§ [SECOND DAY]
§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question—[31st October]:
§ That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows;—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament:— [Sir R. Robinson.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were now to indicate what I believe to be the wishes of the House about the grouping of the topics in this current general debate.
I understand that it is desired to concentrate attention today upon defence; tomorrow, upon foreign affairs; and on Friday, upon education.
On Monday and Tuesday we shall be concerned with Amendments, but as I have not seen them yet, I cannot say any more about it now.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
We are having this debate at a time when, wherever it looks, the nation is faced with very great problems; at home, in our domestic situation; abroad, in our international policy; in our economic situation, and in the defence arrangements we must make for our country. I must say that the speech we heard yesterday from the Prime Minister, presenting the proposals that he, as Her Majesty's chief adviser, had felt right to make to her, seemed to me far and away below the needs of the moment.
There were times when I felt—and I had the pleasure of hearing the Prime Minister twice yesterday, unlike most hon. Members, who only heard him once—that we were very nearly back in the declining years of Mr. Ramsay 167 Macdonald. We did not exactly have "on and on and on" and "up and up and up," but we did have "seizing every problem" and "grasping every opportunity." We heard about the "penalties of failure," we heard about the "prizes of success," but we did not hear very much about any kind of specific ideas in any of the fields concerned, or about how this country at this stage seeks to deal with the tremendous problems that face her.
My own conclusion was that we are now at the halfway stage of the life of this Government—a Government that is over the hill. There is the "double banking" about which we have heard so much, which produces two of everything. We now have virtually two Prime Ministers, two Foreign Secretaries, two Chancellors of the Exchequer—[HON. MEMBERS; "Two Oppositions."]—If the five or six hon. Members down there below the Gangway give the Prime Minister every comfort, he is entitled to it. We have two of everything and, as I am reminded, yesterday we even had two Queen's Speeches, which must be pretty nearly a unique achievement for any Government at any time. What I think we may now have is twice the muddle they made single-handed, and that is a most fearful prospect for us.
If hon. Members would like to follow this through, I think they would agree that what stands out even more is that the proposals seem to be composed as though we were really unaware of the real problems that face our country. There is not one single imaginative attack on our difficulties. We have the purely destructive, as in the proposals to break up the British Transport Commission. We have the purely ingenious proposals, if the word "pure" is the right one to use in that connection, but as The Times describes them, to get over or try to get round our difficulties in (manpower in the Forces. We have many things that are wholly irrelevant, whatever may be their other claims on our attention. And then we have, in one simple sweep, the casual ending of a centuries-old tradition of which this nation has been proud—I refer to the proposals about immigration.
There is, in that easy, casual decision, wiped out, I repeat, a tremendous tradi- 168 tion that we have built up literally over centuries. There is in the reference no attempt to deal with the real problems that lie behind this; no ability to recognise that they are social problems and welfare problems; that these are community problems that we provide for in this country communally, and that that is exactly the field in which Her Majesty's Government have chosen to make their most vicious cuts and most vicious attack on housing expenditure and provision.
There is no recognition of that at all. There is an attempt, of course, to make it apparent that this is not a colour bar; that it has to do wholly with economic and social pressures. Well—I do not know. We have just recently had two issues which, whatever their intrinsic merits, are of enormous concern to every country in the Commonwealth, this great association of free and equal peoples. There is the Common Market and our decision to go there or to inquire about going there, and now there is the issue of the control of immigration.
On neither of these subjects have the Government either started by consulting a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference or been willing to give an undertaking that they will not take a final decision before consulting a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. The fact that this is their attitude to the Commonwealth ought to shed a very great and gleaming light on what is moving there and on what their relationship to and their real thoughts about the Commonwealth are.
When people say that colour is not at the bottom of this proposal, I must recall that the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), who has played a very prominent part in this campaign, advocated in this House in 1958 a restriction on immigration into this country, particularly on coloured immigrants. The Daily Mail, earlier this year, reported the hon. Gentleman as saying:This is a white man's country and I want it to remain so.The Government cannot easily dissociate themselves from the hon. Member for Louth, because that is where the campaign blew up; that is how it came about that the conference proved a wee bit too strong for the more liberally-minded members of the Government.
169 There is not a lot of difference between the claim that "This is a white man's country and I want it to remain so" and Sir Oswald Mosley's demand to "Keep Britain white".
We are treated to facts and figures about this. They reveal that 95 per cent. of the coloured immigrants into this country find jobs soon after their arrival. Anyone who deals with essential but uncongenial, often lowly paid, services—and we do in the great trade union to which I am proud to belong —can inform the Government that there is little we could have done to keep transport and other essential community services going if we had not had that reinforcement over the past few years. This really should be taken into account.
The failure to discuss this in advance with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers or to be willing to accept their views before coming to a final decision will have a much harsher result than the Prime Minister seems to understand. I gather that it is not the influx from the West Indies that is so much in the minds of hon. Members opposite and bothering them. I gather that they are concerned about the influx or movement from the Asian Commonwealth countries, particularly India and Pakistan.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister paid tribute to some Commonwealth countries which have tried to help to arrange and regulate this from their end. In that, India and Pakistan certainly appeared. There is currently very great unhappiness in both India and Pakistan about the British Government's proposals. Do Her Majesty's Ministers think that they are making it easier to get co-operation and voluntary regulation by acting in this arbitrary fashion to appease their own less thoughtful supporters than had they frankly put the other side of the coin before them?
I live in a borough in London where this, if there is a human problem, is a problem. I live in Camberwell amidst the problem. As I have told the House before, my brother is responsible for the housing and welfare of these people, and it is a problem. I do not deny that. People living there feel it, but they feel it because the Government will not give them any financial or other help to deal with the problem.
170 The proposal to take these powers is not really to solve the difficulties, and the real consequences of the proposal is to give themselves an alibi for what they are refusing to do, whether for brown, black or white, in boroughs like Camberwell in London, and in Birmingham and cities throughout the country. The casual way in which this is dealt with is a gross reflection on Her Majesty's Ministers, and if the House were easily to accept it, it would be on the House.
I now turn to (the omissions from the Gracious Speech. The proposal of the Government to introduce the long-overdue Measure based on the Gowers Report is not mentioned. We have had many and solemn undertakings to do this, and I hope that a Government spokesman today will take up this point. May I say in parenthesis that one of the problems of our debates is that we divide them for general convenience but that this makes it easy for Ministers who wish to avoid making a reply to a question. The Prime Minister did not do it yesterday because he had other things with which to deal. The Minister of Defence did not do it, and so on. We are left, then, with the new Leader of the House. Will he tell us about Gowers? Does the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) piloted through this House take legal effect from January next year in the absence of any proposals to do anything about it, and are the Government putting their resources, if required, behind it to see that the Bill is effective? Even though the Government said that they were not happy about it in Committee, it was carried without their support.
What about the Weights and Measures Bill—the great shops charter? It took eleven days in the House of Lords and kept their Lordships sitting some longish nights. I understand that that has a different connotation for their Lordships. Nevertheless, they sat rather late. They considered 400 Amendments, for it was that important; yet now it is not mentioned, and I want to know what is being done.
Then there is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's only real concession to those who are in favour of creating a climate for effective co-operation, not only 171 between management and labour, but between industry and the Government— a tax on speculative capital gains. That, too, is omitted. Has it disappeared, or are we to hear more about it?
On the economic front, the full-scale debate when the House will turn its attention wholly to this, will come on Tuesday. There is time between now and then for the Chancellor—who is not with us today—to decide what, in fact, he did say at Leicester. As reported, we understand that he said that he was sorry. He took the blame for a mistake and he just did not think that increases in personal incomes would matter.
This, of course, was rather a remarkable sin to be confessing, but on the other hand it was rather nice to find the right hon. Gentleman willing to go to the confessional. But yesterday the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not say that at all. He said that what he said was "It would not materialise". If he really did say "would not materialise", then he reduces what he said to sheer jabberwocky. It makes no sense at all. On the other hand, it may since then have occurred to someone that first of all he denied it but was then faced with the awkward point that the newspapers said that they had clear reports of it. He may then have concluded that the reporters' outlines for "materialise" and "matter" looked very much the same and that he might get away with it. He really cannot get away with it again. On the one hand, we have la frank confession and, on, the other, an attempt to explain it away.
If the right hon. Gentleman did not mean it—and if that was not what he really thought earlier this year—we are still left without any answer to our allegation that neither the Chancellor nor the Prime Minister really understood then, or understand now, the real nature of the problem we are facing. On this subject I merely point out that the basic internal industrial problem is now to establish a climate for co-operation; how to make a reality of what the Prime Minister yesterday called "inter-dependence". Do the Government still not understand that the health charges of February plus the hand-outs of April— to other people, of course—plus the restrictions of July simply do not add up to a climate in which people can co- 172 operate with each other? The Prime Minister looks surprised, so let me spell it out for him.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I was not surprised. I was looking at the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Brown
I was aware that the right hon. Gentleman was looking at me, but I thought that he was looking surprised. If he was not looking surprised, then I assume that he takes my point, that if the Government give money to people who are more than averagely better off in April—and before doing that place charges on people who are more than averagely poor—and in July they place restrictions on all the things that affect for the most part the less well-off, how can they secure a climate in which management and labour or industry and government are likely to be able to cooperate with each other and share a sense of purpose? This is the point.
If we add to that the refusal to have a capital gains tax and the dropping out of this Queen's Speech of even the very minor suggestion that there should be a tax on speculative property deals, then in fact we are reinforcing the situation, and I assure the Prime Minister that if he thinks in that situation and with that background he is really going to get co-operation, which I desire as much as he does—I heard him claim it twice yesterday—between our members and their industrial management bosses as they call them, or partners as they ought to see them, he makes the most terrifying mistake. He ought not to kid himself or allow himself to be kidded that in that atmosphere that kind of co-operation is possible.
If on top of that they start doing what the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Education are now doing and interfere with negotiating machinery, putting a ban on justified claims, preventing arbitrated and negotiated settlements from working, and solemnly breaking their own negotiated agreements, then at the end of the day they put a premium on militancy. They elevate the conception of fight as against that of co-operation. They provide an absolute incitement to take what one can when one can and how one can.
This, I assure the Prime Minister, is what he is doing in the policy which he and the Chancellor are pursuing, whether 173 they realise it or not. In saying that, I repeat that this is not what we desire. There is a different road that this country could walk industrially, but it would require a very different background indeed from that which they are providing.
I want to turn now to two other main subjects. I want to look at the position of nuclear tests, since that obviously must be at the back of all our minds in debating a Gracious Speech at the beginning of a new Parliament in October, 1961. There is no need, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, for any of us at this stage, speaking from these Dispatch Boxes, to enter into a competition to see whether we can find—I think I am using his words—new phrases to express horror, our detestation, and our absolute sense of shock in my case, that the Russians should have done what they have done.
I would just add this. If there was any room for feeling fresh numbness, I was shaken yesterday to read that Mr. Khrushchev had told the Soviet Communist Party at its Congress that the Soviet scientists had miscalculated the size of the bomb which they had exploded and that, therefore, it was bigger than 50 megatons, but that he was not blaming them, and this was greeted with laughter and applause. I begin to wonder whether there is any feeling or understanding left in the Russian Communist Party, its leaders or its people, if that is their reaction to the explosion of a bomb of that kind with all the tremendous danger and, not only danger, but the actual consequences that it has.
It is not my business to go to the Prime Minister's aid, and I think the House will understand that I am not particularly anxious to do so, but when I heard the Prime Minister yesterday being vigorously attacked—and properly so—on an undertaking by Britain not to do it in the future and being questioned on whether the Americans had taken the right attitude of not doing it now or in the future, I must say I could not help contrasting the concern that we in the democracies, to our eternal credit, have for what we will do and the conditions under which we will do it, with the levity with which the Com- 174 munist countries have actually done it. The comparison is enormous and outstanding.
Having said that, there are some immediate problems on which I think the Prime Minister did not actually carry the House yesterday. One is on the question of protection—immediate protection so far as we, heaven help us, can give it to our children, and the other is to avoid worsening the situation, in both cases, so far as fall-out is concerned. On the question of protection, compared with what the Prime Minister said last week when he answered Questions in the House, it seemed to me that the Prime Minister yesterday did not give us satisfactory answers.
Last week we were told that the Medical Research Council, prior to the explosion of the previous monster bomb, had made some calculations which took into account the explosion of the theoretical 50-megaton bomb. The M.R.C. said that the margin of danger would not be reached unless the "present levels"—I think that means after a possible 50 megaton bomb explosion—had been increased by further explosions. It went on to say that if there were additional explosions, as I understand it, the contamination of milk in the subsequent weeks might cause the annual mean level to approach the maximum level specified. What we have had is not one 50 megaton explosion; we have had a 30 megaton plus. We have had a number of small ones and we have had a 50 megaton plus, which might be anything between 50 and 100 megatons.
It seems to me that if what the Minister of Defence said last week added up on the basis of the M.R.C. Report, as I believe it did, then with the subsequent explosions, while we may not have gone over the danger point, we must be over the warning line now. If we are over the warning line, is it not now time for the Government to take action? There is a distinction here between the warning line and the danger line, and this was carefully explained by the Minister of Defence last week. I am only using his words. There was a point at which we took action and there was a point at which we were actually in danger. I understand from the Minister of Defence 175 that we would take action on the warning line. It seems to me that the explosion since may well have taken us over the warning line.
I ask the Minister of Defence to be much more specific than the Prime Minister was yesterday, and I want to put two points to him. Would it not be better, as I suggested before the last Parliament rose, in view of the additional fall-out and the additional charging of the atmosphere with these horrible things, now to tell mothers of young children that they can have the powdered milk if they wish it, leaving ourselves free to make the actual compulsory—if that is the word—issue later? I say this to the Prime Minister because if we want to avoid panic it is tremendously important that people should know that their safety or the safety of their own children is not committed to some gentleman making a calculation in Whitehall or elsewhere. Put it beyond all doubt.
If that is what the Government really think, they should say, "We do not ourselves think we are really over the warning line"—though it would be hard to understand that in view of what the Minister of Defence said last week—but if they say that, then I do not see why they do not also say, "But if you feel a sense of insecurity, the powdered milk for your child is available and you can go and get it so that you can have an absolute feeling of comfort." On the basis of the M.R.C. report, does not the Prime Minister think it is time to do something now for those in the high-ground areas in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere who, the M.R.C. clearly showed, are probably already over the warning line and who must now be in danger because they will have had more than anybody else? Does not he think, since the Minister of Defence said that this could be a regional arrangement, that we should here and now take protective steps for those people?
I am bound to say that I understood parts of what the Prime Minister said about the worsening of the situation but I certainly did not understand other parts. I hope that the House as a whole, including even those of my hon. Friends who disagree with me. is in no doubt about the facts. In 1958, Mr. Gromyko, putting it in so many words, 176 made it perfectly plain that, if any of the great Powers which possess these weapons were to explode more, then the others—I think he spoke directly of the Soviet Union, in fact—then the Soviet Union would feel free to follow suit in the pursuit of the security of the Soviet Union. In 1960, Mr. Khrushchev was much more explicit. He said that, if any one of the great Powers did it, the others would be forced to follow.
At that stage, the Russians saw the problem with great clarity. It would not be intelligent—and the Russians would not allow it for a minute—to assume that there is not a problem for the rest if one of the great Powers goes ahead and explodes its own bombs and conducts a series of explosions. We are dealing here not only with 50-megaton bombs or 80-megaton bombs—if we were, I think I could face it a little more easily—but we are dealing with a succession of small ones, under the sea and in all kinds of places, which could very much change the situation. We must accept that; otherwise, we do not start the discussion from an intelligent point.
On the other hand, I put it tc the Prime Minister—I think he ought to have been clearer about this yesterday —that it does not follow that the West should resume testing just because tests have been resumed somewhere else. It would be a terrible thing to do. The situation calls for a great deal of calm and calculated consideration. Nor docs it follow that, even if we do start again, which I hope we shall not, we need ever again test in the atmosphere. There was a stage when the West was prepared to have a test agreement and would have liked a test agreement which excluded the atmosphere and restricted any possible testing to sites below ground.
Cannot we say, first, that we, Britain, do not intend as a consequence of what the Russians have done to resume tests? I say "we, Britain". Yesterday, the Prime Minister constantly spoke of "we" and it was not always clear whether he meant we, Britain, or we, the West. Trying to be as responsible as I can, I cannot see any reason why we, Britain, should not say that, in the light of out military posture and what we have.
Second, cannot we say that we, the West, will not resume tests until it becomes clear to us that the Soviet Union 177 has broken through or is breaking through in some important new area, for example, in anti-missile defence? Cannot we say that we will not resume testing for any other reason, and that we certainly will not do so for any political reason whatever. I see no reason why we should not be able to say that. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Prime Minister said it."] I do not think that the Prime Minister did say it. If he will read what he said, I think he will find that it was not at all clear.
§ Mr. Brown
With respect, it is no use the Prime Minister, in a slightly bad-tempered way, saying that I had better read it. If he cannot carry me with him in what he said, there are bound to be a great many people in the House and outside whom he is certainly not carrying, and he really ought not to take that view.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that, if there were some great Soviet scientific advance, he would consider that the Government were free then to make tests?
§ Mr. Brown
I thought I had made it perfectly clear. I will try again. I believe that deterrence, that is to say, the knowledge that one side cannot use these weapons against the other side without a certain consequence which is not worth their while, is in present circumstances the way in which we keep them out of use. It follows from that belief, which is not a new one to me, that if one side knew the answer to the other side's way of delivery and the first side did not have the same knowledge, the whole point of deterrence would be destroyed.
If we had reason to believe that the other side were breaking through in, for instance, anti-missile defence, that would create the very situation that Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Khrushchev had in mind. But it does not follow that the explosion of 50-megaton bombs at 12,000 ft., as the Prime Minister told us yesterday, bombs which he was careful to say had no military significance, gives us a reason for saying that we ought to resume testing. In my view, we ought to be very much more 178 firm about it than the Prime Minister was yesterday.
These are matters which, quite properly, terrify many people. There is in the Gracious Speech a reference to disarmament, but it is a reference of the most perfunctory kind. It is said that the Governmentwill do their utmost to achieve general and complete disarmament under effective international control".They might easily have added that they were also in favour of an early spring low taxation, and all the rest. The reference to disarmament is really quite perfunctory.
There are problems to be solved if we are to get disarmament negotiations going. The Disarmament Commission must be re-established. We must widen its membership. We must put a set of proposals before it. What I hope we shall hear from the Minister of Defence, which we wholly missed from the Prime Minister yesterday, is a reference to any ideas which the Government have and to some real enthusiasm for getting disarmament negotiations going again. We are all accustomed to say that disarmament is the great hope for mankind. It is extraordinary how perfunctory we sometimes are in our references to it.
I turn now to what is said in the Gracious Speech about defence. As the House knows, the proposals appear to be to hold back in the Services some National Service men for a further six months and to call up some men who finished their National Service at various times during a quite long period in the past and compulsorily bring them back for another six months' service.
The first comment I make about that is that I do not know what the proposals mean. I listened with great care to the Prime Minister yesterday. I have had a report—I did not hear it—of what the Secretary of State for War said on television last night. I am not clear about whom it is intended to call back or, indeed, whether it is intended to call anybody back. The Prime Minister said that we may not use these powers. I gather that the Secretary of State said both that and that he did not quite know even when the legislation was coming before the House.
A proposal of this kind must at this moment be having its consequences on 179 many men in the Army and on their families. To launch it on the country and say that one does not even know whether one will want it or when one will want it suggests that the story that Mr. Gilpatrick suddenly bounced this on the Government a few days ago is probably right. If it is not right, and if it is nonsense, as the Minister says— it is for him to show that in a moment —how is it that we have such a half-baked proposal as this that no Minister, including the Prime Minister, really understands it?
I should like to quote from what the Prime Minister said yesterday. He really must stand up for what he says. He stated that there would be no point in reintroducing National Service or selective service. He said almost immediately afterwards thatconscription would be a wasteful and inefficient method of solving a temporary problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October. 1961; Vol. 648, c. 35.]What does he think this is? This is conscription.
§ Mr. Brown
Not only of a form; it is conscription. A number of young men are being compelled to serve willy-nilly in the Forces. It is being done selectively. The Government are not taking the next batch of young men who are available. They are selectively saying, "We shall take that batch and compel them to serve."
Neither of the statements of the Prime Minister to which I have just referred is even true, let alone a rational explanation of what is happening. This is not only National Service; it is not only selective service. It is a most grossly unfair form of selective National Service. It is not even being done by the ballot. The Government are picking chaps who are in and saying, "You stay." They are picking chaps who were in and saying to them, "You come back", regardless of their responsibilties. Many of those out of the Services will now be married men with considerable responsibilities. Regardless of whether they are young men who did their service early and are now in universities or technical schools, the Government are saying, "You come out". 180 They are doing it to many men regardless of the fact that they are now older men who deferred their service in order to finish their courses at university and to finish their apprenticeships. These are more mature men with important jobs to do.
This is selective service and about as unfair a form of selective service as one could possibly devise. However, it is easier than others. It does not involve the same problems as others, and I am afraid that that is the reason why the Government have introduced it. Nor do I think that it has anything to do with Berlin or the German crisis. I think that that is just a convenient excuse for doing it. What has happened—and it is for the Government to disprove this—is that the notion that the figure of 165,000 men would be reached early enough in 1963 probably does not appear to the Government to be so likely now. Further, they have given up the notion that the job could be done with 165.000 men instead of 182,000 men. The convenience of this system is that we get 20,000 men for the next four years by taking 20,000 out of those who are in for six months and then calling up 20,000 continually for the next four years, therefore arriving at the figure of 180,000 over the next four years. I believe that this is the real attraction for the Government. It would have been much better if the Government had told the House that and then taken time to work out some sensible long-term methods of achieving the desired result.
The refusal of Ministers to face facts —this continual dissemination every time we discuss the matter—has not only brought about a collapse of any defence policy but has left us with far more than manpower problems. The problem of the Army, as I well saw last week, is not only manpower. Indeed, it may not even mainly be manpower. The problem is the arms that our men bear, the equipment which they have and the strategy, the policy, behind which they are operating. These are things which we have not settled, and until we settle them we shall not put our policies right.
I believe that we have to decide the last point first. We must decide what we did not even attempt to decide until 1957. We may look back on the Secretary of State for Commonwealth 181 Relations and say that he took all the wrong decisions. It may be said that some of us were tempted to support that which turned out to be wrong. That does not matter. Since 1957 there has been no attempt to deal with problems in the light of the developing situation. We have to decide and Ministers have to decide—and the Prime Minister is supremely responsible here—what we shall accept in the way of commitments. We have to decide those commitments which require national forces provided by Britain and those commitments which will be met by Alliance forces to which we provide only a contribution— it may well be an unbalanced contribution. We then have to decide the priorities within those commitments.
My view is that the problem in B.A.O.R. will not be met by this hurried proposal of the Minister. The problem of B.A.O.R. is a clear failure to answer the question about commitments, priorities and purpose. In everything that I have said and written since I came back from B.A.O.R., I have been very careful not to be too precise, because here we have a problem. We have a problem of the morale of the men who are there and a problem of public opinion here.
I have told the Minister that I will discuss with him my views about individual deficienies. I have avoided talking about them in public and I propose to avoid that now. This puts discussion in the House in some sense into blinkers. This is the problem of democracy. Everyone is listening to us, whereas no one is listening to the Central Committee or Secretariat in the Kremlin. This puts us in a difficulty. If we are to operate like this, there must be absolute understanding about terms between both sides of the House and those who have information on this matter.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister—he does this again and again on every kind of subject, whether it is the Common Market, tests, Europe or defence with a tremendous easiness which horrifies me—spoke about things which I feel he had not seen until he read out the piece of paper in front of him. He said that there are, curiously but naturally enough, deficienciesnot in the teeth but in the tail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 35.]182 That means that there are deficiencies, not in the great fighting parts of the Army, but in the administrative parts. That is not so. A Prime Minister who does not know that is tremendously uninformed. [An HON. MEMBER; "Nonsense."] It is no good saying that I am talking nonsense. I have just come back from Germany after the most careful investigation. I shall be held to account for what I am saying because there are people who know whether I saw what I say I saw. [Interruption.] Does the Prime Minister wish me to prove it?
§ Mr. Brown
I shall be answerable to those who brief me and to the units that I saw.
Let me tell the Prime Minister that pretty well every unit and battalion in B.A.O.R. is short of its peace-time, present-day requirement, never mind about its war-time establishment. If he is talking about teeth, let me tell him this. The gunners are short, the signals are short—and I have the figures. I know what the tolerances and what the percentages are. The P.B.I. is short. One cannot go to a battalion and find the men there. If infantry, gunners, sappers and signals are not the teeth, what the devil is the teeth of the British Army? If doctors and medical orderlies are not in the teeth, I do not know what is—and they are much worse off.
Do not let us deny the position. We must get it established, otherwise we will never deal with the problem and never produce a policy. All of them are short. I am talking of the present day and not the strength to be mobilised after things look bad. I am talking about present-day, peace-time establishment. Do not let us pretend about this. The Prime Minister ought to require much more information.
Let me turn from men, because it is not only a question of manpower, to arms and equipment, again trying to do this very difficult job between presenting what I ought to make public and not going too far. In terms of arms, the situation is bad, is worrying and will be made worse if the Government increase the number of men, as was 183 made plain to me while I was in Germany. If the National Service men are held in and the flow of Regular recruits comes through, the position concerning equipment will be made worse, because it has to be spread around.
We are short of a modern anti-tank missile. There is no secret about this. Our artillery batteries do not have the conventional aids which they ought to have. I do not suppose there is any question of the enemy not knowing this. We are short of other arms. I will specify them if Ministers wish. Even our nuclear weapons—there is no question of the enemy not knowing this; they have a mission this side of the line, as we have a mission their side of the line—are the oldest, the earliest and the most cumbersome mark of their kind.
We are short of modern radio sets. As I have written this morning, I saw a unit in a crack armoured brigade, not one that had been at the end of the queue for re-equipment, but one which had a certain degree of priority. What did I find? I asked the fellows. They showed me their vehicles. I saw their sets. Some had one kind of set and some had another. Those who had the one could not talk direct to those who had the other. If the commander of the unit went out and was separated from his vehicles, he could not talk to any of them direct. I am not pretending that they could not talk to each other by a very roundabout route, provided he could get headquarters on his set and then headquarters, who had both, could get the other chaps on the other set. The other chaps could talk to headquarters and, provided that nothing had happened in the meantime, they could talk to him.
That is unbelievable, but it is the situation. The Government will not improve it by putting more men there. That will make it worse. We all know— we have been told many times—that we have no modern cross-country armoured personnel carrier. I was not able to be present to see what the Minister showed off the other day at Chobham, but my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) saw it and told me what a wonderful vehicle it will be, but we shall not have it in service until 1963 or 1964. To call up now more men who cannot be moved, because we do not 184 have the armoured mobility for them, will not make it any better if we still do not have the weapons until 1963 or 1964.
There are other frightening things. Does the Prime Minister know about combat clothing? Does he know that we are not providing combat clothing for the personnel we have now? Does he know that we are using old Korean things, which used to fit ordinary-sized men but the more they are cleaned up, fit smaller and smaller men and are no good for the tall chaps, as one C.O. put it to me? I doubt—this I do not know, but I ask the Prime Minister—whether any of them have seen anti-contamination combat clothing for use in a nuclear war. There is much more I could mention.
The Prime Minister's answer to all this is a hurried decision to hold back 20,000 men. This is all part of a whole problem that involves arms and equipment. We would do far better, as it happens—I believe this to be the view out there, although I hold responsibility for it myself and attribute it to nobody else—by solving the problem of equipping the men who are at present in the B.A.O.R. than we would by finding some way of adding another couple of thousand to them in the near future.
Nor is the basic doctrine established. There have been some elaborate, sensational and inaccurate criticisms of the British Army. I think it wrong to suggest, as has been suggested, that we are prepared to go nuclear early in a conflict and, in that sense, we are out of step with our allies and with N.A.T.O. I do not believe that that criticism holds water and I offer it to the Minister happily. I am, however, now persuaded that the whole N.A.T.O. strategy of nuclear and conventional "when and how" is as confused as it has ever been.
I do not believe that our generals clearly know what the intentions are, and I will say why. The strategy and the directives, I suspect, are what they always have been, or have been for a very long time, and I have reasons, which I included in my notes but which, on second thoughts, I will not mention, for saying why I think that this is so which I will discuss with the Minister.
What has happened is that speeches have changed. Speeches from the 185 White House have changed. Speeches from S.H.A.P.E. have changed and speeches by Ministers have changed, but I do not believe that the equipment or the posture has changed and I believe that the early use of nuclear weapons in any conflict of any size is the doctrine, whatever we may say about it.
The point is that it is leading to a most curious situation. Commanders are being led to say, "We do not want any more troops, partly because when we get them it will complicate our business of housing, it will complicate the use of our vehicles and our weapons. It will prevent us giving them welfare at all." They are saying all that, but commanders are also saying, "There is no point in it, because I do not know what they tell you at home, but in the kind of war we shall be in we shall not want that number of troops. "This is how the whole thing is getting disorganised. This is how "Spearpoint" came to look so ridiculous. Until the Government put right their strategy and their basic policy, it is the height of stupidity to do this kind of little thing, which comes so hard on individuals and contributes nothing to the overall position.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about what he now believes to be the attitude of commanders towards the additional men coming into the Army, will he now say whether he still stands by his accusation against the generals the other day alleging that they wanted consoription?
§ Mr. Brown
These are two quite different things. There are generals and they are in the right hon. Gentleman's place, and I can name them, who want to go back to conscription and who briefed correspondents to display certain weaknesses in order to get it That is what I meant the other day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is monstrous?
186 Yes, but just now, when I was being so careful to answer criticisms of "Spearpoint" to the benefit of the Government, did the Prime Minister have the grace to say "Thank you"? No. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Wait a minute. This is the whole problem with this right hon. Gentleman, that one is all the time taken for granted: we are the junior ranks; it is our duty to support them; but it is "monstrous" if we ever criticise them. This is the whole problem, and the Prime Minister must take the rough with the smooth in this. There are some respects in which I think the Government have been improperly criticised; there are other respects in which I think they have not.
Let me say very briefly what I think ought to be done here. [Interruption.] Yes, the Secretary of State knows well who I am talking about. Let me now say what the Minister ought now to be doing.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
No. [HON. MEMBERS; "Shame."] I am sure it is a shame, but it is also a shame if one takes too much time. [HON. MEMBERS; "Hear, hear."] The hon. and gallant Gentleman will have every opportunity to answer me, and I will listen and take note of what he has to say, with the respect I have for him, but now I should like to bring my remarks to a conclusion.
But I feel I have a duty to say what I think we should be doing. First we should attack the real problems of the defence policy, and I will say what I think these are.
First of all we should review—I think we have to review—'and change our overseas commitments. We must both cut some of our commitments out and we must alter the method of covering others. [HON. MEMBERS; "Which ones?"] One could in fact cover Far East commitments as easily seaborne as landborne, and it rather helps that the Navy and the Marines find it easier to recruit than the Army does. We have 20,000 soldiers or thereabouts in Singapore and Hong Kong. A lot of these would be an enormous help in other problems. We have blocks of soldiers elsewhere, and it is very difficult to seo what their real purpose would be if they had to do the job which, one assumes, 187 they are there to do. We should then establish the priorities of what remains. My view is in the present political circumstances that the European theatre must have first place.
We should make great changes in the Army organisation. I believe the ratio of command to fighting men— not tail to teeth, though it is partly true of that, too—of command to troops in B.A.O.R., is quite out of what it ought to be. We have far too many echelons of command even (though the claim is that we may be more flexible. We should certainly review the organisation of the Army. We have more tail in each division than we ought to have. We should certainly get on with equipment even if it means getting it from elsewhere. I think the Americans have a great responsibility to answer for, for the way in which they have pressured our Allies not to take weapons and items of equipment where the British were in fact better than they had.
But having said that, and saying to the Government that we get as tough as we can, the fact remains that in the end there is no point in having our men in the Army unless they have the equipment which is actually available. And if they are not going to have it till 1964 or 1965—and we are now in 1961 with a terrible gap facing us—then it would be sensible to see that they got it now.
Not all that I have said will commend itself to everybody in the House. That is obvious, but I have given the House the best picture I can of what I feel to be the position. I have tried to suggest the bones of a defence policy. What is incontrovertible is that at the moment our forces are not properly deployed, and are not effectively armed or equipped, and that the basic doctrine behind which they are to operate is not the one which would give us a chance to fight conventionally and hold the pass. In defence, as in economic affairs, and in the country's whole social conditions, the Government, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister on the basis of yesterday, show an awful shortfall from what events and the country require.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I do not think that I need spend a lot of time on what I thought the somewhat perfunctory remarks which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) made about general issues in the Gracious Speech, except just to say two things. First, about immigration. The right hon. Gentleman talked a lot about the Commonwealth aspects of immigration, and so did his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. I must put this to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he think that it makes it any easier to solve what he himself recognises is a grave problem by prejudging it in this House before he even has all the facts?
Secondly, may I say that I had the honour for four years to serve in the Ministry of Labour under Lord Monckton and with the late Sir Godfrey Ince, a very great Permanent Secretary, and I knew Sir Arthur Deakin, as the right hon. Gentleman did, and the rest. I know of the need of partnership in industry, but, again, I must say that what I learned in those four years, when I got to know—and I remember the friendships—both employers and trade unionists, is that this nation cannot take more out of the national not than it puts in. [HON. MEMBERS; "Oh."] It cannot; and when it tries to do it the Government are not fulfilling their duty it they do not put a check on that process. Everybody knows that that is the truth.
Turning to the question of nuclear tests, the first announcement will be made today from the office of the Minister for Science, although it is put out by the Agricultural Research Council. The first results of the investigation which I and which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised into the levels of iodine 131 in milk—we promised that there would be regular announcements of this kind—will be issued later today.
I think what the House will want to know from me at this stage is that it does show quite clearly not only as a countrywide average, but also as an average, in what we all accept are the most vulnerable areas, particularly Scotland and Wales, that the present levels 189 are still below, and, in some cases, well below, the warning level: not the danger level; this is the warning level. [HON. MEMBERS; "What are the figures?"] It is a complicated announcement. I think that hon Members had better read the announcement as soon as it comes out, but that, I think, is the main point which the House wants to know.
I should say one other thing, because we must get the facts right in what is a very difficult and very technical matter. First, we are not yet sure what is the make-up of the monster bombs which the Russians have let off. We are not consulted about them, and have no means of telling what proportion of fission and fusion is in the explosive process. As I explained the other day, it will be some time yet before the monitoring of the radiations can tell us, and until we can tell this it is not possible to say whether the radioactive iodine constituent will be heavily deposited or not.
Therefore, I think it right to take the line which the right on. Gentleman the Member for Belper took the other day, though I think he departed from it a little this afternoon, and say that there is no need at the moment for anybody to panic, or to feel desperately worried about this situation. Adequate warning will be given. I must make it plain that all the resources of science in this country, in America, in Sweden and other places cannot yet form a clear picture of how "dirty" these bombs are and, therefore, what kind of deposit will fall from them.
During the next few days, or perhaps weeks, we may get a clearer idea. In the meantime, these regular announcements will be made from time to time and will show clearly, and, I hope, reassure all mothers who may be concerned, that at the moment, as I have said, we are below the warning level still.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Will the statements issued from time to time include some of the figures collected by the Royal Navy monitoring team working in Holy Loch? Will people know what the levels are there? This information has been refused, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and I have been told all the figures the Americans have. 190 This information is no secret to the Americans.
§ Mr. Watkinson
That is quite another question. The general level, which certainly includes Scotland, will be put out and will be an accurate and faithful record of the position.
All I wish to say about the question of nuclear weapons is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday made it perfectly clear that we should not restart nuclear tests in the atmosphere for political reasons. I think that we all agree with that. Of course there is no military aspect in exploding a bomb such as the 50-megaton bomb which the Russians recently exploded. The development of nuclear weapons is most likely to lie in two spheres. One is probably the explosion of relatively small kiloton weapons under the sea. The other is the development, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper said, of an anti-missile missile. For the moment, I understand that American progress can be satisfactorily handled in these sorts of spheres by underground tests, and perhaps I should say again to the House that these tests do not allow any escape of dangerous radioactivity. Therefore, the next step is to do what testing may be necessary underground.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made quite plain yesterday, the British Government's position is that if we at any time become quite satisfied on technical grounds that there is the possibility of a break-through in this sphere —and I think that the right hon. Member for Belper is not wrong and that it is most likely to come in the anti-missile missile field—and tests of this particular device, and I am giving this as an example, cannot be satisfactorily concluded underground, then, obviously, the West, for the sake of its own defence and the strength of the deterrent, would have to consider holding some sort of limited test in the atmosphere.
Those who are interested in this should take account of another point. To test some sort of kiloton weapon under strictly controlled conditions is not any great hazard to health. The hazard to health comes either from a long series of tests which builds up a continuous process of depositing radioactive material, or, and most of all.
191 from the explosion of these enormous megaton weapons. Therefore, I do not think that the West is in any bad or improper posture in this and I do not think that we are open to criticism from uncommitted nations or anyone else for the stand we have taken. As to disarmament, whatever views the right hon. Member for Belper may have about my right hon. Friend's speech, nobody has tried harder to get disarmament than the British Government and the Prime Minister. Nobody in the world doubts that.
I should like to turn now to the main theme of the right hon. Member for Belper, on defence. I say to him perfectly frankly, whether he can accept it or not, that I think he went too far and said things which, on reflection, he will feel and will find are damaging to the general effort. On the other hand, I recognise the difficulties we are all in. I must make a very straight speech, because most of what the right hon. Member said was inaccurate and I think that I can show that it was.
Let us just recognise first and perhaps accept this discipline—and this flows very much from something which the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said the other day. It is very difficult to debate these matters in the House of Commons for the very reason which the right hon. Gentleman gave—that everything we say becomes known to our enemies and everything they say very often does not become known to us at all.
Therefore, I must accept this discipline. I think that here is a fair comment and a fair example of the difficulties that we shall get into if we are not careful. The right hon. Member for Belper wrote a very interesting article today in the Daily Mirror. He was fair enough to say, and this is true:None of the units I saw could be said to be so undermanned that it could not give a reasonable account of itself.The right hon. Gentleman also said in the Observer when he came back, and this is true:But what he had seen had convinced him that, compared with our allies in Europe, Britain was playing a full part in Germany.This, again, is true, but what I complain about is not so much what the right hon. Gentleman says and other 192 critics say, but that the conclusion drawn from the broad sweep of what they say is that we are not capable of doing either of these things. Therefore, let us at least start by recognising that we are capable of doing these things, that we do play a comparable part at the moment with our allies, and that the British Army of the Rhine is capable of giving a good account of itself as it stands.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am coming to the question of weapons. My noble Friend has anticipated me. I will deal with that matter before coming to the issue of the Government's measures.
The right hon. Member for Belper said in the Daily Mirror and he said it again today in the House, concentrating very much on communications:I visited a unit where some men had one set and some another type. As a result they were unable to communicate direct with their commanders or with each other in the field.I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I have a report on this particular situation. Perhaps I should explain to the House that I accept with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War responsibility for seeing that B.A.O.R. is properly equipped and ready to fight. When I went to Germany before the right hon. Member for Belper one of the main purposes of my visit was to have an examination in the light of the deteriorating situation in Europe and to see whether we were doing the right things. I think that I should just read to the House the actual facts as put to me impartially when I called for a report.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I think that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that facts are facts. These are the facts and if he wishes to challenge them he can do so. I asked for a factual report and here it is. It says:As far as wireless sets are concerned, there has been a great improvement in B.A.O.R.'s communications in the last two years, and, as a result of the re-equipment programme, the majority of regimental and lower formations now have modern equipment, although above regimental level we are still relying more heavily than we could wish on older types.193 The right hon. Gentleman, I think, visited the Royal Engineer Squadron which still has No. 19 sets instead of C.13 sets, which have now replaced them for the majority of the B.A.O.R. In other words, the real answer to this—and, again, this shows how what seems to be a criticism, if one is not careful, turns into a damaging generalisation, which is not true—is that the general signals equipment of B.A.O.R. has been modernised and, in general, is up to date and comparable with that of our allies.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Books on Suez noted that this was one of the great difficulties, not only in communications between our Navy and our Army but also between the allies. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that communications are improving and are in existence between the different allies in the field?
§ Mr. Watkinson
Yes, I am. One of the problems to which N.A.T.O. gives a great deal of study is to get comparable signals equipment, and the modern signals equipment of B.A.O.R. is fully comparable and interlocked in the general N.A.T.O. net.
I now turn to the principal issues and the measures which the Government propose.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I shall have a great deal to say about equipment as my speech proceeds, so perhaps my noble Friend will be patient. As to the measures, they can only be seen against the general background of the policy not only for the B.A.O.R. but for the Northern Army Group of which it forms a part. I must say again that, although I accept all the difficulties, most of us in this House have seen two world wars start in our lifetime because of a miscalculation by an aggressor who misjudged the will and the ability to resist of those whom he was going to attack and who in the end defeated him.
Today the greatest danger of war still lies in this kind of miscalculation; it certainly does. Therefore, to contribute to confusion of thought or misunderstanding about military problems in a critical period such as this is to take a very heavy 194 responsibility indeed. It is my duty to try to put the facts, as I have always done, to the House as clearly and plainly as I can. Although the British are very good at talking themselves down, it is a somewhat dangerous pastime when the balance between peace and war is as narrowly poised as we all know it to be.
As to the general battle worthiness of the British Army, the poor old Army has always been subject to intense criticism. What are the facts about its capacity today? I do not agree for a moment with the right hon. Gentleman's contention that our responsibilities begin and end in Europe.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Implying a major withdrawal from the rest of the world for the sake of Europe certainly seems to me to imply that our responsibilities begin and end there. They do not. In June, when it seemed there might be warlike operations in Laos, the Army made the necessary dispositions, and they were successfully made, to meet our commitments in the Far East. At the same time, Army re-enforcements were sent to Central Africa to stand ready in case the Congo emergency required them. In July, we had the operations in Kuwait, and I think that everyone accepts that the landing of the equivalent of a reinforced brigade in 48 hours averted what could have developed into a very ugly situation in the Middle East. By all estimates, this was a highly-successful military operation, and, what was more, it demonstrated that the British Army had learned the lessons of mobility and rapid movement even under the most difficult climatic conditions.
§ Viscount Lambton
I think that this is a matter of the greatest interest to the House. If the strength of the British Army is not a source of worry at the present time, what is the purpose of the present measures?
§ Mr. Watkinson
Perhaps my noble Friend will wait until I come to that. I have no intention of not trying to set this in its proper frame which is, first, to view the plans for our forces as a whole and, second, our world responsibilities, as well as our immediate responsibilities in Europe. Therefore, it is absolutely fair to say, for the sake 195 of the British Army, that it has in recent months carried through complex operations with the utmost efficiency and sense of military purpose. They are operations which would have been far beyond its capacity in 1939, for example.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Or a year or two ago, if the House wants to go further than that. They reflect great credit on all concerned and it is only fair that we should try to strike a fair balance where the facts clearly justify it. At any rate, so far as I am concerned, and perhaps I know as much about it as most people, the Army is not in bad shape and we should be proud of the job that it is doing.
I now turn to Europe and Berlin. As I have said, Berlin must be viewed against the background of our world responsibilities. This is the issue—the right hon. Gentleman, I think, knows it, but he may genuinely have misunderstood and, therefore, perhaps he will allow me to explain it in some detail —that what the Berlin situation has done is to highlight the situation which has been obvious to all of us in this House for some time and which was clearly stated in the 1957 White Paper. It was this: when we take the right step of changing over from conscripts to all Regular forces, the change-over year when the maximum turbulence would be taking place and when the forces would be running down at their maximum rate would be in 1962. There is nothing new in that. What is new is that we now have to look at this year against a situation in Berlin of great gravity. Therefore, the first thing we have to understand, if we are to judge rightly what the Government propose to do, is that it is in the next twelve months that the full effects of the changeover from conscripts to all Regular forces will be most apparent.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, I would say only that, we carefully looked again at the plans made in 1957. All I can say is that it remains the unanimous advice of all the Government's military advisers that the right decision is to press on with the concept of an all-Regular force. I am sure that that is the right decision. If the right 196 hon. Gentleman knows serving officers who, publicly, take a contrary view, perhaps he will be kind enough to let me know who they are, for I do not. know them.
It is said as a corollary to what I have just explained—the right hon. Gentleman himself has implied it—that the measures which we have brought forward are brought forward because we are going to fail in this task, or that we are failing in it. I think that the House would like to know that Regular recruiting is now going better than in any period since the drive for recruits began. I know how hazardous prediction is in this field, but, as my right hon. Friend said yesterday, we still have every hope that our targets will be reached. For example, the figures for recruits from civil life to the Army over the last three months show an increase of no less than 35 per cent. over 1960. Therefore, there is no failure but every hope of success in the Government's plans for the changeover to all-Regular forces.
That does not make any difference to the fact that the target is 165,000 in 1963, and, as everybody knows, it will not be a fully balanced force at that time. If Europe had been reasonably quiescent, if the world had been reasonably normal, that was a changeover period that we could have accepted. That was the fact. But I must make it plain that the change in the situation is the fact that the Berlin problem, with its associated problems, which certainly have not got any easier in the last day or two, has required, and rightly required, a stiffening of the whole of the N.A.T.O. alliance.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
So that those who wish to speak later may make the necessary comparison, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what point since the war he would regard as normal?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I appreciate why the hon. Gentleman has asked that question, but at what point since the end of the war, since the East German insurrection, has the situation in Berlin been as critical as it is today?
§ Mr. Wigg
I was not asking specifically in relation to Berlin. The right hon. Gentleman is painting a picture of the Almighty planting on his plate a problem which he can do nothing about 197 For it to be absolutely fair, we should like to know what point during the last fifteen years he would regard as normal so that we can weigh our present commitments against the commitments in that time of normality.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The hon. Gentleman says that we cannot do anything about it. What he apparently objects to is that we are to do something about it. I can assure him that it is the right thing and also our duty. I think I have explained that situation.
Now we come to what we had to do with B.A.O.R. when the Berlin situation blew up at the end of July. Early in August, after consultation with the Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of State for War, I issued instructions that our forces in Europe should be held at their existing levels despite the substantial run-down which was already beginning owing to the end of National Service. I think that perhaps it is not generally realised that the level of forces which we are holding in Europe today is around 64,000 men, the Rhine Army contingent being around 51,000 men.
During August, after a great deal of consultation with the Chiefs of Staff and Army authorities, we decided to begin a process of selective reinforcement of our forces in Europe which would seek to do three things: first, make existing forces more battleworthy; second, improve the whole posture for reinforcement; and, third, as I have said, compensate for the run-down owing to the ending of National Service.
Announcements have been made from time to time about the progress of this plan. Much of it has still to be implemented, but perhaps I may give three examples. In Berlin, the British commander was given special reinforcements of armoured vehicles. In the British Army of the Rhine—this was the desire of the Commander-in-Chief, General Cassels—it was decided to give first priority for re-equipment to build up our anti-aircraft strength. As I say, this was the Commander-in-Chiefs own wish. That was why we allocated the first surface-to-air guided missile regiment for that purpose, followed by the Army's two most modern light antiaircraft regiments. The Royal Air Force 198 increased its existing strength and started to rotate Lightning squadrons into Germany.
Therefore, we are beginning the steady process of the build-up of new equipment in B.A.O.R. at the same time as we are holding its strength at the figure at which the Foreign Secretary said we would hold it at the N.A.T.O. meetings which took place at the beginning of August. This is, of course, despite the steady drain of National Service men leaving the forces every day and every week. So that is the situation that we had got to by the beginning of September. We held the position and started a carefully planned re-equipment programme on priorities agreed with the Commander-in-Chief.
I must deal with one other general point before going on to our measures. The right hon. Gentleman has talked a great deal about strategy, and he has implied, I think perfectly fairly, that he does not challenge British Army strategy. What he challenges is N.A.T.O. strategy. That is a matter which he can no doubt discuss with General Norstad. What I must make plain, first, is that General Norstad has recently produced a revised emergency defence plan.
I am certainly not going to describe what it is to the House, but what I should say, because it answers some of these suggestions that the allies are out of line, is that this plan meets almost 100 per cent. British current thinking on the right balance between nuclear and conventional weapons and the right disposition in Europe. So we are certainly not out of line with current N.A.T.O. thinking, nor are we out of line with the balance between the nuclear and the conventional. As I have said previously in the House, we conform exactly to the latest N.A.T.O. directives, in this matter both for training and for operation.
There is one last thing that I must make plain if we are to examine, as I think the House wishes to, this important situation against a factual background. The declared Brussels Treaty strength of the British Army of the Rhine is 55,000 men, but this, of course, is not, and never has been, its war strength. To achieve its war strength, the size of the force will have to be more than doubled. Detailed plans exist to do this. I received the personal assurance 199 of the Commander-in-Chief ten days ago that he is entirely satisfied that these plans are ready, up-to-date and efficient, and could be operated quickly. But the point that the House must face is that under present constitutional and legislative arrangements this substantial reinforcement can be made only after a proclamation and is, in effect, a mobilisation on the ground of an acute state of emergency likely to lead to widespread hostilities.
To answer the question about the American Deputy-Secretary of State for Defence—it is not only concerning him —I can say that we have not been asked by our allies to take this grave step. But I want to make it plain that the Prime Minister and I certainly examined this during August to see whether we should take this step to call up 50,000 or 60,000 men from productive employment and plant them down in Germany with very little to do, at least at this moment. I think that it would have been wrong to do so. Also, I wonder what the Russian answer would be to a British mobilisation. I do not think it is in anybody's interest to start an accelerated arms race in Central Europe.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
We have always understood that the object of the British Army of the Rhine was to be a stabilising force to prevent a sudden movement or a sudden overwhelming. It was never designed for a longer role. How is that role to be performed by a force which can be effective only after mobilisation, which Napoleon described as an act of war in itself?
§ Mr. Watkinson
That fact is well known.
The position is as follows, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper himself said in his article, and I entirely agree with him. The present B.A.O.R. force, as it exists, is capable of fighting and giving a very good account of itself, and the whole component of Northern Army Group in its present strength is designed to do exactly what the hon. 200 and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has just said, which is to try to hold a limited incursion or create a short pause in a major incursion in order to give statesmen time to make one more attempt to stop the world destroying itself.
§ Mr. Watkinson
That is the programme and plan for N.A.T.O. As to the balance between nuclear and conventional weapons, the force conforms, as I have said, to SACEUR's latest emergency defence plan.
§ Mr. Watkinson
As the right hon. Gentleman has asked me that question, he will have the courtesy to admit that, when he went to Germany with the Director of Military Operations, every question he asked was answered. He was given every facility. Why? Because B.A.O.R. has nothing to hide. This is a good, viable force, and I am perfectly willing for the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member to have every facility to see what it is doing and to try to understand its functions and its difficulties. The Royal Air Force, as he knows, has both nuclear and conventional capacities, but the conventional capacity can only be produced, so to speak, after a pause for re-equipment. There is no secret about it.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Easington)
Is not there a great deal of confusion about this matter? Is not the Minister aware that even ten years ago—indeed, longer than that—it was not contemplated that we should have more than four divisions— never up to strength—on the Rhine, but that they were to be backed by the buildup of 12 reserve divisions, including territorial divisions? Is that the present position?
§ Mr. Watkinson
As I think is known to the right hon. Member and to everybody else, the present position is that, behind the Proclamation, are reserves which total nearly half a million men, but they are not available until a Proclamation has taken place. These are the facts and I have to face them.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park) rose—
§ Mr. Watkinson
I must get on.
201 B.A.O.R., although it can give a good account of itself, rests on a mobilisation plan, and, therefore, we have had carefully to examine the status of our reserves. I have said that it is not feasible to mobilise the Territorial Army in a time of tension rathen than in a time of acute preparation for immediate hostilities. Unfortunately, the same thing applies to pre-Proclamation reservists. Although, legally, we could take them now, they all understand that, if they are called, a shooting war is due to start very soon.
This was the situation which faced the Government, and we had to try to find what we thought to be the fairest and most sensible solution to it. As I have said, we are keeping B.A.O.R. at something reasonably near what I may call its Brussels Treaty figure. Of course, SACEUR would like us to increase the figure, as he would like any of the allies to increase their strength allocated to him. I must make it plain, however, that I very much doubt whether we can increase the Brussels Treaty figure without recourse to Proclamation and mobilisation, as I have explained.
What are the alternatives? First, we might have returned to National Service. I do not think, as far as I know, that many hon. Members support that doctrine, so I will say only this about it: it could make no contribution to the present situation, because it would be nine months after we instituted conscription, whether we took one class of men or a whole body, before we could get from it a single soldier fit to be used in the field. In addition, it would entail an extra heavy training burden on the Army at a time when it was very stretched and needed its resources for other, more important duties.
In addition, my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations said, When this matter was originally debated—and I still agree that he was right—that a force of about 300,000 conscripts, which was what we had then, has very little more fighting capacity than our target of 165,000 all-Regular soldiers in 1963.
Perhaps I have said enough to show that the immediate problem was, first, not in any way due to a failure in Regular recruiting, that, secondly, con- 202 scription was not the answer to it, and that, thirdly, it arose from Soviet actions in Berlin which, as allies in N.A.T.O., we must try to meet. Clearly, what we had to look for at this important point was a way of stopping the rundown of the Rhine Army due to National Service men leaving at the end of two years to return to civil life. We have to have a holding operation until the process of recruiting has gone further and until we have taken certain steps, which we would have undertaken anyway, to build up the reserve Army.
That is why it was decided that the only way was to retain for six months a proportion of the last intake of National Service men. We should have been failing in our duty had we not done this. It is the only way out of our present, short-term difficulties, however much I regret doing it. This is an unpleasant and unpopular decision, and it is very hard on the young men who have just been caught on the wrong side of the dividing line. But we will not take a single man more than we absolutely need. No one will be taken at the moment, because the House have not given the Government power so to do.
The men will be given the proper three-year Regular rate as soon as they are kept on. We will try to give as much warning to all the men who will be kept on, and will try to administer it as sensibly and reasonably as we can. Our allies are taking similar action. It is the only way to get the quick advantage of trained men, and, unpopular as the decision is, I consider that it is the Government's duty to see it through.
To say that it is a form of selective service mis-states the position, which follows from Mr. Khrushchev's action in building up the Berlin situation into the worst crisis since the East German rebellion, and one which is perhaps even more dangerous than that.
I now turn to the other matters. Of course, National Service men will only tide us over another six months. Let me come, then, to the long-term study which we have been making of our forces. We realise that an all-Regular Army needs a new kind of backing in a new kind of Territorial Reserve. It does not make sense that we should try to get an Army so large that it could meet every 203 kind of possible emergency which arose. To do that would be a waste of resources and would keep too many men in the Regular forces. What we need is a balanced and new kind of Army with a more flexible approach.
After much thought, which has gone on for more than two years, we believe that the right answer to this situation is to have a pool of reservists who can come forward when needed and then be released when danger recedes—in other words, expanding and contracting the Army in conformity with changing demands upon it.
This is, perhaps, a more novel conception than it may seem at first sight, because the conventional idea of the fixed ceiling for the Regular Army has not very much meaning, if we are to make this work at a time of tension— not of shooting—to strengthen the deterrent to war. These young men could be called forward to strengthen the Army in some part of the world where reinforcement was needed. Our present reserve organisation is unfitted to this task.
I hope that the House will accept this as a sensible and practical way of trying to meet this need in a free country which is determined to try to have a volunteer Army, Navy and Air Force. If we do this, then the Regular Army will have behind it, without any need for proclamations or declarations of national emergency, a pool of young men— trained, efficient men—who can come forward quickly when needed. Certainly, to try to show how well worth it we think this is, the Territorial Army Advisory Council is now examining the matter. We are willing to pay these men generously and are thinking in terms of a gratuity and a sum when they are called up. I think that their training can be managed by the Territorial Army, and that, if we can succeed in this, it will turn a new page in the history of our Regular forces.
This is important because, although we are going to take powers for what one might call the part-time National Service men—that is to say, the 140,000 men who, by the time we need them, will have done their National Service but still have a reserve liability—if the scheme works out, we shall need to make 204 little or no call on this third class of reservists. We must clearly take the power, but I hope that if this volunteer service is a success, we shall need to make little or no call on the National Service man who is now in private life, but who still has a reserve liability.
I do not want to go over the details of this scheme. When he winds up this evening, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will answer any queries. I think that it will be seen that we have taken every step to try to protect their jobs—which are now legally protected. I propose with my right hon. Friend to see the trade unions and the employers to see if we can work out a proper joint scheme which will give the men every chance to be seconded and for their return to civil life to be secure if it is necessary to call them up. On the whole, this is the best way of meeting the problem and of balancing the all-Regular Army.
Therefore, the three measures which we propose to ask the House to support are these; first, a six-months' extension for a limited number of National Service men now serving; second and most important, a long-term measure to create this new volunteer reserve of people who would come forward from civil life for not more than six months in a time of tension and be well paid for so doing; third and only as a last resort, a call, again a very limited call, if it is necessary at all, on the National Service man who has done his service and now has a clear obligation for reserve service.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I do not want to be too precise, but the sort of figures which we are thinking about for the combined reserve—it may well be combined with A.E.R. (1) and Section A—are about 25,000–30,000 men.
I want now to refer to the longer-term frame into which these measures fit. It is a three-Services frame, of course. Those who talk a great deal about the so-called failures of Army recruiting do not always note that recruiting for the other two Services is still going very well. I am sure that as we build up this new plan for the all-Regular forces, as we get greater 205 interdependence among them and try to share out their skills so that they can help one another, so we shall be able to make a viable and sensible force in which the three Services will play their parts, although still separately. I myself have no idea that it would be a good thing to merge the three Services merely to get them to work more closely together.
I want now to refer to the views of the right hon. Member for Belper about pulling out major forces from other parts of the world. One must take note of the statements of Commonwealth leaders. As our former colonial possessions emerge into independent nationhood, so they have a very natural and proper desire to look after their own defence to a much greater extent, and I very much welcome that, and we must help them to do so. As this process develops, and it is not very quick, it must greatly relieve the strain on our Service manpower, particularly the strain on the Army manpower.
But the corollary to that—and this is different from the point which the right hon. Gentleman had in mind—is that while that is going on we cannot abdicate our world-wide influence and give up our contribution to the containment of Communism outside Europe. We must devise a new strategic policy based on a flexible mobile force, more independent of the fixed installations on which we rely today. This will need some fairly revolutionary thinking and some evolutionary thinking.
The first great steps towards this were taken more than two years ago following work which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations had done in his time. It is not a very easy or quick task to recast the whole of British defence policy in a rapidly changing world, but, because we are now coming to the time when final decisions will have to be made, I have asked Field Marshal Festing, with the full support of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chiefs of Staff, to come with a small staff of civilians to my Ministry to help me to try to make final progress on this plan. Perhaps the first outcome of these studies will be a subject for our defence debates next year. I do not want to say more about them now.
206 Anyone in my position must feel— and I certainly hope that Marshal Malinovsky feels—the immense burden of being a Defence Minister in a world which can quite clearly destroy itself. It is a difficult problem. It is the more difficult because in our arguments—and I support having arguments because democracy is trying to argue things out —we are hamstrung and handicapped when we try to get to the bottom of things. That is why I did not agree with what the right hon. Member for Belper said, much of it being misleading and dangerous. However, I will try to keep him informed and, if he wants to see me or General Cassels at any time, he is at liberty to do so.
I do not know how we are to do it, but somehow we have to find a way of arguing enough and criticising enough while not destroying the picture in the eyes of an aggressor which may be the one thing to stop him launching us all into a major war.
§ Mr. G. Brown
This is extremely important. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a Russian mission here, with a certain degree of freedom, while we have one in Russia? It is quite likely that they know all about our equipment. The people who do not know are hon. Members and the public.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am glad of the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, but that is not what I was saying. Of course there is a mission on our side and a British mission on theirs. That is a very good thing and I only hope that the missions will not be shut up.
But, if we are not careful in these discussions, factual as we try to keep them, although I may be wrong—I do not think that I am—I always fear that if we go too far, it will not be a matter of the enemy not knowing a great many of these things, but of thinking that our will to resist is in the slightest degree impaired. That would be doing harm which might damage the whole of the delicate balance.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to do it better. I am entirely with him in that. 207 As I said when I made my original statement on "Spearpoint", if there are deficiencies about which I do not know already, I shall be the first to welcome hearing about them so that I can seek to put them right as quickly as possible. On that basis the House of Commons can do business and should do business.
So far as responsibility rests on me, these measures are the least we can do. They are unpopular, but it is my duty and that of the Government to try to carry them through, as it is our duty to try to see that we make it plain that we will play our part, and, if the worst comes, we will fight where we stand for the sake of the Alliance.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman for almost an hour, I should like to begin with the point I made when I interrupted him. The problem now facing the Government is a problem which they themselves have created. The picture painted by the right hon. Gentleman of a wise and courageous Government struggling with adverse circumstances is fundamentally untrue.
My mind goes back to the Whitsuntide of 1952 when, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I initiated an Adjournment debate on the necessity of getting rid of National Service. There were only three other Members present besides the Minister, and it was absolutely clear to anybody who had given five minutes' thought to these problems that if we were to have an all-Regular Army, it had to be a long-service Army.
I remember the struggle I had to get the House in general and the Government in particular to accept the basically simple proposition that if we recruited one hundred men a year, the size of the Army we should ultimately have would depend upon the number of years for which they enlisted; on a three-year engagement, 300 men, on a six-years" engagement, 600 men. It took them until July, 1957, to accept this basic proposition and to get rid of the three-year engagement by introducing a long-service engagement. The Government thus made it absolutely certain that the Army was heading for a manpower shortage in 1960, 1961 and 1962.
208 I repudiate as an insult to my intelligence the idea that the situation with which we are now confronted arises specifically from the Berlin crisis. Of course, basically it has nothing to do with the Berlin crisis at all, and again I apologise in advance for wearying the House with facts which I have given over and over again. What was the commitment we undertook in connection with the Rhine Army? The Earl of Avon, Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, when Prime Minister, signed an undertaking in Paris in October, 1954, to maintain four divisions on the Continent of Europe, in addition to the Second Tactical Air Force, until the end of this century, and he did that because the Government wanted to frogmarch the poor French, who had known three German invasions, into the acceptance of German rearmament.
I opposed it, not because I was against German rearmament—far from it—but because I knew that long before the year 2000—although I must confess that I thought the honour of the Conservative Government would at least last a decade —they would "welsh on it". Before the ink was dry, the four divisions had become 77,000 men, and 77,000 was reduced to 64,000, that figure was reduced to 55,000 and then it came down to 45,000. On 28th July, 1958, the Minister of Defence revealed the truth, for he came to the House and said that the figure of 45,000 was too low, that our N.A.T.O. allies did not like it, and that it would have to be 55,000. That was what the right hon. Gentleman meant this afternoon when he talked about the Brussels figure.
We have never had 55,000; up to a few months ago we had only 48,000. Then, the Secretary of State for War, on 14th September, made a statement to the Press, which was what is known by the Foreign Office as strengthening the hand of the Foreign Secretary when he went to Washington. He announced that three light antiaircraft regiments—the 22nd, the 16th and the 12th—had been ordered to go to Germany. Hon. Members who care to slip out and study The Times and other newspapers will find the announcement of this world-stirring step to strengthen the hand of the Foreign Secretary. If they do, they will believe that three light 209 anti-aircraft regiments have gone to Germany. I checked this morning and it is quite true that in order to save the face of the Secretary of State, who is a truthful man, the 16th has been ordered to go to Germany, but not until next April. It cannot go before, because it has not got sufficient strength.
The Secretary of State said he wanted to strengthen our Rhine Army, and he believed that that was the way to do it. He has also ordered the 36th Guided Weapons Regiment of Thunderbirds, but omitted to say that he had wiped out the 37th Regiment to do it. It is this kind of living from hand to mouth that constitutes a problem of conscience. When one knows these things, should one come to the House and reveal them? My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shin well) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr Bellen-ger) and myself have suggested time and time again, and I repeat it again tonight, that the Estimates ought to be looked at not on the Floor of the House but in Committee in secrecy. We do not need to amend our Standing Orders in order to do that. The procedures are there, and we can do this if we want to do it.
Turning to the practical problem that is facing us, when we come to examine in detail the Government's new call-up legislation, we shall need to be given the facts. At the moment, I cannot find the details of our reserves. Neither in the Army Estimates nor in the Defence White Paper is information given about them. There was a time when the Minister of Defence published in the Vote Office quarterly figures of the reserve forces, and recently I corresponded with the right hon. Gentleman because I anticipated this debate and wanted some information in advance. I got it in a form which was quite unintelligible, and I suggest that it was deliberately presented in that form. Perhaps I am wrong, but I telephoned to his office and to that of the Secretary of State for War, and I have not got the information I want.
It is impossible for any interested or reasonably intelligent Member to understand the Government's proposals unless we have a breakdown in terms of Sections A, B, C and D and Categories 1, 2 and 3 of the Army Emergency Reserve. I understand the Government's 210 embarrassment and difficulties about security, but surely they should be frank during the Committee stage of the Bill and if there are security difficulties, why cannot they refer the Bill to a Committee of secrecy?
What the House is up against is this. Of course, one ought to do nothing and say nothing to jeopardise the lives of those serving in our Armed Forces in any part of the world. Those who serve in the Armed Forces have a right to look to this House for protection and to expect that the House will not increase their danger. It is one thing to be conscious of the difficulties about security, but there is the fact that the Government for their own reasons, for political reasons, do not reveal the truth to us, and I suggest that there was quite a little bit of that this afternoon. In my charity, I do not blame the Secretary of State for War, and certainly not the Minister of Defence. I do not say that they are wicked men intent on concealing the truth.
The simple fact is that I do not believe they know it. I believe that the Minister of Defence is utterly sincere, but I suggest to him that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) did him credit when he said that he would best serve as Her Majesty's Assistant Postmaster-General. That would be over-ranking indeed, for, of course, he is shown to be not fit for his job, when he comes here and tells us the story which he told us this afternoon. For who was it made a speech on 5th November, 1960, at Devizes, which ended up by saying that the Army might prefer 170,000 or 160,000 but it would have to manage? Who said it but the Minister of Defence! This is exactly what the Army is being asked to do. It is being asked to manage on the basis of 165,000 men, which every hon. Gentleman who has taken part in these debates knows, after all, is a "phoney" figure. Viscount Head told us on 28th July, 1958, and it has been repeated over and over again by the hon. Baronet the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), that the figure of 165,000 was the figure which the Government Actuary told them they might be able to recruit. The real figure they need is 182,000, and the order of battle is related to that. In order to 211 bring all the units in the Rhine Army up to strength we need 32,000 individual reinforcements.
I know what the right hon. Gentleman is going to say. He will say that that is the war establishment. It is nothing of the kind. The Government are committed politically to the four divisions, and the right hon. Gentleman has apparently overlooked the commitment into which the Government entered in 1954 and the nature of the planning arising from this commitment. Even with the ceiling of 182,000, there is another factor which the House must bear in mind, and that is that it contains no provision for third-line reinforcement, which means no establishment of base depots and the like.
I have said that the arm of the Army about which one must be most concerned, and the one on which I have concentrated, is the Ordnance Corps. One of my right hon. Friends interrupted to mention Suez. What went wrong in Suez was that the General Staff suddenly placed a burden on the Ordnance services which they could not discharge. If ever again there is a problem of expansion, 90 per cent. of it will fall on the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
I ask the House to bear with me while I give some figures. The original target for the Ordnance Corps was 10,000. The War Office cut it to 8,000. The present strength is 7,100, and the wastage is fantastic. The wastage in terms of discharge by purchase, in terms of men discharged as medically unfit, and wastage for other reasons into which I will not go, is incredible. It is clear that the target of 8,000 will not be reached in any foreseeable period of time, so even if the right hon. Gentleman goes through with these plans for the mobilisation of the reserves, they will break down because the equipment, even if it were there, and it is not, could not be maintained.
Let us look at the alternative and face what hon. Members on both sides have refused to face. What was the alternative to doing something about the manpower problem? It was the easy, soft, option of putting our money on the independent British deterrent, and from 1957 until 13th April, 1960, that cock was fighting hard on both sides, although it was abund- 212 antly clear for at least a year that Blue Streak was not militarily viable. God knows what it cost in terms of security and money, but the strategy of this country was wedded to a weapon that was useless.
What happened after that? Here both Front Benches share a measure of responsibility. They paid lip-service to atomic tactical weapons. They had to, because if they did not put their money on the atomic tactical weapon, conscription would have raised its head long ago. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) will remember the discussions we had in 1958. The House was asked to approve three British battalions with no support weapons taking on three Russian divisions. They were told that they had to stand and fight and, if necessary, would be supported with atomic tactical weapons. Those weapons did not exist then and they do not exist now. We have three composite artillery regiments in Germany; plus two regiments of Corporals. They are atomic tactical weapons, but the warheads are American, so the idea of putting the Union Jack on top of these weapons and thinking that gives prestige or that they are a substitute for a realistic defence is another cock that does not fight.
What was the other argument produced by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the Opposition? It was that we had to have nuclear weapons to make our voice heard in the council of the nations. If our dear old friend Nye Bevan had drawn a royalty of £1 for every time his phrase about going naked was used by multi-lateralists on this side and by those on the other side who wanted to find comfort in it, he would have been a millionaire. If a country has not got essential weapons there is nothing worse than going into a council chamber and saying it has. It is better not to go at all. If anyone thinks that the Americans who at the present time are calling up 25,000 inductees per month for the Army will listen to us when we are calling up none, we are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Although I welcome the return of the prodigal son this afternoon in the terms of much that was said by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), if he or anybody else thinks that we are to get away with the prestige argument, they are living in dreamland. In the meantime, we 213 have the spirit of Baldwinism marching through the land and brave speeches about standing on our rights in Berlin.
The issue of Berlin was settled on 13th August, with no reaction from the West, for the simple reason that they were incapable of any reaction. My reading of these events is that at the time of the appointment of Marshal Koniev, and the appointment of reinforcements to the Russian forces they were terribly nervous, fearful and apprehensive about whether there would be any reaction from the West. There was none.
The past is behind us. I hasten to tell the Minister that I find no joy in this catalogue of events. I find no pleasure in having been proved right. I want an all-Regular Army which can do its job. I have relatives serving in the Rhine Army. I do not need to go to generals to find the truth. Recently, through the kindness of the right hon. Gentleman, I was taken to visit married quarters occupied by my nephew. That was something which the Army did not lay on. It was just one of those accidents. One can find out what is going on without making visits to "Spearpoint". The right hon. Gentleman denies what was said by the right hon. Member for Belper, that "Spearpoint" did not reveal anything. This is true. We did not have to wait for "Spearpoint" to discover that the Rhine Army was under-strength and under-equipped. In January, The Times carried an able article saying this. Everybody knew these things if they wanted to believe them.
That is water over the weir. We now have to try to put this right. What is the problem which faces us? Let us turn to the problem of manpower and the Government's proposals. I have seen the inevitability of this, and it gives me no pleasure, because the right hon. Member for Belper is right. This is a selective service, and the Government are trying to introduce a selective service by the unfairest possible way, because they are imposing an obligation on those who serve to excuse those who have escaped military service.
I served my old friend the right hon. Member for Easington as his P.P.S. I would not have stayed with him for two minutes in 1950 when the heat was on and we had a majority of six if he had not done the right thing about the 214 National Service man and the Regular soldier. When the Labour Government, with its pacifist tradition, had to face this problem, how did they deal with it? They faced political obloquy with a majority of six and postponed the release of both Regulars and National Service men alike. To make fish of one and fowl of another is not the way to handle soldiers.
Furthermore, what are the Government doing? Make no mistake. This is a major change in policy. They are tying their manpower policy to their reserves. If new men are called up, the reserve forces are strengthened, but if reservists are called back, one is drawing on all that one has left. What happens at the end?
Where are the shortages? The Prime Minister said that, curiously enough, the shortages were in the tail. Why he should find this curious is beyond me. Presumably this is part of the Ministry of Defence brief, but it makes me again make the point that in the areas where we want to create good conditions we will create the maximum discontent, because if anybody thinks that we will hold back 20,000 National Service men and not get 20,000 bellyaches, he is making a fundamental mistake.
It has also to be remembered that we are at the end of National Service. The men who will be held are those who have done their apprenticeships and technical training. Many of them are well into their twenties, with families and the like, and they have been counting the days when they could go back to civvy street to increase their earnings. They are now to be held. Nevertheless, this is a step, and an inevitable step— and it needs to be made clear—of the Government's policy. That fact must be faced.
How are we to try to put it right? Again, the Secretary of State for War staggered me. I have great respect for him. He does his job with great vigour, and has not done too badly; certainly better than some Secretaries of State for War whom I have known, but that is not a very high class. He is doing his job not at all badly, but he must master his brief. He must not come here and start boasting about the September recruiting figures, having introduced the bounty in July. What did he expect to 215 happen if he introduced a bounty of £200? Did he not expect the recruiting figures to rise? Of course he did. The other factor to bear in mind is that the September recruiting figures are always the best.
Apparently the Secretary of State wants to say something. No doubt he wants to give the external and the internal recruiting figures. But the Ministry of Defence recruiting return is based upon both. In any case, he is closing the gap to just about 500 a month—but he will be short at the end of the day. We have got tied up in arguments about 165,000 and 182,000, but the fundamentally important thing is that the forces should be balanced.
In this connection I welcomed the statement of the Prime Minister. I thought that he got this problem dead right yesterday. He came here in sackcloth and ashes; the moment of truth had arrived. He admitted that whatever the size of the forces next year—and that means the following year, and the year after that—unless something was done there would be a state of imbalance. It does not matter whether the result is X plus Y or X minus Y; if there is not a balance we cannot fight.
There is one other thing that has been done, of which the House is not aware. I think that it has occurred as a subconscious reaction to the emphasis on recruiting. The tremendous drive for recruiting has led to a lowering of standards. Here I must be very careful what I say. In my previous speeches I have shied away from this problem. I would ask all hon. Members to believe that I do not want to do anything that will damage the Army. I want us to have a good Regular Army—a contented Army, of a high standard. On the other hand, I have a duty to perform.
At least I have the excuse that The Times correspondent went to Winchester, looked in at the Green Jackets' depot and reported on what he found. Not very far from my constituency there was another event this summer. On 18th August a group of 50 soldiers from the 17th Regiment, Royal Artillery went into Oswestry and smashed the place up. They went there armed with buckles and iron bars, and there was a free-for-all in the town. In the end there were unconscious soldiers lying all over 216 Oswestry, and some people awoke the next morning to find soldiers lying unconscious in their gardens. The soldiers were charged before the court, and the commanding officer of the regiment went down to the court and apologised on behalf of the Army.
The point is that of those 50 men 14 had previous civil convictions, and one man alone had 13 previous civil convictions and had faced a charge of killing. In my day in the Regular Army, when we were regarded as the scum of the earth, that could not have happened. It is only in these enlightened days that we have recruiting on this basis. I believe that the incident to which I have referred was an exception, and I should not like any words of mine that go forth from here to be regarded as encouraging mothers or parents to think that this is universal, or that it is done with the Secretary of State's approval. But this happened, and the House needs to have a reassurance that this kind of thing will be stopped, for if there is one certain way of destroying morale in the Regular Army it is for troops of a crack artillery unit to be recruited from sources of this kind.
I do not believe that in any foreseeable period of time it will be possible to recruit the 180,000 men, which number, to my mind, is the minimum required. On the other hand, I sincerely hope that I am wrong, and that the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War will be heartened by the reception that their proposals have got, even from those who are critical of them and believe that they are unfair and misconceived, but believe that they are inevitable and to that extent are willing to give them a trial and try to improve them when they come before the House in a detailed form.
Equally, however, I remind the Secretary of State of his responsibility to the Army. He should not leave the Rhine Army and exposed commitments in the Far East on the basis worked out by the Minister of Defence, that the Army must manage. That is not good enough. If he wants a real Regular Army he must be absolutely certain—if necessary, to the point of resignation, even if it means embarrassing his own side— that he will stand up and fight for those things which will enable the Army to do its job.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
I hope that the House will not think that I am being uncivil when I say that in the course of the twenty years that I have spent here I have seldom heard less impressive speeches than those made by both Front Benches this afternoon. There was certainly an opportunity for the back benches to redress the balance, and the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has seized it. He is in a position to criticise the Government; his Front Bench is not. They have not only accepted the Government's defence policy but have encouraged them in it. They have accepted and encouraged the abolition of conscription, and it is quite clear that, apart from a few vague references to cutting down our commitments overseas—which I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend shoot down as impossible—they have no alternative policy.
I was amused to see a letter in The Times from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in which he seized on one of these calculated leaks to which we are treated every now and then by the Minister of Defence about new ideas that he is cooking up to say that the Government had stolen the Opposition's clothes, and that the Opposition had always been in favour of reassessment, reallocation, reorganisation and the rest of it. What it comes to is that the Opposition Front Bench are so short of a policy that they have seized on what appears to be Government policy before they know what that policy is—indeed, before anybody knows, even the Government.
§ Mr. Paget
I do not claim to know what the Government's policy is, but I do claim to know the policy which I have been supporting for the last seven or eight years, which has been that if we are going to have to abolish conscription we must reallocate our commitments amongst the forces, because those commitments certainly cannot be met by 165,000 men in the Army, whereas both the Navy and the Air Force are, for traditional reasons, doing many jobs which could very well be dropped. That is what we have been saying year after year.
§ Sir F. Maclean
All I can say is that I share the view now taken by Field Marshal Templer, who was Chief of the Imperial General Staff when the present policy was introduced, but who admits that he has since had a change of heart, or of mind, namely, a way out of the present dilemma can only be found by adopting one of two alternatives. Either we must have a wholesale reduction in our commitments and responsibilities or we must reintroduce conscription in some form or other. That is what both Government and Opposition must face up to.
Whatever view is taken of the measures which the Government are about to introduce, the one thing that is certain about them is that they mark the final failure of the policy of 1957. They mark the collapse of the Government's five-year defence plan, six months before it was due to end. In 1957 the Government put their money on an all-Regular Army of 165,000 men and now they have to admit that when it comes to the point, when things get a little more difficult than usual, it is not, in fact, the answer. We are told, we were told yesterday by the Prime Minister, that these latest measures, these latest expedients, were designed to meet what he called only "temporary difficulties", a "temporary problem".
Today the Minister of Defence has spoken of "short-term difficulties". It seems to me that this is to misinterpret the whole nature of the present situation. It is not a question of a passing crisis. We are confronted with a cold war. This is all part of the cold war, and in the cold war one crisis succeeds another. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence seemed rather aggrieved that there should have been a crisis at an awkward moment just when there was a trough in his manpower figures. I do not believe that the Russians are infallible. They make mistakes too. But it should be possible for them to work out when this trough was coming and choose that moment to lay on a crisis or two just to tease Her Majesty's Government. That is exactly what will happen now. We shall go from one crisis to another, and I should say that in all probability this will continue for the rest of our lives. Even within the last day or two attention has been momentarily distracted 219 from the Berlin crisis by the emergence of a Finnish crisis which may turn out to be very serious too. Tomorrow, or next week, there may be a crisis in the Middle East, in Persia, in South East Asia or almost anywhere.
This is the misconception which has lain at the root of Government policy from the first, this idea that we are poised between total peace, on the one hand, and total war on the other. In fact, there is not much likelihood of either. Certainly there is no likelihood of total peace, and so long as the West has an effective nuclear deterrent I do not believe that the Russians will risk an all-out clash.
The Russians have been very cautious indeed. They were cautious under the late Generalissimo Stalin and they are also pretty cautious under his present successor. In fact, they have not had one soldier engaged since 1945 in active operation, so far as I am aware.
§ Sir F. Maclean
Except for internal police operations.
What they have done is to cause us the maximum of trouble wherever they could by indirect means, and I think that that is what they will go on doing. They will carry on with a policy which I should call vicarious nibbling. Wherever there is a sign of weakness they will take advantage of it. They will do it through the East Germans, through the Koreans—through anybody who may be handy.
What we need in order to meet that policy, in addition to the nuclear deterrent, is a conventional deterrent at a dozen places at once. The cold war is largely a psychological war, and to show signs of weakness in it is to lose a battle. That is why we need men and that is why it is not as easy to reduce our commitments as hon. Members opposite seem to think. We must hope that they will not be engaged in action, any more than the Red Army has been —except in one instance which occurred to my hon. and gallant Friend, where their calculations were thrown out and they had to use their troops for police purposes—but their presence will be needed all the same.
220 Take Europe, for example. When in 1957 the Government decided on their present policy, or rather, as I prefer to call it, on their late policy, in order to make both ends meet, one of their ideas was to reduce our contribution to N.A.T.O. It was announced by the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in this House, I think in November, 1958, that since the Hull Report there had been this decision to reduce our contribution to N.A.T.O. and this would help to bridge the gap. We all know the result of that and the present state of the British Army of the Rhine, upon which the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has thrown some light, though what the right hon. Gentleman did not do was to forecast that that would be the result of the joint Government and Opposition policy when the decision was first taken in 1958.
Now, of course, instead of reducing our commitments in Europe as the Government hoped—personally, I think it would have been a disastrous move in any case—it has been clear for a year or two that we should have to increase our contributions to N.A.T.O. I do not know whether we have done it under pressure from our American allies or simply because we realised that we had to do so. But the fact is that instead of reducing our commitments we are increasing them, with the result that we now find ourselves with nothing like enough troops to meet our other commitments, even though the present strength of the Army must be round about 220,000 men. With even that strength we are still not able either to fulfil our existing commitments or cope with any future emergency which may arise.
I do not believe that to resort to a temporary expedient, or a series of temporary expedients, is the right method for dealing with this situation. I do not believe that, in the long run, this is a problem which can be solved either by calling up reservists or by keeping men on in the Army after their time has expired. I think that that is simply a way of causing confusion and dislocation in the Army, in industry and in the family life of the men concerned. The present situation calls for an Army— whether a Regular or a conscript Army or a mixture of the two does not matter —an Army big enough and well enough 221 balanced and well enough equipped to cope with whatever emergencies are likely to arise and, particularly, to provide a conventional deterrent in the cold war. And owing to Government policy since 1957 that is exactly what we have not got.
Recent statements by Ministers are full of contradictions. For instance, we were told last week by the Minister of Defence that there were "no major deficiencies in B.A.O.R." We were then told soon after by the Prime Minister that B.A.O.R. was "not up to strength," and "cannot wholly be balanced without mobilisation"—as if there were time for mobilisation nowadays. Then the Secretary of State for War has denied that Regular recruiting was failing. "Far from it" he said. But the next day a War Office spokesman said that recruiting had fallen short of expedients and as an expedient we were going to the Fiji Islands and the Seychelles for recruits, and I think that there they produce very good soldiers. But it seems rather odd that when we are about to keep citizens of the Commonwealth out of this country as a general rule we should be reduced to dragging them in in order to fight for us. And then there has been this all-round lowering of standards. Quite apart from the lowering of intellectual or physical standards, there is the appalling case quoted by the hon. Member for Dudley of the rioting in Oswestry. Obviously that was the work of men who were thugs, and not even efficient thugs, because in the event they were seen off by the citizens of Oswestry. Fancy scraping the bottom of the barrel to bring in men like that.
I am prepared to accept, and always have been, the Secretary of State's statement that recruiting is, in fact, going fairly well. The Minister of Defence said today that recruiting was going better than ever before. I am also prepared to accept that the Government will probably get their figure of 165,000 men, or thereabouts, because we all know where that figure came from. It was from the Government actuaries, and the Government actuaries are pretty good at their job. The only trouble is that they were estimating the number of men we were likely, with luck, to get, not the number we needed. One hundred and sixty-five thousand men, although the 222 Minister of Defence says that we have to manage with them, are nothing like enough.
The other trouble is that the present Army, or the Army of 165,000 we are to get, will not be a balanced Army. Only yesterday the Prime Minister said:In the first place, whatever the size of the Army next year, it will not, and I admit it, be properly balanced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 31st October, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 35.]That is an appalling admission and it is a danger which the Government should have been aware of ever since they first decided on an Army of 165,000 men. It is a bit late to tell us that now. The Prime Minister went on to suggest that the imbalance was in the tail rather than in the teeth. I do not believe that corresponds to the facts. I shall read to the House two brief sentences from the Glasgow Herald of 23rd October, an excellent newspaper which some hon. Members may not have the advantage of reading regularly. This is from an account of a reunion dinner of the Scots Guards Association on the previous Saturday. The paper said:Brigadier Fitzalan Howard, who has been appointed to command the Horse Guards Brigade in Germany, said that because the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards has to go to Kenya shortly at a full strength of 750. it had been necessary to draft a large number of men from the 1st Battalion. That would leave this battalion very short of men and its strength would be reduced to about 400.If that it not a shortage in the teeth arm, I do not know what is.
Those of us who served in other regiments have always admired the ability of the Brigade of Guards to get round difficulties. They have hardly suffered at all from the recent amalgamations and disbandments which have played such havoc with the rest of the Army. They also, and quite rightly, do very well in recruiting. They are very fine regiments and, naturally, they get lots of recruits. But when we find the Scots Guards have a battalion which is at barely half its proper strength because it has to give the rest of its men to another battalion going abroad things are going very badly indeed in the teeth arm. And, of course, we all know about the deficiencies in the tail.
I believe that there is only one way to get the numbers and the balance which the Army requires. That is by some form 223 of conscription. I personally favour selective service on approximately the lines that the Americans have. It works very well there and there is no reason whatever why it should not work here. It would give us the balanced army we need. After all, we are the only country in the N.A.T.O. Alliance—except, I believe, Canada—which has not some form of conscription. We ourselves have had it, whatever may be said about it not being in character, for the best part of a quarter of a century. That goes back as far as many people can remember. Also, most of the countries against which we are ranged have it. I saw in a newspaper yesterday that the Albanians have just called up 120,000 reservists. Their total population is not much more than 1 million. If they can do it, surely we can do it. I do not myself believe that it would be any more unpopular than the stop-gap expedients to which the Government have been reduced. And they have certainly not been very well received. I do not think that the Government can have liked the Press which they got this morning. Every newspaper, from the Daily Telegraph, which normally supports them, to the Daily Herald, which normally does not, used the word "unfair" in reference to their measures, including the Guardian and the Beaverbrook Press. That is not what one would call a very good reception. But then they have gone out of their way to make things difficult for themselves. In my view, they should never have abolished conscription, but even if they were to reintroduce it now, I do not believe that it would be the political poison which everyone says it would be.
In 1957 the Government took a gamble with our security when they decided to abolish conscription before they could be certain of getting the men they needed by other means. Surely the time has come for them to recognise that that gamble has failed to come off. Surely, instead of drifting from one expedient to another, the time has come for them to take without further delay measures which will give them a balanced Army, strong enough to enable us to meet our commitments and to carry out our responsibilities.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I feel something of a fraud in following four such experts on defence, but it may be a slight relief for the House to have a short break and to be able to digest what the experts have said if for a few moments we get away from the detailed intricacies of defence.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) covered a wider canvas in the early part of his speech. I appreciate that during this debate any hon. Member is entitled to make any points he wishes; yet most hon. Members would wish to fit in with the decision made by the two Front Benches. I understand, however, that defence was to be the opening subject today, but it was to be counted as one of the days for a general debate on the Address. Therefore, I feel we need have no inhibitions in widening the debate this afternoon.
The Minister of Defence has now got three speeches he must answer in more detail than he did in his speech this afternoon. Possibly he was prevented to some extent because of security, but he did not satisfactorily answer the points made by my right hon. Friend, and since then there have been two other speeches which need an answer. It seemed to me that the Minister's speech followed the all too familiar pattern of so many Government speeches. When the Government find that something is wrong and put forward some suggestion to put it right, as soon as they are attacked their whole effort is concentrated on trying to prove that everything is all right. That was the pattern of the Minister's speech this afternoon. I do not know if he convinced anyone else, but he certainly did not convince me either that the suggestions in the White Paper were necessary or that they were just.
It is most unfortunate for these young men. In the first place, they are unfortunate because their birthdays came at the wrong time and they have had to do two years service. They are again unfortunate in having to do an extra six months. I can see that Members of Parliament will get a greatly increased post in the coming weeks and months. As I have suggested, I am not an expert on defence, 225 but I think the Minister of Defence has a great deal to answer—possibly privately, because I agree that for security reasons many of the points could not be answered publicly.
I often wonder whether the world can be considered as being civilised in this second half of the twentieth century. It is true that we can move rapidly on the surface of the earth, in the air, on the sea and under the sea. We have radio and television. We can put sputniks into orbit, and very soon, no doubt, there will be visits to the moon. But we have not yet learned how to live at peace with each other.
Nobody in the House can be very happy either about the international situation or, indeed, about the domestic economic situation. Of course, the international situation is overshadowed by the senseless and wicked action of the Soviet Union with its more than 20 nuclear explosions culminating in the one of over 50 megatons. This is an action which is not easy to understand. Mr. Khrushchev's explanation that he was carrying out these tests in order to keep up with the Joneses of the West just does not make sense, because, otherwise, all the claims which the Soviet Union has made in the past about its strength are just nonsense. I cannot believe that the tests were necessary from that point of view. It is difficult to understand the reason for the tests unless they were carried out in the hope that they would create terror. But, of course, that would fail.
I am very sorry that the reaction of the West was not different. I am sorry that the West did not say that, in spite of the action of the Soviet Union, it did not intend to have further tests, at least until further efforts had been made to reach an agreement for the banning of all tests. I am sorry that yesterday the Prime Minister did not say quite categorically that we would not carry out any tests, but I do not think that anyone who is not prepared to condemn Russia has the right to condemn the Prime Minister for the action which he is taking. I strongly condemn Russia in this matter, and I only wish, as I say, that the Prime Minister had said that we would not proceed with further tests until we have made greater efforts to secure agreement.
226 Russia, we know, is contemptuous of world opinion, as was shown by the Hungarian affair. It is a pity that just at the time when we had got the uncommitted nations and the so-called neutral nations supporting us we did not react in the way which I have stated. The position now is that the uncommitted nations are likely to say, "They are all the same. Russia started it and the others are following on". I think that we have been very unfortunate with the uncommitted nations and the so-called neutral nations. We always seem to be giving the impression that we are saying "No" to Russian propaganda. I think that we have failed lamentably. Here was a chance to have the uncommitted nations more behind us.
Russia has been much more clever at propaganda than the West. It is rather strange that we are still looked upon by the uncommitted nations as an imperialist nation, we who have given freedom to over 600 million people since the end of the war and who, in the very near future, will be giving freedom to millions more, whereas Russia, after the war, got part of Finland, part of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and a stranglehold on Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Eastern Germany. Yet in the minds of the uncommitted nations we are the imperialists.
Our propaganda has all along been poor. It has looked as if we were saying "No" to Russian propaganda. I believe that there has been too much "gamesmanship" on both sides. Both sides have been putting forward suggestions knowing that they would not be accepted. Very often they look very good and feasible on the surface, but there is always some little point in them which it is known the other side will not accept.
Coming to Berlin, the Gracious Speech states:My Government will seek …to achieve by negotiation a settlement of the Berlin question …But what are we going to negotiate about? Are we going to negotiate from the position as at the end of the last war, that certain agreements were made and that we stand by those agreements, because, if we are, we are not going to get any nearer at all? Or are we going to recognise facts? It is a fact, whether 227 we like it or not, that East Germany exists, and in the foreseeable future there is absolutely no hope whatever of achieving a united Germany. Therefore, we have to recognise the facts as they are.
East Germany is there. Personally I think that the giving of de facto recognition to East Germany could be used as a bargaining power. I should like to see de facto recognition of East Germany and the whole of Berlin coming under United Nations government with no British, French, American or Russian troops among the United Nations force in Berlin. I speak of Berlin, but when Mr. Khrushchev talks about it he refers to West Berlin. Surely Berlin should not be divided in that way. I believe that if we we're prepared to go into these negotiations recognising the existence of an East Germany which is there, and which we know is a point on which Russia will not yield any more than we should yield on the question of Western Germany, then I think that there is a possibility of removing the greatest danger to world peace at the present time.
I have spoken about Berlin coming into the United Nations, and I want to make just one reference to what the Government have to say about the United Nations. The Gracious Speech states:My Government will continue to give resolute support to the United Nations.But it seems to me that if the United Nations organisation is really to do its job and is really to be an effective force for peace in the world, then it must be given teeth. I do not think that the United Nations can really become an effective force for world peace unless we have a permanent united force whose members are not responsible to any particular country and whose loyalty is owed to the United Nations.
I do not mean that each time a crisis arises in the world, as in the Congo, we should raise another United Nations force. I believe that we should have a United Nations force capable of preserving peace, and I should like to see a British Government giving the lead on that matter as in every effort to make the United Nations a better instrument for preserving world peace. I never 228 believed that the League of Nations failed because it was not equal to its job. I believe that it failed because it was not allowed to do its job. The same danger is arising with the United Nations.
I now come to the section of the Gracious Speech dealing with domestic affairs and the economic crisis at the present time.
In view of the fact that there is an economic crisis, I do not think that anybody can be very thrilled by the wording of the Queen's Speech or think that we are to see a quick solution to the problems which face us. The Gracious Speech talks about "measures already announced". What are the measures already announced except measures which have been tried in the past and have proved to be only temporary palliatives? There is, perhaps, another measure—the pay pause and the breaking of freely-negotiated agreements.
I do not think that it is generally known that Members of Parliament have been concerned in the pay pause. I had every reason to believe that the Government were prepared to make the salaries of Members of Parliament more comparable with those of representatives in other Parliaments and that they were prepared to make the salaries of Ministers comparable with those of their permanent officials, but when an economic crisis occurs, all that falls to the ground. It is difficult enough for Members of Parliament to talk about their own salaries in times of prosperity, and it is impossible for them to do so during economic crises, but if the Government delay long enough in making decisions, there will always come a time when there is an economic crisis and the matter cannot be pursued.
It ought to be said that Members of Parliament are being made to make their contribution. I know that there are some people who think that we are worth nothing. The danger is that they may be right. But as long as they are being paid, I think that hon. Members are entitled to have a salary which means that they are not financially worried—and everybody knows that many hon. Members, particularly those with young children to educate and who are having to meet the heavy London expenses, are in difficulty. I will not go 229 into that, but I think that it ought to be on record that Members of Parliament, too, have been concerned in the pay pause, though we cannot say that they have been concerned in the breaking of agreements.
In view of the action which they have recently taken, it is strange that the Government say that they willcontinue to seek the co-operation of both sides of industry".I do not know about continuing to seek their co-operation. Perhaps they had better begin to seek it, and then, having begun, they can continue to do so. But the present is not the best atmosphere in which to seek the co-operation of industry when freely-negotiated agreements have been ignored and sometimes rejected by the Government.
I refer next to the proposals to amend the law relating to teachers' salaries. I hoped that when the teachers agreed to the Government's offer of £42 million the Minister would decide not to go ahead with the Bill which he is to introduce, but I gather that it is only postponed until after the New Year, to give time for negotiations. I shall be very much surprised if that Bill is not already in draft. I appeal to the Minister to leave things as they are and not further to antagonise the teaching profession, to have second thoughts about it and to leave the Burnham Committee to function as it has functioned in the past.
May I ask some questions about missing legislation? We deserve an answer from some member of the Government about this, although I do not know that we shall get it. Tomorrow we shall discuss foreign affairs, on Friday we shall discuss education, on Monday we shall discuss housing and on Tuesday we shall discuss economic affairs. Which Minister will tell us what has happened to the Gowers Report? We ought to have an answer. We ought to be given some reason for which the Government are not fulfilling their pledge. Which Minister will tell us what has happened to the Weights and Measures Bill? Even as recently as July the Government went to the trouble of reprinting the Bill, Weights and Measures (No. 2) Bill, and incorporating the Amendments which had been passed by another place. But there is no mention of the Bill in the Queen's Speech. 230 Anyone who has had much to do with local government or anyone in the House who has had much to do with Private Bills appreciates the great importance of the Weights and Measures Bill, quite apart from its importance to the ordinary consumer.
We are entitled to a full explanation of why these two pieces of legislation, at any rate, seem to have disappeared from the scene. What about the House of Lords? I thought that we were to be given some suggestion for the reform of the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Blackburn
I understand that in the main Conservative Governments are very keen on the present system, but by doing nothing they are probably encouraging more and more those people who believe wholeheartedly in single-Chamber Government and who believe that, with 630 Members of Parliament, it would be possible to alter their functions so that, if every one gave full time to the job, the work would be carried out. I am in favour of a two-Chamber system, but the Government are only adding ammunition to those who believe in single-Chamber Government. But whether they are to do anything about the House of Lords or not, they owe it to the House, in view of what has taken place in debate here, to do something about making it possible for someone who has inherited a title to reject it and to continue to serve in the House of Commons. These are Bills which seem to have disappeared from the scene. Perhaps some Minister will enlighten us about these matters, although I have not very much hope of it.
In general, the Queen's Speech does not seem to meet the difficult situation which we face internationally or the situation which we face economically in this country.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (The High Peak)
I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. F. Blackburn) but return to the rather narrow issue of defence raised in the Queen's Speech. This is a matter in which I have a personal interest, because some months ago my hon. Friend 231 the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Critchley) and I wrote a pamphlet on defence in which we called attention to a coming shortage of manpower and in which we advocated either some form of selective service or conscription. This was a Bow Group pamphlet, and I will not be so gauche as to say to my own Front Bench, "We told you so".
There is another matter influencing my own acute personal interest in defence. It may come as a shock to my right hon. Friend, when he talks of his pre-proclamation reservists, to know that I am one of them. I do not know whether this will cause an acute and agonising reappraisal of defence strategy in the future, but I think that I am the only Member of the House who is a member of Class I of the Army Emergency Reserve.
From this interested point of view I want to deal with the plans which were put to us today. I hope that my understanding of them is just on a level with that of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown). They are, first, the retention of certain National Service soldiers who are now serving in the Army; secondly, the possible call-up of others who have left the Service; and, thirdly, what must be the most revolutionary proposal, the formation of this new body of men who have already been christened "The Ever Readies"—the volunteer reserve which will be formed within the framework of the Territorial Army.
I must contrast the position of such people with my own position as an ordinary run-of-the-mill reservist. When my right hon. Friend the Minister for War puts his signature to a piece of paper, I am taken away from the House and, even with the advantage of my annual training, I am put in my own regiment—a Regular regiment—which would very naturally shore up my position as an amateur. It would bolster me up and guide me. I am sure that that is my own regiment's view of my capabilities.
On the other hand, as I understand it, the person in the new reserve will be functioning in a unit composed entirely of reservists. The framework of a Regular regiment can support and carry a certain number of reservists, but I am 232 in some doubt about "The Ever Readies" and their reliance upon the framework of the Territorial Army. I am not denigrating the courage and efficiency of the Territorial Army in two wars, but their approach is what I may call a domestic approach. They are geared to some form of slow mobilisation—the old-fashioned concept— whereas the essence of modern warfare is fire brigade tactics and speed in flying troops to an emergency in a matter of hours. I have very grave doubts about the concept of "The Ever Readies", with their kitbags in attics, in factory cloakrooms, or, since we are so short in our medical service, perhaps in corners of consulting rooms, and suddenly grabbing their kitbags and flying off to an emergency. I should certainly like to be reassured by my right hon. Friend about precisely how they are to be mobilised and within what limits of time they could be mobilised.
This is the final move in the Government's policy to return to the ideal of the small professional army. I hope that it succeeds. I trust that the House will accept my sincerity in this matter, because I have, after all, signed on the dotted line in order that my right hon. Friend may in his turn sign on the dotted line, which act commits me to preserving the ideal of a small professional Regular Army supported by reservists. If the plan does not succeed and if we do not reach our target of, say, 165,000, which I think the Daily Mail has called "the minimum maximum", as oposed to the "minimum maximum", I urge the Government not to linger overlong with this compromise. We may have to accept that the affluent society cannot support or provide—
§ Mr. Walder
I will take my hon. Friend's correction. We may have to accept that the affluent society will not provide a sufficient proportion of fighting men to protect itself. Both the appeal and the economic necessity which provided Kipling's soldiers have today disappeared. We must face that. My answer would be that we must have some return to conscription—conscription on a large scale. I am fully familiar with all the disadvantages of that. After 233 all, for some ten years I have served annually with the British Army of the Rhine and seen conscripts being trained. I have seen all their deficiencies. I realise that it is a wasteful and expensive system that trained men have to be put aside to look after conscripts, otherwise conscripts get bored. Regular soldiers must resent an influx of what I can only call unenthusiastic amateurs into the soldier's chosen profession.
Despite all those disadvantages, I stress some of the advantages of conscription which I maintain are still valid. It is a familiar system to the British people. As there is no discrimination, it is a fair system. I am not certain that the present plans may not be regarded by the man in the street as a rather unfair system. The old system of conscription was not only fair but appeared to be fair. We must consider our own position as regards conscription as compared with the other armies of N.A.T.O. All save Canada have a system of conscription. The ideal of the citizen army may have to be introduced into Britain. It puts us at least on a parity with those nations which I hope I shall soon be able to refer to as our partners in the Common Market.
To return to a perhaps rather more cynical note, conscription provides men for the duller jobs in the Army. Soldiers will volunteer to be parachutists and guardsmen, but I have never yet known a soldier who wanted to be a cook. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) tells me that he did not have cooks in his war. I can only say that either this surprises me or it does not surprise me, but I do not wish to be particularly offensive.
We have deficiencies in the tail of our Armed Forces. This may well be because men who decide on a military career really do want to be soldiers either in an active form or in an Army that has an aura of romance. They do not want to do the dull jobs. Finally, conscription would at least provide us with a sufficient number of men to cope not only with one emergency but with two. Much has been said about the Kuwait operation, which was a nice little operation, carried out efficiently. It was a credit to all the officers and men who took part in it. However, it was a small operation which did not involve actual hostilities. [An HON. MEMBER; "Co- 234 existence."] No, hostilities. What would have happened as regards our Army if another emergency of the same sort as Kuwait had arisen at precisely the same time? Could we have carried out two such efficient operations? I suggest that we simply have not got enough men to carry out two operations, not even if we called up our Reserves. They would not be ready in time.
Most important of all, an adequacy of conventional forces means that in an emergency we have not got to fall back on the appalling dangers of the nuclear deterrent. The danger if our conventional forces are inadequate is that in an emergency, in a panic, we fall back on our possession of nuclear weapons. Further, an over-abundance of conventional forces gives us one more bargaining counter in regard to disarmament. To hon. Members opposite that may seem a rather perverse argument, but one disarms only when one has more arms and men than one thinks one needs. I hope that it is not such a perverse sentence but only truth standing on its head to draw attention to itself—
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
Is my hon. Friend advocating the reintroduction of conscription at this moment? In view of the fact that a very large number of extremely efficient Regular officers and men would have to be taken away from our Forces to train with conscripts, is my hon. Friend advocating the introduction of conscription now, or as a general long-term policy?
§ Mr. Walder
I am advocating a return to conscription if what I regard as this, the last experiment, fails. After all, we still have conscripts in the Army, and if we do not reach proper numbers by what I regard as the last scheme, I feel that it would be the Government's duty to recognise that we could not reach that target and had to provide a sufficiency of men. In my view, conscription would be the only means of doing it then.
As I said at the beginning, I hope that this plan succeeds. If so, well and good, but, if not, I should like some reassurance from my right hon. Friend, because we are looking forward to the 1962 White Paper and another five years of defence planning. I understand that for financial and economic reasons there is a very great gap between what we would like to be able to do and what we 235 can do, but I should like some assurance from my right hon. Friend that if this plan fails we will, at least, approach the future with some realism and determination.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I am surprised that the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Walder), a member of the Tory Party, which is always supposed to have all the military experts that there are available, should have given, by way of illustrating his thesis, the Kuwait operation. If that is an element of Tory military thinking, I think that this country is doomed. The Kuwait exercise could easily have been mounted anywhere in the world, except for the sea. It could have been introduced on Salisbury Plain; there was such complete absence of opposition to the landings. It was a parade-ground exercise.
The speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and by the Minister of Defence were both ominous and reminiscent. The Prime Minister yesterday appealed to the memories of some of the older Members of this House. I am one of those Members, and I see at least one of my hon. Friends who will remember the circumstances and agree that they were almost similar to what we are now facing. The only difference was that we knew that Hitler was determined on war; we are not quite sure on what Mr. Khrushchev is determined.
At that time, we had the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) constantly belabouring the Government on precisely the same grounds as my right hon. Friend did today—the grave deficiencies in our manpower, organisation and military equipment that were nothing else but disastrous. In fact, it is a wonder that we survived 1939. Fortunately, we had then a year or so to build up, but the Government have had at least ten years to make up their minds on military matters.
It is not as though they have not known something about the Russian possibility. It is many years since I was at the War Office, but even in those days very realistic thinking was going on about the possibility of Russia not being the same ally in the future as she had been during the war. I accuse the Government, as my 236 right hon. Friend did today and as the right hon. Member for Woodford did before the war, of more than gross negligence; the situation we are now in is almost treasonable.
Let us just consider for a moment what has been said by the Prime Minister and by the Minister of Defence. They have said that we were on the verge of mobilisation of the B.A.O.R. on a war footing. According to the Minister of Defence, that would have meant doubling our manpower. Mobilisation would not stop at doubling the B.A.O.R.; if we were to issue a proclamation, it would be far more widespread. Where is the machinery for that?
Before the First World War, there was what was called a "black book", in which everything was prepared for, down to the last button. That is why we got the first four divisions of the B.E.F. over to France in next to no time. Those divisions formed, of course, a valiant rearguard. Is it the Government's strategy today that our B.A.O.R. forces shall form a rearguard, withdrawing to behind the Rhine? It is significant, I think, that the headquarters are there.
Those hon. Members on both sides of the House who consider military matters must know the sort of thing that would possibly—probably—happen if Russia were to advance. I only need to mention one thing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) remarked this afternoon, we cannot discuss these points in detail today, although I warn the Government that if they are not forthcoming with Her Majesty's Opposition it may be necessary to say on the Floor of this House things that will expose the Government's negligence. I do not believe that would do the country any more harm than it did in the days before the war when the right hon. Member for Woodford was doing the same.
We all know the results of the disclosures of the right hon. Member for Woodford—and why nobody was impeached in those days, I do not know, especially the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, as he was then called; Sir Thomas Inskip, I think—
§ Mr. Wigg
My right hon. Friend will parden me for interrupting him, but I am sure that he will have seen the official histories of the strategic bombing 237 offensive against Germany. I think that Sir Thomas Inskip was a much-maligned man, and if my right hon. Friend studies these official histories he will find that, in some measure, the fact that we had prepared in that way was due to Sir Thomas Inskip.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I shall not cross swords or continue that discussion with my hon. Friend. I am more concerned to emphasise the challenge that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper threw down today and which the Minister of Defence did not take up. I do not know the reason for that. I heard some remark by my right hon. Friend that the right hon. Gentleman would, perhaps, discuss these matters privately with him, but is that what hon. Members want? If so, why do they stay here? Why do they wait to take part in our debates? Why do not they go home and have a pleasant evening, as we are having now, in terms of what we used to have before the war—a pleasant Sunday afternoon gathering? We are not getting to grips. That may result from our not hearing some of the facts, because the Minister of Defence did not tell us the facts this afternoon.
I noticed an article in the Sunday Telegraph. Perhaps my right hon. Friend also noticed it, because it referred to him. I do not know how true the report is, but I quote it in my right hon. Friend's presence. It stated:Before arriving, Mr. Brown asked not only that journalists should be kept away from him in Germany but that ' no further information at all should be available to the Press on any subject into which I am inquiring'"—
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He will find, I trust, in the next issue of the Sunday Telegraph a statement I sent to it denying completely, specifically and in every respect the statement attributed to me in that article. The only part that is true is that I asked journalists who wanted to accompany me not to do so, because I did not want my visit to be turned into a circus. But the rest of the article is absolutely and categorically untrue.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am glad to hear that, because I have something else to quote from this article and I am wondering whether the Secretary of State will deny, in the same categorical terms, what is 238 quoted as coming from Army Press liaison officers. It states:The whole thing has become a political matter …Yes, indeed. It is a political matter and a serious one…and is regarded as sub judice. Not only can we answer no questions at all, but no interviews can be arranged with officers at this headquarters or elsewhere.Then here is a further statement that one B.A.O.R. officer said:The Minister of Defence has made an official statement, and Mr. Brown has come here to collect evidence to prove that he is a liar. You can imagine what our heads would be worth, if we got mixed up in that sort of business.
§ The Secretary of State tor War (Mr. John Profumo)
May I clear this up now? It might help the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), too. I have looked at this and can find no evidence whatever for statements attributed there, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper has been misquoted, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) may feel that the other part of the article is incorrect, too. If we were trying to hide something, would we have given every possible facility for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to look at everything he wanted? I am not commenting on what he said—how this arose I do not know—but I should not like my officials to be accused of saying and doing something for which I can find no grounds at all.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I know from my experience of military officers that they are very cautious when anything is verging on the political, and, of course, this is highly political. It is highly dangerous that the Government are denying this country, until a crisis arises, the means to defend ourselves.
Hon. Members know what takes place when the Estimates are debated in this House year after year. We are not given the facts and many of us with experience of military matters, and I hope with responsibilities, should be brought in to give the benefit of our views, but at present we cannot do so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper went as far as he dared this afternoon in pointing to certain shortages, such as equipment. What did we get 239 from the Minister of Defence? The Minister admitted that we were changing over from one set of wireless equipment to another, but not a word from him about all the other articles of equipment. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to tell us, or to find out whether, if it is necessary to bring B.A.O.R. up to war establishment, have we got the equipment to do this up to the G.1098? The admission of the Minister of Defence today in one comparatively trivial detail shows the way his mind concentrates on the almost inessential.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I do not think that the proper signals equipment is an inessential, and if the right hon. Gentleman will look at what I said he will see that I took the signals as an example and that I said that B.A.O.R. is now equipped with the proper signals equipment. There is just a limited amount of older equipment to be replaced. That is a reasonable answer.
§ Mr. Bellenger
That is what the Tory Government told this House in 1939, when I was an hon. Member. It was not accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, and I am glad to say that he was supported by more of his own party than are likely to support any hon. Gentleman on the Government side who says what my right hon. Friend said today.
The Minister of Defence merely answers my right hon. Friend with a specious statement—an impressive statement—that B.A.O.R. has its radio equipment down to the last button. What I want to know is; has it? I beg leave to doubt that and I would have hoped that many hon. Members with fair minds would also have doubted it following this afternoon's speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper.
I have on more than one occasion in this House advanced an idea which most of the continental countries have adopted—certainly most of the Six, which we shall be joining presently— defence committees of their respective Houses of Parliament. In each defence committee there is high secrecy, and I believe that only on one occasion, in Germany, has any hon. Member of any party disclosed any of the secrets that 240 have been learned by the committee members. These committees are able to question Ministers, who are adept at evasion and who sometimes give almost misleading statements. We have seen that time and again. Hon. Members can see this if they read copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT concerning proceedings before the war.
I recall the case of anti-aircraft defences before the war when the Minister of Commonwealth Relations, a subaltern in the Territorial Army, leaked some military information in this House and was threatened with court-martial for doing so. We hon. Members cannot be threatened with court-martial, but we are being threatened with silence. We cannot tell what we know, or think we know. Actually, we know very little. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper was given considerable facilities for going to B.A.O.R., and I have no doubt that some of the more senior hon. Members would get facilities for doing likewise if they sought permission from the Government. But other hon. Members should have facilities for going and seeing for themselves. They could come back and relate to the House what they had seen and, also, what they had not seen—like my right hon. Friend did today. In a committee such as I have suggested we could go thoroughly into most secrets and have officials present at our meetings—generals, too—like we have power in the other Select Committees to ask questions and get detailed answers.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
While I agree that the Minister of Defence gave facilities to the right hon. Member for Belper, many hon. Members might desire similar facilities. Nevertheless, during the years 1945 to 1950 I do not think that the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) or his colleagues gave facilities to hon. Members on this side similar to those given by my right hon. Friend to the right hon. Member for Belper.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I hope that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) will develop that point when he makes his own speech. I do not wish to take up too much time. I wish merely to raise a matter about which I have always believed in strongly; the voluntary system.
241 When I was Secretary of State for War I had to put through this House a Bill bringing in conscription in peace-time and I did not like it. The reason was that in my younger days during the First World War I went off, like thousands of others, as a volunteer. In those days there was a feeling that one volunteer was worth three pressed men. I believe that. I fear that the Government are going to press-gang certain members of the Army—National Service men or reservists—into serving against their will. This is nothing less than press-gang methods.
If we had the same situation now as we had in 1946 or 1947, or before the last war, it might be different. Then it would not be a question of calling up penny packets of reservists but of mobilising the whole nation for the crisis to be faced. Therefore, I think that there is either some ulterior motive in the Government bringing forth in the Queen's Speech, and later on in legislation, the request for powers to retain in the Army for about six months a certain number of National Service men who will have done their two years' service or that the Government are getting panicky. If the foreign situation is so serious as to cause the Government to get panicky, we need far different measures from those proposed by Her Majesty's Government.
I would only say this about these small numbers which I understand are required. We have not got definite numbers yet. We had a clue from the Prime Minister when he said that 10 per cent. of the 140,000 Reservists might be wanted, or even fewer than that. That is 14,000. I do not know how many the Government are going to retain in National Service, but there are probably about 50,000. They cannot be wanting 50,000. So what do they want? The Minister of Defence also gave a clue in answer to a question of mine this afternoon. He wants 25,000 to 30,000 men on the reserve—all reserves.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, I understand that. I have already said that if there is a proclamation we shall be in a crisis straight away. The right hon. Gentleman wants 25,000 to 30.000 men in all reserves that he can either retain or call 242 up. I would ask the House, is that what B.A.O.R. really wants? If that is all he wants, I should have thought that he could have got over this temporary difficulty in a voluntary way. Why bring to this House legislation that will, I can assure him, cause bitterness—partisan bitterness—and certainly will cause bitterness in the country, because for the first time in peacetime we are directing labour. There is no other force in this country—police, fire brigade or anything else—which is directed to do its job. It is only a few thousand men who have been unfortunate enough to be born in the year in which they were born and who are now going to be told, "You carry the burden and all the others who can draw their £15 or £20 a week in this country are going to escape scot-free".
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I do not quite follow the difference between directing labour in peace-time now and directing labour when the right hon. Gentleman brought in conscription in 1947. I should have thought that there was some similarity, and that it is not right to say that this is the first time it has happened.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It is not the same similarity. Conscription was brought in after the war mainly to release hundreds and thousands of those who had been serving overseas. That was the main reason. Indeed, I am not at all sure that in explaining the Bill to the House I did not give those reasons. But today the situation is not the same as it was in 1945 and 1946.
May I say that I agree, and have agreed, with the Government ever since they said that they would do away with conscription. What I disagree with them about is that they have miscalculated. Governments should not give pledges and ought not to give a false idea to young people if, later on, they are going to reverse it as they are doing now. If the nation is faced with a crisis the nation will respond. But merely to call up or retain a few thousand young men who have been making plans to come back to civil life is more than unfair. It is callous, and I think the present Government are a callous Government.
I ask the Secretary of State or the Minister of Defence to say who are these people who are going to be retained or called up?—presumably specialists and 243 craftsmen. Do they include doctors among them? It is well known that the military forces have not sufficient medical services. The medical services are perhaps not quite so bad as the tail part of the military forces, but they are very bad. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman do what civilian firms do when they have to send labour overseas? They pay them the rate for the job and they get their volunteers. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman and the Government do the same with this paltry number—because that is what it is— that he is going to treat in this scurvy fashion?
I am inclined to think that the "Ever Readies", as I believe they are going to be called, is a good idea. It goes back to the old militia idea. It is very deeply rooted in the Army. It is a good idea, for I believe that we shall get men to volunteer not only for the sake of the bounty but also because they have a spirit of adventure. If they think that their country is in need they will respond. They must have thought that, otherwise they would not be in the Territorial Army now. Therefore, we have a fine body of men who will respond.
Why not carry this principle a little bit further instead of treating Service men in this fashion? Whatever hon. Members on both sides of the House may think about it, the country will say that Parliament has broken its word. I hope that some of my hon. Friends who may be inclined to support the Government in these matters will remember that conscription has always been hateful in the eyes of our people and that they put up with it because they thought it was really necessary. They cannot think it necessary after reading the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon.
I shall resist the Government, whatever my party agrees to do on this matter, and I do not think I shall be out of joint with them on this issue at any rate. I shall resist the Government when they bring in their legislation, for the reasons which I have given. I hope that there will be on the Tory benches some hon. Members who will speak up, as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) did, because we are in a parlous state today so far as our defence is concerned, and we have not had all the 244 evidence in this Chamber this afternoon. The Minister of Defence has done his best to deny it to us. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper has been cautious and has not given all the facts, but some of us on suitable occasions might give the House a few more. I hope that we shall see wat we saw before the war, some hon. Members on the Tory side at least abstaining from supporting their own Government.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood)
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), as a former Secretary of State for War, speaks on these matters with considerable weight. I agree with some of the things he said, but not with others, and I shall be referring to them a little later.
I wish to deny entirely that the Army is in a parlous state. I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman gets his information from, but I prefer to get my own information from the people in the Army whom I know and trust, and they would deny the suggestion utterly and completely. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman of that.
I do not think many people would deny that we are today living in times that are potentially more dangerous and certainly more explosive than probably in all our history. Not only is there the deep division between the free world and the Communist world, but the Communist world is being led by men with no regard for solemn agreements and who show themselves utterly callous both to world opinion and, indeed, to the lives and health of children and of generations yet unborn.
No one who has studied carefully the life of Hitler, as I have and as several hon. Members have, can fail to be impressed by the great similarity in methods and approach between Hitler and Khrushchev today. It seems to me at the moment that Mr. Khrushchev is almost a disciple of Hitler, particularly in the last approach he has made to Finland. There has been the same technique of threats, a show of force, "brinkmanship", lies and distortions that we saw in the days of Hitler. There are, however, certain clearly marked differences.
Hitler definitely wanted a war, a war of revenge for Germany. I believe 245 that Khrushchev does not want war, however close to it he may be going at the moment. Hitler was a complete dictator, and mentally he was not quite normal. Mr. Khrushchev is not really a complete dictator; he is the mouthpiece of other people. There is a certain restraining influence on him. There is also the great difference that today we have the nuclear bomb, which undoubtedly is a great deterrent against war. Moreover, we have our system of collective security, which did not exist in the days of Hitler, with America particularly as a very great Power on our side.
In spite of all that has happened recently and the explosions which have been made in the upper atmosphere, I am convinced, as is said in the Gracious Speech, that the British Government must persevere in every endeavour to reach an agreement on the discontinuance of nuclear tests. More than that, I believe that, despite everything that Khrushchev has done, we must try to reach an agreement about Berlin, without in any way surrendering what we feel to be the rights of the people of West Berlin.
I have sometimes been criticised for saying that the only real alternative to total war is total peace, but I believe that there is more in that saying than meets the eye. I know that there are bound to be small wars, revolutions and upsets in various parts of the world, and we have to have forces to deal with these so-called brush-fire operations; but I sincerely believe that any war involving a major clash between the forces of the Soviet Union and of the West would be very dangerous indeed. One would never know where it would stop. I am sure that it would stop only in an all-out nuclear war.
We must make every endeavour to ensure that no war of that sort ever starts. We must not let it begin. Once we let it start, there is no knowing where it may end. The nice little conventional war, which I hear people talking about in Europe, with just ten divisions on one side and ten on the other, using conventional weapons, with only about 10,000 casualties on either side, is just not on. It must be outlawed and deprecated with all the means in our power. How would such a war end? Would the Russians 246 acknowledge that they had been beaten after only ten divisions had been engaged? Of course not.
Let us consider for a moment the present position in Europe as regards conventional forces. Under General Norstad's command there are probably 22 or 23 divisions. I cannot pretend to be exact, but I think that Russia could probably put 125 front line divisions into any sort of encounter in Europe, followed by 150 more. The idea that we are contemplating having a conventional war against Russia in Europe is not on at all, and it is not part of the N.A.T.O. plan. Nevertheless, I believe that the British people have never been more determined than they are today that they will not be dominated by any foreign dictator. I have felt that determination very strongly throughout the country.
I turn now to examine the tools we have for the job of keeping the peace, the chief of which, of course, is N.A.T.O. The main object of N.A.T.O., which I think we tend sometimes to forget, is to prevent war by maintaining an effective deterrent against aggression. N.A.T.O. strategy is based on the strategic nuclear forces of the West, the Strategic Air Command and our Bomber Command, generally known as the retaliatory forces, and, of course, the naval forces in the Atlantic, together with the shield forces in Europe under the direct command of General Norstad. The object of General Norstad's forces is not to engage Russia in a full-scale conventional war. How pleased the Russians would be if it were, for that would be a war they would be bound to win. Certainly, if that were the object, we should have to treble the number of General Norstad's divisions, we should have to introduce at once full-scale conscription, and increase our B.A.O.R. very considerably.
I have followed carefully everything that General Norstad has said over the years. I will quote just one of his statements in this context:We do not contemplate the possibility of great land campaigns. Our task is to defend with relatively small forces, and using all weapons.He made it perfectly clear that by "all weapons" he means to be included tactical nuclear weapons, which were introduced years ago into the N.A.T.O. forces. He has stated time and again 247 that his plan is to hold a line well forward which will protect all the fifteen nations of N.A.T.O. He thinks that it would be suicidal to try any sort of Rapacki plan of withdrawal. All he says about that is that it would mean that the Americans would go back home to America, the Canadians would probably go back home to Canada and we should probably come back home here. [HON. MEMBERS; "Hear, hear."] Some hon. Members may think that that is a good idea.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree with a former colleague of his, Lord Montgomery, who agrees with what we were saying "Hear, hear" to, that we should all go back to our own countries, taking our armed forces back to our own countries, so that there would then be less likelihood of war?
§ Sir J. Smyth
I heard Lord Montgomery make his speech on that subject in the other place a few days ago. I thought that Lord Morrison was, perhaps, a little rough with him when he followed. I must say that I agree with General Norstad on this matter.
§ Sir J. Smyth
No, not on this particular point; I definitely do not.
I think that we must have a forward defence, and it would be suicidal—we have not a great deal of depth as it is —to reduce the depth that we have, when Russia has all the depth in the world. It would definitely not be in our interest.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman use nuclear weapons?
§ Sir J Smyth
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked that question. My own opinion is that, for the role for which N.A.T.O. was designed, the present forces are perfectly adequate. In 248 fact, I think that General Norstad, like most Army commanders, who always require more troops, is exaggerating the importance of more men on the ground. We have had so much experience of that in our Army. Looking back only a few years to Korea and Suez, which I always quote, we had an Army of 400,000 men, and it was quite ineffective. It was not the sort of weapon that we wanted.
§ Viscount Lambton
Is my hon. and gallant Friend saying that he is against the policy of Her Majesty's Government of reinforcing the forces which are in Germany at present?
§ Sir J. Smyth
No, I am not against that at all. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton asked whether our forces could function before mobilisation. I think they could function perfectly well. I should like to say something more about that later.
§ Mr. Paget
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not entirely grasped the point. I can see that it may be said that we can do with smaller forces, but surely there is no point in having smaller forces who cannot man their weapons. Either we have smaller forces which are adequate to man their tanks and guns, or larger forces which are skeleton forces and can be built up after mobilisation. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that the sort of force which can be built up only after mobilisation is suitable for the N.A.T.O. role?
§ Sir J. Smyth
I do not think that is correct. The extra weapons are stockpiled over the other side. That I think is the best answer.
It would be utterly wrong for anyone to suppose that our B.A.O.R. as it exists today cannot function. I very much deprecate what the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said today when he intimated that the B.A.O.R. was all washed up and could not operate. That is more or less what he said in his article in today's Daily Mirror. The role of N.A.T.O. is to call a halt after a so-called incident. It is difficult to define what is an incident. It might be a clash over Berlin. However, it would not be a major attack by fifty or more Russian divisions, which the right hon. Gentleman was envisaging. I think that it would be obvious to anyone who knew 249 anything about the circumstances of soldiering whether a major aggression was intended or not. The role of N.A.T.O. is to call a halt, to make a pause, so that both sides will have time to think, we hope wisely, and to decide that a major aggression is bound to lead to a nuclear war and stockpiling.
Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. is very much underrated. For the first time in our history we have a standing Army in Europe under the control of a foreign commander. Some hon. Members will remember what a tremendous thing it was when we put Douglas Haig's Army under Marshal Foch in the First World War. Many people thought that it was a dreadful thing to do. However, it was very successful, and we did it again in the Second World War when we put our Forces under General Eisenhower. A large proportion of our Navy, R.A.F. and Army is permanently stationed over the other side, and I maintain that they are doing a wonderful job in keeping the peace.
I happen to know personally the commanders of our forces there—Sir James Cassels and Sir Charles Jones— and I have the highest opinion not only of them as soldiers but of their integrity. I am much more prepared to take their word for the efficiency or otherwise of our forces than any sort of canteen stories, about which we have been hearing a great deal lately.
It is very easy to get some lovely stories out of the British soldier while he is on manoeuvres. He hates manoeuvres and always has done. Sometimes we talk about lobby fodder in this House. The British soldier feels that he is a sort of manoeuvre fodder. This exercise, "Spearpoint," was for the benefit of the higher command. We have to have troops to bring out the lessons, but the soldier does not see it in that way.
Perhaps I might repeat the sort of story that the British soldier tells. Three chaps were being demobbed. They met for the first time in the canteen and started to swop stories over a glass of beer. The first said, "I have done thirty years in the Army. I have had a happy marriage and three sons, who have all gone into the legal profession. They are all solicitors. I was a sergeant-major. I had a distinguished career in the Army and I do not regret a day of 250 it. "The second said," I was also a sergeant-major. I have had a very happy time in the Army and a happy marriage. I have three sons who are all interested in politics." The third said, "I have had thirty years in the Army. I never rose above the rank of private. I never married, but I have three sons and they are all sergeant-majors."
One can hear heaps of wonderful stories from the men in the British Army while they are on manoeuvres, but when it comes to anything worth while the British soldier will always fight. I am confident that our B.A.O.R. today is doing a marvellous job in very difficult circumstances. I feel very much that it is a case of united we stand, divided we make headlines for Pravda. Everything that we say in this House makes copy.
As I say, I deprecate very much what the right hon. Member for Belper said. He would not give way to me during his very long speech, which was even longer than usual. All that I proposed to ask him was whether he could say one good thing about the Army which he had been visiting. I did not hear him say one good thing about it today. According to him, they had no equipment, were not trained, and everything was wrong.
§ Sir J. Smyth
I will not say any more. I am sure that many other people will have a lot of things to say about the right hon. Gentleman.
I now turn to this wonderful question of establishment. I have had a certain amount of experience of drawing up establishments as a staff officer, more usually in carrying them out at the receiving end. My experience is that no formation is ever up to establishment. It is a lovely stick with which to beat a Government to say that a unit is not up to establishment. However, as soon as a formation goes into action and suffers a lot of casualties it is below establishment. It may be weeks or months before it is up to establishment again. What does it do? Does it send for the right hon. Member for Belper and say, "What do we do?" Of course not. It simply carries on. In a theatre of war like Burma, where one could not get reinforcements, one started on establishment. The first day we went into 251 action we had a lot of casualties and the battalions went down to 400, 300 and even 200 men, but they carried on and did a wonderful job.
Of course, every commanding officer likes to have a lot of men in his unit —General Norstad likes to have a lot of divisions—but this question of establishment is becoming a sort of shibboleth. We in the British Army have always been ready to keep the peace in small places all over the world with small forces. I have mentioned before my little force, the Chitral force, perched on the roof of the world, keeping the peace in a large and mountainous country with a very small force. What everybody would criticise today was that I had only half a battery of artillery. Today, somebody would be sent out to me to say, "You cannot function with half a battery." We functioned perfectly well with half a battery. In that country, half a battery was better than a whole one. The other half of the battery was doing a similar job 600 miles away.
The new measures announced by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence in the present situation are thoroughly sound. They mean that in an emergency the Army will get some trained men. It will not, as in selective conscription, have to train entirely raw recruits, which the Army does not like doing and which is a waste of men.
Lastly, I should like to say a word about the vexed question of conscription. I hope that this controversy is settled for the moment. Of course, it will come up again, but the Government have announced that they are going forward with their scheme for long-service, Regular voluntary forces. To my certain knowledge, that has the support of the Army Council and all the senior officers in the Army. All the ones I respect—particularly Field Marshal Festing and his successor, Sir Richard Hull—
§ Mr. B. Harrison
Does my hon. and gallant Friend think it fair that one should name senior officers to back up one's argument? When the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a mistake, we did not hear him say that he had acted on the advice of Sir Frank Lee or somebody like that. Is it not a dangerous 252 practice that is now creeping in when generals are being conscripted, as it were, to back up politicians?
§ Sir J. Smyth
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison). My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has mentioned, both today and before, that Field Marshal Festing, who is just giving up his job as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, has taken on another special job with him in the Ministry of Defence. There is no secret about that. I know what a sacrifice it is for Field Marshal Festing to do that. He has been looking forward to his retirement for a long time. He was one of Bill Slim's greatest fighting commanders. He had a hard war and he has had a hard job now. I am all for giving him kudos for it and I shall continue to do so, whatever my hon. Friend thinks. Furthermore, I certainly rely on his opinion in these matters much more than on some of the people who go round the canteens.
We are mostly agreed, on both sides of the House, that we do not want to return to conscription. The people who are constantly campaigning in this House for conscription are in a minority. I may, of course, be wrong. It may be that all hon. Members opposite want conscription, but I do not think so. As I have said before, there are no better recruiting agents than Members of Parliament. We come in contact with young people in our constituencies. For goodness sake, let us try to make a success of this new long-service, voluntary defence force and try to avoid going back to conscription.
The B.A.O.R. is doing the most important job that any British Army has ever done, because its role is to try to prevent another war from starting. We do not want to be party political over everything. I ask the House as a whole to give it a message of support and encouragement.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—253
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Those of us who take part in these debates always listen with great interest to the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), knowing his great military record. We understand how much he has at heart the interests of the British Army. We certainly do not dissociate ourselves from any gesture of friendship to the people in uniform who compose our Armed Forces. The hon. and gallant Member was, however, rather unfair to Lord Montgomery. Strange things happen in politics, and I certainly did not think some years ago that I would have to defend Lord Montgomery against the attacks of a Conservative brigadier opposite.
§ Sir J. Smyth
The "Conservative brigadier opposite" was not really attacking Lord Montgomery. Eighty per cent. of what he does I could not admire more. All I was saying—he has just written a foreword for my book, which is being published in a day or two, so I must be nice to him—was that one particular thing in which I disagree with him was in a speech he made the other day in the House of Lords. Probably he will disagree with the speech I am making today. It was no more than that.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall certainly read the hon. and gallant Member's book with great interest and certainly the foreword by Lord Montgomery. I hope that Lord Montgomery will use this opportunity of amplifying in more detail some recent views on strategy which he has outlined in another place, in the columns of the Sunday Times and over the B.B.C.
The Minister of Defence has asked for revolutionary thinking and Lord Montgomery has supplied it. The moment Lord Montgomery starts his revolutionary thinking hon. Members say, "This is rather strange. Lord Montgomery is talking like a Communist." It has not come to that yet, but I know hon. Gentlemen on this side who before they go to sleep look under the bed for Communists. One night the hon. Member looked under the bed and found Lord Montgomery.
254 The very fact that Lord Montgomery is arguing from a purely military point of view for a general reappraisal of our whole strategy indicates that some very essential revolutionary thinking is needed. I did not think that I should ever be making this proposal, but I think it would be quite a good idea if the Minister of Defence brought Lord Montgomery back, because Lord Montgomery is pointing out, and to an ever more appreciative audience, that the whole idea of the old conventional war in the nuclear age is nonsense, is lunacy. It is suicide. To talk about making war over Berlin is something so absolutely stupid and senseless that to examine it for a few moments only shows its complete absurdity.
I hope that the Prime Minister will welcome some revolutionary thinker too. There was not much sign of any revolutionary thinking, or, indeed, of any thinking at all, in what the Prime Minister said yesterday. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said, that the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday reminded him of the last political days of Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, when Mr. Macdonald made the speeches in which he talked about going on and on and on and up and up and up. If the Prime Minister is going to talk as he did yesterday, he is not going up and up, he is going down and down.
What do we do with Prime Ministers who have outlived their usefulness? In some countries—in Russia—they embalm their great military leaders and after a time they discover that the military leaders were not quite so good and they take them away. Of course, in this country we have sometimes done things like that. Oliver Cromwell's body was dug up and his head was placed on top of Westminster Hall. In politics and in history there are some very strange kaleidoscopic changes, which are very interesting to the historians. But the time has come for the Prime Minister to be embalmed—in the place where we embalm our Prime Ministers: in the other place. It will be only according to tradition, because the gentleman who was Mr. Anthony Eden is embalmed in the House of Lords and so is his predecessor, Earl Attlee. So I do suggest 255 that the time has come for the political embalment of the Prime Minister.
We in this corner of the House seem to have annoyed him yesterday. I asked what I thought were perfectly relevant questions about this great outburst of moral indignation on the part of the Prime Minister and everybody else about the action of Mr. Khrushchev in announcing the explosion of the megaton bomb. It looks as though we have had today a repetition; it appears that the House of Commons is running out of adjectives. Mr. Khrushchev's action has been described as barbarous, as inhuman, as cruel. And we all agree.
I do not know anybody in public life, I do not even know of any Communist, who supported Mr. Khrushchev's action, and certainly those of us who are here the outcasts of the House, who have not only been chucked out of the Labour Party but the Prime Minister wants us to be chucked out again—none of us in any way at all defends the action of the Soviet Union's Government. We repudiate it, and the first telegram of repudiation to the Russian Embassy came from the South Ayrshire Labour Party.
We all do repudiate it, but we must carry our moral indignation to some logical conclusion—
§ Mr. Hughes
—and if we say that the polluting by the Russian megaton bomb is evil, is inhuman, cruel, callous, then we must carry this to its logical conclusion and say, if we believe that, that it is cruel and callous and inhuman and against the interests of civilisation for us to follow in the same way and send our atom bomb into the air and explode it there and scatter pollution in the atmosphere with danger to children unborn. That is the logical conclusion of the argument.
I say that those of us who are called unilateralists, in carrying this argument to its logical conclusion, do it with a great deal of support from people who are not obsessed with the politics of Westminster. After all, we know that those sit-down protests have been as much at the Russian Embassy as anywhere else, and Lord Russell has been 256 to the Russian Embassy and there have been protests to Mr. Khrushchev from Labour Members of Parliament.
The argument seems to us irresistible, that after this outburst of moral indignation the duty of the Prime Minister was to say, "This was a horrible and dangerous thing to the future of the world but we are not going to pollute the atmosphere, we are not going to proceed on this path against civilisation." Of course, it caught the Prime Minister on a sensitive point. Hypocrisy never likes to be debunked, and so we had that tirade against the Members with whom I am associated. He said, "Yes, pro-Russians."
Hon. Members in this House have been called pro-Russians before. There was a war in 1854, the Crimean War, when we invaded Russia, and there was a Liberal statesman called John Bright who protested against the Crimean War. What did they yell against him? "Pro-Russian." So precedents are followed in this House even after a century. I have been called pro-German, too, in my time; pro-German, pro-East and pro-West. I remember the First World War when Keir Hardie was called pro-German. In the Boer War Lloyd George was called pro-Boer.
When anybody dares to raise his voice against the passion of the moment, even when he brings forward invincible arguments, there is always somebody there, an hon. Member or a political journalistic guttersnipe, who shouts "Pro-German" or "Pro-Russian". Horatio Bottomley did. Now a Prime Minister of whom we expected higher standards has used the political sneers of Horatio Bottomley. That is what the Prime Minister descended to. He combines the political smear tactics of Horatio Bottomley with the unctious hypocrisy of Uriah Heep.
I do not deny that I am pro-Russian. I am pro the Russian people. I am pro the Russian people against the bomb, and pro the American people against the bomb. The greatest enemy of Russians, Americans, British and everybody else in the whole world, committed or uncommitted, is the hydrogen bomb. The Prime Minister is already preparing the way, he is preparing his apologia in advance, because in certain circumstances of the balance of power we shall 257 be prepared to do the same thing. We shall be prepared to start our explosions and we shall have the atmosphere polluted in the same way and the Russians will be saying, "Look at the hypocrisy of the British." If we are going to do that and if we are to argue for the balance of power and prepare to sacrifice humanity in the struggle for the balance of power, let us have no hypocrisy and no humbug about it.
Before I turn for a moment to the background of all this, there is one other thing I should mention about the Prime Minister's attack on some of us. I was with the Prime Minister when he went on his expedition to Moscow and I heard him deliver a speech far more eulogistic of Mr. Khrushchev than ever I would have delivered. Pro-Russian! The House should be reminded of it, and the Prime Minister should be reminded of it.
I heard the speech in the British Embassy in Moscow, and at first when I listened to it I could hardly believe my ears. I wondered whether it was the Caucasian wine or the vodka. So I went next day to the British Embassy for the hand-out copy and there it was in black and white. This was what be said—the address was to Khrushchev;This is a truly constructive life's work which you have undertaken. The future before the Soviet people is one of expanding horizons. Across the steppes glows the furnace of industry beckoning to a promised land. This is no mirage which you see before you. It is sober reality. The rate and quality of your progress is indeed extraordinary and is—so far as I know—unparalleled in history.Who is the pro-Russian? When the Prime Minister uses these taunts against us, I say again that this is another example of unmitigated humbug.
What is the background of all this? The Prime Minister says that this was a political decision. How does he know? It is very difficult. Military people would not say what is political and what is military, and it is very difficult indeed for those who are not in the inner circle to disentangle the trend of events and the motives of Russian policy at present. If it was a purely political decision, how do we explain the speech of Marshal Malinovsky in which he went into great detail about strategic and military matters? Not only did Mr. Khrushchev talk of politics but he talked of military 258 strategy, and he talked about the preparations of the West. We may disregard it as Mr. Khrushchev's type of hypocrisy, the Prime Minister in reverse, but there were certain military aspects. Critics and leaders of public opinion who have been trying to find out the strategic and military reasons for these explosions have dealt with certain military explanations.
I commend to the House a very interesting and objective article in the last number of the Economist. The writer dealt with the military aspects of the decision to explode these bombs. He referred to the big warheads and he talked about rockets and then said:On the same grounds the big warhead"—the megaton bomb—might be used against prowling Polaris submarines, if their general whereabouts, but not their exact position, were known to Soviet intelligence; the extra hull-cracking pressure produced by the bigger explosion might make the difference between a hit and a miss.We have heard my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in recent debates saying that Polaris was the most wonderful weapon which would go under the sea and nobody could find where it was.
Perhaps Soviet military thinkers have been reading my hon. and learned Friend's speeches. If this is so, this is also the thinking of a certain section of military people in America. The argument for Polaris was that it could go undetected under the sea and from there destroy a dozen Russian cities in one salvo from its weapons. Who knows? It is logical enough, if anything military has any logic at all these days, that the Russians should say, "If we are to meet the menace of the Polaris submarine and we do not know exactly where it is we can explode one big bomb which will cover a large area and destroy the submarine whose purpose is to destroy Russian cities".
When we argue that we are innocent in international affairs, that we are not preparing for war, that we are all interested in peace and are utterly blameless, that may be so, but it does not appear to be so to the other people. In Moscow recently I heard anecdotes which are passed from mouth to mouth but are not repeated in the Press. The current story asks why the Armenian Radio was suppressed and it is said that 259 it was because of its answer to a certain question. The radio was asked whether there would be another war and the answer was, "Certainly not. They will all be so busy fighting for peace that there will be nobody left to fight a war". And so we have international controversy going on against the background of the arms race.
I say to the House that we are not winning the arms race and that there is no possibility of our winning it with the new technical generation that has arisen in the Soviet Union and that, instead of striking these melodramatic postures, we must do some real thinking or we shall be destroyed. It is because the Government have shown no signs of any constructive policy that we are entitled to attack them in this debate.
The Opposition puts forward a proposal for disengagement, and I believe that on these lines we can find the possibility of successful negotiations. If we can have the Rapacki plan or the Gaitskell disengagement plan put in the forefront of our negotiations with the Soviet Union, I believe that there is a possibility of their saying "Yes", and that it is on these lines that we should be attempting to seek a solution of these difficulties.
Then comes the question of N.A.T.O. The Opposition will have to make up their mind sooner or later whether they believe in "My N.A.T.O. right or wrong," because if they believe that the Gaitskell plan or the Rapacki plan is the way to international settlement, but the other nations say that they do not agree and America or General de Gaulle vetoes it and N.A.T.O. vetoes it and General Norstad says that it will not work, then the time will have come when in the interest of international peace the Government must think in terms of leaving N.A.T.O. and of establishing themselves on a different footing in international politics. If we say that it is impossible to be neutral in this world, we have only to look round the world to see that the great majority of the countries are neutral and would welcome some attempt to break through the wall of hate that divides East and West.
§ Mr. Hughes
Finland is of strategical importance to Russia. We can certainly 260 look at the question of Finland, because if we had a Finland next door to us we would probably want to think in the same strategic terms, too.
§ Mr. Hughes
Ireland is neutral Ireland enjoys the benefits of neutrality. In the Dail and in Dublin they are not thinking about conscription measures at the present time; their ideas are different.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know if my hon. and learned Friend has been to Finland recently, but I have. In Finland, the capitalist system prevails. There is private trading, private newspapers, a free democracy in Finland, right on Russia's doorstep, because Russia does not attack any country which does not menace her and is not strategically dangerous to her. But my hon. and learned Friend and I can discuss that at another time. I want to discuss conscription.
Here is a nice political position for both parties. The Opposition is up against a dilemma, too, and, judging by the sound and fury on the Opposition benches, the Labour Party is going all out against conscription. I agree with that. I am as strong an opponent of the extension of National Service proposals as anyone. I suggest to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) that he should try an experiment. Let him go to two or three places in his constituency, knock on the doors and ask the men to join the Army. What would happen? I know Ayrshire as well as the hon. Member. Ayrshire is one of the places lowest on the recruiting list. When the hon. Member advocates any kind of national service in that part of the world, I say that he is not expressing the views and interests of his constituency.
We have had tension over Berlin during September and October. Did it give a boost to the recruiting figures? Not a very enthusiastic one. The Secretary of State, in reply to a Question by me, said that it was marginal. If there were any enthusiasm in this country, people would have been rushing to join the Army, and it would have been revealed in the recruiting figures.
§ Mr. Profumo
I find it immensely difficult to get the sort of enthusiasm that I should like to see for recruiting in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but that is a very special case. Recruiting is the country as a whole is shooting up.
§ Mr. Hughes
If it is "shooting up" there will not be any problem, and the Government will have to shelve their National Service proposals. In Ayrshire, there is no enthusiasm for fighting in Berlin or anywhere else. I shall put down a Question on that for a Written Answer next week.
I will try another place. What about Leeds? Having taken a typical agricultural constituency, I proceed to a typical industrial city, represented by the Leader of the Opposition, the spokesman for the Opposition on foreign affairs and hon. Friends of mine who said, "We must not say that we are not going to fight any war over Berlin". How many recruits joined in Leeds in September to fight for Berlin? The numbers were 56 in a big industrial city. I fail to find in this country any sign that the majority of young people who have been in National Service are likely to be attracted into the Army. They ask; Exactly what are we fighting for? Why is there all this movement of troops and trouble in Berlin and Central Europe when we can go into a hydrogen bomb war that can destroy everything in half-an-hour? They find all this talk about conventional warfare and enlistment in the Army for another twenty years—seeing the world and all that— so much irrelevance.
What sort of people are being asked to make this Rhine Army efficient? The Army wants certain technicians. It wants electricians and people used to handling machinery. What are these people doing? Where are they now? It is probable, presumably because of their training as key men and mechanics, that they are in some of the industrial factories because if industry is to recover it must have trained people in the right strategic places. How can we capture foreign markets if we take the technicians from the factories? If we do so, we shall pose an isoluble problem. Instead of talking about conscription, we have to realise that the young people of this generation do not want to go into 262 the Army, and we have to base our defence policy and foreign policy upon that assumption.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently told the House that we were in such an economic mess that we must cut down our national expenditure. One of the most notable things that he said was that we must cut down our overseas expenditure and spend less in Germany. But surely these measures will cost something? They will mean an addition to the War Office budget. Last week the Economist said:Clearly, selective service would be needed if large conventional forces of this kind were to become (over British objections) the accepted N.A.T.O. policy. This would entail both the disruption of the present British Regular Army and vast new expenses in manpower and money. It would impose a major new strain on the British economy, and one that could not possibly be paid for by the small savings that might be derived from scrapping the antiquated parts of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent.We heard the attack on the Government by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, who has been to B.A.O.R. and found a large number of technical deficiencies in the Rhine Army. It has not the right signals. It requires an enormous amount of new equipment. All this cannot be obtained without a vast expenditure of public money. If we devote part of our economy—some of our factories—to re-equipping the Rhine Army with complicated materials, we again meet the problem. Those men are now engaged on work which is essential to the export drive. One is once again up against an insoluble problem. Consequently, I say that we are drifting back to the fact that we cannot afford it.
If a Labour Government returned to power as a result of a slide away from the Tories at the next General Election and came forward with a proposal to spend much bigger sums on the Rhine Army, they would have to find the money for the purpose. Where would they get it? The Labour Party is committed to spending huge sums on social reform, housing, education and the health service and yet at the same time we have it committed in a haphazard way like this to the idea of a programme which might result in heavily increased military expenditure. Consequently, I contend that we must base our policy not 263 on re-equipping the Rhine Army but on bringing that Army home.
That is the policy of Lord Montgomery, and it has now become the policy of military realists. It is not just the airing of the thoughts of a pacifist theorist. The time has come when people who look at the situation from the military point of view say that the whole conception of N.A.T.O. must be changed. Therefore, I say that we must look more critically at N.A.T.O. and we must have entirely new ideas on defence and foreign policy, and until the Government realise that they are misleading the House and betraying the country.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I should not like to follow the argument of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I have always listened to him with very great interest, and I think that one's affection depends upon not agreeing with him, but I must say that I was rather upset by the severe strictures which he passed upon the Prime Minister.
I had hoped to make no recriminations of any sort today. It seems to me that affairs are far too serious for that. It is essential that one should look at what actually is the position in the country today and ascertain why Her Majesty's Government have been moved to adopt a course which they have argued and spoken against at every opportunity during the last four years.
I turn my attention, rather reluctantly, to the manner and method of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth). I had hoped to give him warning that I would do so, but, unfortunately, he did not follow the tradition of the House and remain in the Chamber during the whole of the speech of the hon. Member who succeeded him, and that is why I have been unable to inform him that I would quote him. It seemed to me that his speech very much summed up the case for the Government at present. It was a most curious speech. He accused every one who disagreed with him of, as it were, getting their information from the canteens. Then he told a smutty story which I can only conceive he himself got from the canteen. I am very grateful to him for that, for I have heard him 264 speak on many occasions but never before heard him make a remark which was in any sense memorable. For his speeches have almost always been an echo of the Government Front Bench policy of the time, however many somersaults my hon. and gallant Friend had to do to achieve that end.
What are the Government saying? They are saying that things are not serious at all, and, in order to emphasise that they are not serious, we suddenly get slipped into the debate—this is an innovation—the names of prominent generals as in a conversation—such as Frank Festing, Bill Slim and whatever the Christian name of Cassels is, and so on. The general assumption seems to be that these great soldiers are all pals with the people who know, are entirely behind the Government and are not in the least worried in any sense by the present situation.
I turn from that to what really is facing the country today. It is fairly simple. We are part of the free world in opposition to the Russian Communist menace which is determined to win by using every method that is known, by subversion, by direct warfare in small places, by limited warfare, by political activity and by industrial activity. All these methods are being used, and the Russian Communists are determined to get their way by them in the end. We have to combat that, not only in Europe but in many other parts of the world.
When I am told by some right hon. Friends that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to reduce the forces in certain bases abroad because they are not required in those places. I should like to know which of the bases are not required today and what forces it is planned to withdraw from them and what availability of men will be achieved as a result of this. The fact of the matter is that one cannot have a defence policy with 165,000 men and have by any means an adequate British force.
The Minister of Defence seemed today to take credit, as other hon. Members have done, for the Kuwait operation. That was a success, but I do not know how many hon. Members know that it was a success mainly because by good fortune H.M.S. "Bulwark" happened to be in the vicinity. That is something 265 which will probably not occur again. But that gave the Government a little extra strength which they had not otherwise got What the Kuwait operation illustrated was not the strength of our defence arrangement but the weakness of it today, and we must face that
What the Government are doing at the moment is belatedly admitting this and introducing a scheme of selective conscription. That is what it is. There is no doubt about it. A certain number of people are selected who have already served and are told that they will have to serve again. That is selective conscription, and, in my opinion, it is a doubly unfair selective conscription. But I do not want to criticise the Government too much on that measure, because what they are doing, in my view, is giving themselves a period of six months in which they can think again.
During those six months I hope that they will look at things not as they would have them but as they are, and have regard for the fact that there is now a great battle being fought between East and West, and that it is absolutely impossible for us to play our part in that battle with an Army of the size which the British Army will be in two or three years' time. That is admitted.
Will my right hon. Friend, when he replies, tell us of some long-term plan of the Government? The other day, when this matter suddenly arose, there was tremendous talk in the Press about the integration of the forces. We heard a great deal about it. We were assured that the answer to the situation was not conscription but the integration of the forces. What does that mean? The Minister of Defence spoke about it earlier. Are we to build more aircraft carriers, or scrap the present naval programme of building and launch a totally different type of vessel which is needed if the forces are to be integrated? Are we to scrap the R.A.F. Regiment? Or is integration just a word to throw critics off the scent?
It must seem to me that the Minister of Defence brought more red herrings into this House today than were ever carried by any Grimsby fish wife. Again and again right hon. Members were pushed away from the main point, which is that we are weak and are getting 266 weaker, that we are too weak to fulfil our commitments. If that is not the case, then I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to answer the question which I put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence to begin with and which he shied away from and never answered. Is it possible for the British Army of the Rhine to take part in full-scale military operations without the use of nuclear weapons? That is the key question which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said he would answer. He has not done so, and I ask the Secretary of State for War for an answer.
The last question is the all-embracing one: if things are as well as the Minister of Defence and others say—if Frankie Festing and Bill Slim and Uncle Tom Cobley and all are so happy with things today—why is it necessary suddenly to introduce this plan of selective conscription? What we have is a last-minute stop-gap. The Government too long refused to admit that they were wrong. They have refused to swallow the words that they have spoken. They have made promises which could not be kept, and, as a result, the country is in a state of unparalleled weakness. That must be realised. If the country knows it, it will react to it, but if we go on as we are, then nothing remains but the destruction of that influence which yet remains to us.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), I do not claim to be an expert on the technical details of defence, my military experience having been limited to a spirited participation in the air raid warden service during the London blitz. I have, therefore, always felt some diffidence in trying to take part in these defence debates, though I must say, after having listened to the Minister of Defence's speech today and to the devastating critique of it by the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), I find that some of my diffidence is beginning to evaporate. It seems that our defence strategy is in such a confused and parlous state that, from now on, every hon. Member had better be his own defence minister and we had better come to these debates 267 with our own "do-it-yourself" strategic kits.
All the speeches from both sides today have made evident the close link that there is between foreign and defence policies, and almost every speaker has contributed his analysis of what Mr. Khrushchev's motives are, and, therefore, what exactly it is that we are having to contend with in defence. The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) ventured the view that Mr. Khrushchev is merely a disciple of Hitler. All I can say to that is that, if it be a correct analysis, the Government's defence preparations for this country are even more inadequate than they at present seem.
Clearly, the whole of our thinking about foreign affairs and defence policy has been coloured by the explosion of the 50-megaton bomb—not by its existence, for I suggest that that is not the really significant thing which we have to consider, but its testing, which is an act which, experts have told us, is militarily quite gratuitous. I believe that it is essential that we should interpret this apparently wanton act correctly, as the starting point for the rest of our argument.
As is well known, I and some of my hon. Friends sent a letter to Mr. Khrushchev protesting about the resumption by the Soviet Union of H-bomb tests and pleading that the 50-megaton bomb should not, in its turn, be tested. I must frankly admit that the long answer we have had to our letter, some 2,000 words long, is not of much help in the direction of understanding what the Russians are about.
Mr. Khrushchev tells us that fall-out—and fall-out, quite apart from anything else, is obviously a matter of major concern to every citizen of the world—is no longer important. Events have now come to such a desperate pass between East and West that the real danger we face is not from fall-out but from the probable use of the bomb itself.
Of course, that is no justification for the tests, because that test has itself helped to accelerate the arms race, and, therefore, the danger that the bomb will be used. So what on earth was behind this action of the Soviet Union, not only in producing 50-megaton bombs but in 268 advertising the fact so blatantly and so wantonly to the world? I do not believe that Mr. Khrushchev is so ill-informed about opinion in this country as to imagine that we would be frightened off our course by the big bang. Indeed, the effect is the very opposite, because to horrify is not to terrify, and nuclear disarmers, whether unilateralist or multilateralist, would be the last people to be impressed by a show of nuclear brutality.
Indeed, if Mr. Khrushchev has been misled about the attitude and mood of the people of this country, the fault lies very much with those who, both in Press and Parliament, have consistently and sometimes wilfully misrepresented the attitude and policy of nuclear disarmers, labelling them as fellow-travellers and pacifists.
The kernel of the case for nuclear disarmament is one which would lead to a toughening of resistance to the threats of Khrushchev, rather than the opposite, for that case is that nuclear weapons are futile as weapons of defence and are only weapons of mutual extermination and that those who rely on them are relying in the last resort on our willingness to commit not only suicide, but, to coin a word, cosmicide, for the deterrent is plausible only if the size of the destructive weapon is matched by the strength of the will to use it, in other words, to put it quite colloquially, is matched by sufficient bloody-mindedness to be willing to use the weapon and to be thought to be willing to use the weapon.
The world of nuclear weapons is one in which it is every man his own Eichmann, being ready to be responsible for the extermination of millions of his fellow men. Therefore, reliance on nuclear weapons, by both East and West, creates a psychology which is inimical to peace. I agreed with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he said that he found something horrifying in the fact that Mr. Khrushchev could regard with delight the fact that Soviet scientists had made a slight error and that his explosion was not 50 megatons, but 75 megatons. But that is the attitude which is implicit in the whole nuclear arms race, for by their very nature nuclear weapons are anti-man. Therefore, any unnecessary contribution to the creation of this psychology is a crime against humanity.
269 That is one of the reasons why we indict the defence policy of our own Government, which adds to nuclear provocativeness in the world while making quite evident that the independent British nuclear deterrent is militarily totally irrelevant to any defence policy. Nuclear disarmers, therefore, would be the first to resist Mr. Khrushchev's threats of nuclear annihilation, because these threats fit the cosmic death wish of the nuclear world rather than support the principle of the sanctity of human life, for which we stand.
§ Mr. Wigg
I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) that the actual existence of the bomb creates a war psychosis. Would she not agree that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament—which I understand to be purely negative in character to the extent to which it has protested against a British deterrent, which, in my submission, does not exist —by its negative attitude has added to that war psychosis?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am not speaking for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but for myself, and I hope that when I have finished my speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will not think that I am so negative as he now does. What I am trying to do at this point is to interpret the Russian action, because unless we get our interpretation right, we shall embark on the wrong defence and the wrong foreign policies. I am trying to dismiss the easy assumption that it was a political action intended to terrorise us.
Shocked as we are by it, there is an encouraging fact attached, namely, that Mr. Khrushchev gains nothing, either politically or militarily, from this test. We are not here faced with a possibility that in some clandestine way the Soviet Union is stealing a march on us. There was never any chance that this test could be disguised and hidden from us. Therefore, we are not up against a secret stealing of advantage by an enemy. We are up against a most flagrant defiance of world opinion, including that of the uncommitted countries, in pursuit of an activity which our own Minister of Defence has told us today does not make military sense
270 It does not make military sense because we have been told today that the West, that is, Britain and the United States, does not need to resume atmospheric tests. We can keep militarily abreast by underground explosions. This is to be the basis for the continuance, at any rate for a time, of the relative virtue of the West in not undertaking atmospheric tests. Moreover, as Congressman Rutherford of Texas has said only in the last few days, there is nothing for us to be afraid of in the Russian 50-megaton explosion, because the United States has far greater nuclear power than that with her B52s carrying 25-megaton bombs "tucked under each wing." Therefore, there is some rather more sophisticated explanation of the Soviet move.
I suggest that there is one which gives us cause for great encouragement. It is clear that Mr. Khrushchev's tests are directed at an audience different from us. They are directed at an audience within the Communist camp rather than in the Western world. After all the epithets we have poured out about the Soviet tests, it is ironic to discover that there are some people, both in the Soviet Union and China, who label Mr. Khrushchev a pacifist and revisionist. It seems clear that the reason for Mr. Khrushchev's crime against humanity in these tests is that he wants to change course and that he wants to rival the United States in consumer standards of living, which can only enormously relax the mood of the Soviet Union and world tension as a result.
Hence, as the Guardian correspondent has pointed out day after day in the past few weeks, Mr. Khrushchev's aim is to divert priority increasingly inside Russia from the heavy to the light industries. It is to enable him to win this internal argument that the big bang has been necessary—to prove that heavy industry which is the foundation of the conventional forces can be safely run down because the Soviet Union can overwhelmingly hold her own in nuclear power.
This may be a distressing choice to have to make, but is it morally any different from the attitude of our own Government as outlined in the Defence White Paper of 1957, in which they announced that there was a need for a new approach, and for the whole 271 character of the defence plan to be revised? It stressed thatthe only existing safeguard against major aggression is the power to threaten retaliation with nuclear weaponsand announced that while building up the power of retaliation with the nuclear deterrent, we were also going to run down our conventional forces and our troops in Germany.
Is there anything morally different between Mr. Khrushchev's test and our Christmas Island ones in support of this nuclear strategy? What could be more militarily irrelevant than the British H-bomb? We have not even got the justification that it is an effective contribution to defence. The reason for our developing an independent British deterrent was exactly the same reason as Mr. Khrushchev's for piling up the nuclear stress at this moment; namely, that the Government were seeking the political advantage of getting rid of conscription without paying any regard to the defence or peace consequences of that action. They wanted defence on the cheap, militarily, materially and spiritually, and I oppose both the British and the Russian policies when they lead to these ends.
Our defence policy now stands in ruins. The "Bluestreak" fiasco has been followed by the "Spearpoint" revelations and we are now in the ironic position that the United States cannot reduce N.A.T.O.'s dependence on nuclear weapons to the extent that it would like, because we have let them down. Surely, it is quite clear from all the discussions which have taken place here this evening that there are only three choices before this country? One is to step up the dependence upon nuclear weapons in Europe and, therefore, the nuclear race in that highly explosive area; or, secondly, to have some system of conscription which is overtly and honestly fair, whether it be selective service or some other kind; or thirdly, to conclude a European settlement with the Soviet Union, and any Government doing their job honestly and courageously should put these three choices before the British people. Instead, they have been dragging their feet both in defence and foreign policy.
The defence policy which we have had offered to us today adds up to the.
272 We have got the maximum nuclear provocation with the minimum nuclear strength. We have got partial and unfair conscription, and a total silence by the Government on their proposals for a European settlement. Surely, one would have thought that, because the Government's defence policy has so patently failed, they would have at least been trying to remedy this situation and to protect the British people against the danger to which they are undoubtedly exposed by taking a lead in trying to secure a political settlement? Instead, we are continuing in the foreign policy field to perpetuate the same myths that we are living among in the military field, and we are treated by the Prime Minister to a long homily about the resumption of British tests. How virtuous he managed to make it sound. It seemed to me that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, in dealing with this point, missed the kernel of the whole thing. We on this side of the House do not believe that the British nuclear deterrent has any validity or any military sense. If the British bomb is wrong and militarily irrelevant, how much more morally wrong are the tests of that bomb? Any testing of British nuclear weapons would be completely irrelevant to Britain's real interests. Sometimes, we have been told in this House that Britain has to keep her nuclear weapons because it is the only way in which we can offset the growing influence of Western Germany in European affairs. We have got our nuclear weapons, but where is our influence? Does anybody in this House pretend that the British Government have as great a say in the settlement of the Berlin problem as the Government of Western Germany? What sign is there that Britain's voice is listened to at all in the political councils of N.A.T.O.? Only in the last few days, the safety and perhaps the survival of the people of the British Isles have been at risk while American officials have been playing "chicken" at "Checkpoint Charlie". "Chicken", we are told by the Washington correspondent of The Times,isa dangerous pastime played by some discontented young Americans: the point is to humiliate another by demonstrating that he is not courageous or foolish enough to accept a challenge to destroy himself.What are these forays by American officials across the frontier between East 273 and West Germany supposed to establish? Apparently, they are supposed to establish that we do not recognise the East German regime. We have had that dangerous game played of trying out each other's nerves even at the risk of nuclear war to establish that we do not accept the right of the East Germans to control their own frontiers. As The Times Washington correspondent pointed out, this has nothing to do with American interests, either.The three vital American interests which the Administration is determined to defend",he wrote two days ago,are concerned with West Berlin and do not go beyond the sector boundary.No wonder some of us are worried about the existence of American bases in this country, and have expressed that anxiety in an Amendment which we have tabled to the Motion for an Address.
It is one thing to be told that we cannot hard-heartedly surrender the freedom of the people of West Berlin to Communist tyranny, but it is quite another for us to be told that war on this country should be risked by American officials refusing to recognise, even de facto, the existence of the Easl German regime. Yet, there has been no British protest about this matter, and no anxiety expressed by any member of the Front Bench or any person in this House about this lunatic and irresponsible game played in Berlin in the last few days.
The irresponsibility of the "chicken' game has been followed by a far gravei statement by the American Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Rusk, who, in a speech on Sunday, announced that the United States ruled out completely the consideration of the creation of any "neutralised" or "buffer zone" as part of a settlement over Berlin.
The West cannot have it both ways. We cannot on the one hand refuse to recognise the division of Germany by ringing the alarm bells at "Checkpoint Charlie" every day of the week, and then in the next breath refuse to enter into the only negotiations which would make the reunification of Germany possible. What we are doing, while at one and the same time the weaknesses of this country's defences have been 274 exposed, is to continue to live in the world of dangerous myths which are bedevilling a solution of the Berlin problem, because West Berlin only makes sense as a temporary expedient until either we have had an agreed reunification between East and West Germany, or we have had the liberation of East Germany by force of arms.
West Berlin is an anachronism, and a dangerous one, as we all know, and some of the most outspoken things about it have been said by General Van Fleet who was shooting his mouth off in America only yesterday. He has written off Berlin as a dead loss. Be added thatany military leader who permitted himself to get caught that far behind enemy lines would be demoted.One of the tragedies of the post-war situation is that we in the West have been promising the West Germans integration with the West, and at the same time the reunification of their country. We have only just woken up to realise that the West Germans cannot have both these things without war. This is one of the sharp awakenings we have to face, and indeed there is now a dangerous mood growing up in Germany, a mood which only in the last two days, has led to the forced resignation of the Foreign Minister, Herr von Brentano, who has proved to be the stumbling block in the creation of a new coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats. In the statement he issued on his resignation, he said;Behind the demand for a change of person there is a demand for a change of policy.Heaven knows that von Brentano was hardly a great liberal statesman. It was he who opposed the operation of the Rapacki plan tooth and nail. Nobody in his senses will imagine that that is why the Free Democrats wanted to get rid of him. Indeed, they considered that his policy was not tough enough.
What is this new policy to which von Brentano refers as being the purpose of the coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats? Is it the pursuit of the lunatic dream of the liberation of East Germany by force? Or could it possibly be the determination to get reunification, if necessary by a deal with the Soviet Union? I suggest to the House that it is folly for us to ignore these possibilities.
275 Since the war this House, and the West as a whole, have deliberately chosen to pursue the integration of West Germany into the Western Alliance at the price of the perpetuation of promises we cannot deliver, and we have chosen to woo Dr. Adenauer rather than to explore the possibilities of a European security pact. The time of awakening has come, and I suggest that the grave exposure of the people of this country to dangers against which we have no defence, and the picture of our situation we have had given us today, make it clearer than ever before that the defence of the people of this country will not be found in any Defence White Papers, but by a realistic and revolutionary change in our approach to the foreign policy problem.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
I do not think that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was quite fair in saying that the Government had been dragging their feet in trying to reach a settlement in Europe.
A feature common to these defence debates is that they often turn out to be Army debates, and I hope that if I introduce some thoughts on certain other aspects of defence I shall not strike a discordant note.
Since I was a student at the Imperial Defence College ten years ago, I think that our situation has deteriorated. Indeed, I think that our vulnerability at the moment is quite terrifying. I do not think that our vulnerability to nuclear attack can be placed at the door of this or any other Government. It is a question of the march of science, and particularly the march of Soviet science, and there is precious little we can do about it except to maintain the strength of the Western deterrent and to realise that without his deterrent on our side we shall either be destroyed or blackmailed into submission.
There are, however, some things that are within our control, and I want to refer particularly to our position at sea. I am frankly appalled at our naval position at the moment. I am sorry that there is no one here to answer for the Admiralty. As no Admiralty representative has been here since the Front Bench speeches were made, and as naval 276 affairs were not mentioned in the Defence White Paper, I wonder if there is some lack of interest in naval as compared with Army affairs.
I do not wish to discuss the nature of a future war. There is more than one school of thought on that. A debate on the Navy Estimates is the right time to argue the naval implications of that. I merely wish to make the point as emphatically as I can that we do not today possess the naval and maritime air forces necessary to secure our seaborne communications with any degree of certainty in the event of an Atlantic war.
I believe that that applies not only to the Royal Navy but also to the N.A.T.O. navies as a whole, in which the British contribution in anti-submarine escorts is, I believe, one in six, which is hardly an adequate one for a great maritime nation. The Navy has no single antisubmarine vessel capable of dealing with a Soviet nuclear submarine.
I do not think that our naval forces have ever been more efficient or that the spirit of the navy has ever been higher, but our weakness in numbers of ships is alarming, not only in itself but in its implications of quite another kind. We are an island people. We have an island economy, and our life is largely dependent on seaborne communications. If we cannot protect these lifelines, we have had it.
What does this mean? Our vulnerability to conventional attack at sea is a standing invitation to an enemy to make such an attack on this flank, which is both vital and vulnerable. There is no substitute for seaborne communications. If we lose control of these lifelines we have only two alternatives before us; one is to submit and the other is to reply by initiating nuclear war, if it has not already been opened by the other side.
My fear, therefore, is that we are steadily reaching the position—indeed, I think that we may have reached it— where the only kind of major war which we can contemplate fighting is a nuclear war, whether or not the enemy initiates nuclear warfare.
I leave it to others better informed to continue the debate on the question of the Government's measures to reinforce the strength of the Army. All I want to 277 say on the subject of B.A.O.R. is that defence is not merely a question of Berlin and B.A.O.R., or even of overseas commitments; it is a question of national purpose and morale. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not entertain any suggestion that the strength of B.A.O.R. should be reinforced by making unacceptable reductions in our overseas commitments. This point has been made several times, and I understood my right hon. Friend to say that he would not entertain such a suggestion for a moment.
The root of the trouble over the strength of the Army lies in the fact that we have taken on a far greater commitment in Western Europe, in the B.A.O.R., than we can sustain with our other overseas commitments. I doubt whether anyone can offer an acceptable solution, because we have treaty obligations which, presumably, we must keep. But our troubles spring largely from that fact, with the result that we are too thinly spread everywhere, and we are now faced with the dilemma of introducing measures which will clearly be unpopular, or making unacceptable reductions in our forces overseas, or leaving the British Army of the Rhine too weak. I feel that if we are faced with a choice between our overseas commitments and B.A.O.R., our overseas commitments should come first, by a long way.
This Continental strategy is quite foreign to our historic military tradition. It is not usual for us to maintain a very large proportion of our Army as a standing army on the Continent of Europe in peacetime. There are many answers to that criticism, but, nevertheless, it is quite foreign to all our history and, I believe, to our true military interests.
Whatever measures my right hon. Friend may decide to take in the way of reinforcing B.A.O.R., I hope that when he makes his reappraisal of our defence policy—which I understand from the newspapers, and not from him, to be under consideration at present— he will go into the question of reorientating our defence policy and military strategy by adopting a true maritime strategy. I hope that we shall hear more of this in the Defence White Paper.
If my right hon. Friend is thinking on the lines of a highly mobile strategic 278 reserve, or whatever it may be called, I hope that he will remember that ships cannot float about the eastern oceans or anywhere else without a base. Not all our bases are essential, but we cannot do without some base in the area in which our ships are operating. Of course, if we take a realistic view of the political problems involved in retaining overseas bases in these days, it is obvious there are difficulties, but it is wrong to think that because things are politically difficult or embarrassing they are necessarily impossible. We have to make an assessment of priorities in these matters, and one priority is the security of our overseas interests. There are other political priorities, but that is a military priority.
I do not want to be unduly depressing or alarmist, but for many years, going back to the days long before I entered this House, when I knew a great deal more about the true facts of our defence situation than I know now, I have listened to successive Governments of all complexions reassuring the country that all was well in defence. These statements have not been true for many years. I hope that I shall not be accused of furthering the interests of our enemies when I say that we are now living on bluff. It is not so much a question of what Ministers say—people do not reach the Front Benches in this House until they have learned to avoid saying anything which can be held against them later on—as of the aggregate impression derived from their speeches over a long period.
I cannot remember any time since the war when any Government of this country has been as frank as they should have been about the true facts of our defence situation. In the Staff College we used to talk about "situating the appreciation", instead of "appreciating the situation", meaning that we were fitting the facts to reach certain conclusions. I have the feeling that some of our Governments have been guilty of that.
Many years ago, when the great Admiral Jackie Fisher was First Sea Lord, he was able to say, when speaking at a Royal Academy banquet, in about 1905, that we could assure the people of these islands that they could sleep safely in their beds. I wish I 279 could believe that any Minister today could honestly say that that was still true. As has already been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, we are carrying on this debate tonight at a moment of great international tension. The word "war" is bandied about freely at all levels, including that of senior members of the Government. Yet I believe that we are now relatively weaker and far more vulnerable than we have ever been at a time of tension.
If I am exaggerating the dangers I do not consider that that is necessarily a disservice to this House or to the country, any more than the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was rendering a disservice by his exposures —I do not know whether he was exaggerating—regarding B.A.O.R. I think it right to discuss these things frankly. If one feels that there are dangers, then I think it right that one should talk about them. This is not the moment to be complacent or to try to soothe people with smooth words. On the contrary, I think that the Government should tell the country frankly the "facts of life" about defence, however hard and unpalatable they may be.
Nor can I see any limit to the duration of this kind of situation. I think it would be quite wrong to give the impression that we are taking any measures today which we feel are necessarily short-term measures. I cannot see any end to the kind of situation in which we are living, or the necessity for maintaining our defences at a very high, costly, and, in a sense, a very sacrificial level.
It may be that in ten years' or in twenty years' time, perhaps longer, it will not be Communism with which we are faced. One thing with which we shall be faced sooner or late—Communist or otherwise—is the danger and peril arising from the growth of population; from pressures which will arise in the world because of the expansion of world population which is building up—I am surprised that this is so seldom mentioned in this House—at a rate which is producing great pressures in various parts of the world but which as yet we ourselves have not experienced.
If we are to live, let alone prosper and maintain our national life and in- 280 tegrity, in a world in which it is getting harder and more difficult to live, I believe that we must be ready and able to defend our national life and our vital interests. We need a call to brace ourselves to face a prolonged, severe and very trying endurance test. There were times when my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) spoke frankly to the nation about the perils which confronted us, not only during the war years but before. The response, at any rate during the war years, was certainly not lacking. I believe that there would be a good response to that kind of shock treatment were it imposed today. I believe that this is necessary. But there will not be any such response to complacent reassurances and promises of good times ahead. The only kind of response to that kind of treatment is a demand for jam today instead of jam tomorrow.
If one needs an example as a warning, let us remember the locust years of the 1930s and what went on in this House in those days. What those years of evasion, escapism and reluctance to face hard and unpalatable facts cost us later in terms of blood and treasure, the effects of which are still with us today, is on the record for all time. I do not think it unfair to say that our failure then was due in a large measure to a reluctance to take steps—perhaps by this House, certainly by politicians —that were militarily necessary but politically embarrassing.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will give us an emphatic assurance that political considerations—I am making no accusations but perhaps one ought to say party political considerations—will never deter him or his right hon. Friends from taking measures which his professional advisers regard as necessary for our national security. I know that that would be so, but I should like it on the record.
As I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite, or the great majority of them, recognise, defence is not a party matter. I urge my right hon. Friends to be as frank as they can with this House and with the country and to tell us the facts about defence, however unpalatable, and what it is necessary to do about them. If the Minister of Defence will do that, 281 and throw lesser considerations overboard, I feel sure that he will receive the support of the majority of hon. Members in this House and of the majority of the people in the country.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I hope the Minister of Defence has been impressed by the deep concern in all parts of the House about the quandary into which this Government have got the defence of this country. No one could put it more strongly than did the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield), who said that he did not believe that at any moment of tension in the history of this country had our defence been weaker or more vulnerable. That was a devastating statement coming from a supporter of the Government.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member also because I think that a great deal of the trouble has been due to the commitment, made by a Conservative Prime Minister, to have four divisions in Europe. That, to my mind, was a foolish commitment at the time. It was done in a hurry; it was rash and unbalanced. It was the presage of the rash and unbalanced attitude which eventually landed us in the Suez affair. But we have that commitment. We have tried to skedaddle out of it with that cleverness which is so typical of the Prime Minister. We have tried to say that it is not a commitment of four divisions. We have abolished the divisions and reduced them to brigades and said there should be seven brigades. Then we cut it down to five brigades. Protests were made, and we raised them to seven brigades. Only last June we had a firm undertaking that there would be seven brigades.
We have been playing about with the numbers in B.A.O.R. because for political reasons—internal party political reasons—we did not want to carry out the commitments in Europe which this country had undertaken. It is one thing to say that the commitment should never have been undertaken—and I strongly hold the view that it should never have been undertaken—but it is quite another thing to say that when that commitment is there we should try to skedaddle out of it by draining the units in B.A.O.R. of the troops they ought to have. That is both deceptive for our allies and dangerous for ourselves.
282 What we have now is the complete collapse of the 1957 policy. This policy of reducing the numbers and having fewer troops with the excuse of firepower of four divisions instead of having four divisions has been bound up with nuclear policy. The nuclear policy was presented to this House as a cheap way of getting out of conscription and of the financial commitments in which the four divisions would otherwise involve us. It means that in Europe we have agreed to a nuclear policy for our Army; in other words, that we are relying on nuclear weapons for our defence. It means that we in this country will use nuclear weapons first in the case of a war breaking out in Europe. That is a wrong and, in the critical condition of the world as it is today, a barbarous and criminal decision.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) mentioned, we have three composite regiments and two regiments equipped with "Corporal". They are the vital artillery for B.A.O.R. All the matters I shall mention in my speech have been already mentioned in this House or in the newspapers following disclosures which have been the result of the recent exercise. This is the vital artillery upon which our troops in B.A.O.R. are dependent.
The noble Lord rightly pressed for a statement from the Minister whether we could fight a war without nuclear weapons. As the newspapers have said —he has seen them and he must know— the troops in B.A.O.R. have been trained for nuclear war, they are deployed for nuclear war, they are equipped for nuclear war and that force is not an effective force except by use of nuclear weapons. If there is any kind of major operation in Europe and we fight, then either we use nuclear weapons or we are annihilated, or we do not fight at all. We are entirely dependent upon nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and that is what caused so much flurry in the newspapers recently, because that is exactly what was brought out in the Press by journalists who went to Germany and reported.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I know that the hon. and learned Member has been to B.A.O.R., and I hope that he saw there all he wanted. I hope that he will 283 accept it that the doctrine which we follow in B.A.O.R. is the doctrine of N.A.T.O. and not the doctrine of B.A.O.R. alone.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I do not gainsay that for a moment, otherwise it would not fit into N.A.T.O. But it was presented to the House with enthusiasm by the Prime Minister as a means by which we should save money and avoid conscription. Of course it fits into the N.A.T.O. pattern, but I am coming to the change in the American attitude and what we shall do about it. Subject to that addition, I gather that the Minister accepts what I have said about dependence upon nuclear weapons.
Let me look for a moment at nuclear strategy and what it involves. If we have nuclear weapons and are deployed for a nuclear war, we have a nuclear strategy. If we apply nuclear weapons to the principles of strategy certain things follow. For the benefit of some hon. Members who think otherwise, may I point out that if we have a nuclear war, of course we use the nuclear weapons, in the same way as we use heavy weapons in a conventional war, to hit the enemy behind the lines before his forces can hit us. The first thing to do is to hit the enemy as far away from us as possible, behind the enemy lines, to prevent him from organising.
In other words, the conception of the escalator and the graduated deterrent, the conception which has been presented to the House, is nonsense. That was a conception that one could start a nuclear war with small weapons, and rely on the little tiddlers first. Then, when the enemy retaliated, one used something heavier, and then the enemy used something heavier, and so on right up the escalator. That is not and never has been "on" at all. It is a complete fantasy, it is nonsense and always has been. I hope that we shall never hear more from either side of the House about that as being our nuclear policy.
If one is to use nuclear weapons and has an army dependent on nuclear weapons, and if one is to hit the enemy behind the lines, how far behind the lines does one hit him? How heavy stuff do we use? When we hit, do we hit inhabited country in which civilians live? If we do, where do we draw the line? 284 We do not just do it for the purpose of aggravating the enemy when things like nuclear weapons are involved. We do not do it to incite him to hit us back with a nuclear weapon. If we are thinking ruthlessly and militarily, as the Russians think, we obviously let off our biggest stuff where it hurts most at once. If they would hit at London, we should hit at Moscow.
It is silly to think of a petty, nuclear war confined to the Rhine area or Western Germany and not contemplate the immediate consequences if nuclear weapons are used on a full scale in a large, devastating nuclear war. In other words, it is not possible to fight a limited nuclear war.
I thought that I heard the Minister of Defence say in an aside to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) this afternoon—and if I am wrong I hope that he will correct me, because I may not have heard him correctly—that it was well-known that the idea was to use nuclear weapons in the early stages to hold up the enemy and then we should get our conventional troops mobilised on the Continent and then fight a conventional war.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I certainly have no recollection of saying that and, therefore, I shall look with interest at my speech in HANSARD. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows this, but the doctrine is: the short conventional pause first, hold it as long as we can and thereafter start on the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
It is not possible to have a pause at all unless it is a conventional pause. It is therefore ridiculous to have a B.A.O.R., as we have at the moment, which is dependent on nuclear weapons to create a pause which nuclear weapons cannot create when the only hope of creating a pause at all is by a conventional army. Therefore, the first consideration for the defence policy of this country should be the provision of a conventional army. That is the last consideration in the mind of the Government. It is exactly what the 1957 White Paper policy turned down and it is the opposite of what is in the interests of this country.
If that analysis is correct and if we are to have nuclear warfare, the only 285 thing to have is all-out nuclear warfare from the word "go". Then tactical nuclear weapons are futile. Therefore, what we should concentrate on is the making of a conventional army.
With this tactical nuclear set-up in B.A.O.R., can we fight a nuclear war?
§ Mr B. Harrison
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we should concentrate on a conventional army. Does he favour conscription, or what method does he propose to get the men?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
If the choice is between having conventional warfare with conscription or nuclear warfare without conscription, I would choose conscription every time. We shall not get that choice from this Government. We are to get both nuclear warfare and conscription. Can we then fight a nuclear war in our present position?
Let me say a word or two about control. I acknowledge at once the great courtesy of the Minister of Defence in arranging for me to go to our B.A.O.R. I am extremely grateful to him and to the Secretary of State for War. This arose from my doubting how the control of nuclear weapons was exercised. I understood that immediately a war broke out it would inevitably be a nuclear war. That is correct.
On the question of control, however, I was misinformed and quite wrong. I gladly acknowledge that the Minister of Defence was correct. The position is as follows, but it has led to some disturbing reflections. The control of nuclear weapons in British regiments is in American hands and it is operated in this way. With the British nuclear regiments, there are units of American troops who fulfil two functions. First they have the physical custody of the warhead. Secondly, and more important, the American units have the "knowhow" of operating the warhead. The British regiment, therefore, cannot operate this nuclear weapon at all without the co-operation of the American unit which is attached to it and which forms part of its figting formation in war.
Apart from that, there is this control. When nuclear weapons may be used, the order comes down from N.A.T.O. through SACEUR to the Commander of the British troops, to the Commander 286 of B.A.O.R. or the Commander of the Corps. He is then free to use those weapons, but he cannot use them without the co-operation of the American unit.
The American unit, however, gets the order not through the British Commander. It comes down from the President of the United States through exclusively American channels to the American unit attached to the British formation. We therefore have the position in N.A.T.O. that no nuclear weapons can be used without the American decision that they be used. But we have American troops which can use them without any veto from the other countries.
When operations start, our troops in B.A.O.R. become part of N.A.T.O. They come under SACEUR and they are subject to his orders. There is no corresponding provision of which I know whereby those British troops can be prevented from operating nuclear weapons in the same way as the American Government can prevent the American unit attached to the British troops operating those weapons. In other words, we are expected to exercise a degree of confidence in the Americans which they do not reciprocate with us. I say at once that I would incomparably prefer American control of these nuclear weapons as now operated rather than have a European control in which the decision might be made by European Powers.
But there is one aspect which the House should not lose sight of in this nuclear dependence. It is the morale of the units concerned. To me, it was a smack between the eyes to go to a British unit and to find there this utter dependence upon a foreign unit attached to it. It is not a healthy position. The Americans themselves were the most delightful people. The American officer whom I met in the British mess was a delightful and charming person. The British officers were excellent, understanding and altogether first-class, and the thing worked. The morale was excellent. We must not, however, run away from the knowledge that that is an undesirable situation which inevitably puts a strain upon those concerned.
These nuclear weapons which they have—and I should say nothing about 287 this either, if it had not been published— include the "Corporal," a vast weapon requiring trains to move it, requiring lorry after lorry to move it. It is a tremendous affair altogether— ponderous; slow in getting into operation; vulnerable; taking too long to get into an operational position. To fire these weapons is, of course, to disclose one's position. It is not a weapon which can be fired time after time like an ordinary field gun. To my mind, as to the minds of other people who have been in National Service and who have seen this thing for themselves, it is an absolute non-starter. I cannot understand our depending upon a cumbersome weapon of this kind.
What we are doing is putting our troops in a position where the whole of our strategy, the whole of our warfare, is bound up with these weapons and dependent upon these weapons. I simply cannot see any war taking place in which the enemy would allow such weapons to operate. It is utterly impossible. I think that what we are doing in placing these weapons there and depending upon them is utterly wrong. I do not believe that the strategy is well conceived, that this dependance on nuclear weapons is well conceived; nor do I believe that the nuclear weapons themselves are weapons upon which the Army should be dependent.
I mentioned the American position and a change in the American attitude. There has been a change in the American attitude about this, and I myself think it has been due to the invention of the I.C.B.M. I think the Russians probably have the I.C.B.M. and the Americans probably consider that they have got it, and that means that New York and Washington are brought into the firing line. It means that they can be hit in the same way that London can be hit and could have been hit a few years ago. It seems to me that America has come round now to the view which some of us hold and have held that this country should always have had as its policy, and that is this. First, a conventional army. The Americans are now pressing more and more for conventional troops, a conventional army rather than a tactical nuclear army. Secondly, a deterrent, yes; but a deterrent to be used as a 288 deterrent and as a deterrent only; not as a first-strike weapon, but as a second-strike weapon. The Americans have now said they will not use the weapon first. We have had since President Kennedy has come into office, since the I.C.B.M. has become known to exist, this shift in American policy towards precisely the policy which some of us have for years considered should be the policy of this country, and they have come to that policy because they themselves now find themselves in exactly the same position as this country has been in since before 1957.
We are deeply concerned about the defence position. What we are having is, after 10 years of Conservative rule, a repetition of precisely the same thing we had before the war. This is not just my own personal analysis. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) made exactly the same comparison. We are having it for exactly the same reason, and unless this policy is reversed the defence of this country is put in peril.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The debate has followed the pattern of previous defence debates in that we have had one strong attack after another on the Government from both sides of the House. I believe that the Government's only defender in the debate was the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth). I regret that I did not hear his speech, for to hear an intelligent defence of Government policy would have been an unusual and interesting experience. But there is a difference today inasmuch as the Government have at least conceded that something needs to be done. For years past everyone, except the Government, has acknowledged that the Army has been called upon to do too much with too little and now, at long last, the Government have reached the same conclusion.
The reason they give is not that recruiting has disappointed them in any way, not that anything unpredictable has happened in so far as manpower, reorganisation of the Army or overseas commitments are concerned, but simply because of the extraordinary, surprising, unpredictable occurrence of a crisis over Berlin. This seems to me nonsense 289 as a reason for the Government's change of front. The suggestion that if there had not been a Berlin crisis there would not have been an Army manpower crisis was absurd. Everybody for years has known that this crisis was coming, and all the facts and figures have shown it.
Why has the Berlin crisis taken the Government by surprise? Every hon. Member must have been seeing the Berlin crisis coming for three or four years past. It is no credit to the Minister of Defence that as recently as twelve months ago he was ignoring altogether, as it seems, the possibility of a Berlin crisis developing and declaring, as he did at Devizes at that time, thatA total of 165,000 will be sufficient to meet our world commitments.That was less than a year ago, and all my constituents could have predicted an acute Berlin crisis long before that date. It has been clear to everybody that an Army manpower crisis was on the way years before the Berlin crisis arrived.
The truth is that we are in this mess because in 1957 the Government rightly abolished conscription but failed to take the essential consequential steps to balance manpower and tasks. Abolishing conscription was popular and easy, so they did that part, but reorganising Service manpower and cutting down our overseas commitments outside Europe was an unpopular and hard job and they shirked it, and that is why we are in this mess now.
We are assured that recruiting has nothing to do with this manpower crisis. If it is true, as I take it—and the figures are not published yet—that the September figures are 50 per cent. above the previous September figures which were good, and if this trend is continued in October, that is very good news. The Minister, who has shown some enterprise in this direction, deserves our congratulations. May I put on record that this must be the first time in history that a social purpose has been served by television advertising?
If it is also true, as I understand, that the rate of wastage has improved significantly, and possibly the Minister may have something to say about that, again it will be heartening news. Let us make no mistake about it. We wish the Minister well in his recruiting drive.
290 We want to see a strong, voluntary Regular Army and if we make criticisms it is quite genuinely because we have that in mind. The Government will not get 165,000 by 1st January, 1963, though they may not fall far short of that figure. Originally they expected 182,000 but let us forget that at the moment. If the Minister reaches his 165,000 target it will be a rather barren target, because he has had to have resort to the compulsion which he had hoped to avoid. Therefore, it is a slightly barren exercise now to argue about precise dates and precise figures.
I said that the Government had come to the conclusion that something must be done, but this afternoon I was put in some doubt about this by the attitude of the Minister of Defence towards the B.A.O.R. It is difficult to make up one's mind on what the Minister of Defence really thinks the position is in relation to the B.A.O.R. Last week, he gave assurances that there were no shortages and no serious deficiencies, but this time he speaks more seriously about this matter. What must strike hon. Members on both sides of the House is why, if he is so satisfied about the B.A.O.R., do we now need this new scheme which is being pressed forward? If he is not satisfied, why did he attack so strongly my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) this afternoon on the very just and true criticisms that he made of the state of the Army?
It is true that his attack on my right hon. Friend did not carry much weight. He picked on what he thought was the most exaggerated attack by my right hon. Friend on the question of radio sets in order to confute my right hon. Friend, but everything that he said in his reply absolutely confirmed what my right hon. Friend had been saying. I think he slipped out that a strong minority of B.A.O.R. was equipped with C.19 radio sets. I do not know if this can be the same radio set that some of us knew during the war. If it is, I hope that it has been improved since then because it was universally regarded as one of the most exquisitely-designed machines for keeping formations out of contact with each other that could be imagined. [Interruption.] If it is the No. 19 set that we used in the war, it is not all right. If it were all right, why so much haste to replace it by the new set? Now 291 it is said that the new set is very good indeed.
My right hon. Friend, I thought, rather underrated some of the equipment shortages. He did not mention helicopters. Everyone will tell us, the same as they tell us in the higher level of the B.A.O.R., of the shortage of helicopters, particularly as brought out by exercise "Spearpoint". Our motive in saying these things is not, as the Minister suggests, to depress spirits in B.A.O.R. or to lead the Russians to doubt the will to resist either of ourselves or of the B.A.O.R.; it is definitely that we want B.A.O.R. to be strong and effective.
I remember very well, as other hon. Members must do, the appalling shambles at the beginning of the last war, the lack of equipment, training and organisation. I sometimes claim to have been the worst-trained soldier ever to have been sent abroad on active service.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I said to the right hon. Gentleman, and I meant it, on the basis of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, what I want to do.
§ Mr. Mayhew
It is because many of us have had experience of this that we are determined that it shall not happen again.
§ Mr Watkinson
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's claim, I would point out that I was in the 1914–18 war.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I would argue the Minister's claim against mine of being the worst trained soldier ever sent abroad. It is because we want the B.A.O.R. to be strong that we make these criticisms. It is also, above all, because we were impressed by the argument developed so admirably by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) about the dependence on nuclear weapons in the B.A.O.R. We have discussed this on many occasions previously in this House. On those occasions, we made a very strong case on the lines indicated by my hon. and learned Friend about the control of nuclear weapons by formations and the need for a bigger conventional capacity for formations. Perhaps we can now deal with this rather different question, 292 although it is related, of what the Minister had to say about our aircraft and their conventional capacity. I understood him to say that our Canberras are geared for a nuclear strike and that before they are able to be used for conventional warfare they will require certain re-equipment. This is a very serious commitment. The whole point of having the aircraft in the conventional role is the first twenty-four hours. Can the right hon. Gentleman reassure us?
§ Mr. Watkinson
First, the Canberras are equipped in accordance with N.A.T.O. instructions. Secondly, they can have a conventional role, but, obviously, they have to have a changeover, so to speak, for that purpose. There is another point that I want to make plain. I am talking about strike Canberras in the N.A.T.O. force. There is a large force of aircraft, including Valiants, which are equipped for the conventional role only.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Nevertheless, for the tactical support in the field of a conventional effort to impose a pause, our Canberras are, in practice, useless. It is very important to bear that in mind. We all agree, however, that something requires to be done. We have now had produced to us this scheme, about which I hope the Secretary of State will tell us a great deal more when he replies. It has had a poor reception in the House today, and in the Press, and I am sure that our postbags will shortly show that it has had a poor reception among the National Service men who may be called up as a result of the Minister's policy.
Already these unfortunate men suffer from an understandable sense of bad luck in being the last men to be called up. Now they will be penalised again, so to speak, in not having a fair basis for calling up, such as a ballot, which one could understand, or the American system, favoured by an hon. Gentleman opposite, which at least tries to weed out the men who are least tied by family and other responsibilities and so on. Our men are being selected in this purely arbitrary way so that those who happen to have been the last in will be the first to remain for another six months.
Even worse in a way is the situation of the National Service man who has gone 293 back to civilian life, started a career, become reunited with his family and settled in again, for he is now faced with a sudden interruption of six months in his career. It is a great sacrifice. How would hon. Members feel if their careers were interrupted fox six months all of a sudden? There would be considerable personal disaster, if not necessarily disaster for the country.
It is a real hardship for these men. I do not know the experience of other hon. Members, but when I speak to National Service men and question them about their service, the question which gets the quickest reply is, "How much longer have you to serve?" To that question the National Service man very often has an extremely quick answer exact to the number of days. It is very hard for him suddenly to be asked to add six months to the smaller number of days that he had hoped would be all that he had left before he settled down again in civilian life.
I want the Secretary of State to give us more details about his scheme. We want a little reassurance about those who are and those who are not going to be affected by it. We want those who are to be affected by it to be given the maximum possible notice, for every possible reason. In addition, we want those who are not going to be called up to be given the maximum notice of that as well, because there is a great deal of unsettlement through the fear of being called up, and that is a serious hardship.
Also, what arrangements are being made for exemption on compassionate grounds? Will any advantage be given to National Service men on account of family responsibilities, careers or other possible reasons? We should like to be told the maximum detail tonight. We should also like to know when full details of the scheme will be published.
We may be asked: "If you dislike the scheme"—and we do—"what alternative is before us?" We say that the Government should do what they ought to have done four years ago. They should reorganise Service manpower as a whole and review the tasks of the Army overseas outside Europe. The Government have paid lip-service to both these things from time to time, and as long ago as 1957. If they had really carried out these two tasks which they set them- 294 selves in the 1957 White Paper, we should not now be called upon to adopt this compulsory scheme.
The reorganisation is a matter of looking at Service manpower, not just in relation to the Army but to all three Services together. The lesson of the manpower crisis is that the Minister of Defence requires more authority as against the other Service Ministers. We need to look at Service manpower as a whole. That is the lesson of the "brush fire" incidents which we have had, each of which has been a combined operation in practice. Each, especially Kuwait, has been the clear responsibility of the Minister of Defence.
This problem should have been looked at four years ago in that light. We should have asked ourselves about the role the Royal Air Force was playing, with thousands of men engaged on a useless independent deterrent who might possibly be used in bases to provide strategic airborne reserves. We should have asked whether naval manpower was properly being used in the overall picture, and whether we could not do better in providing mobile naval strategic reserves. We should not flinch from the possibility of further reorganisation in the Army—perhaps fewer armoured and infantry units.
If we are told that this is bad for recruiting, we should realise that, even if it is sad for the men in these units and those who have left them, the man who has not yet joined is perhaps less worried, and to that extent it is not such a drag on the problem of recruiting. If these things had been done four years ago, when they should have been done, we would not now have been faced with this problem.
§ Mr. Wigg
My hon. Friend has overlooked the fact that a White Paper in 1957 set about a reorganisation which had, I should have thought, disastrous results. If he is light-heartedly once again suggesting that the 60 battalions which were asked to do the work which 128 did before the war should once again be chopped up, without any thought but to make a politician's holiday, that would be disastrous.
§ Mr. Wigg
We are seeking to get at the truth. In July, 1957, there was a major reorganisation, and it is no good my hon. Friend saying now that we should not waste money and manpower on the deterrent. That is what we have been telling the Government. It was not until a year after Blue Streak proved to be a "dead duck" that we got anywhere at all. Now my hon. Friend wants again to reorganise. Does he know what he is saying?
§ Mr. Mayhew
My hon. Friend should pay attention to what I am saying. I was talking about the Services reorganising manpower and roles inter-service-wise. That was mentioned in the 1957 White Paper. The Government have not carried out this reorganisation. If they had, a great deal of our present crisis would not exist.
Also mentioned in the 1957 White Paper, and which the Government would also not face, were the tasks of the Army overseas outside Europe. The fact is that one can have a nuclear strategy and a world strategy but one cannot have a conventional strategy and a world strategy. We must, if we are to have an effective Rhine Army, review our commitments outside Europe. Everyone knows that this is not an easy matter. The troops overseas are not always the kind of troops one wants to fill gaps in the Rhine Army or in the home-based reserve. It is clear that awkward cross-posting would be entailed —crowded married quarters and all kinds of problems would arise. I do not deny that.
There is a solution. The Prime Minister said yesterday and the Minister of Defence said today that it is the '"tail" rather than the "teeth" which is needed —a view contested by some hon. Members on this side of the House who feel that there is an urgent need for "teeth" troops as well as "tail" troops. If that is the case, however, then in overseas bases there is a very long "tail" and comparatively few "teeth". Thus, to the extent that we try to solve our problems by reducing our overseas base commitments, we shall, more than is understood, get the troops which we need in the home-based reserves and in B.A.O.R.
When all allowances are made for the difficulties of cutting down the commit- 296 ments outside Europe, we on this side of the House still question whether we have an operational need for 40,000 troops in 16 different countries outside Europe. The argument that the mere presence of British troops in those places contributes to internal security and defence against aggression may have been true in past years, but it is not so self-evident today. With emergent nationalism and with a vigorous anti-colonial crusade throughout the world, it is no longer a safe assertion that the mere military presence of British troops in a former Colonial Territory contributes to either internal security or defence against aggression.
The Government seem to be coming round to that view. I was glad that the Minister of Defence said this afternoon that Field Marshal Festing will assist him in a committee to review this question. It is a pity that this was not done four years ago. Why have we had to wait all this time? If these things had been done in time, we should not have needed to go in for this compulsion of the National Service men. We hope that Field Marshal Festing's committee will look at a number of questions.
I have just returned from a trip to Singapore. The Government suffer somewhat in the short term from their generosity to hon. Members in showing them military establishments and formations abroad—in the short term. But I feel at liberty to make a few comments and to state a few conclusions which I have reached as a result of visiting Singapore. Militarily, it is undoubtedly very impressive when regarded from the point of view of the airman, soldier or sailor, but to a politician it does not present the same cheerful picture.
One of the first questions which Field Marshal Festing's committee must ask itself is precisely what is the present role of the garrison based on Singapore. Is it the internal security role? If so, what are the likely political repercussions of the appearance of British troops in the streets of Singapore in support of the present Prime Minister, Mr. Lee? Is the role that of defence of Malaya and Singapore? If so, how real is the immediate threat of external aggression of those territories? Does it justify a vast and expensive garrison base and installations? Would it not be better 297 to do much more to shift the responsibility for local defence to local shoulders in Malaya and Singapore?
Finally, it must ask itself whether the role which Singapore has to fulfil is a S.E.A.T.O. commitment. The Prime Minister of Malaya is shortly to visit this country and it seems that an effective agreement among the Federation and Singapore and other Malaysian countries will be dependent upon our not insisting on using the base for S.E.A.T.O. purposes. It would be quite wrong to undermine and jeopardise this very promising Federation by insistence on the use of this base for S.E.A.T.O. purposes.
This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman mentioned Laos and took credit for some troops dispositions in relation to Laos. I do not know whether he had Singapore in mind, but, for political reasons, it is not possible for us to use that base in connection with the Laos crisis. This is another instance of the false sense of security, strength and usefulness which is sometimes given by these powerful military bases overseas. They do not fit the political realities there and often have far less power than we give them credit for.
I was impressed by the security problem on the base of Singapore. How far is it possible to maintain warships, airports and dockyards which are worked by thousands of dedicated Chinese Communists? This is a major problem. One had the sense that the possibility that we were fighting the last war but two might have relevance to a grand, impressive military base maintained by very large numbers of dedicated Chinese Communists.
Finally, while I was there I was able to discuss Hong Kong with the High Command. I hope that the Festing committee will ask itself some questions about Hong Kong and the role of the 10,000 troops there and the Hunter aircraft—and I believe that the tanks are still there. What exactly is their operational role? I was told that deterrence of Chinese aggression was the role of these troops, but is it sensible and realistic to adopt the theory that the Chinese will be deterred from aggression in Hong Kong by the difference in having a purely token defence and 10,000 troops there? In any case, in what circum- 298 stances could it be right or proper to ask those troops to fight to the last man against 35 Chinese armies and to ask four Hunters to go up against the Chinese Air Force? Those are questions which should be asked and answered quite firmly. The same kind of questioning would apply to Cyprus, Libya and Malta. Here we will find a great deal of manpower which could be far more usefully and effectively used in the home-based reserve and in B.A.O.R.
The appearance has been given that these National Service men are being asked to serve another six months because of Berlin. The impression is given that the needs of B.A.O.R. and Berlin dictate the decision, but it is equally true that these men are having to be called up because the Government cling to this world-wide chain of static bases and to all the manpower now in them.
Perhaps we cannot complain too much, because there are signs that the Government are learning. The establishment of the Festing committee is welcome and bears out what has been said from the Opposition Front Bench for years. A reorganisation of military manpower has been promised by the Minister of Defence in a recent speech, drastic reorganisation on an inter-Service basis. Today he even mentioned the need for a sea-based strategic reserve, something which has been urged from these benches for a long time past. The Secretary of State has actually sent a recruiting team to a British Colony, something which we have long urged on him.
However, while the Government are learning, they are paying a very heavy price for their mistakes in their defence policy in recent years. They overestimated what they would get by voluntary recruiting. They underestimated the wastage of recruits. They did little or nothing effective to build up mobile strategic reserves. They flinched from the reorganisation of Service manpower as a whole, and they clung to the out-of-date strategy of worldwide bases. That is why we are in this mess now. That is why we are being asked to accept this thoroughly unpopular scheme of compelling National Service men to stay on, and that is why the Government's defence policy is condemned not only from these benches but by well-informed opinion all over the country.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Profumo)
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) put his finger fairly and squarely on one of the main reasons which Her Majesty's Government have in mind for sticking to their concept of trying to create an all-Regular Army. He said that whenever one has conscripts one finds that they practically always know precisely the day of their release. This is true, and this is one of the difficulties. However good National Service men may be during their period of service, it is only a transitory stage in their lives, and we believe that we must stick to the concept of trying to get an all-Regular Army for the purposes which lie ahead of us.
That remains our basic aim, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence was correct when he said that we and hon. Members on both sides of the House have always realised that we would have to go through a trough period in the turnover from a conscript to an all-Regular Army, a period when there would be stresses and strains and shortages in the Army. We have always known this. It is not something new. It is not the fact that we have suddenly got ourselves stuck with something we had not seen, but it is correct, and one cannot get away from this, that the trough period is coinciding with a period of increased international tension.
No member of the Government has ever sought to say that things are not serious today. One could not possibly sustain that argument with armies glaring at each other over what is called "Checkpoint Charlie" in Berlin and with our allies calling up and retaining men in the armed forces. Certainly this is a period of very acute tension. This is the problem to which we have to address ourselves in the short-time, whilst maintaining our idea of getting an all-Regular Army for the future.
What opportunities are open to us? What courses could we adopt with regard to our Army? One possibility is that we might have a very large Army kept up to strength all over the world. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. MacLean) would have this, because in the course of his interesting speech he said that he believed that we ought to have a conventional deterrent in at least 300 a dozen places in the world. It may be that this is something which certain people would wish to have, but it would be immensely expensive in manpower and money, and, of course, it would mean conscription. Nobody would dream of suggesting that we could retain an Army of the size my hon. Friend wants without conscripting people in a major way, which is something we have decided we wish to leave.
Can my right hon. Friend say in how many places we have a conventional deterrent at the moment?
§ Mr. Profumo
"Conventional deterrent" was the phrase used by my hon. Friend, meaning the deterrent of manpower. He meant that there ought to be at least a dozen places in the world— bases, garrisons, and so on—where we kept men to deter people from starting a war.
§ Mr. Profumo
Up to now we have had a conscript Army, but we have agreed— and I believe that the country is behind us—that we should turn away from that to an alternative which I will suggest in a minute. What my hon. Friend wants we could do, but if we want to do this we must accept permanent conscription and the immense cost of it.
§ Viscount Lambton indicated assent.
§ Mr. Profumo
The Government have decided that this would be wasteful and wrong, and I think that this view is generally accepted by both sides of the House. Also, I do not believe that the majority of the people in this country wish to return to conscription.
What is the alternative? It is a smaller well-trained Regular Army backed up by reserves which are ready to function in response to present-day needs. This is what the Government are trying to do.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am trying to tell the House of the opportunities which face us 301 today. The hon. Gentleman made a very good speech to which I shall refer, and perhaps he ought to let me develop my argument in a way which I think is a fair balance.
Our system will cost very much less than any other scheme. It will cost less to keep strong all-Regular forces backed up by reserves than to retain worldwide up to strength enormous quantities of men with all the paraphernalia that must go with the Welfare State Army of today. There is no question about that. I am now talking of manpower.
Therefore, if we accept this, as the Government do, we must address ourselves to the problem of increased international tension which faces us for the time being. This is why we propose to take power—and the measures we seek will be purely permissive—to hold back, for a period of up to six months, people Who are at present doing National Service. We do not say that we shall do it. I want to make this widely known, as I tried to do in my television broadcast last night, to which reference has been made. No National Service man should be frightened that he will be retained, at least until we have made the Bill law. [Interruption.]The House should understand why I say that. I have been told of National Service men who are fearful that they will not be allowed out of the Army when their service has come to an end. There is no immediate intention of taking this action, and there cannot be any such action, until we have a law. We should like to have the Measure passed into law by the end of the year, but even then we shall retain only such people as we find absolutely necessary when the time comes, in the light of the tension which then exists.
Let me take a case in point. If we decided to freeze the Army at the strength at which it will be next April, for instance, it would be at about 180,000 people. If we decided to do this, and managed to get 180,000 people, and were still able to cope with the problems of increased tension, it is not unreasonable to aim at an all-Regular Army of 180,000 people in the long-term future, to cope with the problems that arise then. I know that some of my hon. Friends think that 180,000 is too small an all-Regular Army to be able to cope with our inter- 302 national problems, but I do not believe this.
If we have to keep some National Service men back we shall do it in as humane a way as possible. We shall give everybody as advanced notice as possible, and take special care to try to deal with administrative problems and compassionate cases that may arise.
§ Mr. Profumo
Of course not. We are aiming to get an all-Regular Army of 165,000 by 1st January, 1963, but the long-term aim is an all-Regular Army of about 180,000. All I am saying is that if we were to freeze the Army at its strength next April, it would be at about that level. Therefore, if we could carry on throughout the rest of this year, with the tension as it is now, with 180,000 people, surely it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to aim at an all-Regular Army of 180,000.
It is wholly wrong to suggest that the measures we are proposing are as a result of the recruiting campaign having failed. It is not for that reason. Some hon. Members opposite have recognised this in their speeches. I know that they want to help in this matter. I believe that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East realises that the campaign has got into full swing. The figures that we shall endeavour to give the public shortly will bear this out. All that I have been saying is that the September figures of the fresh intake into the Army from civil life—and the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) may like to know this—show a rise of about 48 per cent. on the same month last year.
This figure does not include those National Service men who have taken the bounty to continue in the Army. That offer stays open. Any National Service man who may feel that he might be retained and who wishes to be sure of his immediate future can take on for three years and get the bounty for doing so. I am not ashamed if the bounty helps to increase recruiting, because that is its whole purpose. I believe that it stands a chance of succeeding.
I know that percentage figures are not altogether satisfactory, and I can tell the House that the net gain to the Army last September was 1,250, taking into 303 account all the wastage and all the people who bought out and left, as against all the people who were induced to enter. This does not bear out what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was saying to the effect that people today do not want to join the Army. I know that things are bad in his constituency, and I understand why it should be so, but the situation is not bad all over the country, and I refuse to believe that young people today are not prepared to devote themselves to a life of service, if we can show that it is worth while.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East said he understood that the figure for wastage was improving. I should like to see a greater improvement and I think there are signs that this figure is levelling out. I believe that wastage is the real problem. It is a crucial matter because an increasing improvement even to the amount of one-tenth would by 1st January, 1963, make a difference in the total manpower of something like 1,800 people. That is quite a big figure and so, through man-management and everything else which we do, we are trying to stop wastage.
The hon. Member for Dudley and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire referred to the particular problem which arose following the occurrence at Oswestry. I will not go through the whole story again. I am sure that hon. Members will remember it. This was an isolated case and I think a very shameful one. The point which the two hon. Members were trying to make was that in order to get people into the Army we were scraping the barrel to such an extent, that we were taking criminals, people with bad characters—"bad hats. "That is not borne out by the facts and I should be ashamed if it were. I am glad of this opportunity to point out that it is not.
Like any other employer, we cannot inquire into the background of all the people we take. We cannot go to the police and ask whether this man or that has a prison record. We have to rely on a signed statement that they have not been to prison and are of good character. Some of them may "welsh". We do not know. But why should I mind if a man who has a bad past decides to serve his 304 Queen by joining the Army, provided that after doing so he goes straight? The real point is that we have to take the rough with the smooth, like every other employer.
If what the hon. Member for Dudley was trying to suggest were really true, surely we should note the difference in the figure of people discharged. The moment we find that people have been convicted, as was found art Oswestry, and that they have criminal records, they are discharged. We get rid of them at once. If what the hon. Gentleman suggested were true we should discharge a proportionately higher number of the people coming into the Army but I find no figures which would prove that, so I do not think that anybody can maintain that we are lowering our standards. I see no reason to believe that we are, and, what is more, everyone in my Department and throughout the recruiting organisation is keeping a close watch in this respect.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman has given us figures like a sleight-of-hand magician. What does he reckon he will have in the Regular Army by next April? Never mind about the 180,000; how many will be National Service men? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us that?
§ Mr. Profumo
I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am doing conjuring tricks. I can assure him that I am not. My straight answer to him is this. If we allow for the normal wastage to go on, and by 1st April next year we have about 180,000 in the Army—
§ Mr. Profumo
—that on that figure we can get through the crises that may arise during the year, are we wrong in trying to aim at that figure for the long-term all-Regular Army?
I come now to the criticism about imbalance in the Army. Of course this is a problem. It is no new problem. It 305 is possible even in an Army of 180,000 not to have a proper balance, as the hon. Member for Dudley will know. What are we doing about that? We are deflecting people as they come into the Army into the corps and services where we know that there are shortages. This is working well. Progress may not be dramatic but it is working well. We find that a lot of people join the Army without saying that they want to go into this unit or that. Where that happens we are doing what we can to deflect them into the corps where there are shortages. This is one of the reasons for the measures we are proposing. By retaining people in the Army we are retaining those who are already blocking posts in those corps where there are shortages. This is better than bringing in new men, because they have to be trained and we have to call up many more than we would want to use in order to train them. We would have to waste a lot of Regular manpower in the Army by so doing.
The Prime Minister's reference to particular shortages in the tail were made against the background of this very point of imbalance. It is the shortages in the tail which cause the imbalance. He was not suggesting that it was only in the tail that there were shortages, but what is correct is that the majority of the shortages are in the tail. There are, of course, also shortages in the teeth arm and the new "Ever Readies" will consist of both teeth arm and administrative troops so that we can call on whichever we want at the time.
Although the Army is not properly balanced, this would not preclude the Army from going to war. Let us get this into proper proportions. It is perfectly clear that B.A.O.R. could give a good account of itself tomorrow, and this is what we should make clear. The right hon. Member for Belper, the hon. Member for Dudley and the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw delivered themselves of a great attack and criticism about shortages of equipment of our forces in B.A.O.R. As I have been listening to the whole debate, I have not had much chance of seeing the evening newspapers, but I saw one which said;Brown Lashes Out:B.A.O.R. Short of Arms.306 It was also said that during the course of his speech the Secretary of State for War, seated beside the Prime Minister, "made angry mutterings". Of course I made angry mutterings. That was because of the effect which the right hon. Member's speech would have. [HON. MEMBERS; "On you?"] No, on the country. This newspaper report creates an impression that B.A.O.R. could not give a good account of itself, is full of shortages, and that those shortages would preclude it from active operations. What the right hon. Member says in his speech is reflected in the newspapers in this country.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The Secretary of State said that what I said would give the impression to the country that B.A.O.R. could not give a good account of itself, but his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, quoting from an article by me which appeared this morning, said exactly the opposite.
§ Mr. Profumo
The right hon. Member for Belper is always saying one thing in the morning and another thing in the evening. What I am saying is that this sort of thing must not be allowed to go unchallenged. No Secretary of State for War could at any particular moment be wholly satisfied with the equipment of the Army, because equipment is a continuing process. Those who saw the Army's demonstration the other day at Chobham would agree that the equipment we are to introduce into the Army —[HON. MEMBERS; "When?"]—is absolutely first-class. We are acting on a policy by which we can buy the best anywhere in the free world, but it must be remembered that we cannot have 1965 equipment in 1961. Of course some of the equipment is not of the latest type, but that is the case in every army in the world.
The danger of the criticisms made this afternoon is that they might lead to the belief that B.A.O.R. is not ready for war. Signals equipment was referred to. It so happens that the right hon. Member for Belper visited a Royal Engineers' squadron and drew his story largely from there, but the fact is that 307 during the last three years there has been a major signals re-equipment through the whole of B.A.O.R. which will be concluded in the next few months, including the unfortunate unit the right hon. Member visited.
§ Mr. Profumo
The right hon. Gentleman was free to go wherever he wanted.
Armoured personnel carriers are another case. Of course we cannot guarantee the newest equipment every year. Of course we cannot do a 100 per cent. lift of the infantry at present, but that is a comparatively new concept, and the House should not be misled into thinking that we have not an adequate armoured lift for our troops. We certainly have, and we have enough to lift a fair proportion of the infantry even now.
I turn to the question of anti-tank missiles. The fact is that the best tank destroyer is still another tank, because only in this way can power and mobility be fully matched. Our armoured regiments in Germany are, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, equipped with the latest marks of the Centurion. This is more than a match for any enemy tank which it is likely to meet. In addition, the infantry have high velocity anti-tank weapons.
I will make one final point about equipment. It has been suggested that if we wanted to reinforce B.A.O.R. we could not produce the necessary equipment. This simply is not true. Enough equipment is held either in units or in stockpiles in Germany to equip B.A.O.R. right up to its war strength.
We have also had much argument today, mostly from the benches opposite, that one way of curing our problem would be to alter our world dispositions, to withdraw our troops from overseas garrisons and so on. I made a note of it, and I am bound to tell the hon. Member for Woolwich, East that I marked the note "wet hen policy". I will explain why. Our overseas deployment is geared to the present strategy of our defence policy, and the forces which we maintain in any 308 of our garrisons or bases are the minimum which we believe we require for the job at any given time.
Of course, we are always on the lookout for changes which may lead to a more economic and more realistic use of our overseas forces, but any such changes surely must be made against the background of carefully thought out strategic studies and not on the basis of cheap opportunism to try to cure a particular problem at any time.
To react to every single change in international pressure by whisking troops all over the world would be to play straight into the hands of our political enemies, and that is why I call it a wet hen policy. It would not work. We cannot bring troops back from overseas stations in a hurry. The sort of people we might want in B.A.O.R. as administrative troops are equally necessary to our overseas garrisons. If we wish to carry on a recruiting campaign we must not suggest that we shall whisk our troops all over the world, changing them from here to there and sending them to places where there will not be accommodation for them, leaving their wives and families behind them. Anything of this sort which was done could not be of any short-term benefit in the problem which we face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lamb-ton) put a specific and pertinent question: could B.A.O.R. be asked to take part in full-scale military operations without the use of nuclear weapons? The answer is, "Yes, Sir, for a limited period, and this is in line with current N.A.T.O. doctrine."
§ Mr. Profumo
My hon. Friend asked me to say something about the long-term picture. I have not time to do so in detail, but I submit that we are faced either with a situation worse than it is now, in which case the Prime Minister has said that we should not hesitate to declare an emergency, or with a situation in which wiser counsels prevail and we shall have a calmer situation all over the world, in which case we can build on the 165,000 we hope to get from 1st January next year. Alternatively, we may have that interrupted by certain peaks of international tension, and this is where we can 309 use our policy of taking permissive powers to call back certain National Service men for periods up to six months, if we had to use it. If we had to bring any of those people back we should not consider doing this at any rate until the end of 1962, when there were no more National Service men. We should treat them as generously as possible and give them as much advance notice as possible, and we should treat all the compassionate cases which arose. But this is where the beginning of our new long-term policy for reserves comes in. If we are to stick to an all-Regular Army amounting to 180,000, we need reserves which are more radily "get-atable" than they are under the powers which we possess at present.
That is why we propose—and it is an imaginative proposal; I noticed that hon. Members on both sides of the House have not objected to it—to give the Territorial Army, with all its great traditions, yet another and new task so that within it we can produce a category of men who will be paid a bounty—I hope a handsome bounty—for their services and for volunteering to be called up in times of tension. If called upon they would be paid a gratuity. They will be partially teeth arms and partly administrative arms. They will generally be called up singly, not in units, as one of my hon. Friends mentioned. But they might be called up in sub-units.
These people, whom I have called "Ever Readies" for the sake of a better phrase, will form a very important part of our future policy. If hon. Members link this to the fact that, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, we are carrying out at the present moment a complete review of the whole of our reserve forces, I believe that it forms a good sound policy for the future. If there were—and some hon. Members have felt that this might happen—continued long terms of international tension even worse than we have now which proved that we could not reach our ideal of all-Regular forces, then the promises and declarations which we made in the 1957 White Paper still stand. But it is the Government's intention to see, if it is humanly possible, that we should bridge this difficult gap and transfer ourselves to a stance of all-Regular Armed Forces.
310 I think that the country is behind us in our attempts to do this, and although the powers which we propose to take may not be popular in many quarters of the country, none the less they are actions which will be regarded as realistic. If we interpret them in a humane way, as we intend to do, if hon. Members try to help us with our recruiting drive, and if the situation does not get worse, thereby meaning that we have to have a state of emergency, I believe that we shall get through this period of tension and that hon. Members opposite and on this side of the House who do not want National Service will be very thankful that we took a tough stand at this stage and were determined to carry on with our policy.
I think that the Army will benefit by this. The longer I serve at the War Office, the more I become convinced that the right course for the Army is to have all-Regular forces. I am absolutely convinced that we are right in doing this. I do not believe that hon. Members need have any fear that, if we have to translate our proposals into actions, we shall not do it in a fair and sensible way and, what is more, that these actions will not be appreciated properly by our friends and allies in N.A.T.O., all of whom know that we are doing our utmost to live up to our reputation and to fulfil the pledges which we have given.
In these circumstances, I think that the House should be asked to support the actions of the Government.
§ Mr. Mayhew
This afternoon the Minister of Defence spoke seriously about the need to reduce our overseas commitments outside Europe and stated that he had asked Field Marshal Festing to help him in this work. The Secretary of State for War described this as the policy of the wet hen. How does he reconcile those two things?
§ Mr, Profumo
I said that to try to achieve a solution of the short-term difficulties of manpower by moving our forces all over the world would be a wet hen policy. If the hon. Gentleman looks at my speech, he will see that I said that any changes of the sort that my right hon. Friend has envisaged must be as the result of careful long-term planning and not just ad hoc movements of troops in order to get a few more people into the B.A.O.R. to 311 strengthen, for instance, the signals sections. My right hon. Friend is doing this long-term thinking now. Whatever he decides will be part of next year's White Paper on defence. I am discussing what we should do about the short-term question of manpower shortage and changing to all Regular forces from conscript forces. I was not talking about a wet hen policy with regard to anything else.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. F. Pearson.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.