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Read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Second Reading deferred till Friday 9 February.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 9 February.
Order for Second Reading read.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading what day? No day named.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 9 February.
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 7th February,
(1) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Newton relating to Social Security (in respect of the Social Security (Contributions) (Re- rating) Order 1990 and the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1990), Terms and Conditionss of Employment and Pensions may be proceeded with until Seven o'clock ; and, if those proceedings have not previously been disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall at that hour put the Question already proposed from the Chair and shall then put forthwith successively the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the remaining Motions ; and
(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Orders Nos. 14 (Exempted business) and 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)), the Motions in the names of Mr. Secretary Newton relating to Social Security (in respect of the Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990 and the Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations 1990) and of Mr. Neil Kinnock relating to Social Security may be proceeded with until ten o'clock ; and, if those proceedings have not previously been disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall at that hour put the Question already proposed from the Chair and shall then put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the remaining Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Newton, and no further such Motion shall then be made.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]
Hon. Members : Object.
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 6th February, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), Mr. Speaker shall not later than Ten
Column 617o'clock put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to Agriculture.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]
Hon. Members : Object.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : In recent months we have seen the remarkable struggles for change against state repression which have taken place in eastern Europe, which all Labour Members enthusiastically welcome. Unfortunately, repression and tyranny continue in other parts of the world, not least in a number of countries in central and Latin America. Today I shall deal with events in El Salvador. I want the Minister to state the Government's position so that we know precisely where they stand on these important issues involving human rights and lack of human rights. Some people may ask, "Why El Salvador, because it is a long way from these shores?" I would not wish to claim otherwise. However, this House has a long and honourable tradition of concerning itself with oppression abroad, not only in parts of Europe. The Opposition approach has been consistent-- we have been against all forms of repressive state rule.
When the Minister replies I should like him to deal with various events that I shall describe in this brief debate. He will hardly be surprised that I start with the brutal murders of six Jesuit priests, their cook and her young daughter on 16 November last year. I hope that I have the Minister's attention because he will know that the killings of these people horrified public opinion, not least in this country.
The week before the murders took place, the state radio in El Salvador broadcast messages calling for revenge against the Jesuits, who were denounced as Communists. Their killing was not the first among priests who have died in recent years as a result of death squad assassinations. The six priests who were killed had been accused of spreading anti-Government propaganda and of criticising the Government for their poor human rights record. To that latter charge, had they been allowed to live, the six priests would no doubt have readily admitted.
The death squads of the ultra Right have been operating in El Salvador for some years. They have been associated with the ARENA party and its notorious founder D'Aubuisson. The president of El Salvador has been a candidate of that party.
Like all who take a close interest in these events I am aware that one colonel, two lieutenants, a sub-lieutenant and five other members of the armed forces have been detained in connection with the murder of the six priests, their cook and her young daughter.
Immense pressure has been brought to bear on the authorities in El Salvador to show that the murderers were being brought to justice. There was a possibility that the United States Congress might decide to cut off aid to the authorities if no action was taken. But who ordered the killings? Can we really believe that those who have been charged decided on the spur of the moment that the six priests should be put to death? The killings were clearly organised and authorised by far more senior figures, probably high up in the armed forces. It should not be forgotten--no doubt the Minister will reiterate that some people have been arrested for the murders--that in March 1980, nearly 10 years ago, the Catholic archbishop of El Salvador was shot dead while taking mass. No one has been arrested or charged for that
Column 619crime. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the ghastly murder of the archbishop was carried out by death squads associated with the ultra Right. Like the six priests before him, before he was murdered the archbishop was denounced in the usual terms as a subversive who was friendly to Communism.
The death squads have committed countless murders. In the main their victims have not been prominent people ; they have been ordinary people who have been tortured, mutilated and put to death, and they have included men, women and some children.
Despite the feeling of revulsion in so many countries at the murders of the six priests, in November there was another killing of a prominent person-- Hector Oqueli. He was kidnapped on his way to Guatemala City and shot through the eyes. He was murdered in such a way that it was impossible to identify him from his face, or from what was left of it.
Hector Oqueli was the deputy leader of the MRM party, a social democratic organisation in the European sense. It is affiliated to the Socialist International. For some time before he had been working in London at the head office of the Socialist International. Oqueli, who met my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, was committed to a negotiated solution of the civil war in El Salvador. In 1979 he was briefly a deputy Foreign Minister.
Oqueli was a man of great courage who had often been threatened by the forces of the ultra Right. After the murder of the six priests he knew even more surely that it was likely that he would not live much longer. But he carried on his work of exposing all that needed to be exposed in El Salvador. He always argued that the civil war should end and that there should be a negotiated peace. Despite all threats against Mr. Oqueli he refused to give up.
It is easy in a democratic country such as ours to speak out against the Government of the day, but it takes great courage to do that in countries where there is a lack of the rule of law to such an extent as in El Salvador. We pay our respects to the memory of Mr. Oqueli. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who will make a brief speech if there is time, that there is to be a memorial meeting for Hector Oqueli in London next week.
El Salvador suffers from immense poverty and deprivation. Against that background, as in so many countries in Latin and central America where a small number of families have tremendous private wealth and privileges, and because of the lack of democratic opportunities, the repression, the death squads, mass poverty and illiteracy, it is not surprising that such a civil war came about.
It is not just a question of two sides in El Salvador, and in that context I should like to ask the Minister about the Government's attitude to the role of the United States. It has been and remains deeply involved in economic assistance to the regime and also provides all kinds of military and security advisers. I understand that the level of assistance from the United States to the authorities in El Salvador is about $1 million a day. That is quite apart from the security and military advisers who are operating in that country.
As I have said, Hector Oqueli was committed to a negotiated settlement but the ultra Right, the senior army figures and certainly the death squads are determined to
Column 620ensure that there is no such settlement and that there are no substantial changes in the economic set-up in El Salvador. I hope that the Government will urge the United States seriously to reconsider its policy on El Salvador, the amount of assistance that it gives, and the role of the security and military advisers. I do not have much expectation that the Government will do that. I know that the United States is sensitive to any comparison between what it is doing in El Salvador and what it did in the early stages--I emphasise the early stages- -of the Vietnam conflict when it was more a question of the United States military advisers and security people operating before troops went in. Given the abysmal human rights record in El Salvador, the economic situation and the killings, it is understandable that there is much criticism of the role of the United States in El Salvador.
The British parliamentary human rights group recently went to El Salvador. Among its members were my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who is a former
Solicitor-General, and the Conservative Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson). The group formed the impression that the human rights situation was poor. In its report it refers to raids on community and popular organisations by the security forces, the threats and beatings which occurred and the fact that, as I have emphasised, there is no tradition of democratic government. The report also refers to the extremes of wealth and poverty and the lack of adequate health care.
The group took the view that President Bush's priority for human rights was being severely discredited. The report says that the United States'
"military programme must begin to link support much more directly with the observance of human rights than has been the case so far,". As one would expect, the group wants to see the creation of a climate for a negotiated settlement.
Sometimes the Minister and some of his colleagues in the Foreign Office tell us about the delights of capitalism all over the world and compare them with what used to happen in eastern Europe. In so far as El Salvador can be described as a capitalist country--and no one could describe it as a Socialist one--the rule of law is totally absent and there are no delights such as the ones that the Minister told us about earlier in the week in a foreign affairs debate. We must do all that we can. I urge the Minister to enjoin the authorities in El Salvador, and certainly the United States, to take a very different attitude to the whole question of human rights, and to all the terrible things that have undoubtedly happened in the past few years.
It has been my good fortune to visit El Salvador three times. I have seen at first hand the effects of the earthquake, the poverty in San Salvador and the horror and misery in the internal refugee camps--and, indeed, in the external refugee camps in Honduras. In a small country the size of Wales, one in five of the population is
Column 621a refugee of one kind or another. It is a land of terrible contrasts, with the most awful poverty and the most appalling sadness.
I knew Hector Oqueli : I spoke at meetings with him and met him a number of times, and I was devastated when I heard of his assassination. I also met some of the Jesuit priests who were murdered last year, and knew very well the leaders of Fenastros, whose headquarters were firebombed last year--a building that I had visited many times. That is the horror of life in El Salvador, where the death squads roam the streets and anyone who stands up for social justice, trade unions or human rights risks death.
I met trade unionists whose predecessors as branch secretary, shop steward or national president had been murdered. I met people who had lost their children through the activities of the death squads, who arrive at night, murder people in cold blood and drive off. There is no question in my mind about the link between the death squads and the ARENA party. There is no doubt that the death squads secured the assassination of Archbishop Romero, whose tomb is a shrine to all who believe in peace and liberty in El Salvador.
Remembering the dead and regretting their passing--as we obviously do--will not bring peace to El Salvador. I believe that peace can be achieved through the withdrawal of American military aid, a ceasefire and negotiation ; all those things are possible and have been offered. A final peace, however, will come only when social justice is possible. There must be land distribution, decent housing, proper health provision, reasonable living conditions and good prospects for ordinary people.
The United States has a role to play, not only in withdrawing military aid but in recognising and supporting the Bill now before Congress : that will be a step in the right direction. The British Government also have a role to play, in supporting those who want peace and social justice in El Salvador and ceasing to associate themselves so closely with American policy in that sad and tragic country.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Francis Maude) : I am grateful for the opportunity that the debate has giventhe House to register its concern about what has amounted virtually to civil war--as hon. Members have said--costing some 60,000 lives in 10 years. The conflict raises fundamental issues of democracy, human rights and freedom.
For all the emotional charge that such issues inevitably contain--perhaps all the more for that--it is necessary to examine the facts coolly and calmly. Credit should be given for the changes that have occured in El Salvador since the early 1980s, when the death squads indeed operated with complete impunity. It is worth looking first at the democratic process. The question that must be answered is this : do the people of El Salvador have an opportunity to choose the Government that they want by peaceful means?
Clearly a guerrilla campaign does not provide the ideal conditions in which to hold elections, and no one would suggest that it does. Nevertheless, our official observer, Dr. David Browning--whose integrity has never been
Column 622questioned--concluded that there was adequate preparation for the March 1989 election, that the conduct of the poll was satisfactory and that voters had a real choice. The administration and conduct of the election was, in his view, the best of any of the six elections since 1982, despite determined efforts by the FMLN to disrupt both the campaigns and the polling by
"major and indefensible intimidation of election officials and of voters through deliberate terror tactics".
Dr. Browning's view was that the relatively low voter turn-out was the direct result of those actions. He noted especially that the democratic Left, having formed an electoral alliance, participated fully in the 1989 election, and that in spite of organisational difficulties it was able to do so openly and freely. If its vote was small, that may in part reflect sabotage by its allies in the FMLN who called on voters to spoil their ballot papers, and who did everthing in their power to disrupt transport on election day. I do not accept the view of those who say that, in consequence, the election was invalid.
The fact that the governing Christian Democrats lost the election rebuts those who argue that the Government manipulated the election. We would do well to look at the declaration of San Isidro signed by the five central American presidents following their summit on 12 December, in which the following words appeared :
"The Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran and Nicaraguan Presidents expressed their solid support for Salvadorean President Aldredo Cristiani and for his Government as a faithful proof of their invariable policy of support for governments resulting from democratic, pluralist and participative processes."
We agree with those conclusions.
The suggestion that we should be "even-handed" between a democratically elected Government and an armed guerrilla force seeking to overthrow it by violence is absurd. It is like suggesting that we should be impartial between the fireman and the fire. We also agree with the central American presidents that the urgent need now is for the FMLN to desist from its offensive, return to the negotiating table and agree terms for a ceasefire. It must accept the political path, and eschew the use of violence as a means to gain power.
As the House knows, we have made very plain our view of where responsibility for the present situation lies. Some have argued that the FMLN had to launch a military offensive when it did because the Government were not negotiating seriously, or because of the bombing of the Fenastras trade union headquarters to which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred.
Those arguments simply do not hold water. The offensive had been carefully prepared over many months. It was launched in the middle of the negotiating process. Any incident could have been used as a pretext. Of course, the Fenastras bombing was an appalling atrocity, which President Cristiani was the first to denounce. Whoever was responsible, there can be no doubt that the FMLN, by its calculated policy of sabotage and assassination, had done much to raise the temperature, increase polarisation and create an atmosphere which encouraged the men of violence on both sides. Perhaps the guerrillas thought that time was not on their side. Certainly, the international situation had become increasingly unpromising for Marxist- Leninist revolutionary movements.
In any event, one effect of the FMLN's decision to launch an all-out offensive was--perhaps predictably--to
Column 623reinforce those on both sides in El Salvador who had always favoured a military solution. They knew perfectly well that their action would cause the death of many innocent people. Extremists on the Right also took the law into their own hands. There were terrible crimes, the most unspeakable being the murder of the six Jesuit priests. But I believe that the very great effort that President Cristiani has put into the investigation of this crime shows not only that he is determined to ensure that no one is above the law, but that he sees this as a crucial test of his authority.
Hon. Members have mentioned the team of Metropolitan police officers assisting the authorities in El Salvador with the investigation into the killing of the six Jesuits. That team has now returned. The House will understand that I cannot go into details on their findings, but I can say that I believe their contribution was worthwhile.
It was suggested that I refer to the fact that eight men have now been detained. That is the first stage in the Salvadorian judicial procedure. It will be followed by further investigation under the auspices of the trial judge. The Metropolitan police team has been asked to prepare for him a report of its findings and suggestions on further lines of inquiry.
That brings me to the central question of human rights. Of course it is right to be concerned about the incidence of human rights violations in El Salvador. I do not deny that much needs to be done, but it is inaccurate, unjustified, and profoundly unhelpful to attribute every crime to the Government, and to talk as if the Government, the armed forces and the death squads were all one and the same. They are not, which is confirmed in the United Nations special representative's report.
The special representative does not at any point suggest that the Government are implicated in activities of the death squads. By contrast, he notes continuing FMLN involvement in "alarming indiscriminate urban activities", and in "acts of justice" which, he says, are in effect summary executions. In this context, I think it fair to record the special representative's view :
"Respect for human rights and a dialogue for peace are key components of the policy of President Cristiani".
I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed for the safety of aid agencies and workers. I know that many of them feel vulnerable in the wake of the FMLN offensive, and fear reprisals on any who support the poor.
We have repeatedly made clear to the authorities in El Salvador our concern for the safety of those workers. We shall do so again when a high-level delegation visits the United Kingdom later this month.
Column 624We have received the fullest co-operation from the Salvadorean authorities in our efforts to ensure the safety of those for whom we have consular responsibility in the recent fighting.
We frequently hear calls for the United States to end its military aid to El Salvador. That was mentioned by the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Islington, North. It is not for us to defend United States aid policy, but I should like to make three points.
First, those who make such calls would carry more credibility if they also called on Cuba and Nicaragua to end their aid to the FMLN, without which there would be no need for United States military aid to the Government.
Secondly, any Government are surely justified in offering military aid to a democratic ally under attack from undemocratic insurrectionists supported by foreign funding.
Thirdly, we should acknowledge the importance of United States aid as a lever in pressing for improvements in respect of human rights and in supporting democracy in El Salvador.
It would not be right to end this short but worthwhile debate on a negative note, because there are some grounds for hope. First, the recent futile and tragic bloodletting may have shown the men of violence on both sides that they will not achieve their ends by those means. The ordinary people of El Salvador have demonstrated pretty clearly that they want only to be allowed to get on with their lives in peace.
Secondly, the increasing involvement of the United Nations in the wider central American peace process should help to provide a framework for a negotiated end to the fighting.
Thirdly, the President of El Salvador has demonstrated his determination to uphold legality despite the appalling difficulties he faces.
I know that these matters arouse considerable emotions, and no doubt they will continue to prompt debate. It is perfectly proper for the House to express its concern, but prejudices should be put aside. Prejudices against America motivates some Labour Members. They tend to assume that all evil flows from Washington, whereas a cool assessment of the position shows that improvements have been made in El Salvador and that there is room for hope. There are foundations on which further progress can be built. We should try to build on the positive elements and encourage the reasonable men on both sides in El Salvador, who simply want peace and respect for human rights. Question put and agreed to .
Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past Three o'clock .
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