HL Deb 16 June 1964 vol 258 cc1109-12

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question of which I have given Private Notice; namely, whether they will refuse licences for the proposed export by Vauxhall Motors of 756 trucks and 252 bus chassis to Indonesia.


No, my Lords. Bus and lorry chassis are not subject to export licensing and the approval of Her Majesty's Government is not therefore required for their export. It is in any case not the general policy of Her Majesty's Government to impose restrictions on trade in non-strategic goods.


My Lords, may I then ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will not reconsider this question and take powers to impose a ban in this case? Is it not a fact that Indonesia is in a virtual state of war with our ally, Malaysia, and that our own troops are actually fighting in the field? Although, certainly, from the nature of the terrain, these vehicles could not be employed in the forward areas, could they not equally be used for transportation of both reinforcements and supplies from the port and base areas, and so indirectly contribute to the deaths of our men and our allies?


My Lords, I think I ought to emphasise that this is an ordinary commercial transaction, with no political or military significance, and, as Her Majesty's Government have always made clear, we are not opposed to the continuation of normal trade with Indonesia. Of course the export of arms and of materials which can be used against our troops have been prohibited since the beginning of the "confrontation" policy.


My Lords, does not my noble friend recall that on November 26 last he informed me in this House that Her Majesty's Government had asked the American Government not to issue an export licence to an American commercial firm for spare parts for American-built troop transports belonging to the Indonesian Government? Is not their present attitude extremely illogical, and can they not undertake to hold up these licences until President Soekarno's policy of "confrontation" in Malaysia has been abandoned?


My Lords, of course, that was entirely different, because the Government believed—and I am sure that we were right in thinking—that these transport aircraft were being used directly in aid of the Indonesian policy of "confrontation". The same is not the case, and could not be the case, with these lorries.


My Lords, is it not a general proposition worthy of consideration by the House that, where there are differences of political opinion, trade is the best way of resolving them, and should it not be Britain's aim to maintain as widespread and as general a trade as possible?


My Lords, I think that the general proposition that economic sanctions do not do much good is one that will be accepted by everybody.


My Lords, in order to get this clear, may I ask whether it is not a fact that there is a statutory power for Her Majesty's Government to require a licence for the export of arms; but is there in fact any power for any Government Department to restrain the export of purely commercial material, or would special legislation be required to enable that to be done?


My Lords, as I understand it, there are no powers which the Government have at the moment which they could use to prevent this export order from being fulfilled.


My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord properly answered the noble Lord who asked the original Question. Will the noble Lord say whether these vehicles, or parts, are capable of being used for the movement of troops of a country with which we are, at any rate in a secondary sense, at war?


My Lords, anybody who knows the country which we are talking about will realise that lorries are not much good for this purpose. There are not any roads within forty miles of the frontier. In any event, the Indonesians are supplying their troops by air, sea, river and porters, not by road.


My Lords, as one who knows the country, I think it is unlikely that they are going to have the lorries used on the frontier, but may I ask the noble Lord whether he thinks that this action will encourage Malaysia to believe that we are serious in our support for them? May I further ask whether this is going to be financed in part with the help of Government funds —in other words, an export credit guarantee.


My Lords, with regard to the noble Lord's first question, I should have thought that what Britain has done to help Malaysia in the last six months was very good evidence of the support we are determined to give it. There are many thousands of British troops in Sabah and Sarawak and many have lost their lives. I should have thought that that was a very good indication of our support. With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, it would be contrary to normal practice to reveal whether application for cover had been made to the Export Credits Guarantee Department on behalf of particular firms for particular projects, but in the present circumstances the E.C.G.D. are unable, on purely economic grounds, to cover business with Indonesia on any substantial scale.


My Lords, there is just one question I should like to ask. Have we received any representations from the Malaysian Government on this subject? If we have not and representations were made, would the Government then be prepared to consider the matter again?


My Lords, so far as I know, there have been no representations, though, of course, if the Malaysian Government made representations, Her Majesty's Government would naturally consider them.