HC Deb 05 July 1973 vol 859 cc714-6
Q1. Miss Joan Hall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement concerning his recent official talks with the Prime Minister of India.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

Mrs. Gandhi and I discussed a wide range of subjects, including the current situation in the sub-continent. We agreed that there were no major problems at issue between our two countries and that relations between India and Britain remain excellent.

Miss Hall

Did my right hon. Friend also raise with Mrs. Gandhi the subject of the increasing presence in the Indian Ocean of Russian and Chinese naval forces, which is worrying to India and this country? Further, did my right hon. Friend ask her if she wanted a British presence in the Indian Ocean?

The Prime Minister

That was not one of the subjects that we discussed in detail. Of course, the Royal Navy has the capability of operating in the area. It sails in those waters and from time to time has a major deployment east of the Cape.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the disastrous Commonwealth Conference that took place soon after he came to office, because of the issue of arms to South Africa? Further, does he recall that the matter was patched up by the appointment of an Indian Ocean study group to consider the menace that was involved? How often has the study group met since that conference, and what have been its findings.

The Prime Minister

Surely the right hon. Gentleman should know that the study group never met, for the simple reason that it was not called together by its chairman.

Mrs. Knight

Was my right hon. Friend able to discuss with Mrs. Gandhi the pitiable situation of the Pakistani prisoners of war who are still held in India? Does he not feel, almost two years after the war is over, that for India to retain these innocent people is entirely against every international and humanitarian law?

The Prime Minister

I am quite convinced, after my discussions with Mrs. Gandhi, that she is as anxious as anyone that the prisoners of war and civilian internees in the countries of the subcontinent should go back to their homes. An arrangement was made at Simla that Pakistan and India would discuss the matter. We welcomed that arrangement at the time. We welcome the steps which have so far been taken as a result of the Simla agreement, and we will support any move to enable these people of all kinds to return to their homes.

Mr. Stonehouse

Besides supporting any move that has been made, what positive action does the Prime Minister intend to take to further the imaginative proposal that has been made by India and Bangladesh for the exchange of populations, which will see an end to this situation?

The Prime Minister

President Bhutto and Mrs. Gandhi have made it plain that they wish to make these arrangements themselves, with Sheikh Mujib, and that these are matters that should be discussed between the three countries of the sub-continent. They do not wish other countries to make arrangements. Therefore, it is not necessary or even appropriate for us to take an initiative in this respect, although we are naturally in touch with all three countries.