HC Deb 22 April 1970 vol 800 cc421-3

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the safety of British persons and property in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. George Thomson)

Our High Commission is in touch with the United Kingdom community in Trinidad and Tobago. No reports have been received of incidents involving injury to the lives and property of United Kingdom nationals.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I realise that the right hon. Gentleman cannot at this short notice give an account of what has happened there, but no doubt he will give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will keep us informed should there be any danger to British subjects.

Mr. Thomson

We are watching watching developments in Trinidad and Tobago, especially as they affect United Kingdom nationals, very closely, and I can give the right hon. Gentleman immediately an assurance that we will keep the House fully informed.

The background to the situation is that there have been a series of Black Power riots in Port of Spain for some weeks. There has also been the threat of a general strike. Against this background, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago—which, I remind the House, has been an independent member of the Commonwealth since 1962—declared a state of emergency and, with the loyal support of the police force, are endeavouring to control the disorder. Some of the leaders of the troubles have already been placed under detention.

Mr. John Fraser

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that unemployment is about 30 per cent. in Trinidad and Tobago among the under-24 age group, a situation which has itself created difficulties? Will my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Overseas Development do all they can to bring more employment to this very large young labour force?

Mr. Thomson

My hon. Friend raises wider questions, of which we are very much aware. We are aware of the general background in the islands but that is the responsibility of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Our responsibility in the present situation of anxiety is to take all necessary and practicable steps to safeguard the lives of United Kingdom nationals.

Mr. Marten

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Army is being loyal to the Government?

Mr. Thomson

I understand that there have been reports of mutinies amongst some elements of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment. That is why we are taking all the necessary and practicable steps to look after the safety of United Kingdom nationals.

Mr. Brooks

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us—no doubt including himself—who were in Trinidad for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference only a few months ago will very much regret this very disturbing series of events? Will he inform the Trinidad Government that any request for help from Her Majesty's Government, particularly in face of any difficulties in respect of the Army, will be sympathetically considered?

Mr. Thomson

My hon. Friend and I have perhaps a special personal reason for concern about these developments. We are keeping in close and continuous touch with Dr. Williams and his Government.