HC Deb 23 May 1978 vol 950 cc1324-5
13. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy towards the sale of Harriers to the People's Republic of China.

Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether there are any procedural obstacles still to be overcome before the United Kingdom could respond favourably to a request from the Chinese People's Republic to purchase Harriers.

Mr. Mulley

If the Chinese interest in Harrier is confirmed, the usual political, strategic and economic criteria and our international obligations in relation to the sale of Harrier would have to be examined in detail before Her Majesty's Government could take a considered view.

Mr. Arnold

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the United States Government have now withdrawn any objections which they may have had to an arrangement of this nature? Given that the Press in the United Kingdom has been talking about the sale of 30 Harriers to China, with the possibility of building another 300 under licence, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the way in which this would affect the balance of air power in the Far East?

Mr. Mulley

I am glad to say that it is no part of my responsibility to answer for or accept Press statements. We have had no indications about a sale, let alone a sale with the detail which the hon. Gentleman seems to have read in the Press. The procedures for discussing sales of this sort with our allies can be put into operation only when there is a firm proposition to be considered. We have not, therefore, gone through the COMCO procedure.

Mr. Miller

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that we shall not be left in a chicken-and-egg situation? Is he aware that the Chinese are not likely to ask if they are to be refused? Cannot he be a little more forthcoming and tell us what degree of interest the Chinese have to show before the procedures are put into motion?

Mr. Mulley

As I explained, it is a bad practice to announce decisions before they have been taken, and no decisions affecting this matter have been taken.

Mr. John Evans

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the fact that the British Conservative Party, which for generations has had nightmares about "Reds under the bed", is now hand in glove with the Communist People's Republic of China? Will he tell the House whether that makes the Conservatives into Marxists? Will he make sure that we do not sell planes of this nature to any Communist country?

Mr. Mulley

The enthusiasm shown for the Chinese People's Republic by the Conservative Party will have been noted in many quarters. While I welcome the widening of the Conservatives' international horizons, I am not sure that I would go as far as some Tory Members in that direction.