HC Deb 10 February 1976 vol 905 cc210-2
4. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will place in the Library a copy of the statement he issued on 25th January on East-West relations.

Mr. Mason

I have already done so.

Mr. Hoyle

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. Does he not agree that the sabre rattling, the Leader of the Opposition's call for a return to the cold war, and the call for increased defence spending, come rather strangely from a party that is constantly calling for more reductions in Government spending?

Mr. Mason

Yes, and it will be incumbent upon the Opposition, in due course, to let us know in respect of which items they would like expenditure to fall or rise. No doubt there will be ample opportunity for that in the future. However in my statement I wanted clearly to convey the message to those in our country who take matters of defence seriously that Britain cannot go it alone again. The days of Suez have gone. The Suez dreamers below the Gangway on the Opposition side of the House, with their reactionary dogma, who are constantly trying to make their party move further to the Right, are not doing defence a service they are doing it a disservice. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I made an appeal to the House yesterday that the Front Benches as well as the Back Benches should realise that Question Time is for questions and answers to the point.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that his silly little statement attacking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition demeaned both his office and himself? Will he assure the House that in future he will be less worried whether or not the Russians are annoyed and more concerned about the state of British defences?

Mr. Mason

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to his defence post. Long may he remain there. No doubt he will have studied my statement with a great deal of care. There was no defence of the Soviet Union—and never has there been in any of my public utterances. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that I said that the order of the day should be patience, diligence and negotiation, armed with security, to talk from strength.£

Mr. Hardy

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the cuts in defence expenditure that were effected by the previous Conservative Government? Does he recall whether any of the hon. Members who are now making a fuss said anything at that time?

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) was in post at that time. In one calendar year—1973—the Tories cut back defence expenditure by £250 million, long before oil prices had quadrupled, with adverse effects upon the balance of payments and the economy.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Will the Secretary of State now inform the House of the development of his views on the effects on East-West relations of the incursion into Angola of 12,000 lackeys of the Soviet Union?

Mr. Mason

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will await the statement on Angola which will be forthcoming at the end of Question Time.