HC Deb 18 January 1972 vol 829 cc215-21
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

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

Since the House rose, the hostilities between India and Pakistan have ended. On 21st December the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution demanding the strict observance of this cease-fire and the withdrawal of armed forces as soon as practicable. We played a full part in the negotiations leading up to this resolution, and we voted for it.

A new pattern of relationships is now emerging. In Pakistan, President Bhutto has taken over the Government In congratulating him on this appointment my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear our wish for close and friendly relations. One of President Bhutto's first deeds was to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman without conditions. This was a most statesmanlike act.

In the East, normal life is returning and the refugees are beginning to go back to their homes. There are reports that well over 1 million have already done so . Since Sheikh Mujib's return a new Government has been set up composed of those who were elected in the general election of December, 1970.

On his way home, Sheikh Mujib passed through London and we were glad to welcome him. He paid a private courtesy call on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and expressed his desire for close co-operation and friendship between his people and this country. As he was anxious to return to Dacca as quickly as possible, a Royal Air Force aircraft was put at his disposal.

Sheikh Mujib also expressed his wish to remain on good terms with Pakistan, but made it clear that there could be no question of a formal link. President Bhutto, for his part, has proposed further discussions between the East and the West.

The new Government in Dacca appears to be firmly established. The Indian Army is still in the East, but Sheikh Mujib has made it clear that this is by his will and that the soldiers will be with drawn when he deems it necessary.

I am keeping the question of recognition under close consideration and am in touch with a number of Commonwealth and other Governments. I hope to be able to make another statement on this question in the near future.

British lives and property have been affected by the war. As I informed the House on 13th December, seven United Kingdom citizens were killed in a British ship in Karachi. Since the end of hostilities we have come to know that three United Kingdom citizens were killed in an attack on a Pakistan vessel in which they were serving. British property suffered some damage, including the tea estates in the East. But the British firms affected in both the East and the West are anxious to resume operations and assist in the task of rehabilitation.

Many problems remain. In the East the authorities are faced with an immense task of reconstruction. We shall want to play a full part in helping with these problems. We are trying, through the United Nations and other agencies, to establish the needs and priorities, and we discussed the question with Sheikh Mujib when he was in London. There still remains unspent about £1 million of our contribution to the United Nations for emergency relief. I am happy to announce that we have now decided to provide a further £1 million for relief in the area. In the West we have also told President Bhutto of our willingness to do what we can to help. The possibility of new aid is one of the questions which we shall be discussing with the President of the World Bank when he is in London this week.

I am sure that all Members will agree that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the events which led up to this tragic conflict, the need now is to help the parties concerned to work together to solve the many problems of the subcontinent.

Mr. Healey

First, I should like to join in welcoming, as the Foreign Secretary did, the wise statesmanship of President Bhutto in releasing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and sharing in his wish for close and friendly relations with the new Government of Bangladesh. I think that the whole House will want to take this opportunity to wish the people of the new State a peaceful and prosperous future after the tragic ordeal through which they have passed in recent years.

I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary two questions. First, many of us will be disappointed that the Government do not feel in a position to give diplomatic recognition to the new Government of Bangladesh. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the real reason is that he is seeking to arrange for the largest possible number of European and Commonwealth Governments to give diplomatic recognition at the same time and that this is well understood by Sheikh Mujibur himself?

Secondly, on the question of economic aid, the Foreign Secretary will recognise that the scale of aid required for the new State will dwarf in magnitude even that required to deal with the problem of the refugees in India not so long ago. Will he assure the House that he will meet what I am certain is the unanimous wish that Britain should take the lead in organising international support of the new State as we took the lead, under the right hon. Gentleman's initiative, in dealing with the earlier problem?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I do not think that I would use the word "arrange" diplomatic recognition by countries other than ourselves with ourselves. That would not be the right word. Obviously, recognition is a matter which we are taking very seriously. We want to accomplish this matter at the time and in the manner best calculated to establish harmonious relations. This is, therefore, a matter of timing.

On the matter of aid, reports coming from Bangladesh indicate that the food supply is very good this year. I think that transport causes the greatest anxiety, but we will certainly play our full part in relief work.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

On the question of recognition, while recognising that wider considerations play an important part, may I ask my right hon. Friend to assure the House that he will bear in mind the great importance of early recognition for securing a resumption of trade in raw jute for Tayside which, as he knows, is so important for employment in that area?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes. As my hon. Friend knows, the trade has been successful in making short-term arrangements which ought to tide it over its troubles, particularly in Dundee. The prospect now looks a good deal better than it did a few weeks ago. I have that matter very much in mind.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that in two visits to Bangladesh since the cease-fire I formed the impression that Britain was universally popular—indeed, was held in extremely high esteem—and that this is due not only to the fact that he has conducted the question of the Indo-Pakistan relationship with great skill, particularly in the Security Council during the last few weeks, but because the House of Commons itself has played a significant rôle in that a Motion was signed by over 200 Members, particularly from this side of the House, as long ago as last July, calling for the recognition of Bangladesh?

As to the future, will the Foreign Secretary give an assurance that, as recognition is only a question of time—no doubt only a few days—it will be possible for technical discussions to take place immediately with a view to providing the flow of aid which is urgently required to get the economy on its feet again?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. He knows from his visits that there are many acts of reconciliation that have to be made before there are full harmonious relations between the two parts of what was Pakistan. But we shall hope for that. There will be no obstacle at all in the way of the resumption of technical talks about aid.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although obviously this extra £1 million which we are giving will be very important—and let us hope that it will be properly used—according to my information there is a desperate need for literally double figures of millions of blankets, and that so far only under 1 million have been supplied? Would my right hon. Friend say what can be done to see whether we can either provide new blankets or call on the public to volunteer to let these people have some of their own?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. I shall inquire into this need at once.

Sir G. de Freitas

If the Government cannot appoint a High Commissioner now because the State of Bangladesh is not recognised, will they consider appointing a head of commission or special commissioner to make it easier for the transitionary period to a High Commission after full recognition of this Commonwealth country?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Our representative in Dacca, who was Deputy High Commissioner for Pakistan, is in the closest touch with all the authorities in Bangladesh. I do not think that the step that the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting would be necessary.

Mr. David Steel

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is general support for his attitude and actions in this matter and a general wish that we should proceed to recognition as soon as diplomatic niceties allow? In addition to the cash aid that we are giving, could we not perhaps give particular attention to the need for land and sea vehicles to help solve the transport problem? Could we help in that particular matter?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We have offered help in this particular way. How many additional boats will be wanted is again a matter which we can look into. Certainly I have this in mind.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Following my hon. Friend's question about jute, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that much of the leather industry here is also dependent on skins coming from Bangladesh? I hope that arrangements can be made before these are diverted to other countries.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. Successful arrangements about jute have been made by the trade in the last week, and many thousands of bales are now available, which will help in the short term. We have this question of the jute industry very much in mind.

Mr. Rose

While I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement, may I ask whether he recognises that there are many advantages to be derived from early recognition of Bangladesh? Would he say what status he accords to the present Bangladesh mission in London? Would he undertake to the House that the figures he has given with regard to aid are not an ultimate commitment and that whatever aid is necessary for the rehabilitation of refugees and the development of Bangladesh he will look upon favourably and with some generosity? Would he also take steps to help seek harmony between the two parts of former Pakistan in bringing those two parts more firmly together, not organically but in friendship?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

On the question of aid, of course, the £2 million now available is not the end of the story. But we did not want the United Nations to be short of cash for anything that might have to be done quickly. I hope that other nations will share in this a little more than they did in the rehabilitation of East Pakistan. The question of the diplomatic operations of Bangladesh in London is a matter I am discussing with the Bangladesh authorities.

Mr. Prentice

The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has just referred to the need for other nations to provide aid to Bangladesh. When the President of the World Bank is in London this week, will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with him the possible formation of a consortium of aid donors, under the possible chairmanship of a world bank chairman, similar to the Aid India consortium to organise an international effort on the scale required?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there will be problems not only in Bangladesh but in West Pakistan with the renewal of aid, and also in India. This matter must be considered all in one picture. Therefore, I will talk to the Chairman of the World Bank on these lines.