HC Deb 15 January 1997 vol 288 cc308-9
4. Mr. Hanson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current British relations with the Indonesian Government. [9236]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

Indonesia's size and strategic location make it a major player in south-east Asia and a growing market for British exports. The Government attach great importance to the bilateral political and economic relationship.

Mr. Hanson

Will the Minister justify to the House today the reasons for the Government's agreement to the export of 50 armoured vehicles and associated water cannon to Indonesia? Will he explain what monitoring the Government will undertake of their end use and will he tell the House what he intends to do if those materials are used for the purposes of repression? Will he give a clear indication that the Government do not support the repressive regime in Indonesia?

Mr. Hanley

As the hon. Gentleman and the House know, all sovereign states enjoy the right to self-defence under article 51 of the UN charter and all applications to export defence equipment are examined regularly on a case-by-case basis in the light of established criteria and internationally agreed guidelines. The human rights issue is a key factor and, as the House will know, not all applications are approved. Details of licenses approved and refused are placed in the Library of the House of Commons by equipment category. We have refused entirely at least 11 licences for Indonesia since October 1993 and made partial refusals on a further three applications.

As for UK-supplied water cannons, the water cannon is an instrument of crowd control and is used for that purpose in many western countries. Water cannons provide an alternative to more lethal methods deployed in the past and we expect them to be used in accordance with international guidelines.

Mr. Waterson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Indonesia is not only a friendly country but the fourth most populous country in the world, that it is developing well as a future tiger economy and that its interests in our exports are in not only military and police equipment but a range of goods and services—not least the successful Health Action Asia delegation, which my hon. Friend the Minister for Health led to Indonesia last year?

Mr. Hanley

I very much agree with my hon. Friend.

On water cannon, we have raised with the Indonesians our concerns that UK-supplied crowd control equipment should not be used indiscriminately or to disperse peaceful demonstrations in violation of the universal human rights of freedom of speech, organisation and assembly. My hon. Friend is right to state that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, and it is an important country with which to do business. Isolating Indonesia would not help at all.

Sir David Steel

The Minister has just told us that the Government support the street demonstrations in Serbia. Is he aware that the street demonstrations in Indonesia have been suppressed by water cannon, as shown in photographs that I am sending him today? Will he study those photographs and change his mind about the further export of water cannon?

Mr. Hanley

No one would condone the excessive use of force, but in the face of violent rioting there is a legitimate requirement to protect life and property.