§ 4.26 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
Over the past weeks the feeling of this House and of people in this country has been deeply moved by the shocking events in Pakistan. Partial recovery from the cyclone was being achieved when this new tragedy struck. Now a difficulty faces those who give relief, whether public or private. This time the plight of the innocent is due not to a natural but to a political disaster. Basically peace will not return to East Pakistan until civil government can be restored, and I will return to that matter later. But immediately and urgently the task is to save as many people as possible from the fate which has struck them and from the diseases which threaten them and to get relief where it is needed and quickly.
Therefore, I feel that the priorities are in the following order, and I would not think there is any dispute about this. First, the relief of immediate suffering in East Pakistan and among the millions of refugees in India. Secondly, to be followed very soon—though this is not in the hands of others—by the creation of a political framework within which civil government can be restored and which will give confidence to the majority of the refugees to return home.
On the immediate relief of suffering, while we have assisted the British charities and are ready with help for the Indian Government, our view has been that it is right for the bulk of the aid to go through the United Nations, whether it is to those suffering in East Pakistan or to the refugees who have fled to India. We believe that is the way to mobilise the greatest flow of international resources with the least risk of ulterior political complications. That is also the way to see that aid from many different sources is brought together and is channelled swiftly in the right directions and distributed according to the most pressing needs. That is literally vital in areas where the facilities for distribution are so limited. The United Nations is then our considered choice for the co-ordination of all the relief work.
1067 That machinery is now at work in the present emergency. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is in West Pakistan and his staff is in India working on the refugee problem while the special representative of the Secretary General is now in Dacca assessing the relief that is needed for East Pakistan itself and the problem of getting it to the districts where help is most required.
We all tend to feel in these situations—this has certainly been our experience over the years—that vital days are lost at the beginning of emergencies. Nobody can anticipate the nature of disasters, natural or man-made, but one can foresee and plan for certain needs which are common to all disasters—for example, the provision of medical personnel and medical supplies. I agree that a permanent organisation to cope with disaster relief would be an improvement on our present arrangements. That is why I proposed to the Secretary General of the United Nations last February that something on these lines should be established, and indeed it has been established in embryo form. I hope that the structure can be retained on a permanent basis.
We should guard against our natural impatience which sometimes in our anxiety to improve our machinery leads us to criticise the many devoted people who are now working in this field. These people are inspired by exactly the same feelings as ourselves. We should not overlook the sheer magnitude of the task and problems of setting up an administration to handle relief on this scale in another country.
I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I express our unstinted admiration for those in India at present who are carrying on in the most appalling and difficult circumstances. Our aim is to help those people to succeed in their task. I will not repeat the statement on Britain's contribution to date which I made yesterday, since it is fresh in the mind of the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and other hon. Members, but I wish to repeat that the aid which we have subscribed was and is all designed to make sure that there should be no shortage of money for the United Nations. They should be enabled to get quickly on to the job and to go right ahead in mobilising the relief 1068 that is required. I hope that by our action and by the action of many others this has been ensured.
The £1 million which we made available right at the start has not yet been drawn down very far. The Government of India, whose efforts to cope with this disaster have been valiant, have spent a large sum of money on relief. They will in a few days be able to tell the India aid consortium how they feel this affects their own needs. I should like to know, before deciding on the figure of our further contribution to the United Nations relief operation, the nature and extent of the aid which the Indian Government feel they will require from the consortium. Meanwhile the United Nations is not immediately short of money, but I would like the House to know that we are ready to do substantially more as soon as we can assess the need and the opportunities unfold.
The same is true of the suffering in East Pakistan. I know it is the clear wish of the House and of the country that there, too, we should do as much as we possibly can. We have been pressing the Pakistan Government to open up the East to an international relief effort, and I have no doubt that U Thant's special representative will be doing the same. As soon as the way is open, we shall make a contribution to this also.
It was the policy of the Pakistan aid consortium, of which we are a member, that the greater part of all our aid to Pakistan should in future be spent in the East. This policy had the support of the Government of Pakistan. We were working together on an ambitious action programme for water and agricultural development which the World Bank prepared last year and which was meant to provide the basis for a sound economy for East Pakistan. That work, of course, has had to be unhappily halted.
We and the other donors are eager to resume work on this programme and to resume it quickly. There are other projects needed by both East and West Pakistan. For such plans, however, there must be one pre-condition: there must be a return to normal civil life, and there must be a restoration of confidence and security for the individual before the work of long term reconstruction and development can continue. I am afraid 1069 that must be one of the penalties of what has happened up to date. That is why we have said we cannot authorise any new aid projects except in the context of a political framework into which to inject them. Projects under way must go on if they can; it would add to the waste and destruction to interrupt them. But until there is an improvement in the political situation we cannot in prudence do more.
I can understand the impatience of those who feel that a new political structure for East Pakistan should already be on the way. We have constantly impressed upon the President and his advisers that this is the only hope for the future of his country. We believe that President Yahya Khan personally desires a return to civil government and is actively working for it. In the last few days he has declared an amnesty for all those except those guilty of murder and has said that he will do everything possible to assist the return of refugees and has set up reception committees to accept any refugees who may return.
While the wounds of civil war are still open the task is one of immense difficulty. Nevertheless a plan must be launched for a new political structure which will attract East Pakistani cooperation and the plan ought to be launched with as little delay as possible.
To compound the problem, which faces everybody in the sub-continent, there has started a new chapter in the long history of tension between Pakistan and India. There are deep emotions and fears and mistrust. We all recognise in this House how necessary is restraint. The Government of India have exercised great restraint and we are certain that this will continue, otherwise the dangers of war between Pakistan and India would be very real and this would convert what is already a tragedy into a catastrophe.
In the eagerness to see a political settlement, it has been suggested that this could be imposed either by a combination of external powers or perhaps through the Security Council. Help can be given if it is requested and I have just told the House how constantly we have been giving advice to the President, which I hope is useful. Influence can certainly be exerted by judicious advice but the plain truth is that the only action to end the tragedy and to reverse the river of refugees is a settlement contributed by, 1070 agreed by, and worked by the Pakistanis themselves. That is why we are so anxious that the President should announce, as soon as he possibly can, a return to a civil administration. That alone will offer hope to the people of East Pakistan.
I think the House will realise, from what I have said, that we mean to give all the help that we can, that our main channel must be the United Nations, that we must wait to see what the Indian Government will require at the meeting of the consortium next week, and that we shall be faced with another request for help to East Pakistan to resettle the people there. At best this will be a continuing process for some time. The flight of the refugees will not be easily arrested. There are the aid consortia meetings for both India and Pakistan, and there is the possible aid, for which we should be preparing now, which may be needed later in the year if accounts of the shortfall in the rice crop in East Pakistan are true. These will all be calls on our resources, apart altogether from the funds that we make available to the United Nations. To all those ends we shall offer help, with all the generosity in our power, as soon as opportunities arise.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
I think we are grateful for all that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has said. This is not the first time that we have debated this subject in the House. We debated it about four weeks ago, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have consistently expressed their deep concern about the issue. It is right that we should have a little longer today to debate the subject, because we have reached a point in the depth and scale of this disaster and the suffering involved when there are some things that we would like to probe and question at greater length than is possible by question and answer across the Floor of the House.
We start from the understanding that we are all equally committed in the urgency of our anxiety, and our anxiety is largely that we should be able to feel that we in Britain are doing every possible thing that we can to help effectively. More than that, obviously, we cannot do. Both sides of the House, the public, the voluntary organisations—and I sustain every word that the right hon. Gentleman 1071 said about the effort, work and devotion that they are putting into the present situation—the Press and the television—both of which have been at their most responsible and most effective in informing us all so fully and sharply about the changing situation in East Pakistan and India—are united in their approach to the problem.
I should like, first, to consider the questions of money and of timing. I wonder whether I might briefly go over the events of the last two or three months. We heard, first, in the middle of April about the stream of refugees pouring into East Bengal, and it was in April that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) visited refugee camps and brought back their reports, and since then others have been there. It was in April that the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were ready to play a part in any international relief effort that was mounted. It was also in April that we began to be told of the enormous cost to India of caring for the refugees. It is a cost which the United Nations now estimates at more than £60 million in the next six months alone.
By the middle of May we heard from the Government of their first token amount of help—it was expressed as a token amount—of £18,000 to the charities to help them fly out supplies. By the end of May we heard about the sum of £1 million being contributed to the United Nations Relief Fund. It is now almost mid-June, and we know that up to £1 million more help has been provided by the Government by way of food supplies, transport, and covering the cost of medical supplies from charitable organisations, but we read yesterday and today that there is a grave danger that Britain is not going to be able to supply much more of the vaccine that is urgently needed to check the cholera because the manufacturers have used up most of their stocks.
There have been massive appeals for public contributions, but we see a certain lack not of effort but of the co-ordination of effort. For example, one reads today that the World Health Organisation in Geneva is not aware in any sort of detail of what the British charities are 1072 sending to help in the relief effort, which makes it difficult for the W.H.O. to coordinate world activities. Two months after the events I think we are entitled to say that, as is so often the case, and as the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware, and has said, there has been this unendurable delay before things have really begun to swing into action.
The right hon. Gentleman says that more money will be made available, that of course the effort is not going to be limited by lack of money. I know that the right hon. Gentleman intends that the Government shall make whatever contribution is necessary to make the British effort—private and official—effective but at the same time Oxfam is reported to have said that it has spent about £140,000 since early May of which more than half has not been covered by Government help with the cost of medical supplies, and the same is probably true of the other voluntary organisations.
It is the voluntary bodies which have the expertise, the skill, the knowledge and the experience of dealing with this kind of international disaster, and they can do a superb job, but they must not for one moment feel limited in any effort that they can make by having even a fraction of anxiety about who will pay the bill at the end of the day. Moreover, it would be wise if Ministers were to meet these voluntary bodies to compare notes, to find answers to the problems that they raise, and to co-ordinate information about what is being done.
The right hon. Gentleman says that more money can be provided; but I put it to him, with respect, that it would be better if he were now to declare—as it were, pledge—a much more generous sum which can be drawn upon as needs arise, in order, first, to remove all anxiety in the public mind that money is in any way a limiting factor and, secondly, to make sure that none of the voluntary organisations feels itself handicapped by any consideration of money.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that just over a year ago, in all the agony of the Nigerian-Biafran relief operation, that is what was done. A sum of £5 million was made available, with more to come if it was needed. This meant that the money was available at the moment that relief was possible, at the beginning of the exercise.
§ Mrs. Hart
Yes. It meant that the voluntary organisations never for a moment needed to worry about money, and the public, too, knew that there need be no anxiety on that score. If at the end of the day money is to be forthcoming from the Government, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that would be a better way of proceeding, as it would give a great deal of reassurance to many people.
I suggest, too, that the pledge which the right hon. Gentleman makes should cover an increased contribution now to the United Nations Fund. We hear that the United States is providing £7 million, but I think it was said this morning that the figure has reached about £13 million. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is nowhere near measuring up to the economic impact upon India of the £60 million, at the minimum, that we know it will cost over the next six months. As a demonstration of the depth of our common concern, and as an example to encourage much more massive contributions from other countries, I think it would be wiser to make a further pledge now of additional aid to the United Nations, rather than to wait and let it dribble out bit by bit over a period of time, when it will be less effective in the impact that it can have on other people and in the reassurance that it can give.
As we look to the future, again, on the question of relief, I was much disturbed to hear that Dr. Boerha, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, had said on Monday that he saw no prospect of the F.A.O. being able to find enough to meet a prospective famine. This is an immensely serious thing to say, and I hope very much that when he answers the debate the Minister for Overseas Development will be able to tell us what steps the F.A.O. is taking in the matter, what steps member countries are being asked to take, and what initiative Britain will take to ensure that having overcome cholera and the immediate problems of finding somewhere for the four or five million refugees, we do not then find that we have another disaster—one of famine—which, despite the forewarning, we are not ready to meet. I hope that we may 1074 have some reassurance about energetic steps being taken on this front.
I now turn to the question of aid and the need for a political solution. The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised yesterday and today that the cause of the whole problem is man-made. He repeated it again this afternoon. He said yesterday that the Pakistan Army was using measures to suppress the population which were intolerable to them, that this had caused the fear and the refugee problem and the disaster. All of it—cholera, death, hunger, political tension, danger to peace—is the product of man's inhumanity to man in Pakistan.
What we are asking to be reassured about—the right hon. Gentleman has given us some reassurance on it this afternoon—is that we are using our own maximum influence to get a democratic political settlement. As the right hon. Gentleman said—I was glad to hear him say it—there must be a return to normal civil life, confidence and security of the individual.
I am sure that in every possible diplomatic way the right hon. Gentleman is using all his influence in this direction. I am equally certain that he is right in what he said this afternoon about any further aid to Pakistan. He will recognise, as the House will recognise, that whatever is done about further aid to Pakistan is done or is not done against a background of a serious and even further deteriorating economic crisis in Pakistan.
I do not want to go into detail on this—I said it, as did others of my hon. Friends, in the House three weeks ago—but there is a desperate shortage of foreign exchange, a need for the rescheduling of debts. There is the appeal made by Pakistan for emergency credit to the World Bank, as a result of which the World Bank apparently said, "No, not at the moment; we have to report, look and see what is happening." The Bank has had its team in Pakistan, and this team will be reporting to the aid consortium meeting on the 21st of this month.
The essential point we have to grasp is that in a situation of this kind aid cannot be neutral, if it is continued normally. If further pledges on project aid 1075 were to be made at the consortium meeting in the absence of a return to normal civil life, this would be providing assistance—this is perhaps particularly true of any emergency credit which is given—to pay for the war, a war whose consequences we are now seeing.
So we must recognise that development, in its true sense, cannot occur unless in these conditions. It demands a secure base of confidence; it cannot be administered in a situation which is, in effect, one of guerrilla warfare coming from villages in Pakistan. I support the right hon. Gentleman in his belief that there must be no question of further aid, other than money for relief operations, until there obtain conditions of peace, normal civil life, confidence and security.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there is a potential danger to peace, and I was glad to hear him say this. Clearly, none of us can see this any longer as an internal conflict in Pakistan. It has spilled over the borders of Pakistan. There is now, we read to our distress this morning, some evidence of clashes within India. Some time ago it was reported that there had been a confrontation of Indian and Pakistani troops along the border. Mrs. Gandhi is under heavy pressure from some in India on the question.
I should like to quote something which one of the most superb of the correspondents reporting from India has told us. Peter Hazelhurst said in The Times as long ago as 27th May:For the present the world can be thankful for the forbearance and wisdom of the Nehru family.The right hon. Gentleman talked of the Indian restraint.So far India has, at a tremendous cost to her economy, exercised great restraint and has not been tempted to march into East Pakistan to restore order.The temptation is certainly great, but Mrs. Gandhi, the Prime Minister, knows that if she is forced to take the ultimate step she could engulf the whole of South Asia and perhaps the great powers in war.China would certainly come to Pakistan's aid if India marched into East Bengal and this would immediately bring in Russia as India's main ally.I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that there now exists a very real threat to international peace. The right hon. 1076 Gentleman said yesterday, in answer to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury, that he would be prepared to discuss this with the Indian Foreign Minister when he comes next week and to discuss the question of raising the issue in the Security Council. Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman said that any question of raising the matter in the Security Council would be for India or Pakistan, but I am sure he recognises that, against the historical background here, it is impossible that India herself could raise this issue. I hope he will give further consideration to this. The international community would be unwise to ignore the tension that is constituting a very real danger to peace in terms of the consequences which could flow if the worst should happen.
Finally, one word about the longer-term issue of international machinery to deal with disasters. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has told us about his memorandum to U Thant on this question, which will be discussed, no doubt with other views from other countries, by the Economic and Social Council in July. I must tell him with respect, that I do not think that his proposals go far enough.
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman proposes, in his paper, that only natural disasters should be covered. He says that, perhaps later, the proposal can be extended to cover man-made disasters. In the light of this situation, and in the light of the Nigeria-Biafra situation, we are bound to recognise that some of the worst human tragedies are man-made, as distinct from being due to natural disasters. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this point, and to consider whether, before the E.C.O.S.O.C. meeting in July, he would not amend his proposal so that it does cover man-made as well as natural disasters.
Second, he thinks a special fund of the U.N. is not needed for this kind of purpose; but, given the time gap from the mid-April influx of refugees to the mid-June offers of money which are now being received at the U.N., I hope he will reconsider this. The existing working capital of the U.N. which can be drawn off for emergency aid is about £60,000. That is not enough to operate the running concern of relief, and it is not good enough 1077 to have to wait until the contributions come in, which inevitably takes a good deal of time when member countries have to respond to an appeal. So, again, he should be suggesting that a special fund be set up, or, otherwise, that the capital fund which can be drawn on should be considerably enlarged for this purpose. Either would do.
Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman proposes a disaster relief co-ordinator, with a small staff and a committee, but he does not propose that there should be stockpiles other than those which individual nations might individually choose to accumulate. He does not ask that the disaster relief agency should itself have stockpiles, or should itself internationally earmark supplies or transport or personnel, all of which are essential to avoid delay. To sum up, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals are the beginning, but they go nowhere near far enough to meet the kind of frustrations that we have seen in our experiences of disasters.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
I will, of course, consider any points and suggestions that the right hon. Lady makes. If an organisation of this kind is set up, it will, I take it, study these matters and recommend what it wants, so that I do not in the least wash out the possibility of stockpiles and so on.
§ Mrs. Hart
I am glad to hear that, but the difficulty is that in his Memorandum the right hon. Gentleman seems rather specific on these matters. Perhaps he should look at the Memorandum again to see whether he should give greater latitude in the consideration of these issues.
Clearly, whatever we do about long-term plans cannot reduce the enormity of this tragedy. The least we can do, and all we can do now, is to be sure that we are doing enough and are organising what we are doing as effectively as possible, including the bringing to bear of the maximum pressure to restore decent conditions in Pakistan.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and I hope that in the course of the debate my hon. Friends will take the opportunity to raise additional points that they may have and press some of those that we have already made.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I am glad of this opportunity to voice briefly the horror and concern that many of my constituents feel. I believe the great majority of the public welcome and approve the leading part which the Government have played in mobilising international effort through the United Nations.
In my constituency there has been an immediate response, both by voluntary organisations and by the public, to the appeals for funds and other help. I am certain that there will be wide support in the country for whatever further initiatives and measures the Government may be able to take, even if the eventual cost to Britain is many millions of £s.
Many hon. Members will have received anguished letters from their constituents. I applaud everything my right hon. Friend has said, both inside and outside the House, in the last few days, but we are all conscious that no words of ours here can match the enormity of the crisis in Bengal. I quote briefly from a letter from a woman constituent last week:For God's sake please try and get the Government to do something more positive about East Pakistan",and she enclosed one of the latest horrific newspaper reports.
Reflecting on the reactions from members of the public, we may sometimes feel that our imperial instincts die hard. Many people still seem inclined to think that over large areas of the world Britain is in some way responsible for everything that happens and can put everything right. This may be laudable, but it leads to a great deal of frustration.
There is a strong belief, understandably and rightly held, that we have a special responsibility to do more than our share in helping crises of this kind which affect Commonwealth countries, and this, too, is a relic of the imperial feeling of 50 or 100 years ago. But, in addition, there is today more than ever before a sense of world community in such situations.
Now, with instant communications and the immediacy of our involvement, we are seeing the emergence of a world public opinion, and I regard this as one of the most hopeful signs of our time. It is sad that there is no corresponding 1079 diminution of what the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) called man's inhumanity to man. Nevertheless, we can feel some optimism in view of this new emergence of world public opinion.
Perhaps this has already exercised some deterrent on the outbreak of wars, large and small. I hope that it will increasingly prove to be also a deterrent to Governments who may be minded to act in their internal affairs in a way grossly offensive to world opinion at large.
Our primary concern today, as the Order Paper shows, is relief. In other words, humanity is overshadowing politics. Yet we cannot forget the events which have led up to this situation, for which the Pakistan Government will always carry a heavy responsibility.
Frankly, we in Britain should hesitate before lecturing other countries about democracy or communal harmony as long as we have the problem of Northern Irleand unsolved in our midst. However, so far as Pakistan is concerned, we are surely entitled to speak bluntly as an ally, as a fellow-member of the Commonwealth and as a major provider of international aid.
We should leave the Pakistan Government in no doubt about the revulsion of feeling in Britain, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend both yesterday and today stressed the many representations which he has already made to the Pakistan Government and the emphasis which he is putting on the need for a political settlement and for a democratic framework before further long-term aid plans can be worked out.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
Is my hon. Friend implicitly saying in his condemnation of the Pakistan Government that he is prepared to see a friendly country, with which we are doubly allied, fall apart, thanks to the efforts of certain secessionist elements in that country? Does he accept that as we brought that nation to birth, we should not stand idly by and allow that sort of eventuality to occur?
§ Mr. Lane
I am not saying anything of the kind. It is not for me or anyone here to lay down what sort of political solution there should be. We are, however, entitled to express a view on actions 1080 which may or may not have been taken by any Government, friendly or otherwise, particularly when so many of our constituents feel strongly about them. As my right hon. Friend said, the solution must finally be worked out in Pakistan by the Pakistanis, and I am not prejudging that in any way.
In the immediate crisis, I express three hopes. First, having made such an excellent start in a difficult, sticky situation, with considerable time elapsing before relief gained momentum, I hope that the British Government will not hesitate to take a further lead and, if necessary, commit us to doing still more.
I believe that the nation as a whole will expect and be willing to shoulder a disproportionate share of the international effort required in this particular Pakistan situation, a situation which so much concerns us because it is a Commonwealth one.
Secondly, on the question of achieving a political solution, Pakistan is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) pointed out, an independent friendly country. There are limits to what we can properly say, publicly and privately. I hope, however, the Government will interpret these limits quite widely and will continue to exert all the persuasion they can on the Pakistan Government to open up East Pakistan, so that the facts of the situation may be better known, and to act in a spirit of reconciliation. We must remember that the sooner civilian government can be restored, the smaller will be the risk of the area becoming the scene of serious international conflict.
Thirdly, I hope that all this will give a new impetus to the efforts that are being made to set up an international disaster organisation. We are conscious of the delays on this occasion, and although they have certainly not been the fault of the British Government—quite the contrary; as my right hon. Friend said yesterday, we have supplied about 40 per cent. of the total finance guaranteed, apart from help in other ways—more must be done to reduce these delays in future.
It is time to intensify pressure within the United Nations for the establishment of an international disaster organisation and, if necessary, to strengthen and elaborate the proposal which we have put 1081 forward. Clearly, the U.N. is the right agency to operate such an organisation. This is a perfect example of the rôle for which the U.N., and only the U.N. is suited, and to which the U.N. would do well to divert some of the effort and attention that is too often wasted on issues over which it cannot hope to act effectively.
It should not be difficult now, in the light of all that has happened in this and similar disasters in recent memory, to get an effective organisation set up reasonably quickly. It must be in Asia, Africa and Latin America that the main dangers of disasters, whether natural or man-made, will continue to arise. Here we already have a United Nations presence established in the Economic Commissions for Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is a ready-made organisation on which we can build the kind of stockpiling and framework of general staff, not necessarily involving great expense, which on any future similar occasion would enable the international community to go into action with much less delay than it has so far. In other words, the time is ripe for Britain to lead a united Commonwealth campaign—this is surely a matter on which the Commonwealth could be most effective—to get decision and action by the United Nations this year. If we can do that, some good for the future may yet have come out of the ghastly suffering in Bengal today.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I find it difficult to fault the Foreign Secretary on his handling of this problem from the beginning, but I have two slight reservations. If I concentrate on those, I hope that it will not be thought that I am unmindful of the overwhelming aspect of the personal suffering of those who are at present dying or ill in East Pakistan and in West Bengal. I concentrate on the two issues in the interests of brevity.
Yesterday the Foreign Secretary said that he had been putting as much diplomatic pressure as he could on the Pakistan Government, through the High Commissioner, and that he had received assurances that the President of Pakistan was prepared to try to effect a political settlement as quickly as he could. All I ask is that in these avenues of pressure, which I recognise are the only avenues 1082 open to the Foreign Secretary, the pressure should be directed to the only method that I can see of ever achieving any effective political settlement, that is, to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from imprisonment and to allow the democratic vote to have its say in East Pakistan. After all, 167 of the 169 seats were won at the last general election by the Awami League, and it ill becomes the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) to suggest that we in this House are seeking to help secessionists, when all that is being said here is that the voice of democracy should be heard in Pakistan.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I was upset particularly by statements from the other side of the House which were quite clearly criticising the internal affairs of a friendly Commonwealth country. The hon. Gentleman must make the distinction here between autonomy, which is what the election was fought over, and the issue of secession, which is what extremist elements within Pakistan moved the Awami League towards in latter days. This is a clear distinction and a fundamental one which certain hon. Gentlemen opposite have been unable clearly to understand.
§ Mr. Lyon
I clearly understand the distinction. All I am asking is that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should be allowed to take his proper place in the Government of Pakistan. He should not have been displaced by the action of an army which was largely controlled from West Pakistan and largely composed of West Pakistani elements. It seems that that is a negation of the democracy which has been growing fitfully in Pakistan and which we thought had come to fruition at the last general election there. I know that it is difficult for the President of Pakistan, in the light of his actions, to go back on what he has done. But it is clear from the mass exodus of refugees, now said to be about 5 million in West Bengal, that the policy he was pursuing has failed and that he has to go back upon it. He went back on a previous policy, apparently at the dictate of Mr. Bhutto. It is now clear that he has to listen to the plea coming from all those refugees who, denied the vote at the ballot box, are voting with their feet by getting out of East Pakistan. It is that kind of settlement and that alone which can effectively reach the root of this problem. 1083 It will be possible for us, if we pour in sufficient money and resources, to stem the tide of suffering connected with the refugees. But if we are to stop the refugee problem growing, it will be only when there is a political settlement in East Pakistan which is acceptable to the people of that country, and that is bound up with the recognition of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Therefore, in these avenues of pressure open to the Foreign Secretary, I ask that he makes that clear and also makes clear that this is a widely held view in Britain and that he is not speaking in any way in a mere interventionist rôle but is expressing the deeply held fears and views of a wide area of the British public.
The other matter I wish to air is the question of producing the kind of international organisation which can deal more effectively with disasters, whether man made or not. The speed with which we have moved in this area over the last two or three years has been pathetically slow. After all, this issue has been ventilated over that period. I recognise what the Foreign Secretary has now done, but I hope that pressure will be exerted at the United Nations to see that this aspect of the problem is dealt with much more effectively. It requires all the resources that the West in particular can bring to the problem in order that the same kind of provision can be made for disasters as is made in the Western world for the containment of Communism. If we were to consider the matter as urgently as that, we could do the planning in depth which is necessary to provide both the stockpile and the resources in transport, and so on, which would be necessary to get the supplies and the personnel to disaster areas as quickly as possible.
The speed with which we have moved in this matter is a point of criticism not only of the Government but of all of us in the West over the last few years. Particularly is this so in relation to Pakistan. After all, this has not come upon us only in the last fortnight. The threat has existed for some weeks now, and even months. During the debate in May, it was plain from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that he was then forecasting that the exodus of refugees, which at that stage was 2 million, would grow 1084 to 5 million within weeks—that it has done—and that the possibility of starvation was very real for about 75 million people.
We have not yet reached that stage but it is clear that the problem is growing, and in our planning for this kind of disaster we have been woefully slow and inadequate in our approach. I do not say that in any way as party criticism; it is a criticism of the Western world generally.
I hope, therefore, that in his efforts to speed up that provision the Foreign Secretary will indicate to the other parties concerned how deep is the anxiety felt in the House and how far it transcends any party-political divisions.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
There are in the Chamber tonight many familiar faces, for there are many right hon. and hon. Members who are no strangers to the problem of overseas aid, a problem which, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyons) has just said, transcends party differences. An hour and a half ago tensions were raised, perhaps, on the question whether we should enter the Common Market, but now when we look to an even bigger problem, the problem of the suffering of millions of people in another part of the world thousands of miles away, we can become united in our determination to do something. The whole House welcomes the spirit and mood of the statement this afternoon from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who spoke so seriously and responsibly on this subject.
It should be remembered also that, although the House is not exactly crowded at this moment, there are many in the country outside who are extremely concerned and wonder whether this nation, no longer so great or so dominant in the world, can exert an influence and even a leadership in the task of helping to defeat the consequences of a disaster of almost unmentionable proportions.
As I say that, I am conscious that I may be guilty of an emotional approach—I think that emotionalism can cloud our judgment and the judgment of the public and the Press—but there is a deep concern and a serious impatience over the immense tragedy which is developing 1085 in Pakistan. I do not think that the Government have been slow to act or ungenerous in the present crisis, but I am more concerned about our whole attitude to the question of aid and the targets at which we should aim.
The Pakistan disaster is, I believe, the result of political action in that country coming so close on the heels of the natural tragedy of the typhoon last year and the floods which followed. Those hon. Members who have recently been there will know exactly how the people felt. The floods created an uncertainty and an unrest, and the actions of the Pakistan Government to curtail or contain that unrest have produced a disturbance in some ways more tragic than revolution or civil war itself, for they have by this very disturbance caused a mass migration of, perhaps, 4 million to 5 million homeless, friendless, starving and diseased people across the frontier into another country.
These people are sliding towards greater disaster. It is no good our lamenting that the problem is too big for us or that it is of their own creation. This is the very sort of problem which we have thought about before and have predicted. It is the sort of problem which the Pearson Commission envisaged when it wrote its great report. We see it happening now in Asia. Next, perhaps, it will happen in South America, and one day, perhaps, in Africa.
Our object as a rich industrial developed nation should be to work to prevent such uncertainties and such tragedies happening again. The whole purpose of overseas aid is not to be a palliative for a disaster when it occurs but, rather, to be preventive. We should think of it as an investment against disasters of this kind. Perhaps this is where we go wrong, both in the House and in the country, in seeing the present tragedy as an occasion for calling out the fire brigade, the fire brigade of people's hearts and pockets, the fire brigade of Government action and the fire brigade of the House of Commons.
Political events have, of course, aggravated the problems of overcrowding, lack of housing, poverty and hunger which obtain already in Pakistan and in India. But it is not enough for the donor countries, as we are called, to be unconcerned 1086 about political actions in the undeveloped countries which receive overseas aid. When a country like Pakistan has suffered an enormous natural disaster such as the typhoon and the floods which followed it last year, it is not surprising that the social breakdown which occurred produced a detonator for the political reaction and the civil war which we have witnessed since then. Having said that, however, I am still unhappy that there should be a question of political sanctions in terms of overseas aid when people are starving and suffering so grievously as a result of both natural disaster and political mistake in Pakistan.
I wish to say a word now about the work of the voluntary agencies, and here I must declare an interest inasmuch as I have an association with Christian Aid. The voluntary agencies have already been working and spending money on a great scale in Pakistan both as a consequence of the typhoon and as a consequence of the civil war. The five agencies to which I refer—the British Red Cross. Christian Aid, Oxfam, the Save the Children Fund and War on Want—under an arrangement reached some years ago have once again come together and formed the United Kingdom Disasters Emergency Committee.
An advertisement from the Committee—albeit a very small advertisement—appeared in The Times this morning asking for funds to help the voluntary efforts being made in this country to meet the problems encountered in the present disaster. The voluntary agencies have come together to make a joint appeal. They are working not against one another but in full co-ordination and cooperation. I agree with the observations of the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) on the subject of co-ordination and co-operation between the voluntary bodies themselves and between the voluntary bodies, the United Nations agencies, the individual Governments concerned on the spot and the donor countries. This is of enormous importance if aid is to be effective and really helpful to the people who are suffering.
The voluntary agencies have already spent between £250,000 and £500,000 of their own resources in tackling the problems arising from the civil war. It is expected that, as a result of their appeal, 1087 they will raise at least another £1 million. It is vital, however, that each of these bodies, as well as the United Nations agencies, should satisfy themselves that they can spend these funds to the maximum effect before asking the public to replenish and supplement their resources.
The International Red Cross, the Save the Children Fund and Christian Aid are already operational in the sense that they do not rely on sending teams abroad but already have operational organisations in the countries concerned. Their work is all the time far more operational than purely fund raising. All these organisations were already hard at work long before the situation became headline news. Christian Aid, for example, has already passed £40,000 to its sister agency in India, the Christian Agency for Social Action, into whose direct care the Indian Government have placed 100,000 of the Pakistani refugees who have come into that country.
There should be no diverting of the money originally allocated by the British public and the Government for the relief and rehabilitation of the East Pakistan typhoon victims. A total of £800,000 from that appeal remains unspent because of this civil war, but the suffering in East Pakistan as a result of those floods is no less since the war than before it. In fact, it is immeasurably greater, and every penny of that money will be needed.
I want to say something now which may shock hon. Members. I hope there will be no question of the Pakistan Government keeping out the voluntary agencies. I add this as a warning in this place where we can voice warnings because there is a feeling at the back of my mind that there could be a move to keep the voluntary agencies out as there was, according to my understanding, in Nigeria during the civil war there. There may be a feeling by some, I am sure not by all, in Pakistan that these voluntary agencies, by their very success and effectiveness in the alleviation of distress, might reduce the effectiveness of political action in that country. I hope that I have not shocked too many of my listeners by saying this.
I would also warn the House about the danger of sweeping moral judgments or any actions which suggest political preferences to Governments sensitive 1088 towards this suffering. It may well be that a proportion of the money coming forward to aid Pakistan, either from voluntary contributions or from Governments, will be needed for as yet undetermined aid programmes among the Pakistani refugees, rather than for the instant and dramatic assistance in the fight against disease.
I have tried to air some of the concern I feel in this matter, which I know is shared by the whole House. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for having spoken so feelingly and extensively on this problem. I hope he will bear in mind some of the warnings I have given.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
When we on this side of the House pressed yesterday afternoon for a special debate today I believe that we undertook an obligation to make suggestions to the Government about what we want them to do on behalf of the country in addition to what they are already doing. I want to elaborate only one point which I put forward to the right hon. Gentleman for action.
Along with a parliamentary delegation from the two Houses of Parliament, I was in Calcutta for a little time at the end of last year. We saw the way in which the administration was coping with the difficult situation. It was already difficult because of overcrowding. Along with the difficulties there were some successes. It was important to realise that with the many economic and social problems facing India, not only the central administration but also some local administrations were making good progress. We saw an over-crowded city, and it is not difficult to imagine now what it must be like with hundreds of thousands of people coming over the frontier as refugees.
The Foreign Secretary made a fairly outspoken speech yesterday, which the House welcomed and which I note has been welcomed this morning by public opinion, in which he mentioned the link between the political situation and the relief situation. The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly pointed to a further potential danger, that of mass starvation. That terrible danger is directly linked to numbers. It is, therefore, of the first order of importance to see that the number of refugees does not grow in 1089 the immediate future, and, if possible, is reduced. The same considerations apply to public health. As we know from the many detailed reports sent back by our correspondents, there is a direct relationship between the ability of doctors, nurses and the health authorities to do effective work in preventing the spread of the disease and the number of refugees assembled in a given area.
There is no way of discussing the relief and the health situations other than by linking them directly to the political situation. While it may be difficult at this stage for the Government to introduce proposals which might be interpreted as sanctions, and while I can understand the Government being reluctant to entertain anything which might be so interpreted—I would understand it if we were in offce and Ministers of my party felt the same reluctance—it is nevertheless our duty to make such suggestions to the Government as will allow refugees to return to East Pakistan and also allow those who are there to feel confident about staying but as will not at the same time be interpreted as being sanctions.
The idea I want to put forward is that which I mentioned briefly at Question Time yesterday. The Government should now have consultations with the other powers in the United Nations and propose the setting up of a United Nations Commission which should without delay proceed to East Pakistan, with the agreement of the Government of Pakistan. The Foreign Secretary did not reject the suggestion yesterday but did point out that Pakistan was a sovereign country and that we could not say what should happen there.
My suggestion is not for an individual initiative by Her Majesty's Government but that the Government should get together with other United Nations Powers. It might be possible to come to such an agreement before a formal meeting of the Security Council is called, and to do this through the administrative function of the Secretary-General. The situation may soon arise when it will be absolutely essential to call for a Security Council meeting.
I support the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) on two occasions now, that 1090 there should be such a meeting, but I can understand the reluctance of the Government, because a formal meeting of the Security Council might lead to a confrontation of arguments which would not be helpful to any purpose that I have in mind. It may be that the Government will tell me that it is not possible under United Nations rules to agree to send a commission without the formal approval of the Security Council. I am not sure. Studying the rules, I believe it might be possible to do it administratively through the Secretary-General if there is broad agreement among members which have been consulted. I am reinforced my my right hon. Friend in believing that that is possible. If that is so, I would suggest that the Government should have immediate consultations with other Powers and should also diplomatically get into contact, as they already are, with the Government of Pakistan. Such a United Nations commission would, of course, be composed of eminent international personalities to be sent forthwith to East Pakistan.
I have two reasons for making this suggestion. However much one wants to be careful in choosing one's words in the face of this great tragedy, it is quite clear now, as the Foreign Secretary said yesterday afternoon, that people continue to come over the frontier from East Pakistan because they are frightened for their lives. There can be no doubt about that. That is common ground in the House among those who have had a close look at the problem. That being so, what we need are international political means to reassure those people. There have been parallel situations in the past, as I recall after the First World War. I think that the Government of Pakistan would be well advised to accept such a United Nations Commission once it has been proposed.
Without such reassurance in East Pakistan itself. I do not think it will be possible to persuade many of the refugees to return. That, of course, is a reason for my suggestion. If there were to be such reassurance in East Pakistan, and if we were to succeed in persuading people to stay there, and if we were to build up a relief organisation to supply food, and so on, so that life there might become bearable again, physically and politically secure in East Pakistan, then the strain 1091 would not continue, and that would be a most powerful argument to put to persuade people to stay and the refugees to return. Indeed, the argument would not have to be put—it would speak for itself—to the refugees to return home if they received assurances, perhaps from members of their families, that under such a United Nations Commission the situation was being stabilised and that they were no more in danger of their lives.
That is the one and only point I wish to put to the Government today, and I hope they will consider it and implement it.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
Yesterday afternoon at this time I was putting forward a written declaration to a joint meeting of the European Parliamentarians and the members of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, and as it is very important perhaps the House would let me read what was suggested. I am glad to say that it was signed by 18 people from different countries of Europe. They agreed thatIn view of the fact that requests for emergency food aid for Pakistan and India cannot be met by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the members of the Council of Europe Consultative Assembly request the Committee of Ministers to convene a meeting, immediately, to review the situation, to examine what aid can be given by member countries and to arrange for full co-operation in order that aid can be provided forthwith.Like the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), I went to India just before Christmas and had an opportunity of seeing Calcutta—fortunately not under such distressing conditions. My family has been connected with India for about a hundred years and I have had some relatives who have died from cholera—in fact they are buried in Madras State—so I feel deeply about this matter and the very unhappy position there at the present time.
It is all important that we should see that food is given, because when people are suffering from malnutrition, the disease takes worse effect. I have myself given cholera injections and I know that injections will not be so successful unless the patients have food. With the monsoon coming there is also the risk of 1092 pneumonia, which is another disease to fight against.
Europe has a surplus of food and and could contribute food, and I would think that in this case food is rather more essential than cash.
I myself have worked in similar emergency situations although on a smaller scale, in Malaysia and Indonesia, and one thing we have to think seriously about is what kind of shelter can be given to these people, especially during the monsoon.
I should like to see as many tents sent as possible. The hon. Member for Penis-tone will remember that in Hayana we saw how effective army tents can be in providing temporary accommodation. They were well constructed and the Indian Army has full knowledge of how to plan this type of accommodation. There can also be bamboo shelters. I remember how we built a temporary hospital of bamboo—without a single nail—and it was built very quickly. If necessary, one can use cow dung for the floor; it is quite sanitary. This construction makes an excellent shelter. I myself received in this type of accommodation in Indonesia, several hundred refugees a day who came in for treatment and food.
A great many doctors in India come to this country. When we were in India we found that one of the reasons they come here was that their payment in India is not adequate. They were rather reluctant to work in the villages because of this problem. I should like to see these doctors paid adequate salaries and serving in refugee areas. Moreover, I should like to see that they are well insured, because if they fall ill, and they have families, their families will suffer. One reason why they may be reluctant to go to an area where they would be vulnerable to disease is that they have to think of their families. I would also suggest that we make a special appeal to the many Pakistanis and Indians in this country, who are very generous, as we have found in the past, who would probably be very happy to contribute to a fund. It would be very nice, too, if the people in their respective countries could feel that their brethren overseas were taking an interest in their welfare.
I was distressed to see that incident about the cricket bat. Surely there was a marvellous way of promoting good 1093 community relations, and I hope that the High Commissioner of Pakistan may have second thoughts about this matter.
The hon. Member for Penistone mentioned the refugees not wanting to go back home. It may be, perhaps, that Hindus will be very reluctant, indeed frightened, to go back in the future, and may wish to become citizens of India. In this connection I would point out that one country which has been dealing successfully with settling and rehabilitating refugees is Hong Kong, and I would suggest requesting advice from Hong Kong on how Hong Kong would tackle this problem. I believe that Hong Kong has 4 million refugees altogether. I am not, of course, suggesting that the conditions there are the same as they are in East Pakistan and the Indian border, or that the people are of the same type, but in Hong Kong they know how to put up buildings quickly to accommodate people, and how to rehabilitate them—by finding them work, which is what is needed by many of the Pakistani refugees, and in giving the refugees work without taking away work from people already living there. One of the things causing difficulties in West Bengal is the fear which people have of work being taken away from them. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will consider the question of asking advice from Hong Kong, the most experienced country in dealing with a refugee problem, with which it has coped very successfully indeed.
We have not heard anything today about the International Red Cross. I should like India and Pakistan to be asked whether they will allow the International Red Cross in to make an objective report, as this is an absolutely neutral body which is always extremely helpful. I found them very helpful when I was working in Indonesia when we had a big refugee problem. I believe that the International Red Cross has the respect of both countries and could be relied upon to give an objective report.
We are in a slight difficulty because, under the Statute of Westminster, we cannot interfere with the domestic concerns of other Commonwealth countries, but I hop that, if India and Pakistan find that it is not just Britain which wants to help them, but other countries as well, including some of the 18 who signed my declara- 1094 tion yesterday in Strasbourg, they will realise that they need not be alone in tackling their problem. I hope that the Strasbourg declaration may open the way for many more relief organisations, which can help Pakistan and India to put these urgent problems right in the quickest time possible.
§ 5.50 p.m.
Mr. John Storehouse (Wednesbury)
Like the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), I am connected with the voluntary organisations which have been doing their best to assist in this disaster in the last two months. I declare an association with War on Want. I endorse much of what he said about the work of these charities and the way in which they have co-operated, not just in the last few days but from the beginning when there was the first sign that the situation would deteriorate into disaster.
Those commentators in the Press who have complained about the lack of response have only themselves to blame because the media themselves failed until recent days to highlight the situation, which was being predicted by all the experts a long time ago. In particular, the consortium to which the hon. Gentleman referred has employed Mr. Ian Mac-Donald as the organiser of a team to assist in averting a major famine disaster in East Pakistan following the cyclone of last year. In his reports, some of which have been made public, Mr. MacDonald has given due warning of the danger of mass famine in East Bengal. It is only recently that the media have caught up with this situation. I am glad they have now done so. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly known, not only in this country but in others, that there is awful danger of mass famine following the recent disturbances and the cyclone of last year.
I want to take the issue back, from what we are now reading in the Press about the four million to five million refugees who have escaped, to the causes of this awful state of affairs. The causes are clear to anyone who has been reading the detailed reports that have appeared in the Press and that have been available from the experienced observers who have gone out to that part of the world in recent weeks.
After the Awami League won its overwhelming victory to which my hon. 1095 Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) referred, there was no inclination on the part of the military leaders in West Pakistan and their political supporters to accept this democratic will. There was prolonged discussion and prevarication and the delay in the calling of the Assembly. During this period, the military leaders were building up their army forces in Dacca, Chittagong and the other main centres so that it would be possible for them at an appointed time to act militarily to flout the democratic will that had been so openly expressed last November.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, in the period after the prorogation of the Assembly, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was singularly unwilling to go to West Pakistan to consult the political leaders in that part of the country to find a joint framework, within the unity of the Pakistan State, for establishing democratic institutions. That was part of the tragedy.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
As I understand it, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not a secessionist at that stage but was anxious to work out a solution consistent with the unity of Pakistan but allowing greater autonomy for East Pakistan on the lines of the six points on which the Awami League fought the election. It does not become us here to complain when democratically-elected leaders do their best to honour the election pledges that they made and on which they achieved an overwhelming mandate, as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did.
The Pakistan army struck on 25th March. It struck in various centres and at the university. Its deliberate intention was to wipe out all known leaders of the Awami League, all intellectuals, anyone who could possibly produce an opposition to military rule from West Pakistan. What is so disturbing is that that repression did not last just a day or so as one sharp blow; it has continued ever since.
Hon. Members may have read in The Guardian of 27th May the remarkable communications from the Rev. John Hastings and the Rev. John Clapham, two missionaries associated with Church relief work in Calcutta. They wrote:We are not reporters with little time to spare looking for the best stories. We have each lived in West Bengal for most of 20 years 1096 and we have talked at random with hundreds of refugees in the course of our relief work among them. The total picture of what has been happening in East Bengal is clear to us without any shadow of doubt.There are scores of survivors of firing-squad line-ups. Hundreds of witnesses to the machine-gunning of political leaders, professors, doctors, teachers and students.Villages have been surrounded, at any time of day or night, and the frightened villagers have fled where they could, or been slaughtered where they have been found, or enticed out to the fields and mown down in heaps. Women have been raped, girls carried off to barracks, unarmed peasants battered or bayoneted by the thousands.The pattern, after seven weeks, is still the same. Even the least credible stories, of babies thrown up to be caught on bayonets, of women stripped and bayoneted vertically, or of children sliced up like meat, are credible not only because they are told by so many people, but because they are told by people without sufficient sophistication to make up such stories for political motives.I could go on to quote more. These are the accounts of honest, disinterested observers.
I have here also affidavits which came into my possession only a day or so ago, sworn in the courts of Tripura, in India. I want to quote from one or two of them. The first is an affidavit made on 27th May in the court room at Abroom, in Tripura, South. It is numbered 028808. This properly witnessed legal document says:I, Mahfuzul Bari, a contractor by occupation and inhabitant of Hatia Island in the District of Noakhali, by faith Muslim, do hereby solemnly affirm and say as follows:—1. That on 6th May, 1971, about 500 army men came to our island and started indiscriminate killing. They burnt our houses and shops. They used heavy machine guns, flame throwers and mortar shells. They raped our young women and took away thirteen young girls, raped them and then by inserting the rifle end inside the private parts pulled the triggers and thereby killed all thirteen girls.That I along with other villagers of the surrounding area escaped numbering about 5,000 in one day. We walked one by one 76 miles and then crossed over to the border and took refuge in the State of Tripura in India",and so on.
Another affidavit that I quote from is numbered 031251 and was sworn in the same court on 27th May. It says:I, Mong Raja Momphrusain, the Mong Chief, Head of the Mong tribe, the original and permanent inhabitants of Ramgarh Sub-Division in the District of Hill Chittagong, in Bangla Desh, by faith Buddhist, do hereby solemnly affirm and say as follows.1097 He then refers to the cyclone of November, and goes on to say this:3. That since 26th March, 1971 while the memories of the cyclone was still fresh a man-made devastation started by the brutal of Yahya Khan by wanton and indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilian population, burning houses, looting all belongings of the civilian population, shelling and destroying the temples as well as the mosques and raping and kidnapping our women and disgracing them and civilisation in the manner the world never witnessed or experienced.4. That in order to escape from such atrocious and uncivilised state of affairs and in order to save ray people from death and disgrace I along with my tribesmen who could survive crossed the border in order to find shelter in India. There are about 400,000 refugees from the Sub-Division of Ramgarh alone who have already crossed over the border to the Indian State.These declarations and the many other hundreds of thousands of witnesses who have been able to articulate their experiences are witness and evidence to the most awful genocide—that is not too strong a word to use—since Hitler started the extermination of the Jews of Europe.
There is surely a point at which the world community must say that this horror and barbarism has passed the stage of no concern to the world at large, has passed the stage of a mere internal affair about which we cannot concern ourselves directly, and becomes a matter which the world community must take note of and must attempt to do something about.
I am concerned not only about the threat to international peace, though I think that that in itself is sufficient reason for following the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) in calling for the Security Council to meet to discuss this question. There is another reason why the Security Council should be called together—that is to consider the obligations of the United Nations to ensure that the Convention on Genocide is honoured by Pakistan and the rulers who are directly responsible for the barbarism that is now going on. Pakistan is itself a signatory to the Convention on Genocide, and there is, therefore, every reason why Pakistani leaders should be brought to accept that that Convention should apply.
The difficulties of the United Nations in enforcing the Convention on a State which is not willing to allow outside interference in its affairs are considerable. 1098 But the world has recognised certain standards of behaviour, and if the United Nations means anything at all, and if those affirmations of decency and justice to which we have paid lip service over the years since the war, since the evolution of the concept of the United Nations and all that it stands for, mean anything at all, the United Nations must act to bring real pressure to bear on the Pakistani authorities to allow it to take some direct hand in this situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) proposed that the Security Council should ask the Government of Pakistan to allow a commission to move into East Pakistan to do something to return that country to administration and order. If my hon. Friend's suggestion is not accepted by the Government of Pakistan within the next week or so, I believe that it is incumbent upon the United Nations to use pressures of every possible sort, including direct intervention, to stop this genocide from continuing.
I pay credit to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for behaving in a thoroughly humane and sympathetic way ever since this disaster started developing. I hope that after his discussions next week with the Indian Foreign Secretary he will not take the line that he took yesterday; namely, that this is merely a problem for Pakistan and India. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that as the country mainly responsible for the setting up of India and Pakistan over 20 years ago and as one of the signatories to the United Nations Charter, it is now for this country to take an initiative in the Security Council so that this matter can be dealt with effectively.
If we were to concentrate merely on the problem of the refugees, we could well be diverted from the horrors that are continuing in East Bengal. I accept that it is not for us to dictate what the eventual political solution will be, although I have no doubt that the decision of the overwhelming number of people in East Bengal as shown by the election last November is that they want to have an independent Bangla Desh and to run their affairs through their own elected leaders led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and that they will now have no truck at all with a united Pakistan led 1099 by the military clique in West Pakistan who have been guilty of so much barbarism.
All that I am suggesting is that the United Nations should give those people an opportunity of self-determination which is the undeniable right of people in all parts of the world. We have an opportunity of ensuring that they enjoy that right in East Bengal.
Further—I say this in all seriousness and with, I hope, as little emotionalism as possible—I hope that it will not go unnoticed that in the last week or so a remarkable debate has been proceeding in the United States about the alleged guilt for war crimes in Vietnam of the political leaders of the United States. Some hon. Members may have seen a programme on B.B.C. television last Sunday night which examined this problem and reminded us that at the end of the last war there were interesting precedents for establishing war guilt for political and military leaders who were not directly involved themselves in war crimes. There was the famous trial of a Japanese general for atrocities in the Philippines. There was the Nuremburg trial itself.
These are precedents which lead us to believe that in time, if jurisdiction can be established, there will be an opportunity for a commission of jurists to examine whether there is guilt in the hands and minds of the leaders of West Pakistan who have been responsible, either directly or indirectly, for, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said from the Front Bench yesterday, the greatest man-made disaster since the last Great War.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
The speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) were in marked contrast to that of the right hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse). My hon. Friends spoke with great humanity and deep understanding of the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport has great wisdom in these matters and long professional experience of the Far East which the House would do well to heed. 1100 The right hon. Member for Wednesbury merely exacerbated the tensions and difficulties of restoring order and good community relations in East Pakistan. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary rightly emphasised, this is a precondition for effective rehabilitation and relief in that country. I hope that not just the House but the nation will note the extremely serious statement of the right hon. Member for Wednesbury, which cannot be lightly shrugged aside, about pressures of every conceivable sort, including direct intervention, being used against a country with which we are friendly.
I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury and Devon-port emphasised the great importance of building up the economy of East Pakistan in the longer term. If the refugees from East Pakistan, who are now in the appallingly and heartrendingly overcrowded camps in West Bengal, are to return eastwards to Pakistan, which is the best solution and which the President of Pakistan has encouraged by his amnesty and his repeated statements in recent weeks that they would be welcomed back, then the sort of blood-curdling allegations of the right hon. Member for Wednesbury are not best suited to bring about the reconciliation which we so much desire. I condemn brutality, violence and extremism of any kind. I share the sentiments so well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, but it does not help to reiterate the over-emotional and deeply disturbing tales which have emanated from the torn and stricken regions of East Pakistan.
We are well aware of what has gone on in that part of the world, but when the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) said that we were fully appraised of the situation and that the Press and television authorities had done a good job, I do not believe she did the House justice. It has been manifestly clear that in this confused situation most of the reports have inevitably come from the other side of the frontier. Strict censorship has been imposed. There has not been free movement of people within East Pakistan. To my knowledge only six accredited journalists were allowed 1101 in to East Pakistan. In these circumstances, it is not reasonable for the right hon. Lady to claim that we know exactly what has been going on.
When we hear reports of extremely violent action by the Army, we must remember that brutalities of other kinds have occurred. There has been communal violence of a deep-seated and fundamentally dangerous kind for the long-term future of stability in that part of the sub-continent, let alone within the context of a united Pakistan. There has been a lot of butchery of Muslim Biharis who could not even easily return to the State of their origin because, being Muslim, they feared for their future within India. Elements within East Pakistan have supported the Government. I have met them, because my constituency probably has more Pakistanis in it than any other constituency in the United Kingdom. I therefore hope that hon. Members opposite, and particularly right hon. Members and right hon. Ladies opposite, will get their facts absolutely right before they adduce uncorroborated evidence before the House.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain why refugees are still pouring into India from East Bengal at the rate of about 130,000 a day?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has clearly explained that. He said that the people were fearful of their future. Many of them were Hindus. This exemplifies the dangers of communal disturbance, which is at the heart of the trouble in that part of the sub-continent. This is a very good reason why we should emphasise the long-term task of reconciliation.
The right hon. Member for Wednesbury said that we should not interfere in the political framework of Pakistan. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that a proper stable political framework was essential to create confidence and good community relations and, above all, stability for the good and effective movement of supplies and the organisation of relief work. I think that that is accepted by both sides. The right hon. Member for Wednesbury was not being helpful by merely emphasising what 1102 he regarded as unnecessary and, as is probably true, fairly brutal methods used by the Army in the political context in which we are discussing this matter. The political context is not nearly as clear as the right hon. Gentleman would lead us to suppose.
The free elections took place within the concept of a united Pakistan. This was understood by both parties in the long election campaign. The Assembly was prorogued at the beginning of March in preparation for a constitutional assembly in which the freely elected representatives would work out a long-term democratic constitution for Pakistan which the Pakistan Government welcomed and which the President overtly said he welcomed. We should note this.
Instead, in the three weeks or so up to the crucial events of 25th and 26th March, there was a move towards extremism in the Awami League. The responsible elements in the Awami League lost control and a number of events occurred which make the long-term rehabilitation of East Pakistan difficult. State revenues were impounded in private banks. There was fairly widespread lawlessness and communal rioting. More and more extreme programmes were put forward which went far beyond the original six points and the original concept of autonomy to something much akin to secession.
Pakistan, as a united country, could not condone this. We must recognise that the leadership of the Awami League moved for a presidential proclamation which would instal Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Prime Minister without going through the long-term processes for establishing a democratic parliamentary system, and in that situation the right hon. Gentleman was being simplistic. He was misleading the House and the country and doing that part of the sub-continent a great disservice.
It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport that we in this country, including those in the Indian and Pakistani community, should show directly by financial contribution the degree of our compassion. The City of Bradford, under a Conservative mayor, after the East Pakistan cyclone disaster instituted a public fund for relief which collected more than £18,000 and was 1103 subscribed to by all sections of the community. I suggest this example should be followed now.
I ask the Minister to say how far the process of rehabilitation in the coastal littoral, the cyclone area, has gone. Fears were expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury on this issue. The two charity representatives now in East Pakistan are worried about this, particularly in the aftermath of the civil disturbances. About £800,000 of the £1.3 million available is yet to be allocated and distributed. How far have the charities been able to resume their work, and how far has order been restored to enable rehabilitation to continue?
On the distribution of aid and the ministrations of the United Nations, we should have learnt from the recent cyclone disaster how vital it is to establish the correct infrastructure, to restore communications and to enable supplies to be distributed. At the end of last year there was a most unfortunate piling up of supplies and relief materials, foodstuffs and so on, in the ports and airfields in East Pakistan. According to reports a similar piling up is beginning to occur in Calcutta of relief supplies for the refugees from Pakistan. I urge my hon. Friend to make sure that our Government provide the maximum transportation and engineering facilities in this crucial phase. When this question was first mooted the President of Pakistan said that there was an adequate supply of foodstuffs in the short term in East Pakistan, but he was far from complacent about the long-term prospect, and this is what the United Nations must face.
It is good to know that Prince Sadrud-din, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, talked this Sunday and Monday with the Economic Adviser and with the President in Islamabad about the restoration of stability in East Pakistan so that the refugees may be encouraged to return. This is the long-term solution. When people outside Pakistan talk of political solutions they do the House a disservice. Almost any imposed political solution has its drawbacks. If East Pakistan were incorporated in India there would be fearful communal disturbance—in 1905 Curzon divided Bengal. An independent Bangla Desh people's republic would not suit 1104 the stability either of India or any other part of South-East Asia. No developing country—not even Algeria—has recognised the concept of an independent East Pakistan of Bangla Desh. For long-term future stability we must work within the concept of a united Pakistan, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has so rightly emphasised, and we must not impose preconditions upon aid. To impose political preconditions would subject millions of people in East Pakistan, which has a density of 1,400 persons per square mile, to further long-term suffering and privation and accentuate the flow of refugees which we want to stop.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
It is impossible to see the plight of the refugees in India first hand, as I had the opportunity to do last week and the week before, without feeling cynical about the way in which international bureaucracy goes into action when faced with such a tragedy.
In New Delhi on 21st May the Indian Government had a clear picture of the situation. There were then 3.3 million refugees from East Pakistan in India, and they were coming over at the rate of 100,000 a day. The vast majority were in West Bengal, about 600,000 were in Tripura about 300,000 in Assam and Meghalaya and a few hundred thousand in Bihar. The priorities were clear: first, shelter; second, medicines; third, transport; and, fourth, food. Many of those things were available already in India.
The main requirement, therefore, was money, and the Indian Government estimated that, over a six-month period, to cope with the refugee problem on the basis of between 3 million and 4 million refugees would cost about £70 million. There are now over 5 million refugees, so the cost is much higher. Even though the main need was money, it was clear then that there was a limited requirement for shipments from the outside world, especially of baby foods for the large number of children in the refugee camps who were suffering from protein deficiency. Medicines were needed from outside, especially cholera vaccine. Transport was also needed, especially for the more isolated States like Tripura, the capital of the State, Agartala, being 140 miles from the railhead. That was 1105 the position three weeks ago when U Thant made his appeal. Only now are specific supplies arriving in any quantity, and there still appears to be a considerable lack of co-ordination.
The Foreign Secretary said yesterday:With the increasing flood of refugees and the declaration by the Indian Government of a cholera epidemic on 4th June certain priorities can now be identified—sheller, medical supplies, transport and food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th June, 1971; Vol. 153, c. 863.]But those priorities have not just been identified during the last few days. They were spelt out to Mr. Donald Chesworth, the Chairman of War on Want, and to me in New Delhi by officials of the Department of Rehabilitation on 21st May. Part of the trouble in getting the international operation off the ground was that U Thant's appeal three weeks ago was far too vague and unspecific. It left much too much room for doubt among the countries which could have provided help as to exactly what was required of them.
Another difficulty is that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees seemed unable to set up headquarters in India which could quickly transmit requests for specific shipments to those countries which were able to provide them quickly. When I arrived with Mr. Chesworth in Calcutta on 22nd May, people who were working in the refugee camps were saying, "There will be an outbreak of cholera, and when the monsoons come it will go through the camps just like that." There were then two weeks in which cholera vaccine and saline fluid could have been shipped in bulk. The United Nations should be able to do better than it has done in this instance in co-ordinating international relief. For that reason I welcome the steps which the British Government are taking to try to get a disaster coordinator set up, but I heartily endorse the improvements to those proposals which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) outlined in her speech as being necessary.
Even though the United Nations may have been slow in getting the operation off the ground, surely it was still open to other Governments to take the initiative and contact the Indian Government direct to try to stockpile vital supplies of food and medicines that were needed. I find it hard to understand why Ministers were 1106 not able to cut through the protocol on this.
The support that the Government have given to the voluntary organisations has been excellent. Although opinions may differ whether the British Government should have pledged more money to the United Nations appeal, certainly they responded speedily, and almost the very next day pledged £1 million. What seems to have been lacking was any direct contact between the British Government and the Indian Government. I should have thought that it would also have been possible to make direct offers of help to ship supplies from Britain as Government aid, as opposed to the help from voluntary organisations which is now going through. However, things are moving now.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with intense interest. As someone who, like myself, has a great regard for India and that part of the world, does he know whether any request was made to this country by the Indian Government for assistance?
§ Mr. Barnes
Part of the problem is that, extraordinary as it may seem in this age of mass communication, communication between nations is so difficult. It may well be that specific requests were not spelt out as quickly and clearly by India as they might have been, but that is no reason for us to sit on our backsides when faced with a tragedy of such (proportions. Because the bureaucrats seem to get so bogged down, it is up to politicians, who are supposed to be men of action, to try to cut through some of the delays that occur in such situations.
But things are moving on relief now, although the size of the problem is increasing greatly. According to the news today, Colonel Luthra, who is in charge of the relief operation for refugees in India, estimates that there are now 5.3 million refugees in India, and that they are coming in at the rate of 130,000 a day. So the costs will go far higher over the six-month period than the £70 million already estimated by the Indian Government. I hope, therefore, that U Thant will make another appeal and get a much better response from the rest of the world.
But the main question that we must have in our minds today goes beyond 1107 the question of immediate relief. It is concerned with a solution. It is no exaggeration to say that if there is no solution to the present situation, and if it goes on for month after month, there will be a threat to peace in that part of the world. The Indian Government are able to think of the problem only in the short term at present; they can afford only to think of the next six months. Although there is a great deal of sympathy for the refugees among the local Indian population and a strong feeling that they are all Bengalis—it is this that is producing the sympathy—the tensions are there, and problems are being created by the refugees' presence. Some have found work, but this tends to bring down the level of wages, and the demands to feed and house the refugees have pushed up prices. If the situation continues for months there could be a very serious position within that part of India.
On the Pakistan side, the Pakistan army is harassed around the frontiers of East Pakistan by the Bangla Desh freedom fighters, especially on the Western frontier with Assam and Tripura. The freedom fighters claim that they are inflicting many casualties on the Pakistan army. There is provocation for Pakistan there.
If the refugee problem remains unsolved after six months, and if the fighting between the freedom fighters and the Pakistan army continues, there could easily be touched off a conflict between India and Pakistan which could lead to some involvement by Russia and China as well. If that happens—God forbid!—there will doubtless be the usual sterile argument about who started it, but the truth would be that it became inevitable because no solution had been found to the present situation.
The best hope for peace is that conditions can be created in which the refugees, or at least a substantial number of them, will go home. But they will do that only if there is a genuinely democratic settlement. Having spoken to many of them, I find it very hard to see how this can be anything except one which guarantees a high degree of autonomy for East Bengal, if not a separate existence.
The Foreign Secretary spoke about the reception camps set up by Pakistan to receive back the refugees, and of an 1108 amnesty. It is naive to expect the refugees to go back at present. What is the amnesty for them? What have they done?
The Foreign Secretary also spoke about the wounds of civil war. But the civil war proper, such as it was, lasted only a matter of days. The wounds that the refugees bear are not wounds from civil war but wounds from a deliberately unleashed wave of atrocity such as was described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse).
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
would the hon. Gentleman consider that anything that is said at this stage that might exacerbate the situation and make it more difficult for the people concerned to live in peace, as they must, could lead to nothing but the most unwarranted future for the sub-continent?
§ Mr. Barnes
I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we must be careful what we say. Even so, that must not, and cannot, close our eyes to what has happened.
When we talk about solutions, the danger we must consider is that there will be a transfer of power to a civil administration which is probably not representative at all and which must be underpinned by the presence of the Pakistan army. That probably will happen before very long anyway. Then the rest of the world may well say, "All right. There has been a settlement. There has been a settlement. There is a civil administration there. It was a terrible thing while it happened, but now we can resume normal relations and resume aid." If the rest of the world says that, it will be extremely shortsighted. Such a settlement will not settle anything. If the civil administration is not representative and there is not genuine democracy, the refugees will not go back and the fight between the freedom fighters and the Pakistan army will go on and there will still exist the seeds of an international conflict. It is not just a question of its being morally right for the rest of the world to press upon President Yahya Khan that there should be a genuine democratic settlement, but only such a settlement can guarantee lasting peace.
I wish to put one or two questions to the Minister for Overseas Development who is to reply to this debate. How 1109 hard are Her Majesty's Government pressing the Government of Pakistan on a political settlement? There is some confusion in the British attitude about aid and economic assistance. There seem to be three separate things that we should distinguish. First of all, there are the existing development aid commitments and there is a wide measure of agreement that such aid should not be cut off, which is a view I share. Secondly, there is the question of new aid commitments and the attitude that will be taken by the consortium when it discusses this matter in a few weeks time. The third aspect, which is perhaps the most important of all, is what will be the attitude of countries like Britain and America when they are asked by the Government of Pakistan to come to the rescue of the Pakistan economy. This is something that is separate from the normal development aid.
The Minister when speaking in our last debate on this subject said—this was said again today by the Foreign Secretary—that there would be no new aid without a political settlement. However, the Minister also said in a broadcast over the weekend that there is no question of using aid as a lever. How does he reconcile these two things? Must not the statement that there should be a political settlement before giving aid provide a level if it is to amount to any kind of pledge? The Government would do well to clarify their position. There is a lot of confusion in India about this matter; Britain's position is being misrepresented in some parts of the Indian press. It is no argument to say that if aid is used as a lever it would amount to interference in a country's internal affairs. Pakistan has put itself out of court by the tragic and awful miscalculation made by the Pakistan Government in the military tactics they employed in East Pakistan. Therefore the donor countries have a right to be satisfied about the conditions in which aid is to be resumed.
I am seeking assurances from the Minister on those matters. Does the statement made by the Minister in the previous debate a few weeks ago extend to the question of coming to the rescue of the Pakistan economy, and would we refuse to do so if the right political settlement did not exist? When the Minister talks of a political settlement, 1110 presumably he does not mean a mere transfer of power to any civil administration which may be unrepresentative and underpinned by the army. I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he does not mean just a transfer of power to any old civil administration with the army holding it up in the background. I hope that he will be able to say that he means a genuine democratic settlement which will command the trust and support of the people in East Bengal and will persuade a substantial proportion of the refugees to return home.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
I apologise to the House that I was not present during the middle part of this debate. This was due to the fact that, precisely because of my interest in this subject, I shall a little later this evening be using another medium in which to air this matter and I have been engaged in preparing carefully my remarks on that front about the delicate Pakistan question, otherwise I would have been present throughout the whole of this debate.
I welcomed the short intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money). Although we in this country no longer have power decisively to influence the course of events overseas in a positive sense, we must realise that we have a great capacity, if we are not careful, to do a lot of damage overseas in a negative sense. Since we have ceased to be a great imperial power, we sometimes think that we are doing a service to humanity by making the most laudable statements condemning certain people, praising other people, demanding settlements, and doing so with a feeling of salving our own consciences, whereas in reality we are doing precisely the opposite. The only effect such remarks often have is to get the matter off our chests, but the damage lives on afterwards. I could instance a number of occasions when this has happened in the past.
I was not present during the speech of the right hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse), and I apologise if I misquote him since I have only received a second-hand report of what he said. I understand that, because of his deep feelings on this matter, he went so far as to say that the United Nations should go to the extent of using—I hope 1111 that I am not misquoting him—all appropriate measures to enforce a political settlement in Pakistan. I do not know what he meant by "appropriate measures". He has had considerable experience in Commonwealth matters and I cannot believe that he meant that the United Nations should in some way use some form of forceful intervention. If such a thing were possible—and it would not be possible because the veto would undoubtedly be imposed against any such action—we should recognise that loss of life and difficulties in the area would be multiplied tenfold.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
The Pakistan authorities have deserted all civilised behaviour. They are now guilty of genocide, which has been condemned by the United Nations Genocide Convention—a convention which Pakistan signed over 20 years ago. If such declarations mean anything, there is a point at which the United Nations—the world community—must intervene. If we look back to the situation that existed over 30 years ago, surely there was a stage when the world would have intervened if Hitler's atrocities against the Jews had become more widely known even before the last great war broke out. There is a point at which the world must intervene, and I believe it is now being reached in the situation in East Bengal.
§ Sir F. Bennett
Then I do not think I have misinterpreted what the right hon. Gentleman said. He has confirmed that there should be intervention by the world community, and he must realise that Pakistan would not brook any form of outside interference in what she regards as her own internal affairs. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the use of force would improve the situation, then I believe that on reflection he will feel that he was unwise to suggest that this would bring about a settlement. Even though it represents much of the world community, we must remember that the power of the United Nations is limited.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I am making a point in reply to the right hon. Member for Wednesbury. 1112 If it were to be suggested that the Security Council would be in a position to undertake any such mission, the very first thing to happen in present circumstances would be that the Soviet Union would veto the proposal anyway, even if no other country did so. Therefore, the proposal is impracticable as well as wrong. It does not help matters to make declarations which are both harmful and, incidentally, wholly ineffectual, and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the United Nations as composed today would not intervene forcefully in the Indian sub-continent, however passionately he might feel about it.
We confuse ourselves to talk about using aid as a lever to bring about a political settlement—and I maintain that view even if it was said by someone on my side of the House—while saying at the same time that we should do all we can to help the people living in East Pakistan. I beg hon. Members to realise that, whether they like it or not, the only effective Government in Pakistan West and East at the moment is the Government of Pakistan. Whether they like it or not, Bangla Desh is not in command of the ports of Chittagong and Dacca or the airports of East Pakistan. Hon. Members make themselves almost absurd when they say that we should increase the aid which we give to East Pakistan but not use the Pakistan Government as a means of giving that aid and that we should cut aid to Pakistan generally. If aid to Pakistan is cut, the available cake for development throughout the entire country will be diminished by that amount, and East Pakistan in its turn will get less aid.
I have been waiting for some weeks since the last debate to hear anybody suggest in practical, not theoretical, terms how, on the one hand, aid can be cut to the Pakistan present de facto Government and. on the other hand, increased to East Pakistan. Whether we like it or not, at the moment the Pakistan Government and the Pakistani armed forces are the only institutions available for development aid, or any other kind of aid, which could flow to East Pakistan. Nobody does any good service by suggesting that there is any other institution at the moment by which any form of aid or support could be funnelled to East Pakistan on any scale, apart from a little 1113 running across the frontier. If we say that we will not deal with the existing Government of Pakistan, that we will not give aid, that we will use aid as a lever, or the lack of aid to punish, the people in West Pakistan will suffer, but so will the people in East Pakistan. That is a fact which cannot be denied.
Yesterday, I raised one other matter with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I said that, having only just got back from abroad, I had not had much chance to study the reports available to me about the composition of the refugees. I have since had 24 hours, and I repeat the proposition which I put to my right hon. Friend yesterday; namely, that the refugee problem today is not what it was a month ago.
The refugee problem a month ago, when the civil war was at its height, was that the Bengalis of all religions were trying to get away from the armed forces because of genuine fear and apprehension, and no one denies that. As I understand it—I have had fairly categorical assurances about this—that general flow of refugees has almost entirely ended, and today the refugees constitute a different sort of problem, no less tragic, but the all-too-familiar problem of Hindus from East Pakistan going to India. It is no less tragic, no less sad, no less horrible, but it is different from frightened people fleeing before armed forces, as was the case when the civil war broke out.
I happen to think that this situation is even more dangerous and difficult for the future economic state of these refugees, because one has to look not at the last few weeks but, unfortunately, as far back as 1947–48. When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition spoke yesterday, I thought rather unfairly, about the British Government's lack of initiative in dealing with what he called the worst tragedy in human terms since the last war, he forgot about 1947–48 when many more people were killed and died of disease and starvation than have even started to be killed in the present tragedy; there was a gap in his memory.
I do not blame anyone for what happened then, but everybody knows that between 1 million and 3 million Hindus and Muslims, displaced when the two countries were formed, died because of the tension between the two countries. 1114 That was a very sad event, in which, I am afraid, the British generally had a certain responsibility, in that perhaps we did not foresee exactly what the consequences of partition at that time would be. But to pretend that today there is anything like the scale of slaughter is to ignore far worse tragedies of 1947–48. It would be as unfair to criticise the then Government for not taking an initiative to stop that as it is unfair for the right hon. Gentleman to accuse us today of not taking an initiative to stop what is going on.
We are now seeing a bubbling to the surface of the same tensions as have bedevilled the Indian sub-continent since British rule ended in 1947. It has concentrated around Junagahr and Kashmir and half a dozen other parts of India and Pakistan where communal tensions have broken out. In recent years there have been communal riots in Pakistan against the Hindus and there have been communal riots in India against the Muslims. These tensions rarely hit the headlines, but they have been going on steadily for the last 20 years.
The situation now is that even if there is a settlement in East Pakistan, or Pakistan generally—and God knows that we ought to try to get a settlement—it will not solve the problem, in the sense that those refugees who have left East Pakistan for communal reasons will not go back again. The evidence is that such refugees never return. All the people who left the former Muslim areas to go to India did not return to those areas and those who left India to go to Pakistan did not return. By the time they might have returned their homes and farms had gone.
We ought not to fool ourselves into believing that those refugees who have left East Bengal because they are Hindus will have their problem solved merely by the setting up of a couple of provincial parliaments which will lead to everyone patting everyone else on the back. Far from all these refugees will go back, although many might be induced to go back if they were genuinely loyal to the concept of Pakistan and were Muslim and would rather return to their fatherland. But the emotions of the others are directed towards India, and if they can be absorbed into India, it is much 1115 more likely that they would wish that to happen.
To those who do not believe that I am making sense, I can only say that I know a little more about the tensions of this sub-continent than do some others. I know exactly how strong are the feelings in India and Pakistan on the religious grounds which I have mentioned. It would be idle to deny that these communal tensions are playing a supplementary, but no less damaging, rôle in the tragedy which we are witnessing.
I said that it did not help matters by making violent accusations in the House against one side or the other, or taking sides. The history of the events is not quite as it has been outlined by one or two Labour Members. Before the election, all the Pakistani political leaders signed a document, called the basic agreement, in which they agreed that, whoever won the election, the integrity of the State of Pakistan would be absolute. That is rarely mentioned in the House. But when the election was won, the popularly elected Awami League in East Pakistan put forward political and economic proposals which would have led to the separation of the State in defiance of the basic agreement.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the planks put forward by Sheikh Mujibur during the election were those which he put forward during his negotiations with General Yahya Khan?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I have been studiously careful not to make accusations of ill faith against either side. I have made a statement of fact. Whatever may or may not have been said during the election, or during the negotiations, the fact remains that one thing which led to the outbreak of the tragedy was that the proposition put forward by the victorious Awami League contravened the basic agreement which all the leaders had signed. It is not merely a matter of my saying that. Anybody who doubts that statement can look at the documents and see that the basic agreement was contravened.
By all means let us see what we can do to bring about a settlement, but I urge my hon. Friends to accept that threats from this country will not be of any use because they are ineffective for 1116 the simple reason that we cannot do anything about enforcing them. A Pakistani said to me the other day, "How would you feel if, when the Pakistan Parliament was first created, we had had a debate about the fact that we were going to break off relations with Great Britain until she found a political solution in Northern Ireland? We have as much right to talk to you about finding a political settlement as you have to talk to us about finding one."
The time when, as leader of the Commonwealth, we could enforce our will on others has come to an end. We are all equal sovereign countries, and we have no more right to interfere in the internal affairs of Pakistan, which we may not regard as internal than she has a right to interfere in our internal affairs, which she in her turn may not regard as internal.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Stepney)
I find myself with very little time, and, having listened to the intemperate intervention of the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), I am greatly tempted to give myself up wholly to the task of trying to correct the distortions that he has introduced into this debate, but I shall satisfy myself with one sentence. If the Pakistan army in East Bengal were using rubber bullets, then I would accept what the hon. Gentleman said about us not having the right, after considerable time and thought, to give a moral judgment on what they are doing for fear that they, in turn, might give a judgment on our policy in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Shore
I am not interested in what the hon. Gentleman has further to say. The next time he intervenes in a debate, he ought to do us the courtesy of listening to what others say before he comes in and acts as a spokesman. I do not know, but perhaps he is simply rehashing and regurgitating the output of the Pakistan High Commission, which I too receive, but which I do not feel I necessarily have an obligation to repeat.
That has released a certain amount of my feelings, but nothing like enough. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one thing only. I do not think our main job in approaching these matters is to satisfy ourselves and our feelings. I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he 1117 says that anyone who is serious about these matters should attempt to speak with as much restraint as possible and with a view to helping the situation as much as he can.
Having said that, I will now deal with the situation itself. The first thing to remember—this is why we are having the debate—is that, in the words of the Foreign Secretary yesterday, the situation is getting worse. This is an emergency debate. It was meant to be a debate on overseas aid, but we are having this debate because 10 weeks after these events began 5 million refugees who have been affected by them have crossed the frontier into India, and there are still masses of people on the move in East Bengal. We are seeing the de-urbanisation about which one of the six privileged correspondents allowed into East Bengal wrote in the Financial Times. We hear of the movement of people from the cities back to their villages, and from the villages into the countryside.
That has been happening on a scale and in a way that defies comparison with anything that we know of, other than the one event to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the tragedy in the Punjab in 1947. Apart from that situation, can any hon. Member cite another instance of 5 million people being pushed out of, and running away from, their own country, their villages and their land?
Why have the people done that? This is not a sporadic and uncontrolled explosion of communal violence. It is not that which has produced the present situation. It has been brought about by the actions of a highly disciplined army. Anyone who knows anything about the Pakistan army knows that it is not an army which does not obey its officers. It is a highly-trained and disciplined army. It has inherited a tradition of training and high effectiveness, and it is behaving as it is, presumably, because its commanders have told it that this is the way in which it must behave.
I am not here to bandy accusations against the Pakistan Government. There is a great deal about which I do not know. I could suggest a number of ways in which people like myself and the hon. Member for Torquay could be helped to arrive at a fair decision. One way is to let people in, to push aside what I call the "iron curtain" that has sur- 1118 rounded East Bengal since all the correspondents were swept together and pushed out of the country in case they saw the events that followed. We are entitled to make certain connections between the events. I cannot say exactly what has happened but I know that 5 million people have left their homes. They have not merely left their homes but have fled from East Bengal into India. They have fled mainly from their co-religionists, not as a result of unco-ordinated communal violence, which we have known about in the Indian sub-continent ever since we have had anything to do with it, though there may be an element of that——
§ Mr. Money rose——
§ Mr. Shore
I shall not give way.
We would like to know the reason for what has happened, and I do not think that it is right for the hon. Gentleman to claim that hon. Members who have been to the area and tried to assess for themselves what the facts are should be abused for giving some witness to them when they come back. What are they expected to do? Are they to be silent? Having visited the hospitals and seen the wounds, are they supposed to come back and say that they would not want to upset the Pakistan authorities as that might exacerbate the situation, and instead of 5 million people being driven out, 10 million may suffer that fate? Is that what we are being told? If it is, I think that those who tell us that would do better to be quiet and let their silence speak for them. It would speak more effectively than their words.
What do we do about the political situation? How can we be most effective? One way in which we can be effective is for the Government to speak out. Of course, they cannot speak as frankly, as clearly and as strongly as hon. Members should speak. Hon. Members are not dealing directly with the Pakistan Government, but the latter should know that the people of this country do not lightly take reports of events of the kind that are going on there, that our friendship is not sustained and won when we hear of events of wanton violence being inflicted on a people who we know, because of our experience with the Indian sub-continent, 1119 are in themselves not a violent people. On the contrary, they have always, in the Indian tradition, been a rather peaceful people.
We know that, and we know that they have won an election. That is apparently what triggered off these events. What do we do? At least we protest, and have a right to protest, against the brutality of an army. Good heavens—a general who wanted to crush a democracy—it is not the first time it has happened—can do it without expelling 5 million people from his country. This is an overkill of brutality and violence of a kind of which we have not seen the like before.
So we can protest about that, but what can we do? We can do some of the things which I am glad to see the Government are doing diplomatically. They are saying to the Pakistan Government, "We will not give you the aid and the money you need, other than for immediate refugee and relief purposes. We are not going to help you out with your economy." They are saying it and putting it in a way which is quite right from their point of view. They are saying, "You could not even make use of it in the chaos you have created in your own land. Your administration has broken down. The whole bonds of confidence between people and Government have been so shattered; you are in such a state that you would not know what to do with it."
I think that they are right and that this is a strong point of pressure which the Pakistan Government have got to consider; they must consider their own future, because the problems of West Pakistan are going to mount—and most considerably in the next few weeks.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) in what he said about bringing in some outside body. I do not think this wretched man who is ruler of Pakistan today can unpick this problem. What can he do? What do we say to him—"Go back the long journey from the third week in March; go back all that way, through all that sea of blood and disaster, and now do what you deliberately did not do eight or ten weeks ago."? It is not very realistic.
We must help him create a political infrastructure, help him with a mixture 1120 of pressure and suggestion and, above all, in some way or other bring into the situation a new element—whether it be a Commonwealth element or a United Nations element—which will give some confidence to people that there can be a return to normality, that there can be safety for people who are still fleeing at the rate of 130,000 a day. It has got to be done, and done quickly.
The plain truth is this, more than in any other issue I know—the Foreign Secretary admitted it yesterday—that we cannot have even a relief or humanitarian solution until we start getting the political solution right. It is on both of these grounds that the Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Government and this House have to urge and press.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
I support the view that aid for India or Pakistan cannot be divorced from the political situation. We have already heard that refugees are pouring into India at the rate of 130,000 every day. A population of 1 million, the size of Birmingham, is coming into India in little more than a week and, whatever the situation today, if this continues—by every sign it is not merely continuing but accelerating—a problem will be created which will mean a financial burden too much for India to bear, and considerable even for the international community.
We have heard the figures today. It is estimated that the cost to India over the six months will be £165 million. If the number increases to 10 million, which is within the bounds of possibility, just think what a burden that will be. It would be quite impossible for a poor country like India. Even for the international community it would mean an enormous burden. So far—let us face the fact—the response has not been very great. Even so far as this country is concerned, by ordinary standards our contribution has been generous, but it is nowhere near adequate to meet the terrific problem being created in India.
We must examine the political situation. How can this flood of refugees be stemmed? Only by a political solution in East Bengal. The Foreign Secretary said yesterday that he had been told by 1121 the High Commissioner for Pakistan that attempts are being made to create some sort of civilian government. If this government is going to consist of a few stooges which by all appearances is the sort of government Yahya Khan is trying to introduce, this should not meet the Foreign Secretary's proposals that there should be a correct and proper political situation for aid to go in.
Aid is tied to this. It is said in India—and I think it is largely true—that without the aid given by the Pakistan consortium, and other countries of the West, Pakistan would be bankrupt and could not survive. It is also said that Pakistan could not continue to conduct this war against East Pakistan without this assistance. If that is correct, we have some obligation in this matter. We should use this as a lever. I do not like using levers or political sanctions against under-developed countries in order to tell them how to run their own affairs, but I do not think that this is an internal matter of Pakistan's. It is not a question of how Pakistan is governing herself. How she governs herself in West Pakistan is her own business, whether it is democratic or not, but this is not an internal matter. There should be no squeamishness in exercising pressure.
Moreover, if this war is being carried on with our money—as it is being carried on with arms supplied largely from the West—we have some responsibility here. I want to ask the Minister to answer one or two questions on this matter of aid. Firstly, until a political situation is created in East Bengal which will allow the resumption of aid, would he consider proposing to the Pakistan aid consortium that some of the money available should be diverted to assist the Pakistan refugees in India? That should be, primarily, the responsibility of the Pakistan Government and is therefore a proper method for which this money should be used in the meantime.
§ Mr. Crouch
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not forget that former tragedy when people were washed out of the ground by the typhoon and the floods, for which aid is still required. It is not their fault that they are suffering in a civil war. To use aid as a sanction could be dangerous.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not propose that this should be used as a sanction at all. The point is that at present, unfortunately, this money cannot be used in East Pakistan because the organisation is not there; neither is it certain that it would get to the places for which it is destined.
I am not proposing to use this money as a sanction. It would be wrong to victimise innocent people for the crimes of their Government. However, when the time arrives, which I hope will be soon, for finance to be sent to the area for which it is intended—in East Pakistan or Bengal, whatever Government are in control—what assurances will be exacted from the Pakistan Government to ensure that the money is used both for the victims of the disaster in Bengal and for the victims of the even greater disaster which has been imposed by the military in Pakistan? It is essential for us to be certain that the money will be used for the purpose for which it is sent, and that purpose alone.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)
I am glad that we are having this debate about what is undoubtedly the most appalling, the most predictable and the most unnecessary disaster since the war, though it is a matter of shame to this House that so few hon. Members are in their place to take part in and listen to it.
I welcomed what the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said about the willingness of the British Government to provide additional aid for the refugees. Unfortunately, however, helping the refugees is only tackling the symptom and not the cause.
I am glad that we have reached the stage in the debate, as it draws to a close, when we are discussing whether it is legitimate for us to take political steps to intervene to prevent the slaughter in East Bengal and, if so, whether there is anything effective that we can do.
If I understand the case that was presented by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) and the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), they said, in effect, that because there was such strict censorship and relatively little information, we should stand back and do nothing. Does the hon. Member 1123 for Bradford, West really believe that we cannot accept the information which is coming from the refugees, from reputable sources in East Bengal and from the right hon. Member for Wednes-bury (Mr. Stonehouse), the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) and myself?
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me an opportunity to clarify the point. I said clearly that in this appalling tragedy we should not stand idly by but should use our good influences for reconciliation and so encourage as much as possible the movement of refugees back to their homelands.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell me how a dead person can be reconciled.
Whole peoples are being deliberately reduced in numbers. I have received a number of letters from highly reputable people in the area. I cannot name them or identify them too closely, because they are still in East Bengal. I refer to English people who have spent their lives there. They have reported objectively and sincerely. One writes:Until March I reckoned that Pakistan had a better record than India in the treatment of minorities, but now it is genocide, with the killing of Hindus only because they are Hindus and with Muslims killing not only Hindus but their co-religionists as well. The people everywhere are terrorised.The stories which these letters tell are harrowing. The House has already heard enough of them for me not to need to quote further. It is undoubtedly true that a whole people are being deliberately destroyed. They are being driven out of their country and the terrorising tactics being adopted can have only one possible outcome, and that is the ultimate independence of Bangla Desh.
That was not necessary until the night of 25th March but, as a result of what has happened, it is now pointless even to discuss the question of reconciliation and the possible reunification of Pakistan. Pakistan is dead. It has been buried under millions of bodies and I fear that we have not yet seen the worst.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman
Just for the record, my hon. Friend is, of course, referring to East Pakistan?
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
I am saying that Pakistan as a unit and as a unity is dead. 1124 The only solution which will provide any possibility of relief for the people of East Bengal is for the West Pakistan Army to be forced to withdraw by economic pressures and sanctions.
The hon. Member for Torquay wondered whether there was anything really effective that we could do. I believe that we have a great deal of power in this situation. This war is costing West Pakistan 2 million dollars a day. Its reserves are virtually exhausted and it has a chronic deficit. I have recent reports which suggest that its economy is on the point of collapse.
I accept the sincerity of hon. Gentlemen opposite who say that even greater hardship would be created if aid were cut off. I agree that development aid for specific projects—if they are not producing foreign exchange—should continue, but I fear that the aid that is now going to Pakistan is helping only to finance the war and that if we continue to provide it we will not be feeding the victims but the army from which the refugees are fleeing. East and West Pakistan are 1,000 miles apart. Food shipments going to East Bengal now will help only to strengthen the army and thereby provide more material for the mills of war. It is not only a question of aid. There is the more important issue of credit for this failing, near-bankrupt economy. It will not be able to carry on the war unless it receives help from the international community.
I urge the Government to use the weapons at our disposal in this situation. We have clear evidence of the danger of war breaking out between India and Pakistan. As the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said, India has so far exercised great restraint, but for how long can it continue to do so? Faced with guerrillas operating from what are undoubtedly bases in India, for how long will West Pakistan accept this? How long will it be before border incidents escalate into war?
A short time remains for economic sanctions to be applied and so to bring the war to an end. That will happen only if those sanctions are applied stringently, effectively and rapidly. If they do not work and if West Pakistan is not compelled to withdraw its forces, not only will millions die of disease, but 1125 even more millions will die from starvation, because crops cannot be sown and food cannot be imported. Even more dangerous is the overwhelming possibility of war developing between India and Pakistan.
It has been suggested that the West Pakistan army should be used to distribute aid and relief in East Bengal. Anyone who has discussed this suggestion with those who have been in the area recently appreciate how ludicrous it is. It would make the situation worse. The relief would be used as a weapon of oppression. In any event, the West Pakistan army does not have an administrative network through which to distribute aid in the areas where it is most needed.
We in Britain and the international community have a responsibility to compel West Pakistan to come to its senses before it is too late and before a world war results from this act of brutal repression by the military government of West Pakistan.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
This has been a sombre and harrowing debate. In all quarters of the House there has been a sense of the human tragedy which really numbs the imagination. On 19th November last year, during a debate in the House on the East Pakistan floods, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) described those floods as one of the most tragic of natural catastrophies in recorded history. I do not think that any of us, in our darkest imaginings, could have believed at that time that within a few months there would be a man-made disaster in East Pakistan, however grave, which would overshadow the natural disaster of the floods.
I heard this morning from United Nations sources that the number of refugees from East Pakistan now in West Bengal has reached the figure of 5 million—a figure approaching the total population of my country, Scotland.
In a passionate and eloquent speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred to a recent article in the Financial Times by one of the few journalists allowed by the Pakistan authorities to visit East Pakistan. That journalist used these words: 1126The casualties of the wave of violence which overwhelmed East Pakistan on the night of March 25 run into hundreds of thousands, and possibly into millions. … More violence seems certain. Famine may be unavoidable. There are no simple answers—just palliatives, not cures".I suspect that this is the appalling reality of the situation which we in the House are grappling with today. It is against that dark and threatening background that I say straight away that I agree with the priorities that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary put before the House al the beginning of the debate: first, the top priority of dealing as adequately as we can with the provision of relief for the immediate suffering, both in India and Pakistan; second, to do anything that we can to encourage a political solution which would enable the refugees to return to their homelands.
With regard to the relief aspect, I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement that the Government are ready to do substantially more in both India and Pakistan. I thought that Her Majesty's Government gave a good lead to the international relief effort at the beginning. I think that we were the first to contribute. For too long the British contribution represented too big a proportion of the international effort and, therefore, I join in the appeal from this House to other nations to contribute to this effort. The United States have now announced that they are giving the equivalent of £7 million, and that indicates the scale on which we should now be thinking about our contribution. The international contribution to the United Nations effort now amounts to about £13 million but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) indicated, the Indian Government's calculation is that to deal with 2½ million refugees for a period of six months would require £70 million. As I have mentioned, the refugee figure has now probably reached the 5 million mark, so one has some indication of the scale of relief required in India alone.
On behalf of this side of the House, perhaps I ought to make it clear that we do not doubt the Government's generosity or willingness to respond adequately to this challenge, but we were anxious at the weekend about their sense of urgency. We should have preferred it if the first of the R.A.F. relief aircraft had 1127 taken off on Saturday or Sunday, rather than having to wait that extra day or two. I thought that the Secretary of State was a little over sensitive about this in the exchanges at Question Time yesterday. I well remember him prodding me at the time of the Nigeria debates—quite rightly, because it is the duty of an Opposition to prod—about whether we were doing all that we could regarding dropping aid by helicopters. The view that we as a Government then took of these disasters, whether natural or man-made, was that it was better to over-react than to under-react.
When the Nigerian civil war came to an end, we immediately, that very weekend, made urgent provision for transport and relief funds, and we sent out Lord Hunt to make an on-the-spot assessment. In the event, we did more than was needed. But the fact that we were willing to make a very substantial sum of money available, and to state that at the beginning, gave the voluntary agencies the necessary confidence to go ahead with their plans.
I was glad that the Foreign Secretary indicated that the Government are using all their influence to persuade the Pakistan Government to make themselves open to United Nations relief efforts, and we must all hope that the visit of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to West Pakistan and the visit of the Secretary General's personal representative to East Pakistan will bear fruit.
I certainly hear harrowing reports of the human suffering in East Pakistan, but I am afraid that the blood does not flow all one way. Certainly there has been appalling violence by the Pakistan army, but equally I hear of a rather forgotten refugee camp near Dacca containing pitiful victims from the West Pakistani and Bihari Muslim communities who suffered at the hands of their East Bengali fellow citizens.
One of the difficulties of restoring normal economic life is that the Bengalis will not travel up country in East Pakistan for fear of the army, and Bihari Muslims will not travel up country for fear of the Bengalis. There is this terrible task of trying to restore mutual confidence among the various communities in East Pakistan. It is this situation of paralysis and fear which causes the danger of 1128 famine in East Bengal to grow and to match the refugee problem in West Bengal.
I was, therefore, glad to hear what seemed to be the wise words of the Foreign Secretary about the need for a political solution, a political framework, as a precondition for the return of refugees. As the Foreign Secretary said, that must be decided by the people of Pakistan themselves. But I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) that one crucial act of reconciliation that the Pakistan Government could make would be to announce the abandonment of any trial of Sheikh Mujibur and, indeed, to attempt to involve him again in the search for a political settlement.
I share the fears expressed by a number of my hon. Friends about the meaning which may be attached to a "political settlement". A political settlement in this situation can mean only exactly what the words state. It will not be a settlement unless it is acceptable to the mass of the people of East Pakistan. The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right. The relief cannot work and we cannot deal with the human suffering in East Pakistan unless there is that kind of political settlement. I am told, for instance, that the northern sector of the province, which traditionally is an area producing a major grain surplus, is not adequately under the control of the army, so even if the army were to be a satisfactory means of distributing relief—and grave doubts were expressed about that by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann)—it is unable to do this in certain areas of the country.
The mood of the House today has been that, against the scale of human suffering, the international community now has a duty to provide itself with machinery and resources on an adequate scale to deal with this problem and to back them up with the necessary will to use them. I share the hope expressed by, I think, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) that one useful byproduct of the present agony may be the creation of a permanent United Nations machinery to deal with disasters of this kind, whether natural or man-made.
We welcome what the Foreign Secretary has already done in helping forward the moves to create a machinery for 1129 United Nations co-ordination. I entirely share the view which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart), an expert in these matters, expressed in the opening speech from this side about the need for such co-ordinating machinery to be more than that and to have physical resources at its disposal. She mentioned the need for it to have stock-piles available for immediate use. Speaking in my shadowy defence capacity, I add that I should like to see the national members of the United Nations asked to earmark appropriate parts of their defence forces—I am thinking here particularly of logistic forces—to be specially trained and to be at the ready to co-operate immediately they are asked to do so by the United Nations machine concerned with dealing with disasters of this kind.
This is much more than a question of dealing with the forbidding problem of relief in India or Pakistan. If there is not here an urgent matter threatening peace and endangering the security of others, I do not know what a threat to peace is. That is why we on this side have called on Her Majesty's Government to raise the question of the Pakistani refugees politically at the United Nations as well as dealing with it as a United Nations relief problem.
I do not know whether a formal inscription on the Security Council agenda is the best way to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), who has pretty shrewd judgment on these matters, expressed some doubt about whether that was likely to be the most constructive way to go about it. But, whatever way it be done, the reconciling and mediatory side of the United Nations should be brought to bear on this problem before it deteriorates further.
We all recognise in the House the reasons which prevent either Pakistan or India from taking an initiative at the United Nations in that sense, but those reasons do not necessarily apply to Her Majesty's Government. Both India and Pakistan are Commonwealth countries. As the Foreign Secretary has said—echoed by many hon. Members—India has shown remarkable restraint in the face of an invading army of refugees. But guerrilla war and shooting are taking place all the time along this tortured 1130 frontier. This cannot go on endlessly without matters growing gravely worse.
Mutual relations between India and Pakistan have been dangerously damaged. We already have a situation in which the Soviet Union, on one side, and the Chinese Government, on the other, are backing either side in the internal quarrel within Pakistan. By any standards, this must be a situation which seriously threatens the peace of that region, and it is for that reason that we on this side urge that Britain should give a lead, perhaps first consulting other members of the Commonwealth, in taking an initiative and invoking the political good offices of the United Nations, working not simply on the relief side but directing its efforts to deal urgently and actively with the implications of this tragedy for the peace and security of Asia.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Richard Wood)
My right hon. Friend the Lord President suggested yesterday, and I think the House accepted, that the debate on the problems in the Indian sub-continent should come to an end at about 8 o'clock and that we should for three hours thereafter discuss more general aspects of aid. I hope that the House will agree to my trying, first, to answer the points which have been raised since my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's speech at the beginning of the debate and then, if I may, going straight on to open the debate on aid. Later, if the House can face a second speech from me and will give me leave, I shall be glad to have an opportunity to answer the points which are raised in the second debate.
My right hon. Friend listened to a considerable part of this debate, and I have heard very nearly all of it. My impression is that the spirit of the debate has been almost entirely constructive. Most hon. Members have looked to the future rather than to the past. I am ashamed to say that I have spoken twice on this subject—on 14th May—and, rather than try to add much to my right hon. Friend's speech, perhaps I may take it that my most helpful contribution would be to promise on his behalf that we shall together consider the constructive suggestions which have been made today by hon. Members on both sides. There are, 1131 however, one or two particular matters to which I wish now to refer.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) spoke of the possibility of making further financial contributions. Having listened to the debate for the past few hours, and in particular, after hearing what was just said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson), I am beginning to wonder whether there is any great division between us on this matter.
There are the needs of the refugees in West Bengal. As several hon. Members have said, there will be considerable financial burdens on India herself. There are the needs, which I hope, will soon begin to be met, of relief and reconstruction in East Pakistan, and—I say this in response to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson)—I am hopeful that an operation there can soon be mounted under the auspices and help of the United Nations itself.
There are all these needs, and I have little doubt that Great Britain will have seriously to consider a contribution in all three directions. It is important, therefore, that the needs should all be examined. The House knows that my right hon. Friend has shown no reluctance whatever in being willing to make a further contribution either in the direction of relief for refugees in West Bengal or in the other directions, but what he is not convinced of at the moment, I think, is that there is solid evidence that it is lack of money which is in any way holding back relief operations. If such evidence were produced, he would consider it most seriously, and, especially in the light of what the right hon. Lady said and the experience which we all remember in Nigeria, I am sure that the House of Commons would find him sympathetic.
The right hon. Lady spoke of the need to co-ordinate the British charities with the World Health Organisation. The position there, I am told, is that the British charities have set up a co-ordinating office which is in direct touch with the W.H.O. and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.
There has been no doubt in the debate about the value which hon. Members on both sides place on the work of the 1132 voluntary societies, and I am glad to repeat the tribute to their work which my right hon. Friend has already paid. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) mentioned the possibility of the charities operating actively in East Pakistan. I share his hope that the Pakistan Government will be ready to allow the voluntary agencies to work there, although I think it likely that, when the operation of relief and reconstruction begins, the greatest need will be for supplies rather than personnel.
Several hon. Members have mentioned, as did the right hon. Lady herself, the need for some international co-ordination of relief. My right hon. Friend's memorandum has been mentioned. There has been some interest in this subject. The memorandum, which will be incorporated in the Secretary-General's report to the Economic and Social Council, was published on 7th June, and, if the House agrees, I would like to place a copy in the library so that hon. Gentlemen can study it carefully. This report will be discussed in the Economic and Social Council in July, and our hope is that the General Assembly in the autumn will approve an effective system for the international co-ordination of relief. This is certainly the timetable to which we shall be working.
As regards permanent action in the United Nations, we obviously have to await further action but Mr. Hill, the Secretary-General's special adviser on disaster relief, has recently been in London and we have emphasised to him our views and the need for urgency in setting up an efficient, central United Nations organisation for the continuous review and co-ordination of resources and available aid for disaster relief. The right hon. Lady mentioned the possibility of using this disaster organisation for both man-made and natural disasters. This will obviously be a matter to be decided but we see no reason why it should not be employed in all kinds of disasters, whether natural or, as in this case, the result of action by human beings.
The right hon. Lady and other hon. Members have mentioned the question of stockpiling. If I may quote from the memorandum of my right hon. Friend, the suggestion is that the co-ordinator, who has been mentioned several times 1133 during the debate, would also make recommendations:… to the Governments of potential victim States about which stocks were likely to be particularly helpful, so that either from their own resources or with international assistance, they could consider suitable stockpiling policies and identify their requirements in the event of a disaster.Paragraph 10 of the memorandum suggests that:Some countries might wish to maintain special stockpiles of supplies or earmark personnel for disaster relief".It is this kind of idea which will not only be fruitful but will provide a large part of the answer to the plea which has been rightly put forward by many.
In concluding my remarks on this part of the debate, I must say that I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Wed-nesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) suggesting—I hope that I got his words reasonably right—that it was not for us to dictate a settlement in Pakistan. That is entirely my view. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes), to whom I listened with interest because of his recent experience in that part of the world, asked us how hard Her Majesty's Government were pressing the President of Pakistan in these matters.
These exchanges are obviously confidential, and it is always very difficult to explain how hard one presses. My right hon. Friend is completely convinced that a peaceful political settlement, which is the objective of a large number of hon. Members, is also the sincere objective of President Yahya Khan. Anyone who takes account of the whole situation now existing on the Indian sub-continent knows how much depends on a settlement of this kind. The hon. Members for Brentford and Chiswick was particularly interested in this, and said I had not made entirely clear exactly where we stood, particularly in relation to aid.
I am always shy of quoting earlier speeches of mine, but on 14th May I said:We are ready … to resume aid for development, but we can clearly do so only if conditions are restored in which that aid could be effectively deployed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 767.]This means, if I may further interpret it, that there must be evident to us all real steps towards a political settlement. The hon. Members and others have asked 1134 what kind of settlement we have in mind. I doubt whether it is for us to dictate the kind of settlement that must take place except to say that it must obviously, in the words of the right hon. Member for Dundee, East, be acceptable to the population in the sense that it will lead to the necessary stability which must exist before we can resume any constructive aid operation.
In answer to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick, it is difficult to say exactly in what circumstances and how we shall resume aid and particularly in relation to the financial situation that may exist in Pakistan. There is a mission in West Pakistan at the moment considering the whole question of the future and we must await its report before we can decide what our view should be.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
May I ask the Minister if it is the Government's view that the present régime in West Pakistan wants a peaceful settlement on a democratic basis?
§ Mr. Wood
This is exactly the view I have expressed. I am convinced that the President is determined, if possible, to achieve a political settlement of the kind the hon. Member has in mind. I would add that no one thinks that in any circumstances at present this will be easy to achieve, but we shall all be making an appalling mistake if we think that there is any other possible satisfactory solution to the present suffering going on there.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of Pakistan and the question of a reasonable political settlement, which we all agree is the only way with which this situation can be dealt, would he be kind enough to express any concern he may feel about the situation as it applies particularly to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman? The right hon. Gentleman will know that 1135 there have been several references to this man in the debate and that he is the overwhelmingly elected leader of East Pakistan. At the moment he is rotting in gaol. Have any representations been made? Will the right hon. Gentleman express any concern about this situation continuing? Will the Government express their anxieties that this man should be brought back into a position from which he can make a contribution to a political settlement, as the real embodiment of the point of view of millions of people in Pakistan?
§ Mr. Wood
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Dundee, East, who has explained to me why he has had to leave the debate, and also by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). The position is that I would be giving away no secrets if I said that there had been communications between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Pakistan about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. To answer the hon. and learned Gentleman, I must say that I could not give any further information beyond that. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has been the subject of exchanges between the two Governments.