HC Deb 17 February 1966 vol 724 cc1529-31
Q1. Mr. Chataway

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers about the threat of famine in India.

Q10. Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister what response Her Majesty's Government have made to the appeal by the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation for help to the Indian Government to meet the famine which now threatens 100 million people.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Her Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and a number of Governments of non-Commonwealth countries are already in close touch with each other and with the Government of India about the threatened famine. As the House is aware, we, for our part, have made an immediate and interim contribution in the form of an interest-free loan to India of £7½ million.

Mr. Chataway

Is the Prime Minister satisfied that in the weeks since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition called for a special programme of help to relieve the famine the British and other Commonwealth Governments have done all that they can to ensure an expansion of the capacity of Indian ports and an increased supply of vitamins, and so on? Will he confirm that the £7½ million to which he referred falls almost wholly within sums already pledged to India? Will he agree that there is a genuine—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Even supplementary questions to the Prime Minister must be short.

The Prime Minister

While welcoming, as I did, the Leader of the Opposition's statement, the special programme of aid started before he made his statement. Only today the Australian Government, with whom we have been in touch this week, have announced a very big shipment of food to India in addition to what everyone else is doing.

Mr. Noel-Baker

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the action which the Government have already taken, may I ask him whether he will consider that this is not only a gigantic humanitarian problem but a gigantic political problem and that if the West fails to give adequate help to Mrs. Gandhi the results, both short term and long term, may be very grave, and, if necessary—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that that is long enough.

The Prime Minister

I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said. Although, as he said, the Leader of the Opposition and I said in the recent debate that the problem is above all a problem of port capacity and of internal distribution, some very massive shipments of food are being organised.

Mr. Heath

Will the Prime Minister recognise that the help which the Government are giving, which he describes as £7½ million, consists of £6 million which was already pledged for normal economic development in India separately from the famine relief? Therefore, the only additional amount which the Government are making available is £1½ million. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this matches up to the scale of the problem in India? Secondly, will he assure us that he will, if necessary, make available from the strategic stocks which we have the port handling equipment which he has said is one of the greatest needs?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has made the first point before. We thought it right to reallocate that part of the aid for this purpose because we are dealing with an emergency and not long-term development. If the right hon. Gentleman feels that we should increase in total the amount of aid, that is a matter which could be considered at any time within the overall ceiling on Government expenditure, which I hope he supports.