HC Deb 03 December 1962 vol 668 cc933-41
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

The House was promised a report on my visit to India and Pakistan, from which I returned this morning. I have tried to condense my remarks as much as possible, but I have a certain amount of ground to cover.

I arrived in Delhi on 24th November, where I joined the British Mission, led by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and General Sir Richard Hull. As the House knows, this mission had been sent out to discuss India's requests for military aid, in co-operation with a similar American team, headed by Mr. Averell Harriman.

My talks with Mr. Nehru, with other Ministers and with Members of Parliament of various parties left me in no doubt that the Indian Government and people, while welcoming the cease-fire and while recognising the deficiencies in their defences, are none the less in no mood to surrender territory to the Chinese at the pistol point. When I left Delhi, the Indian Government were still seeking from Peking clarification of several important points in the Chinese cease-fire proposals, and no definite decision had been taken on the Indian Government's reply.

But whatever reply they may make, one thing is quite clear. After this unprovoked attack by a neighbour whom they had trusted, the people of India, who are today more united than ever before, have made up their minds never again to rely for their safety and freedom upon the good faith of Communist China.

They are resolutely determined, with the help of their friends, to build up the best system of defence of which they are capable. They regretfully recognise that this will involve sacrifices of many kinds, and, no doubt, some interference with the rate of economic progress. But that is a price they are prepared to pay.

General Hull met Indian Army leaders, with whom he had valuable talks in an atmosphere of complete frankness and confidence. He was invited to visit the North-Eastern front, where he was greatly impressed by the high morale of the Indian forces, despite their recent reverses, and with the energetic manner in which shortcomings in the military organisation were being tackled.

In the discussions between the British and American teams and the Indian Defence Staff, it was agreed that first priority should be given to the re-equipment of those formations which had suffered severely in the recent fighting and also to the provision of mountain warfare equipment for the other divisions already deployed or to be deployed on the Chinese border. The Indian Ministers and Service Chiefs made it clear that they had no wish to ask for arms from abroad which could be produced in India and that they were already taking action to step up the output of their ordnance factories and to expand in other ways their manufacturing capacity.

During my stay in Delhi, I concluded an agreement with the Indian Government, one of the purposes of which was to reassure Pakistan that arms supplied to India to meet Chinese aggression would be used for no other purpose. Particulars of this agreement have already been given to the House.

In my discussions with Mr. Nehru, I made it clear that, when a fellow member of the Commonwealth is attacked, and asks for assistance, it is our natural instinct to do whatever we can as quickly as possible to help in the emergency. However, both Mr. Harriman and I pointed out that, when we came to consider longer-term military aid, the British and American peoples would be unhappy to see that an appreciable part of the Indian Army was being deployed not for defence against China but for defence against Pakistan. We therefore expressed to Mr. Nehru our strong hope that, in the face of the Chinese threat to the whole sub-continent, a new attempt would be made to settle the differences between India and Pakistan.

At the end of our talks, Mr. Nehru agreed that I might inform President Ayub of his readiness to hold discussions for this purpose. On my arrival in Rawalpindi, I found President Ayub equally conscious of the importance and urgency of a settlement; and, despite previous disappointments, he agreed that discussions should be held. I returned to Delhi with the draft of a joint statement which, after some amendment on both sides, was issued simultaneously by President Ayub and Mr. Nehru on Thursday evening. This announced the intention of the two Governments to hold discussions with the object of reaching an honourable and equitable settlement". On my return again to Rawalpindi, I had a meeting with Members of the Pakistan Parliament of different parties. I found them very sceptical about India's intentions; but I did my best to convey to them my belief in the sincere desire of the Indian Government to find some way of ending the differences which divided the two countries.

When I landed at Karachi on Friday evening, on my way home, I was shown a report of a statement made by Mr. Nehru in the Indian Parliament that morning, which was interpreted as implying that the Indian Government had, in advance of the discussions, decided to exclude any solution which would involve a change in the status quo. This had, not unnaturally, created a feeling that the Pakistan Government had allowed themselves to be misled; and I was told that a motion of censure was being tabled in the Parliament at Rawalpindi.

In the light of my previous talks with Mr. Nehru, I felt sure that his statement was not intended to convey the meaning attributed to it. I therefore decided to fly back immediately to Delhi to clear up this misunderstanding. Although the hour was late, Mr. Nehru was good enough to receive me at once. He confirmed that a wrong interpretation had been put upon his words and issued a most helpful statement. In this he made clear that he had no intention of placing any restrictions on the scope of the talks or of excluding consideration of any solutions which the Pakistan Government might wish to propose. He added that the problem was difficult and complicated, as indeed it is, but he felt that, given good will, it should be possible to reach a fair settlement.

This welcome statement, which reached Rawalpindi just in time to be announced when Parliament opened on Saturday morning, had an immediately reassuring effect, and helped to dispel some, at any rate, of the earlier suspicions.

It has been suggested that the British and American Governments have sought to act as mediators and have put forward proposals for solving the Kashmir problem. There is no truth in this. Our rÔle has been a much more limited one. As friends of both countries, we have thought it right to encourage them, in the light of the new situation, to try again to settle this grievous and damaging disput between two neighbours, who have so much in common and who have so much to gain by friendly co-operation.

Mr. Healey

The whole House will feel that the right hon. Gentleman's journey was both necessary and valuable and would wish to congratulate him on its results. We on our side have already said that we welcome the agreement so far as it concerns the supply of arms, but is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to tell us this afternoon how many other countries are supplying arms in existing circumstances to India and who they are?

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions concerning the very delicate question of relations between India and Pakistan. He referred to the fact that a large part of the Indian Army had been deployed on the Pakistan frontier. Is he in a position to confirm recent Press reports that those forces have since been redeployed and are no longer facing Pakistan, but are moving out towards other fronts?

On the question of the proposed talks between India and Pakistan, while recognising the fear that has been expressed by, among others, the correspondent of the The Times in India—that abortive talks might leave the situation even worse than before—may I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we on this side of the House hope and pray that these talks, once begun, will create their own momentum and will create in themselves a successful solution of the problem with which they are concerned? We deeply urge both Governments, once the talks have begun, not to let them break down until they have reached a successful conclusion.

Mr. Sandys

I thank the hon. Member for his kind remarks. I am afraid that without notice I might not give the complete list of other countries giving help. I know of a certain number of nations which have helped, but I should not like to mention some and not others.

Incidentally, I should like to say that wherever I went and to whomever I spoke I received expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the help which has been given to India and the promptness of that help, and also for the feelings of sympathy which have been expressed by the British people, in all quarters.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about any redeployment of troops on the Pakistan frontier. I have some knowledge of that subject, of course, but it would be improper and indelicate if I gave information of that kind to the House.

On the question of the possibility of abortive discussions, naturally I share with every hon. Member the hope that these discussions will be successful. I genuinely believe that the prospect of success is greater on this than on any of the previous occasions when the attempt was made. Not only is there the external threat which, whatever may be said, is an external threat to the whole of the sub-continent and not just to India, but I have the feeling that once these talks are started—and this is why I was so keen that a public statement should be made that they were to start instead of there being secret exploratory talks—and once the representatives of the two Governments have met, and the hopes of the Indian and Pakistan people and the whole world have been raised, there will be a tremendous moral incentive to all concerned to reach a settlement and not allow the talks to break down.

Sir R. Robinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in addition to the good will and support which he has in this important matter from both sides of the House, people throughout the Commonwealth will be grateful for his initiative in bringing India and Pakistan together? Will he undertake that his good offices will be available at all times should the parties desire them?

Mr. Sandys

On the question of good offices, it is very important that, having perhaps done a little to help to start the talks, we should not thrust ourselves upon them. I believe that in the end d this matter has to he settled between the two Governments and the two peoples themselves.

Mr. Bellenger

Although it would not be desirable to press the right hon. Gentleman too far about supplies of arms from other countries, can he say specifically whether any request has been made to Russia, or whether Russia is to supply military aeroplanes to India, either by lend-lease or purchase, or, as we have heard previously, the setting up of the manufacture of these aeroplanes in India?

Mr. Sandys

The only thing I know concerns the MiG fighters, about which we heard so much a few months ago. As I understand it, the Russian Government have informed the Indian Government that, in view of the situation, they do not feel able, in present circumstances, to deliver these aircraft.

Mr. Webster

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is vitally urgent that these talks should be brought about as rapidly as possible, while the threat from China still exists? Does he see any possibility of major discussions concerning the head waters of the Punjabi rivers?

Mr. Sandys

There is a sense of urgency on both sides. I have no doubt about that. As for other matters, it is specifically stated in the joint announcement that the talks will cover not only the question of Kashmir, but other differences between the two countries.

Miss Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are all eager to see improved relations between India and Pakistan, but that Prime Minister Nehru is being pressured about Pakistan relations and Kashmir when it is obviously psychologically, as well as in every other way, extremely difficult for him to go into negotiations with the best hope of success?

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his good offices to impress on the leaders of Pakistan that a little more generosity on their part at this moment might have very valuable long-term effects, that this is the moment, when, for instance, they ought not to be telling the world that they can come to an arrangement with China in its present mood when Prime Minister Nehru has clearly seen that that is not practicable?

Mr. Sandys

I think that I have probably given as much advice to the two Governments as is safe for the time being.

Sir H. Butcher

My right hon. Friend spoke about military aid. Is it possible for ourselves, with the United States and other countries, to offer aid to the civil population where disruption has taken place as a result of this aggression?

Mr. Sandys

There has not been very much in the way of disruption on the civil side, because in the main the fighting has been taking place in mountainous and uninhabited regions.

Mr. Thorpe

May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are fully conscious of the valuable and useful nature of the work which he has just carried out? First, can he tell us when these political discussions are likely to begin? Secondly, was there any effort to have discussions as to the economic implications of India's new arms build-up? Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman referred to the re-equipment of those formations which had suffered in the fighting, can he say when those reinforcements are likely to be able to reach India from this country?

Mr. Sandys

I cannot give a date when the talks will take place. The announcement did, however, say that they should start at an early date and I already have seen statements—I do not know how authoritative they are—in the Indian and Pakistan newspapers that the two Governments are thinking in terms of a very early start of the discussions.

I cannot say exactly when additional arms will reach India. Some are still going there under previous requests. As a result of the talks, we have not had any firm request for particular armaments. We are engaged in studying with the Indian military staff exactly what the requirements are. A big rethink is going on of the whole Indian defence system and I do not suppose that we shall get a clear picture immediately.

Mr. G. Brown

There was a somewhat ominous paragraph in the right hon. Gentleman's statement about the effect that this will have on the rate of economic progress in India. Most of us were aware already that the economic plan has been under same strain and was working on tight margins. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to have consultation with the Americans and other members of the consortium to see what we can do to avoid any bad interference with the economic development of India?

Mr. Sandys

That will be a subject which, no doubt, will come up at the next meeting of the consortium. The right hon. Gentleman has used the word "ominous". I was repeating what had been said to me by so many Indians, including some who attached the greatest importance to the economic development of the country. They felt that safety and freedom is the first responsibility of government and that, if necessary, the price must be paid.

Mr. Brown

It must be clear that safety and freedom can be attacked in other than purely military ways and that if economic development suffered a great blow the Chinese might achieve their results that way. When the Secretary of State says that it is a subject which no doubt will come 'up, does he mean that it is a subject that the British Government intend to see is raised?

Mr. Sandys

I got back only this morning.