HC Deb 11 November 1943 vol 393 cc1278-81
40. Mr. Sloan

asked the Secretary of State for India how many persons of British nationality have died from starvation in the present Indian famine?

The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)

I have not heard of any deaths of European British subjects amongst the victims of the present famine, if that is the information desired. His Majesty's Indian subjects are also of British nationality, no less than those of European descent.

Mr. Sloan

Are we to understand from the answer that where there is a will there is a way and that the organisation of food can take place if the Government want it to be done?

41. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for India when the report of the Food Grains Policy Committee, presided over by Sir Theodore Gregory, will be available; why only 150,000 tons of wheat was received out of the full amount asked for; what action is being taken to secure the 500,000 tons to create a central food grains reserve and the 1,000,000 tons for current consumption as recommended in the report; and whether shipping is being made available to convey the 100,000 tons of wheat offered by the Canadian Government and the 500,000 lbs. of condensed milk offered by the South African Government?

Mr. Amery

The report of the Food Grains Policy Committee was to be published in India at the end of last week, and a summary was included in the recent White Paper. The report in referring to the winter and spring of 1942–43 includes a statement that more than 150,000 tons of wheat were imported into India. Further shipments were suspended in May, 1943, with the concurrence of the Government of India in view of the excellent Punjab wheat harvest. As regards current imports I have nothing to add to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself in the Debate on 4th November. His Majesty's Goverment appreciate the generous offer of the Canadian Government to present 100,000 tons of wheat to the Government of India. The shipping position presents great difficulties and the broad position is that wheat can be shipped from Australia in under half the time and, therefore, with much greater economy in shipping. This consideration is likely to make it impossible to move any great part of the Canadian offer at present. Substantial quantities are already being shipped from Australia and further shipments have been planned. The milk products offered by the South African Government will be shipped.

Mr. Sorensen

While joining with the right hon. Gentleman in appreciating the offer of these Dominion Governments, may I ask him whether he was aware in the Debate last of the complaint of. Sir Theodore Gregory that only 100 tons had actually been delivered in India, and, if he was aware of it, may I ask why he did not state that fact?

Mr. Amery

No, Sir, it was not a complaint but a statement of fact, and in answer to an interjection during the Debate I actually gave the figures.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the disparity between that which was asked for and that which was received? Did he bring that out in the Debate last week?

Mr. Amery

I brought out quite clearly what had been done and that it was all that was required to meet that situation.

Mr. Cocks

With regard to the point on shipping, ought not the needs of the starving peoples in India to have first priority?

Mr. Amery

Undoubtedly, but if one ship takes the same wheat from Australia in less than half the time, it is better to ship from Australia.

42. Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for India whether he can give figures showing the relative prices in Bengal of rice to-day and in November, 1938; and similar figures for the general index of commodities?

Mr. Amery

The average wholesale price of the main varieties of rice in Calcutta in November, 1938, was Rs. 4 per maund of 82–2/7ths lbs. The present controlled price is Rs. 20 per maund. The Indian Economic Adviser's General Index stands at 241 on the base mid-August, 1939=100. There was no considerable change between November, 1938, and August, 1939.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the controlled price, does he mean that rice is obtainable at that price or is that the price which is fixed and against which it is marketed at some other price?

Mr. Amery

I understand that it is now obtainable at that price and that the controlled price will be fixed lower before long.

Mr. Sorensen

Is it not true that a good deal of rice has been sold at much more than 500 per cent. increase on the prewar price?

Mr. Amery

I believe that in some cases that has been true.

43. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for India whether, in the work of relieving victims of famine in Bengal, full use is being made of voluntary organisations and bodies such as university students?

Mr. Amery

A great deal of relief work is being done in Bengal by voluntary organisations and I am satisfied that every possible use will be made of such help. I do not know the extent to which University students organised as such are participating in this work but am making inquiries.

Miss Rathbone

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence to push this, because officials everywhere, not only in India, are apt to be over slow in times of special emergency in using voluntary workers?

Mr. Amery

Yes, that is why I am making inquiries.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that many Calcutta University students, especially those of the Science Departments, are already doing very valuable work in co-operation with the authorities?

Mr. Amery

Yes, Sir.

44. Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

asked the Secretary of State for India what progress has been made in the organisation of military relief measures in Bengal?

Mr. Amery

Troops are being located throughout the worst affected districts in Bengal to assist the civil authorities in the movement of grain to the villages, using military transport where possible. They will also assist in providing temporary shelters for the people. Arrangements for close liaison with the civil authorities have been made and medical appliances and personnel are being made available. The military arrangements were reported at the end of last week as having started working with encouraging results. Dispatches of foodgrains from Calcutta has increased more than 50 per cent. and the military machinery for detailed distribution was already working. I think there is good reason to be satisfied with the progress made.

Mr. Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Indian military authorities the appreciation felt in this country at their action?

Mr. Amery

I have already done so.

Mr. Kirkwood

Would the Minister contradict the rumour abroad that we in Britain are responsible for the starvation of these people?

Mr. Amery

Both my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself made that clear in the Debate the other day.

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

Cannot there be some propaganda in America to tell the truth?

Mr. Gallacher

That is too dangerous.

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