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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 Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock , Bedwellty 12:00 am, 28th November 1973

Sitting there in a flatulent pose, I suppose he is pleased with anything. The sense of the hon. Gentleman's speech was completely nauseating. The whole business, from his point of view, revolved around the exposure of what he called double standards. In international diplomacy double standards are practised by all Governments.

I am concerned about any British Government, but what concerns me more tonight is the absence of any kind of moral standards by Her Majesty's Government and, indeed, by the hon. Member for Torquay. It was obvious from what he said that he was not in the least interested in proposing or opposing any argument tonight. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman was confessing that he has no objection to the brutal suppression of democratic and civil rights in Chile or anywhere else.

What the hon. Gentleman finds offensive about our motion is that we are seeking to uphold established democratic rights against the fist of the Chilean military junta. I was not surprised at what the hon. Gentleman said. He is a man with some military background and, like people of other backgrounds, it tends to formulate certain political attitudes, if not the psychology of attitudes, towards different subjects.

I was rather more surprised at the speech by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton), a man old enough to be my grandfather and of whom I had always thought as essentially a man of gentility. I was absolutely amazed—there is no political purpose in saying this—at the brutality and deliberate perversion of reports coming out of Chile by a right hon. Member of his stature for whom I have previously felt respect.

Let us cut away the arguments about the balance between Left and Right commentators making their reports on the Chilean situation just before and since the coup and during October and the beginning of this month and say that they neutralise one another. But the evidence and the reports coming out of Chile by what the right hon. Gentleman dismisses as subversive Left-wing fellow-travelling Communists vastly outweigh the numbers coming out which are favourable or even neutral in their approach to the régime.

People like Hugh O'Shaughnessy and several other British journalists, who in the past three years have written regular columns which, in a proper democratic way, have been critical of certain aspects of the Allende régime, are not parrot journalists sponsored by the Popular Unity Government. These people have been reporting affairs in Chile as they would have reported affairs in France, the Federal Republic of Germany or any other country that could be described as being governed by an elected representative, democratic Government. The credentials of these men were established in the years before the coup and their feelings as expressed in their reports since the coup deserve more respect because of that.

The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said that we had been told only half the story and that there remained to be told the story of the Right, and he quoted from it. I do not think that it holds any more water than the story from the Left, but if we concede the argument about reports and forget about them I think that we are entitled to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman's logic, to his sense of history and to his own two eyes.

Can the right hon. Gentleman really imagine the tank battalions of the Chilean Army, the jet fighters and fighter bombers of the Chilean Air Force, the battleships of the Chilean Navy and the armed police of Chile going to the aid of the poor downtrodden peasants and proletariat of Chile? It is a lot of nonsense to say that these forces of reaction were doing anything but going to the aid of the established forces of the rich and the wealthy whose wealth Allende was hoping to usurp in the cause of redistributing wealth and bringing economic justice and order to the country.

Those men did not drive their tanks, fire their guns and rockets, or drop their bombs in the cause of saving the Chilean economy from destruction, or in the cause of saving Chilean democracy from destruction. They did it for the reason for which any usurping Fascist power or any usurping militaristic power has done it at any time at any place in history, whether we are talking about the Norman barons, Soviet tanks in Central Europe, the invasion of the Sudetenland, or the invasion of Chilean civil rights in September of this year. They are classic examples of what happens when tyranny is exerting itself.

There was an elected democratic Government in Chile. There was a free Press there. There were no political prisoners in the gaols. There was no restriction on the freedom of journalism or the Press. That was the situation in Chile, but that situation no longer exists because thousands of people have been incarcerated, killed, bullied, beaten or driven out of the country. Thousands have fled for their lives.

What the Government have to decide is where they stand when force usurps a democratically elected Government. That is the question, and they must make up their minds instead of indulging in semantics. I note that all Conservative Members who have spoken today, and especially the Minister, have chosen the semantic way out of the problem in a manner that would do discredit to a junior school debate. They have relied entirely on any apparent or alleged weakness in the drafting of a critical motion to get out of the tight corner in which a Tory politician can find himself when he has to state where he stands when democracy and the freedom of people are threatened.

The Minister made it clear where he stands. He is prepared to mouth certain meaningless criticisms of the military junta. Many of the Minister's hon. Friends are prepared to stammer in support of the right hon. Gentleman, but they have not answered the crucial question to the satisfaction of the British people, and they certainly have not answered it to the satisfaction of the Chilean people.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in appealing not so much to the older Conservative Members—though I suspect that there may be one or two who have experience of Spain, Abyssinia and Manchuria—as to the younger ones. My experience of those areas in the 1930s is nil, but I read about them in my school history books, just as no doubt many hon. Gentleman opposite did. There may be some hon. Gentlemen opposite who during their political lifetime have seen the crumbling of popularly elected Governments or the supersession of feudal Governments by modern Fascist Governments and have regretted that they did not take action at the time. Older hon. Gentlemen might wish to take meaningful action against the junta in Chile.

Younger Members have observed the embarrassment with which anyone who has supported dual standards or who has been compromising or restrictive in his criticism of anti-democratic forces presents himself to the House. I hope that when I have been a Member for a few more years I shall be able to say—and I hope that young Conservative Members will be able to join me—that we have never had to be ashamed of the stand we have taken on behalf of democracy.

I had prepared notes for my speech, but I have been so appalled by the attitude of Conservative Members that something more than a rehearsed speech is called for. If hon. Members wish to call it emotion, they can do so. I call it history and a sense of decency. I therefore join my hon. Friend the Member for Walton in throwing away notes and saying that we must vote with our stomachs and hearts in saying whose side we are on. Are we on the side of brutality and the suppression of civil rights, or are we on the side of maintaining our own parliamentary traditions and freedom of speech?

The Minister said that we have rules which govern our attitude towards the question of asylum. If they do not permit us to stand up for democracy and to protect democrats anywhere in the world, on either side of the Iron Curtain or in any hemisphere, they must be changed, because we shall gain respect in the world of today and of the future by standing up for our principles. We can take Sweden as an example.

As the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said, if this is the first intervention by Chilean militarism in the political affairs of that country, there is an easy answer for it. The army, navy and air force of Chile are involved in controlling politics in that country because for the first time in its history Chile has just had a Socialist Government. That Government gave rise to the first militarist repression. The answer goes far beyond us with our temperate attitudes.

We may argue that there is still time for debate and for initiatives to be taken by democratic Governments throughout the world. But the junta has taught people in Chile and the rest of the Third World that they will not beat forces of that kind with ballot boxes. They will not be able to build a guard against militarism with piles of ballot papers. The language which the militarists, ITT and the multinational corporation understand is not the language of democracy and peace. People will have to learn the lesson of Chile in the hardest possible way.

The Government could possibly delay, even counteract, the development of a violent retort to the counter-revolution in Chile by standing up and being counted on the side of democracy, giving those who still wish to argue their way back to democratic power in Chile the heart, strength and backing to do it. If they do not do that, the blood which will be shed now and in future in Chile will be partly on their heads.