HC Deb 10 February 1976 vol 905 cc208-10
3. Mr. Hastings

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the United Kingdom's expenditure on defence in the light of information on the extent and purpose of current USSR expenditure on defence procurement.

11. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his assessment of the aims of the Soviet Union's current expenditure on defence procurement.

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

The improvements being made in the Warsaw Pact's military capability are a continuing concern to the United Kingdom and NATO Governments. I am satisfied, however, that we are making an effective contribution to NATO's collective defences, which are designed to deter outside aggression.

Mr. Hastings

If the Secretary of State is satisfied, he must be unique among those who take an interest in these matters. Is it not the case that today the Soviet Union spends just about double what the United States spends on defence research and more than the whole of the Western world put together? Is that any cause for satisfaction? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree—though he may not care to say so—that his task today should be not simply to resist cuts but to rebuild our reserves, defence forces and equipment to a level at which they are—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Supplementary questions are a privilege that has been established by custom, but one supplementary question at a time is normally enough. The hon. Gentleman is taking rather a long time.

Mr. Hastings

Finally, does the Secretary of State not think that our defence forces should again be raised to a level at which they are credible to our allies and enemies alike?

Mr. Mason

I do not agree with the figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred. However, he must be aware that NATO's job is to provide sufficient forces, in quantity and quality, to deter. The United Kingdom makes a greater contribution to the Central Front and the Eastern Atlantic than does any other of our Western European allies. As a percentage of GNP our defence expenditure is higher than that of any of our major Western European allies.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Do not Western sources show that NATO is stronger in financial, military, naval and nuclear power than are the Warsaw Pact Powers? In any case, do not both sides have the power to blot out everyone else in existence?

Mr. Mason

The answer to the first part of the question that my hon. Friend posed is "No". It so happens that on the central front the ground forces of the Warsaw Pact powers number at least 150,000 more than those of the NATO Alliance.

Mr. Adley

Is the Secretary of State aware that the recent official Russian complaint to Her Majesty's Government about the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was the first such official complaint since Ribbentrop complained about a speech by Sir Winston Churchill before the war? Does the right hon. Gentleman not consider that the word "détente" is in danger of becoming a 1970s version of the word "appeasement"? Is it not his duty to awake the nation to the political international realities?

Mr. Mason

It is good to have a public discussion on defence, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman, unlike some of his Suez dreamers, does not believe that there is not, this year, a possibility for genuine détente. We have to watch the extent to which we might harm the possible chances of, first, concluding a satisfactory Salt II agreement and, secondly, concluding a mutual and balanced force reduction, within Europe between the United States of America, the USSR, the Warsaw Pact Powers and the NATO Alliance. We must recognise that the Soviet Union is on test in terms of the Final Act of the Helsinki Agreement.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that no nation that is economically weak can be militarily strong, and that Her Majesty's Government's first priority must therefore be to put the economy right?

Mr. Mason

Of course, and it is always very difficult, when in government, to try to satisfy the economic needs of the nation and to obtain satisfaction on security. As Secretary of State for Defence, I am satisfied that as far as our country and its contribution to NATO is concerned, we have not prejudiced that effort.

Mr. Goodhew

As the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged today the immense power of the Warsaw Pact countries, and as he did so in the Defence Review and in articles that he has written for the North Atlantic Review, and so on, why does he support the Soviet Union against my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not read the statement. There was no defence of the Soviet Union. I stated that NATO was armed and alert and was ready to deter—but we do not have to provoke.