HC Deb 03 July 1979 vol 969 cc1108-11
Mr. Shore

(by private notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal what further aid he proposes to make available to Nicaragua through the International Committee of the Red Cross in the light of grave and worsening food shortage.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Neil Marten)

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we provided £50,000 for the local purchases of relief supplies in September 1978. We are now urgently considering, in the light of the most recent reports from Nicaragua, the question of further aid.

Mr. Shore

I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply, as will be my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), who would have been here to ask the question had she been able.

Can the Minister confirm the report of the Red Cross in Managua that at least 100,000 refugees in the capital alone are now being supported by the IRC and that supplies of food and medicine are exhausted? Have approaches for food and, above all, for air transport to carry it, been made to the Government? If so, what response has the Minister made? Finally, since all these events are the direct consequence of a civil war which has been waged with great brutality by the Somoza forces, what discussions has he had with the United States and other Governments about such steps, including withdrawal of credits, as are needed to bring about a change of Government and an end to the fighting?

Mr. Marten

I am afraid that I cannot confirm the Red Cross reports which were in the papers today. We have no resident mission in Nicaragua, it having been closed in 1975. We therefore have no first-hand information, but we certainly do not dispute the gravity of the situation.

On air transport, we understand that the International Committee of the Red Cross, while it has not specifically appealed for food, has chartered two aircraft for at least one month. British aircraft are in the area, and we are considering using them. The question of discussions with the United States and the International Monetary Fund is one for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. John Wells

How many British subjects are there in the country, and what steps are being taken for their safety?

Mr. Marten

As we have no mission there, it is extremely difficult to say how many British subjects are in the country. I understand that the number is very few. I understand, too, that three or four technical co-operation officers have recently been withdrawn.

Mr. Newens

I fully recognise the desirability of giving aid to the victims of this terrible civil war, but will the Minister make clear that, given the appalling record of torture and repression of the Somoza Government, the British Government will give them no aid whatever to remain in power?

Mr. Marten

Her Majesty's Government deplore President Somoza's inhuman actions and hope that a truly democratic Government will be installed quickly in Nicaragua.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who have been rising to speak.

Mr. McCrindle

Will the Minister say how many international organisations have condemned the present regime in Nicaragua? How many of those organisations have been prone to follow that through by offering international support and succour to the people in that country?

Mr. Marten

The European Economic Community made a declaration calling for an end to the fighting and the installation of a democratic Government. The United Nations condemned the flagrant abuse of human rights in December, and the United Kingdom supported that resolution. The Organisation of American States passed a resolution on 23 June calling for the immediate and definitive replacement of the Somoza Government, the installation of a democratic Government including the main Opposition groups, and free elections to be held as soon as possible.

Mr. Maclennan

In countries where Britain is not represented with a diplomatic mission it is normal to have our affairs looked after by some other mission. Is that the case here? If so, which country is looking after British interests in Nicaragua? Has the Minister had contact with any other diplomatic mission, particularly about the interests of British residents?

Mr. Marten

I feel sure that there are contacts, although I cannot directly answer that question. The new ambassador in Costa Rica, which is practically next door to Nicaragua, was appointed in May 1979 but has not been accredited to Nicaragua.

Mr. Kershaw

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in spite of having no regular diplomatic representation, the British honorary consul in Managua has been doing sterling work? Is he further aware that Nicaragua has about the size and population of a normal English county? Surely the international brotherhod ought to be able to get together to deal with a problem of that size.

Mr. Marten

The International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to deal with exactly that situation.