HC Deb 28 November 1979 vol 974 cc1271-3
7. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will raise in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights the position of political refugees in Latin America.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

The United Nations Human Rights Commission will hold its next meeting in February 1980. We shall consider what matters might be raised at this meeting nearer the time.

Mr. Whitehead

Does the Minister agree that the position of political refugees in Latin America is still of the utmost gravity? Would it not be more advantageous to the United Kingdom in making representations if we had not phased out the admission of political refugees from Latin America?

Will the Minister consider the case of Virgilio Bareiro, former director-general of the National Telecommunications Corporation of Paraguay, who has been refused political asylum in this country in spite of having been imprisoned without trial in Paraguay for 15 years?

Mr. Ridley

The special admission programme is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but the hon. Gentleman will know that there is no reason why Latin American refugees should not apply to come into this country. They will be treated on their merits, as are refugees from all over the world. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about the case that he mentioned, I shall look into it.

Mr. Grieve

Will my hon. Friend not let concern for political refugees in Latin America disguise our concern for political refugees much nearer home in Europe who seek to get out of East Germany and elsewhere and are shot down in the process?

Mr. Ridley

While entirely agreeing with my hon. and learned Friend, may I point out that we should have a programme for the admission of refugees that is the same from whichever quarter they come. There should not be special privileges for one set of refugees as opposed to another.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Few of us would disagree with the conclusions just drawn by the hon. Gentleman, but how does he justify the advice that his Department has given to the Home Office that it is now safe for Chilean refugees in this country to be returned to that foul regime in Chile? Why does the hon. Gentleman take such a benign attitude towards that regime?

Mr. Ridley

We are not returning any refugees to any country. They either gain admission here or they do not. A number of Chileans here now wish to go back to Chile, and that could be because the human rights record of Chile is now, in many cases, no worse than that of some of the other offenders in Latin America.

Mr. Rowlands

The House will treat with great scepticism the last remark by the hon. Gentleman. Will he not reconsider the rather petty and callous decision that the Government have made in respect of the Latin-American political refugee programme? Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that that decision has condemned dozens of people, whose only crime was to speak against the dictatorship, to perpetual imprisonment and possible torture?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman's prejudice should not lead him to views of scepticism such as he has expressed. Genuine refugees can still seek exile in this country and are likely to be given it, but there is no need for a special programme. The hon. Gentleman should know that such a special programme is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and not mine.