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13. Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): What steps he is taking to assist in the re-establishment of an independent judiciary in Nigeria. [64599]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): We welcome the steps that Nigeria has taken to strengthen an independent judiciary by the installation of a democratically elected Nigerian Government. Through our good governance fund, which is administered by the high commission in Lagos, we have offered support to civil society, including help for the judicial system and for lawyers specialising in human rights work.

Mr. Garnier: That is no doubt a well-intended answer, but it is not a very clear one. Will the Minister clarify precisely what he means by it?

Mr. Lloyd: Of course I will clarify it. For example, the high commissioner in Abuja made it clear to the Nigerian

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Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in September that Her Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance to an independent judiciary. To achieve that, we have taken steps with the chief judge of Lagos state and the Nigerian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies to modify court procedures in order to reduce the number of people on remand.

In the second phase of the court assistance programme, chief justices, attorney-generals, bar associations and other eminent lawyers will work with British colleagues to devise other ways in which to implement a case-flow management system. We are arranging for the chief justice of Lagos state to visit legal institutions in Britain early this year. We have a very good record, which will of course improve with a democratic Government in Lagos. We can begin to reinstitute programme aid, which will allow us directly to assist the federal legal system.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Is my hon. Friend aware of the continued failure of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to communicate or co-operate properly with our high commission in Nigeria on consular cases? I have been trying to pursue a case of a constituent of mine who was murdered in that country. I know that there has been virtually no response from Nigerian authorities. The Nigerian Government give information to oil companies in the country, but those companies do not always--in fact, quite commonly do not--share it with our high commission. Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the Nigerian Government that such a way of operating is unacceptable? Will he tell oil companies that operate in Nigeria that it is unacceptable not to share information on their employees, especially when hostage taking is involved?

Mr. Lloyd: The House will sympathise with my hon. Friend and, indeed, his constituents, who have suffered such a loss. We would all accept that there is a duty not simply on the Foreign Office but on Governments of countries in which British citizens are killed--indeed, murdered--to ensure not only that a full investigation is carried out, but that its results are made available to the families of the victims. If my hon. Friend wants to talk either to me or to my noble Friend Baroness Symons, I am sure that we can find ways in which to pursue the matter for him.


14. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): What measures he has taken to improve the United Kingdom's relations with Chile. [64600]

16. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): What ministerial visits to Chile are scheduled in 1999. [64602]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): In recent weeks I have held meetings with both the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Chile. During the recess I met our ambassador to Santiago, who was at home on annual leave. The Chilean Foreign Minister and I remain in regular contact and we have both

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expressed our determination not to allow the legal process concerning Senator Pinochet to disrupt long-term relations between our countries.

Mr. Wilkinson: What engenders in our natural friends such a profound antipathy towards Her Majesty's Government--an antipathy that is widespread in official circles, but not among the Chilean population? Is it because the Government regard Chile as a country very far away, of which they know extremely little and care even less? Is it because the Government have a predisposition to neo-colonialist interference in other nations' internal affairs? Or is it because the Government have acquired their knowledge of Chile from National Union of Students broadsheets of some 25 years ago?

Mr. Cook: When Mr. Insulza, the Chilean Foreign Minister, left the meeting that he had with me, he said that he fully understood the position taken by the British Government. There was no great antipathy there. As regards the opinion of the people of Chile, last month 44 per cent. said they believed that Senator Pinochet's detention in the United Kingdom was a good thing, and 45 per cent. said that it was bad. There was no massive antipathy there.

Our conduct in the case is governed solely by one consideration, which the hon. Gentleman should share--that we should uphold the rule of law and due legal process. He should be ashamed to plead that we should suspend the rule of law because one of his political friends is in front of it at present.

Mr. Loughton: May I take it from the Foreign Secretary's failure to list any future visits to Chile that he now acknowledges that relations between the United Kingdom and foreign countries are best served and improved when he and his colleagues stay at home, rather than jumping on to Concorde or private jets? Will he acknowledge that, given the Government's admission that British companies are losing business and contracts in Chile, and given the assessment that the trial of General Pinochet could cost the British taxpayer more than £30 million, breaking even the record of the Maxwell brothers, it would have been better to send General Pinochet back home to face due process in his own country, rather than subject the United Kingdom to this expensive and damaging circus?

Mr. Cook: Let us be quite plain about what the hon. Gentleman is asking. He is asking the Government to defy the courts and end due legal process. He is asking us to set aside a legally proper and properly submitted request for extradition from the Spanish authorities. Yes, it may

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well cost us some money to meet that extradition requirement. The standard basis on which the financial cost of extradition proceedings is met is exactly the same as it was under the Conservative Government: we meet the extradition costs for applications to our country, and Spain meets the extradition costs for applications that we make to Spain. If we expect Spain to honour that, we must honour our side of the bargain.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Will the Foreign Secretary take some time to look through the archives in the Foreign Office, and reveal all the documentation available to him about the relationship between past Conservative Governments and the fascist organisations in Chile, and in particular any documentation relating to Operation Condor, under which General Pinochet and Argentinian generals hunted down and assassinated Orlando Letelier, General Prats and others, and a British citizen, William Beausire, was hijacked out of Argentina and subsequently died in Chile? Does the Foreign Secretary accept that revealing everything that we know will help the process of restoring human rights and putting on record the truth of what happened in Chile during the terrible years from 1973 to 1990?

Mr. Cook: I cannot enter into discussion of the substance of the matter that is currently before the courts. In response to my hon. Friend's plea for full disclosure, may I say that we stand ready to assist the courts in any matter in which the courts may seek our assistance.

In view of reports in one of the papers this morning, may I tell the House that at this morning's hearing, Lord Browne-Wilkinson said that he wished to correct the suggestion in the press that the Foreign Office had refused a certificate on grounds of secrecy. He said that that was not correct at all. We will be happy to help the courts in any way that we can.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Does my right hon. Friend remember that the gift of this Parliament to the Chilean Parliament following its first democratic elections after the brutal regime of Pinochet was a copy of the Magna Carta? Is he aware how strongly the people of Chile, particularly those committed to the democratic system, honour the support for human rights that this country has always upheld, and how much we are admired because of our acceptance of an independent legal system that can judge those who condone murder and torture fairly, without political intervention?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes her point perfectly well. The upholding of that independent legal system is central to our democratic constitution, and our respect for it is widely respected throughout Chile.

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Sierra Leone

3.30 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Sierra Leone and Her Majesty's Government's response.

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