HC Deb 02 December 1980 vol 995 cc118-9
8. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the proposed total annual expenditure on defence and particularly on nuclear weapons.

Mr. Pym

The defence budget this year is £11,151 million at outturn prices. For expenditure on nuclear weapons, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the figures I gave him on 28 October.

Mr. Evans

Does the Secretary of State realise that, at a time when the Government are cutting back on social benefits and social services it is wrong to have a massive increase in defence expenditure on nuclear arms? Does he not realise that we are contributing a higher proportion of our gross national product to arms expenditure than our European industrial competitors and Japan, and that that may be one of the reasons for the present collapse of British industry?

Mr. Pym

Currently, we are not increasing our expenditure on nuclear weapons. When we build the boats for Trident the capital cost, in the late 1980s and early 1990s will be a substantial expense, in the way that Tornado is now. Currently the nuclear part of our defences costs our budget 1½ per cent., which is a modest price in view of the strength that it gives us. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that defence industries provide a subtantial number of jobs and exports, while at the same time strengthening the defences of the West. Therefore, there is something to be said for keeping our expenditure as high as it is.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while there may be room for debate about whether we are allocating too much money to nuclear rather than conventional weapons, there is no argument at all, in the light of what could be another example of blatant Soviet aggression against Poland, about the need to increase defence expenditure? Will he accept that on this side of the House some of us view with concern the reduction in expenditure that he was recently forced to accept?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. However, the reduction to which he referred is a reduction in the rate of increase. There will still be a considerable increase in expenditure next year. We must bear that in mind. There is virtually unanimous support for that on this side of the House, and I am bound to say that I think that there is more support on the Opposition side of the House than sometimes appears.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

While the essential services in Britain are grinding to a halt and being cut to ribbons, how can the Secretary of State seriously contend that we can afford the Trident programme?

Mr. Pym

The continuation of the Polaris capability is an absolutely essential part of our defence. I should be the first to say that it is a large sum of money, but in relation to the deterrent, peace-keeping capability that it brings to us, it is good value for money.

Mr. Buck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the majority of right-thinking people in Britain will think that this is money well spent, not only for the defence of the realm but also as the basis for future arms reduction talks and mutual and balanced force reductions.

Mr. Pym

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend—until such time as we can protect ourselves and secure our safety on both sides of the Iron Curtain at a lesser cost. In the meantime, I am sure that this is a necessary part of our defence capability.