§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move.That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1964, contained in Command Paper No. 2270.We are about to embark upon the series of debates which we hold customarily at this time of the year upon defence. We start with what is in the nature of a Second Reading debate over the whole field of defence, and then we move on to debates on the separate Services. At least, this is the practice that we have hitherto followed. I have, perhaps, some doubt whether it is an ideal arrangement.
I have sometimes wondered, and I think that it is a matter for the House, whether at some stage we could not move over to having a Second Reading debate and then going on not necessarily to individual Services but to discussing the specific rôles that we carry out, having, for example, a debate on our rôle in Europe, a debate on our rôle in South-East Asia, a debate on the whole question of the deterrent, or a debate on defence finance. There are many debates which the House could usefully hold.
In any event, at the moment we are having the general Second Reading debate. I have always felt that this is not a particularly easy debate to open. The canvas is rather too large, and the problem is to decide what to put in and what to leave out.
I suppose that during the debate we shall have some talk about the rôle and purpose of Britain's Armed Forces, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides may make some reference to the rôle which our Armed Forces have, in fact, been discharging in recent months, which is a very honourable one. No doubt we may proceed from that to the question of what kind of Armed Forces we require for such a rôle, whether we should rely, in the main, on voluntary forces or whether we should seek perhaps larger forces upon a compulsory basis. No doubt we shall also have some discussion on how these forces should he equipped, and I should like in due course to say something about 443 that and the manner in which that equipment is financed. Finally, I have never known a debate on defence when we did not spend some time talking about the problems of the nuclear side.
I should like to spend just a few moments on the possible rôles and tasks which are placed in front of us, because, unless there is that background, it is a little difficult to go on to the details. There are various rôles for which we prepare. One is the nuclear rôle. I think that the human imagination boggles at the idea of nuclear war, and I think that most hon. Members would share that view. It would seem to any normal man beyond the bounds of credibility that human folly could move to a point where the world was to be destroyed with these horrible weapons. Nor am I in the least convinced by those who sometimes argue that some kind of limited nuclear war might be possible, that one can somehow have a tactical war. I have rather a suspicion that if something of the size of a Hiroshima bomb was dropped on a country, people would not stop to argue whether it was a tactical or a strategic one.
I have been a little doubtful whether the idea of options in nuclear war, at least for this country, was a very realistic conception, that one day one would try to take out the missile sites, another day the centres of communication, another day the smaller cities. As far as this small island is concerned, nuclear war is nuclear war. So my conclusion about nuclear war is, first, happily, that it is unlikely, and, secondly, and importantly, that it cannot really be considered as a method of waging war, but can only properly be considered in its real terms, in the terms of a deterrent to war. There can be no other real purpose in nuclear equipment. Later, I will deal with the other problems about it and the debates and issues that arise.
The second rôle which I suppose we have to consider is what I might describe as the large-scale conventional war. In fact, large-scale conventional war is also, happily, unlikely, and it is unlikely precisely because there is every probability that large-scale conventional war would at a fairly early stage escalate into nuclear war. The House is familiar with the arguments about strategy in Europe, 444 which I take as an example—the broad view, on the one hand, that one has a trip-wire and the moment the enemy crosses the trip-wire one drops everything on him, or the argument that one should attempt a prolonged conventional war.
I have heard these arguments in many assemblies in the past. The truth is that there has been no commander of the N.A.T.O. forces that I have known who has not realised that at a fairly early stage, if there was a major conventional assault upon Europe, some tactical nuclear weapons would be used, and that there was a real and great possibility of that kind of exchange escalating into major thermo-nuclear war. This is one of the reasons why large-scale conventional war in Europe—or anywhere else—is, on the whole, unlikely.
Nevertheless, conventional arms are necessary and, in some real sense, are part of the deterrent, just as are the large-scale widely-flung alliances of which we are members, and which are supported by all parties in the House of Commons—N.A.T.O., CENTO, and S.E.A.T.O. That is why we spend over 90 per cent. of all the substantial moneys we spend on defence in this conventional field. This is why today we are keeping one-third of our Army, in round terms, on the Continent of Europe—and, whatever criticisms may be voiced elsewhere, there are very few Europeans today who would question that we are making a very big contribution, at a moment of great difficulty, to the defences of our allies on that Continent.
Therefore, if nuclear war is unlikely—and, as I think, large-scale conventional war—I come to the more likely rôles that are broadly in the field of limited war, or action in support of the civil power, or counter-insurgency, of which there are quite a large number of recent examples. British forces of all arms are today deployed as far apart as Borneo and British Guiana, Cyprus, East Africa and Swaziland, and I believe that the whole House would wish to pay tribute to the manner in which they are discharging their obligaitons in those areas.
I think that it was Lloyd George who said, "You can do everything with bayonets except sit on them". There 445 is a wealth of truth in that statement. I do not over-estimate for a moment what can be done by military intervention, and that time can be gained by military intervention for the instruments of diplomacy to work, for wiser counsels to prevail, for great international institutions like the United Nations to work, but the condition very often is that the military forces should be put upon the ground quickly, and before the debate takes place—otherwise no debate will ever be allowed to take place at all—
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been giving a very reasoned case to show that this expenditure is merely to deal with these very limited actions. Is he telling the House that we are spending over £2,000 million a year and maintaining 432,000 men for such limited actions as these?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I hope that the House will do me the credit of thinking that I shall not go through my speech evading these great points, but it is better to place them in some kind of order. At the moment, I am dealing with this rôle in limited war, and I think that the House will wish to pay full tribute to the rôle our Forces are performing there.
They are forces of all arms, knit closely and, I believe, effectively, together. In the Far East, they are under the command of an admiral—Admiral Begg—who has overall responsibility for the great operations there that are enabling, as we hope, a new Commonwealth country to be born in peace. That is their object. They are not there for any personal or national gain—they are there for that other purpose alone. In Cyprus, they are under Air Chief Marshal Barnett, a very distinguished air marshal who has not been referred to very widely in the Press, but who is discharging in an exemplary manner one of the most difficult rôles that could be given to any Service man. In the Middle East, they are under command of a general—Lieutenant-General Harington. All three of these men are from different Services, each has forces of all arms at his disposal, and the training and skills needed for these rôles are very high indeed.
There are two points I would make about these rôles. They depend upon 446 having highly-skilled professional forces available for the job. The advantage of having Regular soliders, most of whom have done a long period of training—Regular units of a really high standard of discipline—is important in all rôles, but particularly important in this kind of rôle, where a mistake can lead to quite a lot of casualties and where quick, disciplined and well co-ordinated action can often secure a peaceful solution at an early stage. Our argument here, therefore, is for professional forces. I am not entering into all the arguments about voluntary enlistment and conscription, except to say that the argument here is for professional forces, not on some theory but on the practical advantages that flow from them.
The other point is that in all these arrangements we must have unified command and a co-ordinated use of all three Services at the same time. I have indicated that men of different Services are in charge in these different areas, and the whole of these operations have been mounted and organised by the Chiefs of Staff operating through the Defence Operations Centre at the Ministry of Defence, and I believe that they have been well done. I am quite certain that there would have been plenty of criticism had any fault been discovered in these particular operations.
I pass from the type of persons and the rôles—
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Before the Minister passes from that topic, he attaches importance, if I understood him, to unified command and the superiority of Regular forces. Does he attach no importance whatever to making absolutely sure that, wherever they are, the units are up to establishment? Does he attach no importance to that? Can he tell the House whether a single unit in Cyprus is up to standard?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I know that the hon. Member takes a great interest in these matters and speaks on them with very great knowledge. He has put a perfectly fair point. Of course I attach importance to seeing that units are as far as possible up to their establishment—not up to their war-time establishment, but up to peace-time establishment. However, if I had to choose between being 8,000 short-5 per cent. 447 short—on the total Army requirement, as I am, on the one hand, and having conscription, on the other, I would choose what I have—first-rate, professional Regular Forces—because, if I may say so, a moment's demonstration is worth an hour of argument. If anyone wants this point to be answered, let him look at what these forces have been doing during the last two months, and are doing at the present time.
I pass to the subject of equipment. No Army in history has even been equipped—or only very rarely—all at once and at the same time. At any moment it is possible to point to any Army and say that this or that bit of equipment is out of date, because equipping is a continuing process. There is a lot of very fine equipment—anyone who has seen our forces in the field would admit that a lot of very fine equipment is available to them—but these problems of equipment, particularly in some of the more complex fields, present any Minister of Defence with some very grave and teasing problems.
I should like to make one or two assertions about equipment. First, I am sure that we must concentrate more and more on what is robust, simple and portable. It is always a temptation to get more and more complicated pieces of equipment which present very difficult problems of maintenance in the field. If they are pressed too far we have the difficulty caused by other problems which arise, whether it be in respect of helicopters or light portable radio sets for communication in the field, which are the be-all and end-all of many of the kinds of operations in which the British forces will be engaged in the future.
The next thing is that forward ideas for complicated weapons systems are extremely uncertain. This is true of all parties and all countries. We must be a little slow before we apportion too much blame in this direction. Everybody's experience in this field is the same. It is due to the fact that we are constantly asking our technicians and our industries—and we have some magnificent industries in this connection—to solve problems which are right on the frontiers of our present knowledge, or even a little beyond them at the 448 time when we ask. When we ask men to do things of that kind it is not easy to estimate the cost.
Thirdly, there is no quick solution. There is no special organisation which we can set up which will solve the problems and which will make it certain that everybody estimates these things accurately in the future. But we must have an absolutely ruthless examination of operational requirements. We must not agree to everything that we are asked for; we must cross-examine those men who quite properly want the best for their Services, and make absolutely certain that the capability of sending television pictures back in the dark, and the rest, is essential for the particular operations which are likely to be necessary.
Equally, I have a certain amount of cynicism—I hope that I do not use too strong a word—about the technical solutions which are put forward by industry, because it is possible to solve almost any problem if enough money is spent. Therefore, moderation both in relation to operational requirements and also to technical solutions is necessary.
Lastly, and importantly, there is a limit to what we should attempt. In these matters full consideration must be given, under any Government, to the problems of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We can devise defence policies with an unlimited financial ceiling. That is quite easy. The real problem, and the test of defence policies, must be the ability to contain this expenditure within some reasonable financial ceiling. Next year we shall be spending about £2,000 million upon defence, and it will be, as it is this year, not much in excess of 7 per cent. of the gross national product.
This is less that some other countries spend. It is substantially less than Russia spends and less than the United States spends. It is less, as a proportion of the gross national product, on constant prices, than was spent in 1952–53, when we were benefiting from the rearmament programme set in train by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). We were then spending 9–8 per cent. of the gross national product, or, at 1964 prices, £2,200 million. Even in the previous year, 1951–52, when 449 I believe the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for guiding some of our efforts in this field—it was the last year of the Labour Government—over £1,900 million was spent, at constant prices.
We must tailor our aims to keep broadly within the figure of 7 per cent. To be fair, it must be said that the rearmament programme which was initiated by the Labour Party—I am not making any criticisms about this—was initiated largely in the light of the Korean War and the problems of that time. We have problems now, and we also have a rearmament and re-equipment programme and are constantly pressed to enlarge upon it. But the proportion of "spend" as a proportion of the gross national product has declined fairly substantially.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I am interested in what the Minister is now saying, because I vividly recollect the speech that he made when he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I want to recall his words. He said that the country had gone on from crisis to crisis and that we were spending beyond our capacity and would have to do some fresh thinking. Will he tell us whether he still accepts the point of view that he then expressed?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Every hon. Member is happy to have his speeches quoted on any occasion. [An HON. MEMBER: "That one?"] I am happy to have that one quoted. What I am saying now is in line with what I said then, namely, that there must be financial discipline in expenditure. As we put in some things, so we must exclude others.
I want to say a few words in reference to future developments in aircraft, as mentioned in the Estimates. In relation to the announcements that I make about future aircraft development, the "spends" which they involve are included in the Estimates. If there is anything here which is not, I shall say so. Obviously, the "spend" in the Estimates this year is relatively small—this is always the case with large developments—but it grows as costings proceed.
I believe that the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) thought for one moment that I had managed to get 450 this in a little later, and bounced the Treasury, but you have to get up a little earlier in the morning to get round the Treasury, at least under the arrangements that we have on this side.
I now turn to the aircraft side. The aircraft that I am talking about are those which will be coming into use and full employment from 1970 onwards. Aircraft development is a continuous process. We have the feasibility study, the project study, and technical examinations of various kinds. I am not referring to new aircraft. When I say that we are proceeding with something it means that we are going to full development on it, but it is always subject to contracts—to negotiations and to constant technical evaluation—and I do not want anything that I say to enable others to say, "That is all right; they have decided on that one". My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation would be stringent about the contract requirements that he would impose in respect of any contract, and with any of these aircraft a constant examination and technical evaluation must take place.
I start with the Hunter replacement. The Hunter is a ground attack aircraft, and the aircraft that we want to replace it is a ground attack aircraft capable of some daylight interceptor rôle. It will be a costly replacement, on any estimate. It will have a V.S.T.O.L. capability—that is, a capability of taking off, if necessarily vertically, but, at any rate, over a short distance—and the House will realise that the United Kingdom is in the lead in this field. We are in the forefront, and it is right that we should take advantage of this development.
We were in the lead and are in the lead in respect of the P1127. An evaluation squadron is being developed, in which the Germans, the Americans and ourselves are joined together. This will be very valuable. One thing that we have been doing in respect of these aircraft is to study wherever possible whether we can carry out some joint project, especially with our European allies. I do not rule out the possibilities of co-operation of that kind in future. I believe it is of very great value, because it is a difficult thing to achieve for reasons well known and which I shall not enter into in detail.
451 I have also studied the possibility of a common aircraft, and I make no apology for having done so. It would be a magnificent achievement if we could get a common aircraft in this rôle for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. I have had every help from the Admiralty and the Air Council that I could possibly have on this. They agreed on the characteristics—a really genuine effort was made to get this aircraft—and it went through the studies that we impose on all aircraft, feasibility and project study, and, in the process, our joint judgment was that it was too near the margin—allowing for the fact that weights grow as these aircraft proceed and all the rest—to risk going to full development, and, in those circumstances, we decided not to develop it.
Instead, I propose that we should make the simplest and most robust P1154 that we can, with a Bristol Siddeley B.S.100 engine. The other aircraft in this field, the Sea Vixen replacement—
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has finished speaking about the P1154, but he promised the House last week that he would announce whether the Government had taken a decision, and what it was likely to cost next year and over the next five years.
§ Mr. Healey
Yes, that is what the right hon. Gentleman said at Question Time a week ago. Can he tell the House whether the Government have placed an order with an aircraft company for the production of development models of this aircraft, and, if so, what the cost is likely to be over the next five years?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am absolutely confident that I did not say what the cost would be over the next five years. It has never been said by any Minister of Defence of any Government. The decision I have announced is that we shall go to full development of this aircraft now.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
We never have stated the cost of an aircraft in advance. It has never been done in the history of any defence debate, and the hon. 452 Gentleman knows it perfectly well. One cannot place an order now for the production of an aircraft.
May I say to the House, on this aspect of the matter, that when one reads about these aircraft and hears what people say about them, one almost believes that they exist. They do not exist. They are blueprints. When the hon. Gentleman says, "Place an order for them", may I say that one does not place an order for a blueprint. One goes to development on the basis of the blueprint, and that is what the position is here.
May I now come to the Sea Vixen. It is a more complex requirement than the Hunter. What we require is to make a limited buy, for the Royal Navy only, of an aircraft which on any hypothesis will win practically no export orders at all. In those circumstances, with a limited buy and practically no prospects of an export order because of the specialist nature of the aircraft, one has to consider with exceptional care whether one is justified in going to the full research and development cost of making an aircraft of that kind.
In these circumstances, while I have not the slightest doubt that it is possible to develop such an aircraft with all the resources of the British aircraft industry, undoubtedly the most attractive solution is the Phantom aircraft, powered with a Rolls-Royce engine. Subject to proper negotiations, and subject, of course, to the technical evaluation which is necessary in this as in any other aircraft, we would propose to adopt this solution in the case of the Fleet Air Arm.
The third aircraft is the transport aircraft.
§ Mr. Healey
The right hon. Gentleman, last Wednesday, promised to give his decisions on these matters and say precisely how they affected the Estimates. This is quite unclear, I am sure, to the whole House. Is it the case, from what he said earlier, that the Government have now decided in principle to buy American 453 airframes for the Sea Vixen replacement and put a Spey engine in it? If so, will this airframe be bought from the United States or will it be manufactured in the British Isles under licence?
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Before my right hon. Friend replies to that question, will he say how many will be ordered and when they will be delivered?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am not giving either the cost or the numbers, because such information has never been given in the House of Commons. As to the Estimates, I have already dealt with that. The suggestion was that for some reason or another there was nothing in the Estimates about any of these aircraft. This is untrue. The Estimates this year include full provision for all the matters which I am announcing at present.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The airframe will be an American Phantom airframe powered by a Rolls-Royce Spey engine. [Interruption.] The House has asked for these decisions and I am trying to give them. I hope the House will listen patiently, because these are important decisions.
I now come to transport aircraft. This is a two day debate and if I say anything with which hon. Gentlemen do not agree they will have plenty of opportunity of dealing with it. The tactical transport aircraft—the Beverley-Hastings aircraft type—will fall to be replaced, and it is to be replaced by an aircraft which, at one time, was called the OR351 and is now known as the HS681. This will be powered by the Medway engine. This, like all the others, will not be produced under production order, until it has been fully developed. A substantial amount of work, which, I think, will interest Northern Ireland hon. Members, will be sub-contracted to Shorts.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of the volume of work?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Not at this stage. I am not going to be diverted into trying to split the work on these aircraft.
As I said earlier, a great deal of publicity is being given about other aircraft, but I believe that as much attention 454 ought to be given to the helicopter. Anyone who has visited any of the theatres in which our troops are operating will recognise the importance of helicopters. Indeed, I believe that in the years to come, just as the cavalry were replaced by motorised transport, so the tracked vehicle will, in certain instances, be replaced by the helicopter.
The tactical lift helicopters, the Whirlwind and the Wessex aircraft, are now coming forward in much larger quantities and we are considering what type of helicopter should in the later 1960s follow that particular type. But that type is giving good service now. It has been a shortage of numbers rather than a criticism of the aircraft which has been our concern, and now they are coming forward.
The Army has a requirement for a light helicopter. There is no doubt but that this requirement should be met. Experiments have been made on this since 1962 in some detail with different types of units. The idea is not to put the helicopter with the Army Air Corps, but to put it out to units and let men who at the moment are using reconnaissance vehicles be turned over to the use of this arm.
Of the light-weight helicopters, three have been suggested. The Howard Hughes is one. It is a good helicopter, a first-class piece of mechanism. It marginally meets the Army requirement. But it does not meet it, in our judgment, with a sufficient margin to make allowances for the alterations which often follow, the carrying of a weapon, the putting on of some armour, and the rest of it. There are two other helicopters, the Hiller and the Bell. In both cases there would be a foreign buy followed by manufacture in this country.
I have had some difficulty in choosing between these two and, accordingly, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation has put them out to tender. I have recently received these tenders and I am at present examining them. I do not, therefore, propose to announce the choice until early next week, when I shall have had an opportunity to examine fully and fairly the arguments in favour of each of these. But I would say that whichever one is chosen the basis would be the same, namely, an 455 order of 50 helicopters from the foreign firm followed by manufacture under licence of 100 of these helicopters in this country.
This will mean that we shall be providing the Army with light helicopters to the extent of 150. It will mean that we shall be able to double at any rate the initial batch in some of the areas, particularly the Far East, where they are most urgently required, during the course of this year.
The aircraft industry will, therefore, have a very substantial load of work. There is the TSR2—no doubt, it will be discussed during this debate—which is a very fine aircraft and a product of which the British aviation industry and the British Services may be really proud. It has great versatility and it can fulfil a number of very important r—les—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
May I finish this part of my speech?
There is the P1154, which is a new and, in many ways, a revolutionary concept, a tactical transport, the HS681, and the helicopters. Bristol Siddeley will be developing the engine for the TSR2 and the Concord, and the BS100. Rolls-Royce will be developing the Medway and the Spey and the vertical lift engine, the RB162. This, on any count, is a very formidable load of work. There are also many orders outside the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. Healey
The Minister promised to give full details. Can he tell the House whether the production programme for the TSR2 has yet been negotiated?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
It has certainly been authorised. Questions should be put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, but I will see that the hon. Gentleman gets an answer.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
It has been authorised; that is the point. Outside the aircraft industry a wide range of equipment is being brought forward. Work on the aircraft carrier—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before he leaves the aircraft industry, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what has happened to the Scout and the Alouette?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The Scout is coming forward now and is to be deployed in the Far East in the early part of this year. My right hon. Friend will speak later in the debate today and the hon. and learned Gentleman may receive an answer from him.
There are large numbers of other instruments of war being ordered, and these make a formidable list of equipment. They will be used to equip all-Regular professional forces of all arms operating under a unified command. So much for the "sword". I want now to turn to the "shield" and to say something about the nuclear side. I will try not to keep the House too long, but I think it right that I should say a few words about the nuclear deterrent.
I think it natural that man should revolt from the concept of nuclear war, and I recognise that many men honourably hold the view that we should have no part in it whatsoever. These are views which men are perfectly entitled to hold and to express. In the Government, we hold a different view. I believe that anybody who honestly and seriously examines these matters must come to the conclusion that today the greatest force for peace is the existence in the world of the nuclear deterrent, because, for the first time—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No, I cannot give way. I wish to say something seriously about this. Others can answer during the debate.
For the first time Governments know that a major war would mean the destruction of the world, and, because they know this, the forces of diplomacy are brought forward at a very much earlier stage in disputes, even in minor disputes. Not to recognise this is to flout reason in a matter of supreme importance. May I look briefly at what nuclear forces are deployed in the world today? At the Economic Club of New York, in one of the most interesting speeches on the subject which has been made for a 457 long time, Mr. McNamara outlined what was available and it is a most formidable armoury. There were about 500 I.C.B.M.s, increasing to 1,700 in 1966, and the formidable fleet of Polaris submarines and thousands, literally thousands, of tactical nuclear weapons deployed on the Continent of Europe. The Russians have a large armoury. The United States has this enormous armoury. Undoubtedly, the French will possess a nuclear weapon, and, it may be, the Chinese.
The question is posed whether, at this moment, we should abandon ours. I wish to make two propositions about that. First, if we do abandon it, do not let us imagine that anybody else will follow suit. I hope that we accept that as a reality of life. The other thing is that if we do abandon it, do not let us imagine that by abandoning our weapon we can get control of someone else's, because we cannot.
Control means an effective voice in the use of something, and we cannot have that. What, of course, men can do, and all nations can do, is to have co-operation in planning and targeting. We should be allowed to share in the cost, and even, perhaps, in the ownership of a weapon. But not in the ultimate control of a weapon or anything relating to the real power. Of course, we share in these other lesser and less important things already, and so do others. Indeed, very largely owing to the subscription by the United Kingdom of the V-bomber force to Europe the most elaborate arrangements have been made to share in this other staffwork, guide lines, targeting and planning in the nuclear committee in N.A.T.O., and in the nuclear staff established under SACEUR, now under the charge of a Belgian officer and Omaha, where SACEUR has Italian, French and Germn officers now serving. Co-operation of that kind could be carried forward and perhaps expanded. Men's thoughts have moved further in this field. The multilateral force is an attempt to bring these matters into a wider sphere of co-operation within the alliance.
Obviously, it has considerable, indeed, great, political attractions if one takes the view of the Americans and the Germans, who are two vital members of the alliance, and we are considering it in all its 458 variety of aspects and its possible variants. We will consider, honestly and openly, not the question whether it is feasible—almost all these things are feasible—but whether it could be justified on a military ground.
Amongst the things we shall consider will be the possibility of using some weapons which are to be brought into force anyway, or for which there is an acknowledged military requirement—the TSR2, the TFX, the Pershing missile or other missiles—and which might be made the subject of mixed manning in a force of this kind.
These studies are proceeding and we are not committed to any particular solution, but the point I wish to make about them is that they all fall short of control in the real sense of the term. Whatever views one holds about them, they are not independent deterrents but are part, in effect, of the main American deterrent.
So we have to consider the question of an independently controlled deterrent and the defence of these islands. I say in all seriousness that the day is passed, as I think we all recognise, when it is possible to defend these islands by conventional means. In days past, we had our "moat" and the Royal Navy for many centuries; and, for a time in the last war, there was, gloriously, Fighter Command to stand behind.
But it is an illusion today to imagine that there is any means known to man which could prevent an armada from the air, either by bomber or missile, getting through and delivering what to all of us would be a wholly unacceptable degree of damage—and that in a country which has stood much damage in its time. It would be beyond the capacity of any country, however brave and determined, to withstand such damage as could be inflicted.
Thus, the only defence we have against a threat of such attack is the ability to strike back, the knowledge that we can strike back at any enemy with an indestructible form of retaliation. There is no other means, and to cast it aside would be a very grave decision.
I make it clear that, if we did cast it aside, we would be casting aside something very formidable indeed. I have read what is said of our V-bombers and their power to penetrate. The 459 Government, in these circumstances, are always under political disadvantage, because there is a limit to what they can say about the defences of the country and about the possible enemy. But I say in all sincerity that no one looking at our V-bomber force from the other side would regard it as anything but most formidable.
The bombers will be succeeded by the Polaris submarines. The keel of the first Polaris submarine was laid today. We have been considering what the size of this fleet should be. It raises complex problems connected with refit cycles and the rest, and it is very difficult to judge. We must judge, for instance, how long it takes to refit a submarine, noting current American practice; the cost, including all weapons, which will be about £70 million each; and how to fit them into general defence costings in the years ahead.
We have come firmly to the conclusion that we should have a fleet of five boats and we intend to have such a fleet. This is a formidable deterrent. It would mean even then—even with five boats and taking into account all the nuclear weapons and armouries of all kinds that we need—that the proportion of nuclear to conventional in our defence spending will remain substantially under 10 per cent.
The best estimates I can make are that in 1964–65 the proportion will be 8.4 per cent.; in 1965–66, it will be 7.6 per cent.; in the late 1960s, about 8 per cent.; and in the 1970s it will sink to less than 5 per cent., because by then the capital expenditure on the submarines will have been completed, as the capital expenditure on our V-bombers has been completed already. We shall simply be reduced to running costs. On any view, all this is a most formidable deterrent, and it would be the gravest possible decision to abandon it.
I recognise that there are some who feel—and all of us hope—that we would never be threatened, or that we would always have an ally at our side. Are we quite so confident that every potential enemy feels the same way about it? Of course, the world can change. We must all strive to make it change from the rather uncertain place it is today. It 460 may be that the Atlantic Alliance will grow or that the conception of a more united Europe will develop, and certainly all our efforts must be directed towards that purpose. If these political institutions grow it may be possible to have some sharing closer even than we have been attempting—and we have attempted a lot. But to abandon the deterrent now, before the discussion has started, before the institutions have even begun the first flicker of growth, would be an extraordinary renunciation.
It would not be an abdication of defence, but of our rôle in the world. It is for those who urge us to abandon it and not for those who say that we should keep it to justify what would seem to be an act of desperate improvidence in a matter of supreme importance.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have spoken of the rôle of our nuclear deterrent and of our conventional forces. I do not hear outside this country any criticism that we are falling down on the job. Rather the contrary. We hold a proud position in the world through our defences. We have answered call after call to take our place in the police rôle. We have played, and are playing, our rôle in limited war in Malaysia. We are still maintaining a continental Army despite all the calls made upon us. We have devised and maintained a deterrent and have subscribed it to our friends.
We have used the influence it has given us for peaceful purposes, in particular in helping to negotiate the Test Ban Treaty. We are setting out in the direction of an even more formidable deterrent which we shall also subscribe to our friends. We are keeping defence costs down to about, and not substantially above, 7 per cent. of the gross national product.
In addition to all this, we are re-organising the central arrangements for defence on modern lines, we are carrying out a very large and wide scale re-equipment programme of all our forces, and we are maintaining the whole organisation upon the basis of voluntary recruitment. This is a policy and record which no Minister need ever be afraid to commend to the House of Commons.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:declines to approve the Statement on Defence, 1964, which reveals that Her Majesty's Government, in asking the taxpayer for the largest military budget in Great Britain's peace time history, bringing its total defence expenditure over twelve years to more than £20,000 million, has still failed to produce an adequate defence policy and provide forces to meet the nation's needs".We have heard a remarkable speech from the Minister of Defence this afternoon. I am thinking not so much of the rather predictable arguments which he used at the end of his speech about the nuclear deterrent, to which I will return later, as of the interesting arguments, often very persuasive, which he used at the beginning of his speech. Of course, that argument bore no relation whatever to the policy of Her Majesty's Government as set out in the Defence White Paper, and even less to the way in which the Defence White Paper was constructed.
A great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said, when he said that the problem of our defences should be considered in relation to the rôle of our forces rather than the Services which provide them, and that we should be particularly conscious of the impact of our programme on our national spending are points which we on this side of the House have made again and again. But, of course, they directly contradict what the right hon. Gentleman presents to the House in the Defence White Paper. I detected in what he said continual echoes of the speech which he made when he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. For one moment I wondered whether this sudden spasm of insight portended his resignation as Minister of Defence, but then I realised that the whole purpose of this introduction was to justify the failure to take any of the decisions on aircraft which he repeatedly promised the House to do in the previous few weeks.
As the Minister pointed out in his speech, there has been a great deal of suspicion, I am afraid, and speculation about the reason why the right hon. Gentleman did not include his decisions on aircraft in the Defence White Paper which, after all, was published only a 462 fortnight ago, and his estimates take account of the decisions, or lack of decisions, which he has now announced to the House. Some of us suspected that perhaps it was purely in order to keep the costs at £2,000 million this year. Others suspected that it was to distract attention from the inadequacy of the Defence White Paper, rather as the right hon. Gentleman saved up his announcement about the central organisation of defence in last year's debate in order that it might act as a smokescreen for the White Paper which we were supposed to be debating then. But some suspected—and this turned out to be the real reason—that the reason why he delayed making these decisions was to prevent the critics from mobilising their strength and deploying it in the debate, because the only firm decision which the Minister presented this afternoon were two sizable orders for foreign aircraft, an order for an unnamed number of Phantom aircraft from the United States, probably 50, which may be produced over here under licence or may. I suppose, be bought as airframes off the peg in the United States but which will be fitted here with Spey engines, and an order, so far not decided, for a foreign helicopter, either the American Hiller or the American-Italian Bell. I hope, incidentally, that as the War Office has already said that its preference is for the Hiller the Defence Minister will stand up to the Foreign Office, to the pressure it is trying to exert for the provision of the Bell.
Let us face it. These are the only two firm decisions which the Minister has announced. They are both decisions to buy foreign aircraft. In both cases parts of them may be manufactured here under licence. This is a very serious blow to the British aircraft industry, above all at the level of design teams. The Minister probably knows that the man largely responsible for the aerodynamic design of the Phantom is an Englishman who left this country several years ago out of disgust at continuous Government interference and shilly-shallying with our own aircraft industry.
I think there can be no doubt that the impact of the decisions which the Minister has announced this afternoon on the British aircraft industry, above all at the level of design, where the Minister knows that we have led the 463 world in the past, cannot be anything but disastrous. What I think was most depressing in the Minister's announcement this afternoon was that he appears already to have taken firm decisions in principle to order American aircraft in substitute for the Sea Vixen and another firm decision to order a foreign aircraft as a light helicopter for the Army, but has not succeeded in persuading any of our allies, in turn, to place orders in Britain for aircraft which our design teams and industry are capable of producing.
It seems extraordinary to announce that we are to buy foreign aircraft a week before the Minister of Aviation is going to the United States to try to negotiate and bargain with the Americans for them to give some orders to the British aircraft industry. Surely, it would have been wise, having delayed so long to announce these decisions, to delay a little longer and to see whether it was not possible to use these offers of contracts for foreign aircraft as a bargaining point with the foreign countries with which the Ministry of Aviation is going to negotiate.
What is most astonishing of all is that it is quite clear from what the Minister has said this afternoon that no further progress has been made towards a decision on the P1154 or the HS681. The Minister was unable to give us any indication whatever of any sizable contracts with any of the firms involved in producing these new aircraft. The only new decision I could detect in this respect was a firm statement by the Minister that the Government have now decided to place an order for the engine of the HS681 with Rolls Royce. Apart from that there was no clear decision. I happen to know that the firms concerned with making these aircraft are disgusted and appalled at the Government's continuous shilly-shallying about their future.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman—I know it is rather distracting—but in case anyone accepts what he is saying as accurate I must point out, of course, that it is quite inaccurate. The authority I have given is for full development contracts to be placed in favour of both these British aircraft.
§ Mr. Healey
It is still the case, however, that contracts have not been placed. All that the Minister has said is that the Government will go on negotiating for the few months before the General Election to see whether a basis for the actual contracts can be reached. In other words, with these two aircraft we are far behind the stage which the Government have reached with regard to production orders for the TSR2.
The Minister has revealed, in order to justify this decision, that the Government have bitten off far more than they can chew and are dodging a decision long overdue for another year in the hope that by that time another Government will be in power with the responsibility for sorting out the muddle. Meanwhile, the Government have produced a Defence White Paper whose whole purpose is to conceal the truth and to prevent Parliament and the public from learning the facts on which a decision must be based.
I note that the Minister chose to include a quotation from Burke in the Defence White Paper. May I suggest another quotation from Burke which might serve as the motto and, indeed, epitaph of the Government in the whole field of defence:Between craft and credulity, the voice of reason is stifled.Both in form and content, the Defence White Paper is two generations out of date. It contains generalisations about war and peace and pictures of soldiers in houses, but no clue whatever as to the cost of the various weapons systems which the Government are proposing to produce, nor, indeed, of their rôle.
In the very first year of the new central organisation for defence all the expenditure demanded is justified in terms of prestige, interests and traditions of the individual Services. The whole thing may serve very well as election propaganda or as a recruiting leaflet, but as a basis for persuading Parliament and the people to spend the highest military budget in history—£2,000 million—it gives no assistance whatever. What one regrets most of all is the absence of any realisation, which the Minister himself revealed in his opening speech, that it is no longer possible for Britain to do 465 everything and if we continue to try to do a bit of everything we shall end by not doing enough of anything.
We have to try now to decide where to spend money in order to get the best interests in world affairs. We cannot approach this task in this House so long as the Defence White Paper and all the Estimates are produced in their present form. The new proposals made by the Estimates Committee in a blue book published this afternoon will not help us either. The Minister was absolutely right in saying this afternoon—we have said it again and again—that the problem of defence at present can be discussed only in terms of the various rôles of a combined service and not in terms of the structure of indivdual services.
It is quite impossible for the House, Parliament and the country to do this properly so long as the White Paper and the Estimates are presented in terms purely of individual services and the old staff manuals which I myself had to learn in the British Army a quarter of a century ago. What is so depressing about the Minister is that he clearly recognises the weaknesses of the present system but has done nothing whatever to correct them. We know that it is possible to present a demand for Government expenditure on defence in a form which is coherent, comprehensible, and which enables Parliament and the people to form correct judgments because the Americans have been doing it for the last few years.
If we look at the statement presented by Mr. McNamara, almost at the same time as our Defence White Paper, to justify the enormous sum requested of the American Congress, we find 170-odd pages of closely reasoned argument relating every item of expenditure to the rôle of the particular combined force to which it relates. There is a detailed account of the cost of every project, related again to its rôle within the mission of a combined force. Above all, there is a careful assessment of the nature of the military threat for which these forces are required and a very careful judgment of the impact of this defence budget on the national expenditure as a whole.
By comparison with this, the Defence White Paper which the right hon. 466 Gentleman has presented to the House gives us no basis whatever on which to form a judgment. Those of us on either side of the House who wish to form a judgment and make a rational criticism or even to give rational approval to the decisions the right hon. Gentleman presents to the country, are compelled to grub around in all sorts of places in order to try to acquire the information on which to base a rational assessment. The central problem facing us—I have said this before, but I make no apology for saying it again—is the fact that the cost of weapons today, both conventional and atomic, tends to rise anything up to ten times faster than our gross national product.
The result is that if any country wishes to keep its defence expenditure as a fairly constant proportion of the national wealth it will be continually compelled to choose between one weapons project and another, between one rôle and another, and even sometimes in most difficult and perhaps tragic circumstances between one Service and another if it is to make an effective contribution in its chosen field.
This is well illustrated by the Defence White Paper itself. Last year our national product went up about 3 per cent. but the Defence Estimates have gone up this year 7½ per cent. compared with last year. We already have an increase in the Estimates two-and-a-half times greater than the increase in the national wealth over the last year. There is a rather po-faced suggestion in the Defence White Paper, in paragraph 25, that we should compare the figures given in the Paper with the Estimates of national expenditure in 1967–68 which were published a few weeks ago by the Chancellor.
I took the White Paper's advice, and this is what I found. The Chancellor in a White Paper presented on behalf of the Government as a whole allows an increase of £267 million in defence spending between 1963 and 1967–68 at constant prices and that this involves an increase of 13½ per cent. in the defence budget in 1967–68 compared with 1963–64. That is an increase of 3½ per cent. a year—rather less, incidentally, than the increase in the gross national product which is estimated at 4½1 per cent. a year. If we look at the Defence White Paper for the first of these four years we find that it has already taken 467 more than half the increase, 7½ per cent., permitted for the four years for which the Chancellor is trying to form an estimate.
If we take the Chancellor and the Government seriously, in the next three years the Ministry of Defence will be able to increase its expenditure by only 6 per cent., by an average of under 2 per cent. a year. Almost the whole of this increase will be taken up by the natural increases in pay and allowances to the Army and the civilian personnel under the Ministry of Defence if we are to maintain recruiting at the present level and give soldiers the same benefits from increases in the national wealth as civilians outside the Armed Forces are certain to receive. In other words, in the next three years if we take this seriously there will be almost no additional money available to the Ministry for new production for new major weapons projects.
This is the reality behind the generalisations which the Minister presented to the House this afternoon, and it is a very serious reality indeed. In this year's Defence White Paper there is no allowance for any major new project over the whole field of defence other than £18½ million for the first Polaris submarine, but the Government have committed themselves in principle to start in the next three years four major new weapons projects, each of which has a cost running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
By 1968 we should have produced the bulk of our Polaris submarines, the average cost of which the right hon. Gentleman admitted this afternoon would be something of the order of £400 million.
If the guess of the Minister of Aviation is right we shall have produced 50 to 100 TSR2 aeroplanes and, leaving out research and development costs—which is by no means over—the cost will be between £100 million and £200 million, even on his estimates, which are far too low. We shall have major expenditure on the P1154 aircraft which from all the information I have been able to obtain is likely to cost on production £2 million apiece and goodness knows how much for research and development, and there will be hundreds 468 of millions for the Beverley replacement as a jet aircraft. Yet at the same time the Government are to spend about £70 million—the Minister gave no figures on this but he can correct me if I am wrong—on Phantom aircraft with Rolls Royce engines as replacements for the Sea Vixen, and millions on helicopters for the Army.
If we believe the White Paper we are also to have major weapons for each of the new Services. The Secretary of State for War will agree that the major equipment for the Army is likely to come in this period as the Chieftains and Abbots and so on roll off the production lines in the next few years. On top of everything else, the Government are to start a new aircraft carrier whose total cost is likely to be nearer to £100 million than £60 million.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
How does the hon. Member relate this criticism of expenditure with the figures which my right hon. Friend quoted? I do not know whether he agrees with them, but they show that in the last year but one of the last Labour Government the expenditure, at present prices, was considerably higher than that in the White Paper and absorbed a higher percentage of the national product.
§ Mr. Healey
The hon. and gallant Member's memory is very short. If he thinks back very hard he may recollect that the last year of the last Labour Government followed immediately the most dangerous crisis ever in Europe, the first Berlin blockade, and coincided with the first year of the Korean war. To correct him on a point of fact, in terms of present prices the sum then was very much lower than it is today. The point which his right hon. Friend was trying to make is that the percentage of the national income was higher, but the actual sum spent was smaller.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The hon. Member has it wrong. I do not blame him for that because the figures are very complicated. When the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was Minister of Defence, the figure was £1,900 million at 1964 prices. In 1952–53, when we were getting the full benefit of the rearmament campaign which the right hon. Gentleman very 469 properly started, it was no less than £2,200 million or £200 million above what it is today, at 1964 prices.
§ Mr. Healey
I accept that correction, because it is not relevant to the point which I am making. 1952–53 was under the Tory Government. If the present Government have decided—and I do not contest this decision—to maintain defence spending at a constant proportion of the Budget, around 7 per cent.—according to the Chancellor's figures, in fact slightly lower—then we cannot conceivably find the money for the projects to which the right hon. Gentleman has committed himself and the Government during the three years ahead. As Chancellor of the Exchequer the right hon. Gentleman resigned on precisely this issue in 1958. The situation today is far worse than when he resigned, and yet he appears to tolerate the situation without a murmur.
The central problem which faces us—and it will face whichever Government comes into power at the next Election—is to decide priorities in defence expenditure according to a political judgment of what is thought to be the likely development of world affairs over the next 10, 15, or 20 years and to decide what sort of forces we are most likely to need and where.
Here again I think that the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in his opening speech. There is no doubt whatever today—and few on either side of the House would dispute this—that we are infinitely more likely over the next 10 or 15 years to need mobile conventional forces for peace-keeping in Africa, the Middle East and Asia than we are to require atomic weapons, tactical or strategic, independent or collective. I believe that we have at any rate some advantage through our experience of the last few weeks and months because it has succeeded in clearing the minds of many of us on both sides of the House as to the likely pattern of world affairs during the decade or two immediately facing us.
I believe there can be no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman is right in suggesting, as he did this afternoon, that overwhelmingly our most important and worth-while job in the 10 or 20 years we can foresee—it is very difficult to look so far ahead—will 470 be not so much the protection of specific national interests overseas as the prevention of anarchy and war in those areas of the world, many of them newly independent, in Asia, the Middle East and Africa and perhaps in Central America, where we and we alone have at present the political right and the physical capacity to intervene effectively.
I believe—and oddly enough the Prime Minister seems to agree with me in a speech which he made recently—that Britain is great and will continue to be great and a world power by performing this immensely important service to world peace and to world order by using her capacity and experience in these parts of the world to prevent misery, to prevent avoidable suffering, and that this is the real rôle for Britain in the years ahead. This is the sense in which we are a great power and a world power.
I think that the whole nation is deeply proud of the rôle which we have played in recent weeks in East Africa and in Cyprus and is proud of the speed and efficiency with which our services reacted to the challenge—and proud, above all, of the conduct of our individual soldiers. I do not believe that there is any other Army in the world which, faced with these extremely difficult situations, would have behaved with the same good humour and restraint. I believe that we have a rôle and a responsibility which challenges all that is best in our national tradition and our national character, and I believe that it is a rôle which is likely to face us for many years to come.
I hope that it will be possible, as the Foreign Secretary suggested yesterday, to create some sort of international police force under the United Nations to help to deal with these problems, but I cannot see the setting up of an international police force leading to any quick diminution in our own responsibility in these areas, because it seems to me that if ever the political situation between Russia and the West so much improves that it is possible to reach agreement on the constitution of a permanent international police force, it will have improved enough to permit Britain to form part of such a force. I therefore see no real prospect of a diminution in our overseas responsibilities as far as I can look ahead. Indeed, 471 the Defence White Paper admits that for the foreseeable future one cannot see how it will be possible substantially to reduce our commitments in the Far East, in the Middle East or in Africa. Even our commitments in Cyprus, which we hope to be very short, may well last much longer than any of us intend.
It is right, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that one can do anything with bayonets except sit on them, but the problem is that once one gets into a place with bayonets it is very difficult to get out of it, and this is one of the biggest challenges to any Government in these parts of the world. The prospect is that the call for British intervention in those parts of the world is likely to increase rather than to reduce in the years ahead. Nobody knows whether there may be a new call for a British presence in the Protectorates. There may be trouble at any moment in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. According to officers I spoke to recently on the other side of the Atlantic, if there is new civil disorder in British Guiana they will require at least two more battalions in that part of the world, and, of course, there is the possibility, which we must face if we are to be realistic and honest about it, of a steady and prolonged increase in our commitments in the Far East.
In this respect I should like to say a word or two about a subject on which I know both sides of the House are uneasy in more senses than one—our manpower capabilities to deal with these threats. This is the central problem which we face at present. I do not agree that the Prime Minister was right when he said in his "Panorama" broadcast a week ago,I do not think that for these kinds of operations you need more troops".In many ways he showed himself as ill-informed of the facts when he made that statement on manpower as he was in the same broadcast when talking about the state of the economy, because he should have known that we have already alerted a brigade of the Rhine Army for service in Borneo, and the Minister of Defence knows better than anyone that we may have to send it away within the next week. In addition, we have alerted 472 a battalion which was allotted to Gale Force in Germany for service in Cyprus. Where I think the Prime Minister was wrong, and, if I may suggest it with humility, perhaps our defence planning since the war has been wrong, is in trying to draw a sharp distinction between what we look upon as police operations and what we look upon as war, as if police operations are things easily within our capability with small regular forces and war is something for which enormous masses of men are required who are called up from the General Reserve after a Royal Proclamation.
What is clear from our experience, particularly in recent months, is that small police actions may grow into large police actions and it is not possible to draw a simple line and say that, if we can limit the number of troops in Cyprus to 6,000, it is a police action; if it goes to 8,000, it is war. The same applies to Borneo; we cannot say that, as long as the number of troops does not exceed 6,000, it is a police action; if it rises to 12,000, it is a war. We know that small police actions grow into big police actions. Most difficult of all, we may have to face eight or nine or a dozen simultaneous actions in different parts of the world. This is the really serious and dangerous problem we face
I do not think that the Minister of Defence dealt fully with the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). The right hon. Gentleman would agree on reflection that there is a serious danger in committing to this type of operation battalions which are many hundreds of men under their peacetime establishment. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the peacetime establishment of a British battalion is something under 800 men. He will recall that the Secretary of State for War told the House in 1959 that he thought that it would be dangerous—that was the word he used—to commit a battalion to military action at a strength of under 700 men.
I challenge the Secretary of State for War to tell the House honestly later tonight how many battalions at present committed in Cyprus have a strength of over 700 men, because my information—I agree that it may be wrong, but I see no reason why we should not tell the 473 truth in the House on these matters—is that several of the battalions committed there are very substantially below the minimum for safety which was stated by his predecessor in 1959.
§ Mr. Wigg
It is right that the Secretary of State for War, on 3rd March, 1959, said that in Cyprus battalions must have a strength of 700. He allocated 11,000 to the teeth arms for that purpose. When my hon. Friend asks the Secretary of State for War to say how many battalions are over 700, let us keep the party clean. Do not ask him an impossible question like that. Ask him how many battalions there are that are 600 strong.
§ Mr. Healey
As always, my hon. Friend has been extremely helpful to both sides of the House in his intervention. I believe, as I have said many times in these debates, that we must give priority to the recruiting, equipment and mobility of our Regular forces. I believe that the recruiting figures are very worrying at present. They were 450 down last month. The right hon. Gentleman will know that during the coming year, owing to the termination of a large number of six-year engagements, we shall have to run very hard in recruiting to keep where we are.
In a situation like this, I should have thought that the Minister of Defence would give an absolute priority in his defence programme to those elements in the budget which contribute to the size and efficiency of our Regular forces. Yet we find that the War Office demand for housing has been cut by nearly half. It is perfectly true that there is an increase of, I think, £1 million in the allocation for family housing in the Armed Forces, but the Minister of Defence must know—if not, the Secretary of State for War will tell him—that this means that we shall just about keep pace with the housing list in the Armed Forces at present. Nothing deters recruiting more, not only of married men, but also of men who hope to become married, than the knowledge that if they join, they have very little chance of finding a place to put their wives and families, particularly when they have to go abroad and be, perhaps for a year at a time, away from them.
I was very interested to see in the Defence White Paper a suggestion that 474 there should be a substantial increase in recruiting into the Royal Navy. If this were recruiting into the Marines, this could do something to help our manpower situation. I hope that the Minister of Defence, or some Government spokesman, will say whether any of that increase in naval recruiting will be of forces available for general purposes, or whether all the permitted increase in naval recruiting is intended to provide personnel for the Polaris submarine programme.
I should like to see the R.A.F. Regiment intake increased, because this, again, is a force which might well be used for general purposes. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Air, who I understand intends to speak tomorrow, can tell us something about the availability of the airmen under his command for the sort of peace-keeping rôle to which we have been referring.
All of us on both sides of the House are delighted that the Government have decided to maintain Gurkha recruiting up to a level of 15,000, if possible, but we would like to know whether the Government propose to try to increase recruiting of Commonwealth nationals, particularly for some of the non-fighting arms of the Services, where there is at the moment a shortage of recruits. This should be absolutely the first priority in the Government's programme, but there is no indication of it whatever in the White Paper. Indeed, as regards Army housing, there is an indication that other things have taken priority over recruiting.
Equally important with recruiting is mobility, because speed saves troops in every sense of the word. A battalion got to a point of conflict in half a day is worth a brigade got there a week later. We have been extremely fortunate, and we pay tribute to those responsible for planning things this way, in being able to get troops very quickly to some of the recent trouble spots. However, the Minister of Defence must know that, on our present air and sea mobility, we cannot count on being so fortunate in future. I believe that one of the grave and crucial weaknesses in the whole of our defence system is the lack of any really effective strategic airlift other than the ten Belfast planes which we have ordered. The Minister of Defence did not refer to this. 475 I am sure that he must be as worried as all of us are at the possibility that we cannot be sure that by the end of this decade we shall have any Mediterranean bases through which to stage. The decision announced by the Libyan Government not to renew their agreement with us and the United States poses a very serious problem. I should have thought that one of the things to which the White Paper would have given priority was a really long range strategic freighter such as the United States already possess in large numbers but which we so far do not possess at all.
Then there is the terrible shortage in tactical lift. For months we have been arguing the need to give priority to helicopters. One thing we all welcomed in the Minister's statement this afternoon was the decision—I hope that it was only the start of a process—to order 150 light helicopters for the Army.
The point I would make is that all this is very expensive indeed. Nothing costs more than mobility, particularly the sort of mobility that makes us less dependent on fixed bases. I think that the most expensive component in all the American armed forces is their airlift capacity and their sea-carried brigade in the Mediterranean. It is no good imagining that we can do all these things and go on doing all the other things we have been trying to do and still keep the defence budget at anything like 7 per cent. of the total national wealth.
Let us not forget that, if we are to have a really effective military capacity outside Europe, we must provide air cover for it in the form of naval aircraft. It is no good having just one aircraft carrier floating around, because there is no guarantee that it will be in the right place, or indeed not in dock, at the time when it is needed.
If we are really going in for air cover, whether we build one or two very large carriers, as the Government seem to propose, or whether we build many small carriers or a new form of vessel with V.T.O.L. aircraft aboard, we are likely to incur very heavy costs. These commitments are commitments which we cannot avoid and which in my view, and it seems to be the view of both sides of the House, we should not seek to avoid in the years 476 to come. They are commitments which have value not only to us, not even primarily to us, but to the West as a whole and, as I believe, to humanity as a whole.
The possibility of anarchy in Africa and Asia is probably the greatest and most serious threat to world peace in the period immediately facing us. It is also vital for us to make a contribution to the defence of N.A.T.O. in Europe, although—and I am sure that the Minister will agree with me—our N.A.T.O. allies should recognise that the contribution we make by maintaining the capacity for intervention outside Europe is of no less value to the West—indeed, in practical terms, is of more value—than troops who are on manoeuvres somewhere in the North German plain.
What is urgently necessary—and this was another disappointing omission from the right hon. Gentleman's speech—if we really believe that both sides have recognised that war is far too dangerous to undertake in central Europe, is for us to press for a revision of N.A.T.O. strategy to meet the new situation; to agree on N.A.T.O. strategy which is appropriate to the forces and intentions of the Russians as we believe them to be today and not to the forces and intentions that we believed to be prevalent 10 or 15 years ago.
We must remember that strategy in Europe must be compatible with the negotiation of some form of arms control with the Soviet Union because there is no doubt—and there is no difference between the two sides of the House on this issue—that, in the new situation nuclear war has become unthinkable and any serious war in Europe must be nuclear So there is an overwhelming case for trying to achieve security in Central Europe by attempting co-operation with possible opponents to get arms control rather than competition in an arms race.
If we give priority to mobile conventional forces in a peace-keeping capacity and make a relevant contribution to the N.A.T.O. defence of Western Europe, what is left for us by way of atomic weapons? I will leave the wider arguments on this to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who will speak in the debate tomorrow. I will concentrate on the question of cost, value for money, within the total of our defence programme. I will run over 477 what we are now spending and are likely to spend if the determination of the Government to produce an independent deterrent remains an absolute element in their defence policy—even if we accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we spend only between 7 and 10 per cent. of our defence budget on an independent nuclear deterrent over the next 10 years.
First, the M.L.F. I know that the Minister of Defence is as repelled by this idea as are most of my hon. Friends. I only wish that he had pushed his case more effectively in the Cabinet. The only suggestion I would make to him is that if this idea is ever accepted by the British Government, since its whole motive is political and not military, its costs should be carried on the Foreign Office Vote rather than on the Defence Vote. That would make it a great deal more tolerable to many of us.
Let us consider the independent nuclear deterrent so-called. According to the right hon. Gentleman it is going to be based on the V-bombers until about 1970 or 1972. We all know that the V-bombers are unlikely to be able to penetrate Soviet territory even now with free-falling bombs. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing, therefore, to equip half of them with the Blue Steel missile, which has a reported range of something like 150 miles when launched.
According to the previous Minister of Defence, speaking when Skybolt was all the rage, the Blue Steel missile would be incapable of penetrating the Soviet defences by 1965 at high level. Now, suddenly, we have the transformation of a high-level V-bomber force into a low-level force. I hope that we will be given more information about this than so far has been vouchsafed by the Press. I am not an expert on aeronautical matters, but the editor of Flight is. His comment on the Bomber Command briefing on this matter was that "to suggest that negligible modifications" in the V-bombers "could turn them into low-level attackers was to ignore the fundamental aerodynamic structural engineering facts". This may not be true, although it may be. We should be told. All I know from reading Mr. McNamara's statement to the American Congress is that the Americans are converting their B52s, their major strategic bombers, into low-level bombers— 478 although the cost per aircraft of this conversion is in the region of £1 million per aircraft.
The sort of poetry which we got in "Golden Eagles which can skim the ground" at the Bomber Command briefing is no substitute for power or performance and many people feel rather unhappy about the possible life of the V-bombers if they are going to be used at low-level. But if Bomber Command is right about this, why the hell did Her Majesty's Government nearly walk out of N.A.T.O. when the Americans cancelled Skybolt, because the whole case for Skybolt was based on the assumption, repeatedly expressed in this House, that the V-bombers would have no future after 1965 unless they possessed a stand-off weapon capable of being launched from outside the area of air defences of the Soviet Union?
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
When the hon. Gentleman compares the British V-bomber's performance at tree-top level with that of the American B52 he must remember that he is wrong to make the comparison and that the B52 has under-slung engines and an entirely different power construction. If he consults his technical friends he will find that the British V-bomber lends itself with comparatively little modification to this conversion.
§ Mr. Healey
I have consulted my technical friends, who entirely disagree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. They agree with the editor of Flight. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Air will give us more information about this when he speaks tomorrow. In addition, the V-bombers, even if they can penetrate the Soviet defences, must be able to get off the ground. The Americans, again, are increasingly worried at the possibility of attack from missiles launched from submarines. Our potential dispersal bases are more vulnerable to this form of attack than are the American bases, which are far deeper in the heart of the American Continent. I would like to be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that the only defence against this so far is a form of airborne alert which is appallingly expensive and which Bomber Command in this country has repeatedly rejected on financial grounds when this system 479 was discussed with the Americans in the past.
On top of all that there is the growing vulnerability of even low-level aircraft to new forms of defence. The American Red Eye, even in its rudimentary form, had a 5 per cent. success in recent tests. We are now talking about what the Russians will have in five or 10 years' time. We hear that we are developing the Aramis with the French, a form of protection against low-level attack and which, we understand, will be operationally effective by 1970. If we can do that what reason is there to expect that the Russians will not be able to do it? Incidentally, this form of defence will be just as effective against the TSR2 type of attack as against low-level attack by aircraft such as the V-bombers.
I suggest that, far from the Bomber Command figures being correct, in claiming we can maintain an effective V-bomber force for an independent nuclear attack by 1970 at a cost of about 2 per cent. of the total defence budget, we will have to double the existing cost of maintaining the V-bombers to give them an effective penetration capability and to give them ability to get off the ground before there is attack, possibly by submarine weapons.
The only other components in our whole independent deterrent is the five Polaris submarines which the right hon. Gentleman revealed to us this afternoon. Both his immediate and his penultimate predecessor told us that they were not choosing the Polaris because they believed that it was or soon would be vulnerable to new detection methods coming into development. This, like so many arguments made up by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, seems to have no truth in it whatsoever. There is no guarantee that the present Minister of Defence is any more a respecter of the facts than were his predecessors on this matter, but the important point is that when we get the Polaris submarines, although they are undoubtedly extremely effective and as far as we can tell invulnerable to attack, they have certain major disadvantages from the political and military point of view.
They are, from the military point of view, quite incapable of being used for 480 any purpose except strategic nuclear attack and this, after all, is the situation which the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister has said is the least likely that we shall ever have to face and which we could not conceivably face alone. There must be some doubt also, because it is expressed in the White Paper, as to the extent to which genuinely we could operate these independently if we wished. I imagine that the White Paper was very carefully drafted and certainly carefully read by the Minister of Defence before it was published, but it says in paragraph 8 thatThe Polaris submarines will be built in British yards and, although the delivery system is American, the nuclear warheads will be British and free from all control by any other power.Anybody who reads that must assume that the delivery system will not be free from all control by any other Power. It would be nice if we had this matter cleared up.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Since some who flinch from attacking our deterrent prefer to create a smoke-screen and say that it is not independent or we cannot control it, I am very happy to say that these submarines are completely under our control, with their missiles. Could I ask the hon. Gentleman an important and straight question? Will he cancel them or not?
§ Mr. Healey
The right hon. Gentleman is very good at smoke-screens himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer the question. I cannot say yet whether or not we will cancel the Polaris submarine. What I will say is that we will certainly not continue the programme in its capacity as an independent British force and, secondly, if we decided that there was no alliance requirement for a British Polaris component we would not have the slightest difficulty in converting these submarines into hunter-killer submarines, a programme of certain and immediate value to the British Navy and to national defence which has been set back five years by the Polaris programme.
§ Mr. Healey
No, I am sorry, but I will not give way. I put the question 481 to the Minister of Defence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not answered."]—I know that he has not answered that question. He never does. President Johnson proposed to the Soviet Government a few weeks ago that the number and type of strategic delivery systems should be frozen in the first stage of a disarmament agreement. This proposal was repeated by the Foreign Secretary, as I understand, yesterday. Does this mean that the Government would be prepared to forgo the Polaris programme if the Soviet Union and the United States would be prepared to freeze the number and type of strategic delivery systems?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
We are content with the fleet of five Polaris submarines. I will repeat my question. Does the hon. Gentleman intend, if his party gets to power, to cancel the Polaris as an independent deterrent?
§ Mr. Healey
I have said, and my Party has repeatedly said, that we do not believe that it is a necessary or a sensible use of our resources to spend more money on retaining an independent nuclear capacity. We have repeatedly said that we have no interest in the Polaris programme as a contribution to an independent British deterrent. Whether it is of any value as part of an alliance effort we cannot make up our minds until we negotiate the question with the United States. Would the right hon. Gentleman, who, after all, is believed to be the Minister of Defence in the existing Government, answer the question I put to him? He knows that he has not got the Polaris submarines now. Will he be prepared to forgo a fleet, which will not come into existence for another four years, according to his own account, if in the meantime the Soviet Union and the United States agree to freeze the number and type of strategic delivery systems?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
There is no question and no proposal whatsoever that the United Kingdom should in any circumstances forgo the five Polaris submarines. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I have answered the question. How would the hon. Gentleman justify what is the large cost of the Polaris fleet not as an independent deterrent but only to be used in circum- 482 stances other than the defence simply of this country?
§ Mr. Healey
I will answer that question. Speaking personally, I do not believe that it would turn out to be a wise use of our resources to make this contribution, but if it did I would justify it on the same ground as any other contribution to the alliance. The right hon. Gentleman, and the Government of which he is a member, must make up their minds whether they believe in alliances or not. Let me quote to the right hon. Gentleman the words of the Prime Minister, because they answer his question better than I could hope to do.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that he thinks that an atomic attack on this country is the least likely of all contingencies. He has also said that if it came we could not hope to meet it alone. I will quote the Prime Minister's words, which were used at Ottawa less than a year ago, and I will ask the right hon. Gentleman whether or not he agrees with them. This is what the Prime Minister said:A Russian missile threat against Britain would be so colossal that it could be deterred only by the combination of United States and British nuclear forces.Does the Minister of Defence believe that or not? That is the crux of the question. This is what we believe on our side of the House. This is what the Prime Minister believes when he is talking to our allies. It is only when the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence are wrapping the Union Jack round themselves to make election propaganda that they take a different view. Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question? Does he agree with the Prime Minister or not? I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman to enable him to reply.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I do not want to take too much of the time of the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am going to reply to this, with the permission of the House, and I may elaborate on it in more detail later. But I would say in all seriousness to the hon. Gentleman—and I know that he and his party have taken the view that we would never be threatened alone or if we were we would always have an ally—that to assume that 483 any enemy would hold that view for all time is to gamble with the future of the country.
§ Mr. Healey
The right hon. Gentleman has dodged this question, as he has dodged every other important question in the debate. I go back to my fundamental point about the economics of defence. There is not the slightest doubt that if we try to maintain an independent nuclear force, the technical problems which it presents will force us to spend a steadily rising percentage of the defence Vote on it at a time when we are compelled to spend a steadily rising proportion of the Vote on a contribution to Europe and on your peacekeeping capacity overseas. Yet this is a force to meet the least likely of all threats and one which we could not meet alone, as the Prime Minister said last year.
The trouble about this type of expenditure is this. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Lloyd George, and it is true that one can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it, but you can do nothing with a hydrogen bomb except sit on it. I cannot help feeling that, in his attachment to a force which could never be used alone and is most unlikely to be used at all, the right hon. Gentleman is tying up a percentage of the defence Vote and defence manpower which will make it totally impossible for this country to carry out its obligations to the alliance or its r—le in the world. The Government know this as well as we on this side do, but they are frightened to face the electoral consequences of admitting the truth.
The Government have taken a risk already on resale price maintenance, and they are not prepared to take one electorally on the infinitely more important question of the nation's defence. The result is that they are passing the "buck" to the Government who take power after the election. They are trying to smother this all-important issue by talking about a nuclear independence which they know they are most unlikely to be able to achieve and which they could never use, in fact, if they achieved it.
If the Government want to fight an election on a programme of atomic jingoism, we are quite prepared to defeat 484 them on that programme as on any other. But I honestly do not think that the nation will gain by the argument, and I am certain that our defences will not gain by the argument. Meanwhile, I appeal to the House to reject a Defence White Paper which is totally incompatible with the Government's economic policy, which directly contradicts the fundamental principles of the Government's own foreign policy and which totally fails to meet the needs of national defence.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Both the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence have covered a very wide canvas. They have dealt, in descending order of reality, with limited wars overseas, which I believe are likely to grow in seriousness rather than diminish, with large-scale conventional war in Europe, which I believe is a much more remote contingency, and, lastly, with a nuclear outbreak, which I regard as the remotest contingency of all. I agree entirely with the order of importance in which the three were set, and I trust that neither the hon. Gentleman nor my right hon. Friend will regard me as inverting the order if I confine my remarks to the last, the nuclear threat.
I do this partly because it is a subject of active debate outside the Chamber and we all have a duty to try to think our way through it, though I confess that I find enormous difficulty in thinking my way through, and partly because I believe that both the public debate outside and my right hon. Friend's speech today have somewhat mis-stated the question.
I do not believe that the question is whether or not we should suddenly stop making nuclear arms. This is not a practical question. I do not think that it is practicable suddenly to stop an enormous physical effort of this kind. I believe that the real question is much more subtle and much more difficult, namely, whether, and in what circumstances, this country should give up its right independently to use nuclear weapons. This is the question which I wish to deploy to the House, but, before doing so, I shall briefly look at 485 the facts of the deterrent or, rather, the evolution of the facts.
We can distinguish four phases. Phase I was the V-bomber-cum-Blue Streak phase, the phase of weapons which were almost wholly British. I say "almost wholly British" because the information about Blue Streak was derived from the United States and it was tantamount to being a United States weapon, but I do not wish to make anything of that. They were almost wholly British weapons and, since they were almost wholly British, one was reasonably free, so far as one can be free in a nuclear alliance, to use them as one wanted to. Phase 1 was the nearest, I suggest, that this country got to full nuclear independence.
We proceeded then to phase 2, the phase of the Skybolt project. In this phase we were to obtain not only information from the United States but we should have obtained, had the project gone through, the weapon itself, attaching to it our own warhead. Immediately, had the project gone through, our independence would have suffered an abridgement, an attenuation, for both moral and practical reasons. For moral reasons, clearly, because, if one relies on an ally for a weapon, one is that much less free to use the weapon in defiance of the ally's wishes. Practically, too, one would have been less free because the more one insisted on one's right to use a weapon derived from one's ally, in defiance of the ally's wishes, the less could one count on the ally to honour his commitment to supply the weapon. So on both moral and practical grounds, in phase 2 we should have suffered an attenuation of independence.
Then we came to phase 3, the phase of the Nassau Agreement. Once again, under the Nassau Agreement, we should have obtained a weapon from the United States and attached to it our own warhead. The arguments which I have just put in relation to Skybolt are equally applicable to the Nassau Agreement, and, for the reasons I gave, there would have been a certain abridgement of our independence. But the Nassau Agreement did something more. Until Nassau, this country retained the right, in the event of an emergency, to commit or not to commit its nuclear weapons to an alliance as it chose. At Nassau, it did 486 something quite different. It decided to assign all its nuclear weapons, present and future, to the alliance while retaining an option to contract out in certain awful contingencies which I shall not proceed to define now. So we placed ourselves, I suggest, under an even deeper obligation than before to take into account the interests of the alliance as a whole, and to this additional extent, therefore, there was a further abridgement of our freedom of action or independence.
Finally, we come to, or, perhaps, are about to come to phase 4. We have not entered it, but my right hon. Friend today endorsed the principle of phase 4, the principle of joint ownership and control of nuclear weapons within the alliance. The Government endorsed this principle in accepting the political desirability as distinct from the military desirability of a mixed-manned seaborne surface force, and I think that my right hon. Friend also accepted and endorsed the political principle of this in the speech which he made at the Atlantic Council last December when, I believe, he spoke in favour of the joint control and ownership of battlefield nuclear weapons. I have not seen the text of the speech. I gather that it was made in camera, but I am told that this is what he said, and, indeed, he more or less repeated it today.
If we carry through with this principle of joint ownership and control of some of our nuclear weapons, if half our nuclear effort is pooled, obviously the resources available for the other half, the independent half, are less than they otherwise would be and the independent half becomes relatively less effective. Once again, therefore, in phase 4, too, there would be a further attenuation of this country's independence.
These, as I see them, are the facts. They show, as I have tried to point out, a constant abridgement of this country's freedom of action, and I do not see how this statement of the facts can be controverted in any way. If this analysis of the facts is right, this country is brought face to face with this question: what do we do? Do we try to go back to phase 1 and try to recover full-blooded nuclear independence? Alternatively, do we try to maintain indefinitely the current situation in which we are 487 almost totally, but not quite, committed to the alliance? Can we indefinitely maintain a position which could be said to be ambiguous? That is a very difficult question. Lastly—and this is the only other possibility—do we accept the logic of this evolution, and are we prepared to go to the point where our commitment to the alliance becomes total? This, as I see it, is the question.
First, do we go back? Do we remount the stream and try to recover full-blooded nuclear independence? As a Conservative, I work within the limits of what I inherit. When I consider that our last three major weapons projects—Blue Streak, Skybolt and the Polaris submarine—have all been derived from the United States, I do not believe it practicable, technologically or economically, to go back to full-blooded nuclear independence. I do not think the tide of history is reversible to this extent.
Even if I thought it practicable to reverse the tide in this way, I should doubt whether it would be desirable, because the attenuation of our independence which I have tried to describe has stemmed in part from a tighter insertion of ourselves into the Alliance. If this is so, by the same token, were we to try to "do a de Gaulle", we should be increasingly detaching ourselves from the Alliance politically as well as technologically. I consider this to be most undesirable for reasons which I shall give later. I therefore regard the course of going back to full-blooded nuclear independence as out.
If I am right in this view, I come to the infinitely more difficult question: how tenable is the current situation in which, on the one hand, we look to the United States for weapons and entrust them to the Alliance, but, on the other hand, claim a right of independent use? My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), when he returned from Nassau on the eve of Christmas, 1962, said in the course of a Press interview:This agreement"—that is, the Nassau Agreement—preserves both the concept of independence and of interdependence".This was perfectly accurate as a still picture, but still pictures are not all 488 that significant. The critical question is: how long is the moving film likely to last? Is this, in fact, anything more than a transition, a twilight or dawn, whichever way we care to look at it? I believe that it can only be a transition.
To my mind, there is here a latent contradiction. I do not believe that the world is quite as illogical as we illogical British try to make it out to be. This contradiction can continue for a long time, but one day it must out.
I invite the House to look very carefully at the case put in the White Paper for retaining in this country a right independently to use nuclear weapons. The case is set out in paragraph 7 of the White Paper. I emphasise that it is a military case, and it is the military case that I wish to consider, and not the diplomatic case, to which I shall come in a moment.
The case is this. An enemy—I will not name the enemy—declaring that it did not intend to attack the United States, might feel that it could with impunity attack Europe unless there were in Europe, or in this country, a centre of independent nuclear decision. This argument can be extended. Suppose that the enemy were to say not only that it intended not to attack the United States but that it did not intend to attack this country either and that all it intended to do was to attack Western Germany. The enemy would know, by and large, this country's diplomacy has been more flexible than that of Western Germany. It might therefore believe—it would be mistaken—that it could with impunity attack Western Germany unless Western Germany either had a bomb of its own of, somehow, could hitch itself to the French bomb. I think that this is a fair extension of the argument.
If I can paraphrase the military case put in the White Paper, it is this. Because at the moment of the test an enemy might think that the Alliance would not stick together, it is desirable for bits of the Alliance each to have a deterrent. In practical terms, I think that that means either a Franco-German deterrent—I do not believe in the practicability of a German bomb, but I believe in the possibility of some kind of German link with France—in addition to a British deterrent, or, at the minimum, it means a European deterrent 489 —in which case the British independent deterrent would be absorbed in it—as well as the United States deterrent. But either way the case put in the White Paper is that there should be within the alliance more than one centre of nuclear decision.
I ask the House to reflect: is it in the military interests of this country to have in the alliance more than one centre of nuclear decision? It is perfectly true, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said today, that if an enemy—say, the Soviet Union—were to attack Western Europe or this country, we, by threatening the use of nuclear weapons, could force the United States into nuclear hostilities against her own will. We could, to use the jargon, act as a catalyst. But—and this is the point—by exactly the same token, if there is more than one centre of nuclear decision within an alliance, others can act as a catalyst against us, too.
I will cite two examples of this which I believe are much more real—although I still hope that they are remote—than the example given in the White Paper. Let me take, first, Western Europe. Suppose that Western Germany were to accept the argument of the White Paper and link itself, for nuclear purposes, with France. Suppose that there were an incident over Berlin. It is possible that Franco-German diplomacy over the incident would be tougher than our own and that the French and Germans together could use their nuclear weapon as a catalyst to force us into hostilities against our will. That is a possibility.
May I take another possibility in a different part of the world, South-East Asia. At the moment, the United States are in difficulties in South Vietnam. It is possible that they may try to retrieve the position by adopting a course of action which could prove provoking to the Chinese, although I agree that the Chinese so far have shown only a watching attitude. It is possible—and I do not say more than that—that in the resulting situation there will be a temptation to resort to the use of nuclear weapons. In such a case, we, as allies of the United States in South-East Asia, would be involved, possibly against our will. It seems to me to be irrefutable that if there is a catalytic value to ourselves in the possession of a deterrent, 490 that value is self-cancelling. What we can do to others, others can do to us.
If one has an alliance with more than one centre of nuclear decision, each looking with suspicion at what the other will do, I do not believe that that alliance will last. It will crack, as, I believe, the Western Alliance is now doing. It is cracking. That is why I do not believe in the indefinite coexistence of interdependence and independence.
There is a second reason, too, why I doubt the military value to this country of having within an alliance more than one centre of nuclear decision. Suppose that something were to happen in Europe. Suppose that we none the less could keep out but that at the end of the day the threat were directed immediately against ourselves. We should be faced immediately with the utterly impossible choice of defeat, on the one hand, or suicide, on the other hand.
The instinct of every Conservative, conscious of the fragility of civilisation, must be to avoid ever being placed in that dilemma: to get away, in other words, from the total nature of the nuclear threat. My right hon. Friend may well be right when he said this afternoon that it may be utterly impossible to get away from the totality of this threat. All we can do is to try. The only way in which we can get away from the total nature of this threat is by mustering all the resources of an alliance so that the alliance's response to any attack is a graduated one. This means that it must be a controlled response. For it to be a controlled response, there must be one single centre of nuclear decision within the alliance.
Therefore, for military reasons, I depart from the White Paper's suggestion that on military grounds it is desirable to have within the alliance more than one centre of military decision. To my mind, that is undesirable, and its undesirability extends to a Franco-German deterrent as well as a European deterrent. All the military considerations point to the desirability of one centre of nuclear decision, both within an alliance and, although this is much more difficult to bring about, as between related alliances, between, for instance, the Atlantic Alliance and the South-East Asian Alliance.
491 If my argument has any cogency, we are then faced with the question: what shall this single centre of nuclear decision be? To my mind, it cannot be a United States national centre. Feeling in Europe has gone much too far for this. Political and economic resurgence in Europe has outrun this. If that is so, we are forced back upon only one thing. All that I wish to do today is to put this forward as an objective. We are forced back upon a single centre of joint decision by major allies.
I shall not discuss today how to achieve that objective. All I would say is that the American proposal for a jointly-owned, jointly-controlled seaborne force, complemented by my right hon. Friend's proposal for a jointly-owned, jointly-controlled tactical nuclear battlefield force, could be an important step towards the attainment of the objective.
I realise that the party opposite in particular thinks that the proposals for a joint seaborne force would complicate the disarmament discussions. If, however, we were to reject the American proposal for a jointly-owned, jointly-controlled force, we should certainly have to put up with the indefinite continuance within the alliance of more than one centre of nuclear decision, and this would be much worse.
I do not intend today, however, to go into the details. I wish merely to state an objective. My right hon. Friend's remarks were a little ambiguous, but towards the close of his speech he came very near to voicing this precise objective. I know that Governments cannot-easily set out objectives. By the nature of things, they must conceal their objectives. I hope that they do not mind, however, if the rest of us who are confined to the unrewarding task of trying to shape opinion at least try to state an objective. I realise, of course, that this objective is very distant. All that my right hon. Friend said about the immense difficulty of realising a goal such as this is quite right. There are tremendous difficulties of public opinion, both in Europe, in this country and in the United States.
I should, however, like to lay down two propositions. The first—and I go along with my right hon. Friend—is 492 that I do not think that public opinion in the United States could ever be prevailed upon to share its power of nuclear decision without a nuclear contribution from Europe. That is why I believe in the desirability, and the continued desirability, of a nuclear contribution by this country, as distinct from the indefinite retention by this country of a right independently to use nuclear weapons, which is different.
In the light of the evolution which I have described, and in the light of the more and more pressing problems of priorities which the hon. Member for Leeds, East described, it is pertinent to ask what our contribution should be and what should be its kind. All I can say is that in the light of the history which I have given, I doubt whether in the longer term our contribution can be by way of strategic delivery systems. It could, however, continue to be by way of strategic warheads and it could continue to be by way of tactical delivery systems and warheads. Roughly speaking, that would seem to be the nature of this country's contribution.
My second proposition is simply that the residual right of independent nuclear decision which we now have could be of diplomatic value in helping this country to secure its proper share in a wider nuclear decision centre. I have felt that this value was at its greatest when our independence was at its highest and that we should have used our independence for this purpose more positively at an earlier point of time. But the water is under the bridge. The right which we retain could still be of value, but if my argument is right its value would be fully realised only in the act of extinction.
Karl Marx propounded the thesis that changing technology changed the configuration of social classes. I doubt whether this was ever true. What is true, however, and what is becoming abundantly truer every day, is that changing technology is challenging the validity of the nation-State as we now know it and as we have known it in Europe for a considerable stretch in our history. This change of technology is forcing us, as my right hon. Friend accepted, into tighter and tighter relationships with other countries.
493 If I may cite a quotation which is given as a preface to a recent address given by Sir John Slessor,Today a great Power's foreign policy can only be a policy of coalition …This is what the whole Common Market argument was about. This is what the argument we had the other day on the emigration of scientists is about. This is what the nuclear deterrent is about. This adjustment of a proud nation-State like ours to a totally new set of circumstances is very difficult. But I believe it to be the great issue of British politics, far transcending any issue of class or public versus private property.
I happen to believe that the supreme task of statesmanship in this country is to lead the country in this evolution. To put the matter on a lower plane, I believe that in this change the political party which best stands a chance of survival is the party which by its utterances now does not at the very minimum cut itself off from this evolution.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)
The House will always listen with very great interest to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) not only because he speaks from the background of his knowledge and experience as a previous Minister of Supply but also because, unlike some of his right hon. colleagues who have spent some time on the back benches, he has given some continuous thought to the problems with which he then had to deal and he has, year after year in these debates, given us the benefit of the application of an extremely logical mind to the real facts of the situation with which this country is faced in defence.
I should have thought that by now the right hon. Gentleman had sustained a completely unanswerable case for the abandonment by Britain of any pretence to trying to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent, a case which is being increasingly accepted by all political parties. I am very glad indeed that my own party was one of the first to accept the view that unilateral nuclear disarmament for Britain not only was a good policy for Britain but would also set an excellent example to the rest of the world.
494 As I understand the right hon. Gentleman, there is a case that in this field, for special reasons, unilateral action can have an effect upon other people by the force of its political example. I have never taken the full pacifist view that by total unilateral disarmament one can, by example, compel other countries to do the same, but in this special field where the nuclear weapon has become much more of a prestige symbol—an unusable power symbol, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has almost defined it—the question of whether one has this prestige symbol or not becomes a political question which influences the political actions of other countries which are interested in seeing what prestige symbols enable countries to exercise real power and influence in the world.
It was because the right hon. Gentleman at the last failed to lead his thoughts on to their full logical conclusion that I have to quarrel with him. It appeared to me that when he went on to argue the case for considering the possibility of some kind of multilateral force in N.A.T.O.—not necessarily a seaborne missile force, a surface force, which everybody agrees is military nonsense—in which the French as well as the Germans and others could share, he was really himself doing what he was recommending other people not to do. He was giving way to the blackmail of nuclear prestige as wielded by de Gaulle. His argument was based solely on the concept that because de Gaulle had followed Britain's example in trying to develop an independent nuclear centre of decision, we had to accept that as a fact and go on and extend the control of nuclear weapons, if not their actual physical ownership and possession, to other countries besides America, Britain, France and the Soviet Union.
As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must realise, this opens the door wide again for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The one thing that I know he has been very deeply concerned about is that there should not be, especially through Britain's bad example, a proliferation of independent nuclear deterrents throughout the world. But if one disseminates nuclear weapons among a number of countries without ownership 495 but with some fiction of joint control, one is in reality encouraging the spread of nuclear weapons, although in a somewhat different form.
Let us look at it in terms of a potential enemy. Let us look at it in terms of the situation of China vis-àvis the United States, because, after all, this is one of the great threats to world peace which we see facing us over the next 10 or 15 years—the possibility of a war, a real war, conventional or conventional plus nuclear, between the United States and China. I should have said that this, in addition to the little local wars to which the Minister of Defence referred, was the real menace facing the future of mankind.
But this, of course, would not be a little local war. It would be a global war which would be destructive of humanity. Therefore, it is this war, above all, that we now have to seek to avoid, and we are very concerned that, in order to avoid reaching that point, China should not get nuclear weapons or become an important nuclear Power. But what will deter China from becoming a substantial nuclear Power? Or what will encourage her?
The Chinese have made their position very clear. In refusing to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty they have said, "In its present form this treaty is merely a plan to freeze the present development of nuclear weapons so that they are retained in the hands of those Powers that already have them—including the United States, which has been our declared enemy ever since 1949. We do not want to have to develop nuclear weapons, but if the United States of America, because of being hostile to us, and because of retaining nuclear weapons in bases off our shores or in the Pacific, with the apparent object at some time of forcing some kind of new political decision upon us, either internal or external, which is the purpose of maintaining national armed forces, we shall have to develop nuclear weapons even if it takes us 10 or 15 years, and even if we have to devote to that work a large part of the resources we would rather devote to building up our standard of living."
Anything, therefore, that contributes to the dissemination of nuclear weapons 496 throughout the world, anything that retains or freezes the present world balance of nuclear power in favour of the United States, is a direct encouragement not only to France, not only to Israel and to Egypt, not only to Sweden and to Indonesia, but also to China to develop her own gigantic nuclear force. Indeed, we now have our Prime Minister, in order to prove his case for retaining a British nuclear deterrent, actually egging on France and China to develop their own nuclear weapons—[HON. MEMBERS: "Really!"] The Prime Minister has twice publicly said it is certain that France and China will develop nuclear weapons, and if that is not encouragement, I do not know what is.
Why should he say that it is certain that China will develop nuclear weapons when the main objective, so I should have thought, of the defence and foreign policies of the rest of the world should be to make it unnecessary for China to develop nuclear weapons of her own? I therefore hope that we shall not have from the Government any more nonsense about trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world, and that we shall realise, too, that there are forces to which we can appeal to help to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Those forces are not so much in the Governments as in the peoples. It was in this country, amongst the ordinary people, that there first started a move for the unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons by this country—not the Government, not even the leaders of political parties. The same thing is now happening in France, where the movement of opposition to the French nuclear force is led by Jules Moch, a former French Prime Minister, and for many years the most distinguished representative of France at disarmament meetings.
He has not only himself opposed this force, but has now succeeded in organising a National Committee of Opposition to the French Nuclear Force. That committee comprises all the political parties other than the Gaullists—namely, the Socialist Parties, the Radical Party and the Communist Party—the trade union movements, the teachers, numerous professional organisations, and the League 497 of the Rights of Man. That is the force that will beat de Gaulle, and make it quite unnecessary for us to give way to his nuclear blackmail that compels us to exchange our rational policy for his irrational policy.
I must say that we have had the most extraordinary shifts in the Government's arguments for the retention of the so-called independent British nuclear deterrent. We have had many defence doctrines put before the House by successive Conservative Ministers of Defence—curiously enough, they have usually echoed, at a respectable distance, the shifts in the defence doctrines of the Defence Secretaries of the United States.
First, in what one might call the Dulles period—although Dulles was not, of course, Defence Secretary; that was the time when the United States Secretary of State had more power than had the Defence Secretary, but the position is now reversed—we had the doctrine of massive nuclear retaliation against almost any kind of conflict. Dulles wanted to use massive nuclear retaliation against the Chinese during the Korean War, and against the Chinese, again, during the war in Vietnam, which was successfully ended by the intervention of Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was. We copied Mr. Dulles, so we had the massive retaliation doctrine in the Defence White Papers presented by the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and others.
Then the Americans began to get worried. They started to collect their defence intellectuals, and to work out rather more sophisticated theories on the use of nuclear weapons in the modern world. They began to elaborate doctrines of counter-force strategy, counter-city strategy, and so on. They made elaborate calculations, and developed the argument about graduated responses, about conventional war, about tactical nuclear war, even about limited thermo-nuclear war and full-scale thermo-nuclear war.
The Government appeared to accept them for the time being, but I am glad to say that the right hon. Gentleman has now completely overthrown them, as has Mr. McNamara himself, and substituted for them the doctrine of the 498 possession of nuclear weapons as an unusable umbrella, under the cover of which to pursue local wars by means of the use of conventional forces. This is the doctrine which Mr. McNamara recently elaborated in his evidence to the House of Representatives Defence Committee.
The United States Office of Information kindly sent us a copy of its Defence Department's summary of the doctrine which Mr. McNamara put forward. By the way, it told us that he was the man with the computer mind, and that his defence doctrine—his nuclear strategy—is elaborated with computer-like logic. So it would appear that the computer, after shuffling all the data about counter-force and counter-city strategy, tactical weapons, strategic weapons, long-range weapons, short-range weapons, high-yield weapons, low-yield weapons, graduated responses and the rest, has rejected it all as being rather indigestible—and, incidentally, found that in these calculations human responses also had to be taken into account, although they are incalculable—and has substituted for it something that is pure machine logic.
In the end, this turns out to be the kind of thing which one can deduce without a computer, and by means of simple arithmetic, namely, the doctrine—and it is set forth in this form; I have not the document with me, but I can quote from it almost from memory—that the United States must have enough strategic nuclear weapons to be able to absorb and beat back a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union, and have enough nuclear power left over to destroy not oily the Soviet Union but also China and all the other Communist countries.
This is solemnly stated as Mr. McNamara's doctrine of the use of nuclear weapons in the modern world. He says that it is on this basis that President Johnson has put forward his proposal to the Geneva Disarmament Conference for a freeze on nuclear weapons at this level, which, he says, will be attained by the United States within about the next 18 months, at which point she will he ready to stop, because she will then be able to destroy the whole world, even after being first attacked by the Soviet Union. At that 499 point it will not be necessary to destroy the whole world, because the whole world will just sit down and surrender to American power. As the doctrine goes on to say, it will therefore be possible to make and preserve peace while using conventional forces in order to deal with the troubles which break out in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
This is the doctrine that we had from the right hon. Gentleman today—a doctrine of nuclear force and nuclear power not as something to be used, not as something whose use could be contemplated in Europe, but as something which stands behind the point of the bayonet which may be needed in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Is not that it? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether that is not the essence of the military doctrine which he put before the country this afternoon, replacing even the doctrine which was laid down in the White Paper, so up to date is it?
It has to be up to date, because it has to catch up with Mr. McNamara and the Prime Minister, who both take the view that the only troubles with which the world is likely to be faced in the future which may prove rather difficult to deal with are those caused by thelesser breeds without the Law,in other words, the formerly subject peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America who have been deprived of the benefits of Western democratic civilisation and are therefore not able to keep themselves in order without the intervention of one of the great nineteenth century Powers.
The Prime Minister suffers from paranoidal delusions about this. He talks about wanting to see the British Army strutting the world stage again, as it did in the nineteenth century. This has a rather serious consequence. Along these lines we can never hope to win the support of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who want to make their social revolutions in their own way, without outside interference.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
May I take it from what the hon. Gentleman says that the Socialist Party opposed the dispatch of our conventional forces to East Africa?
§ Mr. Warbey
No, we did not oppose the dispatch of our forces to East Africa. Those forces were asked for by the Governments of the countries concerned, and we responded to their request. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be deluding himself if he thought that those forces would stay there for very long. It will not be very long before we receive a request for their withdrawal. He knows that as well as I do. He also knows that the sending of military forces to any other country, or the retention of military bases in any other country, is regarded as an infringement of sovereignty, and indeed it is a basic infringement of sovereignty, because it prevents a country from exercising its sovereign right to decide whether or not it shall be involved in war.
All these overseas military bases are inherently untenable. Any pretence that we can really help the people of these countries to win through to a democratic social revolution by retaining bases in these countries is a complete contradiction in terms. These countries will have to learn to look to the United Nations Organisation to protect them against evil doers. This is the only solution. There may have to be a transitional period because the United Nations does not yet possess sufficient forces with which to do this job. But I understand from the newspapers, not from the Minister of Defence, that in Geneva yesterday the Foreign Secretary made a speech in which he advocated the building up of United Nations peace-keeping forces in order to deal with little local troubles that might arise in places like Cyprus, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cuba and so on.
Oddly enough, the Minister of Defence said not a word about the building up of the United Nations peace-keeping forces as a means of impartially keeping the peace of the world, and not keeping it in the interest of some power which has its own national interest to serve while it is so doing. Do not let the right hon. Gentleman be mistaken about this, nor the Prime Minister, that in Asia and Africa, in Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam, Ghana, Nigeria, Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Uganda, Zanzibar and all the rest—in every one of those countries there is no political leader who is not aware that when Britain at the moment, with this Government, puts Armed Forces into 501 those countries, she is doing so, not because she loves the freedom and democracy of those people, but because she regards it as being in her own national interest and necessary to build up and maintain her position as a nineteenth century world Power.
§ Mr. Warbey
I am finishing now. That is how they look upon our activities in the rest of the world, and until we can have genuine United Nations peace forces impartially going into these countries and holding the ring, do not let us pretend that the intervention either of great Powers or of great alliances can be other than in the interest of those powers and alliances.
§ Mr. Wigg
My hon. Friend must recollect, if he is going to be fair, that Britain put troops in the Cameroons, and nothing could have been a more disinterested action nor could the result have been more fruitful. It seems to me utterly misleading to suggest that that was anything but completely disinterested.
§ Mr. Warbey
It is perfectly true that we have made a number of blunders. I am not suggesting that when we have put troops in with a view to protecting British interests we have always succeeded in doing so. We manifestly failed in the case of Suez—that was the outstanding example. We are clearly failing in the case of Cyprus where, despite the Prime Minister's overt hatred of the United Nations, we have been compelled in the end to go to the Security Council of the United Nations Organisation to ask it to provide a peace-keeping force in Cyprus.
I should have thought that by now the Government would have learned the lesson of some of these things and would have begun to realise that it is no good talking about building up stronger and more powerful British forces, whether conventional or nuclear, if, at the same time, we fail to work seriously, honestly and by example for disarmament and also for the building up of the power and authority of the United Nations Organisation.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I customarily find it a little difficult to follow the logic of the argu- 502 ments of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey), but I must take him up on a couple of points. We on this side of the House welcome the possibility that the United Nations will at last come to some concrete decision to assist us to keep the peace in Cyprus, but meanwhile somebody has to keep the peace, and ours is the thankless job by having forces available to do so.
We are in countries in Africa by invitation of their Governments, who felt that without the support of British troops, for which they asked, they would be overthrown—again, an invidious task which stretches our resources to the utmost. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to be a little more gracious in his representation of these matters regarding the actions of Her Majesty's Government.
It is to my mind discourteous to the Prime Minister to suggest that in the speech that he recently made in Ottawa he encouraged—these were the hon. Gentleman's words—China to develop nuclear weapons. The hon. Gentleman is one of the best-informed Members of the House on these matters, as we all know. I am surprised that he is so little up to date as not to know that, last week or so, a senior Chinese official declared that the People's Republic of China would have the atomic bomb either this year or next.
§ Commander Courtney
I would rather not give way. I should like to say at the outset how much I welcome the speech of my right hon. Friend, which, with great respect, I think was the best that I have heard him make since I arrived in the House of Commons. I was impressed by the fact that the ideas of the Government, as expressed in the White Paper, appear to be moving in the right way. My right hon. Friend knows that many times in the past—and I shall continue to do so in the future—I have disagreed with him and his subordinates on certain aspects of our defence policy. I was also greatly impressed by the cogent, intellectual arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). I followed his argument extremely closely and I must admit that at times it appeared to me to be singularly divorced 503 from the realities of the wicked world in which we live and with which I, among other hon. Members, have for 30 years of my life been in close personal contact. I appreciate the ideals which lay behind the speech of my right hon. Friend, but I think that the objectives which he set out are difficult of achievement. I wonder about the time factor, how long shall we have the resources, and what rôle we should play to hold the ring in the meantime.
I feel that eight per cent, or so of our defence budget is a small insurance premium to pay for the safety which we achieve all over the world by the retention of the nuclear deterrent. I should like to give an example which caps that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, and which runs counter to the rather gruesome spectacle which he conjured up. Perhaps it is a slightly more positive example as it is occurring at this very moment. It is in no way hypothetical, as were the examples which my right hon. Friend set before the House. It is a fact that at this moment British forces are stretched, taut as a bowstring, from Dar-es-Salem to North Borneo, with immensely long lines of seaborne communications supporting them. They have as their object to support the Governments of countries to which we have commitments, and which have asked on certain occasions for help, in Africa, Arabia and South-East Asia. These countries are all, to a greater or less extent, menaced by threats both internal and external. The internal threats—and this applies particularly to Africa—are in many cases, as I think hon. Members know, from revolutionary movements springing from the declared policy of the Soviet and of the Chinese Governments to promote revolutions in the formerly dependent countries which are evolving in this great continent. As I see it, the external threat is to our communications, our shipping which supports those detachments, and which is faced by the potential force of Soviet submarines, prepared long ago for just such an eventuality, which could, if they dared and so wished, totally disrupt the communications on which the support of that military effort depends.
I suggest to the House that in Zanzibar we have a slight parallel with Cuba, as a potential forward political out- 504 post of a revolutionary power exercised at a great distance from the heart land of the revolution. I suggest, further that there is one great difference between the two situations. As concerns Cuba, the United States possess overwhelming sea power on the spot which was eventually an effective counter to the threat which was built up there. Off Zanzibar, by contrast, and on the East Coast of Africa we have very slender forces to counter any military movement, by Soviet submarine forces for example, which could quite conceivably take place. Now to the crux of this argument. Surely hon. and right hon. Members opposite must agree that in these circumstances, the retention of a nuclear weapon by this country—which in this context has no special support from the Americans—must give the Russians and the Chinese some cause to think before undertaking any military action in this sphere.
I spent two years of my life concerned with the Civil War in Spain, where the service to which I belonged was endeavouring to establish non-intervention patrols. I know from personal experience how easy it is for a country which wishes to do so to circumvent such patrols. I remember what happened to H.M.S. "Hunter" when she was mined off Almeria, and the efforts from outside to use armed forces in support of political objectives in civil war. I believe that such a thing could happen again. I would go further and suggest that the retention of the nuclear weapon by ourselves must to some extent act as a brake on possible Soviet intentions, and therefore in itself is justified.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
I have been following the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman very closely. But would he explain what the British independent nuclear deterrent has to do with deterring anything which is going on around Zanzibar?
§ Commander Courtney
Yes, I will. That is exactly the point which I have been trying to make, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I have not made myself clear.
If it is found impossible to promote revolutionary and political action, which is the object of the practice, as I see it, in accordance with Soviet policy 505 in Asia and Africa; if that has been prevented by the presence of British troops invited in by the countries concerned; and if, as a corollary those British troops are supported by lines of communication—for all soldiers get hungry and they require munitions—it is possible to sever those communications. The Soviet Union possesses the sea-power potential to do that, and the possession by us of the ultimate weapon perhaps to some extent restrains them from any idea of so doing. I hope that now I have made myself clear.
I turn now to defence policy generally. I have said many times in this House, and I maintain still, that our defence policy has to a great extent been warped by pressure from our allies and from political commitments. In this context, as the House will know, I usually refer to the Brussels Treaty and the events of 1954. In the House of Commons it is surely common ground that the most efficient form of fighting man is made out of a volunteer. To a greater or lesser extent, we are all against any form of conscription, or of selective service, unless that is absolutely necessary.
I suggest that there are certain symptoms of this distortion in our defence policy of which we should take account. Why is it so very difficult for the Army to find recruits? Why are we 5 per cent. down on our numbers? Why at the same time is the Navy able to get the increased numbers which are required, except in certain specialised categories? How is it—I believe at the request of the Army—that recruitment for the Royal Marines had to be stopped because it was so popular a Service?
Why is it that the Government should be defeated in another place over the question of a simple word like "Admiralty"? I propose to suggest why. Because we are an island race, and our instincts revolt against the imposition of a continental type of military policy, which I believe has been forced on us by political events since the end of the war and which has been too readily accepted by the Government. It is a policy which involves maintaining 55,000 men in peace-time as a standing Army in Europe. At the same time, we as an island race fell down on our 506 N.A.T.O. commitments at sea and in the air. I am sure that the greatest danger from the new Pentagon structure, as it is sometimes unkindly called, will be the perpetuation of this continental slant on British defence policy. Why should we islanders keep a British Army on the Rhine, while France, one of the greatest continental Powers in Europe, opts out of the N.A.T.O. Alliance?
The White Paper is sound, in my opinion, and indicates a reversal towards the maritime policy to which we in this country must return if we are to deploy our resources to the best advantage. There is one major and one minor exception to this, and again I am afraid that I am on my hobby horse. Paragraph 4 of the White Paper sets out the basis of our defence policy. It is admirably set out with one grave omission. It makes no mention whatever of the protection of the shipping routes on which the whole thing depends and without which every aspect of that defence policy falls to the ground. We must recollect that Britain is an island. We import 50 per cent. of our food and 90 per cent. of our raw materials. We must appreciate that foreign shipping plays a major part in this and also has to be protected.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am following the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech with great attention. I understand him to say that the great period of our maritime expansion and of the pre-eminence of Britain—the period in which we formed an Empire—was based on voluntary recruitment. I do not know much about the Navy, but I thought that at some stage or other, particularly during the Napoleonic War, recruitment was based on the press gang. Was not that a form of conscription?
§ Commander Courtney
That is true, and it has occurred to me from time to time to make up the deficiencies in the Army it might be possible to send the "redcaps" around the bingo halls, amusement arcades, betting shops and elsewhere, where they would find, in my experience, some very fine material.
The choice of an American replacement of the Sea Vixen, now obsolescent, is again the result of the distortion of our policy. This would not have occurred had that disastrous White Paper of 1957 not so belittled the rôle of the Navy as to 507 make it necessary to drop the Super-marine P1177 project, which would have produced a British replacement for the Sea Vixen.
I bring this matter up from the past only so that it should be a guide to the future. The decision to buy an American aircraft has been made at the expense of our aircraft industry and, to a certain extent, of national morale. It is significant that, when we talk about three or four new British aircraft, there is no mention of a new one for the Navy. In my view, no true integration of our fighting services, to which the House is committed can succeed without the willing subordination of the individual Services to the common strategic objective. I know that that is a truism, but it cannot be said too often. It is a little unkind to maintain that the desire of some of us to retain certain well-established names in our separate Services militates against that idea.
Here I wish to say something to my friends of the Royal Air Force. I believe, with the common idea of integration in mind, that the airmen should take a little more account of the facts of political geography, of which the decision by Libya to abrogate her treaties with Britain and the United States is the latest example. They should take into account, in their dispositions and thinking, the fact that the deployment of air power at many far-flung points throughout the world will become increasingly impossible, except from floating aerodromes—the aircraft carriers.
I suggest that the Navy can offer the Air Force, within this integrated structure, the means of deploying tactical air power wherever it may be needed. Would it not be possible for the Hunter replacement to be tailored a little more for operation from carriers so that instead of just having the new Phantom aircraft for cross-operation between American and British carriers it might still be possible, with the Hunter, to operate freely both from shore air-fields and from carriers? I still believe that much could be done in that respect.
When I first went to sea in 1925, our carriers were manned by men in dark and light blue. It did not matter to any of us who flew the aircraft as long as they were the best possible strike aero- 508 planes available. I only wish some such situation could arise again.
Here one should perhaps add a word of warning, because last year when the operations began in Borneo it was the Navy helicopters which provided the principal support for the Army, and this has been steadily developed into a very high degree of Army-Navy co-operation in both ground strikes and supply. I ask the airmen to study a little more the logic of the history of weapons. Perhaps we are coming to the end of the day when man flies in his own missiles. There is a tendency for the Navy alone, as I pointed out is the case in Borneo, to supply aircraft ground support for amphibious operations, and that is something which we should all watch very closely.
I welcome this White Paper, as I welcome the majority of my right hon. Friend's remarks. I believe that a correction of the distortion of our defence policy can and will remove many of the stresses and strains which are occurring within our defence organisations. I wish I could say that we could expect much assistance from hon. Members opposite but, judging by the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), there is little to be anticipated from that direction. I will give my right hon. Friend every support that is in my power in putting through the defence organisation he has set out in the White Paper.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) opened a very interesting speech by referring to the importance of communications. I think that everyone would agree that every British garrison is a hostage to fortune in the absence of adequate communications. But I doubt very much whether the sort of interruption likely to those communications would be such as could be arrested by a nuclear deterrent.
It seems to me that the threat to the communications of our garrisons overseas is likely to be much more insidious, much more covert. The answer is in the expansion of air communications. We saw at the time of the Berlin airlift how, in a war-like situation, it was 509 possible with adequate carrying resources to leapfrog over those who tried to disrupt our legitimate communications.
One of the themes to which I want most to address myself is the question of aircraft and the failure of the Government, shown not only in the White Paper but in our Amendment, to provide adequate aircraft. If I deal particularly with an aeroplane which is of interest to Coventry it is not because I approach the matter from the parochial point of view, but because I believe that the delay, muddle and incompetence which have affected the Government in dealing with the aircraft now known as the HS681, illustrate in general terms the failure of successive Ministers of Defence to deal adequately with the aircraft industry as a whole.
I was left unclear today, as were others, about what the right hon. Gentleman was announcing about new aircraft. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself was not at all specific about what he was announcing. He said that there was a development contract for the HS681. I ask him whether that means that there is to be a production order for the traditional three aircraft after the jigs are laid down and the tools are manufactured. Will he issue a development production order before the serial production order, as has been the tradition in the past? Perhaps he could tell us today whether that is what he is to do. Is the development contract—which, it is suggested in the Statist, will cost £100 million—to include an actual order to produce three aircraft?
I should be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he would answer straight away. If he did so he would clear the minds, not only of hon. Members on this side of the House, but equally of hon. Members opposite who are rightly concerned about this matter. I do not know if the Minister would like to reply to that question now, or would prefer to reply later. Certainly it is relevant. Until we know whether when he spoke of a development contract he meant that he was to give a contract to Hawker-Siddeley to put in hand producon on the HS681, we shall continue to feel that the question remains obscure and characteristic of the muddle which has afflicted the whole of it. When this 510 moribund Government finally dies, the word "muddle" will be inscribed on its heart. If we look at the history of the HS681 we see how the Government have blundered from incompetence to indecision. Even today, after the long expectation that the Minister would clarify the matter, the whole question remains obscure.
There is no doubt that the aircraft industry has been running down. It has been running down ever since the ill-fated White Paper of 1957 was promulgated. When that White Paper was produced, it was thought that the industry would turn to a space programme and a missile programme which would be a substitute for a manned aircraft programme. Everyone assumed that we were entering an era in which missiles would prove to be the proper substitute for manned aircraft. As we have seen from recent experience, that is not to be the case. In the local wars which the right hon. Gentleman has said will be the chronic situation in which the world will live for many years to come it is clear that successful communications will be of paramount importance.
In that situation it is of the highest importance that we should have a satisfactory tactical aircraft capable of doing the tactical work required. The Government have been trying to make up their mind about HS681, or AW681 as it was originally called, ever since 1960 when the requirement was first put forward. It was suggested that we needed vertical take-off and landing aircraft capable of carrying the sort of load necessary to ensure our communications and to provide our garrisons and troops in various theatres of activity with adequate equipment.
The result, after four years of shilly-shallying, is that we now have a Transport Command which, it is perfectly true, did its job very well in relation to Cyprus and East Africa, but had to do that job with inadequate equipment. It carried out a most difficult job with inadequate equipment although there was no enemy force to inhibit the transport of troops and equipment required for the operations. What were the components of the transport aircraft used for those operations? They were Britannias, Comets and other various kinds of aircraft. Some of them were old, some out of date, and all 511 of them could not possibly be by any stretch of the imagination considered as a modern transport force.
The Estimates Committee summed up the question when it said:Your Committee consider that the present number and age of the transport aircraft possessed by the R.A.F. is an inadequate commentary on the efficacy of the Air Ministry's advance planning".That was a condemnation of the fact that Transport Command, for various reasons with which the Minister is familiar, did not have the proper aircraft required for chronic situations such as those it had to confront.
It was in 1960 that the Government first asked the industry to submit proposals for a suitable aircraft to replace the Hastings and the Beverley. It had to be capable of short take-off and landing and a development of VTOL with jet lift engines. The company concerned supplied detailed brochures for design studies by May, 1961. That was three years ago, but it was not until there had been two wasted years, two years in which no action whatever was taken on the submissions of the company when, on 5th March, 1963, the HawkerSiddeley Aircraft Company was awarded the contract for a full design study based on its proposals for a British vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the HS681.
What was happening in that period? My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and I went to see the Minister one day during that period to try to find what was happening in regard to this aircraft. We had heard rumours that he had approached the United States to try to provide the Hercules American transport aircraft as a substitute for our original design. No doubt the Minister will recall—I do not think I am betraying any confidence, because he echoed this in his speech—that he was not able to consider giving a contract for a freighter to a British firm because he was negotiating with firms on the Continent, to try to find a composite aircraft the work for which could be shared.
This matter went on and there was delay. Instead of being able to sell the aircraft, we had a situation in 512 Coventry in which workers were stood off. We had redundancy and a force of 8,000 men, a large majority of them skilled, dwindled to the present labour force of under 5,000. It is useless to talk of a "brain drain" to the United States when in a highly sophisticated industry such as the aircraft industry there is a brain drain of skilled men from their jobs. These men raised their industry to its pre-eminence, but they are leaving the industry and going to semi-skilled, and in some cases unskilled, work although their talents and energies could have been applied to maintaining the British aircraft industry at the level to which the genius of its designers and workers had raised it.
I have mentioned the United States and the right hon. Gentleman toying with the idea—I put it no higher or lower than toying—of an American substitute for the HS681. Today he has announced that he has bought certain American aircraft. I do not know whether that is due to his decision freely made, or due to pressure of American salesmanship. What we do know for certain is that the Americans are making a tremendous sales drive for America in every part of the world. They use all their resources for this. As I have said in this House before, they use their embassies to push the sales of their aircraft in markets which at one time belonged to Great Britain.
May I quote from a document which states that in a speech recently Mr. Paul H. Nitze, the Assistant Secretary of Defence, announced that it was possible for the United States to expect in the next 10 years a 300 per cent. to 500 per cent. increase in military export sales to Western bloc nations over the sales of the 1950's. Of the sales which he hoped to make, 35 per cent. will apply to the aircraft industry. I quote his own figure. The Americans intend to multiply their efforts to drive Britain out of our traditional export markets.
While all this has been going on and we have faced this massive competition, the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors have muddled and blundered in failing to press forward the production of a tactical freighter aircraft. What has been the record of successive Ministries in other respects in the aircraft industry? Reference has been made to the 513 Saunders-Roe SR177, which had a tragic history. It was a long-range strike, support and reconnaissance air-craft and interceptor. A contract for six pre-production aircraft was awarded in 1956, but eventually the project was cancelled. There was the Hawker P1121. What was the history of that? It was a Mach 2 strike aircraft. Work ceased in December, 1958, when the prototype airframes—I stress that—were almost complete structurally. There was the Avro 730, a supersonic bomber. The metal had been cut for this aircraft when the project was cancelled by the 1957 Defence White Paper. There was the Saunders-Roe SR53. That, too, was cancelled within weeks of the 1957 Defence White Paper. There were Blue Water, Blue Streak and Skybolt.
Millions of pounds were spent on these enterprises. Millions of pounds were wasted. These wasteful projects were put in hand and then cancelled. While that was going on we had the sad spectacle of a great factory such as Whitworth-Gloster in Coventry slowly declining, while the Gloster Aircraft Company was put out of production.
I speak in this way not only to represent the interests of my constituents and not merely to represent the interests of the aircraft industry, about which I am greatly concerned, but because I believe most fervently that the aircraft industry is the pilot industry of all industries in any country and that the engineering and the electronic strength of a country depends very much on the pilot work of its aircraft industry. In my opinion, an important symptom of decline in any country must always be—speaking of the contemporary world—when the aircraft industry begins to dwindle; one can feel that the whole of the technological strength of that country is dwindling, too.
It is no accidental coincidence that the upsurge of France has run parallel with the rise of the French aircraft industry. In a few years the French aircraft industry has caught up the British industry and, if I am not mistaken, it has even surpassed the British industry in exports. I am open to correction if I am wrong, but I believe that to be the case.
514 This is extremely serious. If one adds up all the millions of pounds which have been poured into the aircraft industry in the last 12 years—referred to in the Amendment—it seems that somewhere there has either been maladministration or a seapage of public funds in ways which are not represented by the aircraft available to the country today. This is a matter of concern not only to the Committees on Estimates and Public Accounts but also to the whole House. On another occasion we want to investigate in detail where the money has gone. In the meantime, it is legitimate to ask, as the Amendment asks, why it is that after all these years we still lack the basic resources, the first basis of the communications about which we have been talking—an adequate tactical freighter aircraft.
I do not wish to detain the House. Other hon. Members wish to speak. There are many things which must cause anxiety to anyone concerned with the aircraft industry and with the effect on the country of the aircraft industry. For example, why did it take so long to decide which engines should go into the HS681? Until yesterday, at any rate, Avro-Whitworth in Coventry had a huge mock-up of the HS681 complete in detail, except that the wings could not be made up even in mock-up form simply because no one until yesterday knew clearly which engines would be made available. All these are questions which need to be answered.
I believe that the HS681 is an illustration of the fact that, had there been proper planning, the lack of which has been censured by the Committee on Estimates, we should today have an air-craft operational, whereas now we shall not have it until the 1970's. I believe that we could have been well on the way today to having an operational air-craft which could have been adapted to the tactical and strategic problems which face the country in terms of defence. If it is true—and I said at the outset that it is obscure—that the Minister has given a development contract for the HS681 which may in the event turn out to be some sort of production order, I wish to congratulate him. But I must say that tonight he is to be censured for having done so late what he should have done long ago.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey), who I am sorry is not in his place, made three points to which I want briefly to refer.
First, throughout his speech he showed a bitter anti-Americanism, and in matters of defence and everything else the Americans are the best friends we have in the world. He does the House and the country great disservice to show that bitter feeling against them. Secondly, he imputed to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a bitter opposition to the United Nations and all that it stood for. I reject that utterly. Lastly, he referred to what was happening in China. Four years ago I was in Peking, and I had a three-and-a-half hour meeting with Marshal Chen Yi. I asked him a question to which I received no answer: was it true that according to the Peking interpretation of the Marxist-Leninist gospel, war was inevitable? To my mind that is the greatest threat to world peace and the greatest justification for a defence policy of this kind. I asked that question time and time again and received no answer. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ashfield is not in his place to hear what I have said.
I am an inexpert civilian here among experts in military matters, and I want to ask one or two simple fundamental questions before I vote in favour of a defence policy which will cost the nation about £2,000 million a year. First, is such a vast expenditure absolutely necessary? Secondly, is the taxpayer getting full value for the money which we are spending? Thirdly, is it the best and the only way to defend ourselves? Fourthly, against whom are we preparing to defend ourselves? Fifthly, what reason have we to expect that we shall be attacked? Lastly, when do the Government think that we are likely to be attacked? Over the centuries England has had to defend herself against many countries. First it was Spain; then it was the France of Louis XIV and Napoleon; and then it was the Germany of the Kaiser and National Socialist Hitler. We no longer spend any money on defence against those people. Why?
§ Sir C. Osborne
The nations they represented are very far from being dead. We no longer spend money on defending ourselves against them because we have learned to live in peaceful coexistence with them. It seems to me that this defence policy is based upon the assumption that we have to defend ourselves against Soviet Russia. I remind the Government that Russia has been our ally in every war, not our enemy. If we settle our differences peacefully with our ex-enemies like Germany, why cannot we settle our differences with our former allies? If we could do that, surely much of this defence expenditure would be unnecessary?
May it well not be, then, that it is not Russia against which we are pre-paring to defend ourselves? It is against Communism. Last week Punch had an extraordinarily good full-page cartoon in which it showed the Prime Minister and President Johnson standing outside the Senate with a hungry, half-starved Castro, a Chinese and a Far Easterner looking on. Punch shows the Prime Minister quoting Julius Ceasar, or misquoting him—Let us have men about us that are sfat:The Prime Minister goes on to add this, speaking for our country and speaking for both sides of the House:We"—that is, Britain—have always thought that the fatter and more comfortable a Russian or a Chinese is the less likely he is to be in an aggressive moodI heartily agree with that point of view.
What is the impact of the Prime Minister's philosophy as explained in America and in Canada on this £2,000 million defence expenditure? The Prime Minister has been telling the Americans that the way to deal with the Communists is to make them fat, not to fight them. Has that any impact on the amount we are to spend? This defence expenditure of £2,000 million seems to assume that some day an attack on this country from Communism is inevitable. This point of view seems to assume that Stalin is still alive and is governing in Moscow. It ignores the fact that Mr. Khrushchev is now in charge of that great country 517 and that he is pledged irrevocably to a policy of peaceful co-existence.
If anyone doubts the sincerity of Mr. Khrushchev's aims, surely the fact that he has quarrelled with Peking on this very issue proves that he really means what he says. It seems to me that the gravest danger to the peace of the world and to this country would be our failure to respond to Mr. Khrushchev's overtures and if there were, as a result of that, the establishment in Moscow of a young new Stalinist allied to Peking in their interpretation of the Marxist-Leninist gospel that war one day is inevitable.
Therefore, I ask the Government this question. Could not some of this £2,000 million be redirected from this narrow spending on arms through peaceful channels for defence, as the Prime Minister suggested in America was possible and desirable? I am not preaching pacifism, because I do not believe in it; but I do not altogether believe in the Prime Minister's faith that fat people are necessarily desirous of peace. I do not entirely agree with the Prophet Isaiah's vision of the lamb and the lion lying down together peacefully for ever. I do not forget that in the war I was in a fighting regiment at Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge, and I hated war. I remember, too, that the Germans, who in 80 years forced five wars, were the fattest people in Europe. Therefore, fattiness of itself does not necessarily guarantee peace. I agree with what the late Nye Bevan used to say, that this country cannot go into any international conference naked. I also agree that the bomb has been our safeguard in the past few years and is likely to be. Therefore, I agree that we must maintain the bomb, cost what it will, and maintain a vast expenditure on armaments.
Cannot part of this money, however, be spent on the peaceful means of securing our defence, rather than on arms themselves? I remind the House—those few hon. Members who are here listening—that it is not the Communism of the people in the Far East that is our danger. It is their appalling poverty and the enormous increase in their population. If, for example, £500 million of this £2,000 million a year were spent on relieving their poverty and teaching them birth control, our defence would be a 518 great deal better. If out of this money we gave them tractors, fertilisers, ploughs, and, if I may add, contraceptive pills also, as well as providing ourselves with rockets, guns and planes, they would get fatter and I believe that we would be safer. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh at this concept, but I believe that it is fundamental to our defence. I do not think that it is funny. I think that the very survival of the human race may well depend on this. I do not think that that is something to laugh at.
It was stated in the Indian Parliament recently that 270 million of them were living on 3½d. a day. It has been said that by 197l India's population will have increased by 116 million. The United Nations figures show that the income per capita of India is one-twentieth that of our country. It was estimated at a recent conference in Delhi that the Asian population in the next 20 years would increase by 900 million. I believe that our best defence would be to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and not get ready to shoot them. I should like some money to be used in this way from the funds we have available.
The immediate problem of defence surely is a greater agreement with with Soviet Russia. If we could have greater trust, better understanding and a wider peaceful co-operation between London, Washington and Moscow, I am sure that we would be safer throughout Europe and ultimately we could cut our defence expenditure by about half.
In 1960 there was a great British Trade Fair in Moscow. The then President of the Board of Trade, who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, went there to open it. Many of us who were associated and interested in that great Fair rather hoped that the Duke of Edinburgh might have gone to Moscow to perform the ceremony. I believe that had he done so it would have done much for the defence of this country in an indirect way. It would have helped to consolidate Anglo-Soviet relations. It would have produced the better understanding which is so vital if we are to survive. It would have helped to ease the cold war. I beg my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to pass what I am saying on to my right hon. Friends. I plead for some such imaginative steps to be taken. There is no security in guns alone.
519 It should be the aim of Government defence policy, through the peaceful means the Prime Minister said were possible when he was in America, to bring the whole of the Eastern Communist bloc back into Western Christendom, if not Western capitalism. This is the best defence we can have to keep the peace of the world. It would save the strain on our purse and the money thus saved could be used for other purposes.
A strongly armed nation, such as the defence policy we are now following will make us, certainly has a better chance of keeping the peace than a weak nation, but even the strongest nation on earth is doubly armed if it enjoys peaceful co-existence with its neighbours. I plead with the Government to give as much time, thought and energy to defence through peaceful means as we are now giving to arming ourselves in case we are attacked, for if we can have political understanding and the will to secure peace a great deal of the money we are now spending on defence could be used for better purposes.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I hope that the Government will be able to give the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) clear and precise answers to the questions posed in the earlier part of his speech. For myself, I wholly sympathise with his view about the need to help the hungry and raise the standard of life of the poorer countries. Like him, I would rejoice if Russia suddenly decided to join what he called Western Christendom. However, if his defence policy is to maintain expenditure on the British nuclear bomb but cut it elsewhere, then I must disagree with him.
I agree with the approach of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) to the nuclear deterrent. He is right in saying that this is a matter of considerable complexity. No one suggests that one can simply cast the British nuclear deterrent into the sea. Equally, I hope, no one suggests that the future of the British nuclear deterrent can be discussed apart from the general future of the Western Alliance.
520 The right hon. Member for Hall Green has an interesting history in this matter. He was the Minister who was at one time responsible for the provision of British nuclear weapons. I recall that when I was the only hon. Member in the House in a defence debate to suggest that such weapons were unnecessary, the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives were in favour of maintaining them. On that occasion the right hon. Member for Hall Green replied to the debate on behalf of the Government, although it became obvious that he did not agree with Government policy. Since then he has been out of step with the official view of the Conservative Party.
What interested me in his speech were some of the conclusions he drew, and I will later refer to his views about the danger of having two centres of nuclear power in the world. In his view, as I understood it, danger would arise from having a European as well as an American centre. He expressed the hope that the M.L.F. might form a basis for a new single centre.
To continue to hold out for the British independent nuclear deterrent streams from fundamental emotional attitudes. Who really wants to maintain the independent nuclear deterrent? Those who believe in their guts, so to speak, that Britain must, in her own right—independently of the world—remain a great Power. They go on to say that being a great Power implies having the biggest weapons one can lay one's hands on. Those who think that we must continue to keep the British independent nuclear deterrent also take that view partly from inertia and partly from the feeling that at some time it may come in useful although they cannot be precise about when that might be.
If that is denied, consider the arguments that are now being put up for it. It was said by the Prime Minister that it was our card of entry to the top table at conferences. The only conference it ever got us into was the Test Ban Conference in Moscow. It is a most extraordinary argument that one must keep nuclear weapons so that one can be present at conferences to make treaties to ban them. It did not get 521 us into the consultations over Cuba and it has got us into no other high level conference.
The Minister of Defence stated the case for the deterrent when, as I understood him, he said that under no circumstances, even if there was an agreement between Russia and America to limit any further expansion of nuclear weapons, would we give up the right to the Polaris submarines or go back on our determination to have our own independent nuclear deterrent. This is to them a fundamental matter and, come what may, the Government feel that this has an intimate connection with the rôle of Britain in the world; as the Prime Minister has made clear. My party disapproves of that view of the basis of Britain's greatness and her rôle in the world.
The second argument put up in that White Paper—and the first one is not in the White Paper—is that the Russians may gamble on a belief that the Americans would not come to the rescue of Europe with their nuclear forces should an attack take place. This is an incredible argument. Is it really considered that Russia would risk launching war upon Europe as long as there were American soldiers and battlefield atomic weapons in Europe? Do the Government seriously believe that this is the Russian view? The Prime Minister has often said that the Russians are in a very pacific mood. Is it contemplated that that country, which is growing more pacific, would take such a risk—with the Americans and their troops in Europe? Is it thought that the Russians believe that those troops would not react to a Russian advance?
It is also assumed, for some reason, that the Russians would believe that the British would react if the Americans did not. Supposing there was a threat to West Berlin. Is it thought that the Russians would be more likely to think that the British would react and begin a first strike nuclear attack on Russia than would the Americans? I do not think that the arguments in favour of the independent deterrent now stand up to examination nor that they are seriously relied upon by the Government.
But the whole of this controversy about nuclear arms is moving into a new stage. Within the next few years it 522 will be possible for any country which wants to to open up again the whole question of the N.A.T.O. Treaty. In Europe, there will soon be a General Election in this country and one in Germany, and, further afield, in America there will be the Presidential election. It is not very likely, therefore, that this will be the right atmosphere for the public in either Britain or America to get a great deal of cal n guidance about the future of N.A.T.O.
In any defence debate we must of necessity discuss not so much the present condition of defence but the condition in which it may be in anything from two to 10 years hence, because decisions taken now will not take effect for a considerable time. We must therefore consider the impending changes which may come about in N.A.T.O. thinking and in the N.A.T.O. treaties. Great changes in the general situation have occurred since N.A.T.O. was set up and there is now widespread belief that the danger of a direct Russian attack in Europe is extremely small. This, after all, was the reason for the establishment of N.A.T.O. and, in this respect, I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Louth.
Secondly, there is agreement that the British have widespread responsibilities throughout the world of a type possibly not so clearly foreseen when the original treaties were signed. It has been assumed in the debate that these obligations will go on, and in much the same form. I think that they will go on, but I am not so convinced that they will go on in the same form. In the transition from Empire to Commonwealth it may be acceptable to Governments in Africa to ask the British to restore order within their country. They may have to move from that position, but what may happen is that there may be wars or dangers of wars among certain countries in Africa or in other Continents. This would be a different and extremely dangerous situation and one which the British will he much less able to handle on their own.
Furthermore, it is also assumed even in the present circumstances that when the British are called in, this is temporary and that they can be called out again by the substitution of some international force. We should, of course, use all our efforts to get a permanent United Nations 523 force established. But there is not one capable of doing this sort of job at present, and I wonder how far we shall be able to withdraw our forces quickly from some of the places where they may become embroiled. Therefore, our responsibility outside the N.A.T.O. area is more important since N.A.T.O. was set up. It may change its nature but it may also increase in importance. Our prime purpose therefore is to fulfil it and we need more means of moving conventional forces to trouble spots for this purpose and we need more soldiers. I am told on good authority that there is a grave shortage of soldiers in Cyprus.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
How will the right hon. Gentleman get the soldiers? Is he advocating conscription?
§ Mr. Grimond
I am as entitled to point out what I think should be the rôle of this country in the world as are the Government. I think that that rôle is to discharge this type of responsibility and not attempt to keep up as a nuclear Power.
There is a further change in the world situation, I believe, and that is that in some of the N.A.T.O. countries there is some alarm at the possible rapprochement between American and Russia which might leave Europe outside the negotiations. I think that this is what is at the back of much of the thinking of General de Gaulle. In this sort of context, what rôle can Britain play and what should we seek to do with our delivery system for nuclear weapons? To return to the speech of the right hon. Member for Hall Green, I do not believe that a multilateral force is the solution to the type of problem with which we are now faced.
I have always said that I believed that the reason behind the multilateral force had a certain validity. The American desire to involve more countries in nuclear thinking and to be free from some of the expense of the defence of the West, is understandable, but I do not think that this is met by creating a new nuclear force. Furthermore, I do not believe that setting up a multilateral force, though it may involve some Europeans in nuclear thinking, will solve the problem of control. And if it is true that the Germans 524 want greater control over nuclear weapons, I do not believe that a multilateral force will give it to them, because I do not believe that the Americans will abandon their veto on the use of the nuclear weapon in those circumstances. But we should pay far more attention in this country to the very serious nature of American determination to get some sort of answer to their questions about bearing the whole weight of defence and about recognising the growth of unity in Europe and giving Europe a greater say in nuclear decisions.
I should have thought that it was possible that our TSR 2 and our V-bombers might have been offered to N.A.T.O. and might have become a basis for a new centre which might even eventually become the sole centre of nuclear power, and that they might have been another way of meeting the justifiable demands of the Americans which at present they are trying to meet through a multilateral force.
I should have thought, further, that if we are going to play a useful part in N.A.T.O. there may be a case for a specialised contribution, and here again our aircraft might well play some inter-diction rôle and be offered to N.A.T.O. with that understanding. I maintain that we should give up our attempt to keep sole control over our nuclear deter-rent, but I believe that the deterrent offers us the possibility to make a contribution to needs which will arise in N.A.T.O.—the need to give Europeans a greater feeling of participation, the need to meet the American demand for some lightening of the burden of meeting the whole of the defence of the West, and also the need to give effect to the growing unity in Europe.
It may be said that there are two great objections to this. The first is the question of what would be the reaction of General de Gaulle. It is assumed, for instance, by the Minister of Defence that whatever we do makes no difference to anyone. That is not at all the impression I got from talking to people in France. French politicians constantly advance the argument that because Britain has an independent deterrent France must have one too. By ridding ourselves of the deterrent we should get rid of that argument. I am not convinced that General de Gaulle 525 will necessarily remain unmoved by British initiative designed to make our deterrent a special contribution to N.A.T.O.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that General de Gaulle is really influenced by his own politicians?
§ Mr. Grimond
This is just what I do believe. I do not think that he is such a tool as the hon. Member thinks he is. He is a very astute politician and he has seldom made a mistake in assessing political forces. He did not go so very far in Africa when he found that it was a political impossibility. There is a sort of assumption on the benches opposite that General de Gaulle is a stupidly immovable man. That assumption does not stand up to examination. He might or might not change his attitude. At least we might try some initiative on the lines I suggest.
The Germans are also said to be demanding direct control over their own weapon. If the Government of this country are going to use the sort of arguments which they used about the Russians attacking Germany because they think that the Americans will not intervene, then the obvious reaction of the Germans is to demand to have their own weapon. There can be no other. It is the logical result of the Government's own argument, but if the Germans were convinced that there was to be some N.A.T.O. nuclear control I believe that they would be very much less keen to press for any unilateral action on their own part to control their nuclear weapons.
I return to the point where I started. The real objection to the attempt by this country to maintain itself as an independent nuclear Power goes right back to the fundamental difficulty of this country—the difficulty which the Minister of Defence at one time recognised and which the right hon. Member for Hall Green recognised. It is the difficulty that the scale of operations today is too big for a country of the size of ours to maintain a stable of nuclear weapons. This is also true economically. We are too small by ourselves to keep an economy by ourselves affected by world events on an even keel and in a state of steady expansion. It is 526 also true of technology, as the right hon. Member for Hall Green pointed out —its scale today demands a bigger market than this country can supply.
This is the reason why my party is so keen to get into Europe, to provide that bigger base for our economy and also to enable us to give more help to underdeveloped countries and to provide a more effective defence. The party opposite do not want this. The majority feeling opposite is that they want to remain an independent, major sovereign Power. They think that it is possible. We think that it is not possible. The Labour Party are in a muddle. They do not want to go into Europe because they do not want this country to have diminished sovereignty, but on the other hand they think that this country should undertake all sorts of obligations involving a much greater loss of sovereignty than the loss involved in going into Europe.
This is the root of the matter. Do we really see the future rôle of this country as an independent power whether economically, in science or in defence, or do we believe that it must make a contribution to the alliance and strengthen the decision-taking machinery of our alliances, building it up as a real alternative to this country's independent status? This is the issue facing the House. For my part, I am quite clear that our efforts should be directed in future to the new situation arising in Europe and we should not be misled by any totally bogus rôle of maintaining ourselves as an independent nuclear power.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
Since I disagree with much that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has said, I do not propose to comment greatly upon his speech. I do not believe that I am moved to take part in the debate for fundamentally emotional reasons. I do not even consider that the comments made by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), reported at col. 487 of HANSARD of 16th January last, gave the reasons either. I am stung into wanting to take part in this very important debate because I do not subscribe to the idea expressed by the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) earlier 527 today when he described certain aspects of the Government's defence policy as atomic jingoism.
If the hon. Member for Leeds, East really believes that he can find no basis to form a judgment on matters of defence, he could not have been listening very carefully to the reasoned argument advanced by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech. I found it a very sound basis for arguing the logic of the maintenance of our independent nuclear deterrent. I believe that it is essential for us to maintain the deterrent. It is necessary in order that we may fulfil our obligations as expressed in the White Paper.
Before I go into further detail about that, I wish to refer to two points which have already been the subject of comment. First, the cost of the nuclear deterrent is a very small percentage of our overall defence budget. If the cost is to remain, as my right hon. Friend said that it would, at under 10 per cent. of the defence budget. The abolition of the nuclear deterrent would give rise to a very substantial equivalent expenditure or more in making up our defences in other ways. The analysis of our expenditure of £2,000 million shows that the biggest single item in the account is that determined by the pay of the Forces. I have never been able to convince myself that a valid argument can be founded upon the suggestion that we could increase our conventional forces for less than the cost of maintaining the nuclear deterrent.
However, it is not altogether that which makes me support, as I do, the independent nuclear deterrent. In considering our obligations overseas and their relation to the nuclear deterrent, we must keep two factors in mind. First, there is the position of B.A.O.R. and our commitment in Europe. Second, there is the police rôle which we undertake farther afield. It is logical to argue that the layout, concept and make-up of B.A.O.R. is so constituted as to include the use of tactical nuclear power. This is necessary because, even with maximum B.A.O.R. strength, conventional arms and manpower could hold our present front and present commitments only for a very limited period. I conclude, therefore, as, I believe, many of 528 our military experts conclude, that we need tactical nuclear weapons.
§ Miss Anderson
This is my argument, and I must be allowed to develop it. It is not an argument which I hold alone. It is an argument shared by many people with far more experience and knowledge of all these matters than I have. We need tactical nuclear weapons in Europe for two purposes. We need them in order to sustain our strategy there, and we need them—this is a not insignificant part of the argument—because we are faced by them.
If one takes that conclusion a stage further, it is reasonable to accept that we are then likely, should we use nuclear tactical weapons, to be open to the fear and the reality of escalation.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Lady has got me completely confused. She supports atomic nuclear weapons to support the British Army of the Rhine. I follow that argument, but does she realise that there is no such thing, that the tactical atomic weapons we have are obsolescent, that they belong to the Americans, and that they are under American control? It was the hon. Lady's Government, with her support, who cancelled Blue Water which put paid for ever to the Army having any efficient tactical weapons.
§ Miss Anderson
I appreciate that point, and, perhaps, I do not entirely differ from certain aspects of the hon. Gentleman's view. Nevertheless, we have these atomic tactical weapons.
§ Miss Anderson
Yes, I beg to differ we have got them. The hon. Gentleman may claim that they are obsolete, and I shall not go into that—
§ Miss Anderson
And, moreover, I am content to take it a further stage and say that, so long as we include them in part of our thinking in Europe, we must also accept the fear of escalation. Whatever the hon. Gentleman may say does not alter the argument that there is the fear of escalation when- 529 ever one uses a weapon which can be termed, in the widest sense, atomic. Therefore, to carry the argument to the logical conclusion, one is bound to accept the full range or none. I quite understand that there are those who accept the answer that there should be none, but I do not share their view.
I turn now to the commitments we have in our policing rôle overseas. I do not follow the argument advanced earlier today to the effect that, in sustaining our soldiers in this rôle, we can carry on just as well if we do not have the ultimate weapon. I believe that, if one has always to look over one's shoulder to see what the person with the ultimate weapon is doing, one is at a disadvantage. Therefore, if one has the umbrella of the independent nuclear deterrent, as an hon. Member opposite termed it today, one can the better operate in the field in which we have been called upon to operate recently. Moreover, it is beyond argument that we are likely to be called upon to take part in similar spheres in the foreseeable future, and probably for a very considerable time.
I add my tribute to those already paid today to the magnificent way in which those called upon to play this rôle have undertaken it and are sustaining it. But I do not think that anyone in this country, of whatever political view, wants those men to have anything but the maximum support that we can give them. I am, therefore, prepared to differ with those who believe that the maximum support should not include the independent nuclear deterrent. I am certain that it should.
I do not underestimate the importance of our alliances or the necessity for our contribution to them any more than I underestimate the continued necessity of the contribution made to Europe and the Western world by our American allies, but I still maintain—and I have thought this for a very long time—that in the huge realm of our European commitments, as in our international rôle as peacemaker, it is necessary to include in our policy the details set out in paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of the White Paper which make clear our dependence on an independent deterrent.
Because I know that there are other hon. Members who are eager to speak 530 in the debate, I will not go into the obvious challenge which may be in hon. Members' minds about the validity of its independence. I believe in its independence and in the arguments which my right hon. Friend put forward today. I therefore welcome the Defence White Paper, especially that part of it which refers to the retention of our own nuclear deterrent.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I think that I have taken part in almost every defence debate since I came to the House. One characteristic of hon. Members opposite when one gets involved in discussion with them, not because they are untruthful but because they are basically stupid, is that they falsify the facts. The hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) is an example—utterly sincere, clearly believing in what she says and going out into the country pouring out her poisonous untruth s with the added danger that she believes every word.
We had an example of exactly the same thing from the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), when he was Prime Minister, in January last year. When he was driven into a corner he talked about atomic tactical weapons in Germany. I was forced to adopt the device of putting down a Question to him, which was duly transferred to the then Secretary of State for War. I asked him this question, and I now ask it of the present. Secretary of State for War.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. James Ramsden)
The hon. Member has made this point before, and he tends to darken counsel when he makes it. He says that the warheads are American. That is perfectly true. But the fact remains that the weapons are deployed with units in B.A.O.R., are manned by soldiers of B.A.O.R. who are trained in their use and are used by them alongside our allies as part of SACEUR's plan. 531 That is all my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) was saying, and she was correct in saying it.
§ Mr. Wigg
That is extremely gallant, but not very honest, because the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I know that the units are British and that they are under British control. But he also knows that on every site there is an American officer and that those weapons cannot be fired without that American officer's permission. They are, therefore, under American control. Perhaps the hon. Lady will go and look up my 1963 question to prevent the Secretary of State from equivocating any more. When I put the question to his predecessor, the answer was "None, Sir". There are none.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson
Curiously enough, I have been to B.A.O.R., but that is incidental. I should like the hon. Member to tell me whom he considers to be the judge of truth.
§ Mr. Wigg
Whether there are any tactical atomic weapons in the Rhine Army is a question of fact. There is the Honest John, the atomic howitzer and the Corporal. They are all American, all obsolete and all have American warheads. The hon. Lady should ask the Secretary of State to go to Germany and look at them. Those are the basic facts, and there can be no possible dispute about them.
That deals with that myth. I now go on—because every year we get a new one. When I saw this year's White Paper, the first thing that I looked for was the carry-over of the nonsense from the previous year. All that we have to do is to look at the London Evening News. This is the best example, but the Evening Standard is not far behind. At the time of Blue Streak and Polaris, when the Ministers who are now extolling the attributes of Polaris were pouring contempt on it, saying that it was inaccurate and vulnerable, the Evening News said on 10th February, 1959:Blue Streak wins. Britain rejects U.S. rocked. Macmillan will talk from strength".That was in 1959. Blue Streak went a year later. Anybody who cared to take the trouble of looking into the 532 matter knew that it was a dead duck. However, hon. Members opposite were applauding the Minister of Defence in 1959 with the same enthusiasm as they were in 1960, six weeks before the announcement about its cancellation.
A year ago we had another example; it was the weapon for TSR2. Skybolt had gone. The Government were not quite so sure about Polaris and the line which they had to run was the TSR2. I want to spend a little time considering this magic weapon and what was to go into it. Paragraph 5 on page 67 of last year's Defence White Paper states that theprogramme of improvement includes the navigating and countermeasures equipment of the V-bombers and the further development of a nuclear weapon which was intended in the first place for tactical operations by the Buccaneer and TSR2".This was hailed as the wonder weapon. That was a year ago. You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, can see the headline even from there:Missile 'X'. The atom wonder".This was the weapon on which the safety and security of the British Commonwealth of nations and its nuclear deterrent depended. The journalists did not get this from nowhere. This was handed out to them by the Ministry of Defence.
This year, when the Minister was asked about this weapon, he said, "Oh, that. Hugh will answer that", referring to the Secretary of State for Air. There is not a single word about "weapon X" in this year's White Paper. It has been forgotten. But a year ago it filled the breach. It enabled the Minister of Defence, having built up the background with great skill, to come to the House and placate hon. Members' emotions. The fundamental basic feeling inculcated in every prep. school in this country is responsible for a great deal of our political malaise. For it is said that all we have to do is to paint the Union Jack on a weapon, sing God Save the Queen and everything is added unto us.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
If the hon. Member proposes to quote evening newspapers, he should quote last night's Evening Standard, which praised the Government's attitude on resale price maintenance.
§ Mr. Wigg
I never start without even one shot in my locker. This is only the beginning.
I want to turn to the speech of the Minister of Defence. He knows that I am one of his greatest admirers. There is no more adroit politician in this House. There is nobody more skilled in skating on thin ice and concealing the fundamental truth than the right hon. Gentleman. He is a past-master. He never gets caught out as the Minister of Aviation repeatedly does.
What was the right hon. Gentleman's problem? Last July—the dates are of great significance—he got the first look at the Estimates, just the same as the year before, in July, the Government got a look at the previous Defence Estimates, and cancelled a whole lot of things. They waited until the House had gone into recess before cancelling them, then put out a note to the Press giving a number of things that were going on but concealing the bitter pill that Blue Water was to go.
In July, when he saw this year's Estimates, the right hon. Gentleman was really u p against it, because to put something in the shop window a year ago and make the pill acceptable, he had said that the P1154 was on. There had been a statement on 5th March that the HS681 was a runner. There were suggestions about the helicopters. In fact, all the things which the Minister announced today were in the White Paper or had been the subject of announcement at the Dispatch Box before the defence debate last year.
The right hon. Gentleman is engaged in selling the dummies. In July last the bill was on the eve of being presented. At the same time, the "blue-water" school, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) is such a distinguished member, was on the march because there had been a promise of a new aircraft carrier, the Victorious. But one was not enough for them. They wanted four, at a cost of £240 million.
The right hon. Gentleman had to do something about it and he took evasive action. He came down on 30th July and said that the Government were considering the replacement of the Hunter, not, as announced in the White Paper, by the P1154, but that they were think- 534 ing about the P1154 to replace both the Hunter and the Sea Vixen. That was a smart move It put both lots off, both the Air and the Navy lobbies.
As soon as the House reassembled on 20th November, however, because the right hon. Gentleman could not possibly admit these charges in this year's Estimates, he made an announcement and said that the matter was under further consideration. On 5th March last year we were told that the HS681 was on but Questions about the engines were not answered. On 20th November, we were told the engines were still under consideration.
I will tell the House what the right hon. Gentleman has managed to do. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), in an able speech today, on which I congratulate him, failed to spot this The right hon. Gentleman has managed to talk these four projects out from February of last year so that they do not make any major impact in this year's Estimates but are left for next year's Estimates. Then, the right hon. Gentleman comes along and does a slanting move on the McDonnell as a Sea Vixen replacement. On the helicopter, I must say that the right hon. Gentleman, polished Parliamentary performer that he is, carried out one of the hottest operations I have ever witnessed.
What are the facts? First, on 16th January, as reported in col. 557 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the right hon. Gentleman suggested to me that I should turn my attention to mobility, and particularly helicopters. Having taken his advice, I find that the right hon. Gentleman came pretty close to the wind this afternoon. He dismissed in a few phrases the unsuitability of the Hughes helicopter. He said that it does not quite come up to standard. On military aircraft, however, the right hon. Gentleman is not a professional. If he were, he would not have used that phrase. One cannot say that something almost comes up to standard, in the same way as one cannot say of a woman that she is almost pregnant. She either is pregnant or she is not. The same with equipment. It either meets the operational requirement which the Minister has laid down or it does not.
The Minister laid down in an operational requirement—I will give him the 535 reference to make it easier for him: it is OR1124—what was needed of this aircraft, the Hughes. Its evaluation was completed at Boscombe Down only last Saturday. How can the right hon. Gentleman then come here today and say that it does not meet his requirements. Surely that is just a little hot, even for the right hon. Gentleman.
Every fact that the right hon. Gentleman gave the House this afternoon was incorrect, even the cost is less. He cannot talk about the engine without taking into account the weight. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and describe his statements as ignorant nonsense and say that he was either wrongly briefed or did not read his brief. If he were to go back, he would find concerning this aircraft, which he dismissed out of hand, that the firm was only asked to submit its tender for it 10 days after the other two firms. It was only put in on 11th February.
I am not a salesman for a helicopter firm, but I want now to turn to the other two. Rumour has been going round that the winner was the Hiller E-12 and that Short Bros. and Harland would get it. That was up to 24 hours ago. Then, the rumour went round the Hiller was out. I thought that this was a bit of a shock, because the Hiller E-12 meets the Army's needs—and I have great sympathy for Short Harland—particularly as they badly need the order not only in the public interest from the point of view of Northern Ireland but also from the point of the well-being of the Army.
The Bell helicopter would have been produced under licence. It would have given Short Bros. and Harland the opportunity to produce a weapon which, we are told right, left and centre, the Army wants. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said that?"] Let the Secretary of State for War get up and say whether a single member of the Army Council does not want the Hiller E12. I invite him to reply. This was a satisfactory weapon from the Army's point of view. It would have given Short Harland access to the helicopter markets of the world. But suddenly something went wrong.
I can tell the House what my first reaction was—there was no logical reason for it, so it had to come from 536 deep down in the atavistic stupidities of the Tory Party. I found it in the Minister of Aviation. It is anti-Americanism. He would not even go to the length of taking the Hiller E12 and coming to a straight arrangement with an American company. He would sooner take the Augusta and do a deal up with the Italians, because at the present moment he hates the guts of the Americans. If the Americans have any sense, they will feel as I do about him.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman—we do not want to have to table censure Motions about him and advocate the setting up of a Select Committee—to turn over a new leaf and at least treat us as adults and make some attempt to tell us the truth, particularly about facts which we can easily check, in the same way as I have checked these facts this afternoon.
§ Captain W. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the three helicopters and said that one, which he seems to advocate, is cheaper than the others. He knows very well that military equipment does not depend for its acceptance only on price. Will he give some of the facts about the performance of that aircraft?
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course I will, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman likes. I can go over the weights and engine power and so on. I can give him the lot if he wants it, but I do not want to weary the House.
First of all, I do not advocate either helicopter. That is absolute nonsense. I do not care whether it is ABC or CBA, but I ask that there should be a proper evaluation. I also ask that a decision taken on Monday should not, for high-speed political reasons, be altered on Wednesday. Further, if the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House and turns down a certain aircraft on the basis of its performance, on the ground that it does not meet the requirements set out by him when its evaluation was concluded only on Saturday, frankly I do not believe him—because that sort of thing is not humanly possible. If I am wrong, the Secretary of State for War will be answering tonight and the Secretary of State for Air will be answering tomorrow, and let them get up and deny that the evaluation of the P1154 at Bos- 537 combe Down—it was the only one of the three to be evaluated—was completed only on Saturday last.
I wanted to deal with this because it links up with what I regard as the right hon. Gentleman's attitude in getting his party out of a very difficult position. Indeed, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. He got a good ovation this afternoon. He succeeded in his political objective and raised his stature with his party. He certainly did—at a price. It was at the cost of the defence of this country. The bill will have to be paid by every man, woman and child in these islands.
I turn to the subject of manpower. I intervened this afternoon to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was satisfied with his own two requirements, and whether establishments have not something to do with it. He went on to say that if he had to choose between a professional Army and being below the establishment, he would be for a professional Army every time. That was a perfectly fair and honest choice, but if he makes it he must face the consequences. I am sure he would agree about that. He cannot run away from it. If he chooses a professional Army—and he cannot keep it up to establishment—then he must accept, and the troops who are serving must accept, the obligations and the consequences to their lives and to the well-being of this country if things go wrong because units are below strength.
Let us see what they are. I have spoken earlier about relying on the Press. I do not rely on one newspaper. I have a fair opinion of the truthfulness and accuracy of British newspapers and of defence correspondents, so
picked out three newspapers—The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express. I have worked through them for the movement of troops from the time when the crisis started before Christmas right up to the present. There is one common pattern—and if any hon. Member would like to take advantage of my homework, it is at his service.
We are told that the Parachute Battalion went out 800 strong. I do not complain about that, because the 16th Parachute Brigade went out at the same time and it was easily possible for someone to make a mistake and add 538 to the strength of the battalion the Brigade Headquarters. I assess the strength of that battalion at about 600. When we turn to the Royal Artillery, we find every unit described as having 600 men and the infantry battalions are described as being 600 strong, too.
Here is my challenge to the Minister. He knows as well as I do that those figures, quoted by the very distinguished defence correspondents of those three very responsible newspapers, have been supplied by the Department and by the Minister. They must have a common source, I say that not one of those figures is true. I shall not embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, nor do I want to embarrass the forces there, by saying what the strengths are, but they are not 600. There is not an infantry battalion in Cyprus today at a strength of 600.
Let us move from Cyprus, and refer to the Staffs., who went into Uganda. We are all very proud of the way those lads performed their duties there, for many were very young and inexperienced. We also have to remember what we asked them to do. Those men went to Uganda with a company of the Scots Guards. Do hon. Members know the strength? It was 480. The case I want to make is that in Cyprus there are units that are miles below their establishment—
§ Mr. Ramsden
To clear up that point, I would remind the hon. Gentleman that two companies of the Staffs. went into Uganda with a company of the Scots Guards. The third company of the Staffs. was on detachment somewhere else.
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes, and a company of the Scots Guards was put in to make up the strength. They went in three companies strong, and there were 480 men.
I want to read a letter—I hope that hon. Members opposite will cheer this. It is from Headquarters, Southern Command, it is dated 15th August, 1959, and this is what the Commander-in-Chief wrote to all his commanding officers:You will have noticed the unsatisfactory trend in Regular recruiting during the last few months. Unless this is reversed, we shall find ourselves in a very serious situation in 1962 when we are due to reach our ceiling of 180,000 men. If we fail, either the strength 539 of units which we believe to be the minimum will be reduced, or order of battle will need to be cut. The effect of any such action on our general efficiency and our ability to undertake our commitments must be clear to all of us.Those are not my words; they are the words of the Commander-in-Chief.
The facts are quite simple and clear. On 3rd March, 1959, the then Secretary of State for War, thinking the Cyprus crisis was over, used Cyprus as an example. I cannot think that he would have been so candid if he had thought there was any danger that the Cyprus crisis would return. He said that experience in Cyprus had shown that it was necessary to keep battalions at a strength of over 700 men. He said that he would raise the minimum ceiling strength of the Army from 165,000 to 180,000, the figure mentioned by General Poett in his letter. He said that 11,000 of that extra 15,000 would go to the "teeth" arms, that the figure for the infantry would be 8,440, and that the peace establishment would be raised to 774.
But we also have evidence from another newspaper the Daily Express. The author of that article was Field Marshal Lord Harding, who should know a little about Cyprus. On 29th July, 1960, he wrote an article headed, "My Urgent Memo to the New Cabinet". Perhaps the Cabinet did not receive it. The former Governor of Cyprus, and a former C.I.G.S., protested against the Duke of Wellington's Regiment going overseas with a strength of 635 and said that its low strength would affect its efficiency. That is also what the then Secretary of State for War said in March 1959.
But the present Government have sent out battalion after battalion to Cyprus and other stations with establishments much below minimum requirements. I know that some of my hon. Friends think this does not matter, so long as the men succeed in doing their job. They say that the proof of the pudding is in performance. Let us see what that means, in terms of a battalion which is under strength. The reason why Lord Harding protested, and why the Secretary of State for War said that a battalion of 700 was too low, is that before a weak battalion has served very long overseas its 540 strength sags still further. Thus strengths are falling all the time and, with it, efficiency falls as well. The chaps remaining do one night on guard and one night in bed. They get "browned off". Already we have had signs of growing inefficiency in Cyprus. I put down a Question to the right hon. Gentleman about the theft of self-loading rifles from the S.S. "Livorno," in Cyprus. They were modern weapons, and 59 were stolen because there was no guard in Famagusta. I do not know what the circumstances were, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will set up a court of inquiry. Certainly there does not seem to have been any great efficiency in safeguarding those weapons. I blame nobody, but it is a warning sign.
Hon. Members opposite cheer at the prospect of battalions being sent to trouble spots overseas 25 per cent. or more below the figure that the Government themselves have said was the lowest figure for safety. They are taking risks—with what? With their political reputations? They are not risking anything there. No: as has been shown all through this century—and I have protested about this time after time—they are taking risks and are gambling with the efficiency and the safety of the Army. They did it at Chanak, in Palestine, in China, and in Egypt, and we found that they had done it when the war broke out. Sob stories were told in order to placate the feelings of hon. Members opposite. Their passions were aroused. One only needs to wave a Union Jack and they kept quiet. But the facts are there and cannot be disputed.
The battalions in Cyprus now will not get any stronger. I have the greatest sympathy and respect for the Secretary of State for War. He is in a hot spot because his recruiting figures are not good enough. His wastage this year is higher than it was last year. We were told that we would have 55,000 men in the Rhine Army, but there is no prospect of that, and there is no prospect of the minimum ceiling of 180,000 that General Poett talked about in his letter, being reached either this year or next year. Yet the bill goes up, or it is wangled in order to make it politically acceptable to Government supporters and to the country.
I now turn to the question of the deterrent. It is the oddest question, because the Government have succeeded 541 in fooling their supporters—and, they hope, the country, but they will not succeed in that because Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that you cannot fool all the people all the time. What they do is to emphasise one word, and that is "abolish". They say that the Liberal Party and my right hon. and hon. Friends want to abolish the British independent deterrent. My case has always been—and it was not so very long ago that I was in a minority of one on this side of the House—that we "can't abolish what there ain't". For there never was an independent British deterrent. The trick was always played, and it has been played here again this afternoon—and the hon. Lady falls for it—that we are talking about that as if that is available now, when what we really mean is that we hope that it will be at some time in the future.
After all, one has only to look at the form. In 1957 everything was going to be added unto us by the independent British ballistic missile. First, it was not British. I said it in our party meetings, and defence group, and in the House, but nobody paid much attention. They were all persuaded, because everyone was arguing from his own political position, that it was British and that it would he independent. It was, in fact, the American Atlas, which, incidentally, the Americans are now phasing out because it is obsolete. Thus, if we had succeeded in 1957 with Blue Streak we should have produced the biggest white elephant that the world has ever seen, and at even greater cost than the £100 million it cost to cancel it.
Then we had Blue Streak and when that was cancelled we had Skybolt. Hon. Members opposite presented that weapon as if it were a plane-borne version of Blue Streak. But all they have to do is to borrow a copy of Mr. McNamara's speech, which spells it all out. Skybolt was not a weapon in the sense that Blue Streak was a weapon. It was a defence suppressent and at a range of 1,000 miles it would have destroyed the defence which the aircraft would have had to meet. Skybolt thus presented the possibility of an aircraft being able to bomb over the target.
The hon. Gentleman frowns, as if he does not understand. That probably means that he has never read Mr. McNamara's defence speech. This is 542 what Mr. McNamara spelled out. When Skybolt goes up comes Polaris, the very thing that years before they had taken every opportunity to denigrate. Then of course when a little gap opens up we have Blue Steel, and fall back on the Press again. The Manchester Guardian, which ought to know better, and the Evening Standard, which never does, come out with stories that Blue Steel has a range of hundreds of miles. If Blue Steel were able to go more than 140 miles, the plane's pilot would have to spit on it to make it go a little faster and further. It is impassible that it could have such a range, and the idea that it adds anything to the British independent deterrent or that it adds to our prestige in the Kremlin or the Pentagon is nonsense. Affairs in those places are directed by people who know what it is about.
In any case facts known about atomic weapons are not put out for consumption in Russia or America any more than facts about the strength of units in Cyprus are put over for consumption abroad. Obviously the Russians know the strength of the units in Cyprus and so do the Americans. The only people who are not allowed to know are the British public and hon. Members of this House. Never in any circumstances must they be told. Again, my hon. Friend made a comparison between what Mr. McNamara told the Americans and what be gave to the Americans, for he gave information weapon by weapon, service by service and related details to general principles —because Mr. McNamara treats the Americans and American Congressmen as if they are adults. He wants their support and he wants them to know the facts. He realises the difficulties of defence politics and wants the Americans to help him. But here decisions are made in the light of expediency. At all costs the truth must not be given because it would be too ghastly for Conservative candidates to face the electorate with the necessity of telling them the truth. So what we get involved in, and caught up in, year after year, is arguing about a picture which is as remote from the facts as possible. This means the bill is high and the defence results low.
Before brig my hon. Friends will be speaking from the Government Dispatch Box. Let them now promise nothing. 543 There are difficulties which will have to be faced and the country must face them, for there is no quick answer, and anyone who goes onto a platform and says that all that is necessary is to vote Labour and then everything in the defence field will be put right is telling an untruth. It cannot be done.
The problem is one of a legacy of 12 years of sloth and ignorance. I will not say more than that—it is enough to get on with. The consequences are apparent. Hon. Members opposite twit us, as one hon. Gentleman did today, and ask where we stand about conscription. But anyone who asks that question should read the Army Reserve Act of 1962, for it is the only thing which enables the Government to be cocky for they could call up the National Service men or the "Ever-readies", if they had the guts to do so, but they cannot do even that.
Ideas advocated by hon. Members opposite or by me in the past have little relevance in the existing circumstances. For if overnight we introduced selective service of a more positive and sensible kind than is implicit in the Government's 1962 Reserve Act, that would not increase the strength of the battalions in Cyprus or in Borneo for a long time to come. It would not recall the 51st Brigade from Borneo and replace it on Salisbury Plain. Neither would it bring back the Gurkhas. It certainly would not fill in our manpower gaps in 1964. The weaknesses are there in terms of equipment and manpower. The only thing which the country can do is to get rid of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in the quickest possible time and then honesty and patriotism will demand that right hon. Gentlemen opposite give us support to put right the mess which they have left for us to inherit.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
I sit opposite the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in a state of enjoyable fascination whenever he speaks in our defence debates. Tonight the hon. Gentleman has left me two and half minutes in which to answer him and his hon. Friends. He seems to think that I have some small influence with my right hon. Friend regarding naval matters. I 544 can assure him that he is quite mistaken. It just so happens that occasionally in naval matters my right hon. Friend happens to do things which I think are right, as I think he has done in the White Paper.
In this intervention which I make at the last moment, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that I agree with a lot of the things he said. In fact, I thought that he was doing pretty well until his nuclear exchange with my right hon. Friend. He said, for example, that he thought we should need one or two more carriers and I could not agree more. I hope my right hon. Friend will note that that is an opinion which is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He wants more transport aircraft, more men and more and better equipment.
The hon. Gentleman also suggested that the multilateral force should be borne on the Foreign Office Vote. I think that an admirable suggestion. I would go further, however, and suggest that it should be manned by Foreign Office officials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Being a political exercise it seems to me that this would be an excellent solution which would kill quite a lot of birds with one stone.
It would solve the manning problems of the Navy and, to some extent, the accommodation problems of the Foreign Office. It would put politically minded animals in charge of an exercise which is certainly not a military one. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure us that the Government view with favour the excellent suggestion made by the hon. Member.
I shall sit down now, because I do not want to keep the House from the speech to be given by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for one second if I can help it. I will end by saying what I was hoping to begin my speech with—that I join with the hon. Member for Leeds, East, and many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in the tributes that have been paid to our chaps at the receiving end in these various operations. I congratulate them, their commanders and the staffs concerned, as we all do. The only difference between the two sides of the House is that I would include the Minister in those congratulations.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Paget (Northampton)
I am most grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) for being so very courteous. I am only sorry that I cut him a little short.
We have certainly had some splendid suggestions about the multilateral force, among them that it should be on the Foreign Office Vote, that it should be manned by Foreign Office officials and—from the Minister himself—that it should consist of TSR2 aircraft. The original suggestion was that the force should consist of submarines, but I understand that submariners said that rather than serve in a mixed-manned submarine they would swim. I do not know what the airmen would say about serving in a mixed-manned TSR2. It seems to me to be an alarming prospect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said that the independent British nuclear deterrent does not exist. It has often been said that the nuclear deterrent is a psychological weapon. It is aimed at men's minds. Nuclear weapons are not really weapons of war because war would be unmanageable if they were used. The question is, whose mind is the British deterrent claimed by the Government aimed at? I do not think that it is aimed at the minds of the Russians, for I do not think we are kidding them. I do not think that we are kidding the Americans either. It is aimed, in fact, at the minds of the British electorate. It always turns up in election years. It first appeared in the 1954 Defence White Paper, which said:The primary deterrent, however, remains the atomic bomb and the ability of the highly organised and trained United States strategic air power to use it. From our past experience and current knowledge we have a significant contribution to make both to the technical and to the tactical development of strategic air power.Later it said:Both the free world and the Communist world have the atomic bomb, though the free world holds the superiority in this respect.The 1955 White Paper said:In these circumstances our duty and policy are clear. To build up our own forces, in conjunction with those of our allies, into the most powerful deterrent we can achieve.That was 1955, an election year. After that year our nuclear force was called 546 a "contribution", according to the 1956 White Paper, which said:Our first and chief objective must be to prevent war by the maintenance of the allied deterrent to which we have begun to make our own substantial contribution.In 1957 it was much the same.
When we come to 1959 again we have an independent deterrent and the TSR2 has appeared, at least in the Estimates. One might have thought that by now it existed, but it still does not. We had the Vulcans and Victors appearing. We were told that we had a growing stock of British megaton weapons and Blue Streak. Everything appeared in 1959 but then disappeared again and we did not hear again about the independent deterrent until we came to this White Paper, in another election year. That White Paper says:It is the Government's policy not only to contribute forces to the main strategic deterrent, but to maintain an independent British deterrent.Thus we have it appearing in the White Papers of Elections years, but in none of the others. I suggest that indicates a little to wham this nonsense is directed. It certainly deceives no one except ourselves.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) in a most remarkable speech—I am sorry that he is no longer here—dealt with the argument with great lucidity and with complete logic. He pointed out that in the various phases, first the bomb, then the proposal to have Blue Streak, and then Skybolt, and then finally Polaris—in each of these an element of independence was lost until we were almost, if not entirely, committed to the alliance. He drew the argument that we should be totally committed to the alliance. That certainly seems the logic of the trend. I believe it is also the reality. If the Western deterrent is to be effective it has got to be indivisible. It has got to be the indivisible instrument of an indivisible alliance. This surely should be our objective if we believe in that alliance.
In this White Paper, we have, in effect, the catalyst argument put forward that the Americans might not use it; we could force their hand. Is that the way to create confidence in an alliance? I just do not believe that an alliance can work upon the basis that we devote a major 547 part of our effort to being in a position to force our allies to do something they do not want to do, least of all when it is something as horrible and appalling as atomic warfare. We just cannot work an alliance upon that basis. We have to have the confidence in that indivisibility.
An argument which we have heard but which does not appear in this White Paper is the "top table" argument, that possession of atomic weapons of one's own is a sort of entry into consultation in the higher decisions. Not only does history show the falsity of that argument, but the case where our presence at the top table was most effective was that of the Korean war when Lord Attlee, the then Prime Minister, flew to see the American President and as a result the change in the American command occurred. The only contribution of the Conservative Party on that occasion was to refuse the Prime Minister a pair. We had some measure of the Conservative Party's patriotism when their party interests are concerned.
I am afraid that as a nuclear power at Suez, Cuba, and on each of the incidents which have occurred since it has been a story of declining influence, not increasing influence. Influence within an alliance tends to depend upon having the things which the alliance wants. It does not arise from having the things which the alliance does not want. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is an overwhelming superfluity of power in nuclears, although in conventional arms the alliance often has not the forces which it requires.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to show a certain dichotomy on this subject. In his opening observations he spoke of nuclear options and said that he did not believe in them, at least for this country; the nuclear decision for this country was our certain destruction. But how do we have an independent deterrent as to the use of which we have no nuclear option? The whole point of a nuclear deterrent is that one has the nuclear option. He went on to say that it is an illusion to imagine that there are any means known to man to prevent an armada doing wholly unacceptable damage to these Islands. He is telling not us but the Russians and the world that independently we have no option; our choice 548 must always be not to invite this unacceptable disaster. A mere capacity for a post-mortem spasm is not a deterrent.
In a somewhat confused part of his speech he said that we shall in no circumstances cancel our five Polaris submarines. This is the very day upon which the Foreign Secretary, in a speech at the Geneva disarmament conference, indicated as a point which he regarded as of the utmost importance,A freeze of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles.I am quoting from The Times. He said that this had already been suggested by the United States. He noted that these new proposals had been put forward at a stagewhen we all recognise that a strategically stable balance of nuclear power has been reached, a balance which, frankly, it is in the interests of all to see maintained.I could not agree more. But does the Minister of Defence suggest that these are not strategic nuclear delivery vehicles? What else is a Polaris? Does he suggest that they exist? The first keel has been laid, but none of the weapons it is to bear. Does he really suggest that a freeze does not mean that new vehicles are not brought into being? Yet he has declared that in no circumstances will these five Polaris submarines be cancelled. This seems to be just another instance of the left hand of this Government not knowing what the right hand is doing.
I warn the right hon. Gentleman that, if one thing is certain beyond all others, it is that the Foreign Secretary is the Minister who has proved himself indispensable to this Government. He is the only person who has shown any capacity to rescue them from their various troubles. If this right hon. Gentleman comes into a conflict with the foreign Secretary, the Foreign Office will win.
We have a real and independent deterrent, but it is not nuclear. Our deterrent is designed to deter anarchy. It is designed to keep the peace. It is designed to deter those who seek to destroy the peace. In that in recent months it has achieved a high level of success, and I join in congratulating all those who have achieved it. I repeat that it is to keep the peace. Peace is not just an empty 549 negative thing. Peace is a relation between human beings, a difficult relation, probably an unnatural relation, a profoundly unstable relation. It is a dynamic thing. Every husband and wife must know this. Every family must know this. Every nation must know it. Amongst nations its price is eternal compromise. It depends upon the opportunity for second thoughts, the opportunity for pause, and in a world of new and young nations it has become our historic rôle to provide those pauses, those chances for second thoughts and, in words used by the right hon. Gentleman, tie opportunity for a new Commonwealth country to be born in peace.
There are many new Commonwealth countries and other new countries. The opportunity to be born in peace depends on this rôle we are fulfilling. In Europe this is still our rôle. The Common Market for us failed. I never regarded that as a disaster, and I am a European. The failure of the alliance would be a disaster. Its stability depends upon the common task of mutual defence rather than on any particular arrangements for the exchange of goods. That is what the unity and peace of Europe depend on. That is what we contribute independently to a mutual dependence and a mutual liability. The B A.O.R. stands for the unity of Europe. It must be in a shape and in a capacity that demonstrates to Europe, which in a large measure still depends on our leadership, our sincerity and our determination that the defence of Europe shall be real and that we are doing our job there. This matters.
Outside that there is the world of new nations—being born in difficulty, needing time, needing a chance for second thoughts when something goes wrong, needing a second chance, which we provided in East Africa the other day, which we are guarding for Malaysia and which we are providing painfully in Cyprus.
We need many things for this task. We need men and we are short in our recruitment. What efforts are being made to widen the field of recruitment, particularly in the technical arms? I should have thought that recruitment could take place in parts of the Commonwealth as well as here. We need support, technical and spearhead 550 troops. It should not be forgotten how in the last war German troops were often developed to a great degree of efficiency; how, for example, Rommel's panzer divisions, possibly the most perfect instruments of war, were comprised of 40 per cent. Russians. They often had men who were unwilling to serve. I am not suggesting that that is our need. I am wondering whether the Government are thinking along similar lines to bring the necessary numbers up.
What about the reserves? Battalions are being sent on what is active service undermanned, below establishment. They have certainly shown that they were not unable to do their job, but to continue under that sort of strain—of two men having to do the job of three—is something that cannot go on for too long. Why cannot units be brought up to establishment by calling in reserves when they are required for active service?
I understand that the "Ever-readies" now number nearly 5,000. The number is nothing like what we hoped for, but 5,000 would be quite a step towards filling the gap of 8,000, but they do not seem to have been used. Behind them are the Class A men. Then there are the Territorials. What effort has been made to secure volunteers who are ready to be used for the purpose of bringing parent unit so to speak, up to establishment when those units are required for active service?
It is no use having troops without equipment. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was looking for equipment which was robust, simple and portable. Robust as the Scout, simple as the TSR2 and portable as the non-transistorised radio? Why is it that although every civilian user of communications has or can have transistorised radios, the Army still has to lug about the heavier and, I should have thought, more liable to damage non-transistorised type of radio? The weight of the non-transistorised type, apart from anything else, makes it more vulnerable to damage if it is dropped. Should not the Government look at this simple matter?
The same can be said of helicopters. Wherever one goes one is told about the shortage of "choppers". We are told that the Hiller or Bell would be 551 excellent for the use of the Army. The Government do not seem to appreciate that this is now a command vehicle and that there is an immediate need for them. One hundred and fifty seems an absurdly small number to order.
Apart from that, there is the Scout, an expensive and indifferent machine, and the Alouette and then there are the tactical ones, the Whirlwind and the Wessex. We are short of all these. There is also the problem of bases. If as far as strategic mobility is concerned our Mediterranean bases all have a query against them, what are we going to do for long-range transport? The Beverley and the Hastings certainly would not do. The Comet and the Britannia are mainly for personnel. There is a great urgency here. When are we to expect that it will be met? One might almost think from what one is told that aeroplanes like the HS681 exist. They most certainly do not now. How shall we manage for seaborne forces if we have trouble in Aden?
This is where we ought to be spending instead of spending £350 million on Polaris submarines and probably at least another £200 million to equip and convert for low flying the V-bombers if we want to give them a little more life. In this, I ask again who are we kidding? It is not the Russians and it is certainly not the Americans. I do not think that it will be even the British electorate this time.
Decadence is a mood which will accept shadow for substance, which will prefer shams to reality and which lies to deceive itself instead of to deceive the enemy. We talk about the independent British deterrent. It is not independent, it will not be British and it certainly is not a deterrent. We are preferring here the shadow of power which no longer exists. This is posturing. This is indeed decadence.
What we need is a change of Government. One of the best things that come from a change of Government is that it is possible to discard policies which are clearly failures and which are continued only because a Government's reputation is committed to them. We have far too many of these failures at present. This Government cannot put these right. They have dealt for too 552 long in false coin for even their good coin to be recognised any longer. They can serve this country only by going.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. James Ramsden)
The wide range of speeches to which the House has listened today show what an immensely varied field of policy and of planning, with British troops engaged as they are about the world of action, the House has to pass under review during this season of defence debates. I shall not try tonight to reply to all the speeches made today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) spoke about the deterrent in a remarkable speech to which my right hon. Friend will wish to reply tomorrow. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) also spoke about the deterrent. He ended his speech by exhorting us to do more in support of the United Nations. I could not help thinking when the hon. Member ended on that note that, considering how our forces are employed at this time round the world, the way they are employed, and in what force, to promote stability in East Africa, peace in Cyprus and independence in Malaysia, it would be difficult for this country to be doing more at present than we are doing in fulfilment of the spirit as well as the letter of the United Nations Charter.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) and others spoke about aircraft. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will, no doubt, be replying tomorrow to what they said.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) spoke about the Royal Navy and deplored what I understood him to call its contemporary decline. I took him to attribute this so-called decline to our continental policy, as he called it. It would be very rash for me, a mere landsman, and speaking for the War Office, to venture too far into this field, but I must say to him that, considering that it is the Royal Navy which will man the independent deterrent of the future, the Polaris, and considering that in troubled situations throughout the world such as we have recently been experiencing almost the first thing one seems to 553 do is to look round for a Commando ship or a carrier—I am glad to say that one usually finds them—I have difficulty in sharing his pessimism about the future of the Royal Navy.
Also, think that it will please the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) if I tell him that, on more than one occasion, we have been grateful for the knowledge that on board any naval unit of frigate size or more there has been, and there is, I understand, kept at readiness, at least a platoon's-worth of Blue Jackets available for internal security purposes.
I shall refer at some length to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in opening the debate for the Opposition. Throughout his speech, I looked for points on which I should be able to agree with him. However much controversy enters into our defence debates—and there has been a good deal today—the House is, I believe, always pleased when we can find areas in which it is possible for both parties to speak with one voice on the subject of defence. I was very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman refer, as he and several hon. Members did, to the work which British forces are doing throughout the world. I was glad that he stressed the value to our allies of what we are doing with our forces world-wide and the importance of our contribution in this sense being appreciated to the full by the other members of the alliances of which we form part.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East speculated about the married quarters programme. I am not quite sure on what he based his allegation that there is to be a cut. I shall deal in detail with accommodation so far as it concerns the Army in next week's debate, but, broadly, the position is now as follows. A programme for the three Services has been established for the next three years which is estimated to cost £47 million. This is for building married accommodation in the United Kingdom. The programme will show a steadily increasing tempo and, incidentally, it is nearly double what was being spent in the preceding three years.
In 1963–64, we shall have spent about £10 million on married quarters in the United Kingdom for all three Services, 554 the Army' share of which will be £3.8 million. Comparable figures for all three Services for the next three years will be: £13 million in 1964–65; £16 million in 1965–66, and £18 million in 1966–67.
What is important about this decision is that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works has established in advance the shape and size of a programme extending over three years. He will now be able to make plans covering a reasonable period of time and thus get a proper relationship between the letting of contracts, the number of starts and the number of completions. I know that he expects substantial benefits from the fact that he now has under his hand—and again the size of the programmes is important—all the processes of designing, tendering and construction. All of this is desirable and necessary if he is to make the most economical use of his resources. The programme which I have announced will enable him to do this.
As regards the number of married quarters which we have started for the Army, we put in this year's White Paper the figure of 1,900. This was an estimate, but the actual figure is likely to be pretty close to it. An estimate of the number of starts we are likely to make next year is bound to be pretty rough at this stage, but what I would hope is that the number for all three Services will not be less than this year, and that the Army will get its proportionate share. Starts are only one aspect of the programme. What really matters is houses got ready for Service men to live in, and the completions are likely to rise steadily over the next few years.
May I take the Army as an example. We expect a rising trend in completions from somewhere over 1,000 in 1963–64 to 1,400 in 1964–65, 1,800 in 1965–66, and so on, with a further rise thereafter. I said to the hon. Member for Leeds, East that this was only in the United Kingdom. Accommodation for the Army in Germany is just as important for the morale of the Army, and in Germany we are beginning to see the fruits of a carefully prepared and planned programme such as I have announced for the United Kingdom. I hope to refer to this in more detail next week, but it is not too much to 555 say that by this autumn I hope we shall have gone a long way towards breaking the back of the housing problem in B.A.O.R.
We have also recently taken a step which, although not large in itself, will mean a great deal to those who will benefit from it. Up to now, when an Army unit has gone abroad on a compulsorily unaccompanied tour of a year, the families have not been eligible for official accommodation. This has meant that a unit going to Aden, for example, especially if it had only a short time in this country between tours, had to go away in a state of uncertainty as to what would be happening to its families. In future, these families will be eligible for accommodation in the United Kingdom. This means that public accommodation in this country will be made progressively available for the families involved. In a few cases it will be in quarters, but, in the main, accommodation will be in the form of official hirings.
The same principle will apply to all Army and Royal Air Force families separated for a year or more by compulsorily unaccompanied service overseas. As far as the Royal Navy is concerned, the principle will in due course be applied to families of all personnel on Foreign Service Commissions. For the time being, for practical reasons, it will, however, be confined to personnel on foreign service commission in the Aden-Bahrein area, the Persian Gulf frigates and 45 Commando Royal Marines.
I make no apology for having spoken at length about accommodation, because I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, East, that the House and the Services should appreciate the scale of what is being done to tackle the married quarters problem. It is not only crucial for morale, but, in my view, the biggest single factor which we can identify in whether people come into and stay in the Services. It is therefore very significant for recruiting.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton, in an intervention in my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence's speech, asked about the deployment of the Scout. At the moment, the Scout is deployed in Cyprus and is on the way to the Far 556 East if it has not already arrived. By June, eight aircraft will be deployed in the Middle East and 16 in the Far East. The Scout is a good aircraft. The pilots like it and, as we keep it in service, maintenance problems, which are always more difficult when a type is new, will become progressively easier to cope with.
There has been considerable interest in the House in recent months in the military uses of light helicopters. For that reason, I believe that what my right hon. Friend announced this afternoon will be as welcome to the House as it is to the Army. I emphasise that what he was referring to in announcing the number of 150 was a first buy. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) discussed the various types and asserted that what the Army wanted was the Hiller. The hon. Member was not quite accurate in what he said. Either helicopter would be suitable for the Army's requirements, either the Hiller or the Bell. The hon. Member need not shake his head. Certainly, the Army Council has never said that one should be preferred to the other. A choice of this kind is not, however, to be made on the basis of generalities. It has to be made, as my right hon. Friend indicated, on the basis of detailed evaluation as regards both suitability and price. This will be done and my right hon. Friend has said when he will make the announcement of his decision.
§ Mr. McMaster
Assuming that both aircraft are equal in performance, will not the prospect of export orders also affect the decision?
§ Mr. Ramsden
Certainly, all these factors will be part of the evaluation which my right hon. Friend undertakes.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
Will the Minister be a little more precise than his right hon. Friend and tell us which models of the Bell and Hiller are under consideration?
§ Mr. Ramsden
The models are the most up to date. It is the three-man type which the Army wants, the light helicopter.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I have not seen these models and I cannot give the hon. Member any further information, but I will see that he gets it.
The addition of light helicopters to the establishment of field force units in the Army will obviously add enormously to their mobility and flexibility. The armour, the gunners, the infantry, sappers and signals will also get some of these helicopters. They will be an enormous help to commanders in their control of operations and, obviously, will save untold time on reconnaissance, as well as making it more efficient. They will also be used with slung stretchers for the evacuation of casualties.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The position is, I think, that the Bell and the Hiller were evaluated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation in the normal way, as was the Hughes, and that more recently at Boscombe Down we had a final look at the Hughes. That final look and the process of testing may well have come to an end last Saturday. I know certainly that it was undertaken recently.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East spoke about mobility. I was rather surprised to hear him say that we had been fortunate in achieving the rapid and successful moves of units that were our recent experience. We were able to achieve what we did because of having good aircraft in our possession and having them disposed skilfully where they were likely to be needed in theatres throughout the world. I am glad that the hon. Member mentioned mobility, because in recent operations the Army has great cause to be grateful to Transport Command of the Royal Air Force. What the hon. Member has said enables me to pay Transport Command a tribute which, I am sure, the whole Army would support.
Transport Command's strategic force of Britannias and Comets, as supplemented by the Hastings, the Beverley 558 and the Argosy, is capable of meeting all our contemporary requirements. As the hon. Member knows, the force is to be augmented by Belfasts and VC10s. This is relevant to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about long stages.
The House will also be aware that the Royal Air Force provides for us the tactical lift helicopters required by the Army, Of all theatres, this lift is the most important in the Far East, in the jungles. During 1963, the resources available to the Army were strengthened by the addition of a squadron of Whirlwinds and half a squadron of Belvederes and a new squadron of Wessex Mark II helicopters will become operational during 1964. So the picture, with the new step of integration of light unit helicopters into the Army and all other improvements in mobility which I have mentioned, is encouraging, and it is very relevant in the light of the Army needs, to which recent operations have so obviously testified.
The hon. Members for Leeds, East and Dudley mentioned manpower. This is, clearly, mainly an Army problem. I think that a detailed analysis of the present position of recruiting, which the House will certainly expect, and an account of what we are doing to remedy shortage would probably be better left until the debate next week on the Army Estimates. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton asked about Commonwealth recruiting and the recruiting of other nationalities than British. I am looking into this and will certainly be prepared next week to give him the conclusions we have reached.
In the context of a debate like this one, I think that the best I can do is to review for the House how the concept of voluntary forces has stood up to the calls made upon them by recent events and discuss whether in the light of what has happened this concept is still a sound one. No one today has advocated conscription, but there has been criticism about the numbers of men that we are able, and that we plan, to maintain. We intend to stand firm on the principle of long-service regular forces because we believe that they can be raised in adequate numbers to do the job, and, as my right hon. Friend said that they can do it better and, in the widest sense of the term, more economically.
559 To come to details, I want to say a word about numbers. There are two aspects—the numbers of units and the strength at which we can keep those units manned. Obviously, there have been many calls on us of late months, and units have been sent overseas all the time to augment force levels in the various theatres. We have sent a brigade headquarters and two major units to the Far East. We have sent a divisional headquarters, a brigade headquarters and 8 major units to Cyprus. We are keeping a battalion in Swaziland and a battalion group in British Guiana.
We have done all this without weakening our cover for internal security in any of our overseas garrisons, without drawing upon our commitment to the Commonwealth Brigade Group in the Far East and without calling upon the British Army of the Rhine to provide reinforcements, as we should have been fully entitled to do within the N.A.T.O. rules, with the exception of the battalion assigned to SACEUR for the A.C.E. mobile land force.
What has this left us with in the United Kingdom in case of further calls? Again excluding Germany and the Strategic Reserve, we have remaining uncommitted a brigade group with a headquarters and supporting elements of all arms. That is not all, but I distinguish between the Strategic Reserve and the other elements that I shall mention shortly, because these are units kept at a high state of operational readiness and equipment and training.
So, in the event of limited war breaking out—and it has not done so in the sense of a full-scale shooting war—we have the option of rapid intervention with a brigade group complete. For the follow-up we should probably have to look to Germany. That would be for limited war. But experience has shown that limited war is less likely than the kind of fire brigade operation with internal security as its main objective, such as we have had to deal with lately. For this type of operation we do not rely only on what is technically called the Strategic Reserve, and of the 11 units recently dispatched to Cyprus and other theatres, 3 have come from other reserve elements in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We are not half way through 560 this, in spite of calls recently made on the Army which we have answered. We still have, excluding the Strategic Reserve, units and headquarters available in the United Kingdom. Here again, I do not include what is available in Germany. This is the kind of operation for which, if it can get there quickly, a battalion group is often all that is needed and, dependent on circumstances we may use one from Germany. We have a battalion group at appropriate notice there.
I come to unit strengths. The hon. Member for Dudley asked about establishments, and the hon. Member for Leeds, East spoke of units in Cyprus being what he called many hundreds of men short of establishment. The House should begin by getting this clear. There is a peace establishment of four companies and a peace establishment of three companies. There is also a war establishment.
There is certainly a problem here—how could there not be a problem, with the Army 5 per cent. short of its manning ceiling? But the problem is manageable. We do not bring units to war establishment for the kind of operations in which they are engaged at the moment. The peace establishment of an infantry battalion is about 660 men, including attached. Because of recruiting shortages, the great majority of infantry battalions are, in one degree or another, short of that establishment.
We cope with that situation in a number of ways. We arrange manning priorities with regard to the needs of the particular theatre to which units are going. For example, as jungle operations are a strain, because of the terrain, the Far East has had priority for manning. Internal security operations, such as those in Cyprus, mean intensive guard and patrol duties and it is necessary to see that men get the necessary rest if the unit is not up to strength. This is a factor to be taken into account in deciding force levels and frequency of relief. This we do, and that is what I mean by saying that it is a manageable problem, and that is how, in the sort of operation we have so far undertaken, it has been managed, and managed successfully.
If operations hotted up to a shooting war, it would be a different situation, and it would be quite normal to call 561 upon reservists. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked about this. In that case, units would have to be brought up to war establishment and in due course it would mean raising first-line reinforcements, or there might be circumstances in which, if the present sort of operations were unduly prolonged, we might use some part of the reserves. This is where the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve would come in. If they were to be used to strengthen units already deployed in, say, Cyprus, it might ease the problem of reliefs and might make some regrouping possible.
I know that the Ever-readies would have liked to have been called on to go to Cyprus, and are probably disappointed at not having been used. I have been asked why they have not been used. The House should not under-estimate the problem of making use of any kind of reserves. The use of reserves of any kind, even voluntary reserves who are ready and paid for just this type of call-up, is a considerable step to take, and should not be under-estimated. It would mean a considerable disruption of men's lives and jobs, and we do not want to do it unless the military reasons for doing so are really compelling.
There is the further point that such a call-out would have repercussions outside this country, and on international opinion in circles where the nature and purpose of this reserve are less well understood than they are here. All I say is that, quite plainly, other factors besides just military ones come into play in a situation like Cyprus, which we have always made plain is a limited commitment for this country and one that we are making great effort to have shared by others, as we believe it should be shared.
I repeat, therefore, that we are coping with a difficult world wide situation with a great deal of success and with more than a little in hand, both in terms of Regular units, and reserves, Regular and voluntary, that we have not so far committed.
§ Mr. Wigg
In 1959 the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor told the House that the extra numbers he had allocated would give an establishment of 774—that is, in relation to the 11,000 out of the 15.000. Now, without telling the 562 House, the Government have introduced an establishment of 660. We have been told that only this afternoon. Yet the Press have been told about these battalions of 600, whereas in actual fact there is not one battalion in Cyprus which is up to 600 in strength.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I am not aware of any figures about strengths having been given directly to the Press. I have told the hon. Member that the battalions in Cyprus are short of their establishment, and they cannot avoid being so while the infantry is short of manpower up to the planned recruiting target. I have explained to the hon. Gentleman how this problem is coped with.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am not charging the right hon. Gentleman with being disingenuous, but he has not told the House the whole truth. It is not only the infantry. He sent out two regiments of the Royal Artillery, carrying out an infantry rôle, and announced as being 600 strong, whereas they are in fact somewhere about 450 strong.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I am not aware of any announcement having been made with my authority or that of my right hon. Friend. I have explained the position as fully as I can to the hon. Member.
I conclude by saying a word about our commitments. I agreed with the hon. Member for Leeds, East when he said that these were no fewer, and that they certainly did not look like becoming fewer in the future. But although it may be true to say that the places where we are involved are no fewer in number, we now tend to be involved in a slightly different way.
Here I agree with the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). If it is true, then this is relevant to the size and kind of forces which we plan to keep. Many countries for whose security and stability we were formerly responsible are now independent and, with independence, their stability and security has become primarily their own responsibility. Where this independence is threatened on a serious scale such as would constitute a threat to world peace, the fact must be faced that our ability to cope single-handed is limited—not by any unreadiness or lack of means on our part to supply help, but because the future of 563 independent states rapidly becomes a matter of international responsibility and international concern. This is a fact of life today, and one which we cannot alter by military over-insurance.
The logic of our position is that the vital use of British forces is in the early stages of these situations. The hon. Member for Leeds, East had this right. This obligation we accept to the full. To bring timely help to our friends, to safeguard British interests abroad and the lives of British subjects, demands that our forces must be trained, equipped and disposed about the world so as to be capable of instant response. This it is within our power, as it is our determination, to achieve.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. M. Hamilton.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.