§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the Secretary of State for Defence, may I announce that I have selected the Amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and that I have not selected the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1968, contained in Command Paper No. 3540.The White Paper before the House today is inevitably to some extent a holding operation. Major decisions were taken in January on the commitments and deployment of the Forces over the next five years. The House debated these decisions at some length six weeks ago. They will take some months to be reflected in detailed new programmes for the redeployment and run-down of the Forces, and further discussions with our allies will be required before we take detailed decisions on the shape of the Forces when redeployment is complete in 1972. I will deal with some of the issues involved later in my speech.
In terms of hard news, a main purpose of this White Paper is to record the achievement of the targets which the Government set themselves over the last 12 months, and to describe certain major steps towards the better control of policy and finance in the Ministry of Defence.
Last February we said that compared with the position at the end of confrontation, by the end of this month we would have redeployed 30,000 men from the Far East and Middle East to Britain. With 31,000 men back home, we shall have more than achieved that target. Moreover, some 5,000 men will also have returned from Germany with the redeployment of an infantry brigade, as agreed by the N.A.T.O. Council last December.
We also said last February that by the end of this month we would have reduced the number of those working in or for the Services in Singapore and Malaysia by over 20,000. This target, too, we shall have more than achieved 51 with a 21,500 reduction in Singapore and Malaysia.
I said last November that I would make a £100 million reduction in next year's defence budget so as to bring it down to £1,890 million at 1964 prices. This, too, has been achieved. Indeed, compared with last year's Estimates, there is a reduction of £58 million at constant prices although, as I warned the House in November, this is masked by an additional £59 million due to wage and price increases, an addition of £52 million caused by devaluation, and an addition of £13 million due to certain housing loan drawings being carried on the defence Vote for the first time. I must further remind the House, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did in his statement on 16th January, that cancellation payments still to be negotiated in respect of the abandonment of the F111 programme will increase the total defence budget as presented in the Estimates for the coming year.
In terms of income per head, and taking the N.A.T.O. definitions of defence expenditure, next year's budget falls midway between those of France and Germany. It is about the same as that of France, as a percentage of gross national product.
Now, I turn to reorganisation. Last year we abolished the three Service Ministers of State, replacing them with two Ministers, one for Administration, the other for Equipment. This change has fully justified itself, not least in lightening my load as Secretary of State. It will be consolidated on 1st April this year by the abolition of the three Service Permanent Under-Secretaries and their replacement by two functional Permanent Under-Secretaries working to the functional Ministers. This represents a reduction from five to three in the Permanent Under-Secretaries in the Ministry of Defence compared with the position which I inherited in October, 1964. I believe that reductions in staff right through the Ministry of Defence are certain to follow.
The main importance of this change, however, is that we shall in future have a single Civil Service exercising financial control of defence expenditure across the board instead of the four Civil Services 52 created by the 1964 reforms. There was then in practice a federal structure involving separate civilian organisations for each of the military Services, working to a central civilian organisation which supervised, but did not wholly control, their activities. The integration of these separate compartments of power will lead to much more effective financial control of defence—something which, I believe, Parliament will welcome. Provided that Parliament agrees, the first Votes in the new form will be presented in 1970, in two years' time.
On the other hand, it is neither possible nor desirable totally to integrate the three uniformed Services in this way. For operational, management and morale reasons, they must remain distinct. To some extent, the fact that their main rôle will lie in Europe in future may reduce the scope for closer integration of the Services. Outside Europe, where British forces were often operating independently of allies, it was possible and desirable to set up integrated commands. Inside Europe, the command structure for British forces must be compatible with that of the Alliance in which they serve. In Northern Army Group, for example, the British Army will work as closely with the German, Dutch and Belgian Armies as it does with the British Air Force or Navy.
On the other hand, a fully effective military input to the policy decisions which the Ministry of Defence must take requires greater centralisation of the policy machinery under the Chief of Defence Staff. Last year we established a single officer, Admiral Dreyer, as Chief Adviser on Personnel and Logistics to exercise oversight over this area in all three Services.
This year we have established a Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Operational Requirements in place of the former two-star appointment. But the increased authority of the post at the centre will ensure that at the earliest stage the requirements formulated by single-Service staffs, on which procurement decisions are based are consistent with each other and with the strategy and weapons concepts which are necessary to support Her Majesty's Government's defence policy.
Another change, also reported in the White Paper, is the decision to give the 53 Chief of Defence Staff a military organisation under an Assistant Chief of Defence Staff for policy who will do military thinking on the long-term problems of the Services, with an integrated staff including representatives of the three Services but also of the civilian and scientific elements in the Ministry.
There is much discussion nowadays about the adequacy of the Government machine to deal with the problems of the modern age. Some doubt whether the structure of the Civil Service provides the Government with the necessary types of expertise. Others argue that in order to establish more effective control of policy a Minister should have a personal Cabinet on the French model composed of individuals who share his own approach to policy and may not themselves be drawn from the Government machine. No doubt the Fulton Committee will have much to say on these issues, but I believe that experience over the last three and a half years in the Ministry of Defence may provide some relevant lessons.
The first line of criticism does not apply much to the Ministry of Defence, which, unlike some other Government Departments, includes large numbers of those responsible for carrying out policy decisions, namely, serving officers of Her Majesty's Forces. So far as a Ministerial Cabinet is concerned, in a large Ministry like my own, facing immensely complex problems of policy and management, I did find it necessary to set up a small group of analysts to help me, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Permanent Under-Secretary and my chief scientific advisers to evaluate the mass of material available so as to ensure that I asked the right questions and that the answers I received from the machine were relevant, but they were all Members of the Ministry itself and once this technique of analysis was solidly established through the so-called Programme Evaluation Group which I announced last year we found it better to embody it as part of the normal policy machine under A.C.D.S. (P), working closely, of course, with civil servants and scientific officers of an equivalent level. These improvements in tie central control of defence policy will help us immediately in carrying out the formidable tasks imposed on 54 the Ministry by the Government's decisions in January.
The real watershed in our post-war defence policy, as I argued in our last debate, was the decision we took last July to leave our bases on the Asian mainland in the middle 1970s. By comparison with that decision our decision in January to complete this process by the end of 1971 and to fix the same target date for our withdrawal from the Gulf is one of timing, not of principle, but it faces the Ministry of Defence not only with major new logistic problems but also with the need to take certain policy decisions during the next twelve months which, on the earlier programme for withdrawal, we might have been able to leave open for several years.
On the logistic side we must now bring back to Britain some 50,000 Service men, many with families, in under four years. In itself this is not a major problem. By the end of this month, as I have just told the House, we shall have already brought over 35,000 Service men back to Britain in about a year and a half since the end of confrontation, but since nearly all the available barracks and married quarters are already full, and we do not want to build or buy new accommodation for a limited tenancy, we must phase this redeployment of 50,000 men to Britain with a rundown in our Services overall amounting to at least 75,000 in the next five years, and with a reduction of 80,000 in civilians employed by the Forces world-wide, 30,000 of whom are in Britain. And as this double process of redeployment and rundown proceeds we must cut our support and headquarters organisation commensurate with cuts in our fighting units. In this last respect much has been achieved already. In the last four years we have cut the number of civilians employed in headquarters and out stations by 47,000, and in the process have reduced the Ministry of Defence headquarters numbers by over 7,000.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
This is rather complex. There is mention of 7,000 on page 22 of the White Paper but on page 55 there is a total of 22,800. Is it 16,000 or is it 22,800? Can the right hon. Gentleman elucidate this?
§ Mr. Healey
If I may answer this off the cuff, there has been a reclassification 55 of some 5,000 from headquarters to out-stations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. I do not want to mislead the House on this—in our decentralisation in making an overall reduction in all headquarters and out-stations, and taking account of this reclassification of personnel, it is 47,000, and 7,000 of those are in the Ministry of Defence.
Whenever we can take major decisions in advance of the supplementary White Paper which I hope to publish before the summer Recess we shall, of course, do so, and I am glad to tell the House now of the first of such decisions.
We have now settled the broad shape of the carrier programme. The Prime Minister's statement on 16th January brought forward the date on which we will phase out the aircraft carrier force. These ships were required till about 1975 so long as we maintained our commitments east of Suez. In the Atlantic we had always planned to rely in the 1970s for maritime air power mainly on land bases. H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and H.M.S. "Eagle" will now phase out as soon as our withdrawals east of Suez are complete. H.M.S. "Eagle" was previously intended to have an extended refit to operate Phantoms, but since such a refit would have kept her out of service till very shortly before she is now due to phase out we have decided to limit her last refit and to run her on with Sea Vixen aircraft. At the stage reached in the Ark Royal's refit, on which a substantial amount has already been spent, it makes economic as well as military sense to complete the ship as planned to fly the Phantom, so that the Fleet Air Arm will have our most modern fighter available during the last important phase of carrier operations, and this we have decided to do. I am sure the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) will be very pleased with this decision. We shall, therefore, have two carriers available almost continuously till our withdrawals are complete.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say if the Phantoms will be kept for the Navy or how they will be used, or will some be passed on to the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Healey
Something under half of the total Phantoms will be passed over to the Royal Air Force immediately and will not fly from the single carrier which will be fitted for Phantoms because, of course, that carrier can only accommodate a certain number of Phantoms.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Has the right hon. Gentleman any comment to make on the fact that the news he has just given the House about the "Ark Royal" was available to the lobby last week and was reported in the Western Morning News?
§ Mr. Healey
All I can say is that if it was available last week it was not true because the decision had not been taken at that time.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am very pleased with the statement the right hon. Gentleman has just made, but may I ask him why he did not inform the Admiral Superintendent, since this was in the paper, as my right hon. Friend has just said, and surely it would have been courteous to let the Admiral Superintendent know?
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, the House will know that when a matter like this is under discussion there are innumerable rumours as to what decision the Government may take. In this case there were only two possible decisions which they could take. One was to continue the refit and the other was to cease the refit. I indicated myself in the House in January that the case for continuing the refit was quite a strong one.
I can assure the House that the Admiral Superintendent was informed of our decision this morning, a few hours before I was in a position to communicate it to the House.
The House debated the political case for our decisions to fix the end of 1971 as the final date for our withdrawal from Singapore, Malaysia and the Gulf only six weeks ago, and I will not repeat those arguments now, but I think I should draw the attention of the House to the encouraging progress which has been made in recent weeks towards creating an alternative basis for stability after our departure in nearly four years from now.
57 First, the Gulf. On 27th February the Rulers of Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial States announced that they had agreed on the establishment of a union of all nine States, providing, among other things, for collective defence, a unified foreign policy, a joint council of Rulers and a central budget. This closely followed the earlier announcement of a union between the two Trucial States of Abu Dhabi and Dubai for defence, foreign affairs and other purposes.
This is an encouraging demonstration of a constructive approach on the part of these Rulers to the problems with which they will be faced as a result of the decision to withdraw British forces from the Gulf by the end of 1971. These consultations were arranged entirely at the initiative of the Rulers, and we were not involved, although we have naturally been discussing with them the connected question of the future of our treaties with their States. We welcome the agreement which they have reached as an important step towards ensuring future peace and stability in the area, and we shall be ready to help in whatever ways we can to make it effective.
I do not believe that the importance of this agreement was exaggerated when the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs described it last week as the most important event in the history of the Gulf. The House will be glad to see that the Kuwait Government welcomed the decision and pledged their full support for the Union. The House may well ask itself whether these great and constructive strides towards greater unity and self-reliance in the Gulf would or could have been taken so rapidly and successfully had the British Government not announced its own decisions on the Gulf in January.
We are equally concerned that an alternative basis for stability should be established in South East Asia, too, by the time we withdraw from Singapore and Malaysia. Sir Alan Dudley is at this moment engaged in discussions with the Governments of Singapore and Malaysia about the assistance which Her Majesty's Government may give in mitigating the economic consequences of our withdrawal. I hope that in a few months' time there may be a meeting between Ministers from those Governments, the Governments of Australia and New Zea 58 land and ourselves to discuss the problems arising out of our withdrawal in more detail. Meanwhile the House will be glad to see that the Prime Minister of Malaysia received a warm welcome on his first official visit to Indonesia—a country which many will join him in seeing as a natural friend for its Commonwealth neighbours on the Asian mainland. I hope the Opposition will join the Government in welcoming the rapid progress made both in the Gulf and South East Asia by the Regional Governments in adjusting to our planned military withdrawal, even if it makes some of their prophecies of woe of six weeks ago look rather foolish.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Has this Agreement in the Gulf had any guarantee from the Great Powers such as Russia and the United States?
§ Mr. Healey
No. I cannot say that, and as far as I am aware that has not been the case.
As we have repeatedly made clear since the January decisions were first announced, Britain will maintain her Forces in Hong Kong so long as they are required there and will retain the capability for assisting in the preservation of internal security in our other dependencies outside Europe whenever that is required. Units of all three Services will continue to carry out training exercises on a substantial scale not only in Europe but also outside it.
Indeed the greater concentration of our Forces in the British Isles is likely to make overseas training more, rather than less, necessary in the years to come. Even last year 24 major British Army units, 93 minor units and 50 squadrons of the Royal Air Force, all normally located in Europe including the United Kingdom, have carried out exercises in countries as diverse as Canada, Norway, Kenya, Malaysia, the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean Commonwealth Territories. During the coming year I expect to extend both the scale and variety of those exercises.
We are very grateful to our friends overseas for providing these training facilities, and wherever practicable we shall be offering them reciprocal facilities in the United Kingdom as we are doing with the Government of Ghana. These regular training exercises overseas will 59 provide visible proof of our capability to help our friends and allies in case of need.
But once our withdrawal from the Gulf and Singapore-Malaysia is complete, any Forces we provide for operations outside Europe and the Atlantic area—whether under United Nations' auspices or otherwise—will have to be drawn from the capability which we maintain for the defence of Europe, subject, where necessary, to the agreement of our N.A.T.O. allies. Other than a reserve for possible internal security operations in our remaining dependencies, we shall not maintain a special capability for operations outside Europe. It is this decision which makes possible the major new savings in defence expenditure which we plan to achieve in the 1970s.
It is this, too, which will make it necessary for us to revise our plans for meeting certain contingencies which might flow from our residual political commitments outside Europe. Broadly speaking, we shall be able, in case of need, to provide smaller forces than hitherto planned for shorter periods of time, and at longer notice—for example, a week for substantial airborne forces, and a month or more for equipment which must move by sea.
Of what precisely this general capability will consist will depend, as I have said, on the Forces which we contribute for defence in Europe and the North Atlantic Area. And this, in turn, must be decided so far as the 1970s are concerned—and we are talking now about a period which does not start till nearly four years from now—only after further consultation with our N.A.T.O. allies both on what N.A.T.O. strategy should be in the next decade and on the most appropriate contribution for Britain to make towards the allied forces required to implement that strategy.
When the N.A.T.O. Council met for the first time in Brussels last December it endorsed the first major revision in N.A.T.O.'s defence strategic thinking since the Alliance was set up 19 years ago. Much of this change in N.A.T.O.'s military thinking will be familiar to the House since Her Majesty's Government has been pressing it continuously over the last 3½ years.
60 First, the Alliance has now agreed to take its opponents' intentions into account as well as their military capabilities, and sees those intentions as broadly peaceful at the moment. In the second place, N.A.T.O. has agreed that since the factors contributing to the present situation are unlikely to change overnight, the Alliance is likely to get a period of political warning should Soviet intentions change, in addition to the expected military warning of troop movements and so on.
Thirdly, N.A.T.O. as a whole now agrees that its military advisers should base their strategic plans on the Forces which Governments undertake to make available—in a five-year programme to be annually up-dated—rather than on the forces which the military would like ideally to possess if economic factors were of no account.
Finally—and I believe that this will prove to be the most important decision taken—N.A.T.O. has agreed that the forces which Governments are prepared to make available should be used so as to maximise the Alliance's capability for conventional resistance against a possible attack.
I want to say a word about that decision and to probe a little the thinking of the Opposition about it.
The right hon. Member for Kinross and East Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) stand at opposite ends of the strategic spectrum on this issue, as on so many others. But I believe that they are both mistaken in their view of what N.A.T.O. strategy should be. The right hon. Member for Kinross and East Perthshire echoes the approach of all previous Conservative Governments to N.A.T.O. strategy and puts all the emphasis on what he called—as reported in column 420 of HANSARD of 24th January:…a trip wire which trips, a nuclear deterrent against a frontal assault on the Continent …".That is why he went on to suggest that we might even now be able to withdraw some forces from Europe and said,I…should seriously suggest to the N.A.T.O. Council that European interests might be better served if Britain were able to use some of her troops in Germany outside Europe, in different rôles elsewhere in the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 420.]61 With respect to the right hon. Gentleman—and he knows a great deal about this and was a member of the Government directly involved in the strategy—I believe that this image of "the trip wire which trips" was always a dangerous one. And N.A.T.O. has been trying to escape from it for many years. The essence of a trip wire is that its response is automatic if pressure is exerted on it. But when the consequences of nuclear war are so horrendous, no Government with the awful responsibility for ordering the use of nuclear weapons are likely to do so automatically except in response to an unambiguous and total threat. I hope that no one in the House would wish that otherwise.
But the real danger in Europe, as I have argued again and again in Opposition and in office, is not of such an unambiguous attack. It is of a conflict whose beginning is limited in size and geographical extent, arising perhaps in circumstances where the enemy's intentions are uncertain and, indeed, where the origins of the conflict itself may be obscure. N.A.T.O. must possess sufficient forces to control such a conflict without resort to nuclear weapons at any stage.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, I would like to finish this part of my argument. Also, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once already.
It is possible also to conceive—though personally I believe this to be less likely—of a conflict on a somewhat larger scale, which, if it were to be prolonged, might require the West to use nuclear weapons as the only alternative to surrender. In such a case not only victory or defeat on the battlefield, but even the survival of the human race as a whole might depend on the West prolonging to the maximum the period of effective conventional resistance. That is why the N.A.T.O. Council decided last December to do something for which I have been arguing over three years: to change the balance of its Air Forces in Europe in favour of conventional support for its ground forces in the land battle, as against nuclear interdiction once the dreadful threshold between conventional and nuclear warfare has been passed. The reported neutralisation of American aircraft in 62 South Korea during the Pueblo affair, because they were on nuclear Q.R.A., demonstrates the importance of this decision.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I honestly think that the right hon. Gentleman should re-read the speech that he made on 27th February, 1967, because he specifically said:If the duration of military operations in Europe is likely to be so limited, it may be possible to make substantial savings in the logistic support…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 112.]He was then arguing for the smallest possible trip-wire and relying entirely on nuclear power. Today he is saying the opposite.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he or his right hon. Friend and hon. Friends have tried to understand this problem. The fact is that if there is an all-out Soviet attack on Western Europe then N.A.T.O. exists to ensure that nuclear weapons would be used to resist it and tactical nuclear weapons have a rôle in this respect.
We have always argued, and I shall come to this argument in a moment in relation to the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, that to attempt to provide for effective conventional defence against an all-out Soviet attack is neither desirable, possible nor necessary. We have always argued that the core of the problem with which N.A.T.O. has to cope is less than total attack and various types of less than total attack and how to deal with them. If the hon. Gentleman reads the speeches that I made from this Box three years ago he will find that I was arguing in the same way then as now. I will pursue this point.
What, however, none of the N.A.T.O. Governments is prepared to contemplate—and this for political and military as well as economic reasons—is what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West seems to want, that is, the creation of conventional forces in Western Europe so large and well equipped that they are able to withstand an all-out attack by all the forces which the Warsaw Powers can mobilise, without resort at any stage to nuclear weapons. I will not weary the 63 House by repeating the obvious arguments against such a policy. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West will consult any of his colleagues who served as Ministers of Defence in the Conservative Government they will no doubt help to enlighten him. But I cannot resist reminding the House that a purely conventional strategy for the defence of Western Europe would require Britain to maintain a defence budget incomparably higher than that which I inherited in 1964—particularly if we took the further advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that we should contribute to this greatly increased effort by the alliance.…an army in being, equal in armament, training, and philosophy to any other in Europe and of such dimensions and structure, and supported by such reserves, as to be able and to be seen to be able to play an important and continuing part in continental warfare."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 1201.]N.A.T.O.'s military advisers are now working on the general guidance provided by the Brussels meeting of the N.A.T.O. Council to revise their strategic plans and I have no doubt that they may recommend some adjustments in the pattern of forces contributed by the various N.A.T.O. countries in consequence.
I believe that a revision of N.A.T.O.'s strategy along the lines which I have described will not only improve our security, but it will do much to open the way for maintaining the military balance in Central Europe at a lower level of forces on both sides. Piecemeal and unilateral Western reductions without any compensating reductions on the other side would not improve European security or the prospects for a detente. But if there could be balanced mutual reductions of the forces of both East and West this could make an important contribution to improving the climate of East/West relations as well as bringing economic benefit to both sides while maintaining all the security we have at present.
Though at present, unfortunately, there is little sign that the Russians are prepared to negotiate such balanced force reductions, they might be willing to pro 64 ceed, perhaps by mutual example rather than by formal agreement, if we could get this process started. But, if so, we need to know how we in the West want to proceed and what would be the military implications of various types of reduction, whether in various components of military strength or in various geographical areas. I am glad to tell the House that on our initiative N.A.T.O. is now embarking on a detailed study of the possibilities for mutual East/West force reductions as part of its work on the future tasks of the Alliance.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he foresees substantial reductions from which we as a nation would benefit in his terms, or whether the reductions would tend to be of United States involvement in N.A.T.O., on the one side, and Russian involvement in the Warsaw Pact, on the other, and we should not benefit at all?
§ Mr. Healey
I will offer some observations on this area of the problem, but what we should aim at would be reductions from which we can all benefit. I will say a word or two about that. That is a point to which I am now coming.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
Will the Secretary of State comment further on what I regard as the most important paragraph of the statement, paragraph 15, which says that the Nuclear Defence Affairs Committee has accepted a report from its study group that the strategic nuclear forces…were sufficient in number and that suitable arrangements exist for employing them to meet possible threats.Since this means unleashing what is euphemistically called a strategic nuclear exchange, can the House know what the arrangements are for making the decision?
§ Mr. Healey
No, I am afraid it cannot. It is inevitable, and no one will know better than my right hon. Friend, that that is an issue which cannot be communicated in general to the House. One great advantage of the establishment of the Nuclear Defence Affairs Committee has been that non-nuclear Powers have been acquainted with the full details of procedures and weapons available and possible plans for their use, 65 and they have declared themselves fully satisfied on this end of the nuclear spectrum. As is explained in the White Paper, the main areas where further work needs to be done is on the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons because, except in response to an all-out nuclear attack by the other side, it is difficult to conceive of the West resorting immediately to the use of strategic nuclear weapons in any circumstances.
Whether or not such progress towards balanced force reductions can be made—and this comments on the hon. Gentleman's point—I believe that in the 1970s Europe will have to be more self-reliant in defence than has been necessary in the last two decades. President Johnson has given his allies clear warning that foreign exchange difficulties may require the United States to make further reductions in the forces she permanently deploys on this side of the Atlantic. America's commitments in Asia may strengthen this trend.
Moreover, even though we have no present reason to expect trouble on the N.A.T.O. Central Front, we cannot be so confident about the flanks. Concentration on the central land mass has sometimes led us to forget that Europe is a peninsula jutting out into the water. We could ignore this while the Soviet Navy was expected to serve as an ancillary to the Soviet land forces, but in recent years the Soviet Navy has become a power in its own right. I believe that a start was made towards meeting the new situation in the creation of a N.A.T.O. Standing Naval Force for the North Atlantic, which was formed six months ago and accepted by the N.A.T.O. Council in December. It is not a large undertaking, and we contribute one of the five frigates involved. [Laughter.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite have any sense of history, they will know that sometimes big oaks grow from little acorns. We have here for the first time an integrated force of allied ships at sea. If this works as well as we hope and believe it will, it may set the pattern—
I shall give way in a moment. I think that I give way too much for the convenience of other 66 speakers in the debate, and in a two-day debate it may be better if hon. Gentlemen opposite were to make their contributions in the form of speeches rather than interrupting a flow of argument. As I was saying, if this works as well as we hope and believe it will, it may set the pattern for combined forces in other parts of the N.A.T.O. seas.
In any case we must consider whether the next stage in providing for the defence of Europe may not call for more attention to the Scandinavian and Mediterranean flanks. There may be a case here for developing the A.C.E. Mobile Force to which we already make an important contribution.
I believe that there may be much to be said for strengthening the European voice in Allied discussions of these problems. This would not, of course, imply any weakening of the Atlantic link. European security will continue to rest on the wider Atlantic Alliance, and specifically on America's commitment to the defence of Europe.
§ Mr. Healey
I will when the time comes, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will try to contain himself. Everyone would benefit if, within the Atlantic framework, there could be closer cooperation on defence matters among the European countries concerned. Indeed, I hope that we can work increasingly towards a visible European identity within the Atlantic alliance. We all face common problems not only in matters of strategy and defence policy, but also problems caused by the great cost and complexity of the equipment that we need for our forces.
In defence, as in other fields of industry and technology, we are faced with the general problem of requirements outrunning the resources, industrial capabilities, and markets which individual nations can provide. If we all strive for national self-sufficiency, we run the risk of failing to provide the equipment we need at a cost we can afford, with all the additional penalties of waste and duplication of effort which would be involved. We have made some progress in 67 co-operation on a limited bilateral or trilateral basis. But wider European cooperation in defence procurement would bring great benefits, not only in the defence field itself, but also for the development of European technology as a whole. I believe, for example, that the Belgian Government's decision to consider co-operation with Britain and France on the Jaguar project could produce a breakthrough here.
As the House knows, the proposals for European co-operation recently put forward by the Benelux countries included the suggestion that common action among the European States that desire it should include the development, production, and joint purchase of military material. Her Majesty's Government have already welcomed these proposals, and for my part I believe that they could provide one important means of promoting constructive European collaboration in the defence field. Nor need collaboration be confined to the equipment field. In all the varied defence problems facing the Alliance, I should like to see the like-minded countries of Europe consulting together, harmonising their approach, and increasingly making their views know collectively.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about European collaboration in dealing with this threat, which we are delighted to hear him recognise, in the Atlantic from Russian maritime aspirations. Is he not rather clutching at straws when he suggests that great progress has been made in the East by the visit of the Tunku to Indonesia for one day? Is he not rather grasping at straws when he suggests that our contribution should be one frigate? Would it not be much more effective for European collaboration if we were to contribute the aircraft carrier programme, in which we have such unique experience?
§ Mr. Healey
That intervention does not encourage me to give way again. The hon. and gallant Member should save those points for his speech.
I do not deny that the shift of our defence policy away from the world rôle has been unwelcome to some of our friends and allies outside Europe though not all our friends outside Europe, and 68 the Opposition can make the most of that if they want to do so. But I believe that the reception of our decision among our friends and allies in Europe has been favourable and indeed enthusiastic. [Interruption.] For they know, as I told the House when we debated these matters six weeks ago, that even though we plan to reduce our forces 20 per cent. overall in numbers when our withdrawal from east of Suez is complete, we shall then be able nevertheless to make an even more powerful contribution to the defence of Europe than we do today.
In terms of manpower, ships, and striking power, our present naval forces are appreciably stronger than those of any of our European allies. The new equipment for the Royal Navy, which we announced last July, will place our surface ships in the forefront of technological advance.
The Royal Air Force will have more than 1,000 aircraft. It will be receiving some 400 modern combat jets over the next few years, emerging second to none in Europe. Its Phantoms will be the most advanced aircraft of their type for another decade—[An HON. MEMBER: "All two of them"]—I wish the idiot who made that remark would stand up and reveal himself to the House.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
As the right hon. Gentleman is recommending this useful aircraft, why did he cut down the numbers that were available to the Royal Navy?
§ Mr. Healey
I expected that. With respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, I sometimes wish that television were introduced into this House, so that the country as a whole could see how seriously some of its representatives regard their reponsibilities for the country's defence.
§ Mr. Healey
As I was saying, the Phantoms will be the most advanced aircraft of their type for another decade, and for several years its Harriers will be the only operational aircraft in the world with the capacity for taking off vertically. And having met at Cranwell only last Friday some of the young men, who will be piloting these aircraft, I can say that the Royal Air Force of the 70's will be manned 69 by men of a quality and dedication equal to any it has known in the first half century which we shall soon be celebrating.
Although our Army will be smaller than some continental Armies which rely on conscription, as an all-Regular and highly professional force it will be outstandingly effective in relation to its size, the officers and soldiers in its units being fully trained for war. It is the only European Army that has recent fighting experience and in varied conditions. It will be as well equipped as any other army on the Continent. For example, in Chieftain it is getting the most powerful tank in the world, and this year its artillery will be getting its first computers, and a very advanced communications system will be coming into operation in BAOR.
We shall be able to say in the 1970's, as truly as we can today, that the British Army of the Rhine "is the finest Army Britain has ever had in time of peace, and one which is the envy of its allies." These are not my words, but those of the Commander-in-Chief of NATO's Northern Army Group, General Sir John Hackett. I hope that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who endorsed those words, will bear them in mind when he rises to propose an Opposition Amendment which is as usual concerned only to denigrate Britain's military capability in the eyes of the world, and to damage the morale of our forces.
I am fully conscious of the temporary problems created for Service morale and recruiting by the modifications of defence policy which economic circumstances have forced on the Government. The previous Government had the same problems when the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was Defence Secretary in 1957. But the reduction in Britain's military rôle outside Europe has been under way for many years. We have all known and said that the end of our overseas bases was only a matter of time.
Many inside the Services as well as outside will feel that if the old rôle of the Services outside Europe has to come to an end, the sooner they can get to grips with their new rôle in Europe the better.
What is of critical importance to the men in the Services is that if economic 70 circumstances compel a cut in their capability their military tasks should be cut in proportion—indeed, more than in proportion, for the forces that I inherited in 1964 were dangerously overstretched by commitments which the previous Government had accepted, or, indeed, created, all over the world, without providing the means to carry them out. Some reduction in those commitments was essential to relieve our forces of overstretch.
Broadly speaking, in the last three and a half years the Government have decided to reduce our commitments by at least a third in order to permit a reduction of one-fifth in Service manpower. Yet though our reduced forces will be far better equipped in the 'seventies than they were in 1964 their estimated cost will be up to 20 per cent. less than it was in 1964 and a third less than the previous Government planned to spend.
We shall save £3,000 million compared with the Conservative Government's plans for the five years up to 1972–73. As I told the House in January, in our first five years of office we shall have saved £1,600 million, compared with Lord Thorneycroft's long-term costings, which the Treasury accepted under the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). The House will remember that I offered then to refresh the right hon. Gentleman's memory by showing him the documents. He did not accept my offer, because he knows perfectly well that the figures that I have just quoted are correct. Perhaps that is why he is not speaking in this debate. But I hope that the House will bear these facts in mind if the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West attempts again—as he has so often vainly attempted in the past—to argue that we have not made any savings at all.
They are real savings—made at the cost of cancelling real projects, and they have brought thousands of men into the streets to protest, and have led the Opposition into the Lobbies time and again in votes of censure. I do not complain of that. But let the Opposition be honest for once in their life. They have four official speakers in the next two days—chosen, as so often, from the four opposing corners of their boxing ring. Will one of them tell us—we have been waiting three and a half years to hear the answer—would 71 they make good the cuts that they have so consistently opposed? Do they intend, if they are ever again in office, to spend 50 per cent. more than we do on defence—as they intended in 1964? Will they renew the carrier programme? Will they start three new British aircraft projects for the R.A.F. without even attempting to find out if anyone else will buy them? Will they re-establish a Territorial Army twice as large as we need for our reserves?
If they will do all these things how will they make the cuts in public expenditure that they are always asking for? On the other hand, if, in the end, they accept the new limits on defence expenditure, how will they carry out the commitments east of Suez that they have pledged themselves to so recently?—the Leader of the Opposition in the Far East and the right hon. Gentleman for Barnet in the Gulf? Or do they intend, as the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire suggested the other day, to cut our forces in Europe so as to stay on in the Middle and Far East? And if so, how will the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. South-West get the army that he wants in Europe?
The fact is that they have not the slightest idea what answer they would give to these questions, or hundreds like them which I could put. They are united only by a congenital inability to accept the fact that they are out of office and an uncontrollable desire to re-establish what they see as the natural order of things, whatever the cost to the nation.
They often tell us—no doubt they will tell us again in the next two days—that it is not for the Opposition to say what they would do—they do not need to take positive decisions. But a Government must take decisions. And the Government today are prepared to take decisions—the harsh and painful decisions needed if Britain is to adjust her foreign and defence policies to a harsh and painful world.
We believe that the savings we have made and plan to make in defence expenditure are necessary if our economy is to flourish. We believe that the changes in our foreign policy which must accompany these savings are necessary too, and we believe that in their new, 72 mainly European role, our Forces will make, in the future, a contribution to the nation's security and to the peace of the world as distinguished and as necessary as ever in the past. It is for that reason that I ask the House to approve the Motion.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof:'condemns Her Majesty's Government for having undermined the confidence both of the services and of our friends and allies, and seriously weakened the defence capability of this country'.Anyone who listened to the speech made by the Secretary of State for Defence just now—which, except for the last few minutes, was cool and detached, almost to the point of being academic—would hardly believe that this was the same Secretary of State who, within the last two months, had been obliged to confess in public—I am quoting his own words—thatthe Services can rightly be very upset at the continuous series of defence reviews which the Government has been forced by economic circumstances, and maybe by economic mistakes, to carry out in the last three years.He then went on in somewhat jocular vein to say…in some respects I think once it is clear to the Services that they're settling down to a mainly European rôle it will be rather like the old story of the person who waited for the other boot to fall.The trouble with this Government is that instead of having two boots to drop they seem to have an almost unlimited series, one after another, which they let fall.
It is only two years—it seems incredible that it can be so short a time—since the right hon. Gentleman came before the House with his vaunted Defence Review. It was The Defence Review at that time, with the definite article. He boasted in March 1966 that "the major decisions are now taken". He boasted, on the day of the publication of his Defence White Paper, that it had been "an exercise in political and military realism". That was two years ago—the first of the five Defence Reviews we have had in two years, upon the right hon. Gentleman's own counting. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman say, "They were all wrong"? 73 They were; for I suppose that the last also will be proved to be wrong. At that time he boasted in his winding up speech on 8th March, 1966 thatTo summarise the capabilities of our forecast, we shall be able to carry out all our treaty commitments, particularly those for N.A.T.O., CENTO and S.E.A.T.O…we shall be able to carry out a large range of peace-keeping tasks like that in East Africa two years ago, entirely on our own, while maintaining a powerful deterrent against intervention by others while we are carrying them out, and we shall also be able to make a powerful contribution to allied operations if we so decide."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 8th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 2044–5.]Within a few months the Prime Minister had gone a good deal further than that. Only twenty months ago, on 15th June, 1966, in a speech which he took care to endow with the maximum publicity, not only in this country but everywhere that concern might be felt over the policies of this country, the Prime Minister said in rebutting the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), that they should do almost exactly what is now embodied in their fifth Defence Review:…we have to take account not only of theoretical strategy but of what our partners in that area want, and I am thinking here of Australia and New Zealand as well as Singapore.That is what the Prime Minister wished to be believed just over 18 months ago, that "we have to take account…of what our partners in that area want" Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. The Prime Minister told the world that "there was a need to neutralise the Asian trouble spots and potential trouble spots." "What about India?"—the Prime Minister continued. "Did anyone think that India wanted them to leave her to become a cockpit, forced to choose between Russia and America to protect her against China?" He went on:Britain's presence in Asia gave them"—that is the Government—a chance to prevent polarisation.I believe Britain has a role, and not at a prohibitive cost, in preventing polarisation!That was just over 18 months ago—a declaration, not by a Parliamentary Secretary, not made in a hole in the corner, but published to all the world by the Prime Minister. When the right hon. Gentleman a few weeks ago was 74 challenged with the extraordinary inconsistency between what the Prime Minister had been saying then and now, he said:Well, with respect to Mr.Wilson"—I liked that—I think he was rather over-egging the pudding when he used those particular words.The right hon. Gentleman continued:The one thing which I think Britain was never likely to be in a position to do was to exercise a really important influence on the balance between America and China.Did the right hon. Gentleman tell the Prime Minister at the time that he had promised the world that this country would exercise a rôle such as his Defence Secretary had never believed possible? Why was not that opportunity taken for an understanding to be arrived at between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman? He missed it.
Then there supervened one of the almost innumerable economic crises. The general atmosphere was very different when we came to the Defence White Paper of February 1967. There was no talk then about the major decisions having been taken a year ago. There was no talk then about the "exercise in political and military realism" which already lay in the past. On the contrary, the White Paper of only a year ago said:The Government is concerned to settle the size and shape of the forces for the next decade in a way that will provide the maximum possible stability for the men and women who are making their careers in the Services.It went on:Since Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. will have a critical influence on the composition and deployment of all three Services, final decisions on the shape and size of our defence forces "—no light, peripheral matters, but the very heart of things, the size and shape of our defence forces—must await the outcome of the NATO discussions. It is hoped to announce further plans later this year—that is, later last year.
Then, on the verge of the summer Recess last year, in July 1967, after the collapse of the Anglo-French variable geometry project, after our decision to withdraw forces from NATO, to which 75 unilateral decision, as the right hon. Gentleman has confirmed again this afternoon, the agreement of our allies was only obtained eight months later—after all that, we were presented with the Supplementary Statement of July 1967, in which the most sweeping new decisions were announced affecting the rôle of our forces and their prospective size.
It forecast, indeed it announced, withdrawal from the whole of the mainland of Asia in two phases, one ending about 1971 and the other ending in the middle '70s. It announced cuts in our forces which were spelt out in detailed terms of manpower for each of the forces up to 1971—the first four-year phase—and asserted that in size and distribution similar cuts would be made in the following four-year phase.We have, therefore revised our plans"—said the Government thenfor deployment outside Europe, so as to enable major reductions to be made in the size and cost of our forces as a whole.They had taken another bite.
As usual they claimed finality. According to the Statement itself, it announced…new decisions where these can or must be firmly taken—not least to provide a period of stability in which the Services can plan manpower and careers, and adapt their equipment, training and support programmes to changes in their shape and size.There was a statesman in the last century who earned the nickname of "Finality John". It was because he described the first Reform Bill as final, although he was destined in the course of his political career to introduce no fewer than three more—in 1854, 1860 and 1868. But at least Lord John Russell, the "Finality John" of the 19th century, did allow a decent interval—in some cases a decade, but always one or two years—to elapse between the successive reversals and disproofs of his previous assertions.
Not so the right hon. Gentleman. I have just read the words with which he prefaced his statement in July, 1967. Then came devaluation and November, 1967. At some risk, with some reshaping, alterations were made in the decisions already announced. This time the right hon. Gentleman was, if possible, more final than ever. He said on 27th November:I believe, and the whole Government share my view,"—76 that is good to know—that we must above all keep faith with our forces and with our allies in making these cuts. We can have no reversal of the July decisions which revised Britain's overseas policy over the next decade and fixed in broad terms the role, shape and size of the forces required to support it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said last Monday that the reductions must be made within the framework of all the defence policies announced last summer.Once again we were told that the forces had got finality. Our forces needed above all…a period of stability in which they can plan manpower and careers and adapt their equipment, training and support programmes to changes in their size and shape."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November 1967; Vol. 755, c. 59–77.]They got a period of stability. It lasted three weeks. At the end of three weeks they were told that the whole of defence expenditure was being completely reviewed again. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying that everything since last July has been a mere detail; that it was last July that was finality. The Prime Minister himself and the White Paper of 16th January this year made it perfectly clear that this was a complete review, a no-sacred-cow review, de novo of defence and this, on the right hon. Gentleman's count, is the fifth. The rôle of the forces, and the timing of the decisions on their deployment, was changed again; for, say the Government less than two years after the "exercise in political and military realism", "we have to come to terms with our rôle in the world."
Now there are forecast further reductions of a major character in the size of our forces. That pledges were broken the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to deny. He himself said of this episode in a television interview:as far as the Allies are concerned. this is primarily…a question for the political Ministers and not for myself—It is interesting to notice that the right hon. Gentleman is not a political Minister—and when I gave pledges to our Allies in the past, I was speaking, not for Denis Healey, but for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as a whole—a very dangerous activity, as the Minister of State had just discovered—What has, I admit, disturbed me essentially…77 —he was not so disturbed about breaches of pledges to Allies; other Ministers would answer for those—is the pledges the Government and I myself have made to the Forces that the Defence Review we carried out in July, 1967, only six months ago, would be the last in the life of this Parliament. I believed it at the time. The whole Government believed it; but devaluation came and we turned out to be wrong.So the right hon. Gentleman is clearly and plainly on the record that pledges to our allies and to our own forces have been made and broken. His own words have been written into the Amendment to his Motion, which in all reason and honour he is bound to support in the Lobby tonight, since it is saying only what he himself has said and admitted in public.
But, of course, this is not only a private matter; this is not only a matter which concerns us in this House. This volte-face within six months, on top of the changes which had followed so closely on the defence announcements of February, 1966, displayed to the world the fact that the word of the British Government could not be relied upon, that they were perfectly capable of holding out one prospect to their friends and allies in July and announcing to them in January that all that had to be changed. This has cast lasting doubt and discredit on the word of this country and upon the credibility of our forces and our policy.
As for the Services, the Government themselves have admitted the effect; for in the White Paper, in paragraph 25, they use the word "disruption". They say:There will inevitably be a considerable amount of disruption …,and they refer to "the upheavals" which these decisions will cause to the Forces.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
This is a good-natured question. We are enjoying the right hon. Gentleman's oratory, but is he not under some moral obligation to tell the House when he and his party would withdraw forces from east of Suez?
§ Mr. Powell
The trouble is that we can never find what the Government intend to do, because what the Government intend to do varies from one year to another and from one month to another. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite, whose earliest acts when they came into office—long before the con 78 clusion of their Defence Review Mark I—were to destroy most of the preparations already in train under the previous Administration, to ask now that the Opposition should tell them what to do.
§ Mr. Powell
No, I must get on.
Now, apart from the so-called hard news which the right hon. Gentleman gave about the reorganisation of his Department, we are to have nothing until July. The consequences of the rushed decisions of January of this year are, we are told, being worked out in the Ministry of Defence. Our defence forces and our defence policy are now being fitted as best may be to the prior decisions, taken in panic by the Government in January and forced upon the right hon. Gentleman. We shall have to wait at least until July before we know anything about what this means for the Forces themselves.
It is becoming a standing abuse of the procedure of this House that whereas we have an annual period in which it used to be the principle that this House could maturely discuss the defence forces and policy of this country upon the basis of the Government's annual statement, now we not only have a tri-annual, or a quadri-annual, statement, but it is commonly introduced in the House in the week before the Summer Recess, when there is no possibility of it being properly debated here or discussed in the country.
We are left now with no coherent concept at all of the defence forces which this country is to have. That fact will be demonstrated Service by Service in the Service debates which are to follow this general debate. Of the Navy, the right hon. Gentleman himself said less than two years ago:it is necessary to spend some years in re-providing for the carrier capability before the carriers are finally phased out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd Feb., 1966, Vol. 725, c. 253.]Will it be re-provided by 1971?
§ Mr. Healey
May I help the right hon. Gentleman on this? As I said in my speech—and this he can check with any of his hon. or right hon. Friends who served in the Admiralty under the Conservative Government—it was never the intention to use carriers for the protection of the Fleet in the Atlantic area. We did 79 not have enough carriers for that. The intention always was to use them outside Europe and since we are leaving the area outside Europe by 1971 we do not intend to provide an east of Suez capability from that date.
§ Mr. Powell
In 1966 the Government were saying that the main striking force of the Royal Navy consisted of carriers, and that this capability was to be re-provided by the time they were phased out. In 1967 they had switched and said that the main striking force of the Royal Navy was going to be the nuclear-powered submarine? But now, in this last statement, one of the few things we are told is that the rate of construction of the nuclear-powered submarine is to be reduced. Ministers do not of course know anything else but that. When a week or two ago they were questioned on it, they were quite unable to give any information. The Minister of Defence, Equipment, said:I think that the statement about slowing down new naval construction will be made much clearer when my right hon. Friend makes his statement later this year.The same hon. Gentleman said:We shall be looking at the whole of the planned naval new construction programme in depth and it will be some time before precise reductions are decided."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1327, 1345–6.]So they have decided first that there are going to be reductions and next that the rate of nuclear-powered submarines is to be cut and now they are to decide what the rate of construction would have been and what it shall be in future—not in order to accord with any thinking about naval strategy or naval preparations but in order to fit the figures which they have been made to accept.
So for the Army, similarly; no explanation was ever given of the cuts announced in July. No indication was given of the long-term shape of the British Army, or the reasons for that shape, which would emerge from the cuts then spelled out in numerical detail. All the Government knew were the numbers. They knew the precise numbers that were to be cut by 1971, and one could double them for 1975. The reason why they knew the numbers and nothing else was that they knew the sum which had to be worked out to meet the predetermined 80 financial decisions. But all their thinking, if any, about the content and structure and philosophy of the Army had been undone.
Before it could be done again, it was undone again. For now we are told in the White Paper this January that not only are the reductions in the Army to be expedited, not only are they to take place in a much shorter period than was expected even six or seven months ago, but they are to go much further.Thus."—says the White Paper:the eventual saving in Service manpower will be greater than the total reduction of about 75,000 forecast previously for the mid-1970s and we shall achieve it earlier.How much greater is the "eventual saving" in manpower to be? On the authority, at least, of the right hon. Gentleman, there was published on 12th February a large press notice:The Defence Cuts: how they would affect you as a future Army Officer.The notice begins:You'll have read about the cuts in defence.It goes on:Here are the facts. First: as far as manpower is concerned, the new measures are only speeding up reductions announced in July.We are entitled to be told which is the truth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] [Interruption.] Hon. Members say "Nonsense"—if it is nonsense, let us have an explanation. There may be an explanation, and we are entitled to have it.Potential officers are being told that the new measures—that is, the new measures of January—are… only speeding up reductions announced in July.The White Paper, however, said that… the eventual saving … will be greater than the total reduction … forecast previously for the mid-1970s, and we shall achieve it earlier.So far as I can see, there are only two explanations. The first is that all the further reductions in manpower which the Government envisage will fall on the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. If that is so, let them say so. The second is that this prospectus is a false prospectus, and will mislead those who read it as to the intentions 81 which the Government themselves have formed and declared. I hope that before we reach the end of the debate we shall be told which of the two it is—[HON. MEMBERS "Answer."] Well, we have two days of debate. They can decide which of the alternatives they prefer, and come to the House with it.
Finally, one turns to the Royal Air Force. It is not disputed by the Government that what they themselves two years ago regarded as the core of their long-term aircraft programme, both operationally and industrially, has disappeared, and that nothing has been mentioned which could possibly replace it. Both the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, which was the core of their programme, and the 50 F.111 American aircraft, the bridge to it, are never to exist in the Royal Air Force; and we are still completely in ignorance as to what now is to be the country's long-term aircraft programme both operationally and industrially.
The Government themselves have told us what they regarded as essential. The Minister of Defence for Equipment has told us that in Europe, just as much as elsewhere, the F.111 aircraft and its capability was operationally necessary. He said:It is required as much in Europe as elsewhere. If we did not have an operational strike reconnaissance aircraft of this kind we would be dependent on the French in Europe and on the United States in N.A.T.O."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1967; Vol. 756, c. 399.]This was something that the Government themselves regarded only a few months ago as an essential capability for the Royal Air Force—and now the Royal Air Force is not to have it.
The Government, as fast as they deprive themselves of a particular capability, are very fond of asserting that they have a general capability. That is to say, they can do nothing in particular but they can do almost everything in general. One finds several passages in the January White Paper which explain how we shall be maintaining a general capability that can be deployed…wherever in our judgment this is right…".Now, it is perfect humbug to talk thus about this country having a general capability. In an interview which the right 82 hon. Gentleman gave to the Sunday Times in January he said:We"—that is, the Government, presumably, if he was still in agreement with his colleagues:accept the same moral obligation to help Australia and New Zealand if they are ever under direct threat that they accepted in our case in two world wars…Admittedly the right hon. Gentleman at the same time—7th January of this year—had expressed the opinion:There is no doubt that the danger of war in South-East Asia at the moment is very low.That was a remarkable assertion on his part; but still the right hon. Gentleman had made it perfectly clear what was necessary in his considered judgment for assistance to Australia and New Zealand. On 1st May of last year he had said:It is difficult to think of any contribution which we could make to Australia's defence which would not require us to have this type of capability"—he was talking about the F.111—in our armoury."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 112.]So it was difficult to think, then, of any contribution—any contribution—which we could make to Australia's defence which would not require us to have the kind of capability which we now know we are not to have. Yet the right hon. Gentleman could still dare to use those words, and have them published to the world as recently as January of this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) put to the Minister two or three weeks ago some questions which are very necessary questions of principle, if we are to have any general capability at all to carry out what the right hon. Gentleman professes. My right hon. Friend asked, for example:…what plans he has for the creation of a capability based in this country for use east of Suez… what heavy equipment will be provided; what arrangements he is making to move that equipment to places where it may be required; whether air support will he available; and what will be, for planning purposes, the time to be allowed for deployment.It will be agreed, I am sure, that those are hardly niggling points of detail, if one is undertaking " the same moral obligation to help Australia and New Zealand " that they fulfilled to us in 83 two world wars. All the right hon. Gentleman could say in reply wasWhat I am not prepared to do"—and then, revealingly:and what I cannot do until a good deal more work has been done, is to answer the detailed points which the right hon. Gentleman has put down".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1342.]The Government have no idea of what are the practical consequences of the decisions which they took and announced in January, decisions which do not arise from any study of defence capability or defence requirements, decisions which, for the fourth time, overturned what they had already announced as firm conclusions. This is the negation of planning—indeed, it is the negation of any rational policy whatsoever. It has the result that we have reduced all to chaos, and now all has to be started again. The thinking has to begin from the beginning in the Ministry of Defence.
The Government, on its own admission, have gone back on pledges, understandings, professions voluntarily and openly made in the face of the world, and they have disgraced us in the face of the world.
§ Mr. Powell
It was true then and it is even more true now. The Government, on their own admission, have plunged the Services into a series of upheavals and have left them without any coherent idea of what their future is to be. The Government, on their own admission, have left this country destitute of major defence capabilities which they themselves had declared were essential. They stand self-condemned. If tomorrow night in the Lobbies this House fails to condemn them, then let them be sure that the nation will.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
On the last occasion that I had the temerity to intervene in a debate on defence in February, 1967, I drew the attention of the House to the difficulty which the country had in discerning precisely what was the defence policy of the Opposition. I remember on that occasion pointing out that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was 84 a former professor of Greek, observing that whereas he might be able to understand his defence policy it was Greek to the rest of us.
Today, I am fortified in that view, and I am reminded of that character in Greek mythology who sat at the side of the sea for the purpose of making prophecies to all who came for such advice. Whenever a difficult question was put he changed into a different shape. That is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman has done this afternoon. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and later my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) sought to intervene, I recalled that this character from Greek mythology could be made to sneak the truth if two people held him firmly, and during the right hon. Gentleman's remarks I wished that two people would seize hold of him firmly so that he would tell us exactly was was the Opposition's defence policy, particularly towards the Far East.
When I last spoke in the House on this subject I sought to make a case for the retention of our troops on the ground east of Suez until the mid-1970s. I have no intention of appearing before the House today in a white sheet. That ought to have been our policy, and I regret that the Government have found it necessary to accelerate our withdrawal and to leave us facing certain risks. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that these decisions involve certain risks. Those risks are acceptable only if they can be shown to be dictated by economic necessity, and the evidence for that does not appear to me to be overwhelming.
I want to criticise certain pronouncements made by some of my right hon. Friends who said, when the proposals were announced on 16th January that they were analogous to the decision to leave India. That is absolute bunkum. The Indians wanted us to go so that they could have their independence, but our Commonwealth friends in the Far East—Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand—want our Forces to stay a little longer to help them to preserve their independence against aggression. Furthermore, as a decision to leave the Far East in the mid-1970s had been taken, I fail to see how an adjustment of the timetable could be of such cardinal historical importance as 85 was suggested by some of my right hon. Friends.
Nor can I accept the unkind view expressed by some hon. Members opposite that this decision about the Far East was made as a sop to certain Cerberi. What is much more likely is that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary allowed their obsession with the Common Market to overrule their common sense and insisted on these cuts to show what good little Europeans they were.
On the other hand, as a result of the arguments which I have put forward, I find it impossible to accept the condemnations expressed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are wholly without merit. Not for the first time, right hon. Gentlemen opposite have forged themselves together in an unedifying confederacy of holy humbugs for purely party advantage. To hear some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite talk in the country, one would think that the Conservative Party were committed to staying east of Suez for ever and ever, Amen. But that is not their official policy. It is legitimate to assume that the policy of the Conservative Party is that which is espoused from time to time by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. It was only on 7th December, a week or so before the cuts were announced, that speaking to the Monday Club—the Conservative Monday Club, that is—he gave an address which was described in The Times of 8th December asa major speech on Conservative strategic doctrine".In the course of it the right hon. Gentleman made once again the case for withdrawing from east of Suez—the case which he rehearsed at the Conservative Party's Brighton conference in 1965. According to The Times of 8th December, the right hon. Gentleman said:It is no use having a long arm if the fingers and the hand at the end of it can get chopped off. Otherwise other one's bluff is called, or one loses".The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that an acceptance of these facts of geography was vital to a restoration of our confidence in ourselves and of a rational basis for our armed forces. I do not know why he has not elaborated that philosophy this afternoon.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
Does not that indicate that the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for withdrawal from east of Suez would restore morale in the forces?
§ Mr. Roebuck
There may be a great deal in what my hon. Friend said, but I am reluctant to pursue the right hon. Gentleman's logic because it can lead to some rather mysterious and curious conclusions. The House ought to know whether the Leader of the Opposition supports the views which have been put forward on this subject by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I must assume that he does, otherwise he would have found himself another shadow defence spokesman. There is no shortage of talent, if that is the right word, on the Opposition benches for such a post. One recalls that during the period of a Conservative Government a cavalcade of defence Ministers cantered across the scene.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I do not know where they are, but I see the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) present. I am sure that if the opportunity arose, blushing violet though he is, the hon. Member would step forward if he felt that his party needed him.
I wish to stress the importance from the point of view of not only our interest but of that of our Commonwealth partners and allies in the Far East of doing all that we can, notwithstanding these cuts, to ensure continuation of the peace and stability which British forces have brought to South-East Asia and to that area generally. Everyone knows—that is, everyone apparently but the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West—how much British troops have done in this area in the past five years to damp down bush fires and prevent the possibility of much wider warfare.
It does not necessarily follow that because we are leaving our permanent bases in the Far East, and even the Gulf, that our forces should be deprived of all capability of operating outside Europe. This is of particular relevance—and on this one aspect I perhaps join forces with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West—to the 87 R.A.F., since the mobility and worldwide flexibility of air power has always been one of the characteristics of that Service.
There is a vague referece in the White Paper, on page 3, to the general capability of our forces in Europe a d their deployment overseas. If that means anything, may we be told precisely what it means? If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force takes part in the debate, I hope that he will say what is being done to enable the R.A.F. to retain its ability to operate either by itself or in conjunction with the other Services outside the European theatre. It may be that, as a result of our giving up our bases east of Suez, the R.A.F. will have an even more important part to play there than it has had in the past. Recent history shows that it is the unforeseen contingency which is likely to require intervention. I should like to learn more about our capacity to help our friends in the Far East should they require our assistance.
I hope particularly that the legacy which we will be leaving our friends in Singapore and Malaysia will not be dissipated. I have in mind the integrated air system in those countries. To break up that system, with its unified radar coverage and co-ordinated weapons system, into separate independent elements for each country would weaken the defence of the area against outside attack. It would not make military sense to separate it in that way and would encourage potentially dangerous rivalries in the area. I hope that the Government will do all they can to see that our departure from the area does not encourage a further rift between Singapore and Malaysia.
The really big potentially deterrable danger in the Far East is the possibility of further aggression by Indonesia. It was only the fact that the R.A.F. could have inflicted unacceptable damage on Jakarta which prevented Indonesian forces from raiding Singapore. We should, therefore, leave the people of Singapore with a good air defence system.
I remind the House of the great importance which was attached to this matter by the Prime Minister of Singapore when he visited this country in January. 88 My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) and I had the pleasure of having long discussions with him on this subject. I would like to know whether there have been any developments since then. My impression was that Mr. Lee felt confident that he could train his own pilots and ground staff, but that he was desperately concerned about the shortage of staff officers. Pilots can be trained relatively quickly, but one cannot train a good staff officer in a matter of months or even years.
One of the points Mr. Lee put to the Cabinet, I understand, was that he would very much like to see the secondment of a number of senior R.A.F. officers to Singapore to supervise the air defence system. Could we be told more than we were told earlier by the Secretary of State about the idea of a Commonwealth Conference to discuss the defence of the Far East? This is not a recent idea. In fact, on 4th July last the Tunku issued a statement which said:The Tunku suggested that Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore should get together and talk about defence, as all the five countries were concerned about the security of this part of the world".I quote that from a Press release issued at Kuala Lumpur Airport. It is time that my right hon. Friends were getting down to discussing what the level of representation should be at such a conference and to fixing a place and time.
I believe that the common traditions and understandings which we have with many of the peoples of these areas, through our Commonwealth links, will make it possible for us—long after we have given up our permanent bases there and long after we have ceased to be a dominating power there—to provide a great deal of assistance. However, this can happen only if we now demonstrate, although we may be withdrawing our troops, that we are not withdrawing our interest in the area and that we are willing to help our friends if and when they need us. I hope that the Government will indicate in a more positive fashion that they intend to show their willingness and intention to do this.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
From the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), I thought that I would disagree 89 with everything he intended to say. Although he began by talking about Party advantage, I beg him to believe that many of my hon. Friends are genuinely worried about this subject from the national point of view. However, the hon. Gentleman went on to be more constructive and dealt in some detail with the problems of Malaysia and Singapore, problems which will be very serious indeed after the latest defence cuts.
The Secretary of State's speech was rather extraordinary. It seemed to be more in the nature of an exercise in escapism. He tried to ride off, by some reorganisation theory, the whole question of the reappraisal that is necessary. I would have thought that it was self evident that we now need, more than anything else, a period of settling down for our forces after this endless chopping and changing.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to use the extraordinary phrase about little acorns producing big oaks. I thought for a moment that he was confusing frigates with fast breeder reactors. I do not know if the Government have a new form of frigate, but I think I understand what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, which is that he believes that one frigate could be reinforced at a later date.
It is clear that we in this country are going through a time of shrinking responsibility. This in itself is bound to have an unsettling effect on the armed forces of the Crown. Indeed, that is already proving to be so. The trouble is that these endless Defence Reviews make the position even more unsettling. Nobody who has served in a Conservative Administration can pretend that there were never Defence Reviews in the past. However, many of my hon. Friends and I complain about the arrogance with which some of these Reviews have been conducted. We have reached the stage when it can be said in an article in the Sunday Times—and written by the Secretary of State himself, at that—that there have been four Defence Reviews in the last two years and that that is rather a lot.
Disraeli said that finality was not the language of politics. I would add that finality is not the language of Defence Reviews. I went through a few of them, when I was at the Admirality, and I saw the effect they have on the staff and the way in which they take up the time and 90 energy of the senior members of the staff. I therefore suggest that the fewer Defence Reviews we have, the better. This process of having one every six months or so, with a change of policy accompanying each, is about the last straw.
It is easy to forget what a tremendous rundown there has been over the past eleven years in the defence Services. How many bases have gone? Simonstown is handed back to South Africa. Trincomalee is handed back to Ceylon, a lot of it to the jungle and to the elephants. Aden has now gone. Of the Royal Dockyards, we have seen Hong Kong closed and the end of the Malta dockyard. Singapore is now to be closed, and Gibraltar has been reduced although it is probably much more important now than it has been for some time.
Service confidence must be recaptured. Service confidence is needed, both from the point of view of morale and from the point of view of recruiting. I can remember the exercise in the Admiralty under the late Admiral Lamb, who was an outstanding Second Sea Lord, to try to produce a good career structure for sailors and serving officers. All that went by the board long ago, and no one pretends today that, for a young man, there is anything like a certain career structure in any of the Services. This is reflected in the recruiting figures, which we find in Annex A, Tables 4, 5 and 6, at the back of the Defence Review. I see that £3 million a year is now being spent on recruiting advertising. I very much suspect that, in the coming year, after the further changes we have seen, that figure will have to be augmented. It is not a very satisfactory way of spending the limited money which we have for our defence Services.
Above all, what is lacking now is a balance in our forces. By all these piecemeal measures, we seem to have destroyed the balance which we need. Clausewitz once said that the highest form of strategy is means. What worries me is what are the means to carry out any of the likely tasks which we may have to call our forces to fulfil.
When preparing this speech, I went back through some of the earlier Defence White Papers. There was an interesting comparison to be drawn with 1954. In that year, we spent only £1,640 million as against £2,271 million now. The 91 forces at our disposal were in total about 150,000 more. We then had in addition a Territorial Army of 250,000, and in that year, 1954–55, we were completing three aircraft carriers. Today, a rather less happy occasion, we are busy phasing out the remaining ones.
When we look at the means about which Clausewitz spoke, the only thing which really strikes one as being very effective is the Polaris submarine, the second strike weapon, though, here again, I cannot help regretting that there could not have been five instead of four, so that two could have been permanently on patrol.
There has been a lot of talk in the debate about east of Suez, and there will be much more, no doubt, but, up to a point, this is a misleading phrase. It seems to me that there are three areas to which we must direct our minds. One is the Atlantic and the home waters. A few minutes ago, the Secretary of State made a remark about never using aircraft carriers in the Atlantic, but this does not correspond with my recollection of deliberations in the Admiralty when I was there. The second area is the Mediterranean. The third is east and north of the Cape of Good Hope.
We must face the logic of the closing of the Suez Canal. I see no immediate prospect of it reopening. From the military point of view, it is of much less importance, and, even from the point of view of merchant shipping, we know that ship owners, not just tanker owners, are taking increased steps to sail the 3,000 extra miles round the Cape, escaping their canal dues, so that it does not really work out very much more expensive. But the Mediterranean is an important area. For centuries, it was a Russian ambition to put a fleet in the Mediterranean. This they have already done. The Secretary of State made a passing reference to that, but I understand that, since the June war, there have always been about 12 Soviet warships and about four or five submarines in the Mediterranean. This is the achievement of an ambition long denied to the Russians. With the French evacuation of Mers el Kebir to the Algerians, it is quite likely that they will be able to use bases in the Western Mediterranean as well as in the Eastern Mediterranean.
92 In the Mediterranean area, the N.A.T.O. Alliance is relying on the American Sixth Fleet and the Italian navy—the French navy is not completely committed—and, at the same time, we have in Malta the smallest of forces. When I was there last July, instead of what I saw there on my previous visit, there was only one frigate in the whole of the Grand Harbour. There is a strong case for sending more ships and also more troops back to Malta. It is a good place for acclimatisation, although there are difficulties in regard to army training. At the same time, we could help the Maltese, whose economy is in considerable difficulty. Neither must there be any weakening on the subject of Gibraltar. In the new strategic situation, Gibraltar has suddenly become more important.
That brings me to the Cape route to India and the East, Australia and New Zealand. In a defence debate, it is wise to remember that, at any one time, there are about 650 British merchant ships east of Suez. For 300 years, they have enjoyed the protection and help when in difficulty of the Royal Navy. They carry on £2,000 million worth of our trade. In the world today, there is, without question, a growing danger that they might be subjected, if not to piracy, to certain hostile acts when there is no one left to look after them. At the end of this route, there are our commitments to Australia and New Zealand, who have done so much to help us in the past, to Malaysia, to S.E.A.T.O. and, not least, to Britain's oil supplies.
§ Mr. Dalyell
From what direction are hostile acts likely to affect British merchant ships which do not seem to affect French, Japanese or Italian merchant ships?
§ Mr. Digby
We live in a very unsettled world today. It must not be assumed that we can operate the largest merchant fleet in the world, save that of Liberia, with no danger of something being done to them which we would not wish. When there were negotiations on the level of naval armaments, between the wars, as anyone who has read Admiral James's account will know, it was always laid down that Great Britain was entitled to a higher allocation of cruisers and destroyers because her huge merchant fleet 93 required extra help and protection. I believe that to be true today. However, that is a digression.
Now, Simonstown. The exchange of letters came in 1955. I had something to do with those negotiations, and I recall the conditions which we laid down to the South Africans about the treatment of Cape coloureds and Africans who worked in the dockyard. It never occurred to me at that time that we might be the ones to let down the South Africans under the agreement. As far as I know, they have entirely complied with the conditions which we laid down. In the exchange of letters, we accepted an order for £18 million worth of warships. I do not belive that we that we have supplied that order, and we would certainly not supply it if we were asked to do so today.
Last year, no fewer than 34 warships visited Simonstown. It is a very valuable staging post. No one who has been there recently, as I did last March, will know that already it is extremely overcrowded. If we quarrelled sufficiently with the South Africans it would not be surprising if we found those facilities no longer available to us. We must regard the route by the Cape, and Simonstown in particular, as being of great importance to us, but we must not overrate the size of the base, because it is not large.
We have been told again and again that we shall honour our commitments east of Suez. The Prime Minister told us on 14th December 1964:We have to be ready at a moment's notice…to respond to the needs of our Commonwealth partners…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 421.]Then there was the Secretary of State's speech at Canberra, where he spoke to the Press Club and again re-emphasised those commitments. The last stage in the story was on 27th July, 1967 when the Prime Minister, reported at col. 1105 of HANSARD, said that our physical presence in our bases was not necessary to honour our commitments. I believe that to be an absolute fallacy. It is true that if one has unlimited money one probably can support huge forces right across the world. But, if one has not, it cannot be done except with some kind of base for heavy equipment.
Reinforcement by sea across the world is very slow, and we know that we shall 94 not have aircraft carriers to help. Reinforcement by air is a very expensive business. We have read in the newspapers in the past day or two that the Americans are to produce a new aircraft called the Galaxy to transport huge quantities of supplies, but each will cost £14 million. I hope that we shall not have another story about having wonderful American aeroplanes, and then when it comes to the point getting nothing at all. That is completely misleading to the House. We have not the money to buy things of that kind.
There is also the all-important question of over-flying rights. We do not have to look very carefully at the globe today to see how difficult it is to over-fly in the right direction to get to any of the places concerned. There is a great deal of talk in the White Paper about "westabout", but think what an immense way it would be to go right round by America to reinforce our friends in the Far East. Apart from those physical considerations there is the consideration of the men. It is no use suddenly sending our help out there, however technical its nature, if the men are not acclimatised. That lesson was learnt in the fall of Singapore in the last war.
The advantage of overseas bases has been understood for a very long time: it is one of the fundamental military principles. Hundreds of years ago there was a race in South America called the Incas to whom no form of personnel transport was available. They had only llamas. They constructed their barracks a day's march apart from each other at 14-mile intervals. Their troops could get their provisions there, and therefore they had a very mobile army.
Certain things, such as ammunition and oil, are very hard to move. Goodness knows what we have spent putting up oil installations in many parts of the world. Are these just to be written off, with all the other expensive installations? Armoured fighting vehicles are also very heavy to carry about the world.
If we are really serious about wanting to go to the help of S.E.A.T.O. or our friends in the East it is not honest to pretend that we can do it under existing circumstances, under the kind of plans laid down in the White Paper. These are very serious cuts, but much more serious has been the piecemeal cutting at 95 our services. Senior retired officers have told me that they believe that the structure of the forces has been damaged for 10 years, that it will take 10 years to get it right again after all these piecemeal cuts.
There is a suggestion implicit in much of what the Secretary of State said that we shall be relying on America—far too much so, I think. I do not think that that in itself is the complete answer. Because of the economic situation, and perhaps also because of their preoccupation with re-organisation, the Government have allowed themselves to be blown very sadly off course.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I agree with many things which the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) said, particularly about the unsettling effect on our forces of their shrinkage and the shrinkage of our commitments, not only over the past three years but over the past 20 years. There is no doubt, for example, that in 1946 the Royal Navy had many more ships and men than it has today, and that it was still possible to go to Malta and see quite an extensive Mediterranean fleet. The forces of economics and the realities of life have dawned not only on my right hon. Friend but on right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench for the past 20-odd years. Notably, they have been dawning even on the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who led off for the Opposition with such an indignant attack on the Government this afternoon.
Certain other things in the speech of the hon. Member for Dorset, West were very remarkable. He called for a renewal of British naval strength in the Mediterranean. I heartily concur, but I point out to him that it has been made possible only by the steps which my right hon. Friend has already taken. It is now possible, perhaps, to see more British naval forces in the Mediterranean than there were two or three years ago. If we have ships in the Far East they cannot also be in the Mediterranean. For many years we have been trying to spread our naval and other armed forces far too thinly, with the result that we have not been able to perform any of our com 96 mitments with satisfaction to ourselves, those in the armed forces, or our friends and allies overseas.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
Does the hon. Gentleman include the confrontation with Indonesia and the success of that operation in what he has just said?
§ Mr. Hamling
I very much agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that that was a highly successful operation, but he will agree that it was not a major operation. It was certainly not the kind of major operation that might be entailed, if, for example, we had a massive breakout from Asia with a threat to Australia and New Zealand. The hon. and gallant Gentleman would not regard the events in Indonesia as constituting a major threat to Australia or New Zealand. The forces we had there were only light. The makeshift way they were equipped was not really sufficient to do properly the job that they did so successfully.
§ Mr. Hamling
But they were not equipped as they should have been. The hon. and gallant Gentleman could not blame my right hon. Friend for that.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West said that we have had a run-down for 11 years. I would take it back a great deal further. With his experience at the Admiralty, the hon. Gentleman knows the heart-searchings that have gone on for some years over the difficulty of trying to meet our commitments. But the Opposition Motion does not help the morale of the men and women in Her Majesty's Forces. Itcondemns Her Majesty's Government for having undermined the confidence both of the services and of our friends and allies, and seriously weakened the defence capability of this country'.I want to take the Motion apart, unlike the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. Self-confidence must be recaptured, but the sneering and jeering which went on from below the Gangway today was not calculated to help the morale of any of our forces. Certainly there was no indication of coming to grips with the reality of defence or with the economic burdens which this country shoulders.
97 The Motion would seem to be contradictory. We are being asked to censure the reduction by the Government of overseas commitments which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West knows very well cannot be undertaken. He knows that the kind of commitment which the Government have done away with in the Far East could not be undertaken. It is therefore remarkable that he should move a vote of censure on the Government for doing something which he has advocated for a long time. He would say that we have broken our promise to our allies in the Far East, to Australia and New Zealand. He has been saying for a long time that we could not undertake these commitments anyway and that we should give them up. But now he moves a Motion of censure on the Government for doing precisely that. It is astonishing that he should move a Motion of censure on the Government for carrying out his own advice. This is precisely what he has been advocating for a long time.
§ Mr. Hamling
I do not know whether we should take too harshly some of the things which the right hon. Gentleman said today. He waxed very indignant about the Government. I cannot remember all the epithets, but some of them were of a very strong nature—"disgraceful", and so on. The remarkable thing is that we are being asked to censure the Government for breaking promises to some of our friends overseas. I voted against the Government last week for doing precisely that. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman would follow them in that. He thinks that we should not break our promises to our friends overseas. He says that on Monday of this week. He did not say it on Wednesday of last week.
§ Mr. Hamling
All that I am asking for is consistency on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. I can well understand, and so can he, that there are times when we have to say, "We undertook these commitments with the best will in the world, but we now recognise that we can no longer meet them". There is nothing disgraceful or dishonest about that. This is the sort 98 of argument which the right hon. Gentleman would have used last week. I am using the same argument this week. I am at least being consistent in my inconsistency.
We must recognise that the Government are not cutting the strength of the forces so much as reducing the tasks which they have to carry out. This is not reducing the strength of the forces; this is increasing the strength of the forces, because it is enabling the Government to bring the strength of the forces such as we have more effectively to work in the limited theatres—
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Did not the cancellation of the 50 F111s reduce the strength of our Forces?
§ Mr. Hamling
I recognise that there are some cuts in the forces. But there are many other weapons of war which this Government has cancelled or reduced which we could not have paid for. The Opposition waxed very indignant about the TSR2, but they know very well that if they had tried to meet that commitment there were other commitments which they would not have been able to afford.
§ Mr. Hamling
It is exactly the same argument, so why should I give way?
We on these benches recognise that the reduction of commitments does not reduce the striking power of the forces. If one looks at the estimates and the Defence Statement, one can see that the Government are carrying out a very extensive programme of improvement of the weapons at the disposal of our forces. The Royal Navy, in which the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) has a great interest, has some of the finest ships being built coming into its service. No credit is to be gained by decrying that. We cannot perhaps build as many ships as we should like. Perhaps we cannot have as expensive and sophisticated weapons systems as we should like. But that does not mean that we should decry the excellent ships which we have or the 99 excellent weapons systems in those ships. No credit is to be gained by sneering at that.
By reducing one's commitments, one can concentrate one's forces. As a result of shedding the commitment in the Far East, it will be possible to return the Navy to the Mediterranean. It will be possible to concentrate our forces more in Europe. But we cannot defend Europe and maintain the other commitments, and this is a fact which must be faced. When the Opposition and the country recognise the facts, we can say to the men and women in the forces, "You have a job which can be done and which is worth doing". But the House must recognise that, if we are to ask the men and women in the forces so to spread their responsibilities and resources that they can do nothing properly, there is nothing more calculated to undermine the morale of the good men and women in the Royal Navy, Army and Air Force.
Do not the Opposition recognise that the strength of the defence forces of this country depends so much on our economic strength? The Government have at last recognised reality. They have been reluctant to cut our commitments. I would not sneer at their reluctance to come to terms with reality. The Opposition have not come to terms with reality today. The Government's reluctance is honourable. The reluctance of the Opposition is just absurd.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West, wants us to strengthen our position in the Mediterranean. He wants us to keep Simonstown and our commitments in the Far East.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
Simonstown was handed over more than ten years ago to the South African Government.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Gentleman does not want us to go back there. Then I do not see the relevance or significance of his comments about Simonstown. But he would agree that he wants us to maintain our rôle in the Far East. I do not want to be unfair.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
The hon. Gentleman says that the Government have come to terms with reality. If he had followed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, he would have realised that it was only since and because of devaluation, which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer both admitted to be due to a failure of their policies.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sure that the House will be interested in the hon. Gentleman's speech; I prefer to make my own.
The Opposition want us to maintain a world rôle, a rôle independent of the United States, or at least more independent than now. They want us to maintain a carrier force available if need be not only in the Far East, but in the Atlantic. I do not know how many carriers we would need to do that, but certainly it would be more than we now have. They want us to stay in Singapore and Malaysia. They want us to stay in the Persian Gulf. They wanted us to stay in Aden.
Some of them even want us to join in the Vietnam adventure. I do not want to be unfair to the Opposition Front Bench—I am not sure where right hon. Gentlemen opposite stand on that issue—but certainly some hon. Members on the back benches opposite do. I do not know whether they want us to send merely a token force, a corporal and six marines. Is that the sort of military adventure which they want to inflict on the men and women of the forces? Are they telling the House that they would impose these impossible tasks on those men and women? They want us to keep intact the T.A. and Civil Defence, but they have not told the House how much that will cost, and certainly they have never dreamt of putting it to the taxpayers.
Their own history in Government should have told them a few truths. The reason for the failure of the Suez adventure was that the country could no longer perform the military tasks which she used to able to perform. The Suez adventure led Tory Defence Ministers to recognise the truths which the Government recognise in the Defence White Paper—that we cannot fulfil all the military tasks which we would like to fulfil.
101 There is nothing dishonourable in that. No country has even tried to do more than it could afford—and survived. We want to survive. We want to survive economically. There are so many other things which we as a nation need to do, but there is nothing dishonourable in telling the men and women in the forces, "These are the resources at our disposal and these are the tasks which can be done with them''. Given that lead, we shall have a response from the country's very fine soldiers, sailors and airmen.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Defence is not here. I should like to place on record that he listened to one speech and then left the Chamber. If he had been here, it would have given him great pleasure to find that his policies had at least one supporter below the Gangway.
I read the White Paper on Defence with the closest interest. If ever a White Paper was designed to blacken those who wrote it, it is this. I have been struck by the contrast on nearly every page between the splendid work of the Armed Forces, of which the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) spoke, and the mismanagement and double-talk of the Government to which the Armed Forces look for help. Whatever else Labour Governments may claim to do well, defence is not their strong suit. I remember that in 1951, when the issue of Abadan arose, the Labour Prime Minister of the day assured the House in July that total evacuation of Abadan would not be considered. By 3rd October it was announced that total evacuation of Abadan had been completed.
As with Abadan yesterday, so with Aden today. Labour Governments adhere to identical standards. In 1964 the present Prime Minister said:Aden must be held as an important base both for communications and as a centre for, ease-keeping operations".There were no qualifications to the statement that Aden must be held. Yet page 14 of the White. Paper says:The last elements of our forces left Aden in 29th November 1967…That is precisely what I meant when I poke of the contrast between the con 102 duct of the Government and the feats of the Armed Forces, a contrast which runs right through the White Paper.I have always regarded Aden as the one area which could be a real danger to peace.said the Secretary of State for Defence only a few months ago. Those were his words, not mine. Yet the words of the right hon. Gentleman count for very little today. After all, he was a very willing party to the abdication of our responsibilities there.
On pages 2 and 32 of the White Paper are the only references to the cancellation of the 50 F111 aircraft—The effect of this decision on the future equipment of the Royal Air Force is now being studied.How typical of the Government to cancel first and then consider the effect on the R.A.F. What a shameful thing! The Prime Minister said:Everyone involved in the discussion has agreed that the 50 F111 aircraft are needed on any assumption unless we are going out of the defence business altogether".
§ Mr. Hamilton
According to the Prime Minister, it is clear that we are.
At this annual review of the nation's defences it is fitting that the House should pay tribute to the aircraft which the F111 was ordered to replace—the TSR2—and. to those who created it, even though today they are scattered to the four winds. I have done so each year. At least we ought to lay a wreath annually on the grave of this project, because it was very dear to hon. Members on this side of the House. We believed it to be the only type of aircraft capable of survival in enemy air space in the 1970s. We believed that it was both dangerous militarily and false economically to equip ourselves with the second-best. We believed that the one thing which we could not afford was a weapons system not capable of doing its job.
It is only three years ago, in March, 1965, that the TSR2 was flying over the Pennines, down to the Scilly Isles, exceeding the highest hopes of its designers and passing all its tests with flying colours, flying from Boscombe Down in my constituency, a brilliant scientific achievement and the answer to our defence problems for years to come.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
And did not that policy exceed the estimates of what it would cost?
§ Mr. Hamilton
No. I think that it would have been far cheaper than subsequent plans of this present Government.
Then this sad story continues, in that, in April, it was cancelled. Never mind what Harold Wilson told the TSR2 workers. It was cancelled. It was cancelled in the April, 1965, Budget. In case its ghost should walk abroad, to add insult to injury, the Government then ordered the jigs and tools themselves to be destroyed.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That, I feel, was the most sordid act of all. It comes to my mind that we have another Budget in a fortnight's time, and it will be introduced by a Chancellor who was Minister for Aviation. I feel sure we shall need to keep our ears well open, because that Minister is very well able to slip in asides, as that cancellation was slipped in, and if we listen carefully we may hear of the cancellation—shall I say?—of the Concorde, on 19th March. I feel that in any case we are reachnig the point at which there is precious little left to cancel.
In this White Paper, on page 2, there are these words:Britain's defence effort will in future be concentrated mainly in Europe…What did the Prime Minister say about that?There are those,he said,who would have us abdicate from any position of influence outside Europe. Let me warn against dangerous talk of this kind.Events have proved it was certainly dangerous talk by the present Prime Minister himself.
What a charade this is—because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will know how easy it is for anyone in this Chamber to quote the Prime Minister, as I have done. What a charade, and what a national humiliation: order, counter-order, and disorder; retreat all the way; what the French call reculer pour mieux reculer.
Yet still we have the same Secretary of State for Defence. Still we have the 104 Minister of Defence who failed to defend his own Ministry, a Minister who has struck an all-time low in political morality, and this is not a feat—and I know hon. Members on the opposite side will agree with me—it is not a feat easy to achieve in competition with our present Prime Minister. He has placed Britain's investments in the Middle East at risk; he has sold our allies down the river; and he has broken every pledge in the book. I wish he were in the Chamber with us now.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) spoke this afternoon about Finality John. There is another character well known to this House who held on to office through thick and thin, who held on to office from the reign of Charles II right up to that of George I, and the office to which he held on was the Vicarage of Bray. The point I should like to stress, very briefly, is that there was nothing romantic about this character whatever. There was not something courageous, determined, robust about the why he clung on to office; he held on to his office by one device only; he held on to his office by easy conversions of faith as needs dictated, and it was a less than admirable performance. Yet the Vicar of Bray had nothing over the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I for one shall not be following the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) in his pilgrimage annually to lay a wreath on the grave of the TSR2. In my view that was a right and courageous decision which the Government took.
Many things have been said about the Defence Secretary, but I do not think many of us would accuse him of failing to defend his Ministry, because in fact he has defended his Ministry with a good deal more ability and energy than some of us would have wished.
I regard the White Paper as an interim document, as, indeed, in the Defence Secretary's own words, a holding operation, and recognised it as such, and, therefore, this year I will be voting in support of the Government.
However, I do feel out of tune with practically everything that has been said 105 in this debate, because before July I would hope that we have a complete rethinking, a total rethinking of policy relating to what some people see as the real needs of the West. So as not to be misunderstood, I mean that before July I should like to see the Defence Secretary moved—no, I think promoted is the word I want, yes, promoted—to the Ministry of Overseas Development where he can display his remarkable talents of energy and ability; let these talents and energy and ability he has displayed in the Ministry of Defence, all too effectively for some of us, be displayed in the Ministry of Overseas Development. In the Ministry of Overseas Development he could continue his partnership with Robert McNamara, now President of the World Bank, and perhaps together they could work out a plan for British defence expenditure of the order of £1,000 million in two or three years. I am one of those who do not want to see tinkering cuts: I want massive cuts, which fit in with the philosophy some of us hold of Fortress Britain.
I am being neither utopian nor even naïve, but I think there is an issue here on which we really ought to reflect.
All of us, on both sides of the House, have been horrified about Vietnam and Aden and by the pictures of horror which appear nightly on the television, and according to our political tastes we blame the Americans or the North Vietnamese or ourselves or the Egyptians, according to our viewpoint, but I sometimes wonder whether, in the midst of all the horror, we miss perceiving an important and simple military point. Is not one of the lessons of Vietnam that the organisational and technical might of the Americans has been thwarted by a small and determined people, call them the Vietcong or call them the North Vietnamese? Three years ago who among us would have conceived it possible that, without Chinese intervention, the North Vienamese and the Vietcong would have done this to McNamara's Pentagon?
There is another point for food for hought. I am not drawing any too definite conclusions. How is it that after even years Robert McNamara has, on every issue where his theories actually lave been put to the test, been proved 106 wrong? Those are some very sobering thoughts.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is a general debate. Had we been discussing the details of the Estimates, the hon. Member would have been quite right to interrupt me, but this is a general debate on defence. It is a fair comment on Robert McNamara and his seven years tenure in the Pentagon, of relevance to ourselves.
I come to a proposition which is central to my argument. Granted access to automatic rifles, etc., which it is difficult to deny to the most primitive of people, and granted a determined will among the inhabitants, it is impossible for a great Power to conquer a small Power at acceptable cost. After what we have seen in Vietnam, which Power will ever again embark on a unilateral attempt to impose its will on a determined small country? I realise that if the inhabitants are not determined, my argument falls to the ground. Yet, why go to the military help of undetermined people?
But can we see the Chinese or the Russians embarking on a Vietnam-type war? Do we see any leader in Peking going into Burma or taking over the Khmer Cambodians, after what they seen of the fate of the French and the Americans? I pay tribute, while saying that, to the gallantry of individual American marines in Vietnam. As an aside, if they had only had the wit to realise it, Washington might have seen that Ho Chi Minh and Phan Van Dong were their best bet as a bulwark against the Chinese.
The conclusion which I draw is that never again should this country unilaterally be involved in any kind of war of the type which we see in Asia at present. In fact, does not the threat of Vietnam-type insurgency constitute the best deterrent of all against take-overs by a large Power? I say to my right hon. Friend that if we want to help Thailand and Malaya, we should be busy training their loyalist in how to be expert saboteurs against an invading force. I welcome proposals in the White Paper, that the best British officers should go to help advise Malaya and anybody else in Southern Asia who may desire it. That 107 is realistic. Let the help be in the form of insurgency techniques and techniques against an occupying army, because I do not believe, on any rational judgment, that a great Power will pay the cost of occupation.
That in my opinion, is the ultimate guarantee in respect of the threat against Australia. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) and, I know, the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) are extremely concerned about our obligations to the Australians. These are obligations which all of us would accept. But can anyone see an invasion of Australia other than by China and in a situation in which American power would be involved and our power would be purely marginal? Secondly, in the very unlikely—indeed, hypothetical—situation, can one imagine the reaction of the Australians were they to be invaded? Surely such a tough resourceful people would make it impossible—just as the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong have made it impossible—for invaders to settle in their territories. I believe that that is a major deterrent against the kind of action in respect of which we are arming ourselves at such enormous expense.
Another question which must be asked concerns the likelihood of what happens when white forces are no longer in the Middle or Far East. It is relevant that in the view of the Arab States, opposite Persia, there is no danger of invasion or occupation. Indeed, following the remarks of my right hon. Friend, the Defence Secretary, it seems that withdrawal has meant that the Arab States have done what they should have done long ago—come together on a military basis among themselves. This has a relevance to the level of our forces and to my argument that we should not tinker with defence costs but should cut them by about £1,000 million in two or three years. The same remarks apply to Singapore and Harry Lee Kuan Yew. If the Singapore loyalists are as devoted to his régime as he claims, heaven help any Power which, in an Aden situation, has to meet him in command of the equivalent organisation of F.L.O.S.Y. The idea of another Power such as Indonesia taking over Singapore 108 after what we have been through in Aden seems grotesque, with the prospect of so able an operator as Lee Kuan Yew at the head of the guerrillas.
It is also relevant to consider the other side of the coin. If, on the other hand, there are a large number of people in Singapore who support those who are detained as political prisoners, then it is clear that for our present purposes British troops should not touch that situation. Indeed, some pertinent questions ought to be put to Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, perhaps by Sir Alan Dudley, who is leading our economic mission. They are questions about the extent to which British forces should support a régime—which is what we are doing—which has put many of its political opponents in prison.
It is relevant to quote from a letter to The Times of 12th February signed by the wife of Dr. Lim Hock Siew, the wife of Said Zahari and the wife of Dr. Poh Soo Kai. It reads:Five years ago on 2nd February, 1963, more than 130 political leaders and trade unionists were detained in Singapore for their opposition to the entry of Singapore into Malaysia.More of those detained are still being held without trial. Among them are our husbands, Drs. Lim Hock Siew and Poh Soo Kai, who are medical practitioners, and Said Zahari, who was formerly editor of the principal Malay language newspaper. This is a letter from three wives appealing for support in Britain to obtain their release. There is no space to mention all the other names, but Lim Chin Siong, who led the left wing in Singapore, is one of them.Singapore was separated from Malaysia in 1965 but these men still languish in prison. Their conditions of detention are bad and have further deteriorated recently. The pressure of world public opinion is needed to induce the Singapore Government to open the doors of its political prisons. We hope that those with influence in Britain will concern themselves with the plight of political prisoners held without trial in Singapore.I do not want to detain the House longer on this issue, but a serious question arises for this nation—the extent to which our troops should support régimes which, as is uncontradicted, apparently have political prisoners held in prison without trial.
§ Mr. Marten
There is a very similar situation in South Yemen where we are supporting a Government who have put 109 political opponents in prison. Does the hon. Member approve of that support?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I must be frank. I do not support it. I do not believe in that meddling. Modern Britain has no business to get involved in such a situation. The mistake of the Administrations of Mr. Macmillan, the right hon. Member for Kinross and East Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) and Sir Anthony Eden is that they allowed themselves—or I suspect, it was done in Whitehall—to dream up the most fantastic plans like federations in the Middle and Far East, which lead to this kind of trouble. Once one embarks on this kind of thing one gets mixed up in these very complex situations. This is why, as a positive act of policy, I wish all British Governments would opt out of such military situations. I believe in a world rôle, but a technical, not military, rôle.
I ought to declare that, for these and other reasons, I am a Fortress Britain man, wishing to co-operate with Europe; that is, I am a man who is prepared to accept that we should keep Polaris—I wrote that in Tribune. I see the former defence corespondent of the Tribune here, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Ted Fletcher)—I am a man who is concerned about the morale of and rewards to those in the Services and who, as I shall hope to show if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on Estimates day, is genuinely concerned about those in the forces. As I said to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), I think that meddling necessarily gets us into the most complex and difficult positions.
I will give the Defence Secretary, who seems to have done me the courtesy of coming in to hear me, an example. I happen to believe that in some ways the anger of Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tunku Razak is justified. Naturally, my right hon. Friend does not confirm or deny this. It is not the withdrawal of British troops per se which has made the Malays angry; it is the fact that had they not been given pledges, in the first place, they would never have taken on certain commitments. They say to me that if they had known, they would not have let us persuade them to take on the ludicrous East Malaysia commitment. This is precisely the danger. Once one allows oneself 110 to get involved, one gives promises and, having given promises, it becomes more difficult in different circumstances to honour them. This is the sort of reason why I should like to see a total change of policy.
This would all be past history if it were not for one thing—precisely what our east of Suez commitment is, is still unclear. Here I ask a question of the Defence Secretary about the British Solomon Islands which really concerns paragraph 25 of the White Paper. What are we doing building an airstrip in British Solomon Islands? If it is a civilian airstrip used for development purposes it should be taken off the Defence Secretary's Vote and put on the Vote of the Ministry of Overseas Development.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On this issue I askedthe Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to extend an airfield in the British Solomon Islands; and for what purpose?The Answer from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) was:None. The airfield at Honiara on Guadalcanal Island is being improved by the local Public Works Department in order to develop local and regional air services. The work is being financed by the Commonwealth Office out of Colonial Development and Welfare funds. One officer and two non-commissioned officers of the Royal Engineers are helping with the construction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 426.]If this is the complete answer then Guadalcanal has no business to appear solemnly in the Defence Review.
I wish to be helpful to the Defence Secretary. We appear to be doing a great deal of good work in Thailand, and Malaya, and I am prepared to defend it in areas where it is not altogether popular. The Defence Secretary has a variety of ideas on the issue, but for heaven's sake let it be taken off the Defence Vote. Many misunderstandings, not least among my hon. Friends, would be removed if this kind of thing were taken off the Defence Vote. It is something of which to be proud, but it leads to misunderstandings. Equally, if the base on the Solomon Islands is an extension of commitment, perhaps he would get a different reaction from my hon. Friends.
111 It is naïve and a bit silly for anyone who pretends to speak seriously on defence not to take into account the attitude of the United States. Last year I had the privilege of a three-quarter hour interview with Walter Rostow in his operations room in the White House. Rostow's argument was roughly, "You British have lost the will to power. It is a great sadness to me that many of you, like yourself, could not care about your country's historic rôle. A great people have become inward looking". He went on to say that this process began after the war at a time when he was Harmsworth Professor of American History in Oxford and Pitt Professor in Cambridge. He went on to say, "You now want to shut your eyes on the world".
The answer to Professor Rostow and others who think like him is that people like me do not want to shut our eyes on the world. We simply think that our rôle on the world stage should be technical, not military.
Later in the same conversation Professor Rostow berated me with considerable eloquence and venom for the fact that Britain took no interest in Latin America. He said, "It would be much better"—and this is an opinion certainly echoed elsewhere in Washington—"if development capital for South America did not all come from the United States, but from Western Europe, too".
§ Mr. Dalyell
I was referring to my earlier remark that, if I had my way, the Defence Secretary would not be moved; he would be promoted. I would promote the Defence Secretary to Minister of Overseas Development.
§ Mr. Dalyell
There is a central defence issue here. It is commonly argued—I do not think I am putting words into the mouth of the Defence Secretary in saying this—that there is no direct conflict between defence expenditure and overseas development expenditure. I 112 have heard my right hon. Friend in public speeches say that if there are to be cuts they must be right across the board. This is an honest and tenable argument. One cannot expect—not that I ever have—that defence expenditure can overnight be turned into aid expenditure, or better still joint development projects. In the short term the Defence Secretary is right, but in the long term he is not, because there is a conflict between the level of defence that this country undertakes, £2,200 million or so, and our ability to help developing countries whether we decide to help Egypt in a joint programme in the Qattara Depression or whether we start major engineering works such as desalination plants in India. There are some who see this as a direct long-term contract. Surely it is legitimate in this general debate, but not on Wednesday's, Thursday's and next Monday's debates to bring in this kind of consideration. But, in deference to your Ruling—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member should note that we are debating the Motion on the Order Paper with an Amendment. That fixes the limit of the debate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Arising from the defence review there is an issue on which I should like to praise the Defence Secretary. This concerns the imagination and drive that he has shown in suggesting that forces should be used for civilian tasks. As a Scottish Member of Parliament with some first-hand knowledge, I commend the Defence Secretary for his initiative and drive concerning the work of the Scottish Command under General Sir Derek Lang regarding various schemes in which the military can help in civilian works. Per. haps the most dramatic of these was the work done following the storm disaster couple of months ago. I think it is fitting that in the House of Commons Scottish Members should pay tribute to Scottish Command and to the Ministers involved for their activity and energy. Their effort were greatly appreciated. I would hope to outline further tasks and schemes for them on Monday.
It is not only the Army which should be devoted to civilian tasks. I think that this country should embark on a major marine science programme and that, u[...] like in the United States, where condition 113 are different, the Navy should play a leading part in it. For relevance I refer to the passage in the Defence Estimates on the work of the hydrographer. This could be extended in all sorts of ways. Mr Speaker, I see you casting a steely eye at me, so I shall not pursue this in detail. I merely say that this country should embark on a marine science programme.
I shall be brief in my next comments because the Select Committee is looking into this. I think that public representatives should ask themselves questions about the defence research establishments. This is not chicken feed. Excluding nuclear work, and excluding the vast amount of work that is done in civil industry, the figure was about £260 million last year. We are therefore talking, not about trivialities, but about matters of considerable substance.
I do not think that it is either sensible or realistic to bring to an end great and famous establishments like the R.A.E. at Farnborough, and the R.R.E. at Malvern, but I think that the process whereby these famous establishments do civil work should be speeded up. In some cases the Government have a good story to tell, but I ask that serious consideration be given to the mosaic and myriad of smaller establishments, some of which seem to be duplicating the work of others, and where these scientists could make a massive contribution to the British economy. I hope that, concurrently with the investigation being carried out by the Select Committee, attention will be paid by Ministers to lishments, including the mechanism of all aspects of the defence research estabshrinkage. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment will comment on this later tonight.
I think that my right hon. Friend might consider divesting himself of one part of his empire, namely, the micro-biological research establishment at Porton. I have no doubt that this is a defensive organisation. I have never lent myself to the argument that we are making offensive weapons per se, but if some scientists can prove that we are, probably it is the case that offensive weapons are needed to test defensive weapons. I do not accuse the Government of being morally wrong about Porton, but it seems that there is a sensible, legitimate argument for opening all this up, for transferring it to the Ministry of Health, and for going into 114 the whole way in which Porton can help, for example, the protective clothing industry in this country, as a civilian research establishment.
I propose, finally, to make another kind of remark. There are many reasons why, 14 days before the by-election at Hamilton, I told the Government Chief Whip that the hon. Lady who now represents Hamilton would arrive here, and not the Labour candidate, and why the Tory candidate would lose his deposit. Separation from England is not in itself what all this is about. There are many people at Hamilton who have throughout their lives voted for Tom Fraser, but who voted against the Government on this occasion in part—I put it no higher—because of the nausea which was aroused in them by the television pictures of what was happening in Aden, and the seeming endorsement by the Government of the action in Vietnam. I think there was a feeling that the English were dragging Scotland along with a ludicrous defence policy in the Far East and the Middle East.
I am going to presume to do what I have never done before, and I do so, shyly, in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). I propose to speak on behalf of the overwhelming majority of Scottish people, including many thousands who voted not only for Tom Fraser, but for the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), and others, and who will do so again.
On the subject of defence expenditure, and our world rôle, most Scots think the Government should pay heed to the defence critics on the left of the Labour Party. For more than four years they have been telling the Government that they are the realists who represent the feelings of the Scottish people. Ever since the Government came to power they have pursued a general policy which has received the endorsement of the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament on both sides. This is the view of the politicians, but there are many Scots—in some ways we are less good than the English, but in many ways we are more realistic—not all of whom hold 115 my political point of view, let alone the general position that I might occupy in my party on this matter, who call on the Government now to be realistic, and to do the sort of thing for which I argued at the beginning of my speech, that is, not to tinker with defence expenditure, but to cut it down the middle.
§ Mr. Speaker
I remind the House that if speeches are long I shall not have the opportunity of calling as many hon. Members as I should like to.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his speech, which I found extremely ineresting, but, I admit, a little difficult to relate to Cmnd. 3540, which I understand is the subject of today's debate.
In previous speeches a lot of tears have been shed on the Tory back benches, but until the Tory Party comes forward with a cohesive policy of its own on defence I must say that I find these tears extremely unconvincing. They are crocodile tears, which have left the benches dry. I am waiting to hear a cohesive defence policy from the Tory benches, and I hope that we shall get it during the debate.
I have very little to criticise in the Statement, simply because there is very little in it to criticise. It is merely a statement of the status quo. I reserve my judgment on the Statement as a whole, but I welcome in it indications of some movement towards a policy which has been advocated by the Liberal Party for years, although in this instance it has been adopted by the Government only under economic pressure. They are stumbling towards a policy based on collective security in Europe—something for which we have always argued strongly.
The Statement says:Britain's defence effort will in future be concentrated mainly in Europe and the North Atlantic area.In the corresponding debate last year my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who was criticising the east of Suez policy, said:The defence of Europe is the defence of Britain. The European role is Britain's role in the future and that is why I believe it 116 is impossible for my party to support the Government and their White Paper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 167.]That was said a year ago, and since then there has been a complete volte facein the Government's policy. They have abandoned their east of Suez rôle under economic pressure and have taken up a completely new stand.
Liberals have continuously proclaimed a policy of strong conventional forces in Europe and non-reliance on an independent nuclear deterrent. Exactly what is happening now at Aldermaston? If we are not going on, after Polaris, into the Poseidon generation of missiles, I should be interested to learn what work is now being done there. I am glad that the Government are now subscribing to a policy of extending the conventional phase of hostilities should war break out so as to give more time in which any decision to use nuclear weapons could be taken. At the same time, however, we regret that they have clung to the British nuclear deterrent policy in contradiction to their earlier election pledges.
We in the Liberal Party have been saying for years that this country is not able to support a world peace-keeping rôle east of Suez My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery also said in the corresponding debate last year, after a visit he had paid to Singapore and the Far East:…I came away from the Far East absolutely convinced that there was no rôle that this country could or should effectively play there in the 1970s. In deciding this, I made a deliberate choice. I asked myself, where do the interests of my country lie? What function could my country on its resources, fulfil in the world in the future? I answered—in Europe. This is why I do not think that this rôle east of Suez can be maintained.Events have, of course, proved this to be right. My hon. and learned Friend went on:I do not believe that a world peace-keeping rôle is desirable for any national country of our size outside the auspices of the United Nations. For a country of our size, the cost is too great for effectiveness, in any event, but there is also the great danger of propping up reactionary régimes and preventing normal processes of reform from working and driving people into extreme action through a mistaken intention on our part of maintaining stability in a given area.My hon. and learned Friend also said:I further believe that this rôle diverts us from our essential European interests where 117 Our future lies".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 164–5.]Yet it took devaluation and a major economic crisis to make the Government see the light.
§ Captain W. Elliot
On a purely military point, can the hon. Gentleman explain, why, in the last war, the rest of Europe fell while Britain survived?
§ Mr. Davidson
That is not within the scope of my speech or the statement. I will come in more detail later to the question of weapons and so on.
As I was saying, it took a major economic crisis and devaluation to make the Government see the light. And when they took their decision, it was done in such a way as to upset all our friends and allies instead of being done as part of a policy plan of phased withdrawal spread over live years or more.
Not long ago I was speaking to a member of the Australian Parliament. He told me that the stock of Britain in Australia had never stood so low. He went on to say that he felt that the Americans were the only people the Australians could now trust. I had to agree with him in that I thought that our withdrawal had been badly handled. I also felt obliged to point out to him that it was difficult to expect the voter and tax payer in this country to pay higher taxes to maintain bases in the Far East, perhaps to maintain a much higher standard of living in Australia and New Zealand than he himself enjoyed in this country. I also pointed out that while this country had the most tremendous gratitude for the part played by the A.N.Z.A.C. forces in the last war and the war before that in that they came to our aid, that did not involve them in maintaining expensive bases in Europe and that they used our bases when they came across here.
Perhaps I should also mention that I pointed out that at the time of the A.N.Z.U.S. Pact, we were not, as far as I was aware, asked to join it. I added that that did not undermine our obligation to come to their aid, to the best of our ability, should the necessity arise. I hope that the Government will see that our strategic transport forces will be maintained at an optimum level so that, if necessary, we can go to their assistance should the necessity arise.
118 My hon. Friends and I carried out a sustained campaign over a number of months against the purchase of the F111K, which would have cost this country £425 million. In this connection, on two occasions at the end of last year, I asked the Secretary of State to cancel the F111K order. When I asked that Question first, on 13th December, he replied that it would be required in about two years' time to replace the Canberra as a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft and thatIt is required as much in Europe as elsewhere for this type of operation".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1967; Vol. 756, c. 399.]According to our information, this rôle can perfectly well be performed by the Phantom—the rôle of a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft—and I should like the views of the Minister on this subject. However, when I asked the Question on the second occasion, on 18th December, he answered:We do not propose to cancel this aircraft".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1967 Vol. 756, c. 310.]Pressure from above forced him to alter his decision, and I do not think that he will regret it. In two years' time no calamity will have befallen this country as a result of the cancelling of the F111K. The Minister and his colleagues will still be here, unless there has been a General Election. It is interesting to note that the French Federation de Gauche has come out against the need for force de frappe, and this supports the view of my hon. Friends.
While giving a qualified welcome to the Government's Statement, I have certain criticisms to make and a number of important points which need clarification. All hon. Members will agree that the tone of the Statement creates uncertainty. It is simply a Statement of the status quo. We realise that it claims to be only an interim document, but we hope that the supplementary statement later in the year will be more specific about our future defence policy. It is stated on page 2:It has been a fundamental principle of the current examination that reductions in capability, whether in terms of manpower or equipment, must be accompanied by reductions in the tasks imposed by the commitments that we require the Services to undertake.119 This seems to be completely putting the cart before the horse. There is obviously real confusion here between capability and commitment, and I particularly draw attention to paragraph 3 on page 2, which states:No special capability for use outside Europe will be maintained when our withdrawal from Singapore and Malaysia, and the Persian Gulf, is complete".Surely it is logical to decide, first, what are our essential commitments, and then to decide what capabilities are needed to fulfil those commitments. Unfortunately, this Government prefer to do it the other way round: to decide, first, to reduce the capabilities, and then to see what commitments we are capable of undertaking and what obligations we are able to fulfil.
I have tabled a number of Questions, which the Minister will see on the Order Paper—a point I mention just in case he overlooks some of those I am now asking. At what level of forces are the Government aiming to fulfil the commitments outlined in Chapter 1(3)? Is there a rôle envisaged for Britain within a reshaped N.A.T.O. after 1969? What new aircraft are planned for the late 1970s, or are we to wait until the Lightnings, Phantoms and Harriers are obsolete, and then shop around in America or Russia? Or perhaps, by then, we will be buying cast-offs from Egypt.
What is the proposed composition of this thing at the top of page 3 in the statement called "a general capability based in Europe" for deployment overseas and in support of the United Nations? A little further on it states categorically that our Army is "superbly equipped". I very much hope that it is. Will the Minister tell us in what items of weaponry it has superiority over other armies in Europe? What about force levels? We view with concern the proposed withdrawal of 5,000 men from B.A.O.R. Exactly how long would it take to transport and deploy this brigade withdrawn to Britain in its B.A.O.R. rôle? This is important because it is part of the essential force of B.A.O.R.
The weapons would certainly need to be superb indeed to compensate for this disparity in numbers on the ground. Is there not also an inferiority in N.A.T.O.'s armed forces as compared with the fast, 120 highly-mobile armour of the Warsaw Pact countries? Page 5 talks of maintaining our interest in the stability of the Middle and Far East. It goes on to say that we will demonstrate this:…by our continuing membership of CENTO and S.E.A.T.O.What form will this demonstration take? An annual affair with banners outside the headquarters in Bangkok and Ankara, or will it be the definite commitment of a specific force held in readiness for deployment if required?
I cannot help wondering what our home-based Regular Army of 150,000 men will do with themselves all day. They cannot spend all their time on exercises, weapon training and square-bashing. Perhaps they will replace the Territorial Army as part-time soldiers on full pay. I would much prefer to see a small highly trained Regular Army, backed by a proper Territorial reserve which could continue to serve as a basis for rapid recruitment in times of need and as an emergency force in time of civil crisis.
At the same time our commitment to the defence of Europe must remain paramount. For the foreseeable future B.A.O.R. should be maintained and equipped at optimum strength, despite the difficulties which will arise in the coming negotiations on support costs. Obviously the Government have to try to get the best possible terms they can in Bonn. Even if the outcome is not satisfactory B.A.O.R. should not be sacrificed.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
Is the hon. Member really suggesting that Western Europe should remain impervious to world affairs. The hon. Member is saying that we should confine our activities to Western Europe.
§ Mr. Davidson
The hon. Gentleman has misquoted me. I did not say that we should confine our activities. I said that our primary rôle should be in Europe. It is rather a different matter, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me the benefit of the doubt. This is not a matter of excluding our responsibilities from anywhere but Europe. That is not what I said. A firm British commitment to European defence must be viewed at the same time in the broader political context of working towards a European defence community. Short of a complete 121 detente and world disarmament, this should be our main long-term goal, not our only goal.
Apart from all these political advantages, there would be material gain in terms of rationalising arms procurement and reducing exchange costs to the United Kingdom.
May I turn for a few minutes to naval matters. Even though we are Europeans we must remain a maritime nation so long as our imports and exports are predominantly carried by sea. It would be politically wise for Britain to make a strong naval contribution to the Mediterranean which is a relatively unstable area of the European defence perimeter. By stationing suitable naval units there, perhaps withdrawn from the Far East, we could fulfil this function. At the same time they should be placed under the new N.A.T.O. C.-in-C. Mediterranean, who I believe is an Italian admiral. Britain's readiness to strengthen a previously British command now allocated to Italy could be interpreted as additional proof of our desire to be good Europeans, whatever General de Gaulle might have to say about the matter. The increased British N.A.T.O. force in the Mediterranean would strengthen the specifically Alliance forces in an area where at present the Western position is maintained by a purely national force. I refer, of course, to the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
Existing British naval units would be extremely vulnerable to sea-to-sea and shore-to-sea missiles of a potential enemy. I would like to know what is planned to remedy this fairly obvious deficiency. As far as I know we have not had a full answer to this, although I have heard it put in various ways. We must still regard the Mediterranean, particularly our bases in Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus, as vital for the South-East flank of European defensive alliances. I am fully aware of the difficulty in Malta, and that if the Government there changes we might not be allowed to stay even if we wished to. Nevertheless we should do all that we can to try to maintain our presence there because it is an extremely important base.
On page 11 there is a reference to ships of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy attached to and operating with the Far Eastern fleet. 122 Does this not compromise us to some extent vis-à-vis the Vietnam war? Have any of these ships been detached for operations against North Vietnam or against the Viet Cong while they have been under joint command? I would like a categorical reply to that. I also notice that in the matter of estimated costs—which I see have gone down in the case of the Army but up in the case of the Navy and the Air Force and the Defence Ministry—that naval stores and materiel, particularly for Polaris submarines, is by far the largest single item of increase. It is up by over £25 million. Is this a once-for-all or a recurrent cost?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Maurice Foley)
The hon. Member has a Question down, to which he has had the reply this afternoon.
§ Mr. Davidson
I have been in the Chamber all afternoon. If the Reply is in my pigeon-hole I have not yet had time to look at it. As soon as I am able I will have a look.
How much longer do the Government intend to base their costs on 1964 prices? For example, if they are still in power in 1984 will they use 1964 datum? It is becoming meaningless, particularly since devaluation. I am extremely worried about the Navy's comparative shortage of hunter-killer defensive submarines and the proposed slowing-down of the rate for building these submarines. This is a very bad mistake. It may be inevitable, but it is a mistake to slow down what amounts to an essentially defensive, not offensive weapon.
I am also concerned at the increased dependence of the Royal Navy upon helicopters, because of their extreme vulnerability particularly to air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. What is being done to find a solution to this weakness? What about fighter protection? There are still some small army and naval units in the Caribbean, but there are no Air Force units there at all. Presumably there is no air cover? Will the Secretary of State reconsider—I know that this is a vain request, but I make it nonetheless—the possibility of keeping the carrier force in being for another 10 years?
§ Mr. Davidson
While we have other Forces out there, it is rather ludicrous to have Army and Navy units with no air cover. This lesson should have been learned at the time of the sinking of the "Prince of Wales".
How many helicopters will the cruisers "Blake", "Tiger" and "Lion" each be capable of carrying? I note that entry of pilots of fixed-wing aircraft has been discontinued. Will these ships possess the alternative capacity for operating Harrier vertical take-off and landing aircraft? I noted from the speech of the Secretary of State that one of the ships at least will be carrying these aircraft, but I should like to know whether other ships of the Royal Navy will carry Harriers. Because of the relatively short range of these aircraft, it might be advisable if they could be so used. What about the "Nimrod"? Will it have any rôle other than long-range maritime reconnaissance?
While this statement shows that Government thinking on defence is roughly on the right lines, with the notable exception of its conservative adherence to the independant nuclear deterrent, it also underlines the fact that this is not planned policy but "Hobson's Choice". The Government have squandered all their options. The Secretary of State is a puppet on a string manipulated by the Treasury or by "you know who". Let us at least hope that he will make wise decisions on weapons, equipment and deployment of forces within the European theatre and in the few remaining areas overseas where we still have obligations to fulfil.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I hope the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) who speaks on defence for the Liberal Party, will forgive me if I do not exactly follow his speech, although I thought parts of his speech, perhaps the overwhelming major part, was in a very constructive spirit.
I welcome very much Chapter III of the White Paper, paragraphs 5, 7 and 8, which deal with the work of a number of universities in holding a number of seminars and courses on strategic studies. I know from the experience I have had at the University of Southampton that this work is extremely important. It embraces officials of the Foreign Office, of the 124 Ministry of Defence and the Armed Services, and a number of Members of Parliament from time to time are invited to take part. The need to develop higher defence studies must be recognised as an important step towards a more rational defence policy based upon a real perception of national interests.
I ask the Minister who is to sum up the debate what is the machinery established in the Ministry of Defence to coordinate proposals received from the academic world? Part of the difficulty, as shown in this debate, is that there is a great lack of awareness of the basic assumptions on which our defence policy should be based. Work inside the universities with practical people is helping to get those assumptions right. I also welcome the news contained in paragraph 8 regarding an independent institute for the study of defence problems.
The problem with the institute of strategic studies, the main body working in this field at the moment, is that it concentrates on the international aspects of strategic and technological developments which arise. There is a need for a body capable of concentrating on British national interests. Would the Government consider assisting in the publication of defence studies made by academics and other specialists?
Addressing myself to some of the implications of policy in the White Paper, I ask if the Government could spell out in more detail the type of amphibious forces that will be available for deployment outside of Europe in the mid-seventies. I also ask whether the development of vertical take-off and landing aircraft might make possible a reconsideration of the carrier issue. Is it possible now to contemplate in the seventies a cheap mini-carrier capable of carrying v.t.o.l. aircraft to which I have referred? If we are to maintain a credible military presence outside Europe without bases, it is very important that we should have effective air cover.
I should also like to know why the Government have decided against the development of a ship-to-ship missile. The Seaslug mark II is not a real shipto-ship missile. Would the Government consider the possible rôle of a missile patrol boat, a sort of m.t.b., armed with surface-to-surface missiles similar to the 125 Soviet missile boats currently in service with the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean and in service with the Egyptian and Indonesian navies? On the ground of cost effectiveness a fair-sized patrol boat has a crew of 20 against 200 for the average frigate. This saving would be a very attractive proposition. I should like to know the reaction of my hon. Friend and the likely rôle he would see for such a missile m.t.b.
Our withdrawal from east of Suez was touched upon in a very interesting speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck). He referred to the withdrawal from our bases in the mid-1970s. As I have addressed myself in a previous debate to this subject, I very much liked what he said and I echo his sentiments. If the Defence White Paper policy is now built firmly on Western European assumptions, I should like to look closer at what this implies. It would be idle to deny that the threat in Europe has not completely disappeared. We have only to look at the size of forces the Russians have in Europe. She still has 160 divisions in Central Russia which could easily be deployed in Europe. She has in Central Europe at least 40 mixed central European divisions and another 60 Russian divisions on this side of the Elbe. We can see that the threat is still there.
The question which seems rather acutely thrown up by the White Paper and which was touched upon by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, West, is that by accepting the present size of conventional forces or implying that the present size of conventional forces would be further depleted, are we not now relying too much on our nuclear deterrent, which would mean that any small sized action which could not be contained by conventional forces we should be forced to use, first, tactical and then strategic nuclear weapons.
Although my right hon. Friend dealt with this I still have severe doubts in my understanding of the White Paper of how clear it is. I hope that we are not in danger of returning to the theory of massive deterrence of the kind that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) introduced a number of years ago. No one would pretend that there is the possibility of an overwhelming Russian invasion of Europe, but on the 126 other hand most people would agree that there is always the possibility of an accident or an Hungarian kind situation getting out of hand. It would be the height of folly to meet that situation with tactical nuclear weapons, but it seems that this is a possibility if conventional forces are too thin on the ground.
This means that the possible American withdrawal from Europe as a result of the withdrawal of British forces from east of Suez in the early 'seventies may bring this problem to the fore much more quickly than some people expect. My view is that if the Americans withdraw from Europe in large numbers it may create an area of instability. No one can speak with certainty about the future political development of Europe. Although some hon. Members speak with great confidence in this respect, I have grave doubts about it.
If one takes a hard look at political developments in France, is it unlikely that when the General goes, as he must at some time, a Government that replaces the Gaullist conception of Europe may not be a Right-wing Government but an extreme Left-wing Government. In Germany, the reverse may be true. The coalition there is not working at all well. There is a danger that the N.P.D. may grow in strength, and either join the coalition or eventually emerge as the majority Government in its own right.
Developments in Europe in the next five or ten years are not at all clear, and it would be extremely unwise for us to consider withdrawing large British forces without bearing in mind the considerations I have mentioned. It is something which the Americans might also ponder if they are tempted to withdraw too many forces from Europe in the next few years.
I had great difficulty in following some of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but he argued that most of the challenges that appear in South-East Asia are of a kind that do not threaten this country or the West. I seriously question this romantic assumption. No one pretends that there will be a massive attack from China, but I think that my hon. Friend fundamentally misunderstands the nature of insurgency warfare, a form of warfare of which we have had experience in Malaya and which the Americans are at present finding it difficult to confront.
127 It does not need a general threat from China to threaten the stability of the West. A series of insurgencies or coups could bring to power in Asia Governments which were extremely unfriendly towards Singapore and Malaya and the West. I would not accept what my hon. Friend said of Malaya or Singapore or of the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew. The Prime Minister of Singapore faces appalling risks, and I think that he understands them, but it would be dangerous to exaggerate them. One cannot rule out the danger of insurgency warfare, and I hope that at least in this House there is an understanding of the problems.
The White Paper on a defence based on Europe or N.A.T.O. makes a great deal of sense. Although I regret some of its assumptions in respect of its being based in Europe, once we accept that this is the policy that we are now determined to pursue, and look at it in that light, the Defence White Paper makes much sense. But if this is to be our defence policy it must be just that; we cannot have too many changes. There have been far too many. If this is the course upon which the Government are now determined to embark, it makes a great deal of sense. If pursued, it will enable the detente in Europe to be effective, and from that we can go on to universal world disarmament which is the aim of us all.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am glad to be called after the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams), with a great deal of whose speech I agreed, especially in regard to the Far East, and I also agreed with the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck).
The decision in regard to the aircraft carrier "Ark Royal" will be a benefit to my constituency, but I hope that the vessel will not be kept on just for that reason. She must have a rôle and, if it is to have a rôle, H.M.S. "Eagle" must also be brought up to modern standards. It was suggested that "Eagle" could have Vixen aircraft instead of the Phantoms, that this would mean that the angled deck would not have to be re-fortified and that there would thus be a saving.
128 But would it be a saving? If we have two different types of aircraft, we must train different airmen to fly them, and we must have different ground crews. Before he makes a final decision, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that it might on the whole be more economical to have the two ships of the same standard so that the personnel, including ground crews were interchangeable, rather than needing two different types of crews. I know that "Eagle" is in very good shape. She has just done 60 days relieving the troops from Aden. It is a very good, well-equipped ship, and to have the two ships of the same standard would probably mean a saving.
I want to refer to N.A.T.O. and also in the future of Malaysia. When talking about the amount of money we spend on defence, it should be realised that we spend far less than do many other countries. China spends 10.6 per cent. of her gross national product—
§ Dame Joan Vickers
China's population is not nearly as rich per person as ours. To spend so much represents a very great sacrifice for the Chinese people. America spends only 9.2 per cent., and Russia 8.9 per cent. I gather that we spend 6.4 per cent., though we were told today that we spend about about the same as France, and I understand that France spends 4.4 per cent. I should like to be given the correct figure.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Would not the hon. Lady compare that position with that of our great potential competitor in the Far East, Japan, which spends only 1.1 per cent?
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Japan has not for years been one of the protecting Powers, as we have.
A very interesting report has been prepared by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), who was the rapporteur of a committee at W.E.U., entitled "The Cost of Defending Europe". Paragraph 8, in page 5, states:Having decided to concentrate on the jointly financed expenditure your rapporteur turned to publications of N.A.T.O. to obtain the necessary financial information, and also approached the Defence Ministry.129 He goes on to say:He was surprised to find that very little information, much less than applies to national defence budgets, is available. There is, in fact, no N.A.T.O. budget published nor any detailed accounts, still less any auditors' report.Paragraph 13 says:Whereas in N.A.T.O.…one has an international organisation disposing of large sums of money, there is a considerable risk that expenditure will not be adequately scrutinised"—According to the previous paragraph, I suggest that it is not—especially where security considerations apply and information about expenditure is difficult to obtain.Paragraph 20 says that the "common" bill is of the rough order of £120 million. It has an interesting paragraph concerning airfields, which cost between £2 million and £4 million each. This excludes the cost of acquiring the land from the host countries. There are 220 airfields, at an approximate cost of £400 million. I should like to know where these are and whether they are being used, or whether they are all necessary. It seems to be a vast expenditure.
Paragraph 25 says that there are three N.A.T.O. commands and that in these commands there are 56 different commanders and their staffs, and their head-quarters, on 30 different sites. Having read the report thoroughly, and having been to W.E.U., I was very disturbed at what I feel to be mismanagement in the organisation. If we are going to be members and play a full part in N.A.T.O. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that these points are looked into, because this is a valuable and worth-while report, which has not been mentioned in the debate so far.
We are given to understand that the military balance of N.A.T.O. is superior in most fields to that of the Soviet bloc. On what do we base these assumptions? It is further said that in reorganising we should take the opportunity for tighter financial control. If the hon. Gentleman cannot reply to those points tonight I hope that he will consider them in the future, because when I have gone to meetings of Western European Union I have often been disturbed at the roughly drawn statements, and particularly at the lack of any budget.
130 I now want to refer to our accelerated withdrawal from Malaysia. Hon. Members probably know that I lived there for some time, and also in Indonesia. I remember that in September, 1964, when the present Prime Minister came to Devonport, he said categorically that the area between Suez and Singapore has always been considered a British responsibility. Here we are giving up that responsibility, which we should not do in such a hurry.
The difference between my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite is that my right hon. Friend would not commit this side of the House to a particular date. This is one of the things which is so frustrating and worrying for various countries in the neighbourhood. We should allow them to build up their forces and integrate before we announce our departure. The Prime Minister saidWe believe that in the present condition of the world we need a stronger and more effective Navy".He particularly mentioned the Navy and saidThe Conservative's pursuit of the nuclear illusion for political and prestige purposes, means we have spent—and very largely wasted—hundreds of millions of £s.Today we still have the Polaris White Paper. All the things that the Prime Minister said at that time have been completely reversed.
Since many of my points have been referred to I will merely refer to the Far East and the Anglo-Malaysian agreement. It was unfortunate that an hon. Member for a Scottish constituency mentioned Indonesia just at the moment when Tunku Abdul Rahman is going on a visit to Indonesia, and when defence missions from Australia and New Zealand are going to Jakarta itself for the first time. I gather that the visit has been put off for a short time. General Suharto has accepted an invitation to go to the Netherlands. I hope in the future that we will see that when these talks begin it will not look as if we are ganging up against Indonesia, because the Malays and the Indonesians come from fundamentally the same stock, and have practically the same language. This is the moment when they should get together.
131 I understand fully the anxieties of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He has a predominantly Chinese island in the area. It must be remembered that he was once in Malaysia. I happened to be on the platform in Victoria Hall, Singapore, when he discussed this and supported the Tunku in combining with Eastern Malaysia. If we have these talks I hope that we may be able to reach agreement for the protection of Singapore. I completely disagree with what the hon. Member said about our forces there keeping political prisoners. Singapore is an independent island and we do not interfere. We are simply there for external protection.
If agreement is arrived at I hope that we shall keep some of the installations, at least on a care and maintenance basis. I am thinking in particular of some barracks, and perhaps part of the dockyard, which we may need for repairing our ships. What are we to do about the airstrips? If we are to take large numbers of troops we shall need heavy air support—probably not the same as the Americans have for carrying 700 men at a time, but airstrips capable of taking our aircraft. Who will keep these up in case of need?
What shall we do about the victualling and the fuelling services? We can have auxiliary ships, but they must have bases at which to obtain commodities. Fuel services in this country are excellent but for refuelling and victualling we shall have to have certain staging posts around the world.
The Secretary of State for Defence talked about training. I did not notice that any country that he mentioned had either a real desert or a real jungle. I do not think that Kenya has either. It has no real desert, except perhaps in the north, and no real jungle. I understand that there is an artificial jungle in Wales. People are trained in a hangar, and can go through the "jungle"—but anybody who, like myself, has been through real jungle both in Borneo, and New Guinea knows that this is a very different thing.
It is quite impossible to take troops from this country straight away to a tropical country or a desert. I have had some experience of this. I was called in in an emergency in Indonesia to nurse troops, 132 when people get dysentry, scrub typhus and typhoid. We can give them inoculations against certain diseases, but not against dengue fever. The troops have to get themselves acclimatised. It is cruel to send troops overseas without their first being properly acclimatised. A period of six weeks is needed in order to get properly acclimatised in any country, particularly if it is very cold or very hot. I hope that further consideration will be given to this point.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the recruiting advertisement for officers and other ranks is most misleading. Had I been called in the debate on the Trade Descriptions Bill I would probably have made the point that the Services were guilty of misleading the public in their advertisement.
I am naturally disappointed that the Navy is to be reduced, because although the times of Pax Britannica have gone, we still have a Merchant Navy and a fishing fleet to protect. Just for these peaceful purposes it is a fundamental mistake for the Navy to be run down. The whole of the attitude of the Labour Party is very humiliating and in the last few weeks—and, as I voted against last week's Bill, I can say this with a clear conscience—our word has been broken so many times that I wonder whether the present Government will ever be believed again. I hope to speak in the Navy debate next Monday, but meanwhile I conclude by saying that I hope that the Government will consider what I have said tonight about N.A.T.O.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
I shall be glad to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) to anywhere, especially to Malaysia, but on this occasion, in the debating sense of the term, I cannot do so other than to make one comment. As Malaysia has been mentioned, it is pertinent to remind ourselves that our conduct during confrontation—and I am not speaking in a party sense, but talking about our Armed Forces under the control of the House of Commons—was almost a classic of how that kind of operation should be conducted. Because we were right on the politics and on the social policies and on the economics, we had to apply only the bare 133 minimum of military force. If the Americans had learned the lessons of confrontation correctly, they would not now be in the bloody mess which they are in in South Vietnam.
I want to contrast the ease with which our predecessors in the Chamber used to talk about defence with the complexities which we face today. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was comparatively simple, first because military technology did not move very fast. Any of Wellington's soldiers would have been recognisable, at any rate in terms of arms, to the soldiers of 1914. Secondly, in deciding policy one decided where one's national interest lay, which country or combination of countries were the main threat to that interest, and then one made the necessary deployments to protect that interest and to fight that enemy should the occasion arise.
In defence today there is a bewildering complexity, because many of the old terms have lost their meanings, or been packed tight with new meanings, so that we need a new vocabulary. This is true of even the term "defence" itself. For instance, we have troops in Europe. Their precise level is determined not only because some people at Lisbon calculated the scale and type of the Russian threat, but because other people in Europe wanted British troops to be there in order to guarantee the French against a potential German resurgence. At the outset of N.A.T.O. we were using military forces for other than defence purposes. This is the kind of complexity running through all discussions of defence, and it must necessarily reflect itself in all White Papers on Defence, whether they are interim or final.
It does not unduly distress me that there are certain contradictions, which have been skilfully pointed out by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), between this and previous statements on defence. I thoroughly enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I wish that he had given me his notes a couple of weeks ago. One of the few delights of a back bencher is irritating and tantalising and making himself a general nuisance to his more distinguished colleagues on the Front Bench. But I do not see the relevance 134 of what the right hon. Gentleman had to say to the subject which we are debating. Inconsistencies and contradictions and chops and changes are bound to occur in a constantly changing situation. This is partly because policy is made not so much by us as for us, by those outside. However decisions have been reached—and I would have preferred many to have been reached by a process of logical thought two or three years ago—except in certain particulars I cannot quarrel with the decisions incorporated in this White Paper, although I should love to do so.
My first criticism is that we have to make up our minds, or at least make a range of guesses which will stand intelligent examination, about what our precise rôle in Europe is to be. It is no use talking in general terms about fighting a conventional war for X number of days. That is totally unrealistic. Different assessments have been made of the times it would be necessary to fight in Europe before the nuclear armoury was engaged—what followed would be more or less automatic.
We have to take another very cool look at Europe to decide what functions our troops are likely to be called upon to perform over the next decade. The type of function which I foresee—and this is only one very small guess—is that nothing is likely to arise in Europe in the next decade above the level of street fighting in certain cities. That is only a guess and there is no need to document a guess, but, with the human and mechanical equipment available to the Ministry of Defence, we could get rather more precise and well documented guesses and estimates than have been given to us so far.
We also have to know how our rôle in Europe is to be guided. I am here discussing the structure of the Alliance itself. I have never been a believer in military integration, as were some of the earlier enthusiasts in N.A.T.O. I do not believe that it is necessary. I believe that it creates and has created more problems than it solves. Standardisation is necessary and a standard infrastructure is necessary, but it is not necessary to create such an integrated military command structure that there is a correct balance among all the N.A.T.O. nations at all levels almost down to the level of 135 acting unpaid lance-corporal. So long as the units here know what their function is and know which units would move in if they were engaged, that is all that is desirable and necessary.
The precise control of N.A.T.O. now stands firmly on the agenda. The Alliance itself will have a question mark against it in 1969. We have to ask ourselves what the rôle of S.H.A.P.E. is to be in the circumstances of the French withdrawal. In what way can we reshape Western European Union so that, instead of standing on the sidelines as a kind of military commentator looking at N.A.T.O. and commenting on the N.A.T.O. structure, it begins to fulfil a specific political and military purpose? Is it possible in furtherance of better relations with Europe—and it is fairly well known that I have no enthusiasm for E.E.C., but we have to have a relationship with Europe, because, by virtue of geography and history, we are a European Power—now that our relationships with Europe are in flux, to place at least all our nuclear deterrent under joint control stemming from W.E.U.? I do not put that forward as a hard line of policy which I advocate. It is merely a question which I ask, the sort of question which I expect to be answered, if not in this interim White Paper, at least in a future White Paper.
The third question to be clear on in our minds as regards Europe is how far the arms control policies to which we are committed can be fitted in with the defence policies to which we are equally committed. Is disengagement completely in the wastepaper basket, or does it now become a feasible policy? Of course, it cannot be applied unilaterally—one cannot apply disengagement unilaterally—but are there signs, are there any glimmerings from the other side, that, if we were to put this forward as our political and military policy, it might ease maters in Europe, in relations between East and West, and enormously simplify the complex job of fitting our military contribution into the European jigsaw. That is a question which I should like answered, if not in this debate at least in a subsequent document or speech.
We have a residual interest in practically the entire world, and we shall always have that kind of interest. It is 136 almost impossible for me to conceive of a situation in which an explosion anywhere in the world did not have immediate repercussions in this country. We shall be affected not only because of our membership of alliances like CENTO and S.E.A.T.O., for neither of which have I the slightest enthusiasm, but also through our membership of the United Nations and similar worldwide organisations. We are bound to be affected. We may be called upon, as we were during the Malaysian confrontation, to make a contribution, and that contribution may have to be partly military. Indeed, I think that all our contributions to preserving order in the world will have to be partly military for the next two decades at least.
There must be a military element, either active or latent. This is where I quarrel with some of my well-intentioned, wholly amiable, utterly delightful but totally unrealistic pacifist Friends on these benches. There must be a military content. Every-one has an affection for my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) but I venture to disagree with him on this occasion, though promising heartily to agree with him in the next three debates, when we shall probably both abstain together and both be kicked out of the party. On this occasion, however, I strongly dissent.
§ Mr. Fletcher
All sorts of trials and tribulations face us, and together we must learn to face them with fortitude. In the trials and tribulations which face the world—here, I speak largely to my own colleagues—as far as I can foresee, there must be some military content in any contribution which we make, even in the contributions, which are mainly economic, which may be contributed under a United Nations shield.
When one talks in terms of contribution, the need to police the rest of the world automatically disappears. I remind the House that, when talk is bandied about of scuttling away from responsibilities, throwing away capabilities and the rest, this is a process which did not begin in 1964, no more than the process of cancelling expensive aircraft and missile projects began in the same year. It was fairly obvious, especially to the late Sir Winston Churchill, that our 137 power to influence the Middle East directly more or less disappeared when the Indian Army disappeared, because that was always the controlling factor as regards the Middle East. The process of disengagement, occasionally accelerated, occasionally retarded, has been going on since the end of the Second World War. We should not feel sorry about it. We should lot claw each other to pieces politically about it. We should accept it and make the best of it, recognising that we shall always, in one way or another, have to make a contribution to preserving order and preserving peace.
I shall delay the House only a little longer. The other specific points which I wished to make have been made by other speakers, and I never repeat my own speeches, let alone other people's speeches. I sum up in this way. At the outset, I said that a lot of our old terminology has been blown to pieces by the passage of events. I suggested that the word "defence" itself has become one of the casualties. I submit that, when we talk of defence, it is totally impermissible to think of pre-1914 situations with clearly defined enemies and a clearly defined capacity, not perpetually being dynamited by the progress of technology, to meet those enemies.
We live in a world where one cannot define the enemy geographically, nationally or ideologically. The enemy we face is not Communism. It is chaos. It is chaos rather than Communism which produces insurgency and all the violent disturbances which have disrupted the continents of both Asia and Africa. We have to deal with chaos. We have to build up security.
In thinking of the contribution which we should make to security, it would be advisable to start to think now of all the factors which go into security, which were demonstrated so clearly in the Malaysian confrontation when the supply of medical supplies from our forces played as large a rôle in protecting the people of Borneo, for instance, from infiltration as did the actual presence of armed soldiers. We have to think in terms of a contribution to security and, over the next few years, I want to see a security budget in which the military element is shown and the overseas aid development element is shown, all being comprehended within one budget. It 138 could come before the House all in one. We should then not have some of the distressing arguments which we sometimes have. It cannot be done tonight, next week or in July. But, at some time, if we are completely to liberate ourselves from the semantic concepts of the past, we must make a start on doing it. We must think of the contribution of our Armed Forces to total security rather than just of defence in pre-1914 terms.
I have all sorts of questions, qualifications and misgivings on this White Paper, and I should like the Minister to reassure me that the cuts—we know that they have gone into military muscle—have not cut deeply into military bone; but, in spite of misgivings and the questions, both implicit and the ones I have stated, I still think that this White Paper is a gigantic step forward. I accept it as a gigantic step in the right direction.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
There were many points in the speech of the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) which I should like to debate with him, but I am afraid that I must leave them, except to deal with his point that Sir Winston Churchill foresaw the gradual withdrawal from overseas. That may be so, and I think that probably most people would accept that that is how things go, but the criticism we have on this side of the House is of the way that it is done, that it seems to have been debated and changed so often and not to fall into any pattern.
I was also very interested in what has been said about insurgency in the Far East. The hon. Member for Ilkeston said that a war of insurgency is going on in Vietnam. I was in Malaya during the insurgency there. I went out as an advisor to General Templer because I had been an insurgent myself in the resistance movement in France. I should say that the war in Vietnam has gone beyond the point of sheer insurgency. In one part, it is a flat-out battle fought by a pretty well organised army, but in the towns it is still somewhat equating to the traditional insurgency we have known in the past.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) and several Members opposite asked what the Tory policy is. I replied in an intervention 139 that if I caught the eye of the Chair I should deal with that question. I did not say that I would say what the policy was, but that I would deal with the question, because these debates are about Government policy and not the policy of the Opposition party. It is not our function in a debate of this sort to explain the Opposition's defence policy. We know that. It is essentially a time when we want from the Government a statement of their defence policy.
The Government may regret having said what their defence policy was before the General Election. There were pledges to renegotiate the Nassau Agreement and to internationalise our nuclear deterrent. They said all these things, but when they came to power and saw the reality of what they had in their hands they did not give it up.
I am against parties becoming too committed to defence policies while they are in Opposition. I am sure that the Secretary of State is the first to realise that one cannot from Opposition give a sensible defence policy based on the facts, many of which must be secret.
§ Mr. Healey
Having been 13 years a Member of the Opposition, I appreciate the difficulties which an Opposition suffers. But it is very difficult for an Opposition to oppose decisions taken by the Government unless they have some idea of whether they would take them. Our complaint is that the Opposition have again and again opposed decisions taken by us and yet retained a total discretion on whether they would not have taken exactly the same decisions. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has recommended us over the past 3½ years to take precisely the decisions he is now attacking us for taking.
§ Mr. Marten
I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's intervention. But he must bear in mind that we should not have got ourselves into the present economic position because, as I said earlier in an intervention, what we are now discussing arises from devaluation. Otherwise all the statements which have been stood on their heads do not make sense; they become complete untruths. But they are acceptable, as it were, be 140 cause of devaluation. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have both said that devaluation is a defeat for the Labour Party and its policies.
An hon. Member opposite challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I do not speak Greek either, but as I understand it—and my right hon. Friend is here to correct me if I am wrong—my right hon. Friend's theory is that in due course the forces in any part of the world should be built up to balance the opposing forces. At that stage, and that stage only, we can withdraw, having first negotiated our withdrawal and been quite certain that we have trained the local forces to look after their own security.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Our criticism is that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is talking about pulling back from east of Suez whereas some of his right hon. Friends are saying that we should stay there. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), I think, has suggested that should the Conservative Party be returned it would immediately meet the obligations which it thinks we have. That is the dilemma we are in—we do not know what is the Tory policy.
§ Mr. Marten
I am on the back benches, and can only say what I believe to be true. I think that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West has said is that if we return to power, say at the end of this year, and the Singapore Government should ask us, if the troops have started to withdraw, "Please can you replace them?", we should honour the obligation if the circumstances are right. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would read in HANSARD what my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West said. He said it quite clearly. Our criticism is that the withdrawal from the Persian Gulf was made without full consultation, and the same applies to the proposal to withdraw from Singapore. I do not want to waste time in debating these engaging points. I want to deal with something which is fresh to this debate, and that is the question of communications. I deal with it today rather than in the debates on the Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air 141 Force Estimates, because the sort of communications to which I am referring spread throughout all three Services, namely, communications by satellite. No doubt the Secretary of State would expect me to raise this point.
This is a baffling subject, but it has been dealt with fully in the Estimates Committee's Report on space. These satellites are used for communications between, say, the United Kingdom and Australia and for operational purposes. I imagine that Polaris submarines, when way out in the ocean, could communicate to home base through a satellite in geostationary orbit in the Indian Ocean. They could be used in a much narrower field for the control of battles by an army commander getting all his information from a variety of sources by satellite. They are used for reconnaissance to observe movement through television and for the early warning of the approach of missiles and planes, and for weather purposes, which is of tremendous value to any army commander.
But the great thing about them is that, unlike the old high frequency radio communication which is blocked from time to time by ionosphere trouble, they have a 24-hour availability. As we know, the Government have organised what is called "Skynet" by which the Americans will procure and launch for this country two geostationary satellites which sit above one point in the earth at a height of about 25,000 miles. This will give Britain the operational capability because we will have the ground stations and control them once the satellite is up. So far so good. The snag is—and I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree with this—that for replacements we have to look to the Americans not only for the satellite but for the launches. This is what worries me. We are placing ourselves in the hands of the Americans for getting up replacement satellites. At times they have been unable to launch our civil satellites for us because they are simply blocked up with bookings for launches.
I suggest to the Government that we should build or put together our own capability to launch a military satellite. It is not such a startling suggestion as one might think, because we have Blue Streak a s the first stage, and we could take one off from the production line—there is nothing to stop us doing that— 142 and we have Black Knight being developed. If we mounted Black Knight on top of Blue Streak, I believe that we should have the capability to put a satellite up for defence purposes in geostationary orbit, which would give us the independence we want.
As a nation, we are perfectly capable of making our own satellites and all that goes inside them. We have Ariel III up at the moment and it is working perfectly. I have done a certain amount of research into this matter, and I believe that it would take about three years to get Black Knight mounted on Blue Streak and that it would cost between £6 million and £10 million to do it. Those are my estimates, but obviously the Secretary of State could get better estimates later.
I would be well worth while for the Government to undertake at least a feasibility study, which would not cost a lot of money. It would give us the independence which we want. Its advantage would also be that the same vehicle could be used, if necessary, to launch civil satellites for commercial purposes. Commercial satellites would thereby benefit from military research and development.
My next point is slightly political in considering the reasons for the cuts explained in the White Paper. Clearly, the first reason is financial arising from devaluation. The savings will be realised in roughly 1970 to 1972–3. What I find rather curious, however, is that by then, if devaluation is to work, we should be in surplus and, therefore, we should be able to spend the £15 million to keep our forces in the Persian Gulf. Perhaps we can be given a reply about this.
It was obviously a great victory for hon. left wing Members below the Gangway on the Government side that some of our bases should be wound up earlier. In purely political terms, I believe that that was a bone which was thrown to them while the social service cuts were being slipped through. I see the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) nodding his head. We on this side deplore those cuts.
We were rejected from the Common Market for two or more reasons, one was certainly because our economy was not strong enough. The Government's 143 mistake was to start negotiations at a time when they were not certain of the strength of our economy. I voted against entry to the Common Market largely for that reason.
Secondly, the Common Market countries did not want us while we had our overseas obligations, to which they might have been asked to subscribe or to contribute. Because we were so involved in the Middle East or the Far East, the Common Market countries thought that they might become involved in operations which they did not want. Clearly, they said to our Government, "If you want to get in, you must cut your obligations overseas". That is what the Government have done. I do not say that it was the sole reason, but in major political decisions such as we have had recently in defence the question is decided not by one factor alone, but by a collection of factors. I have instanced finance, the Left Wing of the party opposite and the Common Market. All these things went into the mill to make the Government take their decision.
There is, perhaps, one final reason. The Sunday Telegraph of 11th February reported an interview with the Lord President of the Council. This may be the secret to what is happening. I see that the Minister of Defence is nodding. When interviewed, the Lord President of the Council said:I am convinced that ultimately Britain's rôle is to be spokesman of the non-nuclear Powers in relation to the super-Powers.Presumably, if we are a spokesman of the non-nuclear Powers, we are a non-nuclear Power ourselves. If that has now been let out of the bag by the Lord President of the Council, all this is logical. Let us hurry up, admit it and get on with it. That is probably what is happening, because step by step the Government seem to be creeping towards that end.
I do not want to go through it all again because it has been mentioned so many times during the debate. The Government are bending their whole defence policy to a form of disarmament and pacifism which got the country into a very low state before the last war and which was nearly the cause of our losing in the early stages of the Second World War.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench at least know that all this 144 talk—not so much in this debate as in previous ones—about this party having over-inflated imperial ambitions, a Kipling attitude, and wanting a status symbol in defence, is absolute nonsense. What we want is a proper defence posture, for three reasons: first, to protect our own country; secondly, to protect our vital interests overseas; and thirdly, and one we must not forget, so that we can play the part which we must as a great, rich country in the defence of freedom in this world. By the way the Government are going about it in this White Paper we shall certainly not be able to fulfil that last part. What they seem to be doing is abandoning our defence posture so that we may be able to have a cosier life here, and that seems to me to be pretty selfish and irresponsible, and not at all the sort of policy the country really wants.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)
I think that the main point of the debate is about our acknowledgement of Britain's rôle in 1968 and the years to come. The Opposition have been very reluctant to give any praise at all to the Secretary of State and his policy laid before us in the White Paper, but I would add my praise to that which those on this side have paid in tribute to my right hon. Friend for the realism which he has shown in this policy.
Page 2 of the White Paper clearly indicates that the Government are on the right road. Some of my hon. Friends claim that we should have brought forward this policy three years ago, but one must realise that when coming to power any Government have to make a review of the situation as it then is, and have to decide what the threat is and how it can be met in relation to our resources. There are in paragraph 3 on page 2 of the White Paper several points which many of us appreciate. First one sees thatBritain's defence effort will in future be concentrated mainly in Europe and the North Atlantic Area. We shall accelerate the withdrawal of our forces from Malaysia and Singapore and complete it by the end of 1971.This policy is long overdue. It goes on:Service manpower will be eventually reduced by more than the 75.000 forecast in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy…145 There is realism, again, about the carrier force being phased out, and the cancellation of the 50 F111s is something which many have advocated for some time. Basically, the White Paper shows a sense of realism which is in keeping with the times. For the last three and a half years the Government have been reviewing our commitments and resources and they have made a real attempt to cut our commitments in keeping with our economic strength. We have had a great deal to do to cut down the commitments which were made when the party opposite was in power.
The Government, in this White Paper, are showing a sense of realism about our rôle in 1968 and the immediate future, when this country is not, as in years gone by, a great Imperial Power and the centre of a great Empire. It was the Labour Government in 1945 and onwards which gave us the Commonwealth and a new sense of realism and a sense of determination based on acknowledgement of the new situation. Many of the defence commitments which were realistic at the time when the country was at the head of a great Empire are not realistic today. It was the late Sir Winston Churchill who said during the war that we had to give everything we had in order to win the conflict. In the process, as we all know, the country sacrificed its economic strength for a successful war effort.
The part of the defence review in which I have a particular interest is that about N.A.T.O. and the defence of Europe. Whether the party opposite realises it or not, many members of Parliaments in Europe, recognise that Britain has been faced with economic hardship and they recognise that the policy we have been pursuing of relating defence policy to the amount we can afford is realistic. This is a policy which concerns not only this country but also the United States.
From time to time Ministers are engaged in ensuring that we can afford the capability which we maintain. Time after time Ministers come to the House, following a review, announcing reductions in expenditure in keeping with our economic situation. That is realistic. Many of us would have been critical of the Minister if he had failed to do that. We recognise that a defence review is a con 146 tinuing review which seeks to equate the threat and our ability to meet it.
It does not always follow that quantity is the same as quality. Having looked at defence in Europe, I believe that we are better able to combat any threat than we were in years gone by, but we are right to tell N.A.T.O. and others that they can spend only what they can afford and that they must relate their organisation to what they can afford. We must also recognise the danger that if we reduce our conventional weapons to too low a level, it could lead to the danger of nuclear engagement in an emergency. We must welcome the Nuclear Defence Affairs Committee in an effort to ensure that the policy pursued is responsible in view of the colossal dangers which could arise.
The Labour Party has always advocated collective security, and in the years until 1969, when the N.A.T.O. structure is under review, we must bear that in mind and safeguard against emergencies. If some alliances do not continue, there is a danger that countries may go it alone as independent Powers seeking to spend on defence amounts which in the economic circumstance they can ill afford. There would then be no safeguard against the proliferation of weapons, which should be controlled under existing alliances. Individual defence budgets prepared without any consultation with other nations would be serious and could lead to the danger of nuclear proliferation.
Many of us welcome the Government's steps to bring about disarmament and a non-proliferation treaty. Much has been done in the last few years, but much more needs to be done. When we are spending over £60 a second on defence, and when we need money, for example, for the social services, housing and education, it is our duty to ensure that we get value for the money which we spend. That duty bears heavily upon us in view of the great increase in defence costs over the years. The defence budget of the country a hundred years ago was £25 million a year, representing 2½ per cent. of our gross national product. Today it is well over £2,000 million, or about 6½ per cent. of the G.N.P. Much more must be done to reduce that spending. At the same time I can only deprecate the fact that in the Soviet Union defence 147 spending has risen. On 10th October the Soviet Government announced an increase this year in their spending of 10 per cent., after a 15 per cent. increase last year.
In the Summer Recess, with the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), I toured ten countries in Europe. We appreciated the potential dangers in various parts of Europe. Our tour started in France and included Belgium, Germany, the Baltic, Denmark, Norway and, down to the southern flank, Turkey, Crete and Greece. I recognise the big demands made upon N.A.T.O. Forces on the northern and southern flanks, and I should appreciate a comment by the Minister on the situation in those two regions.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I also deprecate the increased expenditure on defence in the Soviet Union. But does my hon. Friend also deprecate the big increase in expenditure on arms in the United States of America?
§ Mr. Bishop
This comes to my point, that, at a time when many are advocating cuts in arms spending, it does not help when some of the so-called Socialist countries of the world escalate their spending to this extent. Surely the Soviet Union should be setting an example to the rest of the world which it alleges to be a provocative danger to other countries. It was totally unedifying last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union, when they rightly celebrated half a century of great technical and scientific progress, for them to display weapons and missiles of warfare in such a way that could only be interpreted as a threat to the rest of the world if they did not bear it in mind.
§ Mr. Bishop
My point is that, in face of this, it is not easy to go into Europe or elsewhere and advocate cuts in defence which we think are justified. I hope that the example which we and other countries are setting of cutting down on defence expenditure will be followed by the Soviet Union, so that we can bring about a dÙtente and a lowering of the temperature, which is part of 148 N.A.T.O.'s policy. N.A.T.O. was started as a military alliance, and we believe that it must continue to relate its forces to the ability of member nations to contribute, and this means a review of the strategy programme.
The Government's policy in Europe has been right in seeking to ease the tensions. This policy must be followed by the member nations turning their energies and resources to economic development. In this regard we welcome the Prime Minister's hope that more technological co-operation can proceed in Europe.
Far more must be devoted to peaceful pursuits. If we can cut down on defence and pursue policies which build up the economic strength of our countries, we shall have far more resources to help the under-developed countries. If more countries could contribute to Oxfam and similar good causes, the prospects for peace in future would be more real than today.
In commending the Government's White Paper, I stress what I believe many feel, namely, that this is only part of a continuing process whereby we have regard to the threats which exist in various places from time to time, our ability to meet those threats, and a review of the strategy to ensure that we get value for the money we spend in every way.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
Though there is still a day to run on this debate, it is already abundantly clear from the evidence presented to the House this afternoon from all sides that the Government stand condemned of the charges laid in the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell).
Without question, no one is more culpable in this matter than the Secretary of State for Defence. It was interesting to note that earlier today he said that formidable tasks were imposed on the Ministry of Defence by the Government's policy announced in January. But he is a member of the Government. He cannot talk as though he were sitting on one side and not part of the Government. He alone in the Cabinet bears a particular responsibility for Her Majesty's Armed Forces. Whilst the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor may bear 149 a heavy responsibility—and indeed they do—for the state of the economy, the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated yet again today that he was never able to live up to the responsibility of the high office that he occupies. If he were so able he would not be here this afternoon attempting to defend himself against the indefensible. If ever a man was condemned by his own words, here is such a man.
What strikes one as being so extraordinary is that the Minister should have been so insensible of the effect upon the morale and confidence of the Services of what he has chosen to call "a continuing Defence Review". This so-called continuing Defence Review has been, in reality, a series of panic decisions taken, not in regard to our security as a nation, nor to our commitments and obligations, nor even to changes in the technological field, but allegedly for economic reasons. I say "allegedly" because, if one examines the Minister's statements, it is clear that many of the measures he has taken lead not to savings of money but to additional expenditure.
For instance, the right hon. Gentleman told us on 27th November last year thatTo save £100 on the budget in the Far East, we have to spend £500 in the United Kingdom, and in the Far East we would have to replace some of the reduction in Singapore and Malaysian earnings by increased economic aid. To save £100 in Germany, we would have to spend £2,000 in the United Kingdom…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 60.]In this year's White Paper, Cmnd. 3540, we are told on page 3, in paragraph 4:In the meantime, since the end of 'confrontation' in August 1966, we have been withdrawing units from the Far East; up to the beginning of this year, a total of 12,000 Service personnel have returned to this country and have been accommodated here. 18,000 personnel have also been brought back from South Arabia and elsewhere. A further 5,000 Service men will have been brought back from Germany by 31 March 1968.So, maintaining in the United Kingdom the 12,000 who have returned from the Far East will cost as much as keeping 60,000 out there. The 18,000 who have returned from "South Arabia and elsewhere" will presumably cost as much as keeping 90,000 troops in the Middle East, and the 5,000 coming back from Germany will cost as much as keeping 100,000 over there.
150 Of course the Minister will not admit this now.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Only last week I asked the right hon. Gentleman:…what is the additional cost of maintaining in this country the 12,000 Service personnel returned from the Far East, the 18,000 returned from South Arabia and elsewhere, and the further 5,000 returning from Germany by 31st March, 1968 as listed in Command Paper No. 3540?The Minister replied:The only significant additional cost of these redeployments has been that associated with the emergency housing programme. Since the moves were planned in conjunction with a reduction in the total size of the forces, this additional cost will be far exceeded by the savings to be achieved overseas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 409–10.]If the Minister's Answer is correct, he must have plans, as yet unannounced to the House, for reducing the strength of the forces by a vast number, far in excess of anything so far hinted at.
However, whatever the real reasons for the Government's constantly changing policies, there can be no doubt that the uncertainty thus created, added to the extraordinary failure of the Minister to look after the interests of the Services in Cabinet, has undermined quite disastrously the confidence of those for whom he is responsible. There has been complete and continuing uncertainty ever since the right hon. Gentleman took over what he described asthe best weapon that any defence Minister in this country has yet had…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 1026.]The trouble has been that in spite of all the talk about a long, cool look at our requirements, and about the much vaunted Defence Review, it has merely been a case of cutting first and thinking afterwards. This has happened every time pressure has been put on the Minister to reduce still further the size of our forces, the overseas bases they use, and the arms and equipment they are to have. Nothing is thought out to a logical conclusion.
There has been no carefully thought out plan implemented over the past three years. On the contrary, as fast as the planners in the Ministry of Defence have produced a plan, so the Minister has made 151 cuts which render that plan unworkable. The planners then set about producing another plan based on the reduced capability of the Services, but before they complete it the Minister announces still further cuts, which rule out the new plan that they are working on. So they start again, always trying to find a rôle that will fit the newly-cut capability but always being beaten to it by the Minister with his ever-swinging axe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) mentioned the time taken and wasted by these constant Defence Reviews. It was two years ago, in the debate on the Defence review, that the Minister said, "The major decisions are now taken". One of the decisions was to continue our presence east of Suez. The Minister accentuated this on an I.T.V. programme called "Division", on 22nd February, 1966. Listen to these fine-sounding words, which he then used:The real danger to world peace recently has not come in Europe; it has come in Cuba, in Kashmir, and it comes today in Vietnam. And we believe that if by making a marginal increase in our defence expenditure"—not a decrease—we can help to preserve world peace, to prevent the clash of rival idealogies, the clash of great powers in certain parts of the world, it is worth making the expenditure.This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the tales of woe among the Members of the Opposition who said that the effect of our withdrawal would be disastrous.
But the right hon. Gentleman did not finish at that in the television programme. He went on later to say:We've taken a long, cold look at this—we've spent 16 months in doing it, and we've come to the conclusion that there is a worthwhile job we can do outside Europe in the seventies with our military forces, and that we intend to do.By jingo! What has happened to that vital decision? The Foreign Secretary dismissed it very lightly on 18th January of this year, when he said:The contribution which the British troops in Singapore and Malaysia can make to the stability of South-East Asia is, in my view, becoming progressively less relevant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 2080.]I am sure that the people out there will be glad to hear that. They may like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, "Less 152 relevant to what?" A week later the Secretary of State for Defence himself dismissed it as an old illusion. That was in his non-resignation speech.
Another of the major decisions taken in the 1966 Defence Review was to phase out the Navy's carrier force by mid-seventies. The strike reconnaissance and air defence functions of the carriers were to be taken over by long-range aircraft operating from land bases. The aircraft to do this was the Canberra replacement. Originally it would have been done by the 110 TSR2s which we were to have had, and about which my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) reminded us today. These were cancelled in 1965, and the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft was to take over this and other rôles by the mid-seventies. This was to be both operationally and industrially the core of our long term aircraft programme.
There was a gap in this "most critical" phase of Royal Air Force capability—the Minister's own words—for about five years. This was to be filled by 50 F111s, purchased from the U.S.A. There is now no Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, there are to be no F111s for the Royal Air Force, and we hear precious little about these land bases. There is thus not only no core to our aircraft programme; there is also no long range, all-weather strike-reconnaissance capability for the Royal Air Force and no strike-reconnaissance or air defence capability for the Fleet.
Furthermore, the carriers are now to be phased out as soon as our withdrawal from Singapore, Malaysia and the Gulf has been completed by the end of 1971. To make matters worse,the growing force of Fleet submarinesas described in the Defence White Paper, 1967 asthe main strike force of the Navy,which presumably was to replace the carriers, is now subject to a reduction in the rate of construction under the post-devaluation cuts.
No wonder the Minister was quoted in an interview in the Sunday Times of January last as saying in a moment of unusual candour:The biggest problem in the last few years is that economic circumstances have compelled the Government to reconsider the rôle of the services four times in the last two years.153 It is now five times.We have had no stability to enable us to work through the consequences of our changed rôle and capability.He can say that again if this is what a planning Government is supposed to do! This new Statement does nothing to remove uncertainty hanging over the heads of all who serve in the Forces. This is made quite clear in page 3, paragraph 3, which says:These decisions mean big changes in the rôle, size and shape of the forces, their equipment and support. It will take some time to plan these in detail. The present Statement cannot reflect the full effect of the decisions that have been taken.By jove it cannot.It is inevitably an interim document. We intend to present later in the year a Supplementary Statement, in which we shall report progress.We will have to wait until the eve of the Summer Recess before we are told the true story. No doubt when we are given the opportunity, as we hope, to debate these changes, the Minister will once more spend his time misquoting my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West instead of explaining and defending his own policy. He did the same last time. One thing is absolutely certain, and it is that at this moment neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any of his hon. Friends have any idea of what will appear in the Supplementary White Paper. This has been demonstrated by the right hon. Gentleman and his Departmental colleagues when replying to Questions in this House. I will quote a few illuminating examples from 14th February, of Questions asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles). He asked a few very important questions.
§ Mr. Goodhew
He asked the Secretary of State for Defence:…how many Service personnel will be brought home from east of Suez during international year 1968–69; and what will be the budgetary saving.The answer was:Detailed planning of redeployment following the recent decision to withdraw from Singapore and Malaysia in December, 1971, is not yet. completed.154 He asked:What amphibious forces will be available for use east of Suez after 1971.He was told:We are examining the future rôle of our amphibious forces in the N.A.T.O. setting as part of our force level studies. Their availability for use east of Suez, as part of our capability based in Europe, after our withdrawal from Singapore, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf, will depend on the outcome of these studies.He was asked what plans he has to increase the number of ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The reply was:We are now examining the future rôle of the Navy's support ships, including Royal Fleet auxiliaries, in the context of reduced commitments overseas. Our plans regarding the number of these ships will be developed in the light of these studies.When he was asked when he expects to be able to announce cuts to be made in the transport force of the Royal Air Force the reply was:This is part of the wider problem, now being tackled, of reshaping the services for their long term rôle after our withdrawal from the Far East and the Persian Gulf. I cannot forecast a definite date for the announcement of decisions.When he is asked whether he will make a statement indicating the principal Service resources which will be released for civil production from 1969–70 onwards the reply is:Detailed planning has not yet reached the stage where I can add anything to the statement made by the Prime Minister in this House on 16th January."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February 1968; Vol. 758, c. 341–53.]Then there is the most extraordinary saga of the future rôle of the R.A.F. station at Honington. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) who is abroad and, sadly, unable to raise them, has been pursuing the matter for some time. It is a good illustration of the uncertainty occurring in the forces today. We were told that in 1964, when the Victor squadrons were there, the Ministry of Defence had a programme for building further married quarters for 34 officers and 292 airmen. The local education authority, wishing to provide schools for the children of these families, had originally planned an infants' school for 140 children and considered the possibility of increasing this to 240. The authority sought an assurance from the Ministry about the future of the station. 155 Of course, the Ministry of Defence was unable to give such an assurance because at that time there was a study going on about the future of Honington and it was possible that it might be put on a care and maintenance basis. The contract for the building of the married quarters was held up and the project was later suspended.
In April, 1965, a decision was taken to transfer the Victor squadrons to Markham and reduce Honington to a care and maintenance basis by the second quarter of 1966. My hon. and gallant Friend was told that the chances were that after a couple of years or so the station would be reopened for some other task. In January, 1967, he was told that Honington was to become the operational and training base for the F111s. There were no details as to the size of the unit, and in the meantime plans were going forward for married quarters, but the local education authority could not be told how big a school to build.
A month later a staff officer was sent from headquarters of Bomber Command and some time later the education authority was given all the available information about the quarters. By December, 1967, my hon. and gallant Friend was told that the number of personnel was expected to be about 2,000, but in the meantime the plan for the airmen's quarters had been turned down by the local authority. It was the subject of appeal when, in January, 1968, the F111 was cancelled. So in February, 1968, my hon. and gallant Friend was told:We have now decided to abandon the scheme for more airmen's married quarters and, in addition, to cancel the construction of 24 officers' quarters because, although we feel sure of our need to keep the station, we cannot be sure that whatever task is put there that will lead to a requirement for additional married quarters.What incredible chaos and confusion! This is just one case. By how much must it be multiplied to present a true picture of what is going on in the country as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's activities?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
As the hon. Member has the letter written to his hon. and learned 156 Friend, will he say how many wives and families are living there while the station is on a care and maintenance basis? I wonder if he will give that information as well?
§ Mr. Goodhew
I will certainly give the figures, although I have no wish to detain the House. I accept that the hon. Gentleman is right and that there were people staying on, but it is the operational rôle of the station which matters and the chaos which goes on as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's activities.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. Member is being grossly unfair to staff officers who deal with this matter. Will he please admit that at that station there are quarters which are occupied and children are going to school, but the bit he is talking about is the marginal bit? He has been talking about the margin but not the whole story.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I have great admiration for the staff officers who have battled on with this problem. How does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Services to have any confidence when he continues to dither from one panic act to the next and is never able to announce any proper plans for the future simply because they have not been thought out? I wonder if he thinks of the effect of this on the Service chiefs who have to carry out the orders given to them.
When he decides, if ever he does, to replace the core of the aircraft programme and the Chief of Air Staff is asked to tell the Royal Air Force about the new British variable geometry aircraft—or the new Anglo-German variable geometry aircraft, or whatever it turns out to be—how can he expect anyone to believe him? What of those he seeks to recruit to enable him to maintain the level of our Forces? Will they not remember the advertisements of last year to which I drew his attention? At that time there were large photographs of the F111 I did not complain of that because I thought that it was firm, although obviously I was mistaken. Here, among the new aircraft types of the Royal Air Force, at the head of all those to be in service up to 1970, was the F111K, and to be at the head of those new aircraft types of the Royal Air Force after 1970 was the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. How many pilots have been re 157 cruited under false pretences by a false prospectus which, as I told the hon. Gentleman a year ago, had it been the prospectus of a company would have landed him in gaol.
The right hon. Gentleman earlier said that the Opposition should be honest for once. Goodness gracious me—coming from him! Just over three months ago, the right hon. Gentleman showed signs of appreciating the appalling damage that his three years' stewardship of the Ministry of Defence had wrought on the morale and confidence of the services. On 27th November, last he told the House:…the forces need, above all—and I quote words which I used in July—a period of stability in which they can plan manpower and careers and adapt their equipment, training and support programmes to changes in their size and shape.Let it be remembered that this was after devaluation, not before.
Earlier, the Secretary of State had said—and although my right hon. Friend quoted this passage earlier it bears repeating, because the right hon. Gentleman should he reminded of the things he has said today:I believe, and the whole Government share my view, that we must, above all, keep faith with our forces and with our allies in making these cuts. We can have no reversal of the July decisions, which revised Britain's overseas policy over the next decade and fixed in broad terms the rôle, shape and size of the forces need to support it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said last Monday that the reductions must be made within the framework of the defence policies announced last summer. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that these cuts mean no acceleration in the rundown or in the redeployment of our forces.Again, in the same debate, the right hon. Gentleman said:But I believe that it would be a tragedy if we allowed the setbacks which we have suffered in these last few weeks to throw all the careful work of the last three years into confusion at a long-term cost to Britain and the world out of all proportion to what we could hope to save thereby."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 59–77.]So here we have the Minister, conscious of the chaotic uncertainty of the past three years, conscious of the need to keep faith with our forces and our allies, asserting quite firmly that despite devaluation there mist be no going back on the July White Paper. It sounds splendid, does it not? Wit two months later he came to the House to defend measures which abrogated everything he had said.
158 My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury referred to the Vicar of Bray. Compared with the right hon. Gentleman, the Vicar of Bray was a paragon of principle and constancy. Here is the weathercock par excellence—the true time server. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that is marvellous—I am glad he does. I hope that he will read it tomorrow morning.
It is not merely astonishing, but quite disgraceful and contemptible that he should be taking part in this debate. Between that speech of 27th November and the debate on 24th–25th January he should have made way for someone who could at least offer some degree of credibility to the Services—if there is any such person in this discredited Administration. But he had already committed himself on "Panorama" on 22nd January when he said:I believe it is my duty to support the Government that has had the guts to take those decisions…The "guts"—an unfortunate word, in the circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman has particular responsibility for the Services and for maintaining the country's defences, but he has colleagues in the Government who are responsible for maintaining good relations with our friends and allies. Having now ratted on the sheiks in the Gulf, and having ratted on Singapore and Malaysia—not to mention Australia and New Zealand—how can they expect our friends and allies in Europe to trust them when they now talk of concentrating our strength in that area? No one ever goes back to the bookmaker who has welshed on him. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, could have told the right hon. Gentleman that.
We wholeheartedly condemn the right hon. Gentleman and the Government for having undermined the confidence of both the Services and our friends and allies for having seriously weakened the defence capability of the country. We shall demonstrate in the Division Lobbies tomorrow our utter contempt for their behaviour and we shall hope that an enraged electorate will drive them from office before they have time to complete their plans for this ignominious betrayal of our Forces, our allies and our people.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. Roy Mason)
At the start of the two-day defence debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with major issues of policy. He will wind up the debate tomorrow and knit the ends together. [Laughter.] That is about the right term to use. I have listened throughout the debate so far and appreciate that it has ranged very wide, including research, development, different projects, the three Services and N.A.T.O. strategy. Therefore, while I do not envy him this task, he will have that job to do tomorrow night.
My hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration will open the debate tomorrow and will deal with matters affecting personnel and logistics. My task is to try to deal with matters which affect me—matters of equipment, research and development. I hope to give the House information which will be useful during the debate tomorrow.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made a speech which consisted of outdated quotations. He was twisting words, in his typical fashion, until they were squealing in agony. But physically he was a coward, for when my hon. Friends wished to quote his old speeches against him, he refused to give way to them. He queried only two points during his speech—our post-carrier look at sea and the loss of the F111. I will deal with both points. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) dealt with the same points and used the same techniques, drearily making quotation after quotation. He put forward no positive proposals, nor did his right hon. Friend, of how they intend to satisfy all the defence demands, to cut public expenditure and not to increase taxes at the same time.
My right hon. Friend explained that we attach great importance to increased collaboration with our European partners in research, development, production and procurement of defence equipment. A very important aspect of such collaboration is the greatly increased prospect of sales which it opens up to us. The whole subject of the European defence industrial base and the best use of it in our interests and those of our European friends is a subject on which surprisingly 160 little research has been done in the past. For my part, I am very keen indeed not only to ensure the success of our present collaborative programmes but to explore the possibilities of new ones and of a wider European base for defence procurement and sales generally. The present programme includes a number of major bilateral or multilateral projects. We already have agreements with France, Germany, Canada, Australia and America, and we are gaining much useful experience in this comparatively new field. We need now positively to consider how to extend the base for collaboration in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) will be interested in this. Collaboration and standardisation will greatly help within N.A.T.O.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West particularly mentioned the problem of the F111 cancellation. There are two aspects to this. As was stated in the Defence White Paper, the decision to cancel the F111 naturally led to reconsideration of the offset arrangements into which we and the United States had entered. Negotiations for the orderly termination of the F111 arrangement are still going on and hon. Members will, of course, realise that they are bound to be protracted. We believe, however, that none of the existing contracts which are worth some 180 million dollars will be cancelled. Prospects for the future must depend on the outcome of the negotiations which are now in progress, but we shall continue to promote the sale of British equipment whenever the opportunity occurs. I am sure that the American Government, too, is conscious of the advantages which accrue to it from buying from the United Kingdom those equipments in which we have a technological lead, or which we can produce more economically.
I want now to deal with the problem of the F111 cancellation allied with the French withdrawal from the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft project. My right hon. Friend has never pretended that the French withdrawal from the A.F.V.G. project and then the Government's decision to cancel the F111 aircraft as a necessary economy were not serious matters for the Royal Air Force. 161 I agree with those who have said how necessary it is to decide as soon as possible what sort of new combat aircraft the Royal Air Force is now likely to need in the late 1970s. That is why we have funded research by the first-class B.A.C. design team at Warton into an aircraft which has most of the performance characteristics which at this stage we think likely to be relevant. But it is important that we do not, because of a programme set-back, commit again some of the serious mistakes which the A.F.V.G project was designed to avoid. We have still to explore the possibility that other countries will want to buy the aircraft when it is made, or, better still, collaborate in developing and making it.
There is no doubt that in principle an aircraft projects like this is the sort of project in which collaboration, European collaboration, is the ideal. We have been held up for a while by the fact that Germany, the obvious first partner now that France has withdrawn, has, like ourselves, been reviewing defence policy as a result of budgetary difficulties, but we have been giving our German friends all the information they need to help them to make up their minds about this. While they are coming to conclusions, work will continue at Warton to develop our own ideas about a future combat aircraft.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I gather that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the Canberra replacement, which was expected to come in the early 1970s. He has introduced this part of his statement by referring to the late 1970s. Surely the Canberras must be worn out long before then.
§ Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)
In the 1966 White Paper it was said that there was a gap between the ending of the Canberra and the coming in of the A.F.V.G., which it is now hoped to replace by something else, a gap which the Government said had to be bridged and which was to be bridged by the F111. How is that gap now to be bridged?
§ Mr. Mason
My right hon. Friend dealt with that fully in his speech on 25th January. It is a little unfair for the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) to appear at this moment, not having been here throughout the debate, and to put these questions when his right hon. Friend refused to give way to interventions.
I was rather perturbed by what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) had to say about our Australian colleagues taking action flowing from what we had done. I was in Australia during the latter part of last year when I was struck by the excellent possibilities of collaboration with the Australians on carefully selected items of defence. We already have a number of projects with them. Ikara is being developed with the Australians, Mallard is being developed with the Australians, and at this moment we are going ahead with the design of a frigate for the Royal Navy which might suit the Royal Australian Navy. Incidentally, I can answer categorically the question which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West put to me: no Royal Navy ships have operated in any way to support any operations in Vietnam.
§ Mr. Mason
No; I must get on. I have a lot to say.
I come now to the home front and the question of our relations with industry, as this has caused some concern between various Ministries and firms in recent weeks and has been the subject of several statements. Everything depends on being cost-conscious and providing value for money, because in the keen competition we face today, value for money is crucial. It is no good our producing the best equipment of its sort if it is too expensive to give our own Services enough of it, let alone sell it to our friends. For this reason, we have got to curb the constant tendency for weapons projects to escalate in cost during research and development, right through to production. If the price is right, then the firm will work itself into further orders. If not, we shall go elsewhere. Price is of paramount importance. At the Conference on Reliability of Service Equipment which has just been held, I spoke about the new ideas we are trying out in an effort to help industry to 163 keep down production prices on well-developed equipment, so as to help us and manufacturers too. These include partnership schemes and new-style contract procedures.
In appropriate cases, we invite firms to share with us investment in the research and development of promising lines of equipment. We offer financial help, a market for Government requirements, and our skilled and well-informed network of attachés overseas. Industrialists are asked to contribute a share of the r. and d. expenditure, and the work of their sales organisations, too, throughout the world. They also can help to survey the market and see which are the best prospects for future development. As a result, the production lines which result from such schemes should be much bigger than those which we can maintain from British needs alone. They will, therefore, be cheaper, better and more profitable, and a good return for the money which the firms are prepared to invest in them. These partnership schemes are an innovation which industry is finding very interesting, and I intend to pursue them in all appropriate cases.
Two statements were made last week in the House by my right hon. Friends the Chief Secretary and the Minister of Technology which have brought Government contract procedures to everyone's attention. My main interest, in those contracts which are placed by the Ministry of Defence, with my approval, is to see that, wherever appropriate, we use the sort of contract which gives the firm an incentive to produce the article we want in the best and most economic fashion. In many cases, the fixed-price contract, particularly where it results from effective competition, is still the best arrangement for ensuring the delivery of satisfactory equipment on time and at reasonable prices, but in some cases there are new-style incentive contracts which can usefully be applied. "Incentive contracting" means using techniques designed to stimulate cost control in situations falling between the extremes of fixed price at one end of the scale, and cost-plus at the other—that is, cases where there is not enough firm ground to allow a fixed price to be set, but enough for the firm to be ready 164 to accept some degree of financial risk, and financial opportunity. Properly applied, these techniques promote cost reduction and superior performance. The inter-play between performance, cost and profit is so regulated that the Department gets what it wants and the contractor gets a fair profit.
Hon. Members with experience in this field will recognise the sort of contract I am talking about; but it is worth emphasising that I would far rather see productivity coupled with profitability than a contract which gives no incentive to a firm to quicker and cheaper production.
§ Mr. Mason
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, with a smirk on his face, says "Hear, hear". I hope that he realises that we are trying hard to avoid the many mistakes which his Administration made. It is necessary to look at that type of contracting in order to avoid them. [Interruption.] Research and development contracts are in the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman should look at it more carefully. It happens to be a big portion of what we are to talk about in the next few days.
I now turn to production, and shall outline the naval new construction programme. The shape of the new style Navy announced in the Supplementary Statement last July, is not changed by the latest review, but the size and pace of the new construction programme are being considered.
We are nearly through the programme for the Polaris sumarines—the SSBNs—from my point of view. "Resolution" has been accepted for service, "Renown" and "Repulse" are due to be accepted this year, "Revenge" is about to be launched, 98 per cent. of the United States weapons system equipment has been delivered, and the missiles are delivered or are on their way. The first has been successfully fired from under water, and I am pleased to say that the second was fired successfully today.
On the fleet submarine programme, which seemed to perturb the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, he will see in the White Paper that two SSNs will be operational, one refitting— 165 the first nuclear refit, which should be at Rosyth, two building and two more on order. Before we place an order for number 8 we are carrying out a number of studies aimed at determining the best eventual size for the SSN force.
The "Tiger" class conversions are going ahead—
§ Mr. Powell
How could the right hon. Gentleman say in the Defence White Paper that the rate of construction of the nuclear-powered submarine is to be reduced if he does not know the intended rate before and after that decision?
§ Mr. Mason
Of course I know what the rate of production was before the decision. If anyone with an interest, including the intensity of interest of the right hon. Gentleman, would just look at when the two shipyards in the country which were building the nuclear submarines—there are only two with facilities—announced the dates when we gave orders to build, he would soon see how quickly we have ordered them in the past. Orders for some long-lead items for 08 have already been placed, and it is more than likely to go ahead, but we are now determining how many fleet submarines—ordinary nuclear-propelled as distinct from Polaris—are required for the future fleet.
"Tiger" class conversions are going ahead to enable these useful cruisers to carry Sea King helicopters, and the 7th, 8th and 9th guided missile destroyers now under construction will be the end of that programme. We are also coming to the end of the successful "Leander" programme. We shall be ordering two more of these ships this summer, and they are likely to be the last of their class, to be followed by the new design of frigate announced last July, for which the design contracts have just been let. These orders take into account the reduced rate of frigate construction needed to support the fleet for its fewer commitments in the 1970s.
Thereafter there is bound to be—and we have announced it—a new-styled fleet. The rate of building of the new small frigates and then of the new Seadart destroyers will depend on the eventual size of the destroyer and frigate fleet in the light of the new strategy. Up to now, we have reckoned to need about 90 destroyer and frigate hulls. Under the new 166 concept, we shall clearly need fewer, but how many fewer has yet to be established. When it is, the rate of new construction will follow.
Finally in the naval programme, we are going ahead with developments of a naval BH 7 hovercraft to see what place this should have in the future fleet. This may be relevant to what concerned my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) when he asked me about the smaller FPB's of the future—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Before he leaves the new naval programme will he say two things about the carriers? Will he give a promise that somebody will answer the question, which has been asked many times, why the Government are determined not to go ahead with a cheaper, less sophisticated carrier, and why, instead of phasing out the carriers and destroying them he will not, if he is determined to get rid of them, give them to the Australians, who, not being hamstrung with Socialist economics, will be able to run them?
§ Mr. Mason
Our gradual withdrawal from the Far East obviously answers the question about the future of the aircraft carriers. I do not see any call for them once we have withdrawn from the Far East. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend made a statement at the beginning of the debate that we are "Phantomising" the "Ark Royal", which will keep a modern aircraft carrier in being until our withdrawals are complete. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Australia?"] We will deal with the Australians' request if and when it comes.
What I have said about our destroyers and the "Leander" programme makes up quite a substantial programme.
Let me look to the future. In 1972, for example, after the aircraft carriers have been paid off, the fleet will include among other ships the Polaris and Fleet nuclear-propelled submarines, a large modern force of "Oberon" and 167 "Porpoise" class submarines, the modernised cruisers, a destroyer frigate fleet which includes nine guided missile destroyers, more than 30 of the new "Leander" and "Tribal" class frigates; and the first ships of the new classes of "Seadart" destroyer and "Leander" replacement will be building if not built. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) were worried about balanced forces. I have given an indication about the shape of the Fleet which will give them satisfaction on that score.
As for the new aircraft on order, the first of the Phantoms for the Navy and Royal Air Force will start to be delivered this year. We have signed a production agreement for 400 of the Anglo-French Jaguars to be shared equally between us. We have 60 Harriers on order, with a further 10 two-seaters approved. For Air Support Command, there are the VC10s, Belfasts and Hercules and there are the Nimrods for maritime patrol. On helicopters, the first batches of Sea Kings are on order for the Navy, and the Anglo-French programme should shortly reach the stage of a first production order for the air-portable SA330.
As for our existing aircraft, I think that it is worth mentioning that we are planning how to improve the Buccaneer 2s which the Royal Air Force will inherit from the Navy so that it has a useful nay-attack and reconnaissance capability for use against land targets. We also hope to place an order shortly for the improved basic trainer, the Jet Provost 5.
On the aircraft programme generally, the existing programme is going to provide a good force of highly efficient modern aircraft. I know there is concern about the F111 cancellation but we shall have to await the outcome of the present Warton studies.
The Army equipment programme generally speaking covers larger numbers of less expensive single units. However, a large proportion of the provision for new services in the Army Vote 7 is accounted for by new vehicles, including continuing deliveries of the Chieftain tank, and the tracked armoured personnel carrier, and of the Stalwart high mobility load carrier.
168 A significant element of the production programme is the large number of guided weapons and torpedoes which are now proceeding from the research and development stage in which they have featured in past years, to production. These include "Seadart", for which production orders will be needed at the beginning of the financial year, besides continuation orders for "Seaslug 2". We are making arrangements with the French for first production orders for the "Martel" air-to-surface missile, and with the Australian Government for Ikara missiles and test equipment. Hon. Members will have noticed that we now plan to fit Ikara into some of our "Leanders" as well as into H.M.S. "Bristol". In the torpedo field, the Mark 31 will be coming into production following the Mark 24, while the naval helicopters will be armed as soon as possible with A.S.12 missiles to provide an anti-ship strike capability. There is Swingfire in the programme, which is costing us £3 million in 1968–69 and is now going into production for the R.A.C.
I have mentioned the conference which was held the other day on the reliability of Service equipment. This conference, which was jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and industry, marked the great importance which all of us have to attach to reliability in the production of the very elaborate new equipment of the Services. We have got to make a deliberate effort to take the first steps away from ever-increasing complexity, and back towards placing more emphasis on ruggedness, simplicity and reliability.
The real cost of a piece of equipment has to be assessed in terms of its whole-life cost as well as the cost of research, development and production. For a typical armoured personnel carrier or cargo vehicle, a radio set or a field radar, maintenance amounts to about 40 per cent. of the whole-life cost of the equipment. With modern guided missiles, the annual cost of maintenance is 25 per cent. or more of the production price. And with modern aircraft or ships, of course, the annual cost of maintenance runs into very large sums indeed, although we are trying to force down the amount of this in relation to first production costs by careful design and well-planned maintenance.
169 In the Navy, the decisions not to build a new aircraft carrier, or to build more than one Type 82 destroyer, were due at least in part to the quite excessive burden that such ships represent on the equipment programme, and the plans which we have laid for the classes of ship in the future Fleet rest quite deliberately on the need to avoid over-sophistication. In the aircraft programme, painful decisions to cancel projects were taken for the same broad reason, and in our new aircraft programme—for instance, in the Jaguar, for which a large first production agreement was signed in January—we are aiming to strike a better balance between the demands of quantity and quality.
On research and development, on which my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised a number of questions, as has been said already this year's Statement on Defence is an interim statement, and this is even more true of the research and development programme than of other areas in the budget. In one way, the research and development programme is the last thing that we can make up our minds about following a major change of policy; logically, the shape and size of the programme must await a redefinition of weapons requirements, which in turn must await a review of strategy and commitments and the associated weapons philosophy. All this work is being pressed ahead.
In some areas, the conclusions are pretty obvious and revalidation of projects is fairly straightforward, but there are a number of considerations which could affect other projects. It is possible that with the change in emphasis of strategy and commitments, a few requirements might disappear. It is equally possible that some new requirement may be generated, for instance, the improvements to the Buccaneer which I have mentioned. But not until all this work has been done shall we have the final answer on the revised development programme and the amount of support which it needs from the Government establishments.
Before I conclude, I would like to talk for a few moments on one or two of the points concerning the future of the Navy and particularly our communications systems. On naval propulsion, I would have thought that hon. Members opposite, especially those with naval experi 170 ence, would have noticed that we are now going ahead with gas turbines in all future ships. We envisage a standard range, including a high-powered engine and a small cruise engine. These will be used either in multiples or in varying combinations, depending on the size of ship. The high-powered engine will be the Olympus, which is being "marinised" in the development programme; this engine is destined for H.M.S. "Bristol", for the new Seadart destroyer, and for the "Leander" replacement frigate. The cruise engine will be the marinised Tyne, which is also intended for the new Seadart destroyer and "Leander" replacement. That leaves a gap in power range between the Olympus at about 25,000 h.p. and the Tyne at about 4,500 h.p., and we are now considering whether we need an intermediate engine and, if so, what it should be.
The advantages of switching to gas turbines as a general policy are that they are easier to maintain, need less manpower, are more reliable and increase the operational availability of the ship. The initial installation costs are higher, but overall no significant additional costs are involved. We believe that other navies will follow our lead in this and that there will eventually be a large market for for British marinised engines.
I have mentioned that we are continuing with development of a naval BH7 hovercraft. The Navy will also be watching with interest experience in the use of the new large SRN4 hovercraft which was recently launched.
I should like to mention the help which we give to industry. There have been three recent examples of the considerable help which industry derives from military research and development. The first is the use by British Railways for rail testing of a unique form of eddy current crack-detector developed as part of the nuclear submarine programme. I know that hon. Members think that a lot of money may have been spent—and, some people feel, wasted—on the Polaris submarine programme, but there has been a lot of civil fall-out and that happens to be one example of it. The shipbuilding industry has been assisted in the design of the huge new tankers in so far as we have developed new anchors and anchor stowage produced for our nuclear 171 submarines and these are being incorporated into the new vast tankers which are being built.
Then, we are about to hold a deep-diving seminar—[Interruption.]—in which my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is interested. I am sorry hon. Members seem to think this is laughable, but it is not very often we have the chance to tell hon. Members of the House, and indeed the public, about many of these things we are developing. The House wants to talk all the time about strategy, the future of N.A.T.O. and the part the Fleet will play in various parts of the world, but I think it is right that the House should be made aware—and indeed, members of Her Majesty's Forces—of the type of equipment we are producing, how it is coming along, and of the research and development which is going on; and also, if there is a civil fall-out, I think they are entitled to know about that as well.
As for the deep-diving seminar, the Royal Navy has techniques which are in advance of any others in the world, and they are being prepared with a view to helping British industry involved with the civil development of the sea bed. I promised some time ago that I would let hon. Members know when the symposium was arranged. It is now fixed for Tuesday, 12th March, and if any hon. Members wish to go I shall be only too pleased to give them invitations through the usual channels.
Many other questions have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian raised a question of civil fall-out from the work at Porton. He will be glad to know that 90 per cent. of the information resulting from the work at Porton is released in papers giving technical information to libraries and to the various technical institutions. 172 My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church asked about proposals which come from universities to the Ministry of Defence and how they are dealt with. I can tell him that now we have the new central defence policy staff, they will receive most of them, but the Defence Research Committee will also see them, according to which is the more appropriate. I was asked about amphibious forces. We have the commando carriers "Bulwark" and "Albion", and "Fearless" and "Intrepid", which are the assault ships. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) mentioned Phantomising the "Eagle". We have said that "Ark Royal" will be Phantomised: "Eagle" will carry on with Sea Vixens. The hon. Lady made a point about our having differing aircraft on the carriers, but I do not think that will make a great deal of difference to back up facilities, because "Eagle" is armed with Sea Vixens now.
I am sorry if some of the points I have made have not been of particular interest to most hon. Members, but I wanted to complete a very quick survey of the equipment in the hands of our Forces or which is coming into production, as well as a look at one or two interesting lines of future development. This is a very big subject, and I cannot do more than give an indication of the extent to which the Services are going to be further and even better equipped.
I hope that the House will now see, when I mention particularly the new style Fleet of the future, that, in spite of the accelerated rundown of numbers, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force of the 1970s will have weapons of a standard to match their high professionalism.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Harper.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.