HL Deb 25 October 1983 vol 444 cc144-9

3.47 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 friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"I reported to the House yesterday about the disturbing developments in Grenada and outlined the steps which Her Majesty's Government were taking to protect our own citizens, and to keep in close touch with our Commonwealth partners in the region and others concerned. Since then, events have moved rapidly and I owe the House a further report.

"Yesterday evening the United States told us that they were giving serious consideration to a formal request from the Organisation of East Caribbean States requesting United States participation in a military intervention in Grenada. We put to them a number of factors which we thought should be carefully weighed before a decision was taken to intervene. Early this morning they informed us of their conclusion that, for the United States and for those Caribbean states who had proposed it, intervention was the right course to pursue. They assured us of their concern that the lives of British citizens should be safeguarded.

"The American community in Grenada is five times larger than the British community, and more exposed. President Reagan has explained that he had received reports that a large number of them were seeking to escape the island.

"We understand that troops from the United States, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Vincent landed on the island early this morning. No British troops are involved and HMS 'Antrim', which is standing off Grenada, has been ordered to stay clear of the area of operations. It is too soon to know how the operation has fared or what the long-term consequences will be. The House will follow these events with great concern. We must all hope that the outcome will be to establish peace and democratic government for the people of Grenada, with the least possible loss of life".

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are much obliged to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. This is obviously a serious and critical development in Grenada. In view of the lack of full and detailed information at this time, I shall merely ask some brief questions. First, can the noble Baroness say what factors Her Majesty's Government put to the United States in respect of joint United Kingdom-United States interests in Grenada? Has she any up-to-date news about the United Kingdom citizens in Grenada? Can she say what the purpose of HMS "Antrim" is off the coast of Grenada? Is it envisaged that in some circumstances the "Antrim" might take British citizens off the island?

What is the position so far as the United Kingdom military role is concerned? Can the noble Baroness be more specific about that? Also, how do the Government see the possible situation following the United States' intervention? Is it, as she understands it, an intervention merely to safeguard the lives of United States and British citizens, or has it some further purpose?

Finally, could the noble Baroness say whether there is any news about the Queen's representative, the Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon? Is he known to be safe at the present time? May I also ask the noble Baroness if she will give an assurance, as I am sure she will, that a further Statement will be made as soon as possible if necessary?

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, no doubt the noble Baroness, whom I thank for repeating this Statement, will realise that we have had very little time to reflect on this train of events and, so far as I am concerned, to consult with anybody about the attitude we might take up. May I, however, ask just one or two questions. We must assume that at least some of the non-Grenadan and presumably mostly United States citizens are in considerable danger as a result of recent events, and certainly the gang who shot the last Government do not inspire any particular confidence. Therefore we must assume that some United States citizens at least are in considerable danger. But if so, presumably—and I should like the noble Baroness to confirm this—the United States and Caribbean forces will be withdrawn when the United States and other non-Grenadan citizens are evacuated or their condition is considered to be tolerable.

If, on the other hand, the intention is, as I suppose it might be, to set up some kind of authority in the island based on the power of forces now engaged in safeguarding the position of United States and other citizens, then clearly a completely different situation will arise. I imagine that the Government, before taking any action, would consult Parliament as to what actions they might then take. Finally, could the noble Baroness say whether she has any information as to whether at this point any other state, in view of the latest events in Grenada, has raised this matter in the Security Council of the United Nations?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for their responses to this Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked a number of questions. Regarding the concerns that Her Majesty's Government expressed to the United States, we stressed the vital importance of not endangering the lives of British nationals and not hazarding the life of the Governor-General. I can confirm that HMS "Antrim" was ordered to sail for Grenada over the weekend as a prudent precaution in case it might become necessary to evacuate British citizens by sea. I would confirm that no British troops are involved in the undertaking. As for the future, I think it is too early to speculate on what might happen. So far as the Governor-General is concerned, we have no reports of any harm having come to him.

I might perhaps confirm again to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that our concern has of course all the time been the safety of our own British nationals in Grenada. The United States Government were very concerned about the risks to their large and clearly identifiable community, and it was for them to decide what action to take to protect their citizens. The airport was closed and the situation was extremely volatile.

So far as I am aware, the matter has not been raised in the Security Council as yet. Should that be incorrect, I will of course let the noble Lord know; but the legal justification which might lie behind the question put by the noble Lord is that it is primarily a matter for the United States and the Caribbean Governments as to their intervention, but it is the right of any state to take appropriate action to secure the safety of its nationals.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Baroness will recall that I asked her some questions yesterday. Is she aware that Grenada is a sovereign state owing allegiance to Her Majesty and a member of the Commonwealth, and has now been invaded by a foreign power? Despite the fact that all of us would condemn the violent coup that has taken place, violent coups are not unknown in that part of the world and it appears a little strange that this one has been singled out by the Reagan Administration for invasion. There was no invasion of Chile when the coup overthrew the Allende Administration in 1973.

Yesterday the noble Baroness refused to express the Government's hope that there would be no external intervention in this unhappy situation. Did she at that time know that there was to be an American intervention? How does it come about that the American Administration can disregard the wishes of the British Government, a fellow member of the Commonwealth, whose Queen is head of the Commonwealth and also head of the Administration in Grenada? How does it come about that a foreign state can invade—

Noble Lords


A noble Lord


Lord Hatch of Lusby

—a British allied territory within the Commonwealth, and what do the Government intend to do in the face of this intervention? What was the action of the Governor-General, representing the Queen, when the invasion took place?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is able to condemn the violent coup that has taken place: we can agree on that point, if not on the other points he has made. As I indicated in answering the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, the reason for the intervention of the United States Government was the concern for their many residents and their community in Grenada. I should like to make it absolutely clear to the noble Lord, LordHatch, that at the time I made the Statement yesterday afternoon I had no knowledge at all of the subsequent events or preparations, and the Statement was of course made in good faith. Had that not been the case I would have come to the House and made a Statement about it. Finally, may I say that on the question of consultation we received a message yesterday a few hours after the Statement was made in another place. We expressed our concerns to the United States; but in fact the Eastern Caribbean states were the ones who were taking the lead in this matter.

Earl De La Warr

My Lords, would my noble friend agree with me that, particularly in view of the fact that Cuba has for many years been an enemy of the Western Alliance, what has been going on in Grenada for a long time has been a source of anxiety? Would she further agree that when Grenada or any other of the West Indian islands look like turning into a territory that might be at enmity with the West, there develops a serious threat to our naval strategy, to which the West must have immediate regard?

Baroness Young

My Lords, since Mr. Bishop became Prime Minister of Grenada, we and many of the other Caribbean states have expressed our concern at some of the policies of that Government. We regard it as completely deplorable that there should have been this coup and the murder of Mr. Bishop and some of his Cabinet colleagues and others, and we view the whole situation as one which is very serious.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that the most extraordinary thing about this incident is that it should have taken place without any reference whatever to the Security Council of the United Nations?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I indicated on an earlier supplementary question, it is the right of any state to take appropriate action to ensure the safety of its own nationals and that has been the prime concern of the United States.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the Statement says that the American action was taken in response to an invitation from the Organisation of East Caribbean States. Are the Government in a position to give us the terms of that invitation or, at least, to say whether that invitation made reference to what is now said to be the United States' prime concern; namely, the safety of United States citizens?

Baroness Young

My Lords, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, no formal written request from the Organisation of East Caribbean States was received in London until yesterday evening. As the noble Lord will appreciate, discussions with individual Caribbean leaders are confidential.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the proposition which she has just enunciated, that any state has the right to protect its own nationals, is an extremely dangerous one? Is she not aware that this would license anarchy all over the world? Is she not aware that this country has in the past exercised enormous restraint when our own nationals have been mistreated in various parts of the world? We have never adopted the proposition that we have a right to intervene immediately when any of our own nationals are in difficulty. This proposition, to which the noble Baroness apparently gives her blessing, is anew and dangerous one and it is a proposition which, if it were exercised by any country other than the United States, I am pretty sure she would condemn outright.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the proposition is as I have stated it and I have no reason for thinking that that is not correct.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Baroness's last supplementary answer was not quite clear. Did she say that no written communication had been received from the Organisation of East Caribbean States before yesterday evening, and, if so, does that mean that a written communication has now been received? Has any communication, or any copy of any communication from that organisation as such, come to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government? If so, can the Government please tell us what was in it, since that is apparently the prime mover of the United States landing?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not in a position to answer the detailed questions that have been put by the noble Lord. The situation remains as I described it in an earlier answer. I did not, in fact, answer the final point of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, but of course the House will be kept informed of developments.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, further to that point, is the Minister not aware, as the House should be, that certain Caribbean states, including Trinidad, have refused to participate in this venture? Does she not also recall that just yesterday afternoon she told the House that there was no obstacle to British citizens leaving Grenada? If there is no obstacle to British citizens, how is it that there is an obstacle to American citizens, or a supposed obstacle? Finally, when the noble Baroness answered my first supplementary question she said that she had no knowledge of any plans for an invasion. Is she not aware that there was general knowledge as long ago as Sunday that the United States was planning to invade this island and had been asked to do so by certain Caribbean states?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the answer to the first part of that supplementary question is: Yes, I am aware that it was the OECS countries that asked the United States to intervene and those states do not include all the members of Caricom. There has been a difference between the two groups. It is true that when I made the statement yesterday that we believed that British citizens could in fact be evacuated from Grenada, the British High Commission in Barbados were making every effort to arrange a charter flight yesterday to evacuate British tourists stranded on the island. Because of the confused situation in Grenada they were unsuccessful, but they were making renewed efforts in this regard. As I said, there are far more American nationals and tourists on the island. They were readily identifiable and therefore were at risk. I am not going to add anything to what I have said on my Statement yesterday, except to confirm again that it was made in good faith at the time.