HC Deb 09 April 1963 vol 675 cc1065-6
5. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will investigate possible economies in defence expenditure, which is taking a disproportionate share of the country's income and preventing additional expenditure on the social services.

Mr. Barber

While the possibility of economies in defence, as in other aspects of public expenditure, is constantly under investigation, I do not, in the present state of the world, agree with the allegations contained in the latter part of the Question.

Mr. Allaun

But will not the arms bill exceed £2,000 million a year if and when the Polaris submarines are built? Has not the Prime Minister said that the East-West struggle will be decided not by rockets and bombs but by which side can provide the better and fuller life? How can any British Government solve our serious housing, pensions and hungry nations problems if they waste the country's substance in this way to the extent of £60 a second?

Mr. Barber

I do not believe that we are wasting the substance of the country in this way. In his Question, the hon. Gentleman refers to the share of the country's income going, on the one hand, to defence and, on the other, to the social services. He should bear in mind that defence expenditure was about 7 per cent. of the gross national product in 1950 and is now about 7.1 per cent., the same as in 1948. Expenditure on the social services was only about 12 per cent. in 1950, and it is now about 16 per cent.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is my hon. Friend aware that this country's defence bill in the immediate years ahead would increase if the Opposition were to refuse to sell arms to other countries which would then order from France and America?

Mr. Barber

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does not the Financial Secretary remember that, when the defence programme was started, there was to be £4,700 million spread over three years, which was to give us absolute security, but, since that time, we have spent five times as much and we are less secure today than when we started?

Mr. Barber

I do not want to get involved in party political controversy with the hon. Gentleman, but, since he raises these matters, he ought to bear in mind what I said a moment ago. Defence expenditure as a proportion of the gross national product is now running at about 7.1 per cent. In 1952, the year after the Conservative Government came into office, the figure was 10.4 per cent.