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Volume 972: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the review of expenditure as it affects his Department.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook).

As the Secretary of State and the Cabinet are busy flogging off national assets as fast as they can, are they considering selling the Army, to Securicor, for example? If that is not so, is it because the Cabinet considers that the Armed Forces are too important a national asset and that private enterprise is neither efficient nor patriotic enough to have this responsibility? If that is indeed so, why does not the Minister apply these values to industry?

I am doubtful whether the hon. Gentleman is wise to treat our Armed Forces with levity. The Armed Forces are, after all, the security of our nation, which is the first responsibility of any Government.

Does my right hon. Friend have any thoughts about the motives of Opposition Members who assiduously press their questions, which must give great comfort to the Kremlin? Does my right hon. Friend think that there is any possibility that there is someone in the Kremlin doing as good a job for the West as Opposition Members do for the Kremlin?

Does the Secretary of State admit that part of the examination now proceeding is a look at the naval bases, particularly Rosyth? Will he ensure that when Professor Smith of PA Management Consultants next goes to Rosyth he has a full and frank discussion with all the trade unionists involved at that base, so that they are properly informed and consulted about the future prospects for employment there?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our intention and wish to have the fullest consultation with the unions on any matter of that kind. I can also tell him that we have in hand at present a study considering the work of the Royal Navy dockyards. We think it is important, in view of the work that the naval dockyards do, to see whether they are well managed, whether there are any improvements that can be made, and how they can carry out their work more effectively.

In the context of future public expenditure, when does the right hon. Gentleman expect to reach a decision on whether and, if so, how, to replace Polaris?—a subject, as he knows, of the very widest implications.

There is, of course, no timetable for completing this process, but the Government are already considering options and possibilities. I think that certainly in the course of next year a decision is likely to be reached. However, I could not be more definite than that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I reserve the right to raise the matter on the Adjournment.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what cuts are now proposed in defence expenditure.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook).

Is it not a scandalous situation, however, when day by day the Government are announcing cuts in health, welfare, social and local authority services, that the Government should be contemplating increasing defence expenditure? If the right hon Gentleman is not able to contain it, will he minimise the increase in expenditure, because it is at the expense of all other Government expenditure?

No Government, and certainly not the present Government, like spending money on defence for its own sake. One spends it only because of the needs of the situation. The situation with which we are faced requires, unfortunately an increase in defence expenditure. We are committed to that, and we intend to fulfil that. Naturally, we hope very much that by negotiations, and by any means within our power, circumstances will alter and that will not be necessary, but so long as it is necessary it must remain one of the absolute top priorities for this or any Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, particularly for those of the same generation as my right hon. Friend and myself, the price of liberty has been too clearly shown to be eternal vigilance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. Naturally, I share that view very much.

If the Warsaw Pact countries enjoy the vast military superiority which the Secretary of State for Defence claims that they do and yet they have not launched any attack on Western Europe—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Yet."]—is not increasing defence expenditure throwing good money after bad?

If the hon. Gentleman would contemplate the fact that the Soviet Unon devotes about one-eighth of its entire gross domestic product to defence, I think that he would appreciate the scale of effort that is going on on that side. If the Soviet Union would alter that policy and pursue its energies and use its resources for more peaceful purposes, I think that it would be possible for us to make progress. But in the meantime, faced with that threat, we have to be realistic about it.

Will my right hon. Friend have discussions with his colleagues and with local authorities to see whether it would be possible to offer all of those who are opposing defence expenditure those special standards of living, special freedoms and other special conditions which are enjoyed behind the Iron Curtain?

I have been making a considerable number of speeches in public about defence and the need for it. I am happy to be able to say that my view is that there is a growing awareness of the threat that we face, an understanding of the need for an increased defence expenditure, however regrettable, and a growing support for it so long as circumstances exist in which that increased expenditure is necessary.