§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I believe that future historians will note with interest, if not with amazement, that this House is departing for the Summer Recess without any discussion of the two White Papers which the Government have presented for consideration, one dealing with the future organisation of the Army, and the other dealing with compensation.
I had the good fortune to have an Adjournment debate a week ago, and in it I expressed the view that I raised the subject only because I doubted whether facilities would be available for a discussion of the principles upon which that reorganisation is based. I still express the most profound astonishment, not that the Government have not found time for this debate, for I can well understand them not wanting to debate defence or the principles on which their reorganisation is based, but that my right hon. Friends have not seen the wisdom and the duty of presenting the Government's policies to the most careful and critical examination.
This time of the evening is available for back bench Members, and I must express my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War for coming to the House this evening to answer the debate. Nevertheless, it is essentially a back bench debate, although in my judgment it ought to have been an official debate in which the Opposition put its case.
It is a matter of some interest that we had a debate on defence a year ago today, and it is fascinating to read what was said in that debate and to trace through the Government's Defence White 1348 Paper, the various speeches which have been made on the subject, and, finally, these two White Papers. I must congratulate the Secretary of State for War on the reorganisation White Paper; I think he has done very well, and I believe that every hon. Member will hold the same view and will congratulate him on the White Papers, but always with one reservation—that of the regiment in his own constituency. Of course, I have ruled myself out of that.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
And the regiment in which he served during one or other of the last two wars.
§ Mr. Wigg
I accept that addition—and the regiment in which he served. In my Adjournment debate I pleaded that the approach to the problem should be on the basis of the public good. The public spirit which exists in all branches of the British Army is not less than mine, but the amalgamation of regiments touches feelings which go very deep. I respect those feelings, and I am sure that they are respected in all parts of the House.
Perhaps I may be forgiven for making one parochial comment. I have had a communication from the Worcestershire Regiment and members of the Worcestershire Regiment Old Comrades' Association and others protesting about the abolition of cap badges. The Secretary of State has done well in this matter in deciding that this and kindred subjects should be decided not by the War Office—except in the last instance—but by colonels who can fight it out among themselves.
However, I associate myself with the protest of a senior officer who wrote to me that once again the Brigade of Guards had been given a special privilege. I had the pleasure of broadcasting with the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), and he was not surprised when I observed that the Guards were keeping their cap badges while the poor old county regiments were losing theirs. Having made my protest on behalf of the Worcestershire Regiment, I think that the Secretary of State's policy on this matter is right. We certainly do not want to have these arguments across the House. We would not get very far that way.
1349 One other specific aspect of the Government's proposals concerns bands. This penny has not yet dropped. As I understand it, all the bands are to be abolished with the exception of one band per brigade and with the exception of the Brigade of Guards, which is keeping all its eight bands.
That is "a bit swift." Bands are very important morale builders. There is many a regiment which is not very good at football and which has more than its share of "jankers," but which is very proud of its band. This is "a bit of a swift one" which has been slipped through. Coupled with the decision about cap badges and the preservation of the Guards' cap badge, it appears that privilege has been at work again.
As I have said, I readily accept the principles upon which the reorganisation White Paper is based. They are sound and brave. The Secretary of State did some things which I did not think he would have the guts to do, things which I thought ought to be done which he has done. I believe that he is profoundly concerned with the interests of the Army. However, having dealt with matters which if not minor are on the fringe of things, I want to examine the overall policy of which the White Papers are the last step. I shall not go back very far, not more than to the debate on the Defence White Paper a year ago.
Reading again that Defence White Paper and studying the debates and public utterances since then, one is forced to the conclusion that the Defence White Paper was not a military document. It was a political document, a document borne of political expediency. My first evidence in support of my view is the publication of the Secretary of State's two White Papers on the eve of the Summer Recess. I am convinced that that was not the work of a smart aleck. This was not a Minister trying to be slick and to avoid discussion and criticism. The poor chap could not publish earlier because the military thinking which produced the White Papers should have taken place before the publication of the Defence White Paper and not after.
In the last week there have been one or two penetrating articles in the Press. The picture they have painted is accurate. I am not one of those who ran away 1350 when the heat was turned on the hydrogen bomb issue. I am sorry to use the expression "turning on the heat" in that connotation; it has a sinister ring, and I did not mean that. When the decisions were announced and the necessity of having the hydrogen bomb was debated in the House, In association with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)I wrote an article which appeared in the New Statesman.
In that article I took the view that we lived in a world of the hydrogen bomb, that we could not run away from it, and that therefore we had to live with it. I suggested that if we tried to base our defence policy on the hydrogen bomb, the means to carry it, ballistic missiles, a great Army, a great Navy and a great Air Force, we should inevitably fail. We had to make a very difficult choice, a choice which no man, however wise or courageous, could be sure was correct. We had to be prepared to change our minds.
In the past year, the Government have taken two decisions. I am not sure whether they are clear about the nature of those decisions. One decision taken a year ago—I regret to say under pressure from this side of the House—was to get rid of National Service, or to say that we could get rid of National Service, irrespective of the facts. A year ago I opposed my own party. I am exceedingly proud of having opposed it, because I believe that I was right and that it was wrong. However, the Government then found that politically the Labour Party was getting round their left flank, as it were. So they, too, had to come forward with proposals to get rid of National Service.
Both parties engaged in outbidding each other in cutting down conventional forces and in suggesting National Service could be abolished, irrespective of whether it could be abolished. It is fascinating to examine the figures given in debates a year ago, figures which at that time were not seriously challenged and which have not since been seriously challenged. Here I quarrel with the Secretary of State and with the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister made his announcement about the White Papers, I asked him the question which I have been asking for a year and for even longer. It was whether he 1351 was satisfied that the proposals which the Government were putting forward were of a character which would enable the Government to be absolutely certain that they could recruit on a voluntary basis the manpower which they needed to provide a force of 375,000 men. The Prime Minister, with that adroitness which has taken him from the back benches to 10 Downing Street, dodged the answer. Hon. Members can see that for themselves in column 229 of HANSARD for 23rd July, 1957.
Last week, the Secretary of State broadcast in "Press Conference". He did very well, but he, too, dodged the column. He was pressed on the same question. He said that he was determined to get rid of National Service, and later he said that he had "faith." One of the men who had a great influence in my life was the late Lord Lindsay, and I never tire of paying tribute to his wisdom. Lord Lindsay always told me that if one wanted to form a judgment of a man one should always be careful about thinking that he was dishonest. One should always go for the belief that he was not dishonest but stupid. I think that the Secretary of State is stupid, and I am paying him a compliment when I say that. Clearly, he has not done the arithmetic.
This is a matter not of determination or faith but of fact. My view, which I have often expressed, is that the Government will not get more than 12,000 Regular recruits. They can stand on their heads but they will not get more than 12,000. The size of the Army will, therefore, depend on the length of engagement which those men undertake. I have bored hon. Members with this many times before, but I hope that they will forgive me if I say it again. That is a fact.
Last year, the Minister of Labour wrote the figures down much more. He said that the number in the age groups with which we are dealing was of the order of 310,000. Knock off 90,000, those medically unfit, and it is 220,000. Then, if we deduct miners, agricultural workers and other categories of those who are exempt, which would be of the order of 50,000—last year, the Minister of Labour did not make that deduction—the number is 170,000. Can any hon. Member really seriously believe that we can get 30 per cent. of that number to undertake a 1352 Regular engagement in a period of full employment? If so, he is living in a cloud cuckoo land. The figures do not permit us to do that.
The Services have done a very interesting trick. I should be interested to hear from the Secretary of State for War if I am wrong, but I am quite sure I am not. Each Department has been asked, "What is the total number your Department thinks it can recruit on a voluntary basis?" The Admiralty then gives its number, the Air Force number is added and the Army number is added, but would anyone in this world who knows anything about it assume that if a man opted for the Navy and could not get into the Navy he would necessarily join the Air Force or, if he could not join either of those Services, he would join the Army? Of course he would not. The choices do not overlap.
I very much regret that the Labour Party, I understand with the authority of the National Executive, has recently been committed to the other argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey)said that in this grave dilemma:Frankly, an increase of pay seems the only quick way".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1957; Vol. 572, c. 1522.]A year ago, the Government instituted a new policy, at a cost of £62 million a year, for increased pay and it has not produced any more recruits. Of course it has not produced any more recruits, because the recruits are not there. Hon. Members and the Secretary of State have to learn the simple facts of life. Before the war, mining and agriculture were depressed industries and were the major recruiting resources. Before the war, the Royal Air Force had only 35,000 men. Now the Royal Air Force is competing, and successfully competing, for men.
I should like to hear from the Secretary of State for War in categorical terms, and I should like to hear from my right hon. Friends, whether they still believe, whether they are convinced, whether their policies are based on the raising of a Regular Army of 175,000 men by 1962. If that does not come off, what are they going to do? The Government have been hedging. In the Defence White Paper, there was a way out. In paragraph 48 they said:It must nevertheless be understood that, if voluntary recruitment fails to produce the 1353 numbers required, the country will have to face the need for some limited form of compulsory service to bridge the gap.I thought I knew what that meant, but each Ministerial statement runs further away from that. Who knows what the international situation is going to be at Christmas, never mind about 1962? It would not have been so bad if there had been a qualification in the statement which said, "However, if we do not get the recruits and the international situation worsens, we have liberty of action". Both parties have played a game of what I should call political dodgers, never making up their minds but waiting for the facts to make up their minds for them and then coining out with a proposal like Moses coming out of the bulrushes or down from the mountain—I do not know which.
That is where this country has got, and it is about time a halt was called. Even if the people of this country are kept in organised ignorance of the true facts of the defence situation, that is not true of the Americans nor the French, nor the Germans, nor, may I say, the Australians. Ever since this Defence White Paper has been published, the principles on which it is based—I prefer to say the lack of principles—have been debated in those countries to see what they mean. I do not charge the Government with duplicity. What I charge them with is dashing into commitments in a hasty way in order to get rid of National Service regardless of the consequences and, as a corollary to that decision, putting all our weight on the hydrogen bomb without ever stopping to realise what was involved.
When will hon. Members really get down to brass tacks and stop talking stratospheric nothings? When will they realise that when we talk about the hydrogen bomb, we have also to take about the means of delivering it? Once we engage in the policy, not of manufacturing the bomb, which is comparatively easy and cheap—that is the horror of it all—but the means of delivering it and think in terms of rocket aircraft, counter-rockets and counter-measures the costs are fantastic. I believe the Observer last Sunday was absolutely right.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Why does the hon. Member think it would be more 1354 expensive to develop devices for delivering the hydrogen bomb than to develop devices for delivering any other kind of bomb?
§ Mr. Wigg
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member, It is a little difficult in a speech of this kind to break off, but I will answer the hon. and gallant Member. On two or three occasions during debates on Suez I drew the attention of the Government to the withdrawal of a specific piece of machinery which we could not manufacture but the Americans could. It was called "inertial guidance" and is about as big as a billiard ball. It is a contraption which brings the missile back on its course. The device has stamped on it, "Honeyball. Minneapolis" and it costs about £20,000. I may be wrong, but my information is that English Electric has permission to manufacture it. I think it will strain the resources of English Electric, or, indeed, any firm to manufacture it. The precision is in terms of a millionth of an inch, and the cost is so great that the wholesale manufacture of such equipment would strain the economy and indeed, break the economy of any country, even of the United States.
The P.1 of which we have heard, when stripped clean—flying not as a military aircraft—can break the speed of sound. It has broken the world speed record. I was unimpressed by that, because the Swift did the same a few years ago. The Swift and the P.1 flying operationally with a guided missile have a speed of about 1.2 mach. We have just about one aircraft which will break the sound barrier. If the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett)will pursue his researches, he will quickly discover that the capacity of this country, or any country outside the two senior members of the club, to deliver the hydrogen bomb is just a non-starter. Even supposing he were right and this could be done within the capacity of our engineering industry, we would also have to earn our living and compete in the markets of the world in which America has enormous productive surpluses which can be used for that purpose.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
What worries me a little is that we are thinking in terms of the deterrent. Will the 1355 Russians really base their policy on the bet that, although we have the hydrogen bomb, we cannot get it on to one of their cities? It would be a very rash bet for them to make even if we have not the latest devices.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not want to become involved in stratospherical arguments. I do not know the Russian intentions, and I do not think my hon. and learned Friend does. Nevertheless, I want to be fair. If a point is made against me, I want to deal with it, even if it is a little nonsensical. I respect my hon. and learned Friend's view——
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Gentleman did not answer my question. He evaded it completely. I was asking why all these wonderful gadgets—I did not say we could afford them—are less necessary if we are using T.N.T. than if we are using hydrogen bombs.
§ Mr. Wigg
I should have thought the answer was fairly simple. If we use T.N.T., we work on a range in terms of thousands of yards. If we use hydrogen bombs with ballistic missiles, we are thinking in terms of a range of 5,000 miles. I should have thought that the delivery of a thermo-nuclear weapon was a totally different problem from that of the delivery of a T.N.T. missile.
I do not want to become involved in technicalities, and I wish to return to the line that I was following. If I have misunderstood the hon. and gallant Member, I apologise. My point was that the method of delivery was so expensive as not to be a starter. I was making the additional point that, as the Observer said last week, if we can make our contribution to the thermo-nuclear deterrent of the West it represents the difference between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent.
We live in a world in which we have a thermo-nuclear deterrent, and we have the means of delivery if we think in terms of the V bombers, and it may well be that eventually we shall produce a ballistic missile. I want to point out the terrible danger of basing one's defence policy exclusively on the thermo-nuclear deterrent and the consequences involved in our relations with our Allies in both Europe and the United States.
Clearly, one of the consequences of the failure of the Government to think out 1356 their proposals and the implications of the White Paper was that when the Prime Minister went to President Eisenhower and talked to him he failed to explain the policy in such specific terms that the American General Staff knew what it was all about. The consequence now is that as the implications of our policy become known, and as doubts arise about our ability to hold our position in N.A.T.O., or, indeed, not only our ability but also our intention to maintain our units on the Continent, the great question which the Americans are asking themselves is: "Where do we stand in this? If the British are out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, can we hold the Atlantic bloc and the Atlantic lifeline in the event of hostilities? Also, what are we holding on for if our units are unsupported by British units?"
One has to face the fact that the Government have come forward with reorganisation proposals in which they reduce the regiments of the line from sixty-four to forty-nine. We know only too well that during the last few years one of the major causes of our weakness has been units which have been under establishment. If by 1962 the Government reduce the number of units to forty-nine and then find themselves in the position that many units have found themselves in during the last two or three years, where will British prestige stand? What use will the nuclear weapons be to us if we are faced with another Suez or Oman or Korea or any brush fire in any part of the world? This insatiable monster which consumes vast sums of money also prevents us from undertaking the reconstruction of barracks and providing transport aircraft and all the necessary equipment of conventional forces which may be required in a brush fire war.
If one understands it aright, that is the position the Government are now in. We are told that we are almost at the point of no return. This may be because of mistaken opinions about the basis of policy or because the Government have been lured on further by the siren voice of political expediency and seek to cut down defence and to cut down Income Tax in order to win the next General Election. The Tory Party may win the next General Election, but the position of Britain in the world will be disastrous. We shall be a crumby edition of Portugal, 1357 with a few Colonies tagged on to us which we are incapable of defending.
I want to put a specific question to the Secretary of State for War. On my assessment, we need at least 120 Beverley aircraft to do the job. We also need at least 100 Brittanias. Some months have now gone by, and I should like to know whether he is satisfied with the number of Beverleys that we have and with the number of Brittanias. Would he like to tell the House how many we have? I gave the figures in the debate on the Air Estimates, and will not repeat them, but the position is disastrous. If the Oman situation goes seriously wrong, we are as incapable of dealing with it as we were a year ago.
I do not hold the view that because we are a second-class power we are a second-rate power. In our long history it is only for a comparatively short period that we have been one of the front-ranking members of the club. The tradition of these islands is that we have been a second-class country, but we have not been a second-rate power. There is nothing more certain to make one a second-rate power than for one to undertake military policies whose implications one does not think out and which one has neither the guts nor the economic strength to maintain.
That seems to be the position we are in today. The Secretary of State for War is in a very hot spot. I wish him well. I repeat what I have said to him previously, that I do not want him to fail. I shall be delighted if he can get his 175,000 recruits, but I am sure he will not. If I am completely right and the figure in 1962 is about 100,000, then I do not think either Front Bench will have the brazen-faced audacity to try to palm it off. However, if the figure is 125,000 or 130,000, I can imagine all the wonderful speeches and all the excuses which will be made from the Dispatch Box in justification of an Army of 125,000 as the best of all possible armies.
Hon. Gentlemen who, like myself, have served in the Army know there is nothing more hateful than to serve in a unit which is at half establishment and which one knows well would not be worth two-pennyworth of cold gin in a fight. For the right hon. Gentleman's sake, for the Army's sake and for the country's 1358 sake, I beg the Secretary of State not to base himself on determination. He is a determined, honourable man, and of course he wants to do his best. All of us want him to do his best. He ought to have faith, but only faith after he is intellectually convinced that it is not faith alone which is needed but that a little work must come into it, and that the target at which he has aimed is a possible one. As I have previously said, I frankly do not believe it is a starter.
I wish to express a view which I have expressed many times previously, and I do not apologise for repeating it. The position the country and the House find themselves in is caused by the fact that for six years and more—it goes well back into the period when there was a Labour Government—defence and defence subjects have been used as the cat's-paw of party politics. In some way or another, if there is to be any future for us, our national genius has to find a means of getting the whole subject away from the clash of headlines and away from the clash of party environment. I say that having fully in mind my conviction that there is no political advantage in it. That is the paradox.
This subject is treated as if it will win votes. Hon. Gentlemen believe that by being in favour of conscription or by being against conscription their popularity grows. Perhaps I may quote as an example my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)who, if I may say so, has made some very useful contributions on the subject of defence. He suffers no political disability in his constituency because he wants to do away with the Forces altogether. He wins at a canter at every Election—but so do I taking a completely opposite view. The British people will never turn us down if we speak the truth as we find it, but they will turn and rend the political party that uses defence as a stalking horse, and one day they will wake up and find that they have been led up the garden path.
Another paradox is this. I believe that some hon. Gentlemen who take strong lines about the hydrogen bomb may be creating just the conditions in which its use is inevitable. We have to face that fact. In the kind of world in which we live—and, heaven knows, I regret it—the place of the conventional force is 1359 clear to see, and if we throw that away and put all our money into this weapon—which I am sure that Professor Oppenheimer is completely right to describe as this absolute weapon which renders us absolutely powerless—we face a disastrous position.
It may be that I have made mistakes in the past—if so, this is the moment of retraction—but what I plead for, as I have pleaded for so many times previously, is that we should approach defence matters on the basis of an objective analysis of what we are arguing about. For example, if I am right, the argument about whether the Government can get the 175,000 men or not is an argument based on facts, because if the men have not been born, if they do not exist, what the heck is the good of doubling the rate of payment?
I notice that whenever hon. Gentlemen, in all parts of the House—and there are plenty on that side, and plenty who have held Ministerial office—get into a jam about what to do with the Forces, they always say "put up the pay". Heaven knows, I am in favour of putting up the pay. In fact, when I look at the rates of compensation that have been announced I wish that I had not come into the House of Commons but had stayed in the Army and was just leaving it now. Hon. Gentlemen may perhaps be interested in the pay warrant that I got just before the war, after a lifetime in the Army. I did not get £6,000 free of tax—I got £2.
Therefore, we have to be very careful about easy solutions. There is no easy way. We have to search our minds and consciences, because we are dealing with forces the power of which we only begin to understand. As I have said, I do not apologise for raising this subject tonight. I wish that it had been raised by my own Front Bench. I believe that they have neglected their duty in not raising it, but I have done so because I think that it is right to do so. I want this subject brought into the open as a first step towards educating a sound public opinion, and in order to get a defence policy which we can sustain and which we will not have to change every five minutes.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
I am extremely glad that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)has raised this 1360 question tonight, because I think that it is right, before we rise for the Summer Recess, that we should discuss it, question some of the assumptions on which the Government's policy has been based, ask for certain items of information and for certain assurances where doubts have arisen.
The White Paper on defence policy was welcomed by me and, I think, by the country primarily for one reason. It was a policy, and it was about time that we had a defence policy. For many years it had become increasingly obvious to large numbers of people that the concurrent determinations to make a substantial contribution to the allied cause in a nuclear third war, and to keep large conventional forces for Commonwealth use and for use in emergencies overseas, not in pursuance of our N.A.T.O. commitments, were very difficult ones. The burden of providing these Forces was going up every year. The White Paper stated that it would have been £1,700 million in the ensuing year. It is now to be cut to below £1,500 million gross, that is, before deducting the incoming contributions from overseas.
As the hon. Member for Dudley has said, we have not yet completely solved this difficulty about knowing whether we are getting the best of one world or the worst of both. The White Paper puts, with immaculate clarity, the needs of a British defence policy. It says:Britain's armed forces must be capable of performing two main tasks: (i)to play their part with the forces of Allied countries in deterring and resisting aggression; (ii)to defend British colonies and protected territories against local attack, and undertake limited operations in overseas emergencies.The main weight of the British contribution to the Allied, the N.A.T.O., effort is to be shifted more in the direction of the nuclear deterrent and forces armed with tactical nuclear weapons. What we do not know is whether such figures as are contained in the White Paper form a definitive policy which has to be stuck to no matter whether the international situation changes, whether it becomes apparent that we cannot meet all our commitments whilst sticking to those figures, or whether it is to serve as a framework towards which we shall work, but which shall be flexible according to the needs that arise. The one thing that 1361 is certain is that it would be absolutely disastrous if, in order to try to save another, let us say. £100 million in defence expenditure, the Government succeeded in producing defence forces which were inadequate to perform the secondary rôle, that is, the conventional rôle, in the world at large.
There is, of course, something to be said for having no defences and spending no money. There is something to be said for spending more than £1,500 million and having very good defences. There is absolutely nothing to be said for spending £1,400 million and having ineffectual defences. It is precisely on that point that I think a number of people in the country want some further reassurance from the Government and would like to ask questions.
There have been a number of somewhat disquieting rumours in the last few weeks of disputes and decisions which have been taken and which were being resisted, and they have prompted certain newspapers to ask extremely pertinent questions of the Government. Such experience as I have had of defence experts and enthusiasts makes me believe that they are sometimes apt to be a little more alarmist than is necessary. In exactly the same way I have noticed that when an art gallery is threatened with having its grant reduced, or not increased, it always threatens to close its most popular, successful and important galleries rather than close down something that nobody ever goes to. So, when the defence chiefs are threatened with a cut, they do not immediately say they must abolish the Royal Army Education Corps. They warn that it will be necessary to cut the forces by at least two divisions in Europe and thus render them much less effective.
Nevertheless, there is clearly a doubt and a danger here, and I think we have a right to know what are the strategic implications of the decisions which are being taken. What is the safety margin in any further reductions, and what is the order of priorities if we run, as has been suggested we might, into serious difficulties in recruiting for the Regular Forces?
If, for example, the rate of Regular recruitment into the Army fell really seriously below the projected figure at the same time that the reorganisation of the Army based on the new figures was 1362 being carried out, the results might be quite catastrophic from the point of view of the Army. We might, in fact, be left with virtually no effective Army at all for a period of up to two years, as I see it.
That seems to me to be a risk which is so serious that one needs a considerable reassurance from the Government. I can see risk that if the Defence Estimates are subsequently cut substantially below the figures which we understand the Government now have in mind, the Royal Air Force might also be seriously affected and we might find difficulty in providing even the Army, Navy and Air Force contribution to N.A.T.O. which the White Paper envisages.
It looks, for example, as if our N.A.T.O. contribution might have to be reduced from four divisions to two, and, remembering at the same time that we are already, in the White Paper, writing off the commitment of two Territorial Army divisions which were to have been available in an emergency to N.A.T.O., it looks as thought it might happen that the Royal Air Force contingent in N.A.T.O. would have to be reduced even below the level of one half the number of aircraft which is projected.
At the same time, there is the question of the overseas commitments—the Colonial Empire, the protected territories and the defence of our communications with our sources of raw material and the defence of our trade routes. The central reserve which is projected—and most of us can remember the promise we had that an effective strategic reserve would result from the withdrawal of our troops from the Suez Canal base in 1954—did not turn out to be a very effective strategic reserve which could be readily and quickly mounted into an effective operation when an emergency came.
We should like to know that the central reserve will be more effective next time, and, in particular, we must know that the supply of transport aircraft to make the central reserve mobile is really adequate and is kept up to schedule. If we do not get enough volunteers for the Army, how can we possibly meet the overseas commitments which are envisaged in the White Paper? For example, the White Paper says, quite rightly, that our policy is based on the maintenance in Cyprus of aircraft which are capable of carrying 1363 nuclear weapons. That seems to me an essential of British strategy, because it is largely on the promise of British nuclear power in the Eastern Mediterranean that the Bagdad Pact may in the future be held together.
If we are to be able to fly British aeroplanes carrying nuclear weapons from Cyprus, then we must be able to hold Cyprus, and it may be that we shall need 25,000 troops in Cyprus just in order to hold it. If that is so, can we maintain that number of troops in Cyprus, our central reserve, enough troops to man the new Kenya base, and to meet emergencies in the Persian Gulf and so forth? If not, what is expendable? Is it Cyprus? If so, our relations with Turkey and other N.A.T.O. partners will become much less cordial, the Alliance much less effective, and the support we can give to the Bagdad Pact will become much less effective too.
The effects in Europe have already been unfortunate. A week or two ago I came back from an international conference in the United States on the future of N.A.T.O., to which there were delegates both military and governmental, official and unofficial, from all the N.A.T.O. countries. It was clear that apprehensions in Europe, and not merely apprehensions, but the perception in America of what the new British policy might involve with N.A.T.O., were very acute. People had very little doubt as to what it might mean.
As I said before, the Government were faced with the choice of deciding whether they ought to devote a great deal of money and resources to the nuclear deterrent or should seek to put our conventional forces in the first priority, building them up beyond any doubt as to their efficiency. It was an agonising 'decision to make. I have myself no doubt that they were right to decide that the nuclear deterrent was absolutely essential and they must have it, if only for the reason that, looking ahead a certain number of years, it cannot possibly be regarded as certain that, indefinitely and in all circumstances, the United States would be prepared even to threaten the use of the nuclear deterrent in defence of Western Europe.
At the moment, Western Europe is certainly not expendable, in the view of the 1364 United States. It is not expendable because it is an essential part of her strategic planning, and, moreover, the nuclear damage which the United States might suffer from Russia is considerably less than the United States could inflict on Russia. But when we get to the point when the United States stands to risk almost total destruction from nuclear attack by Russia, Western Europe will not be worth the risk from the point of view of the United States. Then, if we do not have the nuclear deterrent ourselves, we may very well be left completely defenceless.
If we are to have the nuclear weapon, does that mean that our conventional forces cannot be effective? It does, if two things happen. First, it will mean that we cannot afford to maintain them if we are determined to reduce the total defence budget below a certain level. It will mean that they will not be effective also if the Regular, voluntary recruitment which the White Paper envisages does not take place.
We need, and must ask for, two definite reassurances from the Government: first, that total expenditure on defence will not be allowed to fall in real terms below at the least the figure which is budgeted for in the White Paper, and, secondly—a very important reassurance which I hope the Secretary of State will feel able to give—that if by the end of 1960 it becomes clear that the voluntary recruitment target will not be met, the Government will be prepared to reintroduce some form of selective or non-selective compulsory military service. Without that reassurance, it seems to me that we have no hope whatever that we can meet the second of the two minimum requirements which the White Paper lays down.
The White Paper ends with these words:The Government are confident that this defence plan, while helping to relieve the strain upon the economy, will produce compact all-Regular Forces of the highest quality, armed and organised on the most up-to-date lines.That objective might still remain and the Forces might still be totally inadequate to the commitments. We ought to know, therefore, that steps will be taken to make them adequate to the commitments; or, if that is not to be done, we should know what commitments are to be dropped.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I find myself in substantial agreement with the main tenor of the criticism by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude)of the Defence White Paper, but I cannot help feeling, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), that one perhaps does the White Paper a little too much credit by treating it too seriously as a defence document.
To me, one of the most distressing things about the White Paper is that it seems to be another instalment of what has become general Government policy of substituting slogans for policy, except that in this case the slogans are neither original nor British. They are secondhand American slogans. There is the slogan of massive retaliation "—the idea that we can meet any local upset by inter-continental warfare against the Soviet Union; and there is the slogan "a bigger bang for the buck"—the idea that if we concentrate on long-range thermo-nuclear destructive power that will somehow be cheaper and do the same job as conventional forces but at a lower price.
Both of those slogans have already been discovered to be dangerously misleading by the Americans, who invented them, and it is ironic—indeed, tragic—that Her Majesty's Government should have picked them up just at the moment that their real danger and inadequacy has been proved in practice in another part of the world.
I want to deal with an aspect of the defence problem which has already played some part in our discussions on the bill, but I want to deal with another and, to my mind, extremely important aspect of it. We all want defence at the lowest possible price. We can argue about what sort of arms and what sort of forces we need for it, but when we have agreed on what sort of arms and forces we need there still remains the problem of how we can provide them at the lowest possible cost to the country.
I suggest that at present the Ministry of Defence is failing to exploit to the full a very priceless national asset which we built up successfully for defence during the Second World War, namely, the Royal Ordnance factories, of which there were 44 at the end of the Second World War, producing fully half of all our total muni- 1366 tions. The number of factories has been reduced already to 23 and is to suffer a further reduction to 14 in the next three years.
The cost of this deliberate Government policy of allowing the Ordnance factories to rust and rot is not only tremendous in human inconvenience and even in suffering; this was an aspect of the problem which was dealt with at length earlier in today's debate. The cost is also very substantial indeed in the taxpayer's money. It is mainly to that aspect that I wish to devote myself.
I must admit that, like so many who have spoken about this matter earlier today, I have a constituency interest to declare. I do have a Royal Ordnance factory in my constituency.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
On a point of order. I am not quite sure what it is we are allowed to debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Anything."] We have been debating Royal Ordnance factories the entire afternoon. Is it in order to continue to debate that subject now? I ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, simply to clarify the situation a little.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is certainly in order to refer to the previous subject. I understood that we had turned for the time being on to the subject brought up by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and it was on that understanding that I called the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who has the Floor; but if he chooses another topic he is not out of order.
§ Mr. Healey
I intimated to Mr. Speaker at an earlier stage of the debate the subject on which I intended to speak, and he was kind enough to suggest that it would not only be in order but appropriate to deal with it during this discussion. Furthermore, I warned the Minister of Supply that if I had the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should be raising certain very important matters which had not been earlier discussed and which are very germane to this topic.
As I was about to say, although I have a constituency interest in the sense that the Royal Ordnance factory in my constituency has suffered a redundancy of 30 per cent. in the last three years, I believe 1367 that there is an even more important national interest to protect, because the British taxpayer is losing at present £10 million a year because Royal Ordnance factories are unable to operate at an overall profit owing to the deliberate Government policy of allowing them to run down.
I suggest that if they were rightly used they would not only wipe out that loss but produce a very substantial and valuable profit indeed, not only in the production of arms for our own forces, but, even more, through the production of armaments for our friends and allies.
§ Mr. Healey
Like many of my hon. Friends, I am not happy that the manufacture of weapons, whose only purpose is to kill men, should be open to private manufacturers whose main aim is to make a profit, but, also like many of my hon. Friends, I have been able to see that under previous strategic programmes there was a strong case for spreading arms production outside the Government's factories and into the factories of private producers, first, because it was desirable, in case the country was attacked, to disperse the main centres of production as widely as possible, and, secondly, because if war arose—this was the old concept—one hoped somehow to hold the enemy in the early stages while we built up a large potential for winning the war in the later stages, as we did in the Second World War, behind that shield.
However, the Defence White Paper has completely overturned this concept, and I think in this it is absolutely right. It is inconceivable that if this country were under attack it would not be in a war in which hydrogen bombs were being indiscriminately exchanged by both sides, and, therefore, there can be no question of a prolonged campaign or war during which we could build up our munitions potential. The only arms which will count in any war in which our own islands are directly under attack are those which are actually in being on the day when the attack begins, and for that reason there is no longer any case whatever for giving the manufacture of armaments to private individuals to make a profit out of, and, indeed, there is much 1368 less occasion than ever before in our history for distributing arms production, often uneconomically, widely over the country as a whole.
There is no economic problem here for the private manufacturers. They are, almost without exception, major engineering companies which have infinite opportunities of markets both in Britain and abroad if they are prepared to turn over from warlike to civil production. At present, most of our engineering industry is heavily overstrained. Last year we imported, mainly from Germany, ten times the value of machine tools which we imported in 1955. Our railways are crying out for rolling stock and our mines for machinery. There is an infinite range of possibilities for private arms manufacturers to turn to if the Government decide to concentrate arms production entirely in the public field.
The extraordinary thing is that, at a time when the taxpayers' factories are making a loss of £10 million a year and suffering a heavy redundancy, the Government have adopted the deliberate policy of starving Royal Ordnance factories of arms contracts and overloading private firms which have as much to do as they can manage.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Member should not be allowed to get away with that. He must know that the present broad pattern of the way in which arms contracts are placed was decided, for better or worse, five or six years after the war and that to turn over these factories to advanced nuclear weapons would not cost £10 million but hundreds of millions of pounds.
§ Mr. Healey
I would have reached that point in a moment. I am not suggesting that there are not some new weapons, particularly unconventional weapons, in connection with which private factories have been allotted responsibilities which they should be allowed to continue and taper off. But I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member will agree that so many new weapons are being developed in so many fields that it is entirely a matter of choice for the Government whether they propose to start new development in Government factories or in private factories. Both are equally unequipped for that sort of development at present.
1369 I can give an example of the kind of problem that worries me. The Royal Ordnance factory at Barnbow, at a time when it suffered a redundancy of 400 a year, had to transfer to private firms contracts for 15,000 tank components, and the only tank design teams now in Britain are no longer in Royal Ordnance factories, but are located in private firms.
The greatest scandal of all is that arising out of the Government's present policy towards foreign arms orders. There is no doubt that at present—and here I am on common ground with the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett)—the countries which are wanting more conventional armaments are mainly not Britain. It may well be that the Swedes, the Swiss, the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Germans are showing much greater wisdom than we are in putting the major weight of their effort into conventional arms, but most of these countries at present are totally incapable of meeting all their own arms needs. Germany, for example, had to agree a few years ago to offer about £200 million worth of arms contracts to this country.
Production in our own arms factories could be stimulated and increased beyond all the bounds of existing possibilities if the Government were prepared to compete on equal terms with private industry for the acquiring of arms orders from foreign Governments. At present the Minister is actually preventing Royal Ordnance factories from submitting competitive tenders.
I should like to give one example. I have it on official authority that already the German Government have placed contracts for £62 million worth of armaments in this country. Only £9 million worth of these contracts have been placed through the Ministry of Supply, and it may well be that the Ministry itself did not pass even all these contracts on to the Royal Ordnance factories, but diverted some of them to private firms. This is a field in which it is very difficult for a private Member to get an overall figure, and I would simply deal with two examples which constitute a public scandal on which a Minister should be asked to reply, if not on this occasion then at some later date.
I am told that the Royal Ordnance factory at Leyland was sold last year to a 1370 private firm for a price roughly equivalent to the value of the bricks and mortar involved. There was almost nothing added on for the arms producing machinery inside the factory, because the firm said that the machinery would be of no value to it. Within a few months of taking over the factory, the private company which had bought the factory at this risible price from the Government turned out to have secured a £25 million arms contract from Germany.
It is at present making a tremendous profit out of the capital equipment which it has bought for nothing from the Government by producing tanks for the Germans which ought to be produced by Royal Ordnance factories, thus producing profits for the taxpayer and eliminating this serious loss. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether or not the facts as I have stated them are fully true and cover the whole of the case.
On the second case which I wish to raise, I have been able to satisfy myself that the facts I am about to give are accurate, but I regret to say that I have also been able to satisfy myself that the facts as given to me in this House on Monday by the Minister of Supply were totally inaccurate. If the Minister believes, as I am sure he did, that the facts he gave me were true, then something is very seriously wrong in his Department.
Two years ago, the British firm of Vickers-Armstrong secured a contract to provide 100 Centurion tanks from the Swiss Government. They secured that contract, as it now turns out, after bribing the Swiss Military Attaché in London by appointing his brother as its representative in Switzerland on the condition that he would receive I per cent. of the value of any contract for Centurion tanks which the Swiss Parliament was prepared to vote.
These facts were all published in Switzerland a month ago, after an official inquiry by the Swiss Parliament into the conduct of its Military Attaché. Reporting on this affair, the Swiss Parliament made it clear that, although the Attaché had behaved quite improperly in coming to this arrangement with Vickers-Armstrong, the Swiss Government had decided, in any case, that it was going to buy Centurion tanks and that it had not lost any money in consequence of the Attaché's conduct.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but Her Majesty's Government are not responsible for what the Swiss Government may or may not do.
§ Mr. Healey
I believe, with respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it may appear from what I am about to say that in this case they were, if you will allow me to develop my argument.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Further to that point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)is, of course, raising a matter which also concerns another Department—the Ministry of Supply—which is disadvantaged by what has happened. I would, with respect, suggest that if you hear my hon. Friend a little further, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will appreciate the extreme relevance of what he is saying. I happen to represent the same city as my hon. Friend, and I am acquainted with the same facts, and I assure you that they must be well within the control of this House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
So long as the responsibility of a Government Department is affected, then it is in order.
§ Mr. Healey
I was saying that the contract, in the first case for 100 Centurion tanks and increased later by a contract for another 100 Centurion tanks, was secured by Vickers-Armstrong from the Swiss Government. This seemed a little odd to me, because I happened to know that the Royal Ordnance factory at Barnbow, a factory laid out since the war exclusively for producing Centurion tanks, can produce them between 20 and 30 per cent. cheaper, according to its monthly output, than any private firm. In this case, I was rather surprised that the Swiss Government had not preferred to buy through the Ministry of Supply itself rather than from a private firm.
I asked the Minister a Question about this on Monday, and he gave me the answer. He said he understood that the Ministry was not in a position to tender for the contract, because there are neutrality laws in Switzerland which forbid the Swiss Government from buying arms direct from a foreign Government. I made inquiries of Swiss officials today, and find that that is completely untrue. Not only is there no 1372 legal or conventional objection to the Swiss Government approaching foreign Governments on arms contracts, but it did, in fact, approach the Ministry of Supply on this occasion.
The reply from the Ministry of Supply was that the Ministry was incapable of producing tanks any cheaper than anywhere else in England, and that it would be incapable of producing these tanks as fast as the Swiss Government wanted them because it was over-committed. This was at a time when the output of Centurion tanks from the Royal Ordnance factories had already fallen to half its maximum and it was known that it would fall, as it has now, to about 3 per cent. of its total tank production a few years ago.
To crown the irony—the scandalous irony—of this case, I managed to discover from the Minister of Supply, on Monday, that it now turns out that Vickers-Armstrong has had to subcontract half of its Swiss order to the Royal Ordnance factory are Barnbow because it is incapable of meeting it in time.
I suggest that this is a matter of major public importance, and I hope that the Ministry will take an opportunity of publishing the figures at which it accepted this sub-contract. I reckon that if it accepted the sub-contract at its normal production price Vickers-Armstrong is making a profit of up to £2 million through acting as a middleman for a contract which it obtained by bribery because the Ministry of Supply, for some reason or other, was unwilling to submit a competitive tender.
So far as I have been able to discover them, the facts I have given are exactly accurate and they are totally contradictory to the answer given to me on Monday by the Minister of Supply. I have only quoted two examples of what is happening in this field, but it is a field which involves total possible orders for this country of up to about £500 million, with potential profits for the Royal Ordnance factories running at approximately £50 million or £100 million. I suggest that one way of cutting the cost of defence is for the Minister not only to allow, but to encourage, the Ministry of Supply to put in really competitive tenders for arms contracts to foreign Governments.
1373 We all know the Minister of Supply and we respect him. We know that he is a competent business man in his own right, apart from being a politician, but I am afraid that he has not been able to transfer his competence into his office. What can we think of a Government Department, or a Government, which at a time when its own assets are wasting, when it is losing £10 million a year on its operations, passes by the opportunity to make profits running into £10 million, £50 million or £100 million?
I believe that the facts I have unearthed are only typical of what must be happening throughout the range of foreign arms contracts in the Ministry of Supply. Although I am well aware that some of my hon. Friends have been slightly impatient at my apparent reversion to a subject which was dealt with earlier—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I hope that I have succeeded in bringing some new facts to light which urgently demand comment by the Government before we rise for the Recess.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
Now to come back to the White Paper on the Future Organisation of the Army. Speaking for myself, and, I imagine, for many others, also, I think that the scheme evolved by my right hon. Friend and the Army Council is well-nigh perfect, subject to the limitations imposed on them by the Minister of Defence.
I now intervene in the debate with reference to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude)and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I cannot believe that the recruits for the Regular Army anticipated by my right hon. Friend will be forthcoming under existing circumstances.
First, we must establish three definite principles. One is that every Regular soldier and officer must be taught a trade or profession while in the Army; secondly, he must be guaranteed a job when he comes out, irrespective of when he comes out; and, thirdly, he must be guaranteed a home. Married quarters and pay and other amenities come afterwards. Those are the three principal qualifications which will make or unmake the Regular Army of the future. I cannot believe for one minute that the National Service system will be abolished in our 1374 time, or at least until those qualifications are fulfilled.
I turn to the very few remarks I want to make about the merging of regiments. I should like to refer to a debate which has taken place this afternoon in another place on this subject in which I am very interested—the amalgamation of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry. A noble Lord in another place referred to the fact that one was a kilted regiment and the other a non-kilted regiment. To my horror, the Minister—I hope that my comments will reach his ears in some way—said that both wore the kilt. Speaking on behalf of a Lowland regiment, I submit that that is a confession of ignorance, to put it at its mildest, by a Minister.
In the Government's scheme for the reorganisation of the Army, well-nigh perfect as it is, there is one flaw, and that brings me back to the subject of my remarks this evening. In my opinion, there is no possible explanation for the proposed amalgamation of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry. One is a Highland and town regiment, and the other is a Lowland and country regiment.
§ Sir T. Moore
That is what I am saying; the Highland Light Infantry is a City of Glasgow and a Highland regiment and wears the kilt. The Royal Scots Fusiliers is a Lowland regiment and wears trews. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will come to Scotland some time and we will then explain it to him.
We feel very strongly about this amalgamation, but I will make no further reference to it tonight because we still hope that the amalgamation may be regarded as sub judice. I therefore content myself by saying that I hope that the Government's reorganisation scheme will prove a success and by wishing it god speed.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I should like to speak on the subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)raised and to ask the Secretary of State for War one or two further questions. I think that this is a very proper day on which to discuss the subject, because when one starts a White Paper one makes the final decision, and I believe that the final decision on our defence policy will probably be taken in the next few weeks. It is when we decide on the second year's precise priorities between the different services that we make the irrevocable decision.
One of the reasons that my hon. Friend and I were so anxious to raise this subject today was our awareness, either from the Observer or from The Times today, that in the next few days the final decisions will be taken on the shape of our Armed Forces. It seems very proper that the House should have a debate this evening on what I gather to have been discussed in the Cabinet today and what will be discussed tomorrow, the final and ultimate decision on what our Forces will look like in the next five years.
One of our difficulties has been, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley put it only too clearly, that we as back benchers speak with the grave disadvantage of not knowing all the facts. We can only elicit one or two facts from the other side of the House. Although when we debated the Defence White Paper last spring there were virtually no voices on the other side of the House and very few on this side who said that the White Paper was wrong or badly wrong, there has been a steady increase of anxiety about it. There have been more second thoughts and I notice that, for instance, the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude), who is not now in his place, showed the utmost enthusiasm for the White Paper last April, but is beginning to share some of the doubts expressed on this side of the House about it when we first debated it.
This was no matter which divided the Opposition as a whole. We thought that it was reckless irresponsibility to put all our weight on nuclear weapons and to risk the virtual dismantlement of our conventional Forces. We warned the Government against that, although agreeing that it might sound very attractive.
1376 The Government put it in a very attractive way. They said that we could not get rid of National Service unless we relied almost exclusively on nuclear weapons.
It is always tempting to the British public to believe that by having a few hydrogen bombs we can get rid of National Service, but is the price worth paying? I was glad to notice that in the debate today, there were hon. Members opposite who were beginning to realise that the decision had been taken recklessly and irresponsibly. It is reckless and irresponsible for four reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley referred to some reasons, but there were one or two which he did not mention.
Ironically, the first is cost. It was the great belief of the Minister of Defence and of all those who supported the Defence White Paper that we should spend very much less if we concentrated on nuclear weapons. I very much agree with what was said in a leading article in The Times this morning. Some of us said it four months ago. It was that the belief that it would be cheap to be the third of the three great nuclear Powers was a complete illusion. The idea that one can join the "Nuclear Club" and stay in it on the cheap is absolutely crazy.
Let us be honest about it. The reason we joined it was not for defence against Russia. The reason, as The Times said this morning, was for national prestige. I am greatly relieved that even in these last days before we go on holiday we can say to the Government that it is crazy to base a defence policy on prestige. Defence should be based on defence considerations and the one thing which gives us no defence is adding to the American deterrent. It may give us a certain satisfaction to have a few bombs marked "H-bombs," "B for Britain" and the "hydrogen bomb," but having a few marked "B for Britatin" in no way adds to the security of this country. We may possibly add to its political independence—that is a very open question—but no defence is achieved by the addition.
Therefore, the first thing we have to realise is that those who advised us to put all our money on the nuclear weapon because it would be cheaper are already beginning to discover that it may not be cheaper after all, that it may be found 1377 that the amount of labour, resources, manpower and money locked up in this desperate attempt to keep up as a super-Power alongside Russia and America will be far more than the country can afford.
Alternatively—and it is about this that I want to press the Secretary of State—in order to keep up, we may cut the conventional Forces still further in the view that we have only so much to spend and, being committed on the nuclear weapons, must keep them as top priority, thus having further and further cuts in conventional Forces. That is much more likely to happen. We shall have the Government saying that we must continue with the nuclear job, that that is the one thing we want, and that the others can be allowed to diminish.
I see no reason to doubt the extremely well-informed story in the Observer on Sunday, that at long last the Colonial Secretary has shown an interest in this policy. A policy which concentrates on nuclear weapons and says, "We shall give third or fourth priority to conventional forces" is a policy which, from the point of view of the Colonial Secretary, is utterly disastrous.
It is about time that we began to think of what the actual forces will look like by 1962 if we try to remain a nuclear Power and to keep our budget below £1,400 million and cut it for the Election of the year after next. That is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to do. We all know it is an attempt to get a budgetary victory in the Election by those means. I can see why the Colonial Secretary has been a little interested to discover what our responsibility will be.
I turn to the second problem, that of Europe. I was over in Western Germany last week. It is not news to this House, because other hon. Members have been there, to tell of the disastrous effect which this White Paper has had in Western Germany and in France—disastrous because it has encouraged all the enemies of this country and disheartened our very few friends. A White Paper which says that we are going to reduce our four divisions in Germany, that we are going to rely on the hydrogen bomb and that we, the British, are going to be the third of the nuclear Powers can only please those Germans who want themselves one day to produce nuclear weapons.
1378 After talking to Germans I came back persuaded even more of something I said in the defence debate. If this country goes in for the nuclear policy outlined in the White Paper it is absolutely inevitable that within two years the French will get the H-bomb and in some period, in five or ten years, the Germans are bound to produce their own nuclear weapons for the same reason as we are to produce them—national prestige. It was just possible to conceive of nuclear weapons as the monopoly of the two great Powers, America and Russia. When this country said "We want to join the club" every secondary Power was bound sooner or later to follow us into the club. Therefore, we ought to be quite clear what we are doing, even in these last days before we go on holiday, because this policy gives us no security but runs inevitably to a German nuclear bomb.
I say with great respect to the Secretary of State for War that every decent German I talked to is appalled at this prospect. Not a single German who cares about democracy does not say, "For God's sake can you not stop compelling us as a nation to follow your example and caring for national prestige? We happen to be a very fragile democracy. If our people are given the choice of having conscription or the nuclear weapon there is not much hope of saving democracy." We are bound to consider seriously the repercussions of what we do in Germany.
If this country says that we must have nuclear weapons because we cannot trust the Americans, the Germans will say the same. This is the most anti-European policy the Government can have because it disintegrates N.A.T.O. If in N.A.T.O. we say that we must make our own H-bomb because the Americans might not start the war when we want it, but that we want the H-bomb so that we can start it when we want it because we are afraid the Americans will not do so, could there be a reason more disintegrative of N.A.T.O.'s common will? What about the Germans? Why should they not decide in due course that they want to start a war at the time they want it to begin and must have the nuclear weapon for that purpose? I am glad to find that The Times, in its leading article today, is saying the things that we were saying from these benches when the White Paper was first discussed a few weeks ago.
1379 The third reason is perhaps the most ironical of the lot. The irony is that as a result of this defence policy the British Government are now the major obstacle to any agreement, short-term or long-term, on disarmament. Let us be perfectly blunt about it. Why is Mr. Dulles here? It is because agreement cannot be obtained, and the major obstacle is the British Government in saying, "We want to get a good stockpile of these damned things before we have a close-down on production." One of the major obstacles to disarmament is the demand of the British Government to be given time for this country to become a nuclear Power. Does any hon. Member challenge that?
§ Mr. Crossman
I will give the hon. and gallant Gentleman the answer. The British Government have been making every possible difficulty about the suspension of hydrogen bomb tests, saying that they will not have the tests suspended unless there is a suspension of production as well. What does that mean? It means that we do not want a suspension of tests because it will mean that we shall be prevented from going ahead fast with production, and we do not see why we should not get ahead, for we are behind the others.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should study the objections which have been stated at the Disarmament Sub-Commission. If he reads the American Press and its reactions to the British arguments, he will find that the overwhelming belief in the American Press is that the British Government want to be quite sure that if they make what the Prime Minister the other day called "the great sacrifice" of giving up tests, they will get a tremendous return for it. I should have thought no sacrifice to this country would be involved in an international agreement to stop tests, but for those who want us to become a minor nuclear Power there is the sacrifice of the stockpile which would make us a nuclear Power, and they feel that they do not want to make that sacrifice except in return for tremendous concessions from the Russians.
That is why there was a difference between this side of the House and the 1380 Government side on the subject of nuclear tests. That is why in the debate on disarmament we were insistent that we should accept an agreement with the Russians about nuclear tests even if there was no other agreement with it. The Government insisted that it should be linked with all sorts of other agreements. Why was that? It was because the Government are so keen on their nuclear power.
I seriously suggest to the Secretary of State for War that he should think it over again. I know he has not the power to make these decisions; he can only report back to the Cabinet. All we can do is to ask him to think over again whether the White Paper was the last word in human wisdom. Was it really the last word in human wisdom for Great Britain in 1957 to announce itself as the third nuclear Power and to say, "We will sacrifice everything in the struggle to become a nuclear Power"?
§ Mr. Crossman
It is almost everything, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman will discover during the next three or four years when he sees what is left of our conventional forces as the result of our struggle to become a nuclear power. There will not be much left. Indeed, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)will find us converted against our will to a pacifist country which has almost destroyed its defences in order to contribute to the deterrent.
I would tell the Secertary of State for War that the thing that has shocked me more profoundly than anything else is the cynicism of the Tory Party in this matter. I know what has happened. The Tory Party knows that the Labour Party hates conscription. That is true. The Tory Party has, therefore, deliberately said, "We will outbid those boys on conscription, and we will do it by this devilish method of saying that we will go nuclear and get rid of conscription." That is what it has done. That is the trick it has used on the British people in the White Paper. It said, "You can get rid of conscription by 1960 if you will only let us be nuclear-minded and rely on nuclear weapons."
1381 That was a terrible disaster for this country. It was a terrible disaster because it rendered us impotent. It did not give us independence. We lost authority in Europe. It did not give us any power abroad. We had the hon. Member for Ealing, South saying that we should have nuclear weapons and nuclear bombers stationed in Cyprus—to help us, I suppose, in Oman. Would it really make us any better liked in the Trucial sheikhdoms to have nuclear bombers based on Cyprus? That is the terrifying thing—that the party opposite should say that we must have this base on an island which, on admission, will take 25,000 men to guard. That is the strategy that is outlined to us by the Tory Party.
To add insult to injury, we recently had the announcement of the compensation to be paid to the 14,000 officers and N.C.O.s to be axed as a result of the policy. I do not think that it is any secret that when any serving officer or N.C.O. first saw the proposition he thought it unbelievably generous. It interests me a great deal to wonder why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have said, without the flicker of an eyelid, "Of course, I have £50 million for that." The amount is £50 million for 14,000 people. The Chancellor brings that out easily. There is not £50 million for anything else, but there is £50 million for these 14,000 people.
Why is that? I am afraid that I get a little suspicious and have to ask why that £50 million was forthcoming. I think that some high-ranking officers now know why. It is because the Government know that their defence policy is criminal, and they have bribed silence among the party opposite. There would have been much more opposition——
§ Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson (Folkestone and Hythe)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The word "bribery" applied to hon. Members on this side is surely un-Parliamentary?
§ Mr. Speaker
Words can be used of a party as a whole that would be intolerable if applied to an hon. Member. I did not hear the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)single out any particular Member. It was a general accusation against the party opposite, but I think that that is quite common, and is not out of order.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. It is clear that I was not saying that the hon. and gallant Member, or any of his hon. Friends, was offered, individually, a lump sum by the Minister of Defence. What I do say is that the most powerful pressure on the back benches opposite is, of course, the professional officer pressure. That was miraculously relaxed after the £50 million was offered.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Gentleman must not believe that the professional officer always has his own way in the Tory Party
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. and gallant Gentleman does not get his own way, perhaps, but, on this occasion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided that it was worth £50 million to quieten certain consciences on that side, and certain voices that might otherwise have been raised against the defence strategy that is now in question. It was a very shrewd economy on his part for, if he could achieve his end of slashing defence and get away with it for £50 million that was O.K. for him. I notice the miraculous silence we have had—only one speech this evening from the other side, and that from one of the more notorious rebels over there. We know perfectly well that a lot of hon. Members opposite have the gravest doubts about the defence policy——
§ Mr. Crossman
Well, we know, of course, because we read what they say in the newspapers, we hear what they say, and we feel that they have sufficient intelligence to be seriously doubtful about the policy now in progress. That is why we have raised this debate this evening, because we felt that they would join with us in pleading with the Government to think again before allocating the priorities, even for next year's Budget, in such a way that in a few years we shall have a few absolutely useless H-bombs and nothing else at all.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I do not wish to detain the House for long, but it really is impossible to sit still while the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)lays bare his twisted 1383 soul in such detail before the House of Commons and presents it as a contribution to our debate. This psycho-analysis is all very well, but it should be done in the psychiatrist's studio. Nearly ail his arguments are completely self-destructive, and when they are not self-destructive they are murderous. His argument that we should engage forthwith in a heavy preventive war against any country which seeks to create a hydrogen bomb is the sort of thing which one would expect——
§ Mr. Crossman
With great respect, I think the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I said nothing of the sort. Even at his worst, he could not attribute that to me.
§ Mr. Elliot
That only shows, what the House already recognises, that the hon. Member does not know the meaning of his own words. He said that we must at all costs prevent any other country joining what he called the hydrogen bomb club. I take it that he does not mean merely the friends of this country; he means the enemies of this country also. What would his view be towards China if that country proposed to join the hydrogen bomb club, or towards any of the other countries which might in their wisdom wish to do so? Does he think that their decision one way or the other would be entirely influenced by whether this country has refused to make a hydrogen bomb or not? It cannot.
I give the hon. Gentleman, at any rate, the credit for following out the logical consequences. The logical consequences of what he was saying tonight are that the thing has got to stop and if anybody else tries to come in they are to be prevented—and obviously he must, mean by force, if necessary.
The hon. Gentleman went on to a remarkable series of inversions about the voluntary Army. I am not sure whether he thinks it is a good thing or a bad thing. There was a time when he was in favour of it. Is he still in favour of it? He does not answer.
§ Mr. Elliot
Let us hear the answer. I do not wish to do the hon. Gentleman an injustice. I take it that he would be in 1384 favour of a voluntary Army in preference to a conscript Army. He nods his head. Can he not see that all this Machiavellian rubbish that he was letting off about giving adequate compensation to people axed in the middle of a military career is completely meaningless unless we are going on after that to a conscript Army and not to a voluntary Army? He says that there is nothing like a satisfied customer. What about the dissatisfied customer? What about the 14,000 N.C.Os. and officers, every one of whom, according to his own view, and according, it may be, to the view of hon. Members on this side of the House, would have suffered an injustice? Is that the way to recruit a voluntary Army? The question answers itself.
If we are going to make a voluntary Army a success, as we all believe it ought to be, we must ensure that there will be a career in it for officer, N.C.O. and man in this new Army, and that if, for any reason, the engagements solemnly entered into have to be broken, compensation on a generous scale shall be paid. There is no other way in which one can have a voluntary Army.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman would be a little more convincing if he were more sure of his facts. He overlooks the fact that there was a definite breach of engagement of Regular soldiers only a few months ago at the time of Suez when warrant officers, N.C.O.s and other ranks, the expiry of whose engagements was held up, had no compensation paid to them and it was specifically stated that a state of war did not exist.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, whose debating skill we all respect, can hang his argument on an emergency. He knows as well as I do that in an emergency emergency steps are taken at short notice.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman is also a very skilled debater. The fact is that never before in his memory or in mine, in any circumstances whatever, have terms as generous as these been paid. I do not deplore it. My hon. Friend has made a point of it, but surely he is quite right. He is not being Machiavellian. He is being honest in asking the Government why it is that these fantastically generous terms were given at this juncture by a Government 1385 which is under great pressure to stop inflation. Surely he is right in asking that question. It is wrong of the right hon. Gentleman to twist and turn about because he has come late in the debate and has not looked up his facts.
§ Mr. Elliot
Really, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody what is the necessity for generous compensation and generous terms of pay. if one is to have a voluntary Army—and no one has preached it more vehemently than himself—the necessity is obvious. He and I are at one; we agree that there ought to be a voluntary Army. We agree that it ought to be well paid. It is then automatic that, if people are stopped in the middle of their careers from continuing, there must be compensation which will not only seem to them to be generous but will seem to those entering the career to be generous. That is the answer, and I am sure that it is a much more convincing answer than the extraordinary argument given by the hon. Member for Coventry, East.
If we are to have a voluntary Army, then it must be paid on a scale comparable with what is found in civilian employment. There is one oustanding example of a voluntary Army in the Western world, an Army raised without conscription in a country of full employment, the neighbour of that "Mecca" of prosperous employment, the United States. I mean the Canadian Army. There is in Canada a voluntary Army raised on terms comparable with those given in civilian life.
§ Mr. Elliot
It may well be that the total strength of the Canadian Army is 40,000, but if Canada did not give adequate payment she would not get 4,000 or even 400. A good illustration was given recently. Somebody said that it was very difficult to get cooks, and asked one of the Canadian staff officers what his position was. He said, quite simply, that the Canadian Army advertised for them. The answer came that he could not expect to get them if a man could walk across the road and get a full-paid cook's civilian employment at the Château 1386 Laurier. "You will not get them to come into the Army", it was said, "just because you advertise for them". The staff officer replied that in the Canadian Army a cook got only 10 dollars less than he could get at the Château Laurier, and, said the officer, "our pension terms are better." In that sort of way one can get the cooks. We have gone nothing like as far in our compensation or, indeed, in scales of pay as has the United States Army or the Canadian Army. The hon. Member for Coventry, East must face the facts.
Here is the great difference from the old days. We are moving into a period of recruiting against full employment. Time and again, from hon. Members on that side of the House we have been told in the past that hunger is the best recruiting sergeant for the British Army. Recruiting Sergeant Hunger has been led out and shot, and we are now recruiting against full employment and most prosperous conditions in our country. Obviously, in such conditions as that, if we do not give compensation to the men who are going out, we shall not get new men to come in. It seems to me that that, in a sentence, is the answer to the extraordinary arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Coventry, East.
I do not want to take too long; I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak, and I do not wish to presume on the undoubted privilege which a Privy Councillor has of being called, even though I am the only Privy Councillor here this evening, and some of the other Privy Councillors who take up more time seem to be away on this occasion.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am not speaking of From Bench Privy Councillors; they are a law until themselves. I am speaking of Back Bench Privy Councillors, and it is against those that the "slings and arrows" of outraged junior hon. Members are more usually directed.
While these particular matters are being debated tonight, we must have in mind also the very foundation stone of all Army policy, that is, the regimental policy of Her Majesty's Government. On this, I confirm what has been said 1387 by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). In so far as the scheme affects the regiments with which he and I are both closely concerned—the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry—I do not think that these proposals are satisfactory. The hon. Member can laugh. It is no laughing matter to the Highland Light Infantry or the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
§ Mr. Elliot
That may be. I am putting the case simply as it affects two regiments of which I have a certain amount of knowledge. The Government's argument seems to me not to realise the fact that Glasgow is a great Highland city. It is the largest of the Highland cities and is the capital of the West Highlands. Many bodies meet there. One of the Highland county councils—and other county bodies meet there. It is notably a Highland city. If its regiment is treated as a Lowland regiment, I do not believe that it will get that support which is necessary if the voluntary system is to prevail; and it is of the voluntary system of which we are speaking tonight.
It may be that I am wrong and that the hon. Member for Coventry, East is completely correct and that this is a Machiavellian scheme by which the Government seek to destroy our defences—it seems an odd thing to do—and are spending this enormous sum of money to disarm the country for the purpose of ingratiating themselves with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me how many recruits joined the Highland Light Infantry in the first six months of this year?
§ Mr. Elliot
Certainly not. If the House wished me to go into a close statistical analysis of all these problems, I would be very glad indeed to do so, but that is not my desire. When the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)said "Do not tempt me", he was not on his feet. I say to the hon. 1388 Member for South Ayrshire, "Do not tempt me—for I am on my feet."
I merely wished to enter a protest against this aspect of proposed reorganisation and to say that, as I understand it, Members on both sides representing both the city and the county are at one on this issue. I understand that the Corporation of Glasgow, which is seldom unanimous, is likely tomorrow to support unanimously opposition to this proposal.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Members knows a great deal about almost everything in the world. When it comes to knowing about Glasgow, however, I claim that I am at least equally well informed as the hon. Member—I do not put it any stronger. I was on the telephone to the Lord Provost's office an hour ago. It may be that the hon. Member has been on the telephone since then. I do not claim anything exceptional, but simply the average knowledge of an ordinary back bench Member representing the City of Glasgow. I am saying that, in my opinion, the City of Glasgow also shares the uneasy view that the proposal which is made is not a sound one.
There are tonight before us two big considerations. The first is the great consideration of strategy. On this we should do our best to examine the proposal with a firmer grasp of the obvious than the hon. Member for Coventry, East has shown tonight and with a less intricate approach. Secondly, we should look at the fundamental question of the regiments, upon which, after all, the whole of the voluntary system is based and upon which the Army will be increasingly based if we move, as we all hope to do, from a conscript to a voluntary Army. In particular, therefore, I say that the example of which I have personal knowledge—the suggested amalgamation of the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots Fusiliers—is, I believe, not a sound proposal and will prove not to be sound in practice.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
As we are not debating under our customary time limit, if I offer one or two observations now I shall not be cutting out any hon. Member on either side of the House. I want to offer, first, a remark on the original proposition put before the House 1389 by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)and which has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot)about regimental reorganisation. I, like them, am not offering any general criticism to the Secretary of State. I would agree that, if he had this very unpleasant and unpalatable job to do, he has on the whole, as far as I can judge, gone about it in a workmanlike way.
I want specially to consider one point which has been made and which is of some importance, and it is this. The Secretary of State is transferring, as I understand, the cap badges of the regiments to the brigade which is to become in many ways a new unit of the infantry, a new unit of the Army, and in doing that he is attempting, to a very considerable extent, to transfer the fundamental loyalty from the regiment to the brigade. At the same time, his whole scheme, of course, is based on an attempt to maintain regimental loyalty as well. I fear that he is in danger of falling between two stools there.
There must be hon. Members on both sides of the House who know this issue far better than I do because I have not had the honour to serve in the Army, but there seems to me to be a real danger here. The cap badge is something of a fetish, something of a symbol. I cannot see it is a necessity to make this transfer of the cap badge from the regiment to the brigade, and for the brigade to have a common cap badge, for the brigade necessarily has nothing like the traditional loyalties that the regiment has. I cannot see the wisdom of the transfer, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will comment on that. It is a small matter, but as, I think, he has taken so much care to do the least possible damage to regimental loyalties and traditions I think he may reconsider it.
Before I come on to the main themes which we have discussed I should like to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)off the main point of the debate, and that was on the question of the Royal Ordnance factories and their contracts. My hon. Friend called it a scandal, and unless he can be contradicted I think it certainly is a scandal, and unless that can be contradicted the Government really cannot go away for three months and 1390 allow this matter to rest after those words have been used in the House and those accusations against the Ministry of Supply have been made. They must either be contradicted, or some action must be taken. We on this side of the House feel very strongly about this matter and we do not think it can be let rest.
I come to the main issues which have been discussed in the debate and which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. The first of the themes he raised was that of National Service. He very strongly urged the view, as he has urged it before in the House, that there was no chance of our recruiting that number of men the Government have set before themselves as the target. He talked of 175,000 for the Army. The Government have set themselves a target of 165,000.
§ Mr. Strachey
I was going on to say that we need not argue the figure and that it was about that.
At any rate, I would agree with my hon. Friend in this that if no more measures are to be taken by the Government than have been taken so far, if they simply let matters drift in the way they are drifting at present, then, of course, my hon. Friend will be proved abundantly right, and there is not the faintest hope of getting that number of men. I have said repeatedly—I think I have said it three times in this House already—and I think it is vital to say it again, that we are convinced that most drastic measures must be taken in recruiting and that there is not a moment to lose in taking those measures. They must be taken in the next few months. This process must be begun now to produce the requisite number of men when conscription comes to an end at the end of 1962 when the last con-scribed man leaves the Forces.
We do not see anything even in the Government's forecasts which could produce the numbers of men. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley takes me to task very heavily because I mentioned pay in 1391 this connection. He is quite right in saying that pay is not everything, but what I have said and repeat, and what I make not the slightest apology for saying, is that adequate pay is an absolute prerequisite for getting these men. Of course, it will not do it by itself, but I think that my hon. Friend has a tendency to use this as an excuse for not paying what turns out to be the market pay necessary to get these men.
The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove gave the example of recruiting cooks for the Canadian Army, and I agree that it is relevant. The rates of pay will have to be looked at in a new light if we are to have a wholly volunteer force. They will have to be looked at in the light of what proves to be the rate which is competitive with civilian employment of the same kind, with all the advantages and disadvantages weighed between the two.
I do not know what the figure will be, but I should have thought that the Government will have to be able to make an offer of about the current average rate of weekly wage in civilian life in this country, plus the benefits in kind which the Army gives to outweigh the disadvantages of Army life—something of the magnitude of £10 a week and all found as the start. I am not saying that it is the only thing, but it is the only quick thing that can be done, and it is the necessary foundation for all the other methods, such as barrack improvements which are of the utmost importance if there is to be any hope of getting the men.
We shall certainly drift into an abominably dangerous situation if nothing is done and National Service is brought to an end and in that time the absolutely indispensable inducements for all-volunteer forces have not been brought forward.
§ Mr. Wigg
I could understand my right hon. Friend's argument and I might accept it if, a year ago, when this controversy was at its height and when the Government brought forward proposals for increased pay costing £67 million a year, he and those like him in my party who argued for the abolition of National Service had raised the issue of pay and demanded further increases, but they did not. My right hon. Friend charged me and those who thought like me with being pessimistic, for he thought recruit- 1392 ing was satisfactory and he has raised the pay issue specifically in the last few days only after the Government have spent £67 million and obtained fewer recruits than they did a year ago.
§ Mr. Strachey
My hon. Friend is misinformed. He does not do me the honour of either listening to or reading my speeches. He will find repeated references in my speeches to pay, and he has protested against the fact that I proposed higher pay. I have done it repeatedly and my hon. Friend knows that perfectly well.
There is only one simple point I want to make particularly to my hon. Friend on this issue with reference to the argument which he has put forward today and which he always puts forward with great force. It is that we must have conscription in this country in perpetuity. That is the only possible conclusion that one can draw from his argument. We on this Bench do not accept that conclusion. We do not think that that is the case, and we do not think that it is the proper way of raising the vitally important conventional, non-nuclear forces which, we entirely agree, are an absolutely indispensable part of our defence effort.
I will put one other point to the House in that connection. Let us take my hon. Friend's own hypothesis. He raised the issue—quite a possible one, though he may be too optimistic, unless the Government really do something to get the recruits—of a partial failure of the Government's recruiting drive, which left the forces, say, 30,000 or 40,000 short of their target. He said what a dangerous national situation that will be, and so it will. But how would he use the instrument of National Service to bridge that gap? Selective service for raising a small number of men is surely an almost impossible instrument.
How could we possibly pick out 30,000 or 40,000 or some number of that sort from the youth of this country and say that those particular young men and nobody else will be conscripted for two years? That does not seem to me to be a practical proposition.
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course, I agree, and have always said this, as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. The basic controversy between my right hon. Friend and myself has never been on 1393 pay until I was proved right beyond the possibility of denial on the period of the three-year engagement. I have always said, and I will give him 20 references if he likes, that once the three-year engagement had gone on for a long period, there was no quick way back.
The Government have now abandoned the three-year engagement, and the right hon. Gentleman must face that debacle and the consequences. For the responsibility for the continuance of National Service is tied round his neck and that of the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head). As well as the ever-increasing burden of pay we have to face the fact that we have had the three-year engagement for six years and only now that it has been abolished can we get our Service structure right.
§ Mr. Strachey
That has nothing to do with the point I made to the hon. Gentleman. The point I made was the quite simple one, namely, what use is the retention of the instrument of National Service to fill a gap of 30,000 or 40,000 men? The hon. Member went off on a tirade about his old hobby-horse of the three-year engagement, which is nothing to do with the matter.
§ Mr. Wigg rose——
§ Mr. Strachey
No, I have given way a good deal to the hon. Member, and he is just bringing in the three-year engagement, which was not introduced by me, but by the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head). It is perfectly true that I was never willing to join with him in his crusade against the right hon. Member for Carshalton for introducing the three-year engagement which, during the currency of National Service, but no longer, had quite a good deal to be said for it and did secure the Army quite considerable numbers. There were quite serious objections to it as well, but the hon. Member is now very much more friendly with the right hon. Member for Carshalton, who at that time, he regarded as the architect of ruin and now regards him, or is bracketed with him by the Observer, as one of the only two people who understand the problem at all. These little changes go on.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Would the right hon. Gentleman say which he thinks is worse—the kiss of Massingham, or the kiss of "Cross-Bencher"?
§ Mr. Strachey
That is a point which I could not possibly answer.
The hon. Member for Dudley has shown himself unable to answer the simple point that, for the purpose of bridging a relatively small deficiency of a few tens of thousands of men, which, as he said, is quite likely the result of the Government's policy, his own panacea for keeping National Service in existence does not foot the bill. I cannot believe that he can say that we can take 30,000 or 40,000 men at random, by lot, and permanently conscript them, and, therefore, I think that the Government have committed the country to raising all voluntary forces in practice. I repeat again: what are they doing about it? I entirely agree with the hon. Member that unless they take the most drastic measures of inducement they will not get those forces.
Now I want to say only one or two words about the issue of the H-bomb, because this is not the time to reargue the question of nuclear warfare, although it has been argued a good deal from both sides of the House in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)said in his opening remarks, it is true that both from this Front Bench and from the back benches we said, when the White Paper was presented to us, that the Government were going from one extreme to the other; from having a highly conventional defence policy they seemed to us to be going to the other extreme and pinning everything on nuclear defence. I certainly think that they went too far on that.
On the other hand, some of the arguments used by both my hon. Friends tonight do not seem to me to be really sound. After all, this country began the construction, the preparation, of nuclear weapons with the concurrence of both sides of the House, with the exception of individual pacifist Members on this side, and with the concurrence of both the hon. Members who have spoken today in such strong criticism of that policy that we should have a nuclear element in our defence forces which would not absorb all our defence effort—that certainly would be madness.
This is all that is at issue here. We agree with them that the Government's White Paper gave the impression that they 1395 were going far on to the nuclear extreme. After all, the only answer to these arguments as to our having opened the nuclear club to full membership, by ourselves going in for the nuclear weapon, is international nuclear disarmament on international agreement. If we had abstained from constructing nuclear weapons, what guarantee would we have had that third, fourth, or fifth nations would have abstained from doing so? Only the conclusion of a workable convention on nuclear disarmament is of any real service there. I, personally, would strongly criticise the Government's policy in that respect, and their reluctance to lead the way in securing such a convention, but that is another theme of debate.
Finally, to what does our criticism of the Government tonight add up? It adds up to this, that as regards National Service as regards preserving an adequate balance between our conventional and our nuclear Forces, there is great public concern that the Government thought in the White Paper not only about the necessity of having nuclear forces, with which I agree, but that this would be a wonderful short-cut to economy in defence. We have had a great deal of such suggestion, and when we see the necessities of the thing, when we see what we have to pay to get our voluntary forces, I do not believe that there will be appreciable financial economy if adequate conventional forces are to be maintained.
I believe that the leading articles in The Times and the Observer, which have been referred to, express that concern in the country. It is a very real concern and I think it is justified, because if the Government think that they have here a wonderful short-cut to economy over defence that would be playing politics with defence. That would be going over to the extreme of nuclear defence and neglecting our conventional forces.
I do not think that those forces must be large and I do not think that the figure given by the Government is too small, but in my opinion it will be a very expensive matter to raise this number of forces voluntarily and adequately to equip them. I believe that the Government owe it to the House to give us some reassurance, not merely in words, but a reassurance in their actions 1396 during the coming weeks, that they are facing this issue and will not leave the country short of the conventional forces which, for obvious reasons, are the more important of the two in the short run and which, in the short run, are the forces which can prevent incidents from blowing up into world wars.
It is because the country feels that the emphasis has gone too far the other way that there is public disquiet. I therefore ask the Government to give us reassurance on this issue before the House adjourns.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I apologise for intervening in the debate which has been raging on the other side of the House, as it always rages on these occasions, but I have remarks to make other than those which have been made already.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey)very nearly fell into the same error as that committed by his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). At one time I had hoped that I would follow the hon. Member for Coventry, East, because I should very much have enjoyed taking the pants off him in an argument, but in fact it was much more effectively done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot). The right hon. Member for Dundee, West very nearly fell into the same error and very nearly used the same words, "Entirely going over to a nuclear defence." That had been said about five times in different ways by the hon. Member for Coventry, East. We have by no means gone over entirely to nuclear defence, and it is an entire misconception to suggest that we have.
What the right hon. Gentleman seems to forget is that we are now doing what we have been trying to do for a very long time, and what the international situation has previously prevented us from doing. We have now been able to withdraw troops from North Africa, from Korea and from other parts of the world, and we have announced, with the agreement of the N.A.T.O. countries, our intention to withdraw a certain number of troops from Europe. The number we are to withdraw from Europe has been very considerably exaggerated. I wish people 1397 would not talk about divisions, because that gives an entirely false impression. The number of troops to be withdrawn is by no means equal to the number of divisions which have been mooted. Furthermore, those formations which are to be retained in Germany will be strengthened in the relationship between teeth and tail. They will have more front-line troops than before.
The result of these moves is that, for the first time since the last war, we have in this country a mobile reserve of a considerable size. This has enabled us to breathe again. There were many months when my heart was in my mouth because I knew that we had not one single reserve unit in this country, except for the demonstration battalion at Warminster. We now have a reserve.
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has done in the short time that he has been at the War Office. He has had a desperately difficult task and desperately difficult decisions to make. I congratulate him, first, on his decision when he set his face against the complete abolition of battalions or regiments and decided on amalgamations. That was a major decision, a courageous decision, and in my view a correct decision.
Certain officers quite naturally feel extremely upset about the amalgamations which have been announced, but when they blame the politicians I hope they realise that the politicians have very little to do with it. I agree that in the final analysis my right hon. Friend has the responsibility for anything which is done but, as politicians, we all know perfectly well that although the broad basis is laid down for them, the details are worked out by the professional soldiers in the War Office. If they have any grouse about the way the details will work out, let them remember that we politicians have had very little to do with it.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Am I not right in suggesting to the hon. Member that that applies to every Department of Government?
Resettlement is another aspect which has not been mentioned, and again I congratulate my right hon. Friend for 1398 setting up the committee which is to see to the resettlement of officers when they leave the Forces. I do not want to go into detail, except to say that I hope that that committee will have a subcommittee to act as an advisory body to those officers on how to deal with the money. There will be grave danger. There will be gentlemen sharpening their knives and offering "a nice little directorship" for only £800,
I implore those officers to take advice from people who understand these things before they squander their little money. Let us have no more "chicken farms", no more "small horticultural estates". No horticultural business will stand for more than three years, unless behind it there is a very large amount of capital and unless it is equipped with the latest machinery and capable of continuing to have the latest machinery. There have been hundreds of cases of people who left the Forces after the war going into businesses like that and going broke in three or four years. I hope that the committee will deal with that aspect, as well as with the many others.
We have talked about recruiting, and I should have liked to have dealt with it at length, but it is now too late. It is no good bringing men back from magnificent German barracks in B.A.O.R. and sticking them in Colchester or in any of the other places which were condemned many years ago. Quarters are a top priority, and I do not care if their provision costs money. For heaven's sake, let us get this task done. Bad quarters are one of the greatest deterrents to recruiting.
Another is education for the children of Service men. A little while ago we got a concession about that, but the Civil Service was too strong for us. We got a concession, a family allowance for education, only for those serving abroad. The differential between the Civil Service and the serving Forces had to be kept, and as there was no such thing for the Civil Service in England we had to go without it for our forces in England. I hope that my right hon. Friend will examine that when he has more time to see whether greater justice can be done. It is one of the greatest deterrents to recruiting, and when people find that their children are not being educated as well as those 1399 of people outside the Army they want to leave the Army.
I will not give details about disturbance. There is another word for it in the Army, which I could not use here. When there is disturbance there should be adequate compensation for it and not just a lump sum paid for one move when people have to move two or three times a year and pay for the moves out of their own pockets.
We must have a decent walking-out dress. Battle-dress is finished, and there is now no raison d'être for battle-dress. It is a most hideous thing, and it takes a British soldier to make that ghastly piece of uniform look at all reasonable by pressing it under his mattress. Let us have a decent walking-out dress. I saw a picture in a newspaper suggesting such a uniform, but must we have the side-cap? What is wrong with the old peaked cap? It is by far the smartest ever invented with all due respect to the beret, which is a battle honour and which should not have been given to anybody but the Royal Tank Regiment. The peaked cap is the smartest cap of all. Let us not copy nations and have all sorts of funny side hats.
In the old days, the Army used to be a way of life. It used to be jolly good fun. There were times when we did very little work and there were times when we were grossly overworked, to such an extent that no union would stand it for a minute. It was fun and exciting and a way of life, but conscription killed all that. National Service put an end to all that. For the Regular soldier, the N.C.O. and the officer, who, goodness knows, works very hard, it was one long drudgery from one year's end to another. They were operating a sausage machine, and when they had finished one operation they began all over again.
Now this voluntary Army is envisaged, let us get back to the old way of life with a little more imagination in our training. We can have a number of battle drills and practice and get them right, but having done that, there is very little more to do. We want a little more of the "outward bound" spirit, a little more imagination and adventure—and danger, for oddly enough that is what people like. Why do the Parachute Brigade, the Marines and the Commandos 1400 become over-subscribed? It is because people like excitement. If regiments want recruits, they can get them if they have a reputation for being an exciting and even a dangerous regiment, I hope that something on those lines will be done to encourage my right hon. Friend.
I do not believe we have the slightest need to fear a major advance by large Russian forces across the Elbe. There was a danger of that, but because of the preponderance of the nuclear deterrent—it is not a question of starting a war as the hon. Member for Coventry, East said, but it is a deterrent to stop war—and also because of the state of the satellite countries, Poland, Hungary and so on, through which the lines of communication of a vast invading Army would have to pass, there is not the slightest chance of it happening. What might happen would be an inroad into Western Germany, as has always happened before when these tactics have been played, not by the Russians, but by East Germans. They might advance overnight 20 miles, sit down and say, "What are you going to do about it?" That is the sort of thing we have to meet absolutely at once the following morning. Are the forces we are leaving in Western Europe adequate to deal with that kind of thing?
The rôles of our troops can be divided under two headings. There is the fire brigade rôle, police action, where all that is needed is well trained men with personal weapons on a jeep-borne basis. There is supposed to be a brigade training somewhere in Yorkshire. A year ago, we were told that they were ready to go off at a moment's notice on that basis. I should like to know if they are really ready to go off tomorrow morning, or how long it would take, and whether they have aircraft to carry them? We have only to provide aircraft. There are aircraft available capable of carrying a brigade, even if they be civilian aircraft. They must be trained to be able to get into an aircraft at a moment's notice. I have seen a brigade capable of waking up in the middle of the night on an alarm and being on the road within 20 minutes with everything they needed for war. Is that brigade ready to do that if we rang them up this evening, or would it be ready by 11 o'clock tomorrow morning? I bet it would not, and I hope something will be done about that.
1401 What is much more disturbing is the other rôle, that of using troops of all arms in a limited war breaking out in any part of the world for which we must have our tanks, our guns, our workshops and our supporting units of every kind. Suppose they are to be stationed in England, and suppose we give up all our forward bases. I am not referring to Cyprus. It is not a base; it is a headquarters. It has been proved not to be a base. It is no use as a base. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is an air base"] Yes, but it is no good for the purpose of military operations.
If our Forces are stationed in England and we give up our forward bases, how shall we get our men and equipment quickly to the scene of trouble? I do not even begin to know the answer to that problem. They cannot be taken by air. If we are to take them in landing craft, it means eight knots an hour, or ten knots if we are lucky, but no more; and it is 3,000 miles to anywhere, and that will take time. Hon. Gentlemen should think that out when they talk about Kenya as a base. Let them look at the map. Kenya is 3,000 miles from the Middle East. Therefore, we are not very much better off if we go there.
Something must be done about this. Some real thinking must be given to the problem. Without having the facts and figures, because I am only a back bencher, my answer is: What about a floating base? The Americans have shown us how to do it. We could have all our tanks, heavy guns, workshops and everything else floating on a mobile base which could be taken from one part of the world to another. We could keep our reserves in this country and train them on duplicate equipment. Then, on the word "Go", we could fly them out and put them on the floating base.
This is a problem that we have not solved and do not look like solving yet. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to answer tonight what I have said, but I hope that during the Recess he will give my last two points, if nothing else, very serious thought.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer)will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of the intricacies 1402 of a floating base, or in a discussion as to the form of caps which the various regiments should wear, for the hon. and gallant Member is an expert in these matters and I am not, because I have had no Service experience.
I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was right in one thing that he said, that if we want an efficient Army the people in the various regiments must be proud of their regiments, for they will otherwise not be efficient. In my view, that, in the last analysis, is the real argument for the abolition of conscription. With conscription we may force people to join regiments, but regiments of that kind are no use for the purpose for which we have recruited them.
I shall have to cross swords with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, or he will have to do so with me, about one thing that he said earlier. He said that he wished he had followed my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)because he would have enjoyed "taking his pants off." If the hon. and gallant Gentleman proposes to do that sort of thing, he will have to take two pairs of pants off, because I happen to agree very largely with my hon. Friend. If there is an argument as to whose pants come off, I am not sure that it will be the pants on our side which will come off.
I want to take up a point which I believe is related to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been talking about. I shall deploy my argument not at great length but in some detail, for it will otherwise not be intelligible, to show how we can get what we really want, which is peace and security, and how we are not likely to get it in the way we are now attempting to obtain it.
The basic dilemma which appears to have emerged from the debate so far is that if this small country of ours attempts to arm itself with hydrogen bombs and atomic weapons, the kind of gear that one would need to make a contribution in a third world war, and simultaneously to have troops for conventional policing operations in Colonial Territories, and so forth, we shall succeed in doing neither. I think that almost everyone who has spoken has agreed that this is true.
I hold very strongly that our contribution in the world today should be almost wholly concerned with the second of 1403 these essential tasks, namely, how to provide that kind of force which may be used for bush fires, peripheral wars, or whatever we call them—the minor engagements that have to be handled and prevented from spreading into the kind of engagements that draw in the two giants. This is a problem that, I believe, we are uniquely positioned to tackle, but I am convinced that we cannot do that job if we also try to do the other one.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), I think understandably from his point of view, said that the trouble is that we do not really want to have an atomic and nuclear armoury of our own, but that we cannot possibly consider going without those weapons, or scrapping them, unless and until all the other nations will come to an agreement to do likewise. In other words, "Alas," he said, "we must have these ghastly weapons, we have to attempt to be a nuclear Power because, for the moment, the Disarmament Sub-Committee of the United Nations has not succeeded in getting agreement for universal effective disarmament and the control necessary to enforce it."
I suggest that if we wait until the disarmament conference that has been going on almost continuously since 1947 achieves the kind of universal disarmament that my right hon. Friend requires in order to make it unnecessary for us to have nuclear weapons, all I can say is that we shall go on having nuclear weapons until kingdom come—and kingdom come will not be so far off.
There is another aspect of this problem which is very seldom considered and to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. It was exemplified in an intervention that took place in the debate on disarmament on 23rd July. The Minister of Defence, perhaps effectively but rather unkindly, quoted from a speech that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker)had made in his constituency some three years ago. Thereupon, my right hon. Friend leapt to his feet and said:… we had never stood for unilateral disarmament but that we thought those weapons ought to be abolished by international agreement …"—[OFFFICIAL, REPORT, 23rd July, 1957; Vol. 574, c. 346.]1404 In other words, he was saying that we are not in favour of Britain having a unilateral disarmament policy. We want all the nations of the world simultaneously to agree to disarmament. I believe that almost everybody in the Parliamentary Labour Party has, of recent years, been hoping against hope, and has been discussing ad nauseam how we could achieve multilateral disarmament, and what we were to suggest at Disarmament Sub-Committee meetings to get American and Russian agreement.
Our attitude to disarmament, that it must be simultaneous and universal if any progress is to be made, is not held only by the Parliamentary Labour Party. It is held equally strongly by the Americans. I have here in my hand a report issued by a conference that took place recently in the United States which was attended by a very large number of very distinguished Americans. It took place at Arden House, which is apparently on the campus of Columbia University. In the report the heading of the first paragraph is, "What we want". It then goes on to say:We want the achievement of universal, controlled and complete disarmament under a strengthened U.N. or a disarmament authority created by it.I believe that if we expect America and Russia, together with ourselves, to agree to effective disarmament, then we are not entirely, but very nearly, wasting our time. I believe that there is another way of getting at this problem of disarmament, but before we can get at it we must realise what we mean by disarmament.
There are two meanings of the word "disarmament". One is the proposal that sovereign nation States, while retaining their right in the last analysis to maintain their self-defence, should agree with one another to curtail somewhat the burden of the armaments which they find necessary to maintain their self-defence. This is the control or limitation variety of disarmament. It has been discussed ever since disarmament conferences were first held after the First World War. For over thirty years, goodness knows how many hours of time have been spent, and millions of words spoken, on this, and never has one of these conferences succeeded.
I often wonder why Secretary of State Dulles should fly in such great haste to the United Kingdom to take part in a conference, once more to say that he is 1405 full of hope and that we are very near a moment when spectacular results may be achieved—or, if not spectacular, at least worth-while results. For thirty years no results have been achieved, and I believe that they cannot be achieved at all in that way.
The first reason is that the sovereign nation States are not now, in fact, afraid of the armed forces which potentially hostile sovereign States are at present deploying. What makes them arm as sovereign States in order to take care of their self-defence is the power potential of the nations that they regard as potentially hostile. Power potential is not altered or affected at all by the number of troops which a nation may happen to have in uniform at any given time. Power potential, which is economic potential coupled with the determination to use that economic potential to produce aggressive power at a given time, always remains unaffected so long as a nation is sovereign.
I think it is possible, in certain circumstances, for America and Russia to get to understand one another, to size one another up, to come to gentlemen's agreements between the two, to reduce as much as they can and in a balanced form the number of weapons and hydrogen bombs which each feels it must have at any given moment. But it has to be a gentlemen's agreement. There is no method of enforcing it. What must surely worry these two great Powers as much as it worries us and as much as it appears to worry other people is how many other nations will in due course become nuclear Powers and what will they do with their sovereignty if and when they get the power substantially to affect the world as a whole.
What happens if Germany decides, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)said she inevitably would, also to join the club of the nuclear Powers? What about France, too? What happens if Colonel Nasser decides that an Arab federation also could afford to get the prestige of a modern sovereign State by joining the "rat race"? All these are unpredictable sets of circumstances, which must make it infinitely harder for Russia and America to take care of each other and agree, honestly and genuinely, on mutual reductions.
1406 I am absolutely convinced that, so long as Britain is determined to be one of the three nuclear Powers, we are compelling other nations also to join the club, whether they like it or not: France must follow, Germany must follow, and all the others must follow one by one, joining the "rat race". Heaven knows where that will end. It must lead to chaos, ultimate confusion and war. Nobody wants that to happen. The United Kingdom says that she obviously must stay a nuclear Power, but other nations ought not to follow that example. It is my belief that the safer way would be for Britain to admit that, for the foreseeable future, the form of disarmament which America and Russia might succeed in agreeing to would be very useful and well worth while for those two countries together, with their immediate satellites, to adopt—the open skies policy, some mutual control of testing, and so on—but that that form of disarmament is not good enough for other nations.
The other form of disarmament, of course, is the complete transfer from the nation State to a supranational organisation or authority of the business of defence. This is the kind of disarmament which, in the eighteenth century, the American Colonies chose when they joined together and formed the Federation of the United States of America. This seems to me to be the only kind of disarmament which now makes any sense for countries such as France, Germany and Britain, and all the other countries which are determined that it would be wrong if many of them—certainly wrong if all of them—became nuclear Powers, but who are convinced that a line ought to be drawn somewhere between the two mammoth Power complexes and all the other lesser nations, down to the smallest.
The line must be drawn somewhere. The question is where it should be drawn. My belief is that it should be drawn between the two big ones, America and Russia, and all the rest. It is not enough for all the rest merely to say that they do not wish any of them to become nuclear Powers. If they do not wish that—and I am convinced that that is so—the time has come for that group of nations in the middle world to try and set up an authority which can enforce their good resolution, that can see to it that they not only wish to stay dis- 1407 armed in nuclear weapons but have no opportunity ever thereafter to change their minds.
Unless one can make sure that their good resolution is kept, the passage of a motion in their Parliaments to the effect that, for the time being they will not make nuclear weapons, or that, if others do not, they will not make them, will not afford security to anybody. After all, it was only a few years ago that the French Prime Minister said categorically that France would never make nuclear weapons; and no one believes that categorically any longer. The Germans are saying that they do not want to make nuclear weapons, and nobody has any great faith that they can, in present circumstances, maintain that excellent resolution for very much longer.
I believe that the really important thing to do now is to find a formula by which the sovereign States of the middle world, the lesser Powers, can get together and agree to set up over themselves a controlling agency which can effect upon them, at any rate, the kind of disarmament which we say we want the United Nations Sub-Committee ultimately to find for all the nations of the world, namely, the kind of disarmament which removes all the fear which is the prime cause of international anxiety.
I believe that the time has come when the jump from the sovereign State structure to the federal system has, sooner or later, to be taken. I am aware of the argument that this will one day certainly be required, but that, in the meantime, we had better take the thing step by step. My view is that we can take a great many functional steps which are eminently desirable to prevent the national sovereign States from cutting each other's throats too continuously, but finally a chasm divides the sovereign State structure which tries to collaborate and the community which is effectively disarmed and is supranationally governed; and this chasm has to be crossed in one big jump.
There is no way of taking a lot of steps between the sovereign State and the province inside the federal system. Nor, I believe, is there any way to escape the conclusion that if disarmament is to have any real meaning the nation has to give up the notion that, in the last analysis, it must take care of its own self-defence, be- 1408 cause just so long as we say that nations have the right and the duty in the last analysis to take care of their self-defence no substantial disarmament and no change in the attitude of mutual fear can ever occur.
Immediately, however, that we accept the proposition that a nation ought no longer to be burdened with the need to defend itself, then we come to the conclusion that the business of defending its citizens must be transferred to another authority which has the power to defend them. In other words, this authority must have at its disposal an armed force which is extremely powerful.
No nation would allow its destiny to pass into the hands of a supranational force which had the power completely to control its destiny unless by some democratic process its citizens had a fair share in controlling that force. In other words, I am saying that if nations are ever to give up the business of defending themselves they must go into a federal system which has not only a federal force but also a federal Parliament, and then the transfer from the sovereign State to the supranational federal structure becomes complete. But between the one and the other a chasm lies.
I shall be told that we cannot possibly give up, much as we might like to, the right to have a nuclear armoury of our own because, as an hon. Member opposite said earlier in the debate, in the last reckoning we cannot be sure that the Americans might not assume that part of Europe or our own country might be expendable. In the last analysis, therefore, we must be prepared to defend ourselves and to have our own massive deterrent in order to take care of the Russian threat in Europe, which, in certain circumstances, we can imagine the Americans might not care to tackle.
I am always amazed at that argument. It is invariably trotted out as though it was decisive. I am amazed at it because not very long ago, towards the end of last year, a series of circumstances occurred which were without parallel and which, I hope, will never be repeated.
I suppose everybody here would agree that in November of last year Anglo-American relations were at their lowest ebb. Never could the disagreement between our two countries have been more deep or more bitter. On 31st October, the Anglo-French bombing of Suez 1409 began. On 5th November, the Anglo-French forces started their landings and on that same day Bulganin wrote a note to Sir Anthony Eden in which he indicated that, unless Britain and France gave up this intervention, it might be necessary for Russia to take severe measures.
On 7th November, a couple of days later, Marshal Zhukov, speaking in the Red Square, made an extremely belligerent speech—no doubt he had not been noticed recently—in which he indicated that if the British and the French went on with this, Russia would be obliged to atomise London and Paris. That was at a time when economic sanctions were being imposed by the Americans against us, when the Americans were voting on the side of the Russians against us in the United Nations and when relations between our two countries had never been worse and could not, I believe, ever get worse.
Nevertheless, in spite of all that, on 13th November, General Gruenther, an American general retiring from supreme command of S.H.A.P.E., in Paris, decided to call a Press conference and solemnly announced to the Press that if the Soviet Union went on with their threat, or ever contemplated carrying it out, thenjust as day follows night retaliation will follow and the Soviet Union will be destroyed by American forces.And we heard no more from Marshal Zhukov or from Bulganin. At that moment, when, if ever there was such an occasion, we might have been let down by the Americans and given a smart lesson, the possession by America of a sufficient number of hydrogen bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles was instantly used to deter any nonsense from Soviet Russia.
I happen to believe, therefore, that it would not be too dangerous if we were to rely on the Americans again. I am not suggesting that to do so is a path of absolute certainty or safety. I believe that the choices which we have to make in the coming years are choices between dangers and evils. Whatever we do will be desperately dangerous and cannot be certainly right. We therefore have to choose between two alternative policies, either of which will be dangerous. We must choose which we think will be the least dangerous.
As I have already argued, if Great Britain insists upon remaining a nuclear 1410 Power then, in the first place, we will almost certainly get the worst of both worlds and go economically bankrupt. Secondly, in the process which will be begun by our example other nations will make themselves bankrupt if they should follow our stupid lead to obtain the same national prestige: nationalism brought to its fantastic conclusion. On the other hand, we could decide that the proper course is now to admit that we were wrong when we decided to go in for making British atom and hydrogen weapons.
I believe that when we originally decided to do so—it was certainly before 1954, but I cannot tell, and I do not think many people know, at what date the decision was first made—I think there was a much stronger argument then for having British atom and hydrogen weapons than there is today. A number of circumstances in the last few years, even in the last year, have changed and made the choice which was then possibly reasonable now considerably less reasonable.
I think that we ought to annul the decision that we made in 1954, destroy the atomic weapons of our own which we possess, and give up making any more, admitting that we can do this and must continue for a long time to have the chance of doing this, largely because the Americans are "carrying the can" for us, that is to say, are taking care of the Soviet threat.
§ Mr. Usborne
It means that they have to expend a large amount of their money on making weapons to use any of which would be mass suicide.
They have a vast armoury of weapons which, as everybody knows, can be used only if the human race decides to destroy itself. I believe that as long as Russia has this sort of weapons one other nation must also have it, namely, America. As long as one nation has it, it is the duty of the other also to have it. It is an argument to adopt whichever side of the Iron Curtain one is on. If one is on the other side of the Iron Curtain, desperately fearful of American capitalism attempting the imperial domination of the globe, that argument also applies. It is the argument that each of these two nations must take care of the other's aggressiveness so 1411 that the rest of the world shall have time to carry out an experiment, which must be attempted, and must be proven to be successful, if, ultimately, the peoples who live in those two great countries also are to come to their senses one day and give up the business of defending themselves by the process of being ready to blow the human family to extinction.
The experiment which has to be tried somewhat has, I believe, to be tried now by a number of nations willing to make the attempt. And there will be no nations willing to make this surrender of sovereignty irrevocably to a supranational authority which takes care of the business of their defence so that their disarmament can be total and effective unless Britain is prepared, with other nations—as many others as possible—to go in for the experiment on the basis of equality with them.
It is no good our saying to France, or Germany, or any of the other countries. "You people must not join the nuclear club. You must have a self-denying ordinance. If you do not mean what you say, or we cannot trust you to mean it, the big boys of the nuclear club will see that you do not have these weapons. We shall deny them to you by force." That does not work at all. That attitude is the very thing that would make the other countries insist upon joining the nuclear club, not because they wanted to but simply because they were being told that we did not wish them to join. And we do not really believe that we would exercise the power to stop them.
The non-nuclear Powers, and as many nations as possible, ought to start studying what is actually involved in real, effective, enforceable disarmament. Let us see what we really mean when we tell our delegates at Lake Success, or at Lancaster House, to make suggestions about disarmament and talk in terms of control. Let us see what that means and be prepared sincerely to discuss it and work it out, because we are sincerely prepared, if it is possible to do so consistently with freedom and justice, to go wherever it takes us with the French and other nations.
We could do this if we could explain to ourselves, the Russians and the Americans, that we are prepared to follow what I believe to be the path of civilisation and that while we divest our 1412 selves of the weapons of gangsterism—the weapons of a sovereign State—and do what is proper, we fully understand that the Americans and the Russians, for the time being, cannot do so. The worst possible attitude would be if the middle world tried to make itself into a third force, as Kenneth de Courcy would have us, either to rival the other two, or to say, "A plague on both your houses. We will have nothing to do with either of you." If we take the attitude that we are to be a third military Power comparable with the two big boys, those two big boys will not encourage us and our integration will not happen.
We must take the view that it is the function of what I call the federation of nations, in years ahead, however long it may take, to get together to create a federal force which obviously would be the aggregate of all the national forces that the nations surrendered to the federal authority. That federal force would have to be available to the United Nations on call, if and when the United Nations needed to invoke its collective security action.
I can very well envisage the possibility of trouble in some part of the globe where the United Nations would wish some force to be used and where it must be perfectly clear that neither Russia nor America could exercise their force, because if either did the other must, and if either moved it would mean a third world war. It would be better if there were an integrated force of all the other nations which could act jointly or not at all, and which would have not nuclear weapons but weapons that would cause the minimum destruction and loss of life.
§ Mr. Usborne
I have often wondered why not. I have argued that the United Nations simultaneously should have a U.N. constabulary, and to them I would not give even bows and arrows—perhaps only tin hats for their own protection. It may be true that if the world had available contingents that were exactly appropriate to the trouble, one might not have to use the force at all. I think we are in a difficulty today because there is no United Nations permanent constabulary, or light force—we had not got it to wrap round the State of Israel a year and a half ago—nor have we got the effective 1413 forces of the conventional kind which can be differentiated from atomic weapons, which, once used, must drag in everyone and everything.
I have taken rather a long time, but there is, on this one occasion, all night before us, and it is traditional for grievances to be raised before Supply is granted. I have one considerable grievance, shared by all my constituents. They object strongly, as I do, to the necessity to spend £1,500 million on making what is now, apparently, to be largely an armoury of weapons which they believe are unnecessary, because the Americans have enough to do the job. To have them ourselves indicates that we do not trust our ally, that we think that in a pinch they would sell us down the river.
§ Mr. Usborne
I do not think that it necessarily follows that the fire brigade should always take with it T.N.T. and the paraphernalia of warfare. There is a great deal to be said for fire brigades going in without too much gunpowder and explosive. I am saying that one should divide what is needed for a particular function from what cannot be used for any other function except destroying the whole globe.
My constituents feel that this country has a vital part to play in this atomic era, which is different from anything that we have ever attempted to play before. It is, however, familiar in this respect: We have a reputation, as a people, well earned, for being able to experiment and to invent political institutions. Now comes the moment when we should admit that we are not a great Power, but set about becoming a great nation—and there is a great difference.
If we are to be a great nation, we must try to create as soon as possible a situation whereby nations can become civilised. But if we are to be great and civilised I am convinced that we cannot continue to be one of the three nuclear Powers.
I hope that the Minister will not think that he has necessarily to reply to what I have said. It is a new idea, which I would far rather people discussed among themselves and thought over for a long time. I do not think that I should like any off-the-cuff observations which the Minister might find it necessary to make, 1414 and, therefore, I would rather he did not make them.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Hare)
Since I have been in the Chamber, which is from the moment when the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)rose to speak, we have covered an immense amount of ground. I am not here to sum up the debate. I wish, with the permission of the House, merely to comment on some of the points which have been made on both sides. I will take the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne)at his word and not risk making any comment "off the cuff" on the very detailed remarks he has made.
One of the two main features of the discussion so far has been the doubt whether the Government had the determination, the will or the ability to carry out the policy outlined in the White Paper issued in February of this year. There seems to be a general anxiety about whether a proper balance will be kept between what is necessary to provide for the deterrent and what is necessary to provide for the conventional weapons.
That feeling was expressed from both sides of the House, by some hon. Members more luridly than by others. The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)tried to give the impression that, unless we were very careful, the whole of our resources would be spent on nuclear weapons, with nothing left for conventional weapons. Others put it a little more calmly. I can assure the House that the Government fully intend to carry out the policy which they laid down in the White Paper and that they believe that they have the ability so to do.
No one imagines that one can have defence on the cheap, but the entire House will agree that we have already been able to secure very considerable economies in defence expenditure. We should not imagine that it will be possible to continue those savings on the same scale as we have reduced expenditure this year and prevented it from rising, inevitably it would have done if in the White Paper we had not laid down the policy of which the House has approved.
I do not subscribe to the theory, certainly expressed by the hon. Member 1415 for Coventry, East, that the cost of nuclear weapons will be allowed to become so great that it will be impossible for the Government to carry out their conventional rôle in their alliances and Commonwealth policing operations. People are rather apt to think that conventional weapons cost nothing and that only nuclear weapons cost money. We well know that conventional weapons cost a great deal of money. Her Majesty's Government intend to keep a proper balance between the two and, certainly, as I am connected with the Army, I have a very vested interest to see that they do so.
The second main issue which concerned hon. Members was the problem which probably affects me as Secretary of State for War more than the two other Service Ministers, of whether we will get the voluntary forces for which the White Paper provides. In passing, I want to thank the hon. Member for Dudley for the very kind remarks he made about the reorganisation plan for the Army, before he started castigating me and warning me that I would not get the recruits I wanted, and describing me as very stupid.
The expression of concern was a very proper one to be put by hon. Members, I do not for a second submit that this will not be an extremely difficult task, but where I part from the hon. Member for Dudley is that, stupid as I may be, I am allowed to have my own opinion, and my opinion happens to differ entirely from his. I believe—I am not using the words "faith" or "determination"—that we shall be able to get these men. I may be wrong; nobody is perfect.
I want to emphasise—I hope this is comfort for the hon. Member for Dudley—that it is clearly laid down in paragraph 48 of the White Paper which was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude)and by the hon. Member for Dudley in their very able speeches. What was said was:It must, nevertheless, be understood that, if voluntary recruiting fails to produce the numbers required, the country will have to face the need for some limited form of compulsory service to bridge the gap.I should have thought that that was clear enough.
If that is not clear enough, I should like to quote what the Minister of Labour said in the defence debate: 1416It is only if our expectation that plans to build up Regular recruitment will provide us with the number of long-service Regulars we need is falsified, that we shall have to consider the need for a limited form of compulsory service of the kind indicated in paragraph 48 of the White Paper. In these circumstances, in the classic words, a new situation will arise. But we regard that as a quite separate problem which could be dealt with only if and when it arose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1957; Vol. 568, c. 1952.]I should have thought that those two statements were perfectly clear. They cater for the position if we fail to get these recruits.
I want to say a word now about the problems which will obviously face us in the recruiting of these forces. I want to speak particularly from the point of view of the Army, because it has the biggest problem. I cannot accept the pessimism of the hon. Member for Dudley. He is expert, but I think that he is basing his conclusions, which are definite ones, on too many imponderables. Life has changed immensely since the years between the two wars.
I am not making a political speech; we can all take pride in the fact that our social conditions are infinitely different today from what they were between the wars. After 1939, we had six years of war. Since then we have had twelve years of National Service, plus the different form of life now existing in the country. Consequently, I think that the experiences on which the hon. Gentleman is trying to have his conclusions are falsified by the more recent conditions.
There are a number of things about which we ought to think. First—I want to face this—I am not satisfied with the present recruiting figures. I did not expect that I should be. I expected that, from the moment the White Paper was issued, until we could give the Army the plan for its reorganisation, until we could remove the agony from the minds of officers and men who thought that they would be affected by the reorganisation, recruiting would be bound to decline.
The recruiting figures of male adults have been unsatisfactory, as both sides of the House know, but I am pleased and surprised that that bad trend in adult recruiting has not been followed by an equally bad trend in the recruiting of boys. There, I am glad to say, we show an appreciable increase over the figures of last year. This is very important, because I am convinced that the future 1417 of the Army is largely dependent upon our being able to train our own experts and technicians, and, therefore, on increasing the recruiting of boys and apprentices.
§ Mr. Hare
Between 15 and 16.
I do not want to get into the trouble between the hon. Member for Dudley and his right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey)and I will merely say that, having established the confidence of which I have spoken, there are a number of things which we must do to attract these extra recruits. The right hon. Member said that we must get on with the job, and I agree that we must not delay, but I do not want to be hurried into making false decisions. These are important decisions. Look at the differences which exist between the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley on whether pay has any effect on recruiting. Both the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend know what they are taking about; they are both very wise men. For me to rush into decisions when intelligent men can differ so much would be extremely foolish.
In addition to pay, there are the various questions of allowances, some of which may not be just and which may cause irritation. I have mentioned these in previous speeches. I am also convinced—and I believe that I have the right hon. Member for Dundee. West with me in this—that buildings and general living conditions in the Army must be improved. These things are all being thought about and considered, and I hope that we shall be able to weld them into a great programme which will, I hope, falsify the prophecies of the hon. Member for Dudley.
I do not want to take up too much time, but a number of points have been raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot)and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore)raised the question of the amalgamation of the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots 1418 Fusiliers. I hope that the House realises that I have the greatest sympathy with all these regiments of the Line which have had to amalgamate and also with the regiments of the Cavalry and the Royal Tank Regiment. I also know that this particular marriage, if I may so call it, may be the most difficult of those which I have to impose. But I feel that we must keep a sense of balance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove talked about the Highland City of Glasgow. I do not want to get too much involved in this, but I would say that the H.L.I. is a regiment with a most honourable history; it was formed in the days of Cardwell between the 71st and 74th. They were given the name of light infantry, although they do not carry out light infantry drill. The officers of the regiment became members of the Highland Brigade Club when it was formed in 1914. In the Second World War the regiment fought in the Lowland and not in the Highland Division, and, I think for the first time, wore the kilt in 1946 or 1947. Before that it had worn the trews.
The other factor is that since those great regiments were formed in the eighteenth century such a large proportion of the population of Scotland has moved from the Highlands to the central belt, and it seemed to us essential, to get a fair balance between the Highland and the Lowland Brigades, that each should have four regiments.
I am sorry that this decision has caused such anxiety, but I would point out that, as I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer)said, taking last year, as an example, the Highland Light Infantry recruited from the Highlands only six of its total number of recruits. The vast majority came from within the City of Glasgow.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the recruiting figures for the Highland Light Infantry and for the Royal Scots Fusiliers are going up or down at present?
§ Mr. Hare
I hope that they will be going up as a result of the various encouraging speeches which, I hope, hon. Members will make, perhaps, after I have sat down. Obviously, at the moment, I cannot answer that question, but the hon. Gentleman knows that I am genuinely 1419 sad that this amalgamation has proved to be necessary.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)made a speech that I think he would have preferred to have made about half an hour earlier, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply would have been in his place. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the various points and allegations made by the hon. Gentleman. I think that I am more or less protected, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not expect me to give a very detailed reply.
I do not agree with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who talk about this compensation as being generous. I hate quarrelling with the hon. Member for Dudley, but I will not accept that this is such a generous compensation. If we remove a man from his chosen career at its very peak, when he could look to good prospects of promotion, it is difficult to say, in terms of money, how generous is the treatment. I believe that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, the terms of the compensation are fair and honourable and that that is a far better description than those used by the hon. Members for Dudley and for Coventry, East.
§ Mr. Wigg
My views on this subject are conditioned by what I have seen happen over the last twenty years and more. Compared with what Governments have ever done, these figures are staggering in their generosity. If, however, the principle contained in the White Paper is to be standard Government practice for all sections of the community, irrespective of whether or not it is politically convenient to the Government of the day, I am delighted, and I would withdraw the words "staggeringly generous" and apply them to the Government and not to the terms.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Can the Secretary of State say whether a Supplementary Estimate will be necessary for this compensation, and how far it will affect the savings supposed to have been made on the defence programme this year?
§ Mr. Hare
A Supplementary Estimate will, so far as I know, not be necessary, because this compensation will not be paid out until the next financial year.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West mentioned resettlement, as did other hon. Members, and I fully agree that we have to do everything possible to see that the officers and men who become redundant and eligible for this compensation use the money wisely and do not get into the hands of "sharks", as one hon. Member warned. We have already thought of that, and the point will be energetically dealt with. There is the committee under Sir Frederic Hooper, and the Ministry of Labour is on this point, and interviewing panels will see that officers and N.C.O.s are given advice as to the sort of thing they should do and give the sort of warning which hon. Members had in mind.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
My right hon. Friend had left me, at least, with the impression that there is no compensation in this financial year. Is that what he means, or can he correct that?
§ Mr. Hare
The compensation will fall on the Vote of the next financial year.
I should like to get on as quickly as possible, because I want to answer as many points put by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen as I can.
Next, the cap badge, about which several hon. Members have spoken. As I see these brigades, they are to foster and nurture the regiments within them, and there has, consequently, to be this dual loyalty. Those who served during the last war in the Army had a dual loyalty to their regiment and to the division and, in view of the fact that so much is to centre around the brigade and since every recruit has to be trained at the brigade depot, the brigade will mean a great deal to all who are in it.
Furthermore, since officers and senior N.C.O.s will be on the roll for promotion prospects—that is, from colour sergeant and major upwards, respectively—there will have to be a good deal of interposting from regiments within any brigade.
I think that the cap badge is a good idea for avoiding what I think is an appalling indignity for any man; that is, to have to take off his cap badge when posted from one regiment to another. We are doing all we can to retain the regimental traditions by the fact that men 1421 will retain their collar badges and everything below.
I apologise for keeping the House for so long, but so many interesting points were raised. I would like to end by saying that the Army as a whole has generously accepted the need for this reorganisation and that is a great tribute to the loyalty and sense of realism which exists. Much of the anxiety and uncertainty has been removed and, to use the term which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley has used, we shall continue to try to see that we get the all volunteer Regular Army on which I have set my heart and which, I think, in his heart of hearts, the hon. Gentleman wants and thinks we can get.