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House of Commons

Wednesday 14 June 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Buckinghamshire County Council Bill


Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


Human Rights

1. Mr. Atkinson : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has received any recent representations about human rights abuses in Commonwealth member states ; and whether he plans to raise the question of human rights at the forthcoming Commonwealth conference in Malaysia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Timothy Eggar) : We receive representationabout human rights in many countries, including some Commonwealth members. Discussions between Commonwealth Heads of Government are confidential and wide-ranging. It is too early to say what issues my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will address in her interventions.

Mr. Atkinson : In view of the representations received over the years, can my hon. Friend confirm that basic human rights continue to be denied in at least one quarter to one third of Commonwealth member states, including Malaysia, where to convert from Islam to Christianity is punishable and may render the individual open to persecution? At the forthcoming conference in Malaysia, will my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary submit proposals for the establishment of a Commonwealth human rights commission along the lines of the United Nations Commission of Human Rights and the Helsinki process?

Mr. Eggar : My hon. Friend's reference to the state of affairs in Malaysia relates to the laws of the states rather than to federal laws. Within the Commonwealth secretariat there is already a special unit, established in early 1985, to deal with human rights issues. We believe that human rights are universal. Instead of creating another forum for debating them we should concentrate on strengthening the existing United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms.

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Mrs. Mahon : Is the Minister aware that three out of five Tamil refugees who were forcibly returned to Colombo in February 1988 have been tortured? What do the Government intend to do about that?

Mr. Eggar : I am sure that if the hon. Lady can substantiate her assertion we will draw it to the attention of the Sri Lankan Government.

Sir Jim Spicer : My hon. Friend the Minister has rightly said that human rights are universal, and we all accept that. Against that background, will he comment on the persecution, on a major scale, of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria? What representations--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Bulgaria is not in the Commonwealth.

Sir Jim Spicer : With respect, Mr. Speaker, my hon. hon. Friend's reply opened up the discussion by saying that human rights are universal. My question simply followed on from my hon. Friend's answer.

Mr. Eggar : The Government issued a statement this morning on the subject that my hon. Friend raised.

Mr. Anderson : Will the Government be trying to dissuade other Commonwealth premiers from raising the question of human rights in South Africa at the conference? The Government might be less on the defensive if we had joined the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers group and taken a high profile on human rights in South Africa. Will the Government raise the matter of the proposed judicial execution of the Upington 14 next week when the Prime Minister welcomes Mr. F. W. de Klerk to this country?

Mr. Eggar : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that South Africa is no longer a member of the Commonwealth. I imagine that issues of that kind concerning South Africa will be raised at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference, and certainly we shall do nothing to stop that. As to the Upington 14, it would be inappropriate to make any representations at this stage, when the normal legal processes can still be used.

European Elections

2. Mr. Fearn : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards a uniform electoral system for the European elections.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : There are no current proposals for a uniform electoral procedure for European parliamentary elections.

Mr. Fearn : Does the Minister agree that at the forthcoming European elections Britain will be seen as the odd man out in not having a fair voting system?

Mrs. Chalker : No, and the hon. Gentleman ought to know that the right of initiative for a uniform voting procedure lies with the European Parliament and not with individual member Governments or with the Council of Ministers.

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Mr. William Powell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that her answer is widely welcomed by Conservative Members and that nothing could be more absurd than trying to dive into a universal system of proportional representation throughout the European Community? Will my right hon. Friend look into the unsatisfactory system of having a separate election day in June so that in future British European elections can be held on the same day as local elections in May?

Mrs. Chalker : Counting of votes in this country for European elections cannot begin until the close of polls in other European countries. It would be inappropriate to have a gap from May to June, which is when the European elections are always likely to be held, before the votes cast in May can be counted.

Mr. Janner : Does the Minister not realise that it makes no difference which electoral procedure is in force tomorrow because Labour will sweep to victory and the population of this country, not least in the marginal seat of Leicestershire, will show the Thatcher Government just what it thinks of them, which is very little indeed?

Mrs. Chalker : I have always had faith in democracy, even when, occasionally, as in 1974, it elects a Government of the wrong colour. We must ensure that democracy prevails in many more countries.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Did my right hon. Friend regard it as even remotely fair when the small minority of Liberals in the German Government decided to abandon the Socialists and turn to the Christian Democrats and thus bring about a change of Government without reference to the German electorate?

Mrs. Chalker : My hon. Friend has explained what can happen in some countries as a result of the list system, which gives central control to the parties and allows a change of policy without further reference to the electorate. While it may be liked by some, a list system would not give the current leader of the British Labour group in Strasbourg the chance to be re-elected.

European Commission

3. Ms. Mowlam : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the President of the European Commission ; and what matters he expects to discuss.

8. Mrs. Dunwoody : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the President of the European Commission ; and what matters he expects to discuss.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : I next expect to meet the President of the Commission on 26 and 27 June at the meeting of the European Council when discussion will extend to the entire range of business before the Council.

Ms. Mowlam : When the Foreign Secretary meets the President at the European Council meeting, how will he justify the Government's decision this week to veto the EC directive to provide more child care, parental leave and flexible working arrangements for working parents in this country? Does he accept that those improvements are

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needed now, and by 1992 they will be essential, or will he follow the Government's usual policy of assuming that if they are in a minority of one they must be right?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : This is one of many issues in which progress can be, should be and has been achieved on the basis of national responsibilities. We must think carefully before we seek to transfer responsibility to the European Community. That is the fulfilment of a principle that the President of the European Community will recognise--the principle of subsidiarity, which leaves it to the nation states to do those things which are best done by them.

Mrs. Dunwoody : When the Foreign Secretary meets his fellow Ministers, will he support the Chancellor's view of our joining the European monetary system or the Prime Minister's view?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I will support the view expressed by both of them. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at a press conference on Monday :

"It is not a question of whether we join the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS, it is a question of when."

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said many times--I heard her say it at the launching of our manifesto--that :

"The policy is exactly the same as it was. We shall join when the time is right."

Mr. John Marshall : When my right hon. and learned Friend sees the president of the Commission, will he confirm that he disagrees with Dr. Barry Seal's view that Britain should leave the Community?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not know for whom Dr. Seal speaks--he certainly does not speak for the British Government or the British people.

Mr. Wells : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be entirely wrong for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or for him to discuss the outcome of the Delors report on European monetary union unless a debate had been held in the House before the Prime Minister's attendance at the European Council and her meeting with the Commission?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : There will be a number of opportunities for debate on those matters in the House and in the European Council. It will be for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to work out how they can best be reconciled.

Mr. Tony Banks : Would the Foreign Secretary support a move towards greater uniformity in voting practices in Europe? Would it not now be appropriate for him to talk to the Prime Minister and for the Prime Minister to talk to the Leader of the Opposition with a view, for example, to convening a Speakers' Conference to consider proportional representation and fixed-term Parliaments? I think that it is time that we thought about that.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : That is not a matter for a multinational Speakers' Conference. It has been considered by the European Parliament, and its report has been rejected ; that is where the matter now rests.

Mr. David Nicholson : Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out to the President of the European Commission that Britain is already showing the way to a real social dimension by generating jobs in their hundreds of thousands through policies of enterprise and growth?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have pointed that out to the President and, with my hon. Friends, will continue to do so on every possible occasion. Unemployment in Britain has fallen for 33 consecutive months, and the number of jobs created between June 1983 and June 1987--the last period for which records are available--is larger than that in the whole of the rest of the Community put together, for exactly the reasons that my hon. Friend has given.

Mr. Kaufman : When the Foreign Secretary meets the President of the Commission, will he specify the items in the proposed social charter that have led the Prime Minister to describe it as "Marxist"?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that many provisions in that document provide for substantial increases in the representation of organised trade unions on the boards of companies--an object that the Labour Government were trying to escape 20 years ago. In the past 20 years we have managed to shuffle off many problems and thus enhance the success of our economy. It would be entirely foolish for us to accept such prescriptions and to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the opposite direction.

Middle East

4. Mr. Andrew MacKay : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards Soviet involvement in the middle east peace process.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : We welcome all efforts, including those of the Soviet Union, to build confidence between the parties to the Arab-Israel dispute and to prepare the way for negotiations. Improved Soviet-Israel relations can contribute to this.

Mr. MacKay : As Syria is clearly a major obstacle to the peace process in the middle east, and since no country in the region can bring any influence to bear on it--as the recent Arab League summit in Morocco clearly showed--does my hon. Friend think that the Soviets might have some influence, and might be able to exert some pressure on Syria?

Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend is right. The issue was discussed when my right hon. and learned Friend met Mr. Shevardnadze recently. Soviet influence on Syria should not be exaggerated, but certainly the Soviet contribution must rest on urging Syria to come to the peace table with the other Arab states.

Mr. Bell : We would all welcome the involvement of the Soviet Union in any peace process in the middle east, but is it not a fact that in the past 20-odd years the Soviets have had very little influence in the middle east? What does the Minister believe that they can provide by way of positive input into the peace process?

Mr. Waldegrave : I make two points. First, there is the influence over Syria to which my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) referred. Secondly, by re-establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel I think that the Soviets would go a long way towards building the confidence in Israel which I consider a necessary part of encouraging Israel to negotiate.

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Mr. Latham : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Soviets have shown considerable interest in Mr. Shamir's proposal for elections on the West Bank and Gaza? Has he discussed those proposals with Soviet diplomats and are they doing what they can to progress this idea further in discussions with the Palestine Liberation Organisation?

Mr. Waldegrave : We believe that one of the influences that has helped to lead the PLO into more moderate paths has been advice from the Soviet Union, because a good many of the groups within the PLO have close relations with Moscow. Certainly our officials have discussed this in Moscow. We hope that the more moderate and pragmatic line will be continued by the Soviet Union.

Ms. Short : Will the Minister discuss with the Soviet Union how to do something about the intransigence of Israel and its absolute breach of international law and of the Geneva convention in the occupied territories? Has not the time now come when the international community ought to exert pressure on Israel so that it will be willing to make peace instead of demanding to hang on to the occupied territories in breach of international law and trying to break the Palestinian people in the process? Is it not time for action and for pressure to be put on Israel to come to the negotiating table?

Mr. Waldegrave : Her Majesty's Government, the Governments of the Twelve, and now the Government of the United States in an excellent speech by Mr. Baker to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee--in the United States--have made it very clear that we all believe that Israeli policy is leading to a dead end. The most eloquent statement of that position that I have ever read is the extract from Mr. Amos Oz's speech reproduced in The Daily Telegraph today.

Sir Dennis Walters : Does my hon. Friend recognise that over the past eight months the PLO, by a series of statements and declarations, has given every possible indication of its desire to make progress towards peace? The Israeli response has been wholly negative. What steps is my hon. Friend considering, with our European partners and the United States, to change the obdurate attitude of Israel?

Mr. Waldegrave : We welcomed the element in Mr. Shamir's proposals which related to elections. We did not believe the proposals as they stood were acceptable to the Palestinians, but they represented a small step forward. We have been urging both sides to take that proposal and to develop it into something which could lead to a full process towards peace. I would not say that there has been no movement on the Israeli side, but I would say that the proposal for elections needs further development, if it is to be acceptable.

European Monetary Union

5. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last discussed the question of European monetary union with M. Jacques Delors.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : European monetary co-operation was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council in

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Luxembourg on 12-13 June, which M. Delors attended, in the context of preparations for the European Council at Madrid on 26-27 June.

Mr. Kirkwood : Will the Foreign Secretary take it from me that we missed his presence at the Hawick common riding on Friday? I hope that he enjoyed his visit to the Borders, where I can tell him that the Delors report and the details thereof were on everyone's lips. The Government's endless procrastination is not good enough as it is prejudicing London as a financial centre in the longer term. More immediately and urgently, it is prejudicing the interests of millions of young home buyers who are making high mortgage repayments because of high interest rates. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that if there is continuing uncertainty about the currency, whatever the exchange rate, interest rates will always rise and that the only way to end that uncertainty is to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome for my visitation to his constituency, where I was delighted to find a growing fund of wisdom determined to return to the European Parliament the excellent Conservative representative. [ Hon. Members :-- "Name him!"] His name is Alasdair Hutton. If I am allowed to do so, I should like to advertise it even more plainly. All prudent voters in the hon. Gentleman's constituency should take the opportunity to vote tomorrow for Alasdair Hutton. I should also add, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, that our reaction to the Delors report on economic and monetary union makes a sharp distinction between what is there spelt out for stages 2 and 3 of the process towards economic and monetary union, which involves very far-reaching changes indeed which cannot be contemplated in the foreseeable future. In relation to the first stage, we have already taken many practical steps in that direction. We will need to see how much further we can go. There is a distinction to be drawn, and we strongly support what can be done under stage 1.

Mrs. Currie : Are not the economies of the member states still too different? They have different growth rates, employment patterns, unemployment rates, economic histories and patterns of economic development. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that entry into something as rigid and controlled as European monetary union should be a consequence of future closer co-operation between the economies which will come after 1992--and, I hope, before--and not a precursor of it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is right in focusing on one aspect of the many features that are necessary before stages 2 and 3 of EMU can be contemplated. She has drawn attention to the economic factors. Powerful changes in institutional and constitutional arrangements will also have to be made, including transfers of sovereignty to Europe-wide institutions in relation to economic and monetary policy. I am sure that those changes go well beyond those contemplated by the overwhelming majority of hon. Members.

Mr. Spearing : When the Foreign Secretary next meets Mr. Delors and talks about economic and monetary union, will he assure him that the signature of the Governor of the Bank of England on the Delors report

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was to show assent to the feasibility of the changes, not their merits or desirability? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman comment on the particular method used by the Community which may cause misunderstandings about what the signature represents?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman, with his customary insight, has easily overcome any risk of misunderstanding. It has been well known throughout that the Governor participated in that report in a personal capacity, and the report represents the conclusions of a group of experts and others constituted in that way. It is important to recognise that, even in respect of feasibility, the report emphasised the immense sequence of changes that would have to be made over a long period and expressly excluded any commitment to a timetable of any kind--so to that extent as well, it was wise. The least percipient section of the report was paragraph 39, which argued that by taking the first step one was committed to the last. Nothing should be further from the truth.


6. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the United Nations Secretary- General to discuss the United Nations initiative for solving the Cyprus problem ; and what matters were discussed.

Mrs. Chalker : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State last discussed the Cyprus problem with the United Nations Secretary- General in Tokyo on 25 February, when they reviewed progress in the intercommunal talks. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also discussed the Cyprus problem with the Secretary-General on 18 April and met him again earlier today.

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend agree that successful reunification of Cyprus depends upon an improved atmosphere of trust between the two communities, which will be promoted by the kind of intercommunal conference organised under parliamentary auspices in Nicosia this weekend? Given the previous reluctance of the Turkish Cypriot leadership to allow political leaders to attend such conferences, will my right hon. Friend make what representations she can to persuade the leaders that their attendance at these conferences is not an act of political subversion but a constructive commitment to the kind of improvement in relations that will lead to a successful relocation of the army?

Mrs. Chalker : The whole House will accept that the more the two communities and their two leaders--the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the leader from the north--come together, the more likely it is that the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General will be successful in bringing about a resolution of the problem. That would be further underpinned by a meeting of people from both the communities. As my hon. Friend recognises, that is not being encouraged from the north. One can only hope that by further discussion we will get on top of the problems and that the United Nations Secretary-General's plan will be put into operation.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Arising from the re-equipment and modernisation of the Greek Cypriot guard by French companies during the past year, including the provision of

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new tanks and missiles, does the Minister think that this militarisation will give an assurance to the Turkish Cypriots about their safety in a united Cyprus? Does she think that it will encourage the Turkish army to reduce its numbers in Cyprus? Does she think that this is helpful to the intercommunal talks with which the Secretary- General is trying to proceed?

Mrs. Chalker : Any increase in tension between the communities, however it may be caused, would be unhelpful. The United Nations force, UNFICYP, has sought to keep the balance between the two communities and it has done a magnificent job, not least Britain's 741 men who form the largest contingent. Both sides need major constraint and a great deal of patience. I am confident that the Secretary-General is prepared to see it through patiently and consistently. We will give whatever help we can to a resolution under his auspices.

Mr. Lawrence : Would it help to speed a solution to the Cyprus problem if the Government followed their more normal pattern of even- handedness and did not give the impression that they were on the side of the Greeks?

Mr. Tony Banks : We are.

Mrs. Chalker : We have supported the United Nations

Secretary-General at every turn. We have always tried to be what my hon. and learned Friend described as even-handed. His reference was, perhaps, to our difficulties because the declaration of independence by Rauf Denktas in 1983 was illegal, and nothing can change that. It is crucial to get the timing of further talks right. I sincerely hope that by the end of this month further progress will have been made. We shall continue to be even- handed, as we have been all along.

Mr. Heffer : Everyone welcomes the fact that the Government are trying to be even-handed, but the Minister was right to point out that it was illegal action by the Turks, especially the invasion by Turkish soliders, that led to the division of Cyprus. Should we not be bringing pressure to bear on the Turks? After all, Turkey is a member of NATO. If Britain believes in defending democracy and freedom, should it not tell Turkey that if it wishes to remain a member it should withdraw its troops, thus laying a better basis to bring together the two peoples of Cyprus?

Mrs. Chalker : Britain is absolutely right to continue to support the initiative of the United Nations' Secretary-General. There is no question of trying to resolve such a difficult matter in any other way. However difficult the problem may sometimes appear to be to the President of Cyprus and to Mr. Denktas, it can be resolved only through discussions. It would be to good effect if influence could be brought to bear either by the Turkish or Greek Governments, or by a resolution in line with the Secretary-General's plan.


7. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current British/Chinese relations.

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Mr. Geoffrey Howe : I refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement in the House on 6 June, when I said that under present circumstances there could be no question of continuing normal business with the Chinese authorities.

Mr. Winnick : Will the Foreign Secretary again tell the Chinese authorities, if he has not already done so, of the widespread feeling of revulsion in Britain at the continuing intimidation, brutality and terror tactics that the Chinese authorities are using against anyone considered to be a dissident or a subversive? If they continue their present policy of terror, is there not bound to be a growing feeling among democracies--not just Britain--that effective steps should be taken against that dictatorship?

Will the Foreign Office work closely with the Home Office to ensure that those Chinese students studying in this country who have a well-founded fear of returning home in the present circumstances will receive sympathetic consideration of their requests to stay in this country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The first point expressed by the hon. Gentleman was exactly the one expressed at the meeting of European Foreign Ministers on Monday, which I attended. We joined in expressing the clear view that continued repression, such as that being enforced by the authorities in China, following the savagery and brutality of the previous week, is likely to lead to a progressive decline in China's status in the eyes of the rest of the world. We are trying to get that message through as clearly and as plainly as possible. As to Chinese students in Britain and other Community countries, a clear view was expressed that applications to extend their right to stay in their respective host countries should be sympathetically considered in the light of the facts that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Walden : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with hon. Members who recently visited Hong Kong that the most honourable approach to the predicament of its people is the most realistic? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that it would be wrong to jettison the Sino- British agreement ; that it would be wrong to encourage mass emigration, which would undermine the stability of the colony ; and that it would be wrong to encourage the illusion that the swifter introduction of democracy would be any bulwark against a regime that has manifestly taken leave of its senses? Does he agree that there are circumstances in which prudence can be a potent substitute for power?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for summarising the chunks of wisdom that we have been able to read in newspaper articles that he has written recently. He is right to urge, above all, a sense of balance and realism. Plainly, as I said in the House last week, if it is possible to make headway by enhancing and consolidating democratic structures within the territory of Hong Kong, it should be considered in the light of the views being expressed there. It would be wrong to do or say anything that would encourage a flood of emigration. Above all, my hon. Friend rightly emphasised the importance of retaining the foundation for the future--the joint declaration. One must ask whether the future would be better or worse in the absence of it. It is clear that a future built on the continuation of the declaration will be far

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stronger. Our task must be to do all that we can to make the Chinese Government give the declaration the support that their international obligations require.

Mr. Morgan : Having read the press release from the Monday Club last week, which said :

"We should not become the dustbin of Europe"--

Mr. Speaker : Paraphrase, please.

Mr. Morgan : The press release states that the people of Hong Kong are not British but Chinese and that this country should not become the dustbin of Europe. Further to the reply that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about the position of mainland Chinese students in Britain, will he say what provision the Foreign Office is making to provide some means of funding for them, because they are funded on a monthly bursary basis by the Chinese Government? How will they survive in Britain if they have a well- founded fear of persecution should they return home?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is not possible to address oneself to all the possible implications of what has happened recently in China, save step by step. Our present concern, which was expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), is to secure a minimum assurance about the response that will be given to applications made by Chinese students to extend their stay in Britain. Some of them are here on scholarships financed in this country and some on scholarships financed by their home Government. We shall have to see how the arrangements can best be made. It is most important that the world secures, as soon as it can be achieved, a return to a more reasonable and more restrained style of Government in Peking.

Mr. Adley : I endorse the view put quietly but essentially by my right hon. and learned Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the only beneficiaries from the present position are those who, for some time, have been trying to sow mistrust between Britain and China to undermine the joint agreement? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that to bring succour to the suffering people of China in their hour of turmoil, and to restore confidence to the people of Hong Kong, it is necessary, however distasteful, to continue to do business with those who are currently in charge of affairs in China?

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