HC Deb 15 July 1971 vol 821 cc693-8
5. Mr. Roderick

asked the Minister of State for Defence what new form of military arrangement in Western Europe he envisages requiring higher expenditure by West European countries under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation European Defence Improvement Programme.

The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)

The European Defence Improvement Programme does not involve any new form of military arrangement.

Mr. Roderick

When does the Minister propose to announce to the House the plans outlined in his speech in Munich on 20th February regarding the European Defence Improvement Programme?

Lord Balniel

They have already been announced on 17th December, 1970, and in further detail on 17th February, 1971.

6. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of State for Defence what is his estimate of the approximate amount of expenditure that will be incurred by the British Government over the next five years as their share of the European Defence Improvement Programme of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

8. Mr. Russell Kerr

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he expects the increased combined military expenditure of West European nations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation European Defence Improvement Programme to be met by other such West European nations, increasing their percentage gross national product military costs to the level of those in the United Kingdom or whether he expects all such West European countries to expend a greater percentage of their gross national product upon military projects.

9. Mr. Booth

asked the Minister of State for Defence by how much the United Kingdom military budget will increase on the basis that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation European Defence Improvement Programme is implemented.

30. Mr. David Stoddart

asked the Minister of State for Defence by how much he estimates expenditure by Great Britain will increase in the next five years under the European Defence Improvement Programme.

33. Mr. Latham

asked the Minister of State for Defence to what extent he estimates the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation European Defence Improvement Programme wil linvolve extra expenditure by Great Britain over the next five years.

Lord Balniel

The 1971–72 Estimates together with the published Defence Budget targets for the following three years make appropriate provision for Her Majesty's Government's contribution to the European Defence Improvement Programme. This has been valued at some £76.5 million over the first five years of the programme. It is not for me to say how our allies are financing their contributions, although I must emphasise that this programme represents an increase in the military capability of the alliance.

Mr. Allaun

Did not the noble Lord say in Munich that this programme would cost N.A.T.O. an extra one billion dollars over the next five years alone, and also that Europe would have to take an ever-increasing share of the burden? Is increasing expenditure to this extent a sensible way to secure East-West troop force reductions, if one wants them, as, presumably, the Government do?

Lord Balniel

I announced that the total European Defence Improvement Programme amounted to £175 million over the next five years. I am talking of pounds at the moment. This has been agreed by all the European members. I think that, till such time as one can achieve a balanced reduction of forces in Europe, it would be very unwise for Western Europe to lower its defences.

Mr. Kerr

Is the noble Lord aware that this country is spending about 50 per cent. more of its gross national product on so-called defence? Does he not agree that it is time that this "umbrella, spats and no-breakfast" approach to defence matters came to an end?

Lord Balniel

We are spending around 5½ per cent. of our gross national product on defence, and this is money which is preserving the freedom of the Western world, and I think it is money very well spent.

Mr. Booth

Will the Minister tell the House to what extent Great Britain is involved in the increased contribution to the N.A.T.O. infrastructure programme as a result of our participation in this defence improvement programme?

Lord Balniel

Yes. The total United Kingdom contribution amounts to £76½ million, which is just under 19½ per cent. of the total planned expenditure.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my hon. Friend not agree that it is vital that we should spend this money in Western Europe and, indeed, increase our percentage of expenditure on the security of Western Europe, and would he not agree that there still remains a fair amount of work to be done and money to be spent in bringing our defences in Western Europe up to the standard we require to resist any possible aggression from behind the Iron Curtain?

Lord Balniel

Yes. This money will be largely spent on the hardening of airfields and the protection of aircraft, as is already undertaken on the other side, in the Warsaw Pact. The remainder of the expenditure will be to improve the communications system which is very necessary for Western defence.

Mr. Kerr

Twenty years out of date.

Mr. Stoddart

Could the Minister say what criterion is used for the sharing of this burden between the European group of the N.A.T.O. Powers?

Lord Balniel

It is the criterion of N.A.T.O. defence expenditure burden sharing which has been in force, I think, since the inception of N.A.T.O. itself.

Mr. Wilkinson

Would my hon. Friend not agree that the programme of hardening airfields in particular is essential, because N.A.T.O. is a defensive alliance and must, therefore, face the first strike, so that it is particularly important that we should have aircraft secure on hardened airfields?

Lord Balniel

My hon. Friend has pointed to the main tactical and strategic reasons which have led the Government and other European members of N.A.T.O. to this decision.

Mr. Latham

Would the Minister confirm that in his Munich speech he made reference to a figure of one billion American dollars, and that he further said that this referred only to two defence projects, and that he subsequently described such expenditure as a small start in the process of burden sharing? Would he indicate what share is likely to be the burden on the British taxpayer of that one billion United States dollars, indicate to the House whether he was talking in terms of an American billion or a British billion, and give the sterling equivalent?

Lord Balniel

As I have already done the House the courtesy of laying my speech in the Library of the House, I am sure that the House will be able to see whether the statement which the hon. Member has read is correct, but it remains my view that as Europe achieves greater strength it is incumbent on Europe to play a greater part in her share of defence and not leave the overwhelming proportion of her defence on the shoulders of our American allies.

Mr. George Thomson

While strongly endorsing what my hon. Friends have said about the importance of pressing on with balanced force reductions and about the importance of a fair share of the expenditure between one European ally and another, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that one of the advantages of the European defence improvement programme is that, by protecting our aircraft, it raises the nuclear threshold, and, therefore, in the event of an emergency, gives a much better chance of a peaceful resolution of that emergency without recourse to nuclear weapons?

Lord Balniel

The right hon. Gentleman has made a very valid point. Going hand in hand with the proposals for the increased defence posture of the Western world is our desire to achieve balanced force reductions with the Warsaw Pact, and these two things are together very prominent in the policies which have been followed by N.A.T.O.

Mr. Crawshaw

Will the noble Lord agree that the Soviet Union is continuing to spend an increased amount of money on military expenditure each year, and that, even with this small amount of added expenditure, the Soviet Union will have a preponderance still in all types of weapons, and would not my hon. Friend's efforts be better directed to persuading the Soviet Union to cut down its expenditure?

Mr. Kerr

Get a European security conference.

Lord Balniel

I agree that expenditure in the Warsaw Pact on military equipment is increasing, and that this is a factor which we have to take into account. On the other hand, the Soviet leaders' response in relation to the initiative for balanced force reductions has been the first positive response which has been made, and I think that we would be right to follow it up vigorously with exploratory talks.

12. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement as to his policy towards expenditure on armaments by the Western European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Lord Balniel

I have nothing to add to the answers I gave to the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) on 17th December, 1970 and 17th February respectively.—[Vol. 808, c. 406–7; Vol. 811, c. 504–5.]

Mr. Hughes

I thank the Minister for his extremely helpful reply, but will he tell us what are his views on the future prospects of armaments within an enlarged E.E.C.?

Lord Balniel

I believe that, if one can achieve a greater economic strength in Europe as the result of entry into the E.E.C., that will contribute to the influence which Europe can wield in the world and, therefore, to the strength of its defence arrangements.

Mr. Adley

Will my noble Friend say whether there has been a noticeable change in the view of the French towards N.A.T.O. in the last few weeks or months?

Lord Balniel

Not to my knowledge.

Mr. Moyle

As the White Paper on British membership of the E.E.C. speaks of increased security if Britain joins the E.E.C., will the noble Lord tell the House what extra commitments in men, money and materials we intend to make to the defence of Western Europe on our accession to the Community, if we accede?

Lord Balniel

My answer to some extent echoes the words of the White Paper. I believe that greater political unity and greater economic unity will lead to a greater defence strength, and this is one of the factors which leads one to believe that the advantage lies with entry into the E.E.C.