HC Deb 12 October 1976 vol 917 cc229-32
10. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received regarding proposed cuts in defence expenditure.

Mr. Mulley

I have received a number of representations from various quarters, some protesting about cuts already announced, some in favour of further cuts in defence expenditure and others expressing anxiety about the effect which these cuts will have on employment prospects.

Mr. Evans

Will my right hon. Friend resist demands from the Tory Party calling for massive cuts in public expenditure but at the same time urging massive increases in defence expenditure? It is an immoral stance to demand greater expenditure on the Army, Navy and Air Force while calling for cuts in pensions and benefits to the disabled and sick.

Mr. Mulley

I have already made it clear that it is a little inconsistent to require additional expenditure on par- ticular items and at the same time to beat the drum about total public expenditure. However, I have received many representations from colleagues on this side of the House and from trade unions strongly opposing the implementation of the cuts already announced.

Mr. Kershaw

No doubt the Secretary of State privately shares our concern about the north and south flanks of NATO. Will he do all he can to see that the deficiencies caused there are remedied?

Mr. Mulley

Of course I would like to see a strengthening of the flanks, but through the contribution we make to the ACE mobile force and the reserve RAF and naval contingents which we make available, we are playing our part, and it would be wrong to think that we can provide additional forces on either of these flanks.

14. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the implementation of defence cuts.

20. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he can now define the areas in which the proposed £100 million cuts in defence spending will take place.

22. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what will be the effect of the latest round of cuts in appropriations for defence.

Mr. Mulley

I have nothing further to add to the answer given by my predecessor to the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on 29th July 1976.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the Secretary of State agree with the statement by Field-Marshal Sir Michael Carver, when he was Chief of the Defence Staff last year, that we are down to absolute bedrock on defence cuts? If he does not agree, why not?

Mr. Mulley

I agree that it would be difficult to make further cuts without reconsidering some of the commitments involved. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the £100 million cuts involved will be made. We are having a detailed assessment now of the rephasing of the works and equipment programmes which will not directly affect the level of our defence forces.

Mr. Rodgers

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's remarks about pressure from the trade unions concerning defence contracts and cut-backs? Will he advise whether similar protests have been made by trade unions representing the public sector? What has been the response in that area?

Mr. Mulley

I think that some of the representations we have received about defence cuts come from trade unions engaged in the public sector, because a number of cuts will involve a reduction in both the non-industrial and the industrial Civil Service as well as having an indirect effect on employment outside.

Mr. Wall

Is it not a fact that the Government's White Paper was designed to give stability to the forces for the next decade and that since then there have been four major cuts in defence expenditure? What has been the effect of the last two cuts, and how will they be implemented?

Mr. Mulley

We would all like stability in this uncertain world, but I fear that no one in this nation can at present be very secure for very long because of the serious economic situation. That situation is the culmination of a very long period of industrial stagnation. If I were a Conservative Member, I would get no satisfaction from the present situation. On the contrary, I would have hoped that the Conservatives would assist the nation to overcome the difficulties which are a challenge to the whole nation.

Mr. Clemitson

Which would produce a greater loss of jobs, a £100 million cut in defence expenditure or an equivalent cut in, say, the National Health Service or education?

Mr. Mulley

It would depend upon the salary levels. All the cuts in defence represent jobs, as they represent jobs in other services. I do not think there is any way of getting round that fact. In some cases of cuts in planned expenditure, jobs are not yet at risk.

Mr. Kilfedder

The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor is now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his predecessor about the closure of defence establishments in Northern Ireland? That is making thousands unemployed in the Province, which already has the highest unemployment rate since the last war. Will he reverse that decision?

Mr. Mulley

I shall consult my right hon. Friend, but the facts of life are that we cannot reduce defence expenditure without in many cases causing either redundancies or the loss of job opportunities.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in not being allowed to speak at his own party conference. Will he take advantage of this considerably more democratic and pro-western assembly to repudiate the defence aspects of the totally absurd 1976 Labour programme?

Mr. Mulley

The right hon. Gentle. man is misinformed. I addressed the party conference, but in order to demonstrate my versatility I spoke about the National Health Service and child benefits.