HL Deb 27 November 1991 vol 532 cc1314-6

3.7 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the supply of arms to Indonesia.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, all applications to export arms and equipment to Indonesia are considered on a case-by-case basis. We do not allow the export of arms and equipment likely to be used against civil populations. In the case of Indonesia, that criterion extends to possible use against the civilian population of East Timor.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware I hat the Indonesian security forces possess many weapons provided by British companies, including Tribal class naval frigates, Hawk advanced trainer strike aircraft, Rapier air defence missiles and many others, as well as training and transfer technology? Have the Government granted licences and given permission for those weapons to be exported to Indonesia? Secondly, is it the case that the Secretary of State met President Suharto on 18th September to discuss further defence co-operation? If so, what was the outcome of that meeting?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, my understanding is that all arms, whether or not those mentioned by the noble Lord, have to have an export licence. Under the United Nations Charter all nations have a sovereign right to secure the means of their own defence. Applications to export British defence equipment are scrutinised carefully on a case-by-case basis, as I have said. Exports of defence equipment to Indonesia are currently extremely modest, amounting to less than £3.5 million in the current year.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not the case, an I can the noble Lord confirm, that in 16 years of cruel and indefensible war a third to a quarter of the population of East Timor has been killed and during that period Her Majesty's Government have been selling arms to Indonesia? Does the Minister not agree that there is no case whatever for the sale of arms to that country? He said that only a small quantity of arms has been sold. Is he aware that that is not an adequate reply to the House at this time? Will he say what arms are being sold, what is their value and what aid Her Majesty's Government are giving to Indonesia at this time?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not underestimate the seriousness of what is taking place in Indonesia and I share the deep anxiety of the noble Lord the, Leader of the Opposition at the horrifying events there. The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has asked the Indonesian authorities for more information about those events. As the noble Lord may know, there is a commission of inquiry.

Details of the arms sales are a matter of commercial confidence. As I said, they are not sold on the basis that they could be used to repress the local population.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Indonesia has its own shipbuilding and aircraft industries and that arms are very easy to acquire from any part of South-East Asia, including Korea, let alone other nearby countries? Surely there is some balance in this matter.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, on the general point of the problems there, we are seeking a political solution, which is a different angle. However, my noble friend will know that under Article 51 of the UN Charter every country has the means to secure its own defence. We have that ourselves and in no circumstances have we the right to deny that to other countries.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, many noble Lords are interested in the appalling situation in Indonesia where mass slaughter goes on month in, month out. There are suggestions that many arms from Western Europe are finding their way there illegally. Will the Government check up to make certain that no arms from this country are entering Indonesia illegally? Will they also consider stopping any arms going there?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am happy to look further into that matter. As my noble friend Lord Caithness has said from time to time, he would be pleased to investigate any evidence that is offered in this matter.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, is not this situation of interest to, say, Australia and Malaysia under the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation? That treaty came into being when Malaysia became independent. Is not what is happening in Indonesia a cause of some anxiety to people over there? Are representations being made to the British Government about the situation? Is it not a matter in which they should take an interest and about which they should probably do something?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the situation is extremely complicated and we occupy different positions. We have not recognised the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and still regard it as having been invaded illegally while Australia recognises it as part of Indonesia. Perhaps that complicates the issue as regards communications.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, in the light of the Government's anxiety about human rights violations in other parts of the world, will the Minister explain the lack of consistency with regard to their aid and trade policies towards Indonesia?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not recognise any inconsistency between our policies there and elsewhere.

Lord Rea

My Lords—

Noble Lords


The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, I hate having to get up in these circumstances because I know that this is an interesting and important Question, but your Lordships have agreed that we should move on after half an hour.

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