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Arms Expenditure (Review)

Volume 886: debated on Tuesday 11 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received about his review of arms spending.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the progress of his discussions on the defence review.

I have received representations from a number of quarters. In particular, we have had debates in both Houses following my statement on 3rd December, and we are in the middle of extensive consultations with our NATO Allies. These are due to be completed in February and I expect to publish a White Paper in March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since it has emerged that he is increasing rather than decreasing the arms bill protests have been flowing in to Transport House—[Interruption.]—from constituency Labour parties and trade unions, including the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has thousands of workers involved—[Interruption.]—and that 91 Labour Members of Parliament, and the national executive of the Labour Party—[Interruption.]

—are pressing for real and substantial reductions to be made in the arms bill?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's encouragement of this lobby, but he must be aware that even during the course of this Question Time anxieties and concern have been expressed on both sides of the House, and that even on our present defence review, trade unions, shop stewards, companies and firms are worried about the redundancies that will flow within the next four years. Substantial reductions are to be made, and people will be affected. At least 15,000 people in defence establishments and 10,000 in defence industries will lose their jobs over the next four years. We have tried to do this on a manageable scale, and I hope we shall succeed, but if my hon. Friend encourages those who want more cuts he must recognise that trade unions will see all their hopes and aspirations for full employment jeopardised.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at least one Parliamentary Private Secretary on his side has accused him of cheating and cooking the books? Can he remember any other occasion on which a Parliamentary Private Secretary has made a similar accusation and not been asked to resign?

I am not aware either of what my hon. Friend said or on the occasion on which he said it, but I have always told the House that we planned our defence review on the expenditure that we inherited. We are making substantial reductions, and these were set out in the statement of 3rd December. They will be more clearly defined in the White Paper, but we have been honest with the House, with the country and with those who elected us on our manifesto.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have not received one letter from any worker in Rosyth Dockyard asking the Government to expedite the closure of that dockyard? As its main work is the servicing of nuclear submarines, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when the Prime Minister visits Moscow later this week he will seek to engage in talks on multilateral disarmament rather than take the unilateral action that is proposed by Conservative Members?

I think I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. If this matter happens to come forth in the talks during my right hon. Friend's visit to Moscow he will take into consideration the manifesto commitment, which states that there shall be multilateral negotiations before we embark upon the removal of Polaris from Holy Loch.