HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc295-6
2. Mr. Ashdown

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether agreement has yet been reached with the United States of America and other COCOM countries about the details of computer devices requiring COCOM approval before export.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Paul Channon)

Not yet—but talks are going on at the present time.

Mr. Ashdown

As the outcome of the talks will have a profound effect on British high technology industry, and as the Pentagon publishes regular briefing papers on the progress of the talks so that the United States industry can comment, will the Minister consider providing a similar service for British industry and others so that they can comment on what is happening in COCOM?

Mr. Channon

I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's comments, although I should be reluctant to say exactly what we hope to achieve in the negotiations, as that would reveal too much of our negotiating hand.

Mr. Adley

In the course of research for this question, did my right hon. Friend refer back to my Adjournment debate in 1974 on COCOM and the American Government's attitude to it? Does he accept that in many cases the Americans take a very restrictive and self-centred view of the COCOM list and organise things to suit their own industry? Will he ensure that we are more discriminating and intelligent in the way in which we interpret the list?

Mr. Channon

I certainly agree with the last part of my hon. Friend's remarks. I must confess that his Adjournment debate in 1974 has eluded me so far, but I shall make sure that I read it this afternoon. I am sure that, as usual, my hon. Friend was ahead of the times.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a short, highly selective list of high technology items which all countries in the Western Alliance and Japan agree should be kept from the Warsaw pact for as long as is practicable, but that secrecy and possessiveness among countries belonging to the same alliance is deplorable, and that policies that represent a respectable cloak for trade protectionism are equally deplorable?

Mr. Channon

I entirely agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. I must make the point that COCOM works on the basis of unanimity. We must get unanimous agreement before any changes can be made. We are trying to negotate along the lines that my hon. Friend is seeking.

Mr. Shore

COCOM certainly makes sense, but surely the Minister must accept that it would be far better for Britain to choose and make clear its own decision on which items to ban, rather than have that decision made for it simply because American and other multinational companies are operating through British subsidiaries. Should not the Minister have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the future of INMOS, an independent British firm, with independent British transputer capacity? It would be disastrous if that were allowed to fall into foreign hands.

Mr. Channon

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, INMOS was debated in the House last week. Most impartial observers thought that the right hon. Gentleman had rather the worst of the debate.