HL Deb 18 January 1972 vol 327 cc33-9

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships' House I should now like to repeat a Statement on Bangladesh that is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. This is the text of my right honourable friend's Statement.

" With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a Statement.

" Since the House rose, the hostilities between India and Pakistan have ended. On December 21 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution demanding the strict observance of this cease-fire and the withdrawal of armed forces as soon as practicable. We played a full part in the negotiations leading up to this resolution, and we voted for it.

" A new pattern of relationships is now emerging. In Pakistan, President Bhutto has taken over the Government. In congratulating him on this appointment my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear our wish for close and friendly relations. One of President Bhutto's first deeds was to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman without conditions. This was a most statesmanlike act. In the East, normal life is returning and the refugees are beginning to go back to their homes. There are reports that well over 1 million have already done so. Since Sheikh Mujib's return a new Government has been set up composed of those who were elected in the general elections of December, 1970.

" On his way home, Sheikh Mujib passed through London and we were glad to welcome him. He paid a private courtesy call on my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and expressed his desire for close co-operation and friendship between his people and this country. As he was anxious to return to Dacca as quickly as possible, a Royal Air Force aircraft was put at his disposal.

" Sheikh Mujib also expressed his wish to remain on good terms with Pakistan, but made it clear that there could be no question of a formal link. President Bhutto, for his part, has proposed further discussions between the East and the West. The new Government in Dacca appears to be firmly established. The Indian Army is still in the East but Sheikh Mujib has made it clear that this is by his will and that the soldiers will be withdrawn when he deems it necessary. I am keeping the question of recognition under close consideration and am in touch with a number of Commonwealth and other Governments. I hope to be able to make another Statement on the question in the near future.

" British lives and property have been affected by the war. As I informed the House on December 13, seven United Kingdom citizens were killed in a British ship in Karachi. Since the end of hostilities we have come to know that three United Kingdom citizens were killed in an attack on a Pakistan vessel in which they were serving. British property suffered some damage, including the tea estates in the East. But the British firms affected in both the East and the West are anxious to resume operations and to assist in the task of rehabilitation.

" Many problems remain. In the East the authorities are faced with an immense task of reconstruction. We shall want to play a full part in helping with these problems. We are trying through the United Nations and other agencies to establish the needs and priorities, and we discussed the question with Sheikh Mujib when he was in London. There still remains unspent about £1 million of our contribution to the United Nations for emergency relief. And I am happy to announce that we have now decided to provide a further £1 million for relief in the area. In the West we have also told President Bhutto of our willingness to do what we can to help. The possibility of new aid is one of the questions which we shall be discussing with the President of the World Bank when he is in London this week.

" I am sure that all Members will agree that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the events which led up to this tragic conflict, the need now is to help the parties concerned to work together to solve the many problems of the sub-continent."

My Lords, that is the conclusion of my right honourable friend's Statement.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement. We on this side of the House share with Her Majesty's Government the desire for friendly relations both with President Bhutto and also with the Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujib. We also hope that relations between these two peoples may be closer and warmer in the months to come. Certainly one way in which this could be helped would be if we could in some way lift the appalling burdens that must fall on both the leaders as a consequence of the fighting and the presence of the refugees. I hope, therefore, that the Government, who have already taken a lead, will continue to give that lead and, by their own example, provide fairly large sums of money and also help to organise other countries to give aid to both sides in this dispute.

We on this side of the House also wish to congratulate President Bhutto upon his great act of statesmanship in releasing Sheikh Mujib without conditions. I feel that I must congratulate the Government and the Prime Minister, in particular, for receiving Sheikh Mujib as he did and for the provision of an aircraft so that Sheikh Mujib could return to Dacca as expeditiously as possible.

On the question of recognition I recognise that there are considerable difficulties. I suspect that a decision will have to be taken very shortly. I wonder whether the noble Earl could answer just two questions on this matter. First, can he comment on the reports, which he will have seen, that Australia may be taking an initiative in recognising the Government of Dacca? Secondly. can he confirm that the Deputy High Commissioner of the unitary State of Pakistan is still in Dacca, and tell us what is his relationship with Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib? My Lords, I hope that the Government will keep the House informed, particularly on the aid programme. I am certain that Parliament will be only too willing to vote the necessary money to bring relief to the peoples of the sub-continent.


My Lords, I am grateful—and this is more than a form of words—for the general welcome which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has given to my right honourable friend's Statement. I accept what he has said about the problems of aid: they are daunting. I mentioned, when repeating the Statement, what I would call the "pump-priming", the further contribution of £1 million which Her Majesty's Government have decided to extend. All I would say on this is that, clearly, this should be a concerted effort. I think that this, and I hope offers of aid from other countries, will help to bridge the gap while the situation is re-assessed and re-evaluated. On the question of recognition I am afraid that I need notice of the question about the Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner—


My Lords, I was referring to the British High Commissioner.


I am sorry. He is in Dacca at the present time. I noted what the noble Lord said on the question of recognition. He referred to a possible Australian initiative in this respect. All I would say is that we are in close contact in this matter not only with our Commonwealth associates, including Australia, but also, of course, with our American fiends and with our European friends. This is a matter which we are keeping under very close scrutiny indeed.


My Lords, my noble friends and I share the sentiments expressed both by the Government and also by the Opposition about this matter. There is one small aspect of the question on which I should like to add a word to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said. I recognise that there are difficulties, and indeed certain formalities, to be gone through with regard to recognition; but in so far as that Government appears to be firmly established I am not quite sure why our Government cannot recognise Bangladesh right away. It may be that there are certain obstacles. Can the Government assure me that there are no further obstacles of a kind which possibly your Lordships' House should know about, or is it possible that the Government would like to recognise Bangladesh, together with the other countries of the European Community, in the next few days?


My Lords, again I welcome the general stance of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in response to my right honourable friend's Statement. On this rather delicate ground of recognition, I would wish to tread delicately, but in response to what the noble Lord has said I can confirm that there are no insuperable obstacles here. There is the normal question of the establishment of the normal criteria prior to recognition, but this is essentially a matter for consultation and a matter of timing.


My Lords, in welcoming very sincerely the Statement that has been made by the Minister, and particularly the attitude of the Government during the conflict, may I ask this question? Have Sheikh Mujib and the Government of Bangladesh indicated that they would desire Bangladesh to be a member of the Commonwealth? If so, can the Minister indicate when, in the consultations with the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Governments were asked to give their views about the recognition of Bangladesh, when he expects their replies and when we may hope for a Government decision about recognition, which most of us desire?


My Lords, on the last point which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has put to me—and we recognise his very deep and continuing interest in this matter—I think I can only rest on what my right honourable friend's Statement said: that he hopes to make a further Statement on this matter of recognition in the near future and that we are in touch at this very moment with the Commonwealth and other Governments concerned.

On the question of the Commonwealth, I can confirm that Sheikh Mujib has stated that he hopes his country will be accepted into the Commonwealth. This is a matter on which we should naturally wish to ascertain whether there is a consensus within the Commonwealth, and again this is a matter which is under close study and consideration. May I add that it is also the desire of Her Majesty's Government that West Pakistan, too, will remain in the Commonwealth. This is a matter of which we should not lose sight.


My Lords, in joining with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the prudence and wisdom that have guided the Government on this matter, may I ask whether the Government have fully in mind the problems which will arise in the twilight period between non-recognition and recognition, particularly those which arise both for British trade and industry and for the British voluntary organisations, which are already doing work there? Clearly, of course, everything would be much easier if an official relationship could be established.


Yes, my Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, has said. All that I would add is that our representatives in Dacca on the commercial side are keeping a close watch for on-developments affecting British commercial interests and they have been authorised to keep in touch with the authorities in Dacca and give whatever assistance is required by British business men there in this admittedly rather difficult "twilight period", as the noble Lord has termed it.