HL Deb 26 April 1972 vol 330 cc409-60

4.23 p.m.

LORD VERNON rose to call attention to the need for a population policy in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I should like to begin by saying how pleased I am that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak on my Motion, but we have only 150 minutes, and I have worked it out that that means roughly a little under ten minutes per speaker if my noble friend Lord Aberdare is to have sufficient time, which it is obviously important he should have, to reply to the debate. I have pruned my speech as much as I can, but I think it will be difficult for me to introduce a subject as large as this in under 15 minutes.

My Lords, population growth and birth control are subjects which arouse deep emotions, deep convictions and often, I think, deep prejudice. But I hope that this afternoon we can examine them dispassionately in the light of the facts—because a great many facts are available. A little more than a year ago a notable debate was held in your Lordships' House initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, on population. Since then, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, there have been two developments. First, the population has increased by a little more than a quarter of a million people; and that is a process which is taking place every year. Secondly, we have had the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place—a very important Report indeed, to which I shall be referring later in my speech.

First a word about the facts. When one talks of "the population explosion", most of us think in terms of India or China or Latin America; but in many ways our own growth, although at a slower rate, is more serious because of our much higher population density, our reliance on imported foodstuffs and our much greater degree of pollution. The population of the United Kingdom, which in 1800 was 10 million, is at the present time roughly 55½ million people, and the projected population at the end of the century is 66½ million—an increase of 11 million, or 20 per cent. It may be a little difficult to visualise 11 million people, but, put in another way, it means 20 additional towns the size of Leeds or 50 additional towns the size of Coventry. And we have to visualise not only the people who are going to live in those towns but the schools, the hospitals, the factories, the power stations and the reservoirs which they will need to support them, and the extra pollution which they will generate. Not least, perhaps, we must recognise the additional number of motor vehicles for which space will have to be found on our roads, which, with one vehicle to every 22 yards of road, are the most crowded in the world.

On the question of how many people this island can support, different people hold different views. But that there is an optimum population is not I think in dispute; and an increasing number of people are beginning to believe that that optimum has been reached, and indeed passed. If one compares our density with that of other countries—and here it is important to distinguish between the United Kingdom as a whole and England and Wales—one finds that the United Kingdom is the seventh most densely populated country in the world; while England and Wales, with 351 people per square kilometre, is the third most densely populated country, being exceeded only by Taiwan and Holland. Taking the North-West and South-East parts of the country, which are bigger than many independent countries, those areas are twice as densely populated as anywhere else on the face of the globe, excluding island and city States. There is another very material factor. At present, we import roughly 50 per cent. of our food and feedingstuffs, while at the same time we are losing 50,000 acres of agricultural land a year to urban and other development. And it is not just agricultural land: it is often the best and most productive agricultural land that is used in this way. With an already hungry world doubling its population in 32 years, how much longer are we going to be able to import food from overseas? We cannot tell.

Then, my Lords, even if we could live like battery hens in this island, do we want to do so? Perhaps more important—because many of us here will be dead by the end of the century—will our children want to? What effect will this have on the quality of life? What about the pressures on the environment, which are already building up in every sort of different field? And what about jobs? We are very concerned at the moment that there are over a million unemployed in this country; but by 1985, only 13 years hence, there are going to be another 1½ million people of working age for whom jobs must be found—and that at a time of increasing automation and rundown in the labour intensive industries! When one considers all these difficulties and then realises that in the next 30 years we have to accommodate in this country as many additional people as were accommodated in the first 70 years, then I think it is not possible to deny that a serious problem exists.

The opponents of a population policy argue that public concern is exaggerated because the birth rate is declining. But this is misleading. It is true that since 1964, when it reached its peak, the birth rate has declined, although the latest figures for 1971 indicate that this decline is levelling off. The really significant factors are that married couples are still having 2½ children per family when 2.1 is required for stability, and that there will be another 1½ million females of reproductive age by 1985. Anybody can see what that is going to do for the birth rate. There is, of course, uncertainty about any projection; but, if anything, I suggest to your Lordships that an additional 11 million people by the year 2000 is probably on the low side. In almost all European countries experience has shown that the growth of population has been greater than projected. It could, for example, easily be greater as a result of increased affluence. A survey on a sample section of population quoted by the Government Actuary in his evidence to the Select Committee showed that the number of children that couples would like to have, as opposed to what they can afford to have, was 3½ and not 2½ per family. If this desire were put into practice, it would of course make the projection much higher than 11 million. The survey also seems to indicate that contraception alone is not enough and that there must be some voluntary wish on the part of couples to have fewer children.


My Lords, the Government Actuary also said that as people's standard of living rose their needs rose to a higher level and that if they started by saying that they wanted 3½ children if the economic circumstances permitted, then if those economic circumstances rose they would not necessarily care to have that number of children and would stick to 2.5.


My Lords, that is certainly possible, but I understand that in the United States at the moment there is a considerable problem. They are trying to get the population down but in fact people are wanting these larger families because of the increased affluence.

My Lords, I turn now to the Report of the Select Committee. This was an all-Party Report and its conclusions are unanimous. The Committee made a very extensive investigation, as one can see from the size of the Report. As a result, they reached a brief and unambiguous conclusion. I should like to read from paragraph 31: The Government must act to prevent the consequences of population growth becoming intolerable for the everyday conditions of life. I should like also to read from paragraph 29 in amplification: We felt a lack of urgency in Government Departments and do not share the complacent view expressed by many of the Departmental witnesses.… We are convinced of the need to act 20 years in advance in order to influence a trend in population figures. The Committee went on to recommend the setting up of a special office, directly responsible to the Prime Minister, with a number of different duties so far as studying population trends were concerned. The fifth of these duties—and again I quote from the Report in paragraph 32—is: To publicise the effect of population levels and their consequences, the role of family limitation and socially responsible parenthood. What did the Government do in the light of this Report? In July of last year they published their observations in the form of a White Paper. They neither accepted the Report nor rejected it as I understand it; but they failed to implement the recommendations. They said that further study was required and they appointed a special panel under Mr. C. R. Ross for this purpose. I welcome the appointment of Mr. Ross and I hope that my noble friend Lord Aberdare will be able to say something about how soon we can expect his report. By all means let us have more information, more analysis; but let us not delude ourselves that this is sufficient. In effect, what the Government have done is to postpone taking a decision when delay is not justified by the facts. I should like to see—and to judge by the National Opinion Poll published recently (I think in February of this year) by the Daily Mail, an increasing number of people in this country would like to see—a much more positive approach by the Government.

My Lords, in introducing a debate on the need for a population policy it would be wrong if I did not at least outline the sort of measures that I think are required. I shall have time only to do this briefly and I hope that other noble Lords will expand on these ideas. First and foremost, there must be free contraception under the National Health Service. The Family Planning Association have estimated that there are at present 300,000 unplanned pregnancies a year—roughly the same number as the increase in births over deaths. Even if we could reduce these unwanted pregnancies by half it would be a big step forward. It seems to me that there is something absurd about the prevailing situation whereby abortion is obtainable as part of the Health Service whereas "the Pill" and other contraceptive devices are not. I am in favour of a liberal abortion law but I think that that is ridiculous. We must all surely agree that as a means of birth control contraception is infinitely preferable to abortion.

Secondly, family allowances and tax allowances for children should be restructured so as to give less incentive for married couples to have large families at the expense of the State. It is unfair that no allowances should be paid for the first and most expensive child, and I favour a system whereby allowances for the first child or the first two children were paid at the full rate, and thereafter at a declining rate. Thirdly, the Government migration policy should be reviewed. Emigration should be actively encouraged and financially assisted, and immigration further curtailed. If the existing net outflow of 30,000 people a year could be stepped up, perhaps to 100,000 a year, which is surely not beyond our capability, it would have a substantial effect in offsetting the natural increase in population.

Finally, my Lords, and in some ways most importantly, we need an admission from the Government that a population problem exists. I hope that this admission will he supported by the Opposition, for it is vital that this issue should be taken out of Party politics. Coupled with that admission there should be a Government-sponsored advertising campaign I for small families and on the need for contraception. At present many people are unaware that a problem exists. In effect, it means implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee which I read out. I hope that my noble friend Lord Aberdare will say something specific about the Government's attitude to this particular recommendation.

I do not suggest, my Lords, that any one of these measures, by itself, would be adequate. But taken together they would have a significant effect on the efforts to reduce our population to a stability level, and thereafter we could consider whether or not it should be further reduced. I know, as we all know, that these issues tend to be shunned by political Parties—all political Parties—and by all Governments. But public opinion is changing, and I urge the Government to take courage and to tackle the problem while it can still be tackled relatively painlessly. If we delay, and continue to do nothing, or virtually nothing, then the cure, when it comes, as come it must, will be much more painful, much more drastic, and could contain measures which we should all find repugnant. In addition, we should earn, and rightly so, the condemnation of future generations. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, on his good fortune in securing in the ballot time for this mini-debate which gives the House an opportunity to consider for a short while one of the major social issues affecting the well-being of mankind, not only in this country but across the world and over time. I only regret, in view of its immense scope and importance, that our consideration of so complex and vital a subject is confined to-day to a time limit.

It is fortunate that the debate follows so closely on our two debates last week on the Third Session of UNCTAD and the forthcoming Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, reminded us of the debate which 'we held some 15 months ago and which was initiated by my noble friend, Lord Snow, on the problems of the rate of increase of world population relative to the supplies of food and raw materials. This debate, my Lords, gives us a welcome opportunity, and a much-needed one, to concentrate our thoughts and the attention of the Government on population problems and policies in this country which undoubtedly require specific and continuing consideration against the wider background of the world situation. It also gives us an opportunity to hear the noble Lord. Lord Hacking, for the first time, and I know that the House will give him its customary warm reception.

A large number of noble Lords have indicated their wish to speak and this inevitably will compel us all to impose considerable self-denying restraint, which perhaps is appropriate for this subject. But to-day's list of speakers in itself is a fair reflection of the fact that there is now ample evidence that public con cern about the rate of population growth in this country has increased considerably in the last few years. The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, referred to the result of the Daily Mail National Opinion Poll conducted only last February which indicated quite clearly that the majority of the electorate think that Britain's population is too large; and two-thirds of the sample thought that the Government should take action.

The noble Lord also referred in some detail to the findings and recommendations in the Report of the Select Committee published in May, 1971. In view of the strict limitation of time, I would simply remind the House that that body also pointed out that: the public have been more aware of the dangers of present trends than any Parliament or Government since the Royal Commission on Population reported in 1949. That, as many of your Lordships will remember, was at a time when the main fear was about a falling population in this country, rather than a rising one. Other recent major expert contributions to the public debate include the well-known Symposium of the Institute of Biology, held in 1969, and the document of the Conservation Society, Why Britain Needs a Population Policy. May I also commend to those noble Lords who would not normally receive such a publication the excellent appraisal of the enormity of the complex national and international problems involved set out in the document Population, prepared for the 1971 National Conference of Labour Women. After a full and well-informed debate that conference accepted stabilisation as the general aim of an explicit population policy.

My Lords, while accepting that the problem of population growth in this country is not a matter for panic—I certainly am not one of the exaggerated and alarmist "Doomwatch" school which is beginning to regard children, particularly the children of other people, as a form of pollution—nevertheless the problem of population growth is certainly not a matter for inactivity or complacency either. I do not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, and I would be strongly opposed to a reduction in the suggested family allowances for the third or fourth child. In my view that would only harm the children and thrust large families living on low incomes even deeper into poverty, nor is there any evidence that it would achieve the results intended.

From some points of view, and particularly in some parts of the country—most notably in the South-East, where, quite apart from overall population growth, continued migration poses a major problem despite all the efforts to reverse the trend—Britain is already overcrowded and too densely populated. Population growth must surely be stabilised in the foreseeable future. Here I would again agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, that it is in the nature of all Governments to be most concerned with immediate developments during their four to five year period of office. But in this field, where accurate forecasting is notoriously difficult, any definition of the long-term objective of an acceptable population policy in a democratic society requires, at the very least, expert and effective national machinery for thought and detailed study and research looking some twenty years ahead.

As the Select Committee pointed out, there is at present no adequate machinery for such forward-looking policy-making in this country and it does not seem, at this stage at any rate, that it is the intention of the Government to establish it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, I did not find that either the general tenor of the Government's observations or their reaction to decisions on the Report of the Select Committee, in what is admittedly a very difficult and complex field, in any way matched up to the indisputable needs so clearly demonstrated in the Select Committee's Report. I hope that, at the very least, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, if he is given time to reply to the debate, will be able to tell us what progress the Ross Panel is making in its consideration of these matters; whether the Government intend to publish its reports and, if so, when we may expect the first one.

My Lords, it seems that we have arrived at a situation where traditional Malthusian ideology, concerned with the dangers involved in over-population, whether real or imaginary, which have waxed and waned since he first published his famous Essay in the 18th century, has now come together with the great voluntary movement, begun by a few pioneers some fifty years ago, to provide birth control services to improve the quality of life for children and families particularly for women overburdened and overstrained by the problems of rearing large families on low incomes; to prevent the birth of unwanted and unloved children, with all the heavy social and economic costs that such tragedies involve, and to improve and expand the educational and employment opportunities for women.

To my mind, it is the coming together of these two major streams of thought that is the main cause of the considerable movement in public opinion that we have noted in recent years towards accepting the need for a positive overall population policy and towards more open attitudes and the acceptance of the need for family planning services in what has previously been a highly controversial and sensitive field in which fundamental questions of human choice and family building patterns are involved. There is now, in my view, widespread support from almost all quarters, with the possible exception of a small minority with deeply held religious views, for comprehensive and effective birth control services as part of the first phase of a population policy, including all currently known methods of family planning, as an integral part of the National Health Service, in place of the patchy, uneven and unco-ordinated services which reach only about one half of the 8 million women in this country who could become pregnant—and this in spite of the remarkable efforts of voluntary organisations and groups such as the Family Planning Association, the Brook Advisory Centres, the Marie Stapes Memorial Foundation and the Simon Population Trust.

Thanks to the National Health Service Family Planning Act which my noble friend Lady Gaitskell piloted through the House almost five years ago some local authorities, though by no means all, have improved their services to the point where certain progressive authorities including my own in the London Borough of Camden have led the way in providing free contraceptives to everyone over the age of sixteen as part of their family planning service. But, my Lords, this is far too important a matter to leave any longer to the good will of voluntary organisations or wise, or misguided, counsellors to decide fortuitously.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is speaking from the Front Bench opposite. Is it the Opposition's policy to have tree family planning under the National Health Service?


The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will recall what my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Social Services said in the debate in another place, I think in March 1970. My Lords, we can no longer, I think, accept the position indefinitely where regional and local variations in the availability of birth control services are regarded as satisfactory, in the light of the human and economic results that unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children cause, quite apart from the question of their effect on population growth.

We all naturally await with great interest the outcome of the Secretary of State's experimental "saturation" schemes, in one or two selected areas. In the meantime. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us what steps the Government have taken or are working on for the organisation of birth control services within the new integrated National Health Service now being planned for 1974. Presumably the area health authorities will carry overall responsibility for designing and arranging general practitioner, domiciliary family clinic and hospital birth control services and programmes, and I hope in this context that the Minister and his right honourable friend will consider the detailed proposals for the progressive administration set out in the booklet, A Birth Control Plan for Britain, published recently by the Birth Control Campaign of which my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner is President, and about which no doubt he will be speaking quite shortly in this debate.

My Lords, I conclude by stressing the importance of the need for Britain to set an example in this field. We really must begin at home. How else can we ask others particularly the developing countries of the world, to restrain their population growth in the second development decade, when we ourselves, although in advance of many other countries, lack fully coherent national birth control services and still lack the national machinery recommended by the Select Committee on which to base an acceptable long-term population policy?

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I also should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, on his choice of subject for this debate and on the constructive way in which he approached the problem which he said is contentious still, and arouses deep emotions, convictions and prejudices. I would suggest to the noble Lord that that is becoming less and less true and, as he said, according to the opinion surveys which have been conducted recently, public opinion is hardening in favour of an active and positive Government policy towards population and towards the means of limiting it, although most people perhaps would not go so far as the noble Lord in his remedies. The appreciation of the seriousness of the problem which he outlined is almost universal to-day. People do realise the effects on standards of living, the loss of agricultural land (which the noble Lord mentioned), the pressure on the urban environment, loss of land for schools, for housing, for transport and the many other services that this additional population of 11 million which is expected by the turn of the century will need. Particularly younger people and those with children are very much concerned about the future developments and are hoping that the Government are going to give a lead in the light of public opinion.

Frequently Ministers say that they are not ready to act unless they can see that the state of public opinion warrants it. I remember that that was said by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Marples, at the time of the breathaliser legislation. It has been said more recently by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in respect of the fluoridation of water supplies, the best tried and proven method of improving dental health that has ever been advocated. I expect Ministers will say that they are not sure whether public opinion is yet ready for the adoption of population policies and some of the necessary measures to put it into effect. I hope that that is not so. I rather suspected, from the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he was asking whether the speech we were listening to from the noble Baroness represented the official policy of the Opposition, that he is afraid that they are moving ahead of him on this subject when he and his colleagues are not yet ready to move. I would draw his attention to an article in The Times to-day—I am not sure whether this refers to the same National Opinion Poll referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, and the noble Baroness. That shows that of the people questioned in this country one in ten thought that there was special concern in the need for a population policy in this country. I agree that that is a larger proportion of the population who see it as a serious matter than in the United States.

The general conclusion to be drawn from this is that opinion is hardening and that a large majority is in favour of some form of Government action although they were not asked in the questionnaire to specify what that action should be. In the face of this, we have the reaction of the Government to the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and I must agree that this has been extremely complacent and disappointing. The evidence of the witnesses from Government Departments to the Select Committee was of this nature and so were their observations from which I should like to quote one sentence. They say: The question of whether or not the Government should have a population policy or policies is complex and controversial". It goes on about room for disagreement on the consequences for everyday life of current and foreseen rates of population increase. I respectfully submit to the Government that there is no longer room for disagreement on these matters. If they want to disagree among themselves on this they will find themselves in disagreement with the general population if they sit back and do nothing. I agree that they have appointed this panel of experts, to which reference has been made. I hope that the work of Mr. Ross, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, is not going to result in a single report, as he implied, but will continue and that a variety of recommendations will ultimately come out of it. The trouble is that when these independent panels are appointed it is often used by the Government as an excuse for doing nothing until they have received the advice. In the meanwhile, as the noble Lord said, there is a mass of information available from private sources which could be used as a guide towards the formulation of policy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, mentioned the interesting report of the National Conference of Labour Women's Organisations, which advocated, as one of the measures towards the reduction of the population (desirable for other purposes, I may say), increased employment opportunities for women. The Registrar General's Department, I would remind the noble Baroness, said in their evidence to the Select Committee that fertility among people who have been married for ten years before the age of 45 was 50 per cent. less among women who had been in full employment during that period than among those who merely kept the household. So if much better opportunities of employment are provided for women, the size of their families will be decreased.

I think that to have a liberal population policy in this country implies that the reduction of ultimate family size must be achieved by voluntary means and not by compulsion. That is why I do not like some of the remedies suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon. I should not like to see a reduction in the family allowances or in tax allowances, or the putting of financial screws on people who for personal reasons may want large families. I should not like to see his policy on migration being put into effect. I would remind the noble Lord also that the Registrar General has stated that the differences between migration that have been made—very large ones, between a 20,000 a year inflow to a 35,000 a year outflow in the period covered by the Registrar-General's evidence—made practically no difference in the population that can be expected in the year 2,000.

But when the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, came to his first recommendation, I was wholeheartedly in favour of what he said: that there should be free contraception under the National Health Service. It is not only a matter of free contraception of course, but a matter of free advice and properly planned advice to get to people in the right places. This is something on which I should like to say a word or two. We see that only some of the maternity units in hospitals provide family planning advice to the women who go there. We see that not all the health visitors are equipped to give domiciliary family planning advice; and we see from evidence that has resulted from research sponsored privately that the people who most need family planning advice, those in the lower social classes, are receiving the least of it, because domiciliary family planning services are most lacking in those areas where the proportion of the lower social class is highest.

So it is not just a question of making contraceptives free under the National Health Service, but also a matter of making sure that the women at risk, of child-bearing age, know about the family planning services that are available and get proper advice on how they should be used. I have referred to women, but I would remark, in passing, that I entirely support my noble friend Lord Amulree in his Vasectomy Bill which is to be introduced into the House next week. I think that this is a very belated measure, and that we should go forward on both grounds: to make the family planning advice available to women, but to see that sterilisation for men is available as well. I believe that there is an enormous waiting list for this operation under the National Health Service.

I hope that we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, what is going to be the machinery for the administration of the family planning services when the new structure of the Health Service comes into operation. We already know from the debate that we had, I think last November, that the area health authorities are to take over responsibility from local councils. This is all to the good, because it will help to ensure that uniformity of service which the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, said is so much required. This is something that worries me. There are some local authorities who use their powers under the Family Planning Act to great effect, but there are others who have done nothing whatever.

The same thing applies to the abortion services. It is not true, as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, said, if I may correct him, that it is possible for a woman to get an abortion under the National Health Service. In every single year since the Abortion Act 1967 was passed the proportion of abortions carried out by hospitals administered under the Health Service has declined and the proportion carried out in private nursing homes has increased. I regard this as a serious matter, not because abortion is a first line of defence (here I agree with the noble Lord), but because it will always be necessary as a backstop, since no methods of family planning are infallible. The figures of failure rate are available: the lowest is of women on the Pill. Nevertheless, if every woman at risk took the Pill we could still expect tens of thousands of unwanted pregnancies to occur every year; and unless we say that those pregnancies must go forward to full term, then, even with the best possible family planning services that can be envisaged, abortion will still be necessary, and in my opinion it should be part of the service provided by the National Health Service.

I think also that we have to consider enlisting the aid of general practitioners in a much more comprehensive way than we do at the moment. General practitioners, of course, do not receive any payment for offering family planning advice to patients; and one of the reasons they cannot play a bigger role is that it takes them away from their duties of looking after other patients. I hope that this is one of the matters on which advice may be taken by the Department. Better training for health visitors I have already mentioned. But I certainly think that the Department have an enormous job to do in transferring these services from the local health authorities to the new area health authorities as early as April 1, 1974. I am looking forward greatly to hearing what the Minister has to say when he comes to wind up.

I believe that if we were to implement this sort of policy of active family planning, with better employment opportunities for women, perhaps some of the fears which have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, and which I know are foremost in the minds of the Conservation Society and other authorities in this field, would disappear. But we do not know. It is notoriously difficult to make predictions in this field. But I say that we should try these things and not shelter behind the skirts (if judges have skirts) of Mrs. Justice Lane, Mr. Ross and other authorities whom the Government have appointed to advise them in this field. Let us take some action now to see that those services are available; and if the population has been stabilised by those methods, then we need to go no further. If not, I think we have a serious problem in reconciling the additional steps that have to be taken with the democratic liberties that we prize so deeply in this country. I have every hope that the population can be stabilised by these liberal means, and that only if we wait will it be too late: the population will be too large in this country to support a reasonable standard of living and a way of life which we enjoy at the moment. My Lords, I urge the Government not to wait until that advice has been made available and until all the research has been done, but to put these steps into immediate action and see how we get on.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, as I stand for the first time in your Lordships' House I wonder what I am doing. I certainly have not my father's wisdom of silence: for he kept silent for the 20 years that he was in this House, and I am speaking within 20 weeks of entering it. Nor do I have the wisdom to speak on a subject upon which I am an expert: indeed, my credentials are slender—last in Part I of the Economic tripos at Cambridge twelve years ago. Yet on this subject I have felt concern for some time. I thought that as a practising lawyer and, more particularly, as a layman, I might be able to make a small contribution in this debate.

My concern has arisen during my professional practice and from my contact with the problems of overcrowding; from my contact in the courts, and particularly in the criminal courts, with the problems of delinquency so frequently arising in connection with children coming from overcrowded surroundings and from families which have been too large for the parents to cope with. Then, too, there have been problems of aggression—again first of all in the criminal courts, arising out of conditions in and taking place in areas of dense population. There is an interesting relationship between the intensity of criminal behaviour and the density of population. You can go all the way through the spectrum of criminal appearances in the courts, right down to the motorist, and time after time there will be found a close relationship between overcrowding and aggression. Speaking of the motorist, have we not all, as motorists, experienced a feeling of aggression in an overcrowded situation on an overcrowded road?

I am not qualified to present an argument for the need for a population policy in the United Kingdom: others can do that much better than I. Indeed, most of your Lordships will have read the First Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and will have noticed the erudite evidence presented to it by Mr. Anthony Crosland. Your Lordships will also have noticed what in his view are the four areas of concern to the United Kingdom. From the firm springboard provided by the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, the mover of this Motion, of the problems in the United Kingdom, I should like to explore for a moment the wider implications of the need for a population policy in the United Kingdom within Europe, the need for a European population policy within the developed countries and the need for a population policy for the developed countries within the world. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, speaking in another debate in this House on April 20, spoke of the suspicion of the under-developed countries towards—and I quote from Hansard—"global population reduction policies". I was interested to hear the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, when she also developed that theme briefly before us.

The need for a population policy in the United Kingdom must also be considered in the wider implications of world population policies. May I work on the simple premise that unless we take the lead there will be no world population policy? The necessity for a world population policy cries out for itself. There is an accelerating rate of increase in the whole world's population—I am told that it is doubling every 32 years; but in the under-developed countries it is developing to the degree that, in South America I understand the population is doubling every 24 years. Yet another alarming feature of the rate of population increase lies in the unreliability of predictions. Several noble Lords have this afternoon referred to predictions. In my short examination of the problem I have noticed that the really alarming feature of predictions is that they have consistently under-estimated the problem.

I was interested last night to read an essay that I wrote for my supervisor at Cambridge University in 1959. I noted that in that essay I expounded the fact that the population in the United Kingdom would be declining after 1970. Now it is possible that I was trying to bamboozle my supervisor with my knowledge, but I like to think that I was basing that assertion in my essay upon facts presented to me by my lecturers or tutors at the university. When one measures that against the Report of the Select Committee one measures the prediction of a population increase which is expected to bring about, between 1966 and the year 2000, an additional 14 million persons in this country. One can view with a certain concern predictions of future population. Of course 14 million persons is almost the number of people now dwelling in the South-East area of the United Kingdom.

I said just now that the necessity for a world population policy cries out for itself. May I bring briefly before your Lordships three limiting factors which must be considered against the accelerating increase in the number of people in the world. There is the limitation of resources. For example, I am told that by the year 2000 two-thirds of the world's oil will have been burned. While there are those who will argue that the technocrats will help us, the scientists will come to our assistance and there will be other forms of power, I am also told that half the power needed in thermo-nuclear units has to go back again for cooling purposes. The second limiting factor is land. Thirdly, there is the limitation of population distribution. We cannot cope now—and I am speaking at the moment in the world sense—with the problems of malnutrition in many areas of the world. How well shall we be able to cope when the population has doubled in thirty-two years' time?

The necessity for a European policy, too, speaks for itself. Although it is not quite so evident, it still remains a necessity. In the context of Europe there is a greater density than in most developed countries. That is a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, referred. An interesting comparison can be made between the density of the population in the United Kingdom set against the density of population in India. I am told that there are 228 people per square kilometre in the United Kingdom, and the corresponding figure in India is only 164 people—and this in a country which is already recognised to have a population problem. Therefore the density of people in the United Kingdom and in Europe is higher than that in areas of the world where there is a recognised population problem. Indeed, this is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Vernon brought before our attention: neither the United Kingdom nor Europe can support themselves on their own resources. I am told that there is indeed a great shortage of real resources in the European Continental Shelf both of minerals and of protein. Of course we all know from wartime experience how this country relies on foodstuffs being brought from abroad. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, who said that the figure was in the region of 50 per cent.

But the most important reason for my arguing that a population policy for the United Kingdom must be considered in the context of a European population policy is that people in the more civilized—I prefer to use the phrase "more developed"—areas in the world do more damage per head to the environment than in the under-developed countries. For example, I am told that an American pours more poisonous waste into rivers and oceans than do 1,000 Asians. That, in my submission, is a most revealing figure. So I argue that we need a population policy for ourselves, for our Western civilisation, and as a lead to the world. It is therefore with some alarm that I learnt that the Stockholm Conference, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, referred just now—the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, in June, 1972—contains no real solution about, or goals for, a population policy, the most vital matter, one would have thought, that this conference should consider.

As all speakers this afternoon have recognised, we cannot pass from the subject of population policy without recognising the difficulties of enforcement; for a population policy without the power of enforcement would be an impotent policy. Mention has been made of education and encouragement. The question is: is enough being done? The inducement, for example, of a wireless set, which I believe was used in India, would hardly send United Kingdom citizens scurrying towards the sterilisation clinics. Then, mention has been made of fiscal policy. The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, while not advocating the removal of family allowances, nevertheless advocated reducing the amount of family allowances. But the question must be asked, "Is that fair?" Would not the hardship fall upon the innocent, upon the children—who after all are not responsible for their own creation?

Then one moves into the area of compulsion, because this also must be considered. In consideration of compulsion, sterilisation is a matter that must in turn be considered because it is the ultimate enforcement…if the plight demands it. In a Rutherford Lecture delivered in November of last year, Canon Montefiore, in a lecture entitled "Doom or Deliverance?", said this: What about compulsion? The mind boggles. When and how would it be carried out? Compulsory sterilisation after three children? Who—the father or the mother?…Would a buff unstamped letter arrive from the Ministry of Health after the registration of the birth of a third child? And what if people forcibly object to the tying up of their Fallopian tubes or the slitting of their seminal ducts? My Lords, of course enforcement presents awful difficulties, but is not now the time at least to consider it? Improved standards of living will obviously help. Advertisement and education and family planning also will help. But is not there another approach that we could make? I suggest—and this is illustrating the need not to consider population policy in isolation—that if we cared to think more of making more careers for women in our community, not leaving them exclusively to motherhood as a lifetime occupation but as a stage for five, ten or fifteen years in a career, it would be a great encouragement to the mother to limit the number of her children.

Interestingly enough, my parents-in-law paid a visit to Russia, and they came back and told me that parents there considered it a disaster to have more than three children. The irony is that this policy has apparently been so successful that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, told this House on Thursday of last week that these countries are developing population-increasing policies. I merely give that as another example, because I believe the positive approach of encouragement is the right approach to make now. Indeed, if we do not take strong positive methods of encouragement now, our children will face the option of imposing Draconian measures or coping with the consequences of our neglect: consequences in famine, in pestilence, or, as described after Dr. Malthus, Malthusian checks, in the cold economic language of that phrase.

Still worse: if this problem, in my submission to your Lordships, is not faced, our children could experience the total annihilation of the world in which we live. That would be the price of our neglect. Of course in the cosiness of this Chamber it is hard to recognise the need for action. As I drove home last night through the beechwoods of the Chiltern Hills the population explosion seemed utterly remote, as would have been for my father and grandfather walking in the Surrey hills in the 1930's or on the shores of Lake Ullswater in the 1910's, the carnages of two world wars.

My Lords, may I say, in conclusion, that we must be very grateful to the noble Lord who moved this Motion and for the wise words that he chose. For none of our problems, inside or outside the United Kingdom, will be solved without a population policy. The problems are—to name but a few—poverty, racial tension, economic imperialism, urban blight, environmental decay, warfare. I speak only as a layman in response to the call of this Motion which is to "draw attention to" this problem. I am not yet familiar with the etiquette or procedure of the House, but I would simply express the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Vernon will not feel compelled to withdraw his Motion, for in my view it is too important to be withdrawn.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, it is my privilege to be in the position of being able first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, on his maiden speech. His subject was one that he had obviously carefully studied; he is something of an authority. We hope very much that he will go on ignoring the practice of his father, and we shall certainly look forward to hearing him speak again in, I hope, the near future.

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for allowing us to discuss this subject this afternoon. The House will be glad to hear that in the interests of time I have already torn up most of my speech. However, I felt that I ought to say something as the rather reluctant President of the Birth Control Campaign. When I say "rather reluctant President", I merely mean that at my great age, and having quite enough to do, I was extremely reluctant to take on anything new. I did so because I think quite simply that this is probably the most important single subject in the world.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, that one must look at this question in its world context. I had been going to say a good deal about the limits of growth, and the Club of Rome, and the many very real problems which face us in the world. But, confining myself to population, it seems to me that all those problems ought to be capable of solution, provided—and it is the one proviso—that there can be some check on population, on which all these other things so much depend. Put very briefly, at the time of Christ the population of the world was about 250 million. In the next 1,400 years the population doubled; in the next 170 years it doubled again; in the next 100 years it doubled again; in the next 45 years it doubled again. The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, is quite right in saying that at the moment it is doubling itself every 32 years. Of course, doubling in thirty years means that in sixty years there will be four people on earth for every one there is now. Even to-day, of every six one is well-fed and five are under-nourished. There are literally more people starving in the world to-day than have ever starved in the world before. I say nothing about reserves of recoverable materials, if we are going to go on using them for the rest of the century as we have in the first part of this century, or about the limits to food and water.

We might perhaps at first sight say, "Well, obviously, all those overpopulated places are the undeveloped countries and, after all, we are in a very secure position here." But that really is not so. The tales varied somewhat mathematically. About the time of Christ we had a population of about half a million; at the Norman Conquest it was about 1 million; in 1801, at the time of our first Census, it was 10 million; less than 50 years later it was 20 million and early in this century it was 40 million. As the noble Lord has said, we are one of the most densely populated countries in the whole world, and especially vulnerable because we have to import so much of our food. It does not seem likely that we shall go on for long, for example, getting food for our cattle from countries which will so soon need their food, not for their cattle but for themselves.

If I may come now to the subject of contraception, there are of course two sides to the whole problem. We have about 890,000 births and 640,000 deaths and to a very real extent the problem is not the births at all; it is the deaths. I will not say, "what has gone wrong", but what have been so remarkable are the successful efforts of the medical profession to expand the span of life. Unfortunately, or fortunately, from a practical point of view we certainly cannot do anything about that, although I suppose those who believe in euthanasia would claim credit on that account.

So far as births are concerned the position shortly is that there are about 8 million women at risk and only a little over 4 million of those take any precautions of any kind at all. The whole problem would be—I do not say solved, but on the way to being solved if only the 300,000 unwanted pregnancies could be avoided. Of those 300,000 unwanted pregnancies, only about 150,000 result in births because the other 150,000 result in abortions. I do not like abortions. I voted for the Abortion Bill because I had some knowledge of the enormous numbers of illegal abortions that were carried out and because I believed that on the whole it would be better if those abortions were carried out by doctors in the open so that, so to speak, everybody could see what was happening, instead of their being carried out behind closed doors in Harley Street for the rich and by untrained women in the back streets for the poor.

Of course, the best way of stopping abortion is to prevent conception. I had intended to deal with this booklet in some detail but I will not do so now because of the shortage of time. The Ministry of Education and Science (and this is not at all a criticism) are extremely strict nowadays that no charity should conduct any form of political propaganda. Noble Lords may have read recently that some officials of War on Want are in difficulty because the organisation is educational and cannot carry out propaganda. Nearly all the admirable bodies which now exist, such as the Family Planning Association, are charities, and the reason why Birth Control Campaign has been instituted is precisely because it is not a charity and therefore can and will conduct propaganda.

What it has done in its first main publication is to set out all the known relevant facts and then to suggest proposals for dealing with the situation—a free National Health Service plan. Even although it is purple in colour it is very much a "green paper" because they are proposals for public discussion. I will not now take up any time by describing what those proposals are, what part should be played in it by the family doctor, birth control clinics or centres, hospitals, domiciliary' planning services—they are all in the report. It is perhaps an expensive programme, but it may be worth pointing out that in the recent PEP Report—which was of a most detailed character—to ascertain the cost to the community of unwanted children, it is suggested that every year for 150,000 unwanted births £300 million will have to be found by the State, continuing over the next 20 years. Therefore, although the cost of the proposals would be about £40 million per year it would save money in the end.

I am sure, too, that we need a big plan for education and publicity. I feel sure that educated people always tend to exaggerate the knowledge that uneducated people have of contraception. A married woman friend of mine told me recently that while she was in hospital one of the nurses told her that she was engaged to be married. She said that her fiancé was still trying to obtain a professional qualification so they had decided that after their marriage—which was to take place in a fortnight's time—she would continue nursing while he qualified and they would not meanwhile have any children. Then she said, "Can you possibly tell me where I can get a contraceptive? I do not like to ask Sister". That was a nurse. She had no idea where to get a contraceptive.

There is certainly not much time allowed for this debate, but in fact there is not much time at all to tackle this particular subject, and I would join with all those who have expressed the hope that the Government will now act. I do not think that the report of a committee is any the worse for only having one conclusion. This, after all, is their conclusion: The Government must act to prevent the consequences of population growth becoming intolerable to the everyday conditions of life. Appointing a panel to look at some figures is really not good enough. It is interesting to observe that in a recent National Opinion Poll, while two-thirds thought that the Government ought to have a population policy and that we ought to have a national birth control service, the majorities (as one might expect) depended partly on age. Of those between the ages of 18 and 24, 72 per cent. thought that; of those between 25 and 34 the figure was 76 per cent.; of those between 35 and 44 it was 70 per cent.; of those between 45 and 54 it was 63 per cent.; between 55 and 64 it was 58 per cent., and it was only when one got to 65 that the figure was 48 per cent., or just under the majority. This shows that a large majority of our people think that not only should there be a population policy but also a proper national birth control service. Therefore, I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to respond to the one conclusion of the Select Committee, that the Government should act and not be content with just appointing a panel of people.


My Lords, may I intervene at this point to say that I am hoping to reply, but my noble computer friend tells me that we are now down to six minutes per speaker?

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I have practised a certain amount of birth control on my notes in the same way as have noble Lords who have spoken before me. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for having introduced this debate, but I must say that in the process of cutting down what I was going to say, some of the things I do say may be misinterpreted. So at the outset let me say that I am totally in favour of birth control and, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, I am associated with the Family Planning Association—indeed, I believe I am a vice-president. I have been working in this field for many years.

I shall devote my attention entirely to one particular issue which is referred to in the Report of the Select Committee to which reference has been made, in which it is said that I was sceptical about optimum population as an economic concept although perhaps not as a political one. Let me say straight away that I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that there is unanimity on these points. I am in favour of birth control, but I am most decidely not in favour of those people who do not realise that the facts are treacherous, that the interpretations are more treacherous and that one has to be extraordinarily careful before one starts to define "population policy" or, even more so, "optimum population policy". What does one mean? Who is going to define it? On the one hand, reference is made in the Select Committee's Report to a figure of 40 million people as being the right number of people for this country. But that figure is based on the criterion that this country should be self-supporting, as though it has ever been self-supporting since the industrial era began. I am afraid that this is not a recipe for action. It leaves totally out of account the fact that all countries, not just this country, have never been self-supporting units except in their pastoral past, way back in Neolithic times, and that ever since trade came about, people have been dependent on other people's resources.

Above all, so far as I am concerned it is immensely difficult to conceive of the measures which could be introduced, given that one could define a population policy in numbers, to realise the particular numbers one wanted. Furthermore, let us be quite clear about this. When we take any numerical concept of population size we have to remember that we do not all share the same tastes and wants, and that these change with time. It is not true that all people dislike overcrowding. It is a fact that people agglomerate in large cities and that they leave the open spaces. Figures of overall density by themselves merely distort the true picture. We are dealing with problems relating to the regional distribution of population. To the best of my knowledge there is no Government which has been able to institute those measures which would direct people away from the areas in which they wish to live to those where it would be preferable from the point of view of government that they should live.

At the other extreme we have the recommendation of the Select Committee that the Government should act to prevent the consequences of population growth becoming intolerable. But who is to define what these conditions are? What Government is going to decide and at what moment? I was pressed by the Committee to give my views about this matter and I had to reply in very abstract terms. The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, has referred to my remark about battery hens—which got me into trouble in the newspapers. I do not want to live like a battery hen, but who am I to say that the right resources could not be provided to build proper flats which some people would liken to a battery for human beings? There are batteries for human beings already. I must confess that it was for that reason that I was not prepared to say that I knew that economic reasons prevented us from accommodating a population twice that predicted in the Paper before us.

We have to remember, too, that we have succeeded in providing reasonable living conditions for the population. The general welfare in this country is far better than it was 25 years ago, very much better than it was in the bitter days of the early 'thirties, and immeasurably higher than it was at the beginning of the century. Who is to say that the conditions in which the people are living now—as has been rather implied by one or two speakers—are already inadequate? Would they have seemed inadequate to our grandparents in the early 1900s? I do not think so, any more than I believe that they would have appeared inadequate to people who lived in the 'thirties. In every generation, people will try to better their lot; that is the basic fact. But the difficulties we face to-day in trying to better the lot of the population are no greater than they were in the days when children went barefoot and hungry, when fogs were commonplace and when indoor sanitation was a luxury. Are conditions ever likely to revert to that stage? I do not believe so. The quality of life is always improving, and however crowded we become I cannot see any reason why the quality for the majority should ever fall back to what it may have been at some bad time in the past.

There is another reason why I am nervous about this concept of optimum population. Reference was made to the need to see this in an international framework. Unfortunately, it is a fact that industrial, economic and political power is in general related to size of population. It would be extraordinary if one country were to act on its own, as has been suggested. I have been at many population conferences, also in the company of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, at which I have heard the Americans say, "We must start; we must set an example". There are no examples set, for the simple reason that the optimum population for a country can only be set internationally. I am not an economist, but I cannot conceive of our independently making a numerical estimate of what our population should be, then calling for a population policy, and then implementing it. Furthermore, let me say straightaway that to the best of my knowledge those countries which have tried to advocate anti-natalist policies, India for example, and those countries with pro-natalist policies, like France and the U.S.S.R., have all failed. So far there is no country that has managed to devise measures either for promoting the growth of population or suppressing the growth of population in a way that satisfies them. There are not enough mothers in the Soviet Union, as we heard last week, and not enough mothers in France; equally, too many mothers in India and, equally, according to the tenor of this debate, too many mothers in this country.

I do not want to discuss population figures because, as I said, they are treacherous. If one looks at the table in the Select Committee Report one finds that the figures for the projection for the year 2000 have changed between 1968 and 1969 by 2.1 million. The figures which I gave in my evidence to the Select Committee more than a year ago were the figures provided by the Registrar General; they were for 1968. I do not know what the figures would look like at the next estimate, the next attempt to predict, any more than I accept what has been stated about trends in population in the advanced countries of the West.

Let me conclude by indicating what I suggested should be the considerations of the Government, because here I agree that the question of whether or not the Government should have a population policy or policies is controversial. With that I agree totally. I do not believe we can have a population policy unless we have one piece of information which is totally lacking at the moment, and that is information which would derive from a proper analysis of the changes in fertility rates. We know what brings about falling mortality rates in different age groups, but we know all but nothing about the factors which, over the ages, have changed fertility rates in different societies and in different groups. We know about the correlation with economic status and with education; we know about female employment, about incentives and disincentives. What we do not know is how they work, if they work. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, to let us know whether the Government would consider putting real emphasis on this particular point, because unless these matters are clarified there can be no population policy, for whatever measures may be introduced will in all likelihood fail because they will be the wrong measures.

The next thing that I would definitely go for, and here I am totally with the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, is for encouraging birth control, whether on the N.H.S. or in any other way. Education, too, is a vital matter as the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said. The F.P.A. and the world organisation have done noble work, but it is work which must be reinforced by Government. The other point of which I think we ought to be quite certain is that we also know what components of the educational process really get across at the right ages—because it is not the same story throughout the reproductive life of the woman.

I would conclude with one further remark: that if one reads John Stuart Mill, Chapter 6 of Book 4 of the Principles of Political Economy, one will see that when the population of this country was less than 20 million, there could have been the same debate by noble Lords of the day saying that they were distressed by the fact that there were too many people, too little room—not that we were going to starve, but that it was all going to be highly unpleasant. I do not believe that it will be highly unpleasant—unless we move to the future without objectivity and without good, sound, scientific knowledge.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord who has just spoken would agree with me when I say that there is not one population problem to be faced, but of course two; namely, how to rear enough children, and how to avoid rearing too many. I recall when I was in China in 1955, when the average family was five, that I said to the Minister of Health, "Surely you should adopt a method of birth control". A charming woman turned to me and said, "Mother China needs more children". The years passed and she came over here, and I had the opportunity of showing her some of our hospitals. I said to her, "How is the population of China going?" and she said, "We have adopted a policy, and it is now decreasing rapidly". One has only to visit China to see the smiling, fat children bouncing about; but what impressed me was that when a Government have sufficient power, as they have in every dictatorship, it is possible to reduce the incidence of children.

The definition of what is too much or what is too little varies enormously according to the age of the country; but I think the House would agree that when fecundity threatens the welfare of the people social pressures then become apparent. I would say that this debate to-day exemplifies that. Undoubtedly the figures that we have heard must alarm us, must convince us that we have to adopt a policy which will be effective. Of course family limitation is a subject to which many well-meaning people respond in an illogical fashion. They will agree that cruelty to children is an offence which should be punished heavily, but fail to recognise the lifetime cruelty inflicted on an unwanted child, in consequence of which it may drift from the streets to the reformatory, to our over-full prisons, and then finally to our over-full mental hospitals. Unfortunately, when we are thinking of these categories, the moral delinquent and the feckless will rarely seek advice on birth control, and propaganda designed to control procreation will make little impact on these categories in the population. So many people, when they think of the unwanted child, can think only of these people, these children, these delinquents, and so on, as the people they are concerned to reduce in numbers; but these are the very people who reject any advice, and who are too feckless or too careless to seek any advice.

On the other hand, of course, we have the highly respectable housewife who, in the past, produced a large family and was regarded as a heroine. Even to-day, if quins are produced with a fertility pill the whole country wonders about it—and I wonder too; it is an amazing advance in science. However, if they became too common, of course we should deplore the fact that quins were produced too frequently. It is now necessary, in my opinion, to make it clear to the ordinary, stable housewife and her husband that their efforts in producing more children are far from laudable. But it is difficult to bring any positive sanction against them. I agree with everybody here that the voluntary effort is the only one that we should pursue. One does not know what may happen by the end of the century, but at the moment we can only pursue the voluntary effort. The only sanction you can bring against the highly respectable housewife and her husband is the sanction of public obloquy. It may be that in a few years' time this will be evident, and it may be strengthened. The time has come to deglamorise child-bearing and to press home the unwisdom of reckless propagation.

What old-fashioned advice and treatment we have heard to-day; educate the woman. The very men who get up in this House and say that the right thing to do is to "educate the women" are never here when we are discussing anti-discrimination. They never rise up in their places and make a contribution towards eradicating the social problems connected with discrimination against women in education. I sit here and marvel to hear their voices raised on a population debate, and telling us that this is the right approach. Does the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, who sits over there, know, when he talks about education and women, that the percentage of women lawyers is very tiny? Does he know that he has only one woman High Court Judge?


Order, order!


The noble Lord need not protest. This is really the practical answer. I have not got to stop speaking. The noble Lord must sit down if I do not stop. That is the right thing to do in this House, until I finish my sentence. I am only reminding the noble Lord as an example, and as one of the last speakers, that I agree with everything that he says. But why is it that he, and other young men like him, do not pursue this matter in a practical way?


My Lords, I only hesitatingly get to my feet because I was certainly not advocating in a patronising way the education of women. Indeed, my argument was to the contrary. I argued that in our community women should be more involved, doing more worth-while jobs, so that motherhood would not be something that would be a lifetime obligation. Exclusive motherhood should be something that would be with them for ten or fifteen years, and then they would return to form a worthwhile part of the community.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but the noble Lord must recall that we have only five minutes each, and I feel that he did make rather a long speech. I want to say to the House that birth control clinics are not enough. We have to be practical. There should be a domiciliary service for those women who are reluctant to come to clinics, and it must be organised in a practical fashion. There should be a service which can be conducted by male welfare workers, male nurses: a service designed for the husbands, who should receive a supply of condoms and advice on sterilisation. Again, this is the kind of service that we must see established by our local authorities, otherwise all this talk about birth control and what should be done is just airy-fairy nonsense. We have to see to it that our local authorities are provided with people who can go out into not only the crowded slums but the more respectable suburbs—and take this information with them.

I am glad to see a Bishop on the Bench, and I think, as he knows, one of the nicest Bishops. There are not many Bishops I feel nicely disposed towards but he is one of them, and I should like to ask him what he thinks of the marriage service. This debate is of little value unless we are practical. What is the good of keeping on repeating Select Committees and all kinds of committees whose reports we all read ad nauseam? The time has come when we have to make practical suggestions. I would say to the Bishop that the marriage service reminds the bride and groom of the causes for which matrimony was ordained. It puts first the procreation of children. How many couples could subscribe to that to-day? I would agree that marriage affords protection to children; but a marriage of 50 years which provides two children could scarcely be said to have fulfilled the first cause for which matrimony was ordained. I would ask whether the time has arrived when there should be a revision of the marriage service, with the object of reminding married couples that the indiscriminate procreation of children, far from being encouraged by the Church, is to be condemned as anti-social. As I have already said, these various Committees say that our propaganda should be directed towards the ordinary, stable married couple. If propaganda is to be effective it should be used at the very beginning of marriage for those people who arc anxious to conform to what society wishes. It may be said—I do not know the figures—that only a minority of weddings are now held in churches. Nevertheless, if this change were made in our prayer books it would undoubtedly have the effect of conveying to couples what the community feels about the procreation of children.

The Working Party set up by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynæcologists, in its Report Unplanned Pregnancy, stated that it believed that 25 per cent. of all pregnancies may be regarded as unplanned. I would say to those who, for religious or other reasons, are opposed to a population policy, that they should not close their minds to this well-argued Report by this distinguished committee, under the chairmanship of Sir John Peel. It strongly recommended that the rapidly increasing practice of both male and female sterilisation should be encouraged within the National Health Service. On Monday when we are discussing vasectomy, I hope we shall have more time to wander a little further in the field of sterilisation. But, again, I find it difficult to reconcile the marriage service, and what is said about the procreation of children, with the official encouragement of sterilization, and the sooner the service is amended the better for the nation. Finally—there was an intervention and I have not had more than five minutes; it was six minutes to six when I rose to my feet—I should be satisfied, to begin with, if the word "procreation" were omitted and the word "protection" were substituted. In conclusion, I welcome the statement made by the Peel Committee on Abortion with regard to the right of a woman who has been refused an abortion to have recourse to some form of arbitration. It is inhuman for a woman who could have an abortion in another part of the country to be denied one in her home town, because her medical adviser has some religious or other non-scientific objection. If we are to take seriously the world concern regarding pollution and over-population, we cannot afford to be mealy-mouthed about the means whereby this danger to civilisation can be averted. Moreover, this overcrowded country could provide a pattern of behaviour to other nations, for this is a universal problem.


My Lords, may I intervene briefly to appeal to those noble Lords who have still to speak to be very brief indeed? Otherwise, with my noble friend Lord Aberdare rising to reply at 6.35 p.m., some Peers will not be able to speak.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, owing to the grossly overcrowded state of the list of speakers, I shall dispense with pleasantries except to give a passing greeting to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, whose maiden speech has not received the usual tributes. He made a very virile maiden speech, if I may join those two words inappropriately together. I particularly welcome him because the law has this afternoon received a share of those challenging reproaches which the Church sometimes receives from the noble Baroness who has just sat down, although this afternoon it was done with great charm to me personally. I do not know whether I dare use one of my five minutes in trying to discuss the question of the marriage service. To be frank, I think that most parsons have often felt a little uneasy about the strict hierarchy of purposes and the way they are expressed in the preface to the marriage service. But if she is suggesting that procreation is only a rather unimportant sideline of marriage then I feel that she ought to have another think: because, clearly, it is absolutely basic, and its purpose is by no means confined to the protection of the children after they have been born. The whole process of producing children is absolutely part and parcel of the married state, as she knows perfectly well. However, there is not time to argue that further to-day.

Do we need a population policy? We certainly need a population awareness. I believe we have all been brought to think very seriously by the kind of figures which have been produced, and also by this admirable pamphlet Family Planning in Britain, which is so well produced. Indeed, it deceived me, because for many months, or even years, I thought that it was an official publication. I found afterwards that the heading "Office of Health Economics" related to a purely private publication. But this is a magnificent document, and when one looks at these figures and sees a forecast population of 65 million for our country in the year 2000, and of 85 million in the year 2300, one realises that it is a big problem.

It is said that 15 per cent. of the children born are likely for one reason or another, to be unwanted. I sometimes wonder whether the women concerned have been asked the right question. If asked point blank, "Did you desire the birth of this child?", the answer might in many cases be "No". But if asked, "Are you glad that you have got him?", the answer would almost certainly be, "Yes". It is therefore important that the emotional content of the phrase unwanted children" should be very much reduced. Another question that I would ask is whether this island is quite so overcrowded as we sometimes suggest. All I can ever see when I fly over this country is green fields. But of course we know the problem: it is the enormous concentration of the population in the great conurbations. It is a strange thing that, although we seem to have too many people, we always have too few doctors, nurses, technicians, social workers, clergy, teachers; and also, apparently, railway staff. So there are all these different considerations to be brought in when one is thinking about population.

The attitude of the Churches has undergone a steady development in the direction of encouraging responsible family planning. It is some comfort to churchmen, and perhaps a little to the noble Baroness, if we point out that Resolution 115 of the Lambeth Conference of 1958 included the words: …responsible planned parenthood as part of a wise stewardship of the resources and abilities of the family, as well as thoughtful consideration of the varying population needs and problems of society and the claims of future generations ". So, so far as the Lambeth Conference is concerned, for what that is worth, it has been put on record that this is a Christian duty. With regard to methods—because if we will the end we must will the means—I accept in general the kind of proposals that have been made to-day: the wide provision of family planning facilities, the initiative to be taken by maternity hospitals and medical practitioners. I think that all these things should be done. Anything which could postpone marriage for a year or two would be very helpful, although I am not so naïve as not to realise that that would create other problems. But it is a fact that the lowering of the marriage age greatly increases the period of child-bearing which is likely to be available.

The Church will always want to put certain question marks against some of the methods that are used. It will certainly want to assert the freedom of the individual family—father and mother. This is not to be invaded. When clergy have to consult parents who have lost one of two children they often wish that there were two left instead of one. These questions are not quite as simple as sometimes people suggest. No one should suggest that a family of three is in itself anti-social. The occasional threes will have to be balanced by those with either one or none. The Churches have a strong bias against abortion and sterilisation as methods for population control. This is not to say that the processes should be forbidden or not made available, in proper circumstances, for those who need them. But without perhaps having too clear an idea of why, we just have a hunch that this sort of thing as a national policy is too near the kind of irreverent treatment of human nature which we have seen in certain totalitarian States for us ever to be able to welcome it.

I am not going to criticise the Government for not accepting the detail of the proposals of the Select Committee. It is quite a mistake to think that every suggestion of a Select Committee has to be accepted forthwith by every Government. This is a delusion. But, of course, they provide the basis on which discussion goes forward. I think the panel may be equally effective, but it has been a concern of the Churches and the various agencies concerned that the panel should itself be properly and efficiently staffed, and should be able to make proper reports to Parliament in due course. I imagine that that is being provided for, but it certainly is a concern. I do not think I should waste time on any peroration and I will now make way for the next speaker.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I shall endeavour to keep to my time, but I should like for a minute or two to speak of the comparison between the international concern and the British complacency about the matter which we are discussing to-night. The amazing thing, it seems to me, is that the world woke up so late to face this problem. It is almost inconceivable that a debate of this kind would have taken place ten years ago. It is only very recently, in the last few years, that concern has been displayed, apart from a few dreamers and demographers, over the question with which we are all now so deeply concerned. If I had to give a date when the world woke up, I would say that it might have been Human Rights Day in 1966, when twelve Heads of State came to the United Nations and demanded that there should be international action to deal with the problem of world population.

My Lords, they did not come from the rich countries, from the affluent countries: they came from the countries where it is not a matter of debate but a matter of disaster if the population rise continues at the rate at which it is rising to-day in so many parts of the world. They came, and they themselves demanded action. It was not the rich countries who initiated this action: it was the nations of Asia and Africa; and there was also a representative of Latin America. That action was followed up by all the principal Agencies of the United Nations (the Children's Fund and the World Health Organisation have now all taken their part, as well as the Assembly of the United Nations), and the whole cavalcade of international effort is now on the move.

It concerns me, having taken some part in that activity, that I come back to this country to find that another 10 million people are a matter of no great alarm, and that to take one-sixth of the countryside and turn it into roads and suburbs is a matter which apparently my noble friend Lord Zuckerman does not regard with any distaste. I come from a small county where we seem to spend most of our time when I am home—I am not often at home—resisting plans for power stations, the airfields and the great through-roads which are the devastation of our countryside. As a comparison between the international effort and the complete lack of a readiness on our part to speak in terms of real urgency, I would remind your Lordships that the United Nations have declared 1974 to be World Population Year. There will be a World Population Conference, following on the Environment Conference that takes place in Stockholm in June of this year. This is the right procedure, to go from one to the other; and I would claim that the international community has woken up. I would also claim that our own country has notably failed to do so. This has been a remarkable debate. I myself am very late for another commitment, where I ought to be, but I greatly hope to read in to-morrow's papers that this debate was concluded by a rousing statement of a positive policy from Her Majesty's Government.

I would say one other word about what we should do. It is my training and instinct that when there is a problem and you realise the importance of it you should attempt to do something, both on a voluntary basis and in dealing with Governments. I would report that a number of us, from both Parties and from all walks of life, have come together in this country to work for what we call the Count-down Campaign. A year ago we set ourselves the task of raising £1 million in this country before Population Year, so that this country can give some lead in this vital matter on the basis of a voluntary contribution. I am glad to say that the Count-down Campaign has already embarked on a good beginning. But, otherwise, listening to the debate from the different quarters, including what I might describe as the sort of pugnacious complacency of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, I say: what should we do? What do we all want to do? I believe there is a consensus among us all—led, of course, by the noble Lord who has brought this Motion before us to-day.

We believe in freedom. We believe that there should be the means to decide; that there should be the right to decide; that the arrival of children should not be accidental; that a man and woman have a right to decide, and that they ought to be given the means to do so. That is an absolutely straightforward proposition, and all the other talk of what might happen in the future can be set aside. I believe that in this country, and I believe in many other countries, our obligation is to enable the individual to have the right of freedom: that families should not be a matter of chance. They should be not a burden, but a blessing. I believe that the most disgraceful thing in the world is the throwing away by neglect of the most precious thing in the world, which is the capacity of the human personality. I think that we have something which is absolutely clear, and that we have a right, all of us, to call on the Government to act in this matter to make it possible for a free decision to be taken; for the means to be provided to enable people to decide in this matter. The individual has a right in such matters to be free.

I have recently come back from being chairman of the United Nations Commission on Population to Iran. Just for one second, my Lords, let me say that the picture I brought back with me was of a girl in Iran who gets married at 15 and then settles down to non-stop child-bearing until she cannot bear any more. That is the life of a woman in Iran. When the women of Iran first heard of the new policy of the Iran Government, backed by the United Nations, which I am glad to say is now able immediately to come to the help, and the financial help, of any Government that asks it, at first they could not believe it. When they started to hear that they could space their children, and even limit the number, it was a message of emancipation; and it will revolutionise the social life of the Iranis, as it will the lives of those in many other countries. Should we not in this country put our own house in order? Are we ready to pursue a policy of complacency saying that this is something for other people but that we need not worry about it? I think it is right that this country should give some lead in the matter, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give that lead to-night.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for introducing this important debate which deserves "maxi" treatment, and I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, on his maiden speech which reverses the family tradition of twenty years' silence. Pessimists view the interaction of progress, pollution and population as a three-legged race towards disaster. I am an irrational optimist. When last week we discussed development aid for poorer countries, I kept thinking of President Johnson's remark in 1965; that five dollars invested in population control was worth 100 dollars invested in economic growth. Although the statistics of world population (and its increase by 90 million annually projected to the year 2000) are so gloomy, no one would advocate compulsion for family limitation. Determining family size must rest on individual freedom. I have a simple formula that a woman has the human right to have as many or as few children as she wants. I believe that this would be a step in the direction of checking population growth. Ironically, the massive demand for abortions by respectable wives and mothers proves that many women are in favour of limiting their families for many reasons. The punishing attitude of society towards woman still persists to this day. She must pay for her pleasures by producing children that she does not want. Even Sir John Peel, the Queen's gynæcologist, in a good speech advocating a comprehensive birth control programme under the National Health Service, was indignant that women should seek an abortion for social reasons.

My Lords, there are 300,000 or more unwanted pregnancies a year. Half of that number, 150,000, result in unwanted children. Is it a crime for a woman to wish to preserve her health and beauty?—for although there are exceptions, frequent child-bearing takes a toll of both. What is so wonderful about mothers alone, about fatherless children and children in care or even just unwanted children? Abortion, I believe, is the least desirable form of contraception to improve the individuality and lot of many mothers. Up to now birth control advice has been promoted and contraceptive services supplied mostly by voluntary organizations, mainly by the Family Planning Association. The 1967 Family Planning Act, which empowered local authorities to provide free contraception advice has used the Family Planning Association extensively; but it is sad that only about one-third of the local authorities in Britain have taken advantage of the powers under the Act. The Family Panning Association has only charitable status, as my nobe friend Lord Gardiner has said. It has to raise funds and is currently trying to raise £1 million by its campaign called "Countdown". The Family Planning Association has been one of the greatest benefactors for women in this century and deserves generous help.

Another body, Birth Control Campaign, whose chairman is Lord Gardiner, has been set up as a new national organisation to urge on the Government the comprehensive provision of birth control as an integral part of the National Health Service and to spread information and education and to encourage research on all aspects of birth control. For it is only the Government, working through their Health Service visitors and using their domiciliary services, who can reach the women who need the advice most—the uneducated who are shy of sophisticated contraceptive knowledge. When considering the need for a population policy, we might note that one-third of the homeless families in Britain have three or more children and that 30 per cent. of the 160,000 people living at supplementary benefit level have three or more children. The cost of a population policy is not outrageous. On the National Health Service it would be about £40 to £60 million a year. But it is not so much the cost of unwanted children to the State but the cost in human hardship and misery.

Finally, we help and advise the poorer countries to try to limit their populations. There I disagree with my noble friend Lord Caradon; I think that we do a great deal in this respect. But, as he said, we cannot preach birth control without practising it. We can limit the exploitation of the environment, we can have industrial growth and try to equalise the distribution of world resources, but if at the same time we do not curb our human numbers our survival is threatened.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, it is not as a mater of conventional courtesy that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, with deep gratitude for having raised this matter. He gave the House two figures: 1½ million acres of agricultural land taken out of cultivation by the end of the century and an extra 11 million people to support. I should like to make two points before turning to his remedies: first, the immense cost of New Towns in this country which increases the national debt; and, second, the apparent mystery of the Government, being continually lambasted because they do not do anything about high unemployment. How can you have full employment in face of the perpetual efforts being made by scientific development to put more people out of work? On the remedies, I am not interested in these scientific and surgical methods of restricting the population. They all appear to interfere with the liberty of the individual—but I leave those matters to others better informed than I am.

The second point made by the noble Lord concerned immigration. While we are paying 1 million people to do nothing, why are we permitting this astonishing rate of immigration into this country, much of it by people with ethnic origins different from our own? Surely that will not be regarded as to our credit in the future.

The other point the noble Lord made was on migration. There was a spirit of adventure and ambition which actuated this country through the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Fortunately, we have in the past assisted emigration to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa—and here I must declare an interest, for I have for long been a member of the 1820 Settlers Committee which, as your Lordships will know, has been encouraging the migration of British people to Africa for 150 years. It is encouraging migration because it carries the advantage of projecting the British image into those countries where they have ample space to receive them instead of overcrowding a country like ours which, with the exception of Holland and Taiwan, is the most densely populated in the world. I know that my noble friend will probably reply that we have not been asked for assistance for migration to places where as my noble friend said there should be a generous flow which would reduce the accretion of population here. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend in reply will be able to tell us that the question of migration is not outside the thoughts of the Government in this important question and I hope, too, that they will regard it as a matter of urgency.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, because I want very much to hear what the Minister and the Government have to say I shall be brief. I want to reinforce certain points which have been effectively made but which I think should be repeated because they are inescapable. I am not going to get into the "numbers game". We have been talking of the astonishing figures of growth and I am not going to argue as to what should be the optimum population of this country or of the world. But I do know what its abuse means to the possibilities and amenities of the country—and that happens to us as well as to the rest of the world. Therefore what we are talking about is not something which you can measure and number with precision. We all admit that demographers can be wrong. The trouble is that they are always wrong on the wrong side. The results are always inescapably greater than what was predicted.

I remember in the 1930s when the Twilight of Parenthood, written in this country by Enid Charles (whose husband was Professor Hogben) lamented the fact that the population in this country was going to diminish. The families of the intellectuals were decreasing. The trouble started, as Professor Hogben pointed out, with the introduction of bedside reading lamps. It is a quite futile exercise; over the years I have watched the demographers of the United Nations bringing together the predictions of the world; they are always far short of what is the truth. The reason is simple: the censuses in the countries throughout the world improve and then we discover that there were more people there than had been estimated. This is something that we have to face.

As one concerned with science I hesitate to say this, but we shall not find the ultimate objective means of assessing this problem; the situation will always vary because of the circumstances. What we know—and I am going to use a hackneyed term—is that the quality of life is being destroyed by the quantity of people. I suggest, as I have suggested to the Family Planning Association and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, that we should make it clear that what we are doing is not conducting a war against children; we are not trying to prevent children from being born. What we are saying is: have the children that you want and do not have the children you do not want. I can assure you that if you look at the figures, which we can discuss in depth, the answer will come up fairly square. If only people had the children that they wanted—if some parents have one child, others three or four children—in the end the matter will balance out.

I will conclude with one story about ignorance and the education of women. I apologise to my noble friend Lady Summerskill—I am not trying to teach women how to have babies. There is the story of the woman who had her fifteenth child. The doctor said, "Mrs. Murphy, you must not have any more children because if you do your health will be destroyed." She said, "Don't worry doctor; Pat and I have discovered how it happens!"

6.34 p.m.


My Lards. I am extremely grateful to your Lordships for your kindness in allowing me to rise to my feet two minutes before I had made my deadline. May I express particular gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, who has not been able to be heard at all in this debate. I know that we should have liked to hear what he was going to say. I hope that your Lordships will acquit me of any discourtesy if my reply is not as long or as full as I should have liked it to be. I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said when she said that this ought to have been a maxi-debate. It is a subject of such intense interest that it is impossible for me to do full justice to it in a quarter of an hour. I will read the debate through carefully, and if there are any points on which I can answer questions I will write to the noble Lords concerned.

I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Vernon in winning the ballot. I believe that this is the second time that he has won it, this time on a date convenient to him to have the debate. I would also make particular mention of an excellent maiden speech that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. I hope he will not have been too upset by the noble Baroness, who was somewhat fierce towards him. I can assure the noble Lord that when he has been in this House a little longer he will know that her bark is a good deal worse than her bite.

This is a subject which has caused a great deal of concern, both in this country and throughout the world. A large number of issues, many of them extremely complex, have been raised in this debate. Several of your Lordships, the noble Lords, Lord Hacking and Lord Caradon, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, said something about the problems of the rapidly increasing population in the developing world where the rate of increase is such a threat to the prospect of raising standards of living and income per head. I am sure that many of your Lordships will know that this country has played, and is continuing to play, a leading part in efforts to help remedy this situation. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, who is not now in his place, that this country will participate fully and support World Population Year and the conference.

I do not wish to spend any time talking any further about world population problems—important as they are—because this debate has been specifically directed at the problem in this country. In the developing countries population growth and poverty are closely connected. Of the utmost importance to them (if I may put it this way) is the quantity of life. In this country it is the quality of life which is giving rise to concern. The issues for us therefore are very different. In terms of income per head we are rich; but we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world. On the other hand our rate of increase is relatively small, somewhere about half of one per cent. a year, compared to over two per cent. in the world as a whole. We are worried about factors that the less developed countries cannot yet afford to be worried about: pollution, congestion, overcrowding and similar problems. We have to bear in mind that population projections are often unreliable. They depend on assumptions about future trends in birth rates, marriage rates, family size and mortality which may prove to be inaccurate. Several of your Lordships—I remember particularly the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder—have said that these figures were underestimates, but I think it is right to recall that it was thought in the mid-1960s that our population might reach 75 million in the year 2000; whereas the latest estimates put this figure at 66 million, and the number of births continues to decline.

In the first 14 weeks of 1972 there were a total of 207,266 births registered compared with a total of 228,303 in the corresponding period of 1971. This means a weekly average of births more than 1,000 below the corresponding period of last year, and this is a reduction which is a continuation of the trend that started about the middle of 1971. The interesting point that I am trying to make about it is that this is despite the fact that the young women who were born in 1947, when the birth rate was at its highest level since the war, are now in the middle of their reproductive period and one would have expected that births would be rising, whereas in fact they are falling. I make this point, not to be complacent but just to emphasise that predictions and projections are not always entirely accurate. There are indeed some difficult problems here, and I listened with great interest to what I thought was a very wise speech on this subject from the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman. He touched on one particular point which he emphasised, about the fertility rate, and on that point I would just reply to him that I will certainly see that the Population Panel consider it. That is well within their terms of reference. Obviously it is a point of extreme importance and I undertake to let the Panel know what he has said.

These are questions that are very difficult to resolve, such as what do we mean by the quality of life? To what extent are our problems caused by population growth and to what extent by increasing affluence and technological development? What, if any, objective criteria can be set for determining an optimum population? Should we be able to feed and employ an increasing population? If so, for how long? Do developments in the rest of the world have implications for the size of our population? And in the light of the answers to all these questions, what policies should the Government adopt? Another consideration to which I should expect your Lordships to attach very great importance—it is certainly important to me and I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester mention it so strongly—is what policies are consistent with the maintenance of individual liberty to choose family size? My Lords, I have slight apprehensions on this point as I have to plead guilty to a family of four children, and I know that 2.1 is the fashionable figure.

There are no easy answers, my Lords, and because of this, and in response to the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the Government decided that it would be right to set up a small Population Panel to assess the available evidence about the significance of population growth in this country. Many of your Lordships have mentioned this Panel. I can only say that it has in its terms of reference to report within one year. That runs from December, 1971, and therefore the Report will be received this year. The noble Baroness, Lady Scrota, asked about publication. The Report will be made to Ministers, but naturally we shall consider sympathetically the suggestion that it should be published.

My Lords, a number of other points have been made relating mainly to population growth and family planning. We have sought to encourage family planning. The rate support grant has allowed for trebling the local authority expenditure on family planning between 1970–71 and 1972–73 to a total of £2½ million, and a further £170,000 was approved in 1971–72 in England and Wales through the Urban Programme on Family Planning. This encouragement that we are giving to family planning is not in any way directly aimed at the control of the growth of population, but at the well-being of the family itself, regardless of its size. We recognise, as so many of your Lordships have in this debate, the importance of preventing the birth of unwanted children. We realise that unwanted children may well come to find themselves living in unsatisfactory homes and are more likely to end up with social problems. We are in no doubt at all that contraception is better than abortion, and that is why—this is the only answer I can give; I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, will find it satisfactory—we are at present engaged in a wide-ranging review of family planning policy in the light of medical and also economic advice.

We shall have available surveys into attitudes to family planning now being carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the Institute for Social Studies and Medical Care, and of course we shall also take into account several recent studies on the subject, such as a Birth Control Plan for Britain published by the Birth Control Campaign of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, is, as he said, the reluctant President, and Unplanned Pregnancy—which has also been mentioned in this debate—a recent report by a Working Party of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other such reports.

There have been many voices in the debate urging that family planning should be provided free within the National Health Service. My Lords, this is certainly one of the options we should be looking at, but I would just suggest that obviously it has to be objectively studied and the cost balanced against the effectiveness. We are anxious to prevent, as all your Lordships have said, as many unwanted births as we can; but we do not know how many occur for financial reasons alone. We do know that they often occur for a host of other reasons, and this is why we think it right to judge carefully whether the expenditure of many millions of pounds for free family planning would be more effective than money spent on domiciliary services, the development of clinics and the provision of services through general practitioners. I make these points only because I am anxious to establish that we have the same end in view, but we want to be sure that the money is spent in the most effective way.

In the meantime, our immediate priority for Government effort and money is to help those in particular need of family planning, especially those who may find it difficult to obtain or follow advice. To this end we have given considerable encouragement to domiciliary schemes. In 1972–73, domiciliary services are expected to operate at some levels in over 100 local authority areas in England. This expenditure is five times that of 1970–71. In addition to our current grant of £20,000 per annum to family planning associations for training clinic staff, we have also made another grant of £10,000 in 1971–72 and £40,000 in 1972–73 to run special training courses for health visitors.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the health visitor is a very important person in this field and is in the best position to give family planning advice to the family in their own home. For this reason, we have backed these courses for health visitors. We have also made a further grant of £54,000 to the Family Planning Association for a special research project in Runcorn and Coalville where they will run an extensive campaign with full evaluation of the results. At present we work, necessarily, mainly through the local authorities who have responsibility for family planning. I would assure the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, that all local authorities are now providing a family planning service direct themselves or through the Family Planning Association, with the one exception of the Isles of Scilly. If the noble Baroness has any friends who go to the Isles of Scilly she will have more influence than I. My Lords, with the reorganisation of the National Health Service in 1974, family planning will become part of the new Service and undoubtedly there will be a better opportunity for a fully co-ordinated policy.

I must bring my remarks to an end. This has been a very useful and valuable short debate. May I say also to my noble friend that I think it has been a timely one because it is at this moment that we are considering the implications of population growth and that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is engaged on a thorough review of family planning policy. I am grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part in it.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, it only remains for me very briefly to thank those noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I would also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, on his maiden speech. I thought the point he made about delinquency and its relationship to population density was a very important one. I greatly regret that the speeches have had to be rushed. I know how frustrating this is to noble Lords, and I would have wished that we could have had a full debate. Unfortunately, I had to settle for a mini-debate or nothing. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, should have been denied the opportunity to speak. As my noble friend Lord Aberdare, said, this has been a most interesting debate. There are many points that I should have liked to take up. I should have liked to cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, on a number of points, but time does not permit me to do so. However, if this debate has helped to impress upon the Government to even a small extent the urgency of having a policy about population I personally, and I hope everyone else, will consider that it has been well worth while. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.