§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State to move the Motion, may I announce that, of the two Amendments on the Order Paper, the one in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends—in line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add:'regrets that Government policies are reducing the strength of the armed forces to a level inadequate to maintain the security of this country and its overseas interests'—and the one in the names of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and his hon. Friends, in line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add:'whilst welcoming the decision to end British military bases east of Suez and the envisaged saving in military expenditure, regrets that this has not yet achieved a substantial reduction in spending in 1969–70; notes with alarm the adoption of a military strategy based upon the early use of nuclear weapons; and proposes that Great Britain's share of the gross national product devoted to defence be reduced to the average of other Western European countries, thereby making possible the expansion of housing, health, education, pensions, industrial re-equipment and overseas aid programmes to which Labour is committed'—I have selected the Amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1969, contained in Command Paper No. 3927.This year's Defence White Paper sets the seal on a historic transformation of Britain's defence policy. It brings our defence posture into line with the priorities set by our foreign policy and the constraints imposed by our economic position. In doing so, it gives our Armed Forces a rôle in whose stability they can have confidence, because it is one of vital importance to the security and survival of the British people and carries a cost which the nation can afford.
For the first time for over a decade the Defence Estimates for 1969–70 are actually lower than those of the preceding year. At the same price level they are £111 million lower than last year and are nearly £700 million lower than the estimate of this year's expenditure made by the Conservative Government in 1964. In fact, they bring the total saving on the Conservative programme in Labour's first five years to over £2,000 million.
231 If anybody is disposed to dispute these figures, they will find in an Answer to a Question by an hon. Member last Friday full details of the Conservative costings as prepared by the Ministry of Defence under Mr. Thorneycroft, as he then was, and approved by the Treasury under the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with that, he can say why tomorrow.
This year we shall be spending under 6 per cent. of our gross national product on defence, compared with the 7 per cent. planned by the Conservative Government in 1964. But this is not the end of the story.
By 1972–73 our defence expenditure will be about 5 per cent. of our gross national product, the same as the European average in 1968. So we shall have achieved the objective set for us in the Amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). For this reason, I confidently expect him and his co-signatories to support the Government's Motion in the Lobby on Wednesday.
I must warn my hon. Friend, however—and I shall deal with this point later in my speech—that to change N.A.T.O.'s existing strategy in the way he seems to suggest in another part of his Amendment would not only require the introduction of conscription in Britain, but would also make it quite impossible to limit our defence expenditure to the level he suggests.
§ Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham. West)
My right hon. Friend said that our defence expenditure in 1972–73 would be 5 per cent. of the gross national product, the same as the European average. Is he including East European countries in that average, because the figures for the E.E.C. countries and for the West European members of N.A.T.O. are about 4 per cent., as my right hon. Friend is well aware?
§ Mr. Healey
Full details were given in reply to a Question asked by an hon. Member last week. The average in Western Europe is 5 per cent. and in Eastern Europe it is 8 per cent.
Economic circumstances would, in my opinion, have compelled any British Government to cut the programme planned by the right hon. Gentleman opposite 232 in 1964. But there is another constraint which is almost as limiting as the economic one—I refer to manpower. Quite apart from social changes which, other things being equal, are liable to increase the attractions of civilian compared with Service life over the next decade, over the next five years, owing to a fall in the birth rate about 15 years ago, there will be a serious fall in the number of fit young men available to volunteer.
Indeed, the catchment area, if I may call it that, is falling faster than the requirement for new recruits to our diminishing forces. When the run-down of our forces is complete, we shall need to recruit male other ranks steadily at the rate of at least 35,000 a year, compared with the 44,000 a year in 1964.
But even if we succeeded in recruiting the same proportion of fit young men who had completed their education as we were able to recruit on average during the years 1965 and 1966, when recruiting was going well, we could expect to recruit only about 29,500 in 1974–75 because of the decrease forecast in the size of the total field.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration will be dealing in detail with this problem, and how we hope to solve it, in his speech to morrow, if he catches your eye Mr. Speaker. I mention it now not only because it is one of the most difficult problems any Government would have to face, but also because I believe, as I told the House two years ago, that demographic problems would have forced some reduction in Britain's capability and commitments even if the economic constraints had not existed.
When the Government's decisions have been fully carried out in a few years' time, the number of British troops stationed outside the United Kingdom will be down by a half. It has already been cut by a quarter. The money previously planned to be spent on defence will be down by a third. It has already been cut by a quarter. Defence manpower will have been cut by one-fifth.
We are able to reduce expenditure very much more than we are reducing the size of the forces because we are getting better value for money on defence equipment; and, because we are reducing our 233 commitments even more than we are reducing expenditure, we can hope not only to relieve the over-stretch from which our forces were suffering five years ago, but also to make a more effective contribution to that rôle which is vital to our survival as a nation—the prevention of war in Europe through N.A.T.O.
Apart from better value for money on equipment, the savings we are making in money and manpower result exclusively from cutting commitments and capabilities outside Europe and from winding up our military bases in the Gulf and South-East Asia. The House has debated these decisions on many occasions and I have no doubt that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will concentrate much of their attack on them again. I would only say that, thanks to the way in which we have phased our withdrawals and the vigorous diplomacy with which they have been accompanied, there is no sign of the appalling consequences that the party opposite predicted.
More progress has been made towards solving the local problems of the Persian Gulf during the past 12 months than during the previous 20 years, and as hon. Members may have gathered from an interesting supplement in The Times yesterday. As for British economic interests in the Gulf, which hon. Members opposite seem to regard as justifying a permanent British military presence there—HON. MEMBERS: "Continuing."] All right, a continuing presence there—I was interested to see from the Financial Times on 20th February, 1969, that Mr. David Barran, Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading, representing by far the most important British economic interest in the Gulf, took an optimistic view of the oil industry's future in the Middle East.
Mr. Barran said this:Despite the situation created by the withdrawal of British forces from the Middle East after 1971, despite the Russian enigma, despite the economic and political pressures from the producing countries, I think the system will remain broadly in balance and that the oil will continue to flow.He added that progress in the Gulf in this past year had been faster than he had expected.
In South-East Asia, too, progress in meeting the situation resulting from our withdrawal has been smooth and continuous. 234 Co-operation between Malaysia and Singapore, the indispensable condition for stability in the area, has grown steadily closer. I know that the House will welcome the fact that Australia and New Zealand have now announced what forces they will keep in the area after our withdrawal is complete. This should enable us to make substantial progress on some of the remaining problems when we meet in Canberra in June.
The Government will do their best within the framework of their general policy to assist the other four Commonwealth countries to cope with any practical problems which may rise in the transition.
The concentration of our forces in Europe and the seas around it mean that we can make a more effective contribution to the prevention of war in the area where war would put our own survival as a people directly at stake. As soon as confrontation ended in the autumn of 1966, we began to improve the manning of units in B.A.O.R. which had been seriously over-stretched by the demands of our forces in the Far East and South Arabia. The total strength of B.A.O.R., including 6 Brigade, is now about 53,000, compared with under 50,000 in 1964. We hope that we shall be able to add about another 1,000 men during the next 12 months.
The House is already aware that we have committed to N.A.T.O. 3rd Division along with 16 Parachute Brigade and the S.A.S. Regiment and the integral transport and combat aircraft of 38 Group—constituting a mobile task force of about 20,000 men capable of rapid deployment to any part of N.A.T.O.'s front from the Arctic to Eastern Turkey. One brigade of 3rd Division is now exercising with Danish and German troops in Schleswig-Holstein.
The increase in our air and naval forces in the Mediterranean, which we announced in November, adds another 6,500 men to our immediate N.A.T.O. contribution. With the reorganisation of our reserve forces, we can, in a crisis, increase our contribution to N.A.T.O. by another 65,000 men, reinforcements far better trained and equipped than ever in the past. Indeed, 10,000 of them train every year in Germany with the units to which they will be attached.
235 I believe that this increase in our contribution to N.A.T.O. is broadly welcome to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but I am bound to remind them that it is possible only because of decisions concerning our rôle outside Europe which they have steadfastly opposed, and still oppose.
Incidentally, I saw a weird story in a newspaper today suggesting that we have assigned virtually all our forces in this country to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, for the defence of the Continent, without giving him any responsibility for the defence of this country, and that he is, therefore, free to strip us of these forces if he sees fit, leaving us completely defenceless. This, of course, is totally untrue—indeed, almost the reverse of the truth, like so many stories from the same source. It is remarkable, when ignorance combines with malice, what extraordinary fantasies can be produced.
Allied Command, Europe, is the area of SACEUR's authority in peace; the area of his responsibility in war is wider. The present arrangement is not new; it is as old as the N.A.T.O. Alliance itself, and it was designed to take account of our very considerable responsibilities outside N.A.T.O., some of which will continue in the future. But although the United Kingdom is not within SACEUR's area of command, all three major N.A.T.O. commanders—S A C E U R, SACLANT and CINCHAN—have a vital responsibility for the security of this country. Both SACLANT and CINCHAN have headquarters and substantial maritime forces based in the United Kingdom; Fighter Command is assigned to SACEUR, but the United Kingdom is regarded as one of the air defence regions of N.A.T.O., and forms part of the integrated N.A.T.O. air defence system covering Europe as a whole.
Thus, SACEUR has the responsibility for the air defence of this country, as for all other N.A.T.O. regions. This country would be protected in war, like every other member of N.A.T.O. How this would be done is a matter of contingency planning—in which, of course, we play a full part, as did the previous Conservative Government 236 I now turn to the problem which I know is worrying many hon. Members. Why are we now making these increases in our contribution to N.A.T.O. and what strategy are they intended to serve? The answer to the first question is simple, even if not all my hon. Friends will agree with it. We are making these increases because we believe, particularly in the light of the Czech crisis and continuing Soviet pressure on Berlin, that they are a necessary contribution by Britain towards maintaining the strength and solidarity of N.A.T.O.; and we believe that, unless the strength and solidarity of N.A.T.O. are maintained, the danger of a third world war would be immeasurably increased.
I do not claim, of course, that the maintenance of N.A.T.O. is by itself an adequate aim for British foreign policy. But I do claim that it is a pre-condition of achieving our wider aims. The purpose of N.A.T.O. is not to produce heaven on earth. It is to prevent hell on earth. When I say hell on earth, I am thinking not only of the tragic fate of the Czech people at this moment—although I believe that, without N.A.T.O., the peoples of Western and Southern Europe could not expect immunity from such a fate.
When I say hell on earth, I am thinking about a third world war; for I believe that a general war between East and West in Europe could scarcely fail to end in the thermonuclear holocaust. If N.A.T.O. can help to prevent this it is justifying all we spend on it, even if it is not capable by itself of dealing with all the other problems to which mankind is heir.
That is my opinion and the opinion of the Government, and I believe that it is the view of the overwhelming majority of the British people and of the other peoples who owe the security they have enjoyed over the past 20 years to the existence of N.A.T.O.
I now turn to the more complicated problem of N.A.T.O.'s strategic needs in the European theatre. We must here draw a clear distinction between the problem in the Mediterranean and the problem on the European mainland.
Although there has been a substantial increase in Soviet naval activity in the Mediterranean during the last 18 months, 237 the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, as I have said to the House before, is still vastly outnumbered by the N.A.T.O. fleets and is operating without any fighter cover in an inland sea surrounded by allied aircraft. In war, the Soviet ships in the Mediterranean would be as vulnerable as would a N.A.T.O. squadron operating in war in the Gulf of Finland, and for just the same reasons.
But, as I have repeatedly made clear, I do not believe that the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean is intended to pose a serious military threat to N.A.T.O. Its function is essentially political—by its visible presence to demonstrate Soviet interest in the area—to reassure friends and to frighten enemies.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he thinks the purpose of the Russian fleet in other parts of the world is also political?
§ Mr. Healey
I think that the purpose in the Atlantic area is a serious purpose in the case of war. In the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, the purpose is political, although the scale of the presence is very much lower than the scale of the presence in the Mediterranean.
The increases which Britain has made in her Mediterranean forces are directly related to this problem. First, we have provided reconnaissance aircraft so that N.A.T.O. can be continuously aware of the precise position of Soviet ships at all times; and, secondly, we have provided a naval presence of our own as a counter to the political rôle of the Soviet units.
I believe that there is still much scope for closer co-operation among the N.A.T.O. maritime forces in the Mediterranean, although the House will be well aware of some of the political difficulties, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean. But I believe that the decision in principle to establish an "on call" N.A.T.O. naval force in the Mediterranean which the Defence Planning Committee of N.A.T.O. took in January is at least a good first step, and, as the House knows, we are planning to contribute to it.
On the mainland of Europe the military balance is very different from that in the Mediterranean. The Warsaw Pact forces here have a substantial preponderance in fighting power, particularly in tanks—a 238 preponderance which is well illustrated in the annual publication of the Institute for Strategic Studies entitled "The Military Balance". Given this preponderance, N.A.T.O. has always recognised that its ability to prevent war would depend on having the right mixture of conventional and nuclear forces, deployed to operate according to a realistic strategic concept.
I will now describe that strategic concept as clearly and fully as I can; I make no apology for repeating things I have said on many occasions before in the House, since some people seem to think that what I wrote on N.A.T.O.s nuclear strategy in a paper for a recent conference in Munich were purely personal views which had never been expressed before in public.
On the contrary, they were the views of this Government, of all previous British Governments since N.A.T.O. was set up, and are the views of the present British Opposition—as according to the German Press, the Conservative representatives at the Munich conference, including the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who is the defence spokesman of the Opposition, made clear at the time, and I give them credit for it. The strategy I described is the strategy of N.A.T.O. as a whole, and is supported with particular force by the European members of N.A.T.O., who are in the front line.
I know that public discussion of these dreadful issues is alarming and even repulsive for many people. But nuclear weapons, like diseases, exist whether we like it or not. We can hope to prevent their use, as we can hope to prevent disease, only if we are prepared to face the problem they present without allowing our emotions to rule our heads.
On the other hand, we must avoid surrendering to the opposite temptation, to which so many academic strategists sometimes fall victim, and isolating the military problem from the political context in which it is presented in real life. We must not assume that we are dealing at all times with an enemy who has an absolute will to destroy us and an infinte capacity for calculating the military means to that end. The real world, thank God, is not a Manichean struggle between good and evil; our political 239 adversaries are usually ordinary men subject to ordinary temptations, and often facing predicaments from which they may be as anxious to escape as we are.
What are the facts? N.A.T.O. has never had the ability to defeat an all-out conventional attack by the Warsaw Powers with conventional means alone. For this reason it has always aimed to deter such an attack by presenting a potential aggressor with unacceptable risks of escalation, if need be to the strategic nuclear exchange. This policy was first laid down in terms by a British Government in the Defence White Paper presented by a Conservative Government in 1954, 15 years ago. It has remained the view of every British Government since then. It has been repeatedly stated in this House and, I admit, no less repeatedly criticised by a minority of Members on both sides of the House—by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and Lord Wigg, under this Administration, and by Lord Head and Lord Wigg under the last, and the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) has played his part.
Lord Head, Lord Wigg and the hon. Gentleman, however, have shown more candour than some of those who share their views. They frankly admit that any rational alternative to the existing N.A.T.O. strategy would require Britain to reintroduce conscription and to spend a great deal more on defence. This is what my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East will not admit—and, of course, it means that his Amendment is a contradiction in terms.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how it was that on 16th April, 1957 the Opposition of the day moved an Amendment which included the words:… further regrets the undue dependence on the ultimate deterrent on which the policy set out in the White Paper appears to be based;"?The right hon. Gentleman voted for the Amendment, although N.A.T.O. and B.A.O.R. were then stronger in manpower than they are now.
§ Mr. Healey
I can see that it is a mistake for me to give way too much, for I intended to deal with that in detail 240 in a moment. In fact, I shall deal with it right away.
There is also an important difference between the present Labour Government and their Conservative predecessors. Previous Conservative Governments essentially supported the concept of an automatic nuclear response—what the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) described approvingly last year in this House as "the trip wire that trips".
We on our side have always been concerned to keep the threshold of nuclear response above the level at which N.A.T.O. would have to use nuclear weapons automatically in a situation in which Soviet intentions were ambiguous, in which they might not really be bent on aggression against the West at all. I believe that our anxiety on this score is even more cogent in a period when the Russian empire in Eastern Europe is crumbling and we may expect further explosions like those we have already seen in the past in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Berlin.
In fact Conservative Governments reduced the flexibility of N.A.T.O.'s response to possible aggression where the present Labour Government have increased it. In 1954, the Conservative Government accepted a treaty obligation to maintain British forces on the Continent at the strength of four divisions—till the end of the century. The ink was scarcely dry on the Paris Treaty before they decided to get out of the commitment. They renegotiated Britain's obligation from the equivalent of 77,000 men in B.A.O.R. down to 55,000 men. But once they ended conscription they never reached even this reduced target. At the same time, they tied British policy to the concept of massive retaliation with strategic nuclear weapons.
The 1958 Defence White Paper said—and I quote it:It must be well understood that, if Russia were to launch a major attack on them—the Western Powers—even with conventional forces only they would have to hit back with strategic nuclear weapons.By 1964, Mr. Thorneycroft had qualified this as follows:The truth is that there has been no commander of the N.A.T.O forces that I have known who has not realised that at a fairly 241 early stage, if there was a major conventional assault upon Europe, some tactical nuclear weapons would be used, and that there was a real and great possibility of that kind of exchange escalating into major thermo-nuclear war. This is one of the reasons why large-scale conventional war in Europe—or anywhere else—is, on the whole, unlikely."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February 1964; Vol. 690, c. 444.]The Labour Government have consistently tried to achieve greater flexibility in N.A.T.O. strategy by increasing the conventional capability of the alliance. Besides the substantial increase in Britain's own conventional contribution to N.A.T.O. which I have already described, we have argued successfully for a change in N.A.T.O. strategy which will maximise the conventional capability of the forces which Governments are prepared to make available—for example, by releasing for use in the conventional phase of operations aircraft hitherto withheld for nuclear interdiction. We have thus enabled the alliance to adopt a more flexible strategy.
As a result, N.A.T.O. now aims to deal with limited conflicts which may arise through accident or miscalculation and to ensure that there is time to identify major aggression and then to decide on the use of nuclear weapons if necessary. But there is all the difference in the world between this and the idea of trying to build forces which could defeat a large-scale, deliberate conventional attack by conventional means only. None of our European allies would accept this as an objective even if we in Britain were prepared to.
The peoples of Western Europe want to prevent a war, not to fight or to win one, and anyone who saw Coventry, Hamburg or Rotterdam after the last conventional war will know why. Thus, if confidence in N.A.T.O.'s collective nuclear strategy for deterring major aggression were to decline, the result would not be the build-up of larger conventional forces on the Continent, but pressure for national nuclear deterrent forces. The French example proves this. If ever those pressures were to grow in Germany they might produce the one situation in which Moscow might be tempted into pre-emptive war.
In the second place, there is no reason to believe that a major conventional build-up in Western Europe would not be 242 met by a parallel build-up in the conventional forces of the Warsaw Powers, so the attempt to provide a conventional alternative to N.A.T.O. strategy would have had no effect except to intensify the arms race.
These are hard facts which my hon. Friends who opposed N.A.T.O.'s current strategy must face. To take their advice would produce exactly the opposite of the result they intend. There is another possibility. The Soviet leaders have always made it clear that they expect a major war in Europe to be nuclear from the start. If they ever felt that America was prepared to sacrifice Europe rather than risk the survival of the United States, and if, as a result, they decided to attack Western Europe, they would even be less inhibited in using nuclear weapons themselves, since in so doing they would not, according to this theory, be making American nuclear strategic retaliation more likely.
The fact is that the only strategy which is compatible with the views and interests of the European N.A.T.O. members involves a mixture of conventional and nuclear capability along the lines which N.A.T.O. is now following. I believe that in terms of numbers of major units the present level of N.A.T.O.'s conventional forces is a reasonable one, though there is still scope for improving their capability through better training and equipment, and, above all, I believe, through closer defence collaboration among the European members of N.A.T.O.—a major objective of British policy. I believe that the current level is entirely adequate to deter—or suppress—without the use of nuclear weapons anything short of a deliberate major attack.
N.A.T.O. must, however, accept that any reduction in its conventional capability below the present level would involve heavier dependence on the nuclear component of its deterrent strategy, and thereby reduce the flexibility of N.A.T.O.'s reaction to the unforeseen. I hope that my hon. Friends will bear this in mind.
By maintaining the strength and solidarity of N.A.T.O. along existing lines I believe that we can prevent a third world war; and this must be our permanent objective. But Defence Ministers must 243 also consider what should be done if the deterrent fails and we face a large-scale conventional invasion which our own conventional forces cannot for long resist.
Some argue, like the Conservative Government in 1958, that in such a case N.A.T.O. should have immediate recourse to strategic nuclear weapons. Others say that N.A.T.O. should aim to fight and win the ground battle in Europe by the use of tactical nuclear weapons as a sort of superior artillery. I do not believe that either of these alternatives is acceptable.
When the use of strategic nuclear weapons is likely to involve the deaths of hundreds of millions of human beings, N.A.T.O. must aim to bring the conflict to a close before either side is tempted or compelled to initiate an all-out nuclear exchange. This means that N.A.T.O.'s conventional forces—many of which possess nuclear weapons suitable for tactical use—must be able, once the scale of the attack and the nature of the aggressor's intentions have been identified, to do two things: first, to demonstrate that we are determined to resist—and to use nuclear weapons if necessary; secondly, to win sufficient time to enable diplomatic action to bring the aggressor to his senses or, failing that, to enable the awesome decision to cross the nuclear threshold to be taken in full knowledge of the facts.
But I do not believe that N.A.T.O. could reasonably plan on the unrestricted use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons as its initial response in such a case. Apart from the fact that the unrestricted use of tactical weapons would devastate the European Continent as completely as a strategic thermonuclear exchange, they would not in themselves compensate for shortage of manpower in the long run; and all the exercises and war games that we and others have played suggest that this is the case.
The Nuclear Planning Group of N.A.T.O. is now studying the way out of this situation and the German Minister of Defence and I will shortly be putting proposals to it for new guidelines. I believe that there is an answer to the problem and that we are now on the way to finding it.
I realise that many of my hon. Friends will feel that even to consider such contingencies is immoral in itself. I disagree. 244 It is only by thinking these appalling problems through in advance that one can hope to ensure that they never arise in practice. I ask my hon. Friends to appreciate that such a contingency would, in effect, never arise in practice unless the Warsaw Powers launched a large-scale deliberate invasion or aggression against Western Europe. I hope that in such a case a strategy which gives more hope of avoiding the automatic destruction of humanity is something which they would welcome rather than reject. This is the kind of strategy which we are now working out in N.A.T.O. largely as a result of British initiatives.
I wonder whether I could ask the Leader of the Opposition if he would answer a couple of questions here. He has often said he favours a pooling of British and French nuclear forces. Could he tell us now or perhaps in his speech tomorrow—as he failed to tell us when I asked him a year ago—does he believe that the pooling of British and French nuclear forces should take place inside or outside N.A.T.O.? And, secondly, what sort of strategy should this pooling of nuclear resources serve? I hope that tomorrow at least, with one year's notice, the right hon. Gentleman may be able to answer the first and most fundamental of those questions.
No one whose professional duty it is thus to think about the unthinkable can fail to recognise the overwhelming arguments for trying to solve the problem of security in the atomic age by cooperation rather than conflict between the Powers—arguments which should be moving the Soviet Government at this moment towards serious negotiation with the United States. For I am sure that we can all agree at least on this: that the only certain security which any of us can hope to enjoy in the long run must spring from co-operation between the Powers in the limitation and control of armaments rather than from the unlimited pursuit of superiority in an unending arms race.
We must aim to use the stability which N.A.T.O. has brought about to try to obtain a permanent improvement in relations between East and West. This means parity of action by both sides. It cannot be one-sided. Successful deterrence offers this best foundation for détente.
245 Last summer, N.A.T.O. hoped to start a dialogue with the Soviet Union on the mutual limitation and reduction of forces in Europe. At Reykjavik, the N.A.T.O. Council put a formal proposal to the Soviet Union for such talks. The Russian response was the invasion of Czechoslovakia. I will not disguise from the House that this was a serious setback to our hopes of solving the problem in this way.
Now the United States proposes tackling the problem at the other end. The whole House will be united in hoping that President Nixon is soon able to open the era of negotiation of which he talked so eloquently during his recent visit to Europe, by starting a meaningful dialogue with the Soviet leaders on the limitation of offensive and defensive strategic missile systems. The degree of flexibility that he can enjoy in such negotiations will depend critically, as he himself made clear, on the confidence of America's European allies that they will be fully and continuously consulted on any issues affecting the security of Europe which may arise.
I am glad to say that these assurances were given by the President to all the Governments he visited and to the N.A.T.O. Council, because the maintenance of adequate strength and solidarity in N.A.T.O. is, indeed, not only a condition of our common security in the world as we have known it over the last 20 years. It will be no less necessary a condition of our security if, as we all hope and pray, the long conflict between Russia and the West can now be replaced by co-operation at least in these areas where continued conflict spells disaster for us all. I believe that the contribution which Britain is able to make to N.A.T.O., in this field may prove crucial to the fulfilment of our hopes.
May I say a word on the Amendments before the House. The issues we will be debating during the next two days are the most serious which can ever be presented to the House. They involve not only the security of the British people. They involve the survival of the human race.
There is scope for honest argument on many aspects of these issues—though I hope that where we agree with one another we shall not be ashamed to say 246 so. All I ask of those who disagree is that they should face honestly the full political and economic implications of their views, as well as the military implications.
Some of those who have signed the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East are pacifists; they oppose the very concept of defence and, I suppose, would like no defence expenditure at all—and no defence strategy. Others take a more optimistic view of Soviet behaviour than most of us are able to in the light of Czechoslovakia and Berlin. But many, I suspect, share the general opinion that there would be grave risk to peace if N.A.T.O. were dismantled.
I ask them to consider what I have said and decide whether they can honestly reconcile the demand for further cuts in defence with the demand for less reliance on nuclear weapons. I believe that they will be forced to the conclusion that the Government's policy represents the best reconciliation which can be devised between the demands of our economic and social priorities and the needs of our security.
To those who support the Opposition Amendment I have this to say. If they think that our planned forces are inadequate for our security, let them tell us what size and shape of forces they consider adequate—they must have some idea of this if they consider the present size and shape inadequate—and how they would pay for them out of the lower taxes they have promised. For five years they have opposed every single decision we have taken—decisions which have already saved the nation £2,000 million. Would they seek to restore these cuts or not? If they answer this question, and only if they do, will the British people at last know the cost of their defence policy and be able to decide whether it is worth the money.
To all who plan to speak in the debate I address one final word. They will have an attentive audience outside this Chamber—among the people of Britain, among the people of countries which are allied with us, and of countries which consider themselves our enemies. But the most attentive audience will be the men and women of our own Armed Services.
Their morale is high—as the re-engagement figures show. Their equipment is 247 the most modern in Europe and they know how to use it. They have standards of professional skill second to none in our society. Their dedication to their job is unparalleled among our people.
I hope that those who speak will bear them in mind before they allow the heat of debate to carry them from an attack on the policy of the Government, to which I do not object, to a general denigration of the military capability of the Services themselves.
Whatever may be said of the Government's policy over the last five years—and a lot will be said during the debate in the next two days—at the end of this long and painful process of revising our whole position in the world, we have, and will maintain, a Navy, Army and Air Force which, both in professional skill and in modern equipment, possess a capability certainly unsurpassed, and I believe unparalleled, among our European allies. They are doing a job which is vital to the security of the British people. They provide the necessary foundation for every other undertaking in our national life.
Let us see that they, at least, have the credit they deserve.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:' regrets that Government policies are reducing the strength of the armed forces to a level inadequate to maintain the security of this country and its overseas interests'.I am bound to say at the outset that nothing in the Secretary of State's apologia this afternoon has done anything to diminish our anxieties. I agree with him that the issues which we will be facing in these two days of debate are as serious as any this House could discuss. We on this side of the House are prepared to face those issues and to accept the consequences of our policies more squarely and fairly than the Secretary of State has done.
After seven defence White Papers in four and a half years, and given the situation in which we find ourselves, it seems that only the combination of complacency and arrogance which has characterised this Administration could 248 produce the opening sentences of the statement on defence and the declaration that:The re-orientation of our defence policy is now completed, and the Armed Forces can look forward to a period of stability and progress.We have heard that one before, in at least six out of the seven White Papers. Unfortunately, all that we can look forward to under present policies, is a steady run-down of personnel and equipment in all three Services, and in the Reserves, to what we on this side of the House can only regard as a dangerously low level. The Secretary of State has been at great pains to say, once again, that the Government regard cuts in defence expenditure as one of the most important items in the Estimates. Surely that cannot be regarded as an end in itself? Either we are adequately defended or we are not? That is the issue which the Secretary of State has told us we ought to be debating. Of course, we can spend a good deal of time analysing the statistical claims made about cuts achieved in terms of constant prices, whatever they may be, or percentages of the gross national product.
In our view the exercise is unrewarding and the conclusions completely bogus if no regard is paid at all to the differing circumstances of each year, and to such factors as the ending of confrontation with Indonesia, or the rising level of military defence expenditure other than on the Defence Budget, on such items as progress payments for imported military aircraft. Even the boast that the Defence Budget for 1969–70 is £5 million lower at current prices than for the current year does not really bear close scrutiny. It excludes the cost of pay increases which, quite unreasonably and unwarrantably, have been held up to await the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board. I presume we will have to deal later with this by way of Supplementary Estimates.
Certainly the claims of defence must be considered in conjunction with the need to maintain, indeed now to rebuild, the country's financial and economic strength. That does not mean that we can start with an arbitrary sum and then squeeze defence costs into a fixed budget, quite regardless of the basic requirements of foreign and defence policy.
249 What I hope the House will do in the next two days is what the Secretary of State in effect invited us to do—when he had finished his party political polemic—namely, to consider our defence needs in the context of the current international situation, in terms of current costs and current capabilities, and in the light of future requirements as far as we can judge them.
For my part, I will try to do what he suggested and seek to define the common ground between the Government and the Opposition as well as to indicate the areas of division and doubt. By the same token, I hope that the Secretary of State will use his "second strike capability" rather more responsibility than he has in the past. In particular, I hope that he will not go on producing, as he did at the end of the last debate, this completely spurious assertion that Conservative policy would involve an additional annual expenditure of £600 million a year—he now says £700 million. He adds £100 million just out of the air. He makes this claim for the next five years, based on 1964 costings, which he has brought forward indefinitely and which would inevitably have been subjected to the ordinary annual Budgetary scrutiny, in the light of changing circumstances such as the end of confrontation.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
If the figure is not £700 million, as my right hon. Friend has said, would the right hon. and learned Member say what the figure is?
§ Mr. Rippon
It is quite impossible to base any figure on the basis of 1964 long-term costings projected into the 1970s. It is a completely unreal figure. What we are asking the Secretary of State to do is to consider these matters in relation to current costs and current circumstances. He might tell us what the current costs are of stationing forces in the Far East, in a way that he has always resolutely refused to do.
We do not pretend to think that we can provide adequate defence on the cheap. We are prepared to pay the price to secure our interests and fulfil our commitments. What that price will be must depend on the situation we find when we get into office. What we will say, and this is fair, is that we will indicate those areas in which we think more needs to 250 be done, and those options which we think the Government should keep open. In return, we are entitled to ask that the Secretary of State should base such costings as he is able to give on current circumstances, and to recognise that much of what we are talking about relates to joint action within our alliances to which our precise contribution must be a matter of negotiation.
We on this side of the House cannot undertake to undo all the mistakes which have been made, but we give a pledge to our friends and allies throughout the world that it is not our practice to break treaties or to abandon commitments unilaterally. It will be our purpose to restore our national honour wherever it has been betrayed and to repair weaknesses in our defences wherever we find them. We shall debate the Government's policy against that background.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I wish to be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman. I ask him not to trouble about costing, but will he furnish some information on the Opposition's views about the manning of our forces, the equipment required, and what aircraft carriers and missile ships are required? Then we may be able to estimate the cost.
§ Mr. Rippon
That is what I have offered to do. If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, he will get the information for which he asks.
On N.A.T.O. and the Western Alliance, we agree that our major contribution must be to the Western Alliance, to N.A.T.O. and Europe, but we do not agree that it should be concentrated there to the extent that the Government propose. On Europe, we cannot act in isolation; we must plan and act in concert with our allies. Our part is to produce the forces, and the reserves, which we have promised and to make our contribution in formulating the joint strategy of the Alliance.
Today, as the Secretary of State said, that strategy is based on the assumption that nuclear escalation will be the only alternative to surrender in Europe in the event of a major Soviet attack. The Government now accept—not all right hon. Members of the Government used to accept it—that Britain makes a significant and cost-effective contribution to the nuclear deterrent. The Polaris submarine 251 force alone will possess a strike power equivalent to 30,000 Hiroshimas. Considering that four submarines possess this awesome power, that it has been provided at a capital cost of about £350 million spread over nine to ten years, and requires less than 2 per cent. of the defence budget to maintain, it is perhaps surprising that the Government refuse even to consider purchasing, as we intended, the fifth submarine. That can be costed. The Secretary of State said that in normal circumstances we would expect to have two submarines on patrol for the great majority of the time. With five, we could be certain of having two on the station.
This British nuclear deterrent, which, although committed to the alliance in the last resort, remains under our own control, can only, to use the Prime Minister's old phrase, be described aslike a dried pea on top of a mountainin the context of ex-President Johnson's assertion that the United States today has a nuclear fire power equivalent to 30,000 tons of T.N.T. for every human being alive. The Soviet Union's is somewhat smaller. But I do not think that anyone will challenge Mr. Johnson's view that, to the average human being, the difference between 30,000 and 15,000 tons would be minimal.
Weighing the implications of destructive power on this scale, we are bound to continue questioning ourselves about the credibility of a deterrent whose use is almost but, unfortunately—and here we agree with the Secretary of State—not quite unthinkable. It cannot be. But there are certainly grave dangers in thinking that it is a cheap way of avoiding the cost of conventional defence. If right hon. and hon. Members opposite argue in defence of their view that we should place less reliance on the nuclear deterrent, then they must, as the Secretary of State said, face the consequences of increasing conventional armaments.
At the same time, we must beware of resting complacently on the Secretary of State's assertion at Munich that a large-scale conventional war of movement would involve destruction for the people living in the area of the battlefield no more tolerable a prospect than that imposed by a strategic nuclear exchange. 252 Nor can we accept the idea that a tactical nuclear weapon is simply an advanced form of artillery. I welcome the Secretary of State's recognition of that today.
That is not to say that modern conventional warfare is not a bloody business. But I am sure that we must agree as a matter of strategy that it was right for N.A.T.O. to abandon the former tripwire doctrine of immediate massive nuclear retaliation in favour of the concept of a flexible response based on a stronger conventional capability in Europe. This doctrine of flexible response recognises that the political decision on the use of nuclear weapons, tactical as well as strategic, will be difficult whatever may be achieved by the work of N.A.T.O.'s Nuclear Planning Group in contingency planning and co-ordinating consultation.
It may be just an academic play on words to talk of a change of strategy if at the end of the day the Secretary of State is still saying, as he did recently in Munich, that it is doubtful if N.A.T.O. could put up a successful conventional defence for more than a few days. It is no good making a great thing of having changed the strategy from the trip-wire that trips to the flexible response that lasts for only a few days. It is no good having a concept of flexible response based on forces which are ill-equipped, inadequately manned or in some undefined state of mobilisation. In General Lemnitzer's words,It sometimes seems this concern over internal domestic policies and complacency about the threat may lead to a situation where we will actually invite aggression by our failure to maintain the needed strength and readiness. To be credible, N.A.T.O. deterrence must be based on a real military capability.In the present situation, at the very least, the Government have a clear duty to halt the run-down of our forces and reserves.
I agree with the Secretary of State to the extent that N.A.T.O. cannot forgo reliance on nuclear escalation in case of large-scale attack without an increase in European military budgets which, in present circumstances, we must accept is beyond the bounds of practical possibility. Moreover, the Warsaw Pact countries have one great advantage. At Munich, the Secretary of State talked of two main advantages—tanks and surprise. But it is the element of surprise 253 which is the one advantage that not even parity of conventional forces could overcome. One lesson to be learnt from Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia is that, whatever the period of military or political warning, it is possible under the cover of manoeuvres to achieve a freedom of action and swift movement of forces across frontiers that is frightening. This could apply equally to Soviet manoeuvres off the coast of Norway, or the present Soviet-East German manoeuvres round Berlin, or to an attack on Yugoslavia or Greece.
At the same time, in view of what the Defence Statement says about the continuing growth over the whole field of Soviet military power, it is unrealistic to talk of N.A.T.O. simply maintaining conventional forces at roughly existing levels, much less to take pride in cutting down our own conventional forces. It may be politically convenient, but it is gambling with our national security.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
To what precise extent would the right hon. Gentleman increase the number of N.A.T.O. forces?
§ Mr. Rippon
The hon. Gentleman will get the answer if he is patient. I am trying to deploy an argument to show the extent to which we agree on the strategy and the extent to which we think more needs to be done and where.
The nations of Western European Union alone have a population and gross national product considerably greater than that of the Soviet Union. We in Europe must accept that we may be fatally mistaken if we imagine that we can indefinitely enjoy a higher standard of living than the Soviet Union and its allies without creating what Mr. Macnamara once described astemptations for Soviet probings and adventures which nothing in Soviet history suggests it is prepared to withstand".In this situation, some of the Secretary of State's colleagues should be arguing, not that Britain's share of her gross national product devoted to defence should be reduced to the average of other Western European countries, but that theirs should be increased up to the level of ours.
Of course we all want peace and disarmament, but we would do well to 254 remember that the Atlantic Alliance can only be an effective instrument of détente as long as it remains an effective instrument of defence. I think the Secretary of State, if I heard him aright, this afternoon used a rather shorter and crisper phrase. He said that successful deterrence offers the best prospect of détente, and he must be right.
The defence of Europe is primarily a European problem, and I do not dissent from the Secretary of State's advocacy of the establishment of what he called a European identity within the Atlantic Alliance to improve our co-operation and collective defence. In so far as this implies a real willingness on the part of European nations to bear a greater share of the common defence burden, I am sure that it would strengthen rather than weaken the United States nuclear and conventional commitment to N.A.T.O.
We must certainly make our proper contribution to European defence, which is a part and parcel of our own. Meanwhile, we are entitled to say that we are doing more than most of our allies. The Secretary of State has had more than one occasion to suggest that that is not always fully appreciated.
Apart from our contribution to the strategic nuclear deterrent and to B.A.O.R., the R.A.F. represents a large part of the strike power of N.A.T.O., and we also provide the strongest of the European navies. We have our garrison in Berlin, and we alone among the European members of N.A.T.O. are involved in responsibilities for military action on every one of N.A.T.O.'s geographical fronts. Indeed, that is why I think we have a right to argue that we are already over-committed in some ways to N.A.T.O. We are certainly right to argue that if there is to be an increase in conventional forces in Europe, which may and ought to be a possibility, our contribution must be weighed in the balance with those contributions made by other people.
We cannot safely concentrate our efforts in Europe at the expense of all other interests and commitments. After all, it was not so long ago that the Government were themselves saying that a major nuclear war was unlikely, and that a deliberate act of aggression in Europe 255 was also unlikely. That is part of the argument of the Secretary of State today. They argued that, on the contrary, it was outside Europe that instability might increase. The most serious nuclear threat came when it was certainly not expected, in Cuba. It may well be that the greatest potential danger area today is the Middle East, about which the Secretary of State said nothing, where Soviet power and influence are increasing all the time in the wake of massive arms shipments and the deployment of thousands of technicians and advisers.
§ Mr. Healey
If the right hon. Gentleman has left his contribution to N.A.T.O., he has left it in a state of some confusion. He argued earlier that Britain should increase her contribution to N.A.T.O., but he has just now been arguing that we should persuade everyone else to increase their contributions but we should not increase ours. A few moments ago he promised to tell us precisely what additional forces he would provide for various elements in our responsibility. I ask him now, before he leaves this question, if he will tell us what additions he proposes that we should make to the strength of N.A.T.O. in Europe.
§ Mr. Rippon
I think the right hon. Gentleman is not as confused as he pretends to be. I made our position perfectly clear. I did not speak of increasing Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O.; I spoke of the need to strike a proper balance between nuclear and conventional forces and the need to make flexible response a reality and not just a form of words, and I should have thought that the Secretary of State would not dissent from this. I also said, and I do not think he will dissent from this, that, in increasing the joint European contribution which we advocate, we are entitled to have weighed in the balance sheet the extent to which we contribute today. We are in a sense already over-committed to N.A.T.O., and I have said that we cannot safely concentrate our efforts at the expense of all other interests and commitments.
As I have explained, it is not so long ago that the Government were saying that the situation might well be more difficult in other parts of the world, and I cited the Middle East. Time and again conflict has broken out in an area in a 256 way which has been unexpected, and with a few more fire-watchers we might not have to send the fire brigade so often and so hurriedly.
Should we not question the basic assumption of the Defence Statement that any major attack must come in central Europe? It is because of that assumption that virtually all our forces and such reserves as we possess are committed to N.A.T.O. and S.A.C.E.U.R. Why is it inevitable that a conventional war should begin on land and not at sea? We are committed to Europe's defence, but what about our own? What would happen if there were a simultaneous attack by the Soviet Union on central Europe and, as would be most probable, against the United Kingdom by sea and by air? I thought that the Secretary of State dismissed the story of Mr. Chapman Pincher in much too cavalier a fashion. It seemed to me that not all the ignorance and malice were on one side.
§ Mr. Healey
If the right hon. Gentleman will consult his right hon. Friend on his right or the Leader of the Opposition on his left, he will find out that the state of affairs which Mr. Pincher purported to describe was one which obtained under the Conservative Government for 13 years. If he thinks that it does not dserve dismissal in the way I put it, will he say what he is worried about and why he did not do something about it when he was a Minister in the last Government?
§ Mr. Rippon
I have said—and it seems to have upset the Secretary of State very much—that he dismissed it in too cavalier a fashion. I am not suggesting that there are no arrangements whatever in practice, but whatever the informal arrangements may be for defence under the contingency planning for Britain, it is right that we on this side of the House should address ourselves at least to the probability that, in the event of an assault on central Europe, our ports, our airfields and our communications would be under heavy attack by bombers and even by paratroopers. I do not suppose that the Secretary of State dissents from that part of Mr. Chapman Pincher's assertion.
§ Mr. Healey
Of course I do not dissent from that. The point that Mr. Pincher was making was that N.A.T.O. has no responsibility for dealing with that 257 situation, and that statement is totally untrue.
§ Mr. Rippon
No formal responsibility, but perhaps the Secretary of State could confirm the alleged statement of a Ministry of Defence spokesman that the United Kingdom is not formally part of the Allied Command Europe, so that the Supreme Allied Commander is not responsible for its defence. Britain remains responsible for its own defence. That is the formal situation. Of course there are contingency arrangements, but surely we are entitled to be given some information by the Secretary of State for Defence as to what would happen in circumstances which he now admits are probable. He has to deal with the present situation, not as we did in the 13 years of Conservative Government with much larger reserves and a much larger element of home defence. Whatever the formal position, the fact of the matter is that it is the basic weakness of our conventional forces, the lack of reserves, the disbandment of the Territorials in their old form, indeed the abandonment of virtually any form of home defence, that forces the Government back on the early use of nuclear weapons as virtually our sole answer to any major attack.
Let the House have a look at Chapter XI of the Defence White Paper, which is devoted to home defence. I will read the whole chapter, it will not take more than a few seconds. In its seven lines it says this:In the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1968 (Cmnd. 3540), it was stated that the Government had decided that civil defence should be put on a care and maintenance basis. This has now been done. Training and planning is to continue at the minimum level that will permit more active preparations to be resumed if this should prove necessary. Total annual public expenditure on home defence was reduced to about £10 million in 1968–69 and is expected to fall in subsequent years to between £7 million and £8 million.What an appalling admission that is for a Government to have to make. We, alone of all the countries of Western Europe, have virually no home defence of any kind. If that does not wake the people of this country to the peril into which they have been placed by the policy of Her Majesty's Government, then nothing will.
258 It is when we look at the Defence Statement in the light of our own national security and overseas interests that the most fundamental weaknesses are revealed. Our overseas interests are necessarily and inevitably world-wide. I know that the Secretary of State will agree that we cannot draw any arbitrary dividing line between west and east of Suez. The Defence Statement acknowledges that we are still responsible for the security of our dependent territories, including Hong Kong and Fiji. We have commitments to C.E.N.T.O., quite apart from other interests in he Middle East, the Gulf and the Far East, and even the general capability which is all that the Government wish to remain of our military power east of Suez will require staging posts at such places as Mazirah and Gan.
Surely for us, more than any other country in the world, the keeping open of our trade routes is vital to our survival. Every day, something like 2,000 British ships are on the high seas in the South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and in Far East waters. Surely we have our part to play in defending them. Yet the Defence Statement, no doubt for political reasons, does not even mention Simonstown or its importance to us.
When we on this side of the House reaffirm our determination to maintain a presence east of Suez, we are not saying that we can take a major responsibility independently of our allies for policing the oceans or defending South-East Asia. The Secretary of State has said that the mere presence of Soviet ships enables her to exert a political influence on the neutrals and on her client States in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. The Statement on Defence takes some pride in the fact that, when H.M.S. "Leopard" went to Bermuda last April, the riots there immediately died down. In the same way, our experience since the war has shown that our presence in the Gulf and the Far East has helped maintain stability.
We cannot undo the Government's abandonment of the policies which they defended so vigorously until last year. But we have pledged ourselves to honour the obligations that have been broken, so far as that is possible and in the light of what our friends and allies require when the time comes. Accordingly, we 259 will consult with Governments in the Gulf as to the action which would be most helpful and practical to them and to Britain.
In regard to Singapore and Malaysia, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has proposed that Britain should make a contribution in men and equipment to a new joint Commonwealth force drawn from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as ourselves. That force would be present on the spot to do what a general capability cannot do; that is, avert trouble before it becomes serious.
Obviously these can only be matters for negotiation between Governments in due course, but the decision of Australia and New Zealand, to which the Secretary of State referred, to keep forces in Malaysia and Singapore after British withdrawal is an encouraging indication and will be of great value to the area. As the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Gorton, said in announcing it:It is much easier for a country which is to be assisted to believe that it will be assisted if forces from the country which may provide such help are there and are visible.We think that we should be there and visible, too, side by side with our Commonwealth friends and allies. Our presence would have value not only in helping to build up the local defence capability but in sustaining morale during the process.
§ Mr. Rippon
No, I do not think that I should give way any more.
The trouble in considering all these matters is that we have to accept the rundown of our forces and the inadequacy of our reserves is making it increasingly difficult for us to maintain our own national security, much less to help provide for anyone else's. I have referred already to home defence, and I will not repeat at length the arguments and facts which we put forward in the debate last December on the general state of our reserves, Regular and volunteer.
The Defence Statement states that during 1969–70 the cost of the reserve forces is expected to be £22 million, or about 1 per cent. of the total defence budget. That is a pitifully inadequate 260 sum, and it is a matter of concern that our trained reservists are well below those of our major N.A.T.O. allies. The proposed retention of the Army General Reserve for a further and final period of five years is an inadequate stop-gap. It is obviously a mere paper reserve to a large extent in terms of trained, fit men of the right age for the job.
As for the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve, I will only reiterate that the Conservative Party has given positive and unequivocal pledges to recreate a citizens' volunteer reserve on the lines of the Territorial Army for home defence and duties in aid of the civil power, and to serve as a framework for expansion in the event of war.
Of course, that does not mean that the core of our defence must not be a highly trained professional regular force. Here again, the Defence Statement shows a steady reduction in the strength of the three Services and a total decline from 1st January, 1968, to 1st January, 1969, from 410,000 to 389,000, and we know that this is to continue apace until, by 1973, it will be down to about 340,000.
Even so, the Defence Statement has to admit:The trained or effective strengths of all three Services included in these totals are below requirements owing to shortfalls in recruiting. This is particularly marked in the Army".The Army alone will be 9,000 short this year, and the main explanation from the Government and the Secretary of State today for this sorry state of affairs is that there are fewer young men available because of the fall in the birthrate in the middle 1950s. He used the word "demography", which I suppose only half of us understand, and I am not in the right half.
That may be one factor, but clearly it pales into insignificance by comparison with the effect of the eventual ending of prospects of overseas service outside Europe, the uncertainty created by frequent cuts in the size of the forces, and the quite unwarranted abandonment of the Grigg formula on pay.
In spite of these deterimental factors, I am sure that we will all want to emphasise that our armed Services, which could hardly be cut any further, offer a rewarding life and good prospects. But it is up to the Government to create the necessary confidence that it will continue to be so, 261 and that is where they have failed so lamentably up to date.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) must resume his seat.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since when has it been accepted that some Front Bench speakers can have the utter discourtsey even to ignore an hon. Member who tries to intervene? When speaking from the Front Bench, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) should mind his manners.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order. If the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) does not give way, the hon. Member for West Lothian must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Rippon
When the Secretary of State winds up a debate, he is notoriously reluctant to give way to anyone, even once——
§ Mr. Rippon
It is only fair to hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate that I should not take up too much of the time of the House——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have already asked the hon. Member for West Lothian three times to resume his seat——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. When I am speaking, I expect the House to respect my words. I have asked the hon. Gentleman on three occasions to resume his seat if the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham does not give way.
§ Mr. Rippon
Even allowing for the fact that, increasingly in the future, the strength of our Armed Forces will depend much more on quality than on simple numbers of personnel, clearly we have reduced our manpower below the safety level.
As for the need to equip our forces with the most modern and efficient weapons, that will be a matter for detailed scrutiny when we come to the Service Estimates. I will content myself, therefore, with a few general observations, and I think that the indications which I will give go in some way to answer the question which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has been trying to raise so persistently.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will confirm that, in the case of the Navy, there is a steady reduction in the number of ships in service and in reserve. That may be accounted for partly by the provision of more modern vessels with greater strike power, but it is by no means the whole story. We find it disturbing that we should still have so few Hunter-killer submarines, and that the programme has been slowed down as part of Government policy.
We on this side of the House are also concerned about other matters, including the Government's announcement about the concentration of the nuclear submarine programme at only one port. A good case will have to be made out for that apparent monopoly.
Incidentally, I hope that a Government spokesman will take the opportunity to deny, if he can, the report that we are not to go ahead with the planned building of another nuclear submarine depot ship. If that is true, I think that we must be told how it can be done without undermining the worldwide effectiveness of our Polaris and nuclear submarine fleet.
On the brighter side, we welcome the fact that the Government appear to be 263 having second thoughts about carriers—once described by the Secretary of State as "the virility symbol of the Navy"—and that they are now likely to remain in service for a longer period.
Equally encouraging are indications that the development of the super-Harrier is leading the Government to appreciate more than they did before the importance of Naval aviation and the possibilities of operating these aircraft from smaller ships.
The R.A.F., unfortunately, is bound to suffer for some time to come from the Government's precipitate cancellation of the TSR2, the P1154, the HS681 and other projects. While on the subject of the cost of various policies, we should bear in mind that these cancellations have not only cost £225 million in abortive expenditure, but they have left us without any of the aircraft at the end of the day.
I think that this is one day when we may be grateful that the Government were thwarted—for reasons beyond their control, thank God—in their desire and determination to cancel the Concorde as well. But that makes it all the more important that we should press on with the development of the multi-rôle combat aircraft and wish success to the negotiations now going on.
As the Defence Statement fairly recognises, there are real difficulties in international co-operation in reaching agreement both on operational requirements and on time scales. It may well be that in many cases co-ordinated national specialisation, with shared production, is a better proposition than attempts to share design responsibilities.
Having said that, I am sure that it must be right to make every effort to secure European collaboration in the fullest and widest sense over the whole range of equipment procurement, provided—and this is an important proviso—we retain our independent capacity to go ahead on our own in default of international agreement.
We may fairly claim that the Army, as indeed is the case with all three Services, is maintained at the highest professional standards and generally equipped with the most modern weapons. As the Secretary of State has told us, we can all take some credit for this, because 264 it is largely based on the equipment programme launched by the Conservative Government. There are, however, some gaps—perhaps there will always be gaps—such as the dubious decision not to provide the planned heavy helicopter. But the real danger here, as with the other Services, is the lack of spare capacity of reserves of men and of equipment.
Those sections of the Defence Statement which take pride in the elimination of support facilities and in the reduction of war and contingency stocks we find gravely disquieting. This, indeed, is the gravamen of our charge against the Government. No matter where we look, they have cut our Forces and their support to the very bone. Yet, as the Defence Statement contends,'.. without the security which comes from the strength to deter aggression, we put at risk the achievement of all our other national purposes.It is our judgment that the cuts which the Government have imposed—and those which are still to be made—are reducing our defences below the safety level and placing our national security and interests in peril.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The main issue in the debate is simple. There are three conflicting views. The Government propose to spend, in all, £2,437 million in the coming year on arms. The Opposition Amendment states that this is far too little. The 96 Labour Members who have now signed the second Amendment say that this is far too much. It will be noted that these Members come from Left, Right and Centre of the Labour Party.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and the Conservative Amendment, say that the level of armed forces is "inadequate". Even if we trebled our present expenditure on arms, there are many hon. and gallant Members opposite who would still say that our arms expenditure was inadequate. And they would be quite right, though not in the sense that they mean. Even if we trebled our arms expenditure, we could not prevent a ballistic missile landing in Britain. All we could do is what we can already do—retaliate with a similar missile. That missile would be a suicide weapon, because if we used it we would get another 265 back. Both sides would decimate each other. So we can threaten suicide either expensively or cheaply. That is what it boils down to.
My main point is that it is nonsense to think that Britain, with its economic problems, can afford arms spending on this scale. We are behaving like a low-paid worker with a large family who comes home to his wife and says, "I have brought you home a Saladin armoured car, dear." She will reply, "Well, what the hell do we want with an armoured car? We want a decent house." He replies, "Never mind, I have saved you £5"—or in this case £5 million—"by buying it without the windscreen wiper." If he said that, she would soon give him the rounds of the kitchen.
Military expenditure, according to a recent reply, is costing every man, woman and child in the country in taxation, direct or indirect, on average 15s. 10d. per week. So that, for a family of four, the taxation burden is £3 3s. 4d. per week.
Why should we be spending so much higher a proportion of our wealth than the rest of Western Europe? Based on the Institute of Strategic Studies' figures, and on the Government's figures, some of my hon. Friends and I have worked out that if we reduced our share of the gross national product to that of the other Western European countries, we would save the little sum of £650 million a year. It would probably be even greater. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), by very skilful questioning, has elicited, there is £169 million of military spending outside the official figure. Indeed, last year it was even higher at £198 million. The Chancellor gave an Answer earlier this afternoon which will confirm this if anyone wishes to do some mathematics.
What could not Britain and the British Government do with £650 million a year? The development——
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Has he thought of putting similar considerations to some of the Warsaw Pact Powers who are spending twice as much?
§ Mr. Allaun
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friends and I believe in the policy adopted by the N.A.T.O. Council 15 months 266 ago, that there should be joint proposals for mutual balanced arms reduction. We very much regret that no such proposals have been forthcoming from the N.A.T.O. Council, although it decided on them 15 months ago.
With £650 million a year the development of housing, pensions, education, health, industrial re-equipment and overseas aid to which the Government are committed could go ahead. At the moment we are failing to achieve our programme. I shall not depart from today's topic, but I must say that our housing completions this year will go down with a bang because of the credit squeeze. The squeeze is due to our deficit in our overseas balance of payments, which in turn is due largely to our heavy military expenditure abroad. Indeed, our arms programme is one of the main factors in the so-called over-heating of the economy.
There is nothing Utopian, nothing visionary, about the view that we are presenting. We are the highest proportionate spenders on arms in Western Europe, with the exception of Portugal. Italy spends 2.9 per cent. of her g.n.p. on arms. If we were to spend at the Italian level, we would save not just £650 million a year, but £940 million a year, which the Government would have at their disposal.
My right hon. Friend was very courteous in his remarks, and he may feel that we are being churlish in not thanking him for the £5 million saving this year in spite of the rise in military costs. The fact is that we are disappointed that by April, 1970, more than two years after the decision of January, 1968, to end our rôle east of Suez, that is to be the total saving.
In the autumn I went to Bahrein and Sharjah. I should have thought that the number of troops there would have been reduced. On the contrary, I saw men who had fought in Aden, and who, instead of being brought home as they wanted to be, were sent to the Gulf. They do not like it because it is an unaccompanied station, and they want to be with their families. Incidentally, I saw at Sharjah a newly-built base which cost the little sum of £8 million. These men should be brought home, and brought home quickly.
The Minister is entitled to ask where we would make economies to reduce 267 military spending. There are several items due for the axe. First, consider military research and development, on which we spend £234 million a year. This is one-third of the total national effort in research and development. In certain industries the proportion devoted to research and development is far higher.
Perhaps I might quote some figures which I do not believe have been given to the House before. In shipbuilding, between 90 per cent. and 95 per cent. of all R. & D. is for military purposes. In aircraft and missiles the figure is 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. In electronics it is 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. In vehicles it is 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. In the nuclear field it is 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. In all industry 35 per cent. to 40 per cent. of research and development is for military purposes. The source of those estimates is an Institute of Strategic Studies publication entitled, "The European Armaments Base—A Survey", by C. J. E. Harlow. The figures appear on page 7 of Part II. It is little wonder that we are losing shipbuilding orders to Japan, and computer orders to America, if such a high proportion of our research is devoted to military purposes.
Now for another item. It is proposed to build jointly with several other countries a new multi-rôle combat plane. When I questioned the Minister a few days ago about the cost of this, mentioning the sum of £2,000 million for development and the planes themselves, my right hon. Friend replied that there had been varying estimates. Whatever they are they are certainly not chicken-feed.
Next, we are to spend £400 million on buying United States war planes. Then, there is to be the development of more sophisticated nuclear warheads for the Polaris submarine missiles. No one knows how much this will cost, or at least it has not yet been announced.
Again, it appears from a recent Parliamentary reply—and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) mentioned this a few moments ago—that the two aircraft carriers which it was intended to scrap are to be retained in service.
§ Mr. Allaun
If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to spend money on all those things, they will not be within £2,000 million, or even £3,000 million.
Lastly, consider the £210 million a year that we spend on the B.A.O.R. This is the direct cost. If we add the "hardware"—the weapons—and indirect, overhead, expenses, the figure comes to at least double, to £420 million a year, and much of this is in precious Deutschemarks. We are told that a lot of this expenditure across the exchanges is covered by West German imports from Britain, but I think it is fairly well known to hon. Members that a great part of the goods imported from Britain are those which would have been purchased in any case.
This vast expenditure on arms accounts for 5s. in the £ of all British taxation. Some time ago a Gallup Poll put this question to the public: "Do you think the Government are spending too much or too little on arms?" The answer was that 5 per cent. thought too little, and 58 per cent. thought too much. I agree that we should not govern by gallup poll, and that the Government should do what is right, not necessarily what they think is popular—and I am not thinking of other debates held not long ago—but, in this case, if the Government did what we are proposing, we believe that it would be both right and popular. The figures which I have given are overwhelming. There is not just a maginal difference.
Defence cuts could be made without causing mass unemployment. Proof of this was provided in 1939, when 9 million people were transferred rapidly into the Armed Forces and war factories, and in 1945—and this is the supreme example—when they were transferred back again to civilian industry. That was done under a Labour Government, and there was no mass unemployment. What we are proposing here is tiny by comparison. We are asking, not for a transfer from a war economy to a peace economy, but from a large arms programme to a small one. If a major transfer was carried out so successfully in 1939, there is no doubt that this far smaller switch could be carried out now.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth (Bolton, East)
I may be anticipating my hon. Friend, but 269 will he tell the House what he is proposing with regard to N.A.T.O., for instance, in the reductions about which he is talking? Does he envisage winding up N.A.T.O.? Is that what he wants?
§ Mr. Allaun
Our first step should be to bring our spending down to the level of that of other countries in Western Europe. Secondly, there should be a mutual reduction of forces in the N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact countries, leading to an all-European conference to set up an East-West security system to provide peace in Europe without this fantastic waste of arms expenditure on both sides.
Finally, I turn to my right hon. Friend's three speeches and articles at the beginning of last month. They have gained him the reputation of being a hawk and I cannot avoid the suspicion that my right hon. Friend is not entirely unhappy about that reputation. This is what worries me. I say this despite what he said a few minutes ago. It is all very well for the Minister to show himself as a tough guy. Unfortunately, he is threatening toughness at the expense of our families and other people's families in this country and in others—HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all."]—My right hon. Friend is quite capable of replying to that if it is untrue.
The hawks in one country encourage those in another and that is how the arms race gains momentum. Even if we quadrupled our military expenditure, we could not compete as a great power with either America or Russia. I weep no tears for that. Our rôle should be that of bringing the two together for peace. Sabre rattling or, far worse, nuclear weapons rattling will not help, but hinder, us in that rôle.
I do not want to be unfair to the Secretary of State. I have his three long statements here. May I quote but one sentence from his "Perspectives of Soviet Military Policy", Munich, 1st February this year? It says:The German and British Governments are now working together on the development of a NATO doctrine for the initial use of nuclear weapons in a number of typical situations.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
How can that be reconciled with the Prime Minister's statement that we would never drop an atom bomb first?
§ Mr. Allaun
That was precisely the question that I was about to ask. I thank my hon. Friend. The word "initial" can only mean the first use of nuclear weapons. This is surely a departure, and a terribly dangerous one, from the long-held Labour doctrine that we would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. To think that we are working out this new doctrine with the West German generals, nearly every one of whom was an officer in Hitler's forces——
§ Mr. Healey
I made it clear—I hope that my hon. Friend listened to what I said—that this has been the policy of all British Governments since 1949. Indeed, since before 1949, it was always the policy of all Western Governments to meet a large-scale Soviet attack with nuclear weapons if we were incapable of meeting it with conventional means alone. This is what has kept the peace for 20 years. I tried to demonstrate in my speech—my hon. Friend disagrees with me—that his policy makes a third world war far more likely—HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If my hon. Friend would try to explain how he reconciles a lower defence budget with a change in N.A.T.O. policy, he will do some of his co-signatories a service as well as the rest of the House.
§ Mr. Allaun
I would prefer to rely on what my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) gave, accurately, as an account of what the Prime Minister has said in times gone by, although I have not the quotation with me.
§ Mr. Rippon
But surely the hon. Gentleman does not place any reliance upon a promise given by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am unhappy about this collaboration with West German generals in the use of nuclear weapons. We have heard another statement by the Prime Minister, that we should never allow a West German "finger on the nuclear trigger". This seems to me extremely close to that situation. The Secretary of State said today that he was thinking of small tactical weapons. Does he seriously suggest——
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
My hon. Friend mentioned the German finger on the nuclear trigger. 271 How can he reconcile this fear with his constant expression of a desire to get Britain out of N.A.T.O.?
§ Mr. Allaun
Because it seems to me that we are helping West Germany to get that finger on the trigger. To read the Minister's words again:The German and British Governments are now working together on the development of a N.A.T.O. doctrine…It seems to me, and surely to my hon. Friend, that we are helping the West Germans. Indeed, ever since about 1948, we have been putting arms into their hands and now it seems that we are putting nuclear arms into their hands. It is true that there are electronic locks, but those, like all other locks, can be picked. I would not put much reliance on certain military gentlemen that I have met in West Germany.
The Secretary of State said today that he was thinking of the small tactical weapons. Does he seriously suggest that, if atom bombs—the nice little ones which only wipe out a few scores of thousands of people—were used, the Soviet leaders would set up a Commission—I will not say a Royal Commission—to inquire into their size and then reply with bombs of exactly the same size?
The first atom bomb which is dropped in Europe on Soviet territory, everyone knows, would bring an instant response, which would be to wipe out every man, woman and child in this country. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have a family. I do not want this to happen and it is not necessary because I do not believe that either East or West wants it. By engaging in an arms race, and especially in a nuclear arms race, we are making the possibility much greater. That is what we are out to avoid and I appeal to my right hon. Friend to listen carefully to our pleas on this occasion.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), but it is not for us on this side to answer his arguments in detail. If he had been of maturer age in the 1930s, he would have learned that wishful thinking does not solve any of the defence problems of our country. He would have realised that many millions of people in Europe would 272 not have laid down their lives if Western European defence and ours had been co-ordinated, as we are in N.A.T.O., and had been robust enough to launch a defence programme as effective as successive Governments have launched since the end of the Second World War.
When he says that we on this side are advocating a more expensive and extensive defence programme, I would remind him that, during our 13 years, we succeeded in making a worth-while contribution to N.A.T.O., and in honouring our promise to defend the Middle East, in clearing Malaysia of Communism and in solving the confrontation which later took place in Indonesia.
Since the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he must wake up to reality. Perhaps he could try to convert some of his other 93 hon. Friends who have signed what I think is a deplorably blind and wish ful-thinking Motion. I am sure that many hon. Members would give him leave of absence to go and try to convert the Russians to our way of thinking, so that they will not send a quarter of a million armed men into a neutral country like Czechoslovakia overnight——
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
On this issue, my hon. Friend, and his hon. Friends on this side, deplore and oppose the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. We are opposed to it publicly and will insist and continue to insist on the withdrawal of those troops, but this was done by a Warsaw Pact country to another Warsaw Pact country. N.A.T.O. played no part and was powerless to play any part in it. In consequence, we advocate a policy which would remove this situation and allow nations, large and small, in Europe to be guaranteed security.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's case, but he seems to be in favour of both nuclear and conventional disarmament. Until we can convert the Soviet bloc into a more peaceable approach to life, that is not only a pipe dream but a dangerous one.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Had we had twice the conventional forces and four times the nuclear forces, would that have made any difference to the invasion of Czechoslovakia?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
That incident shows the readiness of the U.S.S.R. to invade even a friendly Socialist country in Communist bloc. If they are prepared to do that, after manoeuvring on that friendly country's frontiers, how much more prepared might they be to start a similar adventure against a country which is not Socialist in that sense or which is not within what they regard as their bloc? This is why we must keep our guard up. If we do not, we may fall victim of the wishful thinking in which so many people indulge in this country in the 'thirties.
I was glad to note that the Secretary of State has been converted by our arguments 0:1 two scores—although possibly his conversion has also resulted from an acceptance of the reality of the situation—first, that we must depend on the nuclear deterrent and have a graduated response, and, secondly, that we need a presence in the Mediterranean to shadow—he used the word "mark"—the Russian Fleet. Both of these points have been constantly urged on him by my hon. Friends and last year we urged him not to evacuate Malta in view of what happened in the Mediterranean. We are delighted that the Government have adopted our policy in this connection.
I criticise this ninth White Paper on three scores: first on the ground of lack of stability; secondly because it deceives the country and our N.A.T.O. allies about the numbers available; and thirdly because it falsifies the expenditure put before the House and the nation.
On the question of the lack of stability, I despair that while a Labour Government are in power we shall ever get stability. I am sure that they mean what they say, but with each White Paper we are told "We will have stability" but it never comes. We were told in 1966, just after the defence reappraisal:The major decisions are now taken …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 1797.]In February 1967 we were told in the White Paper, Cmnd. 3203: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 career in the Services…That was two years ago. In the July, 1967, White Paper we were told: 274This Statement announces new decisions where these can or must be fairly taken—not least to provide a period of stability in which the Services can plan manpower and careers…In January, 1968, six months later, the Secretary of State wrote: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 and we have had no stability.On the first page of the latest White Paper we learn that there is now to be a period of stability. I urge the Government to remember what is happening to the morale of the defence forces as a result of these changes, counter-changes, cuts and further cuts. I fear that as long as hon. Gentlemen opposite are managing the economy so inefficiently and ineffectively they will always be changing their defence plans; and it is always defence which bears the brunt of any cuts perpetuated by them.
The Secretary of State said that the morale of the Forces was high. I would not wish it to go out from any part of the House that there is not a worth-while career in the Services. There is, and there always will be a worth-while job in the Forces for young men of ambition and who desire adventure.
However, as my hon. Friends and I go around making defence visits, we do not find that such a high degree of morale exists, particularly among our young officers and young and ambitious men. We are constantly being asked, "How long is this going on? What is our future? Am I secure?" Before this trend goes too far we must have, and stick to, as stable a defence policy as is conceivable, with no further efforts to appease the Left wing. As the right hon. Gentleman said, those who comprise the Left wing are like sea lions; they swallow every herring thrown to them yet open their mouths and bark for more. They will never be satisfied, as we note from the Amendment standing in their names. We must have a defence policy on which the two Front Benches are united, with the support of the vast majority of hon. Members, with the exception of the 94.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth
If the morale of the Forces is not high, how does the hon. Gentleman explain the increasing re-engagement rate? Apparently those 275 already in the Services consider that they have such a worth-while career that it is worth continuing with it.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
It is true that some of those who join the Services find, after a time, that they are doing such a worthwhile job that they sign on again. I am delighted at that, because the nation has invested a great deal in training them. However, those outside the Services are so uncertain of the future—as the White Paper points out, 38,000 recruits are needed for the three Services; in the current year ending in March there were 10,000 short—that they are not signing on in adequate numbers. One reason is the uncertainty and the way in which their parents are advising them. "I should not go into the Forces just now", youngsters are being told. We must, therefore, convert not only the young men we want but their friends and families into believing and knowing that there is a worthwhile future in the Forces.
I hope that the Secretary of State will take seriously the plea made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) to get back to the Grigg formula. There was no excuse for giving pay rises to, for example, civil servants, G.P.O. overseas telephone operators and, more particularly, those who were able to put real pressure on the nation but not giving the pay rises to which they were entitled to the members of our Armed Forces who have a much more disruptive life, who are asked to go to all sorts of places at very short notice and who deserve to be well rewarded for what they are doing for the safety and defence of the nation. I hope that the Government will speed up the deliberations of the Prices and Incomes Board on this matter and quickly produce something realistic which will put the Forces pari passu with their opposite numbers in industry.
In considering the question of numbers, the right hon. Gentleman has been less than frank in the White Paper. We recognise that the main task of our defence is our contribution to N.A.T.O. and B.A.O.R. I have been rereading the 1957 White Paper—that document has been much discussed in the newspapers recently—in which we were informed that we had 77,000 people serving in B.A.O.R. 276 That number was run down under the policy of that White Paper—admittedly, that occurred during the time of National Service—and we have progressively run it down to the 50,000 mark.
However, the right hon. Gentleman was at pains to say, both today and in other speeches, particularly in Munich, that the figure had now reached 53,000. This is not being honest because 6,000 of those are in the Brigade Group which is now in this country. Thus, the real figure of those serving in Germany now is 47,000. This is known to our allies. It should be known to us. If there was a period of strain it would not lessen the tension for us to decide to send those 6,000 to their bases and pick up the necessary equipment in Germany.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke, as he did in his Munich speech, about our ability to send an extra 20,000 troops overseas within 10 days. We have learnt, as a result of the Czechoslovakia affair and similar pressures, that it is the number of efficient and trained men on the ground which is the really important number from the point of view of deterrence to aggression in the N.A.T.O. area. In paragraph 33 of his Munich speech he was a little less frank. He said:Another contribution which we believe will be especially valuable on the flanks"—referring to N.A.T.O.—is the amphibious force which we also earmarked last year. This consists of two helicopter carriers"—presumably "Bulwark" and "Albion"—both with an embarked commando unit, and two assault ships"—presumably "Fearless" and "Intrepid"—a total of about 6,500 men in all.I think the decimal point has got into the wrong place for I cannot see how so many men could be in these ships. He said:They can arrive at a trouble-spot in a matter of daysbut I think that at least one of each type would be east of Suez for some time. How are they to get to the Mediterranean? They would have to go round the Cape. Here again, both in the numbers he is so-called earmarking and promising to N.A.T.O. and in the reinforcements he is not realistic.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that we have a very strong tactical Air 277 Force in support of B.A.O.R. I cannot think that is so. The Canberras are getting very long in the tooth and are progressively phasing and wearing out. The Phantoms were designed for sore-thumb targets—that is to say, maritime targets. I do not know whether they will be fully equipped to pick up tactical targets in the bad weather we so often experience in Western Europe. The Jaguar prototype flew only recently and I cannot believe that it will be in operational service for another two years. I am not clear where this great strength of tactical aircraft will come from to support our troops in the next two or three years.
The right hon. Gentleman must have a slightly guilty conscience because at Munich he said that one extra squadron of Harriers would be immediately allotted to N.A.T.O. The White Paper says that this will arrive after 1971. That appeared to be a rather specious promise. It looks like dressing the shop window with specious arguments. The fact is that by 1975 the Royal Air Force will have fewer than 500 front-line aircraft. Is this all that the nation, with our technological and scientific background, can afford? Sweden, a nation with one-third our strength and industrial capacity, will have 650, and West Germany will have 600 by that date. Is this not an unambitious target for this nation with its tremendous aerospace abilities?
The 1964 manifesto of the Labour Party, which I imagine has been compulsorily burned in most Labour households—there is still a copy in the Library—says:Our stress will be on the strengthening of our conventional forces, Regular forces, so that we can contribute our share to N.A.T.O. defence and also fulfil our peace-keeping commitments to the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
§ Mr. James Tinn (Cleveland)
The hon. Member made a point about the size of the Swedish Air Force, but has he taken fully into account the fact that Sweden is nearer to Russia, and is not its participation in N.A.T.O. dependent on its own resources? Is this an argument for us to make a greater contribution?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Both Sweden and Switzerland have always had a high degree of armed neutrality, which stood them in good stead in the last war. We are standing on the ground along the 278 Iron Curtain with our N.A.T.O. allies, and if we cannot give defence to our own forces there we shall inevitably be beaten, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we should have to resort "in a matter of days", to use his words, to nuclear weapons. This is why I want our ground forces to be backed up by adequate modern aircraft.
After all the pleas which I am sure right hon. Gentlemen opposite believed when they wrote them in Opposition, we have a White Paper showing that our Regular Forces have been cut since 1964 by 30,000. The Government have failed to recruit 10,000 men we badly need for the future. They are aiming to run down the total of Regular Forces from what they inherited in 1964 by 100,000 in the three Services by the middle of the seventies. I wonder whether this is a realistic approach that this nation can afford in its contribution to the peace and security of the country and our alliances?
I turn to what I call deception on expenditure. After the right hon. Gentleman had unveiled his White Paper this year to the Press conference, almost every newspaper had the banner headline "£5 million saved on defence." That was repeated on television and in radio programmes on the same night. It just is not true. Tucked away last year under other Votes, as revealed in an Answer to a Written Question on 31st January, 1968, was no less than £198 million spent on other military defence and not appearing in the Defence Votes. We learned from the hon. Member for Salford, East that this year that sum will be £167 million.
In a desire to appease the Left wing, the Secretary of State is trying to say that he is saving money on defence, but he is spending it on United States military aircraft and under other Votes and in loans for married quarters. There is defence aid of £50 million to Malaysia and £25 million to Singapore which will fall to be paid in the next five years, largely during the period of office of the next Government. This is an unrealistic approach. Why not face what is being spent on defence and give up any effort to appease the Left wing?
It is a little unrealistic when the Armed Forces are waiting for their pay increase, which is likely to cost £40 million to £50 million, to leave out any calculation or reference to this from the White Paper. Presumably a supplementary Estimate 279 will be put before the House within a few weeks so that the promise which should have been honoured a year ago may be fulfilled and the proper rewards given to our Service men.
I despair that under this Government there will be ever be a cohesive, stable defence policy, but I want those outside to know that the Opposition and many hon. Members in all parts of the House—and not least those in another place—believe deeply that there is a sure, venturesome and tremendously worth while future for those who desire to make their career in the Armed Forces in which they can contribute to our peace and security.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
Those who understand the matter tell us that 13 per cent.—one in eight—of the senior executives in British industry retire before their time. Overwhelmed by the tensions and anxieties of their tasks, they retire early—and retire into mental homes. I wonder what the percentage is for Ministers of Defence. I have a nasty feeling that it is 0 per cent. There are scores of them around the world.
Since 1945 they have had to make decisions which may mean the life or death of their nation, and even of mankind. Yet in every country they seem to guide their action by the principles that their general staffs impress upon them, principles which went out of date long decades ago. In a world where multilateral disarmament under international control is the only practical, the only rational, policy of national defence, they have sponsored the most massive and most hazardous arms race there has ever been. To defend it, they go on producing the dreary, question-begging shibboleths of paragraph 1 of the White Paper which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commended to us today.
Let me say at once, in answer to the Opposition, that, within the scope of what my right hon. Friend has tried to do, I think he has had a great measure of success. He has achieved a saving of £2,000 million on the military proposals of his predecessors in office; he has closed the bases which were a legacy from a militarist imperialism which is dead.
280 It is what my right hon. Friend has not tried to do which causes me alarm. It is his failure to confront the major problems that the holder of his office must face, his readiness to accept in essence the status quo, to drift along with the perilous policies which he has inherited from the past. As my right hon. Friend said this afternoon—I am grateful to him for coming; I know the claims upon his time—no question in the world compares in importance with the brain-shattering, heart-freezing issue of nuclear peace or war.
As I read the White Paper on Defence, I wondered what had happened to the great Labour movement in which I have worked for 50 years. I recall the words last year of Dr. David Inglis of the United States. He has spent 30 years in making nuclear bombs. He is still a member of the Argonne National Laboratory. He said:The world situation that we have been lucky enough to live through during these last five years is an awfully unsafe one, in which no sane race of beings would choose to live if it could help it. Our having been lucky does not mean that we are safe, even though most of us have permitted ourselves to become unaware of the nuclear threat under which we live.I stress the words—in which no sane race of beings would choose to live if it could help it".A month ago in Munich my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to me—he will correct me if I am wrong—to be expressing satisfaction that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia had given N.A.T.O. a shot in the arm, that it had "stopped the rot" in the alliance—those are my right hon. Friend's words—that we could now look forward to another 20 years like the last, another 20 in which we can rely on nuclear escalation to keep the peace, and perhaps another 20 after that.
Not everyone will share the Secretary of State's enthusiasm for another 20 years like the last. They have seen the development of weapons of mass destruction; they have seen the cost of world armaments, £36,000 million in 1959, £75,000 million in 1969, more than doubled in ten years. They have seen Suez, Hungary, Cuba, Vietnam, Santo Domingo, Nigeria, the Israel-Arab wars, the seizure of Czechoslovakia; and the almost total failure to deal with world 281 hunger, illiteracy and disease—a failure due to lack of Government money, and to that alone.
I ask the House to look more closely at what the Secretary of State has said. He told us in his White Paper last year that the Nuclear Planning Group of N.A.T.O. had agreed that the strategic forces "available to the alliance" were "sufficient in number"—I should rather hope so; they are enough to over-kill every man and woman in the world by 20 times—and that the Planning Group had decided thatsuitable arrangements exist for employing them to meet possible threats.If the strategic nuclear forces are employed, that will imperil—I use the words my right hon. Friend used this afternoon—"the survival of the human race as a whole." In 1965 my right hon. Friend told us that it would mean that life in these islands would be extinct within three days. In view of that, I asked my right hon. Friend last year whether he would tell us more about the "suitable arrangements for employing the strategic weapons" on which N.A.T.O. had agreed. My right hon. Friend answered with a point-blank refusal. Life in these islands might become extinct, but neither the House nor anyone in Britain might know by whom, or how, or on what conditions, the decision for national suicide would be made.
I recall that when Dr. Edward Teller produced the H-bomb he said that there would be no time to ask the President if it could be used. I never expected to hear a Labour Secretary of State explain that our country might be wiped out by a secret decision made by faceless men by a process of which the House and the nation had been told nothing.
§ Mr. Healey
My right hon. Friend was Secretary of State for Air in the Labour Government when that Government decided to produce atomic weapons in Britain in 1947. My right hon. Friend must be aware that if this country is ever wiped out by H-bombs they will be H-bombs dropped by the Soviet Union, and we could never expect to know by what process that Government took that decision. What we can know is that so long as we maintain an invulnerable power to retaliate the likelihood of that decision being taken is almost nil.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That is exactly the point at which I differ from my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend bases his whole case on the proposition that the possession of strategic nuclear weapons will prevent the outbreak of a war. He is challenging the opinion of a great many experts in the matter. I will return to this question later.
I am no happier about what the Secretary of State said about the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons on a European battlefront. I have always thought since 1954, when the general staffs invented the phrase "tactical", that to call any nuclear weapon "tactical" was a deceptive and dangerous misuse of words. I am fortified in this belief by the writings of Sir Solly Zuckerman, whose authority no one will dispute. I welcome warmly some of the phrases which the Secretary of State used this afternoon about tactical nuclear war, and I will examine them with great care in HANSARD tomorrow. However, unless I misunderstood my right hon. Friend, they do not change what he told us a year ago and what he said again in Munich a month ago. He told us—I quote his words—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 …and tactical nuclear weapons have a rôle in this respect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 62.]The Secretary of State would do well to consult the report which was made by a United Nations Commission of experts in 1967.
My right hon. Friend told us that N.A.T.O. had accepted the doctrine that tactical nuclear weapons are a cheaper option, that to confront the Russians with conventional weapons would cost too much, that on the central front N.A.T.O. is outnumbered by the Warsaw Pact in infantry by two to one, in aircraft by nearly two to one, and in armour by more than three to one. So it was clear, he said in Munich, that tactical nuclears would be required.
I recommend to my right hon. Friend an examination of that view made in 1967 by this Commission of experts, of which Sir Solly Zuckermann was the British Member, Mr. Emelyanov the Russian, Mr. Mukaido the Japanese, and Mr. Randers the Norwegian. They all 283 have world-wide reputations, and their collective authority was unchallengeably high. The Commission said:In certain quarters, it is still military doctrine that any disparity in the conventional strength of opposing forces could be redressed by using nuclear weapons in the zone of battle.That is precisely the doctrine my right hon. Friend has put to us today.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, that is precisely the doctrine I said was not true, as my right hon. Friend will see if he reads my speech. It does not correct the disparity. Sir Solly Zuckermann, when he participated in that report, was my chief scientific adviser, and I might be expected to be aware of his views.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If the Secretary of State has changed his views, I am delighted. He said the other day that N.A.T.O. existed to ensure that nuclear weapons would be used. The Commission analysed an extensive series of war games or manoeuvres, which Sir Solly, as chief scientist to my right hon. Friend, had seen from the inside. It reached the conclusion from this large volume of experience, which it could interpret in the light of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that:It can be firmly stated that, were nuclear weapons to be used they could lead to the devastation of the whole battle zone. Almost everything would be destroyed; forests would be razed to the ground; fires would be raging everywhere; no military operations could go on within the zones of devastation.If only 400 weapons of an average tactical size—from five to 50 kilotons—were used, the physical damage would be six times that caused by all the bombing in the Second World War; and it would be caused in a few hours or days, and not over six years. The Commission says that the resulting chaos "would be beyond imagination". It argues that the weapons used, if the holocaust once started, would number far more than 400. It seems certain that that is right, when we remember that N.A.T.O. has 7,000 weapons deployed in Europe and that the Soviet Union has at the very least, 1,000.
This led the Commission to the conclusion that:It is clear enough that the destruction and disruption that would result from so-called 'tactical' nuclear war would hardly differ from the effects of strategic war in the area concerned.284 That is the best military appreciation that the Secretary of State is likely to get.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend is moving from his position of a year ago. If I am misinterpreting him, I hope that he will explain to me in private, or perhaps tomorrow night. I hope that the House will grasp what he is saying now and what the Commission said in 1967, that if the tactical nuclear weapons are used the whole battle area will be destroyed. And if tactical nuclear war should happen, it is almost certain that nuclear attack on interdiction targets would follow, and that an attack on interdiction targets would lead to the general strategic nuclear exchange.
In the light of that, and what my right hon. Friend tells us he said this afternoon, it seems to me grotesque—he will forgive the word—to say that tactical nuclears are the best option for the German people. It seems grotesque to say that his discussions with the German Government about how they should be used are "a landmark in the military history of N.A.T.O." The Secretary of State asked in Munich what he called the unanswerable question:Why change a strategy which has worked and shows every sign of continuing to work very well?in other words, relying on the threat of nuclear escalation for another 20 years, and perhaps many more after that.
The stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world has risen from 10,000 megatons in 1959 to a million megatons in 1969; in ten years it has been multiplied 100 times. Dr. David Inglis said that 10,000 megatons, the stock in 1958, was "almost unimaginably destructive." So it was, for it was equivalent to half a million Hiroshimas. Now the stock is the equivalent of 50 million Hiroshimas. But, if I understand the Secretary of State, he is ready for that terrible process to go on. He says that if the prospect of nuclear war is disastrous enough there will be no war. Many people said exactly that before 1914, and again before 1939.
Can we really be certain that the nuclear stockpile will not be used? Have we forgotten what President Kennedy said about madness, accident and miscalculation? Have hon. Members read Robert 285 Kennedy's account of the Cuba missile crisis in 1962? He described how for 13 days the President's advisers were asked to make…recommendations which, if they were wrong and were accepted, could mean the destruction of the human race.He said:That kind of pressure does strange things to a human being…. Even brilliant, self-confident, mature, experienced men found the pressure too overwhelming.They virtually broke down.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
Before my right hon. Friend continues on the Cuba crisis, will he tell us what brought pressure to bear on Russia at that time? Was not it the possession of nuclear weapons?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think that it was the fact that neither Khrushchev nor President Kennedy wanted nuclear war, and both were determined to avoid it. President Kennedy resisted the advice of all his military advisers, who day after day urged him to take action that might have led to nuclear war.
After a few days of these discussions, the President ordered the B.52s into the air, "fully loaded with atomic weapons". As one aircraft finished its patrol and came in to land, "another immediately took its place in the air". I ask the House to consider what might have happened if a pilot with a nuclear bomb load had broken down, as the mature, experienced men in the Cabinet Room broke down. Madness, accident, and miscalculation are real risks. With millions of megatons of weapons in the world and scores of thousands of men trained to use them, with nuclear weapons distributed, I believe, to platoon level in peace time, and with the warheads built into the delivery vessels, the risks are perilously high.
Of course increasing conventional forces is not the answer. It would only give a new impetus to the arms race and increase the risk of nuclear war. There is only one way to eliminate that risk—multilateral world disarmament, including total nuclear disarmament, under international control. It is the policy to which the Labour Party has been committed for 50 years; it is the policy which Arthur Henderson and Robert Cecil brought to the verge of full success in 1932.
286 It is the policy upon which this Government was elected to power, and it is the policy which, in his Guildhall speech in November, 1964, the Prime Minister said could not be "shunted into a siding". It must remain, he said, "in the very forefront of international affairs". That policy makes nonsense of paragraph 1 of the White Paper.
I have admired the Secretary of State immensely since I first met him in 1945. I want to appeal to him to consider what I have said. I know that my right hon. Friend has to deal with the day-to-day and the year-to-year problems as he finds them; but if he is thinking within the framework of an arms race that goes on with unrestricted military research for another 20 years, then I say, with all the force at my command, that he is not defending Britain.
My right hon. Friend will start to do so when he gives his mind and his great intellectual and forensic gifts to the task of bringing the arms race to an end, of abolishing the weapons that now threaten to wipe our nation off the map. That is the only real defence policy, as Sir Solly's United Nations Commission proved once more. That is the Secretary of State's overwhelmingly important task, and, more than all his colleagues, he has the duty, and the power, to carry it through.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) has reminded the House of his services to the Labour movement over the last 30 years—whatever good that may have done the rest of the country, our interests abroad and stability everywhere in the world. I salute his views although I do not share them. What has always astonished me is that, as the Secretary of State reminded us, he was a senior Minister in the Labour Government for a number of years after the war when, among other things, Lord Attlee spent, I understand, £100 million on developing the atom bomb. If the right hon. Gentleman held these views then I should have thought that he might have found it better to have withdrawn from what the then Government were doing in what they thought was for the defence of the country.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker
As almost the first action upon forming a Government in 1945 Lord Attlee proposed to President Truman and Mr. Stalin that the United Nations should adopt a resolution for the total abolition of nuclear weapons. That remained the policy of that Government throughout.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I am delighted to hear that. I have a great regard for what Lord Attlee did, particularly in the world government movement, through which I tried to help at that time. He also realised that until there was some practical result it was not right to reduce the defence of this country in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has been suggesting.
There are three points which I want to raise with the Secretary of State. I listened with great interest to what he said on the use of tactical nuclear weapons. For the past three years I have had the privilege to be on the Defence Committee of W.E.U. under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), who has done an excellent job of work. I also served with the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown), who became a very considerable expert on technology and tactical weapons but who, to the regret of the committee, is no longer a member of it.
The information we got was unclassified, although from time to time we could read between the lines. There was a report, which I was fortunate enough to have the honour to present to the Assembly only last November, No. 440, on the state of European security. There were two paragraphs in that in which it was the unanimous wish of the Committee:That guidelines should be formulated by the Nuclear Planning Group concerning the ways in which nuclear weapons, including atomic demolition munitions, could be used in a tactical rôle in the event of aggression.The right hon. Gentleman answered some of these points in his speech this afternoon.
He said that, particularly after Czechoslovakia, it was realised that conventional forces were inadequate. There must be greater reliance not on tactical nuclear weapons but on the tactical use of nuclear weapons. As the right hon. Gentleman was implying, there is really no difference between the use of the weapons 288 tactically and strategically. The Secretary of State was charged by the North Atlantic Council, together with the German Minister of Defence, who was good enough to answer our debate in Paris last November, with the task of contingency planning. I have raised before in the House this matter, because as a result of what is happening in Central Europe, particularly since Czechoslovakia last August, we are waiting rather a long time for the Ministers' report. When the right hon. Gentleman comes to report I hope that some indication will be given not only to the Council but to this House about the sort of lines on which he is thinking.
§ Mr. Healey
Contingency plans do exist and have existed ever since tactical weapons were deployed in Europe for use in case of war. What Dr. Schroeder and I are charged with doing for the Nuclear Planning Group is the development of political principles for new guidelines which would help the military commanders to revise those plans so as to make them, as I would think, more rational. How much information I shall be able to give the House as this work proceeds will be governed partly by the natural demand of security, but I will do what I can.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I fully understand. I do not know what stage the discussions between the Government and Opposition have reached over the establishment of a Defence Committee of this House, but it would be useful that both sides should be able to meet and to discuss, without using classified information, in much greater detail than we can in these annual defence debates, the sort of points which the Secretary of State has mentioned. Perhaps when he is considering the replies that he and Herr Schroeder are to make, he will see whether he can inform not only the Defence Committee of W.E.U. but this House.
My second point has to do with our security in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Here I would call in aid Document No. 462 of W.E.U. These documents are all in the Library. They are some of the best documents produced on current defence and political affairs in Europe and abroad. They are not final reports but rather situation reports carrying on a certain theme which informs 289 members of all our Parliaments of what is going on.
I was interested when some time ago the Secretary of State announced that he was developing a European identity within N.A.T.O. I understand that President Nixon on his visit here—and I only know what I read in the newspapers—said that we in Europe have to co-operate more on what we want, and that America would support us, rather than that the United States should try to push some policies on us.
It is vitally important that we in Europe should get on with our own closer association in defence, and in other ways. The United States will then pay more attenion to its relations with the U.S.S.R. and matters such as non-proliferation and ballistic missile systems, defensive and offensive. If we in Europe want any say in the future we have to see what we as Europeans can organise on this side of the Atlantic. I want to give an example, which I have tried to put in Question and Answer to the Secretary of State. That is not a very satisfactory way of doing it, however. In 1965 when I first attended W.E.U. there was not very much support for acton by any State other than Britain in the Mediterranean. If the Secretary of State or his advisers will look at the documents, they will realise that there has been a very great advance in the last two or three years in the understanding in Western Europe of its responsibilities in the Mediterranean as one of the most important flanks of N.A.T.O. M. Franz Goedhart, a friend of many hon. Members, has done a valuable job in following this up with a series of reports.
Another important aspect is that these reports are virtually unanimous, representing some 90 per cent. of the electorate of Western Europe. I told Herr Schroeder in Paris last November that possibly some day some Minister will realise that he has in the Western European Union Assembly representatives of the electorate of Western Europe who are very often ahead of Governments in what they feel should be done about uniting for defence. The specific point which I put to the Secretary of State in this respect is whether we could not develop in the Mediterranean a Western European Union task force, with the addition of Greece and Turkey.
290 We say in paragraph 3 of Report No. 462 that there are other N.A.T.O. countries which should be helped to acquire modern patrol craft, both sea and air. Both Greece and Turkey are looking for further equipment. I do not know whether the Secretary of State when he comes to reply can tell us what advance has been made in supplying both air and sea equipment to Greece and Turkey so that they can combine with other countries of Western Europe in forming a task force in the Mediterranean, within N.A.T.O. There is the Sixth Fleet, which I understand is in some respects independent because of certain technical equipment which it has; I believe that, as the Secretary of State himself has said, the presence of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Indian Ocean is political. From our point of view the political value of a European task force in the Mediterranean could be very considerable.
The political value could take the form of naval visits to non-aligned and allied countries in Europe: this would give them the feeling that we Europeans are making a joint effort—one which, in the circumstances, will not introduce into their areas the nuclear capability which they believe is held both by the Sixth Fleet and by the Russian naval forces. I believe, therefore, that the political aspect of visits by such a European task force would be of very considerable political value in the immediate period ahead. Probably, increased support in Europe for action in the Eastern Mediterranean has been because of the need to keep a balance in Arab-Israeli relations until, as we all pray, Herr Jarring, by his Mission, produces some relaxation there. But I believe that in the immediate future that is one area in which we in Europe can show our North American allies that we can put forward constructive ideas in which we in Britain can take a lead.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) has pointed out that Malta is to be used more in the future. Possibly, again, the Secretary of State when he comes to reply will tell us what is the present position over the defence treaty with Malta and how far we have both recognised each other's rights under this. I believe we should go further and try 291 to bring Malta into the comity of Western Europe or N.A.T.O. in certain technical ways which I need not now go into.
My third and last point is on east of Suez. I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition should have said that in Canberra and that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) should today have repeated—and here I quote what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—thatwe as a party, after consultation with our Commonwealth partners and allies, shall want to maintain a presence in the area east of Suez.I have no fear of being called reactionary, imperialist or any of those things. Any of us who has worked on this in the past years and listened to individuals like our Malaysian friends will realise that it is a question not of imperialism but of joint defence of their interests and ours.
I for one do not believe that we can run out of all our responsibilities and obligations throughout the world. I believe we have not just economic but moral responsibilities to many of the countries which look towards us. I regard this as being not a policeman, but sensible, as honouring our treaties—and there are a number in that area. There is also the unwritten association with Commonwealth countries such as this country honoured in India in 1962. Nor do I believe that it will, or need, cost a great deal of money—certainly nothing like the Secretary of State has implied in his various speeches. I believe it can be done fairly reasonably and that on much the same basis as the Russians maintain a presence in the Mediterranean, we can do the same in the Gulf and in other parts of the Indian Ocean. It means, of course, that we must have bases somewhere where we can maintain our ships. I am not thinking here of large land forces. Indeed, it is possible for there to be no land forces at all. Clearly, we must have sea and air forces to support our friends and allies in the area east of Suez.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman always makes well-informed speeches, but can he put no figure to the cost of his proposal? I should have thought a 292 fairly modest estimate would be £200 million.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I should have thought a quarter or less—but never having been a Defence Minister I am not in a position to make even a guess. Certainly it is nothing like the cost of the forces, before being run down, after the successful confrontation in Malaysia, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman in particular will reckon to have been well worth while.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman started off in that way. Has he made no assessment of the cost? He speaks of bases being required and sea and air equipment being necessary. This will cost a lot of money, and we should have some idea how much.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
As a former Minister of Defence, the right hon. Gentleman will know that these things cannot be done without some money, but I believe the sea and air commitment would be nothing like the figure which the Secretary of State has been trying to pin on this party in circumstances when we cannot estimate what it might cost.
That brings me to my final point. We have to be prepared to make some sacrifice for freedom. I was one of those brought up in the 1930s under disarmament and the collective security of the sheep against the wolf; and, however much one may want to go on spending more and more money on social development here in this country, I believe—and I believe the right hon. Gentleman also believes with others—that we must make some sacrifice for freedom not just for ourselves but for our friends in Europe, the Mediterranean and east of Suez.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)
I hope the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow him directly, because I wish to start by drawing attention to an aspect of military life which has not been referred to in this debate but which I have referred to on similar previous occasions, namely, that group of military activities going by the 293 technical name of "Opmacc"—operation military aid to the civil community. I particularly want to make this contribution because, as the result of heavy flooding in my constituency on 14th and 15th September last, when torrential rain fell in the London area, I had the misfortune to have experience of an "Opmacc" situation.
As a result of the heavy rain on the night of the 14th and on 15th September last water was six feet deep in the London Borough of Lewisham by the morning of the 15th; and by mid-day of the 17th September we had numbers of military and R.A.F. units assisting the local authority in its rescue and welfare work, following that particular cataclysm. The London Borough of Lewisham and its residents and myself are very grateful for the prompt and cheerful assistance which the members of the Armed Services extended to my constituents and the hard work which they did. Their efforts were very much appreciated.
I attended the Deptford Town Hall, which is one of the buildings still owned by the London Borough of Lewisham, on the morning of the 16th and had a word with the welfare committee, which was looking after the relief operations. It was then borne in on me that the London Borough of Lewisham, although it wished to call in the military, had very little idea about how to go about it. One of our dynamic young clergymen vouchsafed the information that he had a friend at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. He was able to contact his friend, who promised him that there were a couple of boats at Chatham which could be brought to Lewisham if they were needed for relief purposes.
There is also no doubt that the gap between the fall of the rain on the nights of 14th and 15th September and the arrival of the military units at midday on the 17th was a little longer than I would have wished.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Might the gap have been a little narrower if the civil defence organisation had still existed?
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some units mobilised themselves and went out without any instructions from headquarters?
§ Mr. Moyle
That is very encouraging But that situation did not appertain in Lewisham. There was a gap which could have been closed and this resulted from lack of knowledge of the machinery by which the military might be called to the assistance of the civilian population.
Although my borough council is controlled by my political opponents, I am not unduly partisan and I decided to assume for the purposes of the exercise that possibly on this rare occasion Lewisham was correct and that the fault lay elsewhere.
I therefore wrote to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister of Housing and Local Government and made a number of suggestions about how I thought that "Opmacc" might be improved and I asked who was responsible for calling up the Armed Forces in these situations and how it was to be done. I had a fairly prompt reply from the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who was eager to collect information from local authorities about their experience in the flood. But clearly his reply implied that he thought that calling out the troops was the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
In due course, I received a reply from the Secretary of State's Department. It answered a number of points which I had made, but finished by clearly indicating that the responsibility for calling out troops in an emergency probably lay with the Home Secretary. At this juncture, I came to the conclusion that this was probably a matter for the Prime Minister to look into. Therefore, on 28th November last, I tabled a Question to the Prime Minister, which unfortunately was not reached during Question Time, and asked him which Minister was responsible for ensuring that the Armed Forces reacted to the pleas of local authorities on these occasions. The written reply was:Ministerial authority is not required. Units of the Armed Services have been instructed to provide assistance immediately on request by local and other authorities when there 295 is danger to life or for any other urgent reason."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1968; Vol. 774, c. 181.]I was, therefore, back with the poor old London Borough of Lewisham, which clearly did not know what to do.
I was girding my loins for further battle when I was happy to receive in January this year this blue-covered military pamphlet entitled "Military Aid to the Civil Community", which answers all the questions brought to my mind as a result of the flooding disaster in Lewisham. It is clear from this pamphlet that military aid to the civil community is to fall into three groups. The first is aid in times of disaster; the second is routine assistance or bridge-building and civil engineering work of that sort; and, thirdly, full-time attachment of Service personnel to welfare and other sorts of organisations.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are discussing the White Paper, not the pamphlet. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this matter in too much detail.
§ Mr. Moyle
I think that there is reference in the White Paper to military aid to the civil community. I expect that the second and third categories will go off without difficulty, but there may be some marginal friction from time to time. This always occurs between organisations when they try to work together, but generally those two sides of the operation will go smoothly and will redound to the advantage of local authorities and the image of the Armed Forces.
The first category, assistance in times of emergency, will be a much more tricky business altogether. The key point in these operations is not that help arrives when a disaster overtakes an area, but the amount of time which elapses between the disaster and the arrival of the Armed Forces. With every hour which elapses from the disaster to the arrival of the Armed Forces, the question "Where are they?" is asked with growing insistence. The key to the operation by the Armed Forces will be speed of reaction.
I do not think that, given that the Armed Forces will be concentrated in and around this country to a much greater extent in the years to come, they could very well have avoided undertaking this commitment. For them not to do so would have led to a deterioration in their 296 image which would not have boded well for them. On the other hand, if they expect the public to rise up in a euphoria of gratitude as a result of their undertaking this commitment, they may be in for a sad and sorry surprise.
I hope that the eminent military gentlemen whose appointments and telephone numbers are listed in the pamphlet will undertake a considerable amount of forethought and pre-planning as a result of the responsibilities which they have been given. They should first try to work out what military units would be available in a few hours within their areas of responsibility if a disaster overtook them, how rapidly they could deploy them, and what aid they could provide to local authorities. This covers the Navy and the R.A.F., because the Army has been given the responsibility of coordinating all three Services in this type of operation. This will have to be continuing work of the staff officers concerned.
Secondly, they should organise conferences with their local authorities in order to educate local authority officers about the assistance they can give and the time gap within which they can give it. In my youth in the Army there was an exercise called a "T.E.W.T.", or "Tactical Exercise without Troops". A few such "T.E.W.T.s" might be a good idea in connection with "Opmacc" so that teams of Service officers and local authorities could get together in an exercise to work out solutions involving typical military aid to the civil community and how soon the Services could provide assistance.
Once the public get used to the idea of the Services arriving on the scene at the time of disaster, three questions will be asked. The first will be, "We pay them, don't we?" The second will be "It is one of their jobs, isn't it?" The third will be, "Where are they, then?" These questions will be perfectly logical from the point of view of the average member of the public faced with disaster. My fear is that in undertaking these operations the Armed Forces may end up as a sort of public football, rather like the poor old Southern Region in my part of the country. The Minister of State will have a very clear idea of what I mean by that comment.
297 I should like to turn to the broader aspects of the White Paper and congratulate my right hon. Friend on the clarity and lucidity of the exposition which he contains in it and the wealth of information and detail which he has given us. This follows the tradition which he has adopted in past White Papers and I am glad to see it going forward. It begins with a clear statement of the orientation of our defence policy towards Europe. In a colourful phrase at a recent Press conference, my right hon. Friend described the reason for this orientation as saying that one could withdraw British forces from east of Suez but could not tow the British Isles away from Europe. That is a good way of putting it in a nutshell. But, in past centuries, a number of our statesmen and military leaders were men of remarkable incompetence, yet this fact, upon which he bases his defence policy, had probably been discovered by all of them.
In those past centuries, our interest in the defence of Western Europe was not one for ourselves alone, but was shared by a great number of our allies. We have always found someone prepared to undertake the burden of defence in Western Europe, who probably had to undertake it even to a greater extent than we did. We developed a sort of division of labour, whereby these people looked after the defence of Western Europe, while we deployed a global mobility to the great advantage of any alliance of which we were members and also to the great advantage, in particular, of the British people.
In carrying out this approach, we have had some pretty ropey allies. We have relied on outnumbered Dutch burghers, unsympathetic Prussian militarists, effete Austrian imperialists, the military helots of the Czar, fugitive French aristocrats, disorganised Spanish guerrillas and many others. What is striking in our present defence posture is that we now have an ally who is capable of defending Western Europe militarily from any outside threat and whose philosophy of government is not inimical to our own—namely, the United States of America—and, at this juncture in our history, we have decided to concentrate our major defence effort on Western Europe.
298 The policy of my right hon. Friend is clear. He wants to ensure that the Americans will take an interest in the defence of Western Europe by concentrating our forces on Western Europe and by indicating thereby to the Americans that they are helping those who help themselves. He wants to maintain the strength of N.A.T.O. in that way, as I do, because he believes that a strong N.A.T.O. is a way of encouraging the United States to show an interest in the defence of Western Europe.
But he is working against a background of American public opinion, which wants to get out of Western Europe. There is no doubt about this. They say—I found this a general reaction when I was over there in the autumn—"If these European nations are rich enough to read us the Riot Act on our balance of payments, they are rich enough to look after their own defence, and we expect them to do so". I agree with my right hon. Friend to this extent, that, if we do not maintain a strong defence of Western Europe, the Americans will become disillusioned with Western Europe sooner rather than later, and will start pulling their troops out. We wish to avoid this.
The point which we must remember also is this—supposing that we succeeded, not only in our own contribution but in encouraging contributions from our allies, in building up a viable European contribution to the defence of Western Europe, what will be the position then? There is a very grave risk that the Americans will say, "Good boys; now you can look after yourselves and we can all go home". We may still be under the nuclear umbrella of the Americans, but no European would believe that the Americans would use nuclear weapons to defend Western Europe if they did not see American troops in direct danger from the Soviet Union from the day that war broke out.
To that extent, therefore, we must do all that we can to encourage the American troops to stay in Western Europe. Yet our defence policy seems to me to be in grave danger of moving down this blind alley, that, whether we increase our forces to Western Europe or decrease them, the Americans are likely to want to go home, and another reading of the balance of payments Riot Act by the 299 Western European bankers to the United States could well tip the balance, no matter what individual American leaders may say.
This is not a fear which I alone have. I came across a very interesting address by Professor Hans Speier at Munich not long ago. Referring to the meeting of the N.A.T.O. Ministers on 14th November, held after the Czechoslovakian invasion, he said:… Washington made it clear that it expected the European allies to reverse budget-cutting trends with regard to defence. As Ambassador Harlan Cleveland has pointed out, 'the new pledges of men, material and money, announced at the November 14 Ministerial meeting of N.A.T.O. were a big step in this direction. And, for the first time in Alliance history, the lion's share—80 to 90 per cent. of the new effort—was contributed by the Europeans'.My right hon. Friend's policy is working.
But here we come to the other point. Professor Speier continued:… for a while at least the divisive issues troubling the alliance seemed to have receded. The question is, for how long? On January 18"—after these massive new commitments by the Europeans, Mr. Clark Clifford,in commenting on the defense budget, said that the adverse balance of payments was forcing planners in the Pentagon to contemplate cut-backs of American expenditures in Western Europe and in Japan and Okinawa.This is the danger that I see for the future.
§ Mr. Healey
I have followed everything that my hon. Friend has said so far. He suggested that these dangers were created by our defence policy. The fact is that these are dangers to which our defence policy is well adapted, which ever way the thing goes. I am sure that he would agree that, if we can encourage a greater American commitment for longer, so much the better. If we fail, the fact that we have more ourselves will guarantee our security.
§ Mr. Moyle
My right hon. Friend has to some extent anticipated me. I would say to my hon. Friends—I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has left the Chamber—that they are calling in this context for a reduction in our military expenditure of £650 million in one year. In the present context, what they are asking 300 for is an eventual cut in the complex of forces, air, land and sea, and logistic support which we refer to by the shorthand name of the British Army of the Rhine.
They will realise that I am no particular friend of B.A.O.R., as I have said many times in previous defence debates, but, if they are calling for cuts of that magnitude, although some will come from the automatic concentration of our defence forces on Europe, some will have to come from the British Army of the Rhine. The point which they should remember is that if we cut back on B.A.O.R. this will almost inevitably lead to a cut-back by the Americans in Europe. If this happens we shall eventually be handing over the balance of military power in West Central Europe to the German army, and it may be a German army which is nuclear-armed by that time. That is the danger which we must face.
Therefore, much as I regret our present situation, there is no need for the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) to make pleas to my right hon. Friend to avoid further cuts in the arms budget. I believe that the law of this situation is preventing us from making further cuts, because I am sure that my hon. Friends will not want to see the German army the sole or major military factor in Central Europe. I certainly do not and, what is more important, the Russians will not. So we are moving down to a situation in which our main military expenditure is stuck on the north European plane, which is historically the land of the bloody and casualty-rich confrontation. It is the land of the annual wrangle over support costs. It is the land of the fiction that what the Germans buy from us they buy because they want to support the Rhine Army, whereas I strongly suspect they would buy that sort of equipment anyway. It is the land where not even the army has sufficient room to train. Here we are, stuck on this hook.
I can see a possible solution to our problems; that we would have to reach agreement with our Allies that the Americans would stay in Europe in their present strength, that our allies would allow us to have a say in the formulation of policy in Europe, at the same time as allowing us to reduce substantially our 301 commitment of forces to Europe, provided that we undertook to find a part of the world where the alliance's interests were important, where there were no European or American troops already and where we would be welcome and possibly they would not be. It may be that many of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite can think of such an area, and that would be the East of Suez area from which we have withdrawn.
It is for this reason that I welcome the fact that we still have general capability. I am quite aware that the time for an agreement of that sort is not at present propitious. The Americans want to get out of Asia in the same way as they want to get out of Europe, but I do not believe that the world's strongest military and economic power will be able to keep clear of a power vacuum for more than a short period of time. I do not want to elaborate on this, but my view is that they will at some stage be drawn back into the Asiatic area unless there is someone there to help them bear the burden. I think that grounds exist for a possible agreement in the future, and for this reason I welcome the general capability, which seems to have been somewhat upgraded since the last White Paper.
We have in the White Paper a description of the general capability which goes a little further than last year's White Paper. Paragraph 26 says:… we must ensure that we still have forces that can operate effectively outside Europe as required …and to make whatever contributions we judge to be necessary and practicable towards keeping the peace in other parts of the world.Last year we got the impression that the general capability existed only in so far as the Armed Forces would be capable of moving outside Europe to some extent.
These forces consist of a brigade group, a substantial number of ships, several squadrons of combat aircraft of all types and an amphibious force. According to the White Paper the jungle training facilities in South East Asia are to be retained. We also see from the newspapers of the last day or two that Australia and New Zealand will be keeping troops in Malaysia.
We must hang on to this skeleton arrangement in the hope that one day we may be able to clothe it with the flesh 302 of an agreement which will get us off the military hook on which we are hanging at present by putting all our eggs in the Western European basket. In maintaining this skeleton we run the risk that if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite form a Government they will use that skeleton to make sure that we return to our pre-1968 position of being strong in Europe and strong in South-East Asia, and they will tie a cannon ball round the ankle of the British people in the commercial race in which they are engaged with Germany, Japan and other countries. But we have to take that risk.
I shall support my right hon. Friend in the Division Lobby tomorrow night, because he has performed one great function and that is, after years of an opposite trend, he has got British defence expenditure moving towards a general level which is compatible with our competitive position with our European colleagues and allies in the commercial world. It is a very great achievement to reverse the upward and continuing trend which he inherited from the party opposite. He should be given full credit for this, and therefore I shall be prepared to support him.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that many hon. Gentlemen wish to speak. Reasonably brief speeches will help.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle). I am to a certain extent in agreement with him, although not with the conclusions at which he finally arrived.
I was particularly interested by what the hon. Member said about the American attitude towards the defence of Europe. He showed us as being in danger of disaster whatever we did. He said that there was a danger, if the European allies did too much to help themselves, that the Americans would decide that they could safely leave us to carry on on our own; equally, if we did not do enough, the Americans would give us up and themselves pull out. The second danger is by far the greater one, the danger that the American Government may be tempted to yield to the popular pressure 303 which exists and say, "If the Europeans are not going to help themselves, we are not going to help them either."
That being the danger, I am not persuaded that the Government's defence policy as set out in the White Paper and in the utterances of the Secretary of State is calculated to convince our American allies that we and our other friends in Europe mean business and are not simply sheltering under the American nuclear umbrella. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a T.E.W.T. I sometimes feel that the Government are trying to carry the concept of the T.E.W.T. to its logical conclusion by having a defence policy without troops.
This year the Secretary of State has taken the unusual step of prefacing his White Paper by two public pronouncements, both made in Germany and both a good deal more interesting than the White Paper, as indeed was his speech today. The right hon. Gentleman is always self-confident but, as I hope to show, he is never more so than when he is contradicting himself, and I think probably never with better reason.
It is to the running commentary by the Secretary of State on his White Paper that I want to address myself, in particular to what he said in the House and outside it about what used to be called the nuclear threshold. It now seems to have fallen into oblivion.
We all know that the Secretary of State's Munich lecture at the beginning of February caused quite a stir. It caused the Russians to denounce the right hon. Gentleman as a threat to peace. It caused the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) to call him either a hawk or a whore; I could not quite work out which it was, but I do not think either term of abuse was justified. Finally, it caused Lord Wigg to give vent to a notable turnover article in The Times.
The reason why it caused such a stir was that the Secretary of State in his lecture made what many people thought were some very wild and alarming statements. What worries me is that on closer inspection the most alarming of all the statements seems all too likely to be true—namely, that nuclear escalation would be the only alternative to surrender in case of a major Soviet attack. He 304 went on to say that conventional defence would not be possible in Europe for more than a few days. That in itself is disturbing enough. What disturbs me even more is the bland air of satisfaction with which he trots it out, without any suggestion that anything more need be done about it; and I do not think that we have got much further forward having listened to him this afternoon, either.
All this gives me what the French call a sense of the déjà vu, the already seen. This is where I came in or, rather, where I went out. It was on the issue of adequate conventional weapons versus streamlined nuclear forces that some of us parted company with Mr. Macmillan way back in January, 1957. After all these discussions on the theme in the intervening time, after all that has been said on both sides of the House and on both sides of the Atlantic, and after all that the Secretary of State and his right hon. Friends have said, especially in their 1964 Election Manifesto, it is rather disheartening to find the right hon. Gentleman coming up with ideas which correspond so closely to those set forth in the famous Defence White Paper of 1957, about which he himself was so contemptuous, right to the old doctrine of streamlined nuclear forces and a bigger bang for a buck, the main difference being that, whereas in 1957 we still had substantial conventional forces, we now have greatly reduced ones.
In 1965, commenting on that year's Defence White Paper, which was the right hon. Gentleman's first one, The Times wrote of the Government's "imperceptible slide into nuclear strategy". Since then it has become a regular Gadarene rush, as our conventional strength becomes less and less impressive and we have to depend more and more on nuclear weapons or nothing at all.
But the Secretary of State seems blissfully oblivious to all the warnings, even to those that he used to issue himself. It is as though he grasped none of the horrifying implications of what he is now saying, as though he were perfectly satisfied with the prospect of suicide or surrender. Because, as Lord Wigg has pointed out so forcefully, that is what his policy amounts to. As everyone with a grain of sense has been saying for years, it is not realistic to try to distinguish 305 between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, and I am glad that the Secretary of State went some way at any rate to recognising that today.
To imagine that it is possible to use one without the other in a sort of part-conventional part-nuclear war neatly regulated by Queensberry rules is ridiculous. Who will stand by and watch his troops and equipment methodically wiped out and himself defeated by so-called tactical nuclear weapons when he has up his sleeve the means of putting paid to the whole shooting match, if that is the right expression? Anyhow, what constitutes a legitimate target for a tactical nuclear weapon? Would it be Wellington Barracks, or Westminster Bridge? If so, one or two other things might go too.
The first tactical nuclear weapon let off by either side is bound to be followed within hours, if not minutes, by an exchange of strategic nuclear weapons, and that, to all intents and purposes, will be the end of us.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The House always listens to the hon. Gentleman with care. Using the Head/Wigg argument, to what extent would the hon. Gentleman increase the conventional forces? Using that argument, up to what level is it necessary to bring conventional forces?
§ Sir F. Maclean
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will hear what I have to say on that a little later in my speech.
I was talking of the rapidity with which we should pass from tactical nuclear warfare to strategic nuclear warfare, and I am sure that I do not need to recall to hon. Members that it is from that that we get the term "escalation". Nowadays, it is used indiscriminately with reference to everything from Welsh Nationalism to mini-skirts, but its original application was to the process by which when one Power let off a tactical "nuke", its adversary retaliated with a strategic one. That is why, if we feel able to discount, as I think we can up to a point, the intervention of a Dr. Strange-love, nuclear weapons are not very likely to be used. That in turn is why the right hon. Gentleman's famous dictum which I quoted just now emerges not so much as the stern warning which it seemed to be at first sight, but rather as an invitation to our adversaries to go ahead and do as they like, to pursue a 306 policy of salami tactics when and where they choose, on the assumption, whether justified or not, that when it comes to the point no one will face obliteration for a corner of someone else's territory.
As we see from what is happening round Berlin now and, for that matter, on the Soviet-Chinese frontier, these salami tactics and limited probes and excursions are far more likely than the major Soviet attack about which the right hon. Gentleman keeps talking. What is probable is a periodic nibbling away of territory and of freedom until, one day, we are faced with the prospect of suicide or surrender. It is for that reason that the right hon. Gentleman's declaration like that other Munich declaration of 30 years ago, is so terribly dangerous. It leaves too much room for misunderstanding, too much scope for doubt and uncertainty, and too many opportunities for a terrifying game of what might be called Russian roulette
Surely, the doctrine of a bigger bang for a buck as the be-all and end-all of defence policy was discarded years ago. Surely we no longer believe in the words of the 1958 White Paper that we are poised between total war and total peace. We know better than that by now. We have all come to accept the late President Kennedy's view that we must have what he once called a wider choice than humiliation or all-out nuclear action. That is the reason why there has been so much talk over the years about the need for a higher nuclear threshold, for a flexible response, and the need to give time for hot-line diplomacy. Surely that was not all verbiage and empty semantics
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) mentioned Cuba. Was it not clearly demonstrated at the time of Cuba that at a moment of crisis it is the Power with superior conventional forces on the spot that has the upper hand and that can, if it plays its cards right, impose the solution which it desires? In that case, it so happens that the solution desired was a peaceful one. But not only does the Secretary of State announce now that there is no nuclear threshold at all, that it has, as it were, gone through the floor. He says it with every sign of satisfaction and no hint of a suggestion that anything needs to be done about sit.
307 Then, in the same breath, the Secretary of State announces another blinding truth, that he and his allies—but mostly his allies—can blow the Soviet Mediterranean fleet out of the water "in minutes". Of course they can. But they will not do it, because the situation will not arise. I should be disturbed if the Russians withdrew their fleet from its exposed position in the Mediterranean. That would mean that they really meant business. The Soviet fleet, as the Secretary of State said, is in the Mediterranean not for military but for political purposes. It is engaging in large-scale gunboat diplomacy. It is its presence, the fact that it is there, that counts.
To take one example, a landing of the kind that the Americans carried out so successfully in the Lebanon ten years ago would not be nearly such an easy proposition today.
What it comes to is that a conventional deterrent is very nearly as important as a nuclear deterrent, and a conventional deterrent is just what the Secretary of State has told us we do not have.
If we are to do this, I can only imagine, after all that he and his right hon. Friends have been saying over the years, that his judgment must have been warped by his realisation—he has been at it a long time—of the appalling inadequacy of our conventional defences, of the terrifyingly poor recruiting figures in all three Services, of the lack of adequate reserves or of adequate home defence, of the irreparable harm done by successive defence cuts, and by the realisation, perhaps, that some of our European allies are not in very much better shape. I can only imagine that all these considerations, taken together, have driven him to fall back on the counsel of despair summed up in the phrase "Suicide or surrender".
§ Sir F. Maclean
If the hon. Member has not made out what a conventional deterrent is, he should not come to the debate.
§ Sir F. Maclean
Frankly, I am not making a party political speech, but I believe that if the present recruiting trends continue, someone before long will have to take a tough decision. We shall have either to give up trying altogether or to reintroduce some form of conscription. Some of the measures taken by the Government recently concerning reserves might be interpreted as pointers in that direction. What is more, our allies will have to take equally difficult decisions of one kind or another.
The Government—and I am the first to admit that there is a certain logic in what they have done—have followed the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and drastically reduced our commitments. But still we do not have enough men to fulfil the commitments that remain. That is the disturbing thing. Everywhere, despite the disbandments and the amalgamations, units are under strength and overstretched. And we all know how bad that is for morale and for recruiting. We are in a vicious circle. Our reserves are totally inadequate, our home defences are non-existent. That—and the corresponding shortcomings and shortages of our allies—has been made abundantly clear by the Secretary of State, and it is likely to become clearer still as time goes on.
The Secretary of State may be unduly pessimistic. He may be over estimating the strength of the Warsaw Pact Powers. Personally, I doubt it. But in any case, I beg him, before it is too late, to have another think and to consult with our allies to see whether it would be possible for us and for them, by one means or another, to do better. We must remember that what is at stake is peace or war. We are spending proportionately half as much as the Warsaw Pact Powers on our defences, and as a result we are twice as weak. We must see whether we really cannot increase, at any rate to some extent, our respective conventional contributions to N.A.T.O. I am all for getting our allies to come up to our level rather than, as one hon. Member suggested, our coming down to theirs. We must try to raise the nuclear threshold to hold in check the Soviet tendency to salami tactics. I am not just talking about this country; I am talking about the alliance as a whole. We must try to 309 win time—and this is the most important thing—in an emergency for hot-line diplomacy—for "jaw-jaw", as Sir Winston Churchill called it, rather than "war-war"—and in this way perhaps lessen the likelihood of a nuclear holocaust.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I agree wholeheartedly with almost every word of the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean). He said, in effect, that we needed more men and that eventually we may need more money and that this was probably the best insurance policy this country could have in face of the danger of nuclear war. I hope to develop each of these points in some detail in the brief period I venture to detain the House.
Last year's debate took place very much in the aftermath of the trauma of the British withdrawal from east of Suez. This year's debate takes place in a different situation: much more on an assessment of the new objectives of this country and an assessment on how these objectives are being carried out. I will say a few words in turn about the various aspects of the United Kingdom's defence arrangements, which go wider than the defence policy itself.
On home defence, we have two central objectives. The first priority of the Government of any country in the world—it need not necessarily be the overriding priority, but it is the first—is the maintenance of internal security, which is the maintenance of the Government. Secondly, there must be defence of the home base. This is what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) speaks about so often, and which has been too readily adopted on the benches on this side of the House.
First, internal security. What have we got? It is true, as the Secretary of State said, that while our Forces in this country are under N.A.T.O. command they can, in certain circumstances, under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation arrangements be used for internal purposes. But if they were not available in every crisis of emergency, we would be in a very vulnerable position. All we would have would be the internal police force, unarmed on the whole. We could find ourselves, in any kind of overall 310 European emergency, in a very serious internal situation. The point is that the defending forces have very little opportunity for any regular exercises of their defence, whereas subversion forces undertake their exercises virtually every weekend in this country.
Secondly, the military defence of the United Kingdom. I do not think that anyone would venture to say that the United Kingdom could be defended alone within these islands—except perhaps the rather exaggerated argument of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. But I do not think that even he sees it purely in terms of the United Kingdom. He is prepared to go a good deal wider into Europe. But is Europe sufficient? Is it not necessary for us to look still wider? I will come back to that point later.
What about the European arrangements? The Secretary of State spoke this afternoon about the objectives of N.A.T.O. This is common ground between hon. Members, but, as the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire said, the nuclear threshold is non-existent. The reason for that is that the European countries are not spending enough money, and are not providing enough effort, to maintain a high enough threshold. It is a challenge which faces not only this country, but every European country. To some extent they are more culpable than we are, but there is still, nevertheless, a problem, and there is no way of getting round it.
What about possible potential threats in Europe? They may be coming from wider areas than Europe itself, but I was astonished earlier today to hear the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) speaking about possible mutual security arrangements, and diminution of forces, and all this in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Some people never seem to realise the kind of climate in which we are living. There is no substitute for a straight, frank look in the mirror at the situation as it is today. I wish it were different. We all wish it were different, but that invasion of Czechoslovakia was a grim event in European history.
To depart for a moment or two from the argument of a non-nuclear threshold, perhaps I might introduce another 311 thought. I wonder how many hon. Members would be so certain that the Russians would have invaded Czechoslovakia if the Czechs had had a nuclear deterrent of some kind. It is questionable whether they would have. The credibility of a deterrent is largely a matter of judgment, but I think that it would have caused gentlemen in the Kremlin to have pondered.
I come back to the general argument of a non-nuclear threshold, because this is really what the central argument today is about. In Europe it is not there, and it is not going to be there under the present set of policies that are being pursued. We therefore have to have more men. Unless we can attract more men, we shall have to conscript more men. Whether they are on a selective basis or not, there is no alternative to this, and of the N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact countries, how few are able to dispense with some form of national service? How few are able to dispense with national service altogether? The answer is, very few indeed, and surely this lesson has relevance to the kind of argument that we have to have today?
When one looks wider than Europe, one has to appreciate that the defence of our country and of our national interest is not necessarily geared entirely to Europe, because lines of communications for the supplies which make life possible in these islands are extremely long. The Secretary of State, in his famous Munich speech—and I must say that very little good ever comes out of Munich these days—spoke about sinking the Russian fleet in a matter of a few minutes. It is not the fleet on the surface that counts. It is the fleet below the water that matters, and we face the most formidable under-water fleet ever known in the history of the world.
When we recognise that the Germans, at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, which they nearly won, had a maximum of 27 submarines at sea at any given time, and when we realise that the Russians have more than 380 submarines, of which 55 are nuclear-powered and have been undertaking exercises in almost every sea in the world, and have a worldwide capability, we can appreciate the extent of the potential threat.
312 It is not necessary for the Russians to declare war direct on the British Isles, or on any European country. It is not necessary to move one soldier across a single frontier. The Russians can bring the whole of the means of life in these Islands to a halt in a matter of a few weeks without doing any of those things, simply by the use of this new flexibility of sea-power which they have suddenly discovered. The discovery of sea power by the Soviet Union is an event of profound importance in the history of the world. It is shifting balances very considerably.
There is another aspect of this, which was referred to in an admirable speech by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle), and later by the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire, namely, the changed mood in the United States of America. We are in a vulnerable position whichever way we go. If we do not do enough, they may say, "We have had enough of the Europeans" and pack up and go home. If we do too much, they may say, "They can look after themselves. Why should not we go home?" These possibilities are there, but the central problem is the internal situation in the United States. The growth of a new modern form of isolationism stems to some extent from the isolated position in which the United States found itself in the Vietnam war. We would be unwise not to look five or ten years ahead and not think that there will be a substantial shift in internal thinking in the United States. It is not a question of Governments. The Government are very often in advance of public opinion. It is that solid American middle-Western thinking which is beginning to reassert itself, and this is the problem.
We have on the one hand the growth of Soviet influence as the development of sea power proceeds. We have on the other a pulling back of American effort in different parts of the world. It is starting in Vietnam, but it is having an effect, and it will have an increasing effect in the next few years in other parts of the world, and simultaneous to this comes the British withdrawal from the Middle East and Singapore. This is what makes our actions so dangerous.
The Middle Eastern situation could explode at any moment. Somebody paid tribute to the way in which we had useful 313 ideas to contribute in the Middle East to preserve peace, but I wonder, after our record over the last few years. The Gulf area is of vital interest to us. We have a huge investment of about £2,000 million, revenues of about £500 million a year, and returns to the British Treasury of about £250 million a year. If these were all suddenly stopped, and they may still wither quite rapidly in the mid-1970s as British influence is withdrawn, we may find ourselves in a situation in which the standard of life in this country will have been prejudiced by a lack of courage, and by the defence decisions taken in the lifetime of this Parliament.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North spoke about the need to maintain some sort of embryonic foothold in South-East Asia. I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that many countries, Japan in particular, which spends 0.9 per cent. of its g.n.p. on arms. Germany, and many others which are not well armed, are increasing their influence by trading in those areas?
§ Mr. Donnelly
That is an old argu ment, and it was answered very effectively by that sound thinker Sir Robert Thompson who, in a broadcast about a year ago, said that where Japanese or German businessmen see a British tommy walking down the street of an Asian city, on the basis of a "Wotcher, cock?" relationship with the locals, they know that it is safe to invest £1 million in that area.
These areas are invaluable to us economically. A sum of £500 million a year on our balance of payments is not to be sneezed at. Investment worth £2,000 million is not to be sneezed at. Investment of £600 million in Malaysia is not to be forgotten, but it would not be there now had it not been for the British forces being present at the time of confrontation with Indonesia. This is the central point. These things exist only if people have the will to maintain them. The problem is a lack of will, and this is really what I come back to in the central theme of my speech.
The problem is a lack of will in our defence arrangements. What the hon. 314 Member for Bute and North Ayrshire said is right. The charge against the Government is that it promised adequate arrangements and the maintenance of forces east of Suez, and it then broke its promise. It made new promises about dates. It re-broke those promises. It promised that it would have an adequate naval replacement programme. It has broken that promise. It undertook a commitment on the TSR2. It broke up that aircraft wantonly at a cost of hundreds of millions of £s and undertook to buy American planes. It cancelled these and had to pay compensation for them.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? As I understand it, it is customary to alternate speakers between the two sides of the House. As the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) does not now accept the Government Whip, is he now to be followed by an hon. Member on the Government side?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. Gentleman must leave it to the Chair to ensure that a proper, balance is kept in debate.
§ Mr. Donnelly
It does no harm to remind the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) of promises he entered into and which he has broken. This speech of mine might well have been made from the Opposition benches when the present Government were in opposition. What about the Prime Minister's commitment to east of Suez? He laid his hand on his heart and promised us.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth
It would be illuminating to read the election address of the hon. Member for Pembroke.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I have always been in favour of maintaining forces east of Suez. My constituency has suffered grievously from these cuts east of Suez. We have 11 per cent. unemployment and it will go up to about 15 per cent. as a result of the cuts. But I am not basing my argument purely on a constituency level. I am basing it on the case that the cuts are wrong in the national interest, and that is all that really matters. These decisions are very serious indeed and will have a long-term effect on life in this country.
315 I urge hon. Members on this side, having themselves raised the matter, to study the Political Quarterly article by Mr. Donald Watt, of the London School of Economics, on the decision to withdraw from the Gulf. The article is dated July, 1968, and says:The opinion is that the decision to withdraw from the Persian Gulf was essentially taken for reasons which having nothing to do with real gain or loss to Britain's financial position. It was a sop to those whose main interests lay in resisting cuts to domstic social expenditure. … In the long run, the withdrawal from the Gulf may yet prove to be the most expensive decision any British Government has taken and one taken furthermore for totally irrelevant and extraneous reasons.That sums it up pretty well.
I return to the promises. The Government promised all these things. Where are we today? We have a situation where we are without adequate defences, conventional or nuclear. We are without adequate forces of any kind.
§ Mr. Donnelly
It is true. Current recruiting figures are a disaster for the country, and this is because of the lack of confidence created by the Government.
§ Mr. Donnelly
The hon. Member should ask the men of the Fleet Air Arm in my constituency about recruitment. Here we have a situation in which our defences have been considerbly run down in a short period of time. In the view of many people here and outside, the defences have been run down to danger point. That is putting it extremely conservatively. But this situation has happened in the history of great countries in the past when the central will has been lost. It happened when the Roman legions were called home 1,500 years ago. The problem then was the enemy outside the gate. The problem now is the enemy inside the gate. It is lack of will in Downing Street; it is lack of will on these benches; it is lack of will in certain editorial chairs and in broadcasting and 316 television authorities which are propagators of mass media. Our defences will not be adequate until there is a new sense of will and a Government with a will.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) with great interest but found it difficult to follow his logic. I shall come to many of the points he made in my own speech, but I could not understand his views in particular about the Middle East and our withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. I spent two years in that area and know it well.
A point that is constantly overlooked by advocates of remaining in that area is that recently, during the outbreak of war between the U.A.R. and Israel, Britain had forces in the Aden area, and in the Persian Gulf, but the presence of those forces did not prevent oil supplies from being cut off. Nor did it prevent the war from breaking out. Nor did it prevent the closure of the Suez Canal. I have never heard a satisfactory answer to this point. How do those who argue that our forces should be maintained in that area believe that this will keep the oil flowing, prevent war from breaking out and keep the Suez Canal open? It has not done so in the past.
§ Mr. Goodhart
British forces are based as Colchester and London and, at the moment, a strike is taking place at Ford. But a strike is no reason for withdrawing British forces from England. The British forces in the Persian Gulf are there to maintain the social structure of the area and prevent revolution from breaking out. That they have done very satisfactorily indeed.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I do not wish to prolong discussion; the purpose of intervention is to elicit information. The Arab-Israeli war was a different set-up. The problem we are confronted with is that of a situation where there are internal conflicts in the Persian Gulf. If we had not been able to fly troops to Kuwait in 1961, it is more than certain that Iraqis would have grabbed the country. Withdrawal from British possessions in the Persian Gulf leaves a power 317 vacuum that someone is likely to fill. Either there will be internecine struggles, which will have far-reaching effects on investments, or some other power, probably the Soviet Union, which is already thinking about it, will move in. This is the danger.
§ Mr. Davidson
The situation in Kuwait has altered massively over the last 10 or 20 years. Then it was a tiny State which had only just discovered oil. Now, per head of population it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It should be in a position to organise and pay for its own defence force. We have offered, as is mentioned in the defence statement, to help train its forces. The point has been reached, as it must always one day have been reached, when that is the answer to the argument put by the hon. Member for Pembroke.
I may be out of tune with recent speeches but I give a general welcome, with certain reservations, to the statement. The general theme bears a remarkable resemblance to the policy on defence which the Liberal Party has been putting forward for a number of years and which is contained in a booklet called, A Defence for Britain, produced not actually by the Liberal Party but by the "Unservile State Group" and written by Mr. Anthony Paice, one of the officers of the Liberal Party Research Department. It is a very readable booklet—I commend it to hon. Members—and I have a suspicion that before writing this year's Statement the Government had a glance at it.
The booklet contains the essence of the defence policy which the Liberal Party has been putting forward for a number of years and which largely coincides with the general theme of this year's Statement by the Government, but with three notable exceptions which I will make clear.
Firstly, we do not agree with the apparent philosophical acceptance of the place of nuclear weapons in a defence system. Secondly, we believe that there is still an inadequacy of conventional forces. Many hon. Members have dwelt on this point. Some support the retention of forces in the Far East, while others are opposed to it. Some put great emphasis on Europe, while others place the emphasis elsewhere. However, nearly 318 all hon. Members agree that there is a lack of adequate conventional forces, and the Liberal Party adheres to this view. Thirdly, we are not satisfied with the proposed treatment of the reserves. If we support the Government in the Lobby tomorrow night, I wish to have it on record that my Liberal colleagues and I do so with these three distinct reservations.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman has always been frank in his views about defence. What, in his estimate, are adequate conventional forces? Time and again reference has been made to our conventional forces being inadequate. I will listen to anybody who refers to conscription and gives a figure, because that is at least an honourable point of view, whether or not I accept it. It is insufferable, however, for people to refer constantly to inadequate conventional forces without giving the figure they have in mind.
§ Mr. Davidson
As the hon. Gentleman knows, £370 million has already been spent on Polaris submarines, which the Liberal Party has opposed all along. In the White Paper the cost of nuclear weapons has been listed as £60 million per annum. These sums might have given B.A.O.R. more adequate armoured support. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in that area we are outnumbered three-to-one in terms of armour. The Chieftain tank is, I believe, too sophisticated. We might have been better off with a larger number of less sophisticated tanks. In the event of an armoured push, the Russians could concentrate their forces in such overwhelming power at any one point along the 450-mile front to which we must pay attention in Europe that they could break through with little difficulty. This is what I mean by inadequate forces.
It was a Conservative Government who first accepted the concept of an independent nuclear strategy for Britain, because at the time they reckoned that it permitted a scaling down of costly conventional forces. However, with the failure of Skybolt in the late 'fifties and the rundown of the V-bombers, the independent deterrent policy totally collapsed.
It was the Liberal Party which first recognised the lack of credibility of this 319 so-called independent British nuclear deterrent and the fact that it had caused a major deterioration in our conventional forces resulting from over-dependence on nuclear weapons. The Secretary of State's 1966 Defence Review showed that the Labour Government had also recognised the danger of overstretch, but it was a pity that the vital decisions which were forced on the Government at that time were taken not as the result of logical thought but because of economic embarrassment.
It was clear, for example in 1967 that the Government had no intention of withdrawing from the Far East at that time, or they would not have decided to establish a network of island bases in the Indian Ocean. It was only the economic disasters of 1967 which caused them to revise their views on the Far East. As a result of that revision, they tended to let down our allies without sufficient consultation and with over-great rapidity.
This was brought home forcibly to me when I visited Singapore in an all-party delegation in 1966. There was great fear of a sudden withdrawal on our part. At that time no warning had been given of such a step being taken, but one year later the announcement was made. There was a sense of insecurity in the Forces as a result, and for a time the taxpayer had to fork out money for an abortive defence policy.
Today the picture has changed. Now, with the imperial commitments and peace-keeping pretensions having been swept away and the Government having recognised that the danger of a conflict in Europe is by no means beyond possibility, the Government have come round to the right policy of concentrating on a European rôle. This is the right policy for a country of our resources and size in the 'sixties. I am not suggesting that it would have been right for us 10, 20 or 40 years ago. But time has passed and we must cut our coat to suit the cloth.
However, we are left with nuclear forces which, in my view, are by no means credible. At any one time we might be able to deploy two nuclear submarines; presumably one will be on training duties and the other will be refitting. Between them they could 320 launch 32 missiles. If we compare that with the 41 ships which the United States can deploy, with their 650 missiles, it seems hardly worth while for Britain to have any at all. In our view, we should be better off without them.
At the same time, our conventional forces appear to be inadequate.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
Does Liberal Party policy still favour a third nuclear force based on a European alliance?
§ Mr. Davidson
That has never been Liberal policy, certainly not since I have been the party's spokesman on these matters. We have proposed a non-nuclear European defence community, working eventually towards a situation in which we would have a joint guarantee of European security by the two super-Powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. I believe that this is in the back of Mr. Nixon's mind in his current series of visits to Europe, culminating in a visit to the Soviet Union, as it no doubt will.
As I was saying, the Government have recognised that a European rôle is paramount and that that, if for no other reason, is why Britain must deploy its full commitment in this area to counterbalance the 325,000 West German troops in N.A.T.O. I do not know where it is the intention of the Government to make use of the 20 modern naval vessels and the R.A.F. squadrons which will be returning from the Far East. If they are to be used, I hope that the Secretary of State will consider their deployment on the Mediterranean flank of the European defence commitment because this would be a suitable use for them. These forces should be well integrated into the N.A.T.O. or CENTO forces, to avoid any possibility of their becoming involved in an outbreak of hostilities between the U.A.R. and Israel. Such an involvement would be a disaster not only in itself but if British forces became directly involved in it.
The holding operation that has taken place in the 1968 statement on defence has now been superseded by this 1969 statement which reorientates and summarises our new defence policy. With the exceptions I have mentioned, it appears to us to be a realistic assessment of what this country requires in the way of defence forces and a realisation that 321 Britain's defence forces can be valuable only as a component in a collective security military alliance. If after the next General Election it should happen that the Conservatives come to power and if they persist with their announced policy of returning to deploying forces in the Far East and the Persian Gulf—[An HON. MEMBERS: "They do not mean it."]—perhaps they do not, but there is no harm in rubbing this in—it would mean an increase of at least £500 million according to the assessment by our research department. [Laughter.] I do not know why there is laughter, for the department is very good indeed.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Have the Tories ever given figures? Do they not decline to give any figures whatever?
§ Mr. Davidson
My hon. Friend is quite right; they have consistently refused to give figures. They were pressed to do so, and their spokesman from the Front Bench promised to give figures, but not a single figure emanated from the Front Bench. It would mean a return to 7 or 7½ per cent. expediture from the gross national product going for defence. If that is what the Official Opposition want, and if they hope to persuade the country to accept that, they should let us know.
When I deployed one or two arguments with an Australian Member of Parliament he was very upset about the fact that we were withdrawing from the Far East. He emphasised that in two world wars Australian forces had come to our assistance. I did not deny that for a moment, for, of course, it is true and I said that I had relatives fighting with the Australian forces in the First World War, but I pointed out that that did not involve Australia in maintaining bases and arms in the North African or European theatres between the wars, nor the Australian taxpayer in putting up with a much higher level of taxation than there is in Britain to support a higher standard of living here than in Australia, but the reverse would be true today.
Although it is right that we should keep a highly mobile strategic force available for lending any assistance needed by our American-Australian led defence community in the South-East Asia area it is totally wrong that in our present circumstances we should be expected to maintain 322 in that area permanent bases and forces.
What remains for the Government to do is to try to rectify this imbalance between N.A.T.O. nuclear and conventional forces. I ask the Secretary of State a couple of questions. I refer to Chapter IV and paragraphs 2 and 3 of the statement. It is said:As the Vulcans are released from their strategic nuclear rôle they will be transferred to the tactical rôle. They will remain committed to N.A.T.O. except for those which are to replace the Canberras in the strike rôle in support of C.E.N.T.O.Does that mean to a tactical nuclear rôle or merely to a tactical conventional rôle? This point should be clarified. In the succeeding paragraph it is said:The build-up of the Polaris force is proceeding as planned.One might ask, as planned by whom? Are we now to accept that the Labour Government and the Secretary of State for Defence have finally and irrevocably accepted the need for deployment of strategic nuclear weapons in their defence plans?
§ Mr. Healey
I will answer the hon. Member. On the first question the V-bomber force will be transferred to tactical rôle in support of N.A.T.O., with a dual capability. Unlike the existing Canberras, which have a primarily nuclear capability, we would plan to use them in the first instance in a conventional rôle, and only if and when a conflict became nuclear would we use them in the other rôle. This is part of the maximisation of N.A.T.O.'s conventional capability of which I spoke. On the second question, we certainly intend to maintain the Polaris force—that is to say the four-boat Polaris force.
§ Mr. Davidson
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those replies, which were quite direct and unequivocal. Perhaps tomorrow he might care to say whether it is the plan of the Government to continue into the next generation of nuclear weapons or whether they will allow them to die with the Polaris.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Before the hon. Member gets too enthusiastic about the Polaris programme going to plan, does he know that the missile depot at Coulport already exceeds the original £3 million estimate?
§ Mr. Davidson
That seems to be the pattern of most estimates, whether for a farm building or a missile base; the original estimate seems always to escalate.
I repeat a point which I made in reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). The obvious long-term answer I believe to be a non-nuclear European defence community with a U.S.A.-Soviet guarantee of nuclear integrity. I do not believe that it is beyond the bounds of possibility particularly when one reads what is going on at present in escalation on the borders of the Soviet Union and China. The Russians must be looking for some kind of settlement in Europe so that they can concentrate their efforts and their attention more on the Far East and the mid-Asian area.
I ask whether the Front Bench spokesman for the Opposition would care to answer one or two points arising out of the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). He said that we were over-committed in N.A.T.O. and that making a flexible response a reality was necessary. I have been thinking about this. I cannot tie those two statements together. They seem to be completely in conflict. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said that our overseas responsibilities are necessarily and inevitably worldwide. That again I cannot follow. In the light of what I said about the arguments by the Australian Member of Parliament, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would care to take up this point.
There was one point with which I entirely agreed. That was his advocacy of a citizens home defence force, which is something we have put forward from the Liberal bench. I entirely agree with the attitude he took on that matter. There is a real opening and a real need for a citizens defence force to deal with civil emergencies, to take over the rôle of the Territorials and to deal with a number of additional functions such as those previously dealt with by the auxiliary Fire Service, Civil Defence, the Observer Corps and so on. I do not know whether the Government are still considering the possibility of this. I should like to hear about it when the Secretary of State for Defence replies to the debate.
324 We accept that in their policy for the reserves the Government's intention is to go for quality not quantity. In this they are absolutely right, but there is still a need to deal with home emergencies for which they seem to have made no provision. In this connection it is worthwhile mentioning that many young people feel the need for an outlet for voluntary service. I am opposed to conscription, but it would be a good thing for youngsters to be given an opportunity of a year's voluntary service, a wide variety of service, and this is one field in which some of them would like to give their service before going on to earn their living.
In conclusion, may I say now in the presence of the Secretary of State, as he was absent earlier when I made this remark, that, although we expect to support the Government in the Lobbies tomorrow night, we will do so with the three very distinct reservations that I have made.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Howarth (Bolton, East)
I compliment the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) on a generally very moderate and constructive speech, rather in contrast with the two speeches which preceded his, one of which unfortunately came from this side of the House—from someone who does not accept the Government Whip, anyway. I am pleased to hear that the Liberals will be supporting the Motion tomorrow night. I trust that all my hon. Friends also will appreciate the issues involved and will resist the blandishments of the Opposition.
I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) is not now with us, because I have some comments to make on his speech. This is the first major defence debate in which he has spoken, Those of us who remember the right hon. and learned Gentleman from his efforts in housing and local government know that he is very strong on destructive criticism but very weak on constructive alternatives. He did not let us down today. We might ascribe this, I suppose, to his lack of knowledge in depth of a subject to which he has only recently come, Even so, he might have done his homework a little better and tried to answer some of the many questions which have been put sincerely by hon. Members on both sides 325 as to what is the Conservative Party's policy on defence. After all, if the Conservatives are claiming to be an alternative Government, people have the right to know what they would do as a Government, given the opportunity.
I noted, as did the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, the rather strange statement, twice repeated, that we were possibly over-committed to Europe. I trust that the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) will, after talking to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, explain exactly what that means. What interpretation could there be but that we are over-committed in conventional forces to Europe, which is in contrast to the very strong criticism made by the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean).
The other most noticeable point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the spurious guarantee, which we have had in the past and which will no doubt delude the Conservative Party faithfuls, that if returned to power the Conservatives would try to recover the broken promises of the Labour Government to our friends east of Suez. We shall read very carefully in HANSARD exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, but I believe that it was hedged around with so many qualifications as to be meaningless. I trust that all the faithful Conservatives who go thumping the tubs at weekends will take the trouble to read the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech and be very careful in what they say, as they may be hostages to fate in the future if ever they have to deliver the goods in line with what they think their spokesman is saying at present.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
The hon. Gentleman must know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said unequivocally in Canberra last summer that a Conservative Government will maintain a presence east of Suez. Just what the size of that presence is and what the cost of it will be will depend on how big a shambles is left behind by right hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Howarth
This is just the point I am trying to make. What do they mean by maintaining a presence? Do they mean that a frigate will be based out there? We have naval forces, anyway, 326 east of Suez and presumably are likely occasionally to have naval forces cruising in that area on exercises, as we will have next year in the big Commonwealth exercise. What does that assurance mean? I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in particular, will be careful about what he tells his old naval friends about what he thinks Conservative policy is.
§ Mr. Howarth
Conservative Members would do well to read very carefully the qualifications that their spokesmen make.
Since the debate 12 months ago international events have been both momentous and disturbing. One event which was hopeful was the beginning of the talks in Paris aimed at ending the war in Vietnam. Unfortunately, those talks are bogged down: there is not much sign of movement at the moment. We hope that there will be movement in time.
The events which concern us directly have been mentioned by a number of speakers. I want to comment upon the events which led up to the Russo-German invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of last year. The interesting point which some of my hon. and myopic friends seem to overlook is that German troops have been used—once—since 1945 in Europe. East German troops were used to invade Czechoslovakia.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) is not here. He spoke about ex-Nazi generals or ex-Nazis in positions of authority in Western Germany. I wonder whether he is seriously suggesting that all those living in Eastern Germany were in some way anti-Nazis and that all those living in Western Germany were the Nazis or pro-Nazis. It is a remarkable, tragic and ironic fact that the only use of German troops since 1945 has been by Communist East Germany to assist in the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If my hon. Friend had been in Czechoslovakia would he have advised military resistance to the Russian forces?
§ Mr. Howarth
The Czechoslovaks were so overwhelmed by superior forces that they probably would have been unwise to have attempted it. As an earlier 327 speaker said, what if the Chech armed forces had had even tactical nuclear weapons targeted, say, on Moscow and other major centres in the Soviet Union? I wonder if the action that the Russians and the East Germans took would have taken the form that it did in August of last year. I have grave doubts as to whether they would have risked their cities even to, as they call it, maintain the Socialist commonwealth in Eastern Europe.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does my hon. Friend advocate that Czechoslovakia should have tactical nuclear weapons, remembering that Czechoslovakia does not want anything to do with N.A.T.O.?
§ Mr. Howarth
No, I am not suggesting that. I am aware of the very strong nuclear weapons that the Warsaw Pact countries have. These are a factor which we must take into account. It is regrettable, but it is a fact of life, and things are not as we might wish they were; they are as we see them at present. I hope that my hon. Friends will take that into account when deciding how to vote tomorrow night.
Continuing to deal with the Czechoslovakian situation and the lessons we should draw from it, I believe that quite clearly we cannot place much credence on the protestations of the major military Power in Europe, the Soviet Union, when, even to those whom she regards as her friends, in one week in August she professes the strongest affection for the Czech Government and their people, and the following week she invades, with other Warsaw Pact countries. This is chosen by certain of my hon. Friends as a time to suggest that we might have another attempt to talk with the present ruling group in the Kremlin, but it is a particularly ill-chosen time. That is not to say that we should not look once again to the re-establishment of confidence between the countries in Europe. But six months after what happened last August is by no means the time to start relaxing our care.
I wish to turn from the Czechoslovakian situation to talk briefly about the nature and extent of the potential military threat to Western Europe. I believe that to do so is to make an effective challenge 328 to the Amendment tabled by some of my hon. Friends in a most misguided attempt to play upon the natural desire of the British people to see an improvement in all those things that the Government are trying to do in housing, education, health and the like. These, along with defence, must obviously be decided in order of priorities, and which I believe the Government have chosen wisely in the order they have decided upon.
We must remember that not only was Czechoslovakia physically invaded but serious threats were made against both Yugoslavia and Rumania. Whilst Yugoslavia threatened to resist very strongly any attempt to take away her independence, one assumes that Rumanian resistance could not really have amounted to much more than that which Czechoslovakia was able to offer. But all that happened clearly indicates the extent of the military strength of the Soviet Union in particular and certain of the East European countries, and we need to take this into account.
We must also consider the activities of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, which have led to the re-establishment of strong forces in the Arab countries, armed forces which were partially or substantially destroyed in the war in June 1967. We are presented with a situation which we would be very derelict in our duty if we ignored.
I have taken the trouble—and I hope that my hon. Friends do the same—to study the document prepared by the Institute of Strategic Studies, which gives an estimate of the present military strength of most of the countries of the world. Its estimate of Russian supplies to the Arab countries runs to about 1,500 to 2,000 tanks to three Arab countries alone—the United Arab Republic, Syria and Iraq. They include T34s, T54s and T55s. In addition, there are thousands of self-propelled guns, rocket launchers and armoured personnel carriers.
I believe that all these supplies have contributed to the instability of the area. There is no doubt that the increasing dangers we see in the Middle East are in no small way due to the supply of those tremendous amounts of equipment, which are not only for the ground and naval forces, Many hundreds of advanced combat aircraft have been supplied to the 329 same Arab countries. The result is that the countries concerned, instead of being encouraged along the path of conciliation and negotiation with Israel, have been encouraged to stick to a most rigid line, which makes the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Arab countries that much more difficult.
§ Mr. Allbert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
In view of the theory that I understand my hon. Friend to be advancing that the supply of arms to those countries increases the likelihood of war or conflict in that area, would my hon. Friend advocate that the Government put a restriction on the activities of their arms salesman so as to prevent the sale of British arms in the area?
§ Mr. Howarth
Yes, I would, if we could get the same understanding and agreement from the Soviet Union. This would be very nice, if we thought that the arms had been supplied. The figures are fantastic—well over 1,000 if not nearly 2,000 tanks to those three Arab countries alone and hundreds of combat aircraft, and this excludes Algeria and other Arab countries which have also received a tremendous amount of military equipment.
One might have hoped for a major agreement among Russia, America, ourselves and France to cut off supplies of arms to that unsettled area, but the attempts which have been made through the United Nations have not proceeded far. Unfortunately, the heavy supply of this equipment has compounded the problems of the Middle East. One is filled with foreboding about the outcome.
All these events mean that we should look to our own defence effort and try to assess whether it is adequate or not. This is obviously difficult. Earlier speakers—the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire in particular—have argued that we should, as our conventional forces in Western Europe were only about half of those available to the Warsaw Pact countries, try to match this. The implication was that we should double our defence effort in a European context, which is a rather startling claim.
Some of my hon. Friends have thought up a figure out of the blue and have tabled one of those Amendments which reads like, "How nice to stop beating your wife." Who can resist the blandishments of an appeal about what we 330 could do with £600 million, the figure mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). Why stop there? Why not ask, "What could you do with £2,000 million?" On this basis, why have a defence effort at all? We would put our trust in the brotherly Socialist affections of the Soviet Union, like their Czech brothers did, and hope that all will be well.
Studying the history of Europe since 1945, one sees that the events in Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia clearly suggest that we cannot do this and must look to our own effort, along with our allies in Western Europe, so as to be free to decide our own future in a democratic way. This is what the Government have been successfully pursuing. I admit that there have been changes of policy. Having sat through all the defence debates since 1964, I know this as well as anyone. Nevertheless, I welcome the concentration of our effort in Europe and the Mediterranean.
One hopes that the situation does not become more critical in the Middle East, as it must have a bearing upon Europe's situation, but at the same time it would be remiss of hon. Members on this side not to draw attention to the fact that, this year, a historical event takes place, when the British will spend more on education than on defence. This, apparently, does not have the approval of many hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is a step forward, especially when spending on the whole range of social security is already 50 per cent. greater than defence spending.
These are tremendous achievements, of which the Government, and my right hon. Friend in particular, can be proud. This and the genuine efforts to improve the arrangements within N.A.T.O. for strategic purposes and the efforts to reach an arrangement to build jointly an advanced combat aircraft are to be commended. I hope that they are successful in the next few months. We see the announcement of the start of this particular project which will be a vitally required aircraft in the 1970s.
On this basis I have no hesitation in urging my hon. and right hon. Friends to give their support to the Motion on the Order Paper, and to reject the usual destructive and political Amendment that 331 the Conservatives have put down. I hope we have 100 per cent. support for the Government tomorrow evening.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
I hope the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, because I want to speak about an altogether different subject and one which has not so far been sufficiently discussed in this debate, the subject of recruiting. The recruiting figures are the country's verdict upon the defence policy of the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, the recruiting record of this Government is dreadful and is apparently getting worse. I doubt whether the country realises quite how bad it is. I want to concentrate on this aspect because I believe it is by far the most important problem facing us, for surely it is men who are the most vital factor in any defence policy.
I do not want anything I say to add to the problems of recruiting today. I have often been on record as saying there are still good careers in the Forces for young men of enterprise; and I still say that. Perhaps the Secretary of State will remember complimenting me in a previous debate on doing that very thing. Neverthless, in the White Paper there is a sad tale of recruiting shortage and, unfortunately, no concrete suggestion as to what should be done about it. I wish to suggest a few of the reasons which I believe account for the recruiting difficulties and to offer some suggestions as to what can be done about them.
No doubt there is a general lack of understanding among many sections of the public as to the need for the Services at all and for defence expenditure of any kind. A point about lack of will was made pungently by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). I believe that for this the Secretary of State must bear a large portion of the blame, for he has talked of nothing but cuts; of cutting expenditure; of withdrawals; reductions; disbandments. So one hardly wonders why the young men are reluctant to join up.
On the wider issue of the strategy of the free world, the Government have completely ignored the problem recently 332 described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) as "creeping expansion round the flanks of the free world". What do our allies think about this? What do the Americans think? I have here a report of the Committee on the Armed Services of Congress, in Washington. A paragraph in it says:Behind the new Soviet sea power is an awareness that Communist domination of the globe can only be achieved by supremacy at all major points in the spectrum of conflict. The leadership of the U.S.S.R. is determined to obtain superiority over the U.S. and its allies under all combat conditions.What do our friends and partners east of Suez think of the Labour Government's unilateral decision to withdraw? We can hear from Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Gulf Rulers. I would like to pay tribute on this subject to the wisdom and statesmanship of the Governments of Australia and New Zealand.
Mr. John Gorton, the Australian Prime Minister, said recently—and this was a dig at the Secretary of State: "We"—
that is the Australians—could not turn our backs on our neighbours, refuse to provide forces for their security, and wash our hands of the possible consequences to them and to ourselves.I only wish that this Government were as robust as the Governments of Australia and New Zealand on this point.
How does this affect recruiting? The Service man understands all these things. It is the destruction of the sense of purpose brought about by twists and changes and vicissitudes of the Government's defence policy which is, more than anything else, at the root of our recruiting difficulties.
Of course a great deal has been done recently to improve the lot of the Serviceman. Both his pay and conditions of service are much better than sometimes they have been in the past. I see right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite nodding. I am not saying that pay is the principal reason for bad recruiting. Nevertheless—and I hope that the Front Bench will nod again here—recruiting could be improved by better pay. In the last resort, the Services, like all other employers, have to pay for the men they get.
333 Pay outside the Services, in civilian life, has gone up so rapidly and conditions of employment have improved so much that Servicemen feel that they are underpaid. It is up to the commanding officers of units to explain the advantages of Service life, and the fact that the re-engagement figures, I am glad to say, are so much better than the recruiting figures shows that they have had a measure of success in this respect. I want to make two comparisons between Service life and civilian life. The figures in these comparisons are obtained from the Defence Estimates. I am not an expert Paymaster, and if the figures are not right or are substantially wrong I hope that the Government tonight will say what are the correct figures so that the House can judge the value of these comparisons.
Let us take the case of a captain of a B.O.A.C. V.C.10 aircraft. He is on a salary scale of something like £4,500 to £5,800 for first-class senior captains, plus allowances. Even these captains consider that they are not highly paid by international standards. A squadron leader in the R.A.F. doing exactly the same duties, flying the same aircraft on the same route to and from Singapore has total pay and allowances, according to my calculations, of £3,000. If these figures are right, then it is no wonder that the young pilots in the R.A.F., on their guest nights, sing a little ditty called, "Qantas Wantus."
Now consider an able seaman serving in a minesweeper on home seas service. He gets basically £12 a week. If he is married with two children and not living in married quarters it may go up to about £18 a week. Of course this able seaman has an interesting and exhilarating life, which he no doubt enjoys. But he must compare his weekly earnings with those of the average home trade seaman in merchant ships around the United Kingdom. His average earnings are from £23 to £25 a week, according to the latest figures.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is that not because merchant seaman are organised into a trade union? Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman advocating that the Navy men should be organised into a trade union?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
That is the very last thing I am advocating, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.
Perhaps the worst complaint about pay and allowances is the departure from the Grigg system, which at least was regular. I assure the Minister, having served under the Grigg system, that one knew that pay and allowances would be looked at regularly, which month it would be and when an announcement would be made. Reference to the Prices and Incomes Board, with reporting at irregular intervals and no clear-cut comparison, is not satisfactory for the Serviceman. Under the Grigg system, comparison with industrial averages even running in arrear, was clear-cut. Now the Services do not know where they stand. They are accustomed to a fair deal and clear-cut orders from the people with whom they work.
The third point has been mentioned only in passing, namely, over-stretch. Having been subjected to over-stretch myself in relatively recent years, I understand this matter very clearly. The figures for over-stretch were given in the Defence Review of 1966. Recently I asked that they should be brought up to date. I received a letter from the Secretary of State—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber; perhaps he knew that I would refer to this—in which he said:I can assure you there are sound security reasons for withholding this informationHe went on to say that it wouldenable our potential enemies to obtain an idea of the size and availability of our fleet".That is the most spurious argument I have ever heard, because for half a guinea members of the Soviet Embassy can buy a copy of the White Paper in which every detail of the availability of ships is spelt out in an Appendix. A list of the ships even by name, is given.
The Secretary of State ended his letter by saying that he did not refuse to answer my questions for political reasons. I beg leave to wonder. If the figures for over-stretch had improved, if they were better than the figures up to 1966, the right hon. Gentleman would have given them. If he could give favourable figures, that would help recruiting by that much. But if too few units, ships, aircraft and men are available, they are too busy and then we get the vicious circle, and men in operations like the Beira patrol, which is anathema to the men who take part in 335 it, are pushed from pillar to post, to use a polite expression, and consequently their brothers and friends do not join the Services.
Fourthly, I come to some operational considerations. Despite the Secretary of State's remarks about the ability to strike the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean within minutes, which may well be true, all Service men know that his comments are not applicable concerning submarines, as the hon. Member for Pembroke vividly pointed out.
The Soviet build-up is worldwide. If aircraft are a clue to neutralising the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, how are Russian ships elsewhere to be dealt with when, in the absence of the aircraft carriers, we do not have any fixed-wing aircraft to use? Or are the aircraft carriers to be retained? If the Minister who is to wind up could say something about the future of the aircraft carriers—and it is rumoured that the Government have had new thoughts about them—it would be extremely good news for the House, the country and particularly for young men who may be considering joining the forces.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
How are our merchant ships to be protected from attack unless we have these carriers, either in conditions of war or harassment below the level of declared war? How are we to offset the Soviet surface-to-surface missiles if the Fleet Air Arm has gone? The answer which has been given by the Minister for the Royal Navy is helicopters with small guided missiles. Perhaps the Minister who is to wind up the debate would say whether he would like to be the pilot of one of these helicopters in action. I would like him to think that out and to tell the House what he thinks he would feel like if he went up in one of these little helicopters against a ship equipped with guided missiles.
Another matter which I hope the Minister will deal with is one which I have brought up in the House before and to which I have not had even the courtesy of a satisfactory reply. This concerns the problems which arise from an incident such as the Pueblo incident. If we are to retain what the Secretary of State calls a general capability there is 336 always a risk that some of our men may occasionally fall into Communist hands, and this is particular true of air crew.
A few weeks ago I wrote to The Times suggesting that the idea should be considered once again of a declaration being made by the Western Powers that when our men fell into Communist hands they should not give only their name, rank and number in future but they should be allowed to confess anything, sign anything and broadcast. This arose at the time of the Korean War over germ warfare, and many Americans were forced to sign confessions about this. Suppose they had been able to say, "Germ warfare? Certainly, buckets of it every morning before breakfast", associated with a previous announcement by the Western Powers that these confessions under duress would be utterly truthless and nonsense from the start, it might take the wind out of the Communist sails and render their propaganda exercise useless from the start.
This is a controversial matter, and I do not say that is necessarily the answer, but it is something to which the Government ought to give a proper reply. I recently asked the Minister of Defence for Administration about this. He is not a scornful chap in private, but he is apt to be when standing at the Box. He said, "It is not as easy as the hon. Gentleman thinks; we cannot bother about this." Will he please for the benefit of the House as a whole give the Government's views on this, if not now, at the earliest opportunity he is able to do so. This is the sort of thing that matters to Servicemen, particularly to air crew.
Young men nowadays look very carefully before they join the Services. Much excellent effort is put into indoctrinating them, by the cadet forces and so on, and I pay tribute to those who work with our young men on this. But boys also tend to go to their fathers and uncles and ask them what it is like to be in the Services. What advice can old Servicemen be expected to give to their sons and nephews if they, the old men, feel a grievance about the way in which they have been treated over their pensions? Perhaps a better investment than putting another £1 million into direct advertising for Services recruitment would be to bring up out-of-date pensions, so that 337 those in a position to give advice to young men would be able to say—"It is all right, go on in, boy, you will have a good future."
I end as I began, by saying that there is an exciting career for any young man who is good enough, tough enough and enterprising enough to joint the ranks. Peace-keeping is perhaps the most worth while thing to do in the world today.
But our young men will not start to join the Forces again until the Government produce a defence policy which the Services believe in, and this they have not yet done.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R.C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
I shall be brief. Much of what I wanted to say has been said already in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth).
I, too, had hoped that we should hear from the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), the latest in the long succession of Conservative Front Bench spokesmen on defence, something about the Conservatives' alternative policy. That was not to be, unfortunately. We heard nothing positive. As a result, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not speak to the official Opposition Amendment, because nothing that I have heard in the debate has told me what it means.
I congratulate the Government on their achievement in reducing defence expenditure while at the same time maintaining an adequate defence system for the country. There are those who want to go further and make even bigger cuts, and I shall refer in a moment to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). It is very easy to go round the country making speeches to the effect that everything will be all right if only we cut our defence expenditure. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) has left the Chamber, because among those chiefly responsible for that kind of speech are the local spokesmen of the Liberal Party. It is easy to do, and, having done it, it be comes necessary to answer those who say that it is possible to make substantial reductions in our defence expenditure.
338 I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East. One of his major points was that we should bring home our troops from Germany. However, he did not go on to say what exactly we should do with them having brought them home. It is fairly clear that there are two alternatives. The first is to demobilise them completely. I will not go into the economics of this and its likely effect on the labour market, but to bring home all our troops from Germany and demobilise them within a short period would mean reducing our forces to an unacceptably low level.
I hope that we have learned the lesson of the 'thirties. I have no praise for the defence policy of either political party at that time. If we reduce our defences below an acceptable level, we know the sort of thing that happened in the 'thirties, culminating in the Second World War.
The alternative to demobilising all our troops at present in Germany is to bring them home and keep them here. That might save a little in terms of exchange costs, but the effect of doing that would be to increase defence expenditure since new barracks and other facilities would have to be provided in this country.
However, my chief worry in connection with any proposal to bring our forces in Europe back to this country is that it would create a vacuum there, and something would have to fill it. I am afraid that it would be filled by West German forces. I may be accused of basing my remarks on sentiment rather than on reason, but I have bitter memories of the last World War and the history of the world which preceded it.
The very last thing that I want to see created is too strong a Germany, whether or not it has its hand on the nuclear trigger. My fears may be irrational, but they exist, and they are shared by many others in the country. There is always the danger of an extreme Right-wing take-over in Germany. The N.P.D. has had its electoral successes. If matters ever reach the stage where the new Right wing took power in Germany, my fear is that it would do a deal with the Russians and we should have August, 1939, all over again.
I can see the possibility of such a Government doing a deal with the Russians for the reunification of Germany and 339 even some of the lost territory in Poland, in return for which the weapons in West Germany would face westwards rather than eastwards. With the creation of a too-strong Germany, I fear that this could happen.
Others want to economise by disbanding N.A.T.O. altogether. I agree with some of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker). One thing that N.A.T.O. has brought us over the last 20 years is peace in Europe. The only two occasions of armed action in Europe during the last 20 years have been Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. I believe that this is largely due to the existence of N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I cannot give way. I must sit down by 10 minutes past nine.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East on one thing. I want safety for my family and for all our families. Where I differ from my hon. Friend is that I believe that by maintaining N.A.T.O. and a strong Western defence structure we are more likely to achieve it than by his alternative of drastically reducing our forces.
I do not pretend to be an expert, but I hope that, whatever the N.A.T.O. strategy, there will be potential for going to the assistance of Yugoslavia, in particular, should she be attacked by the Soviet Union. I do not argue that it should necessarily be by sending in major forces or nuclear weapons. The Yugoslavs are expert at guerrilla warfare. I suspect that if they were attacked by the Russians, the Russians would have more on their hands than they expected. But I hope that N.A.T.O. would have a potential at least to give assistance to the Yugoslav guerrillas in such a case to enable them to carry on.
§ Mr. Mitchell
She does not want the Russians either. We all accept that the decision by the Government to withdraw from east of Suez involved a calculated risk. I was not happy with that decision at the time, but it has been made.
I should like to comment on the argument put forward from the benches opposite that should the Conservative Party 340 be returned to power our forces will go back east of Suez. I do not know what the Leader of the Opposition said in Canberra, but when I was in New Zealand recently I spoke to many people about this matter. Not one person to whom I spoke believes that if the Conservatives were returned to power British forces would go back east of Suez. The right hon. Gentleman has not convinced them. I was not in Australia, but this is true of New Zealand. People there accept that, whichever party is in power, there will be no return of British forces east of Suez.
I am worried about the situation in the Middle East. I asked a supplementary question the other day which was not entirely facetious. I asked who our friends and allies in the Middle East were. I think that this is a genuine question. I am somewhat worried about the possibility of Britain individually, or N.A.T.O. collectively, being able to take action in the Middle East in the event of a conflict escalating. I hope that either Britain individually or N.A.T.O. collectively will be in a position to take some action to stop a major escalation in the Middle East.
I strongly believe that it is the duty of whatever party is in power to provide an adequate defence system for this country. I hope that the Government will continue to view defence expenditure in cost effectiveness terms. It is important that it should not be allowed to get out of hand. I hope, in future, to see a gradual marginal reduction in defence expenditure. I believe that in present conditions we are unlikely to see a major reduction in defence expenditure. In my view, that would seriously jeopardise the defence of this country, which I am not prepared to support.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
In intervening for the Opposition at this stage of our two-day debate I shall make some remarks under four main heads. I shall begin by saying something under the general heading of defence costs, and in so doing I hope to answer some of the points made by the Secretary of State in the earlier part of his speech, and later by the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) and by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), who has since left the Chamber.
341 Secondly, I shall say something about recruiting, which is possibly the most serious problem confronting the Government in relation to our Defence Services, and about which the Secretary of State said only very little. Thirdly, I shall refer to the Far East which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, in particular by the hon. Member for Lewisharn, North (Mr. Moyle). Finally, I shall have something to say about the implications of our strategy in Europe, to which the Secretary of State devoted the greater part of his speech.
One of the effects of the recurrent Amendment which comes from hon. Gentlemen sitting on the right of the Secretary of State, pressing him for yet greater reductions in defence expenditure, is that it tempts him, in defending himself against his hon. Friends, to exaggerate very much the situation which he makes out he inherited from the out-going Conservatives on the change of Government.
The right hon. Gentleman is apt to paint a picture—and he did it again this afternoon—of a situation in which defence expenditure had got out of control, and to describe how he proceeded to redress the position. The right hon. Gentleman should not do this, because the figures do not bear out his statements. In 1962–63 the defence proportion of the g.n.p.—and I include in this the extra defence budget expenditure to which reference was made earlier—was 7.23 per cent. In 1963–64 it was 6.96 per cent. In 1964–65, the last year of the Conservative Government, it was 6.82 per cent. The figures for the first two years of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration are 6.7 per cent., and 6.82 per cent. Last year the figure was 6.97 per cent. so the House will see that under the right hon. Gentleman defence expenditure rose. In 1966–67 it was the same as in the last year of the Conservative Government, and higher than in 1967–68 that is, talking in terms of a percentage of the g.n.p.
§ Mr. Healey
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been misled into quoting figures which are purely notional of what is called military defence by Treasury convention, which includes a lot of money, as was explained in an Answer recently, which is not spent in the year, nor has it anything to do with defence. If the right hon. Gentleman sticks to defence and the defence budget, 342 he will see that there has been a steady decrease, and if the right hon. Gentleman reads the statement of his chief in 1964 he will see that Mr. Thorneycroft predicted a steady expenditure,as it is this year, not much in excess of 7 per cent. of the gross national product."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 448.]
§ Mr. Ramsden
I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. He can check the figures, and he will have an opportunity of replying tomorrow. The figures are taken from Written Answers on 3rd December, 1965, and on 27th and 31st January, 1969. They show a declining curve in the last years of the Conservative Government, and an in crease, which admittedly is a trend which will be reversed shortly, in the first two years of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration. So he is not entitled to take the attitude which he did. Some thing else which he said, not only today but——
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reply tomorrow on this very interesting G.N.P. point. The question of American military aircraft cancellations should surely also be brought into the calculation.
§ Mr. Ramsden
We shall see what the right hon. Gentleman says.
He has said in previous debates, and said again today, that he had inherited an enormously expensive defence programme from Lord Thorneycroft and succeeded in saving an amount, which used to be £1,600 million and which today was £2,000 million, of it during the five years of his administration. The right hon. Gentleman should not say that, because he is deliberately misrepresenting the process by which decisions on the level of public expenditure are taken under our system of defence administration, and he knows that as well as I do.
He knows that there are two main stages in the preparation of a defence budget. The first is the long-term costings, as the public expenditure surveys are familiarly called, which appear in the middle of the summer and which amount to an estimate of the probable future costs of all defence programmes 343 then on the stocks by a particular Government—they are produced in the summer. The second stage is the effective consideration of the Estimates for the coming year. That is the stage at which decision on those programmes are taken by Ministers.
When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the long-term costings of the last year of the Conservative Government and says that they were approved, all that he can possibly mean is that they were approved as being a factually correct estimate of the content of all the possible programmes which that Administration might have undertaken had it been re turned to power—no more than that and no less. It is no help whatever to the public, who in common with the Select Committee are evidencing more and more interest in the processes of the control of public expenditure, to confuse the issue as he has done, to insist on making comparisons between what in reality are two quite unlike orders of expenditure——
§ Mr. Healey
What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that the best estimate which the Conservative Government could make of the likely cost of the programmes to which they had already committed themselves—he must understand that I have seen these programmes; I inherited them when I came to office—involved an expenditure over the first five years £2,000 million in excess of what we have spent. If he is arguing that he would have cut this programme as heavily as we have done, I am entitled to ask him which of the cuts he agrees with, since he has opposed every single cut that we have made.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The dilemma upon which the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to impale me is totally unreal. There are many possibilities open to a Government in this situation. There is the possibility of rephasing and delaying programmes, there is the possibility of cutting—and the right hon. Gentleman has certainly done some cutting. There will be a considerable difference between his estimates this year and the long-term costings, relating to this next year's estimates, of four years ago. He has certainly done some cutting. Finally, there is the possibility, to put it no higher, that a Conservative Administration would 344 have succeeded in promoting the effective growth of the G.N.P. as we did during our years of power would have been able to sustain a rate of defence expenditure higher than that planned by the right hon. Gentleman.
So the Secretary of State should not seek to confuse the issue by talking as he has done. He has made a great deal, both in the White Paper and today, of his claim to have kept next year's Estimades down to £5 million below the Estimates of the previous year. That point was dealt with effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) in an extremely able speech.
The right hon. Gentleman has been unwise to give so much prominence to this figure of £5 million. Hon. Members who have studied these matters are aware that the item of pay and allowances is one of the factors which bulks largest in defence budgets. It amounts to about one-quarter of the total expenditure on defence in any year.
If one relates this sum of £5 million to pay and to what the right hon. Gentleman said about recruiting, it becomes apparent that if he had managed to get the extra 10,000 recruits—it has been admitted that the Services are that number short—in the last year, his figure of £5 million would have been £5 million in the opposite direction.
§ Mr. Healeyindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The right hon. Gentleman may disagree, but this fact emerges clearly from the Estimates. It is clear that recruits represent an expenditure of about £1,000 per year per head. It is not complicated to calculate that if the right hon. Gentleman had obtained the recruits he wanted he would not have been able to claim a shortfall of £5 million. Thus, to attach so much importance to a factor which, at best, can be fortuitous is not wise.
§ Mr. Healey
No doubt unwittingly, the right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House. The fact is that £1,000 per year per head is roughly the cost of a man in the Services. The cost of a recruit, who has a take-home pay of about £5 a week, must therefore be less. The right hon. Gentleman must see that.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I do not accept that, although I will not go into the matter now because I wish to turn to the subject of recruiting because it has not had the prominence it deserves.
It is common ground between the two sides of the House that there are, broadly speaking, two factors which induce young men to join the Services. The first is the aspect of travel, adventure, excitement and the possibility of active service. These are attractions to people who do not want to be tied to the office stool or factory bench. The second—this was adopted in principle in the determination to recruit: all-Regular Forces—is the fundamental proposition that the pay and conditions offered to Regular Servicemen must be at least as good as those offered in civilian employment. That is fundamental, and it was recognised as such by the appointment of the Grigg Committee when conscription came to an end and by the acceptance of the Grigg Report and the institution of the biennial pay review.
Despite that, what has happened of late? Last April the right hon. Gentleman threw over the Grigg system and the Government substituted for it a standing reference to the Prices and Incomes Board. As a result, the Services were awarded a 7 per cent. increase in pay last April when comparable civilian rates had already by then moved up by about 10 per cent. According to the figures I have been able to obtain, since last April the Index of Industrial Earnings has gone up by a further 4.3 per cent. The position at present, therefore, is that the Services, which are still awaiting a further report of the P.I.B., are lagging behind comparable civilian rates to the tune of about 7 per cent.
I do not believe that in that situation the right hon. Gentleman can expect to get the recruits he wants. He cannot have it both ways. He has told us that we are mistaken in maintaining that the traditions and distinction of famous regiments are a factor which attracts recruits. He has told us that men who want to join the Services do not mind to what unit they go. That cannot be the case while at the same time the right hon. Gentleman fails to study the bread-and-butter factor of recruiting and to ensure that the remuneration of the 346 men he wants to attract is the same as it would be in civilian life.
The Government are greatly to blame for not having implemented their undertaking to the Services under the Grigg system. One of the big question marks which hang over the whole future of our defence policy is whether the system of Regular recruitment can recover from the blow which this breach of the Grigg principle has dealt it through the handling of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I thought the right hon. Gentleman, in a passing reference, dismissed the Far East rather too lightly. Last week there was an important announcement of policy by Mr. Gorton, the Prime Minister of Australia. Although right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not now intend to maintain a presence in the Far East after 1971, until a short time ago they showed a deep sense of concern for the problems of that area and of its importance in the whole scheme of defence in the Western world. It seems inconsistent that they should be prepared now to dismiss the problems of that area as of no importance.
We should like to hear more tomorrow from whoever speaks for the Government about the recent statement by the Prime Minister of Australia on the intentions of Australia and New Zealand in Malaysia and Singapore. Mr. Gorton's statement was immensely helpful and constructive. It recognised that the peaceful development of that regional is an Australian interest. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would still be prepared to recognise that it is also a British interest. The statement also recognised that:Just as ultimate stability depends on progress and rising standards of living, so does the possibility of progress depend on maintaining immediate stability. And provision for defence is necessary to help provide that immediate stability.That is a statement with which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would quarrel. It led the Prime Minister of Australia to the conclusion that they should not withdraw within the confines of their own continent but should maintain a presence in Malaysia and Singapore.
One of the difficulties about this situation in recent months has been that we have not known what the intentions of 347 Australia and New Zealand were. Now we do know it would be sensible if the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends reappraised their intentions about the Far East in the light of the Australian assessment, and especially in the light of the scale of assistance and presence which Australia and New Zealand plan to provide. I think the hon. Member for Lewisham, North was with me to this extent. They are producing some aircraft, a battalion each, and a naval unit each. I should not have thought it too difficult nor too expensive for the Government to match that contribution in an appropriate way. Indeed, I would hardly think that we could offer to do less than match it in an appropriate way in view of the obligations of honour which exist between us and Australia and New Zealand.
I agree with the Secretary of State that an unlimited commitment in this area is probably beyond our means for the future and certainly beyond the means of Australia and New Zealand and any other Power in that area without American assistance. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the way in which the Australian commitment is limited under the statement of Mr. Gorton. Any responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in Singapore is expressly disclaimed. This is very important, because, as the Minister of Defence for Administration knows, that commitment is immensely expensive in terms of infantry battalions. What is also expressly disclaimed is any proposition that it would be possible to undertake a major campaign of the kind of size presented by the recent confrontation without the assistance of allies.
What is contemplated is assistance to the local powers against infiltration and subversion, which, as Mr. Gorton says, are the two most likely risks in the opinion of the Australian military advisers. To join those two Governments in a somewhat similar exercise and intention would be only common sense and, as I have said, not too expensive and complementary to the intention already expressed by the Secretary of State to keep touch with the Jungle Warfare School and to provide certain limited facilities for defence infrastructure for Malaysia and Singapore. I hope that the Government will give some indication that they have reappraised the situation in the 348 light of what has been said, and if not, say why not and give us some clearer indication of their thinking.
I want to end by a few points on the Secretary of State's assessment of the situation in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman has described his European strategy fairly fully to us recently in his Munich speech, in an interview with Der Spiegel, and again today. His views can be summarised by saying that it is a strategy of deterrence by the threat of escalation. This is nothing new. I did not think that the Secretary of State carried great conviction when he tried to make out that there was a difference between the interpretation of this strategy under the Conservatives and what prevails now.
The salient facts are the same. The warheads for tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are in American control and custody, and they are likely to remain so. I imagine that, whatever the Secretary of State has done on the Nuclear Planning Group, the decision whether or not to use them is an American decision and will remain so.
What worries the House—not only the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), whose speech impressed us—is the stark fact that the ability to defeat a serious Russian attack depends on somebody taking a decision to use those weapons. The full implications of this fact are not only very difficult to grasp but, speaking personally as one who was associated with a similar policy, very difficult to believe in when it comes to the point.
It must be admitted that in the light of this strategy the army we now maintain on the continent of Europe, which is the only army we have, is in a distinctly exposed situation, particularly when one reflects on what the Secretary of State said today, which I think was new. He went rather further than he has ever gone before, and made a point of telling us that nuclears could not be regarded as a kind of supercharged artillery; their use would be preceded by a period of intense fighting whilst time was given for diplomacy to be called into play, and so on. What more can we say? The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to argue that his policy of deterrence by the threat of escalation has worked. Broadly speaking, it was our policy as well. It may have worked for reasons quite independent of the nuclear balance and its attendant 349 risks, but it has worked. What implications should we draw? Do we leave the matter at that? Do we run down our defence expenditure to the 5 per cent. projected by some hon. Members opposite and hope that all will be well, or do we—as we on this side of the House think we should do—make further provision for the strengthening of the conventional forces, which the right hon. Gentleman has admitted still have a rôle?
§ Mr. Healey
The right hon. Gentleman should clear this up. His right hon. and learned Friend said that in the view of the party opposite the Government had over-committed Britain to N.A.T.O. Now the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we increase the commitment still further. Let him make clear what the policy is.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The right hon. Gentleman is deliberately misunderstanding my argument He has admitted more than once that conventional forces still have a rôle to play. The question I wish to put to him is whether it is in the best interests of this country and our allies, and the further efforts we wish to call upon them to make, that we should continue the rundown in our expenditure and in our forces, or whether we should make greater efforts to build them up.
I hope that whoever speaks for the Government tomorrow will not confine himself to the possible land campaign in Europe but will deal with the position at sea. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, having been very specific about our ability to dispose of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean, will give us the same chapter and verse about the balance of forces between the West and the Soviet bloc in the Atlantic and the other areas of vital importance to our shipping. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) asked about this in a recent debate. It is time we had answers from the Government to this and the other points, that I have raised.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. John Morris)
I have listened to most of the defence debates of the past 10 years, and I am sure that I am right in saying that so far we have had a very good debate, in which most of the views held in the House have found expression. We have had a very 350 balanced and thoughtful debate, though I found difficulty at times in following the views and thoughts of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). However, I shall try to deal with the equipment points he raised, and my right hon. Friends tomorrow will deal with the issues of pay and recruitment.
Despite the temptation to me as Minister for Equipment, I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not use up all of the few minutes left to me in detailing every possible equipment that the three Services have, or have somewhere in the pipeline. This temptation, to the relief of hon. Members, I will resist.
Instead, I shall seek to tell the House something of the backcloth against which our plans are concerted, some of the highlights in weapon development in each of the Services, and, lastly, a little of our techniques to further the effectiveness of our plans to provide.
The backcloth of the future is the withdrawal from east of Suez. If I emphasise the word "future", it is because my responsibilities are primarily for future provisioning.
Against the background of our concentration on our European rôle, it has been imperative for us to examine the whole range of Service equipment to see how much of it was essential. In fact, we have rarely designed a piece of equipment with a solely east of Suez rôle in mind—and our rôle in N.A.T.O., extending from the Arctic to the subtropical, has always called for a wide range of advanced equipment.
The conclusion we have come to is that, qualitatively, our new European posture will make relatively little difference to the content of our equipment programme. However, quantitatively, so far as different kinds of equipment are concerned, there will be a significant effect in the future, and it is from this reduction in quantities that we look to secure the major economies in the equipment field. I come now to some of the highlights in equipment development in each of the Services.
First, the Army. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, West (Mr. James Davidson) raised the issue of armour and the Chieftain tank. In our European rôle, one of our major requirements is to deal 351 with the armoured threat that confronts us. One of the best answers to this threat is our own armour, and in our own Chieftain we have a tank second to none; all the armoured regiments in Germany will have it by next year. It has the ability to out-gun any other tank at present in North-West Europe on either side, and will be even better when, during the next few years, it is equipped with the new laser range finder, which will allow it to use the full range of its gun with even greater accuracy. The Chieftain is undoubtedly our principal antitank weapon. In addition, we have our existing ground weapons.
A significant step forward will be taken by the starting of delivery in June of this year of the new Swingfire guided weapon. Mounted on highly mobile armoured vehicles, this long-range antitank guided weapon will have a very important rôle.
Given the preponderance of Warsaw Pact armour and the advantage enjoyed by the thrust of an attacking force, mobility and flexibility of response of those defending is essential. We need air-to-surface weapons to give us the ability to react quickly to an enemy tank break-through. The R.A.F., with its ground attack aircraft, already has an effective anti-tank capability. We now plan to add to this by equipping Army helicopters with anti-tank guided weapons which can be directed to the target from the air.
Turning to the Army's own defences against air attack, we hope in the early 'seventies to have two important new weapons. In Rapier, and Blowpipe to complement it, we have what promise to be weapons of the best of their kind in the world.
There are many other pieces of equipment which the Army has just had or is on the point of receiving. The hon. and learned Gentleman took credit for the present state of equipment of the Army, and the Opposition are rightly entitled to a share of it. They made a great deal of plans and we have had to pay for them. Without sounding unduly complacent to anyone who understands the slow cycle of conception, development and production of weaponry, I think I am right in claiming both that the Army 352 is at a high point in that cycle and that our future plans are geared to maintaining and improving our capabilities.
Turning now to the Royal Air Force this year we are really beginning to see the fruits of the Government's policies for the R.A.F. in the form of the introduction of several new types of combat aircraft. These policies have throughout been designed, as hon. Members will re call, to give the R.A.F. the best aircraft for the rôles which it has to fulfil, at the time they are needed, in a way which the country can afford.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) raised the question of the tactical Air Force and the Phantom, Harrier and Jaguar and their rôles. Large numbers of Phantoms have already been delivered, both to the Royal Air Force and to the Royal Navy. Operational training is well under way, and the crews are enthusiastic about the performance and capabilities of the aircraft.
The Phantom will be used initially in the R.A.F. as a close support aircraft to replace the Hunter, and in that connection is has a particularly good reconnaissance capability. It will be used by both the Navy and the Air Force in the maritime air defence task. Later, when the Jaguar comes in as a close support aircraft, the R.A.F. will be using the Phantom entirely as a fighter. With its ad vanced radar missile system, the Phantom will certainly be effective in that rôle. The first operational squadron will form in both the Royal Navy and the R.A.F. during the next few months. We shall be getting the first deliveries of Harriers next month, and, after training, the first operational squadron will form towards the end of the year. The Harrier will be used in the close support rôle. It will be the only V/STOL fixed wing aircraft in service in the world. Its special characteristics will enable it to be employed very much closer to our ground forces than has hitherto been possible, and will greatly increase the speed and precision of support that can be offered to them.
Such is our confidence in this aircraft that we have recently, as hon. Members know, ordered additional Harriers so that we shall be able to form a further squadron in N.A.T.O. We also have a development programme in hand which, 353 in two or three years' time, will enable further improvements to be made in the performance of the Harrier, so as to increase both its range and payload. We believe that, especially in its improved form, the Harrier will have a very considerable sales potential.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the thrust of the engine is being improved, from 21,000 lbs. up to 24,000 lbs.? Is that going ahead, because obviously it will have a very much more effective payload?
§ Mr. Morris
As the hon. Member knows, we do not give details of specifications, ranges or capabilities. I cannot add further to what I have said. We have this development programme in hand, and we believe that the result will give us a very effective aircraft indeed.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
Although the hon. Gentleman cannot give specific details, can he say whether in principle it will be available for use at sea?
§ Mr. Morris
I am coming to that.
Deliveries of the Nimrod will also be beginning this year, and the first squadron will be formed early next year. It is an extremely successful and cost-effective adaptation of our civil Comet. Its speed will enable it to get to its operational area very much more quickly than present aircraft, and, once there, its very advanced, computer-based navigational and tactical system will give it an effectiveness of a quite new order.
In the strike rôle, the R.A.F. will be receiving its first Buccaneers towards the end of this year. These will come from among aircraft originally ordered for the Royal Navy, but will later be supplemented by the additional purchase which we announced last year. They will form the backbone of the R.A.F. strike reconnaissance forces, both here and in Germany, for the next few years.
All this relates to the present year. Further ahead, there is, of course, yet another equipment project which will come to fruition and make a further real contribution to the capabilities of the R.A.F. This is the Jaguar, which we are building in collaboration with the French. It has been possible, such is the versatility of the Jaguar design, to 354 develop a number of variants, of which the Royal Air Force will be getting two. One will be an advanced trainer—the first such in Europe capable of supersonic speed—and in this form the Jaguar will begin to replace the Gnat in about 1973 in the R.A.F.'s flying training organisation.
The other will be a close support version, introduced at about the same date, to take over from the Phantoms, when the latter will replace the Lightnings in the air defence rôle. The development is going well, and the first flight was made last autumn. Those who have flown the aircraft, and this includes R.A.F. pilots, have been greatly impressed by its handling characteristics.
I turn now to the Navy. The major re-equipment plans for the Navy in the coming years concern the three new classes of surface ship announced in July, 1967—namely, frigates, destroyers and cruisers. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham queried the fact that the number of ships was going down. He will be the first to agree that this is not the only factor to be considered. The age of the equipment, and the vessels and their sophistication is very much more important than sheer numbers. The frigates and destroyers are still in the planning stage, but it was a matter of some pride to me when I was able to place the first order for the Type 42 Sea Dart destroyer last November.
The significance of this new ship lies in its propulsion and weaponry. It is the first custom-built gas turbine ship ordered for the Royal Navy. Its main armament will be the Sea Dart guided missile, which has a very effective surface-to-air performance against both aircraft and ship or air-launched guided missiles. It also has a surface-to-surface capability. The order for the first Type 42 Sea Dart destroyer marks the beginning of an important new class of ships embodying all the latest weapons and equipment for the new Navy of the 1970s.
I have been asked about the submarine construction programme. Of the four Polaris submarines, three are now in service and the fourth, H.M.S. "Revenge", will be accepted towards the end of the year. Three nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines are with the fleet, and they will be joined by a fourth, H.M.S. "Churchill", in 1970. Three 355 further hunter-killers are under construction, and we hope to order an eighth submarine shortly.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham raised the question of our decision to concentrate future building of nuclear submarines at Vickers. This decision is an inevitable consequence of the earlier decision, announced by the Prime Minister, to reduce the rate of building of fleet submarines. It does not reflect adversely on Cammell Laird, which satisfactorily built us one of the four Polaris submarines and is currently engaged on building H.M.S. "Revenge" as well as one Fleet Submarine. The simple fact is that our future nuclear submarine building programme can provide work for only one yard, and Vickers was chosen because of its clear lead in design capability and experience.
I turn to the issue of maritime air cover raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles). As he knows, all operational aircraft of the R.A.F. are available for the support of the Fleet, but after the carriers phase out, the main types concerned will be the Buccaneers, Phantoms and Nimrods. A sizeable part of the R.A.F.'s front-line strength of Buccaneers and Phantoms will be primarily earmarked for this maritime task. Both types of aircraft can be refuelled in flight to gain extra range and endurance.
It must be borne in mind, of course, that in any future conflict involving N.A.T.O. we shall be operating as part of an alliance and that the Fleet will be able to call upon the air forces of our Allies, as well as of the R.A.F.
To complement the Buccaneers in the strike rôle, a light strike capability, directed primarily at the missile-firing F.P.B. threat, will be widely fitted in surface ships. Originally we thought in terms of a small ship-launched surface-to-surface guided weapon to counter this threat. But study showed that a more flexible and economical means of delivery would be to arm the helicopters which ships will carry for anti-submarine work with an air-to-surface missile with sufficient stand-off capability to protect the helicopter from the anti-aircraft defence of the F.P.B. Anti-submarine helicopters carried in ships will, therefore, be 356 armed with the AS.12 missile, which outranges the present anti-aircraft armament of the Soviet F.P.B.s.
§ The question has been asked from time to time and today whether we plan to equip the Navy with V/STOL aircraft, and, if so, whether these aircraft will be operating from new "flat tops" or from the existing aircraft carriers, "Eagle" "Ark Royal" and "Hermes", when their present fixed-wing flying task is completed.
§ The Navy has, of course, had large numbers of its own V/TOL aircraft, the helicopter. Although we are continuing to enlarge the fleet's rotary wing capabilities, we are by no means neglecting the possibility that the future of V/STOL at sea may belong not only to the helicopters but also to the Harrier and its successors. When the Harrier was first coming into service, it did not make sense to think in terms of flying it off ships, quite simply because its performance did not give it an adequate range and pay-load. However, as hon. Members will have noticed from the Statement on Defence Estimates, we have now decided to up-rate the Pegasus engine. This will mean a great increase in its range and payload and makes it sensible to look at the option of the R.A.F. flying the V/STOL aircraft from ships as well as from land bases.
§ We intend, therefore, to evaluate each new development within the V/STOL concept as it occurs, and design studies for the new ships will, as a matter of course, take account of developments which may occur in aircraft as in other weapons systems during the life of the ships. But before deciding whether or not it would be worth while deploying V/STOL aircraft at sea, we would, of course, have to consider the cost and the operational effectiveness of aircraft operating at sea in this mode and take full account of the defence, strike and reconnaissance support which shore-based aircraft will provide.
§ As regards aircraft carriers, all I would wish to say is that the option of deploying V/STOL aircraft at sea will in no way alter the decision that has already been taken to phase out the aircraft carriers from their present fixed-wing flying task as soon as the military withdrawals from the Far East and the 357 Persian Gulf has been completed in 1971. No decision has been taken about the future of these ships after that date.
§ As regards our management techniques, to ensure that we are able to produce the kind of equipment we want, we have, first, strengthened the procedure for examining and reviewing requirements. Secondly, proposals for development come under the most stringent examination by the Weapons Development Committee. At the same time, with industry, we are doing all we can to achieve better management of projects once they are under way. In suitable cases we appoint project officers, and we aim for incentive contracts, and in this way try to limit our liabilities.
§ As regards the production facilities which we run ourselves, the Government have recently set up a committee under Sir John Mallabar to see whether, and if so how, the efficiency of our large-scale establishments, including R.O.F.s and Naval Dockyards, can be increased. The emphasis throughout is on better information, better management and greater efficiency to give better value for money.
§ On the issue of collaboration which has been raised, one effect of cutting down research is increased dependence on others. This may in some cases make sense. One cannot in a field of enormous and increasing costs go it alone on everything. It is sensible sometimes to buy off the shelf, but it requires a nice judgment when to do this, bearing in mind that it results in the expenditure of foreign exchange and the loss of the technological benefits of the research involved.
§ The other alternative is collaboration. It would be a mistake to think that collaboration is always an easy way to cut costs. Many conflicting interests have to be reconciled before a joint project can get under way. The Jaguar, of course, has been very successful.
§ Hon. Members will know that we have for some considerable time been engaged in discussions with Germany, Holland and Italy, designed to lead to a collaborative project for an advanced combat aircraft capable of filling several rôles. Such 358 a project, with four countries participating, would be something very much bigger than any collaborative venture that we have so far tackled. Its industrial and technological implications are very considerable, as indeed would be its political importance as a practical demonstration of European co-operation. I will not pretend that it has been easy to agree on operational requirements. There are a number of very good reasons why this should be so. But, in the course of these discussions, the prospect has begun to emerge of a basic design which, while maintaining a high degree of commonality, could be varied to meeting the requirements of all the partners.
§ It has been necessary to test this concept by more detailed feasibility studies, and this is what a joint industrial company, drawn from the four countries, has been doing in the last few months. The studies are not yet fully complete in all respects, and the final results are still to be evaluated by the four countries. All this work takes time, and it will be some weeks yet before we and the other countries are able to reach firm conclusions and decide whether to go on to the next stage. We very much hope that the final stages in the present discussions will set the seal on the considerable progress which has been made in past months.
§ My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) was very concerned on costs. The kind of bracket he mentioned refers to the cost that may be incurred by all the partners and not just our own share, which probably will not come to more than one-third of the totality of the amount involved over a period of ten years.
§ I have sought briefly to cover a very wide area. What has struck me in the time I have been in this office, is the commonality of the problems of producing equipment for our Forces. I commend the White Paper which my hon. Friend has introduced to the House.
§ It being Ten o'clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.