HC Deb 06 December 1977 vol 940 cc1111-3
14. Mr. Goodhart

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

Mr. Wellbeloved

Our NATO allies have commented on the provisional list of savings measures for 1978–79 which we put to them in the summer and have not suggested any variations. We shall shortly be reviewing the list in the light of the most up-to-date assessment of spending patterns next year as this emerges from the preparation of detailed Estimates.

Mr. Goodhart

If the Minister really believes that the letter from the Secretary-General of NATO was constructive, will the Secretary of State in Brussels this afternoon be repudiating the defence cuts and responding to the savage criticism that Dr. Luns made of the Government? As the country's financial situation and the reserves have improved quite dramatically since these cuts were made, surely the Government should now review them with a view to reducing unemployment in the defence industries?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I say again that we welcome the frank and constructive approach that NATO, and Dr. Luns in particular, has displayed towards the propositions that we put forward. Naturally, NATO is concerned, in the face of the serious build-up of the Warsaw Pact forces, about the whole capability of Western defence. But NATO also recognises, as does Dr. Luns, that even with the planned reductions being put into effect by the United Kingdom we are still spending 5 per cent. of our national income on defence. The declaration by Ministers at the May meeting of the Defence Ministers recognised that because of their current economic situation some countries would have difficulty in meeting certain obligations which had been agreed.

Mr. Crawshaw

Despite what was said a few moments ago, will my hon. Friend tell the House whether he has an assessment of what unemployment will be in the defence industries as a result of the present cuts? Will he also give joy to some of my colleagues by saying what cuts in employment are likely to take place if the anti-defence programme outlined by some of his hon. Friends were put into effect?

Mr. Wellbeloved

There can be no doubt that reductions in defence expenditure have led, and will lead, to a reduction in job opportunities in the defence industries. So far, there has been a significant contribution to the unemployment figures due to reductions in defence expenditure, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that if we were to embark upon defence expenditure reductions in excess of £1,000 million from the existing target the effects on employment would be very grave indeed.

Mr. Kershaw

In view of Government policy in regard to defence industries, is it not a pity that the expense of moving parts of the defence establishment to Cardiff and Glasgow, which has absolutely nothing to do with defence, should fall upon the defence budget?

Mr. Wellbeloved

That part of the expense of dispersal that falls upon the Ministry of Defence is related to its personnel, and it could be argued—indeed, it is argued—that it is appropriate that it falls on the defence budget. Over the years there will be considerable savings resulting from the dispersal policy.

Mr. Fernyhough

Will my hon. Friend make clear once more to Opposition Members opposite that a country that is relatively economically and industrially weak cannot in any circumstances be militarily strong? Is it not, therefore, necessary that we maintain our priorities and are not misled by the Opposition, because for every Service man who has lost his job as a result of cuts there are five people in other spheres who have likewise lost their jobs?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I do not dissent from the general thesis that my right hon. Friend has put forward. I believe that it would be in the interests of the country, and particularly of the Armed Forces, if the Opposition took a more constructive and useful attitude towards Government policy, which is succeeding in getting this country back on to its economic feet.

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