Skip to main content

UN: Sustainable Development and Family Planning

Volume 736: debated on Monday 19 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will promote the connection between sustainable development and family planning at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

My Lords, the coalition Government’s positions on sustainable development and family planning are clear. We will be emphasising the links between them, both in the preparations for and during the Rio+20 conference.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. I congratulate the Government on their commitment to family planning and to stabilising the world’s population by choice. This is essential for sustainable development. However, will the Minister confirm that the Government will seek to have family planning included in the post-millennium development goals framework when it is discussed?

The noble Baroness has contributed enormously in this area and I thank her very much for the tribute paid to the department for its expansion of work on this issue. The Government are well aware of the background to the initial MDG negotiations. Discussions are very much in the early stages for a post-MDG framework post-2015. The UK will work to ensure that all the relevant development issues are included in the most appropriate way possible.

My Lords, it is welcome news that the European Union plans to propose a new section to the Rio+20 outcome document to include population and health, and reproductive health and contraception. Will the Minister assure the House that efforts will be made by DfID to ensure that the delegation to the Rio+20 conference includes a representative who will be able to champion and lead on these issues, and will also be able to ensure that the linkages between population, reproductive health and family planning with sustainable development are understood?

My Lords, I will take that specific suggestion back. I point out to the noble Baroness that the Deputy Prime Minister is leading this delegation to Rio and I am very pleased that that is the case. She will know how he has emphasised the importance of placing women and girls centre stage with regard to development, which is what is required here.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the most effective family planning in the Third World comes through education—that is what makes women into an asset rather than a liability—and that preventing women having children is not the best way of approaching this? This is not a medical matter but a matter of society providing education. What plans are there for helping with girls’ education so that they can progress?

The noble Baroness is right. This is a circular issue: where girls have more access to education you see the birth rate coming down, and where the birth rate is coming down girls have more access to education. When families are able to choose, they tend to choose to have fewer children and to invest more in them, and that certainly includes education.

My Lords, is it not a fact that, in these countries where health standards are improving and children live longer, there is no longer any need to have a very large family because so many die very young? This comes back to the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar; that educating mothers, in particular, in health processes and in how to care for their children and for their health will have an effect.

My noble friend is right, and I emphasise again the importance of investing in education, which then has the effects that she is talking about. I note also what are described as the demographic dividends: if you have fewer children who are dependent and therefore an expansion of the working-age population, there is an economic benefit to the countries in question. That is regarded as one of the factors in the development of the east Asian countries in particular.

My Lords, does the Government’s commitment to education on family planning and contraception around the world extend to education in schools in this country, particularly academy schools and so-called free schools? Will the Government confirm that they will follow a curriculum that has a full range of education including in respect of family planning and contraception?

My Lords, that question is slightly wide of scope but I refer the noble Lord to the Answers given by my noble friend Lord Hill assuring the House that this area is extremely important wherever it is found.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, following the Somalia summit hosted by the Prime Minister last month, it was agreed that security and justice were essential both to a successful political process and to development, yet when I was part of the recent British IPU delegation to the UN Commission for Women last month, we were told by NGOs there that Somali women would not be part of the delegation to Rio as security is “not an issue for women”? Does the Minister agree with me and with the UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet that listening to and supporting rural women is fundamental to ending poverty? What representations will Her Majesty’s Government be making to address this?

My noble friend is right. Rural women and girls currently have limited access to all sorts of resources. Often it is difficult for them to participate in conferences like this, yet it is very important that they do. Ultimately, of course, it is for the Governments themselves to determine the make-up of their delegations. We can but encourage and make the points that my noble friend has made about the importance of this issue.

My Lords, while accepting that education is extremely important in this area, does the Minister agree that there is already an expressed and unmet need of over 200 million couples for contraception and family planning? She mentioned in her Answer what we wanted to talk about at the summit, but is this subject actually on the agenda, or have we still got to get it on the agenda?

It is one of the issues that we are flagging up. The noble Viscount will know that DfID is hosting a large conference in July on this. It is part of the emphasis that we wish to make in development generally and, of course, it is extremely relevant to Rio.