HC Deb 11 December 1984 vol 69 cc891-2
1. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Secretary of State of Defence when he expects to announce the results of the annual review of the defence programme.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

Information about the future defence programme will be given in the 1985 "Statement on the Defence Estimates" in the normal way.

Mr. Cartwright

As the existing commitments in the 10-year defence programme are reported to exceed available resources by as much as £10 billion, will the Secretary of State ensure that his next review makes it clear what non-nuclear commitments are being cut out to make room for the Trident programme?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman must learn to distinguish between a planning process and a commitment. There are no excess commitments in the Ministry's long-term policies, because such commitments have not been authorised by Ministers.

Mr. Robert Atkins

In the course of the review, will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to the future of the European fighter aircraft, bearing in mind that discussions are being protracted, largely by the French? Will he make provision, if necessary, for funds to go national?

Mr. Heseltine

I appreciate my hon. Friend's real interest in this matter from his constituency point of view, with which I sympathise. However, there are great prizes to be achieved if Europe can co-ordinate more closely its military procurement. Ministers of various Alliance countries are trying to achieve that, if possible. We cannot say that it is possible to achieve greater co-ordination, but we are trying to achieve it within the framework of the EFA discussions.

Mr. Boyes

Has the Secretary of State had time to study an answer that I was given about using animals, without anaesthetics, to test the effects of cyanide poisoning? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of Conservative voters have told me that they will vote Labour at the next general election because of the Government's outrageous attitude to animal welfare? Does he believe that it is in the national interest to propose in the defence review the closure of Porton Down as a chemical research establishment or to consider it as a suitable and useful area for peaceful purposes?

Mr. Heseltine

I think we all realise the immensely difficult issues that are raised in the context of the research to which the hon. Gentleman draws the attention of the House. We must also realise that we have a responsibility to our troops, especially those in Germany who face the possibility of a chemical attack by the Soviet Union. It would be unthinkably irresponsible for a Ministry of Defence Minister not to do everything possible to provide them with the best preventive kit.

Mr. Stern

In the course of the defence review., will my right hon. Friend consider the role of export sales in making our defence programme possible? Will he encourage his Department of Trade and Industry colleagues to take a realistic attitude to potential export sales, particularly to countries, such as Turkey, which have never defaulted on such contracts?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and interest. I have the closest and most harmonious relationships with all my Government colleagues, who meet to discuss these difficult issues of priorities.

Mr. Denzil Davies

When the Secretary of State comes to publish the fruits of the defence review, will he be as candid as was the Minister of State for the Armed forces in the Royal Navy debate two weeks ago and admit that the cost of Trident is bound to come out of conventional defence programmes? If that is so, does he agree that, by cutting our conventional defence, he is weakening Britain's real defences and its contribution to NATO at a time when it is important to build up conventional defences and not to rely on the first use of nuclear weapons?

Mr. Heseltine

It is fascinating to note that the right hon. Gentleman, whose party campaigned during the election for a reduction of 30 per cent. in the conventional defence budget, should now tell us that the Labour party wants to improve our conventional defences.

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