HL Deb 11 July 1991 vol 530 cc1505-7

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they intend to meet requests from developing countries for aid and advice in family planning in the 1990s.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we have responded and will continue to respond positively through our overseas aid programme. That gives high priority to providing developing countries with support for their population programmes. Our expenditure on multilateral and bilateral population programmes amounted to some £24 million in 1990, an increase of 28 per cent. in real terms on the previous year.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that Answer. Does he accept that many of us agree that the Government's contribution and the recent increase have been very helpful, particularly as regards the past year? Does the Minister also agree that all the evidence points to the fact that there is a steadily growing demand for contraceptive services in developing countries? Is he aware that over the next decade it has been estimated by the major multilateral organisations such as the UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation that the increase in the number of couples who wish to use contraceptive services will be approximately an additional 200 million to the existing number of users? Can the Minister say whether the Government will give a lead in the matter by providing substantially increased funds in future and set an example, particularly to our Western European partners, in trying to deal with this very urgent problem?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House agrees with the last remark made by the noble Viscount: it is an urgent problem. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that he asked his Question on UN World Population Day. I confirm that there is an increasing demand from developing countries for population assistance. Surveys have shown that 100 million couples who want to use family planning services currently have no access to them.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, in view of the fact that most of the pictures that we all too frequently see of death and starvation come from Africa, does the Minister agree that the European Community has a very special responsibility for that continent in view of the long colonial history between Europe and Africa? Does the Minister also agree that most of the problems arise in Africa, and that they are a cause of grievous anxiety for the future?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, certainly Africa has its troubles; but the rest of the world also has to be considered. I reaffirm to the House that we are the second largest contributor in the aid programme to the Horn of Africa in trying to solve the current crisis. I hope that more countries follow our lead.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in deciding how best to help people in the third world countries, will my noble friend bear in mind that millions of them cannot afford contraceptives? Does my noble friend agree that contraception is the most important way in which the Government can arrange help with the co-operation of the governments of the countries concerned?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend makes a most important point. That is certainly one of the areas in which we are working hard in the ODA.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the United Nations Population Fund, to which the Government contribute about half of the amount that Denmark contributes, has been enormously successful in its programmes in Mexico and Sri Lanka in bringing down the birth rate even where the standard of living is low? Can the Government be a great deal more generous instead of quoting the rises in the small amount that they give?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am delighted to receive another question from the noble Lord that requires more taxpayers' money to be spent. I have already explained to the House that there has been a substantial increase—28 per cent. in real terms—on last year's figures regarding population programmes.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most effective and long-term means of reviewing the family planning issue in developing countries is to focus on the education and training of women so that they can take control of their own lives?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is right. That is why we try to involve women at all stages and all ODA projects and programmes are assessed for their impact on women. We have to try to improve the status of women throughout the world in the law, in education and in health so that women can play a full role in society.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this subject is one of the major problems facing many of the developing countries, and that it will have a very serious impact on the environment of some of the countries? Does he further agree that some of the issues we are worried about in other respects are also connected with overpopulation? Therefore, does my noble friend agree that more resources should be urgently made available through the ODA? I hope that is the message that can be sent through him.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, certainly an increase in population is taking place in the developing countries. We expect an increase of about 1 billion in the world population over the next 10 years. We anticipate that 95 per cent. of that increase will take place in the developing countries. At the moment the world population stands at about 5.3 billion. Therefore, my noble friend is right in saying that it is a problem not only for the developing countries but for the whole world to try to resolve.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, has the Minister seen the recent UN population report which states that the demand for contraception will increase substantially over the next few years because of the rapidly increasing number of women reaching child-bearing age? Equally worrying is that the report states that the population programmes—including that of the United Kingdom—have decreased in real terms. That contradicts what the Minister said in his Answer. When are the Government going to take the population explosion seriously? The Minister said that today is World Population Day: therefore, today would be a very good day to start.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the Government already take this question very seriously, as the noble Lord knows full well from the replies I gave when he asked a Question on the subject.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the only long-term answer to over-population is the improvement of living standards? Living standards are in inverse proportion to the growth in population.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the improvement of living standards is certainly a most important element in trying to solve the problem; but there is a whole range of other subjects that we are concentrating on, including health and education.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in view of the fact that Mr. James Grant, the executive director of UNICEF, called for an increase in family planning users from 326 million to 525 million, does the Minister agree that this will depend to a large extent on aid-givers? Therefore, can the Minister say what percentage of the British aid programme goes to family planning? Can he also say when Her Majesty's Government will discuss with our EC partners the inter-relation between poverty and population?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the net aid programme is currently £1.27 billion. The £24 million spent in 1990 was on activities directly related to population concerns. I know the House will agree that it is all the other ODA programmes that reflect on that in the health and training of women—to answer the point made by my noble friend Lady Denton.

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