HL Deb 07 December 1978 vol 397 cc274-6

3.25 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

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 will state what agreements have been made with the Government of Guatemala concerning their future relations with Belize; and whether the agreements are satisfactory to the Government of Belize.


My Lords, no agreements have been made with the Government of Guatemala concerning their future relations with Belize. Our proposals for a settlement were put to the Government of Guatemala in September, and weredescribed in a British statement during a debate in the United Nations on 28th November. The Government and people of Belize will be consulted on the terms of any agreement that may be reached.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Was it not agreed at the United Nations that Guatemala had no power over Belize, and that Belize should be considered to be an independent country? In view of the fact that Belize has been one of the most faithful Commonwealth countries, surely some agreements can be arrived at? This matter has been going on for a great number of years, and Belize has; been the country to suffer. Why should they go under the dictatorship of Guatemala?


My Lords, we have been in a state of dispute with Guatemala concerning Belize for quite some time—indeed, certainly for the last three years and, some would say, since the Treaty of 1859 in some respects. With regard to the position of the United Nations, the noble Baroness is quite right. A United Nations resolution which supports Belize's right to self-determination, independence, and territorial integrity was adopted about this time last year, the voting being 126 for, only four against, with 13 abstentions. The appropriate committee of the United Nations has just been discussing a similar resolution. I do not yet have the result to hand—I think that the committee was at it yesterday and the day before—but I expect a similar result this year, though perhaps it may be even more emphatic in terms of numbers.


My Lords, will the noble Lord recall the somewhat robust attitude adopted by the late Ernest Bevin towards this dispute, and will he take a leaf out of the late Ernest Bevin's book in this respect?


I should like to take the whole book, my Lords, and indeed previous Governments, and possibly successive Governments, might do the same. It is a question of asserting the rights of the people of Belize; and we shall continue to do so. In doing that we shall of course seek the best possible solution in relation to the Guatemalan claim. However, Guatemala is not the only country interested in the future of Belize. Surrounding countries have a clear interest that adjustments in this area do not have the secondary result of creating uncertainty in their own areas. Therefore, the Government's attitude is perfectly clear and perfectly determined. We stand firmly on the terms of the United Nations resolution which I have just mentioned to the House.


My Lords, have the Government of Mexico, who are very concerned in this matter, expressed any attitude on the latest proposals?


No, my Lords, not specifically to the proposals that I mentioned, and which were made available to both Houses by inclusion in the Official Report of the other place of, I think, 29th November. It is for the Guatemalan Government specifically to respond to those proposals which my right honourable friend made to the Guatemalan Foreign Minister in New York in September. We have not received from the Guatemalan Government, let alone any other Government, any specific response to those proposals. I repeat that countries such as Mexico—and there are others in the area—have a clear and distinct interest in there being a peaceful and enduring solution of any disputes in the general area, including Belize.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord about one other point. Bearing in mind the great poverty of the Belize people, is it intended to spend £7 million on building a road from Guatemala to the Port of Belize? There is an adequate road at the moment so far as I am concerned. The mental hospital in Belize has just fallen down due to lack of reconstruction, and surely the money should be spent on the people of Belize, who are loyal to Her Majesty the Queen.


My Lords, the amount of aid which we make available to Belize is not inconsiderable. We assisted in regard to the recent disaster which afflicted that people. Apart from that, I see that last year, for instance, our aid to Belize ran at about £4.6 million, which is not inconsiderable, having regard to the population involved. However, in regard to the road, I deliberately mentioned the Treaty of 1859 and Article 7, which provided for building a road of that sort. The Guatemalans say that this promise, this undertaking, was not honoured. They themselves built that road, which I call the 1859 road; so today we propose, in order to assist matters generally, to help them to build another road, which will benefit not only the Guatemalans but also the Belizians.