India (Coal-mining Machinery)

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th November 1974.

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Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid 12:00 am, 25th November 1974

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what were the terms of the aid recently given to the Government of India for the purchase of coal-mining machinery.

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

The cost of this machinery will be met from British capital investment loans to India, which are interest-free and are repayable over 25 years, with a seven-year grace period.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the news of this agreement has been received with some bitterness by the small number of elderly people in this country whose pensions due to them from the Indian coal industry are at present blocked by Indian action? The sum involved must be very small. Is there not some way of using some of the aid the right hon. Lady has mentioned to ensure that these people get their due?

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

I appreciate the problem. The answer is "Not directly". My right hon. Friend has drawn the attention of the Government of India to this matter. I am hopeful that solutions will be found. I do not think that it would be of direct assistance to relate the two matters in quite the way the hon. Gentleman is proposing. I hope that a solution will be found very shortly.

Photo of Dr Jeremy Bray Dr Jeremy Bray , Motherwell and Wishaw

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, notwithstanding the difficulty raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), this order is extremely welcome both in India and to the manufacturers of this machinery and that there is scope for a great deal more such action?

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware that this order affects workers and industry in Scotland. It is often overlooked that a considerable proportion of the aid programme is of direct benefit to our own industry.

Photo of Mr Michael Marshall Mr Michael Marshall , Arundel

Is the right hon. Lady aware that many of the problems of the Indian coal-mining industry arise from transport bottlenecks? Will she consider trying to get some form of technical assistance and technical agreement between British Railways and the Indian railways with a view to resolving these problems?

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

We are always ready to send out technical assistance. Indeed, many consultancy and technical assistance teams go out to India, financed by my Ministry. In this case naturally, in view of the oil crisis, the Government of India are anxious to exploit their own coal reserves rather faster than otherwise would have been the case. We have consultants and technical assistance people out there, some from the National Coal Board, but if there is a need to link up with the transport question I am certain that they will come back and tell us.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if she instituted talks with the Department of Trade she would discover that India has a means of earning hard currency in this country which would deal with the pensioner problems which would arise and would also be a means of buying machinery for this industry in India? Is she aware that £270,000 worth of Indian films are imported into this country every year and that India could use that money to finance the purchase of the machinery?

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

My right hon. Friend's figures are right, but we have to bear in mind that the needs of industrial and agricultural development in India far exceed her own foreign exchange reserves.