|International Development Bill [Lords]
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I believe that I share some of Committee members' concerns about the nature and integrity of statistics and reports that we are asked to consider. The hon. Gentleman clearly said that a number of substantial reports had been produced on the so-called activities that are on-going in some counties. However, I have a great deal of sympathy for the idea of establishing a proper review, conducted in the United Kingdom, about what is going on in China regarding the money that we provide for programmes.
Political involvement and, indeed, the involvement of organisations that receive funds in a report's development is inappropriate. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree—I believe that he alluded to this but did not deal with it specifically—that a Select Committee inquiry in the UK would be advantageous? A considered, reflective period and expert evidence would allow us to form a more coherent view, which would, I hope, influence future discussions.
Mr. Leigh: I am very grateful for the hon. Lady's intervention; I cannot see how anyone could disagree with it. I would gladly give way to the hon. Member for Richmond Park if she wishes to intervene. I accept that we probably have different views on these matters, but I am sure that even she, who comes from the other side of the argument, would accept the sheer reasonableness of what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has said.
We can spend a great deal of time debating such issues back and forth. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we cannot operate more like the US Congress and why we always have to pursue matters in a confrontational manner. There is no confrontation this morning, because I am deliberately trying not to be confrontational. I do not know why the House cannot say, ``This is a real issue and there are obviously strong views either way. Let's set up a Select Committee and listen to all the evidence. Let's get an all-party group of the House of Commons sitting to find out what's going on.''
My amendment is slightly different from the one that Baroness Cox and Lord Alton promoted in the other place. My amendment would not entirely cut off funding for organisations complicit in coercive population control, such as UNFPA and IPPF; it would merely cut off funding for programmes that involved coercion. What could be more moderate than that?
We advanced our arguments in the other place, and I am making them again in this House. We no longer seek to cut off all funding for UN bodies that are presumably doing a good job throughout the world. What could be fairer than cutting off funding for programmes that involve coercion?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does not my hon. Friend feel that that last concession would drive a coach and horses through the principle that he is advocating? If we cut off funding only for particular programmes to which we object, so that funding is used for programmes to which we do not object, we are freeing up other resources in the organisation that can then be used for programmes to which we do object. Does he not see a problem with the concession that he has so generously made?
Mr. Leigh: I am having some difficulty in following my hon. Friend's reasoning.
Dr. Lewis: Most people do.
Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend is highly intelligent and has been a personal friend for the past 25 years, but I simply do not accept his reasoning. If one has a moral and ethical foreign or international development policy, one does not try to second-guess those organisations. One simply says that we will do what is right. Is not that the sole point of the Bill? We will not give aid on the basis that we shall acquire influence or help British companies to operate here and there. We give aid on the basis that we shall relieve poverty. It is perfectly ethical, sensible and reasonable to say that the British taxpayer will not give aid to any programme that can trickle down to coercive population control programmes.
What has been happening in the US? It has been paying attention to the matter for a long time. For the past 25 years both United States administrative directives and congressional actions have severely restricted US population assistance in various ways. More recent executive regulations and appropriation orders have prohibited indirect support for coercive family planning. Let us look at the history. People will immediately suppose that it is the Bush regime and a Republican Congress and a Republican President who are influenced by their own political imperatives. In fact it is far more complicated. I shall go through the evidence as quickly as I can. What I propose is similar to what President Clinton proposed, and he was not an anti-abortion fanatic: I am not coming at this from a mid-west, right-wing point of view.
At the 1994 Mexico City conference, the then US Administration—dare I say it, the Reagan Administration; I hope that that will not upset hon. Members too much—established the requirement that UNFPA provide
Concern then was highest over UNFPA's activities in China's coercive family planning practices. At the time the Reagan Administration reportedly held up $19 million allocated for UNFPA until the organisation could provide the necessary assurances.
Subsequently, Congress legislated a more restrictive UNFPA policy, aimed at coercive Chinese family planning programmes and UNFPA's continuing operations in the country, by enacting the Kemp-Kasten amendment. Its language prohibited the use of appropriated funds for any organisation or programme supporting or participating ``in the management'' of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation. Accordingly, in September 1985, $10 million of the $46 million that had been earmarked for UNFPA was redirected to other programmes. That partly answers my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). Obviously the US Congress was trying to find a way through these difficult matters and to help UNFPA in other ways.
Between 1986 and 1993, no US funding for UNFPA was granted. Following the election of President Clinton, US funding for UNFPA was resumed. However, even under President Clinton, Congress reduced the US contribution by the amount that UNFPA spent in China. When UNFPA started its current so-called voluntary programme in China, Congress prohibited American support for the financial year 1999. Congress resumed UNFPA funding in 2000–01 but under the condition that the $25 million earmarked would be reduced by whatever amount UNFPA programmes for China cost.
That is the decision of the US Congress, a body that has huge amounts of research material available to it. My amendment would effect an arrangement similar to that of the Clinton Administration. The Minister will be pleased to hear that I am approaching the end of my remarks—[Hon. Members: ``Hear, hear.''] I am sorry to take the Committee's time but I have tried to consider the evidence reasonably.
The Minister must ensure that United Kingdom grants do not fund programmes involving coercive population control, such as those in China. Currently, all DFID's funding is unrestricted for UNFPA and IPPF. It comprises one big cheque with no strings attached. My amendment would insist that the Secretary of State specify programmes for which UNFPA and IPPF could spend DIFD grants, thus excluding any use of money in China. That is a sensible policy, which would not prevent the Secretary of State from funding population programmes. I have views on such programmes, but my views are irrelevant. The Secretary of State should not provide a big cheque without knowing what it is for. I want to attach strings to that cheque.
The Government claim to have an ethical foreign policy. The House has a duty to scrutinise that policy and to insist that not one penny of UK taxpayers' money funds appalling practices.
This is not just a dry debate in a Committee Room in the House of Commons. The director of the Channel 4 programme ``The Dying Rooms'' described an orphanage in China:
That is just one example. A newspaper article based on evidence from the respected organisation Amnesty International reported:
The debate is not dry, intellectual or academic; it is about real people and suffering. British taxpayers' money should not fund such abominable practices.
Dr. Tonge: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on one thing: he has advanced a reasoned argument. However, I will try to demolish it.
I understand his point, but he initially questioned the subject of the debate. He said that it was not about a woman's right to choose. The debate is about non-governmental organisations throughout the world that help to secure that right to choose for women. That is so vital to everyone, not just women. Women having fewer babies means better education, growth in the economy and developing countries doing much better in the long term, so the proposals have vast implications throughout the world. The debate is about a woman's right to choose and about those organisations that are trying so hard to give her that choice.
The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment that, on the grounds of malpractice in China alone—we have all heard stories about those malpractices—would disadvantage women all over the world. I was listening carefully and I do not think that he mentioned any country other than China. As someone who has worked in this field for many years, I assure the hon. Gentleman that it would be almost impossible to guarantee that every single doctor, counsellor, nurse and worker in a particular project would obey the rules all the time. I could bore the hon. Gentleman with countless examples of well qualified and well trained doctors and nurses in the United Kingdom who do not always obey the rules and who allow their own feelings to creep into their judgments on patients. That happens all over the world, so it would be impossible to determine what programmes were pure in the hon. Gentleman's sense.
The debate is about a woman's right to choose and, to some extent, about how we view abortion and family planning. We all know that there are huge religious objections in some quarters to those practices. It is legitimate for people to hold those views, and I do not object to their doing so, but they should not impose their views on others. Doctors in the United Kingdom and all over the world often dictate to people, on the grounds of their religious belief, what patients should do with their life. That is totally wrong. I shall probably not return to practice now, after my sojourn in this place, but I hope—touch wood—that I would never allow, and have never allowed my personal views to affect how I treat my patients.
I, personally, find abortion very difficult to stomach. The hon. Gentleman might find that surprising, but I have strong moral views too, and I had a religious upbringing. However, I have never had to make that choice for myself. I was well educated and well trained and have worked in reproductive health all my professional life, so I never became pregnant when I could not have a baby. Therefore, how can I possibly judge what a woman wants to do in those circumstances, given that I have never experienced that dilemma?
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 22 November 2001|