HL Deb 02 July 1982 vol 432 cc453-5
Lord Jenkins of Putney

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, as the proposal to expand the United States base on Diego Garcia to enable it to house American strategic nuclear bombers is internationally condemned, they will give notice of the termination of the agreement permitting United States occupation of the island and undertake to return the islanders to their homeland, with generous compensation.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, there is no proposal to base American strategic nuclear bombers on Diego Garcia. But Her Majesty's Government welcome United States plans to improve the facilities on Diego Garcia, which fills an important role in the protection of Western interests in the area. Her Majesty's Government have agreed to make an ex gratia payment of£4 million to assist the resettlement in Mauritius of former plantation workers.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there will be some considerable relief in the area at his categoric statement that there is no intention to base American nuclear bombers on Diego Garcia? But will be turn his attention to the fate of the islanders? Is the noble Lord aware that if the islanders had been white and spoke English it is at least doubtful whether they would have been thrown off their island? Perhaps they would have had the kind of treatment which we have extended to the Falklanders. Is there not a double standard here?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I must make it clear that in the original Answer I did not say that there was no intention to base American strategic nuclear bombers on Diego Garcia. I said there is no proposal to do that. So far as drawing a comparison between the Falkland islanders and the Ilios people who are on Diego Garcia is concerned, there is no direct parallel. The Ilios were essentially transit workers employed on a contract basis. When the plantations on Diego Garcia were closed the plantation managers gave them the choice of either going to other islands or having their contracts terminated and returning to Mauritius. I have given some details in the original Answer of the settlement in Mauritius of the Ilios people.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether or not there is some inconsistency? While Argentine action in the Falklands was rightly opposed on behalf of the islanders there, may I ask whether the British Government have not deported the islanders of Diego Garcia against their will? Secondly, may I ask the Minister whether or not it is the case that all the nations surrounding the Indian Ocean except Oman and Somalia are demanding its neutralisation?

Lord Belstead

The answer to the first question which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked me, is, no, for the reason which I gave in my last reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. So far as the noble Lord's second question is concerned, the decision to provide facilities to the United States on Diego Garcia was taken on the grounds of broad national interest. In this matter, the United States and the United Kingdom Government attach the very greatest strategic importance to the use of Diego Garcia.

Lord Duncan-Sandys

My Lords, should we not welcome any action which strenghtens the military and defence capability of our American allies?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys for that question. Her Majesty's Government and the United States attach the very greatest importance to this. I think everybody must realise that, as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the need to see Diego Garcia as a very important strategic part of the Western alliance has been underlined.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would not the Minister agree that there is a terrible paradox here? When we are talking about the defence of freedom and strategic manoeuvres, does not the Minister agree that we ought not to indulge in treating other human beings as mere chattels?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is very important for me to add to what has been said so far. In addition to the£4 million paid to the Mauritius Government, this money will be administered on behalf of the Ilios people by an independent board of trustees to make sure that the Ilios people get the benefit of the money. In addition, the Mauritius Government will, on their part, make available to the Ilios, and the Ilios community in Mauritius, land to the value of£1 million.

Lord Harmer-Nicholls

My Lords, will my noble friend take steps to ensure that the clear, rabid anti-Americanism in this Question as framed in no way reflects the view of the nation, which recognises that the continuity and the strengthening of the friendship between America and ourselves is good for the world, quite apart from the self-interest of both countries?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, Diego Garcia is an important part of the Western alliance, and I am grateful to my noble friend for underlying that fact.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister to be a little more specific about the principle, quite apart from anti-Americanism, involved here? I stress the word "principle" so that the Minister does not say that there is no comparison. Surely the fact that the British Government forcibly removed the inhabitants of Diego Garcia without their consent is comparable to the invasion of the Falklands by the Argentinians. Where does the Minister distinguish, so far as principle is concerned, in the forcible removal of people from their homeland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is a perfectly fair question and there is a distinction. The Ilios people whe were on Diego Garcia were there because they were working on plantations which now no longer exist.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

Some did, my Lords.

Lord Belstead

The noble Lord shakes his head, but it is a matter of fact that the Ilios people on Diego Garcia were working as contract workers on plantations that no longer exist. The people of the Falkland Islands were working on farms which, thank goodness, very much continue to exist.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend state whether it is not a fact that there is great unrest in the Middle East now that the Soviets have 17 divisions massed on the Northern Iranian frontier, and that it is a fair insurance policy that the Americans should have facilities on Diego-Suarez just in case the worst happens in that part of the world to the great detriment of stability there and the raw materials supply of oil to the free world? Will my noble friend remind the House that we also offer facilities to the Americans on Ascension Island and without those it would have been very difficult to carry out Resolution 502 of the Security Council in the relief of the occupation of the Falkland Islands by Argentina?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Those are important points with which the Government entirely agree.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister explain to his noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls that to be in support of the best Americans is to be pro-American, whereas to be in support of the worst Americans is to be anti-American, as he is? May I ask the noble Lord the Minister to bear in mind that some Diego Garcians have been on that island for generations, that they were raised on the island—

Lord Denham


The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I believe it will meet the wish of the whole House if the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, will ask a question and ask it briefly.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, with respect, I was asking whether the noble Lord was aware that what I just said was the case and, in those circumstances, whether he would look at the matter again.

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords.

Back to