Orders of the Day — Central America

– in the House of Commons at 2:41 am on 24th March 1987.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 2:41 am, 24th March 1987

I wish to raise an important matter in tonight's Consolidated Fund debate— British Government policy towards Central America.

The matter has been raised in previous debates in the House, but it needs to be raised again because of the disturbing reports that have been received recently of British Government and British commercial complicity in the illegal sale of arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and all the horror that the sale of those arms causes.

Before turning to that matter, I want to raise some other issues of policy towards the region. What is unclear to me, and I am sure to many other people, is exactly what the British Government's policy is towards Central America. I say that with some feeling because I have examined, for example, the British Government's voting record at the United Nations since 1982. There have been 23 votes on the subjects of Central America at the United Nations since 1982. On 10 occasions the British Government have abstained. On five occasions there was no vote or unanimous decision. On five occasions they supported resolutions condemning violations of human rights in Guatemala and twice in the case of human rights in E1 Salvador.

On 17 December 1985, General Assembly resolution No. 40/188 regretted the imposition of a trade embargo on Nicaragua by the United States. It is a matter of great shame that that was adopted by 91 votes to 6, with 49 abstentions, one of which was, predictably, the United Kingdom.

On 31 July 1986 the Security Council draft resolution on compliance with the judgment of the International Court of Justice, on the legality, or rather the illegality, of American policy against Nicaragua was vetoed by the United States and the British Government showed true mettle on that occasion and abstained. Once again the British Government abstained on 28 October 1986 on the Security Council draft resolution on compliance with the judgment of the International Court of Justice.

One must ask: do we have a British Government policy in relation to central America, or do we have a policy which does little more than mirror whatever the American Administration want to be done? On occasions Ministers have told us that there is an independent policy. On other occasions they have told us that they suppport the Contadora policy, and on other occasions again they have said that they support the European initiatives on Central America, which, it is true, bear some resemblance to Contadora policy, but nevertheless the record of the British Government at the United Nations is not one of which they can be proud. All that they have done is to support American policy in that region.

We do not know exactly what voting goes on in the financial institutions of the world, because many such details are not published, but we have a fairly good idea that British Government policy in respect of trade credits and aid for Nicaragua is in line with the political objectives of the United States Administration.

There has been a sharp and significant fall in Government bilateral aid to Nicaragua since 1979, and there has been an increase in aid to Honduras and E1 Salvador. I believe that now there has been a resumption of aid to Guatemala. There has been considerable non-governmental aid to Nicaragua, some of which has been match funded by the British Government.

To have some idea of the problems in the region, it is essential for the House to have at least some knowledge of the problems faced by the area as a whole. The countries of the region— Costa Rica, E1 Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—have a number of features in common. First, they are all fairly poor and, in the case of Honduras, extremely poor. Nicaragua is poor, but is trying to improve itself.

Ther economies of those countries rely heavily on agriculture and all the countries have similar experiences of high levels of infant mortality and low life expectation. A recent publication by the Catholic Institute for International Relations summarises statistics for the region and shows that in 1985 life expectancy was high in Costa Rica, at 73·1, which is more or less a European figure, and low in Guatemala, at 59. Those are official figures, but they need to be fairly closely examined and treated with some scepticism, because I think that they often understate the degree of social deprivation that exists throughout the region.

Economically, the region suffers greatly from having economies based on agriculture. They rely on world commodity prices, over which national economies have very little control. It is important to understand something of the history of the region. It gained its independence from Spain in the early 19th century and a series of republics were set up, all of which have had consistently weak Governments, and all of which have economies increasingly dominated by foreign-owned multinational companies. This has led to great rural poverty and to distortions of the economy. It has also led to enormous political influence by largely foreign-owned multinational companies. In turn, this has led to a degree of landlessness among the peasants and, quite understandably, this has led to enormous peasant protests.

There are several ways of examining the history of Central America. One is by way of a series of governmental changes, and another is by way of the onward determination of largely landless people to achieve some social justice. The process now going on in Central America must be viewed in its historical perspective.

I have visited the region on a number of occasions. In E1 Salvador there is a town that has no seats in the central square. That is unusual for a Spanish colonial-type town, and when I asked why there were no seats I was told that the square was the burial ground of 30,000 peasants who were murdered by the E1 Salvador army in 1932 as a result of the peasant uprising of that time led by Farabundo Marti. That is now the name of the liberation movement in E1 Salvador. Similar experiences are recorded throughout Nicaragua, where in the same period of the 1930s Augusto Sandino led a series of peasant movements.

It is against that sort of background that one has to look at the regional conflict and at the problems as a whole. My understanding of the region is that a large number of socially small people are determined to improve themselves, and that the main obstacle to their improvement is the domination of the region in the past by largely foreign-owned multinational companies and the absolute determination of successive United States Administrations to have a stranglehold on the politics and the economies of the region.

United States troops have been frequently in that region, and there are endless stories of the atrocities that have been committed by them in various peasant wars during this century. Recent conflicts have a very strong historical basis. It is awful to report that since 1978— only nine years ago—150,000 people have been killed in the civil wars in a region whose population is less than one-third that of the United Kingdom. That is why it is important that the House debates the region and understands British Government policy.

We are aware of the low level of trade between Britain and the countries of that region. There are serious questions as to British Government policy towards the region. We know their United Nations voting record, and their trade and aid policy towards Central America, but we need to know where they stand on the civil wars there.

Do they actually recognise the right of the Nicaraguan Government to their own self-determination and to decide their own future, or are they on the side of the Contras and the United States in their flat-out determination to destroy that Government? Do the British Government recognise the social process that is going on in E1 Salvador, or are they entirely on the side of the E1 Salvador army and all the horrors and atrocities that go with that? The House is entitled to know that.

There are many other issues in that region that I could mention, and I should like to go through some of them. The countries of that region, whilst treated to some extent separately in policy formation, actually hang together strongly. The key to much of American policy towards the region is its policy towards Honduras as a whole. Honduras is very much under military occupation. Anyone who has visited it will be struck by the appalling poverty of many of the peasant people and by the enormous American military presence. At any one time since 1983 there have been over 20,000 United States ground troops within Honduras.

The next exercise planned for Honduras—they have lost count of the number of Big Pine exercises and they refer to the exercises as Big Pine and nothing else—will see 50,000 United States ground troops there next summer. I quote from the Central American Historical Institute update on Honduras of 12 December 1986, which gives the flavour of the problems that the people of Honduras are suffering: Honduras has long been the second poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti. Since 1982 almost continuous U.S.-Honduran joint military maneuvers and extensive U.S. military aid have contributed to the militarization of Honduran society. In the last four years the United States has provided over $289 million in direct military aid, and over $170 million in military construction under the umbrella of the maneuvers. Proposed military assistance for 1987 includes $50 million in construction and as much as $89 million in direct aid and $90 million in Economic Support Funds. In addition, Honduras received 10 Bell-450 helicopters in September and is currently negotiating the purchase of Kfir jet-fighters with Israel. To give a contrast to what is happening there, I quote Victor Inocencio Peralta, head of the 100,000 member National Peasants Union, who said of the Contra presence: Our members don't want to take any more chances of cultivating their land and then having to abandon it because of the constant abuses carried out by the contras. On the one hand massive American aid is flowing into the country, and on the other a large number of illegal forces are determined to destroy the forces of the neighbouring country of Nicaragua and to throw Honduran peasants off their land and occupy it. I have further information in front of me from the Central American Historical Institute which gives some idea of the militarisation of Honduras. This makes strange reading when one considers it against the many statements made by the United States Administration and, on some occasions, by the British Government about the alleged dangers to security in the region of the size of the Nicaraguan army.

As I have said, the Honduras air force is extremely well equipped. Now, it has expanded even more with 12 super-Mystere jet fighters from Israel, which will mean that Honduras has had a more powerful air force than any of its neighbours in Central America. The Super-Mysteres are suitable for offensive raids, and were used as recently as last December 7 in attacks on the towns of Wiwili and Murra in northern Nicaragua. There is now a massive base in Honduras that is being used to attack neighbouring countries. The Contras are using it as a base to attack Nicaragua, and the American forces are providing a base from which the E1 Salvadorean army can make bombing raids. If ever there was a case of the region being destabilised, it is through the policy towards Honduras, which makes it a military base, rather as Thailand was used as a military base throughout the Vietnam conflict during the 1960s.

In the case of E1 Salvador, the Government's policy has more published information about it for a number of reasons. A civil war has been raging there for some time, and the Duarte Government were installed by elections that many people, and many observers, believed to be fraudulent. The British Government sent observers to those elections, but pronounced them to be satisfactory—a view not shared by many others. The same British Government refused to send official observers to the elections in Nicaragua, thus prejudging the situation in the region as a whole.

In the case of E1 Salvador, the amount of aid received not just from the United States but from other countries is considerable. Military aid from the United States has gone up from the 1980 level of $50 million to the 1986 level of $131 million. Economic aid has also increased, and some supplementary aid has been given. We are told that in E1 Salvador this is matched by a general improvement in the civil and human rights position. We are told not that there is an absolute improvement, but that there has been a comparative improvement.

The history of E1 Salvador over the past seven years shows that while the civil war has been going on, illegal death squads have been operating in parts of the country. Thousands of people have been taken away in the middle of the night, and their bodies have been found in shallow graves in the morning. This did not stop in the year that Duarte was elected, and it has not stopped now. While the figures for illegal killings are lower than they have been over the past years, they have not finished altogether. In 1986, 1,821 people were killed, 1,000 were captured and 230 disappeared.

This is something that is well documented by many people. I shall not quote sources such as the FMLN and others, but Senator John F. Kerry, writing in "E1 Salvador Update: Counter Terrorism in Action", which is based on the findings of a research team in E1 Salvador in 1986, investigating United States assistance to the E1 Salvadorean police. He said: As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I have repeatedly voiced my concerns that aid to foreign police forces cannot have a positive impact in unstable countries like E1 Salvador and Guatemala, where there is no functioning judicial system and law enforcement is essentially under military control. I agree with the conclusion of the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus that 'For the future, U.S. police aid programs must be limited to police units under civilian control and linked to concrete progress in the establishement of a functioning judicial system; only such a system can hold both police and military forces accountable to it, and ultimately strengthen the rule of law in Central America.' The report goes on to chronicle those in detail. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary has received a copy of that report. If not, I would be only too happy to send him one.

I asked about E1 Salvador not just to chronicle the horrors of what life there is like for ordinary people. I have witnessed some of those horrors, such as the shanty towns in which people live, the heartbreak of disappearances, and the bravery of people who are organising human rights groups, such as the Committee of the Mothers of the Disappeared or the various trade unions activists and the horrors through which they have gone. In addition to that, there were the effects of the earthquake last year and the undoubted corruption in the distribution of aid that was given to E1 Salvador to deal with that earthquake.

In the midst of all that, the British Government say that the human rights position in E1 Salvador is improving; yet there are several thousand known political prisoners in gaols, never mind those who have disappeared. In addition to offering bilateral aid to the E1 Salvadorean Government, the British Government are also undertaking the training of one E1 Salvadorean officer at the British military academy. The Minister told us on one occasion that that young man was here to learn the democratic ways of the British and to learn about parliamentary Government in this country. He might be a particularly remarkable young man who will learn a great deal while he is here, and go back and change the course of E1 Salvadorean history, but I very much doubt it. I suspect that that is the start of a potentially much bigger programme of military assistance to the Government of E1 Salvador and further training that may be offered in the future. It is a scandal of the highest order that the British Government should be prepared to offer training to that officer.

The question we have to ask is whether the British Government recognise that there are continuing and serious abuses of human rights in E1 Salvador. Do they recognise that trade union leaders have regularly been imprisoned and shot for going about their lawful business? Do they recognise that the human rights organisations are continually harassed and under pressure? Do they recognise that the illegal death squads are still in operation and that the best policy that the British Government could follow is not one of giving direct approval and assistance to the Government and the military, but to have some consideration for the human rights causes within that region.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the situation in E1 Salvador can best be improved by the United States using its power to try to strengthen the civilian administration, tame the military and secure human rights improvements, or by the civil war being fought to a painful finish?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Nobody wants the civil war fought to a painful finish. There was the possibility of talks on a number of occasions last year between the FMLN and the government and I would hope that those talks can be resumed. However, they are unlikely to be resumed in an atmosphere where the United States continues to pour in so much money that it backs up everything that the E1 Salvadorean military does and encourages it to continue the prosecution of the civil war to the bloodiest conclusion it can possibly reach.

Nicaragua is the country that gets most of the publicity within the region and it is the country that gets the odium of the United States Administration. Quite simply, anyone who has looked at the history of Nicaragua pre-1979, the horrors that the Somoza dictatorship caused for the ordinary people of the country and the thousands of people who died at the hands of the secret police, will realise that the Sandinista revolution of 1979 was about an open and democratic society, freedom of expression, and the right of those poor people to have access to health, education, housing and to some hope for their children. That is still what it is about. That is very much what it is about when one talks to some of the poorest people in Nicaragua. Despite all that they have gone through in the past seven years, the interesting thing is that support for the Sandinistas has not reduced or fallen away. They have not had opposition internally to their policies. They have had increased support because, basically, there is an understanding of what the Sandinista revolution is all about and what the Sandinistas are trying to achieve.

If one looked at any Third world country and said that in a period of seven years it had dramatically reduced illiteracy, increased employment, increased education and set up some sort of a health service, one would say that that was good. Indeed, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation gave the Nicaraguan Government a prize for their literacy programme. Those would have been tremendous achievements for any country, but to achieve them at the same time as having an economic embargo imposed on it by its former largest trading partner, the United States, and with the United States continuously and obsessively funding the Contras, guard in its determination to destroy everything that the Sandinista revolution has achieved, is even more tremendous.

The British Government's role throughout has been to reduce aid to Nicaragua, to issue the most blood-curdling statements about alleged denials of democracy in Nicaragua, and to refuse to understand the social process in Nicaragua.

Even now I urge the Minister to go to Nicaragua and visit any village on the Atlantic or the Pacific coast, on the borders with Honduras or with Costa Rica and, with an interpreter, unless he speaks Spanish, to talk to the ordinary people and ask them what the Sandinista revolution has meant to them during the past seven years. Rather he should do that than read the CIA briefs on which, presumably, the Foreign Office relies for all its information.

Serious news has come through more recently. To some extent, the entire Iran-gate saga can be described as slightly farcical at times. Indeed, reading some sections of the Tower commission report, it is slightly farcical. However, it is also bloodthirsty and frightening that the President in the White House is so obsessed with destroying the Nicaraguan Government. The British Government go along with that, as do many others.

I shall give a quotation to show how quickly history changes. On 23 January 1985 the Iranian Prime Minister, Hussein Maussavi met the Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, in Managua. The following day President Reagan stated: A new danger we see in Central America is the support being given to the Sandinistas by Colonel Qaddafi's Libya, the PLO, and most recently, the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. That was President Reagan early in 1985, telling us of the dangers of Iran supporting the Sandinistan Government.

Now in March 1987 there are revelations of the British Government's involvement in running guns to the Contras. I refer to The Observer of 8 March and to an article by Hugh O'Shaugnessy, David Leigh and Simon de Bruxelles about the arms shipment to Costa Rica that was attempted in 1985. At the same time as President Reagan was announcing that he was concerned about the relationship between the Sandinistas and the Government of Ayatollah Khomeini, the British Government were apparently knowledgeable about, if not involved with the ship the Silver Sea that was used to run guns to the Contras to continue the bloodthirsty civil war in central America. The least——

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but will he please give the House some evidence to support his assertion that the British Government were knowledgeable about that vessel?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will give that information later. I am quite happy to give it now, but I would rather like the Minister to contain his excitement until my hon. Friend's speech later in this important debate.

I refer the Minister to The Observer and the references to the fact that the arms shipment to Costa Rica was attempted in 1985, using the British ship the Silver Sea with the full knowledge of the British and American Governments and with the promise of American military protection, according to the ship's chief officer, Mr. John Collins. Has any action been taken against Mr. John Collins? No. Has any action been taken against The Observer? No. Has any refutation ever been made about that story or any of the other stories?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

I have yet to hear them. I look forward to what the Minister has to say about that. If he wishes to intervene now he is welcome.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I shall wait for the speech of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

More sinister in many ways than the illegal supply of arms to the Contras for their attempt to destroy the Nicaraguan Government is the supply of mercenaries through KMS. It apparently enjoys an office in London, the approval of the British Government in that it is employed on security duties in some British embassies in the middle east and other places——

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Labour Government appointed KMS to carry out protection work on behalf of individual diplomats and diplomatic buildings in 1975?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

I understand that KMS was appointed on security duties in 1975, but there is no evidence that at that time it was involved in financing and recruiting mercenaries to fight in central America. The Minister is clutching at the most curious straws when he should mount an investigation into KMS supplying mercenaries to Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. He seems more interested in what the Labour Government may or may not have clone 12 years ago than in what is happening now in central America and at the KMS office in London.

I have a photocopy of the thoughts of Lt-Col Oliver North——

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Oh dear, it will not be a big bit of paper, will it?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

It is not a big bit of paper, but it is a wonder what can be done on a photocopier that enlarges. The paper is covered in a series of doodlings. On the left it says "US", in the middle it says "Multi" and on the right it says "O/S". I am not sure what all those mean. Then there are several dots and lines down to the bottom of the page which states "KMS" which is linked with gun running between the United States, the middle east, Israel and the Contras in Nicaragua.

It is all very well for the British Government to say that this has nothing to do with them and to wash their hands of it; it has a great deal to do with them, because KMS operates in London and has their approval in contracts elsewhere and because of what is happening in central America and the professed statements of the British Government on peace within that region.

When he replies I hope that the Minister will at least have the good grace to admit that KMS is up to no good, and to announce an investigation into its activities and that the Government will reconsider the contracts between the British Government and KMS.

Recently, the British Government have resumed full diplomatic relations with Guatemala, but it is unclear exactly what discussions have taken place with the Guatemalan Government. The British Government are on record as criticising that Government's human rights' record prior to Mr. Cerezo's election as President. yet the continued abuses of human rights there suggest that all is not as it should be. Early in his term, for example, the President announced that he would not attempt to repeal the amnesty, which assures that nobody will be prosecuted for killing tens of thousands of civilians and for destroying over 400 rural villages. That is reported in the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Americas Watch of February 1987. It continues: Throughout 1986, violent killings were reported in the Guatemalan press at the rate of over 100 per month and abductions and disappearances have also continued. Although the identity of those responsible for the violence is difficult to determine in at least some of the cases, the security forces appeared to be involved. This is based on the condition of some of the bodies found with marks of torture and hands bound, the fact that some of the victims were abducted and disappeared before their corpses appeared, and the failure to investigate these crimes or to punish those responsible.

Before the Government decide that President Cerezo is a second Napoleon Duarte, therefore somebody who must be given unconditional support in that region, I suggest that they examine Guatemala's human rights record and tell us exactly what arrangements have been made in the dispute between Guatemala and Belize over territorial claims. No statement has been made by the British Government at any stage about that.

It would be wrong to conclude any discussion about central America without mentioning the awful human tragedies of the region that have occurred in the civil wars—the homelessness, the disappearances, the unbridled power enjoyed by the military in some of the region and the sheer horror and misery of the number of refugees. There are over 400,000 refugees in Mexico, 150,000 of whom come from Guatemala and 100,000 of those are not in camps under any influence or control of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There is a need for an extremely urgent appraisal of the refugee policy towards the region as a whole.

We are witnessing, in the horror of what is happening in central America, an American Administration obsessed with destroying the Government of Nicaragua, not because even in President Reagan's wildest dreams it represents a threat to anyone in the region but because it represents the threat of a good example. It represents a threat through its example in land reform, education reform, housing reform and health reform. It is interesting that when the Contra rebels attack in the rural areas and border regions of Nicaragua, they first make for the health centres and schools, the products of that revolution, because the Contra rebels hope to destroy the Government through that process.

The American Administration are obsessed with that aim. There is also considerable opposition to the American Administration. The booklet "In Contempt of Congress— The Reagan Record of Deceit and Illegality on Central America" very carefully argues the case about all the illegal actions of the Reagan Administration within the region. A very detailed report has also been produced by Witness for Peace, a Quaker organisation reporting on the effects of the Contra attacks against Nicaragua. Any section of that report will show what the horror of American policy means.

We are entitled to know exactly where the British Government stand in relation to their policy towards the region. Are they giving uncritical support to the United States in all it actions in the region? If so, they should say so. If not, they should tell us where their actions differ from United States policy within the region. We should have an assurance that in future voting at the United Nations the British Government will not act as they have acted in the past—as a poodle for President Reagan's policies.

With regard to the provision of arms to the Contras and KMS, we need a statement that no arms will go to the Contras from this country and that there will be an investigation into KMS and the relationships that some Tory Members' staff have towards the Contras and the conference that was held recently in London. Finally, we need to know that there will be a resumption of aid to Nicaragua on the level that is offered to other countries within that region so that the Nicaraguans can develop their economy in the way that they want, in a way which will not suffer interference from foreign powers.

We are witnessing a social process throughout that region of people trying to improve their own living standards and to gain some salvation from the misery of their lives. However, the American Administration are determined to turn the clock back to the dictatorships of Somoza and the United Fruit Company that dominated the region for so long. The British Government are unclear about their policy, but they have effectively followed the United States, poodle-like, in everything that the United States has done in the region.

This is a serious issue. The region is serious and I believe that the threat of the civil wars in the region to world peace is very serious indeed. The issue deserves far more attention and more serious consideration than the British Government have been prepared to give it.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 3:18 am, 24th March 1987

I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in his demand for a clear statement of British Government policy on central America and about Nicaragua in particular. I will differ with him on one or two points, but on that point I very much agree with him. Before I consider Nicaragua, I think that there is at least something to be welcomed in the Guatemalan Government's more realistic attitude towards the rights and the position of the people of Belize. We all hope for significant human rights improvements in Guatemala. It is early yet to make an assessment of the human rights situation, but there has at least been a more realistic appreciation that the people of Belize are entitled to order their own affairs, and Guatemala ought to seek good and friendly relations with it if it wants to make progress.

The United States has legitimate interests in central America. It is not surprising that it takes a close interest, and is heavily committed, in many countries there. Many of us would like American power used more explicitly to support movement towards democracy and to tame the military in many of the countries concerned. The military are the real base of power in most of these countries, and the nominal civilian leaders are in a weak position. The United States could use its power to strengthen the civilianising and democratic trends much more than it appears to be doing. It should also support moves towards social progress, without which there is little hope for the poor of those very poor countries.

I speak on behalf of the alliance and take a slightly different view of Nicaragua from some hon. Members. I am a strong supporter of our alliance with America. I am not a Socialist and do not have an automatic ideological sympathy with the Sandinistas based on a shared emphasis on Socialism or Marxism. It is therefore all the more important that I should stress our view that American action in support of the Contras is wholly wrong.

The hon. Member for Islington, North mentioned the Sandinista revolution in some detail. I admire some of what has been done. I admire the Government's record on literacy, public health, educational development and several other matters. I support the principle, espoused in that revolution, of pluralism, and believe that it should be sustained. When I see that principle threatened, I find myself arguing with the Sandinista Government and making representations to them.

I am well aware that that Government made some dramatic mistakes in their early years and that they recognised the fact—a quality that one might like to see shown more widely by Governments. There was clear recognition of the Government's mistakes about the relocation of Mesquito indians and the ruthless action that the Nicaraguan forces allowed to go on at that time.

I still complain whenever human rights abuses arise in Nicaragua. We cannot be selective about human rights abuses. Wherever they arise, the British Government should take a firm stand on the side of human rights and liberty. There have been limitations on press freedom in Nicaragua, detention of opposition members and leaders and the system of popular tribunals has rightly been criticised by Amnesty International. Concern for the pressures under which the Sandinista Government are put ought not to mute our outspokenness on issues such as this.

Nicaragua has everything to gain from having the best possible human rights record. In a few weeks' time, the Inter-Parliamentary Union will have a major conference in Managua. That will be an opportunity for the Nicaraguans to set out their stall and convince a lot of visiting parliamentarians about their human rights record. The conference could be a valuable occasion, and I hope that the Nicaraguan Government can demonstrate further moves towards full implementation of constitutional protection and the removal of limitations that have been put in place.

I am firmly convinced that the United States' action in support of the Contras is quite wrong. It is wrong in international law, as the International Court of Justice has made clear. It is wrong because it is an attack on a sovereign state which is entitled to order its own affairs. It is a poor country where development is seriously inhibited by the massive cost of resisting external attack. It is wrong because it is an attack on an elected Government. There is no logic or consistency in the claim that failings in democracy or human rights in Nicaragua somehow justify support of that external attack.

It is not possible to sustain that view when one examines the human rights records of many other countries in Central and South America. If that were the logic of the view, the United States would be launching attacks on numerous countries, including some with particularly bad human rights records, which it has persistently supported over the years. There is no logical basis in the Nicaraguan human rights limitations such as I have described for the military attack which is launched on that country.

The American action is wrong also because it involves propping up a discredited movement whose actions on human rights are far more horrific than those for which one can criticise the Nicaraguan Government. The actions of the Contras in the areas in which they have operated have been unbelievably horrific. It is clearly a case of exporting terrorism from the United States into central America—exporting it by giving direct sustenance and support and by giving those engaged in this process to and from the US.

It is also manifestly wrong because it has involved extensive illegal, unauthorised actions which could not be publicly defended, and that is why they went on under cover—actions by White House staff for which they did not wish to be publicly accountable. The very nature of that activity shows how frightened they were of responsible American public opinion about the actions on which they were engaged. It is also a fundamental mistake on the part of the United States Government, because it is likely to make Nicaraguans more hostile to America and more dependent on other allies, whom the United States does not want to see strengthened in that area.

Where does that leave the United Kingdom? The British Government have often stated that they are in favour of a peaceful solution and that they support the Contadora process. But they have always stopped short of dissociating themselves in a specific way from the actions that the United States takes. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Minister is propounding the Foreign Office line—of support for peaceful solutions and the Contadora process— while the Prime Minister is continuing to align herself with the President and those of his most reactionary advisers who have got him into the mess in which he now finds himself, for that is the effect of the Prime Minister's stand. It is to give aid and comfort to the very people who have put the President in his present embarrassment.

It is no service to a friend or ally not to tell him when one thinks he is wrong. One does not do a friend or ally a service to allow it to be widely believed over a long period that one supports him in actions which responsible American opinion widely rejects. In addition to that stand taken by the Prime Minister, the suspicion remains that arms have gone from this country into the conflict, and the allegation has been made that the Government were aware of that flow of arms.

At the very least, the Government were responsible for the mechanisms by which that process should have been known. They were responsible for the customs examination of the outgoing arms and for examining the manifests of the contents of vessels such as the Silver Sea. The Government are aware of the activities of firms such as KMS, so they were in a position to have some idea of what was going on.

It may be that the Government had no knowledge whatever, but the House cannot be satisfied about that until a proper report has been made to Parliament following a thorough investigation by the Government of the matter. I hope the Minister will agree to that, as we thought Baroness Young had agreed to it on another occasion.

It is no part of a mature international alliance not to criticise one's ally when he is wrong, and I say on behalf of the alliance that were we in government, we should want to make it much clearer that Britain does not support the action that is being taken by the United States President. The policy on which President Reagan has been engaged is not only certain to fail but is certain to be abandoned before long. It is a tragedy that all this has been visited on a country which is so poor and which could make much better use of the limited resources at its disposal than by defending itself in a futile and damaging military conflict such as this.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:29 am, 24th March 1987

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for initiating this debate. He has sketched a comprehensive picture of central America and has done well to point out the importance of the region and of the individual countries. I should like to refer to Guatemala, a country which tends to be overshadowed by other countries in the region, for obvious reasons.

There has been a change in British Government policy toward Guatemala since the election of the nominally civilian government of Vinicio Cerezo. The British Government are apparently playing a part in maintaining the claim that there has been a dramatic improvement in human rights. Baroness Young has said that a limited aid package will be given to Guatemala and diplomatic relations between the two countries have been restored. Inevitably, questions arise as to the relationship between Guatemala and Belize, and I hope that the Minister will briefly touch on that.

The central question is whether there has been an improvement in human rights in Guatemala. I regret the fact that recently the British Government voted in the United Nations to remove Guatemala's status as an international pariah and to withdraw the special rapporteur. Presumably, that was premised on hard evidence that the position in that country had changed, yet that runs counter to information coming out of Guatemala and the surrounding region. It is widely documented that significant abuses of human rights are occurring.

The British parliamentary human rights group and Americas Watch paid a semi-compliment to President Cerezo when they said: Regrettably, we must express disappointment at the human rights situation. They said: We do not question President Cerezo's personal commitment to improve the human rights situation…we recognise that some important improvements in human rights are taking place. There is greater freedom of expression in Guatemala today than at any time in the past decade. But they continued: Despite the improvements that have taken place during President Cerezo's first year, the human rights situation in Guatemala remains terrible. They tacitly recognise that they are talking about the country which, apart from Kampuchea during the period of Pol Pot, witnessed the worst and most systematic abuse of human rights in recent history. So horrific and bestial were its practices that it earned a reputation throughout the world as being controlled by an evil regime. The modest gains in Guatemala are to be welcomed, but the report on human rights in Guatemala documents significant cases of the same kinds of abuse.

Serious observers have reported that there is not the need in Guatemala for the level of oppression that occurred in the early 1980s and that there is not the need for the army to massacre as it did in the 1980s, because the civilian population is well cowed. The system of civilian patrols and of model villages and a mainly Indian population simply cannot resist whatever the army wants to do.

Despite that, the report of the parliamentary human rights group gives frightening evidence of the abuse of its position by the army in rural areas, with the killing of innocent civilians and almost gratuitous violence. Even in the cities, where there is perhaps some evidence of an improvement in human rights, there are many examples of abuse affecting those who are politically active. The tortured corpses of two active agricultural trade unionists were found in Quezaltenango in the latter part of last year.

The most notorious recent example is that of Celso Lopez Jop, a press secretary of the Christian Democratic party to which President Cerezo belongs, who in December last year was found tortured and killed in Mixco, not far from Guatemala City. Local Christian Democrat leaders claim that, before he died, Lopez Jop said that his assailants were members of the National Police. Despite that, President Cerezo has effectively dismissed the claim and said that there is no political motive, yet senior members of his party, including the President of the Congress, have sharply disagreed with him.

President Cerezo has recently been engaged in a massive diplomatic offensive to improve the image of Guatemala abroad. That campaign certainly seems to have influenced the British and other European Governments. If there is no evidence to suggest that there has been an improvement in human rights, but the British Government assume that that is the case, it suggests that we do not care about the violence and violation of human rights taking place in that country. Parliament should not stand for that.

It is incumbent upon the Government to say that the Government of Guatemala are guilty until they prove their innocence. That innocence has not been proven. Unless the Minister can tell us that there is significant evidence of improvement, I suggest that he should tell the Foreign Secretary that the process of relations with Guatemala should be rethought to ensure that aid is not given and that existing diplomatic relations remain for the purpose of monitoring the level of human rights in that country.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 3:35 am, 24th March 1987

In the few minutes available to me I will confine my remarks to British Government policy in respect of Nicaragua. I declare my interest in that, recently, I became the chairman of the British-Nicaragua parliamentary group. It is the only all-party parliamentary grouping that I have joined and perhaps that is a mark of how strongly I feel about the position in Nicaragua and the attitude of the American Government to the country.

It is extremely difficult to comprehend how the most powerful country on earth can feel so threatened by a tiny country with a population of some 2·8 million. The hypocrisy emerges when one realises how long Nicaragua suffered under the Somoza family. At that time criticisms from the United States Government about conditions in the country were muted, to say the least. There was enormous political and economic support for one of the vilest dictatorships in that part of central America.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has already commented on the bizzare way in which President Reagan has got himself embroiled in the problem. He seems to be manipulated by a combination of anti-Communist zealots and religious maniacs. I have still not understood how on earth it was felt that America could in some way influence Iran by sending Christmas cakes and bibles to an Islamic fundamentalist state. Perhaps that says something about the state of mind of the President of the United States and those who advise him. It is no wonder that the person who took the cakes and bibles to that country subsequently tried to commit suicide.

It should be remembered that, in April, the Inter-Parliamentary Union is meeting in Managua and I understand that the United States will not be represented—that is a great pity. However, at the same time as the delegation from the House will be in Managua, the United States will have some 50,000 service men and women on an exercise in Honduras that I believe is called Solid Shield. That exercise is set to coincide with the spring offensive of the Contras. We must ask whether that exercise is part of a preparation for the invasion of Nicaragua. However, the five-year terrorist campaign conducted by the Contras has been a singular failure and has won no support in that country.

It is true that the American Government have been involving themselves in international terrorism and therefore they have lessened their ability and power to condemn other regimes, such as Libya, that the American Government believe are involved in international terrorism.

So far we have discussed the possibility of the British arms being supplied to the Contras. I accept that that has not happened directly, but we must know from the Minister whether there is any knowledge, within the Government, of British-manufactured arms ending up in the hands of the Contras. Is there any knowledge of British arms being in the hands of the Contras? that is a question that we need to have answered this morning. There are many stories flying around and it might assist if the Government were to think about extending end-user certificates to arms exports to the United States, as Lord Kennet suggested in another place to Lord Trefgarne, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, only to receive a dusty answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned British bilateral aid to Nicaragua. The Library has supplied me with figures showing that for the six years between 1974 and 1979, British aid to Nicaragua averaged £295,000 a year. In the six years between 1980 and 1985, in the period immediately following the overthrow of Somoza, the average fell to £76,000 per annum. It reached an all-time low of £9,000 in 1984. It increased to £116,000 in 1985, and I should like to know the figure for 1986.

Will the Government be pressing for an EEC initiative on central America? Will the British Government insist that the United States Government adhere to international law and attempt to reach a political solution through the Contadora process? Will the British Government be prepared to step up bilateral aid to Nicaragua? Will we be establishing full representation in Nicaragua, with an ambassador based in Managua? The Minister will know that, from 13 March, the Nicaraguan Government have requested the good offices of the Contadora to form an investigative commission to prevent further attacks from across the borders of neighbouring states. That refutes the idea that Nicaragua is attempting to destabilise surrounding states. It is asking for the protection of the Contadora states and thereby establishing that the aggression is coming across the border from Honduras and not going the other way.

It is clear from what we have heard this morning and from what we have read that the people of Nicaragua are struggling to establish their freedom and much deserve the support of all civilised nations. On this occasion I hope that Britain can be counted among the civilised.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 3:42 am, 24th March 1987

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on being lucky once again in the Consolidated Fund debate and on his eloquent and comprehensive introduction to the debate. Whatever criticism the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) may have of the Sandinista regime, I am sure that he shares the view of my hon. Friend and me that that is no justification for United States support for what is now the largest state-sponsored example of terrorism in the world. It is terrorism which has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world.

I shall concentrate on the British connection in the supply of arms to the Contra terrorists, with no disrespect to all the other important issues which have been dealt with by my colleagues and with which I have dealt elsewhere. The issue is urgent, and it is central to the problems of the entire region. I want to show that a web of intrigue and deception has been built up and that there have been clandestine operations to supply arms to the Contra terrorists with, in my view, the tacit approval of the British Government. This has contravened two of the main planks of British foreign policy. The first plank is the Government's avowed opposition to terrorism. The second is their avowed support for a peaceful solution to the problems in central America.

We are not considering the overt support or approval of the supply of arms to the Contra terrorists, which is what the Minister and his colleagues always say is not taking place. No one suggests that Short Brothers or anyone else applies for export licences to the Department of Trade and Industry, which are then transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for approval, which leads to the supply of Blowpipe missiles or whatever to the Contra terrorists. It is not done like that. Instead, there is a clandestine operation.

I am concerned that this issue has arisen because we. have heard previously that the British Government on two occasions, at the time of the ruling of the International Court of Justice and on the £100 million decision by Congress, made some quite positive statements through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They said that they accepted the International Court's rulings — that was Britain's normal practice—and that they did not think that the problems of central America should be solved by military means.

Clearly, coming into line with civilised opinion here and throughout the world was not popular with the American Administration. I have always had my suspicions—as some of my colleagues have had—about the real actions that the Government have been undertaking. It is easy to see how President Reagan's reaction to what was said by the Foreign Office can have influenced United Kingdom policy. To a great extent, I go along with the remarks by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. There seems to be a prime ministerial policy on this matter that is quite separate from Foreign Office policy. It is easy to see how that can arise.

We know of Reagan's obsession with Nicaragua. We know of the special relationship between President Reagan and the Prime Minister. We know that there have been other examples of complicity in which the President required a willing accomplice. We saw that in the withdrawal from UNESCO, in the F111 bombing of Tripoli, and, in the Nicaraguan context, in support of the blocking of the IADB loans. We also know that the Contra terrorists wanted the accurate Blowpipe missiles and other arms from the United Kingdom. It is reasonable to assume that even our Prime Minister could not provide them directly and openly, as I said earlier, and so a nod and a wink to the private sector arms dealers — the merchants of death—was the likely way of doing it.

We heard about the Silver Sea. I do not rely only on articles in The Observer. I have a copy of a document, signed by John Collins, who became captain of the Silver Sea, about its despatch from Portsmouth on 15 February and about how it was supposedly on an innocent mission and took arms on board. The owner of the Silver Sea told him: we had the blessing of our own government, also that of the United States. That document was signed by someone who was principally involved. The Minister needs to try to address that matter. In his statement, John Collins also said that he reported to special branch. When he got back, he telephoned special branch and told them the truth regarding the Silver Sea. He said: I had already been interviewed by them after my return from France.

What has happened to the special branch report, the investigations and the statements that they took? Has any report been produced to the Minister or to any other Minister? Will the Minister say what is in the report? As the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed said — I also got this information in answer to a parliamentary question — there has been a Customs and Excise investigation into the Silver Sea. What has been the result? Does the Foreign Office know what is going on and what Customs and Excise is doing about this strange operation? Is a warrant out for the owner of the Silver Sea, Bill Sutton? Are the police or Customs and Excise officials making every effort to locate and question this man, who is responsible for setting up an arms supply deal in Costa Rica on his way to the Contras? Is William Sutton known to any Minister, particularly the Prime Minister?

What is the position of Mr. John Collins? On Monday 16 March he was to talk to the press, but he pulled out at the last minute, and said that he would talk only to me. He was then reluctant to do that—he had cold feet. Is the Minister aware of any pressure being applied to John Collins by the Government, any of their agencies or anyone else, to keep quiet about the connection, and particularly the Government's connection, with the operation?

Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the very shadowy KMS operation in London. Why has the Prime Minister blocked questions about her meetings with Major David Walker of KMS? What is she afraid or? Major Walker has been described as Britain's Colonel Oliver North. What is the link between KMS and the Contra arms supply that is hinted at in Colonel North's doodlings, as reproduced in the Tower commission report and confirmed by the Prime Minister's reply to me on 4 March. Has the Department considered carrying out an investigation? We thought we had convinced Lady Young that an investigation should be carried out, but before she could get anything moving, somebody must have taken the matter out of her hands.

The evidence in the Tower commission report deals with the web of intrigue and confirms our suspicions about the British Government's involvement. It gives an account of the setting up of a system for the supply of Blowpipe missiles to the Contra terrorists. It is surprising and disappointing that little publicity has been given to it. Because of the concentration on President Reagan's involvement, perhaps the British connection was overlooked. It is political dynamite.

I shall refer to two passages in the Tower commission report. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will deal with them.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that it is a remarkable testament to the United States as a society that the Tower Commission report was published? If such things had happened in this country, we should never have heard about them.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is the precise point on which I shall end my speech—but not yet. An investigation of that kind is needed into the British connection. All credit is due to the United States for being able to conduct that kind of investigation.

Page 465 of the version of the Tower commission report that is before me says: On March 26, 1986, three months after Mr. McFarlane left Government service, Lt. Col. North informed Mr. McFarlane of his efforts … to obtain Blowpipe launchers and missiles for the Contras: We are trying to find a way to get 10 Blowpipe launchers and 20 missiles from a South American country"— which we understand to be Chile— thru the Short Bros Rep … Short Bros, the manufacturer of the Blowpipe, is willing to arrange the deal, conduct the training and even send UK 'technical reps' forward if we can close the arrangement … we have a"— and the country is deleted— end-user certificate which is acceptable to that South American country. There is direct evidence that Short Brothers was conniving at evading the provisions of the Export of Goods (Control) (Amendment) Order.

Will the Government now consider prosecuting Short Brothers? Did Short Brothers negotiate with Colonel North on its own initiative, or was it asked to do it—as I suspect-by the Prime Minister? Will the Government launch an investigation into the real destination of all Blowpipe missiles that were exported in 1985 and 1986, or should we assume that Short Brothers acted in direct contravention of the Government's stated policy on Nicaragua, at the instigation of the Government? Will the Minister explicitly condemn the action of Short Brothers and now allow the British public to have the information that we assume is available to the CIA? Will he publish the details of Blowpipe exports?

On page 344, the report says: On June 10, 1986, North wrote to Poindexter: 'Critically needed items are being flown in from Europe to the expanded warehouse facility at Ilopango.' In the same note North went on: 'We should look to going back to a head of an allied government on the blowpipes if we are going to do anything at all about outside support in the next few days, and I would love to carry the letter from Ronald Reagan.

That implies the involvement of a European Government. Can the Minister categorically deny that any of that came from Britain? How many allied Governments would the Americans go to about Blowpipe? The use of the words "going back" are revealing. Do they not show that the matter had been discussed at a different point?

That brings me to one of the most important questions that I want the Minister to answer. Were Blowpipes and the supply of those missiles discussed between Colonel North, Mr. Casey—the then head of the CIA—and the Prime Minister? Did Colonel North carry a letter from Ronald Reagan on either or both of his visits and in the meetings that he had with the Prime Minister during 1986? Will the Under-Secretary get the Prime Minister to publish the letter and the minutes of those meetings? We need to know what happened at those meetings between Mr. Casey, Mr. North and the Prime Minister last year. What were they talking about if it was not the supply of Blowpipe missiles to the Contra terrorists?

This is a matter of great importance. I do not believe that that supply could have taken place without Government awareness at the very least, or their tacit approval.

It is unlikely that the Under-Secretary will be able to deal with the questions in a way that will satisfy us, if he deals with them at all. I doubt whether the Under-Secretary even knew what was going on when all this was taking place.

I issue the Under-Secretary this warning. We shall pursue this matter relentlessly until the truth is revealed. That can only be done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, if an independent investigation is set up, as was done in the United States. The Minister should be honest and straightforward today, because I expect further revelations soon. It is better for the Under-Secretary to be honest now than for it to be proved later that he has been dishonest. The pressure for an investigation will become inexorable. It is better to set up that investigation now rather than later.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North 3:57 am, 24th March 1987

May I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on putting his name forward tonight. However, I wish that he had chosen a more appropriate time to hold the debate. Having listened to the debate I wish also that his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) had been here when he should have been for Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions last Wednesday. We might have been spared a disruptive night.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, North for having given his hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) an opportunity to give vent to his over-active imagination. It has long been a characteristic of his and I have sometimes wondered whether it is a cause or a symptom of his problems. I suppose that he feels that he must go on fantasising in some vague hope that his fantasies will suddenly turn into reality, rather like Cinderella at the ball.

Hon. Members have expressed their concerns about Central America, and it is right that they should do so. It is also of considerable concern to the Government. I can only deplore the way in which some hon. Members persist in wilfully misrepresenting the Government's policy towards the region. The obsessive theme that has come from Opposition Members is all the more unjustifiable when we have explained in clear terms, and on numerous occasions in the House and elsewhere, our consistent policy. We support a peaceful, political negotiated solution to the region's problems. Sadly, that message— which I have spelt out time and time again—seems to have fallen on the deaf ears of Opposition Members. Instead, it seems to have been subsumed in a series of unfounded, ill-researched assertions which do no credit to the hon. Member for Islington, North or the reputation of the House.

Allegations have been made that the Government gave approval for the supply of Blowpipes to the Contras. Those allegations are entirely without foundation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made this quite clear to the House. Other baseless and irresponsible allegations have been made and I should like to reiterate in the strongest terms that at no time have the Government authorised the supply of arms to the Contras.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley made allegations about the role of Short Brothers. Whatever approaches may have been made to Short Brothers on behalf of the Contras— and we saw the Tower commission report before the hon. Gentleman did— no supply of Blowpipe missiles to the Contras was authorised. As I have already told the hon. Gentleman, the United States Government have assured us that there are no Blowpipe missiles in Contra hands and that they have no intention of supplying Blowpipes.

We have consistently called for a reduction in arms levels in central America. That has been our consistent policy and we shall stick to it. We have clearly demonstrated over past years our support for a political and not a military solution to the problems of the region. Our actions have been and will continue to be fully— and I stress fully—consistent with that policy.

I shall now deal with two of the more fanciful allegations that were made first about the Silver Sea and secondly about KMS. The wild allegation that any member of the Government had knowledge of a reported arms shipment on the Silver Sea to the Contras is without basis and that allegation has already been quite clearly denied. We have seen various versions of the apparently bizarre events surrounding the voyage of the Silver Sea from Southhampton to Brest. At times the events seemed to have more of a "Pirates of Penzance" feel than the feel of any serious arms smuggling operation.

All our reports appear to coincide in the fact that after leaving Southampton the ship got no further than Brest after the crew became sea sick and the captain felt that he had to put in and ask the French authorities for assistance. The captain was subsequently charged with importing arms into France. The French public prosecutor is reported to have said that no significant war material was found. The items found were three or four jeeps, military communications equipment, rubber dinghies, secondhand military uniforms and some daggers.

From questioning the crew it was believed that the ship was bound for Africa. Whatever may be the truth about the Silver Sea, the fact remains that we have no knowledge about its sailing nor did we at any time authorise any supply of arms to the Contras.

I shall now turn to the allegations that the Government were aware of or approved the alleged involvement of KMS with the Contras. Those allegations are entirely without foundation. It is true that at various times between 1975 and 1982 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office employed KMS to provide personal and building protection at those of our posts overseas which were subject to a high level of threat of violent attack, but KMS has not been employed in any capacity since 1982.

As a commercial company, KMS contracts to provide services and it is not, of course, controlled by the Government. We are, of course, aware of the reference to KMS in the Tower commission report, but we have seen no other evidence of its alleged involvement with the Contras. The hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested that there should be an inquiry into these wild and fanciful allegations.

The hon. Member for Islington, North and the Liberal spokesman suggested that there should be an inquiry into these wild and fanciful allegations. There is nothing to inquire into. The allegations are nothing more than wild, stray imagination that has been put together in a fanciful web by the hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench. On the role of human rights in Guatemala——

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

It is unreasonable of the hon. Gentleman to have left me so little time. I have only six minutes left and I would like to do justice to the other points raised in this debate.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

It is not my hon. Friend's fault.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

I agree. It is the fault of the hon. Member for Islington, North, but his hon. Friend will have to suffer on his account.

The question of human rights in Guatemala was raised. We believe that the incidence of human rights violations such as disappearances and death squad killings has decreased considerably since the present Government in Guatemala came to power, and we hope this improvement will continue. We condemn all violations of human rights wherever they occur. We do not believe, however, that the present Guatemalan Government sanctions those violations that still occur.

We are strengthened in our view by the fact that the United Nations special representative on human rights in Guatemala has expressed similar sentiments to our own in his report to the 1987 United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Of course, there is still a long way to go in improving human rights within Guatemala. My right hon. Friend Baroness Young made exactly that point to the President of Guatemala during her visit to that country. The hon. Member for Islington, North also raised the question of the rapprochement that appears to be taking place between Guatemala and Belize. We welcome any improvement in relations between those two sovereign and independent countries, but we do not have any direct role in any discussions that may take place.

I turn to the role of the Contadora group. The Government, together with our European partners, have given practical support to the efforts of the Contadora group to promote the resolution of the problems of South America through regional multilateral negotiations. We want to see, and have supported practically, a comprehensive, verifiable and simultaneously implemented agreement on the basis of the Contadora objectives agreed by all five Central American countries in September 1983.

The basic plank of our policy—and I was asked to express it—is support for the Contadora process. The twenty-one objectives drawn up and agreed by all the Contadora and central American states as the basis of a regional settlement have gained widespread international support. They include the end of support for cross-border subversion and destabilisation, an end to the arms race and foreign military bases and advisers, the elimination of traffic in arms, a full pluralist democracy, internal reconciliation and respect for human rights.

We have no doubt that a comprehensive settlement based on these objectives would be the best solution. We are encouraged by the Decision of the Presidents of the five central American states to meet within the next two months at Esquipulas in Guatemala to discuss proposals for peace that have been put forward by President Arias of Costa Rica. This is a highly significant development, since peace can only be achieved through an agreement among the central Americans themselves. The Contadora group and its support group have welcomed this decision and reaffirm their willingness to support efforts to achieve peace in the region. The aims of both the Contadora peace plan and the Costa Rican proposals are to promote democracy and to restore peace and stability to the region. We support these aims.

I move now to a general discussion of democracy in the central American region. There have been some encouraging developments in this region over the past two or three years. In Belize, which has fortunately managed to stay outside the conflicts in the region, democracy is flourishing, as the elections of 1985 showed. In Guatemala, a democratically elected Government took power in January 1986 for the first time for more than 30 years. That Government are committed to economic and social development and an improvement in human rights. In December, we agreed with the new Government to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. In Honduras, elections were held in November 1985, which were widely judged to have been free and fair. The transfer of power in January 1986 from one democratically elected civilian president to another was the first such transfer for 50 years. Costa Rica's democratic credentials are well established, and I have already referred to its valiant efforts to promote peace in the area.

Sadly, in Nicaragua, the situation is different. I wish that Opposition Members had expressed a slightly more balanced view of what is happening there. For instance, why, with the exception of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, did they not urge the Nicaraguan Government to establish a full pluralist democracy? Why did they not urge the Nicaraguan Government to reduce massive stockpiles of Soviet weaponry? Why did they not urge that Government to end support for subversion in neighbouring countries? Why did——

In accordance with MR. SPEAKER'S Ruling—[Official Report, 31 January 1983; Vol. 36, c. 19] the Debate was concluded.