HC Deb 13 July 1976 vol 915 cc352-4
10. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it is now his policy that British defence forces should be maintained and not reduced except in the context of an agreement on mutual and balanced force reductions with the Easternbloc.

Mr. Mason

As stated in the 1975 Statement on the Defence Estimates and reiterated since, we do not envisage any reductions in the central region in advance of an MBFR agreement.

Mr. Blaker

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the words of my Question are a direct quotation from the latest communiqué of the ministerial meeting of the NATO Defence Planning Committee? Presumably Her Majesty's Government committed themselves to them. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that they apply not only to forces on the ground on the Continent but to any reinforcements?

Mr. Mason

They apply especially to the 65,000 who are stationed in the central region—namely, 55,000 in the Army and the Tactical Air Force.

Mr. James Lamond

Has my right hon. Friend read the speech made by Lord Goronwy-Roberts when addressing the seven hundred and eighth plenary session of the Disarmament Talks in Geneva, which have been proceeding since 9th September 1959? If he has read that speech, does he support the part of it that suggests that the British Government are now ready to co-operate with the Soviet Union in sending experts to Geneva to work out the best methods of further disarmament and the reducing of defence expenditure of all 31 countries involved in the talks on arms?

Mr. Mason

I have not read the speech, but I should be interested to participate in world-wide conferences on multilateral disarmament. Surely it comes ill from those who believe that the Soviet Union is ready to do that when it has been established that it has been spending between 11 per cent. and 12 per cent. of its gross national product on defence expenditure in the past five years.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

In view of the considerable and dangerous cuts that the Government have already made in defence expenditure, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that when the Government announce their further cuts in public expenditure later this month, or later this year, defence will be excluded from them?

Mr. Mason

I do not think I can give the House the categoric assurance that the right hon. Gentleman seeks. No doubt some claims will be made upon the defence budget.

Mr. Gilmour

Resist them.

Mr. Mason

What they may be I know not yet. However, I do know, and the right hon. Gentleman will know, that, whether we are battle weary or war shocked, we have had some experience and we shall be ready for the Chancellor's call.

Mr. Dalyell

Should not my right hon. Friend read Lord Goronwy-Roberts' speeches?

Mr. Mason

Only to catch up with the deliberations of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) in his supplementary question.