HC Deb 25 July 1978 vol 954 cc1341-3
3. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what savings would be achieved if his current defence expenditure was at the average level of European North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries.

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

In 1977, the last full year for which information is available, the savings, had our expenditure been at the average level of the European NATO countries, would have been of the order of £1,800 million.

Mr. Jenkins

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that that is a huge saving which could be made? Will he suggest to his right hon. Friends in the Cabinet that that saving ought to be made—it is, in fact, Labour Party policy that it should be made—and that the money could be spent on social services and on improving generally the conditions of our people?

Mr. Mulley

My hon. Friend is aware that at present, unhappily, the progress that we expected to make in arms control negotiations has not been achieved. While it is the Government's policy to reduce our share nearer to that of our European allies—we reduced it from 5.1 per cent. to 4.9 per cent. of GDP in 1977, and the estimate for this year is 4.75 per cent.—at the same time many of our European allies are increasing their expenditure, so the gap is being narrowed This exercise cannot be fulfilled in a short period.

Sir Ian Gilmour

How much would it cost if we took our defence expenditure up to the proportion of gross national product spent by the Russians?

Mr. Mulley

The proportion that we estimate is spent by the Soviet Union is based on a much lower gross national product per capita than in Western Europe. We estimate that that of the Soviet Union is between 11 per cent. and 12 per cent., whereas the NATO average is between 4 per cent. and 5 per cent.

Mr. Flannery

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while the Tory Party was constantly putting pressure on the Government—who finally capitulated—to increase defence expenditure, hundreds of millions of pounds that were already available for spending in other areas remained unspent? Is it not a fact that there was an orgy of spending on things that could not be regarded as defence items merely in order to spend that money, while the Tory Party was demanding more and more for defence?

Mr. Mulley

I think that my hon. Friend has, uncharacteristically, been prone to take too much notice of some newspaper reports. There was no orgy of spending. The simple fact is that a number of estimated expenditures were not realisable. Through no fault of my Department, equipment was not available in time and, as we have to work on both capital and revenue on a one-year basis, we brought forward some expenditure for this year to make room for the expenditure that we had not been able to make last year. I have in mind what I think perhaps caught my hon. Friend's eye, namely, the modest expenditure on vacuum cleaners and carpets. I make absolutely no excuse or apology for that expenditure, because we took the decision to put carpeting in other ranks' married quarters on the same scale as that in officers' quarters. That is why we bought the carpet and the vacuum cleaners. I am sure I carry my hon. Friend with me on that decision.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I ask for briefer supplementary questions and answers?