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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 Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion 12:00 am, 28th November 1973

No. We decided, as this was an entirely Chilean matter, that there was no objective to be served in withdrawing the ambassador and that the protection of British subjects and British interests as well as such representations as we decided to make would be better furthered by keeping the ambassador at his post. I cannot therefore regret the recognition of the new régime.

I come to the point about asylum. Differing interpretations have been placed by different countries on the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations, and on how far embassies should or should not be used as places of sanctuary for people in danger. The British view on this matter has always been very strict. Our ambassadors have discretion to give asylum to people who are victims of hot pursuit, whether by mobs or even by the police authorities of the country in question. But otherwise it has been our strict rule, applied without exception since the war, as far as I know, that our missions should not be used as sanctuaries.

The reason for this is quite easy to explain. Embassies exist to establish and maintain relations between Governments. Therefore, by definition, as their job is to maintain relations between Governments, they are not places where opponents of the Government with whom we are trying to establish or maintain relations should take refuge.

I am sorry to say that, in the circumstances of the modern world, if we were to change this policy our embassies would very soon be congested. I like to think that the right hon. Lady would not wish us to differentiate between refusing asylum to refugees from a Left-wing Government or a Right-wing Government. I like to think that she is even handed in all this. I am surprised that the point has not been raised in relation to other coups we have known, such as the Castro coup in Cuba. I do not remember any expression of opinion from the Labour Party then.

This rule has been a cause of considerable heartburning, particularly at the time of the persecution of non-Communists which took place when Communist Governments were set up in Eastern Europe. I have sometimes thought that the rule has been too inflexible. But it was applied in relation to Chile with total impartiality, as it has been in every case elsewhere of which I know, irrespective of the ideology of the Government in question.