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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 state his proposal to increase defence expenditure in volume terms.

The Government's White Paper on public expenditure will be published on Thursday.

I thank the Minister for that helpful answer. Is he aware that those of us who attended the defence debates in the previous Parliament were constantly castigated by his Conservative Party colleagues for the modest cuts made by the previous Labour Government in their defence expenditure? We were assured that a Conservative Government would honour a commitment to increase that expenditure. Does he think that an increase in defence expenditure would be politically acceptable when the Government are cutting every other form of public expenditure? Does he believe that that is economically realistic?

The truth is that, unless the security of the nation is adequately protected, it is doubtful whether we shall have a society or a country in which it is possible to have the social environment that we all want. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) once said that once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security was imperilled we should have no houses, no hospitals, no schools.

Since—as I hope —the White Paper will contain provision for the modernisation of our contribution to the theatre nuclear deterrent, will my right hon. Friend consider the advantages of putting out a more popular version so that the public as a whole may understand the essential need for us to accept new missiles, in the light of all the misconceptions that have been mischeviously put out about this, especially in East Anglia?

It is for that reason that I should like a debate in the House. I take what opportunities I get to explain to the country the rationale of the defence policy and the reasons for modernisation. However, Thursday's public expenditure White Paper is not a defence White Paper —which obviously will come later. The defence White Paper will naturally in due course contain a great deal of explanation.