Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons Statement [Prime Minister (South Asia visit)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [942/44-62]
Editorial comments: 1530-1608.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 6988
Themes: Defence (arms control), European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East)
[column 44]

PRIME MINISTER

(SOUTH ASIA VISIT)

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

As the House knows, I paid official visits to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan from 3rd to 13th January, at the invitation of the Governments concerned. I also paid a short visit to Egypt, at President Sadat 's invitation, for talks at Aswan on the Middle East situation.

I was most warmly received in the countries we visited, not only by their political leaders, but by their peoples. I should like to place on record my gratitude for the great kindness and hospitality shown to me throughout our journey. All the British party were moved by the constant demonstration of the warmth, and even affection, which seemed to us to symbolise the relationship that the countries of the sub-continent wish to have with the people of Britain.

This latest visit confirmed once again that the attainment of independence can release an energy and vitality which show themselves in the progress and self-confidence of the three countries I visited.

At the same time, the rapid growth of population and the depth of poverty constitute an immense challenge to their Governments. They are doing much themselves, but they need help—for example, the indirect help that would result from a steady expansion of the world economy and an upturn in world trade. But, more than that, there must be direct aid to relieve poverty, to help provide a proper economic infrastructure to support rural development and to prime the pump for industrial development. India is making rural development [column 45]a top priority in an attempt to lessen migration from the countryside to the swollen populations of its cities. In all three countries there are many opportunities for the development of our bilateral trade. There are favourable prospects for British firms because of the good will that we enjoy in the sub-continent.

The question of immigration did not figure prominently in the discussions which I had in South Asia. When it was raised with me, I made it clear that it was for the United Kingdom to take her own decisions in this matter. I also emphasised in all the countries I visited the Government's determination to assure for all our citizens, irrespective of race, colour or creed, full equality before the law and to eliminate the evils of discrimination and racism.

In Bangladesh, President Zia emphasised the importance he attaches to good relations with the United Kingdom and his wish to work with us closely on all matters. We discussed a number of specific questions of commercial and aid interest. One of them was an important project in which British companies might join for the development of natural gas resources.

Like the leaders of India and Pakistan, he gave me his impressions of the state of relations between the three countries, and all of them agreed that relations between them are improving.

I discussed with President Zia and later with Mr. Desai in Delhi the massive benefits that would ensue from bringing the water resources of the Rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra under control. In much of the region a controlled water régime would enable three crops a year to be grown where only one grows now. This is an area where tens of millions of people live, where poverty is great and where the population is growing rapidly. This is an idea to catch the imagination and challenge the resources of the world.

I assured both Governments that, if agreement could be reached among the countries directly concerned, Britain would be glad to lend experts and to contribute financially towards a study on the feasibility of such a project. To carry it out would require international collaboration on a gigantic scale to overcome the physical, financial and political [column 46]problems. It might take 20 years to complete, but in view of the benefits it could bring I hope the Governments concerned can agree on an early study.

In India I was able to see at first hand the achievements of that great country since independence. In addition to formal talks and extensive private discussions with the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Morarji Desai, and his Cabinet, I met Opposition leaders and many others. Indian society experienced great strains during the state of emergency, but this vast country of over 600 million people is fortunate to have an outstanding leader of the wisdom and experience of Mr. Desai to guide her back to democracy.

India is proud of the way in which she accomplished her return to full democracy and that in itself has strengthened her links with Britain. She is conscious that both our countries have a shared history, a shared language, that our legal systems are intertwined and that our historic ties can be accepted at their true value without exaggeration and without bitterness as a firm basis on which to build for the future. As Mr. Desai himself put it:

“Britain and India can never be parted” .

I was honoured to address the Indian Parliament and said that I would be happy if my visit could be the beginning of an attempt to build a new framework of co-operation between India and Britain. We have much in common with this great nation, now the tenth largest industrial nation in the world. The Indian Prime Minister and his Cabinet value the Commonwealth connection and there is much we can do together to use our combined influence in our own different spheres of influence and in world groupings.

I had a very full discussion with Mr. Desai on nuclear problems, in particular how to reconcile the need of all countries to benefit from the peaceful development of nuclear energy with the avoidance of the spread of fissile material that could be used for nuclear weapons. India has objections to acceding to the non-proliferation treaty but has decided not to conduct further peaceful nuclear explosions. Mr. Desai 's view is that progress can be made if the present negotiations for a comprehensive test ban [column 47]treaty now going on between the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, can be brought to a successful conclusion. The effect of such a treaty, by banning all nuclear tests, would be to hamper the development of new nuclear weapons and to curb what is now called vertical proliferation.

Mr. Desai also told me that India would expect the nuclear weapon States to make determined efforts, which could be by way of another round of strategic arms limitation talks following the completion of SALT 2, to agree on the progressive reduction of their stocks of nuclear weapons, with the ultimate aim of eliminating them. Given such a policy, my understanding was that India would be able to accept a system of international safeguards for all its nuclear installations, some of which are, of course, safeguarded at present.

We also discussed at length the problems of Southern Africa and the Middle East. Mr. Desai assured me of his continued support for the joint American-United Kingdom initiative aimed at achieving a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia on the principle of “one man, one vote” in free elections resulting in a democratically constituted Government.

I raised the problem of our bilateral trade imbalance with India and of certain trade restrictions both with Mr. Desai and with his Ministers. They handed me a list of specific items of capital equipment which India would be interested in purchasing from Britain. We also discussed possible defence sales. At my request, Mr. Desai undertook to consider the possibility of Concorde being given permission to overfly India on the route to Singapore.

In Pakistan, I had a full talk with General Zia and had several opportunities to meet the leaders of the main political parties. General Zia assured me of his firm intention to restore democratic government in Pakistan at the earliest possible date and described to me how he proposed to do this. During my visit, General Zia and his advisers reached a firm decision to set up a tractor assembly plant in conjunction with Massey Ferguson. We also discussed a number of other commercial projects that could interest British firms in investing in Pakistan, and we were [column 48]able to clear some outstanding commercial difficulties out of the way. Our talks covered the main international issues of mutual concern, including the Middle East and nuclear proliferation.

On my way home I was glad to be able to accept President Sadat 's invitation to hold talks with him at Aswan. It was clear that a crucial stage had been reached in the historic negotiations between Egypt and Israel and that discussions were not going well. Our talks complemented the discussions I had held last month with Prime Minister Begin.

Following my talks with President Sadat, I was in touch by telephone and telegram with President Carter in anticipation of Mr. Cyrus Vance 's attendance at the Political Committee negotiations which opened today in Jerusalem. I also sent a full letter to Mr. Begin setting out my views. British and American policy is very close on these matters, and we shall continue to work with the United States and with the Nine in the difficult negotiations that are taking place.

For the first time in many years peace in the Middle East is a possibility and none of the parties must let the opportunity slip. I told President Sadat that the United Kingdom's role would be to continue to support the negotiators, to maintain contact with them to the extent that they find it welcome and to ease the path of negotiations wherever we can. President Sadat made it clear that he, like Prime Minister Begin, very much welcomed this.

To sum up, Mr. Speaker, while Britain in the 1970s rightly threw in her lot with the European Community, such a relationship should not be exclusive, and we should foster bilateral relations with other countries, especially those with whom we have historic and other ties. Everywhere I went there was a general recognition that the improvement in Britain's position during the past 12 months was of benefit not only to the British people but to the world in enabling us to exert a stronger influence in international and economic affairs; and there was a general welcome that Britain is now able to take her proper place in the world once again.

Mrs. Thatcher

We are grateful to James Callaghanthe Prime Minister for making a statement. [column 49]As it is rather detailed, I shall confine myself to my customary three points.

First, relating to the Middle East, which I raise because of its immediacy, the right hon. Gentleman made a rather general statement—namely, that it is the policy of the United Kingdom to support the negotiators. May I press him a little further? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the last but one Summit of Heads of State in Europe the statement that was issued went far beyond Resolutions 242 and 338, and he will probably know that while he was away Fred Mulleythe Secretary of State for Defence was reported as having said that the peace proposals put forward by Israel are not completely sufficient. Is that the Government's view? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly the Government's view, although I am aware that it might be a little difficult to be too forthcoming at the present moment? However, as the statement has been made, I think that it would help if the right hon. Gentleman made his view clear.

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome very much the statements that the Indian Prime Minister is, as I understand it, to agree to the rules of the nuclear non-proliferation club without joining it? I think that that is a fair shorthand summing up of what has been said. Mention has been made of peaceful nuclear testing, which I rather thought had been the stumbling block at Geneva. Does it mean that at Geneva we have overcome the previous difficulty about agreement on peaceful nuclear tests?

Thirdly, the Prime Minister was very short in speaking about Pakistan and the prospects for a return to democracy. Will he be a little bit forthcoming on his views on that very important subject in that troubled country?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the right hon. Lady. It is probably true to say that both sides are taking up negotiating positions on the Middle East negotiations. Each side may well have to move from the initial position that it has taken up. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence referred to one negotiating position, but there is more than one that is concerned. If we are to get agreements both on withdrawal in Sinai and on the future of the [column 50]West Bank, both sides will have to move from the positions that they have so far taken. I have put this approach clearly both to President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin. I ask not to be pressed unduly on this matter, because, as the right hon. Lady recognises, very delicate negotiations are now taking place.

If I am to crystallise my own view in a sentence, it is that it is possible to meet Israel's proper, natural and vital needs for its security while at the same time meeting the requirements of the Palestinians on the West Bank to be able to conduct their own affairs. I believe that it is not impossible to achieve that, but it will take a great deal of careful negotiation.

As for Mr. Desai 's view about agreeing to the nuclear rules without joining the club, if the right hon. Lady is kind enough to read the statement again she will find that I did not say that. Mr. Desai believes that a number of qualifications must be fulfilled before he can carry his country along that road. It is a country where there is quite a lot of feeling about the matter. One of the qualifications would be the completion of a comprehensive test ban treaty. The second condition would be that, because of that, vertical proliferation would be ruled out. The third condition would be another round of SALT talks once agreement has been reached on SALT 2.

If those things were done, I understand that Mr. Desai 's position would be a readiness to agree to the full international safeguards that in my view are imperative if the world is to survive, without actually signing a non-proliferation treaty. I should much prefer that other countries did so, but if we cannot get that, let us see what we can get with just the same purpose.

Progress is being made in Geneva on peaceful nuclear explosions as a result of Mr. Brezhnev 's statement last October. However, there are still a number of problems to be solved. I cannot say that agreement has yet been reached.

As for Pakistan, I had the opportunity of talking to a number of political leaders of that country—I was brought in contact with them by General Zia—and they are anxious that democracy should be restored there. They recognise that there are difficulties in doing it at present, but [column 51]I have hopes, in the light of what I was told, that we shall see a full return to democracy during the course of 1978.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Did President Zia of Bangladesh explain why 50 per cent. of the women and children who are applying to come to this country from Bangladesh are deemed to be making false claims whereas the percentage in Pakistan is 14 per cent. and in Delhi is 11 per cent? Are there more liars in Bangladesh, or is it that our officials there may be making a wrong assessment of the situation?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that either is true.

Mr. Amery

The Prime Minister has told us that he discussed Rhodesia with Prime Minister Desai. The right hon. Gentleman also expressed confidence that Pakistan will return to democracy in the present year. Will the Prime Minister extend the same generous interpretation to the negotiations now going on at Salisbury, which show much more concrete evidence of progress towards majority rule than anything that has happened in Pakistan as yet?

The Prime Minister

I did not discuss in detail the position in Rhodesia with General Zia but I did with Mr. Desai. I can only report that it is his strong view that the forces that are now outside Rhodesia and fighting the guerrilla war, or the patriotic war, whichever phrase the right hon. Gentleman prefers, must be brought into the negotiations. I am reporting that view and it is, let me add, a view that I share. We were in complete agreement that the forces now outside Rhodesia must be brought into the peace negotiations if there is to be a final and lasting settlement.

Mr. Faulds

Will my right hon. Friend, as an honest broker, take an early opportunity of impressing upon Mr. Begin that a quid pro quo from him is long overdue to President Sadat 's courageous initiative? When he discusses the Palestinians, will he accept that the requirement is not for them to run their own affairs but for them to run their own State?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is touching on matters that are at the heart of this dispute. I have set out my view [column 52]on this matter to Prime Minister Begin. I think that we must have regard not only to the demand of the Palestinians to run their own State but to the necessity to provide security for the State of Israel. These are very difficult things to reconcile, but I believe that, given the courageous initiative that was taken by President Sadat and responded to by Prime Minister Begin, they can be achieved.

Mr. Thorpe

May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the obvious personal success of his trip and hope that he will not subsequently catch mumps from a member of his Press corps? We shall watch for signs of inflation.

First, did the Prime Minister discuss with Prime Minister Desai the United Nations proposal that the Indian Ocean should be a zone of peace? If so, did he say whether the United Kingdom would be prepared to take part in ad hoc committee discussions in the United Nations?

Secondly, did he have any discussions with Pakistan about the possibility of her rejoining the Commonwealth? If so, was he able to indicate that there would probably be a warm welcome from her previous partners were she so to do?

Thirdly, and finally, since the last public declaration on the Middle East was from President Sadat, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the pessimism that President Sadat indicated in his statement is justified, in his view, by the talks that he was able to have at Aswan?

The Prime Minister

I did not have discussions with Prime Minister Desai about the zone of peace. Our position was made clear at the United Nations, and I do not think that I need spell it out again. We are very concerned to see that the countries that maintain fleets in the Indian Ocean should negotiate for a reduction of those fleets.

There was a discussion between General Zia and myself on the question of Pakistan's membership of the Commonwealth. What I said to him—and I was interested to find it confirmed—was that I thought that, as one member of the Commonwealth—and we are only one member of it; this is a matter for all 36 members—we would want to feel that all political parties in Pakistan wanted to return to the Commonwealth, so that [column 53]it did not become a matter of party dispute. One cannot have countries going in and coming out of the Commonwealth on the basis of the party in power. Of course, parliamentary democracy would be a welcome addition in these circumstances.

I found that all the party leaders to whom I spoke—and I believe that I spoke to all the major ones—were favourably disposed to seeking membership. That does not mean that they have reached a conclusion. I advised General Zia that if he thought that that was the general view, he should discuss it with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Sir Shridath Ramphal, and invite him to Rawalpindi so that he can carry the matter further.

As far as Britain is concerned, I want to hear the views of the House of Commons, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there would be a strong case for readmission if Pakistan showed clearly that she wished to return. It is a reflection of the value of the Commonwealth that a country such as Pakistan should wish to and believe that there is value in returning to the Commonwealth in this way.

On the question whether President Sadat 's pessimism is justified, there is no doubt that things were very sticky last Saturday. I believe that the intervention of President Carter helped to remedy the situation. There are very hard decisions for Israel to take here, but I believe that she will have to take them. I believe, too, that it will be far more important to her to have a universally accepted peace treaty than it will be to retain some elements of territory or, indeed, to have control over areas that need not be within her control.

Mr. David Watkins

During my right hon. Friend's discussions on the Middle East, was the subject raised of the tragic murder of Mr. Said Hammami, the internationally respected London representative of the PLO? In the efforts towards a permanent peace, may I press upon my right hon. Friend again the need to realise, and ask whether there was any discussion of, the fact that a genuinely independent homeland for the Palestinian people is an essential element in such a permanent settlement?

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The Prime Minister

No, I did not discuss the tragic death of Mr. Said Hammami, but I should like to take this opportunity of saying how much I deplore this further act of international terrorism.

I take note of the view expressed by my hon. Friend about the position of the Palestinians.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

On his way out to the Indian sub-continent the Prime Minister stopped off at Bahrein as one of about 40 long-distance trips routed through that area. Is he aware that the whole of that servicing is done by one officer and two sergeants, who have to do all the inspections, engine changes, catering and everything to do with the aircraft? Sooner or later, if the situation is not rectified, the result may well be an accident on that route.

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put this to the appropriate Minister, and I shall see that it is conveyed to him.

Mr. Bidwell

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the evident success of his visit to the Indian sub-continent. With regard to the vexed question of immigration from that part of the world, bearing in mind that the truth of the matter is, as he said, that our control system is a matter for our Parliament, was he able while he was in India to assure inquiries that the policy of both major parties in this country for many years has been based on the concept of family unity around the breadwinner, and that, in spite of the bleatings from some Conservative Back Benchers, that policy is not likely to change?

The Prime Minister

I did not have detailed discussions on this matter with the leaders I met, but in the countries that I visited I was able to see the way in which applications are dealt with. In India, for example, the wives and children under 10 group are dealt with straight away, as are compassionate cases. For wives and children over 10 there is a delay of five to six months in dealing with these cases. For husbands and male fiancés the time involved is about eight months or 12 months. I do not want to make too much of the question of possible forgeries, but if we were able to rely upon the documents being produced being [column 55]accurate, those times could be reduced substantially. But alas we are not able to do so, and I saw evidence to that effect in the office that I visited.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the emphatic opinion of Pandit Nehru and Ayub Khan that all measures would be unavailing and that their populations would live the lives of animals unless the growth of the population could be checked, and their appeal to Western technology for this purpose? In view of the importance of this matter, which overshadows everything else, what conversations did the right hon. Gentleman have about the population problem in those countries?

The Prime Minister

I had explained to me very fully, both in Bangladesh and in India, the steps that are being taken by the Governments there to make more widely known the possibilities of family planning. Unfortunately, what happened under the previous régime has set back the cause of family planning in India in particular. That is one reason why I believe strongly and deeply that, if only we could harness the resources of the West to such an imaginative scheme as linking the waters of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, we could do a good deal to meet what is going to be an increasing tragedy unless we can act together on this matter. I found a constructive response both in India and Bangladesh, but there are quite a number of political difficulties.

Mr. Dalyell

The Prime Minister mentioned possible co-operation in the winning of natural gas. As more expertise resides in this country than possibly anywhere else in the world in the winning of natural gas under difficult conditions, will he carefully consider any plan by which this expertise can be made available to the Indians on reasonable terms?

The Prime Minister

I was not slow to point out in both Bangladesh and Pakistan, where this question was basically discussed, the advantages that could arise from British technology. There are already two British firms which have been approached—one of them approached me and the other I am in [column 56]touch with—which would be able to help Bangladesh in this matter.

As regards Pakistan, the matter is not so advanced, but General Zia was very keen that Britain should be associated with this development. I hope that British firms take it up. I am asking the Secretary of State for Industry to raise this matter in the appropriate quarters here.

Sir Frederic Bennett

The Prime Minister obviously had extensive talks in India on the nuclear question, but he spoke much more shortly in that regard about his visit to Pakistan. He is aware of the difficulties that there have been about Pakistan and a certain European country in concluding a deal. Was he able to say anything to resolve the problem, which has caused some hard feelings? If he could say something to the House, it would be helpful.

The Prime Minister

I believe that General Zia would in certain circumstances be able to subscribe to the non-proliferation treaty. Further discussions will go on between British officials and some of his officials to see in what circumstances that could be secured. If we could do that, it would remove a source of suspicion between India and Pakistan and would be a gain to the world generally.

Mr. Watkinson

My right hon. Friend stressed the importance of trade benefits which accrue between this country and the sub-continent. Does he accept that there is a general overriding problem for the Third World at present of massive indebtedness on its balance of payments? Will he, as a result of his visit, and with a view to encouraging the growth of these economies, oppose any restrictionist policies which might emanate from banking sectors in the United States and the developed world? Does he expect any significant development of trade between Britain and the sub-continent as a result of his visit? Will he be a little more explicit about his discussions on Concorde? Does he expect a fruitful outcome from those discussions?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is taking me too far too soon. The Indian Government had not considered the matter of Concorde. I set out the [column 57]position to them and informed them of what had happened in New York and of the landings now going on there with the consequential noise being not nearly as bad as people had expected. I also indicated, after consultations back here in the United Kingdom, that the Government would be willing to stand behind British Airways if substantial damage arose as a result of over-flying during an experimental period. I was told that this was a reasonable offer to make, and I made the offer. All I can say now is that Mr. Desai said, presumably because they do not think they will have to pay out, that they would be willing to consider all these matters and give me a reply in due course.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the developing countries are suffering very seriously from the increased indebtedness that has taken place as a result of the oil price increases, but I would not be in favour of generalised relief. Having been into this matter with some care, I believe that it should be done on a case-by-case basis. For example, India is now running, unusually and gratifyingly, a balance of payments surplus. Therefore, if we were to offer debt relief, clearly it should go to some countries which are in very serious balance of payments deficit among the developing countries.

As to the question of appreciable gains, I can only say that the business men I met, especially in Bombay, were of the opinion that this political visit would undoubtedly have a favourable impact upon trade and I was given a whole list of capital equipment—such as crawler tractors, fishing trawlers, specialised machine tools, diesel alternators, and refrigerated vans, and offshore drilling safety equipment—which I have sent to the Department of Trade and the Department of Industry. These were items that the Indian Government would be prepared to purchase from British firms, subject, of course, to the conditions being right.

Mr. Forman

Reverting once again to the vital matter for the need to curb nuclear proliferation, will the Prime Minister share with the House his view as to what might be the chances of persuading the Indian and Pakistan Governments to ratify the necessary agreements? Can he say, for example, who is to decide when [column 58]the three Powers in the comprehensive test ban negotiations have gone far enough to meet the point that would satisfy the Indian and Pakistan Governments, and according to which criteria?

The Prime Minister

It would be a matter for further discussion. I believe that the least that could satisfy the Indian Government is that the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union should reach an agreement for a comprehensive test ban treaty. I believe that there is a much better than evens chance of doing that. In those circumstances it would be right to go back to Mr. Desai to say “Here is one leg of the stool that we have now fixed in place.”

The second leg would be that after SALT 2—again on which I think agreement can be reached—the United States and the Soviet Union should then begin to enter into further discussions on how to reduce the number of nuclear warheads, having put a cap on them, as SALT 2 would. I have already expressed that view strongly to President Brezhnev and President Carter. I think this is the third stage. When we reached there we would then be in a position to say to Mr. Desai “These conditions have been fulfilled. Is it not now the case that you could accept the full international safeguards and inspections even though you have a rooted objection to signing the treaty itself?”

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the abject poverty my right hon. Friend has seen at first hand in Bangladesh and India, will he take an international initiative at this stage to support such schemes as the Ganges scheme that he outlined to divert the expenditure which is now being devoted to arms by both the East and the West to help reduce the poverty he has seen on the sub-continent?

The Prime Minister

I should be happy to take any initiative on this subject, because I believe it to be a most imaginative project. However, in the first place the Governments of India and Bangladesh must agree that they are willing to work together—the involvement of both of them would be required, and probably that of the kingdom of Nepal—to make such a grand scheme work. It is probably a little early for further discussions. However, they are aware of my keen interest, which I hope to continue and I shall [column 59]be inquiring from time to time—in a diplomatic way—as to how we can help.

Mr. Onslow

Apart from the interesting question of why the Prime Minister finds it necessary to keep a Foreign Secretary and to bark himself, will he be kind enough to tell the House exactly how much additional expenditure he has loaded on to the British taxpayer in overseas aid to pay for the various grandiose schemes he has mentioned over and above the large sums of overseas aid which are already being paid for by the British taxpayer in South-East Asia and which he failed to mention in his statement?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his usual shabby approach to these matters. The question of overseas aid is not only of humanitarian benefit to the peoples of the world but is also of great value to Britain. It builds an economic infrastructure for Britain—[Interruption.] In India the agreement has been signed. The hon. Gentleman should know because the figures have been published.

Mr. Onslow

No.

The Prime Minister

The figure was £144 million.

Mr. Onslow

No.

The Prime Minister

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman keeps on interrupting from a sedentary position. I am trying to answer his question. I am confident—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not see this—that this aid has a very profound and beneficial impact upon Britain's commercial relations with India in a number of directions and is also a way in which to reach countries in which we sell now. By so doing we are enabled to give assistance in relieving some of the direst poverty I have seen in my life.

Mr. Newens

Was the issue of the return to civilian rule in Bangladesh raised in any of my right hon. Friend's discussions, or the executions and Draconian treatment meted out to some of the political opponents of that régime during recent months? Is my right hon. Friend able to say anything about any attitudes he was able to convey to the Governments on the Indian sub-continent on this matter?

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The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, I did have some discussion with President Zia of Bangladesh about this—my hon. Friend will recall that he had a substantial majority in the presidential election—but I cannot say that I see an early prospect of a return to democracy there. Bangladesh is without the administrative structure which has been built up in India and in Pakistan. It is in a much more difficult situation, and I do not see an early return there to democratic practices. President Zia told me that he would like to do so, but I do not believe that his optimism is likely to be borne out in the result.

Mr. Crouch

If I may take that matter further, is the Prime Minister aware that many of us watched the birth of Bangladesh with great interest and excitement, seeing it created in a mood of democracy and embracing democracy. By his reply just now, however, the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that Bangladesh did not have the administrative ability to continue to sustain democracy. Does he mean that? Does he mean that Bangladesh can sustain itself only under a military authoritarian rule? It was very dismaying to hear that answer.

The Prime Minister

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman attributed to me. I said that the Government of Bangladesh did not have the administrative structure which enables Pakistan, for example, to carry on as it does at present. I met permanent secretaries there who are doing the job in a quite remarkable way. In Bangladesh a great deal falls on President Zia himself. He is a man of considerable conviction and earnestness, who is trying to carry a very heavy burden. He spends most of his time out in the country because of the lack of administrative structure, trying to build up selfhelp among the people there. I think that he faces an almost inhuman job, and we ought certainly to give what aid we can in that area. I was asked for technical aid and for the loan of administrators in more than one direction, and I shall certainly talk to my right hon. Friend about this and see what assistance we can give. I believe that if the administrative structure were created, it would enable an easier return to democracy to be made.

Mr. Spearing

My right hon. Friend correctly referred in his statement to the [column 61]relationship between trade and aid. Will he, therefore, look closely at the report on that topic by the Select Committee on Overseas Aid, which will be laid this week? On the question of the Ganges-Brahmaputra control, can my right hon. Friend confirm that this is a scheme for overall regularisation, and will he say whether the political problems which he mentioned relating to international control have been tackled?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly look at that report when it comes out. As regards the scheme for the rivers, the political difficulties are obvious, in that the water starts in one country and is used in another, so the question of who is to control the waters and how they are to be regulated is a matter of great sensitivity. I am glad to say that—thanks, I believe, to Mr. Morarji Desai personally and the large-minded approach which he adopted—a new agreement has been made with President Zia of Bangladesh about the Farraka Dam. The agreement will regulate the waters of that dam for the next five years and ensure that Bangladesh, at least in part, will be able to grow the three crops a year necessary to sustain its population.

Mr. Jessel

Reverting to the question whether Concorde will be allowed to overfly India, why should we ask or expect the Indians to agree to be overflown by Concorde at supersonic speeds when we ourselves absolutely insist that Concorde shall be allowed to overfly the United Kingdom only at subsonic speeds?

The Prime Minister

I did not go into any details on this matter, because they are, I think, best left to negotiation. Therefore, we did not discuss whether Concorde should overfly at subsonic or supersonic speeds. The question at the moment is that Concorde is not allowed to overfly India at all. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will leave this to the negotiators, who will, I am sure, be just as capable of raising difficulties to prevent it from flying as he is.

Dr. Bray

Will my right hon. Friend take it that, despite reservations held by isolated hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, the House was impressed by the extent to which, plainly, he was moved by the degree of human need and the opportunities for constructive development in [column 62]the South Asian continent? In seeking to prepare people in this country for an increase in the aid budget, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, while we can make a substantially greater contribution, the contribution which can be made by Germany and the United States is perhaps even greater than our own, so will he seek to involve them in projects in South Asia and elsewhere which can be of benefit to the developing world?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Of course, projects of the kind which we are examining in the sub-continent, where there are over 700 million people, cannot be carried out by Britain alone. They need full international co-operation. I was deeply touched by what I saw, and felt ashamed on seeing some of the poverty in which people live when I remembered some of the arguments which have gone on in the Cabinet about how we should cut overseas aid. Not only did I feel that but—I add this most sincerely—I was deeply moved by the affection which is felt for this country, especially in India. This is something which we should take fully into account in our overseas policy. Here is a great country, a great democracy, with which we have historic ties, and I believe that with its relations with the developing world and our relations with the developed world both of us, with our knowledge of each other, could play a great part together in helping to solve some of the problems of the world.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is concern in the Indian sub-continent that he chose not to visit the fourth country, Sri Lanka, which is in fact the only democracy in that part of the world? Will he assure the House that if there is to be special consideration of the problems of the sub-continent, the problems of Sri Lanka also will be considered on their merits just as much as those of the other three countries which he visited will be?

The Prime Minister

Yes, of course. I regret that I did not visit Sri Lanka. I did not have an invitation to go there, but I am sure that if I had asked I should have received an invitation, and I should have been happy to go. However, there was the problem of limited time.