HC Deb 25 January 1977 vol 924 cc1150-1
2. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what extent the Government's latest defence cuts will mean a reduction in Great Britain's commitment of forces to NATO.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

It is impossible to be precise at this stage, but, as I have stressed repeatedly, we intend to keep the effect on our front-line contribution to the Alliance to the absolute minimum.

Mr. Trotter

Is not the Secretary of State ashamed to preside over a policy which runs our forces below the bedrock minimum for our security? If these cuts can be made without damaging our security, why were they not made before?

Mr. Mulley

The Conservative Administration made three cuts in 1973. In real terms, we are spending less than we should be spending next year. I think that, not only in defence, but in many other areas, we would all like to spend more in terms of public expenditure. However, we do not get much encouragement from the Opposition Benches to that end.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I admire my right hon. Friend's resolution about keeping front-line troops in Germany. When will the long-standing wrangle between us and West Germany over support costs end? Surely we cannot keep talking about it and not have a new agreement?

Mr. Mulley

We are anxious to have a new agreement, but I cannot say today when that will be possible. At the end of Question Time today the Prime Minister intends to inform the House of his discussions with the West German Chancellor and his colleagues over the weekend.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Surely the Defence Secretary knows that the distinction which he and his predecessors have tried to draw between the front-line and support arms is entirely bogus. Will he stop using it?

Mr. Mulley

It is not bogus. There are quite a number of worthwhile and useful economies which, in any event, we would seek to make by using modern techniques—for example, in the stores and other support facilities in this country. I think that any Administration would wish to go along with such economies. Although the deferment of building, and so on, is sad, we cannot in one year do everything and make up for the neglect of many years. These matters are less essential than maintaining our front-line forces.