HC Deb 23 June 1971 vol 819 cc1436-43
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I both had discussions on Monday, 21st June with Mr. Swaran Singh, the Indian Minister of External Affairs, during which he made clear to us the concern which his Government feel about the situation in East Pakistan and the very great burden and the danger to stability created by the massive influx of refugees into India.

Following the recent meeting of the India Aid Consortium, Her Majesty's Government are now making available a further £5 million in cash or in kind to relieve the economic burden on the Government of India of supporting the refugees. Like other members of the Consortium, we are giving this contribution over and above our normal development aid to India. In addition, a further £1 million will be made available by Her Majesty's Government to U Thant's appeal for the direct relief of refugees in India. The total amount of assistance made available by Her Majesty's Government for relief and rehabilitation in India will thus be increased to over £8 million. This is a humanitarian task having no relation to politics, in which I hope very many members of the United Nations will participate. About 23 have so far done so.

An informal meeting of members of the Pakistan Aid Consortium on 21st June considered reports from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund representatives who had been visiting East Pakistan and had held discussions with the Government in Islamabad. No commitments of new aid of any kind were called for, nor were any given, though all expressed their willingness to contribute to humanitarian relief in East Pakistan under the effective surveillance of the United Nations. Her Majesty's Government's policy remains that projects already in hand in Pakistan must continue, in so far as this is possible, but that there can be no question of new British aid to Pakistan until we have firm evidence that real progress is made towards a political solution.

Conditions in East Pakistan continue to be disturbed. It is with great regret that I have to inform the House that two British subjects, Mr. P. J. Chalmers and Mr. J. Y. Boyd, both of whom were working on tea-planting estates in the Sylhet district, have been reported missing. Despite attempts by British representatives both in East Pakistan and in India, and inquiries made through the Pakistan Martial Law Administration and the Indian Government, we have been unable to obtain any definite news of them. In the circumstances there must be grave fear for their safety and I would express the sympathy of Her Majesty's Government, and I am sure of the whole House, to their relatives in this country at this anxious time.

The President of Pakistan has reiterated his Government's hope that those who have fled across the border to India will return to their homes, and has undertaken that they will have no cause to fear should they do so. Her Majesty's Government have represented to him the importance of restoring peaceful conditions in which confidence can once again lake root and normal political life can be resumed.

Mr. Healey

First, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I should like to express our sympathy with the relatives of the missing men. As the right hon. Gentleman will realise from earlier debates in the House, hon. Members on this side congratulate him most warmly on the decisions that he has taken concerning aid to both India and Pakistan. We particularly welcome the fact that he has given £5 million additional direct aid to the Indian Government, on top of the existing aid ceiling, and that that is also in addition to the £1 million U Thant's appeal. On behalf of the Opposition, I share the Minister's hope that other Governments will follow the very generous lead given by the United Kingdom.

On the question of Pakistan, I cannot guarantee always to be in a position to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman so warmly, but I want to say how much we agree with what must have been a very difficult decision for him, namely, not to give any further aid to Pakistan until there is convincing progress towards a political settlement. On that subject I want to put one point. Does not he agree that by far the best way to initiate pro- gress would be for the Pakistan Government to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from gaol and to begin to negotiate with him as the only representative of the overwhelming majority of the population of East Pakistan?

The House may recall that that precedent was often followed by previous British Governments in similar situations, not only in Kenya, Cyprus and in the sub-Continent. We in Britain have never had cause to regret taking such action.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for the statement I have made. On the political point, of what is to be the political future of Pakistan and the political structure, it would not be helpful for me to make suggestions at this moment in public. We have made many suggestions in private. The President is making a statement on 28th June. One would hope—and we have expressed this hope to him—that he will be able to bring together with West Pakistan the elected representatives from the East. We think that this is essential.

Mr. Shore

The right hon. Gentleman has certainly made a very welcome statement, both on the increased British aid to India and on the refusal to give further aid to the Pakistan Government at present. I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question based on the communiqué issued after his talks with the Indian Foreign Minister yesterday. He spoke of a solution acceptable to the people of East Pakistan being necessary for a political solution to the whole problem of refugees. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has put to the Pakistan Government the proposal that some external body that might be acceptable to them as well as to the others be brought in to help supervise the situation there to see that a solution, when it is put forward, is truly acceptable to the people of that area?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

This is a very difficult question. I am not anxious to make public statements on what we have or have not said to the President of Pakistan. We have indicated—I joined with the Indian Foreign Minister in saying this—very clearly that there must be a political settlement which is broadly acceptable to the people of East Pakistan. I do not think that I can go further or even suggest that an external body would help in this situation. I very much doubt it. This must be settled by Pakistanis for Pakistan.

Sir F. Bennett

May we revert to the unhappy fate of the two missing British subjects? Can my right hon. Friend say when we first learned of this and when their disappearance is supposed to have taken place? Is there any suggestion that the Pakistan Army is responsible for this? If that were so, it would have a pretty profound effect on many of us who have done our best to maintain a balanced attitude in this matter.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am afraid that the facts are rather obscure about Mr. Chalmers and Mr. Boyd. There is some hope in that one or both are said to have been seen over the Indian frontier.

Mr. David Steel

I visited the family of Mr. Boyd at the weekend in Hawick. They will be grateful for the expressions of sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have registered for them. Considerable distress was caused to the family by a most unfortunate report in the Daily Telegraph on Friday which stemmed, I am sorry to say, from the unofficial parliamentary delegation in Pakistan, to the effect that Mr. Boyd had been shot dead. This report is merely one of several conflicting and unconfirmed reports as to his whereabouts. May I ask when the right hon. Gentleman expects to receive a report from the British High Commissioner in India, who I understand has now received permission to visit the frontier area to make a search for these two men?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We are trying to do everything that we can to locate these men and obtain the true story of what has happened. It is extremely difficult to do this, but our missions in Dacca, Calcutta, Islamabad and New Delhi are now constantly trying to trace these men. The hon. Gentleman can assure the family concerned that every possible effort is being made.

Mr. Wilkinson

When will the Pakistan Aid Consortium meet again? I would remind my right hon. Friend that not so very long ago he said that the long-term future in East Pakistan was causing concern, especially the food prospects in a period beyond three months from now. This is a matter to which the Government and other Governments in the Aid Consortium should address themselves most seriously.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I agree with my hon. Friend. This can be divided into two parts to some extent. The United Nations representative and team there are assessing the likely food needs in two or three months' time. It will then be for them to recommend what future financial assistance may be necessary, both from individual Governments which are willing to help and from the Consortium.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the right hon, Gentleman aware that it has been known for some time that he has had a very sympathetic and humane approach to this question, and this has been confirmed by his statement today? Without wishing to be disparaging on the amount of £8 million, may I ask whether he is aware that this will pay the Indian expenses for only about eight days? May I ask, further, if he has seen the report in The Times today, from a very experienced reporter in Calcutta, confirming the continuing genocide in East Bengal? In view of this, will the right hon. Gentleman now undertake to take this problem to the Security Council so that effective action may be taken on behalf of the world community to bring this disaster to an end?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

No, Sir. I would not give that undertaking to take it to the Security Council. The Indian Government has made no such proposal, and I think that, therefore, we had better consider for the future, after the President of Pakistan has made his statement, what the chances are of large numbers of refugees going back to East Pakistan. It would certainly be premature to involve the United Nations in that respect.

Mr. Kilfedder

No doubt my right hon. Friend is aware that I have recently returned from East Pakistan and West Pakistan. I am sure that he realises that, despite what was said by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), I made no public report that one of the tea planters had been killed. Would not my right hon. Friend agree with the excellent leading article in The Times today, in which it is clearly stated that one should encourage the Islamabad Government to seek a political solution, which is the only hope for East Pakistan? Also, does my right hon. Friend realise that unless food goes into East Pakistan by the end of July, famine will be widespread in the province?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir, I realise this. This is why it is essential that the United Nations team should make a recommendation soon as to what will be necessary to supply food to East Pakistan. There is the additional difficulty of broken communications, which, for example, makes the area struck by the cyclone inaccessible except by sea. We are considering these matters. The great thing now is that journalists will be able to move freely about East Pakistan, and we should, therefore, get a balanced picture. It has been very difficult to establish the facts before.

Mr. Torney

Would the Foreign Secretary agree that many of the refugees would probably go back to their homeland if Government troops were withdrawn? If he agrees with that, would he consider making representations to the Pakistani Government, and would he consider persuading them to accept replacement of their troops by a United Nations force?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

There must be a political settlement. There must be a civilian Government installed. It must be for that Government's administration to assess the situation. The hon. Member will recognise that only the army at the moment can deal with the distribution of food.

Mr. Crawshaw

The right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that the situation will get worse unless confidence is restored in that part of the country. Unless the people there have a feeling of confidence that if they remain their lives are not at stake, they will join the exodus of the other people and the money which we are giving will be of no use at all. Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman will not take the matter to the United Nations, he might be able to make some suggestions about impartial people being placed in the country, to restore confidence and stop the exodus.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that confidence must be restored. To ask the United Nations now to make suggestions within the political context would not contribute to the restoration of confidence.

Mr. Robert Hughes

One of the two missing British civilians, Mr. Chalmers, is a constituent of mine. I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement today, for the considerable efforts which he and the Foreign Office have made to try to find these men, and for keeping Mrs. Chalmers and myself informed. In view of the very great difficulties involved and the difficult job that the people in the area are doing at present, would the right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, consider sending from this country a special search mission to the border areas to try to find these men? Despite the appalling suffering which is taking place in that area, the suffering of the dependants of one person is very important, too.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I will consider any suggestion. We have everybody possible on the job of looking for these men. The Indian Government are co-operating because, although we do not know this for certain, it was on the Indian side of the frontier that they were last seen.

Mr. Julius Silverman

Am I correct in assuming that the Secretary of State said that when the supply of food is resumed to East Bengal it will be done by using the Pakistani Army as an agency for its distribution? If this is so, many of us would look at the situation very much askance and would fear that it would be used by the Army more as a method of politics and of discrimination than for the relief of famine.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The distribution of food will be supervised by the United Nations representative and his team. The hon. Gentleman should face the fact that as of today in Pakistan there is no other means of distributing food to the outlying districts than with the help of the Army.

Mr. Russell Johnston

As the Secretary of State says, a political settlement is absolutely vital in the end. Does the right hon. Gentleman see no scope for a joint Commonwealth intervention to assist the facilitation of a political settlement?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

That must be for the Government of Pakistan to say. The hon. Gentleman realises as well as I and everybody else does that Pakistan is an independent country. It must settle its own political future. Unless the political future is settled by Pakistanis it will not stick. If anybody can help, help is better given behind the scenes.