HL Deb 19 July 1973 vol 344 cc1406-10

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Her Majesty's Government accorded de jure recogition to Bangladesh on February 4, 1972, and on April 18 of that year Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth. I do not need to remind the House of the very sad events of 1971 but they did lead to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent sovereign State. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing that the memories left by those events will soon be healed and that a settlement in the sub-continent may rapidly be achieved. Her Majesty's Government wish, of course, to have friendly relations with Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

We have just considered a Bill designed to take account of Pakistan's leaving the Commonwealth. We now are considering a Bill designed to take account of the fact that Bangladesh is not only now an independent sovereign State but also that she is within the Commonwealth. This Bill will, in certain respects, have retrospective effect to February 4, 1972, the date when Her Majesty's Government recognised Bangladesh. It is, I think, a straightforward Bill. The majority of its clauses are of a technical nature designed to secure that our law operates in relation to Bangladesh in the same way as it operates in relation to independent Commonwealth countries.

The most important clause of the Bill is Clause 2 dealing with nationality. Persons from Bangladesh in this country have so far enjoyed the privileges of Commonwealth citizenship only because, paradoxically, they retained their Pakistan citizenship under Pakistan legislation. Clause 2(1) of the Bill therefore amends the British Nationality Act of 1948 in order to secure that persons who are citizens of Bangladesh under the law of Bangladesh will possess the status of Commonwealth citizens under our law. Bangladesh passed a law on December 15, 1972, providing for citizenship of Bangladesh. When first published, this law was so drafted as to cause some doubt whether many of the people from Bangladesh in this country would qualify for Bangladesh citizenship. The Bangladesh Government has since published an amendment to the law making it clear that generally persons from Bangladesh in this country have Bangladesh citizenship.

Any persons who do not qualify for Bangladesh citizenship would of course still retain their Pakistan nationality, although they would become aliens once the Pakistan Bill becomes law. However, it is possible, only possible that Pakistan might at some time in the future amend its law to deprive persons connected with Bangladesh of Pakistan citizenship. The persons affected might include some settled in this country who have not acquired Bangladesh citizenship. If this were to happen any people in this category in this country would become stateless. Clause 2(2) therefore guards against such a possibility by enabling the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to make an order under which they could still be treated as citizens of Pakistan, and so retain their option to apply for registration as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies under the transitional arrangements of the Pakistan Bill.

This is a precautionary measure, since in the present circumstances we see no reason to suppose that the situation which I have just described is likely to arise.

I am sure that in considering this Bill the House will wish to join me in conveying to the State of Bangladesh and to Bangladesh citizens in this country, our best wishes for their future.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.)

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, it is my privilege to thank the noble Baroness and to extend on behalf of my noble friends a welcome to this Bill, both to its provisions dealing with our relationship with Bangladesh and to those dealing with the status of citizens of Bangladesh in this country. That I do most warmly; and I endorse the noble Baroness's hope that we shall see the day when divisions on the Indian sub-continent will be healed. I welcome therefore the degree of flexibility to which the noble Baroness referred in her concluding remarks about the provisions of the Bill.

I know that we have watched with heavy hearts the blows which have fallen on Bangladesh in recent years. I suppose that few countries in the history of the world can have had a more painful birth. We hope that this modest Bill made necessary by Bangladesh's welcome accession to the Commonwealth last year as an independent sovereign State will help cement our long friendship with her people and will symbolise our appreciation of her loyalty in the past, our confidence in her future and will be one of the first milestones on her road to happiness and stability.


My Lords. I want very sincerely to welcome this Bill. I shall say only a few words. I am associated with Bangladesh in a curious way. Its President was one of my constituents in Slough when I was in the other place and was one of my very great friends there. The noble Baroness referred to the difficulties of Bangladesh in relation to the whole situation in South-East Asia. One of my hopes is that British recognition of Bangladesh and the fact that Bangladesh is joining the Comonwealth may assist in bringing a solution of these problems.

There are five elements of the problem, with each of which Bangladesh is intimately associated. There is, first, the question as to whether Pakistan should recognise Bangladesh. One has great hopes of that by the acknowledgment by the Assembly in Pakistan of President Bhutto's right to do so. The second element is the Bangladesh residents in Pakistan whom we are hoping will be allowed to return. The third element is the 90,000 Pakistan prisoners who are still in India. The fourth element is the Biharis and those who were loyal to Pakistan who are still in Bangladesh. Fifthly, there is the "indication"—I almost said "threat" but I will not put it as strongly as that—that many among the prisoners in India may be tried as war criminals.

I am suggesting that all those five very closely related problems, which might easily become separate items in a broader solution, could be assisted if Her Majesty's Government, now recognising Bangladesh, were able, through the Commonwealth Secretariat, to give their services towards that kind of solution. May I add just one word because of my association with those who are in the Government of Bangladesh? I hope that for this wider settlement they will not insist upon the trials of war criminals. No doubt atrocities were committed. I am never very deeply concerned over attaching blame for atrocities—whether in Vietnam, Mozambique or Bangladesh. The greatest atrocity is the war itself. I hope very much, despite the precedent we gave, that the Bangladesh Administration will be prepared, for the sake of a wider settlement not to proceed with the trials of these war criminals. I welcome this Bill.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who have spoken in such welcoming terms of Bangladesh as a member of the Commonwealth and have wished her citizens all good fortune in the future. I think that as the wider questions have been raised it is perhaps right that I should refer to some of the problems that still confront Bangladesh. The House will remember that it was on April 17 this year that the Indian and Bangladesh Governments issued a joint Declaration which suggested a "package" settlement which would involve the simul taneous repatriation of Pakistan prisoners of war except those wanted for war crime trials. I understand that Sheikh Mujib is considering that he might put about 195 persons on trial; also the return to Bangladesh of the Bengalis detained in Pakistan and the transfer to Pakistan of the Biharis in Bangladesh who had opted for Pakistan.

The Pakistan Government objected to the proposed war crimes trials and to the suggested transfer of the Biharis but they suggested that Indian representatives should visit Pakistan for further discussions. An Indian emissary is due to arrive in Pakistan for talks on July 24. Meanwhile, President Bhutto has obtained from the National Assembly a resolution authorising him to recognise Bangladesh whenever he considers it appropriate. President Bhutto—and I was interested to hear that he was a constituent of the noble Lord—has said that he will not recognise Bangladesh until all the prisoners of war have been returned and the idea of these war crime trials is abandoned.

I should like to say on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we are ready to help in achieving a settlement on the sub-continent which we think is of prime importance; but to date the three countries concerned have made it clear that they wish to see a settlement among themselves without outside mediation. I think in the circumstances this is right. Therefore I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.