HL Deb 21 March 1974 vol 350 cc369-72

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to support World Population Year in 1974.


Her Majesty's Government intend to co-operate fully with the United Nations in helping to to make a success of World Population Year, and we shall seek to play a full part in the World Population Conference at Bucharest from August 19 to 30.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but may I ask him two questions arising from it? The first is short: will the Government be represented by a senior Minister at this very important international Conference in Bucharest? Secondly, are the Government aware that the problems created by the present economic and fuel crises are likely to pale into insignificance compared with the problems that will arise when the world population doubles itself within the next 35 years? Will the Government, as a token of their support for World Population Year, bring to the attention of the British people the full facts about the world population explosion and the consequences for a country such as ours which imports more than half its food and feedingstuffs? Will the Government particularly bring these facts to the attention of the younger section of society so that appropriate action can be taken?


My Lords, in regard to the noble Lord's first question I can say that the Government attach very great importance to this Conference. I cannot say yet whether there will be a senior Minister in attendance or who the representative may be, but I take note of the noble Lord's point. As for the problems of the developing countries, about which he spoke, we are of course fully aware of the difficulties. But I am sure the noble Lord will agree that it would be quite wrong for Her Majesty's Government, or any other Western country, to seek to impose a particular view as to what should be done to deal with the population problems of many of those countries. However, we should naturally be willing to respond to any requests that may be received from them. As for the question about the young people in this country, that is a matter which the Government have under review. The Government have been in Office only some two weeks and it is a matter which will need careful consideration, but I will certainly take note of the noble Lord's suggestion.


My Lords, is it not the case in this country that the birthrate is going down and needs to be increased?


My Lords, I have seen conflicting views on this matter. I have not yet had an opportunity of seeing the true figures.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is perfectly possible to have a declining birthrate at the same time as an expanding population, and that that is in fact what we have in this country at the present time when the population is going up by 150,000 a year?


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for answering his own question.


My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government think that one contribution we might quite easily make to this Population Year would be to replace in the National Health Service the free contraception service which was approved with such large all-Party majorities in this House in the last Session?


My Lords, I am well aware of the two occasions when that happened, and I am sure that the present Government will have taken note of your Lordships' view about this matter.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say which Minister in the new Government is responsible for population matters?


My Lords, I cannot do so at present, but I hope that a statement will be made shortly.


My Lords, in supporting the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, as I share his views on the population question, may I ask whether it would it be true to say that the rising population in poorer countries, which is a real obstacle to their development, has been made much worse by the oil embargo? I have not noticed that there has been a stampede by the sheikhs in Arab countries to help their brothers and cousins in the poorer development countries.


My Lords, I think that the latter part of my noble friend's question went slightly wide of the original Question, but I take note of her observations.


My Lords, without implying any disagreement with the subject, or overlooking the deep knowledge of my noble friend's Question, may I ask the noble Lord whether, in view of the figures put out showing the aid given by the Overseas Development Agency last year (or the budget for it) he can give any indication of the manner of assessing of priorities for expenditure with the U.N. under this head, as against other matters of deep present concern, such as the hijacking of aircraft or terrorism? In view of the new Government's intention can he say under what Vote the O.D.A. will be in future?


My Lords, I should like notice of the noble Lord's first question in order to answer him. Regarding his second, I think it comes under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


My Lords, may I inform the Leader of the House that, so far as I am aware, the world population will have doubled in 25 years. With due respect to my noble friend behind me, I think he has his statistics wrong?


My Lords, this again is one of the problems of dealing with figures, as many economists have found.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain my noble friend, but may I ask him whether, in addition to giving general support to the Population Year and the Conference, he will use his influence to get the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to appoint a working party to prepare proposals for that Conference to deal with the grave issue of food supplies in view of the greater world population?


Yes, my Lords.