HC Deb 07 February 1989 vol 146 cc788-9
6. Mr. Ashby

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when next he intends to visit Belize.

Mr. Younger

I was in Belize last month to visit British forces there. I was greatly impressed by the efficiency and enthusiasm with which they are fulfilling their important role. I was also able to meet the Prime Minister of Belize, Mr. Esquivel. I have no plans to visit Belize again in the immediate future.

Mr. Ashby

Without wishing to give Guatemala a wrong signal, will my right hon. Friend consider the good will towards Britain and the progress towards democracy in Guatemala when deciding upon the level of the defence forces to be kept in Belize?

Mr. Younger

Yes, my hon. Friend is correct. I found great good will towards the British defence forces and the British Government, and the Prime Minister of Belize expressed his gratitude for all that the British forces do there. My hon. Friend will know that talks are continuing with the Government of Guatemala, but in the meantime I assured the Prime Minister that British forces would remain for an appropriate period at the request of the Government of Belize.

Mr. Frank Cook

When assessing the conditions of service men and service women in Belize, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the comments made during the debate on the Defence Estimates about pay, allowances and conditions throughout our armed forces and give a categorical assurance that he will consider council house—[Interruption.] A Freudian slip, Mr. Speaker—I would buy another if I had the chance. [Interruption.] It is Labour party policy.

Will the Secretary of State give the House a categorical assurance that he will consider the points made about house purchase assistance and that service pay and allowances will be guaranteed against inflation?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks and I recall what was said in the recent Estimates debate. I assure him that we give high priority to trying to obtain an appropriate form of military salary with a mix of allowances to reflect service men's conditions. As the hon. Gentleman knows, every year the armed forces pay review body has made recommendations and every year the Government have implemented them in full.

I found the soldiers in Belize living in conditions less comfortable than in Britain or the British Army of the Rhine, but all were clear that they greatly enjoyed being there and found it most valuable training.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Belize is the last place where British soldiers can have experience of jungle warfare? Will he therefore take a robust line with his Treasury colleagues?

Mr. Yonger

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. Belize is certainly a good place for jungle training. I was able to take part in some jungle training myself—[Interruption.] It is very valuable and useful in the House. Training in such conditions is undoubtedly valuable for British forces, all of whom have expressed great satisfaction at the training facilities available.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Secretary of State accept that the so-called temporary nature of the British military presence in Belize has been used as a reason not to provide the kind of investment in facilities that is really needed in such an extreme climate? As British troops have been there for 40 years, can we not give them the decent living and working conditions that they deserve if they are to stay there much longer?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. We are examining the accounting methods used for planning improvements in Belize. I shall be looking at that very carefully in future.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in that part of central America the presence of British forces in Belize is regarded as a strong force for stability, especially in the run-up to the Guatemalan presidential election? Will my right hon. Friend also comment on the role of British forces in Belize as a forward emergency task force in the case of hurricane damage in the Caribbean?

Mr. Younger

During my visit it was made very clear to me by all concerned that the presence of British troops is very welcome to the people and Government of Belize and also, I believe, to the Government of Guatemala. All concerned made a point of expressing to me their tremendous gratitude for the help that the British services gave during hurricane Gilbert earlier last year.