HC Deb 24 July 1987 vol 120 cc629-39 10.59 am
Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)

I understand that on Monday 13 July Admiral Toribio Merino visited the Foreign Office and met the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar). Admiral Merino—so I understand—flew into London in semi-secrecy via Israel, a route previously taken by Colonel Oliver North. While I have no wish at this stage to add to the controversy that is raging on both sides of the Atlantic about covert activity, I wonder whether these military gentlemen always use the same travel agency.

It is hardly surprising that the Foreign Office has not sought publicity about the visit of a founder member of the Chilean junta, a man who was directly involved in the disappearance of hundreds of civilians whose whereabouts are unknown to this day. He was a Minister who put his warships at the disposal of the junta as prison and torture ships for Chilean civilians. His crimes were on a par with those committed by Klaus Barbie, whose trial was coming to a conclusion when Admiral Merino visited Britain.

A Conservative Government justified the Falklands war on the ground that it was a war for democracy against the Argentinian junta of General Galtieri. That Conservative Government supplied arms to the Argentine dictatorship — arms that were eventually used against British forces in the Falklands. This Government, like previous Conservative Governments, continue to supply arms to the bloodstained dictatorship in Chile. The Government may wish to keep quiet about their relations with Chile, but I believe that the House is entitled to a full account of recent discussions with leading members of the junta; and the nation, too, is entitled to that information.

First, did the discussions with Admiral Merino concern the supply of arms to Chile? I suspect that the answer will be no, but I shall continue to harbour doubts. If arms were not discussed last week, they certainly must have been at the beginning of June, when General Fernando Mathei, commander-in-chief of the Chilean air force, visited Britain. His visit was made in a mad rush, because of the possibility of the return of a Labour Government and the immediate cessation of arms sales to Chile—just as the American Congress is forbidding its Government to sell arms to Chile; just as Felipe Gonzalez, the Spanish Prime Minister, has vetoed further arms sales to Chile; just as President Mitterrand of France is opposed to arms sales to Chile; just as Italy, which has not replaced the ambassador that it withdrew from Santiago in 1973, will not supply arms to Chile.

What is the current state of arms sales to Chile from Britain? Has the destroyer Fife now joined the three other county class destroyers in service with the Chilean navy? When HMS Glamorgan was handed over in Portsmouth last year, it was reported that that gave rise to a brief mutiny among the Chilean sailors. Do the Government have plans to sell military aircraft to Chile to replace its aging fleet of Hawker Hunters?

In 1973 the Chilean military, with the aid of international big business and the CIA, overthrew a democratically elected Socialist Government. Thirty thousand people were slaughtered. Thousands were imprisoned and tortured. Trades unions and workers parties were banned, democratic rights were abolished, and the most unspeakable atrocities were conducted in the Santiago football stadium. The junta had its friends in the Conservative party and in the press.

The Times, which was nominally "The Thunderer" in those days—not the "Murdoch Murmurer"—welcomed the overthrow of the Allende Government. Chile was to be a capitalist paradise with no workers parties, no meaningful trade unions and a free market economy. Milton Friedman and his Chicago school of gangsters—or rather, economists — were given free reign. The spiritual and economic gurus of Thatcherite economics provided a temporary paradise for sections of big business — especially the multinationals. Within a short time, that led to the virtual bankruptcy of the Chilean economy and appalling hardship, not only for the mass of working people, but for large sections of the middle class.

According to official figures, unemployment in Chile is 18 per cent., but according to most foreign observers it is really more like 30 per cent. In addition, about 20 per cent. of the population obtain seasonal work only. For those in work, the average working day is 12 hours. No national factory regulations or safety conditions exist. Safety equipment such as boots, helmets and ear muffs is not supplied, and workers are forced to pay for such equipment themselves. It is estimated that at least 30 per cent. of the population are undernourished. On one reckoning, it is thought that a healthy diet in Chile for a family of five for a month would cost the equivalent of £120.

Taking an example that was featured in the national press of one workers' district in Santiago, the average family income is £29 a month, but only fewer than one quarter of the people there have any kind of job. There are also reports of many workers' districts and shanty towns around the major towns where, in order to survive, communal kitchens are organised to ensure that the population manage to have at least one meal a day. That does not include weekends, when most families exist on only tea and biscuits. One in three children in Chile are anaemic due to the poor diet, yet 30 per cent. of doctors are unemployed.

As a result of the continuing repression and worsening living standards, there has been an upsurge of open opposition to the dictatorship of the junta in the past few years. Strikes by re-emerging trade unions have multiplied, as have demonstrations in all the major urban areas. Even during the Pope's visit to Chile the vast religious rallies became anti-junta events, with continual chants of "Its going to fall," and pitched battles between youth and the police. Many hon. Members will have seen the brutality and the use of tear gas by the police during the Pope's visit. Large sections of the middle class now openly defy the regime in Chile — including sections of that class that helped to bring Pinochet to power in 1973. Teachers and doctors have held strikes, and bus owners and lorry drivers who supported Pinochet in 1973 have held demonstrations against the regime.

As ever, the answer from the junta has been yet more cruelty and repression. Hugo Pavez, a defence lawyer representing political prisoners in Santiago central goal, recently reported: Prisoners have been subjected not only to electricity, simulated shootings and being semi-drowned in excrement, but in at least one case a prisoner was hung up for days and beaten until his nose and ears burst. There have been cases of rats being put inside prisoners' clothing and in one case inside a prisoner's mouth.

It is no wonder that reports in the serious Western press estimate that 85 per cent. of the population oppose the idea of General Pinochet standing as sole candidate for president in 1989. Admiral Merino and General Matthei, both of whom visited Britain this year, have called for Pinochet to stand down to be replaced by a right of centre civilian candidate, and that view has been echoed by police chief Rodolfo Stange, who has also visited Europe recently. Was the issue of Pinochet's replacement raised in discussions at the Foreign Office with Admiral Merino and/or General Matthei? The constant visits of senior members of the junta to Western capitals seems to imply that they are seeking a way to elbow Pinochet aside as the most openly hated representative of the junta and thus to head off the growing prospect of the regime being overthrown — a partial liberalisation of the regime to ensure business as usual for the multinational companies.

The Chilean people can have no illusions that reformed generals or Christian Democratic politicians who supported the junta in 1973 have any real desire to reintroduce genuine elections and democratic rights in Chile. A liberalised regime might temporarily suspend the worst of the repression, but it can never solve the problems of hunger, unemployment and exploitation for the mass of the people of Chile. I believe that the lessons of the past 14 years have been learnt and that the re-emerging workers' movement will pull behind it the majority of those in the middle layers of society, including about half a million home owners who face the prospect of imminent bankruptcy as a result of debts to the banks totalling U$1.5 billion. In my view, it was not that the Allende Government went too far too quickly but that it did not go far enough quickly enough. For our part, we must say that there will be no negotiations with members of the Chilean junta and no arms sales to that regime.

For the past 14 years, I have had the honour to be president of the Bradford trades council. I describe it as an honour because my many well-known predecessors played such a prominent role in the development of the labour and trade union movements in my city. Following the military coup in Chile 14 years ago, the city of Bradford was host to more than 100 refugees from Chile. We found food, clothing and shelter for them. We provided English lessons and tried to provide further education for those who wanted it and could benefit from it. They were sheltered in people's houses until permanent accommodation could be found and, despite the unemployment situation in Bradford, which is not new, we managed to find jobs for most of them.

For a temporary period, my family took in a young Chilean who had had bitter experiences crossing the mountains into Argentina and not over-pleasant experiences in Cuba before coming to Britain. He was severely shocked and in poor health. In my household, he had to share a small bedroom with my two young sons. I still recall vividly a postcard from Santiago arriving one morning. On one side was a picture of the football stadium with its dreadful memories. On the other side was a single word in Spanish — "Remember". I still recall the chill that that card brought to my household.

We shall indeed remember. We shall remember all the refugees who came to Britain, the 30,000 people who were slaughtered in Chile, as well as those who have been imprisoned and tortured and those who have been attacked and assaulted by the police and security forces in Chile. For 14 years, Chile has been a stain on the name of humanity. I believe that I speak for all Opposition Members when I say that I believe that in the near future there will be a new Chile—a democratic, Socialist Chile—which will not use torture and repression as the junta has but which will be a gentle, co-operative and humane society.

11.16 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) on obtaining this debate and on the way in which he has spoken of the awfulness of life in Chile for so many people.

I wish to put some fairly direct questions to the Government about their attitude to the Government of General Pinochet. It must be stated time and again that that Government, with whom the British Government are apparently happy to do business, is headed by a murderer. He murdered Salvador Allende in cold blood and he has murdered thousands more since then. The teeming prisons and refugee camps and the appalling poverty of the slum areas of Santiago, Valparaiso and other cities are testimony to the type of Government that he operates. It is a Government of the multinational companies, a Government of repression and of murder. [Interruption.] The Minister seems to find that amusing. I find it more than ever disgusting that the British Government should have been the major arms supplier for General Pinochet and his junta ever since arms sales were resumed in 1980, having rightly been banned by the Labour Government from the moment of their election in 1974.

It should be remembered, too, that it was British arms sold to Chile in the past which were used to bomb and strife the Moneda palace and to murder the elected president in 1973. The Labour Government instituted a refugee settlement programme and a ban on arms sales and recalled the British ambassador from Santiago. Since the Tories came to power in 1979, arms sales have been resumed and close military contacts have been established. The ambassador is back in Santiago and everything is supposed to be normal between the British Government and the Pinochet Government.

Nevertheless, there are tensions in the Foreign Office about this. I refer to a document which, happily, was leaked from the Foreign Office in November 1984 and in which Foreign Office officials expressed their horror at the renewal of the state of siege in Chile, the indiscriminate arrests and the activities of the police in gunning down students protesting against the denial of civil liberties and the loss of democracy. Foreign Office officials asked the Government to consider a policy of discouraging commercial loans to Chile by British banks and reducing Export Credits Guarantee Department loans. It is ironic that the Government are not prepared to give such loans to Nicaragua but are apparently happy to provide them for the Pinochet Government whose indebtedness to the world is legion.

The document goes on to suggest that perhaps the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank could be leaned on so as not to give any further loans to the Government of Chile. It suggests that the Fairey Engineering contract for a nuclear research project in Chile be stopped. It goes on to question whether other trade sanctions could be introduced. There is then a mind-chilling list of arms that we know that the Chilean junta is after and in many cases has already received from the British Government. Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles have been made available. Sea Cat missiles have apparently been offered. There is a whole series of weaponry that can only be described as suitable for internal repression. I use those words carefully and advisedly because in meetings I have had with Foreign Office Ministers over the years they have always assured me that the policy of the sale of arms to other countries is strictly dictated by the needs of the national defence of that country and not of internal repression.

I raise two matters. First, where is the external threat to the Government of Chile? Is Argentina about to climb the Andes and invade? Is Peru about to invade? Is Bolivia about to form a navy and sail down the coast and invade? Is there any serious external threat to Chile? Everyone in the Foreign Office knows perfectly well that the answer to that is an emphatic no. They also know that any arms that are sold to the Government of Chile can be used for two purposes. Infra-red weaponry that can be used for night fighting is used for internal repression. Tanks and armoured cars are used for internal repression and for the transport of troops around Chile. People in the Foreign Office know that that equipment is on sale to Chile for its benefit and that those items are used.

Secondly, the British Government's south Atlantic policy is closely linked with the wishes of General Pinochet. There is clear evidence that, during the Falklands war, bases in Chile were used as a back-up and refuelling resource for British troops on their way back and forth to the Falklands and also for the Sea King helicopters to refuel near Punta Arenas. There is also, apparently, a training facility available to British troops in the south Atlantic on Chile. Additionally, there is the constant calling of British vessels at Chilean harbours. Either those are fraternal visits or they are a political gesture to bolster the Government of General Pinochet.

In a recent visit to Chile by the Chile Committee for Human Rights, Andy Atkins, its secretary, reported that he was on a hill above Valparaiso and that when he looked down at that beautiful harbour he saw a British warship. An old man came out of his hut and said, "Which side are your Government on?" That is the question. Which side are the British Government on? It is clear to me, and certainly to Opposition Members, that the British Government are on the side of General Pinochet. They are on the side of repression. They are on the side of the murderers of people in Chile and of the murderers of the Chilean democratically elected Government.

Recently we have seen examples of just how evil is the repression in Chile. There was the example of the 12 people murdered in raids carried out by the Chilean secret police in an operation known as "operation Albania". Instead of reading those 12 names to the House, I will put them down in an early-day motion so that they will at least be commemorated in the House, as people who were killed by the secret police of the Government of General Pinochet because they were deemed to be opposed to that Government. They were not shot down in a gun battle, as the press reported at the time; they were searched out and assassinated by the secret police. That happened on the nights of 15 and 16 June in the districts of San Miguel, Nunoa and Conchali in Santiago. Many other people have been murdered in Chile. Two years ago a person was burnt to death. Many people are in political prisons, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North referred to. There is, quite simply, the denial of political rights.

In previous debates on Chile—and I have taken part in all of them we have had since 1983 — the British Government have continually pleaded with hon. Members that "constructive dialogue" is the thing, that if only the Government were allowed to talk to General Pinochet arid keep the ambassador there they could ensure that democracy returns in some shape or form. I do not call an election where there is just one candidate, General Pinochet, a democratic election, especially when voters go to the ballot boxes looking down the barrel of a gun. I call that a plebiscite of 1938 Austrian dimensions. It is an election to give a legitimacy to the Fascism that already exists in Chile. That is all the election will achieve.

Other forces in Chile are working hard to bring back the achievements of the Popular Unity Government arid to bring back Socialism. There is the new Left front, the Unidad Izquierda. I would like to know whether the existing or the new British ambassador will meet that body. It is a very important organisation that represents all the social forces in Chile. It is extremely important that the British ambassador does meet its representatives. It is also important, when the new British ambassador arrives shortly, that he takes up the case of Clodomiro Alineyda, the former Foreign Minister in the Popular Unity Government, who voluntarily returned to Chile. There has since been a court case against him. He said, "Well, if democracy is free and alive in Chile and if there is a democratic legal system, I present myself to it". He has now been slapped in irons in internal exile. He must be freed and the British Government must demand his freedom from internal exile. When the Minister replies, I hope he will tell us that that is being done.

The Minister is obviously having some difficulty listening to what I am saying. I put a couple of other questions to him. I mentioned the policy of arms sales to Chile. That is a key to so much of what has been said arid so much of what is at the heart of British policy on Chile. Arms sales were resumed in 1980. With the exception of the non-sale of the rest of the Centaur half-track anti-personnel vehicles, so far as we know all other requests for military equipment by the Government of General Pinochet have been met. We understand that training facilities have been offered. We understand that a number of high level delegations, in addition to the one that my hon. Friend mentioned about Admiral Merino, have taken place. Advice has been given and equipment is being sent to Chile.

Recently, Pye Telecommunications was authorised to send equipment to Chile that was used for crowd control during the Pope's visit. Crowd control in this country might seem a fairly innocent activity, but in the case of Chile it certainly is not. Crowd control takes on a wholly different meaning there.

I would like to know what future arms sales are envisaged and what the British Government's foreign policy is towards Chile. I would like categorically on the record that the British Government intend to end all relations with the Government of General Pinochet, all military contact and particularly all facilities that are used as part of the Falklands operation of the British Government. However, I very much doubt that we shall hear that this morning. I have it on very good authority from people in Chile that a British diesel-powered submarine, the Onyx, recently completed a tour of duty in the Falkland Islands. After it completed its tour of duty it apparently stopped off somewhere and was tarted up — painted, cleaned up and the brass polished. More food was taken on board to entertain people. Lo and behold, it called at Valparaiso on a sales visit. Is it the policy of this Government to sell every warship and submarine that they possibly can, in addition to the county class destroyers that have already been sold, to the Government of General Pinochet? The people of this country are entitled to know. It is not good enough for the British Government to claim that they support democracy and a return to democratic Government in Chile or that they are working with other United Nations countries in supporting resolutions calling for an end to internal repression in Chile while at the same time they are selling arms to Chile. There is a direct correlation between the British Government's receipt of support from General Pinochet during the Falklands war and the British Government's subsequent voting record at the United Nations in either abstaining or voting against resolutions condemning violations of human rights in Chile.

The Government claim that constructive dialogue is the order of the day and that that will bring change in Chile. Since 1973, thousands have died and been murdered for their beliefs because they stood up for their people and their communities, because they tried to organise fellow workers against starvation wages, because they tried to organise fellow shanty dwellers against the misery of shanty towns. They have been done down by the Chilean army and secret police force. Day and night, the secret police force goes on raids throughout the major towns, and goes in search of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, and tries to destroy all opposition.

Is it really the function of the British Government, supposedly representing a democracy, to sell arms that can be used to take part in these obscene murders? Should we not say, "No, we will not sell arms to Chile. We will give no trade, aid or loans to Chile, so long as the murderer Pinochet remains in office and the military dictatorship rules the country and this blot on civilisation exists?"

That should be the response that we get from the British Government. I would love to hear it today, although I suspect that I shall wait in vain. I suspect that it will be not the mealy-mouthed hypocrisy of Western European Governments that brings freedom to the people of Chile, but the people themselves in their struggle. Unfortunately, they are being killed by British arms as they struggle for freedom, Socialism and democracy.

11.31 am
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Mellor)

I am delighted, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair. It has given great pleasure to your many friends in the House that you have taken on this role, a role which, I am sure you are aware, could only have been afforded to you because of the deep respect in which you are held on both sides of the Chamber. I wish you a long and happy tenure of office.

I am perfectly happy to explain once again the Government's policy and position on Chile. It is not just the representatives of a particular section of the Labour party who have spoken today who are concerned about continuing human rights violations in Chile and about the slow progress towards an orderly and peaceful transition to democracy. It is in that spirit that I respond to the debate. In Chile, the absence of political dialogue between the Government and the democratic opposition, the seeming inability of the judiciary in many cases to act independently, and the repression of political freedoms are all matters of common concern. I accept that serious charges can be made against the Chilean Government. It is no part of my task or function to explain away any of those points.

However, much if not all of what the hon. Members for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) have said about the Chilean regime applies also to a number of other regimes.

Mr. Corbyn

We are talking about Chile.

Mr. Mellor

I am quite aware that we are talking about Chile. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that he can determine the substance of the debate. I shall respect him and the hon. Member for Bradford, North a great deal more when they start pressing for Adjournment debates about incidents such as that which occurred last November when unarmed East Germans were shot down trying to cross the Berlin wall. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is not interested in anything other than his personal views, but let me enlighten him on one matter. He should realise how the exercise of a selective conscience is viewed on the Government Benches. He may say that this debate is about the sale of arms, but his speech called for the cessation of all trading relations, not just arms trading with Chile. If we were to conduct our foreign relations on that basis, an almost unending list of countries would not measure up to our concept of democracy and we could not deal with them. However, there is a yawning chasm of unreason between the particular sect of the Labour party that we see on the Opposition Benches today and the rest of us. I do not imagine that even his Front Bench would agree with most of the points that the hon. Gentleman made today.

I know that what I have said is warmly supported by my hon. Friends. As has been said, we have had normal diplomatic relations with Chile since 1980. This enables us to express concerns to the Chilean Government at the highest levels — concerns which are shared widely throughout the British public — about human rights, freedom, justice and democracy. During the past 12 months, for example, our ambassador in. Santiago has made a series of representations on these important matters to members of the ruling junta, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Minister of the Interior and others, while Ministers and senior officials here in London have made comparable representations whenever opportunity has offered.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs spoke last February in forthright terms about human rights to Chile's ambassador to the United Nations, Sr. Daza, on the occasion of Sr. Daza's visit to London. Earlier this month, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs expressed our concerns very frankly to Admiral Merino, the Navy member of the ruling junta, during his private visit to the United Kingdom. The same opportunity was taken to discuss with Admiral Merino political, social and economic developments in Chile. We also have frequent and extensive contact with the democratic opposition in Chile, and with the leading human rights organisations. Such contacts would simply not have been possible in the absence of normal diplomatic relations.

We have also been able to make our views and concerns known in other ways, such as through our votes on resolutions about Chile at the General Assembly of the United Nations. We supported a resolution critical of Chile's human rights accord at the last General Assembly. Then in March this year, at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, we joined a consensus resolution again criticising the Chilean Government's continuing poor record. Our concerns are shared by our EC partners and, as the Twelve, we have made a number of demarches and statements, both public and private, expressing concern about particular, and general, human rights abuses and about the need for an early, orderly and peaceful return to democracy in Chile.

A great deal has been made of defence links and arms sales. Our policy on defence sales and on continued contact between United Kingdom defence personnel and representatives of the Chilean armed forces has been criticised by some hon. Members today. Our defence relations with Chile are a normal part of our normal diplomatic relations with that country. There is nothing unusual in these contacts. They reflect the long connection between our two countries' armed forces, especially between our navies and our air forces. It is good that these links should he maintained, and that the Chileans should be exposed to our thinking and to the role of the British armed forces. As to defence sales, our policy worldwide is sensitive to concerns about human rights. We take great care not to approve the sale to Chile of items which, in our judgment. are likely to be used for internal repression. I must emphasise that we consider every single application for arms sales to Chile and we have refused many applications. Our policy is a responsible one and the way that we manage it in no way condones human rights abuses in Chile.

As to the sale of ships to the Chilean navy, these are manifestly for external defence and cannot reasonably be regarded as instruments of internal repression. There is no evidence whatsoever of the use of former Royal Navy ships in Chile as torture centres. I am not able to comment on, and in no way should be seen to be confirming, anything that the hon. Member for Islington, North said about one of our submarines. The idea that he should regard a submarine as an instrument of internal repression is a sign of how far from common sense he has strayed. It is a shame to spoil a good case about the human rights record in Chile, about which all of us can agree, by mounting on to it such lurid and unsustainable allegations of the kind raised by both the hon. Member for Bradford, North and the hon. Member for Islington, North. In relation to tanks and armoured cars, I can state that no such items supplied by Her Majesty's Government are in service in Chile. The hon. Member for Islington, North referred to a matter that occurred some time ago and a half-track vehicle which has been withdrawn.

The key to the future of Chile must surely be its transition back to democracy. We must remember that Chile has a long history of democracy and we are continuallly reminded in the many contacts that we have with democratic Chileans of the role played by Britain in their independence in the 1820s and the close family, cultural and commercial ties that we have had during that long democratic history. I make no bones about it, the current Chilean Government is anomalous. We in this House and the vast majority of the British and Chilean people want to see democracy peacefully restored in Chile. We continue to do all that we can to urge the Chilean Government to take adequate steps to bring that about.

We have all been disappointed at the lack of progress in the past. However, there have been some positive signs in recent months. The long-promised laws on political parties and on electoral registration were promulgated earlier this year. They provide some sign that the Government are serious in their commitment to the political development, albeit limited, envisaged by the 1980 constitution. We very much hope that those measures will lead to the restoration of normal democratic political activity in Chile. In the meantime, we continue to encourage the democratic opposition to try to develop their unity and to put forward credible long-term policies.

Very properly, Opposition Members raised the matter of contacts with Opposition politicians and they were not parts of the speeches with which I disgreed. We have supported, with our European Community partners, the moderate Opposition's national accord. We regularly fund United Kingdom visits of opposition leaders from across the democratic spectrum. Our embassy maintains regular contact with opposition leaders and that policy will continue.

We have also continued to sponsor visits to the United Kingdom by a broad section of politicians including Sr. Molina the co-ordinator of the 1985 national accord, Sr. Huepe of the Christian Democrats and several important journalists, including the editor-in-chief of the new independent newspaper. Those visitors receive vital encouragement from a wide range of democratic opinion in Britain.

It is also fair to say that not all is doom and gloom in Chile. The points made about poverty and the Chilean economy are also tragically common throughout the south American continent. I visited South America last September and toured countries under a variety of democratic rule including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. Peru and Bolivia are democracies and can be subject to none of the criticisms advanced against Chile. However, there is real poverty, need and want in those countries and all of the vital indicators about welfare do not point where those Governments would like them to point. The Chilean Government are not alone in lacing economic difficulties in recent years.

To give credit where it is due, the Chilean economy is now being responsibly managed for the ultimate benefit of all Chileans. All major financial institutions agree with that. Serious mistakes caused the explosive boom in the early 1980s. However, they have been corrected. Gross domestic product growth in 1986 was more than 5 per cent., unemployment has been reduced to less than 9 per cent. and there are positive trends in the economy. I do not say that as an apologist for Pinochet, but to ensure a balance and objectivity, although I appreciate that those are alien concepts to the hon. Members for Islington, North and for Bradford, North. — [Interruption] The dissent that greets my comment was not the kind of dissent that greeted the candidature of the hon. Member for Bradford, North in years past.

The next two years are likely to be crucial for the future of Chile. Under the 1980 constitution, a presidential plebiscite is to be held by March 1989 at the latest, followed by congressional elections a year later. We shall be watching the evolution of those events in Chile with much interest.