HL Deb 14 July 1966 vol 276 cc265-86

6.11 p.m.

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking, in concert with other countries, to help alleviate the drought and food shortage in India, especially in view of a possible aggravation of the situation if the monsoon again fails. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, to speak for a relatively few minutes on the drought and what some describe as the near-famine threatening India.

Earlier this week, only I think two or three days ago, we read that the Government of Maharashtra had asked those who could to get ready to leave Bombay because of the fear that the unprecedented shortage of water might lead to epidemics. The Government were reported to have said that they would close industries, schools and colleges to enable women and children to leave; and that the plan would come into operation next week. It was also reported that there was such a congestion at the port that the arrival of food grains were delayed, and ships calling only to fill their tanks with cheap water would be refused supplies; that water pressure in hydrants was so low as to make fire-fighting ineffective, and that a big blaze was raging in the industrial area. This morning, however, I read on the Reuter tape a moving account of how there was heavy rainfall yesterday in the Bombay catchment area; and all I can say is, pray God that it may continue!

It is true, I think, that the monsoon started on time, but of course it will be impossible to tell until later whether it is satisfactory or not. Often, I understand, the monsoon may come in Bombay, as indeed happened last year and is happening now, but it may not spread across the Ganges Plain. We may know better towards the end of the month whether it is likely to be a good monsoon, but it may not be before September that we can judge the full effect. Sometimes the monsoon may be too severe and wash away arable soil. According to the Statesman weekly of July 2 there was reason for some satisfaction, at least, in the early rains, although more recent reports from Bombay have given cause for some alarm, even if to-day's news is a little better.

My Lords, in our debate on technical assistance at the end of January I referred to the four-point programme proposed on January 3 by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place, when he was still in India. It was a programme to help India overcome her present food shortage. Mr. Heath then stated that Britain could contribute to the foreign exchange cost of additional shipping needed to rush food supplies to India. Secondly, it could expand the capacity of Indian ports by providing additional floating elevators; and, thirdly, it could make arrangements to supply pesticides and fertilisers. Fourthly, Mr. Heath said that we could supply vitamin tablets to the famine-hit areas. A fortnight later, on January 18, the Government themselves stated that they had assured the Government of India that they would respond as speedily and fully as possible, and offered an interest-free loan of £7.5 million as an interim contribution to help with famine relief. This figure of £7.5 million included the £6.5 million from the British aid pledge of £30 million for the half-year 1965–66.

The Government of India immediately began considering our suggestion, which was greatly welcomed and for which they were most grateful, that this money should be used towards the foreign exchange cost of the shipment of wheat and other supplies made available by several Commonwealth countries. This did, in fact, meet the first point made by my right honourable friend a fortnight earlier, and I understand that the Government of India is using these funds towards such foreign exchange costs.

Secondly, the Government, still in January, suggested that the money should be used also to provide grain-handling equipment for Indian ports, and I understand that some of this equipment has already been received, although I gather that not all of that originally offered was suitable. However, that which was suitable has evidently now arrived and has assisted in disembarking the grain. The reports of rising congestion at the Port of Bombay are disturbing, but my Indian friends assure me that grain is now being distributed by rail and that transport facilities from the ports, which I have been told were the main problem, are now reasonably satisfactory.

Thirdly, Her Majesty's Government, again in January, suggested that these new funds should be used to finance the purchase of commodities of immediate value in time of food shortage and also to purchase industrial supplies needed to maintain India's industrial production. We must remember that since India stopped virtually all her imports, even, as I understand it, medical supplies, as well as spare parts and other essentials, the situation has been extremely serious.

After his talks with Mrs. Gandhi at London Airport on April 2 the Prime Minister said that it would be one of the first tasks of the new Government in this country to examine urgently what immediate steps Britain could take to help India further in resolving her economic problems which had been aggravated, as he said, by the worst drought of this generation—ifnot, I might add, of the century. Then, on April 22, twenty days later the Government, while welcoming the aid which was being given by the United States, Canada and Australia, offered to make immediately available funds totalling £17 million sterling directed to India's pressing economic problems. This offer was additional to the £7½ million which I have already mentioned. The whole of the £17 million, I understand, is an advance instalment of our normal aid pledge for 1966–67, and £10 million out of the £17 million would be in the form of general purpose aid of particular value to India at this time, for the purchase of goods from Britain without delay. Of the remaining £7 million, £4 million would be for a new Kipping loan to assist engineering industries which were in need, and which looked to Britain as their source of supply, to purchase badly needed spares and components, particularly for the Bhopal heavy electrical factory. We have been glad to see that these loans, as with other loans to India, would be interest-free, repayable, I understand, over 25 years, with repayments starting after seven years.

One thing I should particularly like to emphasise, having visited India earlier this year and seen their vast and varied efforts in reconstruction, both social and industrial, is that, despite all the difficulties, the Indians really are making tremendous efforts themselves. We sometimes hear in this country the criticism that the aid which is going out is not being efficiently distributed or used when it gets there. However, having been there, I think that something really is being done, and that it may be true that, as a result of all our joint efforts, famine itself, as opposed to drought, may just have been averted. I should like to know from the noble Lord whether he agrees with me about this.

Visiting India for the first time one is, of course, deeply impressed, especially in Calcutta, by the emaciated bodies lying on the pavements in the streets. But Calcutta has in this respect always been a distressing sight to Western eyes, and it may be that these casualties are not necessarily due to food deficiency, but to other diseases, such as tuberculosis and cholera.

One is a little inhibited in discussing the economic problems of India, because the new Five-Year Plan did not come out last year, and I think it is due to be published only at the end of this month. It will then have to be considered by an unbiased World Bank and the consortium of donors. My Indian friends tell me, however, that we are giving less aid per head to India than we are to Yugoslavia. I do not know what the noble Lord feels about that. In so far as comparisons with Malawi and, indeed, Aden are concerned—for example, we are spending sixty times as much aid per head in Malawi as we are in India—I accept very largely the noble Lord's explanation which he gave on Second Reading of the Overseas Aid Bill. India is getting very substantial aid from other countries besides ourselves, whereas Malawi depends mainly on us and is only now becoming independent, and there is a tendency to grant more aid on such an occasion.

There is one point which we did not go into fully on the Second Reading of the Overseas Aid Bill, and that is the percentage of the gross national product which we are using on overseas aid. Again, my Indian friends tell me they calculate that we are spending only 0.7 per cent. of our gross national product on aid, whereas it is generally recognised that the developed countries should be spending 1 per cent. However, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, in his statement in Geneva on July 6, considers that we shall be giving this year our full 1 per cent. I do not know whether the noble Lord can tell me how this calculation was made.

Above all, I should like to know from the Government whether they consider that the aid we are giving is really sufficient. I recognise that if immediate need were the only criterion, then perhaps we should give all our aid to India. This is a view that I have heard expressed. But I recognise that we in Britain are not a food-surplus country, and we must also think ahead of India's long-term industrial needs. However, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he agrees with the interesting leader in The Times of yesterday and with what I think is the view of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, that food supplies should now take priority over everything else.

It is clear that on some of the points mentioned by my right honourable friend Mr. Heath and by the Prime Minister earlier this year action is being taken. But I should particularly like to know from the noble Lord—although I realise that some of these points are really largely a matter for the Indian Government itself—whether he thinks that we are doing all we can in regard to the supply of pesticides and fertilisers. And, what is perhaps even more important, are we helping the country to start manufacturing these commodities themselves? Are we also supplying the vitamin tablets mentioned by my right honourable friend? Moreover, are we doing everything possible to assist in their obtaining boring equipment for tube wells? We know that Christian Aid has been appealing for funds on this score. Above all, are we doing everything possible to help India avert what may be a disaster?

According to information published in this country, we have been led to believe that the most severely hit areas were Kerala in the South and Orissa, South-East of Bengal, but I understand from reading a recent issue of India News that scarcity conditions in Gujarat have been as acute as anywhere in the country. I happen to have seen something of conditions in Gujarat when I visited the University at Ahmedabad, and I was greatly impressed, as I see is the correspondent of India News, by how little public outcry there has been there: no sign of mass panic, nor of that desperation which has been the parent of popular demonstrations elsewhere.

I certainly feel that India, with her very long association with this country, deserves the fullest support that we can give. I hope that with the devaluation of the rupee and the liberalising of her imports, as well as aid from overseas and (may I say?) family planning, about which I hope other noble Lords may have something to say, Her Majesty's Government feel that everything is being done to help and, above all, to understand her problems.

My Lords, the reasons why we are giving aid must be clear to all. First, there is the obvious humanitarian motive. But we also have a great interest in seeing that India manages to cope with her vast problems. India is a democracy of some 480 millions, and one of the few democracies in that part of the world. The question which is asked by millions of people in South-East Asia is: which is the better system, communism or democracy? They see the drama enacted before their very eyes as the Chinese face their problems under the communist system and the Indians theirs under democracy. Were the Indian Government to succumb, and if large-scale drought and famine were to become a reality, any Government must totter. And then, my Lords, the answer would be plain for all to see.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend who has just spoken that we have all been much moved by India's distress and anxieties over the last few days. This threat of famine or near-famine has followed the partial failure of the monsoon last year, and I am sure that we all rejoice at this morning's news of the heavy rain in Bombay, a city in which I spent many busy years. I have known the long days of heavy leaden skies, and smelt (I can almost smell and hear it now) the welcome, teeming rain when the monsoon breaks. Let us hope, as my noble friend said, that the monsoon current is strong and will drive across Gujarat and into Central India.

Though we talk of famine, it is many years since there was real famine. But near-famine, yes: last year, and it might well be this year. And we must remember that in India there is a very narrow margin between sufficiency and under-nourishment, which is almost endemic in many parts. As for the figures of rainfall in Bombay to which my noble friend referred, the rain is heaviest in September when the North-East monsoon returns. I experienced 28 inches in 24 hours in September, 1949.

However, it is not my intention to follow my noble friend as to the short-term problems. In the concise speech that he has made he seems to have covered all the ground which we have previously gone over in this House. But it is not unreasonable that a donor should mention, as it were in passing, the remedies for the future which, visible in the near view, stand out even more clearly when seen from far off. Indeed, to mention them in an affectionate way may give heart to some in India whose voices are not so clearly heard as they might be.

My first point is the one to which the noble Earl referred, namely, family planning and the world population crisis. I need hardly mention the mushroom cloud, to which we have already turned our thoughts in this House. We need only remember that the population of India is growing at the rate of 12 million per annum. It will soon be 500 million and will double itself in less than 30 years. In this regard the Government of India are striving mightily, and I appeal to this Government to continue and reinforce their efforts to help by encouraging the International Family Planning Campaign with all their might. Here it is aid—aid in the form of trained help, aid in the form of help in training, which is required and which should be given.

What interests me is that in this matter of population control it is the young and adolescent Indian people who seem to be particularly receptive to a message of this sort. One has only to glance at the report made to the Government of India, and published this year by the United Nations Advisory Mission, led by Sir Colville Deverell, to appreciate how seriously the Government of India have taken this. In fact, in a note to me he has described their efforts as "an attempt on an heroic scale" to tackle this problem. I would quote further from this note: The situation in India can only be cured by greatly increasing local food products (and this means primarily yield per acre)— and then he says— and a significant reduction in the birth rate". I say this because in view of this increase of yield per acre in India as related to the question of aid in the form of grain, Sir Colville Deverell would obviously differ from the leader writer in The Times, who seems to indicate that a country like India might be left to rely on supplies from elsewhere. I do not agree with him, nor would Sir Colville Deverell. And, of course, the problem, the need for the consolidation of holdings, and so on, is so complex that I will not go into it, because it does not bear directly on the question which the noble Earl has asked.

Sir Colville Deverell went on to say: The problem is not only, or perhaps mainly, one of education"— he is referring to family planning— and motivation but of administration and logistics—the problem of bringing effective, acceptable and simple methods to the 82 per cent. of the population living in some 530,000 villages. This brings me to my next point, which is that of getting aid in motivation as well as in kind to rural communities. This means improved rural communications. All the lifeblood in the world can fail to reach the ultimate point of need by the absence or failure of the capillaries. Is enough being done to improve the village communications?

The noble Earl referred to the great advances which have been made in terms of rail, main roads, docks and other channels of supply. I feel the Government might press this point that the ultimate distribution will be a terrific problem, because famine strikes at man and draught animal alike, and we must remember that it was the railway lines, many of the branches of which were constructed as famine relief, which struck the stoutest blows at the famines of the 1890s and saved millions of lives thereafter. To-day the motor truck can go almost wherever a bullock cart could go. Are supplies of trucks sufficient? Should aid in the form of road vehicles, parts and tyres be given? If not, then should not vehicle taxation in India be eased? The tax burden on road transport in India is very heavy, and as in this country, too little of it has been for years ploughed back into the roads from which it springs. However, there is another aspect, because I think I am right in saying that the war with Pakistan resulted in the freezing and immobilisation of reserves of large stocks of new road vehicles. Can we help here without treading on any military toes?

Lastly, my Lords, when I was discussing the noble Earl's Question with a very experienced person the other day he begged me to make a point which is interesting, if oblique. It is this: how grievously all-India movements suffer from the absence of a lingua-franca. Indeed this may appear to have but little to do with the problem of aid to India, but I think the noble Earl agrees with me that it is a factor in dealing with the rapid distribution of aid throughout India, although it is not a matter with which this Government dare tangle, so perhaps I ought not to have mentioned it.

My Lords, if I have taken too much of your time I beg forgiveness, if only because I speak from the heart, and the noble Earl's Question, like my intervention and, I have no doubt, like the intervention of the noble Lord opposite, stems from affection and compassion. I look forward to the Minister's reply with the deepest interest.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to associate myself very strongly with the views which have been expressed by the two noble Lords opposite. I am bound to say that I find myself much more in agreement with them than I did with the expressions uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, earlier this afternoon. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Walston seemed somewhat badgered by no doubt sincere points of view, but the line which has been taken by the two noble Lords who have just spoken is much nearer what we should face up to than the negative attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Barnby.

I intervene briefly in this discussion because, as some of your Lordships know, I was the last Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India and Burma between July, 1945, and June, 1947, and in 1946 there was a very serious famine in, I think (drawing on my memory), Madras, which caused a great deal of anxiety to our Government and to our Parliament at that time. One came to realise the enormity of the problem that faces a country like India. The population of India at that time was approximately 300 million people. We have been told to-day that it is now 480 million, and the Minister of Health in the Central Government of India stated some little while ago that ten years from now the population of India will be 625 million people. That is a simply fantastic population with which to concern ourselves, when we come to realise the dangers and the threat of famine which is existing all the time in a country like India. The droughts they have experienced are experienced in other parts of the world. There is nothing particularly applicable only to India in that regard.

During the last fifteen years the Government of India have made wonderful strides. The noble Earl, Lord Besborough, paid tribute to the great efforts that they had sought to carry through in dealing with this grave potential problem of population. Birth control was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and the Government of India have made and are making valiant efforts to control the growth in population. But when we realise that there are 580,000 villages in that sub-continent we realise the practical difficulties facing the Government of India with regard to that problem. I am bound to say, though, that however much we sympathise with the Government of India, however important it is, however vital it is to give them aid, there will have to be some degree of self-help.

I do not know what the solution is. As to this population explosion, it is suggested that by the end of this century the population of the world will be 6,000 million instead of 3,000 million as at present. How are we going to cope with that and resolve it? I sometimes wish that more effort, more of our scientific ability, more of our material resources were put into seeking a solution of this problem than seeking to project people one day in the distant future on to the moon. But, of course, the scientist would say that what I am saying is heresy and that we have to give a loose rein to the scientists no matter how much of our material resources they spend and however much effort is put into this work by the most brilliant minds that we have, instead of into solving some of these other social and economic problems.

I should like to endorse very strongly the questions that were addressed by the noble Earl to my noble friend Lord Beswick. I am particularly anxious to be told what is being done through the Special Agencies of the United Nations. I am quite sure that these problems cannot be resolved nationally. Famine and hunger know no national boundaries anyway. As was once said by the late Mr. Litvinov, "Peace is indivisible". So, too, the solution of the problem of world famine is indivisible, and it is a problem which has to be tackled by the combined efforts and resources of the entire world. I would ask my noble friend in turn whether the Government are looking at it from this particular angle.

I welcome the four points that the Leader of the Opposition put forward in January. I strongly welcome what Her Majesty's Government have done in the succeeding months. It has not made a great impact, but, on the other hand, it has made some contribution. Other countries in the Commonwealth, Australia and Canada, have made their contribution—and, of course, the much-abused United States, always abused when it is not a question of their making some contribution to this or that state of affairs. I would ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government are planning some appeal to the United Nations to approach this world problem of famine on an international basis. Anything he can say would, I think, be a consolation not only to those of us in this debate who are concerned with this problem, but also to the Government of India itself. I conclude by again saying how grateful I am, and I believe the House itself is, for the fact that the noble Earl has raised this vital matter before us tonight.

6.44 p.m.


My Lords, my intervention will be very brief indeed. I just want to make one point which appears to me to be important. I should like to say, like noble Lords who have already spoken, that one is inspired to take part in this debate out of very great affection for India and tremendous admiration for the way in which she is tackling really superhuman problems. What rather worries me is this. One knows that distribution has been hampered in India both at the ports and on the railways, and one knows that they also have had, I believe, to repeal a regional boundary law which has been most troublesome whereby one region could not help the other because the boundary could not be crossed. They might perhaps come and study mutual aid between constituencies in our General Elections and learn something from that. I believe this boundary law has now been mitigated, but it certainly impeded a good deal of food distribution.

What I should like to ask the Minister with regard to the aid we give, and which we give so very gladly, is whether we follow through to see that it does really reach those people who need our aid. I have been to India; I have seen generous aid from many countries. One is not always quite sure that this aid reaches the people for whom it is destined. I think our aid in this respect has been very wisely given, but I should like an assurance from the Minister that we shall follow through to see that what we take from our own taxpayers is properly accepted and spent in the receiving countries.

Obviously India's final solution for her famine, which is near permanent, is on the land. It is not for us to advise her how to get over this very great problem, but the parcelling of land, mentioned by the noble Lord, is one of the great problems. I am glad to hear that we are helping with pesticides. I am advised by a noble Lord—I hope this is not true—that half of all Indian agricultural produce during the year is consumed by rats. Up to a point that would be an avoidable disaster. That is all I wish to accentuate. Will the Minister give us an assurance that our aid will be canalised right through to where it is needed, and used there?

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I rise because I think that famine and drought in this world now raise questions of a magnitude and importance that are not always fully realised. It is not the moment now, obviously, in the short term, to expect an increase of aid from this country. We have our own difficulties, but I am sure all of us are really grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, for raising this subject to-day, for being generous, humane, balanced and utterly reasonable in what he had to say about it. I do not propose to add to that. I am glad he gave the Government credit for what they have done, and I would reply that this is a matter over which one might give credit, too, to the Leader of the Opposition for the points he put forward.

In the short term there is little to be done; but in the long term I hope your Lordships will remember that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse the Horseman of War made the bravest show but the Horseman of Famine did the most damage on the small horse in the foreground of Durer's print. Famine and drought in the world, with a rising population, are becoming an increasing problem, and one that calls for recognition by all developed countries—at least, by all countries that have any claim to be civilised. I agree with what my noble friend said, that this is in a sense an international problem. But its character in that respect must not be used as an excuse for pushing off our human responsibility as citizens of a comparatively wealthy country, as citizens of a country which can help.

I am not concerned—I am sure that none of us is—with exactly how this kind of effort can always be made. We may have proper questions to ask in any individual case, but, as I see it, the broad point is that famine and drought are an increasing problem in the world at large with its rising population. Not all scientists are as difficult as my noble friend thinks. A relative of mine, a scientist, spent a good deal of time in India engaged principally—and I say this to the noble Lord opposite, Lord Rowley, particularly—in research into increasing crops and the yield of the land. Another, closer relative spent some time in trying to cope with tuberculosis in India. These things all need doing.

The problem is colossal. It is one that concerns all of us as human beings. It is not to be looked at too nicely, as a question of responsibility depending on interest or the past. It is a call to us to justify the civilisation that we have struggled to produce, and we hope that we have produced, in this country. It is a call on us as human beings to justify our sight, to show that we can look beyond our frontiers, that we can look at people living in quite different conditions and remember that, like them, we are human beings and we have a common burden against the hardships of the world.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot possibly hope to follow the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Mitchison, and I do not think that I should have sought to intervene in this debate at all if it had not been for some of the earlier remarks of my noble friend Lord Rowley. While he was talking my mind went back to the circumstances of, I think, 1946, when he held the office he did, and my memory tells me that then the situation was so bad in parts of India that the Minister of Food in Britain, along with Mr. Ernest Bevin, diverted shipments of grain which were coming from Canada to our country, to meet the difficulties of India at that time. I am quite certain that history will show that that brought about a rationing of bread in this country. It was a sacrifice that our country was called upon to make at a most difficult time. We were desperately short of food at that time, but the people of Britain rose to the sacrifice, and no objections were voiced throughout the country, if I remember rightly, because of bread rationing, when it was known that it was largely due to what we were able to do for India.

Following my noble friend Lord Mitchison, I feel that the people of this country can again rise to sacrifices of that kind, if it means sacrifice notwithstanding that we are infinitely better off than we were in those days and we can afford this kind of aid. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will be able to tell us what steps the Government have in mind with regard to this great problem. I finish, with other noble Lords, in expressing my sincere thanks to the noble Earl for having raised this matter this evening. It is so important and it is something that reaches all our hearts.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I join with the noble Lord who has just spoken, and with other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, for the way in which he has introduced his Question this evening. He has spoken about matters of which he has personal knowledge, and the questions which he has posed he has put forward in a constructive way. As I see it, he has put to us something of a challenge presented by this problem of a nation of some 480 million or 490 million people of whom, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, millions have lived on the borderline of subsistence for many years and will this year, because of the wayward harshness of nature, face the prospect of being forced down below the level of subsistence.

The noble Earl asked what has been done by this country, and I propose to tell him. I did say, and my noble friend Lord Rowley said, that this was a challenge, not simply to this country but to the whole world, and I want first to say something of how the world responded to that challenge. If I do so, it is not, as my noble friend Lord Mitchison may think, because I want to diminish the sense of responsibility which we should feel, but because I have a certain amount of pride in thinking that the world as a whole did rise to the appeal which was put out by India earlier this year. It is, in fact, a response from the world which in its scope will probably surprise, and I think ought to inspire, us all.

I have a list here of the countries who have offered help. It reads like a roll call of the United Nations. According to the answer, given by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, Community Development and Co-operation, to a question in the Indian Parliament, offers of aid have been received from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Malta, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Sweden, Surinam, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, the Vatican, the United Kingdom, the U.S.S.R., West Germany, Yugoslavia, and others to which I shall refer later.

Some of the contributions made were only modest: Cambodia, for example, shipped a gift of 100 tons of rice; Morocco offered a gift of 10,000 tons of phosphates; New Zealand decided to make a gift of 1,000 tons of milk powder; San Marino contributed about 50 tons of wheat. The Government of Yugoslavia, which had itself so recently suffered a natural catastrophe, and was the recipient of help from so many other countries, diverted a shipment of 30,000 tons of wheat and offered a gift of one million dollars for the purchase and shipment of 1,700 tons of beans and 700 tons of milk powder.

Other contributions, of course, were greater—for instance, our own, to which I am going to refer later. Australia offered aid of 8 million Australian dollars which was spent predominantly in providing wheat. Canada announced aid of 50 million Canadian dollars, which will provide 125,600 tons of wheat, 2,850,000 tons of dried peas, and quantities of milk powder and wheat flour. Though not on this list, at that time, the United States, to which my noble friend Lord Rowley referred, has agreed to supply 6½ million tons of grain in the year July, 1965, to June, 1966; and subsequently President Johnson agreed to supply a further 3½, million tons—a massive contribution, indeed.

In addition to the national contributions, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which of course we support both financially and in other ways, and the World Food Programme have offered aid of 7,300 metric tons of milk powder and about 54,400 metric tons of wheat. Besides this official national and United Nations aid there has been considerable assistance from non-official agencies, to which I think some reference should be made, Indian nationals in Thailand, for example, sent approximately 2 million tons of rice. Autonomous semi-Government organisations in Italy collected a sum of nearly 8 million dollars as a result of a nation-wide appeal through which they have been able to send 30,000 tons of wheat, 10,000 tons of wheat flour, quantities of rice and milk powder, as well as trucks and vehicles.

The list of Good Samaritans of the world is too long for me to read out in full but, with so much discouragement and cynicism about this international cooperation, this list makes instructive and encouraging reading. Lest it be thought that I am trying to suggest that the problem is now solved, and the difficulties over, let us remind ourselves that we are, in fact, dealing with an immense country with a population which is rapidly approaching 500 million people. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, asked about the possibilities of family planning, and he himself indicated something of what is being done. I would only add to that, and say if any further advice is needed from us, we shall be glad to give such technical assistance as is asked for.

The estimated food shortage which followed the failure of the 1965 monsoon has varied considerably, but it was clear at the beginning of this year that India would need at least 11 million to 12 million tons of imported grain if troubles and crises in the population were to be avoided. The latest estimate, which I have just received, suggests a provisional short-fall of probably more than 15 million tons of food grains. This is an increase on the previous figures and compares with grain imports of 6 million tons in 1965. But if we are to get the matter in proper proportion, and appreciate the great effort that is being made by the Indian people to feed themselves, we have to compare it also with an average annual production in the years 1961–65 of 82.3 million metric tons of food grains.

When the problem became apparent the Government of India applied for help to us and to other countries. We have no surplus food stocks available, but we did, as the noble Earl said, immediately make available in February a loan of £7½ million. It was not tied to specific projects. In agreement with the Government of India it was decided that it should be used towards the foreign exchange costs of shipping emergency supplies of wheat and other food supplies from Commonwealth countries, the provision of grain handling equipment for Indian ports, and the purchase of commodities of immediate value in helping to deal with the emergency, including, I would say to the noble Baroness, pesticides and fertilisers.

In addition to that, the British Government made available on May 10 this year, as an advance installment of British aid pledged for 1966–67, loans of £17 million. I would say to the noble Earl, although I do not think he meant it, that it is wrong to refer to this pledge as being a normal matter in the sense that it does not count. This is fresh money which we find each year. There is nothing normal about it; it has to be decided each year.


My Lords, if the noble Lord looks at the statement made by the Government he will find that the word "normal" was used. It may not have been correctly used. I took it from an official Government statement. If I am wrong, I stand corrected.


I also stand corrected. I thought that there was an indication in the noble Earl's statement that this was something normal which did not really hit our pockets. At any rate, this loan of £17 million directed to India's present economic problems was made available, earlier than otherwise would have been the case. Once again, this money is for a wide range of essential imports.

In answer to the noble Baroness, I would say that we do our best in cooperation with the Indian Government to see that the money is well spent, but primarily, once the loan is made available, it is the responsibility of the Indian Government. But if she is interested in the kinds of things on which money is being spent, I have a list here which may be of interest to her. There was a sum of £1.5 million spent on the payment of non-Indian rupee costs towards the shipment of wheat; £300,000 on port handling equipment; £850,000 on fertilisers; £275,000 on pesticides, and £375,000 on components for agricultural tractors. I think that this gives an indication that the financial aid which we have made available is being used for purposes of which the noble Earl, the noble Baroness, and apparently the right honourable gentleman Mr. Heath, would approve.

Probably one can do no better, if one is assessing the value of this aid, than to quote Mr. Bhoothalingam who, when signing the emergency loan, made this statement: I think the quickness with which we concluded these discussions is remarkable and represents truly the right way to react to a situation which has to be handled quickly. It is your appreciation of our needs and the urgency of our needs which, I am sure, has made you in fact agree to the use of this loan in a fashion which enables us to use it very quickly, and that is just what is needed. I am sure that those remarks will be appreciated by an in this House.

There is one small point which I would mention in regard to the figures used by the noble Earl. He said that £4 million of the £17 million would be used for a new Kipping Loan to assist new industries in need, and in particular for the Bhopal electrical equipment factory. In fact, the £4 million Kipping Loan is a separate sum from the £3 million allocation to the Bhopal project.


Is it £3 million out of the £4 million?


It is £4 million for the Kipping loan, and £3 million separately for the Bhopal project.

I was asked if I agreed with the leader in The Times as to the necessity for treating agriculture as of prime importance. As I read the leader, it was to the exclusion of industrial development. I must confess we would not take that view. One cannot get a modern agricultural industry unless one has a reasonable industrial base. It is by assisting the Indian Government with the development of their own industry that, in the medium term as well as in the long term, we shall enable them to develop their agriculture. In that respect the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, were relevant. One cannot have proper agricultural development unless one has tractors and rural transport, and is able to service them. To do this one needs some industrial development.

The noble Baroness asked me about fertilisers. Again, one does not just make fertilisers with a pestle and mortar. To-day, it is an industrial undertaking. An I.C.I. fertiliser plant is now being erected in India, at Kanpur. It is a £30 million project of which the parent company is held 51 per cent. by I.C.I., and the remainder by the Government of India and by public holdings. It is hoped to complete this project within three years, and it will, incidentally, be nearly one-third bigger than the I.C.I. plant at Billingham. This is a matter of industrial development which should make a real contribution to the agricultural programme. Incidentally, there will be about 50 to 60 technicians from Britain helping with the plant; and I.C.I. are training some 70 to 80 Indian technicians as well. This is one way in which British industry is complementing the technical assistance provided directly by the Ministry of Overseas Development. I might say that among the many experts (which include the relatives of my noble friend Lord Mitchison) who have recently gone to India to help in one way or another with agricultural problems there is included a pesticides adviser, an expert on potato viruses and an agricultural economist attached to a university, and another research agricultural economist working in the field.

The noble Earl asked me about the most recent information concerning the progress of all this aid, especially about the most vital item of grain foods. I am advised that the total arrivals of grain were at a record of 1.4 million metric tons in May, and the arrivals in June were expected to approach this figure. This means that in these months the ports have been handling far more than they have ever handled before, and if there were some initial difficulties I think it was only to be expected. My information is that these difficulties are now being overcome.

Mention was made about the report in The Times this week concerning the recent situation in India. In a telegram which I have received this morning, The Times report is largely confirmed. The telegram itself mentions that: lack of rainfall has affected irrigation sources and is delaying the planting of main crops. Nevertheless, the situation may still be saved if ample rains occur in the immediate future in the rice growing areas of Central and Southern India. Portents for increasing rainfall in Kerala and Kaharashtra are not discouraging. The telegram goes on to say that currently there are tough pockets of real scarcity, but the situation remains in hand.

The noble Earl asked for my views as to whether I thought the famine had been averted. I think I can do no better than quote the words of this telegram. Much, of course, depends upon the monsoons which are now breaking, but the situation appears to be in hand; and, apart from the world response to India's appeal for aid, much credit must, I think, go to the Indian Government for the way they have used and distributed the aid which has been, and is being, made available. Their Administration, especially in the deficient areas, has acted most creditably, and undoubtedly they have acted with determination and resource.

I was asked by the noble Earl whether India gets her proper share of our overseas aid, and comparisons were made by him with the amount going to Yugoslavia. Frankly, I do not think there is much useful purpose to be served by these comparisons. Figures can be used to prove almost anything. If selected periods are taken, and approximate or appropriate population figures are used, it is quite possible that one can get a calculation showing that more per head is going to the one country—to Yugoslavia, for example—than to another. One percentage figure given to me (and I may say that I have been given several, all authoritative, but all different) shows that slightly less than 20 per cent. of all our bilateral aid goes to India. But that is the smallest and most conservative percentage I could get. If we deal with disbursements of this year, the percentage is much higher; and I could put it in other ways and make a much better case. If I am asked whether that is enough, the answer is, No. The truth is—I think the noble Earl was getting at this—that the entire aid we shall give next year of £225 million could go to India, but still that would not solve all the problems which she has.

The noble Earl quoted the complaint made to him in India that only 0.7 per cent. of our gross national product is devoted to aid, as compared to the figure of 1 per cent. given by Lord Caradon in Geneva. Again it depends upon definitions. Using the definition of aid laid down by UNCTAD and the definitions used by others, which include long-term commercial credits and private investments, the exact figure, I am told, is 1.13 per cent. of our gross national product. It has been said—it was said in particular in the recent debate we had on overseas aid—that this 1.13 per cent. is still too small. To that I can only say again this afternoon, as I said before, that I should be more impressed by the critics who say it is too small if they came along with specific proposals about an increase in income tax, or with proposals equally specific for cutting down our overseas expenditure, including military expenditure. The truth is that we ought not to feel ourselves that we can give more to people abroad, no matter how deserving, unless we are prepared to give up something else.

I know that the noble Earl, when he raised this Question, was not trying to score any Party points. He raised the matter in an entirely helpful spirit. I thank him for the way he has done this, and I also thank other noble Lords and the noble Baroness for the contributions which they have made. I hope that I have been able to give a balanced report on what is an enormous problem.