HC Deb 24 January 1978 vol 942 cc1163-5
9. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage change he anticipates in the level of arms expenditure over the next five years.

15. Mr. Roderick

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the estimated additional expenditure on arms in each of the next five years involved in the proposal of a 15 per cent. increase over this period.

23. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the expected trends in United Kingdom defence expenditure over the forthcoming five years.

Mr. Mulley

The Government have decided to increase the defence budget by 3 per cent. in real terms in 1979–80 over the revalued Cmnd. 6721 figure for 1978–79 and by a further 3 per cent. in 1980–81, subject in the latter case to review in the light of our economic circumstances. No decisions have yet been taken about subsequent years, and the figure for 1981–82 which is shown in Cmnd. 7049 is, at this stage, simply a repeat of that for 1980–81.

Mr. Bennett

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In drawing up the Estimates, what account was taken of the possible success of the multilateral disarmament talks? It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend could publish possible savings in the Defence Estimates as a result of the multilateral talks in order to increase enthusiasm for the success of those talks.

Mr. Mulley

I think that there is great enthusiasm, at least on our part, for the successful outcome of those talks. In the hope that there may be substantial progress in that direction, the Government have thought fit not to go firm beyond next year and to leave the defence budgets for subsequent years for consideration in the light of this and the other economic factors which may arise.

Mr. Roderick

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what percentage of GNP is contributed towards defence by each NATO member? Will he confirm that we pay more in that form of expenditure than any other European NATO member?

Mr. Mulley

I can confirm, on last year's figures—the current NATO figures are not yet available—that there is only one European country with a higher percentage than ours and that, after the United States of America and Greece, we are third in the list on the basis of GDP.

Mr. Adley

Is it not clear from the exchanges at Question Time that the "utter contempt" referred to by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) is the view taken by the Tribune Group of the Secretary of State and particularly of his views on defence expenditure? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, if this question comes to a vote in the House, it will be regarded by the Government as a matter of confidence?

Mr. Mulley

Such decisions are not matters for me, but the hon. Gentleman can be assured that my ministerial colleagues and I shall vote for the proposals that we have put to the House.

Mr. Clemitson

Is it not true that the increase posited for defence expenditure for the next two years, as shown in the White Paper, is proportionally greater than the increase posited for the National Health Service? How can my right hon. Friend justify that discrepancy?

Mr. Mulley

Unusually, my hon. Friend has got his facts wrong. No increase is postulated for the next year, 1978–79. My hon. Friend will know that, as a result of the economic cut-back last year, there was a substantial reduction. The increase takes effect in 1979–80. I do not have the exact figures for the NHS, but over the period defence expenditure increases are substantially less than those for the civil programmes.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Minister of State that it is wrong to determine defence spending by an arbitrary mathematical formula based on a proportion of GNP?

Mr. Mulley

It is wholly wrong to have any arbitrary criteria. The right hon. Gentleman will know from his experience that the figures on which we have to settle are the outcome of a balance of a number of considerations. The Tribune Group did not pay the right hon. Gentleman a compliment for his substantial contribution to the reduction that I mentioned in the period from 1972–73 to 1978–79.