Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am pleased to have the chance to raise this important topic. I do so with some trepidation, because it is an issue on which one can be misconstrued, misreported, misquoted and misunderstood. To avoid this, I will begin by saying what the debate is not about. This is not a debate about immigration under another name; it is not a debate about relative population sizes, and whether there are more white people or black people; it is not about the relative sizes of faiths, and whether there are more Christians, Jews or Muslims; it is not about the relative sizes of social classes, and whether there are more rich people or poor people; and finally, it is not about preaching or personal example, because I will put on the record straight away that I have four children. It is about the staggering absolute increase in world and UK population—hour by hour, week by week and year by year—and what this may mean for us, for our children and for our grandchildren. It is the elephant in the room of all our efforts, first, to relieve abject poverty; secondly, to offer people a decent standard of living; thirdly, to provide everybody with a reasonable chance of self-realisation and of fulfilling their talents, dreams and aspirations; and, finally, to avoid a possible final degradation of our world.
What is the size of the problem? The growth in world population peaked at 2.2 per cent in 1962-63. It is now between 1.1 and 1.2 per cent. That may seem a small number, but in absolute terms it meant that in 2009 the world's population increased by 74.6 million. This equates to an increase of 204,000 people per day. In the short hour of this debate, the world population will go up by 8,500. Is this not a declining figure? It is—a bit. Projections suggest that by 2050, the annual increase will have slowed to about 40 million—that is, 4,500 people per hour. I invite noble Lords to consider what even that reduced figure will mean for the need for housing, health, education, employment, resource use and the CO2 footprint. Because of this annual increase—whether it be 74.6 million or 40 million—the world's population will have increased in 2050 from 6.8 billion today to 9.2 billion then. That is a staggering increase of 35 per cent, or 2.4 billion people.
Some may be inclined to dismiss this as somebody else’s problem—other countries, other continents. However, not only would that be short-sighted, as I shall show in a minute, it would also not be true, for we in the United Kingdom also have a microcosm of the world’s population issue. In 1840, the population of the United Kingdom was about 10 million. In 2009, it was 62 million and is increasing by just under 400,000 a year—that is 45 per hour, or 45 during this debate.
Some may say that this is an immigration problem. Again, this would be short-sighted and, again, it would not be completely true. In 2008-09, of the 393,000 increase in the UK’s population, 217,000, or 55 per cent, came from a surplus of births over deaths. Immigration accounted for only 45 per cent, or 176,000. What makes this figure particularly alarming is that the figures for 10 years ago—2001-02—show that the net excess of births over deaths then was only 62,000 compared with 217,000 today, so there is a real non-immigration issue for the UK and its population.
But, people will argue, the real problem is overseas—particularly in Africa—and that is true. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan all have fast-growing populations. The argument goes: should we be concerned about the growth of population in these overseas countries? Some may say that there is a case for a moral duty—for us to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves—and I personally regard this as a powerful argument.
However, even for those who adopt a more laissez-faire, sauve qui peut approach, there are compelling arguments to be concerned. Impoverished people are desperate people, and desperate people do desperate things—for themselves and for their families. I am a member of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee F, which is concerned with home affairs. Last year, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Jopling, we looked at the operation of FRONTEX, the European border agency. The evidence that we received about the lengths to which people will go to reach Europe was truly alarming. Time does not permit me to go into detail but one example will suffice. It is clear that boatloads of refugees are prepared, once they reach the territorial waters of a European country, to sink their boat and risk drowning as a means of ensuring that they reach Europe and are not returned to their country of origin. As population rises, so will the number of people trying these desperate remedies.
Finally, there are those who argue that we need more young people to fund the pension provision and lifestyle of a population with a higher proportion of older people—a sort of gigantic Ponzi population scheme. Such people forget about the inexorable implications of compound growth. It has been calculated that such an approach will require the population of the United Kingdom to reach between 125 million and 150 million by the end of the century.
In recent years, there has developed the concept of “carrying capacity”. Carrying capacity, at its most basic, is about survival—how much food and water the population of the world needs to survive. One estimate is that in 1999 humanity’s demand exceeded the planet’s biocapacity to supply by more than 20 per cent. This excess is not immediately disastrous because biocapacity stocks can be run down or liquidated by things such as overfishing and deforestation, and indeed by filling up sinks—over-emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. Further, nation by nation there can also be imbalances with countries exceeding the average carrying capacity, balanced by others which do not. However, for the world as a whole there is no such easy outcome, because we have as yet no possibility of interplanetary trade.
So much for the problems; what would I like the Government to do? First, I should like them to agree that population growth is an issue both abroad and at home, and that the taboo on even discussing this issue needs to be ended. We need, as someone has said, to “detoxify the brand”, for the people of this country are entitled to know about the seriousness of this challenge and its implications for them. Secondly, I should like the Government to disavow the idea that we need population growth to support our society. That way madness lies. Thirdly, we need to redouble our efforts to give women all over the world the power to control their fertility. That is why I believe that ring-fencing the foreign aid budget was such an important policy decision and likely to help to bring incalculable benefits at every level.
None of this will be easy. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is a complicated, uncertain, messy issue hedged about with traps. Those of us who cut our political teeth in the 1970s remember the example of Keith Joseph, whose political career was effectively ended by a speech on this subject. As Matthew Parris put it in a recent article:
“Joseph’s intentions, if not his words, were right. All the world over, a new generation of political leaders must return to this. Look beyond insulating your roof. Look beyond recycling your tins. Look beyond buying a charity goat for a Kenyan village for Christmas. It’s population, stupid”.
My Lords, I think that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for raising this Question and for his thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. The fact that 11 speakers have put their names down for this one-hour slot gives an indication of the importance of the issue.
I am going to talk mainly about population and economic migration but, on the way, I should like to flag up briefly the way in which rapid population growth will affect not only this country but the rest of the world through its impact on the environment by accelerating resource depletion and climate change. We are already faced with a time bomb since, although the output of greenhouse gases per head in the developing world is low at present—about one-20th of ours per head—this will inevitably increase with rising standards of living. China is already providing us with an example.
I should declare an interest in that I am a long-standing member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. In January 2007, we published a report, Return of the Population Growth Factor, Its Impact upon the Millennium Development Goals. This was a distillation of a series of parliamentary hearings of experts in the fields of population and demography. Its conclusions, in brief, were that each of the first seven MDGs was adversely affected by population growth when it exceeded the rate of economic development. This applied particularly to sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth rates are the highest in the world and economic development the slowest. With regard to MDG 1, which is to,
“eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”,
the report says on page 21 under the heading “Running to stand still”:
“In sub-Saharan Africa, GDP per capita has been falling at nearly one percent a year, and those living in poverty … rose modestly from 44.6% to 46.4% between 1990 and 2001”.
Annual economic growth is expected to be 1.6 per cent between 2006 and 2015 but,
“due to the countervailing effect of rapid population growth, the World Bank predicts that by 2015, 340 million people in Africa will be living in extreme poverty, compared with 318 million in 2001”—
an increase of 22 million. The pressure to seek a better life in another country comes not so much from overcrowding and population growth per se but from lack of employment and poverty—in other words, “the economy, stupid”. Initially, employment is sought in the rapidly increasing slum cities of the developing world, but when this is not forthcoming the most enterprising citizens seek it elsewhere—perhaps in the El Dorado of the prosperous north and west. As the noble Lord said, the populations of some of those countries are in decline with a shortage of young people, so inward migration may not always be a bad thing.
Of course, there are reasons other than poverty for migration—conflict and political persecution are two. In the past, this country has benefited greatly from migrants from Europe fleeing political persecution. The largest number of immigrants, as the noble Lord pointed out, are seeking their way out of poverty.
There are two approaches to the problem, which are equally important. We must make more efforts to boost the economies of the developing world and diminish poverty. This in itself will result in fertility rates coming down. We all accept that that is a gargantuan task and inevitably slow. In the mean time, much can be done to assist mothers to have fewer children. The two most important are to aim to boost female education and to ensure that contraceptive supplies are made available to the 220 million women who wish to use them but at present cannot obtain them. There is no time to develop these themes. Suffice it to say that DfID is well aware of the needs of the developing world in reproductive health and family planning—not least because our group makes sure that they are aware. DfID devotes a greater proportion of its budget to it than most other countries. I am sure that the noble Baroness in her answer will take the opportunity to describe DfID’s work in this field.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for securing the debate this evening on what is truly a world development issue.
Rapidly growing populations in unstable states or regions represent increased possibilities for volatility, civilian unrest and even full-blown conflict. Our Prime Minister stated that,
“we are mad if we do not put money into mending broken states”.—[Official Report, Commons. 19/10/10; col. 516.]
Instability costs the country money, especially when it occurs in areas where there is already significant UK engagement or interest, such as in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Timely implementation of preventive measures is important so that a combination of rapid population growth and unstable environments do not result in unrest or conflict, undoing the progress made to date by the UK’s aid investments and, in the long run, costing our country more.
A number of academics argue that when populations increase, some societies overuse resources, leading to environmental degradation and social collapse. Jared Diamond and others have made this case about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the deaths of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Great Lakes region is extremely resource-rich, with vast copper, oil and diamond reserves as well as water and, crucially, land. However, some of the region’s countries—most notably Rwanda and Burundi—have extremely fast-growing populations for what are themselves very small countries. The land resources in each of these are becoming increasingly scarce. As pressure over resources increases in Rwanda, it is important for donors to look towards equitable economic growth in what is already a fragile and conflict-burdened region. Our Secretary of State for DfID has repeatedly affirmed his belief that wealth creation, jobs and livelihoods above all will help poor people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Tangible poverty reduction at grass-roots level will help strengthen social cohesion and internal stability in Rwanda. There is evident and laudable growth in Rwanda today, and the Government have ambitious plans for Rwanda to become a middle-income country. Due to high levels of domestic political commitment and with international support, Rwanda has made progress towards the millennium development goals, particularly in health and primary education. However, growing inequality risks undermining efforts towards poverty reduction and human development. The majority of Rwandans continue to live in poverty, especially in the rural areas where people struggle to make a living from agriculture. The United Kingdom should promote more by increasing pro-poor investment in agriculture and other rural sectors. This should include policies to promote the growth of micro-enterprises and the pursuit of economic growth strategies beyond the capital, Kigali. More donor funding is needed for civil society budget transparency work and participatory government policy-making and planning.
Another case study is in Burundi, which in 2007 had a population of some 8 million. In the four years from 2004 to 2008 the population increased from 7.4 million to 8.2 million—a 10.8 per cent increase. The economy in Burundi witnessed a contraction in growth in 2009, from 4.3 per cent in 2008 to 3.3 per cent. These are the pressures that exist in these countries.
However, there are some very good examples of grass-roots interventions which have given local people access to the means of production and, therefore, to economic self-sustainability. For example, in 2005 Burundi identified mass deforestation as a problem created by the local Burundian population and as a primary cause of a change in the microclimate. They themselves introduced a planting programme of well over 5 million trees which not only had to be effective in addressing the original problem but had to provide food security and create work. So it is not all bad news. Things can be done.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this subject, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for introducing it. I think that we can no longer call this a toxic subject. I have always been involved in the issues of population and family planning, because I come from India, where you cannot avoid worrying about population increase. Until even 10 years ago, population was not a subject that people talked about as we are doing today. Even three or four years ago we were not quite so open about the issue. It is one of the most important issues that we have not tackled or considered and, as has been said, we really do need to think about it.
I should just like to say a few words about the history of Britain’s contribution to family planning. DfID has had some very strange Secretaries of State. Clare Short, for example, dropped family planning completely when she was Secretary of State. Hilary Benn took it up again, and since then DfID has been in a very good phase. It has given £20 million per year under a five-year grant to the UNFPA. Bilateral aid has also increased from £55 million under a three-year programme to £80 million and then, this year, to £110 million. That is for family planning and commodities, which is not bad for this country. I am very pleased to say that Andrew Mitchell’s heart is in the right place on population issues.
I commend DfID for another thing: this year it had a policy paper on abortion and now our Government and DfID accept it. It is an extremely important thing that women have access to safe abortion because so many of them die from botched attempts. And if women cannot feed their children, their children will die, or they themselves will die. That is simply not acceptable.
What is missing in all the words that have been said this evening is the position of women. Women make up half of the world’s population but in the poor countries they have no status and no ability to look after their own affairs. They cannot do anything or say anything because they have no power. We must help them gain some of the power, which we can do by helping them to earn money rather than through education. For 45 years people have been talking about educating women, but how do you educate each woman in a poor country? Let us start by giving them an opportunity to earn money. When they can do so, they will send their children to school and the next generation will be educated. That is the only way that education can come to poorer countries.
I was a little surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, brought up the situation in the UK. The situation here is also worrying. I was not going to talk about it this evening but, now that he has mentioned it, I feel that I can as well. Some of the minority communities have very large families and the health of these women always deeply concerns me. I do not care how many children people have but I care about the fact that women here suffer from the same health problems as they do in their countries of origin. When the cap comes in I do not know how they will manage.
My Lords, as a farmer, I take this opportunity to make a few remarks about food security. As the world population continues to increase, the reality is that global agricultural production will be hard pressed to keep up with the ever-rising global demand for food.
The world population is anticipated to rise to 9 billion by 2050. The anticipated patterns of economic development, particularly in large parts of the developing world, should cause us to ask serious questions about our national resilience, our dependence on food imports, and what we should be doing to ensure that our agricultural sector can deliver what we will need.
In the year leading up to June 2010, the forecast estimated cereal stocks had fallen from 73 days of consumption to 67 days. We should be asking the question about food security and putting in place the policies that will provide satisfactory answers. Meanwhile, in recent years our national dependence on food imports has increased by about 8 per cent. We have seen a widening trade gap in food, feed and drink; a reduction in our national self-sufficiency in indigenous food to below 59 per cent—the lowest figure in 42 years; and a reduction in the number of dairy cows, beef cows, pigs, sheep and poultry. The area of land for producing fresh vegetables has fallen, including a 15 per cent reduction in the area of land for producing potatoes in the 10 years leading up to 2008. The land for producing fresh fruit and cereals has also fallen.
The global growing levels of wealth and patterns of changing demand will require the UK to make sure that its agricultural sector is configured to compete: and that needs to include consideration of the impact of the common agricultural policy. This needs to look to the future and not to the past, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to update the House on these matters.
My Lords, I have always been an enthusiastic student of history. One of the people whose name often comes up when we look at economic history is Mr Malthus, with his Malthusian concerns on population growth and the ultimate issues around poverty coming from population rise. It is rather ironic that during Victorian times it was quite the opposite of that. In fact, he has so far been proved to be wrong as population growth and world wealth, although badly distributed, have acted together.
However, it is interesting that we are having this debate on the same day as hearing a Statement on next year’s hoped-for treaty on climate change being debated in Cancun. In bringing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, to the fore, an area not mentioned in that Statement—and I suspect mentioned openly hardly at all in the conference—was population growth. The subject is, on the whole, difficult to talk about on a national or international level. However, in terms of carbon emissions it is a major concern because carbon and climate are functions of economic growth, which is also a function of population. Carbon footprint is a measure we often think about in terms of individuals as well as of nations. Population growth must therefore be taken into account in climate change. In that area, world population growth is a major issue that needs to be factored in to those negotiations.
It is perhaps ironic that the nation at which we point our fingers as regards its carbon emissions, targets and the way in which its emissions have grown, is China. With its one-child policy, China has had the highest profile population control measure. Since its introduction in the late 1970s, it is estimated to have lowered world population growth by some quarter of a billion. As China becomes less centralised and more democratic—or more assertive in individual rights over a long term—I am sure that that policy will disappear and perhaps exacerbate this problem. I certainly hope that it will disappear because it is as much one’s human right to have children as it is the right of women in particular not to have them.
The point I really want to make is that I am a fundamental believer in those old maxims that population growth will be solved when we solve worldwide the status of women, have economic developments in low carbon in developing countries and a much more equal economic system that will overcome some of the problems that we looked at in the sub-committee discussing Frontex and the limits to which people will go.
In conclusion, I want to congratulate both this Government and the previous Government on ringfencing and ensuring that DfID and development expenditure are a national priority. That often comes as a criticism, whether from the tabloid press or from a more populist wing in this country, when it is one of the most selfish but best policies that any Government of this country can have.
My Lords, I should like to be positive, but not complacent, on the potential of this subject of world population. I am led to do so by the remarkable conversion of this Government, and in particular the person of the Minister, Mr Andrew Mitchell, to the fundamental importance of the matter that we are today discussing. I realise that this occurred well before the current coalition took office, but the addition of the Liberal Democrats should add impetus on this subject.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, will no doubt tell us, DfID will shortly be coming up with the results of a major review of departmental priorities. It is hoped that that could be the occasion to consolidate the importance of reproductive health in DfID programmes. It could also be the occasion to enlarge and properly define the scope of bilateral family planning projects.
I also hope that, following the lead of DfID, it might also be the occasion for many British and international NGOs and charities at last to recognise that family planning and the size of population is a relevant and cost-effective consideration. As a departmental Minister, Mr Stephen O’Brien, said to us on World Population Day in July,
“We must start to close the unmet need for modern contraceptives—and DfID is ready to do more in this area—the coalition Government has made a positive start”.
To add to the above, it is also the case that the European Commission has produced a Green Paper consulting on its overseas development aid and asking for responses next year. It is subtitled “The future of EU budget response to third countries”. Again, for those of us who have been critical of how some of that aid is used, that could be a useful starting point for serious reform. It is also to be hoped that DfID could use its influence with our EU colleagues to raise the profile and effectiveness of reproductive health in helping to meet MDGs.
I shall come down to some of the detail that I have just outlined. I believe that our country has recently had a good record on reproductive health and related MDGs in terms of our contributions. However, because of the way that we define what we do, particularly bilaterally, we do not necessarily come out well in comparative statistics. I hope that as part of our re-emphasis on this field, we can be more transparent in accounting for and defining what we give.
For some time now, the considerable resources understandably devoted to HIV/AIDS prevention have tended to be at the expense of family planning. Sometimes that is the reason that the two endeavours overlap in their aims, but the importance of autonomous support for family planning must not be forgotten.
There is a tendency in the European Commission Green Paper on development aid, which is now out to consultation, to avoid using particular words, as was mentioned earlier. Reading that document, one begins to realise that there must be horsetrading among so many nations to get any agreement on priorities on such diverse subjects. In this case, focusing on MDGs provides some sort of common, binding aim, but there is reluctance seriously to consider or talk about one aspect of recorded MDGs. That is the contribution that reproductive health can make to many other related MDGs. I hope that we can all grasp the opportunities that will present themselves in the coming year.
My Lords, I rather like these short debates, particularly when the charming mother hen on the Front Bench tells me not to crow for too long. I was always told to do everything in threes: Tripos, Church, law and Parliament and Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In this case, it is land, air and sea.
I will adopt a slightly different approach. I regard human beings as an asset, not a liability, and I regard a population as an opportunity, not something to fear. For example, as was mentioned just now, we have two great economies in fast growth in the world: India and China, who, together, have 37 per cent of the world's population and large amounts of high productivity. How and why? It is a question of what you get people to do and how you turn them into a benefit.
I turn to my favourite subject: the Commonwealth, which, as your Lordships know, accounts for 25 per cent of the world population. If we look at our bailiwicks, our overseas and dependent territories, we cover a large part of the globe. We have to ask: why did we ever develop a Commonwealth or an empire? It was because of the added value that we could create in various countries. Most of that added value was, surprisingly enough, related to the resources of the land—its minerals and raw materials. As we look at that development, we find to our amazement that, suddenly, the world is saying that we are overpopulated. We may look back at large chunks of Africa, where I have worked—in particular, somewhere such as the Sudan, which was to be the bread basket of the Middle East, where any amount of grain could be grown to feed the populations. As you look at a map from space, or whatever, you will find that the productivity of all those countries is roughly the same. The weather pattern may have changed, but the opportunity to produce food, which people need, is very significant.
I have even thought that in the past, when people were short of labour, the slave trade took place; now, when they are short of labour, migration takes place. That is what has been happening in this country. We need to look at the opportunities that can be created in those Commonwealth countries for the regeneration of food and products that we have long forgotten about.
My Lords, population growth and its consequences is a question that crops up in daily conversations but is a subject that people find difficult to discuss. It quickly leads to polarised positions and finger-pointing as to who is having too many babies and why. To many people of the world, children are a security for support in old age.
In a recent report of a debate on the subject, “Crisis and recovery: ethics, economics and justice”, participants included two highly respected members of your Lordships' House: the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the economist, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. The panel also included Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian, and Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. The question of population growth arose. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, was deeply worried because he felt that although education, particularly of women, reduces fertility rates, it was too slow for population growth to be controlled in this century. The Archbishop was equally concerned. He agreed that population growth was “a timebomb” but he was worried that state attempts to control it had been abhorrent to concepts of human rights. He was “deeply perplexed”. As has been said, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, feared a Malthusian population crash or a series of such crashes, resulting in bringing the population of the world down to 3 billion to 4 billion in a century.
The pessimism and confusion expressed leaves one feeling gloomy, particularly for our children and grandchildren. The population of the world is projected to reach 9 to 10 billion by 2040, by which time the UK population is estimated to be around 66 million to 70 million. Both figures are unsustainable. The impact, particularly on the environment, will be punishing and catastrophic.
What is the solution? Who will save the world and the United Kingdom? The facts have been staring us in the face for decades. Two things emerge as being important for controlling population growth. A drop in fertility rates in many parts of the world has always been linked to gender empowerment and female education. State attempts impinge on human rights, yet failure to address the problem could cause a global population crash. Gender empowerment holds the key. The answer to the question, “Who will save the world from the scourge of poverty, environmental disaster, disease and strife?” is women. Women will save the world if they have freedom of education, freedom of choice in family planning and if we eradicate gender bias. I hope that the efforts of DfID will focus on that and that its aid will produce the empowerment of women.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on bringing this problem to the attention of the House. I declare an interest as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Population Development and Reproductive Health.
The increase in the world population is putting huge strain on the world's resources of land and water, and is leading to conflict and migration from impoverished areas. With global communication now so easily available, a struggling family in Bangladesh or Afghanistan, for example, will know that they can have a better life in the UK if they can possibly get here and be able to send money back home to poor relatives abroad.
The paradox is that we in the West and in this country must shoulder a large proportion of the blame for the impoverishment of developing countries and subsequent migration, because of our wasteful and wanton use of the world’s precious resources. We may have small families here, but our consumption has led to climate change causing desertification in sub-Saharan Africa that is driving people from their homes and the people of Bangladesh are living on less and less land as the regular floods there become more and more severe.
There are two things that we must do quickly. The first is to cut down our consumption and recognise the urgency and seriousness of climate change. I hope the news from Cancun means that the West has at least accepted responsibility. The second, equally important, action is to ensure that every woman in the world is able to have access to contraception and to limit the size of her family. Children in smaller families are more likely to receive education and to improve their own lives as well as that of their country. Between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of women in the poorest countries of the world cannot access any birth control, even though they want to. We must deal with this as a matter of urgency. As has been mentioned, the present Government have recognised this need and promised to make maternal health and family planning, in particular, a top priority for international development.
Now we need to overcome the difficulties of distribution and commodity availability and answer the needs of women all over the world. It is interesting that you can get Coca-Cola wherever you go in this world, however tiny the village in Africa, but it is terribly difficult to get contraceptive supplies. Bangladesh has reduced its average family size from over six children per family to 2.7 by ensuring that all women have access to family planning. That has been done without coercion and is to be applauded.
In conclusion—and I thank noble Lords for letting me speak—limiting the number of people in the world is crucial to our survival but, above all, we must reduce our consumption at home.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in being grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for bringing this debate before us. It seems to me that there are two truths that arise from it: the truth that the noble Lord started with—that this should not be a taboo subject—and that it requires full debate. This debate is too short, and four minutes too short a time for anyone to develop any part of the argument.
In the developed world, education, contraceptive use, maternal and baby health, increased development and subsequent income improvement have all played a major part. That is probably why I am the eldest of six children, the father of four children and the grandfather of two children. In the developing world, we see the same needs, and they see the same needs for the things that we have enjoyed, which is why the ODA remains important and why I join others in congratulating this Government on continuing the endeavour and ensuring that we get to 0.7 per cent of gross national income.
Noble Lords have referred to the added burdens that now exist in a way they did not exist in the past: the impact of climate change on developing countries, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and conflict between states and within states. Part of the flow that comes is international migration. That provides challenges and opportunities and guarantees that the subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is worthy of a much longer debate.
Although the official ODA is important, so are the efforts of those in the diaspora from the developing world who are now part of the developed world who seek to assist their own countries, communities and families. I will resist adding to the plethora of statistics that are inevitably an essential part of these debates, but I will emphasise one point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, about the importance of remittances. They are a vital form of financial support. They provide better health and education for the family and are an aspect of the development of small businesses in so many countries. They are three times the size of official ODA aid. They amounted to some $325 billion in 2010 and were 1.9 per cent of GDP for all developing countries taken as a whole in 2009. In the small and lower-income countries, they form 5.4 per cent of GDP.
In a world in which billions of dollars can travel across the world in a microsecond, we should be able to produce a system that will reduce the cost and difficulty of people transferring small amounts of money. If you are living on a dollar a day or less, £10 in the United Kingdom is a week’s wages or more once it is transferred to the recipient. At the moment, it is difficult and costly to do that, and we should be able to make an impact on that as we are part of the most developed world of banking, even if bankers are not very popular at the moment. A fall in the cost of transfers of some 5 per cent would free an extra $15 billion a year for increased development.
I could go on, but time will not allow me to do so. I will also not pepper the Minister with a series of questions, which is what normally happens at this time. I do not think that anyone disagrees with the aim, although we probably have different ideas about how we go forward. My questions to the Minister are simply these. What is the Government’s long-term thinking in this area? Post the MDG period and 2015, where will we go and how will we take this forward? Finally, does she support my view and that of many others that we need a full debate on all aspects of this? The great expertise around this House could assist the Government in a joint endeavour that I believe we all support.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for securing this important debate, and I congratulate all noble Lords on some excellent contributions. Time will not allow me to respond to all noble Lords tonight, but I hope, through my contribution, to be able to provide answers to some of the questions. I undertake to write to noble Lords in answer to the remainder.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson is right that some people describe global population growth as too difficult or too sensitive a subject to tackle or even to talk about. Many shy away from discussing it in case they are accused of wanting to remove free choice from individuals or to force individuals to have fewer children. We think that the time is right to bring the debate out into the open and for us to engage in a debate that looks at the bare facts.
The world’s population is projected to increase to 9.2 billion by 2050. Almost all this growth—99 per cent of it—will occur in developing countries. Most sub-Saharan African countries will see continuing and rapid growth for several decades. Some countries’ populations are likely to double; the population of Ethiopia is projected to increase from its current 82 million to 173 million by 2050. Some may even triple; some may even quadruple. Let me make it absolutely clear: the coalition Government do not support programmes that coerce people to have fewer children, but we are proud to revitalise efforts to give women the choices that they crave: to choose whether, when and how many children they have.
Some 215 million couples who want to delay or avoid a pregnancy currently lack access to effective methods of contraception, and we believe it is high time that their needs are met. The largest generation of adolescents in history is entering its reproductive years. With the demand growing for basic services such as water, sanitation, education and health, we will need to address this very soon. Not only basic services will feel the strain of rapid population growth; natural resources such as water, fuel, wood and land for growing will all come under increasing pressure. The poor, who are the most reliant on the natural environment for their basic survival, will feel the greatest impact.
Some noble Lords talked about climate change, which of course poses an additional threat and cost to the world’s most vulnerable people and their countries. Without efforts to adapt to the adverse impacts of a change in climate, even more livelihoods and lives will be lost. We need to work with low-income countries to help them to plan their future in a carbon-constrained world and to identify where low-carbon development can support economic growth and poverty reduction. Investments in low-carbon development can have significant benefits for all, but particularly for women. Increasing access to renewable energy has health benefits, including reducing local air pollution, reducing expenditure on kerosene, and reducing the time spent collecting firewood.
Improved energy supplies can also help rural incomes and provide new jobs, especially in sectors in which women are traditionally employed, such as agroprocessing. By supporting gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment and education, we can help couples and individuals to reduce the high occurrence of fertility, and improving water, sanitation, health and education services can increase people’s confidence that their children will survive into adulthood.
The unmet need figure of 215 million couples is really very important. The United Nations medium population projection to 2050 of 9.2 billion is firmly based on the assumption that the unmet need gap is closed and that people are given the services that they demand. If we do not work harder and renew our emphasis on reproductive and maternal health outcomes and do not invest in better and more accessible family planning, the higher UN projection of around 11 billion people becomes more likely.
The coalition Government will announce plans for improving reproductive, maternal and newborn health in developing countries in the next few weeks. We will invest in family planning because it is what women say they need; because it saves the lives of women and children; because it can help us reach the millennium development goals; and because it offers value for money. We will double our efforts for women’s health to save the lives of 50,000 women and to enable at least 10 million more to use modern methods of family planning.
I am delighted that the coalition Government are already playing their full part. This year DfID funded the procurement of 40 per cent of Uganda’s national requirement for contraceptives, condoms and long-term family planning methods, such as injections and implants. Currently, 41 per cent of women in Uganda who want to use family planning cannot do so. DfID’s support will help to avoid 250,000 unintended pregnancies, which would otherwise result in 75,000 abortions and 750 maternal deaths. A broader programme with the United Nations Population Fund is under design. It will address more of the cultural and social barriers to accessing family planning services.
As to the implications for the UK, the population of the UK was 61.8 million in mid-2009, an increase of 2.7 million when compared with mid-2001. That increase of course has been partly due to migration to the UK. Controlled migration benefits the UK economically and culturally, but recent levels are unsustainable in terms of population growth and the consequent pressure on key public services, such as schools, the health service, transport, housing and welfare, as well as the impact on community cohesion. This causes understandable concern. By focusing on reducing net migration, we aim to make a significant impact on population growth.
The Office for National Statistics projects that the UK will reach a population of 70 million by mid-2029. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in the other place three weeks ago, that is why we are taking comprehensive action to tighten our immigration systems. We are introducing a new permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants. We will refocus student visas to create a more selective system and to stop abuse. We are cracking down on sham marriages and will consult on extending the probationary period of settlement for spouses beyond the current two years. At the moment, it is easy to move from temporary residence to permanent settlement and we will end that link.
These changes to the work route and some of the settlement changes will be introduced from April 2011. We will move forward on other changes soon after. These proposals do not mean bolting our borders shut. We want an immigration system that has in place properly controlled migration. There is no doubt that we benefit from the brightest and the best coming to the UK. Of course we need to offer protection to those who fear persecution or serious harm. It has to be measured against the backdrop of the questions posed today.
Noble Lords raised one or two points about the presence of women in discussions. They will know that, in the summer, at the G8 summit in Canada, our Prime Minister noted that this Government will reorientate their aid budget to put women at the centre and the front of our development efforts. All noble Lords are absolutely right: unless women are at the heart of policy development, it would be extremely difficult to address the serious issue of population growth.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brett, that this debate is not long enough to discuss the fundamental difficulties that we face. It is crucial to have much longer debates so that we can iron out some of the great difficulties that we as a nation face and that the globe faces collectively. A note should be made for the usual channels of the need to ensure that we address all these issues. If I have failed to satisfy noble Lords, I undertake to write to them.