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Ministry Of Defence

Volume 645: debated on Monday 2 October 1961

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Defence Expenditure


asked the Minister of Defence what specific proposals he is considering for the reduction of defence expenditure; and to what extent they affect the nuclear weapons programme.


asked the Minister of Defence the approximate reduction in defence expenditure he now proposes to make.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson) : As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House on 25th July, I have put in hand a review of the defence programme to see what can be done to save expenditure, especially overseas expenditure. I have no statement to make about this at present.

Is it not increasingly obvious that, in spite of collossal expenditure over the last few years, the Government are neither keeping pace in the nuclear arms race nor maintaining efficient conventional forces? Will the Minister therefore ensure that his review is a drastic reappraisal of the whole policy in order to produce a defence policy which the country can afford and believe in?

The correct answer is to say that I do not agree with any of the bases of the hon. Member's supplementary question, so I find difficulty in answering.

Is it not a fact that other Ministers have already announced serious cuts in housing, education and health? Is arms expenditure to be sacrosanct? Does the Minister remember that only recently, in the spring, he increased our arms expenditure by £40 million to the fantastic total of £1,660 million, or one-third of all Government expenditure? Would it not solve all our other problems if we could have a substantial cut here which would make war less likely, and not more likely, because it would reduce international tension?

Perhaps when some other nations are willing to make major cuts in their armaments programme we will follow suit.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, however fantastic the present figure may be, many of us feel that there is a case for increasing rather than reducing defence expenditure in order properly to preserve the peace?

asked the Minister of Defence if, in view of the Changing nature of defence problems and the reductions now proposed by Her Majesty's Government in defence expenditure, he will issue a revised edition of the Defence White Papr.

Does the Minister recollect that when the Defence White Paper was debated in this House he argued that this was the minimum amount of money necessary for defence and that now the Chancellor of the Exchequer has issued a directive saying that it is necessary to out overseas military spending? Can the Minister say who is speaking for the Government? Which is the Government's point of view? Is the Minister speaking for the Government in this matter of policy, or is the Chancellor of the Exdhequer?

The hon. Gentleman should refer to paragraph 12 of the White Paper which, he will see, solves his dilemma for him.



asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a further statement on Kuwait.

Yes, Sir. As the House knows, withdrawals of forces from Kuwait began early in July and continued during the month. I circulated a list of the major units involved in reply to a Question last Wednesday by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). We are, of course, anxious to withdraw more as soon as the situation allows. I hope that it will be possible to begin more rotations soon.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. Can he say whether we have any up-to-date news about the three men who, unhappily, got lost? Having given the information of the withdrawal of major units, can the Minister confirm the figures that were extensively publicised last weekend that the total force left in Kuwait is now down to about 2,000 or 2,300 men? Thirdly, can he toil us something about the conditions of the men remaining there? Have the Kuwaiti authorities now agreed, for example, to open the schools, which are empty, so that our men can have the shelter that they would provide?

Concerning the three men, I am afraid that I have nothing to add to the full statement made by my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary, which indicated that as far as we know they have been well treated and looked after. We are trying to make contact with them and to see that they are released as soon as possible. I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want me to give a precise figure of the troops now in Kuwait. I can, however, say that they have been very largely reduced and, probably, more than halved from the original force that was there. I have had a further report on the welfare of the men. I understand from the Commander-in-Chief that all his needs are being met and that he is satisfied, from the point of view of amenities, medical care and all the rest that he has everything he needs to look after them properly.

British Forces, Germany


asked the Minister of Defence what action he is taking to bring the British forces in Germany up to establishment.

Final decisions as to the reinforcement of British forces in Germany will not be taken until after the Foreign Ministers' meeting early in August. At this meeting we shall hope to concert plans with our Allies on the steps to be taken to strengthen the N.A.T.O. Alliance.

In view of all the conflicting reports about the use of Territorials and Special Reservists, can the Minister confirm that these measures are no substitute for political action, which is the only way to settle this problem? Can he say whether we shall be diminishing the strength of our Strategic Reserve by using these men?

There are many supplementary questions there. Perhaps I may answer by saying this. As the hon. Gentleman will see from my Answer, the detailed plans about how the N.A.T.O. allies may be strengthened must, in our view, await the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries. Naturally, in the meantime, we are looking over the possibilities. We have asked General Cassells to examine the strength of his forces and see what reasonable reinforcements he should receive and to take all the necessary preliminary steps. What I want to make plain is that the Government are not committed to any firm and decisive action until after the Foreign Secretaries have looked at the political situation.

Is it not a fact nevertheless that the Rhine Army is so many thousands of men under establishment that in order to bring it up to full establishment some, at least, of the Reserve will have to be called up?

No. I do not necessarily agree with the hon. Member's view. As I have said before, what steps we shall take in this way are not likely to be announced until after the Foreign Secretaries have met.

Civil Defence


asked the Minister of Defence, in view of paragraphs 39 to 42 of the Defence White Paper, to what extent he discussed developments in civil defence with the United States Minister of Defence during the latter's recent visit: and what changes he proposes.

Is it not rather extraordinary that no question of defending the civil population should have been discussed between Mr. McNamara and the Minister? Is he aware that today's papers carry a statement by Mr. McNamara that 50 million people might be killed if an H-bomb were to hit the U.S.A. and that 10 million people could be saved by deep shelters and a defence policy based on that? Are we to assume, then, that the United States Government think these are essentials and what Mr. Kennedy says are the minimum for survival, but that our Government are doing nothing about it?

On the contrary, earlier this year in the defence debate a considerable increase in expenditure on civil defence was announced.

Does the right hon. Gentleman still stand by statements by himself and all his predecessors in that office that in the event of nuclear war the civil population of this country could not be defended at all? Is that still true?

The general proposition that there is not yet satisfactory defence against the missile remains, and, therefore, if the missile is carrying a nuclear warhead, there is no means of stopping its arrival. However, of course, certain measures could be taken to minimise loss of life and casualties. Those steps are being taken, apparently, in the U.S.A., and will be taken here.

South Africa


asked the Minister of Defence whether a settlement has now been reached with the South African Government as to future defence arrangements; and if he will make a statement.

I have nothing to add at present to the reply I made on 19th July to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway).

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will make a full statement when these defence talks are concluded? Would he consider very carefully, apart from general defence matters, that there should be no question of sending to the Republic of South Africa small arms which might be used in the imposition of the racial policy of apartheid?

As the hon Gentleman knows, defence talks are only a relatively small part of the very complicated talks on the new status of South Africa. These are still going on. I imagine that a statement will be made on them when they are concluded, which will take account of any defence interests.

Yes, but cannot the right hon. Gentleman answer the latter part of my hon. Friend's Supplementary question? In view of repeated statements by two Ministers of Defence in South Africa, would the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that no small arms are going to be supplied to that country for the purpose, for example, of repressing a revolt, if such should start?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows, for this answer has been given a good many times in this House recently, that we do not announce in this House either for or against sales of any particular types of arms to another country.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise no difference, then, between the supply, for example, of naval vessels, and of small arms, the purpose of which we know very well in this country?