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Memorandum Of Understanding

Volume 375: debated on Wednesday 20 October 1976

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in promulgating the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 25th September 1975 by the USA and the United Kingdom, covering the mutual interchange of armament sales.

My Lords, British industry has been made fully aware of the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding, and arrangements exist for advising United Kingdom companies of how they may take advantage of it in seeking to secure orders in the United States of America. For its part, the United States Government has taken steps both to ensure that the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding are known throughout the Department of Defense and to bring them to the notice of major United States defence contractors.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the five-year period up to 1970 we purchased £1,000 million worth of arms from the United States, and in the last five years, £500 million, and the reverse purchases have been marginal, although the sale of the Harrier has improved them more recently? Is it not true to say that whereas at the top level there is a sincere desire to buy armaments from this country, this may not have worked down to the working level where the decisions are actually made? Is the Minister aware that after a year we very much hope that the working level there will know fully and will honour the terms of this agreement?

My Lords, I am aware, as is my right honourable friend, of the imbalance. The United States Department of Defense and a number of major United States defence contractors have been encouragingly helpful in assisting us in our attempts to ensure that United Kingdom companies are able to compete. A particularly welcome initiative from the United States is a visit by a team of high level United States procurement officials at the end of this month, during which they will have detailed discussions as to how the Memorandum of Understanding can be most effectively implemented from now on.

My Lords, in view of the existence of this Memorandum of Understanding, will the Minister consider publishing at intervals particulars of the sales which have taken place in both directions?

My Lords, this is difficult because many such sales are confidential. The Memorandum of Understanding can be seen in the House of Commons Library, and I am certain a copy could be obtained for your Lordships' House. I should imagine that the annual debate on the Defence Estimates might be of advantage for asking questions on the subject. Collaboration is very close to the heart of Her Majesty's Government.

My Lords, I realise that the exact particulars cannot necessarily be published, but could a broad indication be given of the value of the orders in both directions?

My Lords, I will pass that comment on to my right honourable friend, and, as I would say that this is a very important part of British defence policy, I will see whether it can be reported upon annually in broad terms.

My Lords, in view of the report in The Times newspaper this morning, and the news that has been current elsewhere, that our Centurion tanks have now been outmoded by the production of a new device by the American Pentagon, shall we be compelled now to buy even more from the United States?

My Lords, I am not aware of the point made by my noble friend. I will let him know, if he will put down a Question later.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, when considering the question of the sale of armaments, he could link with it the sales of ordinary commercial goods which have hitherto been barred from the United States on the pretext that they may in some way be concerned with the Armed Services? An enormous number of perfectly ordinary conventional goods have been refused admission to the States for this totally specious reason, which has been used to great effect to protect American industry by a process which we have so far been unable to overcome. Even such things as ordinary diesel engines, for example, have been refused admission. Can this also be taken into account when we consider this question of the sale of armaments, to which it is inextricably linked?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his helpful comment. I will bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend.

My Lords, is not the essential difficulty in implementing this agreement the fact that the Americans produce much better arms at a much more competitive price?

My Lords, when the visiting team arrives—and perhaps even before they arrive—would the noble Lord stress that it is important that the instructions from the top in the Pentagon should filter down, and should be issued down, to the working level? Up till now, even though over a year has elapsed, this has not come about. We very much hope that these instructions will be issued before the team arrive here, so that we can get on and progress this effort.