HC Deb 24 November 1954 vol 533 cc1221-4
5. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Defence if he will ascertain from the United Kingdom North Atlantic Treaty Organisation representative and publish as a White Paper information showing the current defence expenditure per head of population and current period of conscription of each European member State of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, so as to enable the public to judge how far Her Majesty's Government's policy of securing an equitable sharing of Western defence costs has been achieved.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I am circulating information on the current period of national service in N.A.T.O. countries in reply to a Question by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellinger).

Defence expenditure per head of population is not a valid basis for comparison of defence burdens, and I therefore do not think it would be right to ask the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation whether it would provide this information.

Mr. Swingler

Would it not be possible for the Minister to work out a valid basis for a comparison of expenditures? In view of the continual controversy about the distribution of the defence burden among N.A.T.O. members, is it not possible to devise a means of making a proper comparison in the proportions of national income or something of that kind, so that the public generally can judge what is the economic distribution?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir, but that is quite another question. All I was saying was that the criterion proposed in the Question, of expenditure per haed of population, does not seem very valuable, having regard to the varying conditions in the different N.A.T.O. countries.

7. Mr. Bellenger

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will issue a statement showing the information which he has obtained from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation concerning the effective period of national service in each of the member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Mr. H. Macmillan

As the answer consists of a table, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to distinguish, in the table, in relation to the situation in the other countries included in N.A.T.O., as between the stipulated period of conscription and the actual period of conscription, bearing in mind that some of the countries release their men before the stipulated period has expired?

Mr. Macmillan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. In circulating the reply, I will bear that in mind.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

As a result of all his conversations, has the Minister any information of what the period of national service is likely to be in Germany, and whether it will be the same as in this country, in France or in other N.A.T.O. countries?

Mr. Macmillan

I am sorry, I cannot tell the hon. Member. I thought he would ask about Russia. I have that information.

Mr. Bellenger

If possible, will the right hon. Gentleman include in his table the numbers of troops called up in the respective member countries?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir. In the light of that, it will take me a little longer to circulate the table, but I will do my best to make it comprehensive.

Mr. Beswick

Why does the Minister contrive to give the impression that the length of national service in Germany is a matter for humour?

Mr. Macmillan

I did not know that it was, but I had a rather good one on Russia.

Mr. Hughes

In view of the utterly unsatisfactory and evasive nature of that answer, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

12. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement on the decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to adopt the French light jet fighter as the standard machine for the West in preference to one of British design and manufacture; and whether the United Kingdom representative on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation concurred in the recommendation.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I understand that the matter has not yet gone beyond the stage of technical recommendations and that further action is still under consideration.

Mr. Shinwell

This is a serious matter. Is the Minister aware that in addition to having the British new rifle replaced by the Belgian rifle, we now find that N.A.T.O. has unanimously recommended to Washington, which apparently has some say in this matter—for what reason I do not understand—that the French light jet fighter should be accepted in preference to British machines, which are regarded as superior to, or, at any rate, as being as good as, the French machine? Is this not a serious blow to British aviation?

Mr. Macmillan

The right hon. Gentleman is not correctly informed. No decision has been taken. I have seen a report in the newspapers which was not correct. The matter is still under consideration. Of course, we will bear in mind all that the right hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Shinwell

If that is so—naturally, I accept what the Minister says—can we be assured that our representative on N.A.T.O. will see that all his influence is used to prevent any substitution of a French machine for a British machine?

Mr. Macmillan

I do not think it would be to the advantage which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind that he should press me further on this subject. We have this matter in mind.

Air Commodore Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that when the British firm in question originally conceived the idea of making a light jet fighter, it had considerable encouragement from the Government of the day but that subsequently it was called off, whereas had the firm's interest been sustained we might well be getting foreign orders? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to help personally in the matter?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir. But we have to try to work with our comrades and partners, and we get the best we can.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Is not the best thing to get the best machine?

Mr. Macmillan

There are doubts even among experts, who on this, as on many matters, tend sometimes to hold contrary opinions.