HC Deb 14 February 1979 vol 962 cc1117-20
6. Mr. Macfarquhar

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will visit China.

Mr. Luard

My right hon. Friend is hoping to visit China before long, but dates have not yet been fixed.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Foreign Secretary goes to China he will find a country which is eagerly studying the English language and that I hope that we shall increasingly help the Chinese in that task? However, is he also aware that the study of Chinese in England is under grave threat, partly because of Government inaction? Is he aware that the Chinese language training facility at Cambridge University, where our foreign service officers receive their first year of training, is under economic pressure? Will my hon. Friend undertake to consult his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Trade to make sure that the facility does not disappear because of lack of Government support?

Mr. Luard

Since my hon. Friend and I are perhaps the only two Members who have been students of Chinese, I share his concern. I was not fully aware of all the facts that he has given and I shall look into them. The Government are concerned to promote cultural relations with China and we have reached agreement in principle for a major exchange of students. We hope to receive about 1,000 Chinese students and are urgently pursuing discussions with the Chinese to enable that programme to take place.

Sir Anthony Royle

Will the Secretary of State raise with the Chinese the question of the Harrier deal? Is the Minister aware that there is some concern that certain elements in the Government in London are dragging their feet and that the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Energy yesterday has caused many raised eyebrows, not only in the United Kingdom, but in China?

Mr. Luard

There is only one policy on this queston, and it is that of the Government as a whole. That policy was announced by the Prime Minister in the House last month. He said that we were ready in principle to undertake a sale of Harriers to China. Negotiations are taking place on the details of that agreement and some will be announced in due course.

Mr. Fernyhough

Since China is still a Communist country, and since from 1949 the whole Tory Party would have bombed it to hell—and two-thirds of Labour Members would have done likewise—can my hon. Friend explain what has been the fundamental change that enables us to embrace those so-called wicked enemies of yesterday and to make friends with them today? Can he give a guarantee that, though today we are making changes in our approaches to China because of its so-called anti-Sovietism, we shall not change our attitude towards China if it once more becomes friends with the Soviet Union?

Mr. Luard

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the change in the attitude of some Conservative Members in a very short space of time is rather remarkable. The Government have always wanted to pursue a friendly policy towards China.

Mr. James Lamond

And to sell arms.

Mr. Luard

It is only recently that there has been any discussion about the sale of arms. We have made clear that we are interested only in the sale of defensive arms. Since China has expressed interest in the matter, we have decided that we are perfectly justified in selling defensive arms and we do not believe that that need have any effect on our relations with other countries, to which we continue to attach great importance.

Mr. Hurd

How can the Government have a credible policy towards China if the Secretary of State for Energy is allowed to contradict, in almost every newspaper today, the Government's declared policy on the sale of Harriers? Does the Minister agree that if Mr. Attlee had still been Prime Minister the resignation of the Secretary of State for Energy would have been obtained by lunchtime today?

Mr. Luard

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a private meeting which took place yesterday and what was said there. I cannot take respon- sibility for press reports which are obviously based on conjecture of what may have happened at that meeting.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. If Mr. Attlee were still Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown would not have allowed the question of the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd).

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