HL Deb 10 December 1991 vol 533 cc585-7

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

How the United Kingdom defence budget compares with those of our European allies.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, the United Kingdom's defence budget is currently expected to total around £24.36 billion in 1991–92, equivalent to 4.1 per cent. of forecast GDP. Since other European allies set and control their budgets on a calendar year basis, direct comparisons for the present financial year are not possible. However, for 1991 the average of planned expenditure by other European NATO allies as a percentage of GDP is 2.9 per cent.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that if we were to suffer the indignity of a Labour Government our defence budget would be reduced to the average of our European allies? Will my noble friend say how many ships, aeroplanes and tanks would have to be cancelled or scrapped if that were to happen?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, although my shoulders may be broad at times, I am not equipped to take on the responsibility for the Opposition's future defence plans. The Opposition is not very forthcoming; it has been a question of "Watch this space". At the moment the space is somewhat blank.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a statement which was placed before the Labour Party conference and approved unanimously read as follows: The next Labour government will make a thorough assessment of the new and changing conditions and relationships in Europe, the Soviet Union and the wider world. Bearing in mind the need to maintain effective national security, this assessment should examine, in particular, Britain's defence roles, responsibilities and commitments—in order to establish, in conjunction with our allies, a fairer share of defence obligations and costs within the NATO Alliance"? Is the Minister aware that the statement was passed unanimously and is Labour Party policy? Is the Minister further aware that some of my noble friends and I take hard the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, whose father was an honoured and distinguished member of the Labour Party, receiving his peerage on the recommendation of a Labour Prime Minister, should be so hostile to our party?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I did say, "Watch this space".

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, will our defence budget run to the spending of £25 million on "Polar Circle", which is needed to demonstrate our sovereignty around the Falkland Islands and in the Antarctic area?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that question is wide of the mark. The noble Lord knows full well that account has been taken of the defence budget as regards the continuation of the role that "Endurance" undertook.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, given that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has referred to me and to my father by name, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that if the policies of the Labour Party were the same today as they were 50 years ago the situation would be a much better one?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am aware of that.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the Minister convey to his noble friend Lord Trefgarne that if he were to follow the views of his father he might wish to cross the Floor of the House to join our party?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that suggestion is somewhat unlikely.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, is the Minister aware that last week I accompanied the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to a rather depressing interview with the commodores of the Royal Naval Reserve, who complained to both of us about the Government's present policy, which they reckoned was intended to destroy the Royal Naval Reserve, and that they said that they wished us to place that on record?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the quality of the Royal Naval Reserve will never be destroyed under this Government.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is grave anxiety that the Government's defence measures are ruining some of our great regiments and are causing great distress? Furthermore, will he say how much more the Government will reduce the valuable Territorial Army?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as regards the second point of the noble Lord's supplementary question, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be making a Statement in another place this afternoon.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, without wishing to join in the party political exchange, perhaps I may follow up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. When will the Government announce their decision about "Polar Circle", knowing that a decision must be made by early January?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that that is, with great respect, extremely wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend indicate why the Statement being made in another place on such an extremely important matter is not being repeated in this House? Is that because of the attitude of the Labour Party?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand that the Opposition do not require the Statement to be repeated.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Earl's Answer to the original Question referred to the proportion of defence expenditure borne by our European allies and ourselves. In view of the discussions now taking place, will he inform our colleagues in Europe that before they decide to take away or modify Britain's right to its own foreign policy, they should put their money where their mouth is in regard to defence.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, all our commitments with our allies and, indeed, worldwide are taken fully into account. Anything to do with defence as regards our allies in Europe is always well catered for. For example, I can tell the noble Lord that the highest expenditure as a percentage of GDP is by Greece at 5.64 per cent. and the lowest by Luxembourg at 1.21 per cent.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the noble Earl not agree that there is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that we spend slightly more than our allies on defence and security? There might be something to be ashamed of if we were spending considerably less.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Swedes spend something like 9 per cent. of their GDP on defence issues? Moreover, will he expand on his answer to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am not aware of the percentage of GDP which Sweden spends but if that is of definite interest to my noble friend, I will surely let her know.

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