HC Deb 13 March 1986 vol 93 cc1219-31 1.21 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

If I am fast to the point of gabbling, it is partly because both the Minister and the Hansard reporters have had the text of what I am going to say since 2 o'clock, and partly because there are very important debates to come, not least on Leyland, which should receive time during the debate on the Consolidated Fund.

I ought to be candid with the House and say that, in raising the issue of SDI research in general, and the visit of Mr. Clarence Robinson in particular, I am passionately opposed to the militarisation of space. In his excellent pamphlet, Beyond Nuclear Deterrence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that The only man in the world who believes that star wars might make nuclear weapons 'impotent and obsolete' is President Reagan himself. In this matter, official Labour party policy has no more ardent supporter than me.

It will be within the recollection of Ministers that on 26 February, column 993, during the Royal Air Force debate I raised a series of relevant questions on SDI to which I have had no reply. I understand the vexation of Ministers having to be up half the night, but you see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if Ministers do not reply by letter to Commons speeches made during the Services Estimates, the Members who make speeches have no option but to look back and back, until someone takes notice of what is said on the Floor of the House. I say to the Minister of State that the parliamentary process ought to take precedence over radio broadcasts from Brussels on "Any Questions?"

Could we establish the basis on which Mr. Clarence Robinson came to Europe? He was hardly a tourist. A tourist does not contact the SDI participation office requesting Ministry of Defence approval to visit British firms, such as Ferranti, British Aerospace and Plessey, in order to discuss work with the highest security classification. A tourist does not call the research director of GEC Marconi, contact its research director, to be told by the research director's office that he must have MoD clearance, then approach the MoD, to be told by Mr. Ken Hambledon, then head of the SDI participation office, that no such clearance would be given, and return to GEC Marconi in the hope of pursuing his original request.

May I say that I believe that Mr. Ken Hambledon was acting wholly properly, wholly in accord with the British national and scientific interest, and, I believe, probably, though it has not been published, within the terms of the memorandum of understanding? Can the House be told why this distinguished civil servant, Mr. Ken Hambledon, appointed specially by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) to head the SDI participation office, who spent a year grappling, first, with the intricacies of international law, secondly, with delicate matters of diplomacy, and, thirdly, with the technology of SDI, has been moved sideways? Does his successor, Mr. Stan Orman—no personal criticism of him from me—have equal knowledge of what is self-evidently a mighty complex subject?

Has Mr. Ken Hambledon, an honourable man doing his job properly, been the fall-guy for the Americans, so that Ministers can turn round, after the Clarence Robinson fiasco, and say, "It was all a mistake—help yourselves to British advanced technology, classify what you will, and we have removed any obstacle to your doing this, since that man Hambledon, who was awkward to Clarence Robinson, has been shifted elsewhere"?

What is the justification for taking up the time of the House? It is this. First, Paul Hopler, a technology specialist in the technology transfer unit of the Pentagon, within the research and engineering division of the Pentagon, is engaged in a study of SDI technologies. Secondly, Hopler commissioned two companies, the Institute for Defence Analysis, and BK Dynamics, to carry out a survey of NATO countries, to discover SDI-related technologies, which would have to be brought into the study, and which might have to be classified. Thirdly, BK Dynamics has admitted that Mr. Robinson was recently in Europe to elicit information from companies, including about 10 in Britain, that would subsequently be fed into the study for Mr. Hopler.

In answer to one of my questions, the Minister of State replied that either United States law or United Kingdom law would apply, depending on the contractual circumstances. I asked the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether, when he went to Washington, he argued that the writ of United States law would not run in the United Kingdom. Has that changed with the memorandum of understanding, or, indeed, the addendum between Professor Richard Norman and General Abrahamson?

Let me dwell on the money. In my previous speech I referred to John Pike of the American Federation of Scientists, Official Report, column 994, 26 February, on the question of American financing. He estimates that Europe might receive some $300 million. I understand from the journalist, Mr. Paul Walton, that, although $5 billion has already been placed in America for SDI contracts, only $1.2 million, not billion—I repeat million—have been placed in Britain with Heriot Watt, where some of my constituents work; Ferranti in two areas, one adjacent to my constituency; Marconi Projects, in two cases; Plessey, and English Electric Valve. A little other money may have gone to Rutherford Appleton or Culham. An estimate has been given that Britain would be lucky to win one tenth of 1 per cent.—0.1 per cent. by 1990 of the $26 billion available. Do the Ministry of Defence dispute those figures?

Are we British really going to allow ourselves to have our advanced technology milked by the Americans in the hope of comparatively paltry sums? It is the old, old story of European, and particularly British, brains, having the ideas, doing the research, and finding that the Americans do the development, and reap the rewards.

Bluntly, the House will have to be persuaded that Mr. Clarence Robinson was not on an artful, thieving mission. I have not met Mr. Clarence Robinson, and for all I know he may be a very serious and decent man, ex-journalist on Aviation Week, successful business man, trusted by the American Department of Defence, for whom he does most of his work. Is it conceivable that the Ministry of Defence did not know about his visit; and would Ministers like to correct or amend their answers to Tuesday's questions?

Can we really suppose that the Ministry of Defence had no knowledge at all of the work of Mr. Paul Hopler, with whom Clarence Robinson has a working relationship? After all, in Jane's Defence Weekly, on 15 February, Mr. Hopler's intentions were outlined in full. Subsequently, on 17 February, the anxious directors of our leading high technology companies were demanding an explanation of Mr. Hopler's intentions from General Abrahamson, at a briefing of the Conservative Bow Group on SDI. General Abrahamson promised to reply before leaving Britain. Has he yet done so? Not to my knowledge.

I understand that Paul Hopler certainly thought that the visit of Clarence Robinson had the full approval of the British Cabinet. Is he correct? Were the Americans deluding themselves about British Cabinet agreement, or did the memorandum of understanding imply that a visit, such as Robinson's, was a matter of course? Have the Government been entirely candid about their involvement? Ministers should be careful in answering this question, which I shall repeat endlessly until it is answered, because I shall be sending a copy of this debate to Mr. Hopler and Mr. Robinson. It would be best to be candid now.

If the Government truly knew nothing about the visit attempted by Mr. Clarence Robinson, are Ministers really suggesting that Mr. Robinson was discovered trying to undertake a covert tour of highly classified British companies, universities and research establishments? The House of Commons was told that Britain would participate in SDI research as another example of the special understanding with the United States, reinforced by the only memorandum of understanding, with its recent addendum, so far made by the American Government. Perhaps the House should be offering advice to the West Germans, and Herr Genscher, that the memorandum of understanding, is more like a memorandum of misunderstanding.

Present misunderstandings have not been dispelled by different explanations, originating from officials of the American Government as the true reason for the visit by Mr. Robinson. I have already referred to the explanation by Hopler that necessary Cabinet level approval had already been given for a visit by Mr. Clarence Robinson to discuss classified research in British firms. However, Mr. Clarence Robinson told Mr. Ken Hambledon that he was "an advanced scout" for the award of SDI contracts specifically set aside for United Kingdom firms. Do Ministers accept that explanation? The SDI office in Washington does not. Major Rigby, chief spokesman for the American SD organisation office, provided this statement: Mr. Robinson is a Defence Consultant with contracts with various Defence Departments. Mr. Robinson was in Europe conducting an unclassified study for the Deputy Under Secretary of Defence for Research and Engineering. He was not working for the SDI office. That is the Americans, not me, speaking.

The SDI office dispelled any idea that Mr. Clarence Robinson was offering research contracts to British companies on its behalf. Surprisingly, he was here to consider unclassified research. Perhaps the House should be told why Mr. Robinson asked to see classified research. It is no good British Ministers passing by on the other side of the road from Mr. Robinson, because Mr. Robinson, in the words of the SDI office in Washington, was working for the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Defence for Research and Engineering, who is Dr. Hicks, the boss of Paul Hopler. Ministers and their Departments must have known something about the American initiative. What? Do they not read Jane's Defence Weekly?

Are we to understand that last Tuesday the Secretary of State for Defence authorised a request to the Pentagon, via the British embassy in Washington, for a full explanation of what Mr. Clarence Robinson was up to? Is the Minister in a position to let the House have a response? If so, could we have it? If not, is it not an astonishing snub to Her Majesty's Government? It raises the whole critical question of what kind of relationship we have with the Americans on this issue.

The Minister will have studied the important article in Saturday's Financial Times by Peter Marsh. I repeat the questions put by Mr. Marsh in that article. Why were Ministry of Defence officials kept in the dark about the true purpose behind Mr. Robinson's tour? Is Mr. Robinson due to return? If they have any difficulty about eliciting information from the Americans, why do not the Ministry of Defence officials phone Mr. Robinson in Washington? I can give them the phone number. His work telephone number is 0101 703 522 8155 and his home telephone is 0101 703 255 9852.

Does the memorandum of understanding allow for such visits? Why on earth cannot the memorandum of understanding be published, since publication might put at rest all the rumours? The notion that it cannot be published on grounds of commercial confidentiality does seem absurd. Why, in Heaven's name, cannot the memorandum of understanding by published?

One of the issues encapsulated in this episode is the way in which the Pentagon is seeking to arrange mechanisms for the classification of militarily sensitive SDI-related technologies on which British firms are working. Those classification procedures could, if implemented, either by the decree of the United States Government by themselves or by the COCOM organisation in Paris impede the ability of British firms to commercialise their technologies in the world market place.

I have reason to believe that Mr. Hopler has already gathered, on the Pentagon's behalf, a great deal of sensitive information about British technology. Is this a healthy relationship? I am not anti-American, but I express doubts about the Pentagon's motives.

As a former Labour science spokesman, sacked over the Falklands, with a sustained interest in British science, I am concerned about something else. We have seen the development of United States controls over the commercial exploitation of science and technology and even products which we now take for granted—for example, computers. This Robinson affair demonstrates that there is a danger, if such controls are deployed, with reference to more fundamental science and technology, as represented by the SDI. Having extended control over products emanating from British and European science, on the grounds that they should not fall into the hands of the Soviets, the Pentagon now apparently wishes to control research and development, simply because it is defined as SDI-related.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and to the Under-Secretary of State, for staying up until this hour. I should like answers to some of my questions.

1.35 am
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

This is not the first time that, early in the morning, I have followed the hon.

Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in an Adjourment debate. This debate is of as much consequence and importance as the previous one.

This is not the first time that such an incident has occurred in Britain. More than a year ago I tabled a parliamentary question which showed that Mr. Jack Lacey on behalf of the American Government had visited a certain British firm—Plasma Technology in Avon—without the British Government's permission or knowledge, to seek information about attempts by the United States Government to impose upon British firms United States law, which does not operate in Britain.

The Attorney-General has already commented to me in general terms about this example of extra-territorial application of United States law. He said that it was a direct infringement of British sovereignty and was illegal under international law. That happened more than a year ago. As far as I know, since then the Government have taken no steps to ensure that what happens in Britain is subject only to British law and to protect British firms from actions which the Government acknowledge are an infringement of our sovereignty and are illegal under international law.

I am concerned about the fact that we are beginning to see direct attempts by the American Government to impose restrictions, not only on the activities of British firms which obey British law, but on the knowledge in people's heads. This is happening in the United States. The Pentagon is attempting to restrict the free movement of certain American citizens because they happen to have information in their heads.

It would be a grave infringement of our liberties, our sovereignty and the laws that govern our activities and behaviour if we allowed similiar controls to be imposed on our people. I hope that the Government will concede that this is yet another example—a serious and damaging one—of activities taking place on behalf of the United States Government which are not only a direct infringement of our laws but which act as a serious inhibition on the commercial activities of firms that operate in Britain. Unless the Government are prepared to take serious action and to stand up to the United States they will diminish not only the rights of British subjects but the capacity of much of our high technology industry to trade effectively.

1.40 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

We are again indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for an opportunity to discuss this most important of issues. Normally when we have discussed the SDI initiative it has been on a question of general military policy, strategic policies and foreign policy implications, and we have not always had the opportunity to examine the matter in terms of its straight defence industry implications and its implications for British industry generally.

The reason for this debate lies in the two strange replies that my hon. Friend received from the Secretary of State for Defence on Tuesday. When my hon. Friend asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he was consulted about the visit of Mr. Clarence Robinson, and for what reasons did he go back to the United States without having talked to British industry? the Secretary of State replied:

I was not consulted about the visit of Mr. Clarence Robinson. It was therefore entirely up to him whether he came or went."—[Official Report, 11 March 1986; Vol. 93, c. 793.] Six columns later my hon. Friend returned to this point and asked the Secretary of State: Could we be clear? Is the Secretary of State saying that he heard nothing from the British embassy in Washington about the visit of Mr. Clarence Robinson and that Mr. Clarence Robinson never asked for security clearance? Mr. Speaker intervened to say: Order. Has this anything to do with NATO? Despite the protection given by Mr. Speaker on that occasion, the Secretary of State for Defence found it necessary to come back and say: I can confirm that we heard nothing of the visit of that gentleman, but we have asked for a report about it."—[Official Report, 11 March 1986; Vol. 93, c. 799.] The question then arises, where and when was the report asked for? Did it arise between columns 793 and 799, or had it already been asked for? If that was the case, why was my hon. Friend not informed about that when he first posed his question to the Secretary of State? If we had had that information, we would have had a better reason for knowing why the Secretary of State and the Government have been so diffident about the whole of this SDI agreement and memorandum of understanding with the United States.

It is strange that the original reply should have been by the Secretary of State asserting that he knew little or nothing and that nothing was asked for and nothing had to be given. Somebody in the Secretary of State's Department must have known that Mr. Clarence Robinson was sniffing around British industry, that he was going to some of the most highly secretive and classified institutions in the land and that he had been looking for a security clearance and that it had been turned down.

The Department must have known, as my hon. Friend has said, of the role that Mr. Robinson had played in the past for BK Dynamics in its search for information about European technologies relevant to SDI. That role must have been known to the Department and to the Embassy in Washington.

The Secretary of State must have known of the transfer sideways of Mr. Ken Hambledon and whether that was or was not the direct result of the Civil Servant refusing to give the necessary security clearance to Mr. Robinson. We ought to know about these matters from the Secretary of State or from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State who is to reply. I would have thought that on an issue like this, we should have had the Minister responsible for Defence procurement replying on these matters and I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow on that point.

On Tuesday the Secretary of State gave the impression that he did not know what was going on in his own Department. We are concerned with something rather more important than the antics and knowledge of the Secretary of State. We are concerned with the control of fundamental research and technology in the United Kingdom and whether that will be swallowed up and lost in the United State's SDI programme. My hon. Friend's question and the questions which he listed so succinctly in the RAF debate, were of a fundamental nature which needed to be answered and which did not, in any way, seek a degree of commercial confidentiality. My hon. Friend did not want to know what the percentage was that Plessey was going to receive and he did not even want to know the significance of particular orders; rather, he wanted to know—and I believe that the country and the House want to know—what was conceded in the memorandum of understanding? What did we understand by it? The Government would like us to believe that British science and technology, like the National Health Service, is safe in their hands, but we have seen what has happened to the NHS, and we are likely to see British research facilities, knowledge and technology disappearing, as fast as hospitals are being closed.

We want to know not the commercial secrets but the understanding on which we entered into negotiations with the United States and agreed to take part in the SDI programme. We have made, not a treaty, but a memorandum of understanding with the United States. It has not been agreed by the foreign affairs committee of the Senate, and so the Senate is not bound by it. Through a variety of ways, the United States can get our knowlege, science and technology, and change the rules and move the goalposts as often and quickly as it wishes for what to it are proper reasons. I do not deny the right of Americans to look after their national interest, but occasionally our Government should look after ours as well.

The United States Government's history is of restriction followed by restriction on the ability of their allies to develop, and sell to third parties secrets, products and ideas, if they have the remotest defence implications. Presidential and COCOM powers have been extended. We have seen how contracts are drawn up, and the limitations placed on people who attend intellectual seminars in the United States. They are all based on the idea of restricting knowledge outside the United States. However, that knowledge goes into the hands of United States' industry to give it an edge, to enable it to develop ideas from outside, and to delay their application and development outside the United States while they are developed inside.

My hon. Friend asked whether British or American law applied to the contracts, and what the intellectual property rights were. While in the letter of the law that is important, it is not terribly important. It is more a question of the spirit in which the matters are entered into, and we are worried about the lack of spirit. It is no consolation to say that if an idea comes from a British firm we shall maintain our intellectual property rights. That is equivalent to a man who owns the freehold of land which has a 999 year lease. That is what is likely to happen in this case.

The Minister will have read the important article by Mr. Paul Walton in Jane's Defence Weekly last month which sought to examine the nature of the memorandum of understanding, and the question of the United States extraterritorial claims. We have witnessed their development, and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) tried to compare the activities of Mr. Lacey with those of Mr. Robinson. I am not sure whether one can do that.

Mr. Walton argued that the memorandum of understanding was drawn up because of a desire by the British Government, especially the Prime Minister, to get away from the extra-territorial arguments, objections and fights, and to establish matters on a new, better level. We could in fact work together on these matters. If we look at the matter in the way the Prime Minister, the United States, the Pentagon and Mr. Paul Hopler have looked at it we see that there is a different attitude.

Mr. Walton in the article published in Jane's Defence Weekly argues that the extra territorial debate has taken a new turn towards fundamental research and development.

The Pentagon is now studying any technology, in any country, which might have some military application for SDI research. The Star Wars programme is based on fundamental technologies not yet out of the laboratory … the Americans wnat the right to classify any technology, and any product, in the field of electronics, computing and telecommunications,". That means that the whole of the role of information technology and the future that has for industry in general, not only in defence matters but more fundamentally in civil matters will be at the mercy of this Committee and the way that it examines these things. Mr. Hopler's Committee is searching for relevant technologies in NATO countries outside the United States and two countries in particular are under the microscope—the United Kingdom and West Germany.

Mr. Hopler told his British counterparts tht he wished to study SDI related technologies—it has been quoted in Jane and has not been denied either by Mr. Hopler or the British Government. He said: We're not necessarily going to go into all companies in all countries although I am sure we will in the case of Great Britain". That is a nice position to be in. The man responsible in the Pentagon for the Department of Defence, the guardian of the Military Critical Technologies List, says that he will go in to every company in the United Kingdom. That is overstepping extra territoriality in terms of SDI.

The article continues: Mr. Hopler was working closely with the SDI office, but he has been advised to distance his study from their work. The politicians— I presume that that is the Government— do not want to link SDI and the Co-ordinating Committee on Multi Lateral Export Control (CoCom). It is thought that this combination would be dynamite. One seeks European co-operation in R and D, the other denies them easy access to advanced technologies. That is indeed a contradiction and it is indeed dynamite. I find the conclusion of Mr. Walton's article the most frightening: Eventually, Pentagon staff close to the MCTL process feel, Britain will have no choice but to take part. that is, in SDI and to accept extra territoriality.

The memo which committed Margaret Thatcher to Star Wars also implied that full security be maintained when, and if, SDI contracts were placed. Several contracts have now been placed by SDI research, Pentagon officials argue, so the UK is obliged to open up for inspection Fait accompli. Whether the firms which Hopler wants his teams to visit will feel similarly obliged is another matter. In the long term, the process of classifying work not yet out of the laboratory will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on computing, electronics and telecommunications. More precisely, it will be Information Technology outside the USA and beyond the military industrial complex which will suffer most. Without the free flow of information and people, and the ability to trade in state of the art products, such industries will always play second fiddle to the USA. If they are playing second fiddle to the United States, it means that our defence industries are playing second fiddle to the United States. It means that on those occasions when we may wish, for our own sake and in our interests to defend and develop our own defence potential we will be able to do so only if we have the consent of the Military Critical Technologies List. We have to ensure that we have the ability to pull back our technology and use it without the consent of the United States.

The real fear of the country is not about the strategy, or SDI itself, but about the future of British industry and our ability to invent, develop and innovate for our industrial well-being and the defence of our country, which has been put at risk by the Government's actions. That is why we are particularly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow for his tenacity in giving us the opportunity to debate this subject this evening.

1.55 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

The House recently had the opportunity to debate the strategic defence initiative, on 19 February, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a very full exposition of the British Government's policy towards the United States strategic defence initiative and towards participation in the United States research programme for SDI. That was only three weeks ago. Within a week, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) sought to re-open the debate in the course of the debate on the Royal Air Force, and tonight he has returned to the subject once again. One cannot—I say this in the nicest way—but marvel at the hon. Member's tenacity in this as in other matters. He will hardly expect me tonight to elaborate further on the Government's position, so recently and fully set out before the House.

The Government's approach to the strategic defence initiative continues to be guided by the four points which were agreed by the President and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at their meeting at Camp David in December 1984. The points are; first, the United States and Western aim is not to achieve superiority but to maintain balance, taking account of Soviet development. Secondly, SDI-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiation. Thirdly, the aim is to enhance, and not to undermine, deterrents. Lastly, East-West negotiations should aim to achieve security with reduced levels of offensive systems on both sides.

Within the framework of these four points, including our clear commitment to strategic stability and to arms control, the British Government have viewed the question of participation in SDI research. In March last year, the United States Secretary for Defence wrote to his opposite numbers in NATO and Australia, Israel and Japan inviting each country to participate in the United States programme of SDI research. The Government could, of course, have responded by saying simply that the British companies and research institutions were free, as always, to seek involvement in the United States research programme through their own individual efforts. It would have been possible, in other words, for the Government to refrain from making any positive response to the United States invitation, but this would have been to ignore the long and successful history of Anglo-American defence co-operation to under-estimate the significance of SDI. Research for the development of technology generally; and to turn a blind eye to the problems facing any offshore supplier to the United States, in circumstances when it is the little as well as the large who have something to offer.

Mr. Dalyell

I read in an article by an arms control reporter on 25 December 1985: The US was contemplating asking Brazil and Argentina to join the SDI research programme. The reference is cited as El Economista, as stated on Moscow domestic radio, on 15 December 1985. It is true —perhaps the Minister can answer this in writing—that the Americans asked both Brazil and Argentina, and should they be added to the list?

Mr. Lee

I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman, as always. I cannot comment on what he said, but I shall look into it.

The Government support the SDI research programme, for all the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the debate on 19 February. We believe that it is right that British participation in an endeavour of such magnitude and significance as this should take place within the framework of an intergovernmental agreement. The negotiations leading up to signature of the memorandum of understanding on 6 December last were constructive, purposeful, and fruitful. A sound framework has been established for British participation in the SDI research programme, on a scale commensurate with what this country's research base has to offer such an advanced programme, and on terms and conditions which fully protect British commercial interests.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow behaves as though SDI is a new concept. The technologies now gathered under the generic title of SDI have been the subject of research and development in the East and the West for close to 20 years.

Perhaps the hon. Member has forgotten that a decision was taken by the then Labour Government, and wisely so in my opinion, to develop Chevaline. At that time we relied on Polaris as a strategic deterrent and the Russians embarked on the establishment of an ABM defence—the first deployed strategic defence initiative—which would have rendered Polaris ineffective. Wisely, we took the decision to design a system capable of outwitting their defence, and that system remains our effective deterrent today.

There is nothing new in the laser technology, there is nothing new in advanced computing, there is nothing new in electromagnetic guns, there is nothing new in terminal defence missiles. What is the bogey of SDI that so worries Opposition Members?

The hon. Gentleman referred in somewhat disparaging tones to the contracts that have been signed, in an attempt—illogical in my view—to suggest that there would in fact be no very substantial United Kingdom participation in SDI research. If he were right, I would expect not scorn but expressions of delight, and that is precisely what he seems to be saying he wants. But it simply does not follow.

My hon. Friend told the House on Tuesday of this week that seven contracts had so far been announced. These were, of course, the result of negotiations pre-dating the signature in December 1985 of the intergovernmental memorandum of understanding and the approval only last month of the more detailed supporting administrative arrangements. The fruits of these agreements remain to be seen. I am in no doubt that they open up the prospect for extensive and rewarding—rewarding for the United Kingdom in general as well as beneficial to the Alliance—research work. I believe that British participation can and will be significant, but it is not just the volume that counts; it is the opportunity to participate in the research at the most advanced levels using funds from the United Kingdom Government. The hon. Gentleman may believe what he will, but I know that British scientists of our companies, universities and our own MOD research establishments who can take advantage of this kind of exciting opportunity will have far more to offer to the actual level of the technological capability of tomorrow than those left on the sidelines.

I am not prepared in the early hours of the morning to speculate about contracts that may now be under negotiation, or in prospect. It is, anyway, the commercial responsibility of the firms concerned, but they know that they have the full support of my Department and the SDI participation office to get business, to get business in the right technical areas, and to get business on the right terms.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow complained at the start of this debate that he had received no reply to the points he raised in the debate on the Royal Air Force on 26 February. He did, indeed, raise a considerable number of points on SDI research during that debate.

However, I would genuinely like to impress upon the hon. Member that, far from wishing to appear evasive on issues related to British participation in SDI research, the Government are intent on being as open as possible in order that such issues, and Government support for them, are fully understood. From the numerous questions that he raised during the Royal Air Force debate and, indeed, on other recent occasions, which bear upon the various aspects of SDI, it is clear that he feels very unhappy about the Government's approach.

In view of this concern, I have been considering an involved and full reply. Obviously this takes some time. I hope to be in a position to give the hon. Member a very full and considered reply early next week, however, in view of the hon. Member's insistence, I will respond to some of his points this morning.

One issue on which concern has again been expressed is that of the confidentiality of the agreement reached with the United States Government on British participation in SDI research. The Government well understand why there should be concern on issues such as this. But I put it to the House, as did the then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Defence in December, that the United States Government could hardly be expected to publish the conclusions of a negotiation with one allied Government when discussions were taking place or were in prospect on the self-same issues with one or more of the other allies. There is nothing unusual or sinister about this as a means of conducting international business.

Mr. McNamara

Will there be publication when the other negotiations are completed?

Mr. Lee

We shall consider that.

Concern has been expressed in the debate, and by no means for the first time, about the possibility that controls on the exploitation of technology generated by SDI research carried out in the United Kingdom may have been agreed which have an inhibiting effect on the exploitation of this technology. Questions in this general field of technology transfer controls were among the many questions given very careful thought in the course of the negotiations on the memorandum of understanding. The need for such careful consideration arose, as much as anything, from the fact that the SDI research programme is first and foremost a defence research programme and, as such, directed towards generating results with potential defence applications. Labour Members have made much of the United States approach towards control of sensitive military technology. But let it not be forgotten that we too in this country have a duty to ensure that classified information of military value does not fall into the wrong hands. It is perfectly proper, and quite normal, that there should be controls on the use of sensitive defence information. SDI research results falling into this category will accordingly be subject to the appropriate control procedures. There is, however, one characteristic of the SDI research programme which may be regarded as untypical of defence research programmes. Much of the research work is of a fundamental kind and, indeed, there is a special part of the programme under the control of the Innovative Science and Technology Office—the United States SDI office in Washington—which is concerned solely with the fundamental end of the research spectrum. It is in this area particularly where it will remain important to ensure that research results are available in unclassified form, save in the most exceptional cases.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow referred at considerable length to the reported plans of Mr. Clarence Robinson to visit a number of British firms.

Mr. Ashdown

I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members accept that there will have to be appropriate controls over security technology, but is it not more appropriate that the controls within Britain should be British controls and is it not wholly inappropriate that another nation, whether or not an ally, should seek to impose its laws upon what happens in Britain? Will the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State give an undertaking to the House that the memorandum of understanding contains no provision that would allow any law other than British law to operate in respect of British firms and, specifically, that the memorandum of understanding contains no requirement that British companies working on SDI contracts should obey extraterritorially the Export Administration Act of the United States?

Mr. Lee

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is a very skilful parliamentary operator, but I am not prepared to be drawn on the details of the memorandum of understanding.

There is one point that has been raised in this context—the Clarence Robinson visit—on which it is important that there should be no further misunderstanding. If Mr. Robinson or anyone else is employed as a consultant or agent of an overseas Government and wishes to visit the United Kingdom to discuss equipments and technologies with United Kingdom firms, we would certainly expect to be consulted in advance. For a visit involving access to classified information, a formal clearance is required and requests for clearance are handled by the Ministry of Defence directorate of security. No such request was made on Mr. Robinson's behalf by the United States authorities. It would have been a matter of considerable concern if a visit involving access to classified material had taken place without the necessary authorisation. But—I ask the House to note this carefully—no such visit took place.

Early on in his speech, the hon. Member for Linlithgow described an approach to Mr. Hambleton of the Ministry of Defence that was made by Mr. Robinson. The approach was made by telephone from Paris, and the hon. Member's account is substantially correct on this point. He also asked whether the visit had the approval of Cabinet. It did not, as my earlier remarks implied; nor is there any provision in the memorandum of understanding on participation in SDI research waiving the requirement for visit clearances, where appropriate.

We have consulted the United States Government about the role of Mr. Robinson and the background and purpose of his visit. Mr. Robinson is not an official of the United States Government but he is employed by them from time to time as a consultant. In this capacity, he was acting, I understand, for the United States Government in relation to a general study of advanced fields of technology in Europe with the object of identifying potentially fruitful areas for greater co-operation. Although originally the study was concerned solely with technologies relevant to the SDI programme, it was subsequently extended to cover high technology in general.

I hope that this helps to clarify the hon. Member's mind as to the background. It has been a puzzling episode, which need have caused no difficulty had it been handled with greater care.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow saw fit on Tuesday, after Questions, to mention an official's name across the Floor of the House. I rather regret that he chose to do so on that occasion, and the terms that he used, but I am glad tonight to have the opportunity to repudiate without qualification the suggestion that Mr. Ken Hambledon may have been moved from his former post as head of the SDI participation office for any reason of the kind put forward by the hon. Member. Mr. Hambledon played a leading part over many months in the process of setting up the intergovernmental arrangements, and brought the participation office into existence. He worked exceptionally hard and did a first-class job. He has been re-appointed to the post which he took up early in 1985, shortly before work on SDI participation began to loom large. It is a challenging appointment, and I am sure that we all, including the hon. Member for Linlithgow, wish him well in it. His successor in the participation office, Dr. Orman, has had a long and distinguished career as a Government scientist, including a period from 1982 to 1984 in the British embassy, Washington. He, too, is extremely well qualified for this task.

I should like to conclude by pointing out that these are, of course, early days in our involvement in the programme, but a sound start has been made. We are not talking here of a sell-out for British science—quite the reverse. We believe that the formal agreement we have reached places satisfactory safeguards on the results of work carried out by British companies and universities. Moreover, by securing such arrangements for British involvement we are confident that our best scientific brains will be content to pursue their research activity in the United Kingdom instead of moving to the United States, which might well have been the case in the absence of the bilateral arrangements we have secured.

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