HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1192-4
2. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current strength of the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and what were the equivalent figures on the same date in 1976 and 1977.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Dr. John Gilbert)

The total strength of the Navy and Royal Marines, the Army and the Air Force at 30th April 1978 was 74,449, 159,740 and 84,590 respectively. The corresponding figures for 1976 are 75,577, 168,651 and 90,291; and for 1977, 75,720, 165,603 and 86,608. All these figures exclude locally entered Service personnel.

Mr. Gow

Is it the policy of the Government that the steady reduction in the numbers of the Armed Forces of the Crown should continue? How does that reduction compare with the increase in the Armed Forces of those countries from which an attack, in so far as an attack is apprehended, may come?

Dr. Gilbert

The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is "No, Sir". The figures are not likely to change greatly in the near future. As to the second part of the supplementary question, numbers are only a part of the capability. Equipment and training are also important elements.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Has there not been over the same period a huge increase in spending on military research and development to a figure of £872 million and on military equipment to a figure of £2.8 billion? Would not this research and development expenditure have been better devoted to non-military matters?

Dr. Gilbert

I agree with my hon. Friend that in the best of all possible worlds we should far rather spend research and development money on nonmilitary matters. Unfortunately, such is the state of international tension that we do not believe that that option is open to us.

Mr. Banks

What is the sense in the Government's policy of creating unemployment by reducing the number of Service men and then spending millions of pounds paying people to count lampposts and the like?

Dr. Gilbert

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that those two questions are not connected. That story has been traded across the Floor of the House many times. The reduction in the Armed Services was due to a planned programme consequent upon the defence review of 1974. That defence review was based on a realistic assessment of what this country's defence commitment should be for the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government's defence cuts have yet cost 200,000 jobs? If not, by what date will they have cost 200,000 jobs?

Dr. Gilbert

If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to opportunities in defence industries, he is wildly in excess of the figures that I have at my disposal, which indicate that the maximum will be about 140,000 next year.