HC Deb 11 December 1984 vol 69 cc897-8
7. Mr. Frank Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the level of conventional defence spending.

Mr. Heseltine

The defence budget for the current financial year amounts to £17.25 billion. Of this, some 97 per cent. will be spent on our conventional forces.

Mr. Cook

When will the Secretary of State realise that the electorate will not tolerate the kind of fob-off offered to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) in answers to supplementary questions on question No. 1? Does not persistent dependence on a reduction in conventional spending inevitably mean that we rely more on the threat of nuclear arms and the sophisticated weapons that are being developed? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that persistent reliance on that strategy means that we will inevitably contribute to the destruction of the globe?

Mr. Heseltine

I take a somewhat different view. All Labour Governments since the war have followed the policies that I follow. I believe that we should continue to follow those policies, because they have worked.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my right hon. Friend spell out the implications of a decision by this country to scale down our spending on conventional forces to the levels currently maintained by our NATO colleagues? Would not such a decision mean the decimation of our conventional forces and place greater reliance upon nuclear weapons?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that all those consequences would indeed flow from such a decision, together with another which my hon. Friend did not mention, but which I am sure he will accept, namely, the incalculable effect upon the credibility of the NATO Alliance of Britain's taking a decision dramatically to reduce our commitment to defence.

Mr. O'Neill

Will not the assurances given by the Secretary of State today have a somewhat hollow ring for the 1,000 people who are to lose their jobs in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers workshops? Will they not directly relate any savings of that nature to a campaign to make money available for Trident in the future?

Mr. Heseltine

I do not think that anyone would seriously believe that that is the purpose of trying to get more value for money out of the defence budget, which, on all counts, we have a responsibility to do.