HL Deb 07 May 1981 vol 420 cc209-11
Lord Vernon

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 whether they have noted the 1981 Indian census figures showing that the population of India, now 683 million, has grown by 135 million within the last decade; and whether they will take this, and similar increases in other third world countries into account when determining the proportion of overseas aid which they allocate to family planning and population education.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade (Lord Trefgarne)

Yes, my Lords. We continue to provide our share of support to the international bodies concerned with population work. We are also very ready to respond to the priorities expressed by recipient countries in the allocation of our bilateral aid. In India, for example, we are financing a family welfare project in the State of Orissa which includes family planning and population education elements.

Lord Vernon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that on 13th April in another place the Minister for Overseas Development stated that the percentage of aid going on population activities fell from 1 per cent. in 1980 to 0.76 per cent. in 1981? Does he not think that the seriousness of the situation hardly justifies that reduction?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there are two points that I should like to make to the noble Lord because there are two aspects to this matter. The first is that as a percentage of our total aid programme the funds available are, of course, under considerable pressure, as the noble Lord will be aware. However, as regards the relative importance of these matters within our total aid budget, that is very much a matter for the recipient countries themselves because we would not wish to dictate to them how they spend the money that we are able to provide.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in each of the last two years the world population increased by at least 2 per cent. whereas the world production of wheat actually fell in each of those last two years? Will he bear in mind that we are really pouring money into a bottomless pit if we do not take into account the population factor in many countries when providing aid?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we would certainly seek to provide our aid funds to those countries who are the poorest and who can make the best use of them. But I say again that the way in which they spend the funds that we are able to provide are, in the first instance anyway, a matter for them.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Minister on his reply as regards this issue. We are put in a very invidious position when we get up and lecture other countries, and particularly third world countries, on reducing their populations. It is all wrong.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am always glad to take the good words of the noble Baroness but, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, does put his finger on a very important point in this matter, which is that some of the least developed countries of the world are increasing their populations at the greatest rates.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, I do not want to spoil the noble Lord's clay, but he does not receive congratulations from these Benches on the reduction in the overall aid.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Gowrie wonders if there is another split in the party opposite—I rather doubt it. I am, of course, well aware of the views of the party opposite with regard to our total aid budget.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the clinics which are being established in India and other countries by the family planning organisation and the Marie Stopes Centenary Appeal? Can he tell us what aid the Government are giving to those organisations which are doing the practical work?

Lord Trefgarne

Yes, my Lords. To the multilateral bodies, that is to say to those bodies who are concerned with this matter other than within the framework of our bilateral aid programme, we expect to contribute £4.5 million for the year 1981–82.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise just how serious this situation is becoming? Within the million or so years' story of homo sapiens, most of them are my contemporaries and I am only just over 70. Two-thirds of the urban land today was open fields when I was born. This "runaway" has only happened within a single lifetime.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord, not for the first time, makes a very profound point, but not one, perhaps, that I would feel able to develop at this moment.

Lord Vernon

My Lords, the Minister has just referred to the amount of multilateral aid that is to be given and he quoted the figure of, I think, £4.5 million. Is it not a fact that the figure for the year previous was £5.5 million? Could he not give an assurance that at least the amount of aid given to the multilateral agencies, such as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the IPPF, who do such tremendous work in this field, will be stepped up to its previous level?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, while it is true that our contribution to the multilateral agencies in this connection did decrease by £1 million over the two-year period to which the noble Lord referred, our contribution to bilateral programmes for population matters increased by £1.5 million.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that if the problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, has said, has been caused by people of his generation and of mine, then there should not be too much problem about the birth rate?

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