HL Deb 21 October 1992 vol 539 cc751-4

3.12 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

What influence they were able to have at the Rio Summit in response to the worldwide demand for family planning.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we and others were influential in ensuring that population featured significantly in the discussions at Rio and that Agenda 21—the Rio plan of action—emphasises the importance of helping developing countries to establish comprehensive population programmes. I hope that that will serve to encourage donor countries generally to do more in this critical area.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. Does the noble Baroness accept that her individual efforts and her very forthright and plain words on the subject in Rio were very welcome and much appreciated? Can she say how the momentum of the Rio conference on population, such as it was, can be maintained? In particular, can she say how we might influence and encourage our European partners?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his kind remarks. I believe that we have made real progress since Rio. In New York member states and the UN Secretariat are currently agreeing the modalities for the establishment of the Special Development Commission. That commission will be responsible for getting on with the work, including the protection and promotion of human health. That will indeed help us, as will the resolution which I intend to put before the Development Council of the European Community in November.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, in view of the speculation about a possible cut in the overseas aid programme, which we hope the Minister will successfully resist, can she give an assurance that the funding for family planning through NGOs will continue? Secondly, and more particularly, can she say whether the funding for the International Planned Parenthood Federation has been increased by more than 200 per cent. in the last two years in the same way as the funding for the UN population fund?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not intend to seek to pre-empt the discussions currently taking place about budgetary and public expenditure matters. However, I can tell her that we shall play a forward role with the NGOs in helping women to have the opportunity to choose the size of their families and the spacing between their children. To that end we shall continue to help the IPPF and other organisations. That may not always be by the same amount, but it is a development priority.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the most effective assistance which we can give in relation to population control is to promote and increase support for the education of women?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I certainly agree that the education of women is absolutely fundamental to allowing them to have a choice. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that I wish that we could get away from talk of population control and talk instead about family planning, because it is the right of every couple to decide when to have children and how many children to have.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House what is the position in countries where the establishment is actively working against allowing women access to family planning and how that problem is to be addressed? There are women who want access to family planning but are denied it.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. There are still a few governments which will not willingly put their own resources into giving men and women the choice to plan their families. We seek to persuade them otherwise. At present we are doing quite well in persuading some of the less forward-looking countries to take on the whole idea of family planning policies.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that one of the most grim realities which face us all is that every 2.4 seconds of every day somewhere in the world a child dies of poverty? Taking that challenge, together with the undertakings given by the Prime Minister at Rio, and taking into account the very real respect on all sides of this House for the commitment of the noble Baroness, will she stake her very considerable reputation categorically on the principle that, whatever the pressures on government, public expenditure cuts will not be at the price of the solemn pledges by this Government to increase the resources available for the fight against world poverty?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord knows me very well. He knows full well that we shall maintain those programmes, concentrated as they are—75 per cent. of our bilateral expenditure—on the poorest. We shall do all we can to alleviate poverty. The noble Lord would not expect me, any more than I would have expected him a few years ago, to pre-empt the public expenditure round.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the United Kingdom was the pioneer of family planning programmes and that we shall have more women of childbearing age in this country in 1994 than we have ever had before? Can she give an undertaking that, as a good example to other countries, we shall maintain to the full our own family planning programmes?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that I certainly intend to seek to do that.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, what progress is being made on the British initiative arising from the Earth Summit to call a global forum of NGOs in 1993? Some of us are not as sanguine about the final communiqué on the question of family planning and population which came out of Rio. Can the noble Baroness therefore assure us that the global forum will have in the forefront of its terms of reference the question of population and family planning and that NGOs working in that field will be invited to the forum?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am delighted to assure the noble Baroness that the consultation note on this proposed forum has already been prepared. It will shortly be circulated both within the United Kingdom and abroad. We expect a planning meeting to take place very shortly with the main groups outside government, including the non-governmental organisations. The groups will include those on environment, development and population along with representatives of the private sector and the local authority representatives who can make the difference that I know your Lordships' House seeks.

Lord Rea

My Lords, following my noble friend's question, can the Minister assure the House that any government aid to population activities does not take place at the expense of aid for general economic and social development, including the educational matters mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and also maternal and child health? Does she agree that it has been shown both in this country and the countries of the South that this form of development is the surest guarantee of a long-term fall in population growth?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have no hesitation in saying that population planning, family health and mother and child health are all part of our social and economic assistance to developing countries and that education will always continue to play a very major role in all that.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, will the Minister say what preparations the Government are making for the 1994 World Population Conference, which I understand will be held in Egypt?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have already had some preparatory meetings. The UN has recently proposed that all countries undertake their own national preparations and I shall work with the results of those preparations to formulate what should be done for the 1994 conference.