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Orders of the Day — Chile

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1973.

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Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark 12:00 am, 28th November 1973

I wish to draw a contrast between other Governments which have recognised the regime, and are now using their recognition to assist those who desperately need help, and the attitude of our Government.

The most immediate and distressing humanitarian problem is that of refugees. Even The Times has recently had the grace to speak of the bloodiest of recent coups. It is the bloodiest of recent Fascist regimes. The junta itself is frank One or two of its generals have said that the regime is determined that every Socialist in Chile shall be eliminated. The generals are clear about that. This above all else is the aspect of the Government's policy which affronts us. We regard the Government's refusal to provide shelter in Santiago for refugees as naked inhumanity. It represents a closed mind and a closed door to any kind of humanitarian decency that we condemn. It is this above all on which we shall vote tonight to express that condemnation.

We stand almost alone in the world, and alone among the countries of Western Europe, in refusing refuge in our Embassy in Santiago to those people in danger, not simply of their liberty but of their lives. We stand in contrast to Sweden, whose ambassador, with his record of helping those who fled from Nazism in the last war, has behaved with heroic courage in Santiago. Our Government's attitude is in contrast also to that of Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and now Norway, France, West Germany—Le Monde reports that various people have sought refuge in the West German embassy—and Austria. All those countries have refugees. They are all trying and many are succeeding in getting refugees out of the country with safe conduct passes. That is apart from the Latin American embassies which are crowded with refugees from other Latin American countries as well as with Chilean refugees.

One of the problems of refugees is illustrated by the lists of Governments in Europe which have offered between 50 and 300 places for foreign refugees. Britain is not yet included in the list. Latin America has nine transit camps run by the World Council of Churches and the United Nations. The people in those camps must be taken from them by 31st December or their lives will be worth nothing. The problem is to find places for 13,000 foreign refugees who need asylum. In contrast to other Western European Governments, we have offered nothing. Will the British Government now offer places on a scale to match those offered by other countries? Will they press the United Nations to grant the same facilities to Chilean refugees as were granted in the case of the Sudan? In the case of Chilean refugees, will our embassy in Santiago open its doors to them?

We are asking tonight that fresh instructions be sent to our ambassador to ensure that we can express our humanity in the same way as other people in Western Europe who can observe their embassies exercising humanity in their name.

I turn now to the position of Chilean refugees arriving here. There is now a promise as a result of a meeting between some of us and the Foreign Secretary that consideration will be given to foreign refugees who arrive here without proper papers. The Foreign Secretary was kind enough to give that assurance.

I have what is probably the first test case following the discussion we had with the Foreign Secretary two weeks ago, the case of a young man called Juan Tomic who arrived without proper papers. Immigration officers permitted him to stay for a month in exercise of what the Foreign Secretary promised. I sent details of the case to the Home Secretary about 10 days ago but I have not yet had a reply. It is worth noting that the month which the young man is being allowed will soon be up. It is interesting to note who he is. He is one of the sons of Radimiro Tomic, the Christian Democrat candidate in the last presidential elections. I hope that this young man will be allowed to stay as well as others like him, but we are waiting to hear about this.

We have other points to make which I have no time to mention. We believe that there should be no arms supplied from Britain for Chile, either on a Government aid or credit basis or through private sales. We do not believe that any of the ships being built should go there, although my understanding is that the trade union movement is taking effective steps here.

On all these questions we condemn the Government. We believe that we do so in the name of the majority of British people. We hope for a change of mind by the Government. I find it difficult to believe that only my hon. Friends will support the motion in the Lobby to-night. It seems to me that this above all issues is one for parliamentarians. It is an issue for democrats, an issue for all those, of whatever party, who have any kind of human compassion and sense of justice.