HC Deb 31 January 1972 vol 830 cc29-32
Mr. Healey (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on President Bhutto's announcement that Pakistan is withdrawing from the Commonwealth.

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

I have read the statement issued by the Pakistan Government on 30th January that they have ended Pakistan's Commonwealth membership. The statement suggests that the reason for this action is the decision of Australia and New Zealand to announce recognition of Bangladesh today and the intention of the United Kingdom to recognise Bangladesh shortly. I greatly regret this decision. It was, of course, for Pakistan to take for itself. Commonwealth membership is not a matter between Britain and individual members.

I told the House on 18th January that I would make a statement soon on the recognition of Bangladesh. I believe that our criteria for recognition are fulfilled so as to enable us to recognise Bangladesh in the very near future. This decision is in no way hostile to Pakistan, but we have to face the facts. The need now is to reconcile the parties and to try to bring about harmonious relations in the sub-continent.

Mr. Healey

First, I should like to say that we on this side of the House fully share the Foreign Secretary's regret at President Bhutto's announcement. We hope that it is not regarded there as irreversible. If the Pakistan Government should change their mind on the matter, all of us in Britain would welcome their decision so to do.

I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary four questions on the implications of President Bhutto's decision.

First, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what will be the effect on the legal status of Pakistani immigrants already in this country and on the freedom of Pakistanis to come to this country in future?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this decision will have any effect on British aid programmes to Pakistan?

Thirdly, has the right hon. Gentleman had any indication of President Bhutto's policy towards Pakistan's membership of the Central Treaty Organisation and the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation?

Finally, now that we are already paying the price for recognition of Bangladesh, will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that he will recognise Bangladesh forthwith?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Like the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that the Pakistan Government's decision is not irreversible.

I hope that there will be no need to disturb the legal status of Pakistanis in this country. I should like to examine all the implications and perhaps report back to the House. There are, for example, difficulties concerning naturalisation, people here on work permits, and so on. I should like to examine what can be done.

I see no reason why this decision should affect our aid programme. There is a need for development aid in both West Pakistan and East Pakistan. I think that we shall treat these matters as we have treated them before.

Concerning CENTO and S.E.A.T.O., Pakistan has not taken an active part in S.E.A.T.O. for some time, but it is still an active member of CENTO, and I hope that this will continue.

I should add that President Bhutto has asked me whether I will look in on him at Islamabad for discussions during my visit to India. I have accepted his invitation.

Mr. Kaufman

Does the Foreign Secretary recall the legislation passed in 1961 and 1962—the Prime Minister certainly will, since he personally was involved in it—regularising the situation regarding the work and citizenship of South Africans in this country when the Union of South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth? Will he undertake to look at that legislation, as there is a parallel situation here, to see whether similar legislation can be introduced to protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who have made their homes in this country and do not wish to be regarded as foreigners here?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir

Mr. Fred Evans

Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the last part of my right hon. Friend's supplementary question and tell the House whether we shall now recognise Bangladesh forthwith?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I have said that the criteria are met. We have been in consultation with President Bhutto, who has asked for a little more time. I explained to him that our criteria are met. Therefore, I hope that within a very short time both the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend will be satisfied.

Mr. Ford

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that those of us who represent large numbers of Pakistani constituents welcome his statement on their legal status? Will he join us in asking those constituents to remain calm until such time as he has had an opportunity to study the situation and make a definitive statement?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I hope that in all circumstances the Pakistani population will remain calm. Certainly the hon. Gentleman may tell them to keep calm, because we shall look at the position with every sympathy for those who are in this country.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. Friend tell us what degree of recognition is necessary to achieve a seat at the United Nations for Bangladesh?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

This matter does not depend particularly on British recognition. It will be a matter for the United Nations to decide when there has been recognition by sufficient countries to justify United Nations membership.