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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 Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central 12:00 am, 28th November 1973

I was led to understand by the right hon. Gentleman that the ambassador had a certain discretion. If he fails to exercise that discretion, he needs to be condemned. I am happy to shift the blame from the ambassador to the Government. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right; that is where it really belongs. That is where the burden really falls. What we have had from a succession of answers to questions and from the right hon. Gentleman's speech today hardly indicates a real change. It is bitterly reminiscent of the attitude displayed during the 1930s. I was reading the reports of some of those debates the other day. When we knew what was happening in the concentration camps, the Government were saying "We shall have to examine the cases individually." I think that a terrible burden falls upon the shoulders of those who held office in a previous Conservative Government in taking that attitude. A terrible burden may well fall upon the present Government's shoulders too when the history of this situation comes to be written.

Britain is standing alone. But the refugees will not go away. I suppose that one of the very few points of resemblance between the British Foreign Office and Greta Garbo has been their profound desire to be alone and the manner in which that desire has been frustrated by constant intrusion. The refugees will not go away.

I want to relate the story of a young British refugee. It is the story of Michael Gatehouse. At the time of the coup he was working in the Forestry Institute in Santiago. He was arrested 10 days later, pushed around at the police station, refused permission to contact Her Majesty's Ambassador and kept standing with his hands above his head from ten o'clock in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon ; they burned his books in front of him and they stole his personal belongings. He was transferred to the national stadium where he resided, if one may put it that way, for seven days. He was interrogated and threatened, and still he was not allowed to see the British Ambassador, the man with such enormous influence, or the consul.

What protest has been made about Michael Gatehouse? What happened to him is not remarkable by contrast to the treatment of Chileans and Latin Americans who were in the same gaol. While Mr. Gatehouse was there he learned the true meaning of the Chilean junta. He heard of the killings and he knew of the tortures. He saw Sergir Moraes, a Brazilian, tortured. He was tied by his wrists and ankles and a black bag was put over his head. He was pummelled about the ears until his hearing was impaired. There is now no news of that man.

On his release Mr. Gatehouse asked the embassy to investigate this case. What did our man in Santiago do? The first secretary said he would investigate it, but nothing more has been heard. However, that same first secretary—I presume that he was acting under orders, because I must not blame him and I do not seek to do so—allowed his garden to be searched for political refugees who were seeking refuge in the adjoining Costa Rican embassy. He allowed the police into his premises and he padlocked his gates 24 hours a day to prevent the possibility of refugees getting in. Michael Gatehouse learned to his horror first-hand the stories of the tortures and yet our attitude is rigid and unbending. Jeremy Bentham once said : I am apt to doubt the virtue of an obtrusive puritan and rigourist". I doubt the virtue of this Government.

I do not propose to talk about recognition at any length, but what has been said about recognition by the Minister was a load of codswallop. Recognition would have had some merit had we taken the sort of stand that the Swedes and others took. It had no merit in the way in which the British Government reacted. What has happened is that British Leyland, presumably with the authority of the Government, has given four cars to the junta as a gift.