HC Deb 13 March 1984 vol 56 cc266-7
5. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he intends to carry out a major review of the United Kingdom's defence spending and commitments.

Mr. Heseltine

No. I am satisfied that the planned defence programme remains in balance with the resources available.

Mr. Cartwright

How does the Secretary of State square that somewhat complacent assessment with the recently published views of a distinguished group of military experts—including a former permanent secretary at his own Department—first, that no long-term strategy underlies the 1981 defence review and, secondly, that escalating defence costs require the establishment of a logic of priorities? How can that logic be established without any prior review?

Mr. Heseltine

There are machineries for determining priorities within the Ministry of Defence. I was able to answer as I did because, under the present Government, there has been an increase of about 23 per cent. in real terms in the defence budget. That increase was designed to give us the opportunity to pursue a round objective within the defence programme.

Mr. Franks

In view of recent speculation in the national media that the Trident programme may be abandoned because of escalating costs, will my right hon. Friend unequivocally state that the Trident programme remains part of Government policy?

Mr. Heseltine

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Secretary of State admit that the Government have a distorted sense of priorities for public expenditure? Are they not planning to spend increasing billions of pounds of public money on the manufacture of weapons of war and mass destruction, while no doubt later this afternoon the Chancellor will be trying to justify further cuts in essential social services and in the National Health Service, including a 700 per cent. increase in prescription charges—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must be confined to defence matters.

Mr. Heseltine

There is nothing distorted about a sense of priorities that has kept Europe at peace for the longest period in contemporary history.

Mr. Conway

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the expansion of the Territorial Army and its better equipping. However, if he has an opportunity to review defence expenditure, will he consider further expanding the Territorial Army to take account of the growing waiting list of men who wish to enlist in its battalions?

Mr. Heseltine

I hope to make a statement on that subject in the near future which my hon. Friend may find acceptable.

Mr. Douglas

When reviewing defence expenditure, will the Secretary of State remember the British manufacturers who are worried about the tilting of the balance of scientific and technological expenditure towards the United States, which strengthens not only America's superiority in defence but its non-military superiority, too?

Mr. Heseltine

I shall bear that point very much in mind. I am constantly in touch with British industry about it. Among other things, I have had to remind British manufacturers of the commitment of the Labour party to reduce our conventional defence expenditure by nearly one third.

Mr. Neil Thorne

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will not seek to restrict training—in particular, the training of infantry battalions—to England, and that regiments originating in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be trained in those locations, especially in view of the importance of those areas for the training of such regiments?

Mr. Heseltine

There cannot be a precise match between training and recruitment and the basing of the various parts of the armed services, but the Ministry of Defence is well aware of the vital part played by all parts of the country in our defence effort.

Mr. Denzil Davies

When will the Secretary of State stop playing with his MINIS and recognise that our defence commitments are hopelessly overstretched? Is it not a fact that, with the decline of its industrial base—especially under the present Government—Britain cannot afford Trident, a proper contribution to NATO, a fortress Falklands policy and interventions in almost any part of the world decreed by an American President?

Mr. Heseltine

We are maintaining our contributions to all those matters. However, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's definition of the North Atlantic Alliance with the Americans. If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the defence budget is overstretched, which vital interest would he abandon?