HC Deb 11 May 1994 vol 243 cc307-8
7. Mr. Heppell

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent representations he has received regarding the sale of Hawk trainer jets to Indonesia by British Aerospace.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Needham)

I have received a number of written representations from Members of Parliament and others about the sale of Hawk trainers to Indonesia.

Mr. Heppell

Does the Minister agree that, with 200,000 people reported dead in East Timor and with John Pilger reporting that Hawk jets are being used for aggression against East Timor, there is now a case for stopping any licensing of arms sales to Indonesia?

Mr. Needham

I have never seen a report from any reputable organisation which suggested a figure of 200,000. The maximum number that I saw in the United Nations report from the 1970s was some 80,000. I am not going to argue with the hon. Gentleman about the horrendous numbers of people killed in the 1970s, but if he believes that the problems of East Timor—which are, in any event, entirely different now from what they were 20 years ago—will be solved by an arms embargo, he is entirely mistaken. Furthermore, I note that as there are no aerospace companies or aerospace employees in his constituency—

Mr. Heppell

There are.

Mr. Needham

If there are, it is even worse. I note that he is only too happy to salve his conscience by putting at risk the jobs of people in the aerospace industry.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Hawk trainer is the finest of its kind anywhere in the world, which is why it was bought by the United States and many other countries? If the Hawk were denied to Indonesia, would not the Indonesians buy an inferior aircraft and would not that mean that we would be exporting jobs to whatever country supplied that inferior aircraft?

Mr. Needham

My hon. Friend is right about the Hawk, but it is not only a question of selling the Hawk to Indonesia. The points made by people such as the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) put at risk sales of the Hawk not only to Indonesia but to other countries. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) would also be prepared to put at risk the most successful training aircraft and the jobs that go with it in this country.

Mr. Robin Cook

The Minister will appreciate the fact that this is a major humanitarian issue, whether the number of casualties was 80,000 or 200,000. He will be aware that Hawk aircraft have been observed on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984. What assurances did he seek, before giving export licences, that the 24 Hawks that he approved last year would not be used in the same way? Can he guarantee that we can believe those assurances?

Mr. Needham

I do not know which Hawk aircraft the hon. Gentleman is referring to when he mentions bombing in East Timor since 1984; nor do I know where he got that information from. He will be aware—it has been stated in the House many times—that we have received specific assurances. I repeat my question: is he saying that he is not prepared to support the sale of these aircraft to Indonesia? What criteria would he use for the sale of such aeroplanes to India? He says that he wants an industrial strategy, but, at the same time, he seeks to undermine the most advanced aerospace industry in western Europe.

Mr. Sumberg

Is not it absolutely typical that the Opposition constantly ask the Government to do more for companies such as British Aerospace but still complain when they do? Is not that absolute hypocrisy and double standards?

Mr. Needham


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