HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1195-6
17. Mr. Merchant

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to visit India to discuss the United Kingdom's relations with India. [870]

Mr. Hanley

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary had extensive discussions with the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Mukherjee, last week. He hopes to find an early opportunity to visit India, as I did last month.

Mr. Merchant

In view of the current unstable situation in Kashmir, will my right hon. Friend update the House on the situation with regard to the four hostages—two of whom are British—who are at present in the hands of political extremists?

Mr. Hanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his concern. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members want the four hostages to be released as soon as possible. We have no further news about them at the moment. We are grateful to the Indian Government and to their various authorities which are helping to try to secure the release of the hostages.

Representatives of the group of four nations—our high commissioner and the American, German and Norwegian ambassadors—are working very hard and very well together to try to secure the release of the hostages. This morning I saw a report on Teletext that one of the hostages is ill. If a hostage is unwell—we have no proof that that is the case—the best thing that the hostage-takers can do is release him. The four hostages should be released now. No purpose is served by their continued captivity and, in the name of humanity, they should be set free.

Mr. Pike

It is clear that everyone accepts that the release of the hostages is essential and that keeping them plays no part in helping to end the position in Kashmir. Will the Minister ensure that the Indian Government are aware that people in this country believe that the Indian Government should be the first ones to take steps to end that long-standing problem? That might be of tremendous benefit, not only to India but to Pakistan and the whole of that part of the world.

Mr. Hanley

We believe that the best way to make progress on Kashmir would be a combination of three main factors: first, simultaneous progress on dialogue between India and Pakistan, as provided for under the 1972 Simla agreement; secondly, an improvement in human rights in Kashmir and a genuine political process there; thirdly, a clear cessation of external support for violence in Kashmir.

While we are talking about the hostages, I pay tribute to their courage and the courage of their families, who have been remarkable under intense pressure.

Lady Olga Maitland

What response has my right hon. Friend had from the Indian Government to his efforts to persuade them to improve their relations with Pakistan? Is he aware that, because relations are poor, tensions are high and Pakistan is being pushed to spend a disproportionate amount of its resources on the armed services?

Mr. Hanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that nations tend to spend far more than they need to on building up their armed forces because of bad relations with their neighbours. This is a classic case in point.

We urge both India and Pakistan to resume a dialogue on bilateral matters, not least on Kashmir. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, in discussion with the Indian Foreign Minister, did exactly that. I hope that the whole House—Members of good will—will urge their individual contacts with the Pakistan and Indian Governments to discuss between themselves if that is the only way to achieve peace.

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