HC Deb 29 April 1968 vol 763 cc798-801
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement concerning the United States mediation in the dispute between Guatemala and the United Kingdom over British Honduras.

I am glad to be able to inform the House that copies of the Mediator's proposals have been placed in the Library of the House. These proposals envisage independence for British Honduras and a settlement of the dispute between the United Kingdom and Guatemala. We shall now study them in consultation with the Government of British Honduras, who have already been given the proposals. These proposals are being released publicly in British Honduras today.

Until this process of consultation has been completed it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the substance of the proposals, beyond saying that Her Majesty's Government will, of course, give them very serious consideration. We hope that all others concerned will do the same.

I wish to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the United States Government, who agreed three years ago to undertake this mediation and to Ambassador Bethuel Webster, the Mediator, who has worked so long and so diligently to find a just and practical solution to this very difficult problem.

Mr. Maudling

May we on this side of the House be associated with the tributes paid to the American Government and the Mediator. We are glad that he is thinking in terms both of independence of British Honduras and a settlement between the United Kingdom and Guatemala. Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the great problem has been to reconcile these two things all the time? Can he perhaps give the House a summary of these proposals? Can he also reassure us that if a conflict should arise the interests of the people of British Honduras will remain paramount in the minds of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Stewart

I can give the undertaking for which the right hon. Gentleman asks. I would doubt the wisdom of my trying to give to the House a summary of the whole Mediator's Report and the draft Treaty, but it is available to hon. Members. In any case, it is something that the Government are still studying.

Mr. James Johnson

In view of the deepest anxiety felt by the Opposition Party in Belize, and the past history of the dispute, can the Foreign Secretary give the House a pledge that this will not be in any way what is popularly termed a "sell out" to Guatemala, particularly before independence? Is he aware that we hope there will be elections in the State of British Honduras?

Mr. Stewart

I can certainly give that assurance and when my hon. Friend studies the terms of the Report he will see very clearly that this is so.

Mr. Doughty

Could the Foreign Secretary give an undertaking that if British Honduras, after independence, has difficulty in maintaining its independence, for financial or other reasons, it will have the full support of this Government and this country, so that it is not subjected to undue pressure from Guatemala?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will expect me to enter into a hypothetical financial commitment of that kind. It is well known that we have already given considerable help to Honduras.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether the Mexican claim, which was advanced at one stage, has been irrevocably withdrawn, or is it likely to appear at some stage in future?

Mr. Stewart

That is a question for the Mexican Government. In any case, the Mexican claim is outside the terms of this mediation.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

In view of the great importance of this dispute, and the process which has been adopted for a peaceful settlement, would the Foreign Secretary consider giving us a White Paper containing the American proposals?

Mr. Stewart

The proposals are to be available to the House, but I will consider a White Paper.

Mr. Driberg

In addition to placing the report in the Library, would it not be more sensible to follow the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) and publish the Report, either as a White Paper, or in HANSARD, or simply just publish it, as it is being published in British Honduras anyway?

Mr. Stewart

As I said, the document is available to hon. Members, but it is something which the Government are still studying and which, I hope, others will study. It may be desirable to issue a White Paper containing not only the terms of this, but the Government's views on it, at a later stage.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

While I have not seen the Report, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is proposed to hold elections before independence in Honduras?

Mr. Stewart

That would depend on arrangements to be made between Her Majesty's Government and Honduras. My right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary has stated that if he receives a request for a conference on independence he would be happy to accede to it, although no such request has, as yet, been made.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will the Government undertake to give the Government and people of British Honduras any support that they may need in gaining their independence?

Mr. Stewart

This, again, is a hypothetical question. I am being asked for large general answers which it would not be sensible to give.

Dame Joan Vickers

Before the Government make up their mind, would they be prepared to receive a delegation from the people of British Honduras?

Mr. Stewart

We shall proceed throughout this matter in consultation with British Honduras.

Mr. Maudling

May I press the point about the question of publication in this country? The Report is apparently being published in British Honduras, but not here. Putting the document in the Library is not quite good enough. Can the Foreign Secretary go further on this? Will he also deal with the question of a constitutional conference?

Mr. Stewart

I will consider whether we ought to take steps for further publicity.

On the question of the constitutional conference, I dealt with this in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker). No request so far for such a conference has been made, but my right hon Friend the Commonwealth Secretary has stated that he would be happy to accede to such a request if it were made.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Peart.

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