HC Deb 21 May 1968 vol 765 cc275-8
8. Dame Joan Vickers

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the constitutional future of British Honduras.

14. Mr. Chichester-Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement about the constitutional status of British Honduras following the report of the mediator.

19. Viscount Lambton

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement on the future of British Honduras.

20. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will now state his policy towards the proposals of the United States mediator for the reconciliation of the differences between British Honduras and Guatemala.

Mr. Whitlock

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary stated in the House yesterday, since the draft treaty proposed by the mediator is not acceptable to British Honduras it is not acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. The Government of British Honduras have accordingly been informed that we shall not proceed with the treaty. The House of Representatives has unanimously expressed the hope that other means may be found by which the dispute with Guatemala may be settled so as to allow British Honduras to pursue an unimpeded course to sovereign independence. We share that hope.

As regards the territory's constitutional future, our position remains as stated by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of State on 3rd April in reply to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). When proposals are put forward for the independence of British Honduras we shall be ready to consider them.

Dame Joan Vickers

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for that Answer, may I ask him to say what next steps her Majesty's Government intend to take?

Mr. Whitlock

I do not think that it would be helpful to speculate today about future developments. We must look for other means of settling this dispute during the time remaining before British Honduras moves to independence. We shall be consulting the Government of British Honduras about that, and I would not wish to make any further statement today.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government are already considering the defence arrangements that will be necessary for this small country to maintain its constitutional integrity after independence?

Mr. Whitlock

The defence of an independent British Honduras is one of the many problems which will have to be discussed with the British Hondurans.

Viscount Lambton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many articles have appeared in the Guatemalan Press recently suggesting an invasion of British Honduras; by Guatemala? In consideration of this, will priority be given to the idea of giving a defence treaty to British Honduras? Can the hon. Gentleman further say when the Mexican Government gave an assurance to Her Majesty's Government that that country's territorial claims to British Honduras had been renounced?

Mr. Whitlock

I am not responsible for what appears in the British Press, let alone what appears in the Press of Guatemala. As I said, the future defence arrangements for this country must now be discussed with the British Hondurans. As for alleged territorial ambitions on the part of Mexico, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday that he had no knowledge that such ambitions existed.

Mr. Fisher

While being thankful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming an undertaking given earlier about the next step in relation to a British Honduras independence conference, may I press him on the question of defence in view of the failure of the mediation and its consequent possible repercussions for British Honduras? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he really should seriously consider a defence undertaking, a guarantee or arrangement of some kind lest independence turns out to be—I hope that I am wrong—quite short-lived?

Mr. Whitlock

At present we have a garrison in British Honduras and we shall naturally wish to do everything possible to defend the country's territorial integrity and see that it is defended; and, as I have said, these are matters which will be the subject of future discussions with that country.

Mr. Henig

Since some arrangement will obviously have to be made with British Honduras and its neighbours before that country becomes independent, would it not be a good idea for the Secretary of State now to invite the leaders of the chief political parties in British Honduras to London to discuss exactly what sort of arrangements they would find acceptable to bring about the independence of their country?

Mr. Whitlock

Only a week ago the House of Representatives of British Honduras unanimously passed the resolution which I described, in which they expressed the hope that every means might be found to settle the dispute with Guatemala before an unimpeded course to independence took place; and naturally we will be discussing this with the British Hondurans.

Sir J. Rodgers

Would it not be helpful if the hon. Gentleman agreed to have an aerial survey made, since this might be a good preliminary to reaching some agreement between British Honduras and Guatemala on the question of the disputed boundary?

Mr. Whitlock

An aerial survey is certainly a suggestion which we could consider.

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