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Expenditure Reductions

Volume 894: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to make any further cuts in defence expenditure additional to those already published in the latest White Paper and announced in the Budget Statement.

No public expenditure programme can be guaranteed irrespective of the development of the economy, but our planning continues to be based on the broad level of capability decided on in the defence review.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is an extremely cagey answer which will do nothing to increase Opposition confidence in the Government's serious intention to maintain our defence ability?

I am sorry that my reply disappoints the hon. Lady and others. It happens to be a fact of life. If there are major public expenditure cuts, defence must be involved. What perturbs me is that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends keep pressing me to spend more on defence while I see that their economic and financial spokesmen are calling for public expenditure cuts of £4,500 million.

Does the Minister admit that our arms spending in both real and cash terms—much more so in cash terms—is going up and not down? Will he clearly dissociate himself from Conservative Members and, I regret to say, one or two on the Labour side who are arguing for cuts in industry, housing, education, health—in everything except arms expenditure, which they wish to increase? If there is any doubt about this, let my hon. Friend refer to Hansard to see that hon. Gentlemen said precisely that in last week's debate.

I hope my hon. Friend will realise that defence has certainly played its part in the public expenditure cuts that have so far taken place. I hope he appreciates that in 1975–76 we shall save £300 million, in 1976–77 we shall save £380 million, in 1977–78 £350 million, in 1978–79 £500 million and in 1979–80 £660 million. Therefore, we shall save a total of £2,190 million on planned expenditure on defence at 1974 prices over the next five years.

Does the Minister realise the concern that the Government are causing among young people in the South-West who contemplate a Service career? Is there any future for young people in the Services?

The savings I have announced to the House arise mainly because we have decided that we can no longer police the world. Our international posture is at an end. We are therefore withdrawing from Singapore, Gan and Mauritius and lessening part of our commitment on NATO's flanks. That is how we have been able to effect these savings. Young men who join Her Majesty's Forces know that their future will be geared towards the new alignment with Europe. In that we certainly have a rôle to play.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any further defence cuts would be immensely damaging to the cause of multilateral disarmament? May I congratulate him on his firm decision to order the maritime Harrier for the Royal Navy? Can he say what rôle he envisages for that aircraft in the Eastern Atlantic, where the Russians are building up their forces?

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for raising the subject of the maritime Harrier. This is indicative of the recognition of our new rôle in Europe and the Atlantic. We recognised that there was a threat from airborne surveillance by the Russian Bear aircraft. We have decided to fit our through-deck cruisers with the maritime Harrier, which will be able to stop and harry the Bear aircraft, preventing it from carrying out its surveillance activities, in the course of which it communicates information to long-range missiles at sea.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman have to admit that it is now the unanimous and publicly-expressed view of our NATO allies that the cuts he has announced are gravely damaging to the alliance? With that in mind, is not the least we can ask him to do to undertake that there will be no further cuts, for the sake of our country and of the people in the Services?

I agree that our NATO allies were seriously disquieted during the course of our defence review and at its conclusion. They publicly expressed their views. I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman and the House a categoric assurance that defence cuts will not flow from any other public expenditure reductions. Obviously I cannot give that assurance. As far as I am concerned, if I feel that it will impair our rôle or the security of the State I will try to help.