§ 4.9 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on Nuclear Defence Systems issued following the Bahamas Meeting in December, 1962 (Command Paper No. 1915).In moving this Motion, it seems necessary that I should give some account of the background against which the recently negotiated Nassau understanding with the United States must be judged. The success in developing the first atomic explosive device was the result of Anglo-American co-operation. I remember-vaguely, for I was not at that time in the inner circles—the code words "tube alloy" which, at first, described the atomic work of British scientists carried on independently.
It was then decided under the Churchill-Roosevelt arrangement that, owing to the danger in which this island stood to aerial attack and the limited resources available in our state of something like siege, the actual development should continue in the United States. It was always a joint enterprise and it was always understood that as the war ended, whatever might be the arrangement about peaceful use, as a military weapon it would continue to be a joint concern.
956 The House will recall the circumstances in which the United States qualified what we believed to be a binding understanding. This was largely due to the excitement caused by certain defections—Pontecorvo and the rest—but the atomic weapon was from the first a joint Anglo-American concern.
When I raised with President Eisenhower, in the early days of my premiership, the moral obligation of the United States to reverse the severe provisions of the McMahon Act and revert to the principle of co-operation between our two countries, President Eisenhower fully accepted this and succeeded in carrying an Amendment of the McMahon Act through Congress. That was in the year 1958.
Sometimes people talk, and sometimes complain of a special relation between Britain and the United States. This is a general phrase which is sometimes justified, or perhaps justified, by the very close understanding in certain fields, by similar methods of work and thought, and by the traditions which bind the two countries. But in this instance of nuclear power there was, indeed, a special arrangement which existed from the start and which has now been restored. In the atomic and nuclear field there is a very full interchange between Britain and America of the results of our separate research. After all, we invented it together, and I cannot see that this is a grievance for our continental friends.
Now I come to the further development of the weapon apart from the delivery system. The House will remember the so-called atomic or A-bomb which Lord Attlee's Government decided to continue to develop and to manufacture. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), when he took office in 1951, continued this policy and when the thermo-nuclear or so-called H-bomb followed, we set to work in this field, too, although handicapped, of course, by the temporary suspension of our close relations with the United States' scientists, now happily restored.
This policy has been followed by successive Governments and, therefore, the House must recognise the continued responsibility of this country in this matter, whatever may be the feeling about the right course to follow now.
957 So far as the Western allies are concerned, the development of nuclear warheads has been something for which from the start Britain and America have been jointly responsible and in which they are now joint partners.
This is not to say, of course, that the British contribution in the present state of the massive application of the thermonuclear system to weapons is, or ever could be, on the scale of that of the United States with a population four times as great and with resources far larger than ours. Nevertheless, both countries are responsible and both have to face their obligations. So much for the weapons; now for the means of delivery.
In those early years, especially in this country where we had pretty good experience of bombing attacks, both at the receiving and the delivering end, everything was concentrated on how to make the weapon, first, an atomic, and then a thermo-nuclear, bomb. It was assumed that it would be delivered by aircraft in the same way as the blockbusters and other high explosive bombs of the war—by aircraft. They were vulnerable to some extent to night fighters and anti-aircraft artillery, and so forth, but, as the House knows, in these defence matters there is always a continuing, almost a classic, struggle between attack and defence.
In a sense, in recent years conditions have tended to swing over from the early period which favoured the attack to conditions somewhat more favourable for defence. We think that the Russians have developed, both in attack and defence, up-to-date, modern and comprehensive systems. I speak about defence methods because both these and the corresponding counter-measures are part of the continual play and interplay in this terrible, if silent, struggle.
But it is clear that gradually the era of the free-falling bomb is drawing to an end. I do not mean that there is any day or month or year when the massive attack from aircraft, even from free-falling bombs, will be something which could be lightly disregarded by any country, but things are moving in this direction, although not quite so rapidly as some would suppose.
We had hoped that by the adoption of the Skybolt weapon, or Skybolt system, 958 which, as the House knows, is a ballistic missile, that is, one which leaves the atmosphere, which is launched from a fast-moving aircraft, we would prolong the effectiveness of the strategic bomber force very considerably. We have every reason to believe that Skybolt's development would be successful in spite of inherent difficulties and complications.
Of course, all these modern methods are full of difficulties and complications. Some succeed almost to schedule; others drop behind and are obsolescent by the time they are completed; others are left behind by more effective rivals; others fail altogether. Nevertheless, in spite of all the hazards inseparable from this type of highly sophisticated missile, we certainly seemed to have made a good bargain. Skybolt had the full and enthusiastic support of the American Services and Government.
We stood to gain all the results of the large American expenditure on Skybolt, both on research and on development. We were in a position to purchase such numbers of the finished missile as we might need, attaching our own warheads to them, of course. Unhappily, during the course of last year, particularly towards the end, the Americans developed serious doubts about the Skybolt system.
I shall revert to this problem, but before going into detail—and I hope that the House will pardon me, for this is a difficult and complicated subject—I want to say that it is not unnatural that many people in this country, on all sides and in all parties, should be considering what should be the British rôle. There are the large number of people who, for different reasons, sincerely believe that it would be best now for Britain to fall out of the game, as it were, or, to put it more correctly, to contract out of the nuclear rôle.
Their reasons are very different, as different as chalk and cheese. There are a number of very earnest people, some pacifists in the general sense, some pacifists in the restricted nuclear sense, who believe that all these weapons are wrong and should be abandoned. We all hope that the day may come when they can be abandoned and we shall not cease to work for it. President Kennedy and I discussed some of these matters, the ban 959 on nuclear tests and other questions, when we met before Christmas.
But I think it only right to put in this warning. A system of disarmament, if it is to carry conviction and restore that sense of security for which, above all, the world is yearning, cannot, at any rate in my view, be restricted to nuclear disarmament. It must comprise at least the first stage of an agreement in the conventional field.
I repeat that there is a strongly-held view that all nuclear weapons should be abandoned without further ado by all Powers if possible, but in any case by Britain unilaterally. This is the spirit which inspires the "Ban the Bomb" and many other movements.
§ The Prime Minister
The whole Labour Party? Then I have got it wrong.
But if we accept that the security of the Western world is to be defended largely by American nuclear power, if we are shielded by the American deterrent, then we have no right to claim that we should be doing some kind of moral service to humanity by giving up the British nuclear force. We must agree that a British gesture, while it might have a short-lived publicity value, would not have an influence in the long term on the development of events. I therefore rule that out as a moral gesture. I am not sure, but I gather that the Official Opposition share this view. We are, therefore, left not with a moral issue, but with a practical one.
The second group of critics take this practical point. They say that because the balance of the contribution, or the amount of the contribution, which Britain can make to the total nuclear strength of the alliance is relatively small, and because it is all so difficult, and because it costs so much, we really had better "chuck it" and concentrate all our efforts on conventional armaments. This is the way, they say, to make the most effective contribution to the N.A.T.O. Alliance.
I appreciate these arguments, but I think that many who use them do not realise the fundamental difference between Britain and some of our Continental 960 friends in this field. We have, of course, to make a contribution, and we are making it loyally to the N.A.T.O. forces, but we have obligations also in many other parts of the world, and the defence of the free world, and, indeed, the survival of the free world, is assisted by our efforts in some of these more distant areas.
This adds necessarily to our expenses, especially overseas expenditure. It adds to the complications regarding the character of the weapons to be provided, the training of our men, and the means of conveying them to the field of action whenever trouble may occur. But without some nuclear shield there would be little point in building up this conventional sword, and even if we did concentrate wholly on conventional arms—and this is the point I should like to impress on the House—it would be a great error to suppose that to abandon altogether the nuclear role would make any massive reduction in the burden of defence expenditure over the years.
At present, taking the whole field of projects started, projects abandoned, with work on research and development and the maintenance and building of these weapons, and, of course, assuming that some form of bomber force armed with conventional weapons would be required during this period, the percentage of our total defence expenditure on the strategic nuclear aspect has not run at more than about 10 per cent. of the whole.
If we were now to turn over to a great increase in conventional forces adapted to conventional weapons, I think that we should find, since this means the maintenance, arming and deployment of a large number of men—and this is always the most expensive part of our expenditure—that we should be making a greater expenditure at home and probably incurring a far greater burden on the balance of payments. This altogether leaves out the question whether to do so we should have to revert to conscription.
All this may be right or wrong. We may have to face it, but do not let us be under any illusion that to abandon our nuclear contribution and to step up our conventional forces is a method of cutting defence expenditure. Moreover, what is the precise meaning today of the word "conventional"? If we are to abandon the great strategic nuclear 961 weapon, are we also to abandon what are called the tacticals? For instance, the nuclear armaments which the present Canberras have and any of their successors will carry? It is the view of the Government and of their predecessors of both parties, up to now, at any rate, that it would not be right for Britain to abandon the nuclear weapon at this stage. What the distant future can bring no one can foresee. There are four reasons which have actuated us in this decision.
First, we think that it is the duty of allies to contribute what they can to the strength of the alliance. We have at present a powerful force of bombers. They are a formidable contribution to the allied strength. We have a nuclear knowledge and capacity. Even if our nuclear forces were to be reduced relatively to the rest of the alliance, of which I see no immediate sign, they would still be very great in world terms. It is something we have, and we ought therefore to contribute.
Secondly, and I say this after thinking much about it—it is only my opinion, but I hold it sincerely—I do not believe that our Western Alliance could really stand permanently if in this vital field the United States were given for all time the sole authority. We are allies. We must remain allies, but we must not become satellites. I can understand why the French Government, who are a world Power as well as a continental Power, wish to develop their own nuclear force. I must frankly say that I hope they will accept that such a force has obligations as well as rights.
In a moment I shall come to how we can best preserve the rights of European countries relative to America and still avoid some of the dangers of the proliferation of national nuclear forces, but I believe, if it is not extravagant to say so, that it will not be a happy position for the United States themselves, nor would their relations with their allies over the years remain good, if all the countries not quite so great as they, but still great countries, were to hand over for ever complete control of this unique weapon to the American Administration of the day.
Thirdly, the effect of our British nuclear power in the past: has meant that we have been able to make a very valuable contribution in international fields of 962 discussion, particularly as regards disarmament. I do not believe that the standing of our representatives in these matters—consider this very question of the bomb tests—would remain the same if we were now to abandon this effort, nor do I believe that it would be good for the world if our influence were to be reduced.
Fourthly, and this is perhaps the most vital argument of all, there may be conditions, there must be areas, in which the interests of some countries may seem to them more vital than they seem to others. It is right and salutary that a British Government, whatever may be the particular conditions of a particular dispute, should be in a position to make their own decision without fear of nuclear blackmail. It would be wrong and dangerous to particularise further, but most hon. Members will probably realise what I have in mind.
Yet, curiously enough, I have observed that some of those who are most insistent that we should abandon any degree of nuclear independence are always demanding, with equal stridency, that we should have a foreign policy which is absolutely independent, and particularly in opposition to the policy followed by the Americans. This seems to be a strangely contradictory point of view. I put this forward, therefore, as our fourth reason. I would hope that Britain will be able, for as long as possible, to maintain her position free from threat, and should be able, should the necessity arise, to make her independent decisions on issues vital to her life.
But this is not purely a British view. Soon after our meeting ended President Kennedy gave a Press conference. He told me beforehand how he would explain to his own people our insistence upon the right to use these weapons in matters of supreme importance, because—and these are the words he used—they are "the necessary requirement for any sovereign nation".
§ The Prime Minister
Any sovereign nation which has them and which can contribute them to the N.A.T.O. Alliance must also have this sovereign right. I will come to that point in detail later.
963 The President went on to dwell at some length on this, and I am glad that he did so, because it makes clear that the agreement that we have made is based upon a fuller understanding of each other's views, and is not a shallow formula devised to patch up or hide each other's difficulties.
I must now revert to the situation which confronted us when my colleagues and I went to the meeting. I was fortunate enough to have with me the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Defence. The Commonwealth Secretary was also in the area—[An HON. MEMBER: "He was in the air."] He was in the area on duty, and I called him up to join us. Although a final decision had not been formally taken we knew that the American Government had really lost confidence in the Skybolt system for their own use.
This was a view not lightly reached, and one which must have caused them considerable internal embarrassment, because the whole American bomber force was looking to the Skybolt missile with considerable impatience to give the United States Air Force a new life and strength, as one of the main props of the American defensive system. Moreover, the United States Government had spent large sums of money—about 350 million dollars—on existing development. This money was spent not only by the last Administration; on the contrary, as soon as the Kennedy Administration came to office they stepped up the allocation for Skybolt, and they will now incur very heavy cancellation charges. There was a political as well as a financial interest in keeping Skybolt going, if possible.
There was, in addition, an industrial interest on the part of the aircraft industry in general and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and its subsidiary manufacturers in particular. This depended not on our orders—or only to a small extent upon them—for the United States Government were planning to buy many times as many missiles for their forces as we would have purchased for ours. So there was a fairly formidable lobby inside the United States in favour of Skybolt. Anyone with experience will know how difficult it sometimes is to resist these pressures. They are the decisions which Administrations have to take.
964 I am saying all this to show that it is absurd to believe that those decisions were taken lightly, and equally childish to suppose that with all this great interest in Skybolt the United States Administration cancelled it just to spite Britain, or to drive us out of the nuclear field. To believe this, anybody must really be very guillible.
During our talks in the Bahamas the President was very frank and fair. He quite agreed that, looking back over my meeting at Camp David with President Eisenhower, in 1960, it was clear why it was agreed that we should have Skybolt. At that time, as I recall it, the emphasis was on mobility. We were just deciding to abandon the fixed rocket. There were two possible systems in the mobile ballistic rocket field. One was Skybolt and the other was Polaris. Neither system had been fully perfected, and both were complicated and costly. At that time I must say frankly that I was greatly influenced by the fact that we in Britain already had a bomber force, with all that that implies in morale, men and material. The V-bombers were being constructed and large orders had been placed for them. I reached the view—and I think that it was not unreasonable—that if the Americans would sell us the Skybolt missile, although it would not be a permanent solution—nothing is ever permanent in the defence field—at any rate it would get us through a long period of years with the least disturbance.
I was fortified in this view by the high degree of confidence and importance which the Americans attached to Skybolt. In return, the only offer that I was able to make, and was glad to make, was that when the Polaris system was developed we would, by making facilities available in this country, add enormously to its strength and efficacy. Now, Polaris is successful, not only in research and development, but in manufacture. It is operational, and the Americans already have about 20 submarines in service.
There is, therefore, a complete change from the situation obtaining at the Camp David meeting. President Kennedy recognised this and, in particular, saw clearly how much we had depended on Skybolt and how disappointed we were at the situation which had arisen. Under the Skybolt agreement we had the right to go on with the development ourselves.
965 The President, however, thought that this would be hard on us and was prepared to share the further costs of development, although he made it clear that the United States would not buy any Skybolt missiles for herself.
However, it did not seem possible to imagine that, in such circumstances it would be likely for us to succeed—with our much smaller resources, and working through an American company—in a development for which the American forces had no use. It is "hard enough to carry out schemes of this complication in one's own country; at a distance of 5,000 miles or so, with a project losing all its priority, we should have been at great and—we thought—unacceptable risk.
Therefore, after consulting my colleagues, I declined this offer. The President next offered to make available a weapon called Hound Dog. It was a good weapon but, unfortunately, technical reasons connected with the construction of this cruise-type missile—it was not a ballistic missile—and with the construction of our own bombers made this impracticable.
The only alternative, therefore, was the Polaris complex—the submarine, of course, to be of British manufacture, the warhead to be British-made, and the rocket and its accompaniments to be sold to us by the Americans, like Skybolt. Under our agreement we shall be able to obtain the latest model of Polaris available at the time. This arrangement is made practicable because any new mark of Polaris will have to be designed to fit into the existing submarines, in which so great an investment has been made by the Americans.
A change of policy of this kind brings with it many problems, and I do not disguise them. For example, it brings in the problem of the so-called "gap". On this aspect I should, however, point out that if the Skybolt project had been developed now and we had gone on with it—or the Americans had—there would have been a gap anyhow. Even if it could have been made operational it would have been ready much later than we had expected. Nor can anyone say with certainty that there is any particular moment, any month or year, at which the bomber force, armed with stand-off bombs, can really be written off by an aggressor.
966 There are other measures in this field which can be taken and which, so far as security allows, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence perhaps will deal with. But even though some period of reduced efficiency has to be accepted—as it would have had to be even with Skybolt—that will mean no more than a period in which our contribution to the total deterrent would be somewhat less effective than we had hoped. A period in which the striking power of the independent force, though still considerable, would be somewhat reduced.
But, if the decision to stop Skybolt may mean for us a short period in this decade when our V-bombers may find it more difficult to penetrate, it also means that there will be a much longer period in which this form of a submarine deterrent might be expected to remain effective. What we lose, therefore, at the beginning—and I do not believe that it is disastrous—we shall more than make up at the end.
In any case, I do not see how the Opposition can lay any emphasis on the gap, for their policy involves, as I understand it, not a narrow, temporary and uncertain gap. If their policy succeeds and we abandon the whole enterprise, it means that between us and any other nuclear Power there will be a great gulf fixed, final and eternal. These are the considerations, therefore, which, in my view, are important.
There are other considerations about Polaris which in my view are important. First, in our island there is certainly the great advantage in having a seaborne missile instead of one operating from fixed sites in this country, or even one dependent upon fixed aerodromes. Secondly, there is perhaps the most vital point, that a submarine weapon is in many ways the best suited—now that it has been invented—for our purpose. It is a second strike weapon. It is the nearest thing to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford described as "indestructible retaliation". In spite of all the difficulties, I believe, therefore, that we reached the right decision at the Bahamas, that is, on the assumption, which I have made, that the British deterrent is to be maintained. On that assumption, in this situation Polaris is the right weapon.
Now I wish to say something about independence, and it takes up the point 967 of the other aspect of the Agreement. When the Bahamas Agreement was first announced, some doubt was expressed as to whether it really was independence. I have quoted the President's view. I confidently assure the House that I would not have made the agreement unless my colleagues and I had been fully satisfied that it safeguarded our independence. First of all, these Polaris missiles, with all their accompanying and immensely complicated paraphernalia, will be British property from the time we buy them. These arrangements will be similar to those proposed for Skybolt. In conventional arms, of course, people buy and sell very freely from one country to another.
Next, apart from the missiles and some of their associated equipment, the warheads and the submarines themselves will be built in Britain and will be, therefore, completely our own at all stages. Thirdly, the submarines, when they are completed and equipped, will be entirely manned by British officers and men owing allegiance to the Crown and receiving their orders from Her Majesty's Ministers. In all these, what I would call practical aspects, there will be no difference between Polaris and Skybolt.
We have agreed—I will come to this in some detail—that we will regard the Polaris submarines in their normal function as being for the purpose of international defence of the Western Alliance. I shall deal with this aspect later and only say now that we hope to devise a practical method of operating such a system.
§ The Prime Minister
No. I am going to finish my speech. If necessary, I will answer questions at the end of the debate tomorrow, when I wind up the debate.
Because of this change, I felt it right to agree with a specific phrase in the agreement safeguarding the right of the British Government of the day to use this fleet for what purpose they may decide when they believe that supreme national interests are at stake. I have seen it suggested that this is a somewhat restrictive course of action. But, on examination, I believe that the House 968 will agree that it is not so. These weapons, as we all know, constitute the most terrible form of warfare. However serious the situation, no Government would use them lightly to counter a bluff, or to resist a bully. They would only be morally justified in using this immense power to counter a threat in a situation which was of supreme importance to the nation.
As I have explained, President Kennedy clearly recognised the necessity for such a phrase, and because of the importance which we both attached to it I agreed to bring up to date the moral undertaking which we and the United States already have, that is not to use nuclear weapons anywhere in the world without prior consultation with each other, if circumstances permit—[Laughter.]Well, you may get shot at only a few minutes before you answer back, and hon. Members opposite are laughing at that.
I therefore gave the President—this is important as to what the American view of the case is—an assurance that should the British Government wish to operate this independent clause I felt sure that I and my successors would give the same notice of intention. As I say, this undertaking brings up to date in the new circumstances the existing understanding. But the fact that the United States Administration wanted me to give this assurance shows how fully they accept the reality of our independent rights.
Before I come to the international implications of the Nassau Declaration, there are certain—
§ Mr. Collick
Would the Prime Minister kindly clear up this point? Is it not the fact that under the agreement the operational control of these Polaris submarines remains under American control?
§ The Prime Minister
No, I am coming to that in a moment. It will be entirely 969 under our control, although it will be—just as our bombers work in with the American strategic bombers—put under the N.A.T.O. system. It will be under our control and the independent clause is always in the hands of a British Government.
The reasons for the wider international plan I will come to, and I believe that they are sound and progressive. There are certain matters before I come to that with which I should like to deal. I ought to make it clear that there was no detailed agreement at Nassau in the sense that all sorts of points have to be covered in a more formal agreement. We made arrangements in broad outline. The detailed agreement is now being made. It will cover in addition to the missile, such things as equipment for fire control, launching, guidance and navigation.
Since then the American Administration at all levels have shown their desire to bring this agreement to a rapid conclusion. We have already sent a team to Washington. An American team came here and the work of drafting the more formal agreement is now in hand. This is the same procedure as we adopted for Skybolt. But it is clear that we shall also—perhaps it will come in the defence debate, or later—have to make plans to design the nuclear submarines and put them into production—
§ The Prime Minister
Fortunately, we have a full knowledge of the design and manufacture of a nuclear-powered submarine. We have one just completing her trials. We have one building and another on order. It will take about a year to prepare the plans and designs for the new submarines, which, naturally, have to be specially adapted and are a more advanced type, for the inclusion of the missile.
We hope that the keels of the first submarines may be laid in 1964. Initially, we plan to have four or five and the first of these, if all goes well, should enter service in 1968. How many ships we should build in all is, of course, a matter for the future decision of Government. Our present thought is that each vessel should contain the same number of missiles as the American submarines, that is, 16.
970 The House will also want me to say something about the estimated cost. Long experience has led me to know how difficult it is to attempt to give a precise cost in any of these more advanced forms of weapons. There are, however, certain indications from which we can make reasonable estimates and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will deal with this in more detail tomorrow, but there are two points that I should like to make first.
Had the Skybolt succeeded we should, of course, have had a financial advantage in the earlier years after their delivery because we would have used them with the existing bombers but, of course, sooner or later, perhaps some time early in the 1970s, we would have had to contemplate replacing the whole of the present bomber force, perhaps with the same but probably with more expensive and newly-designed aircraft.
Secondly, I must deal with some speculation which appeared in the Press about the nature and scale of the British contribution to the development costs of the Polaris missile. It has been suggested that this might saddle us with a large and unknown financial commitment. I must, therefore, make clear what the position is. It is estimated that up to the end of 1962 about 2 billion dollars—£700 million—had been expended on the research and development of various marks of Polaris missiles. Those who think that we should make our own rockets might stop a moment to consider this immense cost.
This is the agreement we have reached. Should we decide to buy the Polaris missiles—for this is a permissive agreement—and we decided to buy the existing marks now in service, the question of any contribution to development charges will not arise since these have all been incurred by the American Government, before the date of the agreement. However, it is more than probable that we would want to buy the new mark of the missile, which is still under development. It depends on how well the development goes. Moreover, the process of development will not cease even with the new weapon. No doubt there will be a continuing development. It is, therefore, a point of greatest importance that we should have the continuing benefit of the latest research and development work so that our submarine fleet could be 971 re-equipped with the most up-to-date weapons.
If, as is the most likely, our initial purchase will be for the rocket system now approaching production, and which. I think, will probably be ready long before the submarines are ready and if we were to purchase any subsequent development, we should, as seems only reasonable, make a small contribution to these heavy initial costs and our contribution will be in this form. It would be related in no way to the actual money spent on research or development which, as I say, is nearly £700 million. It will be related to the final production price and a sum will be added of 5 per cent. to the price which will cover all possible claims to other new weapons that may be devised.
It would be the actual production price for the production line plus 5 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "'On which mark?"] If we buy the new marks. Imagine what this amounts to in these enormous costs. It is impossible to foretell what will be the final price of a new missile although, of course, we know the price of the one now in service. But, to illustrate the point, for every £1 million worth of rockets and associated equipment which we purchase, the additional charge we would bear would be £50,000.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
When referring to the different marks of Polaris and talking about the long time before the equipped Polaris would be ready, would the right hon. Gentleman make quite clear to which he is referring? We think we are clear about his reference as between Al, A2 and A3.
§ The Prime Minister
We cannot be quite certain, but if we were to acquire Al or A2 we would bear the actual cost of production. If we were to buy a later mark we would pay 5 per cent, additional on the cost of the weapon, nothing to do with the production or development of the thing, but simply 5 per cent, extra. This, I think the House will agree, is a very fair and I would add a very generous arrangement.
Taking all in all although I cannot at this stage give very precise estimates I would say this. I do not believe that if we accept the need for a deterrent which will be truly independent when our supreme national interests are at 972 stake and at all times a great contribution to the Western Alliance I do not believe the charges which may fall upon the public revenue are greater than the nation ought to be asked to bear.
There is one other aspect of all this—and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) for allowing me to come to it in this order—which I must now set before the House. The Skybolt agreement was a purely bilateral agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Since that agreement was made three years have passed. Both the British Government and the present American Administration believe that now is the moment to make a forward movement towards international arrangements in this field which will allow the N.A.T.O. Alliance to carry at least some of the responsibility now lying so heavily upon the strongest ally, and heavily too upon this country.
This had been equally a matter of concern in President Eisenhower's time and we had many talks about it. When this point was made in the Bahamas, frankly, I could not argue against it, for it is the very point which I have been urging both in Britain and America for the last few years. It was in this spirit that President Eisenhower and I made our Declaration of Common Purpose in 1957. We said:it is not within the capacity of each nation acting alone to make itself fully secure. Only collective measures will suffice.We added that Britain and the United States regarded their possession of nuclear weaponsas a trust for the defence of the Free World.In 1958, I spoke in America about the ideas of interdependence which flowed from the Declaration of Common Purpose. Finally, at Massachusetts in 1961, I made this my theme and used these words:Although the nuclear deterrent gives us security it is not yet so organised as to contribute fully to our unity.My thought was, and is, that while Europe may have been content to place complete reliance upon the United States—and to a more limited extent Britain—for her defence in the early years, when some countries were shattered, such a position will not be tolerable for ever. This predominance cannot be made the 973 basis of a lasting partnership. I therefore said at Boston—and I quote these words for they are very relevant to what we have just done—thatWe must find a way of meeting the legitimate feelings of our European allies. Naturally, every extension of trusteeship, every increase in the concept of partnership, has its dangers. But the health of our whole N.A.T.O. Alliance depends on finding a way of building a partnership in the nuclear as well as in the conventional field.I went on to say:This question is fundamental. Its organisation is an issue on which the unity of the Atlantic community may well stand or fall.I therefore thought it right to discuss with President Kennedy how this new arrangement could be made the opportunity for achieving some advance.
There is the problem of France—at the moment particularly difficult to assess—not in the same historical partnership in the development of nuclear power and still a long way behind. There is the problem of Germany, precluded, indeed, by the treaty from the manufacture of nuclear weapons, and certainly determined to honour that treaty, but, naturally, with its modern growth and strength, not wishing to be wholly excluded from any share in the control of policy regarding their use.
Then there are other countries of Europe, some, like Italy or Turkey, which have accepted nuclear weapons on their territory, and others who have not been asked to accept any share in the defence system. All, naturally, are concerned in these great questions which may decide their future. I think it right to start examining in a practical way some method of working out a more united and a more modern allied policy in which the political and defence uses of nuclear strength could be evolved. It may be that some time will pass before a definite comprehensive plan can be worked on and made practicable. This was the opportunity to make a start.
There has been much discussion in this and other countries about what is called a "N.A.T.O. deterrent". All sorts of plans have been put up—many of them unworkable and many of them not yet accepted by any member Government. Nevertheless, these suggestions are not to be despised. I fully recognise the good faith of those who are trying to find a solution to this problem—the problem of 974 maintaining the ultimate deterrent and satisfying the national traditions of our countries, while at the same time working for a more united alliance.
I therefore believed that it was right that we should regard this Polaris fleet of ours, when it comes into being, as under normal conditions part of our contribution to the general Western scheme of defence. But I raised the point with the President that this force would take a long time, several years, before it would come into being. The Americans themselves have taken about five years on these machines. Could not something be done, therefore, to give an impetus to this force?
With the full agreement of my colleagues I proposed that we should now make a start by allocating some of the bomber force now stationed in Britain, already targeted for joint operations in co-operation with the American strategic bombers, to a jointly planned undertaking. Could we not allocate some of this force to the N.A.T.O. Alliance? I felt that this would make a start and would be a proof that we in our country were not following a narrow nationalism, but were prepared to work in loyalty with the alliance.
The President accepted this idea and the Americans will also contribute. I will go even further. At present our bomber force is organised in a single command, and must so remain—the historic Bomber Command. Its squadrons may, of course, from time to time be detached to any part of the world—to the CENTO or S.E.A.T.O. areas, or outside. But they are a single command for training and operations, and they have a conventional as well as a nuclear rôle.
We want to make the most effective contribution that we can to the new N.A.T.O. nuclear forces, while remaining in a position to safeguard our national interests and to fulfil our obligations outside N.A.T.O. The terms of such an agreement must be carefully worked out, but I do not think that it is impossible to settle this satisfactorily. Once it is settled, we should be ready to assign our V-bomber force for the defence of the Western Alliance.
The House has been very patient with me. I have covered the various developments and the part which Britain has 975 played from the start, and the problems which now lie before us. I would sum up by saying that my colleagues and I believe—and I hope that a greater part of the House will agree—that the arrangements reached are both sound and imaginative. We believe that they should receive the support of the House and the country. Of course, some will feel that we should now drop out, exhausted, from the race, either from moral or from physical pressure. There are others who assert that the Americans will, in the long run, let us down over Polaris, as it is said—in my view, falsely and cruelly—that they have deceived us over Skybolt. There are some who say that the interdependent aspect has been exaggerated. There are some—wrongly, as I have tried to show—who doubt the true character of our independent rights.
But it will be for the House and the country to judge, and I am not ashamed of the stand which we have taken on this agreement and in relation to these grave matters. Nor, looking back on the long history of this country, do I think that this policy is in any way inconsistent with the best and noblest traditions of our people.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:can have no confidence in a Government whose defence policy has collapsed and which, at Nassau, entered into an agreement which, by seeking to continue the illusion of an independent British nuclear deterrent', imposes further economic burdens upon the nation and makes more difficult the solution of Great Britain's defence problems".I should like to start, perhaps unusually, with a word of sympathy for the Prime Minister. Inevitably some hard things will be said in due course about his handling of the nation's affairs, as we see them, not only on defence but on the Common Market and on our economic condition. But that does not preclude all of us, I am sure, from understanding the strain and the worry which are on his shoulders at this moment, and those who have been through the situation know what he must feel. We all of us understand it and sympathise with him.
976 Having said that, let me add that the Prime Minister's speech today left me feeling that to a large extent it was an historical survey. No doubt he believes it to be a faithful historical survey, although I shall raise some points on it as I go through it. In addition, it was an attempt to examine the philosophical basis of defence at this period of time, and in that I thought that he was hopelessly at sea.
I was very glad indeed that the Prime Minister rebuked as fiercely as he did those of his right hon. and hon. Friends who only a week or two ago were, to use his own words, so cruelly and falsely accusing the United States of having let us down. Let us be quite clear that he was addressing his hon. and right hon. Friends with those words, because nobody else did it.
The basic difficulty in all this discussion, and, indeed, in examining the country's defence policy, is that we have no settled foreign policy and absolutely no defence policy or strategy at all. The Government sometimes talk as though these two things are in separate compartments, but of course they are not. Until the Government know what their foreign policy is and how far they are tied in to an alliance conception and how far they want to act independently, it is impossible to get the defence policy right either.
All the past assumptions on which the Government over the last eleven years have based their defence have, in fact, collapsed. Today we are neither geared for independent national effort nor are we able to fulfil effectively our alliance commitments. All the various chosen weapon systems and vehicles have been switched and switched again over those years, and finally all of them have been dropped. Now there is a vacuum where there should be a policy. There is Chaos where there should be order in the Service Departments and in the Ministry of Defence. There is utter confusion and inefficiency over the provision of manpower, weapons and equipment for our forces. The, I imagine seriously intended, announcement the other day from the War Office that only bachelors need now apply to join the Army surely sums up the whole wretched position. No wonder our friends abroad are aghast at our performance; no wonder others openly snub and jeer at us.
977 To say these things is not to rejoice in them. I hate the position in which I believe the Conservative Government have got the country. The safety and security of our people and of our country are much too important for mere party considerations. But it is equally true that not to face the facts when they are there is dangerous and stupid. Actually to distort the facts, to try to fit them into either party advantage or Ministerial face-saving, is even worse. That is exactly what the Prime Minister and successive Ministers of Defence have been doing for years past. They have deceived themselves. They may have deceived the country—they have clearly deceived their own back benchers—'but the world outside has not been taken in, and that is the real issue which Members opposite should face.
In this debate there is so much to be discussed and it is so hard to compress what one has to say, but there is another defence debate to follow shortly, apart from tomorrow—we shall soon get to the ordinary defence season—and so I will limit myself today to looking as briefly as possible at three things. I will look first, as the Prime Minister did, at what seems to have happened; secondly, where we think the major mistakes occurred, and thirdly, what answers we think should be given to the vital questions that must govern policy.
With regard to the third, let me make something perfectly clear in order to forestall the usual chant from hon. Members opposite of "What would you do?" First, we are not responsible for the mess in which the nation's defence policy is at the present time. Indeed, we may claim, and I think fairly, judged by the record, to have offered advice over the years which, if taken, would have avoided this mess arising.
Secondly, we do not even now know whether we have the full story or whether we have been told all the facts. I say that for this reason. I am not, after these years of association with this aspect of our national affairs, without some close contact with it. I am not without some knowledge of what is going on. I believe, I think with reason and with informed support, that the situation which will be found by the next incoming Government, which will then have access to the advisers and access to the facts, will be found 978 to be as bad in every single respect as that which the 1940 Government found at the end of the Baldwin and Chamberlain era. Clearly, a set of detailed decisions by us will have to await that day. Priorities can only be determined when we see clearly the extent of the deficiencies both of policy and supply.
Over all these years, the major mistake has surely been an obstinate refusal—I thought continued by the Prime Minister today—to accept the consequences of the tremendous development and the tremendous change in the nature and balance of the nuclear weapon situation in the world. This situation, that is to say, the nature of nuclear weapons, the nature of their delivery systems and the balance between large blocs, has changed not only in degree in the last five years but in total conception of the consequences of it.
The requirements today for the credibility of a nuclear deterrent, the relative importance to it of conventional forces and weapons—and the Prime Minister tossed this aside almost as easily as he tossed the Commonwealth Secretary aside at an earlier point—the practicability of what small nations can today do, all these things have profoundly changed as a result of the development not so much of nuclear weapons as of the carriers required to deliver them.
Large parts of the Prime Minister's speech were devoted to nuclear weapons as though it was that matter which determined today one's approach to whether to have an independent deterrent or not. Of course it is not; it is the change in the delivery system which controls us today. This was not so true five years ago, and much less true ten years ago. That is why it is no criticism to say of any of us, or anyone else, that one's thoughts today are not what they were in, say, 1958. Mine are not. But it is not only some of us on this side of the House whose thoughts are not what they were in 1958. Some very influential and high-ranking figures in the defence world of this country do not think, speak or write today, or, I suggest, advise today. as they did in 1958. On the contrary, to cling stubbornly, as the Government are still doing, to ideas which seemed valid then is, in my submission, to be convicted of disastrous myopia. This I 979 believe to be the main cause of the total collapse of Government defence policy.
We should long ago have ceased to argue about, let alone continue feverishly trying to maintain, an independent British nuclear deterrent. The issue today is not whether we should have one or should not have one. After the collapse of Blue Streak—let me say that we have no responsibility for that—and as new delivery systems arrived on the scene, each one involving still greater demands upon resources even than those which the Government found insupportable in the case of Blue Streak, the whole question of an independent British deterrent became an illusion and a trap for us.
We could, of course, pretend, and the Government chose to pretend and are still pretending, but this required some other nation to lend itself to the pretext and to let us have what we could not ourselves provide. But no one, except those determined not to see, could be deceived by that. But, egged on by political forces on their own side, the Government lacked the will to stand up to them. This is exactly the illusion, the pretence, that the Government have chosen to take refuge in.
Let me make the position clear so that when we are answered tomorrow it will not be as the result of a slick distortion of the argument. Let the argument be frankly faced on its merits—and despite the grin on the face of the Prime Minister the argument not only has merits but some very respectable and sincere backers outside the House. Of course, we have the V-bomber force and, with it, its weapons. This is no mean force, and no one is suggesting, responsibly, that that force should be thrown away. But sooner, and much sooner than the Prime Minister tried to suggest with his reference to some time in the future, the V-bombers will inevitably be obsolete. By obsolete, I mean that they will be too highly vulnerable to the likely interception means that will then be available. The Prime Minister is entitled to say to me that he knows more than I do. I would be a little more impressed by that if the Government had been a little more often right in their arguments in the past. I know of no responsible military authority whose advice I would willingly listen to who believes that we have more than 980 two or three years at the most in which to regard the present V-bomber force as in fact an invulnerable and credible means of delivery of the nuclear deterrent.
Having said that we have them for that time, what is the position? Instead of the Government facing what is bound to happen to that force, we have been spending vast sums of money at the cost, as other Secretaries of State know, and none better than the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty, of neglecting other vital defence needs, at the cost of totally distorting the defence pattern, and at the cost of maintaining an out-of-date service set up in an attempt, doomed from the start to failure, to try to provide a succession for the V-bombers.
This is why we had the ill-fated Skybolt Agreement. It is called a Skybolt Agreement. We are now told how much the Americans agreed. It appears from some things which were said at the time that it was not much of an agreement. I have before me—it is the only thing I could get in time, but I have no reason to think that it is inaccurate—the official statement issued in America by the American Information Service.
Mr. Lincoln White said this on 13th April, 1960, which was certainly never challenged then by our Government:It is our understanding that the need by the United Kingdom is not immediately urgent and that the British Government is not' at this time in a position to state with certainty what delivery system would be most suitable from their standpoint.This is 1960 we are talking about. The quotation continues:However, we have informed the British Government that the United States Government would be prepared to sell Skybolt to the United Kingdom when it has been developed and if the United Kingdom Government would wish to procure it.There is not much of an agreement in that. No wonder the Prime Minister rebuked his right hon. and hon. Friends for saying that the Americans had let us down. They had not been tied to very much, and they had not been asked for very much. In 1960 it was not even urgent, and we did not know what we wanted. It was a very vague agreement.
Let me say this, too, because the Government are still not coming clean on this. It was always highly speculative. It grew more and more speculative. I 981 trust that we are to hear the ex-Minister of Defence during this debate. He has some speeches on the record to stand up to. There never was any real secret about the speculative nature or the uncertain future of this weapon.
There was never any mystery why I knew this and why it turned out in retrospect that my advice and my prediction were right. Only the Ministry of Defence and the Minister's public relation officers, who must be the most active public relation officers in the whole of Whitehall, know why throughout that time they were at such pains to deny it all. I was given the same information, I think, as Ministers and their advisers were given. But whereas I listened and tried to understand and draw the appropriate conclusions, Ministers and their advisers chose to ignore them and, instead, to act as though they were blind, as though they were deaf, and as though they were incapable of mental effort. In the House Ministers in their denials came very near to actual suppression and distortion of facts they must have known to be true.
§ Mr. Harold Watkinson (Woking)
Would the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to say where he got his facts from? He has said that he got his facts from reliable sources. Perhaps I may say one thing now, which I intend to say later if I am fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair. I do not want to damage Anglo-American relations any more than the right hon. Gentleman does. However, I want to tell him now quite straight that the last time I met the American Defence Secretary he was only anxious to know from me how many Skybolts we wanted, which does not sound as if there were any feeling in his mind at that time that the weapon was not going into use.
§ Mr. Brown
I will answer the question and then I will read a passage from a letter which has appeared in the Press, to which I hope the ex-Mindster will also direct his attention. I am asked where I got my facts from. As the Minister knows full well—because I never paid a visit nor saw anybody without first informing him and virtually seeking his authority—I got them from American Service Departments and from American military installations. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that I sometimes saw them when he was 982 present. The present Minister of Defence knows that the last time I saw the American Defence Secretary, which was before the right hon. Gentleman himself saw him for the first time, I returned to this country and, as I knew he was going, I rang him and asked him whether he would like me to see him and tell him what I had been told. Only the right hon. Gentleman knows why that meeting never took place. There can be no accusation that anything I did or knew was not available or known to Ministers.
Now let me come to the ex-Minister's statement. This has always turned until now on an argument between him and me as to who had been told what. The implication has always been that the Defence Secretaries in America somehow cheated and told me things different from what they told the Minister. That can be the only implication. On 18th January, I am glad to say, a letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph which I had long awaited. It was a letter from Air Chief Marshal Sir George Mills. Sir George Mills is a very distinguished Service officer, a very distinguished airman, who has only recently returned from being the chairman—I think that was his designation—of the British Defence Mission in Washington and in the Pentagon. Sir George Mills was there through all the time when I was offering the advice I believed to be true and when Ministers were denying it. Perhaps the House will bear with me while I put it on the record. I start halfway down the letter, but nothing that goes before affects this point. Sir George says this:Now for the American side. The words 'let down' imply that a hard and fast agreement has been broken. This is not the case.We have been warned constantly from the beginning that continuation of the project was not 100 per cent, certain "—"from the beginning", let me emphasise—and that the Americans would have to scrap it if it did not meet their requirements over date or cost.They—that is the official side, not us—had been told that constantly from the beginning. I trust Ministers will listen to this. It will not do the Prime Minister any harm to listen here, since he clearly does not listen outside.In fact I cannot recall any conversation between senior American and British people 983 when Skybolt was discussed and this straightforward warning was not given. We must not blame the Americans if we British were inclined to interpret these warnings with an element of wishful thinking and hope that all would go well in the end. The plain fact is that the Americans gave us ample warning that it might not.It was in the face of those ample warnings—now confirmed by one of their own official Service chiefs—that the Government preferred to go on pretending that this weapon was going to come; and then the Government supporters got angry with the Americans when it did not come.
I turn to another important facet of this matter. Had we got the weapon it would not have been independent. How can something for which one totally relies on some one else to provide be prescribed as independent, especially when it is never final? No modern rocket ever can be. They go on developing. They go on getting more and more sophisticated and one must stay with the improvements all the time or, sooner or later, be landed with an out-dated and useless piece of ironmongery.
As the Prime Minister indicated, we could never have stayed with the developments. We should, therefore, have been increasing our dependence on the Americans at every stage if the thing was to be kept up to date. Although the Prime Minister did not seem to have this in mind, precisely the same objections apply to the Polaris deal. Whatever there was to be said for this bird, this missile or, as it is better known, this weapons system three years ago is now, in my view, irrelevant. The existing bird, the A.l—and even the A.2—will be wholly out of date, I suggest, five years from now. I do not think that anyone will dispute that.
Consider the A.3. The Prime Minister spoke about it today and used the words, "If all goes well." It would be so refreshing if only someone would come to the House and talk about defence problems with a clear recognition of the fact that nothing ever does "all go well" in this highly complicated era of rocketry, guidance systems, computers and the rest. The A.3—the bird about which the Prime Minister spoke—is not just an adaptation of something which now exists. It is not a question of minor changes. The projected 984 A.3 Polaris is, in the words of its manufacturers—who must me presumed to know—80 per cent, a new bird. Heaven knows what will be involved before it ever arrives, whether it will ever arrive or what it will have cost by the time it does arrive. It is as speculative at this stage and as uncertain as Skybolt ever was, and the Government are repeating exactly the same blindness over this as they did over Skybolt.
I thought that the Prime Minister seemed to accept, by implication, that we shall not have any submarines to put even the existing ones in before they are out of date. I recall that the other day an hon. Member opposite suggested that we could get over the difficulty by renting a submarine. You can rent a telly, you can rent a car; but, good God, you cannot rent a nuclear independent deterrent. We shall not have submarines in which to put them until those missiles, by virtue of their range and other equipment, are out of date. Remember, in any case, that everything to do with Polaris would turn on the communications and command systems. I should like the Minister of Defence to tell us something about this, for I recall that he has had a good deal of experience in this direction.
Regarding the communications and command systems, without having them wholly in our hands independence would be an absolute farce. Are we assuming, do we know, or have we been told, that the Americans are really willing to turn them over to us? I confess that I would be surprised to learn that they have. In any case, we are entitled to know, because this is absolutely at the heart of any assessment of this important matter.
Even the answer to the submarines problem may have to be found before we can get a squadron into service. In the meantime, as before, we will again be spending vast sums—and resources like science and productive capacity count more than money here—starving other defence needs and be failing to fulfil our essential commitments, as we have been doing all along. I will leave to other hon. Members a detailed examination of the contradictions and, I think, previous flaws in Mandsiterial statements, especially about costs. What the Prime Minister said about costs today did not seem to match up with what has been said on the other side of the Atlantic. I pray for the day when, even once, the Prime Minister 985 could seem to come back from having made an agreement able to show us that he knows what he has agreed to and that the other chap seems to know the same thing at the same time.
What are the inescapable conclusions? We shall have no effective nuclear deterrent at all in the independent British sense after about 1964–65. The Prime Minister fluffed this one today. He talked about "a gap" and, from the gap, talked about reduced efficiency. What he means by "the gap" is that there will be a period of years starting about 1965 and continuing—as I shall try to show—until about 1972, when we shall not have just reduced efficiency but we shall not have an independent British nuclear deterrent. That is what the gap means. The Prime Minister said, in effect, "If the Opposition had their way the gap would go on for ever". But if one has a gap it means that for about seven years there will be no independent deterrent, and in this fast moving age it may be for ever because the whole situation will have changed after that.
§ Mr. Brown
I normally give way. I hope the hon. Member will forgive me. There are two two days for the debate. The Prime Minister, who I am attacking, is well able to look after himself and he is to speak again. A number of hon. Members wish to speak and if I allow interruptions in my speech it will only make it longer.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The right hon. Member is making an important point about whether or not we will have an independent nuclear deterrent. He has not made one point clear throughout his speech, namely, whether in fact he desires to have such a deterrent, and I should be grateful if he would say where his party stands in this matter.
§ Mr. Brown
I answered that. Had the hon. Member been listening he would have known that I dealt with defence problems when I spoke earlier and, regarding our existing form of deterrent, 986 said quite firmly that I was for keeping that. I am now discussing—and had the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) been listening he would know that I have been on this topic for some time—what I regard as the totally misguided and doomed to failure activities of the Government in trying to find a successor to it.
I think that this gap, which to me seems inevitable and which the Prime Minister confirmed, will last about seven years. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Let us get back into the business at the end of it". May I invite the House to look at what he is proposing? On his own proposals, if all went well, we should be back after this long gap on a tremendously reduced scale from the V-bomber force. The Prime Minister looks surprised. Either we have been given some very misleading figures about the present size of the V-bomber force and the bombs which it has available, or he has not done the sums about four or five submarines. I had taken the figure as six. I had assumed a squadron of six, but the Prime Minister is talking about four or five. Even if it were six nuclear submarines carrying 16 missiles, which makes 96 missiles, each missile capable of carrying only half a megaton warhead, is the Minister of Defence, no matter what his right hon. Friend is willing to do, ready to go on record and say that that goes anywhere near equalling our present nuclear deterrent force? Is the Secretary of State for Air willing to accept that?
If it turns out that we could get that, we would be back on such a reduced scale compared with the present one that it does not make any sense at all. Hon. Members should remember what seven years in this fast-moving field means. It means that the whole nature of the deterrent will have changed and the whole nature of delivery systems. The Nassau Agreement, I submit to the House, does not make any more sense than did the previous decisions.
There is, too, the additional complication of integrating this optimistically described independent force with the so-called multilateral deterrent of N.A.T.O. I will not develop that point because of the time, but I want to record my deep and sincere doubts, not so much on whether it can be done, although I have doubts on this, as I gather has the 987 Prime Minister, but about the wisdom of setting up such a force at all. If it arrived it would wholly change the outlook of N.A.T.O., militarily and policy-wise. It would raise grave political problems, all of which the Prime Minister has dodged. It would seem to be, inevitably, absolutely chaotic in command, and, of course, it must make nonsense of the independent deterrent claim. It seems to me to be a very doubtful idea. I greatly suspect the extent of any real examination that has yet been given by any Minister of Defence here or in America to this proposition.
A large part of the case for an independent deterrent has always turned on the claim—and the Prime Minister made it again today—that it would add to our political influence and our political voice. There was a time when I took that view myself, but it cannot be claimed now. We have the independent deterrent now. That is the Prime Minister's case. Who would say that we had much influence on events in recent years? [HON. MEMBERS: "Suez."] Oh, much more recent than that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Brussels."] Good heavens, we do not know nowadays even that they have happened until some bureaucrat comes out to an ante-room and tells us so that our Ministers can go home again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, indeed. If the Secretary of State for War will contain himself, I will decide what is up to me.
I want to make this very plain to Ministers. It is because they will not face the facts that are happening that they fail to draw the right conclusions. The possession by us of an independent nuclear deterrent today has not given us influence or strength in the world. But let hon. Members consider this. If we were fulfilling our N.A.T.O. conventional commitment, if our forces had modern arms and equipment, if we had the ships and the 'planes with which to transport and service our land forces, if we were able to meet, perhaps in a combined Service fashion, some of the other overseas commitments which, we are not in a position to meet today, then we might very well develop the influence over events that today we do not possess. And may I point out that Germany has this kind of influence with conventional forces 988 whereas we have not with an independent nuclear deterrent? That is worth thinking about.
To do this requires a deep examination of some issues which I suggest it is time the Government got down to examining. We must examine our national commitments to determine the priorities and to determine which of our commitments have to be retained and fulfilled. In this connection, it is time that we made a firm decision about our attachment to the Atlantic Alliance. Let there be no more half-references to the possibility of further withdrawals. The necessary fulfilment of our role in it is clearly our priority No. 1.
Secondly, we need an examination, which clearly we have not had, of the size and nature of the forces required to fulfil these commitments and priorities when we have established them. We need a deep inquiry, which rumour says is beginning to take place, into the modern organisation of these forces, into what the Services should look like, into how many separate Services we need, and into the realm of the Ministry of Defence. Until these and related questions are tackled—and for eleven years they have been dodged by every successive Minister of Defence, including the Prime Minister—we shall go on wasting time and wasting money, as the Government have done through all these dreadful eleven years, and the chaos and the confusion and, at the bottom, the dreadful absence of any sensible provision for Britain's safety will remain.
It is my submission that this Prime Minister and this Government have fully earned not only our censure but the censure of the nation. They should recall Leo Amery's much quoted Cromwellian advice to Mr. Chamberlain and immediately go.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Watkinson (Woking)
It is always rather difficult for a former Minister to address this House on his own subject, and I do not think I should have done so if I had not felt sincerely that the danger of discussing the problem—and we are discussing a nuclear problem, although the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) strayed a lot wider than that—is the amount of misunderstanding, arising almost to mythology, which can 989 damage the standing of the deterrent, and the Western deterrent as a whole, on which peace rests.
Therefore, I felt that I must try as best I could to make a short and quite factual intervention. The facts are not damaging to the Government, but they largely destroy the right hon. Gentleman's argument, except those parts which I have heard many times before. The right hon. Gentleman and I have had many battles in this House. I should like to say one thing to him quite sincerely. I still think he is wrestling with his conscience. I still think he really supports a British nuclear deterrent but he cannot say so.
There is one other point which I must make and it is entirely factual. I do not intend to stray from the facts as I see them. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that if he had access to the Ministry of Defence he would find there a record of disagreement and complete disorder between the Government's advisers and the Government. One does not quote one's advisers, but perhaps now that I stand slightly apart, it is only fair to those who served me so well for nearly three years to say that there was never any major disagreement of policy between myself, the Government and the Chiefs of Staff.
I want to turn to the one-tenth of defence effort which is represented by our contribution to the nuclear deterrent. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, one can only examine this against the Attlee decision, the right decision, to give us a nuclear armoury. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—and my right hon. Friend stressed it, too—that it is not a problem of making nuclear warheads. It is a problem of means of delivery. Our contribution should be judged by this yardstick: does it, in the eyes of a possible aggressor, make a valid contribution to Western deterrent strength? I do not believe anyone in this House would say that those brave young men of Bomber Command—I think the right hon. Gentleman accepts this—do not today make a valid contribution to Western deterrent strength. I think it is only fair that this should be said. We should seek to do this not as odd man out, but as a worth-while ally. By reason of geography and politics we make such a contribution now.
990 The argument is: can we continue to make it? Can we do this at a reasonable cost? To do this, I think the Minister of Defence has to try to get all the options he can. Any research and development of any system of delivery will cost at least £100 million. That is initial research and development. The Americans, with their great resources, can afford a number of such projects and scrap those which do not suit their evolving policies. We cannot. Therefore, the very generous offer which the United States Air Force made to British Bomber Command in the very early days of Skybolt was clearly an offer which we should not and could not have rejected.
What they said was, "We are going in for this weapon. We know it has difficulties. We know it is a highly technical problem but we think we can solve it. We want you to come in with us on very generous terms, and that is that you do not pay for this weapon unless it is finally successful". As to knowing about the progress, of course, we had technicians integrated in the team all the way through. As to letters from very distinguished former servants of the Government who served in Washington, I would only say that the one that the right hon. Gentleman quoted was not a party to a very great deal of the negotiations.
However, we could not refuse this offer. Nor could we refuse the other very generous offer which was made—and which I should like to put on record—that we should have a naval mission in the United States Navy and that they should be able to understand the whole pattern and development of Polaris. This the Americans freely offered to us, and we were clearly right to accept it.
I should like to put something else on record. I very much enjoyed my collaboration with the United States Secretary of Defence. We worked well together and I have no criticisms to make of him or of what he did. It is only fair to say that up to 13th July his reports to me and the many discussions we had were that the development was going satisfactorily. His last request to me on this weapon system was to know how many missiles we wanted. I put that on the record as some answer to the right hon. Gentleman who has said time and time again in this House that 991 his information in Washington was much better than mine. It may or may not have been.
I go further and say that I do not think the United States were right to cancel this missile. Only time will show, but I still believe in what I call the "mixed bag of clubs". If we are going to keep the peace, we must try to present to a prospective enemy every possible challenge we can. One of the things that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not accept is that we are not trying to wage a war with nuclear weapons. We are trying to stop a war starting, for the sake of our country and the peace of the world, and that is a very different operation.
I ought to say, too—because I feel very strongly about this—that I would not have touched with a barge-pole the final offer made to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go on with Sky-bolt on our own. I am sure he was right to reject it. After what the President of the United States and Mr. McNamara had said, it would have been crazy for us to go on with it. I am sure that it was completely right to reject it.
Let us look at the positive side. These were options freely and generously given. I should like to pay my tribute to the generosity of successive American Governments. They cost us nothing, and they allowed us to have other options of our own. We were enabled to perfect Blue Steel at a very high cost indeed. That weapon, plus the other thing we were able to perfect, which I cannot discuss in this House—for one of the alarming things when one stops being Minister of Defence is the recollection of the number of pieces of paper which were put in front of one, and one has to sign saying that one has forgotten this and that; the right hon. Gentleman knows what I mean—a thing called electronic counter-measures, which is all I can say about it, at great expense have given us a Bomber Command that is an absolutely valid contribution to the deterrent for another four or five years. Of that I am quite certain.
It also allowed us to do another thing at great expense, and no doubt my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will have more to say about this tomorrow.
992 I should, however, like to mention it. It is a perfectly valid part of the argument which the right hon. Member for Belper omitted entirely. It enabled us to begin to develop an entirely new weapon system called the TSR2. The first of these aircraft, I understand, is likely to fly this year. It is three years ahead of anything the Americans are doing. They have now started to copy it. It is a pity they did not take it from us on a basis of interdependence. They will be three years behind us. This weapon system is almost impossible to intercept in normal conditions, and it provides both a tactical and a strategic nuclear capacity.
Those three options would have been impossible for us on expense grounds, had we not rested on the generosity of the Americans in letting us in on Sky-bolt and Polaris at that time practically on a no-cost basis. I think I should say quite fairly, as I have also said that if, as I fear may be true, the Americans are wrong to have got out of the air-lauched missile business, they will welcome the coming of the TSR 2 as a quite unique contribution to the Western deterrent. Let us not forget that this is another possible British contribution to the mixed bag of clubs concept, a combination of airborne and seaborne deterrent.
I do not wish to detain the House. I sum up the facts as I see them in this way. Through the V-bombers, with Blue Steel, E.C.M. and certain other things, we have a valid contribution, for four or five years, against the worst which one can imagine a possible aggressor could bring against them. Then we have the TSR 2, which, if it succeeds, will be something we really contribute to the Alliance because, as I have said, the Americans have, I believe, started it now but they are nearly three years behind us.
I think that a limited Polaris commitment is right. To make one comment, not criticism, I hope that we shall not plunge too deeply into this. I think that the limited commitment is right. It meets our concept of the mixed bag of clubs, because it will certainly be overlapped by the TSR 2 system as well.
In my view, the facts clearly underwrite what the Prime Minister said. I have stuck only to the facts. I stand, 993 perhaps, a little apart from the struggle of politics for the moment. I enjoyed my battles with the right hon. Gentleman very much. We always tried to be frank with one another, and I think that he will say that what I have tried to put to the House is, at least, what I believe.
There are not many in the House who have lived with the nuclear facts over the years. There are just a few on the Government benches, and none on the other side—that is nobody's fault—who have had a full knowledge of what is meant by nuclear warfare and who have had to sign away their knowledge, and rightly so. Those who have lived with that knowledge for some years, knowing what would happen if a certain decision had to be taken, knowing what would happen if the American President spoke certain words over a certain telephone, are not in the slightest doubt that no expense, no stratagem, no shifts of policy, if one likes, no change of weapons systems, is too high a price to pay to maintain the precarious balance on which the whole fate of the world rests.
In this island, we make a unique contribution to maintaining that balance by reason of geography, by reason of our present and future contribution, the facts of which, as I saw them, I have tried to set forth, and also for the reason that one does, I believe, need a contribution on both sides of the Atlantic to avoid the possibility of the nuclear blackmail which could be played if America remained the only nuclear Power. I am surprised that this is not something which the whole House is willing to support. I am equally surprised that the Opposition's Amendment, which goes far beyond criticisms of nuclear weapons, should contain, in effect, a slur on British Forces which, with their success in Regular recruiting, their successful policing of the world, and the dedicated work of the men of Bomber Command, are doing a job which deserves the support of the House and the country and should get it.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The speech of the ex-Minister of Defence, the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. W. Watkinson), was rather thinner on facts and, perhaps, more polemical than he led us to suppose it would be. There are two attitudes which 994 came out of his speech against which I must make some protest.
One is the continual talk of a British independent nuclear deterrent, with, in every other sentence, the statement that it is, in fact, entirely dependent on the Americans. The right hon. Gentleman praised the Americans again and again for their generosity. He said that he thought that Skybolt was a much better weapon than Polaris, yet he is not prepared that this country should pay for Skybolt, so he would accept Polaris because it is given to us by the Americans. That may be right, but it really makes nonsense of all the talk about a totally independent British nuclear deterrent.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The right hon. Gentleman should quote my words correctly. I said that the bargain was that we did not pay for Skybolt unless it was a perfected weapon, in which case we certainly would pay for it, and pay the proper cost.
§ Mr. Grimond
That is not the point I am making. The Americans offered that we could go on with Skybolt and pay for it ourselves. The right hon. Gentleman opposes that.
The other point which occurs again and again in speeches from the other side of the House, against which I, as a Liberal, must protest, is the argument that because many years ago a Socialist Prime Minister once let off an atomic bomb we must go on having atomic bombs for all time whether they are any use or not. This seems to be Conservatism gone mad. I do not accept this historical argument in favour of weapons unless it can be shown that the weapons are some good.
The House of Commons is absolutely right, before it comes to the Bahamas agreement at all, to call the Government to account for the waste and muddle which have characterised our defence policy almost ever since they came into office. We have yet to have an account of the total wastage on the weapons which, have been thrown on the scrap heap but which were, at one time or another, to be our independent nuclear deterrent. We have yet to have a full account of how far we are behindhand in equipping our conventional forces with adequate weapons.
How was it that the end of Skybolt was such a shock? I still believe that it is a most extraordinary story. Of 995 course, anything which this Government touch comes to pieces in their hands. The myth of Tory skill in management has now turned into a joke. But let us consider what we have been told today. The Prime Minister, at least, had the decency to say that, for over a year, there had been doubts about the future of Skybolt. Yet the right hon. Member for Woking, the ex-Minister for Defence, says that he was constantly, right up to the end, told that this weapon was certain to come into service. I wonder whether the Government read the accounts of proceedings before Congressional Committees. We have been told that they were never in disagreement with their experts. What did their experts tell them? If their experts were totally wrong, what steps are being taken to replace those experts? Anyone who read the ordinary reports and devoted any study to these matters was well aware that Skybolt was by no means a certainty for a very long time.
The Prime Minister tells us that Polaris is a much better weapon. If it is a much better weapon, why is it only the failure of Skybolt which makes us go in for it? If it is so much a better weapon, why did we not suggest to the Americans that perhaps we ought to change over earlier?
What consultation was there with our allies before the Bahamas agreement? I am told that there was none. The Prime Minister tells us that it is extremely important to build up a system of consultation in N.A.T.O. I am told that there was no consultation whatever, as far as he was concerned, when he went to Nassau. It is not only General de Gaulle who is annoyed about it. This diplomatic incompetence may, indeed, have had profound effects upon our Common Market negotiations; it may well have been the final straw which determined General de Gaulle that he would blackball us in the negotiations. But it is not only General de Gaulle who resents it. It is resented, I am told, by our other allies. It is not a very good start if our intention is that we should have better consultation within N.A.T.O.
The very details of the agreement appear to be in dispute. Even now, after the Prime Minister has spoken, it is not 996 at all clear exactly what they are. It is true to say that, by the time the submarines are ready, the present Polaris missiles will be out of date. It is not much of a benefit to this country to be told that we shall not have to pay anything extra for missiles which, in the event, we shall never want. The missiles we shall want will be the new ones, and we are to pay 5 per cent. of the final cost of these missiles, that final cost including the cost of development. Yet we have been given no idea of what it is likely to be.
In his speech, the Prime Minister seemed to me to reiterate exactly the attitude which many people in this country see all too clearly in General de Gaulle and find so deplorable. He said that he approved the statement that a sovereign State today must possess nuclear weapons, and he said that it was perfectly clear that we had to maintain our independent deterrent. So long as we take that attitude we cannot complain about other countries taking the same attitude. I believe that it is a highly dangerous attitude and does a great deal of damage.
The kernel of the Bahamas agreement is that the Americans are to supply a missile for a British strategic nuclear warhead, which, if all goes well—the chances of it going well are not very good, judging by past experience—will be ready by 1968 or later. For this purpose, we are to spend £300 million in building four or five submarines. The question which Parliament has to answer is whether this is a necessary or useful deployment of our defence resources. To my mind, the answer should be an unequivocal "No".
The first aim of our defence policy must be the safety of our people and the defence of our interests. The second must be the policing of parts of the world where we have special interests. Surely it is agreed that the first aim can be achieved only in concert with our allies. Our relationship with our allies in N.A.T.O., for instance, is not the same as it was in old-fashioned alliances, and cannot be so. The forces of N.A.T.O., in particular, are integrated and the defence of the free world demands closer and not looser arrangements between allies in defence and foreign policy.
Therefore, the right defence policy for the West is one which allows the Alliance 997 as a whole to meet aggression with the weapons appropriate to the threat. A policy which is capable of meeting conventional attack only with strategic nuclear weapons is neither credible nor desirable. If we are to have a sensible alliance, it must be able to meet a conventional threat with conventional weapons. We must not at once raise the stakes and begin threatening nuclear warfare. Until we achieve disarmament, we must be able to match conventional weapons with conventional weapons.
It is not on the nuclear side of the Alliance that we are weak. There is no sign that the Alliance as a whole is unduly weak in nuclear weapons. But there is every sign that it is weak in conventional weapons. It has been said—it was said again this afternoon—that the existence of the British strategic nuclear deterrent, if it exists, adds something significant to the Alliance. This is just not so. It may be a perfectly good weapon. But that is not the question. The question is: does it add anything significant to the West's nuclear deterrent. The Americans are building forty Polaris submarines. The British are about to try to build four or five. The Americans also have a whole range of other nuclear weapons. Do hon. Members who support the Government's policy really think that the Russians reason in this way, that they say, "We would risk a war with the West—we would risk it becoming a nuclear war—if we had only the Americans to deal with, but if in addition to the Americans there are four or five British submarines, of course, we would not dream of risking war"? Do they really think that the addition of four or five British Polaris submarines to the general deterrents of the West is significant in Russian minds?
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman distinguish between a worth-while contribution to the Western deterrent and the independent British nuclear deterrent?
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman means. I am talking about an independent British deterrent. The Government's argument is that it adds something significant to the general deterrents of the West, and I say that that is nonsense.
998 The Prime Minister says that we must contribute something to the Alliance. Of course we must, but what is the good of contributing something which our allies do not want? The plain fact is that there is absolutely no demand in the Alliance that Britain should keep strategic nuclear weapons. American strategic backing is enough for the Alliance.
The next argument for these weapons is that as long as we have them the British will be fully consulted in any crisis. This has been constantly put forward, I admit from both sides of the House. That argument surely cannot be used in view of what happened at Cuba. Certainly consultation is of the greatest importance, but if the Prime Minister implies that the British bomb, or the British V-bomber force, or the Polaris submarine will solve the question of consultation, I simply cannot believe that he understands what it is all about.
Our allies are not interested in our power; they are interested in consultation about the power of the Americans and the use by the Alliance of nuclear weapons. The idea that we can force our way into the conference room by brandishing some nuclear weapon has proved to be untrue. It did not get us in over Cuba. It has not prevented Germany or France from being consulted, and they have even fewer, if any, nuclear bombs.
Another argument for this policy is that if the Americans withdraw from Europe and refuse to involve themselves and use their nuclear weapons in some occurrence in which we find our interests vitally affected, we might be left naked. To begin with, it must be said again that the Americans have given the clearest undertaking that they do not intend to withdraw from Europe, and the Government have constantly said that they accept that undertaking. Therefore, this is not an argument which can lie in the Government's mouth because they have constantly said that they reject the view that the Americans would withdraw from their undertaking. I suppose the argument is directed to the totally unlikely event of the Alliance virtually breaking up.
I suggest that if the Alliance is breaking up, if we are in a desperate situation 999 or are in disarray in the West, this will not be helped by the possession by the British of four or five nuclear submarines. That would not meet the situation at all. Precedent for this points clean against the Government's argument because at the time of Suez there was a divergence, and the Tory Government and the American Administration took different views. There was a time when the Russians threatened nuclear intervention. But even the Tory Government had the good sense at that time not to begin rattling their own nuclear weapons. There was no suggestion, and quite rightly, that at that moment our nuclear strategic weapons would have been of much use.
The Prime Minister talked about nuclear blackmail. What does this mean? Who is to blackmail whom? If the Russians blackmail us and we are not supported by allies, the position would be extremely serious and I doubt whether Blue Steel or four or five Polaris submarines would be the answer. Perhaps the Americans would blackmail us. If so, we should be told because this throws a very curious light on the Government's views of the Alliance. I challenge the Government to give us an example of the situation which they have in mind in which it is essential for this country to keep its own strategic nuclear weapons. Let them tell the House the sort of situation which they envisage.
It is inconceviable that we shall go into a nuclear war alone. It may be said that it is true, but that Europe may want some say in nuclear weapons. Let us be clear about this: the possession by the British of four or five Polaris submarines will make it not easier but more difficult to find a suitable solution in N.A.T.O. or to satisfy any desires on the part of Europe to have a say about nuclear weapons. It may be that N.A.T.O. should not require its own strategic nuclear deterrent if it pursues sensible policies, but there are some circumstances which make it at least arguable that it should have it.
One of these circumstances is that if Britain and France persist in maintaining their own weapons there may well grow up a demand from Germany for nuclear weapons which would be irresistible. I do not think that any hon. Member views that with great enthusiasm.
1000 The least bad way to satisfy the Germans might be to give N.A.T.O. control of some nuclear weapons. This should be done not by creating another covey of these weapons but by putting some part of the existing United States deterrent under N.A.T.O. This is what the President offered to do in 1961, and if we want to follow that line that is the offer to take up. The question of how these weapons are to be controlled in N.A.T.O. is of great difficulty, but that is something which those who want them will, no doubt, work out.
Not only is this agreement, so far as it perpetuates a British nuclear strategic capability, unnecessary and misdirected but it will have some positively harmful effects. First, it is symptomatic of a wrong appraisal of Britain's role in the world and encourages this country in a wholly wrong attitude to its role. Our role is not to attempt, for reasons of out-of-date grandeur, to be an independent Power on our own but to play our fullest part within the wider and new groupings.
§ Mr. Grimond
Within wider and new groupings.
It also prevents Britain from using whatever influence she might have against the spread of nuclear weapons. Again I hope that there is no one in this House of Commons who views with complete equanimity the spread of these weapons to country after country. But how are we to argue against it if we insist on having them ourselves?
Finally, it is a waste of our resources. We are still not clear what it is going to cost. The Prime Minister was extremely cagey. He more or less conceded that it would cost more. My goodness, he is right. The present estimate is £300 million. This, I understand, is for Polaris itself—for the submarines; but on top of that I suppose we shall have the usual charge in defence budgets for the weapons, for the warheads. At the same time, I think I am right in saying that of the defence budget of £1,700 million some 13 per cent. is devoted to the so-called nuclear deterrent. Hon. Members opposite may say that this is a small amount, but our conventional forces could well use it, and if this Polaris 1001 agreement means there is going to be any further diversion from conventional to nuclear weapons I think it is a wholly retrograde step in our defence policy. There have been suggestions that before we get Polaris we are going to spend more money on Blue Steel. That suggestion has not been made this afternoon, but I think we ought to have it clearly from the Government that they are not going to waste any more money on that.
I am very glad to see that the Minister of Defence is here because he, when not in office, had very strong views on how we should spend our money. Perhaps J need not remind him closely of his speech of 23rd January, 1958. He said we could not spend vast sums on nuclear weapons and also on keeping up the Welfare State. He said thatfor twelve years we have been attempting to do more than our resources could manage … First, we have sought to be a nuclear Power, matching missile with missile and anti-missile with anti-missile … At the same time, we have sought to maintain a Welfare State …He went on later to say thatit may be that in the West in future no one really will be independent in nuclear power.Finally, he said:Our basic problem, whether it is in the Welfare State or whether it is in arms, or whether it is in both, is that we should plan to spend less…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 1295–7.]Since he has become a member of the Government, spending both on arms and on the Welfare State has increased. There has been no reduction; it has increased, and I believe that it is the main cause of loss of confidence in the Government that Ministers constantly say out of office the opposite of what they say when they are in office. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us in this debate what he thinks of that speech which he made, which I thought a very good speech, and whether it is the Welfare State which is to be given up to enable us to maintain the independent nuclear deterrent.
He also apparently takes the view that those who want to get rid of our nuclear deterrent should support conscription, the implication being that the nuclear deterrent is in some way an alternative to conventional arms. I regard this as a most dangerous doctrine. I think it is one of the most dangerous thoughts at the back of the Government's mind, that they 1002 can save on conventional arms by having nuclear arms. If they really believe that they can avoid this by having Polaris then the sooner the country realises it the better. I think the doctrine that we can beat off a conventional attack with nuclear arms simply is not credible. In fact, no Government could do it. Let us have it clear that nuclear arms and conventional arms are not alternatives to meet a given situation.
The Prime Minister has said that there is a large defence problem outside N.A.T.O. and he suggested that strategic nuclear arms might be useful outside the N.A.T.O. area. Again I think the House should probe what is meant by this. Does he really think that if, for instance, we found ourselves in an incident in Asia we should need a British independent nuclear deterrent, or does he think we could ever go to war, for instance in Asia, without our allies, without the Americans, or does he think that perhaps if a war breaks out, as it has done, between China and India we could give any aid by nuclear arms? Let the people ponder that situation. How useful it would be if we were able to say to the Indians, for instance, "We can offer you conventional arms". But how dangerous and how useless if we were in the position if we could help them only with nuclear arms. I suggest it would terrify our allies in C.E.N.T.O. or S.E.A.T.O. if they thought that British aid would have to come in nuclear arms. As for our police responsibilities, surely it is not contemplated that in Africa or other places—the Gulf, for instance—we should carry out our police responsibilities by nuclear arms?
Therefore, I think that there is surely no valid argument for this basic policy from which the Nassau agreement stems. There is no reason for this country to waste resources on trying to keep up the independent nuclear strategic deterrent. Therefore, this agreement is a bad agreement, and it stems from the lamentable failure by the Government to pursue their proper rôle in the world. It is directed at a false aim, it wastes our resources, and, lastly, it hampers the effort of this country to make a constructive contribution either within or without N.A.T.O., and hampers also in the effort to get the proper procedures within N.A.T.O. and the means by which it can control its own weapons more effectively.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Sir Alexander Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I think there is a certain amount of doubt in the country as to whether either under a Labour Government or under a Conservative Government we have had full value for the vast sums we spend on defence, and whether we have not, by attempting to have a little of everything, not got enough of anything. I want this afternoon to talk not so much about Polaris as about how we are going to fill the gap in the six or seven years before that is available.
I do not agree with those who say that there are no advantages in our having an independent nuclear deterrent. I can well imagine great advantages. I do not agree with those who say that we should have an independent nuclear deterrent quite regardless of what it may cost or how effective it may be; I want this afternoon to examine just what the advantages are.
First of all, would it help us to carry out the great responsibilities which we have all over the world? That requires large forces for policing, and British troops have been in action many times since the end of the war, but no one has ever suggested that we conceivably could use the nuclear deterrent for that purpose. Would it be of assistance towards protecting the Alliance as a whole? Of course, I accept what my right hon. Friend the former Minister has said, that we have a very formidable bombing force, but I understand that that adds only 2 per cent, to the striking force which America has in the N.A.T.O. area. Therefore, however powerful it is, it would, from the Alliance's point of view, be superfluous.
Will it protect the United Kingdom in particular? It is sometimes said that circumstances could occur in which we would be, in some legitimate project, in disagreement with the United States, and, therefore, could not rely upon the United States coming to our support. That seems to me to be pretty unlikely. After all, we could hardly have done anything more in disagreement with the United States than we did in 1956, but then, as soon as we were threatened with missiles, at once the United States came to our aid. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] The Americans came to our aid at once, saying that if 1004 we were attacked they would immediately retaliate with all their nuclear force.
Moreover, is it really credible that the Russians would believe that we on our own would start a nuclear war? And if we did, might they not be tempted to wipe us out first of all? Of course, all things are possible and this might happen, but if any householder is going to insure against every conceivable risk he will spend all his income in premiums.
Fourthly, would it give us any greater influence in the Alliance? With regard to the United States, I cannot see how it would give us greater influence unimportantly to duplicate what they are doing instead of usefully complementing it. If only we could supply them with something the Alliance needs, then to some extent they would be dependent upon us. How influential it would be with other countries seems to depend on how effective the weapon might be. It would be easy for us to have a weapon which would enable us to say that we had an independent nuclear deterrent. But unless it could penetrate the Russian defences, and there appears to be very general doubt about the number of years in which bombers can do that, and unless it could retaliate after the enemy had struck—and I do not see how we can reckon on doing that except by the immensely costly process of keeping the aircraft in the air all the time—we should not really impress our friends nor alarm our potential enemies.
In the past it has been vital that this country should get, as soon as it could, any immensely superior new weapon because it would certainly be used. How could bows and arrows stand up to gunpowder? But surely nuclear weapons are not comparable because they are not a sword that we are going to wield but rather a shield for protection. The whole purpose of them, as I see it, is not to be used but to prevent other people using them.
So I come back to the point that the extent of the influence which nuclear weapons would give us depends upon how effective they were, and that depends on time—and they take an awful lot of time—and on money—and they take an awful lot of money. I wonder whether it is fully realised how our resources compare with those of the two major Powers. The 1005 United States of America—and I imagine, it is the same for Russia—are spending more than £5,000 million on the nuclear deterrent alone. We were told today that we are spending £170 million. The Americans are spending 30 times what we are spending. They are spending on the nuclear deterrent alone more than three times the whole of our defence contribution. Indeed, I see from the President's financial statement that the increase between the amount spent in 1960 and what is estimated to be spent in 1964 will be twenty times what we are spending on the nuclear deterrent. It may be that they have been extravagant. Maybe it could be done more cheaply. But anyone with an income of £170 a year who tries to live at the same rate as someone with £5,000 is in for grave difficulties.
There is no doubt that these missiles on indestructible bases cost the earth. Two things are certain about them. First, whatever estimates Government Departments give, they will turn out to be much, much more. Secondly, many of them will have to be dropped, partly because of unforeseen technical difficulties and partly because they will have become obsolete. Therefore, it is not enough to make one or two; one has to be prepared for many. It might be said that these weapons are valid only until they leave the drawing board.
As I see it, it is impracticable for us to spend thousands of millions of pounds, and, if we spend hundreds, the money is terribly likely to be wasted. What is the cost in terms of what we shall have to do without in the way of social services, higher taxes or what I particularly want to talk about—conventional weapons? Sometimes people say that conventional weapons are quite impracticable for us in the West because we cannot match the Russians. That seems a hopelessly defeatist point of view. We have twice their population and three times their resources. It will, of course, mean sacrifices, but what tiny sacrifices compared with the cause of peace.
How important is it to have conventional weapons? That depends on what we think Communist policy is. If we think there is a real danger of the Russians going for all-out nuclear war, I say at once that it is not worth while spending money on conventional weapons. But if their aim is—and there seems a good deal of evidence for this—world 1006 domination, just as strong today as at any time, and that they are prepared to use some force to get it, provided they do not risk all-out war—and Cuba seemed to be an example of that—then I say that if our conventional weapons in the West are weak we are running into fearful dangers. Surely it would be a great temptation for the Communists to make some quick move to grab Berlin or Denmark or somewhere else and present us with an appalling overnight dilemma. What should we do? Would it be piecemeal surrender, or should we start nuclear war? It seems to me that Mr. Khrushchev put himself in just that position over Cuba, that because of the immensely strong American conventional forces he was faced with the choice of either retreating or starting nuclear war.
I wonder whether the Russian outlook is so very different from what it was when Palmerston spoke of the Russians 100 years ago. He said:The policy and practice of the Russian Government in regard to Turkey and Persia has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go, but always to stop and retire when it has met with decided resistance.Alas, war is a very deep-rooted institution in the human world, and I do not believe we are going to get rid of wars until very radical things are done. There have been many wars since 1945, but not since Hiroshima has an atomic bomb been dropped in anger. I can well foresee more wars, but I have no reason to suppose that they will be nuclear wars. To me it is absolutely vital that the West as a whole should have a nuclear force, but that, to me, is no substitute for conventional weapons. I believe that our conventional contribution could be decisive, because of the encouragement it would give to our allies, and perhaps more now than ever before after the events of last week. It is said that we should speak from strength, but surely we must much more be able actually to act from strength. Therefore, it seems to me that we must give our conventional forces first priority. I should like our conventional forces to be the first charge so as to fulfil our pledges to N.A.T.O., in regard to the number of troops and to see that they are as well equipped as the Americans, and then we should use the residue for our nuclear contribution.
1007 Finally, I want to say something about independence. It seems to me in these days that in the old-fashioned sense of the word it is a completely outdated conception held only by those who are living in the past. To me it is a means to an end, and the end is peace, security, progress and freedom, and I do not see how independence today is going to get us any of those. In the past, of course, a small island could stand alone because of its qualities of courage, determination and endurance, but in a nuclear war they would count for nothing. A nuclear war in future would be run by technicians infinitely remote from their opposite numbers.
I was rereading the other day a remarkable book written by a remarkable man and published by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in 1930. I will quote a sentence from "The Endless Adventure":If Europe would escape from the bondage of Moloch, there seems to be only one way: her states must be robbed of their sovereign independence, or, of their own free will, they must give it up. … Their imagination working on their memories may show them a prospect of evils, in comparison with which even the loss of their sovereign independence will appear tolerable.That was written twenty-five years before the hydrogen bomb.
If before 1914, or perhaps again before 1939, we had listened to the warnings and had been prepared to make the sacrifices to be strong and united, those wars might have been avoided. When they came we ungrudgingly made sacrifices of a high order, but trivial in comparison with what would be required in another war. I cannot help thinking that the proverbial visitor from Mars will think that we are a very strange people if we do not learn from these two lessons and save ourselves in time.
I do not admit for one moment that we are no longer a great nation, but we must face the fact that we are not the same sort of great nation. There have been great changes. I believe that we have a positive role in the future just as important as any in our history. It is to give a lead and to galvanise the West into the sacrifices which may be necessary for the survival of civilisation as we value it.
It seems to me that in the last few days the German, the Italian, the Dutch 1008 and the Belgian Governments have shown how much they need us, and have shown impressively how much they want us to co-operate with themselves. I believe that this is a role which we are very fully qualified to fill because of our great political experience, because of our worldwide associations and because of our great place in history.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I assure the hon. Members that my speech will be short. It will be all the shorter because of the two speeches from the back benches to which we have listened.
This defence debate repeats the pattern of previous defence debates. The Government's case is argued only by the Government or by ex-Ministers now in comfortable retirement, while practically the whole of the rest of the House on both sides argues the case for a conventional strategy which exposes the Government's illusions. It would be a sheer waste of time for me, after the speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party and the very remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir A. Spearman), to repeat all over again the arguments used by our Front Bench, although we have not had a single reply to them from the Prime Minister. I will confine myself to following where the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby left off.
I wondered how it was that a sane and intelligent man could be clinging to this nuclear deterrent. I should like to quote from a leader in The Times this morning which gave an interesting analysis of the explanation. As we all know, The Times has been a late convert to sanity on this subject. It now believes that we should abandon the illusion of the independent nuclear deterrent. This leading article diagnoses the situation. It reads:For Britain has so far faced only half the truth about her position. That she is no longer a great world Power in the American-Russian class is accepted. That there is no divine right whereby she will without exertion automatically stay a leading second-class Power has not sunk in.I think that this is exactly what is wrong with the Government's policy. If we wish to remain, as we must remain, a leading second-class Power, we must remember that we cannot do so if we continue to delude ourselves by seeking 1009 the trappings of power instead of the kind of effective military power which a second-class Power can wield.
I want to take the Government's argument and to show that this attempt to narrow the debate down to the exact pros and cons of the Bahamas Agreement is misleading. We must see the agreement against the whole 10 years of a defence policy which is in ruins—and it is in ruins because the Government have tried to undertake a policy which goes far beyond our available strength. To be effective a policy must be commensurate with our ability to carry it out. If we seek constantly to do far more than we are able to do, we end by doing nothing at all. The lesson of these 10 years of Tory policy has been that we have sacrificed a real ability to do a little by constant, grandiose efforts to seem to do a lot.
Let me put this to the Minister of Defence: we make unique demands on our Service leaders. We ask of our three Services something which no other Power in the world asks. Let me make it clear why we do this. We ask five things. First, we ask our Services to give us our full N.A.T.O. commitment. We do not make them do it, or anything like it, for we have watered down the commitment. Indeed, 12 years ago our divisions in Germany were the best-equipped divisions in Germany, whereas now they are the worst-equipped divisions in Germany. Now we are a laughing stock in Germany because of the lack of modern equipment for our forces. Why is this? It is because these forces now rely on nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy, and have been trained to rely on them and not to rely on their conventional weapons.
Our first commitment, then, is the fulfilment of our N.A.T.O. obligations. In addition, we have large overseas commitments, of which the Prime Minister spoke; unlike the Germans and others, we have that extra task to do. It is true that this is a double responsibility which we share with our allies, the United States and France; both of them seek to fulfil their positions in N.A.T.O., to meet large overseas commitments and to have an independent deterrent. But, in addition to trying to do what the French and the Americans do, we try to do it under two very special conditions. The first condition 1010 under which we try to meet a N.A.T.O. commitment, to have an independent deterrent and to meet large overseas commitments, is that by which we have only manpower recruited voluntarily. The other countries have various forms of conscription. We deny that to ourselves, which creates an additional difficulty in fulfilling our obligations.
Secondly, to cap all this we clamp a financial ceiling on our forces—which is the fifth of my conditions. If Mr. McNamara or General de Gaulle's Minister of Defence were told that in addition to trying to be a nuclear Power, to meeting overseas commitments and to being a N.A.T.O. Power they were to have only professional soldiers and to have a severe financial ceiling over which they could not go, they would simply say, "I cannot do the job under those two conditions. If you ask me to have a great independent deterrent, to have overseas commitments and to do my full job in N.A.T.O. with forces which include only volunteers, and without having enough money to do it, I will say that I cannot do it."
There I have analysed in precision why, although we have tried to do most, in fact we have done least of any N.A.T.O. ally. We have tried everything, and yet out of it has come a great exposure of weakness. That is the decisive and depressing fact. What is so deeply depressing is that the latest decision on Polaris means an extension of the strategy leading once more to inevitable weakness.
I do not want to go too far back into history, but I must refer to Suez, because that was the first great demonstration of weakness. I am not discussing the rights and wrongs of Suez, but the Keightley Report on the Suez operation shows that after millions of £s had been spent on the Air Force, and millions of £s had been spent on re-equipping our forces, we still had no anti-tank guns and we were short of landing barges. In terms of every kind of conventional weapon Suez was a demonstration not of greatness, but of catastrophic weakness. Even with the support of the French, we could not mount a conventional expedition without demonstrating our inability to carry it out.
What happened after Suez? There was the possibility then of considering the operation and drawing conclusions 1011 from it, but what actually happened? We had the 1957 Sandys White Paper. Instead of the Government saying, "Heavens alive, we have a few holes in our equipment which we must fill in", they decided that in addition to having conventional weapons they would make themselves an independent nuclear Power. What did the Sandys White Paper say? It said that we were to have a streamlined nuclear force, and get rid of National Service. We were to cut away our conventional forces. At that time there was to be no conventional Navy. The Government's decision to cut our conventional forces used to alternate between doing away with the Navy and doing away with the Air Force.
Instead of objectively studying the position to see what went wrong and deciding what could be done to put it right, the Government took a tremendous gamble. They took a gamble on British technology and said, "We will gamble everything on getting an independent deterrent of our own which really is British. We will get a replacement for the V-bombers". Everything was gambled on a British weapon and a British means of delivery.
I do not go in for horse racing, but I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has experience as a racehorse owner. I am told that he has only one horse, and that that is why he is not a millionaire. My hon. Friend does not try to compete against people who own 30 or 40 horses. He does not go in for the Derby and then try to win the Grand National with the same horse. I think my hon. Friend would agree that because he owns only one horse he cannot compete with those owners who have large stables. This is precisely what we have done in terms of our defence policy. If someone has only one horse in his stable, he should not be surprised when that horse does not "come off". We have gambled, and we have lost.
That is what happened with Blue Streak. It was clear that we could not have a British deterrent, because we could not do it ourselves. We had to deceive ourselves, and so we then had Skybolt. That was the next stage of higher lunacy. Then, to deceive themselves that they had an independent deterrent, the Government decided that 1012 they would get an American system and call that the British deterrent. Many people can say that they are on record as warning the Government to be careful. Nearly everyone who has taken part in defence debates can say that he is perfect on this point. I say nearly everyone, because that does not apply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Schweppes.
When we came to the end of Skybolt, we all said that there was a chance that the Government would now stop this ludicrous policy, but now we find that we are to have Polaris, another gamble on an American weapon for the purpose of having an independent British deterrent. The case presented to us for having Polaris is so that we might go on keeping up the pretence to ourselves of having the deterrent.
I do not think that we need argue this any further, because, as The Times pointed out, this is not a question of argument. This is a question of right hon. Gentlemen opposite deceiving themselves for the sake of adhering to their policy. They are sacrificing the real defences of this country for the semblance of nuclear defence. Everybody in the world, except the Government and their supporters, can see what is happening. Everybody can see the ridiculous position in which we now find ourselves.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite criticise the folie de grandeur of General de Gaulle, but he does not try to be a grand nuclear Power with borrowed weapons. He at least goes to his country and says, "If we are to be a nuclear Power, we will have French weapons. They may not be good ones, we may be a little backward and primitive, but at least we will be independent." He does not run to President Kennedy and say, "Please, Mr. Kennedy, make me a little independent". He believes in independence. General de Gaulle has folie de grandeur, but right hon. Gentleman opposite merely have a self-deception of grandeur. This is a ridiculous illusion.
I agree. As the right hon. Member the Leader of the Liberal Party and the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby pointed out, this 1013 will lead inevitably to the Germans wanting nuclear weapons and to the proliferation of them. This is not a joking matter. The Nassau Agreement is an attempt by the Government to keep up the illusion. The Americans say, "Poor old boy, we must give him something to keep him sweet".
We have made our position clear. We believe not only in conventional weapons, but that this country, within N.A.T.O., must stand for a conventional strategy in Europe, because the whole of Europe is imperilled by Britain's dependence on nuclear weapons and by her weakness in conventional arms. Until we and Europe get our conventional weapons up to strength, until we can get our divisions up to 25, we shall be at the mercy of nuclear weapons. We must go forward until we are strong enough to tell the Americans to take their weapons back and back until they are finally back in the States and we can stand up for ourselves.
That is what we on this side of the House believe in, but we accept that we cannot do it tomorrow. It will take years to implement this policy. No change of this kind can be brought about overnight. It will take many years to put it into effect, but we want it laid down as a decision of this country that we are going to lead Europe into pulling herself together and believing in herself. I am not talking about General de Gaulle, but about believing in ourselves and not relying on nuclear weapons. If we do this, disengagement can become a reality.
It is no use talking about disengagement if we continue to rely on nuclear weapons. Once we have built up our conventional forces, we can tell the Russians to get their nuclear weapons out on their side while we do the same on ours. This is the role that we see for ourselves. I do not want us to deceive ourselves with this slogan about conventional weapons. I accept that, after the last 10 years, this policy will demand tremendous sacrifices by this country, and necessitate tremendous changes which will take time to carry out. It will not be easy. To do all this in Europe and to look after our overseas commitments with the men we have will be a great risk, but we think that it can be done.
1014 This week there was trouble in Brunei. The commander-in-chief in the area said that he had to have more troops. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley pointed out, we had to rush around to find a few thousand men to send there. We had to steal the Gurkha signals unit from the Rhine Army. No doubt the men of that unit will be counted twice, once in the Rhine Army and once in Singapore. There may be trouble in Kowloon because of something that China has said, or trouble in Singapore—any kind of minor disturbance which produces a request for minor reinforcements cracks open our whole defence system, because it is so near the bone. Any crisis, however small, exposes and tears it apart, and shows how we are double-accounting all over the world. If any serious crisis arose we should have to call up our emergency reserves by decree.
Is it wise to do this? Can the Government persuade me that if we abandoned the deterrent it would make no difference? I am not saying that it would save money. I would never suggest that we ought to abandon the deterrent for economic reasons. But we could then at least put our conventional forces into decent condition and fulfil our commitments, and not be placed in this desperate position of tightness, with everything on a shoe-string and every unit being run down.
We must not underestimate the financial cost of the voluntary system. The Americans know it. We should try to keep the volunteers, but we must not run away when we discover that in order to keep them we have to provide married quarters. We cannot ask men to volunteer for the Army and, at the same time, say that the Army is for bachelors only, because we cannot afford to accommodate married men. We do not have to do this with National Service men. If we are to have volunteers they will cost a little less in periods of unemployment—we have been getting them on the cheap within the last six months—but in periods of full employment it will be extremely expensive for us to provide the necessary rates of pay and pensions, which already amount to over half the cost of the Army, to buy men out of ordinary private life.
This is the price that we have to pay if we are going to have a volunteer Army.
1015 Can we pay the price of £200 million or £300 million for the independent deterrent at the same time? That is how the cost of the deterrent makes all the difference. It makes it impossible for us to pay for proper conventional forces—including manpower, housing and equipment.
I do not know what the answer is. I doubt whether any hon. Member knows. We have been reminded by the ex-Minister of Defence that we are not in the secret. It was a great mistake when the Government turned down the request for a Select Committee on Suez. If there had been such a Committee, dealing with the equipment side of the operation, with a report to the Government on what had gone wrong, we might have had a better 1957 White Paper. If the House allowed such a Committee to investigate the facts, and restored its old position, in which individual Members had an obligation, at least we should have 40 Members who knew the facts, instead of merely the Government plus those to whom they care to give information.
We have to talk in slogans, because we are denied reality. A Defence Committee would not end party politics, because there are usually majority and minority reports from Select Committees, but there is something to be said for a Defence Committee, or some such Select Committee, in that it would mean that a few more people would share the Government's secrets, and it is good for the Government not to have a monopoly of secrecy with which to diddle the House of Commons. We are the most diddled Parliament in the Western world. We are told least, because we are the only Parliament without a Defence Committee. The Government can diddle, diddle and diddle, because nobody is allowed to know anything until it is too late to act.
This Government are on the way out. My Front Bench is on the way in. I advise it, first and foremost, to inform the country of the gravity of the situation. It must do so now, because with something as bad as this it will take many years and many sacrifices to put it right. It is possible to use every debate not to score debating points but as a method of bringing home to our people what The Times said in its remarkable leader, namely,Up to now Mr. Macmillan had the likelihood of being remembered as the Prime 1016 Minister who took Britain into Europe. Now he is left only with the credit of having led the Conservative Party back from Suez.If only he had led it back from Suez—but he did not. He led it forward from Suez to Nassau—and Nassau was a greater piece of grandiose folly even that Eden's Suez fiasco.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
I find this a rather depressing debate because, having listened to speeches from hon. Members on the Opposition front and back benches, I find myself in the unenviable position of agreeing with practically everything they have said. Having said that, and knowing that I have this sense of agreement, I begin to wonder whether my views are correct.
The one fault I have to find with the debate so far—and perhaps it is understandable—is that although it has been a very critical analysis of the nuclear deterrent policy followed by Her Majesty's Government, it has lacked constructive suggestions as to the alternative policy that we should follow—what we should do in order to prevent the horror of war from breaking out, and the kind of defence organisations that we and our Western Allies should have. Towards the end of my speech I hope, briefly, to say something about that.
First, there are some points about the Nassau Agreement with which I am in wholehearted agreement, and with which I think the whole House will be in agreement. First, I agree that the decision not to proceed with Skybolt, in cooperation with the United States, was a correct one. Secondly, I agree that we now have a new and closer arrangement for the organisation and control of strategic Western defence in N.A.T.O. Thirdly, I agree that in strategic terms the nuclear defence of the Western Alliance is indivisible. Lastly, I agree wholeheartedly with the last paragraph of the agreement, which refers to the importance of increasing the effectiveness of our conventional forces on a world-wide basis.
I even welcome the substitution of Polaris for Skybolt. It is more effective as a second-strike weapon than Skybolt might have turned out to be, so far as it is necessary to have either Skybolt or Polaris. I do not believe that we require a second-strike weapon. In other words, I do not believe that this country needs an independent nuclear deterrent.
1017 I also question whether the conception of pooling the nuclear resources of the allies in a N.A.T.O. force is possible at present, since we have not yet created in N.A.T.O.—as far as I know—the necessary operational mechanism, and since France stands aloof because she is determined, come what may, to develop her own independent deterrent. During the last year or two the Americans and ourselves have been trying to find some formula which will persuade the French to drop their own idea of having their own deterrent, and this last agreement at Nassau was perhaps another step in that direction. But, whatever we do, I do not think that we shall be able to persuade President de Gaulle to give up his conception of an independent French nuclear deterrent, manufactured and controlled entirely by the French. To that extent, it must be more difficult to have a N.A.T.O.-controlled weapon.
I agree, as probably everybody does, that up to the present, taking the past and present rôle of this country, the V-bomber force has played a not unimportant part in the nuclear deterrent of the Western world. We must give credit to the Royal Air Force for the part it has played in this—a part which has been acknowledged many times by our American and other allies. But we are concerned not about the immediate present but about what is likely to happen in the future. I find it difficult to understand what real contribution can be made by our comparatively small, so-called independent contribution of Polaris, considering the overwhelming nuclear force which is at the command of the United States. I support previous speakers who have brought out this point.
The only real reason which I can see for us purchasing Polaris weapons is merely as a means of contributing in some small part to the total cost of providing the Western nuclear deterrent. It really means that we are paying for some of the weapons which we give to the pool. That is the only reason which I can see for doing it. If that is the reason, I can think of far better ways of using the money than buying Polaris.
§ Captain W. Elliot
After that remark, will my hon. Friend explain how he distinguishes between a contribution to 1018 the Western deterrent, worth while or otherwise, and an independent nuclear deterrent?
§ Mr, Hall
If my hon. and gallant Friend will contain himself in patience I will come to that point.
I now come to the point at which I was proposing to discuss the question whether there are arguments in favour of our having an entirely independent deterrent. For the purpose of this argument I will assume for a moment that even the purchase of Polaris—were it in our possession—constitutes an independent deterrent—although I find it very hard to accept that point of view. However, for the sake of the argument, I will postulate that hypothesis.
It is claimed that it is necessary for us to have an independent deterrent—and I confess that in past years I have tended to hold this view myself—because there may come a time in the future when we are left alone; when we want to engage in some operation in some part of the world which does not command the support of our allies, either the United States or perhaps the rest of our N.A.T.O. allies. Under such circumstances, if we attempted to carry out some police operation in a part of the world for which we are responsible, it might be that some powerful enemy possessing a strategic nuclear missile might say, "Stop doing that or we will use our nuclear missile". That is what is described as "nuclear blackmail".
I find it extremely difficult to think of circumstances when we would take the risk of exposing this country to nuclear annihilation because of some operation of ours in some other part of the world when we had not the support of our allies. It could be suggested, perhaps, that if there were trouble in North Borneo and we tried to put in troops and were warned, for example, by Russia, which threatened to use a nuclear weapon, the possession of an independent nuclear weapon ourselves would prevent that. If we think that, we delude ourselves. I do not believe that any Government would accept the risk of plunging this country into that kind of destructive war for that type of operation, and I do not think that any Government would accept that risk unless Great Britain herself were 1019 threatened by direct attack and that was the only means that we had of defending ourselves.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I had understood the circumstances to be a little different—that our conventional forces would possibly be persuaded to withdraw from activities in North Borneo, for example, by the threat of a nuclear attack against this country, and that the whole purpose of our possessing a deterrent is to be able effectively to counter and repel such a threat.
§ Mr. Hall
With respect to my hon. Friend, it could be an effective deterrent only if it were credible. I do not believe for one moment that any great Power opposed to us in this respect would think that we were likely to use a nuclear deterrent in order to continue a conventional operation, such as a policing operation in some place like North Borneo, or anywhere else in the world, where we are likely to be concerned in an operation alone, without the support or sympathy of any of our allies. I find it hard to accept that, and also to accept the view which is sometimes expressed—especially by people who for many reasons dislike the United States of America—that there may come a time when America would stand by and watch us being liquidated. It has been mentioned that during Suez America was opposed to the operation. But when we were threatened by Russia with the use of the nuclear weapon—
§ Mr. Hall
We had a nuclear deterrent—America immediately responded and said that were we attacked with nuclear weapons she would come to our aid. So I cannot see that that is a good reason for us having our own independent deterrent.
It was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that it would be a great mistake to allow America to have a monopoly of nuclear weapons. With the greatest possible respect to my right hon. Friend, it seems to me that all the time that we are going to buy nuclear weapons from America she has got the monopoly, and will retain it. I cannot see the force of that argument.
1020 There was one argument used which was very true, that we delude ourselves if we think that if we dispense with our nuclear weapons in this country and maintain an effective defence, which means increasing our conventional forces, we shall not save money. It will cost a great deal more in the first few years. But I doubt very much whether in the end the total cost of conventional forces, enlarged as they would have to be, would be as great as the sum total which the cost of a nuclear deterrent would eventually reach.
Year by year the intricacies and development of these weapons becomes so appallingly expensive that the present cost will in the next few years pall into insignificance. I have never yet known the cost of weapons to come down. It always goes up year by year.
I now come to the point about whether we can afford to maintain and develop an independent deterrent, even supposing it was desirable that we should. We have said that Polaris may cost anything from £250 million to £350 million. I do not think that figure has been quoted today, but it has been canvassed in the newspapers and elsewhere. That is only the first step. This is the first mark of the Polaris, and the cost of "keeping up with the Joneses" thereafter will increase every time we have to replace this weapon with a more advanced version. Can we afford to develop our own deterrent?
I have attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to ascertain from the Minister of Defence the estimate for producing and manufacturing our own nuclear deterrent, on a continuing basis controlled and manufactured entirely by ourselves, and what it would mean in terms of money and the diversion of technical and scientific manpower. I have not succeeded in getting an answer. But looking back on the history of Blue Streak, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), it does not seem that we could face the problem of the cost of developing our own entirely British independent weapon.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It is one of the illusions from which we still suffer that Blue Streak was a British weapon. It is the fact that never at any time has Great Britain ever fired a ballistic missile of her own manufacture. Blue Streak 1021 was the American Atlas and the engine was being produced by Rolls-Royce under licence. It is an illusion that Blue Streak was a British weapon.
§ Mr. Hall
That enforces my argument. I will not debate whether it was fully British or not.
Having said all this, it is up to me to try to produce some form of constructive policy. What should be our policy? In the first place, I think that we might make a reality of the statement in the Nassau Agreement that the nuclear defence of the West is indivisible; and we should make a reality of the agreement to increase the effectiveness of our conventional forces so that we are not forced—as we may well be now—to use a nuclear weapon as a first strike and not a second strike weapon.
We must look at our policy of conscription and the way in which we wish to raise our forces. Looking at the fourteen nations which at present make up the N.A.T.O. Alliance, we find that at the moment, in contribution of manpower alone, and taking that manpower as a percentage of the male labour force of each country, we are the thirteenth out of fourteen on the list. When Germany increases her forces to about 500,000 or thereabouts in the next year or two, we shall be the last on the table from the point of view of manpower contributions. We shall be the only nation, apart from Canada, which does not have conscription. If this system works so well for us, why do not all the other nations have it? If they did, they would find that the military contribution to N.A.T.O. in terms of manpower would fall dramatically.
It has already been mentioned that we have had great difficulty in providing a comparatively small force to meet a temporary and not very severe emergency. I think it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in a Question a day or two ago that of the units which went out all were grossly under strength and if called upon to go into operation within a short period after landing they would all be of inadequate strength to carry out their job.
If we are to have an effective policy, there is one suggestion I make. If the Western Powers are to have an effective conventional force this country should increase its ability and effectiveness 1022 in dealing with policing operations. We should not have to scrape the barrel every time we have to meet a sudden demand. We should also increase the ability of the Western Powers as a whole to take the first shock without having immediately to respond with nuclear weapons. If a conventional attack began to increase to a point where we could not hold it conventionally, we would be giving time for the Americans to use what is called their controlled response to nuclear attack, which would give us some hope of limiting the nuclear damage to a point where we might still save civilisation because people would realise that there was no future in continuing a war of that kind.
If we are to play our part in this, how are we to produce the forces required? First, on a purely organisational basis, I re-echo what an hon. Member opposite said. We should have a complete review of our conventional forces. It is time we had an investigation of the type of the Esher or the Cardwell investigation. The present structure of our defence with the Minister of Defence and the Service Ministers is top-heavy and needs streamlining. I cannot believe that we require that sort of top organisation to control the forces we need. As to the size of the conventional forces we need, I am not going to argue about the figures which have been bandied across the Floor of the House time and time again in debate after debate. We should decide and take a political decision based on defence facts—not try to fit defence facts to a political decision.
If we are to increase our forces, and if it is beyond our capacity to raise the required forces by voluntary recruitment, we should introduce—and face the fact that we have to introduce—some form of conscription. I do not believe that we require complete national conscription. I believe that would produce more men than are needed, but we probably require some form of selected conscription. I am now going to make a suggestion which perhaps will be laughed at, or shot down in flames. I should like to see conscription for peace. I should like the young men and women of the country to be given an opportunity not only to contribute their services to the fighting services but to the under-developed territories of the world.
1023 There are four major demands made on our manpower. I give them, not in any order of priority, but as they occur to me. First, there is the necessity of keeping our economy going. Secondly, there is the necessity to maintain our social services. Thirdly, we have to provide for defence purposes, and, lastly, we have to provide some help for other countries. Those are the sort of demands made on our manpower today. What priority we should give to them is a matter of judgment. I think we should have a form of selective conscription, first, to fill the gaps in defensive organisations and to put in no more than we need for the total number required. Then we should provde a corps of workers in the important technical and professional jobs required urgently by under-developed countries who could offer their services to those countries.
That would have the effect of giving a really constructive training to men and women which would be of great value to them when they train in National Service and which would provide a fund of good will for us in the under-developed countries. Most important, it would give real help of a constructive kind to countries which need it most. That kind of approach would make a much more worth-while contribution to maintaining the peace of the world than anything else.
I make one other suggestion. Ever since I have been a Member of this House, just over ten years, I have listened to and been able occasionally to take part in debate after debate on defence. I have listened to debates on disarmament and the whole problems of war. Yet, ten years after I came to this House we are still no further forward, perhaps we are further back. I remain convinced that it does not matter what machinery of control we devise for disarmament, it does not matter what agreements we may have between nations directly or through the United Nations, we shall never eradicate the dangers of war until we find some way of changing the human mind, heart, or spirit, whatever we may call it.
It is a curious thing about human beings that they have a desire for peace but they have the will to go to war. We have never yet in any part of the world 1024 so far as I know made a really determined constructive effort to find what are the basic causes of war, what makes people want to go to war. There are in the United States and Holland and, I think, in Sweden, and there is just starting in this country, certain small research organisations devoted to trying to find what makes human beings, against all sense, decide to commit racial suicide, which is what war is today. I think that the one contribution we could make is to stimulate and support research of that kind. Until we can find why, despite all logic, human beings decide to go to war and encompass their own destruction, we shall never be able to solve the question of the prevention of war and have genuine disarmament.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
We have listened to a very courageous and independent-minded speech to which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) had clearly given thought. Although I differ profoundly from his conclusions, I believe that it was a sincere speech representing the point of view of those for whom he spoke.
On the other hand, he was bold enough to advocate conscription. The Government do not want conscription and the Opposition will not have it. Any political party which went to the country this year or next to tell the young men that it was prepared to conscript them into the Armed Forces would be risking political defeat. Whether we like it or not, hatred of military service is deeply held in this country, because the fathers and other relatives of the young men hate it as much as the potential conscript.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
Will the hon. Member explain how it is that the Royal Navy is able to get as many men and boys as it wants?
§ Mr. Hughes
I could dilate upon that subject, but I have a good deal to say. I agree that this is not a naval problem. I gather that the hon. Member for Wycombe was arguing about conscription for the Army.
§ Mr. John Hall
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) should not overlook that what I had in mind basically was conscription for peace, which would give young men and 1025 women the opportunity of constructive work on the frontiers of peace throughout the world.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have no quarrel with that aspect of the argument, but if people are to be conscripted for a constructive effort at one time and conscripted into a mechanised Army at another, there will be two different kinds of conscription. I believe that the people would not support conscription. It is a political impossibility.
This debate is different from those in recent years on this subject. This is the first time that the Opposition have moved what amounts to a Motion of censure on both the British and American Governments. When the Prime Minister returned from his consultations with the President of the United States on the original Polaris agreement, the Opposition said that they would not censure the Government on the agreement to establish Polaris bases in Holy Loch. Some of us thought that the Opposition neglected its opportunities and duties to test the feeling of the House on that agreement. The Prime Minister said in reply to Questions on the subject that he had the feeling of the House. When he returned after consultations about the tests we had the same procedure—the Government did not move a Motion and the Opposition did not contest the agreement and we had virtually a coalition agreement between the Opposition and the Government endorsing the Prime Minister's policy.
But this occasion has been different. There is now a definite challenge to the latest agreement with President Kennedy. The agreement is an American-British declaration of defence policy, and it is now the Opposition's attitude that the Government must be censured. This marks an entirely different approach by the Opposition, and those of us who have bean critical of the Opposition Front Bench in the past now give it 105 per cent. agreement.
We listened with approbation to the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I hope that we do not embarrass him by mentioning our support of his criticism of Polaris. These are strange days and there are new attitudes in politics. Who knows but that before long the right hon. Gentleman will be going to the Palace as 1026 Prime Minister, wearing a top hat and frock coat—
§ Mr. Hughes
—and saying, "Sister, I have come to say that we are finished with the Whole idea of the hydrogen bomb; we are finished with the whole idea of the deterrent; I was wrong and the nuclear disarmers and Lord Russell were right and we should never have expelled him from the Labour Party".
Attitudes are changing because of what I believe to be the pressure of public opinion, and I hope that change will logically continue to the point when the Government ask for the money for these projects. Some of us have challenged the idea that there is any defence of this country in a nuclear war. Some of us challenged the original Polaris agreement, on the ground that this country was committed to being in the front line of a nuclear war without any opportunity for consultation or decision. That is precisely what happened in the Cuban crisis.
§ Mr. G. Brown
We do not want this agreement 'business to go too far. What I was objecting to was the allegation that Polaris was an independent British deterrent. Nothing I said today related to the issue of our providing facilities for the North Atlantic Alliance using Polaris as part of an American-provided deterrent for the alliance.
§ Mr. Hughes
My right hon. Friend has made his point and I do not want to pursue it. He has made his explanation as he was entitled to do. What I am arguing is that in a modern nuclear war there is no real defence of this country. If a war had started over Cuba, if the rockets had gone up and the bombs had been dropped, this country would have been destroyed and its people annihilated without any consultation. To talk about that as defence in any ordinary sense of the word is ridiculous. We have reached the stage where war has become impossible as a means of defending the civil population.
Ultimately we will have to tell the United States of America that we will no longer be involved in the sort of strategy which is likely to obliterate and destroy our people. This attack on the Prime Minister's agreement with the 1027 President is a definite change in the Labour Party's attitude towards defence which I welcome. It has been said more than once in the debate that the new agreement will put an economic burden on the country. The Amendment says that it imposesfurther economic burdens upon the nation and make9 more difficult the solution of Great Britain's defence problems".It certainly imposes further economic problems which the Prime Minister today tried to tone down. It may be true that the half a dozen or so submarines will cost only £400 million.
§ Mr. Hughes
I used the word "only" in the sense that the Prime Minister used it. He said that we could support it. However, does anyone think that it will end there? Will not these nuclear submarines require an escort? Will we not require planes, based either on land or on aircraft carriers, to protect the submarines? Surely we will not allow submarines costing £40 million or £50 million to go without some kind of escort? Very able authorities point out that, rather than £400 million being the total sum, it is likely to be nearer £1,000 million before the bill ultimately comes to be reckoned up.
Our economic situation is very precarious. Either today or tomorrow the Prime Minister or some other Government spokesman will say, "Consider the help this will give to the shipyards and the unemployed". We must pay attention to that argument. It is likely that unemployed workers, or workers likely to be unemployed, on the Tyne, at Chatham or on the Clyde will say, "Yes, let us have these submarines because they will provide some kind of work". This plea was made at Question Time. We may be able to employ thousands of shipbuilding workers on Polaris submarines. The workers cannot be blamed for saying, "We will work on this rather than on nothing".
However, the economic plight of the country must be considered. It must be remembered that if the workers in shipyards are employed building naval vessels they will not be building the type of ships needed so that the commercial prosperity of the country can be restored.
1028 While our people are engaged on Polaris submarines, shipyard workers in Japan and Germany, East and West, will be engaged on building the modern ships necessary to modern commercial needs. At the end of the day our shipbuilding centres will be pools of stagnant unemployment. An economic crisis will be inevitable. Thousands and thousands of workers will be unemployed and at the end of the day our commercial competitors will have captured the market. I warn hon. Members not to be deluded into thinking that our economic problem can be solved by going in for inflated armaments bills.
President de Gaulle has been mentioned. I differ ideologically and fundamentally from the dictator or semi-dictator who is President. Many people in this country say that General de Gaulle is sticking up for France. In a sense he has shown guts which the British Prime Minister is not showing. President de Gaulle has said, "I am not going to allow the defence arrangements of France to be put in the hands of America". There will be a good deal of sympathy for his attitude.
Many people in this country believe that today too much power of decision in a matter which might lead to the obliteration of this country is in the hands of people in the Pentagon and in military circles in America who believe that this island is expendable. This debate, although it may range round the technical question of Skybolt or Polaris, goes deeper. The question is whether our policy is to be decided here by the House of Commons or is to be decided by people in America who are pushing the vested interests of big armaments concerns.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. Would he agree with me that the possession by this country of an independent nuclear deterrent would help to achieve what he and I both agree about?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am afraid that I have not been able to convey my meaning to the hon. and gallant Member. The Prime Minister half lifted the curtain when he talked about the various lobbies. There was a lobby pushing Skybolt and a lobby pushing Polaris. I read in one financial newspaper that 15,000 people were engaged in one American industrial centre 1029 on building Skybolt. In another part of America they are building Polaris. There are big financial and vested industrial interests concerned not with the future benefit of this country but to defend their own economic position in society. We should not allow the future of this country to be decided by some kind of lobby in America.
I hope that we shall not hear any more about it being necessary for this country to have the hydrogen bomb—the independent nuclear deterrent—so that we can use it at conferences. I remember the arguments which raged in the Labour Party. At one vital Labour Party Conference it was argued that we must not go naked into the conference chamber, that we must have the H-bomb. Not much importance can be attached to that argument now. We have been arguing with the French in Brussels week after week, month after month. Nobody can say that our possession of the H-bomb helped us to solve our problems at the Brussels conference. We did not get near solving them. We did not go into a conference over Cuba. However, when we went into conference over a vital economic and international issue, namely, whether we should enter the Common Market, our possession of the H-bomb made not the slightest difference.
This country, although it may not do it diplomatically, will be forced into what is practically a condition of neutrality, a condition of disarmament. It will be forced into disarmament for the economic reason that, if we are to build up our industrial fabric and our social life, we shall have to use our brains, education, manpower and organisation, and we simply cannot afford an expensive armaments programme at the same time.
Therefore, I welcome the Amendment. I welcome the new attitude towards defence which has been expressed in speeches from these benches. If the Labour Party goes into power, as I hope it will in a few months' time, and is faced with this problem, unless it decides to go forward with a radical reduction in expenditure on armaments it cannot fulfil its pledges to the people—cannot spend more on housing, cannot spend more on education, cannot spend more on social welfare. If a Labour Government get into power and, because of an inflated armaments programme, neglect their promises 1030 to the people of this country, we will deem it our duty to carry on the same kind of remorseless criticism of them as we have of the Tories.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Rarely have I heard such honest words at the end of a speech from an hon. Member of an Opposition party. One of the difficulties of debating something which has passed is that it is extremely hard to be constructive if one is trying to condemn something which has already been done. I can think of no more abortive an exercise than recriminating about the unalterable past, and the one thing the Opposition might have thought about before tabling their Amendment was to what extent they could get the agreement altered or whether they even wanted it to be altered.
If the Opposition were now to say, "Let us alter the agreement" Britain would be made the laughing stock of the world. One hon. Member opposite, I think the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), denigrated the British troops overseas and said that our forces in Germany today were the laughing stock of Germany. Those sort of remarks are characteristic of a totally irresponsible Opposition—
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I intend to give way—which contains within it, nevertheless, one or two hon. Members—one of whom just rose to interrupt me—who know a little more about what they are talking and realise the effect which denigratory remarks have on our troops who are doing their job. I certainly absolve the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on that score.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is not fair to ascribe those sentiments to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man). He was talking not about the quality of the troops—he is the last man to denigrate the British troops as such—but was addressing his remarks to the Government Front Bench who are responsible for sending our troops there as among the worst equipped in N.A.T.O.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I would be the last to complain if the words used by the hon. Member for Coventry, East were so couched as to make that clear, 1031 but they were not. We must accept this agreement whatever we may have thought beforehand and one feature I openly welcome is the decision that we should have a naval means to deliver a nuclear warhead.
The debate today has been characterised, as it so often is, by a tendency for hon. Members to talk as though a nuclear war were inevitable, to discuss how dreadful it would be if it took place and how indefensible this country and a great many others would be should nuclear war break out. That is perfectly true. It is totally irrelevant to the debate, however, because our discussion today is about the means for preventing a nuclear war happening. The talks at Nassau were not concerned with what should be done when it has broken out.
Those discussions were designed to ensure that the United States and ourselves should be able, somehow, to see that there was a sufficiently convincing deterrent—and a practical one—to prevent it ever breaking out. Let us get the position clear and realise that that was the concern of the Nassau discussions. The amount of time wasted today by hon. Members talking about what would happen if nuclear war broke out is a great pity.
§ Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
Can the hon. Gentleman name one hon. Member who has done any such thing?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I would have thought that the hon. Member for Coventry, East got fairly near to doing so and so did some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I do not absolve hon. Members on this side of the House either. Certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir A. Spearman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) were both guilty on the same count.
If I had to take the opinion of anyone as to whether this was a good or bad decision the first opinion I would like to know would be that of the Chiefs of Staff, and I have no reason whatever to suppose that they are not 100 per cent, behind the decision.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The right hon. Member for Belper suggested that what was said by a Chief of Staff ten years ago is not necessarily true today. When circumstances change should one not change one's mind? It is worth recalling, however, that as recently as 1st November, 1961, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Dermot Boyle gave an address at the Royal United Services Institution on the whole question of the nuclear deterrent. He was the last previous Chief of Air Staff, and I wish to quote a passage or two from his speech because it is highly relevant to what has been said today about Britain not needing an independent nuclear deterrent. He said:People argue that no country would dare to attack us because America would retaliate. Is this realistic? May I just take you through a little exercise for one moment. Suppose we got at loggerheads with some bully on some issue which was no concern of the Americans, and in no way tied to N.A.T.O., or other treaty agreements, and on which the Americans disagreed with our point of view. Suppose we held out on this idea that in fact nobody would dare to touch us because the Americans would retaliate; and suppose the bully did write us off. Is it realistic to think that America would then attack them? With no treaty obligation to do so? I do not think so. Instead the following would be the argument which would be understandably developed on the other side of the Atlantic. The poor British, we are sorry about what has happened but we did not agree with what they were doing. Certainly we are under no obligation to retaliate on their behalf, and anyway they are now gone, and there is nothing we can do to bring them back. To get involved in a nuclear war in such circumstances would be lunacy.I believe that other circumstances can be visualised. I particularly visualise the forcible argument, which I support, that unless Britain has a nuclear independent deterrent it is conceivable that Britain could never be sure of being able to use her conventional weapons in a case where the opponent was not a nuclear Power. Those who say that we should have stronger conventional forces because we have a big policing job to do must realise that we must make sure that the absence of a nuclear weapon by us will not prevent us from using them to keep the peace.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am interested in the doctrine being advanced by the hon. Member because it leads us to the conclusion inescapably that we should have to use nuclear weapons to retaliate against this hypothetical bully who, presumably, is not armed with that means.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Quite so. It may be that he is or is not. He could still be a bully, irrespective of whether he has nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that we might need to drop bombs on Africa, Asia or the Middle East?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am saying that if Britain has nuclear weapons Britain is then, on her own, in the position of being able to say to someone who looks like provoking a major conventional war that if he does he will have nuclear weapons dropped on him. If that does not deter him from starting a conventional war, nothing will. At least it seems to me that we are more likely to be able to keep the peace if we have one. Once we start talking about what happens after the balloon goes up we get completely irrelevant to the issue before us today. Once nuclear war starts, the deterrent policy has failed. I accept that straight away, but I believe that the likelihood of its ever starting is far less if we have a nuclear deterrent.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Is not any potential enemy putting up exactly the same argument as the hon. Member is putting up now? If we build up to meat some potential enemy, then the potential enemy is building up because we are building up, and so the growth in armaments continues year after year.
Sir H. Legge Bourke
Yes, of course. I accept that that is a risk, but what is the alternative? The alternative, as the late Aneurin Bevan is so often quoted as having said, is going naked into the council chamber and possibly naked into battle too. Of course there are calculated risks here. The whole defence policy of the country, whether Labour or Conservative, is based on calculated risk. It has to be, alas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, what we have really to get down to is the need to change the minds of men if we are not to have wars or risk of wars. But as long as we have risk of wars, conventional or nuclear, Britain is in a better position to influence events by having a nuclear deterrent of her own.
Then there was the question of whether Polaris or an air weapon was 1034 the better. I would pay great attention to what the Chiefs of Staff have said on this matter and to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) said this afternoon. I only wish that he were here to hear me say that he was the first Minister of Defence since the war to show that he had a glimmering of what was involved in British strategy in the future. He was the first to say that unless Britain bases her strategy on a maritime conception she is unnecessarily imperilling herself and not making use of the one thing that no one can take away from us, and that is our geographical position on the globe.
I welcome Polaris as a means of Britain having a nuclear deterrent, because I think that of all the nations who should base their deterrent policy on the ocean, Britain is the one. I have used this argument several times before in dealing with Air and other Service Estimates and I will not repeat now what I have already said. But I say that we still have the most extraordinary central position in the world and nobody can take that away from us. It is because of this that oceanic communications and using the ocean in grand strategy is fundamental to the safety of this country. Without Polaris I do not think 'that we can take the fullest advantage, and even economic advantage, of our situation on the face of the globe.
This does not mean to say that I would hope to see us abandoning certain other projects. I am sure that we were right not to go ahead with Skybolt once the Americans said that they were not going to place orders with the company which was making it even if it went on making it for us. We should have been in an impossible position if we had gone ahead, but I hope that we shall not let up for one second on our research and development of manned aircraft.
I believe that we are on the thresh-hold of one of the most major advances in aeronautics visualised for a long time. We have to think in terms of flying at literally 20 times the speed of sound at a height of 200,000 feet or more. I do not want to see a penny pared off research and development in this field. If we reduce this expenditure we shall regret it sooner or later. One thing that sticks out a mile, from our point of view, is 1035 that we must be absolutely in the forefront of means of communication. If we drop out of the manned aircraft field somebody will get ahead of us there, as everywhere else. We shall have to spend far more money than we have been daring to spend. We shall have to get far more injection into the Post Office, in particular, of the idea of space communications. We have little time to do these things because others are overtaking us fast.
I have always believed that this country will have or will not have a successful defence policy according to the attitude of mind in Parliament towards expenditure on defence. The Amendment reeks of the very thing which makes quite certain that Britain will not have a good defence policy. Whenever one sees regret being expressed that so much money is likely to be spent on defence one knows what the trouble is.
I know perfectly well that there are sincere pacifists, like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who genuinely believe that all weapons are wrong and nobody should have any. One respects them, but there are unfortunately the stupid people who believe that we can afford to give away all our weapons no matter how many weapons others have. I have always respected the sincere pacifist for the courage of his convictions. But when natural dislike of war—and who does not hate war?—leads one to support acclimatising the public to thinking that we can spend too much on ensuring a peace in which individuals are free, we are damaging hopes of the country ever having a decent defence policy.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
It was a little unfair to say that the Amendment suggested that we should reduce expenditure on defence. It says that the present policy of the Government was to increase it too much.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I know. The right hon. Gentleman is playing with words. It is perfectly obvious in what is being mentioned here:… can have no confidence in a Government whose defence policy has collapsed and which, at Nassau, entered into an agreement which, by seeking to continue the illusion of an independent British nuclear deterrent, imposes further economic burdens upon the nation and 1036 makes more difficult the solution of Great' Britain's defence problems.I say that we ought to be spending more than we are spending today, and as long as we have hon. Members saying that we are already spending too much and certainly ought not to spend any more, we are encouraging the very thing we do not want to encourage.
§ Mr. Awbery
It is not a question of the amount of money that we are spending but what we are getting for the money.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member has interrupted me before. I have given way very fairly in the course of my speech. I cannot give way again.
We have a major duty of leadership in the House in getting people to think sensibly on defence. As long as the nation goes on having Members of Parliament who are pressing all the time to increase the welfare budget and at the same time saying that we are spending too much on defence, then so long will the country be in unnecessary peril. All I ask is that at the end of the debate those who believe, as I profoundly do, that peace with freedom for the individual can hardly be too expensive, will at least examine their consciences before they vote tomorrow night; and I hope to see the Amendment thrown out on its ear where it deserves to go.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
It is a little unfortunate that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) has such a subjective recollection of what is said in the House and of things written on paper in the House. He has made three accusations in the course of his speech, all three of which, as far as my recollection goes, were totally unfounded. One was that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) had been irresponsible in referring to our troops abroad. I never heard him make any such remarks, nor, I think, any of my hon. Friends. He drew none of the inferences suggested by the hon. Member, but my hon. Friend is well able to defend himself.
The second statement that the hon. Member made was that we on this side of the House were suggesting cutting down expenditure on defence. The hon. Member may have his judgment on what we actually say in the Amendment, but he must admit when he reads the Amendment 1037 that my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) is not playing with words when he says that we make no suggestion in the Amendment of cutting down defence expenditure. We say that we resent the imposition of further economic burdens because of what we consider to be the illusion that we can maintain our own independent deterrent. This is very different from what the hon. Gentleman said. I hope he will look again at the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East and at the Amendment, when he will see that this is so.
I would make only one further comment on his speech. When outlining his policy and saying why he believes that the nuclear deterrent is still so necessary for Britain, it would only have been fair if he had made perfectly clear that what he says involves a declaration that this country would regard itself as perfectly justified and free to use nuclear weapons first if we were threatened with conventional weapons. If he says that clearly, people can make their judgments about his views, but I do not think he expressed fairly what was involved in the policy that he was putting forward.
It seems to me rather fortunate—as a result of events which many people regard as disastrous, although I myself do not—that we should have our debate on this issue immediately following the known conclusions of the Brussels negotiations. One thing that is quite clear is that the two events taken together—the Skybolt event and the failure of the negotiations in Brussels—create together a more fluid situation in relation to the defence policy of this country than I have known in my political lifetime since the end of the war. I do not think there has ever been a time, as there is now, when one could say that things are bound to be very different in the years ahead and that we have now to decide in what way we wish them to be different. We have decisions to take and we have an opportunity, if we choose to take it, to take a completely fresh look at events around us and decide the way in which we would like to shape our own history, certainly in the next decade. What I find pleasing is the way in which this has been recognised by some hon. Members opposite. In particular, the speech of the hon. Member for High Wycombe 1038 (Mr. John Hall) reflected the most refreshing new look at the situation that I have heard from hon. Members opposite since I came into this House.
I remember in the second defence debate to which I listened when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) indicated that, in his view, the negotiations and the concept of the political unity of the Six in Europe were much more closely linked to the military policy of Europe as a whole, and of this country in particular, than was generally realised. I think he was absolutely right at that time to point this out. He referred to the political unity of Europe, involving, as it clearly did or does—whichever is the correct tense to use now—a degree of military co-operation which would have involved our own defence. That this is so cannot be disputed, but many of the assumptions on which we have based our actions in this country over the last two or three years, and on which President Kennedy has based many American policies in the last year or two, can now no longer be made. Because of Brussels, military policy is in the melting pot and there is a chance to look clearly at the possibilities of choice that lie before us.
I do not want to repeat more than very briefly, in order to introduce the main point of my argument, what has already been said in this debate, and that is in relation to the arguments which have been put forward in the past to justify the maintenance of the British independent deterrent. Some of my hon. Friends have already made it clear that the two arguments which have been used by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence to show that we must keep our independent deterrent or our independent contribution to the deterrent—whichever was the phrase which was fashionable in the year in which it was uttered—were, first of all, that we must make our voice heard in the councils of the West and that unless we had nuclear weapons we would not be able to do so; and, secondly, that we had a special relationship with the United States and this was so because we ourselves possess nuclear weapons.
It has been made abundantly clear during the debate that the single event of Cuba destroyed any illusion either 1039 that we had a voice in the councils of the West or that we had a special relationship with the United States—a special relationship of such a character that we were brought into consultation before effective American decisions affecting war and peace were made.
Indeed, this afternoon the Prime Minister, when speaking about consultation on the use of nuclear weapons, was very careful to say that he accepted that consultation could take place before the use of nuclear weapons by America and ourselves—if circumstances permitted. He was careful to ensure that that phrase was included in his remarks. Clearly this must be so. It is inevitable that this is so because of the speed of reaction to events which the Cuba situation produced in America and Russia. Therefore, since neither of these arguments are any longer rationally tenable after Cuba, then new arguments must be used.
The new argument which hon. Members opposite are producing is really what the discussion must be about if one is arguing, as I am, within the context of the generally-accepted assumptions of this House. As some hon. Members know, I am a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but I recognise that in this House it is necessary to convince people who do not share my own moral assumptions on this matter of the practical justice of the unilateralist case that is put forward. But, leaving on one side the practical argument for abandoning the nuclear deterrent, it is argued that we have special interests in many parts of the world and that we must be able to make our own decisions without the danger of nuclear blackmail. That is what the Prime Minister said. I can appreciate the anxiety of many hon. Members about this. Clearly, one can regard the situation in which nuclear blackmail might be a possibility in one of two ways—either in the sense of a local incident, a local bush fire, a local danger of our interests being threatened in some parts of the world, or, as was said by an hon. Member opposite, a situation in which we are threatened with nuclear weapons because of conflict in some other part of the world in which we have some interest.
The assumption in this argument, whichever way it is put, is always that 1040 this would involve one of our essential but not necessarily major interests. I think this is so, because if it is not so the logic is that it must be such a major situation that it would involve others besides ourselves, and it would therefore no longer be the kind of limited situation which hon. Members opposite are talking about. If it is a big enough situation to go beyond, for example, the specific interests of Kuwait or Aden or Brunei, then it is the kind of dispute, conflict and flashpoint which will involve other people too. Then America becomes interested, Russia becomes interested, and one is no longer dealing with the kind of situation which hon. Members postulate.
The answer to this argument is, I think, to be found in what has been said recently in The Times. We have all been reading with fascination what has appeared in The Times during the past two or three months, and I think that its defence correspondent gave a complete answer in an article on 8th January. First, he put forward very cogently the argument which some hon. Members opposite have been using, that is:If Britain relied entirely upon the United States for the nuclear shield the Government would be inhibited from undertaking independent military operations of almost any kind. Operations like those in Kuwait or Brunei might have to be abandoned in face of a Russian nuclear threat, if the United States were not prepared to extend to purely British interests the nuclear guarantee which protects the alliance as a whole.This is, at least, part of the argument. The defence correspondent of The Times goes on to say:This theory implies that Britain can support a separate policy of nuclear deterrence based on the 'second-strike capability'. It assumes that, under the threat of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, the British people will give their support to military operations of which their allies disapprove, as long as they are secure in the knowledge that if the British Isles were totally destroyed, there would still be somewhere a nuclear striking force to bring retribution to the enemy.This may make sense for vast countries like the United States or the Soviet Union. For a small and densely populated island it is a doubtful proposition.He goes on to say that, even if it were accepted as a reasonable proposition, it is doubtful that it could be achieved.
On Wednesday, 23rd January, The Times used another argument in its leading article in relation to precisely the same situation.It pointed out that one 1041 of the illusions which some people in this country were finding it difficult to shed was the illusion thatthere is a likely set of circumstances in which a British Government would use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons independently of its allies. Such an action would split the nation at a time when unity was never more essential. Yet it is upon the assumption that such action could seem valid that the proposals made at the Bahamas conference ultimately rest.The Times goes on to say that, at this stage, this country ought to examine the case for having an independent deterrent at all. We know what its conclusions were.
§ Captain W. Elliot
The hon. Lady said that the deterrent would not apply to a densely populated country like ours in the same way as it would, for instance, to America. Surely, the point here—I do not at the moment want to argue about whether our deterrent is credible or not—is that if one has a deterrent it must be credible. If the argument is that it is not credible, that is fair enough. If, on the other hand, one is talking about a deterrent, it must deter.
§ Mrs. Hart
I was quoting the defence correspondent of The Times. However, the point is that the credibility of one's deterrent is in itself in some measure determined by the extent to which the enemy believes that one would be prepared to use it. If having it used against oneself would destroy one's entire country, one would take an attitude towards the use of nuclear weapons different from what might be one's willingness to use them if part of an enormous country like the United States or the Soviet Union, some of which, presumably, would survive even if nuclear weapons were used against it. I thought that it was generally accepted that the credibility of the deterrent depended in part upon the damage which would be done to one's own country if it were used against oneself.
§ Captain Elliot
I put it the other way: the credibility of the deterrent depends upon the amount of damage which is acceptable to the enemy. If one's deterrent will inflict greater damage than is acceptable, then he is deterred.
§ Mrs. Hart
Perhaps we can reach a happy compromise by saying that both factors come into it. I think that the 1042 factor I have mentioned is of greater importance.
In the present situation, the old arguments to justify the possession of the independent nuclear deterrent are no longer tenable. The new ones are, to say the least, extremely doubtful. In the view of a great many people—I am here speaking not only about members of C.N.D. and people like that but of others, including the defence correspondent and leader writers of The Times—the new arguments for the retention of the independent deterrent also are untenable.
In this situation, must we, as a nation, sit back and accept the policy which our Government put forward? They are a Government with whom we have had many profound disagreements, but, nevertheless, they have been the British Government, the Government who stood for Britain. They have come out of Brussels covered in confusion and shame. Their defence policy is in fragments about them. Must we, therefore, assume that Britain will now be a third-rate Power with no influence? Must Britain assume that, because of the events of the past ten years and, in particular, of the last year or two, she can no longer have any part or voice in the councils of the world, as she used to have? If there were some new kind of policy which could open up the possibility of Britain exercising influence in a new kind of way, it would, surely, be worth looking at.
Clearly, there is one way worth examining. I put it no higher than that. I am myself convinced that it is what we ought to do, and so are many other people in this country, but, knowing, if I may say so, the prejudices and illusions of hon. Gentlemen opposite and knowing that it would be a new idea to many of them and one which they would be inclined to dismiss rather easily, I ask them simply to look at it.
We on this side of the House recognise—and there have been times when the Prime Minister also has recognised—that one of the only effective ways to limit the danger of war and to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, which in itself adds to the risk of war, is to create areas of disengagement, nuclear-free zones. We used to think of this purely in terms of Europe, speaking of the Rapacki Plan, the Gaitskell plan, the idea of creating an area in the middle of Europe in which 1043 there would be no nuclear weapons, in which there would be separation of the countries which otherwise could come into conflict with each other.
This concept is now taken in a much broader sense, as one capable of application in many parts of the world. There are at present at the United Nations—though very little it being done about them—Brazilian proposals for a nuclear-free South America, proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the Balkans and proposals for a nuclear-free Africa. All these proposals offer the possibility of effectively and substantially reducing the risk of war in so far as war may well arise from a local conflict which sparks off further conflict or itself blazes into something bigger.
Let us consider what part we could play if we were at this point to say that we accept that our independent deterrent no longer has any meaning and we ask ourselves what we can do instead. How can we take this opportunity for initiating some new kind of action and doing something which will build up Britain in the world and make the British people feel good again about the role which they can play.
Hon. Members opposite should not underestimate the extent to which we understand the attitude of the British people. They are patriotic. They want to feel proud of what their Government are doing. They have had little opportunity to do so during the past two or three years. I suggest that we should take the idea of no independent deterrent for Britain as a basis, and add to that this further highly controversial proposition, that there should be no nuclear bases of any kind in Britain. We should examine what this means before we dismiss it out of hand. I am not just sloganising. I am not merely saying "No Polaris bases here". I am trying to look at the matter clearly and carefully. If the idea of having no bases in Britain were presented as an isolated piece of policy, one's attitude would be very different from one's attitude if it were presented as the one thing which impeded implementation of a new policy which embraced a great deal of new thinking, and it could take us a considerable way towards peace.
I suggest that the continual existence of nuclear bases in Britain is the only 1044 thing which, if we no longer have an independent deterrent, prevents us from saying, "We are taking the initiative in the creation of a nuclear-free zone in Europe". Since we know that in a very shout time there will be no effective military need for a Polaris base in Britain—the Polaris submarine can equally well be fuelled from America, certainly in the next year or so—there is no logical reason why this one factor of bases in Britain should hold up an attempt to implement a new policy, with Britain beginning a European nuclear-free zone and inviting other non-nuclear nations in Europe to join us, thus helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Europe.
With that sort of initiative, we might shake up the political situation in Europe. General de Gaulle might decide that this was the way to exercise leadership in future rather than build up his own deterrent. These things could be done separately; they are not necessarily linked together. From that point, we could take the initiative in the United Nations to establish nuclear-free zones in other parts of the world under international guarantee, under the guarantee of both great Powers, thus creating a situation in which many areas where we have vital interests and where hon. Members opposite fear there might be the danger of nuclear blackmail would come within nuclear-free zones in which there was no possibility of the use of nuclear weapons.
This is something which I believe is worth considering. Again, I agree with The Times. I am sorry to keep quoting The Times. I am sure that it has never bean quoted from this side of the House so much as it has been in the last week or two, but it is showing such remarkably good sense and is so often summing up the feelings of a great many people. It ends one of its leaders by saying that the future of Britain depends on the kind of people we are. I am sure that that is true and that the British people would like an attempt made to examine the kind of initiatives which I have been putting forward.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) will not be disappointed if I do not take up some of the 1045 suggestions which she made, such as that concerning the shaking up of Europe and not knowing exactly what might come out of it. I thought that was rather a dangerous and vague suggestion, but possibly it was rather like the pools assessments that we had a week ago from a panel of experts.
§ Mr. Harrison
I understand slightly better.
It is very difficult for a back bench Member to take part in a debate like this, because of the obvious secrecy about many of the things put forward by the Government and by his own Front Bench. It is also, in some ways, very presumptuous for a back bench Member to criticise the Government when he does not have the facts which are available to Ministers and cannot understand the various considerations which have forced people to arrive at various decisions.
Before I deal with the question of Polaris, which I wish to deal with primarily, I might say that we should remember that we are discussing the White Paper on the Bahamas Meetings and that quite a lot was achieved other than the agreement about Polaris. There was, apparently, agreement on a series of other factors in trouble spots or flash spots in the world, such as India and Berlin, and with regard to the treaties for dealing with the conclusion of nuclear tests. However, I wish to deal, as most hon. Members have done, primarily with the defence aspect and to look at what we have achieved with regard to an independent deterrent.
Any independent deterrent must be two things. First of all, it must be credible. People must know and believe that it can and will be used in the last resort and that it is in a fit state to get to its target. Secondly, it must be financially practicable. It must be of such a scale that a country can carry the full burden of financing it and of continuing to keep it operational.
I would not deny that the Foreign Secretary's job would be very much simpler and easier if we had a vast number 1046 or deterrents and enormous forces and were able to wield the big stick. But that is not the situation today. As a country of limited resources we can no longer act as the full policeman in the world. We have to contribute to some form of collective security, and I do not think it possible for us to envisage an occasion when we would have to use a nuclear weapon independently of our Allies.
We should look at the history of what has happened with regard to our endeavours to get a separate deterrent. First, some months ago doubt was expressed in the House about the likelihood of the United States carrying forward the full Skybolt programme. There seemed to be difficulties and Skybolt did not seem to have a certain place in the whole United States plan because of the programme in connection with other weapons which was being evolved. Just before that, Britain had abandoned the Blue Streak, and it was some time before that that Members of the House began to have doubts about the possibility of Blue Streak ever being used.
But from the day—I think it was 13th April, 1960—that the development of Blue Streak as a weapon stopped, Britain lost the means of having an independent nuclear deterrent, after the bombers, with the free-falling bombs, were no longer recognised as capable of getting through the protective screens of the countries likely to threaten us. I feel that anyone who really believes otherwise is deluding himself, because one cannot have an independent deterrent if one is dependent on somebody else to supply it.
There is, however, one thing which has come out of this Polaris agreement and which I feel is the sort of thing the Government should be saying that they have achieved in this agreement, because I feel it is by far the more important. It is not that we have a pseudo-independent deterrent but that part of the United States Strategic Air Force and of the United Kingdom Bomber Command have been formed or are being formed info a N.A.T.O. nuclear force. I think that it is only within that organisation or a similar organisation that it is possible for the deterrent to be effective for the West. Polaris itself is tied in, and Polaris will remain part of the N.A.T.O. nuclear force, and I would be prepared to think 1047 that the opportunities or the need which Britain will ever have for using it independently are nil, and therefore I think it is almost humbug to say that we have got an independent nuclear deterrent.
However, we are obviously going to be more dependent on the United States still, because, to quote another part of the White Paper:The United States will also study the feasibility of making available certain support facilities for such submarines.Therefore one is in fact really helping to finance part of the American or Western deterrent, and that, I think, is a very good thing as far as it goes, but I think that it is ridiculous to say that this is an independent British deterrent.
There are two other things about this that I should like to say. First of all, is the deterrent, such as we are allegedly welcoming in this White Paper, in fact an economic one? I do not think that it is. We understand—I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said—that it will be in 1968 or so that we shall have the submarines, and we shall by then have laid out an enormous sum of money. It is not posible yet to be quite sure how much it will be. While I do not for a moment think that we can get conventional forces on the cheap, I do think that one must recognise the fact, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out, that the deterrent represents an additional 10 per cent, on the defence budget—the deterrent as it is planned as a result of this meeting in the Bahamas. And we are to carry on with a deterrent like that, with this tremendous additional expenditure, particularly when one of my right hon. Friends, a former Minister of Defence, resigned over a sum one-tenth of the one involved in this expenditure.
Then let us look at the credibility of the British deterrent as such and whether in fact it could be used individually. We are to have probably five or six submarines; of those submarines one or two will have to be in dry dock; and when they leave port they will probably be followed and tailed. I know that there are some people who say that it is very difficult to follow submarines, and I have no doubt that that is correct, but here the ordinary back bencher does have a very difficult time, because one 1048 Minister of Defence—and we have had a lot of them in the last 10 years—said that they are difficult to follow, and yet we have the report in The Times of 11th February, 1959, of a Press conference at which my right hon. Friend now the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations said of Polaris thatToo little attention has been paid to the limitations of missile-firing submarines. Why, for instance, should it be assumed that they will remain undetectable and invulnerable? Their numbers will be comparatively few because of their great cost, and the movements of a very limited force could be closely watched by an enemy.Since then there has been an opportunity of developing very extensively methods of detection, and yet we are asked to believe that six submarines can provide a real deterrent for this country.
I do not think we have a credible deterrent. I do not think that the money that is being spent on that deterrent is being spent in the best possible direction. I would much rather see that money being used in a limited sphere to supplement, but not complement, the structure that one will have in a N.A.T.O. or North Atlantic deterrent. But to set up a complete set of signals and a completely independent—because it is an independent deterrent—set of controls, and so on, is, I think, very, very wrong.
I also find it very difficult to understand why we are running when we have not really started to walk. In paragraph11 of the White Paper it is stated that the President and the Prime Minister:agreed on the importance of increasing the effectiveness of their conventional forces on a world-wide basis.I find it extremely difficult to think that our conventional forces are effective when the strengths of the battalions in the Strategic Reserve are as low as 400 and 500 and when it is necessary to bring a signals unit to supplement a brigade headquarters or to exchange signals units to supplement various headquarters as between Germany and the units which are standing by ready to fly out should an emergency arise elsewhere.
I would beg the Government to look very carefully at whether they are not squandering money over this present policy, because we have had, I think it must be admitted, very poor results for the vast amounts that have been spent on defence in the last 10 years.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) has very clearly exposed the sheer unreality of the Government's independent nuclear deterrent bluff—and a very expensive bluff it is. I agree with everything that he said on that subject.
But the issue is a little wider because both Government and Opposition look upon defence as a collective enterprise to be conducted through N.A.T.O., CENTO and S.E.A.T.O., and on that subject Dean Acheson, in his speech at West Point on 5th December which annoyed everybody so much, said one thing that I believe makes sense:In proposals to discuss with our N.A.T.O. allies a sound plan for military defence, agreed political policies and agreements and institutions for economic expansion are all interdependent and mutually inter-acting … The weakness in the allied position lies … in that, lacking agreement on political purposes and courses of action, the alliance may be an actual impediment to action.That is the American view, of course, and they acted on it, first of all, in the matter of Skybolt and, secondly, in the matter of Cuba. That was the original cause of their new attitude over Skybolt. Whatever may be the validity of the technical reasons advanced for dropping the Skybolt programme, there is not much doubt that there was also the political motive that the Administration wished to assert the principle that the United States alone should control nuclear weapons in the Western alliance and should alone take the decision when to use them. That is the view that the President acted upon and has since asserted as a matter of principle over Cuba.
The House may recollect that on 31st October in the debate on the Address there was some reference to the article by the Washington correspondent of The Times of 24th October, who pointed out that an entirely new situation had been created for America's Allies, as well as for the Soviet Union, by the action of the United States over Cuba. He said that the President had in fact assumed the supreme political authority that was always inherent in the American nuclear deterrent. He added:The firm belief of the United States Administration is that as the leader of the alliance, with control of most of the nuclear power 1050 available to the West, if has a right and duty to defend itself and its allies—even to the extent of bringing about a nuclear exchange.It is also firmly believed that in the present urgent situation there will be no time for consultation, that a threat of war cannot be met by committee decisions.That is the context of the Government's new defence policy.
The point was rubbed home by the then Washington correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, Mr. Peregrine Worsthorne, on 23rd December, when, in a penetrating analysis of American policy, he said that he had it from advisers of the President in the White House that the United States not only insisted upon taking decisions on these matters without consulting its allies if the situation was urgent, but also without consulting its own people. He said:What is perhaps not sufficiently realised in Britain is that the thermo-nuclear age is bringing about a change in the relations between the United States Government and the American people as it is between Washington and the allies …Britain and Europe have to reckon with not some lightly formed American impulse prompted by national ambition but rather with the deepest purposes of a President at the very peak of his authority, convinced that he has at last found his historic mission as the leader of the West as a whole…As with so much else in Washington these days, the full measure of Mr. Kennedy's concept of thermo-nuclear leadership found its practical expression in the recent Cuban crisis. Neither the Allies nor the American public nor Congress were really consulted.That is the reality of the position, and the American Under-Secretary of State, Mr. George Ball, told the N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians on 20th November that" Cuba is still with us".
American policy has not changed. The menace of further aggressions against Cuba still hangs over that island. American policy is a policy of cold aggression, accompanied by preparations for and threats of hot aggression in which it expects to involve its allies, if necessary to the point of nuclear exchanges and without their being consulted. This is only one sample of the kind of thing for which we may be called upon to fight, or, rather, to submit to extermination without consultation.
The Government's reaction to this situation has been to give the United States a free hand and to say that we will support them whatever they do, and never mind about the Charter, never 1051 mind about international law, never mind about Britain's trading interests, and never mind about the survival of our people.
On the other hand, paradoxically, the Government say that we ought to have an independent nuclear deterrent by grace and favour of the United States. I cannot make out whether the Government delude themselves with this paradoxical policy or are merely trying to deceive the people, but in any case it does not make sense.
General de Gaulle's policy is the other term of our defence problem. On the one hand we are bounded by American policy and America's claim to dictate to her allies, and on the other we have President de Gaulle, who can at least say "No", which is something our Government do not appear capable of doing.
General de Gaulle has also been bitten by this idea that he should have an independent nuclear deterrent. From the military point of view, his pretention is even more absurd than that of our Government. It is based on the idea that when the new type Mirage aeroplanes are ready they will be able to carry atom bombs equal to about three times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. But of course by the time these planes become operational they will be obsolete and will not be able to arrive without being shot down. A modern atomic bomb is about 50 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb and the modern hydrogen bomb about 1,000 times as powerful.
The military basis of this policy is completely unreal. The only thing to be said is that President de Gaulle is at least logical about his policy, in the sense of Cavour's, the Piedmontese statesman's, definition a century ago, that French logic consists above all in turning obstinate when circumstances change. That seems an apt description of President's de Gaulle's policy and pretensions today.
But at least President de Gaulle is logical about it. He says, "We must have our own nuclear weapons and our own means of delivering them made by ourselves. We cannot accept the Nassau Agreement because it is a mere delusion 1052 to believe that if we pool our forces or put them into a multi-national force under American command we can pull them out at a moment's notice for our own purposes. We would merely disrupt the multi-national force and its whole system of communications and command and paralyse it at the moment when it might be wanted."
A further point is that the Prime Minister is discreetly vague about just what he wants his independent nuclear force for. But President Kennedy was much more outspoken about that, because at a Press Conference on 10th January, when asked by correspondents what was the purpose of this policy, he explained that perhaps the British Government were thinking of being faced with the same situation as that with which they were faced at Suez when the alliance was divided and Britain did not have enough nuclear weapons at her disposal to stand up to a nuclear challenge to that policy.
That was put in more general terms, with soldierly bluntness, by Air Chief Marshal Sir Guy Garrod in The Times of the 25th January, and since we have been quoting Air Chief Marshals in this debate I should like to contribute my Air Chief Marshal's remarks. He took issue with The Times for saying thatnot much belief is now given to the idea that the independent deterrent might be needed some day to support British military operations in conditions of Russian hostility and American neutrality.He said:On the contrary such a situation is highly probable.Imagine a so-called liberation movement instigated by Russia somewhere in the Near or Far East"—and of course any popular rising is always called a movement instigated by the Soviet Union—where we have important interests. We send a force to restore order and protect our interests. Russia objects to our action and threatens us with nuclear attack if we persist. The national interests of the United States may be directly opposed to ours in this small war in a remote area. If there is oil to be had, she may be eager to see our influence removed so that she can supplant us. This has happened before now.Is it seriously suggested that the United States would not use strong political pressure on us to withdraw and accept defeat? Without our own independent deterrent we should be forced to comply.The implication behind that idea is that when the United States disagrees with 1053 us and urges us to pursue a more moderate line—which would also mean that the United Nations would be saying, "Settle this thing by the peaceful means to which you are pledged under the Charter"—we would go ahead with a war for which, as in the case of Suez, the Government would be condemned internationally for being the aggressor, but would be prepared nevertheless to carry their aggression to the point of nuclear extermination, out of sheer bellicose fanaticism. The whole thing is insane. I cannot believe that the Government mean this kind of talk. They are not bereft altogether of a sense of responsibility for civilisation and for the survival of their own people. But this is what they say.
In one of two articles commenting on this policy The Times defence correspondent, on 8th January, took the line that it was very doubtful whether any Government could get the support of the people in subjecting them to the risk of nuclear extermination for the sake of a policy pursued in defiance of our Allies—and, I would add, in defiance of the United Nations—in some part of the world remote from our own soil. The whole conception implies, first, that power politics can be pursued with nuclear weapons, although we are so inferior in them that that would mean sheer national suicide, and, secondly, that the whole system of international relations to which we are pledged under the Charter is just a scrap of paper to which we need pay no attention.
The thing makes no sense whatever, It is intolerable that the Government should put forward this kind of thing and spend God knows how many millions of pounds trying to sustain this bluff.
But the Opposition's policy also needs drastic revision, in the light of the situation with which we are confronted by America's action and claim, in connection with Cuba, to be able to commit her allies to nuclear war—that is, to extermination—without even consulting them. First, I agree with every word of the Motion of censure put down by the Opposition, including the section condemning the Government for imposing further economic burdens upon the nation. But I point out that a policy of enlarging our conventional forces would cost at least as much, and probably more, and would 1054 also involve a return to some form of compulsory military service.
I honour those on my side and opposite who face that situation openly and say that they want compulsory military service. I do not want it and believe it is dishonest to try to pretend that that is not implied in the policy which the Americans are trying to force upon us, and which, as far as I can make out, is the official policy both of the Labour Party and the Liberal Party. It is no improvement on Tory policy. It is just as much beyond our means, and it just as much implies our forces being cannon fodder, or a burnt offering, for the vagaries of the Pentagon. I object very strongly to that.
It also means the nuclearisation of N.A.T.O. The Labour Party has said all along that it objects to nuclear weapons for the European members of N.A.T.O. and particularly to West Germany's getting nuclear weapons of any sort, as part of the N.A.T.O. forces or otherwise. Today, in response to Questions, the Minister of Defence made it clear that the Government have surrendered on this point, as on every other. But the Opposition must face the issue. I cannot believe that the idea of arming Germany directly or indirectly with nuclear weapons would be supported by our people. It is a crime against humanity to arm a country which refuses to recognise its frontiers as final, and lays claim to the territories of other countries.
There is also the question of the collective political control of N.A.T.O. The Labour Party still talks as though that were a feasible proposition, and adopts the attitude first adopted at the Margate Conference in 1953, which was that the Labour Party maintainsfull support for N.A.T.O. as a limited system of collective security in which all members have equal rights and duties, and collective policy is decided by common consent, not by one member, be it the United States, Britain or any other".In the first place N.A.T.O. is a military alliance which, by lining up some permanent members of the Security Council against others, which have retaliated by forming the rival Warsaw alliance, has completely wrecked, paralysed and stultified the collective security system of the United Nations, which depends on the unanimity of the great Powers in the Security Council. N.A.T.O. is the 1055 opposite of collective security and a return to the old balance of power which collective security was intended to replace. It is a grim farce to talk about equal rights and duties for members of N.A.T.O. when the United States has asserted and acted on the exactly contrary view. The Government have taken that lying down as they do everything else. They are the all-in appeasers, the Chamberlains of the third world war.
There is no reason why the Opposition should stand for this, and it is not a good idea to turn a blind eye to this completely new situation. I have the answer to it, and it is also the answer to the question put by the Prime Minister about how we may be independent in our foreign policy if we abandon nuclear weapons. I say that that is the only way to be independent, because nuclear weapons are not the banner of our independence but the badge of our servitude to the United States owing to our fear of the Soviet Union.
We have to apply the principle which the Opposition have often proclaimed, that our foreign policy should determine our defence commitments. On the foreign policy of the Opposition we could reach agreement with the Soviet Union tomorrow as regard Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, both on political settlements and disarmament. It is our allies who oppose these policies and pursue policies with which the Labour Party, at any rate, profoundly disagrees and which afford no possible basis of settlement.
What we ought to do is call attention to the fact that N.A.T.O. may legitimately be invoked only in cases of unprovoked aggression, and say that this means that so long as our allies pursue policies which we regard as provocative and dangerous we will not be committed to go to war. The acid test is whether they will come to terms with us on how to make peace. Unless and until they do that we should start pulling our troops out of N.A.T.O. and pushing the American bases out of here. We cannot be independent so long as we continue to pursue a policy which results in our being dragged at the chariot wheels of the United States pursuing a course which makes peace impossible and ultimately will make war inevitable.
§ 9.3 p.m
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The policy just recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) was one which I think was pursued with rather unfortunate results in some of the countries which lie to the east of what is now called the Iron Curtain. So far as I am concerned, that is certainly not the line of policy which I propose to commend to the House.
This has indeed been a most interesting debate. It is one in which I think the Government can have found little comfort. Of all the speeches which I have heard, only the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) supported the Government. The hon. Member is famous more for his courage than for his judgment, and I commend him for his courage at least on this occasion.
There was a speech of approvement, I think, from the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson), the former Minister of Defence. But I must say that I find it very difficult—one has debated this so often with him—to find out what the right hon. Gentleman means or what are his ideas. He will keep telling us about Britain's independent contribution to the Western deterrent. I should have thought that a contradiction in terms. A contribution is part of something, and the moment it becomes independent it ceases to be a contribution. That is the point to which we have never yet succeeded in getting the right hon. Member to advance. At what point does this contribution become independent?
That is the problem one is up against here. We have had two very courageous speeches by two hon. Members who have paid the most studious attention to defence, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) and the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison). Both of them have come out, I think for the first time, firmly against a British independent deterrent. I believe they are quite right. I believe that is the logic of the situation.
It does not seem that this is a matter in which Skybolt or Polaris, or indeed Blue Streak if it had been successful, really matter very much. I am profoundly grateful that Blue Streak was not successful. If we had this island 1057 studded with a number of perfectly independent but immobile rockets, I think they would frighten me a great deal more than they would frighten the Russians. The point of deterrence is that this is primarily a psychological weapon. The whole point of it is that one is delivering a threat. It is no use delivering a threat that nobody will believe.
Who is going to believe our nuclear threat? Non-nuclear Powers? Are we going to threaten Egypt or Indonesia? Frankly, I should have thought it inconceivable that we would initiate nuclear war against a non-nuclear Power. Even if we did, we certainly would not require one of these sophisticated methods of delivery. Any existing aeroplane would be sufficient. That leaves us with one single Power, Russia. Remember, we are talking of independence.
We have to visualise that we have withdrawn our aeroplanes, which are now integrated into N.A.T.O., and our Polaris submarines, if and when we have them, from the N.A.T.O. set-up. We have withdrawn them from the Command, withdrawn from the signals network and from the whole set-up of which they are part. We have a quarrel with the Russians from which the Americans and our other allies have dissociated themselves. At that point, and on our own, we threaten them with our nuclear power. Does anybody conceivably believe that?
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
May I intervene, because the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has such a confused attitude on this matter? We are at present targeted in completely with the Strategic Air Command in the Atlantic Alliance. This has not affected the independence of Bomber Command by one jot or tittle.
§ Mr. Paget
I should have thought that the confusion resided entirely in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. When Bomber Command is targeted, controlled, integrated, with N.A.T.O., how on earth can he say that it remains independent at that time? It is only independent when it is withdrawn from N.A.T.O. command and used under our separate command. That is what the Government just will not awaken to. Independence means available for independent use without Americans, available for independent use when one has withdrawn it from the Alliance. There is no point in independence at any other time.
In those circumstances, probably even the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is no credibility. Nobody will believe that sort of threat or that we should commit suicide in quite such an unpleasant way. If we initiated nuclear war against the Russians we should be a cinder next morning. What has killed the credibility of our nuclear deterrent is not delivery systems but a question of geography. The big units have built themselves up to such a point that neither we nor the French are convincing, for geographical reasons, in threatening the Russians. The consequences to our-selves would be too obviously appalling. Whether we like it or not, if we are to have any credibility we are committed to the Alliance.
That being so, is a nuclear contribution which the Alliance does not want the best contribution which we can make to its power? Is that the best use of our resources? When hon. Members see the weakness on the ground in Germany they will agree that the answer is obviously that it is not. Nuclear weapons are not the only form of deterrent. It is necessary to have other forms of deterrent on the ground. As I have said, nuclear weapons are primarily psychological weapons, and in that respect it is the mental posture which is at least as important as the technical capacity.
What are we threatening? We have passed from the Foster Dulles age, when massive retribution was threatened as an answer to any form of aggression anywhere. The Kennedy Administration has abandoned that posture. It is probably sensible to do so, because in any case it was a posture which depended on the late Mr. Foster Dulles. He alone looked 1059 and sounded, and maybe was, crazy enough to do it. Since him, nobody has been that credible. The attitude taken by the Kennedy Administration is not that they will immediately resort to massive retribution. It is that they will respond first by conventional means, then perhaps by one or two nuclear weapons to show a determination and then by a limited counter-force action, all designed to bring about a pause and to give an opportunity for second thoughts.
If there is to be that sort of policy, it becomes highly important where the pause takes place. Where the pause takes place is settled by one's capacity to resist on the ground. At present our capacity to resist on the ground is almost pathetically small. I ask hon. Members to visualise the circumstances in which perhaps there was a squeeze on Berlin, with some divisions being moved, as it has been suggested they might be moved, to test the will and see if the communications to Berlin could be opened by force. If the Russians replied to that by sweeping across the Northern plain, which is undefended and open, they could be on the Rhine before we could reach the Weser. Starting at night they would be all mixed up with us in the morning, offering no nuclear targets at all.
One would be in precisely the opposite position to Cuba. In Cuba the Americans had the conventional forces, naval and air, on the ground. Any resort to nuclears there would have involved the immediate destruction of the object of the operation. It would have been tactically fatal. The Russians would put us in a position in which a resort to nuclears immediately would render the divisions by the Berlin corridor and the other ones in the American positions behind the Bohemian mountains available for complete destruction. So there could be a new situation on our hands, brought about by the weakness of our ground forces, in a matter of hours or at most days before the assertion of the nuclear threat brought about the standstill. Unfortunately, the standstill would probably leave Germany reunified under the Communists.
That is the sort of danger we are up against in view of the weakness of 1060 our forces on the ground. Therefore, to go in for a Polaris programme at great expense does not make any sense. The minimum expense I have heard is £200 million, for what is in reality simply a status symbol when our requirements for ground forces have been so gravely neglected. The way in which our forces in Germany are equipped is a disgrace. There is an absence of the air lift which we require to give us mobility. There is an absence of a capacity to provide even as small a force as is required in Brunei without robbing the Signals of B.A.O.R. and even then having to use battalions fantastically below strength. At this point, to proceed to go in for the extravagance of a Polaris programme does not seem to me to make any sense at all.
I want to say a few words about volunteer forces, because some hon. Members opposite have suggested that we should go in for some form of selective service. I do not believe that this is either necessary or desirable. It is obviously wrong to compare the manpower effort of a country which has a volunteer army with that of a country which has a conscript army. In a volunteer army there are much longer terms of service. In a conscript army much of the force is engaged either in training or being trained and it is nothing like equivalent to a much smaller volunteer force. While in terms of money one's volunteer force is much more expensive, it is not more expensive in terms of manpower or equipment. In real terms it is not more expensive, though from a purely budgetry point of view—that is, the share of spending power one gives to the soldiers as against other members of the community—it is more expensive.
It seems to me that we are certainly a rich enough country to be able to provide ourselves with the volunteer forces we need; and the recruiting figures certainly seem to show this. Indeed, the terrifying thing is that apparently in order to go in for this nuclear extravagance we are economising at the very point which we should be expanding. I hope that in this debate we may have assurance that we are not actually going to throw away one of our brigades of Gurkhas—because that has been decided—for here are absolutely first-class troops available. For nothing other than economy the suggestion has been mooted 1061 around, which I hope will be sat on, that these troops will be thrown away.
There is obviously a sharp cut-down in recruitment for the Army. Married men are not being taken, largely, I imagine, for reasons of economy. A whole series of other nets—as to educational standards and things of that sort—exist so as to get fewer recruits; to keep the price down at the very time when this kind of expenditure on Polaris is being considered. It does not seem to make sense. Indeed, the visit of the Prime Minister to Nassau seems to be in line with the sort of frivolous irresponsibility we expect from him. It is the visit to Moscow at the time of the Berlin crisis without informing or consulting his allies and for which, of course, Adenauer has never forgiven him. It is the wind of change speech which we get in Africa and which pulls the carpet away from all the people who are trying to negotiate settlements, and ends up in Sharpeville where a lot of people who trusted him get shot.
We go to Nassau, again without consulting out allies, and he comes back with a fait accompli proposal which General de Gaulle is to be invited to join. Has he no sensitivity and knowledge of the reaction which that is going to draw? And he does this at the very moment when he is supposed to be trying to conciliate the French in order to get into the Common Market. These are the frivolous irresponsibilities of these performances, done, apparently, without proper thought and with nothing worked out so that when he comes back with an agreement we do not even know what we are paying for or precisely what we have agreed—all done without an ally having been consulted and the obvious row on his hands when he gets there. It is time he decided that his term of service and usefulness to this country, if it ever existed, came to an end.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend, if I may call him such, the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred to the Prime Minister in such terms, particularly with regard to my right hon. Friend's speech in Africa, because on that occasion the Prime Minister was absolutely frank with the world. He was realistic in pointing out the position as it really was. Had my right hon.
1062 Friend not made that speech the hon. and learned Member for Northampton could have accused him of having been dishonest.
The hon. and learned Member asked who would believe us if we had the deterrent. I have yet to read or hear mentioned that Mr. Khrushchev has ever belittled our V-bomber force. If he had been as indifferent as the hon. and learned Member suggested we should have heard about it by now. This is a very considerable force to which I will refer in a moment. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence made absolutely clear what proportion of Bomber Command would be allocated to N.A.T.O. The hon. and learned Member seemed to think that the whole of the Command would go to N.A.T.O., but perhaps we shall have a clear statement on that point tomorrow.
The hon. and learned Member also referred to the British effort in Germany. It is frequently said on the Continent that we are not doing all that we should do in Europe, but the Americans recognise that this is only one of the roles which Britain is fulfilling. They have said repeatedly that they recognise the roles we are fulfilling in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and South-East Asia. I only wish that they would make clear to the world their real feelings that Britain has these other roles, admittedly with conventional weapons, in other parts of the world besides Europe. These are roles which the Americans themselves cannot play. We are the only nation that can play them. We even stepped into Thailand early last year. When it is asked what Britain has done, I would point out that if it had not been for Britain there would have been catastrophe in Laos. We certainly pulled the irons out of the fire on that occasion.
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said he thought that the V-bomber force ought not to be thrown away, but he then qualified it by saying "for three or four years", and eventually came down to one or two years. His right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said about this time last year that Bomber Command ought to be run down. I was mystified at the time by that statement, because a great number of V-bombers have yet to be delivered and I 1063 should have thought that the force had a role to play, and even possibly a conventional rôle.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Belper did not quite give the credit to British efforts that he might have given. Here I am critical of the ways employed which led to the agreement in Nassau, but I am completely with my own Government that Britain should have the deterrent. I have disagreed in many respects about the way the Government have gone about it. I shall say this with a frankness which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will appreciate and will not misunderstand if I speak rather plainly. The right hon. Member for Belper said that our submarines would be out of date by the time they are built. Unless the necessary methods of detection are brought about, I cannot see why that should be so. Perhaps tomorrow some hon. Member or right hon. Member opposite will elaborate on this.
Very little has been said about disarmament in the debate. This is a matter to which we ought to give attention, because one has detected in recent weeks that Mr. Khrushchev is talking more and more about disarmament as time goes on. He refers to it continually, and it may well be that in the immediate years ahead real progress will be made in that direction. Here I am with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister 100 per cent. on what he is trying to achieve, but I differ from him on the method. If disarmament comes about in five years' time we shall have a great deal of money written into Polaris, and we shall have done away with the V-bomber force when I should have thought that it would have been cheaper to carry the weapon in the air. There is a definite possibility of the Prime Minister, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev working on disarmament, but we have a better chance of getting disarmament if Britain can play her role even in the disarmament discussions, and we are more likely to play that role if we have something to back us up there, too.
Over the years the Opposition and back benchers on the Government side have found it extremely difficult to make their contributions to debates on these questions. We are inhibited to a great 1064 extent. When one has a piece of information which is known to be secret, one is not allowed to mention it. The situation is the same now as it was when Lord Alexander was Minister of Defence. I should have thought that as the years went by progress would have been made in determining how to disseminate information among hon. Members so that it could be passed on to the public. I will not elaborate on this point, but I must say that I am more or less in agreement with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I think he is on the right lines.
To some extent, these matters of defence, not always but sometimes, transcend party. The country's future and the safety of the people are far more important than anything else, because however successful we are in trade, unless the country is secure we are in for trouble. I recognise that there is a divergence of view on the deterrent between the two sides of the House. I have done my best in my constituency, in Macclesfield and Congleton, to discuss with my constituents how they feel about the matter, and I am convinced that the majority of people in my constituency want Britain to have its independent deterrent. They would prefer it to be a British deterrent. I am convinced of that.
I only hope from the political point of view that the party opposite will pursue the policy which they have done, because it will not be well received in the country. Hon. Members opposite may remember the poll which was carried out by the Daily Herald 18 months or two years ago on this question, when four out of five people who were questioned thought that Britain should have a deterrent and three out of the five were Labour voters. Perhaps the party opposite will carry out another poll and see what the position is today.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I would not attach too much importance to them, because they change very rapidly.
There is a viewpoint held by some people—I do not subscribe to it myself—that neither the Soviet Union not the United States would ever use the deterrent unless their own homeland was threatened. We ought to think about that. What we may feel 1065 today about our friends may be quite different in five or six years' time. Although the situation in France has been building up in the last five years, a few years ago we thought that we had given enough blood and tears fighting for the French, that at least in our lifetime there would be a relationship which would be well cemented. But it does not seem to be so. We have got to have a deterrent if we are to play a part in the world which our people think we should play.
Two or three weeks ago I was able to visit the United States. I paid a rush visit to try to get some first-hand information on these weapons in California. I spent a day with the Douglas executives, Donald Douglas and his son—very fine men, both of them. I am sure that the Prime Minister was right in not accepting what was quite a generous offer by Mr. Kennedy to go fifty-fifty on research and development. There is no doubt that the Douglas company is having a very difficult time, like the aircraft industry here. It has lost a lot of money in building the DC8. Undoubtedly that great concern will be kept going. Because Skybolt has been "ditched", other contracts will be given to it.
When these contracts for Nike, Zeus and the anti-missile missile are given to the Douglas concern, it is obvious that its top scientists will be put on the new contracts and the personnel will be diluted. The Skybolt project would continue for a long time 6,000 miles away from Britain, with dollars going out and with not much control. The Prime Minister was absolutely right in taking that decision. The Douglas people were very frank. When I talked with Mr. Bram-berg, their chief scientist, I was told that Skybolt so far was the best missile they had ever tackled. They had had the least trouble with it. They had had trouble in getting the motors to fire, but that is not difficult to overcome.
I had discussions later in the day with the Nortronics people who make the guidance system, a very fine concern, a subsidiary of Northrop. They told me that on the sixth test Skybolt did exactly what was expected of it, no more and no less. It went 800 miles down the line absolutely straight. The retro-thrust cut out when it should have done. It was all shown on the computers. They let it go on for another 80 miles to see what would 1066 happen, but it was never meant to do a re-entry; it was not equipped with the code. It did exactly what was expected. I was told at Northrop that the men are not research and development workers but production workers. The guidance system had reached that stage, and it was actually in production.
I had the opportunity to speak also to the British people, the Ministry of Aviation team and the R.A.F. officers. Their collaboration with the Douglas people and the other Americans concerned was all one would expect, first-class, very close collaboration. They were happy in what they were doing. They were highly optimistic about the possibilities of Skybolt, and when they heard the decision that it was dropped they were dumbfounded. They could not believe it or understand it any more than the Douglas people could.
I am satisfied of one thing, after having discussed the matter with all these people and, afterwards, in Washington. Officials in Washington admitted that it was a mistake ever to say that Skybolt was "ditched" for technical reasons. I think that the Americans are now being frank enough to say that it would have been better not to adduce technical reasons for stopping the work, and I think that it ought to be seen in that perspective.
Now, a word about the British personnel in California. I remind my right hon. Friend that there are several hundreds of them there with their wives and children, people who went out in the expectation of a tour of two and a half years. They have to have motor cars to get to work over great distances. They have bought their cars on hire purchase, and their furniture. I hope that the Treasury will be as lenient to these men as they were to the personnel after Suez so that we do not leave a mess behind in the United States. I am sure that this will be taken care of, but I just mention it.
In September, we were all led to believe that the tests with Skybolt were going well. We have been told by the former Minister of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson), that he was told in July that the tests were going on. Why the sudden change? On this one issue of Skybolt, the right hon. Member for Belper has been fairly consistent. Although he has changed his 1067 mind quite frequently on Polaris and other matters, he has been consistent about this weapon.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I cannot understand how one could conceivably condemn a weapon in the first six months of its scientific life. Every weapon and every aeroplane today presents a difficult problem. One cannot see the troubles one will meet. The right hon. Gentleman condemned this weapon when work had just started on it. It seemed an extraordinary thing to do. Of course, when vast sums are being spent, one has people on one side and on the other, those for and those against, those who have axes to grind or vested interests in the various Services.
It is an extraordinary thing to be told in September that the weapon was going well and the tests were proceeding and then, immediately after Cuba, to find that there has been a change of mind. I recognise that, of course, finance comes into it, but certainly not technical reasons. The Americans have ample other weapons.
I do not know whether Mr. Kennedy sees himself as playing some great role in the world, trying to do a deal with the Chinese or with Mr. Khrushchev vis-à-vis the Chinese, and he does not want to consult the countries of Europe. It could be so. On the other hand, in what happened at Nassau he certainly put out a friendly hand to this country. It is all very confused, to say the least.
I have heard that there are 600 to 800 B52s in the American bomber force. To carry four Skybolts under the wings of these aircraft would have necessitated redesigning and remaking wings for that entire fleet. If so, the bill for it would probably have been £400 million—£500,000 an aeroplane. In those circumstances, I can understand why the bill has become so large.
As I said earlier, I think that it would have been cheaper, and certainly more popular with the people of Britain, had we developed our own weapon for the V-bombers which would have seen us through the next seven or eight years. I always thought that Polaris, fine weapon though it is, would follow later. In my 1068 view, it has come five or six years too soon. I always hoped that the life of the bomber force would be what was intended. We have a bomber force which is every bit as good as that of the Americans. Some people say that it is even better. It is smaller in numbers, but it is made up of remarkable aircraft with the elite of the Air Force flying and maintaining them. The "know-how" is there. As I see it, it is a pity not to use that force for its intended purpose.
I ask my right hon. Friend, when he speaks tomorrow, to tell us what exercise was carried out to see whether the guidance system could have been brought out of Northrop so that British scientists and technicians could see what they could do to produce a weapon. The Americans are able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, but I am not convinced that their research is any better or even as good as British research. One has only to look back over the last 20 years to see what we have done. The radar system and the jet engine are British inventions. There is capacity in the electronic industry in this country to produce a weapon.
We are given various figures for weapon costs. Those in industry hope that they will cash in on the cancellation of Skybolt and will sell something to the Government. Those of us who discuss these matters with industrialists are inclined to be given very optimistic figures and dates, but I should have thought that a weapon could be produced in this country for less than £200 million. That would be the bill on top of the cost of the V-bomber force.
The figures for Polaris vary. If the number of Polaris submarines is to be six, I have heard it suggested that, with the mother ships, storage bases and the extraneous equipment required, the bill might be nearer £500 million than £400 million. I should like to know whether any of the three Services will have to sacrifice some of their weapon programmes to meet that target.
I have never looked on the airborne ballistic weapon as something which would finish, unless there was disarmament, when the Vulcans were worn out or went out of service. I was told by the Douglas people that they were looking forward to a range of about 1,500 miles from Skybolt. We know that two or three years ago the Government 1069 were considering, after the Vulcans had gone out, using something like a VC10 as a platform for the weapon. That would have been a very cheap and efficient way of carrying the weapon if the weapon had been produced. But whether the Government have gone into this in the detail that they should have done, I am not sure.
The V-bomber force as we know it has a conventional role. It could even drop leaflets, apart from high explosives. It could go to Borneo. The Polaris submarine has no other role whatever except that of the deterrent. That is important to the nation since we do not have unlimited finance.
If we are to have a deterrent, I should have preferred it to have been a British weapon. I think that if we have to depend on another country, while it is all right today, it may not be all right when the time comes. We shall undoubtedly have to depend on our American allies when it comes to servicing and personnel for the Polaris submarines, which are full of electronic equipment, and they may well have to go over to America to be maintained. But if our bomber force is to be run down in the years ahead and the American bomber force is also to be run down, what is to be done to contain the Russian air defence system? Tens of thousands of men are employed at present on radar and rocketry and so on. They will probably be employed on other work. I should like to be told by the Government that this matter is not being neglected.
The Prime Minister said that there might be four or five Polaris submarines. Is it a sufficient number to be really effective? I would say not. I should like to know what is the hitting power of the fleet envisaged compared with the maximum hitting power of the V-bomber force, and I should like to get it in a percentage rather than in figures. I think that there is a danger that if we have only four or five submarines operating from a small island like ours the vessels will be shadowed; and the killer, I imagine, would usually have the advantage in shadowing our Polaris submarines. If one has 40 or so, as the Americans will have, one is in a very much more favourable position. A few, of which one or two would be in dock and only three or four travelling, are not enough to give Britain a deterrent.
1070 I hope that ways and means will be found somehow to improvise to give us a weapon not only to fill the gap but to cover the period of possible detection. Polaris as it is today is a very fine weapon, but Who can say that detection will not be possible before the end of this decade? Who would have thought in 1937 that we should be spotting aircraft by radar in the Battle of Britain in 1940? But is was done. Ten years ago everybody was astonished by the bangs of supersonic aircraft; we are now building with the French—I hope it will go on—a supersonic airliner to fly people to New York in three hours. Who really would like to cross his heart and say, "Detection of submarines will not take place"? The question needs very careful considering. If it happened we should be very vulnerable.
§ Mr. Awbery
What happens in a few years' time if Polaris becomes outdated and is no good? It is possible, as with other weapons.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
That may be. We cannot look all that far ahead.
What is worrying me is the possibility of detection, and because of that I think the manned bomber has a role. I am not saying that because I have been in the Air Force and associated with it for so many years. I really believe there is a role for the manned bomber. I had that view expressed to me by senior officers in Washington. They feel that there is a vital role for the manned bomber for several years ahead.
The Nassau Agreement as we see it today is nothing more than an outline. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will not take amiss what I am trying to explain, because all this has given me considerable worry in these weeks. It seems to me that there are a number of details which have got to be settled before the agreement is brought about; there is a great deal to consider, which can take two or three months. I suggested to Dr. John Rubel in the Pentagon—(he is No. 2 to Mr. McNamara—not that he should, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper suggested, rent a submarine; but, I said, If you want to retrieve the situation, overcame the misunderstanding between our two nations, why not 1071 loan us a submarine and make a practical gesture to the British people to show that you trust us completely?"
The question I would ask my right hon. Friend is, is anything like that happening? What is to happen if the Americans discover a better weapon than Polaris? This is a question I had put to me just now. Do we go along with it? Are we to be kept informed?
The cost of Polaris, I imagine, will be spread over several years. I wonder if that is the reason for the slow delivery of our Polaris submarines. In America today, with all their "know-how", from the word "Go" they are launching Polaris complete in 18 months. Surely if they can do it in 18 months we could do it in three to three and a half years. I hope that the Government, if they are to have the weapon, will not spread equipping the country with it over many years, but will make a real effort and get on with the job. I think that the criticism of the Government over the years has been their inconsistency over a lot of these matters, the changing of their mind, instead of getting on with the problems and treating them as a Battle of Britain effort. If we are going to do it, let us do it properly and throw everything we have into it.
It is generally admitted in Washington now, according to the information that I was given, that they regret the handling of the Skybolt situation at Nassau. The impression I got was that they would now like to have set up a joint committee between the two countries and sat down together and given a reasonable statement which would have been published afterwards. But that did not happen.
As the Prime Minister is here, I want to tell him that I should like to have an assurance tomorrow from the Minister of Defence on whether the Chiefs of Staff are absolutely with him today on the matter as it rests. Are they in agreement? Can we be told that tomorrow?
We have been told that the Prime Minister did well, and I think he did extremely well, to get what he did. However, the Americans having ditched the Skybolt agreement as they did, there ought not to have been any question of the Prime Minister's battling hard to get Polaris. I should have thought that if 1072 one broke an agreement with a friend and ally one should say, "We are sorry this has happened. Will you have this instead?" But the Prime Minister had to battle for it. What has disturbed me is that in dealing with a close ally we have had to go to extremes to make our case.
I feel that on all these matters rather too much emphasis has been placed on scientific advisers. I will not mention any names from either side of the Atlantic. However, scientific advisers do not carry responsibility, but the Chiefs of Staff do. I hope that all the people concerned who have responsibility, technical and otherwise, will be brought into all these matters.
When the Minister of Defence returned from Nassau he said, "There is a great future for the Royal Air Force. I am not worried about it." I hope he will explain tomorrow what that future is, because I can assure him that the morale in Bomber Command today could not be lower. Those men need propping up; they require some encouragement in a practical way. The young men in that command are the elite of our country today. They have been keyed up to do the job for which they have been trained for several years. It will be a great tragedy if they are not to fulfil the role for which they have been trained.
I want now to refer to the French effort with the deterrent. This is something which has disturbed me for some time. When General de Gaulle was offered Polaris, I imagine it was not a very genuine offer because he could not make the warheads. He had to say "No", and everybody knew he would have to. Indeed, it would have been better if the offer had not been made. But he is going ahead to provide France with a deterrent, first of all a free-falling bomb and afterwards a stand-off weapon. No one should underestimate the capabilities of the French electronics and aircraft industries, for they are extremely able, and they may produce something quicker than we or the Americans think. That is something else to bear in mind. If the French bring about such an achievement and we have not got a deterrent, where will Britain be? I have seen Britain pushed around enough on other things. If we are to be allowed to be pushed around by General de 1073 Gaulle, that is just about the end. I hope that the Government will take these matters into account.
An hon. Member opposite talked about conventional weapons and conscription. I hope that conscription will not come about. We have achieved great success with our recruitment, and we should continue on that line.
I would tell my right hon. Friends that I want us to have a deterrent, and I should like us to do it in the most efficient and cheapest way possible. They should put everything they have into it to make it work and give us something of which the people of the country will be proud and by which they 1074 will be reassured. If my right hon. Friends do this, I am sure they will meet with the approval of the great majority of the British people. I am convinced that the great majority want a deterrent.
I hope that the Labour Party will think twice about the Amendment, which is not in the interests of the country. The right hon. Member for Belper, who made a very fine speech, did not, however, speak with his usual conviction on this subject. I do not think his heart was in it.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.