I hope that this debate will finish in good time so that my good and hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) can explain the effects of monetarism in Britain, as I hope to explain the effects of monetarism in Chile during the past 12 years.
In two months' time, we shall commemorate the 12th anniversary of the coup in Chile, when the democratically elected Chilean Government were removed in one of the most vicious and bloody coups that there has been for many decades anywhere in the world. The ramifications of the coup continue to be felt by the people of Chile, and they have had a grave effect on relations between Britain and Chile. That is the subject of my debate.
It is worth recalling that, during the three years before the coup which removed the Government of Salvador Allende from office, there was a process of destabilisation of the Government by multinational companies and by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. A consistent programme of attacks was made on that Government by many Western European and other Governments, which did nothing to support them and everything to try to remove them from office. Indeed, towards the end of their life, that Government were faced with impossible problems as the military prepared for a coup.
I can quote from an interview between Orlando Saenz and President Allende just before the coup, and published in 1980. When they discussed whether there could be some rapprochement or relationship with the armed forces, he said to the President:
But, Mr. President, you have nothing to offer. It's a waste of time to make a pact with you. You're a living corpse, you're useless. No politician with a minimal degree of skill will make a pact with you, for the simplest of reasons: he doesn't need to.
He went on to say there was going to be a military coup against the Government, a Government which had been elected by 43 per cent. of the people of Chile and which had gained a great deal of support during their lifetime.
The relationship between the coup, the life of the people of Chile and the Government of General Pinochet is close to the people of this country. Many Chileans sought refuge in Great Britain after the coup in 1973. Many Chilean people live in this country as asylum-seekers and refugees, and they read with horror about the mounting violence and the horror of life that many of the poorest people of Chile face all the the time.
It is worth recalling that the former Minister for Trade visited Santiago in October 1980. In a report which was widely circulated in El Mercurio Weekly Report, a Chilean newspaper, he said on his visit to Chile that his experience of the Chilean economy was that it
is very similar to what we are trying to develop now in Great Britain.
He was asked what aspects of the economic policies he found so similar and he went on to describe his Government's belief in cutting state expenditure, state bureaucracy and taxes on profits, and removing controls and restrictions on prices and wages, the exchange rate and investment overseas. The Minister went on to say that he
wished to "break up the monopoly of nationalised enterprises" and he wished the Chilean Government well in their economic experiment.
In many ways, that encompasses a lot of the thinking of the present Tory Government's concern with Chile. A 12-year experiment in monetarism was going on in Chile and the cost to its people has been high. In 1974, just after the coup, the unemployment rate was 9·2 per cent. By 1982 it had risen to 28·3 per cent. The index of real wages was taken as 65·1 in 1974. It had gone down from 100 at the time of the coup and had risen to only 82 in 1982. In other words, the Chilean people were 20 per cent. worse off at the end of a 12-year experiment. Consumption in the richest households in Chile had gone up by 15 per cent. but for the poorest people consumption had gone down by 31 per cent. That again is the result of 12 years of monetarism.
What is the relationship between Britain and this murderous dictatorship in which so many people have died during the 12-year period? There have been states of siege, there has been unrest, and at one stage questions were asked about whether or not the British ambassador should have been restored to Chile in 1980, as he was. The Conservative Government which restored the ambassador to Chile said, and I quote from the then Minister of State at the Foreign Office who is now destroying our railways:
We have used our ambassadors wherever appropriate or necessary to follow up particular cases involving human rights in a large number of countries: this is an important reason for having an ambassador in Chile. When it comes to human rights. this Government prefers action to words.
If they prefer action to words, why is it that this so-called constructive dialogue has been so monumentally ineffective in influencing the Government of Chile and their behaviour? I can give figures which show the deterioration of human rights in Chile between 1982 and 1984. In 1982, there were 1,789 political detentions in Chile. In 1983, there were 14,515 detentionss in one year. If the equivalent figure of detentions were applied in this country, it would be between 75,000 and 100,000 people detained in one year. In the six months between January and June 1984, there were 2,981 detentions.
I could go on through a whole series of statistics of this kind—for example, the number of people killed either by the police or in so-called confrontations, the number of people who disappeared, and the number of certified tortures, which rose to 432 during 1983, the year when the British Government were supposed to be maintaining a policy of constructive dialogue with the dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile.
There are specific cases and specific quotes. Many cases have been referred to the Foreign Office and to various Ministers, and I should like to raise the case of Pedro Fernandez Lembach, who is a political prisoner in Chile. His companyẽro is a member of my union, the National Union of Public Employees, and the British Government have given entry clearance for Pedro to come to this country when he is released from prison. I raise his case not because his life is very different from the lives of many others but because it is a case about which there is great public concern.
I quote the statement made by Constanza, who is also a political refugee. She says:
Pedro and I were arrested together in May 1980 by the CNI"—
the secret police force—
on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of arms and manufacture of explosives. I saw him tortured, but managed to get released from prison and leave Chile. Pedro is still in jail and is seriously ill. After waiting for three years for his case to come up, he was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment and four years' exile.
Although he has been granted his visa, he has not been able to come here because he is still held.
Merely to quote the violations of human rights which are so common, so appalling and so tragic in Chile is one thing. The reason that I raise this matter on the Adjournment is not just to give some emphasis to the appalling statistics to which I have been able to refer. It is also to emphasise what I believe is a very close working and constructive relationship between the British Government and the Government of Chile.
During the past few months, a number of documents have been released secretly from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, one of which was sent to me. It was later reprinted in the New Statesman. It demonstrates two facts. First, British Government Ministers have a clear policy of maintaining arms sales to Chile. I quote as an example the sale of the Centaur, which is made by Laird (Anglesey) Limited—a part of the Laird group—and which is an armed vehicle used for crowd and riot control. Its purpose is to kill people, yet the British Government expect us to believe that the Centaur is part of the arms trade which is normally restricted to weapons that cannot be used for internal repression.
I ask the Minister to say what the Centaur project is for if it is not for internal repression. One vehicle has been sold, and it is clear from answers in this House and answers to questions from Lord Hatch in the other place that it is the intention to sell more of those armed vehicles to Chile.
Recently a letter was published in The Guardian about this matter. During a meeting with the Minister of State at the Foreign Office it was said that any weapon could be used as a weapon of aggression; a pen could be used as a weapon of aggression if someone cared to use it to attack someone else. Mr. Graham Davy said in his letter published in The Guardian on 24 June:
Quite so. And the 300 Centaur half-track vehicles which the Government is considering selling to General Pinochet might be used for taking old ladies on picnic outings in the countryside round Santiago.
They might well be, but their purpose is repression. They are repressive vehicles.
The issue of the sale of arms was raised by staff within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after the state of siege was imposed in November 1984. I quote from a document sent to the Minister by Mr. Coates in the South America department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He says:
In response to the recent deterioration in the political situation in Chile, in particular the declaration of a State of Siege on 6 November, the Secretary of State has called an office meeting to consider a policy on our bilateral relations.
That was to be held before the Minister's departure.
I should … be grateful for your comments on … the extent to which we can dissuade the commercial banks from making further loans to Chile; the extent to which ECGD can be asked to withdraw existing offers of cover and review its market limits downwards; whether our delegation to the World Bank…could be instructed, on political grounds, to refuse approval for new loans to Chile; whether approval given to Fairey Engineering to tender refurbishment of a civilian research reactor
could be revoked and future applications refused, on grounds of other than non-proliferation considerations; whether any other trade sanctions could be envisaged.
It also asks whether defence sales to Chile could be stopped. It lists them, and they are very substantial. They include the Centaur, Blowpipe, Seacat, Rapier, ex Royal Navy survey ships, land-based Harriers, Jaguars and naval Lynx helicopters. What will they be used for, if not for internal repression against the people of Chile? Or is it because the Britsh Government wish to have a close relationship with a well-armed Chilean junta that can be used as part of the south Atlantic strategy and the Falklands enterprise? I believe that to be very much the case. It is one of the two reasons why the British Government are prepared to continue to sell arms to Chile and to soft pedal on the considerable abuses of human rights in Chile.
These are very serious matters and it is regrettable, to say the least, that there can be only a fairly short Adjournment debate on this subject. However, in the near future there will have to be a full debate. The British Government will have to answer for their policy towards Chile and all Latin American countries, particularly the Latin American dictatorships. It is significant that the British Government are the only Government to hold back. It is only the British embassy in Santiago that does not condemn the violation of human rights. It is only the British Government who do not condemn the violation of human rights in the strident terms in which it is condemned by so many other European Governments.
The general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union wrote recently to the Foreign Secretary and asked for an undertaking from the British Government that they would cease arms sales to Chile because of the violation of human rights in Chile. The general secretary at that time, Moss Evans, mentioned a number of people who had been murdered recently by the Chilean armed forces. In his reply the Foreign Secretary said:
I can assure you that we have repeatedly expressed our concern about human rights violations to the Chilean authorities. There can be no doubt about our views … You also ask about arms sales: it is indeed our policy not to allow British companies to sell arms to Chile which in our judgment are likely to be used for internal repression.
In 1973 the Moneda palace in Santiago was bombed and strafed by Hawker Hunter jets made in this country and flown by pilots trained in this country. The training of the Chilean armed forces continues in this way. British arms have been used to gun down the Chilean people. It is an absolute disgrace. The British Government should end all arms sales to this odious regime which is destroying the lives of so many people.
A visit was paid recently to this country by a very remarkable woman, Maria Maluenda, who has suffered so much and who has seen so much violence. During the Allende Government she was the ambassador to Vietnam and saw what the B52 bombers were doing to the people of Vietnam. She witnessed the coup in Chile in 1973. More recently she suffered the terror of hearing and seeing her son being murdered at point blank range, his body being mutilated afterwards by the armed forces. She came to this country to seek support for what she is trying to achieve for Chile, which is a peaceful future. When asked what could be done she said:
I think you can do a lot. If you see the resolution of the European Parliament passed unanimously a short while ago, there are suggestions in that resolution that should be taken up not only by the governments and official organisations but by
people in different countries … I would like to say that I am here because I decided to travel to denounce these latest assassinations, these latest crimes. I speak in the name of thousands of women—not only women, but fathers, brothers, sisters, children who have suffered in my country just as we are suffering at this moment. I pray that you do not take my words as the words of one person, but as the words of thousands and thousands of people. The wife of my son had her father arrested eight years ago and it has never been possible to find out what has happened to him.
It is the daily life of many people in Chile to see their friends and loved ones removed from them, to hear of beatings, tortures and rape.
I received a letter recently from Santiago—I shall not give the name for fear of reprisals against that person, which in itself is an indictment—in which that person says:
They kidnap and make marks in the body of the people after advising them not to say anything to anybody. Fortunately the people have denounced those threats. The new modalities with women are to rape them, as the case of the law student, who was raped and three times kidnapped. To live in this atmosphere is not easy.
I trust that the Minister will tell us why the Government continue to supply arms to Chile, why they continue to allow members of the Chilean armed forces to be trained in this country and why they do not take seriously the many denunciations of the Chilean regime and break our arms link with it. The Government should make sure that our embassy in Santiago takes up violations of human rights rather than the promotion of arms sales by so many private sector arms companies in this country.
Chile is an important country, both in itself and in what it stands for, so I welcome the opportunity that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has provided to discuss the country, although I do not agree with everything that he said.
The Chilean situation must be seen in the wider Latin American context and I should like to take the opportunity to report to the House on a three-week visit to Central America from which I have just returned.
My companions on the trip, which was sponsored by War on Want, were the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and Mr. Campbell Christie, the general secretary-elect of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. We visited Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and we had planned to visit Guatemala, but I regret to have to say that we were told that we would not be welcome there.
In politics, as in life generally, one's conclusions tend to follow from one's starting point, so where should we begin our analysis of the vast and complicated imbroglio in Central America?
Should one start, as does the Kissinger report, by remarking on the depth and gravity of the economic and social tensions that grip the region? Should one begin, as do many in Washington, by emphasising the novelty of the intrusion of Soviet, East European and Cuban influences into a formerly undisputedly American sphere of influence? Or should one rather refer as a starting point for our inquiries to that sphere of influence and to the economic, social and political structures that it has created, sustained or merely permitted? I am sure that that would be the starting point of the hon. Member for Islington, North, who has emphasised the importance of the American role in Chile.
I am not sure that it is possible to generalise about those different factors affecting the five republics of Central America. The states share a common origin—
The right hon. Lady will find that I will make frequent references to Chile. The states share a common origin in the Spanish colonial kingdom of Guatemala and each country displays on its arms the image of five volcanos—remarkably apt symbols of their politics as well as their sense that they have something special in common.
The reality of the situation is that these countries are as different from each other as were, say, the city states of ancient Greece—
Is the hon. Gentleman absolutely sure about the title of the debate? I understand that it is
United Kingdom relations with Chile".
That is a specific title and wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of that fact. He seems to be covering a number of states that are unrelated to the debate
Order. It may' help the House if I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) to the subject of the debate. It is on the Adjournment motion, which is traditionally rather wide, but the subject is
United Kingdom relations with Chile
and not with Central America generally.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The debate has a specific title which is
United Kingdom relations with Chile".
If the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) is trying to delay the House, perhaps he should tell us why. Alternatively, will he direct his remarks to the subject of the debate?
I do not propose to delay the House. I think that the hon. Gentleman will not disagree with my conclusions if he will allow me to explain them. I shall make constant references to Chile, but I am talking about the wider Latin-American context, in which the Chilean problem must be seen.
I return to my argument. These countries have something in common, but they are different from one another, as were the city states of ancient Greece.
Politically the crucial differences between these countries seem to flow from the varying degrees to which the central American republics have been able to transfer their power to the civilian middle classes. Costa Rica, a country of purely European settlement with no history of Indian serfdom, is at the most advanced end of the scale. It is a stable, bourgeois democracy, established in 1948, and it dealt with the problem—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying widely now and I must ask him to direct his speech to British relations with Chile and not with the rest of central America.
I shall cease to speak in this debate because I should like the opportunity to report on the visit. I am sorry that Opposition Members have taken exception to my remarks. I do not think that they would have been dissatisfied with what I had to say. I did not intend to delay the House, and I look forward to discussing these matters on another occasion.
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), but some of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to speak to the subject of the Adjournment. The hon. Gentleman must look for his opportunities at another time.
I wish to speak briefly in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). I had the great privilege of speaking from my Front Bench when we had our first debate in November 1973, following the coup in Chile, when I was able to quote the last speech by Salvador Allende.
We are now 12 years on. Government Members are comparatively uninformed about some of the aspects of julian history. The Government should bear in mind that Chile was a democracy from 1830 onwards. The Government who were brought down by military force and assassination in 1973 were elected within the democratic constitution of Chile.
I am aware that the right hon. Lady is very knowledgeable about these matters. I know how well informed she is about human rights violations since 1973. Perhaps she can tell us all about the violations before then under the regime of San Salvador Allende, whom she worships, how land was confiscated and how the Allende Government flouted the constitution and congress. Perhaps the right hon. Lady and her hon. Friends, who view everything through their Marxist spectacles, will tell the House about those matters.
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) is not only uninformed, but he is trivial and cheap. I do not know whether he went to a public school, but he sounds like a typical Right-wing public schoolboy.
There were no political prisoners at any time during the Government of Unidad Popular. Chile led the way in land reform. I sympathise with the Minister, because he has to cope with a small but vociferous element on his Back Benches.
I am sure that the Minister will say that he sympathises with the human rights cause. He will say that it is good that the siege has been lifted but that many gross violations of human rights continue.
I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the Government have supported all the EEC resolutions condemning the abuses of human rights in Chile. I am sure that he will also tell us—as the Government frequently do—that the Government will not supply arms intended to be used against the civilian population. He will tell us all those things.
But I do not know what the Minister will say to the fact that the Finance Minister of Chile is said to be in London now, or shortly to be so, to discuss with Barclay's Bank the financial assistance that could be made by British banks to Chile. I do not know what he will say about the general reaction from a number of delegations that have been to see the Minister of State, who does not impress those delegations with her deep sympathy for the violations of human rights in Chile.
The Government's attitude has been at least partly influenced by the relationship between Chile and Argentina. Because of the Falklands fracas, the Government are suspended in ambivalence between the EEC's utter condemnation of the abuses of human rights in Chile—and along that front the Government have always followed reluctantly, several days behind—and the American enthusiasm, and, perhaps, our Government's earlier enthusiasm for the monetarist experiment in Chile.
I was fortunate enough to have a meeting today with someone whom I imagine the Minister may know—the vice-president of the National party in Chile who is on a visit to London and who will be meeting the Minister of State tomorrow or the day after. The message from every element in Chile is that there is tremendous progress in building up a unanimity of opposition to Pinochet and that the effort to achieve a return to democracy at this point demands much stronger support from the democracies of the north and the west.
I hope that the Minister, who will no doubt say what he has to when he replies, will take a message to his officials and the Foreign Secretary that we demand more. If we believe in democracy and freedom, more is needed from this Government on behalf of democratic human rights in Chile than we have seen so far.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has done a great service to the House. I wish to ask one precise, specific question. On 7 June, the New Statesman, under the by-line of Patrick Forbes and Duncan Campbell, published what purported to be a Foreign Office document. My hon. Friend referred to it, and I shall read it as printed. It states:
Chile: contingency planning.
1. In response to the recent deterioration in the political situation in Chile, in particular the declaration of a State of Seige on 6 November, the Secretary of State has called an office meeting to consider policy on our bilateral relations, to be held before his departure for Peking on 18 December … striking
political gesture on our part. But, it could also carry unacceptable penalties. The Chileans would regard an embargo as a major shift of British policy; and this could, in turn, hazard the defence and other cooperation we enjoy over the Falklands. Also relevant here is Chile's agreement with Argentina over the Beagle channel; this could, in turn, make it easier for the Chileans to reduce the level of their cooperation with us if they were so tempted.
My question is, what precisely is the quid pro quo? Does not the House deserve to be told precisely what the agreements are mentioned in the Foreign Office document as between the odious junta of General Pinochet and our country?
It is about time, once again, that there was a certain amount of candour from Governments on such issues. If there is a quid pro quo, if there is an agreement—and no one has suggested that it is not a Foreign Office document—to what are we referring? What exactly is the agreement? What is the quid pro quo? I hope that it is in no way to do with nuclear capability, because that has been said. We want to know precisely what the quid pro quo over the Falklands is and what has been kept from the House of Commons.
I, too, am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for selecting this subject for debate, because he reflects the view of many people, inside and outside the House, that the British Government have not responded sufficiently to the events in Chile.
The right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) will recall the occasion when I took part with her in a deputation—there has since been another which she attended, plus another in which I took part with her hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—to the Foreign Office, when we were grossly disappointed by the stone wall with which we were met by the Minister's noble Friend.
We asked for a sign of recognition that we should be doing more and that we should be living up to the standards expected of us by our colleagues in the United Nations and the European Community. We asked, for example, whether the British ambassador to Chile could be recalled to review the state of human rights, following the lifting of the state of seige, to see what possibilities existed to bring influence to bear there through the churches, the opposition political parties and others.
We were anxious to know that the British Government did not intend to go down the road—the hon. Member for Islington, North made it clear that they seemed to be prepared to go down it—of seeking tenders for arms exports to Chile, with the clear implication that they would be sent to Chile, when ordered, in considerable numbers.
We must look to the Minister for assurances on those matters, because we received none from his noble Friend. In view of the nature of the regime there and the fact that arms that might be supplied could be used for suppression and continued violation of human rights, we must be assured that any question of such arms supplies will first be debated in Parliament. The Government must not just take executive action in the matter.
As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out, the Government must be open with the House, not allow people to come to Britain for consultations—indeed, afford them quasi-official, if not official, recognition—and thereby show to the press of the world that the British Government and the people of Britain are happy with what is going on because everything is being done in an open way. That is far from the truth now, and the Government are denying the people the ability to react in accordance with the standards that we have set ourselves.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the internal Foreign Office document of November 1984 the civil servants said that on every criterion—trade, aid, military sales, repression and loss of human rights—the Chileans came off badly? It seems, nevertheless, that that Government still enjoy the approval of the British Government.
Not only am I aware of the document, but the hon. Gentleman may be aware that when we, as a delegation, went to the Foreign Office recently, it was not denied that the document, which had been leaked—it was accepted that it had been leaked—clearly made the case that the action by the British Government could be influential, not only on the issue of arms, but on that of human rights. It was accepted that if the British Government said more clearly what they should be saying, that would have a clear political effect.
The only fear, as reflected in that document, was that that would cause people—presumably hon. Members on the Opposition Benches—to ask for more action. That is no justification for saying, "We are not prepared to move at all because there might be demands for us to go further." I urge the Minister to show a chink of light to the families of the hundreds of people who, since Pinochet came to power, have lived with death and in fear.
The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that when a delegation went to the Foreign Office this morning to present a petition containing about 35,000 signatures—I was a member of it—it was told by a senior civil servant that the arms trade was seen as being effectively neutral in terms of supplying Chile.
Nothing surprises me. One of the tragedies of the Government' s foreign policy in the eyes of some of my colleagues, and probably in the eyes of most Opposition Members of this place, is that we can condone trade in arms without realising that that has a direct effect on the human rights of individuals in the rest of the world. The sooner the Government understand that message, the sooner they might respond to their duties to fellow citizens and to those who are far less well off and far less able to express their feelings about these matters than we are here.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on his success in obtaining the Adjournment debate and on choosing the subject of Britain's relations with Chile. I thank the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) for contributing to the debate. Her interest in South America and human rights is very well known. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson)—I note that he is no longer in the Chamber—for his wide-ranging contribution.
The hon. Member for Islington, North referred to 12 years of monetarism in Chile and implied that thar was perhaps one of the main reasons for the economic difficulties that Chile faces now. I do not think that we shall enter into a great debate about monetarism, especially international monetarism, in this debate. However, I put the thought to him that perhaps Chile is in economic trouble primarily because of weak copper prices—copper having always been Chile's prime export—and high international interest rates, and not so much because of Chicago-school policies. Perhaps those two factors are more fundamental reasons for Chile's economic difficulties than monetarist doctrines.
The hon. Member for Islington, North chose to initiate the debate under the heading, as it were, of the United Kingdom's relations with Chile, but he elected to spend most of his time—this did not surprise me—on the internal situation in Chile and particular human rights cases. I wish to underline the areas in which the hon. Gentleman, the Government and I personally share agreement. First, the internal situation in Chile, especially human rights, must be of great importance to us in determining the manner in which our relations are conducted. Secondly, the Government fully share the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and those of others who have contributed to this brief but inportant debate, about human rights in Chile. We do not agree with every allegation in detail but we are extremely concerned about human rights in Chile and we regret that, against the current trend in other South American countries, Chile is not making the fast progress towards the return of democracy that the Government would like to see.
The hon. Member for Islington, North and I differ on the means by which to achieve the end of helping to improve human rights in Chile. The Government do not believe that the isolation of Chile, an arms embargo or even the general economic sanctions for which the hon. Gentleman calls, would be effective. Nor do we think it effective or right to single out Chile for criticism that can be applied equally to other countries. We have normal relations with Chile—
I do not propose to give way. I do not think that it is normal to give way to interventions in the course of replying to an Adjournment debate. Furthermore, I believe that someone else wishes to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye before the end of the debate.
We have normal relations with Chile, and this allows us, in the way that the last Labour Government denied themselves the opportunity, to make our concern known, at the highest level, to the Chilean Government. As the hon. Member knows, we have had diplomatic relations with Chile since 1980, when we restored representations at ambassadorial level. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who was then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, informed the House of the decision, and the hon. Member for Islington, North has already quoted these remarks. My right hon. Friend said then that one factor in the decision to restore diplomatic relations had been to enable us to present our views on human rights and on other matters at a higher level and with greater impact. This is a good reason—it was valid then, and it is valid today. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think of the reasons for it.
It is obviously important that our ambassador in Santiago should be in a position to speak frankly to senior members of the Chilean Government about all aspects of relations between Britain and Chile—including the impact that events in Chile itself can have on the nature and conduct of our bilateral relations. He has been able to bring home to the Chilean Government. in a quiet and reasoned manner, the very real concern in this country at recent events in Chile and the wish by all Chile's friends that the Government and democratic opposition in that country should get together to agree a programme for the restoration of Chile's traditional pattern of democratic government.
I can give the hon. Gentleman a specific example. Following the lifting of the state of siege. we sent instructions to our ambassador in Santiago requiring him to call, as he did, on the Chilean Foreign Minister, on 11 July, to express our hope that the Chilean Government would be able to move beyond the lifting of the state of siege to more substantial progress in the restoration of full political freedoms. None of this would be possible if—as some hon. Members urge—we were to withdraw our ambassador from Santiago.
The hon. Member referred to the particular case of Senor Fernandez Lembach. I have had representations about this case. As I told the hon. Member on 3 June, Senor Lembach is a Chilean national. We have no formal standing to intervene with the Chilean authorities on his behalf. We have made clear to the Chilean authorities that if Senor Lembach's sentence were commuted to one of exile, we would issue him with a United Kingdom visa. The Chilean Ministry of Justice unfortunately informed our ambassador in April. that it is not yet prepared to consider commuting the sentence. We shall continue to monitor the case carefully.
We make our views known in other ways. When, in February this year, a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official visited Chile he made human rights a point of special concern in all his conversations. In March this year, we voted in favour of a resolution critical of Chile at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We also remain in frequent and close touch with our Community partners about the situation in Chile and take appropriate opportunities to set on record our joint position.
Therefore, I cannot accept the statement that we do not do our part, as a country that has diplomatic relations with Chile, in making as carefully and fully known in Santiago as possible our feelings on the subject, representing the views of the people.
The hon. Gentleman then hinted at the existence of some kind of secret defence treaty with Chile. However, I remind him of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's specific assurance to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on 28 January that no treaties have been signed with the Government of Chile since 1981.
The hon. Member for Islington, North and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to papers that have been leaked from the Overseas Development Administration. The hon. Member for Linlithgow quoted from a recent newspaper. The House would not expect me to comment on leaked documents. The documents in question were option papers prepared by officials. I am sure that hon. Members would want me to maintain the constitutional distinction between Ministers, who decide policy, and civil servants, who submit advice and attend to the execution of policy.
Our relations with Chile include a defence element such as training. visits by senior personnel and the supply of loan service personnel. Apart from a period in 1982—
The hon. Gentleman suggested that we should apply an arms embargo. We know that there are firmly held views on this subject in certain quarters. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, a delegation which included him visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this morning to hand in a petition. I have made clear previously, notably when answering the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary questions, that we do not believe that a total embargo imposed by Britain in isolation would be effective. We do not have plans for imposing such an embargo.
Our policy on arms sales to Chile nevertheless reflects our concern about human rights abuses, and rightly so. We take great care not to approve the sale to Chile of items that we believe could be used for internal repression. All such equipment requires an export licence before it can be sold overseas. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we consider each item carefully and exercise our judgment prudently. The procedures are painstaking, responsible and, we believe, appropriate.
The hon. Member for Islington, North asked me about Centaur. I am glad that he did. In the perhaps somewhat different circumstances of January 1984, a temporary export licence was granted for a demonstration Centaur vehicle. It was unarmed and unarmoured and no sale of a Centaur has ever been made to Chile. The vehicle is a half track Land-Rover especially suited to use in deserts such as Chile's Atacama desert. If a firm sale had resulted, a firm application for a new export licence would have had to be made. In that hypothetical case, we should look into the request carefully, taking into account all the circumstances prevailing at the time. The hon. Gentleman has made a good fuss about Centaur. I understood from the company involved that arrangements are in hand to return the vehicle to Britain and that there is little prospect of an order.
We also seek other means of influencing opinion in Chile. There has been some criticism of our recent contact with members of the Chilean National Academy of Political and Strategic Studies who visited Britain at the end of June. I should like to ask Opposition Members who might have been critical of that how they expect such officers to learn about the constitutional role of the armed forces in a parliamentary democracy if they never leave their country and are not exposed to democratic opinion. On the occasion of this visit our visitors' programme included lectures and discussions at London university—the Institute of Latin American studies—and at the Civil Service college.
We should consider whether there is an analogy here with overseas students who come from non-democratic countries, but, when in Britain, have an opportunity to study parliamentary democracy, to see the effect of a free press and to study how our Parliament works. I suggest that there is an analogy. The visitors have an opportunity to explore a wide variety of issues, including the role of the Army in a democratic society. That can only be beneficial to their education and development.
Chile has a long tradition of democracy. That is always brought home to us by visiting representatives of Chile's democratic parties. They have made it clear that, although they welcome our encouragement in keeping that tradition alive, it is for the Chilean people to decide the future course that their country will take. They appreciate contact—