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Budget

Volume 14: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1981

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied that the defence budget is adequate to enable him to fulfil all the United Kingdom's present defence roles.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wishes me to convey his apologies to the House for not being here today. He is attending a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels.

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is "Yes".

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the extra funds announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week are enough to carry forward the programme set out in Cmnd. 8288, or have we now reached the stage where our defence strategy has to be re-examined?

Our strategy remains as set out in Cmnd. 8288. There are pressures on the defence budget arising partly from the fact that industry is delivering its products earlier than we had expected and partly from the fact that the measures announced in Cmnd. 8288 take some time to work through.

Is it not obvious that we cannot afford an effective conventional defence and a credible nuclear weapons system—credible enough, at any rate, to get us an invitation to the conference at Geneva?

It has never been the intention that we should attend the conference at Geneva.

Before I go further, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his translation to the post that he now holds. I hope that he will be able to make some sense of the Labour Party's policy.

The answer to his question is that we can maintain a strategic nuclear deterrent and a credible conventional defence policy.

I thank the Minister for his kind words. I am having great difficulty in trying to make sense of the Government's policy. I pursue my point a little further. I thought that one of the bases of our having the nuclear deterrent, as it was called, was that we should be invited to the top table in the conference chamber. What happened to the top table and to the conference chamber?

We are still closely consulted by the Americans as is the whole of NATO about the presentation of what is being put forward at Geneva. It has never been the intention that we should engage in those discussions. The intention has always been that the discussions should be between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Is not one of the roles of British defence strategy the immediate reinforcement of Northern Norway? Will my hon. Friend explain how Northern Norway can be reinforced at times of tension if the two landing platform docks—HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid"—are scrapped?

We shall still have some carriers, and we shall be able to use commercial shipping.

Is the Minister satisfied that the funds are adequate to train personnel with the new equipment that will be coming forward? Is he aware that one thing that exercises the minds of the Forces now is the cutting down of the available training facilities? Is there not a case for considering whether some decrease in the numbers and extra training of those remaining might be better than having the equipment without the people trained to use it?

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important point. One of the objectives of the review that took place in the summer was to enable us to spend more time and resources on training instead of constantly bumping our head against a ceiling. We intended—and I believe that we have achieved it—to give ourselves a little more headroom to build up stocks and carry out more training.