I have continued to keep in close touch with the Governments of India and Pakistan. The details of these exchanges must remain confidential.
I shall be visiting New Delhi from 5th to 8th February. In my talks with the Indian Government we will, of course, review the situation and recent developments in the sub-continent.
I hope to be able to visit Pakistan later in the year, at a mutually convenient time.
While the action taken is to be welcomed, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that it seems a little inadequate in the light of the tremendous problems facing the Indian Government at the end of the war and the problems on her frontiers? How long will it be before the British Government recognise Bangladesh following the action of the Indian Government at the end of the war?
On the question of relations with the Indian Government, I think it is a good idea to go there and to discuss with them what they require. No request has yet come to us from the Indians. I hope to make a statement in the near future about the question of recognition. What we and a lot of other countries are anxious to achieve is reconciliation between Bangladesh and Pakistan and the creation of the most harmonious relations possible.
Would my right hon. Friend bring forward his visit to Pakistan so that he can visit the area on his way to New Delhi and then Bangkok? It would be valuable if he could have discussions with the President and the new Government of Pakistan and find ways of recognising the new régime in Dacca at an appropriate moment, which presumably will be when the Indian troops have withdrawn from that country.
I am in very close touch with the Government of Pakistan and the rulers of Bangladesh. A visit at this moment probably would not help when they have so much on their hands. However, I will consider the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman clearly is giving urgent consideration to the possibility of recognising Bangladesh. Is he giving parallel consideration to the possibility of Bangladesh joining the Commonwealth?
We are willing to help in any way we can; Mr. Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman understand that. I hope to discuss these matters with Mrs. Gandhi in a very short time.
On 18th January my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement on the position, which remains unchanged. We cannot sign aid loans before recognition, but we have been considering what the needs of the country will be and have begun discussions with the World Bank about the setting up of an aid programme. We hope that an international consortium will be established in due course, and we shall be anxious to play our part in it.—[Vol. 829, c. 215–17.]
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that reply. I am aware of the proposals the Government made last month, but as far as one can tell the most urgent needs now are for shelter, food, medical aid and the rehabilitation of the transport services of Bangladesh. Whilst I realise that this is a problem for not only Britain but the whole world, will not the hon. Gentleman make attempts through the United Nations, as well as the proposal he has made, to see that urgent relief is given so that the country can get back on its feet again?
I appreciate the hon. Lady's concern about the matter. The United Nations assessment team is now there trying to decide what is needed, and at the request of the United Nations one of our engineering experts has gone to Dacca to assess what needs to be done about transport.
If further help during the cold weather is urgently needed, in addition to the supply of blankets, to meet the need for which there was such a magnificent response from this country recently, will the Government consider offering the services of the Royal Air Force, which has already done so much since the crisis first developed?
I am proud that we have been able to play a leading part in meeting the needs of the refugees so far. We shall certainly continue to do so through the United Nations, which I think is the best way of tackling the problem at present.
Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that even before the recent hostilities there was a need for a vast amount of aid and advice to enable the people of East Bengal to build up the dykes against the typhoons that have caused such immense loss of life there in recent years?
Will the hon. Gentleman give us two assurances? First, will he assure us that the whole question of recognition will not be permitted, as his answer seemed to indicate it might, to hold up whatever aid can be given to Bangladesh in present circumstances, since the need is so desperate? Secondly can he tell us that the possibility of setting up an international consortium will not delay British bilateral aid or multilateral aid through the United Nations, because of the possibility of American reluctance to engage in aid at this moment? It seems to us that there might be a great delay if the normal consortium mechanism is gone through.
I very much hope that the consultations we are having with the United Nations agencies will result in their being no hold-up in the flow of aid to that territory. It is the case that recognition will stand in the way of bilateral aid between the two countries, but I very much hope that the aid from this country will reach that part of the world without any delay caused by the legal position.
I suggested last week to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary that one of the greatest needs is the simple though massive one of a vast supply of blankets. Have further investigations been made into the question, and what results have come out?
I noticed my hon. Friend's suggestion and we forwarded to the United Nations what he said. I am not in a position to say what conclusion the United Nations came to, but we shall keep pursuing the matter.