HC Deb 14 May 1990 vol 172 cc692-711

Order for Second Reading read.

10.26 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secondary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill's purpose is, I hope, welcome. It is to modify existing domestic legislation in order to place Pakistan on the same footing as other Commonwealth countries, following its return to the Commonwealth on 1 October of last year, after a decision by consensus of the other member countries, of the Commonwealth.

As became clear during discussion of the Bill in the other place last year, it also provides a reminder of the close relations between our two countries, and of the very considerable amount of good will towards Pakistan that exists in Britain. The relations between us are, of course, of long standing, but they are by no means purely historical. Pakistan is an important trading partner for Britain, and we are the largest overseas investor there. We have a major aid programme, with projects in irrigation and the social sector, among other areas. We consult and co-operate with Pakistan on a wide range of issues. The Pakistan Interior Minister was one of those who visited London for the world ministerial drugs summit held here at the beginning of April.

Pakistan is a major Islamic country. We particularly welcome Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth at this important time in the organisation's history. As we proceed with the high level review of the role of the Commonwealth in the 1990s, there will be much discussion between the secretariat and other members of the Commonwealth. We look forward to Pakistan's contribution to these discussions. Its renewed membership of the Commonwealth provides it with an additional and important forum in which to set out and exchange views at a time when developments in the world are taking place at a particularly rapid pace.

The return to democracy in many parts of the world has been one of the most encouraging developments of the last few months. Pakistan was some way ahead of recent events, returning to full democracy with elections in November 1988. We were particularly pleased to be able to welcome Prime Minister Bhutto to London a few months later, in July last year. That very successful visit included talks on many key issues. Mr. Speaker had the opportunity to see the Pakistan parliamentary system when he visited last autumn. since then, we received in January a senior delegation from the Pakistan Senate, headed by its leader, Mr. Sajjad.

One worrying note is the tension which has developed between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. As we have repeatedly made clear to both sides, we very much hope that that tension can be reduced, and that discussions between the two countries can provide some resolution of the situation. Neither country's interests can be served by continuing the dispute which has developed. We welcomed the meeting between the two Foreign Ministers in New York on 25 April, and their stated intention to keep contacts open at all levels. We shall continue to follow the situation there closely.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

The Minister has been referring to the serious dispute that exists between Pakistan and India over the future of Kashmir. Will he take this opportunity to declare on behalf of the British Government that they recognise that the struggle under way in Kashmir is a genuine struggle for self-determination by the people of Kashmir to determine the destiny of Kashmir? Will he, on behalf of the Government, recognise the status of that independence struggle?

Mr. Sainsbury

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Her Majesty's Government have made their position clear: they remain entirely neutral, seek a peaceful resolution and urge on both countries the avoidance of any force, and maximum restraint. We hope that they will follow the declaration made at Simla in 1972.

To return to the contents of the Bill, it is intended to amend a number of Acts in order to extend to Pakistan the provisions applying to other Commonwealth countries. It deals with Pakistan's relationship with the Commonwealth Institute. It reinstates the right of the Government of Pakistan to appoint a trustee to the board of the imperial war museum. It makes amendments to our legislation relating to the armed forces in order to define the legal status of Pakistan forces when, for example, training in this country. It provides for the exercise of command and discipline when British forces and Commonwealth forces are serving together, and for attachment of members of one force to another. It ensures that arrangements for the reciprocal enforcement of judgments with Pakistan remain in force.

The immigration and electoral implications of Pakistan's renewed membership of the Commonwealth were dealt with separately by an Order in Council made on 2 August last year. That added Pakistan to the list of Commonwealth countries given in schedule 3 to the British Nationality Act 1981. It is a technical Bill. I hope it is a welcome Bill, and I commend it to the House.

10.33 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

On behalf of the Labour party I welcome the Bill and offer our support for its passage through the House.

It is almost exactly 17 years since I spoke in the House on the Second Reading of another Pakistan Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is present; he took part in that debate on 22 May, 1973, which dealt with the consequences of Pakistan's decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth. I said then that it was a melancholy day, because we were having to pass legislation to provide for the withdrawal of Pakistan from the Commonwealth. I spoke of bidding farewell to Pakistan as a member of the Commonwealth, temporary though we hoped its departure would be. Having taken part in the debate on Pakistan's withdrawal from the Commonwealth, it gives me great personal satisfaction now to be able to take part in the debate on a Bill dealing with its return.

As the Under-Secretary of State has said, the provisions of the Bill are minor, but their implications are significant because, during the 17 years since we debated the previous Bill on Pakistan, that country has seen great changes. Democracy was swept aside in a way that caused great regret to those of us who have a great regard for Pakistan. The military rule is now over, and Pakistan has returned to full democracy in an election that gave great hope to all its friends. In electing a Government headed by Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan has dispelled the unfair and inaccurate stereotypes about Muslim attitudes towards woman by placing in office the first woman Head of Government in an Islamic country.

Benazir Bhutto has demonstrated courage, political sophistication and balanced judgment in carrying out her duties as Prime Minister. I hope to see progress in Pakistan for myself when I visit that country in a little over three months. Of course the country has problems. It has had the problem of coping with the influx of refugees from Afghanistan, and the way that it has coped was a remarkable achievement for a country which itself suffers from poverty. It faces a vexed situation in Kashmir. I hope to visit Kashmir when I get to Pakistan later this year. I trust that the Kashmir issue will be dealt with in a peaceful manner and that the solution will be acceptable to all the parties that are involved.

Conflict between two countries such as Pakistan and India would be viewed with horror in the House, especially in the Labour party, which was able to bring about independence for both Pakistan and India. We were particularly happy that both India and Bangladesh sponsored Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth.

Pakistan has problems of development. I was pleased to hear what the Under-Secretary of State had to say about British overseas aid for Pakistan. I hope that it will be possible to increase it, and that the framework of the Bill will make that possible. From a previous visit there, I know of the vigour and drive with which Pakistan and its citizens can take advantage of opportunities for progress. I know that from contacts with my constituents of Pakistani origin. In my constituency, I have the privilege of representing people who originated from many lands in addition to those whose origins as Mancunians and I had better add as Gortonians—you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know the significance of not including Gortonians necessarily among Mancunians—go back through the centuries.

This country has been blessed by successive waves of immigration that go back to the Celts and Saxons. My constituency still has physical evidence of invasion by the Danes. Over the centuries, Manchester has readily received the Huguenots, the Jews—including in my constituency Chaim Weizman, first President of the state of Israel who lived at No. 57 Birchfields road—the Poles, who in Manchester as elsewhere, have just solemnley commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, Afro-Caribbeans and, among numerous others, immigrants from the Indian sub-continent.

I am proud to represent them all, and I am happy to have built up close links with my constituents of Pakistani origin. I first knew some of them as babies, and they are now adults with babies of their own. Their parents and grandparents are my friends. I attend their weddings and other celebrations. I see the minaret of the mosque, the laying of the foundation stone of which I attended, from my bedroom window. I eat at their restaurants. On Wilmslow road in my constituency, we have more restaurants providing food from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh than can be found in any area of similar size, not only in Britain but, I am willing to bet, anywhere in Pakistan.

Pakistanis in Manchester reflect the fine traditions of the country from which they come. They work hard, they seek to give their children an excellent education and a good start in life, they respect their elders and they believe in a sound family life. They observe their religion and they celebrate Pakistan day and the birth of the prophet Mohammed. They watch Imran Khan play cricket at Old Trafford, and they are good Britains, loyal to this country while cherishing their land of origin.

I know that Pakistan's departure from the Commonwealth caused those people pain, and I know that its return causes them to rejoice. Many of them took British nationality and many took advantage of the right to possess dual nationality. Those who did not acquire United Kingdom nationality will now have the vote in Britain as Commonwealth citizens. As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has said, that has already been provided for by Order in Council.

The Minister also spoke of the immigration implications of the Bill. I hope that the Government will think again about the way in which they administer the immigration rules. All of us who have constituents originating from Pakistan with relatives, spouses or would-be spouses there, know that they are often put through heart-rending ordeals because of the operation of the primary purpose rule, which separates families.

Pakistan is already playing an active part in the Commonwealth. Benazir Bhutto attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October, and she provided a valuable reinforcement to those at Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere who have argued in favour of sanctions against South Africa and demanded the dismantling of apartheid in that country. I am sure that Benazir Bhutto and the rest of her Government will play a continuing and constructive role in the work of the Commonwealth.

In October, at our party conference, I had great pleasure in welcoming a new addition to the diplomatic corps represented there, the excellent high commissioner for Pakistan. Until 1 October, he had previously been known to us all as the ambassador of Pakistan. The transformation was not simply in a title but in a whole relationship.

The United Kingdom and Pakistan have always been good friends. Now, once again, we are colleagues in a unique international partnership. That transformation is good news. The Bill is good news and I welcome it whole-heartedly.

10.42 pm
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I have great pleasure in welcoming the Bill. It was a sad day in 1972 when Pakistan decided to leave the Commonwealth. I am sure that both sides of the House will agree about that and I am certain in retrospect that most Pakistanis will agree that it was the wrong thing to do at that time.

It was a great pleasure to find democracy restored to Pakistan in 1988. Those of us who know and love that part of the world thoroughly welcomed that change. It was therefore a memorable and special occasion when, in 1989, Pakistan was invited to return to the Commonwealth.

The visit of Miss Bhutto to this country in July of last year was a great success. It was heartening to find so many people in this country, not only those of Pakistani extraction, who welcomed her as a symbol of the new democracy now in that country. The expansion of free speech through the media, the trade unions and other channels must be welcomed by any true democrat, and all hon. Members now have the opportunity to express their pleasure at this development.

We have had a special relationship and an interest in that part of the world for a long time, which is why we are the major overseas investor in Pakistan, and the fourth largest trader. That is of special significance.

As has been said, we have a £25 million a year aid programme and we can expect that to be reviewed and improved now that democracy has been restored and so many other aspects of life are moving in the right direction.

A great deal of help and encouragement could be given, for example with literacy. The population of Pakistan has more than doubled since British rule of the sub-continent ceased, but the percentage of the population that is literate has declined. That is why it is so important for us to help encourage literacy.

Pakistan has a role to play within the Islamic community. As a key to stability among Islamic countries it is important, because it will help us to bridge many gaps. We can take advantage of our close relationship with Pakistan to make the introductions that are so important in the Islamic world. The fact that we can do so and that we hope to be able to enhance those relationships is encouraging.

We must all admire the fantastic job that Pakistan has done in looking after 3 million Afghan refugees. Hon. Members who have had the opportunity to visit the Afghan refugee camps will appreciate exactly how much has been done. They have assistance from the United Nations, but that covered only about half of the cost; the other half has been borne by the Pakistani people. Their hospitality to the neighbouring Afghans has been extraordinary and an example to the rest of the world of how to help others at a time of need.

We have all been exceptionally lucky in the high commissioner who was chosen to come to this country, Shaharyar Khan. He arrived here as an ambassador and has now become the high commissioner. It is a sign of Pakistan's maturity that a change was not made when democracy was introduced. The present Government accepted the ambassador who had previously been appointed because he is a highly competent and professional career diplomat and not a politician. In that capacity he has helped enormously to cement and enhance our relationship with Pakistan. I hope that he will remain with us for a long time and that eventually he is replaced by someone of equally high calibre. He is a great example of the sort of high commissioner whom we like to have in London, and he has made many positive contributions to the Pakistani community in this country and to alleviating its problems.

To my knowledge the high commissioner has conducted several advice bureaux in different parts of the country. He has been to my constituency, among others, to give the local Pakistani population an opportunity to make representations directly through him. That is unusual, and I do not know of any other high commissioner or ambassador who has provided such a service for people originating from overseas.

I wish finally to say a word about the major problem on the horizon—Kashmir. I am sure that Pakistan is determined that war will not be a consequence of this disagreement. However, it has a right to expect the matter to be resolved, and sooner rather than later. It is now more than 40 years since a United Nations resolution was passed, that there should be a plebiscite or referendum as a means of consulting the people of Kashmir on their future. The longer that this question is left, the more difficult it becomes because there will then be demands for independence, rather than a decision to join one country or the other.

Independence for Kashmir could cause weakness, whereas expressing a sincere and genuine choice to join one or the other of those countries must be a stronger answer. The people of Kashmir have as much right as others in the world to self-determination. That right has now spread to areas of Europe where, a year ago, we would not have thought it possible. Last year was especially momentous for people in eastern Europe as they achieved the right to self-determination——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I have allowed a wide debate, but I must be cautious about allowing it to turn into one about the right of independence for Kashmir.

Mr. Thorne

We wish Pakistan every success in overcoming its problems. She deserves not only our support but that of other countries and of the United Nations. I hope that the legislation is allowed to proceed to the statute book as quickly as possible.

10.51 pm
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

In rising briefly to help to give all-party support to this measure, my brevity should not be taken as lacking in any way in sincerity or full support. I simply do not wish to go down the highways and byways of the excellent Pakistani restaurants in my constituency, although in the south of Scotland they are exceeded in number by the excellent Pakistani corner shops, which are much appreciated in the border towns.

It is welcome in all quarters of the House that Pakistan has returned to the Commonwealth. I agree with hon. Members that it would be a positive sign of good will by the British Government, which would be widely supported in the House, if our overseas aid programme to Pakistan were to be increased as a positive mark of recognition of that return to democracy. I am thinking especially of the crying need for additional help in the areas of health and welfare.

It was a delight to welcome Benazir Bhutto as the elected Head of Government, whom many of us knew in her days as a student politician in exile in this country. She is a serene leader—indeed, she has a degree of serenity that she might convey to other women Prime Ministers. I was pleased to meet her, together with the leader of my party, during her visit to London. I echo what other hon. Members have said about the splendid high commissioner for Pakistan.

Without wishing to try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the subject of Kashmir, I shall say only that I very much wish that the fact that Pakistan has returned to the Commonwealth will, of itself, provide a forum in which the difficult tensions in Kashmir can be mitigated. It would surely be unthinkable that two Commonwealth partners should go to war again over that issue. In welcoming Pakistan's return to membership of the Commonwealth, with all the technical adjustments that the Bail makes, let us hope that we are doing something purposeful in averting what could be another tragedy.

10.54 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I join other right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the Bill, representing as it does the return of Pakistan to the Commonwealth—a development that many of us awaited with keen anticipation for a long time, and one that we greet with pleasure.

We welcome the return of democracy to Pakistan, recognising that it is not yet firmly established in the soil of that country but is a flower that we want to grow and flourish in the future.

Those right hon. and hon. Members who had the pleasure of meeting Prime Minister Bhutto when she visited Britain last year will recall the great impression that she made when she gave a speech in this building and at other locations. We recognised her great commitment to a democratic Pakistan.

Pakistan has enormous problems of law and order and with its economy. Many would like a return to military rule there, but those who saw in Benazir Bhutto qualities that we certainly recognise in this House hope that she will go on to fulfil the hopes of so many for the reforms to which she is committed. Progress has been slow during the past 18 months—as was bound to be the case—and there is a long way to go. However, all those who recognise the gradual improvement in relations between Britain and Pakistan will wish Benazir Bhutto well in her efforts to proceed with the support of her people.

One must acknowledge the significant part played by many people of Pakistani origin in the life of this country. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke of the excellent activities of Pakistanis in Manchester. As one who was born in Yorkshire, and bearing in mind the great importance of cricket in the life of that county, I only hope that in future it will be possible for Yorkshire to win one or two battles of the roses with the help of players of Pakistan origin who were born in Yorkshire. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will concur with that sentiment.

I echo the remarks of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House on the extent of our good fortune in respect of the high commissioner for Pakistan at the Court of St. James. In the time that we have known Mr. Shaharyar Khan, we have come to realise not only the high esteem in which he is held by Pakistani communities throughout the country but that his work with the British-Pakistan parliamentary group has made it one of the strongest in the House. We look forward to Mr. Khan's continued residence in London for some considerable time to come.

The problems of Kashmir certainly present a challenge for Pakistan, and one that we should not underestimate. The commitment that any people have to their nation and to their belief in the right to self-determination should never be underestimated. I firmly believe that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to determine their own future through the plebiscite to which they believed themselves entitled by virtue of the 1948 United Nations resolution. I hope that, sooner or later, it will be implemented—and may that date be sooner, because the sooner it comes the greater the chance of a lasting peace in that region.

This is a great day for Pakistan. It may be a technical development, following the return of Pakistan to the Commonwealth last October. I understand that, when the Bill becomes law, it will be known as the Pakistan Act 1989, and the Bill will be deemed to have come into force on 1 October 1989. Today, therefore, we are giving effect to a development that has already taken place. We extend to the people of Pakistan the hand of friendship and co-operation. Pakistan, a country of 100 million people, has the potential to play its part in leading the world of Islam and the Indian sub-continent and to be a great force for good.

11 pm

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I had the honour of first being elected Member of Parliament for Bradford, West in 1983. A third of my constituents are from the Indian sub-continent, and the vast majority are of Pakistani origin. I pay tribute to the contribution that my constituents of Pakistani origin have made to the economic, social and political life of this country. When Pakistan rejoined the Commonwealth last year, it was a source of great pleasure to my constituents of Pakistani origin.

I should declare an interest. Together with several other hon. Members, I am to receive an award from the President of Pakistan, the Hilal-i-Quaidi-i-Azam award, in recognition of the small contribution that we have made to restoration of democracy and human rights in Pakistan, fulfilled by the election of Prime Minister Bhutto and a democratically elected Government.

As a number of hon. Members have already said, our constituents of Pakistani origin are in many case British citizens. Whether the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) likes it or not, they maintain close links with their own country. They will read the report of the debate with care. I regret that this important debate is taking place at such a late hour. It should have taken place much earlier. I regret the inadequate opportunities that are afforded to hon. Members to debate the affairs of the Indian sub-continent in general. This is the first opportunity that we have had for many years to discuss the concerns of our constituents of Pakistani origin and the affairs of Pakistan.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am allowing a wide debate to be held on the subject, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not overlook the limited nature of the Bill.

Mr. Madden

Indeed not, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, as other hon. Members were allowed to stray widely, I hope that in an open-ended debate you will not seek to limit the amount of time that is allocated to those who speak later in the debate. That is yet another argument for the debate having been held earlier in the day.

My constituents of Pakistani origin resent the fact that many of their relatives and friends find it very difficult even to visit this country. They are also bitterly angry about the great difficulties they face in being reunited with their families in this country, due largely to delays in the immigration procedures, which are governed by Government rules which we shall debate tomorrow evening.

The latest changes bring further restrictions, delays and difficulties for constituents from overseas who seek to be reunited with their families. Serious administrative problems are still encountered at the British embassy in Islamabad. I am pleased that the Minister who has direct responsibility for that post is with us tonight. I hope that he will make further efforts to improve the administration of the visa section, which is the cause of much anxiety, inconvenience and distress for many hon. Members.

Many of our constituents of Pakistani origin have a great interest in the education of their children. They are ambitious for them and want them to learn, progress and prosper. I am delighted to see the academic achievements of many of our young constituents of Pakistani origin in the state-maintained sector. But I must say, on behalf of my many Muslim constituents, that equity demands that if the Government subsidise voluntary aided schools for Anglicans, Catholics and Jews, they should also subsidise voluntary aided schools for the children of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not see how these matters can conceivably arise under the Bill before the House.

Mr. Madden

Britain, like the Commonwealth, is a multiracial, multicultural, multi-faith society——

Mr. Deputy speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing a particular Bill; I very much hope that he will address his remarks more closely to it.

Mr. Madden

We are discussing a Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about Pakistan. On behalf of my constituents of Pakistani origin I want to report to the House, on this rare opportunity to do so, the interests and anxieties of——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not share his view about this being the appropriate opportunity to do that. This is not that opportunity.

Mr. Madden

As several hon. Members, not to mention the Minister, have noted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when Pakistan rejoined the Commonwealth family of nations, a major Islamic country re-entered it. All Muslims are worried about the publication of "The Satanic Verses". As a result of the Bill, Muslims will undoubtedly give voice to their concerns about that book. The Minister rightly said that the anxieties of Muslims must be recognised, so we must acknowledge that great offence has been caused by the publication of this book. I urge the Minister to acknowledge the difficult situation that has resulted.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

From that book or this Bill?

Mr. Madden

The Government Whip is muttering from a sedentary position. If I were not interrupted so often, I would be able to conclude my remarks much sooner.

I have suggested on many occasions that, if Salman Rushdie wants reconciliation and mutual understanding —here, and internationally—he should be encouraged to instruct his publishers not to print more editions——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If I allowed the hon. Gentleman to make a speech along those lines, I should have no option but to allow other hon. Members to put an alternative point of view about the same matter. We should then find ourselves debating issues that have nothing whatever to do with the Bill.

Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the explanatory memorandum states: The purpose of the Bill is to modify certain United Kingdom enactments to take account of the re-admission of Pakistan as a member of the Commonwealth on 1st October 1989. I cannot see that has any connection with the publication, in this country or elsewhere, of a particular book.

Mr. Madden

This is my last word on the subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that, if what I have suggested was done, it would bring about the end of the odious death threats against Mr. Rushdie, which I have continually condemned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring what I have just told him. I very much hope that he will have regard to it; if not, I must ask him to resume his seat.

Mr. Madden

Let me conclude my remarks by referring to a matter that every hon. Member has mentioned so far —the great anxiety about the future of Kashmir, and the consequent tension between India and Pakistan. That tension could result in war. This evening, in a Committee Room of the House—at a meeting attended by a number of hon. Members, some of whom are in the Chamber tonight—the high commissioner for Pakistan confirmed that Pakistan does not want and will not seek, now or at any time in the future, war with India over Kashmir. He said that Pakistan wanted the principle of self-determination to be upheld, and that Pakistan wanted to live in peace with all her neighbours.

I believe that that is an accurate version of Pakistan's position, which Pakistan will take with it into the Commonwealth. I hope very much—a number of hon. Members have said the same—that the Commonwealth and the Government will play a much more active role in seeking a resolution of the dispute over Kashmir than they seem to have done hitherto.

As I have told the Minister in other debates on the issue, I feel that the British Government can no longer maintain a position of neutrality over Kashmir. What is happening there can be seen in Lithuania and other parts of eastern Europe—and, indeed, in a number of other countries. It is a genuine struggle by the people for the right to determine their own destiny and that of their own country—a struggle for independence. It is wrong to see that struggle, as some hon. Members do, as a choice between remaining part of India and joining Pakistan.

There is a third option: the option of independence——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman heard me reproach the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on this very point. We are not debating whether Kashmir has a right to self-determination. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue that line.

Mr. Madden

It is extraordinary if an issue which directly affects two Commonwealth countries—Pakistan and India—and which may plunge them and the region into war cannot be raised by me or any other Member in a debate of this sort. I find it——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will recognise that it is my duty to ensure that the Standing Orders and procedures of the House are observed. We are debating a Bill that is clearly defined. We have had a wide debate, but there are certain limits. I must ask the hon. Member to recognise them and not challenge my ruling.

Mr. Madden

Several hundred people in Kashmir have been killed and hundreds more injured. They are suffering from virtually round-the-clock curfews which have gone on for months. There are shortages of food and water. People are sheltering in mosques for fear of death, injury and rape. There are shortages of medical supplies. Soldiers turn away people who wish to get medical treatment in hospitals. If that is not a matter that should be reported to the House, I do not know what should be. I do not——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not question the gravity of the matters to which the hon. Member refers, but I must question the propriety of raising them in this debate. It is my duty to confine the debate to the Bill before the House. The hon. Member must seek some other opportunity to raise the serious matters that he is bringing to the attention of the House.

Mr. Madden

This matter will not go away. Frankly, it is much more important than the parliamentary rules and procedures of the House. I shall seek every opportunity to report to the House what is happening in Kashmir, because historically the House and this country have great responsibility for the boundaries that were drawn and for the partition of India and Pakistan. We cannot abdicate. That is why a position of neutrality is wholly irresponsible and why it will be quickly swept away. The people whom we represent are worried about these matters, even if the House of Commons is not.

11.16 pm
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

Like other hon. Members, I join in welcoming the return of Pakistan to democratic government. I share the admiration that has been expressed for the way in which Pakistan has welcomed so many refugees from Afghanistan. I admire the role that Pakistan families are playing in the life of this country.

The Bill reflects the return of Pakistan to normality within the Commonwealth, but one matter concerns me and many of my constituents—the treatment that is accorded to Ahmadi families in Pakistan. As our relationships with Pakistan become more normal and as the law enforcement provisions in the Bill become effective, that matter will become even more worrying to many people, including my constituents, whose relations had their homes in Pakistan burned in April 1989. The Pakistan constitution guarantees equal treatment in law, protection of life and property and the liberty of each citizen. It recognises that Governments are under a duty to protect every citizen, especially those who are victimised because of their beliefs.

There are signs that the police knew in advance of the incidents that took place in April 1989. They gave an assurance that the police forces had been adequately reinforced. Nevertheless, about 25 houses were burnt down or grossly damaged, with no sign of any effort being made by the police to offer protection to the Ahmadi families. The same pattern was repeated in adjoining villages.

The story has been documented by the human rights commission of Pakistan, and no doubt the document describing the events in Nankana Sahib on 12 April 1989 will be available in the Library for hon. Members to see. My constituents whose families have been affected by the incidents tell me that there have been no prosecutions of the people concerned, that no compensation has been paid and that there is no sign of the Pakistani Government doing anything to alleviate the persecution of the Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan.

I understand from correspondence with Foreign Office Ministers that they have made it clear that the British Government regard such persecutions as repugnant. The Minister of State told me that the Government have made their views clear to the Pakistan Government on a number of occasions.

At a time when we are welcoming Pakistan into the Commonwealth and acknowledging the good things that the country has done, it is important that we should place on record our concerns about such persecutions and make it clear that we shall continue to express our concern until that blemish in Pakistan's conduct is removed as we hope that it will be removed. A country that has shown such generosity of spirit in its behaviour towards the Afghan refugees and a religion with an old and well-established tradition of toleration and respect for other beliefs can surely improve its conduct towards a small sect——

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I am following with interest the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, and I do not dispute what he says. A great many members of the Ahmadiyya community live in my constituency. But does not agree that, under the premiership of Benazir Bhutto, a much more progressive attitude is being adopted to those people and their religion than was ever adopted when the military controlled Pakistan?

Mr. Ground

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right, but my constituents who discuss the matter with me say that they do not see any great sign of improvement. The incident to which I referred took place in 1989, after the accession of the present Prime Minister of Pakistan, and there were further ugly incidents in July 1989 during which a number of Ahmadis were killed in another part of Pakistan. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right. Certainly Benazir Bhutto has inherited many problems and is grappling heroically with many of them. But this is one problem that must be grappled with and I hope that the House will join me in expressing the hope that the blemish to which I have referred will be removed from the conduct of Pakistan and that the concerns felt by so many of our constituents belonging to the sect will be alleviated as time goes on.

11.23 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

Like all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I warmly welcome the Bill. Those of us who have followed events in Pakistan for many years—certainly while, for too long, it was under the control of the military—will have despaired of that country's ever returning to democracy.

Those of us who applauded and supported Benazir Bhutto when she campaigned against the military have followed her role with great interest and admiration since she became Prime Minister. As the hon. and learned Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) said, she inherited many problems and, sadly, she still has many problems. However, the stability that is returning to that great country of Pakistan is without doubt due in great part to Benazir Bhutto's heroic leadership.

Hon. Members have already referred to the problems facing Pakistan. In common with many hon. Members, I have a large Pakistani community in my constituency. Many of them are second or third-generation Pakistanis. Although their parents were born in Pakistan, their sons, their daughters and their grandchildren have been born in this country. The role that they have played for many years, and the role that they seek to play now, has been a great asset for this country. I have close contacts with the Pakistani community in my constituency and hon. Members will be aware, as I am aware, of the valuable role that they play in many aspects of day-to-day life. I know from recent events, including Pakistani socials and weddings, how much they have welcomed the re-entry of their country into the Commonwealth.

I believe that, if someone deserves credit, it does not matter how often that is referred to. Pakistan and this country have been fortunate to have a high commissioner of the quality and diplomatic skills displayed by the Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom. He is an honourable, fine, outgoing diplomat. Those of us who have come into regular contact with him in our capacity as active members of the Anglo-Pakistani group in the House are aware of the role that he has played and will no doubt continue to play. Like other hon. Members, I pay the warmest tribute to him.

I note the comments that you made earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the width of debate that we are allowed. However, now that Pakistan is once again a member of the Commonwealth, our constituents expect certain things to happen. They look to the British Government to be more sympathetic to the kind of problems that Pakistan faces as a member of the British Commonwealth. Reference has already been made to the courageous attitude of the Pakistani Government to the people of Afghanistan. Pakistan is not wealthy, and it faces many problems of its own. However, it did not once question whether it was able to take in refugees from Afghanistan. It opened its doors and brought in many people, at great suffering and cost to Pakistan.

I ask the Minister to take note of those problems. I hope that he will convey to his right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development the need for outgoing help, especially financial outgoing help, for Pakistan.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to the difficulty of entry to this country facing people from Pakistan. Again we must remember that Pakistan is a member of the British Commonwealth. Irrespective of party, I am sure that many other hon. Members will find, as I have, that our constituents feel that, if their country belongs to the Commonwealth, and they follow the laws, they are entitled to expect what they regard as certain rights.

I believe that the next point is for the Minister to answer. As letters about people living in Pakistan, which I send to the Home Office, are invariably sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I assume that this matter is his responsibility.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has said, often people cannot win under the existing system. If they are young and seek to come here for a holiday, they are told, "We are not allowing you entry because we do not believe that you will leave at the end of the required period of your visit." If, on the other hand, they are elderly people who want to come here to visit their sons and daughters, they are told, "You are so elderly that you would not want to go back to Pakistan." This causes bitterness in our constituencies.

Like all hon. Members, I have no objection to rules if they are fairly followed, but we often get the opposite impression. In fact, I heard about a case over the telephone today, which will land on the desk of the appropriate Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office either tomorrow or the day after—I believe that it is the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). My constituent outlined the case of his niece who wanted to come here for a three-month holiday, but has been refused on the grounds, "We are sure that, at the end of the three-month holiday, she will not return."

We all welcome Pakistan back into the Commonwealth. It has a great deal to offer the Commonwealth, but we in the United Kingdom—and especially the Government—must show our commitment to countries such as Pakistan. It is now time that the Minister seriously looked at the attitudes of entry certificate officers in the various high commission offices in Pakistan.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend agree with me about another example of the bad policy operated by the Government on such matters? Does he agree that, where DNA testing proves that a wrong decision was taken in the past on an entry application, that decision should now be put right regardless of the age of the applicant?

Mr. Cox

My hon. Friend has made a valuable point, but I shall not pursue it, because I might encounter your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I ask the Minister to discuss that point with his officials, not only here, but especially in Pakistan. If, when he replies, he can give us the assurance that he will look seriously at the points that many hon. Members have made—irrespective of party—it would show our constituents and the Government of Pakistan not only that we welcome Pakistan back into the Commonwealth, but that we shall now start to put right any wrongs that we have committed as a country, possibly under successive Governments. If we do that, although this debate may have been restricted in a way that many of us have not liked, it will nevertheless have been of great benefit.

11.33 pm
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

I join hon. Members of all parties in welcoming Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth, and especially to democracy.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and must take issue with him on one point. He spoke about "the stability" in Pakistan. I am afraid that the position in Pakistan is not stable and has not been stable for sometime, and that Pakistan does not show any particular signs of returning to stability in the near future, although that is something for which we must all hope.

I shall be brief and when I say that I shall conclude, I shall, indeed, conclude. Having heard your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not say much about Kashmir, although I had intended to quote at length from an article in The Times of 8 May, which was headed: Indian crackdown turns Kashmir into fortress. I shall merely say that if you happened, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to fly from India to Pakistan, you would travel from one democracy to another. The chances are, however, that you would fly over a territory whose people do not enjoy a democracy and do not have the right to self-determination. Those people should have the right of self-determination, which they were first told that they should have at the United Nations in 1948. They still do not have it, and too much time has passed.

I conclude as I began, by saying that I welcome Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth and rejoice in its return to democracy.

11.36 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I join other hon. Members in welcoming Pakistan back into the Commonwealth of nations and its return to democracy. The whole House should support Benazir Bhutto as she faces the difficult task of holding together democracy in Pakistan.

I welcome the end of the suffering of many women in Pakistan. Under General Zia, women suffered especially with the passing of the Hadood ordinances. Those severe laws had a significant effect on women's rights. When we talk about democracy in Pakistan we should bear in mind the fact that the ordinances have not been fully revoked; but at least their implementation has been suspended under the new Government.

I support the pleas for more humane treatment of Pakistanis who visit the United Kingdom. I have in mind especially the women of Pakistani families living in this country who are seeking to bring their husbands or fiancés here to live with them and to share a life together. They face a great problem. Trick questions in interviews aften work against people who have a language difficulty and are extremely anxious. If they are unable satisfactorily to meet the terms of the interview they may be unable to share a life with their loved one in this country. Pain and suffering is caused when families are kept apart by what I consider to be inhumane immigration laws.

Can the House debate the Bill in peace and tranquillity while the people of Kashmir suffer indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, unlawful searches, unprovoked assaults as a result of peaceful demonstrations and a complete disruption of their normal lives? Many Kashmiris have suffered the imposition of an indefinite curfew for months. The are denied basic human rights. Surely it is time to debate the position in Kashmir. I know that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I attempted to introduce that issue in this debate. None the less, I feel that such a debate is long overdue. The Minister quoted the Simla agreement of 1972, but no Kashmiri representatives were consulted on or involved in that agreement between India and Pakistan.

Of course the Kashmir people want independence and the right of self-determination. Kashmir is not part of India or of Pakistan. The right of self-determination for 10 million people is something that the House should take extremely seriously.

I welcome the fragile democracy that exists in Pakistan. I also welcome the fact that Pakistan is back within the Commonwealth. I urge the Minister, and the Government as a whole, to take seriously what is happening in Kashmir, which is resulting in great suffering. I beg for an urgent debate on Kashmir on an occasion when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not rule me out of order.

11 39 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

It is a great pleasure, even at this hour, to say a few words in reply to what has been an excellent debate. A measure of the importance of the subject, and of our concern about improving relations between our two countries, is the number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have participated in the debate even at this—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) described it—ungodly hour. It is notable that those who have participated have included the principal official Opposition spokesman and the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. I am afraid that I do not have the knowledge and experience to go down the gastronomical and matrimonial byways of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), so I shall concentrate on the five themes that seem to have emerged from the debate.

First, there has been a universal welcome for the Bill and, above all, for the return of Pakistan to the Commonwealth after a gap of 17 years. The Opposition are still positive about the Commonwealth, and none of the cynicism that seems to be beginning to creep in among Conservative Members exists among the Opposition.

Secondly, during the debate we have heard widespread respect and affection, which I share, for Benazir Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I had the privilege of meeting her when she visited in July, as did many other hon. Members. As one or two hon. Members said, she does not have to seek out the problems in Pakistan, and we wish her well in overcoming them.

The third theme is the need for the United Kingdom Government to increase our aid and assistance to Pakistan, in recognition not only of its membership of the Commonwealth and return to democracy, but of its needs. That was said eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and also the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). It is truly an all-party request to the Minister. On behalf of the official Opposition, I hope that the Minister will pass on to his right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development that strong view, which has emerged from both sides of the House.

The fourth theme is the high regard in which all hon. Members, including myself, hold the high commissioner of Pakistan.

The fifth theme is concern about the position in Kashmir. Sometimes, when considering our problems in this not so United Kingdom, I recall the parable of the motes and beams. It is always easier to deal with other people's problems than one's own. The Opposition believe strongly that the problem of Kashmir should be resolved by discussion, not conflict. We hope that that difficult problem will not result once again in conflict between two countries, now two members of the Commonwealth. We hope that the Government will do all in their power to ensure that that does not happen.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South spoke eloquently. He is an active member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting. Pakistan will now rejoin the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I want to emphasise the importance of parliamentary contacts in re-establishing and further developing relations between our two countries.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, West, for Tooting and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) all raised the issue of the difficulties experienced by people in Pakistan, particularly relatives of their constituents and relatives of others in the United Kingdom, in visiting this country. That was raised at Foreign Office Question Time, when several of my colleagues and I pressed the Minister strongly on that matter. The Minister's reply, although courteous, was not satisfactory. I urge him again to consider a sysematic review of the procedures and staffing at visa section not just in Pakistan, although that is important and relevant in this context, but in other parts of the Commonwealth.

The debate has been positive. As I said, a number of themes have come through strongly and we have all welcomed Pakistan back to the Commonwealth. The other place had a debate on this matter at midday, approaching Christmas, and perhaps our debate has not been as ebullient as that debate. However, it has certainly been serious and positive. I hope that the Minister will take from it some of the positive themes and translate them into policy. If he does that, he will certainly have the whole-hearted support of the Opposition.

11.45 pm
Mr. Sainsbury

The debate has been excellent and a rare degree of unanimity has been displayed by hon. Members in all parts of the House in welcoming not only the Bill but the return of Pakistan to the Commonwealth and democracy.

I am happy to echo the words of praise for the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, for her contribution to her country. I am also happy fully to endorse the tributes paid by many hon. Members to the Pakistan high commissioner for his excellent contribution to United Kingdom-Pakistan relations. That was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Throne) and for Keighley (Mr. Waller), the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and others.

Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) spoke about aid. The aid programme to Pakistan has increased since the country's re-entry to the Commonwealth. It is planned to increase aid to £29 million this year and the bilateral aid programme has doubled in the past five years. It has increased from £18 million two years ago to £23 million last year and is our third largest programme in Asia.

We are increasing our contribution to the Commonwealth scholarship fellowship plan which we hope will enable the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the United Kingdom to provide a number of awards for Pakistan.

All 11 right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in the debate referred to Kashmir. I shall not incur your wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by speaking at length on that matter, but I should like to emphasise that Britain's position of neutrality on the issue in no way implies indifference. Our long-standing position on Kashmir remains unchanged. We think that the dispute over the status of Kashmir can be settled only between the Governments of India and Pakistan, but we have made it clear that we would be prepared to play a role in settling the dispute if both sides wanted us to do that.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) spoke about the treatment of the Ahmadi community. We have long been concerned about that and have made our views clear. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that we shall continue to do that as and when appropriate.

Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), spoke about immigration. As I think most of them know, immigration policy is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It is a Home Department responsibility, and administration of that policy overseas is a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, I shall certainly look at the points made by hon. Members on immigration matters. I emphasise that about 90 per cent. of applications for visit visas are dealt with within 24 hours and we continually examine our procedures. We have been streamlining procedures in Islamabad to reduce queues.

Many hon. Members referred to the contribution made to the life of our country by citizens of Pakistani origin —corner shops were mentioned, as well as restaurants up and down the Wilmslow road. I thought for a moment that the right hon. Member for Gorton was rehearsing for a maiden speech when he waxed so eloquent about everything in Gortonia.

There is one issue of contention in the debate. I was rather concerned when Manchester and Lancashire tried to claim Imran Khan. I should remind the right hon. Member for Gorton that Imran Khan was a distinguished captain and player for Sussex, whose home ground I can see from my sitting room, if not from my bedroom, which faces the other way.

This has been an excellent debate and I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who contributed. The quality of the debate is a testimony to the value in which we hold Pakistan, the good wishes we have for her and the welcome we extend on her return to the Commonwealth and democracy.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).