HL Deb 06 July 1999 vol 603 cc795-811

7.30 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, with the leave of the House and in my capacity as Chief Whip, I shall take this opportunity to remind the House that the case of General Pinochet is still before the courts. Committal proceedings will commence on 27th September. All speakers in the debate on the Unstarred Question are reminded to observe the guidance on sub judice set out on page 74 of your Lordships' Companion to the Standing Orders. All matters relating to the current extradition proceedings in the case of General Pinochet remain sub judice. In this tricky matter, I hope that all noble Lords speaking in the debate this evening will err on the side of caution in following the sub judice rule.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what were the circumstances and background of the arrest of General Pinochet; what was the role of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, Ministers and the Diplomatic Service; and what has been the effect on Anglo-Chilean relations.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter. The greatest offender against the sub judice rule has been the Government, and particularly Mr Peter Mandelson who made remarks on television immediately after the arrest of General Pinochet that were clearly extremely prejudicial to justice. I should be interested to hear what rebuke was administered to him.

Of course, I shall abide by the sub judice rule and I shall say nothing about the issues in the committal proceedings which are to take place in September. However, I have been informed by Mr Davies, Clerk of the Parliaments, that I am entitled to comment on the decision of the Home Secretary to let extradition proceedings continue, as currently there is no appeal pending against that decision.

The tactics for the arrest of Senator Pinochet are redolent of the diplomatic methods of the Borgias. The 83 year-old former Chilean head of state was accepted into this country on what he believed to be a diplomatic passport, escorted through a VIP lounge paid for by the British Government, and on 16th October, at a very late hour, while still under the effects of an anaesthetic after an operation, arrested by armed police.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has denied to me in. Parliamentary Questions, that Senator Pinochet was arrested by armed policemen. I have here a sworn affidavit by a captain of the Chilean Army, who was present m the room when Senator Pinochet was arrested. He specifically observed that four of the officers were armed. It seems extraordinary that the reputation and the demonisation of Senator Pinochet should be such that, even aged 83 and under the effects of anaesthetic, four armed officers were required to arrest him.

The arrest was greeted with dismay by present and former heads of states in many countries. It was condemned by Felipe Gonzales, the former Prime Minister of Spain, and by President Menem of Argentina. George Bush called the proceedings against the senator a travesty of justice, and even the Pope made representations to the Government that the senator should be returned to his own country.

Most significantly, the arrest was roundly condemned by the Government of Chile, largely consisting of opponents of General Pinochet. Former President Aylwin and the present president of Chile, President Frei, called the arrest an interference in the internal affairs of Chile and an obstacle to reconciliation.

There are many disquieting features concerning the arrest that give rise to questions of collusion between the British and Spanish authorities. Senator Pinochet was initially detained under a warrant which was subsequently shown in the High Court to be wrong in law. The senator's lawyers wrote to the Home Secretary about the warrant, but the Home Secretary did not deign to reply. In the mean time, the Crown Prosecution Service went to Spain to advise the Spanish authorities on the warrant. In passing, I note that that is a form of co-operation not practised by the Irish Government in relation to the British Government pursuing terrorists in Ireland.

On the Friday before the arrest of General Pinochet, two telephone calls were made to the Foreign Office, one from the Chilean Embassy inquiring about rumours that the general may be arrested. The Chileans were informed that the Foreign Office would contact them again on Monday. On the same day, the police contacted the Foreign Office to find out whether Senator Pinochet enjoyed diplomatic immunity. At that point, why did the Foreign Office not go back to the Chilean Embassy? Why did the British Government consider that they had a greater obligation to the Spaniards than to the Chileans, unless there was some collusion between the two countries?

The reputation of British justice and its integrity have been severely damaged by this case. A judge concealed his involvement with one of the parties to the court case. That judge has never apologised. He still hears cases. At a new hearing, made necessary by that event, a completely different verdict was given. Three British courts have given three completely different rulings. The High Court decided that Senator Pinochet enjoyed sovereign immunity; the Law Lords, at their first hearing, decided that he did not enjoy sovereign immunity; and at their last hearing, the Law Lords decided that he enjoyed partial immunity.

Many may think that the obvious confusion of the judges is an argument why the Home Secretary should have been cautious about giving authority to proceed in this case. The Government maintain that the case of Senator Pinochet is a matter for the courts only. But it is not. The courts decide whether a person can be extradited under the law. The Home Secretary decides whether he should be extradited. The Home Secretary has wide discretion, as shown by his decision not to extradite an alleged IRA bomber to Germany.

On 24th March this year, the House of Lords gave a clear hint to the Home Secretary that in view of the dramatic scaling back of the charges to those after 1988 only, he ought to reconsider his authority to proceed against General Pinochet. The Home Secretary chose not to take that hint.

Justice has to be related to a time and a place. The senator's case can properly be considered only by Chileans in Chile. The decision of the Home Secretary is an affront to the sovereignty of Chile, a country with its own system of courts and its own democracy.

Twenty-eight years ago Chile was in a situation of near civil war. Terrible things were done on both sides—no one denies that—but the Chileans themselves subsequently decided to deal with that in their own way, as we have decided to deal with our problems in Ulster in our own way. Like us, they had a peace process and an amnesty; they had a reconciliation commission that was a model for South Africa and a number of people were given prison sentences.

The torture convention was never intended to be used in the way now permitted. No one suggested in 1988 that it modified sovereign immunity. It was never intended that someone should be extradited from country A to country B to be charged with offences in his own country, country C, against his own nationals. An important feature of this case is that none of the charges currently against General Pinochet involves citizens of this country or of Spain.

When my noble friend Lord Patten introduced the convention to the House, he made it clear that it was not intended to operate retrospectively. It has taken three court hearings to re-establish that point. He also said that the purpose of our accession to the convention was not to instigate a retrospective witch hunt against those alleged to have committed torture in the past. But that is exactly what has happened in this case.

This case illustrates some of the drawbacks in extradition proceedings. At no time has the senator been allowed to challenge in a British court the substance of the charges brought against him. They are taken at face value, even though former President Aylwin and former British ambassadors to Chile have said that there was no policy of torture in Chile after 1988. It is worth noting that Amnesty International alleges further cases of torture under both Presidents Aylwin and Frei, both of whom would now be well advised to reconsider their foreign travel plans.

The British are not in a strong position to lecture other countries on how to deal with torture. This Government have let out of jail over 270 terrorists, many of whom are murderers, maimers, torturers, bombers and killers of children. The Government have done that in the name of peace and reconciliation, as the Chileans have made decisions for their country in the name of peace and reconciliation.

When I drew the attention of the noble Lord to parallels between Northern Ireland and Chile, he replied that Ulster is unique. Chile is also unique. That is why it can be judged only by Chileans. On 24th March 1999, Lord Browne-Wilkinson said: It may well be thought that the trial of Senator Pinochet in Spain for offences all of which related to the state of Chile and most of which occurred in Chile is not calculated to achieve the best justice". As I understand it, he was saying that he had to interpret the law, but he was admitting that there may be a conflict between law and justice. If there is a conflict between law and justice, surely that is for the Home Secretary to resolve.

Even the statute of the proposed international criminal court, which does not exist, acknowledges the right of home countries to conduct their own trials on their own territory. As a matter of principle, to let courts in one country put the government of another on trial, is tantamount to an assertion by the first country that the second is subject to its authority. If international law requires the trial of General Pinochet in an outside country, then it must require trials of butchers from many other places.

But Chile is a small country with no great leverage or influence on Britain; and Britain does not care. No one expects Britain or Spain to hold a top Chinese leader for massacres in Tibet; or to hold former Russian officials for extradition to Latvia. The decision of the Home Secretary was selective, hypocritical, arrogant and an unjustified interference in the affairs of a friendly country. The action should never have been allowed to start and I hope that at some stage in the future—he will have other opportunities—the Home Secretary will take steps to free a man who is a political prisoner in this country.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, that was an extraordinarily ill-advised speech. It ignored the warning that the Chief Whip properly gave at the beginning of this debate, and a noble Lord of the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, ought to have known better.

The fact is that the noble Lord brought into question the issues that underlie this matter which will be properly dealt with by the courts. The defenders of General Pinochet have decided to come to this House tonight en masse. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say without, I hope, breaching that important warning.

This is a juridical matter of the greatest importance. It is a matter which is seminal in terms of international humanitarian law which has evolved. It is an important consideration which the courts have to address and it is improper for this House to venture an opinion as to the rights and wrongs of the proceedings at this stage. I am a lawyer. It is vital in a democracy that we respect those tenets of law that have been so flagrantly violated by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in his speech tonight.

It was inevitable that the noble Lord would have to do that. I should like to enter into a debate as to what happened in Chile in 1973. I was there shortly before on a parliamentary visit. I saw some of the events that were emerging at the time which gave us great concern. But I do not propose to do that. Nor do I propose to go into what happened in November 1973.

The noble Lord—inferentially perhaps—excused what happened at that time. I do not believe it to be excusable. It was not simply that General Pinochet took power. Many people assisted him in that direction. There were no political prisoners at the time of President Allende. It was not an efficient government; I concede that. But it was not a government who flagrantly denied the very essence of democracy, which I thought the noble Lord would himself have sought to uphold.

It is important, as we face the few days ahead when the courts will adjudicate on a matter of great importance, that we do not imperil those proceedings by making statements which are injudicious—as was the noble Lord's speech. I hope that the Government of Chile will understand the due process of law in this country and that the decision of the courts will be respected. Ultimately, if the court decides, as the noble Lord said, that there is a case which merits the consideration of extradition, the matter will have to be dealt by the Home Secretary. I do not envy him that position, but I am sure he will cope with it.

However, I do not believe that it is right to seek to intimidate the Home Secretary—nor will he be intimidated—by the sort of ill-advised speech we have just heard. I am surprised that a politician of the experience of the noble Lord should indulge in a speech of that kind. I hope, that some of his supporters will not express similar views tonight. I should have liked to have said much more, but I am confined by the four-minute limit, which I will respect:. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and he ought not to have tabled this Motion.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Thatcher

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lamont has done the House a service by initiating this short debate on a matter of great importance to Britain's reputation, to Chile's stability and to the orderly conduct of international relations. I shall try to deal with each of those matters while seeking to avoid remarks about the case itself.

Britain's reputation should be of vital importance to the government of the day. Our reputation sustains our interests. The Pinochet case has sullied that reputation. Senator Pinochet came here last September as a long-standing friend of Britain. Though I shall not go into the details, I can say that without President Pinochet's considerable practical help in 1982, many more of our servicemen would have lost their lives in the South Atlantic. The country thus owes him a great debt.

After leaving power he was accordingly received here as an honoured guest on a number of occasions. Similarly, on 22nd September last year, when he entered Britain on a diplomatic passport charged with a special mission by the current Chilean President, he was accorded all the privileges of an ambassador, including the protection of the Metropolitan Police Diplomatic Protection Squad.

However, some weeks later the general was arrested in hospital at dead of night, when under heavy sedation following a serious back operation. There is a widespread suspicion that there had been collusion between the British and Spanish authorities prior to the arrest, when the Chileans were not given the warning they might have expected about the imminent risk. That inhumane arrest was in any case made on the basis of an unlawful warrant. Senator Pinochet was then held for six days illegally under that warrant. Those circumstances left Britain's reputation for loyalty and fair dealing in tatters.

Secondly, I want to speak about the situation in Chile—this country's oldest and truest friend in Latin America. The great majority of Chileans, even the political opponents of Senator Pinochet, feel wounded at the way we and the Spanish have treated them. They are right to do so. Until the Senator's arrest last October, Chile had achieved three remarkable successes, all of them in large measure due to former President Pinochet.

First, it had seen the total defeat of communism at a time when that ideology was advancing throughout the hemisphere. As Eduardo Frei, the former Christian Democrat president of Chile put it: "The military saved Chile". Secondly, Chile has seen the establishment of a thriving, free-enterprise economy which has transformed living standards and made Chile into a model for Latin America. Thirdly, Chile is also remarkable because President Pinochet established a constitution for a return to democracy, held a plebiscite to decide whether or not he should remain in power, lost the vote (though gaining 44 per cent support), respected the result and handed over power to a democratically-elected successor.

Chile thus enjoyed prosperity, democracy and reconciliation—until we and the Spanish arrogantly chose to interfere in her affairs. So far, the Chileans have behaved with great restraint. But we should not assume that this will continue, particularly if Senator Pinochet, who is not now in the best of health, were to die in Britain or is taken to Spain. Anything that happens then will be the direct responsibility of this Government and, in particular, of the Home Secretary.

My final point concerns the implications of the Pinochet case for the conduct of international relations, which are essentially based on trust between nation states. This trust has now been shattered by the prospect of the courts in one country seeking the extradition of former heads of government from a second country for offences allegedly committed in a third country.

Senator Pinochet is, of course, being victimised because the organised international Left are bent on revenge. But on his fate depends much else besides. Henceforth, all former heads of government are potentially at risk; those still in government will be inhibited from taking the right action in a crisis, because they may later appear before a foreign court to answer for it—

Lord Carter

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness would be kind enough to give way.

Baroness Thatcher

My Lords, I am nearly at the end of my speech.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I should just like to remind the noble Baroness that this is a timed debate and the limit for each speaker is four minutes. The noble Baroness is now in her seventh minute. I wonder whether she could now bring her remarks to a close.

Baroness Thatcher

My Lords, I am very close to the end and I very rarely take up the time of this House. It will now take me longer because the noble Lord interrupted me in the middle of a sentence.

Henceforth, all former heads of government are potentially at risk; those still in government will be inhibited from taking the right action in a crisis, because they may later appear before a foreign court to answer for it and—this is where I was when I was interrupted—in a final ironic twist, those who do wield absolute power in their countries are highly unlikely now to relinquish it for fear of ending their days in a Spanish prison. This is a Pandora's box which has been opened—and unless Senator Pinochet returns safely to Chile, there will be no hope of closing it.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lamont for giving us this opportunity to discuss the matter and to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for giving me the opportunity of making one point clear. Yes, there are questions of law involved in this case which were considered by this House previously and which will be considered by the magistrates' court in due course. There are also questions of policy and discretion, which are solely for consideration by the Home Secretary. Everything that my noble friend said is entirely relevant to that process.

The most important feature about the case was stated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, when he said that it was of considerable general importance as this is "the first time" ever in the world, as far as one can see, that a national court, has refused immunity to a former head of state on the grounds … that [there can be] no immunity against prosecution for certain international crimes". It is the "first time" because international law is changing very rapidly. But the fact that it is the first time for this kind of question to arise underlines the huge importance of the Home Secretary applying himself to his questions with far more responsibility and objectivity that he has done. He has already considered the matter once when allowing the case to go ahead to the magistrates' court, and he will have another opportunity of doing so when the latter has reached its decision. All these factors are still relevant.

I recollect that I had the privilege of going to Chile in March 1990 as the representative of Her Majesty's Government, to attend and welcome the inauguration of the democratically-elected President Aylwin in place of President Pinochet. It was a profoundly moving experience; indeed, a profoundly democratic experience. The people were rejoicing at the restoration of democracy. By chance, I had the opportunity to be in Chile last March on the very day when General Pinochet became Senator Pinochet—the next stage in the transition process of peace and reconciliation.

Of course, one has to recognise the legitimacy of extending international law, but, against that, one has to set the hazards and dangers of trying to intervene in the process of reconciliation in a country as finely balanced as Chile has been. It is that which the Home Secretary has failed to do and it is something that he needs to do properly. There is an additional reason for him to do it properly; namely, the observations of the Law Lords in this House about the huge transformation of the case since it first appeared before the Home Secretary for his consideration.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, said that there had been a, substantial reduction in the number of extraditable charges"— specifically, from 30 to three. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff, said that the "great mass" had been excluded and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said that there had been a, profound change in the scope of the case". Finally, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Millett, said that the decision now transformed the case which the Secretary of State had to consider.

It is my argument, and the argument of all of us who have intervened from this side of the House so far, that the Home Secretary has failed to take proper account of those matters and that he should now find an opportunity of doing so. If he fails to do that, this country will be putting at risk the progress already made in Chile.

The last of these alleged offences took place more than 10 years ago. The warrants under the Extradition Act were first issued on 16th October of last year. The Divisional Court heard the habeas corpus application 10 days later and, within six weeks, the House of Lords had also heard the case. So the case was proceeding with the expedition that was appropriate. Since then, because of the judicial hazards, months have passed and the case, having been last heard by the House of Lords on 24th March, still has months to go before it reaches the magistrates' court at the end of September. All that time it casts a shadow over relations between three friendly countries which are struggling to maintain good relationships.

More important still, as my noble friend Lady Thatcher pointed out, an 83 year-old former head of state, whose health cannot be getting any better, is entering the ninth month of house arrest in this country. One cannot fail to contemplate the parallel with the case of Rudolf Hess. I hesitate to contemplate the consequences. If the senator should die in our custody, someone whom others seek to present as a monster will become a martyr. So why is the delay taking place? Who is responsible? What are Her Majesty's Government doing? Even if they are not themselves in control—I understand that—what are they doing to persuade others who do have an even closer interest in a speedy outcome? I have in mind the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of the Spanish Government, the lawyers representing Senator Pinochet himself and the Government of Chile. Decisions will have different consequences for all these people but none of them has any interest in delay, least of all this country in any further delay in these proceedings. So, what have Her Majesty's Government done? What are they doing in the context of the other parties to this case to expedite an early resolution of this desperate saga? Prolongation can do nothing but harm to everyone concerned.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, when I put my name down to speak last Thursday, I could not have imagined that I would find myself in such distinguished company. I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. I should like to commend him on the assiduous way in which he has been pursuing the matter these past months by means of a stream of questions for written answer.

Although I have some first-hand knowledge of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, I have never visited South America proper, and am as far from being an expert on that particular continent as can be imagined. I intervene only because, as an Englishman, I have been ashamed at this country's treatment of someone who, whatever may have happened elsewhere in years gone by, was a much-needed friend and ally of ours in 1982, and someone who had on numerous previous occasions been welcomed in this country, not only by the previous administration but also by the present administration. Not even the moss ruthless Bedouin chieftain would invite an honoured guest into his tent and then seize and shackle him.

In contrast, the French refused the general a visa, as any self-governing country is perfectly entitled to do for any reason that they choose. Although this refusal by the French demonstrated a degree of double standards in that France has often tolerated and even welcomed heads of state, or former heads of state, who make General Pinochet look like a boy scout, at least the French position is vastly more honourable than the current British one. All the more so in the light of the massive covert help given by General Pinochet to Britain during the fight to liberate the Falkland Islands, without which there could have been hundreds more British casualties, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, has just pointed out. Indeed, much of the task force might have been sent to the bottom of the South Atlantic, the islanders might still be enslaved, and General Galtieri might still be reigning in Buenos Aires.

The Government are claiming, in justification of their refusal to send General Pinochet back to Chile, that the executive cannot and must not interfere with the judicial process. Why in that case are the British Government, in conjunction with EU governments, urging the Turkish Government to overrule the Turkish judiciary in the matter of Mr Öcalan?

Finally, the Question asks about the effect of this policy on Anglo-Chilean relations. We know that relations are already damaged, not least because of the unhappy cancellation of the vital air link between Chile and the Falklands—and the damage is likely to get worse. This is not primarily because of General Pinochet himself, towards whom public attitudes in Chile vary enormously, but because it appears to the Chileans that Britain is siding with the former colonial power in what seems like that power's attempt to reimpose a degree of colonial control over Chile.

8.1 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I think that it has become clear during the course of this debate so far that the Government stand accused of lack of wisdom, inconsistency and perhaps above all the desire to make obeisance to the political gods which they worshipped at university in the 1960s.

We have seen great changes in many countries in the past decade or so, as my noble friend Lord Lamont has pointed out: in South Africa, in the former countries of the Soviet empire, and indeed in Chile. We ourselves of course are trying to bring conflict to an end in the Province of Northern Ireland.

Perhaps a feature of the more successful of those transitions—particularly in South Africa and in Chile, and, indeed, we hope in Northern Ireland—has been the effort to reconcile two previously warring sides: white and black in South Africa; Nationalist and Unionist in Northern Ireland; and the forces of liberal democracy and former Communists in Chile.

In order to build a new future, the countries concerned have suggested that it is better to look for reconciliation rather than revenge. That has been their choice. When they have occasionally looked for revenge, that has been their choice too. As a number of my noble friends have pointed out this evening, Chile is now a successful example of the wisdom of attempts at reconciliation rather than revenge. It is a judgment that a sovereign state has made for itself.

I have to ask, along with my noble friends, therefore: by what right do we interfere in that settlement and risk reviving the very divisions which are now being healed in a country learning to build for the future, and to build successfully? Even if we did not owe Chile a debt of gratitude—which indeed we do—even if we did not want to imperil our trade, do we really think it wise in the name of humanity for the Home Secretary to fail to exercise his discretion—because of his former views for which he campaigned so stridently in the 60s—to second-guess Chile's own decision to reconcile and look to the future?

8.4 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I am full of admiration for my noble friend Lord Lamont in his persistence in inquiring into this deplorable affair. I agree with every word he said and every word which my noble friend Lady Thatcher said. I shall try not to repeat what has been said because I had better make up a bit of time. Many obstacles have been put in the path of my noble friend—mostly legal—but he has rightly persevered. After all this time we have a right to know how this matter of the arrest and detention of Senator Pinochet came about. Without a doubt it has been to the detriment of our relations with Chile and also with practically the whole of Latin America.

Perhaps I might be allowed to begin with a quotation from holy scripture, the Gospel of St. Matthew, the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, Judge not that ye be not judged for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again". We should not set ourselves up to judge other nations, especially after we and our allies have recently been responsible for a ferocious bombing campaign in Europe where hospitals, bridges and people have been destroyed, livelihoods wrecked and cluster bombs and depleted uranium bombs and missiles exploded in the heart of Europe. We know that there are given reasons for this and now is not the time to go into them. But what I ask is, how can we judge General Pinochet after what we have done? He had his reasons too. I do not intend to go into them except to say that they are at least as good as the reasons that our Government and media gave for the bombing of Yugoslavia.

One would expect Amnesty International to be in favour of amnesties, yet it is evidently not in this case. It is the guardian angel growing horns and devil's hooves. In this country we have given amnesty to a large number of IRA murderers and yet we appear to deny the right of the elected government of Chile to grant an amnesty to an ailing 84 year-old ex-president. While I am on this subject, why is it that the criminal executioners and torturers of the IRA are not indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal? We are searching Yugoslavia and indeed the whole world for war criminals and yet we need look no further than in our own country.

I must ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to stand by while this case goes on, like Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Our law really has not improved much since Dickens' day. Do they not foresee what will happen and what may be said if Senator Pincochet, who is an old man, dies in custody in this country? It is a dreadful prospect and I ask them seriously to consider it because unless they do something it is likely to happen. For those of us who love this country and its great traditions the shame of it will be hard to bear.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, a head of state is criminally responsible for acts of torture committed by his subordinates if it is proved that he knowingly presided over a regime of institutionalised torture conducted by them. This long settled rule of international law is incorporated in a number of international conventions and most recently, in 1998, in Article 28 of the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court, to which of course this country was a consenting party.

This is the background to the arrest of General Pinochet. His criminal responsibility, if any, is a matter for a court with the appropriate jurisdiction to determine. Two weeks ago the Chilean College of Medicine reported that at least 200,000 people had been tortured by government forces during the 17-year rule of General Pinochet. But the question is, did General Pinochet have any inkling that this degree of torture was going on under his rule?

Among the 5,000 documents that were released last Thursday, 1st July, by the United States Government, there is the following CIA report 10 days after the coup, on September 21st 1973—the period referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. This is of course 15 years before the matters into which the magistrate is inquiring, and therefore is not sub judice. The report said that at that time—10 days after the coup— The prevailing mood among the Chilean military is to use the current opportunity to stamp out all vestiges of Communism in Chile for good. Severe repression is planned. The military is rounding up large numbers of people, including students and leftists of all descriptions, and interning them. 300 students were killed in the technical university when they refused to surrender in Santiago, the capital. This Government have simply responded to an extradition request from Spain, which is, like Britain, a party to the European Extradition Convention. If proper information is provided under that convention it is the duty of this country in international law either to extradite General Pinochet—or to put the necessary procedures in operation—or to prosecute him.

I have some experience of extradition procedures from a case which lasted some seven years through the English courts before my client was extradited. It so happens that the leaders of General Pinochet's legal team acted for the territory then requesting extradition in that case. There is nothing they will not have learned about the tenacious use of extradition procedures which will certainly ensure that General Pinochet remains comfortably in his Wentworth home this time next year and beyond.

But what about prosecution? If the proper machinery is put in motion in this country, there is no bar whatever to General Pinochet being prosecuted at the Old Bailey or anywhere else for conspiracy to torture under Section 134(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 for offences committed after 29th September of that year. Whether General Pinochet be guilty or innocent, justice would be immensely swifter, as many noble Lords have asked, and certainly less expensive. The same witnesses who will now occupy months before the extraditing magistrate would give exactly the same evidence in the same period of time but before a British jury. Extradition requests have been received from not only Spain but France, Switzerland and Belgium. The English courts have the same jurisdiction as any of those countries.

There is much to be said for removing the fate of General Pinochet from the delays of extradition hearings, with the inevitable procedural appeals, from the unfettered and sole discretion of the Home Secretary, which has been so much criticised, and ultimately from the Spanish judge or judges who may, in some far off time, get round to trying him. His supporters in this country should welcome putting the question of his guilt or innocence into the hands of the ordinary citizens of this country within a reasonable framework of time. The fairness of a British jury and its complete independence of political motivation, particularly where no British citizen is involved, as here, is surely a matter that is not in question. This is a job for the Crown Prosecution Service and not for Mr Straw.

As for Anglo-Chilean relations, do the people of Chile really want him back? It is my belief that the return of the General will exacerbate the domestic problems of Chile. Noble Lords will recall how the present Commander-in-Chief, General Ricardo Izurieta, travelled to London without informing the democratically elected President, Eduardo Frei, to affirm to anyone who would listen that General Pinochet is not guilty of any charges of torture or other crimes against humanity, a position which was contrary to the civilian government. They were arguing that no trial should take place in Chile. I believe that the courts of democratic and free countries should decide the General's fate.

8.12 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we believe that if there is a case to answer, it should be answered in Chile. General Pinochet has always been the bogey man of the British Left since the early 1970s. The Left has always seen Allende as a socialist hero and has never forgiven the man who toppled him. It chooses to forget that at that time Chile was in chaos and facing social and economic collapse—anarchy. It was against that background that General Pinochet came to power and, in effect, a civil war ensued. I do not intend to say any more about those years, except to say that, as we have seen recently, civil wars are nasty, brutal affairs where innocent civilians are caught in the middle.

General Pinochet returned the country to multi-party democracy in 1988; a stronger country, where the rule of law prevails and economic prosperity flourishes. Democracy can be a fragile institution. Many countries in South America do not have democratic government. Argentina now has democracy because the generals fell; and the reason the generals fell was because my noble friend Lady Thatcher stood up to them when they invaded the Falkland Islands. My noble friend's prompt action defeated the junta; and then its own countrymen threw it out. That influenced regimes all over that continent; the democratic process was restarted and snowballed faster than ever before.

What are the views of the Chilean people and what messages are the Government by their action sending to that continent? I say the wrong ones. The Chilean Government, the political parties, the armed forces, even the trade unions are united in agreement that if there is a case to be answered, it should be answered in Chile. They regard the arrest and the treatment of this case by the Government as an attack against Chilean sovereignty, an attack on Chilean law and an attack on the Chilean democratic government. The Chilean Government, among whom are those who were part of the Allende regime, have taken the stance that they request the return of General Pinochet to Chile. In his address to the Chilean Congress on 21st May, President Frei said that this was the objective not only of his government but of the nation. Only the Marxist Party disagreed.

When General Pinochet arrived in this country, he was treated as a welcome guest. When he leaves these shores, it should be to go home. What signals are the Government sending if they do otherwise? The signals are that any politician—or perhaps a member of an armed force—visiting these shores can be subjected to politically motivated proceedings instigated from a third country. What ruler in any of our former colonies will have the incentive to return his country to democracy?

If we were examining this issue with regard to extradition to the international criminal court, it would be a different matter; but we are not. If we were considering this issue for extradition back to the home country, it would be a different matter; but we are not. I repeat, if there is a case to answer, it should be answered in Chile. The Home Secretary will have discretion at various stages during this case. I hope that he will not be trapped by the mantra of old Labour.

8.16 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the Unstarred Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, asks what were the circumstances and background of the arrest; what was the role of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, Ministers and the Diplomatic Service; and what has been the effect on Anglo-Chilean relations.

Many of the assertions that have been made—I regret to say that many of them were unworthy and ignoble—have little relevance that I could detect to the Question tabled by the noble Lord. A very significant number of wrong assertions—I put it neutrally—have been made.

Senator Pinochet was not provided with any protection from the Metropolitan Police until after his arrest. It is asserted that the first warrant was illegal; in fact, the Divisional Court specifically said that the Home Secretary was not wrong in not exercising his discretion to cancel the first warrant; that was the rule of the courts; not the executive. The noble Viscount said that it was for Chile to try Senator Pinochet. As far as I am aware, we have had no extradition request from Chile.

It is asserted without any basis at all—I utterly repudiate it—that the Home Secretary was motivated as a result of an organised international Left conspiracy bent on revenge. That is unworthy; it is wholly untrue. It will be, of course, disagreeable for me to point out that we are bound by international obligations. The extradition request to which we responded was confirmed by the Spanish Government, who, far from being part of the international Left conspiracy, are a centre-right coalition government.

It is said that Pinochet is a political prisoner in this country. That is utterly and completely wrong. It does no one any good to make that sort of assertion which, I am sorry to say, is wholly unrelated to the facts or the legal machinery. It was said—utterly wrongly and again without any basis of evidence—that the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has been motivated "by the political gods of his youth in the 1960s". That is wholly untrue. When I was a student at that time—as were others in the Chamber at the moment—we did have secular gods. Because we were law students, one of them was that the rule of law is important and is not simply, I take the phrase, "dependent simply on time and place". To use another phrase, it is not "something of a conscience to be cut according to this year's fashion".

Senator Pinochet landed at Heathrow on 22nd September for a private visit. He is a Chilean citizen; no visa was required. He was granted leave to enter. He made use with his party on arrival of the VIP suite at Heathrow, which is routinely—I repeat, routinely—made available as a courtesy to former heads of state. On 14th October, the Fifth Central Magistrates' Court in Madrid contacted the Metropolitan Police via Interpol with a request to interview Senator Pinochet. On 15th October, Foreign and Commonwealth officials were informed by the Chilean Embassy that consideration was being given to his leaving on 20th October. On 16th October, the FCO was informed by the Chilean Embassy that a seat on a flight to Santiago had been secured for him. That information was passed to no one outside the United Kingdom Government—I repeat, no one.

When arrested—and I have had this checked and rechecked on a number of occasions in deference to the persistence which the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, has shown in asking his many questions—Senator Pinochet was not arrested by armed officers of the Metropolitan Police. When I receive that information from the Metropolitan Police, I, for one, accept and believe it.

The police telephoned FCO officials for advice as to whether Senator Pinochet enjoyed diplomatic immunity from arrest. They were informed that there were no grounds on the basis of diplomatic immunity for not proceeding with a provisional arrest warrant. It is well known that the possession of a diplomatic passport is not proof in itself of immunity.

I turn now to the legal structures. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, complained quite bitterly about, and criticised, the mechanisms of extradition in this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, criticised what had gone on; so did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. The present basis of extradition in this country is entirely the Extradition Act 1989. That was passed when the noble Baroness was Prime Minister; when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, was Foreign Secretary and then Deputy Prime Minister; and when the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, was Financial Secretary and then Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I make those points not in any partisan or personal way, but simply to demonstrate to the many who will attend to these debates outside this Chamber and across the world that this has nothing to do with legal devices introduced by the present Government. The Home Secretary has behaved properly in a quasi-judicial way, without fear or favour of criticism from Left or Right, without any political contact with his colleagues in government. I know that to be true.

It is therefore important that our friends and colleagues in South America should understand that this legislation was not brought in to be "Senator Pinochet-specific". It was introduced by the former government, of whom the noble Baroness was then the Prime Minister. These are important matters. We do our own country no service at all with extravagant language, misinformation and assertions which are simply not based on any factual evidence.

A comparison of sorts was made between Senator Pinochet's case and the case of Hess, deputy Führer to Hitler, found guilty of playing a significant part in the orchestration of the holocaust. I wonder where proportion is when we discuss these matters.

I am not qualified to observe on the charges against Senator Pinochet. I have not studied the evidence. The charges are serious. They are of torture and conspiracy to torture. I refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pointed out to the House. Some of his remarks were plainly not palatable to many of your Lordships. These are serious charges. Our reputation was described as "shattered". I refute that utterly. What our country's reputation internationally depends upon—and in my opinion is properly founded on; that is, if one's view is based on history rather than the convenience of the moment—is respect and reverence for the rule of law. It has not been possible, despite every effort that has been made by way of legal challenge, inquiry and inquisition, to demonstrate at all that any step has been taken that was not utterly lawful and entirely consistent with our international obligations and the regime set down under the Extradition Act 1989.

A challenge was made to your Lordships' House. The House initially came to the conclusion that many of the offences alleged against Senator Pinochet were extraditable, therefore justiciable, in Spain. Following that—the criticism of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, in the terms in which it was made was entirely inappropriate and unworthy—the House of Lords then ruled again. It is simply not true to say that the House of Lords sitting judicially required Jack Straw to reconsider and that he failed to do so; quite the opposite is the truth. He was invited, not "required", to reconsider, and he spent a certain amount of time reconsidering, as is perfectly well known to the lawyers representing Senator Pinochet.

In my opinion, the police in this country behaved properly. They discharged their duty in the way that they ought. They did not instigate proceedings. They are in fact the proper servants of the public good, which is the true administration of the law without fear or favour according to what the law requires.

The CPS has been criticised, although not this evening; perhaps it has been overlooked. It is, and has to be, agent for the Government of Spain pursuant to Section 3(2)(g) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. That is what the CPS has been doing.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, asked me what was happening and what had been going on between those in Chile and those in this country. On a number of occasions, senators and Ministers from Chile have come to see me. I promised faithfully, and discharged that duty, to transmit whatever they told me to officials. On 28th October last year, Chilean senators from all sides of the political spectrum came to see me. We had a lengthy, courteous and patient discussion. There was no hysteria in any of their representations. I refer to Senators Matthei, Cariola, Cordeio and Morales. On 10th November last year, I saw the Chilean Ambassador and the Deputy Foreign Minister, Mariano Fernandez and Mario Artaza. On 31st March, again at the request of our colleagues in Chile, I saw Chilean Senator Mario Cariola; and I saw again the Deputy Foreign Minister, Mariano Fernandez, with Mario Artaza and Herman Guerrero. They were perfectly content, courteous and patient in listening to what I said, which I believed to be well founded.

The Chileans, for reasons that I recognise and honour, wish their own country to have absolute sovereignty in these matters. That is a view which, I repeat, I respect, as I have always demonstrated to them. There is an alternative claim. It is the claim of obligation under international law, and it is the claim that domestic governments here are subject to the will of Parliament, which was expressed in the 1989 Act as recently as the last but: one government.

There is no conspiracy to hound Senator Pinochet here. What will do lasting, avoidable harm to our relationships with our friends and colleagues in South America is the sort of ill judged, disproportionate, hysterical language that we have heard tonight. President Frei has been quoted on one or two occasions. Perhaps I may offer another recent quotation from him: It is not the responsibility of the executive branch of government to participate in any action that does not respect the courts. That is what we have been saying, as patiently as we can, for the past eight months.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.28 to 8.30 p.m.]