HL Deb 10 October 1990 vol 522 cc278-81

3.2 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking, in concert with other nations, to deal with the problem of increasing world population.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, our overseas aid programme gives high priority to helping developing countries tackle population issues. Our expenditure on multilateral and bilateral population programmes has increased from £6.5 million in 1981 to £17.3 million in 1989, but many of our other aid activities indirectly influence population growth, especially health and education programmes. We intend to increase the level and quality of all our population-related assistance.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this year will see an increase of 90 million people on the planet, so exacerbating all of the terrible problems which the population explosion brings about; namely, hunger, death, environmental difficulties and so on? In accepting that the Government have made some contribution towards the problem, does the Minister realise that unless there is an increase in resources—and I appreciate the figures which the noble Earl has given—and an increase in political commitment and know-how by the advanced countries of the world, there will be a tragedy such as we have not yet seen on this earth?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, perhaps I may reassure the House of the seriousness with which the Government view this problem. The noble Lord has raised this matter before and it is a frightening statistic to realise that in my lifetime the population of the world has doubled. That was a figure which the noble Lord gave us on 9th May of this year. I hope that the noble Lord was reassured by the last sentence of my original Answer; that is, that the Government will be making an announcement shortly about an increase in the level and quanlity of our assistance.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the factor which appears to bear most upon the readiness of populations to engage in sensible family spacing is the education of women? In the consideration of the aid programme, will my noble friend give ever increasing attention to the education of women in the developing countries?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend raises a most important point. I hope that I can reassure him that we certainly consider the role of women to be a very important factor not only in respect of the population assistance which we give but also in respect of all parts of the UK aid programme. We want them to be active and equal partners in development and my noble friend is right to say that improving their health education and status is crucially important if smaller families are to be encouraged.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in view of the fact that some very important targets were agreed by the 71 world leaders who met at the World Summit for Children recently—some of them very relevant to the stemming of population growth—and in view especially of the target that there should be family planning advice for all couples, I am sure that the Minister will agree that men need education in family planning as well as women. As a result, will the Minister say what agreement there was as to the funding of those important goals, and, more specifically, will he say when Her Majesty's Government plan at least to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we appreciate that men as well as women have to be educated in certain areas and trained and encouraged in certain ways. I know that the noble Baroness would wish also to see an increase in the work of UNICEF which has done very good work with children. An extension of its work into family planning would be beneficial. We are fully aware of the target of 0.7 per cent. set by the UN; we shall continue to work towards that target depending on the economic circumstances of this country.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept that extremely well educated men seem not to have got the message which he is trying to put across?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hope that everybody gets the message and makes a contribution.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as such a large part of the world problem arises within the Commonwealth, would it not be worthwhile considering what the Commonwealth Secretariat might do in order to spread information about how to deal with the problem?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point which I should like to consider at more leisure. I shall certainly bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend in another place. I should say to my noble friend that although many areas of concern are within the Commonwealth, it is very much a world problem in which we all need to be involved.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, which is of the utmost importance and ask the Minister whether he will consider taking some special steps, perhaps with NGOs, to see in what way moneys could be made available for women's education in developing countries. The level of illiteracy within those countries is a very serious handicap and earmarked money for that purpose would be of the greatest help. I have no doubt that a number of organisations would be willing to collaborate with the Government in a campaign to raise the level of literacy of women within developing countries. That would probably help more than anything else.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. Of course I shall consider with care and bring to the attention of my right honourable friend what she said. I agree with the noble Baroness that NGOs have a vital role to play. Under the joint funding scheme the ODA is prepared to meet the full cost of population projects run by British voluntary agencies rather than 50 per cent. as in other sectors. The ODA's spending on population activities under the scheme has increased from £87,000 in 1978 to £641,000 in 1989.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that poverty is strongly associated with rapid population growth in developing countries? That is tied up with women's education. Poor countries cannot incor-porate family planning into their health services. Poor people cannot purchase contraceptive supplies. Does the noble Earl agree that the debt burden affecting most third world countries is one of the most important causes of world poverty? Can he give us a progress report on what Her Majesty's Government are doing to alleviate the debt burden in the third world?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord very cleverly linked the question of poverty and debt with that of population—a perfectly true point. However, his final question was much wider than that on the Order Paper. If he wishes to table a Question, I shall try to answer it.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, does the noble Earl not agree that all the work in education and population control—and I pay tribute to the increased percentage in our aid budget—is overtaken by poverty? History has shown that populations only stabilise when there has been a rise in the standard of living to such an extent that, for example, children do not die before the age of five. The noble Earl refers to the aim of the Government being to approach the 0.7 per cent. target of the United Nations. How are they approaching it? Over the past 11 years our aid budget has fallen from 0.53 per cent. to 0.32 per cent. Is that progress during the economic miracle?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that I do not disagree with him on the question of poverty and the environment, and a number of other issues that affect this very important matter. However, the noble Lord will be aware that there has recently been a substantial increase in our contribution.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords—

Lord Tordoff

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, there is a Private Notice Question to come. We have had 33 minutes on Questions and I suggest that the time has come to move to the Private Notice Question.