HC Deb 02 December 1980 vol 995 cc111-2
2. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied that British undertakings to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation are being fully implemented.

Mr. Pym

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Wall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the failure to reach a 3 per cent. increase in defence expenditure will come as a shock to our NATO allies? Will he give an undertaking that in the calculation of future expenditure the base will be the promised 3 per cent., not the 2½ per cent. of this year?

Mr. Pym

I share my hon. Friend's view about the importance of the increase in our expenditure and the importance of our defence programme. We plan to achieve 5 per cent. over two years, rather than 6 per cent. I agree that in view of the 3 per cent. aim that is a disappointment, but it is an aim. Amongst our European allies we shall probably still achieve the largest increase and spend a higher proportion of our gross domestic product than they do, even though on a per capita basis we are not so high up the league table. I share my hon. Friend's sorrow about the matter, but, in the face of extreme economic difficulty, it seemed helpful that we should marginally reduce the rate of increase for a year or two. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that it is reasonable to make this reduction, but I think that our NATO allies will still be pleased with the United Kingdom.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Minister now answer the question that was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)? Is he not aware that there is growing support in the country as well as in the Parliamentary Labour Party—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not in order to go back to a previous question.

Mr. Roberts

I am relating the question to our commitment to NATO, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is the same question, because the vast majority of the British people are opposed to the commitments that the Minister and his Government are giving to NATO.

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. I have not the slightest doubt that the British people realise that, even though, of course, they dislike nuclear weapons, it is essential to remain strong enough while we are negotiating in an endeavour to secure a multilateral balanced reduction of arms. I am certain that that is the view of the broad mass of the British people.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most of us, on the Conservative Benches at least, thoroughly admire what he has done and struggled for? We regret that he was not quite as successful as we would have hoped, but we express the hope that should Russia invade Poland the whole position will be reviewed.

Mr. Pym

That would be an entirely separate collection of circumstances. Certainly, it is vital that we play our part in NATO, as we are. We put at the disposal of the Alliance the most highly professional and motivated Service men to be found in any country. We are doing the best that we can to help the Alliance.

Mr. Dalyell

What hard information is available to NATO about Western observers being asked to move from sensitive areas of Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia and about unusual troop movements on the Polish borders?

Mr. Pym

There is hard evidence of requests with regard to movements of our defence attaches and military staff in Europe. The movements of those staff are, of course, subject to the customary diplomatic restrictions, including exclusion from certain areas. At this time, we naturally hope very much that they will be enabled to stay exactly where they are.

Mr. Churchill

A major factor in fulfilling Britain's undertakings to the NATO Alliance is the maintenance of a high level of morale and strength of the Forces. Bearing that in mind, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains the Government's firm commitment to honour their pledge to the Armed Forces of full comparability of pay and that there will be no question of any nobbling of the Review Body on Armed Forces Pay behind the scenes, as happened in the case of Lord Boyle's report on hon. Members' pay?

Mr. Pym

There will be no nobbling of the review body. It will take evidence, come to its conclusions, and report some time next May to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Our commitment to the Service men on the basis of comparability is clear, and I have every reason to suppose that we shall adhere to it.