House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2001- 02
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
International Development Bill [Lords]

International Development Bill [Lords]

Standing Committee D

Thursday 22 November 2001


[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

International Development Bill [Lords]

Clause 1

Development assistance

9.30 am

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 1, line 5, at beginning insert:

    `Subject to subsection (1A) below.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 15, in page 1, line 7, at end insert—

    `(1A) Assistance under this section in relation to matters of population control, family planning, or sexual and reproductive health care, may not be provided to any programme of a person or body that assists, finances, practices or promotes (either directly or indirectly) forced abortion or forced sterilisation or forced contraception or which facilitates (either directly or indirectly) any form of coercion in relation to those said activities, in any country where evidence exists of coercion.

    (1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A) above, coercion includes intimidation of a physical, psychological, financial, penal or other kind.

    (1C) Subsection (1A) above is without prejudice to the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion to provide assistance to any person or body not specified therein.'.

Mr. Leigh: I repeat the welcome that has already been given to you, Mr. Griffiths. I hope that our debate on the policy of forced abortions in China will be positive. I certainly intend to pursue it in a non-partisan way to avoid any direct criticism of the Government. I say straight away, so that everyone may relax, that I do not intend to force a vote on these matters. This is a useful opportunity to have a real debate on a controversial subject that has exercised the minds of many who care about international development and comment on it.

One cannot equate our proceedings with a Select Committee inquiry, which my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) has called for and which I feel would be the best way of dealing with these matters, as we could summon witnesses and get to the truth. However, that may also be possible in the more relaxed atmosphere of a Standing Committee, where hon. Members may speak more than once, if they catch your eye, Mr. Griffiths, or make interventions.

This is a complicated matter but I want to narrow down the debate. I take it as read that every hon. Member is against any policy based on forced abortions, forced sterilisation, forced contraception or forced anything. It is the ultimate denial of a woman's right to choose. That is not a phrase that has often leapt from my lips, but I acknowledge that the Government are as opposed to the policy of forced abortions as I am.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leigh: I have not really got going yet.

Dr. Tonge: I know that, but it is important to establish that everyone would agree that there should be no coercion for a woman to have an abortion. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is every woman's right to choose whether she has an unwanted child?

Mr. Leigh: Let me say straight away, before I am ruled out of order, that this is not a debate about abortion. Everyone knows my views, just as everyone knows the hon. Lady's views. I shall not get involved in discussion of whether women want to have abortions. We should simply take it as read that we have different views on abortion and on what the legislation in this country should be. That is irrelevant. What is relevant is the subject of the forced abortions that are taking place in China. I put it that way to try to narrow the debate and shed some light on the matter. We do not need to be too controversial or to have two sides facing each other. This is not the anti-abortion lobby in England trying to make a great statement against abortion; it is my attempt to persuade the Committee and the Government to look at what is going in the context of aid to agencies that might be complicit in a forced abortion policy. That is what we must decide today. We must sift through the evidence.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that no UK development assistance—hence the relevance to today's debate—goes to programmes that involve coercive population control practices such as forced abortion, forced sterilisation or infanticide. I am concerned that £20 million of unrestricted UK grants, given every year to the United Nations Population Fund—henceforth referred to as UNFPA—and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, is helping to perpetuate such practices in China. Our debate this morning centres on that narrow issue, which has already been debated in another place. The Minister will reply shortly.

We all accept that China has one of the worst, if not the worst, human rights records in the world and no one denies that these practices go on. We all know that the UK provides aid to the bodies, so the debate is simple: is the aid given to these bodies by the British taxpayer effectively financing activities that are contrary to every notion of what the House would recognise as human rights and civilised behaviour?

It is indisputable that the population control process occurs, so how is it enforced? It is enforced by a nationwide apparatus of so-called family planning officials, part of whose motivation is the penalising, imprisoning, torturing and even executing—there have been well attested cases—of anyone who opposes any detail of the Chinese Government's inhumane population control policy. These are facts, not mere allegations, as respected bodies such as Amnesty International, the United States State Department, the BBC and other international media, dissidents and refugees—and testimony given to Select Committees and to the United States Congress—all confirm.

However, the amendment is not designed to condemn China, or to affect the Government's attempts to develop good relations with China. I do not want to engage in Committee this morning with the general strategy that the west should adopt to improve human rights in China. That would be out of order.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): I accept some of what the hon. Gentleman says and we all acknowledge that much that happens in China is appalling. However, it is disingenuous of him to say that he does not want to impinge on human rights. It is always easy to say what one does not like; it is more challenging to say what one intends to do about it. If we are not to engage in funding and co-operation, what does the hon. Gentleman believe that this country and the world should be doing to influence family planning policies in China?

Mr. Leigh: That is a fair point and I shall come to it. The hon. Gentleman is expressing the central contention of the Government and those who advocate funding of these agencies. They believe that it is possible to wash one's hands of these appalling practices. They claim that aid sometimes trickles down, in a way that cannot be controlled, to areas that we do not like, but that involvement is the only way to influence the debate. That is a perfectly fair argument, as attested to by the hon. Gentleman, and I shall deal with it later. I hope that I can convince the Committee that we are having precious little influence—some, but not enough to make a serious or effective impact on the Chinese Government in respect of these appalling practices. However, the hon. Gentleman's intervention was very fair; this is an important part of the debate. Such comments are constantly made when issues relating to international development are discussed. There are many nasty regimes around the world; do we have nothing to do with them or do we hope that by giving them aid we exert influence? It is a grey area and there is no black or white, which is why these debates are so important.

The one-child policy has been in operation for more than 20 years and—this is where we get down to the nuts and bolts—UNFPA and IPPF have been partners, or been complicit, in the one-child policy since its beginning. We help to fund those bodies; hence my amendments. The year before the one-child policy was introduced, UNFPA signed a ``memorandum of understanding'' with the Chinese Government; in 1980, IPPF also began involvement in the Chinese programme. In 1983, as the one-child programme became increasingly coercive, the China Family Planning Association, a Chinese body and an organ of the state Government that was running the programme, became an IPPF affiliate, so the body in China running the operation became an affiliate of a body that we are funding. The Minister probably does not have many good things to say about the CFPA; I shall be interested to hear his comments but I accept that he is not responsible for that body or for what it is doing. The CFPA, although ostensibly a non-governmental organisation, is run by Chinese state officials; the nature of the society and the Government is such that there is no effective non-governmental organisation in the field.

The CFPA admitted that its role was to

    ``supervise that the awarding and punishing policies relating to family planning [are] properly executed''.

It admitted, too, that the CPFA

    ``volunteers sometimes collect the occasional fine when a couple breaks the birthplan rules''.

The Secretary of State has said that IPPF and UNFPA can monitor the worst excesses of the Chinese regime and expose it to international condemnation, which was precisely the point made in an intervention by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). However, DFID admitted in 1995:

    ``Critics of this position argue that several years of UNFPA and IPPF involvement in China has not led the Chinese to moderate their policies or stop abuses in the implementation of policy. This is true.''

That was said some years ago so we shall look for examples to bear out the Secretary of State's contention that her involvement in the bodies is resulting in real influence for the better. We shall examine the evidence as the debate progresses. If the Minister can convince us, that will colour our conclusion.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State claimed:

    ``Birth quotas have been dropped in all of the counties where UNFPA is working.''—[Official Report, 7 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 285.]

That was the central contention; the right hon. Lady was saying, in brief, ``All right, we are giving aid. Where UNFPA, a body that we are supporting, operates we are having real influence in the counties in dealing with these matters.'' However, as recently as September, a team of investigators from the US-based Population Research Institute travelled to China to interview women and officials in those counties where UNFPA is active. Interviews were recorded in notebooks and on audio and video tape, and additional photographic evidence was gathered. The investigation concluded that

    ``there is no real distinction between the one-child policy as carried out in the 32 counties where the UNFPA is active and the one-child policy found throughout China as a whole . . . The UNFPA, contrary to its own statements, is participating in the management and support of a program of forced abortion and forced sterilization in China''.


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 22 November 2001