HC Deb 25 January 1978 vol 942 cc1360-4
4. Mr. Litterick

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will ask the other member States of NATO to refrain from increasing their expenditure on armaments, in the interests of not prejudicing the outcome of the Special United Nations Session on Disarmament due to take place in May of this year.

7. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of his declaration that Great Britain will play a positive rôle at the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in May, he will seek to ensure that no steps will be taken meanwhile to prejudice the success of that conference.

15. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in his consultations with NATO, he will seek to ensure that the organisation should refrain from pressing for increased arms expenditure by its member Governments pending the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Evan Luard)

We and our allies intend to play a positive rôle in the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. There is no question of any moves which might prejudice the prospects for the session. Until our objective of general and complete disarmament can be achieved, we and our allies must maintain the military expenditure necessary to ensure our security.

Mr. Litterick

Does the Minister agree, however, that the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence of real increases in armaments expenditure runs counter to the no doubt sincere hope by the Foreign Office that it can play a positive rôle in the coming United Nations discussions on disarmament? It seems to many hon. Members to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the British Government to exercise any moral authority at all on anyone, particularly in NATO, in this respect. Therefore, does he agree that it would render the United Nations talks nugatory from the start?

Mr. Luard

There is no contradiction in the two facts mentioned by my hon. Friend. As he knows, we undertook a drastic defence review and cut defence spending by over £8 billion or £9 billion over a nine-year period. Now that our financial situation is somewhat restored, in conjunction with our allies and in accordance with the NATO decision, we have decided to raise defence expenditure by 3 per cent. over coming years. There is no conflict between doing that and taking a positive rôle at the conference, to which we attach great importance. We have our own ideas to present to the conference. I hope that we can play a positive part.

Mr. Allaun

First, does my hon. Friend feel that an increase in arms spending by East or West inevitably heightens tension and makes peace and arms reductions this year harder to achieve?

Secondly, if a Soviet nuclear-powered spy satellite can go astray—fortunately, without horrific effects—does he not think that, with both East and West having scores of such satellites, sooner or later one will cause a disaster and perhaps spark off the Third World War?

Mr. Luard

I agree that all increases in defence expenditure can have the effect of raising tension. But we must be concerned about the balance of armaments between East and West. Unfortunately, increases in defence expenditure on the Eastern side on a fairly substantial scale have been reported, and NATO must take account of them.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the danger of satellites coming down and causing immense damage. Therefore, it is all the more important that we act positively at the conference to ensure real progress towards disarmament.

Mr. Evans

Does my hon. Friend agree that, with the problems of world poverty, we need a United Nations initiative to bring about an end to the arms race in order to divert resources to help the needy in the Southern Hemisphere?

Mr, Luard

As I said in my original answer, our aim is eventual "general and complete disarmament." One of the main effects, to which the United Nations has often drawn attention, would be that enormous resources would be available for development all over the world.

Mr. Powell

What did the Under-Secretary mean by the expression "complete disarmament" in his substantive reply?

Mr. Luard

The ultimate aim, as I said, is the elimination of all armaments. This is a long-term eventual aim. I do not suggest that it is easy, but it is a matter to which the discussions at the conference will be directed.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Does the Minister agree that a posture of weakness on the part of the West is as likely to cause increasing tension as a posture of strength? To what extent is increased arms expenditure by this country designed to meet the increased threat to our communications posed by the disposition of hostile Soviet submarines?

Mr. Luard

Our aim is to assure for the West a position neither of superior strength nor of weakness. Our aim should be to secure a balance of armaments between East and West. We shall not be successful in the talks unless we make that clear before the negotiations take place.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend agree that the United Nations Charter would be at risk unless NATO defined its attitude towards the neutron weapon? Does he further agree that the United Kingdom should press for a mutual denunciation of this ghastly weapon?

Mr. Luard

I understand that no final decisions have been taken about that weapon. We are in close consultation with all the Powers involved.

Mr. Thorpe

We all hope for a major advance at the United Nations special session. Is the Minister aware that it is suggested that there is to be a major exhibition at Aldershot designed to promote the sale of British arms to all and sundry? Is it correct that that exhibition will correspond with the last week of the United Nations special session? Is that by design or by accident?

Mr. Luard

It is an exhibition of all types of Army equipment, including weapons, for an invited audience of defence procurement officials from a wide range of customer States. The last such exhibition took place in the summer of 1976. I am sure that the timing is a matter of accident.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not irrelevant hypocrisy on the part of the Minister's hon. Friends below the Gangway to complain of the Government's modest and belated decision to make a small increase in defence expenditure at a time when the armaments industry of the Soviet Union is out-producing Britain's entire inventory of tanks, aircraft and submarines every four months?

Mr. Luard

I have already said that the level of defence expenditure in other parts of Europe must be of concern to us in making our own decisions on defence expenditure. What is of concern is the relationship not of Soviet expenditure to our own but of Soviet and East European expenditure to that of the West as a whole.

Mr. Luce

Although it is hoped that real progress will be made at the United Nations and that the British team will be strongly represented, is it not clear that the lessons of history demonstrate that if genuine progress is to be made it must be on the basis of balanced arms reductions? Is it not therefore imperative that NATO members negotiate from a position of adequate strength?

Mr. Frank Allaun

That is what the Russians say.

Mr. Luard

It is our aim to secure a balance at the time when the conference takes place. At the conference we shall also wish to secure substantial reductions, which, of course, must be of a balanced nature.

Forward to