§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)
It may be of assistance to the House if, in answering this question, I explain that there are three types of Exocet currently in production: the ship-to-ship MM38, which is in service with the Royal Navy, the air-launched AM39, and the more recently developed, advanced ship-to-ship version known as MM40. The Royal Navy's purchase of MM38, negotiation of which began under the Labour Government, was arranged under a memorandum of understanding finally signed by the Conservative Government in June 1971. One object of this memorandum of understanding was to ensure that a significant package of work was placed with British firms as an offset. Because of their expertise, British firms have also obtained a number of contracts for the other two Exocet programmes that I have mentioned, in addition to the work on MM38.
Although we are aware of the volume of components supplied by British subcontractors to the French prime contractor, SNIAS, we would not expect to have information on the ultimate destination of the large number of individual components concerned.
§ Mr. Hoyle
Does the Minister agree, having given that answer, that, as 40 British companies are manufacturing parts for the Exocet, it is possible that British components could have been fitted to the Exocets that were used by the Argentines in the Falklands? Does he further agree that, as we have condemned the French for re-commencing supplies of the Exocet, if hostilities broke out we could find British components being used in the Exocets that were manufactured previously and sold to the Argentines? Does he agree that that would be indefensible, immoral and hypocritical?
§ Mr. Pattie
The considerations that the hon. Gentleman raises must have been in the mind of the Labour Government in 1969 when they drew up the memorandum of understanding that applied to the acquisition of the Exocet system by the Royal Navy. As the Royal Navy will still be taking deliveries until next year, the hon. Gentleman's question does not apply.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
Is it not true that a number of companies in this country are involved in contracts covering a period much longer than that in which it would have been possible to make a decision on the Falklands conflict, and that decisions have been taken for them to participate in these contracts by Governments of both political parties over a period of years? Does my hon. Friend agree that, while we would not wish to be in any 127 way associated with weapons that kill British service men, the contractual periods are such that they could apply to Governments of all political parties?
§ Mr. Pattie
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The contract period is well over 12 years so far, let alone any period in the future. I think my hon. Friend will agree with me that the type of allegations being levelled from the Opposition Benches are nothing less than nauseating hypocrisy.
§ Dr. McDonald
When will the Government stop the sale of all arms and components directly or indirectly to Argentina?
§ Mr. Pattie
The Government's position has been made clear in relation to all completed systems and main systems. I made it clear in my main answer that the normal supply of end-user certificates, which, as the hon. Lady will know, is a way of determining where particular compondents will end up, is not appropriate. The components we are discussing are small and readily available elsewhere in the international market.