HC Deb 27 February 1964 vol 690 cc642-84

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment to Question [26th February]: That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1964, contained in Command Paper No. 2270.—[Mr. Thorneycrof.]

Which Amendment was, 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".

3.58 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

The purpose of our modern practice of an extended debate on the defence White Paper was so that we could get rather more information about policies and provisions for defence, so that we could usefully have a discussion about defence strategy and policy as well as the details of the Services. The whole business is becoming reduced year by year to almost a farce because of the Government's exercises in the art of gamesmanship. We are told less and less in the White Papers year by year and the whole purpose, certainly of the present Minister of Defence, seems to be to conceal as much as possible without actually telling lies.

Between the White Paper and the debate we have a period when the newspapers are obviously being inspired with stories which they can print. A little twist is given to the gamesmanship by the Minister of Defence who allegedly tells us what was not in the White Paper, but was in the newspapers, doing it not in his opening speech, but hinting that if he is pressed hard enough he will do so in his winding-up speech.

By conducting these matters in this way there is less and less purpose in what we are doing. I make this gentle protest about it at this time. To put the House of Commons into a position where it can usefully discuss figures on these two days would be a more helpful exercise than to give the Minister an opportunity for gamesmanship of the kind which he displayed yesterday.

The right hon. Gentleman's performance yesterday was a good Parliamentary performance, enjoyed by all of us —indeed, enjoyed by most of us as much as by himself—but there were no answers in it to the questions and the problems that have been canvassed just as hard as the idea that he was trying to put over yesterday that he was giving us answers. For the most part there was no real discussion of the policy that is informing us of the actions of our defence organisation while he is there.

We still do not know how relevant is the figure of £1,998.54 million to the policy that the right hon. Gentleman is pursuing and to the provisions that we should be making, and we do not know how real the figure is. Yesterday, he implied that it was untrue to suggest that he had been guilty of a little clever gamesmanship over that figure, and had got it down to just under a sacred £2,000 million. I stand on my view. I have not the slightest doubt that had decisions—even the ones that he talked of yesterday—been taken at any time during the past 12 months, when they could have been taken, a larger amount would have had to fall into the Estimates this year than is now the case.

Therefore, to that extent, whoever he was misleading, he certainly was guilty of a little sleight of hand at the expense of the Services—at the expense of the Army, in respect of some items of equipment, and certainly at the expense of the defence of our country.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said in his first-class speech yesterday, the so-called announcements on aircraft which the Minister made were no announcements at all, with possibly two exceptions. The only real announcement that he made was to buy two items overseas. He gave us nothing new in respect of aircraft being provided here. He told us that on the P1154 a decision had now been made to go into development. But in paragraph 14 of the Air Estimates of last year we were told the same thing, in almost precisely the same language. We were told that it had now been decided that the P1154 was to be the successor. How has it come about that for a whole year nothing further has been decided than that? If he had decided then that it was to be the successor he must have decided that it should go into development. So we have been told nothing about that. All this build-up led to nothing.

We had the same thing in connection with the HS681 freighter. We were told that a Rolls-Royce engine has been selected, and after all the struggles that I had with the Minister of Aviation, speaking as a Derbyshire Member I am at least grateful for that much. But there is not much in being told that an engine has been selected unless we know that the aircraft will be ordered. We were not told if we were to have the aircraft, or how soon they would be in service. This has been hanging round for a long time. For the most part we have been talking about things which began to be born many years ago. We ought to be much further on now, if that aircraft is essential and we are to have it within a reasonable period.

We were told nothing about any other kind of replacements, although I would have thought we ought to have been told. Then we heard about the helicopter. There has been a lot of real anxiety and unhappiness about the way in which this matter has been handled recently. Up to a very short while ago —a matter of days—it was thought that without any question the Hiller was the preferred machine. Certainly, there was a preference for the Hiller unless the Bell had an overwhelming superiority. The preference for the Hiller was very convenient in terms of our aircraft manufacturing industry. But in the last week, apparently, the decision has been made to switch to the Bell, and that decision is worrying a lot of people—not politicians but people in the Ministry and people who ought to know about things that are going on.

Many assertions are being made, which I cannot check, about the level at which this decision was taken, and the suggestion is that the main factors considered at this stage had little to do either with the likely or known performance of the helicopter or with our industrial needs. There is now another week's delay in this matter. I ask the Minister of Defence to see that we are told openly and clearly what are the reasons for this change, if indeed the change is to be maintained, in order that we may know what is happening. Unless there is a real and unquestioned performance superiority on the part of the Bell helicopter the Minister ought to fall back on the considerations which led to the Hiller previously being favoured. I should be glad if the Minister would tell us a little more tonight, because this situation is worrying good people who are in no way politically involved.

The Minister gave us no answers on the question of the manpower situation, and especially about the allegations made concerning certain Army units. It is no use his saying—as he said, quite humanly—that, of course, there is a shortage in units; how can there be anything else when we have a 5 per cent. shortage overall? That is a fair point, but it is not the one that he has to meet. The question is: how much of a problem to the units themselves is the shortage which they are being asked to endure? How far can those units be expected to discharge their obligations, not at a moment like the present but when conditions become more active, as they well might, with the present shortage of numbers in units in Cyprus and other places?

Not so long ago the then Secretary of State for War made it clear—and he used two figures—that in his view 635 was the minimum size of a battalion, but that in conditions like those that we have experienced in Cyprus it should be not less than 700, because it had been found that 635 was too tight. Without going any further than I ought to in connection with these figures, it has not been denied that hardly a battalion in Cyprus today—there might be one—is even up to the lower of those two figures. Some are substantially short of the lower of those two figures. If this is so, we ought to be told how the Government see the position, and what they feel would be the problem that we would have to face if conditions in Cyprus became more active than they are now.

Do the Government admit the gravity of the situation? Or do they intend to start—some people believe that they have already done so—letting the Press and public relations officers of the Services put out figures in a very vague and off-the-record way—figures which overstate the situation and do not bear any relationship to the realities of the situation in Cyprus? If they have started that, will they stop it? Will they admit the gravity of the situation and accept their responsibility for producing remedies?—because it is the Government's business to produce remedies.

If conscription is out—and I accept the Secretary of State's case about that —and if selective service only adds to our problems, because men who are already heavily stretched must be taken off to train people who are coming in for only a short time and then going out again, what remedy do the Government propose? Shall we just have to wait and hope that nothing serious happens? If we have to wait and hope, let the Minister tell us. We should be hearing a good deal more from the Government on these issues.

There are other matters that I would like to raise, but I do not want to take as long as I usually do. It would be convenient if I left the rest of the "nuts and bolts" side of the argument to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), who will he winding up the dente for us, and dealt only with that part of the Minister's speech which has also played a prominent part in speeches by the Prime Minister, and which figures, in a way, in newspaper reports—the attention given to the question of the strategic nuclear deterrent and the independent British nuclear capability.

It is clear what part the so-called independent British strategic deterrent plays in the electoral strategy of the party opposite. If I have been less than gracious to the Tory Party, and suggested that it is not always forthcoming, at least I can compliment it on the fact that it has not kept this one dark. But I still find it impossible to see what part it plays in the Government's defence strategy. The aim which the Ministers are engaged in pursuing seems simple and can be stated in this way. They seek to identify the bomb—I will use the word "bomb" as a generic term—with British prestige, with British influence and with British power. They attach it to those three words.

Those who then raise awkward issues, like its credibility; or the strength or the validity of the claim that it is independent at all; or the effect on proliferation among other countries; become straight away, by definition, "little Englanders", who can be accused of not really caring for the greatness of Britain. Hence their arguments can and do change from speech to speech. What peg the argument is hung on does not affect the broad aim.

At Bury, the Prime Minister gave us the top chair at the high table, or the high chair at the top table—I do not know which it is, but it was the chair at the table argument. That has been met. We have debated that argument, and we can do it again. On the television programme "Panorama" and in this House, yesterday, the chair at the table argument had no place at all. Yesterday, the argument was totally different. Yesterday, and on "Panorama", the argument was that, because we did not trust the alliance—or only silly people like us would trust the alliance—we must have the power to go it alone in some circumstances. That is a totally different argument from the other one, and I must say that it is not an argument which was ever used by the previous Prime Minister.

I accept, as must everyone who gets involved in this, that there is an inbuilt disadvantage for those of us who put our side of the case. The patriotic or would-be patriotic opinion—the other day I called it the jingoistic nationalist substitute for patriotism—although crude, is a very simple appeal. Against it we have to use fairly complex and detailed arguments. Nevertheless, I believe that the Government here are going wrong and the impression I gain outside the House is that with every fresh "confrontation"—to use the fashionable word—between us on this issue the complex, rational arguments get through and the cheap jingoism is seen for what it really is, and not as patriotism.

That is why I am quite willing, every time the Government wish, to argue it again; although it has the disadvantage for some of us that we have to try to find some way of saying in different words what we said last time. I do not think that that matters much to some listeners in the House, because I get the impression that hon. Members opposite never listen to my words. But I listen to them and I have to listen to the same thing each time. I shall try to accept the challenge, as I did in November when I followed the Prime Minister, and as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did in January; and as many of us have done on innumerable occasions since.

First, may we establish some basic principles? Perhaps we have not done that sufficiently in the past. A Labour Government will see that Britain is defended. A Labour Government will accept the responsibility for the provision of forces, arms and equipment to fit a defence strategy, which, in turn, fits the foreign policy on which we should operate as a Government. Unlike what is occurring today, we shall not claim a strategy and policy approach for which, year by year, we fail to find provision or put into effect, as is the case with the present Government.

A Labour Government will not be neutralist and will be loyal to the Western Alliance and—if I may specifically state it—to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The opposite is a suggestion which, like others, Ministers are always slipping, in a half-hidden sort of way, into their speeches.

I reject it formally not only for myself, but for my party, and I say—as this has so often been shown to be part of our policy—that it is discreditable that such suggestions should go on being made. Just because, as came out plainly yesterday—I will go into the details in a moment—we see the alliance so much more strongly than do the Government in present world conditions, we shall be much more likely to be more powerful partners in that alliance than they are able to be.

Listening to a lengthy passage in the speech made yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman, I could not help thinking that he was speaking as though we were not in any alliance at all; that there was not to be an alliance. He spoke of a situation which we might have to meet when we could not defend these islands except by the threat of, if not the use of, strategic nuclear weapons; and the advantage of having them ourselves in order to do it. I wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman was giving notice of the break-up of N.A.T.O. If we are framing our policy on the assumption that the alliance no longer remains, we are serving an awful notice on our colleagues in the alliance about our real motives and thoughts.

A Labour Government will seek for Britain a rôle of greater influence in the councils within the alliance and in world councils. I would remind the House that world councils does not mean direct East-West councils. There are other places where there is world influence and we have not been able to play a sufficiently positive rôle. We do not believe —this is the nub of the difference—that pretending to have a nuclear capacity which we have not got, and are known not to have, advances any of these basic principles. The argument is really about that, whether it is a good thing to go on with what we believe to be a pretence; it is about that which we are having a debate, and not about principles. But we on this side of the House are firmly attached to the principles.

Let me try to disentangle one or two very confused suggestions. Let us put it this way. I accept, I think incontrovertibly, that the possession by the Western Alliance of a substantial nuclear capacity and capability has been one of the things that has brought about the kind of pseudo condition of stability that we have had over the last year or two, the uneasy peace. I accept firmly that that is so. But the Prime Minister seems to think—and yesterday it seemed that the Minister of Defence thinks—that when we have proved the part which the possession by the West of nuclear weapons has played, then, ipso facto, we have proved the case for Britain having her own independent deterrent, and we have not at all.

A debate about whether Britain could have, or if she could she should have, an independent deterrent; a debate about what we do if she cannot have it, or if she cannot have it at a certain time, is a debate which can go on without affecting the broad view that the West, nevertheless, in present conditions must continue to have a substantial nuclear capability.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence have never met this argument. They have taken the second always as having been proved once they had proved the first. It is the second I want to look at, the question of the British nuclear deterrent, not the Western one. I ask the House to note the change in circumstances. We must look at our defence position, and certainly strategy, against a world stage in which conditions and circumstances change in the space of four or five years in an enormous fashion.

There was a time when, I think, Britain had, and the West needed, a capacity on our part to contribute substantially and significantly to the Western deterrent. That time was at its peak when the bombers were the major delivery system. That time began to pass as the bombers began to become not only less than the major delivery system, but almost an invalid delivery system. It was at its peak when missile defence was non-existent. It got less and less strong as that grew against us. It was at its peak when American capacity to guarantee the delivery of an effective retaliation by herself alone did not exist, when she needed other people's facilities, other people's capacity to fill in the spectrum a round the West.

When those three things existed, as they did not so long ago, the case the right hon. Gentleman now seeks to make could be made by reference to those circumstances, but every single one of those three situations has changed out of all knowledge. The bombers are not yet out, but, clearly, they are virtually out.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Rochester and Chatham)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I shall certainly give way, but every time I try to put forward connected arguments there are interventions which not only make it difficult to make those arguments, but they also take the time of the House. I shall give way, but it must be clearly understood that that will mean that I shall be speaking for longer than I intended.

Mr. Critchley

Is it not a fact that Mr. McNamara said in the week before last that the B52, whether strategic or not, would be held until 1969? If that is so, it would make nonsense of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Brown

I was just coming to that. That shows the reason for not being too quick in interrupting, for then one does not hear what is being said.

I said that the bombers are virtually out, but that does not mean they are totally out and that we cannot extend the life of bombers to a degree by re-equipping some of them for low flying.

Mr. McNamara said that the B52 could be re-equipped for that purpose at a cost of £1 million apiece and he gave figures of the number of the bombers and missiles. But we have to see the feasibility of doing that with these numbers and these resources. We could say that we should try to do the same with some of our V-bombers. Our V-bombers make up a relatively very small force and not all of them can be given low-level capacity.

There has been a great argument about what we can do about aerodynamics even if we did modify them for this rôle. A question which has not been answered is what would happen to the black boxes they have to carry when flying at about 500 miles an hour and getting the enormous buffeting for which they have not been made. The black boxes were made to function at about 45,000 feet and one cannot put a black box right merely by reinforcing it. Therefore, while we can attempt to spread this out, the extent to which we would be able to do so is very much exaggerated. Subject to what it is worth and for such a period as there is, there is a movement forward in the year when they go out, but it is not far away.

The need for bases and the rôle of bases for missiles, unless they are hardened and subterranean, has disappeared as a factor in this. I am talking about land-fixed point bases. Second-strike retaliatory missiles now exist in vast numbers wholly in American hands. They are more than enough if we are to believe the numbers given to cover all the targets which, a few years ago, had to be covered from a number of different areas and in different ways.

Whatever the case was for a British nuclear contribution in the 'fifties—and I admit that I saw it differently then, although I was in conflict with my colleagues and must be allowed still to think that my reasons for changing my views were right—it does not exist in these totally changed circumstances of the 'sixties and 'seventies. To make a case for an independent British deterrent today in the 'sixties Ministers have to prove it against a whole different set of circumstances. The view taken in 1954, in 1956 or at any time up to 1960 is totally irrelevant to the issue today.

One of the major charges against Conservative Ministers in their present reactionary and complaining political mood on this subject is that they will not, or cannot, re-examine this vital issue in the light of these changes. They have never admitted and, even now, do not want to admit to themselves, the consequences of having ended the Blue Streak missile and having decided not to continue with the development of a delivery system for strategic weapons. With that went all genuine independence. Once they took that decision, right or wrong, forced on them or voluntary, and took us out of the independent development of missile delivery systems for strategic weapons, they took us away from a position where we could have genuine independence.

No amount of playing around with it, no amount of appeals—whether to patriotism or jingoism I leave them to decide—can get round this issue. This is the question which, I frankly believe, the right hon. Gentleman The Minister of Defence understood during that period when he was out of office and made his much-quoted speech from below the Gangway, to which I listened. During that period his mood and approach, if not his actual words, were much nearer to those of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) yesterday than with his mood today.

We became dependent on the grace and favour—let us choose harsh words to get it clear—of somebody from thereon not only to give us a supply, but to keep us up to date with "know-how", keep us up to date with development and to see that we got new marks as the old marks went out. We put ourselves totally on their grace and favour. That we paid hard-earned money for it does not alter the fact that whether they gave it or not and kept us up to date with continuing developments, was their decision. We can say that Polaris is a mark of dependence. We can say that it is a mark in inter-dependence if used for other circumstances. But one thing we cannot say is that it is a mark of independence.

I think that the issue is this. Is a separate British nuclear capability—let us call it "separate"; let us lose the word "independent", because independent is what it is not—required in the name of inter-dependence and of a greater alliance capacity? This is the issue that we are trying to get the country to debate. In my view, it is the only case that can now be made. A case can be made—I am not sure that it is wholly proved and I am not sure that I can see all the circumstances in which it might operate—and circumstances can be described in which it might be required as part of some inter-dependent activity in the alliance. I can see that that case exists. I would take a lot more persuading before I accept that it is made out. In my view, a case cannot he made out that we need a separate delivery capability in order to bring the alliance's total capacity up to the desired strength. The alliance has the capacity.

There are other problems which have to be solved, problems which affect the question of responsibility within the alliance, problems which affect sharing of policy decisions and sharing of powers. These are very real problems. I am sorry that the Prime Minister did not stay. I would rather have said this while he was here. Problems like this are not solved—their solution is not even contributed to—by describing them in a distorted fashion and then saying that it is puerile to say they can be solved. That is not merely an argument. It is nowhere near the standard required of a Parliamentary Private Secretary, let alone of a Prime Minister.

The problems do exist and a solution must be found. It may or may not be helped by the rest of the case we on this side are putting, but it is not puerile. It may be very difficult. It is no use saying that the problems never will be solved because the American Congress and the great American people will never permit them to be solved. The facts of life are facts of life, even in America. The break-up of the alliance, which I believe seriously is one of the possible consequences of not solving this, is a very great matter for America, too, and there are people in America who understand that.

To all this the Conservatives pose two answers. I will try to put them fairly. I said just now that they put the top table argument that, even if someone has to provide us with them and even though we are totally and for all time dependent upon them for "know-how" and development, nevertheless possession gets us to international conferences where otherwise we would not be allowed. That is the top table argument.

Does it get us there? What is the case for this? Where are the examples? The only example ever quotod is that we were at the conference which ended, at any rate temporarily, I hope permanently, nuclear tests by the Americans, the Russians and ourselves. We were certainly there. I think that it is fair to the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), whose greatest fan I have never been, to say that he played a very distinguished part in the debate and the arguments that led up to that conference. I do not accept that we could not have played that part if we had not had nuclear weapons. The right hon. Gentleman played that part as a world statesman. He played it as a politician. He played it because of certain associations with the United States and the United States Administration.

I put this in its bluntest and perhaps least acceptable form. Whether we had physically been at the test ban conference or had not been at the conference, there would have been a Test Ban Agreement and we should have been left to decide whether, like France, we would refuse to honour it. That is all. Even that conference, which is the only one we have got to as a result of possessing the weapon, did not require us for its successful outcome.

What otter conferences would Ministers like to select and say, "We would not have been there but for the nuclear weapon"? Are there only three of us in Geneva at this moment? On the contrary, there are 17 of us. All the rest are non-nuclear Powers. They got there without the ticket. Why is the assumption made that they can all get there without a ticket, but that we cannot?

Yesterday, the Minister of Defence talked about sharing inside N.A.T.O.—planning, staffing, command sharing, and all that. He mentioned Italians, French and Germans taking part in that. Which of them has the ticket? This assertion is made. There is no evidence to back it up. Therefore, I believe that there is nothing in the argument at all.

The case that the Government advance is the one the Minister advanced yesterday, that we cannot trust the alliance or our allies in all and necessarily unforeseen circumstances. They do not say that they cannot trust them now. I do not accuse them of that. I do not want to overstate the case. They are not saying that they cannot trust our allies now. They are not saying that they cannot trust them in foreseeable circumstances, although they sometimes get near to saying that. They say, in fact, that it would be unwise to trust the alliance, or our closest allies, in circumstances ahead, which, at the moment, we cannot foresee.

Let us leave aside the fact that, if all members of N.A.T.O. are to hold that view and base their policies and actions on it, we will all be acting like de Gaulle, we will all be acting like France, and there will be no N.A.T.O. Let us suppose that the unforeseeable arose. We now have the missiles. We have retained for ourselves the independent right to threaten their use, to use them, in circumstances where our allies, or the alliance, were not prepared to threaten their deterrents either in our defence or with us. Let us get it quite clear that that is the circumstance, one where the alliance, particularly a major ally, has refused to allow the main strategic deterrent to be threatened on some issue which we regarded as important.

The assumption is that we would then threaten it ourselves. How sensible, how credible, how valid, is this assumption that is made so largely and so freely? Some considerations are left out of account here. First, the size of the force which we would be threatening is then a very relevant issue. When the bombers have gone, what is the size of our force to be? It was to have been four Polaris submarines. It is now to be five Polaris submarines. We do not at the moment know whether we shall have any other aeroplanes with a bonus nuclear carrying capacity, but there is a possibility. I would have to amend my argument to take account of that, if it happened. There is no certainty that it will happen.

Why were the four submarines put up to five yesterday? I hazard a guess, I suspect that it was because, with four submarines, we cannot guarantee to have two or more on station at any one time. When refitting is allowed for, when going out and coming in is allowed for, and when accidents are allowed for, it might be that only one would be on station. If only one was on station, vulnerability becomes a possibility, even with a Polaris submarine, because there is the whole question of routes out and home. I suspect that it was, therefore, decided that it would be better to have five.

Whether we have one submarine on station or two submarines on station, how, having been refused the use of the major deterrent, are we then going to bring about a great decision that nobody else is interested in by the threatened use of that force? The Minister is right in saying that it can do substantial damage. Even 16 Polarises fired off could do damage. It is an altogether different matter whether they would do the thing that the deterrent has to be able to do—to inflict such damage that it is unacceptable, because that is what gives it credibility, that is what gives its deterrent effect.

There is no point in the deterrence because we believe that it is strong. The power of deterrence is not obtained because of what we believe. The power of deterrence is in the other man's mind. He has to believe it. Faced with a force of that size, I believe that it is totally incredible that there would be a situation in which the other man would say, "I back down in face of the threat of this force".

Even if that were so, which I do not believe, the effect of us threatening its use would be to put at risk the cities of our allies which had just refused to put them at risk themselves. When Ministers make this case, do they ask themselves what they think would happen, what they think our allies would be doing while we were doing the very thing for them and all the rest of the world which they had refused to do themselves? Do Ministers believe that our allies, even the major one, having provided us with the missiles and being still in the process of providing us with other things, would say, "We will not place our towns at risk, but if you do so the best of luck"?

It will not happen that way at all. Our allies will take steps, never mind about the man we are trying to deter, to see that the deterrent effect is reduced, if not cancelled altogether. What persuasion does the Minister think the allies would be putting on us? Has the Minister forgotten all about Suez? Mr. Robert Murphy can write a book now saying that nobody except Lord Avon took Marshal Bulganin seriously. He may or may not be right. But someone in America took something very seriously and reacted very strongly. We would not find the right hon. Member for Bromley, I am sure, willing to join the ranks of those who believe that American reactions had nothing to do with our change of course during the Suez operation.

If those pressures were substantial enough to cause us great humiliation and a change of course, then what pressure does he think would be applied on us if we were threatening to plunge their cities into nuclear disaster? Of course, it would not be allowed to happen in the way the Minister says it is to happen. It seems to me that the consequences for us of doing it would be that we would be the ones that would be deterred and not the ones that we were trying to deter. It certainly could not be more than a once-for-all threat. Let us be clear about that. If we ever once use these missiles with this power in the face of the committed opposition of the nation from which we got them, that would be the end of getting missiles. There could not be a second time. There could be only a first time, if there could be even that. I do not believe that there could be even that. In the meantime, on the two arguments as unsubstantial as this, the country is forced to spend vast sums of money, often at the expense of other urgently needed defence requirements.

Although we say that all we are spending on this is 10 per cent. of the total bill and that it may get less, as someone said in one of the papers the other day, there were many ways of calculating this figure and a lot depends on whether TSR 2 is put into the conventional rôle. The 10 per cent. figure does not really take in anybody.

We spend vast sums of money or this sector at the expense of other sectors of defence. We encourage greater proliferation among other countries, because the case the Minister made yesterday can be made by every single one of them. We are forced to run a defence policy in total conflict with our foreign policy, instead of the defence policy being an extension of foreign policy. We cannot just shake off the total absurdity of the Minister being forced as his only defence for this policy to say to the House, as he did yesterday, the exact opposite of what the Foreign Secretary was saying in Geneva the day before.

The Foreign Secretary, I am quite sure, expected to be believed and to be regarded as sincere and committed when he urged at Geneva that we should have immediately—as quickly as we could get it a freeze on missile delivery systems both in type and the present number. He did not say that that should apply to everybody except Britain. If he had said that there would haw been such a laugh that that would have been the end of it. He expected them to believe that he meant —I expect he did mean—all of us, and that if we can get it here and now let us get it here and now.

If the Minister of Defence had admitted that yesterday, bang would have gone his claim. He said that it applies to everybody but us and that in no circumstances will Britain not insist upon having its five submarines and its 80 missiles. I do not think we shall get them until 1970, but he says that whatever we do between 1964 and 1970 we in Britain will not join in until after 1970. What is the difference between that and de Gaulle's refusal to join in the Test Ban Treaty? This not only torpedoed the Foreign Secretary, publicly and openly, but this is the ridiculous situation we get forced into when we are trying to defend this kind of policy or those kinds of arguments.

It seems to me quite clear that, first, the possibility of an independent use of the British deterrent is as illusory as the pretence that we have it. Secondly, that the maintenance of more than one nuclear centre of power in the alliance with each retaining independence of action must destroy the alliance in the end and defeat any idea of interdependence. Thirdly, that the Conservatives who seriously hold this view cannot have projected their examination of it beyond the aeroplane age or they would have been bound to see the logic of what I have been saying. Fourthly, that while a decision to change policy by Britain would not of itself stop others—I give the Minister that point—nevertheless, unless we make such a change we are in no position to try to get others to agree to it and to put it into effect. That is the side of it that the Minister does not see.

When, then, would Labour do? I face this as frankly as I have done the rest, but I say to the Minister and to back bench Members opposite that merely shouting at us, "What would you cancel?", and "What would you do about a given weapon?", which is not here yet, and which will not be here for five years—some not for 10 years—is asking questions that we cannot answer, and I do not intend to try to answer them. The Minister will not even tell us about the things that are supposed to be coming in this year. When he spoke yesterday he was talking about this year and next year. I am being asked to say what we would do about things five or 10 years hence. Hon. Members opposite need to know the arguments behind our approach. As I have said clearly, the general principles on which we would work will depend on any particular weapons system applying at the time.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)


Mr. Brown

I cannot give way, I have been speaking for a long time.

First, Labour does not say throw weapon delivery sytems that exist, even if they have a dying credibility or capacity, into the sea. We have never said that. But we do say, "Stop continuing to provide these large sums in an effort to project our independent nuclear stature, our separate independent nuclear stature"—as I prefer to put it—"beyond its present stage".

We must stop trying to project this separate, though not independent, nuclear capacity and instead use what currently exists, what we have already planned to do, in negotiations which should be initiated with our allies to prevent further nuclear proliferation within the alliance and also to obtain better arrangements, acceptable arrangements, for consultation, participation and sharing within the alliance. I believe that that is the right and only genuine posture that we can take and that it is the only posture related to the circumstances.

I now come, for I do not intend to dodge the issue, to the Nassau Agreement. This mesmerised the Minister yesterday, when he was led into the trap in regard to the Foreign Secretary. He was thinking too much about this point to see what else was going on. We are frequently asked by hon. Members opposite what we would do about the Nassau Agreement. The answer is that we would reopen negotiations on it in the light of the stage which the whole concept has reached; that is, when we come into power. We will reopen negotiations with the ally with whom the agreement was made and that, in turn, forms a part of our negotiations with the other partners in the alliance. That will have to be done in the light of the situation as it then exists.

We laid the keel of the first Polaris submarine yesterday. We will not lay another one for, I believe, another year. Not even the first one will be very far advanced if we have an early General Election and we come into power, and even with the longest possibly delayed General Election the second one cannot have been started. Will those submarines have another rôle to play? Will they be able to be used as part of the negotiations to bring about a better situation within the alliance? The answers to these questions depend not only on the rôle the submarines can play, but on what our partners in the alliance consider can be their use and the part they can play.

The question whether the submarines can be changed in some way and used to fit in with our concept of national defence will have to be considered. When people talk about cancelling Polaris I trust that they understand that the submarines are built by us in Britain. They may not have to be tied to American missiles. As I understand, they consist of two British ends and an American centre slotted in. I suppose that we would not want the American centrepiece if we did not have the missiles, but that does not mean that we would not want the submarines, or that they could not be modified for our purpose. It also does not mean that there will necessarily be less work in the shipyard. As I say, the whole question is what rôle the submarines can play and, having answered that, a decision must be taken at the operative time.

What we seek is clear. We want some real and genuine partnership in the alliance through better political institutions—institutions that do not now exist —for that would meet a great deal of the criticism of the others in the alliance about the absence of sharing. We want to limit nuclear provision within the alliance and thereby, I hope, in the opposing bloc to the very minimum possible—and the minimum from our point of view is provision by one. We must aim for provision by one along with effective sharing among the others. That is a much better situation than provision by any number, all being provided independently. The fewer the providers within the alliance the better. Equally, we must do what we can to prevent any extension of nuclear provision outside the alliance.

If we are to make early progress on this score, as we want to, we must make as early progress as we can towards an international police force and following that, some agreed limitations on national bloc armaments. We ourselves must make some progress in this sphere. We must also make better provision for the fulfilment of the defence rôle which people want us to perform, which we are capable of performing, which the Comonwealth requires us to do and which others in the alliance want us to do. We must make better provision for that than we have made.

It is clear that a decision to the effect that we will not try to have, in name or in aim, a separate national nuclear capability and that we wish urgently to discuss with our allies the consequences of that decision by us could only help in reaching forward towards some success with the four basic issues, the four main aims of policy, I have set out. A determination by this Government to ignore all the factors involved and to take refuge in an obstinate declaration that black is white and that illusory is reality is not only costly, dangerous and ineffective, but encourages proliferation and obstructs such chance as there may be of progress in the international sphere.

The views I have expressed can be discussed at length. It is obviously right and essential that the electors of this country should know the pros and cons of the argument and where each party stands on this issue because in due course it will be one of the factors —never the only one, not by a long chalk—on which they will make up their minds as to who should represent the country after the next General Election.

I urge all hon. Members, particularly hon. Members opposite, to discuss the argument on its merits. We commend the Amendment because we strongly believe, on the merits of the case, that the Government have failed the nation in the provision of our defences and that this is largely because they have obstinately refused to face the facts of the realities of the nuclear age.

4.56 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Hugh Fraser)

I am sure that all hon. Members will join with me in congratulating the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) on his speech, although he has left us entirely obfuscated as to what the Labour Party would be doing in these circumstances. We somewhat anticipated that that would happen, and now we have seen our expectations fulfilled, even after having listened to the right hon. Gentleman for about 58 minutes.

The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) tried in his speech yesterday to denigrate what my right hon. Friend announced in the House and in his Defence White Paper. The decisions here are clear as to the aircraft, the fifth Polaris submarine and the various forms of equipment. For hon. Members opposite to attempt to denigrate this policy ill behoves them, looking back on their past military achievements and management. We must look back on these things when an Amendment such as this has the scope of reviewing our progress over the past 12 years. We must look back, when hon. Members opposite, such as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), now throw doubt on our ability, military management and military forces. We must recall that when we took office we found 249,000 soldiers in depots and training depots, ill-equipped to take part in any form of conflict.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

What nonsense.

Mr. Fraser

We must look back at these things. We must look back at the 1951 White Paper on Defence which was put forward by the then Prime Minister, now Lord Attlee. I appreciate that these things are different, but we were faced then with having to undertake a crash programme which upset far more than anything what we proposed to do. It is against this background that hon. Members opposite inevitably evade the issue by tabling their Amendment. We believe that what we have succeeded in doing in the last 12 years is to adapt our policy to the realities of the situation and, in my view, they are different from those put forward by the right hon. Member for Belper. When we came into power, we were faced with the twin tasks of continuing the process of the evolution from empire to Commonwealth, and of modernising our military approach so as to enable us to fulfil a rôle that we have always held to be not only a European, but a world rôle.

Hon. Members opposite have rather come round to this point of view in the last few days. In the defence debate a year ago, the right hon. Member for Belper said that there were few places in the world where those in authority locally would dare call on British national forces for protection and support. Twelve months later, events in Kenya, in Uganda, in British Guiana, in Borneo, and even in Cyprus, have prob- ably made the right hon. Gentleman look at these matters again. His prediction was too sweeping, and in a year's time he may find, again, that he was wrong in what he said this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has also come round to this view. He suggested last month that 1,000 men East of Suez, with the fullest provision for mobility, might be preferable to another thousand in Germany. We had the same tune yesterday from the hon. Member for Leeds. East

What I think we have to face in the next few years is the possibility that our political commitments will force on us a military responsibility that is neither that of the colossi—Russia and the United States—nor that of the purely European Power. Our defence policy must reflect these world commitments; with it, we can make a unique contribution in areas where the main points of friction and potential escalation have been occurring. That point was brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) yesterday afternoon. The House and the country should bear such considerations as these in mind when turning to the wider issue, raised this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman, of how these commitments are to be fulfilled.

There is an argument if one wants to cut back on our power, there is an argument if one wishes to economise by cutting our armaments—there is an argument in this direction, but I believe that no one on either side of the House is today prepared to envisage the abandonment of this rôle, because that is the greatest contribution we, as a country, can, and do make. We believe, however, that it is necessary to have balanced forces, equipped with both conventional and nuclear weapons and, in the last resort, with the nuclear deterrent under our control. Until quite recently, this was the view of hon. Members opposite, but they have now firmly declared that they are against a British deterrent —I hope that I do not derogate from what they have been saying—and, as far as I can see, against the nuclear part of our defences.

The TSR2 is obviously a case in point. We have on occasion asked hon. Members opposite across the floor of the House whether or not they wish to see this aircraft equipped with a nuclear tactical weapon. If there is an election coming soon, this is a matter on which they must concentrate their minds—

Mr. Wigg

Hear, hear.

Mr. Fraser

—but, quite understandably, horror is naturally evoked by the Hiroshima bomb, and even more by the possibilities of the destructive power of modern hydrogen weapons—

Mr. G. Brown

Is there a TSR2?

Mr. Fraser

An aircraft will actually be flying this year—

Mr. Brown

The question was about equipping the TSR2 with tactical nuclear weapons. There is no such weapon at the moment. We are told that an aeroplane will fly later this year. Will the right hon. Gentleman first tell us in what year he thinks that the question of equipping the TSR2 with a tactical atomic weapon is likely to become an active consideration?

Mr. Fraser

It became an active consideration for us last year, when we started building the necessary weapons, and from that point of view the weapon is actually building today.

Mr. Wigg

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why this was a main feature a year ago, while there is not one single word about it in the Defence White Paper this year?

Mr. Fraser

For the very simple reason that once we say we shall do a thing, we do it.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

The Minister has asked us about arming the TSR2. Am I right in thinking that this machine is a Canberra replacement? If so, can he tell us how our Canberras in Germany are now armed? Are they armed with British weapons?

Mr. Fraser

As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East pointed out yesterday, although she was constantly interrupted by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), outside Europe, our Canberras are armed with British weapons. That is a point that must be remembered.

We appreciate that this question of nuclear weapons fills every right- minded person with horror and awe. I quite see that if there were to be world disarmament, including disarmament of Communist China, or if there were to be a European or North Atlantic Federation, or if there were to be created the new political institutions to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) referred yesterday—if these things were to be brought about, there would be arguments for abolition, or for waiving national responsibility for the deterrent, and merging it in some higher sovereign power.

On this, I am absolutely open to argument. If we analyse the sort of policy preached by the Opposition we see that it is, over the next six or seven years, one either of absolute or graduated unilateralism. It means getting right out. Whatever name we give it, that is the policy now advocated by the right hon. Gentleman, and the politer name is graduated unilateralism—

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Is the right hon. Gentleman forgetting the existence of N.A.T.O., and the Western Alliance?

Mr. Fraser

That is the precise point I am making; that N.A.T.O., unfortunately, is not a political entity. It is not a sovereign Power. It is the best and most efficient form of treaty organisation we have ever seen, and to it we are absolutely loyal—[Interruption.]—What of the way we have given our bombers and soldiers, and so on? No one can deny this. This is the point I was making.

But there is a world of difference between a treaty organisation and a sovereign political institution—a point made by my right hon. Friend yesterday, and one that I shall continue to make—and I say that the policy put forward by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon is unlikely to have any effect on General de Gaulle or on Mao Tse-tung. In fact, it is unlikely to have any effect on anyone in this business of the wider dissemination of weapons.

The arguments for and against the retention of the British deterrent have been gone over many times in this House, and we have had arguments again this afternoon. I should like to recapitulate a few of these arguments after the right hon. Gentleman's speech before turning to the new and interesting arguments that he has put forward about the time-factor, about ownership and about the capacity of our bombers or our submarines to penetrate. I should like to make clear the purpose of the deterrent. We must not just look at the situation as we see it today. We must endeavour to look at it as it may be in ten to fifteen years' time. The function of our nuclear striking force is, first, to contribute to the overall Western deterrent and that is why we have assigned our bombers to N.A.T.O. We wish to make N.A.T.O. stronger and this is why we are going into the experiment on the multilateral force which has been condemned absolutely by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. We wish to improve it. It is hon. and right hon. Members opposite, despite saying that they are more loyal to N.A.T.O. than we are, who in this instance are wrong.

The function of our nuclear striking force is, first, to contribute to the overall Western deterrent, second to guarantee the protection of the homeland in the last resort, and finally, as an integrated part of our world-wide commitments. Here we must remember that the next ten or fifteen years may see great changes in the distribution of military power throughout the world and perhaps even the spread of nuclear weapons.

I would remind the House that defence to be effective in a world-wide rôle must cover the whole spectrum of deterrence. Defence must be, as it were, a seamless robe. To destroy the atomic nucleus of that strategic design by renouncing the bomb would neither strengthen our friends nor reduce our garrisons. This is absolutely true. Let hon. Members ask any of our friends in Malaysia and other parts of the world. We in this separate and distinct category of world power must ultimately have behind our soldiers overseas the sanction of the great military and nuclear power that we have.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

This is a most important point. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept the view expressed by the Prime Minister in his "Panorama" television broadcast that it is absolutely unthinkable that this country should ever use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear Power? If so, how can the right hon. Gentleman maintain that our nuclear capacity is relevant to our peace-keeping rôle in non-nuclear parts of the world?

Mr. Fraser

For the simple reason, and I should have thought that the hon. Member would have seen it without the need to spell it out word by word, that this would prevent our being blackmailed by another nuclear Power.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence made clear that, even when expenditure on Polaris reaches its peak, the total cost of the deterrent will still be well under 9 per cent. of the defence budget and in the 1970s will fall to about 5 per cent. The sum of money involved was attacked by some hon. Members yesterday when they suggested that it was far too great. I believe that this 5 per cent. is comparatively small and is well worth spending.

The other point raised by the right hon. Member for Belper this afternoon, and by a variety of hon. Members elsewhere, is the question of the credibility of the V-force and of Polaris. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman said that this is only for a matter of a few years. I say that in the matter of credibility it is clear from research that we have done in Bomber Command that there will be no gap whatsoever between the credibility of Bomber Command and the coming of Polaris.

Our striking force is small, of course, by comparison with that of the United States, but I do not think that it can be disputed that we make a valuable contribution to the defence of the West. I deny what the right hon. Member for Belper said today—that it is the opinion at Omaha or elsewhere in the United States that our contribution is of no importance. Even today, with the enormous massive surplus which the United States possess, I believe that for political reasons and because of our proximity to the Soviet and for other reasons ours is a valuable contribution even if it be only some 2 per cent. of the whole.

Presumably, the Leader of the Opposition admits that it is of some importance when he welcomes the assigning of the V-force to N.A.T.O., but this is only part of the problem. The real issue is whether we should retain the final control of this deterrent in our own hands. I believe that we should, and I believe that hon. and right hon. Members opposite should study slightly more what the effect of a deterrent can be. The right hon. Member for Belper seemed today almost to speak as though he were envisaging a period during which these weapons would be discharged. If they are discharged the whole object of the exercise has failed. The real value of the deterrent, and the reason for retaining this strategic nuclear potential, is to prevent an attack or threat of attack against this country or our interests. It is to influence the policies and the actions of others by the knowledge that, in the last resort, they cannot raise the stakes beyond a certain level without running the risk of a degree of damage which they must find unacceptable.

In this sense the deterrent is in use every day as a potent force for peace, at every conference table and in the mind of every political and military planner even if engaged only with conventional operations. But is the V-force, and will the Polaris force be credible? This question was raised today at Question Time and it was also raised in yesterday's debate. Some hon. Members opposite seemed to be positively horrified by the new flexibility and power which the Royal Air Force Bomber Command has displayed. I should have thought that throughout the country there ought to be rejoicing.

The V-force, of course, is constantly practising the techniques of dispersal and rapid take-off on radar warning which would ensure that it could survive a missile attack. Hon. Members opposite have visited Bomber Command and I should like them to visit it again. The second-strike capacity of Polaris is indisputable. Would the British warheads reach their targets? I believe that they would. The V-bombers can launch Blue Steel from high and low altitudes. The lone bomber, flying fast at low level presents enormous problems to the defence. No missile system has yet been developed which provides an effective counter to it. Even when the technical problems of knocking down a bomber flying below the present level of radar cover are overcome, the development of an effective defensive missile system to cover at low as well as high level the vast areas of Russia involved would be a fantastically expensive business in manpower and equipment.

We have gone into the questions of the range, of fatigue life, of crew training, of possible developments in enemy defences, and of probable loss rates, with great care. I am convinced, as are the commanders, that with the low-level option the V-force will be able to fulfil its rôle at least until Polaris comes into action and possibly for at least a year or two beyond.

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to the expert criticism in Flight magazine. It is a pity that he chose to read from only one issue. In the next edition there was a fairly considerable change of tone.

Mr. Wigg

The right hon. Gentleman twisted their arm.

Mr. Fraser

I did not twist their arm at all. These are the facts which I am trying to give the House. Extensive experience with fatigue meters on both Canberras and V-bombers has proved that the V-bomber force can be used for training and operation at low-level until 1970 and beyond. Hon. Members have referred to the very high cost which the Americans are incurring in converting their B 52s for low level bombing. This was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), who rightly pointed out that this is a quite different matter with their type of aircraft as opposed to the V-bomber. On the other hand, the modifications to the V-bombers which are necessary purely for their low level rôle are quite minor.

The hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to the growing vulnerability of even low-level aircraft to new forms of defence such as the American Redeye and the Aramis. The fact is that projects such as Redeye and Aramis are still very much is the development stage—

Mr. Wigg


Mr. Fraser

—and will take some years to get into production. Even so, these weapons have their drawbacks and limitations, and we are convinced that, in the time scale we are talking about, they would not affect significantly the invulnerability of our V-bombers at very low level.

The hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned the possible danger of attack from missiles launched from enemy submarines. I do not believe that such attacks on our shores are likely in the next few years, but, if further intelligence led us to change our view, we could, we believe, combat this danger by altering our tactics, possibly even by mounting a limited airborne alert in a time of tension. I point out here that, far from this being appallingly expensive, as the hon. Gentleman alleged yesterday, we should be able to mount a limited airborne alert and still keep the total cost of the V-bomber force well within the figure of 2 per cent. of the defence budget. There is, in fact, no requirement for the V-bombers to improve their penetration capability, to improve their speed of reaction or to raise their effectiveness in any other way which is likely to raise the cost of the V-force above the 2 per cent. figure during the next decade.

To sum up, I believe that it is sufficient insurance to be able to deal a retaliatory blow so damaging as to outweigh any advantage which might be offered by the destruction or coercion of this country. This capability the V-force will have until the capability of the Polaris submarine comes into effect.

Indeed, far from weakening over the next few years, the credibility of our nuclear force will increase. Its retention gives the Government the maximum number of options. In the last resort, it ensures the protection of this country from attack or from nuclear blackmail, and it gives us the shield necessary for the most effective use of our conventional forces in their world-wide rôle, whatever political or military developments the next decade may bring. If we come to successful negotiations on disarmament or at any time to a wider political integration, we have not a nebulous but a strong hand to play, but this, apparently, hon. and right hon. Members opposite would be prepared to throw away.

What is the position of the Opposition? What is their plan for the focus of our military power? It might be described, as I have ventured to describe it, as a Fabian approach, a policy of graduated unilateralism. The timetable, of course, has been a little put out by the fact that the V-bomber force will remain viable until 1970.

Briefly put, their proposals are to give Bomber Command unequivocally to N.A.T.O., to denegotiate the Nassau Agreement about Polaris, and, with the money saved, to strengthen our conventional contributions especially to N.A.T.O. Then, as a result of the goodwill which would be won from the Americans by this course of action, they argue, the Americans will give us not just a say about guide-lines, targeting and so on but a real measure of control over American nuclear weapons.

This is the general proposition. Of course, there are variations on it. The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has hinted at some sort of European-American multilateral force, but the Leader of the Opposition has stoutly declared that only Russia and the United States should have nuclear weapons. He did this on 16th January when he referred to the memorandum on this subject which he had forwarded to the British Foreign Office.

Whether N.A.T.O. or even the Labour Party—especially N.A.T.O.—can hold together under the impact of two such powerful contradictory statements of policy is difficult to forecast. According to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus)—who, I regret to say, is not here to give such useful advice to his hon. and right hon. Friends—and according to Mr. Walter Lippman, it could not. But the general thesis of the Opposition is clear. It is that by giving up our strategic nuclear capability we shall be handsomely rewarded. We shall save money, our world-wide influence will be greatly increased, and we shall gain control of the nuclear weapons of others.

But will this be so? The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that we should commit Bomber Command unequivocally to N.A.T.O. I hoped that we should this afternon hear more from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about this unequivocal commitment.

Does he mean that we should deny ourselves the right to withdraw bombers from N.A.T.O. if they were required for use in a conventional rôle, say, in the Far East? Does he intend to rely on the Canberra as our only conventional bomber until the TSR2 comes in? This seems an odd way of sustaining our conventional forces. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman meant "unequivocally" in some different sense.

What will the saving be? What will be involved, and what will be the cost of the measures necessary to enable the right hon. Gentleman to cut his proposed dash in N.A.T.O.? He will not be saving any money on the V-bomber force. It is to be committed to N.A.T.O. The Polaris submarine he would convert to the hunter-killer class. What objective would this achieve in economic terms? What about manpower for the increase in strength necessary? Where is it to come from?

All these questions have remained totally unanswered in the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members opposite during the past two days. But let us suppose that all these difficulties could be overcome, that the weakening of our position at home and overseas could be accepted, and even that the right hon. Gentleman were to become Prime Minister of this country and persona gratissima with the President of the United States, I notice that, last Saturday, he felt it necessary to go out of his way to deny to the Associated Press that, under a Labour Government, Britain would become neutralist between the United States and Russia, and this was repeated again by the right hon. Member for Belper today.

Even if the Leader of the Opposition were to become Prime Minister, if he were to be the idol of N.A.T.O., the hero of Wall Street, the "whiz-kid" of the West, the successful denegotiator of Nassau, and if he were to ask the boys at Omaha for some control over the use of America's deterrent, it would not only be the hon. Member for Gorton and Mr. Walter Lippman who would tell him to go and jump in the lake.

To hold any of the ideas put forward by hon. and right hon. Members opposite so far in this two-day debate is to believe an illusion, to deceive the people of this country, to undermine Europe's steady advance to greater security and to weaken our capacity for meritorious action overseas. Of course, the problems before us in defence and foreign policy are great and many.

We are not alone in these problems. In the lifetime of five British Parliaments, new currents in the world's aspirations have eroded much and have changed world history at an unprecedented rate. In this new world this country has not played an ignoble rôle. It has not shirked or evaded its responsibilities. The future may be uncertain, but if we diminish our power now, if now we throw it away for no clear purpose—and no clear purpose has been laid down by the Opposition this afternoon or yesterday—we can never regain it.

This is clearly what hon. Members opposite will propose at the next election. Whether they call it, depending on what wing of the party they come from, straight unilateralism, or graduated unilateralism, or a modified form of giving up the deterrent, the fact is that they will throw away our own nuclear power.

Mr. Wigg


Mr. Fraser

This is not jingoism. This is the belief that only with this power can we carry out the rôles which our position in the world demands. We could never accept a surrender of sovereignty to an unknown purpose, which is what hon. Members opposite are asking. We could never abandon our friends to a fate unknown, and we and many of their ex-supporters throughout the country will continue this fight. And we will win.

5.31 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Comparing the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones), with its modern outlook —although one might take exception to the conclusions which he reached at the end of that remarkable speech—with the speech of one of our historical monuments, I wonder how it is possible for the two same right hon. Members to remain in the Conservative Party.

The Secretary of State for Air had the impudence just now to suggest that there was disunity on this side of the House. I make a suggestion to him.

Let him indulge in some introspection and examination and make an analysis of the speeches made by some of his hon. Friends, not only on defence, but on the Common Market and resale price maintenance, to mention only one or two examples.

The Secretary of State for Air is mistaken. When it comes to the defence of this country, there are occasional differences of opinion on both sides of the House, particularly about the method of approach and the technique that we should employ related to the circumstances which confront us. What amazed me almost beyond tolerance and endurance was the amazing, grotesque and almost fantastic statement of the right hon. Gentleman that at the next General Election the electors will concern themselves with whether the TSR2 is to carry a nuclear device. There is an important, almost a major, topic for debate at the next General Election. Surely the right hon. Gentleman was not serious in advancing such a proposition.

I would accept without protest 75 per cent. of the speech of the Minister of Defence yesterday. Its delivery was impeccable. Its technique amounted almost to perfection. The conclusions were objectionable. But that was a speech to which one could listen. Today, the Secretary of State for Air advanced pretty much the broad propositions advanced yesterday by the Minister of Defence.

Let me tell the Secretary of State for Air what they amount to. The Government cannot go into the next election with any hope of success on the basis of their economic and social policy: there have been too many disasters throughout the country—in the North-East, Scotland, and so on. After all the bragging, boasting and ballyhoo about affluence and expansion and the like, the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon informed the House and the country about an increase in the Bank Rate. The Government cannot hope for any measure of success at the next election on social and economic issues.

However, the Government must have some weapon which they regard as formidable. What is it? It is an attack on the lack of patriotism in the Labour Party. That is what it amounts to. At the next election, the Prime Minister, with the claque and clique behind him, will say, "Look at these Labour people". He may even describe us as "Socialists", as if that were an opprobrious and offensive term. He will declare, "They are ready to give up the nuclear bomb in face of the fact"—and undoubtedly it is a fact—" that Soviet Russia intends to retain it." The imputation behind it is that the Labour Party is not concerned about the security of the country and has no intention of maintaining a measure of defence in order to promote the interests and security of our people.

Unfortunately for the Secretary of State for Air and the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence yesterday exploded that myth. He may have done so unwittingly. When there was some criticism made about the vast expenditure which the country must accept because of our defence organisation and defence propositions for the future, the right hon. Gentleman ventured to point to me, as an ex-Minister of Defence and an ex-Secretary of State for War, and assert that I had spent much more money in proportion to the gross national product than he proposes to spend. I made no protest at the time, although several of my colleagues sought to come to my assistance. I required no assistance. I accepted what the right hon. Gentleman said without protest or demur. He was perfectly correct.

That was at the time of Korea, of high tension in Europe and of the Berlin airlift. That was a time when there was the possibility—I will not put it higher, but it may have been a probability—of war breaking out on a vast scale, leading to a world war. We decided to spend the money on defence.

May I narrate the "crimes" of the Labour Government? I know how unpopular some of us were because of our alleged crimes. We decided to promote National Service and increased the period from 18 months to two years. That was unpopular in certain quarters, but how patriotic it was and how essential for our security at the time. No one can complain about our activities during the Korean War. Of course we spent money, and, what is more, we suggested a three-year plan, for which I was responsible, after consultation with my Cabinet colleagues. We did not believe in the annual plan, for many reasons well known to the Minister of Defence. A three-year plan involved the expenditure of about £5,000 million.

What about our patriotism? What about our desire to protect the interests of our country? I say this with great respect, and meaning no offence, but the Secretary of State for Air is just a small fish in the Government pond. When his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, a somewhat bigger fish, or even the biggest fish of all, the Prime Minister, comes along and indulges in poppycock about a lack of patriotism in the ranks of the Labour Party, they will get their answer; there will be a vigorous one from me. So much for that. That, however, is what the party opposite is leading up to for the next election, because I have already remarked it has nothing else to say.

The right hon. Member for Hall Green, although I differ from him fundamentally in his conclusion yesterday, because he was leading up to the Common Market—I know that he is a devotee of the Common Market and is sincere about it; no one disputes that—demolished completely, in the most devastating fashion, the concept of a British independent nuclear deterrent. The Secretary of State for Air had no reply to make to his right hon. Friend. Why not? He made a most ineffective reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), but, at least, he should have dealt with his own side. We cannot allow him to get away with that.

If the right hon. Member for Hall Green goes about the country and argues with that remarkable intellectual force which, undoubtedly, he possesses that the British nuclear deterrent is simply a piece of military nonsense—which, of course, it is—that would not be to the advantage of the Conservative Party at the next election. So he ought to have been dealt with this afternoon. Where is the Chief Whip? Why does he not reprimand him? I insist upon it.

Although I do not like using this sort of material, I have been gathering information and doing what sometimes my colleagues suggest I should do—a bit of homework. The right hon. Member for Hall Green was not far wrong. There are other people, not in the Labour Party, who hold the views expressed by him. No less a person—one would hardly believe it—than Lord Gladwyn, formerly ambassador to France, a Member of the other place, who occupies a high position in the European movement, and who is a man of some substance, has expressed himself in this fashion.

Perhaps the House will allow me to read what he is reported to have said: Lord Gladwyn, former British Ambassador in Paris, said here today that efforts of States like Britain and France to perfect their own nuclear deterrents were doomed to failure. Speaking at a luncheon of the French Atlantic Treaty Association, he said:,'Such forces could obviously never be used on a first strike and nobody in their senses could believe that they would ever be used in a second strike either, that is to say after the entire country, together in all probability with a large number of the limited bases of the deterrent, had been removed from the surface of the earth'. How right he is.

It reminds me of what the Secretary of State for Air said about the rôle of the V-bombers. He talked as if they would be used sometime. Surely, he did not really mean that. They are, or are alleged to be, a deterrent, not for use, just ornamental. He talked about their credibility and their increasing credibility. I ask the sensible Members of the House, on both sides, how is it possible to determine the credibility of V-bombers which have not yet been used in war? I do not know. I cannot understand it. One can only tell when they have been used. And so they must be regarded merely as a deterrent to prevent war happening. That is their purpose.

Do not let the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else talk about their rôle as if they could be used. The day the V-bombers are used in a second strike there will be very few of us here to know anything about it, and the right hon. Gentleman knows this. Indeed, that is the argument that is adduced by the other sice—that this is the deterrent. The right hon. Gentleman used it himself. He contradicted himself. He said that we must not allow ourselves to be blackmailed I should like to address myself to that for a moment.

During the course of this review of defence, there has been some debate about what is the valid reason why the Government insist on going on with this concept. On one occasion, I think, it was the Prime Minister, or certainly the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), who argued that there was a possibility, in certain circumstances, that the United States might default on its treaty arrangements with us and that we might be subjected to an attack, presumably by Russia. Let us not be mealy-mouthed about it. The potential enemy is supposed to be the Soviet Union.

I ventured to put a Written Question to the Foreign Secretary. I wanted to know whether there was any arrangement which made it essential for the N.A.T.O. countries to stand together, to work together, to promote something as tangible as an effective alliance. Let us not forget that the United States of America is a partner in that alliance.

I asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what treaty exists between the United States Government and Her Majesty's Government for military action by the United States in the event of nuclear aggression against the United Kingdom in the European zone. This was the reply of the right hon. Gentleman, and I ask the House to note it: Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government are parties to the North Atlantic Treaty, which provides that an armed attack against one or more of the parties in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and that, if such an attack occurs, each of them will assist the party attacked by taking such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1964; Vol. 689. c. 241.] That is firm language.

That is a treaty the terms of which we can understand. What does it mean? Does it mean that default might take place? Suppose that it did. Suppose that the United States defaulted on the treaty arrangement which I have just described. What chance would this country have in the event of an aggression by the Soviet Union? That is the answer to those who say that there is a possibility that some day we may have to operate on our own in the nuclear sphere. Let us dismiss such nonsense. It has nothing to do with whether this country remains great. It will remain great. Let us not indulge in a lot of hyperbole about that, as some people do. The country has quality, integrity and a sense of purpose. The country will remain great. I leave it there.

I now come, shortly, to the question of defence itself about which the right hon. Gentleman challenged us. He talked about our rôle and asked what we had to face in the future. He said that we have world commitments and talked about how to fulfil them. He said something about the need for a balance and equipoise—although that is not the word he used—as between nuclear and conventional forces. I leave that out because I have dealt with it.

What about defence? Let us look at it. What have we? Let us leave the V-bombers aside. They may have to be assigned to N.A.T.O. in some form. Here I will reply to the right hon. Gentleman's question. He asked whether the Labour Party or a Labour Government, in assigning the V-bombers to the Western Alliance, to N.A.T.O., would claim the right to have some return for the purpose of engaging in a conventional war. Of course they would. That is precisely our position in relation to our troops in Germany. Indeed, there is some talk just now of withdrawing some of our troops—I am sorry to say that it is a rather small number, smaller than was intended originally—in order to operate elsewhere. Of course, there would be the right to claim them back if it were necessary, and N.A.T.O. would understand it.

Then we have Polaris; but this is in the by and by. There is to be one in the course of a year, and then in the course of two or three years there will be two, three or four. If the Labour Government are to be asked what they would do, I think that the reply that we had from my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper is a very good one. Let us put it this way. If I were Minister of Defence and faced with a situation of that kind, what would I do? I am not going to be the Minister of Defence, but let us suppose that I were. I should not go into a Department of that kind as an amateur. I should know something about the ropes. I would know how to deal with some of the people who were trying to subordinate the political chiefs. But I leave that aside. That will do for some other occasion.

What should I do? Here I am faced with a legacy. I have inherited something. I accept no responsibility for that. I have protested against it, but in spite of that, I am in the will. The legacy is three, four or five Polaris submarines. I am told that they will be very useful in a second strike. Then I reflect. After all, a second strike may never happen, because I may go out in the first strike. So may the submarines. There is, of course, a certain amount of conjecture in what I am saying, but it is just a possibility.

What do I do? I say, "Let us wait and see what happens. We have spent a great deal of money on these things. If we are not going any further with them, we shall have to try to compensate for them and pay the contractors and designers. I would much rather do that and spend more money on conventional forces."

We have been challenged about that, and I come to it now. How should one spend the money? The Secretary of State for War said last night that he would like to provide more married quarters, because that would retain men longer in the Service. These are the men he needs. When we are talking about recruitment for the Army we are thinking not so much about the men coming in for three or four years, but about the men who come in and want to stay in. We must find the money for that and also the money for conventional weapons.

I do not object to that. Why? It is because I agree 100 per cent. with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. A Labour Government must, in the very nature of the case—whatever feelings are expressed in certain quarters, even in our own party, by people who have genuine convictions about pacifism and the rest—provide some measure of defence within the capacity of the Government and the capacity of the country to maintain our security. We have no intention of throwing it overboard. I would say the same, if a Labour Government came into power, about the V-bombers, the bomb and the missiles.

I hope that one day the right hon. Gentleman will do as Mr. McNamara does in the United States, and give us more information about what we have. I must say, with all my past Service Department experience, that I do not know what the country has got. I do not know how many bombers or missiles we have. I do not know anything about it. I have a suspicion that there are some members of the Cabinet who do not even know. I should not be at all surprised if that were so; but that is by the way.

I give the right hon. Gentleman this assurance. If we come into power with this concept of defence that we hold, and by which we stand, of conventional defence as strong as we can make it, holding up our heads in the world with that, we shall not scatter all our nuclear weapons, not throw them overboard, not dump them in the sea. Of course not. We are not as stupid as all that. Perhaps that is the answer to those who question our patriotism and who are getting ready for their aggression against us at the next General Election. Indeed, I do not know that there is much more that can be said about this.

I began with this point, and I end with it. I think that this is all a very fine tactical manoeuvre. For example, I doubt whether the Minister of Defence, because he is intelligent—I say that quite respectfully and sincerely—really believes in the credibility of this independent nuclear deterrent. On the other hand, he might be prepared to accept the concept of an association with the Western Alliance with General de Gaulle in it.

I end with a suggestion. If the right hon. Gentleman does not do this before the Labour Party comes in as the Government, he will not have much chance; he had better take my advice. The right hon. Gentleman should get the N.A.T.O. people together—the United States, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, even Luxembourg, Turkey and Greece. There is a very strong reason why we should retain N.A.T.O., because of the antagonism between those last two countries, which, I hope, will never flare up into a conflagration. Let the right hon. Gentleman get these countries together again and ascertain whether it is possible to integrate some measure of our actual defence weapons and organisation into the Western Alliance. I do not believe that it is impossible to bring even General de Gaulle and the French into it. Anyway, the effort should be made.

If we are asked about the Labour Party policy, I would say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper explained and enunciated it in a most able fashion. I would add only one point. I think that it depends on what happens to the Western Alliance in the next few years. If anything goes wrong there, N.A.T.O. may not have the sovereignty we should like it to have, but if anything goes wrong there we can dismiss all idea of not only nuclear defence but conventional defence. We must ensure that we retain something. It is the only thing we can hold on to.

Therefore, I beg right hon. and hon. Gentlemens opposite not to cherish the illusion that by retaining this concept of an independent British nuclear deterrent they can dismiss the Labour Party at the next General Election. It may be an issue, but we shall stand up to it, and I think that we shall win.

5.58 p.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

The House always enjoys listening to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I well remember when he was Minister of Defence, and I think that I am on record at that time as admitting that he was a pretty good one.

The right hon. Gentleman said how my right hon. Friend ought to deal with the chiefs. My recollection is that the right hon. Gentleman got on pretty well with the "top brass" when he was Minister of Defence. He may not admit that now, but he certainly did so. He took some credit today for the percent- age of the gross national product which he spent at that time. He certainly stepped up the orders during the Korean war, but if he will cast his mind back he may remember that about 50 per cent. of the aircraft orders had to be cancelled because they had been handed out in such a haphazard way to the aircraft industry that the aircraft could not be made, or if made, would not have been of much use to the Service.

The Conservative Government had to deal with the problem in 1951 and 1952 after they had come into power. I see the right hon. Gentleman nodding in agreement. I am very glad that he admits it. I am sure that he is the type of man who would. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about patriotism I should feel happier if a great many of his colleagues had the same patriotism that he has. A great many of us on this side of the House feel that way.

Having listened to every speech in this debate, I find that I have heard very few constructive suggestions about what should be done to defend Britain. It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) to say, "We do not know; we shall have to review the situation. What we do depends on circumstances". The General Election is only a few months away. The keel of the first Polaris submarine has already been laid and the centre section, we understand, is being bought from the United States. The right hon. Gentleman talks about having to renegotiate the deal. But if the Labour Party is not to have Polaris with nuclear capability, what is there to negotiate except cancellation fees for the work already done in the United States? I do not understand what renegotiating there is to be done.

The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made a very long speech, and again, I did not hear any constructive suggestions by him as to how the country is to be defended. There are many ways in which we can approach this problem. We are told that we seek to keep nuclear weapons for their own sake. I know that there are sincere feelings among people who want to get rid of these weapons. This is a complicated matter to decide.

Forward to