HC Deb 09 December 1991 vol 200 cc605-7
40. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit Indonesia to discuss assistance to East Timor.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

May I begin by paying tribute to the long and distinguished career of the late Baroness Hart of South Lanark? No one in the developing world or the ODA will forget her great contribution.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is: no, Sir.

Mr. Evans

As chairman of the Labour party, I thank the right hon. Lady for her tribute to my good friend Dame Judith Hart. She was a former chairman of the Labour party and she performed noble duty both to her party and to millions of people from the dependent territories.

I suggest that the best aid that could be given to East Timor would be an arms embargo on Indonesia until an independent United Nations inquiry has been held into the slaughter of many defenceless men, women and children by the Indonesian army.

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman will probably already know that we do not permit the sale of arms or other equipment that could be used internally against the people; but I fully agree that it is necessary to see the report of the commission of inquiry. I gather that a draft will be presented to President Suharto at the end of this week. That inquiry is not being carried out by the military or the police, and when we see what it reports, we will decide, together with our EC partners, what to do next.

Sir Peter Blaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members who remember Lady Hart will wish to be associated with her tribute to her?

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that she is supported by our party in being circumspect about jumping to conclusions before the official inquiry report to which she referred is received? Is not this a particularly suitable case for the development of an EC attitude?

Mrs. Chalker

I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks.

Together with our EC partners, on 13 November we condemned the violence against the people in East Timor and urged the Indonesian Government to ensure that the Indonesian armed forces and police stopped using violence and that those responsible for these acts were brought to trial. On 3 December, the European Community repeated its condemnation and called on the Indonesian authorities to respond to the serious concerns expressed by the international community. We supported the demands for a thorough and credible investigation by independent and impartial experts.

I believe that we are right to wait until the independent report has been received, but I assure my right hon. Friend and the House that all EC partners who have worked well together on this are carefully considering future relations in the light of what appears to have happened, as shown on the video which so many of us have seen and which the families of the people involved have had to witness in their suffering.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank the right hon. Lady and hon. Members for their condolences on the loss of Dame Judith Hart. We are all very saddened that she has died.

I am very puzzled by the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans). She continues to maintain that we do not allow the export of arms and equipment that are likely to be used against civil populations. However, in a letter to Canon Michael Doe, who wrote to her, the right hon. Lady said: it is not practical to monitor their use once they have reached their destinations. How does she square her answer to my hon. Friend with her letter to Canon Michael Doe?

It is incredible that both the Minister and the Prime Minister whitewash the inquiry by describing it as independent. In no way can it be described as independent when the chairman of that inquiry is a former general who is responsible for some of the worst atrocities against the East Timorese. There are continuing violations of human rights against the East Timorese while that farce of an inquiry is being carried out. The Government should freeze supplies of military equipment and aid to the Indonesians forthwith.

Mrs. Chalker

I am not prepared to take action until the facts have been established. There is absolutely no whitewash as far as this Government are concerned, and nor will there be. Right from the beginning of that terrible saga, I have been absolutely determined that the United Nations and any other body that it may be necessary to involve in order to get to the bottom of this and to resolve matters for the people of East Timor—they have gone on since 1975—should have our support. We have told the United Nations Secretary-General of our support for his efforts to resolve the problems in East Timor. On this latest apparent atrocity—I see it as that; I have seen the film as much as anybody has—I have to be absolutely certain of the facts before I take action. I cannot act without facts.

Mr. Alexander

My right hon. Friend's measured response will be widely welcomed in the House and elsewhere. Although all of us are deeply concerned to know precisely what happened in East Timor, will she bear it in mind that, since Indonesia took over East Timor a few years ago, there has been considerable development of the infrastructure in that country, and that, although no one condones that massacre, we must know what has been going on before we adopt the language that we heard from the Labour party?

Mrs. Chalker

As I said a moment ago, I will wait until I have the facts, but I have already undertaken to review co-operation with Indonesia in the light of the response by the Indonesian Government. My right hon. Friend the Earl of Caithness called in the Indonesian ambassador and expressed our grave concern. We have taken action—indeed, led action—at every possible turn, but we must establish without doubt exactly what is going on.

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