HC Deb 12 October 1976 vol 917 cc222-5
4. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met the other NATO Defence Ministers.

21. Mr. Goodlad

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet his NATO counterparts.

25. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met the other NATO Defence Ministers.

Mr. Mulley

I look forward to meeting the other NATO Defence Ministers at the NATO autumn ministerial meetings. The Nuclear Planning Group will meet in London on 17th and 18th November. Eurogroup Ministers will meet in Brussels on 6th December, and the Defence Planning Committee will meet there on 7th and 8th December.

Mr. Blaker

Does the Secretary of State recall that his predecessor made it clear in the House on 13th January of this year that if any defence cut jeopardised the security of the Western Alliance he would not accept it? Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to make it quite clear to our allies that his position is the same?

Mr. Mulley

I very much share my predecessor's view on these matters. There are other Questions on the Order Paper about the NATO response to our recent intimation on our defence expenditure, and I shall deal with them when we reach them.

Mr. Frank Allaun

When my right hon. Friend meets the Defence Ministers, will he point out to them that France has recently decided to withdraw 10,000 of her 60,000 troops from West Germany, some of them to be demobbed immediately? If France can do that, why cannot Britain, bearing in mind that we are in a far worse financial position?

Mr. Mulley

My hon. Friend knows that France is in a rather different position from the rest of the Alliance in that her forces are not fully integrated with those of the other NATO countries. But I am sure he will also have noted that it is the intention in successive years for the French Government to increase their defence expenditure, and that is not my intention.

Mr. Townsend

Has the right hon. Gentleman discussed with his colleagues the impact of the decision announced in the White Paper to cut the fuel programme? Does not this have considerable implications for stockpiling in NATO and for training?

Mr. Mulley

Since I have not yet met my colleagues, I have not discussed this or any other matter with them.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that at a recent meeting of the Eurogroup in The Hague a decision was taken on joint armaments procurement with a slight change enabling the French to co-operate in NATO? I understand that a meeting took place in Rome which the French attended.

Mr. Mulley

I am happy to say that the French play an important part in the new European Programme Committee, although they are not part of the original Eurogroup. We hope that, as a result of the work of the European Programme Committee, it will lead to greater collaboration in Europe on the procurement of equipment.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

In welcoming the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Minister of State to the Defence Department, may I ask the right hon.

Gentleman to undertake that when he meets NATO Ministers he will assure them that this Government will make no further cuts at all in defence?

Mr. Mulley

It is very difficult to be absolute, and even in Opposition the Conservative Party's posture is far from precise. I do not myself deal in absolute terms, and I would never in any circumstances give an absolute commitment which in the events which unfolded might be impossible to fulfil.

5. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he remains satisfied that he is able to fulfil Great Britain's NATO commitments.

Mr. Mulley

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Morrison

Are we to assume from the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) that he in no way agrees with the argument propounded by his hon. Friends in the Tribune Group about our defence commitments?

Mr. Mulley

It is a little difficult to deal with particular groups because, like most groups, they have views of varying character. I stand by the defence review which has already been announced and the fact that the greater part of our forces are wholly committed to NATO, and it would be my intention not to weaken our commitment to the Alliance because the Alliance is an essential part of the defence of this country.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Is not it intolerable cant by Opposition Members who only last night were stamping up and down the Chamber demanding cuts of £4,000 million, £6,000 million and £10,000 million in public expenditure now to be demanding that there should be no cuts in public expenditure? Can my right hon. Friend name a single country which has slashed expenditure on social and welfare services and maintained expenditure on defence, other than military dictatorships—[HON. MEMBERS: "Russia."]—absolutely, other than military dictatorships, which are able to oppress the popular will?

Mr. Mulley

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the Opposition's enthusiasm for the generality of reduction in public expenditure while, not only in this area but in many other areas, objecting strongly when the impact of such reductions happens to be politically convenient to exploit. A number of countries have had to reduce their social expenditure and their defence expenditure as well. The great problem of this country is that our gross national product has not risen at a rate which would have made it possible to sustain all that we want to do on both defence and the social side as well.

Mr. Wall

Will the Secretary of State explain how the recent axing of specialised commando shipping, which necessitated the Government chartering civilian car ferries for a recent reinforcement exercise on the northern flank, can possibly be described as fulfilling NATO commitments?

Mr. Mulley

I do not think there is any NATO commitment specifying that personnel shall he carried only in ships of the Royal Navy. The requirement is that forces should be in the right place at the right times.

Mr. Cronin

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind whenever the question of covering NATO commitments arises that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact Powers have an overwhelming superiority in Eastern Europe which is explicable only in potentially aggressive terms?

Mr. Mulley

I am aware, as the whole House should be, of the difficulties which could arise from the increasing strength of the Warsaw Pact forces as they were set out clearly in my predecessor's White Paper earlier this year. At the same time, I would not expect that we could cope with it alone. That is why I regard the NATO Alliance as an essential element in the defence of this country.