HC Deb 23 March 1982 vol 20 cc790-1
12. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his present estimate of the increase in defence expenditure in real terms in 1980–81 compared with 1982–83; and how this compares with the planned increase for 1982–83.

Mr. Blaker

The precise level of real growth achieved will depend on final outturn. On the basis of the forecast of outturn published in Cmnd. 8494 there will be real growth in 1981–82 of about 1.5 per cent. over 1980–81. The cash provision for 1982–83 is in line with the NATO 3 per cent. real growth commitment.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Minister confirm that NATO's 3 per cent. growth figure is not based on any assessment of defence needs, but is simply the percentage that NATO thought it could get away with?

Mr. Blaker

The figure is based on the assessment of NATO that we need to increase our defences in the face of the increasing Armed Forces of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Neil Thorne

Will my hon. Friend say what percentage of the increase will be spent in this country rather than overseas, because I feel that that is a particularly important element of the figures?

Mr. Blaker

With regard to equipment purchases, which I think my hon. Friend may have in mind, we spend over 80 per cent. of our equipment budget in this country.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is not that estimate a twist? Is not the real increase far greater, because the Minister, instead of taking into consideration the retail price index, as every other Department does, has a special price index for arms, which grow more and more sophisticated and expensive every year? If the Minister had used that other method of estimation, in real terms the increase would have been £6½ billion more than it has been over the last 10 years.

Mr. Blaker

As the hon. Gentleman says, it is true that arms increase rapidly in cost. However, his basic premise is wrong.

Mr. Henderson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the purpose of all defence spending is to ensure peace? In view of that, is it not the case that on the one hand the Government have increased our conventional capability and on the other hand they have provided for the most cost-effective way of securing peace through the provision of Trident? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the Government are doing enough to counter the immense threat of chemical weapons from the Soviet Union?

Mr. Blaker

We have already had a question about chemical weapons. Our forces are trained in measures to be taken against chemical weapons. With regard to the early part of my hon. Friend's question, it is true that, even after allowing for Trident, under our projections billions of pounds extra will be available because of the 3 per cent. increase in real terms in expenditure on conventional weapons.

Mr. John Silkin

To what extent has the Minister taken into account the fact that we allocate over 90 per cent. of our defence expenditure to NATO, unlike every other member of NATO? The result is that, even more than the United States and Germany, we are paymasters of NATO. Accordingly, with every item of defence expenditure that we take into account we should bear in mind that we are the highest spender in NATO.

Mr. Blaker

I am not sure that I follow the exact implications of the right hon. Gentleman's question. Our defence effort is made in concert with our NATO allies. We are observing the objective, which has been set down by agreement in NATO, of a constant annual increase in real terms of 3 per cent.