HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc416-8
10. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Belize, in the light of the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.

Mr. Rowlands

I held talks with the Guatemalan Foreign Minister in Washington last week. I will, with permission circulate the agreed communiqué in the Official Report. It was necessary to take steps to strengthen our garrison in Belize but I believe both sides wish to reduce tension and resume the search for a negotiated settlement. With this in view, I will be visiting Guatemala shortly for further talks.

Mr. Luce

In view of the widespread international support for the British Government's commitment to ensuring the safety of Belize against invasion from Guatemala, will the Minister now take an urgent diplomatic initiative to obtain the help of Commonwealth and regional Caribbean Governments in ensuring that Belize can obtain viable independence—especially in the light of the offered support from the Commonwealth Heads of Government?

Mr. Rowlands

As the hon. Gentleman says, there has been widespread international support for the desire of Belize to become independent as quickly as possible. But we think that the best way to provide long-term security for Belize is by providing a negotiated agreement and settlement with its neighbour, Guatemala, with which both sides will have to live, irrespective of the situation.

Mr. Palmer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Should not my Question No. 28, dealing with the same subject, be taken with this Question?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot answer for the Minister, but if a Question is a long way down the list it usually has to wait.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the original Question, is it not a fact that at the Commonwealth Conference in Kingston a suggestion was made of a Commonwealth military guarantee for Belize? Could that be reactivated? Secondly, is it the Government's view that the Guatemalans have no legal claim to any of the territory that they are claiming? Thirdly, have investigations been concluded in regard to the 26 tons of ammunition and arms that were seized in Barbados and that passed through London Airport?

Mr. Rowlands

On the first question, this matter was raised at the Kingston Conference and again at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting here. We feel that the best way of pursuing a peaceful settlement and ensuring the security of Belize is to enter into direct negotiations with the Guatemalan Government, at which negotiations alongside me always is Mr. Price and his fellow Belizean delegates. As for the Barbados incident, that is for the Barbadian Government, but they have been conducting investigations and have impounded the armaments that were on board the plane. On the last point, of course we dispute the legality of the Guatemalan claim, although in fairness to them I should say that they dispute our legal right in this respect.

Mr. Dalyell

How can we be absolutely sure that, granted the smallness of the population and the poverty of the State, there are not quite a number of people, apart from their leaders, who would acquiesce in joining Guatemala? Can we be sure of that?

Mr. Rowlands

We can be absolutely sure that the overwhelming majority of Belizeans wish to be Belizean. They have evolved democratic institutions of their own, as a dependent territory. I think that that wish and aspiration is shared not only by the Government of Belize but by the overwhelming majority of Belizean people. The fact that the Belizean Opposition members were a part of the delegation attending the negotiations and that they have made a statement to that effect bears testimony to it.

Mr. Durant

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the importance of the integrity of Belize to the whole Caribbean area. which is watching this situation closely? Will he beware of any sell-out of the southern part of Belize, where obviously the Guatemalans have a particular interest in relation to oil, since that would be damaging to the future of Belize as a State?

Mr. Rowlands

One should not talk in terms of a sell-out. We are trying to find different ways of bridging the gap between ourselves and the Guatemalan Government—a gap that has existed for generations. Terms like "sell-out" are not appropriate to the nature of these negotiations.

Mr. Tapsell

Is it not an extraordinary point of view that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has advanced? Is it not a fact that almost everybody who knows about Belize knows that, whatever else they may disagree about, almost no one in Belize wants to be governed by Guatemala?

Mr. Rowlands

I think that my hon. Friend was putting a question, and I am certain that my answer and the point that the hon. Member has just made reflect overwhelmingly the views of all but perhaps a handful of people in Belize. They are Belizean and they believe in self-determination and the future of their own small country.

Following is the communiqué:

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