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India

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the current state of relations with India.

We attach great importance to maintaining the very close relations we enjoy with India. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited India in April, and we hope to welcome Mr. Gandhi here soon.

Does the Foreign Secretary realise that the problems with the Westland helicopters are symptomatic of the worst relations between the United Kingdom and India for many years? If we are to retain the good will of Prime Minister Gandhi and most of his Government, should we not make a generous gesture in the form of aid, together with a review of our law, which manifestly failed to deal with the supporters of terrorism after the tragic assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi?

The hon. and learned Gentleman takes a close interest in these matters. I ask him not to conclude that the Westland helicopter matter had an effect, or flows from an effect, on bilateral relations. Mr. Gandhi expressed some technical reservations about those helicopters, and further information on them was supplied to the Indian Government. We have not yet received a formal response.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to draw attention to the behaviour of a small and unrepresentative group of Sikh extremists in Britain. We utterly condemn their behaviour, which did much undeserved harm to the reputation of their community, the great majority of whom are law-abiding. It should be understood that those who break the law will, like any other citizens, suffer the consequences.

Should we not be thanking our Prime Minister, who, in spite of a tiring and exerting visit to the far east, still found time to visit Mr. Gandhi? It is her usual practice. When touring abroad, she likes to call in on Delhi to keep up our very good relationships. Is it not a fact that the Indian nation is now interested in purchasing many other types of British goods?

I gladly endorse the tribute paid by my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He is right to draw our attention to our exports to India, which last year totalled no less than £780 million. I should like to remind the House that Mr. Gandhi is expected to visit the United Kingdom this year. He has accepted an invitation in principle, and I am sure that he will be warmly welcomed by the British people.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many British citizens belonging to the Sikh religion, who are law-abiding, are desperately concerned at the continued violence against Sikhs in India, and are anxious that that should not spill over into this country? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make representations to the representatives of the Indian Government, to express our concern at the continued problems being faced by members of the Sikh community in India?

I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman on that matter. It is right to acknowledge that the Indian Prime Minister has made several statesmanlike moves in relation to the problems in India. He has released the Akali Dal leadership, legalised the All-India Sikh Students Federation, and organised a judicial inquiry into the riots after Mrs. Gandhi's assassination. Those moves deserve to be acknowledged.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that he is not entirely happy with the state of affairs in India? Apart from the helicopter deal that fell through, the Indian Prime Minister is at present on his first official visit abroad to Russia, where he is now, and will be for the next week, and his next official visit abroad is to Washington, where he will be for another week. As India is the biggest democracy in the free world, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that he is a little concerned about the situation? We want to get the Indian Prime Minister into Britain as soon as we can.

Of course, I am anxious to ensure that the close relations to which I referred in my original answer are maintained and strengthened, but it is worth reminding the House that both the Prime Minister and myself met the Indian Prime Minister in Moscow. As has been said, the Prime Minister herself visited New Delhi not many weeks ago. So, too, have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. Several other ministerial visits to India are planned in the fairly near future. As I have said, Mr. Gandhi has accepted an invitiation in principle to vist the United Kingdom this year. What my hon. Friend says underlines the point that he will be warmly welcomed by the British people when he comes.