|Previous Section||Home Page|
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins) : As is customary, and I have no difficulty in doing so, I congratulate the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on securing this debate. He has, by all accounts--past correspondence and contributions-- been signally effective in stimulating debate on environmental issues of concern to his constituents. I prepared a speech in anticipation of some of the points that he would make, but if I do not deal with all the issues that he has raised, I will write to him with such further comments as are necessary.
I have noted the House's past interest in problems in Derbyshire and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing me with an opportunity to underline the Government's continued concern to protect the health of our people and the state of the environment in the country and particularly in Derbyshire, as highlighted in this debate.
Incidentally, I visited part of the national forest, which
Column 540covers areas of Derbyshire, and saw for myself some of the activities that have been going on as a result of the successful project there. The benefits of the Government's strategy can be seen in many parts of the country. I shall take this opportunity to describe examples of the successes in and around north-east Derbyshire, which are contributing to the environmental regeneration of the area.
At Leigh Environmental, Killamarsh, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has required a major refurbishment of the incineration plant, which is expected to come on line later this year, allowing the company to meet new plant standards in advance of the specified date. Improvements already carried out in response to improvement conditions, particularly those related to improved control of incinerator temperature and waste feed, have resulted in a substantial reduction in complaints from people living and working close to the site.
At Rho ne-Poulenc, near Staveley, part of the site is already under HMIP control. A number of improvement conditions have already been complied with. New plant standards will be achieved progressively by 1998, resulting in the virtual elimination of benzene releases. The quality of releases to the River Rother from the site have improved since the issue of the authorisation. Other processes on site are due to be controlled by HMIP soon, resulting in further reductions in mercury releases into the environment. The company is pursuing pioneering development work on reed bed technology with the active encouragement of HMIP.
GKN Sheepbridge, near Chesterfield, has been the source of recent complaints, and agreement has been reached for improvements to be undertaken.
At Coalite Fuels, Bolsover, some 25 improvement conditions were imposed and all the short-term conditions have now been complied with. Discharges to the River Doe Lea have improved considerably following the installation of improved settling facilities called for by HMIP.
At Coalite Products, nine processes have come under HMIP control between October 1992 and June 1994. Many of the improvement conditions have already been completed, but a number more remain. Those improvement conditions are all aimed at the achievement of new plant standards within defined timescales.
A close liaison is being developed between HMIP, the National Rivers Authority and the waste regulatory authorities in north-east Derbyshire in advance of the environment agency, on which good progress is being made and about which we hope to hear more later this year. Meetings are being held and matters of mutual concern discussed and progressed in an integrated fashion. There is also close liaison between the regulators, including the local authorities and regional health authority. Joint meetings have been held and initiatives established to collect environmental data. The aim is to undertake a modelling exercise studying the interaction of pollutants from various sources in the area.
The regulatory authorities continue to attend liaison committees, which act as a forum for discussion and an information conduit between process operators and local pressure groups and members of the public.
In May, a new rivers ecosystems scheme for classifying water quality was introduced. It will enable statutory water quality objectives to be set for the first time for individual stretches of water. Objectives will normally be set to reflect improvements expected to result from existing obligations under EC and domestic legislation and from discretionary
Column 541spending. The NRA will shortly prepare proposals for a limited number of pilot catchments. There will be full consultation informally by the NRA and formally by the Secretary of State. The River Doe Lea has been the subject of considerable attention by the NRA as it has sought to identify the problems and find solutions. I understand that the NRA is taking civil action against Coalite Chemicals to recover the costs of removing dioxins from the Doe Lea and Rother rivers. That civil action has taken some time to prepare because analysis of dioxin contamination is very complex, time consuming and costly.
The Government have funded derelict land reclamation in north-east Derbyshire for many years. In the three years to April 1994, 20 schemes were completed and 12 more were in the pipeline. Those will reclaim 380 hectares and produce 30 hectares of industrial land, about 1,000 to 1,500 jobs and up to £40 million of private sector investment. English Partnerships has a continuing commitment to reclamation work in the area and the Government are also providing £250,000 for the reclamation work of the Cresswell groundwork trust in the area.
An extensive and co-ordinated programme of environmental research and monitoring has already been carried out in north-east Derbyshire. Several reports detailing results of those studies have already been published, and the Government have given assurances that all the data will be made public. From the strategy that I have outlined, and from the examples that I have given, I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East is reassured that all the agencies are committed to environmental protection and environmental regeneration, and to working closely with representatives of the local community. Successful environmental protection is dependent on a co-ordinated approach by all parties, to ensure that the maximum benefit is achieved, commensurate with the state of knowledge, technology and costs to the product, process and the environment.
Mr. Barnes : Does the Minister feel that the developments that he has spoken about begin to match up to the full environmental survey that it is increasingly obvious is required in the area ? Out of the bits and pieces that begin to develop, a story may be built up. We need to put together all the resources and sectors that I was speaking about, and to investigate the matter completely. Once we do that, we shall begin to know the answers that should be implemented. The Minister was also invited to join us in investigations into the area, because sometimes the equivalent of site visits are useful in helping to determine people's positions.
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Like any politician or Minister, I would never say "never". We believe that much work is being done in the area, although obviously there is more yet to be done. As for the offer of a visit, I shall look at the diary and if I can accept that offer, I will.
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) : I congratulate the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), on his recent appointment. I know that, this morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), the new Minister, will be first class in his post.
It has been a long night. It was a long day yesterday for those who waited to discover what their change of portfolio might be. It was a long day on the Opposition Benches, waiting for announcements of shadow leaders and deputy shadow leaders. Our time span of difficulties here in this Palace of Westminster is just a tiny flicker in the time span of the suffering of the people on whose plight I wish to dwell this morning. I speak of the marsh arabs of the Mesopotamian marshes, and of the southern Iraqi Shi-ites, whose lives bordered the Mesopotamian marshlands until so very recently. Thirty thousand square miles of antique waterways, with 10,000 square miles of that large expanse always under water, have been destroyed. Earlier this year, the Royal Air Force gave me to display, through the courtesy of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, now chairman of the Conservative party, some material showing the extent of the works that had caused that devastating damage. It was a tragic sight--enormous bulwarks, dams, the type of things that one can imagine would divert all the rivers of the United Kingdom. Millions and millions of dollars have been poured into taking away the ancient Mesopotamian marshlands, the waters of Babylon, and creating an arid desert. There are those who claim--Saddam Hussein and his minions among them--that the consequential burning of the reed huts, the marshland villages, the rice farms, the date palms, all the historic agricultural produce of the marshlands, is all done for beneficial agricultural purposes.
I am chairman of the AMAR--assisting marsh arabs and refugees--appeal and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for Iraq. In that capacity, I have had the opportunity to visit the area and to listen to the hundreds of thousands of victims whose homes have been destroyed, apparently for good, and whose lives have been wrecked irreparably.
I recall at the end of the war, when I was a small child, people, dreadfully full of guilt, asking, "Why didn't we listen ? Why didn't we listen to the Jews when they said that they were being exterminated ? Why didn't we listen when the concentration camps were being built and used ?" Today, there are people who still refuse to listen to victims unless they see them on the television, go to Rwanda or experience at first hand the Bosnian tragedies. I am ashamed of those people. They refuse to listen to the plight of the victims. But it is the victims who can tell us of the gruesome tortures and the lifelong incarcerations in gaols below the surface of the ground in Baghdad and who, today, tell us of the degradation of the marshlands and the despoliation of that wonderful, unique habitat for wildlife, birds, animals and, most importantly, humans. I am engaged in saving the survivors--there are 100,000 of them. Those survivors have fled into Iran. Some 30,000 of them are in Saudi Arabia, but it has not been possible to visit them. In Iran, we have a team of doctors, 60 medical people, 160 teachers and a number of people
Column 543who support and help us. Those people are working day and night. In conditions of acute danger, they have crept back into the marshlands where they are managing to save the lives--temporarily at least--of the remaining 50,000 or so marsh arabs who are coming ever closer to the border with Iran. I do not know whether they will come through because dams, and yet more dams, have been erected. Along the top of those dams, as I have seen, soldiers stand with machine guns and bombard the people as they attempt their final few yards to escape. Now, a road has been created along which armed vehicles are roaming along the border.
We care for those who can get out. Last August, when I was there, 11,000 people streamed through our medical clinic. The British Government have been helping us and I want to give warm thanks for the competence of the Overseas Development Administration to the Minister for Overseas Development and her senior staff--Mr. Ron White now has the Iraq desk in the ODA.
We have had consistent and wonderfully sensitive and thoughtful support from ECHO--the European Community humanitarian aid organisation that is based in Brussels. Mr. Gomez Reino, Mr. Donato Chiarini and Mr. Richard Lewartowski have been consistent and understanding in their support. I was delighted when Dr. Rietweldt managed to visit the region and see a small portion of our work the other day.
Iran, a country more sinned against than sinning, has given us consistent and tremendous partnership support throughout, which still continues. A representative of the president came from Iran the other day and I was fortunate enough to introduce him to the Foreign Secretary. They were in complete agreement about humanitarian work. They were wonderful supporters from Iran.
Surely the time has come to start a proper dialogue with Iran on the cultural and, perhaps, the religious differences that have kept our countries apart for too long. I want that
Column 544dialogue to start under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. I am co- chairman of the UNESCO committee in the House of Commons and I believe that we might manage to begin a substantial, far-reaching dialogue that could begin to knit together those unravelled threads of cultural dialogue that have stretched back over so many centuries between two historic civilisations.
It is difficult to have any feelings other than disgust and disdain for Saddam Hussein, a man whose sole purpose seems to be to wipe out everybody who voices even the most modest disagreement for his unbearable and inhumane policies. That man is a genocidal monster. I am so grateful to the Government for all the support they have given to me and others in attempting to repair just a fraction of the damage that he has caused.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) knows that I disagree with her deeply on the substance of what she has said. However, I want to defend her right in raising a very important subject, placed at No. 9 in the Consolidated Fund debates, to have proper time for her speech and to have a proper ministerial reply-- [Interruption.] I am on a point of order.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, although it is an interesting point, it is not a point of order.
Mr. Dalyell : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have already said that, in my view, the hon. Gentleman did not raise a point of order. It might be a point of substance, but it is not a point of order.
It being Eight o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Conway.]
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : It comes as no surprise to find myself standing here this morning, but it comes as a great surprise and pleasure to find that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) is on the Front Bench to reply to the debate. Perhaps I should declare my interest. I have had the honour to be invited to be a member of the United Kingdom delegation at the international conference on population and development which is to take place in Cairo in September. I should add that I am doing so at my own expense.
The conference, which is to be held between 5 and 13 September, was created by the United Nations Economic and Social Council resolution in 1989. The secretary general of the conference is Dr. Nafis Sadik, the first-class executive director of the United Nations Population Fund. It is the fifth international conference on population. The first was held in Rome in 1954 and the second in Belgrade in 1965. The third was held in Bucharest in 1974, and 10 years later Mexico City set the population and family planning agenda for the next decade.
The publicity generated by the conference in Bucharest in 1974 brought population issues to world attention for the first time. Although the less- developed countries were backing the argument that development was the best contraceptive, many Governments launched their own family planning programmes following the discussions at the conference and the publication of "World Population Plan of Action". By the time of the next conference in Mexico in 1984, most developing countries were strongly supportive of family planning programmes to improve maternal and child health and to reduce population growth rates. The conference in Cairo aims to take the next step and to provide an action-oriented plan to increase worldwide commitment to population and development issues.
The conference is the result of growing recognition throughout the world of the interrelationships between population, environment, resources and development. It is also a recognition that the women's movement can no longer continue to grow parallel to and distinct from the movement towards sustainable development. It is now widely accepted that people are both the victims and the cause of environmental degradation of the planet. The conference will attempt to come to terms with the realisation that the process of sustainable development is made much more difficult, if not impossible, by the high rates of population growth which prevail when family planning services are not widely available and accepted.
The expression "Development is the best contraceptive" is fundamentally a lobbying expression by those countries that have been seeking more aid. It is, to a certain extent, true, but the first thing a country has to get is development. I am always attracted to the illustration of Indonesia as an example of where a planned, carefully-thought-out planning programme, backed by a full parallel programme of education, is able to produce a reduction in population as a pre-condition of economic growth.
Column 546Indonesia is now one of the Asian tigers and it is admitted by all in government that it would never have happened were it not for that initial family planning programme.
We all know how serious population growth can be and that it is the root cause of many of the world's problems. For example, the tragedy in Rwanda is primarily a territorial dispute brought about by overcrowding. In a revealing article in Atlantic Monthly , entitled "The Coming Anarchy", Robert D. Kaplan shows how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet, with particular emphasis on Africa. He writes of the withering away of Governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease and the growing pervasiveness of war. All that is seen in Rwanda, which I believe will be the first of many similar disputes.
In recent years, there has been a change in perspective in the developed world of how this issue is beginning to affect our planet. We saw it in Rio in 1992 and after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appeared at the Dispatch Box when a remarkable number of hon. Members rose to ask questions about population. The trend was continued at the G7 summits in Tokyo in 1993 and in Naples this year. But, above all, the USA is the country which has so shifted its position during the past decade.
Under the new Administration, President Clinton has set up a global committee to look at global issues--matters such as the environment, drugs and, in particular, population, which the head of the global action committee, Senator Tim Worth, earmarked as the most fundamental issue of all.
In addition, the United States has managed to separate the issue of abortion from family planning. Anyone who studies the subject for more than a few minutes will realise that family planning and abortion are separate matters, and abortion is the most ineffective and inefficient form of family planning that there could be. No one in their right mind could concede that it is a central part of any family planning programme. I regret that one group that does not seem to have changed its mind is the Pope and his advisers in the Vatican, but more of that in a moment. But it is now clear that attitudes around the world are changing, most notably in the scientific community.
An excellent post note issued by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology published a few weeks ago referred to the science academies of the world meeting in New Delhi in September 1993 where Britain was represented by the Royal Society. They came to the overall conclusion that, while the relationships between human population, development and environment are complex and not fully understood, there is no doubt that the threat to the ecosystem is linked to population size and resource use.
Time does not permit me to deal with some quite excellent other conclusions, but in its final conclusion the meeting called on Governments and international decision makers to take incisive action now and adopt an integrated policy on population and sustainable development on a global scale. That is not just a fringe group reaching that conclusion but the leading scientists of the world. I put it to the House that there can be no higher authority than that. In response to that publication by the scientists of the world, the Royal Society held a seminar on 11 July at which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development was the keynote speaker on behalf of the Government. She made quite the most significant speech
Column 547on this subject that Britain has seen. It marks a fundamental and welcome shift in the Government's position and attitude.
The Government launched the Overseas Development Administration's document entitled "Children by Choice, not Chance : Meeting the Challenge", a top- class, good-quality, informative and instructive document, in which my right hon. Friend said :
"The challenge is there. We can ignore women's demands ; we would then expect the world's population to triple to 17 billion within two hundred years. Or we can meet the demand for family planning and so ensure that the world's population stabilises at about double its present level."
My noble Friend's speech was full of excellent observations and comments, and it set out the fundamental position. I should have liked to quote much more, but time does not permit. My noble Friend also announced a huge increase in population activities funding--£100 million over the next two years. Can it be matched by other Governments in the European Union and around the world ? It would be churlish to press the Government to go further, but I give notice that I shall be pressing in due course that that course of action be taken.
A number of outstanding points from PrepCom remain to be resolved--such as estimates of resource needs, a definition of family planning, fertility regulation, reproductive and sexual health, safe motherhood, unsafe abortion, the right of adolescents to privacy, confidentiality and so on. Those unresolved issues will be the subject of debate at the Cairo conference and I look forward to playing my own part in that.
At the heart is the tricky question of resources. My noble Friend Lady Chalker has said many times that she does not want to set targets, and she is probably right that the quality of programmes is more important than any target. However, we should not shy away from targets. We set them for the citizens charter, inflation, education and even the Child Support Agency. One should not totally exclude targets, because one does not have to hit the bull's eye on every occasion.
The resources question remains unresolved. As the Government have pledged an increase in funding, can my hon. Friend the Minister say whether the targets in the draft document are acceptable to the Government ? If not, to what percentage of the budget does he expect the Government to commit themselves ?
I urge my hon. Friend to address himself also to the question of how he might counter the Vatican's influence. The conference is subject to intense lobbying by the Vatican. Roman Catholic countries are trying to use the conference as an ideological platform, to have set out in black and white positions that have little to do with a global family health programme and more to do with an ideological standpoint. I remind my hon. Friend that my noble Friend Lady Chalker told the Royal Society :
"I understand the position that the Catholic Church, for example, takes on what they describe as artificial methods of birth control. But by the same token, no single group should seek to prevent the Cairo declaration and Action Plan reflecting the majority view on the importance of everybody having access to adequate reproductive health care."
That is a substantial position, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will stand by it. I will be interested to hear his comments.
Column 548Everybody's views on abortion are well known. At such a conference, one cannot have in the final declaration a statement that sets out a position on abortion that is contrary to national law. On one hand, we have those opposed to abortion ; on the other, those who are--in one form or another--supportive of it. The two are irreconcilable. I hope that the draft declaration will incorporate wording that acknowledges differences of opinion.
Other issues that need to be addressed are adolescence and the definition of reproductive health. In all that, I urge my hon. Friend to work closely with the United States, which I believe can be a firm ally to us at the conference.
One of the interesting things has been the emergence of the role of non- governmental organisations in the preparation of the summit, several hundred of which have attended the PrepCom conference. I draw the attention of the House to the role played by two NGOs in particular : Population Concern, and Marie Stopes International. The latter pioneered the social marketing programme in certain parts of the world and recently introduced a first-class briefing pack, which I commend to my hon. Friend.
There is a slow shift of opinion among the NGOs towards recognising that the issue is very important. They have in the past tended to shy away from it. I was quite delighted yesterday to receive a briefing pack from Christian Aid in preparation for the debate. I am rather flattered that it should be focused on my Adjournment debate. It shows that there is growing interest in the issue.
I give my support to the proposed chairman of the conference, Mr. Fred Sai. I hope that he will be in the chair. He is well known to many hon. Members. He chaired the May committee in 1984. He is also a specialist in health, nutrition and family planning. I seek the assurance of my hon. Friend that the Government will support him. I urge my hon. Friend to continue funding research into new and modern technological advances in contraception which might be appropriate to the 1990s, rather than what is now recognised as the slightly outdated contraceptive methods of the 1960s. I recognise the hard work that has been done on the conference by Overseas Development Administration officials, particularly Mr. David Nabarro. I pay tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Chalker and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who was the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs--a position now occupied by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury--who, for the past couple of years, has spoken for the ODA in the House and taken a keen interest in the subject.
This is the best last chance that we have to try to stabilise the world population. If we can stabilise it at 10 billion by 2025, rather than the projected 15 billion, we will all have achieved something worth while.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I compliment my hon. Friendthe Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottoway) on initiating the debate. He has a long- standing and informed interest in this important subject and I know that he has taken a keen interest in it since he has been a Member of the House, and long before.
The Government agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of the international conference on population
Column 549which will be held in Cairo. We agree with him on the importance of getting the right result from it. Indeed, some of us--as he does, I am sure--see it as the most important international conference of the decade.
Our objectives for the conference are quite straightforward. We want all women and men to be able to access good-quality family planning and reproductive health services. By "all", we mean sexually active adolescents as well as adults, poor as well as rich, country dwellers as well as those in the towns and cities. We know that between 100 million and 200 million couples cannot access those services. We know that the services available for many millions of others are either of poor quality or far too expensive. We know that if services were more widely available, they would be used. We know, too, that when the services are used, fertility rates and population growth rates fall. We have seen that transformation occur in Bangladesh and Kenya, and have supported it with selective use of British aid funds.
We are seeing the transformation begin in other parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The requirement is quite simply to ensure that the services are there. That means that at Cairo we will encourage all Governments to commit themselves to offer family planning and reproductive health services. We want people to be able to access a choice of family planning methods, including natural family planning. We want to improve the safety of motherhood and childbirth, with better quality midwifery and obstetric services. We want women and men to have easy access to services that treat and prevent sexually transmitted infections ; we want to help to reduce the consequences of genital mutilation and other forms of sexual violence.
Governments, of course, must decide what levels of service should be available for their people and what proportion of the national budget should be invested in them. They must decide how the services will be provided, using private-sector providers when they are more efficient and effective than the public sector. Local culture and sensitivity will determine the exact mix of services to be offered and the way in which they are made available.
We are against any coercion of people to use or not to use particular kinds of family planning service. We are against prescribing the services that can and cannot be offered. But we encourage Governments to take account of what happens when people cannot have access to family planning services--of the 200,000 women who die each year as a result of unsafe abortions ; of the hundreds of thousands of children born to parents who do not want them and often cannot afford to clothe and feed them ; and of the inevitable disruption of development programmes and, indeed, of the entire environment that results from rapid population growth.
It would be extraordinary if the Cairo conference were not a success. Most Governments, particularly those of developing countries, have adopted population policies and are busy implementing them. In 1965, only nine developing countries had policies to promote family planning and reduce their rates of population growth. More and more couples now choose when to have children, and practise family planning--an estimated 10 per cent. did so in 1960 ; 50 per cent. do so now. Considerable strides have been made in recent years. Those who keep us informed of what is happening in the wider world--the non-governmental organisation and advocacy groups, with which my hon. Friend is so closely associated--seem to
Column 550agree that action taken now will determine whether the world's population stabilises at 12 billion or 18 billion during the first century of the next millennium.
We are working with the United Nations and others to ensure that the conference is a success. Dr. Nafis Sadik, head of the UN Population Fund and secretary general of the conference, has tirelessly travelled the world preparing the ground for success. She has spoken to the leaders of developing countries, academic groups and scientists, donor organisations and colleagues in the United Nations system. She is ably supported by Dr. Fred Sai, a highly experienced and committed Ghanaian, who will preside over the conference and in whom we have total confidence.
The Egyptian Government are providing excellent facilities for the 20,000 or so participants, many of whom will be representing non-governmental organisations and advocacy groups. Most delegations will be headed by Ministers ; I am delighted to say that ours will be ably led by my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about her excellent speech the other day on "Children by Choice, not Chance". I am also delighted that my hon. Friend himself will be joining the group of experienced officials and non-governmental organisation representatives who will be on our delegation.
My hon. Friend asked specifically about targets. The targets in the draft Cairo plan of action are acceptable to us and we will apply ODA funds to help recipient Governments to adapt them to their circumstances and achieve those targets. We are completely committed to that. Indeed, our commitment to the subject generally has been well illustrated by the fact that the amount that we have spent directly on population and reproductive health has increased each year since 1991 and more than doubled between 1986 and 1993. At present, we are spending just over £31 million. Further funds go towards education projects specifically aimed at women and other poverty -focused programmes that will create a climate within which people can adopt family planning measures.
The UN has arranged preparatory meetings that have been well attended by delegations from all over the world. The discussion was intense. The British delegation, as a member of the European Union, played a major part. We have helped to shape the draft plan of action for the Cairo conference and we continue to work behind the scenes, strengthening the common European Union line and negotiating with care to ensure that contentious passages will be acceptable to the vast majority of delegates. The action plan, full of realistic and sensible objectives, is one of which we can be proud, which we can support and which we expect to be agreed, with acclamation, in Cairo.
We have discussed with UNFPA--the United Nations Population Fund--the World bank and other agencies mechanisms to follow up the conference. We propose an enhanced role for the UNFPA, working in co-ordination with other major groups, and we confidently expect our proposals to be accepted.
There are a few countries whose delegations have expressed fundamental objections to improving access to family planning and reproductive health services. I understand that they are concerned about the increased availability of what they described as artificial methods of birth control. They are concerned that there will be easier availability of facilities for induced abortion. They fear that such actions will encourage promiscuity and, in the longer term, undermine the sanctity of the family.
Column 551That is not new. At the 1974 Bucharest conference and in 1984 in Mexico, a proportion of the delegations took that line. Compared with then, the number of dissenting voices has reduced dramatically. The 12 or so delegations that do not take the majority line are expressing their concerns in strident language, accusing the majority of an inhuman and immoral stance. They are entitled to their view, but they should recognise that it is a minority view and one which is unlikely to impede the majority world view from prevailing. We are in dialogue with the minority group. We should prefer to see a declaration that is adopted unanimously or at least by a broad consensus. We should not wish to see voting on the plan of action, as that would be seen as divisive.
Column 552During the forthcoming parliamentary recess, my officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations will be working hard with their European colleagues to ensure that the meeting in Cairo will be a success and will herald intensified action in population and reproductive health. They will go to Cairo in the knowledge that Britain has played a leading role in advocacy and action in this important area. They will go knowing that there is strong support for their work from both sides of the House. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South will be joining them and I look forward to hearing his report when we return in the autumn. We wish him and the conference success, because the price of failure will be measured not by us but by future generations. We must succeed for their sake.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Eight o'clock.
|Written Answers Section