Belize and Antigua and Barbuda (Independence Gifts)

– in the House of Commons at 9:35 am on 29th July 1983.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher 9:35 am, 29th July 1983

Mr. Speaker, you charged us with an important mission: to present, on behalf of this House, Speakers' Chairs to two newly independent Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean. I pay tribute to my travelling companions, the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and our senior Clerk, Mr. Anthony Barrett, who observed all the niceties for us and established excellent liaison with out hosts. Both truly entered into the spirit of the occasion. The wit—I use the word advisedly—of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East charmed our hosts and opened all doors to us.

We travelled through three countries, took eight different flights and had five separate resting places. Despite this, we never had fewer than two passports between us, and sometimes we had three. This happy coincidence greatly improved our progress.

Our first visit was to Belize, and we found it highly stimulating. We met the utmost friendliness from a people who are peaceful, but have a commendable pioneering spirit. Belize is poor by our standards, but it has plentiful natural resources of timber, fishing grounds and potential ranching land for cattle which can be developed. The country is stable, its legislature is based on the Westminster system and the Head of State is the Queen, but its neighbours the Guatemalans lay claim to part of its territory. Hence, there is a small contingent of British troops to act as a deterrent against aggression. This presence adds greatly to the country's stability. Belize is one of the few true democracies in the American continent. Belize, for its part, offers our troops an incomparable training ground in real operations.

The Prime Minister, the Hon. George Price, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon. C. B. Hyde, received us with the utmost kindness and made us feel at home. We delivered your letter, Mr. Speaker, to Mr. Speaker Hyde, and I have his reply. We presented the Speaker's Chair of English cherry wood, which looked very fine in its new setting. The House of Representatives tabled the following motion: That this House records its deep gratitude for the Independence Gift of a Speaker's Chair from the House of Commons of the United Kingdom to the House of Representatives of Belize and that a message conveying Belize's appreciation and gratitude be sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons in pledge of the close and friendly relations which exist between our two Commonwealth Countries. I think that I have said enough to give an impression of Belize and its friendly and generous people. Britain's contribution to its defence is a great mutual advantage, and I hope that it will continue for some time.

We then visited Antigua and Barbuda, and once again we were made most welcome. The acting Prime Minister, the Hon. Lester Bird, and the Speaker, the Hon. C. L. Murray, received us most courteously. The programme was planned with meticulous care. They were anxious for us to see and enjoy everything. Antigua has played a vital role in our history. Great naval battles of the 18th century occurred there, as witnessed by Nelson's dockyard at English harbour, which has now been beautifully restored. The riches produced in Antigua helped to finance our industrial revolution. Antigua is naturally apprehensive about Communist penetration in the Caribbean area and very much values its strong links with the United Kingdom.

The ceremony was carried out in true parliamentary fashion. I was able to refer to the six table lamps in oak which the Leeward Islands gave us following the destruction of our Chamber. The Chair that we presented was of English cherry wood and complements the Members' desks, which were a gift from Canada. The following motion was tabled: Be it resolved that we, the Members of the House of Representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, convey to the House of Commons Parliament at Westminster our nation's sincere thanks for the gift of the Speaker's Chair and Table presented to this Honourable House to mark the independence of Antigua and Barbuda. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that I did not take your name in vain during our visit when I referred to your earlier profession and the fact that you carry a thimble, and a needle and cotton behind your lapel. When I described in graphic terms how you had been dragged to the Chair, they quite understood that immediate repairs might have been necessary.

It had been an immense honour for me and my colleagues to carry out the task on behalf of this House, and to be concerned in the fostering of those links that we all hold so dear and that we shall sever at out peril.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East 9:41 am, 29th July 1983

It is an extremely pleasant duty for me to report to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House on our visit to Belize and to Antigua and Barbuda. The gifts of the Speakers' Chairs were graciously accepted in very dignified ceremonies, and it was a pleasure to be able to speak in two Commonwealth Parliaments. Your letters, Mr. Speaker, to the Speakers of those Houses were carefully read and appreciated. The whole visit was memorable because of the great welcome that we received in both countries. We were treated with the utmost warmth, hospitality and generosity by everyone.

Belize is, of course, in central America, and we are painfully aware of the tensions, troubles and turbulence in that area, where there are some unsavoury regimes and brutalities. But there is none of that in Belize, which is a democratic, peaceful corner in an area of turbulence.

I should like to read one sentence from the speech of the Prime Minister at the ceremony: We have fundamental treasures in common — the language, the tradition, the parliamentary system, the common law, trial by jury, and the mixed economy. We know that there is a territorial claim against Belize by Guatemala, and a British military presence. That presence is universally welcomed by all in Belize. We had the opportunity of visiting the British forces there and I was much impressed by their discipline and morale. They keep a very high visibility. If the right signals are given to Guatemala, the evaluation of those present was that there would be no risk of an attack. But if we were to withdraw those troops, or if they were not so highly visible, the opposite could be the case.

As the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) has said, Belize is a developing country, with the problems of developing countries. We can help her in two ways—by trade and aid. Often trade is the more important. The theory of trade is that countries should do what they are best at, and countries such as Belize are best at growing sugar. It is most inappropriate for our continent to overproduce sugar and then subsidise its dumping on the world market, which makes life impossible for countries such as Belize. If there is one way in which we can help Belize it is by diminishing the European production of sugar beet and by opening our markets freely to cane sugar from the Third world.

I thank the Hon. Florencio Marin, the Minister for Natural Resources, who took us on a visit to the country's agriculture. I thank particularly the Hon. Fred Hunter, Minister of Works, and Mr. Monsanto, the Clerk of the House. They were two very agreeable companions who accompanied us to Ambergris cave and gave us a very pleasant time there.

Antigua and Barbuda are islands of great charm and character. Our connections go back many centuries, as we were vividly reminded by the sight of Nelson's dockyard and the fortifications he built there. I was particularly pleased to see the renovations taking place to the dockyard. We were received there with equal warmth and hospitality. I should like to mention in particular Mr. Stevens, the Secretary to the Cabinet, who went out of his way to make us feel at home.

My pleasure in undertaking the task was enhanced by my two travelling companions, who were extremely agreeable and amiable to me—the hon. Member for Esher and our Clerk, Mr. Barrett. I believe that Field Marshal Montgomery, when asked what he thought of Mao Tse Tung, said that he thought he would be a very good man with whom to go into the jungle. I can certainly say that the hon. Member for Esher is an excellent man with whom to go into the jungle.

I had one brief encounter with the local mosquitoes. At the time I was sitting on the back of a truck, clad only in a bathing suit, thus presenting a visible target. The creatures pressed home their attack with great resolution and within three minutes I thought there might be a by-election pending in Newham, North-East. But the hon. Member for Esher was equal to the occasion, and his experience of soldiering in foreign parts stood him in good stead. He had the appropriate medicaments and virtually saved my life. I am extremely grateful to him. He became my doctor and medical adviser and ensured that I survived the trip.

Mr. Barrett was extremely helpful in ensuring that we kept to our schedule and got to all the right places on time.

I think we can say that we carried out our task, in accordance with the traditions of this House, primarily because of the excellent leadership of the delegation by the hon. Member for Esher.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I am sure that the House will wish me to thank both hon. Members for the way in which they discharged the task that was entrusted to them. I shall ensure that the resolutions of the Houses of Representatives of Belize and of Antigua and Barbuda are entered in the Journal.