HC Deb 28 July 1964 vol 699 cc1228-30
Q5. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Prime Minister what answer he gave to the official request of the Indian Prime Minister for the supply of frigates to India.

The Prime Minister

I have received no such request from the Prime Minister of India, The Government of India have been negotiating with a British firm in connection with their project to manufacture "Leander" class frigates in India. We greatly value these commercial and Service links. The Government of India have estimated their requirements of foreign exchange for this purpose at £13.66 million, spread over 10 years, and have asked Her Majesty's Government to assist in the financing of this project.

So far as direct Government financial assistance is concerned, we are already giving considerable economic and military aid.

Mr. Chavan was going to discuss this with us during his visit to this country in June. Unfortunately his visit had to be postponed because of Mr. Nehru's death. He will now be coming later this year.

Mr. Stonehouse

Does that reply mean that the Prime Minister is now willing to grant the credits which India requires to buy these supplies? Is it not deplorable that these negotiations have had to go on for so long and as a result India has had to look elsewhere for such supplies? Is the Prime Minister aware that this is not the only example of where a Commonwealth country has endeavoured to obtain supplies from this country and has been fobbed off for quite a long time?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Member uses the expression "fobbed off" I had better take the opportunity to tell him what we have done. In December, 1962, we offered £19 million worth to India and more than £14 million worth has already reached India. In August, 1963, we offered further military aid. The equipment to be supplied has been agreed with the Indians and is on order. In May, 1964—two months ago—we offered more military aid and discussions as to the type of equipment to be supplied are now in progress with the Indian Government. Over the last six years military and economic aid from Britain to India has amounted to something over £200 million.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Did not the late Mr. Nehru and other Indian leaders express their gratitude to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for the very prompt and generous military assistance given to India in her time of need? Are not Questions of this kind thoroughly damaging to good Commonwealth relations?

The Prime Minister

We try—and I think we have succeeded—in consultation with the Indian Government, to give them the type of military aid they want at the time. Up to now we have been engaged with the danger of a land attack on India. If the priority should change we would consider it just as we have considered military aid before.

Mr. H. Wilson

While welcoming the Government's acceptance of our proposal for lend-lease aid—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—our proposal for lend-lease aid which the Government all the time rejected—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] —they rejected it—is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that this request for frigates has been going on now for 18 months? In view of his repeated insistence that full employment can be based only on exporting frigates, can he say why it has taken 18 months to reach this decision and whether we may now feel, the matter having been raised on the Floor of the House, that there is some hope of India getting them?

The Prime Minister

The kind of aid and the priorities have depended on the threat to India and what the priorities should be. The threat was a land attack up to now. If the Indian Defence Minister wishes to change the priorities we shall of course consider this matter of frigates if that is their desire.

Mr. Wilson

In view of the haste which the right hon. Gentleman has shown in supplying frigates to non-Commonwealth countries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"]—will he say what kind of an attack, whether by land or sea, he envisages for Spain?

The Prime Minister

The frigates for Spain were a matter of straight trade. The question which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned raises the matter of the whole balance between economic and military aid which this country gives to India. This is quite a different matter, and, as one of my hon. Friends said, it is a red herring which the right hon. Gentleman has tried to draw across the issue.