HC Deb 29 October 1980 vol 991 cc476-8
11. Mr. Canavan

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations he has received about the reinstatement of the British Ambassador and the resumption of arms sales to Chile.

Mr. Ridley

Since the announcements to the House of the restoration of Ambassadors in January and of the lifting of the arms embargo in July, both matters have been the subject of lively political debate. No arguments have been advanced, however, which lead us to conclude that either decision was unjustified.

Mr. Canavan

As Claire Wilson's detention was reported by her sister to British consular officials in Chile on 18 July, will the Minister now admit that he knew of her detention and torture before he announced the ending of the arms embargo on 22 July and that he deliberately concealed that information in order to curry favour with his fascist friends? As he has failed to stand up for the basic human rights of a British subject, will he do the honourable and decent thing and resign?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman will be disappointed to know that, on hearing of Miss Wilson's detention, the British Ambassador in Santiago managed to get her released on 18 July. It was not until 22 July that she made any complaint of maltreatment. That information was not received in London until 23 July, after the lifting of the arms embargo was announced.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Bearing in mind the concern on both sides of the House about unemployment, does my hon. Friend agree that, if we do not supply Chile with military equipment, the French certainly will, which will only transfer British jobs to French workers? Will he refute the attacks on the British Ambassador and thank him for his intervention, which went beyond his call of duty, on behalf of Miss Wilson, who has the most tenuous connections with the United Kingdom?

Mr. Straw

She is a British citizen, that is all.

Mr. Ridley

I believe that the presence of the British Ambassador was instrumental in securing the early release of Miss Wilson. I also believe that nations should trade in all commodities, save those arms that can be used for internal repression. We pursue the same policy as our predecessors, only not selectively.

Mr. Shore

May I remind the Minister of the reply given in the other place by one of his colleagues on 10 March, when he said that the Government would not export arms to a country that was guilty of torture? Does the Minister accept that he has sought to justify such action on the grounds that it was only one little case of torture, but we know very well that civil rights in Chile have not improved? They have deteriorated. Furthermore, is he aware that the present regime, through a plebiscite, has taken powers to maintain itself for the next decade? Should he not reconsider the matter? Would it not be very much in the interests of this country and its good name for the Government to say that we will not supply arms to such a regime? If the Minister is worried about the arms being supplied by another European country, why does he not get his right hon. Friend to raise the matter at the so-called Council of Foreign Ministers?

Mr. Ridley

My noble Friend made it clear that he was speaking of arms that could be used for internal repression, as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he checks the record. We do not approve of either the human rights record or, more still, the nature of the democracy or lack of democracy of a large number of countries. Some do not even have a terminal date for the autocratic power of the regime, yet 'such considerations never worried the right hon. Gentleman's Government.

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