HC Deb 14 February 1972 vol 831 cc18-9
16. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has now received from the Government of Guatemala with respect to current British Army and Royal Navy exercises in the area of British Honduras; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. Godber

The Guatemalan authorities made representations to Her Majesty's Consul in Guatemala City about these exercises. British Honduras is, of course, a British dependent territory and Her Majesty's Consul has been instructed to make clear to the Guatemalan Government that the movement of troops in British territory is a matter for Her Majesty's Government. The movements in question were part of a long planned exercise in the Caribbean area.

Dr. Gilbert

May we at least have a guarantee from the Minister that there will be no more flamboyant exercises of this sort in what is a highly sensitive area? Second, if it has now been proved so easy to move troops, aircraft carriers and so on to British Honduras in such numbers and at such short notice, why is it not possible to give a defence guarantee to the British Honduran Government if it became independent?

Mr. Godber

I can only assume from that supplementary question that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my answer. As I said, this was part of a long planned exercise. That is why it was possible to do it with speed. It has nothing to do with flamboyance. This is a properly planned exercise still going on in the Caribbean area. There is always a commitment in regard to British Honduras. We retain troops in British Honduras and we intend to continue to do so as long as we have a responsibility there.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving wider publicity in future to these annual troop movements? These were widely known in the area months before the incident occurred.

Mr. Godber

We will see what we can do to give wider publicity. Information had been given in the area, as my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Healey

Is it not the case that the participation of the carrier "Ark Royal" in these exercises had not been notified in advance, not even to the Government of British Honduras, and the people of British Honduras were widely reported to be disturbed by some of the activities carried out? Was not this a propaganda stunt by the carrier lobby in the Ministry of Defence? Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to persuade the Secretary of State for Defence to re-establish political control over the Services in these sensitive areas?

Mr. Godber

That is a very strange supplementary question. There is no basis for it. These exercises, including the participation of the aircraft carrier, had been planned in the area. The aircraft carrier is still in the area carrying out these exercises. This had nothing to do with any lobby in regard to any particular type of armament. The right hon. Gentleman is hopelessly wrong about this, as he usually is.