HC Deb 24 February 1987 vol 111 cc127-9
6. Mr. Watts

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has received any representations that defence expenditure should be reduced as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Mr. Younger

My Department has received representations on various aspects of defence expenditure.

Mr. Watts

Can my right hon. Friend estimate the impact on the defence budget of reducing expenditure to the NATO average of GDP, which I understand is Labour party policy? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that would involve a reduction of more than 30 per cent., which is more than the equivalent of the total procurement budget? Does that not give the lie to the Labour party's claim that its policies will involve improving our conventional forces?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is broadly right. It appears from the Labour party's national executive document that the Labour party proposes to reduce defence spending as a proportion of gross domestic product to the average of the NATO allies. The average is 3.3 per cent. and our figure is about 5 per cent. A reduction of some £6 billion in the defence budget would be needed to meet the average figure. That is what the Labour party appears to be preparing to do.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

So that I can decide whether to make representations against it, is there any truth in the story that the Navy is to be cut in the autumn?

Mr. Younger

I have not heard such a report, but if I saw such a report I should certainly ascertain whether it had any validity.

Mr. Couchman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Trident were cancelled and replaced by either the French M5 missile system or the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles it would require 11 submarines rather than four and would be more than twice as expensive and, therefore, catastrophic to the defence budget?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. It seems to be becoming generally accepted that any alternative to the Trident system based on cruise missiles would certainly require considerably more missiles and, therefore, considerably more boats to make it effective against likely defences at the time. It follows that it would be considerably more expensive. My hon. Friend is quite right about that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If expenditure on Zircon is not part of the secret Vote, why does the Secretary of State refuse to answer my questions and tell me under what Vote and sub-head that expenditure has been incurred? If Parliament is to accept not being told the sum expended, we surely have a right to know under which Vote or Votes the money has been expended.

Mr. Younger

That does not arise under this question. As the project that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned is secret, he will not expect me to talk about it. He should know perfectly well by now, as his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has confirmed, that the conventions about informing the House of Commons of expenditure of this sort have been completely fulfilled by the Government.

Mr. Leigh

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the defence policies of the leader of the Social Democratic party were put into effect, not only would the missiles cost twice as much if they were sea-launched, but we should incur £3 billion cancellation costs on Trident, so we should be paying twice as much for a system that was half as effective?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. It would certainly be considerably more expensive. Unfortunately, it would also become progressively less effective until it was not a deterrent worth having for any money. That is its real disadvantage.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Secretary of State aware that I am making a representation to him about defence expenditure? Is he aware, further, that the Government throw money around like confetti on defence? When will he persuade the Government to throw some money around for the people living in poverty in my constituency? How about an answer to that question to help the people in real need?

Mr. Younger

As the Government are spending vastly more on social services than did the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported, I do not think that that comment comes very well from him. He will find that most of his supporters, even if they have voted Labour all their lives, will strongly support the Government's defence policy as against his own.