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House of Lords

Thursday, 8th July 1999.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by Lord Bishop of Ely.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Reproductive Health

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What key future actions and benchmarks about reproductive health were agreed at the recent special session at the United Nations General Assembly, and how Her Majesty's Government will respond.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the report adopted at last week's UN General Assembly Special Session on the five-year review of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+5) includes key future actions to curb the spread of HIV, to improve maternal health outcomes and increase access to sexual and reproductive healthcare in developing countries, including for young people. We shall be discussing these recommendations with our developing country partners and with United Nations health and development agencies, and taking them forward in our programmes.

Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which reflects the encouraging attitude that the Government are displaying. Does the noble Baroness accept that part of the effect of this successful United Nations process has been the integration of population into broader development policies? Does she also accept that this issue is no longer just about numbers but about the key role that population policies can play in matters such as sustainable development, giving women choices, environmental issues and the simple reduction of poverty? Given this new UN framework, can the Minister say whether the Government will continue to use that as a basis to give priority and urgency to the matter of population in the policies of the department?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon. It is extremely important that a systematic approach is taken to the development of the health sector in developing countries. It has been shown that it is only by doing so that we can deal with some of the very concrete and real problems that exist in the areas of reproductive health.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to reassess the contribution of Her Majesty's Government to the Chinese Population Association, through the UNFPA and IPPF, of many millions of pounds over the past decade and the use of that money in programmes of forced sterilisation and abortion of Chinese women? The fact that this monstrous abuse of human rights in China has been aided and abetted by the

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use of British taxpayers' money is surely a matter of some infamy--certainly in supporting a regime that now has a policy which prohibits more than one child per family; indeed, it is the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the UK gives no bilateral support, either financial or technical, to family planning programmes in China. However, as the noble Lord said, we give core annual grants to support the efforts of UNFPA and IPPF to improve reproductive health throughout the world. These organisations do not only work in China. Both organisations are working in China to bring about changes in policy and practice by promoting services to improve health and choices in ways that respond to the individual needs of the Chinese population.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, a key feature of the United Nations Special Session was its committed aim to develop programmes to improve access to sex education. In view of the importance of this knowledge, can my noble friend the Minister indicate what action the Government propose to take to support those programmes and to deal with the estimated 1.2 billion adolescents who are excluded from such information?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that there was a great deal of discussion about the position of young people who are most at risk, both physically and psychologically, of sexual and reproductive ill-health. In terms of the specific programmes and policies which we aim to support, the report stated very clearly that school children need to be instructed in sexual and reproductive health issues to teach them responsible sexual behaviour. We shall allocate more resources for adolescents' sexual and reproductive health. It is important to provide special family planning information, counselling and services for sexually-active young people. It is also important to promote the duties, responsibilities and rights of parents, who will want to give guidance to their children about their sexual and reproductive health. So this was a very important area in the document which came out of the meeting.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, although I support the lead role that the DfID has taken in the area of reproductive health, does the Minister agree that HIV and AIDS are now one of the main causes of infant mortality and that the only way of actually combating what is now such a widespread epidemic in Africa is to spend a vast amount of additional money on finding a vaccine?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that we think it is important to work on prevention, because it will take such a long time to get to the point where a vaccine is available. Indeed, if current trends continue, over 40 million people will have been infected with HIV by the year 2000 and 95 per cent of them will be in the developing world. In fact, we have supported

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the international AIDS vaccine initiative, and we think that a safe vaccine effective against strains of HIV most common in the developing world is within our grasp during the next 10 years. Therefore, prevention and working on a vaccine are both important.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, does the Minister share the concerns of the chairman of the Special Session's ad hoc committee, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, that the vitally important population and development programmes may suffer due to the drying up of resources, despite the much welcomed political commitment that has been made? What assurances can the Minister give to allay those concerns?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there has been an agreement that the developed world will give substantially to the budget to assist with the implementation of ICPD+5. The United Kingdom Government have a budget for health of £250 million through the DfID, a substantial proportion of which is through multilateral donor organisations, as well as funding some NGOs through our bilateral programmes. So, although there has been a residual concern, we feel very strongly that this is an area which is receiving, and will continue to receive, adequate support.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the key point here is that all children born, whether into developing or developed countries, should be wanted and should be born because mothers and fathers--or, at least, mothers--want to have them? Does the Minister also agree that all steps should be taken, whether it concerns a developed or an under-developed country, to make that so? Children should not be brought into this world if they are not cared for once they are born.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, that is one of the reasons that we feel it is important to put reproductive health strategies, maternal health strategies and other health strategies within a broader context of trying to ensure that we have a world which is sustainable and where we aim to eliminate poverty.

Curriculum Proposals: Marriage

3.10 p.m.

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the Secretary of State for Education and Employment's proposals published on 13th May for the new curriculum for personal, social and health education and for citizenship omit any reference to marriage.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, marriage will not be neglected. The curriculum proposals are based on the report of the Personal, Social and Health Education Advisory Group, Preparing Young People for

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Adult Life. This states clearly the importance of helping pupils to understand the value of family life and the institutions that support it, including marriage. We accepted the report in full. The proposals are currently out for consultation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has already made clear that the final curriculum framework will include an explicit reference to the importance of marriage. This is in response to the representations already received.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that helpful and encouraging Answer. Does she agree that there is a substantial body of research which suggests that children who grow up in happy, stable, two-parent families have, on average, a better chance of achieving their potential, and that marriage with all its faults is probably the best way the human race has so far discovered of supporting and sustaining that kind of long-term relationship? Therefore, it is extremely important that children should have an opportunity to know the facts about partnerships and marriage and to discuss their implications while they are still at school.

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