§ 2.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give any further information on the supply by the United Kingdom of defence equipment to China.
My Lords, we want to enlarge our trade relations with China, and we are prepared to consider Chinese requests for British military equipment on a case-by-case basis. We are willing in principle to supply some items of equipment, subject to our international obligations. It is not the practice to reveal details of individual sales or potential sales.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask whether he is not aware that about two years ago there was a debate in your Lordships' Chamber about doing trade with China, and in particular defence equipment? The last Government said that they were prepared to do trade on defence equipment. Even if they require, or would like to have, whether it be aircraft such as the Harrier or other defence equipment, is he also aware that the Chinese do not like losing face by being told, No, they cannot have it? So can he give an assurance that we will go to them and say, "Here 162 it is if you want it"? Lastly, will my noble friend not agree that, if we can bolster up China with defence equipment, it will show that the West, including this country, is taking particularly positive action against Soviet world aggression?
My Lords, negotiations between British Aerospace and the Chinese for the sale of the Harrier, which my noble friend mentioned, have now been taking place for some months. The next step is to await the outcome of these negotiations. We have no political reservations about the sale of the Harrier to China, and the Chinese know this. The details of any sale are for British Aerospace and the Chinese to sort out between them. I believe that my noble friend referred to the attitude of the Soviet Union to Harrier sales and sales of other defence equipment. We shall not allow other countries to dictate the terms of our relations with China.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, do I understand from the noble Viscount's reply to the original Question that, although we supply in some detail to China—and I do not expect him to disclose the details for I understand that is not done—we are not supplying anything like what they have asked for? Can the noble Viscount say whether there are any obstacles in the way of supplying China with the requisite number of weapons for her defence and, perhaps sometime, for coming to the aid of the West in an emergency? Are the obstacles financial or political in character? Can the noble Viscount say whether the Soviet Union has objected to the British Government about the supply of weapons to China?
My Lords, perhaps I can take the noble Lord's last question first and say that I cannot answer it. I have no idea whether the Soviet Union has been against the sale of arms or defence equipment to China. It is now some three years since the Chinese came to us for arms and equipment and the situation is now entirely in their court. We have given them the details and demonstrated equipment to them. It is now up to them to come to us and tell us what they want and when they will buy it. At this stage, I do not know whether or not finance is the reason.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell me how I can clear my mind of the bewildering position in which we now stand? While the acquisitive society denounces Marxism, may I ask whether the noble Viscount has read, as I have, reports of broadcasts from China on the purity of the new Marxist approach in China? Let us be clear what we are playing at. We are dealing with a country which thinks that it has a pure Marxist approach. I know that that is anathema to faces opposite.
My Lords, I have a feeling that the noble Lord has gone clean off the Question at the moment. From my brief, I am dealing with the sale of arms for defence purposes to China.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the supply of weapons to China would not create any malice in my mind? I should be extremely relieved if I knew that the Chinese Republic was being adequately supplied. Can he answer the question which I venture to put to him and which I think is very important? When he says that the matter is in China's court, does that mean that they are unable to pay for the weapons, that we are charging too much for the weapons, or that we are a little reluctant to supply the weapons? Can we have a clear answer to those questions?
My Lords, it is like selling any product to any buyer; if they do not want to buy, no matter what the quality or the price, there is no way that they will buy it. There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
§ Lord PARGITER
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that China will probably be moving very cautiously, having regard to its previous experience and its dependence on Russia?
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that question and I should think that that is their attitude at this stage.