HL Deb 11 July 1995 vol 565 cc1470-2

3.3 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made following the declaration of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.

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

My Lords, we have made excellent progress through the overseas aid programme since the Cairo conference. Total new commitments in 1994 and 1995 for family planning and reproductive health will reach £150 million by the end of the year. That exceeds the target we set a year ago and will have a major impact by enabling large numbers of women and men in developing countries to choose if and when to have children; to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; and by reducing the risks associated with childbirth.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. As distinct from all the other Ministers who have been congratulated on their new posts, perhaps I may say that some of us are extremely relieved to find that the noble Baroness retains her portfolio. Does she agree that, despite the genuine success of the Cairo population conference, it is an urgent issue? Does she accept that the figures that she has just given show a remarkable increase—something like a doubling in support over five years? How does she intend to enthuse others—namely, NGOs and other countries—so that they share her enthusiasm in the field of reproductive health?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount and your Lordships' House for the rather welcome endorsement of my remaining in place. Of course, the issue is still urgent because 254,000 children are born each day; that is, 176 each minute. That means that our current world population of 5.6 billion will increase by 1,000 million in the next decade and then increase further. Therefore, in the next century, the world population may triple. That is why the matter is so urgent.

We are doing more than we had expected and I am glad that it will not be at the expense of other projects in the social field but will be from savings made and money diverted to that very important task. I shall continue to enthuse as many people as I can wherever I go because the world food stocks simply will not meet even the current needs of the population in overcrowded countries. As those numbers increase, the situation, pressure and perhaps person-to-person violence will get worse unless we take real action on family planning.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it is generally understood that the education of women is probably the most important single item in improving the population situation? What are the literacy rates for women in India, Pakistan and sub—Saharan Africa? How much money is earmarked for that purpose in the aid programme?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I should love to be able to give those figures to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, but I do not have them in my population and family planning file. I do not wish to misinform her. I shall write to her and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, the Minister is going to the Beijing conference. We know that there is a lot of pressure there to turn around the agenda from the Cairo conference. I believe that at the preliminary conference certain issues are to be taken up and earmarked to be debated which we thought had been accepted by everybody because they were the main issues accepted at the Cairo conference. Will my noble friend explain what would happen if the worst came about and some of those matters were turned around and not accepted at the conference in Beijing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the main purpose of the Cairo conference was to promote sustainable development and slow population growth through strategies for better reproductive healthcare, including access to family planning. It is essential that all the gains that we have made at the Cairo conference are carried forward in Beijing. I have every confidence that people around the world will be sufficiently sensible to see that that happens.

I understand the anxiety shared by a number of noble Lords that some aspects of the Cairo conference may be slightly endangered. However, I can fairly say to my noble friend that there are enough people around who know the score. I shall not speculate about a negative possibility when I am working flat out for a positive outcome because that is what the women and men of the world want. They want access to family planning help and for women to be treated on a par with men. That is what we hope the conference at Beijing will deliver.