The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, the level of spending on defence is based on the Government's assessment of our defence needs and priorities, and reflects the importance which we attach to maintaining the Armed Forces to meet United Kingdom defence commitmentsprincipally the protection and security of this country and its dependent territories.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a huge sum of money could be saved immediately by abandoning expenditure on Trident submarines? Will he tell the House under what conceivable circumstances a Trident missile could be fired strategically, sub-strategically or tactically?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I shall not answer that question. However, I can assure the noble Lord that the independent nuclear deterrent has preserved the security of this country for some 40 years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I see no reason whatever for changing that. As regards the generality of defence expenditure, we have made reductions in real levels of defence expenditure over the past 10 years. Nearly £8,000 million has been freed for other uses, which include allowing the taxpayer to keep more of his own money.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, within the lifetime of some of us in this House, on two occasions the government of the day allowed British defences to fall to a level that brought us very near to defeat in war? Should we not be extraordinarily foolish if we ignored that lesson, and did so for a third time?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I should be extraordinarily foolish, as would Her Majesty's Government, to fail to take the advice of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Similarly, we should be extraordinarily foolish if we took the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and with his remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Healey. The first priority of any government is the defence of this realm. That will be the first priority of this Government; we shall continue that policy.
Lord Judd: My Lords, will the Minister agreeI believe that he willthat in our highly interdependent global community the only way to approach defence expenditure is to define the threat and the challenge, and then, taking into account social expenditure which helps to make the nation worth defending, do whatever we can and can afford, together with others, to meet that challenge? Will he agree that, given the current instability in the world, above all what are needed are highly integrated, effective international forces? Will he accept that this side of the House will do everything to support the Government when they use their place on the Security Counciland indeed their place within NATOto achieve that objective?
Lord Henley: My Lords, if I understood the noble Lord correctlyI am not sure that I didI suspect that he got the stress the wrong way round. I recommend that he take advice from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and listens to the words of his noble friend Lord Healey, as quoted, and the remarks that he made when he was Secretary of State for Defence in the 1960s. The defence of this realm comes first.
Lord Judd: My Lords, will the Minister accept that I did not get the question the wrong way round? My point was that it is necessary to have adequate social expenditure to ensure that we have a nation that is worth defending.
Lord Henley: My Lords, we have adequate social expenditure. We have social expenditure that is far, far greater than was ever the case in real terms when the party that the noble Lord represents was in office; and it has continued to increase in quite dramatic terms over the years. Health expenditure, for example, has continued to grow in real terms over and above inflation every year since 1979.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, bearing in mind the dangerous world in which we live, will the Government at all times take very good care to see that no British Minister enters any conference naked or unprepared? Will they make sure that no Minister is put into an inferior position because other people might have greater weapons than we have?
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a strong and effective defence policy is an essential component of a strong and effective foreign policy and an essential part of the defence and promotion of our national political interest, as well as our security?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with his usual wisdom. The point is that these matters are irretrievably linked. Foreign policy and defence policy must run together. The one without the other is nothing.
Lord Ironside: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that all members of the European Union and Western European Union have differing rights and responsibilities in terms of security? Does he further agree that we have freedom to act in defence of our own interests without constraint, to meet the requirements of our three defence roles with all the military tasks that go with that, and to meet the requirements of NATO policy in terms of nuclear defence?
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, will the Minister accept that there can be two opinions about the proper and best way of expending money on defence? Will he further accept that my point argued that expenditure on Trident is a useless form of expenditure? I did not sayI need no advice on this pointthat we should entirely strip ourselves of defence expenditure. On the contrary. Does he agree with my argument for proper expenditure on defence which excludes Trident?
Lord Henley: My Lords, obviously there can be two opinions on most matters. On this particular occasion, if there are two opinions, I believe that the feeling of the House is that my opinion is right and the noble Lord's opinion is wrong. If the noble Lord so wished, we could spend our entire gross domestic product on health services. It would not give the noble Lord eternal youth, if that were desirable, or even everlasting life. What is important is that we assess our defence priorities correctly and get them exactly right. I believe that we have done so.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can she explain why, when most other former communist countriescertainly those in central Europehave been admitted to the scheme, Poland, which has closer ties with the people of this country than any other country of central or eastern Europe, is excluded? Can she further explain the apparent hostility of the Home Office to Poland on this and other matters?
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