HL Deb 07 July 1993 vol 547 cc1385-8

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the results achieved by their contributions to the international efforts to control world population.

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

My Lords, British aid is helping effectively those governments of developing countries which make population and related development their priorities. But I believe that more can and should be done to persuade others to address rapid population growth and its consequences.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in spite of what is being done by many countries, including our own, through the aid which the noble Baroness just mentioned, the world population is increasing faster than ever before? Two hundred and fifty thousand people are born every day. Does she agree that if that rate is continued by the end of the century there will be an extra 1,000 million people? Does she accept that the main causes of population increase are well known, and that what is now needed is greater political will to deal with them? Why does not this Government become the world leader on this momentous issue?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, this Government have not done too badly: we have increased direct population spending by over 60 per cent. over the past four years, and have doubled the number of countries in which we now have major population programmes. But I accept that, as the world population might well triple by the end of the next century, with 95 per cent. of that increase being in the developing world, more countries have to take active participation in providing population planning, family planning advice and devices. Until some of those countries that have resisted helping in the most populous countries of the world start doing so, those of us who have already started will not make the progress that we deserve.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most effective ways of promoting population control—to use the term that the noble Lord used when he asked the Question—is to promote literacy, and in particular literacy among women?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there is no doubt that there is a very positive correlation between women's education and a fall in the average family size. But I beg the noble Lord not to talk about "control". We must leave the choice with parents, but educate them to use that opportunity for choice. Let us have children by choice, not chance.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I greatly admired the speech that she delivered in Rio just over a year ago on precisely this subject? Does she recall that yesterday was World Population Day? Does she agree with the statement made by the United Nations that mass migration on an unprecedented scale as a result of the pressures of global over-population is set to become the human crisis of our era? Will she say something about the problems of mass migration? Are the Government aware of it in their planning on this issue?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, indeed we are. We welcome the report of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the state of world population. We have to extend health and family planning services, particularly to women and rural poor, because that will. not only help promote economic development but also reduce the need to migrate. People migrate in order, as they think, to get a better way of life. Frequently it brings them more misery, but that is why we have to go on helping the poor, and particularly the rural poor and women.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, while commending the Minister personally on her work within the constraints that she has, is she optimistic about the prospects for the very important: international conference which is to take place in Cairo in 1994 on population and development? Can she say, as far as she can, what role the Government are taking to promote endeavours in that conference?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we wish to see the Cairo conference on population and development in September 1994 make real progress in resolving the constraints to providing wider access to good quality family planning services. But it also needs to achieve a greater international consensus about the importance of improving women's status in society. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, the education of women has a higher correlation in reducing family size than almost any other input that the donors can make.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that in addition to the correlation that she mentioned, there is a close correlation between poverty and insecurity and excessive population growth; and that therefore, in the long run, the only cure for excessive population growth is to raise living standards in the third world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I agree entirely.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a role for the great religious leaders to open up the choice to which she referred; giving people the chance to decide on their own contribution to population control? Does she further agree that it is very encouraging to find that the Islamic religion seems to be moving towards giving that choice? Does she see any signs at all that the Roman Catholic religion will follow suit?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend will notice from the latest edition of the newspaper Population Concern that indeed the Islamic leaders are setting the path for that. I have had talks already with the Vatican and intend to have further talks—we had talks in Rio last year—about this problem. I believe that there is an understanding that the huge growth in population is something to be addressed by the Roman Catholic Church just as it must be addressed by every other religious leader too. I hope that that will happen. It is necessary for world peace.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister just said. On the surface, it might appear that there are wide differences of opinion between the Roman Catholic Church and, say, the Church of England and other Churches on the subject of contraception. But is she aware that those differences are not as great as are sometimes presumed and that what lies behind slightly diverging practical policies is a deeply held common commitment to maintaining fidelity in marriage and the integrity of family life?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct. The differences are about how one can persuade married parents to have children by choice and not by chance. This matter is about allowing them to make that choice in the best interests of their families as well as realising the enormous responsibility of having children. I hope very much that all Churches will take a more active role in trying to encourage people to understand the responsibilities of having children before they even have to take advice on family planning.

Lord Rea

My Lords, both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, mentioned the importance of women's literacy in association with women choosing to have smaller families. Is the Minister aware that the structural adjustment programmes that have been imposed on many of the poorest countries which are in debt have resulted in a reduction in expenditure on education and health services in those countries? Does she agree that that is a deplorable situation and that it should be reversed? In any further structural adjustment, should not education services and health be strictly protected?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe the noble Lord to be wrong in this matter. Talking about structural adjustment with those responsible for helping economic reform in developing countries is now also very much a matter of persuading the governments of those countries to spend their resources on health and education and at the same time not wasting their money on unnecessary subsidy. That push will go on.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the Minister agree that whatever may be said by the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church, people who work in the field find that there is a great deal of understanding (shall I say?) on the part of the priests at grass roots level?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

Yes, my Lords.

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