HL Deb 15 March 1976 vol 369 cc3-6

2.44 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 whether they will take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the impending State visit of the President of Brazil to advise His Excellency of the revulsion felt by many people in Britain at the revelations, by Archbishop Helder Camara and other credible witnesses, of the harassment and torture of opponents of the present Brazilian régime.


My Lords, the purpose of the State visit is to strengthen relations between our two countries, whose common interests are growing in importance. The talks between Her Majesty's Government and the President of Brazil will no doubt cover a wide range of issues. However, the precise agenda for the talks has not yet been considered.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but can he do anything to clear up the actual state of affairs in Brazil, bearing in mind the curious discrepancy between the obviously sincere letter in The Times on Friday from our colleague in another place, Mr. Dalyell, and the very thoroughly researched account in yesterday's Sunday Times which cites the case of Brazil as being "the most completely documented example of institutionalised torture" which the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has ever received?


My Lords, I shall not comment on the internal affairs of another country except to say that, since President Geisel came to power in March 1974, there has been significant progress by Brazil on the path of democratic reform. This is a very important country in Latin America which enjoys a congressional system and a Press of very high quality which is free to express dissent and criticism. We are confident that closer relations between the two countries, not only in the political and economic fields but also in cultural links, will further encourage this appreciable progress which Brazil has already achieved on the path to democracy.


My Lords, can the Minister of State say whether it would be possible for more encouragement to be given to the inspection of prisons by the International Red Cross Society, which would be far more effective than appealing to the United Nations? If a Head of State refused an inspection, then one would have very good reason for suspecting that all was not well. My experience is that Heads of Government welcome the International Red Cross. Could the noble Lord perhaps do something to encourage this point of view?


My Lords, I will certainly look into that suggestion. As the noble Baroness knows, the British Government's view of the repression of human rights, wherever that occurs, is very well known and repeatedly stated to the countries concerned, with no exception. As to the utility of the International Red Cross, I suggest that this is usually in association with, and at the prompting of, the United Nations. We have been in the lead both in suggesting that the International Red Cross should visit such countries and in pressing such countries to receive that organisation.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree with the Sunday Times article, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradwell, referred, that we have a flagrant example of international hypocrisy in that the community of nations in the United Nations is prepared to condemn repression and torture when it occurs in South Africa and Chile, but nowhere else in the world? Does the noble Lord believe at least we have an opportunity in the forthcoming visit of President Geisel, whatever the people of this country may think of it, to make absolutely clear to him that we view with repugnance the use of torture as an instrument of policy in that country, as has been so well documented not only by the Amnesty International Report, but also in the evidence given to the Congressional sub-committee under Congressman Fraser? May I ask the noble Lord whether he has studied that evidence, and whether any further investigations have been made by the British Government to verify the allegation of Amnesty International and the Congressional Sub-committee?


My Lords, that is a very long and comprehensive supplementary question. However, I can assure the noble Lord that this matter is very carefully under consideration by Her Majesty's Government and that we do, I say again, repeatedly make our views about the repression of human rights known to any country which is deemed, or known, to be practising such measures. The case of Brazil is very different from that of Chile, and in many respects is different from that of South Africa. It is a most important country which is gradually treading the path towards democratic freedoms as we know them. Therefore, I believe that to reciprocate the very successful State visit by our Queen to Brazil in 1968 with a welcome to the present President of Brazil this year will help, rather than hinder, the causes which noble Lords have advanced today.


My Lords, in view of his very encouraging replies, will my noble friend say that there are now no political opponents, no journalists, no priests in prison in Brazil for opposing the régime?


My Lords, I could not give such a blanket assurance about Brazil, nor about quite a number of other countries in which the noble Lord and I would be interested.