HL Deb 06 February 1975 vol 356 cc980-1

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to safeguard British persons and property in Portugal.


My Lords, the protection of British lives and property is always in the first instance the responsibility of the local authorities. In Portugal, as elsewhere, we will make any representations that are necessary, but we have no reason to suppose that British lives or property are endangered.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House some indication of the number of British business people and retired people living in that country? Furthermore, is the noble Lord aware that the democratic Parties—apart from the non-democratic Communist Party—have now been deprived of their rights of assembly, and that the hopes which many of us have of reestablishing democracy in that country are rapidly in danger of total extinction?


My Lords, on the first point, the total number of British nationals resident in Portugal for various reasons on 1st March was 5,837. I have no separate figures for the business community, but I will seek to provide that information for the noble Lord and the House. On the second question which the noble Lord raised, I do not think we should jump to the conclusion that the right of assembly is yet in serious danger in Portugal. Recently, there have been certain encouraging signs, especially the precautions taken on 31st January, which indicate that the Portuguese Government understand very well the need to protect the essential democratic freedoms of speech and assembly.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, in view of the recent events in Portugal and the failure of the authorities to keep order at a recent conference, could the Minister give this House any information as to the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards giving help to the Central Democrat and Social Party and other centre and moderate Left-Wing Parties, in order that they may be able to survive and take part in the free democratic elections which are ostensibly to be held in April? If not, is there not a danger of a complete Communist take-over, with the threat not only to Portugal itself but to the vital interests both of the United Kingdom and of Western Europe as a whole?


My Lords, Portuguese law now forbids the subvention of Portuguese political Parties from outside. However, there is every reason and considerable opportunity for democrats in other countries of whatever Party persuasion to indicate appropriately, by visits and otherwise, to the Portuguese people and Government the support that exists for the strengthening of the new democratic rÉgime, of whatever Party, in that country. In fact, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is paying a visit to Portugal today and tomorrow, and I think that this will be regarded as a very clear and strong indication of the support by all Parties in this country for what the Portuguese people and Government are trying to do; namely, to set up a proper democracy. Also, we welcome very much the visits to Portugal by representatives of political Parties represented in our own Parliament. It is unfortunate but by no means conclusively fatal that the events in which the noble Baroness played a distinguished role took place. As I said on 31st January, partly as a result of the lesson learned from the events in which she found herself involved, the Portuguese Government have taken steps effectively, as we now see it, to maintain the essential freedoms of speech and assembly.