in his human senses would want the use of medical technology to be restrained and to let children die; that is unthinkable and intolerable. But we have to take the result and the consequences.

This flood of increasing human life would be bad enough in any circumstances. It is worse because it is very unevenly spread around the world. The world divides, for various of our argumentative purposes, into two sets of countries, the rich and the poor. It is fashionable to call them developed and underdeveloped, or developed and developing. I prefer simpler words: let us call them rich and poor. The rich are those who have got through the first stages of industrialisation; managed to produce enough food for most of their populations; managed to provide housing and to maintain the span of life at a reasonable level. These are not very lofty things, but they have never previously been done in any large society. They are now being done over the whole of the Northern Hemisphere—the whole of Europe, the Soviet Union, Japan. Those are the rich countries, as I say, luckier than any human societies have ever been in terms of primitive human requirements. The rest of the world—Asia, Africa, Latin America—are, of course, the poor countries, where none of these very simple primitive human requirements is being met on a mass scale.

It will not have escaped your Lordships that the poor countries are almost entirely what we call coloured, and that the rich countries, with the exception of Japan, are almost entirely what we call white; and this adds another hitter difficulty into the position. The rich population of the world now represents about one-third of the total and the poor population, of course, two-thirds. By the end of the century, the rich population will be rather under a quarter, and the poor population just over three-quarters. That is the dimension of the population problem. If this enormous process of birth goes on, the proportion of people in the poor countries will become overwhelmingly larger than the proportion of people in the rich.

If the world consisted only of our own group of countries—the Northern Hemisphere—then, though the problems would be difficult, they would not be insoluble: we could cope. It is true that simply by the fact of being rich we are diving very deeply into the world's resources. On average, the person in the poor countries has a per head income of about one-tenth that of the person in the rich countries. But there are bigger differences than this. Between us and India, for instance, the Englishman, on the average, has an income 20 times as high as the Indian. In parallel, the average Englishman takes 20 times as much as the average Indian of the world pool, judged by any criterion you like to use—metal, energy, anything else. He also adds 20 times as much to the world pollution by the process of living in a rich and developed country.

It is very good that people should have got interested in pollution, interested in the results of our own success—which is what it amounts to in technical terms. But, though that is important, it is a symptom and not the real condition. Pollution is a symptom of the whole complex that I am trying to describe, not the condition in itself. And though it can be coped with at the edges—and I am very much in favour of trying to cope with it—let us be quite clear that it is not going to mean that the whole problem is being tackled. It is like trying to remove a spot on the face when there is something much more seriously wrong with you.

And though the raids on natural resources are very serious, though the astonishingly prodigal way in which we have spent fossil fuels in the last hundred years is serious, this is a secondary problem compared with the primary problem and brutal problem which is of course food. This is vital in the simplest and most literal sense. Unless we can feed this enormously growing population, then clearly we are faced with intolerable disaster. There are some who believe that the food will always be forthcoming, that human ingenuity will always find a way, that God's mercy will somehow descend and we can feed not only 15 billion people but 30 billion people, or even 60 billion people.

That seems to me to be false optimism gone mad. False optimism, in the experience of most of us, is one of the more dangerous of human attitudes. I have seen more minor and major mistakes made by false optimism than I have seen made through qualified pessimism. In any case, we know the opinions and the judgment of people who are qualified to speak on this highly professional matter. There has happened what your Lordships will have heard described as the "green revolution". This is a splendid achievement, one of the great technological achievements of our time and certainly the most purely benevolent. It was done on a shoestring. When one thinks of what is spent on an aero-engine, then the fact that for something like £3 million Dr. Borlang and his collaborators contrived to save millions of lives makes one think of the oddities of human achievement and activity.

It was done by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations setting up a laboratory in Mexico, headed by a Scandinavian American called Borlang, who with tiny resources produced grains of wheat and rice which can survive in tropical conditions and give much increased harvests. That is the simple statement of the position. This has happened. Harvests in India, Pakistan and parts of Asia have been very much larger than they have ever been before. As I say, this has saved millions of lives. Dr. Borlang got the Nobel Peace Prize last year. No Nobel Peace Prize has ever been more deserved. But I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to what he said when he received the Peace Prize. He said: You must not exaggerate what I can do. I have done very little. What anyone like me, all my collaborators, the whole agricultural science of the world can do, is to win mankind breathing space, perhaps twenty years, to cope with this situation: certainly no more than a generation".

He went on to say—I believe these were his exact words: If we cannot reduce the human rate of growth, then the species will destroy itself".

Well, those are dramatic words. I should not like to speak quite so strongly or go quite so far. The human species, like the rat species, is remarkably tough, and I can imagine the human species going on in conditions which to us would be intolerable. But certainly, unless we can apply some kind of salvation, in the next century those conditions will be below any condition that we should like to see for our successors. I think that is a mild statement, but it is a fair one.

Out of this proliferation of people, this certain scarcity of natural resources and of food, I do not see large-scale war; I see much more in the nature of continuous commotion—commotion such as we are already finding in the cities of the rich world, spreading all over great urban slums in the poor world. I do not think that large-scale famine is upon us, at least at once. I imagine that there will be local sporadic famines, patches here and there; great malnutrition all over the poor world; seething discontent; urban slums such as we have not yet seen, although we have already some idea of what they are going to be like—this, like a gigantic cancer going right through the poor world. I believe that is slightly nearer the probable truth than talk of destroying the species; but it is bad enough.

The United States, which will be richer then than it is now (because once you become a rich country you cannot help becoming richer; that is one of the oddities of the situation: that by the year 2,000 will be at least twice as rich per head as it is now) will be sitting at the top of a continent which will see some of the most extreme misery that the world knows, because Central America, where population is doubling every 20 years, and South America, are going to be much harsher to contemplate even than Africa. I cannot, for the life of me, see how a society such as that in the United States is going to find this prospect morally tolerable. I do not think that for more than a very short time they are going to find it practically tolerable, either. Those are the consequences unless we can affect the issue—even marginally—within thirty years.

What is to be done? What can be done? I am afraid that all the steps that one can suggest seem quite minor judged by the cataclysmic size of the whole position, the whole developing crisis. Clearly, we must support the "green revolution". It needs support. It has run into financial difficulties of a foreseeable kind. You cannot just have an improvement in agriculture without supporting help in industry and various other things. You need what, in the jargon of the day, is called an infrastructure in order even to keep the "green revolution" going. That can be done. That kind of assistance is within our power. We need to put money into the World Bank's activities and into those of the agencies of the United Nations.

It is worth while remembering how extremely enlightened the World Bank has been on the whole problem, under the leadership of Robert Macnamara. His statements have been the bravest and most forthright of any world figure. The rich countries will have to support these activities far more handsomely than they are doing now. They will have to supply more money to the poor world in various forms. The limit which the poor world can at the moment absorb is probably quite low. My noble friend Lord Blackettwill, I believe, be helping us about that part of the problem later in the debate: he has thought far more deeply and far longer on this matter than I have, and he is more informed than anyone in your Lordships' House.

The idea that you can take, say, one-tenth of the g.n.p. of America and pour that into the poor world is absolutely out. We are limited by a whole set of really serious barriers. But all those things that we can do, we must. If we do them, they are but slender hopes at the best; they are just palliatives. They will help, and they must be done, because we have to tug at every feeble string of hope presented to us. Until we get the poor countries to work from their own internal selves to reduce their rate of growth, there is no fundamental answer to the whole problem. That is vital, and there the signs of hope are very small. President Marcos of the Philippines has made an enlightened speech and has produced something in the nature of a population policy. President Kaunda has also spoken in reasonable terms. But those are exceptional. Most of the poor world is resisting even any suggestion that this is a task for them. Yet it can be done only by them. It is ridiculous to imagine, and it would be the worst kind of politics and human judgment to imagine, that we can influence them on such an intimate human level. And yet they have to take action.

They distrust us. They distrust the rich countries. They have a good deal of reason to distrust the rich countries. But here, for once, they are wrong. This is a matter of much more importance than any relics of history, than any suspicions that they are going to be cheated in commercial deals. None of that matters. If we wiped out the rich world to-morrow, if the whole of the Northern Hemisphere disappeared under the Atlantic and the Pacific, then the poor world would have the same problem facing it in exactly the same way, and awaiting their own solution.

Until we can contrive every sort of influence upon the poor world, we shall only be playing with the problem. We are only playing with it now. The trouble is that there is not one single voice in the West who will be listened to with even a degree of trust by most of the leaders of the poor world. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we have to go on trying to persuade them. We have to be patient, we have to take snubs, we have to take all the symptoms of suspicion and distrust, and we have to continue stating what is obvious sense for the whole future of mankind. I believe that in the long run voices like Dr. Borlang's will get through. It is absurd to suspect that Dr. Borlang had any other motive than saying the simple and bitter truth. I believe this will get through, but it may be too late. Whether it is too late or not most of us here will not know, but, on the other hand, our successors, people now in their twenties, will certainly know, for it is upon them that the weight of this problem is going to descend. There are many of the younger Members of your Lordships' House who, in middle age—it is not very long until the end of the century—will be facing the full, biting reality of the situation which I have tried to outline.

I have here one ray of hope. I believe that the educated young all over the world, in the West and perhaps in this country as much as any, are extremely sensitive to the problem. I believe that, by one of those curious processes by which men adjust themselves to some profound change in the world they are living in, they know instinctively much more about it than we do. I believe they are more sensible; they are more sensitive; and they have, perhaps unconsciously, a deeper world insight. This gives me some encouragement.

Your Lordships may remember the change in the attitude to race which has happened within twenty or thirty years. Race, to the educated young, is now a dirty word. They will have none of it. Some of your Lordships' speeches occasionally seem to them to belong to another realm of existence. Race is just impossible as a discriminant among the educated and active young. That seems to me a profound and possibly unconscious, possibly conscious, response to the kind of disturbance which they are fitting themselves to face. They have to be able to get on with the poor of the world. They travel among them far more widely—at least my acquaintances do—than any generation has ever done before. They know at first hand what poverty looks like, what it is like to be in Calcutta and Karachi, and what it is like to go through Africa. All these things seem to me to be a possible ray of hope. At least they know what they are going into: it is going to be their world. As they themselves say, they cannot afford to give up hope.

We are leaving them a hideous legacy. It is not our fault. It is absurd to take too much blame for this; it is one of the great manifestations of history. But as a fact we are leaving them a hideous legacy—which they at least are getting prepared to face; and, whatever they are doing, unlike most of us they are not looking inwards but looking out to the world.

I remember not very long ago a deep and moving speech by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, when he was saying that his main reason for wanting to go into the Common Market was if, and only if, going into Europe could be used as a method of moving into this world outside. I believe that to be a very deep and very wise remark. I should like to subscribe to it. I believe that our younger generation would subscribe to it with enthusiasm. I believe that in that spirit they will face this human crisis which, up to now, the world has been spared. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, it is with more than normal gratitude that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snow, for having raised this topic to-day. I have myself received requests from several quarters over the past few months to raise this matter in your Lordships' House, and I must admit that I took a pessimistic view of the possibility of obtaining a major debate so soon after our debate on pollution which touched, as it had to, on this matter. But the noble Lord, Lord Snow, has achieved it, and he has earned our gratitude not only for doing so but for the simple, convinced and expert speech by which he has introduced this debate, one which I think will live in our minds and memories for a long time and which I, for one, pray will do so.

The population of the world, as we have heard, is increasing at a rate totally unparalleled in its history, and the rate of increase is itself increasing. One or two Members of your Lordships' House have seen the population of this country double in their lifetime. Many of your Lordships' House have seen the population of the world double in their lifetime, and many will see it double again. There is no point in going in for detailed forecasts. Experts differ, and any individual forecast can usually be shown to be likely to be wrong. For myself, when looking at this problem I look at the forecasts produced in that invaluable book on this subject Population: Resources: Environment by Paul and Anne Erlich.

But I believe that we must avoid getting bogged down in individual predictions. There is one basic fact which is incontrovertible: it is that man is multiplying, and that he is doing so in a finite world. We may have been thrilled this week by the expedition of man to the moon and into space, but if we rely on the moon for the future of this planet, we are indeed crying for it. This is a finite world with only so many resources. We may discover more of them, mine more of them, grow more of them; we may recycle more of them. But however fast we do so we are populating this world faster than we can produce the resources.

H. R. Hulett, of the Stanford University Medical Centre, has estimated that if you regard the average inhabitant of the United States as having not too high a standard of living—and, of course, the average inhabitant of the United States would not regard himself as having too high a standard of living—and consider that it is therefore a reasonable standard at which mankind should aim, then in terms of resources the population of the world is already four times too big to support that standard. It may be that such a standard of living is undesirable, but the realisation of this fact may give us some ballast when we think of the promises that we so airily make to the poor in want.

I do not know whether the limiting factor in population growth will be found to be food or raw materials or our production of waste materials—pollution; I rather suspect that the last may be as important as the first two. But that there is a limiting factor, and that we are quickly running up against it, is undeniable. We have a challenge before us. We must increase our resources, we must re-cycle our resources, but we must also halt the increase of population. There are only three ways of doing that: starvation, the bomb or the pill—and I know which I prefer.

In this context—because I am not going to dwell on the world problem for very long—I should like to commend to your Lordships the start of a new family planning international campaign. Some of your Lordships will remember the very successful campaign under the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton. Now there is a new one being launched under the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, which is deserving of all our support. I have considerable sympathy with those who say that we must not rush around the world telling black children that they should not have been born. It is for this reason that, at the risk of appearing parochial, at the risk of being inward-looking, at the risk of avoiding the majesty of the big problem which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, has put before us, I want to concentrate to-day on what should be done in Britain.

Of course it goes without saying that we must help the World Bank, we must help the United Nations, we must help any international body in tackling this problem. But I hope to show your Lordships, very briefly, that we cannot hope to do this unless we have a population policy for Britain herself. We need it, first, because we have here in England and Wales, though not in Great Britain as a whole, a denser population than almost any country in the world, except Holland—certainly far denser than Japan—and because, increasingly, people are beginning to believe that there are far too many people in this country already. At a recent conference consisting largely of professional biologists, over 90 per cent. of those present thought that the optimum population of the United Kingdom had already been exceeded.

Secondly, we can set an example in a way which some other countries cannot. In parts of the developing world, including India, the security of a man and woman—even their life in old age—may depend on how many sons they have working for them. We have social security; their children are their social security stamps, and it is up to us to set an example. Thirdly, I believe that we shall not begin to be trusted—and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, said that the rich countries are not trusted—unless we are seen to be doing something ourselves.

Fourthly, I believe that the kind of chaos and trouble which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, predicted will come within the lifetime of some of us who sit in your Lordships' House. I believe that Western Europe, by making itself self-supporting, can probably contribute something which will not be purely selfish in that time of trouble. But for that we must be self-supporting. I do not think that the argument for greater manpower in this country is particularly strong. The economic results of more manpower are highly arguable. Most economists confess that they do not know the long-term effects, and many of them disagree. The fact is that we are getting richer. In an aside to me when the noble Lord, Lord Snow, was speaking, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said that the belief that because a country is rich it must get richer did not seem to apply to this country. But, with due respect, it does apply to this country, and although we may be getting richer only slowly, and more slowly than other countries, we are getting richer and there are some sacrifices which we can still afford to make. Even if we have to make do with less growth through having a population policy—and I do not admit that we necessarily have to—it will be worth it.

What, therefore, are the steps that we must take? First, we must have a population policy. Of course, a population policy is so far unknown in this country. The then Secretary of State for Social Services, Mr. Richard Crossman, giving evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Science and Technology on March 11, 1970, had this to say: Answering historically, it is a fact that up to now Governments have not considered population policies. One of the reasons is that they were not capable of having one, because they did not have available to them the essential facts and statistics on which such a policy could be based. It is only recently, since the war, that statistical knowledge of, not only demographical factors, but all other economic factors has developed to a point where one can even consider the possibility of having a rational population policy based on a factual estimate. You have to look 10, 15 or 25 years ahead. A population policy does not make much sense unless you look that length of time ahead. The possibility of making projections which enable you to do so is relatively modern. But the Royal Commission on Population recommended in 1949 that the numbers of the population should be stabilised, and that the Government should make some official body responsible for a continuous watch on population movements and their bearing on national policies. The Commission said that it is impossible for policy to be neutral on this matter, since over a wide range of affairs policy and administration have a continuing influence on family size; and that control by men and women over the numbers of their children is one of the first conditions of their own and of the community's welfare. Twenty-one years later we need to begin to put all this into practice, particularly now, as Mr. Crossman admitted, that we have the tools to hand.

Secondly, the body which is in charge of population policy must immediately get to work on a definition of an optimum population. In the meantime, perhaps we could accept that stabilisation of the population is a desirable end. This is an urgent need, especially since we shall very shortly be in the course of stabilising our immigration policy; and I do not know how we can really deal with an immigration policy unless we first have a population policy. Thirdly we must reject the possibility of limiting population by bribes. Any scheme for reducing family allowances and the like has the totally immoral effect of penalising the children.

Fourthly, we must establish a National Family Planning Service to work with the National Health Service. As an immediate step we must see that local authorities exercise the powers that they now have to spend rates on family planning clinics. Long-term reliable contraceptives, like the diaphragm, the loop and the pill should all be on the National Health, as should sterilisation for both men and women. Fifthly, we must advocate and encourage equality of opportunity for women. Of course this is worth while for its own sake, but it is also worth while from another point of view. Only too often—and many noble Lords will know that this is true—women have babies because they cannot think of anything better to do. Some noble Lords may laugh, but it is quite true that towards the end of a period when women have had two or three children, if there is not much chance of going out and taking up another profession, or of finding a worthwhile job, and if they find themselves lonely and with little to do, there is a great subconscious, and sometimes conscious, temptation just to go on being a mother, with more children. Sixthly, we must persevere with any research which helps us with contraceptives, or research which may bear on the problem, such as the predetermination of the sex of children. I am sure that fewer children would be born if some families did not go on trying to have a boy, or trying to have a girl, when they were having only children of the same sex.

My Lords, this is an urgent matter. We must not let ourselves be diverted from these great aims. There are many people who would rather turn away from the whole problem of family planning because they think that "sex isn't nice" and we should not publish material about it. There are many other people who think that the best way of punishing someone for having sex out of marriage is by letting her have a baby—a more immoral proposition than which it would be almost impossible to conceive. We must not allow our ostriches to put their heads in the sand about this problem, nor those who misguidedly pursue a blind policy which must bring misery to frustrate our task.

The noble Lord, Lord Snow, talked about the skull which sat on the mantle-piece, the momento mori. Some of your Lordships may remember the play by N. F. Simpson, The One Way Pendulum, where the man goes up to the mantle-piece, picks up the skull and shakes it. His wife says, "Why did you do that?", and he says, "It is not working; it does not remind me of death". We need a momento mori always before us which will remind us of our problem. This is, I believe, long-term, the major problem of both home and foreign policy. For the first time, seriously, we are beginning to discuss it. Let us not shy away because prophets of doom are unpopular. Prophets of doom are unpopular until they are proved right, and the last thing that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, and myself, and others who think like us, want is that we should be proved right. Please help us to be proved wrong.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Snow, for giving us a chance to discuss one of the major problems of our world; and as one who joined your Lordships' House only seven months ago, may I be allowed to say that I was specially interested in his speech, not only because of its knowledge and because of the feeling with which is was given but also because it was delivered without a single note. We are fortunate that he decided to relate this great matter to natural resources and to food, although, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, it is likely that other noble Lords will follow him in many different aspects of what is indeed a vast problem. While I was honoured to be asked to take part in this debate, I must say that as I was preparing for it I felt rather like the Chinese student before an examination, who was told to write all he knew—"Time allowed, three months". My Lords, it would take me, unlike the noble Lord, much less than that to write all I know on this subject.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, who is to speak later, I have had the opportunity to serve as a delegate to the United Nations and to see something of the work of our international organisations in this field. I have also, therefore, had to travel to many countries where both the enormous population and the great size of the illegitimacy rate have caused problems which are only too clear for all to see. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, started his speech by saying that the outlook was black. Indeed, in his writings, which I have had the honour to read, he has given us persistent warnings over the years, as indeed has a neighbour of ours in Scotland who will be well known to him, Lord Boyd-Orr, who has also made a lifetime's study of this subject. Although to many some of those warnings seemed somehow far away when first we heard them, after a number of years the sheer insistence of them has begun to tell on many people who are well outside Parliament or who have had the opportunity to travel.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, experts differ, and there are wide variations, not only in population statistics but in learned opinion, but I think that we in this House could all agree that if the present trends continue the world's population will roughly double by the end of this century, and that even in Britain our own population is expected to rise in that time from 55 million to at least 66 million. As your Lordships are aware, there is considerable division of opinion whether the world can, by better husbandry, feed this tide of human beings when already there is in many countries not only hunger but widespread malnutrition. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Snow, referred to Professor Borlang who has, as Lord Snow recalled to us, helped to develop important types of wheat and maize and who has done a great deal to increase yields, particularly in Asia. He certainly tends to share the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Snow, because he has said that unless we strike a proper balance between population and food resources there may well be a monumental crisis within thirty years, and if the world population continues to increase at the same rate we shall destroy the species.

On the other hand, my Lords, the F.A.O.'s judgment is that, given continued high cereal prices, the steady expansion of areas under high-yielding varieties, controlled irrigation and the use of modern techniques of production, it is technically possible for the developing regions as a whole to produce surplus exports in wheat, rice and possibly feed grains. But that must assume ideal conditions of water supply, pesticides, fertilisers, trained labour, high-grade seeds and credit and marketing, and above all a very much better distribution throughout the world. No doubt many noble Lords have seen, as I have, the silos right across the prairies of Canada, full to the brim with wheat which could not be sold and which had in the end to be distributed as a form of aid-in-kind.

Many people assume that through the United Nations the countries of the world will come to terms with each other on even elementary matters such as this; but it is still a hope and it seems a long way off. So we must all make an immense effort through the United Nations, the World Bank and many other organisations at home and overseas, and through our own resources, to increase good-quality food. We must recognise that there are grave doubts as to the capacity of world agriculture to feed the world population to-day even at subsistence level, unless the world's birthrate is reduced. It is clear that unless this is achieved it will be quite impossible in future to raise the standard of living to the extent that everyone hopes.

The noble Lord, Lord Snow, spoke also about natural resources, and I should very much like to deal with that in detail later, if I may, in case other noble Lords also refer to it. I would come, first of all, to what is our world aid for family planning in developing countries. The total amount is increasing and probably exceeded £40 million last year; and this is matched by the same amount by the developing countries themselves—and this does not take into account related matters, such as health and education. The latest and largest programme in India began in 1952, but it still protects only some 10 per cent. of the relevant age group. Its greatest success has probably been in sterilisation. The United Nations decision to have a world population conference in 1974 was passed by 53 votes to 9, with 33 abstentions and a few absentees. It was supported by the United Kingdom. I have quoted these figures in order to show the sensitive religious and economic questions that are involved; for each country has to decide whether to have a population policy and whether to request assistance.

The Government have, however, decided to increase their grant to international organisations and as the noble Lord, Lord Snow asked for them, I felt that I should give to your Lordships the latest figures given in another place yesterday. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development said that of the grant of £400,000 to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, £250,000 will now be paid in the current financial year instead of £150,000, which was the sum originally proposed, Next year, 1971–72, as well as the remaining £150,000 of last year's grant there will be a new grant of £600,000, bringing our total contribution to the Fund in 1971–72 to £750,000. This year's grant of £200,000 to the International Planned Parenthood Federation which was announced on May 14 this year, is being increased by £50,000, and in 1971–72 there will be a new grant of £275,000. Finally, for 1971–72 a grant of over £10,000 to the O.E.C.D. Development Centres Population Units will be made as in the current year. In other words, for international organisations for family planning and population control the total grant will be doubled; from about £500,000 to £1 million.

With the help of the Overseas Department Aid Population Bureau, started in 1968, bilateral assistance has been provided or offered to various countries such as East Africa and others in the Western Hemisphere, including a recent offer of £1 million to India. Certain relaxations in the rules which apply to British capital aid and technical assistance programmes are being made. This is to meet the special requirements for developing countries' family planning programmes; for example, in the matter of financial assistance for local costs and giving grants for equipment. A small high-powered interdisciplinary institute was recommended to the United Nations Secretary-General at the end of November last year by the United Nations Committee under Mr. David Morse and the cost is estimated to be about 8 million dollars for the first five years. The Government have confirmed to the United Nations the previous Government's willingness in principle to house and contribute to the costs of the institute. The Secretary-General and the United Nations' various agencies are still considering the Morse Report.

I think that I should turn now from overseas aid to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, because, as he said, he wished in particular to refer to the situation in this country. He asked whether one could not have what—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but before she passes on from the question of aid, may I inquire whether the giving of aid has ever been made conditional upon the adoption of a satisfactory population policy?


No, my Lords, it has not.

The noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked whether we should have what he called a population policy for Britain. Before I go on to that point, I must take issue with him, if I may, on his remarks in which he said that when women had nothing else to do they just had children. If I assess rightly the feelings in this House, noble Ladies from whatever quarter will support me in our condemnation of the noble Lord's views. The question of a population policy, as such, involves certain very difficult and sensitive questions such as, for example, whether a Government of the day should decide on the size of a particular family. We have always felt that the decision on the size of a family must be a personal choice encouraged by education and access to different methods. The essential element is that there should be choice—because for many, of course, there is none.

The noble Lord asked what else was being done on the question of family planning in this country. The question of whether there should be, for example, a study unit on population growth is being carefully studied by the Prime Minister at this time. This would help in compiling the statistics and in estimating the size of the problem; and we are still awaiting the recommendations of the resumed Committee on Science and Technology which began their studies last year and will no doubt before long come to a conclusion on their findings. The Secretary of State for Social Services is expected very soon to make a statement on family planning in this country. Without doubt there has been much unhappiness and bad health caused by the failure of families, or of those unmarried, to consider the consequences of an unwanted child. The Government feel that there is a real need for many to seek advice and that they would do so if it were available. While the Abortion Act has been widely used, for obvious reasons the Government and no doubt all those concerned would prefer that it were not used to such an extent. Local authorities throughout the country now have statutory power to develop family planning.

I feel that it is true to say that men and women are beginning to understand the size of the population problem, but it is very difficult for them to do so unless, in a way, it touches them personally. I think that out of our great urban conurbations there is a growing search for the peace of the countryside, an escape from the population of the city, from the crowds and noise. As John Stuart Mill once wrote. It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. But there are still many countries who believe that a large population will give them a better standard of living; and many Governments believe that their power resides in rising populations.

Therefore, I end as I began. There are wide variations of opinion on this most vital subject, which is why I look forward to hearing noble Lords; because I know that there is a great knowledge on this matter in this House. At the end of the debate, I shall try my best, if given leave, to answer matters raised; but I hope that I have managed to convey to your Lordships the Government's concern in this matter and the action they are taking both at home and overseas to tackle an enormous problem which must in the end touch us all.