HC Deb 07 August 1972 vol 842 cc1268-368

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Second Report and the Fifth Special Report from the Expenditure Committee and of the subsequent evidence reported from the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of that Committee. I make but one observation, without in any way detracting from any of the observations to be made by any hon. Member, particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who is the Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee which made this report. My observation relates simply to time and I make it chiefly to reinforce a view that I know to be already in the mind of my right hon. Friend and about which the Select Committee on Expenditure will be reporting shortly.

This is the third opportunity that the House has had to debate reports from the Select Committee on Expenditure and at the conclusion of the debate there will have been some one and a half days debating those reports, half of that time having been taken up debating old reports of the previous Estimates Committee. The Expenditure Committee will be reporting its views on this state of affairs in due time. In 18 months we have published 10 reports and it would be a happy idea for the future to have more time for our reports and for the timing to be better arranged.

4.7 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

I am sure that the whole House will welcome a defence debate in the summer. We usually crowd all our defence debates into the spring and then leave the subject for 11 months of the year. This report is of course from the whole Select Committee on Expenditure, but in fact it is a report of one of its six Sub-Committees, that dealing with defence, of which I have the honour to be Chairman. It was published in February, 1972, just in time for our defence debate, when vigorous comments were made about it.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House who serve on the Expenditure Committee feel that their work is of growing importance. I should like to underline what my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has said: we hope that in future when planning their legislation for a Session the Government will see that plenty of time is allowed for discussing these reports. More have recently been published on topical subjects which I know would interest the House.

The substance of the report was evidence taken up to last December. The Committee has sat since the report was published, and I am glad that we are today also considering evidence published since. In that evidence we have found some answers to the problems which we met earlier.

I am most grateful to the members of the Sub-Committee, all of whom have experience of the Services of one kind or another. We are all motivated by the well-being of the Services and wish to see, as I am sure the whole House does, that the large Defence Vote is properly and efficiently administered.

The Sub-Committee's report was unanimous—there was never a suggestion of a vote—and it was unanimously endorsed by the whole Expenditure Committee.

We owe great thanks to the Clerks of the House who have helped us. I should also like to record that since the publication of the report we have obtained the services of Brigadier Kenneth Hunt, who had a most distinguished military career and is now a well-known lecturer and writer on military subjects.

We have found in particular that visits have been most rewarding. Since the report was published the Committee has been to Cyprus, an ordnance factory at Leeds, the R.A.F., at Lyneham and naval establishments and dockyards at Portsmouth. We have also been to the new Headquarters, United Kingdom Land Forces at Wilton, which as far as we could see is cutting out a great deal of administrative detail, to the advantage of the Service. A fortnight ago we paid a most interesting visit to HMS "Fife", when she was on manoeuvres up to the north of the country. We were flown up in an executive jet aircraft to Lossiemouth, where all six of us had to don survival suits because we were to go 100 miles in a helicopter. Fortunately, it did not ditch in the sea. We were winched down to HMS "Fife" which was a novel experience, and spent five hours there.

We saw the firing of missiles, including the Seacat, and then returned to London.

An outstanding factor these days is that the pay and allowances of our troops are absorbing a higher percentage of the Defence Vote than ever—over 50 per cent. No one will quarrel with that. Both rates of pay and terms of service have been brought on to a footing comparable to civilian life. Many more men can live out of barracks, for example, and this is welcomed by all ranks. But the higher percentage taken up by pay and allowances means that there is a smaller percentage to spend on weapons, and all the time weapons are becoming more sophisticated and complicated. Money spent on weapons must be scrutinised even more carefully if the Vote is to remain constant, or even if it is to be an increasing figure as a percentage of the increasing gross national product.

Every hon. Member will agree that the setting up of the Defence Department was a right and forward-looking step. Although the three Services have kept their identity and their tasks are very different, there is much and increasing common ground, particularly in research for modern armaments. We feel that the Committee's task is to keep pushing to find more common ground. This may be over training and courses, for example.

The report covered the first half of an overall survey which we have made of the Services. We are just completing our evidence for the second half, and we hope that this will be published at the end of November. We have only recently received the Minister's comments on our report and recommendations of last February. We realise that it takes him some time to work them out, and we posed certain problems to him, but we hope that the period of five months which the answers have taken can be cut down in future. The comments have been available in the Vote Office only for the past fortnight. If we publish at the end of November, we hope most strongly that we shall receive the Minister's comments on our recommendations before the defence debates next spring.

I should like particularly to draw the attention of the House to paragraph 31, headed "Standardisation", because it concerns not only our defence services but the whole House and the whole nation. We say in it that we could reduce costs if there were more standardisation of equipment between the NATO allies. We add: The Sub-Committee were very concerned about the virtual absence of progress in this direction and questioned the Secretary of State who admitted that 'one of the most disappointing aspects of NATO since 1949 has been the lack of any real advice in the standardisation of weapons.' A certain amount has been achieved but the obstances are formidable and well known. Some countries can afford more sophisticated weapons than others. Different countries have different requirements and tactical assumptions.…The Secretary of State told the Sub-Committee that collaborative projects with more than two or three countries were inclined to break down and that projects such as the multi-rôle combat aircraft, the Jaguar, and the Anglo-French helicopter, which could then be sold to other NATO allies, were the best way. There is, of course, no need to stress the importance of selling British equipment, too, whenever possible. There is now a very important section of the Defence Department selling British equipment. I recommend to hon. Members a fine exhibition in a hall within the Department of the goods that firms can sell.

I turn to the comments on the various suggestions we made. Our first recommendation was about the existing security classification procedure. We were very grateful for the comments of the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, who gave evidence to the Sub-Committee on 9th May. This has helped to clarify the situation. All members of the Committee are conscious that there are matters of vital security which obviously cannot be published, but they feel that knowing what many of them are has enabled them to have a clearer and more valuable view of defence problems. There are now nine hack benchers who have this understanding, and we think that we can play a more valuable part in our debates as a result.

In our report there are asterisks in innumerable places. We thought at the time that perhaps it should have been possible to publish a little more information. We wanted to be certain that nothing was scheduled as classified and secret which was already known and published in foreign journals on defence matters. Nor, too, should classification be a cloak for inefficiency. I do not think for a moment that it is, but there might well be a temptation. I know that when we write our second report in the next few weeks we shall have the willing co-operation of the Permanent Under-Secretary, who promised to help us to cut down the number of blanks, and possibly to have another turn of phrase. We are most grateful to him for the help we have been given, and for the reply.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Those of us who were not on the Sub-Committee might be curious to know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman, as chairman, tried at any time to insist to the Department that something that was starred should not be starred. Would he care to tell the House whether there was any disagreement, and what happened?

Sir H. Harrison

I would not say that there was any disagreement. The matter was more general. The hon. Gentleman must realise that the Permanent Under-Secretary gave evidence after we published the report. We feel that we are now much closer together, and that we shall be able to give a better second report, which we hope to publish in November. But I think that my colleagues would agree with me when I say that we felt it right to push this point and ourselves to get the information and get as much of it published as possible, except, of course, that which was critical to the country.

Our second recommendation was that more figures should be available to the Sub-Committee. We are very glad to note the comment that the Minister has reconsidered not only giving a breakdown of expenditure under the 57 headings for the current Estimates year and the year immediately following. In future it will be for four years under the 57 headings. This will be a great help to the Committee, as well as to hon. Members generally and to the country. It will mean that they will be able to look back and see the out-turn. We are also very interested in paragraph C of the observation on the forecast of major approved weapon projects which the Committee is examining. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could take this a little further. We were told in evidence that many projects take 15 years to come to fruition and the expenditure on them has to be decided at intervals. The Committee already realises that it is possible that one could get a period of perhaps five or six years ahead when this could escalate very much in a few years and then fall off again.

We have recently had the good fortune of hearing evidence from Mr. Rayner, of the Procurement Executive. The Procurement Executive was set up following his excellent report. As a result, far more detailed study and costing, we understand, will be given to this very important side and we trust that the Committee will get these long-range forecasts, not just in a global sum but for the individual projects.

I am sure that I speak for the Committee as a whole when I say that we were most impressed with Mr. Rayner, his outlook, his grasp of essentials and the way that the Procurement Executive has been set up. He realises the importance of both time and money. We were naturally sorry to hear that he will be returning to industry by Christmas.

I turn now to our third recommendation and the comments. My Committee, when visiting Germany, was staggered to find the large amount of time and money spent on the dependants and families of Service men—padres, welfare officers, wives and others have all played an admirable part in this. A very large proportion of the defence budget which the public naturally thought was going on armaments or pay was in fact going on health, education and welfare of ordinary civilians. Whilst we agree that absolute control should not be taken away from the Ministry of Defence, we feel that there should be a greater appreciation of where 5 or 10 or 15 per cent. of the defence Vote is going—that is, on civilian needs. We have subsequently heard that military hospitals are used by National Health patients and it is very debatable whether a full and appropriate charge has been made for them.

We are delighted to see that 12 extra Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens' Families Association nursing sisters have been authorised following our visit to BAOR, and it is reported that they are doing most excellent work.

We found that bus services were not altogether good for those quartered a long way away, and these are being looked at. Also—and this is vital to the troops—the relaying of British televi- sion services is being looked at. En Cyprus, perhaps because it is so much further away, no one raised with us the lack of television but we found it a real need in Germany.

Next, I turn to recommendation 5. Although I accept the observations and that improvements are being made, there is still a lot of paper work which may be unnecessary. Perhaps the Minister would expand on the sentence about the activities of the newly created Directorate-General of Internal Audit. Our concern here, endorsed by the Commander-in-Chief, RAF, in Germany, was to cut out the needless letter work over small losses going back to the Ministry of Defence. The Commander, British Forces Near East, and the General Officer Commanding, near East Land Forces, both felt that although the amount of paper work at their level was not excessive their powers of write-off should be increased and more particularly that the powers of write-off of commanding officers at a lower level should be raised. By a lower level, they meant lieut.-colonel and wing-commander upwards. The present powers are £35 for theft, fraud and arson and £100 for other cases. Probably a more realistic figure would be £100 or £200, particularly in view of the depreciation of money. We fully admit that a proper system of control is needed, but do not let us waste time on tiny details and miss some of the bigger ones. As we say in our report, having properly qualified accountants is always valuable.

I will say nothing about married quarters in Germany as another member of my Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) is particularly knowledgeable on this point and hopes to catch the eye of the Chair in the debate.

I am concerned about recommendation 8, that more consideration will not be given to the use of helicopters in Germany in substitution for vehicles many of which are now old. I hope that there may be a little reconsideration of this and, coupled with helicopters, possibly the use of hovercraft. We were glad to see that their use was now being considered at Wilton. I should like to know that these have not altogether been abandoned.

Recommendation 9, concerning the question of spare parts, raises what is always a difficult problem. I am glad that the Ministry is fully conscious of this. Computer simulation is being studied but the Ministry must never be satisfied; it must be continually probing around.

In regard to recommendation 10, now that we have one Ministry of Defence we feel that the three Services can combine under one Command Secretary. This has happened in many places and it should also happen in Germany. Even if these are minor difficulties, it could well be under the control of one man, with perhaps a special section for the Royal Air Force, which is so much smaller in numbers.

We are grateful for these observations. If they are carried out, as they may well be, our Services will be more efficient and happier. We are sure that much money as well will be saved. We were most impressed with the fine spirit of all our Services and the men and women in them. They believe that they are doing a first-rate job, as indeed they are. It was gratifying to find recently that when a poll was taken of our civilian population, the majority thought that our Services were very essential and good. Until the world is a far more peaceful place it is on our Services' efficiency and determination that the peace is kept. We are grateful to them.

I should also like to mention all those civilians, apt to be forgotten, who work in one section or another of the Ministry helping to keep our Services efficient. They include civilians in the Ministry of Defence at all levels, the non-industrial and industrial civil servants in the Royal Ordnance factories and dockyards, and the civilians employed in camps and barracks.

The Army today is living under peacetime conditions at home and in Germany —this is not the time to discuss Northern Ireland. However, the Army can quickly mobilise as a fighting force. The more determined it looks, the less likely that is to have to happen.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

It falls to me to have the good fortune to be the first Member of the House to congratulate the Sub-Committee and its Chairman and the Committee as a whole on what I regard as a special, indeed spectacular and in some ways an epoch-making piece of work. Despite that the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) who was Chairman of the Sub-Committee will understand that his report presents the House with the substantial temptation. The report is not very much wider than matters of expenditure but the evidence is. Indeed, the evidence is so wide and the spectrum it covers so diverse that the House would be within its rules of order were it to debate virtually any aspect of defence policy.

There may be hon. Members who will make no complaint about that; there may be some who will take advantage of it. I intend to restrict myself pretty closely to defence costs, but before doing so I want to refer to the other major element in the report—certainly a major element if the Sub-Committee is intending to carry on according to the programme it specifies—namely, the ruling on security classification and the evidence which it is entitled and enabled to publish according to its agreement with the Ministry of Defence.

I hope I do the report justice—I intend to pay it a compliment—when I say that were I to choose a single sentence from it which summarised its attitude I would choose that which appears in paragraph 6 and reads: …the sub-Committee are convinced that the Ministry of Defence has nothing to fear from a freer discussion over Defence expenditure and that greater disclosure would lead to more informed debate. I certainly share that view. I shared that view when I was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence but then, as now, I went further. I believe that the Ministry has a great deal to gain from wider and freer discussion and disclosure of such matters. That becomes increasingly evident if we look at this against the realistic background which the Ministry of Defence and the defence establishment are bound to find in the next decade. Whatever Government is in power between now and the early 1980s the defence budget will be under enormous pressure. Personnel and equipment costs will rise. The resources with which to meet those rising costs will grow increasingly scarce. Not only that, but taxpayers are increasingly likely to expect explanations and justifications of the expenditure which they finance.

The days have permanently gone when people said "If the defence establishment believes that this expenditure is necessary then we will willingly finance it." The defence establishment—and in this context I do not mean the Minister and the serving officers; I mean all those who take some sort of interest in defence matters—has to justify theories, justify and explain our practices, too. Unless that happens the essential support that is needed will not be forthcoming.

That process of explanation and justification has to begin with the Ministry of Defence taking a much more relaxed view about the sort of information it gives out. In that context I say in parenthesis that one part of the report which I regretted, not for its content but for what some people will regard as being its implication is paragraph 17 on page 11. This refers to the very first question the Sub-Committee asked of the first witness. That paragraph could be read to imply that the strategy of flexible response is in part the result of needs to meet a limited budget.

One could perhaps even read into that that it was decided upon as a cheap strategy or a cheaper strategy than the one it superseded. We have to consider the defence budget against the opposite judgment. Wisely in my view, we decided to supersede the doctrine of the trip wire with the doctrine of flexible response. That places an additional financial burden upon us. We have chosen the correct but the expensive defence strategy. Having taken that decision we have an overwhelming obligation to demonstrate its value, to defend, explain and justify it as much as possible. In that belief I go on to add my support of a sentence appearing in paragraph 9 which says: …care must be taken to ensure…that as much information as possible is made available to Parliament, so that those decisions can be properly judged. I am sure that the Committee and the House is grateful that the Ministry of Defence talked to it with such frankness. The main object of this exercise must be to enable the House of Commons to debate defence matters with some degree of authority. I very much hope that the suggestion which the Chairman of the Sub-Committee has made, that the Ministry is likely to be much more forthcoming about classification of information, turns out to be correct. As I understand the situation, the encouraging session in which the Permanent Under-Secretary made his last appearance before the Committee pre-dates the writing and publication of the Ministry's response to the recommendation.

Therefore, I think that the Ministry's last word on the confidentiality of information is what it produced in a rather hurriedly constructed document a fortnight ago. If this is its last word I regard it as a rather depressing last word. Its spirit is enhrined in that single sentence which no doubt the person who wrote it intended to be a reproach either to the Committee or to others and which says: Requests that evidence should not be published are not made without good reason… I am sure that the Ministry believes that to be so. I know from my experience that the good reasons of the Ministry of Defence for keeping things to itself are not perhaps reasons which the rest of the population would regard as good. I hope that we may hear something from the Minister about that.

Of course if information has to be taken out of the report because of a genuine security need, no one in his right mind would complain about that. I will express my own reservations about how much the niceties of diplomatic convention should result in necessary information being withheld, and that is certainly indicated in some of the paragraphs. I suspect —again I an open to correction—that there are occasions when it is neither security nor diplomatic convention which has resulted in the deletions—nor the Mini-try trying to cover up its deficiencies. I suspect that it is the Ministry being traditionally over-cautious. We cannot afford that if we are to have informed debate and if as a result we are to take the House and the country with us.

By "with us" I do not necessarily mean agreeing with Government plans but at least having the degree of sympathy which comes for understanding. From that we all have a great deal to learn and to gain. More information in particular on the costs side is clearly essential.

That is why the observation 4(a) by the Ministry, which clearly goes a long way to meet the Committee, is the one which the House must welcome the most. By that I mean the provision of a functional analysis of expenditure under 57 headings over four, or, I suppose, sometimes five years, as they appear in the Public Expenditure White Paper.

While I give that an unqualified welcome, we ought to make it clear —by "we" I mean the House as a whole—that in terms of cost that is only the beginning of the guarantees the House needs. For one thing, four years is only a moment in the life of the defence plan. The report points out that the Jaguar aircraft, not yet in service, is already in such a condition that its replacement, which will not fly until the late 1990s, is already being planned. Against that background, four years of figures is a help but not a substantial help. While I express the gratitude of this side of the House for how far the Ministry has gone in that respect there are other things in which it might well go further.

Sir H. Harrison

That is why I made reference to paragraph C. We would on these longer-term projects, require much more information than is given in this answer and we shall certainly, as a Committee, press for this in future.

Mr. Hattersley

I am delighted to hear it. May I suggest two arguments which I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows very well, as to why it is especially important that the admirable plan should be carried out. For one thing, the normal constraints on spending which are faced by civil Departments do not bite in the same way on the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry in its evidence frankly admits that PPB techniques are difficult to apply in their purest form to defence spending and that it is impossible to quantify the success of the defence input. We do not know how things would have been different had we spent £50 million more or £500 million less. This places a special obligation upon us to provide and understand what information we can, to provide and obtain information so that the situation which operates with paragraph 41 of the report does not operate again. That paragraph has been so bowdlerised that it is rendered gibberish. There are only two words about which I express surprise—"increased" and "reduced". It astounds me how those indications of attitude were allowed through by the Ministry of Defence scrutineers. Reporting of this sort is almost intolerable and unacceptable if we are to make our judgments and assess the evidence on that basis.

I hope that when the Sub-Committee turns to the second stage of its work under the extraordinarily important agenda which it has announced in the report it will be able to tell us two basic things. First, I hope that it will give a clear indication of when costs are escalating and, if so, whether they are escalating to such a degree that it feels that there is cause for concern. Secondly, it should be allowed to understand and report to the House the alternative spending options. We cannot see these projects in isolation. Unless the Committee is able to tell us not only what is being done and what might happen in terms of the percentage increase in cost but what could happen as an alternative spending programme, much of the importance of the Committee's work is vitiated.

Those new techniques and relaxed attitudes are essential if the next stage of the Committee's work is to be carried out successfully. The next stage—and I mean no discredit to the present stage—covers some areas of even more dramatic importance than those on which today's report is based. I pick out two on which I particularly want to comment. In the evidence published in the bound volume there is some enormously important information about the relative strengths of the Warsaw Pact and NATO forces. I very much welcome the Sub-Committee's intention to examine those figures in more detail because it means that when the House debates the question of mutual and balanced force reductions, as I hope we shall soon—and three weeks ago I was told by the Minister at Question Time how enthusiastically the Government were pursuing this matter—not only will the information in the report we are debating be at our disposal but we shall have a great deal more information which will ensure that our debates are better informed.

A great deal of nonsense has been talked over the last 10 years about the relative troop strengths of the Warsaw Pact and NATO Forces. Some of the evidence submitted to the Committee—and not least the memorandum of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen)—has helped to clear away some of the misconceptions. We have a great deal further to go if we are to discuss this crucially important topic with information and authority.

Three other items in the published agenda at the end of the report about which something should be said are the Committee's intention to examine the progress on three equipment matters, all of which involve enormous cost; namely, the MRCA project, the cruiser project and the Seawolf/GWS25. All those are not only potentially major items in the defence budget but items which are likely to appear as major elements in the budget at virtually the same moment. There is already a great deal of evidence which suggests that the costs of all three items are beginning to escalate. There are references in the body of the report to escalation in the MRCA costs. I hope that when we debate these matters in the spring next year we shall know a great deal more about the costs than we have known about the costs of other projects which have caused similar difficulty.

May I say in passing that, looking at those three huge items of equipment expenditure, it seems to me inconceivable, desirable though it undoubtedly is, that the Ministry of Defence will essay a major programme of helicopter support for the Harrier force. I am sure that the strategic military arguments for doing that are overwhelming, but I cannot imagine that another major expenditure item on the equipment side will he added to the already escalating and enormous programme.

However, I say to the Minister—and I hope he will be forthcoming on this matter when he replies. If, as we all expect and as some of us fear, there are enormous cost escalations in those three areas, it is in the interests of the Ministry of Defence to give the House and the country some warning rather than present us with an all-too-familiar Ministry of Defence trauma about some apparently sudden increase in costs which makes dramatic defence cuts necessary or additional budgetary items essential and which places the House in an intolerable position when it must decide whether it votes for cuts or for additional expenditure and what its attitude should be to the future security of Great Britain.

We need to be taken into the Ministry's confidence a great deal earlier than we have been in the past. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give me, the Sub-Committee and in fact, the entire Expenditure Committee specific assurances about four things which must happen.

The Sub-Committee says in paragraph 43 of its report that it intends to make a comprehensive review of the costs and completion dates of the MRCA project. It says that it will monitor those things. Will the Committee be able to tell us the results of the monitoring? Secondly, the Committee says that it wants to look at the review of Seawolf. Will it be allowed to do that? Thirdly, the Committee promised to keep the House informed about escalations, or possible escalations, in the costs of the cruiser programme. That promise appears in paragraphs 51 and 52 of its report, and no doubt the Committee wants to keep it. Will the Ministry allow it to do so?

Fourthly, the Committee talks in paragraph 46 of its report about reporting after monitoring the programmes for the hardening of airfields in Germany. Will it be allowed to report, as it clearly intends to do? May I—for the third time in parenthesis—make a plea about this matter to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is Chairman of the Sub-Committee? I am sure that he is absolutely right to concentrate time and energy on the question of airfield hardening in Germany. However, we often draw a false distinction between the defence needs of airfields in Germany and of airfields in the United Kingdom.

Sir H. Harrison

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to aircraft shelters?

Mr. Hattersley

Yes, we are talking about the same thing. We are talking about the criteria of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe for the right sort of defence for airfields. I hope that when the Committee considers the question of improvements to airfields in Germany it will consider at the same time—for it is the same problem—the question of improvements for airfields in Great Britain, because in the same way as airfields on the Continent of Europe need defending, so airfields in the United Kingdom need defending. Their problems are sometimes divided, but they are identical. I hope that the Committee will be allowed to consider both matters simultaneously and that it will report to the House on what it has found.

As I have indicated, those three projects will absorb huge sums of defence expenditure. But the report makes clear that within the defence budget they will have to compete—and I mean compete" in the light of the knowledge that both parties believe in the doctrine of defence costs ceiling—with many other demands, the most important being escalating personnel costs, which, as the report makes clear, take more than 52 per cent. of the entire defence budget. That amount is likely to increase within the total.

There is one area in which my hon. Friends and I are anxious that personnel costs should increase; namely, in the costs of remuneration of the lowest-paid civilian workers in the defence establishment. My hon. Friends and I were horrified to learn at Question Time three weeks ago that there has been no substantial increase in pay in this respect since the agreement which was signed in early June, 1970. There will be no complaint from this side of the House about an escalation in that element of costs.

However, a much more substantial amount, in terms of gross totals, of the personnel budget is bound to go on items of Service expenditure—salaries and other matters—which was greatly increased as a result of the military salary review two years ago. That is not simply money handed over in terms of salary but all those improvements in living standards and the rules governing the living standards of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, which were part of the package of the military salary.

I refer specifically to the removal of the bar on young Servicemen getting married. The Commander-in-Chief of BAOR in answer to question 1148 made the point about two particular difficulties he thought were facing his command, and the first was the tremendous increase in the dependent population and the second was keeping the single soldier happy. I believe that accommodation is centrally and crucially relevant to both these things, married quarters for one and barracks for the other.

That is why I particularly regretted that the plans for improving barracks, about which we were told in the report, were not submitted to the Committee for reasons about which the Minister may like to tell us they were withheld from publication at the request of the Ministry of Defence". I suspect—I put it no higher than that—that the Ministry of Defence is now taking substantial steps with some urgency to improve barrack accommodation in Germany, and if this is what would have been revealed had those plans been published it seems to me to have been a wilful act of self-inflicted wounding that we should be in the situation where the barrack accommodation may be improved and yet for some reason—I cannot pretend to know what it is—it was thought that those improvements should not be published and should be kept from the House and the country at large.

Good as those improvements may be—I have no information about them—we shall still have a desperate—I think that a not unfair description—quartering situation in Germany—3,000 families in married quarters, 2,000 in private rentings, which the Sub-Committee felt, from many visits to them, to be totally inadequate. I think the word "squalid" was used about some of them and the word "excessive" about virtually all the rents.

I make no party point about this because I think that every time Committees have inquired into married quarters in Germany they have been critical of the Ministry of Defence. I remember that when I occupied the position which the noble Lord now occupies the then Member for Kingston-upon-Thames had some very hard things to say about some of the quarters in Germany and the way we paid for them and our efficiency or otherwise in managing them. It seems to me that an inquiry is necessary into the way we manage our married quarters on the Continent of Europe. What is very clear is that no matter at whom we should aim the responsibility, no matter who is responsible for what happens at the moment or who was responsible two years ago, some very unsatisfactory things are now going on. It is unsatisfactory that a soldier may be posted to Germany and may not get a married quarter for the entire time he serves in BAOR.

That seems to me particularly important in the light of what is happening now in the British Army of the Rhine and in Northern Ireland. If a soldier is to be taken virtually every year from Germany and sent to live in intolerable conditions in Northern Ireland and to face an intolerable task in Northern Ireland. It seems to me we have a special obligation to make sure that during those times when he expects to be living with his wife and family in a decent married quarter in a situation appropriate to married life it should be the rule that he does so, and not only sometimes the case.

I say again that one may be able to argue that the Ministry of Defence has not over the recent past been very efficient in providing adequate married quarters in Germany. I do not share this view which the Committee advanced that perhaps we should build our own quarters, but I do very strongly take the view that if we are to carry on with this situation—and I see no alternative to it—of a soldier spending perhaps one-quarter of his theoretical German service in Northern Ireland, this places an added obligation on us to get the married quarters situation right in Germany, and I hope the Minister will tell us what real steps he and his colleagues are taking about that.

If one were to point out two parts of the Sub-Committee's report which were most important in the short-term they would be the attention it focussed on the Germany married quarters situation and on standardisation. The Committee is to be deeply congratulated upon doing so.

Standardisation seems to me one of the ways in which we might in the near future be able to obtain some sort of defence rationalisation which would lower defence costs. I do not know what studies are now going on in the Ministry of Defence but I suspect the Ministry is considering some ways in which there could be standardisation throughout Europe and the opportunities which could be used to cut costs. The emphasis which the Sub-Committee placed on that is all to the good, and also what it said about better aircraft utilisation through standardisation of services available at airfields. It was staggering at least to me to read how the efficiency of the Royal Air Force in Germany could be so improved by simply making sure that airfields were generally usable by one national air force and another. That seemed to me a point of central and crucial importance.

It is because of the importance of that sort of recommendation that I feel particularly strongly that what the Committee does this year or next year should not be hampered by unnecessary restrictions and over-sensitivity about the security implications of what it says.

I would say one other word to the Minister of State. I hope he will accept it in exactly the spirit in which I say it. If he is to allow, as I know he will, his permanent officials to give evidence to the Committee it should be published, and if he and the Secretary of State will give evidence to the Committee and it is published, there are bound, in a report of 400 pages, to be points at which there appear to be marginal contradictions, and sometimes figures of which one may be right and another wrong, and points where there may be marginal political embarrassments caused by a frank answer. I can assure the Minister that we on this side of the House—I think, both sides of the House—while having political differences over defence, would regard it as violating the spirit of such an investigation if we were just to make cheap political points out of such contradictions. We are deeply enthusiastic that more information of the sort which the Committee has placed before us should be given, and we offer the Minister that assurance. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell the House frankly that he intends to be as relaxed as he possibly can be about the provision of information in the future.

4.57 p.m.

Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I have rightly been told to keep my remarks short. I apologise, therefore, that I shall not follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who said a great deal with which I agree. I should, however, like to support the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), the Chairman of our Sub-Committee, and particularly what he said on rationalisation and standardisation. This point was vividly brought home to the Sub-committee in Germany by the Royal Air Force on the subject of inter-operability. Its aircraft—Harriers, Phantoms, Lightnings—are owned by us and none of our allies, and this means that the only airfields where these aircraft can be serviced, maintained or rearmed are ours, and were there a larger measure of standardisation among our NATO allies in aircraft the overall efficiency would be far greater. This is why we welcomed the introduction of MRCA.

We examined or took evidence about transport aircraft. Although the inter-operability of Hercules and Britannias is a lesser problem one point arose which was a cause of a certain amount of worry. These transport aircraft are scheduled to last throughout the decade, but at the time we shall be faced with their replacement we shall be paying for MRCA as well.

The Sub-Committee was upset by the escalation in cost, the delays, and the failure to interest our NATO allies in the naval surface-to-air missile Seawolf. Rationlisation can cover not only major equipment but minor equipment, training and administration. I have examples to give, but time does not allow me to do so, except for one minor example.

The Sub-Committee was asking about the newly-formed Anzuk brigade group in Singapore, consisting of men from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The Committee was told that the British contingent was hiring Australian wireless sets because the frequency bands obtainable on our sets were not the same as those obtainable on the Australian ones. This trouble was only temporary, and I understand that that matter will be put right by a new range of wireless sets. Nevertheless this is an illustration of the necessity for standardisation of arms, ammunition, vehicles and equipment in a mixed force.

Early on in our deliberations we took evidence about the reserves. The reserves can be divided into two parts, the TAVR —the current name for the old Territorial Army—and the reservists, who are men who have completed their colour service but still have a reserve liability. Both bodies have an operational liability for service in Germany.

Certain points worried us about the reservists. They receive no annual training and no practice call-out. The Sub-Committee wondered, in view of the introduction of modern and sophisticated equipment, how up-to-date these men would be without a period of re-training. In an emergency, no one knows what form the war will take or how hurried the call-out will be. The Sub-Committee was worried on that score. How many reservists will receive their call-out telegrams in time? What percentage will be physically fit? No check on physical fitness is kept. Will the time available be sufficient to get the reservists and the TAVR out to Germany in time?

The TAVR is an extremely efficient, well-trained force. The military authorities in Germany and Cyprus when we were there reported favourably on their standards of training. Many had received training overseas. There are three particular points to which I wish to call the attention of the Minister.

The first concerns the call-out of the TAVR. The impression we gained was that there was no partial call-out for the TAVR; it was all or nothing either at a time of war or at a time of preparation for war. For that reason I was delighted to see that the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is a TAVR formation, was called up for 10 days and is serving in Northern Ireland at the moment. I hope that this will mean that in the future a call-out of the TAVR can be partial and not necessarily total and that "emergency" need not necessarily mean war.

My second point concerns the operational role of the TAVR. In Germany the conventional strength of the British Army depends on the Chieftain tank for its hitting power. There is no Chieftain-armed TAVR regiment. It would be difficult to have one because the Chieftain tank is expensive and the areas in this country where it is possible to train on the Chieftain tank and to fire the main armament are limited. We do not want a regiment, but we do want a reserve of Chieftain-trained crew men.

The only other people on whom we can rely are the few reservists who have been trained on the Chieftain. I suggest to the Minister that there should be established a pool of crew men on the lines of a sponsored unit, trained on existing equipment at the Royal Armoured Corps centre or in the Royal Armoured Corps training regiment.

I make one final plea on behalf of the TAVR and the new infantry type units formed last April. The recruiting is going extremely well but their equipment is not on the same scale as the older units, neither is their scale of permanent staff. I realise that it is no use crying for the moon and that the permanent staff cannot be increased, but at limited expense the mobility of the units could be increased by the provision of a few Land Rovers, which would encourage the men enormously.

I leave the Minister with thoughts of further rationalisation, a sympathetic approach to the TAVR, particularly on call-out, and a further look at the effectiveness of the reserves.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

The hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) was perfectly right to draw attention to the need for standardisation of arms and equipment. A large military and financial dividend is to be gained from standardisation. Two attitudes are required; great political pressure from Ministers in Western European Union and NATO to make standardisation, co-operation and harmonisation possible, and infinite pains and patience to fulfil the detail. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) that this is an absolute must for the political leaders of the NATO countries.

I wish to make three points on the general nature of the Committee's proceedings and inquiries. Progress has been made in relation to classified material. It is a precedent that a Committee of the House should be given access to secret material. I agree with the Chairman and with my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that maximum publicity is in the interests of the Ministry of Defence. Only in this way can intelligent discussion about military matters take place. That is not against the interests of the Ministry of Defence.

It may appear strange to the outsider that the military commanders whom the Committee interviewed, particularly those in Germany, were very frank in discussing security matters. My experience as an Army Minister was that commanding officers and GOCs never held back on matters of ordinary discipline and ordinary goings-on in which the Minister might be nobbled. But in the Ministry of Defence there grows up a barrier between the real needs of public discussion and over-cautious attitudes towards classifier material. The Permanent Secretary's contribution to our requirement of maximum publicity was helpful. I am sure that the Committee will go on to make still further progress in this.

My mind goes back to what I have always thought of as the Ferranti scandal of 1963–64, when the Government of the day were seriously damaged by certain revelations. Had a more reasonable attitude been taken earlier by Ministers and by the Ministry of Defence much of the scandal and damage to the Government would have been avoided. It is in Ministers' own interests that they should take note of these points.

My second general comment is that it is not always realised by witnesses who appear before the Expenditure Committee that the nature of its inquiries is constructive. It is not setting out to save money at all costs but seeking to make the best use of expenditure for the good of the Department and of the country at large. I sometimes feel that if witnesses understood this attitude, they would give rather better evidence to the Committee. I do not intend this as a criticism of Service commanders who in their evidence showed a complete understanding of the nature of the Committee's task.

My third general comment is that the civilian view of military matters is often very helpful to military commanders. The civilian looks at problems from a different angle, and perhaps from a wider social experience than that possessed by the military commander. A civilian is often able to make constructive suggestions which are helpful to Parliament, Government and the people who run the Services.

I turn to deal with some of the recommendations. I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook about married quarters and barracks. This point is dealt with by recommendations (6) and (7) of the Committee's report in paragraph 25. The private hirings in BAOR often are expensive and are situated at a great distance from the centre of activity of the regiment, such as the NAAFI, the club, swimming pool, the gymnasium, which are too far away for young wives, who often do not have motor cars, to take their children to regularly.

I was rather disappointed at the Secretary of State's reply on the provision of buses, and I feel that this calls for a rather more forthright attitude. I cannot understand how "little local difficulties" should be allowed to prevent a complete coverage of those areas where married quarters are away from the centres of unit and regimental activity. One caravan site at Bruggen proved to be an absolute scandal, and I believe it has now been closed. There may be other places like that. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the need for better management of married quarters and of the services connected with them.

In my days in the Army Department there was a drive to see that detailed estate management matters were put on the best possible footing, with a proper provision of caretakers and information about how to run married quarters. For example, in some very new married quarters at Aldershot excellent gas and electric central heating systems were installed, but families had little idea how to get the most economic use from them. A little bit of assistance to prime families about these pieces of apparatus would go a long way to cut fuel bills and make families much more content.

Difficulties are often experienced by young married Service wives when they are with their husbands in a foreign country since the wives often have no knowledge of the local language, no experience of life abroad, and little experience of how to bring up families. The young woman who marries the typical soldier or airman is very young and defenceless in a foreign land and there is a particular need to look after the interests of these young people who may experience difficulties in a foreign country with which they would adequately deal if they were living in a council estate in England. I should like to see better estate management, plus a rather more aggressive attitude in providing welfare facilities in a broad way.

I wish to dissent from the Committee in putting particular stress on the English television service in Germany. This is a very expensive exercise, and I would rather see the money spent on various amenities, such as the provision of swimming pools, better transport facilities and even in the organisation of holidays and excursions. I would put greater emphasis on the learning of a foreign language and providing more social facilities. Some are provided by NAAFI, but the Services themselves need to provide them in a more bountiful and efficient way.

In regard to recommendation (3) relating to defence expenditure on social services, the Secretary of State was right to say: The standard of these services is of the highest concern to servicemen… It is an open question whether these services are better to be provided from the Ministry of Defence budget rather than in some other form of budget. The Ministry of Defence properly takes the attitude "It is better for us to look after our own facilities." I feel that it would help the Committee and parliamentary discussion generally if these costs were isolated.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Boyden

I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) agrees with me. If this expenditure were isolated, we could then more easily see what was being spent and could press for action if we thought that the expenditure was not adequate.

I am convinced that the cost of providing military salaries and these social services must rise. I deplore the view that is to be found in some Western European Union countries that social expenditure on conscripts is a somewhat doubtful bargain. In other words, the conscript is a cheap soldier, and this appears to be a basic factor in military expenditure. In Britain we now have a proper military salary and we treat the ordinary serviceman in a proper manner. Since we have a voluntary service scheme, we can only maintain the strength of our Services by concentrating on the topics with which I have been dealing. I very much hope that the Minister of State will say something constructive in his reply about extending the services provided in married quarters and improving the social amenities which are so vital in terms of the key figure in recruiting for the army—namely, the young wife of the soldier.

More must be done in the provision of barracks. In my days in the Ministry of Defence there was some argument about whether soldiers wanted single rooms. It was my impression that unless more was done in providing single rooms in barracks, it could be argued that soldiers did not want these facilities. I gather that there has been some improvement in this direction and I hope that the amenities provided in BAOR for single soldiers will continue to improve.

I turn to another important aspect of Service life, the provision of education. The Service family is particularly vulnerable in this respect since of necessity the family moves around the world. One advantage of a child moving around with his parents is that he has a certain social confidence. I was always surprised when I met Service children to find how easily they stood on their own feet, how friendly they were and how well versed they were in social contacts. But there is no question that there is a decidely negative side to the fact that children have to move around the world, and this is reflected in a loss of educational attainment. These children are sometimes not up to standard in terms of the three R's or GCE requirements and tend to drop behind. In my days I tried to get the Department of Education and Science to apply the Plowden Rules to the local education authority schools which were responsible for a large number of Service children. I was not very satisfied with the enthusiasm that the Department of Education and Science showed for this. I hope that there has been some progress. I shall be grateful if the Minister can say that there has been a move forward in those areas where the Army certainly is at risk because teachers change very rapidly, because there are very large numbers of Service children and because the general education of younger children especially is disrupted seriously by their constant movement.

Where the Services have complete control, as they do in the Service schools and the apprentice colleges for recruits, the education is first-class. In many cases it is superior to LEA education. This is partly because there is a higher pupil-teacher ratio and because some of the teachers are paid better. If any Minister in the Department of Education and Science tries to fudge off the fact that the pupil-teacher ratio is significant, he or she should look at Service schools. It is because of this fundamental and rather expensive fact that education in the schools controlled by the Services is so good. I do not criticise that. I criticise those LEA areas where because of local difficulties, especially that of movement, the standard of education is not what it should be.

The needs of these social services for the Services arise out of the nature of the Services and are nothing to do with feather-bedding the Service man. One of the aims of this House always should be to see that Service men are in no worse position than their civilian equivalents. It is because of this that I am very pleased with the way in which the Committee has stressed a number of points, with a view to improving the social conditions. The one about the increase in the number of SSAFA sisters was quickly taken up by the Ministry of Defence. But the Ministry of Defence should look at the whole range of social facilities constantly.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

While I agree with the hon. Gentleman about social services, may I remind him that the Services exist to fight? They fight with weapons. The more that we spend on social services, the less money we have for weapons. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that all three Services are becoming dangerously deficient in modern weapons? How do we reconcile this contradiction?

Mr. Boyden

Perhaps I might repeat what I was often told by the Army. It is that the key to the soldier's good morale and contentment is his wife. Admittedly, sailors used to tell me that they were not so much concerned with the comfort of their quarters so long as they had good weapons. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can play that one as well.

With a voluntary Army and the difficulties that Service men have to put up with it would be very difficult for Service commanders or the Ministry of Defence to spend too much money in this way. Naturally, the Committee and the Ministry will always look at the cost. But if I am asked whether we should have an English television service in BAOR or spend the money on more active social welfare, I shall go for the latter. It is a fundamental dilemma which worries the WEU members of NATO, but it is one in which I hope the Ministry of Defence will be on the side of the angels by ensuring that the British Service man in terms of both pay and social facilities is never inferior to his civilian equivalent. The Ministry of Defence has a network of civilian advisory authorities and committees. In discussing these matters in a broad, informed way, this House is more likely to reinforce my view than the opposite.

5.25 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I agree that it is tempting to regard this as a wide defence debate. I intend to resist the temptation, except perhaps to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) about our troops. He made a point about the big proportion of the Vote which is now spent on pay, allowances and social benefits. Of course our troops earn every penny that they are paid, especially those at present serving in Ulster.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the need for the greater availability of information. Will the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) agree that a positive security vetting for Members of Parliament would be a useful preliminary before the wide disclosure of this information by the Ministry?

Mr. Hattersley

It is easy for the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and me to agree about this since, in our different ways, both of us have been through it. I do not regard it as an indignity. But some hon. Members might, and, while I do not share their views, understandably. I think.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am interested to have that comment.

I wish to make only two points. The first concerns that section of the report which deals with financial planning and control. In the Ministry of Defence there is too much emphasis upon preparations, albeit inadequate ones, for fighting wars rather than on the prevention of wars. One recognises, of course, that the two functions cannot be separated entirely and that the deterrent forces are essentially a part of the prevention of war. Nevertheless, the balance between quality and quantity is too much towards quality and not sufficiently towards quantity.

Enormous complications arise from weapons and equipment being designed for use in conditions of full-scale war, which is not what we are likely to face. The Ministry of Defence has a splendid "staff requirements" system. Each department is circulated, and each adds its own little bit of perfectionism: the end result is a very complicated piece of equipment.

One example is the difficulty about the Harrier in the maritime rôle. It has been flying now for 10 years. But it is still doing trials. According to the latest information, it is now doing "Project Definition". All this adds up to gobbledygook for not spending money, rather than getting on with it and buying some. We do not need to discover all over again whether the Harrier can fly from the decks of ships. We know that it can. Many countries, including the United States, are buying them with that idea in mind.

Another example concerns the new through-deck cruisers. They, too, are now doing project definition. Largely because of the delays, the cost is now estimated at £50 million. I do not like to think what it will be at the end of the decade when we get one or two of these ships.

In the context of quantity versus quality, the action taken to scrap HMS "Eagle" was quite wrong. I was told about a recent signal—I believe that it was unclassified—from the enthusiasts at present ripping the "Eagle" apart. It ran: We have now got out her heart and kidneys. We are going on to do a little transplant. In that connection, what might be termed a Freudian slip is to be found in one passage of the evidence given to the Sub-Committee. The discussion concerned the "Eagle" and the "Ark Royal". In answer to Question 1186 the Sub-Committee was told: Perhaps I should add the reduction of HMS 'Ark Royal' was repeatedly urged on the Ministry of Defence by SACLANT. I am sure that the word should be "retention", not "reduction". I hope that the appropriate alteration will be made.

Mr. Wall

May I remind my hon. and gallant Friend that SACLANT also wanted to retain "Eagle"?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall).

A different overall control is needed to purge the constipation of the Ministry of Defence's system.

Instead of immensely sophisticated through-deck cruisers, we need much cheaper ships on merchant ship hulls—more ships for the money, more up-to-date, better living conditions, and quite adequate for peacekeeping purposes.

I believe that in each generation some unrecognised battle is fought which sets the pattern for the future, but that nobody realises at the time that this is the pattern for the future. In this generation it was at Cuba in 1962 when President Kennedy had enough information to get on the Hot Line and stop World War III because he had adequate seaborne reconnaissance facilities available to him. After all, missiles can start wars or can continue wars, but they cannot readily and directly prevent wars, whereas surveillance aircraft can do so.

Finally, on this aspect, it is much easier for us politicians to obtain the willing compliance of the taxpayer to spend money on defence if it is for the prevention of war rather than buying what the taxpayer sees as immensely complicated equipment just to keep up with the Joneses in the armaments race between Super-Powers.

My second point concerns chapter V of the report—the Royal Navy nuclear strategic forces and the general purpose combat forces.

Much of the report is taken up with a comparison between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. The mass of statistics are concerned almost entirely with Europe, with the relative size of divisions, with relative tank strengths, and so forth.

I believe that the Expenditure Committee and the Government have their hands firmly buried in the sands of Europe. I am unhappy that, despite all that was said about East of Suez at the 1970 General Election, the Government show so little concern about the protection of overseas trade. We seem to have followed the late Government's obsession with Europe and to have forgotten the point that defence of the trade is the most fundamental task of the Royal Navy. This has been true through the centuries, but it was never more true than today, when we are faced with about 400 Soviet U-boats distributed world wide.

On page 383, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), in his very interesting memorandum which is, again, rather preoccupied with Europe, makes a comparison of naval forces and gives the total of Warsaw Pact submarines as 202. The true figure is much nearer 400. I should like to discuss with the hon. Gentleman at a convenient time whether those figures are correct, because I do not think that they are. What sticks in my mind is the statistic that one brand-new nuclear submarine is being delivered to the Soviet Navy every month.

For trade protection we need seaborne aircraft in some shape or form, because shore bases are obviously no longer available. Another Freudian slip appears on page 176. Question No. 1187 states: …"commitments now to NATO as our bases round the world have contributed to such a great extent". They have contributed, and I can only agree! But what I think that the shorthand was meant was— have contracted to such a great extent To get down to brass tacks, I am glad that the Expenditure Committee in its future deliberations is to look at the question of cruisers. I am not sure whether it means through-deck cruisers or existing cruisers being converted, because "Blake" and "Tiger" are monstrosities, as the Committee will find.

To sum up on this question, we must get away from our obsession with European waters. We must have shipborne aircraft. New ships must be built to carry them. We must have VSTOL aircraft. I will not tease my hon. Friend any more about Harriers. A conventional ship such as "Blake" or "Tiger" has a range of 10 miles effectively and, therefore, 'an effective area of surveillance or influence of 300 square miles. A ship with a VSTOL capability with aircraft which can fly over and see for themselves can control an area of about 120,000 square miles—400 times as great.

Finally on the question of the Navy, the report says in paragraph 52 that the nuclear Fleet submarines 'will certainly come to represent the Navy's primary surface strike weapon'". I put it to the Minister and to the Chairman of the Expenditure Committee that these submarines, valuable though they are, are not effective for trade protection. They are the wrong weapon for trade protection. They are the wrong weapon for conventional war. They can fight wars, but they cannot perform either of these two functions which I have argued are the most important ones.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

The Committee members and the civil servants concerned are to be warmly congratulated on their 27 sittings and on the bulky report which emanated from them.

I have the feeling that somewhere within this vast Ministry, with its annual expenditure of £2,854 million, there is brewing another Ferranti-type case, that kind of scandal where an armament manufacturer is double charging several million pounds of its costs. Somewhere in the Ministry, too, there may be weapons which will turn out to cost £100 million and not the £2½ million originally estimated, as happened in the production —or, rather, the non-production—of certain other weapons. This shrewd scrutiny by the Committee will one day bring facts of this kind to light.

Among the eight subjects listed for future investigation or continuing monitoring there are two of great importance

  1. "(3) The relative strengths of the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces.
  2. (4) The multi-rôle combat aircraft."
Even more important, however, is the question which needs to be broached: why should Britain spend a higher proportion of her gross national product on arms than any other country in Western Europe, with the single exception of Portugal which is deeply involved in its colonial wars in Africa?

Last month the Labour Party issued its 50,000-word policy statement. It is remarkable that one of the most vital sections in this statement—that on cuts in military spending—received no mention at all in most newspapers. Perhaps this was because they disliked the idea and tried to bury it. The attention given to cutting a few million pounds off the cost of the Health Service—for example, by imposing prescription charges—should be contrasted with an almost complete silence on defence cuts, where we could effect vast savings.

The question posed—I hope that it will be considered by the Expenditure Committee in future—is: why is Britain spending 5.7 per cent. of her gross national product on arms as against an average of 4.2 per cent. for the other West European NATO Governments? I should like to quote a couple of paragraphs from the Labour statement. It says: The defence spending of Britain's European NATO allies indicates that we are still carrying a disproportionate amount of the cost in Western Europe…If British defence spending were cut to 4.2 per cent. of the GNP there would be a saving in the order of £600 million". and in saying that the Labour Party Executive was quoting the noble Lord in a statement that he made in reply to a Question on 25th November of last year. That was his estimate, which I am sure was right.

It continues: A Labour Government in the 1970s should seek to reduce our defence spending to bring us into line with the existing burden carried by our European allies, a burden which itself might be reduced if the European security talks were successful. The success with which we are able to pursue a policy of defence disarmament will depend very much on our success in achieving significant progress in the various discussions as part of the negotiations during and in parallel with the European Security Conference. I believe that that would allow a huge sum each year to be spent on other and better things. I am confident that that proposal will be upheld overwhelmingly this autumn by the Labour Party Conference and will figure in the next election programme of our party.

I should like witnesses at future sessions of the Sub-Committee to answer such questions as, "What is the purpose of this colossal expenditure? Is it to defeat or to deter the Russian forces? What is the evidence that Russia wishes to invade Britain or Western Europe? Did you accept the view of the Labour Defence Minister, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in his White Papers that there was no likelihood of that taking place?"

A lot more will be heard about this matter of a reducing our proportion of the GNP spent on arms, and therefore one question which I should like to see handled by the Committee is, "In what ways could a reduction of £600 million a year be affected in defence spending phased over, say, three years?"

I suspect that the Government intend to move in the opposite direction for, apart from this year's large increase—the biggest ever in military expenditure in a single year in peacetime—the report says that there will be joint demands towards the end of this decade—a concatenation of them—for the MRCA, for the cruiser programme—at least £50 million each—and for the Sea Wolf plus, possibly, the conversion of Polaris submarines to Poseidon. That is one hell of a concatenation, and I very much doubt whether all those four things are possible and practicable without bursting the budget altogether.

I could suggest several ways of saving £600 million a year—though not if one is involved in all those things—which I should like the Committee, the Minister and, indeed, the House itself, to consider. First, there is £330 million a year spent on military research and development. This is exactly 10 times the amount of Government spending on medical research. Surely, whether the investigations were reported or kept confidential, there should be a detailed examination by the Committee of where all that research and development money is going.

Secondly, there is the vast spending on the MRCA. There are varying estimates, but I think that it will be in the region of about £1,000 million before the planes are paid for. Thirdly, a major item in spending is the BAOR. Direct spending amounts to £263 million a year, so goodness knows what the indirect spending comes to. Fourthly, there is the size of the Ministry of Defence itself. The report tells us that 52 per cent. of its spending is on personnel. There are 364,000 men and women in uniform, plus 344,000 non-uniformed employees, mainly in the ROFs. In addition, there are those engaged on war work in commercial companies such as Vickers. They must be paid decent wages, with much higher pay for some, most definitely for industrial employees, but I believe that their numbers should be reduced and many of them transferred to civilian work.

That brings me to the other major issues which I urge that the Committee should consider. The Ministry should prepare plans for this switch which would avoid causing unemployment. It can be done, and there are a number of reasons for saying so. First, there have been two high-powered examinations of the subject, one by the United Nations under the chairmanship of Professor Brown of Leeds University and the other by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and they both came to the conclusion that it could be done.

Secondly, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In 1945 9 million men and women who had been in the Armed Forces or in arms factories were switched to civilian employment within nine months without causing unemployment, Surely this smaller switch from a large to a small arms programme can be done far more easily without causing unemployment.

The number of Service men and armament workers involved would be tiny compared with the numbers made redundant in the cotton industry—300,000 in the last 10 years—in the coal mines—about 450,000—or the railways or the steel industry, without much unemployment, at least until a year ago when there were other causes for it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) has constantly shown, the same amount of money spent on R and D for civilian purposes produces far more employment than is produced by a similar amount spent for military purposes.

One other question into which I should welcome close investigation is the link between high-ranking officers and civil servants who leave the Ministry of Defence and take positions with firms supplying that Department. According to a written reply which I received from the noble Lord last month, no fewer than 105 Service officers and nine senior civil servants at two-star level and above in the Ministry of Defence have joined firms with contractual relationships with the Ministry in the last five years.

I agree that in many cases everything is above board, but I think that the situation could pave the way for corruption. In America it has reached scandalous proportions. One firm alone, General Dynamics, has 186 former high-ranking officers on its staff. Those who leave the Ministry—and this applies in America as in Britain—still have friends in the Ministry. There is also a possible source of corruption in having men in the Ministry awarding profitable contracts to firms which they intend to join later.

The report deals with the relative strength of NATO and the Warsaw Pact forces. At this time, when most British Members of Parliament, certainly on this side of the House, are hoping that the European Security Conference will lead to mutual and balanced force reductions, the more valuable question was that asked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which asked What possible reductions, withdrawals, disengagements or methods of control might be acceptable to both sides, so that neither side felt significantly less secure than it does now? The report is reprinted in the document with which we are dealing today, but it is not dealt with in evidence. I urge that the talent, thought and time of the Committee and the Ministry be now devoted to this question.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun).Perhaps it would be best to say that though on politics and defence matters we sometimes agree, on this occasion we disagree flatly.

Turning to the Select Committee's recommendation on security, one is in the dilemma outlined by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who said that the report is closely confined whereas the evidence extends over a very wide sphere of defence activities.

One finds in the report particular interest in welfare. I welcome the 12 Ssaffa sisters. There can hardly be an hon. Member who has not at some time had reason to be grateful for their services to constituents. At the same time we have always realised that there is a tremendous need for more of these excellent women carrying out this task. The provision of bus services is another constant problem that exercises an hon. Member on behalf of his constituents, and we have all had letters about school buses.

One aspect that may have been missed out is the provision of transport for married families to centres for medical attention. Many of these families, certainly in BAOR, are a considerable distance from regimental and unit headquarters, and an especially difficult problem is presented at weekends. Married families see all round them highly sophisticated Services and a mechanised Army, and they must sometimes contrast that fact with the lack of perhaps even one bus to take them for what might be minor medical attention over the weekend.

I am not trying to be difficult when I say that I would not argue very strongly for the provision of television for Service families in BAOR. It is significant that one does not get requests for this service when one visits forces further afield than Europe, perhaps because they realise that such provision would cost even more. But if, for instance, at considerable cost, we provided, by some form of relay, television programmes to British Service families in Germany, there could be the danger that it would contribute to cutting them off from the surrounding population and perhaps remove any inducement for them to learn a foreign language. I therefore do not argue so much for using that money for television services: I would sooner see it devoted to other welfare services referred to in the report. I am glad that one section refers to the single soldier and airman. I know perfectly well that at present Servicemen marry young, and we all know that they have considerable families, but, as a consequence, we sometimes forget that there is still Kipling's "single man in barracks", and forget the lack of facilities for those men. I was struck in, I think, Berlin by the rather old-fashioned barracks. They would have formed an excellent backdrop for a film of a "Good Soldier Schweik" sort of character, but to my mind they did not provide the sort of accommodation that should be provided in 1972.

I turn from particular points to my general observations; and first to the question of security. I do not think that the OFFICIAL REPORT should be without what I consider to be the gem of the report. The passage I refer to is in page xix, and is related to the multi-rôle combat aircraft. It reads: The Sub-Committee were informed that increased costs were a matter of *** to *** per cent. The original contingency allowance was about *** and it has now been reduced to ***. Unit production cost is estimated at *** at 1970 prices but if research and development costs are taken into account it rises to ***. The heaviest expenditure will come between 1977 and 1984, when it should be between *** and *** a year at 1970 prices, or *** per cent. of the whole defence budget. We read in the next paragraph that the Ministry of Defence …have expressed great confidence in this project. I should have thought that those figures could be provided, not necessarily by reference to foreign journals but by most students of defence matters. I wonder whether any great harm would have been done if the figures had been included? To take an extreme point of view, let us consider the position of our well-known rivals, and possible opponents, the Ruritanians. Can one imagine Colonel Sapt, in the Ruritanian War Office, looking at this report and saying, "My God, those fools the British! We have them at last. They have included the percentages." We live in a deterrence world, a world of SALT negotiations and possible agreements. Might not this sort of what I can only describe as bogus secrecy be pointless or, even worse, counter-productive?

Another point is that this report is a public document. Many of us including, I know, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) would like to see, as the hon. Gentleman himself said in his recent book, more public interest in defence matters, and many of us would like to see greater public participation in discussion. I wonder whether, faced with a document with these strategically placed blanks, the ordinary member of the public would be encouraged even to discuss such matters?

The report only sees the light of day because it is concerned with money rather than with defence. I do not want to arouse the ire of the hon. Member for Salford, East—we must spend within our means—but I sometimes have an uneasy feeling that perhaps in Britain we have not moved from our position in Nelson's time, when frigates, I seem to remember, were curiously armed, not for ballistic reasons but on grounds of governmental meanness. At that time ship captains were paid by the "rate," that is to say, the number of guns on the ship, and if a ship was properly armed the captain had to be paid more.

We have over the years tended to concentrate on the financial approach to the Services. We do that here because I notice further back in the report reference to the Sub-Committee not discussing general matters of defence policy because it is said that those matters are discussed in the House, not for very long periods in each year may I say.

There would be some advantage if we moved away a little from purely monetary considerations. I do not want to go so far as to endeavour to make us all back-bench strategists, because there are dangers in that as well, but we might look upon this report, valuable as it is, as the beginning of a move towards not only better discussion of defence matters in the House but outside. At the same time we might also see the advantage of explaining better to the public the tasks and the purposes of our Armed Forces and also, of course, the possibility of attracting potential entrants.

I hope I have not offended the members of the Committee who spent long hours and considerable energy in compiling the report. I also hope that in those matters I have raised I have also touched upon matters which, perhaps during their sitting and afterwards, were irritants as well as subjects of concern to them also.

6.0 p.m.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)

The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr David Walder) has concentrated on what I believe to be the central issue before the House. We are debating, as is tradition on Select Committee Reports, with very little party political feeling and it is a chance for the House as whole to express its view on a matter of considerable concern—how we exercise our democratic rights and, in particular, how the House exercises its democratic control over the Forces of the Crown. It is therefore right that on both sides of the House there have been strong expressions of view that we simply must tackle the problem of secrecy and that we must be given far greater detailed information than we have ever been given before. I made my opinion quite clear in an article in the New Scientist recently entitled Is Secrecy the Enemy of Defence? In my view it is. I pay tribute to the fact that the only reasons why we are able to conduct this debate is that the Government saw fit to implement a recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure and to give the House a Defence Committee which many people have championed and argued in favour of for decades. It is a significant advance. I hope the Minister will be more forthcoming on the whole question of the first recommendation on secrecy than he could be of necessity in the somewhat hurried manner of the official answer. That answer was a civil servant's answer. The choice before the House is a political one. There are the obvious arguments that when in government it is somewhat embarrassing to release more factual information. But the Defence Committee was set up because the present Government committed themselves to it when in opposition. Oppositions have always asked for more information and even the most arrogant Conservatives must accept that the day will come when they will be in Opposition again and I hope therefore that the Government will be far more forthcoming.

This issue is a matter of central importance to the Armed Forces. Going around the country visiting people in all three Services one is able to see that one of the things that upsets them most is that they do not feel that over the years the House has even had anywhere near enough basic information and understanding about the problems of defence. Frankly, many of them are contemptuous of the way we discuss their affairs and many senior officers want us to be more probing and critical. They accept that a more informed House of Commons may be embarrassing and may make decisions they do not like. but they feel that it would improve the whole position of the Services and the quality of debate. This. therefore, is an issue on which we must push the Government. Anyone who has read the evidence of 9th May when Sir James Dunnett, the Permanent Secretary, came before the Committee will feel that the Ministry has taken on board many of the criticisms. Sir James is a very distinguished civil servant and he will have considered the questions raised in the Committee's report and hon. Members will appreciate that. But more important was the understanding he showed in replying to questions on the advantages to the Ministry of Defence of more information being revealed.

The Committee's mandate is quite clearly to look at policy and it is not limited in any way to narrow accountancy and expenditure. It was central to the way the Committee was set up that it should look at forward expenditure, and it cannot do that in respect of a period five or 10 years hence without looking at policy. I hope in future work that the Committee will look outside the Ministry of Defence and call in those outside experts from this country and from other parts. We would not he serving the interests of the House if we confined debate to matters served up by serving officers and civil servants.

The key question is of the real quantity of resources absorbed by military expenditure, the real cost of this expenditure, whether rising or falling. Real cost must take account of the quantity of civil output which has been forgone. There is a great deal in the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) that we must look at the whole question of the percentage of GNP devoted to defence not just by this country but by our European allies.

There is no doubt that over the next decade there will be increasing pressure on this country to spend approximately equivalent amounts of money as our competitors in the economic markets of the world, and particular those within the Common Market. The economies of countries which are moving towards monetary union, for instance, cannot possibly withstand very marked discrepancies in the percentages spent on defence.

I therefore concede the importance of my hon. Friend's argument. But to use a simple percentage of GNP as a way of looking at overall defence expenditure is very misleading. SIPRI has come up with a formula for calculating defence expenditure at constant prices. Taking 1960 prices and taking account of 1960 exchange rates and looking at the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany and France, for example, it reveals some striking facts. For instance the United Kingdom expenditure' between 1950 and 1970, expressed in these constant prices, rose by 1.3 per cent., whereas in the Federal Republic over the same 20-year period it rose by 5.8 per cent. and in France by 42 per cent. So the impression many people in this country have that it is only we who spend money on defence amongst our European allies is false. In the last four years Britain has reduced its defence expenditure, a decision which I support, whereas the Federal Republic has substantially increased it. We need to look at comparable figures and this is where recommendation (3) is important. For instance, if other countries do not put social expenditure into their defence, we must make allowance for that when we compare GNP figures.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)

My hon. Friend referred to a certain increase in respect of Germany, United Kingdom and French figures. What were the absolute levels for the same years?

Dr. Owen

In 1972, expressed on that same constant price formula, the United Kingdom was spending 4,707 million dollars, Federal Republic 4,643 million dollars and France 4,725 million dollars. I have been trying to examine the trends over the 20-year period. If we consider current prices and current exchange rates for 1970 we find a not dissimilar picture of United Kingdom spending at 5,850 million dollars, the Federal Republic 6,188 million dollars and France 6,014 million dollars. These are SIPRI figures. I often invoke SIPRI for other things and I think that my hon. Friends do the same. SIPRI has shown a more realistic assessment for example of the military balance in Europe. When economic figures are considered, we cannot just dismiss them as inconvenient.

If a country has conscription, it pays its conscripts far less than it pays volunteer forces. That, too, needs to be offset when making comparisons. This was the aim of recommendation (3). We have large forces establishments in Germany and the defence budget therefore carries a higher percentage of the health and education costs that would normally be borne on the internal budget in this country which in other countries are borne on the internal budget.

It is extraordinary that the Ministry of Defence should hide this question, because it must be in its interests that we should debate comparative costs that are true and factual. If the Minister says that these costs are borne on the defence budgets of other countries that will weaken the argument somewhat, but it does not weaken the basic argument that we are bound to pay more because our troops are stationed abroad and are therefore not a charge on the internal economy.

In my view, mutual balanced force reductions are the only hope of making substantial reductions in personnel costs. I draw the attention of the House to the evidence of the Secretary of State on 21st December, 1971, when, speaking of personnel costs, he said: In the last few years our own figures have gone up from 46 per cent. to about 52 per cent. of the budget…". Personnel costs are now a very large section of defence costs. If we are to reduce the defence budget, as I know my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East wishes, we have to face that it is not just equipment costs that will have to be cut. Some part of the cut will have to come from personnel cuts.

My hon. Friend and I may differ about how to get it, but we will not get a substantial reduction in defence costs unless we get mutual balanced force reductions. On page xi of its report the Committee drew attention to the relative strengths of NATO and the Warsaw Pact and said that this question was of crucial importance. It said: More detailed information is essential to any judgment of the effectiveness of British defence spending and the financial implications of MBFR", and the Committee said that it would return to this subject.

In submitting Appendix No. 37 I tried to stimulate debate on comparative force levels. Here I come to a letter that the Minister of State for Defence wrote to me on 23rd March. I am somewhat inhibited because I am not able to reveal the memorandum that the Government made available to the Committee on apparent force levels. However, I have long been championing the view that the Government are less than honest with the country as a whole in what they say about the balance of forces. They consistently refer to a 3:1 divisional ratio or, most commonly in their advertising and in Army recruit posters, the 2:1 ratio on the central front.

I have said that the figure of 2:1 could not be justified on the basis of the figures that the Government have given the Committee, but the Minister's reply was that he did not mean the force levels existing now so much as those levels on M+8, and M+8 would mean nothing to the majority of people reading an Army recruitment advertisement. It does not appear even in small type in advertisements and it now has to be explained that it means either eight days after hostilities have commenced or eight days prior to hostilities commencing, being the decision of the Warsaw Pact countries to mobilise.

That means giving them an eight-day advantage on mobilisation, but it seems to be less than honest with the House of Commons to use the 2:1 ratio. Even on M+8 the total manpower ratio is 1.85:1 Warsaw Pact superiority over NATO. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that if we struck a balance, for example, between NATO on M-day and the Pact on M+10, only 10 days later, giving the Warsaw Pact countries 10 days, the ratios would go up to a total manpower of 2.07:1.

The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)

I shall not dispute the matter with the hon. Gentleman now, because the Committee will be discussing this matter at future meetings as has been announced, but I think that he will agree that NATO, as a purely defensive organisation, is geared to defend Western Europe against a potential aggressor and it is not unreasonable that in making one's calculations one should assume that a potential aggressor would have the initiative in mobilisation.

Dr. Owen

I understand the assumption. All I am saying is that if such a fundamental assumption is to be made, its basis should be explained. All I am saying is that the game of figures can be played in any way one likes, but what we badly need are more facts and, if I may say so, more openness by the Government in dealing with the facts.

If over the next year or two we are to have the informed discussion that the country will need, because I am absolutely certain that there will be American troop reductions in Europe and serious pressures on the military budget, we shall need to be able to make decisions on the basis of the facts. If it is reasonable to make these assumptions, the country and the House of Commons should be aware of the basis on which they are being made.

The Warsaw Pact countries could probably equally argue that their pact was a defensive association. There is a danger that we do not sufficiently often put ourselves in the other's position, particularly when considering the sort of discussions which would be the basis of MBFR. One of the advantages of the SALT negotiations was the frankness between the two super-powers about their nuclear arsenals when they began to reveal to each other basic information, most of which was already known to the two super-Powers. This takes us back to the whole subject of secrecy. Most of this information is fully known to the military commanders of the various Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union. We are far too sparing with our information.

I should like to refer again to the old question of nuclear-powered submarines, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy will not be surprised if I return to it, because it is a hobbyhorse of mine. However, the only way in which to get change is continually to blast away. I look with amazement at the way in which this country's naval defence forces are arranged. I draw attention to the evidence of the Flag Officer (Submarines) writing in "Jane's Fighting Ships". He drew attention to the fact that the present building rate of nuclear-powered submarines in the Soviet Union was approximately one submarine every five weeks. The figures given by the Under-Secretary in the same edition of "Jane's Fighting Ships" show that there appears to be a Soviet submarine fleet of some 400 boats of which about one-quarter, or nearly 100, are nuclear-powered while by 1980, although the total number will diminish somewhat, more than half will be nuclear-powered. We are watching a veritable explosion in the impact of nuclear-powered submarines in the Soviet fleet.

What do the Government do? They shift the defence budget of the Navy in favour of surface ships by practically every decision that is taken. They have delayed the previous emphasis on underwater research spending and they have accepted projects such as the Exocet surface-to-surface guided weapon for surface ships, they have kept the "Ark Royal", they have pushed ahead with the cruiser and they have agreed to go ahead with a new helicopter-launched guided missile.

All these are at the expense of putting money into the one urgent necessity, which is a submarine-launched guided weapon missile. More emphasis should be placed on this than on any other single item of military equipment for the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force. Evidence given to the Committee makes it perfectly clear that it will not be until 1980 that this country will have a chance of having such an advanced weapon system. It is vitally necessary that this is brought forward by every day possible. We need a conscious decision radically to change the priorities of the Navy.

The Royal Navy is still living in an age at least two decades out of date. This is tragic because we are the only European NATO Power able to build nuclear-powered submarines. All the other European NATO navies can build surface ships, but we are the only European NATO country able to build nuclear-powered submarines. The Dutch Navy has not been allowed to build nuclear-powered submarines, does not have the know-how and has not been given authorisation by the United States. Ours is the only navy that can decide to build more.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Peter Kirk)

I rise on a point of correction, a matter of precision more than anything else. The French have both the capacity and the know-how to build nuclear-powered submarines and are doing so, and they remain a NATO Power even if they are not in the military command.

Dr. Owen

The Government bring France into NATO whenever they want. When I was arguing earlier about mutual balanced force reductions I said what an advantage it would be if the French five divisions were added to the balance of forces in Europe. The Minister of State would not have them included if we were not also adding the Hungarian forces. The Government must make up their mind whether France is or is not in NATO. I should like France to be a complete member, but I hope the Government will not play it one way when it is convenient to them and the other way when it is not. Even France anyhow recognises the importance of building up its nuclear submarine fleet.

I leave the subject there. Any hon. Member who wants to know the powerful, compelling case why nuclear-powered submarines should be built at the expense of the cruiser, of aircraft carriers and of surface ships has only to read in "Jane's Fighting Ships" the article by Vice-Admiral Sir John Roxburgh. The case has also been made out innumerable times before in the House by myself.

I wish to draw attention to another important expenditure implication which has come up through the Committee's work. We are approaching the end of the 1970s with major expenditure on three items of equipment which gives the Government very little room for manœoeuvre in their defence budget. The first is the MRCA, which peaks in 1976, 1977 and 1978, as is brought out in the report. The next is the cruiser, the cost of which, we have already heard, has gone up over £50 million and is going up all the time. It is not possible to build just one. We shall have to build a minimum of three, and again the expenditure is peaking at exactly the same time, at the end of the 1970s.

The third item is the nuclear submarine, and the whole question of the build rate. The Secretary of State for Defence said in evidence to the Committee that we could make the change to building more nuclear-powered submarines, but he was very dubious whether it could be done within the present defence budgets. He totally excluded any possibility of doing anything about updating the nuclear deterrent. He said that it was impossible to do anything about the four Polaris submarines within the present defence budget. Yet in oral answers to Questions last month we heard that the Government are embarked on a review of the implications of the strategic arms limitations agreement, rather implying that they are looking at the whole question of Polaris. It is early to be making a decision on the updating of Polaris, if we have to make that decision. It is not necessary until at least 1975, and it could be argued that the SALT negotiations have postponed that further.

But the House will have to face the fact that this is an important expenditure option. The decision whether or not to take it is up to the House and the Government of the day. But it has important expenditure implications, and the costs would again fall towards the end of the 1970s. Therefore, on expenditure items of equipment alone we shall not have enough room within the present defence budget to pursue all the different policies that the Government are committed to.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for interrupting him, but seven or eight other hon. Members want to take part in the debate and he has already been speaking for over 20 minutes. There must be a little tolerance in these matters, and I hope that he will not go on too long.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to make only two more points. But as there is a marked discrepancy between the number of hon. Members speaking from both sides, think that rather more tolerance should be given to this side.

Ministers should look at the Seawolf project very carefully. The clear evidence to the Committee was that the project has escalated in cost on every occasion. Though the figures cannot be given to the House, we can say that hon. Members on both sides feel concern about the project, and we are not convinced that it has been examined closely enough. We may well have to put up with the rather more inferior service that we would get from Sea Dart rather than to continue just with Seawolf. No doubt the trouble is that the Services naturally always want the best, but the Government must choose.

I turn finally to the question of the industrial work force, an important part of the defence budget and of our responsibilities in the House. When we questioned the Chief Executive of Dockyards, Mr. Norfolk, the Committee felt that the previous Government had been right to civilianise the dockyards. When we questioned Mr. Rayner, who came in to run the Procurement Executive, the Committee felt that the Government were right to bring in people from outside industry to give an impulse and direction to both those major areas which hitherto was decidedly lacking.

It is extraordinary that there can be a productivity bargain within four naval dockyards when the productivity bonus, as revealed in evidence to the Committee on 25th April, is fixed not by the Defence Department, not by the Navy Department or even the Chief Executive of Dockyards, but by the Civil Service Department. It should be paid for out of savings made within the four dockyards, and not be subject to overall Civil Service control.

I hope that the Minister will consider also abolishing the distinction between industrials and non-industrials, a matter which came up in the Navy dockyards and the Royal Ordnance factories. The Committee, I believe, was convinced that there were now overwhelming arguments to follow up the recommendations of the Prices and Incomes Board in 1967 to have one class throughout the industrial Civil Service and abolish this distinction.

There is a tendency in the House to believe that we can have shortened debates and shortened Questions, and it is time the House realised that a penalty is paid for shortening debate and Questions. The penalty is not to be able to subject the Executive to scrutiny. I do not speak very often, but I should be prepared to speak a little less often to subject the Executive to greater scrutiny. I am beginning to wonder about the way in which we order debates and Question Time.

Mr. Speaker

Order. When I interrupted the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), he referred to a disparity between the numbers of hon. Members on either side who wanted to speak. On the time already taken according to my calculations, the Opposition have spoken for 85 minutes in four speeches and the Government side for 54 minutes in four speeches.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), who has now left the Chamber, asked why we spend so much of our gross national product on defence. The simple answer is that we in Britain must be strong, because if we are weak we invite trouble from the Russians. I think I carry many of my hon. Friends with me when I say that I would rather see a greater defence expenditure than a smaller one.

Our Report was submitted to the Secretary of State five months ago, and we have now had some comments on our recommendations. The Department has made some helpful observations in some respects, but I am less than happy about one or two of them. I shall confine myself to two, turning first to recommendation (3), the allocation of the social services to defence expenditure.

Education alone in Germany costs us about £8 million for the dependants of our Service men. Health and all the other social services are over and above that. The cost of defence in this country is always being subjected to questioning. The public and Parliament take our defence expenditure to be the defence cost ceiling. In fact that is not so. If Service personnel and their families were civilians in the United Kingdom, the expenditure for education and looking after their health would all fall on the local rates or the National Health Service. Therefore, it is not right that this expenditure should be borne on the defence budget. No one is suggesting taking away the functions or the supervision or the provision of these services from the Defence Ministry. What I am suggesting is that it is right to recharge the appropriate Votes to other Departments so that we can retain in full view our net defence expenditure.

I want to refer now to Question No. 2077 of our Report. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Litchfield and Tamworth (Major General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) quoted the education bill for Germany alone as £8 million. This was not queried by the Secretary of State. In the next Question I went on to elaborate. The Secretary of State replied: I feel happier knowing I am responsible for what happens to the dependants of the Services abroad, and I think we do it fairly well. With great respect to the Secretary of State, I point out that no one is trying to take away anything from him. All we are trying to do in our recommendation is to suggest that the cost of these services should not fall on the defence Vote. The answer we have had so far is an unsatisfactory bromide. It is an answer from one Civil Service Department to another. I hope that today my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will not pick this up and say "It does not really matter", because in absolute terms it does matter if he wants to convince us that we should spend more money on defence and not merely more money on the tail.

If we take the figure of £8 million for education alone and add the costs of the social services in Cyprus and elsewhere, at least another £2 million a year, we reach a total of £10 million. Is the Secretary of State saying that this does not mean very much in terms of his defence budget? Would he not like to see another 10 medium-lift helicopters, which cost about £1 million each? Would he not like another half dozen Harriers, which would come to about £10 million? I suggest that if he would not, the Service chiefs would. This would be an opportunity to secure a genuine increase in the defence Vote without putting any more cost on the Department.

I turn now to the question of the write-off powers. The answer given in the observations of the Department is very helpful. The new Directorate-General of Internal Audit is a step in the right direction. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that the subject is, however, too important just to be left there and that he will suggest to the Directorate-General that there are lessons to be learnt from commerce showing that occasionally one can spend far too much money on checking small amounts whereas if one let them go one would overall save a substantial amount of money. A spot check is far more important than having a fixed rule and saying that everything up to, for example, £100 must be dealt with by a lieutenant-colonel and everything over that amount by a brigadier. It can be a most expensive way of doing it. It is worth asking industry to give some of its best examples to my right hon. Friend, and I hope he will see that the Directorate-General is able to say in 12 or 18 months' time in some sort of report how far it has gone in fulfilling the things we have asked for.

The subject of this debate is one in which all those who serve on the Expenditure Committee have a great interest. Many right hon. and hon. Members would have liked considerably more time to have been allocated to it. It is a pity that we have to have a curtailed debate. I therefore add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) in saying that it really is not good enough—this is not addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State but perhaps through him to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—that the Expenditure Committee, or whichever of its Sub-Committees it might be, is allocated casually a half day here and a half day there, part of which is taken up by the presentation of petitions and the like. We ought to know that we are going to have a fixed allocation and when we are to have it. The Department could then give replies at sensible times and we could then have sensible debates, much more on the lines of a constructive democracy, such as the Americans have on defence matters, instead of being treated as the laughingstock of the democratic world, with it being said "You can debate your report when the Government can find you half a day at the end of the Session, two days before the House rises".

I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said, that this will not be acceptable to the Expenditure Committee in future. I do not believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Expenditure Committee feel that they are doing their job properly if they are to be shuffled off like this, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us some assurances on the points that have been made.

6.37 p.m.

Lieut. Colonel Colin Mitchell (Aberdeenshire, West)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me. Contrary to popular belief, the fastest game in the world is not "pass-the-parcel" in a Belfast pub but keeping within the time limit for a defence debate from the back benches on this side of the House.

I was not a member of the Expenditure Committee. I think that its report is wide-ranging but to me it is somewhat disquieting. Although the Sub-Committee says that its primary rôle—set out in paragraph 18—is to point out the financial implications of existing defence policies and not to comment on the merits of defence strategy, a large part of the evidence it has submitted is indeed comment on the merits of defence strategy. These are political issues which are debated and decided on the Floor of the House of Commons. We have not had enough debate and decision on the strategic issues. I sense, although I may be wrong, that there was a feeling of concern in the Committee that the whole question of Europe's future defence policy was now in the balance.

All the initiatives like the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the mutual and balanced force reduction proposals and detente seem to me to be engendering a situation where American forces in Europe might or might not withdraw by 1980 but certainly will reduce in size. I am sorry to read that the Secretary of State for Defence avoided discussion of political implications when he was examined by the Sub-Committee. At paragraph 2087, in reply to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the Secretary of State said he hoped that American withdrawal from Europe will for ever remain a hypothetical question. … I am sure he believes that not in the least. He may have felt that the problem of American withdrawal, allied to the German demand to be a nuclear Power and Anglo-French nuclear co-operation, in this context is something too difficult to answer. I feel that in that sense the Committee may not have been doing its job properly when questioning him because it could not have pressed hard enough for these answers.

The need for a European strategic nuclear force for the 1980s is the most vital issue facing defence planners at the moment and the discussion recorded in the Expenditure Committee's Report is to my mind unsatisfactory on that great issue. Anglo-French nuclear co-operation is not inevitably going to be the outcome of our joining the European Economic Community and we all know that France's curious attitude poses very tricky problems. But the fact remains that Europe, which is not a political reality and cannot therefore be a military reality, will be faced with a situation where the strategy of flexible response and forward defence becomes so political in the context of an American withdrawal that there will be a need for ourselves and other NATO countries to increase conventional force levels.

That brings me straight into the report and into the argument and the one point I wish to make. Military manpower thus considered raises the question either of the reintroduction of conscription into this country or an expansion of the all-Regular volunteer Army. The Secretary of State admitted in paragraph 2112 that in the present circumstances the Army is too small.… If the Secretary of State for Defence has said, and he said it last year, that in the present circumstances the Army is too small, what are we doing about it? The situation has got much worse since he gave his evidence. We have already seen that Ulster is causing "overstretch". If the needs of the Army come first, as again the Secretary of State said in that paragraph, our figure of 170,000 soldiers by 1973 as planned is not enough. Perhaps we should be aiming at an all-Regular Army of 200,000 by that date. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister of State could give us a reply on that when he replies.

We have had discussion on both sides of the House, sensibly balanced, on the question of the proportion of the budget which goes on personnel, which we say now stands at something like 52 per cent. according to paragraph 31 of the report. I am surprised that the Sub-Committee did not go to the trouble of calling the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence because in a speech he made at the RUSI printed in its latest Journal it will be noted that Professor Bondi said that although it appears that something like 50 per cent. of the budget goes on manpower, if the indirect costs such as housing in Germany, etc., are added, the true figure for manpower is two-thirds of our budget. The Soviets spend only one-third, so our balance for equipment spending is proportionately smaller.

Mention of the Chief Scientific Adviser raises the old point that we must not let our defence discussions go back to politicians, academics and intellectuals. We have very high-powered civil servants paid high salaries. The CSA is employed in the Ministry of Defence. The evidence of such persons is absolutely vital. Just a Lord Zuckerman made such a great contribution to defence matters, so the present CSA has this ability and the Committee was wrong in not using it.

The form of a European nuclear strategic force is something which the Sub-Committee affirmed depended on the Polaris force of four submarines, but I was sorry to see that the French SNLE equivalent force was not mentioned. We are led to believe that it will be ready by 1975 but, like our system, it will provide only one submarine on constant patrol. We all know that by 1980—and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) spoke with great sense when he mentioned the submarine planning—the systems which these submarine fleets will use will be beginning to be outdated. A new generation of strategic nuclear weapons in ballistic missile submarines will be needed. If these are to be in operation by the 1980s, and I would have thought that they would have to be, surely the agreement to proceed with this has to be taken by 1975, which is only in 18 month's time.

At paragraph 49 the report examines the Polaris nuclear strategic force and asks questions of Admiral Leach. It discusses the possible conversion to Poseidon very fully. I was disappointed that the Committee did not press for views on the acquisition of ULMS—the underwater long-range missile system -which the United States is developing as the successor to Poseidon in the mid-1980s. As is known the great advantage of that missile is that it keeps the submarines much closer to their own shore, it has longer range and it would tie in completely with the lip service to standarisation which paragraph 31 of the report so amply explans.

In conclusion I would say that the Sub-Committee, even if we are critical, has obviously done valuable work in posing problems for the Government. Defence policy is at a crossroads because of the new European set-up. The American assurance is declining and European co-operation is not yet evident. It is pointless if the Government regard this Report as something which they can carry along until the next defence debate, whenever that may come.

All we know now is that national security in the years ahead depends on boldness and foresight in today's urgent policies. This report as I read it is not a plea for weakness but the basis for more expenditure and stronger forces. I trust that the Government will see to it that we get them.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Before the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell) becomes too eloquent about submarine missiles may I remind him that we have here a time problem. He advocates submarine missiles. This is for the period 1977–84, the period of the through-deck cruiser costing £60 million, the period of Sea Wolf, of MRCA, perhaps of Sea Dart and a good deal more weaponry. I say to him, not in any carping spirit, that after making that kind of speech I expect that in his more reflective moments he will be the first to agree that some fairly hard talking will have to be done to the Treasury.

If anything comes out of the report of the Sub-Committee it is that certain decisions will have to be made very soon about priorities in expenditure, because it is inconceivable that any Government will accept all priorities; it is financially impossible. I should have thought that the best way of using our time was to speak about priorities and perhaps set markers as to what priorities we think ought to be made because they will have to be made very soon.

Before I go any further I should like to refer to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). This is something that behoves us all. What has happened? There has been a great deal of hard work and sweat. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and his colleagues have worked jolly hard. All of this work has been put in and yet in our candid moments must we not say that much of the evidence was taken over 12 months ago? Much of it by its very nature in this kind of subject becomes stale.

What happens is that the fag end of a Session, as the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) said, partly because of pressure which we know was put on the Government's business managers by the right hon. Member for Taunton, the hon. and gallant Member for Eye and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) at last we get the crumb of a debate. This is no way for the House of Commons to set about examining these huge amounts of expenditure. This is not the first time it has happened. The very same thing took place on the massive report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology dealing with the defence research establishments. We were discussing evidence that was 2½ years old by the time it came to the House. This is absolutely absurd because in the military sphere things are very fast-moving, circumstances change, and if there is to be any scrutiny at all we have to have far greater immediacy in our debates.

I look forward to the report of the Expenditure Committee which I believe is to be published tomorrow. I see that the right hon. Member for Taunton confirms that. This is a report which will set out some guidance as to how we conduct our business in this area. I hope that, even if it means that a number of reports are taken late at night, and if there is to be no vote there is no overwhelming objection to this, a time limit will be set of say six weeks or two months after publication of a report for discussion by the House.

In the same breath I would also say that the Department ought also to understand that it should have a time limit for producing its comments on these reports. While a measure of courtesy is acceptable I must say I think that the Department has produced a comment on the report of the sub-Committee which is an insult to the House. It is lightweight, it has been spatchcocked in a hurry and it is no kind of answer to the hard work done by Members of Parliament. It is all very well for the Minister of State to sit there with a smile on his face, a somewhat watery smile if I may say so—

Lord Balniel

I was not smiling at all.

Mr. Dalyell

I interpreted it as a watery smile. This may be our fault, because if Whitehall thinks that it can get away with it why should it not go on doing this? If we are to be serious about scrutiny we must first of all put our own house in order and secondly do something about the time-scale in which these debates take place.

Having made that remark about Whitehall I must go on to say that anybody who has constituency problems in defence matters must praise the Ministry of Defence for the trouble that it takes with personal cases. I may quarrel with it on procurement matters but on personal cases, when we go to it in connection with the housing problems or service problems of our constituents, we get nothing but the most detailed and humane treatment. I praise the people in the Ministry for the infinite trouble that they take with personal cases. There is a great contrast between the behaviour of the Ministry on procurement matters and its behaviour on personal matters, in respect of which we get the very best treatment.

The first detailed point that I wish to raise concerns the MRCA. The issue of secrecy has been well dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton. The hon. Member for The High Peak jokingly read out paragraph 41 of the report, leaving in all the blanks. I was not a member of the Committee and I am not privy to secret documents. I am under no kind of obligation that I know of in respect of giving figures, so I will give my rendering of the paragraph in full. In my opinion it should read: In oral examination, witnesses from MoD were questioned about costs and contingency allowances. The sub-committee were informed that increased costs were a matter of * * * to * * * per cent. My guess is that it should be 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. The original contingency allowance was about * * * and it has now been reduced to * * *. My figures would be 10 per cent. and 5 per cent. I suspect that that would be a pretty unwise guess, but nevertheless I make it. Unit production cost is estimated at * * * at 1970 prices I would there insert "£2½1 million" but if research and development costs are taken into account it rises to * * *. There, I insert "£4 million". The heaviest expenditure will come between 1977 and 1984, when it should be between * * * and * * * a year at 1970 prices, or * * * per cent. of the whole defence budget. That is a misleading statement in itself. What it does not tell us is the number of units ordered. The whole form of the MRCA becomes extremely egregious when one realises that the original estimates were based on 1,000 units at a time when the Italians and the Luftwaffe were going to order and therefore bring down the overheads.

Mr. Speaker

May I point out to the hon. Member that the hon. Member who formerly represented The High Peak is now the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder).

Mr. Dalyell

I thank you, Mr. Speaker. In a previous incarnation the hon. Member represented The High Peak.

I hope that in the winding-up speech we shall be told something about the basis on which orders are now being made. Anybody who moves around the industry as I do gets a feeling that the Germans will not order even their latest estimate, and the Italians are more or less out of it. The Dutch were in. but they are now out, and we are left with a major British project.

If the Department disagrees with me it can tell me that I am wrong. The general feeling is—and why else would the Germans order American aircraft? —that the MRCA will land here, on us. In those circumstances, any calculation must depend upon the number of units that are likely to be ordered. On the basis of information that has proved trustworthy in the past, I have no doubt that what we are talking about is a unit of £5 million to £6 million. Each MRCA will cost between £5 million and £6 million.

We must reflect a little about that. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) knows that serious discussion has taken place on the question whether one unit of MRCA costing between £5 million and £6 million is worth three, four or five Buccaneers. In terms of operational requirements we need some kind of assessment as to the unit efficiency of this highly sophisticated and extremely expensive aircraft Apparently the plans took a long time. We are told that we must look a stage ahead. Before we start looking a stage ahead, however, let us get down to the question whether this extra sophisticated weaponry is worth it, or whether our operational requirements would not be hugely more effective if we stuck to our less sophisticated units.

We were told this afternoon by the Minister for Aerospace, who fortuitously has come into the chamber—he is going out again; he knows what his responsibilities are—that we would have "an integrated European aero-engine industry." [Interruption.] Yes, he did. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan)—and we can look it up in HANSARD—he used the phrase "an integrated European aeroengine industry." What he said was admittedly vague. He referred to a more co-ordinated procurement policy for aircraft, and he was then asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Craigton what he meant. In HANSARD tomorrow the words will be found—and we shall look carefully at the context—"an integrated European aero-engine industry." Some of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench thought they heard what I heard. We shall read HANSARD tomorrow. If it is to be an integrated European aero-engine industry it will have considerable military consequences.

The bafflement of Ministers is showing. [Interruption.] The Minister of State is looking very baffled.

Lord Balniel

We can clear this matter up when we read HANSARD tomorrow. This is not my departmental responsibility, but I was in the House when this matter was referred to and my impression is that my hon. Friend hoped that we would have an integrated European aero-engine industry, or said that he thought it would be a good thing.

Mr. Dalyell

I am not trying to be pedantic, but I point out that this confirms one of my worst fears, that the so-called Minsterial Aerospace Board which is supposed to combine the military and civil side, does not meet very often and is not a very effective arm of Government.

In the Defence Review published earlier this year great play was made of the Ministerial Aerospace Board. Right or wrong, it is clear that what happens in relation to civil engines is of the greatest consequence to the future development of military aero-engines. I hope to hear a statement about it; in any case I shall certainly write to the Department.

We have been rebuked for taking up time, so I shall make my next two points shortly. The first concerns Sea Wolf. We cannot have Sea Wolf, a through-deck cruiser, the MRCA, and a number of other projects that have been mooted. Some of us took the trouble to go to Stevenage, where we were given a detailed breakdown on Sea Wolf and an outline of the project. A great deal of technical expertise has gone into it. I therefore feel inhibited about reading out any costs, in terms of the wording of paragraph 56, as I did in the case of the MRCA, because that might be breaking a confidence. But I cannot see why we cannot be more candid about these matters.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye may have given security vetting, but what the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) said was quite true: the approximate costs will be no news to the Ruritanians or anyone else. My fear is that the purpose of all the blanks in the report about Seawolf and other projects is nothing to do with security but is to hide precisely what the Ministry of Defence is up to in relation to unit costs. Time and again the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has said to me, in a tone of rebuke, "You know perfectly well that it is never the practice to give unit costs in the House." It is very easy to shelter behind precedent. But precedents can be dangerous. It would be to the good of the Defence Department if it was a little more candid, at no cost to national security, about these matters. If it were, some of the escalations in hardware costs over the last 25 years, admittedly under both Governments, would not have happened.

Without breaking confidence, and with a fair sense of certainty, I come to the last subject, namely, the through-deck cruiser. On two occasions the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has said that he could not confirm the cost of the cruiser, but it is fairly common knowledge that in the autumn of 1971 the estimated cost was £60 million. Is £60 million for one fairly vulnerable ship a sensible use of resources?

Those of us who have recently been on the "Ark Royal" or who have taken on interest in the Navy—and I am not anti-Service, as the Department knows—understand perfectly well that the vulnerability to a whole range of possible weaponry of a ship like the through-deck cruiser is considerable. It did not take the Israelis long to prove that. How serious are the plans to go ahead with such a £60 million development?

Many hon. Members are concerned about unemployment. I say, in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), that we want some kind of help to be given to the Clyde, but is the notion of building battleships in order to give employment a very sensible philosophy? There are others ways of creating employment on the Clyde. We should build ships if there is an operational requirement for them, but if there is not it is not the best way of creating employment.

I end in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and others ended —and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) put this case at length. There will be no quibbling from the Front Bench or back benches on this side of the House if the Government say that they will raise considerably the amount of expenditure in the dockyards. I have a tiny constituency interest here and therefore I find it easy to say this, but when the dockyard workers' representatives came to meet us a number of us were appalled at what has happened since June, 1970—and it was in June, 1970, that these workers received their last increase. They are disgracefully paid.

In view of the revelations which have come to light, it behoves all hon. Members who have a genuine interest in the Services to urge the case for a dramatic review upwards for those who work in the dockyards. As I have indicated, very few of my constituents work at Rosyth. But the justice of the case of these workers is considerable and something must be done about it, if only for the efficiency of the forces.

I have asked about Sea Wolf, about the MRCA and about the through-deck cruiser, but I am concerned, above all, about the style in which the House of Commons considers these complex matters.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not take up his remarks. I wish to make some observations about our deployment in Northern Ireland, and I make no apology for doing so. Northern Ireland is frequently discussed in the House, but it is central to this report. Also, it is a place where the battle is going on. It is not going on in BAOR or the Far East.

No one who stands at the centre of Londonderry, as I did on Saturday, and sees how it has been absolutely shattered, with many of the buildings completely destroyed, as though there had been a Baedeker raid by the Luftwaffe on the town, will be under any illusion about the kind of enemy we are facing. I believe that every hon. Member should go there during the recess and see the appalling havoc which has been wreaked and then we will all realise what we are up against.

The troops in Northern Ireland are mentioned in paragraph 383 of the Report, together with the question of the extra cost, over and above the present expenditure, involved in deploying troops there. The official who was interviewed made a wild guess that it was £3 million extra a year but this estimate had to be corrected subsequently in Appendix 27 and the corrected figure which was given later was £11.6 million. It is not so much a question of money. The important point is that we cannot sustain 21,000 troops in Northern Ireland indefinitely. Paradoxically, the need for the troops is increasing all the time. Not only do we have to look after the occupation of the no-go areas, but we shall have to give increasing attention to the border.

The IRA is now dispersed and is indulging in tip-and-run raids across the border. I went to Fermanagh on Friday and Saturday, in the extreme south-west, opposite Donegal, the IRA base area. There was a raid on the village of Brooke-borough the night before I arrived which shattered about a dozen houses. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured because a 20-minute warning had been given. A false car location had been given to attract the population to the area where the bomb was about to explode, but luckily everyone got out.

That is the sort of thing which is happening. Farms on the border have been burned down. In the attack on Brooke-borough village four gunmen went across the border, hijacked a car immediately they got into Northern Ireland—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Ronald Russell)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this debate does not cover Northern Ireland, except very briefly.

Mr. Mather

I was giving an example of the sort of situation which had to be faced in Northern Ireland, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I was going on to suggest ways in which we could economise on the overall expenditure on our troops in Northern Ireland. The question of Northern Ireland is mentioned in the report and I think it is relevant to the debate. I do not want to take up more time—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is not primarily a defence debate. It is a debate on the Sub-Committee's report. The hon. Gentleman must not go too far into the question of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mather

I was simply giving an example, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I wanted to move on to two problems which we face in Northern Ireland. One is the defence of the local population—and the vital point is not a certain bridge or installation but the people living in the area. The second is the control of movement in the border area. Our forces are necessarily very thin on the ground in these areas and the effective number of police and of members of the UDR is less than it was in the days of the USC. Therefore, we need to make up the numbers and to relieve the Regular troops deployed in the Province. I should therefore like to make two propositions. One is that we arrange for some relief of the Regular troops by providing in Northern Ireland a territorial local defence force, rather on the lines of our Home Guard. This kind of force would be non-sectarian and would also take in men of a rather older age group.

My next point is the question of the Ulster Defence Regiment which was mentioned in the Expenditure Committee's Report.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member is still out of order. There is only one mention of Northern Ireland in the report and that is in relation to Europe. I must ask the hon. Member not to pursue this.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the index, on page 404, there is a very large number of items referring to Northern Ireland, and under which I should have thought Northern Ireland could be discussed. A great many of us, on both sides of the House, I think, but certainly on this side, wished to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) on this very important aspect of our military expenditure.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

May I also draw your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that the report also refers to control of the Irish border and patrolling on the Irish border?

Mr. Mather

My next point was to raise the question of the Ulster Defence Regiment. This is specifically mentioned in paragraph 395 of the Expenditure Committee's Report. I thank you for allowing me to continue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was just saying that I thought we needed some kind of territorial Home Guard defence force and this is an increasing need.

Secondly I would like to make one or two points about the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is particularly mentioned in the report, which proposed an idea, which was then current, that a regular battalion of the UDR should be formed. This, as we learned subsequently, was shelved. What is needed is not a Regular battalion but a Regular company to each existing battalion. I think that this is the universal opinion of the Ulster Defence Regiment units.

I think we might also ask for a relaxation of the existing standing orders. One of these relaxations is that they should be allowed increasingly to take part in urban duties. In fact this happens, because when one goes around one sees the UDR guarding vital points in villages and towns.

There is another rule which could be relaxed, and that is the 1,000-metre rule. There is a standing order that the UDR is not allowed to approach the border closer than 1,000 metres, unless given special permission. I think that in present circumstances this is something which should be looked at and might be replaxed. Also, recruiting policy and positive vetting procedures are very tight at the present time, and I think my right hon. Friend could relaxe those.

I sum up what I have been saying. To reduce the costs, to relieve some of our Regular manpower which is deployed at present in Northern Ireland and to increase the efficiency with which we carry out the task there, I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at the question of some Home Guard territorial type of force in order to cover the area which is close to the border, to observe and report and provide the intelligence which is greatly needed. This type of force could be based either on the UDR as a form of supplementary reserve or it could be based on the police reserve. Secondly I would like my right hon. Friend to look at the relaxation of the standing orders and the possibility of providing Regular companies in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Finally, what is greatly necessary at the present time is insistence on documents for crossing the border and insistence on authorised crossing places. I cannot go into this now but I put this forward as something for my right hon. Friend to consider.

In this campaign in which the defence forces are engaged in Northern Ireland we shall never defeat the guerrillas—I think this is a lesson of history—unless the local people are mobilised. This is what now we have to do, and this would reduce the burden on our Regular forces and might, incidentally, reduce costs.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

While I fully support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) on Northern Ireland, I hope he will forgive me if I do not continue with that theme.

I should like, as so many people have done, to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and his Committee on their report. I was very pleased to see that on the very first page it says that the Committee believes that an important part of their function is to stimulate public discussion of defence matters. This seems to me to mean two things—more discussion of defence in the country and, above all, in the House of Commons and less insistence on accuracy.

Normally in the House we have six days on defence, two days for the defence debate itself, one day on each Service, and then a sixth day on all the Service Votes. This year we have had this time cut by one day. I hope that the usual channels will take note, I object very strongly to cutting down the time spent on defence. We have had only a half day on defence today and the usual channels have done their best to cut down the number of Members speaking in the debate. I think this is an insult to the Committee and to the defence committees of both parties.

Defence is a very important matter. It is, after all, the future security of the nation, vast sums of money are expended on it, and it is only right that Parliament should debate these matters, and more frequently than we do at the moment. By comparison, the United States Congress and Senate usually consider and discuss from three to four months the United States defence appropriations, and it thus debates such matters more thoroughly than we do, and now even the comparatively restricted time we had is being cut by the usual channels.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will my hon. Friend also take into account that formerly the House was able to have a debate all night on the Service Estimates?

Mr. Wall

I agree, and I hope that this fact will be passed on to the usual channels on both sides of the House.

A recommendation of the Committee was that there should be a review of security classifications, and I did not particularly like the rather typical Civil Service reply given to this suggestion. I want to stress the fact that the security classification affects not only Members of the Committee but Members of this House as a whole, and we have what I believe to be a ridiculous situation, such as that I myself experienced. Seven years ago I was allowed to go to the Holy Loch by the United States Navy to see over one of their top secret Polaris submarines, but when I more recently, some time ago, requested the Ministry of Defence that I might go to see a naval tactical training teacher at Woolwich I was told I could not because it was programmed for confidential exercises.

This is the height of absurdity. I had just returned from America where with four other Members of the House representing all parties, we visited U.S. military and naval establishments and were shown absolutely everything. We were allowed to see and even photograph equipment ranging from Lance to the Poseidon submarine—so far as I know without any security vetting: we were taken completely on trust, far more than are Members of this House by our own Government. There must be something wrong and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take this matter to heart, because it is one which causes anxiety among hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Expenditure Committee is a start, and a very good start, but, broadly speaking, it discusses only expenditure, and I believe that what is really needed is a Select Committee on Defence which can discuss policy as well as expenditure. I know that one hon. Member on the other side—I think it was the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen)—said that this Committee could discuss policy, but from a study of the report which the Committee has made it seems to me to have been headed off policy whenever it got on to it. I should like to see a Committee of hon. Members on both sides which could discuss defence as a whole, and could look ahead through the next few years when defence problems will be particularly important not only to this country but Europe and the world. I should prefer to see that type of Committee which could be security cleared if that was necessary.

I want to discuss certain aspects of hardware affecting the three Services, because my contention is that we are now spending such a large proportion of our defence expenditure on social security, which is very necessary, and on the military salary, which is also important, that not nearly enough is left for the vital issue, which is hardware, the modern weapons required by the three Services.

First, the Army. The Committee, in page xi of the report, talks about flexible response, and says that the doctrine of flexible response means: renewed reliance on …tactical nuclear weapons. The Committee has not as yet discussed tactical nuclear weapons, and I hope it will do so in the near future. I merely say again that it is about time BAOR had a modern tactical nuclear weapon. When we were in America we were allowed to examine Lance. I understand that the bugs have now been removed from this weapon system, and it would be a good thing if we got down to purchasing this flexible mobile weapon which is just what is wanted in BAOR as soon as possible. In case people say, "What about expenditure?" surely we can arrange an offset deal with the American Navy, which is buying Harriers. When we were over there Rapier was also being tried out by the Americans. There should be a chance of offset or cross-purchasing in this respect. It is one of the most important factors for the Army in the next few years.

Secondly, in page 37 of the report, there is a reference to the home Army being kept in this country for certain purposes; first, for world-wide reinforcement, particularly in Germany; secondly, for home and overseas service rotation; thirdly, for the ACE mobile force; fourthly for the United Kingdom mobile forces. In this respect, I hope the Committee will discuss the matter referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher when he spoke of urban guerrillas in Northern Ireland. One of the Army's main roles in future may be this form of fighting, and it should be studied in more detail.

My third point concerns helicopters. According to the report, we are ordering 90 Harriers. It is clear from the deliberations of the Committee that those Harriers will not be developed to the full extent of the flexibility that this aircraft allows without helicopter support. There is a need for the Chinook or Sikorski 53 helicopters for this purpose, for the movement of artillery. We saw an impressive demonstration of this in America, and also for minesweeping. The modern technique of minesweeping is with helicopters, which are much more effective in certain operations. The Sea King is not big enough. Presumably the Chinook or the Sikorski 53, which are more powerful, could thus serve a Navy as well as an Army purpose.

The evidence given on page 247 is that the helicopter: …"is too slow in flight. It is too lumbering to be an invulnerable or near invulnerable weapon on the battlefield, and I do not regard it as a carrier of weapons or a weapons system". What we saw in America completely refutes that statement. The Cobra is specially designed as a gunship helicopter. It flies at treetop height and fires a missile with laser guidance giving a direct hit on tanks. Anyone who has seen this will appreciate that this type of helicopter is not as vulnerable as might be expected. I believe them to be an essential constituent of a modern Army.

We have recently been carrying out exercises with helicopters on Salisbury Plain, and I hope we shall not overlook the importance of the gunship helicopter for reconnaissance and operations against armour. I commend to the attention of my right hon. Friend an article in this week's Economist: …if Britain is not to lag increasingly behind West Germany and France—to say nothing of the United States and Russia—in the military use of helicopters three immediate decisions must be taken. The first is to make sure that inter-service training in this kind of warfare is more frequent than it has been in the past. The second is to resurrect the order for about 30 medium lift helicopters. The third is to make the creation of a helicopter brigade over the next decade a declared aim of British defence policy. If Britain does not, then it will go on playing half-heartedly with a new concept of war—just as it did, with dire results, with armoured warfare in the 1930s. Moving to the Royal Air Force, the MRCA has come under heavy fire. I will not refer to it except to remind the House that the evidence shows the range of MRCA compared with the Vulcan as one to two. I also understand that the range of MRCA is considerably less than that of the TSR 2. Yet the evidence shows that what we need above all is strike reconnaissance aircraft of long range. One hopes, if the dire prophecies of the Opposition on costing are not fulfilled, that the MRCA will be effective not only in Europe but in other theatres and that it will have sufficient range to be fully effective. I hope that this will be fully examined before final production orders are placed.

On Air-Navy co-operation, if hon. Members will study page 87 and Question 612, they will find the whole question of the relationship between maritime air and the Royal Navy dealt with. The RN headquarters at Northwood operate maritime reconnaissance but not maritime strike aircraft. I am not happy about this arrangement. The Committee was not happy, but did not go into it in any detail. The question of who will operate Harriers at sea was also raised by the Committee. It was said that it Harriers had to operate from HMS "Ark Royal" they would be operated by the Royal Air Force. In passing, may I say that it is distressing that the aircraft handed over by the Royal Navy to the RAF, namely Phantoms and Buccaneers have had their arrester gear removed so that they cannot operate from carriers. If we decide to operate vertical take-off aircraft from the deck of cruisers such as "Blake" or the new through-deck cruisers, who will operate them? Presumably, as there is no fixed-wing training in the Royal Navy, it is bound to be the RAF. I have a shrewd suspicion that the lessons we learned in the 1920s and the 1930s have now been forgotten.

Finally, I come to the Royal Navy. We are told in the report that there is to be a greater sea concentration on the NATO area. The threat in the NATO area is the 90 nuclear and 300 conventional submarines possessed by the Soviet fleet. We are always fobbed off with NATO and told that we are considering not just Britain but NATO, but NATO is also weak. The main issue is anti-submarine warfare and the protection of seaborne trade. NATO has four anti-submarine carriers and 276 anti-submarine vessels. The Soviet Union has 380 submarines. That is 380 to 280, and the generally accepted ratio of antisubmarine vessels to submarines in the past was two or three to one. The modern nuclear submarine is faster than any escort vessel and this means that our anti-submarine potential in NATO is far too small to compete with the growing threat from the Soviet Union.

This threat extends to the flanks, Norway and Iceland in the north, and to the Cape in the south. About 57 per cent. of our oil comes round the Cape. When I was in America I was told that 50 per cent. of American oil would be imported round the Cape from the Middle East by the 1980s. Our planners and NATO should look into this in detail. This immense quantity of oil has to be protected in perhaps the most vulnerable area for submarines in the world, namely the South Atlantic and South Indian Ocean.

Referring to vertical take-off aircraft at sea, a number of points have been made about the new through-deck cruisers. Will they be worth the amount we propose to spend on them? The report says they will cost £50 million plus. Originally it was proposed that there should be seven, but now it is proposed that there should be two or three. Is it right to spend this vast sum on ships which may be jacks of all trades and masters of none? They are not called carriers, but they may be used for vertical take-off aircraft. They are not called anti-submarine warships, but they will carry the "Sea King". They are called command cruisers and they are trying to fulfil three or four functions in one hull.

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) that we would do much better if we had less sophisticated, cheaper ships—and more of them. When we were in Opposition we used to refer to these vessels that we were advocating as Healey carriers. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look at the arguments which were deployed in those debates since I believe they are still valid today.

On the question of surface ships the evidence which was given to the Committee was that we were keeping about the same number of frigates and destroyers in the next decade, but that they would be more powerful as new ones were built. But ship for ship our frigates and destroyers are less heavily armed with missiles or guns or anti-submarine equipment than are corresponding ships in the American navy, which are mostly nuclear propelled. This certainly applies to any comparison with the Russian Navy which outgun and outfight any surface ship which our navy possesses. This matter should be looked at in great detail as, as far as I know, British designs have never been publicly justified.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton mentioned the balance between surface to submarine ships in the Royal Navy. The ratio in this respect was at one time 4:1, and is not, because of the acceleration of surface ship building, to be 5:1. The submarine is the weapon of the future and the report says it will be the Navy's prime strike weapon. Yet it is still using adaptations of pre-war Mark 8 torpedoes and has not yet been fitted with a submarine-launched surface missile. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is the most important single factor facing the Royal Navy today; the missile has been in and out of Defence White Papers year after year.

I should like a clear statement that everything possible is being done to produce this weapon system. It is only with this missile that these ten nuclear fleet submarines which we are to have at the end of the decade will be worth their cost. Let us not forget that as we produce these 10 nuclear submarines we shall be scrapping 26 conventional submarines. These 10 submarines will be all we have other than the Polaris submarines. They must be properly armed.

I came once again to the problem of cost. At present we are told that we are spending 5.5 per cent. of our gross national product on military expenditure. I believe that the right amount for this country to spend to ensure reasonable security is a figure of between 6 and 7 per cent. of GNP. I appreciate the difficulty faced by Governments of both political complexions in having to buy votes with social services, but I feel that we are having far too much butter and not enough guns. We shall reap the whirlwind in due course, as we have already twice in our lifetime but next time we will not get away with it.

I believe that steps should be taken to remove social security costs from the Defence Vote and I agree with the Committee's suggestion on that aspect. There is a danger of married quarters and dental services being regarded as more important than ships and aircraft. If we can get these costs off the Defence Vote then we shall have more to spend on the hardware that is so essential to the services. Then there is the question of Northern Ireland on which more money has to be spent and also Malta which takes a great deal of expenditure. Both are political matters which should come off the defence vote, it would then mean that a strong case could be made to spend more on hardware. Hardware is always the item that comes in for pruning. We are told that we can depend on NATO but NATO itself is weak in weapons, ships and aircraft.

What are the alternatives? We either spend more on defence or we do more about standardisation—not only standardisation in the NATO nations but in regard to Europe in general. There is a real need for standardisation within Europe. If one country makes tanks, another can make the fighter aircraft and yet another the frigates. Alternatively a common frigate hull could be used by all the NATO navies. Certainly the ultimate answer is to spend more on hardware or achieve this aim by better standardisation.

Governments in the past have not been open enough with the nation about defence expenditure, and this has been the story throughout history. Indeed, one wonders if they are being open today. I believe there is need for a Select Committee on Defence in which these matters could be fully discussed. Only through such a committee will we obtain full value from the £2,000 million and more which we spend each year on defence, and only thus will our survival as a nation be defended—and this, after all, is the Government's primary duty.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

It is most agreeable, Sir Ronald, to address you as Mr. Deputy Speaker, even for a short time. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) made a robust and sensible speech, particularly when he dealt with classification. He will see from the evidence given to the Expenditure Committee that we often verged on policy matters. I am sure that this is a factor which will be welcomed by the whole House.

I wish to concentrate on only one matter. My hon. Friend said that we were in danger of considering married quarters to the extent of their being more important than ships and aircraft. But they are important matters and I hope that the Government will undertake acquisition of such property if it can be found with economy and without the expenditure of more money in the long term.

Wherever the Committee went in Germany we discovered that the main effect on morale lay in the difficulty of finding married quarters. One Royal Air Force driver told me that he had spent many months looking for accommodation for his wife since he had been unable to obtain married quarters. I remember a cook in one of the Guards battalions telling me that his wife had been incarcerated in a small flat in a German village many miles from Munster, from which there was a bus service only twice a day and there was no other English person nearby. He was paying very high rent for those premises. I also remember an NCO at Munster who counted himself lucky that he no longer had to commute 50 miles daily to see his wife and family because he had found a place for them eight miles away. Surely something could be done about these situations.

We must bear in mind four factors. The first is that the same argument should apply to the acquisition of property for the Army in Europe as it does to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in purchasing property overseas. Select Committees have made many recommendations on this topic to the Foreign Office in the past.

Secondly, we must all accept that in recent years money has been difficult to find because of our balance of payments problems. We can at least hope that from now on the situation will improve.

Thirdly, we are now to be involved in Europe more than was ever thought likely and we hope that our forces will be in Europe for many decades to come. Even if we buy properties overseas for Service use and our forces do not remain abroad, that property will always be saleable, no doubt at a good profit.

Fourthly, if it is regarded as sound policy for an individual, a company or a bank to have assets in property, it is surely sensible that the same policy should apply to us as a nation. Why should our reserves be held only in gold and in depreciating dollars? It would be much better to have property in the form of married quarters overseas which we own rather than rent. In the long run this would repay our nation handsomely.

I am not suggesting that those married quarters should be put in the wilds, in places where there are airfields many miles away from big cities. In these days, when most people have cars, married quarters should be built on the peripheries of expanding towns. If they are built as tower blocks we must bear in mind that we do not want to create national ghettoes. Depending where they are, I sugeest that local Germans, Dutch or Belgians should be able to use those blocks. The benefit of blocks is that it is possible to create places for children to play and car parks underneath them. There can also be clubs for the wives. The alternative to blocks of course is to buy land and build terraced houses with car parks nearby.

I am not convinced by the argument from the Ministry of Defence that it is difficult to renegotiate the NATO agreement, that it is better to rely on the German Government and for them to rely on a German contractor to build what we want. It does not make sense to me to do that and, having paid rent for a great many years, to have no saleable asset at the end. Therefore I commend the Committee's sixth recommendation about renegotiating the relevant NATO agreement. I understand that it is still being looked at by the Ministry of Defence. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence will be able to give us some good news about it.

Any renegotiation should apply not only to Germany but to Belgium and to Holland. At present quite a number of wives are living in Holland when their husbands are in Germany. It is a matter between the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence, but I stress that it is a unanimous recommendation of the Committee.

7.42 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am glad to have this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). The House will remember that he was a prisoner-of-war in the Far East; he and his fellow prisoners showed magnificent courage in carrying on during that terrible time. My hon. and gallant Friend knows only too well how short of equipment we were at that time and, if for no other reason, he is the right person to be the chairman of such a Committee and he is to be congratulated on his report.

I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) is not in his place at the moment. I hope his enthusiasm for nuclear submarines continues and that he will be able to convince the citizens of Plymouth about his views in the near future.

I begin my remarks by quoting some words of President Nixon: There is an irreducible minimum of essential military security, for if we are less strong than necessary, there will be no domestic society to look after. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) is not here at the moment, because I believe that that is the way we should approach the problem today.

Not having been a member of the Committee, I was disappointed by the Minister's scant observations on the report. This is a document of 398 pages. It was disappointing to read his meagre observations. I hope he will be a little more forthcoming today about the Government's thinking.

I agreed with very many of the points made by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden). I have read many documents for which he has been responsible at the WEU Assembly, and he always puts forward factual and powerful points. It is difficult to get from the report a real understanding of what is being spent on "hardware". We know that 52 per cent. is spent on personnel and welfare. However, this should be completely separate expenditure, as should the expenditure on industrial and non-industrial civil servants. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Sutton. These should be in one category; there should be no difference between the two. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Fins-berg) who said that this expenditure should be met out of the estimates of other Ministries. In my view it is essential that it should be a separate category in terms of Ministry of Defence expenditure but that the Ministry must keep education and welfare under its own control. If it does not, inevitably there will be meddling, disagreement and delays between different Departments. If the Ministry of Defence wants to spend so much on education it may not be agreed with that Department but it can be offset within its own Ministry. It is a dangerous idea to separate the two. Having served overseas, I have some idea of the complications that can arise—

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I do not want my hon. Friend to misquote or to misunderstand me. I said that the Ministry of Defence should retain full control over the Services but that the bill should be met by the other Departments.

Dame Joan Vickers

But it is impossible to have full control and not pay the bill; this is the difficulty. As one who served overseas and had to obtain money through the Colonial Office, I know that one estimated expenditure only to find, if it came to more, that it was not paid; it was taken out of next year's estimate. In this instance the funds must come out of the Service Vote.

I was amazed by some of the vague replies given by witnesses, so much so that I began to wonder how true the report was. One example concerned the French carriers. It was stated that there were three. However, even I knew that there are only two, and this mistake had to be corrected by means of a footnote. There are several similar examples.

I found it extremely irritating to read incomplete remarks in the minutes of evidence. To give just one example, I read: I gathered when I saw it that you only have one pilot per Harrier. Is that not correct?—No, that is not correct …The planned ratio at the moment is — pilots per aircraft. This type of answer looks quite ridiculous.

The SSAFA nursing sisters do extraordinarily good work. I am very glad to know that an additional 12 have been authorised. However, I should like to know their terms of reference, for how long they will be engaged and whether they can return to their local authorities with their pensions guaranteed.

Then there is the proposal for an English language television service. Now that we are joining the Common Market it will be interesting to know what encouragement is being given to the Services to learn German. After all, a very good way to learn German is to follow it on television programmes.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) has left the Chamber, because it was he who referred to the Committee's sixth recommendation concerning land for married quarters on the outskirts of German towns. I was pleased to read in the report that these quarters should not necessarily be for the exclusive use of British personnel. It would be a great pity if British Forces in Germany or anywhere else lived in cantonments, as was the unfortunate practice in India. if we are going into the Common Market, the Services should mix with the people of the countries concerned. We were careful to do this in many places in Malaysia and it worked very well.

My main reason for intervening in the debate concerns standardisation. It may be remembered that recently I asked a Parliamentary Question about it, following what I said that it was my intention to raise the matter on the Adjournment. However, it is more convenient to do it in the course of this debate.

It is said about rising costs that one apparent solution is more standardisation of equipment between NATO allies. There is a proposal, for example, to send commandos to Norway, and there will be three different sections comprising the Royal Marines and Dutch and American commandos, so it is a great pity that their equipment is not standardised. At the last meeting of the WEU Assembly in Paris, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) asked the Italian Minister who was replying for the Council of Ministers about the possibility of setting up a small committee to deal with this problem. My right hon. Friend was told that it could not be done, on the grounds of expense. It is essential to have such a committee and I hope that on pressing for this we shall have a European committee dealing with standardisation within the NATO countries.

The Sub-Committee appears to have been concerned about this vital absence of progress in this direction". When questioned, the Secretary of State admitted that one of the most disappointing aspects of NATO since 1949 has been the lack of any real advance in the standardisation of weapons. I raised this matter at the last WEU meeting in Paris with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy when we discussed a report submitted on behalf of the Committee on Defence Questions by Mr. Vedovato, the Italian rapporteur, regarding the imbalance of naval ships. At present Britain has the biggest building programme for naval ships of recent years. Is there any co-ordination in regard to building ships with other European countries? For example, do we have too many destroyers and not enough helicopters or commando carriers? Ships take a long time to build, so it is essential to have a co-ordinated programme.

I want to refer briefly to the question of the cruisers, which is mentioned in paragraph 51, and to HMS "Ark Royal". We were told that it was too expensive to repair HMS "Eagle" or to bring her up to date. We were told later that HMS "Ark Royal" will operate primarily in NATO waters but that could operate worldwide if required, and I want to know for how long. It appears that we shall not get any cruisers for another six years. How many repairs will HMS "Ark Royal" need in this time, because then she will not be able to go worldwide? If the cruisers really are to cost £50 million each we would have done much better to have kept the two carriers longer, at least until a cruiser is available.

The WEU committee also recommended that a standing naval force be constituted to operate throughout the Mediterranean with vessels from all the Mediterranean NATO countries, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. How much has been done in regard to standardisation in the Navy?

Paragraph 31 of the report contains this statement: Some countries can afford more sophisticated weapons than others. Different countries have different requirements and tactical assumptions. Surely the tactical assumptions in Europe must be the same. This is the whole point of having the NATO force and of being allies. Why cannot standardisation be applied at any rate to NATO?

Paragraph 31 says later: and we hope that HMG will press vigorously for standardisation of equipment", with this sensible rider: where possible safeguarding the industrial potential of individual countries by spreading production over several countries. I gather that this is one of the things considered in the report.

I am Chairman of the Committee on Relations with National Parliaments. We discuss in the different countries any resolutions that go forward. Therefore, I am able to know that other countries discuss their defence problems in special committees far more than we do.

Following this report from the Expenditure Committee I still consider—I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) agrees with me—it necessary to have an all-party defence committee where we can discuss policy. The Expenditure Committee is a step in the right direction, but there was an all-party Motion on the Order Paper calling for an all-party defence committee. More and more European countries are setting up such committees. Were we to set up such a committee we could have joint committees with all-party defence committees of the other EEC nations.

Paragraph 9 of the report contains these words: Care must be taken, in particular, in reaching decisions, that the application of a defence viewpoint' does not lead to deals being made between the Services to support each other's projects, irrespective of overall defence and economic considerations. We consider that this is a serious danger. Surely the Services should co-operate and not hid against each other. I should have thought that this is important.

Paragraph 57 of the report is a most extraordinary paragraph which deals with Seawolf. I will not read the whole paragraph, mostly because it is full of blanks. It is astonishing that the paragraph finishes with five stars, whether from exasperation or from habit I am unable to say. The paragraph contains these words: The second factor is the failure to secure the collaboration of one or more of our Allies in this project"— this is the Seawolf— not just to keep down costs, but to achieve a greater measure of standardisation. At present there is very little standardisation of weapons within the NATO navies"— this is the case with other weapons, too— and, as far as Seawolf is concerned, nothing has been done to secure co-operation with other countries since the failure of the original attempts in 1964–65. This is very unfortunate and I hope that if nothing else comes from this debate we shall at any rate all be agreed on the need to press for standardisation of weapons.

7.56 p.m.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)

I apologise for joining the debate so late. I understand that there is a punter's charter or something like that on the Order Paper after this.

This is an important debate. The supreme function of Parliament has always been to scrutinise public expenditure, and above all military expenditure, because this is at the very heart of our raison d'etre as a democratic Parliament.

That said, I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and his colleagues on the thoroughness of the report. I shall try to be brief and just outline a few aspects of it. The first is, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell) said, that the whole report has been compiled in a strategic vacuum. I understand clearly that the purpose of the Sub-Committee is to scrutinise expenditure. None the less, there are some very large strategic decisions which go a-begging, particularly in the field of European defence.

Here I echo my hon. and gallant Friend's words, though my approach might be slightly different from his. When I see, for example, that the single largest item on the defence Estimates is the British Army of the Rhine, almost twice as big as any other item, I am led to question it. I am led to question it particularly because what my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) said about the escalating rate of social service expenditure on the defence budget is perfectly true, especially in Germany. I am also led to question it because I believe that the most logical contribution that the United Kingdom can make to European defence in the 1970s and 1980s is in mobile sea and air power on the rear and the flanks of the NATO Alliance. I am convinced of this.

I do not believe that it makes sense to tie up an ever-increasing proportion of our military manpower and our military budget as a hostage to fortune on the plains of Central Europe. I believe that in the air age it is possible to reinforce rapidly from the United Kingdom. I believe that the United Kingdom possesses a great deal of expertise, particularly in the United Kingdom mobile force in terms of parachute regiments, commandos, amphibious forces and the like. This should be developed rather than tying up so much of our expenditure in a fixed presence in Germany.

Furthermore, we must analyse what we have in Germany. The most important aspect of the Committee's report here is its reference to the use of the helicopter. My hon. and gallant Friend rightly drew attention to the trials that are going on at this very moment on the use of the helicopter in the land battle. I believe, as the Committee hinted, that the helicopter is not only the gunship and the supreme anti-tank weapon of the future. It is also the future equivalent of the jeep. We must plan accordingly and I welcome the reference to this in the Sub-Committee's report.

It is also of paramount importance to have a heavy lift capability if dispersed air power forward in the field is to retain a degree of invulnerability against firs' strike. There is no alternative for this. In the seventies and eighties our air power in Europe must be capable of dispersal and that is why, although it is right to spend more money on airfield camouflage and hardening, the whole emphasis should be on dispersal and the ability to use short strips and fields to the best advantage of our Air Force.

That leads me to the MRCA which is again central to the problem of European air power in the later seventies and in the eighties. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) had some telling things to say about this project. The fact is that unless we are very lucky this is the last opportunity we shall have to debate this programme before the critical review stage in November.

Without the Multi-role combat aircraft the Royal Air Force will have no effective front line aircraft in the late seventies and early eighties. This is the magnitude of the decision that will come in November. Without the MRCA the British military aircraft industry and with it European collaboration in military projects are put in jeopardy, so it is of crucial significance. And with the MRCA go a whole host of other potential swing wing projects like the "Panap", Panavia New Aircraft Project, to which we look in the years ahead.

I have always believed training to be of supreme importance for a professional force. My own interest is in the training of air forces. It is interesting that at Question 668 in the report it is alleged to be nearly always impossible to separate costing for operational conversion units. This may not seem important to some of my hon. Friends, but in choosing the 1182 as the advanced trainer for the Royal Air Force the fact is that this was done in the knowledge that much of the advanced training which the Jaguar would have done would have to be shifted to the operational conversion stage. I suggest that this decision could not have been taken in the total financial context if one cannot analyse properly the cost of operational conversion training.

Then I come to the carriers and Harriers. This hobby-horse has been well ridden today. If the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. Owen) had any main point in his speech, the central one which we should remember is that although many of the points may be hobby-horses they cannot be repeated often enough, and on the Harrier and the through-deck cruisers it is essential for the future of the Royal Navy that it has integral air power for the late seventies and eighties. It cannot be stated more simply than that and, in the context of the procurement process that is now in hand, there is no alternative to the Harrier whether one likes it or not, and no effective alternative to the through-deck cruisers when the "Ark Royal" comes out of service.

On the reserves, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West postulated many interesting things about manpower. I made my maiden speech just over two years ago on this very subject and the ever-escalating costs of manpower on a fixed defence budget. For the years ahead to the quinquennium 1975–76 it rises by only 0.6 per cent., so we are working to fixed budgets. But weapon costs are escalating fast. They now comprise only one-third of the total of the British defence budget and unless we are careful—this was brought out by the Secretary of State himself—we shall get to the ludicrous situation of the Canadians who spend only 13 per cent. of their budget on equipment. They, apart from ourselves, are the only country in the Western Alliance which relies on an all-volunteer pattern of Regular engagement. There is something of significance there.

Some would turn to conscription whilst others, like myself, would augment the reserve forces. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), who is such an expert in this field, developed that argument on the Army side in the Sub-Committee's report, and on the naval side it was made quite clear that as we had no ships in the reserve fleet there was little point in maintaining a substantial naval reserve in training.

As for the Royal Air Force, the same thing was said by Air Vice-Marshal de Lacey Le Cheminant. He said at question 1037: You do not need more pilots because you have not got the reserve aircraft in which to employ these pilots. The whole hypothesis of the report is that the sort of war that we would fight would last for only a few days and, therefore, there would be no need for expansion and no need to augment the front line or to replace casualties.

The thinking on this subject was quite terrifying. Reference was made in Question 1021 to the fact that there are only 100 officers in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. It was said that they are non-flying personnel, following which there was a series of Questions: What are they paid? Are they paid the same as in the Army?—I am not sure whether these people are actually paid. They are specialists who, I imagine, would if called out be able to do the job without any particular training. Earlier the question had been asked: How do you keep in touch with them in case of call-out, and when they get over a certain age do they come off the list?—I have not got any specific information on this. Perhaps we could send you a note on the subject. Question 1028 asked: I think the Army argument was that the best way of keeping in touch with people was a bit of pay?—Probably the best thing would be to let you have a note giving some hard information about this". We then come to the various categories of reserve. The chairman said that the biggest one was Class E and that there were 7,000, of whom 1,200 had no specific training. He asked what happens to the other 5,000?—The other 5,000 just remain on the reserve list and stay on it until their three years are up. They have a certain liability for recall during that period. That is all there is to it. Do you know when they move house?—I assume they must have a requirement to notify changes of address. It gets even more horrifying at paragraph 1043: One can gather from what you say that there is scope for simplification of the reserve structure?—This may well be so. And has this been looked at?—I do not know, I am afraid. And so it goes on. There is a quite terrifying catalogue of complacency about the reserve potential of one of Her Majesty's fighting Services. In conclusion, I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend and my hon. Friends who have prepared a detailed, informative and thought-provoking report. I conclude with one last apologia on the question of security and the MRCA. We have the blankety-blanks which have been referred to often enough during the debate. We are told that costs are not so important from a security point of view as the capability of a weapons system. If one is interested in the capability of the MRCA one finds in Question 1861 something to do with its short field performance and the fact that it can use a runway of between 1,000 and 1,500 feet for take-off.

If one wants to find out about the armament of the aeroplane, a question about the guns receives the normal blankety-blank reply. But if one then looks at the back of the same section on the MRCA at question 1928, one finds that a colleague has put down a question about the type of guns, so one can assume that the guns are standard fitting. If one studies the document carefully, as I am sure is done on the other side of the Iron Curtain, one can gain quite a lot of information from it.

8.9 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on producing this document, but I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) that we have been given insufficient time to debate this subject and we are debating it two days before the Recess, which I do not think is the best time to debate a document of this complexity and importance.

I want to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) of the importance of looking very much further ahead with regard to married quarters. These hirings, which one sees not only here but abroad, should as far as humanly possible be phased out. We should purchase the properties so that we do not have a continuous liability.

In a garrison town, such as Windsor, one also needs to help people who leave the forces to purchase property or settle in some sort of accommodation. This is a very difficult problem, and one to which I have referred on many occasions in this House. If we are to recruit men it is vitally important that they should know that when they leave the Services such help will be available to them. I know that there are already schemes of this nature, but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the subject with even greater emphasis.

I know that in the aftermath of our defeat in 1964 there was a tendency to reduce the reserve forces and that makes it more difficult to re-form volunteer reserves, but if we are to succeed in raising them it is essential to make sure that they are properly equipped and given a rôle and opportunity of service abroad in which they can serve, as I have always said, as units and not as individuals. It is essential, if we are to have reserve forces, to give those men encouragement.

With reference to paragraph 31, I am sure that everyone who served abroad in the last war or any other war realises how vital is the standardisation of equipment. How can we have an army comprised of many nations each of which uses different equipment, and even different calibres of weapons? Not only from the economy point of view but if and when we get down to actual fighting or allied exercises it is essential that we have inter-changeability of equipment. I go further and say that it is very important to get together with our allies and decide which of us shall produce which form of equipment. One country may be able to produce certain equipment more cheaply than another, and this pooling of resources is essential in the modern army.

My hon. Friend the Member of Esher (Mr. Mather) was nearly ruled out of order for referring to Northern Ireland but I agree with him. In my view it is still physically possible to seal the Border and have exit and entry points. I saw this done in Algeria, and I know that it is physically possible.

We are going into Europe and it is essential that our partners in Europe should share the burden of defence with us. If we are to give them the advantages of the Polaris submarine deterrent, it is their duty, and ours, to get together not only to standardise equipment but to share the defence burden.

Finally, the one question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are voting enough of our GNP to make sure that the country is properly defended in future.

8.13 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)

A number of hon. Members have very understandably referred to the fact that this debate has to some extent been curtailed but there will be very general agreement that although curtailed it has been an extremely helpful debate; helpful not only to the Ministers concerned with defence, but also to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee in its future deliberations.

I must begin by congratulating the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and the members of the Committee on the extremely thorough way in which they have undertaken their responsibilities. No one appreciates better than the House the heavy burden of work that falls on back benchers and for them to have undertaken this additional task is a very remarkable feat. Witnesses who have been before the Committee were filled with admiration for the way in which its affairs were handled.

Mr. Dalyell

If that is so, why does the Minister of State permit his Department to give the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and other members of the Committee such a really slighting comment?

Lord Balniel

Had the hon. Member permitted me to proceed a little further I would have commented on that very point, although I reject at once the hypothesis on which he based his remarks there having been no slight at all.

It is almost impossible to speak on all the various subjects that have been mentioned. We have had the welfare aspects of the Services, the nuclear deterrent, conscription, the balance of Warsaw Pact and NATO countries, reference to Northern Ireland and the mutual balanced force reductions. We have even had reference to the next Labour Party manifesto. This has probably been one of the widest defence debates I have attended for a very long time. But as the Report itself covers such a variety of subjects it is only right that I should refer mainly to its recommendations and various aspects.

Mr. Wall

I understand what my right hon. Friend says, but if he cannot refer to them this evening will he undertake to write to hon. Members on some points that some of us have raised on a number of other occasions and have not had answered?

Lord Balniel

I will certainly study all the points that have been made in the debate and if there are some on which it seems that I can help hon. Members by writing to them I most certainly will do so.

One of the very real strengths of the new Expenditure Committee set up last year has been the very broad terms of reference under which it and the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee have been operating. Many hon. Members will have found this of great value in fulfilling their task. But these broad terms of reference have added to the difficulties which a Department has to meet in preparing its comments on the recommendations of the Committee. It has meant, for instance, a considerable amount of interdepartmental discussion, and in several instances the recommendations of the Sub-Committee have required the obtaining of inter-departmental agreement before I could comment to the House on the recommendations, and before our observations could be finalised.

I was most anxious to assist the House by having our observations available before the debate took place, and we therefore took the steps of issuing our observations as a memorandum to the Select Committee itself rather than to follow what would have been the more normal practice of issuing them as a Command Paper. I have read the note which the Expenditure Committee has appended to the memorandum, and obviously no discourtesy at all was intended to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) and the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the timing of the debate. We had planned to publish our observations before the Summer Recess but parliamentary time unexpectedly became available which raised the possibility of a debate before the departmental observations were printed. The Committee chose to debate this subject knowing that our observations were not available. This clearly would not have been satisfactory from the point of view of the House, and we therefore made available a typescript of our observations at short notice. This was done simply in order to assist the House, though the comments of the Committee were, frankly, a fraction harsh when directed towards the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Hattersley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did not labour the point about the time it had taken for his Department to complete its comments. But I find it difficult to sit and listen to him telling the House what a favour has been done by these comments being prepared before the end of the Session. Does the Minister not recall that the period between publication of the report and the publication of the comments was five months? He recalls, does he not, that debate on the subject was scheduled for a fortnight ago and that we had nothing by way of comments until I raised the matter on the Floor of the House with the Leader of the House?

Lord Balniel

Surely the hon. Member will recollect that we are well within the time which is allowed to the Civil Service for preparing their comments and he will know that the normal time for these debates is after the Recess in the autumn. My main point is that no discourtesy was intended. We have done our utmost to try to assist the Committee and I hope that the House will accept that.

The Defence Department has responsibility over a wide range of activities. In some respects it is operating with fairly normal administrative procedures. In others it is trying to forestall and counter the possibility of aggression by any potentially hostile country which itself will be using the most advanced and the most secret technologies which are available. It is spending at present about £2,800 million a year. It is therefore not at all surprising that a group of experienced MPs examining such a Department should find areas where—in their view—the machinery and control methods were not as they would wish. On the other hand, it is equally not surprising that in some of these instances a Department, drawing on its experience over the years, should reject some of the recommendations of the Sub-Committee.

The House will know that we have accepted most of the recommendations—but where we have rejected a recommendation it has in no sense been an indication of complacency on the part of the Department. In no case has a recommendation of the Sub-Committee been dismissed without the closest study and where we have not been able to go along with the views expressed by the Sub-Committee it is because we have had very real doubts about the wisdom of adopting their recommendations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) said that she was rather disappointed by our reaction to the recommendations. In fact we have willingly accepted most of the recommendations made in the Second Report. Two of these recommendations—indeed, the first two which are much the most basic—will I think prove to be of the greatest importance for the future work of the Sub-Committee and gradually over the years I believe should contribute to an improved quality of debate of defence matters in this House, and, equally important, improve the quality of discussion on defence matters outside the House.

The first of these recommendations relates to the security classification of material submitted to the Sub-Committee —and the second relates to the financial data made available. During the course of the last Session the Government agreed to submit classified information up to and including the level of "secret" subject, of course, to certain conditions. Indeed, the Sub-Committee have received more classified information on defence matters than any Committee of the House until now. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) discussed the issue of secrecy both in his speech and at some length in an exceedingly interesting article in the New Scientist quite recently, where he commented No Parliamentary Committee has hitherto ever been given consistent access to such highly classified documents as of right. Since the Report has been published the Permanent Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence Sir James Dunnett has explained to the Sub-Committee the difficulties which could arise if we were to extend the present practice very much further.

I accept that the American practice in releasing for publication information to Congress is more generous than ours but I believe that our reasons for not going further are soundly based. It is not that we are frightened of public discussion in the House or of public discussion in the news media. It is certainly not as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye said, as a cloak for inefficiency. It is rather that with a much smaller scale of defence expenditure and defence equipment we would be in real commercial difficulties and—in certain areas on straightforward military security grounds —if we adopted the American procedure in full. It is also a fact that the House Committees in Washington play a wider part in authorising expenditure than Select Committees do in London and to this extent they fulfil a function which is far closer to the Executive than are hon. Members in this country. Many hon. Members who have studied the House Committees in Washington, as I did at one time, would certainly have doubts as to whether it would be in the real interests of Parliament and of the Opposition if we were to proceed too far along the lines towards the American system. A society must have a kind of balance between privacy for the individual and security for the executive and publicity. Obviously a Government has to be careful on security matters—equally obviously the public has an interest in public examination and as individuals an interest in privacy.

We have extended to the Committee access to highly classified documents—but the Committee feel that some difficulties still remain. To some extent these difficulties are inherent in the very subject of defence, they are considering. But we want to help—and the Permanent Under-Secretary made an offer on 9th May which I hope will go a long way to meeting such difficulties as now remain. He undertook to deal personally with any proposals from the Committee to include in its report information which might be unsuitable for publication for security, or commercial or international reasons so as to ensure that exclusions are justified and necessary. From my reading of the minutes of that meeting I got the impression that our suggestions for helping at the report stage were generally welcomed by the Committee.

The second recommendation, and also one of the more fundamental claims made by the Sub-Committee is that All figures should be made available to the Sub-Committee on request. Obviously financial details are of great importance to any expenditure committee. Indeed, a mass of financial information has been made available. The Ministry of Defence have submitted more than 40 main memoranda and innumerable supplementary notes. Some of these are published in the Report but there have been many others which are not known to the public but which, taken together, have provided a significant and helpful amount of information for the work of the Sub-Committee. There is just one specific instance where figures have been refused in the past. The Sub-Committee have fairly pointed out that the Public Expenditure White Paper gives global figures for the Defence Budget for four years ahead but when they asked for a functional analysis of these figures for the four years they were given the figures only for the first two years. I have reconsidered this decision in the light of the Committee's recommendations and in future for any year for which the public expenditure White Paper gives a firm defence budget total the corresponding functional analysis will be provided for the Sub-Committee under the 57 headings for which data are already provided.

We cannot, however, provide all figures on request as was the full recommendation of the Sub-Committee. On this basis figures would be given long before there had been any need even for Ministers to consider them and therefore long before anything like a firm base in Government policy had been established. I am sorry that I cannot go all the way to meet this recommendation, but what we propose is a major step forward in the future work of the Sub-Committee.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked whether the costs of long-term projects could be given, and he mentioned particularly the MRCA, the cruiser and Sea-wolf. When the Sub-Committee is investigating a particular project, we shall try to be as helpful as we can in giving it the information it needs, but there must be some limits to how far we can go. For example, we could not give figures before Ministers had taken the necessary decisions to go ahead with a project. We cannot make figures available before Ministers have decided at the various check and control points in a project.

We must also—and I think that he will appreciate this—be careful not to undermine our negotiating position with the firms concerned and we must be careful in collaborative projects to have the agreement of our partners in disclosing information—not all Governments are as forthcoming with information as we are prepared to be in this kind of matter.

The hon. Member for West Lothian asked for a progress report about MRCA. It remains the cornerstone of the planned RAF strike, reconnaissance and air defence force from the late-1970s through the 1980s. The review last summer confirmed that progress was satisfactory in relation to the time scale, performance and costs. Since then progress with the development programme has continued to be satisfactory. The next review is planned for towards the end of this year when we shall need to start thinking about initial production commitments, and the aircraft is expected to be in service in the second half of the 1970s.

Mr. Dalyell

Has the Minister anything to say about when it is likely to be ordered not only by ourselves, but by our allies?

Lord Balniel

I am not in a position at this moment to say anything about that, but, clearly, there will be another control point at the end of this year and a matter of this kind could be raised at that stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and others referred to the recommendation of the Sub-Committee that we should consider removing expenditure on health, married accommodation and especially education from the Defence Budget. We have examined this suggestion closely and we see the force of the reasoning behind the recommendation. But our definition of the defence budget is not seriously out of line with that adopted by many other countries, a subject mentioned by the hon. Member for Sutton. Indeed, the NATO definition includes rather more of this kind of social service than we have in our defence budget. Health, housing and schools are of the highest concern to Servicemen, and the medical and dental services also have an operational rôle to perform in war. My right hon. and noble Friend is best placed to decide how much money should be devoted to these social services in the interests of defence, and we have therefore decided that on balance it would be best for the expenditure to remain within the defence budget.

I should perhaps add that the bulk of expenditure incurred on educating Servicemen's children already falls on the Department of Education and Science, because the majority of Servicemen's children are educated in the United Kingdom. The need to provide schools abroad, however, stems directly from a major defence principle that, wherever possible, Servicemen abroad should be accompanied by their wives and families. Should we reverse this decision, I am sure there would be a significant—indeed a dramatic—effect on Services recruiting.

My hon. Friend asked for information on the money spent on the services like health and education. I must make two provisos in giving the figures. First, it is not possible to give an accurate figure for the costs of the education services, since major aspects fall under other programmes, notably training and general station and unit costs. The figures for education, therefore, represent a very broad estimate. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of the figures given for the health service. The second proviso is that we must decide what should be classed as social security services. But, with those two broad provisos, the provision in the Defence Estimates, 1972–73, for health were £56 million, for social security £171 million, and for education £32 million, making a total of £259 million. The bulk of social security expenditure—£141 million—is in respect of Service pensions. But I must say, apart from the arguments I have developed, that if we removed these elements from the defence budget, which would be contrary to the normal NATO practice, we could assume that the defence budget would automatically be reduced by a commensurate amount.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

My right hon. Friend has given some valuable figures, which are much greater than we have even been led to believe, and the Sub-Committee will want to study them. My right hon. Friend has also said that basically our presentation is very much in line with the practice of our NATO allies. Does he agree that we are probably the only country that makes a fetish of keeping our defence expenditure at a fixed level, which perhaps makes us somewhat different?

Lord Balniel

There is a certain truth in what my hon. Friend says. It backs up what the hon. Member for Sutton was saying, if I do not misinterpret him. People in this country in many ways make a great fetish about the proportion of the GNP spent on defence, and compare with the proportion spent by other countries in Western Europe. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) asked whether we were not spending a higher proportion than any other Western European country. We are spending less in real terms than France and Germany. Surely the criterion by which we should judge our defence expenditure is not so much the proportion of the GNP compared with that of our allies but the capabilities of those who could be potential aggressors?

Various hon. Members asked about married accommodation in Germany. There is no doubt that any hon. Member visiting Germany finds when talking to guardsmen, troopers or soldiers throughout BAOR that that is the first subject raised. There is a problem here, but over and above the substantial stock of married accommodation already available to BAOR, acquisition of a further 4,500 married quarters is in hand. Plans for the acquisition of a further 4,000 quarters are well advanced and we calculate that these two acquisitions will largely satisfy the demand from the Army for married accommodation in Germany.

Mr. Tilney

Can my right hon. Friend say whether that acquisition will be hired or bought?

Lord Balniel

Perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend so that I can give him an accurate reply. I would also like to write to him about another point he raised concerning the re-negotiation of the NATO agreement with Germany. This involves discussions with our NATO ally and it is correct that, speaking on the Floor of the House, I should ensure that the information is absolutely accurate.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) also raised the question of single-room accommodation for soldiers in barracks. Approval has just been obtained for the scale in which single rooms can be provided in barracks. The scale will be implemented as we re-build and modernise existing blocks both at home and in Germany. The proposal is to convert one-third of the accommodation at Aldershot into single-room accommodation, while two-thirds will consist of rooms for four men.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport referred to the number of SSAFA Sisters assigned to BAOR. The SSAFA nursing service is most remarkable and most valuable, and the Services greatly appreciate the work the nurses do. A SSAFA Sister carries out all the duties of a health visitor and school nurse and in addition part of the work of district nurse. midwife and health clinic nurse. Certainly, the Services and I believe, the House will be pleased that we have been able so quickly to implement the recommendation of the Committee and increase the number of SSAFA Sisters assigned to BAOR by 12.

Dame Joan Vickers

Are they pensionable? How long will they serve there?

Lord Balniel

My hon. Friend referred in her speech to the terms of reference of the SSAFA Sisters serving in BAOR and I will write to her about the pension aspect.

Another recommendation of the Committee concerned the provision of television. This I am afraid is a much more difficult problem. It is very expensive, for example, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is having discussions with representatives of the BBC and the ITA to see whether they can help.

Yet another recommendation concerns stores accounting, a matter on which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead laid great emphasis. We are in full sympathy with the Committee's objective of simplifying procedures and giving commanding officers the fullest possible delegated powers compatible with the necessary minimum overall control. These are intricate topics and a great deal of attention has been focused on them in recent times. There has been a substantial simplification. There has been a great deal of delegation of powers and as a result some 97 per cent. of the stores losses arising from causes other than theft, fraud, arson or sabotage fall well within the write-off powers of com- manding officers of lieut.-colonel or wing-commander rank. We shall keep this matter continuously under review and the House will be interested to know that the Director-General of Internal Audit comes from ICI and is greatly experienced in this subject.

A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye—referred to the use of helicopters. With their knowledge, they will know that operational exercises are being conducted to see how helicopters can best be employed.

The Sub-Committee suggested greater use of medium-lift helicopters, a proposal which was extremely attractive to defence Ministers but rather less attractive to the Treasury. Here the difficulty is cost. To carry 500 tons daily over a distance of 50 miles would need 10 medium-lift helicopters at a capital cost of about £10 million and annual running costs of £1.6 million. To do the same job by road would need at most 50 10-ton lorries at a capital cost of about £600,000 and annual running costs of £400,000.

On grounds of costs alone the concept is not being considered further but we are keeping under review the possibility of introducing some large helicopters suitable for war-time logistic tasks and we are also examining the implications of a limited use of existing helicopters for supporting Harriers in the field.

The last matter to which I would like to refer is that which has been dealt with by almost every hon. Member who has spoken, namely standardisation.

Mr. Hattersley

Might I suggest that that might be the pen-ultimate matter and the right hon. Gentleman might say a word by way of a progress report on the through-deck cruiser about which almost every hon. Member has spoken?

Lord Balniel

The through-deck cruiser is an important element in the construction programme over the next decade. We hope to order the first ship towards the end of this financial year for acceptance in 1978. The task of the through-deck cruiser is three-fold. It has three main capabilities, the deployment of the Sea King anti-submarine helicopter, the command and control of a maritime air force, namely the command systems which will bring maritime air control to the support of the Navy, and there is also the contribution made by the Sea Dart system of area air defence. Should further options be taken up they will be able to operate VSTOL aircraft. The decision will be taken towards the end of this financial year.

Mr. Dalyell

Do the Government realise that some of us marvel at the prospect, not only of having one £60 million through-deck cruiser but at hearing of the possibility of more than one, to coincide with the 1975–84 expenditure which will be at its peak with MRCA and other projects such as Sea Wolf?

Lord Balniel

These things have been taken into account and they are open to debate when the Estimates incorporating them are put before the House. That is the moment for the House to bring constructive criticism to bear.

I was referring to the question of standardisation. A certain amount has been achieved. There has been the Anglo-French aeronautical projects, the MRCA, the FH70 towed Howitzer. We accepted that this is an area where progress has been nothing like as fast as we would like to see and there are real problems to be overcome. There are different operational requirements, differing time-scales, differing economic resources. There is the national or chauvenistic interest, very naturally, to ensure the well-being of national industries. The problems tend to increase when we try to achieve standardisation or collaboration with more than two or three different countries.

I hope that these problems will gradually be overcome but they are very real indeed. As the evidence of the Secretary of State made clear, he attaches immense importance to securing success in this area. We will have been in office for three years by next year. The first year, in defence terms, was devoted to what in defence jargon is known as "AD 70" concerning projects and studies of the problems of the late 1970s. The second year has been devoted to EDIP, and my right hon. Friend is making it his purpose in the third year to place great emphasis on achieving collaboration on major projects, such as the main battle tank of the next generation. This is a slow, inexorable process, which is very difficult to achieve, but without achieving it the defences of the Western world are greatly weakened.

I have tried to answer as best I can the multitudinous points that have been raised. I apologise to the House for detaining it for so long.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Second Report and the Fifth Special Report from the Expenditure Committee and of the subsequent evidence reported from the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of that Committee.