HC Deb 02 July 1974 vol 876 cc188-90
3. Mr. Mather

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has completed his review of defence expenditure.

11. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make an interim statement on his investigation of arms expenditure.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Roy Mason)

I have not yet completed my review of defence expenditure, but as I said in the House on 13th May I hope to do so by the autumn. A White Paper will be published as soon as possible thereafter.

Mr. Mather

Will not the long drawn-out uncertainty about where the axe will fall defeat the objective of any Secretary of State, namely, to inspire confidence in the Armed Forces? Will not the delay affect the credibility of our defence effort, confidence in a Service career and the morale of the security forces?

Mr. Mason

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would be worried if that were the fact, but I do not think that the morale of the forces is affected. That is certainly not the case in regard to recruiting. To have this rational, thorough, long-term examination of defence expenditure is much wiser than to have three separate cuts in one year, as we experienced in 1973 under the Conservative administration.

Mr. Allaun

In view of Britain's economic problems, will the Minister aim at cuts of £1,000 million a year rather than a figure of several hundred million pounds which he mentioned previously? Secondly, may I ask him a question to which we have never had a proper answer: why should Britain spend a higher proportion of our gross national product GNP on arms than is spent by any other Western European NATO country except Portugal?

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend does not do me justice and implies that I have misled him. He well knows that I have told him time and again that the starting point of the examination is to try to bring our percentage of defence expenditure related to GNP in line with that of our major European allies. That is the starting point, and it is the NATO statistics which we are using. Secondly, if we achieve that I do not think it will be necessary to go for my hon. Friend's figure as distinct from the manifesto figure of several hundred million pounds a year.

Mr. Amery

While not wishing to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), may I ask whether the Secretary of State is aware that the uncertainty into which we have plunged is in many ways preferable to decisions which have been taken—for example, with regard to the sale of arms to Chile and South Africa? Is he further aware that many of us would be content for the defence review to be prolonged until there is a General Election or even a national Government?

Mr. Mason

It is interesting to see the growth of the gnus and to observe that the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and his hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) are joining forces. The right hon. Gentleman should do his homework much more thoroughly. He is getting lazy in his old age. The Chilean frigates and Oberons are going, and no contracts were cancelled with Chile. Those which are subject to cancellation are being negotiated.

Mr. Fernyhough

In undertaking a review, will my right hon. Friend take into account the fact that the Americans have just negotiated a new agreement with the Germans on the offset costs of American forces stationed in Germany? As Germany has never yet in any single year since the Paris Treaty was signed met her obligations in respect of offset costs to Britain, will my right hon. Friend see that Germany now pays up?

Mr. Mason

The Germans are honouring the agreement which has been established since 1971. It has five years to go and is a different agreement from the burden-sharing agreement which the Americans were trying to establish. I am sorry, but it is not my intention to interfere with that agreement at this moment of time.