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Defence Expenditure

Volume 645: debated on Monday 2 October 1961

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12.

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.

16.

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.