HL Deb 24 July 1997 vol 581 cc1512-4

3.25 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions they have reached regarding arms sales to Indonesia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the British Government will not issue licences for the export of arms, to Indonesia or any other country, which might be used for internal repression or international aggression. We expect to announce the result of our review of the criteria used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms shortly.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, since the gracious Speech, I have had the privilege of debating human rights issues with the Minister in this House covering Burma, Indonesia, the Sudan and many other parts of the world. If the sale does proceed, as seems likely from the Foreign Office briefing to the press, I should like to congratulate the Government on a seamless transition of policy from the previous administration. Will the Minister give the House one concrete example of circumstances where the Government believe that the much-heralded application of the human rights criteria at the centre of foreign policy decisions will result in a change of policy from that of the previous administration?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government stand by their eight-point plan on policy towards arms exports that was published before the election. We will not sell arms to regimes which might use them for internal repression or external aggression. We want an EU code of conduct governing all arms sales. We announced on 22nd May that the Government would carry out an urgent review of the criteria used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms. Human rights will play an important part in that. As I indicated, the noble Lord and the rest of the House can expect us to announce our conclusions on this very important matter shortly.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, have the Government yet suspended deliveries of the armoured vehicles and water cannon about which evidence was supplied to them? Photographic evidence, as well as eye-witness statements, indicated that these devices exported from the United Kingdom had indeed been used in action against demonstrators. Will the Minister accept that the commitment in the mission statement is no different from that entered into by the previous government in regard to the principles governing conventional arms transfers of the OSCE in December 1993, and that what is lacking is any means of checking violations and enforcing the code of conduct, agreed not merely by the United Kingdom but by every other state in the OSCE, under which we will not sell arms that might be used for internal repression?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government are very concerned about the allegations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred, of the past misuse of UK-supplied equipment. We have asked officials for full details. As yet, there are no firm conclusions to be drawn. We are currently studying all the information available to us in relation to allegations about use of the Hawk in East Timor; however, as yet, we have no firm conclusions. I am therefore unable to give the noble Lord the detailed answer that his Question requires. I hope that such answers will be forthcoming very shortly.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, have the Government now solved the problem which has defeated experts over the years; namely, how to distinguish between weapons that can be used for aggression and for internal repression? Is the Minister aware that there is scarcely a single weapon which, under certain circumstances, could not be used for internal repression, with the possible exception of a nuclear weapon? Is she further aware that there are very few weapons or weapon systems which cannot be used in aggressive warfare? I should be interested to know whether the Government have solved that problem.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. All such matters are far too important for rushed decisions. The review was set up barely two months ago. Many issues have to be fully considered, involving a great number of different Whitehall departments, as the noble Lord knows. The Government are determined that the issue and all the implications involved in it, such as the one to which the noble Lord has drawn our attention, are fully considered before reaching conclusions which I hope will be announced shortly.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is the Minister hopeful of avoiding a situation in which reduced sales from this country are simply made up by sales from such outlets as China and South American countries?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we would be hopeful in those circumstances of being able to persuade other countries to follow our lead in putting human rights at the heart of their policy too.

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