HL Deb 19 November 1970 vol 312 cc1267-70

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that, with your Lordships' permission, this may be a convenient time for me to repeat a Statement being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in another place. The Statement is as follows: "With your permission Mr. Speaker and that of the House I wish to make a Statement about the disaster which has overtaken areas of East Pakistan.

"Since my Answer to my honourable friend on November 16 it has become clear that the extent of the calamity is even greater than was then known. The Pakistan Government has officially stated that the number of people who have lost their lives exceeds 200,000. In terms of human suffering this is a disaster of unprecedented proportions and I am sure the House would wish me to renew our heartfelt sympathy to the Government of Pakistan and to the people in the stricken areas.

"It is vital that relief operations should not be hindered by lack of funds. Accordingly the Government has decided to set aside a further sum of £500,000 for the provision of relief supplies. We will if necessary be ready to make available additional funds for relief and rehabilitation as the operation develops.

"Some relief supplies in aircraft of the Royal Air Force have already reached East Pakistan from Singapore. The main immediate need, however, is for transport for the distribution of relief. To meet this, thirteen powered assault boats have been delivered to Dacca, and more will follow. Two further consignments of medical stores and other supplies purchased in Singapore by Her Majesty's Government and by private relief agencies are due to leave as soon as loads can be assembled. Further flights are planned.

"H.M.S. 'Intrepid', an 11,000-ton assault ship, and H.M.S. 'Triumph', a heavy repair ship with a landing deck, are due to sail to-morrow morning from Singapore to the Bay of Bengal. They will between them be carrying helicopters and assault craft for the distribution of relief supplies and to help in any other way they can. They will also carry relief stores. A logistics ship, the 'Sir Galahad', is also being diverted to the area, after disembarking her present load. In addition to their other capabilities, these ships can produce drinking water. H.M.S. 'Hydra', a survey ship, is also on her way from the Malacca Straits and will be able to assist in working out new navigational channels. Finally a reconnaissance party with two helicopters will be flown to Dacca as soon as possible to determine how best H.M. ships and aircraft can help when they arrive.

"My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development, who is flying to Pakistan to-day, will also be informing the Pakistan Government that we are prepared to offer long-term assistance in the form of food under the Food Aid Convention to the value of £500,000. This, however, will inevitably take some time to procure and ship.

"During his visit my right honourable friend should be able not only to assess personally the Pakistan Government's immediate needs but also to discuss longer-term plans for the stricken area. Before the disaster, we had informed the Pakistan Government that we were ready to participate in an international aid effort for flood control in East Pakistan as part of our aid programme to that country. Plans for such a programme of flood control were in fact being drawn up, with the co-operation of the World Bank, when the cyclone hit the area on November 13. These plans will no doubt now require to be revised and there will clearly be a long-term need for assistance in which the British Government will be prepared to participate."


My Lords, we should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement. It is indeed an appalling and tragic disaster in Pakistan, and I am sure that we should wish to ask him on behalf of the whole House to convey to the Government and the people of Pakistan the deep concern and sympathy that we feel. We warmly welcome the Government's response to the Pakistan distress, and we feel sure that it is in accord with the generous reactions of the people of this country to the situation.

We particularly welcome the news that the Minister for Overseas Development is flying (here to-day, and that the long-term problems are to be discussed. I think that noble Lords everywhere have felt that the horror of the disaster has been emphasised by the fact that aid could not immediately be got in to the distressed areas. We should like to ask the noble Lord whether he will urge on the Government—though of course we understand the difficulties—the necessity for some kind of international agency that can be permanently ready to step in when disasters of this kind occur. In the meantime, I would repeat my welcome for the financial and practical aid that is being sent.


My Lords, we on these Benches would wish to be associated most sincerely with the sentiments that have been expressed by the noble Lord opposite. This is indeed a horrifying disaster, of unprecedented dimensions. We also welcome the support which Her Majesty's Government are giving, and I am sure that it will be widely welcomed in the country as a whole. I would echo also the words of the noble Baroness. We on these Benches, along with others in the House, have been pressing for a long time for some international organisation to be set up to meet occurrences such as this. We have had these disasters in Peru, in Turkey, in Iran; and now this one. We feel that Her Majesty's Government ought in the long term to take some initiative that would lead to the setting up of a permanent force, one which is able to deal with the results of these disasters and will have associated with it a world disaster fund.

On the machinery, I should only like to ask the noble Lord (I do not know whether he can answer this question) what arrangements are being made for additional medical services, which must be required in an area where there is cholera and malaria. Furthermore, can he tell us under whose command these ships will be operating when they get into the territorial waters of Pakistan?


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for the kind way in which they have received this Statement. I am sure that those concerned in Pakistan will be grateful for their expressions of sympathy. I take the point made by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord about an international agency. A remarkable number of different countries are in fact involved in this particular operation. So far as medical supplies are concerned, these, too, are being flown in from all over the world. They include cholera vaccine.


My Lords, what I had in mind was the doctor service.


My Lords, without notice I cannot answer that question. But I am quite sure that this is well under way, and that my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development will make sure, when he is there, that if there is a need for further services they will be sent. I am afraid that I cannot answer the question about whose command the ships will be operating under. Certainly our ships are going mainly from Singapore, and come from the Singapore headquarters.