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Harrier Aircraft (China)

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is yet in a position to approve the sale of the Harrier aircraft to the People's Republic of China.

We are considering the Chinese requirements for Harrier. Before a final decision is reached we shall need to obtain the views of our allies.

Can the Chinese Government be certain that subject to the views of our allies—it is widely reported that they are not opposed to the sale—our Government will be willing to sell the aircraft?

The position was fully explained to the Vice Premier on his recent visit. I have seen many expressions of view attributed to other Governments in the press, but my experience is that Governments prefer to express their views through their accredited representatives rather than through the columns of newspapers.

Will my right hon. Friend explain exactly what is holding up the sale of these aircraft? As I understand it, the Chinese are anxious to buy them. We have obvious employment and financial interests in selling them. There are no NATO objections. What is the difficulty?

The situation is simple. It was only recently that we had some clear indication of Chinese likely requirements and, therefore—

It is true. I have read about Chinese interest in the Harrier since 1972. However, it is only in the past few days that we have had a clearer indication of their requirements. The necessary consultative machinery is now being invoked.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the bear is at its most dangerous when one shows fear of it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Government's hesitation is in no way influenced by any fear of upsetting the Soviet Union? Is he able to give us an indication of what reservations have been expressed by any of our allies?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows from his previous experience that it is not helpful if consultations take place of a private character and they become public. The fact is that consultations are taking place. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we shall not be influenced in our decision. He has made it clear from the Dispatch Box that we shall make our decision when we have gone through the necessary consultative processes.