HL Deb 25 February 1992 vol 536 cc167-70

3.8 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their current policy on selling arms to Indonesia.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the sale of arms and defence equipment to Indonesia, like anywhere else, is subject to strict export licensing procedures. Applications are carefully scrutinised on a case by case basis. We do not allow the export of arms and equipment likely to be used for repressive purposes against civilian populations.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Earl answer two questions? First, is it the case that a Royal Navy support ship, the "Green Rover", valued at about £11 million, has been sold to Indonesia? Secondly, despite the fact that previously the noble Earl discarded any comparison between supplying arms to Indonesia and to Iraq, can he tell the House the difference in principle between sending arms to Indonesia, which has invaded East Timor against the authority of the United Nations, and sending arms to Iraq, which invaded Kuwait equally against United Nations authority?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on the first question, a small, unarmed tanker vessel is in the process of being sold—the negotiations continue—to the Indonesians. It belongs to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. It is a replenishment vessel and cannot be described as arms, as the noble Lord would like to believe. The second question is wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not the case that between 1986 and 1990 Her Majesty's Government allowed the export of arms to Indonesia to the value of £290 million? Given Indonesia's appalling record on human rights, and in view of the massacre at Dilly, is not that action indefensible?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no. Every country has the right to purchase arms for self-defence. That is contained in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and it is a right which the House should uphold. We have no evidence to show that the arms that were sold to Indonesia were used in East Timor.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, are any other countries imposing limitations on the sale of arms to Indonesia and, if so, which countries?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, none to my knowledge.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, would the Minister care to reflect on why he appears to attract a peculiarly high proportion of questions which are wide of the issue?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, perhaps those noble Lords who ask such questions should reflect on that.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, does it not concern this country, and countries in the area of Indonesia, that there is a policy which is guided under the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation? Therefore, we must consult that organisation and others who have an interest in the area before any action is taken on our part.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the Government can take a unilateral decision. Of course, if the Government took such a decision they would have to account for its consequences. The security in the area of the South Pacific and that covered by the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation is one of the consequences that must be taken into account.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister realise that while a country has a right to purchase arms from another there is no obligation on the British Government to give approval for arms sales? Does he not recognise that the decision is highly political and is taken at a time when Indonesia has occupied East Timor and massacred its people? Therefore, is not the Government's action most insensitive?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have no evidence to show that any British arms have been used against the people of East Timor. As regards the massacre at Dilly, the noble Lord knows full well that we have made strong representations to the Indonesian Government. They have responded but still further response is required. The UN Secretary General sent a special representative, Mr. Amos Wako, to East Timor. He has returned and is to report in the near future.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, is information given to Singapore and Malaysia about the weapons that are passed to Indonesia? In recent years their relations have not always been good.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, all the sales of military equipment are commercial and confidential. However, the relationship among the ASEAN countries and our bilateral relationship with them is important.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, in view of the tensions that exist in South-East Asia, would not a more constructive approach be for Her Majesty's Government to prompt the United Nations to follow the example of Europe where a most successful arms agreement has been negotiated? I do not wish to move too wide of the Question, but is it not time that in some of the regional areas there, and in the Middle East, we should try to put our weight behind starting regional negotiations to reduce the general level, and purchase, of arms in those areas?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister proposed the setting up of an arms register and that has been taken forward. I hope that will begin to make far more open the question of which countries are building up arms and stop the kind of situation that happened in Iraq. As regards the wider question of East Timor, the noble Lord is right in saying that the best way to resolve the problem is through the United Nations.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the Minister accept congratulations on answering a question which was a little wide of that on the Order Paper? Will he follow his own example more closely in future?

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, if the Minister reads the Order Paper he will see that I asked him about Her Majesty's Government's policy. If his Answer is that their policy is that arms can be supplied to any country in the world, is he saying that the Government are prepared to supply arms to countries which have openly defied the authority of the United Nations?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord's Question asks about the Government's current policy on selling arms to Indonesia. If the noble Lord wishes to ask a wider question I shall be grateful if he will put it on the Order Paper.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the Minister answered my Question in a particular way. He said that Her Majesty's Government considered that all countries in the world were entitled to buy arms. Does that mean, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to sell arms to Indonesia and to any other country which is in defiance of United Nations' authority?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have answered the Question specifically about Indonesia, which is the Question on the Order Paper.

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