HC Deb 17 July 1968 vol 768 cc1412-4
19. Mr.Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statementon the latest Defence White Paper.

Mr. Healey

If I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I hope to make such a statement at rather greater length than is appropriate at Question Time, in the debate before the Recess.

Mr. Barnett

Would my right hon. Friend clarify the position as shown by paragraph 3, which appears to be somewhat confusing in that the 1969–70 figures are shown as being eventually at the target figure of £2,140 million while the figure for 1972–73 is £2,014 million, all at 1968 prices, whereas this is shown to be equivalent to a reduction of £210 million to £260 million?

Mr. Healey

I think that my hon. Friend, who is a great financier, will see, if he compares the figures, that the target which we have set for 1972–73 is £240 million less than the figure for this year.

Mr. Ramsden

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it might be of assistance if we arranged to have these figures circulated in terms of 1964 prices, which I believe have been the base figures hitherto taken for the purposes of comparison?

Mr. Healey

I have been repeatedly asked by hon. Gentlemen opposite to stop using 1964 prices. I consider it ungrateful, to say the least, in view of their past complaints for the hon. Gentleman now to make this request.

Mr. Shinwell

Are we to understand that the reason for the debate and the White Paper issued by my right hon. Friend is because of some special event on the Rhine or in N.A.T.O.? On the other hand, is the debate to be wide-ranging and will it cover the whole of our defence organisation?

Mr. Healey

I suggest, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, that the debate will cover all the matters recorded in the Supplementary Statement published a fortnight ago, which I strongly recommend my right hon. Friend to read.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that I have read the dccument and was merely asking for information so that I would know what the debate would be about?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman cannot compel the Minister to give information.

Mr. Crawshaw

While the build-up of our land forces in Europe is an indication that the Government at last appreciate that conventional war in Europe is a possibility, would my right hon. Friend explain how, after 1969—with the ending of the national service commitment and the ending of the Territorial Army ability— we will have this land force capability?

Mr. Healey

The Government have often made it clear—and this was the view of former Administrations—that we do not contemplate the possibility of prolonged large-scale operations in Europe. There is a possibility of prolonged small-scale or short large-scale operations, but not operations of the kind my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Younger

As it is clear from the White Paper that there is great concern about the slump in recruiting, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is foolish to select for disbandment the units best recruited?

Mr. Healey

This matter was fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend on Monday. Owing to the shortage of time, he was not able to tell the House that the Argylls had to be made up by a platoon of the Black Watch because it was not up to strength when it was necessary for it to go to Aden.