HC Deb 14 May 1971 vol 817 cc753-847

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

I beg to move, That this House, deeply concerned by the killing and destruction which has taken place in East Pakistan, and the possible threat of food shortages later this year, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to use their influence to secure an end to the strife, the admission of United Nations or other international relief organisations, and the achievement of a political settlement which will respect the democratic rights of the people of Pakistan. This Motion is a little more specific than Early Day Motion No. 509 which I tabled, calling on the Government to use all their influence to secure a cease-fire in East Pakistan. That Motion has been signed by 300 hon. Members, which I believe is a record for this Parliament, and it reflects the concern felt in the House and the country about the situation in East Pakistan. I hope that the change in the wording of the Motion will not detract from the support which that previous Motion gained. This second Motion only spells out in more detail what is implicit in the first—that there is a tragic situation in East Bengal, over which the British Government can and should exert some influence.

The nature and extent of the tragedy are well known. Estimates of the numbers who have died vary widely. The official estimate of the West Pakistan Government is that only 15,000 have died, but the lowest independent estimates start at 100,000, and many estimates are that over a million have died already. But whatever the numbers who have died, what is certain is that over 2 million people have thought that the situation in their country was so terrifying, that they have left their homes and taken refuge in India in absolutely appalling conditions.

On 22nd April, I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) visited a number of the refugee camps in West Bengal. The camps were appallingly overcrowded. They consisted of roofs of tarpaulins slung on poles, with corrugated iron laid on the ground and a straw mat on the top. The space allocation at that time was 10 ft. by 10 ft. per family. The camps are nearly all situated in flat, low-lying ground, and at the time that I was there the rains were just starting. Immediately one stepped off the corrugated iron, one was in soft mud.

The fact that thousands of families have been compelled to take up their residence here with the monsoon now starting, in circumstances in which the space where the camps are situated is likely to be flooded in the near future—if it is not flooded already—so that there will be barely enough standing room on dry ground for the numbers there, reflects the conditions from which the families fled.

The food in the camps was adequate, but that food is costing the Indian Government one rupee per head per day—about 6 new pence. When one reflects that over 200 million Indian citizens are living well below the standard of one rupee per head per day, one can appreciate that this is a strain which the Indian Government cannot possibly continue to bear by themselves for very long. It is essential that international aid be provided to help deal with the problem of the refugees, which is imposing a tremendous social and political problem on India, as well as a financial problem.

But, apart from the problem for the refugees in India, we can only speculate about the conditions of those still in East Pakistan. I made a brief visit into East Pakistan on 24th April, without the knowledge or approval of the Indian Government, as they had told me that they would be concerned for my safety if I went inside. I was anxious to see what I could of the areas held by the Bangla Desh.

I wanted, first, to get the story from the refugees, and the right hon. Member for Wednesbury and I spoke to a number of them in the camps. The stories they told were all extremely similar. I assure hon. Members that we were careful not to make stories from those who pushed themselves forward to tell us of the atrocities that had occurred. We went to speak with families who were sitting by themselves disconsolately, and we asked them why they had left their villages.

Time and again we were told the same story: troops of the West Pakistan military authorities had entered the village, which had not then been defended, had shot the men in the fields and killed the women and children and then, having killed a great number of people from the village, had burnt it down and left.

Inside Bangla Desh territory I met more refugees, who told me more or less the same story. These people were heading towards the Indian frontier. Their village, which was about four miles away from the point at which I met them, had been burnt down that morning. The refugees told us that crops were not being planted and that in the villages through which they had passed on their way to the Indian frontier, crops were not being planted, either. Only in areas controlled by the Bangla Desh was any planting going on.

It was abundantly clear that the hatred of the Punjabis, which has been generated in the last six weeks among the people of East Pakistan, who are overwhelmingly Bengali, is now so deep that it is quite impossible that Pakistan can ever again be one country.

There have, no doubt, been atrocities on both sides. War is a foul business and killing begets more killing. We have heard conflicting reports from many sources, and particularly from the British Press, of the nature of the atrocities. On 2nd May the Sunday Times carried an account which appeared to present the entire situation as one in which all the atrocities had been committed by Bengalis and it blamed the whole tragedy on a planned Bengali mutiny.

Whether that account was true—it was regrettable that a paper of the stature of the Sunday Times did not make it clear that the reporter who had presented the account was not only a West Pakistan national but the news editor of the Karachi News, which is controlled and owned by the West Pakistan Government National Press Trust—or whether the accounts of other, more independent, Western journalists are true, it is clear from all accounts and from the public relations statements which hon. Members will have received from the High Commission of West Pakistan, that the killing was started by West Pakistan forces, whether or not to prevent a possible mutiny.

That is the first point that is clear. The second is that fresh victories are being claimed with each day's handout. I received a release this morning, from which it appears that serious fighting is still going on. The third point is that the scale of the killing and of the hatred is such that Pakistan as a single State is now dead. In the words of Mr. Tajrddin Ahmed, Prime Minister of independent Bangla Desh: Pakistan is dead and buried under a mountain of corpses. It is possible to hold East Pakistan down only by large military forces.

I met the Prime Minister of independent Bangla Desh at an army camp inside East Pakistan. From the talks I had with him, and the second in command of the Bangla Desh Army, Major Osman, certain things became clear in my mind. The first is that the war will continue until West Pakistan is forced out. The second is that there is a capacity on the part of the Bangla Desh forces and the Awami league to organise and continue the guerrilla war, remembering that, according to what we have been told, the rural areas are still largely under the control of the Bangla Desh forces.

It is, of course, true that West Pakistan forces, with better equipment and superior fire power, can force a way through any area in which it chooses to take that course, as long as the bridges are not blown up. This country is dependent on bridges for is communications, and without bridges over the waterways progress would be difficult.

Basically, the administration in the rural areas is carried on by the Bangla Desh Army. They have substantial support from the population, which is overwhelmingly hostile to the West Pakistan forces. Indeed, it would be impossible for West Pakistan to administer this State in a satisfactory fashion.

The point stressed to me by the Prime Minister of independent Bangla Desh is that he is more worried by the threat of starvation and disease for the people of East Pakistan than he is by the military situation. He told me that approximately one-third of the country is not being planted and that the proportion is higher in the rice-growing areas, which are principally relied on for the food crop.

In any normal year East Pakistan imports between 2 million and 3 million tons of food grains. This year the West Pakistan authorities are not allowing in any imports. There has been destruction of stocks of grain, particularly rice, and there was the appalling damage caused by the cyclone last November.

The independent Bangla Desh Government are extremely aware of the danger of starvation that exists for millions of their people. They are trying to ensure that crops are planted, at least in the areas which they control, but many areas are far too dangerous for men to be willing to work the fields.

The next point which the Prime Minister of Bangla Desh impressed on me was that the Bengali people are deeply aggrieved at the fact that the rest of the world should be treating this situation as part of the internal affairs of Pakistan, and it was in this connection that I was reminded of the history of the establish- ment of Pakistan—of the Mountbatten proposals and so on.

The House will recall that originally there was a proposal that there should be a federation of three States, West Pakistan, East Pakistan and Assam, and then the rest of India. That was rejected, and then the Mountbatten proposals were put forward in 1947; for the legislative assemblies in each area to make a decision. In some areas there were referenda, but in East Bengal it was a voluntary decision of the Legislative Assembly to associate with West Pakistan in one country. It is that decision which the East Bengali people are now trying to rescind.

I was also reminded of the economic exploitation of East Pakistan by West Pakistan that has continued since Pakistan was set up. The information I now give the House is derived not from the Prime Minister of Bangla Desh but from independent sources, and I would refer in particular to an article in the Financial Times on 29th March.

In 1947 the per capita incomes of East Pakistan and West Pakistan were approximately equal. However, as a result of discrimination in the spending of aid, in the collection and spending of taxes, discrimination in jobs, with job preference for Punjabis, and the ban on trade between East Pakistan and India, which has resulted in East Pakistan losing its natural trading partner in West Bengal and West Bengal losing its natural market in East Pakistan, enormous economic hardship has been inflicted on the people of East Pakistan. Whereas prior to partition the per capita incomes were about equal, last year the per capita income of west Pakistan was 47 per cent. higher than that of East Pakistan.

It is not surprising that in the elections last year the Awami League, which had a programme for the economic autonomy of East Pakistan but within the State of Pakistan, gained 167 of the 169 seats, gaining 80 per cent. of the popular vote. As a result of this overwhelming victory, the Awami League is entitled to be regarded as the Government of the whole of Pakistan. It is not claiming that. However, as a result of what has happened—of the declaration of war at 11 p.m. on 25th March—it is claiming the right to represent the people of its own country—the people who overwhelmingly elected it.

The Prime Minister was anxious to see that his Government was recognised by other Governments and above all, because of the historical relationship, by Britain. I explained to him—and I think that he accepted and appreciated this—the difficulty of granting that recognition particularly since, unless and until the Bangla Desh forces control a large part of East Bengal, it may be necessary, in order to provide aid to the people of East Pakistan, for foreign Governments to work with the military Government of West Pakistan. They are desperately anxious that as the elected Government of their country they should be recognised as such. I was impressed by the calibre of those I met. The members of the Government were overwhelmingly liberal social democrats and I believe that I could match them person to person with Members in this House.

They are aware of the difficuties facing them in fighting a guerrilla war and retaining their social democratic ideals. It is difficult to be a guerrila and a liberal at the same time. I came away convinced that a long guerrilla war is inevitable. At the worst, if the West Pakistan authorities are more successful than they have hitherto been, it will be a guerrilla war conducted largely from bases inside India.

The Indian Government's attitude is a very correct one. I spoke to the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers in Delhi and they impressed upon me that they were aware of the dangers of getting into a conflict with West Pakistan and of subsequent involvement with China. Nevertheless, Indian public opinion would not permit the Indian Government, however much it might wish to do so—and I do not think it does—to seal the frontier.

Consequently it is inevitable that the refugee camps will become the bases from which guerrilla activity begins. That is liable to lead to a good many border incidents which could escalate dangerously, possibly into war. The fact that the Bangla Desh forces are pushed back to the frontier, will mean that the incidents will occur at the border and there will be a greater danger of the war being conducted from bases inside West Bengal. Unless action is taken this situation will result in a long and tragic war, with millions of deaths. However, it is a war which could be prevented. It is one in which economic sanctions might seriously and rapidly affect West Pakistan. West Pakistan has a large import bill. Its overseas debts are estimated at about £1,800 million. At the beginning of the war its reserves were about £35 million and it has already repudiated its liability for debt repayments of about £80 million due in May, postponing them until November, when even then it seems unlikely that it will be able to meet them.

Today's Times reports yet again on the acute financial crisis in West Pakistan. The article in this week's issue of Newsweek discusses this as did yesterday's Financial Times. The economy of West Pakistan is bankrupt, on the point of ruin. The war is costing the West Pakistan Government nearly £1 million a day. In these circumstances the rest of the world has a good deal of influence to exert. I urge that we should suspend all payments of aid while West Pakistan is fighting a war of this kind against East Pakistan. In any event, we should certainly not enter into any new aid commitments and we should appropriate instalments on existing debt commitments to the servicing of existing loans.

I hope that the British Government will press the aid consortium to apply similar sanctions to West Pakistan to suspend aid payments while the war continues. I hope that we will use our influence with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to ensure that they do not provide assistance to West Pakistan to fight what is clearly and undoubtedly an aggressive war against East Pakistan. We should end all military assistance and cease to provide any spare parts or ammunition, following the example of the United States Government. I hope that at the United Nations we will be joining with other countries in pressing for the admission of relief organisations and for the organisation of international funds to help with this relief problem and to ensure proper distribution. The relief handled by the West Pakistan Government and its military forces is likely to be used to feed the forces to help them kill more people rather than feed those who are starving.

Above all, we should be using whatever international pressure we can exert to compel West Pakistan to withdraw its troops from East Pakistan, to allow the Government of Bangla Desh, the Awami League, to take over the administration of East Pakistan. There is still a good chance of securing an independent East Pakistan under a moderate and responsible leadership. It will still be one of the poorest countries in the world but it will benefit enormously from freedom to trade with India. The goods and products for West Bengal are exactly those which East Bengal needs.

The desperate poverty in two of the poorest regions of the world would be alleviated at one stroke if East Bengal were free to trade. The longer the war continues the greater the poverty, the greater the distress, the smaller the chance of moderate and democratic leadership surviving and the greater will be the number of people who will die.

Mr. Speaker

A great many hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that those who do catch my eye will be reasonably brief.

11.27 a.m.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Richard Wood)

The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) has touched on a great many aspects of the recent wretched events in Pakistan. I hope that the House of Commons will forgive me for rising very early in this debate to join him in expressing the concern that we all feel at the suffering which, not tens or hundreds of thousands, but literally millions of human beings have undergone as a result of these recent events. I think that there will be general agreement today that we must try to do all we can to alleviate this human distress and to bring about the return of political and economic stability.

This House is naturally, and rightly, reluctant to debate the internal affairs of other countries, but in my opinion it is necessary to try to understand the background of the present situation to decide what our attitude should be. Anyone who travels from East to West Pakistan, or in the other direction, must be struck by the utter dissimilarity of the two parts of that country. It is a country which geographically, seems to be unique. On the other hand, if those two parts are visited, as I visited them during the Fast of Ramadan, I think it is equally evident how close the ties were between the two in the Muslim religion. Pakistan was founded on the establishment of an Islamic homeland for 100 million Muslims in the areas where they were clearly in the majority. Many hon. Members who have seen it for themselves would agree that it would be hard to exaggerate the difficulties inherent in the government of a nation divided into two parts at least 1,000 miles apart from one another. But these inherent geographical difficulties are only too well known and so, in the House, is the short history of independent Pakistan.

After the Presidency of President. Ayub Khan, martial law was again declared by the present President when he came to power in March, 1969. But the declared aim of President Yahya Khan has been the early transfer of power to a civilian democratic regime.

Last November I had the opportunity of meeting the President during the visit I paid to Pakistan immediately after the cyclone in the Ganges delta, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as the House knows, held discussions with him during his visit to Pakistan last January. I was convinced then—and I remain convinced today—that the President was wholly sincere in his desire to establish a civilian democratic government.

But the President insisted then, and has insisted since, that it was essential to maintain the unitary Islamic State of Pakistan. The results of the elections, which were the first in Pakistan to be based on universal suffrage, were clear-cut. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League won an overwhelming victory in East Pakistan and an overall majority in the Constituent Assembly. Sheikh Mujib and the League had long campaigned on the basis of a programme calling, among other things, for a large degree of autonomy in East Pakistan, with a relatively weak central government controlling only defence and foreign affairs.

As the House knows, after those elections there were preliminary talks between the President, Sheikh Mujib and Mr. Bhutto, the leader of the majority party in West Pakistan. As the House also knows, agreement unfortunately could not be reached, and after a long series of talks in Dacca, the President took military action towards the end of March.

As the hon. Member pointed out, there have been acts of brutality in East Pakistan committed—as he rightly said—by both sides in this dispute. This is the basis of our deep concern today at the loss of life and suffering in all sections of the East Pakistan community, in a country with which Britain and many people who live here have a great many ties, a country which is a fellow member of the Commonwealth and a country from which a great many people have come to live in Britain. It is because of these close ties, both past and present, that we tend to be more concerned with a country such as Pakistan than with other parts of the world.

In the disturbed situation that existed at the end of March and the beginning of April, it became necessary for us to help our own nationals resident in East Pakistan to leave the country if they thought it necessary to do so on the ground of safety. About 800 British citizens left the country under these arrangements.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) this week asked my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about the safety of Sheikh Mujib, and my right hon. Friend omitted to answer and has asked me to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to do so. This question, among a great many others, is a matter about which he has been in touch with the President of Pakistan, and our latest information is that the Sheikh is in custody in West Pakistan and that it is likely that he will be brought to trial, but we have no confirmation of reports that he has been flown back to East Pakistan.

I doubt whether there will be any substantial differences among us today about what is the immediate necessity in Pakistan, although I am perfectly clear that there will probably be deep differences upon the means by which that objective could be achieved. The only sensible objective is the re-creation of peace and stability in that country. We have made our interest perfectly clear to the Government of Pakistan, and that Government have made perfectly clear to us that they are wholly committed to this objective.

But for Her Majesty's Government, and for other Governments outside Pakistan, there seem to be three separate problems. The first is that of relieving distress and possible food shortage within East Pakistan; the second, as the hon. Member mentioned, is the problem of relieving suffering among the refugees who have crossed from East Pakistan into India; and the third problem is one of long-term development aid.

In his statement here on 11th April, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary repeated the readiness of Her Majesty's Government to play a part in any international relief effort, and he said on 11th May, after consultation with the American Secretary of State, that in our view this could best be organised through the United Nations. Therefore, a message was sent to U Thant suggesting that he should renew his offer of international assistance. U Thant is in touch with the Pakistan Government about the problems of relief with a view to their allowing a team of experts to make an objective appraisal of what is needed and accepting any assistance needed, on an international basis.

The second question to which the hon. Member devoted much of his speech is that of the very considerable number of refugees now in India. I am aware of the deep concern of the Indian Government about this matter, and I can express this Government's deep concern that the situation should be dealt with. The Indian High Commissioner discussed the situation with me only two days ago, and again the problem is to be quite sure about the actual needs that we must try internationally to resolve.

As the first step, as my lion. Friend has told the House, we made an immediate contribution by offering assistance to certain British charities to enable them to fly out relief supplies on 6th May. We are very glad that the charitable organisations have taken these steps, and I hope that that will continue. I understand that representatives of the charities—perhaps the right hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) and other hon. Members may be able to comment upon this—are now in India appraising the situation. I also understand that the Indian Government have approached the United Nations for assistance, arid that a team from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is also now in India. We shall await its report also with great interest. An international relief effort is clearly required. In our view, it must be handled by the United Nations in co-operation with the Indian Government.

The third problem I mentioned was the separate problem of the difficulties facing the economy of Pakistan and the aid which may be required to meet them. This is a matter which we are discussing with the World Bank and the other members of the Pakistan Aid Consortium to try to establish the conditions under which such aid might be more effectively provided.

I also discussed this recently with Mr. McNamara of the World Bank. It is clear to me that the other donors share all our anxieties and agree with us that the donor countries and institutions must act together. We are therefore hoping that a consortium meeting on Pakistan will before long be arranged, at which it may be possible to reach decisions on further aid.

When she intervened on Tuesday the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) mentioned the inequality between East and West Pakistan. The hon. Gentleman referred to this matter this morning. We and the other members of the consortium are very conscious of this and we had been laying plans long before these tragic events took place to spend the greater part of our aid in East Pakistan. It is not only we who reached this conclusion. When I was in Islamabad before I set foot in East Pakistan last November, I was made perfectly well aware of the intention of the Pakistan Government that the imbalance that had existed in the past, and which they recognise, should be redressed in the future. I remember that the phrase that was continually put before me was—"the necessary transfer of resources from West to East". Therefore, this is not something which we have thought up on our own it has the support of the Pakistan Government.

Our aid was to be directed particularly, as the right hon. Lady knows, into the Action Programme for Water and Agriculture Development which the World Bank had prepared last July. This is, as the right hon. Lady well knows, a very large and ambitious programme for irrigation and flood control throughout the country of a kind which is bound to be needed as a basis for any economic development.

After I returned from East Pakistan last autumn, we went some way in agreeing with the Pakistan Government what form our own British contribution to the Action Programme should take. We discussed various possibilities. Some were getting under way; but, as the House will be well aware, all this has now come to a halt. Our experts and consultants have had to be withdrawn from East Pakistan and the supply of British goods under our loans has been interrupted.

Hon. Members may have seen that the Export Credits Guarantee Department has been obliged to cease covering further export transactions to Pakistan. I am told that this is a step which has been taken with the greatest reluctance, but, given the Department's obligation to operate on a self-supporting basis, it is inevitable in the light of present economic conditions in Pakistan. Not only has the internal business of the country been disrupted by the disturbances but, much more serious, future export earnings are likely to be severely reduced. All this, coming on top of the strain of the earlier floods on an already delicate economy, must raise the gravest doubts about Pakistan's ability to continue to service her existing burden of foreign debt.

This existing economic difficulty which I have mentioned brings into focus a controversy which is likely to loom large in this debate. Her Majesty's Government are anxious, as I hope that I have already made clear, to resume, when it can be resumed, development aid to Pakistan. The hon. Gentleman argued, as no doubt other hon. Members will argue during the debate, that we should give no further aid to Pakistan unless President Yahya Khan agrees to certain specific action. Although aid may play a part in a general solution of problems, I profoundly disagree that it can be used as a lever to enforce a particular solution which observers here, thousands of miles from Dacca or Islamabad, with knowledge that must be incomplete, may wrongly think will contribute to peace.

Therefore, I would prefer to solve this dilemma in what I consider to be a more positive way. We are ready, I repeat, to resume aid for development, but we can clearly do so only if conditions are restored in which that aid could be effectively deployed. Therefore, it remains the view of Her Majesty's Government that a political solution in East Pakistan is necessary and that this must be a matter for the Pakistan Government and people to achieve. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been in touch with the President on a personal and confidential basis, asking him to work towards such a settlement. I am aware that the President intends to do so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has expressed our concern at the suffering in East Pakistan, which I hope I have adequately underlined this morning, and our hope that a settlement to the dispute will he achieved as soon as possible on a basis acceptable to all the parties to it.

I hope that it is clear from what I have said that I am not in any way giving advice to the House to take the step, which I think would be wrong, of voting against the Motion, which has given us an opportunity to have what I hope will be a useful and constructive discussion. The Government are aware of the concern of the House and especially the concern of a great many hon. Members who may have constituents with personal and economic ties with Pakistan. This is a concern which we fully share, and we intend to continue to work for a solution which will enable us to go on playing the part which we should like to play in the future development in the whole of Pakistan.

11.47 a.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

We are all grateful to my hon Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who raised this subject and who spoke so movingly and moderately about it. We are obliged to the Minister for Overseas Development for intervening early in the debate. We were glad to hear of the steps the Government have already taken with regard to the possibility of relief in the future—the dis- cussions they have had with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and with the charitable organisations.

There will remain, and it will become increasingly acute with every week that passes, the question of what will be the attitude of those who may happen to possess power in the afflicted areas—be they the authorities of West Pakistan or of Bangla Desh—towards the getting in and the administration of relief.

Similarly, as the Minister said, if aid is to be resumed and if it is to show that leaning towards the needs of East Pakistan which he described, the turning of these policies into realities will depend upon the reaching of a political solution in East Pakistan. We are therefore obliged to consider that aspect.

I know as well as anyone here the difficulties that beset a Government in that situation. There are many dissimilarities between this conflict and that in Nigeria, but there is one formal and legal similarity which has some importance. It is that in both cases this is a civil war in a Commonwealth country. I realise that the problem facing the United Kingdom Government is—how can we do anything useful without simply being subjected to the charge by Pakistan that we are interfering in its internal affairs and possibly finding that anything we do is counter-productive? I believe that there is one answer to that which I hoped that the Minister would give. It is to try to act through a Commonwealth framework. For Britain alone to try to act in a matter like this is to arouse all the suspicions that we are trying to be the imperial power again.

One of the reasons for building up the whole idea of the Commonwealth and for creating the Commonwealth Secretariat was that the Commonwealth nations can be in touch with one another in a way that ought not to provoke hostility or accusations of interference. I do not say this merely as a general or theoretical principle. Here is an instance where the Nigerian parallel is of some importance. I remember that early in 1969, at the time of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, Chief Awolowo was here in this country representing the Nigerian Government. There were also in London representatives of the secessionist régime. The British Government were able, against the background of the Commonwealth Conference, to get Chief Awolowo to agree to meet representatives of the secessionist regime under, in effect, Commonwealth auspices. It was very unfortunate that those representatives refused that opportunity. In that case, the country that was saying "This is our internal affair" was none the less prepared in a Commonwealth framework to discuss the possibilities of a settlement. I wonder whether the Government could not do a bit more than they have in trying to use the Commonwealth framework to promote a political settlement in this appalling dispute.

We should also remember that the Nigerian Government, despite their undoubted status as a sovereign State, were willing to have international observers accompanying their forces actually to watch how they behaved and to report to the world. They did not think it beneath their dignity as a sovereign State that that should be done. I do not know what might be the attitude of the Pakistan Government. But, in view of the example set by Nigeria, in view of the undoubted concern of people the world over at the fearful slaughter in Pakistan, I believe that this is something that they ought to be invited to consider.

I will not say more than this as I know that many others wish to take part in the debate. I suggest as moderately as I can that we thank the Government for what they have done so far about relief. I believe they may be assured of the full support of the House in any further steps which they may take to that end. I want only to suggest, in addition, that there is one line of political approach that perhaps has not been used as much as it might have been and that might possibly be fruitful.

11.52 a.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I too wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas Mann) who opened the debate in such a reasonable and statesmanlike way. I also wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development on what he has said in what inevitably had to be an extremely guarded speech. I think it is fair to draw the conclusion from what he said that the influences which we have will be brought to bear to see that a solution can be found.

It is with some emotion that I follow the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), after the times when we were in conflict over the Nigerian civil war. I, too, in a short speech would like to join with him in suggesting that there are other means whereby more can be achieved than merely through the United Nations or by this country acting alone.

There is no question that the present horrors in East Pakistan present a real problem which affects not merely the moral sense of the House but the whole question of stability in that part of the world. As the hon. Member for Kensington, North made clear, there are other forces trying to batten on the misery of people so as to disturb an area where absence of strife is essential for world peace. I regard this as a matter of real concern, not just because of the feeling we have for these people who are suffering—and many of us have friends in Pakistan—but because of the real danger that this could create to the stability of Asia. Therefore, just to rely on the United Nations to produce an improved situation is, alas, not enough. With our experience from the past, this effort would have to be on a larger and far more profound scale than has so far been envisaged by Her Majesty's Government.

Here I immediately join forces with the right hon. Member for Fulham. I believe that the Commonwealth Secretariat would have a real part to play, and I think that that should be invoked. But there are two other areas outside the United Nations where pressure could be brought and help could be made available to deal with the immediate problem of food distribution. I believe that under the CENTO pact—which, after all, is of great importance to Pakistan, and of which we and Turkey, among others, are members—a proposal should be made that engineering troops should be made available to deal with those problems which are essentially of an engineering nature and which are clearly beyond the possibility of the Pakistan Army to deal with. I believe also, as has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Fulham, that it should be put to the Pakistan Government that observers should be allowed to see that the food which is available is getting in and is being delivered.

Lastly, I believe that we have a position of responsibility and of importance, which has been touched on by my right hon. Friend, and that we should make it clear that it is impossible to extend aid until such time as the infrastructure is there for the reception of aid. I do not believe this is a threat. This is a matter of reality, and my right hon. Friend touched on it with a great sense of responsibility and of not pushing the point too far.

Quite apart from any humanitarian matter—and that affects us all as individuals—but as a House of Commons bringing influence to bear on our Government, we suggest that this country and our Government should not be timid in what they attempt to do. As a leading member of the Commonwealth, as a leading economic power and as possibly the most important and dynamic member of the CENTO pact, we have the opportunity of seeing that this terrible situation is controlled and does not become, as it so easily could, a menace to the peace of the world.

11.59 a.m.

Mr. Peter Shore (Stepney)

I join right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) on bringing his Motion before the House. I express thanks to him, also, and to other right hon. and hon. Members who have been to East Pakistan, so far as they were able to do so, and who have come back with first-hand accounts of what they found there. I pay that tribute for the simple reason that one of our great problems in assessing the situation is the "iron curtain" which has descended over East Pakistan for the greater part of the past six weeks.

We knew in detail the events which immediately preceded the seizure of power or the occupation of the various centres in East Bengal by the Pakistan army. We knew about events until then, and we knew, incidentally, that it was not a situation in which the leading political figures in East Bengal had declared independence but was one in which they were still insisting upon a political programme which they had put to the people in their own country and, indeed, to all-Pakistan elections.

Since then, however, and within a few days of the army's moves and attack in East Bengal, we have been deprived of systematic and continuing information. Correspondents were brought together and dispatched from the country at the earliest possible moment. Now, five or six weeks later, we are beginning to receive further reports as a number of correspondents, in tightly controlled conditions, have been allowed by the Pakistan army to see some part of what is happening.

I turn for a moment to the report which appeared in the Financial Times of Wednesday, 12th May, sent from Dacca the previous day by Mr. Harvey Stockwin. He wrote: All reliable and impartial sources are definite that the dead run into hundreds of thousands", and he reports that, De-urbanisation is continuing on a wide scale; the majority of workers continue to be absent from factories and peasants from their fields. In addition to these reports, such as they are, from inside East Bengal, we know of the great flood of human beings who have been driven to cross the frontier into West Bengal and into India.

Clearly, we are witnessing a catastrophe, and I have the unhappy feeling that the scale of it is much greater than we have yet begun to understand or believe. We have to ask ourselves, therefore, the difficult question—always difficult for a British Government in relation to what have previously been the affairs of not only a friendly country but a fellow member of the Commonwealth: what are our duties and obligations in respect of these events?

I have never been one who would lightly urge that we should, as it were, as a first priority in order in some sense to satisfy our own inner anxieties, act in any way which did not objectively help the true situation. In this case, however, after hearing several statements from the Foreign Secretary, and knowing that he has made private representations to the Pakistan Government, though believing, unhappily, that those private representations have had very small effect, at best, I feel that we are right to speak out, and plainly, about what is happening.

When I say "we", I mean virtually all Members of Parliament, and I hope, also, that the Government themselves, though perhaps not in quite such strong language, will see fit to express their views unmistakably, and in public.

This brings me to one part of the Minister's analysis of the events which led up to this tragedy with which I cannot agree. Very rightly, the right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the extraordinary construction of the State of Pakistan. So far as I am aware, no other State in the world has ever been divided in this way, one part separated from the other by over 1,000 miles. Such a State can be held together only by some strong common impulse.

That strong common impulse was there in 1947 and was represented by the Muslim faith. The truth now, after the 20 years or so which have elapsed since then, is that that common impulse has weakened and no new bonds of common purpose have been forged to take its place.

A State of this kind cannot he held together unless there is a will in both areas to keep it as one. That will, it seems to me, has been broken and is unlikely to arise again.

The point in the right hon. Gentleman's account at which he lost my assent and sympathy came when he told us of how negotiations had gone on. He said that President Yahya Khan had been interested at one stage in carrying out a transfer of power to a civilian democracy, and that is what he had wanted to do. Perhaps that is so. But at the very moment when that democracy emerged, the very moment when it appeared to have a will different from his own, he smashed it. That is his crime, his offence. He broke it. He could not stand the result and implication of what the people themselves wanted. It was as though, on 18th June last year, as we watched the numbers changing, we decided that we did not like the results of the General Election and called out the troops to make sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not have his present place on the Government Front Bench.

That is a crime, a crime against democracy. Let us state it clearly. I do not want to decide, any more than the right hon. Gentleman does, the future of that country, and whether it is to be two or one. What I want is that the people should decide, but they have been deprived of that right of decision by the action, the brutal action, of the Pakistan Army.

Having said that—I am amazed at my own moderation, for it is a horrible sequence of events which has taken place—I turn for a moment to consider the aims of our policy and what we can do. I fully understand what the Minister said about the use of our aid programmes, and I see the implications of his remarks. While accepting that aid programmes must not, as it were, simply be carried along by political judgments, he is saying that there can be no possibility of aid being resumed while the political infrastructure, as the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) pointed out, makes any kind of serious economic aid impossible to support. That must be so, and it is right that the Pakistan Government should understand it. As regards sending in aid for relief purposes, I agree that we must mobilise all the agencies and forces available to us. I warmly support the initiative taken with the United Nations, and I very much hope that it will succeed.

I also attach enormous importance—as, I believe, do the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone and my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart)—to the question of getting observers of one kind or another into the country. The pressure, the influence and the restraining effect that people who are free to move and witness events can have upon a Government, however insensitive it may be to internal opinion, can be very great. Indeed, the precedent established, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham reminded us, in the case of the Nigerian civil war was extremely important and one which, I hope, will be urged strongly upon the Pakistan Government to adopt.

Finally, I come to the question of what we can do and whom we can bring into this to bring, as it were, further pressure to bear in the right direction. The right direction must be a political solution—of that I have no doubt—and a political solution must, in the end, be one that the majority of the people themselves desire.

It should not be beyond the possibilities of vigorous diplomacy, looking now not only to the Commonwealth forum, not only to the forum of CENTO, in which we are both strongly based, but thinking also of the known views of so many of the great Powers, including the United States, the Soviet Union and India as an important neighbouring country, to find ways and means of bringing international pressure to bear, as diplomatically as any right hon. Gentleman wishes, with the purpose and aim of achieving peace, an end of the carnage and the restoration of the rights of the people of that land.

12.12 p.m.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)

Having listened to your reminder, Mr. Speaker, that we should try to keep our speeches short, I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not refer to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) but revert to the opening speech of the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for moving his Motion today.

Having listened to the hon. Member, there are only three points that I wish to make. The first—and I can understand how this happened—is that when the Motion refers to a cease-fire, although there may well be sporadic fighting, my information differs from that of the hon. Member in that I believe that to a large extent the active fighting on any scale has now died down, if it has not ceased altogether, in East Pakistan.

My second point is that with a nation of 60 million or more people—I am referring to East Pakistan—however many troops the West Pakistan Government can send, in the last resort it will be impossible to hold that country together by military force alone. Therefore, if it is to survive, as, I am sure, most of us at least would wish, we cannot do anything other than harm by urging that any future rejoining of the two halves is out of the question. The political consequences, which have already been mentioned, are all too clear for anyone who wants to see: namely, that the creation of an impoverished and stricken East Pakistan as a separate nation State today—let us not forget that it has no wish to go to India, even though it may not currently have any wish to go to West Pakistan—would be a sore which had repercussions far outside its borders.

We do not need to look far to think of the countries which would immediately take advantage of such a situation. Incidentally, India would be one of the first losers from the standpoint of her own stability. Therefore, even with all the difficulties, our aim should be to try to heal the wounds and keep Pakistan all together, if possible, rather than face a fait accompli that the damage is already irrevocable.

My only other remark in this context is that I deplore the suggestion, which I find wholly illogical, that we should suspend all aid to Pakistan. That would be the converse of what hon. Members are trying to achieve, because facts are facts and the only effective way at present to get aid to East Pakistan is with the concurrence of the West Pakistan authorities. They are in charge in Dacca, Chittagong and the other ports and the airfields.

Therefore, if we were to use a form of indirect sanctions by cutting down aid to Pakistan as a whole, and West Pakistan had to tighten its belt even further, there would be even less aid available for East Pakistan. Rather should we be bending our efforts—this was why I listened with respect to my right lion. Friend—to increase the aid from international and other sources to West Pakistan by doing our level best to ensure that a right and fair proportion goes for the benefit of East Pakistan. That is the way to tackle the situation rather than to threaten to withdraw aid, which would certainly not have the effects that some would wish.

This is as tragic an occasion for me as it is for anyone else, because no one in the House has closer personal ties than I have with Pakistan, dating back over more than one generation as regards the Muslim community in the subcontinent, which I remember from childhood from my father, who was a great personal friend of Jinnah.

I do not think that we do a service by twisting the history of Pakistan and forgetting two factors. The first is that this country, and all parties in it, bears a great responsibility for the creation of Pakistan. To talk now about its absurdity is to forget that, to a large extent, Britain was responsible for creating this State. Having said that, however, it should be added that it was also in accord with the wishes of the people. One must go back far further in history to understand what might seem to be a ridiculous thought geographically that the two main Islam communities on the Indian subcontinent wanted to come together, as they did. To do that—and I have no wish to raise the temperature about Indian history—one must go back scores, sometimes hundreds, of years to appreciate the tensions between Hindu and Muslim. These are facts of history.

In what is now East Pakistan, there was a great feeling that the people wanted to become part of an Islam Muslim community and escape the previous economic domination of the Hindus. This is a historic fact which led to the demand for Pakistan to be equally strong from the east as it was from the west at the time of its creation. The fact that since then there have been undoubted faults and mistakes—which, I must admit, I have always found West Pakistanis ready to admit—in which the greater amount of concentration of economic progress has come to the West, is undeniable. To say that, however, is no excuse for saying that because of that we should not try to reach a reasonable solution, in which obviously West Pakisstan will have learned its lesson in this respect as well as anyone else.

As the right hon. Member for Stepney gave a little of his interpretation of recent constitutional history, I have decided that it is fair to put on record exactly what happened that led up in a constitutional sense to the appalling tragedies that we have been witnessing. Sheikh Mujib himself agreed to a legal framework before the elections were held. It was the framework which he and the Awami League accepted unanimously and without question as the basis on which they would fight the election.

I shall quote only one sentence from that framework: The Federal Government shall have adequate powers, including legislative, administrative and financial powers, to discharge its responsibility in relation to external and internal affairs and to preserve the independence and territorial integrity of the whole country. Sheikh Mujib's party having won a decisive victory at the election, I should like to mention one or two of the points in the programme which he then put forward.

On a national currency, he said that there might be two freely convertible separate currencies, or possibly one currency for the whole could be maintained. That is not very serious. A separate banking preserve was to be made for East Pakistan. There was to be a separate fiscal and monetary policy for East Pakistan. On taxation, the federating state should have exclusive authority to levy all taxes and duties within the area. The Federal Government would have no tax levying authority. In regard to external trade, everything to do with it including drawing up trade treaties and the maintenance of overseas trade missions was to be in separate hands.

Does that really accord with the legal framework for maintaining the integrity of the country? Could any sovereign State accept that as forming the foundation of a separate State? That list shows the compelling reasons why, when these points were put forward, General Yahya and his advisers decided that the legal framework upon which the elections had been fought had been abandoned. Although it has been said that he made no attempt, even then, to reach agreement, I was glad that my right hon. Friend paid tribute to the serious way in which he tried to reach a compromise. When Sheikh Mujib refused to go to the Federal capital to discuss matters, General Yahya flew to Dacca to try to persuade him on the spot to co-operate. No head of Stale could have gone further. Instead of summoning Sheikh Mujib to the capital, he made two separate flights to East Pakistan. It was only when he became convinced that there was no intention to maintain the unity of the State, on which the elections had been fought by mutual agreement, that the war broke out.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

But did not Sheikh Mujib succeed in getting not only an overwhelming majority of the people of East Pakistan to support him, but also an overall majority in the whole Legislative Assembly?

Sir F. Bennett

I think that that intervention shows how unwise it is to give way to an hon. Member when one is making a reasoned case. I did not say that. I said that Sheikh Mujib fought the election on a previously agreed legal framework to which he showed subsequently that he was not prepared to adhere. He won the election in his half of the country decisively, and it is true, because there are more voters in East Pakistan, that he had a majority in the whole of Pakistan. But the situation cannot be compared with similar circumstances in the United Kingdom. The Awami League did not win one single seat in the whole of West Pakistan, and the only way that the country could be kept together was on the basis either of fighting it out or of accepting the legal framework and reaching a compromise.

The people of Pakistan are intensely proud. They are well aware that theirs is a wholly independent country in the Commonwealth. They are also aware that their difficulties have been caused in part by Britain, which was responsible for the creation of the country. We must be extremely careful not to make the situation worse by attempting to bring influence to bear, or even, however well meaningly, moralising in this House.

I want to try to end the misery, and not merely make points blaming one side or the other. I have sedulously avoided doing that. Immediately the Government of one State appears to interfere in the affairs of another nation State, the result is nearly always counterproductive. A Pakistani asked me the other day how we in this House would feel if one of the first debates in the newly-elected Pakistan legislature were aimed at using its best influences to end the trouble in Northern Ireland. That may not seem to be a parallel to us, but it does to the Pakistanis. The same would apply to the French in Canada. The Federal Government in Canada are always careful to rebut outside influence. We saw what happened with General de Gaulle's interference, and the trouble that that caused in Quebec. If we want to help, we must not take up sides. We must concentrate on giving the maximum aid. If any initiative of ours suggests in any way that we are trying to interfere, we shall make matters worse.

I understand that there is a real prospect if the present increasing calm develops in East Pakistan, that the President of Pakistan seems to be inclined to call together the provincial assemblies of both the East and the West. If and when that moment arrives, it seems to be well on the cards that there will be no need for fresh elections but that the points in the legal framework will be carried out and maintained by the members who were elected for the Awami League in the provincial assembly. If that happens, it will be a good start to the restoration of normality in the country.

I have already said what we can do to help. The way to do it is not by cutting aid or by any form of sanctions. We must increase our aid and ensure that it goes in full measure to East Pakisstan. I welcome the idea of an initiative by the Commonwealth Secretariat, because that was a chance of doing what no independent country in the Commonwealth could achieve. I hope that we shall support that concept.

I can see a very good case, too, for British Members of Parliament who are genuinely interested in the situation going there. There are grounds for thinking that Pakistan has it in mind to encourage such a visit from this country before long on a non-party basis. However, if that initiative should come about, the worst possible move would be for the visiting Members of Parliament to go first to India and then to East Pakistan. In view of the undoubted tensions over Kashmir, and so on, any visit to India must be a separate initiative. The same group of Members of Parliament must not first visit India and then cross to East Pakistan. If that were to happen, any positive good would be undone.

The events in East Pakistan are appalling. I am passionately convinced that the more that we try to heal the wounds, not deliver strictures, the greater the service that we shall do not only to East Pakistan but to the security of Asia as a whole.

12.29 p.m.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

The whole House is grateful to my hon Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) for opening this debate and for the moving and well-informed speech that he made. Hon Members taking part in the debate have followed the lead that my hon. Friend set in that respect.

The Pakistan disaster has two aspects. The first, and the one which is most fresh in our minds, is a colossal human tragedy, and the second is a tremendous political danger. The world is still so stunned by the human tragedy not yet to be fully alert to some of the long-term political dangers, which could bring even greater human tragedies than we see today.

The scale of the human tragedies we cannot yet fully appreciate. We know the scale of the refugee problem in India. Over two million people—roughly the population of New Zealand or of Israel—have moved away from their homes and out of their country in the last few weeks to live in what they regard as greater security. The cost of looking after these refugees is estimated by the Indian Government at about £140 million a year. Yet the refugees are still said to be leaving East Pakistan at the rate of about 60,000 a day. The Indian Government have estimated that the number could reach five million, unless the flow stops in the near future or is reversed.

We have very few details so far about the scale and nature of the problem inside East Pakistan because administration and communications have pretty well collapsed throughout that territory. But we know that there are large areas of chaos outside the cities and that some cities have become largely depopulated as a result of recent events. We have heard terrifying stories of communal violence. There have been appalling massacres—by no means carried out by one community only. We know that fear is the dominant factor in society throughout the territory. The result is a risk of widespread famine affecting 70 million or 75 million people and accompanying disease. This is the human problem.

I think that all right hon. and hon. Members in this House recognise that the immediate problem is relief of this human suffering. We all agree with the Government that relief is far too big a problem for one country alone, or even for one group of countries. The only agency which can hope to collect and administer relief on the scale required by the tragedy is the United Nations. We welcome the fact that the Government have already asked the Secretary-General to intervene, and so, I understand, here the Indian Government, concerning the problem in West Bengal. Immediate action by the United Nations in West Bengal could be effective The Indian Government have said that they want United Nations help and that they are capable of helping to administer any relief supplies which are sent.

East Pakistan is still a bit of a mystery. I think that the Minister said that the Secretary-General was in touch with President Yahya Khan, but, as I understood him, no agreement has yet been reached about the reception of a United Nations team. The tragedy in East Pakistan is (that, even if the Pakistan Government are willing to receive United Nations aid, the physical problem of distributing it is likely to be appallingly difficult.

We know, for example, that in that part of East Pakistan which is still suffering from the disastrous floods of last November the lives of 41 million people depend on relief supplies from outside. Yet 150,000 tons of those supplies are at this moment held up in Chittagong and there appears to be no way of getting them to those in need.

We also know that when the International Red Cross sought to send an aircraft to Dacca immediately the scale of the current tragedy became known, the Pakistan Government refused to allow it to land. The United Nations must have an immediate chance to evaluate the problem and to make recommendations on how to meet it. We would all wish the Government to use their influence on President Yahya Khan to reach agreement on this in the near future.

Several hon. Members have speculated about the proper role of the United Kingdom in these events. The Minister said that we have an historic connection with Pakistan; we have many human ties. We were responsible for the 1947 settlement which brought Pakistan into being. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) was not historically accurate when he said that it is impossible for a State whose components are separated by 1,000 miles to survive.

Mr. Shore

I did not say that.

Mr. Healey

It is possible for this to happen. It happens in the case of Malaysia and the United States, where Hawaii and Alaska are States separated by large distances. We all hope it will happen with the United Arab Republic. But we know from our own history that if a State has components widely separated, it is vitally important that the Government responsible should show the same respect for the interests and aspirations of the distant component as for those nearer at hand. We learned this problem the hard way in the 18th century, or the United States of America would not exist.

We are also an ally of Pakistan in S.E.A.T.O. and CENTO. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that we are not sending any arms to Pakistan and would not propose to do so until we are satisfied that this tragedy is mov ing towards a solution.

As has been said by several hon. Members, Britain, as the ex-Imperial Power, is in a difficult position. We have no right to decide what the Pakistan Government should do. Any advice we give may perhaps often be less welcome than advice which comes from others. As the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said, our experience in Northern Ireland shows that even with good will and Government power it is not always easy to solve a problem which derives from communal and religious differences. Certainly a nation which produced Lord North has no right to pride itself on a unique political wisdom in dealing with this type of problem.

Nevertheless, while we recognise that the Government must inevitably in some areas confine themselves, as the Foreign Secretary said the other day, to private representations, the nature of our connections with East Pakistan and our responsibility there give hon. Members who are not members of the Government both the right and the duty to express their concern a little more directly.

The central problem, identified by several hon. Members, is that there is no possibility of distributing relief on the scale required and of giving effective economic aid to Pakistan unless that country is moving towards a political settlement of the problems in East Pakitan. I confess that I believe that the re-establishment of what might be described as normal administration in East Pakistan will be slow and difficult, even after a political settlement.

There is one issue on which I disagree with my hen. Friend the Member for Kensington, North. I think that he exaggerates the ability of even an independent Government in East Pakistan to cope with the administrative and social problems which it is certain to inherit. One central fact about the way that this tragedy came about is that the Awami League which, as has been rightly said, received overwhelming support—167 out of 169 seats—was neither politically nor administratively prepared for secession or for independence. Indeed, if it had been, as General Chaudhuri, writing as a disinterested Indian observer, wrote the other day, the course of events might have been very different indeed.

The situation which any Government would inherit now—a situation in which a large part of the police, a large part of the army, and a large number of civil servants in East Pakistan, have been killed—is one which is bound to tax the abilities even of groups of people far more experienced, skilled and prepared than the political leaders in East Pakistan are likely to be. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the central point is that the people of East Pakistan gave an overwhelming vote of confidence to the Awami League in the recent elections, and this cannot, and must not, be ignored by anyone concerned with a political settlement.

I hope very much that the Pakistan Government will not put Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on trial. It seems to me that if they were to do that they would make any political settlement totally impossible. Worse than that, other leaders of the communities in East Pakistan would be bound to appear. Indeed, the destruction of the existing political elite in that territory would make any sort of peaceful settlement absolutely impossible. I hope that the Government will do what they can to present those considerations to the Pakistan Government. It seems to me that if there is to be progress, a far better act would be to release Sheikh Rahman and to invite him to accept responsibility for helping to solve the problem.

My second point is that if there is not rapid progress towards a political settlement, the overwhelming probability is the collapse, for a very long time, of any sort of organised government and, indeed, in many respects, of organised society in East Pakistan. The anarchy that would attend such a collapse would be profoundly tragic and dangerous, not only for the people of East Pakistan or, indeed, of East and West Pakistan, but for the whole of the sub-continent. We know that stability is fragile in West Bengal, and one shudders to think of how infection might spread throughout that part of the world if there were a total collapse of government in East Pakistan.

That leads me to my third point, which is the threat to peace. I do not think it can be denied that if there is not a rapid and early movement towards a restabilisation of the situation based on a political settlement in conformity with the known wishes of the people, there will be a real risk of further clashes—there have been one or two clashes between the Armed Forces of India and Pakistan—and certainly the tragedy of communal strife will continue. If the present situation continues, there is a risk, not just of the Indian and Pakistan Governments becoming directly involved in a conflict with one another, but with Russia and China having taken sides on the issue—China supporting the Pakistan Government, and Russia supporting the Indian Government and criticising the Pakistan Government—of a real threat to stability in the whole of Southern Asia.

Against that background, I should like to say a few words on the problems in order of priority. First, there is the problem of relief. I hope we all agree—and perhaps the Minister will say something about this if he seeks leave to speak again—that the critical thing is to get the United Nations aid moving and to persuade the Pakistan Government to accept the Secretary-General's offer.

I hope that the British Government will make a generous contribution to United Nations aid, and so set an ex- ample to the rest of the world. I know the Minister would not claim that the £18,000 already given is anything like commensurate with the scale of the problem, and again I hope that, as the country which has some historical responsibility for, and close human ties with, Pakistan, we shall set an example which is commensurate not only with the scale of the problem but with what we hope others in the world will give.

There is something in the idea put forward by the Hon. Member for Torquay that a parliamentary delegation might be sent to that area. I should not care to say whether it should be the same delegation that visits both West Bengal and Pakistan, but it seems to me that not only should we inform ourselves better as a Parliament if we were able to send an all-party delegation, but that those who go might be able, on their return, to generate more public interest in the problem of relief and in the problem of a settlement.

The next problem, beyond the immediate problem of relief, is that of aid. I fully accept what the Minister said. We cannot dictate the nature of a settlement, but I think that we can, and must, insist on visible progress towards a settlement as a condition of effective aid. After all, as has been said, the E.C.G.D. has already been compelled, by its own charter, to refuse to guarantee credits for Pakistan because the physical conditions do not exist which would justify that, and I think I am right in saying that the International Bank and the International Monetary Fund are both differently bound by the statutes which set them up to insist on certain conditions as justification for aid. This is not a question of political strings in the vulgar sense. It is a question of institutions which are spending the money of their taxpayers all over the world in giving aid having to insist, in duty to those who contribute the funds, that the situation in the recipient country exists which will allow aid to be used effectively, and there is no question but that we have the right, and the duty, to insist at least on that.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North about cutting off aid altogether. I hope that I interpreted the Minister correctly when he said that the bulk of aid now given by Britain is being concentrated on projects in East Pakistan. In the light of the two tremendous hammer blows which that territory had suffered—first the floods last year, and now this tragedy—we should insist that aid which is given, either by ourselves or by international organisations to which we contribute, is concentrated largely in East Pakistan.

Mr. Wood

I should not like the House to be under any misapprehension. That is our firm intention, and in that we are supported by the Government of Pakistan, but, as the right hon. Gentleman is explaining, and as I tried to explain, until conditions in East Pakistan are restored to relative tranquillity, it will be impossible for us to make progress with our programme.

Mr. Healey

I accept that, and if my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) takes part in the debate perhaps she will follow that up.

The next matter is the critical importance of United Nations involvement. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), that the Commonwealth Secretariat might well have a useful role to play, but there could be special difficulties in involving the Commonwealth, because the largest Commonwealth country in the area is India, and it could be that on this issue the United Nations has a better chance of obtaining acceptance than a Commonwealth organisation, but it is worth trying.

Given the scale of the problem, the human problem, and the nature of the political dangers which could follow if there is not rapid progress towards a settlement, it seems to me that the involvement of the United Nations is vital. This is the only way, in the short run, of alleviating the suffering caused by the recent tragedy. I believe that the involvement of the United Nations is the best hope of preventing the present tragedy from developing into an international conflict and so threatening the peace of the world. The involvement of the United Nations might help to create conditions for more rapid progress towards a political settlement.

In this respect, the precedent is not so much Nigeria as the Congo. Indeed, the more one thinks about the Congo problem, the closer the analogies appear. The big difference, of course, is that the Congo tragedy was caused by the abdication of an imperial power, while the tragedy in East Pakistan is caused by the collapse of a post-imperial settlement for which we in Britain had a major responsibility. This, if nothing else, justifies the concern which all of us are showing in this tragedy.

12.51 p.m.

Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)

Like all other speakers in this debate, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) on the terms in which he moved his Motion and on the opportunity which he has provided for us of discussing this vitally important matter.

For me, this is a moving debate, because I have, by birth and association, long been involved in the affairs of the sub-continent, particularly Bengal. More than a quarter of my life has been spent in that part of the world. I was born there, I have earned my living there. The earliest tongue I learned, other than my own, was Bengali: although I would not choose to be cross-examined in it now—it is very rusty—it has given me a deep personal concern with this part of the world, where, if I were not in my own country, I would feel more at home than anywhere else I know.

There was a follow-up to this, because, in a previous incarnation, when I was for a time Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, I was involved in the signing of the Indus Basin Agreement with India, Pakistan and other countries and the World Bank, which I believe to have been the most fruitful single act of co-operation between those two countries—India and Pakistan—which has ever been contrived since their independence, and from which those of us who signed it hoped would spring a new era of co-operation and mutual trust.

I said that I have the deepest sympathy with the people of East Pakistan in the terrible dilemma and the appalling catastrophe in which they now find themselves. Equally, I can see that the Government of West Pakistan, faced with the imminent threat, and fact, of an attempt at secession, had to act drastically at the time—I do not condone the excesses which we believe have occurred—if they were not to be overwhelmed and faced with a hopeless long war of reconquest or a fait accompli.

It is a thousand pities that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman felt himself unable to accept the new constitutional arrangements which were the basis of the general election which he so handsomely and overwhelmingly won in his own province. This was an end to the long period of martial law which was the only administration known to Pakistan. There was no constitution. The whole object of holding this general election for a constituent assembly was to make it possible, at long last, on a one-man, one-vote basis which we can understand and applaud, to set up a genuinely democratic constitution, with five provinces, of which East Pakistan would be one, and with the old discriminations against East Pakistan, which have been the subject of a number of speeches today and which I fully accept existed, removed. If only he had been content to go ahead with this, he could well have become the first Prime Minister of a democratically elected Pakistani Government. Indeed, the President of Pakistan is on record as having said that he foresaw this possibility.

But the chance was cast away, for reasons which are perhaps not our concern. Rahman chose to opt for U.D.I. by putting forward conditions which went beyond those on which the general election had been fought, including the demand for virtual secession, which was certainly not put to the people of East Pakistan in the election, and which went so far that no central government could accept it.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) that a de facto cease-fire has already occurred. This is not to say that sporadic fighting, shooting, looting, border incidents and the like do not go on, but I believe that the army is in pretty firm control of the situation.

Despite reports to the contrary, I believe that things are beginning to return to normal. Chittagong port and its installations are operative again, which means that exports are now beginning to leave the country. People are trickling back to the town, work is restarting and, contrary to what has been said in this debate, I believe that the effect on the rural population and the cultivation of their land which is so vital to the food supply has not been as catastrophic as appeared. I believe that cultivation is going on.

Nevertheless, although the formal war—if we are right to call it that—may be over, despite the desperate efforts of emigré groups and various individuals to maintain that it is still going on, an appalling problem of rehabilitation and political settlement remains.

We must turn our minds to the future. Pacification, if it can be achieved, and a return to normality will take time. These wounds will not be healed readily, but two great tasks lie ahead. The first, clearly, is relief and rehabilitation, and the second is a political settlement which has some hope of enduring.

On the first, the main problem is the restoration of communications, which is much more acute and urgent than the actual question of the availability of food and medical supplies—important though that is. The West Pakistan Government have said that the food supply position is not yet critical, but the distribution is.

Therefore, I hope that the Government of Pakistan will be more flexible than they have been up to now in allowing in relief teams through whichever agency—the United Nations, the Commonwealth or C.E.N.T.O. All sorts of suggestions have been made along these lines. I like the CENTO suggestion, because, unlike ourselves, the powers involved are basically Muslim powers, and this could count in dealing with a highly emotional situation like this.

But I hope that the Pakistan Government can be more flexible in the way in which they would be prepared to deal with possible teams of observers, in order to ensure that the supplies diverted for this purpose were properly and promptly distributed and to the right sort of recipients. I would urge them to consider this very seriously. I know that matters of national pride are at stake here and how prickly we can all be about them, but the important thing is to get the relief going and doing the task that it is intended for.

As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, if aid is being provided from international sources on a very large scale, it is reasonable and proper that those who supply that aid should be satisfied that the proper and intended use is being made of it. If I am right in thinking, and I am sure I am, that the immediate requirement is to get communications going again, then this means the provision of, for example, cement, railway lines and flat-bottomed boats, which are particularly useful on the myriad of creeks and rivers which are characteristic of the country, and we should not waste resources by supplying things that are not needed.

In the recent hurricane disaster on the coast of East Pakistan an enormous consignment of babies' milk bottles was included in the aid, teats and all. Everyone knows that every child in Pakistan is breast fed. The recipients of these bottles did not know what to do with them. I accept that this was a well-intentioned mistake. However, it is important to see that the right kind of aid goes in, and initially it must be designed to restore communications, rebuild railways, culverts and bridges and so on.

As for a political settlement, I am firmly on the side of those who say that there is no conceivable viability in an independent East Pakistan. [Interruption.] The idea of a separatist Muslim group, starting with no resources, with minimal means of administration and surrounded by the India from which 25 years ago they were so anxious to be separated, does not make any sense at all.

The whole historical reasons for East Pakistan's existence, and this is still true, is the traditional fear of continued domination by a Muslim community; by an enormous surrounding Hindu majority. A quarter of a century has elapsed since Pakistan was set up, but in my experience, which is considerable, nothing that I have heard or seen or have learned from friends and official and unofficial sources suggests that there is any real fundamental change of attitude in that state of affairs. I wish there were.

Mr. Julius Silverman

Is it not a fact that there are today in India 60 million Muslims who prefer to remain in that country, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees who are now pouring into India? Does not that contradict the hon. Gentleman's statement?

Sir R. Thompson

Not at all. There has always been a very large resident Muslim minority in India. It was there long before partition and independence. Those people have their roots firmly established there and nothing is likely to change that position.

However, in East Pakistan we have a homogeneous group of Muslims, over 80 million of them, and one of the most difficult points to overcome in the past, when the independence of India was being hammered out, was the absolute insistence, in which the Bengali Muslims were pre-eminent, that they should have their own enclave and be linked politically to their Islamic brothers in the West. Although time may change these things, it will need a great deal of time. A quarter of a century has proved to be nothing like enough.

This fear remains and I am sure that total independence for East Pakistan which is advocated by some people, would undo at a stroke the whole bedrock and reasoning behind the setting up of the original Muslim State. There is no economic or strategic basis on which such a State could conceivably prosper. Although we are conscious of the fact that East Pakistan has been underprivileged and neglected, this neglect and poverty does not stem from independence.

For centuries East Pakistan has been traditionally poor, backward and mainly agrarian. We used to say that they grew the jute while Calcutta reaped the profits. That is still true. The industrial complex around Calcutta has profited from industrialisation and, on the whole, West Pakistan has profited while the illiterate peasants in the East have continued to live at subsistence levels.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)

The House has enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman's experience in this part of the world. Is it not a fact that West Pakistan has continued to treat East Pakistan as some sort of poor relation? Is it not also a fact that a political solution is virtually impossible while the economic resources, in so far as they exist, in East Pakistan continue to be used for the profit and benefit of West Pakistan—in other words, while the West continues to treat the East as a sort of colony?

Sir R. Thompson

I am familiar with that argument. I am saying that the poverty in East Pakistan vis-à-vis the rest is not wholly attributable to the setting up of Pakistan as an independent country. It goes back much further.

It has often been urged that one of the reasons for the difficulty is the economic disparity between the two. I am satisfied that the Pakistan Government have at last hoisted this one in. Certainly in seeking to set up a democratic constitution and in accepting that the results of a general election could mean East Pakistan having a majority of elected representatives over the whole country—

Mr. Bidwell

What about the suppression?

Sir R. Thompson

This was the safeguard that would have redressed that position and if it had been given a chance to work I am certain that, in the end, it would have redressed it.

Mr. Bidwell

Redressed bloody military suppression?

Sir R. Thompson

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views on this subject. This is not a new problem. It started with the independence of Pakistan as a whole. We have realised for a long time that East Pakistan was not getting the full benefit from the export of jute, on which the economy of that area is dependent.

It was intended that this should be redressed, but a chance has not been given for that to happen because of this rebellion. However, it can still happen. I am hopeful that if the Government will now permit the rehabilitation and aid programme to get under way and will turn to the elected representatives of East Pakistan—many of whom survive; some of them are moving to co-operate with the Government in reforming and setting up the administration—the future can still be fair.

The proposals outlined in the legal framework of the Order for the new Constitution include the concept of one man one vote, a wide devolution of authority to five provinces and the realisation by the Government that East Pakistan has had less than its share of public works and expenditure. I believe that the balance can be redressed and a reasonably satisfactory outcome secured, with a new constitution being drawn up to replace the old martial law. This is the best prospect of reconciliation and eventual stability for Pakistan, and I conclude by quoting some words of the President, who said—and I am sure that he was being absolutely sincere—on 25th March of this year: Let me assure you that my main aim remains the same—namely, the transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people. As soon as the situation permits, I will take fresh steps towards the achievement of this objective.

1.10 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I, too, would like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) on introducing this debate, and to extend my gratitude to him. I join with him in expressing the horror which all hon. Members share at what has happened, what is happening and what will happen if nothing is done. I was particularly grateful to him for pointing out earlier that this was a somewhat unfamiliar situation, since, if we are faced with any kind of revolution at all, it is not a Marxist or Socialist revolution, but a good old-fashioned 19th century Liberal revolution. Perhaps we have lost the knack of dealing with it.

There is a grave danger that this debate will be simply an expression of horror, simply a matter of saying, "Well, there is nothing concrete we can do". There has been running through some of the speeches, and, before the debate, through some of the reactions to this event, even a feeling that there is nothing we should do, that we are no longer an Imperial Power, that pax Britannica is dead, if it ever existed—which is somewhat doubtful—and that therefore we should stay out of it, with due expressions of horror, alarm and agony.

I do not believe that the fact that we are a post-Imperial Power means that we must spend our days continually passing by on the other side. If we can act, we have a moral duty to do so, and our desire and determination to do so is an honourable reaction and not just a post-Imperial twitch. The Pakistan situation is important, not only in human terms and because it raises immense human sympathies, but because it is a microcosm of the problems faced by the world. These are problems of overpopulation, hideous poverty, starvation, the continuance of community violence and the tremendous problem of what exactly we mean by self-determination.

As has been said, anyone who looks at the map of Pakistan can see that the country has inherent geographical contradictions. It is perhaps not geographically unique because there are other countries which have at least as wide a spread between their component parts. When looking at a country as geographically divided as this, all history cries out that it is impossible for the two parts to hang together simply through religion alone. There must be a community of interest and I do not think that it is an over-Marxist interpretation of history to say that there has to be, first and foremost, an economic community of interest.

There is not, and there has not been for some years, in the Pakistan situation that kind of community of interest between the two component parts. The State depended for its foundation and existence on a fear, even a hatred, of India. East Bengal has for obvious reasons no great interest in such fear or hatred now. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) raised the point that 25 years ago it was different. Of course it was. But one of the factors in that difference was—and this is my reading of our imperial history, if it is not his—that we used the religious division between these communities to divide and rule the whole of the Indian sub-continent. To a large extent we whipped up, just as we have done in Ireland over the years, for our own imperial reasons the division between the two communities.

Sir R. Thompson

I can assure the hon. Gentleman he is quite wrong. We wanted the unitary state in the Indian sub-continent. We jolly nearly got it, and it was only because we were at a state of total deadlock where we could not withdraw from the sub-continent, without leaving some effective government behind that we had to settle, against our better judgment, but because it was the best thing that could be achieved, on the division of the country into two groups, one of them religious.

Mr. Pardoe

Of course we wanted a unitary state when the Labour Government tried to create one. I am not denying that. My point was that a long time before this, throughout our Imperial past in the Indian sub-continent, there is a great deal of evidence that we used these two communities for our own ends.

The hon. Gentleman said that a separate Bangla Desh would not be economically viable. I do not believe this and nor does the Awami League. If he takes into account that over the last two decades or so about 70 per cent. of all investment has been in the West, about three-quarters of all Government revenue has been spent in the West, about 80 per cent. of all foreign aid has gone to the West, and that many economists estimate that £3,000 million worth of real resources have been transferred from East to West since independence, he will see that these figures make a complete nonsense of any suggestion that Bangla Desh would not be economically viable.

They also show that it is entirely natural that the people of East Pakistan should demand autonomy, if not total independence. They would not need to be raging nationalists to do so in the light of those figures and the treatment meted out to them. They sought to gain that autonomy—and this is the important point—in precisely the same way that we Western Liberals are always telling the under-developed countries of the world to seek it, through the ballot box. We told them, "Do it democratically". They did it, correctly, according to the Western rule book. If we deny their right now, what do we mean by the words in the United Nations Charter The right to self-determination of peoples. This was, of course, the first general election that had been held in free conditions. The League won a complete majority. There was no doubt about its policy. It was a clear vote for autonomy and even, perhaps, for independence. It could well have beeen interpreted that way. Why should they not have it? I believe that the West Pakistan Government were taken by surprise by the tremendous size of the Awami League vote. That vote showed their total lack of comprehension of the feelings of the East Bengalis before the election.

Whatever the dictates of democratic theory and logic, no one recognised Bangla Desh and on one has forcibly advocated that anyone should do so. This means that we are back to the age-old method of deciding international boundaries—conflict and bloodshed. I suppose it is true that, historically, countries exist within minimum lines of defence and perhaps it was overoptimistic of us to suppose that any new, more civilised methods, would prevail in future. Nevertheless some of us did hope that. Yet we have the situation in which the Commonwealth, this country and the United Nations seem to be impotent and incapable of exercising their normal authority—impotent and incapable more by their lack of will than by any practicalities in the situation. Pakistan needs us. Pakistan as a whole is heavily dependent on other countries, and these countries have a duty to use all their influence to enforce the democratic choice and right of the East.

Of course we have to deal with the problem of feeding and distributing the food. It is an immense problem, far greater than we have tackled before. We should do this, but it is not only a question of feeding; it is the aims and aspirations of the East Bengalis that we should seek to support and not just their bellies. Frankly, I doubt, in spite of many things that I welcomed in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, the efliciacy of our position as a country on this issue, just as I doubted it over Biafra. Then we were told by the Labour Government what we are now being told by the Conservative Government, that we must preserve our influence for moderation. But what moderation do we preserve? The aid and arms that we give do not give us any influence. Indeed, there is an argument for saying that they give the receivers the wherewithal to ignore our influence. We give them the wherewithal to prolong their oppression just as we did in Biafra.

We have to do as much as we can to help East Bengal, but we cannot guarantee that aid given to the West Pakistan government for distribution to East Pakistan will arrive there. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that, although he wishes to do as much as he can to ensure that it does arrive. In other words, we cannot guarantee that our aid will fill East Pakistan bellies rather than West Pakistan rifles, which is what I fear.

The Government have to be very much tougher than they have been. Nonintervention in the affairs of another country is a splendidly convenient principle for any Government. It was the principle that Gladstone had to fight in his Midlothian election campaign. It was a splendidly convenient principle when adopted by Pontius Pilate. But it is no basis for improving the state of the world. I urge the Government not to cling to that principle at the expense of our honour.

1.20 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

The agony of East Pakistan is grievous to everyone, especially, perhaps, to those like myself—if the House will forgive a personal note—who, having served in administrative and other capacities in both wings of Pakistan and having been invited by the successor Government in Pakistan to help build the new state in the very early, difficult and bloody days, now see the threat of its disastrous dissolution. I welcome, therefore, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister and applaud the resolve of Her Majesty's Government—supported, as I understood it, by the right hon. Member who formerly held office as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—not to intervene in any way in Pakistan's internal affairs.

I applaud that policy because it will make it easier for Britain to render assistance, as she did generously at the time of the cyclone, whether that assistance be given through the Commonwealth, as the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) suggested, or through CENTO, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) suggested, with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson), or otherwise.

The task of giving aid will be made much more difficult if we appear to be laying down the law about what should now happen in Pakistan. I was not quite sure, when the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was speaking about aid through the United Nations, whether he was aware of the report, which hon. Members will have read today, that President Yahya Khan has written to U Thant to say that Pakistan would welcome aid from the United Nations and its specialised agencies. There were some qualifications in that letter, but as the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to it, I was not sure whether he was aware of that message.

I am convinced that it will make it much more difficult to bring relief if we prejudge the political outcome in East Pakistan, as was done from the Liberal bench by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). The right hon. Member for Leeds, East was right. East Pakistan is a bit of a mystery. Partly because journalists have not been allowed in—I welcome the suggestion that Members of Parliament should visit the country—and because no news is coming out, it is unknown exactly what the situation is. But it would be very wrong of us to assume that secession is the only solution.

We are indebted to the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) for enabling us to debate this subject, which, although not the responsibility of this Parliament, is of deep concern to it. I thought that he prejudged the matter very much when he spoke of the "Bangla Desh Prime Minister", and spoke of the Pakistan Army as the "West Pakistan Army".

Of course, East Pakistan is a political curiosity. It has been described as unique. East Pakistan is utterly different from West Pakistan. But it is not true to suggest that the people of East Pakistan have little or nothing in common with their fellow citizens a thousand miles away. The two wings are utterly different. One might describe West Pakistan as an extension of the Middle East. It is very dry. In West Pakistan, the camel; in East Pakistan, the water buffalo. Bangla is dominated by sun and monsoon, feeds on rice and travels by water. It is a land of paradox of softness and violence, passion and passivity. Yet with all these differences between the two wings, Pakistan is more homogenous than is India. East Pakistan resembles Sind or West Punjab more than Kerala resembles Uttar Pradesh.

My right hon. Friend the Minister was right to emphasise the bond of Islam—which was underestimated by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North—Hinduism in India, or wherever it exists, is an amorphous religion. It embraces many beliefs and even contradictory beliefs. Hinduism therefore divides man from man, whereas Islam is a unifying and equalising faith. For various reasons, perhaps propaganda or ignorance, people have tried to suggest that there is something rather skin deep about Islam in East Pakistan. A former colleague of ours, Mr. Woodrow Wyatt, has written that the East Pakistani Muslims were forcibly converted to Islam. I am not sure that that is true. What happened was that in East Pakistan people of the low castes, whose zeal for Hinduism was understandably lukewarm, embraced Islam readily because Islam rejected caste and racial criteria—like the early days of Christianity, where many converts were made among slaves to a Church where there was neither "Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free". So one hears the suggestion that Islam is not so important, and it would be quite natural for a Bangla Desh sovereign independent republic to link itself with India.

Of course there should be more intercourse between East Pakistan and India. There ought to be more trade. It is not the fault of the Pakistan State that trade is so impossible between East Pakistan and India. This arises from the dissensions between India and Pakistan arising largely from the Kashmir dispute.

It is very difficult to understand the situation if one does not study the history of it. Before the Muslim conquest of Bengal it was the higher Hindu classes which despised the vernacular. Not for them the language of the people, but Sanskrit, the language of the gods. It was Islam that enabled Bangla to take literary shape and it was under tolerant Muslim rulers that Bengal poetry reached an apex. Later the British domination, through the East India Company, reduced the status of the Muslims of Bengal. Then the higher class Hindus affected to despise the Muslims and the higher class Muslims took to the Urdu language. A sense of being socially and economically oppressed, which made the Muslim League a popular move, despite allegations that it was nothing but a stooge of British Imperialism, was keenly felt in Bengal perhaps more than anywhere.

It was in great measure to deliver, or attempt to deliver, the Muslims of Bengal from the economic stranglehold of Hindu financiers that the first partition of the old single-Bengal was carried out in 1905 by Curzon, although it was not initiated by him. The second partition of Bengal in 1947 brought East Parkistan into being. I freely admit that no part of Bengal was included in Mohamed Iqbal's first outline of Pakistan; but the closing events, errors, and misunderstandings of British rule over undivided India made essential its inclusion in Pakistan.

No one in the House has sought to deny the exploitation of East Pakistan by West Pakistan. East Pakistan has been treated as a milch cow by a Pakistan State which has hitherto been dominated by Westerners. It is fair to add, however, that the holding of so many high administrative positions in East Pakistan by Westerners was due to the immigration of Hindu officials at partition.

No one can dispute that the distribution of funds, revenues and resources has been inequitable, although I think that attempts to put this right began a little earlier than some hon. Members have suggested. It is also worth mentioning that even before 1968 three out of six Prime Ministers of Pakistan came from East Pakistan.

President Yahya Khan has been described in an American document which has been circulated to hon. Members by the Bangla Desh Association as "mad" and "power drunk". Anyone who knows General Yahya Khan would not recognise him from that description. I suggest to the advocates of the Bangla Desh cause that, if they wish to make an impression upon rational minds in this country, they had better not employ language of this kind. There is no doubt that General Yahya Khan, a professional soldier who served with distinction in the Second World War under the British flag, is concerned to get rid of his political responsibilities and to hand over to elected civilian government. He has also been concerned to redress the imbalance, the inequities, the injustices, between the two wings of Pakistan.

The elections took place. No one denies that the elections were fairly conducted. All the parties—not just the Awami League of Sheikh Mujib Rahman, but all the parties in East Pakistan and West Pakistan alike—wanted provincial autonomy. We hear most about the desire for autonomy in the East, but the provinces in the West wanted autonomy and the parties in the West wanted provincial autonomy. Provincial autonomy was defined in the legal framework order which was endorsed by Sheikh Mujib Rahman and his League when they decided to contest the election. I do not know whether that is denied by the hon. Member for Kensington, North or anybody else who takes his point of view.

Not in any contentious spirit, but seeking enlightenment because it is so difficult to get reliable information, I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he accepts the statement of General Yahya Khan that he was assured by Sheikh Mujib Rahman that the constitution that the latter had in mind would not only be concerned with putting right legitimate grievances, but would also retain the integrity, the independence and the solidarity of Pakistan as a whole. I have not seen that rebutted and I think that it is a very important point.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I accept, as the hon. Gentleman requests me to, that it was part of the original intention of Sheik Mujib that East Pakistan should remain as part of a State of Pakistan as a whole, but that it should have economic autonomy was clearly part of the election programme of the Awami League; and it was the insistence on economic autonomy after the Awami League had gained its electoral victory, the extent of which came as a surprise no doubt to Sheik Mujib as it did to the President, which caused the war to be initiated. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also accept that the war was initiated by the President and that it is not American professors who used the phrase "mad and power drunk" and that the action to start the killing was initiated by the Pakistan military authorities.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

It is difficult to unravel all these intricate events. What seems to have happened is that a decision was made by Sheik Mujib Rahman not to take advantage of the election and become Prime Minister of a single State but to concentrate on the secession of East Pakistan. This is my impression.

The House has been deeply concerned at the terrible atrocities reported from East Pakistan. I am glad that the hon. Member for Kensington, North said that not all the atrocities were on one side and not all were committed by the Pakistan armed forces. I thought that S. R. Ghaunri's report from Dacca in The Guardian of 10th May was impressive, when he said this: Inevitably, the central figure in this bloody drama is the poor Bihari…clinging fast to the moorings of Pakistan, hugging the ideology which gave birth to this country and even appointing himself as its custodian, its interpreter, and its operator. The Bihari has the distressing record of becoming a refugee twice in 23 years…Pakistan is his passion and his refuge. The Bihari community may have been a little forgotten by some people in this tragic affair.

It is now becoming clear that many of the worst stories have been exaggerations. I am not surprised at this. When I was serving in West Pakistan and was engaged in the defence of the Hindu and Sikh minorities against hordes of Muslims who were bent on their murder and I had occasion to order fire to be opened, the number of casualties could have been counted on one hand, but by the evening the report running through the entire district was that thousands had been killed. This is what one expects in such situations.

I am very glad that the professors of Dacca University who were reported to have been "exterminated" are alive and that the Bengal poetess Begum Sofia Kamal is not dead, as was reported by India Radio.

I question many of the reports, although the killing was terrible enough in all conscience. I even doubt whether the figure of refugees is 2 million. As I attempted to say when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made his statement earlier this week, there has been always in times of trouble and times of scarcity a movement across that frontier, and I very much hope that as conditions become more normal—my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, has given reason for us to hope that they are becoming more normal—there will be a movement back into the territory of East Pakistan.

The hon. Member for Kensington, North was gloomy. He said that the war would continue. I hope that General Chaudhuri of the Indian Army is right and that the war is over. A guerrilla conflict may flicker. Bengal is no stranger to terror and political assassination. It was widespread at the time of the agitation during the first partition in 1905, which was ended in 1911, and also in the days of civil disobedience. But there are signs of normality. There are signs of Bengali leaders coming forward to cooperate with the authorities and trying to reach a political situation. Jute is being loaded at Chalna and Chittagong. I do not see a political solution in secession. But, of course, the political solution is for the Pakistanis. I accept the sincerity of General Yahya Khan's promise that he will, as soon as the situation permits, take fresh steps towards the achievement of his object, namely the transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people. As a military man, he knows better than anyone that you cannot sit for ever on bayonets.

May I finally refer to the British interest in this matter. Surely our interest is in the peace and stability of a Commonwealth State allied with us in CENTO and S.E.A.T.O. If there be secession, that may not be the end of it. The secession of East Pakistan would give a fillip to the movement of those who want Paktoonistan and even other secessions in Pakistan. It is not surprising that India, with all her problems, with the linguistic provinces—India which holds Kashmir with its Muslim majority—has been cautious, and Her Majesty's Government are right to be no less prudent, for disintegration is the present threat to the whole sub-continent, and not just Pakistan; while China, installed and present on the frontiers and passes, is waiting.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Before I call the right hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stone-house), I think it will be for the assistance of the House if I say that if hon. Members restrict themselves from now on to an average of 12 minutes each, everyone who wants to participate in the debate will be able to do so, leaving enough time for the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and the Minister to wind up the debate.

1.42 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) for initiating the debate and for the moderate way in which he introduced the subject.

I wish to deal with some of the observations which were made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) and to deal with some of the political points which were raised by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). I shall be delighted in that part of my speech to support almost everything that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) said.

First, I think the House must agree that it is a matter of great concern that we have had to wait nearly seven weeks for this debate and have had to depend on the good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North in winning a ballot. It is rather depressing that our parliamentary procedures do not allow for Government or Opposition to allocate time to discuss a subject which is of overwhelming world concern. However, we are having the debate today and I am glad that we have this chance. It is proving a most important and historic debate. The contributions from both sides have been extremely interesting, many of them coming from a great depth of experience.

I want first to speak of my recent association with the relief organisations and my visit to India and the West Bengal-East Bengal border some three weeks ago, and to tell the House, in confirmation of what my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North said, about the conditions in the camps as I saw them. The conditions at that time were appalling—refugees pouring over the frontier at the rate of tens of thousands a day. The interesting fact then—I am sure it has been confirmed since—was that the overwhelming majority of the refugees were Muslim and not Hindu. This is quite different from the situation that applied at the time of partition and has applied since partition when there have been several waves of people fleeing from the East. The situation was that the majority were Hindu, if not all Hindu, fleeing from a Muslim State where they feared that they would be repressed. The situation now is that the overwhelming majority of the refugees are Muslim fleeing from a Muslim State where they were the majority of the population.

In these circumstances, it is wholly to the credit of the Indian Government and the Indian authorities that they have freely accepted these hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people into their already overcrowded country and, without any hesitation, have provided them with comfort and food to the best of their resources. The Indian authorities deserve to be congratulated on this humanitarian act. It would have been so easy for them to have sealed off the frontier, and to have said, "This is not our problem".

Prime Minister Nehru, at the time of partition, had given a guarantee that any member of a minority community in Pakistan would have the right to go to India. Clearly that guarantee did not apply to the members of the majority community in East Bengal. India would, indeed, have been within her rights to seal off the frontier and to prevent the influx of refugees who not only added to the economic problems in over-populated West Bengal but could have given cause for great communal unrest, as the Hindu majority in the area felt that the Muslims fleeing across were given better conditions than they themselves enjoyed. This is one of the dangerous aspects of the situation, that with the refugees coming over and constituting half the total population in a particular district, other interested infiltrators, perhaps in the pay of the West Pakistan Administration, will try to whip up communal disorder on the Indian side in order to try to divert attention from the situation in East Bengal.

I was appalled by the stories that I heard. I do not want to go over the stories which were reported in the Press—we have read them—but I must tell the House that the stories that I heard at first hand from refugees to whom I spoke were really horrifying. I spoke to a group of young wives holding their children. They were weeping as their stories unfolded. They told how their husbands, peaceful farmers, not leaders of the Awami League by any means—supporters, perhaps—had been taken out of their homes by the West Pakistani troops when the villages in which they lived were entered by the army platoons, made to sit on the road outside and then shot in cold blood.

The refugees themselves had seen the West Pakistan Army killing peasants in the fields indiscriminately. They told of the atrocities committed by Biharis against Bengalis, the Biharis behaving with complete abandon because they were protected by the army. I do not dispute that there were also atrocities on the other side, and they are to be regretted equaly. There have been atrocities against Biharis by Bengalis. But all this has come about because the West Pakistan Government have failed to maintain the movement towards the expressions of the democratic will in the elections last year.

It is clear to me, having been to the camps, that those thousands of people would not flee from their own homes to India, which is not exactly a place to which Muslims would wish to flee, having been subjected over the years to propaganda against Hindu, or allegedly Hindu, India, unless they felt that their hopes and aspirations in East Bengal had been obliterated by the actions of the West Pakistan forces.

Not only to me but to other observers who have been there, people have described in graphic detail some of the awful events of the past few weeks. Plainly, there has been a massacre of extraordinary proportions. It is inconceivable that this vast number of people would have fled across the border unless a massacre had been taking place.

Those who wish to find a solution to this problem must condemn the brutalities and excesses of those who have held military power. It is not good enough to gloss over the situation by saying that there has been atrocity on the other side as well. I agree that there probably has, but we must recognise that the major atrocity has been committed by the military power which the West Pakistanis brought into the territory secretly over weeks during the period when the negotiations were in progress.

The situation becomes even more frightening when one considers the danger of famine in East Bengal in the months ahead. At present, in many areas, there is a shortage of food because of bad distribution and lack of communications. The roads and railways have been cut. There is no doubt about that. The report in the Financial Times two days ago by Mr. Harvey Stockwin has confirmed it. But the danger of starvation within the next few weeks, with which, of course, we must concern ourselves, pales into insignificance against the threat of mass famine which will assuredly come in a few months if the major rice crop, the so-called Aman crop, is not planted during the pre-monsoon period. This crop is responsible for 60 to 70 per cent. of the total rice produced in East Bengal and, if it is not planted, it cannot be harvested towards October and November. The famine which would then come would probably be equal in its disastrous effects to the famines which took place in 1943.

We should concern ourselves with several aspects of the problem. The first requirement is to give massive aid to assist the refugee camps set up by the Indian authorities. Here, I wish to say how much the relief organisations have appreciated the sympathetic and understanding way in which the Foreign Secretary responded to the appeal for aid which we made to him. As a result of his warmth of response and speed of reaction, we were able to send a plane-load of supplies out, donated mainly by War on Want, Oxfam and Christian Aid. But that aid, although it is appreciated, is but a drop in the ocean of what is required to deal with the millions who have crossed the border.

I received today a telegram sent from Calcutta yesterday by the Rev. John Hastings, a minister in Calcutta who has been devoting himself for many years to relief work in Calcutta itself and who is now concerned with assisting in the camps. He says: Everybody most grateful to donors and Foreign Secretary for consignment of tents and supplies. Official refugee count is West Bengal 1.8 million; India as a whole 2.5 million. Shelter for well over 1 million is still highest priority". He points out that, although the refugee problem has to be dealt with, we should concern ourselves also with the problem in East Bengal: We shall be suspected of avoiding the real issue if we stop at refugee service. First, then, the refugee camps: there must be massive assistance. Here, the United Nations intervention, although a little slow in coming, is to be welcomed. Let the United Nations set up a £100 million fund not only to provide aid specifically for the refugees in the camps but also for their resettlement across the border as soon as that can be done. As for the situation in East Bengal itself and the prospect of famine in a few months, let the United Nations agencies now begin contingency planning to enable the world to act if disaster threatens in that way.

I come now to some of the political points which have been raised in the debate, and I take issue immediately with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) and his hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South. The hon. Member for Torquay said that Sheikh Mujib Rahman had accepted during the election that there were certain legal requirements for the continuation of a united country, and it was only after the election that he went on to promote a separatist philosophy. The hon. Gentleman asserted that the six points were not in line with the legal framework which Sheikh Mujib Rahman agreed before the election.

The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in what he said. I have here an extract from Keesing's Contemporary Archives for 6th February which shows that the Awami League fought the election on the basis of the six-point programme for autonomy for East Pakistan put forward by Sheikh Mujib Rahman in 1966. This is no new programme; it is something for which the Awami League has worked for many years. The six points are set out. Several of them are points which the hon. Member for Torquay quoted as being points which Sheikh Mujib Rahman had indicated after the election he would want to follow.

In fact, hardly ever in human history has a clearer election programme been put before a people in a democratic election on the basis of one man one vote, or a clearer decision made. Here we have all the six points. There was no question during the election that they would not be within the legal framework of Pakistan as one country. There was no objection from Yahya Khan and his associates to this programme being put forward, because, of course, they did not expect it to be supported in East Bengal to the extent it was. Only after the election, when 98 per cent. of the seats in East Bengal were won on such a programme, did the objections begin to be raised.

We now face deep philosophical and constitutional problems. I was speaking about these matters the other day to an hon. Member and his comment was: "They fought for their independence. Once we have given it to them, it is up to them to stew in their own juice. They are a sovereign nation. We cannot interfere. They must learn the hard way". I cannot agree with that attitude at all. I agree with the hon. Member for Cornwall, North. In honour, we have a duty to take an interest in what goes on in other countries, particularly when the genocide, for that is what it was, and the denial of democratic aspirations, for that is what it was, are on the scale which we all know in our hearts to be true.

Now, the functions of the United Nations. I agree that the United Nations agencies must promote relief, take in aid and he concerned with avoiding famine. But the United Nations should not concern itself only with that. Article 1 of the Charter tells us that the first purpose of the United Nations is: To maintain peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace… Everybody acknowledges that this is a threat to peace, with China playing with one side and the U.S.S.R. possibly playing with another.

Article I continues: for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace". This has been an act of aggression, one of the worst disasters during the last 20 years, with the Pakistan Army, as we know from evidence that we have heard, attacking innocent people and murdering them in the way they have been doing.

Next, to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace". There is nothing in that about its being confined to sovereign States' relations with other sovereign States. If a breach of the people is taking place within a sovereign State that will affect the peace of the world, the United Nations should act. Article 1 goes on to say in paragraph 2 that there is a right of "self-determination of peoples". If that, in all honesty, is to apply, surely it must apply to the people of East Bengal, who by this overwhelming majority voted for the six points of the Awami League and have shown overwhelmingly that they want some form of government that they can trust in East Bengal.

I agree with those hon. Members who have said that the situation is clearly that a united Pakistan cannot survive and that a Bangla Desh government will certainly emerge. These 75 million people have by democratic vote already decided that that should be the situation However, the United Nations may not itself be fully charged with that decision, and I would like to suggest action that it should take. Article 33 of the Charter states that The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, inquiry… The Security Council —states Article 34— may investigate any dispute…to determine whether…the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security. I think that every hon. Member who has spoken in this debate has agreed that that situation applies. Therefore, not only should the United Nations be concerned with relief work—that is important—but it should also be concerned with the application of these articles of the Charter.

Unfortunately, the United Nations has in recent years become a club for the big Powers. It is a club to which only sovereign States are admitted. Humanity cannot appeal to the United Nations unless it is represented by a sovereign State. That is a regrettable state of affairs and I hope that, sometime, something will be done to enable repressed humanity to appeal without having a sovereign State to go to. I believe that that is already the case with certain agencies with the Trusteeship Council, and so on. There should be an opportunity for a situation like that which has existed in East Bengal in recent weeks to be drawn to the attention of the Security Council so that action can be taken on Articles 33 and 34 without having to wait for a major Power, or even a small Power, to initiate the request.

If a sovereign country now makes such an approach, perhaps the United Nations can begin to act in the situation on the following lines. After calling for a ceasefire and making sure that famine and disease are being controlled by giving assistance in maintaining good communications and providing good administration, the United Nations could supervise a referendum in East Pakistan so that it can clarify beyond any shadow of doubt whether the people there want an independent Bangla Desh or whether they want to remain united in some state with the West.

I believe that there is no doubt about what their decision would be, because the decision has already been made. If, however, the United Nations cannot act on a decision of an election last year, I believe that there may be a new procedure—namely, a referendum—which would help it to do so.

The hon. Member for Chigwell referred to some extravagant statements, as he called them, in a circular put out by supporters of Bangla Desh. He referred to General Yahya Khan as being power-drunk and mad. I wonder whether the hon. Member would also criticise a document that came to my hand two days ago, sent by His Excellency the High Commissioner for Pakistan, Mr. Salman A. Ali. In that document, we read something like this: Those the Awami League failed to win over by persuasion, it sought to line up through Nazi-style tactics. A reign of terror was unleashed and unmentionable atrocities committed. The true dimensions of the killings directed and carried out by Fascist elements of the Awami League are now becoming clear. The hon. Member condemns the excesses on the other side. I hope that he will condemn these excesses as well.

I refer to that to demonstrate that some really damning things are being said by both sides in the dispute. I do not believe that it is to our advantage, or the advantage of finding a solution, that we should go into all the allegations and the counter-allegations that are being made. In the fullness of time, there will be full reports about the deaths which have occurred, but our object today should be to apply ourselves not to an inquest, and not to trying to apportion blame, but to condemning any continuing excesses to which the telegram from Calcutta of which I have spoken refers as still continuing, in the hope that we can bring them to an end and find a solution which is based on all fours with the democratic aspirations of the people of East Bengal.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The hon. Member has addressed himself to me. I do not think that the two statements are comparable. One is an allegation of atrocities against the Awami League, the other is an attack on the personality and integrity of an individual. I dispute the latter very much. The two are not comparable.

Mr. Stonehouse

I believe that the situation points towards the Bangla Desh régime achieving its independence within the foreseeable future. It may take many months, it may take years, but I think it is impossible for West Pakistan to impose its rule on a country over 1,000 miles away and with a population of 75 million, almost all of whom would now be opposed to it, apart from the Bihari minority.

In this situation, the East Bengalese are bound to win in the long run. I believe, therefore, that we must not encourage the West Pakistanis into imagining that they can return to a "normal" situation which means that they can continue their rule over this part of the country. I believe that Bangla Desh will emerge and I believe it to be in the interests of its people, as in the interests of world peace, that they should be given support in achieving this.

2.10 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I want to congratulate the mover of this Motion, the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann). Anything that focuses attention on the tragedy of East Pakistan is to be welcomed.

However, there is another tragedy, and it is that in many circles there is apathy, a lack of concern and even indifference towards this vital matter. Because of interests concerned with self and world defence, there is a tendency not to speak out loud and clear against events which should be totally condemned. We live in an age when we have become conditioned to outrage, violence, bloodshed, anarchy and lawlessness. There is not the deep concern that there should be across the nation. If any debate should stir this nation of ours, it is this one.

I welcome the concern expressed by all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. However, the lack of interest across the nation demonstrates the way in which the permissive society has caused a corroding of our moral fibre. There is not the deep-hearted concern that there should be.

East Pakistan had its twilight in the cyclone. It is now having its midnight, and what a midnight it is. Even if reports have been exaggerated, there is no doubt that there has been awful slaughter in East Pakistan. An hon. Member on this side of the House referred to a speech made by the President of Pakistan on 25th March. That was an unfortunate speech, because it was on the evening of that day that the Army of Pakistan swept into East Pakistan, and there is no doubt that there was terrible slaughter. There is no doubt either that awful atrocities were committed. I believe that atrocities were committed on both sides. However, it is right to say that some of them came out of despair and a sense of deep frustration, while others were the result of the might of brutal military strength.

We in this House must be universal in our condemnation of that brutal military strength. Homes have been blasted, families have been murdered and cities have been raped. Tens of thousands have been slaughtered and hundreds of thousands made homeless.

I welcome this Motion. I welcome it first in the name of humanity. The voices of the dead and dying should not fall on deaf ears. The outrages, the bloodshed and our brothers' blood crying to us from the ground should arouse the Government and the country to take a strong line. This is not a day when any Government can afford to drag their feet on an issue of such proportions and such tragedy as that which we are discussing.

I also welcome the Motion in the name of democracy, for there is no doubt that the majority of the people in East Pakistan made a definite decision. There has been an attempt to draw a parallel between the situation in East Pakistan and that in my own country. However, hon. Members must be aware that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain part and parcel of the United Kingdom, whereas the outcome of the election which took place in East Pakistan demonstrated that the vast majority wanted autonomy and the right to govern themselves. The situations are not parallel.

In this House, we hear from time to time that the rights of all minorities should be guarded. What is in question in East Pakistan is the right of a majority of the people to say what sort of country they want to live in and under what sort of constitution they want to work. Surely they have the right to be heard in the name of democracy.

If this House is to maintain any credibility among world leaders, if people are to look to this House as the defender of rights of both majorities and minorities, surely the Government must take some of the steps proposed by hon. Members today and show by their attitude that they intend to move in the right direction, in the direction which will help these people in their time of deep and terrible crisis and awful agony.

2.16 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

May I add my voice to the congratulations which have been extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensing- ton, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) on raising this important subject? It is one which should concern every Member of this House and everyone in the country. Even if one understands the reluctance of the Government to make any decision condemning another Government, with all the international implications involved, it is important at any rate that this House should express its view on the matter.

In this case, the facts about what has happened are stark and clear. A nation of 75 million people has expressed its desire for autonomy, not even for independence or secession. The people have not only expressed their opinion. They did so clearly in an election commonly agreed on both sides to have been a fair one. Probably it did not produce the result that was expected, but it is common ground that it was a fair election. In East Bengal it resulted in an overwhelming decision in favour of autonomy.

Immediately there were negotiations. They broke down. But, even before they had broken down, the Pakistan Army, consisting almost entirely of West Pakistanis, stepped in and acted in brutal suppression of the party which had only very recently been declared by the people to be their representatives.

It may be that there have been exaggerations in the stories which have been told about villages being burnt down and about wholesale massacres. But I should have thought that there is sufficient evidence for us to know that, if even half of what is said is true, what is happening in East Pakistan cannot possibly be forgiven.

We have heard reports about the movement of two million people from their homesteads. The hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) says that the figure may not be correct. In any event, there is no doubt that a vast number of refugees, most of them Muslims, have poured out from these villages, from the lands and the homes to which they are attached, into an alien country which for many years they have regarded as their enemy. Obviously, this movement would not have taken place without a terrible driving force. That, at any rate, must support a large part of the dreadful stories which we hear about what is happening in East Pakistan.

One or two hon. Members have suggested that because Sheik Mujibur Rah-man demanded cecession, President Yahya Khan was entitled to break the negotiations and to send in his military forces. I do not know the justification for that suggestion. If a nation of 75 million people desires to be independent, why should it not have the right of self-determination? What right has this General—incidentally, a man who has no constitutional position; he arrived at his position not by any constitutional method of nomination and election, but by a military coup not long ago—to repudiate the wishes, freely and electorally expressed, of 75 million people for self-determination? In fact, they did not go so far. They demanded economic autonomy. In view of the history of these countries, I should think that they were entitled to do so.

There is good reason to suspect the bona fides of General Yahya Khan. The trouble is that, whilst these negotiations were taking place, the warships with the troops were sailing round the Indian Peninsula. One wonders whether these negotiations were simply a time-saving device or were genuine in the first place. But, whether they were genuine or not, the intervention of the Pakistan Army cannot, in any circumstances, be either condoned or mitigated in world opinion.

The facts are stark and clear. I do not know how any long history or constitutional niceties can possibly obliterate or take away from the stark nature of those facts.

What can we do about the situation? It may be, as some hon. Members have said, that if the Government express an opinion, it may be counter-productive. None the less, I hope that the United Nations will take cognisance of the matter and express a view about it. I join those who have expressed the hope that the Government will do their utmost concerning relief and helping the unfortunate victims of this disaster. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the money which has so far been donated, £18,000, is inadequate. It is a fleabite. I hope that it is a mere beginning. Vast sums will be required from the Government and, I should think, from other industrialised nations of the world. It is unfair that India, a poor country with few resources, should have to bear this burden because of its geographical proximity to the scene of this disaster. This burden ought to be borne by all the nations of the world.

I do not think that the problem can be dealt with by the voluntary organisations because it is too vast. Representatives of voluntary organisations have already said that it is far beyond their capacity to deal with the problem. It must, therefore, be dealt with by Governments. Whilst one welcomes the introduction of the United Nations, obviously its agencies do not have the resources to deal with the problem without calling in the assistance of Governments as Governments. I express the hope that the Government will respond very generously and, indeed, will take the initiative in responding because of our special and historical connection with the Indian sub-continent.

It may be some time before relief assistance can usefully be given to East Bengal. I understand that there is suspicion among some of the East Bengalis that such assistance, if given via the Pakistan Government, may be used for the purpose of continuing to enforce their control—buying rifles and other weapons—rather than for their relief. Therefore, if and when such assistance becomes possible, I hope that the Government and the United Nations agencies will exert the strongest possible control and supervision over it. We must make sure that assistance given for humanitarian purposes is not used for others.

I am sure that the whole House hopes that the Government will be generous in dealing with the situation, especially the immediate problem of the vast refugee camps in India.

2.27 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

The debate poses an acute dilemma for all right hon. and hon. Members. On the one hand, there cannot be indifference to what is happening to the people of East Pakistan. Every speech to which I have listened has made that plain. We share a common interest in what has been happening and a common desire to do something practical about it.

On the other hand, Pakistan is a sovereign Stale with which we have had long, close and cordial relations. It is also a country which, for some years, has been faced with acute economic difficulties. True, we in company with other nations, have been helping in that country's economic development, but clearly, because Pakistan is an independent sovereign and proud nation, we have to weigh our words and to plan our actions in this situation with great care if what we say and do is not to be counter-productive.

It is necessary to recognise, as some of us had to say repeatedly during the tragic Nigerian civil war, that we no longer administer independent Commonweath countries. Our writ no longer runs there. Often there is much resentment—understandably so—at any moralising or interference from former Imperial Powers. Independence means not merely the freedom to manage one's own affairs, but also to make one's own mistakes.

Yet, having said that, it is clear that we cannot leave the matter there. There are, after all, deep bonds of affection between the people of this country and all the peoples of the Indian sub-continent. We cannot erase three centuries of close association between ourselves and the peoples of Indian Empire, as it was, and of India and Pakistan as they are now, because this is part of our history; the association runs too deep. There are close personal ties between many of us here and our friends in India and Pakistan. There are, too, close ties of commercial interest, and, morally, as a number of hon. Members have said, we have some share of responsibility for the way in which the Indian sub-continent was divided.

Moreover, in company with others, we have for some years assumed a responsibility for providing aid for the economies of both India and Pakistan, and we are therefore deeply involved in the orderly development of both countries. There is no greater British interest than the spreading of tranquility across the world with successfully prosecuting war against want, disease and illiteracy. This is a situation which opens up a new era of opportunity for Britain. People talk about British influence, and in this field, at any rate, it can be very great.

I shall not say anything about the actions of the Pakistan Army. I do not have access to the information which so many correspondents and, indeed, some hon. Members seem to have. I have no doubt that what has happened in East Pakistan is frightful. There is nothing more tragic than a civil war, and clearly unpleasant things have been happening on both sides. But we should be concerned with the situation which led up to this unhappy state of affairs, the way in which that situation developed, and what are the chances of rescuing something from the ruins.

I had the good fortune, together with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), as a member of the Select Committee, to visit both India and Pakistan not much more than a year ago to look at the way in which the British aid programme was working out. In general, the picture that we had of our performance was reasonably satisfactory, and I was proud to see what we were able to do in so many different respects in both countries.

In the present situation there are two separate but related problems. There is, first, the situation in East Pakistan itself, and then there is the growing refugee problem over the border in India. As to the situation in East Pakistan, it serves no useful purpose to moralise about how things went wrong after the recent elections, or whether the Awami League's bid for secession was wise, or whether the central Government of Pakistan are responsible for grave injustice and oppression. What is clear to me now—and what was clear to me and my colleagues when we went to India and Pakistan—is that both problems are too big to be solved by those countries alone. If the debate serves any useful purpose, it will be to make the point that the situation with which these countries are grappling is too big for them to solve by themselves. This is no reflection on either country. It is just an unhappy fact.

To those who have gone there in recent years, Pakistan presents a strange contradiction. West Pakistan is one of the successes of the developing world. It has made notable economic progress, and has achieved a real breakthrough in the production of food and an improvement in the standard of living. On the other hand, we could not fail to notice that East Pakistan was heading for sheer economic disaster.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Braine

One must make this absolutely plain. In East Pakistan some 70 million people are crammed into 56,000 square miles. The rate of population growth is such that these numbers will double, unless by some miracle they are checked, within the next 30 years.

West Pakistan has space, it has potential, and it has hope. Flying over East Pakistan, however, one could not see an inch of uncultivated or empty land. The average size of a holding was one to one and a half acres. Unemployment and under employment had reached massive proportions. I am talking about the situation which existed 18 months before the present disturbances. Malnutrition was widespread. I have never seen such appalling poverty. I shall never forget the feverish-eyed, undernourished ricketlegged children holding out their begging bowls. I have never seen anything like that in Africa or elsewhere.

That is why I say that Pakistan is faced with problems that are too big for it to solve alone, and if this debate serves any useful purpose at all it is to show that we are willing to play our part in any international rescue operation that may be necessary. In short, the situation that we saw was crying for redress long before the elections of last year, the disturbances which have followed since, and the actions of the Pakistan Army.

What action has been taken in the past year by the international consortium to which this country subscribes? Such a body, headed as it is by the World Bank, is the only one that can ensure that the economic imbalance is redressed between East and West Pakistan. The figures are quite striking. In the period of the third five-year plan, 1966–70, only 36 per cent. of development finance went to West Pakistan, as against the 52 per cent. originally allocated. It was not so much that the will to do the right thing by East Pakistan was lacking. It was that circumstances did not exist which would enable the Pakistan Government to do the things that they were planning to do. Nevertheless the fact remains that East Pakistan is now poorer than she was at the time of partition.

I mentioned the progress being made in West Pakistan. By contrast, in the East there was a critical shortage of irrigation, finance and skill. Seasonal floods and droughts make agricultural development impossible without heavy investment in flood control and water distribution, which is the subject of continual bickering between India and Pakistan. Only help from outside can bring order into this chaotic situation, and that is why I ask what action the consortium has taken. What is it doing, for example, in providing debt relief?

One is glad that the President of Pakistan has appealed to the United Nations agencies for help. I hope that we shall speed up every possible contribution that we can make to the efforts of the United Nations. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that this is not a matter that can be left to the private relief agencies. The problem is too vast. The Indian Government's requirements alone are massive if relief is to be brought to the million or more refugees already in their territory.

There are, therefore, two problems—the problem of short-term relief to deal with the refugee situation, in respect of which I hope that the Government will bring the maximum help to hear—and the problem of long-term development in order to redress the imbalance between East and West Pakistan. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that practical help is under way in regard to the solution of both problems.

As I have said, the debate will have served a useful purpose if it demonstrates that the British Parliament is deeply disturbed by what has happened, is anxious to give all reasonable and practical help that our Government are ready to respond.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)

This is the second time in recent years that we have debated this sort of situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), making a point about one similarity between the situation in Pakistan and in Nigeria, emphasised the many dissimilarities between the two situations. There are dissimilarities, but there are also many similarities, especially in the kind of reactions that follow events of this kind.

When something like this happens a cry goes up from the area of the country concerned, against which the central Government of that country is proceeding with the use of force—a cry to the rest of the world, "Don't you understand what is happening here? Can't you do anything about it?" Throughout the world, people of good will ask, "What can we in the West do about it?" Governments make traditional statements, and Ministers make statements at the Dispatch Box about the security of British nationals and say that it is an internal affair, and if any protests are made they are too timid, and they come too late to have any effect.

Can we in Britain leave it there? What has happened in Pakistan is that arms acquired by the Government of that country for its external defence have been used—with far greater fire power than could ever have been needed—against their own people.

The countries that are involved in supplying arms or aid to other nations—and this is especially the case with the sale of arms—must realise that with those sales and aid go heavy responsibilities. Aid also inevitably involves the donor country in the affairs of the country to which that aid is given. That is not to say that aid should be given with political strings. Many hon. Members who have spoken today have made the point that it would be a bad principle if donor countries were to give aid to which political strings were attached.

But the events in Pakistan are so momentous—one of the six journalists admitted to East Bengal has estimated that over 300,000 have lost their lives, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) indicated that the true figure could be much higher—as to go beyond any situation in which one could describe the taking of political attitudes by the donor aid countries as pulling political strings.

Since this is the second time in recent years in which the world has been faced with this situation, it is clear that countries supplying arms or aid should work out a code of practice which will govern their attitude and actions when these situations arise. Such a code should involve the arms suppliers writing into arms contracts clauses giving them the right to make immediate representations and to suspend existing contracts and reduce the supply of spares if arms are used in any major operation against a country's own population.

Many difficulties would arise in framing such a code. There is the black market in selling arms throughout the world, and on top of that there are political difficulties, in that countries like China and Russia adopt different attitudes. But the object would be to establish a framework in which it would be possible for the countries supplying arms or aid to react immediately, rather than to feel in an isolated position, in which they could be accused of interfering in a country's internal affairs. The object would be to make Governments like the Government of Pakistan think seriously about the consequences before they embark on the arms build-up that went on in the 10 days before 25th March, leading to the military solution then put into effect.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that it would be wrong to suspend existing aid commitments, but I should have thought that aid consortia could establish a code of practice which would make it clear to recipient countries what would be the likely consequences, in terms of their aid programme, if they acted as the Government of Pakistan has done in this case.

I understood the Minister to say that the British Government took the view that they would embark on new aid commitments with the Government of Pakistan only if the aid could be effectively deployed. He said that that meant that there would have to be a political settlement, and that that was a matter for the Pakistan Government and people to achieve. But how can we link, in the same phrase, the Government and people of Pakistan? What chance have the people of East Pakistan to achieve a political solution so long as they are held down by military occupation? Hopes have been expressed by hon. Members about a political settlement. To me, those hopes seem incredibly optimistic. If it is left to the Government of Pakistan, I should have thought that there would be no political settlement in East Pakistan for a long time.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to give credit where it is due. Does not he agree that the President and the Government of Pakistan showed considerable concern for having a democratic civilian Government in their country by holding elections when they did and ensuring that they were fair elections. We know that where military personnel control the country elections can be rigged. but that accusation has not been made in respect of the Pakistan elections. It has not been made against the President or the Government of Pakistan.

Mr. Barnes

I agree with what the hon. Member says, but I am talking about the situation that exists now—after 25th March. I say that what happened then and in the subsequent weeks means that there is no chance of a political settlement in Pakistan for a long time, unless political pressures are applied on the Pakistan Government by the rest of the world.

When the cry for self-determination goes up from a distinctly defined area of a larger country—whether it be East Bengal or Eastern Nigeria—the world must consider its own involvement in the matter. However distasteful it is for countries to attempt to apply political pressure through their aid commitments, it may be the only way in which they can help to bring about conditions which my right hon. Friend is hoping will exist before long. Politics is a very rough business. Sophisticated politicians in Western countries must not shrink from using crude political pressure when justice and humanity demand it.

I welcome the efforts which the Government have made to get the international relief operation going, but I urge the Minister to continue to give maximum support to our own voluntary relief organisations, because international operations can take a long time to get under way. Our own organisations have a great deal of experience in this kind of matter and in diagnosing the immediate requirements. They can move fast and can do a great deal if they get the right backing from their Government.

I should like the Minister to clarify what representations the British Govern- ment have actually made to the Government of Pakistan about getting relief into East Pakistan—both about international relief through the United Nations and also about our own voluntary organisations. The Foreign Secretary was questioned about this on Tuesday, hut his answers were not completely clear. He spoke of communications difficulties and the fact that relief in East Pakistan had to be distributed by the Pakistan Army. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make further representations to the Pakistan Government to find out precisely what these difficulties are. If the relief organisations had the right backing and equipment, surely they could overcome these difficulties.

In this kind of situation, it is very unsatisfactory for food to be distributed by an army of occupation. This was very clear through the Nigerian conflict. One cannot convince the civilian population that the food is not going disproportionately to the troops. One of the difficulties is that this kind of allegation, which was made in the Nigerian conflict, will be made here. Another thing which one cannot convince the civilian population of—however unreasonable their attitude may seem to us—is that, if the food is being distributed by the army of occupation, it is not being interfered with.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on making this debate possible today, but we should not be too pleased about our own attitude in this debate. This is the second time in recent years that the Commonwealth and the United Nations have failed to restrain a Commonwealth country from seeking a military solution to a purely political problem. If the United Nations and the Commonwealth want to have any reputation as effective political instruments, they must find ways of strengthening their institutions so that they can deal with this tragic phenomenon which we saw in Biafra and have now seen in East Bengal.

It has been brought to my attention, on very good authority, that requests have been made by the Pakistan High Commission in this country to the British Government that the British Governments security services in this country should find out as much information as possible about those involved in this country, both Pakistanis and English people, in the various protest groups which have grown up.

It is a common experience of quite a few people involved in these protest groups in recent weeks to have been interviewed by a wholse host of people, including people who were obviously Special Branch officers. One understands the paranoia of the security services, one is aware of it and accepts it. I am not complaining that our security people should be interrogating members of Action Bangla Desh or whatever it is, because they have to do something. That is what they are paid to do: it is regrettable, but it is inevitable, if one has security services, that they will occupy themselves in that kind of way.

But the much more serious allegation which has been made, and which I refer to today only because it has been brought to my notice on good authority, is that there have been requests for this information by the Pakistan High Commission and that the information is actually being passed to the Pakistan High Commission. I would ask the Minister whether these inquiries have been carried out, why they have been carried out, whether requests have been received from the High Commission and whether information has been passed to it.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

Our dilemma in this debate is that an independent country has taken a certain course. In this House and elsewhere, we feel that we have a moral obligation to do something about the situation, and we are groping to decide among ourselves what we can do. We are asking ourselves what power we have to do anything, because we are no longer an imperial Power and there is a difference between preserving law and order—friendly Governments have had to do this—and suppressing the democratic processes. The extreme differences are obvious, but, sometimes, the borderline is difficult to ascertain.

I have been involved, as other hon. Members have, in the last six months in the discussions about what has really happened in Pakistan. In this House, we are trying to act as judges, trying to find a solution. If this debate were taking place within the Inter-Parliamentary Union, where Members of Parliament from many different countries come together, or within the United Nations, there would be a much bigger divergence of view. That is why the correct line of action by the United Nations in a situation like this is difficult to define.

But there is agreement that there have been serious human tragedies of unprecedented proportions in East Pakistan. If there has been genocide, it must be condemned. It could well be that the Punjabis, the West Pakistanis, have ruled and dominated the Bengalis in East Pakistan to an excessive extent. A series of regimes in Pakistan based on military rule may have lacked that political sensitivity which is so necessary to avoid the strife which we have been discussing. But it would be wrong to condemn President Yahya Khan as it would be wrong completely to condemn Sheikh Mujib Rahman.

We have been made aware of the Awami declaration and the results of the recent elections. I support my hon. Friends in genuinely believing that President Yahya Khan has tried to hand over military government to democratic processes and that he is sincere in his pronouncements on this subject. Those who know him better are even more convinced than I am on this score. I regret that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not use his power, having won the elections, to reach some sort of compromise after the discussions of the last two years.

There has been discussion about the so-called "six points". One is that the Federal Government will deal with defence and foreign affairs. Another is that the constitution should provide for a federation. Recently there have been additions to these. The question of the withdrawal of military law and of sending the troops back to barracks has also been discussed in recent months.

It should be remembered that there could have been a misunderstanding on the part of the electorate in the recent elections. The results of those elections do not, therefore, mean that the voters thought they were voting for complete autonomy in the sense of having two separate nations, East Pakistan and West Pakistan. How many of them thought they were only voting for, for example, a separate province as part of a federal system?

Bangla Desh has described this as a war between two nations, and we could argue for a long time about whether this is a civil war or a war of independence. Whatever it is, it is to be regretted and we must condemn what should be condemned. For 25 years since partition there has been discussion of the best solution for Pakistan, both as a whole and separately. Today Bangla Desh has popular sympathy.

Having said that, I agree that Bangla Desh appears now to be the underdog. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) referred to what was happening as a "Liberal revolution". I appreciate what is meant by those who say that the claim of East Pakistan, East Bengal, for independence arouses the same sympathies as were aroused over Biafra. Indeed, these are the very sympathies that have given momentum to the Scottish Nationalist and Independent Welsh causes.

The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) referred to the similarity between this problem and Nigeria. However, we really do not know exactly what has happened. For example, reference was made to an article in the Sunday Times by Anthony Mascarenhas. He undoubtedly implied that the first shots were fired by the rebels, the Bengalis. But the truth is hard to discern from the welter of reports that have reached this country.

The Conservative Government in Britain have taken a similar line to that adopted by the United States Government. The Soviet Union have urged a political settlement and we gather that China has offered support to Pakistan. However, it is India that has the refugee problem on a big scale. Several hon. Members have described the conditions in the refugee camps. They, of course, must seem to be appalling. This always happens in cases of this kind. We learn that if the ranks of refugees continue to swell at their present rate, within a few weeks there will be between 2 million and 3 million refugees. It is interesting to note that they are not all Muslims.

There have been charges and countercharges by India and Pakistan in connection with border incidents. We in Britain must have a clear appreciation of what is our business and where we should mind our own business. Certainly from our personal friendships, directly and indirectly, with leaders in both India and Pakistan we should do all we can to bring about understanding. There is a bond of understanding in the Commonwealth and this may help in this regard. The United Nations may also be of assistance.

The Motion calls for a cease-fire. What can we do to bring it about? It also calls for an end to the strife. We are anxious that that should happen, but what can we do to help? It has been suggested that the West Pakistan Administration should be allowed to go bankrupt, and I have heard appeals from Bangla Desh supporters and spokesmen and others that no further aid should be sent to West Pakistan. It would be nonsense to deny assistance to West Pakistan but give help to East Pakistan. It should not be our task to wreck a nation; our policies should bring about aid and reconstruction.

I welcome the intention of the Government that the aid programme should continue and in particular that it should be concentrated on East Pakistan. Outside pressures, such as the report of the Select Committee and other reports, have pointed out to the administration in Pakistan that much more needs to be done for East Pakistan. Inevitably, continued assistance will be difficult but it is right that the E.C.G.D. should be careful about placing further insurance on exports beyond existing commitments. This will present problems to Pakistan, and is sympathetic of the economic crisis it faces.

In the Sheffield area, as well as in Bradford and London, I have met many who have come from East Pakistan and who do not know what had happened to their families and relatives. This morning I read a letter from one person, enclosing an article from the Sheffield Morning Telegraph by Mort Rosenblum, entitled "Vultures over Bangla Desh". Most of this constituent's family had been left behind in Pakistan and are dead. This is the tragedy that motivates us all.

Can we necessarily put the blame on the West Pakistan regime for this? There has been a failure of communication. The Pakistan regime must put its case to the people of this country. The problem facing the Federal Government of Nigeria was that for weeks and months we heard only the Biafran story. The reporters have brought back tales which concern us all. Some endeavour must be made to let us know the truth, and put to the people the constructive attitude of the Pakistan Government.

Great Britain is no longer a world power, but it can exert a moral influence and can wield moral pressure to achieve a solution. The ultimate solution must rest in Pakistan. A continuing aid programme must be mounted, but it must be properly administered—and that will be difficult, because I can well understand the position of the régime, which will want to administer that programme itself. These are the same problems that we had in Nigeria. The free world has not taken kindly to the situation which has arisen in the Indian continent between East and West Pakistan. We want the right measures to be taken, but this can come about only by an understanding of the problems involved. We have a moral obligation to use our influence to bring about peace between the parties in conflict. I very much hope that as a result of the debate the Government will have some success in bringing about talks and an understanding between those who now do not wish to talk to each other, and in a situation where hatred is replacing understanding.

3.8 p.m.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) on the way in which he introduced this vital debate. I also join those who, although expressing certain reservations about what the Minister had to say, recorded their support for the good news about progress at the United Nations on international action and progress among the various relief organisations trying to organise a concerted drive to bring succour to those in immediate need.

I have a specific question to put to the Minister. Can he give an assurance that the Government will not allow any students from East Pakistan studying in this country, who find themselves destitute as a result of developments in their country, to be forced to finish their studies unnaturally early? If the Government find any students in that predicament, I hope that they will ensure that their studies can be completed.

At this stage we ought to beware of any ill-founded complacency arising from the apparent calm after the peak of the storm. Just because there are today no stories of fighting and slaughter on the scale on which that took place in the early stages, there is no reason for us to relax. In this apparent calm we should ask ourselves what are the brutal techniques upon which the calm is based. If the Pakistan military régime has nothing to fear or to hide, it should be eager to co-operate with the international community by allowing international observers to be there, so that its reputation can be protected.

It is not only a matter of the presence of international observers to see what is happening now but, in the name of the integrity of the military régime in Pakistan, there ought to be a full and speedy international inquiry into the earlier events of March, because the accusations are so serious and far reaching that I am certain that the regime would not wish to see them going uninvestigated. The stories of deliberate intimidation and slaughter of a wide cross-section of the community must be examined so that the world can be reassured and the name of Pakistan rehabilitated.

We have been concentrating on the immediate situation. What makes matters worse, as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) said, is to look at the situation in the context of the on-going social, economic and political history of East Pakistan. I had the good fortune to be with the hon. Gentleman in both West and East Pakistan when I was a member of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Overseas Aid about 18 months ago. As we saw East Pakistan, it was a sorry story—a land area of 55,000 square miles, with 70 million people, with a 31 per cent. per annum population rise. The population will be about 100 million by 1980 and possibly 140 million by 1990. It is a country in which disease is widespread. We saw evidence of smallpox, dysentery, typhoid, tuberculosis, blindness and cholera.

In East Pakistan the average per capita income 18 months ago, before the latest crisis, was only about 60 United States dollars per year. This was about 30 per cent. below the average per capita income in West Pakistan.

I do not know whether I would carry the hon. Member for Essex, South-East with me in this, but I was disconcerted at the evidence of a totally disproportionate use of resources provided for aid in West Pakistan when compared with East Pakistan. It was distressing to be shown by the Pakistan Government, with great pride on their part, sophisticated railway electrification schemes and massive prestige dam projects, and then to compare those with the abject poverty of people in East Pakistan. It seems unfortunate that in the work of the aid consortium priorities were not more balanced in the years before the latest disaster.

There is also the problem of military expenditure. This has been estimated as in excess of 60 per cent. of the Pakistan budget. One of the justifications advanced for this is the tension with India and the problems of Kashmir—problems and tensions which, at the time of our visit, were causing a good deal of fairly overt irritation and criticism in East Pakistan because the people there saw how these resources could be used. They also saw in East Pakistan that, as a result of the tension, they were being denied their more obvious trading relationships with India. They were, for example, having to import coal from China instead of from 30 miles across the Indian frontier, which would have made much more economic sense.

The other point which has come out in the debate and which needs a little more emphasis before the debate concludes is the whole issue of intervention and non-intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign State. I am underlining some of the arguments which have already been adduced when I say that it is not an argument about intervention or non-intervention. It is an argument about the form of intervention.

The very fact that a country has an aid relationship with a developing country means that the donor country is intervening in the developing country's affairs, because it is supporting economic and social priorities laid down by the Government of that country. The fact that one country has military co-operation with a sovereign country means that it has intervened, because the second's defence policy depends upon the collaboration of the first country.

If the House accepts this, the question we must ask ourselves is whether there is a need to change the form of intervention on which we have embarked in Pakistan. I would argue that there is a need to change it. To be successful, aid must be a partnership. A healthy partnership means that all the partners feel free to speak out and to state their terms. I cannot go home to my constituents and justify the use of their taxes to support a régime which I find a totally unjustifiable and deplorable régime in any area of the world. We have a right to say so in forming a partnership, if it is to be, by definition, a genuine partnership.

I believe that with the whole transformation from Empire to Commonwealth we have embarked upon a new relationship of partnership within the Commonwealth. Although I understand the sensitivities which are there because of a mood of post-imperialism, a feeling of our impotence in this post-imperial era, it is nonsense to suggest, now that we are free of the inhibitions of imperial responsibility, that we should not speak out openly and freely as partners, as equals, of countries such as Pakistan when we are confronted with the situation we now see. Not to do so is to embark upon a sort of inverted snobbery of the worst kind.

Next, it seems to me that what has happened in Pakistan demonstrates clearly the essential interdependence of the world community. We have seen that the refugee problem has immediately become in reality an international problem. The refugees are there in India. This presents not only a social and economic problem for India, but also a strategic problem, because India may find it difficult to remain immune from the conflict because of guerrilla activities which may be based upon the refugee camps. Therefore, it is an international problem.

We also know—my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made this very clear—that basically there is another international dimension to the problem, because with the possibility of increase tension between India and Pakistan as a result of the deplorable events in Pakistan, we must take into account the possibility that Russia and China, waiting in the wings, may become parties to any further escalation, with very significant results for all of us, not only those in the immediate area.

Therefore, I believe that we should talk forthrightly to the military régime in Pakistan and make it plain that, if we are to continue with any aid and development relationship with that régime, we cannot underwrite policies on its part which amount to the ruthless and autocratic suppression of the people of East Pakistan. We should be prepared to say to that régime that it seems clear to us that the only viable future for a united Pakistan is one which is based on the good will and voluntary co-operation of the two parts, and that the suppression of one part by the other will guarantee the inevitable disintegration of a united Pakistan.

I should like to refer to one point in the Minister's speech. He said that he hoped that if the conditions became right, it would be possible for us to put more emphasis, in the context of the consortium, on assistance and aid to East Pakistan, and I am sure that everyone would welcome that development if it proved possible. However, as somebody who has tried to follow aid and development matters very closely for some years, I have come to the conclusion that the most crucial factor in any developmental situation is the style, commitment and effectiveness of the Government of that territory. It is absurd to become involved in technical assistance or capital aid programmes to a country where the Government, by their political style, are countering genuine economic and social progress in that country. It, therefore, seems to me that it is not possible to say that just because law and order in their most negative sense have been reestablished in East Pakistan, we can somehow become involved in an aid relationship. We have to look at the way in which the law and order are restored and we have to look at the political context of the situation.

We must be prepared to be more honest with ourselves. One has heard the argument, not in this debate but elsewhere in recent weeks, that one of the considerations on the part of our Government has been that, looking at the Pakistan situation in the context of international defence commitments, the military régime is a safe and reliable ally, and East Pakistan would be weak in the defence system. If this view is being advocated, I think it is nonsense. If the military régime can extend control to East Pakistan only on the basis of suppression and the use of great amounts of its military resources in keeping down the people of East Pakistan, not only does East Pakistan become a weak link in the defence system, but the military régime and the central Government of Pakistan itself becomes a weak link.

3.23 p.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

One of the main points which have emerged from this debate is how difficult it is to discuss this matter thousands of miles away and subject to a considerable news blackout. That is the reason for the apparent disinterest that we see in this question, and not the point raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), which was something to do with the permissive society. The reason is this complete divorce that we feel in discussing this matter.

It is quite apparent from what has been said today that we are all agreed on two points: we want to see a halt to the bloodshed that is going on and we want to see relief of those who are suffering carried through as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to the action that has been taken by Her Majesty's Government so far, and I was very glad to hear of the further measures which were proposed by my right hon. Friend today.

It is not for us to apportion blame. It seems to me that people who do that in this matter jeopardise their own case. We all appreciate that this is a very confused situation and that its origins are by no means clear. It is also apparent that the fault is not only one on side. Really terrible things have been done by troops and irregulars of both East and West. But it is also clear that East Pakistan is totally and absolutely shattered. Its economy is at a standstill and famine and disease are very real threats indeed. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) mentioned the recent cyclone and the fact that 4½ million people are still living on imported supplies. I welcome the assurance that this matter is well understood and that we shall play our part with the United Nations in relief measures.

I come now to the political aspects of the problem which faces us. As has been said many times, Pakistan is a free, independent nation and also a member of the Commonwealth. I am sure that what she requires from us is the attitude of a true friend, a friend who does not hesitate to speak his mind fearlessly and honestly and who seeks not to dominate but to help in this situaton. We all know that there are others not similarly motivated. There are political vultures circling the disaster, knowing only too well that out of tragedy comes political opportunity and seeking to exploit weakness, not to help.

The solution must be found within the borders of East Pakistan itself. The real tragedy was that before 25th March Pakistan was close to producing a solution which made sense in political terms.

A solution cannot be imposed from outside, however much some people may think that it should be. I always feel that those who argue in that way are people who want to interfere in countries and regimes which they do not like and not in those which they do like, even though the same conditions of bloodshed and suffering may equally prevail.

The essence of any solution is long-term stability, for without long-term stability there will not be economic growth or alleviation of the plight of the citizens of East Pakistan, which was so movingly described by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine).

It is no good talking in this context in terms of democracy, self-determination and so on if that means the poor people concerned accepting one tyranny for another. My own view accords to a certain extent with that of the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), to whom we are indebted for this debate, that eventually some form of separate political development must come, whether in a federal set-up or not. I pay tribute and give my support to the objects set out in the hon. Gentleman's Motion, the halting of killing and the relief of suffering. That is what we must work for; that must be our first priority, in concert with the other nations of the Commonwealth and the world.

3.27 p.m.

Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)

At this point in the day, all those right hon. and hon. Members who have already expressed gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) should be even more grateful because the quality of the debate has well justified his success.

I have heard most of the speeches, and it seems to me that right hon. and hon. Members find it impossible to exaggerate the degree of tragedy in the present situation in East Pakistan. In terms of human suffering, the destruction of life and the disintegration of society there, no one is sure that the horror revealed by the figures we have thus far may not be exceeded when the full facts and figures are known. It is a sobering reflection that what man has done to man in East Pakistan seems to have exceeded what natural disaster did to man last autumn.

In considering how we can help and what we can do, I shall touch, first, on the problems now facing India, and then turn to the general question of aid to Pakistan and the degree of pressure, if any, which should be brought to bear upon Pakistan.

India has asked that the United Nations take full responsibility for the financial burden of the refugees now in West Bengal and the other states near the border. I am sure that she is right to do that. I am glad to hear from the Minister that teams are now there, both from our own charity organisations and from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how quickly they are expected to report? I ask that because delay could very much add to the seriousness of the problem which the Indians are having to meet. Mr. Khadilkar, the Indian Rehabilitation Minister, has already said that refugees are pouring in at the rate of 70,000 a day, that two million refugees are there already, that £5½ million has been spent and that the bill may well move up to £25 million a month. That is what he is quoted as saying.

A relevant point which arises on this is to intensify the need to promote a disaster agency at the United Nations. I was glad to see what has been submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to the United Nations about this, because when situations such as this arise one realises that delay is so harmful to people and that absolutely ready organisation and finance are needed.

I would mention one further point concerning India. All those of us who know Calcutta and its problems will have been aghast to discover that some of the refugees now crowding in from East Pakistan are already within 40 miles of Calcutta. The prospect of any more thousands of refugees from East Bengal crowding the already tragically overcrowded areas of Calcutta is unthinkable. This both lends added urgency to the question of helping the Indians with the refugees and brings again to the limelight the need for long-term international planning on the future of Calcutta and what international help can be given to India in this direction.

To turn to the whole question of the economic position in Pakistan, what cannot be over-emphasised is the highly critical nature of the Pakistan economy. This is a relevant factor in terms of the kind of discussion that we have had this afternoon. As we know, a key factor in the Pakistani crisis is that of foreign exchange. There have been rumours and there has been discussion of possible devaluation. We are aware that the problem of foreign exchange has been greatly intensified by the disruption of the economy in East Pakistan during the last two months. We are told that the decline in the reserves probably amounts to 575 million rupees between last July and February this year compared with only about 145 million rupees in the same period of the previous year. This is an extremely steep decline.

It is in that situation that the World Bank is today reported in The Times to be facing what The Times calls perhaps the most serious crisis in its history over loans to Pakistan, where the central Government is trying to reassert its authority in East Bengal. The World Bank is in the great difficulty whether to continue to disburse money and to agree to a rescheduling of debts.

Certainly, at this stage we understand that the World Bank report on Pakistan's debt crisis is said to be complete. It is said to have been sent to Britain to be in the hands, no doubt, of the Minister, as of other members of the aid consortium. We know that the rescheduling of debts is being sought by Pakistan. We know that the aid consortium has been meeting in Paris and that its pledging session is scheduled for next month. We are also aware that foreign aid has been financing nearly 40 per cent. of Pakistan's gross investment during the 1960s. It has been a little less recently, but on the whole that is the figure.

If we consider who gave so much of the aid, the figures are extremely relevant to this debate. For the record, I give them. From 1967 to 1969, which are the latest figures available from the Development Assistance Committee of O.E.C.D., the total average aid given to Pakistan from bilateral donors and multilateral agencies was £195 million, of which about £156 million was bilateral and the rest multilateral. Among the bilateral donors in 1969 were the United States with £50 million, Britain with nearly £9 million and Canada with £11 million providing almost half of the bilateral aid flowing to Pakistan. I have no doubt that another major contributor was the Federal Republic of Germany, although I do not have the precise figure.

In any consideration of the conditions necessary for the flow of aid to Pakistan, especially to East Pakistan, it is highly relevant that the discussion should take place, as it must, in the World Bank, in the Aid Consortium and among other bilateral donors, against the background of such a catastrophic economic crisis. While I do not go quite as far as The Guardian, which says that perhaps the greatest hope for the people of East Pakistan lies in the desperate economic plight of West Pakistan, clearly it is a highly relevant factor.

I do not believe that we need to enter into the theology of cutting off aid in these circumstances. As a principle, I have always believed that this has serious defects. In practice, it can and would defeat one's purpose in a situation where we want to get help into East Pakistan if there is a way of doing it. On the other hand, I do not agree entirely with the Minister's strong disapproval of the word "leverage", which has become almost a naughty word since Teresa Hayter used it recently. When leverage by aid donors is exercised on the basis of international agreements in the interests of social justice and humanity and for peace, it can be legitimate. It seems to me that these are the circumstances that confront us.

As the Minister rightly said, a political solution is necessary. But a political solution surely can be broken down into two aspects. The first is that there must be an end to the killing and suffering. There must be conditions of peace and the co-operation without which peace is not meaningful. That is a matter which must be of direct concern to those who are helping to contribute towards reconstruction in East Pakistan and towards building up a sound basis for the economies of both East and West Pakistan.

The second aspect of a political solution is what is to be the eventual future of the relationship between East and West Pakistan. That is not a matter of direct concern to those who supply the aid. Therefore one can regard it as proper to say that, as an international community seeking to provide practical economic and financial help, we must do all that we can to promote the conditions of peace, tolerance and co-operation which are necessary for an effective aid programme.

Views have been expressed about the long-term political solutions, and it is right that individual Members should express their views clearly. But the Minister and the Government must divide the matter into these two rôles.

I conclude with a comment on the need for the concentration of aid in East Pakistan. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and others emphasise this so strongly. Perhaps, to underline what hon. Members said from their intimate and moving personal observations, I should add a couple of figures. The per capita income in Karachi is almost 60 per cent. above the per capita income of East Pakistan. The per capita income in West Pakistan's rural areas is 25 per cent, above that in East Pakistan's rural areas. However, it is fair to say that the figures showed a narrowing of the gap between West and East Pakistan during the 1960s. There was some effort to correct disparities in comparatively recent years. What went wrong was the period of desperately poor harvests in East Pakistan, but they were beginning to catch up with this setback.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) elicited a reply from the Minister at the beginning of this month which indicated—for this, both he and I take our share of responsibility—that of British aid under way this year only one-fifth was taking place in East Pakistan, and most of that had begun in 1970. We are, therefore, bound to be the more pleased that, during the last year, we initiated the programme, which the Minister is continuing, of irrigation and agriculture in East Pakistan. I hope that an agreement will be resolved very quickly as to the best way we can make our contribution to this large scheme.

What is required, whether in relation to the need to help India with her problems, the need to get as rapid a programme of relief through the United Nations into East Pakistan, or the need to use what I have called legitimate leverage to create peaceful conditions in which aid can again be meaningful in Pakistan, is for the Government to be inspired with some sense of acute anxiety, which has been shared by all who have spoken today, and to spread that sense of anxiety and urgency within the aid consortium and within the United Nations.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Wood

If the House is prepared to give me leave, there are a number of questions which I should like to try to answer.

A good deal has been said about the various political issues involved and the basis of the election of the Awami League in December. There is probably little for me to say about that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave a cautious reply to the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) when he asked a Question on Tuesday. The only observation I should add, which I have made from time to time elsewhere in politics, is that occasionally problems either appear or are presented as more simple than most of us in our hearts know them to be. This is a problem which I find extremely difficult.

On the political relationship between the Pakistan Government and other governments, when the right hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) was giving his opinions about the United Nations and the possibility of intervention, he did not mention Article 2(7), which I should have expected. That Article deals directly with non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states.

The only other political comment I should like to make is that the relationship between Great Britain and Pakistan is very close. That has been recognised by all who have spoken in the debate. Our relationship with India is also very close.

Mr. Stonehouse

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the interpretation of Article 2 could well lead one to believe that it is open to the United Nations to intervene in the internal affairs of a member State, but that it is not open to individual sovereign States to do so?

Mr. Wood

If we began arguing about the United Nations Charter, we should probably reach four o'clock without my having covered any of the other matters which I should like to answer. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the United Nations would probably take the view in this case, in the light of Article 2(7), that intervention in internal affairs here would be improper. I think that I must continue, because I have been asked many questions, and I should like to try to answer them.

I have already expressed sympathy with the Indian Government in their genuine concern—which the Indian High Commissioner has expressed to me—over the consequences of the events that have taken place in East Pakistan. The Indian Government know of our willingness to join in an international effort to relieve the grievous burdens which are now added to the heavy load which they are already carrying.

Many hon. Members have referred to the provision of relief. On the question of relief in India, I have already explained twice what I understand the position to be. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wednesbury—perhaps we shall now see eye to eye—for the gratitude that he expressed to my right hon. Friend for the contribution that has been made. The answer to the hon. Member who asked is that of course £18,000 is not the extent of our willingness to help if there were mounted an international effort, to which we should certainly make a contribution.

We are awaiting reports from the charitable societies and from the United Nations High Commission. The right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) asked when we shall get the reports. I understand that Brigadier Blackman of Oxfam has returned from Bengal this weekend, and that the resident representative of Oxfam is visiting other camps. That explains that side of the reporting. The United Nations High Commission is still visiting the camps. I do not know when its report will be received, but I understand that the Commission is likely to return to Delhi next week and I hope, therefore, that it will not be long after that before we receive a report.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was particularly concerned, very naturally, with the provision of relief and rehabilitation in East Pakistan itself. U Thant has made two proposals—first, that the Pakistan Government should accept an international basis for the provision of relief and, second, that they should be willing to accept a team of assessors to find out what is necessary. Apart from U Thant's approach, we have urged on the Pakistan Government the desirability of international action.

One of the difficulties here, which I think the right hon. Member for Wednesbury will appreciate, arises in connection with tractors which, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, were landed at Chittagong, and we accepted an undertaking from the Pakistan Government that they would be used for rehabilitation purposes in the cyclone-affected areas. If we are to get in relief and equipment that can bring relief, in advance of international organisations, we must accept the opinion and the undertaking of the Pakistan Government that they will be used as we would want them to be used, but it does not alter my wish, which I hope the House shares, that we can get this on an international basis, and that is the direction in which we are working.

The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), and others, suggested the possibility of some Commonwealth action. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) mentioned the possibility of acting through CENTO. The position is that, apart from the observation which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East has offered, which I think occurs to many of us, about the difficulty that has arisen between India and Pakistan, we should be anxious to try to make progress through any organisation, whether it is the Commonwealth itself, CENTO, or the United Nations. We should obviously concentrate on the organisation that we thought would be most acceptable to the Pakistan Government. The right hon. Gentleman inclined, as I do, towards the involvement of the United Nations, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary would not disregard the suggestion—particularly coming from the right hon. Gentleman—that we should examine the possibility of acting in one of the other ways.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to the question of arms supplies. My right hon. Friend has reviewed the question. The only significant arms transactions which have taken place since 1967 have been an agreement for the refitting of a naval vessel and a contract for radar equipment. There have been no major arms deals between the United Kingdom and Pakistan since 1967. My right hon. Friend is quite satisfied that he should not change the policy now, and I do not think that anything would be gained from our taking any initiative in the matter.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) asked about inquiries by the Pakistan High Commission into the activities of Pakistani citizens in this county. It is quite clear from what I have been told that no such information has been requested of the Foreign Office by the Pakistan High Commission.

The debate has largely centred on the question of the ability of this country to resume the provision of aid to help to ensure that the economic life particularly of East Pakistan is effecetively resumed. Apart from the welcome given to the provision of relief in East Pakistan and India, the suggestion has been welcomed—I know that some hon. Members have expressed reservations—that as soon as possible we should resume our aid to East Pakistan in order to fill some of the obvious gaps that we were anxious to fill before. It has also been generally agreed that we cannot expect to resume that programme unless political stability can be recreated.

There has also been general agreement that there should be an emphasis on aid to East Pakistan in the future. The right hon. Lady has just given that her full support. I repeat that, right from the time I was in Pakistan last November, that opinion has been fully shared by the Pakistan Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) asked about the consortium. The meeting that he had in mind took place very soon after the change of Government here—in July, 1970. At that time the World Bank produced its action programme. The sums pledged at the meeting for the ensuing year amounted 376 million dollars. With his mathematical skill my hon. Friend will be able quickly to translate that sum. The greater part of the aid was agreed to go to Pakistan for the action programme. When the emergency broke out we were well advanced in the discussion of three major consultancies and one capital project which we are to undertake under the aid programme. The consortium has met since then, particularly in relation to the most recent difficulties in Pakistan and to consider the situation now facing Pakistan. My hon. Friend probably also had that fact in mind. At the moment, I am afraid, there is very little that I can report to him. A meeting took place and consultations are now taking place between the donors and the Pakistan Government. There will be another meeting at which I hope that it will be possible to make progress.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), who was kind enough to tell me that he would have to leave early, asked me about East Pakistani students who might have to terminate their studies. I have made certain that no East Pakistani student will have to terminate his studies prematurely because of lack of funds in view of the emergency. I give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman.

We have listened to a number of speeches, some of which have actually supported the possibility of secession by East Pakistan. Others, although they did not give any support to this possibility, doubted the ability of the two halves of Pakistan peacefully and constructively to reunite. There is little value in speculation of this kind. I remain at the conclusion which I expressed earlier, that the objective which I suggested was desirable: the re-creation of peace and stability through the whole of Pakistan, East and West, still seems so overwhelmingly desirable, if it can be attained, that I give the undertaking that we shall continue to use all our efforts and any influence which we can command in order to try to assist the Government of Pakistan to obtain this objective.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, deeply concerned by the killing and destruction which has taken place in East Pakistan, and the possible threat of food shortages later this year, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to use their influence to secure an end to the strife, the admission of United Nations or other international relief organisations, and the achievement of a political settlement which will respect the democratic rights of the pople of Pakistan.