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Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): The hon. Gentleman mentioned emergency contraception. Did he see the reports in our press last week, which stated that hospitals were refusing women emergency contraception after unprotected intercourse, and that that was affecting younger women in particular? I am sure he will agree that it is necessary to keep our eye on the domestic problem as well as the worldwide problem.

Mr. Jones: I wholly agree with the hon. Lady. The all-party group acknowledges that we do not have all the answers, but I am stressing that at least we have safe clinical abortion available in this country when absolutely necessary. I also agree that emergency contraception is paramount in preventing unnecessary abortions. I hope that we make further progress in this country because teenage pregnancy is our black spot. I was going to say

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that we should institute sexual education in schools and health facilities because that is another means of preventing teenage pregnancies.

We should educate health care providers, physicians and other professionals in the specifics of abortion laws and regulations, emphasising providers' responsibilities to deliver services to the fullest extent allowed by law. We should also have advocacy services, and should build the broad political will, as well as the commitment of health care officials and providers in particular, to ensure that safe services are available to all women to the full extent of existing law. Such services must be affordable by all women.

We must remove barriers to access to good quality, gender-sensitive sexual education for people of all ages. Where abortion is allowed on a range of legal grounds, we should design and enforce policies to ensure that good quality, affordable services are available to all women. Achieving the social and policy changes necessary to enable women and men to achieve sexual and reproductive health will entail another effort of co-operation between NGOs and Governments.

Quality reproductive and sexual health services clearly respond to people's needs better than a service offering only fertility regulation, although that is better than no service at all. Societal changes are necessary for those services to become a priority, and achieving the new priorities of women's empowerment and equity in a climate of reduced funding calls for a respect for human rights and for the wisdom of Governments who are currently having to cope with these sexual and reproductive health needs.

I know that we are preaching to the converted when addressing our Secretary of State and Under-Secretary of State for International Development on such matters--at least I hope so. The all-party group and I wish them well in their negotiations with colleagues on Cairo-plus-five for the environment, the well-being of men and women and the future of the human race.

10.10 am

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) on giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue. This is one of the splendid occasions on which there is much all-party consensus. In their excellent speeches, the hon. Members for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) and for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) described different aspects of the problem. The difficulty is that, if we are not careful, we overwhelm ourselves with statistics, quoting one after the other to persuade ourselves that the problem is intractable. I do not believe that that is so. I share the view of the hon. Member for Croydon, South that there are distinct signs of hope in what has happened since Cairo.

I am particularly privileged to be able to speak on this issue. Normally, I would not be allowed to do so because the Liberal Democrats have a much better qualified colleague in my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who would have been delighted to participate in today's debate had she not been in southern Sudan and, therefore, not easily available. I know that she would have made a valuable contribution.

Let us reiterate the fact that, as the world population approaches the 6 billion landmark, it is growing by 78 million people a year. The hon. Member for Croydon,

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South drew a telling analogy in saying how many people had been added to our population since last night. To put it another way, 78 million people is the population of France, Greece and Sweden combined. That is the scale of the issue.

Population concerns are at the heart of sustainable development strategies because rapid growth and high fertility hold back development and help perpetuate poverty. They make it hard for countries to concentrate on the future as they would want, because they are running to keep pace with current needs. One of the great achievements of the Cairo conference was to move away from a view based on coercion, setting targets and a top-down approach. Instead, emphasis was placed on individual decisions and prospects, and the various factors that affect such personal decisions. The conference moved towards integration of services, education and quality of care, and emphasised meeting individual needs. Once such needs are met, there is a chance that better educated personal decisions will be made.

In making such moves, the conference rightly laid stress on some social factors that might not otherwise have been prominent, such as equality, equity and the empowerment of women, which are very important in this context. Saying to women in some developing countries, where such concepts are not the historical norm, that there are alternatives to child bearing extends their educative process--if education is at all available--therefore delaying the start of child bearing, and enhancing education and the career and life style opportunities that that provides. The conference stressed the involvement of men, and how they should understand that women have rights. It considered the operation of such a big change in cultural norms, and placed emphasis on social practices, some of which are quite inimical to the progress that one hopes will be made. That is why we are right to emphasise that discrimination against girls in their education and against women in their social rights is critical.

No one can deny that there is a link between population, poverty and development. However, the link between economic factors and population growth is not simple or a straight quid pro quo. There is not necessarily a reduction in population growth as a result of economic growth. Indeed, economic drivers are very often the reason for large families, simply because such families are a necessity if one is to protect oneself in later years and provide for the family unit.

Let us remember that, of the 4.4 billion people in developing nations, a fifth have no access to health services, such as those that we would describe as health services, a quarter no adequate housing, a third no access to clean water and 60 per cent. no access to safe sewers. Such statistics are important because they extend the argument beyond population issues to other areas of international development. There is a seamless robe between the two; one cannot separate them.

Another key point is that the environment and population growth are inextricably linked. If one cares about the environment, one must care about poor countries, where substantial population growth contributes to its despoliation. Such despoliation, however, occurs at both ends of the economic spectrum. A very small part of the population--those in the richest countries--consumes the majority of the world's resources. The richest fifth of the world consumes 86 per cent. of all goods and services and causes 83 per cent. of all carbon dioxide emissions.

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At the same time, market systems subsidise environmentally damaging practices. It is a paradox that the greatest environmental threat is caused by both the wealthiest billion and the poorest billion people in the world, who are struggling to stay alive, feed families and ensure that their families have some life.

I would not do justice to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park if I did not spend a moment addressing the issues of AIDS and HIV. She is one of the foremost advocates in the House and elsewhere of the need to address such important matters. Of the 33.4 million people who are infected with AIDS, 1.3 million are children. In 1998, 70 per cent. of the 5.8 million infections were in sub-Saharan Africa. That is the great motor for all manner of difficulties. The people who are affected are the economically active part of the population. As a result of the epidemic--a pandemic in parts of the world--there is a motor for poverty, instability and all manner of future problems, which will be extremely difficult to solve if we do not address them properly.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on the subject of HIV and AIDS. Does he agree that Governments of the sub-Saharan nations, including Zimbabwe, are not entirely blameless for the spread of HIV and AIDS, given that Zimbabwe's Health Minister stood in their Parliament more than 10 years ago denying that there was such a thing--apart, perhaps, from that which could be caught by eating food that had not been grown in Zimbabwe? If we face such comments, which are not just ignorance but propaganda, how on earth can pandemics be stopped in their tracks? We must surely ensure that Governments are on board, spreading a good message rather than a predominantly evil one.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I agree that Governments have a special role to play. Governments elsewhere in the world have shut their eyes very tightly to the problem, too, hoping that it would go away--or, worse, spreading untruths about the nature of the epidemic and the way in which it can be countered. That is an enormous tragedy. However, we have probably made substantially progress. Governments now recognise that they have a massive problem on their hands. They recognise--but sometimes cannot meet--the needs that exist. That is where the countries of the rich world have a serious part to play.

I conclude with a simple thought. In this subject area, the outstanding fact is that partnership works--partnership between Governments, or between Governments, non-governmental organisations, Churches and so on. Preventive education works. Economic stability combined with adequate health services works. There has been a positive development since the Cairo summit: people no longer believe that population control is something that the north tells the south to do, and occasionally sends missionaries out to help it to do. Instead, a dialogue has started between the southern nations, which has worked much more effectively. Occasionally, the south now tells the north how to do it right, which is equally healthy in the modern world.

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I hope that the Minister can reinforce those positive signs. I hope that he will tell us that the Government will continue to work to make some of the aspirations of the Cairo summit a reality, and to continue the progress that has been made in the past five years.

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