HL Deb 24 October 1983 vol 444 cc28-31

4.5 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a Statement on the situation in Grenada. The House will be aware of the violent events of last week on the independent Commonwealth island of Grenada. Her Majesty's Government join with those in the Caribbean region and elsewhere who have deplored the killings, and we view with grave concern the existing state of unconstitutional government and insecurity on the island.

"We are particularly conscious that there are some 200 British citizens on Grenada including a number of British tourists. The Resident Representative of the British High Commission has been active in maintaining contact with this community and reports that no British citizens appear to be in immediate danger. The Deputy High Commissioner also visited Grenada from Barbados yesterday to make contact with the new authorities and to speak with the Governor General. He found the island calm but tense and confirmed that neither the Governor General nor members of the British community appeared to be in any imminent danger.

"Nonetheless, the position remains extremely volatile. It is for this reason that Her Majesty's Goverment have instructed HMS 'Antrim' to be prepared to evacuate our community should the situation worsen and make this necessary.

"Meanwhile, we remain in close touch with the Governments of the other Commonwealth Caribbean countries, whose leaders have been meeting in Trinidad. We shall he discussing with them and with other interested states the best prospects of helping to achieve a restoration of constitutional government, peace and security in Grenada.

"I shall keep the House informed of developments."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Like the Government and the other Caribbean Governments, we deeply deplore and regret these tragic and unnecessary events. The Statement specifically refers to insecurity and volatility on the island. We are glad to have the report from the British High Commission that the 200 British citizens are in no immediate danger. Can the noble Baroness say whether there is any particular significance in the words "insecurity" and "volatility" other than that the constitutional Government has been overthrown by force? Are they in physical danger?

Is the noble Baroness satisfied that HMS "Antrim" alone can evacuate the 200 Britons who are there? Is she aware that we welcome the contacts which the Government have had with the other Commonwealth Governments? Are there any arrangements for a specific meeting, through, for example, the Commonwealth Secretariat, to discuss this matter; although, obviously, the Governments most closely concerned are those in the Caribbean itself with whom we are on the closest terms of friendship? Would the Government not agree that at this moment we should urge extreme constraint on the United States Government, in particular, given that they have 10 warships offshore Grenada and that we should do everything possible to ensure that the island is returned to a Government that is properly elected and protective of all human rights?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, we on these Benches also agree with the Statement and are glad to learn of the steps that are being taken. Would the Government accept that, in finding a way out of this dangerous moment, three things might with advantage he borne in mind? First, Mr. Maurice Bishop seized power by force from his predecessor, Sir Eric Gairy, and he did so because the latter was a corrupt tyrant; and all human experience suggests that it is difficult to get out of a vicious circle like that once you have got into it. Secondly, whatever the political colour of the Governments of the Caribbean may be, it is difficult to say that one of them must not have a long runway and thereby attract tourism when all the others do, and that is not a reason for intervening in their affairs.

Thirdly, can the Government confirm an impression that has been put about by the press that although Cuba is deploring the overthrow and murder of Maurice Bishop, the Soviet Union is backing the apparent new regime? If that is the case, is it not a new turn of events and one that should not be unwelcome to us? Lastly, may I say that I am sure the whole House will be sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead and Grenada, is not here to add his words on this occasion.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for their responses to this Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me first about security in Grenada. As the Statement makes clear, at present we believe that no British citizens appear to be in immediate danger; but if I take this further on a view about the regime, I think it would be only right to say that there are features of the reports about how the new regime came to power which are deeply disturbing. But of course before taking any definite view we shall have to know more about the people and we can judge them by their actions.

On the point about HMS "Antrim", we believe that, should it be necessary, she could evacuate British citizens; but at the present time we understand that the Grenada Government will not put any difficulties in the way of those who wish to leave—tourists and other people—probably by charter flight. On the question of Commonwealth Governments and the Caribbean leaders, the noble Lord will of course appreciate that any exchanges with Caribbean leaders must remain confidential. We have not received any requests from the regional organisation in the Caribbean.

Regarding the United States Government, they have publicly explained that the movement of their naval task force into the area is prompted solely by the perceived requirement to be in a position to rescue any of their very sizeable community in Grenada. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised a quite separate point about the reaction both from Cuba and the Soviet Union.I can confirm that Prime Minister Bishop was a close friend and associate of Dr. Castro; and, not surprisingly, the Cuban Government have lamented his death and deplored the manner in which the new authorities have come into office. Their relationships with the new authorities, now that they appear to be in power, is however less clear. A considerable number of Cuban officials remain in Grenada. So far as the action of the Soviet Union is concerned, they do not yet appear to have taken a position on the recent events in Grenada, and I should not like to comment further on that.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House deplores the violence on the island of Grenada and sends its sympathy to the victims. May I ask the noble Baroness two questions. First, will she state the Government's view that there should be no outside interference on this island whatever and that the British Government will give full support to any action which the Commonwealth Secretariat may take to mediate and assist in the reconstruction of a stable régime on the island of Grenada?

May I also take up the point which was mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord Kennet. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether the British Government have any aid scheme in connection with the Government of Grenada? If so, will she give an assurance that this will not be diminished in any way as a result of these unfortunate events? Further, have the Government learned any lessons from the contrasting attitude they have taken to the necessity for a civil airstrip in Grenada for social purposes and the airstrip which they have financed in the Turks and Caicos Islands for purely commercial reasons?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the answer to the first question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is that our consideration of the situation in Grenada is concentrated on political, economic and financial measures which might induce the present rulers in Grenada to restore the rule of law and good order to the island. The answer to his second question about aid is that we are providing no new capital aid to Grenada, and disbursement of the very small balance of project aid remaining from earlier commitments is being reviewed. I do not feel that this would be an appropriate moment to comment on the airstrip in the Turks and Caicos Islands, which I think is quite outside the terms of the Statement; but if the noble Lord cares to put down a Question on this subject at a later time I should be happy to try to answer it.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, could steps be taken to obtain such assurances as are possible to ensure the protection of the property of British subjects on the island, some of whom have lived there, as I know, for generations? Whatever can be done in respect of their rights and property I am sure will be very welcome.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that intervention. Clearly this is the kind of consideration which will be taken into account. I will certainly pass on what he has said to my right honourable friend.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, with respect, the noble Baroness did not answer the thrust of my original first question. Would she take this opportunity to state the view of the British Government that there should be no outside interference in the political affairs of this island from any source, and particularly to use the influence of the British Government as a restraining influence on the Government of the United States?

Baroness Young

My Lords. I do not feel at this stage, in a very serious and complex situation, that it would be appropriate for me to go further than the Statement that I have already made on this matter.

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