HC Deb 01 February 1966 vol 723 cc884-6
Q10. Brigadier Clarke

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the action previously taken by Her Majesty's Government in the dispute, what recent efforts were made by the British Government to bring about a meeting in this country between India and Pakistan.

The Prime Minister

President Ayub and Mr. Shastri met in this country during the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Meeting last June.

Brigadier Clarke

Does the Prime Minister realise that he had an abject failure in the peace negotiations between India and Pakistan? Will he now consider asking Mr. Smith to go to Tashkent and meet him? He might do some good there.

The Prime Minister

Apart from discovering that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has got the sense of humour we always suspected he might have, I will deal with the more serious part of his supplementary question, because it is a very serious one. During the fighting on the Kashmir situation, as I explained at the time—I thought that I had the full support of the House at the time—we felt that it was important that the initiatives taken by the United Nations should be followed and supported by all of us, and that any initiative which we very much considered we might have taken ourselves should De sacrificed and subordinated to that, otherwise there was the gravest danger of crossing the wires. That was why we ourselves did not intervene until the United Nations did achieve the ceasefire which in fact they achieved. The Soviet Government, well within their rights, decided to intervene. We felt that it would have been wrong for us to have done so, and this was the view of other members of the Commonwealth with whom we were in consultation. The Soviet Government did intervene. We in fact welcomed what they were able to achieve, but I still think it would have been wrong for us to have taken the initiative and thereby imperilled the more serious question of the cease-fire.

Brigadier Clarke

May I thank the Prime Minister for that long explanation which told us nothing?

Mr. Hooson

Was not the acceptance by India and Pakistan of Russia's good offices and not our own a recognition by those countries of the facts of life east of Suez, and is it not time that the Prime Minister revised his own defence obligations east of Suez?

The Prime Minister

The hon. and learned Gentleman who, we know, has an obsession about anything east of Montgomery has, naturally, turned this very serious matter to suit his theories. I have explained why they accepted the offer of the good offices of the Soviet Union. But they were most ready to work with us last year in what at that time looked like an equally dangerous confrontation on the question of the Rann of Kutch. They accepted our good offices wholeheartedly and we worked with them on it. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is stretching the facts too far in order to fit his theories.

Mr. Heath

In contrast to the example which the Prime Minister has given of the successful negotiation over the Rann of Kutch, is it not the fact that, as a result of his statement during the conflict, there was a grave deterioration in Anglo-Indian relations which made it impossible for him or the Government to act as intermediary thereafter, and this was the real explanation of why the Soviet Union was able to act in that position? Will he and his Government now devote all their energies to restoring good relations between this country and India?

The Prime Minister

We fully recognise the need to do everything in our power to improve relations between ourselves and India, but I cannot accept that the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was the reason why it was wrong or impossible for us to act at that time. With our two Commonwealth colleagues, unless one supported the one against the other, one was an enemy, and this made it impossible for us in the particular case of Kashmir to act as mediator. The right hon. Gentleman, who has just been out there and had very detailed talks, will recall that, on his way to Pakistan and India, he was very hopeful of settling the Kashmir case himself single-handed, but he soon found out how difficult it was.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must proceed.