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Government Support for India

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 28 April 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the support the Government are providing to the Indian Government.

The heartbreaking scenes in India in recent days have shocked us all. The pandemic has brought horrific human suffering, and we send our solidarity and condolences to the Indian people at this difficult time. As the Prime Minister has said, we stand side by side with India as a friend and partner in the fight against covid-19.

The Foreign Secretary spoke with his counterpart, Minister for External Affairs Jaishankar, on 26 April. He emphasised the UK’s commitment to provide urgent medical equipment to support our Indian friends at this difficult time. Ministers and officials are in close contact with their counterparts in the Indian Government to follow up on that commitment. The Government of India told us that oxygen has been a particular challenge, so we have moved quickly to provide a package of urgent medical equipment to address that need. The first shipment, of 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in India in the early hours yesterday, and is already being distributed to Indian hospitals. A further 400 oxygen concentrators will follow today and tomorrow. This equipment will boost oxygen supplies in India’s hospitals, which remain under severe pressure, so there is no doubt that the support provided by the United Kingdom will save lives.

I am pleased that other countries are also responding to India’s needs. The pandemic has shown the importance of international action. No one is safe until everyone is safe, so we will keep working closely with the Indian Government to help them to meet the huge challenge they face, and we will continue to show our solidarity with the Indian people.

This response is just a part of the UK’s wider international effort to tackle the pandemic. The United Kingdom has committed up to £1.3 billion of official development assistance funding to address the health, economic and humanitarian impacts of covid-19. We have been at the forefront of efforts to get vaccines to developing countries—we are one of the largest donors to the COVAX advanced market commitment, created to do just that. Our commitment of £548 million will support the distribution of 1.3 billion doses of vaccines to up to 92 low and middle-income countries; this includes India.

Despite the urgency of the current situation in India, this remains an important year in the UK-India relationship. India is a key partner for the UK and the Prime Minister had planned to visit India this week. Regretfully, he had to postpone due to the covid-19 outbreak. He now has plans to speak to Prime Minister Modi via video link in the coming period to take forward key deliverables across trade, defence, climate change, health and migration. We also look forward to the Prime Minister meeting Prime Minister Modi as the UK hosts the G7 summit in June and to welcoming India’s guest participation in the G7 foreign and development ministerial meeting next week. Subject to the covid-19 situation in India, there may also be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to visit in person later in the year.

We stand with the Indian people in this time of need, taking our lead from what the Indian Government advise us is most useful. We face this pandemic together and the UK will continue to support global efforts to overcome the grave challenges that we all face today.

The domestic tragedy engulfing India is now of such a scale that it constitutes a global emergency. India is now afflicted with at least 40% of all new cases in the world. More than 2 million have been confirmed in the last week alone and the peak of this crisis may yet be weeks away. This surely ought to be a priority for the Foreign Secretary, who I expected to have made a statement to this House as the scale of the crisis became clear over the last 10 days.

For more than 1 million Britons with loved ones in India, this is a moment of fear and anxiety. The ties between our countries are woven into the fabric of this nation—something that, through my own heritage, I am personally and acutely aware of. Many Britons of Indian origin will have gone to work today in our NHS and in our care homes, helping to carry us through this crisis, while desperately worried about loved ones in India. We can and must do more.

Can I hear from the Minister today a clear plan to ramp up the delivery of vital equipment? I welcome the 600 pieces of equipment that we have shipped so far, but he will know through his discussions, as I do, that India is still badly short of oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators and therapeutic drugs, especially remdesivir. He must co-ordinate with our global partners. I spoke to the EU ambassador this morning to discuss how we can avoid duplication and get help quickly to where it is most needed. Has the UK been part of discussions at the UN and with the World Health Organisation? The Minister needs a plan for increasing the production and manufacturing capacity for vaccines and to overcome barriers to expanding supply. I was surprised not to hear a commitment to make good on the Health Secretary’s promise to throw open our unique expertise to the world. We are world leaders in genomic sequencing and epidemiology. Tracking mutations and variants would be a major contribution not just to India, but to the world.

It is now almost a year to the day when the UK, steeped in our own crisis, woefully unprepared for the pandemic, was forced to ask the world for help. It was India who stepped forward and approved the export of 3 million packets of paracetamol in an act of solidarity and friendship. There are millions of people in India, around the world and here in the UK for whom this is really a test of the bond between our two nations. I heard what the Minister said. I thank him for his warm words, but words are not enough. Now is the time to step forward with a real plan of action to tackle this domestic tragedy and this global emergency.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. The Foreign Secretary may very well have answered this question today, but he is in Geneva speaking to the UN, so he is out of the country.

The hon. Lady makes some good points, particularly on the co-operation we saw from the Indian people and the Indian Government specifically around drugs last year. We are very thankful for the support we had in that regard. She references words, not deeds. I think what we have seen over the weekend is deeds, not words. We were the first country to deliver support to the Indian people. In fact, it is absolutely the case—this has been described by the BBC, no less—that the UK has been commended for the speed of its initial package. The BBC described it as

“the first international shipment aimed at stemming a devastating Covid-19 surge.”

I am not entirely sure how much quicker we could have been. We have been working on this late last week and over the weekend. I would like to thank staff across our networks and in the Department of Health and Social Care for all the work they have done in putting together this package. Instead of talking, we were shipping and delivering these vital pieces of equipment there, and there is more equipment and support to come. We are continuing to speak with the Indian Government on what they require, and we will respond to what their requirements are in very short order.

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of speaking to my Indian opposite number, who expressed great gratitude for the UK’s contribution to support the Indian people, and I was very pleased that he said so. However, India is not the only country with which we have a living bridge and a common feeling. We need to make sure that we are prepared to support other countries in the Commonwealth, not just for their benefit, but for ours. Can the Minister assure me that we are ready, that we have the ODA budget available and that we are prepared to act should such a pool of infection arise in any other country, particularly one with which we share such a close link?

I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee, for that question. Of course, we are speaking with our international partners on a regular basis. This is a situation where no one is safe until everybody is safe. We are working collaboratively and a good example of that is vaccines. We are one of the biggest contributors to the vaccine programme, the COVAX programme, which has been set up particularly to support countries in this regard. We will continue to do whatever we need to do to support our international partners. What we had to do, because of the pressing emergency in India, which is one of our closest allies, was react quickly and get the equipment into the planes and on to the ground, and that is exactly what we have done.

The scenes we have all seen emerging from India are truly tragic and our hearts go out to all those who are suffering. There is nothing more tragic than seeing people dying on pavements outside already overstretched and under-resourced hospitals that are full of covid patients, and dead loved ones being lined up for cremation. Sadly, we must recognise that the scenes in India will not be the last of the devastation of covid that we see, and the UK must step up its efforts, not just in India, but across the world.

It is welcome that the UK has been able to offer some support to India, but what assistance is being provided on vaccines to prevent further covid waves across the country? Furthermore, will the UK Government support a waiver to overcome intellectual property barriers, so that developing countries have much-needed access to vaccines and we do not see what is happening in India replicated elsewhere? Finally, given the need for a fully resourced global vaccine roll-out, will the Government finally listen to the experts and retreat from the proposed cut to the UK’s life-saving aid at this critical time?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. It is clear that we have been at the forefront of efforts to get vaccines to developing countries— I cannot think of many countries that have done more. I have mentioned the advance market commitment via COVAX. That was created to deliver exactly that. We will be supporting the distribution of 1.3 billion doses of vaccines to up to 92 low-income and middle-income countries—that includes India. Obviously, we will need to complete our own roll-out and we will be looking at what we do if there are any surplus doses available. We will keep that under constant review. But I am proud of our commitments: the £548 million, and leading last year’s international funding conference on vaccines to help protect those who need our assistance.

As it is in the UK, the impact of covid in India is a human tragedy. I heard from a family friend in Delhi who says that people are terrified, frantically looking for beds and oxygen, with disgraceful profiteering ramping up prices and making support unaffordable for the poor. As we have heard, nearly half of all global covid cases are now in India, and nowhere in the world is safe until we are all safe, so it is absolutely right that the UK has provided ventilators and oxygen, but there are also issues with vaccination logistics and therapeutic supplies. Can I ask what the Minister knows about how Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir are faring, given that there has been no opportunity for an independent visit to the region by parliamentarians or journalists since the revocation of articles 370 and 35A nearly two years ago?

I am not the Minister responsible for those particular countries, but we have regular dialogue. My noble Friend Lord Ahmad, the Minister responsible for that region, speaks regularly with representatives from Pakistan and India, and I am happy to ask him to give the hon. Lady an update.

Many of us have constituents who are deeply worried about loved ones in India. Please will my hon. Friend reassure them that the Foreign Secretary will continue to engage with the Indian Government on the practical help that is needed and how we can provide it?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: in the past few days, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken directly with Foreign Minister Jaishankar on exactly that issue. We are responding to the Indian Government’s requests and listening to what they are telling us. We were the first country to respond and to get wheels on the ground and deliver equipment. A huge emergency is affecting India and we have responded. We will continue to speak to the Indian Government and see what further assistance we can deliver to them.

Given the exceptional budgetary challenges that face the Treasury, the overwhelming majority of my constituents support the decision to temporarily reduce the foreign aid budget. Of course, we will still be spending more money on international aid than nearly every other nation on earth, allowing us to support nations in their hour of need. Nine airline containers full of life-saving equipment have already been shipped out to India. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to engage with the Indian Government to provide any further assistance as required?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the support that we have already delivered to our Indian friends. Our teams worked round the clock and over the weekend to ensure that that first shipment of 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators arrived in India yesterday morning. As I said, we were the first to deliver support to India. Given the rapidly changing situation on the ground, we are working closely with our counterparts to ensure that we are co-ordinated, and we are in close contact with the Indian Government in respect of anything else that they need.

What is happening in India is an absolute tragedy, but it is also a stark warning that this virus thrives when we relax—after all, many in India thought that they had beaten the virus. Every time a surge happens, the virus mutates faster, and with every mutation our collective fight goes back a step. There is only one way to beat this virus, and that is to work together in lockstep, across the global community, to keep cases low, minimise the risk of new variants and vaccinate. Will the Minister now commit not only to increasing the money that the UK gives to COVAX—as much as that is, we need to do more—but to starting to share vaccine doses through COVAX now, today?

The hon. Lady is right to ask about vaccine doses, but right now we are moving through the UK prioritisation list—that is what the country would expect us to do, I think—for our domestic roll-out and we do not currently have surplus doses. We do, though, keep the situation under constant review. Of course, I recognise that with this pandemic no one is safe until we are all safe; that is why I am proud that, despite the challenging financial pressures that the pandemic has brought, the United Kingdom has donated more than half a billion pounds to COVAX. We led the international vaccine funding conference last year, and in every conversation that my colleagues and I, as a Foreign Minister, have, we are encouraging our counterparts around the globe to do the same and to contribute to COVAX.

As someone who has family in India, it breaks my heart to see what is happening there. Some of the most worrying stories coming out of India have been reports of a lack of available oxygen for patients in need. Can my hon. Friend confirm that a key portion of the equipment that our Government are delivering is made up of the oxygen concentrators and ventilators that are so desperately needed?

My hon. Friend speaks from the heart. As I have said, I want to thank the teams in the FCDO around the globe for working on this. We have been the first to respond. We are providing the life-saving medical equipment that he refers to, which includes 495 oxygen concentrators and 200 ventilators. That equipment is based on the most acute need, which has been communicated to us by the Indian Government. I understand why people are so passionate about this, and this simply will help to save the lives of the most vulnerable in India.

Given that the population of India is 1.3 billion and the country is currently recording more than 320,000 new covid infections every day, does the Minister agree with a senior Indian health official who described the support that has been received so far as a “drop in the ocean”?

We have been first out of the blocks. We have provided from surplus stocks the ventilators and the oxygen concentrators. Of course, it is a huge country, which is why we continue to liaise with the Indian Government to see what further we can do. We are going to be doing more in terms of equipment, but we have responded quicker than anybody else. We have planes on the ground delivering equipment. There are more planes going out there today and tomorrow with more equipment, and we will continue to work with the Indian Government, listen to their requests and respond.

Our special relationship with India is a bond of kinship and affinity rooted in the living bridge that is the Indian diaspora. As we now seek a transformative post-Brexit UK-India relationship, it is only right that the Government are taking the initial steps to assist India at this unprecedented time. It has been heartening to see 1 billion shoulders to the wheel, be it the Oxygen Express run by the railways or the Indian air force flying back empty oxygen tanks for Indian industry to refill, which has risen to the desperate need. France and Germany have managed to rapidly assist India significantly with the supply of cryogenic oxygen tanks, which can store and transport a much bigger quantity of liquid oxygen. Can my hon. Friend say what steps our Government have taken or are taking to assist similarly, befitting our vision for the UK-India relationship that we seek to build?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I am not particularly aware of the arrangement that France and Germany have and whether that is a commercial arrangement that the Indian Government have entered into, but it is certainly something we can look into. We have been working incredibly closely with our technical experts in the Department of Health and Social Care on how to respond to the most urgent needs, while ensuring that the equipment sent can be used and will make a difference. Donating oxygen cylinders, as some people have called for, has been rejected, as compatibility issues would prevent them from being refilled within India. We are taking the lead from the Indian Government on what their most urgent priorities are, so that we can ensure that whatever support we provide matches their requests.

The Minister keeps repeating that no one is safe until everyone is safe, but the reality is that 80% of all covid vaccines have been delivered in just 10 wealthy countries, and COVAX is struggling to obtain vaccines. Unless there is greater international solidarity, other healthcare systems like India’s will collapse, and vaccine-resistant variants will inevitably threaten those who live here. Does the Minister not accept that the UK needs to play its part by lifting the ban on exporting vaccines, sharing covid technology with others and increasing, rather than slashing, overseas aid?

I cannot think of many countries that are doing more than the United Kingdom on vaccines for the international community. It was absolutely right that we moved through the United Kingdom’s vaccine priority list for our own roll-out, and, as I have said in answer to a previous question, there are currently no surplus doses. I am proud of the fact that we are one of the biggest donors to COVAX. COVAX will be supporting the distribution of 1.3 billion vaccines across 92 countries that need that support, which includes India.

May I express strong solidarity with my hon. Friend in his words of sympathy with our Indian friends? Would it be possible for Indian citizens, who are living here in the United Kingdom, to travel to India should they so wish, so that they can help their grieving relatives or provide other support? It would surely be unreasonable to prevent people leaving our country who wish to go and help in these circumstances.

Of course, I absolutely get the point that my hon. Friend has made. People will be incredibly worried. I have friends with Indian heritage and they are at their wit’s end about what is happening in India. As for travelling to India, he will be aware that we did add India to our red list. That was to ensure that we protect against variants and other developing variants. The situation in India has deteriorated. Currently, travel abroad is against the law and, until that situation changes, people in the UK need to be mindful of the travel advice.

I have spoken to people at Newcastle’s Hindu temple who have emphasised just how distressing these desperate scenes from India are for those with friends and family living there and, indeed, for all of us. We have known of the concerns for some time now. That is why the Prime Minister cancelled his visit. Given our special links to India, what conversations has the Minister had with counterparts in the United States and the European Union to ensure that international assistance is co-ordinated and effective?

That is a very good question. We are regularly in contact with our counterparts, co-ordinating support. That is why COVAX was set up in the first place for vaccines. I understand that the EU is in the process of co-ordinating support for this emergency. I am not entirely sure when its shipments will arrive, but it is certainly on the case, as is the United States, but rest assured we do speak to our international partners when an emergency such as this flares up.

I think that everyone in the country has been distressed by the images of the reports they have seen in India. I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement about the equipment that we have provided and the speed at which we have done so. Obviously, India is a vastly different size to the UK, but if it is wanted, will we also provide logistical advice from the NHS, the Army and our scientists on the things they have learned about how to best control the spread of this virus and get vaccinations to people as quickly as possible?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We stand ready to provide support in whatever form it comes. That is why we are talking to the Indian Government, asking them what support they require. We need to do that not only to understand what they require, but to ensure that what they require and what we supply are in lockstep. Given this spread of the pandemic, we are working closely not only with our Indian counterparts, but with other countries to ensure that we can co-ordinate and support those with the most urgent need.

I commend the support that the Government are providing promptly to the Indian people during this devastating covid surge, and my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected. Realistically, in order to tackle this issue, do we not need to start providing licences particularly for those countries on the subcontinent, where in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh there are almost 2 billion people who could be dealt with by giving them the ability to produce vaccines themselves and therefore better look after themselves and help to reduce the effects of covid very quickly? Will the Minister look at supporting the people of Kashmir, who have been under lockdown because of the situation in India for the past 18 months, so that they receive their fair proportion of the aid and the vaccines that we are supporting them with?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are providing support to the Indian Government, but it is for the Indian Government to decide and not for us to dictate where that support goes or how it is rolled out. Of course, as he will know, India is one of the largest manufacturers of vaccine, and those supplies are under pressure, as they are with all manufacturers. However, we will continue liaising with the Indian Government to find out what they require, and if we can match their demands we will supply it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on their offer of help and the provision that has been made to the Indian Government. He will know that at a time of humanitarian crisis, the people of this country are incredibly generous. Members of the Indian diaspora, in particular, are conducting fundraising events via temples and other religious places across the country this weekend, including the world-famous Neasden temple, where people are doing a sponsored static bike ride of 7,600 km—the distance between London and New Delhi. What advice is being given to those religious organisations who are raising money to make sure the money gets to the right place at the right time to assist in alleviating the suffering going on in India?

There are many champions of constituents of Indian heritage in this House, none more so than my hon. Friend. I am being made aware of some incredible fundraising efforts across the country where there are large Indian diasporas, with people raising money through various means. That is really heartwarming to see. It is absolutely the case that that needs to be delivered in the most efficient way. I will find out through what mechanism the advice is being filtered down to those communities. He raises a brilliant point, as ever, and I will make sure that by the end of today he is able to have some information to take to his communities to ensure that they are doing the right thing. I am sure that everybody is doing the right thing; we just have to make sure that it is delivered in the correct way.

Only last week I stood here and questioned this Tory Government’s obscene betrayal of those in need by cutting the foreign aid budget. This week we have perhaps seen the direct consequences of such decisions. I am sure that, along with every Member, they agree with me that the scenes from India are nothing short of devastating and we cannot stand idly by while oxygen becomes a premium and not an easily obtainable necessity. Given the severity of the situation, will the Minister now go on record to say that the UK Government will undertake any and every possible measure of support for India and her people, including the potential distribution of vaccines when we are in a position to do so?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments, apart from his first sentence, which was a mild dig. We will continue to support India. We were the first country to do so when this crisis flared up. We were not talking about it; we were actually getting on with it and doing it, delivering ventilators and oxygen concentrators: there are more in the air now and they are going to land today and tomorrow. So we are continuing to do that work. In terms of vaccines, it would be great if he could point me to who is doing more, as I said, in terms of putting more money into COVAX that is going to help 1.3 billion people. The priority, obviously, is the domestic roll-out of the vaccines that we have, and once we have a clear idea of surplus, we will be in a position to support other countries.

So many of my fellow Wulfrunians have friends, family and other loved ones in India. I thank the Government for their swift response to this heartbreaking situation. What discussions is my hon. Friend having with our international partners, so that we can encourage them to send similar assistance and ensure that the global effort is as effective as possible?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. All hon. and right hon. Members today are speaking up passionately for their constituents in their particular areas. Co-operation on an international level is absolutely at the heart of responding to this pandemic. It is a pandemic that obviously does not recognise borders, so we have been speaking directly with the Indian Government to understand what they need. As I said, we are in regular contact with a range of international partners to ensure that we support, co-ordinate and do everything we can to respond to the needs of India at this difficult time.

The images from India are horrifying—from people gasping for air and dying—[Inaudible]—with hospitals overrun, to seas of blazing makeshift pyres. This is a human catastrophe for India, and, with a virus that does not respect borders, none of us is safe until we are all safe. Vaccine supply is artificially limited by patents, leading to the global vaccine apartheid. At the Word Trade Organisation, India and South Africa have proposed a temporary waiver to vaccine patents, allowing production—[Inaudible]—expand. Public money funded these vaccines, so will the Government put public health before the profits of big pharma and support a waiver of the vaccine patents?

The audio was a bit in and out there, but I think I got the gist of the hon. Lady’s question. As I have said several times in my response, we are doing an immense amount. We are at the forefront of efforts to ensure that vaccines are getting to the most vulnerable countries—to developing countries—as well as being, I think, the second or third largest donor to the COVAX programme. I gently remind the hon. Lady that that support will assist 1.3 billion people in low and middle-income countries across the globe, including India, where we have seen such horrific scenes; our hearts are with them.

Does the Minister agree that the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated more than ever before the absolute need for strong and reliable partners, especially in the interconnected world in which we all live? Will he confirm that the Prime Minister will, in fact, be visiting India as soon as the country recovers from this dreadful outbreak?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. The irony is that the Prime Minister would have been in India had it not been for this latest outbreak. I know that he will be speaking to Prime Minister Modi shortly via video link. We want to ensure that we continue that co-operation on trade, defence, climate change and health, which is absolutely key. We want to finalise a 2030 road map for future India-UK relations that will provide a strategic basis for our relationship in the coming years. We look forward to the Prime Minister meeting Prime Minister Modi as soon as practically possible. Depending on how the pandemic goes in India, there may be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to visit in person later this year.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing this urgent question. I have family in India and, like others, I have found the news from the country quite distressing. Do the Government believe that people in low and middle-income countries should have fair and timely access to life-saving covid vaccines and drugs? If so, are the Government willing to reverse their position on opposing the proposal from India and South Africa of a patent waiver in relation to covid vaccines, medicines and medical equipment at the World Trade Organisation?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we agree that low and middle-income countries should have equitable access to vaccines. That is why we are putting over half a billion pounds of UK taxpayers’ money into the COVAX arrangement, and also 1.3 billion people in those countries will be assisted by the vaccines that will be provided.

Over the years, quite a few people—including, I must admit, myself —have questioned aspects of international aid and its efficiency, but I wonder if the Minister will acknowledge that public opinion is changing in the middle of a global pandemic, with international aid being seen not just as a moral duty—we are part of one humanity. If health systems around the world collapse, sooner or later it will come back to bite us. In that respect, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the recent overseas aid budget cuts will not have affected in any way our ability to help the world’s poorest countries deal with this global pandemic?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The total amount that FCDO will spend on global health is £1.3 billion and this will be focused on the UK’s position at the forefront of the international response to covid, not just through our commitments with COVAX and the vaccines I have been talking about, but also through the Gavi alliance and the World Health Organisation. Our investment and expertise will be brought to bear on issues where we can make the most difference and achieve maximum impact and value for money.

As many hon. Members have said, the images from India are both difficult to watch and painful for many of our constituents with family there. In light of what is happening, how much of the 1.3 billion that is going into covid relief worldwide is going to India? Might that be reviewed in light of what is happening across the world, with a view to upgrading it?

I think the hon. Lady was referring to the 1.3 billion vaccine doses; perhaps she can nod if that is the case.

Of course, we have made our commitment and our financial commitment to COVAX. It will decide where the vaccines to 92 low and middle-income countries will go; that decision will be taken not by the UK but strategically by COVAX through the advanced market commitment it is operating. However, we have committed the money; we are paying the money and we should be proud of the support that the United Kingdom is giving for international vaccines.

Like the 1.5 million other members of the British Indian diaspora, I have been watching with my heart in my mouth, worried for friends and families in India, over the last few weeks. May I ask the Minister to join me in putting on record our thanks to all the officials, Government Ministers and private-sector businesses that have been involved in our work not only in COVAX—I think we were the largest donor up until December last year—but with AstraZeneca, which is doing crucial work in providing vaccines to the world’s poorest, and for our deliveries of oxygen as well?

I thank my hon. Friend for her thanks in this regard. An extraordinary amount of work has been done, and not just by Government; she was right to mention the private sector, which has stepped up in this pandemic. There has been an incredible international, joined-up effort under extreme circumstances, but I want to commend the work both of the FCDO and across Government in ensuring that the initial shipment got out to India with great speed. We were the first to deliver equipment and there will be more to come. I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend’s thanks are amplified to the relevant parties.

At a time when India is registering the highest ever recorded cases globally of covid, we must help the Indian people in their hour of need. I have close family there and many of my Slough constituents are extremely anxious about their loved ones, terrified after seeing apocalyptic scenes of people dying on the streets for want of oxygen, a collapsing health system, and crematoriums and cemeteries being overwhelmed, with thousands of people dying every day. I am sure the Minister will join me in commending the incredible work of volunteers, including British-based charities, but, given our close historical ties, will he ensure that the UK is the No. 1 aid donor, especially of medical expertise and equipment, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators?

The hon. Member makes a good point. We are indeed committed to supporting the Government of India—as I have said on a number of occasions here, we were first out of the blocks—and I know international partners will be doing the same. There are close historical ties and family ties with India across the House, and we will ensure that we are at the forefront of that support. We are doing it, there is more to come, and there will be more information when we have concluded our conversations with the Indian Government on what will supply. The hon. Member can rest assured, and the House can rest assured, that the United Kingdom Government are doing their bit to support the Indian people.

I am suspending the House for two minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.