Orders of the Day — Population Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:34 am on 9th July 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 2:34 am, 9th July 1992

The hon. Gentleman is impatient. He gave us a tour around the world. I suspect that if he had had the opportunity to display his visual aids and maps more prominently, many hon. Members might have benefited. So he must forgive me if I take not quite such an extensive tour as he did but nevertheless mention parts of the world where I have seen important programmes in action.

Women need to be confident that, if they limit the number of children, the children will survive into adulthood. With up to one in three children dying before their fifth birthday in some of the poorest countries, it is not surprising that some parents feel that as an insurance policy they need to have several children. Therefore, investment in primary health care is essential. It is estimated that simple measures could save about 11,000 children who die from diarrhoea every day in the developing world and 8.000 who die from six major preventable diseases every day. Obviously, that must be tied up with the level of overseas aid that developing countries are prepared to devote to reducing such problems.

In the west and some middle-income developing countries, growing economic security has, for example, brought slower population growth. In most developing countries, the downward spiral of poverty, large families, ill health, lack of resources and increasing poverty still predominates.

In the long term the key to stabilising the world population is to support broad-based development and to promote economic security throughout the third world. That will require increased aid, debt relief, trade reforms and an international commitment to invest in the poor. That is the only way in which to give women, their children and the planet a fair chance.

Those of us who were able to attend the Rio conference deeply regretted that the rich countries were not prepared to address themselves to the agenda of the poorer countries. That agenda calls for increased aid flows, reductions in debt, increased trade possibilities and the transfer of technology. Whatever rhetoric the richer countries care to use to describe their so-called achievements in Rio, they cannot get away from the fact that they were not prepared to offer to meet any of those requests. Rio gave us the opportunity to redress the inequalities in the world and it was deplorable that the richer countries were not prepared to promote third-world issues.

If the Government had maintained their contributions to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities at the 1979 level up to 1990, the UNFPA would have received an additional £42·3 million. That substantial sum of money has been denied to the developing world because of the priorities that our Government have chosen to adopt. In 1979, UNFPA received £9·2 million at 1991–92 prices; in 1991–92 the sum stood at £7·5 million and in 1992–93 the planned figure is £9 million. I hope that the Minister can give us better news on that UN fund.

Last month's report from the UNFPA, "State of World Population 1992", the first for 10 years, shows how serious the situation has become. In the 1980s, food production fell behind population growth in 69 out of 102 developing countries. As the hon. Member for South Hams said, in the next decade world population will accelerate by the fastest rate in history. Almost all the population growth will take place in Africa, Asia and south America—more than half of that in Africa and south Asia, which are already suffering the greatest difficulty in meeting food, health and hygiene needs. As the hon. Gentleman said, further delay could be fatal.

Some third-world countries have already shown that family planning can succeed. The key to success is, once again, secondary education for women, plus access to land, jobs and family planning methods. One need only consider what has happened in certain states in India to see what a difference in attitude can achieve. Kerala and states in the north of India have been extremely successful in their control of population. The "State of World Population 1992" report is worth reading because it makes that achievement clear.

The report states: Kerala's female literacy rate of 66 per cent. is almost double that of its nearest rival. In the five northern states, only 11–21 per cent. of women can read.Kerala has the lowest infant mortality rate in India…In the northern states infant mortality is between four and five times higher.Kerala's fertility rate has fallen to the astonishingly low level of 2·3 children per woman—lower than Thailand or China, the former USSR or Ireland. Contraceptive prevalence is three times the national rate. The report suggests that two factors explain Kerala's success in human development: One is the priority given by the state government to spending on education and health, continuing a tradition that reaches far back into colonial times…Kerala is the only state in India…where the rural death rate is lower than the urban. A far-reaching land reform from the 1960s, has benefited three million tenants and landless.The second factor, whose roots reach even further into history, is the status of women. I recently heard a group of women from Kerala take part in an Institute of Development Studies seminar at the university of Sussex. It was fascinating to listen to some of them argue for improving the status of women in many other parts of the world.

In Kerala, as in the north and many other parts of India and Africa, women inherit land. In Kerala, the husband's family pays the bride price to the wife's family on marriage and women—unlike some other parts of India—are considered an asset. In the north they are considered a burden. In reality, they are a wasted asset.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and I saw and heard of some of the attitudes towards women in India, especially in northern India, recently and saw the different approaches to their importance in that country. The waste of that asset has immense human costs and has led to economic stagnation and rapid population growth in the north of India.

Thailand has reduced its fertility rate, from an average of almost seven children per woman to just over two, and I must pay tribute to what we saw in that country during our visit. Kenya, which used to have the world's fastest rising population, has apparently turned the corner. It is interesting that for every priest in Africa preaching against modern contraception, there are five Catholic nurses urging women to go to family planning clinics. That is also a welcome development.

Whatever the Minister says about population policy, I am sure that he will use many encouraging words. However, in the context of an expanding aid budget— although I suspect that it is likely to continue to shrink as regards some of the poorer developing countries as resources are channelled towards central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—the problem is that the Government analysis treats effects—population growth—not causes. The Government do not often talk about poverty. If Government policy is based on diverting funds away from poverty alleviation, it will be self-defeating. Family planning must be seen as part of a wider health care provision.

The hon. Member for South Hams mentioned the United Kingdom presidency and the Development Council of the EC. He scoffed at some of the budget lines in the European Community, but, as a former Member of the European Parliament, I found the budget lines of considerable advantage because, in contrast with what happens in the Westminster system, Members of the European Parliament can amend the budget line by line. If some of his colleagues in the European Parliament wished to put in additional lines on population assistance in the Community budget, they would be able to promote such a policy. Unfortunately, we do not have such an opportunity in Westminster. An Opposition Member has considerably more powers in the European Parliament to promote policies and obtain funds for subjects that he considers important.

As we all know, there is a logjam in the Community, and it is important that, as the United Kingdom holds the presidency, the Commissioners, and particularly some of the Development Commissioners, are encouraged to move rather faster on certain policies than they have done. I hope that, during the United Kingdom presidency, and while we have the chair of the EC Development Council, the Government will be extending their policies on the debts of developing countries to take into account debts to multilateral institutions and to commercial banks. After all, in 1990, for the first time, Britain received more in debt repayment from the third world than it gave in aid and new loans.

I hope that the Government take the lead in the Community in dealing with the enormity of the famine in Africa. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Hams would not like to see population decline as a result of famine. Africa needs something on the scale of a Marshall plan. What is offered is a desperate, last-minute reliance on emergency aid with no timetable for delivery. It is to the shame of the House that we have not had an opportunity to debate the crisis in Africa before the recess, because, before we meet again, it will have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, unless the EC and the Government move swiftly to do something about getting food aid faster to those African countries suffering from drought and famine. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurances on that.

Will the Minister assure us—again as the United Kingdom holds the presidency—that we shall address the trade issue, and stop treating the floundering GATT negotiations as a panacea for the ills of the developing world? GATT is a United States-EC dialogue and any advantage to the third world will be only a spin-off from that. I hope that the Government will back up their rehetoric on GATT with action and announce a strategy for improving the trading position of developing nations.

I think that I have made it clear, as the hon. Member for South Hams did, that population assistance cannot be treated in isolation. It must be treated in the context of all the subjects that I have mentioned. The figures tell a story of considerable cuts and disregard for the needs of women in the third world.

Despite what the Government said about population, at the Rio conference they gave no strong commitment to increase population assistance within the present meagre aid budget. I hope that the Minister will be able to address that on behalf of a Government who have done little about population over the past 13 years.