HC Deb 16 November 1970 vol 806 cc863-6
Mr. Braine

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the relief to be offered by Her Majesty's Government in respect of the flood disaster in East Pakistan.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

Reports from the disaster area in East Pakistan are still to some extent confused but it is clear that a major calamity has struck the area of the Ganges Delta causing great loss of life and the destruction of homes and property over a wide area. The House would wish me to extend its deepest sympathy to the Government and people of Pakistan.

As an immediate measure of assistance, the Government have set aside the sum of £30,000 for the provision of relief supplies and we are in touch with the Government of Pakistan on what is required. The Royal Air Force is ready to fly relief supplies from Singapore to the disaster area if this would be helpful.

According to the information I have received, no British subjects have lost their lives.

Mr. Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House shares his deep concern at the magnitude of this terrible disaster and would wish to be associated with his words of sympathy to the Government and people of Pakistan?

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that we note with satisfaction the promptitude with which Her Majesty's Government have already acted? As it seems clear that this disaster is on such a massive scale that terrible consequences will flow for some considerable time, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will be ready to send what further aid may be appropriate and necessary?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. The Deputy High Commissioner in Dacca is reporting developments. We shall shortly know more from the Government of Pakistan of what might be required in the immediate and longer term, and we shall certainly give sympathetic consideration to any request.

Mr. Healey

I should like to associate Her Majesty's Opposition with the action of Her Majesty's Government in giving speeding aid to Pakistan. I should also like to associate Her Majesty's Opposition with the expression of sympathy which will be conveyed to the Pakistan Government in this unprecedented tragedy.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend take into account the deep distress which is felt by Pakistani citizens resident in this country at the loss which their compatriots and relatives have suffered?

While associating myself with the prompt and speedy efforts for aid and relief which my right hon. Friend has undertaken to give, may I ask whether he will be ready to make even further efforts in this sphere as British citizens are indirectly affected?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I know how concerned my hon. Friend must be, because he has many Pakistanis in his constituency. As I have already said, when the Pakistan Government are able to say what form of relief will be most effective and what they would like, Her Majesty's Government will give the matter most sympathetic consideration.

Mr. Kaufman

In joining the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) in expressing concern and sympathy for those people in this country who may be relatives of those who may have suffered in this appalling disaster, may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether, when the immediate chaos and confusion have blown away, he will be ready to afford and perhaps manufacture facilities for Pakistanis in this country to make inquiries through his Department if they have any concern about the fate of their relatives?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, I will consider that.

Mr. Tilney

Having been privileged a few years ago to have been a member of a Parliamentary delegation to Pakistan, when we were taken by helicopter from Chittagong and landed on all the islands which have now been submerged, may I say how all the friends of Pakistan will sympathise with the Government in the appalling disaster which has hit them? Bearing in mind that it is almost impossible to say where the water and the mud end and the paddy begins and yet the islands are full of people, long term will the Government collaborate with other Governments and with the Government of Pakistan in an endeavour to build up the bunds to a greater extent to avoid these ghastly disasters?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Primarily this must be a matter for the Pakistan Gov- ernment. The House might like to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is going out to Pakistan this week, so he will be able to give a first-hand account of the conditions there.

Mr. Shore

As a Member with many Pakistani constituents who come from that area of Pakistan, I should like to express my deepest sympathy to all those concerned in this disaster? May I urge the Foreign Secretary to keep in very close touch with this disaster, because, from the information that we have, unfortunately the magnitude of it is only just beginning to emerge, and I am quite certain that, as a nation, we shall need to make a very special effort to help Pakistan get over this tragic event.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir.

Sir R. Thompson

Will my right hon. Friend accept from one who for many years lived and worked in East Bengal that this is one of the greatest tragedies that has overtaken the human race in this century? Will my right hon. Friend consider, in the face of that, that the initial scale of relief proposed in relation to the size of the catastrophe seems rather small and, when considering extending it, will he remember, apart from the devastation, that Pakistan is one of our greatest allies, a place where many of our own people have had their work and upbringing, and do his utmost to see that this is reflected in the scale of our provision of relief?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. I do not think that the scale of assistance immediately given is small. In these matters it is always well to see what the Government of the country concerned really want and to be in a position to provide it when asked.

Mr. Russell Kerr

In view of what is already known about the magnitude of this disaster, may I urge the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to multiply by ten the amount of aid that they have proposed?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I think that we had better see what the Government of Pakistan decide is necessary and how far we are able to help.