HL Deb 06 November 1975 vol 365 cc1383-6

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question of which I have given Private Notice; namely:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on the current situation in Belize."


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have decided to increase the small garrison in Belize, a self-governing colony for whose defence we are responsible, in the face of increased Guatemalan military activity on the border with Belize and statements by Guatemalan Ministers of their intention to incorporate Belize in Guatemala. We hope these reinforcements will not be needed and can be withdrawn in due course. Our aim is to bring Belize to full independence through negotiation with Guatemala and, in company with a number of Caribbean and other States, we are co-sponsoring a United Nations resolution to that effect. In fact, talks which proved to be abortive took place earlier this year, but despite their failure to yield any result Her Majesty's Government are of course ready to resume them.


My Lords, in thanking the Minister, may I ask him two questions, the first in relation to the Motion which will be before the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow. Can he confirm that it is being supported by nearly 50 countries, not only Commonwealth countries, but countries even extending to Cuba; and may not this be an opportunity for settlement? Secondly, may I ask whether it would be desirable to approach the Organisation of American States, which would contribute towards a solution of this problem?


My Lords, the resolution to which my noble friend refers is sponsored by 48 countries, including many Commonwealth countries, the Caribbean countries—which have an immediate interest in what happens in Belize—Cuba, Yugoslavia and other nonaligned countries. No doubt other countries will join in co-sponsoring this resolution which sets out the need to enable the people of Belize to determine their future and achieve independence on the basis of self-determination. Her Majesty's Government stand ready to resume discussions with Guatemala, and to play their part in the United Nations through the resolution which is now being debated in the Fourth Committee. I have no doubt they will consider the suggestion about a further reference, if this proves feasible, to the OAS, similar to that which we made in 1973, when an independent observer, drawn from the South American States, reported on the purely defensive military presence of Britain in Belize.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, before putting a question, may I say from this side of the House that we appreciate and support the difficult decision which Her Majesty's Government had to take in sending troops to defend the citizens of Belize. We should like to ask the Minister whether he can say what part the people of Belize themselves have taken in negotiations up to date; how far they will be following the General Assembly resolution in future negotiations, and whether, if there is a further threat from a member of United Nations to violate the Charter, consideration will be given to take the matter to the Security Council in view of the fact that the lives of British troops, Guatemalan troops and the people for whom we are responsible, might be at risk?


My Lords, any reference to the Security Council beyond a discussion in the Fourth Committee on the basis of the present resolution must, as the noble Baroness well knows, be a matter for future consideration. Belize is a dependency. We are responsible for it until it achieves independence. For that reason, it is not immediately a matter that should be referred to the Security Council; but it is very much a matter to be discussed in the Fourth Committee on the basis of the resolution I have described. As to the participation of the people of Belize. we are most anxious that they should be included to the fullest extent; they always are in the dependencies which we help forward to self-Government. We have had three discussions this year with the Guatemalans, at at least one of which the people of Belize were represented. One was held in New York in February, the next was held in New Orleans in April, and another in New York in July, when, unfortunately, talks broke down. I think it was at the final meeting the people of Belize were directly represented. As to the future, we very much wish to see them represented in any discussions about their own country's future.


My Lords, may I ask what contribution the people of Belize are themselves making towards preparations for their defence and military protection?


My Lords, I am afraid I could not give the kind of detail I think the noble Lord would need. What I do know is that the Government and people of Belize are very much in favour of the action of Her Majesty's Government, and no doubt they will make their own contribution to any action which will be necessary.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees that the people of Belize are very poor and have few personal means? Does he further agree that they cannot do much to help themselves, but that they are very loyal to the British Commonwealth, and may I say that I hope that everything possible will be done to see that they are protected? May I also say how delighted I am to learn that the Devon and Dorset Regiment are going out there again, since that is the Regi- ment which behaved so well and helped them so much previously?


My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Baroness has said. It is not a very rich country, and it cannot improve its circumstances if it is constantly under threat of external attack.

Several Noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the Statement which he has just made, explaining the action taken by Her Majesty's Government, is most acceptable to my noble friends and myself? We feel that the noble Lord and the Government are right to make it clear that any incursion along the frontier would be resisted. We hope that, the position having been made clear, there will be no further difficulties so that good sense and the rule of law will prevail.


My Lords, I am most grateful for that statement from the Liberal Front Bench, and indeed I am also very grateful to the noble Baroness for having said what she did say on behalf of her own Party.