Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th January 1988.

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Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson , Bournemouth East 12:00 am, 13th January 1988

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he last met his COCOM colleagues; and what matters were discussed.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

I have not met my COCOM colleagues recently, but the Department's officials participate regularly in COCOM meetings. Matters discussed recently have included the review of the control lists and efforts to improve the operation of COCOM.

Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson , Bournemouth East

Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing number of cases of British exporters of high technology being set up by the CIA under the guise of the COCOM rules? Is he further aware of the high volume of American technology illegally sold to the Soviet bloc, most notably through Norway? Does that not suggest that we should have an urgent fundamental review of the working and enforcement of the COCOM rules?

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

Yes, there is something in what my hon. Friend says. The COCOM list is composed of three categories—the munitions list, the atomic energy list, and the industrial list, which is the longest. I feel sure that the House would not wish to see anything done that would prejudice the strategic controls on the munitions and atomic energy lists, but my hon. Friend is right in saying that the industrial list could be overhauled much more often than it is. We have had a rolling review since 1984, which considers a quarter of the list every six months, but my feeling is that a great deal of material that is obsolete and does not deserve to be included remains on the list. Unfortunately, COCOM must have unanimity before an item can be removed from the list, and it entails an arduous negotiating process to achieve that.

On the question of breaches of COCOM, it is particularly regrettable that other countries, particularly Norway and Japan, have broken the COCOM agreement and sold sensitive industrial material to the Soviet Union. I do not know of any instance in which the United States has done that, but it is true that there are rumours—and I should be glad to have the facts from my hon. Friend if he can provide them — that from time to time the United States precludes competitive items from being sold and may then find other ways to fill the gap itself.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Vice-Chair, Labour Party

Why does the Minister not turn round to his hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and tell him that there is now a different ball game between the Prime Minister and Gorbachev? He is the bloke with whom she says she can do business. She gallivants down the streets of Moscow with him and meets him on the tarmac at Brize Norton. The world has changed in the past few months, and the Minister should tell his hon. Friend that.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support and endorsement. He will be glad to hear—the reasons that he cited may have something to do with this —that the United Kingdom takes the lead in trying to have the COCOM list simplified and reduced in size.