HL Deb 20 November 1984 vol 457 cc539-62

6 p.m.

Lord Kennet rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy towards Nicaragua.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the recent election in the United States was preceded by two days only by an election in the tiny country of Nicaragua, to which my Unstarred Question this evening is directed. May I first welcome back in an especially heartfelt manner the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is to answer the Question—because, like many people who go to those parts of the world, I understand that she had some pretty hair-raising scrapes in aeroplanes and we should welcome her back even more than usual.

The State of Nicaragua has a population which is just 1 per cent. of that of the United States. Its average income per head is 800 dollars a year, which makes it one of the smallest and poorest of all the countries in the world. In its history, it has been four times invaded and occupied by the United States. The occupations in this century have lasted more than 20 years altogether and the last time the US marines went away, which was in the early 1930s, they left behind them the Somoza dynasty of dictators, who were perhaps the nastiest in Latin-American history. As a result, there grew up a movement, Sandinismo, with which I find myself neither in sympathy nor out of sympathy. That is what grew up; and I think it is very natural that it should have done. It is of no particular concern to anyone in this country what, in detail, are its beliefs. What is of concern is whether that movement, which seized power after a bloody civil war in 1979, is heading towards democracy or has headed towards democracy, whether it is the doctrine that is wanted in that country, and whether that small country is free enough to adopt whatever kind of government it wants. That is what we should properly be debating in this House.

When the Sandinistas won, in the summer of 1979, they immediately declared that they would hold multi-party elections in or before 1985. Since then, there has been an internal struggle within the Sandinista Government between the extremists who wanted to carry on the Central American revolution into neighbouring countries (and some of them wanted to carry on the Latin American revolution throughout the continent) and, on the other hand, the moderates who wanted to press on with the elections and to get on with the countless jobs which needed doing at home. In the early days, it is not in dispute that the Government of Nicaragua ran military help to the rebels in the country of El Salvador. It is not a neighbouring country, there is no common frontier. You have either to cross a part of Honduras to get there or to send supplies by sea. They are, therefore, rather visible, rather easier to see, than if there were a common frontier. That is not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether they are still doing it now. I believe it is very likely the case that the victory of the moderates within the Sandinistas has been so complete that they are not doing so; and evidence that they are is extremely shadowy and doubtful.

However, in 1981, as soon as President Reagan took power, he began to fund rebels against the Nicaraguan Government—the so-called Contras, who have conducted an atrocious guerrilla war. All guerrilla wars are atrocious: I do not think that it is worse than others; but it is very severe. The number of dead, of course, is in dispute but it may be something like 5,000 or 6,000 in the last four years, which, scaled up with the British population—mark this, my Lords—would give us a death rate of 60,000 a year. What they are suffering in that country is equivalent to 60,000 people a year dying in a civil war in this country. Well, they advanced the elections and they held them this month. The United States and, I regret to say, the United Kingdom, condemned those elections in advance as certain to be unfree and unfair.

I was one of a three-man mission along with Mr. David Ashby, who is a Conservative, and Mr. Alfred Dubs, who is a Labour Member of the House of Commons, from the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Group in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, who I am glad to know is to speak later this evening, was also there at the time, although in a different capacity, as was another Labour Member of Parliament, Mr. Stuart Holland. There were five British parliamentarians. There were something like 40 parliamentarians from the democracies, broadly speaking, out of a total of between 400 and 500 observers who had been invited by the Government of Nicaragua. Suffice it to say that, if I were not able to state that we had seen everything that we wanted, without the least opposition at any point, and that we had compared notes, I should not be going on to say to the House what I am now going to say.

The election process was divided into two parts: the election campaign, and the poll and count. It seemed to me that the easiest way to judge an election campaign was to take the worst example of disorder, of bullying, that you could find, and think about how bad it was. If it was not too bad, then one might say, "Well, the disorders were not excessive". All accounts that I heard agreed that the trouble at a town called Masaya were the worst. This was an indoor election meeting, held by a man who was not a candidate in the elections, Dr. Arturo Cruz. Dr. Cruz was not standing for presidential election. Young Government supporters, Sandinistas, who probably outnumbered those present in the hall, came to the meeting and made an alarming noise and, as all of us no doubt would have done, the leaders, Arturo Cruz and his companions called off the meeting, went out of the hall, got into their cars, under police protection, and began to drive away. The crowd broke the windows of his car and two other cars. His forehead was cut. This is disgraceful and, if it happended in this country, would be a major scandal, indeed, although I think we should all agree that it happens in Italy quite often without being made a scandal. Such things are always disgraceful; but if you consider that Nicaragua is a country which has never had a free election in the lifetime of anyone now living, then, according to the standards to be expected in such a country, it was probably not that bad. Nothing worse happened.

There was censorship. It was lifted in the middle of August, four months before the elections, when all the parties were given access, half an hour a day, to radio stations. This was later increased to an amount of time which was, in effect, infinite, and they could not use it. Each of the opposition parties was given by the Government £25,000 to campaign with or to do whatever else they liked with. That is a considerable sum in a country as poor and as small as Nicaragua. They used it to the hilt by buying radio time and by buying advertisement space in the Government's own newspapers, which made no attempt to deny them.

I was particularly interested—and I should like to dwell on this—in the Communist Party of Nicaragua. Like some other Communist Parties in the world, it was a straight-up-and-down pro-Moscow party. Its posters displayed the red star, the hammer and sickle, a picture of Lenin and a photograph of the Soviet flag waving in the wind. This party published its own literature freely throughout the election campaign and it was in the most violent conflict with the Sandinistas' election platform. It stood for the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The Sandinistas have run a mixed economy for four years and have promised in their election manifesto to go on doing so. The Communist Party of Nicaragua bought space in the Sandinista newspaper in which they also freely attacked the Sandinistas.

Let us look now at the history of three right wing opposition parties. The Unites States' favourite party, which is actually a group of parties called the Coordinadora, thought at one time that they would put up as candidate a man called Arturo Cruz, who lives in Washington. He made two journeys to the country where he was considering standing as president; he did not stand in the end: his name was not on the ballot paper. That group did not stand. Three parties to the right of the Sandinistas did stand and they obtained 27 per cent. of the seats in the Assembly. They were the Conservative Party, which wondered whether to, decided to and did, and got quite a lot of the votes—I forget how many—16 or 17 per cent.; and the Liberal Party, which it has been widely said did not stand, but which did in fact stand. It is false to say that it did not stand.

The story is as follows. They decided to stand and then their governing body decided not to stand. Their conference said, "You can't do that: we must have a conference on this." So they had a conference, which was just about to decide not to stand, when a number of young persons (who were or perhaps were not allowed to in the Liberal Party Congress) burst in and said, "Stand." Then the Deputy Leader of the party jumped on to the table and said, "We shall stand." And standing they were again, but of course by that time all their names were in any case printed on all the ballot papers, both Presidential and Assembly, up and down the country.

The next thing that happened was that the United States ambassador went to call on Mr. Godoy, the leader, and said, "I have to come on the instructions of my President to inform you that in the opinion of the United States Government the forthcoming elections will be valueless and democratically invalid, because they are unfree and unfair." He was careful not to go so far as to say, "and I therefore advise you not to stand", because that would have constituted interference.

So the next day Mr. Godoy said that he was not going to stand, and there was another almighty row during which everybody told him: what did he mean? He had to stand: his name was on the ballot paper. And two days before the election Mr. Godoy, the presidential candidate, said, "I stand, but only because I have to." What he meant by that was that he could not get his name off the ballot paper. It was enough for tens of thousands of voters who voted for him, and I am glad to say that they have got a healthy representation in the Assembly.

What the Sandinistas were doing in that election was dismantling a one-party state and bringing on multi-party elections in a four-month election campaign. The results were as follows: the Sandinistas got 63 per cent. of the vote. (The turnout was about 70 per cent.)—only 63 per cent. If that had been a standard communist election, they would of course have got 98 per cent. of a 96 per cent. turnout: that much is well known. The remaining votes, the remaining 37 per cent. who did not vote for the Sandinistas, were as follows: 27 per cent. voted for parties to the Right of the Sandinistas—a healthy Opposition presence; 4 per cent. voted for the tiny Marxist factions to the Left of the Sandinistas, including the Communist Party, and 6 per cent. spoilt their papers.

They have had elections. The United States fears they are going to turn into another Cuba, but Cuba does not have elections. The government of the Sandinistas have neither sought nor obtained help or advice from Cuba or the Soviet Union on the question of whether to hold elections. But informally they have certainly been faced with questions from Cuba and Russia along the lines of: "Jesus! What's all this about? What do you want with those elections anyhow?" But they held them; and the United States now condemns them for their pains. The Right opposition got 27 per cent. of the votes, but the United States condemns them for their pains. Arturo Cruz, the United States' favourite candidate, now encourages the Liberals to take up their seats; but the United States still condemns the elections, with the words on one occasion: "what elections?"

They have not only held elections but they have set up something called a national dialogue as well, in order to include the Co-ordinadora group in prolonged discussion—this is the group that did not stand for election to the Assembly. It is, by the way, a Constituent Assembly, not a legislative assembly; it has to draw up a constitution. Those who could not bring themselves to stand in the elections are now included in discussion of how to do that.

We have heard much lately from the United States about an influx of Soviet arms in recent weeks. What influx? All we know is that, despite the alarm raised in Washington, they did not get Mig fighters. If they had it would not have been too surprising. The Nicaraguan fighter force, which I have seen and which anyone who goes there can see on the airport, consists of three jet fighters. They are very fine planes; they went through the Korean war and their capacity to pressurise the air inside was taken out many years ago, so that they cannot now go above 5,000 feet. Apart from that they are excellent. Honduras, where there are 15,000 American troops exercising from time to time, has modern jet fighters and is getting more. But, still, the Nicaraguans did not get Migs.

There is a curious wrinkle to this story. The United States Government knows well that the Nicaraguan Government believes that there is a wing of Migs in Cuba which is dedicated to them—that is to say, they can have it whenever they call—and the United States Government also doubts whether the Soviet Union would permit that. So it is rather obscure why they should have been worried about a Soviet freighter coming out of the Black Sea and going round Cape Horn to reach the coast of Nicaragua. What they did get were helicopters, and of course that is exactly what you want if you are being attacked by Contras in the jungle with vast foreign support.

The Soviet interest in Central America is clear: it is to keep the situation on the boil. The recent Pentagon policy has been a huge bonus for them in that respect. It is also perhaps to avoid terminating the present troubles in such a way as to be blamed for causing an American invasion and, on the other hand, to avoid having to take over the defence of Nicaragua directly themselves.

The United States' interest in Central America is to get peace, and that means feeding Nicaragua to avoid starvation, restoring them to ordinary economic links with the world, calling off the Contras and, above all, encouraging their democratic process and not snarling at it at every turn.

I think perhaps we are entitled—those of us who have been there and seen what is happening—to ask two things of our Government. The first is that they should, so far as they can, unsay their advance condemnation of these elections as "unfree and unfair". They were not. None of us who saw them accept that. Perhaps they could also try to get the United States to unsay, so far as they can, their advance, their prejudiced conclusion that these elections were "unfair and unfree".

Secondly, I think we could ask our Government to work constructively with the Contadora countries towards a settlement. They do that: they say, "We will work constructively with Contadora countries towards a settlement", and so they do. But I think we must ask Her Majesty's Government to go a little further also and specifically to help the Contadora countries in their efforts to calm the United States down and to induce in Washington a more objective frame of mind about Nicaragua. In order to do this, I hope our Government will talk directly to the right people in Washington, and that means the people who are springing these scares on the world, the people who are snarling at their very own pluralistic democracy in Central America. That, it stands to reason, is not the President, and perhaps not the Secretary of State either.

6.19 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, I must apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Nicaragua, like Azerbaijan, like Teschen and like North Bukovina, is one of those unfortunate places which for a short time becomes the centre of a storm in international affairs. It is of great interest to hear the account which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has given of his visit. I think we must say that it was very satisfactory that he and the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, went and gave up their time to study what was going on during this important election.

I have an account of elections which runs thus: … these elections appear to have been conducted in a satisfactory manner and can, therefore, be accepted as an expression of the will of the majority of the people who took the trouble to express their views … This is not only the opinion of this Mission but also of most of the press correspondents who came to … observe the elections. That report does not refer to Nicaragua in 1984. It refers to the Albanian elections of 1945 when, in similar circumstances, a government which had won power by the sword was forced, in consequence of the Declaration on Liberated Peoples in Europe and the general spirit of 1945, to hold elections. They felt strong enough to do so, they did so, they allowed certain members of the Opposition to stand and, in consequence, received an imprimatur from the rest of the world. Similar elections were held in 1945–46 in other countries of Eastern Europe, when the Marxist governments in those countries felt that they could get away with them satisfactorily. This resulted—

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me?—

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, may I finish my sentence? This resulted in governments which had received, as it would have seemed, the support of the people in the country concerned.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Can he tell the House whether during those elections there was a pro-Moscow Communist Party standing against the government?

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

No, my Lords, there was not. There were a number of differences. Obviously, no historical circumstance is exactly equal. So far as I can see, the Marxist government in Albania which resulted was immediately rather more ruthless than that which has as yet resulted in Nicaragua. It must have occurred to your Lordships that there are other differences. The parties of Nicaragua which supported the elections and the government had some other views than those of Eastern European communists immediately after the war. It is obvious that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, thinks that and thought that when he was in Nicaragua. He spoke of the government—as he put it—bringing on a multi-party state. It is not entirely evident that that is the case.

In a speech earlier this year, one of the more moderate Sandinista comandantes, Mr. Bayardo Arce, in a speech to the Central Committee of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party, made an extraordinary statement, making it perfectly clear that his colleagues were holding the elections simply in order to satisfy the views of international observers who happened to interest themselves in the affairs of Nicaragua. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I read a section of his speech. He said: But from the point of view of the reality we have, the elections are a tool of the revolution and a way of advancing in the building of socialism …It is, for example, useful for us to be able to point out that there remains a private entrepreneurial sector, while we advance in all strategic [economic] aspects. That entrepreneurial class no longer counts. The Nicaraguan economic project is entirely in the hands of the state. In the same way, the elections have become an expedient in order to deprive our enemies of an argument". You may well say that that speech is just something which I have found and which has, perhaps, been written by members of that Central Intelligence Agency of whom the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has such tremendous suspicions; but I have checked it up. That speech was made by the person I have named. His voice on the tape was recognised by a leading member of the Second International, ex-President Carlos Andrés Pérez of Venezuela, who was present at the meeting in Rio de Janeiro of the members of the Second International, at which Mr. Bayardo Arce was the representative of the Sandinistas. It was he who broke off the discussions with Mr. Arturo Cruz—who is a rather more substantial figure than the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, represented, since he was, like most genuinely democratic Nicaraguans, an early member of the Sandinista government and was, indeed, ambassador to the United States in 1979.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves Mr. Bayardo Arce's speech, will he agree that that speech was published in a Spanish periodical called Vanguardia which is, on the whole, rather Right-wing? Will he also accept from me that as soon as I saw the entire text I sent it to Mr. Bayardo Arce and invited his comments direct, because it seemed the simplest way of dealing with it?

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, Vanguardia is the second most important newspaper in Spain. Whether it is Left-wing or Right-wing seems to be irrelevant to that point. The relevance and importance of the speech must be obvious to all noble Lords who have listened to what I have said. It may be that there are other factors which we should take into account in Nicaragua; that there are some special circumstances in Nicaraguan socialism which mean that we should be more tolerant to it than we would be in other places. Nevertheless, the Organisation of American States has recently released its annual report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which it is made perfectly clear that the problems of Nicaragua are not quite as extraordinary as it might seem.

The report stated that chaotic political, military and economic circumstances certainly have created in Nicaragua an extremely complex framework which is detrimental to human rights. It also stated that the commission had received all sorts of reports of political harassment, illegal inscription in the elections, disappearances, tortures and illegal punishment of detainees. These are fairly harsh statements. They are, however, underpinned by statements made by members of the Catholic Church, not only in Nicaragua but also in the neighbouring democratic country of Costa Rica. The Archbishop in Costa Rica has made himself perfectly clear on this subject.

Therefore, I tend to believe that these elections will have been an extremely good whitewash of a Marxist régime which has no intention of losing power in any circumstances. I hope very much that there may be another and fair election in Nicaragua, but I think the odds must be that it is improbable. As for them having brought on the conditions for a multi-party state, that is a most unlikely development.

Naturally, there are certain differences between Nicaragua and the rest of the communist world. Not all of them, however, are to the benefit, as one might say, of Nicaragua. For example, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is misinformed about the degree of relation between the Nicaraguan intelligence and military and Cuban and Soviet services. One judgment of the Kissinger report on Central America which stood out was the connection between Cuban, Nicaraguan and Soviet intelligence computers, which enables the Nicaraguans to know exactly what the CIA were up to in the area.

A second point of difference between the Nicaraguan régime and other communist states is the very substantial investment in military hardware made at a very early stage of its development. Noble Lords may recall, having read the press, that under the vile dictator Somoza—and it is very difficult to make any statement in his favour—the total armed forces were 14,000 to 17,000. The armed forces now are 50,000 with another 50,000 militia available at easy call. There is no doubt that, whatever is happening now, there has been a great deal of assistance channelled through Nicaragua to guerrillas in both Salvador and Guatemala. The quantity of armaments which was apparently shifted to Nicaragua in the last calendar year approaches the figure of 10,000 tonnes, which is the sort of amount that Cuba was receiving 20 years ago. There is no doubt whatever that the senior Left-wing members of the Nicaraguan régime are men who allowed themselves to be trained in Cuba in the 1960s.

Perhaps there are certain qualifications to this rather bleak picture, but they are not qualifications which enable us to be optimistic in the long term. They include, for example, the idea that the Soviet Union does not wish to have another expensive satellite in the Caribbean, which Cuba has become, particularly since Cuba is able to perform the long-term activities in the military fields which the Soviet Union cannot perform herself in such countries as Angola and Ethiopia. There is therefore no need for further assistance of that kind.

A further point is that geography determines the situation. The best we can hope for with this particular government and group of parties is that Nicaragua may turn into something like the one party state which has run affairs in Mexico for a very long time, the reason being that Nicaragua is near Mexico and that this fact may well influence those who direct affairs there.

Turning to United States policy, I find it perfectly comprehensible that the United States should look upon Central America as a place of great strategic importance to them. It is not only of strategic importance. We in Western Europe believe it to be appropriate from time to time to take up attitudes towards Central America. I do not doubt that it was good that the European Community took the view which they did. Nevertheless, when it comes to the point, if Central America were to collapse it would not be the European Community which would pick up the pieces, but the United States, which would have to receive vast numbers of refugees, towards the solution of whose problems it would be quite out of the question for us to make an effective contribution.

I am hopeful that the light shed on this election and its antecedents by the international press will have some kind of effect upon the course of subsequent events in Nicaragua, but I am afraid I cannot be optimistic since the international press has a habit of taking up one country, or one theme, and talking about it at great length for a short time and then dropping it again. Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for initiating this debate. I am sure that we shall learn a good deal from the rest of it.

6.32 p.m.

Lord Chitnis

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in this argument between the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, but I hope I may do so if only to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having tabled his Unstarred Question and given me the chance to recover from having my name inadvertently put down for the foreign affairs debate which took place a couple of weeks ago, when unfortunately I was still at the election in Nicaragua with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. We can tell your Lordships what we saw, but it is a pity that Her Majesty's Government have to rely upon the word of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, or upon my word for what went on, and that they themselves were unable to have official observers at that election. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to tell us tonight why this was so.

I have seen the letter in which the decision was announced that we would not send official observers to the election in Nicaragua. The reasons given were that the Independent Liberal Party and the parties of the Co-ordinadora were not participating in the election. So far as the Independent Liberal Party is concerned, and what they did or did not decide, it would require a great connoisseur of Liberal mayhem to tell your Lordships precisely why, but what is absolutely incontrovertible is that at the time the decision was taken not to send British observers the Independent Liberal Party had not withdrawn from the election. The case for not sending observers must therefore rest on the fact that the parties of the Co-ordinadora were not participating.

If that is the reason it is extraordinary, given the readiness of Her Majesty's Government to send official observers to the elections in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984. The parties of the Left, the FDR, were excluded from those elections. It was the British Government's own observers who said that they were excluded from those elections because, had they set foot in El Salvador at that time, they would have risked death. So far as the leaders of the Right in Nicaragua are concerned, they are free to come and go. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, Dr. Cruz turned up in Managua a couple of days before the election. Therefore, I presume there is a better reason why the British Government did not send official observers to the election in Nicaragua. I hope that tonight we shall be told what that reason is.

In thinking of the election in Nicaragua I find myself comparing it to the two elections which were held in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984, at which I was also present. It is fair to do so. Both Nicaragua and El Salvador are Central American republics. They both have similar problems, though perhaps seen through a mirror. Over the past couple of years elections have been held in both places; but more importantly I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, that we cannot simply decide whether elections are or are not fair from the newspapers or from observations made by casual observers. What we do know is that the Government of the United States and the Government of this country consider the elections in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984 to have been valid. Therefore, we can take that as our bench-mark and compare the Nicaraguan election with those elections.

In every major respect that I can think of the election in Nicaragua was superior to the elections held in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984. First, there was the effect of the war on the elections. A war is taking place in Nicaragua, and it is a very nasty little war indeed; but at least it is regionalised and takes place out of the towns and in the country. During the elections in El Salvador the effect of the war was absolutely all-pervasive. In the capital, San Salvador, power lines were blown up two or three times a day during the elections, and deaths were frequent. On polling day in 1982 I stood in the courtyard of a school where the votes were being counted while on the other side of the wall a gun battle was raging. In the towns of Nicaragua there is perfectly normal life: in the towns of El Salvador the war is always present.

Next there is the inter-party violence. We have heard a great deal about this from various people in Nicaragua. There has been one account of the kind of thing which happened at a meeting in Nicaragua, and I would not defend it. But one has to match that against what has taken place in El Salvador. In the year preceding the 1982 election the secretary-general of the Christian Democratic Party in El Salvador told me that 700 of his party workers had been murdered, mostly by people from other parties operating within the country. There is no comparison between the state of inter-party violence in Nicaragua and what took place in El Salvador.

There is also the question of choice. There were indeed six parties and six presidential candidates in the El Salvadorean elections, all from the spectrum of the right. In Nicaragua this year I talked to all the parties which took part in the elections. They ranged from the Democratic Conservatives, one of whose leaders talked, perhaps with a slip of the tongue, of the Contras as "our" counter-revolutionaries, straight through to the Marxist-Leninists who are every bit as boring and tedious as the name of their party suggests. There was undoubtedly a broad spectrum of choice.

Turning to freedom of expression, one hears a great deal about La Prensa being censored in Nicaragua. There is censorship of the press in Nicaragua. It is clumsily administered and I wish it was not there, but one's sympathy for La Prensa has been somewhat diminished by their performance during the Nicaraguan election, when they acted at least in a partisan way by refusing to run even the advertisements of the parties participating in the election and, totally unjustifiably, by refusing to run even the official notices of the supreme electoral council. But La Prensa is censored, and it should not be censored. What happens, though, to dissidents or anti-Government journalists in El Salvador? On the very unlikely possibility that they would find somebody who was willing to print and publish their material, the chances are that they would be found dead in a back street the next day. That is what happens to people who talk out of line in El Salvador.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, mentioned human rights. It is very difficult to find out the truth about human rights in any country, so I went to the British Embassy and asked them to give me the name of one person who they thought could give the state of human rights in Nicaragua. I went to the person they recommended and he said to me that in his view a remarkably clean bill of health could be given to the Nicaraguans, and that it was his great sorrow that he knew that many ambassadors in Nicaragua knew that this was the position and that they wrote reports to their home governments saying so but that their home governments preferred to listen to other sources.

Then there was the conduct of polling day. Everyone said that the Nicaraguan elections were almost a model of how to run polling day in such a country. Polling was clearly voluntary, it was clearly well organised, and it was clearly secret. I contrasted it with my experience in El Salvador earlier this year, where, in a large type of warehouse about, I suppose, the size of this Chamber, I saw a crowd of thousands fighting to get to the polling stations at the far end. As the day wore on I saw thousands of them sent home simply because the polling station did not have enough ballot papers and could not cope.

Therefore, my only conclusion from all this is to say to your Lordships that if Her Majesty's Government and if the United States Government believe that President Duarte was democratically elected as leader of El Salvador, there can be no reason whatever why President-elect Ortega cannot be considered to be the democratically elected leader of Nicaragua.

Apart from the election, something quite horrible is happening to Nicaragua. A tiny, insignificant, fanatically nationalistic, tediously socialist country is being harassed and bullied by the colossus to the north—the United States. There is an extraordinary, overt-covert operation where the Congress of the United States solemnly debates whether to give money to help terrorists subvert the government of Nicaragua—terrorists who, apparently, are told by their CIA instructors to take their inspiration from the IRA which is also fighting to remove oppressors from its country. There are cynical attempts to muck about with the peace-making efforts, such as with the Contadora, where, when the Nicaraguans suddenly announced. against all American expectations, that they were prepared to sign the treaty as it stood, it was suddenly discovered by the Americans that the treaty was imperfect and needed further amendment.

I simply cannot believe that the Government of this country, who have conducted our foreign affairs in an entirely principled way, notably in defence of national sovereignty, can approve of what the United States is doing to Nicaragua. I only hope, if I may borrow the vernacular of another place, that they will have the guts to say so here and in Washington.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, this House has the reputation of having address us those who are experts in their own subject. So far this evening we have certainly lived up to that reputation. We have listened to a remarkable speech from the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, which was full of objective information and full of his very wide experience in those parts. It is hard not to be impressed by what he said.

We have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, with his great historical knowledge and his research into former, to his mind, analogous situations in other parts of the world. I was interested to note that he felt it right to call in aid an archbishop. I should have thought that at the moment anyone who called in aid archbishops or bishops to support Government policy was treading on very thin ice.

The noble Lord also suggested that what a politician says before an election inevitably will be the policy of his party if it succeeds at the polls. I do not want to bring party politics in this country into the debate, but we need only look across the channel and ask our socialist friends in France if they really believe that President Mitterrand is carrying out all the measures that he included in his election address and as he said before the election he was going to do. It is one of the weaknesses, if I may put it that way, of any form of democratic system that what is said by politicians prior to elections does not always conform exactly to what they find they are able to do, or that their colleagues will permit them to do, when they eventually gain power.

We have also had the enormous privilege of listening to my noble friend Lord Kennet with his very wide experience not only of Central America, but of many other countries, too, and his first-hand account of what actually went on during the election. We are, therefore, indeed fortunate to have had this education and I am quite sure that we shall hear equally valuable views from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she replies.

I have not had the advantage of my noble friend Lord Kennet or the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, of recently visiting Nicaragua. The only occasion on which I have been to Nicaragua was during the rule of General Somoza. I must say to your Lordships, quite frankly, having travelled considerably in virtually all the countries of Latin America, that no country I visited had such contrasts of wealth and poverty living cheek by jowl with each other, with such oppression, such corruption, such injustice and such inequality as I saw in Anastasio Somoza's Nicaragua. Any change of any kind could only be for the better, and change eventually came.

What is puzzling to me as a very sincere friend of the United States, and to many other friends of the United States, is why the change that took place was not wholeheartedly welcomed, and why a genuine helping hand was not held out to this new government which was trying to improve matters in that country. I know that some help was given, but it was not the sort of help which was going to assist that group of very courageous people: some misguided, some with very different views from what most of us in this Chamber possess, but all of whom wish to improve the social and economic conditions of their country. Why were they not helped far more than they were at that time? Why were they not helped to guide their country on the road to a form of democracy? I say "a form of democracy" because one cannot expect a small Latin American country which has languished for years under dictators of one kind or another to be able to spring in one leap into the form of democracy which we have here and which exists in the United States.

I believe that the reason why the United States did not give that help was because of its fear of what it calls socialism—a fear which I would describe as almost paranoiac. In its mind, and at least in the minds of those who control foreign policy, the word "socialism" is, to all intents and purposes, synonymous with the Soviet Union. Of course, it is natural and understandable that the United States does not want socialism of that form, which is Soviet Union influenced, to be established in its back garden. We must sympathise with that.

It is absolutely right that it feels that way and that it does all that it can to prevent that happening; just as, of course, we have to realise—or we have come to live with it—that the Soviet Union itself does not want capitalism established in its own front garden, which is why we now have the situation that exists in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and more recently in Afghanistan, too. We must understand it without condoning it, no matter where it happens. But whether we condone it or not, we have only to look at what is happening in Central Europe to see the failure of that sort of policy of protecting one's boundaries—as it were, protecting one's back garden or front garden—by military force, by subversion of one kind or another.

Those countries to the west of the Soviet Union cannot be regarded as a strong bulwark against a potential aggressor. Not only are they costing the Soviet Union vast sums of money in military expenditure, and to a certain extent in economic expenditure in other fields, too; they also are antagonising the Soviet Union (and Afghanistan is the outstanding example of that) in the eyes of the third world—and the third world cannot be entirely ignored in this context. If one is thinking of the global clash between two super-powers, the third world is of some significance. Undoubtedly what the Soviet Union has done in Afghanistan has antagonised very large sections of the third world.

The result of all this has not been, as I say, to create a strong bulwark in case of aggression against the Soviet Union. There is so much unrest and dissatisfaction, which we have seen from time to time in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia and in Poland; and when it happens beyond a certain point the tanks roll in. But the people there would not be strong allies. They would be the most difficult form of resistance movement if there were to be such armed aggression. So it is not a practical way of achieving these things. It simply does not give the results. Yet this is what the United States is apparently attempting to do in its own back yard.

The United States is attempting by sheer military force, by threats of aggression, to undermine the type of government that it does not agree with and to establish—not by democratic means, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis—a form of government which is more in keeping with what it would like to see. In doing this (as the Soviet Union has done, but in a much more significant way) it is creating an image of the West, of capitalism, of democracy—call it what one likes—which is causing so much unhappiness and so much opposition in the third world that we are in danger of losing the support which we deserve and which we need from those countries. After all, we have to realise, we have to admit, that the United States is in fact the leader of the free world, of the Western world, of the capitalist world. What it does, whether it be in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, or anywhere else, impinges upon us and the whole of the Western Alliance.

It is one of these situations where we, alas, have very little power because it is in the American sphere of influence. We know that; we admit it. But we still are not entirely powerless, and I hope that the noble Baroness will agree with me whey I say this and will confirm it. I hope that one day the time will come when the United States, whose history really entitles it to be regarded by the free world in a better light than it is at present, and whose traditions demand that it should be so regarded, should be seen as the scourge of dictators, wherever they may be, and as the supporter and encourager of any form of democratic government, however tentative or weak it may be, encouraging it to move in the right direction, rather than forcing it, as it did in the case of Cuba, into the arms of the Soviet Union.

But I fear that the time when the United States will be so regarded is far distant. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us that Her Majesty's Government will use all their powers of persuasion, on what is after all our closest ally, to speed up that action so that what should be America's traditional role is once more asserted. It should be seen as the land of the free not only within its own boundaries, but as the land of the free in all countries, wherever they may be throughout the world.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his comprehensive speech, especially as he has only recently returned from Nicaragua and speaks therefore with valuable recent experience. What is the nature of the problem in Nicaragua and why should we here in Britain and the House of Lords be concerned with events over 4,000 miles away from our shores? The short answer is that we are always sensitive to the actions of the so-called super-powers because they can affect us quickly and in some cases harmfully. Furthermore, we are naturally interested as friends and allies of the United States in its foreign policies, as it, of course, is interested in ours.

The countries of Central America are for obvious reasons of concern to the United States. They are, as is frequently said, in its back yard and three hours' flying time from the United States. Well, there are lots of interesting places within three hours' flying time from this Chamber, but, curiously, we do not regard them as being in our back yard. They would be insulted if we were to say so. Nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, we must understand the apprehension of the United States when potentially or seemingly unfriendly governments come into being in these countries.

It was a coincidence that the presidential election in the United States and the elections in Nicaragua should take place at the same time. President Reagan's sweeping re-election gave him and his advisers the opportunity to underline his policies. It is encouraging, for example, that both he and Mr. Chernenko appear to be moving slowly towards possible negotiations. There has been extensive comment about the Nicaraguan elections, where President Ortega also had a convincing victory. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has dealt with the matter. His view that the elections were as free and fair—and I hope that I am interpreting him properly—as could be expected in all the circumstances has been echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, and by the other Members, of all parties, who visited Nicaragua with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.

Mr. Victor Bulmer-Thomas in his letter to The Times last Friday made what I regard as two important points, and he dealt with some of the criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton. Mr. Bulmer-Thomas said: the high participation rate (over 80 per cent.) means that Nicaragua can be added to the list of countries in Central America where the overwhelming majority of people wish to resolve their problems peacefully through the ballot box …the margin of the Sandinistas' victory is such that the régime cannot be dismissed as strongly unpopular". It is possible to be cynical and to take a hard line, as did the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. But these arguments are strongly against the use of force to dislodge the régime and in favour of a positive move to help to establish democratic practices as we know them. Is this possible, or is the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, right and are the Sandinista régime bent on creating another Cuba in the area? Who is right?

There has been a good deal of speculation and argument about this. I have read with very great interest the booklet called The Central American CrisisA European Response, which is published by the Transnational Institute. I do not know whether the noble Baroness the Minister has read it but it seems to me to be a balanced analysis. It tells of the corruption and intimidation which characterised the Somoza regime and which made some reaction like the Sandinista movement inevitable—points made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in his speech just now. They are the result of the failure to respond to the demand for reform made in the 1960s. Now the Reagan administration believes that the Sandinista Government is the bridgehead of Communism on the mainland and that measures to destabilise it are justified on that account.

The study however, points out that the regime contains not only mainstream Marxists but a whole range of opinion and that, If the United States … adopts policies of isolation, containment and hostility …they will tend to look further afield for allies and friends". That is a fairly obvious conclusion. The reactions of the Sandinista regime will depend to a very large extent on the attitudes and policies of the United States.

Perhaps the noble Baroness would care to comment on the attitude of our own Government on these matters. Would it be correct to say that the British Government have tended overmuch to follow the American line? Let me give some examples to the House. First of all, the Government sent observers to the El Salvador elections but decided against sending any to the Nicaraguan elections. If there had not been the voluntary visits by noble Lords and other members of all parties in another place we should not be receiving this first-hand evidence in the House today.

It would also be interesting should the noble Baroness be able to tell us what is the level of our ODA grant towards Nicaragua at the present time. I have noted that all the aid agencies—that is, Oxfam, Christian Aid, and so on—have applauded the way in which Nicaragua has made use of the aid given it. It is, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, a rather different case from that of Albania. Although I greatly respect the noble Lord as a historian, I doubt whether the comparison between Albania in the 1940s and Nicaragua today can be sustained.

Thirdly it is alleged that Her Majesty's Government have put Nicaragua on a list of countries for which prior political clearance must be given by the British representative in that country before ODA money can be released. I wonder whether that is correct. Again, in 1982, the British Government opposed a package of aid proposed by the European Community, on the ground that it would be used for a military build-up. Once more, the aid agencies, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and so on, refuted this allegation. They said that Nicaragua was using the aid for the purposes for which it was intended and not on buying armaments.

Finally, may we be told what, if any, arms the Government are supplying to Honduras? As we know, Honduras is giving solace to and assisting the Contras. If any of these allegations are true, then this seems to me to be the wrong way to make friends and influence people in Central America.

Of course there are two sides to every argument. It is our duty in debates in this House to look at the available evidence and examine both sides. On the one hand, we remember the appalling losses suffered by Nicaragua during the struggle against Somoza: 50,000 people killed and property damage worth 500 million dollars in a very poor country. On the evidence that I have seen, the new regime has a good record in health and education against a poor economic background, and production there has improved. But the Sandinistas are alleged to have committed serious violations of human rights, although these are said to have been exaggerated by opponents. We listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, said on this matter in his speech.

However, the question now—a crucial one for the new government of President Ortega—is whether they will move towards conditions of greater freedom for political parties, trade unions, newspapers and business interests. This will be the real test. Free elections—and these seem to have been good elections—are not in themselves sufficient. They must be followed by the establishment of rights and freedoms across the board.

The document to which I referred puts the thing in a nutshell. It says, The transformation from a revolutionary society with a revolutionary party mobilised to defend its revolution, to an open society with accepted structures for debate and opposition, in addition to fair elections, will be the Nicaraguans' hardest task". But if Nicaragua can be moved to a position of non-alignment strenuous attempts should be made to achieve this. I wonder whether the noble Baroness is in a position to comment on whether the United States would accept the position of Nicaragua as a non-aligned state, as belonging to the third world and not to the Eastern bloc. But the United States' sustained, active hostility to the Nicaraguan Government may produce the very results, in an acute form, which they are anxious to avoid.

For example, the provision of arms and training to the Contras, many of whom are Somoza supporters, is obviously a hostile action. Then the United States training manual for guerrillas was another example of this attitude. The manner in which the United States overplayed the matter of the supply of the MiG 21s, which was subsequently shown to be false, again was overplaying the hand. There has been this extreme, hostile propaganda which has set the nerves of the Nicaraguans on edge.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, referred to political commentators and what they have been saying. Goodness knows, there have been plenty of commentaries in this country and in the world press on events in Nicaragua. I have here an extract from the International Herald Tribune for 12th November. That is a newspaper which is certainly not hostile to the United States Government. It says this, United States pressure on its closest friends and neighbours in Central America to go along with its policy of isolating Nicaragua has led to a series of diplomatic flaps and embarrassments for the administration. White House policy toward Nicaragua has cut across the goals of such allies as Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. That is written by an expert and if it is true then it is a great mistake.

If the new Nicaraguan Government show that they mean to move along this road towards greater freedom—and everyone will be watching them very carefully—I think it is essential that the United States Government should modify their policies. They should, for example, consider offering economic help and seeking to hold a dialogue with the new Government. We in the United Kingdom and in Western Europe should back the Contadora Group through diplomatic and political channels and call for the disbandment and disarming of the Contras. We should further consider a substantial aid package for all Central America tied to the most stringent human rights conditions. We hope that the Government's policies will move along these lines.

It seems that the excitable accusations and counter-claims about Russian Mig 21s and so on have now subsided, and Senior Arturo Cruz, the main opposition leader who is favoured by the United States, has spoken out most firmly against the possibility of an American military intervention. It would be interesting to know, too, what is the present position in Central America on the peace treaty that has been discussed by the United States Administration and the Contadora Group. If a balanced Central American peace treaty could be negotiated, that would be a substantial step forward. There are new governments in both Managua and Washington, and the time seems opportune for a new start.

7.10 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should say at the outset that the Government share the widespread international concern felt both about the situation in Nicaragua, and about the tensions and instability in Central America as a whole, to which noble Lords have drawn attention in the debate this evening. We recognise that these derive in large measure from the social and economic conditions which have existed in the region for many years. But we also believe that the situation has been exploited by those with little respect for democracy and little desire to help to restore genuine political stability in this troubled area of the world.

Together with our European Community partners, we have consistently advocated a comprehensive, negotiated solution to the conflicts of the region. We believe such a solution must spring from the region itself. The best hope is the initiative launched nearly two years ago by the Contadora Group. I hope that this will act as a reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, whose second main point that he said he wished to make at the end of his speech was to encourage the Government to work with the Contadora Group.

Noble Lords will remember that European Community Heads of Government issued a declaration at Stuttgart in June last year voicing firm support for the Contadora Group and the principles for which it stands. Let me remind noble Lords of the terms of that statement. It reads: The Heads of State and Government confirmed their close interest in developments in Central America. They are deeply concerned at the economic and social conditions in many parts of the region, at the tensions which these create and at the widespread misery and bloodshed. They are convinced that the problems of Central America cannot be solved by military means, but only by a political solution springing from the region itself and respecting the principles of non-interference and inviolability of frontiers. They, therefore, fully support the current initiative of the Contadora Group. They underlined the need for the establishment of democratic conditions and for the strict observance of human rights throughout the region. They are ready to continue contributing to the further development of the area, in order to promote progress towards stability". This expression of the collective view of the European Community was repeated in the declaration issued at Brussels in March this year; and the attendance of Community Foreign Ministers, including my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, at the meeting of European Community and Central American Foreign Ministers at San José in September underlined and gave practical expression to this support.

The Contadora process is an ambitious one. It seeks to reconcile the national security interests of the five states of Central America, each of which has a distinct set of needs and circumstances. Another of its objectives is to establish effective pluralist democracy in countries which, historically, for the most part have had little experience of it. None of the five states who would be parties to the proposed Act of Contadora—Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—can be forced to agree to what they might consider unacceptable conditions. If, therefore, the act is be be effective, each party must arrive freely at the conclusion that it represents the best deal realistically available to it.

We ourselves believe, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear at the San José meeting, that there should be no question of putting any country in a corner. The Contadora process cannot of itself guarantee, for example, the ending of arms supplies to the guerrillas in El Salvador, or the consolidation of pluralist democracy in Nicaragua; but it does provide, we believe, the only internationally viable framework within which these desirable objectives might be pursued and, we hope, achieved.

This brings me to Nicaragua. Of the five countries involved, Nicaragua is the most liable to find itself in a minority of one on all the major Contadora issues. Despite the declared willingness of the Sandinista Government to sign the Contadora Act, Nicaragua's actions over the past year have given a strong impression of selectivity in her approach to the commitments needed to make a reality of the Contadora principles. I have in mind in particular a commitment to genuine democracy, a real commitment to respect her neighbours' right to security and non-interference, and a reduction in levels of armaments in the region.

Those who take a favourable view of the policies and attitudes of the Sandinistas will point to the recent elections about which the noble Lords, Lords Kennet and Chitnis, have spoken as evidence of Nicaragua's commitment to democracy. We are not convinced, however, of her leaders' intention of ever allowing elections which would threaten their monopoly of power. I am sure that we all listened with great interest to what my noble friend Lord Thomas said about Comandante Arce in the article that he quoted.

Before and during the election campaign considerable pressure was brought to bear on opposition parties. This included physical harassment of their campaign meetings, not once or twice, but on a number of occasions. Both the Co-ordinadora Democratica and the Independent Liberals decided to withdraw, although in the event the latter's decision could not be properly implemented and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said, their name remained on the ballot papers. This issue has been raised in the debate by several noble Lords. The fact is that the Co-ordinadora did not register candidates for the elections on the grounds that conditions for a free and fair poll did not exist. The national assembly of the Independent Liberal Party decided on 21st October by a vote of 94 to 20, with one abstention, to withdraw from the elections on the grounds that conditions for a free and fair poll did not exist. Although the national executive of the party confirmed this decision on 24th October, the Independent Liberals, the PLI, did not notify the supreme electoral commission of its intention to withdraw until the evening of 30th October. It was then too late for names of Independent Liberal candidates to be deleted from the ballot papers.

In the conditions of a virtual monopoly of the media by the ruling Sandinista party and other institutional advantages enjoyed by them over the opposition parties, there was, in the Government's judgment, little possibility of a genuinely free and fair election campaign, however correct and orderly the arrangements for polling may have appeared to foreign observers, such as the noble Lords I have already mentioned, who were there over the election period. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, when he said that the doubts that we have expressed are not so much about the polling itself, but about the election campaign which preceded it. Almost all the opposition parties complained about harassment of opposition campaign activities and about the institutional advantages of the Sandinista party, the FSLN, and the international media carried similar reports. These factors meant that the conditions for campaigning were not equitble.

Lord Walston

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness—I am grateful to her for giving way—whether, in the Government's opinion, the conditions prior to the actual voting were less favourable for free and fair elections than they were in El Salvador?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we sent observers to El Salvador, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, will have read their report. We did believe that in fact there was a fair choice of candidates and the observers did believe that the elections were free and fair. I have quoted what I have said, which has come from many sources, but the noble Lord, Lord Walston, may be interested to hear, for example, that the Socialist International—hardly, I think, an organisation which could be regarded as Right-wing—said, and I quote: Political discrimination took place in the form of harassment at opposition party meetings, unequal time on radio and television, and censoring of some material relating to the election campaign". They also commented—that is, the Socialist International—that there was no excuse for censoring news and statements relating to the elections, which did happen; and that was to be regretted.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is the noble Baroness in a position to relay to the House the overall judgment of the Socialist International after the elections?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have not their quotation after the elections, but, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the whole point of the argument is what happened during the election campaign—really, whether or not the elections were free and fair.

Our judgment about the elections was based on, among other things, reports from our diplomatic representatives in the region, and it would in our view have been quite wrong—and this assessment was shared by nearly all our partners in the European Community—to have sent official observers to watch the final moments of an election whose earlier stages were so badly flawed. It is, however, our firm hope that a way can be found, through continuing and genuine consultations with the oppostion parties, to reaffirm Nicaragua's commitment to the path of democratic development promised in 1979. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to the national dialogue being established in Nicaragua. I should like to confirm that we have had reports of this agreement. We hope that progress will be made in this connection and that it will lead to the development of genuine pluralistic democracy.

Nicaragua's attitude to the security needs of her neighbours is also a matter of concern to us—a point, again, well made by my noble friend Lord Thomas. We have been disturbed by the massive and accelerating flow of modern arms to Nicaragua; and it is worth remembering that Nicaragua's armed forces are now by far the largest and best-equipped in Central America. Nicaragua's standing army, reservists and militia total around 100,000 men. Their equipment is far superior to that possessed by other countries in the region. It is mainly supplied and maintained by the Soviet Union, Cuba and Eastern Europe. Of her neighbours, Honduras' armed forces and police together total 25,000 men, and Costa Rica has no armed forces at all beyond a gendarmerie numbering 9,000 men. And it is absurd to think that El Salvador, preoccupied as it is with meeting the challenge of subversion supported by Nicaragua, presents the Sandinista Government with any threat at all. Nicargua's neighbours are fully justified in seeking guarantees that her military strength will not be turned against them, and that agreement should be reached on appropriate measures to contrtol the build-up of arms.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised a point about arms to Honduras. I can confirm to him that all applications for arms to the area, including spare parts for equipment supplied some time ago, are scrutinised very carefully indeed.

The Nicaraguan authorities have sought to justify this build-up by invoking the spectre of some future aggression by the United States. But it should be noted that the United States Administration have made frequent statements, inter alia at the United Nations General Assembly in September, of their commitment to a peaceful solution to the problems of Central America; to their support for the Contadora process; and to their desire to promote peace, democracy and economic and social progress in the region. Most recently, Secretary of State Shultz, in a press conference in Brasilia on 12th November, said—and I quote: We reaffirmed the importance of the Contadora process, the importance of trying to find a regional solution to the problems of peace and economic development, democracy, justice, here in the Central American region, and there are difficulties, but in so far as the United States is concerned, our effort is always to try to be a constructive part of the process". We fully share these aims. We recognise, moreover, that the United States has a real and legitimate strategic interest in this area—something which, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I think he did not recognise in what he said in his speech. Nor should we forget that the main military supply and reinforcement route for Europe passes through the Caribbean; and, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who said that Central America was often described as America's backyard and they were worried about it but we had no such fears, I think that if he will reflect, perhaps over the course of the evening, on British history he will see that we have had fears of the invasions of countries very near to our shores and we have been very concerned about what might happen to them.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The point I was trying to make was that we were rather more relaxed about it.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not sure, if the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, cares to reflect over our history, that we have always been, as he describes it, relaxed about what has happened, for example, in Belgium and Holland and parts of Europe that are close to us.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that Nicaragua is three or four hours' flying time in a jet from the heartland of the United States, and Belgium is about 20 minutes' flying time in a jet from the heartland of England?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that I think that when you are looking at a country that is very near to your borders and you believe that it has a government which is not supportive of you, or not in agreement with you, you are going to be concerned. The United States is inevitably concerned about what goes on in Central America, and it is a concern that we should recognise. Instability and an increase in Soviet influence in the region cannot but have an impact upon our own and wider Western interests.

I have outlined the main considerations which give us cause for concern about Nicaragua. We of course maintain normal diplomatic and commercial links with her and have recently reopened a diplomatic post in Managua. We continue to supply development aid through the European Community. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me about aid. We have provided assistance for Nicaraguan refugees and displaced persons through our contributions to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. We also support small development projects co-financed with British voluntary agencies and provide three scholarships for Nicaraguans to study in Britain. European Community aid amounts to about £3 million at present. The United Kingdom contributes about a fifth of this amount.

May I go on to say this. If as I think the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was perhaps suggesting, there was any question that we were conspiring with the United States to discriminate against Nicaragua in the San José initiative, it was agreed at San José that European Community aid should be for projects identified by common agreement and should be multilateral in character and designed to establish secure economic foundations in the region. We have no intention of discriminating against an individual country in what is a region-to-region exercise. Our fundamental aim remains to promote a peaceful, comprehensive, regional settlement in Central America, and our aid will have the aim of promoting such a settlement.

We look to the Nicaraguan Government to act in such a way as to demonstrate clearly that they will present no threat to their neighbours either through subversion or other means. We sincerely hope that they will recognise and meet their neighbours' legitimate concerns and co-operate actively in the joint endeavour to restore stability and peace to Central America. In this, they will have our full support.

House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock.