HC Deb 28 November 1973 vol 865 cc378-9
6. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the results to date of the conference taking place to bring about a reduction in armed forces in Europe.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Julian Amery)

The negotiations which began in Vienna on 30th October on the mutual reduction of armed forces and armaments and associated measures in Central Europe are still at a very early stage. Representatives of the countries participating on both sides have made opening statements setting out their general approach to the negotiations. They are now developing their ideas in more detail.

Mr. Dempsey

Is there any validity in the growing speculation in Britain that, in the event of these negotiations failing, the Government intend to introduce military conscription? In other words, will the right hon. Gentleman say that the existing defence forces, recruited on a voluntary basis, are adequate to honour our foreign policy commitments?

Mr. Amery

It is early days to talk about the negotiations failing. Although it may be a sign that I am out of touch, the hon. Gentleman's comment is the first I have heard of any speculation about the reintroduction of conscription.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will my right hon. Friend be very careful in the progress which is made at these talks? At a time when the Iron Curtain countries, particularly Russia, are increasing the level of their armed forces, would not the so-called policy of the Opposition of decreasing the Defence Estimates by £1,000 million be absolutely disastrous for this country and for the whole of Western European defence?

Mr. Amery

I think that all hon. Members know in their hearts—and I am sure that the responsible leaders of the Opposition know—that to cut defence spending by £1,000 million would be totally irresponsible.

Mr. Richard

The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless have seen the remarks made—I think last week—by the French representatives at Western European Union, particularly about the possibility of an Anglo-French nuclear force which excluded the Americans and was outside the North Atlantic Treaty. Will the Government give a specific undertaking that in no circumstances will they consider the establishment of an Anglo-French nuclear force outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

Mr. Amery

The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked an entirely new question which has nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper. If he will table a Question I shall do my best to answer it.

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