HC Deb 26 January 1982 vol 16 cc740-1
12. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how much his Department will spend on public relations in 1981–82.

Mr. Blaker

This year we expect to spend just over £3.5 million on public relations in the Ministry of Defence. That covers the salaries of Ministry of Defence public relations staff throughout the world, overheads and a wide variety of press briefing and press facility work both at home and abroad.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Minister aware that expenditure on defence is inevitably a matter of political controversy? Can he identify the proportion of his public relations budget that is being used to justify his present expenditure policies? For example, is he aware that in recent months the Royal Navy has been carrying out a series of presentations that, according to my constituents, have borne a close resemblance to party political broadcasts? Can he justify those presentations?

Mr. Blaker

If the need to defend Britain adequately has become a matter of controversy between the parties in the House, that is a matter of great regret, because it used not to be a matter of controversy. We used to agree that a satisfactory defence policy was the prime objective and duty of any Government. The purpose of our public relations effort is to explain the facts of our defence policy. It is obvious from some of the questions from the Opposition that that is a necessary task.

Mr. Stokes

Would it not greatly help public relations if some Opposition Members, instead of constantly criticising Her Majesty's Forces, praised Britain's defence effort?

Mr. Blaker

That would be a welcome change. I have no doubt that the vast majority of British people welcome the activities of our Armed Forces and believe that they are doing an excellent job.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Can the Minister tell us how much of the £3.5 million will be used to explain to the public and the world why, in 1982, the Government are refusing to disclose the documents and evidence about the traitors Burgess, Maclean and Philby, on the ground that those public schoolboys' activities may damage us now? Is it not a cover-up of public schoolboys?

Mr. Blaker

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a question for me.

Mr. McQuarrie

Will my hon. Friend consider spending some of that money in carrying out a public relations exercise in Gibraltar to try to increase the morale of the people there, which was badly deflated by his Department's decision to close the dockyard?

Mr. Blaker

We shall be explaining, as we have already explained, our policies on Gibraltar. Within the next few days I shall be receiving a deputation from Gibraltar.

Mr. John Silkin

Would it not have helped public relations concerning the closure of the Gibraltar dockyard if the Minister or one of his colleagues had been to Gibraltar and had had the guts to talk and listen to the people there?

Mr. Blaker

The right hon. Gentleman always gets his timing wrong. Last time we discussed this he urged me to go immediately to Gibraltar. I pointed out that Sir Joshua Hassan was about to arrive and that if I followed the right hon. Gentleman's advice we should cross in mid-air. As I am about to receive a trade union deputation from Gibraltar later this week, if I followed the right hon. Gentleman's advice exactly the same would happen again.