BY ANGUS MACDONALD
THE BRITISH Government confronted the Vatican over population control this week when Minister for Overseas Development Baroness Lynda Chalker launched a veiled attack on Rome for its continued efforts to water down the UN draft declaration aimed at reducing the global birthrate.
Baroness Chalker, in a speech to the Royal Society to mark World Population Day, said that agreeing to a global action plan at September's UN population control summit in Cairo was "desperately important for our envi
ronmental and world stability/5.
The tragedy in Rwanda one of the most densely populated countries in the world was at least in part a result of the pressure of population, she said.
In an implicit criticism of the Church's staunch opposition to an extension of artificial birth control methods, she said nobody had the right to deprive women in the Third World of the choice to space or limit the number of children they had.
"No one is saying that those who wish for religious or other reasons not to use particular sorts of family planning methods or reproductive health care should do so. I understand the position that the Catholic Church takes on what they describe as artificial methods of birth control.
"But by the same token, no single group should seek to prevent the Cairo declaration reflecting the majority view on the importance of everyone having access to adequate reproductive health cfre if they want it."
Pope John Paul H has ' sought in recent months to water down contentious parts of the Cairo draft document by enlisting the help of Catholic countries in South and Central America.
There was no official reaction to the Minister's comments from the Church this week, but Catholic overseas aid agencies were quick to come to the Pope's defence. "We both acknowledge that
rapid population growth is a problem," said Mark Topping of CAFOD. "Where we diverge is in how to tackle that. Baroness Chalker's view is that population rates will drop if family planning is made more widely available. It's an appealing argument, but it's not the whole story. There is another factor at play poverty. People have economic reasons for having children, too."
The proposal on the table at Cairo would take money away from aid work, said Mr Topping "the sorts of things we at CAFOD do" and would put it into "crude" attempts to control population by chemical or mechanical means.
"We would have our priorities wrong if we tried to make population control a basic human right before we tackled essential things such as food and shelter and healthcare and education," he added.
Lady Chalker will be meeting Vatican representatives next week to try and resolve the issues that are hampering agreement in Cairo, she said.