HC Deb 20 July 1993 vol 229 cc183-4
6. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current share of gross domestic product spent on defence; and what is the comparable figure for other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries.

Mr. Rifkind

United Kingdom defence expenditure in 1992 was some 4.1 per cent. of GDP, but is expected to reduce to 3.2 per cent. by 1995–96. Figures giving defence expenditure for other NATO countries as a proportion of GDP are included in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993" on page 76. These range from 1.2 per cent. for Luxembourg to 5.5 per cent. for Greece.

Mr. Thompson

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that detailed reply. Will he note my concern, and that of many of my constituents, that defence expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, is falling significantly at a time when, as I believe, many threats to our national security remain in prospect? Will he confirm, in particular, that the reserves remain a vital component of our defence forces? Will he pay tribute to those serving in Bosnia; will he offer encouragement and further resources to the men and women in Norfolk and elsewhere who give up their time to train and to serve the community so excellently in this way?

Mr. Rifkind

Defence expenditure is falling in the United Kingdom. It is also falling at a far faster rate in some countries of the former Warsaw pact, particularly Russia. As for the reserves, I am happy to confirm the inviolable role that they play. My hon. Friend will have welcomed our announcement some weeks ago that in future the reserves will have the opportunity to carry out operational work in peacetime, in the format that we indicated during the recent defence debate.

Mr. Cohen

Will the Secretary of State confirm the figures of Malcolm Chambers of the university of Bradford, given in the July edition of "Parliamentary Brier'? He said that between 1988 and 1992, defence spending fell far more slowly in the United Kingdom than in our allied countries, and that we now spend 74 per cent. more than our western European allies. Is not that an example of the Government's overspending on militarism, and a lost opportunity to gain a proper peace dividend?

Mr. Rifkind

No, it is another example of the hon. Gentleman's muddled thinking. If he wants to examine the reality of the situation, he will find that Britain, France and Germany, in the past year, spent almost exactly the same amount on their defence forces. That is a far more accurate reflection of the security and defence interests of the most prominent members of the NATO alliance in Europe.

Dame Peggy Fenner

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that the great naval base at Chatham had a very early peace dividend when, in the early 1980s, it lost 7,000 job opportunities at one fell swoop? Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the centuries-old connection between Chatham and the Royal Navy and not close HMS Wildfire, and allow us to keep the RNVR as a last connection with our great naval tradition?

Mr. Rifkind

I fully understand the concerns behind my hon. Friend's question. As she is aware, the proposals on the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service are currently out to consultation. We will look very carefully at representations, from Chatham and from any other part of the country that is affected by the proposals.

Mr. George

Defence expenditure in 1974–79 averaged 4.9 per cent. of GDP. Now it is 4–1 per cent. and is falling to 3.2 per cent. If current trends continue, does not the Secretary of State run the distinct risk of having his conventional defence policy unanimously approved by a Labour party conference?

Mr. Rifkind

I think that the hon. Gentleman can take some comfort from the fact that he will feel distinctly uncomfortable when he attends Labour party conferences. Indeed, his own Front Benchers, desperate as they are to try to appear respectable on defence matters, constantly come up against the massed ranks of the Labour party —if that is not an inaccurate expression—who still believe that there should be £6 billion worth of cuts in our defence expenditure, with all the consequences that that would have for the armed forces.

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