HC Deb 17 February 1972 vol 831 cc603-4
14. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the cost of the United Kingdom's contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to enable it to negotiate from strength with the Warsaw Pact countries on the question of balanced mutual force reductions in Europe.

Lord Balniel

None, Sir. N.A.T.O.'s current force improvement programmes are related to its assessment of its defensive requirements and not to considerations arising out of the possibility of talks on mutual balanced force reductions.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not clear that if N.A.T.O. maintains that it can negotiate only from strength and Eastern Europe says the same, the only end to the arms race will be disaster? Does the noble Lord believe that yesterday's fantastic increase in arms spending, to £2,854 million a year, even if part of it is due to undoubted inflation, can in any way contribute towards securing an East-West settlement and a mutual reduction of arms?

Lord Balniel

If it can be done with a lower level of Armed Forces on each side, we shall be delighted. I remind the House that we suggested that Signor Brosio should go to Moscow as long ago as last autumn to discuss this matter. The invitation has not yet been taken up. In so far as part of the Question relates to defence expenditure, the hon. Gentleman will see if he studies the White Paper that roughly 80 per cent. of the increase is accounted for by pay and prices movements. I am sure that the hon. Gentle man would be the last person to say that we should underpay members of the Armed Forces. Most of the rest, namely, £57 million, is simply an accounting transaction which I will not explain to the hon. Gentleman now but which is easily understood from the White Paper.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is my noble Friend aware that while the other side—the Warsaw Pact—has constantly professed its eagerness to talk, it has at the same time been increasing its real expenditure on armaments? Would it not be foolish for us to take any unilateral steps towards force reductions in these circumstances?

Lord Balniel

That is certainly correct and there is no indication that a unilateral reduction of our defences would be met by any corresponding action by the Warsaw Pact countries.

Mr. Paget

Is not the truth of the matter that the N.A.T.O. Forces are relevant in so far as they give credibility to an American nuclear deterrent and that without that nuclear deterrent they could not last a week or two in a conventional war, irrespective of whether we improve them?

Lord Balniel

It is certainly true that without the nuclear deterrent the scale of conventional forces which the western world would need would be infinitely larger and infinitely more expensive than at the moment.

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