Oral Answers to Questions — Belize

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th November 1975.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet Chipping Barnet 12:00 am, 6th November 1975

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Belize.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan):

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. I hope that these reinforcements will not be needed and can be withdrawn in due course.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, some 48 so far, 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.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet Chipping Barnet

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that statement and also for keeping me in touch with this difficult situation. If my memory serves me correctly, it is a situation which occurred a few years ago under a Conservative administration. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House entirely support him in maintaining and carrying out Britain's responsibilities, and in his efforts to find a solution to this very difficult problem, particularly in the interests of the people of Belize?

Mr. Callaghan:

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The people of Belize have expressed through universal suffrage their support for their Government who want self-determination and independence—[Interruption.] I hope that my hon. Friend does not object to that. It is our desire to try to bring those people to that situation.

Photo of Mr Evan Luard Mr Evan Luard , Oxford

Is this not a question, similar to the problems in Spanish Morocco, which involves self-determination for a people who are determined to maintain their own independence against the threat of interference from outside? Will my right hon. Friend seek to mobilise the maximum possible support in the United Nations which has consistently defended that principle and where a resolution has already been put down on this subject? Would this not help to show the strength of feeling in the world that the independence of the people of this territory should be maintained?

Mr. Callaghan:

There is widespread support for the aspirations of Belize for independence. For example, the group of non-aligned countries which met in Lima some months ago expressed its support and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference did the same. It is not accepted, however, by Guatemala that the doctrine of independence should apply. It asserts that Belize properly belongs to Guatemala, but I think that most countries in the United Nations are moving in favour of self-determination and independence.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that what he said meets with great support in most parts of the House, particularly from hon. Members who have been to Belize?

Will he also accept that a possible visit from a Minister would give great comfort to the democratically elected Government there, and will he say whether he is raising this matter with the Organisation of American States, which in the past, behind the scenes, I understand, has been of some assistance?

Mr. Callaghan:

Yes, Sir, Our representatives in the various countries represented in the OAS are, of course, informing those Governments of our attitude.

I would certainly consider the possibility of a Minister or others going to Belize, although the people there seem themselves to be stout-hearted in this matter and wish to secure their own independence.

I think we should try, if Guatemala is willing, to make some arrangements with Guatemala as a precursor to independence, to ensure, for example, that Guatemala and Belize could exchange information about economic matters, that they could ensure that the rights of navigation are sustained, and that no third country could start hostilities against either of them without the other being informed. These are various matters which could be ironed out once the principle is accepted that Belize has a right to its independence.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

As one who has visited Belize on a parliamentary visit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—which might mean that I know something about it, unlike most hon. Members here, and can provide the enlightenment they seem to lack, may I say that I strongly endorse the Government's policy in moving to protect the independence of Belize, since the people have made it quite clear on a number of occasions that they wish to be Belizians and not Guatemalans?

Mr. Callaghan:

It is, I fear, the case that one Guatemalan Minister has said that what Guatemala claims is the territory and not the people, and that if the people who now inhabit Belize do not like it they should move elsewhere. That does not seem to be very conducive to a spirit of cordial negotiations.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torbay

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that the best way for us to avoid trouble in this part of the world is to have a sufficient show of strength so that it will not come to a fight. I am not asking him to reveal military secrets, but will he agree that the best possible way is to convince Guatemala that it is simply not worth trying, rather than having to engage in a long and untidy struggle?

Mr. Callaghan:

I intimated to the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, when I had a discussion with him at the United Nations in September, that if there were an invasion of a British colony which is seeking to become independent, and whose independence is denied only by the Guatemalan claim, we would fulfil our responsibilities to that colony. I think he is in no doubt about our intention to do so.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

While utterly deploring the threatening posture adopted by the Guatemalan Government, which traces its origins back to the situation created by the 1954 CIA-inspired invasion of Guatemala, may I ask my right hon. Friend to say what further steps he is prepared to take to relay world opinion—which is very clear on this issue and is against any Guatemalan invasion—to those concerned?

Mr. Callaghan:

There will be a debate on this matter in the Fourth Committee of the United Nations which, I think, will start tomorrow. We have intimated to other countries in the United Nations our position and why we have adopted it, and a large number of countries—I believe now 48 in all—have decided to co-sponsor a resolution with which we are jointly associated.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

While appreciating the action that the Foreign Secretary and Her Majesty's Government have already taken, may I ask the Foreign Secretary if he will give any indication of what the attitude of Her Majesty's Government would be should there be any future threat to the independence of Belize once that territory becomes independent?

Mr. Callaghan:

No, Sir. I could not do that at the moment. This is a matter for discussion when Belize is likely to assume her independence, and we should have to consider how we could ensure her future, but I cannot go into that this afternoon.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Further questions on this matter will be quite in order in Monday's debate.