HL Deb 21 July 1993 vol 548 cc703-5

2.58 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the United Kingdom pledged aid of £81 million in soft loans and grants to Indonesia at the recent annual consultative group meeting held at the World Bank office in Paris.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, although Indonesia is still a low-income country, it has sound macro-economic management, makes good use of aid, and has reduced absolute poverty. We believe that positive and continuing dialogue offers the best prospect of influencing attitudes and encouraging improvement in Indonesia's human rights record, particularly in East Timor over which we continue to be concerned.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, does she agree that the United Nations Commission for Human Rights has recently re-emphasised that the human rights situation in Indonesia and East Timor is grim? How can the Government justify having increased the aid programme by 12 per cent. last year within months of crowds of young Timorese being mown down by Indonesian forces and increasing it again by 180 per cent. this year? Does the improvement in human rights really justify that action? When will the Government change their rhetoric into tangible, effective pressure on the regime?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are two points which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, should take into consideration. One is the absolute poverty reduction which has been achieved as a result of aid. Our aid includes projects focusing on benefits for people in primary education and forestry conservation, to take but two examples. The noble Lord may be interested to know that 55 per cent of our funding under the joint funding scheme with nongovernmental organisations is through Oxfam, of which the noble Lord has some knowledge. Further, we have succeeded far better with Indonesia through pursuing this dialogue than has Holland which by its confrontational approach has lost all influence over what can happen. We have to keep our influence and make sure that we help the poorest people in that nation.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that recently the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union passed a resolution urging closer consultation and talks between Portugal and Indonesia over East Timor? At the same time, the assembly called for a complete halt to all arms sales; it did not call for any reduction in aid. Does my noble friend think that the assembly is right?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Finsberg puts it far better than I. While the need for much improvement should be impressed upon the Government of Indonesia in respect of human rights—and we shall not cease to persuade them in that direction—one does not help the people of that country by cutting off all aid. We do far better by continuing to influence them.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, will the noble Baroness help us? Were any conditions attached to the aid in respect of human rights, particularly human rights in Timor?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have repeatedly discussed with the Government of Indonesia the need for a major improvement in human rights throughout that country, not solely in East Timor. However, we believe that by giving aid to projects which help British firms as well as helping the Indonesian people to gain a better life, we are adding to that country's ability to grow and at the same time influencing the government to improve their human rights dramatically.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is not the point that it does not help to assist the behaviour of tyrannical governments to deprive the poor in their countries of the means to live?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. Curtailing, suspending or cutting aid would not improve human rights in East Timor, or anywhere else for that matter. The reverse is much more likely. If we were to cut aid, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, sometimes intimates, we would harm those people whom our aid is intended to assist.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, in the light of what the Minister said, can she confirm that it is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government that the level and even the extent of aid should be influenced by human rights records? Does not the increase in aid, despite the bad human rights record in East Timor, send false signals to other countries seeking British aid? Does it not undermine the impression that human rights are a factor in such judgments?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

No, my Lords. In fact, we make it absolutely clear to each country, country by country, that its human rights record is one of our many considerations in deciding whether to continue to assist or to cease assisting, or whether we need to take even greater action, as we have done in Sudan and Burma. However, I am not prepared to withdraw aid which is working well and where there is no prospect of helping the people in any other way. That does not mean that at the same time we cannot make a forceful case to the government of that country to improve their human rights. We need to do both.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether any progress has been made in persuading the Indonesian Government to permit the visits of the rapporteurs and the Red Cross since her Answer to a Question on the matter on 29th June?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am told that the International Committee of the Red Cross is pursuing the matter, but as yet, we do not have the hoped-for contacts which it has set out to achieve. We shall go on pressing to get the ICRC the access which it needs.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will the Minister come clean? Is this not a sad story in which trade and arms export interests have taken precedence over human rights? As regards the official aid programme, is the Minister content with a situation in which the United States, Denmark and France have reduced their aid and Belgium has withdrawn aid altogether in pursuance of human rights interests, yet we have increased ours by 180 per cent.?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have not increased our aid as a result of what goes on in Indonesia. We have increased it because of the needs of the people of Indonesia. We must remember that by maintaining the dialogue, which some of the countries mentioned by the noble Lord have lost through cutting off aid and support, we can influence the government far more than those countries which have simply walked out on the poor people of Indonesia.