Eastern Europe

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes 12:00 am, 28th November 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the implications for defence policy and costs of recent events in the Soviet bloc; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We remain committed to NATO, whose policies of seeking dialogue with the East while maintaining a strong collective defence have contributed greatly to the change taking place in eastern Europe.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Whatever has been said this afternoon, is it not true that developments in the Warsaw pact have been most helpful and exciting? However, they will lead to uncertainty, because, as we have seen in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and China, there can be a most terrible response to reform. Will my hon. Friend ensure that he proceeds with caution, so that the hopes of those nations are not reduced because of the uncertainty that reform can bring?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. It would be almost a miracle if the road to reform were smooth and straightforward. We are faced with a period of definite uncertainty, during which we must keep our defences sound. We do not want to indulge in unilateral disarmament, as advocated by the Labour party.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Given the favourable political changes in Europe and President Gorbachev's enormous cuts in the Soviet Union, how can the Government justify a change in defence policy, as announced in the Autumn Statement, which will add £1 billion a year each year to our defence budget?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As I said earlier, small reductions in Soviety capability of about 500,000 troops must be compared with the total of 5 million men under arms in the Soviet Union. During that time, Soviet arms production has continued apace. Many new tanks, aircraft, submarines and ships have been produced, which have enhanced its capabilities.

Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston

When considering this matter further, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that per capita, in relation to gross domestic product, Britain is spending four times more on defence than West Germany? Given the renewed economic strength of Germany, is that a reasonable distribution of the burden of defending central Europe?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The percentage of our gross national product spent on defence is somewhat higher than that of the Germans, but one must bear in mind that they have a conscript army, which is paid much less than our professional forces. Given our commitments, the amount that we spend on defence is not out of line.