HC Deb 14 March 1967 vol 743 cc227-9
Q4. Mr. Dickens

asked the Prime Minister what steps he is taking to coordinate the work of the Secretary of State for Defence in making reductions in overseas military expenditure and the Ministry of Overseas Development in planning the overseas aid programme.

The Prime Minister

My right hon Friends already work closely together on all matters of common interest, Sir, and no new measures of co-ordination are needed.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Defence Estimates for 1967–68 and the recent White Paper on overseas development showed precious little evidence of there being co-ordination between these two Ministries? Will he consider the publication later this year of a comprehensive White Paper setting out a revised defence review and overseas development programme—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—and will he also take into account of official Labour Party policy on overseas defence expenditure—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Gentlemen must be fair to each other. Questions must be brief.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that we recently published a Defence White Paper, although I do not think that he liked it very much. As for economy in defence, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, and as I have made clear subsequently, this search for economy—a reduction in force levels, a reduction of equipment and a reduction in commitments—is going on all the time, and my hon. Friend must wait with a little more patience for the next statement which we shall be able to make on this in due course.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his pledge of last July, which he has just reaffirmed, involves a much more substantial cut in overseas expenditure than was intended by reason of the shortfall on the defence side?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. I have recently reviewed the figures, and I am glad to say that they are now getting towards a state of realisation in full. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is not, of course, possible to give a final figure or estimate until we know the position so far as Germany is concerned; and important negotiations on Germany are taking place at this time.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today we are being asked to vote £454 million for the Air Estimates and that we shall be spending less time on this than the average city or county council would spend on discussing the erection of a slaughterhouse? Would not my right hon. Friend consult with his right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, who used to advocate the establishment of a Select Committee to look at these Estimates before they came to the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister

As least my hon. Friend can never reproach himself for failing to give enough of his Parliamentary time to debates on these important questions. It is, I am afraid, a shortcoming, which we have had in all parts of the House for very many years, that all debates on expenditure tend not to be so thoroughly undertaken as debates when hon. Members, usually of the Opposition party, are pressing for vast increases in expenditure.

Mr. Heath

Would the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government adhere to their commitment of 1 per cent. of the gross national product on overseas aid and investment to U.N.C.T.A.D. this year?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Would my right hon. Friend agree that when the run-down east of Suez takes place it will involve problems for Singapore which will he at least as serious as those for Malta? Will he therefore give an undertaking that there will be very full discussion with the Government of Singapore well in advance of any firm decisions being taken?

The Prime Minister

This is a hypothetical question at this time. When the Government are ready to announce further proposals about economies, whether in military budgetary expenditure or overseas expenditure, then, of course, the House will be very very fully informed; but the Defence Review is at present available and there was, of course, a two-day debate in the House a few days ago.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that military aid can often be one of the cheapest and most effective means of giving help to developing countries?

The Prime Minister

It is sometimes necessary, but it is not the answer to the question of empty bellies, poverty and hunger.

Forward to