HC Deb 28 February 1973 vol 851 cc1477-8
9. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Indian Government on matters of mutual interest.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am in frequent touch with the Indian Government on a wide range of subjects of mutual interest.

Mr. Cox

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Is he aware that at the moment appalling problems exist in certain States in India as a result of drought and food shortages? In view of our close ties with India, can the right hon. Gentleman say what aid we are offering the Indian Government as a means of minimising the problems and the human suffering that now exists?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We are of course in touch with the Indian Government. If the Indian Government wish to raise the question of additional aid in this context I hope that they will do so. If they do, we shall give the matter very serious consideration. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have spent a great deal of money in Bangladesh helping with food supplies. I have not yet heard from the Indians on this matter.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend consider inviting representatives of the Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani Governments to very high ministerial talks in London, in view of the urgent need to bring the three parties together to talk over their mutual differences?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

That offer has been made. It is still open. At the moment the parties wish to talk bilaterally.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Taking up the question asked by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson), will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon both sides that the sensible solution to the prisoner-of-war problem is for the release of the prisoners held in India in exchange for those detained in Pakistan? Surely that is the commonsense solution to the problem.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The hon. Gentleman will realise that political considerations are bound up in all this. What we may regard as the sensible solution is a view not necessarily shared in all three countries in the sub-continent. Nevertheless, the exchange of civilians has begun, and I hope that it will be extended to prisoners of war.

Sir F. Bennett

Is not it a pity to try to drag in one political consideration after another? Is not it the simple fact that according to the Geneva Convention, the amendment to which was signed in 1949 by India, amongst others, all military prisoners of war should be returned to their countries of origin, irrespective of political considerations, at the termination of hostilities? Is not this 14 months overdue?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

My hon. Friend knows that the facts are seldom as simple as they are said to be.