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Strategic Defence Initiative

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 9th December 1985.

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Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence 3:31 pm, 9th December 1985

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on British participation in the United States strategic defence initiative research programme.

The Government's policy towards the strategic defence initiative remains firmly based on the four points agreed between the Prime Minisster and President Reagan at Camp David in December 1984: that the Western aim is not to achieve superiority but to maintain balance taking account of Soviet developments; that SDI-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiation; that the aim is to enhance, and not to undermine, deterrence; and that East-West negotiation should aim to achieve security with reduced levels of offensive weapons on both sides.

It was in that context that, at Camp David, the Prime Minister told President Reagan of her firm conviction that the SDI research programme should go ahead as a prudent hedge against Soviet activities in the same field.

Earlier this year, the United States invited her NATO and certain other allies to participate in the SDI research programme.

Following that invitation, we have engaged in detailed discussions with the United States Government on the nature and scope of the research which could sensibly be undertaken by United Kingdom firms and institutions.

Those complex discussions have now been completed and agreement has been reached on an information exchange programme, on the areas where British companies and institutions have expertise which might form part of the United States-funded SDI research programme, and on the mechanisms to facilitiate that cooperation.

The confidential memorandum of understanding reached between the two Governments safeguards British interests in relation to the ownership of intellectual property rights and technology transfer, and provides for consultative and review mechanisms in support of the aims of the memorandum.

The SDI research programme goes to the heart of the future defence technologies. Participation will enhance our ability to sustain an effective British research capability in areas of high technology relevant to both defence and civil programmes.

Now that agreement has been reached on the memorandum, British companies, universities and research institutions have the opportunity to compete on a clearly defined basis for the research contracts which are on offer from the United State Government, as well as to participate in an information exchange programme on a fully reciprocal basis for the mutual benefit of the United Kingdom and the United States.

To act as a focal point for British participation, and to liaise with the United States SDI participation office, I am establishing immediately within the Ministry of Defence an SDI participation office with representation from other interested Departments. That office will work in the closest concert with British firms and institutions interested in such participation.

This agreement opens for Britain research possibilities which we could not afford on our own in technologies that will be at the centre of tomorrow's world. It will bring jobs that would otherwise be created abroad, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

We deplore the agreement which the Secretary of State so hastily signed on Friday with Mr. Caspar Weinberger. We deplore it because it gives total Government endorsement not only to the details of star wars but to the principle and strategy behind star wars. We believe that that project will again escalate the arms race by initiating another quest for nuclear superiority, that it will make the attainment of arms control agreements more difficult and that it has been imposed on NATO without notice—I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he had notice of President Reagan's speech setting out the star wars project—consultation or discussion. The project has been trenchantly criticised by the Foreign Secretary and those criticisms have never been answered in the House by Ministers. The agreement has been brought forward without any discussion, debate or endorsement by the House of Commons.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he was duped on Friday by the Americans? Mr. Caspar Weinberger got everything he wanted—British endorsement of star wars. Perhaps even more importantly, he got endorsement of star wars by one of the major NATO nations, and no doubt that will have consequences. Mr. Weinberger gave nothing at all in return to the right hon. Gentleman. He did not even give the crumbs of commerce because he had no authority, power or guarantee from the United States Congress to do so.

What has happened to the $1·5 billion which we have been told in the press would come to British industry? How many contracts and how much money shall we get because of the agreement? Will the agreement be endorsed and ratified by the United States Congress?

What miserable returns have come to British companies from that other office which the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor set up in Washington to try to get contracts for the Trident programme? Will the paltry sums that the right hon. Gentleman will get under this agreement be even less than those we received in relation to Trident? Is it not a fact that there will be a brain drain of British technologists and physicists to the United States because the security implications will be such that those scientists, as General Abrahamson said, will, have to work for American research teams in California and Texas?

Will the right hon. Gentleman at least tell the House that he is prepared to deposit this miserable agreement in the Library so that hon. Members can judge its context and then debate the matter in the House?

The agreement represents a substantial erosion of independence for British defence and foreign policy. The right hon. Gentleman talks about setting up offices, but his Department and the Foreign Office are rapidly becoming the outer offices of the Pentagon and the White House.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman feels better for that extraordinary comment. I shall be delighted to answer his questions. It is indicative of the views of the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition that they believe that I should have turned down the opportunities that are available under this programme. That means that Britain would not have had the chance to participate in these research programmes, that no jobs would have been created in Britain from these programmes and that, instead of contracts coming to this side of the Atlantic, our scientists would have been persuaded to go the other side to help American companies get ahead and prevent our companies from competing with them. It therefore seemed to the Government that it was right to recognise what almost every other Government invited to participate will recognise—that in one way or the other the industries of the western world will participate in the research programme. That is what will happen. The Opposition want Britain to be the one country that does not participate in the research programme.

The basis of the right hon. Gentleman's next line of questioning and criticism was that we are backing the ultimate deployment of the strategic defence initiative. The British Prime Minister secured the clearest possible undertaking—before anybody else—from the President of the United States in the Camp David communiqué that we were backing a research programme which was within the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972.

The third fascinating omission from the right hon. Gentleman's questioning was any reference to the fact that the Soviet Union has been working at almost all the technologies of the SDI for many years.

The Opposition believe in the extraordinary concept that it is all right for the Soviet Union to pursue defensive technologies but that it is wrong for us to do so in our interests. The one unpalatable truth for the Opposition is that perhaps the most single significant factor in persuading the Soviet Union to come back to the conference table, in defiance of everything that we were told by the Opposition that they would do, was the decision by the United States Administration to pursue the strategic defence initiative. Far from destabilising the position and threatening peace, SDI has opened up perhaps the most comprehensive range of arms control discussions for a decade.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , Wealden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members warmly welcome his political endorsement of SDI research, not only because in terms of defence it will help reduce the possibility of a pre-emptive strike but because it will help benefit British research? Can my right hon. Friend tell us a little more about the review procedure?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly since he recognises that research programmes are continuing all over the world, independent of the strategic defence initiative. They would embrace the technologies of tomorrow's defence capabilities, even if there were no SDI.

As for the review procedure, the American Secretary of State recognises, as I do, that over a number of years it is impossible to predict the precise pace or direction in which a research programme will unfold. When one is dealing with the highly complex issues of intellectual property rights and the letting of contracts, it is necessary for both sides to believe that there is a fairness in the protection of the legitimate interests of the other. So that both Governments can have the maximum possible interest and involvement, we have decided that both will take a personal interest and that if problems develop of the type that can reasonably be anticipated they will be referred to both for resolution.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

Will the Secretary of State take note that he will receive no support from this Bench for this agreement? Does he accept that in return for questionable technological advance we are becoming locked in politically to a system which was best analysed in derisory terms by his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say more about the safeguards for intellectual property and transferred technology? What steps have Ministers taken to promote the advancement of technology with our European partners, in terms of military and civil programmes?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am sure that it is unpalatable for the hon. Gentleman but the support of empty Benches does not add up to a row of beans in international diplomacy. The pursuit of co-operative technology schemes within Europe is receiving significant momentum through the EUREKA programme and, in the context of the independent European procurement group, it is receiving equal momentum in the defence rationalisation programme.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Opposition fail to appreciate that SDI is a non-nuclear defence system? Will the research include studies of how western Europe can develop an operational shield against short-term ballistic missiles? Will that research be part of the British studies?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those comments. It is impossible at this stage to predict with accuracy precisely how the European dimension will unfold, although the subject to which he referred must receive critical analysis at some stage within the context of European defence. It is equally the case, in terms of the intercontinental threat to the continent of Europe, that if certain configurations of the strategic defence initiative were to advance, the mere capability to take out ICBMs on launch would be as essential for the defence of Europe as it would be for the continent of the United States.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

Why have the Government brushed aside so brusquely the important statement made by the Foreign Secretary—made subsequent to the agreement in Washington between the Prime Minister and the President—that there was no real distinction between research and deployment; that there was an unstoppable momentum; and that, if one started on the course, one would have to proceed with it? The Foreign Secretary went out of his way to say that. Why have the Government abandoned that view?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

The Foreign Secretary believes, as I do and as the rest of the Government believe, that the research programme is already under way on both sides of the iron curtain, that it has been under way for many years and that, simply because any checks would never be verifiable, it would be naive to believe that it could ever be stopped. It is also naive not to understand that SDI embraces large numbers of technologies—miniaturisation, advanced computing, lazer technology, and so on—which will be essential in weapons development, including defence, in the next century. There is no conceivable way in which the western world will not pursue these technologies. It is important to remember that the British Government were the first to agree with the United States Government on the importance of the existence of the ABM treaty of 1972, which governs not research but the development that could flow from it.

Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich

Is my right hon. Friend aware how much many of us agree with the Government's decision, particularly because it means that we are taking part with out allies in an expensive research programme, which in turn means that we shall have better value for money for our conventional weapons? Is he also aware of the confidence we have in General Abrahamson, who was in charge of the successful shuttle programme? I feel sure that this programme will succeed now that he is in charge of it.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the programme to which we are committed is a research programme. It is not a decision to proceed to deployment of the ultimate capability. It is clear—this point was implied in my hon. Friend's question—that virtually all advanced industrial nations are taking part in this type of research. To deny Britain the opportunity to be up with one of the largest programmes of one of the largest nations in technological terms would be a grave diservice to this nation.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why earlier this year Dr. Keyworth, the recently resigned President's scientific adviser, stated that within the period of office of President Reagan they would be able to demonstrate the technology that could shoot down Russian ICBMs? He seemed to make that statement disregarding any support that he would get from anywhere else in terms of research and development. Why, then, is this research now necessary? Do we have centres of excellence that beat those of United States industry, which are heavily subsidised and which filch and misappropriate public money in the way General Dynamics has? Having got this so-called bargain from Weinberger, may we be told what else has been put on offer? For example, has the right hon. Gentleman put on offer assistance to the United States in out-of-area activities such as activities in the Gulf?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

There would be no need to put on offer the understanding that where the legitimate interests of this country were concerned out of area, we should play our full part with our allies in the maintenance of peace, for it would be as threatening to us as it would be to them if it were to be prejudiced. That does not need any separate discussion. It has long been the policy of this Government.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about Dr. Keyworth is that so many statements have been made by so many people, and it is so easy to quote them out of context, that I see no purpose in addressing one of them in particular. The essence of the matter is that there will not be a demonstration effectively of the strategic defence initiative in the immediate future. It is a long-term programme and there is no conceivable way, in terms of the immediate Administration with which we are dealing in the United States, that it could be proved to a demonstration capability.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

My right hon. Friend will be aware that this announcement will be welcomed by my hon. Friends representing Bristol constituencies and those in north Avon, where there is a heavy concentration of space commitment industry. Will the office to which he has referred be adequately manned to give assistance to all the companies in the United Kingdom that may be interested in bidding for the contracts in the United States? Have not the French and Germans had delegations in Washington since the beginning of September in an attempt to get a head start over the United Kingdom on contracts such as these?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend will realise that it is difficult for me to be able to comment on what either friendly neighbours or other allied Governments have done. All the Governments of which I am aware will, in one way or another, either directly or through industries, participate in this programme, and the effect on the ground in their technology capability will be the same whether they have done it either at an industrial or an administrative level.

My hon. Friend spoke about the participation of industry, to which I attach much importance. I hope that there will be industrial representatives within the strategic defence initiative office, and the arrangments to which I have come have been arrived at after the closest discussion with British industry. The key question for the Labour party is whether it will withdraw from the contracts that the Americans could offer to British industry if the Labour party ever formed a Government.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, in his view, this agreement cannot but have implications for Britain's foreign policy as well as the other policies for which he is specifically responsible? Should not this matter be debated before Christmas?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

The Opposition have every opportunity to ask for a debate, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, attentive as always, will no doubt do his best to accord with with their requirements.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

Is it not amazing that there has not been a single word from the Opposition Benches about the Russian research effort in this sector, which last year involved 100 space launchers, of which 80 were for military purposes, compared with the United States with 20 space launchers? Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that our involvement will not be restricted to university research but will also involve our major industrial companies?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I can give that assurance. However, I do not find the Opposition's reaction amazing. It is predictable that they have no harsh words to say about the Soviet Union. If one understands the analysis of their defence policy, it is to further the foreign policy of the Soviet Union by the single greatest abdication of British defence capability that we have ever seen.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Woolwich

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that any research undertaken as a result of this agreement will be based on the original narrow concept of what is allowed under the ABM treaty and not on the rather more elastic view espoused by Mr. Caspar Weinberger? Will the Government be pressing for the updating and strengthening of the ABM treaty to prevent a sudden breakthrough on either side?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

We welcome the interpretation of the ABM treaty that is current United States policy. If, in the negotiations at Geneva, the ABM regimes need further explanation, or exploration between the super-powers, we would support that initiative if it were necessary.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings and Rye

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to Opposition Members not only that have the Russians been working on star wars projects for 10 years but that they are still carrying on work at six sites in the Soviet Union without let or hindrance? Will he also make it clear that this treaty is for the protection of the people of the West, and we should welcome it on both sides of the House?

I have a question about how the agreement will affect British industry. My right hon. Friend says that this is a confidential memorandum of understanding. He knows my concerns about the intellectual property rights. If such information cannot be shared with the House of Commons, can we have an assurance that the rights can be shared with industry and that industry will be allowed to use what it learns from research programmes?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. We wanted to achieve an overall memorandum of understanding about intellectual property rights because inevitably, large numbers of companies, research organisations and universities will come to the Government to ask for guidance about the sort of contracts into which they can enter. We shall not make available the memorandum of understanding, but we shall now be able to give the clearest answers to questions about the legitimate protection of intellectual property rights on both sides of the Atlantic. I support what my hon. Friend said about research in the Soviet Union. I have made available to the House a copy of the document that sets out broadly the lines of the research programme that the Soviet Union has been pursuing for some time.

Photo of Mr Patrick Duffy Mr Patrick Duffy , Sheffield, Attercliffe

The Secretary of State repeatedly stressed the importance of the opportunities that star wars research would present to British industry. That was perhaps his key point. Will he assure the House that that is the unqualified view of all the British industrialists likely to he involved? There are not many of them, given the crumbs that came to them from the Trident programme as well as all the difficulties, both political and legal, surrounding the transfer of United States high tech.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He obviously understands the issues that I have had to address. I can assure him that the agreements I have reached have taken fully into account the views of British industry. They recognise that we will now be able to protect the intellectual property rights on this side of the Atlantic while any general advances are available to research authorities on either side of the Atlantic. This is a fair understanding of a significant kind.

The hon. Gentleman quite fairly mentioned the Trident programme. Indeed, perhaps I was not uninfluenced by that programme when I originally approached the United States on this matter. There is one fundamental difference. In trying to bid for contracts in the Trident programme, we were trying to break into a programme where the contracts had already been let and the programme was already well under way in the United States. That is extremely difficult to do. We are not in such a situation here. We are in at the beginning of a programme, and we have now the clearest understandings about how we can share and advance within it.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

Given that the Soviet Union has long had a lead over the western allies in antiballistic missile and anti-satellite technology—both of which it demonstrated and deployed many years ago—should not we welcome the fact that the British Government are taking the lead in Europe by working alongside our American allies to make good the ground lost over many years?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important that Britain has been able to secure the first of these agreements. I believe that other of our European allies will not be very far behind, and I am sure that that will be for the better interests of Britain and the wider interests of European technology as a whole.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up one of his answers? Will the fundamental results of the research be available only to the American Government[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Does that mean that research will be protected under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

As this involves some of the most advanced technologies, it is possible that there will be a very substantial categorisation of defence secrets. As for the right hon. Gentleman's basic question, I assure him that the legitimate interests of both countries have been fully protected in relation to the intellectual property rights.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

How can it possibly be suggested that if we do not participate in the research programme our scientists will no way be seduced into going to the United States to participate in their programme, whereas if we do they will go rushing across to the United States from profitable companies in this country?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am most interested in my hon. Friend's question. I do not think that it can be suggested that such a hypothesis exists in any sane or rational world, but perhaps my hon. Friend had in mind a world that was neither sane nor rational.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Central Fife

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that despite this agreement there is no guarantee of a single new contract or job for British companies? In view of his previous answer about Trident, can we now be assured that his success rate, if any, on contracts as a result of this agreement will be better and greater than it was on Trident?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

If one wants to guarantee the minimum chance of jobs and contracts in Britain—

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

—the way to do it is to have a parliamentary Opposition who behave like this one.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week this was a major subject of debate in the Western European Union and that before then it was of concern to the WEU Committee on Scientific. Technological and Aerospace Questions as well as industrialists throughout Europe? Will he elaborate on the review procedure? Will this Government be able to share with America the application of any results if positive, and to what extent will that fall within the orbit of the Western European Union or even NATO?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a bilateral agreement between the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Therefore, it does not fall within the WEU or the NATO Alliance arrangements. I can only repeat that in the memorandum of understanding, which we shall not publish, the arrangements to protect our technology are fair. It may not be as clearly understood as it should be that the United States has as much interest in protecting technology as we have because it has a vastly larger technological base than we have. In partnership agreements with us, the risk is that we gain disproportionately, not the United States.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Does the Secretary of State agree that Edinburgh university probably has the most distinguished department of artificial intelligence in Europe, and, indeed, in the world, including the United States? Did he hear the public doubts raised by Edinburgh university scientists, not only about the difficulty of testing any such system, which is a thousand times more complicated than any personal computer, but on other grounds? Is the Secretary of State prepared to have his chief scientist or senior scientists meet those who have doubts at Edinburgh university about the militarisation problem? Is the complaint of British scientists who may have expected to be consulted but who were not consulted fair or unfair?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I shall make arrangements for any meetings to give effect to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Photo of Mr Alexander Fletcher Mr Alexander Fletcher , Edinburgh Central

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, may I press him further on intellectual property rights? Clearly, the Americans are paying the bill for the research, and the rights will belong to them. However, it is important that British companies should be able to indulge in commercial exploitation of their research. To what extent will they be inhibited from doing so?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

There will be no inhibition of the proper and full exploitation of research developed in British facilities. I hope that it will not be misunderstood if I tell the House that it is not 100 per cent. true that in pure research all the bills will be paid by the United States of America. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No—this must not be misunderstood. Most Governments, either through their defence industries or through their research laboratories, have for many years been developing the technologies which in certain configurations are necessary to explore the SDI concept. A large sum is flowing now into those technologies in many different countries. To that extent money is already being spent by the taxpayers of other advanced economies, as it has been in the United States and is in the Soviet Union. There are many pools of expertise which, drawn together, could add to the sum of knowledge and experience available. That is not to say that in any specific way the British Government will add sums to the SDI programme, which we will not.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

Does not the Secretary of State understand that the consequences of this major political act of commitment to SDI will make the world an infinitely more dangerous place in which to live? Is he aware that the British people will soon realise that the last chunk of their remaining safety and security has been sold for thirty pieces of silver?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

That is the argument that was explored thoroughly by the electorate at the general election, when we were supposed to give up our nuclear capability. We did not, and the Soviets are negotiating with us, as I have outlined. There are absolutely no grounds for believing that pursuing legitimate research into matters of our self-defence is a destabilising prospect.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

Is it not as logically implausible for the Opposition to claim that SDI will result in a brain drain, when surely there would be brain flood if we refused to take part in this most exciting development in science, as it is ludicrous to suggest that SDI hinders peace in some way, when the object is to begin to replace mutually assured destruction with mutually assured survival by raising the threshold against the first strike?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

I support my hon. Friend's view that in free societies our companies and scientists are free to take decisions either to work here within the SDI programme or to move to the United States to work within it. I do not know whether the Labour party will introduce some new legislation to stop British companies entering into negotiations and contracts—that may be an innovation, about which we could hear more. There are no powers to stop British companies freely entering competitive opportunities of this sort. The issue is simply whether one negotiates as a Government to secure a fair deal for Britain in the widest sense, or whether one allows the ordinary interplay of market forces.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy

May I revert to an earlier answer from the Secretary of State? Will he explain how he can make available to the House his Department's version of the Soviet research programme—his hon. Friends have already verified it—yet be unable to make available documentation relevant to the United State's programme?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman must realise that there is a world of difference in making available to the House details of the Soviet research programme, which, in exactly the same form, can be made available in the context of our research programme and that of our Western allies, including the United States, because it is general and explains the specific fields. I am making available to the House, as I did to the Select Committee last week, the detailed areas of research in which Britain has an opportunity to become involved, the areas where British companies can compete, and the areas in which there is to be an exchange of information on some of the advanced technologies. That is available to the House. I am not prepared to make available commercially and security sensitive information embodied in the memorandum of understanding.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. No fewer than 28 right hon. and hon. Members have asked to take part in the debate later in the day, so I shall allow questions to continue for a further five minutes, which will have given a full half hour for Back Bench questions.

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the climate in which the anti-ballistic missile treaty was drawn up was one of mutual apprehension between the super-powers over the inability to obtain superiority in anti-missile and anti-anti-missile systems? Does he agree that such fears are as real and alive today as they were then, that nothing in the agreement undermines the basic tenets of the treaty, and that, if anything, the Government would seek to tighten the terms of the treaty and its observance?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend strikes at the heart of one of the most important aspects of the issue. We have yet to establish whether the ABM treaty needs to be tightened up. If so—this can be negotiated by the two super-powers—the British Government would undoubtedly welcome it warmly, just as they welcome the existence of the AMB treaty itself, which has operated as a discipline in this whole area. Given that one cannot stop the research, that everyone is involved in it and that it is recognised to be legitimate under the ABM treaty, it is right for us to join. However, to go beyond that and not to recognise the ABM treaty would be wrong. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that she was the first Western statesman to agree this in public with the American President.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury

Can the Secretary of State give the House any guarantee that the agreement will not divert resources, time and research capacity into military purposes from the extremely important civil work on advanced information technology, at present being carried out under the Alvey programme, which could promote the future of British industry and jobs?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

No one could be more enthusiastic about the Alvey programme than I am; the Government are wholly involved in the concept, which we created. We give it great priority. I cannot technically give the categorical answer which the hon. Gentleman seeks. However, there is as much ground for believing that the civil spin-off from the sort of programmes about which I am talking today will be at least as big as, if not bigger than, any diversion of resource in any one company which might occur.

Photo of Mr Piers Merchant Mr Piers Merchant , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the SDI research proposals are neither about stars nor wars, as the Opposition would seem to have us believe, but are about scientific advance and peace? Will he further confirm that the spin-off in jobs and industrial advance for British industry could be as great as the advance which flowed from the original United States space programme?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend raises an important historical precedent. For the United States of America, the advance in terms of military and industrial capability in technology will undoubtedly be of the order of magnitude associated with that earlier programme. Therefore, the issue for Britain is whether we wish to share in this research opportunity in a way that we did not on the earlier occasion. My belief, without the slightest shadow of doubt, is that in sharing in it, and gaining the civil and military benefit from it, we shall be taking the sort of opportunity that we would have been wise to take on that earlier occasion.

Photo of Mr Martin O'Neill Mr Martin O'Neill , Clackmannan

Given that the Secretary of State can provide no assurance about jobs or how much money is at stake, can he tell us what is the status of the American extra-territoriality legislation in relation to the stage beyond paper technology? Will British research be put into operation or will it have to go to the United States? There has been no mention of any amendment to that legislation within Congress as a result of the agreement.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Member will have heard what I said. The purpose of the two Secretaries of State has been to be fair to the research laboratories and companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Obviously, there is a fundamental question as to where the research originates, to whom the licences belong, what exploitation possibilities there are, and as to the protection of the benefits of the joint research, so that, if it is developed in one country or another with a pooled resource, it can be legitimately recognised as having a relation to either country. There are many issues of that sort which require the most detailed examination of all the legal ramifications in the United States and in Britain. That is why the negotiations have taken so long and are in such detail.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

As one who saw at first hand how much Britain lost by rejecting the opportunities that President Kennedy offered us in space exploration, I greatly welcome what my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have achieved to ensure so that we do not lose out on the next half-century's development.

What is to be the relationship between the new SDI participation office and the national space agency recently set up? Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the Opposition that the project is going ahead, and that the only question is whether it will be with us or without us?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

As my hon. Friend rightly says, there is no question but that the Americans are determined to pursue the research programme, and we shall not have any opportunity to prevent it, for the very best of reasons—that we are already doing it ourselves and do not want to prevent it. As my hon. Friend says, the issue is whether we do it in partnership. I believe him to be correct, because the opportunities for Britain are considerable.

The space agency is sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry, and there are representatives of the Ministry of Defence on it, just as, within the strategic defence initiative office, there will be representatives of the Department of Trade and Industry. There will be a very close relationship, if it is relevant, and it could well be.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

On jobs, can the Secretary of State again tell us what guarantees he has, under the agreement, of contracts coming to British industry? What has happened to the $1·5 billion that we were told he was seeking from the Americans?

Does research include development? In particular, does it include the actual testing of weapons systems as part of that research and development?

The Secretary of State has told us that he will not publish the agreement. Does that also apply to the American Government? Are we to take it that it is confidential from their point of view and will not be disclosed to the American Congress?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine The Secretary of State for Defence

Yes, it certainly is as confidential there as it is here. It is an understanding between two Governments.

On job guarantees, the framework of the agreement covers the very large number of areas of joint exploration that are listed in the schedules to it. I have no doubt that my aspirations for substantial British participation will be fulfilled. They are not qualified, because one cannot quantify what will be done in a research programme which, of its own nature, is unpredictable, but the scale of the opportunity for Britain, if we are competitive at prices and with a quality that are acceptable, are very substantial.