HC Deb 12 October 1976 vol 917 cc225-7
6. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received from other NATO Governments about the level of defence expenditure of the United Kingdom Government.

Mr. Mulley

I have not yet received the formal response from the Alliance to the information which we have provided on the reductions in planned defence expenditure that have been announced this year.

Mr. Gow

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell us that he regards it as being the Government's first duty to secure the territorial integrity of these islands against any possible assault? At the same time, will he confirm that, at a time when the Warsaw Pact countries are increasing their military strength, this is the wrong moment to be diminishing our own capability?

Mr. Mulley

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that we should always be in a position to the maximum extent to ensure the defence of these islands. At the same time, I view with concern the evidence that we have of increased Soviet and Warsaw Pact expenditure. However, the defence review conducted by my predecessor was on the basis that we reduced commitments elsewhere and in support and ancillary purposes and that we did not reduce the very important and effective contribution that we make to the forces of NATO.

Mr. Frank Allaun

In wishing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State well, may we hope that he will be as concerned about public expenditure as he was in his previous post? Will he refute the nonsense that Britain has slashed arms spending by billions and admit that there has been a real increase since last year?

Mr. Mulley

We have this argument —I had it in my previous post—about planned expenditure and actual expenditure. The reductions made by my predecessor on planned expenditure amounted to several billion pounds over a period of time. I do not intend in my present job to do what I did in my last job, which was to increase expenditure in real terms by 2 per cent. It is imperative that we go through with the reductions in defence which have been announced. Consistent with the defence of these islands and our contribution to NATO, I shall be looking for economies.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to deceive the House. He must be aware that the Government's defence cuts so far have harmed our commitments in Europe both on the flanks and on the central front. It is really much too late to pretend otherwise.

Mr. Mulley

If we were able to do so, naturally we would like to do more on both the northern and southern flanks. The right hon. Gentleman knows, however, that NATO's demand of us is primarily our very important contribution to the central front together with the Tactical Air Force and our very substantial naval contribution in the Channel and the Eastern Atlantic.

Mr. Gilmour

I was saying that the Secretary of State appeared to imply that the cuts did not affect our contribution to NATO. That is quite untrue.

Mr. Mulley

The cuts are on the margin, and obviously there is room for argument here. NATO naturally would like us to increase our commitment, but, compared with the situation which we inherited in 1964, we are now up to our 55,000 commitment. In the early 1960s we were below our target in Germany.

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