HL Deb 14 April 1981 vol 419 cc938-73

8.14 p.m.

Lord Chitnis rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how their policy on El Salvador and its immediate neighbours is evolving.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am asking it this evening because while there has been tremendous concern and publicity for the situation in Central America in this country recently, relatively little has been said about it on the Floor of this House. I want to talk about the situation in El Salvador, knowing that other noble Lords intend to talk about other countries in the region. So far as that country is concerned, almost all that has been said by Her Majesty's Government here is that they deplore the violence from whichever side it comes, although in February the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, did say in Answer to a Question of mine that there was no similarity between the situations in El Salvador, Afghanistan and Poland, because in the latter two countries the Russians were sending in troops or threatening to send in troops. Since the Americans are now doing both in Salvador, albeit on a different scale, I assume that the Government's thinking must have moved on and I hope that the noble Lord will tell us in what direction.

It may be also an appropriate time to talk about El Salvador now that the first period of the Reagan presidency is over, when Mr. Haig has just visited London, and when the results of the guerrilla offensive which started at the beginning of January can be seen. What is clear is that increased American support for the junta has not resulted in the crushing of the guerrillas any more than the guerrillas have succeeded in effecting a successful revolution. What in fact has happened is a stalemate. Because of the danger that the stalemate may be broken by a widening of the conflict within the region; because America may be tempted to take action which extends the importance of the conflict far beyond the region; but surely most of all because of the immense suffering being caused to the people of El Salvador, I hope that the Government have used, and will use, their considerable influence with the United States Government to stop supplying lethal arms to the junta and to press for a negotiated solution. In particular, I hope that we may be told what, if anything, was said about the problem between the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Haig last week and I wonder whether Mr. Haig was able to throw any light on the appalling tale that anything up to 1,500 peasants were suffocated by the army blasting the entrance of the cave in which they had taken refuge.

Over and above the Government's dislike of the violence—the murder of even the mildest of dissidents by the army and the agents of the junta and the kidnapping by the guerrillas of foreign businessmen, including Britons, which I recognise the Government feel they cannot forget—do the Government share the view that the United States has misread the problem of El Salvador? The fighting there does not have its genesis in some international Communist conspiracy, based on Moscow and Havana, to take over Central America. It is based rather on 50 years of monstrous social injustice in El Salvador. Every British tradition, every Western democratic tradition suggests that we should be on the side of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Our complaint against Communist countries is that they are governed by authoritarian tyrannies, that dissent is ruthlessly stifled and that they are thoroughly undemocratic. All those things are true of El Salvador, and America—the home of the brave, the land of the free, and all that—would have us support the junta in charge there. It makes a mockery of the West's claim to support civilised values to find its leader putting pressure on countries to stop providing arms to the Left; itself arming the Right; and then standing by while the Right indiscriminately slaughters the supporters of the Left. The only slight consolation is that every indicator shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to their Government's policy.

But I suggest that perhaps so much has been said, written and shown on television about the present horror in El Salvador that there is no need for me to dwell on it, and it may be more profitable to concentrate instead on what could be done in the future. I suggest that three propositions must be accepted. First, that a total military victory by the junta, with or without American advice and assistance, is highly improbable and, even if possible, could only be achieved at the price of many more deaths and the total destruction of the country's economy, already severely crippled. Secondly, a total military victory by the opposition front is equally improbable and undesirable, if only because it would never be accepted by the United States or even some of the European Governments which support the political aims of the front. Thirdly, all experience would seem to show that in such a situation the only way to a political solution is one which involves both sides to the conflict. If these points are accepted then it would seem obvious that all international pressure should be directed towards achieving, first, negotiations leading to a cease-fire; secondly, a period during which some semblance of political normality can be restored; and then—and only then—elections.

The trouble is that, while many Western Governments, notably the West Germans, see this, the United States does not. When it stops hankering after a military victory for President Durarte, it seems to believe that one can jump straight into elections without bothering with the earlier stages, and presses that advice on him. This is a nonsense but derives solely, as far as one can make out, from the belief that the opposition front is beyond the pale, an opinion normally justified by reference to guerrilla atrocities, undoubtedly appalling, which happened some time ago. But just as the junta governing El Salvador has changed, and as its methods have changed—becoming even more openly brutal—so has the front changed also, in roughly the opposite direction.

Its present leaders includes Dr. Ungo, the former head of the Social Democratic Party, Ruben Zamora, the former Christian Democrat, and many others whose democratic credentials are rather better than those of the majority of the junta. To refuse to deal with these people on the grounds that they are merely Soviet stooges is the kind of attitude which, if persisted in, will condemn, in effect, tens of thousands more Salvadorians to death.

And then, in wondering whether elections should best be held before or after the fighting stops, one only has to remember the rather similar situation in Zimbabwe to be able to list the reasons why an election without peace would be open to all the objections which stultified the 1979 Rhodesian election. There is a nasty civil war going on in El Salvador at the moment, in conditions under which an open campaign would be impossible. For example there has to be a curfew. There is no reliable census and thousands of refugees have had to flee within and outside the country. The internal bases of the parties in opposition have been destroyed, their leaders who have not been assassinated are in exile; their ordinary supporters murdered in their thousands merely for voicing their support. When ex-United States Ambassador White says that young people have been killed in Salvador on the merest suspicion of being dissidents, an election campaign under present conditions is likely to be a somewhat one-sided affair. Indeed, elections first, frankly would merely make matters worse.

My Lords, I always used to wonder when I first concerned myself with the problems of El Salvador tow or three years ago, how people in this country could ever be made interested in its extraordinary problems and, indeed, what it was to do with us anyway. I do not think that that is any longer the case. It is notable now the great upsurge of interest inside and outside this House, in the churches, in the media and a feeling that, as decent human beings, it is a matter of concern for us. I hope that this feeling is mirrored in the Government and that we can look to them to use their great influence with the Government in the United States based not only on our traditional friendship but also our experience in dealing with such problems elsewhere.

Will the point be made to the American Government that a military victory for the junta in El Salvador is a mirage; that the seemingly democratic solution of imminent elections is no solution at all; that negotiations between both sides in the war, a process which will almost certainly involve international mediation, is the first goal to strive for?—the first step on the road leading to a cease-fire, a return to normality and then an election. That way at last peace and justice might come to El Salvador.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I very warmly welcome and endorse the analysis of my noble friend Lord Chitnis of what is happening in El Salvador, and I believe that the resistance forces there exist, not because of the outside encouragement to which reference has sometimes been made, but because of the internal situation in the country itself, on the basis of inequalities which have been apparent in that society over very many years. I think that the resistance forces are acting out of a desire for national liberation and social justice, and that they represent, very broadly, the people of El Salvador; and there should be mechanisms by which the people of El Salvador should be allowed to decide their own destiny free from the interventions of any outside power, and that particularly includes the supply of arms from any source whatever.

Although the spotlight is on El Salvador these days, it is not the only country in Central America where human life is held cheap. In neighbouring Guatemala, which is a country of 5½ million inhabitants, the Government programme of political murder, described in a report published in February 1981 by Amnesty International, has intensified recently, and this may not be unconnected with the fact that the American Right see the régime of President Luis Garcia, as they see that of President Duarte in El Salvador, as a bastion of anti-Communism.

The authoritative Latin American Bureau in a study entitled Guatemala—Unnatural Disaster, which was published in 1978, pointed out that while the earthquake in 1976 claimed over 22,000 lives and rendered over one million people homeless, in the years 1970 to 1974, 15,000 died at the hands of the Government-sponsored right wing terrorist groups; uncounted numbers died from malnutrition due to the inegalitarian social policies and particularly to land tenure; trade unions were repressed and attacked as the "enemy of reconstruction", and thousands of peasants were forcibly evicted from their holdings.

Now Amnesty International, in one of the most horrifying documents ever to have been published by that organisation, reveals, in all its loathsome detail, the policies of the Guatemalan régime today; it is alleged that the death squads, the Escudrón de la Muerte and the Ejérato Secreto Anticomunista, operate under the direct control of the President's office.

In 1979, according to official spokesmen, the Escudrón de la Muerte killed 1,224 so-called criminals between January and June, and the ESA killed 3,252 alleged subversives in the first 10 months of that year alone. Not a single one of these thousands of murders has ever been solved. The assassinations continued at the same rate in 1980, although official figures are not available. Among those who were murdered last year were four Catholic priests, including, for instance, Father Conrado De La Cruz, who was detained with 44 other people at a demonstration on 1st May. He and his assistant, Herlindo Cifuentes, have never been seen again and many of those who were arrested at the same time were later found murdered. Florencia Xocop Chavez, a leader of the trade union at a textile plant in the capital, was abducted together with 26 other trade union leaders meeting in the Centrale Nacional de Trabajadores, the equivalent of the TUC, on the afternoon of Sunday, 21st June. None of those trade union leaders has been seen since that date.

Senora Juana Turn De Menchu, wife of one of the peasants who was killed in the Spanish Embassy occupation, was detained as she walked home to her village on 19th April 1980, and again has never been seen since. A final example and a particularly interesting one, because he is one of the few people who have escaped after having been arrested, is Victor Manuel Valverth Morales, an engineering student, who was arrested by two plain-clothes men in the engineering department on the campus of the university. But after he had been shot several times by these two plainclothes men, he was rescued by fellow students. They secured the identification papers of the two kidnappers, which showed that one of them was a military intelligence agent and the other a member of the so-called "Treasury Police". I am glad to say that Valverth recovered from his wounds and is now in exile in Costa Rica.

The Amnesty International report contains detailed statements, first, from the survivor of a military torture camp, who endured being hung up by his testicles, kicked unconscious and hooded with quick lime, and who also saw three fellow prisoners garroted in front of his eyes. The report contains the testimony of a conscript soldier who witnessed many tortures and murders. If anybody wants this information confirmed by independent sources, this is what the former Field Director for Oxfam, who spent four years in Guatemala, had to say: The wholesale slaughter, for there is no other word for it, has spared no sector of society". Dr. Villagarn Kramer, the former Vice-President of Guatemala, who resigned his office in Washington last September because he could not do so in Guatemala in case he would be assassinated, said that his main reason for relinquishing office was the disregard of the Guatemalan régime for human rights. I think that it is rather surprising that none of this information is thought worthy of comment either, I gather, in the United States' media or even more so in the United Kingdom, where one would have thought that because of the situation with regard to Belize it might have been worthy of comment.

But United States policy on Guatemala seems to be designed to have the very opposite effect of that which is intended; that is, it will drive the people of Guatemala into the arms of the Communists. Recently three United States envoys—General Daniel Graham, Belden Bell and General John K. Singlaub—visited the country and pledged support for the terrorist régime of Luis Garcia. General Singlaub came very close to declaring his sympathy for the death squads. Frankly, I must say that the Americans seem to be choosing some very odd friends. The trouble is that in the long-run, when these dictators are finally overthrown, those who had to struggle for their freedom against murderers and thugs, who were armed with American weapons, are not going to be exactly sympathetic to the United States.

Britain's relationship with Guatemala is a tricky one because we have no diplomatic relations with the country and because we have the responsibility to ensure that the independence of Belize is secure. Nobody wants to do anything whatsoever that will jeopardise or hinder the progress of that country towards independence. One wants to ensure at the same time, however, that nothing in the agreement that we make with Guatemala could involve this country in action, either direct or indirect, against the democratic forces of the opposition in Guatemala.

There have recently been bombing attacks against villages on the Guatemalan side of the frontier with Belize. I should like to ask the noble Lord when he replies whether he would tell the House if the roads mentioned in paragraph 5 of the Heads of Agreement signed between the United Kingdom and Guatemala on 11th March will facilitate military operations by the Guatemalan forces against the rebels, or against the civilian population in the neighbourhood of the frontier with Belize. In this respect the situation in Guatemala bears a close resemblance to that in El Salvador, the attacks being indiscriminate. Although they may be said to be directed against terrorists, it is frequently innocent civilians who lose their lives.

The Heads of Agreement also provide in paragraph 9 that Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain development projects of mutual benefit. If the treaty, or treaties, giving effect to this clause involve any payment of aid by the United Kingdom will it be ensured that that aid is related to bona fide development projects, and that stringent safeguards will be incorporated in them to ensure that resources are not diverted into military or quasi military purposes?

In conclusion, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the report of the UN Commission on Human Rights of 26th January 1981 on the question of missing and disappeared persons. That Commission, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, was a distinguished member, received information in great detail about murders, disappearances and tortures in Guatemala of named individuals. The Commission wrote to the Government of Guatemala first on 30th June last year and then again on 30th September asking for the Government's observations, and no reply was ever received.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for an assurance—and I know he will be prepared to give this assurance—that we will continue to support the work of that Commission, so that the international community may ultimately build up an effective system for detecting, exposing, and even finally punishing crimes against the people committed by the main powers which are supposed to protect them from injury, which is the hope of the tortured, the bereaved, and the dispossessed in Guatemala just as much as in El Salvador.

8.34 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I cannot attempt to follow the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; precisely. In any event, he was mostly talking about the next-door country, Guatemala, although it of course has a great deal of relevance to this issue. Our thanks must be due to the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for introducing this subject at such a timely moment. I should probably declare an interest, as I think I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who has actually lived in El Salvador. I lived there some 20 years ago for nearly three years. Although this gives me only a little knowledge, which has been helpful, it has given me above all a great feeling for the people who live there. Many of my friends have in fact been killed in the present and recent troubles.

When I went to live in El Salvador I never used to declare that, because nobody had ever heard of it. I always used to say I was going to live in Central America. They more or less knew where that must be by definition. Unfortunately now, by virtue of the unfortunate happenings in that country, everybody has heard of El Salvador.

I should like to take up one interesting point that the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, made about military victory. I am sure we are all agreed that military victory is not the objective, can never be, and should never be. But in order to achieve the objectives laid down and spoken about by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, it is essential that we have some sort of law and order. What seems to me to be happening in El Salvador is a power struggle between the Left and the Right. The Government have to establish some system in the country whereby people can go about their daily business. In a struggle between Left and Right, this is not the same as it was in Nicaragua. That was a special case where there was a single oligarchy. In El Salvador no such oligarchy exists. What exists is an emergent middle class, unfortunately insufficiently established to have been able to give the stability in the political system at a crucial period in the 1960s.

It is necessary when considering El Salvador to go back to the 1960s because frequently one hears, and reads in the press, and there has been a lot of coverage, that democracy has never existed in El Salvador. That is not correct. There was a fragile parliamentary system which unfortunately collapsed due to pressures from all sides. Indeed, at one time President Duarte, now held up as being very much a Right-Wing character, was considered to be the most radical person in existence. It shows that thinking has changed.

It behoves us to think a great deal about what President Duarte, a parliamentarian, a man who has been a candidate for the presidency in democracy, is trying to achieve, and his long-range objectives. But as the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, put it so clearly you cannot create, or re-create, instant democracy. In a country where there is a great deal of illiteracy, and so much outside interference which has produced this instability, the immediate reintroduction of one man one vote is an unlikely panacea. I was very happy to hear the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, say that.

From the point of view of Britain, this is not really our main area of interest. Unfortunately, our trade and our involvement in Central America are very low. Some of us have struggled manfully to try to raise them, but it is outside our generally recognised sphere of influence. It is therefore essentially a North American problem. The North-South relationship, the whole of the hemispheric dialogue between the United States, Central and South America, is something of vital importance, and is insufficiently understood in Europe. It requires increasing knowledge and increasing dissemination, and this is another reason why I welcome this debate this evening so much, because it will help to propagate the problems of Central America which are insufficiently recognised.

Whatever happens it is no good us in the West, or indeed in the East, trying to impose solutions from the outside. What we can do—and I hope that the noble Lord who replies will say something about this—is to encourage the organisations with which we are associated, like the Organisation of American States, and indeed the leading and great republics in Latin America such as Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, to play a much greater part in participating in Caribbean affairs in general. When talking about the Caribbean one must include Central America.

Meanwhile, the bloodshed must cease, and in that respect I welcome the United States initiative. I hope the Minister will say that we are supporting that initiative in trying to achieve those ends. It is an absurd situation that the United States Embassy should be in a state of seige in a country where it is trying to restore law and order. Until we get law and order, the objectives outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, will never be achieved, nor will the objective of-re-creating economic prosperity.

I say that because it is a small country with a very dynamic population, but unfortunately many of the entrepreneurial people have been driven out and their businesses put under seige. As for the solutions that have been proposed, one is instant land reform of the whole country, breaking the estates up, when in fact the estates do not dominate the position. It is often said that, with a population of 4 million, the land there is owned by only 2 per cent. of the pepole. It must be borne in mind, however, that though a small country, that represents about 100,000 farms. Economic activity and agricultural development, which will only come after stability is re-created, will bring about a new way of life in Central America.

Some years ago, as noble Lords will be aware, Central American countries tried to group together in a common market, but it foundered for a variety of reasons; for example, because of the Salvador—Honduras conflict, because of the economic problems in other countries and because of problems in Nicaragua. Ultimately, it will restart, because in the limited spell of its life it achieved an enormous increase in intra-regional trade; countries which had previously not spoken to one another began to realise that by working together they could achieve something.

It is a fragile institution which still exists but it broke down because of differences and political ambitions in the individual countries. Therefore, I believe our best effort rather than criticising, as we do, in the press—would be to see where we can help to fortify the international institutions which are working in El Salvador and in the whole of Central America. We must try to see where we can be of help to re-create a sensible trading pattern so that the products which those countries produce can be exported, and many of their agricultural products have great opportunities in the West and elsewhere, particularly if a climate of investment can be created.

One should in that context mention the large corporations or multinationals, which are frequently castigated. In fact, in Central America the multinationals have brought nothing but benefit. Unfortunately, they have been insufficiently involved because of the smallness of the area and the fragility of the then common market; probably Honduras was the only country in which the larger corporations were involved to any extent, and that fell apart a long time ago.

The development of the area about which we are speaking will take place only by the re-creation of a climate appropriate to investment, and that means investment by the nationals of the country; about 80 per cent. of all investments in Central America has come from domestic capital formations. Until that sort of climate is re-created—and it requires peace and order—we shall never see a solution to the problem.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, we have listened with great respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, because of his residence in El Salvador. It may seem almost an impertinence that someone who has not been there should differ from him in some of his conclusions. I can only say that people are often resident in a country but are in a different environment and have a different political attitude; two people may live in a country together yet come to different conclusions. The views which I shall express are also a reflection of the views of those who have lived in El Salvador and know the circumstances there.

On Sunday 23rd March 1980 the Archbishop of Salvador in a sermon appealed to the members of the security forces not to kill people. He said: Brothers, you are from our same pueblo (people), you kill our brother campesinos (peasants); and, before an order to kill given by a man, you ought to reflect on the law of God which says: do not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the law of God … In the name of God, then, and in the name of this suffering pueblo, whose cries rise to the heavens, every day more clamouringly, I beg, I ask, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression". That sermon was described by a representative of the armed forces as "criminal", and the following evening the archbishop was shot while celebrating Mass in the cancer hospital where he lived to give some service to the dying patients. On the following Sunday, 100,000 people gathered in the square before the Cathedral for the archbishop's funeral service. A bomb was thrown into the crowd and snipers opened fire from buildings around. The funeral service was completed, not only for the archbishop but for the 50 people who had been killed.

I am indebted to Dr. Dermot Keogh, the historian, for those descriptions in his book, Romero: El Salvador's Martyr. He was in the cathedral crowd and he asked, "Where are the police and army?"—accustomed to democratic societies where their duty is to protect the public—and the answer he got was, "Outside, shooting in at us". I recite that incident because it indicates two conclusions. The first is that the present Government there, initiated by overcoming by a military coup in October 1979 50 years of dictatorships, are often described as moderate. Because they began with a programme of human rights and democracy they are still presented to us as being democratic. But in fact they have sadly deteriorated in their policy—deteriorated from violation of human rights to the point of massive extermination. It is the army of the Government that is guilty of violence against peaceful crowds such as occurred outside the cathedral. In addition to the army, reactionary paramilitary forces are supported by the Government and allowed to shoot at will.

The second conclusion is that the victims of the repression are not members of Marxist resistance organisations only. They are Catholics (the archbishop and the cathedral crowd); they are many Christian Democrats; above all, they are innocent, defenceless peasants in that territory. According to the records of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, an overwhelming proportion of those killed are unarmed civilians.

One must say something about the attitude of the Government of the United States. They are now supporting the Government of repression in El Salvador. President Reagan has stated openly that human rights are secondary; the struggle against communist states and dangers must come first. But, my Lords, what is the democratic case against communism? It is the denial of human rights It is the denial of political liberties. I do not think there is any doubt that, proportionately to the population, El Salvador denies human rights more than does the Soviet Union itself. I am always reluctant to describe political opponents as hypocrites. But what word other than hypocrisy can be used when, at the present Madrid Conference, the United States representative is threatening to disrupt all the proceedings by denunciation of human rights in the Soviet Union?

I make my position clear. I am against the denial of human rights in any country. I have stated publicly that I will not go to the Soviet Union on the invitation of the Government because of their repression of human rights. But 82 countries in the world are repressing human rights, according to a survey of the United Nations. To seek to threaten the progress of detente and disarmament in the world by selecting only the Soviet Union, while supporting in El Salvador a government which are repressing human rights is, to say the least, illogical and not justifiable.

The United States Government justify their attitude by stating that Cuba has been supplying arms to the resistance in El Salvador and that they have been passing through Nicaragua. They have been showing to our Government, or to the governments of Western Europe, a document which appears to justify that statement. Cuba has denied that it has supplied arms. Nicaragua has denied that it has allowed them to go through its territory. They say that the document that has been shown to governments is a forgery which has been committed by the CIA. I want to acknowledge at once that I cannot judge the truth of what is said on both sides, but one knows from the history of the CIA that in the past it has been guilty of forgeries, guilty even of assassinations. The CIA and the KGB of the Soviet Union are together the most dangerous international organisations in the world at the present time.

I wish to end my speech on a constructive note. The Human Rights Commission has appointed a rapporteur to go to El Salvador. I am glad to know that the representative of the United Kingdom voted in favour of that proposal at the United Nations Commission. The representative of the United States did not do so; he abstained. I want to suggest that the rapporteur from the Human Rights Commission should not he satisfied merely with giving a report of the situation as he sees it. He will be meeting representatives of all the communities and ideologies in El Salvador. He will be meeting the representatives of the powerful Catholic Church. He will be meeting many Christian Democrats. He will be meeting the representatives of the two resistance organisations, one of which is Marxist. He will be meeting the Government. I should like to see him return with a proposal that moderate members of the Government, representatives of the Catholic Church, and other organisations in El Salvador should be brought together under the auspices of either the United Nations itself or the Organisation of American States. They should be brought together and world influence should be exerted to bring about both a ceasefire and, after a period, democratic elections which would allow the people of El Salvador itself to determine its future.

8.59 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, I apologise if a cough, which becomes worse as the hour gets later, makes it impossible for me to stay to the end of the debate. I want to take up a point which the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, emphasised at the beginning of the debate; namely, that El Salvador is of growing concern to many ordinary people in our country. I should like to approach that point by declaring a financial interest in El Salvador. I do so, associating myself with many millions of other ordinary people in this country who have a similar financial stake. It is not a financial stake invested in El Salvador for purposes of gain, however; it is a contribution made through Christian Aid to humanitarian services in that country. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that £7 million was received by Christian Aid for disbursement in 1980, most of that from house-to-house collections throughout the length and breadth of our country. For example, 19½ million gift envelopes were distributed.

Of that £7 million, £150,000 went in aid to El Salvador, first to separate Protestant and Roman Catholic groups but now to the Salvadorian Ecumenical Association of Service and Humanitarian Aid. Let me emphasise the interests that those who make such contributions have in that country by saying that, in February, Christian Aid instituted a special aid for the needy of El Salvador, and in the few weeks since February £65,000 has been contributed to Christian Aid for distribution to the needy in that country. There is therefore wide interest in the goings-on within El Salvador—interest not, I think, stimulated only by contrary reports of this or that pressure group in the media, but simply because those who invest money in this way like to know how it is being used, and those who make those grants available seek to give honest and true reports of what is happening in the country. By these means, I think, ordinary people in this country have entered into some partnership of generosity.

People are disquieted. It is clear, for example, that in January 1980 the civilian politicians in the junta resigned simply because they had failed to bring the security forces under control as they had undertaken to do. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has given personal examples of harassment, imprisonment and death in El Salvador. The information coming to Christian Aid from the legal aid office in the Catholic archdiocese of San Salvador is that 80 per cent. of the 8,000 non-combatants assassinated in El Salvador during 1980 were murdered by members of the security forces. Eighty per cent. of the 8,000 non-combatants assassinated met their death, by the testimony of the witnesses given to the legal aid office, at the hands of one of the four different security forces operating at the behest of the Government in that country.

Therefore, questions are being asked by ordinary people about the rightness of giving unlimited support to the junta Government from the United States—support which it is sometimes suggested we back up morally through our Government. Hence the British Council of Churches have quite properly, because of this involvement, made representations to the Minister of State. They did so in February, and they received from the Minister, Mr. Ridley, a personal letter. I want to conclude by referring to that letter, and by drawing attention to two passages in it. This was a letter addressed to the Secretary-General of the British Council of Churches, who was writing about these matters of concern. First, the Minister said: We do hope that some means can be found to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and to enable the Salvadorian people to determine their own future in a democratic way". The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, referred to this in his speech, pointing out that there had to be a negotiated settlement between all parties in that country before there could be a move towards elections, if those elections were to be free and democratic. I would ask the noble Lord the Minister whether it is still the hope of the Government that there might be such a negotiated settlement, and whether the Government will press upon the United States Government to secure this negotiated settlement between all parties in that country. We have had a memorable example of what can be done through effort and negotiation in Zimbabwe, through the negotiated settlement there brought about by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his colleagues on behalf of the people of that country and in the name of our Government. I would urge our Government to press the significance of this upon the Government of the United States in the particular problems which now beset the people of El Salvador.

The second passage to which I would refer in the Minister's letter is this—and this has already been referred to by Lord Brockway. The Minister wrote: It is not possible to defend resort to violence and terror by either side in the conflict, though in the present circumstances there is rarely much objectivity in reports of what is happening. That is why a thorough and early report by a United Nations investigating team is desirable, and we supported the resolution calling for the establishment of such a team at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva on 11th March". The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has already congratulated the Government on taking that step in support of that resolution, and we must ask the Government to pay the most careful attention to the report when it is made and to act upon the information which they receive through the United Nations sources.

Finally, I wish to ask the question: Is it not a tragedy that in such a small country as El Salvador it is quite impossible at the moment to establish the authority of the United Nations in the securing of a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement? The polarisation of the two great world powers is hindering this in the United Nations itself and within that country. Ought we not to be making it a priority in our foreign policy to seek to strengthen the United Nations and to secure for the United Nations the strength of authority and resources in personnel and necessary equipment so that they could intervene in such a situation as this, rather than leaving it to the two super powers making it, as it were, a battlefield of ideology in such a small country as El Salvador? I thank your Lordships for listening to me. I support this Question, and am grateful that it has been asked.

9.8 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, it is natural that when an explosion happens like that in El Salvador we in this country should see it first through American eyes because it is from American reports that we hear of it; and that we should then ask ourselves, "What is El Salvador and what are its people like? Let us find out about the country"—and then we send our own television teams and our reporters and, that, thirdly, we begin to say, "What is the right course for the British Government to take in this umpteenth case of conflict between the super-powers with the umpteenth small nation standing to be trodden underfoot between them?" I propose to follow the same order this evening.

The House will remember that one of the first matters which horrified the American people and set the tone for what has happened since was the murder of the three nuns. The House will remember also that Mr. Haig as Secretary of State in an early Congressional hearing implied one day that they had in some sense almost deserved their death because they had been conducting themselves not as nuns and as medical missionaries but in some other capacity. Then, two days later, he withdrew that implication almost claiming that he had never made it. This history was traced with extraordinary skill, I thought, and assiduity, by the American press and particularly by the New York Times. It set the tone.

Then, again, early in the days of the Reagan Administration, Mr. James Cheek, one of the Deputy Secretaries of State, when describing the situation in El Salvador said, "It is like the first signs of a cold. You have to treat it seriously at once and jump on it to stop it spreading." Then we probably all remember the "Panorama" programme in Britain where there was an American expert, not a member of the Administration but one of the directors of one of the institutes for the study of foreign policy in Washington—I think, a former General. He was asked the question, "In what way does El Salvador differ from Vietnam? Why do you not fear that American military involvement in El Salvador might end up in the same way as in Vietnam?" His answer was, "Because it is a smaller country".

We remember how the Reagan Administration's almost first act of foreign policy was to sack its Ambassador in El Salvador because it did not like what he was saying and we may feel perhaps a certain recognition of likelihood in the assessment of the Chinese newspaper, the People's Daily not so long ago, that the reason the United States has chosen this situation—meaning El Salvador—is because it wants to take tough action in a place easily controlled by itself alone with the aim of letting Moscow know that "a new force has emerged in Washington and the days of hesitation and self-doubt are over". Then we note that the American aid to El Salvador at present is only one part military to three parts civilian. That is one way of putting it. If we try it the other way round and say that the military component of American aid to El Salvador is as high as 25 per cent., that strikes one again as an unhelpful presage.

Looking now at the country and what we know of the country—which for most of us is not very much and, for me, I share the ignorance of most people of this country—we see that it has burst into full-scale horror with massacres; and the case of the 1,500 peasants in a cave has been mentioned already by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis; and there are others. We should not forget that, since 1931, military coups d'etat and civil war have been not the exception but the rule in El Salvador, as they have in other countries, and in one of the coups d'etat in the 1930s there was a massacre in which 30,000 died. Hard as it is to face, the horrors that we are discussing this evening are not new. They are not unusual. It is well known in the world that such things happen in such countries.

What kind of country is it? It is a coffee country. The price of coffee is going down on the world markets. It is a country where in the past few years the Church has been for reform. It is a country where on the whole business, including Lord Montgomery's multinationals, big international business, is against reform. It is a country where there is a long-standing anti-union law so that the workers are not free to organise or to obtain normal political expression. It is a country where only two years ago a junta was set up with the approval of the United States, rather quietly, rather efficiently and with very little bloodshed compared with other occasions. It is a country which is not abnormal either in its own internal, social and economic and political consistency, or in its relations with the United States.

So, what is the way out? Perhaps we may hope that some of the uninhibited approaches from Washington may be becoming tempered by the experience of office. Such horrible things are happening and are being expressed in the American press, not only the massacres but also what has been called the TV war, that is the competition between American television teams to get a bit of war to film and send back, that this is arousing feeling in America and will be something that will cause the American Administration to think again about what is going on.

There is the appointment, which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, reminded us about, of the UN rapporteur by the UN Human Rights Commission. This gives promise of objective reporting of what is going on which may then provide the basis for constructive debate and voting in the UN itself which has not really so far taken place.

There is the changing attitude of Mexico which to begin with went along to a pretty great extent with the uninhibited American attitude and perhaps was stimulated by the appointment of a new American ambassador to Mexico who is an actor and has been the star recently in an immensely successful horror movie. He is fluent in Spanish and it has been a great success in Mexico City and he is particularly identified with the brand of rum that he advertises in television publicity. But who shall tell? The Mexican attitude appears to be changing a little from day to day so that they may come to exercise a restraining influence on Washington.

There is also the fact that the European Community, standing aghast at what has happened, and having no locus to do anything direct, not in our hemisphere, have voted a certain sum. I have seen it quoted at different times as being 400,000 European units of account, that is about £200,000, and also £950,000. I do not know, may be there have been two different votes, first a small one and then it was increased. Perhaps the Government will tell us what the sum now is and what the history of that is. At any rate, they have voted this for transmission to the Salvadorian Red Cross to help refugees both in the country and outside.

The main question that I have is: How does the European Community know that there is a Salvadorian Red Cross? We hope that that money is in a bank somewhere for the right person to claim. How will the Community check that the person claiming it is the right person? How will they check on its administration on the ground in this country in flames?

What should be the attitude of the British Government themselves? We do not even have an embassy there. I do not think that we have an embassy in Nicaragua either, the neighbouring country. There is something unreal about the politics of El Salvador and Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the country which since the victory of the Sandinistars a couple of years ago has sent its Defence Minister to Kampuchea where he has stood up beside the Government of that country and said "We are ready if you permit us to struggle by your side weapon in hand against the Peking expansionists". That is the Nicaraguan policy on East Asia which is of course of interest to us all.

The German Parliament is rather sharply divided between the Social Democrats who back Dr. Ungo, the Salvadorian rebel anti-Government fighter, and the Christian Democrats, who back another anti-Government fighter in and outside El Salvador. I am not sure that the reflection of the German political party conflict in Salvadorian affairs is going to do anybody any good.

Therefore I hope that our Government, acting through the Community, will remember that what is happening in Central America is not unusual and that, though tragic and horrific, it is extremely difficult to understand, that we cannot be certain of understanding it with our own free understandings and that if and when we are invited by the United States to take up a very strong position we should agree only after the most profound reflection.

Central America is not in the NATO area any more then the Persian Gulf is in the NATO area. If we are invited to do this or that by the United States in NATO, prima facie we should do it for, in NATO, over many decades they have been the leading country. In the rest of the world that is not the case, and for the United States to be able to call upon our automatic support in areas outside the NATO area would require, I suggest, a process of democratic analysis and debate in this country as profound as that which preceded the signature of the North Atlantic Treaty in the late 1940s. So let us stand back, let us send money to help the oppressed, let us be sure it finds its way to the oppressed, let us stand back from the alleged misdeeds of Russia and Cuba, let us stand back from the hot-headed aspect of the United States policy, which now appears to be in decline. United States policy now appears to be becoming more sober day by day. Let us remember, above all, the extreme apparent unreality of Central American politics, which may be summed up perhaps by the fact that in the last few days the Nicaraguan Government have broken off diplomatic relations with Cuba because of an alleged Cuban invasion of Colombia, on the Pacific Coast of Colombia.

9.23 p.m.

Lord Oram

My Lords, the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, has asked this evening refers not only to the Government's policy concerning El Salvador, with which a number of noble Lords have dealt admirably, but to neighbouring countries as well. It is on that basis that I should like to call the Minister's attention to certain aspects of the situation in one of those neighbours—namely, Nicaragua, whose fortunes and future are bound to be affected by developments in El Salvador.

There are two aspects of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards Nicaragua which concern me—namely, our lack of direct diplomatic representation in that country, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has just referred, and our most inadequate record in respect of Nicaragua so far as economic aid is concerned. I believe we should approach both these questions with a proper appreciation of the delicate, not to say crucial, position of Nicaragua in the Central American situation.

It is some years now since I myself travelled in that part of the world as a junior Minister in the Ministry of Overseas Development. But from what I have read since, and from discussions that I have had with people who have been there recently, including Mr. Frank McElhone, the Shadow Opposition spokesman in another place on aid matters, I believe that the general lessons which I learned years ago are even more relevant to the present situation. Put simply and generally, in relation to the whole region of Central America, the task for all of us who are concerned with the fate of all the countries in that region is to enable the problems related to and derived from great poverty to be tackled and overcome without the continuance in office or the introduction of repressive political régimes, whether of the Right or of the Left. It is because I believe that in Nicaragua they are trying to do just that, that I am joining in this discussion this evening.

When the Somoza régime was overthrown nearly two years ago, the new government certainly represented a move to the left. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any replacement of the Somoza régime which was not further to the left than it was. But the forces in Nicaragua which now support the new régime are certainly not extremist. They cover a wide spectrum of popular organisations, including trade unions, businessmen, professional organisations, church groups and academics.

The task which that government faces is enormous. The country was already impoverished before the civil war. The bulk of its population were living below the poverty line, as generally reckoned by international agencies. Then, the burden which has been imposed by the war has been tragic in both human and material terms—50,000 people dead; twice that number wounded; 40,000 orphans to be cared for; physical damage to property of crippling proportions.

Surely, such a country facing such problems should have a prior claim for aid from us, as from other donor nations. Yet I understand that official aid to Nicaragua last year from this country amounted to no more than £128,000—a mere drop in an ocean of need. But fortunately that is not the way in which our European partners approach the problems of Nicaragua. Substantial official bilateral contributions come from Holland, from Sweden, from Germany, from France, and from Italy. They are generous contributions, but still inadequate to meet the need that is there. Yet so far as this country is concerned it is the voluntary agencies, not the Government, which realise the nature of the problem there and the need to do all that their limited resources allow.

We have heard references in connection with Christian Aid's activity in El Salvador. In Nicaragua, Christian Aid is also generous in its activities. It combines with War on Want, with Oxfam, and with other agencies, and these have together sent some £600,000, which is in striking contrast, I suggest, to the contribution from official sources. It is probably more than these voluntary agencies ought to spare, having regard to the very many other calls upon their funds from troubled areas throughout the world, but no doubt they feel that they have to make that extra effort in helping Nicaragua because their own Government do virtually nothing.

Different people have different critieria to justify the provision of aid for developing countries. Some say that it is justified if it finances exports from the donor. Some urge that aid should go to the poorest people. Some may say that it should be applied to ensure political stability. These are different approaches to the question of overseas aid. But whatever the reasons that one applies, whatever the critieria, it seems clear to me that Nicaragua can advance and, indeed, has advanced an urgent claim for British official aid. Yet, as I have said, practically none is forthcoming. I believe that to be wrong and I believe that it is a wrong which should be righted.

Finally, I wish briefly to turn to the question of diplomatic representation in Nicaragua. I recognise that when the embassy was closed in the mid-1970s, that decision was part of the pursuit of economies in the diplomatic service generally. I suppose it was natural that a group of small countries in the Central American region would be considered an obvious area in which representative services could be shared. But if I am right, as I believe I am, that Nicaragua is something of a test case as to whether a moderate political régime can become firmly established in that region; if I am right, as I believe I am, that a much larger aid programme is needed; and if I am right as again I believe I am—that shared diplomatic services with Costa Rica are proving inadequate, then I believe that it all adds up to a case for re-establishing at least a small embassy in Managua. When, therefore, the Government consider action in relation to this evening's discussion, as they must, and when the Government consider, for instance, the points which the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, raised in his opening speech I hope they will also consider the two main points which I have raised in connection with Nicaragua: the need for a much more generous aid programme and, in that connection, the need for diplomatic representation in that country.

9.33 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, like all noble Lords I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for having put down this question because I think it is a subject which this House should very properly investigate deeply and carefully. I have been only to Mexico and Venezuela. I have never been to San Salvador. I should also like to mention, before I speak in detail, that I am speaking having been approached by the Catholic bishops and many Catholic organisations who have given me much information about this sad subject, information which I am afraid has often led me to the sad conclusion that our great ally, the United States, for whom I have the greatest respect, is not exactly on the same lines as I would like to see it.

The scale of killings in San Salvador is absolutely appalling. The population is about 4 million or 5 million and in 1980. 12,000 people were killed. That is 3 per cent. of the population, which is equivalent to 150,000 being killed in one year in our own country. These were killed by the security forces and the other Right-wing groups—very often the security forces, so to speak, in plain clothes. In this year, 1981, 5,000 have already been killed. I am not forgetting that of course there have been murders and kidnappings by the Left-wing guerrillas at the same time; but the vast majority of the terrible deaths have taken place at the hand of the Government.

In San Salvador there is the awful problem of terrible poverty and injustice, common to many Central American states. Fifty per cent. of the population is illiterate. There is malnutrition of 75 per cent. of the children under five. These are appalling things to say. Sixty per cent. of the land is apparently owned by 2 per cent. of the population and this, to my mind, sets a situation which I cannot believe is right.

The Catholic Church, which as your Lordships know I belong to, has taken a line in that country which, as has already been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, resulted in Archbishop Romero being machine-gunned and then that ghastly killing of further people when they rallied to the memorial service of his funeral. The shootings undoubtedly came from the Government palace. Six Catholic priests have been shot recently and we all know about the American nuns and the other missionary who were raped and killed the other day.

What is really significant about this is that there has been no effort on the part of the Junta to try to find out who did these things. That is what makes it incomprehensible to me.

One noble Lord said that the American Ambassador was sacked. That is not true, my Lords. The American Ambassador, Bob White, is a marine general—and marines in the United States Army are like the Brigade of Guards in our army, if I may make a little joke in this sad moment; they are very tough people. This marine general, Bob White, resigned. He said he could not go along with the policy that was being asked of the Reagan Government. He resigned in January 1981, and as I understand, he has been replaced.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Duke allow me to apologise to the House for having misled it on that point. Of course he resigned and the noble Duke is quite right about that, but there are resignations which amount almost to dismissal when the policy that a man is expected to enunciate is one which his masters know he cannot agree with.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for that. What we are really saying is that there was a great disagreement between the Ambassador on the spot and the State Department in Washington. I see the noble Lord is nodding approval, which is what I want.

Another thing that has been talked about is the question of Nicaragua. We all know what happened and how there is a new Government in Nicaragua. But I do not believe that it is becoming a totally communist Government at all, as is hinted by some of the announcements of the American Government. I have two little almost amusing things to say on this. The Foreign Office is run by a Foreign Secretary who is a Catholic priest, Father Miguel D'Esto, a Mary Knoll father—that is like a white father. I do not believe that the Mary Knoll Fathers are communists. The Minister for the Arts and the literary side of it is a Jesuit. I do not think the Jesuits are communists. I am not saying that Nicaragua is not more friendly to Cuba than I would like if I was American, but I do not believe—and I am informed that is right—that Nicaragua is totally in the hands of the Cubans and that they are putting clandestine arms across the estuary into San Salvador.

What we want, and what I hope the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will say he is hoping for, is a negotiated peace. That is what we must all try to achieve. I do not believe there is any chance of El Salvador becoming another Cuba. If it did become another Cuba, I know what that would mean. If you become a communist state you remain a communist state, with the Politburo and the Red Army dominating you. We have seen that in Poland, we have seen that in Lithuania, Latvia, right down to Hungary. I know about that subject. I served for two years of my 30 years in the British Army commanding the British State Mission with the Soviet Forces in Germany, and I toured East Germany for two years of my life. I know exactly what the tyranny of the Red Army is, and what a powerful Red Army it is too, and the awfulness of the East German régime. I do not believe there is any likelihood of that spreading to El Salvador. I think there is a much greater likelihood of the Americans supporting such an extreme Right-wing régime that there would be a revolution and this would encourage that to happen. The new archbishop, who replaced Archbishop Romero who was murdered, is called Rivere y Damas; he has been to Washington and told the State Department that he thinks the junta and the guerrilla rebels are willing to talk. This was reported just the other day in the Herald Tribune, reporting the New York Times. And this archbishop has said he hopes that they will take that line of encouraging this talking going on.

The United States Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop Hickey of Washington, on 2nd March called on the State Department, and asked President Reagan and his Government—and I quote—"for the termination of all military aid to El Salvador and for new efforts to facilitate a negotiated political solution to the conflict ". So they asked that there should be the termination of this military support to the junta. I say that I hope the Government will follow the initiative that is being given by some of the other states we know so well, such as Germany and Sweden and Austria, and I believe Mexico and Venezuela, in calling for an international conference to try and achieve a lasting peace by international mediation between the two sides in El Salvador, to enable democracy and free elections to take place in that country.

I do not believe that President Duarte is in need of the support that America is giving him. In fact, he has said quite openly that he wishes to receive the American 126 million dollars he is getting for land settlement, but he does not want this 35 million dollars for arms that he is having forced upon him.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Mansfield

My Lords, in view of the interesting and informative speeches that have been made by all of your Lordships I think that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for initiating this debate. One thing that it has done is to provide the opportunity for the focussing of attention on a part of the world about which—as regards some of us, at any rate—very little detail is known. For myself I admit that my knowledge of Latin America is very limited indeed. Had it not been for an approach from a certain quarter which I shall mention in a moment or two, I doubt very much whether I would have regarded myself as sufficiently knowledgeable to take part in a debate on Latin America.

This debate provides the opportunity to bring to the attention of your Lordships' House and the Government and as many people as are willing to listen the situation of miners in that area. The observations that I propose to make concern mainly the country of Nicaragua. Most of the speeches tonight have been about El Salvador, and as I shall base my remarks almost exclusively upon Nicaragua and the miners I shall, perhaps, be out on a limb.

However, it is now less than two years since the Somoza régime, after 40 years of dictatorial rule, was overthrown and in that short space of time my information is that the first decisive steps are being taken towards social and economic reconstruction in that country. Nowhere I gather is this more evident than in the mining sector. It might quite properly be asked, "How do I know this?", not having been there. The source of my information is from people who quite recently have visited this country, certainly since the revolution of 1979. The channel of communication has been the Miners' International Federation who very recently sent a European delegation to visit miners in Latin America, and Nicaragua was one of the countries that was visited by this delegation. I am pleased to say that the National Union of Mineworkers of Great Britain was part of that delegation and the NUM, as a result of that visit to Latin America, feels—and this has already been demonstrated in the debate by many of the speeches tonight—that Britain can and should do more to help Nicaraguan miners; hence its desire that this particular matter of the mining situation and miners in Latin America should be ventilated. As almost everyone will know, unlike Britain's the mines in Nicaragua are gold and silver mines, whereas ours are coal mines. One thing has struck me about miners: that wherever they mine a product—whether it be gold, silver, copper or coal—there is an affinity, a kind of fellow feeling; it may be more pronounced among miners than among any other body of workers. I think that it is because they face the same hazards and dangers in extracting nature's treasure for the use of mankind.

I am led to understand that during the 40 years of the Somoza régime, the mines in Nicaragua were owned by foreign countries, and mainly by North American interests. The verdict upon what they were doing in that country for the working conditions of the miners, their health and their wages, proper exploration and investment in the mines and in machinery, was that it was negligible. The new Government have inherited a host of problems connected with mining. For instance, just after the revolution ended and the new Government took office most of the foreign technicians left the country, and plant and machinery have been allowed to deteriorate. In fact, the new Government inherited the mining sector of the economy in a state of collapse.

As I understand it, the position is that immediately after the end of the revolution and the coming to office of the new régime one mine was completely lost; another is only operating at a third capacity and another mine, during or just after the revolution and the taking over by the new régime, was completely closed after an attack of arson.

The NUM delegation, for which I am really speaking tonight, on its visit to the country was able to witness the conditions of the miners in the mine that it visited. For instance, it drew attention to the fact that miners were carrying drills and other heavy equipment in temperatures of 47 degrees centigrade. I am told that that is hotter than a Turkish bath. The delegation reports that safety measures were appalling and that ventilation, which is so necessary in any kind of mine, however deep it might be, is an absolute must. It seems to me that if temperatures are of the nature that I have just mentioned—47 degrees centigrade—it is because the ventilation is not what it should be. Drainage, which is often a problem in all kinds of mines in any part of the country, was totally inadequate. Coming to the social life of the miners in this country, the report says that the layout of the towns and the housing were very poor indeed. The miners themselves were suffering from silicosis, tuberculosis, rheumatism, and skin diseases. The delegation, in the light of what I have said, and other things besides, presents a sombre report relating to the miners and to the industry itself in that country.

There is one bright aspect. I understand that the new Government has increased wages to a basic, decent level. Before the Liberation Front took over, miners in the appalling conditions described in the report had a daily wage of 60 pence. The hours worked per shift under the new régime have been reduced from eight to six. They have also set about improving and modernising the mines, so far as resources allow, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Oram.

In view of the detailed report of the MIF, new machinery, technical appliances and safety programmes are urgently needed in this country. The NUM is hoping to help with advice and assistance particularly on the question of safety measures. Also the British Volunteer Programme is trying to obtain the services of mining engineers and geologists which are so necessary. I ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate: Can our own Government give some help? The delegation thinks they could and should. May I, in conclusion, put this point to the Minister. A geological laboratory is a high priority in this country. Will he confirm or otherwise that the Bolivians were helped with such a project? Could the same be done for this country of Nicaragua?

9.59 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, has raised the question of El Salvador and what is going on there. He indicated that some of the later speakers might widen the debate. I should like to attempt to place El Salvador in the general picture of Latin America, and particularly of Central America. I can best do so by recounting to your Lordships three episodes which are vividly in my mind from visits that I have made to that part of the world.

The first is of an evening party to which I was invited in one of the major cities of Central America. We drove from my hotel through the centre of the city and soon we had emerged from the great buildings of offices, banks, and shops and were passing through slums which were of a sort which those whose knowledge of slums is confined to this country, or even to Europe, cannot possibly imagine. There were no houses, but dwellings. The best of them were made of metal—beaten out of tin cans of various sizes and shapes—and the worst of them, the majority, were made of cardboard, old cartons which had contained goods for the shops and which had been broken apart to form the walls of the places where families (human beings; old people, children, working men and women) were living. They had no floors, just the mud on which those rickety shelters were erected.

Soon we came to some high walls and the iron gates in them were flung open and my car drove up the gravel sweep to some marble steps. I mounted them and great doors were opened and inside was my host. We had been to the same school together; he was wearing the old school tie. He was standing on the marble floor with marble columns around him. His guests were there and white-coated footmen were carrying silver trays of champagne and caviar. In the course of conversation he mentioned that he owned two Rolls-Royces. Fortunately he was a shipowner also because there were no facilities for servicing his Rolls-Royces in the country, so he put one of them on one of his ships and sent it back to England for servicing and, when it returned in perfect order, he put the other one on so that he was always able to have a well-serviced Rolls-Royce. Then I drove back through the shacks of the shanty town.

My second recollection is of a day I spent with a self-made man, a public works contractor who had made many millions of dollars building roads, dams and so on. He showed me his plantation; his bananas, his scores, probably hundreds, of workers hardly clothed at all, the naked children playing about in the dust in front of their hovels, too. There were no water, no schools and no health services of any kind. He told me he had divided his fortune of many million dollars into three parts; one-third he retained in the country for his own business; one-third he had invested on Wall Street in New York, in Zurich and in London; and he told me that one-third was available to ensure that the government of his country remained as it was so that he could continue his way of life and continue to make money in the way he had made it for the first 50 years of his life.

My third recollection is of a conversation I had in Cuba on my second visit there—my first had been in the days of Batista—when I spent several days with Fidel Castro going round the island, looking at the progress that had been made there—or the changes that had been made, perhaps I should say—in his day. I told him, "I like a great deal of what you have done. You have made great progress, you have abolished the grinding poverty, glaring inequalities and corruption and you are bringing about education and health services for all. But," I added, "I abhor the methods you use; your violence and cruelty and the fact that people are incarcerated without trial for political offences, if they are not shot out of hand". He said to me: "You do not understand. You are European. You in England had your revolution, with its violence, 300 years ago, and now you can afford the luxury of constitutional change and democracy. But we here—we are Latins, we are Americans. We cannot have changes by your European constitutional means. We have to use violence and repression".

I do not know whether it is true that that is right; I hope that it is not and that it can be proved that he is wrong. But I cannot help thinking, with regret, what a change has come across our allies in the United States. Two hundred years ago when there was a bloody revolution in France, when the downtrodden peasantry rose against the affluent and isolated aristocracy, the American people were on the side of liberty and equality, and they supported the French Revolution. What would those people who took that attitude then feel today about the countries that I have just described to your Lordships? Would they in fact be supporting my public works contractor, my old Etonian with his two Rolls-Royces, or would they be supporting those who lived in the cardboard hovels at the gates of great houses? We know perfectly well who they would be supporting. But today they are not doing that and we must try to understand why they are not.

There are, I believe, two reasons. One, which I put forward as a minor reason, is the fact that American big business has great influence in both Washington and the countries where it operates, and it has done well out of the existing régimes. It does not want any form of revolution. It does not want any serious social change or economic change, and it uses such influence as it has on the policies of its country.

The second, and to my mind the more important, reason and the more dangerous reason, is that the United States is rightly obsessed with the fear of Soviet imperialism, but it is unable to distinguish between Russian imperialism and the Marxist doctrines and the socialism (or whatever one wants to call it) that the oppressed people are trying to bring about in their own countries. Therefore wherever the United States sees anything remotely resembling an attempt to create a socialist state close to its borders, it immediately says, "We must crush this because it will be a springboard for the Soviet Union, our enemies". It has done that in Cuba, and it has in fact created a springboard—not a very effective one—for the Soviet Union, and Cuba now looks towards the Soviet Union for its support.

If the United States continues with this policy eventually, increasingly, the smaller countries of Central America, and then some of the larger countries of South America, will go the same way, and they will come to realise that the United States, far from being the bastion of freedom, is in fact the bastion, and the supporter, of the small group of oligarchs who condemn the rest of the population to poverty and oppression. That is not what the United States wants. It is not what its people really stand for; and it is a tragedy. It would not be a tragedy if its fear of the Soviet Union did not lead it into this form of reversal of its own true feelings.

All I would say to the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate is that I hope that he and his colleagues, in particular the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, will use all their influence—and Lord Carrington's influence is far from negligible—to convince the United States that the safety of the West, quite apart from the welfare of tens of millions of human beings, will be best served by, at least, an attitude of neutrality and, at best, an attitude of sympathy towards those who are trying to redress the balance in favour of the oppressed and the poor, rather than appearing to the world at large—not only in Latin America but in the whole of the third world, in South-East Asia and in Africa also—as the champions of the oppressors, the champions of the few and the champions of the privileged. That, I hope, will be the successful task of the British Government, both in El Salvador and in the other countries of Latin America.

10.11 p.m.

Lord Macleod of Fuinary

My Lords, I would be very tempted at this late hour to withdraw from making a speech, even a very short speech, were it not for the fact that Christian Action, and also the British Council of Churches, have hoped very much that there would be a debate about this and that it would be the state speaking in terms of what Christian Action are saying and in terms also of what the British Council of Churches are saying. Because they have both of them—I think I am safe in saying this—come to the conclusion that they must deny the present Government in El Salvador and that they must make it perfectly clear that they are doing so and that no good can come from attempting further to speak with them.

For instance, Christian Action are most concerned to feed the people, but when talking with the representative of Christian Action and, indeed, of the British Council of Churches, with whom I had a conversation and who has been twice in El Salvador since this year came in, I found that the only result from the present Government in El Salvador was that these people were simply concerned, not to feed the poor but to help the insurgents and the people who are opposed to the Government there. It is true, also, that the Government have invited members of the old democratic parties in El Salvador to be joined with them, but it is equally true that most of those members have resigned because they could not go on dealing with this army group who are in charge. Indeed, two of those who resigned have been murdered, one is now in prison and tragedies of the kind referred to have taken place.

It is true that the police control the situation on behalf of the Government in El Salvador, but it is also true that they have two other well-organised groups who are not the Government police but are there, in fact, to put across the murders that we have heard so much about. It is true that the Government there are now talking about land reform. But it is also true—and I have this from somebody who has just come back—that, in that land reform, this redistribution of land to which there has been reference is going to be made simply to those who at the present moment are in favour of the present Government in El Salvador.

What, then, must we do? There is no solution going to come from the Government there, or from conversations with them, and I am suggesting that there is one thing that we must do. That is really to face up to the USA, without any kind of hesitation and without any side remarks of any kind, and ask them to get out of this business and not to make such fools of themselves. The most terrifying thing that has come from the President of the United States of America has been his idea that he should attack Cuba because Cuba is giving armaments at the present moment to the insurgents in El Salvador. Can your Lordships imagine anything more akin to the final straw than that they should speak in those terms?

It is not long ago since terrible things happened in Afghanistan—and they were terrible things. This led to Russia being cut off the list in regard to the Olympic Games. Why not tell America roundly that we will not take part in the next Olympic Games (which are to be held in America) because of what they are doing at the present time in this situation? There is a need for raw speech, definite speech, for having nothing further to do with them because of this playing around. It is up to Britain, to NATO and to the West to say, "If this goes on and they go on backing these sort of people in various states in South America then they are enemies of all possibility of peace at the present time".

10.16 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for giving us the opportunity to debate the sombre and violent situation of El Salvador and of some of its neighbours. The social background to El Salvador has already been sketched in and I should like to add one point. The extremes of deprivation and violence have resulted in something like a quarter of a million people being displaced from their homes. It is estimated that 150,000 of these are refugees within El Salvador itself and the other 100,000 have been obliged to flee to neighbouring countries. In addition, there are some 10,000 orphans, it is thought. It was for these reasons that in February this year the World Council of Churches launched an appeal for £1 million for immediate relief and welfare.

Several estimates have been made tonight of the number of people who lost their lives in 1980 in El Salvador. The estimates vary from a low figure of 8,000 to a high figure of 20,000. It is necessary, I suggest, to ask why it is that the peasants have suffered most and why one archbishop and many priests and religious and catechists, including four American missionary women, have been murdered. I believe that the late Archbishop Romero gave the answer when speaking at Louvain University on 2nd February, 1980. He said then: It is a simple fact that our Church has been persecuted for the past three years. It is most important to observe why. They have not attacked just any priests or institution. They have attacked that very part of the Church that has sided with the poor and come out in their defence". The late Archbishop Romero and Bishop Rivera Damas had previously stated in August 1978: Institutional violence occurs when the majority of men, women and children find themselves deprived of the necessities of life". The two bishops went on to say: peace and happiness cannot come from wealth accumulated at the expense of others". I hope to be able to strike a slightly more constructive note in addressing a number of questions to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I should like to ask what representations the Government have made to the United States concerning arms supplies. What consultations have our Government had with Sweden and West Germany, who have proposed, I think formally, that a negotiated settlement should be brought about? And, as my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk has mentioned, I believe that some other countries have also joined in this plea. It is perhaps worthy of note that the most recent number of the Economist states that the Salvadorean opposition is now ready for negotiations.

I should like also, following in the footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to ask what is the position concerning food aid and help for refugees from the EEC. One cannot be in the presence of a large surplus of milkpowder at a time when children are dying. This seems an absurdity. I should also like to ask whether Her Majesty's Government will match pound for pound any voluntary sums which are raised in this country through the appeal launched by the World Council of Churches.

Finally—and I follow my noble friend Lord Montgomery—will the Government consult with the Organisation of American States to see whether an impartial and Spanish-speaking force could maintain order in El Salvador until the paramilitary groups are disbanded and free elections can be held? As an additional supplementary question, may I ask whether, if a request comes in, the Government will help with the training of a modern democratic police force for El Salvador?

Perhaps more fundamental than any of those matters is the question of information. At the moment it seems that there is a considerable cloud of propaganda hanging over Central America. Will Her Majesty's Government and their European allies make sure that they have independent and objective sources of information on El Salvador and its neighbours? I say this at a time when the British Embassy in San Salvador is closed but I do not mean that the sources of information should be simply diplomatic ones. There are other possible channels. I have given my noble friend notice of these questions. I am sure that I shall receive one of his usual most helpful replies.

10.22 p.m.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, your Lordships will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for raising this Question. Our first concern must be for the people of El Salvador itself. They are the prey of brutal elements of the so-called Left as well as the Right who, by intimidation, rapine and murder—amounting in some areas to extermination and genocide—seek to impose their will on the people of that country.

The condition of El Salvador and its people is indeed horrifying. The situation there, however, is of almost equal concern to the other states of Central America which, like the Middle East and Southern Africa, has a sobering importance for the rest of us. Indeed, whatever happens in El Salvador, affects Central America, affects Latin America and indeed the United States, which has a proper and legitimate interest in peace and stability on its southern borders.

The question arises as to how we resolve an intolerable situation—intolerable for the people of El Salvador—and very dangerous indeed for the general region and ultimately for the rest of us. What contribution can this country make together with its friends, partners and allies, to a solution? A contribution to a solution is not the same as an intervention on one side or the other. The dreadful danger in El Salvador is that it may become another Vietnam through the overcommitment of the super-powers either directly or by surrogate.

I join with those who wish to bring persuasion to bear on our friend and ally in Washington not to go too far, if at all, in sustaining the nominal Government of Premier Duarte.

The situation is in urgent need of solution before it deteriorates into something which imperils a much wider area and we must seek the right agency to bring about a solution by conference. This is not impractical idealism. I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Chitnis draw what I thought was a very useful parallel between the possibilities in El Salvador and what was achieved last year in Rhodesia. A problem which seemed almost impossible to solve in Rhodesia was in fact solved because we found the right agency of conciliation. For years, people denied the possibility of bringing together around the same table the various warring elements in Rhodesia, together with the interested countries contiguous to it. But it happened, and it happened because our Foreign Secretary recognised that in the Commonwealth, in this particular case, lay the agency of conciliation.

Where lies the agency of conciliation in El Salvador? I was very glad indeed to hear more than one speaker refer to the United Nations. The United Nations, by its own charter, is entitled to intervene in a situation of this kind. Under Article 2, this is definably a situation which imperils peace. Unfortunately, under the system of veto, it is highly improbable that the United Nations as such can intervene directly and effectively in order to achieve a solution. It will almost certainly have a role to play in following up the efforts of the right agency.

Now which is the right agency? The Commonwealth, unfortunately, has no real presence in this part of America. It has in the Caribbean, but not in Central America. We may count on the United Nations later to fulfil a very useful role, as I have said. Here I very much welcome the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and backed by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the Organisation of American States would seem to be a possible agency of intervention.

I would mention in particular the countries of Mexico and Venezuela. There are others, of course, just as important; but Mexico and Venezuela have shown themselves over a fairly long period to be growing in diplomatic and commercial strength. Indeed, they have achieved a prestige in Central and Latin America and in the United Nations, as I have seen for myself, as countries which genuinely have been developing their own resources and their democratic institutions. They are looked up to, they are listened to; and it occurs to me that if we use the OAS as the agency for helpful intervention, then the role of those two countries would prove to be very important indeed.

In passing, may I refer to the very fine contribution made by these countries globally?—for instance, the role of Mexico in ensuring that at least we had a partial ban on environmental warfare. It was very largely the work of Mexican statements. Similarly, in the field of oil research and in the more enlightened assessment of oil economics, there is much to be said of the policy of Venezuela as well as Mexico. So that perhaps is where the agency of concert may be found, and I think it is for this country, as a member of the EEC, of NATO, of the Commonwealth and, certainly, of the UN, to promote in every possible way the formation of this kind of intervention.

Time is short. The situation in El Salvador is worsening day by day. As recently as October 1979, there was a broad-based government—admittedly, brought about by a coup displacing the Romero Government; but, nevertheless a broad-based government—which encompassed the Democratic Socialists under Senor Jungo on the left, the Christian Democrats, elements of the Church, many of them reformist radicals of the most genuine nature and elements, also, of the trade unions and even of the military. That lasted only a few months. It fell prey to the suspicions of the peasants' trade unions who hardly believed that the proposals for reform would be carried out, and, also, to the sabotage of the unusually rapacious landlords of that country.

So we cannot look inside El Salvador for the beginnings of a reconciliation, any more than we could in Rhodesia. It was impossible to reconcile the parties in Rhodesia, until an agency from outside brought them together and, also, brought them in concert with neighbouring countries. The similarities are striking. I strongly urge the Government to examine the possibility of a genuine, strong diplomatic thrust aimed at creating an agency of conference through the OAS, using, in particular, some of our very best friends in that part of the world; namely, Mexico and Venezuela. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply he will give us some indication of how Her Majesty's Government are thinking about this question.

10.33 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I must first echo the sentiments of every noble Lord who has spoken this evening in recording my appreciation of the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, has given us to discuss this important matter again this evening. I say "again" because, of course, I have answered questions on the subject of El Salvador and, indeed, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has made statements both inside your Lordships' House and elsewhere about the problems of that country and its neighbours. Recent events relating to the unhappy country of El Salvador, as such it is, have focussed attention on the plight of the population and the need to seek an early end to the violence and the suffering which has engulfed them.

The position of Her Majesty's Government concerning El Salvador was made clear by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary in a Statement that he issued on 25th February. The Statement condemned the supply of arms to the insurgents: the United States had provided ample evidence that certain countries were supporting the guerrillas in this way. We regard this as gross interference in El Salvador's internal affairs and have called for it to end. We condemned unequivocally the continuing violence in El Salvador and called upon the Government of that country to protect its people from violations of basic human rights and, in particular, to exercise firm control over the actions of all Government institutions and organisations, including especially the security forces. A copy of this Statement was handed to the Salvadorean chargé d'affaires in London and to a visiting official Salvadorean Government delegation in London on 26th February.

Your Lordships will recall that on 9th December of last year my noble friend sent a message to the Salvadorean Foreign Minister after the abduction and brutal killing of six moderate opposition leaders, expressing a firm hope that those responsible would be found and brought to justice. These murders, the assassination of Archbishop Romero and the murders of the three American nuns and a lay social worker last year, are all crimes which have rightly caused widespread indignation. To these must be added a shocking catalogue of atrocities by both sides, of which the innocent have been the all too frequent victims. We deeply regret the continuing civil conflict in El Salvador and have made our views abundantly clear to the Salvadorean Government. We shall continue to do so.

If I may add a personal note, a memorial service was held for Archbishop Romero here in London, and I myself represented the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary at that service.

Her Majesty's Government have long held the view that a proper investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Commission should be held into the reports of human rights abuses in El Salvador. We felt unable to support a resolution adopted by the United Nations in December last year criticising the Salvadorean Government because that resolution was unbalanced, in that it did not condemn all factions involved in human rights abuses, but we supported that part of the resolution calling for an investigation. Furthermore, we supported a resolution passed by the Human Rights Commission at Geneva on 11th March of this year which was more balanced. A special rapporteur is being appointed and will conduct an investigation, presenting his report to the Commission at its 88th Session early in 1982, with an interim report to the 36th Session of the General Assembly later this year.

Her Majesty's Government have also been mindful of the need to provide aid for those refugees who have fled the fighting and the terror. Many are now in camps in Honduras, while others have sought refuge in sanctuaries within El Salvador. We take the view that it is right to channel aid to refugees, provided all possible precautions are taken to ensure that it is delivered into the hands of those for whom it is intended, the refugees themselves. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was particularly concerned about that point. So far the European Community have given aid worth some £900,000 to be distributed through the International Committee for the Red Cross and Catholic relief agencies. Again the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised that matter. I think I am right in saying that the total sum that has been given is made up of more than one donation and that the total has only recently reached that figure.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, this is all very interesting, but where is this money, in good solid cash, going to? Is it going into the treasury of the so-called Duarte government?

Lord Trefgarne

No, my Lords. It is money which is being channelled to the International Red Cross and to at least one other aid agency. The cash which has gone to the ICRC is 400,000 European units of account, and 1,050 tonnes of cereals and 200 tonnes of milk powder have been sent. The Catholic relief services have received 950 tonnes of cereals, 500 tonnes of milk powder and 200 tonnes of butter oil.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, I am obliged and most encouraged by that information.

Lord Trefgarne

Her Majesty's Government's share of that aid is substantial. Aid has also been given through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, to which of course the United Kingdom contributes. We naturally believe that a political solution to the conflict in El Salvador is greatly to be preferred to the continuation of the present fighting. We would of course support any realistic proposals to bring this about.

However, in rejecting the move by the Organisation of American States to mediate between the Salvadorean Government and the Opposition Revolutionary Democratic Front, or FDR, as it is called, President Duarte made it clear that he was not prepared to accept mediation in what he regards as El Salvador's internal affairs. He has however stated that he is prepared to negotiate with the FDR, an offer which they do not so far appear to be prepared to accept. It has been suggested by more than one noble Lord tonight and by the media that the United Kingdom with its recent experience in Zimbabwe has a role to play in any negotiations. We have a long association with Africa and had a mandate to settle the dispute in Zimbabwe. The situation in Central America is very different and we have no such mandate. We think it would be more appropriate for El Salvador's neighbours to use their influence in this matter.

President Duarte has publicly pledged himself to work for the earliest cessation of violence in El Salvador. He is attempting to press ahead with a reform programme despite the extreme difficulties of doing so in the face of guerrilla hostility and Right-wing opposition. The aim of his programme is to redistribute land on a more equitable basis, thus attempting to solve one of the problems contributing to the present conflict. Financial reforms have also been introduced. For this programme, the United States is giving considerable economic assistance amounting to some 126.5 million dollars.

President Duarte has also established an electoral commission charged with arranging elections in 1982, and the Salvadorean Government has expressed a willingness to see international observers present during the elections. This electoral commission has already stated that all previously registered parties, including the party led by the FDR leader Guillermo Ungo, the social democratic MNR and the communist UDN are eligible. We are well aware that organising fair elections free from intimidation by political extremists will be an exceptionally difficult task. But we consider that President Duarte's efforts to find a political solution to the conflict deserve support.

Her Majesty's Government urge both the extreme Left and the extreme Right to forsake the path of violence and give those who seek a peaceful and democratic solution a chance to make their voices heard.

In supporting the democratic path in El Salvador, it is our policy to call upon El Salvador's neighbours to do likewise. In Nicaragua—a country which interested particularly the noble Lord, Lord Oram, and others, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, who I see is not now in his place—we have seen in past years the overthrow of a dictator of the most unattractive kind by a revolution which clearly had the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. We would of course not wish to see a return to the previous situation, but the present state of affairs is worrying. We consider that the Government in Nicaragua should allow the population to voice its opinion of the progress and policies of the present Government through properly constituted elections. We reluctantly conclude that the current system of government in Nicaragua allows only the Sandinista movement through its nine-man directorate to decide policy.

There are now many "advisers" in Nicaragua from Cuba and other communist countries. We have been that Nicaragua has allowed itself to be used by Cuba as a means of channelling arms to insurgents in El Salvador. In our Statement issued on 25th March we called for this to end, and I am pleased to report to the House that there are indications that the flow of arms appears to have diminished. But there are disturbing indications that militarism in Nicaragua is increasing with the establishment of a regular army of 50,000 and the mobilisation of a large militia of up to 200,000. To the south, Nicaragua is bordered by Costa Rica, unique in the region in having no armed forces at all, and to the north by an under-populated Honduras with an armed strength of 11,000.

Her Majesty's Government believe that it is legitimate to ask whether the people of Nicaragua are able to express their opinion freely about these developments. Indeed, there are disturbing signs that those who express dissenting voices are being intimidated and silenced. In response to these developments the United States Government has recently suspended its aid to the Nicaraguan Government, though it is continuing to support the private sector there (responsible for about 60 per cent. of the economy) and non-government development organisations.

Following the overthrow of President Somoza in 1979 the Nicaraguan people earned significant goodwill from their neighbours and the West who responded with a considerable amount of aid. Through international bodies and the European Community, the United Kingdom contributed some £2.7 million. That goodwill has been sadly eroded by recent events. I have a little more information about our aid to Nicaragua, which perhaps I can turn to in a moment.

I should also like to say a brief word on the situation in Guatemala which particularly concerned the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Your Lordships will appreciate that our relations with Guatemala are dominated by our need to see Belize to an early and secure independence. As your Lordships will know, significant progress has been made in that direction recently. But we are aware from a number of sources, including Amnesty International, of a disquieting situation in Guatemala. We have constantly pressed at the United Nations and at other international fora for the adequate protection of human rights in Central America and throughout the rest of the world.

May I now turn to some of the individual points that have been raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, in opening this debate, referred to our attitude towards the opposition party in El Salvador. It is not true to say that we have ignored the FDR; we have indeed received their delegations which recently toured Europe. These have included Sir Ruben Zamora, Luis de Sebastian and a Mr. Hector O'Kelly. Turning again to the question of Guatemala which Lord Avebury covered in some detail, the noble Lord raised some detailed points about the Heads of Agreement which have been signed with Guatemala in respect of the forthcoming independence of Belize. They are detailed points, on which, if the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to him.

The noble Lord also referred to the lack of comment, as he saw it, in the press of both the United Kingdom and the United States about the situation in Guatemala. The noble Lord will, of course, appreciate that what goes into the British press, much less the American press, is no responsibility of the Government's, and of course we have no more means of getting things into the papers than we do of getting them out.

The noble Lord asked me specifically for an assurance about the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which I gladly give him. The noble Lord, Lord Oram, asked me about the possibility of re-opening our Mission in Managua. The embassy there was closed in 1976, for reasons of economy. Recent events have caused us to consider re-opening the embassy, but in view of the present financial climate, which is, I fear, even less satisfactory than it was when the Mission was closed, a decision has not yet been taken. The noble Lord asked me about the question of aid to Nicaragua. I have some more details here. Perhaps, in view of the lateness of the hour, he will allow me to write to him with those details, which I gladly undertake to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, unhappily is not in his place, but I will, if I may, deal with the point he put to me. It was in connection with the National Union of Mineworkers, who were recently in that part of the world. I should like to say to the noble Lord through the medium of the columns of Hansard at least that, if the NUM wants to submit its recommendations to the ODA for consideration, consideration will most certainly be given, although I should perhaps say that in the present climate it is unlikely that any recommendations could be acted upon in the immediate future. We have received no request for aid in the mining field from the Nicaraguan Government, but again, of course, it would be considered when and if it was received.

My noble friend Lord Hylton asked me a number of questions, and I shall deal with as many of them as I can. First, on the question of United Kingdom aid to Salvadorean refugees, as I said earlier, it is our policy to direct aid to refugees through multinational agencies, such as the UNHCR which is operating in Honduras. On the latest figures available the Government have provided £5.4 million towards pledges totalling 140 million dollars to the UNHCR general programme, from which some 3 million dollars have been allocated to the programme for El Salvadorean refugees in Honduras. That is, of course, in addition to the aid which the European Community has channelled through the ICRC and Catholic relief agencies, to which I referred earlier.

My noble friend also asked about joint funding with the United Kingdom voluntary agencies. We have received no application for funds on that basis. The joint funding scheme with voluntary agencies is, generally speaking, for development work only and is not designed for relief and welfare programmes. On the question of European mediation, which my noble friend raised and which I think at least one other noble Lord raised, we certainly support any realistic proposal to bring about a political settlement in El Salvador, but we are not aware of any initiative by Sweden or West Germany, for example, to bring about such a settlement.

Several noble Lords raised the possibility of an Organisation of American States' peace-keeping force. That would be a matter for the OAS itself and the Salvadorean Government, but, as I said earlier, President Duarte has made it clear that he would not accept OAS mediation in what he regards as El Salvador's internal affairs. Again on the points raised by my noble friend Lord Hylton, we have received no request to train a modern democratic police force in El Salvador and we could, of course, only consider such a request as and when it was received.

On the question of sources of information which my noble friend raised, I can say that the Government and their European allies maintain their own independent and objective sources of information through their embassies and consulates in Central America. We maintain embassies in Panama; in Costa Rica, which is accredited to El Salvador and Nicaragua; and in Honduras, and we have a consulate in Guatemala.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, gave me notice of one particular point that he wished to raise. I can say that it is our policy to support any initiative likely to bring about a peaceful and democratic solution to the problems facing El Salvador. Neither side has so far asked anyone to act as a mediator in the conflict. We think that it would, therefore, be more appropriate for El Salvador's neighbours to use their influence to stimulate such an initiative.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein—a somewhat lone voice, as he pointed out, from the Benches beside and behind me—spoke from the depth of his own experience, particularly in El Salvador but also, of course, in the area of Central America generally. I was not quite sure about the reference to my noble friend's multilateral—or was it multinational?—company which one noble Lord made, but no doubt the point will not be lost on my noble friend.

I should like once again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for raising this subject at such a timely stage. It is right that we should debate a subject of such immediate humanitarian concern. But I would ask those who criticise only the Salvadorean authorities for the callous and repellent acts of violence that have been reported, to remember that there are two sides to this conflict. Violence will achieve nothing and will solve nothing. A truly democratic outcome in El Salvador is long overdue. In urging encouragement for President Duarte's efforts to end the bloodshed, we do not, of course, condone the use of force and terror. We strongly believe that all who seek to impose their will on others by force of arms and who show indifference to suffering should feel the weight of the universal condemnation which they deserve.