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Chile

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th January 1980.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 12:00 am, 17th January 1980

Mr. Winnick (by private notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the restoration of normal diplomatic relations with Chile.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Over recent months we have been considering all aspects of our relations with Chile. We have now decided that we should restore our relations with Chile to the normal diplomatic level, in line with those of most of our major allies. As I stated in my reply of 16 January to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) we are, therefore, after discussion with the Chilean Government, reinstating ambassadors.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the decision that he has announced shows the total indifference of the Conservative Government and, certainly, those on the Conservative Benches to the denial of human rights under a Right-wing military dictatorship? Is it not the case that the torturers of Dr. Sheila Cassidy have never been brought to justice in Chile and that in Chile itself there continue to be tortures and killings? Why do the Conservative Government always find reasons for the justification of Right-wing military dictators?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

If we were to base the exchange of ambassadors upon countries with regimes or with records on human rights of which we approved, we would have many fewer ambassadors. It is not this Government's policy to be selective in this matter, as the previous Government were.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

Are we proposing to keep our ambassador in Moscow in this regard?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I know of no proposal to withdraw our ambassador from Moscow. As we have made clear in the United Nations General Assembly, we do not base our condemnation on human rights grounds on selective considerations, as the Opposition do.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Tower Hamlets Stepney and Poplar

Has the Minister considered all the circumstances? What does he have to say about the last report of the Human Rights Commission of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which became available only a few weeks ago? This indicated clearly that the human rights situation in Chile had deteriorated rather than improved in the past 12 months. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the United States, for reasons connected with the behaviour of the Chilean regime, reduced the level of its representation in Santiago only last month? How can the Minister justify this change of policy? Against what background of changed conditions is he intending to justify his decision?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

We have ambassadors in many countries, such as Vietnam, where there are far worse records on human rights. Far be it for me to try to arrange a league table of which countries are better or worse. The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that at the time of the United Nations General Assembly resolution to which he referred the Nine made a joint explanation of vote, stressing the need to avoid selectivity.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath

Is my hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members feel that the time is long overdue when we should join the United States, France and Germany in recognising this regime and having an ambassador there? Is he aware that such an ambassador will not only give Britain's approval but also disapproval from time to time? The ambassador will also be able to look after the interests of British citizens living in that country.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

One of the reasons for deciding to restore ambassadors is to enable us to present our views on human rights and all other matters at a higher level and, therefore, with greater impact.

Mr. James Callaghan:

I remind the Minister that when the ambassador was withdrawn it was done with the general consent of both sides of the House, because of the torture of Dr. Sheila Cassidy. Has any apology been received from the Chilean Government in respect of that matter? Or what other considerations have now led him to reverse that decision?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

As a result of much pressure upon the Chilean Government we have obtained from them a letter set- ting out their serious concern about Dr. Cassidy's case. They assure us that they have carried out the most exhaustive possible investigation and sincerely regret any improper treatment that Dr. Cassidy may have received during her detention. That letter is dated December 1979. It is much further than the previous Government managed to get the Chilean Government to go.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Since the United Kingdom—unlike many other countries, which continued to recognise Chile—has lost a good deal of trade over the past two years, will my hon. Friend confirm that ECGD credits will be available once again to exporters to that country? Will he confirm that Mr. Heath, the former consul-general in Chicago, is to be appointed as ambassador? At a time when the Soviet Union is stamping out human rights in Pakistan, does my hon. Friend not think that it is the height of hypocrisy for Opposition Members to complain about our exchanging ambassadors with Chile?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Medium-term credits were restored by the ECGD in June 1979. We have lost considerably on trade with Chile as a result of our attitude. That is not the reason that caused us to change our mind about the Labour Government's policy. I endorse entirely the comment of my hon. Friend that the action of Governments in relation to human rights should not determine whether we have diplomatic relations with them at the highest level.

We have sought an agrément for an ambassador with the Chilean Government. However, it is not the usual courtesy to suggest his name until an agrément has been reached.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness

Is the Minister aware that it is recognised that we have representation in countries that we do not like for good, sound reasons that he has mentioned? Nevertheless, does he recall that the withdrawal of our ambassador was connected not only with Sheila Cassidy and her torture but with the case of William Beausire, a British citizen, who has, as far as we know, been tortured and certainly imprisoned, for the past six years? What assurances did we receive from the Chilean Government before we agreed to resume our representation?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The Chilean Government have told us that they are still making investigations into Mr. Beausire's case. The Chilean Government have given us an assurance that the authorities will give legal tribunals which are investigating the matter maximum co-operation. It is fair to state that nobody knows where Mr. Beau-sire is or what has happened to him.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call one hon. Member from each side of the Chamber. This is an extension of Question Time.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson , Camden Holborn and St Pancras South

Does the Minister accept that his decision to allow the torture of a British citizen to go unpunished means that he should in all conscience call in all existing British passports and cause to be struck from them, as a dead letter, those parts that require foreign Governments and citizens to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary? It is clear that the Government are no longer willing to assert the rights of British citizens.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to seek to imply that the Government had anything to do with those events, or was in any way able to protect Dr. Cassidy. The Opposition know that the Government's action is in no sense a condemnation of the Chilean Government, any more than it is a mark of approval of them.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

Several thousand jobs were lost in Britain, more especially on Clydeside and Tyneside, as a result of the arms embargo imposed by the Labour Government. What plans do Her Majesty's Government have for resuming arms sales to Chile?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Her Majesty's Government have no plans to resume arms sales to Chile at present.