I beg to move,
That this House affirms its concern for the well-being and security of all Her Majesty's subjects resident in British dependent territories; assures them of its support for their economic and constitutional development; asserts the paramountcy of their interests in all matters affecting their future; expresses its determination to defend their territorial integrity by force if necessary; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to consider proposals for a closer permanent association with the United Kingdom for all such territories as do not desire or are precluded from seeking independence on their own account.
The general subject of Britain's dependent territories is rarely debated by Parliament. It sometimes has to consider a crisis affecting a specific territory. When that happens the whole attention of the House is given to the problem of that one territory. In this way, the House has recently been concerned with the Falkland Islands, and hon. Members occasionally refer to Hong Kong and Gibraltar, but the rest of what used to be called our colonial empire has not been a subject of debate in the House for many years. I trust that the House will agree that a debate on the whole subject is timely.
Perhaps I may remind the House of what are officially regarded as our dependent territories. My hon. Friend the Minister of State informed me in a reply to a written question:
The remaining British dependent territories are …Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Falkland Islands Dependencies, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Montserrat, Pitcairn Group of Islands, St. Helena and Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are dependencies of St. Helena), Turks and Caicos Islands."—[Official Report, 14 April 1983; Vol. 40, c. 443.]
I am especially pleased to have secured this debate because I was a member of the Colonial Administrative Service and served happily in Nigeria for 10 years in the capacity of a district officer before I had the good fortune to be elected to this place. I helped in a small way to prepare that great country for self-government and I believe that my colleagues and I in the Colonial Service contributed, also in a practical way, towards the improvement of the condition of the people for whom we were responsible. The Colonial Service — the administrative, professional and technical staff, who served and continue to serve the Governments of our dependent territories—has never had the credit that is due to it for the almost wholly peaceful transition from empire to self-governing Commonwealth. It provided the millions of people in our overseas territories with standards of skill and integrity which are sorely missed in most of our former colonies nowadays.
In this connection, it is a great pity that Sir Richard Attenborough's much-praised film gave a misleading impression of the quality of the Indian Civil Service during the period of British rule in India. The Indian Civil Service was not a part of the Colonial Service, but its members were similar and recruited in the same way. Its members were, on the whole, people of great intelligence and sound judgment, who were devoted to India. They left a legacy of honest and impartial government of which we can be proud. It is sad that a British film director should have given such a false and discreditable picture of his fellow countrymen.
Without commenting further on those remarks, which are relevant to the film, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was a great pity that the film did not show the activities, for example, of the Simon commission and especially the endeavours of Clement Attlee when he became Prime Minister, and the events in the House and in London generally surrounding the freedom of India, which was bestowed by a Government who were led by my party?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, except that the ideal of self-government for India was shared by many on both sides of the House. There were many attempts to provide self-government in a peaceful and acceptable climate in India, which unfortunately failed until the denouement, which some said was a tragedy anyway. In other words, I heartily accept what the hon. Gentleman has said.
The subject of our remaining dependent territories and their problems is vast. I propose to refer only to certain general aspects before commenting briefly on individual territories. As I am a lawyer by profession, the House will not be surprised if most of my points have a legal complexion.
All our dependent territories, from Hong Kong with its huge teeming population of over 5 million to the scattered uninhabited islands of the southern oceans, are covered by the terms of article 73 of the United Nations charter, which rightly asserts the paramountcy of the interests of the inhabitants. It should be noted that the charter does not denounce colonialism—we have nothing to be ashamed of in our record in this respect—or colonial status but so long as any of our overseas territories retains that status, express or implied, we ate vulnerable to attacks at the United Nations at the behest of covetous neighbours and political enemies.
The first article of the charter makes it clear that self-determination should be the guiding rule, but where self-determination means the preservation of colonial status little notice is taken of article 1. So Latin American hostility to our presence in the Falkland Islands, which may have been sharpened by but did not originate with the recent armed conflict there, is founded on an obsession about colonialism which every Latin American state has nurtured since it rejected its own European sovereign.
So one of our first problems is how to evolve a relationship with those of our remaining dependencies which do not seek independence, or which are precluded by their small size or by international agreement from doing so. We should clearly assist a territory towards independence if that is the wish of the inhabitants. Otherwise we should seek to remove what has become a stigma of colonialism from those dependencies which seek a permanent place within the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
In this connection I was rather disappointed with the reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to my written question on 13 April. I asked what Her Majesty's Government's policy was towards the constitutional progress of the dependent territories and he replied—I paraphrase — that it was to encourage independence where feasible. I would have hoped for something more imaginative than that. As there are now few territories which desire independence and still fewer which could sustain it, that seems to be a rather inadequate reply. It leaves out of account the massive problem of Hong Kong, the acute question of the Falklands, the confrontation policy of Spain towards Gibraltar, the ill-defined constitutional position of Brunei, which has not been mentioned in the list of dependent territories but in respect of which the position is rather uncertain, and many other situations in the majority of our dependent territories where indpendence is simply not an option.
Bermuda, with a population of 54,670—I quote from that invaluable publication "Whitaker's Almanac", which I commend to all hon. Members who want a quick and accurate guide to facts such as those with which we are dealing now—has a healthy economy, and is perhaps for that reason viable as an independent entity, but for most of our dependent territories independence in the diplomatic sense is out of the question. The experiment of the West Indies federation failed to reconcile the interests of small islands within a viable federal entity. The idea of West Indian association states died with the transition of St. Kitts and Nevis, the last remaining associated state, to full independence, albeit with a total population of less than 45,000. We must seek some way of ensuring democracy and security for the populations of those small islands dotted around the world, many of which have belonged to us for centuries and which have no chance of survival on their own.
One option that I believe we should avoid is the Belize formula. For many years British Honduras, latterly Belize, wanted independence and we were prepared to give it. However, the Guatemalan claim to the territory of Belize meant that an independent Belize would be at the mercy of the armed might of Guatemala. So the leaders of Belize sensibly preferred to remain within the military protection of Britain as an internally self-governing colony. That arrangement persisted until the British Government of the day allowed themselves to be persuaded to grant independence subject to a form of treaty—I think that it was an exchange of notes—under which, in effect, we are obliged to go to the assistance of Belize if it is attacked. That is one interpretation of the agreement with Belize. In any event, we now keep a substantial garrison there and it is alerted every time some Guatemalan leader courts political popularity by threatening to invade.
As I have criticised my hon. Friend the Minister of State twice so far, it is perhaps right that I should now give him a bouquet. I think that he has been right in his parliamentary answers on this subject, when subjected to close questioning by some of my hon. Friends, in avoiding giving a specific guarantee to Belize. I wish that some of my hon. Friends would not try to persuade him to give it, because the situation is potentially very dangerous and should be brought to an early end.
It cannot be over-emphasised that independence is a one-way ticket. Dependent territories that seek independence should understand that their ability to defend themselves without calling on the former imperial power is a sine qua non of their independence. Let them negotiate alliances by all means, but Britain must look first to its own security and that of its own territories. We should not commit ourselves to go to the aid of a regime where we have no strategic interest and no influence beyond that of a former imperial power.
For this reason I should be glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister of State on the subject of Brunei. Is it independent or is it not? It is no longer a protectorate, one understands, although its 212,840 citizens—I am indebted once again to that excellent publication entitled "Whitaker's Almanac"—include over 100,000 who are still treated as British protected persons and have, therefore, status under the British Nationality Act 1982. We have a treaty with the sultan. I hope that it does not involve us in obligations that we cannot realistically sustain. We have our hands full enough elsewhere without having to protect regimes over which we have no political control.
The option that I prefer for most of our dependent territories is association with the United Kingdom in the same way that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are associated with the mother country. The concept of the United Kingdom and islands has already lasted many centuries, to the satisfaction of all concerned. It provides for self-government suiting the special needs of territories historically and geographically separate from the United Kingdom, it provides association with but not membership of the European Community, and it keeps the islands within the economic sphere of the United Kingdom. They are defended, naturally, by British troops and their people are full British citizens. The Channel Islands, for instance, are just a few miles off the northern coast of France, but France makes no claim to sovereignty over them.
We have already gone some way along those lines with our dependent territories, as a result of our new citizenship laws. In deference to Hong Kong, the Government found it expedient in the British Nationality Bill to give uniform treatment to all the dependent territories. The Bill as originally published refused them British citizenship and instead created a special British dependent territories citizenship for them alone. In Standing Committee, I and other hon. Members, including Opposition Members, ventured to point out the anomalies that that would cause, and so it has proved.
The main justification for treating the dependent territories differently from the United Kingdom was, of course, immigration. To make British citizens of all inhabitants of our dependent territories as they now exist would have given the right of abode in the United Kingdom to millions of Hong Kong Chinese. Obviously we could not do that. We could have excluded Hong Kong citizens from the privilege and restricted it to the few thousand inhabitants of our other dependent territories. That would have been politically acceptable, but for Hong Kong it would have been politically unacceptable and unfair, so the Government excluded all the dependent territories from British citizenship.
In fact, as the House knows, Parliament amended the Bill to give full British citizenship to Gibraltarians on the ground that, like the United Kingdom, they were in the European Community. More recently, full British citizenship has been given to all the Falkland islanders on grounds, it seems, of sentiment. The Government's original policy on this issue is therefore in ruins.
British dependent territories citizenship is the same as British nationality for the purposes of diplomatic protection and international law. Apart from the Hong Kong question, it is only a matter of time before full British citizenship is granted to the inhabitants of our remaining dependencies. When that is achieved, there will be no justification for distinguishing them from the inhabitants of the United Kingdom in any other way. I believe that ultimate absorption into the concept of the United Kingdom and islands for all our remaining dependent territories should be adopted as Government policy.
Looking ahead to such a development, I believe that the present relationship of the islands with the United Kingdom is not wholly satisfactory.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I propose that all territories not able to seek or not desirous of seeking independence should be so treated—but not Hong Kong, which is subject to an international complication.
The present relationship of the islands with the United Kingdom is not wholly satisfactory. Their inhabitants, although they may all be British citizens, are not represented in the Parliament which ultimately determines their way of life. There is a need for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands to be represented in the British legislature. There is a growing demand from British residents abroad, especially those in the European Community, for the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The requirement of a residential qualification in the United Kingdom has long been a feature of our franchise, and I do not wish to see it abandoned. On the other hand, it is now well established that where there is local legislative devolution there is no need for absolute equality of representation in the central legislature.
I conclude, therefore, that there is no case for direct representation in the House of Commons for British citizens resident outside the United Kingdom. Representation in this place should continue to be based on a suffrage qualified by a United Kingdom residential requirement. Any reform of the composition of the House of Lords, however, should provide for elected representatives of British citizens resident outside the United Kindom, including those in the islands, the dependent territories and the European Community.
The abolition of colonial status, which I hope to achieve in that way, should help to improve our relations with the United Nations, but different considerations, primarily of international law, apply to Hong Kong and Gibraltar.
Hong Kong was acquired by the United Kingdom partly by way of outright concession and partly by way of a lease which expires in 1997. There can be no doubt whatever that the United Kingdom will honour the terms of the lease, even though the present Government of China choose to deny the validity of the treaties under which we occupy the whole of Hong Kong. However, the whole territory is administered as one entity. It would be unrealistic to suppose that when the lease expires the Crown colony could somehow be hived off and remain a dependency of the United Kingdom. To pretend that such a solution is possible would be an affront to the Republic of China, would destroy all the good will that has been built up in recent years and would put paid to any hope of preserving Hong Kong's immensely valuable trading position in the far east.
I am therefore very glad that the Government have recently taken the sensible course of speeding up discussions with the Chine se Government about the future of Hong Kong. The Prime Minister's visit to the colony and to China last year was a catalyst. Not for the first time — she performed the same function in 1979 with the seemingly intractable problem of Rhodesia—my right hon. Friend intervened in the conduct of our foreign policy to set it on a bold new course and one which has the best chance of extricating us with honour from a situation that would otherwise ultimately become untenable.
Self-determination in the strict sense has no part to play in determining Hong Kong's future. With our dependent territories elsewhere I have no doubt that the wishes of the inhabitants as to their constitutional future must be paramount, but Hong Kong must be an exception to that rule. It should be said in extenuation that the people of Hong Kong have never been misled by us into thinking that the British were in that territory to stay for ever. The very existence of the leased territories has been a perpetual reminder that British sovereignty, whether over them or over the rest of the colony, is temporary. That is not to say that Britain should agree to surrender the whole of Hong Kong without more ado.
We have a strong hand to play. Even as she is, under British rule, the Hong Kong economy is a tremendous asset to the Republic of China. A messy solution to the problem, or one which leaves ill will between the parties or among the Hong Kong population, would be a tragedy for the republic and the international community. Fortunately, the present leaders of China appear to be wise men who are well aware of the high stakes of the game that they are playing. Last summer, they agreed with the Prime Minister to maintain Hong Kong's "prosperity and stability" in the 15 years to the end of the lease. There is also a good understanding of what the Prime Minister said on the subject on 24 September 1982 in Peking.
The United Kingdom has gone out of its way to provide special arrangements for immigration of individuals to Britain in case of need. Ample notice of our withdrawal has been given. We should now concentrate on reaching an amicable arrangement with the republic so that the transition can be accomplised in peace and harmony over as long a period as is necessary to ensure that that rather splendid example of enlightened British imperialism continues to serve its people and international trade as well as it has in the past.
The only reason why Gibraltar is a special case is article 10 of the treaty of Utrecht 1713, which provides that Gibraltar should be offered to Spain first if Britain wants to dispose of it. We should, perhaps, not accept that as conclusive. If the people of Gibraltar want independence, there is no reason, apart from the treaty, why they should not have it. As a free port, Gibraltar could be immensely prosperous and serve the interests of a European Community which includes both Britain and Spain. Britain should not stand in the way of such a development if the Gibraltarians want it.
My hon. Friend must be aware that the Gibraltarians have never asked for independence. On the contrary, by an overwhelming majority at a referendum, they declared themselves to be British and said that they wished to remain in association with Britain. To raise Gibraltar's independence is to muddy the waters of a delicate situation. All hon. Members must want an amicable arrangement, in the end, between ourselves, our Gibraltarian friends and a democratic Spain.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. I still think that all the options should be considered and that we should not necessarily think that Britain or Gibraltar is confined to one option. There is much law on the subject and the interpretation of the treaty of Utrecht is a matter of argument between various parties. Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend that the people of Gibraltar do not want independence.
Let us be quite clear about this —the treaty of Utrecht is perfectly clear. Britain has a long and honourable reputation of keeping its international obligations. Independence for Gibraltar does not arise, and the Gibraltarians have not raised it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for speaking on behalf of the people of Gibraltar. As he says, I assume that Gibraltar will want to stay permanently under British sovereignty. In that event, she should receive the treatment which I have already advocated for our dependent territories as a whole—inclusion in the United Kingdom and islands, with a fair share of British resources. We should make it absolutely clear to the Spaniards that Gibraltar is British and will remain so for all time. We should tell them that their childish tantrums only make them look ridiculous in the eyes of the world and that soverignty can never be discussed in any negotiations without the express wish of the Gibraltarians. The Spanish know that that will not be forthcoming. We should also tell them that we shall use that British sovereign territory as we please and that if they persist in their spiteful and petty campaign against Gibraltar we shall veto their application to join the EC.
I am sorry that the British ambassador in Madrid was not instructed to reject formally the recent message that recorded Spanish disapproval of the visit of HMS Invincible and other ships of the British fleet to Gibraltar. Spain has absolutely no claim to that British territory on any moral or legal ground. We should not make Spain's petulant conduct appear respectable by treating it seriously.
After the experience of the Falklands, the Spanish Government will need no reminder that we shall defend our people and territory by force if that is necessary. I hope, however, that the Government will bear it in mind that a bloodless invasion by thousands of peaceful Spaniards flooding across the border might, one day, appear attractive to Spain. That might also call for prompt defensive measures. We are unwise to leave the Spaniards in any doubt about the strength of our determination to defend Gibraltar.
I wish to make only one point about the Falkland Islands. We are now doing there what we should have been doing long ago—rendering it secure from external aggression and strengthening and developing its economy. We shall, however, continue to be harassed at the United Nations and elsewhere about our sovereignty over the islands and the outlying dependencies. I suggest that we do not waste time in legal arguments about our sovereignty. Irrespective of whether we had a legal title to the islands in 1833, the fact remains that we have them now and they have been in our possession for 150 years. In international law, more than in any other, possession is nine points of the law.
The hon. Gentleman should go back to 1888. When he speaks of our possession, is he thinking of overseas capitalism at its worst stage? Does he agree that if anyone owns the Falklands Islands it is the 1,800 people, at most, who have roots there? The islands do not belong to this country in the sense in which he expressed it.
I was expressing our possession in the legal sense. Sovereignty belongs to the United Kingdom. It is not a part of English law, English common law, statute law or British law to vest sovereignty in people. Sovereignty belongs to the United Kingdom. That has been the case with regard to the Falklands virtually since time immemorial.
International law, whether as defined in 1833, 1888 or 1983, exists to be used to support or contradict an argument. It can be used for or against almost any proposition. That is what the legal profession —especially international lawyers—is for. We should not set too much store by the opinions of experts, as it is always possible to find experts who will disagree with other experts. Victory in international relations goes not to the side which has the best lawyers but to that which has the stronger political will. Nor should we offer to refer the legality of our position to an international legal tribunal. Experience shows that such tribunals decide political issues more often by political considerations than by principles of international law, which are rarely universally agreed anyway.
I hope that, although the British Government may have offered to refer the legality of British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands to the jurisdiction of an international court, that offer will not be repeated, nor will any offer about the position of the Falkland Islands. One never makes such an offer without being sure that one has as many international legal experts on one's side as possible, but nevertheless we should not travel down that byway. Legal matters are comparatively irrelevant compared with the facts, which are that the Falkland Islands are a British dependent territory and have been so for at least 150 years.
I am sorry to say that elsewhere in our dependent territories the picture is one of neglect. If we spent one tenth of our overseas aid Vote on developing our dependent territories, we could revolutionise their economies. We do precious little beyond keeping them solvent. St. Helena may be a typical example. It is 1,700 miles from Cape Town and has a population of 5,147—so the excellent "Whitaker's" tells me—but it has few resources. It has no airfield, one fishing boat and precious little going on, despite the £2·5 million grant in aid of last year. Its youngsters emigrate to Ascension Island, 700 miles away, which has now found prosperity as a staging post on the way to the Falkland Islands. The rest of the population, according to the French consul as quoted in The Times, live upon the
pleasures of fornication and intoxication.
I am the only Member of the House present who has visited St. Helena. That is a gross libel on a most charming, delightful and extremely hardworking people. I hope to show the House later that the island is neglected.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's vigorous rebuttal of the suggestion that the people of St. Helena are anything but hard-working. However, it is a sign of the regard in which St. Helena is held overseas. The governor, Mr. Massingham, according to the same article in The Times, went so far as to say:
The British don't give a tuppenny damn. They hardly even know where it is.
That governor must be near retirement, but he may well be speaking the truth. If so, it sounds typical of the laissez-faire attitude that we adopted towards our colonies before the war. Financially, they were expected to fend for themselves, and the result in most cases was economic stagnation. We should not wait for a calamity to happen before investing in and formulating a positive policy for our dependencies, as we did for the Falkland Islands. We must act now.
The House at least is indebted to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for giving us the opportunity to raise matters in relation to the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and Gibraltar, which cannot be raised in parliamentary questions. The Lords can ask anything that they wish, but the history rule imposed by the Table Office and by Mr. Speaker excludes much of the Falklands conlict and we have no other opportunity to raise these matters.
First, I wish to ask the Minister of State an emollient question. On the Pitcairn issue, I went with Glynn Christian—a great grandson of Fletcher Christian—and Lord McNair to see Lord Belstead at the Foreign Office on 23 March. Both the Minister and his officials were extremely helpful and I wonder whether a statement will be made following that delegation. My view, for what it is worth, is that Henderson Island should be kept in its pristine state and the ecosystem recognised as being as valuable as that of Aldabra. We should retain the ecological integrity of Henderson Island.
The first issue that I wish to raise concerns the conduct of the Gurkhas during the final advance on Stanley. The New English Library has had the initiative to publish a translation in English of Daniel Kon's "Los Chicos de la Guerra", subtitled "The Argentine Conscripts' Own Moving Accounts of their Falklands War". I quote briefly from page 85, which is the account of Santiago:
There were eight of them in a trench set back a bit behind a ridge. At one point, a group of eight or nine Gurkhas had approached them, laughing and screaming. They threw grenades at them and fired their Fals and downed five or six and those left alive screamed as if laughing at what had happened and finished their wounded mates off themselves. They jumped up and down, laughed and shot them all at the same time. The boys also killed them in the end. They finally ran out of ammo and saw that the Argentines in positions further forward were beginning to surrender. They stayed hidden in their trench and from there they watched a Gurkha make an Argentine who had surrendered strip naked and walk across the field while they kicked him and hit
him with their rifles. A bit later they saw a sergeant come out of his trench. He had run out t of ammo and he threw away his helmet, his belt, his rifle, everything and surrendered. But the Gurkhas grabbed him by the hair, pushed him down on lo his knees and cut his throat. They did the same with four or five boys from his position. Some of them wept, begged them not to kill them, but they slit their throats anyway. These eight stayed in their trench further back.
That is either true, or it is untrue and false. If it is untrue and false, and as the New English Library first edition is already out of print and widely circulated, it must be vehemently denied. Apart from anything else, it would be tantamount to allowing the grossest libel on the people of Nepal if such allegations were untrue and went unchallenged by the British Government.
Because there must be a denial one way or another. The account is either substantiated, or it is not. This account has been widely circulated and we must have an answer to it.
If the description approximates to the truth, there must be an investigation under the Geneva convention. The Government should know whether those allegations—not, incidentally, new and not confined to "Los Chicos" —are true or false. It was not only the boy Santiago from a humble family who referred to the Gurkhas. Carlos, the lay preacher at the parish church of La Consolation on Canning Avenue — the name has been changed as a result of the Falkland Islands— describes the Gurkhas thus:
I think if someone said the Gurkhas were apes, the poor apes would be scandalised. They'd hold a demonstration to say Gurkhas aren't apes. On the fourteenth, my whole company assembled in the Town Hall and from there we were taken to a prison camp near the airport.
There has been much talk about those matters, and they must be commented upon.
As the Gurkhas are our mercenaries, the House is responsible. The Gurkhas, either by the reality or the mythology of their behaviour, have blackened Britain's name throughout Latin America. In his reply, I ask the Minister to answer the question, "Did the Gurkhas behave in the way alleged?" If he cannot or will not answer today, there must be a considered statement.
The hon. Gentleman casts a slur upon a fine body of British troops. What he says is either true, in which case he must substantiate it, or it is not true. If it were true, would not the Argentine Government have made an official complaint, through international channels, under the terms of the Geneva convention, and would not the best way to test the truth of those allegations be for the matter to be considered by such an international tribunal?
Maybe, but these allegations, so-called, are now in print. The circulation has been wide and I think that it is right to ask first of all in this House whether they are true or untrue. That is what I am doing.
The second issue that I wish to raise, which cannot he tackled by parliamentary question, is the interception of radio transmissions during the Falklands war, and the breaking of codes, which among other things made it possible for the Prime Minister to know exactly what were the orders to the Belgrano and her escorts to return to port on Sunday 2 May 1982, before she gave the order to Conqueror to fire the torpedoes.
I shall not recapitulate my speech of 21 December outlining the litany of untruth that has been given in explanation of the sinking of the Belgrano, or my speech of 24 March — when all other politicians were, understandably, looking to Darlington — charging the Prime Minister with war crimes and misdemeanours. Ministers have hurled at me abuse of various kinds, but abuse from the Dispatch Box is no substitute for a factual answer.
Today I content myself with adding this to my charge that the radio messages were intercepted and that the codes were broken. Writing in the February issue of International Defense Review—a heavyweigt American publication — Dr. Juan Carlos Murguizur, lecturer in military history at the Argentine army staff college, said:
Setting aside the indisputable advantage provided by satellite reconnaissance, the British intercepted all our radio transmissions, and almost certainly broke our codes. This may well explain why General Menendez's (easily locatable) HQ was never attacked, since its destruction would have deprived the enemy of its source of detailed knowledge of the orders promulgated to our troops, their requirements, how they were deployed and the composition of each unit.
That is written in a serious, heavyweight American journal and would seem to bear out yet again what I said on 24March, in column 1112 of Hansard, about the Nimrods with their twin Marconi AD 470 HF transceivers.
What I said about MI6 in column 1107 would also seem to be borne out by Dr. Murguizur. He said:
But a further factor, which has received very little attention, considerably hampered our air operations — the British received instant warning whenever our aircraft took off, not only by reconnaissance satellite, but also by visual observation transmitted to them by their spies inside Argentina. A warning time of one hour allowed the British ships to steam far enough east to be out of range of our aircraft. They began using this tactic after being caught napping by our first attacks at the beginning of May.
The truth is that the Prime Minister— incidentally, keeping most of her Cabinet well away from the direction of the war—knew very well that the Belgrano had been told to withdraw by Inaya, and that peace, involving the withdrawal of all forces, British and Argentine, was there for the asking. Instead, she insisted on military victory for domestic political reasons, and I hold her personally responsible for the death of all those young men, and personally culpable for the second Malvinas war, which will break out sooner or later if we do not negotiate about sovereignty.
Galtieri is now in gaol and I am not in the least sad about that, but I ask for a factual comment on the following question and answers attributed to an interview with Galtieri on 11 August 1982, and published in Clarin on 2 April 1983. The question that was put to the former Argentine president was:
Did you at any time contemplate a meeting between yourself and Mrs. Thatcher?
The answer from Galtieri was:
At various times Presidents Belaunde Terry of Peru and Turbay Ayala of Columbia offered to act as intermediaries between the two of us. We also considered the possibility of a meeting in Mexico or Switzerland, but the answer always came back from London that it would be inappropriate. Then approximately a fortnight before the fall of Puerto Argentino, Mrs. Thatcher broke off completely.
Is that true?
Part of the precondition for a "just war" is that leaders do everything possible to avoid the spilling of blood and
the pursuit of fighting. By that criterion—the Falklands war was not a just war — I believe that the Prime Minister should have met Galtieri. She should take to heart the comment of Jayne, the daughter of Ernie Vickers—killed in the engine room of the Atlantic Conveyor—made in the house of Joe Booth, the Falkland Islands Company's chief electrician:
'Was it worth it? Rather my father went like this than dying of cancer', said Jayne. 'But I would not say it was worth it—because it should have been avoided.' Joe Booth, their islander host eight years older than Ernie, put in vehemently: 'Yes, it should have been avoided diplomatically'".
It is against that background that I ask whether there was a refusal to meet in Mexico or Switzerland, and I ask for a factual answer. Was the offer of a meeting at any time reported to the House of Commons? I do not think that it was.
The whole tragedy was truly avoidable, in that the Prime Minister knew by the first week in March, when, according to the Franks report, in paragraphs 147 to 152, she was in her own handwriting notating on the dispatch from Ambassador Williams in Buenos Aires:
We must have contingency plans".
Prime Ministers who ask for military contingency plans cannot say that the crisis came out of the blue 26 days later.
I now believe that the Prime Minister knew in February 1982 of the likelihood of fighting in the Falklands. I have been told by various sources—unquotable because, for understandable reasons, they were not prepared to supoort in public what they told me in private—that the SAS, based mostly in Hereford, was warned in February 1982 that it would be fighting in the Falklands.
Now the cat of the supporting evidence has been let out of the bag. In the Sunday Standard, on page 3, Margaret Vaughan—whom I knew some years on Radio Forth, and subsequently on the Daily Record, as an extremely accurate journalist—riveted my attention with a passage in her article headed
Tears on the SS Pilgrimage
about Corporal Robert Allan Burns, ex-Royal Corps of Signals, late of the SAS, who tragically lost his life on 19 May when his Sea King helicopter hit an albatross and fell into the water.
Margaret Vaughan wrote:
Last February, on his last leave home, Allan confided to his father that he expected to be involved in an overseas conflict. In his customary manner, he didn't reveal his intended destination. But he gave a clue which was to become the code word in his final telegram to the family.
Before leaving Dundee he wrote:
Remember we once visited Falkland Palace, dad?
and his leave ended in February 1982. His sister and other people in Dundee confirm that. The telegram that the family received from Allan before he headed for the Falklands told them where he was going. It read:
Hope you're all fine. I'm off to the Palace.
That was an artless, chatty article, not at all geared to political conspiracy or military controversy, but accurate. It has been checked with the family and with people in Dundee. It was February, and it reveals that 22-year-old Corporal Robert Allan Burns knew in February that he was going to be fighting in the Falklands, more than likely "involved in overseas conflict". Incidentally, he was in the SAS and not the Marines, and therefore not part of the normal contingent.
If Robert Allan Burns knew that, as I believe he did, and if other young men in the SAS knew it, as I believe they did, why did no one tell Lord Franks and his colleagues—or were they told? If Franks was told, the fact ought to have been recorded in the committee's report. If Franks was not told, why was he not told? If Robert Allan Burns, aged 22, from Dundee, knew all that, what about the occupant of Downing street? Did that lad know something in February 1982 that the Prime Minister did not? If that is so, it raises the most acute problems of military and political control over the military
I believe that the Prime Minister knew full well from MI6 and was fully aware of the JIC assessment of the likelihood of war, referred to in paragraph 95 of Franks. If the SAS knew in February 1982 that it would fight in the Falklands, what other explanation can there be than that the Prime Minister thought it in her political interest either to be a war leader in what the British people might see as a righteous cause, or, to borrow the odious phrase attributed to the Chaplain General to the Forces, to send some "purifying spirit" through the British people by shedding blood. I thought that that was an unfortunate speech on the Falklands by the chaplain general. There may be an explanation. If there is, either he or the Archbishop of Canterbury should give it.
I refer now to the build-up on another dependency, Ascension Island. I asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
whether he has had discussions with the Organisation of African States and individual African states on the issue of British military development of Ascension Island.
The answer was that no discussions had taken place.
The Minister of State replied to another question:
There have been no discussions with the American authorities about developing a British base on Ascension Island, although we have continuing discussions with the Americans about administrative arrangements for the use of the airfield and related facilities there." — [Official Report, 13 April 1983; Vol. 40, c. 421.]
I do not think that I shall get an answer to this question: what is the cost of all the build-up in Ascension Island? According to "World in Action" and other television programmes, it seems to be massive. I am not saying that the troops should not have their sports facilities and better accommodation, but a cost figure should be given to the House to show precisely what we are becoming involved in.
Disgusting treatment has been meted out not only to British shipyards on the refitting of the Cunard Countess but to merchant seamen, many of whom risked their lives in the south Atlantic. The Merchant Navy and Airline Officers Association and its secretary, Eric Nevin, have been in touch with me. The association says that it imagined in April 1982 that merchant ships would be used in supply lines and not in the fighting area. I refer to paragraph 4·11 of its document, which I promised Mr. Nevin I would read:
It alarms us to read in newspapers that the military chiefs were expecting a far higher casualty rate and a higher loss of ships than in fact happened in the South Atlantic conflict. This can only mean that the Government were prepared to sacrifice merchant ships and merchant seafarers in the exercise. It means too that they had made certain unilateral assumptions about what was an acceptable level of loss yet made no effort to communicate to seafarers the nature and magnitude of the risks of the situation for which they were volunteering.
Seafarers' representatives were initially told that Merchant Navy personnel would always be protected. These assurances were not honoured and we should be told upon whose authority they were overturned. We should also be told whether any warnings were given to seafarers that they would be used 'in the sight of the enemy' and not just used as a supply line open to long range attack.
I have talked yet again to my friend Jim Slater of the National Union of Seamen last night. Why do not the Government invite the NUS and the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers Association to join the Shipping Defence Advisory Council?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This matter was raised in the debate on merchant shipping only a few days ago. There was a deafening silence from the Minister with responsibility for shipping. It seems that the doors to his room have been closed to the shipping unions to discuss matters in which they have an unrivalled expertise and a clear and deep interest.
This is a serious matter on which there should be comment in the light of the answers given by the the Under-Secretary of State for Trade.
I am glad that the official Opposition are against the proposals for Stanley airport. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) made it clear during the recess that the Opposition were against spending probably over £880 million on Stanley airport, leaving out the cost of the diversionary airfields. In answer to a question that
I asked, the Minister for Housing and Construction said:
Tenders have been invited from three consortia: Taylor Woodrow-George Wimpey; Tarmac-Costain; Laing-Mowlem-Amey Roadstone Construction. There were selected as United Kingdom civil engineering contractors with the experience, capacity and management strength necessary for an overseas project of this size and nature. Survey costs have been, and will be, met from public funds."—[Official Report, 13 April 1983; Vol. 40, c. 409–10.]
Some of us would like to know the survey costs. The building of runways, let alone 8,000 miles away in difficult geological conditions, is a formidable operation. Heaven knows it was difficult enough to build a runway at Edinburgh, about which know a great deal, but to do it in the Falklands in doubtful conditions could be enormously expensive. How much of the aggregate is to be transported from northern Europe? Once we make such expenditure we are cemented into a policy, to borrow a phrase of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, from which it will be difficult to escape.
On page 16 of the New Scientist of 7 April, Ed Harriman said:
Argentine military representatives have been in London talking to bankers and arms firms.
Have they, or have they not? Harriman went on to say: "There is a feeling on the British side that the Junta will soon get its spares.
Can that possibly be true? I have no responsibility for that article, but I know from my experience of 15 years as a weekly columnist for the New Scientist that it is fastidious about what it prints. I should like to know the answer to my question. The details are becoming clear, not only about the Amirante Browne, the Meko 140 destroyer, but about three other formidable Hamburg ships, the La Argentina, the Heroina and the Sarandi. They have David Brown gearboxes, Hawker Siddeley electronic propulsion controls and Rolls-Royce engines.
Following the issue that was raised yesterday in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) with the Prime Minister and by me with the Leader of the House, a statement must be forthcoming from the Government about whether there are talks on the supply of British spares. It is intolerable that our people on the Falklands should be put in danger. I say that in no party spirit. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and I have agreed on few occasions in the past 15 months, but we might agree that there must be a serious statement. The Prime Minister's explanation of what might happen to the Argentine economy, which might be true, is not sufficient, because of the urgent problem of export of arms.
The Tory party's attitude is becoming very uncomfortable. Many of them have a resigned feeling that while the Prime Minister stays they must accept that we are in the Falklands. The right hon. Lady has ardent supporters, such as the hon. Member for Orpington. However, as soon as we start building the airport we are on a motorway from which there is no easy exit. That is why decisions should not be taken before the House has had the opportunity to discuss the reports of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Select Committee on Defence. That should be done before we start on a course that will be ever more difficult to leave. I believe that leave it we must.
I am provoked by the hon. Member for Orpington, who initiated the debate on Gibraltar, because who can doubt that the Spanish objections to Invincible are yet another of the invisible costs of the Falklands war? We must face the fact that units associated with the task force are not welcome in the Hispanic world. There have been protests in the Cortes. The Spanish Government have expressed profound displeasure and anxiety over what they call an inopportune visit to Gibraltar. They did not speak like that before the Falklands. The Spanish Foreign Office talks about taking the necessary diplomatic and political measures to ensure Spain's interests in its national waters. The House and the country would be unwise to imagine that all that is Spanish bravado. What do we do if Spain applies considerable pressure and Spanish ships start patrolling the straits? Is it proposed, as the hon. Member for Orpington I think believes, that in certain circumstances we would dispatch a battle fleet against the Government of Felipe Gonzalez? Is that the great plan?
The hon. Gentleman deserves a candid answer. There would have to be discussions with the Spanish Government. I believe that we could have had fruitful discussions with the Argentine junta and that the Falkland Islands could have had the privilege of joining the Anglo-Argentine community and not the disappeared ones. I would discuss handing over sovereignty, but I should try to obtain the best deal that I could for the people.
When I was an indirectly elected Member of the European assembly, I was friendly with Felipe Gonzalez, who used to come to meetings of the Socialist group, and with many of his senior Ministers. We had better start talking to them seriously, sincerely and soon. There were 17 years of dialogue with Argentina over the Falklands which were patently insincere. Bad relations with the first democratic Government in Spain since Franco are not in Great Britain's national interest nor in the interests of the people of Gibraltar, whatever some hon. Members say. The sooner we start discussing the problem with the Socialist Government in Spain—whom I profoundly welcome—the better.
I know that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him. Most of his questions were directed at the Minister, and I am certain that the Minister will answer him in due course.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on initiating this debate. As he rightly said, it is probably the first debate that we have had which includes all the dependencies. So far, we have had to discuss them in isolation, but the wording of his motion enables us to have a wide-ranging debate. He is probably one of the best qualified people to speak on this debate as an ex-member of the Colonial Service and a member of the Bar.
I wish to deal with Hong Kong. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) has just entered the Chamber. He is an expert on this matter and I know that should I make any mistakes he will correct me if he catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that we could not possibly hive off the colony from the New Territories because they contain not just a great deal of industry but also the water supply.
There will have to be a sensible solution when the lease runs out. I remind the House that it is a great advantage to China at the moment to have the use of what is virtually an international banking system. Hong Kong is the Switzerland of that part of the world. Currency goes through the colony and China can make many payments in that way. It is in the interests also of many other countries that we should arrive at a sensible solution. I know that the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to mainland China will have an effect on the negotiations which must precede the termination of the treaty. It is not possible to reach a solution similar to that arrived at with the Portuguese over Macao because that territory is so much smaller than Hong Kong, and its circumstances are so different.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington referred to Belize. I remember saying to the Prime Minister and the chief justice that that territory was indefensible against a Guatemalan invasion. Guatemala has internal problems and any state with internal problems always looks for aggrandisement. I pointed out to the Prime Minister, Mr. Price, that he should think seriously before seeking independence as to whether he is capable of defending his country against aggression from a neighbour. It would possibly be to his advantage if the presence of British troops was included in any solution. I take responsibility for encouraging the Prime Minister and the chief justice to pursue that course.
I do not wish to discuss the Falklands campaign. We have all made speeches on the subject. However, we must not just look at the islands and the future of the islanders, which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington will agree is of paramount importance, but at the wider context of the whole future of the south Atlantic. We may find an international solution, without in any way disclaiming our rights or sovereignty, in the interests of the development of the vast resources which exist in the south Atlantic. Those resources can possibly be developed with modern technology. I do not wish to bring politics into this subject, because my hon. Friend deliberately avoided introducing any political background.
Our military strategy has changed, rightly or wrongly, since the days of Suez. The denial of our use of the South African base at Simonstown, the build-up of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean and the invasion of the Falkland Islands give us much food for thought. I am not going to discuss whether the use of Ascension Island is right or wrong, because I know that I should incur the displeasure of the hon. Member for West Lothian, but Ascension Island was essential if the Falklands campaign was to be successful. Many of our dependencies may be of great strategic value.
As for Gibraltar, Spain must realise—whatever its internal difficulties—that in the end, remembering the build-up of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, the only powers capable of combating such forces are Great Britain and the United States. Therefore, we have to consider not only the future of the islanders, which is paramount — they wish to remain British — but the facilities in the area that we will need for our naval forces if we become involved in a dispute with the Soviet Union. It is also in the interest of Spain's defence. The build-up of the Soviet navy in the Mediterranean has caused me and many of my colleagues great anxiety.
When considering the future of our island dependencies, the paramount issue is the wishes of the islanders, but we must also bear in mind the strategic advantages of those territories to our general defence policy. At present, NATO is confined to Europe, but its influence will probably be extended in future. The help that Britain gives its dependencies will not only benefit them, but may strengthen our defence policy and make sure that we have bases in the right parts of the world.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on his choice of subject, because it is important that the House has the opportunity to discuss that important matter. However, my congratulations do not extend to the wording of the motion, which advocates the use of force, which, I concede, may be necessary, and a closer association with our dependent territories, on the lines of our relationship with the Isle of Man.
That wording limits the value of the debate, although it was curious that the hon. Member for Orpington did not highlight those distinctive features of the motion. The issues raised in the motion are important and the hon. Gentleman has every right to advocate his proposed solution, but I should have been happier if he had tabled the motion earlier. We saw it for the first time only yesterday.
I shall concentrate on general issues affecting our dependencies. They have not been discussed in the House for many years and it is high time that they were. I understand that at least until recently, and perhaps even currently, the dependencies are dealt with in the Hong Kong general department of the Foreign Office. At one stage, even the Falkland Islands were dealt with in that department.
The issues affecting Hong Kong and Gibraltar are separate from those of our other dependencies, whatever legal status may be involved, and I shall confine my remarks to those other dependencies, which, no doubt, are grouped together under the title "general".
A feature of post-war years has been the absorption by the Foreign Office of a number of new functions. I suppose that the origins of modern diplomacy are to be found in the inner circle of European capitals in the early years of the 19th century, based on French as the international language, and the habits and customs developed in Europe towards the then narrow international sphere have spread throughout the world and are generally accepted. That was the origin and core of our Foreign Office. In those years we also had Her Majesty's consular service dealing with an associated, but different, range of matters. Those responsibilities were absorbed by the Foreign Office. The distinctive functions of the former Commonwealth Relations Office have also been absorbed by the Foreign Office, as have those of the colonial administrators, of whom the hon. Member for Orpington was one, and the Colonial Office.
More recently, given our proper emphasis on trade and commerce, many of our foreign representatives have had to be versed in those matters, and no career diplomat can be considered for promotion unless he has a passing knowledge of that subject. Therefore, trade and commerce issues have been absorbed by the Foreign Office. Finally, in these days of the North-South dialogue and the Brandt report, the Foreign Office deals with what is generally called development. Indeed, the Ministry of Overseas Development has been absorbed by the Foreign Office.
I do not disagree that all those matters are associated in some ways, but the problems involved in all the functions that the Foreign Office has to perform create some disadvantages. The tiny remaining element of the Colonial Office—the responsibilities for our dependencies—is overwhelmed by some of the other functions that career diplomats and Ministers have to perform. It is only when fire breaks out that emphasis is placed on our dependencies, whether we have to send a task force, the SAS and the Royal Marines or the good old London bobby.
There have been some even more fundamental changes. The transition from empire to Commonwealth between 1945 and 1965, before the winds of change started to blow, was a halcyon time for Commonwealth cooperation. Many hon. Members who were here at the time will confirm that the feel of the House for international affairs, particularly those relating to the English-speaking Commonwealth, was different in those days.
Foreign Office Ministers have been waylaid and pushed on to new constitutional paths, which are becoming increasingly controversial.
The hon. Member for Orpington spoke about colonies and colonial status. On a world scale, our remaining dependencies are colonial in the old sense. The hon. Gentleman mentioned our dependencies, but I had better list them again, because it is important to put them on the record. They are Bermuda, British Antarctic territory, British Indian Ocean territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands and dependencies, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Montserrat, the New Hebrides condominium, Pitcairn, St. Helena and dependencies, Turks and Caicos Islands and Anguilla.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is technically correct, but he will agree that we have a locus and responsibility there. The New Hebrides are not wholly dependent, but we know that the Foreign Office had to deal with an emergency there two or three years ago.
The word "colonial", particularly on the world scene and in the United Nations, summons up a vision of the grasping planter and the idea of money coming back to Britain from the exploitation of the natural resources of the colonies and of the work of those living there. I objected earlier, perhaps in a heated way, because that is summed up in the phrase "belonging to us", to which I took exception.
I did not realise, alas, that the Falkland Islands still fell into broadly that financial category. It was not until hostilities had broken out just over a year ago that it became clear that in principle, if not in extent, the colonial circumstances of the Falklands were still in 1782, in some respects at least, and in governmental development, until fairly recently, when there have been changes, in 1882. That came as a surprise and shock to some of us. I do not wish to put a great deal of emphasis on that, but that was the case, because the Shackleton report shows beyond doubt that there has been a financial movement from the Falklands to this country rather than the reverse.
I should like to think that in the other remaining dependencies it is at least even-Steven, or at least that the support that we are giving them, which we might be giving to non-dependent territories and independent countries through overseas development aid, is more than we get in return. Even if that is not so now, it should be shortly. Leaving aside the Falkland Islands, the facts of which we now know, can the Minister assure us that there is a net movement of funds from this country to the dependent territories which are not, therefore, in economic terms colonies any more?
I should not want the hon. Gentleman to live in false expectation. I am not sure that I shall be able to give a case-by-case answer, but in due course I shall answer him as best I can.
I am grateful to the Minister. I understand that he cannot give me the information, and perhaps it was a little unfair of me to jump that point on him. However, this is an important and significant matter for this country's status, role and potential in the United Nations. In that place, let alone here, there is some confusion of mind about what constitutes a colony and what constitutes our moral responsibility to our dependencies in these days of North-South dialogue.
I can remove the confusion in everybody's minds about the Falklands, because before the uncertainties created by vacillating British Government policy helped to wreck the Falkland Islands economy it was the one colony that was debt free, made a net contribution to the British balance of payments, and made no demands for aid upon the British Treasury.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it confirms the world view, and that held in the United Nations, that the Falkland Islands maintain the old style of colonial status, not only in law but in economics. That places an onus of responsibility on the country and the House.
The hon. Gentleman's intervention and the example of the Falklands raise another important matter about the future of our dependencies and the North-South issues. This is the problem of economic and political dependency in the strict sense of that term and not the constitutional sense. We know that one of the world problems today is the small countries which have a vote at the United Nations and are represented there but which feel that they are not free because they are still tied in some way or other to some other financial, economic, political or defence system.
I am not sure that the hopes of these small countries for "freedom" were not overblown when that happy day of release came, because we all know that freedom is relative. Clearly dependency in the strict world political sense now depends on a multitude of matters. The control of currency, the control and generation capital, and reliance upon a central banking system, or whatever, may make even quite a sizeable country entirely dependent on some other country's system of which it is a part, satellite or appendage. That is true perhaps inside Europe itself. This is a condition which, as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East reminds us, is paradoxically one to which the population of 1,800 in the Falklands were not subject. It is interesting to think that the Falkland Islands were not subject in that sense as some very much larger countries are that are notionally independent.
This matter is very important, because it leads to my next point about what we might call the de facto or the de jure Government of a country. Many years ago Mr. Henry Fairlie invented the phrase "The Establishment", which has now gone into the language. I suppose that it means a nexus of people, institutions or whatever who were there irrespective of the Government and the constitution. We all know that this happens in almost any country. They are the people who control property, capital resources, natural resources, resources of skill, information, the media—and have the ability to put them together — and sometimes the Government themselves.
We all know that inside towns or communities it is not just the majority on the local authority that has the say. There are many things relating to institutions, clubs, societies, firms and so on. Ten years ago we had debates in the House concerning standards in public life. There were various towns, and I can recall two in particular, whose affairs were subject to particular scrutiny.
If that happens within the United Kingdom, imagine what can happen to a much smaller community than, say, Newcastle or Birmingham, surrounded by sea, where there is relatively little movement in and out and where the extremes of wealth and poverty are much greater. We all know that small countries, whether they are notionally dependent or notionally independent, have the same social phenomena. The position is perhaps summed up in a phrase that I heard when I went to Hong Kong—I am breaking my rule, but Hong Kong is an interesting example — when I was told "Don't worry what the Government say; find out what they are saying and doing at the Jockey Club." I do not know whether that is accurate, but it expresses a tendency that we find throughout the world.
Therefore, the political volatility of any of these small countries will largely depend on the degree to which the de facto establishment and the de jure Government and constitution are in alignment or whether they are distinct or quarrelling. When something goes wrong, the police have to go in, or the warships are sent, or we hear curious buccaneering stories in the newspapers about people leaning out of windows with shotguns. We do not necessarily know very much about what is going on in some of these places over which the Union Jack flies. It is not until the pot boils over that somebody says "Oh dear me, we should know something more about this."
This is relevant because of an anomaly in some of our dependent territories, in particular Bermuda. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) asked in a written question for an outline of the constitutional position of the remaining dependencies. The answer provided a useful table, particularly for this debate. To my surprise, I find that Bermuda, which has 55,000 people, has no elected members. The answer says:
"Elected members: None.
Non-elected members: Eleven (five appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Premier, three on the advice of Leader of Opposition, and three in the Governor's discretion)."—[Official Report, 27 October 1982; Vol. 29, c. 423.]
Did the hon. Gentleman refer to Bermuda? If he did, may I suggest to him that he probably has incorrect information? I assure him that Bermuda has just had an election and has a powerful and rigorous elected assembly.
I am interested to hear that. It may be that I have misread the Hansard quotation or that there is a mistake in the printing. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has corrected me. When I read this information, I was surprised. Perhaps I should have been a little more careful in checking even the accuracy of Hansard.
Until 1974, Grenada was a dependency. The circumstances of Grenada will not necessarily be repeated, but many hon. Members will remember that in 1974, when the Bill to give Grenada independence was passing through the House, there was great discussion about whether it should go through. I suspect that it went through because it was introduced by one Government at the end of their term of office and taken up by another Government at the beginning of theirs. There was considerable concern about what was happening on Grenada at the time independence was granted. Since the change of Government on the island two or three years ago, we know a little more about it. It is a remarkable place and, so far as I know, it is the only Marxist monarchy in the history of the world, and may be the last. It is an interesting example of how flexible Commonwealth and Westminster insititutions—or modified Westminster institutions—can be. I do not suggest that they are to everyone's satisfaction, but I think the hon. Member for Orpington will agree that, at least in outline, my description is correct.
Another territory which is a dependency, de facto and de jure, is the Turks and Caicos Islands. The islands have been the subject of two Select Committee reports and a recent debate about the airfield. I wish to refer in particular to a recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Committee in paragraph 54 of its report for the Session 1980–81. Under the heading
British responsibilities to dependent territories
the report states:
Your Committee recommend that when FCO/ODA come to a conclusion about the best course of development for a particular dependency —such as their conclusion that tourism was the way forward for the Turks and Caicos Islands — then they should prepare a strategy determing the best way that the economy could be developed and how aid funds might be used to maximum effect. This would then provide them with a framework for assessing any project proposals that came to them.
One of the advantages of Select Committee reports is that the Government must: reply to them. When a Select Committee makes a specific recommendation, the Government must reply. I shall read the Government's reply to that recommendation:
As the Committee are aware, it is not only the FCO/ODA which came to the conclusion that tourism was the best way forward for the Turks and Caicos Islands. That conclusion was reached as long ago as 1971 by independent consultants.
The footnote to the reply points out that that conclusion was reached by the Shankland Cox report. That conclusion has also been endorsed by successive Turks and Caicos Island Governments, but the Government reply does not answer that specific recommendation.
Before the investigation into the Turks and Caicos Islands hotel development., I should have assumed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had a running strategy for the economic development of all our dependencies, but it is clear, at least to me, from the reply to that recommendation that, first, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not have such a strategy—incidentally, the Shankland Cox report was not an overall economic report; Shankland Cox is a well-known firm of town planners and consultants, particularly for the leisure trade—and, secondly, that there was not an overall report on which projects could be based. Moreover, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not appear to have an intention to develop an economic strategy for each of our remaining territories. I hope that the Minister will comment on this and tell us whether that is so, because if there is no such strategy, there should be.
Finally, I refer to our responsibilities to our dependencies. I think that the hon. Member for Orpington will agree that one of the places to which we should pay particular attention is St. Helena. Unlike the Falkland Islands, which have one airport and may have another, St. Helena has no airport. We need a new visible status for our remaining dependencies so that the stigma of the past can be expunged and so that the United Kingdom can be seen to be playing a constructive role in the development and prosperity of those territories. That is important because of Britain's status in the United Nations and because the United Nations views "colonial" territories on a legal basis and not on the basis of what is happening in the territories and whether those countries wish to push out the boat to the hazards of full independence. It is clear that many of those territories have no wish to do so. They feel that it is better to be associated with Britain in a proper manner than to embark on the hazards that they have seen.
Next Monday the House will debate the second Brandt report and all the questions that arise from it. When the debate is over the question will remain, "What can we do?". Although we may be able to do many things on the international stage, one of the things that we must do, one of things that we can do, and one of the things that the House has a deep moral responsibility to do is to look to the welfare and development of our dependencies.
We must be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for providing us with an opportunity to discuss our responsibilities to the remaining dependencies and to ensure that Ministers give an account of their stewardship. My hon. Friend rightly remarked that it is now a long time since we had a debate of this nature. It is a harsh truth that all Governments are reluctant to find time for such matters, finding such debates of only peripheral interest. The only time that Governments sit up and take notice is when neglect or indifference or a combination of both produces a crisis, examples of which range from the comic opera in Anguilla, which was ultimately resolved by a posse of London police constables, to the quite unnecessary war in the Falklands last year.
More than a quarter of a century ago, before any Member present today was an hon. Member, I advocated a merger of the Commonwealth and Colonial Offices because I foresaw some of the difficulties that lay ahead. That is all on record. It appeared to me that there would be a profound psychological effect of such an arrangement on our relations with the colonial territories—there were many more at that time—most of which were moving towards independence but some of which inevitably would remain tied in one way or another to this country.
However, I was profoundly opposed to the subsequent merger of the enlarged Commonwealth Office with the Foreign Office in the late 1960s. In my opinion, that was a wholly wrong decision, and it led to serious errors. Within the new organisation, the Falkland Islands, for example, was managed from the Latin American desk and it was always thereafter to be seen as an obstacle to improving our relations with Latin America and with Argentina in particular.
There is a very revealing passage in a book by Mr. Joe Haines, the very able press secretary to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir. H. Wilson) when he was Prime Minister. Mr. Haines seems to have correctly judged the matter when he wrote of this period:
If it were possible to compress the FCO's ideal world into a single concept, I suppose it would look something like a Common Market peopled entirely by crusading anti-communist Bedouin. If I lived in Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands I would not sleep at night for worrying about it, because so far as policy is concerned, those territories are peripheral; if the British connection is to be preserved it will be up to the politicians to do it. The officials will never die in the ditch for either of them.
When the full story of the Falklands tragedy comes to be told, it will be seen that signal after signal was sent by Whitehall to Buenos Aires demonstrating that the British Government did not really care about the islands. It is only fair to say that over the years the Argentine authorities were misled.
If I sound a critical note, it is because some of us who cared about the Commonwealth foresaw a great deal of this happening. Our critics think that this is a reflection of a nostalgia for old imperial glories. That is nonsense. Very few hon. Members in the House today can know with what enthusiasm we regarded the decolonisation process which got under way in the 1950s, which saw the ending of tutelage and the beginning of partnership within the family circle of an ever-widening Commonwealth, which saw it as the fulfilment of a trust, a triumph of reason and a source of pride in British achievement. Only a few may remember our warnings about the last stages of the decolonisation process, the most difficult, especially when we come to the very small territories—the detritus of the empire, as they were described rather inelegantly in one newspaper.
Yet such territories have as much right to consideration as the larger ones. They served us in our imperial heyday and they were loyal to us in our difficult times. Even the United Nations charter recognises that they have the right to self-determination and that the interests of their people are paramount.
It is not we who were blind. The Argentina invasion of 2 April 1982 tok place not simply because of mistakes in the preceding few months, although it may have been helped by them, but because of a combination of ineptitude, indifference and moral blindness that had characterised British policy over the Falklands for almost two decades.
The errors from the mid-1960s onwards can be stated simply. The first was the failure to understand from the outset that as the process of decolonisation gathered momentum everywhere else in the former empire, there would be risks in the perpetuation of colonial status for the Falkland Islands. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was right in his reference to that a few moments ago.
The second error was the failure to see that if Britain was not prepared to offer the Falkland islanders outright integration into the United Kingdom they would have to be given an enhanced constitutional status and more effective control over their internal affairs.
The third error was the failure to ensure appropriate economic development—with Argentina's co-operation if possible, but without it if it were withheld.
The fourth error was the failure to see that, after the military coup in Argentina in March 1976, it was not only politically unwise but morally wrong to engage in any negotiation over a transfer of sovereignty to a cruel and repulsive regime guilty before the whole world of gross and continued violations of human rights and therefore palpably unfit to govern its own people, let alone a British democratic comunity, albeit small, nurtured in the tradition of freedom of our own people.
For full measure, I might add a fifth error — the failure to appreciate that a weak, unprincipled and immoral policy is never likely to produce positive results, and it did not do so in this case.
Perhaps I may be permitted to remark in passing that, when the first steps were taken to get rid of the Falkland Islands, the islanders were making no claim for British aid. As I reminded the House a few moments ago, they were in fact making a net contribution to the British balance of payments. They were completely debt-free. They were crime-free. They were a model community. Yet their reward was delay in constitutional advance out of deference to an unstable, undemocratic Argentina with which Whitehall was bent on negotiating. Indeed, there was a deliberate refusal to implement the sensible recommendations of the Shackleton report. Why was Shackleton sent out if there was no intention of implementing his recommendations?
Thank God, British honour and credibility were restored by the extraordinary achievements of the task force, made possible by the resolution of this House. But I say again that the war was unnecessary. It was the product of a long period of error, vacillation and failure to see the problem objectively.
Every effort must now be made to rebuild the shattered economy of the Falkland Islands and to give its people the maximum internal self-government. I know how intensely my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, feels about this, and I am satisfied that such efforts are now being made, although very late in the day.
There are three lessons to be learnt from this sorry saga. The first is that we should not have encouraged Argentina by acquiescing in negotiations to believe that there would ever be any transfer of sovereignty unless the Falkland islanders wanted it. They did not want it. Resolutions of their legislative council again and again conveyed to us in the House and presumably to Her Majesty's Government of the day that they were British, wished to remain so, and valued their connections with the people of the United Kingdom.
The second lesson is that, after the military takeover in Argentina in 1976, it was morally wrong to negotiate with a regime guilty of murdering large numbers of its own people. As I see it, until there is a purge in Argentina and genuine democratic government is restored and respect for basic human rights has been established, that position is unchanged and there can be no question of resuming bilateral negotiations.
The third lesson that we should learn is that sovereignty is only a means to an end. I shall not waste time engaging in argument about legalities. We are concerned with the welfare and security of a small democratic community in the South Atlantic. That is what matters. Previous bilateral negotiations with Argentina over many years did not provide security for the islanders. On the contrary, they led to bloody conflict. Previous British policy did not promote the well-being of the islanders. On the contrary, it was a contributory factor to the rundown of their economy and to a decline in their numbers.
Argentina does not have a civilian Government. Before that unhappy country acquires one, Argentina will suffer an internal bloody conflict. At the moment mobs are calling for the general to be hanged from the lamp posts and the president who took Argentina into the war is under arrest. The criminals who murdered between 15,000 and 30,000 of their own people, as well as those of 29 other nationalities, including Britons and hundreds of European Community subjects, have not yet been called to account for their actions or brought to trial.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for West Lothian, but I respect his integrity. I appreciate that he speaks with honesty about these subjects. However, even he must face reality. On that basis, it would have been possible to argue, at the height of Hitler's power in Germany, that evil could not prevail for ever and perhaps we should have entered into an arrangement with him. Could we have spoken of the possibility, once we were locked in bloody conflict, of coming to a compromise agreement with Hitler? It is not possible to compromise with evil, and evil has prevailed in Argentina for a long time. I say with sadness in my heart that the first victims of the junta were not the Falkland islanders or British service men but Argentines. It is not possible to compromise with such people. The question that the hon. Member for West Lothian asked is one that every Argentine should be asking himself.
If the Falkland islanders are to have effective protection in future from a repetition of the aggression which the hon. Member for West Lothian tells the House they can expect from even a democratic Argentine Government and at the same time have a proper voice in their own affairs, an entirely new constitutional approach is needed. I am not opposed to the idea of placing the Falklands under some form of international trusteeship. In those circumstances, it would be more difficult even for a dictatorship, let alone a democratic Government, to mount a military operation against a territory that had been effectively placed under international control. I said "effectively" because Britain would have to remain the administering power.
Another fallacy is to assume that small territories have no importance and can be safely put out of mind. That is absolute nonsense. The Falkland Islands are the gateway to Antarctica. In the event of a global crisis causing the Panama canal to be closed, they will be of high strategic importance to the West. Even uninhabited South Georgia on the fringe of the Antarctic is surrounded by the world's largest single source of protein. By the year 2000 the world will be approaching a stage when it will be unable to feed its teeming millions. Who would say now that the resources of this part of Britain's remaining responsibilities will not be of importance to a starving world?
Again, is it realised that Britain could not have mounted the operation to rescue the Falklands had it not been for Ascension Island? Ascension Island cannot be run without St. Helena labour. Two or three years ago I tried to bring home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the interdependence of the south Atlantic dependencies and how they were linked. I made a report, following a visit I made at the invitation of the governor and the legislature of St. Helena, which concluded that the Foreign Office seemed to regard these three territories as being in three different oceans. I found that the administrator on Ascension had not even seen the current development plan for St. Helena and its dependencies. The St. Helenans do not emigrate to Ascension as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said. Ascension is important to key workers in St. Helena because Britain denies access to them. It is the only outlet they have. However, the writ of the governor of St. Helena at that time did not run in Ascension.
Of the remaining dependencies several have considerable importance. Each needs to be handled with special care. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington suggested that for some an associated status, such as that enjoyed by the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, would be appropriate. That is precisely what I recommended for Gibraltar when I had Front Bench responsibilities in the late 1960s. Spain at that time was under Fascist rule. Independence was then and still is out of the question for Gibraltar because this is precluded by the treaty of Utrecht. Associated status has attractions. It is in line with the aspirations of the Gibraltarians themselves, who overwhelmingly voted in the referendum on 10 September 1967 voluntarily to retain the link with Britain, with democratic local institutions, and with Britain retaining its present responsibilities.
Secondly, associated status is not in conflict with Britain's treaty obligations. Thirdly, it is in line with the spirit and the letter of article 73 of the United Nations charter, which calls upon administering powers to have respect for the culture and political aspirations of the people involved. The Gibraltarians have demonstrated again and again that they are British and desire to remain so.
Since then, Spain has returned to democracy. It is seeking to join the European Community and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Once that happens, it should not be impossible to arrive at a friendly modus vivendi, but it must be with the approval of the Gibraltarians and the best way of achieving that is to help them weather the economic difficulties which Britain has created by the rundown of the port and to ensure that Spain avoids harassment.
I will not say much about Hong Kong because my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) knows more about that colony than any other hon. Member. Here again, independence is ruled out by the facts of history and geography. Hong Kong can hardly maintain a separate existence when the Kowloon lease expires. Here is a great success story and I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Howden will tell the House something of the wonderful achievements of the people and the Government of Hong Kong. It is surely in China's interests that Hong Kong continues to maintain its momentum. I would expect British and Chinese pragmatism and good sense to allow for a peaceful transition.
What about St. Helena? I think that I am one of only two hon. Members who have ever been there. I went there at the invitation of the governor and the legislature in 1980. I was profoundly perturbed by what I found. My report was entitled:
St. Helena—a case of enforced dependence.
I uncovered neglect on a large scale and a hopeless lack of liaison with St. Helena's main dependency, Ascension. The resident commissioner on Ascension had not seen the development plan for the colony. The writ of the governor of St. Helena at that time did not seem to run in Ascension.
Two years after the submission of my report, my right hon. Friend the then Minister for Overseas Development, the Member for Banbury (Sir N. Marten) wrote to me saying:
it was decided as an indirect follow up to your visit to send out a Budgetary Aid Review Mission in June of this year"—
The review was, unfortunately, somewhat more limited than we had originally planned because of the Falklands conflict.
The report has been considered and welcomed both here and on St. Helena and its recommendations are already being implemented. It is planned to conduct a further review in June 1983.
Why these delays? I should like to know what recommendations have been implemented and what improvements have been secured. Members of the legislature of St. Helena keep in close touch with me and it is apparent that the discontent continues.
Has the hon. Gentleman received any information on the disruption of shipping links between Ascension and St. Helena, which are important in the maintenance of contacts with the outside world? Does he agree that it will be useful if the Minister refers to that issue in his reply, especially if shipping links have not been restored to provide even the meagre service that existed before the Falklands conflict?
I have been in touch over the years with the shipping interests involved, and I think that they represent one of the more successful sides of the story. Undoubtedly the House will welcome any information that my hon. Friend the Minister of State can give.
At the time of my visit to St. Helena, communications left much to be desired. It would have added only 400 miles to the journey from the Falklands to this country to have gone via St. Helena and Ascension. However, there have been improvements.
When talking about discontent I was referring to the telegram that was sent to the Prime Minister on 29 November 1982, a copy of which was sent to me. It reads:
We the twelve elected representatives of the 5,000 loyal patriotic British people of the South Atlantic dependent territory of St. Helena island plead that the same rights of entry to the United Kingdom be allowed.
If it is not possible to give St. Helenans the same right as Falkland islanders, for example, to enter Britain and settle because of our immigration restrictions—there are 7,000 St. Helenans already in Britain, more than there are on St. Helena—and if that is the policy, we are surely under a heavy moral obligation to bend all our efforts to provide a self-sufficient economy for St. Helenans so that they can achieve a satisfying life and status in their own land.
What happened to the suggestion that was made in 1980 that St. Helenans should be settled on the Falklands? There was surplus labour on St. Helena and a shortage of labour on the Falklands—both islands are in the south Atlantic ocean — and it seemed that there could be some development along those lines. When I was on St. Helena, invitations had been received by St. Helenans to emigrate to the Falklands. What happened to that proposal? Was it stopped out of deference to the Argentines? What happened to what could have been a useful contribution to a solution of St. Helena's problems'?
We should give some thought also to the constitutional future of St. Helena. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has made some interesting suggestions. Unfortunately, it is not possible to pursue them in detail on the Floor of the House. I think that there is a case for publishing a White Paper—perhaps not immediately but before too long — setting out the Government's objectives so that we, and perhaps more importantly the international community, can understand the problems. At present, the international community does not really have an understanding of them. We and it should know where we are going. If a White Paper on those lines could be produced, that by itself would be a justification for the valuable initiative that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has taken in raising this important subject.
As the House may know, I am interested in Hong Kong. I start by thanking hon. Members for the moderate, cautious and sensible words that they have used in talking about Hong Kong. Clearly the negotiations are at an early and delicate stage. They may continue for quite a long time. It is a worrying time for the people of Hong Kong. I think that the best attitude that we can take is one of continuing and steady support for Hong Kong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook made Hong Kong an exception to most of his proposals. I hope that he also made it an exception to his general charge that Britain neglects its dependent territories, except in a crisis. Hong Kong does not show signs of neglect. It has often been described as an economic miracle, and it certainly qualifies for that title. A tiny patch of land has accepted a population of 5 million, mostly in the form of poverty-stricken refugees, over the past years. It is a country with no raw materials. To have arrived at a state in which it has the highest standard of living in Asia, apart from Japan, is clearly an economic miracle in itself.
I was not going to say that, no. I was about to say that the economic miracle depended on a social miracle, a miracle of administration supplied by Britain and by the Hong Kong administrators to deal with a flood of refugees. At times during the early 1950s, 1,000 refugees arrived each day. There were occasions when 100,000 a month came through. They all had to be housed and educated. Their health had to be looked after and they had to be employed. Hong Kong faced a mammoth task. Housing started in utter squalor and disarray. That has been so transformed that people now come from all parts of the earth to examine Hong Kong's housing to see what has been achieved on such a scale. Even now Hong Kong is building 35,000 flats a year.
The Hong Kong Government are providing schooling for everyone until the age of 15 years. The quality of its higher education is known throughout the world. That is one of the reasons why Hong Kong's industry has been able to go forward into the most highly developed technological areas and to lead whereas it used to follow.
Every year, every index shows an improvement in the quality of health in Hong Kong, and it is now extremely high. It would be an affront to those dedicated British and Hong Kong administrators, who have devoted their lives to the achievement that I have described, for my hon. Friend not to make an exception of Hong Kong.
If there has been any neglect, it has been shown by British industry. British industry had a captive market in Hong Kong, but as happened in so many parts of the world great parts of it were taken over by, for example, the Japanese, the Germans and the Americans. I am glad to say that over the past three years there has been a great advance in the adventurous spirit of British business men. GEC has received large orders for power stations. British Shipbuilders has obtained orders from Hong Kong shipowners, who are among British Shipbuilders' largest customers. About 20 per cent. of all the capital goods required for the mass transit railway are now supplied by British firms. The balance of payments is now just about even. That is a considerable achievement on our part.
The motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington shows great concern for people. All the signs in Hong Kong are that the people there would like the present conditions to continue. However, 1997 is in sight and cannot be ignored. Something has to be done and preparations have to be made for that date. Hence the negotiations that have started.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington paid tribute to the Prime Minister's visit. It was very important that she should take a personal part in launching the negotiations, thus showing her interest in Hong Kong. No greater interest can be shown than the Prime Minister herself starting the negotiations. I was in Hong Kong just before my right hon. Friend went to Peking. When I asked the governor what we hoped to achieve in the opening talks, he said that we wanted a friendly meeting, an agreed statement and the start of talks. That is exactly what was achieved. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did extremely well.
In the agreed statement, the common aim was stated to be stability and prosperity. Stability is the most valuable asset that we have given to Hong Kong. In a recent article the Attorney-General of Hong Kong said:
But what has been the oil that allowed the commercial and financial wheels to turn so smoothly, ever accelerating? What were and are the essential features creating the ambience in which the economy has flourished? It is the stability arising from a Constitution which is known to give no arbitrary or oppressive powers to any individual body … and, perhaps even more important, the trust, based on long historical experience, that no such powers will ever be taken. This, even more than the sophistication of the territory's legal, commercial and bureaucratic structures, has made its virile economy possible. That stability and the international confidence it alone cart create and maintain, as well as the existence of those structures, has inspired the business community of the world over the years to migrate to Hong King to set up their regional offices and manufacturing operations, and to make here their multi-million dollar investments and deals. It is without doubt the Constitution and the laws of Hong Kong, paying not mere lip-service but giving total adherence to the Rule of Law, which is the bedrock upon which that confidence rests, and which has created the ambience which has permitted prosperity to grow and flower.
I am glad that that has been recognised.
The constitution, of course, is not a lifeless instrument. It must be supported and promoted by people. Here, too, our country has done Hong Kong proud in the public servants whom we have supplied. Anyone who knows Hong Kong will agree that the administration composed of British and Hong Kong administrators is of the highest quality. There have been a steady succession of distinguished governors — none more so than Lord MacLehose, who retired last year and whose 11 years there must make him one of the great administrators of our time. A very senior diplomat, Sir Edward Youde, has now become governor—again a person with great knowledge of China and admirably suited to the task.
In Hong Kong now there is inevitably strain and tension because the future is uncertain, but the place has by no means come to a halt. Busy life, vigorous government and a high level of employment continue. People are keeping their nerve admirably and I have great faith in the future of Hong Kong. It is a sensitive time and we must give them our support.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on raising this topic and I apologise for not being present earlier. It is unfortunate that so few Members have worked up the enthusiasm to attend the debate, a charge of which I am partly guilty myself. Ironically, Parliament has usually displayed indifference towards colonial affairs. The small attendance today does not necessarily reflect the decline in the number of colonies. [n many periods of our history, even when Britain had an enormous empire, the same indifference was shown towards imperial and colonial affairs.
I agree with some aspects of my hon. Friend's motion, but I cannot accept that the views of British subjects in the remaining colonies and dependencies should automatically weigh so heavily as to dominate all other aspects of decision-making in this country. I in no way seek to downgrade their contribution, but I do not believe that a small tail should necessarily wag a large dog in determining issues of peace and war and the economic, political and diplomatic future of this country in its relations with the rest of the world.
I wish to deal principally with defence. I am a member of the Select Committee on Defence, of which the Minister of State was a distinguished Chairman. We lamented his demotion to ministerial office as we felt that he could have made a greater contribution by remaining Chairman of the Select Committee. I do not mean that derogatarily in any way.
I declare an interest. As a good democratic Socialist I am anti-colonialist and very much endorse the attitude taken by the Labour party and Labour Governments in acquiescing in the dismantling of the British empire. Democratic Socialism, however, does not mean in all cases—certainly not in mine—indifference to defence. On the contrary, I have found nothing in Socialist writings of this or other countries to suggest that acceptance of democratic Socialist principles automatically means acceptance of mutualism or pacifism.
It is important that the prime consideration in defence and foreign policy for any future Labour Government be determined by continued membership and support of the North Atlantic Alliance, which has been so vital for us in the past and will remain so in the future, until such time as we, in conjuction with our potential adversaries, decide to dismantle the alliance system that has been created. The Alliance is not just an instrument of deterrence. It is an instrument of detente as well.
There is a link between our commitment to the Alliance and the remainder of our colonial empire. That enormous empire grew up somewhat haphazardly, without anyone really considering what was happening, and the defence framework was virtually non-existent. We acquired calling stations on virtually every island in the world that had any defence potential. As former Foreign Secretary Castlereagh said, our policy in defending acquisitions made by Britain at the treaty of Vienna was to secure the empire against future attack. To do that, we acquired what in former times would have been thought of as Romettes —the keys of every great military position. Thus, in a haphazard fashion, we established around the world a series of island bases that we used for defence purposes.
Those former bastions of British imperial defence—notably the Falkland Islands, so important strategically in the past, and Gibraltar — are now causing major headaches to policymakers in this country. In a sense, the dismantling of the empire was easily defended by Labour Members in the past as it was consistent with the policy of anti-colonialism, but the colonies and dependencies that remain pose far greater problems of consistency for Labour Members now, in view of the acute problem posed by those colonies which wish to remain dependent because they are so weak economically that they cannot contemplate a future divorced from the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, it is important that we continue to provide adequate aid to facilitate their economic development.
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman did not hear my speech but I said that the problem in the United Nations now is to get rid of the colonialist image which attaches to dependencies that want to remain dependent but which are still tarred with the image of colonialism. As the hon. Gentleman has said that his party strongly favours anti-colonialism and getting rid of the colonies, perhaps he and his party have a significant role to play in helping to get the United Nations to accept that there are people in dependent territories who want to remain dependent and in whose interests it is to remain so.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for informing me of some of what he said. I do not want what I say to be construed as a complete endorsement of British domination of its colonies in perpetuity. I hope that my opposition to patriating the Canadian constitution is not regarded as an example of colonialist mentality. I came to that conclusion largely because of my support for the native peoples who have received a bad deal and will continue to do so in a country which they occupied for 20,000 years before the whites discovered it.
The dependencies create problems when we try to achieve consistency. That process is relatively easy with regard to Hong Kong because, unfortunately or otherwise, our responsibilities there will come to an end in a few years. We have no moral right to remain there and we have only done so because the Chinese have found that it is in their interests to allow us to remain. We should not go through the motions of keeping the flag up indefinitely. When the time comes in 1997, it will be replaced and there is little that we can do about it. Nevertheless, we must try to get the best possible deal for the Chinese inhabitants of the colony.
The problem is more difficult with regard to Gibraltar. Spain is now within NATO—or, rather, sort of within it; I hope that it will come in more firmly. That will give the Foreign Office and future Governments greater opportunity to reach an agreement with Spain. While Spain was Fascist, there was no basis for negotiation. I strongly regret the hysteria that has been generated by Madrid in the past week or so. I hope that when things settle down and there are signs of compromise on both sides, we shall be able to settle the long-term future of that colony.
Despite many years of decolonisation, the number of dependencies which we have a responsibility to defend is considerable. We have military relations with a considerable number of territories. For example, we have a sovereign base in Cyprus and garrisons in the Falkland Islands, Belize, Hong Kong and Brunei. We have responsibilities in a formidable array of territories. We must concentrate the minds of Government and Parliament not only on the formal constitutional arrangements between us and our colonies but on what the defence relationship is supposed to be. Perhaps this motion will help that. I do not endorse the view which some people may hold that there should be an automatic commitment to defend all those territories to the death in the distant future, but we must settle our obligations towards those countries.
A few months ago, I listened to a speech about defence by a distinguished Australian academic. He did not mention the United Kingdom once. That represents a transformation in attitude. Once upon a time Australia was dependent on the United Kingdom, whereas it is now adopting a defence policy in which the United Kingdom figures as a superfluous element.
I refer the House to an excellent memorandum that was submitted to the Select Committee on Defence by three academics from Southampton university—Drs. Calvert and Simpson and Mr. Frank Gregory. They pointed out the need to consider the remainder of our dependencies and colonies from the point of view of defence. That causes major problems. In the past 20 years, we have shed our imperial responsibilities and concentrated on NATO. Since the Falklands dispute, we have encouraged those people who believe that perhaps we should not have given up empire but remained a military force in far-off places.
Although I strongly agree that we should have continued with decolonisation, I do not believe, as many of my colleagues might, that we have no defence obligations outside NATO. I can conceive circumstances in the future—I regret that there might be some—when we might have to go outside our formal military responsibilities. That stance in no way endorses the concept of a rapid deployment force that charges around the world when someone twitches our beard or moustache. However, I do not subscribe to the opposite view, that there are no circumstances in which we should deploy our forces outside NATO.
I viewed the sending of the task force to the Falkland Islands with some misgivings and scepticism, but not on the same grounds as some of my colleagues, which was that we had no moral right to defend British territory. My objection was simply that, having examined the risks, and the forces that were available to us and the formidable forces that could be arrayed against us, I concluded that the risks were too great for the rewards. I have not altered my view. It was, as someone said, a political war to save political face.
Having been to the Falklands and examined the defences and studied the issue seriously, I hope that we can reach some form of accommodation with a civilian regime in Argentina. However, I am not so naive as to assume that one has only to sling out the military and in will come a civilian regime which will be willing to negotiate. I am not confident of our diplomatic service out there, in the light of what happened leading up to the invasion. Nor am I convinced of the quality of intelligence-gathering. I hope that it has improved. Nevertheless, we must determine whether what party leaders in Argentina are saying is political rhetoric to outbid each other in the election or whether it genuinely represents the leadership's view that in no circumstances will there be any compromise with the United Kingdom in negotiations on the Falkland Islands.
I am worried that we have dug a big hole for ourselves in the Falkland Islands. Now that we have emerged with limited casualties and loss of equipment, we should not assume that, having whipped the Argentines once, we can do so again on any future occasion when they decide to stick their noses anywhere near the Falkland Islands. Anyone who has the intelligence and willingness to analyse Argentine military and political developments can see that they have embarked on a massive shopping expedition. They have acquired arms from Israel, the United States and Germany indirectly through the United Kingdom. They have substantially, and remarkably swiftly, repaired the damage to their armed forces and morale. The time will come—it may be in one year or two—when the Argentines will have reached the stage at which they were before their unsuccessful invasion of the Falkland Islands. From then on, the risk to us will be proportionately greater because, whatever forces are available to us, we can afford to deploy only a small proportion of them in the south Atlantic. We have only a limited number of submarines, so we cannot deploy even a small percentage of them there indefinitely. The Navy is being reduced to a 40 or 50-ship fleet, and we cannot afford to have about one quarter of it tied down indefinitely in the Falkland Islands.
If we wish to stick it out and to say to Argentina, "Regardless of your views, the interests of the islanders will be paramount for ever," we must accept that it will be enormously costly in terms of scarce resources that could be better deployed for the defence of the United Kingdom in the NATO area. It will be expensive in terms of money that could be saved for other areas of public expenditure under strain, and will cost us greatly in our relations with our allies and with other countries in South America. It is the height of folly to assume that the present position can obtain indefinitely.
I do not subscribe to the view that, having retained the islands and shown our commitment, we should now fade away. We must have adequate defence of the Falkland Islands during the period leading to genuine negotiations. The negotiations should not be conducted from a position of absolute weakness. To many Argentines, negotiations are simply a time frame during which we shall acquiesce to their demands, but negotiations should not take that form. We must negotiate from strength, although not incredible strength, because we cannot afford it. We must determine the defence expenditure and commitment that will be sufficient to deter future aggression. The old policy of the trip wire was exposed ruthlessly and humiliatingly a year ago. In the not too distant future we must try to return to genuine negotiations with Argentina so that we can secure the long-term future of the islands, taking into account the wishes of the islanders, and perhaps considering a United Nations solution or some of the solutions that were under consideration while the task force was en route to the islands.
The alternative to that approach is the risk of further conflict, and next time we may not be so fortunate. We have been learning our lessons, but we can be certain that the Argentines have also learnt some lessons.
The Select Committee on Defence today published a report on British forces in Hong Kong. It does not discuss the vexed question of future constitutional relations with China, but considers our defence contribution to Hong Kong. I hope that the report will be read carefully, because we must bear it in mind that the cost of maintaining a force in Hong Kong is much less than we imagine. About 75 per cent. of the cost is now borne by the Hong Kong Government, so the economic argument is not overwhelming. The Committee stated:
There is therefore no financial imperative for any reduction of British defence commitments in Hong Kong in the medium-term, and we trust that no such reduction will be contemplated.
I do not wish to argue about democratic rights in Hong Kong. I leave that to others who are more competent, but I am aware that it is hardly a model democratic system. However, there is no superabundance of liberal democracies in that area. I hope that there will be some liberalisation in Hong Kong and that those who respond
in a knee-jerk fashion to the remnants of colonialism should recognise that, although it is an imperial anachronism, it will be worked out during the next 12 or 13 years.
The garrison in Hong Kong is not a defence force, and anyone who believes that a force of fewer than 10,000 can defend the island against the Red Army is sadly mistaken. The forces are there for border control and internal security, not to repel aggressors. The report highlights our worry about the local overseas allowance, the difficulties faced by service men and their families in paying for air conditioning, which is essential in Hong Kong, and the great discontent among soldiers and their families about the difficulties of transport—
I am sure that the House will value this report from the Committee, which has done an excellent job, but if the hon. Gentleman is asking me to comment on anything that he says on the subject he is taking up time that could be put to better use. I can say nothing about his remarks.
The Minister has introduced the novel concept that speeches are directly related to the responses that they may elicit from Ministers. I wished to bring to the attention of the House the fact that this is an important report. Whether the Minister replies now or in three months' time, a reply will be necessary. We should talk not only about the strategic interests of Hong Kong but about the interests of British service men who work, paradoxically, in adverse circumstances.
On page 7 of the evidence given by the Minister of Defence we see the salary scale for Gurkhas in Hong Kong. The salary of a single private is £74·76 a month. We know that the pay rates are determined by agreements with Nepal and Burma that we do not pay our Gurkhas more than they pay their soldiers. We try to compensate them with many devices, including paid accommodation. However, I must plead on behalf of thousands of loyal soldiers in the Gurkha regiments. We cannot tolerate the fact that those men are paid a pittance for their labours. The argument is that if we raise their salaries too high, the future of the Gurkas must be reconsidered, but we must find a compromise. Much more must be done to give those men a standard of living greater than that which they enjoy at present. I do not accept the argument that if they were back in the mountains of Nepal they would be living in poverty.
I compliment the hon. Member for Orpington again on raising this matter. The House has great difficulty in considering the remainder of our empire. We have shed most of our responsibilities, and there may be a further shedding in one or two cases, but it is clear that we must be responsible for our remaining dependencies. In the months and years ahead—I hope the months—the more contentious of those cases, such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, must be discussed rationally. I hope that we can reach an accommodation with a democratic Spain and Argentina to secure the long-term future of those two remnants of the empire. The alternative of sticking it out and fighting to defend them indefinitely could be costly in terms of money, our international reputation and, most of all, the lives of British soldiers.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made it clear that he did not advocate total withdrawal of our military responsibilities from countries overseas, but he attacked the concept of a rapid deployment force. He is trying to have it both ways, but he cannot. His speech relates directly to the excellent motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), which states:
That this House … expresses its determination to defend their territorial integrity by force if necessary.
The word "their" refers to the dependent territories.
The hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about this matter, because of his membership of the Select Committee, but if one asserts, as he has, that we must have the power to defend the territorial integrity of those dependencies, it cannot be done by a modest defence exercise such as the trip-wire approach. It leads inevitably to further commitment, and perhaps to the maintenance of that commitment for longer. If we do not have the means to maintain that commitment, the original trip-wire loses its value. Logically, therefore, if one accepts, as the hon. Gentleman did, that we must have a military presence outside the NATO area, our armed services must be sufficiently flexible and powerful to give us a significant presence in many parts of the world.
We cannot have it both ways. We as a nation have our essential and primary commitment to NATO, but we also have to maintain our armed services at a high level of flexibility. We need a rapid deployment capability because we do not know where or when we might be called upon to defend territories with which we are associated, or other threatened territories which are not necessarily part of our traditional family of nations.
We might be called upon to help in United Nations exercises in different parts of the world. If we are to accept the role of defending such territories, we must maintain our armed services at a high level and be prepared to meet the necessary expenditure involved in that higher flexibility. Indeed, we have learnt a lesson in that respect from the Falklands war.
I have raised the question of defence and linked it with the point in my hon. Friend's motion about our determination to defend the territorial integrity of our dependencies. In doing so I have touched on the nub of the debate about the future of the remaining parts of the British empire.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South expressed his pride, in party terms, in the decolonisation that has been achieved. I prefer to express it in terms that would be more acceptable to all parts of the House. I do not think that there is any person in the House or in Britain who is not truly proud of the process of decolonisation, the granting of independence, and the whole history of the British empire and of the colonies and Commonwealth in the last quarter of a century. The fact that today we are talking about 13 dependent territories is an illustration of what has happened in regard to that very proud chapter of British history. As it is a proud chapter, we are entitled to look at one or two of our failures and to learn from them so that we do not commit errors in the future.
My hon. Friend, in moving his motion, has helped us —and, I hope, the Government—to make the issues much clearer, so that we can avoid some of the problems that have confronted us in the past. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) showed in his speech his continuing obsession with the Falklands war. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) argued that the war was unnecessary, but his standpoint was totally opposed to that of the hon. Member for West Lothian. My hon. Friend, who has persisted so conscientiously and consistently with his point of view, said once again that because we failed to make our purpose clear, and because there was shilly-shallying and uncertainty of purpose the dictators and the aggressors were encouraged. The hon. Member for West Lothian would have it otherwise. As he admitted to me candidly, he would rather have surrendered the Falklands interests and by so doing avoided a war. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is totally out of touch with reality and with the views of this nation. My hon. Friend, by contrast, expressed those views much more clearly.
We must assert clearly and without any doubts that it is our purpose and our determination to defend the integrity, the independence and the freedom of the dependent peoples who still look to us. In so doing, we are not referring simply to the 13 territories that are associated with us because of history. We are referring also to the many other small independent nations throughout the world—many of them members of the United Nations and some of them not—that look to nations such as ours to defend their right to exist as free nations.
My hon. Friend's motion is explicit. It says
That this House affirms its concern for the well-being and security of all Her Majesty's subjects resident in British dependent territories; assures them of its support for their economic and constitutional development; asserts the paramountcy of their interests in all matters affecting their future; expresses its determination to defend their territorial integrity by force if necessary.
It then talks about other forms of association. We must make it clear that we assert and support the right of such territories to territorial integrity and, above all —wherever it can conceivably be arranged—their right to independence if they so wish it. We must also assert that we shall not push them into independence if it is unsuitable or if they do not want it.
I hope that my hon. Friend's motion — and the assurances that I hope we shall receive from the Minister —will enable us to make our position absolutely clear to those who may think that they can use military power or aggression to take over such territories. If we do that, they willl know that they wil be resisted by the British Government and the British people, using military force if necessary. I believe—as I think most people do—that if we make our position clear from the beginning, military force will not be necessary.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) refers to Hong Kong. I used the words "wherever possible", and I think that we have generally agreed today that Hong Kong is very much a case on its own. It was not my intention at this stage to refer to Hong Kong, but perhaps I may do so in passing. This is an anxious time for the people of Hong Kong.
I do not think that it was particularly helpful to have had a reference from the Opposition Benches to the fact that the undoubted miracle of Hong Kong is not one of a democratic character. That comment does not detract in any way from the miracle of the success of that part of the world, nor does it detract from our admiration for the people of Hong Kong. This is a desperately anxious time for the people of that colony and a time that calls for very great statesmanship. The recent involvement of the Prime Minister, and even just the start of the process of statesmanslike negotiation, should be helpful and reassuring to the people of Hong Kong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), with his considerable knowledge of Hong Kong, referred to the agreed statement that there was a common aim to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. That statement in itself should be reassuring. Later we read that the Chinese Government's main spokesman on overseas Chinese affairs told a visiting delegation of bong Kong factory owners that China would maintain Hong Kong's present system, its inhabitants' way of life and its status as a free port and a financial centre.
Commenting on that statement, the Hong Kong Communist newspaper said that rule by the people of Hong Kong meant that Britain would not administer Hong Kong, nor would China's Communist party central committee have any say in appointing officers to the Government, not even the governor. If we have reassuring statements such as that emanating from the Chinese mainland, and if we can achieve the common aim of stability and prosperity for the 15 years, we can cling to the hope that there will be a statesmanlike solution to the problem of Hong Kong. We have to accept that the territory is different in character and nature from all the other dependent territories that we are discussing today.
In congratulating my hon. Friend on his motion, my only regret is that it enabled the hon. Member for West Lothian to carry on his saga of, or obsession with, the Falklands campaign. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in the Chamber now. The more one hears his attacks on the Falklands war and the more one sees his obsessive digging out of tiny details of history, the more one feels that for at least the next 25 years we shall have to listen to him trying desperately to prove that he was right and that everybody else was wrong. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's motivation is genuine and that he was genuinely opposed to the loss of life that occurred, but one feels that it is now much more an exercise in self-justification than concern about the future of the Falklands or the principles of freedom, integrity and the right to self-determination.
The Falklands war and the principles about which we are talking are summed up in these words:
It is a question of people who wish to be associated with this country and who have built their whole lives on the basis of association with this country. We have a moral duty, a political duty and every other kind of duty to ensure that that is sustained."—[Offical Report, 3 April 1982; Vol. 21. c. 638.]
Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition during one of the early Falklands debates. Anything else that we have said since should not detract from that basic assertion. That is what it was all about. Those people looked to Britain to defend their right to self-determination and to express their wishes in a free world. We have a moral duty; not just us, but the world at large. In considering the future of our dependencies we are entitled to look at the remarkable way in which the world has changed, along with the evolution of the Commonwealth and the independence of so many of our territories.
When the United Nations was formed in 1945, there were about 50 members. Today there are over 150. Some small nations are not members. Many of those United Nations members have a smaller population than many of our constituencies. Before 1945 we could not have contemplated the existence of those small nations. Probably they should have been taken over by what was described earlier as covetous neighbours. It was a world of force. It was impossible for small nations to exist in that way.
Many of those nations are not economically or militarily viable. However, this is the best world that we can create, with international organisations, so that small nations that cannot fight wars for themselves can exist with the confidence that they can retain their right to exist as separate nations. It is the highest ideal to achieve nationhood. That ideal is not sullied in any way by the need to receive aid from abroad or to be dependent either upon specific military alliances or upon a general belief that the world is one where individual nations can be allowed to survive.
That is what the Falklands war was about. To a large extent it is the right of small territories to be independent and not to be threatened by their larger neighbours. If that principle were to be abandoned, dozens of small countries throughout the world would live in greater fear than at present.
If we are looking for a world in which tiny nations can exist—some of them are very small; I think that the smallest independent nation at the moment has a population of 7,500—
I have many statistics. I think that that country has 7,500 people. We are talking about dozens of nations with fewer than 100,000 people. I shall come back to the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington about associated status. We should be able to accept the concept of independence for many other nations. I know that my hon. Friend was shot down vigorously by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East when he was talking about Gibraltar, but that could apply even to Gibraltar. We should consider the concept of independent states that are dependent on alliances or foreign aid for their continued existence. If we accept that concept and the independent nations achieve the right to recognition in the United Nations, any invasion of their territory will be an affront to the United Nations. That is a considerable security. It would give us the moral, legal and international right to step in and protect them whenever necessary.
Is not the problem that my hon. Friend has posed one of Britain being obliged to go to the assistance of a very small territory with a very small electorate over which Britain has no political control to ensure that that territory remains democratic and conducts its policies in a suitable way for such an arrangement? If we grant or thrust independence upon small territories which are not viable, we are taking on dangerous obligations which may become acute if control over those small territories passes into unsuitable hands.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but while he was speaking I was checking some statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) was right when he said that Nauru was the smallest territory, with a population of 7,254. Tuvalu has 7,349. The point, nevertheless, is valid.
I accept fully the dilemma that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has described about associated status. However, his alternative solution puts us in exactly the same position. He asked why we do not offer such territories Isle of Man or Channel Islands status. That will not give us effective control over the policies or character of those territories. If their regimes or policies change—they might do silly things like adopting Socialist policies of nationalisation—we cannot say that for that period we shall not defend their integrity, but that while they adopt good, sensible Conservative policies we shall. One has to take the rough with the smooth.
My hon. Friend's distinction is more apparent than real. He is saying, "Let us offer Gibraltar or any of the other 13 territories membership of the United Kingdom". We will then guarantee their territorial integrity. We shall have exactly the same defence commitment to them. Whichever way it is done, we are asserting an absolute determination to guarantee their right as separate territories. That being the case, we are talking only about the detail.
One must get the principles right. We are no longer talking about unreal defence commitments and having to fight to defend countries which are unwilling to remain part of our empire. That is history. We are not talking about enormous defence commitments. We are talking about maintaining forces to defend those territories that I want in any event. I want that flexibility and military capability. It is a major contribution to our NATO effort and defence of the Western world. We are not sacrificing anything. We are doing what is right and in our interests.
I believe that we must assert our national confidence. We are saying "Let us be clear in our purpose. Let us emphasise our commitment to these territories." I believe it to be a realistic commitment and one that emphasises this nation's belief in the principles of freedom, the rule of law and the right of self-determination.
I believe that we can take a leaf out of the French book. So often we have had introspective, self-analytical debates about our relationships. In France one will find an automatic acceptance of the fundamental relationships with many of their overseas territories. During the French elections, I remember watching the election boards and seeing that they were expecting votes to come from Guadelupe, Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte, St. Pierre and Miquelon to quote just a few of the French overseas departments or territories which return members to the French National Assembly and Senate. That is accepted as natural by the people of the world, of those territories and of France. I regard that as an expression of national, not military, confidence. It is confidence that the French are doing something that is acceptable to the peoples of those territories which conforms with the liberties and ideals to which we all subscribe. We should have the same confidence.
The prospect of independence for Gibraltar should not be rejected out of hand. I endorse the sentiments in the preamble to the Order in Council that accompanied the referendum in Gibraltar, in which over 12,000 people voted to retain the British connection and 44 voted for the Spanish connection. It is important to put those figures on the record. The preamble said:
Gibraltar will remain part of Her Majesty's Dominions unless or until an Act of Parliament otherwise provides, and
furthermore that her Majesty's Government will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of any other state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.
What a superb, clear and unequivocal statement. I hope that the Spaniards and anyone else who thinks that we will negotiate away the rights of the people of Gibraltar will be reminded of that preamble time and again. We must negotiate on the basis of an utter determination to respect the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.
However, if Gibraltar's independence within the European Community could become a sensible possibility, given the legal restraints of the treaty of Utrecht, the people of the island would have rights as members of the Community, alongside Spain. That solution would be less of an affront to Spain than what it sees as the permanent colonial occupation of part of mainland Spain. As long as we do not undermine our absolute commitment to the people of Gibraltar, that possible solution should not be ruled out of court.
I regret the token strike by the workers at the Gibraltar dockyard, but their action was restrained and understandable. Speaking parochially, with the Chatham dockyard in mind, I think that we impose a tremendous strain on dockyard workers. We demanded tremendous sacrifices and great work from them in support of the Falklands Islands task force. We expected them to make superhuman efforts to deliver the goods on time, which they did, and then we told them that the dockyards were to be closed. I regret the closures of the Gibraltar and Chatham dockyards.
I greatly admire the patriotism and determination of the people of Gibraltar and I am deeply sorry that it has been decided to close the dockyard there. I wish that we could have kept it open, not only because that would help Gibraltar's economy, but because I believe that the closure will be a false economy and, for defence reasons, we shall need that dockyard and the nuclear refitting facilities at Chatham.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on introducing an important debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will respond in like manner to the motion, which sets out clearly this country's resolve and self-confidence in dealing with our remaining dependent territories.
I hope that the fact that I have risen to speak will not alarm the few hon. Members still in the Chamber. I do not intend to speak for more than a few minutes.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) not only on initiating an important debate, but on the terms of his motion. He has done the House a great service. It is sad that the House has become more of a legislative machine and less of the sounding board of the nation that it ought to be. It is also unfortunate that on Fridays, when such important issues are discussed, many hon. Members return to their constituencies and are unable to hear the sort of excellent speeches that I have been privileged to listen to in this debate.
The impression could be given by the attendance here today that the House does not care about the dependencies. It would be a false impression, just as it would be a false impression to accept the criticisms of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on the Falkland Islands campaign as though the sheer quantity of the words that he has spoken on this issue in some way reflected the feelings of the House—it does not. It is much sound and fury which signifies but a small view in the House.
When Dean Acheson said that this country had
lost an Empire and has not yet found a role",
it was never true that we had lost an empire in the sense that somebody had taken it away from us. We had recognised that a wind of change had blown through the world and that people had a right to self-determination and independence, whether they wanted that to be democratically based or not. Therefore, we surrendered our empire with all its many achievements and its great history because it was the right and proper thing to do. Ever to have categorised that as some act of seizure of a series of possessions that we did not want to give up was a grotesque distortion of the contribution that Britain had made to the world.
As for the second part of Dean Acheson's aphorism, when he spoke we had not yet found a role, but I hope that we have now. That role is in Europe and is a major one in the world. We never lost the role that we had always adopted towards our dependencies. That is why the motion is so important. It provides us with an opportunity for reasserting our utter and complete commitment to our responsibilities. It is an astonishing thing in this world that there are countries all over the globe that simply do not want to surrender their connection with Great Britain but want — almost from time to time causing us embarrassment by the intensity of their wish—to remain part of Britain, and not only to be defended by Britain but have their interest represented by Britain.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington that somehow we should reflect in the Parliament of Great Britain those countries as representatives. I do not think that it is particularly helpful, because it is not likely to be accepted, to suggest that the dependencies should send elected representatives to the House of Commons. The example of France is not one that we can readily follow. However, some positive demonstration that these dependencies can expect to send representatives, possibly elected, to the House of Lords where their views can be expressed and considered in the interests of those dependencies is well worth considering.
We are not so concerned with maintaining our control, because it does not necessarily follow that if there were elected Members of Parliament we should have control. It is important, however, that we should inject a confidence-building factor so that the dependencies throughout the world should know that Britain not only mouths words of concern, and from time to time manifests its intense concern by being prepared to send an armed force 8.,000 miles to protect the interests of those dependencies, but actively represents that concern in one of the Houses of Parliament.
I shall say a few words about Hong Kong. I do so with considerable deference because my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) has spoken about the matter and is—I hope that he will not be offended by the suggestion—almost the Hong Kong representative in the House. He never misses an opportunity to advance Hong Kong's case and he is a great expert on the matter.
Nevertheless, some hon. Members travel to Hong Kong and have travelled recently. It is right, when we have an opportunity to do so, to express our assessments of the situation so that they can be fed into the decision-making process. We are approaching, if we have not already reached, a stage of great tension in Hong Kong. The tension is the result of Hong Kong's economic miracle and uncertainty about the dependency's future. The investment, industry and commerce of Hong Kong will, as 1997 approaches, become increasingly more uncertain and strained. A short time ago I had discussions with prominent people in Hong Kong, following the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend had gone to initiate the statesmanlike series of discussions that are necessary to reassure the people of Hong Kong and those who wish to invest there and maintain its economic excellence and viability. The result was not wholly as we would have wished and certain conclusions have been drawn.
First, the leaders in Hong Kong feel that we in Britain should not rush forward with solutions that have no reasonable chance of being accepted. They feel that we should leave the negotiating process for the future of Hong Kong to its essentially Chinese dimension. They believe that the long-term future of Hong Kong is very much wrapped up with its Chinese people and that if the Hong Kong Chinese were left alone for a time to discuss the future of Hong Kong with the Peking Chinese, a more practical solution, more acceptable to the financial, economic and commercial interests, would evolve. If more Chinese people from Hong Kong were to visit Peking, and if more Chinese people from Peking were to visit Hong Kong and from those visits came a greater understanding and a greater willingness to compromise, we should recognise that Chinese dimension and not be too anxious directly to involve ourselves at this stage.
Secondly, it would be all very well to accept a commitment from Deng Xiaoping in 1983 but, however honourable that commitment might be, there would be no guarantee that he or his regime will be in power when the final decisions come to be made. We have more difficulty than do the people of Hong Kong in appreciating that. Therefore, the answer is not to hasten a decision between Deng Xiaoping and the Government of Hong Kong. There seems to be very little confidence that such a conclusion will necessarily endure. The alternative is to try to keep the balls in the air for as long as possible and move through the Chinese dimension to a solution a little nearer the time at which it becomes absolutely necessary.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington. If one message can go from the House today, it is that the House of Commons is intensely committed and dedicated to the maintenance of our dependencies not as an aspect of outdated British colonial rule but as a reflection of the love and affection that we have for our dependencies, our commitment to their survival and maintenance and our appreciation that they want to remain with us when so many other nations, large and small, have decided to go their own way.
I join every hon. Member who has spoken thus far in offering the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) congratulations on resolving to debate a matter which is seldom discussed in the House and which has enabled a wide-ranging debate to take place today.
I also express my personal thanks to the hon. Gentleman for his great courtesy in informing me in advance of the general theme that he proposed to adopt, which was very helpful. If I express any dissent from his conclusions, it is in no way intended to reflect upon the measure of courtesy that he extended to me.
There have been a great many fine and ringing declarations about the loyalty of the dependencies to the United Kingdom, and they are to be seen, regrettably in marked contrast with the failure over many years on the part of this country to extend a better economic future and a better social climate in many of these dependencies. It was my hope that that position would abate, but I believe that the record of aid to the dependencies under this Government since 1979 has shown a decrease in real terms for at least half of the dependencies, and that is a regrettable state of affairs.
I want to make one or two comments in parenthesis before developing my main remarks about Hong Kong, the Falklands and Gibraltar. I start with a comment about the Cayman Islands, a tax haven, attractive as a centre of international finance for that reason but also developing as a flag of convenience country in maritime matters.
The development has been considerable. In 1977, there were 106 ships under that flag with a very small gross registered tonnage. By 1982, the figure had grown to 242 and 310,000 gross registered tonnes in respect of that fleet. It is as well to point out that the Government have decided, evidently quite deliberately, to leave responsibility for the maintenance of a shipping register to the Cayman Islands Government. It is said to be a domestic responsibility. The Cayman Islands lack any genuine economic link between the vessel and the flag state, and any effective maritime administration. A backward step has been taken because I can see no sign of any real concern for maritime safety. I say that with some feeling because, as a former shipping Minister in the previous Labour Government, I did not approve of the development of flags of convenience and the contracting out of international obligations. When British dependencies are involved, I deplore that state of affairs.
The observations made in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) were somewhat patronising and dismissive of him. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to my hon. Friend as expressing a small view. I do not always agree with my hon. Friend, but he expresses his views with courage, concern and with a great sense of determination because he believes that what he says is right. The House of Commons would be a sad place if small views could not be expressed. My hon. Friend has submitted over a long period a series of penetrating questions that deserve attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Some devastating criticisms were made by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Government's responsibility for the misuse of aid funds that occurred there. It expressed concern that a capital aid project costing well over £5 million gave rise to a continuing revenue commitment from the United Kingdom aid budget. It was referring to the Club Mediterranee scandal. The Foreign Affairs Committee made many other criticisms. There was the failure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to monitor the risk of undesirable property speculation. I doubt whether the Minister will be able to deal with those criticisms in advance of the official response of the Foreign Office. It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South should have adverted to those criticisms in this debate. The Opposition await with interest the Government's response.
One of the three themes that I wish to pursue relates to Hong Kong, which has taken up a fair proportion of the debate, and rightly so. The hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), who knows much about Hong Kong, referred to Hong Kong as an economic and social miracle. There is no doubt that the considerable economic success that it has enjoyed is due to the hard work and devotion of the 5 million who live there.
I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Howden to ask him whether Hong Kong could be described as a democratic miracle. I regret that Hong King is hardly a great advertisement for democracy. There is great inequality of wealth, trade union rights are heavily circumscribed and political parties are banned. There is no democracy regarding the choice of legislature and executive. Many International Labour Organisation conventions that have been ratified by Britain do not apply to Hong Kong. Its record of crime and corruption is hardly one that advertises Hong Kong favourably, and, in that light, the Attorney-General of Hong Kong speaks of adhering to the rule of law. A statement recording those remarks was read by the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), and this appeared to be a slight case of misconception or even of double standards.
A difficult period lies ahead for Hong Kong as a result of the uncertainty that will inevitably have an effect upon it during the period leading up to 1997. However, there is no reason why progress should not be made in the advancement of democracy and trade union rights, which should be an integral part of its future. I think, too, that we should expect in that period a measure of social justice in Hong Kong, which is something that is barely witnessed now.
I find it mystifying that a number of Conservative Members have declared their support for the Prime Minister's intervention in Hong Kong's future, although the hon. and learned Member for Burton gave somewhat clouded and qualified support for the way in which the Prime Minister dealt with the issue. I believe that she was singularly badly advised by the Foreign Office in the way in which the trip was organised. A considerable affront was caused unnecessarily to China. The right hon. Lady heightened tension quite unnecessarily.
Without dissenting from my hon. Friend's conclusion, will he reconsider his use of "advice"? We are not sure what advice was given and we do not know, therefore, whether it was accepted. It is my recollection that the Foreign Secretary did not accompany the Prime Minister. Surely that was something for comment and criticism.
My hon. Friend has rightly upbraided me. The Prime Minister is not one who listens very carefully to advice. I may have to acquit the Foreign Office but I doubt whether the Minister of State will comment on this. It would be a dangerous pursuit for him and I do not invite him to engage in internal controversy. Whatever the circumstances, the result was entirely avoidable. The various available scenarios must be conducted in a rather better and more carefully calculated manner than that which the Prime Minister chose to adopt. It was characteristic of the right hon. Lady's initial response to the Rhodesian situation, as it then was, when she wanted to go her own way and the Foreign Office, happily, was able to deflect her from that potential disaster.
The best advice that the House can give the Prime Minister is that she should stay out of Hong Kong in future and leave matters to the Foreign Office. I think that it will engage in a rather more civilised and sensible dialogue with the Government of China. It is a matter of great concern. Considerable British economic effort, Hong Kong economic effort and international economic effort has been devoted to Hong Kong for a long time. China has a clear interest and we must try to avoid conflict where it should be possible to work out a bargain that will be in the best interests of both Hong Kong and China.
I agree with the hon and learned Member for Burton — he advanced his argument with considerable perception—that the Chinese, rather than the British, aspect of the Hong Kong problem is an important perspective to bear in mind.
I invite the Minister of State to comment on the report which appeared in The Times on 13 April. It stated that 1,000 Chinese policemen were worried about their future after 1997 — no doubt some of them will be quite ancient by then. In 1997 most of Hong Kong reverts to China and the policemen are seeking British citizenship and the right to live in the United Kingdom. That plea emanated from a spokesman of the Police Inspectors' Association, which is evidently petitioning the British Home Secretary to grant its members citizenship on the basis of service in the colony. If the Minister cannot comment on that now, perhaps he or one of his colleagues will advise the House in due course.
The Falkland Islands question has rightly taken up a considerable proportion of the debate. I shall not add to the post mortem on the battle of the Falklands. I wish to deal with the situation as it is now and the future. As I have said before — I am sure that this is the view of the overwhelming majority of Opposition Members, when they are here, and, indeed, of some Conservative Members on days other than Fridays — the present fortress Falklands policy is exposed daily as hopelessly inadequate. There are no links with the mainland. There is no sensible basis of land tenure to attract new population. There are no proposals for radical change. Indeed, in the debate on the subject, the Minister eschewed that prospect. There are no real incentives for people there or those who may be invited to go there to have a stake in the land, and the recent offers by the Falklands Islands Company are at best derisory.
The Government stance in relation to the Falklands shows no real purpose or common sense in the long term. Of course there is a difficulty in engaging in a dialogue with Argentina so long as it refuses to renounce the use of force and continues to pose a threat to the Falklands. For that very reason, we should be looking for alternatives. We should be considering how to engage the support of democratic countries in Latin America to help us to work out a solution other than the fortress Falklands policy. How can we encourage other EC countries which provided great help during the crisis but are becoming singularly disenchanted with our present stance? The same applies to Commonwealth countries, which played a distinguished part in giving support at the material time.
At present, all those countries see merely an unyielding stance by the British Government, with no wish to consider the possibility of a United Nations trusteeship. Such a solution might not work, but at least we should be seen to consider the possibility. If the Government say that all that is beyond possibility so soon after the fighting, they should consider the fact that in recent weeks and months they have supported the beleaguered Argentine economy through the IMF and concerted in the provision of additional weaponry for Argentina. In those circumstances, it is hypocritical to say the least to argue that nothing other than fortress Falklands can possibly be considered for the time being.
The difficult and delicate issue of Gibraltar has also rightly engaged the attention of the House. The situation has changed radically since a democratic Government was elected in Spain. We must be sensitive to the fact that Spain has a burgeoning but still fragile democracy. It is a fledgling democracy and there are still people in Spain, especially the military, who hanker after the past and who would like a return to a Franco-style Fascist totalitarian state. Today, unlike the past, when Franco's Spain aided and abetted the Nazis, Spain is our friend and ally. We are trying to secure her full involvement in NATO and she will probably join the EC. Some progress was made with the limited opening of the border between Spain and Gibraltar. That was an encouraging sign but, regrettably, little has been built on it.
The Government should be deeply anxious to ensure that they do nothing that will endanger democracy in Spain. They must, therefore, avoid provocative actions which could play some part in undermining the democratic forces which currently represent the Government of Spain. I am not persuaded that it was essential to send HMS Invincible to Gibraltar as part of a naval exercise. I am not persuaded that that consideration was more important than the avoidance of something which was bound to be seen by Spain as deeply offensive and provocative. The explanations for that which we have so far been given by the Foreign Secretary have been desperately unconvincing.
We must recognise that Spain is not Argentina. It is not like Argentina and it is not a dictatorship. Talk such as we heard from the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—he is not here today—on the radio recently about giving Spain a bloody nose if it threatens Gibraltar is completely unhelpful. Some of that spirit has been engendered today, but happily not in quite the same terms.
If Spain fully joins NATO, there must be some form of Spanish presence on the Rock or affecting the Rock. Things are changing. There are factors which are in massive conflict with each other and which we must resolve in a sensible and civilised dialogue. The first is that every Spaniard believes that Gibraltar is a colony which is unable to sustain itself and that it is an anachronism. No one who takes a reasonably objective approach would consider that Spain's claim to Gibraltar is utterly fanciful and entirely unreasonable.
The second factor is that Gibraltar is the home of 20,000 people. No British Government, whether Labour or Conservative, could simply discard commitments that have been solemly made to those people over a long time. Those are the two apparently irreconcilable factors. However, time creates different circumstances.
Our guiding principle must be the frame of mind of the Gibraltarians. It must, therefore, be for Spain, as her democracy extends and, it is hoped, the tension diminishes, to persuade Gibraltarians that their anxieties are misplaced and can be dispelled. If the Spanish do that, the Gibraltarians' views could change. I do not believe that that is altogether likely but it is possible. Certainly I do not believe that it is sensible for us to say that under no circumstances will sovereignty be yielded. It must be a matter for the determination of the Gibraltarians.
We can engage in a reasonable and realistic dialogue with Spain provided that both we and Spain try to lower the temperature and do not engage in provocative actions. I hope that that would be the stance of the next Labour Government, and even of this Government, but I am a little doubtful about that and I cannot help thinking that the Prime Minister may have had something to do with the decision to send Invincible to Gibraltar. It was an insane decision, having regard to what is at stake for Gibraltar, Spain and Britain.
This has been an interesting debate, and the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for giving us an opportunity to talk about a wide range of subjects — far too many for me to answer now, and some of which do not lie within the responsibilities of my Department. But if I cannot answer any substantial points now, I shall do so in writing, and my colleagues in other Departments will have taken note of what has been said.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington understands and accepts that the Government are fully committed to the policy followed by successive Governments since 1945 of giving every help and encouragement to those dependent territories that wish to become independent, while not forcing independence on those which do not wish it. He complained about the answer that I gave him the other day, but his paraphrasing of my reply did not preserve its precision. If he had wanted a different answer he should have asked a different question. The Government's policy is fully in accord with our obligations under the United Nations charter, especially article 73, and wherever independence is feasible we shall continue to try to create the conditions that will make it a realistic and desirable objective.
The converse of that is that, wherever independence appears not to be feasible, or where local governments make it clear that they do not wish their territories to become independent, we are willing to continue to bear the full duties and responsibilities that accompany sovereignty. However, ultimately, the Government of the day and Parliament must be responsible for taking decisions on our dependent territories. We cannot allow the United Nations to impose a certain international status on people who do not wish it. We have sometimes had to dissociate ourselves from views expressed by the United Nations special decolonisation committee or the general assembly, but we have no reason to be defensive about the way in which successive Governments have carried out their responsibilities, and about one third of the member states of the United nations have reached independence as a result of the way in which Britain has discharged its obligations. That should be put on record today, just as I am glad to put it on record that we shall continue, wherever possible, to act in the same spirit towards our remaining territories, assisting them in a manner appropriate to their circumstances. Just to chalk up one past success, may I tell the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that the New Hebrides achieved independence in 1980, and is now called Vanuatu.
The motion and speech of my hon. Friend suggested that in some cases dependent territories might be integrated into the United Kingdom. The idea is not new, and was considered in the 1950s in relation to Malta and, since then, in relation to the Seychelles and Gibraltar. However, every time that it is considered, it has been found impractical. It involves permanent assimilation into the metropolitan power, representation in the metropolitan legislature, and equalisation of legislation, social services and taxation, which would raise serious problems for any or all of our territories even if it proved to be consistent with our responsibilities under the United Nations charter. We prefer to retain the straight choice between continued dependence or full independence, but we are willing to consider on their merits any proposals for alternative arrangements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) mentioned the French model. That is a peculiarly French system that has evolved over a long time, and it could not be transplanted to Britain any more easily than many other French institutions which my hon. Friend does not find congenial to British soil.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington said that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man should be represented in the House of Commons—
My hon. Friend said something similar to that. However, if he did not say it, I am glad, because it does not make sense. [Interruption.] There appears to be some doubt whether the words were said, but the proposition does not seem to me to make much sense, and I do not detect much demand for it in either the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.
If the Minister of State were not so anxious to gabble through his speech, he might be able to make a more coherent reply to the debate. He has misquoted me on several occasions. There is plenty of time available and it should be possible for him to speak at a slower speed so that we can understand and comprehend.
I am sorry that I am speaking too fast for my hon. Friend but it is my habit to speak quickly. I hope that he will follow me, even if he has to pant a little in the process.
I understood my hon. Friend to say that he was anxious that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man should be represented here. I did not understand him to say that he had any evidence to support the proposition. Now he says that he did not say it at all.
My hon. Friend differentiated between Hong Kong and the other dependent territories. The Government could not accept any moves which involved or even implied a lesser degree of commitment to one dependent territory than to the others. Ministers have repeatedly made it clear that they value Hong Kong's close relationship with the United Kingdom, and I shall say a little more about that in a moment.
Independence for Gibraltar, as my hon. Friend rightly said, is governed by article 10 of the treaty of Utrecht of 1713 which, as he will know, states:
And in case it shall thereafter seem meet to the Crown of Great Britain to grant, sell or by any means to alienate therefrom the propriety of the said town of Gibraltar, it is hereby agreed and concluded, that the Preference of having the same shall always be given to the Crown of Spain before any others.
If my hon. Friend subscribes, as the United Kingdom does, to the terms of that treaty, he has to pay attention to what it says. But equally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham reminded the House, the people of Gibraltar have shown themselves repeatedly and massively to be against any change in the present status. The last voting figures were 12,000 to 44. The people of Gibraltar clearly wish to retain their links with Britain and we stand firmly by the assurances about the future status of Gibraltar which are enshrined in the preamble to the territory's constitution.
As to the territorial integrity of Gibraltar and our willingness, if necessary, to defend it by force, I hope that my hon. Friend does not entertain doubts about that. The Spanish Government—which is a member of NATO, if I may remind the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) of it— have consistently ruled out the use of force in connection with their claim to Gibraltar. Furthermore, Spain, as a party to the North Atlantic treaty, is bound by article 1 of the treaty, in which the parties undertake to refrain from the threat or use of force in their international relations. That is something upon which I hope my hon. Friend would place reliance, as I would.
On Wednesday the House was informed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) that it is "quite normal" for ships participating in an exercise such as Springtrain— which is an annual exercise—to visit Gibraltar. Her Majesty's ambassador in Madrid has made that clear to the Spanish Foreign Ministry, and the Spanish Ministry of Defence was informed of the visit beforehand as a matter of courtesy. Given that the Spanish protest was in the form of a statement issued to the public rather than being addressed to us, there was no need, as some hon. Members have suggested, for us to respond.
My hon. Friend welcomed the Prime Minister's visit to China in September last year and, following that, to Hong Kong. The visit—which the hon. Member for Hackney, Central seems to think was such a mistake—was the first ever by a British Prime Minister in office, and provided an opportunity to hold talks with Chinese leaders on several world as well as bilateral issues. One of the subjects discussed was Hong Kong. The House has been reminded of the statements that were issued after that meeting between the Prime Minister and Chairman Deng Xiaoping.
The leaders of both countries held far-reaching talks in a friendly atmosphere on the future of Hong Kong. Both leaders made clear their respective positions on that subject. They agreed to enter into talks through diplomatic channels following the visit with a common aim of maintaining the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. Since then, in press conferences and interviews, the Prime Minister has made it clear that those talks would be confidential, that Britain takes its responsibilities for the people of Hong Kong seriously and that the views of the people of Hong Kong will be taken into account. Meetings have begun in Peking to follow up that initiative, and they continue. However, I hope that the House will accept that the contents of those talks must remain confidential.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) was wise in the advice that he gave us today. We should do well to remember the great experience that he brings to us in matters relating to Hong Kong. With regard to the petition from 1,000 police officers that the hon. Member for Hackney, Central mentioned, I am sure that the Home Secretary or one of his colleagues will comment on it in due course when he has had time to consider it. I regret that I can say nothing about it today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington referred to Brunei. Under the treaty of friendship and co-operation with Brunei, which was entered into by the previous Government on 1 January 1979, Brunei will resume full international responsibility as a sovereign independent state on 31 December this year. The sultanate has enjoyed full internal self-government since 1971. My noble Friend Lord Belstead is at present in Brunei to discuss various aspects of the United Kingdom's defence relationship with that country after it resumes full international responsibility on 31 December. From that date the United Kingdom will relinquish the consultative commitment for the defence of Brunei, which was undertaken in the 1971 agreement.
I hope that that clears up that matter. I should like also to clear up one or two points about Belize, which my hon. Friend mentioned and which my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) touched upon. Belize has had internal self-government since 1964 although full independence was delayed by Guatemala's long-standing territorial claim. The People's United Party has won all the general elections since 1964. It has stood from the first on an independent platform. Therefore, in view of the large majority in Belize who are in favour of independence, a constitutional conference was convened to bring the territory to independence. The House approved the arrangements and Belize was granted independence on 21 September 1981, which was welcomed by the United Nations.
However, in view of the special circumstances, it was agreed that the British garrison should remain for an appropriate period. It is not an indefinite commitment; it is not a blank cheque; it is not open-ended. I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that it is right in those circumstances that we should provide the additional deterrent against aggression that Belize needs for an appropriate period.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the United States Government are well aware of our views on that matter. Whether because of our representations or for other reasons, so far as I am aware little significant American armoury has passed to Guatemala. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know about that, I shall deal with it later.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the Pitcairn and Henderson Islands. We are well aware of the ecological and conservation issues affecting the Pitcairn Islands and particularly Henderson Island. We have sought advice from conservation groups in this country. It will be taken fully into account in reaching a decision on any application concerning future settlement of the islands in the group that are currently uninhabited. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we are responding to his representations and take them seriously. That is a point of substance.
It is nice of the hon. Gentleman to thank me, but I am about to repay him in different coin.
I listened to the allegations made by the hon. Member for West Lothian against the Gurkhas. He takes full responsibility for everything he says in the House. I was surprised that someone with his ingenuity, persistence and courage had not found some way of putting a parliamentary question and getting this matter dealt with by the Minister of Defence between the publication of the Argentine paperback and now. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about these matters, his concern should not be to have them smeared across the public print; it should be to bring out the truth in whatever way he best can.
The way that the hon. Gentleman is going about some of these matters—this is a particular case—is putting him in grave danger of becoming a type of political aerosol interested only in spraying gibberish on the pages of Hansard. He should think hard, not merely about what he seeks to do, but how he seeks to do it.
I am sorry, but that will not wash. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian. Just because a question in a particular form will be ruled out — my colleagues will agree — it does not make it impossible to get it past the Table Office defences. I will not have that, any more than I will have his allegation that all he receives from Government spokesmen is a litany of untruths. If that is his view, he seems to believe only what comes out of Argentina. The Brigade of Gurkhas is a fully-integrated part of the British armed forces. It has always met the high standards of discipline and behaviour demanded of all British troops. There is no evidence to support the outrageous allegations that he has broadcast again today. I hope that that will be enough for him.
Bermuda was mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). It has the oldest Parliament outside Westminster, so I am afraid that his information was wrong. Independence can always be put to the people of Bermuda in a referendum and may well be so put by the new Government if they think it right.
I am glad that that is clear.
I think it might be best if I wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), whom I am sorry not to see, about some of the points that he raised. I assure the House that the present shipping service to St. Helena and Ascension is entirely adequate and is as good now as it was before the Falklands conflict, if not better.
I have to be brief, and I hope that the House will excuse me for that. There are points that I have not covered and I have explained what I shall seek to do about that. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington will agree that the Government can be relied on to defend the best interests of our dependencies and to promote their political and economic progress, and that we shall have his full support in our continuing efforts to do that.
I am grateful to those hon. Members who have contributed to this useful debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have time during his period in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to read all the contributions and consider all the ideas that have been put forward, which I believe deserve rather greater attention, interest and consideration than he appears to have given them in his closing speech.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.