HL Deb 22 October 1991 vol 531 cc1413-5

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they propose to take to deal with the growth in world population.

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

My Lords, during the next two years, we plan to establish at least 15 new projects aimed specifically at strengthening the coverage and quality of family planning and maternal health services; improving the reliability of contraception supplies; and enabling women to take greater control over their lives.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that of the many problems—and I recognise that there are many problems—concerned with population control, two need the most urgent action? First, this country's planning figure for 1991–92 as a proportion of GDP is 0.31 per cent. and is the lowest since records were first kept. That figure was given by the Minister of State, Mrs. Chalker, in the House of Commons last week. Secondly, according to the United Nations population count, about 100 million more women wish to make use of contraception which is simply not available. Will the Minister say specifically what the Government are doing or will do about those two problems?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, our net aid programme currently stands at £1.78 billion. That is a considerable sum of money and we are the sixth largest aid donor. On the question of the wishes of women, as I said in my first Answer, we plan to establish at least 15 new projects in addition to those which we are already undertaking.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend commend to other countries of the third world the admirable example of Singapore? There Lee Kuan Yew has arranged to reduce the tax allowance on any family of more than two children.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is a very interesting suggestion; and we too are benefiting from a reduction in tax in this country.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, apart from the most important issue of providing enough contraception for the millions of women who are looking for it, one of the best ways of helping to reduce the population explosion is to spend money on the education of women? To what extent are the Government working in that direction?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know from earlier answers on exactly the same question, we are trying to provide more support for literacy projects, particularly for women, because these enable women to participate more fully in development as producers, mothers and community managers.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Mrs. Chalker, the Minister with responsibility on these matters, has done more to solve this problem than any other Minister in the past 40 years? Her policies are sound, sensible and are working. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, said, it is rather surprising that we are still spending only 0.31 per cent. of our gross domestic product on solving this problem.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am most grateful for those remarks concerning my right honourable friend the Minister of State and the good work that she has done. As my noble friend will doubtless be aware, as a result of the efforts that we have put into this matter, aid for direct population activities has more than tripled since 1980.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in China, which already has one-fifth of the world's population, the population is increasing by 15 million every year? Can he say whether the Prime Minister discussed this matter with the Chinese during his recent visit to China, and whether the Prime Minister was able to offer them any help in order to deal with what is, as they very much realise, a serious problem?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed a good many matters with the Chinese. I cannot recall at this moment whether population was specifically one of them. However, the noble Lord will be pleased to know that population featured in the Harare declaration.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what are the guiding principles in determining aid for population purposes?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have three guiding principles. First, that individuals, and women in particular, should be free to be able to choose when to have children. Secondly, that reproductive choices should be fully informed and not subject to pressure or coercion of any kind. Thirdly, that the quality of family planning services as well as their availability must be improved if they are to win people's confidence.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Mr. James Grant, the Director of UNICEF, last year called for an increase in family planning expenditure from £326 million to £525 million by the year 2000? Do the Government plan to support that objective? The noble Earl mentioned 15 new projects. Can he say whether the funds that the Government will be giving to those projects will be additional to the funds already given to population projects?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Baroness, with her interest in UNICEF, will know very well that our contribution to UNICEF funds in 1991 will be £9 million. That is the highest ever. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be grateful for that. As for future resources for aid and the ODA, the noble Baroness will have to wait for the recent discussions to be concluded.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are 1,000 million people in the world today on a starvation diet, and that if the problem of population is not solved the situation will become appalling? As it is so urgent, I do not understand why more is not being done, such as countries getting together to do something about it.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord should be aware that an enormous amount is being done. I have already referred to the fact that population featured in the Harare Declaration which has been signed in recent hours. The Commonwealth has taken the matter very seriously, and it has been taken seriously within the European Community framework and on a worldwide basis.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many people in this country are not asking for huge sums of money but merely that within the existing budget of the ODA a much higher proportion should be devoted to population activities?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is why we have trebled the budget in the past 10 years.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is it not the case that in this country births still exceed deaths by 1.6 children each year? Therefore we still have a small residual problem to deal with here. How does the Minister propose to tackle that?

The Earl of Caithness

Not personally, my Lords.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I recognise that the Government are making an effort in this field. When the Minister says that we are sixth in the league of contributions, that is very laudable. However, I, and people who support my view, are saying that we ought to be doing more on such a serious problem. There is an increase of 100 million people on our planet every year, and some of us regard that as an explosion which is only second to a nuclear explosion.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that when the Labour Party was in power they actually reduced, in cash terms, the amount of aid. We have not done that.

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