HC Deb 06 April 1970 vol 799 cc28-9
33. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many British citizens are now held in custody by the Government of the People's Republic of China; and whether he will make a statement about the political and trading relations between that Government and Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. George Thomson

Seven British subjects are at present detained, or are believed to be detained, in China: I will, with permission, circulate a list of their names in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

We have made it clear to the Chinese on numerous occasions that we would like to see a genuine improvement in Anglo-Chinese relations, but the continued detention of these persons and the refusal of the Chinese authorities to give information or allow access is a major obstacle in the way of progress.

Mr. Tilney

In the interests of mutual trade, is it not possible to obtain from the Chinese Government the exact regulations against which those incarcerated in China are supposed to have offended?

Mr. Thomson

I summoned the Chinese chargé d'affaires to the Foreign Office a week or so ago in connection with the British citizens detained in China, and I made that very point to him in strong terms. Although we welcome the release of the two Merchant Navy officers who were in detention—and there has been another British citizen released in the last day or two—I regret that we still have no information about the regulations which they are alleged to have contravened. We shall continue to press this aspect of the matter.

Mr. Heffer

Has it been brought home to the Chinese authorities that it is a bit much to ask our seamen to go into Chinese waters and risk arrest for breaking regulations which they do not understand? Is it not clear that there must be the fullest discussions with the Chinese authorities in order to protect our trade and our seamen, especially those from areas like Liverpool, who have been involved?

Mr. Thomson

I agree with my hon. Friend, and we are in close touch with the shipping companies concerned with a view to establishing what further advice should be given to masters and crews of ships sailing to Chinese ports.

Mr. Braine

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of British subjects detained or believed to be detained in China. Does that mean that Her Majesty's Government are unaware of whether certain British subjects are detained or, if they are aware of their detention, are unaware of their whereabouts? If that is the position, does it not reinforce the demand made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that there should be full discussions with the Chinese authorities?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. One of the most serious aspects of the situation is that there are one or two British citizens about whom we have not been able to obtain certain knowledge as to whether they are detained. It is fair to say that they are British citizens who went to work in China out of ideological sympathy with the régime. But that does not detract from the gravity of the matter, and we shall not rest until it is resolved properly.

Following is the information


(6th April, 1970)

Mr. George Watt, a Vickers-Zimmer engineer arrested on 26th September, 1967, and sentenced to three years' imprisonment for alleged spying by a Lanchow court on 15th March, 1968.

Mr. P. D. Crouch, Second Officer of the "Demodocus", detained at Shanghai on 3rd April, 1968.

Mr. D. C. Johnston, former Manager of the Shanghai branch of the Chartered Bank, arrested on a spying charge on 25th August, 1968.

Mrs. Gladys Yang, a British wife of a Chinese national who worked as a literary translator and is thought to have been detained in July, 1968.

Mrs. Epstein, Mr. Michael Shapiro, Mr. David Crook were employed by the Chinese authorities and are thought to have been detained towards the end of 1967.