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Baor (Equipment)

Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to improve the equipment available to the British Army of the Rhine.

I refer the hon. Member to the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985" and my right hon. Friend's statement in his opening speech in the defence debate on 12 June.

Has the Minister read the recent articles in The Economist, which show that Britain has the most poorly equipped army on NATO's central front, with less heavy artillery than the Dutch, fewer tanks than the French and the Germans, 100 fewer helicopters than we need to do our task and no anti-aircraft guns at all? If the Government are seriously interested in supporting NATO, why are they about to spend £12 billion on being independent, in a nuclear sense, from NATO instead of reinforcing NATO where it is weakest and fulfilling our scandalously inadequate commitment?

As the House well knows, we have extensive plans to strengthen the British Army of the Rhine. We plan to introduce six regiments of Challenger into BAOR. Some will replace the existing Chieftain regiments, and some new armoured regiments are being formed. We also have plans to introduce the MLRS—the multiple launch rocket system — a weapon of devastating quality, which will add enormously to our forces in Germany.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's question about Trident, no amount of expenditure of that money on conventional forces could possibly provide the same deterrent effect.

Is it not a fact that BAOR will never get the equipment that it deserves and should have while the Government stretch the defence budget over so many areas? Why do the Government not realise that the British economy and the British defence budget cannot possibly maintain a proper conventional contribution to NATO, to the proper defence of Britain, to the Trident nuclear missile system and to an increasing out-of-area capability? If the Minister is concerned about BAOR, he should cancel Trident and eventually end our out-of-area commitment.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about out-of-area commitments, and I am sure that his remarks will be well noted outside the House. The right hon. Gentleman has just made an extremely interesting initial policy announcement.

As to the effect of Trident on the conventional equipment budget, the right hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that we have increased the defence budget by 20 per cent. in real terms. Of that 20 per cent., only one-fifth has gone on Trident, so there is plenty of headroom for an improvement in equipment for our conventional forces.

Will my hon. Friend promise that there will be no cut in defence expenditure this year?

My hon. Friend knows that the Government's expenditure plans are set out in the White Paper.

I am coming on. My hon. Friend also knows that in the normal way in which public expenditure is reviewed, discussions are taking place within Whitehall.