HC Deb 23 January 1962 vol 652 cc56-8
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on arms for Indonesia.

Her Majesty's Government are gravely concerned by the dangerous tension between Indonesia and the Netherlands concerning West New Guinea. It is the firm hope of Her Majesty's Government that a negotiated settlement will be reached and they are supporting the steps being taken to this end. They are accordingly most anxious not to do anything at this delicate stage which might increase tension in the area or in any way add to the possibility of armed conflict.

Her Majesty's Government have therefore decided, as a temporary measure and until the situation over West New Guinea has clarified, that, apart from completing an outstanding order for ground radar, they must suspend the export of arms and military equipment from Britain to Indonesia.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we all recognise that the fact that these shipments have been going on until the last few hours has been the result of muddle rather than malice on the part of the Foreign Office, and that there is no intention to exacerbate the situation in the Far East? In view of the fact that this sort of thing is always happening, as was evidenced by other matters before Christmas—for instance, the Swiss Agreement and the case of the Swedish newspapers—will the right hon. Gentleman have an inquiry undertaken into the efficiency of his Department to see how this sort of situation can come about?

In view of the great concern about this situation, will Her Majesty's Government make it clear that they strongly support the efforts made by U Thant, the acting Secretary-General of the United Nations, to mediate in this matter?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir. We strongly support the efforts made by U Thant in this case and will do everything we can to assist them. We hope that they come to a speedy and successful conclusion.

I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman means by his accusation of muddle in this matter. The basis on which arms have been supplied to Indonesia for the past few years has been perfectly well understood. As far as I know, neither he nor his right hon. Friends have challenged it. If he is referring to the question of two aircraft which have been delivered to Indonesia recently, the facts are that, at the time of the naval incident on 15th January which has led to the Government's decision, these two aircraft were already the property of the Government of Indonesia, and, in weighing up the matter, Her Majesty's Government have decided that, as this was the case, the aircraft should be delivered to Indonesia. That was the reason for that decision. There is no muddle whatever.

If the right hon. Gentleman is ever so fortunate as to hold office in the Foreign Office, he will be proud of the efficiency of the service he receives.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that the Foreign Office knew all along, right from the time when this West Irian problem became an acute issue, long before Christmas, that these shipments were continuing and that it did nothing about it until the action today? Is he saying that the Foreign Office decided to allow the shipments to continue until today? As on Boxing Day the Ministry of Defence moved so fast in view of a rumour about Kuwait, without any evidence, why has it taken so long to act in this case?

Mr. Heath

The problem of West New Guinea has been a problem of tension for many years, not just for the past few weeks. In these cases it is always difficult to decide whether Her Majesty's Government should supply arms in a limited manner to the Government concerned. The general view on both sides of the House has been that, rather than exert pressure of the kind which automatically leads the Government concerned to get its arms from the Soviet bloc, the Western Powers should continue to supply arms to Indonesia. That situation remained until the incident of violence on 15th January.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Did the conditions for the supply of British arms to Indonesia, which he mentioned, include an assurance that they would not be used for aggressive purposes?

Mr. Heath

As my hon. Friend knows, members of the Indonesian Government have repeatedly given assurances in public, not only to our own Government but to the Australian Government, that they would not try to solve this problem by force.