Defence Programme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 7th July 1981.

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Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport 6:52 pm, 7th July 1981

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'while noting that "The United Kingdom Defence Programme: The Way Forward" (Cmnd. 8288) restrains the current defence budget to a 3 per cent. real terms increase per year until 1985–86, nevertheless believes that the inclusion of the Trident nuclear missile submarine programme will ensure that the overall cost of the defence budget places an undue burden on the nation's resources and that this programme should be cancelled and a portion of the saving thus achieved should be spent on increasing the build-rate of hunter-killer submarines.'.

The amendment gives those who criticise on financial grounds the Government's decision to go ahead with the Trident programme the opportunity to vote on that issue but to support the overall decision to curb the defence budget and to bring it down within the broad range of what the United Kingdom can afford. The central issue is whether the Government are correct to have made a series of defence decisions, some of which are extremely painful, to curb the rise in defence expenditure, but to accept a rise of 3 per cent. in real terms.

The Secretary of State began the debate with an extremely sombre account of the state of the world, the strategic implications and the growth of Soviet forces. The debate is taking place at a time when the finances and economy of the United Kingdom present an extremely sombre background. We have appalling unemployment, which is likely to worsen. The House has to seek a balance. The balance will be arrived at after coming to a decision on the correct amount to be spent on defence and by deciding how the moneys should be spent.

The amendment provides an opportunity for those who are not prepared to continue to vote against the Government purely and simply because of their commitment to Trident. We oppose Trident, but we do not want the decision to be the excuse for us to join arms with a range of people who we know do not want to spend anything on defence or who wish to reduce defence expenditure to a level that would put the nation at peril and produce a massive loss of jobs in the defence industry.

In forming their judgment tonight, my right hon. and hon. Friends and Labour Members should not vote against the Estimates. It would require a serious decision to vote against them. The revised Estimates take us forward to 1985–86.