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Latin America And The Caribbean

Volume 622: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2001

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3.7 p.m.

rose to call attention to developments in Latin America and the Caribbean; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Motion before your Lordships today is, I recognise, very widely drawn. In attempting to follow in the tradition established by my noble friend Lord Montgomery, and in my capacity as president of Canning House (the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council), I felt it timely to draw attention to developments in Latin America. However, the Minister then persuaded me to add the Caribbean to the terms of reference. I make no apology for doing so.

The United Kingdom has an ongoing role in the Caribbean, and not only with the six remaining dependent territories in the region. The countries of the Caribbean are largely English speaking, but include Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where, after all, Columbus is said to have first landed after his epic voyage. Although this is an area which may be regarded by some as "America's backyard", I believe, looking to the future, that there is every likelihood that the smaller countries of central America—from Guatemala to Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and even down to and including Panama—and the other countries in the Caribbean will want to get together to form a regional grouping for their mutual benefit and recognition, and to give balance to the large and powerful NAFTA to the north, Mercosur to the far south and the Andean Community to the south-west. Britain could, and should, exercise considerable influence in such a development. In doing so, it is possible that we might find a solution to the vexed question of bananas.

The main thrust of my intervention today is to focus on British trade and investment with the region. Sadly, this is deteriorating and we must do something about it. I start from the premise that the United Kingdom is a trading nation and that historically and culturally, as well as economically, we have as strong ties and links with Latin America and the Caribbean as with other parts of the world—if not stronger. Indeed, that was the reason for the foundation of Canning House after the last war, when our traditional markets flowing from the period of empire were changing and disappearing. It was recognised at that time that the countries of Latin America were rich in resources and potential. But it was also recognised that it would be necessary to promote and stimulate trade and commercial links. That is the task and challenge that we still carry out at Canning House.

It is only fair to say that this had been envisaged by George Canning as far back as the early 19th century. He famously said,

"I have called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the old".

Canning's foresight led to British forces and finance supporting the liberation movements which swept through the continent with Bolivar and Miranda in the north, and San Martin and O'Higgins in the south, to mention but a few leading names. That in turn led to considerable British involvement and investment in the railways, shipping and other industries, and to the establishment of sizeable British communities which exist to this day in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile in particular. However, sadly, I think that Canning's name is better known in Buenos Aires than in London.

Just as Canning in his day was influenced by war and enmities in Europe, today we still take a European point of view. The situation is now very different. We are united in Europe. When we talk bilaterally about the United Kingdom and the countries of Latin America, it is vital to remember that the UK has a leading role to play as part of the European Union, particularly in relation to the special agreements now being implemented or negotiated between the EU and Mexico, the EU and Mercosur and the EU and Chile.

A recent report by Trade Partners UK—the agency created by the newly-formed British Trade International to promote British trading activities worldwide—gives an interesting picture. To attempt to summarise the report's main conclusions is difficult. It shows that UK exports of goods to Latin America tumbled some 20 per cent in 1999 and for most of 2000; it was beginning to bottom out only by September 2000. Mexico was the bright spot with growth every year since 1995, totalling a rise of 132 per cent. The UK's performance was worse than the percentage fall of total imports to all the major markets of Latin America. The decline during 1999 was across most sectors, with pharmaceuticals an exception. Latin America now enjoys a record trade balance with the UK of £1.2 billion, perhaps the largest ever. UK market share suffered falls in key markets although it held up in Brazil.

There can be some consolation in the fact that trade in services appears to have held up reasonably well and that UK investments continued to grow although the UK's leading position in terms of investment is now being overtaken by Spain, particularly in banking, telecoms and the energy sector. As a final conclusion, the report states that the IMF is cautiously optimistic about growth but the cooling of the United States economy could have implications for the region, particularly Mexico.

What can we do about this sorry picture? I hope that the Minister will be able to come up with some initiatives to encourage us. Since the Link in to Latin America Campaign—initiated, I am proud to say, by the Conservative government in the early 1990s—which led to considerable gains in our trade performance, the past two years have seen, with the exception of Mexico some considerable setbacks for the UK in terms of traded goods.

Many individual organisations, chambers of commerce, trade missions and agencies such as the Latin American Trade Advisory Group and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group have made considerable efforts, as have the commercial department of individual embassies, but there is still a long way to go. There is no doubt that a concerted effort such as the Link into Latin America Campaign can and should have a major impact, particularly if it is led from the highest possible level by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I hope that whoever is in those posts after the next election will make a point of visiting the region as a priority and will, at the very least, prove less difficult as regards arranging time to see and talk with distinguished visitors when they come to this country.

I recognise that some Ministers have made successful visits to the region accompanied by high level groups of industrialists. Apart from the Minister herself, I mention the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to Brazil; the visit by the leader of another place, Margaret Beckett, to Mexico; the visit by the Secretary of State, Clare Short, to Bolivia and other countries in the region; and the most recent visit to Brazil and Chile by Nick Raynsford in connection with the PFI. I hope that appropriate monitoring and follow-through is taking place to build on the links, contacts and good will established by those visits.

Other important and major developments need to be watched carefully. I have already referred to the need for the UK to lead in the EU and its internal debates towards a common position that will enable substantive negotiations on a free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, and other individual countries involved in EU agreements. That is particularly relevant in terms of agricultural policy and modifications to the common agricultural policy.

Another issue relates to "dollarisation". The dollar is already established as the currency of Panama and, most recently, Ecuador. It is a de facto currency in Argentina. There is also the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a United States initiative which in all likelihood will be driven forward and given a push by President Bush.

In calling attention to developments in Latin America and the Caribbean, we must consider not only our trade and commercial links and investment. Other themes will be dealt with in more detail by other speakers. They will include cultural links which imply a recognition of cultural heritage and exchanges of art and artists, and full and frequent discussions on environmental issues.

The important subject of drugs touches us as a consumer country, as it does the producer and transit countries. Since the major drug summit called by Margaret Thatcher in London in 1990—attended by, among other leaders and senior Ministers from Latin America, the then President of Colombia, Vergilio Barco, and leading representatives of the United Nations and the European Union—I am unaware of any recent initiatives by the Government. However, I draw attention to the international drugs conference held in Bolivia at the end of last week at which, I understand, two MPs from the House of Commons were present. I trust that something positive will result.

On the education front., I have referred previously to the enormous increase in GAP exchanges and university exchanges. There is the potential for many young people to have more knowledge of Latin America than my generation had. The British Council plays an important role. It does terrific work. For that reason, I lament the fact that it is closing down its centre in Ecuador. It is the only closure due to take place in South America.

Democracy is important in Latin America. Twenty years ago it hardly existed—certainly not in a pluralistic form. The recent elections in Mexico have produced a change of party in government, with the presidency of Vicente Fox. The democracies of Ecuador and Peru are fragile and struggling, but they are holding out. In that context, the role of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with its regular exchanges of parliamentarians, is very important. We recently received a group from Mexico. I know that several speakers in today's debate were introduced to Latin America as a result of IPU visits. Given the bridges that we must build in Chile, I hope that there will soon be an IPU visit there. The IPU international meeting in Cuba due in April is evidence of the increasing openness and transparency in that country today, which I hope presages a return to full pluralistic democracy there.

It is difficult—indeed, impossible—in the 15 minutes allowed to me as the mover of the Motion to do justice to a vast continent, full of opportunities and closely linked with Europe. It is a continent of diverse peoples, fascinating history and culture, towering mountain peaks, great lakes and forests, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and islands and, at this time of year, the musical rhythms of carnival. It will be equally difficult for the Minister to wind up. I wish her luck. I know that we are assured of her deep personal interest.

I end by pressing the Minister on three points. The first is the need for high-level contact and follow-up in our relations with the region. The second is the need to ensure the continuation of the important work of the Latin American Trade Advisory Group and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group. Thirdly, an initiative is needed to take forward the concept of further and deeper co-operation between the Caribbean and Central American countries. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I commend the work done by Canning House and its staff, so ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and before her by Viscount Montgomery. It is one of the most important links between our nation and Latin America.

As the noble Baroness pointed out, it is 175 years since Canning made his famous speech, thought to be one of the great parliamentary speeches of recent history. It was important because he acknowledged with great foresight that the opening up of the Americas—not just north, but south as well—would mean immense trade benefit for this country and the world. In the last century, although not so much in this, Britain followed the path that Canning had in mind. At the beginning of a new century, it is appropriate that we should adopt his enthusiasm once again.

This country has three qualities that commend themselves to co-operation with Latin America. The first is our open and expansive desire for trade. Secondly, we are determined to protect democratic institutions. Thirdly, we are committed, where appropriate, to giving development help to those countries that desperately need it. Latin America needs our help on each of those points.

As well as defence of the realm, trade is the paramount function of the Government. It is significant—I am a little more optimistic than the noble Baroness—that we are now approaching £600 million of exports to Mexico. That has increased by as much as 8 per cent in the past calendar year. Mexico has a new president, a desire for change and a wish to trade beyond the Americas with the United Kingdom and Europe. We should foster trade relations with it.

The European Union has just agreed a free trade arrangement for services, intellectual property and other modern export items. That is a tremendous change of ethos by the Mexicans and by us, but it needs to be developed, not taken for granted. I commend to the Minister two firm, clear steps that will advance trade in Mexico and Brazil. First, we should encourage the holding of a forum this summer, if feasible, on trade with Mexico. It would be open to the City, all aspects of manufacturing and the world of commerce. Secondly, and very importantly for the developing nations of South America, our Prime Minister should make a visit if possible. Only when you go abroad—as the noble Baroness and I do quite regularly to South America—do you appreciate the standing not just of our country, but of our Prime Minister, not because of his party politics, but because of his ability to evidence the wish for change. A visit by the Prime Minister to South America would be of enormous practical as well as symbolic value.

I chose Mexico as an example of trade development because the number of South American countries is enormous and there are great trading differences between them. For example, in Bolivia, British Gas and British Petroleum have the opportunity to develop what is thought to be the biggest gas field in the Americas, including North America. Let us trade with Latin America with enthusiasm.

My next point is democracy. I am going to put before your Lordships' House some depressing facts, but out of them has arisen a confidence in the people of the Americas to meet disaster with courage. It is amazing that from the Fujimori era in Peru there exist, as far as is known, videos of 211 leaders of the community doing deals with Mr Montecinos. I mean deals for the community. They cover business, the army, politicians, the law and the media. That state of affairs could cause a dramatic loss of confidence in public life in some societies, but that has not happened. The people of Peru have successfully fought that notorious state of affairs, with a transitional government staffed by people of such eminence as Perez de Cuellar as Prime Minister, Diego Sayan as Minister of Justice and Susana Villarim as Minister for Women's Affairs. That is a complete change of attitude. I call on our Government to continue their policy of ensuring that the elections in April in Peru are honestly carried out and thereafter to continue financial and governmental support for the judiciary, the police and the world of politics as we democrats know it so that there is no repetition of what has just happened.

I do not condemn Peru or its history by what I have just said—I commend it. It is a country that is surviving dire trouble. I ask the Government two things: first, that they continue their financial and political support; and, secondly, that they do so because, symbolically, if Peru survives this, other South American countries will take it as a fine example that they themselves can deal with such major events which strike danger into their very society.

I turn to the issue of development. Whatever our tribulations, we are a rich nation. Some countries in South America are desperately poor. Honduras, with little or no strength of economy, suffered the ravages of Hurricane Mitch. It has taken that country perhaps two, three or four years to reach the stage of thinking about recovery, not achieving it.

I call upon the Government to continue that which I know they have done; that is, vigorously to criticise the state of affairs whereby, years on, the European Union has failed to deliver the money which Honduras needed following Hurricane Mitch. A severe administrator would call it a debacle; a humanitarian would call it an outrage. It cannot go on. When countries need help, our example should be the one relied upon by others. With DfID, Sweden and the World Bank, we play a crucial part in the development of such countries as Honduras and Nicaragua which suffer serious economic troubles.

I have mentioned just a few South American countries. I want to close by referring to the Caribbean. The Anglo-Caribbean Jurists Association, financially supported by the Government and professionally supported by the lawyers of this country, is anxious to improve the training and standards of our colleagues in the Caribbean and to maintain law and order at its finest in this English-speaking part of the Americas. Through what I have said, I hope that I have demonstrated what I set out to indicate: we want trade; we protect democracy; and we give development aid where it is needed. In all those regards, Latin America needs us. Let us not fail it.

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on obtaining this debate. As one might expect, in moving the Motion she speaks with great authority and enormous experience. My own contribution will be much more modest. I want to refer to only one country in Latin America—Peru.

My interest in that country was first stimulated not, as noble Lords might expect, because Peru produced, and the Irish ate, so many potatoes, but because of a rather more sombre point of common interest. As noble Lords will know, like my own part of the United Kingdom, for a long time Peru suffered from politically motivated terrorism. I believe that all of us were delighted to see come to power out of apparently free and fair elections a new government who wished to address firmly and properly the question of terrorism. Of course, in many ways that happened under President Fujimori.

I began to take an interest in that country because a number of professional colleagues were interested in understanding not only the origins of conflict there and in my own part of the world and how those might be addressed, but also how one might deal with a post-conflict situation. Sometimes, dealing with the aftereffects of conflict is a much underrated problem.

However, when I went there, I discovered that the situation was not as I had expected. Many people would not speak openly. At that time, many people were talking about the tremendous work done by President Fujimori: he dealt with the terrorist campaign and righted the economy, which had been in a disastrous position. Surely that was a fine recommendation for what he and his government had been doing.

However, I found that people were too frightened to talk. When I had spent a little time there and had begun to encourage them to speak in privacy, it became apparent to me that all was not well: the press appeared to be free but were in no way free to speak about important matters; the security forces were not seen as the protectors but as the oppressors of ordinary people; and human rights abuses were rife and widespread.

I am glad to say that those facts have been recognised by our own Government and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Resources have been made available, for example, for the British Council to work with the press. The BBC was also involved in training and assisting people. Indeed, Dennis Murray, a correspondent from Northern Ireland who had experience of working in a terrorist situation, went out to assist in developing the skills of journalists working in difficult circumstances such as those. Much work was also done with NGOs, particularly in the field of human rights. I believe that we have all begun to discover that free and fair elections are not all that is required in creating a liberal democracy. Peru is perhaps one of the most recently striking and tragic examples of that fact.

The situation began to become more clear, not only to ourselves but to the people of Peru, who, as the noble Lord indicated, began to summon up the courage to change matters and to change them strikingly and dramatically. I was in Lima during the week when the situation changed and when the Speaker of that Parliament subsequently went on to other, more striking things, such as becoming the interim President of the country.

In those circumstances, when the British Council, partly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had played a role—one should not overstate it; nevertheless, it played an important role—in developing human rights and activist skills and in encouraging the press to report on some of the dreadful things that had been and were happening, it seemed to me that a powerful case existed for increasing the resources available. It seemed to me essential to capitalise and to develop those skills at a time when the building of a democracy had become so necessary because political parties had largely disappeared. Certainly, the case for at least maintaining the input of the British Council was unanswerable.

However, it came as something of a shock to discover that at that very moment the British Council was deciding to reduce the resources available in Peru and, indeed, as the noble Baroness said, to close the office in Ecuador. At the very time when we were achieving some success and could capitalise and build upon it and have a real impact, I was particularly struck that in Peru all the resources had been cut back.

I speak as a strong supporter of the British Council. In many ways, I consider it to be one of the great unsung institutions. It is appreciated much more outside the United Kingdom than it is within it. It does tremendous work. This is not the time and the place to speak in glowing terms or, indeed, to study the changes in strategy that have taken place recently.

However, I believe that sometimes mistakes are made in carrying out rationalisation. One reduces the amount of resources available to relatively smaller places and invests them in larger places. Sometimes when resources are lost, it is better to put what money there is into the smaller places where it can have an effect rather than to take it to the larger places where the leverage will be relatively limited. Peru is a large country but, in comparison with some of the other countries in which the British Council is working, it is not so large. Removing resources when we were on the cusp of reaping the rewards for our success seemed to me misguided and a mistake.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give me an indication that she shares that concern by acting in an entirely well disposed and friendly way towards the British Council and by encouraging it with the continued assistance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given to various projects.

Of course, it is not only projects of that kind that are important, and it is not only a matter of resources. Other things can be done. In my own part of the world, changes are taking place with regard to policing. That has freed up people with enormous experience of working in conflict situations and of dealing with relationships between the security forces and the community. Those people with skills and experience could well be of assistance in a situation such as exists in Peru, where the relationship between the security services and the community is very bad, and with very good reason.

There are other ways in which the situation could be improved. The air links between the United Kingdom and Peru have been scaled down during the past few years. Frankfurt international airport is taking over responsibility for Lima airport and seeks to use it as a hub to serve the whole of the South Pacific and the Far East. Others can see what needs to be done in terms of building democracy and improving human rights. That will help with the construction of the new Peru, which needs to benefit from trade links.

When things go well, we tend to pull out. I fear that that is something of a characteristic in our country. In academic life, our research at a basic level often demonstrates an important advance, but we leave it to others to capitalise on commercial and other advantages. I fear that we may have made a similar mistake in respect of Peru. I hope that it will be possible to ensure that we build on the excellent work that has been done there and in other countries.

3.40 p.m.

My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I shall use a wide-angle lens to cover a range of topics without going into too much detail rather than the zoom lens that he used to focus on one topic. That will make the life of my noble friend the Minister more interesting.

Looking through my 28mm lens from high above the Caribbean, I see in the distance the north coasts of Colombia and Venezuela. The Colombian embassy sends me its regular bulletin, Observatorio de los derechos humanos, or the Observatory on Human Rights, for which I am very grateful. Two recent issues concentrated on laws to counteract forced displacement, disappearances, genocide and torture, and the protection of journalists, of whom 157 have been killed since 1985. Those examples are only part of a long drawn-out conflict that is going on in Colombia. President Pastrana, who was elected on a platform to seek peace, was shown on "Channel 4 News" on Sunday visiting the FARC in the rebel-controlled zone. He is a man of courage. However, more conservative opinion in Colombia is impatient and suggests that he is being too soft on the rebels, as do some in the United States, which is now mobilising the military arm of Plan Colombia. The Americans claim that the FARC are behind narco-traffic in cocaine. In the Channel 4 film, President Pastrana seemed uncomfortable at the arrival in increasing numbers of helicopter gunships. The FARC was clearly preparing to defend itself against an assault.

Many feel that the United States' war against drugs, which is now to be directed against peasant growers of cocaine, hides another agenda—that of crushing a left-wing popular uprising that threatens the status quo. That would be in the tradition of the United States' policy in Latin America, which is to destabilise any country that seems too far to the left of centre. It often does that by economic, covert or arm's-length military means. I expect the current government in Washington to tend towards continuing that policy, which would be extremely dangerous. In Colombia, American fingers might well get burnt. I urge the Government—with, of course, the greatest of tact—to use their special relationship to urge great caution in the operation of Plan Colombia.

Next door to Colombia is Venezuela, which now has a president who stands rather to the left of centre. He is carrying out significant policies such as increasing social spending on the strength of high oil prices. Those policies are long overdue but they may make the IMF and its friends in Washington a little nervous. Will my noble friend comment briefly on our relationship with the present government in Venezuela? In many ways, we share a common outlook although I am not sure whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider the economic policies of President Chavez to be sufficiently prudent!

I turn briefly to the Windward Islands, on one of which—Dominica—I enjoyed a wonderful holiday in early January. The first inhabitants of that island, the Caribs, fiercely resisted and repelled many early would-be colonists. Their handsome descendants, some of whom have distinctly oriental features, still live in the north-east part of the island. I am afraid that my noble friend will not be able to give us the good news that the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific producers have won the banana war. At least there is agreement about a transition period. Will that be long enough to allow for the necessary diversification of the islands' economy to develop? What assistance, I ask my noble friend, is the United Kingdom giving to assist that process of diversification? I have to admit that I am puzzled by the detail of the "first come, first served" tariff quota system that has been agreed. However, I am sure that she will be able to describe the current position when she replies.

I turn to Cuba, the largest Caribbean island and, with its 11 million people, a major player in the Caribbean both in terms of trade and culture. That has been achieved despite the United States' embargo, which many felt would lead to the collapse of Fidel Castro's socialist experiment. Instead, it had the opposite effect, because strong leadership is better tolerated by a population when there are external threats. After reaching a very low ebb during the early 1990s, caused by the collapse of Soviet economic support, the economy is now in recovery. That is in large measure due to the successful and rapid state-sponsored growth of tourism. That recovery phase provides a big opportunity for trade, and investment in joint enterprises. British entrepreneurs have been part of that effort, considerably assisted by the Cuba Initiative launched by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the interest of the Department of Trade and Industry, especially that of Brian Wilson, a former Minister at that department.

Other EU countries were off the mark more quickly than we were with regard to Cuba, and they were more flexible in arranging credit facilities. However, a memorandum of understanding with the Export Credits Guarantee Department for limited credit for Cuba was reached in 1999. I gather that the agreement has not yet become operational. Can my noble friend report any progress in that regard and on the rescheduling of the Cuban debt to the Paris Club?

As well as increased trade, there is a welcome increase in cultural exchanges with Cuba, including the opening of a British Council office in Havana. Can my noble friend say whether that has resulted in more scholarships for Cubans to come to study in Britain, and are the figures likely to increase? With regard to the reverse situation, how many British students are going to Cuba to study as undergraduates or postgraduates? Are there any plans for regular exchanges or linkages between academic institutions?

As a doctor, I was very pleased that a seminar for 100 or more British GPs and their Cuban opposite numbers, which met in Havana last year and which was arranged by Professor Patrick Pietroni, went so well. In fact, it is being repeated this year. Although we had things to teach at the seminar, we also had things to learn. The Cuban health service is unique; it has a much lower doctor-patient ratio than anywhere else in the world. Every GP has a strong public health role, and preventive medicine and health promotion have equal priority with curative medicine. A strong primary healthcare system in Cuba is one of the main reasons why it has one of the best health profiles in the western hemisphere, despite economic adversity and sanctions.

Like Scotland, Cuba produces a surplus of doctors and it offers to supply medical personnel to other countries that have suffered disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods, particularly if we—that is, the United Nations or the European Union—can provide the money to get them there. Cuba cannot afford to do so. In fact, Cuban doctors have been working in several other developing countries, especially Africa, for some years. Cuba also has a programme offering medical training to poor students from other Caribbean and Latin American countries—a rather effective way, I suspect, of gaining respect and influence.

Fidel Castro, the longest-surviving head of state in the world, is an incurable optimist. At the millennium summit of the United Nations in September last year, he said at the end of what must have been his shortest ever speech—it lasted around three minutes—
"The dream of having truly fair and sensible rules to guide human destiny seems impossible to many. However, we are convinced that the struggle for the impossible should be the motto of this institution that brings us together today".
I am sure we can all agree with those sentiments, even if we do not agree with his form of government.

3.50 p.m.

My Lords, it always amazes me, when one walks around the Palace of Westminster quietly in the evening, having had a drink or two, and looks around that one finds that history is there—Latin America or wherever it might be; the great men. 'When we wander around Westminster Abbey we feel the same. When we look at our colleagues today we ask, "Are they great men, or will they be great men when they die? Where is the spirit of adventure?"

I wish to begin with the Royal Gallery and the tableau of the Battle of Trafalgar. One reminds oneself that that was a battle fought on the way back from the Caribbean, or on the way to somewhere else. Why was it that people went out to those parts of the world? Why did the French and the British fight in the Mediterranean in the summer, like some of the yacht races today, and fight in the Caribbean in the winter? They got there just as quickly as the two great yachtsmen—the Frenchman and the young English girl who went round the world.

They went there because they needed commodities—agricultural, minerals and a few other things besides. But they also went there—dare I say?—for buckaneering, piracy or exploitation. We remember that the British Fleet would spend some time in Bonifacio; it would then move on to Mahon, then to Gibraltar and then to English Harbour. Then it would seize what it could from Spanish and French ships and return with plunder for Her Majesty the Queen.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, may be mistaken. I believe I am right in saying that the longest-serving head of state is Her Majesty the Queen. I may be wrong, in which case I am sure he will acknowledge my error.

My Lords, I suffer from good advice from people on these Benches who are more important than I am.

There was then a change in that part of the world, and the buckaneers, or those with the letter of marque, suddenly decided to privatise themselves and there was piracy. It may not have been Henry Morgan, but all those historical events have a bearing upon today. I wish, if I may, to take your Lordships through some of the reasons why we went to those places and what happened. I do this because, by accident—your Lordships may have heard me declare this before—I was conceived on the beach in Jamaica, probably the equivalent of last week, in 1937. Therefore I find that I am an honorary Jamaican.

Those unconnected incidents led to a presence in the Caribbean that I could not fully understand. But the most important of all was my directorship of the oldest spa company in the world, Terme Di Poretta, of Poretta between Bologna, Pisa and Firenze. They were the ones who told me of the health-giving qualities of the countries in the Caribbean. They were the ones whose original technical team came to Bath to find Aquae Sulis. Your Lordships will remember that we have always had agricultural problems here, but the pigs that accompanied the Roman Army and which provided the food were self-foraging. They suffered from scabies near Bath and rolled in the mud where the water came out of the ground and were cured. Those were the Bath mineral springs.

Nelson had a connection with Bath. He went off and spent much of his time in what I would regard as the "Queen of the Caribbean", as it was called; the area around Nevis, where we find Pinneys Beach and Nelson Springs, and where, believe it or not, the sailors sat one day under a manganeel tree which dripped sulphur. Their skins were burnt and they rushed into the river. They were cured and that was the Bath River.

But Nelson moved on. In one area in Jamaica a runaway slave was shot and wounded, and he, fleeing through the sugar cane—there was lots of sugar cane in those days—found a river and buried himself in the waters. His wounds were cured and that was called the Bath River.

Those events go back over a long period of time. My first involvement with the Caribbean was through my banking group. We became economic advisers to countries in the Caribbean. The first was St Kitts and Nevis. We had great pleasure in helping them to achieve their independence and then sitting down to negotiate with strange men with Chinese-sounding names who said, "We gave technical assistance to Antigua when it went independent and would like to give technical assistance to you". I happened to ask what sort of technical assistance. The response was, "A certain amount of money would be convenient for major projects, if you could think of some projects". I asked what the terms and conditions would be. "Just a little bit of support in the United Nations"! As noble Lords will know, the British Government have more votes, through the Commonwealth, in the United Nations than anyone else and there are lots of countries of the Commonwealth in the Caribbean which might like to flex their muscles.

I am half-way through my speech and shall now try to be serious. Sadly, today we are no longer a manufacturing nation. We do not possess the equipment to supply to those countries that need it. We are no longer the trading nation that we were because we ourselves have changed beyond belief. Originally we would go to those countries to help them develop their products, which we would then acquire. That is no longer the case. Those areas have minerals, and we know these days that most of the big mineral operations are in the hands of large corporations and a sizeable chunk of the revenue does not go back to those countries for further development.

We then come to agriculture. Obviously there are potatoes; but we can go to a potato market in Latin America and see as many as 100 potato sellers with no customers and poverty of the lowest level. All the great agricultural products have been shifted, somehow, until we come to one specific element. It might be called "ganja" or the coca plant. One of my noble friends advised me only yesterday that the greatest single agricultural crop, in value, purchased in the United States is now ganja, or the "weed of wisdom".

In Peru, we find that most of the major income from agriculture is coca leaf which goes to Colombia for processing. I do not know what we can do about all that, but there is a need for alternative crops. After the Nevis exercise, we ended up as economic advisers to the Government of Jamaica. I went out there full of enthusiasm for the agricultural potential of Jamaica and found that it had to import practically all its food for tourism. There was a simple explanation. If one has a vegetable plot in Jamaica, because the Rastafarians believe that all the food comes from God and they therefore have a right to take it, one needs a guard for the plot. The cost of the guard makes it cheaper to import the vegetables from other parts of the world.

The High Commission in Jamaica always had a problem that when the mango was in fruit on the mango tree in the High Commission, it had to have a guard because the Jamaicans would come and steal the fruit. And they saw nothing wrong in that. But when we go to parts of the area where the ganja is grown, or the "weed of wisdom", and try to think of alternative crops, it becomes extremely difficult. We spent a great deal of time on that with Dutch technology and managed to produce carnations and roses early enough for the market in Colombia. But we found that we could not obtain a satisfactory price for them. Also, it seemed that most of the flowers were acquired by Colombia and each pack of flowers—they were distributed throughout America—would contain other certain noxious substances.

That was very difficult and we now have to deal with the drug problem. I do not know how. But I believe we have more experience than most. Part of that campaign was my simple Question to Her Majesty's Government a few weeks ago to ask whether they planned to legalise marijuana. Thank goodness they said no.

The next area of development has become financial services. But that is now called "money laundering". Again, the opportunities that exist in the Caribbean are considerable for those who wish to preserve their capital legally where all the services are set up, and somehow we must manage to create a division between those that are illegal and those that are genuine. I have been talking with the Swiss authorities about those areas. I believe that we should co-operate and concentrate upon this matter. To condemn it out of hand and remove that source of income is again of concern.

Finally—noble Lords will perhaps think that I am being negative—we come to crime. I have never understood why 100 years ago we had footpads; they then became rollers, then muggers and now they are street robbers and are about to go back to being footpads. Sadly, the biggest single grouping comes from those of Caribbean origin. It was black on white for a while and now it is black on black. At the other end, from Latin America, we have the dippers. In general, the Latin Americans have been pretty good at pickpocketing. If we are not careful, the countries that have natural resources will be condemned because of drugs, crime and money laundering. They are worth more than that. This Government and this country can provide tremendous assistance to restore stability.

4.1 p.m.

My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to speak on the subject of Latin America. I sincerely thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for enabling me to do so. I fear that compared to previous speakers I am a novice on this subject. Indeed, this is the first speech I have made on Latin America for 25 years, since my days as a mature student at Essex University where I studied comparative government, taking as my comparators with the UK Government Latin American countries and in particular Chile, Argentina and Brazil. However, I have developed a great interest in Latin America over the years.

The 1970s were volatile years in Latin America—in Chile when President Allende came to power and the appalling bloody aftermath; in Argentina where, following changes of rulers, two of my lecturers had to remain in the UK because of their political allegiances in their homeland; and in Brazil where the military reigned supreme.

Today I want to concentrate on Brazil. At Essex I was extremely lucky to have an inspired Brazilian lecturer from Sao Paulo. Her love and enthusiasm for her city and her country instilled in me a desire to continue learning all I could about Brazil and to visit it one day.

It is fair to say that often when Brazil is mentioned, thoughts turn to its famous footballers, the role models of so many youngsters throughout the world, its coffee plantations which provide us with our daily satisfying brews, or its wonderful Rio carnival, which is taking place at present. But Brazil is much more than that. Brazilian society evolved from successive waves of migration from Europe, Africa and Asia whose people joined the indigenous Brazilian Indians. As a result, Brazil enjoys a rich, colourful and diverse population. Brazil is the largest of the Latin American countries and the fifth largest in the world. It covers nearly half of the South American continent.

I remember vividly one statistic given to us by our lecturers: Brazil is 27 times as large as France. For Europeans, I think that puts Brazil in perspective. The major difference between the Brazil of the 1970s and the Brazil of today is that in the seventies Brazil was under military rule. Since 1985 it has been a federal republic consisting of 26 states and the Federal District Brasilia. Its president is elected for a four-year term of office, and President Cardoso, the current president, faces the next elections in October 2002.

In comparison with Brazil, our political system is very simple. President Cardoso's party, PSDB, is gaining members fast, but there are 18 political parties represented in Congress. That means that the president has to rely on a coalition of parties which currently represent approximately 60 per cent of the votes in the lower House. President Cardoso is the first Brazilian president to serve a second term of office and is recognised as having raised Brazil's international profile. The role of the armed forces has considerably diminished since 1985, although some high-ranking military personnel retain a measure of influence.

Relationships between the UK and Brazil have developed substantially since 1985. Today, as has been mentioned, there are exchange visits between the two countries at the highest level. President Cardoso has been on four state visits to Britain and in 1997, together with Tony Blair, signed a joint action plan highlighting eight special areas of co-operation between the two countries. In those areas, two areas were regarded by both governments as particularly important. I refer to the international fight against drug trafficking, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and increased co-operation in support of peacekeeping exercises.

Brazil is Britain's most important trading partner in Latin America. Our exports trebled between 1992 and 1997, exceeding £1 billion in that year. A number of British multinationals have subsidiaries in Brazil including HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Rolls Royce, Glaxo-Wellcome and Shell.

I turn to internal issues in Brazil, which are vital to that country. In the most recent years Brazil has experienced economic difficulties with a recession and rising prices in the wake of the devaluation of the real, the Brazilian currency. However, that now appears to be halting. Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in three years, standing at 6.2 per cent in December 2000 and prompting hopes of a rise in consumer confidence. However, dependence on foreign capital means that Brazil remains vulnerable, and with imports outgrowing exports its trade deficit could increase significantly.

In the 1970s there was little if any evidence of public programmes designed to assist the poorer sections of the population. Spending on programmes aimed at the poor hardly amounted to 1 per cent of the GDP even in the better years. Today there is a national policy of social welfare, with planned objectives, funding and administrative personnel. Priority target groups for help are children and adolescents and the poorer Brazilian regions, priority being given by the federal government to local authorities with the highest indexes of local poverty.

However, despite the 1993 social welfare code, the launch in 1996 of the Brazilian National Programme for Human Rights and the establishment in 1997 of the National Department for Human Rights, there remains a high degree of social inequality in Brazil. Some of the more stark aspects of that are reflected in the considerable number of children still living on the streets, the lack of facilities for those with disabilities and the shanty towns made from cardboard, plastic and any other usable material, which remain on the outskirts of Brazil's major cities.

Despite the Brazilian Government recognising the need for legal sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations, frequent and serious violations continue and it is common for those responsible to go unpunished. Extreme violence exists in Brazil's society and there is uncertain access to the institutions of justice. As a result, illegal private security guards are prevalent, especially in the poorer areas of the cities. There are still cases of torture and rape of suspects in police stations and of executions carried out by military police, sometimes with the participation of government officials.

Following years of neglect, especially in basic education, Brazilian education compares unfavourably with other Latin American countries. Illiteracy rates among seven year-olds are estimated at 11.5 per cent in urban areas but reach over 33 per cent in rural areas. Underpaid teachers, high drop-out rates and a lack of technical schools add to the difficulties. That results in a relatively small group of well-educated professionals and trained skilled workers.

The efforts of the Brazilian Government in education since 1994 appear to have had a positive effect, especially their legislation requiring increased spending on education at state and municipal level. Additionally, in 1997 the Government launched an extensive programme to combat adult illiteracy. However, with such an inherited burden from the authoritarian years and the size and geographical differences of the country, the government face an uphill battle.

So too in the field of health. The Brazilian health sector reflects the problems of poverty, poor or non-existent sanitation and little or no health education. Infant and maternal mortality are high. Malaria cases average over half a million per year, and registered cases of AIDS continue to rise.

Public spending on health was low—1.9 per cent of GDP in 1997 compared with 4.3 per cent in Argentina, for example—although it is now increasing. And there is continuing evidence of corruption and fraud in the administration of the health service, despite the government's plans to allay that.

There are many other aspects of this complex country which I could have detailed. However, in a relatively short speech I have been able to refer only briefly to the Brazil of yesteryear and give a flavour of the Brazil of today; a democratic Brazil which is now looking outwards instead of inwards.

I conclude by hoping that the relationships between the UK and Brazil will continue to strengthen. That can only be to the benefit of both countries. I urge the Government to build on these relationships and in doing so to use every way possible, in particular to work with and to assist the Brazilian Government in their mammoth task of developing and expanding social and welfare services.

4.11 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on bringing forward this interesting and important topic for debate. I declare an interest as shareholder and chairman of a bank holding company in the United States which has extensive trading interests in the area.

The area is somewhat of an orphan as regards British trading. It is as though the Monroe doctrine was an economic rather than a political deterrent. I find that strange because Britain had a large part to play in the liberation of Chile, for instance, where the Anglo/Irishman, O'Higgins, was prominent and was much assisted by Admiral Cochrane of the Royal Navy.

In addition, Latin America was never an area in which Britain had large acquisitive interests or interests in territorial expansion. In the early days, we were large investors in Argentina's railways and other large projects, where Harrods is still a name to conjure with.

However, it is sad that we have forgotten the trading opportunities in Latin America. It is sad that all the way down south from Mexico there are franchises for continental motor cars—for instance, Volkswagen—but nothing for the UK industry. During my visits to South and Central America I have been impressed by their capital goods requirements but saddened by the lack of British goods in comparison with those from continental Europe and the USA.

During my travels in Latin America, I have found nothing but good will towards the British but sadness that we appear to have overlooked the market. Of course, the recent withdrawal by the British Council from Equador and possibly from Peru can only exacerbate such feelings among South American friends there.

There were problems some years ago when the payment records of some of those countries were less than encouraging. However, one should not forget that at that time nearly all Latin American countries were governed by the military and that in recent years the tendency has been for those countries to have proper elections in which proper democratic governments have taken over.

The relatively recent success of democracy in the region is clear in the memories of most of us. However, when I first visited the area a little over 20 years ago Brazil was run by the military. I remember that the general whose turn it was to be president proudly told me that the country had recently reduced inflation to almost 50 per cent. He thought that that was a good record. Inflation, although rampant in those days, has been successfully tackled in most of the larger economies.

Argentina was ruled by a consortium of senior officers from its army, navy and air force. Not only did the Falkland Islanders suffer as a result of that; the Argentine people suffered from frightful and frightening terror within the country. Even Chile, which is one of our oldest allies and was a great help to us during the Falklands War, had a history of human rights abuses which are still being sorted out. In Paraguay, General Stroesser led a police state—and a rotten and corrupt state it was, too.

One could mention nearly every Latin American country, even the smaller ones of Central America such as Nicaragua where a family ruled as a dynasty for many years. Panama was likewise ruled—or misruled—by corrupt overlords. No wonder they were all regarded in derogatory terms as "banana republics".

It would be unfair to describe them as such today because many of the goods they produce are of a high quality. I am sure that like me your Lordships are not unfamiliar with the wines of Argentina and Chile. Indeed, France and Italy have fruitfully invested in the vineyards of those countries and have traded where they have seen an opportunity to do so. We have failed to do that. While UK importers have no problems, our exporters are only slowly understanding the opportunities open to them and the financial assistance available to them from the ECGD.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, I am unclear as to why the Caribbean has been linked to Latin America in the debate. Apart from a geographical affinity, there is nothing much in common between the two areas. Most of the Caribbean islands have small populations and therefore trading opportunities are limited.

There is also a great deal of Hispanic influence in Central America. However, Cuba is an anomaly because the USA Government, despite an enormous base on the island, seem to treat Castro and Cuba in almost the same way as they treat Saddam Hussein and Iraq. That sentiment provides Canadian and European countries with great opportunities for trading and we should follow those up. However, one should remember that Florida is almost a second Cuba for the people who live there. As we saw during the recent election, they have strong voting preferences and are important in that regard.

Part of the Caribbean which is a fierce fiefdom of the UK is Haiti, where politics and corruption are to be found hand in hand. Haiti's next-door neighbour, the Dominican Republic, has managed to throw off the corruption and tyranny of General Trujillo and the heritage he left. The Caribbean is a charming and enchanting area for tourists and lovers of cricket—and again I declare an interest—and a holiday there is always worth while. There are many flights to the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are delightful places to visit where good hotels, good food and good wine abound. I commend those as places to visit and enjoy, but, perhaps more importantly, as areas in which to carry on trade. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the Government are aware of the importance of Latin America and will give some encouragement not only to Members of this House but also to exporters to push British goods, which they are not doing at the moment.

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on introducing this very timely debate and on her outstanding expertise and ongoing work as president of Canning House which, with its invaluable cultural and educational role, links Britain and Latin America. I echo all the main points that the noble Baroness made.

Latin America is a microcosm of the world's problems and opportunities. With its variation of GDP per head, climate and people, it is in many respects more a cross-section of the world than any other area. When we look at Latin America we can tell ourselves to stop generalising about the world and simply apply our theories to this bit of it. For the whole of our lifetime the story of Latin America, and our relations with it, has been one of potential, but all too often it has been one of limited progress side by side with poverty, inequality and much injustice.

The first issue is how far any of us can see that changing, and how far we can help it to change. Some may say that it is not for outsiders, whether it be the United States, the EU, or even Che Guevara, to try to parachute in their own views, and there is some truth in that. To echo my noble friend Lord Brennan, it is clear that our role is very welcome and encouraged. I have paid three visits to Latin America. My first visit was to Mexico 20 years ago in connection with the United Nations Commission on Transnational Corporations. I was pleased to be involved in the inward IPU mission from Mexico two weeks ago. In 19921 was a member of the UK delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio. My most recent visit was as part of the IPU delegation to Bolivia last September. I was the only Member of this House on that delegation. I should like to place on record our appreciation to everyone involved in that exercise, including our ambassador in La Paz, Graham Minter, and the Bolivian ambassador in London, Sr Quiroga Matos, who is in the House this afternoon.

Bolivia is now on the right track. To make a sweeping over-simplification, it recognises the immense challenge of reconciling market forces, notably in the burgeoning economy of Santa Cruz for example, with the fortunes of the indigenous people concentrated in the Andes, the campesinos and greater La Paz. One issue that Bolivia has addressed directly is cocaine. As to that, there is some disquiet in Bolivia that its Herculean efforts to eradicate the trade—its plan for national dignity—has cost its balance of payments some 500 million dollars and only some 50 million to 100 million dollars has come back from America and Europe in the form of support. At the same time, Bolivia has witnessed Plan Colombia which is largely a military-based American programme of some 3 billion dollars that runs the risk of escalating problems. I hope that I am wrong about that.

The people of Bolivia themselves pose the not totally rhetorical question: does failure to solve the problem earn more financial support than solving it'? Now is the time to respond to Bolivia's needs as much as we can. We commend the efforts of the UK in terms of DfID's agricultural and forestry projects in particular, and training, the work of the British Council, the pivotal role of the CDC in Santa Cruz, which serves as a hub for South America, and the investments in mining, not to mention the huge BP and other gas investments on the Argentine-Paraguay border, which we visited. The new pipeline will provide up to three-quarters of the growth of Brazilian electricity generation in the next 20 years.

In the context of oil and gas, perhaps I may say a word about the environment and sustainable development. I remember that in Rio in 1992 someone calculated that if every citizen of the world was given the same ration card for carbon, in broad terms the north would owe the south about 500 billion dollars. Even the Americans do not have that kind of money. Progress on Kyoto is slow but is taking place; it is part of a vast agenda of sustainable development. I say to environmentalists that, with difficulty, we have all signed up to a common hymn sheet in Rio, Agenda 21. Let us go forward together in implementing it. That is one area where the European Union has the lead role.

Other lead roles are emerging strongly in Latin America. The American time zone relationship is highlighted by efforts to assemble the free trade area of the Americas. It is reported that the US is wooing Argentina to try to overcome the reluctance of Brazil which has invested a good deal in the development of Mercosur. One is also aware of the tensions between multilateral, regional and bilateral approaches. Both the US and EU adopt bilateral approaches with Chile which include, incidentally, labour and environmental dimensions.

Latin America is now the largest per capita recipient of EU aid in the world. Moreover, in Mercosur the EU has become a more important trading partner than the US. The role of the EU in Latin America is an evolving one. For example, when Pascal Lamy, the EU trade commissioner, appears in Buenos Aires to talk about WTO matters, that visit is as significant as that of any member state, and probably much more so. As to bananas and sugar, like my noble friend Lord Rea, I ask the Minister how the Caribbean is assessing the latest arrangements.

The EU umbrella is also ideal for certain contacts in the social field. I am very pleased that, following the summit last year, this summer my former colleague Emilio Gabaglio, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, will be conducting a mission to Mercosur and Bolivia, which is an associate member.

In the cultural field, there are sensitivities with regard to the respective roles of Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Holland and the UK as former colonial powers. But the converse is that there is a rich European cultural heritage and an equally rich possibility of a European market for cultural tourism and the display of Latin American artefacts in the great European museums. A group which includes the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, the chairman of the all-party Latin American group, Mr Tam Dalyell, and the Bolivian ambassador, is to meet the director of the British Museum tomorrow morning to discuss these issues. I hope that we can have contact with the EU cultural relations commissioner among others. There could be a lead EU role for the British Museum in one area and, likewise, for Madrid, Rome, Paris and so on in another. The British Museum is already contemplating a gallery of Andean civilisation following the model of the highly commended gallery of Mexican civilisation which opened recently. Two-way traffic in cultural contacts region to region is now an idea whose time has come.

Finally, I refer to the representation of EU countries in Latin American capitals. If my arithmetic is correct, assuming that 19 EU countries send missions to each of the 19 Latin American countries, that means 361 missions overall. In some fields all try to do more or less the same thing. The Americans have just 19.

No European country, including Britain, can provide wall-to-wall service on every topic in every country. It seems to me that there is now the opportunity for a medium-term plan for EU external relations which can strengthen our expertise in many smaller countries. I do not mean a merger, but some contact through lead roles in certain fields. That is an area within the scope of Sub-Committee A of the European Union Committee. I hope that we can consider the matter in the near future.

4.30 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this debate to the House today. I also thank her for the great encouragement she has given me on the occasions when I have considered going to South America.

I believe that my first visit was when I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil to consider re-writing the Brazilian constitution. The outcome of the meeting was that women wished to include four pages on women's rights. When I met our consul he told us that the Indians wished to include four pages on Indian rights and the farmers wanted 10 pages on farming rights. If everyone had included everything that they wished there would have been a book about the size of the Bible. The American delegate was a very wise woman. She said that they included just two lines which covered the whole issue. My noble friend mentioned that democracy is fragile. It was fascinating to note that re-writing of the Brazilian constitution.

On more recent visits to Latin America I was surprised to discover that the norm was for any president to be elected for one term of office only. The parliamentarian groups I have accompanied have made the point that that is not a good position because there is no sanction. If a president is elected for one term only, he can do what he likes. There is no way of showing him how dissatisfied one is by failing to reelect him. There is a definite case to be made for a president having the right to two terms of office rather than one only.

I have been on parliamentary delegations to Peru in 1999 and Guatemala in 2000. They were both very interesting experiences and quite different. Before that I had been to Ecuador in my capacity as chairman of Plan International, United Kingdom branch. It is an NGO which raises money in 10 donor countries to work in 43 of the poorest countries. We work only with the poorest of the poor.

My first trip was to Ecuador to see the people in Canar where they made straw hats. They paid 60 US cents for the materials and spent four days making them. They were given two dollars for their work. The hats then went through various processes. People carried out the last processes of finishing, packaging and labelling. They were sold in Europe for between £30 and £50 each. Canar has just the right climate with the right amount of moisture for making the straw hats. They are known to us as panama hats which can be rolled up and put in the pocket.

One of the Plan representatives from Germany went to Canar and returned with a hat. She was asked by the staff of a German magazine whether she had returned with anything. She replied that she had returned with just a hat, which was considered rather nice. The hat was put on the head of a model and the picture was put on the front cover of a fashion magazine, which contained an article pointing out that the readers could also acquire such a hat. I believe that 20 dollars was the quoted price for a hat. It was not very expensive, but that was fair more than the makers received.

The magazine thought that it might receive a few hundred replies, but it received 20,000 from people wishing to buy the hats. That involved four years' work for the community and meant that Plan became redundant there and moved on to help a poorer community. The hat-making community is now totally self-sufficient. It sends trade representatives to world trade fairs. That community has now established a marvellous way of life without the necessity of middlemen. That is an example of enterprise and of having access to markets. It was a sheer stroke of luck that it gained market access, which has made all the difference to that community.

I visited another place in Ecuador where the inhabitants had chosen to live in the middle of a swamp in houses built on stilts. When we asked why they were living there they said it was because it gave them a better life. It made one think how bad life must have been before. Returning to that area recently, I discovered that it has now become quite a built up, settled and drained area. That represents a typical pattern of how people establish lives for themselves in some of these countries.

In Peru we were entertained royally in Lima. We saw the river Amazon. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and I went on to Cuzco after the parliamentary visit in order to study the history there, which was quite fascinating. I went to see the work of Plan in Peru. I visited a number of places which had health centres and so forth.

Water was available in the middle of one little town. The town had existed for 34 years and every drop of water had had to be carried nine kilometres by hand or by donkey. Now there was running water and just one tap in the middle of the village. The village headman had to turn it off pretty regularly because the children were so excited by it that they would have allowed a great deal of water to run away. Plan provided the expertise and materials, but the people themselves had built the supply.

At the instigation of my noble friend Lady Hooper, I went on to Bolivia. She said that I must. I was there before the parliamentary visit so I was pleased about that. I was invited to open a greenhouse to teach children how to grow plants in the altiplano. I would have called it almost a chicken house because I have seen buildings like it in Cornwall. We built three simple prefab school buildings one after the other as the school community enlarged. The fourth building was the greenhouse.

It had a ribbon across its front with a bow. I was told that I could either cut or pull the ribbon. Foolishly, I thought that it would be more glamorous to cut the ribbon. I had not realised that it was a primary school and that all the scissors were of the special non-cutting variety. After sawing away for quite some time I pulled the ribbon and launched the greenhouse with a bottle of beer which was given to me. I thought that that was a very appropriate equivalent to our western champagne which we break across the bow of a ship.

The local people then produced a tablecloth which was like a runner. It must have been about 100 feet long. It was stretched on the ground. Everyone had brought hundreds of different varieties of potato. We all sat on the ground and had a great celebration party after the event.

I went on to Tarija where we were working to deal with Chagas disease. It is caused by a terrible insect which drops from the ceiling at night and bites people. People die either of a heart, lung or abdominal condition very suddenly and horribly. By fixing ceilings people can be given a new life. We worked there in conjunction with another local NGO to carry out the necessary work. The experts from the United States said that to seal the ceilings in the very poor houses would cost a minimum of 35 dollars for the paint. But the local people, using a mixture of cactus juice and local soils, were able to make the repairs at three dollars a house and do it very well indeed.

Another project there was Pro Mujer, which comprised rotating credit for women. With a small amount of credit people were able to set up businesses such as stalls. We visited a soup stall. The name of the soup served was "muy fuerte", which means very strong. It was made from the penis and testicles of the bullock. Apparently, that soup was a great success in Tarija. People were constantly arriving at the stall to sup the soup in order to pass on those strong qualities. I can understand why the soup was so successful.

In Guatemala there was no tax base, which was a great cause of concern to us. Much as the government wished to help their people, the rich paid off the tax inspector, which was much cheaper than paying tax. The very poor did not have money with which to pay tax. So without some form of revenue and tax base the government found it very difficult to carry out their plans. But they were doing good and we wish them continued success.

There are so many marvellous places that I have seen, but nothing can compare with the excitement of a visit to South America and the great new world that it has opened up for me.

4.40 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating the debate. I know of her great interest in the region. She has often regaled me with stories of the Caribbean and Latin America. I apologise for not being present during some part of the debate. However, I look forward to reading in Hansard what has been said by noble Lords. I trust I will not repeat inadvertently anything that has already been said.

My special area of interest is the Caribbean. I crave the indulgence of the House to spend a moment in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, to the Caribbean family. Here in London we very much appreciate the noble Lord and the work he did there. I probably will share some rum with the noble Lord later if he has the time.

The Caribbean region faces enormous challenges at this time. Those challenges reflect the vulnerability of the region. The Caribbean is a small region with a large number of countries whose population is less than one-sixth of that of the UK. Nevertheless, we must recognise its importance to us here.

During the early 1950s the Caribbean responded magnificently to the need in Britain for manpower. The people left their homes. They manned the buses and the trains. Some of them had never seen a train before. They worked in the factories. They contributed in a real way. It was unstinting. I read today that sometimes it is said that they came here for economic reasons. Although I was very much in the Caribbean at the time, I can tell noble Lords that their wish to come here was to support the mother country that had been ravaged by war and had lost most of her manpower. I say that so that we put in context why the Caribbean is important. Our links are historical and, in times gone by, the Caribbean has been a great source of wealth to the United Kingdom.

We must recognise that the Caribbean region faces enormous challenges between now and the year 2010. These challenges reflect the vulnerability of the region. Globalisation is not going away. It offers many benefits, but there are many risks for everyone, including the UK and the Caribbean. I trust that this increases the United Kingdom's interest in helping the Caribbean during what will be a momentous period of change for us.

I do not want to give noble Lords the impression that we should only be concerned with problems in the Caribbean; I want to stress that the Caribbean has some very big assets—a good deal of human talent of a high order, excellent levels of education and a highly developed sense of civil society. Those are assets that we in this country can envy. In a globalised world human capital will be crucial.

As I said, the UK and the Caribbean have strong historical ties and family links. Over half a million citizens in the UK are of Caribbean origin. That is over four times larger than the relationship between Cuba and America. But it is much more than a matter of size. The Caribbean community in Britain is part of what we are as a nation. One has only to see how many gold medals we won in the Olympic Games to realise that the contribution of the Caribbean still goes on. We consciously celebrated this time the fact that we have a multi-cultural and a multi-ethnic society. I believe that we should spend some time thinking about that contribution.

With those strong ties and family links, as in any relationship, there are also some shared problems. The Caribbean is no longer far away. We know—I have heard it said today—that there is a major and growing drugs threat to the UK and to the region as a whole. One-third of the drugs on UK streets transit the Caribbean.

We also have direct responsibility for five overseas territories in the Caribbean with which we are forging a new relationship of partnership. These territories face many of the same pressures as the independent countries in the region. The Caribbean has strong two-way trade relations with the UK. Nearly £1 billion is exported to the Caribbean from the UK market. We have a significant interest in oil and gas in Trinidad. There are direct UK interests in promoting the economic growth and political stability of the region. Many of the UK's key international interests—for example, good governance, human rights, sustainable development and the environment—are very high on the Caribbean agenda.

There are some challenges. In global terms the Caribbean appears relatively stable. But it is a region whose problems are firmly on the international agenda and deserve real attention from British Ministers. It is vulnerable because of the large number of small island states with few natural resources and no easy prospects of economic diversification. But while the Caribbean area has problems, it certainly does not have to become a problem area. That could only happen if, by default, the international community allowed it to become so. The challenges will become increasingly acute over the next decade.

If one looks at the Caribbean's trading position, one sees that the 1994 NAFTA deal swung the terms of trade with the US back in favour of Mexico. Subsequent US aid and access programmes, building on the original 1980s Caribbean Basin Initiative, while helping to some extent, failed fully to compensate for what was lost.

The Caribbean is now facing huge threats to its traditional markets—bananas and so on. The preferential EU market access arrangements have been under challenge by the US and others in the WTO for some time and are probably unsustainable beyond this decade. Behind the walls of the EU/ACP Lom¹ agreement and preferential contracts, the production costs of the main local staples—bananas, sugar and rum—have soared relative to potential competitors in Latin America and elsewhere.

Perhaps I may say a little about bananas since it is always topical. The UK has only two objectives on bananas: first, to resolve the dispute rapidly in a WTO-acceptable way; and, secondly, to address the needs of vulnerable Caribbean banana producers. We have remained open to various approaches. We were disappointed by the failure of negotiations on the basis of the Caribbean proposal. But we are pleased that the Commission has been focusing on the need for an early solution, which is WTO acceptable.

Against the Caribbean's criteria, the Commission's approach of "first come, first served" for quotas, which should allow for specific arrangements for the Caribbean, is a valid basis for a solution, and we are content for it to be pursued. But the Secretary of State made it clear to EU Ministers at the GAC meeting on 9th October that the needs of the Caribbean must be safeguarded. He said that we will not abandon Caribbean interests. We were grateful for that.

As usual, when I am on my favourite subject, the time passes quickly. I should like to end by asking one question of the Minister. On Monday, the General Affairs Council of the European Union agreed a proposal to extend duty free access to products from least developed countries—the so-called Everything But Arms proposal. Does the noble Baroness share my welcome for that proposal, and will she make a statement about its impact on the Caribbean?

4.51 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has given us the first opportunity since June 1999 to debate the affairs of Latin America and has wisely added the Caribbean to the title of the debate. Although, as has been said by one noble Lord, the two regions are quite separate, they do interact with one another. Noble Lords will appreciate that Guyana is on the mainland of Latin America and several of the countries of the Caribbean are Hispanic, so there is not that total separation between them that exists in some people's minds.

The subject of drugs has been much aired during the course of the debate. As we know, the menace of drugs begins in Latin America, it travels through the Caribbean and finishes up on the streets of the United States and of Europe. Therefore, I think it is wise for us to consider the affairs of the whole region together even though, during this debate, inevitably, noble Lords have concentrated on the particular countries that are of most interest and concern to them.

As has been remarked, there has been a total transformation of the region in the past 25 years. My noble friend Lord Sandberg enumerated some of the countries of the southern cone that had made the transition from military dictatorship to democracy over that period. The only one he left out was Uruguay, which was under military control in the middle 1970s. As this has been a debate for reminiscences, perhaps I may tell the House that I was in Argentina in 1976 as a delegate of Amnesty International, together with then Congressman Drinan. We were described in the newspapers as the "mad monk" and the "red Lord", which was a reference to my socks. I still maintain the same colour. I was also in Bolivia, to pick up the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, in 1978 when Mr Banzer, who has made a remarkable comeback, was removed from the presidency. There was a democratic election but, unfortunately, there was a great deal of fraud. At the end of it I had to describe the process, if your Lordships will forgive me, as a sinverguenza fraude.

I have been concerned with the affairs of Latin America for the past 25 years and I am very glad to have the opportunity to revisit them today. I wish to take up the second of the three legs of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and concentrate on what we might do to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in whatever way is open to us. I begin with a reference to the Caricom states, which, two weeks ago, formally signed an agreement which brings into existence the Caribbean Court of Justice, which will replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in criminal cases throughout the region. The full implementation of the agreement may take two or three years, because it requires amendments to the constitutions and national legislation of the countries involved.

We cannot have any objection to the ending of the Privy Council's jurisdiction. It is an anachronism and a link with the colonial era that is resented by many people in those countries. But at the same time we must hope that the new court will be totally independent of the executives in the member states, and at least as robust in its defence of human rights as the Privy Council has been. Our former colleague, Lord Gifford, who practises law in Jamaica, supports the new court, but recommends a sequence of procedures to ensure that it does meet the required standards of independence and competence, to the satisfaction of the people as confirmed in a referendum. One would expect, for instance, that the Pratt and Morgan judgment of the Privy Council, in which it was held that a death sentence carried out more than five years after sentence would be inhuman or degrading punishment, would continue to apply under a new dispensation.

There are causes for concern when there is a trend towards withdrawal at the same time from the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Committee and of the Inter American Commission and Court of Human Rights. Trinidad has withdrawn from both jurisdictions and Jamaica from the Inter American Commission on the misapprehension voiced by regional Attorneys General that delays imposed by those procedures would make it impossible for them ever to execute anyone in capital cases. The commission has dealt with recent cases from Jamaica in an average of 7.6 months, while cases from Trinidad are taking 10 months. We ought really to encourage all Caricom states to accept the jurisdiction of the Inter American Court. I should like to ask the Minister what assistance we could give, technical or financial. to states such as Barbados which do take on that obligation and which therefore ought to be rewarded for signing up to international instruments that defend the human rights of their people.

More generally, law enforcement is not well resourced in Caribbean states, and the quality of justice is not high. We could help by offering advice based on our own experience—for example, with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act—and by supporting indigenous non-governmental organisations such as the Guyana Human Rights Association, which has been operating so effectively on minimal resources since it was founded in 1979.

Colombia was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, as being the world's largest producer of cocaine, exporting 90 per cent of its annual production to the US, and the rest to Europe. We have strongly supported the efforts that have been made by President Pastrana to negotiate a political settlement with the two groups of armed rebels and at the same time to urge that the paramilitary groups, which are also involved in the drugs business, should be dealt with vigorously. The Americans, on the other hand, place greater emphasis on a military solution to the question of the armed groups. As part of Plan Colombia, they are giving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Colombian armed forces.

The new Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, says that he supports Plan Colombia, but he believes that there is no military solution to the problem. At the same time President Pastrana said that, during his visit which began yesterday, he would ask the Americans for another 500 million dollars a year on top of the two-year 1.6 billion dollar package already agreed with the Clinton Administration, mostly to encourage farmers to grow crops other than coca. I warmly endorse what has been said about the importance of crop substitution as a strategy in dealing with the drug menace in Latin America.

One possibility would be to divert some of the money earmarked for military aid into crop substitution. The military already has the manpower and weaponry to deal with the drugs business, as it demonstrated in the Black Cat operation against a network that exchanges drugs for arms on the borders with Brazil and Venezuela, and also in a separate operation against the FARC and paramilitaries in the mountainous zone between Antioquia and Cordoba provinces.

The problem is that a few laboratories may be destroyed, a few traffickers arrested and hundreds of hectares of drug cultivation eradicated, but the attraction of the crops for peasants in remote areas is so great that very soon the trade revives. The only permanent solution is to ensure that rural Colombia and, similarly, rural Bolivia, which has been mentioned in the course of the debate, have other means of earning a decent living. Some of the money needed for this purpose may well come from donors, but if the strategy works, then both the state and the armed opposition in Colombia would be able to reduce their military spending, freeing resources for rural development.

I was glad to see the announcement of peace talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC which Mr Battle welcomed in a recent statement. That has lead to substantive talks which are due to begin on 8th March. A group of friendly nations is to be invited from the Americas, Asia and Europe to help in the process. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether Britain is among those countries which have been invited to the talks. If not, will the EU be represented collectively by the Swedish presidency? The EU was active in pressing for these negotiations and could play a useful role. I know that President Pastrana visited Sweden at the end of last month and it was during that visit that he unveiled the six-point plan to deal with the paramilitaries, which has been urged on him by the armed opposition.

The EU has a budget of 105 million euros for aid to Colombia over the period 2000–06, quite separate from Plan Colombia and concentrating on human rights, long-term economic and social development and an end to violence. If further help is needed to buttress the peace process, I hope that we would support a special grant for that purpose.

5.2 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lady Hooper, who is so very knowledgeable and such a good friend of Latin America, for initiating this debate. It has been extremely interesting, with many well-informed contributions, including a thoughtful and witty speech by my noble friend Lord Selsdon, as well as an important speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, on the Caribbean. Contributions from noble Lords today have reflected exactly the high quality of debate frequently heard in your Lordships' House, but so rarely found elsewhere.

In the short time available, it is difficult to do justice to such a large and varied area, so I shall concentrate on only one country, Mexico. Over many years, I have had the good fortune to visit Mexico frequently, the last occasion being only a month ago. This is a good time to take stock of Mexico because, over the past six years, it has experienced an extraordinary political transformation, culminating in a new president, elected at the end of last year. That signalled the end of 71 years—not 18 years—of what was in effect one-party rule. It leaves no room for doubt, for example, about the consolidation of Mexico's transition to democracy.

This peaceful transition marks the first change of government since the 1910–17 revolution. It heralds substantial political changes in the composition of the PRI, the old establishment party. Furthermore, it has elected an extraordinary individual in President Vincente Fox. He has a private sector background and an anti-bureaucratic bias. One of his principal objectives is to expand economic ties, as well as to forge closer relations and further co-operation with Mexico's northern neighbour, the United States.

Even though the United States took 88 per cent of Mexico's exports in 1999 and provided 74 per cent of its imports, Mexico has developed free trade agreements with other Latin American countries and the Caribbean. It will not have escaped the notice of noble Lords that President Bush's first state visit was not the usual one to Canada or to Europe, but to Mexico. The "Guanajuato proposal", made only recently when President Bush visited President Fox at his ranch, clearly established a close working relationship. That relationship is grounded in their respect for democracy and human rights, not only for themselves, but also for all people in every nation. They come from similar backgrounds.

During President Fox's administration, we are likely to see even more important developments with the dynamism achieved through NAFTA. With 40 million Mexicans working in the US, this fact alone must have a massive effect on Mexico's working relationship with the United States and is vital for the growth prospects of Mexico's economy. The close relationship should also have a major and positive effect on improving economic and social development along the US-Mexican border: fighting drug trafficking, about which we have heard a great deal today; money laundering, drug abuse, organised crime; and, of course, corruption.

Mexico is the only country on the American continent to have signed, last November, a European free trade agreement with the European Union.

The UK has a substantial stake in the Mexican economy, as we heard in the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. The UK was the second largest direct investor in Mexico after the US, but has now sadly slipped to third place behind the Netherlands. In 1999, we exported some £939 million-worth of products and imported £664 million-worth. First and second quarter figures for 2000, the latest figures I have, show £588 million-worth of export, up by £156 million on the same period in 1999. If we neglect this most valuable market, it will be our loss.

Despite these encouraging trade figures, the present Government continue to show a remarkable lack of interest in the transition that I have described. They have demonstrated, too, a reluctance to engage in this part of the continent that could even be described as verging on neglect. In November last year, the Prime Minister did not go to Mexico—that was the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan—but sent instead his special envoy, the noble Lord, Lord Levy, bearing a message saying that he was unable to visit Mexico during his term of office, but hoped to visit next year. Is this really how our foreign policy announcements should be made? Not even our Foreign Secretary could find time to visit.

It is a shame, too, that we did not have an opportunity to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Levy, in today's debate after his extensive tour of Latin America on behalf of the Prime Minister. I am sure that all noble Lords would like to hear a report of his Latin American odyssey.

At President Fox's inauguration, heads of state and high-level diplomatic delegations representing governments attended. This was a celebration of the re-establishment of democracy. More important, our competitors from Latin America, Spain. France, Germany and the United States sent top representatives and delegations from their political, economic and cultural elites. Who did the British Government send? None other than the Minister of State for Scotland. I fear that we may have some bridge building to do in the future.

The recent changes that I have referred to are highly significant in global terms, both politically and economically. Mexico is re-emerging as a truly democratic nation, a force for good in a region of the world that is still in the political balance, as we have been told by several noble Lords in the course of our debate.

In winding up the debate, I should like to ask the Minister why our policy towards Mexico has been so—dare I say?—offhand. Before 1997, we received two presidential visits as well as several other senior visits. Mr Michael Heseltine took an extremely successful delegation from the British Overseas Trade Board when he was its president.

As Proust said:
"The mind can be influenced like a plant, like a cell, like a chemical element; the only requirement is a set of new circumstances or a new environment".
I believe that Proust was right; President Fox is bravely creating the new circumstances and the new environment. We can all look forward to exciting changes.

We on this side of the House hope that the Government will in future take Mexico more seriously. Perhaps in her reply the Minister will tell the House what future constructive plans the Government have towards Mexico.

5.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing the debate. She has shown a notable commitment to the region, in this House and outside, particularly in her role as president of Canning House. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating her on her valuable work and on inspiring the debate on this topic today.

I have been greatly impressed—as, indeed, I often am when listening to your Lordships' debates—by the number and variety of the interventions we have had today. It is heartening to know that, as on so many subjects, noble Lords have such a wealth of experience and expertise.

"Developments in Latin America and the Caribbean" is an enormous subject, as a number of noble Lords have said. To answer the questions of my noble friend Lord Rea alone would keep us here for many hours as opposed to minutes. How can I touch on the historical and entertaining narrative given by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon? How can I reply with proper weight to the graphic, glowing and colourful experiences outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, which so delighted us? There has been reference to Peru, Chile, Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guatemala, to name but a few of the countries in Latin America, and to the Caribbean.

I am particularly glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, encompassed the Caribbean in the debate and thank her for that. We, too, believe that it is important to have a regional perspective. The EU/LAC summit process, which began in Rio in 1999, was enriched by Caribbean participation. I am pleased that we encouraged that. The countries of the region have a lot to contribute to one another, and we and other members of the EU are keen to promote closer links within the region in pursuit of common goals.

I was a little disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, did not appear to understand the importance of the connection with Latin America and the Caribbean, although he rightly gave warm praise to the delights of the Caribbean as a region to visit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, made some trenchant comments to indicate almost that Her Majesty's Government are not interested in this area. I was somewhat surprised by that. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government's interest in the region is very real and that we wish to have an invigorated relationship. Mexico is an important area and the warmth of affection that we have always enjoyed with that country remains.

We are playing a more active role in the Organisation of American States (OAS), which includes both Latin America and the Caribbean countries as members. Last year we appointed our first permanent representative, the Director of the Americas in the FCO, to the OAS and we stepped up our contribution to OAS projects, particularly in the fields of human rights and electoral observation. The most recent projects with UK support include the OAS electoral monitoring mission to Peru and a seminar on human rights systems in the Caribbean which was organised earlier this month by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

We shall continue to give a high priority to regional action. I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and other noble Lords, about this issue. In the context of the follow up to the EU/LAC summit, we are working with our EU partners to add real meat to the declaration made in Rio. We want to make the "priorities for action" a reality. The European side wishes to concentrate on three areas: the promotion and protection of human rights, which I hope will give comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; the support of the most vulnerable members of society; and the promotion of the information society.

We have indicated that we are keen to promote an initiative on sharing information on e-government and e-commerce as a contribution to bridging the global digital divide. We are in the process of discussing how to take this forward. The next EU/LAC summit will take place in Madrid in 2002 and we intend to play our part in ensuring that it is a success.

The theme of regional integration is, of course, particularly relevant in the context of the priorities of the new Administration in the United States and their renewed focus on the hemisphere. We are following with interest the debate on the proposed free trade area of the Americas and the agenda for the summit of the Americas in Quebec in April, a matter to which a number of noble Lords referred.

I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Sandberg, further: Latin America is not a forgotten market. For our part, we are very keen to expand trade between Europe and the Latin American/Caribbean region. We strongly supported a free trade agreement between Mexico and the EU. The final parts of that agreement, on services and other matters, will enter into force this week. The agreement is already proving its worth in promoting a strong growth in the United Kingdom's trade in goods with Mexico. That demonstrates—if we needed clearer demonstration—that perhaps the tone of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, was not quite right in relation to our efforts with Mexico.

We also welcome the EU's close relationship with Mercosur and fully support the current negotiations with Mercosur and Chile. The United Kingdom will be at the forefront of efforts to conclude the most liberal agreements possible. This should bring substantial benefits to the economies of both regions.

Before I deal with other trade issues, I should like to make a few comments on specific areas. First, on the region that I know best—the Caribbean. I should say to my noble friend Lady Howells, that I totally agree with what she said. I could not have expressed it better.

The region is one of importance. It has given much to our British way of life—its contribution has been very broad indeed—and it is now, thankfully, very visible in your Lordships' House. I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, to the fraternity.

We have a direct interest in promoting economic growth and stability in the region. We have strong trade relations with the Caribbean. The United Kingdom exports an impressive £1 billion-worth of trade to the Caribbean market each year. It is a market that we would like to see grow.

Our reinvigorated policy towards the Caribbean has seen an increase in the number of high level visits to the region. For example, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales paid an extremely successful visit to Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana in February of last year. During that visit, His Royal Highness was able to take forward, in conjunction with the respective host governments, projects related to business and youth development and to the environment in the Caribbean. I understand that his chocolate—Guyanese chocolate—will now do very well.

A number of noble Lords may be aware that we hosted the second United Kingdom/Caribbean forum at Lancaster House in May of last year. At that meeting we established a framework for the relationship and identified various initiatives to pursue together. These include, more police training, joint action on illegal weapons and drug search, assistance to create a Caribbean inward investment office and the development of closer legal and judicial links, including the formation of a British/Caribbean jurists association, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, referred in his extraordinary and powerful speech.

Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have withdrawn from the first optional protocol to the ICCPR, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated. The protocol provides a further avenue for individuals to appeal against sentence once they have exhausted all available domestic appeals. We know that this is an area of acute concern to a number of states. The establishment of the Caribbean court of justice is a matter for the Caribbean countries themselves to decide. It would be quite improper for us to seek to influence that decision one way or another. However, I reassure the noble Lord that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will remain available to all countries that use the system for as long as they wish.

I should also like to acknowledge the work of the Caribbean Advisory Group, which advises the Government on how we can improve co-operation and our relationship in fields such as education, culture and sports, and business links and trade. They, too, contribute to our ability to enhance our relations with the region.

At the Rio summit, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary described Cuba as the motor for the future economic development of the region, and held a landmark meeting with the Cuban Foreign Minister, Perez Roque. It is right, therefore, that in this debate we have touched on the importance of Cuba. We have based our relations with Cuba on a policy of constructive engagement and frank dialogue, and the bilateral relationship has developed positively. Our cooperation in many areas, including in the fight against illicit drugs, is good. Our trade relations are improving, with a regular flow of inward and outward missions. The British pavilion at the Havana international trade fair in November was a great success, to cite just one example.

Caribbean governments face collectively—as was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Howells—a bumpy road ahead. None of us can wave a magic wand, but what we can do is work together to try to ensure that the Caribbean survives the journey. We have taken, and shall continue to take, active steps to increase the attention, the amount of listening and the co-operation and support that we are giving to the region.

A number of noble Lords have seen over the past 20 years dramatic political and economic changes in the Latin American region, together with the Caribbean. Democracy has triumphed throughout Latin America and people throughout the region now enjoy democratic government. Every country except Cuba and Haiti is now an established democracy. But we should not underestimate the difficulties. In some countries democracy is new and has fragile roots. Problems of social justice, poverty, crime, human rights, violence and the drugs trade present formidable challenges. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, eloquently drew attention to some of those problems and highlighted some of the excellent work being done by NGOs.

Many speakers drew attention to human rights issues in several countries. Noble Lords will know that the Government are determined to keep human rights at the heart of their foreign policy. This means, in part, making resources available to plan and implement projects. We estimate that since the Rio summit we have undertaken over 50 projects specifically focused on human rights issues in the region, at a cost of about £1.3 million. Current projects include, for example: broadcasting in Spanish throughout Latin America on human rights topics in co-operation with the BBC World Service; training police and prison officers in Brazil, in Venezuela and in the Caribbean; legal advocacy training in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago; and aiding the national co-ordinator for human rights in Peru to link 61 human rights NGOs by building an electronic information service.

In addition to funding projects, our policy involves more active listening to NGOs, and being more aware of the needs and concerns of civil society. We have worked hard to ensure that we take advice from quarters in the search for the most efficient way to help. All of this will help to deliver greater democracy and, in so doing, will help our ability to trade, and trade effectively.

The problems are, of course, different in each country. The issue of human rights is one of the key considerations, for example, which drives our policy in Colombia. We have been at the forefront of international efforts to support the peace process in order to help protect human rights and democracy there. The Government are very concerned about the increase in violence, and particularly the threat to human rights workers, trade unionists and those involved in administering justice. We have been playing a leading role, both bilaterally and within the European Union. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Dr Mowlam, will be paying her third visit to the country next week with the aim of offering further advice and assistance. So, contrary to the belief of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, we have been very active in that area. Dr Mowlam has given us great support.

We have strongly urged the Colombian authorities to implement practical measures to address the social and economic problems which lie at the heart of the internal conflict, and we shall continue to encourage them to find ways to achieve actual improvements on the ground. The EU aid package of 105 million euros for Colombia over the period 2000–2006 will be focused on achieving that objective.

The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, with his usual charm, drew proper attention to the situation in Peru. We have played a leading role in Peru over the past year and we will maintain a close interest in the Peruvian elections, which will take place on 8th April. We shall take part in the 50-strong EU election monitoring team that will observe the election. I agree that electoral assistance should be given at grass roots level too. That will be important. That is why the Department for International Development is now implementing a £775,000 programme, mainly through civil society organisations, to support greater engagement by the rural poor in the political and electoral process.

I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about the British Council in Peru. I am pleased to report that, although the budget for English language teaching and cultural events is being reduced, the British Council governance programme is being retained in its entirety. It will continue to contribute to the democratisation process in Peru. So I can assuage the noble Lord's concerns in that regard. The British Council does a huge amount of good work and the structure of the offices is under frequent review. Offices may have closed in Ecuador, but they have opened in Cuba. The British Council will keep up with the programme regime and will examine it again if the present structure proves inappropriate.

Many speakers touched on the question of drugs. I should like to reassure all that we are actively involved throughout the region in the international effort to stop the drugs trade, including providing direct counter-drugs assistance to many Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is a global problem and we all share a responsibility. Only by working together can we hope to make progress in limiting the damage that the illicit trade causes to families, to society and to the environment.

Reference was made to Honduras. We should not forget the tragic and dramatic problems that have been caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes in El Salvador and Honduras. We have been impressed by the fortitude of those who have suffered in these countries and, with the international community, we have responded quickly to calls for assistance. We have given about £1.5 million to El Salvador since the first earthquake in January, and we intend to contribute to a rebuilding project in the coming weeks. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, made specific mention of Honduras. We played a major role in reconstruction after the ravages of hurricane Mitch. Much of the work has been in remote areas which other donors have not reached. We are now playing a full part with other major donors in promoting changes in Honduras and Nicaragua for the benefit of the poor and disadvantaged.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, rightly drew attention to our trading and investment relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. I am well aware of—and I pay tribute to—the energy that many noble Lords who have spoken have put into forging stronger business links with the region. In 2000, bilateral trade in goods with Latin America was worth some £6.2 billion; and with the Caribbean some £1.8 billion. We also have strong investment links; the UK has always been a major foreign investor in the region.

The opportunities remain great. But we could do better and we are still trailing behind our European partners. The Government are working to ensure an improvement in our trading position in the region. That is why in the past year the Deputy Prime Minister visited Brazil, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry visited Brazil and Argentina and the Minister for Trade visited Venezuela and Chile. There were also other trade-related ministerial visits and 30 government-supported trade missions to the region.

I am glad that my noble friend Lady Gibson rightly concentrated on Brazil and the challenges that it faces. We are delighted that President Cardoso of Brazil will be visiting the United Kingdom again at the end of March. One of the main objectives of his visit will be publicise the plans for the new cross-border infrastructure projects in South America, which will provide British business with considerable opportunities in transport, energy and telecommunications. The visit will also provide an excellent opportunity to carry forward bilateral dialogue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, also mentioned LATAG and CARITAG. Perhaps I may say shortly that they remain extremely important and are working well. They have unrivalled expertise and commitment. I am sure that they will continue to thrive. I should have liked to touch with greater concentration on Mexico. I apologise to the noble Baroness for not doing so more fully. I can reassure her that it is a vibrant relationship and one that will not be undermined or diminished.

In conclusion, the opportunity just to touch on these key issues has been a very important one. We have many key interests at stake, as well as many opportunities before us. We shall continue to work hard to share the benefits that continued friendship and co-operation will bring. If there are any areas that I have not covered in my response, I shall write to noble Lords in due course.

5.31 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have contributed to this afternoon's debate. I regret that some of our veteran contributors, like my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, were not able to participate as they had wished; and, indeed, that one or two other speakers had to scratch their names from the list at the last moment. However, we have had a really good debate. Of course, it had to be wide ranging, but we have also benefited from a great deal of personal experience, knowledge and reminiscence. The latter ranged from balmy beaches in Jamaica to buccaneers and then bananas, as well as to the very special brews experienced by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. I believe that the Hansard record will make very good reading.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response to all the questions raised within a time limit that was almost impossible to follow. In particular, I thank the noble Baroness for the reference to the natural disasters that have so afflicted the region—from El Ni ño to Hurricane Mitch and, indeed, through to the recent El Salvador situation. I look forward to improving further on our record of activities and communications with Latin America and the Caribbean. I also look forward to attending the forum proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, in the summer. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.