HC Deb 15 April 1980 vol 982 cc1003-5
13. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the proposed defence expenditure for 1980–81.

15. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total cost of the defence budget for 1980–81.

Mr. Pym

The defence budget for 1980–81 is £10,785 million at Estimates prices.

Mr. Evans

Is it not disturbing that, while the Government are cutting back on housing, education and welfare and local authority services, they are increasing defence expenditure? Will the right hon. Gentleman study the report of the Brandt commission, of which the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was a member? Is he aware that it has suggested to leading industrial nations that they should cut their spending on arms and devote their resources to aid to underdeveloped countries and to dealing with the problem of world poverty?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that the report is most important and that it is being considered by every nation. However, we have to consider the immediate threat. There may or may not be a move of policy in the direction suggested by the report. I cannot say that at this stage. However, in the meantime, all the Allies agree that it is necessary to increase defence expenditure, and even our predecessors in office, to be fair to them, took the same view.

Mr. Nelson

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a widespread welcome for the fact that the Government have given the defence budget the priority it deserves? However, if it is to rise, as we understand, by some 3 per cent. a year for the next few years, and if one of the major features of defence expenditure is to be a major re-equipping programme for all three forces, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that, if 5 per cent. of the defence budget is to be spent on renewing our nuclear deterrent, even a 3 per cent. increase year on year will be satisfactory by the middle of the decade?

Mr. Pym

The Alliance-wide target of an increase of 3 per cent. is adequate in all the circumstances. It represents a substantial improvement in our defence capability over a period of years. It is a mistake to confuse with that argument one weapon system. I do not think that the position that we face at present enables anybody to take a complacent view about the position of either this country or of the Alliance. Together—if we make an adequate contribution—we can maintain the peace.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Does not the Minister agree that if there is a threat at all, the same threat applies to all members of NATO equally? Why is it necessary for this country to make a larger per capita contribution than any other member of NATO? Is it not a fact that we are now paying more for defence than we spend on health or housing? Why did the Minister, in Cabinet, argue for more money under those circumstances, and threaten resignation? What moral justification is there for that.

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman has chosen the wrong method to describe our expenditure. On a per capita basis, we are in the bottom half of the table. It is only as a percentage of GDP that we are at the top of the table—excepting the United States. The reason why we have supported that view is that the needs of the position require us to make this additional effort. We are determined to make our contribution. On a per capita basis there are members of the Alliance paying more than those resident in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Burden

When considering the position of the Royal naval dockyards, will my right hon. Friend realise that they have played an enormous part in the defence capability of Britain in the past, and that they have no less an important task in the future?

Mr. Pym

I agree with my hon. Friend. As he knows, I am shortly to receive a study on the future of the dockyards. I accept that they have an important role to play for the Navy.