§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord CHALFONT rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their decision to cancel the1566
§ 8 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 53.1565
|Ailsa, M.||Elgin and Kincardine, E.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Gainford, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Gisborough, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Atholl, D. [Teller]||Glasgow, E.||Somers, L.|
|Baker, L.||Granville of Eye, L.||Spens, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Killearn, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Terrington, L.|
|Burton, L.||Margadale, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Mottistone, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Daventry, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Northchurch, B.||Zuckerman, L. [Teller]|
|Adrian, L.||Hale, L.||Platt, L.|
|Alanbrooke, V.||Hanworth, V.||Rhodes, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Seear, B.|
|Brockway, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Segal, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Inverforth, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Castle, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Champion, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Stone, L.|
|Collison, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller]|
|Colwyn, L.||Listowel, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Swinfen, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||McCarthy, L.||Wade, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Maelor, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Foot, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller]|
|Forbes, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.||White, B.|
|Fulton, L.||Northfield, L.||Wise, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Norwich, Bp.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ project for aid to the Bolivian mining industry. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for raising this Question at such a late hour, but the background to it is that on 8th November I asked Her Majesty's Government a Question about the grounds for cancelling a £19 million aid project for the Bolivian tin mining industry. The noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, answered on that occasion that the reason for cancelling that project had been on grounds of human rights in Bolivia.
§ In reply to a further Question, the noble Baroness said that the evidence for the human rights situation in Bolivia upon which the decision was based, had come from the Churches among others, and a report by the National Union of Mineworkers. Since then I have had an opportunity to go in more detail into this 1567 question and I am now asking Her Majesty's Government to reconsider that decision on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence for a major foreign policy decision of that kind.
§ This is an important matter and I fear that it is not one that I can properly explain or ventilate in a very few minutes as I should like to do; therefore, I must ask the House to bear with me. It appears that the major evidence in this case, although there were other sources, was the report on Chile and Bolivia by a delegation of the National Union of Mineworkers. I should like to say at once that I do not in anything I say in the debate, impugn the integrity or good faith of the National Union of Mineworkers, or indeed, of the delegation that went to Bolivia. I think that anyone who read the article which the three members of the delegation wrote in The Times a short while ago would realise at once that everything they said they believed sincerely and they were acting and writing in good faith.
§ However, I believe that that report was based upon a completely unrepresentative sample of Bolivian opinion. Indeed, it could scarcely be otherwise because the mission was a clandestine mission. The background to it was that at one stage the Bolivian Government had agreed to receive a delegation of the National Union of Mineworkers but that delegation did not go. Instead three members of the union—this is on their own evidence—went secretly to Bolivia without contracting either the British Embassy or the Bolivian Government and carried out investigations of their own. It is my proposition that, in doing so, they failed to get a broad, representative or comprehensive view of the situation in Bolivia. That, I think, is reflected in the report where there are a number of over-simplifications and, indeed, inaccuracies. Again, I do not say this in criticism of the delegation or of the union, because this is a highly complex matter and a very difficult problem which has many facets, but I believe that the record must be put straight.
§ First, I shall deal with a couple of very important factual inaccuracies in the report. On page 4 of the report, it is stated that the infant mortality rate in 1568 Bolivia is 50 per cent. higher than that of Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that the infant mortality rate in Bolivia is 15 per cent. not 50 per cent. It has been suggested on good authority that the statement was made in the report because of something that a miner's wife said to one of the delegation to the effect that: "Half our children die in infancy." Whatever the source, it is a gross inaccuracy.
§ Secondly, and perhaps this is an even more significant inaccuracy, on page 8 of the report in calculating the miners' wages in order to give a picture of the comparative position in Bolivia, they give the rate of exchange as 60 Bolivian pesos to the pound. The rate of Bolivian pesos to the pound has never been anything other than just over 30—between 30 and 35. That is another inaccuracy which gives a completely false impression of the comparative state of the Bolivian tin worker.
§ The report states that the army is in occupation of the mines. It might have been when the delegation was there, but by the time the report was written the army was certainly not in occupation of the mines. Indeed, the nearest troops to the major Bolivian mining settlement at Catavi-Venti Siglia are 15 kilometres away. However, it is not my main concern tonight—although I think it right to point out these discrepancies—to attack the basis or the assumptions of the report.
§ Of course there is a human rights problem in Bolivia. No one in his senses would deny that. However, it is important that we should keep it in a proper perspective. I think it correct and, indeed, imperative that human rights should be a major factor in determining the foreign policy of this country, including foreign policy governing aid to developing countries. However, I suggest that in applying the human rights factor three important criteria should be borne in mind. I should like to dwell briefly on each of the three criteria as I see them.
§ I suggest that the first criterion should be that the denial of aid to a country on grounds of human rights should be in the long-term interests of those whom the aid would otherwise have benefited. In other words, if we deny aid to a country on 1569 grounds of human rights, it should be on the basis that we are seeking to bring about, with some hope of success, a change in the internal policies of that country. I think that no one who knows anything about the Latin American political scene would claim for one moment that the cancellation of a £19 million aid scheme will cause the Bolivian Government to change their policies, especially as the Minister of Overseas Development has said in the newspaper which her Department published that she is exploring the possibility of other projects in Bolivia—in the hospitals and the Health Service. Therefore, if it is really thought that the cancellation of that scheme will bring about any difference to the Bolivians it seems a curious way of going about it. That seems to be a major inconsistency because if the human rights situation in Bolivia is so awful that we must cancel a major aid project, what are we doing looking for others to take its place?
§ I think that the second criterion should be that the wishes of the people concerned are taken into account and that we do not just indulge in ideological Pavlovian reflexes about the way a Government behave. The National Union of Mineworkers delegation say—and I believe them—that they spoke to a number of miners in Bolivia. I can only say that a British Embassy official whose integrity is beyond question toured the tin mines completely unannounced, unescorted and anonymous and he was unable to find one single miner who was not enthusiastically in favour of the project of the Overseas Development Ministry for £19 million worth of aid to the mines. Indeed, I would go further and say that the cancellation of that aid was bitterly resented among the Bolivian tin miners.
§ The third criterion in this respect is that in applying the human rights criterion to foreign policy we should apply the factor consistently. I have already pointed out one inconsistency in the application here: in Bolivia itself we cancelled one aid project on the grounds of human rights, but seek to find others to take its place. The second inconsistency is that, while, with one hand, Her Majesty's Government were denying an important aid project to Bolivia on the grounds of human rights, they were seeking ways of giving aid to the Republic of Mozambique. If anyone is going to suggest to me that 1570 human rights in Mozambique are spectacularly better than they are in Bolivia, then, as one who has visited both Southern Africa and Latin America frequently in recent years and months, I can tell them that they are quite wrong.
§ The general human rights situation in Bolivia is better than that in most countries to which this country gives aid. It is important to recognise that no other Government and no other international organisation in the world has even considered withdrawing aid programmes from Bolivia on human rights grounds. We are the only Government and the only international organisation. Therefore, I suggest as a first proposition that none of the essential criteria for applying the human rights factor to international relations has been fulfilled.
§ As I have said, I shall not deny that there is a human rights problem in Bolivia. I have to say that over and over again because I suspect that later I shall be accused of ignoring it. However, I believe that it must be placed in its proper context. What are the denials of human rights in Bolivia? They are principally these: political parties are in suspense and have been for some time; trade union activity is suppressed and has been since 1976; people can be arrested and held indefinitely without trial. I suspect that there is no one in your Lordships' House who would seek to justify policies of that kind or seek to deny that they are a fundamental affront to human rights.
§ But there are also certain factors on the credit side in Bolivia. Unlike some countries that could be mentioned by name—but perhaps it would be politic not to do so—there is no evidence of torture in Bolivia at all. I am not suggesting that this is any great or spectacular claim to compassion or the milk of human kindness, but it is a fact. It is also a fact—perhaps I could correct that and say that it is my very strong opinion on the evidence—that the Government are doing their very best to come to terms with the miners and the Federation of Miners, which is the main trade union of tin miners in Bolivia and which, incidentally, in 1976 was responsible for issuing the manifesto which led to the draconian Government action at the time. Incidentally, it is a mineworkers' federation which 1571 makes no secret of its Communist affiliations. I believe that the Government of Bolivia are doing their best in the current circumstances of national security to come to terms with those miners and to bring about an improvement in political and social conditions in the country.
§ What was the case when the National Union of Mineworkers' delegation was in Bolivia is something that we can gather only from their report. But by June 1977, after the National Union of Mineworkers' delegation had left but before they had presented their report to their national executive committee, the conditions had changed fundamentally. There were, in fact, only three miners imprisoned by June 1977; all those who had been exiled to Chile in 1976 had returned home to Bolivia. No mines were occupied by the military forces and very substantial progress was being made with social plans in Bolivia.
§ As I say, I do not seek to defend a denial of human rights where they are denied, but I believe that we should recognise goodwill where it exists and I should like to repeat that Bolivia, even given the great difficulties in which its Government have operated since the summer of 1976, has a better record of human rights than many other countries to which we continue to give very substantial overseas aid.
§ So far I have been concentrating on the negative side. I have been giving the reasons why I believe that the cancellation of this important aid programme was based on insufficient grounds. I should like to spend a very few moments on the positive benefits which that aid would have had both for the Bolivian tin miners and, indeed, for this country. As anyone who has visited Bolivia will tell us, the Bolivian tin mines are antiquated and dangerous. Safety precautions are inadequate; the conditions of work of the miners leave a very great deal to be desired; it is hard, oppressive and, as I have said, often physically dangerous. Indeed, the report of the NUM delegation made a great deal of this point.
§ But the whole point of my argument about this is that, had that aid programme—that £19 million worth of aid—gone to Comibol, which is the State consortium 1572 that runs the Bolivian tin mines, it would have been used to replace the obsolete equipment which makes life dangerous and unpleasant in the Bolivian tin mines. It would have gone to generate funds for the social welfare of the miners. Where else could it have gone? It was tied for that purpose. In short, that aid would have served the short and long-term interests of the very Bolivian miners about whom the NUM delegation were so concerned in their report. I repeat, I have it on authoritative evidence that there is bitter resentment among the workers—I am not now talking about the Government or Comibol—in the Bolivian mining industry at the fact that this aid programme was cancelled, at the way in which it was cancelled, and at the evidence upon which it was decided to cancel it.
§ What about this country? One of the reasons I claim some small expertise in matters of Latin American is that I am the President of Canning House, the Hispanic and Luso—Brazilian Councils. The economic affairs committee of Canning House is the official advisory group to the Government on all trade with Latin America. It is officially appointed advisory group to the British Overseas Trade Board on trade with Latin America. In June 1977, when it became known that the Government were contemplating the cancellation of this order, the economic affairs committee of Canning House made its views clearly known to the Government in a letter to the chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board. It said that the figures for Bolivia show—and I mention these more for the record than for anything else—that between 1976 and 1985 the import of capital goods into Bolivia will increase at a rate of about 12 per cent. a year, which means that the import of capital goods will rise from 216 million dollars worth in 1976 to over 600 million dollars worth in 1985.
§ It is not difficult to see the great opportunities that exist there for British commerce and industry. To establish a foothold in a country with a growing market of that kind would have very considerable implications not only financially and politically for this country but socially as well. The economic affairs committee of Canning House—which I repeat, are the official advisers to the British Overseas Trade Board on these 1573 matters—said that cancellation of the aid plan would seriously affect our future exports to Bolivia and threaten sizable British contracts which are already being negotiated with the Bolivian Government. They pointed out one implication which must be of great concern to all of us; namely, that it would have an impact on the level of employment in this country; that if we could succeed in getting a substantial share of that capital goods market the level of unemployment in the engineering industry, in particular, in this country would be very considerably affected. In other words, there would be jobs for more engineers if we got these contracts; there would be fewer jobs if we did not. I have no doubt that that advice was considered, but clearly it was not considered to outweigh the evidence contained on human rights in the report of the National Union of Mineworkers.
§ In closing, I suggest that the decision to cancel the project for aid to the Bolivian mining industry is perverse by every test and on every count. In the first place it has damaged the interests of the Bolivian tin miners themselves, which I should have thought would be one of our prime concerns and certainly one of the prime concerns of the National Union of Mineworkers. It has certainly damaged our relations with a friendly and prosperous Latin American country. It has damaged our trade with Bolivia and, therefore, potentially it has had an adverse effect on our balance of payments. It has had, or will have, or may have—let us not exaggerate—an adverse effect upon the employment situation in this country. Furthermore, it needs absolutely no consistent or logical test for applying human rights to the formulation of foreign policy.
§ I ask Her Majesty's Government to consider the evidence carefully again. I ask the Government to weigh the evidence of the National Union of Mineworkers' delegation as contained in this pamphlet—and I repeat that I cast no aspersions, no doubts, upon the integrity of the union or its delegation; I merely cast doubts on their accuracy and on the breadth of their knowledge, experience and contacts—against that, for example, of the British Embassy in La Paz, and of the various other embassies in Bolivia, including that of the Soviet Union. It is all available 1574 to the Foreign Office. That evidence conflicts. That is all I shall say at this stage.
§ I ask them to weigh the evidence of the Churches (about which the noble Baroness spoke in her Answer on 8th November) against that of the Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia—especially those of the Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia who are responsible for contact with prisoners in Bolivia. The evidence again is conflicting, and I believe that that conflict should be resolved. I ask them to weigh the evidence of the International Red Cross, which is available to the Government and to the Foreign Office, and which does not paint quite such a black picture as that painted by the brief visit of the delegation of the NUM.
§ I ask them simply to look, if they will, at a report on Bolivia which appeared as a supplement to the Financial Times in February 1977. I know that supplements of that kind are produced with the aid and sponsorship of the Government concerned, and clearly one must take account of that. But if they will look at that supplement they will find in it an article on Comibol, on Bolivian tin mining, by a distinguished journalist, expert in Latin American affairs, called Hugh O'Shaughnessey. He is by no means a defender of military regimes in Latin America. Indeed, he is one of their most consistent assailants. Yet if the Government will look at his report on Comibol I think they will find there again that the picture he paints, one of the most consistent critics of Latin American Right-Wing dictatorships, is not as black as that painted by the National Union of Mineworkers.
§ Finally, I would ask them, in what I hope will be a reconsideration of this position, to weigh the understandable feeling of outrage at the denial of human rights against the damage which this gesture against it has done to the cause of the tin-miners themselves in Bolivia, and the real commercial, industrial and social interests of this country. I have not, I hope, been polemical or abrasive in what I have said. I have sought to put another point of view, a different point of view from the one which is in the report of the NUM, upon which a major and important decision of foreign policy was taken. The view which I have put is well 1575 documented. The documents are available for anyone to peruse. It is based on personal experience, and on the experience of many people in Latin America and in this country for whose views I have a very high regard. I hope in the light of those views that the Government will at least agree to reconsider their decision.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, I do wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, makes it his business to excuse or to palliate the offences of Right-Wing dictatorships of this world while constantly being on the attack against Left-Wing dictatorships. I notice that recently he has not only been telling us that the régime in Bolivia is not as bad as it is generally painted, as he has said this evening, but also he has been seeking to excuse some of the offences committed by the regimes in Iran and South Africa, for instance. I suggest to the noble Lord that what lie is doing is the mirror image of the kind of double standards which he has been condemning in his recent article in The Times on the question of Bolivia and which, if I may finish my sentence, is so frequently alleged to be the exclusive property of the Left in this country.
§ Lord CHALFONT
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord because I realise it is early in his speech. I would ask him whether he would be good enough to read the last article I wrote in The Times on South Africa and then, perhaps privately, tell me if he thinks I am excusing their actions.
§ Lord AVEBURY
Certainly, my Lords. I am speaking of the noble Lord's recent contribution in the House when I make reference to South Africa. I think that the noble Lord has given us a somewhat one-sided picture of the nature of the regime in Bolivia. To begin with, one needs to correct that picture by going over a little recent history. I go back to the coup d'état in 1971 from which date there has been the most ugly and brutal repression in Bolivia with, initially at any rate, concentration camps, torture and assassinations.
The noble Lord says that there have been considerable improvements recently, and I shall come to that point in a minute. 1576 But certainly the trade unions were systematically harried from the date of the Banzer takeover. The schools were closed down in 1972, and the teachers' union was taken over by stooges appointed by the Minister of Education. The universities were closed until October 1972, and they were then reopened under Government control. Priests and monks were arrested and expelled from the country, and religious establishments were raided by the political police.
In January 1974 there was a rally of peasants protesting against the Government's economic policy, and these peasants were attacked by units of the army and the air force. More than 100 of them were killed. It is also well known that in November 1974 (and the noble Lord himself made reference to this) all political Parties were banned. Decrees were promulgated ending all freedom of association in trade unions, professional bodies and student organisations. Strikes were prohibited. Obligatory civil service was introduced which enabled the Government to force any person over 21 to take employment as designated by them. Puppets were nominated by the Government to act as spokesmen for workers' interests, and if union leaders refused to take a job in this way as what was called a "labour co-ordinator", that refusal was treated as a refusal to comply with the obligatory civil service and the trade union leader was immediately gaoled.
In May 1976 the mineworkers held a congress which was, of course, illegal; nevertheless, they held it, and they elected new leaders to the Federation of Mineworkers' Unions. The State mining group, Comibol, at first recognised these elected leaders and invited them to take part in salary negotiations. These negotiations were to start on 10th June, but on 9th June the leaders were arrested, the army occupied the mines and residential areas where the miners lived. The Minister of the Interior declared that the miners' leaders were all extremists and nominated "labour co-ordinators" to act in their place. It was this sequence of events which triggered off the strike. The Government reacted to the strike by expelling 50 leading miners to Chile, by imprisoning others without trial, and then imposing a settlement on the striking miners. At that time there were many protests from the outside world, including 1577 those from Britain, and from Church groups which called on the Banzer Government to accept the mediation which the Church in Bolivia had offered to settle the dispute.
The proposal to grant this £19 million aid must be seen in the light of this background, and as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has mentioned, that aid was opposed by the Catholic Institute for International Relations, by Amnesty International, War on Want, the TUC, Christian Aid, and the British Council of Churches—not an unrepresentative set of organisations in this country. They acted not only on the merits of the case, but also with the knowledge that, in so far as one could judge in a country where freedom of association was denied, the denial of this aid would meet with the approval of the miners themselves who were, as it appeared, opposed to the project.
That was certainly the impression I got when I made my own inquiries into the matter earlier this year, when I wrote to the Minister accordingly, and it was confirmed to me more recently in discussions I had with Dr. Siles, the former President of Bolivia and now president of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights. But in reality we must admit that we have no absolute means of judging what is the view of the mineworkers. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says that he believes that the majority of them are in favour of the project. We say that they are against it. But in a country where freedom of association is denied there is no conclusive way of making a decision on this matter.
My Lords, consider the sequence of events. In June 1975 50 leaders of the equivalent of the TUC were arrested. In June 1976, following the strike I have mentioned, about 600 members of the mineworkers' union were arrested, and 60 were exiled. If the original plans of the Ministry of Overseas Development, which had been formulated, I must point out, at the time the strike was taking place, had been proceeded with then, in about June 1977, there would have been a grant of£19 million to the modernisation of the mining industry. That would have been announced about that time. It may not have been taken as a positive endorsement by the United Kingdom Government of 1578 Bolivia's action in crushing the trade union movement in general and the mining union in particular, but I think that the decision by Britain to go ahead with the scheme would have dealt a tremendous blow to the human rights movement in Bolivia, and it would have been construed as an indication that we did not really think in terms of linking aid to human rights, since it would be extremely difficult to think of a project against which there could be stronger arguments on these grounds.
I would refer the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to the leading article in The Times on 23rd June of this year, which said:Certainly its delivery [of this aid] should be made conditional on the release of the arrested miners, and return of those in exile, and the recognition of their freedom of association as required by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Failing that, the aid should be given not to the Government but to the Bolivian churches. Then it would be sure to reach those Bolivians who desperately need it".So when the Minister reached her decision at the beginning of August this year she had to take into account the conditions in Bolivia as they were at the time, and as they had been immediately prior to the decision. There seems to be a conflict between the authorities that I have mentioned and those cited by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, both this evening and in his recent article in The Times. He says there that his sources included the Soviet Embassy in La Paz—hardly, I should have thought, the most outstanding experts in the field of human rights—the office of the Papal Nuncio there, the Catholic Church, the International Red Cross, and some mine-workers.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has actually visited Bolivia to collect all this information from such a wide variety of sources, as the reader may be led to assume, or whether he relied entirely on the advice which I understand was given to him by Mr. Hope-Jones, our former ambassador in La Paz, and his own interpretation of the opinions of these authorities; that is to say, the interpretation of Mr. Hope-Jones. I will leave it to others to judge the propriety of a serving Foreign Office official giving advice to a politician for the purpose of launching an attack on a decision of the 1579 Minister. Of course I have no means of knowing whether Mr. Hope-Jones realised that that was the purpose to which his information would be put.
But your Lordships will notice that while the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says that he can cite all these authorities, he does not saddle them with responsibility for any particular conclusions that he has reached. I think that he is very wise to be so reticent, because I do not believe that he can in fact use them to support his conclusions.
I should like to take the ICRC as an example. I had always understood that reports made by the ICRC were confidential for the very good reason that they had to continue operating in the countries concerned, and that they did so with the approval and consent of the Governments, and if they were to release copies of reports which might be highly critical it would jeopardise their position. I verified only this afternoon, by making a call to the Red Cross, that no report on their activities in Bolivia has in fact been released. I certainly have not found one, and I should be very interested if the noble Lord can give us any further information about those sources.
But I know that the ICRC made a visit, in January this year, to the Viacha prison, and someone else I know went there the following month, February. He tells me that, for instance, in that prison there were 19 men incarcerated in a room which measured four metres by 10 metres, with no artificial light. The only source of ventilation was two slits in the door and measuring half a metre long and 0.04 metres wide, with one bucket in the corner serving as a latrine for those 19 prisoners. My friend says that the stench was indescribable. Those people were kept in that hell-hole for 23 hours a day, with no occupation whatsoever, and practically no medical attention. When the prison doctor, Dr. Walter Vargas Espinosa, was asked to attend a prisoner he merely sent in aspirin. Three months earlier, the prisoners in this dungeon said, there had been no fewer than 30 people in the same room, and they were so crowded that they had to take it in turns to lie down. In that same prison there were some women kept as hostages until their husbands, who were under threat of 1580 arrest, gave themselves up. So it would be interesting to know what the noble Lord has to say about the report of the ICRC on the Viacha prison.
I said that we had to consider what the conditions were immediately prior to the decision, of which this is an example. But despite the fact that it has been announced that elections will take place in the middle of 1978, and that General Banzer does not intend to stand as a presidential candidate, there has, as yet, been practically no move towards the restoration of human rights. The decrees which I mentioned earlier are still in force, normal political activities are still banned, and the trade unions are still being persecuted. Information came into my hands only today which shows that between June and September seven workers were arrested and detained without charges in the Viacha prison, and one in the Orwellian "Department of Political Order". Eleven workers were detained in places unknown, and incidentally since military rule became absolute in 1974 there has not been a single known case that an application for a writ of habeas corpus has been successful in respect of a political prisoner. Further lists have been given to me of workers forcibly retired prematurely, or removed to other areas, and two members of the Executive of the Human Rights Assembly have disappeared in October, presumably detained by the authorities.
So I suggest not only did the Minister have very good reason not to proceed with the scheme in August, but that the violations of human rights of trade unionists are continuing even now. Despite the Government's declaration that elections will be held in mid-1978, they have not taken any steps towards normalisation of political activity, nor has there been any sign of releasing or bringing to trial such detainees as Antonio Peredo, who has been detained since January 1976, or Jaime Lora Araoz, who has been detained since July 1976. Incidentally, since the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, maintains that there has been no torture, I would refer him to the evidence of Amnesty International on Señor Peredo. In July 1976 he was visited by members of the Bolivian Red Cross, accompanied by journalists, in the E1 Ponoctico Prison in La Paz. They found that Señor Peredo had been handcuffed to a pillar throughout the whole of his seven months of imprisonment 1581 at that time, and that he was held incommunicado. This was bad enough, but he also claimed to have been tortured after arrest, to have been severely beaten and injected with painful drugs, and to have been hooded. The other person I mentioned also claimed to have been tortured; and there has been no independent medical opinion admitted by the Bolivian Government to check on these allegations.
Therefore, I personally very much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has seen fit to defend this atrocious régime of General Banzer, which fails so lamentably to conform with any of the normal standards of civilised behaviour. At the same time, I warmly congratulate the Government and the Minister of Overseas Development on their decision to withhold this aid.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Viscount MONTGOMERY of ALAMEIN
My Lords, it is always very difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I must say that I find his picture difficult to reconcile with my own personal experience of Bolivia over a number of years. I want to make only one point on his comments, which need to be read rather carefully, and that is to remind him that in a letter to The Times the Bolivian Ambassador invited the National Union of Mineworkers to visit Bolivia officially, and offered them every facility. I do not want to get into the discussion on human rights in much detail because I want to develop a different type of argument, but I should like to take up one general point and that is something which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said in a supplementary question recently. He said that over 80 countries were guilty of human rights infringements. That is a formidable number. Who is to be the judge and the jury in such a complex situation?
I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Chalfont for having raised this matter this evening. I think he has done your Lordships' House a great service in bringing this matter out into the open, as it surely merits reconsideration and restoration. The Bolivian mining industry project was one which would have provided great benefits for the Bolivian people and had long-term benefits for our trade with Bolivia. It is difficult 1582 to see that the other suggested projects which were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, in her Answer to a Question on the 8th November could have anything like comparable results. In any case, it will be a long time before these come to fruition. The noble Baroness knows very well that technical assistance and aid programmes take a very long time to develop, but they can be very quickly knocked down and destroyed. It is rather like building a ship: it takes years of hard construction work, but it will sink in seconds.
On the subject of aid in general, in a brilliant speech during the foreign affairs debate recently Lord Bethell outlined some of the matters which need to be taken into consideration when dealing with the aid problem. He said that it was important for us to exercise our influence by encouragement rather than blackmail, the carrot rather than the stick. However, I believe there are times when the withdrawal of aid at certain moments turns the carrot into a stick. If a project has been carefully thought out and agreed, is about to happen and is then cancelled on the basis that the receivers have not conformed to actions which are desired by the donors, surely that in itself constitutes "big brother" bullying. Worse still is the cancellation of an aid programme in mid-course.
I should like to illustrate what I mean in this instance by another case which took place elsewhere in Latin America some years ago. The United Kingdom had a most effective technical assistance programme operating in Chile in the early 'seventies. It was quite small, and concerned university teaching, agricultural mechanisation and other matters connected with technical education for students. This programme was cancelled without warning in April 1974, when the present Government took office. Technical assistance officers executing the programme were withdrawn, at loss and inconvenience. This sudden discontinuation, this symbolic and theatrical gesture if ever there was one, had very little effect upon the Chilean Government except to damage the good relations which had existed between that country and ours for a century and half; but it did deprive young Chileans of a valuable contribution to their educational development. I think it was a petty 1583 demonstration of pique by the United Kingdom Government at the time.
Until 1974 the United Kingdom overseas aid programme was entirely separate from political influence, and it seems to me rather unfortunate that this has now changed. I suspect that aid is not a very effective political weapon—indeed, Lord Chalfont himself said that. You cut little political ice with an aid hatchet. I believe that we ought to consider aid on a more practical level, and that a project should be agreed and carried out irrespective of the nature of the Government in the country concerned. In other words, we must try to remove doctrinaire ideology as the basis for considering aid. A sounder basis would be the social and economic benefit to the recipient country.
It could be argued—indeed, I think it might reasonably be argued—that we probably have rather too large an aid programme. It in fact seems rather absurd, in these days when we are continually preaching economy, when our GNP is hardly growing and when we are unable to have an adequate defence programme, that we are giving more away in aid than we spend in total on our overseas representation. The latter has a direct benefit in the employment of our people and in the promotion of United Kingdom trading business overseas, whereas the aid programme, especially when administered by ideological standards, does not have very much benefit, certainly not for the recipients.
As I have said, aid has to be considered very carefully indeed, and not become a charitable indulgence. In the Third World, and particularly in Latin America, the recipient of aid inevitably comes under some sort of moral obligation to the donor. The countries which are emerging in Latin America have long suffered from feeling that they are the poor relations of the United States, from whom they have received much aid. This is one reason why they would like to have a closer relationship with Europe. These links would be strengthened if aid was directed towards increasing trade. Increased trade, in itself, would be immediately beneficial to the countries of Latin America, and indeed to the whole of the Third World, and would have the effect of increasing 1584 employment in those countries. This would generate self-respect without increasing moral obligation.
I therefore put it to your Lordships that aid directed towards increasing trade is likely to be more soundly based and provide greater reward than that based upon doctrinaire ideology. Aid orientated towards trade would ultimately win for this country greater respect at both national and international level, and, moreover, is something which we could more reasonably afford.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I want to acknowledge at once that I have not the advantage of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, of having visited or having been resident in Bolivia. I have travelled a good deal about the world but not in that territory. I am not sure that when one visits a territory or is resident there one gets a clear picture of all its circumstances. It depends very much on whom one lives with and where one lives. Therefore, I have tried to supplement any visits I have made to countries by reading, as widely as I could, objective books on the subject, and informed articles. That has given me a background to the situation in Bolivia.
More immediately on the issue which is now before us, I have depended upon not only the report of the delegation from the miners' union but on reports made by the Churches. I am not a member of a Church, but I want to pay a very sincere tribute indeed to the Churches in Bolivia, and particularly to the Roman Catholic priests who have lived in the area affected, for the courage with which they have spoken. My statements will be based upon those two sources; the evidence of the Churches and the evidence of the delegation from the miners' union. About the miners' union, let me add this, in case it is thought that their report was written by extremists—in fact, the delegation was composed of three of the most moderate members of the executive.
As the Unstarred Question which has been put down by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says, this aid was to the Bolivian mining industry, and therefore one has to consider the record of the industry. Ever since 1971, trade union organisations have been banned in Bolivia. They were 1585 banned in the area of the tin mines at Siglo XX and Catavi, where the miners are the Indian population. But they were isolated; they were 100 kilometres from the nearest town, from the area in which the more affluent whites lived. And perhaps that isolation gave an advantage for they could create underground, despite the illegality, a representative trade union. It became so strong that even though it was illegal they were able to hold their conference in May 1976 and the Government had to meet their leaders. They did not negotiate with them but they met them.
The miners were making a very simple demand. The lowest wage in which a family can be kept in health and decency in Bolivia is 4 dollars a day. They had been paid 1.6 dollars and they were demanding a living wage. The Government subsequently offered them 1.75 dollars—still utterly inadequate to keep a family from hunger. The Church offered mediation; it was refused by the Government. The army occupied the mines: they occupied the whole area. One thing that has to be recognised about this mining area is that the Corporation not merely employs the men; it owns their houses; it owns the stores where they have to buy their food; it owns everything. Virtually the mining population are slaves to that Corporation. The army not merely took literal occupation of the mines; it took occupation of the stores; it billeted their soldiers in the miners' homes; it dominated the whole area. The Government arrested 300 of the miners' leaders and exiled 32 of the most prominent to Chile.
I want to recognise at once that the Government promised to the miners improved education, housing and recreational facilities—to that promise I will be referring later. But under the conditions of occupation of the area by the army there was social terror. Workers were sacked en masse. Even social gatherings were prohibited. It was an absolute domination of not merely the working conditions but the daily lives by the army which was in control. They were not satisfied with that. As I have said, Siglo XX and Catavi are 100 kilometres from the nearest town; there are only two access roads and both those were blocked by the military, and food and water supplies to the miners were denied. 1586 They sought to starve them out. Even seven months later 150 of the miners' leaders were in detention without trial.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that there was no torture of the prisoners. I am always very reluctant to make accusations of torture because they are nearly always made when those with whom one is sympathetic are in prison. But I report this: Monseigneur Mestre, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, wrote of the prisoners that he had seen that they had been tortured. I want to recognise as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that many have since been released; but on the last count there are still 68 political prisoners in Bolivia who have not been tried.
It is those conditions which have led Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the grant to the mining company. I do not think the inaccuracies, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred, defeat the main argument of the document. Whatever the inaccuracies, one must accept the technical evidence of miners from this country who go to a mining area and make their investigations. They say in their report that safety regulations are practically non-existent. The average life expectancy for an underground driller in the block system is 30 years. First degree silicosis develops within five years; at the age of 30 there is second-degree silicosis. At 35 the miner cannot be saved. I find it ironic that one driller explained that he was alive though he was 35 because he had spent the greater part of his life in prison or in exile. It is estimated that there are 21,000 of those miners suffering from silicosis.
The legal hours of work are eight hours a day, six days a week; in fact, because enough cannot be earned to keep a family, it is 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The women and children are employed on the surface. Medical reports state that they, too, are contracting silicosis from the dust. They are housed in two-roomed shacks so that parents and four or five children may be sleeping together in the bedroom. I do not think that that is a wrong account of the position in that mining area.
I want to turn to the conditions of the grant of £19 million to the mining corporation. It is not a loan. It is proportionately very high compared with grants 1587 which this country makes to Southern America. The total to Southern America is £30 million and the average to Bolivia is £1 million. Here the proposal was £19 million. The conditions of the grant are that the mining corporation should buy British machinery and carry out the proposed social improvements to which I have referred. Despite this, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says, all the evidence that I have been able to obtain, not merely from the miners' union but from the Churches, is that because of their conditions, the great majority of miners would be utterly opposed to Britain making this grant to the mining corporation.
Last month Dr. Adolfo Siles Salinas, the last civilian President of Bolivia, a respected social democrat and elder statesman, told the National Union of Mineworkers in London of the joy felt by Bolivia's miners and other workers at the British Government's decision. I had intended to quote from The Times the editorial which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, had read; it is significant that The Times, ordinarily a Conservative paper, as well as the Guardian, a Liberal paper, has condemned any grant while these conditions remain in Bolivia.
Finally, I want to say this, more optimistically: a change is beginning to take place in Bolivia. I think that is partly due to the American pressure from President Carter. I am sure that a contribution towards it has been the refusal of the grant from this country. General Banzer who has been their President, unelected, since 1971, and who took part in the military coup which took over the country, states that he is not going to stand for President in the elections next year. There are to be elections at last. They are not only for the President and Vice-President but for a constituent Assembly. I would say to Her Majesty's Government that the right course would be, before they make a grant of this character to Bolivia and the mining corporations, to await the result of these elections which, if carried out democratically, will show the real desires of the Bolivian people and lead to a democracy with which I hope we shall be able to co-operate.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, I feel so lucky to be able to speak 1588 after the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who speaks so well on these subjects and whose views have influenced mine over the last 30 years or more. As I see it—of course my views may differ from those of other people—the purpose of British aid is to help peoples and communities in Third World countries to achieve their social, economic and political potential. That is how I see it.
Our aid programme is directed towards facilitating human development. Such development is a prerequisite for human dignity and is the birthright of every man, woman and child—this, and not the opening up of new markets for British exports or gaining short-term political favours, although they are very important. That must be the essential consideration in any aid strategy. Certainly that is how I interpret the Government's White Paper, More Aid to the Poorest.
If this criterion is accepted, it follows that we must be discerning and select only those countries and projects which help rather than hinder basic human development. Therefore, we must analyse what are the obstacles to development in a particular country, and seek to overcome them. When the obstacles are simply lack of capital and technical expertise, then it is easy and our aid programme can have spectacular successes. When, however, the obstacle is primarily a system of government which, through its policies and actions, sustains and enriches a wealthy élite while the majority are kept by force in sub-human conditions, we must discriminate very carefully indeed. Otherwise, our Government to Government aid programme will simply bolster that régime and reinforce its repression.
Detention without trial, exile, torture, disappearance and killings of able leaders seeking justice for the communities are the hallmark of many dictatorial regimes in the Third World. Such violations of human rights are diametrically opposed to what I hope are the goals of our aid programme. It is for this reason that I, for one, think that the Government are quite right to make the situation in regard to human rights the central factor when deciding aid priorities. Aid and human rights can be linked effectively only on a country by country basis.
1589 It is necessary to decide for each Third World country what strategy Britain should adopt in its aid programme to promote the economic, political and social well-being of the community, recognising how interconnected they are. We cannot just work to increase a country's gross national product and simply ignore systematic violations of human rights. If, though its policies, a Government maintains enormous inequalities between rich and poor and, at the same time, is guilty of widespread suppression of basic freedom, then a very serious case can be made for blocking all Government to Government aid. I say that even if our black list of undesirables becomes very long.
It is clear from all that we have heard and read that Bolivia is a country where serious violations of human rights have been taking place, and where popular organisations, trade union freedom and the judicial process have been effectively blocked. It is within the framework of what we know is happening in Bolivia that we must consider the proposed £19 million grant to that country. It must be seen both within the general context of human rights in Bolivia and, as my noble friend Lord Brockway has already pointed out, as an extraordinary grant of unprecedented size to Bolivia's mining sector, because the fact of its being of unprecedented size is relevant in this context.
Since the 1971 coup, in which General Banzer came to power, Bolivia has been ruled by a brutal military régime. The early years of his rule were characterised by the repression of students, trade unionists and peasant leaders. Even the Church became a target for the Government's hysterical anti-Communism—and remember, my Lords, that we are now talking about the Catholic Church. Progressive priests and religious leaders were expelled from the country; convents and bishoprics were raided by the political police. The high point of this repression was in January 1974, when the army and air force killed over 100 peasants who were peacefully demonstrating against the Government's economic policies. This incident, and other abuses of human rights, are amply documented by the Bolivian Roman Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has not read it.
1590 In November 1974, the military Government consolidated their position through a number of decrees banning all political Parties, trade union activity and student organisations. The right to free association was rendered meaningless. At the same time, a law of compulsory civil service was enacted which compels any individual to accept a Government-assigned job. Failure to comply is punishable by two years' imprisonment or exile. This law was invoked to banish trade union leaders who refused posts as Government-appointed "labour co-ordinators", as they were called, but of course the working people regarded them as stooge labour leaders. Today there are more than 5,000 Bolivians living in enforced exile. Trade union activity was further curtailed by the prohibition of all strikes and stoppages.
The banning of all progressive movements and the stifling of any voice of opposition to the Government's repressive policies placed a great responsibility on the Church in Bolivia. The Church has responded by becoming, over the last six years, the foremost defender of human rights in Bolivia. Regular protests about the abuses of human freedoms have been issued by individual bishops, the hierarchy as a whole, the Justice and Peace Commission, which I have already mentioned, and a number of other Catholic organisations.
However, Church activity in this sphere has not been confined to statements or mere denunciations. Writs of habeas corpus have been presented to the Government. The Church has set up a committee to provide advice and financial support for political detainees and their families. The Church has interceded on innumerable occasions with the Minister of the Interior and General Banzer himself on behalf of hundreds of individual prisoners. The horrific abuses of human rights and the Church's response is chronicled in a publication called Bolivia 1971 to 1976, People, State and Church—Christian Testimonies, which was published in Lima earlier this year. Again I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has not read this publication.
In June 1976, a new wave of repression was unleashed against Bolivia's tin miners. As noble Lords have been told, the banned miners' union had called for a 1591 substantial wage increase to compensate for the inflation of the previous few years. The State mining corporation agreed to start negotiations with the union. The day before the negotiations were due to begin, the union representatives were arrested and the army occupied the mines. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, now tells us that the army has withdrawn 15 kilometres. How long does it take tanks to travel 15 kilometres? What kind of rubbish is that? The miners went on strike in protest at this occupation and treatment.
As noble Lords were told earlier, 52 miners and other trade unionists were exiled to Chile. They were forced to live in isolated communities in the Southernmost provinces of Chile without adequate clothing or proper means of subsistence. The silicosis from which you have already heard most of them suffered, was reactivated by the humid climate, yet no medical facilities were made available. It was only concerted international pressure which finally secured their transfer to other countries. In the mining communities in Bolivia hundreds of workers were arrested; no charges were preferred and no trials were held. An atmosphere of terror prevailed and even social gatherings were prohibited. The Church offered to mediate but was rebuffed by the Government. The strike was broken after six weeks and a miserable settlement was imposed on the miners. The army remained in occupation and the fact that they are 15 kilometres away does not change that.
Delegations from a number of concerned British bodies, for example the Catholic Institute for International Relations, Christian Aid and the Anti-Slavery Society, as well as the National Union of Mineworkers visited Bolivia in the early months of this year and spoke with a wide range of people, including the tin miners themselves. All were shocked at the treatment the miners had received and at the conditions in prisons and detention centres in which the miners were kept. Again international attention, particularly from Britain, contributed towards the release of the detainees. However, others have been arrested in their place. We have already heard how many are still in detention.
The Church-sponsored Bolivian Human Rights Assembly in La Paz is this week 1592 holding its first national congress. During the past year it has established branches in all the major towns in Bolivia and has been able to collate information on not only arbitrary arrests and disturbances but also of sackings, victimisation and the transfer of so-called political agitators from mine to mine. The Assembly, less than one year old, has already suffered repression, including the arrests of its personnel in the mining areas, and we must not forget that this Assembly is presided over by the distinguished statesman about whom the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke earlier, who was the last civilian President of Bolivia, and it is supported by all the major Churches in Bolivia. The fact that the Government could behave in that way to the Assembly demonstrates yet again that no questioning of Government policies will be tolerated.
It was in this situation—and I have taken some time to come to it—that the British Cabinet decided to cancel the extraordinary proposed grant of£19 million to the State mining corporation. As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, pointed out, it was an extraordinary grant: quite out of context with the normal grants given to Bolivia. The laudable intention behind the grant was to have been the improvement of working conditions through the renewal of obsolete mining equipment. However, it became clear that this grant would also have been used indirectly to finance the settlement which had been forced on the miners. The miners themselves called for the blocking of this grant, and if we use the criteria put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that is one of them; but the people themselves wanted it stopped. They regarded the British Government's willingness to underwrite the settlement as being tantamount to condoning General Banzer's repressive tactics.
An examination of the plight of the miners and the implications of this grant led many trade unions—not only the National Union of Mineworkers—Church groups and development organisations in Britain to campaign for the blocking of the grant until respect for human rights and trade union freedoms were restored in Bolivia. This seems to me an eminently reasonable demand. Obviously the Cabinet thought so, and I am very glad of that, and the grant was stopped. The decision was in accord with the British 1593 Government's commitment to human rights considerations when determining aid and foreign policies. I am sure that attitude will receive support in other quarters where human rights are valued. The Cabinet's decision was welcomed throughout Bolivia, in spite of what Lord Chalfont says, especially by the intended recipients of the grant. This is no time to reconsider that decision.
While General Banzer has announced his intention of returning to some kind of electoral process in 1978, there is as yet no sign of a real change of heart. Those of us who have had to follow the performances of dictatorial régimes know that they frequently announce their intention of reintroducing civilian rule. According to the statements of General Zia at the start of his Government, Pakistan should have had civilian rule by now. So I suggest we have to wait for the actual coming to fruition of this suggested civilian rule, because at this moment free trade union activity remains illegal, political Parties are still restricted, arbitrary arrest and political imprisonment continue, exiles have not been allowed to return. Until there is a complete and unconditional amnesty for political offenders, until judicial process is restored and freedom of association guaranteed, it seems to me that no new projects in Bolivia should be considered by Her Majesty's Government. Until these fundamental rights are restored it would be wrong for any British Government to grant aid to Bolivia.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has raised a number of very serious issues and indeed he has also kindly given us a preview of his views in his illuminating article in The Times which has been referred to many times. I am grateful for this opportunity of making the position of the Government quite clear on these issues.
I think the House knows perfectly well that the question of human rights and aid is one of the most difficult which any Government have to face and in relation to any particular individual country there are often no easy answers at all. One has to consider the extent of the human rights 1594 violations, the question of influencing the policies of the Government, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred, and together with these two possibilities we have to get the delicate balance of implementing our own aid policies, which as the House knows, are to give the greatest help to the poorest people in the poorest countries. The House also understands that often the poorest people live in countries under Governments whose views on human rights differ very greatly from our own. This is no simple question to answer and no simple way of implementing the programme.
I do not think that I have any need to assure noble Lords that there is simply no question of the Government adopting a simple policy of favouring Governments which are of the so-called Left at the expense of those which are labelled as of the Right. Indeed, in the developing world these easy labels have absolutely no impact and no reality in the extremely complex politics of developing countries. I must say that I was deeply shocked by the allegation made by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, that our aid programme had had a politically ideological content since 1974. I rather hope that the noble Viscount will reconsider that allegation.
The House knows that there are only two countries that we have actually cut from our aid programme. One is Chile and the other Uganda. At the same time through the United Nations refugee organisations we have helped refugees from places like Cambodia, the Lebanon, Southern Africa and countries of Latin America. That shows the diversity of our approach to this deeply complex problem.
Let no one think that it is easy. Of course, it is difficult to be absolutely consistent. One cannot always get it right, but in this case I believe that we did so. I think that noble Lords will agree that it would be much better if the difficulties of this problem were acknowledged instead of making allegations of double standards. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to Pavlovian reflexes. I think that he must have suffered from them when he referred to the "blatant and impudent double standards" of this Government and especially of the Minister for Overseas Development.
1595 We have heard a great deal about the National Union of Mineworkers' report, and I do not think that there is any need for me to elaborate on what we have heard about it, although I was rather amused that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his article in The Times when referring to my own reference to the report said that I had been "studiously discreet." In fact, I made a deliberate and direct reference to the report in answer to a supplementary by the noble Lord because it was perfectly obvious what was in his mind. There was nothing studiously discreet about that. Nevertheless, the noble Lord has suggested that the Government's decision not to approve this project was based on the report and that suggestion I must answer.
Up until now our aid programme has seldom been the subject of strong political controversy. Whatever Government have been in power they have, by and large, had the support of all the major Parties and all the major national institutions. Indeed, no Government can successfully run an aid programme unless they have, by and large, a fairly strong public support. It is in that context that I think the House should think about the background of this incident of the Bolivian project. As the noble Lord himself admitted and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, described so graphically, followed by my two noble friends, there was no question about the military occupation of the mines. I shall not repeat all the descriptions of the persecution of the miners and their families at this late hour. However, that is the background against which the question was being considered.
As my noble friend Lord Brockway said towards the end of his speech and as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont said when he quoted the Hugh O'Shaughnessey article in the Financial Times which I have read, the human rights situation in Bolivia is by no means as appalling as it is in Chile or in several other countries in Latin America and there have been some signs of improvement in the last two or three years. But the proposed tin mine project was precisely in that area where everybody knew that the denial of human rights was at its worst.
Against that background, during the first half of this year and up to the 1596 announcement of the Government's final decision, my right honourable friend the Minister of State received a very large number of representations against this project. I was going to give a list of the organisations, but I need not do so after Lord Avebury's speech. However, I should like the House to know that of the communications she received four were in favour of continuing the project and 84 asked that it should not be continued. I think that that speaks for itself. Because public opinion is so important in implementing an aid project, it would have been extremely unwise to ignore public opinion, particularly in this instance. Therefore, as I told the noble Lord on 8th November, the report of the National Union of Mineworkers was only one of the factors which we took into account in reaching our decision.
The prospects for that kind of project, with the volume of public opinion against it, would have been bad. Nor, if we had gone ahead with it and ignored the representations, would the Government's relations with the Government of Bolivia have benefited. It would have been a running sore. I think that the Bolivian Government fully understand that. That is another reason for it. There is one very important point that I must emphasise, in spite of the fact that it is getting very late. The mining project had never been given final approval by the Minister. It had been under consideration for some time. It had received publicity, largely because a Bolivian newspaper referred to it in the preliminary stages of the project. But I am afraid that the noble Lord is quite mistaken in his wording of the Question about the cancellation of the project. The project was not cancelled. When it came to my right honourable friend the Minister it was not approved by her.
There are, of course, other occasions when projects are not approved by the Minister. It does not happen very often, but it does happen. Of course, no one takes any notice because there is no publicity, for until the project is announced, normally nothing is known about it. However, I think that most noble Lords present tonight understand the normal procedures of the Ministry of Overseas Development. Therefore, we are now in an entirely new position. At the same 1597 time as we told the Bolivian Government—quite properly through our embassy there—of our decision about the mining project, we said that we should be very ready to look for opportunities for assisting them in the field of health. I must say to my two noble friends that I believe it is right that we should have projects which aid the poorest in the the poorest countries in spite of the human rights aspect, if we can make it right. In spite of the gloomy forecasts by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, your Lordships will be glad to know that this suggestion was welcomed by the Bolivian Government. Indeed, the President has himself put forward some proposals to our ambassador, which I am very glad to know. I shall not go into any sort of detail tonight—I cannot. However, a professional team is leaving early in the new year to consider these and other proposals.
The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, is rightly concerned about commercial considerations. We cannot possibly afford to ignore them in our present state, but I do not think that I have ever heard a more moving description of the aid programme than that given by my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead. His description that aid was meant to secure the economic, political and social potential of developing peoples is exactly what we should be aiming at. We believe in our aid programme; we believe it to be morally right. At the same time it makes economic sense. I do not think that it is at all dishonourable that while we are assisting people we are at the same time creating new markets for ourselves. When we, the United States, the EEC and the international institutions raise the standard of living in these developing countries we are, of course, increasing their potentiality as a market. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that in the six years up to 1975, which are the latest figures I have, our exports to the less developed world have approximately doubled. So it has been worth it, and I should like the noble Viscount to consider that.
Further, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, there is no indication that the Government's decision on the mining equipment project has adversely affected our British exports to Bolivia. Indeed, a substantial project was obtained shortly after the decision was announced by GEC, 1598 and others are on their way. He also mentioned that employment in the United Kingdom would be adversely affected. Whatever aid we give, in whatever form, it will be tied to British goods and services and this will help in just the same way.
The truth is that in common with the rest of the world and with President Carter's declared policies, Her Majesty's Government have rightly given great emphasis to this whole question of human rights in recent months. Apart from Uganda, which was obviously very difficult, this was the first clear conflict between human rights and our immediate economic self-interest. It would have made a mockery of our concern for human rights if the Government had gone ahead with this project. Finally, I should like to reply to some comments that were made on the work of my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Overseas Development. In his Times article the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said:The cancellation of the project shows a cynical disregard for the welfare of the very people with whomshe is most concerned.
§ Lord CHALFONT
Then will she do me the honour of quoting it correctly. I did not say "for which she has such a concern". I was referring to the National Union of Mineworkers and not to the Minister.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, it is quite true that my quotation ends "for the welfare of the very people". If you like, I will add the NUM, but the whole tone of the noble Lord's article, and he knows it, was one of denigration of the work of the Ministry for Overseas Development. I can say with absolute certainty that no single person has done more to help British aid than the Minister herself. Anybody who understands this subject at all will never forget her work in developing the Lomé Convention by which EEC aid goes to Commonwealth 1599 countries. She has extended and expanded in the best possible way our whole approach to aid, and I should like it made absolutely clear that that is what we meant.
I should like to give the noble Lord another quotation from his article. He said that in this particular project the Government's case was based on "less elevated political motives". In answer to this I should like to give one quotation from a recent article of my right honourable friend. It is this:… we all need to take into account human rights, whether it be Cambodia or Uganda, Indonesia, Chile, or Bolivia, Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union".I am most grateful for the support I have received tonight from my two noble friends—indeed a powerful and impressive combination, and from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in another powerful contribution. I think now that on the question of aid for Bolivia we must look to the future. We shall not go back on our decision about the tin mining project. As I have said, our offer of assistance has been welcomed, and our commitment to help when we can find the right projects is a firm one. The Government's reasons for deciding against the mining projects are good ones. They are perfectly well understood by the Bolivian Government, and we look forward to mutually satisfactory relations over new projects.