Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 17th July 1984.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum not exceeding £363,123,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1985 for expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Salaries (Subhead Al of Vote 1), Loans: allocated (Subhead C1 of Vote 8), Grants: allocated (Subhead C2 of Vote 8), and service overseas and regional technical co-operation programmes (Caribbean and Pacific) (Subhead D1(5) of Vote 8).—[Mr. Whitney.]
Before I call the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), the House will wish to know that this debate must end at 7.30 pm, so time is limited.
This debate arises out of the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Grenada, which was published in early April, and the Government's observations on and reply to the report, published towards the end of the last month. The "tag" on today's Order Paper relates to the Committee's report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Overseas Development Administration Supply Estimates 1984–85, which was published yesterday, which includes a certain amount of evidence and comment on the aid Estimates for Grenada and recent cuts in FCO and ODA manpower.
The House may be wondering why a debate on what appears to be a largely political subject is masquerading as an Estimates debate. Perhaps I should make it clear at once that a large part of the report on Grenada dealt with the quality of information reaching British Ministers from our diplomatic staff in the Caribbean and the effectiveness of the ODA in responding to the urgent needs of Grenada after the United States intervention last October. In other words, we were interested in the efficiency of the United Kingdom's relatively large missions in the eastern Caribbean and the value for money that the country was receiving from its relatively large investment in the region.
We have not tabled any amendment because the report reflects the anxiety, expressed yesterday, about the potential danger of further cuts in diplomatic service manpower.
The Committee, in paragraph 19 of its conclusions, states that
the squeeze on the Diplomatic Service manpower has probably gone far enough and that additional significant reductions would only be made at the cost of accepting a reduced level of quality of service.
I have been asked to open this debate because the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), was unhappily unable to participate in the Committee's visit to the Caribbean in January. It therefore fell to me to lead the team.
I have no doubt that other members of the Committee will wish to take part in the debate. Therefore, I propose to limit my remarks to what seem to be the key issues raised during our inquiry.
The House will be fully aware of the background and the history. Grenada is a truly lovely and relatively prosperous east Caribbean island of 133 square miles. It has a population of about 110,000 attractive people. For nearly 200 years it was a British colony. In 1967 it became an associated state, with Great Britain retaining responsibility for defence and external affairs.
In 1974, under the premiership of Sir Eric Gairy, and without the wholehearted enthusiasm of the populace, Grenada was granted independence. In March 1979, the Gairy regime was overthrown in an almost bloodless coup by Maurice Bishop's New Jewel movement. Until October 1983 Grenada was governed by a people's revolutionary Government which aligned itself with Cuba, Russia and the Eastern bloc countries, and pursued certain policies which caused increased alarm to its neighbours and, in particular, it seems, to the United States of America.
In October 1983, following dissension within the revolutionary Government, Maurice Bishop was overthrown. On Wednesday 19 October he was summarily executed together with three of his former Ministers and two trade union leaders, and the revolutionary military council took over Grenada and imposed a curfew upon its inhabitants.
What is relevant is that, throughout all these events, Grenada was a member of the Commonwealth and, despite the suspension by the revolutionary council of its independence constitution and in strange contrast to its revolutionary movement in the Bolshevik mould, it retained the Governor-General, representing Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State. The Governor-General was, of course, wholly independent of Her Majesty's Government here.
In the early morning of Tuesday 25 October the United States, with Jamaica and Barbados and with the support of five members of the Organisation of East Caribbean States, invaded Grenada and within three days secured all significant military objectives and restored Grenada to peaceful order.
The "joint rescue mission", as the United States Administration likes to call it, was overwhelmingly welcomed in Grenada, in particular by the Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon, who, on 31 October, announced his intention to appoint an interim advisory council to run Grenada until elections could be held. That council was proclaimed formally a fortnight later, and, with the Governor-General, now forms the present Government of Grenada.
That, in brief, was the background against which the Foreign Affairs Committee, immediately after its reappointment in December last year, decided to investigate. Our terms of reference were to investigate
the political crisis in Grenada, progress towards the restoration of civilian democratic government, and the aid and development needs of the Island.
Two matters particularly interested us. The first was the widespread allegation in the Caribbean that the United Kingdom had failed its friends in the region by failing to participate in the military intervention of 25 October. Naturally, those allegations gave rise to worries about the effects of the intervention on Great Britain's close and long-standing links with the region.
The second matter was that there had been many suggestions that the British Government had been kept deliberately in the dark about American and Caribbean plans for military action. Those suggestions had inevitably been fuelled by the denial of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the House, only a few hours before the troops moved in, that he knew of any intention of American military action.
If those suggestions were proved to be well-founded, further questions were bound to follow about the health of the special relationship and the efficiency of our information and intelligence gathering in Washington and the Caribbean.
The difficulty which the Committee faced in seeking to answer the key questions — about the nature of any request for United Kingdom military assistance and the quality of information available to the Government at the time—was, of course, that the answers could be found only in the files and collective memories of the traditionally and understandably secretive diplomatic services not just of the United Kingdom, but of the United States and of the Governments of the eastern Caribbean.
If the Committee were to do its job properly, therefore, there was no chance of doing so through the normal process of evidence taking, even if the evidence had been taken in private. No foreign Government would submit to formal interrogation by a British Select Committee, but foreign Governments possessed much of the relevant information.
Although we were able to take useful evidence from our own Ministers, particularly on aid matters, much of our report had to be based on information given to us in private, and strictly off the record, by the representatives of foreign Governments and our own diplomatic representatives overseas.
For obvious reasons, we had to respect the confidentiality of our sources and could not disclose much of the fascinating detail of the events of last October revealed to us by those sources.
The House, therefore, has before it a report which lacks many of the footnote references that it would normally expect to find, and which, in places, is necessarily and deliberately opaque. Far from indicating any uncertainty or unreliability in our account of the events of last October, these features in our report reflect our awareness of the delicacy with which a public parliamentary Committee must tread when entering a world as closed as the diplomatic world, and our respect for the openness and frankness of the Ministers, diplomats and other Government officials who agreed to talk to us in Bridgetown, Port of Spain and St. Georges.
In paragraph 24 of the report we state:
We are confident … that our account accurately reflects the information given to us during these conversations.
The Government, in reply to our report, have chosen to describe our description of events as "oversimplified" and relying "too much on hindsight". But, with respect, I submit that nothing in the Government's reply, nor any subsequent information which has become available, suggests that in any detailed respect the Committee's account is wrong or its conclusions false.
The Committee's report is broadly divided into three parts. The first part deals with the events leading up to the overthrow of Maurice Bishop, the United States Caribbean intervention and an assessment of the consequences of Britain's non-involvement. The second part comments on the political and economic situation in Grenada after the intervention. The third part, which I hope will be referred to in more detail by some of my Committee colleagues, discusses Grenada's need for assistance from overseas, and in particular from the United Kingdom. Some final comments are added on the security implications of the Grenada crisis and the United Kingdom's further relations with the Commonwealth Caribbean.
I turn first, and briefly, to our assessment of the intervention and of Britain's so-called failure to take part. Our account of these events makes several points absolutely clear. First, for reasons of their own, the United States Government did not want the United Kingdom to be involved in the military intervention on 25 October.
Secondly, as the Committee puts it in paragraph 39 of the report,
the timing, nature and extent of the information provided to the United Kingdom Government by the United States Government were consistent with that position.
Those were carefully chosen words, but the point was made to us more bluntly by one prominent American, who said, "If we had consulted the United Kingdom, you would have tried to persuade us not to go in." Indeed, as the Foreign Secretary told us in evidence at question 11 in the report, not only the United Kingdom Government but the United States State Department was not in full possession of the facts. Our investigations in the Caribbean pointed strongly to the conclusion that this was deliberate, not accidental.
In addition, the information reaching the British Government from the Caribbean was confused and ultimately misleading. Whether this was deliberate or not is less easy to say. Certainly the decision of CARICOM on Sunday 23 October to go for economic and other sanctions rather than military action—and the deputy high commissioner's famous walk on the same day in the garden with the Governor-General, who did not ask for any help, together with the failure of the Organisation of East Caribbean States to deliver its promised written request for assistance — seems to have dissuaded the British Government from believing that a military operation was imminent, and therefore the need for urgent action to discourage such an operation, if that was their intention, was less obvious.
At the time of the publication of our report, the press made much of a phrase in that report implying, as it was interpreted, criticism of the Foreign Secretary for "a somwhat lethargic approach" in relying solely on what was described as "normal diplomatic channels". On reflection, I think that they were unfortunate words, and I regret that most press reports used them out of context. I have known and admired my right hon. and learned Friend for many more years than he has been in the House, and he would be the last person whom I would accuse of lethargy. The phrase, in its context, was not a personal criticism of my right hon. and learned Friend, but a reflection of the Committee's genuine concern that insufficient appreciation was being given to the development of the crisis in Grenada by Ministers and officials.
In their reply to our report, the Government have sought to refute this charge by detailing the large number of communications between London and the Caribbean and Washington during the critical period, and the number of telegrams copied to Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, during the weekend. But, with respect, the reply is not overwhelmingly convincing. It seems evident that operations consisted largely of the FCO duty officer, out of normal hours, passing telegrams on to others as part of the normal out-of-hours routine. Our concern is that, even if the signals from Washington and the Caribbean were misleading, there should, by the weekend of 22 and 23 October, have been sufficient awareness of the political temperature in the Caribbean to justify greater alertness, if not alarm, in Whitehall.
When all has been said, and the events of October raked over, what were the consequences of Britain's non-involvement in the military intervention?
Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves that important point. Is it not a fact that a large amount of the criticism that was levied against the Government was due to a misunderstanding about the role of the Governor-General in relation to the United Kingdom? Is not the Committee correct, in paragraph 38 of the report, in drawing particular attention to this problem, and in saying that there is no question of the Governor-General being in any special relationship with or under any duty to inform the British Government of events in Grenada? His obligation was only to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Government of Grenada. When that fact is known, does not much of the criticism made at the time about the Government's turpitude and ineptitude fall away, and does that not justify what my hon. and learned Friend has been saying in denial of the criticisms levelled at the Government?
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for that helpful intervention. As he will recollect, when I referred to the fact that Grenada retained a Governor-General, I said emphatically that he had no responsibility for, and was totally independent of, Her Majesty's Government here in London. I am sure that the House will find the intervention of my hon. and learned Friend helpful.
What were the consequences of Britain's non-involvement in the military intervention? First, a slight strain on United States-United Kingdom relations certainly occurred, but the United States Government appear to have come as close to making a direct apology to the United Kingdom Government as could be expected. Secondly, despite the public utterances of some Caribbean politicians, no great or lasting damage appears to have been done to the United Kingdom's relations with the Caribbean.
Speaking personally, I am not among those who believe that United Kingdom involvement in the operation would have been beneficial. My impression on leaving the Caribbean was that the allegations that Britain had failed its friends were much more convenient public rhetoric than genuinely held sentiment.
The Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth were deeply divided over the issue, as was made abundantly clear at the Delhi summit. It is really only by not being directly involved that the British Government have been able to help in the process of healing the wounds. Moreover, as our report makes clear, the promptness of the British Government's subsequent offers of aid to Grenada has done much to dispel fears of a lack of British concern for the problems of the country and the region.
The problems of Grenada are undoubtedly immense. Its agriculture and infrastructure need urgent support and repair. Its civil service has been gravely weakened by the revolution and its dramatic end. Its political community is disorganised and vulnerable to the attractive power of individuals whose democratic credentials must be regarded as questionable.
We are told that the preparation of a new electoral roll is complete. However, despite the drawbacks of the unelected interim Administration, I hope that undue pressure will not be brought to bear by other countries to force the holding of elections too quickly, before the political parties have revived sufficiently to be able to fight on fair and equal terms.
Our report made a number of specific suggestions about the areas in which British aid to Grenada could be most usefully concentrated. The Government, in their reply, say that while they are willing to consider any requests for assistance,
The initiative should, however, properly come from Grenada: the Government do not believe that it would be right for Britain to press unsolicited advice or help on an independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth.
That is undoubtedly a proper and desirable approach, and not one to be lightly abandoned. However, it was clear during our visit to Grenada that the interim Advisory Council's resources of skill and time are so stretched that its ability to meet the ODA's normal requirements of project analysis and detailed specification may be severely circumscribed.
We should welcome an assurance from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who is to reply, that, while not pressing unsolicited aid on the Grenadian Administration, the ODA and the High Commission are doing everything possible to ensure that help is provided in the formulation of requests for aid, as well as in the provision of aid that has been specifically requested.
One possibly serious and long-term consequence of the Grenada crisis could be that some, if not all, Caribbean Commonwealth countries may be further persuaded that their interests, particularly their security interests, lie wholly in the fostering of relations with the United States, because they believe that the United Kingdom is turning its back on them. Certainly, if one were to regard as typical the recent statements of Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica, that process seems well advanced.
Relations between the Caribbean and the United States are bound to become closer, and Britain's ability to react swiftly to assist in the maintenance of the security of the region is bound to be circumscribed by cost and distance.
However, what I found most striking during our visit to the Caribbean was the strong desire for the region's economic, social and cultural links with the United Kingdom to be maintained and strengthened. If there is a feeling that Britain has turned its back on the Caribbean, it is a feeling of regret rather than anger. I do not believe that the Government's policies are moving in that direction, and I accept what the Government have said about the volume and quality of British aid.
I particularly welcome the Government's firm commitment, in paragraph 33 of their reply, that they attach importance to the region, and I am pleased that they are
currently reviewing the effectiveness of their activities in the light of British interests in the area and will take full account of the Committee's conclusions as part of this process.
It is important that the Government should recognise the strength of pro-British sentiment in the region and regard as a priority the need to strengthen the dialogue with
the Governments of the region, as equals. However, as the Committee's report says, all improved dialogue must be a two-way process which
will not be assisted by a failure on the part of Caribbean politicians to appreciate the difficulties which confronted the United Kingdom Government last October or by public denunciations of the United Kingdom for the particular stance it adopted in respect of the Grenada crisis.
I agree with the part of the Foreign Secretary's reply that says that what is important now is to look to the future on Grenada, rather than to rake over the past. He is right to say that Britain's links with the Commonwealth Caribbean are deeply rooted in history and span a wide range of political, social, commercial, sporting and cultural activities and interests. It is a unique relationship, and it is in the interests of the Caribbean, of the United States and of Britain that our concern for, and involvement in, the welfare and security of the area should never wane.
I intervene now, though this is essentially a Back Benchers' debate. The report illustrates the importance of a Committee system in which serious consideration can be given to issues of great importance to this and other countries.
I pay tribute to the work done by members of the Select Committee in preparing the report. They will make a major contribution to the debate. However, I am sure that the House also will wish to remember the key contribution made to the understanding of the Caribbean and the issues involved by my good friend loan Evans, the former hon. Member for Cynon Valley, now tragically deceased.
What was the background to the invasion of Grenada and what inadequacies were involved? The Committee's report sought to unravel the true story of the events leading up to the invasion. Some Caribbean leaders have alleged that Britain was invited to participate in the invasion and that the invitation took the form of an oral request. The Foreign Office maintains that it was not kept fully informed of developments and did not have a chance to make a serious response to the request, which it expected to receive in writing before the invasion took place.
The conclusion has to be drawn that Britain was not kept abreast of how advanced the invasion plans were, and officials in London were not fully briefed by their Washington counterparts.
Ironically, it appears that when the Foreign Office first heard that the use of force was being mooted by certain figures in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the Foreign Secretary contacted the Reagan Administration
to warn them of these ideas.
In subsequent transatlantic exchanges, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was assured that further consultations would precede any action or change of view. Such consultation did not take place. The Foreign Office also maintains that Sir Paul Scoon did not invite Britain to rescue Grenada—a crucial point in our deliberations.
However, the Prime Minister of Barbados insisted that, through emissaries, he received a clear call for help from Sir Paul Scoon. This is a crucial matter, because much of the justification for the invasion turns on whether the Governor-General requested armed support. Regrettably, despite the work of the Committee, the matter remains "shrouded in mystery". Rarely in diplomatic history can such simple signals have been so stunningly misrepresented, both within the Caribbean and between this country, the Caribbean and the United States.
The section in the report on the economy and aid is significant because it spells out that the Foreign Office took the view that the completion of the Point Salines airport represented an
essential precondition for the expansion of the tourist industry.
Even the Reagan Administration had a change of heart about the airport. They used to regard it as a possible threat to United States security, but, in the words of Mr. George Shultz:
now the regime is different.
Therefore, the threat has been removed.
The need for an urgent transfusion of aid into the island is stressed on all sides. The United States intends to provide a total of $18 million by the end of this year, though it has been less than generous in meeting compensation claims arising from the hostilities.
British aid has been renewed, initially to the tune of £750,000. It is interesting to examine the composition of that sum. As some of us stressed in November, about £300,000 of that £750,000 has been for capital projects and current expenditure concerning the police and policing rather than for development.
If we examine the background to the invasion and the aid contribution at that time, we find a staggering imbalance between the recipient countries in the region. The figures for 1982 of the total aid allocated show that the Turks and Caicos Islands received more than £5 million in aid, with a per capita contribution of £788. Jamaica also received more than £5 million but, with a larger population it had a lower per capita contribution of £2·40. Grenada, with a population of 110,000, had a per capita contribution of only 71p. I appreciate that the figures can be influenced by particular events concerning mediterranean clubs on certain islands, but it is clear that Grenada has had significantly less assistance from the Government than have other countries. Indeed, British aid to Dominica was more than £23 per head, and to Anguilla £160 per head.
The lamentations of some hon. Members that the previous Bishop regime was aligned with other powers and super-powers in its aid programme is little less than two-faced given the unreadiness of our Government to give aid for specific projects—including the airport project. An application was made to the Government and turned down.
It also is unrealistic of the Government to say that they cannot substantially increase aid within the Caribbean, as well as for Grenada, in the coming years. In a parliamentary reply to me last month, the Minister for Overseas Development made it plain that official development assistance as a proportion of gross national product is now 0·35 per cent. —precisely half of the well-established and recommended target of the United Nations and the Brandt commission. Rather than the aid level bottoming out as the Minister claims, we are moving further and further away from the possibility of the 0·72 per cent. target, dropping from 0·44 per cent. in 1981, to 0·37 per cent. in 1982, to the present figure of 0·35 per cent.
If the Government recognise that they have responsibility in that region, and do not want to leave matters entirely to the United States, they must come forward with significant development proposals that go beyond anything that the House has heard to date. They should be aimed not only at infrastructure. Although infrastructure is a necessary condition for development, it is not a sufficient condition. We recognise that in such matters as water supply, power generation and other basic provisions, the island desperately needs infrastructure. But if we cannot go beyond that, Grenada will continue to be essentially dependent for its development prospects on tourism. Despite the airport, tourism is not enough.
I quote not from any centre of radical research, but from Latin American and Caribbean, which states about tourism:
There is a dilemma, however, facing those islands which have concentrated on the luxury market. Such installations give little possibility for any equitable distribution of benefits, consume few local products, are capital and import-intensive and otherwise form isolated ghettoes away from population centres. There is no doubt that this market is a very durable and growing one and therefore profitable. But it is also very fickle and can bring problems of its own.
The complementary framework within which it is feasible that development could be promoted in the Caribbean is the CARICOM framework. But CARICOM itself has been fundamentally hindered rather than helped in its work and its potential because of the invasion. A report by Canute James in the Financial Times of 4 July, stated:
Planned as a framework for the integration of the region's small and weak economies, based on free trade between the Caribbean Economic Community … has foundered on policies implemented by individual Governments … the region will inevitably be conditioned by one political factor which will not be on their agenda—
but will not go away—
the fallout from last October's U.S. invasion of Grenada.
The real difficulty is the long-term financing of development and trade. The right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) was sanguine about the prospects resulting from Government policies. In a more recent report on 9 July, on the recent CARICOM discussions, it emerges not only that the individual countries cannot cope in their development agendas, but that that they also must run to the IMF. The community has agreed in principle to proposals from the Caribbean Development Bank for the "structural adjustment" of their economies.
The formula in such a package implies not only a greater role for the private sector—to which the IMF, the Reagan Administration and this Government are committed—but changes in exchange rates, which is a euphemism for devaluation, moves to reduce import bills and to cut domestic consumption, and an increasing focus on exports.
That, in practice, means the old IMF formula for domestic deflation and for cuts in social and welfare expenditure in islands with a low per capita income, which desperately need such expenditure if there is to be any increase in the welfare on which political stability over the medium term relies. It is a monetarist solution that will not bring welfare to the region. That solution should be opposed by the Government if they have the long-term development interests of the region at heart. It is an unpromising prospect in both the short and long term.
Two main themes emerged from the invasion. The North-South development issues have been overwhelmed in the Caribbean, and in Central America, by the concern of the United States Administration with East-West global super-power relations. If the United Kingdom Government are serious about their commitment not only to Grenada but to the Caribbean—indeed if they wish to continue to play a role in the Caribbean — they must show the House and member Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean area that they have not handed over their influence to the United States. They must show that they have not handed over their basic responsibilities either for the economy or for defence in the region. If they cannot do that, they will follow their remarkable dereliction of duty about the invasion with a failure to achieve the comprehensive, balanced development plan for the region as a whole that is so desperately needed.
I rise to make my contribution more in sorrow than in anger and with the hope that we can do more to help and support positively the security of Grenada and other small dependent states by our debate today, and by the conclusions brought to the attention of the House by the Select Committee report and the Government's reply.
I begin by sketching a little background to the current position, in addition to that already given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas). I take the House futher back in this saga, to the period when associated statehood was established for the six island territories in the eastern Caribbean, in the Windward and Leeward Islands. Fundamentally, those associated states were set up in answer to a call for decolonisation by the United Nations and the world community at large, with pressure on the British Government by the Committee of 24 and public opinion throughout the world to bring their existing colonies to independence.
The solution arrived at—after the failure of the West Indies federation, of the proposal to set up a smaller federation, called "The Little Eight," based on Barbados, and an attempt to join Grenada with the state of Trinidad and Tobago in a unitary state — by the British Government was associated statehood. We reached that solution in consultation with the countries of the Caribbean.
Associated statehood could be ended in two ways. First, it could be ended by the state itself asking the British Government to give it independence. Secondly, it could be ended if it secured a Bill through its legislature by a two-thirds majority and obtained, by a referendum of the country at large, a two-thirds majority in favour. The state could then proceed to independence without further British Government interference. That was the agreement and that secured the approval of the Committee of 24 to that form of substantive decolonisation.
Special considerations were taken into account. These islands are small and vulnerable and they are often monocultures—not Grenada, but all the other islands—and they are dependent not only on the fickleness of the tourist trade but also on the weather in the West Indies, which has a great effect on their agriculture. They are also affected by the long distances to their markets, which lie many thousands of miles away by sea.
They had two peculiar problems which associated statehood tried to redress. One was to secure their external defence, giving them security from interference from outside bodies of whatever kind. The second was to secure political stability within those small island states, so enabling their people to develop their economies in peace to the best of their ability.
The United Kingdom undertook, responsibly, to provide defence for the islands under the associated statehood agreement, and that provided a degree of political stability in the islands. However, the Britsh Government then connived — I cannot use any other word — with other independent Governments of those states to come to a mutual agreement to end associated statehood.
The British Government must bear some responsibility for bringing about that mutual agreement, for we must consider the result of operating the second option under the West Indies Act 1967. By that option, the British Government could give six months notice of their desire to end their association with any of the states.
It was not envisaged at the time of the passage of that Act that Her Majesty's Government would undertake that step lightly or irresponsibly. It was envisaged, however, that circumstances could arise—perhaps resulting from the domestic political scene in the islands or from actions which they might take overseas—which would make it impossible for the British Government to continue to operate within the agreement.
In the event, the British Government reached an agreement in the first place with the Grenada Government, who were led by a premier, Mr. Eric Gairy, who was well known to the British Government as having conducted his Government in what I can only describe, and what has been described elsewhere, as a corrupt manner. The British Government told Mr. Gairy that if he held an election in which the issue of independence was put to the electorate, the British Government would agree to give notice of the ending of associated statehood by giving six months' notice of Britain's intent to end it, thereby eliminating the checks and balances built into the 1967 Act. That measure required the people to be consulted and to be told, through the political process, of the implications of independence.
That, therefore, undermined the whole principle of a democratic state. The idea was that the people should understand what was being done and should be in a position to vote in accordance with the ideas being put to them. The peoples of the associated states have never had the opportunity to decide how they should be governed, under what constitution they should be governed, the way in which their relationships with their neighbours should be conducted and the relationship they would like to have with the much larger states with which they trade and on which, to some degree, they are dependent.
By short-circuiting the political process in that way, the British Government abdicated their responsibility for the Leeward and Windward Islands. The Government can say what they like about their legal right to operate the West Indies Act 1967 in the way in which it was operated, but what would have been the position if their actions had been put to a court of law? Consider, for example, what happened in the Supreme Court in Canada when the then Prime Minister intended to apply to this House to change the constitution of Canada without the support of eight out of 10 of the provinces. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that that, under British constitutional practice, was unconstitutional.
In my view, the mutual agreement was arrived at by connivance with Governments some of whom were elected fraudulently, and in the case of Grenada there is great doubt about the legality of the 1972 election, which led to independence. All of that provided the means by which the islands became independent unconstitutionally and without the people concerned being consulted. That laid the seed bed for revolution and tyranny and for invitations to evil-minded people to undermine the security and stability of the islands.
We in this House cannot evade some responsibility for what occurred. Grenada is the most recent and dramatic example of what occurred, and as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) went into what happened, I shall not go over that ground.
However, we must consider the stability of the other islands. Dominica followed into independence. There were two attempts there at overturning the Government by outside sources, one launched from a neighbouring island and the other from the mainland of the United States. British civil servants, trained in the Colonial Service, operating, as they had been trained, within the British political system, were given responsibility for the conduct of affairs in Dominica, the only island in which the then Governor-General was given responsibility for conducting, through an electoral commission, the electoral process. That was achieved in the teeth of opposition from the legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office — who took a rather ignominious part in the recent Grenada affair. As the electoral process was isolated, Mrs. Eugenia Charles was able to come to power in Dominica through a properly conducted election. That saved Dominica from revolutionary tyranny which would have ground the faces of its people into the earth.
I could cite other examples in the West Indies. Many of the islands are in grave danger of suffering what has happened in Grenada. The vacuum created by the abdication of Britain, the lack of ability to defend themselves and the political instability that arose as a consequence attracted others. Cuba and Russia filled the vacuum in Grenada. Grenada took a revoluntary Government who were never elected. They never submitted themselves to the electorate. Mr. Maurice Bishop was an extremely personable, kind and generous man, despite his political beliefs with which I disagreed fundamentally. He made a grave mistake in not holding an election soon after he came to power. In my view he would be in power now and ruling a much happier island than Grenada was under the people's revolutionary Government if he had taken that course. Unfortunately his Government were led and bullied by Cuba and Russia, which both had enormous embassies on the island although they had never had a presence there previously. The Cubans had an embassy staff of about 38 on the tiny island of Grenada and the Russian embassy and staff were slightly larger.
There was no doubt about the intention of the Russians and Cubans on Grenada. They were there to disrupt and threaten the stability of Grenada and that of its neighbours. There were rubber boats among the supplies that were found on Grenada during the American intervention. They would have been ideally suited for taking small and heavily armed groups to neighbouring islands to take over their Governments. It would not take much to do that because the islands are virtually defenceless as we have left them. The disruption that would have been caused would have seriously undermined the security of the United States because 40 per cent. of its oil supplies pass through Caribbean waters. In addition, the islands provide an obvious political springboard.
The United States was naturally concerned about its internal security, and it became increasingly worried at events occurring in the West Indies.
It is all very well for Ministers to excuse themselves before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs by saying that they could not have been expected to foresee the events of 25 October. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement on 24 October 1983 and answered the questions of several right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. The final part of the question of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East was as follows:
Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that there is no question of American military intervention on the island? It could only make the position worse.
My right hon. and learned Friend replied:
I know of no such contention." —[Official Report, 24 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 27.]
My right hon. and learned Friend made his statement at 4 pm and he must have answered the right hon. Member for Leeds, East at about five minutes past four o'clock. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South said, that answer led to grave misgivings about the way in which the information, whether it was gathered in the first place—which we assured ourselves it was—and whether it was transmitted—we assured ourselves it was—had been presented. It seems that the problem arose in the Foreign Office and in its assessment by Ministers. There can be no evasion and Ministers have not tried to introduce it.
The Foreign Secretary was put into bat in the House at four o'clock when American bombers and helicopters were landing on the airstrip at Grantley Adams airport, Barbados. Indeed, they had been doing so for the previous four hours. Against that background some humility should have appeared in the Minister's answers when questioned by members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, I can find no vestige of humility in the report of the Committee's proceedings for having put the Foreign Secretary in that position and there is nothing to highlight the degree to which he was in touch with the United States and understood what was happening in the Caribbean during the debates that took place on the following day and subsequently. Anyone who was really listening, who was alert and capable of understanding, could have had no doubt that military intervention was intended.
Intervention was invited and begged for by the Organisation of East Caribbean States. It was asked for by the other islands that were most vulnerable to the Cuban, Russian and Grenadian menace in their midst. Jamaica had been subjected to Cuban intervention and had been rescued by Prime Minister Seaga not more than three years ago. The surrounding islands were frightened for their own security and they needed help. They turned to Britain and to the United States. They could not intervene in Grenada by force in the light of the reported stocks of arms and ammunition available to the Grenadian Government. They had to get outside help, and that was appreciated by the British Government.
The Government said that they were against military intervention. What were the British Government in favour of doing? That has never been spelt out. They have never explained the exact nature of their misgivings and how they tried to present them to the Prime Ministers of the other five small states plus the Governments of Barbados and Jamaica. In fact, those Prime Ministers and Governments were all in favour of intervention.
In what company did the Government find themselves when they decided that they would not join the intervention and would not go to the rescue of the people of Grenada? The proof of the pudding is in the eating because the intervention was welcomed by over 90 per cent. of the people of Grenada. It was applauded by all the people of Barbados and Jamaica.
I would say that it was similarly applauded by Trinidad and Tobago, although that Government had misgivings which they have elucidated to us. They did not wish military intervention to take place at that stage, but even they were conscious of the threat and understood that all parts of the Caribbean must join in a combined effort to change the balance in a neighbouring sister island. There was a situation that could not be tolerated within what they regarded as the bounds of human relationships, deep trading concerns and the security of the islands. They bound themselves together to intervene in Grenada to save their brothers and sisters from the tyranny that had overtaken them following the assassination of Maurice Bishop. The fear gripped tighter and with greater intensity following his assassination and that of his Ministers. There was no federal constitution which bound the islands together, but they chose to be so in the name of human relationships. Unfortunately the British Government did not make themselves clear, and even now they have not said what they would have done or what they should have done.
The Government should have been more active in trying to find ways of providing support and assistance and involving themselves in discussions in an effort to arrive at the right solution. There might not have been intervention if the Government had played a part, but they chose not to do so. They exchanged messages and the high commissioners listened and reported, but with what response did they meet? We know only that the Government had misgivings. I submit that this is an insufficient response to a friendly neighbouring island which has depended on Britain for 400 years, as has the whole archipelago.
Britain has benefited enormously from that relationship. We find invariably that the money that built the great houses of the 18th century in this country came from the jewels in the crown of the British king at that time, the West Indian islands. We owe them and they owe us and we must live in friendship. I hope that that lesson has been driven home and that we shall not abdicate our responsibility further. There is much in the reply to the Select Committee's report to suggest that the lesson has been learnt.
I shall hurry, because other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall make some points about aid administration. In trying to give development assistance to islands whose Ministries are low in managerial and administrative talent, one must go much further than simply sitting back on one's seat in Barbados, 120 or 140 miles away, in a development division, saying, "We shall await an application from the Government of Grenada or its electricity services which we can say is in the correct ODA form, to be digested by the ODA machine, to go through the full panoply of tendering, and so on." Anyone with experience in this matter realises that tendering must be done in a co-operative spirit with the hard-pressed administrative officials, whose workload its usually too heavy because there are few people in those Governments with the talent necessary to undertake the administration. Those co-operative arrangements might mean that an ODA official goes down to the office and writes up the form. What is wrong with that? Is that neo-colonialism, or is it an attempt to assist?
In one case, a spare parts list was needed for a generator in Grenada that had gone bust. The list was urgently needed for the electricity services power station to ensure that electric power and light was available. Those facilities were crucial in an island that was fundamentally insecure. I said that, instead of waiting for that list, it would have been a good idea for the aid director to secure the spare parts list and write it out. His office had an engineer in the development division who could have provided the advice, or someone could have gone to the manufacturers in Peterborough, Rushton and Hornsby to ask for a spare parts list. That list could have been tacked on to the form required by ODA and the project could have got under way. That plan was described to me as neo-colonialism, and my submission that the ODA might like to help Grenada during its difficult circumstances after the revolution was dismissed.
The aid administration cannot possibly get away with such actions. I know that it has helped and that its officials have gone to Grenada on many missions. In many respects, they have done a good job, but the process is slow and tedious. We supply a great deal of aid to the Commonwealth Caribbean countries, but we are not recognised as being especially helpful. We are not believed to be particularly supportive of those Governments, because the procedure is so tied with red tape they cannot obtain the necessary money and do what they want with it.
Let us take the example of St. Vincent, to which we gave a £10 million independence gift—half in loan and half in grant. They have used up the grants, but want £5 million in loans to extend the Amos Vale airport on St. Vincent, thereby providing the basis for the increased tourism and small industrialisation that would enable them to trade generally and revive their economy, which is in serious trouble because of the failure of the arrowroot market.
Recently, the ODA told me that St. Vincent can have £5 million on agreed projects over an extended period. That money will be given lump by lump, as it fits into the ODA' s budgetary regime. Is that calculated to enthuse the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of St. Vincent with the generosity of the aid given by the British development division? I submit that it will do the reverse and make them angry. That is part of the explanation why the Caribbean Governments believe we have turned our backs on them, do not care arid do not want to help them. The problem is easily rectified, and I am glad that the Government have accepted our recommendation, in spite of rejecting it in the first part of one sentence. At the end of the sentence, the Government say that they will put the high commissioner in charge of the political aspects, and. therefore, the hastening aspects and political implications of our aid programme in that region. I welcome that change.
I have a few other examples, but I shall not go on at great length. Grenada's economy needs our support in many serious ways, including the provision of infrastructure and education. It is important to provide assistance with education, because its structure has, sadly, been undermined by the revolution.
Support is needed in the provision of power supplies and water. All the pipes used are made in Britain. The pipes used in Grenada have the same type of thread as British pipes, so they cannot be replaced by types from other countries. If we are to be supportive, we must supply those pipes to Grenada. We found on visiting Grenada that the roads could not be surfaced as the Americans wanted, because the British development division had not thought it appropriate to approve the provision of pipes unless it was part of a larger water supply project. A change in that provision has been achieved.
Unemployment is a major problem in Grenada. I am glad that the Americans have temporarily met that problem by agreeing to complete the much maligned airport which was to be built for military purposes. Of course, that airport can be used for military purposes — it was beautifully used for those purposes by the Americans when they intervened; so that use has been proven. The basic purpose of that airport is to promote tourism. In 1961, I undertook to do an economic feasibility study of that airport. The conclusion was that the Grenada tourist industry could not expand without an airport in that position. The trouble was that it was not economically viable. I am glad that, following the intervention, Grenada will get such an airport.
There was no airport at Point Salines. The airport we are discussing was only partly completed and was of sufficient length to enable the intervention to take place. The airport was not there until Maurice Bishop took steps to have it built by the Cubans. That airport will now be finished. There will be a new road to St. George's. The Plessey contract has been reinstated, so the British will play their part in the project. The road will be completed on 25 October. I welcome that development.
We must ensure that the tourist infrastructure of hotels follows the airport project. In addition, some of the foods eaten in those hotels must be provided. That includes vegetables—Grenada is good at vegetable production, because it is a fertile land—and fish, which can be produced in the fishponds and caught at sea. We must ensure that there is sufficient power and water to supply those hotels.
The future of Grenada and the other islands in the area will be much brighter if we learn lessons from the intervention. We must somehow find our way back to helping those people to provide — this must be done through them—the constitutional changes necessary to produce political stability. That means checks and balances and security. I beg the Government to emphasise those two aspects and to produce them positively—not to sit back and say, "We are listening to you, but you are independent and we must not interfere." We should say, "How can we help? Let us discuss the matter and examine the possibilities." We should not, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) said, push Grenada into early elections—that would be disastrous—before the shock of revolution has been overcome and the internal security position has been better divined. We should not return to the same old story with which I began my speech—the instability due to the Government's tyranny, corruption and dissent.
Let us hope that Grenada can return to greater stability in which the economy is supported positively and constructively by Britain in association with the United States — there is no competition between the two countries—the French, the European Community, the Caribbean Development Bank and its neighbours. Let us hope therefore that, in spite of the difficulties, there is a change of heart in Britain, that we understand the problems and will be seen to be constructively helping the stability and security of Grenada and the Caribbean.
I shall be as brief as possible as I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate. I agree with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), although I disagree vehemently with some parts of his speech. I should also express my appreciation of the Select Committee report, which I have read extremely carefully.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's description of the history of the matter from the West Indies Act onwards. The House may recall that I was the Minister who introduced that legislation incorporating associated statehood and so on. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, too, that it was a disastrous mistake to push the associated states into independence without the security involved in associated statehood. The vacuum thus caused has been a source of problems ever since.
I wish to deal with a matter of which I have great personal knowledge but of which there is little awareness in this country. I refer to British support in 1978–79 for the Commonwealth Caribbean, including the Windward Islands and the eastern Caribbean states as well as Jamaica and other countries then in great need. It should be recalled that by 1978 all the Caribbean countries, which were almost although not entirely oil dependent, had taken a tremendous knock due to the increase in oil prices and an equally great knock due to the fall in commodity prices for their crops—bauxite and sugar in Jamaica, and sugar in several other states—as well as the escalating cost of manufactures imports essential for development. In view of that tremendous economic knock, it was clear that any responsible Government concerned about the Commonwealth Caribbean should make every effort to assist.
In 1978, President Carter had taken a new interest in both Latin American and Caribbean development problems. He had made some visits and Rosalind Carter had made others. To put it in a nutshell, there was an American initiative to ask the World Bank to set up a Caribbean economic conference in Washington. The conference duly took place. By then, however, this was partly due to British enthusiasm for it as President Carter and the State Department had changed tack and lost interest. The conference took place with the participation of the World Bank and all the aid donors, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the EEC and Venezuela which, interestingly, seemed to be responsible for OPEC aid in that part of the world at a time when OPEC aid generally was very substantial.
The conference was attended in some cases by the Prime Ministers and in other cases by the Finance Ministers of all the Caribbean states, and, despite the lack of commitment or enthusiasm by the United States, a commitment was secured before the end of 1978 to try to raise about £150 million from among all the donor countries. In the six months from the end of 1978 the British contribution amounted to about £40 million, a large chunk of which went to Jamaica which was then in deep economic difficulties. At constant prices, that would now be about £72 million, which gives the House an idea of the significance and substance of what we were trying to do. After the conference, it was agreed that working groups of donors and recipients would deal with specific projects and countries. For example, Venuzuela and the United Kingdom were extremely interested in putting together an assistance package for commodity transport in the eastern Caribbean.
I say all this because I believe that a political ethos was involved. Given their situation, the Caribbean states were bound to look somewhere for friendship, support and allies. Were they to look entirely towards Cuba or their nearest neighbour, the United States, or could they look to the countries of central America and the northern part of Latin America, such as Venezuela and Mexico, thus making the Caribbean basin a meaningful political concept while still maintaining a relationship with the Commonwealth? That was the theoretical motivation for my own enthusiasm for that Caribbean economic initiative.
Following the general election in 1979, however, the whole concept dropped into the deep waters of the Caribbean and no more was heard of it. In the meantime, there had been the revolution in Grenada. Here I should put the record straight. It is often suggested that Britain cut off aid to Grenada after the revolution which brought Bishop to power. That is not so. I cannot vouch for what happened after the general election, but until then we continued our normal aid relationship with Grenada.
After 1979, it became clear that there were problems in the relationship between Britain and Grenada. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) has given the exact figures for aid to Grenada in recent years compared with our aid to other Caribbean states. In this context, one must make a fundamental criticism of the Government. It is always a great mistake to abandon a small, non-viable state which has hitherto enjoyed economic assistance and protection from Britain because it is hound to look somewhere else for help. In the circumstances, Grenada could look only to Cuba and later, in my view unwisely, towards the Soviet Union. Apart from the military implications, I believe that the Cubans have a certain understanding of the economic development of that part of the world. The Government made a very great mistake — I believe that the Select Committee report sustains this thesis—when they abandoned their Commonwealth responsibilities in the Caribbean. I am sure that that was done in deference and acquiescence to President Reagan's strategic plan for hegemony in the Caribbean and central America as there is no other logic in it.
That was followed by the developments leading up to the terrible events of 18 and 19 October in Grenada. I was there briefly in March and I can vouch for the disastrous consequences. I have copies of the committee minutes of the administration from August to October, showing the discord between the Coard faction and the Bishop faction and all the other factors that led up to those events. I can also confirm that the people of Grenada were so disastrously affected by those events that they welcomed the American invasion. I think that they would have welcomed someone else a great deal more, but there is no doubt that they welcomed any rescue from the situation.
The people of Grenada suffered a long trauma as a result. In March, they were already impatient of the occupation by American and Jamaican troops. I think that they minded the Jamaicans more than the Americans. They also minded that they had not been able to mourn their dead. I know of one woman who lost her two schoolboy sons in the square on 19 October. She never knew exactly what happened to them. She knew only that they were dead and had never been able to have a funeral for them. There had been no mourning for the people who had been lost. In a tiny close-knit island of only 110,000 people, that is a terrible thing, and people felt it.
The people of Grenada felt tremendous anger against the people who were responsible. Some of us have been deeply anxious about the right to fair trials in Grenada. People have been accused, and, even with technical assistance from Britain, it has taken a long time for charges to be levelled against some of those who have been in prison. They may not be guilty, but whoever is guilty bears a terrible burden of responsibility for what happened. It is nevertheless important that there should be free and fair trials, proper defence and no ill treatment of prisoners. I know that there has been some ill treatment. That is infinitely regrettable and should not happen.
The most important issue is what happens from here on. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford and the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) spoke of the development needs of Grenada. I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said about greater flexibility and assisting them to ask for aid. However, Britain's political role in the Commonwealth Caribbean must be examined in much greater depth than the Government's reply to the Select Committee report implies that it has received. Either we are abandoning the Caribbean, to the Americans or we are retaining our Commonwealth involvement with it. That is a clear choice and there is no evading it. That does not mean that we must be the enemies of the Americans in the region or that we cannot co-operate with them.
Are we merely saying that we have no further interest or responsibility for Commonwealth Caribbean countries? I think that that is what we are doing because the Government, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister are rolling over themselves to support anything that President Reagan takes it into his mind to do in that regard. It is essential that hon. Members should debate this issue in a far better attended House. It should be regarded as a supreme issue of foreign policy because of the historical and pragmatic reasons and because the Commonwealth Caribbean has been deeply and gravely split by what happened in Grenada.
I came back from a conference in Colombia through Trinidad, Grenada and Barbados. The repercussions of Grenada, the machinations during the weekend between Caribbean countries, the little deceits, the not tellings and the lack of honesty have deeply divided the Caribbean. After the CARECOM conference that ended a couple of days ago, the Trinidad Guardian said that it was clear that the wounds had not yet healed. The parties to that conference got on all right, but only just. I could quote what has been said, even by people such as Seaga, with whom I have deep differences of opinion. What happened in Grenada was considerably the result of the closeness between Seaga and Washington. that led to the staging of the American intervention.
Nevertheless, there seems to be universal agreement among Commonwealth Caribbean countries that they need a stable world economy, development assistance so that their people can prosper and, above all, the assurance of freedom from the exercise of power politics by the United States and the Soviet Union. The only way in which they can be given that freedom is by Britain again exerting its Commonwealth role with the assistance of all members of the Commonwealth. We should say that it is our duty to give them that freedom and make it clear that they need not be dependent on the United States or the Soviet Union and that they can be free to exercise their own choice. That involves the type of security, involvement and assistance that only Britain, with the rest of the Commonwealth, can provide.
It must be a matter of grave concern to people such as us, who are responsible for having a view on foreign affairs, that the Foreign Office is so denigrated by our fellow citizens. That must be a matter of public concern for foreign policy, and it was never better reflected than in the responses, or lack of them, over the Grenada incident. That week in October was the nadir of the conduct and direction of our foreign policy. It was unsatisfactory because, for one horrible week, which started with the stance of the Foreign Secretary on the Monday, we did not know the Government's position or response, in respect of the events in Grenada. It was by courtesy of the world service and "Weekend World" that we learnt of the British Government's position the following Sunday.
As the Select Committee report says, the reaction was confused. What worries me is why it was confused. What does that betray in our foreign policy thought processes? The first thing that it illustrates is that there was clearly no thought-through response to a situation such as that arising in Grenada. It betrays a disturbing lack of interest in a region that, like some hon. Members and the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart), I believe is of considerable importance to our well-being. It seems incredible that those responsible at the Foreign Office had not thought through a response and had not countenanced the possibility of events in Grenada reaching a point at which other nations in the Caribbean would expect a response. It is extraordinary that a British Foreign Secretary had to wait for nearly a week to announce, on a television programme, our nation's policy.
The confusion also betrays something about the inadequacies of consultation and of evaluating the advice of our friends. Who are our friends in that region? The Government ought to be fully aware of them. We have representation in Barbados, and we are closely allied to the United States. I am conscious of the way in which the advice of our friends in the Caribbean split. We should examine perhaps the most immediate record of how people feel about an incident—public opinion. Those of us who were in touch with friends and contacts in Trinidad and Tobago were well aware that the majority of people, contrary to the stance of the Government there, supported the invasion of Grenada. There is no question about that, although the Foreign Office response says that it is only too well aware of the divisions in the eastern Caribbean community. I believe that, having identified them, we must listen to the advice of friends. That response showed that the Foreign Office had not thought through who our friends were and what advice we should take.
Perhaps the most important point concerns our lack of appreciation of who we are and what Britain is. That is a dangerous lack of appreciation.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Clydesdale made a distinction about the Commonwealth, of which I am a great supporter. Last November I asked the Library for a breakdown of citizens in this country who came from those Caribbean islands. In a sense, the figures were fairly startling, inasmuch as the proportion of the populations of those countries living here is considerable.
Of those born in the Caribbean, excluding their children, who were returned in the 1981 census, 25,000 come from Barbados—7 per cent. to 8 per cent. of the resident Barbadan population. Each of those Barbadans has families and relatives, and their children have grandparents, cousins, and so on. It means that citizens of the United Kingdom have intimate and immediate relations with the citizens of Caribbean countries. Therefore, what happens to those countries is of vital importance to British citizens, who have a right to know that the British Government have a thought-out position on the well-being of those countries.
Jamaica has 164,000 people recorded as living here, excluding children born here. That is between 8 per cent. and 9 per cent. of the population of Jamaica. Similarly, Trinidad and Tobago has 16,000 people recorded as living here.
About 300,000 people were confident enough to fill in their census returns stating that they had been born in the Caribbean. We know that that is an understatement, and we also know that that figure does not record the number of their children born here. In fact a significant proportion of the population of the Caribbean live in this country. If we are to maintain our position in the world, we must have regard to who our citizens are and who we are. That is why to me the events in Grenada in that awful week in October were shaming, because the Caribbean had slipped from our consciousness and we had not taken the trouble to think the matter out. There may be many reasons for that. Perhaps the long retreat into Europe has vitiated our view of the world.
According to the report, our trade with the Caribbean in 1983 amounted to £463 million. Trinidad is our fourth largest trading partner in the western hemisphere. It is probably now the third largest, because Brazil's imports fell dramatically last year. This only reinforces why I am deeply concerned that we did not have a view of who our friends are in the region. We do not have a sufficient view of ourselves or sufficient consultation within our own community. This turning of our back on who we are and where we stand in the world gradually erodes our trading and contact points with these countries, which are vital to the well-being of ourselves, our constituents and most of our fellow citizens.
I have already said that this was a shaming experience. Sometimes I almost wish that I could get into the Foreign Office with a broom, because South America and the Caribbean have been unhappy experiences. I recently visitied Brazil and saw how we have retreated into the far distance in the perception of those who run countries elsewhere. That should not have happened in the Caribbean. Indeed, it should not be allowed to happen — and I do not hang on the initiatives of the United States, which I regard as a great friend and ally — because our foreign policy represents what is solely our responsibility to the families and brethren of our own citizens. In this context the response to events in Grenada was shaming for the Foreign Office.
However, out of this incident I would like to think that we have learnt something. We should have learnt that what we often think of as peripheral problems of that nature are those that sink us and that the Caribbean is central to our interests in the Americas. After all, it is not so many years ago that a former ambassador to the United States, who was Governor of the Bank of England, tried to apply to join the Organisation of American States. That was how important we perceived our presence in the Caribbean.
We cannot turn our backs on this situation. Increasingly, if we want to pull our own community together, we must have regard to the interests of our own citizens who have a direct and important interest in the Caribbean.
This report covers both the invasion of Grenada and the needs and prospects of that country. Although we must do everything we reasonably can to ensure that Grenada becomes a prosperous and democratic member of the Commonwealth, in the main I wish to concentrate on the more global questions which the invasion raises.
The background to the invasion is well known and has been well articulated by other hon. Members. As other hon. Members have said, there are lessons to be learnt from what happened. First, the British Government should have taken the lead in pressing the Gairy regime to moderate its approach and to respect civil liberties before the coup in 1979. Secondly, we should also have pressed the United States not to cut off aid to Grenada, because by doing so they pushed the New Jewel movement quickly into the hands of the Cubans and the Soviets.
The central period under consideration is that between 19 and 23 October. This was a crucial time both for United States-United Kingdom relations and for the Foreign Office. On this I am in agreement with the report, which states:
The evident lack of consultation between the United States and its allies in the days preceding the intervention in Grenada must, however, be a cause of concern to all members of the North Atlantic Alliance and has inevitably worrying implications for United Kingdom-United States and wider NATO-United States relations on other matters in the future".
In other words, the report points towards an extension beyond the rather narrow confines of Grenada, important though that is.
In answer to that statement in the report one might reply, "Indeed it does," because on 12 May 1983 the Prime Minister announced that no nuclear weapon would be fired or launched from British territory without the agreement of the British Prime Minister. Had she been pressed, she would no doubt have made a similar assertion about the possibility of the Government's principal ally invading one of their terroritories without even informing, let alone consulting, either Her Majesty or the Government.
The Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee, as set out in paragraph 21:
the extent of the consultation with us was regrettably less than we would have wished".
Indeed, were the United States Government to invade every country whose regime does not meet the highest tests of democracy, at this moment the marines would be invading Chile and establishing a bridgehead at Johannesburg rather than training Nicaraguan contras.
For those who believe in NATO, Grenada clearly shows the need for a strong, balanced alliance with Europe to provide a counterweight for the bellicosity of the present United States Administration. More than 20 years ago President Kennedy set out his vision of the "twin pillars" of NATO, with Europe an equal partner with the United States. So far that vision has proved illusory, and it is the duty of the European leaders to create it. Grenada should force us to recognise that the United States should not be allowed to dictate NATO policy, nor should the wildest flights of this President's imagination be allowed to go unchecked.
On a more domestic note, Grenada shows the narrow-mindedness of the British Government's refusal to insist on a dual key for cruise. If the events of last October showed nothing else, they showed that one key — an American one—together with some outdated agreements stitched together by Attlee and Truman is one key too few.
There is no doubt that in invading Grenada the Americans acted illegally. The invasion is in clear violation of the United Nations charter and of articles 18 and 20 of the charter of the Organisation of American States. Equally, there is little doubt that the Americans were less than zealous in keeping Britain informed of their invasion plans, despite Britain's special Commonwealth relationship with Grenada and the supposed special relationship which exists between Britain and the United States.
The key question which needs to be answered is whether, given this, the Foreign Office did enough to keep abreast of American intentions after 19 October. It appears from the report that the short and brutal answer is, "Definitely not."
It is not as if the Reagan Administration had not signposted its intentions well in advance. Mr. Reagan was elected President partly on the basis of his robust criticisms of President Carter's policy in Latin America. When elected, he essentially resurrected the Monroe doctrine, intervening in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and making warlike noises about Grenada becoming another Cuba, largely on the basis of the Port Salines airport, which President Reagan had managed to convince himself was part of a plot to turn Grenada into
a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy".
Of course it was nothing of the sort.
I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that President Reagan considered it a major bastion. The hon. Gentleman quoted some figures which showed that it may have been growing into a bastion, but at all events that process was a t best just beginning. A few rubber boats do not make a major bastion. However, that was President Reagan's view.
Plessey had a considerable stake in the original construction of the airport, and testified that it lacked many of the essential features of a military airport. No doubt it could have been used as a staging post for a short-term military occupation such as that which the Americans undertook.
Most significantly of all, in 1981 the United States carried out military exercises simulating the invasion of Amber and the Amberines, with the purpose of displacing the imaginary island's Marxist ruler. Commentators were in no doubt that this was a flimsily disguised Grenada and the Grenadines. It is inconceivable that the Foreign Office did not realise the true significance of this military exercise.
This should be added to the evidence cited in paragraph 32 of the report that, on 23 October, the British high commissioner in Barbados was told that he would probably receive a formal request for British participation in an invasion of Grenada later that day. This point has been covered by other right hon. and hon. Members. The request was never received because:
According to the Prime Minister of Barbados, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned, 'our attitude was that the formal request in writing would go when the oral request had been answered. And since the oral request was never answered … the formal written request was overtaken by the operation itself'.
However, even such a verbal message, of which, according to paragraph 35, the British Government were perfectly well aware, should, given the overall aspects of what happened previously, have started alarm bells ringing. Instead, it appears that the Foreign Secretary was taken in by United States blandishments to the effect that
the United States was proceeding 'very cautiously', and that HM Government would be 'consulted immediately if the United States decided to take any action' or 'before any further steps were taken'.
The report continues:
The Foreign Secretary told us that 'there was certainly a hesitation to embark on telephone calls on necessarily an open line' to the Caribbean, and that HM Government had therefore relied on normal diplomatic channels to convey their point of view. This seems to us a somewhat lethargic approach.
That comment has been referred to. An increased telephone bill to the Caribbean or whatever it was that put the Foreign Secretary off the "open line" would have been a small price to pay for proper information and a chance to influence world events. The Foreign Secretary's political career has been characterised by a certain laid-back approach, but here he seems to have surpassed his own worst standards.
The foreign policy implications of the Grenada incident are clear. We need a strong European component of NATO, a strengthening of the United Nations, a more alert Foreign Office and, above all, a more alert Foreign Secretary. What about the people of Grenada? Here we must endorse whole-heartedly the sections of the report that deal with the political and economic future of the island. The need is for a steady transition from the advisory council to democracy, coupled with a determined effort to rebuild and diversify the Grenadian economy.
The report sets out a wholly sensible set of priorities, of which three need to be highlighted. Other right hon. and hon. Members have already referred to the building of the Point Salines airport, which as well as encouraging the tourist trade would safeguard Plessey's contract for the work on the airport, and the rebuilding of Grenada's infrastructure — roads, water, power and so on — is essential. As well as helping to encourage tourism, that provides a sine qua non of a sustainable economy. Grenada should not be lumbered with prestige projects such as the airport without such basic necessities as a good road structure. Thirdly, it is important to strengthen the private sector of the Grenadian economy after the ravages of the past 10 years. No doubt the various public investment measures that the report outlines will help the private sector, but I believe, with the report, that more direct measures may be needed in the end.
Grenada should have taught everyone who is interested in NATO and United Kingdom-United States relations an important lesson. Luckily, the invasion, illegal and precipitate as it was, has turned out reasonably well. The people of Grenada have the prospect of an orderly and reasonably prosperous future. No major super-power incident has resulted from the invasion. There have been serious costs—the fragile harmony of the Caribbean has been strained almost to breaking point, as other hon. Members have said, the United States has lost much of its moral authority to condemn Soviet adventurism elsewhere, and international law has been blatantly flouted. However, things could have been immeasurably worse. Sparks such as Grenada could land in the tinder of fragile super-power relationships and set off a confrontation of truly apocalyptic proportions. We must learn the lessons of Grenada well—we may not have a second chance.
I shall try to be brief, in the hope that at least one of my hon. Friends may catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
This has been an interesting debate, although not as long as most of us would have wished. A number of lessons have clearly been learnt, certainly by the House, if not by the Government. My concern is that we are facing an unhelpful and unhealthy rigidity. That was highlighted by the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) that we seem at times to be more concerned about East-West dialogue than about the North-South problem.
I fear that, in spite of the fact that the Foreign Office and the British Government, on all the evidence, were treated abominably, they have, in the time that has passed since the invasion, allowed themselves to be associated with the rigid approach of the Reagan Administration. As evidence of that, I refer to the background briefing issued by the Foreign Office on Grenada entitled, "The Activities of the New Jewel Movement". I note that this document refers to
the intervention of the United States forces supported by those of several Caribbean states.
I understood that it was an invasion — not an intervention—and all the evidence given to the Select Committee points to that.
The document says:
Cuba provided major assistance in the form of equipment, materials and construction workers. Other contributors to the airport project included Libya, Venezuela, Algeria, OPEC and the European Community.
The European Community is mentioned last.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, who expressed his grave worries about the Government's aid policy. The tone and attitude of this document is reflected in Government policies. In any graph on foreign and overseas affairs we see that defence expenditure has gone way up since 1979, but there has been a considerable drop in the amount of aid. We are also being extremely selective. Is there any doubt that Bishop was driven to Cuba and the Soviet Union in the vacuum that was thus created, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) said? We are almost sitting it out, even with Commonwealth countries, despite the almost unhealthy American interest in that part of the world.
I draw to the Minister's attention my concern, and that expressed by Conservative Members—notably the hon. Members for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), in refreshing speeches—about stability in other parts of the Caribbean arising from this episode and the lessons that we are trying to learn.
I also draw to the Minister's attention the problem of Belize. I visited Belize recently with my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and other hon. Members. I hope that any suggestion that the case for a British presence has fallen by the wayside is one that the Minister would repudiate, and that our aid policy will give every assistance to George Price, the Prime Minister of Belize. If we fail to do that, the message of Grenada is simple. There will be an almighty struggle between the United States and perhaps Cuba, and, on all the evidence, we should avoid that.
I shall be as brief as I can.
The Select Committee report was clearly valuable. Important points have been made in the debate about the nature and quantity of aid directed to the island of Grenada, as well as about Britain's relationship with the Caribbean and whether the area should be consigned to the United States.
I shall move on to broader foreign policy considerations, some of which have been touched on already. The question of the security of small states has been raised as a result of the events in Grenada. We know that two studies are under way by the Commonwealth Secretariat and by the David Davies Institute, under the chairmanship of the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). It would therefore probably be prudent to avoid saying anything of substance until the reports are available and we can debate them.
I have only one word of caution at this stage. There is real danger in our talking of threats to small states, as threats can often be defined in a subjective way, according to the strategic considerations of one or other of the superpowers. The Prime Minister appeared to be aware of that danger when she said in the Sunday broadcast on the world service, after the invasion, that
Western democracies should not use force to walk into other people's countries.
The Foreign Secretary, in his evidence to the Select Committee, on page 15, said something fairly similar.
I have two further points to raise. First, I should like to refer to the quality of advice to the Foreign Office from our missions in the field and to the quality of the Foreign Office's response, as set out in the report. My second point relates to the effect of the invasion and the events immediately surrounding it on the bilateral relations between ourselves and the United States, and the nature of the special relationship which still persists, or not, after those events.
With regard to the events preceding the invasion, the New York Times reported on 30 October that Administration officials were then briefing journalists that the United States began discussing the use of force in Grenada with friendly Caribbean Governments on 15 October. Between 15 October and 25 October events moved very quickly.
Apparently, plausible legal cover was provided by the OECS appeal under a treaty article that required an external threat, which certainly did not exist. There was increasing military activity in the region during the Saturday and Sunday, and C130 transports and heavy-lift helicopters were active around Bridgetown. The flight paths to Grenada had been tested, and the Caribbean was bristling with air and sea activity to the extent that both Caribbean and United States journalists were talking openly of the certainty of an invasion. It seems clear from the accounts given in the United States press — and, indeed, from the helpful account that was published in The Economist on 10 March—that the "Go" order had been effectively given in the United States by the joint chiefs of staff on the Saturday.
There was sufficient evidence for those who wished to see what was happening to report back to Whitehall what was going on. Indeed, it is significant that the Governor of Grenada, whose appeal is used now as justification in part for the invasion, told the BBC that he did not think that intervention was necessary until "late Sunday evening." Even then, as he told the BBC, he asked not for an invasion, but for "help" — undefined — "from outside". That proves that the decision to invade had been made before requests for help from the Governor.
In any event, the account shows that there was massive evidence on the spot available to those who wished to see it. It is remarkable that the diplomatic advice available to the Government and to our joint intelligence committee did not sense the vibrations of invasion. Yet our Government were happy to take at face value what Larry Speakes, the White House press officer, and others in Washington were telling them: that the United States was adopting a cautious approach and that we would be consulted before anything happened.
There are lessons to be learnt from the invasion. The Select Committee talked about the lethargic response of the Foreign Secretary and of the need for the Foreign Office to have taken the initiative at that time and found out what was going on on the spot. Certainly it is clear that the Foreign Office was allowing things to drift.
The Foreign Secretary was clearly put in an extremely embarrassing position on the Monday, when he reported to the House that he knew of no intention for an invasion. At the time of the famous telephone message from President Reagan to the Prime Minister on the Monday evening, the fleet had been diverted, on 20 October, the joint chiefs of staff had been on countdown to invasion, and United States troops had arrived in Barbados. Whoever was to blame—the Foreign Secretary or the men in the field—it was a very embarrassing few days for the Government.
The Foreign Secretary was able to tell the House on Tuesday that it was "a matter for regret" that there had been an invasion. That is a truly Palmerstonian response to the invasion of an independent Commonwealth country by an ally with whom we have a special relationship.
Clearly, neither the United States President nor the Secretary of State thought it proper, worth while or necessary to consult this country before the invasion, or to consider United Kingdom participation as an essential part of the operation. Therefore, there are clear implications for our bilateral relations.
Is the Prime Minister still examining the implications of that unilateral United States action, with token local assistance, and total lack of real consultation with us? What guarantees do we have, for example, that our interests will be taken into account in actions by the United States outside the European theatre, in sensitive areas such as the Gulf? What implications are there for strengthening the European voice—the European pillar within NATO? What implications are there for dual control of cruise missiles and for a European voice in the "Star Wars" strategy?
Traditional British and Commonwealth interests were planned out of the operation from the very start. There are implications for consultation and crisis management procedures. However much the Foreign Office suggests that we look to the future, and tries to stifle a post mortem and a longer-term analysis, it is clear that in Washington at that time our voice counted for very little. As part of a European grouping, we would have been allowed a stronger voice. The special relationship was exposed as an illusion by the incident. If it proved nothing else, that was one of the hard lessons for us from the Grenada incident.
The debate has been very interesting and useful, and I am particularly grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) for the balanced way in which he introduced it. He got us off to a very good start. The debate has added to the very significant work done by the Select Committee on an area that is clearly of great importance to this country, as well as being of great interest to the Government and the House.
As the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has just said, there are dangers in looking back too much. It is certainly not the Government's intention to stifle, as he suggested, a post mortem. It can be seen from the debate that there is a danger in rewriting history and in indulging in the pastime of hindsight, which is a temptation to us all. I should say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South that the terminology used in the Foreign Office reply applied to the Committee's description of the process rather than to a consideration of the Committee's deliberations.
I should like to go rapidly over the history of the issue in something like chronological order and to offer some element of corrective, and a somewhat different viewpoint from that which has so far been heard in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) is a great expert on these affairs and has long experience of this part of the world. He and the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) took quite a bit of time to tell us that we should have handled the issue differently in the 1960s and early 1970s. That may well be so, but the right hon. Lady will know better than anyone that she was a leading member of the Labour Government for a significant part of that time. For example, between 1974 and 1979 Dominica and St. Lucia were among those states that achieved independence under the procedure that was also followed in the case of Grenada. The Governments of all the Associated States that requested termination of association had recently won elections after having advocated independence. There were opportunities for each island to engage in public discussion of the proposal for independence, and the constitutional conference was open to the opposition parties.
I am sorry, but I shall not give way. I have allowed hon. Members as much time as possible in which to speak, and have left myself only 10 minutes in which to conclude the debate. If I do not give the Government's point of view, I shall once again be accused of not indulging in the post mortem that many hon. Members seem to want.
Therefore, whatever the view is now, I must suggest that it was the carefully considered policy of Governments of both complexions to grant those states independence. Many of the problems were foreseen, but perhaps some were not. However, I accept that those problems exist, and we are determined to help the Caribbean states with them. That is why, for example, we are co-operating so positively with the study that has now been launched, under the aegis of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, on the security of small states.
There was discussion as to what we might or might not have done about the Bishop regime. That regime was turning away from this country, towards Cuba. We were considering a new tranche of aid in 1979 when those unhappy developments began. It was a very difficult dilemma, but with hindsight I do not believe that this Government or any other Government would have handled the matter significantly differently.
I come to the events of last October. The Government's response contained in the White Paper sets out clearly what was happening. It is wrong to suggest a shortage of information or a lack of analysis. With respect, I must firmly reject the quite unprincipled — forgive me, the quite unjustified—attack of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on the capability of the diplomatic service. We are well represented in the Caribbean in terms of both numbers and quality, and it is wrong to talk about a shortage of information reaching Ministers, or indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
The tale is told in the White Paper. It is not a question of how many telegrams were sent, but rather a matter of judgment. That judgment was reached on a sound basis, and as many hon. Members have recognised, many states in the Caribbean came to a similar conclusion to us. There was an honest and entirely understandable difference of view as to how to treat a particularly difficult problem. Thus, it is not profitable at this stage to take the matter further.
The difference that arose with the United States is, again, well-trodden ground. There is no doubt that we and the United States regret that we got out of kilter at that time. However, hon. Members must understand how that arose and should not indulge in the very cheap anti-Americanism of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who seemed to be riding the Liberal horse of anti-European policy——
I should have said riding the Liberal horse of anti-American policy. The hon. Gentleman sought in some way to suggest that was a link between our different readings of the situation in Grenada and our very satisfactory relationships with the United States over the use of nuclear weapons in this country.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is a complete red herring.
Many hon. Members complained about the swiftness of aid dispensation once we had moved in after the intervention in Grenada. The Overseas Development Administration has a record of which it is justly proud. About 97 per cent. of that £750,000 was agreed by the end of January. As the right hon. Member for Clydesdale knows, by any standards that is very fast going. We must, of course, go through certain procedures — as hon. Members will understand—as public money is involved.
Of course I shall not give way at this stage.
We certainly take into consideration the need to help members of the Caribbean to fill in the forms and all the rest of it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford knows, we have looked very closely into the complaints made about aid administration. Although, of course, nothing is perfect, I am satisfied that there is little substance to them. There has been very effective aid disbursement, and that continues. The efforts of the development division and the better input by the high commission will improve still further the aid administration.
I must emphasise that there is no question of the Government turning their back on the Caribbean. Far from it. As I have said, we take a very close interest in what we can do to help security and that is precisely why—to pick up the point of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland)—we provided £300,000 of police training in Grenada. The Grenadians asked for that. We take a close interest in their security and in the economic development of the Caribbean as a whole. In response to a point made by the hon. Member for Clydesdale, I should add that in every year since 1980 British aid to the Caribbean commonwealth countries has averaged £27·5 million. That gives that area one of the highest per capita rates for aid in the world.
It is about four times the amount per capita that we give to the African countries and perhaps 40 times what we give to the Asian sub-continent. In addition, we contribute to a whole raft of multilateral agencies. Overall, aid from Western sources has increased from $75 million to $298 million. That is a token and strong manifestation of our interest in Grenada and the Caribbean, and of our commitment to the 5 million people in those states, who are linked to the United Kingdom in the many ways to which many hon. Members referred. I rededicate and reaffirm the Government's commitment to the development of Grenada and the Commonwealth states of the Caribbean.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The rubric in italics on the Order Paper refers to the debate, to two reports of the Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons Papers Nos. 421 and 226, and also to the Government's reply in Cmnd. 9267. I draw it to your attention, as the Estimates days are an experiment, that no member of the Select Committee was called from this side of the House during the debate.
I am not sure that that is a point of order, but I understand the hon. Member's resentment and will bear it in mind.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. I understand that the Minister did not have as much time as he would have wished to reply to the debate. I raised the important question of Belize. Is it normal practice for the Minister to write to the hon. Member when he does not have time to answer the hon. Member's question?
That is not a question for me. I understand the resentment of hon. Members, but the debate, for reasons that are well understood, started late. If some hon. Members took a disproportionate amount of time, I hope that they will bear it in mind during similar debates in future.