HC Deb 20 November 1973 vol 864 cc1119-21
21. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his plans for defence spending for the years up to and including 1976.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

No, Sir. I must ask the hon. Member to await this year's Public Expenditure White Paper.

Mr. Allaun

Do the Government intend to adhere to the increase of 10 per cent. in real terms in arms spending as set out in their survey for the years to 1976? In view of the economic crisis and the demands made in certain Conservative quarters for cuts in Government spending in the public sector, it would be tragic if such cuts were made at a time when there was an increase in arms spending.

Mr. Gilmour

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his figure of 10 per cent. in real terms, because I do not accept it. I must ask him to await the Public Expenditure White Paper for the exact figures.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend make clear to the House the implications for this country of a £1,000 million cut in defence expenditure advocated at the Labour Party conference, particularly the consequences in terms of employment in defence industries and the security of the country?

Mr. Gilmour

A cut of £1,000 million would mean an end of the dockyards and of BAOR, a great cut in employment, and the virtual crippling of our Armed Forces. It is fair to point out that some hon. Gentleman opposite advocate a cut of only £500 million. I think that is the policy of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). The Leader of the Opposition goes for £1,000 million. We cannot know which is the real policy.

Mr. Dalyell

How does the Minister reconcile some extremely expensive projects—for example, the MRCA, the through-deck cruiser and Sea Wolf—maturing in 1976–77 with the undertakings given to us yesterday by the Prime Minister about the rise in public expenditure? The Government cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Gilmour

There is no need to have it both ways. Public expenditure in defence and elsewhere is carefully planned over a number of years.


Mr. Allaun

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter of which I have given notice to the Minister of State for Defence. I raise it now rather than wasting time in Question Time.

A few minutes ago I asked the Minister whether it was the Government's intention to adhere to the 10 per cent. increase in arms spending laid down in the Government survey of expenditure to 1976. The Minister replied that he had no idea where I had obtained that information. Although I know that you are not responsible, Mr. Speaker, for what Ministers say, surely it is not in order for a Minister deliberately to mislead the House. Either the Minister was deliberately misleading the House or else he did not know, in which case he is not entitled to hold the high office that he holds.

Mr. Gilmour

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having given me notice that he would raise this matter. The figure that I had in my head was the 2.4 per cent. annual increase. I agree that, on the basis of last year's expenditure White Paper, this aggregates out to the figure that the hon. Gentleman gave. He was right and I was wrong, and I therefore apologise to him and to the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am still not sure whether it was a point of order.