HC Deb 26 April 1977 vol 930 cc1008-10
3. Mr. Churchill

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he has made in fulfilling his commitment, jointly made with allied Ministers at their meeting in Brussels on 7th-8th December 1976, to secure real annual increases in defence expenditure by allied Governments, as outlined in the communiqué concerned.

15. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to discuss with NATO Defence Ministers the implementation of his commitment to secure real annual increases in defence expenditure.

Mr. Mulley

As the communiqué made clear, all members of the Alliance have undertaken to review their contributions in the context of the 1977 force planning exercise, which covers the period up to five years ahead. Any proposals for changes in our expenditure plans would have to be considered during this year's public expenditure survey.

Mr. Churchill

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in paragraph 9 he undertook to do much more than merely review levels of expenditure? Ministers recognise that the achievement of the objective—namely, the countering of the Warsaw Pact build-up—calls for real annual increases in defence expenditure by allied Governments and that that applies to this country. The right hon. Gentleman signed the document on behalf of the British Government and our NATO allies. Does he stand by that statement or does he repudiate it?

Mr. Mulley

The communiqué was a statement of the consensus of the discussion that took place. There was no question of signing any documents. The sentence that the hon. Gentleman has chosen is in the context of a well-considered NATO view—namely, that we should be concentrating on increased expenditure on new equipment. As I have explained to the House, the percentage that we spend on new equipment compares extremely favourably with that spent by our NATO allies. In that context we are carrying out the intentions of the discussions.

Mr. Goodhew

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite what he says, the fact that the Government continue cutting in the face of such undertakings can result in an undermining of the confidence of other NATO allies, an undermining of the will of the Government and their commitment to NATO, and an under mining of the whole principle of collective defence that is implicit in NATO? Is he aware that that can only encourage other Governments to do precisely the same? Does he not think that it is about time that he faced the situation?

Mr. Mulley

I do not think that that is the case. I know that some Opposition Members are doing their best to undermine our position, but I do not think that they are meeting with very much success. It is well known that our existing forces are making a substantial contribution to NATO. In terms of the percentage of the gross national product that we devote to defence, our spending is in excess of that of our allies, except for two. That is well known and appreciated.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend try to take no notice of the almost permanent panic that seems to sweep the Opposition Benches whenever they think of the Soviet Union and the Red Army? [Interruption.] Will he take note that many of my hon. Friends—[Interruption.] I ask my right hon. Friend, Mr. Speaker, to take note of the wave of feeling that immediately came over the Opposition Benches when I mentioned the Soviet Union and the Red Army. Will my right hon. Friend guard against that and relate our defence expenditure to the realities, about which he knows far more than Opposition Members? Will he refuse to allow himself to be swayed by the Chalfonts and the Opposition Members who remind me of Mr. Forrestal, who dashed out of the Waldorf Astoria screaming that the Red Army was after him?

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I try to take account of points of view from all quarters of the House.

Mr. Pattie

As NATO Defence Ministers frequently discuss at their meetings the so-called two-way street, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the reported cancellation by the United States of the purchase of the British Skyflash missile in a fit of pique after his Government's reasonable decision to buy the Nimrod project for our airborne early warning requirement?

Mr. Mulley

I am not aware that the United States forces had placed a contract for Skyflash. They have had some interest in Skyflash, which is a very good missile which has been developed from the United States Sparrow missile. I still hope that it will be possible for them to make a purchase, but there were no conditions and no contracts under discussion. Throughout the whole of the Nimrod-AWACS argument I refused to be involved in bargaining arrangements of that sort.