HC Deb 26 June 1961 vol 643 cc158-70

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

9.55 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing me to raise on the Adjournment a very important subject, namely, the future relations between this country and the great Republic of Indonesia.

My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said in answer to a Question: In the interests of Europe and the world, it is better that we should seek to maintain relations with countries whether they be of extreme Right wing character or whether they be Communist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th June, 1961; Vol. 642, c. 944.] Indonesia is a neutralist country, and I consider that as such it is of vital importance to Great Britain in the Far East.

This Republic is formed of over 7,000 islands, more than 3,000 of which are well-populated. It stretches from the south of Singapore in a half-moon shape to the north of Australia and is inhabited by 90 million people. It is a country of great beauty and riches and as a neutralist country this is an area denied to the Communists in the Far East.

Recently thousands of Chinese were sent back to China. They were for the most part living in the villages and might have had the power to influence people to Communist ideas. The Government is what is known as a guided democracy. The people are a tolerent race and religious tolerance is practised.

I understand that at present there are eight political parties, including a Nationalist party, Moslem Scholars, and Catholic parties. They are based on Pantja Sila ideals. They are, as I under-stand it, in five particular parts—a belief in God, democracy, nationalisation, internationalisation and social justice. We have had many ties with Indonesia in the past; I think that it will be recalled that Raffles was the ruler of Java for four years. In recent years the Indonesians have taken English as their second language. It is remarkable how well they speak it, because they have only started learning it since 1950.

On 1st March, together with nine other people who were interested in Indonesia, I had an interview with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. On 1st April, the Foreign Office, having, I hope, duly considered the views put forward by this delegation, sent an invitation to President Sukarno to visit this country. Unfortunately, his plans were already made for his overseas programme, which included an interview with President Kennedy. I hope that tonight my hon. Friend will be able to tell me that arrangements are in hand for a visit of President Sukarno to this country in 1962. I believe that General Nasution will arrive here in a few days' time, and we shall be pleased to welcome him. I hope that this will be one of many visits by distinguished people from the Republic of Indonesia. I believe that General Nasution is to see our Prime Minister. I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister goes to the Far East he will find time to visit Jakarta. I understand, too, that the general is giving a talk at the Imperial Defence College.

I should like to mention particularly the question of trade relations with Indonesia. I did not suggest that the Board of Trade might answer this debate, because I think that trade with Indonesia depends on our Foreign Office and on our diplomatic relations with that coun- try. I hope that the Government will come to a definite decision in regard to trading policy with Indonesia. For some years, we looked upon Indonesia as, perhaps, a nation that was not very satisfactory financially, but I should like to point out that in 1958, the foreign exchange was £31 million—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

Miss Vickers

In 1958, the foreign exchange totalled £31 million and in 1960, £114 million. Under President Sukarno, despite a great many difficulties, there has not been economic collapse, and the present régime has shown itself in a quite remarkable way able to maintain law and order. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are numerous islands and in some cases the distances by sea are great. So, all things taken into consideration, it has been remarkable how peace and order have been preserved.

It is not generally realised how interested we are as a country in Indonesia. Since the departure of the Dutch when Indonesia was declared a Republic, we have greater trading interests with Indonesia than has any other foreign country. The British rubber estates alone comprise over 298,000 acres, or 24 per cent. of the whole. This represents an investment of £45 million. In 1960, the production of rubber totalled 200,000 tons, the British share being 50,000 tons, representing £13 million from the British rubber estates for foreign exchange earnings. We also have great shipping interests. Our shipping companies undertake the majority of shipping between the islands and from this country and Europe to Indonesia. Shell has oil interests there.

The leader of a recent British trade delegation to Indonesia stated in Jakarta that after studying projects under the Indonesian eight-year development programme, he was confident that there could be close co-operation between the two countries which could begin in the fields of transport, textiles, paper processing and chemicals. He described his delegation as one of high importance and a great success.

The delegation was also impressed, I understand, by the fact of East-West credits. A multiple-purpose dam is being financed by France and Italy, the Hotel Indonesia by the Japanese reparations, the Asian Games Stadium by the U.S.S.R. and the Buket Asam coal mines by the Federal Republic of Germany. Unfortunately, the list includes nothing from Britain. I should therefore like the Government to make a decision in regard to their future policy, particularly concerning credits.

In what I say now, I am not advocating that we should necessarily sell arms to Indonesia, but I should like to mention two transactions which, perhaps, have not been very satisfactory. I understand that we have sold some armoured cars to Indonesia and that we could secure a far greater order. The problem is that the Government will not give a reasonable delivery date. Although the Alvis Company could begin delivery, I understand, within ten months of signature of contract, there is delay concerning the Government-manufactured parts. As yet, only 100 rounds of ammunition have been delivered for the armoured cars although 300 tons was ordered.

Similar trouble occurred previously concerning torpedoes. Although permission to supply them was granted by the Admiralty, permission to ship them was refused by the Foreign Office.

I said at the beginning that I am not necessarily advocating the selling of arms, but I am using this example to show that the same policy should be followed by the Admiralty, the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office. We lose overseas orders and good will by this present method. A Government policy is essential. We must also remember that the United States has granted credits of between 500 million and 600 million dollars and that the Soviet Union has granted credits of up to 800 million dollars.

When we are considering future relations with Indonesia, I am aware of the fact that we are N.A.T.O. allies of the Dutch. It is fair to say that the Dutch, by the loss of the Indies, have not lost their material prosperity and it has not been very much impaired. Individuals have, perhaps, lost everything and have suffered greatly, but the nation as a whole has not had its material prosperity impaired.

We can no longer be of real use to the Dutch in Indonesia, because, on 10th March, Indonesia withdrew her approval of the United Kingdom looking after Dutch interests there and so deprived the few remaining Dutch citizens of all diplomatic protection. In 1633, when the English traders were murdered in Amboina, the Dutch historian, Vlekke, said that this was "only one of the many bloody episodes in the history of ruthless commercial competition." I do not want to suggest that we can go to any of these lengths and use any of these methods, but Britain should act in her own best interests and those of Indonesia.

In The Hague in 1949 a treaty was signed which said that: The Kingdom of the Netherlands unconditionally and irrevocably transfers complete sovereignty over Indonesia to the Republic of Indonesia. That was done with the exception of West Irian, or New Guinea. One of our main difficulties between Indonesia and ourselves arose because of our attitude over West Irian. Here, however, I believe that the feelings of the Dutch are changing. On has only to read the articles in "New Guinea" signed by over ninety Dutchmen including Professor Röliag and also the Rijkeas group and the activities in which they are indulging, the articles in our own Economist, and recent articles in de Telegraaf, and the Algemeen Handelsblad, which are Dutch papers, to see that people are trying to find a solution.

It is essential that some solution should be found in the not-too-distant future. I believe that the Indonesians are the last people to want to go to war over this problem, and I suggest that Her Majesty's Government might propose that the United States, Australia, Indonesia and Holland, with ourselves, should reopen the matter and have a discussion to see if we could not get some solution that would again give the Indonesians what they want and open up trade possibilities to the Dutch.

Then, just as our Queen—perhaps unexpectedly to many of us—went to India, we might then see the Queen of the Netherlands going to Indonesia. But this cannot be done until both sides get what they find is a solution.

If West Irian could go back to Indonesia and the Dutch could begin their trade again we might have a happy solution. Should this not be possible, however, I ask my hon. Friend whether we will in future remain neutral, as is indicated by President Kennedy that the United States will do.

I hope that we shall be able to take more students here to improve direct relations. As I said originally, the Indonesians have taken English as their second language, but too many students still have to go to Germany and other countries. The daughters of the distinguished Indonesian Ambassador to this country have themselves had to go to Germany for their education. There is a, too, great need for technical education, and in this Shell is playing a great part.

Training is also needed in the civil service and local government, and in this country we could offer a great many places in our Civil Service and local government services to trainees. We have recently had an excellent trainee in Plymouth, and in a country of many islands like Indonesia one of the things which is needed is more trained personnel.

Friends of Indonesia, mostly business people in this country, have contributed £17,000 so far to form a centre for Indonesian students, and an Anglo-Indonesian Society, formed to improve cultural relations and to help students, has been running well for several years now, thanks to the very energetic voluntary officers. The British Council in Indonesia is doing a splendid job, although it is handicapped by lack of money and lack of accommodation, particularly in Jakarta.

I hope that with all this good will it will be possible for Her Majesty's Government in the near future to put our relations on the firmest diplomatic and trading basis and that through these means we will have a very firm friend in the Far East. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary has a very great interest in the Far East and, as I learned when I was in Geneva, has a particularly sympathetic understanding of people. I hope that he will be ready to give all the assistance he can in helping the future relations between Great Britain and a country which will become of growing importance in the world of the future.

10.12 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)

I want quickly to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) has said. She is a great authority on Indonesia, having frequently visited it and knowing the country very well. Unfortunately, although I know that part of the world fairly well, I have never been to Indonesia, although I know of the great trade which this country has done with Indonesia over very many years. I have participated in that trade, to the mutual benefit of that country and Lancashire.

In recent years, we have seen a great falling off of that trade, which has been a great loss to us both. Many of us feel that the time is ripe for closer working with Indonesia and that we can help that country and it can help us. We know that the Indonesians have many difficulties, just as we have difficulties in reopening this trade, but it will be an enormous advantage to both countries if we can do so. We know that they have their difficulties with exchange control and such things, but, with real effort on both sides, those difficulties can be overcome.

It is encouraging that within the past few months it has been arranged that a very large textile factory shall be built in Indonesia, largely by a consortium of British firms. That may be a valuable beginning to the reopening of trade between the two countries. We all know of the vast amount of rubber and tea and other tropical products of that country, and if there is good will on both sides the Indonesians can help us and we can help them, to our mutual advantage. For that reason, I hope that the Under-Secretary will throw some encouraging light on the matter.

10.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) for raising this important subject of the relations between this country and Indonesia and I assure her and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow), at the outset of my remarks, that Her Majesty's Government intend to do all they can to foster those relations. I was very grateful for the way in which my hon. Friend raised this matter, and for the many and very sensible things that she said.

In my view, and in the view of the Government, the long-term aims of the United Kingdom and Indonesia in the political field are essentially the same. We both need peace and stability in South-East Asia, and in the world at large, but, in particular, in this area, so that plans for the general improvement of living conditions can go forward unhindered.

Indonesia has declared her foreign policy to be neutral and independent. This is entirely acceptable to us. As Her Majesty's Government have so often made clear, we are always ready fully to respect a genuine neutrality which avoids taking sides in the disputes which, unfortunately, exist in the world today. I wish that all other countries were equally so ready.

I agree that this basic harmony of interest needs to be developed by a regular interchange of views on practical issues. For this reason, we are always very happy to welcome Indonesian leaders to Britain for such discussions. Next month, for instance, as my hon. Friend reminded us, the Indonesian Minister of National Security, General Nasution, who is also Chief of Staff of the Army, is visiting this country as the official guest of Her Majesty's Government.

Besides showing him something of this country, we are looking forward to a useful exchange of views. General Nasution will be seeing the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary as well as the Minister of Defence and the Service Chiefs. We hope that other members of the Indonesian Government will accept invitations to visit this country in the near future.

My hon. Friend referred to the invitation which Her Majesty's Government extended earlier this year to President Sukarno to pay an official visit to this country. The invitation was extended, as I think my hon. Friend said, at the beginning of April. Unfortunately, although the President was not due to come to Europe until the second half of May, he had already arranged to leave during April, and he apparently found it difficult to fit in a visit to us at this time. It was, of course, for him to decide whether he could include such a visit this year, but we were, naturally, disappointed to learn that he was not able to do so.

In replying to our invitation, the President said that, in principle, he gladly accepted it, and we hope, as my hon. Friend hopes, that he will be able to come here in the near future. These sentiments found renewed expression in the friendly messages exchanged by President Sukarno and the Prime Minister when the President's aircraft flew over this country on its way to Dublin. It is clear that we are anxious that these visits should take place, and should continue to take place. We believe that they can play a valuable part in making for mutual understanding between our two countries.

Before coming to the question of trade, I should like to touch on one other point which my hon. Friend rightly brought to our notice, one problem which confronts us, and I say this having said that our long-term aims and those of Indonesia are essentially the same. There is this one qualification which affects our relations with Indonesia, and that is the Indonesian claim to West New Guinea.

I listened with care to what my hon. Friend said about this, but I must remind the House that as the then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Commander Noble, made clear when he was speaking at the United Nations in November, 1957, Her Majesty's Government regard the Netherlands as the sovereign Power in that territory. But Her Majesty's Government have no direct interest in this question beyond our general interest in the preservation of peace and stability in South-East Asia. We certainly would not oppose any peacefully negotiated settlement for West New Guinea.

My hon. Friend said that the Indonesians would be the last people who would want to go to war. I am very glad to know that, and that conforms with what they told us—I think that it was Dr. Subandrio, in 1959—that the Indonesian Government would not use force to prosecute their claims. I welcome that as being their attitude, as do the Government. In so far as they are able to make arrangements for any changes, we would certainly not wish to stand in the way of any arrangement freely entered into by both sides which was acceptable to all concerned. But this is a matter on which we have to state clearly where we stand at present.

I now turn to the question of trade. Both my hon. Friends have made out a good case for the continuation of trade and its advancement and expansion, but our relations with Indonesia in this connection are already good, and it is fair to say that they are improving the whole time. Indonesia is a large and growing market for our exports. My hon. Friend referred to the total foreign exchange earnings of Indonesia. These are striking figures. It is significant that its trade with this country in terms of exports from the United Kingdom, has risen since 1958 from £7½ million to just over £11 million in 1959, and, in 1960, to £19 million. The House will agree that this is a very substantial rate of increase. Indeed, if we could carry on in that way with the whole world our present problems would be very much minimised. It is encouraging that this trade is increasing in this way.

Her Majesty's Government are doing their best to ensure that this trend continues. My hon. Friend referred to the British trade mission which visited Indonesia earlier this year, under the joint sponsorship of the Board of Trade and the Federation of British industries, and which included representatives of engineering, mining machinery, shipbuilding and motor vehicle manufacturing interests. From all I hear the mission's visit to Indonesia was an outstanding success, and I am glad to see that manufacturers in this country are taking a great deal of interest in the trading opportunities which Indonesia offers. I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are keenly interested in this subject, and eager to do all they can to help.

I was interested in the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich about the new textile factory, which, I understand, is to be built by British firms. This is a welcome development. I am sure that there are many further opportunities in the various fields in which we have a close identity of interest, and I welcome any developments in this sphere and hope that we can see an expansion in every way. I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to expand and encourage this trade.

Trade, however, is not a one-sided process. The figures for the United Kingdom imports from Indonesia during the past few years have been generally lower than those for exports to Indonesia. The discussions which the trade mission had with the authorities in Indonesia naturally dealt with the possibilities of increasing Indonesian exports to the United Kingdom as well as with the flow of goods in the opposite direction. I am sure that there are many opportunities.

Another way in which we are able to give the Indonesian Government some help with their development schemes is in the field of technical assistance. There are now about 30 Indonesian students following courses in the United Kingdom under the Colombo Plan. Equipment, films and books have been presented to a number of educational establishments in Indonesia, and five experts in such subjects as town planning and English language teaching are now serving in Indonesia. I was very glad to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port said about the work of the British Council in that respect. I am sure that there is a great deal of scope there, and I am glad to know that my hon. Friend feels that the British Council is doing such a good job in this way.

A number of British firms have been established in Indonesia for a long time, and are still operating in the fields mentioned by my hon. Friends and in others as well. We hope that these concerns will be able for a long time to come to continue making their useful contributions to the total of Indonesia's economic activity, and, I hope, help in raising the standard of living of the people of that country to the mutual benefit of the trade which they can help to encourage.

My hon. Friend touched on the question of armaments. This is a difficult subject, as I am sure she realises. The export of arms to any part of the world is bound to be wrapped up with other aspects which have to be taken into consideration. All individual items, whether to Indonesia or anywhere else, are carefully examined on their individual merits by Her Majesty's Government in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time.

This principle has to be applied universally, but, in general, it has not prevented the supply in a good many cases of the things which Indonesia has sought. There is also the problem of some purchases which the E.C.G.D. cover. That point has to be borne in mind. But we continue to do what we can in that sphere. Obviously, there are limitations to the total amount which can be approved. I hope that what I have said shows the House that the Government are very conscious of the need both politically to encourage closer understanding in every way possible and also to build up this trade as a valuable part of our overseas trade, and as a way of stimulating greater contact with this important country—and I accept my hon. Friend's description—which can only he of mutual advantage to both countries.

I therefore hope that the House accepts my assurance that the Government are fully conscious of the importance of Anglo-Indonesian relations. Good relations with Indonesia matter greatly to us now and they will matter still more in the future. This populous and fertile country is certain to go on developing rapidly. Her market for British goods will grow. Her political influence will increase. Her Majesty's Government look forward to seeing a strong and prosperous Indonesia, which will help to bring peace and stability to South-East Asia.

For that reason I have welcomed the debate tonight and the opportunity which it has given me to state this on behalf of the Government and to assure the House that we shall seek to ensure the full and friendly co-operation of the United Kingdom in promoting Indonesia's future development.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Ten o'clock.