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House of Lords

Monday, 18th December 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Molucca Islands

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to reports of escalating conflict in the Molucca Islands of Indonesia.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, We have repeatedly made clear to the Indonesian Government our deep concern at the climate of tension and violence which continues to reign in a number of Indonesian provinces, including Maluku. My honourable friend John Battle raised the matter personally with the Indonesian Foreign Minister on 12th December in the margins of the EU-ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting. Representatives from EU embassies in Jakarta visited Maluku from 12th to 14th October. They found the situation in north Maluku to be much improved, but real problems definitely remain in Ambon.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging but realistic reply. Of course, both Muslims and Christians have suffered in this conflict. However, is the Minister aware that recently the Lasker Jihad warriors have received reinforcements? They have stated that they will drive all the Christians out of Ambon and that no church bells will ring in Ambon this Christmas.

Will the Government therefore urge President Wahid, who is committed to the principle of religious tolerance, to require the removal from the region of all the Lasker Jihad warriors to ensure that his military forces provide effective protection to both Muslim and Christian communities?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, as one would expect from somebody with her expertise of the region, the noble Baroness asks a relevant question about the activities of the Lasker Jihad in Maluku. The Government have also heard reports of threats that church bells will be silenced in Ambon this Christmas. Such reports are extremely worrying. Robust action is needed to halt the violent activities of the Lasker Jihad and other groups which perpetrate violence and destruction in Maluku. We believe that President Wahid is committed to restoring order and promoting reconciliation between the rival communities. The noble Baroness is right to point out that he is committed to religious tolerance. The international community should continue to support his efforts.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the concern she expressed

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in her Answer to the Question. In the light of that concern, will Her Majesty's Government consider sending human rights monitors to the Moluccas as a matter of urgency? Will they also consider whether or not emergency relief will be granted to these unfortunate people?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government will continue to monitor the situation in Maluku through the UN Resource Centre and the European Union Heads of Mission in Jakarta. We would also consider a follow-up visit to the visit in October, to which I referred in my first Answer. We would then address the matter after that.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, does the Minister consider that heads of religious communities in the United Kingdom could help in mediation in this matter? Have the Government approached the Church of England and the Muslim communities in the United Kingdom? Positive action is demanded from the Government because great suffering is involved. It may be that our religious communities could assist in a small way.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness who asked the Question is better able to expound the various connections between religious groups in this country and those in Indonesia than the Government. We are doing everything we can to facilitate conflict resolution in Indonesia, as we do in other parts of the world. It is up to religious communities, NGOs and religious organisations of all kinds to make their own direct links in the countries concerned, where relevant. However, I know that I do not need to point out to noble Lords that that must always be done with a high degree of delicacy so as not to fall foul of local sensitivities.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I appreciate the concern that the Government have undoubtedly shown. However, can my noble friend confirm that, unless there is an effective rescue operation, either by the Indonesian Government or internationally, thousands of innocent people are likely to be butchered? I appreciate that the Minister cannot answer for the Home Office. However, can she chance her arm and assure your Lordships that genuine refugees coming to this country will receive a sympathetic reception?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I never chance my arm at the Dispatch Box. However, I am sure that genuine refugees arriving in this country do indeed receive a sympathetic reception.

Lord Elton: My Lords, given the scale of what is happening in Indonesia, it is clear that if that was happening in the Balkans we would be in there by now. It is not sufficient merely to make representations to

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the responsible government. Will Her Majesty's Government urgently consider taking this matter to the Security Council of the United Nations?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the UN considered the situation in Indonesia and pronounced on it. It is unlikely that an approach to the UN Security Council at the moment will lead to any direct intervention inside Indonesia. The international community has said again and again--for example, in the European Union's statement of 28th November--that we fully support Indonesia's territorial integrity but are in favour of a strong, united, democratic Indonesia. We encourage the Indonesian authority to find a solution to regional disputes through dialogue rather than by force. We must remember that disputes exist in many parts of Indonesia, not just Molucca. There are those in Aceh, East Timor and so forth. All that the international community can do at the moment is support the democratic regime of President Wahid and try to give him all the help we can in his efforts to find peaceful solutions to the problems of his country.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, against the background of spreading violence, is it not particularly sad and regrettable that the armed forces are reported to be taking sides in a partisan way in some of the atrocities and violence? Is it not even more regrettable, in the light of the strongly-expressed EU concern in this regard and the European Union's code of conduct on the export of armaments, that there are reports that the French are supplying some of the armed forces with the weapons used in those horrors? Will the Minister look into that?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I cannot comment on the reports of French arms being used. However, there is no evidence that UK-supplied military equipment has been used for internal repression. We make every effort to ensure that no licences are granted for any such arms or military supplies.

Hepatitis C

2.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What recent new help they have given to those who were infected with hepatitis C by contaminated National Health Service blood products and the dependants of those who have since died in consequence of their infection.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, on 31st October the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommended that patients suffering from moderate or severe hepatitis C should be given the combination therapy, Alpha Interferon

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with Ribavarin. My department will also make funding available to the Haemophilia Society over three years to help improve counselling for people with haemophilia infected with hepatitis C.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Is he aware that contaminated NHS blood products have now taken the lives of 1,000 people with haemophilia in what my noble friend Lord Winston has called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS? Should there not be a public inquiry into the disaster, as the Haemophilia Society requests? Again, why cannot safer recombinant treatment be available to all adults and children in England as it is already in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? And why cannot people infected with hepatitis C be given the same "no fault" financial help as people with HIV?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend as president of the Haemophilia Society for bringing this serious concern of what has happened to many people to your Lordships' attention. The Government reviewed the decision taken by the previous government not to offer financial assistance to haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C through blood products. Our decision was that an exception could not be made to the general rule that compensation or financial help is only given when the NHS or individuals working in it have been at fault.

There is no evidence that recombinant synthetic factor 8 and factor 9 are more effective or safe than plasma-based products. However, I understand the anxieties expressed by the haemophilia community. That is why we instructed health authorities to provide recombinant products to new patients and children under 16 with haemophilia. I understand the point made by my noble friend. I shall be meeting with the Manor House Group later today and with the Haemophilia Society in the new year. I am sure that this will be one of the issues we discuss.

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