HL Deb 21 February 1979 vol 398 cc1839-70

4.4 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, I, too, must join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for introducing the debate on this important subject of population control. I should like also to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, that it is not that the world is short of resources: it is that we have somehow or other failed to get those resources to the right place at the right time. However, I must disagree with some of the ideas which have been proposed to help this situation. The International Planned Parenthood Federation, which no doubt will be closely involved in the Colombo Conference, has interests far beyond the provision of family planning services to overburdened families in the underdeveloped countries. It has a strategy of legal reforms on matters such as the family, divorce, sterilisation, abortion, sex education and so on. This strategy it seeks to implement through family planning associations in various countries and it has a Government grant of £3 million.

As examples of some of the ideas that have been put forward, I should like to quote from a chart prepared by Frederick S. Jaffe, vice-president of Planned Parenthood World Population, a member-body of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Table 1 is headed: Example of proposed measures to reduce US fertility by universality or selectivity of impact". I apologise for the rather long words involved there. Under the heading of "Universal impact" Mr. Jaffe lists as "social constraints" the following: Restructure family (a) postpone or avoid marriage; (b) alter image of ideal family". Next comes a heading referring to the compulsory education of children, followed by: Percentage increased homosexuality, educate for family limitation, healthy control agents in water supply". Then there is a heading referring to economic deterrents which include the following: Require women to work and provide few child-care facilities". Under the heading of "Social controls", Mr. Jaffe puts forward these suggestions: Compulsory abortion of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; compulsory sterilisation of all who have two children except for a few who would be allowed three; confine childbearing to only a limited number of adults; stock certificate-type permits for children". The source is given as: Frederick S. Jaffe Activities Relevant to the Study of Population Policy /or the US: Memorandum to Bernard Berelson, March 11, 1969". I am not suggesting that all or any of these suggestions form part of the present policy of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, although some of them may well do so, but I would ask the Government, when the question of the grant to the IPPF comes up, to look closely at their strategy for legal reforms.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount finishes, may I just ask who is Mr. Jaffe?

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, Mr. Jaffe, as I said, is vice-president of Planned Parenthood World Population, a member-body of the IPPF.

4.8 p.m.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

My Lords, my excuse for taking part in this debate, apart from the intrinsic importance of the subject under discussion, is that I have had some first-hand experience of population and development problems in countries in the developing world where those problems are particularly acute. I lived for three years in West Africa and had at one time ministerial responsibility for India, where I recently spent a most interesting visit trying to bring myself up to date with its population and development problems. India and West Africa unfortunately have this in common: they both include many of the world's poorest of the poor and are both faced by an explosive population situation. I therefore welcome the substance and timing of the noble Lord's Motion, as well as the powerful and intensely humane speech in which he moved it.

The impact of the population explosion on millions of our fellow men can only be mitigated as time goes on if Governments can be persuaded to take urgent action now. But Governments, as we all know, will not act unless there is strong pressure from parliamentary or public opinion. The international parliamentary pressure group to which the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, belongs, is therefore, in my view, performing a most useful service, both here and in all the other countries where it is represented. I should like in my very few remarks—I shall not take up more than my fair share of time—to advert upon some of the matters which I hope will be on the agenda of the programme for international action which will be before the Colombo Conference in August.

I do not think that any of us can have an easy conscience, until we are satisfied that everything possible is being done to reduce the "absolute poverty" in certain parts of Africa and Asia, described by Mr. Robert McNamara, the President of the World Bank, in his foreword to the report of the World Bank on World Development in 1978. It is a horrifying thought that, owing to this population explosion, we shall not be able to eliminate—we can only hope, at best, to reduce—the number of those who will still be living in these inhuman conditions of absolute poverty, as Mr. NcNamara described them, at the end of the century.

Even this alleviation of the direst poverty will depend upon a combination between a much faster rate of economic growth, and a more effective drive for family limitation in the developing countries. The extent of malnutrition and possible famine before the end of the century in the developing world, will be measured by the pace of economic development and population control. The faster they both proceed, the sooner will the poorest countries reach a tolerable standard of living, and conversely. What we, therefore, have to consider is what we can do as parliamentarians in this country to influence policies for accelerated economic development, accompanied by family limitation.

To take, first, the question of family limitation, a rapid decline in the birthrate in developing countries from 40 or more per 1,000, as it is at the moment, to 20 per 1,000 or less is possible only if people really want to reduce the size of their families, and if their efforts are supported and encouraged by Government policies. A remarkable change from the pattern of the 1960s, both in Government policies and in human attitudes towards family size, will be necessary if we are to make a substantial reduction in world population increase in the next 20 years. Only about half the Governments in Latin America and Asia support family planning, and less than half of the African Governments South of the Sahara. But even in these countries there is an increasing awareness of the urgent need for population control.

The main difficulty, of course, is in persuading people to have small families, and the greater their poverty the more children they want to have. I found when I was living in Africa, that the high mortality rate among infants and children obliged their parents to have large families, in the hope that enough children would survive to become adults and, at the same time, to become breadwinners. If they had girls, they went on until they had sons. In the extended African family, each male child became an insurance policy against destitution.

How can we help to find an incentive to have smaller families. Propaganda from Government or private sources is not enough, while people continue to live in extreme poverty. There must first be a substantial improvement in their conditions of life. This means, of course, public health services and Government revenue to provide them, as well as a regular job and a larger family income. The alternative of compulsion was tried out for a short time in India, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has reminded us, and has resulted in a severe setback for the Government of India's family planning programme. I was told when I was in India that the number of families visiting clinics has been halved in those States where compulsion has been introduced. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles—I am glad to find something in her speech with which I entirely agree—that there can be no doubt that people should be allowed to decide for themselves about family size.

But there is also need for birth control devices that are both more efficient, and more likely to be psychologically acceptable. One of the main obstacles to the spread of contraception has been the difficulty of finding a method that is both generally acceptable and effective. The All India Institute of Medical Research, which I visited when I was in New Delhi, has recently discovered a contraceptive vaccine for mass use, which is certainly a step forward. But the resources of the industrial countries for medical research are so much greater than those of the developing countries, that this is surely a field in which we, and other industrial countries, ought to help.

I should like to ask the Government to allocate a proportion of whatever grant is made for medical research, specifically for research into methods of contraception. This is a task that deserves a very high priority in all contemporary scientific research and development programmes. My noble friend Lord Peart, in his capacity as Lord President, is also chairman of the Cabinet Committee which deals with research and development, and I hope that he will take note of this suggestion. I should also like to support the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, that the Government should give more money for family planning.

But the other factor which I regard as no less important than population control is more rapid economic development in the developing world. This will require for these countries a balanced development of industry and agriculture, with the main emphasis on agriculture, which will have to produce enough food to sustain a vast increase—and an increase is inevitable—in world population. Such a rapid transformation of countries that still depend mainly on traditional farming will be possible only if there is a massive transfer of capital technology from the developed to the developing world, through private investment, international trade and public finance, such as loans, capital grants, technical aid and so on.

I think that the best augury for the future relationship between what is sometimes referred to as the northern and the southern hemispheres, and for the abandonment of present adversarial attitudes, is their growing awareness of economic interdependence. The North provides capital for the South, but the South provides markets for the exports of the North. And who are we to neglect any opportunity for export markets? It is a striking fact that in the last 25 years, as Mr. McNamara's report of the World Bank pointed out, developing countries have emerged as a major market for the manufactured exports of the industrial countries.

When we recognise this interdependence, we perceive the extent to which the future of each nation, North and South, is bound up with the future of all. It makes us realise the necessity for a North/South partnership, based on a shared vision of the common task. This common task is to preserve and extend industrial civilisation as a whole, by bringing forward to full modernisation the latecomers from the South, while enabling the early arrivals of the North to continue on the path of economic growth.

I have one last sentence which is addressed to putting forward, very tentatively, a suggestion for your Lordships' consideration. Is this not a matter that might be worth referring to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House for examination and for a report? The reports of your Lordships' Select Committees are widely read, not only by members of both Houses but by the public generally, and your Lordships may agree that this is a matter of such world importance that it is worthy of examination and report by a Select Committee.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join other speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for putting down this Motion today and for allowing this important subject to be debated. Owing to the juxtaposition of our names, we often get our post and our coats muddled up, so it is a great pleasure to take part in a debate that he has opened. It is a very important subject, and it is also a very highly controversial one. There are very different religious views on contraception and abortion, and I am very pleased that my own church—the Church of England—takes a view which I regard as highly responsible on this vexed and social question. I think that what unites the churches in this field is that they all agree on the importance of responsible parenthood, and the vitally important role of an informed public opinion. There is disagreement within the Roman Catholic Church, and, with great diffidence, I must express some slight regret that the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench chose to represent one version of Roman Catholic teaching in this particular field which I should have thought would not appeal to the great majority of practising Catholics in the United Kingdom.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene for one moment, I must inform the House, since the noble Lord has raised the matter, that I am not a Roman Catholic. I am a member of the same Church as he is—Anglican.


My Lords, that is very welcome news, which makes the views of the noble Baroness even more bizarre, if I may say so. The information which the noble Baroness presented was ably dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. The facts are absolutely indisputable. During the last 25 years when I have been visiting the developing countries on business concerned with economic development, we have become completely aware that the pressing problems of world population are, in country after country, continually outstripping anything that the growth of conventional capital or the advances in new technology can possibly meet.

I was particularly shattered during my last visit to Bangladesh, a country to which I have gone from time to time during the last 25 years, to realise that the population of Bangladesh has now completely outstripped any conceivable means of dealing with the economic and social problems of that country. Once we have seen the utter and the terrible degradation of the people of Bangladesh, even to imagine that in our lifetime or in the lifetime of our children there will be scientific advances which will enable those people to be brought out of degradation unless some effort is made to control population, is, I genuinely believe, a counsel of utter despair to offer to the people of the poor countries of the world.

I have a particular interest in the problems of education and rural development in the countries of the Third World. That is why I have been going to those countries to try to study the problems and to see what help international agencies can give to them. During the course of those visits and that study, I have come to the view—which is held by most people who have studied the question in any depth—that if there is to be economic development in the countries of the Third World the crucial question is the role of women. Women are absolutely the central part of the labour force in the villages dealing with agriculture. Also, they are the means by which children are educated; and, of course, they bring up their families.

One of the reasons why I feel so strongly that we have to give to the governments of poor countries whatever help we possibly can in the field of family control and education about family size is because it is in this area that the status of women can most rapidly be raised. The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, pointed out very clearly and succinctly that the moment when women cease to be regarded just as breeding machines and are raised to the full dignity which they have achieved in countries like our own, the sooner we shall see progress in all fields of education, and economic development and social advance. My own view is that the question of family planning is fundamentally linked to the dignity and status of half the human race; namely, women. I feel very strongly that everything that we in this country can do to help international agencies to raise the status of women and at the same time push the cause of responsible family planning will lead to economic and social development in many countries.

This is a sensitive and difficult area, and I feel very conscious of the fact that we are seeing both advances and a falling back in this field. We have the tremendous success story of Singapore. We have the desperate failure of the country of Bangladesh, not through its own fault but through the civil war in Pakistan and the problems which have overwhelmed that part of the world. We have had the relative success story, so far as one can understand it, of China. We have had success in some parts of India. But the question which is of crucial importance in all of these countries is how to raise the status of women.

The really quite frightening thing which one has seen in recent years—particularly, perhaps, in the recent events which have been drawn to our attention by the crisis in Iran and by the visit of the Royal Family to the Arab States—is the way in which, in substantial parts of the world, the status of women, far from advancing, is sinking. That seems to me to be something which is not only reprehensible on the grounds of human dignity but quite alarming from the point of view of economic and social development, more generally speaking. I must apologise to the noble Baroness on the Front Bench opposite if I accused her of belonging to the wrong faith. However, I was slightly unnerved by the kind of arguments which she produced, arguments which I have heard produced many times by opponents of family planning and which, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, seem to be fundamentally misconceived.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, if tomorrow the noble Lord will kindly read what I said very carefully, he will find that I did not oppose responsible family planning at any point in my speech.


My Lords, what I objected to was, first, that during the time that the Party of the noble Baroness was in Government and during the time she has been on the Front Bench, she has seen different speculations as to the size of the United Kingdom population in the year 2000 and has cast doubts upon demography generally. It seems to me that that is an irresponsible view, since we now know, because of the number of children actually existing in the world, the likely dimensions of the world's population in the year 2000 or 2020. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, pointed out, the exact figures do not matter so much as the fact that there will be an overwhelming increase in numbers. Secondly, the noble Baroness pointed out that only something like 5 per cent. of the surface of the earth is inhabited. You only have to get into an aeroplane to see that most of the rest of the world consists of desert and mountain ranges. Since I have spent a great deal of time travelling in poorer countries and trying to help the poor people in those countries, that kind of attitude makes me feel very disturbed and upset. That is the part of the speech of the noble Baroness about which I was particularly distressed.

May I revert to the point which was the only reason why I put down my name to speak, the point to which I want to draw your Lordships' attention. The crucial question in economic and social development is not so much family planning as the status of women; and that, in my view, is intimately connected with responsible family planning.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for his perseverance in keeping his name in the ballot for short debates and I congratulate him on being successful in bringing this matter before the House. As he said, I am the chairman of the British parliamentary group, which is one of the many international parliamentary working groups on population and development.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, will probably be surprised to learn how swiftly this movement has spread throughout the Parliaments of the world. The acceptance so speedily of the opportunity that this movement offers to parliamentarians to have, on an all-party basis in their respective Parliaments, a meeting ground, a focal point for the study of the population problems not only of their own country but of others as well, has astonished me. It began a year ago last December when delegations came to this country from the Congress of the United States, the Federal Parliament of Canada and from Japan. They came to London to engage our interest in the movement which they had resolved, in a separate, informal gathering, to promote. We went from here to Bonn and, as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, mentioned, a preliminary conference took place in Tokyo last March and the Sri Lanka Conference to take place at Colombo at the end of August this year is the outcome, within a little over a year, of this remarkable growth of parliamentary interest in this subject.

What has happened in the last 12 months would have been impossible 10 years ago. There were too many obstacles, too much controversy in the way of getting national groups to come together in this way. The United Nations itself had great difficulty in getting population and allied matters brought before the General Assembly. But it was refreshing to find that this step taken a year ago was inspired by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and they and the Inter-Parliamentary Union are the sponsors of the conference to be held in Colombo next August.

This, for the first time, offers the opportunity to Parliamentarians everywhere of having national parliamentary studies and international parliamentary studies on this subject. Previously the point of entry has been between voluntary organisations of one kind and another and Governments. Rarely have Parliaments been engaged in active consideration of these matters. I think our problem at Colombo later this year will be to control the size of the conference, so many parliamentary groups wish to come and to send so many to the conference itself. However, I think this is a remarkable development, and a very welcome one, and I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, that events are sweeping over her head. They are just engulfing the arguments that she put forward to us this afternoon.

Take, as a simple example, Japan. After the war when the Japanese, who had spread their influence and their people over Manchuria, over the whole of South-East Asia, all went back home, it confronted that country soon after the war with a most frightening population problem. We know that pressures of population can be at the root of international discord and war. The Japanese decided that the only way in which to control the population growth as quickly as was needed was by induced abortions. Well over a million a year of induced abortions were taking place in Japan. No other country in the world has been faced with the prospect of having to deal with its population pressure in that ruthless way. This was not interference from anybody else; it was something which the Japanese did for themselves. Small wonder, then, that the delegation from Japan was very keen indeed on spreading this opportunity for inter-parliamentary action.

The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, referred to the Year of the Child and the debate which we had last week. What surprised me about that debate was how little stress was laid upon the fact that one way of improving the lot of the children of the world is to have fewer of them. There is no question whatever about that. When we consider the position in India, reference has been made to the objectionable methods which were employed by Mrs. Gandhi's emergency Government for vasectomy in India, which proved politically explosive and probably counterproductive. But that country was faced, and still is, with 26 million children who are bearing traces of malnutrition and infection. We talk about the Year of the Child, and in the recent debate we were putting forward new ideas for improving the happiness and the condition of children in this country. By comparison with the state of affairs in India, we are of course extremely lucky people and our children are very fortunate indeed.

Very shortly there will be a steering committee of this international movement holding an interim conference in Mexico. I am going to refer to Mexico because that is a country recently visited by the Pope and by the President of the United States of America. When the noble Baroness asks the question, "Why should the developed countries interfere with the population of the underdeveloped countries?" I would stress in that connection that there was no interference necessary with what has happened in Mexico. Mexico is the most populous of the 19 Spanish-speaking countries in South America and it used to be bastion of the traditional pro-natalist views of the once under-populated Catholic countries. Today it has one of the most comprehensive family planning programmes ever developed by a Government. They set a demographic goal to reduce the population growth from over 3 per cent. a few years ago to 2.5 per cent. by the end of 1982. To achieve that they will need to get over 8½ million women of fertile age into the programme as acceptors of contraceptive practice by the end of 1982. Figures released last year for the first year of the programme showed that over 850,000 women—90 per cent. of the target for the first year—had become new acceptors of contraception and family planning.

While official policy looks no further ahead than 1982, the Government of Mexico are speaking about reducing the population growth to 1.8 per cent. by 1988, 1.3 per cent. by 1994 and finally to 1 per cent. in the year 2000. It is only by a programme of that magnitude that Mexico is likely to keep down the population growth from its present 62 million to no more than 100 million by the turn of the century. This means that family planning size must be a norm of the two-child family.

The consequences of failure could be very grave indeed. Why did President Carter go to Mexico? One reason was to see whether the Americans could come to some satisfactory arrangement to use Mexican oil. New discoveries of enormous importance and value to Mexico, and indeed to the world at large, have been made, but another reason why he went to Mexico was to deal with the very difficult problem of the illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States, running at the present time at between half a million and a million a year. We may all have seen on the television the suggestion that they might have to build a new edition of the Berlin Wall, a huge wire netting arrangement—probably imported from Australia where they use it to control rabbits—as a means of preventing people from crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States of America.

I would say myself that during the next 20 years peace between the United States and Mexico will depend on finding solutions to those two problems which are at present the source of considerable friction between them. And here I think we have to take note of the fact that during the Pope's recent visit to Mexico he will have been made aware of the national population policy and of the most comprehensive birth control programme of any country in the world today.

This is not interference. Nobody has interfered with the freedom of Mexico. A third of the economic activity and of the population is in Mexico City and in its environs, and nobody can see any solution to the problem of poverty and deprivation, bad housing and disease, unless there is something done to control the population. Indeed, Sri Lanka, the country to which the conference is going at the end of August, has its ethnic, religious and political difficulties over economic policy and is confronted with the problems of a beautiful fertile island which no longer produces enough food to feed its own people. These are the facts of life. It is not a question of the developed countries trying to induce other countries to solve their problems in a particular way, but of international conferences, with exchanges of view, economic appraisals, studies of social problems, consideration of the various techniques of a contraceptive nature for the control of population; all these matters are of great importance to all the countries concerned.

My Lords, I will conclude my remarks with a blatant commercial, because this Group of which I have the honour to be chairman is the British Parliamentary Group and it consists of Members of both Houses of Parliament and of all the Parties. We think we are doing a good job by not only taking part in this new movement but providing a good deal of inspiration and energy for it, and I sincerely hope that Members of your Lordships' House will wish to know more about what we are doing and be anxious to participate at our periodical meetings, when we have the opportunity of meeting leading speakers from different parts of the world on this subject. That, at any rate, does provide us with the foundation for taking our part in this new, and I believe vitally important, movement.

I think the future of the world will be grave indeed if there is not a universal effort to control the human population. I do not believe that the happiness of the world will be found in a human infestation of our planet, gobbling up, frequently for an affluent standard of life rather than for basic necessities, the finite resources of the world. I think this is a grave challenge confronting us all. We have to have vision about this; we have to try to foresee the future. Otherwise, I think our neglect will lead to grave problems for the children whose future welfare and happiness we are trying to promote in the Year of the Child. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord's Motion this afternoon will be an encouragement to us all to carry on the work which has already begun.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he mentioned the study of new contraceptive techniques. This is a technical question, but does he regard abortion as one of those, or is it something separate? Is abortion, in his opinion, or the opinion of the Group of which he is an admirable chairman, a contraceptive technique or something different?

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say just a few words in support of this very important conference and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for giving us the opportunity to consider it; I also congratulate him on what I thought was a very powerful speech. I will concentrate more directly on the Colombo Conference and political aspects. I think we should be extremely grateful to Sir George Sinclair, a Member of another place, for his very hard work and the thousands of miles he has covered on behalf of our British Parliamentary Group on Population. At the preliminary conference at Tokyo last year, which he attended, I understand that one major country, in a bout of frankness, confessed to many mistakes and problems. Admittedly, these were the responsibility of a previous Administration. This apparently loosened the tongues of other countries and a quite genuinely full and frank exchange of views took place which was extremely useful. That would seem to me to be the best and most productive atmosphere in which to conduct these sort of discussions. I hope the Colombo Conference can be slanted towards informality so that each country does not feel obliged to put on its best face the whole time.

In fact one of the advantages, I believe, will be that most of the delegates will be Back-Bench politicians not necessarily committed to their present Government's policy. On their return to their own countries they will be in a good position to alert Governments in political language to the full scope of the problems, together with possible courses of action. Because of the basically long term nature of the population problem, it is not best suited to the short term vote-winning habits of most politicians. The linked problems of energy and raw material resources are similarly long term, and what we say we should do and what we actually do about them are far apart.

With regard to population policies, because Governments have often been shy of the subject, I think we are still at the stage where mere talk about it is not only profitable but vital, to raise the consciousness of Governments, and, at the end of the day, the most important grass roots level. I am just saying that this is one area where there can never be too much talk, because the main aim is to change attitudes on a vast scale right down to the individual level. At the same time, I think we should fully recognise and accept the enormity of the associated cultural upheaval that is being implicitly suggested.

I should now like to refer to the Tokyo Declaration which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, mentioned. There is a heading in this very long document, "A Call", and this seems to me to be the central call of the conference. It seems to me, although I hesitate to hold forth on Conservative policy, that it is pure Conservatism in the Party sense. It says: This Conference calls on all Governments to rededicate themselves to the principles adopted at the 1974 World Population Conference in Bucharest, that all should have the information, education and means to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children". And it goes on in a slightly more nebulous way: …and that the quality of life in their respective countries can be improved by setting up guidelines for population policies in keeping with their national values and internationally recognised principles". The "call" of the conference is thus for what seems to me to be one of the greatest freedoms of life—a freedom which we in the more developed countries can take for granted. From a selfish point of view, that concept would seem to be the cheapest and most cost-effective form of help that we can offer to less developed countries, in terms of both our and their long-term quality of life, trade and stability. For me the quality of life is the essence of this whole subject, although I know that it is a concept which begs many questions. I think that this country still has a special influence and relationship with many key countries such as India, and that the object of this conference, to encourage an increasing awareness and understanding among parliamentarians, should be fully supported.

Finally, although I have spoken so far about population problems, I am not forgetting the other side of the question with which the Colombo Conference is concerned; namely, our responsibility in regard to the poverty, economic plight and resources of the less developed world. The change of attitude required from us would seem to be well on a par with the changes that are suggested in population policies. They are all longer-term matters than politicians are used to, but I hope that the Government will continue to support the momentum of the Colombo Conference in keeping these vital problems before the public eye.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for initiating this debate and for calling attention—and this is what is important for me—to the International Parliamentary Conference on Population and Development to be held in Colombo in August 1979, organised by a small number of parliamentarians. That, of course, makes it an inter-governmental conference on world population. In a short debate it is hard to do justice to this subject. It is staggering to realise that the Bucharest Conference on population was the first inter-governmental conference on world population ever held in the world. I hope that many such conferences will follow, because, except for a handful of specialists, our ignorance about population and development requires our study now and for ever more.

As I have said, we cannot, in a short debate, do justice to the continuing need for knowledge, insight and heart-searching into these world problems. Although in the United Nations, population and development were annual items on the agenda, the approach was mainly political, superficial and elementary. We, in the West, were uneasy about advocating birth control for the poorer countries, and it was only when we ourselves took firm action on birth control that we could discuss population problems without arousing suspicion and hostility from the Third World poor. That is not surprising when we remember that many in Western countries were suggesting that aid should be tied to birth control. Can your Lordships remember when the ordinary people of this country were saying: "We cannot give them aid unless they reduce their population"? This con- ference, like the Bucharest Conference, has no intentions to interfere with the populations of other countries.

I used to argue in the United Nations that a woman had the right to have as many or as few children as she wanted. I thought that this might somehow sugar the pill. However, the greatest change that has taken place in our understanding and attitudes towards development and population is that today, since the Bucharest Conference on population, development has become top priority. I attended the Bucharest Conference on population where family planning was hardly mentioned. There were a few side committees which dealt with that matter, but the speeches from practically every country representing the Third World were concerned with aid—not just economic aid, but technical and scientific aid and know-how.

I am ashamed to say that although I was a disciple, or perhaps one might call "a camp follower ", of Marie Stopes, it seemed to me that that was the most serious encounter that I had had with the facts of international life and the problems of the Third World. The clear message that came from the Bucharest Conference on population was: Take care of the people and the population will take care of itself. That is an over-simplified conclusion because family planning is an essential human right as regards taking care of the people. The world plan of action that emerged from Bucharest was that by 1985 2,500 million people should have family planning available to them. That is a most remarkable sentence to be found in the plan of action.

I hope and expect that many intergovernmental conferences on population will follow and that we may work towards some kind of international social code which may include an obligation not to over-breed in a shrinking world. That is not my own original idea; it comes, I think, from the president of the Club of Rome who has said that people's attitudes must change to these matters. It is not just a question of taking economic steps. It is not a question of just family planning. All those matters together must change the hearts of the people so that we have a much fairer world.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, as regards abortion. Abortion is one form of contraception. It is not a form that I personally like, but all the same I can never understand why the word "abortion" and the fact of abortion causes such horror when we do not have a shocked response when we hear about people killed in wars. Why do we not have the same shocked response to war as we have to abortion? I should like to understand that.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise most humbly to the House for intervening in this debate as what can only be described as a "late starter ". I did not put my name down earlier because I was under the impression that I had a meeting with one of Her Majesty's Ministers this afternoon and I did not think it appropriate to speak in this debate not having heard the earlier speeches. However, as so often happens, the Minister cancelled the meeting, with the happy result that I have been able to be present for the whole of this fascinating and very important debate. I am also, therefore, able to crave your Lordships' indulgence if I say a few brief words on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches on this very important matter. If no one had spoken from these Benches it might have been thought that we did not regard the subject as being of any importance. The reverse is the truth: we regard the whole subject of population growth as being of immense importance—indeed, possibly as being of greater importance than any other single subject which anyone can name.

I shall not weary the House with figures. Indeed, even the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who has all the figures at his fingertips, did not burden us with them in detail. I shall merely say that if we accept—as I think we do—that almost half the world's population is now aged 15 or under, surely that gives us some idea of the potential for explosive growth. If we are not to speculate about the future, but merely to look back at the immediate past, and if we remind ourselves that the last year for which we have full, final and incontrovertible figures shows that the world population grew by about 100 million, surely that gives us some indication of the importance of this whole subject.

In the main noble Lords have been concerned with population growth overseas and in underdeveloped countries. Here perhaps I might strike a somewhat novel note in agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles—which it appears this afternoon is not a particularly popular pastime. However, she was absolutely right in reminding your Lordships that it is no business of ours to interfere in the policies of other countries. Certainly it is not. But surely it is our business, and indeed the business of any citizen in the developed world, to do what we can to assist people in the underdeveloped countries, which is surely a very different matter.

It was the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who, quite rightly, made the point that in talking about population control, we are really talking about raising standards of living. We are really talking about overseas aid. If we do what we can to ensure that economic and social standards in underdeveloped countries rise, we shall find that somehow, of its own volition, there rises also a will among the people to control family size and thereby to control population growth as a whole. I am quite sure that we have made great progress in that direction. In principle we have managed to make progress because of a technological development, and I refer in particular to the contraceptive pill. I do not regard it as the only method of family planning, but it has the unique quality that it is a method which is in the total control of the woman and not the man. That has been absolutely vital in underdeveloped countries in getting anything done at all. To put the whole question of the control of fertility firmly in the hands of women has given us a chance to make the kind of progress that has been made, as it has been made with other developments, such as the intra-uterine device, and so on. When the means of controlling fertility rests in the hands of women, we make progress in these underdeveloped countries; whereas were it to remain in the hands of men, we would not make any progress at all.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I should like to interrupt the noble Lord, particularly as I know that he is a medical man. Will he agree with the conclusions which the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, always reached, that the contraceptive pill is not the safest method for women to use, that it has very many side effects and that, of course, the use of this particular form of contraception leads—as he will know—to many other illnesses from which the woman is not protected? I should like his opinion on this, because if we are talking about the status of women, there are other considerations besides this one. I should be grateful for his comments.


My Lords, I do not want to go too far into what is a very complicated matter. I imagine that the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, meant the safest rather than the most reliable method. Present medical opinion indicates that the contraceptive pill is probably the most reliable method. I accept that there is some evidence that there are possibly very, very limited risks involved. My own personal view—and it is no more than that—is that these risks are extremely small and are far smaller than the risks which are almost inevitable in the occurrence of an unwanted pregnancy. However, I take the point made by the noble Baroness. It is a matter which should be thought about, and thought about very carefully. But perhaps we could pursue that in more detail on some other occasion.


My Lords, I should like to ask one further question on the medical aspects of this. Will the noble Lord give his medical opinion on the issue whether or not the risks of taking the pill for women are greater or smaller than the risks of the childbirth that would result if they did not?


My Lords, I thought I had already indicated that in my opinion they are in fact smaller than the risks of the subsequent pregnancy. I accept that this is debatable. Perhaps we can debate it on another occasion. Having arrived as a late starter, I must try to be brief, and I assure your Lordships that I have so tried so far.

I should like to turn to our own situation rather than to the situation overseas—I think that we have discussed that enough. I am a little anxious about the tendency for people in this country to regard the population problem in the United Kingdom as having been solved for all time. I do not think that it has been solved. Certainly there has been what we might call a temporary hiccup and we have suddenly reached an apparently stable population. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, who initiated this debate, referred to this. We must remember that this may be no more than a temporary occurrence and we could very soon be back to the situation in which we were a year or two ago, when we were adding to our population something like a city the size of Wolverhampton every year. That is perfectly possible if we relax. So let us not accept that our problem is solved; it is not solved. It could return.

If it returns, I believe there would be consequences. There would be the many social consequences which have been referred to by noble Lords and noble Baronesses in this debate, and I shall not weary the House by repeating them. I would merely mention one or two. Recently I have been particularly interested in studying closely further investigations into the whole question of battered babies. It seems to me to be incontrovertible that very largely the battered baby tends to be an unwanted addition to an already overlarge family. Further research has been made, particularly in East Anglia, into the family situation of children who are in some form of custody for offences of one kind or another. Over and over again we find that the offender appears to have been an unwanted addition to a large family.

On this home question, I believe—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, implied—that we have made immense progress. There has been a very big change in public attitudes. In a recent survey of young people entering industry for the first time, when they were asked what was the optimum size of the family it appeared overwhelmingly to be two, although not very long ago the choice would have been five or six. That is the size that young people are now regarding as the ideal number of children in a family. That is a very big change. It has been brought about by the efforts of people like the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and many other noble Lords and Baronesses in this House who have campaigned in this matter. It is immensely encouraging.

Let me make it clear that the fact that we are perhaps going to have smaller families need not mean that there must be no large families. I welcome large, happy families; indeed, I came from one. But the price of having some large families is surely that there should be other families with no children, or at least that those families should be limited to the extent to which the parents wish their families to be limited. There is no need for draconian measures, like dissolving the contraceptive pill in the water supplies, or measures of that kind. All that is necessary in this country is to ensure that now and in the future every pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy at the time of conception. If we can do that, we shall very largely solve this problem.

We have greatly aided family planning by opening up the General Practitioner Service. I wish that some of the hospital services were similarly available. There is difficulty in obtaining a vasectomy for a patient who has decided that his family is now complete—and there may be good medical reasons for the wife not conceiving again. One can wait many months before such an operation can be performed under the National Health Service. Under the Family Planning Services I believe that vasectomies are more freely available.

I should like to comment on the point made to the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. I believe that we should continue with a liberal attitude towards abortion but, personally, I do not regard abortion as an acceptable alternative to sensible family planning. I want to make that absolutely clear. The two are related, but they are not interchangeable. Therefore, I merely repeat that if we make sure in this country that every pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy at the time of conception, we shall have no re-emergence of the population problem in Britain. Nor would there be the consequences of an aging population. I am sure that that will iron itself out. I am sure that new technology will cope with that particular problem. Our problem will disappear if we continue with liberal attitudes towards those matters as we have in the past. The overseas problem will disappear if we continue to help these people: help them with advice and practical assistance to solve their own problems, because I believe that they will then do so. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for having introduced this subject, and I am deeply grateful to the House for allowing me to say a few words on behalf of my noble friends at this late stage.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, I have no intention of making a speech, but I have been mentioned three times, and, with the permission of the House, I should like to say a few words. I asked, I thought, a straightforward question which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, no doubt rightly did not answer because it might have taken too long. Later, I got one answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, that abortion is a form of contraception, and another from the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, to whom I am grateful for saying that in his opinion it is not. It is difficult to know the right answer but there is a difference.

It is only a personal feeling, but when I am accused by the noble Baroness, who is the kindest person in the world, of being shocked by the word "abortion" but not being shocked by murder, kidnap, rape and some of the appalling things that go on over the world, I would say that that is not so. I am shocked by many things that happen now. It is not the word "abortion", that shocked me; but to my mind there is a clear distinction between preventing a child being conceived, and killing it after it has been conceived. The quickest way I can make that clear is by saying that while some people would object to immigrants being allowed into this country (I do not), most of us would object to immigrants being killed on shipboard as they were arriving.

5.12 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I believe that this has been one of the most interesting debates we have had for a long time. We have had short speeches. I believe that noble Lords who supported the Motion not very long ago, that we should make our speeches short, have done so very effectively. I really do not think that I can single out any specific speech. Inevitably I will deal with certain questions later. I should like to put my own point of view first. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Vernon for introducing this debate. May I apologise to him for being delayed, and I did not hear his early remarks. I am afraid I could not help it. It is right that at the outset I should pay a tribute to the noble Lord, and to the noble Lords, Lord Oram and Lord Houghton, and to the several Members of another place who have been active over many months, indeed years, in bringing to public attention the inherent problems which arise from an ever expanding population on this planet.

It has been argued that parliamentarians and administrators do not fully appreciate the problems which are produced by rampant population growth. I am not aware of that in this House. I think that the speeches of all who have spoken show a deep concern. I liked the phrase used by the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon: "a quality of life which emerged from the arguments from the Tokyo Conference". I liked his emphasis on that. All of us believe that we are dealing with a most important subject. Here and there there may be old feuds, or arguments perhaps, that are seen to rear their head again in this debate, about the need for birth control, et cetera. I believe there is a desire on the part of all of us, of whatever philosophy or religion, to see that we tackle this problem, which is one of the great problems of the world.

That is why I always take a great interest in the FAO; in men like Boyd-Orr, whom Ritchie-Calder knew very well, and I knew: men who are seeking to feed the world. The noble Baroness and others touched on this. Also UNESCO, which is seeking to conquer illiteracy. These are two great international organisations. But here is work now done by parliamentarians: men like the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, whom I always admire for his enthusiasm, which he generates among his colleagues. I wish him well in what he has been doing.

Robert McNamara, speaking as president of the World Bank, put the situation succinctly but dramatically in an address to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in April 1977 when he said: In many ways rampant population growth is an even more dangerous and subtle threat to the world than thermo-nuclear war, for it is intrinsically less subject to rational safeguards, and less amenable to organised control. The population growth of the planet is not in the exclusive control of a few Governments, but rather in the hands of literally hundreds of millions of individual parents who will ultimately determine the outcome". This puts the main threat and the main problem in a nutshell. The control of population is indeed in the hands of individuals, and this means that democratic Governments cannot control the situation as closely as they might wish. But again many Governments are not fully aware of the implication of population growth in their own and other countries. So it is encouraging that action has been taking place during the past few years to make parliamentarians and, through them, their Governments increasingly aware of the priority that must be given to these matters.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, speaking for the Liberal Party, said that we must not force our views on people. But we can influence people in other countries. That is the whole purpose of international conferences. I believe that this is what my noble friends are wishing to do today; to make certain that we do, through the medium of the bodies we have been discussing today, the international organisations, concentrate our efforts on this urgent problem.

The problem is, of course, not one which we ourselves face in the United Kingdom, but it is no less our concern. The formation of the British Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, in February 1978, under the chairmanship of Lord Houghton was a notable landmark in arousing parliamentary interest. It followed a series of meetings of parliamentarians held in Washington, Ottawa, London, Bonn and Berlin. This led to the first Preparatory Committee Meeting of the International Parliamentarians on Population and Development which took place in Tokyo in March 1978 and at which, for the first time, Members of Parliament from developing countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Mexico and Colombia, attended. This in turn led on directly to proposals for the conference next August; and I am glad to note that Britain has been represented all along on the Steering Committee.

Britain was one of the first countries actively to demonstrate a concern with population problems in the operation of its aid programme. This concern has continued since then, and the priority which is attached to population assistance was restated in the Government's White Paper on aid policy More Help for the Poorest (Cmnd. 6270) which was published in October 1975.

Britain has at all times been very aware that in many areas and cultures, population, family planning and the mis-termed "population control" are very sensitive issues. On the bilateral plane, we have been careful to ensure that Britain's support for such programmes has been responsive to local demand and has recognised that recipient governments often prefer to seek aid through specialised agencies rather than from individual donors. At the same time, as the 1974 Conference in Bucharest which produced the World Plan of Action clearly demonstrated, most countries are concerned on a national level that their populations can be accurately assessed and provided for; and, on an individual level, that each person should have the freedom of choice to determine the number and spacing of their children. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, was anxious to have an announcement on that; namely, that there must be no attempt to coerce, that it is the free choice of the individual.

I think it is right at this stage that I should acknowledge the work being done in the population field by such multilateral agencies as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, known in short as UNFPA, and, on the non-government organiation front, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the co-ordinating body for a host of national family planning associations around the world. In their different spheres, these two organisations have built up a reputation of efficiency and practical response to the needs of governments and non-government organisations which is admired throughout the world. 1979 marks the 10th anniversary of the UNFPA, and 1979 is therefore important for that organisation, and during that year some 500 million dollars will have been spent on population projects around the world. I am glad to say that the British Government have been a supporter of the UNFPA for most of that period, and the Ministry of Overseas Development plans to contribute £4 million to it during 1979–80.

The Ministry of Overseas Development also recognises the unique ability of nongovernmental organisations to make a contribution in the population sector and has a long history of support for the major agency working on a global basis, IPPF. As I have mentioned, IPPF operates through national family planning units.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, is it not a fact that the UNFPA is short for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and is in no way connected with any family planning association? Would the noble Lord clarify that?


The noble Baroness asked me about that, my Lords, and I will come to it later, althought I think she is wrong. In many cases where a government do not have an active population programme, the only form of advice and supplies comes through the voluntary organisations of the national family planning associations. ODM plans to contribute £2 million to IPPF activities in 1978–79. In addition, ODM had also channelled assistance to population projects being undertaken by individual British non-governmental organisations through its joint funding scheme. In 1978–79 ODM spent about £90,000 on this type of project.

It is of course in the developing countries that population growth has such a desperate effect on the continuing battle to increase living standards. Indeed, it can be said that one of the more immediate and ironic side-effects evident through improvement in living standards would be an initial increase in population, as improved nutrition and health services result in improved health for mothers and small children and, consequently, increased life expectancy at birth. This obviously will bring its own problems. Unless the expansion of a country's economy and its ability to provide for its citizens can keep pace with an increasing population, living standards will tend to sink rather than rise.

This leads me to a very important point which was raised by Lord Vernon and which is fundamental to any discussion of population problems. I have referred to the help which the United Kingdom is giving to developing countries in the population field; and much of the help is, of course, aimed at encouraging the spread of knowledge about family planning and the provision of family planning services as a contribution towards a reduction in population levels and growth. But it is our view, and it has been frequently and forcefully expressed by my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development, that the problem of rapidly rising populations is not one which will be solved simply by the provision of family planning services. Couples must actually want to reduce family size if any progress is to be made in this direction.

But they will not do so unless it is clear to them that their families will be healthier, better fed and generally better off; that the children they do have can be expected to survive; and that a large family is not a necessary prerequisite to ensure support in their old age. In other words, population and family planning programmes must go hand in hand with broader development programmes which will improve the total quality of life for ordinary people, particularly the poor, and help them to plan their lives as a whole. The more important determinants of fertility include the status of women, a reduction in infant mortality and the age of first marriage, which can of course be influenced by employment opportunities.

Although 136 countries subscribed to the 1974 World Population Plan of Action, following the Bucharest Conference—and there has been a detectable slowing in the rate of increase of population in certain countries in the past five to 10 years—the problem is a long term one which will still be with us at the turn of the century, if not well beyond that date. Current projections forecast that there will be no decline in population numbers until after the year 2020 and, to draw on Robert McNamara's words again: The speed at which fertility in the world declines to the replacement level will have a very significant effect on the ultimate size of the stationary population…If current trends in fertility continue, it appears that the reproduction rate might not drop to replacement level until the year 2020. This would lead to a steady state population of 11 billion some 70 years later. If the date at which replacement level fertility is reached could be advanced from 2020 to 2000, the ultimate population would be approximately 3 billion less". The House will understand the significance of these figures when I say that the current world population reached 4 billion in 1976. Consequently, the Government consider it imperative that nations should face the problem together and consider solutions which will result in a net advantage to all countries. The Colombo Conference is expected to discuss the urgent need for population policies and for their integration with individual governments' economic and social policies. We hope that, by having representatives from countries with populations currently at or near replacement level, as well as from countries where there is both a much higher rate and a will to see it decreased, useful discussions and practical solutions will result.

But while the problem is a global and national one, it is essential to bear in mind that the final results of any government's policies depend on the co-operation and conviction of individual families. Therefore we consider that part of the Conference should deal specifically with ways of producing maximum community participation in family planning programmes and at the same time link the desirability of smaller families to the ultimate benefits from economic and social growth. The Government wish the Conference well and look forward with interest to receiving reports on the deliberations in Colombo.

The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, asked me two specific questions. He asked me about the proportion of the aid programme spent on population activities. In 1970 it was 1 per cent. In 1978 it was 1.6 per cent. There is the question of whether this is enough. We are ready to see more of our aid funds spent on population projects. The amounts are increasing, and expenditure in 1978–79 will be about £10 million, or 2 per cent. of the total.

In the bilateral field we can do only what we are asked to do, and the subject is often a sensitive one, but I am glad to say that our bilateral activities are expanding, as is our support for the multilateral agencies. But I must stress that this is for direct population activities, and that we see our own aid programme, aimed as it is at helping the poor of the Third World, as a contribution to the solution of the problem of the increasing population.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, suggested that we should support research into more acceptable methods of contraception for the Third World. We are providing extensive support for such a programme, which is being undertaken by the World Health Organisation. Last year we increased our contribution to this important programme from £140,000 to £1½ million; and I am glad to be able to mention that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, suggested that the Government should review their grant to the IPPF (the International Planned Parenthood Federation) because of its association with the compulsory sterilisation programme in India. It is our understanding that the International Planned Parenthood Federation associate organisation in India played no part in that programme. I appreciate that many other noble Lords asked questions, but this is a short debate, and I recently gave a promise about short speeches and short debates. It has been a good debate, and I congratulate all those who have taken part.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I find it difficult to thank my noble friend Lady Elles. I found her speech very disappointing. I hope that it represents her views only, and not the views of the Conservative Front Bench.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, perhaps I should take the opportunity to say that I was putting forward my own views. This is not a matter on which our Party has any particular policy, but in The Right Approach there is a sentence which refers to the right of families to decide their own future and to pay great attention to the right to life of the child.


Well, my Lords, that is encouraging, at least to some extent, because I am quite certain that the views my noble friend expressed are not shared in general by noble Lords on this side of the House. I thought that her remarks were disappointing. I felt that they were based on bigotry, prejudice and misrepresentation of the facts in many cases. There is one particular point I should like to take up. My noble friend mentioned countries such as Angola. She said that there is plenty of space and that they can have millions more people in Angola.

Baroness ELLES

I did not say that.


My noble friend suggested it. Of course they can have many more people in Angola than they have today; it is just a question of timing. If there were to be millions of people immediately, it would be found that there was not the economic infrastructure to cope with them, and in such circumstances poverty and other problems become worse. That is the point that I was making. However, I believe that my noble friend was answered by the noble Lords, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and Lord Vaizey, and so I do not think I need say any more about that.

I am glad that the noble Lord the Leader of the House was able to give us some encouragement, and I was pleased to learn that the Government, generally speaking, support the initiative of the parliamentary group. I hope that the debate will have done something to stimulate interest not only in population policies generally, but also in the parliamentary group. Following what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said, I think I am right in saying that the Japanese Parliamentary Group has no fewer than 144 members, and we have a long way to go to catch them up, but I hope that we will. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.