HL Deb 21 December 1989 vol 514 cc356-62

11.52 a.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Britain's involvement with the region which now forms the state of Pakistan is a long and an intimate one and our relations with independent Pakistan have always been correspondingly close and friendly. We are the largest overseas investor in Pakistan and we have a substantial bilateral aid programme there. We consult and co-operate regularly with the Pakistani authorities on a wide range of matters, including the increasing and worldwide problems of narcotics. We regretted Pakistan's departure from the Commonwealth in 1972, because we felt that both the Commonwealth and Pakistan were poorer for it. Pakistan's return to full parliamentary democracy in November 1988 was therefore a double cause for celebration. In itself, it added a new depth and warmth to our relationship, reflected in the highly successful visit which Prime Minister Bhutto made to this country in July. The parliamentary dimension to our friendship was further underlined by the warm welcome given to the Speaker of the other place when he visited Pakistan in August. The other cause for celebration was that Pakistan's return to full democracy made possible her readmission to the Commonwealth by consensus of all members.

That said, the purpose of the Bill before us today is no more than to modify existing domestic legislation to place Pakistan on the same footing as other Commonwealth countries. Pakistan has duly rejoined the Commonwealth, with effect from 1st October. The Bill involves purely technical amendmens to a number of Acts in order to apply them to Pakistan. The Bill deals with Pakistan's relationship with the Commonwealth Institute. It reinstates the right of the Government of Pakistan to appoint a trustee to the Board of the Imperial War Museum. It makes some amendments to our legislation so that Pakistan forces are included in the definition of Commonwealth forces, with implications for their legal status when, for example, training in this country. It makes provision for the exercise of command and discipline when British forces and Commonwealth forces are serving together and for attachment of members of one force to another. It also ensures that the arrangement for reciprocal enforcement of judgments with Pakistan will continue in force.

The immigration and electoral implications of Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth have been dealt with separately by an Order in Council made on 2nd August, which added Pakistan to the list of Commonwealth countries given in Schedule 3 to the British Nationality Act 1981.

With that brief summary of the Bill, I commend it to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

11.56 a.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, we are most grateful to the Minister for presenting the Bill and for describing the implications so clearly. It must be rare for a Bill to come before us which I feel will receive unequivocal support and will also attract a great deal of pleasure and enthusiasm. Indeed, it is a relief to have left behind us the hurricane caused by the subject of student loans and to enter the calm waters which are represented by such a reunification.

On these Benches, we are delighted by the re-entry of Pakistan to the Commonwealth and would like to take the opportunity of offering a welcome to its Government and people. I believe that the Commonwealth will very much benefit from Pakistan's renewed presence within its ranks. We are well aware of the wide experience and talent of Pakistan's sophisticated and intelligent civil servants and the contribution that they have made and are making to international organisations, notably the World Bank, where many Pakistanis have served in very high-ranking positions.

Pakistan's Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, is the world's first ever Moslem woman leader and there is little doubt that she has attracted admiration from many parts of the world; and, equally, that much hope has been placed in her efforts to lead her country away from a system of military rule towards a democracy. The difficulties that she has encountered and is encountering have been very clear. We hope that the framework of the Commonwealth will provide a buttress to support her in her commitment to social reform and the creation of a democratic and free society to which she so obviously aspires.

However, equally there can be little doubt that she will need all the help and support that she can get. In this regard the fact that Pakistan will now qualify for technical assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat Fund is very much to be welcomed. We also hope that the country's return to the Commonwealth will bring additional well targeted aid from this country.

It is therefore a sobering truth that its needs are overwhelming. The one statistic that will provide unequivocal proof is that a staggering 90 per cent. of Pakistan's women are illiterate. We therefore hope that our development aid will take into account the involvement of women as being essential to national development in its varied dimensions of economic productivity, population planning, reducing infant mortality and strengthening human potential. That is the major help that we shall be able to give Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto is to be congratulated on the very real step that she has taken in bringing about a rapprochement between her country and India. As noble Lords will remember, at the beginning of this year she and a previous Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Ghandi, laid the groundwork for the establishment of better relations between their two countries. We hope and trust that these relations will continue to strengthen under the new Indian leadership in view of the vital importance of underpinning security in that part of the world. We feel that Pakistan's place within the Commonwealth will put these two countries in a more favourable position to build up trust in place of the bygone suspicion and strife that have existed.

I consider myself very fortunate and privileged from this side of the House to give a wholehearted welcome for the return to the Commonwealth of a country that is headed by a woman whose courage, both as a campaigner and leader, has attracted wide-ranging respect and has given a lead to the women in her country. Moreover, she has fulfilled her role as a wife, mother, politician and public figure with distinction and elegance. We wish her well, as we wish the Bill well.

12 noon

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long but I should like to thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. I also wish to associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs.

We on these Benches join your Lordships in welcoming Pakistan back into the Commonwealth. We hope that its return will strengthen the forces of democracy. It has a hard task to fulfil. As the noble Baroness said, its return will contribute towards improving relations within the Indian sub-continent. I also am happy to be given the opportunity to articulate good wishes from these Benches.

Lord Hunt

My Lords—

Lord Alport

My Lords, I also should like to say a few words in support of this short Bill. One of the most pleasant aspects about this time of year is that one receives annual bulletins of news from friends in various parts of the world. A few days ago I received a letter from an old friend in Rawalpindi. He was a general in the old Indian Army and subsequently a general in the army of Pakistan. He is now a prolific and successful writer, greatly respected in his country and in ours.

He set out his news with immaculate military precision:

  1. "1. We now have democracy with all its birth pangs.
  2. 2. The situation in Afghanistan, in spite of the Geneva accord, presents a formidable problem with no immediate solution, leaving 3 million refugees in Pakistan.
  3. 3. The Americans have been good friends and have been assisting us in solving the Afghan problem.
  4. 359
  5. 4. The Indians are at their old game of causing as much embarrassment to us as possible and are now building a dam on a river flowing into Pakistan. This will affect our irrigation.
  6. 5. The British, as always, have stood by us in difficult times.
  7. 6. By the grace of God the family has been well".
For those of us who believe that the Commonwealth has a great and continuing importance for all the diverse countries which belong to it, and in particular for Great Britain, the readmission of Pakistan to its ranks is a most welcome development. That is, first, because of the influence that Pakistan has in the turbulent Islamic world and the role that it could have in lessening the tension in Arabia and the Middle East. Secondly, in the continuing friction with India the Commonwealth membership of both countries may make it possible for leaders in other Commonwealth countries to help to reconcile these differences as the occasion arises. In that respect, Britain's historic relationship with Pakistan and India, already mentioned by the Minister, may enable us to give help. Thirdly, amid the "birth pangs of democracy" —to use the general's words —the association of Pakistan with the multitude of Commonwealth organisations covering so many aspects of political, professional and civil life, may help to carry it through to stability and success.

Those who know it will agree that Pakistan is a fascinating country with the splendour of its buildings and cities like Lahore; its ancient culture; its historic trunk roads from the Indian to the Afghan frontier; the Karakoram highway from Islamabad to the Chinese border; its Indian Ocean ports which have traded from time immemorial with the Gulf, Arabia, Sri Lanka and beyond.

Pakistan stands at the heart of Asia. Its penalty is that it is affected by developments in almost every part of that great continent. Its importance is that, given internal political stability, given a genuine understanding of its difficulties by Great Britain and other Commonwealth countries, Pakistan may fulfil the most important and constructive role in world affairs to which its history and geography —and I add the potential of its Prime Minister and people —entitles it.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not allow themselves to become so absorbed in the residual problems of the old empire in the South Atlantic and the China sea —or, indeed, in the financial complexities of our relations with Europe —that they forget that in every continent there are nations with influence and good will which can be mobilised through membership of the Commonwealth to help to solve our problems. At the same time we in Britain, with our resources, friendship and experience, can perhaps help to solve theirs, particularly, as regards Pakistan, the continuing and dire problem of the Afghan refugees.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of adding a few words from an old friend from that part of the world for the readmission of Pakistan to the Commonwealth.

12.5 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his warm remarks in introducing the Bill in addition to explaining its purport, with which no one in your Lordships' House will wish to disagree. I do not dissent from anything said by previous speakers and I should like to be associated with all their comments. However, I have one exception —if my noble friend Lord Alport will forgive me —and it is a comment contained in his friend's letter.

We must realise that Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was elected on 2nd December last year. Therefore, she has only recently completed one year with her new administration. It would be fair to say that at that time her new government were faced with immense problems, and many remain. It is significant to remind ourselves that one of the most notable changes has been the lifting of restrictions on the media and trade unions, and the promotion and encouragement of an atmosphere of free speech.

I understand from friends who trade with Pakistan that during the past year a new spirit has pervaded the country. Human rights are fully respected. In the social sector a number of programmes have been introduced, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. The programme to eliminate illiteracy is foremost.

My noble friend the Minister mentioned the economic situation. The fact is that the UK is the fourth largest trader in Pakistan, although it is right to say that our share of the market has diminished to only 7.5 per cent. The re-entry of the country into the Commonwealth should give intending investors even more confidence with the proclamations about the export processing zones, repatriation of profits and capital, and so forth.

There is no doubt that the Prime Minister's visit to Britain last July was successful. My honourable friend Mr. Alan Clark, then Minister for Trade, said when he addressed the BASATA conference that her visit would reinforce confidence between the UK and Pakistan and there is no doubt that it played an important part.

In the commercial area I see no hindrance to a further expansion of UK investment in Pakistan and of commercial firms participating in joint ventures or as exporters. I should prefer joint ventures or collaborative arrangements, as I believe they may. The Bill and the words spoken by noble Lords in regard to the re-entry should give great encouragement. I hope they give encouragement to that country.

12.10 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I owe your Lordships an apology, particularly the two speakers who have just contributed to this debate, for stepping in quite prematurely and allowing my impetuosity and enthusiasm for the Bill to override my knowledge of the rules of the House. I offer my sincere apologies and I shall try to make up for it by being exceedingly brief.

As one who in the war commanded Pakistani forces who on partition returned to their own country, and who has associated with Pakistani officers at our army staff college and with Pakistani scientists during a major expedition to their mountains in the Karakoram, it may be deemed in order for me to express my particular delight and pleasure that Pakistan is now returning to the fold of the Commonwealth.

It was a particularly sad experience for all of us at the time of partition who were in a position of commanding soldiers who had served so loyally and gallantly in the war when regiments composed partly of Indian soldiers and partly of Pakistani soldiers were torn apart by the events immediately following the last war. The regiment of my brigade thus treated was the Third 12th Frontier Force Regiment and the Punjabi Moslem companies in that battalion. They were returned to Pakistan, leaving their brothers with whom they had fought shoulder to shoulder in the war on the other side of the fence.

It was an extraordinary experience when in 1980 I returned to Pakistan to take part in the Royal Geographical Expedition to the Karakoram to be invited to visit the frontier force regiment in Rawalpindi and be received there as a long-lost brother. Other people have had that experience and it was something which I shall never forget. It was as though time had stood still and had never moved from those happier times. Therefore, no one is in a position to rejoice more warmly than myself at the prospect that the partition between India and Pakistan may be healed with the process of time and the good offices of the presidents of both those countries. I congratulate the Government on giving us this Bill.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for giving the Bill such a warm welcome. It has certainly been a useful discussion.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the current aid programme for Pakistan. That is planned to increase to £25 million this year. It has doubled over the past five years and increased two years ago from £18 million to £23 million last year. It is our third largest programme of aid in Asia.

In order to mark Pakistan's re-entry to the Commonwealth we are increasing our contribution to the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship Plan which we hope will enable the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission to provide a number of awards for Pakistan.

As regards the social matters referred to by the noble Baroness, we signed the memorandum of understanding during the visit of Prime Minister Mrs. Benazir Bhutto in July for an allocation of £25 million of aid for slum improvement and primary health care, rural water and teacher training. We have identified projects in all those areas and of course our present aid programme includes substantial assistance for family planning programmes.

The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Alport referred to Pakistan's relations with India. We are pleased that the new Indian Government have said that they wish to improve relations with their neighbours. We have no reason to doubt the intentions of the Indian Government to maintain the good relationships which have been developed recently between the two countries. Indeed, India joined the consensus of member states supporting Pakistan's re-entry.

All noble Lords have spoken warmly in support of the Bill and my noble friend Lord Lucas reminded us that we are the fourth largest trader with Pakistan. He did not mention the part which he has played in fostering those trade relations and we congratulate him on that.

I am grateful for the welcome which the Bill has received. I am sure that those in Pakistan will be delighted to know of the many friends which they have in your Lordship's House. I appreciate the warm words which noble Lords have had for the Commonwealth and for the renewed membership of Pakistan. As I made clear, the Government placed great value on the unique advantages of the Commonwealth and the contributions which Pakistan will be able to make to its work. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.

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