HC Deb 28 October 1943 vol 393 cc351-4
12. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for India whether any consultations have taken place both with imprisoned Congress leaders and with other Indian political representatives regarding the present Indian food shortage and the necessity of preparing plans to avoid its recurrence; and whether, in view of the present and future agricultural and economic needs of India, steps will be taken immediately to secure that the necessary planning shall be determined by representative and responsible Indians?

The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)

The Government of India have been in the closest consultation with Indian representatives of various political points of view. The recent Foodgrains Policy Committee contained nine nonofficial Indian members in addition to representatives of the Government of India and of certain Provincial and State Governments, including the Government of Bengal. The conclusions of this Committee were discussed at a Conference with Provincial and States representatives at Delhi. I have no doubt that this policy of full discussion with representative Indians will be continued.

Mr. Sorensen

Does the Minister realise that he has not answered the first part of my Question, which asks specifically whether any consultations have taken place with the imprisoned Congress leaders? Would it not be well if consultations did take place with the representatives of so important a body?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Member is no doubt aware that four years ago Congress leaders deliberately rejected any responsibility for Provincial government and that they have since embarked on a policy of irresponsible sabotage of the war effort. Until they make it clear that their policy is entirely changed, there is no reason why they should become responsible for this essentially Provincial problem.

Mr. Sorensen

But is it not worth while swallowing this foolish pride, seeing that these men, whatever we may think about them, are the representatives of the largest single political force in India?

Viscountess Astor

Would it not be a wise thing if the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), who asks so many Questions about India and seems to know so little about it, was sent to India by the House of Commons so that he could see for himself?

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

Might it not be advantageous to consult Mr. Gandhi as most of the reputed hoarders are his fellow caste men?

Commander Locker-Lampson

Has not the time come when, in order to help the food shortage in India, the Indians should stop worshipping the cow and begin to eat it?

13. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for India whether he is now able to state the number of deaths from starvation in India and in Bengal in particular; the total amount of foodstuffs now being imported weekly; whether shipping is being provided for the transportation of grain from Australia; and the date at which the Central Indian Government prepared provisional plans in respect of the anticipated famine conditions now prevailing?

Mr. Amery

It is estimated that between 15th August and 16th October about 8,000 persons have died in Calcutta from causes directly or indirectly due to malnutrition. No reliable figures are available for the country districts, but conditions in South-East and South-West Bengal are, I fear, worse than in Calcutta. I have no reliable figure for the whole of India.

Imports of foodstuffs into Bengal, if that is the figure desired, are at the rate of 2,400 tons a day. I cannot give a figure for imports into India from overseas in terms of weekly arrivals, as arrival is dependent on a number of varying factors; but the hon. Member will have observed that three ships carrying nearly 20,000 tons between them have already come in. I am not prepared to specify the sources from which shipping is being sent to India, but I would repeat that His Majesty's Government are making every effort to assist.

As regards the last part of the Question, the first Price Control Conference of Provincial and other representatives was called by the Centre in October, 1939. The first Food Conference took place in December, 1942, and was followed by a series of further conferences and more recently by tire appointment of the Food-grains Committee to which I have just referred.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Prime Minister of Australia has announced that there are sufficient grains in Australia to feed the starving population in India if shipping could be available? Can we take it that commercial shipping for India is No. 1 on the priority list?

Mr. Amery

It is true that Australia, and indeed all the Dominions, and His Majesty's Government, are only too anxious to supply food to India if the very great difficulties of the shipping situation can be overcome.

14. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for India the nature of the Famine Relief Fund announced to be, or to have been, established by Lord Wavell; and whether further appeals for War Loan to the people of India will be suspended during the existence of this fund?

Mr. Amery

The fund will receive gifts of money for allocation to Bengal and other parts of India suffering distress. With regard to the second part of the Question, there is no reason to suppose that subscriptions to the Viceroy's Distress Relief Fund, which is a purely charitable appeal, would be affected by the existence of Defence Loans, necessary to absorb redundant currency and counteract inflation.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that only last week he stated that the need was not for money at all, and he therefore deprecated any suggestion that moneys devoted to War Loan should be put to this purpose? Surely he will admit that Lord Wavell, on the spot, understands the need and that there must be some justification for the fund that he has established?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Member has misunderstood what I said. I said that the difficulty of helping from outside India lay not in money but in getting the actual food to India.

Mr. Sorensen

If that is so, the moneys which have been raised in India for War Loan could very well be diverted to that purpose?

Mr. Amery

The people who contribute do so from very different motives. One of the main causes of the famine has been the inflationary tendency in. India, and anything that can relieve that tendency will, of course, also help the famine situation.

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