Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.52 am

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): As one who was part of the delegation at the Cairo conference, I thought that I should make a short speech today. I was rather tied up on the Greater London Authority Bill all day yesterday and will be again today, so my preparation is not what it might have been. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on securing the debate, and I agreed with almost every word that he said.

I have drawn the attention of the House to population growth on many occasions during the past decade. The bare statistics are horrifying. When one considers that between the time that we adjourned the House last night and today, another 100,000 people came into the world, one begins to realise the consequences of population growth on the globe and its environment. Another statistic reveals that a third of the world's population is under the age of 15. Those people are tomorrow's parents, and population growth will continue relentlessly.

There are, of course, signs of encouragement. Those of us who have taken an interest in the subject over the years will have received Population Concern's regular data sheets. Before the debate, I picked up two at random--one from 1983 and one from 1993--as a matter of interest and to find out what projections were being made in those years. In 1983, it was forecast that by 2020, the world population would be 7.8 billion. The best comparative statistic is that in that year the world's population was

20 Jan 1999 : Column 828

projected to double within 39 years. A decade later, the projection was that the world's population would double in 42 years. That is a clear sign that the policies that have been put into effect in the past two decades are beginning to work.

Population growth has a serious impact on any nation. Whatever one may say about China's population policies--none of us feels entirely comfortable with them--they are achieving results. It is only by addressing the threat to stability in China that its Government have been able to stabilise population growth. I drew attention to the reduction in the doubling time for the world's population; much of that is attributable to the stabilisation of population growth in China.

The threat of population growth to any country is obvious. If a population is growing by 3 per cent. a year, that country must provide 3 per cent. more jobs, 3 per cent. more schools, 3 per cent. more electricity and other resources. If the economy is growing at 2 per cent., the country is going backwards. That is the stark truth.

I am proud that the previous Government recognised the problem--although they took some persuading--and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie was right to draw attention to that. I recognise that the present Government have, by and large, continued the previous Government's policies, and I pay tribute to that. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who will reply to the debate, has a long tradition of involvement in the issue and is supportive, although the restraints of office may, now and again, have an impact on his thinking.

I pay tribute to the key non-governmental organisations in this country who have done so much in this field. Two are outstanding: Population Concern, whose data sheets I referred to, and Marie Stopes International. For a number of reasons, not everyone feels comfortable with the work of MSI--although I am very comfortable with it--but its contribution and role are unparalleled. I remember visiting one of its clinics in Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, and seeing the dramatic impact that it was having in the suburbs and inner-city areas of, for example, Addis Ababa. MSI tries to make its clinics self-financing by making a small charge for contraception. Having got a clinic up and running, the organisation moves on and opens another.

The 1994 Cairo conference was set in changing circumstances. It took place at the end of the Reagan era in the United States, and a more enlightened view was taken by the US Government, who were relaxing their opposition to support for global population programmes. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church was still determinedly opposed to any such programmes. It was the leader of the opposition at the Cairo conference. However, the conference was essentially a triumph.

Until Cairo there had been no global programme and no recognition across the world that population growth was a problem. As the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said, it was within the gift of the conference to do something about that. The protocol that emerged recognised the problem and provided a solution. It recognised that there was a right of reproductive health and enshrined the phrase "reproductive health" in the world language. The mood at Cairo was that something had to be done. Of the 130 or so countries that participated, all bar two or three signed up to the final declaration.

20 Jan 1999 : Column 829

There was also a parliamentary fringe at Cairo, and I had the privilege of making a speech in the chamber of the Egyptian Parliament. The Parliament had shut down for a week--perhaps it was in recess--and representatives from the 130 countries spoke about this most important issue.

Where have we got to in the post-Cairo era? The commitment remains, but I do not know whether it is being matched financially. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie was right to draw attention to the nations that could improve their performance in funding programmes. I also sense that, to some extent, the heat has gone out of the issue. Cairo put the heat into it, and perhaps in five years' time the 10-year successor to Cairo will inspire an escalation of interest in it again. One or two of the donor nations could be doing more than they are at present.

There is also a certain squeamishness among some Governments and NGOs as to whether or not they should be making a full-bloodied commitment to what are effectively family planning programmes. There is no question but that family planning without education is unacceptable. The people who are to receive family planning must be educated, but some groups still feel that that is a bit too up front and that family planning should be packaged with other issues such as maternal health, women's rights and many others that I could think of if I concentrated a little harder. However, if a programme covers all these things, the family planning element is watered down. We must not lose sight of the fact that contraception is the basic need, whatever else is included in a programme, and the watering down of the family planning element must be tackled.

None the less, the Cairo conference was a success. Indeed, as I said earlier, it was a triumph. It achieved its objectives and set in train a momentum. I hope that will be the tone of the next five years as we build up to the successor conference.

10.2 am

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on securing this debate. It is an important time to discuss the issues surrounding Cairo-plus-five. I must apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House because I have to leave early. I have to chair a meeting of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs at 11 am, so I shall not be able to hear all the winding-up speeches.

The all-party group on population, development and reproductive health which, as my hon. Friend said, I chair, sponsored a reception in the House last November by Marie Stopes International to mark the 10th anniversary of the safe motherhood initiative. I shall focus on the way that the Cairo conference moved the debate on from a purely demographic way of thinking about population programmes towards the broader concept of sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, and an emphasis on the importance of women's interests, needs and rights as essential components of development.

Among the challenges facing the world is, as well as the horrendous list that my hon. Friend outlined, the fact that every minute of every day, a woman dies from causes

20 Jan 1999 : Column 830

related to pregnancy and childbirth, most of which are preventable. Also, the vast majority--99 per cent.--of the 585,000 deaths that occur each year take place in the developing world. For every woman who dies, approximately 30 more suffer injuries, infections or disabilities, some of which have lifelong consequences. Some 3 million families endure the death of their newborn in the first week of life. As a result of the 100 million or so acts of sexual intercourse that take place each day, there are also an estimated 900,000 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases and 8,500 new HIV infections. Women are increasingly being affected by these infections. The statistics show clearly that sexual activity and reproduction still pose considerable threats to women's health and well-being.

The all-party group welcomes the Government's commitment, set out in the White Paper, to reduce maternal mortality by 75 per cent. by 2015. To do that, we must face the challenge of unsafe abortion. There are 20 million a year, resulting in 70,000 deaths and literally millions of disabilities. The Cairo programme of action recognised the health impact of unsafe abortion as of "major public health concern". Of course, we must recognise the difficulties in tackling the issue.

Parliamentarians from around the world attended a seminar in Brussels last year. Some Latin American Members of Parliament had a problem with incorporating the resolution on unsafe abortion in an agreed statement. They eventually acknowledged that it was a problem, and rightly so. We must call on countries like ourselves--for example, Denmark, Sweden and Finland--which have safe legal abortion services to work for similar conditions for women worldwide. If the European Union could take unsafe abortion on board as a public health issue, it would be a great step forward for global human rights.

As a priority, abortion needs to be integrated into a broad reproductive health service, offering a wide range of contraceptive choices, including emergency contraception, good technical care and easy access. Once a woman has decided on the option of abortion, she should have the possibility of early and quick referral for advice, counselling and treatment.

Action can be taken to make progress by reallocating and using efficiently public and private funds in support of various initiatives. Education and information need to be available through multiple channels, including the media, women's organisations and professional associations.

Next Section

IndexHome Page