HC Deb 22 July 1991 vol 195 cc841-62

9.4 pm

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to initiate this debate on relations between this country and Latin America. I express the gratitude of all of us, expecially those of us on the all-party Latin America committee, for this opportunity, which is the fourth annual debate we have had on Latin America. The debate is much valued by our committee, and we believe that it is greatly valued by the Governments in Latin America.

We all recognise that the affairs of Latin America are not prominent in the affairs of the House. The exciting times in which we live draw attention to many other areas of the world. Before I go further, I welcome to our deliberations today my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). This is his first appearance in this capacity. A rounder peg has never been found in a rounder hole. The contribution that my hon. Friend has already made to relations between this country and Latin America is well marked and demonstrated, and we much applaud that.

What has happened over the past two years in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the sad developments in Yugoslavia, the developments in the middle east and the hopes that we all now have of the possible outcome of a middle eastern conference have been exciting and headline-grabbing. They have accentuated the absence of attention that we and western Europe as a whole pay to Latin America. It is important that, from time to time, the attention of the House and of Britain generally should be directed towards that important continent.

In the 1980s in Latin America, it was conventional to say that it was the lost decade. In economic terms, that is probably, and sadly, a fair description. However, it was not a lost decade in terms of democratic development. Anyone who is in the least aware of what is happening in Latin America will understand that the implant of democratic processes and democratic change has taken firm root in virtually all the countries of Latin America.

We members of the Latin America committee have been privileged to entertain a stream of Latin American parliamentarians who have come through London to exchange views and experiences with us in the working of democracy. We were especially gratified that only a week or two ago, parliamentarians from Paraguay visited us. Only a short time ago, Paraguay might have been thought to be the last on the list. Through the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, we had a happy exchange. We like to think that they took away from the House, in an all-party context, an important experience of what we can offer—the pluses and minuses of a functioning democratic system.

It is important that we should ensure that our constituents understand what is happening, including the positive things, in Latin America. I was especially struck recently by the recent report of the United Nations Development Programme on the human development index, or HDI. It is a complex attempt to measure the economic progress of a country by per capita product, also taking account of other factors such as longevity, access to education and many other complex indices. It is important to recognise how highly Latin American countries scored in that register. The report recorded that the progress in those general areas of human development in Latin America was "impressive". However, it was not universally impressive, and we all understand that, in too many Latin American countries, the gap between the very rich and the very poor is still too great. However, progress has been made.

Another area in which one should recognise the progress that has been made is in the stability of the democratic regimes. I applaud the decision taken a month ago in Santiago by the Organisation of American States. In effect, they agreed to joint action should there ever be an anti-democratic military coup or whatever against any American regime.

I believe that the wave of democracy in Latin America is strong. The concentration on freedom and on the rights of the individual has now been firmly established. In historical terms, that is a relatively new development in Latin America. We all have a duty to do what we can to ensure that that wave of democracy, which encompasses the establishment and entrenchment of human rights, is sustained. That can only be done, as we already know from experience of other countries, if the right economic conditions are developed. In that regard, the United Kingdom on its own and as a member of the European Community has a part to play.

The economic progress has been good and exciting. Inevitably, the human condition being what it is, that progress is not without its blemishes. However, just as so many other parts of the world, notably eastern Europe, have finally come to understand that socialism does not work and that the market economy produces wealth as well as freedom, that lesson has also been accepted by virtually all the Latin American countries.

In economic terms, Chile has led the field, but a raft of privatisations are also taking place in Peru, Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Some Opposition Members may seek to unlearn that lesson—some people are impossible to teach—but that lesson has now been learnt in Latin America, as it has been in eastern Europe.

That economic progress has also been reflected in the handling of debt. We all know that such debts were a serious overhang of the old economic conditions of Latin America. Although we are by no means out of the wood, progress has been made. The Brady approach has been accepted, and Chile, Colombia and Venezuela are now part of the international commercial market. Companies and loans are being floated on straight commercial terms. That shows that economic health has returned to those countries and to the continent.

The economic progress has given rise to great optimism as it is felt that, with that progress, it will be possible to cement the democratic progress that has already been achieved. The best international 'estimates suggest that, next year, the rate of economic development in the continent will grow by about 3 per cent.

A further phenomenon is the regional centres of economic co-operation, such as the Andrean pact, the Mercosur and the free trade area between Mexico and the United States and Canada. I welcome those developments, but with two caveats. First, those of us who are familiar with Latin America will understand that, to some extent and depending on the region, we have been here before. In the past 20 years or more, many attempts have been made in respect of such regional groupings. Although there are still many hurdles to be overcome, I believe that this time they will succeed.

Secondly, as we mentioned to the European Community, it is important that those regional economic groupings do not become blocs that create trading wars with other blocs. We should all favour free trade, and I am optimistic that that lesson is well understood. Latin America has a strong mercantilist-protectionist tradition, but that has led to the frustration of trade and the denial of economic growth. An increasing number of people throughout the world understand that, the freer the trade, the greater the growth and prosperity for all who participate. That message is now increasingly understood in Latin America, and Europe has a duty to foster and develop that understanding. That means that our particular duty is to ensure that we get the negotiations right for the Uruguay round of GATT.

I was delighted with the outcome of the G7 meeting in London last week, thanks, to a significant extent to the important role played by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As my right hon. Friend said—this is one of the more significant points that emerged from the G7 meeting— All the summit leaders recognised that the world cannot afford a failure in the Uruguay round of trade negotiations. We committed ourselves to completing the round by the end of this year. Crucially, we committed ourselves to remain personally involved to ensure that that happens to resolve any disputes."—[Official Report, 19 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 663.] That is indeed crucial. I am delighted that that development took place, because we must promote the essential partnership between the United Kingdom and western Europe on the one hand and Latin America on the other, because it will be to the advantage of us all.

The United Kingdom has a particular role to play in the European Community. Most hon. Members will recognise that there has always been a suspicion and fear that, in creating a single market in 1992, we shall create the old cliché of a fortress Europe. One of the prime contributions that the United Kingdom has made and will continue to make is to ensure that we create not a fortress Europe but a dynamic market of 320 million people, which is politically stable, makes a contribution to world peace and creates the opportunities for greater trade among all the countries of the world, not least Latin America.

I am delighted that the Community has taken yet further steps to increase our collaboration. The Asian/Latin American programme, which has recently been granted 2.75 billion ecu, of which 1 billion ecu is to be spent in Latin America in the next five years, is a welcome development.

The United Kingdom has stepped up its technical co-operation for the next three years. That is significant because, in global terms, the per capita gross national product of Latin American countries is relatively high. The demands of Africa and countries of the Indian sub-continent have a much stronger claim to our necessarily limited aid funds. The Government's decision significantly to increase—albeit from a low level— technical co-operation funds for Latin America is to be applauded.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State needs no hectoring or cajoling from me to make him understand the importance of our developing relationship with Latin America. That has been demonstrated. The participation of a number of sectors in British society in the life of Latin America is increasing. I particularly commend the work of Canning house, which is supported by the Government. I hope that those companies that are aware of what is offered in Latin America will continue and increase their support of Canning house, which is a splendid example of how a British institution can achieve great effectiveness at a low cost.

However, there is one issue that I shall put to my hon. Friend the Minister of State in the hope that he will pass on to his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science: the need to increase the teaching of Spanish in our schools. The issue is an old hobby horse, not just of mine, but of all of us who are enthusiastic about developing contacts with the Hispanic world in general, and we keep knocking on the door of the Department of Education and Science. However, I am not convinced that we have got very far.

I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science on the subject three years ago, when only 1.5 per cent. of schools in Britain offered Spanish. About 90 per cent. of the language teachers in schools taught French. There were 22,950 teachers qualified to teach French, 74 per cent. of whom taught the language, compared with only 3,200 who were qualified to teach Spanish, of whom only 46 per cent. taught Spanish. The British Government could take quick action on that. The framework of the national curriculum creates a setting in which action could be taken sharply.

Argentina, of all the countries of Latin America, is perhaps the most difficult, given the position in the Falkland Islands. During the past 12 months, relations between our two countries have developed well. The important step of establishing diplomatic relations has much more than justified itself in the development of trade, cultural and sporting contacts, and the exchange of ministerial visits.

I hope that, as we proceed, it will be possible before long to work with the Buenos Aires Government to find an outcome to the problem of the Falkland Islands that will provide a satisfactory resolution of the problem, for the islanders, Argentina and Britain. I realise as well as anyone how difficult that is, and I hope that that problem will not be put in the margin or forgotten. It needs to be solved and, given good will and statesmanship, of which the Government are capable, it is susceptible to resolution in the medium term.

I remind the House, and, I hope, the country, that we are talking of an exciting subcontinent of 422 million people, which even two years ago had a gross domestic product of $900 billion. It is not an area that we ought to neglect, but one in which we should take an increasing and positive interest. I am certain that, under the leadership of the present Government, Britain will continue to do so.

9.24 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

This debate has become almost an annual institution, which I welcome because it is important to debate a continental issue—and such occasions are rare.

I take a different view of Latin America from the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney)—and I am sure that he would be shocked if I did anything else. The hon. Gentleman conveys the image of a subcontinent that is booming economically and where everyone is deeply in love with market forces, and that we have only to look to the future, to the day when that mystic belief in market forces will bring relief to all concerned.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was not very long ago that the Workers party of Brazil lost the presidential election by a hair's breadth, after allegations of corruption against the Government, in preventing supporters of that party from voting. Lula Ignacio, the Workers party presidential candidate, is certainly not someone who is in favour of market forces, but represented the aspirations of their victims—who can be seen begging on the streets, sleeping in the slums, and selling trinkets around the airport and tourist hotels. In the forests of Latin America, and particularly in those of Brazil, the victims of market forces see their homes destroyed by the voracious appetites of the multinational mining companies. That is the lot of millions of people throughout Latin America.

There is a thirst for a share in the great prosperity that exists in Latin America, but it cannot be achieved merely by pumping in more multinational capital, when it only flows out at a faster rate. I remind Conservative Members that the Latin American people's contribution to the rest of the world represents an enormous bonus. It takes the form of the profits of multinational companies, debt repayments, and deliberately low prices for the subcontinent's primary products. The people who suffer for that are the very poor, who are represented by the Workers party of Brazil and similar organisations throughout the subcontinent.

No one denies that the past few decades have seen enormous changes. Haiti is a little outside Latin America, but I include it as part of the subcontinent for the purposes of this debate. At least the legacy of Papa Doc has been removed and there is hope for the survival of a democratically elected government in Haiti. However, if that is to happen, and if there is to be real change for the people of that country, a literacy rate of 35 per cent. does not provide much of a basis—and Haiti must be given a great deal of economic assistance. Otherwise, poverty will continue there in its awful grinding way.

Not all the changes of the recent past have been so wholesome. The United States invaded Panama and dragged away President Noriega to face trial in the American courts, but I fear that his deep knowledge of the workings of international finance, and his numerous past meetings with former CIA heads—including George Bush—make it extremely unlikely that General Noriega will appear in televised United States court proceedings revealing the truth about the Iran-Contra scandal, the region's drug trade, and the banking links that go very deep.

It is a fact that the war continues in El Salvador. The killing continues and the lack of conclusive negotiations continues to be a problem.

The hon. Member for Wycombe used the Group of Seven conference as a sort of springboard for what he had to say towards the end of his speech. The G7 conference of last week has been hailed as a great success for the Prime Minister, but it is extremely unclear to me what the great success for him is. He obviously got through the conference extremely well. No doubt he enjoyed all the lunches and dinners, and he probably behaved well at the dining table—no one has faulted his table manners anywhere—but what was achieved at the conference for the mass of the world's population? The issue of the world's environment took up 15 minutes of the conference; 15 minutes for the most crucial issue facing humankind. Debt is a major issue for two thirds of the world's population, but the matter was merely referred to the Paris Club.

We were told that the Brady and Baker initiative is working well and that the Trinidad round would be extended. The Trinidad round sounds all very well, with some write-off of debt, but the reality is that it is not removing the debt burden or the causes of the burden. In fact, it is making the indebted countries even more deeply indebted. There is talk about debt for equity swaps, but the result is a loss of national self-esteem as countries are forced to cut public spending if they are to go along with the plans that are imposed upon them by the International Monetary Fund.

The views which were expounded by the hon. Member for Wycombe would not be especially popular in the barrios around Lima, where people are dying of cholera. They know that the World bank has blocked a scheme of water purification plants for that capital city. They would not be particularly happy to be told that market forces are their salvation and therefore they must cut public spending as they see their hospitals programme cut, the programme for medical dispensaries cut and the living conditions in the shanty towns around Lima becoming worse and worse. That is the reality of life for many people throughout the region.

In his initiative for the Americas, George Bush talks about giving economies a clean bill of health or otherwise. Presumably his main adviser is Dan Quayle, who is noted for his economic expertise. He flies around the continent telling people whether he thinks that their market forces are working adequately. I draw the attention of the House and that of Vice-President Quayle to an interesting speech that was made recently by Noam Chomsky. He said: In the international order the South is assigned a service function. Its role is to provide raw materials, cheap labour, investment opportunities, markets. High level US planning documents emphasise that the major threat to the US is independent nationalism, Governments that respond to popular pressure for the raising of living standards and diversification of production for domestic needs. It seems that Chomsky has quite a good understanding of what many United States policies are all about in Latin America.

All those who are likely to speak in the debate know Latin America quite well and have visited it quite frequently. There is the opportunity to talk to people who are living in great poverty in countries such as Honduras. There are children who are under-nourished. Behind their shacks, or nearby, are enormous barbed wire fences that protect fruit plantations that are ready to export their produce. Other fences protect beef cattle that are ready for export.

The economic plan that has been put to Latin America in the name of market forces is to produce for export and to cut public spending. Those two objectives mean that many children go undernourished while good food is exported to those who perhaps do not need it so much. The balance of payments assumes a god-like mysticism over the needs of people in the regions.

The unity that developed against debt in the early 1980s resulted in desperation in the United States. There was an attempt to break up the unity of Latin American countries against debt, but that unity basically still exists. There is still a great desire to see an end to the system of indebtedness of poor countries to the richest countries. Latin America is not as badly off as Africa in comparative terms, but if someone is living in poverty in a slum near a major city with no possibility of growing his own food, and no possibility of doing anything other than hawking goods or going into the drugs trade because that provides a way out of the problem, or choosing to live in great poverty in the countryside with cash crops producing a very small return, one can understand that person's position and the power of the durgs barons in those circumstances.

We can understand why people end up producing for the drug market, and why the drugs end up with the desperate kids on the streets of New York, Paris, my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant). That is the nasty, sorry circle. We must think a little more about the complexity of the situation and the need for a different approach to the needs of the very poorest people in what are potentially the richest countries in the world.

I wish to make a number of specific points. The first is Nicaragua. Before Conservative Members start cheering about the election result some time ago, when the Frente Farabundo Mari de Liberacion Nacional lost the election and the Unión Nacional Opositora Government were elected, I remind them that the FMLN brought democracy to Nicaragua. The elections would not have taken place without the FMLN. Had the policies of the United States continued, Somoza would never have been defeated. That same dictatorship, that same oligarchy, would have remained in power. The FMLN brought about enormous changes in the lives of the people of Nicaragua. It brought the hope of a universal education, a universal health service, a universal self-respect, and a respect for the people's own culture.

The UNO Government are not finding it easy to bring in the concept of free, unfettered market forces because the people of Nicaragua have other views. What I find astonishing is the pressure now being put on the UNO Government by the United States—which is reneging on its promises of aid given during the election campaign—to drop the International Court decision in favour of Nicaragua over the mining of the harbours. That is disgraceful. I hope that the Government will show their support for the International Court's decision and its belief that the United States should pay compensation for the damage that it did to Nicaragua during the terrible years of the Contra war.

In neighbouring El Salvador, where so many lives have been lost and so many families destroyed by the civil war, there is pressure not to increase military aid to the army in El Salvador, but for negotiations with the FMLN, which alone can bring peace and social justice to that country. The two go together.

On other occasions, Conservative Members have been keen to point out that Cuba is somehow a complete anachronism within the region. I have had the opportunity to visit Cuba—at my own expense, I hasten to add—and I have spoken to many Cuban people and seen much of what happens there. We should take Cuba as a whole over the past 30 years and recognise that a country that was extremely poor, extremely corrupt, and where the livelihood of most people was rather thin, to put it mildly, now has a universal education service, a universal health service and a better level of food productivity. It is no longer an American playground dominated by drugs and prostitution. it is a place of which many Cuban people are now extremely proud. The fact that its relationship with the USSR has changed considerably suggests that there should be greater trade and trade preferences between the EEC and Cuba. We should not continue to be part of what is, in effect, a United States embargo against Cuba, which has been in place for the past 30 years.

Chile has known the horrors of a fascist dictatorship since 1973, when Pinochet came to power and murdered Salvador Allende and many thousands of other people. The removal of Pinochet as president was achieved by a mixture of international pressure and the demands of people on the streets of Chile. Many died in prison and many are still missing because of the activities of the Pinochet regime.

There have been enormous changes. Many hon. Members who are present for this debate were in Chile when the Government changed in March last year. We saw the limits of the power of the new Government and the new presidency. We saw the determination of the Ministry of Justice and others to free political prisoners. I hope that, if nothing else, this message will go out from the debate: we do not want political prisoners in Chile and we want full democracy restored there.

There is more to be done. Pinochet still retains enormous power. It is a great shame that this country allowed him to buy arms from British Aerospace. If ever anything lowered this country's esteem in the eyes of the world, it was when we allowed the butcher of Santiago, who used British planes to murder Salvador Allende, to come back into this country to buy more arms. That man should be shunned throughout the world and admitted nowhere because of all that he has done.

In essence, the continent faces issues involving justice, liberty and the livelihood, of poor and ordinary people. Some issues, particularly the environment, span the continent. Those who promote market force economics should remember that, in the long run, those forces mean the destruction of forests, savanna grassland and the environment. Dr. Luzenberg, who has been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency in Brazil, has made enormous efforts, but the Brazilian rain forest is being destroyed at a terrifying rate—12 million hectares on the continent have been destroyed this year, the majority of it in Brazil. There must be stronger policies to defend the rain forests and to use them as a renewable, recyclable resource, rather than destroying them rapaciously.

This is an important debate. I look forward to the British Government taking a view that takes more account of the poor of the continent than of the mystic economics of market forces, which the Government seem to believe offer the solution to problems everywhere in the world. If they are such a solution, why are so many people starving or sleeping on the streets?

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)


Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I should like to be able to call the Back Benchers who are rising. If they speak for 10 minutes each, they will both be able to speak in the debate.

9.42 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on leading this important debate. He did so as chairman of our British-Latin American parliamentary group, which does so much to develop relationships between the Parliaments of the new democracies of Latin America and our Parliament.

The debate is relevant to the United Kingdom as a major trading nation. The House should never overlook the size of Latin America. Latin America's gross domestic product is more than twice that of Africa—it is larger than that of Africa, the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia combined. In Latin America, the two largest economies—Brazil and Mexico—together eclipse those of east Europe, in which the House takes such a close interest.

Latin America is a vital area of opportunity for Britain. It has a free enterprise economic tradition, management expertise and an economic infrastructure to go with it. In common with us, it has a European cultural and linguistic heritage and a historical and sentimental reservoir of good will and friendship towards this country.

We should never forget that Britain was the midwife of Latin American independence. In the debate on the Address on 12 December 1826, our Foreign Secretary, George Canning, said that he had called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the old. Illustrious Britons fought alongside the freedom fighters in the war of independence in Latin America. Admiral Lord Cochrane played a vital part in the independence of Brazil, Chile and Peru, and O'Higgins became the first President of Chile. A British legion of veterans of the peninsular wars made up the backbone of Simon Bolivar's liberating armies in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. For many years we have been closely involved in the development of that part of the world.

I venture to add another, contemporary advantage: the Minister of State responsible for United Kingdom relations with Latin America, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), speaks fluent idiomatic Spanish, has a good knowledge of Latin America and appreciates the region's importance. The combination of his responsibilities for Latin America and for the European Community has an added advantage for us, because perhaps the most vital issue before us this year is the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade. That will be vital for Latin America's economic revival, and the European Community will play a pivotal role in the outcome of those negotiations.

Many Latin Americans worry about the development of the European Community and its common agricultural policy, and many have expressed their concern that a new protectionist wall may be erected around the Community to create fortress Europe. We should be reassured by the emphatic and clear statement by my hon. Friend the Minister to the conference on Latin America in the City on 10 May: The Community has repeatedly made clear that there will be no 'Fortress Europe'. The single European market was a British initiative based on our belief in free trade and in the dismantling of barriers. I wish my hon. Friends on the Front Bench well in continuing to press our European partners for the widest possible access for all—especially the Latin American countries—to that huge market of some 320 million people.

There will therefore be no fortress Europe, but Europe remains an obstacle to the successful conclusion of the GATT Uruguay round. The Community must put its agricultural reforms into order and then into effect. But Europe is not alone—Japan's rice farmers and the United States farm lobby also represent massive obstacles. Despite the undertakings given at last week's G7 summit in London, the prospects for a GATT settlement do not look rosy.

If we fail, the fear is that that would let loose the forces of worldwide protectionism and GATT, which settles disputes between its members, would lose influence, and free trade would gradually give way to protected blocs. We can already see that developing in Latin America. President Bush is developing his "Enterprise for the Americas", taking in Canada and Mexico. The Caribbean Latin American states will be tempted to apply. In the south of the continent, the southern cone countries are developing Mercosul, a market consisting of Brazil—the industrial giant—Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. The Andean pact is developing along the same lines. Those arrangements reflect a commitment to international co-operation, but they could become a base for protectionism with high barriers around each bloc. The perils for British trade are clear. We have a challenge to fight for worldwide free trade.

The 1980s were the decade of democracy in Latin America. Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil all put their military dictatorships behind them. Chile and Nicaragua, from opposite poles, followed suit. All the Latin American republics, with the notable exception of Cuba, have returned to democracy. That is a regional example of worldwide significance.

Colombia, despite the onslaught of political terrorism and powerful drug barons, has preserved and indeed strengthened its democracy. I pay tribute for that achievement to the courage and determination of former President Barco—now the Colombian ambassador in London. In a speech last week in London, he called the 1980s the decade of democratic renewal and the 1990s the decade of economic renewal.

That renewal is already under way. Increasingly, the problems of debt are being coped with, and debtworthiness is returning to an increasing number of Latin American countries. Last year, private companies in Venezuela and Mexico were securing loans in the Euro-bond market, Colombia has completed its fourth refinancing, and Chile has obtained the first fully voluntary unsecured bank loan to a Latin American country.

All those factors point to massive opportunities for British business. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend about the steps being taken to assist British business men to grasp these opportunities. I also echo the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) that my hon. Friend should encourage the Secretary of Slate for Education and Science to widen the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese in our schools. Conversely, I hope that my hon. Friend will give even greater emphasis to the work of the British Council and to its offshoot, Cultura Inglesa, in Latin America, in its efforts to teach good "English" English to the future leaders of the region.

Over the past 10 years our relations with Argentina have been severely strained as a result of the south Atlantic crisis in 1982 We should record our high regard for President Menem's political courage in putting our disagreement over the Falklands to one side in order to re-establish the long-standing warm relationship between our two countries. The rapid growth in bilateral trade and in exchanges of many types is testimony to the success of that approach. Credit is due not least to the two ambassadors concerned.

Latin America is again on the move. I hope that this debate will ensure that Britain sees that movement, and that this country will again play a major role in the progress of that region.

9.51 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) for introducing this important debate and for his experience and knowledge of Latin America, born of his time in Government service in Buenos Aires and then of his parliamentary endeavours on behalf of Anglo-American relations through the British-Latin American parliamentary group, of which he is chairman. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) has also made a notable contribution based on personal experience and his work as secretary of the group.

Parliament is fortunate in having in another place my noble Friend Viscount Montgomery, president of Canning house, who also has great personal experience of south America and who introduced an important debate on it in another place on 19 December last year.

I wish to add my special appreciation of the recent visit by the Paraguayan delegation. It was well organised and the delegation members enjoyed it and learned a great deal. We benefited a great deal from it, too. We hope to deepen the burgeoning relationship with the parliamentarians of Paraguay. The Costa Rican deputies who came here a few days ago also enjoyed a worthwhile visit.

We look forward to the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Santiago de Chile in early October. Those who go will be extremely fortunate and I am sure that members of the delegation on their return will understand, if they did not fully appreciate it before, the great importance of Anglo-Chilean relations and of British parliamentarians contributing to the development of good understanding between the United Kingdom and Latin America. Our British-Chilean group of which I have the honour to be chairman, has more than 20 members already; when the delegation returns, we hope to have a few more.

Interest in Chile was heightened by the successful official visit to the United Kingdom by President Patricio Aylwin and his ministerial team. Such official Head of State visits from Latin American countries should be encouraged by the Government. I know that the Minister of State does good work in that regard, but he needs back-up and encouragement from all Her Majesty's Ministers. If it is possible to organise them in the near future, I look forward to visits from the Venezuelan, Uruguayan and perhaps also the Costa Rican Heads of State, because the comprehensive programmes organised for such official visits are extremely useful to incoming heads of state.

The United Kingdom has not only an historic interest in south America and good relations with Latin America as a whole, but an interest of strategic importance which should not be neglected. The Falkland Islands and their dependencies are of strategic interest to us and are symptomatic of the way in which we have always developed our relationship with Latin America—through sea power and commerce. We must not neglect that maritime dimension. That is why our strategic interest in the Falklands and their dependencies and in Antarctica is fully compatible with our interests in Latin America as a whole.

The Government's support for free trade through a more liberal policy, which we hope will emerge from the Uruguay round, deserves to be backed. I know that the Government will back it and I hope that they can persuade the rest of the European Community to do the same. In terms of the Community, it would be a mistake for the United Kingdom to look to the two Iberian peninsula countries, Spain and Portugal, almost alone to develop relationships with Latin America. It is necessary for their historic interests, balanced by ours, to be carried forward into the next decade. That is why it is important for every assistance to be given to British trade and investment in south America.

Chile is newly democratised, as it was bound to be, and everyone takes pleasure from that. It now has a strong and diversified economy which it did not have during the Allende years. There are great opportunities for investment in Chile's manufacturing sector and not just in the more traditional sectors of mining, communications and agriculture.

I hope that those who are timorous will take heart from the achievements of the Chilean economy. Those who wish to test the waters of south America could make their first tentative or trial investments in Chile and could do so with confidence. The Government must effectively support our business men and our strategic aims to maintain a fruitful relationship with Latin America as a whole. That is difficult to do if, at the same time, the Government are reducing our diplomatic presence and cutting posts in our embassies. Too many posts in south America have been cut to the bone and some south American countries do not have a fully manned British post. That is also true of central America. I hope that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) will be able to persuade other members of the Government of the importance of maintaining a good British diplomatic presence throughout Latin America.

While there are good grounds for optimism, the House and the British people must be alerted to persisting risks, some of which are extremely grave. I emphasise the risks of terrorism, insurgency and guerrilla warfare, which put in jeopardy the economies and the whole way of life of some south American countries. The insurgencies in Guatemala and El Salvador are like grumbling appendices. Insurgency in Colombia is, of course, strongly linked to certain aspects of the drug trade, but there are also ideological dimensions.

For the past 11 years the Sendero Luminoso insurgency in Peru has put at risk the state itself, and we should not underestimate the dangers there. A report in The Independent of 28 June states: A rocket-propelled grenade smashed into Peru's economy ministry. A car bomb killed a civilian and wounded six marines. A letter bomb blew off the head of a politician. A yacht was dynamited and a naval base attacked. A factory manager, an army officer, a student activist and a trade union leader were assassinated. Peasants were massacred. Scores of rebels and troops died in ambushes. Three men were killed by police in anti-rebel sweeps around Lima. Guerrilla strike decrees paralysed many towns. Last week's political violence, in which at least 60 people died, was the climax of a two-month offensive by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas. That is the sort of risk that threatens Latin America. The Latin American people deserve our support. Their parliamentarians deserve the closest possible liaison with us. I am sure that they will get it. I am pleased that Her Majesty's Government, through my hon. Friend the Minister, are taking an increasing interest in this region.

10 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), who requested, and then succeeded in getting, this debate. We both participated in an historic debate on South America one Saturday in early April 1982, a debate that neither of us will ever forget. I agree with his description of the Minister as a round peg in a round hole. The hon. Gentleman sounded surprised that the Government had managed to do that. That does not mean to say that I agree with all the Minister's analyses of the situation in Latin America, but it is helpful to have someone who understands the problems.

I agree with the hon. Member for Wycombe that one of the problems is getting attention for this subject in the House. That can be shown by the lack of attendance not just today but on other occasions. Paradoxically, as greater peace and democracy are established in Latin America, and as stories slip out of the headlines, it becomes even more difficult to get attention for this important continent, as the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) so rightly said.

I can understand why many of the ambassadors and representatives at Latin American embassies become frustrated as they try to draw attention to the problems and needs of their area. That is particularly so when winning democracy and peace, as they have in so many countries, and establishing trade and economic reform are only the start of the task, as they so rightly say.

There has been relatively little coverage of the Guadalajara summit in the press in Britain and western Europe, but it was one of the most significant events in Latin America in recent years. It was perhaps more significant and constructive than the media circus of the G7, which took place in London at about the same time. This historic two-day summit, attended by 23 heads of state, focused on the integration of Latin America. As the hon. Member for Gravesham said, the catalyst was principally the integration of Europe in 1992, together with free trade area talks in North America. Both have aroused great concern about trading and co-operation.

The final declaration of the Guadalajara summit was both constructive and notable. It emphasised the importance of human rights, something that is still a problem throughout the continent. It called for a united war against drugs. We have heard little from Conservative Members about that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) raised the subject. The important problem of the war against drugs is preoccupying many of our friends in Latin America.

Another important factor was the establishment of the fund for indigenous people—the forgotten people. Christopher Columbus was supposed to have discovered the new world, but it was there a long time before the Europeans arrived, and many of the indigenous people have been persecuted by those who came from the old world. It is right that this fund has been established.

The Ibero-American chamber of commerce was set up. A great deal of progress on the economic front was emphasised. It is ironic that, at the same time that the United Kingdom Government are neglecting our Commonwealth, notably in the Caribbean with its exports of sugar and bananas, as my hon. Friends have said, Spain sees the benefits of establishing a good relationship, along similar lines, with Latin America. It has pledged $7 billion of credit and $7 billion for investment in Latin America. It sees the advantages of co-operating with its former colonies.

I want to concentrate on the development of democracy in Latin America. As Carlos Menem said at the summit: What is essential at this very moment is democracy—for which all Latin Americans have suffered. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) mentioned Paraguay. It is significant that the democratic revolution has extended that far. Notably, the mayoral elections in Ascuncion resulted in the election of an independent candidate. That shows that the power of the ruling party is loosening as democracy develops. I, too, was pleased to welcome the parliamentary delegation from Paraguay.

In Mexico, on 18 August, an interesting test will take place: we shall see whether the Permanent Revolutionary party—that name always strikes me as a contradiction in terms—has introduced real democracy. It is often forgotten, especially in the United States, that until now, the Opposition have not accepted that real democacy has existed in Mexico.

Let me express the hope, especially to Conservative Members, that the conditions in Cuba will soon allow a move towards pluralism. I strongly deplore the continuing confrontational attitude of the United States, which is hindering such a development.

The hon. Member for Gravesham and I have visited Colombia. I am sure that he agrees that its new constitution deserves to succeed. For far too long, the drug barons have blackmailed and bribed their way to power; many brave people have stood out against that, especially in the judicial system. President Gaviria's bold move must receive our full support.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foulkes

No; time is short.

Above all, I want to mention Chile, which has experienced a wonderful transition to democracy under President Aylwin. I had the privilege and joy of witnessing that transition at both the plebiscite and the presidential and congressional elections. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, it is marred only by General Pinochet's continuing status as head of the army. The affront of the general's visit was alleviated only by the fact that it had to be short and clandestine, because he was so manifestly unwelcome even to his hosts, British Aerospace.

Already, Chilean politicians are positioning themselves for the next elections in 1992. What could be a better illustration of the fact that democracy is now well established in that country? Our relations with Chile are improving in a number of areas, especially trade. We feel very strongly, however, that the arms trade is the least appropriate area for development. There are many other ways in which we can improve bilateral relations. I pay tribute to the important part played by Ambassador Cerman Riesco in improving relations between our two countries.

Following the aberration of the Falklands war, diplomatic relations with Argentina are now fully restored. Visas are no longer required and the traditionally, historically good bilateral links between our countries have been re-established. Ambassador Camporo has played a distinguished part in that process. Argentina is now in its second term of elected government, and, although—like us—it is not without its economic problems, there are signs that democracy is firmly established there.

It would be a great pity if unilateral action by Britain on the draft legislation on oil exploration submitted by the Falklands Islands Council to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office disrupted this process. Any proper attempt to exploit Falklands offshore oil will require great co-operation with Argentina in terms of surveying and drilling operations. Multinational oil companies are unlikely to want to invest billions of pounds in disputed waters, especially with the horrendous weather conditions there. I urge the Government to go slowly and warily, and to remember British interests as well as the legitimate interests of the Falkland Islanders.

Further progress towards democracy in central America depends to a great extent on the successful outcome of the peace talks in Guatemala and El Salvador. My recent discussions lead me to believe that in El Salvador there are now real hopes for peace. I have been impressed by the sincerity of some of those on both sides in the talks that I have had with the Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional and the El Salvador Justice Minister, who made the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) look like a real right-winger. I think that the Justice Minister was pleased to be seen to be moderate compared with the hon. Gentleman.

Although there are some who clearly have a vested interest in the continuation of the conflict, I think that there is now real hope for progress. It is, however, regrettable that President Bush has overriden the congressional freeze on military aid to El Salvador. I want to repeat and underline the urgency of the successful prosecution of the killers of the six Jesuits. We provided Scotland Yard help in that investigation. We should urge the American embassy to obtain testimony from the 10 American citizens. Their testimony is vital if the killers are to be brought to justice.

After the second set of democratic elections in Nicaragua, which I also had the privilege of observing last February, we in Britain hear much less now about that persecuted country. It still needs a great amount of assistance if it is to recover not just from the earthquake damage of so long ago, let alone the ravages of the American-sponsored aggression.

The Nicaraguan Foreign Minister came here seeking assistance. I told him that I wanted Britain and Europe to help Nicaragua's recovery in every possible way but that he should also get off his knees and remind the American Government in no uncertain terms that they have still to comply with the judgment of the International Court in The Hague and pay the $17 billion reparation for the damage inflicted.

Mrs. Chamorro may not have fulfilled the American ambitions. She may not have become the puppet that the Americans would have liked, but she deserves the support of all of us in her policy of conciliation—conciliation pursued, despite the reactionary forces within her own Administration. The Sandinistas also deserve our support and encouragement in their transition from a revolutionary party—essential in the 1970s to get rid of the dictator—to a modern democratic party of the 1990s, towards which they showed they were moving at their recent congress in Managua.

I have two other points to put to the Minister. If he cannot reply to them now, I hope that he will say that he will do so in correspondence. The first point relates to HMS Endurance, which has been raised persistently in another place by Lord Shackleton. When the Minister of State was in the Falkland Islands he gave a pledge—not to the council, as I mistakenly put in a question to him, of which he took advantage by giving a clever reply—but, I gather, to a public meeting in Port Stanley, that HMS Endurance would remain. That assurance is important for the Falkland Islands and also for Antarctica. I hope that he will repeat tonight the assurance that, if HMS Endurance is not serviceable, a replacement for it will be found. It is important to the whole of the south Atlantic.

In the discussions on the defence budget, now taking place, the Government must maintain their commitment to the garrison in Belize, which is still performing a useful role. As long as it is required by the Government of Belize, the garrison should remain there. If the Minister cannot give us that assurance tonight, I hope that he will do so on another occasion.

I should like to mention many other matters about this important continent, but time prevents me from doing so. I want to give the Minister adequate time to reply to the important points that have been made.

Democracy has been achieved in almost all Latin American countries. The lives of ordinary people were lost fighting against dictatorships, some of which were supported from time to time by some Conservative Members. Those achievements should not result in increased poverty and increased unemployment because of unfettered market forces. Like us, they need a balance of economic and social planning and a free market tempered by social concern. That will give hope to the people of Latin America. That is what Labour will bring them when we form the Government after the next election.

10.15 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)

I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on initiating the debate. I pay tribute to his work not only as a diplomat in Latin America but as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He is one of my more distinguished predecessors. He and his parliamentary committee, many of whose members are in the Chamber, do much not only to draw the House's attention to Latin America but in the important work that they, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and others do in travelling to Latin America. Many of them supervised elections and now receive an increasing number of parliamentary delegations from many Latin American countries.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe in highlighting the importance of the teaching of Spanish. As he and others will know, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the free world. Three or four years ago, the teaching of Spanish in the United Kingdom was in serious danger. Thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, however, we have begun to turn that around. Next year, Bushey Hall school, an important school in my constituency, will begin to teach Spanish, which is being well received by people in the area. I hope that that will be repeated throughout the country.

My hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe and for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) mentioned not only our history in Latin America, but the importance of our cultural affinity. It is extraordinary that, for 10 or 15 years, a continent which produced writers of the calibre of Octavio Paz, Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa should have pretended to be part of the third world. Essentially, hon. Members have welcomed the way in which democracy and market economics have returned to Latin American countries and brought them back into play.

I hope to be able to answer most of the points that have been made by hon. Members, but I apologise if I do not cover them all. I shall write to hon. Members about the points that I do not answer.

If I may say so, the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is a sort of parliamentary Sandinista. He seems to support almost any lost cause. I shall not answer all his points, but he mentioned General Pinochet's visit to this country. I remind him that no Minister in this Government fawned on General Pinochet in the way that Ministers in the previous Labour Government fawned on the dictator Ceausescu. Nor did we advise Her Majesty the Queen, as that Government did, to pin a medal on his breast.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley takes a considerable interest in Latin America and has attended many of the elections. He cannot resist the odd swipe at the United States of America or joining the hon. Member for Islington, North in supporting the Sandinistas. In the course of this year, the Government have authorised the Commonwealth development corporation to open up shop in Nicaragua, and it is enormously excited by and interested in the prospects there. It is giving the kind of aid that Nicaragua wants, by helping business men to set up businesses and to create jobs in the economy. I only wish that the Sandinista party would give Mrs. Chamorro's Government the support that we in the House feel that it should have.

I now pick up points made by all my hon. Friends. The political and economic changes that have taken place in eastern Europe, which we all welcome so much, have in many ways drawn attention away from the hugely important revolution and transformation that have taken place in Latin America. All my hon. Friends have referred to that. One by one, authoritarian regimes have given way to constitutionally elected Governments. Concern for the rule of law, respect for human rights and participatory political structures has now become a common feature across Latin America.

Only Cuba holds out against the tide. I am happy to pay tribute to the steps made in education and in health in Cuba. If a country has been receiving $5 billion of annual aid from the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that it should have made progress in one or two areas. Even Mussolini managed to get the trains to run on time in Italy. It does not alter the fact that a substantial number of Cubans, intellectuals and others, have had to flee that country, a substantial number of people remain imprisoned there and the country's leader continues to deny his people the opportunity of free elections and open democracy, which we believe hold out hope for the whole of Latin America.

Of course the problems of poverty to which the hon. Member for Islington, North referred exist, as do the environmental problems; but if one looks to eastern Europe and to the regimes with which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends travelled along for so many years, one can see what the failure of socialism can do not only to the morale of the people and in creating real poverty, but also in destroying the environment.

Conservative Members and many Opposition Members believe that it is the combination of freedom provided by liberal democracy together with market economics that will deal with the cardboard cities and with the appalling poverty—

Mr. Foulkes

It has not done so far.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I know that the hon. Gentleman also follows Latin America closely. He will be aware that it is only very recently that we have been able to say that the whole of Latin America is now under democratic rule and that all the countries there are following market economic policies. The problems of that continent have been built up over many decades of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes which often pursued economic policies that no Conservative Member would wish to support.

One of the latest examples of the commitment to real democratic practice is Colombia. A number of my hon. Friends, and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, referred to that. A new constitution broadening the democratic process was endorsed earlier this month. We applaud the courageous efforts of President Gaviria in that respect. I am confident that the change will make a significant contribution to representative Government in that country.

In parallel with the trend towards greater democracy, the newly elected Governments are increasingly adopting more pragmatic economic policies to reduce the role of the state, to lower tariffs and to give more scope to market forces, including foreign investment. We should recognise that the scale of the adjustments required by societies with limited social infrastructure, which are still burdened with debt, calls for a great deal of courage, commitment and ingenuity. I will say a word about debt later.

Nowhere is the political transformation more marked than in central America. The region is now barely recognisable to anyone who had dealings with it 10 or even five years ago. The presidents of the central American states from Guatemala to Costa Rica recently held their latest summit meeting, with Panama taking part for the first time as a full member. When their predecessors met in 1986, central America was a region synomomous with civil war, east-west rivalry and political repression. The only feasible objective of regional co-ordination seemed to be damage limitation. Yet now peace is consolidated in Nicaragua and. I share hon. Members' optimism about the prospects in El Salvador. Peace negotiations are well in train in Guatemala under the wise guidance of President Serrano.

The Central American focus has shifted towards more forward-looking if less eye-catching themes of economic integration and trade liberalisation. Britain and its EC partners can claim a modest share of the credit for those improvements in central America. The San José dialogue, begun in 1984, provides a forum for both political and economic co-operation between the EC and central American states. The seventh San José conference, which I attended last March in Managua, agreed on EC involvement in regional programmes to promote human rights. Where abuses occur, whether in central or south America, we naturally have no hesitation in condemning them. But now we are starting to go beyond condemnation, by helping to create the conditions that should prevent human rights violations in the first place.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley referred to the Jesuit murders and to the sterling work done by Scotland Yard on that matter, which was much appreciated by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe referred to the increases that we have managed to find in our aid programme for the next three years. It is a rolling three-year programme. I must emphasise that those increases do not represent new money. They are a deliberate decision taken by the Government to support the efforts for good government in Latin America.

To put it bluntly, those moneys are taken away from other parts of the world whose efforts in that respect we do not believe come up to the mark. It is important to stress that the Government have deliberately moved to support good government in Latin America. Many of the programmes that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has set up through the Overseas Development Agency are deliberately focused on attempting to work with our friends in Latin America to reinforce systems of justice and the very backbone of a liberal and democratic society.

Our condemnation of human rights abuses is now tempered with the knowledge that we are dealing with democratic societies whose leaders condemn those abuses as strongly as we do. We must bear in mind the fact that those countries often do not have the institutions to enable them to attack those problems in the way that they would wish. We must help them to reinforce those institutions.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of Columbus's landfall in the new world, it is appropriate that the EC's economic support for and co-operation with Latin America continues to increase. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe also referred to that.

I recognise that the debt burden still lies heavily on many Latin American countries. Most Latin American debtors are in the middle income category, and owe their debt largely to commercial banks. While arrangements for dealing with this debt must be a matter for banks and debtors to negotiate between them, Her Majesty's Government welcome the increasing willingness of banks to include a measure of debt reduction in the agreements they reach with debtor countries under the Brady plan.

A century ago, this country enjoyed a pre-eminent position in Latin America, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham referred. Over the years, that situation changed with the arrival of more nationalist, authoritarian regimes which were intent on putting up barriers. Britain, for its part, was simultaneously defining its own new, less expansive role in the world.

It is particularly felicitous that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, who is a staunch defender of market economics in this House and in the rest of the country, should lead this debate and carry the banner of free trade between Britain and Latin America on which our so successful relationship was based more than 100 years ago. I am absolutely convinced that the way forward for Britain in its relationship with Latin America is based upon free trade.

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has said that I am unduly optimistic in hoping that the Minister will deal with one or two of the points that I have raised. Could he deal in particular with the issue of HMS Endurance? He gave a specific assurance on that when he visited the Falklands. My noble Friend Lord Shackleton has also raised the issue elsewhere. Could the Minister try to deal at least with that point?

Mr. Garel-Jones

The hon. Member may recall—I am sure that he will have been in his place at the time—that I answered a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) on that very matter. The position on the Endurance remains exactly as stated —it is scheduled for replacement in about 1996. As for the hon. Gentleman's other question, there are no plans to reduce the garrison at present.

It is particularly significant that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe should be leading the debate because the prospects for Latin America and our relationship with it depend so much on trade. All my hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate have underlined the achievement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in extracting from each leader of the G7 a personal commitment to ensure that the GATT round reaches a successful conclusion this year. All hon. Members who visit Latin America will know that no issue matters more to the countries of Latin America than the ability to sell their products, particularly agricultural products, in this important market.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister accept that there must be an increase in the basic commodity prices paid to most Latin American producers if the drug war is to be defeated and real poverty eliminated?

Mr. Garel-Jones

Yes, of course I accept that. That is why the GATT round is so important to Latin America. Many of its food products would be enormously well received by British housewives, who currently pay approximately £16 per week over the odds for their food. The ability for Latin America to send its products into the European market is extremely important.

The Government are giving political support and recognition to the progress that has been made. We have significantly increased the funding available for aid, co-operation and good government in the region. High-level contacts between this country and Latin America are becoming more frequent. The visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Brazil and the visit of President Aylwin of Chile to this country, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred, are just two recent examples.

It is especially gratifying that so much progress has been made in little more than a year in re-establishing our traditional links with Argentina. In many ways, Argentina represents the new mood in Latin America. The isolation of the past 20 or 30 years and the pretended third worldism were dramatically brought to an end when President Menem took the courageous decision to join the international coalition in the Gulf by sending two Agentine naval vessels. He is to be congratulated on that decision, which may symbolically have underlined Latin America's desire to join the mainstream of world politics again—and how very welcome they are. Argentina is pursuing courageous economic policies, too.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asked about prospecting for oil in the Falklands. On that subject, as when we were discussing the fishing round in Argentina, we intend to ensure that the Argentine Government are not faced with any surprises.

The wind of change that is sweeping through Latin America has brought with it a renewed urgency for the process of regional economic integration. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe touched on that subject and I share his optimism that groupings which are now coming together will succeed. Those groupings may finally realise Bolivar's dream of a united Latin America. In that process, the continent of Latin America can rest assured that Britain will use every effort available to us to support its democratic processes and build up our trading relationships with the continent. We shall bear in mind the fact that Latin America did better 100 years ago when it had an open trading relationship with Europe and with Britain in particular, and we shall use every effort to recover that and to support Latin America in its efforts to sustain its democracy.

Forward to