HL Deb 23 June 1971 vol 320 cc899-905

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may intervene in the proceedings in order to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

" With your permission, Mr. Speaker. and that of the House, I should like to make a Statement. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I both had discussions on Monday, June 21, with Mr. Swaran Singh, the Indian Minister of External Affairs, during which be made clear to us the concern which his Government feel about the situation in East Pakistan and the very great burden created by the massive influx into India.

" Following the recent meeting of the India Aid Consortium, Her Majesty's Government are making available a further £5 million in cash or in kind, to relieve the economic burden on the Government of India of supporting the refugees. Like other members of the Consortium, we are giving this contribution over and above our normal developmental aid to India. In addition, a further £1 million will be made available by Her Majesty's Government to U Thant's appeal for the direct relief of refugees in India. The total amount of assistance made available by Her Majesty's Government for relief and rehabilitation in India will thus be increased to over £8 million. This is a humanitarian task, having no relationship to politics, in which I hope very many members of the United Nations will participate. Some twenty-three have so far done so.

s " An informal meeting of members of the Pakistan Aid Consortium on June 21 considered reports from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund representatives who had been visiting East Pakistan and had held discussions with the Government in Islamabad. No commitments of new aid of any kind were called for, nor were any given, though all expressed their willingness to contribute to humanitarian relief in East Pakistan under the effective surveillance of the United Nations. Her Majesty's Government's policy remains that projects already in hand in Pakistan must continue, in so far as this is possible, but there can be no question of new British aid to Pakistan until we have firm evidence that real progress is being made towards a political solution.

" Conditions in East Pakistan continue to be disturbed. It is with great regret that I have to inform the House that two British subjects, Mr. P. J. Chalmers and Mr. J. Y. Boyd, both of whom were working on tea-planting estates in the Sylhet district, have been reported missing. Despite attempts by British representatives both in East Pakistan and in India and inquiries made through the Pakistan Martial Law Administration and the Indian Government, we have been unable to obtain any definite news of them. In the circumstances there must be grave fear for their safety and I would express the sympathy of Her Majesty's Government, and I am sure of the whole House, to their relatives in this country at this anxious time.

" The President of Pakistan has reiterated his Government's hope that those who have fled across the border to India will return to their homes, and has undertaken that they will have no cause to fear should they do so. Her Majesty's Government have represented to him the importance of restoring peaceful conditions in which confidence can once again take root and normal political life can be resumed."

My Lords, that is the Statement.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for repeating that Statement. First of all, the whole House will want to associate itself with the deep sympathy expressed to the relatives of the two British nationals in their very great anxiety at this moment. We should like to welcome the increased aid to India. This is an appalling situation under which the Indian Government and the Indian people are suffering. This is a long-term problem and cannot be solved overnight, and we should hope that further aid will be forthcoming not only from the United Nations in general but from this country, too.

I think the House will particularly welcome the fact that we now know that the Pakistan Government have granted facilities to the Press to go into East Pakistan to see the situation there and report it to the world. We welcome what Her Majesty's Government have said in this Statement about the importance of restoring peaceful conditions in which confidence can once again take root. A political settlement, of course, is the basis of this matter, and I wonder if the noble Marquess can tell the House whether the Government have under consideration approaching the United Nations—U Thant, or the Security Council itself—with a view to getting assistance towards securing a political settlement. Without that none of the aid will be worth anything like what it should be worth.


My Lords, we are sorry indeed to hear the sad news about Mr. Chalmers and Mr. Boyd and wish to be associated with the sentiments of sympathy which have been expressed. We commend Her Majesty's Government for the substantial new donation they have made to aid to the refugees. This will not be the last amount this country will have to put forward for, as the noble Baroness has said, this is a long-term matter.

May I ask just one question? Reference has been made to a statement elsewhere about a political solution. We have asked about this on other occasions. Can the noble Marquess say what initiative, if any, or what action, is being taken towards a political solution? It is going to be a long-term operation, but is anybody doing anything?

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for their reception of this Statement. Of course this is a long-term problem, and we shall be looking again at the position regarding further aid. For the time being, we feel that we should prefer to wait and see in what way we can help any further. The noble Baroness asked me whether there was any possibility in the mind of the Government of in some way referring this tragic matter to the Security Council of the United Nations. As I said on a previous occasion, our feeling at the moment is that if there is to be any reference to the Security Council it should come either from the Government of India or from the Government of Pakistan.

We ourselves have been making strong representations to the President of Pakistan about the need for a political settlement. One can take some encouragement. as the noble Baroness said, from the fact that he is now allowing foreign journalists to go into East Pakistan, and also from the fact that a United Nations relief presence is being set up there. I think this all points to the fact that the President is anxious for a settlement. We are of course awaiting a statement that I understand he is due to make on June 28. Possibly it would be as well to wait and see what the President of East Pakistan has to say on that occasion before deciding whether any further action is necessary.


My Lords, while appreciating what has been done, is it not terribly inadequate? Is not this tragedy the worst that has happened in the human race since the bomb fell on Hiroshima? It is six weeks now since this trouble all began, and the Minister is still saying, "Wait and see". Is it not desirable that immediate action should be taken? Rather than wait for India and Pakistan, should not action be taken by this Government, for humanitarian purposes, to get the Security Council to meet and, first, to ask all Governments to contribute towards the relief of the unspeakable distress; and secondly, to work out a political solution by which the people of East Bengal may be able to determine their own future?


My Lords, I do not think there is any need for the Security Council to meet to appeal to the world for relief. This has already been done by the Secretary-General. I am glad to say that the response is definitely encouraging, and it is improving. Of course the noble Lord is right in saying that this is a terrible problem, not only from a humanitarian point of view, but also from the political point of view. I must confess, however, that I think at this stage we have to press on the Pakistani authorities the need for them to achieve a political settlement, because unless that is done, I cannot myself see the situation ever being resolved satisfactorily.


My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on the steps they have taken towards this relief; I think that they have done an excellent job. I would just say that I think it is something that we in this country in any case owe towards the inhabitants of East Pakistan. I think the noble Marquess referred to the return of the refugees. That, surely, is impossible unless one takes clear political steps, because in that part of the country one has a very difficult situation indeed (probably only comparable to that in Northern Ireland) where one has, on the one hand, a number of Muslim Zemindars who actually own the land, and, on the other, a number of Hindus, often peasants, who occupy the land and farm it. These latter are the people who have fled in terror from East Pakistan. This becomes a serious problem. Would the noble Marquess not agree that it is something—


Order, order!


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, who is making an extremely interesting speech, but it is normal to put questions on these Statements. We have the gist of his meaning now, and perhaps he can put his question.


My Lords, I appreciate that; but I still think that what I am saying is in general framed in terms of a question. I would ask whether Her Majesty's Government, in meeting the urgent demand for these refugees to get back to East Pakistan, will now proceed to exercise upon the Government of Pakistan their greatest influence to see that what is necessary in order to get these refugees back home is done, because it seems to me that until that happens, the situation will be impossible.


My Lords. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way he has pinpointed this problem. I will certainly undertake to pass his remarks on to my right honourable friend. As I said before, I think one can take some comfort from the fact that a United Nations presence is now being established in East Pakistan, because, as the noble Lord has said, there is no possibility of anyone wishing to return there until there is some sense of security. I hope that this may be a step on the road.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend two questions. First of all, is be aware that we on these Benches, like the noble Baroness opposite. would wish to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on their generosity and the initiative they have taken? I only express the wish that other countries will follow that example. Secondly, is my noble friend now satisfied that the relief supplies, the arrival of which was interrupted for a time, are now getting through?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. My understanding is that the supplies to India are now being cleared quite quickly. One of the problems has been a shortage of transport to remove the relief supplies from the airports to the points where they are needed. The United Nations' High Commissioner has asked us whether we can help in any way—for example, by an airlift. This is something that is under consideration at the moment.


My Lords, I am very glad indeed that the noble Marquess spoke as he did about the desirability of a political settlement. I think the whole House will await with interest the statement that is to be made by the President on June 28, and we shall also await with a lively interest the reactions of Her Majesty's Government to that statement.