HC Deb 14 December 1976 vol 922 cc1173-5
6. Mr. Viggers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any intention of visiting the southern flank of NATO.

Mr. Mulley

I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Viggers

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he were to visit the southern flank of NATO he would find a patchwork of defence forces that lacks cohesion and credibility? It is only just a credible deterrent. Is he aware that the one thing that would most strengthen the southern flank would be increased British involvement, which would be greatly welcomed and would have the effect of strengthening our defence forces, an effect completely disproportionate to the minor cost that would be incurred?

Mr. Mulley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the past few months have not been the easiest time in which to make arrangements to be away from the House, and a number of visits that I wished to make have naturally had to be deferred. I accept that if we could make additional forces available to the southern flank, or, for that matter, to any part of NATO, that decision would be welcomed by all our Allies. We have contingency arrangements both for land and air support. The Royal Navy frequently takes part in exercises with the Allies' navies in the Mediterranean region. We are still making a significant contribution, but if economic circumstances permitted, I, like the hon. Gentleman, would wish to do more. At present, the main NATO responsibility is, on the one hand, the central front, and, on the other, the eastern Atlantic and the United Kingdom air defence region.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will my right hon. Friend reject the attempts by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) and other hon. Members to scare us into still further increases in expenditure on arms? Will he accept the statement from the Pentagon that NATO exceeds the Warsaw Pact Powers in total arms spending, in the size of its naval forces and in the number of Service men employed?

Mr. Mulley

My acquaintanceship with my hon. Friend over many years has led me to believe that he is not easily scared. His resilience on these matters is well known. I cannot accept that the Pentagon takes a complacent attitude towards the present situation, or that the increasing technology available to Warsaw Pact forces is not a matter of concern.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the withdrawal of British forces from Cyprus has increased the risk of conflict on that island and that any further withdrawal would sharply increase the risk of war in the eastern Mediterranean?

Mr. Mulley

As the hon. Gentleman knows, as a result of the defence review there was a reduction in the garrison, but I have no current plans to reduce it further. As he rightly says, our presence is connected with the current political situation.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether at the recent NATO meeting, he was honest enough to tell our Allies about tomorrow's cuts, or concealed them from them?

Mr. Mulley

The matter did not arise in the normal proceedings of the meeting, but we shall go through the precedents of this Government and preceding Governments in terms of consultation with NATO about our defence expenditure and defence commitment.