§ 3. Mr. Oppenheim
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received over the past decade regarding defence spending levels.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
Over the past decade, my Department has received a number of representations on defence spending levels from hon. Members and from members of the public.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
Bearing in mind the fact that many of those who, at the height of the cold war, urged us to abandon nuclear weapons as immoral and to slash defence spending have apparently come to the conclusion, now that the cold war is over, that we need nuclear weapons after all, that we must save every regiment and even bomb Serbia, and bearing in mind the fact that the leading politician who opposed Trident as militarily unacceptable 156 is now lobbying for Trident refit work in his constituency, does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that that represents a genuine change of heart, or is it the usual unholy mixture of hyprocisy, opportunism, and pork-barrel politics?
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is certainly one of the lasting mysteries about the Opposition that they were unable to support our nuclear deterrent during the cold war, but that they claim that Trident will be safe in their hands now, when the Soviet Union no longer exists.
§ Mr. Nicholas Brown
The Secretary of State is currently spending money completing three type 23 frigates at Swan Hunter on Tyneside. Will he now give an assurance that those three frigates will be finished on Tyneside by the work force at Swan Hunter, under the control of the existing management?
§ Mr. Rifkind
We have said that we very much hope that it will be possible to complete the frigates at Swan Hunter. I am cautiously optimistic that that will indeed prove possible, but the discussions that are taking place are not yet complete.
§ Mr. John Greenway
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that all those people working in the defence industries and in our armed forces should be glad that the Conservative party won the election last year and not either of the rabbles opposite—one of which proposes a cut in spending of 6 per cent. and the other a cut of 50 per cent? Will he assure the many MOD and armed forces personnel working in North Yorkshire that, so long as this Government remain in power, our commitment to a strong defence of Britain remains totally in place?
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that both the Labour party and the Liberal party are committed, by their party conferences, to massive reductions in defence expenditure. Indeed, I understand that the Liberal party is committed to reducing the size of our Army from 160,000 to approximately 70,000. That compares rather unfavourably with the view of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who seeks to oppose any amalgamations during the current exercise.