HC Deb 26 March 1969 vol 780 cc1629-30

Mr. Anderson (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied that all necessary measures have been taken for securing the safety of British subjects in Pakistan.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Whitlock)

Yes, Sir. As in most other countries, Her Majesty's representatives have plans for the assistance and protection of British communities. We have followed our usual practice in keeping these plans under constant review both in Whitehall and overseas. In both wings of Pakistan the British High Commissioner and the Deputy High Commissioners are in constant touch with the British Communities through community organisations.

Mr. Anderson

I thank my hon. Friend for those assurances. Can he give an estimate of the number of British subjects involved, how significant a number are in remote areas and, therefore, not in contact with British consular officials, and whether there have already been acts of violence against foreigners in Pakistan?

Mr. Whitlock

There are three protection plans for West Pakistan covering the communities in the Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore districts, and there are four protection plans covering the communities in the Dacca, Chittagong, Sylhet and Barisal districts. The numbers involved are approximately as follows: Karachi 1,350, Lahore 800, Rawalpindi 500, Dacca 630, Chittagong 275, Sylhet 90, and Barisal 70. We are making every possible endeavour to keep in touch with people in remote areas. We have no information about injury or harm coming to any member of the British community at the moment.

Mr. Braine

I am sure that the whole House feels deep regret that a great Commonwealth country, our friend and ally is going through a period of acute difficulty. We must hope that there will be a swift return to normalcy.

May I ask whether the Minister is satisfied that our High Commissioner knows where these British subjects are in the worst affected areas, whether he is satisfied about the facilities that exist for rescuing them if the worst happens, and whether he will undertake to keep the House informed of developments over the next few days?

Mr. Whitlock

Yes. All the plans in this matter depend on the organisation of a system of self-help by the community. A system has been established whereby messages of advice appropriate to the situation emanating from our High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioners are disseminated through appropriate wardens and, vice versa, the information is passed on through the wardens to our High Commissioners. Plans also exist for concentrating people who have not left in case an organised evacuation is necessary.

All these plans depend in part on the ability of the local government to maintain law and order and on the cooperation of that local government.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the Minister consider paying a brief visit to East Pakistan?