§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1971, contained in Command Paper No. 4592.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to inform the House that I have selected the Amendment standing on the Order Paper in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends, in line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add:'while paying tribute to the skill, courage and patience of the British servicemen in Northern Ireland, regrets that Her Majesty's Government are over-stretching our forces by imposing on them additional and unnecessary tasks East of Suez; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give a more constructive lead in using the collective strength of the Western Alliance to promote measures of East-West détente and disarmament'.
§ Lord Balniel
The Defence White Paper does not announce any new and radical changes of policy. On these grounds alone it should commend itself to the House. For too many years we have seen White Papers which have been no more virtually than an annual herald of new gloom for the Services, new retrenchment, new cuts in their strength and capabilities and new shifts of policy. We have seen too many White Papers of that kind. They belong to the Opposition and, just as the Opposition were rejected by the electorate, so we reject some of the assumptions on which their defence policy was based.
During our early months of office, we undertook an immediate examination of defence policy. We took decisions to strengthen our defence forces in so far as the available resources of manpower and money allow. We decided to provide a nucleus for expansion and to adjust the emphasis of policy so as to recognise that dangers exist and our interests are involved outside Europe. We announced our decision last October. We set a clear course which has been welcomed by our friends and which I believe is heartening to those who serve in our forces. We now need steady progress along that course. Above all else now, we need a time for confidence, encouragement and stability.
It is crucially important to reinforce the confidence of the Armed Forces, because the world scene is not one which 1235 lightens one's heart. There is instability in the Middle East. There are dangers in the Far East around Vietnam and in Vietnam. But, above all else, and behind so much, is the threat posed by the massive expansion of Soviet military might.
There are the expanding forces of the Warsaw Pact. There is the global deployment in recent years of the Soviet Navy. There is the penetration by the Soviet Union of the Middle East. It builds up a picture as we enter the 1970s in which one must frankly say that the Soviet threat is on the increase and is not diminishing.
§ Lord Balniel
I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed with my speech. We are already long-delayed in commencing the debate.
I should like to speak first about Europe, partly because it is here that I can open by acknowledging agreement with the policies of the last Administration. Our security lies in the N.A.T.O. Alliance. Our policy here is a continuation and development of the policies of the last Administration, just as theirs in turn was a continuation of the policies of the previous Administration.
Britain has wider interests which range outside the N.A.T.O. area, but our security depends, first and foremost, on the maintenance of peace and stability in Western Europe. This is not a mere ritual genuflection in the direction of the Alliance. I emphasise this point because there have been two changes in Western Europe in recent years to which I should refer. These two changes have, however, first to be looked at against the background of a steady growth in the power of the Warsaw Pact. Soviet and other Warsaw Pact conventional forces now greatly outnumber those of N.A.T.O. They outnumber the forces of N.A.T.O. not only in manpower but also in fire power.
It is true—and I accept this—that many of the Soviet forces in Eastern Europe have a rôle as garrisons—to maintain Soviet control under the Brezhnev doctrine, but they exist. Just as they were ordered to march into Czechoslovakia, 1236 and did so without hesitation, with remarkable secrecy and speed, so no Western Government can conceivably assume that most of them would not be used in the event of an attack on N.A.T.O.
A mere count of men and divisions, or even of tanks and aeroplanes, can be misleading, but the count cannot be completely ignored. In N.A.T.O.'s central region, there are 60 Warsaw Pact divisions, facing N.A.T.O.s 23 divisions. There are 3,500 Warsaw Pact tactical aircraft, facing about 1,500 N.A.T.O. tactical aircraft. There are 22,000 Warsaw Pact battle tanks, facing about 6.000 of N.A.T.O.'s. I think the House will agree that, by any standards, the conventional disparity is great, and it exists at a time when we have moved into an age of nuclear parity. It is this change that must profoundly affect the defence strategy of N.A.T.O. By the phrase "nuclear parity"—
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
The Minister is giving the House a comparison of the forces, but, in fairness, in giving the number of divisions, he should explain that Warsaw Pact divisions contain many fewer men than N.A.T.O. Pact divisions.
§ Lord Balniel
I would not like to assume too much on what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I went out of my way to say that a comparison of this kind can be misleading. I am trying to give what I believe to be a fair comparison for the House to judge, and it follows fairly closely on similar speeches made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).
I was saying that this disparity exists at a time when we have moved into a period of nuclear parity. By "nuclear parity", I do not mean that the East and West are precisely matched, missile by missile I mean hat, whereas in the past aggression could be deterred by a nuclear response which could not be countered, now each side has the power of second strike. The strategic nuclear forces of each could survive an attack by the other and could still retaliate, creating appalling casualties and unbelievable damage. The days are now past when the Alliance could make up for its shortage of conventional forces by relying on the old "tripwire" philosophy 1237 of an automatic nuclear response to aggression.
The other change to which I wish to refer is one of mood. A generation has grown up which has no memory of European war and, indeed, finds the very thought of war between so-called advanced nations quite inconceivable. Naturally, it thinks much about improved expenditure on living standards—housing, schools, and hospitals—and some find it difficult to understand that safety also has a price which has to be paid for. If one is not prepared to pay for peace. one risks paying for it in war.
The ultimate aim of the Alliance is to achieve a permanent reduction of tension between East and West. Western Governments are at this moment trying to achieve this. There are the bilateral United States and Soviet Union Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, which have our support and backing; there is the offer of the Western Governments to open Balanced Force Reduction talks; there is Germany's Ostpolitik, which also has our support and good wishes; there is the Renunciation of Force Treaty; the German-Polish Treaty; and the four-Power talks, in which we are involved, to try to achieve a reduction of tension in Berlin and an improvement in the conditions of those who live there.
The mood on the surface is, I think, more relaxed, and the temptation of all democracies is to be lulled into a false security. The mood of detente can create a reluctance to spend on defence at the very time when the military fact of nuclear parity increases the importance of a strong conventional defence.
The flexible response strategy, which N.A.T.O. member Governments reaffirmed only recently, means that we must have the appropriate conventional forces able to respond to all levels of aggression. They must be there both to cope with a limited action, perhaps designed to achieve a fait accompli—for instance, a kind of limited action to achieve a blockade of Berlin—or to defend effectively against a full-scale aggression to give us time to bring the aggressor to his senses before we have to initiate the use of nuclear weapons in our own defence.
The need for conventional forces is increased by the continued growth of the 1238 Warsaw Pact defence effort. In real terms the defence expenditure of the Soviet Union has increased by about 6 per cent. on average each year for the last five years. By contrast, N.A.T.O.'s military strength began to be eroded during the latter part of the 1960s.
I do not want to exaggerate the threat. I do not want to conjure up the Warsaw Pact forces as being 10 feet tall. I very much take the attitude to these things of the Victorian Lord Salisbury who said something on these lines: if you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the generals, nothing is safe; they all require their strong wine to be mixed with insipid common sense.
I think that we are right to be sceptical, but equally we must be prepared to face unpalatable facts squarely and react appropriately.
One is entitled to ask—indeed, I think we have a public duty to this country to ask—why is it that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are steadiy widening the formidable lead which they already have in conventional forces over the Western Alliance?
The answer could well be that they are striving to establish a lead in force levels—Army, Navy and Air Force—which will leave Western Europe with no credible deterrent. Perhaps they calculate that if one or more of the Governments of the Alliance become disheartened by the mounting threat, there might be a chance that, in a period of great political tension, backed by very strong military might, they might in despair come to a separate accommodation with the Russians.
I do not say that this is necessarily the explanation of the continued increase in Soviet defence expenditure. It is, however, one of a number of plausible explanations. At any rate, none of us can afford to be complacent, and this view is shared by the other N.A.T.O. Governments.
A thorough review has just been undertaken of Alliance defence problems in the 1970s—called A.D.70 for short. This study has now been approved by N.A.T.O. Defence Ministers. It drew attention to a number of deficiencies in N.A.T.O.'s defences. For example, more needs to be done to provide defence 1239 against the large numerical superiority of Soviet armour. N.A.T.O. needs more aircraft, particularly low level fighters. Also, our aircraft need to be more effectively protected on the ground. Improvements are also needed in N.A.T.O.'s communications systems. The list of deficiencies is long.
The decision of the United States Government which was reaffirmed by President Nixon last week in his review of foreign policy, is most heartening. The President pledged that, given a similar response by the other allies, the United States would maintain and improve its own forces in Europe and would not reduce them except in the context of reciprocal East-West action.
When one thinks of the constituency pressures to which American Congressmen must be subjected and the heavy domestic pressures which there must be on the United States Government, I think that the President's message last week was both welcome and courageous. It was, however, conditional. It is dependent on similar action by the allies to shoulder their share and to improve their forces.
It is quite unreasonable—this is now generally accepted throughout the alliance—to expect the United States to continue to bear such a disproportionate share, unless the European members are also willing to remedy their shortages. Self-respect and self-interest demand that Europe should play her full part.
The European Defence Improvement Programme has now been agreed. It is the first step in this process of Europe shouldering a fairer proportion of the burden. It involves direct improvement of N.A.T.O.'s military capability, valued at 1,000 million dollars, or about £420 million, over the next five years. Partly it involves improvements in the national forces which are committed to N.A.T.O. worth about £250 million over five years.
Our own contribution was announced in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy in October in which we showed the way with the running on of "Ark Royal", the additional reserve armoured car regiment, and the four extra squadrons of Jaguar aircraft which we shall be bringing into the front line.
In part the European Defence Improvement Programme is an improvement in 1240 forces and in part an improvement in financial contribution. An additional European contribution of about £170 million to N.A.T.O. infrastructure is to be made. The money will be used to improve the survivability of aircraft on the ground and to accelerate work on the N.A.T.O. integrated communications system. Here the British contribution, which is based on our normal share of common infrastructure, will be £32½ million.
It has admittedly taken some time politically to decide on this infrastructure contribution. Our military contribution was the first which was put on the table and it brought us close to what we could accommodate in our planned defence resources. But now we have the assurance of an improved Anglo-German offset arrangement to start next month. This has eased our financial problem and made it easier for us to join in this second part of the European Defence Improvement Programme. I am happy to acknowledge the co-operation which we have received from the Federal German Government.
I apologise for speaking at such length on the European scene, but it is this which is pre-eminent in our defence thinking. Our interests are, however, worldwide and our defence interests cannot be confined to N.A.T.O. A year or two ago, the Opposition would have agreed. But now, their Motion talks about the "unnecessary" tasks east of Suez. No wonder it is not being moved by the former Secretary of State for Defence, and he is not in his place—
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
Just to get the matter right, it is "additional and unnecessary" tasks; the two words go together.
§ Lord Balniel
But the word "unnecessary" is there. As I said, it is no wonder that the former Secretary of State is not here. These are his words:We intend to remain and shall remain fully capable of carrying out all the commitments we have at the present time, including those in the Far East, Middle East and Africa. We do intend to remain in the military sense a world power.I could give dozens of quotations from the right hon. Gentleman along those lines, but I specifically quoted this one because those words were in a speech 1241 which he delivered in Canberra, and they are very well remembered in the Far East.
I do not intend now to repeat what we have already said about the interests which we share with our Commonwealth partners in the security of Malaysia and Singapore. We have debated this already. We have already explained that we and the other four Powers consider that our presence will help considerably to preserve stability in the area. But the House will want to hear briefly of the progress which is being made.
Senior officials met in Singapore in January and have now reached agreement on recommendations for Ministers concerning the political framework which will be the basis of new defence arrangements. Recommendations have also been agreed on other matters, including the setting up of an Air Defence Council responsible for an integrated air defence system.
A meeting of Ministers in due to begin on 15th April in London, and we expect the new defence arrangements to become effective towards the end of the year. Meanwhile, the military arrangements for the future are proceeding. The British battalion which is to be the basis of our future forces is due to move to Singapore in September. It will be the First Battalion the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Our military contribution will be along the lines set out in our last Defence Statement.
However, in addition to what was included in that statement, we have decided to contribute a submarine to the Australian Squadron which will be providing a submarine in the Singapore area for most of the time. We have also decided to increase our planned naval forces east of Suez from five to six destroyers or frigates. This will increase the naval resources available generally in the Indian Ocean and will make regular visits to the Gulf easier.
I now turn to the Gulf, about which my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary spoke earlier. While the rest of the Middle East has been in turmoil—with the Arab-Israeli conflict, with the internal changes in different countries, with the civil war in the Yemen—the Gulf area, consisting as it does of a multitude of different states, has shown 1242 a remarkable stability. There is no doubt in my mind that Britain's influence has helped this stability.
Three years ago, on 16th January, 1968, in the wake of devaluation, in their Statement on Public Expenditure, the last Government reversed their own previous policy which had been confirmed only a short time before. They decided to withdraw from the Gulf and a firm date of withdrawal, the end of 1971, was fixed. It was a sudden decision, a panic decision and, I am bound to say, an ill-considered decision.
The very announcement of such a policy has changed the situation. A new approach and a new relationship are now needed. In our manifesto, we said that we would consult our allies, the countries concerned. We have now consulted carefully not only with the rulers with whom we have treaties at present but also with the leaders of other countries in the area. We have decided our policy, which my right hon. Friend has just announced.
We believe that our decisions will be in the best interests of this country and of the peoples of that area. We will not be abandoning the area as our predecessors intended. My right hon. Friend has described the various forms of support which we propose in the defence field.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
In this connection, could my noble Friend clarify what his right hon. Friend said earlier? It is all very well to talk about not abandoning our friends and stressing the value of the British presence in the Gulf as a stabilising factor, but what is surely needed is an assurance now that, until such time as a Union of the Emirates is constituted and is capable of ensuring stability in the area, the British military presence will remain. Will he make it clear that we will not abandon this area, as he says, until some other means of ensuring stability can be provided?
§ Lord Balniel
I heard my right hon. Friend's question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The statement made by my right hon. Friend is a statement of our proposals as at the present moment, when the Rulers in the countries involved are in the process of discussing how best to establish a Union. As my 1243 right hon. Friend said, it would surely be wrong to speculate on the future at the time that negotiations are taking place. He himself has offered that either he or one of the other Foreign Office Ministers should go out to these countries to help in setting up the union.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The weakness of the Foreign Secretary's statement surely is that it depends on the formation of a Union, and that, as things are, if the right hon. Gentleman is right, it is most unlikely that the Rulers will agree on a Union. May we therefore be told, is it the Government's policy to give some positive guidance, so that the chances of reaching this union can be improved?
§ Lord Balniel
First of all, I do not accept the pessimistic assumption of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is precisely the purpose of the proposals which we have been putting forward that the proposed new union should be helped to get off to a good start.
The various forms of support which we propose in the defence field are considerable. Our ship visits, for instance, and the exercises and training which we propose should be undertaken by Army and R.A.F. units will mean that the British Forces will be in the Gulf area for much of the year. We should be willing to deploy other elements of our forces, including training forces, on a continuing basis, in a training and liaison rôle if the union so wishes.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
The noble Lord will know that, under the last Government, by the end of this year, both the battalions which had been permanently stationed in the Gulf were in fact to have been withdrawn. May we take it from what the noble Lord has said today that the plans for that withdrawal are to go ahead unchanged. and that both operational battalions will be withdrawn by the end of 1971?
§ Lord Balniel
What the hon. Gentleman may take is that we have offered to the union that British troops at company or battalion level will be out in the Gulf area for training. This is an offer which is being considered at the moment—
§ Lord Balniel
Of course not exactly the same battalions will be in the Gulf area.
Finally, I should like to turn to the important problem of manpower.
§ Lord Balniel
I am anxious to give way to my hon. Friend, but he will appreciate that the debate began very late and that in introducing the subject I have a great deal to say.
§ Mr. Temple
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he confirm that none of the decisions to depart from the Gulf has been taken because we are short of military personnel?
§ Lord Balniel
I can most certainly assure my hon. Friend of that. It does not, however, alter the fact that an improvement in recruiting for our Services is, perhaps the most important defence problem, and it is precisely to that issue that I am about to turn for the remainder of my speech.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have a list of well over 30 right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate.
§ Lord Balniel
I would like, finally, to turn to the most important structural problem in defence policy, namely, that of manpower. The Opposition Amendment refers, with good reason— and, I have no doubt, a guilty conscience—to overstretch. When we took office, the rundown of the Services was galloping ahead even at the plans of the Opposition—and no wonder. Why should young men and women join a Service when they seemed so unwanted? Why should teachers, parents and youth leaders encourage young people? Why should they be enthusiastic when each defence policy statement meant new cuts for the Ser vices? Indeed, that series of Defence White Papers was, in my opinion, one of the main reasons for the fall in recruiting. 1245 The shortfall in manpower below the planned requirement of last April was 18,000 men, nearly 5 per cent. This April, the figure will be less, but it is substantial enough to cause the utmost concern. It results in the undermanning of ships and strain on units. It has an equally serious effect in that units have constantly to be detached from their commitments, such as B.A.O.R., to join up with other under-strength units serving, for instance, in Northern Ireland.
We will have to make up this shortfall, but even disregarding the accumulated shortfall we need a steady influx of about 43,000 men each year. In 1968–69, the recruiting figure had fallen to 28,000. Recruiting is now improving. In the calendar year 1970, we recruited 38,000 and I hope that for this financial year we will reach about 39,000. This is heartening, the trend is in the right direction, but we must consistently draw in substantially more recruits each year than the current rates. This has to be achieved at a time when the number of men available for recruiting is declining. This is due to demographic reasons, the spread of further education and the raising of the school-leaving age. I believe that the way to achieve this improvement is to make clear beyond any shadow of doubt the great importance that the country attaches to its defence forces and to make the terms and conditions of Service life as competitive as we can with civilian life.
Proper pay is, of course, of crucial importance. The introduction last year by right hon. and hon. Members opposite of the military salary has, in general, been welcomed, and the increase for single men which was deferred last year will now take effect on 1st April. We are also taking steps to fulfil our election pledges on public service pensions. The purchasing power of public service pensions will now be kept up by biennial increases, with a once and for all increase to correct the position of those who have already fallen behind.
I believe that this will go a long way towards removing the need for what has always seemed to me to be one of the most distressing features of the political scene in the past: the need for ex-Service men to lobby Parliament to have their pensions uprated to meet cost-of- 1246 living rises. Within the lifetime of the present Parliament, we shall also arrange for such pension increases to become payable as soon as a pensioner reaches the age of 55.
A recruiting effort will also soon be needed to implement our plans for expanding the TAVR. We aim at an initial expansion of 10,000. We have now announced our plans in detail—the new armoured car regiment and the 77 units of company size for the infantry rôle. The new units will be mainly formed from existing cadres and they will be formally established with effect from 1st April. We expect to begin recruiting for the TAVR by the end of June.
The Government are sure of the need for an uncommitted reserve. We are optimistic that there will be a ready response from the country. We are anxious that the TAVR should have a good start. We are hopeful that industry and local communities will do their utmost to assist. We wish well to the TAVR and all those who are associated in this endeavour.
Although there are major problems about the numbers of men and women in the forces, there is no doubt about their quality. Whether it is their day-to-day duties or whether it is in relief operations such as in East Pakistan, Malaysia or Jordan, they have fulfilled their rôle with skill and ability. Nowhere has their task been more exacting and trying than in Northern Ireland, and nowhere have they conducted themselves better.
As a result of the newspaper strike, hon. Members probably have not yet heard that yet another tragic loss was sustained by our forces in Northern Ireland last night, when a soldier died following a petrol bomb attack on the Land Rover in which he was travelling.
Our Servicemen are doing a job which is probably one of the most unpleasant which the Army has been called to undertake for many years. It is dangerous, thankless and exhausting. It means for the men a further separation from their families, yet they have done their job of work with a courage, friendliness and restraint which is quite outstanding. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I should like to end my speech on this note. Whatever may be the political differences between us in the House, we are 1247 united in expressing to our forces our pride and gratitude for the tasks they perform for the country.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'while paying tribute to the skill, courage and patience of the British servicemen in Northern Ireland, regrets that Her Majesty's Government are over-stretching our forces by imposing on them additional and unnecessary tasks East of Suez; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give a more constructive lead in using the collective strength of the Western Alliance to promote measures of East-West détente and disarmament'.As the Minister of State has said, we are discussing the second White Paper on Defence in five months. Naturally, we do not expect it to repeat the policy changes, such as they were, of last October's White Paper, but we expect more in the present White Paper than we have been given.
The annual Defence White Paper is a major State document and we expect it to record the significant decisions in defence which have been taken by the Government since October and the Government's attitude on the main questions of defence policy. By these standards, what is amazing about the White Paper is its omissions. Some of those omissions have been the subject of subsequent hasty statements, including the curious statement on the Gulf made only a few minutes ago by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.
When one looks at the White Paper for decisions not only on the Gulf but on our contribution to the European Defence Improvement Programme, South African arms or disarmament, one looks to the White Paper in vain. It is rather as if we had managed to persuade the Defence Secretary to publish the White Paper for which we asked on the Rolls-Royce disaster and discovered after we had got it that he had forgotten to mention the RB211 engine.
I cite as one example the European Defence Improvement Programme that the noble Lord has now described to the House. One of the major changes and developments in the Government's policy towards N.A.T.O. since the last defence debate is the announcement that they 1248 have turned a complete somersault since October and have decided to contribute £32 million over a five-year period to this programme.
This decision is not to be found in the White Paper. It was, in fact, announced by the Secretary of State not to Parliament but to his Press conference launching the White Paper. This seems a curious way to run even this Government. It is both inefficient and discourteous to Parliament.
Then there is the curious story of the statement on the Persian Gulf, to which we have just listened. This statement was wrung reluctantly from the Government after repeated pressure. At the end of the day, it seemed a sensible one. I have the context of the Foreign Secretary's statement and I can tell the House, since hon. Members have not been told clearly so far, that it says, in effect, that the Government, having terminated our treaty commitments to the Gulf States, would keep to the withdrawal timetable of the Labour Government. But the Foreign Secretary appeared to be doing his best to obscure that fact from the House.
But how can one explain the delay in getting even this far? The party opposite had, as one of its election pledges, the intention to reverse Labour's withdrawal plans. Presumably, that was one promise which they decided to break very quickly after the General Election—[Interruption.] How else can one explain the acceptance in October of Labour's ceilings on defence expenditure, leaving no extra money for remaining in the Gulf? [Interruption.] I remind the Prime Minister of what he said when he was Leader of the Opposition on his visit to the Persian Gulf. The Times reported on 31st March, 1969:Mr. Heath emphasised once again the party's intention of maintaining British forces in the Persian Gulf area if the Conservatives were returned to power. 'We have quite a different policy toward our friends in the Persian Gulf', he told reporters at the airport.The policy announced today is broadly the policy of withdrawal initiated by the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
The Labour Government had intended to withdraw completely, without making any alternative plans whatever. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Alternative plans 1249 are being negotiated now which will maintain Britain's influence.
§ Mr. Thomson
The House knows that the hon. Gentleman is an expert on Middle East affairs. He must, therefore, know that that is patently not true. He will appreciate the efforts which we made to create a federation in the Gulf. That went on for a very long time and I played some part, at an earlier stage, in that when I was a Member of the Labour Government. Equally, there was the desire to go on supporting our friends in the Gulf. There was the offer of training help and so on.
There was no dispute between the two sides of the House about that. Where there was dispute was over the question whether we should cease to have a military operational presence in the Gulf. The Government have now decided to bring that to an end on our timetable; and if the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) were in his place he would confirm that that was the anxiety uppermost in his mind as a result of the announcement made by the Front Bench opposite.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
The right hon. Gentleman accuses us of breaking or reversing an election pledge. Would not he agree that what was said by us at the time of the General Election was precisely what my right hon. Friend said today; namely, that a Conservative Government would consider, with those concerned in the Gulf, how best they could contribute to the stability of the area?
§ Mr. Thomson
I do not wish to make false charges and perhaps I had better refine what I said.
The Conservative Government are now reversing the attitude which they took while in Opposition. Naturally, by the time they came to publish their manifesto they were rather cautious in the words they used. However, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, gave the public of Britain the clear impression that a Conservative Government would maintain a British operational presence in the Gulf, and that is the decision that is now being reversed.
What particularly interests me about it is the fact that it took eight months to 1250 reach. Why has it taken eight months to reach this point? Last October longterm defence budgetary ceilings were announced to the House. These made it clear that the Government must have decided to withdraw from the Gulf on the timetable set by the Labour Government.
The Government's excuse for the eight-month delay in coming forward with this statement is that they had to wait for Sir William Luce's report on the possibilities of a federation of the Gulf Sheikhdoms. But all the evidence is that the Sheikhdoms would have had more incentive to reach these decisions about co-operation—I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that I do not underestimate the difficulties—had they clearly known that the Labour Government's withdrawal date stood and that the main shape of our withdrawal plan was to remain.
The real reason for delay and for this long period of indecision has, of course, been the fact that the present Prime Minister could not bring himself to swallow all the splendid words he used during that famous Gulf tour of his. We know how passionately he is opposed to instant government—but to take eight months to reach a decision of this kind seems to be a prize example of glacial government. And even then the pace of the glacier was too much for this Government to control because they did not announce their decision in a way which would have given both Houses of Parliament a proper opportunity to digest and debate it. The result is that we have had the whole thing curiously blurred by the right hon. Gentleman today.
I sum up the right hon. Gentleman's statement as an admission of a sensible conversion to the realities of the situation relating to the Gulf. I paraphrase the charming quotation from Lord Salisbury that the noble Lord gave by saying that the Commonwealth, Foreign and Defence Departments have managed to inject a little insipid commonsense on the Gulf into the strong wine of the Prime Minister's obstinacy.
We are always glad to have major statements of this kind reserved for this House. It must have been irritating, however, for the Members of another place to gather to hear the defence speech of the year from the Secretary of State only to find that a major piece of the strategic jigsaw was still missing. We 1251 should remember that the Secretary of State is a man who grew up in the unflappable school of Mr. Harold Macmillan. He is a man who never worries about missing pieces. It is everyday work for him to produce Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. Not only was his White Paper notable for its omission of a decision on the Gulf, but it managed to contain a section on the Indian Ocean which avoided mentioning either South African arms or Simonstown.
An even more disturbing ommision is the fact that any discussion of disarmament is completely missing. One can search the index which is provided for the convenience of readers in vain for even the appearance of the word "disarmament". But only a few weeks ago the Foreign Secretary signed the Sea Bed Treaty on behalf of the Government, and that bans nuclear weapons from the floor of the oceans. This treaty was initiated during the period of Labour Government and was carried to completion by the present Government. We pay tribute to hon. Gentlemen opposite for that. Although this treaty has big defence implications, there is not a word about it in the White Paper.
In every one of the six Defence White Papers produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), he never failed to put his proposals for defence expenditure in their proper perspective of a search to arrest the arms race. For example, in his last White Paper he said:all means must be explored of bringing about a lasting peace which does not rest on the effort to maintain a balance of power".Contrast that with the attitude of the present Secretary of State, who did not deal with the whole question of disarmament in his White Paper, who did not mention disarmament in his speech introducing the White Paper in another place and who, when challenged about this, seemed astonished and even slightly amused at the idea that the Secretary of State should be concerned with disarmament. He defined the Government's attitude to disarmament in words which, at best, can be called flippant and, at worst, cynical, for he said:I believe in all sorts of things. I believe in truth and beauty and the inevitability of death, but I do not mention these in every 1252 speech I make; and therefore on this occasion I did not mention disarmament, but it does not mean to say that I do not think it a splendid ideal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 24th February 1971; Vol. 315, c. 1151–2.]It would appear from this that, while the Secretary of State may believe in the inevitability of death, he does not have any strong convictions about the inevitability of disarmament. No one will deny the massive obstacles lying in the way of agreements on mutual disarmament measures, but no progress will be made on disarmament unless senior Ministers have the kind of faith and determination about disarmament which is singularly lacking from the defence White Paper.
From the general question of disarmament I turn to the more direct question of East-West negotiations. The meagre passage on these, in paragraph 9, of which the noble Lord made some mention, is thoroughly negative. The speech of the Secretary of State in another place amplifying it is more consistent with a belief that we are entering a new and more menacing period of cold war than entering what President Nixon has called an era of negotiation.
The noble Lord mentioned President Nixon's message to Congress last week. I ask him to study and contrast that with the content and tone of the White Paper and the speech of his noble Friend. The White Paper and that speech were a thoroughly alarming analysis of the situation, and quite unjustified.
The noble Lord referred to Chancellor Brandt's Ostpolitik. In our view, this has opened up new and real possibilities in relation to East-West détente. We should like to see these possibilities realised through a properly prepared European security conference, and the establishment of some continuing machinery for the negotiation of East-West differences.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall what President Nixon also said in his message, that the Middle East provided the worst threat of world war that he could recall since he came to office?
§ Mr. Thomson
Yes, I certainly recall that and have it very much in mind in the general case which I am deploying. 1253 I should have thought that the dangers of confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Middle East issues were an added reason for intensifying the search for East-West détente on the lines which I have been urging.
I was about to say that Berlin must be regarded as a test case in this matter. Chancellor Brandt and his Western allies are entitled to Soviet concessions over access to West Berlin, both on their own merits and as an acid test of Soviet good faith. No doubt the forthcoming conference of the Soviet Communist Party in March is an important stage in these developments, and in the hopes which I am expressing. In the meantime, it seems that the duty of western statesmen and of Her Majesty's Government is to create a climate which encourages détente, instead of making cold war speeches gloomily prophesying an extension of the arms race both inside and outside Europe.
I am not arguing that the achievement of some piece of permanent machinery for political discussion of East-West problems, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) worked so hard when he was Foreign Secretary, will lead of itself to a dramatic détente. There is obviously a long way to go before we create a Europe which is truly secure. But events have been moving, however gradually, in the right direction.
Our complaint about the White Paper is that its whole tone, and that of the speeches, goes in the wrong direction. The collective strength of the Western Alliance is not an end in itself. It has the twin purpose of defence, on the one hand, and a détente on the other. But they must be kept in balance; and the Government have the balance badly wrong. A new generation has grown up, since N.A.T.O. was formed, which never knew Stalin or John Foster Dulles. If we wish to convince them that collective security is worth while, we can do so only on the basis of seeking to use it in seeking improvements in East-West relations.
We ought not to be less forthcoming than the United States, who are also locked in the crucial S.A.L.T. negotiations with the Soviet Union, to which the noble Lord drew attention and to which the White Paper properly refers. The 1254 S.A.L.T. negotiations have persisted despite external events which might easily have upset the talks, including the Middle East situation. I take that as evidence that both sides are deeply sincere and have made preparations with an impressive thoroughness.
The S.A.LT. negotiations have big implications for the European members of N.A.T.O. We must not show ourselves less willing to enter into substantive negotiations than the two super powers.
It is against that background that we welcome the Government's change of heart about contributing to the European Defence Improvement Scheme. First, it helps to maintain the commitment of American troops to Europe, as the noble Lord has argued; and that is vital to the real hopes of détente. Unilateral American withdrawal would destroy the possibility of mutual and balanced reductions in forces. The only principle on which progress on disarmament can be made is the principle of multilateral reductions on either side, preserving a balance of security at the end of the process. Second, I am bound to agree with the noble Lord that the nature of the plans—the physical protection of aircraft, for example— is essentially defensive, and if any emergency were to develop in Europe it would help to provide an additional breathing space and reduce the risk of nuclear escalation.
For the Government to take a more positive view than they have done so far about East-West negotiations would not only be consistent with the present situation in Europe but also consistent with the level of defence expenditure to which the Government have committed themselves for some years ahead and arc now recommending to the House. Anybody coming from outside the country to read the Defence White Paper for the first time, and the Secretary of State's speech in another place, would regard them not as committing us to the existing level of defence expenditure, but as preparing the way for a massive increase in the defence budget.
I mention just some of the theme phrases of the Secretary of State's speech:…the largest and most perilous single factor continues to be the military expansion of the Soviet Union … the dangers we face are greater and not less.1255 Or againThe N.A.T.O. forces provide a critically thin coverage. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 24th February, 1971; Vol. 315, c. 1063, 1064.]
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Does the right hon. Gentleman disagree with any one of those phrases?
§ Mr. Thomson
I was not aware that I had given way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman but, as always, I should have been happy to do so. I disagree, as I have been saying at rather inordinate length, with the tone and the whole balance of the analysis of the situation contained in the White Paper and in that speech.
I apologise for having to repeat these phrases from the speech of the Secretary of State, but when the Secretary of State for Defence is not in this place I am afraid that we sometimes have no alternative. I was about to say of these phrases that if they mean anything, they are a case for spending more on our arms. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman catches Mr. Speaker's eye, I should be interested to hear whether he agrees with that. We all remember the ringing declarations on this subject by the Government while they were in opposition. They said Labour were betraying the country and the security of the nation. Under the Tories there were to be no more arbitrary defence ceilings. The Conservatives would first determine what was required to defend Britain and her interests, and then they would provide for it and, with a stiff upper lip, pay the bill. That was in the run up to the election.
But what has happened? The Government, by the long arm of miraculous coincidence, have discovered that the expenditure required to defend Britain adequately is almost exactly the same size as the defence budget with which the Labour Government was said to be betraying Britain's security.
The Government claim to be able to resume a lot of activities which the Labour Government had reduced and to be able to do so for the same money. I ought, perhaps, to make it clear that what is at issue here is not a division across the House on whether there ought to be a world wide concern about peace 1256 and stability. We on this side of the House share the concern as much as those on the other side of the House. The issue is to decide how much a nation like ours can afford in terms of its defence and its contribution to international peace, and then how best to use its resources. It is a matter of deciding how much and then of deciding the best way of doing it.
We for our part, if we had continued as the Government, were ready to maintain a general capacity with a very considerable reinforcement capability, of which a demonstration was given in the spring of last year in that massive exercise which moved such large numbers of men and material out to the Far East. So this is not at issue.
What is at issue between us is whether it is wise, by trying to do too much—more than we have the power to do—to end up by not being able to do anything properly and adequately. The Government, by their present attitude of seeking to claim to do many more things than the Labour Government felt that it was right to do and by saying that they can do them within the same defence ceilings, are not being honest with our Servicemen, nor with our allies, nor with the British public.
Our Servicemen are being overstretched by being given additional tasks east of Suez without being given additional resources to tackle those tasks. I should have thought that I would have carried the former Service Members on the opposite benches with me in this argument. I hope that I shall carry some of them with me in the argument which is a corollary of it, namely, that the Services are asked to pay for these extra commitments themselves. Whether it is the east of Suez presence or the uncommitted reserves, they are being paid for, not by the taxpayers, but by other parts of the Services giving up something which they had hoped would be in their own programme.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the big exercise carried out last year and then said that the present Government were trying to do too much with the Forces. Surely by saying that the Labour Party accepts that the task is there. The difference between the parties is how to carry it out.
§ Mr. Thomson
That is very close to what I was arguing. The difference between the parties is that we say that a decision should be taken as to how much the nation can afford to spend on this to do the job adequately and thoroughly, and then decisions should be taken as to the wise ways of doing it. The right level of resources can be decided on, but the resources can still be used badly, as I shall hope to persuade the House shortly.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. He mentioned the outlook of the Servicemen. Does he agree that the Serviceman in all three Services very clearly understands the importance of his peace-keeping rôle, particularly east of Suez, and that the only people who steadfastly refuse to understand it are the few hon. Members who are now sitting on the benches beind the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Thomson
No. That is neither true nor fair. We on this side of the House have as deep an appreciation of the peace-keeping rôle of the British Serviceman as anybody in any other part of the House. I speak as a former Secretary of State for Commonwealth relations. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not doing his cause much service by adopting that attitude to my right lion. and hon. Friends and I. It is time that he started being frank with his right hon. Friends, who are genuinely misleading him by trying to persuade him that they can do the kinds of things that he wants done without providing the Servicemen with additional resources to allow them to be done.
This argument applies equally to our allies, particularly in the Far East. They are in danger of being misled by all the fine words that they hear about our determination to maintain worldwide forces. If the new Government were to live up to their past professions they would be spending, not an extra £5 million or £10 million in Singapore as they propose, but they would be spending sums on the scale that they talked about when they were still in opposition. The truth is that the Government are not providing additional forces. They are only providing additional tasks, for which the Forces will be spread more thinly. The Government are not taking on any greater commitments than their predecessors had. They are merely arousing 1258 greater expectations. That is our indictment of the Government.
Of course our Forces are welcome to our Commonwealth allies in Singapore and Malaysia. That goes without saying. If all goes well there, they will act as a deterrent to trouble. I readily concede that to the Government. The Government's gamble may then have come off and everyone here will be profoundly happy that it has worked out that way.
Our duty as an Opposition is to warn the Government that, if things go wrong, and if there are internal troubles fomented by outside influences, we run the danger—with troops on the ground—of being sucked into the trouble before we have time to take the political decision as to whether it is right for us to be directly involved.
Finally on this point, I turn to the question of the British public. The Prime Minister poses before them as the great stripper-away of national illusions. I contend that the Prime Minister is perpetrating one of the most dangerous national illusions of all—that we have the resources to be both a major contributor and a significant force in Asia and Africa, ready to match the growing naval power of the Soviet Union. The pretence is that the Prime Minister is restoring what the Labour Government cut in defence. The reality is that he has accepted the Labour Government's defence cuts.
It is against this background that the Government's obsession with the growth of the Soviet Navy must be seen. Of course the arrival of the Soviet Navy in the Indian Ocean is a development of considerable significance for the international scene. That goes without argument. However, instead of reacting like a latter-day Lord Curzon, the Secretary of State for Defence might remember that we are living in a world now where the Soviet Union is a super-Power, where Britain is no longer a super-Power, and where the nations bordering the Indian Ocean are no longer imperial possessions but are independent and mainly nonaligned nations. These are the changed realities with which we must learn to live.
It would be wiser coolly to analyse the Soviet purposes and coolly to decide what is best for Britain to do given the limitations on our resources. 1259 The Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Navy, who I notice is not on the Treasury Bench today, uttered by far the wisest words on this matter when, on returning from the Indian Ocean, he said that there was no reason to get steamed up about the Soviet presence as it exists at the moment. That is the wisest approach to make.
I believe that the historians of the future may well decide that the remarkable thing is, not that the Soviet Navy arrived in the Indian Ocean in the late 1960s, but that the Soviet Union did not begin to exercise the attributes of a worldwide naval power a great deal sooner; just as the striking thing about Britain is, not that we decided to make a major withdrawal from east of Suez at the end of 1971, but that we maintained a big military presence there as long as we did after the disappearance of the Indian Empire which, after all, had been the major base from which the resources and manpower for maintaining that traditional presence had come.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Is there not a further argument for the case my right hon. Friend is making? The White Paper and the Minister of State have both got steamed up about the threat of the Red Navy in the Indian Ocean and particularly in the Mediterranean. I am not an enthusiast about the Red Navy anywhere. Why do we never hear any criticism of the presence of the American Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean which is further away from its base than the Russians are? If one is to be regarded as a threat, it is wrong for the Minister to keep silent on the other.
§ Mr. Thomson
My hon. Friend should have directed that interruption at the Government Front Bench and not at me.
One point on which I agree with the Secretary of State for Defence is that I believe that the implications of the Soviet Navy's presence in the Indian Ocean are much more political than military. That at least is what I take out of this interesting sentence in the White Paper, which appears to me to give away the Government's case on South Africa, and which says that the Soviet presence in the Indian Oceanis in support of its political aim of gaining influence among the non-aligned countries at the expense of Western interests".1260 Incidentally, we might well add—"and at the expense of Chinese interests". It may well be that the upward trend of Soviet military expenditure which worries all of us may be more directed towards China, where it has by far the longest disputed frontier in the world, than towards the West.
Without wishing to anticipate Wednesday's debate on arms to South Africa, may I say that we must accept that the Soviet Union, like any other world naval power, will assert its right to show the flag in Third World ports. The very worst way we can go about countering the undoubted influence the Soviet vessels will have in these ports is by selling arms to South Africa.
The Prime Minister is now reported in the Press as having made himself the toast of the South African Parliament. I hope he is proud of that accolade, but I also hope that he realises that he is also the toast of the Kremlin. Never can the Kremlin have enjoyed an easier naval victory than it has done in the last few days. Its ships. unless the Government try on Wednesday to take a very different line from that which they have so far taken, will now find themselves more welcome than ever before in Indian Ocean ports. This is the result of the perverse behaviour of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Thomson
I have given way a good deal already and I am beginning to strain the patience of the House, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not give way.
I turn from the Far East and Europe to what the noble Lord said, absolutely correctly, was one of our main defence problems, with which we should be concerned, and that is the question of recruitment, the level of volunteers coming forward for the Forces. This is something which ought deeply to concern both sides of the House. We have a common interest in seeing that the terms and conditions of service, the pay and prospects, are of a kind which can continue to give us the numbers which we require for our Forces on a voluntary basis.
I can only say that I hope that this is the last time, whatever other differences we may have across the Floor of the House, that the Government will feel 1261 obliged to go through their ritual narking about the inadequacy of the manpower legacy which they inherited from their predecessors. This is a persistent national problem. The record of the party opposite during the long years it was in Government before 1964 was not a particularly happy one. I recall that my right lion. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) described in his first defence debate as Secretary of State in 1965 howtaking over responsibility for Britain's defence policy last October was like being pitchforked into the cab of a runaway train … I found when I took office that the Royal Navy had had to put some weapons in mothballs in its ships for want of technical ratings to man them."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 1328.]That was his description of how he found the military situation. I do not put that to make a debating point but to try to end all debating points on this subject, because I think that what is important is to concentrate on getting that subject of improved recruiting settled.
We welcome the steady improvement in recruitment percentages the noble Lord has reported in the White Paper, but there is clearly a long way to go. It is equally true, though the noble Lord was less than generous about it, that these better figures are due more than anything else to the military salary introduced by my right hon. Friend when he was Secretary of State for Defence. The second half of this award—for the single soldier—due in April should give increasing impetus to recruiting and to the prolongation of service, but the graph on page 32 illustrates vividly the shrinking pool of young men of the right age groups who are available for the forces. I well remember the difficulties which my hon. Friends had in persuading hon. and right hon. Members opposite of the reality of that graph. It is a serious problem and I offer a constructive suggestion. I wonder whether more young women could perhaps be recruited to do jobs which are normally done by men. I noticed that my noble Friend, Lord Winterbottom, who had a good deal of experience of defence during the last Administration, put forward in another place a number of constructive ideas by which womanpower could ease the manpower situation in the forces, and I commend those ideas to the House and to the Government. 1262 What is encouraging from the figures is the rate of re-engagements. The best advertisement for the military profession is when those who have experience of it volunteer to carry on. I conclude from this that there is a lot to be said for the idea of shorter starting engagements which give the youngsters opportunity to sample Service life without feeling that they have to over-commit themselves for too long a period. I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), if he catches the eye of the Chair later, will wish to draw attention to a particular aspect arising out of the Donaldson Report.
Presenting the appeal of Service life has special difficulties at a time when fewer people will be spending less time in faraway places. The mountains of Radfan had a more challenging recruiting appeal than the prosperous plains of north Germany and a more palatable one than the back streets of Belfast. For that reason, the training facilities in the training schools which we shall go on using in various parts of the world will be important for recruiting as well as for their own merits.
Like the noble Lord the Minister of State I was impressed from the White Paper by the number and variety of occasions on which the Services have stepped in to deal with emergency situations around the world. These get individual publicity sometimes when they happen, but the overall picture of the forces as ever-readies for international disaster is often lost. How many of us remember—I did not—that the Royal Air Force during the last year flew relief supplies to disaster areas in Tunisia, Malagasy, Turkey, Rumania and Peru, to say nothing of the massive and imaginative combined "ops" carried out by all three Services in the Pakistan floods and in the suffering in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. I mention this because I believe that wider publicity for this type of Service work can make a contribution to recruiting as well as inspiring increased understanding by public opinion of the work of the modern forces.
While I am on this subject, I should like to see the Government give a lead in exploring the possibility—I direct these words to the Foreign Secretary—of an 1263 international disaster organisation under United Nations auspices. The House will remember that at one time the previous Government earmarked troops for United Nations peace-keeping purposes. United Nations peace-keeping is at a low ebb at present, but I think the opportunities for it may well return. In the meantime, the earmarking of military units for international disaster work to be co-ordinated by a military staff at the United Nations would be of immediate humanitarian service as well as offering potentialities for the future.
I turn in conclusion to the sombre scene in Northern Ireland. It was recorded not so long ago that we had had the first post-war year without a single Serviceman being killed in action. I think the House will agree that it is unspeakably sad that that record should be broken by casualties within the United Kingdom itself, and this at the hands of those who are fellow citizens of the Servicemen. The whole House will want to join in the expression of sympathy which the noble Lord gave over the most recent death of a Serviceman, which occurred in Londonderry yesterday. There is no more miserable military task than having to keep the peace in the midst of a big city in the face of the hatred and provocation of rival factions on one's own countrymen. There will be genuine admiration for the skill, courage, patience and good humour with which the soldiers do their duty.
It goes without saying that this is not a situation which can be solved by military peace-keeping. The Serviceman can only hold the ring while the search for political solutions and political reconciliation goes on. This is not the occasion to debate that, but Northern Ireland presents new and urgent military problems, or, perhaps, an old problem in a new and urgent guise—how to cope with the urban guerrilla. This is an area in which there is much work to be done in developing new techniques and new weapons to restrain the violent handful with the minimum use of force and the minimum suffering to the vast majority of the population. There is also the equally important need for new ideas to sustain the morale and mobilise the more 1264 active support of the silent and often too passive majority in Northern Ireland.
In this debate the Government have persisted in speaking disparagingly of the defence inheritance which they received from their predecessors. Let us examine that inheritance. They certainly took over forces which had gone through a painful and necessary period of change. That it was painful never ceased to be emphasised by the Conservatives in Opposition. That it was necessary is, I think, proved by the fact that the new Government have broadly adopted our reduced levels of defence expenditure. The consolidation and stability of which they now, quite correctly, boast is not their creation but ours. Our criticism is that they are undermining the benefits of that reshaping of our defence expenditure. In Singapore and Malaysia they are overstretching our forces and taking unnecessary risks with them. In South Africa, they are destroying the influence our Forces can exercise throughout the Third World. And in Europe they are failing to use our increased contribution to N.A.T.O. in support of a positive and constructive search for East-West détente.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson), in the course of a speech which was not nearly as critical of the White Paper as perhaps it was intended to be, made the recurrent complaint that a Defence White Paper was actually about defence and not about disarmament. That is not the aspect of the White Paper which worries me. It is a very good thing that a White Paper on Defence should be about defence and that it should concentrate not only on our obligations and on redefining what they are but should concentrate in some detail on the resources to be provided to secure our ends.
Therefore, I shall not deal with the full scope of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks but shall confine my observations to two specific matters in the White Paper, first on the naval equipment side and second on the increased activity foreseen in the Indian Ocean.
Like most hon. Members, at least on this side of the House, I very much welcomed the Government's announcement a few months ago that they intended to retain the "Ark Royal", which 1265 meant retention of an aircraft carrier capability for some little while ahead. This seemed to me absolutely essential, because I could not see, and cannot see now, what is to take the place of the big aircraft carriers with the present lamentable deficiency of our guided missile programme. But I should like the Minister who is to reply to the debate to answer one or two questions about this.
Annexe C, the Strength of the Fleet Table, shows two aircraft carriers, "Ark Royal" and "Eagle ", both operational and in commission. What sort of lease of life is forecast for them, particularly "Ark Royal" when left on her own? Is it thought that one aircraft carrier, admittedly with the support of our allies, I suppose, when it is a[...]ting in the Atlantic, can possibly provide the additional cover that we expect from this source? What happens When it goes in for refit or is damaged, for instance? Its functions are so nearly unique that it seems very difficult to maintain an effective presence if we have only one carrier to call on.
In paragraph 14 of Chapter V, there is confirmation of the cessation of fixed-wing flying training. This must mean that in a measurable scope of time there will not be aircrew replacements or officer replacements for the present Fleet Air Arm as it runs down. The White Paper says that in this situation the necessary manpower will be supplemented from R.A.F. sources, but we are in a difficult situation if we are running down the whole aircraft service of the Navy and do not have a definite date to work to. A running-down Service is not an easy one in which to maintain the necessary enthusiasm and morale. Having spent many years alongside the old Fleet Air Arm, I know how tremendous that enthusiasm and morale were, and I would not want to see them dwindle away in the last years of its operational service.
The trouble we are in is because the Labour Government took a decision to abandon carriers within a fairly short space of time without first making sure that we had the necessary guided missile capacity to take their place. Will the extension of the Ark Royal's operational life by itself enable us to fill that gap? I see from the White Paper that 1266 we are apparently relying almost wholly on the French Exocet device for this. When will it be operational? Are some of the criticisms I have heard of it true, that it is lacking in range and, as yet, is largely unproved?
There is another matter that is relevant to the transitional period. Paragraph 8 of Chapter II of the White Paper says that we are embarked on the design of a through-deck cruiser. Nothing else is said about it. I take that to mean that it is the successor to the aircraft carrier —the aircraft carrier plus command and communications ship of the future. But the White Paper refers only to design work on it. So, given the normal time lag, we may have to wait a decade before the ship becomes operational, if she is ever built. With a reducing aircraft carrier capability and the new ship not ready, is it possible for us to fill the gap with a suitable guided missile programme?
I also wonder whether it is realised that a ship of this kind, the cost of which may be as much as £40 million, is an enormous concentration of absolutely vital equipment in a single hull. It must be exceedingly vulnerable. Apart from any aircraft carrier characteristics it may have, its future rôle will be that of the information centre and command centre of the entire fleet. Is it right to put so many eggs in one basket? I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how the Government will bridge the gap between what we have now and what we may have in 10 years' time.
My second point concerns our new responsibilities in the Indian Ocean, which have been heightened by the recent decision to have a military presence in South-East Asia. I want to make a plea for the reactivation of the former sea and air base which we had during the last war on Mauritius. I believe that that would solve many problems. For one thing, Mauritius is geographically well sited, almost in the middle of the Indian Ocean. For another, we should not have there the awkward business of establishing a base in the middle of a hostile or apathetic population. I am assured that the British connection is still greatly valued in Mauritius. I understand that its Foreign Minister, M. Gaëtan Duval, when in London last autumn and, I believe, again at the Commonwealth Conference 1267 in Singapore, offered us naval base facilities on behalf of his Government.
I am sure that our presence would be fully acceptable to the local population—indeed, that it would be welcomed by both the locals and Commonwealth countries on the perimeter of the area. Facilities are available at the old naval base in the Bay of Mahebourg, where all the original tanks are still in position, and it could speedily be reactivated. The old R.A.F. base at La Plaisance is also available. Much of it is now used for civil aircraft, but I believe that the land is still owned by the British Government.
There is also a political reason for doing this. Mauritius is at present at the crossroads. It has a rather weak coalition Government, who are doing their utmost to resist Soviet pressure for additional base facilities in the island. That pressure is formidable. The Soviet Ambassador has a staff of over 200, which by any yardstick is excessive for an island in the Indian Ocean. There is a fisheries agreement, concluded last autumn, allowing up to 12 trawlers a year to use Port Louis and—important—relief crews to be flown out there as often as necessary. Soviet oceanographic survey vessels are active in that area. Russia has made very great efforts on the cultural front to put her case favourably before the Mauritian people. I am told that the new Lenin Library in Port Louis is the finest of its kind anywhere in the country.
So its seems to me that, with the intention of having an effective presence in the Indian Ocean, we should look seriously at improving our standing in Mauritius. A recent newspaper referendum showed that 77 per cent. of the people were in favour of an alignment with the West as against 21 per cent. for non-alignment and less than 1 per cent. in favour of the Communist bloc.
If we are to take the step of improving our relations with Mauritius and reactivating our base there, which I believe to be practically necessary in the task we have in hand, there are certain things that we must do. We must, for instance, try to reduce the serious unemployment in the island and this could partially be done by the work of reactivating the base. We should offer 1268 modest loans, tied to the improvement of harbour facilities and the physical and telephonic communications throughout the island. The harbour needs dredging. It would also be helpful if we and the United States could enter an agreement with Mauritius to take more of its staple crops of sugar and tea. Generally, the whole of British propaganda in the island needs to be brightened up and improved because—made no mistake about it—if we do not seek to fill the political vacuum which has been created there, all the lessons are that the Soviet Union will not be slow to step in and do the job for us.
I have confined my remarks to two aspects of the White Paper which I believe to be of great importance: first, filling the gap between the phasing out of the aircraft carrier and the weapon which will take its place some years from now; secondly, the urgent political and strategic importance of mending out fences in Mauritius. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us some comfort on both these points.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Foley (West Bromwich)
I do not want to follow closely the arguments put by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) other than to say that I am sorry that he referred to Mauritius exclusively. I hope that he has made representations to the Government in the past on that subject, because Mauritius was one of the places discussed at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in Singapore as an alternative possibility as a base. Indeed, I understand that the Mauritian Government offered base facilities in the island. The Government decided in their wisdom that they would prefer South Africa.
I want to talk in particular about those aspects of the White Paper concerned with planning and strategy and the Indian Ocean. Paragraph 8 refers to the Soviet Union as,… building up its military capabilities in the Indian Ocean …Paragraph 25 states:The Government has made clear its view that the growing Russian naval presence in this area of strategic importance should be regarded as a matter of concern for all neighbouring countries, as well as for those countries, like Britain, who depend for their livelihood upon the trade routes …1269 It adds that the Commonwealth Heads of Government… decided to set up a study group, consisting of representatives…of a number of countries—… to consider the matter and report to Heads of Government through the Commonwealth Secretary-General…Paragraph 25 then goes on to quote the reservations of Her Majesty's Government, stating:The Government has agreed to participate in this study, while making it clear that it retains the right to take such action as it considers necessary to give effect to Britain's global defence policy.The White Paper should also have referred to the reservation made by the other Commonwealth Governments in Singapore when they agreed to participate in these talks. Their reservation was that they would continue to participate providing that Britain did not take any action inimical to their prevailing views on the whole subject. Yet only a month after the return from Singapore, when preliminary discussions have only just started for the Commonwealth Study Group—which is a unique body—Britain has taken a precipitate action which may well mean that the Study Group will not even get started.
We are entitled to ask the Government, "Why prejudice the talks in this way?". Why was this action taken with such unnecessary haste? Did the Government, in subscribing to the idea of a Study Group on the Indian Ocean, do so as an empty gesture, or were they deeply concerned about realities in the area and did they want others to be involved with them? It is indeed an area of vital concern to this country. If we include most of black Africa in the geographical area. it contains over half of the membership of the Commonwealth and considerably more than half its population. It contains over half the member States of the United Nations. It is an area in which Britain has many friends, ties of history and culture and trade and investment. It certainly has interests vital to us and our well-being.
Therefore, we must be concerned about any moves to create more instability in an area which is already terribly unstable. At the Far Eastern end looms Communist China whose militant desire to export its ideology is likely to be a grow- 1270 ing source of tension. At the other end, there is the Middle East, with its problems; then, through to the south, there is the danger to world security posed by the critical conflict between African nationalism on the one hand and colonialist and racialist régimes on the other.
The Prime Minister has said:During the last decade the Soviet Navy has grown into a modern and well-equipped force—second only to that of the United States, and now acting as a politico-military force on a global scale.I think that that is true. In strategic terms, it means of course that the least vulnerable part of this area of the Indian Ocean is probably the Cape, of which so much has been spoken. It is at the extreme range of Soviet vessels. It is, moreover, a point where shipping lanes are fairly wide—much more spaced out than, say, in the eastern Atlantic round the bulge of West Africa or at the entrance to the Gulf.
Among the ships of 60 nations passing round the Cape, British vessels last year numbered 1,250 out of a total of 15,000. It may be that there were other ships with flags of convenience carrying British goods, but we should see in its perspective the figure of 1,250 British ships out of a total of 15,000. I understand that about 5 per cent. of British dry cargoes, imports and exports, pass this way. That, too, helps to put the Cape route into its proper perspective.
We are told of the Russian naval threat in the area, but it has been indicated by the Secretary of State for Defence in a B.B.C. interview to be his view that the Russians' purpose appears to be primarily political. This awareness of the Russian political rather than military threat is very much the view of our major ally. A United States State Department spokesman quoted by the Financial Times of 23rd July, 1970, said that while the United States was aware of British interests in the maintenance of free passage around the coast of South Africa, it did not believe that any additional measures were necessary to ensure that freedom. According to the International Herald Tribune of 16th December, 1970, a National Security Council study of the implications of Soviet operations in the Indian Ocean found no need for a large American military presence in the region for the foreseeable future. The emphasis 1271 would be on political activity to counter growing Soviet influence.
It is true that the United States does not have the same historical links and vital interests that we have, but it would be hardly imaginable that a real military threat by Communism anywhere in the world would be allowed to continue without a United States counter-move. I have looked in vain through 54 pages of President Nixon's foreign policy statement for any reference to the Indian Ocean as a threat to the United States, or a major threat to world peace.
If there were a real military threat to Western, or specifically British, shipping in the Indian Ocean, the present British and South African naval strength would hardly be sufficient to cope with the augmented fleet which the Russians would put into the area. If such a threat were to exist, it would clearly be a matter for a wider Western response, presumably involving the United States. If a general non-nuclear war were to break out, it is difficult to conceive of its developing in such a way that the Cape route would be a significant area of conflict, and the relevance of the area would be even less in a nuclear conflict.
I come to the conclusion that the most realistic scenario is the gradual build-up of the Soviet Navy in the Indian Ocean as support for its non-military offensive on the political, diplomatic, cultural and economic fronts. This was endorsed by the Soviet Admiral of the Fleet Gonkhov who wrote in Pravda last year that ships of the Russian fleet plied all the oceans of the world, particularly those where N.A.T.O. vessels were found. He said:The presence of our ships ties the imperialists' hands and deprives them of the chance to interfere with impunity in the internal affairs of other peoples.This may well be turning the facts upside down, but it reveals Russian thinking. He went on to say that the Soviet Navy was a dissuasive factor in the path of "imperialist adventure" and was a symbol of fraternity and aid to friendly peoples. If they believe that, they will believe anything!
We must ask ourselves why there has been this naval expansion in this area. It is possibly because the Russians have learned from us. It is more than 10 years since we discovered in the Royal 1272 Navy that ships could be maintained at sea with afloat support and could be kept at sea for weeks and weeks on end, and we have done this successfully ever since. The Russians may be learning from us in that respect. It may be something to do with their own nuclear missile system, and it may be connected as much with confrontation with China as with the West. But the most important aspect is its political significance as part of the Soviet Union's desire to win friends and influence people.
This brings me back fundamentally to the major flaw in the thinking, planning and strategy of the Government. The view of the world from London is that the major threat to our security comes from the Communist States. Seen from Africa and through African eyes, it is the régimes of South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia, already occupying parts of the continent, which are the enemy. We do not need to accept their view of the world; we have our own vital interests to protect. But their view is a matter of which we must take cognisance in pursuing our own interests.
Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have friends throughout the African Continent and the wider Commonwealth. There is real anguish and despair among many of our friends in Africa and elsewhere, and there is joy in Moscow and Peking at the prospect of Britain drawing militarily closer to the South African régime. However much that military co-operation is dressed up in transparent legal frills, it is clear to Africans that Britain will be siding with their major enemy. Sadly but inevitably, by deliberate action or by a gradual change of atmosphere, African countries and others will move away from Britain and closer to the Communists.
The Russian Navy in the Indian Ocean represents a threat which must be met. If it is a threat which must be countered militarily, it is a threat to the West and not just Britain, and it should be faced by the West and not Britain alone. I believe that the threat posed by the Soviet Fleet is only one component of a much wider challenge. The real threat is political and it must be countered in a political manner.
It is for this reason that I believe that the planners have probably been thwarted by the obsession of the Government who 1273 have committed themselves in advance to supplying arms to South Africa and allying themselves with South Africa in a military sense. It can only lead to a policy of disaster for this country and for the Commonwealth. Just as in the pre-election period we heard so much about a reversal of the policies in the Gulf and in reality the Government have had to eat their own words, so I hope that they will look again at their defence and political strategy in the Indian Ocean and come to their senses.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell (Aberdeenshire, West)
I enjoyed the intervention of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), particularly his quotation from Pravda. It strikes me that in an afternoon when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) has mentioned a generation which never knew Stalin and my noble Friend has quoted Lord Salisbury and Hamlet I might make a quotation myself. I quote Henry Kissinger, an American, who said:Throughout its history N.A.T.O. has suffered from the difficulties that its strategic doctrine has followed rather than guided the creation of its forces.That quotation is probably the most relevant and the most important to come from my examination of the White Paper.
I start by congratulating my noble Friend on the clarity of the layout and the wealth of detail of the annexes to the White Paper. This helps a great deal, but it means great difficulty when one is searching for our national strategic doctrine, because one has to go through so much detail to find out exactly what it means. It is hard to believe that the assumptions upon which the Government are basing their present defence policy are likely to be any less fallible than those of the previous Administration, which I, among others, have criticised heartily over the years. AD70—the alliance study of defence problems for the 1970s—reaffirms our belief in the flexible response strategy. But to objective military thought this has always been an academic scenario reflecting political and psychological considerations and the military debate outside the council chambers still hangs on whether N.A.T.O. is stressing deterrence or the strategy of fighting 1274 a war in Europe. I am no happier, after listening to my noble friend, about thinking that the Government have resolved this problem.
I think that the Government's view of the viability of the rôle of our ground forces in the central sector of Europe is gravely overshadowed by our presence east of Suez, which we are continuing, and by the emergent situation in Northern Ireland. If one forgets the flanks, despite the topicality of the Russians in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, it is only in the centre that the security of N.A.T.O. can be destroyed overnight by military act. These are not popular times to talk about military acts because very few people in this country or outside it believe that military acts of that type will take place. However, these risks exist, and the heart of the Western military problem in terms of security and defence lies in the N.A.T.O. centre.
Our forces in Europe have grown over the years more by political acts than by any military design of this Government or any other Government. Our post-war 1945 occupation Rhine Army grew into the post-1954 agreement that we would commit four divisions until, I think, 1998, and our soldiers and airmen have been required since that time in whatever numbers are minimal to give us sufficient political influence in N.A.T.O. with very little relationship to the military threat Or military duty which they may have to carry out.
I quoted earlier, and I make no apology for quoting again, the words of Henry Kissinger in 1962:Throughout its history N.A.T.O. has suffered from the difficulties that its strategic doctrine has followed rather than guided the creation of its forces".If we have a continued belief in the strategy of flexible response, this is a political strategy of doubtful military merit, but it is one, and has always been recognised as one, which allows Britain to economise in its balance of payments and, above all—this is the nub—it avoids conscription. By subscribing to the myth that we can recruit a sufficiently large professional army to avoid conscription and to go on avoiding constription, we have taken to the "flexible response" doctrine.
Are the Government wise to continue the established doctrine of the right hon. 1275 Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)? If they are, we must have the honesty to say so. The assumption of the doctrine is that an assured nuclear response proves our willingness to escalate and, by this bargaining position—which I personally view as incredible because I do not believe that the immediate consequences of tactical nuclear weapons to be anything other than strategic—who, least of all the Russians, would test the temperature of the bath water by putting in their big toe when they have plenty of naked East Europeans to throw in to find out how hot it is? What would be the reaction of the Americans or ourselves to this type of tactical attack—to fire nuclears on Eastern Europe or Moscow and invite the inevitable response? No, never. Therefore, it is quite straightforward, tactically and militarily, to see a situation in N.A.T.O. where ground forces attack and we and our allies are quite unable to escalate by using nuclear weapons.
Paradoxically, therefore, the credibility of the presence of our conventional forces is that we are willing to escalate—or so the reasoning goes. But these must be strong enough not only to prove our will to fight, as the present ones claim that they do, but be sufficiently strong to conduct a major sustained campaign in Europe, which the present ones cannot do, particularly our tiny contribution of 50,000 men towards it. If we think of those 50,000 men in terms of 11, 12 or 13 battalions of infantry, with one, two or three being withdrawn to go to Northern Ireland, and analyse a battalion of infantry at a strength of, say, 600 men and consider the bayonet power of that battalion, we are thinking of about 3,000 to 4,000 fighting infantrymen, in conjunction with their N.A.T.O. allies, to stop the armies of Eastern Europe.
The Government maintain that the present force levels in B.A.O.R. are adequate. I do not believe that this is true. What is the minimum military strength for B.A.O.R. to be credible in this strategic concept? Can the withdrawal of troops from B.A.O.R. to reinforce Northern Ireland be equated with a continuing credibility in the central sector? If the answer is "No", the strategy behind the White Paper is merely the mixture as before and, to my mind, we have no right 1276 to criticise the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] I did not say that to get a faint cheer from the Opposition, but this discussion has been carried on at an intellectual level as well as a parliamentary level for many years and what I am saying now many of my hon. Friends have been reading for many years. We have debated the matter in the Services and there is a great body of military opinion which is unhappy about the "flexible response" strategy. It therefore seems from the White Paper that our defence priorities remain an eventual running withdrawal from our east of Suez commitment and no special arrangement for anything outside N.A.T.O.
The most urgent need is to create permanent forces for counter-revolutionary warfare within the United Kingdom—and I include Northern Ireland. Despite the gravely deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland and the urban unrest which faces us in the decades ahead when urban warfare will, quite surely, be the warfare of the future, I am surprised, and disquieted, that the subject of urban terrorism is not even mentioned in the White Paper. Nor is it included in the list of higher defence studies to which the White Paper draws attention in its penultimate chapter.
What of east of Suez? We have heard today a statement by the Foreign Secretary. If I wanted to coin a phrase about east of Suez and the Persian Gulf, it would be "Fast and Luce": the last Government were getting out too fast, and now we are getting out with the help of Sir William Luce. It seems that this "Fast and Luce" policy will be a debating point in this Chamber for months to come with none of us really talking about the same thing.
I believe that the White Paper should be talking about C.E.N.T.O. It is strangely silent about C.E.N.T.O. Although it is mentioned in paragraph 2 as an organisation which we intend to continue to support, it is not mentioned in paragraph 8 when the discussion turns to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
I would ask what is the use of the C.E.N.T.O. Treaty if not for the defence of the vital interests of N.A.T.O. to include a rôle in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean? Mention has already 1277 been made of overflying and staging rights, but these already come to us from within C.E.N.T.O. They come to us more through C.E.N.T.O. than through an alliance with the Sheik of Bahrain. We exercise with our C.E.N.T.O. allies—this is to be found in paragraph 73 of the White Paper—and we even act as hosts at a rifle meeting—shades of Bisley and Pirbright to cheer my noble Friend. But I cannot see where our strategy is linked with C.E.N.T.O. Would it not be better, in a strategic sense, to encourage C.E.N.T.O. to be an active influence in the Gulf and in the Indian Ocean?
To my mind the whole of our east of Suez posture is bedevilled by an inability to accept the new style of peace keeping. There is an expression "man-in-a-suitcase" peace keeping at which the Israelis are very expert. This involves a small, five-man teaching team coming in unobstrusively and showing what goes on. Such teams have been doing this all over the world—in Uganda, in Singapore and in many other places. This is a matter of discreet presence rather than what I would call the "shades of imperial splendour" which have bedevilled us for years. The strategy envisages the presence of a few, hard, well-trained specialists who know what they have to put over, and after they have done their work pack their suitcase and go away again. These are the sort of men we should now be considering to put into the Gulf. Obviously, we must produce technical advisers where we can and we should continue with seconded personnel. If there was any doubt about the difference between the two sides of the House over the Gulf it was—and here I am subject to correction—that I never heard the previous Administration say that they would continue to allow seconded personnel to go to the Sheikdoms and Emirates. I believe a good deal of the difficulty arose over that misunderstanding.
So far as naval forces in the Gulf are concerned, I regard the statement by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon as somewhat disappointing. From what I know of the Gulf, our anti-piracy and smuggling patrols are irreplaceable. If nothing else remains there I hope that these patrols will. We should keep it that way. I hope that my noble Friend will try to encourage our generals and 1278 air marshals to study the discreet methods of countries like Israel in these matters.
In conclusion, I should like to turn to the question of manpower, which I touched upon when mentioning the problem of conscription. Unless the forces in the centre of N.A.T.O. are built up by a regular voluntary army, conscription at some time or other will have to come back to this country or we shall have to see our forces reduced from 50,000 to 40,000, right down to 35,000 ad infinitum. Whatever the arguments about strategy, the need for viable fighting Services is paramount. I must give credit for the fact that the White Paper is properly concerned with the nuts and bolts of Service life because manpower hangs on the effectiveness of voluntary recruiting. But recruiting for our all-regular forces is difficult. Nobody knows how difficult it is more than I because I have done a good deal of recruiting at first hand.
On occasions when great recruiting aids, like the names of our great regiments, were being thrown away I used to wince with pain. No White Paper, Government statements or Opposition interjections can substitute for the things that have been going on for many years and which are recruiting attractions to the young men of this country. Recruiting is also difficult in other Western European countries. The German Army is running out of officers and N.C.O.s, and France and Italy are having similar difficulties. More money unfortunately is not the answer. The reason people will not join the Services in 1971 is that the general social attitudes in Western Europe are opposed to military strength. It is as simple as that. Whether one is a left-wing pacifist or a right-wing sabre-rattler those are the facts of life in terms of recruiting into military service.
The imgage of the Army in the minds of some of our young people is that it is something filthy. We all know in our political and private lives how difficult it is to put across to many young people the need for even the barest minimum of defence forces. We are not helped to any great extent by the mass media, particularly by television, which are essentially negative over the need for military preparedness. This is heartbreaking for many of us—and I know that this applies to hon. Members on both sides of the House—when we hear the continual 1279 narking about military mind and the military way of life.
The size of armies without conscription is necessarily declining. Therefore, the question which the Government should have before them at the moment is whether or not conscription should be brought back within the next five years. A mistake which has been made is failure by successive Governments to appreciate that the will of the nation stems from people's personal and direct involvement with the need to preserve our security. That involvement today is lacking. If I may sound perhaps slightly "blimpish" for a moment, I believe that all defence effort should be based on the encouragement of national morale; half the country does not believe in patriotism, let alone military preparedness. I believe that the other half lacks the political leadership to prove them wrong by example.
Why should we have to beg for soldiers to defend our country? Why should we have to advertise, by the use of every gimmick possible, to get men to come forward in sufficient numbers to carry out what is the protection of every citizen in this country? Surely we should start changing our tune by pointing out to people where their duty to their country lies.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred a little earlier to urban terrorism; all of us recognise the honesty of his arguments. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, also mentioned this matter in his speech during the defence debate in the other place. I should like to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to expand on what he thinks should be done in relation to potential urban terrorism outside Northern Ireland?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mitchell
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter. I was just coming on to deal with that point. The political undesirability of conscription is well known. I believe that the answer to urban terrorism is that we should perhaps have a conscripted National Military Reserve for all men and women from the ages of 18 to 35, with a four-week annual reserve liability 1280 and with pay equalling that of Regulars when embodied and a small retaining fee when not. This would be like the old Territorial Army and would be spread throughout the United Kingdom to provide a bastion against urban terrorism. I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening at that most appropriate point in my remarks.
In conclusion, I should like to say that we are dealing with two problems. The first is Russian imperialism and the second is internal subversion. In the final analysis both can be met only by military strength. I believe that the latter is the more vital threat, to be disregarded only by those who do not wish to see. A global rôle for Europe is only possible if N.A.T.O. is strengthened. But the internal security of the United Kingdom, as we are seeing today in Northern Ireland, is the most vital military task for the Army—and I emphasise "the Army"—in the decades ahead. May we hope that the next Defence White Paper acknowledges this sombre fact of life and prepares the Services accordingly.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
We have just heard a refreshingly independent contribution to the debate from the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell). He spoke with a great deal of military experience. At times I thought his military realism was not quite matched by his political realism, but that is a matter of emphasis. Certainly he showed the House that he was not prepared slavishly to follow the dictates of his Front Bench. He was right in his assumption that there was little difference between the view of his own Front Bench and that of the Labour Front Bench on defence matters and that, although there were differences of degree and detail, in essence the approach was exactly the same.
As I listened to the Minister of State opening the debate, I could not help reflecting that he was today honestly acknowledging that we are a military Power of the second rank. Yet as he spoke he showed that he was still imbued with the modes of thought of a world power. This is one of the dilemmas that have affected this House since I have taken part in military debates. I remember year after year the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who was 1281 the great supporter of an east of Suez presence, putting in a classical way the arguments that showed his mode of thought to be that we were a world power charged with the task of maintaining world peace, and that that was our function in life. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East passionately believed in the line which he advocated at the time. Yet I have seen it happen to the right hon. Member as it has happened to every other hon. Member—they are constrained by economic necessity and the attitude of mind which is prevailing in Western Europe and Britain. In Western Europe the economy can bear only a certain load of military expenditure.
The hon. and gallant Member is absolutely right. The Minister of State advanced arguments about the enormous growth of Soviet military power, the 6 per cent. growth each year. I heard these arguments advanced over and over again every year when I used to go to N.A.T.O. by the Supreme Allied Commander, who always gave these statistics of Soviet and Eastern European power and the relative decline in our own. If one follows those arguments through to their logical conclusion, there should be conscription in this country. It is the only means of matching, man for man, or tank for tank, the Soviet power. Conscription would have to be applied in the whole of Western Europe. But, quite apart from military criticisms, conscription is politically unacceptable.
I want to come back to the extreme illogicality of the Minister of State's speech. He was outgunned and outmatched today by the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson), who put his finger on the matter when he said that the Government had not accepted any greater obligations; what they had done was to raise expectations, and this was a very dangerous thing to do. It is a fair criticism of the Government that they are not making a much greater contribution to the defence budget of this country but are asking the forces to carry out greater tasks within the existing budget. In other words, we are being asked to spread the butter more thinly. This is a highly dangerous posture for any Government. We are used to having illusions foister upon us, particularly in defence matters. We have gone through a difficult process since the war 1282 of stripping ourselves of our historical illusions.
The Minister of State painted the picture of the 6 per cent. annual growth of Soviet military strength. He did not contrast it with the percentage growth in the West. I do not know what that is, so he has the advantage of me there. The Minister told us the number of divisions, tanks and aeroplanes facing us on the Soviet side in Western Europe. If he is right in his argument that the dangers are greater today than ever before, he should follow the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West and have far greater military expenditure. The Minister was saying that our forces are inadequate to meet the threat in Europe. If that is so, how can he possibly argue in favour of military obligations east of Suez?
The complete illogicality of his approach was manifest in every word he said, and it was obvious that the noble Lord believed what he was saying. If he was right about the growth of Soviet strength and the dangers inherent in the world situation, how can a country of our size, of our economic strength spread the butter so thinly that we even weaken our western defence?
This dilemma has faced the country since the war. We all have a sneaking feeling that we are an ocean power. When we have been tied down to a presence in Europe we have always done badly. In the seven years war, in the eighteenth century, in our military escapades in Europe, we always did relatively badly. Even in those days we could not put armies into the field; we had to hire Hanoverians and Hessians and pay for them. We could always muster a Navy, whatever methods were used for mustering it—press gangs and so on. Nevertheless, there is an uneasy feeling among all of us that when we have looked outwards to oceans we have always been stronger than when we have tied ourselves to military and continental power. This dilemma still faces us today.
The noble Lord was right in saying that the nature of defence in present circumstances is our defence. We still think in terms of being a global power and consider it important to have a presence east of Suez, even to boost morale. I do not think this is necessary. New Zealanders and Australians came over to help us in 1283 the last war; they did not have bases here beforehand. No doubt, if they were attacked, people from this country would immediately want to help them; but we could use their bases, their power. It is a mistake to think that we must have this military presence east of Suez. In this way we make ourselves hostages to fortune.
The Foreign Secretary this afternoon made a statement on the proposals put forward for consideration by those who are discussing the future of the Gulf States. He spoke of training obligations, which I do not particularly disagree with, and police duties. The right hon. Gentleman explained that what was in his mind was the kind of training given to police forces. That I would not disagree with, but if we are to undertake police duties we might find ourselves embroiled in a situation from which we could not withdraw, and in the same way make ourselves hostages to fortune.
To come back to the basic thinking of the Government, it was a retrograde step for the Government, after what has been done over the years gradually to persuade people like the right hon. Member for Leeds, East of the mistaken idea of the importance of a British presence east of Suez, to go back to this position. The Government have cut down considerably upon their initial view. There was talk at one time of £100 million or £200 million being spent, but that is now much reduced. This is an obligation which the country could well have done without, since we find the greatest difficulty in persuading the country to meet the present military budget.
First, we are told that this military budget is not nearly enough to meet our obligations in N.A.T.O. We all know that the flanks of N.A.T.O. are extremely exposed. The southern flank in Turkey, which is always susceptible to Russian pressure, is one of the soft spots in the N.A.T.O. defence system. We should be spending more money. There should be greater economic aid to countries like Turkey and, I think, Greece. This would help us. But I do not see the logic of the Government's case in the White Paper.
The differences between the two Front Benches are not great. The main dif- 1284 ference is of emphasis in many respects, but the emphasis is important. I think that we are trailing our coat in parts of the world where if we shed ourselves of our illusions we are now a second-grade military power.
We can make a great contribution to Western defence if we look after our particular sector of the world. We should make a greater contribution to N.A.T.O. It is through N.A.T.O. that our contribution should be made. I wish that the Government had realised that and taken a more realistic view of defence.
I am no longer the spokesman on defence for my party. [An HON. MEMBER: "Has it got one?"] Certainly. We have always taken a consistent line; namely, that this country should face the reality of its changed position in the world and should no longer have the illusions which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have so long cherished of being still a great imperial Power and having the kind of influence, by our presence in different parts of the world, which is now ascribed to Russian forces. I think that our situation is now quite different.
I want to touch on a point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West. I think that the whole House was intrigued by his suggestion that far greater consideration should be given to urban and guerrilla warfare. The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that the staff people should study the problem and that there should be training in how to deal with it. Experience in Northern Ireland shows that this may be necessary.
A man for whom I have great respect suggested at a N.A.T.O. meeting that this should be part of the essential training of young people in the West, because the greatest safeguard against attack these days could be the knowledge to an attacker that the country attacked is capable of putting up great guerrilla resistance. It seems that a few relatively determined people in Northern Ireland have made matters very difficult for our troops. I join with the gallant tribute which has been paid to our troops in Northern Ireland.
There should be more study of this problem from two points of view: first, how to deal with subversion in urban 1285 areas and guerrilla tactics; and, secondly, the counter-study of how to conduct guerrilla warfare. This may in the end be one of the best lines of defence, or an additional one, for the Western countries. I am not saying that it should replace our shield in N.A.T.O., but we should take cognisance of it.
I have always taken the view that it was a mistake to cut down the Territorial Army to such an extent. I think that it is still important to get ordinary citizens involved in the defence of their own country. Conscription is politically unwelcome, but I think that we could get more volunteers for a Territorial Army. The Labour Government made a great mistake in cutting down the Territorial Army to the extent that they did. Therefore, I welcome that part of the White Paper which deals with the expansion of the T.A.V.R.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I listened with interest to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). Although he is not the defence spokesman for the Liberal Party, the hon. and learned Gentleman was at least full of ideas about the subject.
The debate so far has been constructive on both sides. However, I must take up the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery on one point. He made a good deal of the fact that we were now a second-rate military Power. It followed from this premise that we should leave the Far East, the Middle East and so forth and withdraw to our tents. I have never been able to accept this logic. We are in no sense the military Power we were before the last war, by comparison with America and the Soviet Union. However, this does not excuse us doing our best to protect our interests as best we can. Whether or not we should leave those areas is a separate argument.
I was very much impressed by the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell). My hon. and gallant Friend's arguments were stark, and, although they may not have been acceptable to all hon. Members, he had the courage to follow the logic of the situation to its ultimate end. My hon. and gallant Friend also had the courage to face the consequences of conscription, 1286 which we have not touched upon in defence debates for too long. Whether it is a practical solution to our difficulties, as well as a politically feasible solution, I am not convinced; but that the matter should be discussed I am sure.
I wonder whether my hon. and gallant Friend or any other hon. Member has heard about or has any ideas to advance on the possibility of some form of paramilitary service, which I understand has been studied by the chiefs of staff. This would be part military and part service of a form which could perhaps be exported; something like battalions of V.S.O. or its equivalent. That a form of service of this kind may before too long become necessary in this country to guard against the urban warfare to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred is, I think, a distinct possibility which hon. Members on both sides must face.
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, I see distinct differences between the approach of the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) and my noble Friend the Minister of State if only in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman was arguing that we must leave the Far East and the Middle East, while on my hon. Friend's side if the Middle Eastern position was not entirely clear at least the Far Eastern position seems to be. I want to confine my remarks to this aspect of the debate.
The mistakes which the Socialist Government committed over their six years in office are twofold, and I believe them to be of great seriousness. Although the difficulties described by my hon. Friend and suffered by all Western nations are an undoubted fact, they were compounded tremendously for us under six years of Socialist Government.
The two main mistakes to which I refer are, first, that the number of men in the Forces was allowed to be reduced to a level well below the danger line, as a result of which morale suffered, and, secondly, by leaving our bases overseas the Labour Government demonstrated the picture of a nation in decline, so soft, even frivolous, that we were no longer mindful of our own interests.
I do not believe that the British people have reached this position or ever will, but many great nations have gone that way before. I think that after six years of Socialist Government the warning signs 1287 are there so far as we are concerned. It is surely a prerequisite of national self-respect and, indeed, of survival, to have the will to defend what one believes and stands for. We have again to demonstrate this to ourselves and to the world; and it is a main responsibility of the Government to see that it is done.
The Labour Government sought to excuse their departure from the Far East by economic calculations which, in my view, were of doubtful value. There was no such pretension regarding the Middle East and the Gulf; it was a sheer unwillingness to provide the means or to face any trouble. They got out of Aden; they said they would go no further and stay in Bahrein. But weeks later the Labour Government announced that they were leaving Bahrein as well. I do not know why, unless it was to provide a sort of symmetry to the strategy or non-strategy of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. To my mind the decision to leave the Gulf was an appalling irresponsibility, and I shall confine my remarks to that aspect.
Unfortunately, through no fault of mine, I missed the Foreign Secretary's statement this afternoon, but I have done my best to study it since. Although it does not confirm the worst apprehensions of some people about leaving the Gulf, it does not leave me quite clear as to the Government's intentions. I therefore want to take the argument in sections.
First, we should ask ourselves: is it in British interests to remain in the Gulf, or is it not? The reasons I would advance are as follows. First of all, there is the size of the British investment, which is very difficult to quantify but may be as much as £2,000 million, and which produces profits for the British companies concerned. Second, the flow of oil provides about 75 per cent. of the requirement for Western Europe and for this country. Then there is the matter of the sterling deposits of the Gulf States in London, which have amounted to as much as £400 million and may have been higher, although, of course, they fluctuate.
Then I would remind the House of the recent negotiations with the countries of O.P.E.C., the oil-producing countries, which have argued hard for the best price that they could get, as they 1288 have the right to do. But there seems a great difference between that form of negotiation, which we should be prepared to face at any reasonable interval, provided that they stick to their bargain, and the situation which has developed in, for instance, Iraq, Libya and Algeria. In Libya and Algeria the threat of confiscation hangs already over the oil companies and their installations, while in Iraq certain concessions have been unilaterally cancelled.
The difference between the investment of the Iraq Petroleum Company since the revolution in 1958 and the investment made in the Gulf States speaks for itself. There has been practically no difference at all in Iraq, and during the same period the investment in the Gulf States has nearly doubled. This must mean something in terms of stability and confidence.
§ Mr. Hooson
The crucial point here is that, although one gets stability with absolute monarchies or dictatorships, and one may because of political change have instability, it will not be undesirable to have that instability because it means that there is political change.
§ Mr. Hastings
The hon. and learned Member's definition of what is desirable and what is not desirable in the interests of this country is clearly quite different from mine. I would not like to see the investment and the stake which this country has and on which the people of this country depend for their prosperity in no small measure—the oil revenue is an immense factor in the economy—jeopardised unnecessarily for the sake of a political experiment. No, I could not possibly agree with him there.
Those at least are some aspects of the stake which we have in the Middle East. The next two questions that we have to ask, surely are: can we do anything effective, if we do remain, to protect this interest and maintain stability; and, second, can we reverse the damage which has already been done by the decision to withdraw by 1971?
§ Mr. John Morris
Without wishing to spoil the hon. Member's speech, I am not sure whether the statement of the Foreign Secretary today was properly explained to him, in that Labour's plan of withdrawal of operational troops will continue and will take effect by the end 1289 of 1971, so that there is no fundamental difference between the parties.
§ Mr. Hastings
That was not my understanding of the statement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Read it."] I have done my best to study it outside. If the Minister on the Front Bench thinks that I have got it wrong in the context of what I have said, I am sure that he will interrupt me. But that is not my understanding, nor was it that of my hon. Friends who were here to hear the statement. In any case, my argument is about the reasons why we should remain in the Gulf.
Can we do anything effective to maintain stability, and can we reverse the damage of this decision to go by 1971? First, to take resources, the White Paper makes plain that the full cost of this is £10 million, which is trivial in the context; £4 million only for the presence of the Army garrison. There are 50,000 troops in Germany. If it is a question of naval equipment, I do not want to embarrass my right hon. Friend but at the same time there are six frigates engaged on the Beira patrol.
I do not want to imply that I am in favour of reducing N.A.T.O. forces to maintain the position in the Middle East. I am only suggesting that a sense of priorities and proportion is necessary. The resources in terms of manpower are small, cheap and surely available, if the importance of the stake there is what I have described it to be.
With regard to the Beira patrol, I do not want to embarrass the Government but there really is something a little grotesque about a Conservative Government maintaining this maritime charade, which is pointless and unpopular, whether these ships are required elsewhere or whether they are not. I hope very soon that my right hon. Friends will decide to put an end to it.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
On the point about the relatively small cost of maintaining a British military presence in the Gulf, does my hon. Friend recall that when the last Government were in power the offer was made locally to foot the entire bill? Does he rule out that that might be the case again?
§ Mr. Hastings
I recall that, and it was an ignominious reflection on the situation. I have no idea whether the Gulf 1290 States or the Shah or anyone else in the area would be prepared to do so, but it is unnecessary for us to face, since we can plainly afford the cost of these resources. The resources are not the problem.
If we stay, then what action realistically could we take to maintain stability at the kind of level of risk which I am talking about? Is it confrontation with the Red Army, or what? We do not have to look back far into history to see the sort of thing which we might face and have faced successfully in recent years. There was, for instance, the invasion of Saudi forces into Buraimi in 1954. The oasis was the legitimate property of Abu Dhabi and of Muscat Oman. We restored the position without much difficulty.
Then there was the revolution in Muscat Oman, organised from abroad, in 1957. Again the situation was restored by the S.A.S. and aircraft of the R.A.F. In 1961, when Kasim, the dictator of Iraq, prepared an invasion of Kuwait, it was entirely our intervention in the Gulf, both on the ground and by moving an aircraft carrier up to Kuwait, which persuaded him to change his mind. Our force was replaced fairly soon by an Arab force which stayed there until the threat from Iraq ended. All that in 15 years; it did not take many men or much money—just a little determination and understanding of the threat.
Then what could happen if we did go? Is it so wildly beyond the bounds of our imagination to see that there could be insurgency into the area of the Gulf States from Aden in the south and Iraq in the north, both of which are under Communist influence and have already shown themselves quite capable of subversion? Suppose that such a thing happened in this weakened area and that at the same time units of the Russian fleet appeared off the coast of the Trucial States. Is this not a situation which none of us could contemplate, given the stake which we have in the area, with anything but alarm? But it is exactly the sort of situation which could be avoided without much trouble if we stayed.
In addition, it has been claimed consistently by the Foreign Office that the Federation is the only answer. Indeed, the Minister mentioned it this afternoon. If the Federation is to succeed or if 1291 groupings of these States, which seem more likely to me, are to succeed, a British presence is absolutely necessary to provide a guarantee.
The problem, therefore, is not one of what we can usefully do and certainly not one of resources but one of diplomacy and of morale. It is no secret to many of us that the Foreign Office became conditioned under the last Government to withdrawal and was prepared to adduce some pretty extraordinary arguments to justify it. If, it said, the Federation did not come about, we should threaten to withdraw. Every time we did that, the Rulers simply turned to alternative protectors. This Federation is an illusion unless we stay there and are prepared to support its beginnings and see that it is established.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have their claims in the area for sure. But neither they nor the Gulf States want us to go. After the let-down which they suffered under the Labour Government, it is not surprising that their confidence is today fairly slim, but that is not to say that they are against our staying.
Negotiation there will have to be, and a hard one, but I am not convinced that we could not succeed in producing a formula which would bring about the essential conditions for our remaining there. To my mind, those conditions are, first, British combat troops on the ground, whether on training or in garrison—training might be quite adequate; there would, of course, have to be a permanent establishment of some kind to which they would go—and, secondly, no firm date for eventual withdrawal.
I should have thought that it was not for the House here to dictate to the Government precisely what should be the details of any agreement of that kind or how the negotiations should be carried out. It is for us simply to come to a conclusion on the main issue, which is the desirability of a presence there or no. As far as I am concerned, I have no doubt whatever.
In conclusion, I would like to turn to some of the arguments which have been brought forward by right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the House, about why we should depart. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Mem- 1292 ber for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is not with us; he speaks with great force on this matter, as he does on so many other subjects. He has been a great exponent of the theory that because our power is not the same as it was in the nineteenth century we should, therefore, withdraw to Salisbury Plain and forget the lot. There are many who see the logic of my right hon. Friend's argument and have followed him in the House, and I have heard it in debates on defence before. Those who take that line, however, seem to me to ignore completely two factors.
The first is that all Western defence today is dominated inevitably by the ultimate possibility of a nuclear exchange, and, therefore, it must to some extent become a matter of bluff and gamble, or confidence in the strength of alliances or trust among Western nations or alliances. Nobody in this House seriously expects that N.A.T.O. could stop the Red Army. Nobody seriously expects that our small force in Hong Kong could stop an invasion from China. Few people, however, would advance the theory that either of these positions should be evacuated. In degree, therefore, one can apply the same argument to the Gulf or to the Far East.
The second point is that those who argue, like my right hon. Friend, that we should leave because we are not as powerful as we were before, ignore the fact that we do not operate in a vacuum. We have surely learned the lesson by now. When the last Government got out of Aden, it was only a matter of weeks before the Russians were in. We got out of Egypt, and the Russians filled the vacuum. The same situation exists right round the Mediterranean. There is no question of a never-never-land, a lotus-land, in which we can create situations which will exist happily and independently of the next great Power which wishes to impose itself on the area.
Arnold Toynbee, in his study of history, perhaps saw this more clearly than many other people when he wrote of the Volk Erwanderung, or "wandering of peoples" as he called it, which takes place along the frontiers of a vanishing empire until the pattern of the next dominion becomes plain. It is the lesson of history, good or bad, and, alas, it is for us the lesson of the last two decades since the war. Let us at least take note 1293 of it. In consequence, I do not believe that the arguments that we should leave every area simply because we are not relatively as powerful as we were holds any force whatever.
I appeal again to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, to try when he winds up the debate, to give us a little more assurance about the Gulf and to confirm at least that the assessment which I have tried to give of the extent of our interests there is not false and that we could not afford to abandon it. The means we certainly have. All that we need is the will.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
I was interested by the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), because when we consider his speech in this debate, together with his comments on other occasions, we find that he exercises a degree of selectivity about where beyond Europe Britain should continue to be actively involved militarily and where she should not be active militarily, where she should withdraw from her wider international obligations and where she should maintain them. I find a degree of inconsistency which I should be delighted on a future occasion to have an opportunity of arguing with the hon. Member.
I should like to concentrate on what I regard as one of the fundamental weaknesses in the N.A.T.O. Alliance as it stands, an alliance which I for one regard as indispensable in the foreseeable future to the security of our country. This fundamental weakness concerns our reliance upon Greece and Portugal as allies in our defence operation.
There are two scores on which we can question the validity of the presence of Greece and Portugal in an alliance with us. First, there is the obvious point that in an alliance which is essentially designed to defend freedom and democracy, it is at least odd to find two pillars which are, in their present Government, opposed to every principle of freedom and democracy as we in this country understand them.
The second point, however, which I regard as more serious, is that the presence of regimes such as those which are operative in these two countries undermines the moral fibre and the 1294 effectiveness of an alliance of this kind. It undermines it for two reasons. First, the Governments of those two territories are dependent for their position on repression and coercion. This means that they compel those people who are opposed to them to resort increasingly to more militant and more extreme tactics if they are to have any hope of success. This must be a potential threat to the military effectiveness of the alliance.
The inevitable consequence of totalitarian Powers of that kind, as history has again and again demonstrated, is that the relatively absolute power which such Governments enjoy corrupts the effectiveness and efficiency of those very Governments. In the meantime it is fair to argue that if those régimes are to remain in office, it will only be through the ruthlessness of their police state methods. This, again, is something which we cannot regard with equanimity in an alliance which exists to defend freedom.
Reference has been made to the difficulty of securing any positive attitudes among our younger generation towards defence commitments. I believe that one of the glaring inadequacies of our position, which undermines the credibility of our defence policy and which alienates potential support within the younger generation, is that on an issue of this kind we can appear to face both ways at once.
There is little doubt that our involvement in N.A.T.O. is of direct and indirect assistance to the régimes in Portugal and Greece.
I shared with colleagues on both sides of the House unreserved condemnation of the Russian military intervention in Czechoslovakia to crush the forces of liberalisation which were trying to mobilise within that country. Consequently, we have on every opportunity—I think that this applies to almost everybody in the House—rejected completely the concepts of the Brezhnev doctrine.
Our credibility on this score is undermined when we declare ourselves tacitly willing to underwrite anti-democratic, repressive régimes in countries such as Greece and Portugal in the continuation of our own defence alliance. If we are 1295 to carry weight in our rightful condemnation of Russia in her support for the Brezhnev doctrine we must look to the logic that this demands of us in our approach to Greece and Portgual.
It is not only a matter of political theory; in the concept of modern warfare and its latest technological developments it is questionable whether either of those two States—especially Portgual—has any overwhelming strategic significance in the alliance. Taking that into account, a priority for us is surely to see the combined resources of the rest of the alliance being mobilised to pressurise the régimes in those countries for the full implementation of democracy. If we fail in this objective we must be prepared to consider their expulsion from the alliance, in the cause of making the alliance more effective.
The implications of our collaboration with Portgual have ramifications which reach well beyond Portugal herself. Despite our protestations to the contrary and our repeated condemnation of white supremacy in South Africa, our involvement with Portugal is seen by the majority in Southern Africa as yet another indication of our increasing intimacy with the white regimes which are determined to perpetuate their supremacy. The problems of Southern Africa can no longer be comfortably regarded in individual, watertight compartments. The problems of Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, the Portuguese territories and South-West Africa are inter-related economically and strategically.
Nowhere was this fact better illustrated than at the conference which nobody has denied took place recently in Salisbury, in which representatives of the illegal régime in Rhodesia, South Africa and Portugal discussed together common defence and military problems, as they saw them. If we accept that, it means that we have as an ally in our treaty organisation a nation which is committed to supporting white supremacy in Southern Africa and to shoring up, both economically and militarily, a régime that is in rebellion against the Crown, and which we regard as illegal. When we consider this situation as the world sees it we must appreciate that our position would be ludicrous if it were not so serious. 1296 No hon. Member should make any mistake about the facts of the situation as they exist in Southern Africa, and their long-term implications for our own security. Stark confrontation exists there between those who are dedicated to the maintenance of white minority supremacy and those who are dedicated to its removal. In South Africa, as in countries like Portugal and Greece, only the ruthless efficiency of a police state preserves an outward appearance of calm. The more we in Britain appear to be identified with suppressive régimes the more we compel the African majority to seek support from the Communist camp, within both the Soviet Union and China. It is possible to argue that already all the seeds of a future potential Vietnam crisis are there in Southern Africa—with us, perhaps against our better judgment, on the wrong and ultimately condemned side.
Consider the real dilemma of a number of African leaders, who have no illusions about the dangers of increasing reliance on Communist support—who are certainly not Communists themselves but whose fundamental opposition to the injustices of Southern Africa have left them with little alternative but to seek support where they are able to find it. This is to be found frequently in the speeches and writings of a number of African leaders. I want to quote the remarks of a very distinguished African who was tragically assassinated a short time ago. He was the leader of FRELIMO—the Portuguese Liberation Movement—Eduardo Mondlane. On 26th January, 1967, writing in the Observer concerning his struggle for freedom, he said:We would dearly love to use American, British and Belgian weapons as well, but unfortunately these are not available to us—only to the Portuguese. … It apparently was all right for the West to ally itself with the Communists against the Fascists, but, when we are denied Western aid, we are apparently expected to do without Communist aid as well. We need the support of China and Russia because they are sympathetic to us and have no connections with the Portuguese.That spells out particularly brutally and concisely the lines on which the situation is now developing towards a Vietnam-type confrontation in Southern Africa.
Let us consider for a moment the war in the Portuguese territories. No one wishes to exaggerate the successes of the 1297 liberation movement, but in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea liberation movements have been able to free areas from domination by colonial powers.
An even more significant fact is the degree of Portuguese resources which it is necessary for that country to mobilise in order to wage this war, to prevent even greater successes by the freedom fighters. It is estimated that in the past year 47 per cent. of the total budget of Portugal went in her military operations. It is known that about 8 per cent. of the gross national product of Portugal—the poorest country in Western Europe—which is about twice the rate of any other country in the West, apart from United States, with its war in Vietnam, has been needed for the war. Proportionately, Portugal has more of her manpower fighting in the African territories than the Americans have in Vietnam.
None of this would have been possible without outside support. N.A.T.O. strengthens the economy of Portugal. Let us make no mistake about that. While Portugal contributes about 0.28 per cent. towards the N.A.T.O. infrastructure, it is calculated that she is gaining about £6 million brought in to the country as a result of N.A.T.O. activities. We must also consider the fact that as a result of the alliance within N.A.T.O., warships, aircraft and vehicles have been made available by Western Europe to the Portuguese forces.
It is sometimes claimed that these materials supplied to the Portuguese forces are supplied exclusively for N.A.T.O. purposes, and not for use in her wars on the African continent. All that can be said about that is that if we supply resources for Portugal's obligations within Europe itself, this automatically releases other resources for use in her colonial wars. That is not to mention the undisputed fact that international arms dealers, such as Interarmco, have been able to arrange significant deals with the Portuguese, such as that in which 20 million cartridges were supplied to Portuguese forces—cartridges which it has been suggested originated from N.A.T.O. surplus stocks.
Two years ago, together with a number of colleagues in this House, I visited Zambia and was able to see at first hand the damage which had been done to vil- 1298 lages on the border by Portuguese forces. The argument put forward by the Portuguese was that, in chasing freedom fighters, it was not always possible to distinguish exactly where the frontier lay and that sometimes their forces strayed across the frontier and inadvertently damaged Zambian villages.
There are other interpretations of the situation and two views are put forward. The first is that whatever the Government in Lisbon may regard as wise or unwise, there is anxiety among the Portuguese military forces to remind Zambia of the consequences of being involved in the freedom struggle in the Portuguese territories and of allying itself with the freedom fighters. The second is more serious. My colleagues and I were able to dig out of bombed and damaged buildings the remnants of weapons which were subsequently identified by British Service personnel as standard N.A.T.O.-type equipment.
In this situation, it is surely clear that, to the people of Southern Africa, struggling for their freedom, the implication of Britain's involvement with Portugal is one which is not acceptable, to say the least, and which is probably a direct provocation in the long run to the spread of undesirable Communist influence in the Continent.
Taking this issue with the vital debate which we shall have later this week, we must recognise rapidly that drastic action is necessary if we are to free ourselves from the contaminating influences of continued military collaboration with fascist powers in Portugal and Greece, powers which are determined to resist the development of the democratic principles of political freedom as we understand them. We must also realise that drastic action must be taken in our defence policy, before it is too late, to bring home to the people of the African Continent the knowledge that the free world is on the side of progress and emancipation within the African Continent and that it is dissociating itself from the forces of repression and reaction.
If we do not take this step, it is undeniable that, whatever their better judgment, the leaders of the black African majority will have no alternative but to seek support elsewhere. We may then find ourselves caught up in an escalating 1299 crisis with implications for our strategic and economic well being which few have calculated in detail to this moment.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) ranged widely with his usual skill over a number of topics. I hope he will forgive me if I do not comment in detail on the subjects he discussed, first, because I wish to be brief and, secondly, because I intend to confine my remarks to the issue of the Gulf, about which the statement was made earlier.
I congratulate the Government on formulating a policy which has a real chance of maintaining stability in the Gulf and of preserving a continuing British influence there. Whatever the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) may say—though his record, unlike that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), has been consistent and coherent—there is a great deal of difference between the policy which has been issued today and the policy of the Labour Government.
One of the defects of the follow-up actions of the previous Government was that having announced their support for the idea of the federation, they did not put any strong and consistent pressure behind it. Nor did they make any serious contingency plans for our withdrawal after 1971.
The formulation of the present Government's policy has been a difficult task, and a large part of the blame lies with the Labour Government, which reached the unnecessary decision to put a time limit on our withdrawal for reasons which had nothing to do with the needs and priorities of the Gulf; and, having reached that decision, they presented it in a way which was calculated to create the maximum damage of confidence in Britain's word and intentions. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East, with his ill-chosen but well-remembered remarks at the time about our friends in the area, made his own special contribution to intensifying the loss of confidence.
The statement which was made today will, I believe, go a considerable way towards reassuring our friends in the Gulf of our determination to continue playing a part in maintaining peace and stability 1300 while at the same time recognising that situations do not remain static and that it would, therefore, have been unrealistic to try to keep things exactly as they were before 1968. Too much has happened in the three intervening years.
I am certain that the services of Sir William Luce have been and will continue to be invaluable. His knowledge and understanding of the area is practically unrivalled, and he possesses the absolute trust and confidence of the rulers and people of the Gulf.
I hope that before the end of 1971 a federation will be formed. Although a federation of the nine would be by far the best solution, this is probably no longer likely. I feel fairly certain that Bahrain has decided to go it alone. Qatar will attempt to follow suit. However, a federation of the Trucial Seven is still very possible and makes economic sense. Other groupings are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) pointed out, also possible.
The federation concept is supported by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and if the tricky problem of the Islands of Abu Musa and the Tumbs can be settled, it would also receive the blessing of Iran. I believe that the rulers would like to see the Treaty of Friendship extended to a defence arrangement with Britain along the lines of the 1961 agreement with Kuwait. Such an agreement would, I believe, be desirable, provided that the federation had actually been formed and was credible enough to be given international recognition.
Moreover, the federation should have at its disposal armed forces in a position to cope with international security and serve at least as a deterrent to external aggression. The armed forces of Abu Dhabi and the Trucial Oman Scouts already provide an effective basis for such a force. However, all our diplomatic skill and pressure will be needed to bring such a federation about.
Reaching a settlement over the disputed islands of the Tumbs and Abu Musa is of primary importance to remove the possibility of a future confrontation with Iran. The best solution would be one which avoided the question of sovereignty, which gave Iran de facto possession and left unaffected the median line between the Arab and Persian coasts, important because of oil concessions. 1301 Regrettably, the best solutions are not usually attainable, and the Shah appears determined to establish his sovereignty over the islands, although he has hinted at a willingness to compromise on the ownership of any oil which is discovered. In the circumstances, it could not be in British interests or, indeed, in the interests of the rulers concerned to quarrel seriously with the Shah over these islands, which are basically so unimportant, when the success of so much which is infinitely more important depends on the co-operation of Iran. But it follows that if a settlement has not been reached before the end of 1971 in spite of every effort, any British commitment to defend the islands should be excluded from a defence arrangement with the federation.
Meanwhile, however, we should give a settlement of this issue the utmost priority. The two rulers concerned, if they received the support of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would, I believe, be prepared to reach a compromise solution.
A very relevant consideration is how any defence agreement will be militarily credible. Excluding a major Soviet attack, which, unlike Soviet political involvement in the area, can be dismissed for the purposes of this agreement, foreseeable aggression or threats of aggression to the federation could emanate from only two sources: Saudi Arabia and Iran. For geographical reasons, Iraq need not seriously be considered as a potential aggressor. Although the Saudi claim to a part of Abu Dhabi remains an issue, any attack by Saudi Arabia should be ruled out for many other considerations. Nevertheless, it would be highly desirable if a settlement of the territorial dispute between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia could be reached amicably during 1971.
An Iranian attack is a rather more substantial danger, but once the question of the three islands was out of the way, I cannot see any reason why Iran should wish to attack so long as the federation remained friendly and the Saudi Arabian monarchy survived. This leads one to the conclusion that the forces need not be impressive in order to be relevant. The sort of arrangement suggested in the statement this afternoon will be adequate. I place high importance on the maritime presence, a substantial backing for which 1302 could come from a Western naval presence in the area of the Indian Ocean.
Recent developments in Muscat and Oman have been positive ones, and if we can maintain the friendly co-operation of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and, once the problem of the Islands has been solved, of Iran, I see a perfectly reasonable chance of maintaining a continuing situation of stability in the Gulf for some considerable time ahead, which is a good deal more than one could have hoped for a year ago.
It is never sensible or possible to forecast the long-term future in an area where the tensions run so high as the Middle East. Indirectly much will also depend on whether a settlement is achieved of the Arab-Israeli dispute which removes any burning sense of grievance on the Arab side, and which would therefore make it much less easy for Soviet political influence to be successfully exercised.
In this connection I hope that Her Majesty's Government will exercise the maximum influence to bring about a settlement in the present favourable climate.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) confined himself to the Gulf. I shall say a word about that later. I should like first to deal with my main point, which is to urge a real and drastic cut in arms spending.
Two or three weeks ago the French Government announced their plans to cut to 3 per cent. of their gross national product their spending on defence by 1975. We are spending 5½ per cent. of our G.N.P. on arms. If we reduce our 5½ per cent. to 3 per cent., we should save more than £950 million a year. What could not a British Government do with an extra £950 million a year to play with? Every hon. Member must have his personal ideals of what he would like to see done. Just think of one or two of the things which we could do with that money.
With that sum we could give an extra £2 15s. a week to every old-age pensioner, single or married. With that sum we could build an extra 220,000 houses a year. With £950 million we could abolish all the health charges for teeth, spectacles and prescriptions, and build the hospitals we need. We could give a family allowance for the first child, as advocated by 1303 the Child Poverty Action Group. In education we could give to every child the nursery education which it needs.
The Sunday Times yesterday in its illustrated section contained a very moving article which showed that only four children out of every 100 get nursery education. What a boon it would be if we could provide it for every child. The annual cost would be £49 million. Yet we are spending £320 million on research and development of one aeroplane alone, the multi-rôle combat aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) was talking, as he usually does, about overseas aid—and rightly so. Probably if we had a saving of £950 million, we should not confine it to any one of those five spheres but help all of them. We could really start to build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land. That is a big idea which will not take root in five minutes, but it will come. What we have heard earlier today is an example of this—the question of removing our bases from the Gulf.
I remind the House of how this came about chronologically. It started in 1964 with a group of Labour Members sitting below the Gangway. They raised the question of drastic arms cuts and ending our bases east of Suez. This was treated very harshly by many of my hon. Friends at that time. It was taken further at the Labour Party conference, where working people who are supposed not to understand these things adopted that point of view. Within two years, I am delighted to say, the Labour Government decided on this policy and started to implement it. This afternoon we have probably the last chapter when this idea, once rebutted as Utopian, out of this world, was accepted by an ultra-orthodox Conservative Government, a 110 per cent. Government. They have decided that they will take their bases out of the Gulf, which is what was proposed in such a radical fashion only six years ago. Suggestions of equally big ideas which may today be scouted as ridiculous will come to be accepted and operated. The Government are taking the troops out; and the world still goes on. Everybody, except for one hon. Member, thinks that it is an excellent idea. So it will be with the scheme for drastic arms reduc- 1304 tion—I estimate in four or five years' time.
When we discussed defence expenditure in November, 91 hon. Members on this side signed an Early Day Motion asking for a drastic reduction in our arms spending. We believe that, far from reducing security, this would enhance peace prospects by lessening tension and encouraging other Governments to give up the arms race, too.
Which country wishes, or intends, to attack us? I greatly doubt whether there is one. I have no doubt that many hon. Members opposite would say that Soviet Russia does. I do not like the Soviet Government any more than I like the American Government, but I greatly doubt whether the Soviet Government want to invade or attack or make war. It is easy for us to forget that Russia lost 20 million men, women and children in the last war and is much too busy industrialising herself and raising her economy and consumption standards at home without wanting to take this on abroad.
There are many spheres of arms spending where drastic cuts could be made. For example, last year we spent £220 million on research and development for military purposes—a figure which, in the view of many of us, was far too high. The figure in the recent Estimates has risen to £264 million. In contrast, we spend only £14 million a year on medical research and £6 million a year on building research.
Industrial research for peaceful purposes is suffering in consequence of the amount we spend on military research and development. An illustration of this occurred this weekend when it was announced that vast orders for jet airliners were likely to be placed by the Chinese Government with American manufacturers—a remarkable development. It would be far better for Britain in every way if, instead of using our technicians on the M.R.C.A. and the TSR2 and no doubt other planes which will never take off, we devoted our skill to making jet airliners which could be sold to China and other countries.
Nobody has mentioned the fact that this year we have in prospect a record arms spending—£2,525 million, an all-time record except for the 1939–45 years. 1305 Ministers have talked about arms cuts, but these never seem to come about. Arms spending has risen by about £100 million a year for the last 15 years. This year arms spending goes up not by £100 million but by £265 million, which is the biggest increase in arms spending since the Korean War in 1951.
The excuse is given that it is not really an increase; it is just because prices will increase, or have increased. It is even claimed that there is a real reduction of £1 million. I am a suspicious-minded person, and I find it hard to accept that this year arms spending must rise by £265 million instead of by the customary £100 million and that this is really a reduction of £1 million. I suspect that the public is being taken for a ride.
N.A.T.O. expenditure is to be increased to the extent of £32½ million, plus the "Ark Royal" expenditure of £144 million over the next 10 years. Mr. Chapman Pincher, with whom I do not always agree, is to be congratulated on drawing attention to the fact that the foreign exchange costs of the B.A.O.R. will be £137 million, of which only half will be paid back across the exchanges, and that the total cost of the B.A.O.R. will be £263 million, plus the cost of the R.A.F.
Why increase N.A.T.O. expenditure in real terms, and far more so in cash terms, if the Government are genuinely concerned about mutual force reductions? I urge the Government to call for an immediate arms standstill by N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact Government, or at least to try to secure that there shall be no rise in N.A.T.O. spending pending negotiations, after which we could expect mutual reductions.
The Minister of State said that he welcomed the détente. He then said, "But a détente is just the moment when we may be lulled into a sense of false security and, therefore, we must increase our military preparations."
If there had been real tension in Europe and a dangerous situation, the Minister of State would have said, "We must increase our expenditure because of the tension in Europe." It is never the appropriate time. If there is tension, it cannot be done; if there is lack of tension, it cannot be done, because we are told me shall he lulled into a sense of false security. In other words, we just cannot win.
1306 I may not always have agreed with the previous Secretary of State for Defence. I do not agree with some of the things he said. But he said in his White Papers that, despite Czechoslovakia, there was no desire or intention on the part of the Red Army to invade Western Europe. Why should the Government revive the "cold war" language in the White Paper, in the House of Lords and in the House of Commons if they have a real desire to secure East-West agreement?
Lastly, it is a serious injustice that boys who are recruited to the Services at the tender age of 15 should be held in them for 12 years, often against their will. This is a serious infringement of personal and civil liberty. It causes untold unhappiness. This was recognised by the Donaldson Committee, which recommended that the young Service man should be free to leave, and without purchase of his discharge, at least at the age of 21. The Government have accepted this as regards boys in the Army and the Air Force, which I welcome, but not as regards boys in the Navy. It will be 1977 or 1978 before the same freedom to obtain release at 21 will apply to them.
This last weekend a young man came to my house. He is aged 24. His mother is a widow. He went to a Barnardo's school indirectly connected with the Navy when he was 14, and at 15 he was recruited to the Navy. He discovered that that was not the kind of life he wanted, and his one desire was to get out. He tried to get out. He appealed, with no success; he committed all kinds of offences against discipline in order to get thrown out. Eventually, aged 22. he went absent with out leave, and he has been on the run for two years—a fine, intelligent, lad. He told me that he was willing to go back and serve a sentence provided he could get out of the forces.
Now there are thousands of similar cases of boys on the run. Some of them get involved in crime because they have difficulty in getting their employment cards. Some of them have wives and young children. Some of them have widowed mothers, and others have invalid relations they wish to look after.
What use will that young man, and others like him, be to the Navy? Would they not be happier, and the country better served, if they were earning their 1307 livings in industry? 1 appreciate the shortage of recruits for the Navy, which gets a very high percentage of its intake from 15-year-olds, but that is not a good reason for keeping this young man and other young men in the Navy, virtually as prisoners. Expediency, not morality, is the criterion. Surely this is wrong. Therefore, I plead with the Minister to reconsider the question of boy recruits to the Navy and give them the same rights as those in the Army and the Air Force.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I should like to revert to a question which has been raised already by the Minister and by the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson), which is the problem of manpower, not only now but in the mid-1970s when the combination of the raising of the school leaving age and the low birth rate of the early 1950s will be felt simultaneously.
Recruiting figures at the moment are improving, but they are not sufficient for our present needs, let alone for the future. We have been told that on 1st April last year the Armed Forces were 5 per cent. under strength. This is not a new problem, but recently attempts have been made by means of the introduction of the new military salary, by publicity, by advertising, to try to increase recruiting, but they have not so far attained the desired results.
I know that the easy answer—and this was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell)—is to reintroduce conscription. We were quite clear in our election manifesto that we were not going to reintroduce conscription. When there was conscription, the size of the forces was far greater than it is now and their world-wide commitments were also greater. It would be quite impossible now, with the size and organisation we have, to absorb them and use them usefully. It might be asked, what about the alternative—selective conscription? That would be far worse. If something unpleasant has to be done, but there is a necessity which is common to all, people are ready to accept the unpleasantness. They are not ready to accept conscription if it is selective. 1308 Therefore, all forms of conscription are out.
There are three problems, first of all, to attract the young in the right numbers and of the right quality; secondly, to retain in the Service, through extended engagements, those whom we require; and, thirdly, to examine carefully what manpower can be saved without in any way reducing the efficiency of the forces.
As the Minister has said, under the past Administration we had no fewer than 13 Defence White Papers. Many of those papers produced cuts in all three Services—reductions in the Territorial Army, amalgamations and disbandments. Is it surprising, then, that the morale of the forces was not at its top? Is it surprising that would-be recruits, officers or men, thought twice before joining a Service which obviously had no assured future and where the chances of overseas service were diminishing almost every year?
On 19th June, I am happy to say, the situation changed for the better, and it is reflected by the change and the improvement in the recruiting figures. I should like in all sincerity to say something about that. I speak as the colonel of my regiment. We have as Prime Minister someone who has commanded a regiment and someone who takes an obvious interest in the forces, and that has been shown not only by his visits to them in Cyprus and Singapore on his way to the Commonwealth Conference but also by his taking part in this debate. This is a great source of encouragement.
We have got to do several things. First of all, the young man of today knows little about Service life, and when he comes up he is worried about the length of engagement, because he does not want to commit himself to something he is not certain he will like. Recently, the three Services have reduced their engagements, the Royal Navy to four years, the Army to three years, and the Royal Air Force to three years, for certain trades. I should like to make a suggestion. I realise that this suggestion may not be popular with senior officers, but I should like to suggest a two-year engagement.
The two-year engagement functioned perfectly well when National Service was on. It would allow people to come in to have a look at Service life to see if 1309 they would be suited to it, and, if they were, to prolong their engagement, yet at the same time they would feel they would not be falling behind their contemporaries in civilian life, since the initial engagement would be for only two years. If, at the end of two years, they should want to come out, they could. This in itself would be an advantage, because they would then join the Reserves, which are falling dangerously low. Therefore, we should by this means get a quicker turn-round and a better attraction to people to join.
The second thing we have to do is to save manpower. This point, again, was raised by the right hon. Member for Dundee, East. That is, we have to examine whether jobs which are done at present by men could be adequately done by the women's forces. There is a number of these jobs. Some of them, obviously, are at headquarters installations and training establishments, but there is also a number of jobs, ranging through those of clerks, cooks, orderlies, medical orderlies, telephone operators, storekeepers—jobs of that nature—which would be very well done by women. It would also improve the morale of the soldiers. I think that is worth consideration.
The third means, perhaps, of saving manpower would be through the integration of the non-combatant units which support the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. At the present moment they each have their own medical services, transport, workshops, ordnance. When a parliamentary delegation visited Hong Kong in September we were interested to see an experiment in integration which had been carried out very successfully, though on a relatively small scale. One Service was providing the medical cover for the remainder, another the transport services—
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I was with the hon. and gallant Gentleman on that visit. Will he contrast what we saw in Hong Kong with the situation in Singapore?
§ Major-General d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
In Singapore we were surprised, because the tail elements were greater. The rundown of the tail elements in Singapore had gone on at a far slower rate than the rundown of the fighting units.
1310 In the Army there are two teeth arm units, fighting units: the infantry and the artillery, which are short of men. This is very serious, because the fighting units are obviously the most important part of the Army. Although they may be ignorant about Service life, young men joining the Army join with the intention of learning a trade which will be of use to them in civilian life later. It is perhaps for that reason that they may be chary of joining teeth arm units. As a possible means of getting over that difficulty, the authorities should consider increasing vocational training, lengthening it and making it more thorough, so that at the end of their engagement, even if it is for only two years, men would have a chance to learn a trade. This would be particularly valuable for those whose Service trade had no civilian counterpart.
I mentioned earlier that we were trying to get people to prolong their service. I face this problem with difficulty, because it concerns Northern Ireland. The army in Northern Ireland is doing a superb job under the most disagreeable, unpleasant, dangerous and heart-breaking conditions. When the emergency started in 1968 the permanent garrison was increased quite largely. The units which went out there went on a four-month tour, unaccompanied by their wives and families. The tour was for that period because of the combination of the unpleasantness of the task, the discomfort and the lack of amenities. This has meant that there has been a very big turnover of units, to such a degree that, apart from calling on Rhine Army, we have had to have artillery regiments and the R.A.F. Regiment and Commandoes in the infantry rôle. The time is now coming when units are starting a second tour, which is having a very bad effect on soldiers who are not increasing their engagements or signing on, because their wives face another period of separation and are also worried about the dangers.
I suggest that in future the tour for a unit going to Northern Ireland unaccompanied should be six months instead of four. This would save at least two units a year from going there. We do not know how long the emergency will last, but it does not look as though an end is in sight. That would also give units doing a first tour an additional period 1311 when they were perhaps more expert in their highly difficult rôle.
I have put forward five possible ideas: the two-year engagement; the saving of manpower; integration of non-combatant units; vocational training; and six-month tours in Northern Ireland. Those are only nibbles at the problem, but it is a problem which must be solved if we are to fulfil our worldwide commitments in the mid-1970s.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)
Paragraph 32 of Chapter I of the White Paper concerns the disappearance of civilian jobs and the drift south by the Army generally on the reorganisation of the command structure. I think particularly of the disappearance by 1974 of about 1,300 jobs in the Chester area of Western Command, in Chester, Oswestry, Rhyl and Wrexham, where many of my constituents earn their living. Since much of the Navy has gone to Bath, might any part of the Army come to Chester so that the jobs I have mentioned are not entirely lost?
I note that about 38 orders have been placed by the R.A.F. for the Nimrod, a fine machine which has in part been assembled in the Hawker-Siddeley factory at Broughton in East Flintshire. Are there any indications of other buyers for the machine? Is the R.A.F. inclined to take any more, and have any other nations, such as Canada, India and Australia, orders in mind? We also hope that the British aircraft industry might have a fair crack of the whip in the production of the M.R.C.A.
I applaud the defence of aircraft on the ground in Germany and the contribution the Government are to make. We see the hardening of sites to provide blast protection for aircraft on the airfields as a pause for peace, as someone described it to me recently as a way of providing a little extra time before the decision is taken to launch decisive retaliatory measures.
Conservative hon. Members seem to have my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in mind a great deal. I am new to the House, but I believe that my right hon. Friend has been pre-eminent in defence policy in Western Europe for some years. Surely, 1312 he is to be credited with determined and effective reorganisation of entrenched Services? The principal measure of his activity was the bringing about of the Army salary, which has already added to the self-esteem and status of soldiers.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), I want to refer briefly to recruitment. I was taking the Heysham train out of Euston late on Thursday evening, when the buffet seemed to be full of boy soldiers. There were eight or nine of them. As I sipped my tea and some of them clutched their Double Diamonds and cigarettes, I could not help overhearing their conversation, which was sometimes about rifles and ammunition, although they were in mufti. This was a typical conversation I overheard. One boy said to another, "How old are you?" "I am nearly 16", was the reply. "How much do you earn?" the first boy asked. The other replied, "I earn £9 9s. In three weeks' time, when I go on my first real leave, I shall be able to take £50 with me".
The questioner countered by saying that for his 40-hour leave he would have a £12 allowance, and he added that he was a junior leader and that, therefore, his training was tougher. He asked, "How long are you in for?", and was told, "For nine years at 18½". "How did you join?", he asked. The reply was, "I went along to the careers information office".
Another volunteered the information that he had gone to the regiment, tried an exam, signed a bit of paper, and he was in. When asked where his uniform was, the young fellow not yet 16 said that he was going to Ulster and dared not wear uniform—not even his Army socks. This underlines the problems which may come to mind when considering boy soldiers and the introduction into the Armed Forces of very young people. They soon have to face very serious consequences.
It seemed to me that this conversation brought out the bull points of the Donaldson Report and of the Healey salary reforms, both to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East. I considered, as a former schoolmaster some eight or nine years ago, that these young men were in the main restrained, had a pride, behaved themselves in a manly way and showed 1313 considerable comradeship and self-respect. I estimated, therefore, that the training they had received had been first-rate and that the units in which they were serving had brought out the good in them. I suspected that perhaps they had found that their training had brought out useful abilities and initiatives and—if one likes—intelligences which they had not realised they possessed while they were still at school. I considered also that, although they were not getting super pay-packets, they thought that they were getting a fair amount of money. They seemed to have no complaint about that, nor about their living conditions.
In considering the recruitment of boy soldiers and young people into the Armed Forces, I think that basically there must be the quality of commitment—a commitment that will accept the discipline that is necessary in today's Armed Forces. I think that this commitment is difficult for a young person or even an older person to find, as hon. Members have indicated, in a society like ours, which is in the middle of a considerable social revolution. For example, young soldiers, like everyone else, are inclined to marry much earlier today. Some of them stay longer at school. They are required in the Army to have a higher I.O. and accept a range of skills greater than ever before. No soldier when joining up today can expect that his task will be straightforward.
I think, therefore, that, in any recruitment policy there is a requirement for a thinking soldiery in what is increasingly becoming an educated society. No one should ignore the considerable influences nowadays on those who are still in our schools and who will soon leave, some, presumably, to join the Armed Forces. Whether it be Richard Attenborough's "Oh What a Lovely War" or the slightly more disreputable people like the Beatles, one can say that basically long hair is pacifist, and would-be soldiers are reared in an atmosphere of debunking, satire and cynicism. I do not think, therefore, that we can ignore the question of the integrity of advertising in recruitment, because there can only be curses from an 18-year-old steward soldier on a wet and windy Lincolnshire airfield as he cleans the shoes of a snotty-nosed 19-year-old pilot officer. To advertise a job in which 1314 a young man can become a fighting man of action and then place him in a position where he has little respect for the job he has to do is very wrong.
In recruitment generally, I hope that emphasis can be laid, particularly in regions which might be described as deprived in employment prospects, on the fact that apprenticeships in the Army are virtually second to none and that even those who go into the Army for short periods only will when they leave add to the considerable pool of skilled manpower in the country.
Neither do I think that we can entirely leave out—although it is a shadowy concept and one which I could never pin down when I was in the forces—the relationship between other ranks and commissioned officers. Times have changed, and will continue to change rapidly, and this is a key factor. I talked this weekend to a trainee pilot officer, who said that the relationships particularly off duty were as democratic as they dared to be in an armed Service. But again he stressed to me that he felt that entering officers and boy soldiers—any volunteers—should have the sense of commitment. I think that a necessary factor in today's society is that the policy that a Government advocate for the defence of the nation should be seen to be honest and straightforward as well as patriotic and decent, because it is taking advantage of very young people when they are enticed into the Armed Forces only to be presented with attitudes and tasks which perhaps they never thought they would have to do.
As a former schoolmaster, I have considered the question of recruitment in schools and how the rate of recruitment might be improved and helped by the teaching profession. It is my experience and opinion that the teacher in the secondary schools of England and Wales is not used or, if that is not the correct term, involved sufficiently for us yet to be able to say that everything is being done to improve recruitment rates. About six years ago there was a circular from the Department of Education and Science stating that it would now be possible for teachers to go into industry and see how the other half lived in order that they might be better teachers of the children soon to go into industry. I do 1315 not know whether it is a practical proposition, but I think that it would be worth while if teachers with responsibility for advising on careers had regular contact with Service bases.
Finally, there is a very important human problem in relation to recruitment and re-engagement. I am thinking of the wives of other ranks in the Army. Often a 19-year old soldier will marry, say, a 17-year old girl. It is fair to suggest that the young woman's horizons will have been very small indeed—limited, perhaps, to a provincial town—and that all the advice and comfort she would receive in starting her marriage would come from her mother.
But then she finds herself whisked overnight, as it were, to the Rhineland. Her husband serves at the base, and the married quarters—rented—are perhaps 20 miles away. She is isolated and lonely and somewhat bewildered, and becomes in part resentful, perhaps even bothered by the unbringing of young children without the aid of her mother, who is many hundreds of miles away. So, linguistically, socially and culturally and even spiritually, that sort of young woman is alone. It is at this point, when the question of re-engagement comes along, that the embitterd, lonely wife says, "No", and the Army loses a trained soldier. Therefore, I would like to know how much the forces at the moment provide for nursery schooling in the Rhineland to cater for such young women and their problems.
§ Lord Balniel
I will try, in my reply, to answer the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, with many of which I find myself in profound agreement. But Chapter IV, paragraph 34, of the White Paper states that we have just undertaken a special reform; namely, the setting-up of the Housing Commandant Organisation specifically designed to bring help—and I am sure that help is needed—to families where there are stress and social problems.
§ Mr. Barry Jones
I thank the noble Lord very much. I have been talking about possible ways in which to improve recruitment, and I have mentioned some reasons why recruitment does not go all that well. I should like to return to what I said about commitment and the 1316 need in society when times are upside down to be able to indicate to young soldiers that they have a worthwhile task. Somewhere in the White Paper there is a statement about the true status of the Armed Forces. It might be helpful if we were given a definition. I hope, too, that the Armed Forces are considering what might be the severe effects on recruitment of the raising of the school-leaving age.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) made a valuable and knowledgeable contribution to the debate, but I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I do not comment on his speech, for I want to deal with another aspect of the White Paper.
I was surprised when my noble Friend said that there was no new or radical shift of policy in the White Paper. When I saw it first, I had a similar view, but in fact there is a fundamental difference from previous White Papers. To go back only to 1969, the White Paper of that year said:The essential feature of our current defence policy is a readiness to recognise that political and economic realities reinforce the defence arguments for concentrating Britain's military rôle in Europe".In the 1970 White Paper the Labour Government went further and said:Britain's military rôle has been transformed over the last five years by the historic decision to withdraw our forces from their bases East of Suez and to concentrate them in Europe".I agree that that was a historic decision. After hundreds of years when this country had pushed out to the ends of the earth and based her strategy on that, we were to take the historic decision to withdraw.
So we move to the present Government and their 1971 White Paper which says:to enable Britain to resume, within her resources, a proper care of responsibility for the preservation of peace and stability in the world … But the first of Government's objectives recognises that British interests and responsibilities are not confined to the N.A.T.O. area".So in this White Paper we have reversed the Labour Government's historic decision and we are not withdrawing to Europe and the seas around. That is a fundamental difference.
§ Lord Balniel
When I said that there was not a radical change, I was referring 1317 to our own last White Paper. There is an enormous difference between the defence policy which we are following and that which was followed by the Labour Administration.
§ Captain Elliot
That is certainly the case, but some may have felt that it was suggested that this White Paper was not fundamentally different from the Labour Government's 1970 White Paper. I welcome the difference and I shall seek to show why.
In spite of what my noble Friend said about the disparity in ground forces and in air power in central Europe, I believe that the military position there is stabilised to a certain extent. There may be inequality on the ground and in the air, but it is stabilised by the risk of nuclear war. This is where there is the greatest concentration of nuclear weapons. Whereas we may argue at what stage they should be used, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the risk is there, and it has the effect of stabilising the position in central Europe. I do not believe that Russia will risk an attack, for if it attacks it clearly risks the development of nuclear war.
As a result of that stability, or stalemate, we see the traditional Communist reaction. They push out into other areas where they believe there are soft spots and where they can fish in troubled waters. They have penetrated and are consolidating within the Arab world today and they are moving south to the Indian Ocean.
As the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) said in a speech with much of which I agreed, we see first the diplomatic and political activities and then the armed forces. If that is taking place, and surely we cannot fail to see that it is, our policies must be made accordingly.
Britain's security now as in the past depends on ensuring that our political objectives are in harmony with and move with those of a sufficient number of allied countries. Of these, the United States is by far the most important today. Feeling in that great country has undergone a marked change in recent years. Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has maintained a world rôle in a peace-keeping capacity. During that time, the Americans have suffered heavy losses 1318 and they have been much criticised not only by their enemies, but by their allies.
They feel that today their allies, in spite of their economic recovery, are not sharing the burden of this world peacekeeping rôle. In recent years, the United States has seen Britain beginning to withdraw her forces and to abandon her responsibilities other than in Europe. This has profoundly affected America, which has begun to withdraw to its home bases. The trend is there and it is supported by public opinion.
So we see the West withdrawing from its world rôle while Russia pushes out. Russian real expenditure on armaments is increasing, while that of the West is decreasing. This seems highly dangerous for the future. Britain's new found willingness to share the burden will encourage the United States to stand firm, and it is largely on her power that the rest of us depend. We must give America physical and moral support, and that has been woefully lacking in recent years.
But, secondly—and I note what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell) said about the vital importance of the central front in Europe—if the Communist countries ever encompass the downfall of the Western democracies, I do not believe that it will come through an attack in Europe—at least, not at first. I believe that it will come after subversion and incorporation in the Soviet orbit of as much as possible of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. That is already happening to a certain extent.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
Does my hon. and gallant Friend agree that the sudden interest which Russia is taking in the Far East and the Middle East cannot be dissociated from the Labour Government's policy of withdrawing from those areas?
§ Captain Elliot
I agree. Whenever a vacuum is created, the Russians move into it. Aden perhaps is a classic modern example.
If it is in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East that Russia is penetrating, surely it is there that our political and military policies should be orientated. 1319 Thirdly, it is time that we rid ourselves of the idea that our security and that of the Western allies is best secured by a large British contribution to Central Europe. I agree that this is a vital area, but surely Europe can see what is happening. It must know that 70 per cent. of its oil comes round the Cape; it must know that Russia controls Suez. Surely it can appreciate what a great Soviet maritime build-up is taking place. France, Holland and Germany have or had ocean-going navies. If we provide troops and aircraft in Central Europe, surely they can provide naval forces for the oceans. Why should they not? In terms of maritime warfare, there are no lines in the sea, whatever the N.A.T.O. boundaries may show.
In past defence debates, and to a large extent today, our discussions have revolved round such things as trip wires, forward defence, controlled response, and so on. I ask the Government to make a determined effort to widen the discussion in Europe in the light of the changed circumstances. I fervently hope that paragraph 1 of the White Paper will lead the Government to think in terms of a maritime strategy. Surely it is the way to counter what they describe in the White Paper as the threat to stability outside Europe. By "a maritime strategy" I mean the way by which, with our allies, we can control the seas so that we have the ability to place a well-balanced force of all arms at a key point and at a time of our choosing. My studies of the Russians' strategy lead me to think that their main efforts at present are directed towards preventing us from doing just that.
There are particular advantages to this country in a maritime strategy. First, it is within our financial capacity. During our long history we have some times endeavoured to be a continental military Power and a maritime Power. When we have tried that we have always got into trouble both militarily and financially. I agree that we cannot abandon Central Europe, but we should direct our attention to adopting a maritime strategy. Secondly, it protects our lines of communication at sea, which are as vital today as ever. Thirdly, it will bring encouragement to our friends and allies 1320 on the periphery of the Communist world and thus buttress the defence of the Western world. It is perhaps difficult for continental countries with land-bound frontiers to appreciate this, but it is so.
I make one more point. In the light of the development by Russia of the weapon of subversion and political penetration, there is all the difference in the world between having a small number of men on the ground in an area and none at all. They can be reinforced, but if the Russians get there first we cannot move and we cannot confront them because the risk of war is too great. That is a change from 50 years ago. Once there, the Russians have not our compunctions about liquidating their political opponents, so they are usually there to stay.
One thing which distinguishes this debate from the defence debates of the last six years is that the Prime Minister is to take part. Too often the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, by his speeches and actions, displayed his dislike for and lack of interest in the Armed Forces.
§ Captain Elliot
The action of my right lion. Friend the Prime Minister in taking part in this debate—I understand that he is to speak tomorrow—thus showing his interest and concern for our defences, will be noted in the Services and its effects may be profound.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) volunteered to go to N.A.T.O. to discuss military problems as a member of our parliamentary delegation when we were in opposition? The present Prime Minister never did that.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
It is revealing that the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) should have made a virtue of the fact that the Prime Minister is to take part in this debate. It is a great pity 1321 that the Secretary of State for Defence will not be taking part in this debate. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman makes a virtue of the fact that the Prime Minister is to take part in this debate, then it should be said that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is on this occasion filling in on a job which should be done by a Secretary of State for Defence who is a Member of this House. Or is it so that the Prime Minister can opt out of the South African arms debate?
Yet it is perhaps seldom that we have had the advantage of being able to study quietly and in detail the speech introducing a White Paper by a Secretary of State for Defence. But it so happened, for good or bad reasons—and I think that on the whole they were bad—that the speech introducing this White Paper was made in the other place a week ago.
I make these remarks out of no amour propre for the House of Commons. I simply say to hon. Members opposite that if the speech of Lord Carrington, with its innuendoes, exaggerations and non-sequiturs, had been made to a fullish House of Commons it would have been treated with the ribaldry it deserved. The question arises whether certain great portfolios of State, those of Foreign Affairs, Defence, the Exchequer and Social Services, should be occupied by those who cannot be questioned in this House. That speech would have received a very different reception had it been delivered in this House rather than in the cosy atmosphere of the other place.
I hope that in any future changes the Prime Minister will bear in mind that there are a number of hon. Members who are serious on these matters and are not simply venting political spite or scoring cheap points, but think that the occupation of the major offices of State should be held in the House of Commons. If, as we are told, Lord Carrington is one of the four or five members of the Cabinet who actually run any Government, it is doubly important that he should be in this House. If he is a major prop of the present Prime Minister, again it is all the more reason for his being in the House of Commons. I hope that when the next safe Conservative parliamentary seat becomes vacant—the next, I think, is Arundel and Shoreham—Lord Carrington will put up as a 1322 candidate so that he can come to the Front Bench opposite and be present in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have read the noble Lord's speech in the other place, and two possibilities arise for anybody who reads it objectively. The first thing to wonder is whether the Secretary of State for Defence really believes in all this stuff about "Reds under the bed". It was an odiously-phrased speech. Or, secondly, did he make the speech to satisfy his own backwoods pressures in the other place? In the view of many of us, the posture—let alone the reality—of British defence policy should not be determined by the requirements of meeting the wishes of the backwoods in the other place.
There was, for example, a fairly long passage in the noble Lord's speech about China involving Chinese influence in Tanzania in particular, and Africa in general. What conclusions were we meant to draw from that passage in regard to the operational requirements of the British Forces? Certainly nothing emerged from the speech. These, as so many other things in the speech, were conjured up as threats in the form of some kind of sinister ghost, but no policy conclusions were drawn.
The same went for urban guerrillas. It is one thing to hear about urban terrorism from the hon. Member for Aberdeen West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell), since we all know he is sincere about it and every political party is allowed its eccentrics. We do not take them too seriously. But it is another matter when these things come from the Defence Secretary.
I should like to know from the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench what conclusions he draws from the fact that his noble Friend in the other place mentioned urban guerrillas. What conclusion does he draw from his noble Friend's remarks about hijacking and kidnapping? Would the Minister like to put our minds at rest upon these matters, or has he nothing to say? Did it mean nothing at all? In face of his silence, it would only appear that I am right, and my worst suspicions are confirmed. In other words, Lord Carrington was simply seeking to rake up some kind of sinister ghost which means nothing in relation to operational requirements. 1323 This is one other reason why the Defence Secretary should be on the Government benches in this House and not in a place where we all know he cannot be challenged by hon. Members in this House. I say again that he should fight the next safe Conservative seat. If he seeks to make that kind of speech, he deserves to come here.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That matter could be overcome in the circumstances. I do not think the present Opposition would oppose any move of that kind.
There are four issues which arise out of that speech. The first relates to the Indian Ocean. I am willing to concede that perhaps this involves only a 19 million dollar project in regard to Diego Garcia, but I should like to ask whether we are wise to be associated with that project. I suspect that Ministers have not considered this. Are we prepared to risk sacrificing a great deal of the goodwill of the States on the borders of the Indian Ocean, and for what? The Prime Minister may give answers on this matter; and it was discussed in Singapore and was also brought into the discussions in Dehli.
I know that the noble Minister opposite realises that it was done in the teeth of the wishes of the Indian Government. Is that denied? No, it is not denied, because nobody can deny it. The High Commissioner is on record as saying that it was done very much against the wishes of his Government. Therefore, when we get into the position of making agreements with the United States to allow the militarisation of the Indian Ocean, I fear we are getting into great trouble.
Furthermore, I have news for the Defence Secretary. The Minister may laugh and giggle on the Front Bench, but there are Congressmen, like John Brademus, in the United States House of Representatives and American Senators—I have the document here—who have written to Secretary of State Rogers to ask precisely what he is up to. The question of Diego Garcia now has the personal interest of Senator Fulbright and 1324 his committee. Therefore, some formidable questions will be put to the British Government on this rather quietened-down deal with the Americans—questions which they cannot evade as if they had come from a back bencher in the British House of Commons. Let those questions be asked in Washington and then the smile will be taken off the Minister's face.
The question of the £264 million spent on defence research establishments was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). Has the Minister of State for Defence yet got round to visiting some of these establishments? As members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, I and several of my colleagues on both sides of the House visited a large number of them. What conclusions can be drawn about their productivity? It seems strange, when we have had all this difficulty and all these debates over the RB211 and help for Rolls-Royce, that £264 million should be spent on research establishments where many objective people feel that there is extraordinarily little end-product. Many Conservative Members of Parliament believe that research in principle should be done either in industry or in the universities. Just as the Robbins Committee argued that research is best done by those who are engaged in teaching, so one hears in defence establishments many pathetic stories of those who are over 35 and have got into a rut and can no longer do the creative job they once did.
This would be all right if it were on a small scale, but massive expenditure is involved. I want to know what the Government intend to do with places like the Royal Radar Establishment at Malvern, the Services Electronic Research Laboratory at Baldock, and the Torpedo Research Establishment at Portland, which employs over 1,000 people. This is not chickenfeed.
But this is not the time or place to go into detail about research establishments. I just register the fact that it is a pity that no Front Bench has yet found time to debate the Report of the Select Committee and the work that was done by it. The sooner the Ministry of Defence can persuade the Lord President to have a debate on these research establishments and their future—which are of great interest to many hon. Members on 1325 the Government benches who take a genuine interest in industry—the better.
I wish to raise a thorny subject and am putting arguments that I have put on many occasions to the former Labour Prime Minister. This concerns the set of rules that governs the trading arrangements which firms in this country with a base in the United States may have with the Eastern bloc and with the Soviet Union. In particular—as is known to the Minister, because I have raised the matter in eight Questions to the Prime Minister today—I am concerned about the situation that arises out of the I.C.L. possible contract for the sale of two computers to the Soviet Union, computers which to the best of my belief will be used for civil purposes at the high energy centre at Serpukhov, south of Moscow, and have little, if anything, to do with military considerations.
If it is said that of course there are genuine military considerations, I point out that it is hardy likely that the Soviet Union would have been able to conduct a Venus probe without a considerable knowledge of the third generation of computers. I simply express the feeling of many of us who, not over a matter of days but over some months, have made a study of this problem.
Pressures are being put on from the United States, displaying a jealousy of the success and potential success of the British computer industry in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In any dealings that the Government have in this matter, will they give an assurance that they will be aware of the commercial pressures that exist in the United States to prevent the sale of so-called military-orientated but, in fact, civil equipment to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?
This is an important matter at any time, but it is especially important in areas such as West Lothian, as many of our best and most worth-while jobs are created, as in Dundee, by American-owned industry—which we welcome. There is here a considerable issue of principle, whether firms based in this country should be at an advantage over firms that happen to be based in the United States but have their resources here in Britain. Should the multi-national company, the genuinely international company, be at a disadvantage to the 1326 British-owned company in the Eastern European and Soviet markets?
Perhaps it would be difficult for the Minister to give a categorical reply tonight, but the Prime Minister will intervene in the debate, and, since these questions have been accepted by him as important, it would be a pity if in his winding-up speech he made no mention of an issue which in days of increasing unemployment affects many British factories.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I apologise to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for not following him in his rather tortuous paths of argument. If I tried to follow the hon. Gentleman I should no doubt surprise him.
I have a certain amount of sympathy for my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) on an occasion like this because, having introduced a fair, reasonable and practical document, he then, as it were, sits back on the Front Bench and a number of hares start all over the House on strategy, tactics, grand policy, how we might otherwise spend our money, and a number of other subjects which are not terribly relevant to what I regard as essentially a domestic policy document.
The White Paper has an importance outside these islands, but it was perhaps overstraining the subject when, for instance, the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) suggested that there should have been more talk about disarmament. Hon. Members on both sides recognise that this is an ideal. Eventually we hope to make progress towards it. But it is a little unrealistic when we look at the state of the world and realise that Britain, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) pointed out, is a second-rate military Power. I think that the realities of world disarmament are essentially a matter between the two great Powers. We may contribute something, but it would be exaggerating a British Defence White Paper to suggest that there should be a lengthy discussion on world disarmament.
First, I should like to refer to the statement on the Gulf which preceded the debate. I have never regarded it as absolutely vital that Britain should have a 1327 military presence in the Gulf to safeguard her oil supplies. It always seems rather illogical when we consider the other countries which also draw their oil from that area and which do not require a military presence there.
I am also opposed to any idea of what I call land tenure in these circumstances. Having served in that part of the world, I believe that there is a kind of unpopularity which occupation of land by soldiers on their flat feet seems inevitably to attract. Our presence in that part of the world depends upon a desire by the people there for our aid and assistance. If this is forthcoming, if we can be useful and add to the stability of the area—we have done this in the past—I agree that we should keep some presence there. However, if it is not possible to bring about agreement between the Emirates, the local rulers, as to our presence there, I should not express a great deal of regret that we should not retain something that in many ways is a historical position.
Turning to the White Paper, I should like to refer to the use of the word "global". The right hon. Member for Dundee, East used the metaphor of the man from outside looking at our defence policy. If this man from outside—a man from Mars perhaps—looked at our defence commitments all over the world, he would no doubt come to the conclusion that they were indeed worldwide but, in many parts of the world, rather in penny packets. It would perhaps be pedantic for me to jib at the word "global". But never, at the height of our power, in the 19th century, were we what I would call in the global class as a Power. Of course we had a large Navy, but I think that it was Bismark, who, when asked during an international crisis, "What would happen if the British landed an army in Europe?", answered, "I would send a customs officer to arrest it." We have never been in that sense a global Power. We have concentrated in the past on a maritime strategy, but at that time we were not committed to a land-based force in Europe.
Our defence posture, perhaps, to the man from outside, the man from Mars, may look a little illogical—a few battalions here, a few armoured cars there and some squadrons of aircraft. I 1328 am not denying their beneficial value. I have been part of at least two of those forces and I have seen their value over and above their military presence in giving aid and help to the local inhabitants. Very often, in the Borneo campaign, it was the help of our medical personnel in the villages which was perhaps the only contact which the people had with the British Army. That was accepted, and it was a method of making friends. As I say, it is perhaps an illogical position, dependent far more on history than on military logic, but we should stay in those parts of the world so long as we are welcome and useful.
Obviously, our main commitment must be Europe. There was a time when people would argue that our military commitment gave us in some way a free ticket into the European Community. Those days have certainly passed, but in terms of military confrontation, our defence line obviously lies in Europe. Our allies there do not have the overseas commitments which we possess. They have Western continental armies, with no likelihood of being involved in desert or jungle campaigns.
They have the advantages and disadvantages of that situation. Sometimes, they are perhaps a little inflexible, but at the same time they have the advantages of uniform arms and equipment. The British, on the other hand, possess flexibility and are also the only Army in Western Europe with experience of active service.
However, some aspects of Western European military life might in future be of value to us. We are increasingly becoming a European army. We have the only volunteer army in Europe and perhaps some study might be made of the methods of recruitment to the German and French armies. Plainly, this is a question which this and future Governments will have to consider seriously.
I started by saying that I regard the defence White Paper as a domestic document and perhaps the most important element is the question of recruitment to the Armed Services in an age which, as many hon. Members have said, is opposed to the idea of service of this nature, an age which thinks with horror—and rightly—of large-scale wars, and which is also opposed to the idea of armed force as such, paradoxically 1329 existing in an age which we know to be a violent one.
The structure of service has changed considerably in the last 20 years. The long-term able seaman or private soldier—the man who receives no promotion, who continues into his fifties looking after a store or doing similar sedentary work—hardly exists today. So also, for that matter, has disappeared the major or commander who was "put out to grass" in a similar sinecure. The Services have become ultra-professional and the promotion ladder in many ways has become steeper. They have certainly become more professionalised. At the same time, we should also recognise that this is no longer, if it ever was, a career for persons who have failed in civilian life.
Here I take issue with what, I thought, was a rather old-fashioned attitude on the part of the Economist in a recent issue when it suggested that perhaps recruiting officers should be active in the Derby area, where they would undoubtedly find fears of unemployment. The idea that the unemployed, or those who thought that they were about to be unemployed, went into the Services was exploded many years ago by Michael Foot—not the hon. Member who represents Ebbw Vale, but the other one. Many of those old ideas about recruitment to the Services have now disappeared.
We must recognise, however, that it is a different sort of person who chooses a Service career than the person who chooses to remain in civilian life. Naturally, one wants salaries to keep pace with those in civilian life—there is no suggestion that by going into the Services one should sacrifice on that score—but I think that the person who goes into the Services goes for variety, adventure and travel. Some of the advertisements which in the past were, perhaps, designed to catch the more civilian-minded might well have turned out to be failures as advertisements.
If I may digress for a moment, I should like to bombard my noble Friend the Minister of State with some of the advertisements which have not impressed me. There was a time when it was suggested that the young officer might move straight from control of a self-propelled gun to a walking-on part in "The Power Game" 1330 and take over any large financial concern which happened to be going. Then there was a collection of commanding officers all of whom, I seem to remember, either played the flute or collected butterflies. That was so that the blimp image should be destroyed. Then there were a number of officers none of whom had been at Eton. I am not sure what that was intended to denote. Perhaps we have now turned full circle when I find a very savage young man grasping a sub-machine gun and a note beneath the advertisement saying,Do you possess the intellectual qualities to be a Royal Marine officer?I do not know who that is aimed at. I am not much impressed by the current advertisements.
I suggest to my noble Friend that he need not, perhaps, worry too much, because I suspect that people go into the Armed Forces far more as a result of contacts with those already there than by filling in the dotted line under the coloured advertisements. I suspect also that in these matters there is still an element of tradition within families. The young man of today who was looking for a career would probably ask, not his seniors, but his contemporaries in the Armed Forces whether they enjoyed that form of life and form his judgment on that basis.
The previous speaker, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), has much more military experience than I could ever pretend to have. He advanced the idea that the terms of service could be even more shortened than they are at present. I agree with him. A young man is more likely to contemplate a Service career if he thinks that it does not involve a lengthy commitment—something like the two years that the National Service man had to serve. Some National Service men stayed on in Army service for a career. That may be impossible in the future, but certain experiments have continued, such as shortening the training period for officers, especially in the recent experiment at the Mons Officers Cadet School, which seems to have produced reasonable results.
Many hon. Members have talked about the credibility of our forces in Europe. There has been a suggestion that in some 1331 way these should match the forces of the Warsaw Pact countries. That is not so. It is fallacious to suggest that the men, arms and equipment of the Western Allies should match those of the Warsaw Pact countries. To suggest that in some way Britain fails if she does not make an even larger contribution in Europe is equally fallacious. We cannot answer all emergencies. We have produced a deterrent force in Europe. Its credibility depends largely upon the condition of our reserve forces. Those forces suffered a grievous blow with the virtual disappearance of the Territorial Army. Hardly any hon. Member would deny that that is so. The traditions of the Territorial Army disappeared, and many people became thoroughly disillusioned at the time.
Part of that position has been rectified in terms of the T.A.V.R. I am sure that my noble Friend has in mind that those volunteers should have suitable equipment; that they should be well-trained, on the basis that they are the reserve for B.A.O.R., and that throughout their training it should always be stressed that they are taken seriously as soldiers. In the past the impression was often gained that in an emergency our reserve forces might be confined to some civil rôle—that they might be used in a non-military manner. I believe that that affected morale. If they are given proper equipment, in line with that used by the Regular forces, and they are accepted as proper reserves for B.A.O.R. and given training commensurate with that position, their morale will remain at its present high level.
Britain must cut her military expenditure according to her national cloth. No Minister of Defence explaining his policy can point to a positive return for expenditure in the shape of a long row of houses, a hospital or anything tangible in that sense. However—and this answers those who suggest that we should reduce our defence expenditure still further or place it within narrow, inflexible limits—he can point to a return in terms of security and peace.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Walden (Birmingham, All Saints)
It had been my intention in winding up the debate for the Opposition 1332 today to say that, in so far as circumstances and parliamentary exigencies allowed, I would try to steer clear of partisanship.
However, the noble Lord the Minister of State, far from wishing me to do that, went out of his way to say that he regarded the Government's White Paper as being enormously different from the White Papers which were produced by the Labour Administration. I do not agree with him.
When his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) rebuked him for saying that there was no great difference between this and previous White Papers, the noble Lord went out of his way to make this point. There followed great enthusiasm from his hon. Friends and we even had the participation of the Prime Minister. We were told that that would have an immediate and beneficial effect on recruitment. We hope that it will.
Indeed, my hon. Friends welcome the Prime Minister's participation in this debate. We welcome it in any debate because it is a rather rare event these days. We look forward to seeing his wraith-like presence tomorrow, and we hope that he will be a good deal clearer in his explanations of this defence White Paper than he was in the explanations which he did not give in the debate on Rolls-Royce, not all of which matters are a million miles apart, though I will not say anything today about the RB211.
I do not propose to say that I regard this White Paper as a document which the Opposition feel they must oppose line by line and paragraph by paragraph. I of course understand the intellectual problem of the noble Lord. He knows that his Administration are glad to accept most of the innovations brought about by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). He also knows that if he were to say that too loudly, his hon. Friends would not like it. He therefore finds it necessary from time to time—persistently throughout his speech today and occasionally, I am sad to say, in the White Paper—to stress beyond the point of reason imaginary differences which he thinks exist between his policy and ours. 1333 I notice, for example, a rather distasteful reference in the White Paper, in Chapter 1, which informs us of the intention of the Government to restore the Armed Forces to "their rightful place" in the life of the nation. I was not aware that any British Government had ever done anything other than give the Armed Forces their rightful place in the nation.
When we are told that restoration is required, we can as easily point—and we do—to the kind of changes which were brought about by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East in the pay and conditions of Servicemen, which did as much to establish the place of the profession of arms in our life as anything that was done by any Government since the war.
The noble Lord knows that perfectly well, as does the Secretary of State, about whom, unfortunately, one must speak behind his back because to us he is dead, though in Elysian Fields. We do not have the chance of bringing matters directly to his attention, though he heads the largest spending Department, its expenditure amounting to £2,500,000 a year, or 5½ per cent. of the gross national product. We have to read his remarks, and he has to read ours.
I start, therefore, by taking the Secretary of State's—I notice them also in the noble Lord's speech—basic assumptions about the position in which the Government find themselves. The thesis of the Government Front Bench in the House and in the other place appears to be that after a period of what they call retrenchment and withdrawal, which they characterise as being the Labour defence policy, they have now arrived at a period of stability, which they characterise as typical of Tory defence policy.
The Government know full well that that is a monumentally shallow way of looking at matters. There would be no period of stability now were it not for the period of retrenchment and withdrawal which preceded it. The proof of that is shown by the fact that, despite as much window dressing as they can all collectively devise, they do not essentially intend to change most of the financial provisions and ceilings that were brought about by the previous Government. They must be as grateful as anyone else to find that those ceilings are there and that 1334 because of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, and mainly because of his efforts, as most impartial observers outside the House would concede, we have gone beyond that period in British history where defence expenditure had an accidental relationship to national resources.
We often hear speeches from the other side of the House, and we have heard some today, which show that that salient fact still has not sunk in and in which defence is spoken of as if it were such an imperative, in terms of this nation, that it can be wholly divorced from financial disciplines imposed on other Government departments. It cannot. It was the great service of my right hon. Friend to say that, to mean it, and to shape a defence policy based upon that assumption. Hon. Gentlemen opposite whatever they choose to say to their back-benchers privately—
§ Lord Balniel
The previous Secretary of State did not shape the defence policy in that way. In so far as it affected the Far East and the Gulf, the defence policy was shaped by devaluation and shaped by the Prime Minister's statement on 16th January as a cut in public expenditure. It had nothing to do with strategic objectives. It was entirely related to devaluation.
§ Mr. Walden
That is the version of events which the noble Lord wishes to put around, and which we deny. It is true that this country devalued in 1967. It is true that we withdrew east of Suez and that we changed our policy in relation to the Gulf. But the inevitable marriage between these two matters which the noble Lord keeps asserting is far from the case. Devaluation merely accelerated a process which would have occurred anyway; there can be no doubt about that. We intended to fall back from those areas. We did fall back from those areas. I shall come to that in greater detail later. It is highly doubtful how far the present Administration has reversed that policy. I suspect that they would like to have two dialogues, one directly with us, in which they would stress the similarity of what they are doing to what we did, and another with their back-benchers which would be utterly different. When we discuss the Gulf we shall come on to that. 1335 Having said that about the intellectual basis on which the Secretary of State constantly argues his policy for the benefit of his side of the House, the whole issue is why we have to have defence expenditure at all. That is not an altogether inappropriate question. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) raised the matter. He had the idea that we should cut defence expenditure to 3 per cent. of the gross natural product, as the French intend, that we would thereby save £950 million, and numerous good things, therefore, would come to the British people. If we are to reason like that—I do not object to my hon. Friend doing so; he always does in these discussions—it raises an issue about the attitude of younger people and the fact that they have got used to a long period of peace and that the profession of arms has no immediate and apparent attraction for them. The issue is raised of why we spent the money at all. We spend the money—at least I hope this is why we spend it—because, though we want détente and though we want disarmament, until we can be sure that there will be a universal reduction in arms, and until we have a substantial détente in Europe, we do not feel that we can leave Britain with less than its present level of defence.
One of the Opposition's great objections to the White Paper and to the terms in which the Government urge it is that so little is said about disarmament and détente, which to us are crucial parts of the whole equation. I agree with much of the speech made by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder), but I did not agree with him that this document is of purely domestic concern. It is nothing of the kind. British defence policy must necessarily be of international concern. So should British disarmament policy be. Never was there a time when Britain needed to have a clearer policy of disarmament than that which it has at present.
We all pay obeisance to the S.A.L.T. talks which are now proceeding. I will not say anything against those talks, though one of the reasons they have come about is that both the super Powers are beginning to get alarmed, not only about the military consequences of what they are doing, but about the financial 1336 consequences of the anti-ballistic missile systems. Nevertheless, the talks are proceeding. There is a limited measure of détente there.
I do not want to say, and I specifically do not say, that we can argue from such talks that there could be a general East-West agreement on all matters of military and political disagreement. I do not think that follows for one moment. However, it does follow that if the Russians are prepared to talk about the limitation of strategic arms there might be a series of other things that they are prepared to talk about which it would be in our interest to pursue, however sceptical we are as to the consequences that would emerge.
There should be something in the White Paper to indicate that the Government have that intention, but there is not. It just is not good enough for the Secretary of State in another place to equate the fact that, though he loves beauty, truth and virtue and believes in the inevitability of death, he does not mention that in all his speeches, with not mentioning disarmament in a speech he makes in introducing a Defence White Paper.
I say again that for us disarmament and détente are two sides of the same thing. We spend the money, not to prevent the détente, not because we do not believe that there ever will be détente, not because we have forsaken all hopes of disarmament, but as a bridging operation between the world in which we have to live and the world in which we want to live. If there is this desire to make young people understand defence policy better and to give them a more encouraging view of the rôle that the Services play, that should be said explicitly so that they can read it.
§ Captain W. Elliot
The hon. Gentleman is criticising us for neglecting the consideration of disarmament in the White Paper. He will recall that the Labour Government brought in the innovation of a Minister for Disarmament. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what in the six years of Labour Government were the practical effects of disarmament?
§ Mr. Walden
Only last week the Foreign Secretary signed the seabed treaty, which was based upon the efforts 1337 of the Minister for Disarmament. That is one thing. I also refer—I am sorry to have to do this—to the debate in another place in which the Secretary of State for Defence paid a compliment to the work which had been done by my noble Friend, Lord Chalfont, as Minister for Disarmament. With all respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton who made in this debate a very good speech to which I want to refer again in a different context a little later, that is the trouble. All too often that kind of slighting comment is made about disarmament, comment which, if not understood with other of the hon. and gallant Member's views, which I am sure he has, and which, for that matter, I am sure the Secretary of State has, could easily be taken to mean that the Government have no really great interest in the subject. That is what we complain about. We do not say in our Amendment, and we shall not say from this Box, that we believe that this Government have no interest in disarmament. What we do say is that they do not make that interest sufficiently apparent, and that the absence of making it sufficiently apparent is a weakness which ought to be rectified. Maybe the noble Lord, when he winds up, or even, conceivably, the Prime 'Minister when he visits us, may say something on that theme.
I now want to take up something else which has been mentioned in the debate—
§ Lord Balniel
Is the hon. Gentleman leaving that? He is making heavy weather about this. What specific proposals has he put forward? I am bound to comment that we are in fact engaged in four-Power talks on Berlin, we have offered talks on balanced force reductions, we are supporting Ostpolitik, and we have laid a treaty about chemical warfare. What specific suggestion is the hon. Member putting forward about what we ought to do?
§ Mr. Walden
I will tell the noble Lord. If he is suggesting that his support for all that is as strong as he says it is and this is in his own mind as he now talks across that Box, then he should have grouped
1338 all these things together as a major part of this statement. We cannot have Secretaries of State in another place one day saying they cannot bother to put all that into their speeches and then have the noble Lord saying they are doing all that they possibly can about them. I should have thought I made that clear.
Let me switch to a question which this side of the House, and, I think, the whole House, takes seriously, though it is well known that we differ from the Government in this respect—about the importance of Europe. Again I refer to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, who made what I thought was an extraordinary statement about this when he said that he thought we paid far too much attention to the central front and that we had far too many forces there, and that we ought to be performing a maritime role, though he did also suggest that the Germans, the Dutch, and various other people could also have some ships in the Indian Ocean, and they could give us maritime assistance, and that we ought to switch from regarding Europe as our most important front and regard the seas as our principal line of defence of this country.
I want to say quite clearly that although I think there are people on this side of the House, and there are people on this Front Bench, who are aware of the attraction of that kind of strategy for the British people both historically, and, if I may say so, emotionally, we believe it to be profoundly wrong, quite apart from the fact that it was the 1954 Treaty, signed not by a Labour Government but by a Conservative Government, which bound us to maintain given force levels in Europe. What the hon. and gallant Gentleman was really asking for was violation of a treaty, and what we are having to do by treaty.
But there is more to it than that. I think this is really a psychological thing. A great many people in this country—and I will be frank and say they are not all Tories, either—tend to think of this country's main defence contribution, not as being part of a linked group of nations in their own geographical area of Europe, but as being on the seven seas. That is much more emotionally attractive, and they find in it much more of the rôthey would like to feel we should 1339 play. It was not an hon. Gentleman on this side but it was an hon. Gentleman opposite who said this was one of the dangerous illusions of defence policy which we might very easily slip into.
The noble Lord will not be surprised if I tell him that I think that to some extent this Government have done exactly that—they have slipped into an illusory policy, partly to meet pledges which that party gave when it was in Opposition, partly to justify the kind of attacks which that party used to make on my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, and partly because of a romantic attachment to the power and prestige which this country had in areas where, quite frankly, that power and prestige have now diminished to a level where a British military presence can be of no useful assistance whatever.
§ Captain W. Elliot
If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the desire to keep open our sea lanes is purely emotional and romantic, I very much hope that as time goes on he will change that view.
§ Mr. Walden
Putting the matter like that, talking about keeping open our sea lanes as if we were the only people who ever used them, is the great bugaboo of defence policy. Listening to right hon. and hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite we feel that more tripe is talked about the threat to our sea lanes than about any defence issue.
The whole point of the pledge the Americans gave at A.D.70 was that they would not withdraw from Europe; they would maintain their level of forces and even improve them provided there was reciprocity on the part of the allies. To adopt a policy that bore any correspondence with the kind of advice given by some Conservative Members would be to help precipitate the very situation we most wish to avoid, which is that the Americans would have a palpable reason for diminishing their own force levels in Europe. If they do that, N.A.T.O. inevitably loses credibility.
There should not be any particular reproach on this country, provided it does not move in the direction in which the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton went, for the amount it is spending in Europe. Our contribution 1340 compares extremely well with that of all other members of the N.A.T.O. alliance other than the United States and Portugal, and we all accept that Portugal is a somewhat odd example. Certainly, our contribution to N.A.T.O., financially and in terms of military force, compares very well with that of the other European allies.
But it is important that both we and the other European members of N.A.T.O. keep our end up. I do not believe that President Nixon can give an irrevocable pledge that the Americans will always stay. One Administration cannot bind the next. Even as early as 1973 we may have to face a different Administration in Washington with a different policy. The one sure way of producing the consequences we do not want is to fail in our own obligations towards Europe. Where I agreed with the noble Lord was in his statement, straight out, that that was our essential defence sector. I did not agree when he started hedging and trimming to meet some of the prejudices of his right hon. Friends.
§ Lord Balniel
What is there in the speech of President Nixon that makes the hon. Gentleman believe that the Americans are anxious to see this country adopt a totally Euro-centric policy? That is not the case.
§ Mr. Walden
I did not say that it was. The hon. Gentleman can read my remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I said that the President had given a conditional pledge to maintain American force levels provided the European members of the N.A.T.O. alliance maintained and enhanced their own contribution. That is our first priority. If we start messing about on the periphery in such a way as to endanger that, we shall have made the greatest mistake in defence policy that we could conceivably make, and have given reasons for diminishing the whole credibility of N.A.T.O., which would occur if the Americans diminished their force levels on the central front.
I am not too pleased with the arguments the Government used about world-wide commitments. We must bear in mind that there are other nations dependent on imports. This touches on the sea lanes argument. Other industrial nations have penetrated the Asian and African 1341 markets and they do not seem to have—one wonders why—the same neurotic obsession which the Government have either with sea lanes or with having military forces on the spot.
The Germans appear to do very well—indeed, all too well from the point of view of our balance of payments—in the Asian markets. I recall a visit to Hong Kong in which I received constant complaints about the extent of the German and the Japanese commercial penetration. But they do not seem to have the somewhat outdated view that trade must follow the flag. Neither do I. I do not think that the Government do either. But all the time, to justify certain things they are doing east of Suez, they have to keep making a bow towards that particular intellectual view, and every time they do so they will find it much more difficult eventually to get themselves off the hook of the kind of arguments that will be put by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), who obviously wants us heavily committed in the Gulf in perpetuity, by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton and others on the benches opposite. I have no very great fears for our sea lanes, because, quite simply, I think that any disruption of them would be bound to produce general war and to involve many more countries than ourselves.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves what he calls "messing about on the periphery", how does he think Western European trade would be making out in, for example, Singapore and Malaysia had British forces not been available in the confrontation?
§ Mr. Walden
I do not want to denigrate the part which the British forces played in the confrontation. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows perfectly well that the forces that are now being maintained in the area—in that very place—by the present Government are not of such levels which would deter any very serious external aggression. It is window dressing. It is shadow boxing. It is trying to get the illusion of presence on the cheap. In an earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) put it beautifully when he said that we were to be there in sufficient force to irritate but not in suf- 1342 ficient force to deter. It is a piece of window dressing. It is not a substantion contribution either to the trade of Western Europe or to ours.
I turn now to the problem of the Indian Ocean. As an hon. Member opposite agreed, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) put the case perfectly when he said that the purpose of the Russian Fleet in the Indian Ocean was not to sever the supply of oil from the Gulf—that is a totally dotty idea—but because there are many newly emergent countries around the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Russians intend, on an international waterway, to show the flag so that their ideological and political concepts will have the best possible chance in these countries not only in competition with our ideology but also in competition with Chinese Communism.
This is not something that we can regard lightly and I do not suggest that we should. But at least we ought to see it for what it is. It is not an attempt to sever our supplies but an attempt to assist the Soviet Union in maintaining a very strong foothold in the third world. It is what one would expect the Russians to do and, naturally, within our capacity, we need to respond to it. That we did under the previous Government and we have no objection to it. But we should not get so hysterical about it and certainly should not say, as right hon. and hon. Members opposite persistently say—including the Secretary of State for Defence in another place—that it has now become the very warp and woof of the Soviet threat. It has become nothing of the kind. But it has become the Government's excuse to sell arms to South Africa. We all know it. Some peg had to be found on which to hang the sale of arms to South Africa and this was the one which the Government devised.
Some hon. Members opposite seem to be very unclear about what the Government actually will do in the Gulf. I cannot say that I am altogether surprised about that, having listened to the Foreign Secretary's statement and the noble Lord's attempt to improve on it. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said that he had not understood that British forces were to be withdrawn from an operational role at the end of 1971. I can 1343 only advise him to read tomorrow mornings newspapers.
Let me make it clear to any hon. Member opposite who is in any doubt that the present Government's Gulf policy, in defiance of what the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister, said when he went to the Gulf in 1959, is in virtually every respect identical to the policy of the Labour Government. There will be an operational withdrawal at the end of 1971, and the various measures of assistance which have been very properly offered were in fact in process of being offered, or had already been offered, by the previous Administration, and in that regard I call the attention of the House to the statement of Defence Estimates, 1969, chapter 1, paragraph 25.
Despite the attempt to confuse the issue, let us get it quite clear that the Government are offering no more by way of arrangements and assistance than would have been offered by the previous Government, and the fundamental policy of withdrawal is identical. What is happening to hon. Members opposite, not all of them, is that they are being conned. They are being persuaded that a policy identical with ours is somehow quite different.
If it were seriously thought—and I leave this as a poser for the noble Lord to come to when he winds up the debate—that there was a major Russian threat in the Indian Ocean, how daft it would be to meet it by selling Wasp helicopters to the South Africans while withdrawing a British presence in the Gulf! I do not accept the Government's argument, but, if I did, I should think that their policy was entirely the wrong way round and if there were a major Russian threat to our influence and our supply routes in the Indian Ocean, they should stay in the Gulf first and foremost and not sell arms to South Africa, which is an admittedly counter-productive policy, on which issue I refer only to the excellent speech in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, who said that the Government ought not to put themselves in the position in which the very people they wished to defend did not wish to be defended by them because of their actions in Southern Africa. 1344 I hope that I shall carry the House with me in the last thing which I want to say, which is in reference to the tragic situation in Ulster. On behalf of the Opposition, I want to add to what has already been said from the Front Benches and the back benches on both sides that we are keenly seized of the tragedy of the situation in Ulster where the Army has to perform the worst conceivable rôle and, tragically, has to do so in its own country. We see that another soldier has been killed. We join with all the expressions of sympathy to the Army and with that soldier's family which have already been offered, and we can only say that we see no easy way out.
In this respect, we have no argument with Her Majesty's Government. Anybody who reads the speech made by Lord O'Neill in another place will realise that the Army probably has to stay in Ulster for a very long time. We regret that in so far as we think that it stretches our resources and, to some extent, weakens the credibility of the contribution that we can make to N.A.T.O., but we regard that as inevitable. We think that our soldiers will have to perform a nasty, unpleasant and, in some ways, tragic role in Ulster for a considerable time. We do not in any way wish to say anything which detracts from Her Majesty's Government's policy in that respect. We admire the job the Army is doing, and we support the purpose which it is carrying out.
Our differences with the Government lie elsewhere. They lie in the overstretching of our resources by largely meaningless, basically provocative actions east of Suez and by a refusal to accept that the fundamental purpose of defence for a country like this is, in the end, to maintain our security, and our security in the end is best maintained by having forces in sufficient strength to permit negotiations, and it is on that negotiation that the basic hope for world peace would lie.
We maintain our forces at their present level in order to precipitate that situation and not in order to give any greater glory to the profession of arms. I say that because one noble Lord in another place suggested that we should not mention disarmament because to do so might discourage men from joining the forces. I make it clear that it is exactly 1345 that kind of reasoning that we on this side of the House resent. It is the absence of any reference to matters of that kind, together with the Government's east-of-Suez policy, that make us move what we hope will be a successful Amendment.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Antony Lambton)
We have all listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden). Few, even on this side of the House, would deny that, however much we may disagree with him, he has a great gift of eloquence. We never could understand why he was not a member of the Labour Administration. He is an ornament to the Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman said that we were using the Indian Ocean as a peg on which to hang the question of arms sales to South Africa. I should like politely to ask him what peg the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) used when he was proposing to sell arms to South Africa. Perhaps that question will be taken up tomorrow at a more convenient time.
I have listened with interest to the opinions expressed today. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not deal with all the points which have been raised, because in recent years it has been customary at this time in a defence debate for a speech to be made on the equipment of Services in order to help widen the following day's discussion. It is important that I should give this information now. I therefore propose to give the House some of the more important equipment plans of the three Services.
Before getting down to detail, I should like to touch on a subject mentioned by the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) last year. He referred to the "gestation period for new equipment". Due to the increasing complexity of modern weapons, this period has become longer and longer. The House will agree that this can give a certain artificiality to the positions of Government and Opposition, for the new Administration, on taking office, find themselves apparently committed to types of equipment on which vast sums of money have already been spent, and the performance and effectiveness of this 1346 equipment must then be supported and defended, while the Opposition, which when in power may have initiated this development, find themselves in the constitutional position of being critics of their own designs.
Obviously, defence equipment should not be so much a matter of argument as a non-political report on progress. This argument has been carried further, and it has been proposed that defence should be taken altogether outside the sphere of politics. But I fear that this could be achieved only if both parties were to agree on a minimum long-term future level of expenditure on our defence commitments, and such agreement is extremely unlikely. But I think that everyone will agree that sudden changes in defence equipment plans are undesirable, and, although no Government can guarantee stability, we hope that we are now entering a period of stabilisation of our defence equipment programme. Perhaps I speak only for this side of the House when I say that this might best be realised by the retention in office of this Government and for a period long enough for the initiation and completion of the same equipment schemes.
The Services do an essential job and do it extremely well. Naturally, the right equipment forms an essential part of this capability, as I believe we would all agree. Yet it is no easy task to get the right sort of equipment. No Chancellor of the Exchequer has ever examined with any sort of friendly eye defence expenditure. The central problem is that defence cannot be obtained on the cheap if at the same time our Services are to be provided with the best equipment. The only way we can do this is to say what the former Prime Minister often used to say—that we must keep all possible options open.
The first preference that must be expressed is for the development and production by British industry, with all the obvious advantages that this offers for potential exports, the balance of payments, "spin-off" from the research and development involved, and general support for our own defence industries.
But such has become the scale of the larger projects that it has become economical often to enter into collaborative projects with our N.A.T.O. allies 1347 provided that it proves possible to reach mutually acceptable operational requirements with them. This enables research and development costs to be shared and cut. I will say something a little later about the major collaborative ventures on which we are engaged.
Finally, it is possible for us to buy "off the shelf" from abroad. This adversely affects the balance of payments, but hon. Members opposite who have been in Government will agree that there is a limit to what we can spend on research and development. On occasion foreign purchases may be the only way in which we can meet operational requirements at a cost we can afford.
I will give the House some idea of the amount of money involved in research and development. In 1971–72 we plan to spend some £260 million—about 10 per cent. of the defence budget. Before I come to the content of the programme the main features of which are described in Chapter 6 of the White Paper, I wish to give the House a few details about its management.
About 20 per cent. of the cost of the programme will go to research, the aim of which is to identify the areas likely to produce the best results. At the same time, the right balance has to be struck so that money is not being wasted on areas of declining importance.
The problems of development are very much complicated by the long gestation period. I could give the House one example of this. The development of the Harrier can be said to have begun with what is called a staff target in 1959. Its entry into service was not until 1969, 10 years later. This sort of time scale is not in the least unusual. Therefore, it is necessary that there should be long-term prediction of the future conditions in which some weapons will have to operate and the characteristics which they will need.
I need hardly add that the complexity and length of development does not make it at all easy to forecast with any accuracy costs and time scale of completion.
Naturally, a great deal of effort is devoted to overcoming these problems. Operational requirements both in outline and in substance are carefully examined 1348 to ensure that they are consistent with future strategic and tactical concepts. Furthermore, once a requirement for a weapon has been established and a decision in principle taken to develop it, a great deal of time is given to defining the project as fully as possible before commitment to full development. Again, I am speaking, I am sure, for both sides of the House when I say that it is better to spend money on trying to clarify an area of risk, even if the project has to be abandoned, than to leave the problems to emerge later, risking loss of time and money.
The programme outlined in the White Paper shows that a lot of work has been done in trying to solve this problem, but, however much time is spent on this, prophecy is not an exact science and mistakes are made. The problem remains to try to find the best machinery to ensure that our forward equipment plans are as accurate as possible. This is the central problem, and it is being treated as such in the study of the future organisation for the development and procurement of defence equipment which was announced in Command Paper 4506.
I should now like to turn to some of the collaborative ventures in which we have become engaged.
§ Mr. John Morris
Before the Minister leaves that point, will he tell us whether there are any new projects which have been begun in the course of his Administration?
§ Mr. Lambton
I am planning to come to this later.
I think there is little disagreement that there are various common problems for every member of the N.A.T.O. Alliance. Costs in the last 20 years have risen so greatly and technical sophistication has increased so startlingly that individual countries no longer have the money to carry out effective individual programmes in every case. Collaboration is, therefore, desirable and sensible, particularly as Western Europe faces a common threat.
These simple facts have been ignored from time to time by certain Governments, thus preventing possible standardisation and so making it doubtful whether money has been spent in the most economic way for European defence. 1349 Experience shows that collaboration carries forward from success to success, and, certainly, the standardisation of weapons is of major benefit to N.A.T.O., especially if we consider who is threatening N.A.T.O. The Soviet Union and the satellite forces have reduced standardisations to a fine art, ensuring the interchangeability of their weapons and simplying enormously supply in the event of war.
Once again turning to detail, it will be seen that some of the most important projects on which we are engaged are collaborative. There is Panavia, for example. for the multi-rôle combat aircraft. Then, on a lesser scale, there is the Anglo-French helicopter package, which consists of two French designed helicopters, the Puma, which is a support helicopter, and the Gazelle, which is a light observation helicopter, together with the British-designed Lynx, which is a utility helicopter for both naval and army operational rôles. Production of all three is being, and will be, shared between the two countries. The Puma is already in service with the French forces, and deliveries to the Royal Air Force have recently begun. Production of the Gazelle is also under way and deliveries are expected to start next year. Development of the Lynx is proceeding well, and the first flight is expected shortly.
I should now like to go on to describe other projects for the three Services, which are not all necessarily collaborative, as well as equipment which is coming into service. I think that it will be most convenient for the House if I deal with each Service, covering all subjects in turn.
Before doing so, I should apologise to the House for the factualness of what I shall have to say. The late Mr. Lloyd George once said that every speech, even in the House of Commons, should be entertaining. I think that even his Welsh wizardry would be tested by a modern debate on defence equipment. I think that he lived in what might be called a happier oratorical climate than that in which we live today. Therefore, I shall get down to the facts about which I wish to speak.
Turning, first, to Navy warship projects, further progress has been made in the design work on a new cruiser. The main propulsion machinery for this ship will 1350 consist of four Olympus gas turbines. This gas turbine installation is by far the largest planned for the Royal Navy and represents a further step in the policy of moving away from steam propulsion.
Work is also proceeding on two other new ships. The first is a new general-purpose frigate which, with the Amazon class frigates, four of which are already being built, will succeed older frigates now in service. The second is a new high-capability mine counter-measures vessel. A notable feature of this class will be the use of glass-reinforced plastic in the construction of the hulls. This material is of great significance to mine counter-measures since it is easily maintained, is highly resistant to shock, and is non-magnetic.
Among the weapon systems under development for the Royal Navy there is the Sea Dart medium-range surface-to-air guided missile which will be fitted in H.M.S. "Bristol" and H.M.S. "Sheffield", which are both now under construction. Ikara is also to be fitted in H.M.S. "Bristol" and, in addition, to a number of Leander class frigates. Ikara is a quick-reaction, anti-submarine weapon system capable of engaging targets at long range and in all weathers. It will greatly enhance the submarine-killing potential of the Fleet. In the submarine weapon sphere, development of the Mark 24 is now going well. Negotiations for the purchase of Exocet from the French are proceeding.
I now turn to the Royal Navy's shipbuilding programme. Work is currently in progress on 21 major vessels of oceangoing tug size and larger. They include five nuclear-powered submarines, two destroyers and seven frigates. The two destroyers are H.M.S. "Bristol" and H.M.S. "Sheffield", which I have already mentioned. H.M.S. "Sheffield" is due to be launched later this year, and H.M.S. "Bristol" is due for acceptance by the Royal Navy early in 1972.
The frigates under construction include four ships of the Amazon class, which are of commercial design. A commercial design for a complex ship of this nature is a new venture for the Royal Navy, and many adjustments have had to be made in administrative support activities to ensure effective Service operation. 1351 Another vessel now being built is a mine-hunter of glass-reinforced plastic construction. This vessel will be a precursor to the new high-capability mine counter-measures vessels to which I have already referred.
I should also mention the Royal Navy's helicopter capability, which includes the Sea King, whose deployment is continuing, the Wessex and the smaller helicopter, the Wasp. This capability is to be improved during the 1970s by the introduction of helicopters from the Anglo-French helicopter programme, notably the Lynx.
Now I should like to turn from the Navy to the Army projects—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
No doubt inadvertently, when referring to naval equipment, my hon. Friend omitted any reference to the seaborne aircraft which will be essential for our surveillance to maintain a capacity east of Suez.
§ Mr. Lambton
My hon. and gallant Friend will know that this matter is also under consideration.
Now, having dealt with these naval problems—
§ Mr. John Morris
The hon. Gentleman used a few moments ago the word "new". Has he announced any new project which was begun during his Administration, or has he not inherited all these matters from our Administration? Were they not all started during our Administration?
§ Mr. Lambton
I said in the first 10 minutes of my speech that practically every new Government succeeds to plans which have been laid by the previous Government, just as, when hon. Members came in, for a longish period they were entirely dependent on plans which we had laid down. There is no political point to be made on this issue. Certainly we have not rushed into any immediate design. What I have tried to point out is 1352 that this matter of design and construction is basically non-political and it is not worth trying to make a political point out of it.
§ Mr. Morris
May I deal with a solely political point? The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said at this Dispatch Box time after time that when his Administration were returned to power the hunter-killer programme, which he attacked us for cutting, would be restored. What is to happen to that? Every time we ask whether hon. Gentlemen opposite are to build a fifth Polaris submarine they are very indignant and say that they are keeping their options open. These are two highly political matters, and perhaps we can have some answer from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Lambton
I am not my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and I am not saddled with anything he said in opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members opposite had tied themselves to statements made in opposition, they would have been tied to some of the most curious kites which have ever been flown—
§ Mr. Dalyell
Some questions have been asked on this subject and the Minister has made no attempt to answer them.
§ Mr. Lambton
I never know whether the hon. Member is asking a question or answering it himself, and I am never sure whether he knows either.
§ Mr. Lambton
The Army projects under development include the combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) and the combat vehicle reconnaissance (wheeled). On this subject, I am glad to say we have entered into a collaborative agreement with Belgium for the production of the tracked vehicles. They are light armoured vehicles with aluminium armour. Although they are not the first combat vehicles in service with armour of this kind, they are certainly the first all-aluminium armour fighting vehicles, and they are ahead of anything which 1353 is likely to come into service anywhere else in the near future. For this reason they are of particular interest. The two wheeled vehicles, known as Fox and Vixen, are designed in conjunction with the C.V.R.(T.) to replace conventional armoured cars and wheeled reconnaissance vehicles. Following on will be other versions for use as command posts, ambulances, light-armoured personnel carriers, recovery vehicles and guided weapon carriers.
§ Mr. George Thomson
I hesitate to interrupt the interesting catalogue of ironmongery that the Minister is reading, but my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), who is not now present, asked specific questions concerning research and development in the matters that the hon. Gentleman is dealing with. May we, please, have answers to those questions?
§ Mr. Lambton
My hon. Friend the Minister of State says that he will answer those questions tomorrow. I was not in the House when they were asked.
What is particularly interesting is the use of aluminium, which enables a higher power/weight ratio to be achieved and gives an exceptional performance. Not least is the fact that these vehicles can be carried in the Hercules C130, which will be able to carry two or three of them. This will be of great importance for deployment overseas.
We have also been collaborating for some time with the Federal Republic of Germany on a new gun and its associated ammunition. This gun is the 155 mm. towed gun, FH 70. Italy has now joined the other two countries, and joint development is going ahead satisfactorily.
Further, a joint United Kingdom-Federal Republic of Germany project study into a future 155 mm. self-propelled howitzer has almost been completed. New Army equipment coming into service includes a new barmine and mechanical layer system which is being introduced this year. Re-equipment of the armoured regiments in B.A.O.R. with Chieftain, a tank which, I think, is generally considered to be the best in service in the world, will be completed this year. Swingfire, the anti-tank guided weapon, 1354 is being introduced into the Royal Armoured Corps.
For the few minutes that remain, I should like to turn to the air side, the main items of which are the M.R.C.A., the Jaguar and the up-rating of the Pegasus engine for the Harrier. The development of the Anglo-French Jaguar is well advanced, and the Royal Air Force will take mainly the single-seat operational version for offensive support. The up-rating of the Harrier engine is about halfway through the development phase, and engines to the higher standard will be introduced progressively. This will enhance the Harrier's performance.
The Buccaneer is also coming into Strike Command. As hon. Members will know, it was originally intended for naval vessels, but. with the cessation of the aircraft carriers it is now coming into the Royal Air Force. Also in service in the R.A.F. are two version of the Phantom, the FG 1 in Strike Command, where it will share with the Lightning the task of air defence, and the FGR 2 version for offensive support.
Apart from the Harrier, a remarkable aircraft which has great potential, the Nimrod, is also being introduced. More than half the Nimrod force has been delivered to the Royal Air Force, and the coming year should see the completion of the build-up, including the deployment of a squadron to Malta, where it will add considerably to the allied maritime capability in this important rôle. At the same time, a Nimrod detachment will be available for next year as a contribution to the Commonwealth Forces in the Far East.
The Puma, the largest of the three types of Anglo-French helicopter, will join the Wessex force in 38 Group and add substantially to our short-range troop lift capacity. Before I leave the subject of helicopters, as I know that hon. Members are keenly interested in the question of heavier lift, I would add that we are looking at the possibility of purchasing some medium-lift helicopters. We are conscious of the potential gap in this field following the cancellation of the earlier Chinook order.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.