§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I should like to bring the House up to date on the situation in Grenada. The House will appreciate that at present our knowledge of developments is limited.
We understand that the Americans have now secured both the airports on the island at Pearls and Salines, as well as the radio station and Fort Rupert. But fighting is apparently continuing at Fort Fredrick and elsewhere. Two United States servicemen have been killed; and there are unconfirmed reports that 12 Cubans have been killed during the fighting. There is no firm information at present of any other casualties. In addition, there are reports that a number of Soviet nationals may have been detained and rumours that Mr. Coard has sought sanctuary in the Soviet Embassy. I am not in a position to confirm these.
The latest information available to me is that there are no reports of any British casualties. The United States Administration have informed us that they are willing to evacuate United Kingdom citizens to Barbados as soon as conditions allow. HMS "Antrim" remains ready to be called upon in case of need; and we are also making contingency arrangements for evacuation by air by British aircraft. A consular team from the British High Commission in Bridgetown is standing by to go to Grenada as soon as practicable to establish how many British citizens may wish to be evacuated. The majority of them are long-term residents of Grenada.
I am glad to be able to inform the House that we have received assurances that the Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon, is safe. He may have an important role to play in the restoration of democracy in Grenada. He represents one of the few elements of constitutional continuity in Grenada at present. The American Administration are aware of this constitutional position and have undertaken to respect it.
My Lords, there is little further that I can add at this time, but the House will of course be kept informed of any future significant developments.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for making that Statement today, especially in the light of the severe worsening of the situation in Grenada. It has brought some good 276 news. We are glad that the Governor-General is safe and that there have been no British casualties; but that feeling is overshadowed by the fact that fighting continues and fatalities have occurred.
This is the third day in succession that we have had Statements about the island, and on each occasion there has been a deterioration in the situation and to some extent an amendment of the facts as we were given them. Would the noble Baroness agree that the Foreign Secretary's Statement on Monday clearly indicated that at that stage Her Majesty's Government had not fully apprehended the American Government's attitude to events in Grenada, and that neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister were aware that the United States was planning to initiate military intervention in response to those events?
There is a need to clarify the extent of the consultation which took place between the United States and the United Kingdom Governments. How can the Government reconcile the fact that on Monday it was said that Her Majesty's Government did not know of any intention of the United States Government to invade the island, only to find that the United States had indeed invaded on Tuesday; and yet yesterday it was said that the United States and the United Kingdom Governments had kept in close contact about their intentions during the entire weekend?
When precisely were Her Majesty's Government notified of the American operation? Is it not the case that the President told the Prime Minister that the operation was imminent and that no opportunity was given to Her Majesty's Government to consult or to advance arguments against an invasion? Is the noble Baroness aware that this lack of consultation raises doubts about the validity of consultations on nuclear weapons and other matters? Can she confirm that Her Majesty's Government protested against the invasion but that this was disregarded by the United States Government? What steps are the Government taking to protest further against the action? Will Britain support the requests made by a number of countries for a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the matter?
We are very relieved that the statements of the noble Baroness on Monday and Tuesday to the effect that she was not aware that British citizens were in any imminent danger continue to be true. However, would she agree that it seems strange that the protection of innocent lives was the prime justification given by President Reagan for the United States' intervention, yet the British Government were able to announce that British citizens were not in immediate danger? How are those two statements to be reconciled? Is it not a worrying discrepancy in our respective perceptions of events in Grenada and the safety of our citizens? Further, would the noble Baroness reassure the House that conditions will allow the evacuation of British citizens under any circumstances? What does the phrase in the Statement, "conditions will allow", mean? It is indeed a strange development that Her Majesty's Government have to ask permission to remove British citizens from a Commonwealth country.
Is the noble Baroness aware that the United States' action has been severely condemned by Sir Sonny 277 Ramphal, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, who was not consulted by anyone, and that this has special implications for Britain as a senior member of the Commonwealth? Would the noble Baroness agree with Mr. Perez de Cuellar, the United Nations Secretary-General, that we must guard against any further escalation of tension and ensure that all parties involved exercise the greatest restraint? Does it not greatly weaken the authority of the United Kingdom, and of the Western world, when other nations commit acts of aggression, with all their consequences?
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, in thanking the noble Baroness for coming here to make this Statement today. I await with interest the answers to the numerous questions asked by the Leader of the Labour Opposition, to which I regret that I have to add one or two more.
However much Grenada's neighbouring islands may hate and fear what has happened there, and however well we understand their invitation to the United States and to us to help them in their invasion, is not the invasion of a sovereign state without provocation against international law? Is it not the case that on Friday last, if not before, Mr. Adams, the Prime Minister of Barbados, informed the British Government what was afoot and informally asked for our military help? Is it not also true that on Monday morning—that is, 1.30 p.m. our time on Monday—both Mrs. Eugenia Charles, the Prime Minister of Dominica, as Chairman of the Organisation of East Caribbean States, and Mr. John Compton, the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, communicated formally and in writing an invitation to us to take part in this invasion in the West Indies, yet two and a half hours later the noble Baroness was able to come to the House to say that she knew nothing of anything like this?
Why have the Government been inactive and silent during the whole build-up to this invasion? Why did the Government take no diplomatic initiative, if for no other purpose than to gain the initiative from the United States? Why did they not take perhaps a Commonwealth initiative? Why did the Government not take Parliament into their confidence, at least on Monday, if not before, about what they knew? Lastly, are the Government still sure that there is no case for dual key control of cruise missiles?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I have made this Statement today as I said that I would when the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, asked me to keep the House fully informed of the position as we see it. I have come to the House today with a further Statement. I should like to make it quite clear that my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has at no time done other than speak to the House of the situation as he knows it. I should not like there to be any misunderstanding on that point.
I have been asked a number of detailed questions about the chronology, of this affair. I think that it may be for the convenience of the House if I read out the full chronology, as we know it, in some detail. On 21st October the British High Commissioner in Barbados learned that some Caribbean Heads of Government 278 were pressing their colleagues in the Caribbean community to ask for military help in restoring constitutional government in Grenada. We promptly instructed our embassy in Washington to ascertain how the United States Government might respond to such an approach. The following day, Saturday, 22nd October, the United States Government diverted towards Grenada a carrier group, led by USS "Independence". They stated that this was a signal to the local authorities of concern about the safety of United States citizens on the island.
We were informed on the same day, 22nd October, that Heads of Government of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States had decided to put together a multinational force and to call upon friendly Governments to help restore peace and order in Grenada. Late that evening (that is, 22nd October) we were infomed by the American Government that they had received a firm request from the Heads of Government of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to help restore peace and order in Grenada. They told us that no decision had been taken on how to respond, and they had concluded that they should proceed very cautiously.
On Sunday, 23rd October, the British High Commission in Barbados was informed that a formal request for British participation in a multinational force would probably be handed over later in the day. This did not happen. But we received later that day the conclusions of a meeting in Trinidad of all the Commonwealth Caribbean countries, except Grenada. They had decided in favour of political and economic measures against Grenada, but were divided about the desirability of military action.
We were in close touch with the American Government throughout 23rd October, and two United States consular officials accompanied our Deputy High Commissioner on a visit to Grenada over the weekend to form a first-hand assessment of the risks to British and American citizens.
Separately we were assured by the United States Government that we would be consulted immediately if the United States decided to take any action and informed that a United States emissary, Ambassador McNeil, had been sent to Barbados to confer with Mr. Adams and other Caribbean leaders.
It was also on 23rd October that HMS "Antrim" was instructed to sail from Cartagena, in Colombia, to the vicinity of Grenada in case the evacuation of British nationals proved necessary. This was a precautionary move, which was entirely unrelated to the suggestion of some Caribbean leaders that a multinational force should be established.
Ministers met early on Monday morning, 24th October, to consider events over the weekend. They also had available from the the British Deputy High Commissioner a report of his visit to Grenada. Following that meeting, our Ambassador in Washington was instructed to put to the United States Government factors which would have to be carefully weighed before decisions were taken.
On Monday evening we received in London the text of a statement by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, which had been handed to the British High Commission in Barbados, informing the 279 British Government, among others, of the organisation's intention of taking action under Article 8 of the 1981 treaty of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States for the collective defence and preservation of peace and security against external aggression, and requesting assistance from friendly Governments.
On Monday evening President Reagan informed my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that he was giving serious consideration to the request from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, and would welcome her thoughts. He undertook to inform my right honourable friend in advance of any decision taken by the United States.
While our response to that message was being considered, a second message arrived from the President, saying that he had decided to respond positively to the request that had been made to him. Ministers met immediatley to discuss the situation, and shortly after midnight on Monday 25th October my right honourable friend sent a reply to the President, in which, as she told another place yesterday, she reiterated the considerations which we had already put to the United States Government the previous day and expressed our concern at the course of action which he was contemplating. She also phoned the President to underline the importance that we attached to the matter.
Early on Tuesday morning my right honourable friend received a message from President Reagan informing her that he had very carefully weighed the issues raised in her message, but had decided that United States participation in the multinational force should nonetheless go ahead.
That is the detailed sequence of events as they have occurred.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me a quite separate point about international law. As I said yesterday, this is primarily a matter for the United States and the Caribbean Governments. It is not I think, for us to sit in judgment on the United States and Commonwealth countries involved in action which they consider directly affects their stability and that of the region as a whole.
Finally, I should like to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that there is no parallel at all with the question of cruise or dual key. Any decision about the use of nuclear weapons is governed by the specific written agreement between the United States and ourselves. That agreement provides specifically that no nuclear weapon would be fired or launched from British territory without the agreement of the British Prime Minister.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penhros
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for giving a full account in chronological sequence of events over the last few days. Is she aware that many noble Lords in the House will be deeply disturbed by what that chronology reveals? Is it not the case that the United States Government and the President completely disregarded the advice which the Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Government gave on this issue; that they avoided the kind of consultation that should take 280 place between allies; that the United States, whatever the circumstances in Grenada, invaded it, an independent Commonwealth country, without consultation with the United Kingdom Government, one of her allies; and that this is bound to worsen relations between this country and the United States, when everyone in this country wants good relations with our ally the United States?
Can the noble Baroness say what further steps the Government are now proposing to take in the light of United States action? Will she be good enough to answer my question; namely, whether any steps are proposed in the United Nations and in the Security Council with regard to this matter, and what further action are the United Kingdom Government proposing to take in relation to the operation generally?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, on the first question that the noble Lord has asked, I should like to make it clear that in this situation Her Majesty's Government were consulted. Your Lordships will see that from the chronology of the events that I have read out. The situation is in fact that the United States and some Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean took the view that the risk to which their citizens were exposed called for some action. The United Kingdom and a number of other Commonwealth Caribbean countries took a different view. The fact is that we regret the action that the Americans decided to take. But we do not necessarily agree with the Americans on every issue, any more than they always agree with us; nor should we expect to. But that does not in any way mean that there has been no consultation.
On the question of further steps, I should like to confirm that my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will be seeing Mr. Shultz in Paris tomorrow, and there are at present no steps in contemplation at the United Nations.
Lord Paget of Northampton
My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that there are here certain facts that we seem to be forgetting? The first is that we live in a world of mounting terrorism. The second—that a gang of terrorists should be allowed to seize and maintain themselves in a Caribbean island—is plainly intolerable to any international community. The third is that if in those circumstances much bloodshed is to be spared, action has to be very quick before the assassins really establish themselves. I think that we were very lucky indeed to find the Americans ready and willing to assume this international duty. The trouble is not what was done. That was right, was it not? The trouble is that we have injured our relations with America by the diplomatic incompetence of our Foreign Office and our Prime Minister and of the American President and the Americans. The injury to our relations is a matter of diplomatic incompetence and not due to anything that was done.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Paget, is entitled to his views about this matter; but I think that it would be quite wrong to describe the 281 actions of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the terms that he has done. She has had to consider very carefully these matters, along with my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and she came to certain conclusions that have been supported by other countries in the Commonwealth. I should like to make it clear that the relationship with our oldest and most important ally, the United States, is a matter of great concern to Her Majesty's Government. On this issue, as on many others—and there have been differences of view on other questions—we recognise that the very important issues that unite us are far more important.
Earl de la Warr
My Lords, may I apologise to my noble friend for being so anxious to rise previously that I did not give her a chance to reply. I should like to put certain questions arising from those I put yesterday. Is it not extraordinary that the argument in the past few days has left out the great strategic significance of what is going on in the Eastern Caribbean today? Does she not agree that it is some years since the United Kingdom abdicated, in the best sense, its responsibility for the defence of the Caribbean to the United States Government in spite of the fact that by then the United States had left Ghaguaramas, their big naval base in Trinidad? Would she not agree that a proliferation of small island Governments in the Eastern Caribbean that were of the Russian way of thinking would pose a terrible danger to naval ships and supplies coming to us across the Atlantic? Would she agree that no fewer than half the men and supplies from America would come from the southern ports in the Gulf of Mexico and through the Panama Canal?
Does my noble friend, in short, not agree that this issue of Grenada is a matter of supreme importance to the naval aspect of the Western Alliance? Finally, would she not agree that it is high time that the British Government gave some credit to the Americans, albeit that they may have behaved with scant politeness to the British Government in the length of notice that they gave them, for pouncing on this situation, which carries with it such great strategic importance?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am not sure that this is the occasion to debate the development of the islands of the Caribbean. In answer to my noble friend, on the general strategic issue, Her Majesty's Government recognise that the Americans live much closer to Grenada than we do. They had explicit and pressing requests from countries in the region to take a lead in restoring peace and law and order in Grenada. Her Majesty's Government recognise that the security of this part of the world in the American hemisphere is not something that the British can dismiss lightly because we are further away. Several of the countries most closely connected with Grenada viewed developments there as a threat to their security, and we should not forget that there are 600 Cubans on the island. I think that we also have to recognise that the American community in Grenada is very much larger than the British community and, finally, that the United States Administration have the responsibility of deciding how best to secure their protection. These points have to be borne in mind in this debate.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, will the noble Baroness and Her Majesty's Government consider that, in the course of the next few days, weeks and months, the actions of America on the island of Grenada will become extremely popular, that there are already signs that they are supported by a great majority of the population and that in the next few days we shall see something quite unique in recent history; namely, the opening of a Communist gaol and people who have been imprisoned for many years without trial coming out and able to say precisely what their life has been like? Is she aware that, when all this is published the opinion of the world may change quite dramatically?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I think I will only respond to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, by saying that we all hope that the outcome is peace and stability in the island and a return to democracy.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I am most grateful. Does not the noble Baroness agree that it is always possible to find an excuse for an invasion but that, in this case, even the normal excuse that it is carried out at the invitation of the Government in power cannot be found? Is she not aware that Article 8 of the agreement is a very slender excuse for invasion and that it did not convince Her Majesty's Government? This is therefore an invasion of a Commonwealth country taking place against the wishes of Her Majesty's Government. Does that not render the present United States Government an untrustworthy ally? If our wishes are to be overridden in this respect, what assurance can we have that our wishes would not be overridden on the question of the use of cruise missiles in our own country? Is there not cause to say that in these circumstances the deployment of cruise missiles should either be cancelled or at least postponed until more satisfactory assurances can be obtained?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, is, no. As I have already indicated in answering questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the two situations are quite different.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, will the noble Lady permit me to try in one question to put the feeling, as I understand it, of my noble friends? Would she agree that, whatever the casualties arising out of the invasion of Grenada—we hope that they will be small—the greatest casualty will be the moral standing of the West, the standing of international law, about which this House has expressed opinions in the past, and also the good faith of the alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I do not think that it would be right or appropriate for me to make long-term judgments as to the consequences of this today. My purpose in making the Statement was to draw the 283 attention of the House to the position as we now find it. I think that what we all wish to see is a return to stability and democracy as soon as possible.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the observation she made in the very first sentence of the repetition of this Statement—namely, that the information is very limited—is very worrying to me, although it is not very surprising, for she will recall that in her repetition of the Statement on Monday she used the phrase that the atmosphere was "calm but tense" and at another stage in the Statement that the situation was "volatile". The mere fact that those two statements are quite irreconcilable has nothing to do with it—
My Lords, with respect to the Chief Whip, I am asking a question. However, the language was precisely the same as that used in a report by the BBC World Service correspondent five and a half hours earlier from Barbados. That indeed begs the question: who is briefing whom? Are Her Majesty's Government briefed by the BBC, or are Her Majesty's Government briefing the BBC? I find it a matter for very great concern.
The other question that I wish to ask my noble friend very quickly is this. According to her chronology of events, I find it very disturbing—and I feel sure that other noble Lords also find it very disturbing—that Her Majesty's Government were asked after the United States Government to support the Organisation of East Caribbean States, rather than the other way round.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, perhaps I may take the noble Lord's last point first. The fact is that the Eastern Caribbean States are divided on their view as to the military intervention or whether or not there should have been economic and political measures. On the other point that he has raised, I think I can say that there is no suggestion at all, and it is quite absurd to say, that the BBC is briefing the Government. The BBC is perfectly entitled as an independent organisation to take the view that it thinks to be right.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, so many noble Lords have comments to make and yet the noble Baroness was so clearly right when she said that now is not the time to debate the matter. I wonder whether I may suggest that the usual channels should examine the possibility of our holding a debate tomorrow, especially in view of the fact that we shall not now be taking the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations tomorrow afternoon as had been expected.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, this would be a matter for the usual channels, who, I am sure, have taken note of this point. Perhaps it might be a convenient time for the House to return to the debate. I would like to express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who has been prevented from making his maiden speech while this Statement has taken place. I wish him very well and I hope that we 284 shall hear from him now and on many future occasions.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I have asked the noble Baroness a question on two occasions this week—
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I want to follow up the question that I have asked her on each of the Statements that she has made. Does the noble Baroness recall that on Monday I asked her whether she was prepared on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to condemn the invasion of the Commonwealth state of Grenada, which is a monarchy? The noble Baroness would not do so. This afternoon she has expressed regret. Will the noble Baroness now escalate the word "regret" to "condemnation"? Is there any precedent for a Commonwealth country, a monarchy within the Commonwealth, being invaded by a foreign power without the expression of utter condemnation from Her Majesty's Government?
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, I think that the House as a whole would agree that we have given 33 minutes to this Statement out of the debate. That I think was proper and I am sure that the House will agree that my noble friend was right to come to the House, as she promised yesterday, and give full information. I should like to give the undertaking, too, that we shall continue to give full information to this House. I believe that we have been seen to do so. I really must ask the noble Lord not to pursue the matter now. I do not think that the House wishes to pursue it. I think that noble Lords want to return to a debate of great importance. On the undertaking that these matters can be pursued and that we shall see that there are opportunities to do so, may I ask the noble Lord please to desist now so that we may continue with the debate?