HC Deb 13 July 1976 vol 915 cc355-7
13. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to meet the Secretary-General of NATO.

14. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next expects to attend a NATO ministerial meeting.

Mr. Mason

I expect to meet Dr. Luns at the NATO autumn ministerial meetings. The dates have not yet been fixed.

Mr. Luce

In view of the warnings of the Secretary-General and British defence advisers that the balance of power is tilting dangerously in favour of the Warsaw Pact Powers, will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure the Secretary-General that the British Government are totally opposed to the pro- posals of the Tribune Group for further cuts in defence expenditure, which would be bound to endanger the freedom of the British people?

Mr. Mason

If I accepted the latest proposal of cuts of £1,000 million in addition to the cuts which have already been made, at best that would be a policy of neutrality and at worst it would be surrender.

Mr. loan Evans

Will my right hon. Friend tell Dr. Luns that we are spending more on defence and less on domestic investment other than any other Western European nation? As a nation, we must get our priorities right. We cannot afford the burden of our present defence expenditure. Unlike the Opposition, who are demanding increases, if we are to have public expenditure cuts, should not the Government cut defence expenditure?

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend referred to industrial investment. During the past three years the defence budget has played its part, and it will play its part during the next few years, in allowing the reallocation of resources. From the time when we took office to the year 1979–80, we shall have cut back projected expenditure by £2,300 million involving real, not "phoney", cuts.

Mr. Lane

In view of the further evidence published by the Institute for the Study of Conflict about the world-wide growth of Russian naval power, will the Government, with other members of NATO, take an initiative towards organising a more urgent and realistic response to ensure that Western interests worldwide are properly safeguarded?

Mr. Mason

I have told the House previously—perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not aware of this—that NATO commissioned a study two years ago by the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic of a contingency plan ready to operate beyond NATO's borders in time of war, should that be necessary.

Mr. Ron Thomas

How does my right hon. Friend justify his statement that there is a case for saying that defence should be based on a figure per head of the population? On that basis, what would be the defence expenditure of China and India in relation to that of Britain?

Mr. Mason

I am not aware that China and India are menacing either the United Kingdom or the Western European Alliance.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

When the Secretary of State meets Dr. Luns will he assure him that, while the anti-West, anti-NATO and anti-democratic views of the Tribune Group are obviously widely shared in the Parliamentary Labour Party, they are repudiated by the vast majority of people in this country?

Mr. Mason

When the Parliamentary Labour Party as a whole is fully conversant with the effect of a £1,000 million cut on jobs in the aircraft and shipbuilding industries and industrial investment, I doubt whether it will follow that line.