HC Deb 03 August 1965 vol 717 cc1264-6
Q1. Mr. Hamling

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he plans to have on defence questions with Heads of foreign Governments during the Summer Recess.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have no present plans for such discussions.

Mr. Hamling

While expressing the hope that my right hon. Friend will have a pleasant and peaceful holiday, may I ask him to bear in mind that we on these benches would be most agreeable to discussions with the heads of foreign Governments which might facilitate cuts in the defence expenditure of this country and so redound to the benefit of our balance of payments problem?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, the first task in this matter is to complete our own defence review, which, as I have already said on previous occasions, is very much related to the economic burden of defence and to the cost of expenditure in both the budgetary sense and in terms of foreign exchange. This has to come before we have any discussions with overseas Governments.

Mr. Heath

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer this question? As he has accepted from his own Parliamentary party a resolution calling for drastic cuts in arms expenditure much earlier than at present proposed, does this mean that the Chancellor's announcement of last Tuesday of a £400 million reduction by 1969–70 and a £100 million reduction next year is still to be carried out, or are greater reductions now to be carried out as a result of that resolution last night? Will the Prime Minister give us a straight answer to that question?

The Prime Minister

Yes, certainly, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give straight answers to the questions I put to him last night and last Thursday. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the Question."] So far as the question is concerned I shall be very happy to send the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the resolution. I have it here.

Hon. Members

Answer the question.

Mr. David Griffiths

Do not get so touchy.

The Prime Minister

I will answer the question, but I should like to be heard. I will send the right hon. Gentleman a copy of this statement. I hope he could associate himself with it. With regard to the defence review, we have decided that the defence review must be contained within the total of £2,000 million at 1964 prices. That review is continuing, depending on what commitments are involved and what decision the Government take on those commitments. If we can get below that £2,000 million we shall certainly do so.

Mr. Heath

I must press the Prime Minister hard on this. Is the Chancellor's firm announcement of a reduction of £400 million to be adhered to or not, or are the Prime Minister and his colleagues now committed to greater reductions than £400 million as a result of this resolution? May I ask the Prime Minister if he is aware that whenever he asks a question at a reasonable hour instead of in the tricky way he did last night he will then get a straight answer?

The Prime Minister

I put many questions at 5 o'clock last Thursday afternoon and have not had an answer yet, and if I could have reached that question earlier last night I had another half dozen questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. He knows why I did not. Now with regard to the question he has put—I was replying to his peroration and now I will reply to his question—my right hon. Friend's statement last week, in which he said that we shall adhere to this cut of £400 million, as I have already said this afternoon, will be adhered to, because it means a £2,000 million programme at 1964 prices. That will certainly be adhered to. I must say that we took over a very extravagant programme from right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but if, without giving up essential commitments, we can get it below £2,000 million—it is impossible at this stage to say whether it is possible or not—we will go below it.