HL Deb 11 July 1994 vol 556 cc1507-10

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will give higher priority to the need for reproductive health services in the third world, particularly in view of the forthcoming 10-yearly United Nations International Conference on Population and Development.

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

My Lords, today is World Population Day. I am pleased to announce the second phase of our Children by Choice, Not Chance initiative begun in 1991. We expect to commit £100 million over the next two years to family planning and reproductive health programmes overseas. This commitment will fund at least 50 new projects increasing contraceptive choices for women and men and improving access to family planning.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that Answer. In particular, I congratulate her on the substantial increase that she has announced. Does the noble Baroness agree that that adds to her authority even more to persuade our European colleagues to be even more intent on giving money towards population activities, and also as regards the UN Cairo conference on population and develop-ment? May we have some kind of assurance that the delivery of these additional services will actually meet the needs of those who most require them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his comments. We are most concerned to strengthen the resolve of others to follow the European Development Council resolution of 1992 to give more help where that is so badly needed. I can assure the noble Viscount that we shall be able to deliver on our programme because we now have resource centres which are so managed to produce greater flexibility to deliver and meet the needs of people in the developing world so that they gain access to advice in good time and also to give all the help they need.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister confirm that population is also linked to the fact that the people of these countries feel that they require a lot of children as an insurance for the future? The ODA, with the NGOs, works to improve the health and survival of those children. Does my noble friend agree that that is yet another way of helping to solve the problem?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. She is absolutely right that the ability to give nutritional assistance to young children is fundamental to persuading women of the sense of spacing their children and not constantly to have children in order to replace those who die through nutritional deprivation. We shall work with the non-governmental organisations to make sure that that is a positive feature of the programme.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I support what she is doing, but can she assure me that the West is not being hypocritical in this matter—

Noble Lords


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Wait for it!—bearing in mind that people in the industrialised and advanced countries consume 10 times as much of the world's resources as the people in the underdeveloped countries? Are we quite sure that we are not encouraging, by in vitro methods, a higher population growth in Western countries while insisting that third world countries have a lower population growth?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, one needs to get this matter into proportion. In no way will I be hypocritical on this too important subject. I can tell the noble Lord that 90 per cent. of the population growth in the coming 25 years will be in the developing world; 5 per cent. will be in the developed world. Therefore there is a very great difference in the proportions. But we need to give men and women choice about when they have their children and how they space them. That is exactly what they are asking of us, the donors. We have to have a programme that makes not only accessibility but affordability and availability the watchwords in what we do as regards population development.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the choice which she has mentioned is frustrated? In some countries population growth is caused to a great extent by poverty because the people concerned cannot afford to buy contraceptives. Can my noble friend say what steps have been and are being taken in order to attempt to solve that problem?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that where there is great poverty there is obviously family demand for more children to help the elderly members of the family in their later years. But we have found that by making all the social sector programmes work together—that is to say, literacy, adult literacy and general education availability —and where there is increasing prosperity in a country like Bangladesh, more women and men are asking for contraceptive help and advice. In fact, the birthrate is decreasing gradually. So one has to tackle all the problems at the same time, but one also has to inform and educate that the resources will not go round unless there is some restraint on population growth.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, to reinforce what the Minister has just said about choice for men and women, does she agree that providing choice for women is most important in many areas? Is not a fundamental part of that to improve the literacy and educational standards of women in developing countries?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, literacy and adult literacy have been shown in South-East Asia to be of fundamental importance to this whole question, but I ask the noble Lord not to believe that it should all be left to women. This morning at the Royal Society I was asked about the re-education of men. Although I would not attempt to undertake that, I believe that it is right for couples together to make choices about when to have children and the spacing between their children.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, while recognising the breadth of my noble friend's wisdom on this matter, will she concede that control of population does not necessarily mean economic growth? There have been several instances, such as Hong Kong and India, where there has been phenomenal economic and population growth—both countries that were less developed. Therefore, the one does not necessarily correlate with the other.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think that my noble friend will be aware that I never speak of "population control". I do not believe that it is right. I do not believe that there should be coercion under any circumstances. In many countries where there has been economic growth one finds couples, particularly the women, wishing to make the choice to have fewer children and to space them. It is not a question of economic growth first and of re-education about family size second: the two go very much together.

Lord Rea

My Lords, while we fully appreciate the urgency of getting contraceptive supplies to those couples who want them but cannot afford them or cannot get them, does the Minister agree that that should not be at the expense of long-term development assistance to less developed countries? Does she agree that the stabilisation of the world's population is very much dependent, as has already been implied, on women's literacy and a low infant mortality rate which, in their turn, lead to the choice to have smaller families? Is not the Minister worried that the structural adjustment programmes (which have been imposed by the IMF and the World Bank) have so far neglected the social development of countries with the result that health and education, especially of poor people in Africa, have deteriorated in the past decade, thus acting precisely against the very development which would most help to limit population growth?

Baroness Chalker of Wallesey

My Lords, it is quite wrong of the noble Lord to try to divide long-term development assistance from the essential advice and help which is being asked for by over 100 million couples in the developing world. The very fact that so many now want contraceptive help is a good sign as far as their resources are concerned. Long-term development assistance goes hand in hand with assistance for planning more stable economies and happier families in the developing world.