HL Deb 17 March 1981 vol 418 cc657-61

The United Kingdom and Guatemala, in order to settle the controversy between them over the territory of Belize, have reached agreement on the following points.

1. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall recognise the independent State of Belize as an integral part of Central America, and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with its existing and traditional frontiers subject, in the case of Guatemala, to the completion of the treaty or treaties necessary to give effect to these Heads of Agreement.

2. Guatemala shall be accorded such territorial seas as shall ensure permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas, together with rights over the seabed thereunder.

3. Guatemala shall have the use and enjoyment of the Ranguana and Sapodilla cays, and rights in those areas of the sea adjacent to the cays, as may be agreed.

4. Guatemala shall be entitled to free port facilities in Belize City and Punta Gorda.

5. The road from Belize City to the Guatemalan frontier shall be improved; a road from Punta Gorda to the Guatemalan frontier shall be completed. Guatemala shall have freedom of transit on these roads.

6. Belize shall facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda.

7. In areas to be agreed an agreement shall be concluded between Belize and Guatemala for purposes concerned with the control of pollution, navigation and fishing.

8. There shall be areas of the seabed and the continental shelf to be agreed for the joint exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.

9. Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain developmental projects of mutual benefit.

10. Belize shall be entitled to any free port facilities in Guatemala to match similar facilities provided to Guatemala in Belize.

11. Belize and Guatemala shall sign a treaty of co-operation in matters of security of mutual concern, and neither shall permit its territory to be used to support subversion against the other.

12. Except as foreseen in these Heads of Agreement, nothing in these provisions shall prejudice any rights or interests of Belize or of the Belizean people.

13. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall enter into agreements designed to re-establish full and normal relations between them.

14. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall take the necessary action to sponsor the membership of Belize in the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, Central American organisations and other international organisations.

15. A Joint Commission shall be established between Belize, Guatemala and the United Kingdom to work out details to give effect to the above provisions. It will prepare a treaty or treaties for signature by the Signatories to these Heads of Agreement.

16. The controversy between the United Kingdom and Guatemala over the territory of Belize shall therefore be honourably and finally terminated.

Signed at London, the 11th day of March 1981, in the English and the Spanish language, both texts being equally authentic.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, the Foreign Secretary, for that Statement. It is an encouraging one and I am glad to congratulate him on a very substantial achievement. For more than a century, relations between us and Guatemala have been unduly difficult because of certain claims they have sustained against Belize, which was under our protection. What we have of course is a number of heads of agreement and there may be some tough argument as to their implementation. But it is particularly pleasing that the Governments of both Belize and Guatemala have accepted the heads of agreement and, judging from the Foreign Secretary's Statement today, are well on the way to agreeing on the details, which are, as he said, mutually beneficial to the two countries. It is certainly in their best interests to agree as soon as possible, because a settlement will help to maintain the peace and stability of that crucial area, especially in the face of Cuban adventurism. It is in the interests of Central America as a whole that there should be this new evidence of stability in that area.

The concessions to Guatemala are substantial and valuable, but they do not, so far as I can see, endanger the territorial integrity of Belize. That is most acceptable and reflects the statesmanship of the Guatemalan Government in their approach to this problem in the last few months. Nevertheless, Belize will no doubt wish to have guarantees for the future. One of them, judging from the comments made by Mr. George Price, their Premier, yesterday or this morning, might be the continuance of the British sophisticated military presence in that country. We on this side of the House would hope that any such presence might not be unduly prolonged; it involves 1,600 troops and a high level of technical support costing some £26 million. Even more important in the medium and longer term is that Her Majesty's Government should be as generous as possible in the aid that will be extended to the new independent country of Belize.

It is not only a United Kingdom interest that there should be peace and stability in this vital area. It is of primary importance to the countries of central America themselves, and to the rest of the peace-loving world. I am disposed to suggest that, if the agreement needs to be underwritten in a physical sense, that should be done by an international body, possibly the United Nations, or even the Commonwealth. It should not be entirely the obligation of the United Kingdom to continue to maintain stability in this area.

Finally, may we take it that in all the negotiations the Government have kept in touch with the Government of Mexico? Mexico is a country of increasing economic significance and international stature, whose interest in the future of Belize is very real, and, over the past few years at least, has conducted itself in this area with constructive and helpful restraint.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we, too, should like to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Nicholas Ridley very warmly on the success of the negotiations up until now. I think that I am expressing the view of the whole House when I say that there has been great success. I have only one question to raise. So far as we can see, the heads of agreement seem to cover all, or nearly all, the questions that have been at issue between the two countries in the last few years. If that is not the case, perhaps the Foreign Secretary can tell us what are the outstanding issues. Judging from the Statement, is there perhaps remaining only the question of the rights in the areas of the sea adjacent to the cays, as may be agreed, or are there other substantial outstanding issues? In any case, may we assume that there is now every reason to suppose that the negotiations will be finally terminated quite shortly and that the treaties will be signed?

It only remains for me to go along with the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, in saying that I imagine that, since on the face of it the security of Belize is now ensured, the troops will be shortly withdrawn, even if the Belize Government would in general like them to stay.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords for what they have said and for the congratulations that they have offered the Government. Perhaps I should make it clear that my honourable friend Mr. Ridley, and those in the Foreign Office who have been working with him, have been engaged on this matter for 18 months or so. It is to them, as well as to the Guatemalan Government and the Government of Belize, that the credit should go.

What I have mentioned are heads of agreement—there are no outstanding differences—and the details have to be clarified. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, is right in saying that some negotiation will be necessary in order to achieve that; but otherwise there is nothing outstanding. As the noble Lord said, the territorial integrity of Belize is maintained and preserved by the heads of agreement.

The security of Belize has of course been one of our primary concerns during the negotiations. I think it too early to say what will be the solution. The matter will of course be discussed at the constitutional conference, but I believe that the nature of the agreement will perhaps make the need rather different from what it would have been had there not been an agreement.

With regard to Mexico, I saw the Foreign Minister of Mexico here last week. The Mexicans have always been on record as accepting the rights of the Belizeans to their own self-determination. Indeed, at the United Nations they have always voted in favour of the independence of Belize, and I know that they will approve of this agreement.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether Belize will become a member of the Commonwealth, or possibly become an associate state in the interim?

Lord Carrington

No, my Lords; after independence it will be for the Belizeans to decide whether they wish to become members of the Commonwealth, and for the Commonwealth to decide whether they will have them. But 1 would not anticipate too much difficulty.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, was the noble Lord made aware—as I was when I was in Belize—of the very real fear of these poor and virtually unarmed people arising from the arming and training of Guatemalan forces by the United States, which they felt was a real menace to them? In view of the appalling record of Guatemala regarding human rights, has the noble Minister been able to consult the United States Government on this aspect of the problem, and perhaps ask them to associate themselves with the guarantees of the integrity of Belize? I ask that question because it seems to me that there will be a very contradictory situation if the United States continues to arm and train forces in Guatemala at the same time as we are trying to give some confidence to the people of Belize regarding their peaceful future.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, if there is an agreement, as I hope there will be—and there are heads of agreement—there will be no territorial claim by the Guatemalans on Belize, so there would be nothing for the Belizeans to fear. I have been in close touch with the United States Government, who have been extremely helpful over the negotiations, and I think that all parties ought to be satisfied.

Lord Reigate

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether we shall now have full diplomatic representation in Guatemala, and vice versa?

Lord Carrington

Yes, my Lords, after the agreement.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I very sincerely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, upon reaching this agreement? He has referred to 100 years of confrontation. He has not been involved throughout that period, nor even have I. But 40 years ago the struggle for the independence of Belize began. I congratulate my old friend George Price, the Prime Minister, and I congratulate also the others who took part in reaching the agreement.

May I say how pleased we are that there is no territorial concession to Guatemala in the agreement? I think that the concessions regarding fishing and seabed rights are acceptable, in view of the tremendous importance of Belize gaining independence. However, may I ask the noble Lord whether there are any proposals for economic aid to Guatemala? As the noble Lord is aware, it is a dictatorial state, crushing human rights, and I very much hope there is no suggestion that, as a result of the agreement, we should give economic or other aid to the Government of Guatemala.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, there is no suggeston of that. There is of course the suggestion, or rather the practice on our part, when a colony becomes independent, of giving aid to that colony, and during the constitutional conference we shall be negotiating aid to Belize.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his Statement and congratulate him most sincerely? As he knows, I have for many years been interested in this territory. May I ask him about two points? First, members of Her Majesty's Forces are doing a very valuable job there; it is the only place where tropical training can be carried out. In view of the fact that on the radio this morning Mr. Price was reported as saying that he would like the forces to stay, is there any point in asking whether Belize can contribute towards the cost of keeping Servicemen there? Secondly, for many months I have been trying to arrange for some of the "boat people" to go there, and as my noble friend knows, Mr. Price has asked for 1,000 of them. Is there now any chance of getting these people there? They would be very beneficial to the small population.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what she has said. As I have said, I think it is too early to decide the future of the security forces in Belize. I wonder whether my noble friend is quite accurate in what she says. Perhaps I am out of date, but from my days at the Ministry of Defence I seem to recollect that we also had service training in Malaysia, but perhaps that has now finished—

A noble Lord: Sarawak.

Lord Carrington

Sarawak. Well, maybe I am out of date, though it appears that I am not, and I am very glad about that. With regard to my noble friend's second question, I think that that is a matter for the Government of Belize, but I shall certainly draw Mr. Price's attention to what my noble friend has said.

Lord Leonard

My Lords, may I congratulate the Minister on his wonderful success in this matter. Might it be possible on this day when the Irish pay homage to their patron saint for the noble Lord to take over the cudgels in that direction with equal success?