HL Deb 06 November 1968 vol 297 cc224-6

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider themselves bound by the 1966 Geneva Agreement to defend, if necessary, the boundary of Guyana against the claims of Venezuela.]


My Lords, the Geneva Agreement is essentially an instrument providing for a peaceful resolution by Guyana and Venezuela of their territorial problem. It deals solely with the mechanisms to achieve this and therefore does not contain any obligation in the sense envisaged by the noble Lord.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Would he not agree that it is somewhat dishonourable to boast, as many of us do, that we lead all these countries to independence, and then to permit other and more powerful countries to endanger or negative that achievement? Would he not agree that, even if we are not legally bound, we are morally bound to protect the integrity of the boundaries that we gave to Guyana by the mere fact of our signature not only to the Geneva Agreement but to Article 1 of the Instrument of the Constitution? Finally, in view of our moral commitments to Guyana vis-à-vis Venezuela, to British Honduras vis-à-vis Guatemala, to the Falkland islands vis-à-vis the Argentine, and to Gibraltar vis-à-vis Spain, and so on, quite apart from what was mentioned in the debate yesterday how can Her Majesty's Government justify the recent decimation of our forces and reserves?


My Lords, I think that is one of the most sweeping supplementary questions I have ever had the misfortune to be asked. I would only say to the noble Lord that we have expresed our concern to the Venezuelan Government, and they have said they have no intention of resorting to force in the settlement of this dispute. We have welcomed that statement, and as a result of it we have no reason to believe that Guyana is threatened.


My Lords, may I ask whether the Guyana Government have consulted Her Majesty's Government on this matter?


My Lords, we are in continuous communication with the Government of Guyana; but that, of course, is confidential.


My Lords, surely my noble friend must agree that if independent British Guiana—now called Guyana—a member of the British Commonwealth, is attacked, we must go to her help?


My Lords, it must always depend on the circumstances. We have already expressed our concern about this matter, but we have no reason to believe that Guyana is threatened with military invasion by Venezuela.


My Lords, is it not a fact that Venezuela is claiming a large proportion of the territory of Guyana, whereas Guyana is willing to negotiate about whether the frontier runs on one side of a river or the other? Therefore, as between a large country and a small one, do not the negotiations sound particularly ominous?


My Lords, Guyana put her signature to the Geneva Agreement and as an independent country is now negotiating with Venezuela. The meetings are continuing and although there has not been much progress so far the matter is being discussed, as it should be discussed, by two independent countries.