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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

By leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I will try to reply to the speeches made in what I think will be regarded as a memorable debate in which deep feelings have been expressed on both sides of the House.

The right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) asked about the case of Mr. Tomic. I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He is more than willing to consider the case sympathetically and sees no reason to think that there is any obstacle to granting permanent settlement to him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref) asked about the Chilean students. During September, 22 were admitted to the United Kingdom. They will have satisfied immigration officers of their acceptability and their means of support. The figures for October are not yet available.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) asked about Mr. Oscar Weiss, editor of La Naciòn. Our ambassador asked the Chilean Government about him at our request. He is detained in the Military Academy at Santiago and is to be tried by civil court. The Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has assured us that he is well.

The right hon. Lady asked about two grants to students which she thought had been withdrawn. We will inquire into these cases and write to her as soon as we have more information about them.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) asked me about the case of a Mr. Gatehouse who was detained. It was after representations by our embassy about him that he was released. It is fair to add that if we had not maintained diplomatic relations, he would not have been released.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) asked about the status of seven Chileans and the one Bolivian who came here as a result of sponsorship by Professor Stafford Beer of Manchester University. They are not refugees. They have simply qualified to come here in the ordinary way. They would have been allowed in equally before the revolution. They are academics qualified in business management and they wanted to come here because their jobs came to an end when Professor Beer's job came to an end. They have no history of political activity and they have been accepted as perfectly respectable immigrants. Four have come here so far, one has gone to Canada and the others are awaiting passage here.

The right hon. Lady suggested that our embassy in Santiago was out of touch. It is often the case with Left-wing Governments that it is only when distinguished visitors from either party, like the right hon. Lady or myself, go out that contact is easily made.

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) made a speech which, although I did not altogether agree with it, I admired for its forcefulness and oratory. He took me to task for having concentrated earlier today on the motion.

I thought that it would be better, knowing the way this House never fails to produce a large number of people on both sides with a good deal of knowledge, to let them all express their view on what was happening in Chile before I tried to contribute my inevitably modest but reasonably well-informed contribution from the Foreign Office. It might be helpful if I say something about the way in which we in the Foreign Office saw the matter.

This summer when I went out to Lima to meet our ambassadors from the Andean Pact countries—I also went to Buenos Aires for the inauguration of President Campora and during that visit I had the opportunity to talk to President Allende in Buenos Aires—it was pretty clear to me that events in Chile were moving towards crisis. Some of the symptoms of the crisis were described by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple).

There was an unprecedented rate of inflation but, as the hon. Member for Walton said, for the first time in Chilean history the poorer people had been eating and wages had been raised. This was quite true of the first year of the Allende Government, but unfortunately the advantages gained in the early period under his régime had been largely wiped out by the summer of this year. The Government was a minority Government, constitutionally elected—indeed, the Conservatives have been in power in a similar situation so I do not complain about that—but it was in a head-on collision with Congress and was in default of the guarantees given by the President when he was first elected.

Furthermore, there were serious shortages of food. The queues were measured by own our representatives in Santiago as of a hundred yards in length and more. A number of Ministers were the subject of impeachment procedures. I have no doubt that some Labour Members might wish to adopt a similar procedure in respect of me, but in Chile no doubt this avoided a reshuffle—which can happen on all sides of the House at any time.

Law and order had fallen into a pretty serious condition. There were, as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester said, a number of riots and disturbances in the towns and in the countryside. Property had been taken over and broken up without compensation and without the approval of the Government. The law courts brought in verdicts which were not always upheld by the executive. The President was protected by a Cuban guard. Arms were coming into the country in quite large quantities to arm para-military forces, some of which were foreign, though admittedly a large number were Cuban. They may well have been maintained and raised for defensive purposes.

I am not trying to pass judgment, but that is as we saw the situation in the Foreign Office. It was also the situation seen by people in Peruvian Government circles, who are not Right-wing, and people in Peronista circles in Argentina. Some people thought that there would be a complete takeover by the two Marxist forces in President Allende's Government, the Communists and the Socialists. This was encouraged, as I understand it, by President Allende's own party, by the MIR and by President Castro. There were others who thought that a military coup would take place, but the armed forces were reluctant. It is interesting to remember that the leaders of the armed forces served in the Allende Government and that the present Foreign Minister, Admiral Huerta, was a Minister of State in that Government for some time.

The most hopeful exercise was that there might be a compromise with the Christian Democrat Opposition. Interestingly enough, this was advocated by the Secretary General of the Communist Party, Senor Corvalan, perhaps because he realised the dangers of pressing matters too far in one of the American continents. But the compromise attempt failed. From that moment in the late summer there was almost public discussion to the effect that civil war was looming, and people were asking themselves who would strike first.

I am reporting only what we saw and what every observer on the scene will confirm. The question was who would strike first. The military side struck first and, because of that, a heavy responsibility lies upon them for the bloodshed and repression which resulted from their action. But we have to remember that they knew that the forces opposed to them were also very well armed, and they would have claimed in exoneration if not in justification that if they had not struck hard there could well have been civil war.

The right hon. Member for Lanark and the hon. Member for Walton went into some detail about the casualties that resulted. The hon. Gentleman also went into great detail about the Newsweek report. I have to say to him that the report which he gave the House has been dismissed by the New York Times. A report after a thorough investigation by one of that newspaper's staff seems to me a good deal more reliable than the comments of the anonymous daughter of a mortuary attendant, on which the Newsweek articles were originally based.