§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1972, contained in Command Paper No. 4891.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have noted the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and some of his hon. Friends, to leave out from "House to the end of the Question and to add'condemns Her Majesty's Government's failure to restrain arms spending; and urges it to reduce Great Britain's share of the gross national product devoted to military expenditure from the current 5.7 per cent. towards the 4.2 per cent. average for European North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Governments'I propose to rule tomorrow on whether or not I have selected it.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I am grateful for that, Mr. Speaker, and I hope in your consideration you will bear in mind the large number of signatories—117—and that this is no trivial matter; that it concerns this vast expenditure; that in this case, as opposed to previous years, there is no reasoned Amendment from the Opposition, and lastly, that there have been precedents for a backbench Amendment being called. Therefore, we will greatly appreciate your decision tomorrow.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am aware of the facts to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. In the special circumstances of today I am disposed to say that I will rule upon the Amendment tomorrow.
§ Lord Balniel
On taking office the Government reviewed the defence policy they had inherited. We reviewed our commitments both inside and outside Europe. We examined the state of the Armed Forces; their capability, their manning and their equipment. We completed this review in our first months of office.
In last year's defence debate, having established the broad structure of our policies and priorities, I said that, above all, we needed a time for confidence, encouragement and stability. We wish to give the Services time to recover from the succession of traumatic changes that had 1310 been inflicted on them by the previous Administration.
This year's Defence White Paper contains no startling change of policy. It records, none the less, a year of steady consolidation, progress and achievement. It also records substantial advances in conditions of service and manpower strengths. However, we must measure this national progress not only against our past strengths and weaknesses but as part of an Alliance, and we must set it against a changing Soviet military capability. During my remarks I shall refer to some of the problems that still lie before us.
The force improvements announced by the Government in October, 1970, have now all been put into effect. "Ark Royal" finished its work-up in April, 1971, has since covered over 100,000 nautical miles in its current commission and is fully operational.
The Exocet programme is going well. The missile has demonstrated in successive trials its sea skimming ability down to four metres, which is a tremendous advance, and contracts have been placed.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
Has the Minister taken into account the other surface-to-surface missiles, apart from Exocet, because there are more efficient surface-to-surface missiles which could be developed as quickly; for example, the Matra-produced Otomat is superior to Exocet in many respects.
§ Lord Balniel
We debated this issue at the time of the White Paper and the decision being reached, and the time-scale led conclusively to the need to purchase Exocet, and, as I have said, contracts have been placed.
The Brigade of Gurkhas has been retained, with all its five battalions, and makes a valuable contribution to our force strengths in Hong Kong and Brunei, and we have one battalion with us in the United Kingdom now.
The new TAVR units were established last April. They have already recruited to over 50 per cent. of their strength. The new Armoured Car Regiment has been formed and will have all its armoured vehicles by the middle of next month. This striking achievement in terms of recruiting has been greatly 1311 due to the enthusiasm of the Territorial and Voluntary Reserve Associations. It has also been due to a widespread sense of public spirit and public responsibility and a personal willingness by hundreds of people to give up their spare time in the service of their country.
The aircraft programme has been adjusted to give effect to the decision to increase the number of frontline Jaguar squadrons. To meet the requirement for a new jet trainer, the HS1182 has been selected. These changes have significantly increased the capability of the Services and have been welcomed by our allies.
During the past year manpower also has improved and we have been able to build yet further in increasing our forces. In October, 1970, we halted the planned rundown of the Army and retained a number of representative companies. We did so in the expectation that recruitment, under the impetus of a new confidence, would improve. Hon. Gentlemen opposite scoffed at this arrangement, but our judgment has been fully borne out.
The manpower situation has so improved that on 15th January we were able to ease the pressures on the infantry by restoring four representative companies to full battalion status. The full battalions should be ready for operational duty by midsummer. The restoration of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders provides a pleasant answer to the charge of the hon. Gentlemen opposite that our proposals were an insult to the Scottish people.
The other two Services have also benefited from the placing of additional defence orders to stimulate employment. My hon. Friend will deal with these in greater detail tomorrow.
In operational terms, this will enable the R.A.F. to form a further squadron of Buccaneers and a further squadron of Nimrods. It will go some way towards diminishing the general shortage of combat aircraft which worried us when we took office; a shortage which has been diminished but which has by no means been eliminated.
New warship construction has been accelerated. The £70 million of new 1312 orders which we announced last November have all been placed—that is, for no less than 14 new ships, including four new type-21 frigates and two type-42 destroyers. This is an unprecedented rate of construction in peacetime.
It will not affect the ultimate planned size and shape of the Fleet, but with the three type-42 destroyers ordered earlier in 1971 it represents a three-fold increase in warship construction on earlier years and it modernises the Fleet more rapidly than we had originally planned.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The Minister said that new warship construction had been accelerated. Does he agree that the rate of nuclear-powered submarine building is exactly the same as it was when we were in office?
§ Lord Balniel
In broad terms, the rate of nuclear powered submarine construction is the same as it was a year or two ago.
All these changes give a new impetus to the forces, and they reflect our determination to get the maximum value for money. After allowing for a change in the accounting convention following the establishment of the Procurement Executive, the estimates for 1972–73 are equivalent to the target for the defence budget published in the Public Expenditure White Paper last November.
The estimate of £2,854 million represents about 5½ per cent. of the gross national product—the same as we were forecasting a year ago. We believe that this represents a fair balance between the needs of the Forces in meeting the commitments that we place on them, N.A.T.O. and worldwide, and the demands of other civil programmes with their increasing claims on resources if society is to benefit increasingly from improved education, housing, health and other social services.
This compares with the average of 4.2 per cent. of the G.N.P. spent on defence by our European Allies. Our effort therefore remains impressive, but this in no way diminishes the efforts that are being made by our partners in Europe. It is worth remembering, for example, that France spends as much on defence as we do in cash terms and that West Germany spends more, and indeed is increasing its defence expenditure more rapidly than ourselves.
1313 More important, the N.A.T.O. average of 4.2 per cent. of the G.N.P. has now been maintained for two years and has checked the falling trend of earlier years. It is sometimes argued that because we spend a greater proportion of our G.N.P. on defence—although less in actual terms than some of our allies—we can safely relax our efforts. This is the purport of the Amendment which stands in the names of many hon. Gentlemen opposite. I reject in any case the philosophy which says we should do no more than the most laggard. That is not a rôle for Britain which is acceptable to the present Administration. But the argument is superficially fairly plausible. An ever-increasing proportion of the electorate has no memory of the last war. With the years of comparative peace, the efforts to achieve mutual balanced force reductions, the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, with all this kind of talk of détente, it is easy to forget the dangers. The dangers are unseen, they are many miles away or they are sailing the seas, either under water or out of sight. These kinds of dangers are not part of everyday life; they are extremely difficult for the layman to visualise, and it is understandable human nature to shut one's eyes and wish the unpleasant facts of life away.
But the simple fact is that the Soviet military capability is growing steadily, and it is reasonable to ask why. Over the last five years Soviet defence expenditure has been expanding at about 5 per cent. a year. This is within the country's rate of economic growth and the current five-year plan continues this trend into the future. Its present expenditure is about 8 per cent. of the gross national product. It has achieved now a rough numerical parity in terms of strategic nuclear delivery systems. Of even greater concern to us, though, is the fact that they have been able to build up very powerful conventional forces. We have often in these debates in the past spoken of the dramatic expansion of the Soviet Navy, of its modernisation, its deployment in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
I will not go over the same ground again except to give an example closer to our own shores. The Soviet Northern Fleet, which used to be the smallest in their navy, is now the biggest. It is also the closest to our shores. It has 400 1314 vessels, including no less than 160 submarines, at least 65 of which are nuclear-powered. This is a powerful threat against the northern flank of Europe, it is a powerful threat in the Atlantic and it is as powerful a threat to the land mass of Europe itself as the land forces under the Warsaw Pact.
The same picture of development is true of the land forces in Central Europe. In Central Europe, for example, N.A.T.O. is faced with an adversary which has three times as many tanks, three times as much artillery and twice as many—in some rôles four times as many—aircraft. Given the initiative which the Warsaw Pact countries will always have and which enables them to mobilise ahead of N.A.T.O. and concentrate their forces along chosen lines of advance, these figures are a very sobering challenge. And here again there is no sign of any slowing up in the future. Five years ago the Soviet Army had about 140 divisions. Now it has about 165. And it means that they have been able to deploy the increased army strength along the Sino-Soviet border without in any way diminishing their deployment under the Warsaw Pact. We used to be able to say not so many years ago that the numbers were there but the quality was poor. Anyone who said that about the military forces of the Soviet Union today would be living in a world of complete fantasy.
It is the growth of conventional forces which in many ways poses the most serious threat—not only the obvious military threat but a political threat. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks take place against a background of roughly nuclear parity. For that reason any agreements that emerge are likely to be valuable to both sides and are likely to be lasting. But their very chance of success reflects the fact that there is a parity between East and West. It underlines the fact that there is a widening gap between the conventional capabilities of both sides. Here the danger lies, it seems to me, not only in the possibility of swift, overt, military action in the belief that it will not be met by a nuclear response, but in the pressures that can be exerted.
Massive military manoeuvres on borders, continuous and visible naval 1315 presence off the shores—these things can win objectives almost as valuable as any which can be won by direct military aggression. This can induce in people a sense of despair as to what can be done. It may tempt countries to say, "Well, let us relax on defence expenditure; let us channel all our efforts into the social field; let us leave it to others and hope all will be well." It can make neutralism seem a pleasant soft option.
Fortunately, in the last few years the European and American members of the Alliance have shown a greater awareness of the danger. Europe has responded to the challenge, first with the European Defence Improvements Programme and then with the force improvements announced last December. A further billion-dollar increase in defence spending in 1972 over the previous year was announced at the same time.
Our self-help in Europe in 1971 and 1972—and it is a fact not always appreciated that we and our European partners provide some 90 per cent. of the soldiers, 80 per cent. of the naval forces and 75 per cent. of the air forces in the European area—has lent support to the United States Administration in living up to its intention not to reduce its forces in N.A.T.O. I should like to quote something President Nixon said recently:Today's conditions, not those of 20 years ago, make American strength in Europe absolutely essential. I therefore intend to maintain it.But it seems to me that they will maintain it only if they can see that Europe is prepared to shoulder an appropriate burden in her own defence.
I have spoken about our national effort, and Europe's effort, to maintain the effective strength of the Alliance in order to ensure that we and our children live in freedom and in peace. It is equally our purpose and our effort to relax tension between East and West. It is obviously right to do what we can to maintain the present balance, but at a lower level than exists at the moment. But nothing would be more foolish, nothing could be more likely to wreck the chances of a mutual balanced force reduction, than for the West to cut back unilaterally. There is not one shred of evidence available to us which leads us to believe that such 1316 unilateral action would be met by reciprocal action by the Warsaw Pact countries.
It must be said that negotiations for force reductions in Europe are likely to prove a much more difficult and complex problem than the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks. They have not yet got under way. There has been no response to N.A.T.O.'s offer to send Signor Brosio on an exploratory mission. We want to strike a fair bargain which does not diminish security on either side. If it can be achieved it may well be enormously worth while in relaxing tension, but we must be under no illusion that what we are concerned with is force withdrawals for a specified area. It will not result in any direct financial savings. It could result in a direct relaxation of tension, and that in itself is a prize worth striving for.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
I am sure that everybody is in favour of mutual balanced force reductions although the hon. Gentleman does not seem very optimistic about it—in fact, he does not seem to be pressing very hard for it—but the question I want to ask him is this, and I really would like an answer. Why should the British Government devote a higher proportion of its gross national product to defence than any other Western European N.A.T.O. country with the single exception of little Portugal, which is involved in a colonial war in Africa?
§ Lord Balniel
The hon. Member just left the Chamber, the very second that I began to explain to him why this was a desirable objective. If he would do me the courtesy of reading my remarks, I am sure that he will find a very full and totally convincing explanation.
I turn now to the situation outside Europe. In the Far East, in the IndoPakistan—
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of Europe—he has devoted part of his speech to describing his recognition of the new threats to Europe on the northern flank and in the Mediterranean. Can he say, because the White Paper does not make it plain, what redeployment of Britain's contribution to the Allied effort has taken place to take account of these changes?
§ Lord Balniel
We, of course, as a country, have a part in the strategic reserve. It is we, perhaps more than any other member of alliance, who are capable of deploying to the flanks of N.A.T.O. This is referred to in some detail in the White Paper.
I should now like to turn to the position outside Europe. In the Far East, the Indo Pakistan war, the emergence of the new State of Bangla Desh. China's new emerging rôle, epitomised by President Nixon's presence there today, are all far-reaching changes which have reinforced our belief that it is important for Britain to continue to encourage and support our friends and to assist in maintaining stability in that part of the world.
The Five Power defence arrangements in Malaysia and Singapore have now been finalised. They came into effect on 1st November last year, and the Australian Commander has assumed command of British, New Zealand and Australian contingents. Malaysia and Singapore are building up their own defence forces with considerable energy and efficiency. Our own contribution has given a stimulus to the new defence arrangements to a degree quite disproportionate to the costs of this country, and has been very warmly welcomed by our Commonwealth allies.
In the Gulf, the Union of Arab Emirates has been formed, and our rôle in the area has taken a new form. When we announced our intentions last year, many hon. Members opposite doubted whether we were wise to base our policy in the area on the expectation that the Union of Arab States would be brought about. There have certainly been difficulties, but we were able to welcome the formation of the Union of Arab Emirates last November. Like Bahrein and Qatar they are now independent states with whom we have new treaties of friendship. Recently, Ras Al Khaima became the seventh member of the Union.
The changeover has been achieved with goodwill on both sides. British forces are no longer permanently deployed, but we have not severed our connections with the area. There will be frequent visits by warships, Army units and aircraft. As an example, H.M.S. "Diomede" is arriving in Dubai today, and the Military Advisory Team at Sharjah, about 90 strong, will advise local defence forces on training requirements and will support 1318 British Army units visiting or exercising in the area.
I turn now to Northern Ireland—only briefly, because there have been several debates in recent months, but Northern Ireland is the area in which, of course, the Army is primarily involved at the moment. My hon. Friend, if there is time, will develop the operational situation in Northern Ireland and, as we heard earlier today, there will be a wider debate on the subject before very long. I refer to it mainly to say, as we have so often said in the past, that there can be no purely military solution to the problems of Northern Ireland.
But equally, there can be and there will be no terrorist solution. There can be no victory for senseless brutality and callous disregard for life. It is certainly true that one man with a sniper's rifle or with gelignite can kill or maim for life, that such a man can wreak great damage and that outbreaks of violence will undoubtedly occur until a solution has been found.
It is equally true, that, steadily and inexorably, the pressure on the terrorists will tighten. In their efforts to maintain law and order, the Army will remain completely impartial, concerned only with those who break the law. They will remain impartial and restrained. They will remain courageous. We will not forget that, in the past two and a half years, 58 of their comrades have died in their almost superhuman task of saving Ireland from civil war.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Many of us are extremely concerned about this question of impartiality. How can impartiality be maintained when the Army is acting under instructions of the Stormont Government? As the Minister knows, I witnessed sweeps made by the Army based on information of the R.U.C., during which men were arrested, not at the Army's instigation but at the instigation of the R.U.C., and later released. Whole communities were incensed and the death of one British soldier occurred as a result of this escapade which was at the behest of those people taking their orders from the Northern Ireland Government.
§ Lord Balniel
I completely repudiate the hon. Member's statement that the Army acts on the orders of the Northern 1319 Ireland Government. The Army acts on the orders of the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, who is answerable to the Secretary of State for Defence and to Ministers of Defence, who in turn are answerable to this House. I must completely reject the implications of the hon. Member's statement.
§ Mr. Orme
Can I press this point? When I met Brigadier McLennan in Derry and General Tuzo in Belfast, I discussed this very point. There is no doubt that the information about suspects is provided by the R.U.C., that they hand on this information. When I asked whether it was possible to visit Long Kesh Camp, for which the British Army had made the arrests, General Tuzo said, "You must ask the Northern Ireland Government about this; they run Long Kesh." I do not want to quote any officers, because that would be wrong, but I feel that there is some disquiet even among the Army about this point.
§ Lord Balniel
Of course, information is provided to the Army authorities by the police and by members of the public. The decision as to what action to take in the light of information is a decision for the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, to take.
§ Mr. Cronin
Is it not the case that the G.O.C. is a member of the Joint Security Council, which consists, except for the G.O.C., almost entirely of members of the Stormont Government? Is it not the Joint Security Council which decides all the tactical objectives of the British Army in Ulster and therefore, is not the British Army in Ulster in effect an agent of the Stormont Government?
§ Lord Balniel
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in that the G.O.C. is a member of the Joint Security Council, but it is his decision as to what tactical or military operations should be undertaken. The Army is not answerable to the Joint Security Council; it is answerable to this House. The point of course is the consultation—
§ Lord Balniel
I have given way often enough and since the time for this debate has been very curtailed, I am sure that I would command the general support of the House in proceeding with my speech.
§ Mr. Morris
This is central to the whole subject of the deep concern about the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland. Is it not correct that the G.O.C. is a member of the joint committee? Does he not report to it on Thursday of each week? Are not the tactics which he has agreed with the chief constable on the previous day decided in the committee? If there is no point in him reporting to that committee, why does he attend it at all?
§ Lord Balniel
That is because it seems elementary common sense that there should be consultation between the civil authorities in Northern Ireland, the police and the Armed Forces, which are acting in support of the civil authorities. That is elementary common sense, and these arrangements were made by the previous Administration.
We are discussing a very wide spectrum of defence estimates.
§ Lord Balniel
The demands of Northern Ireland on our force levels have had their effect on our normal deployment. At present, five major units from B.A.O.R. are operating in Northern Ireland in the infantry rôle. This has highlighted one of the major problems we found on coming into office. In November, 1970, in the debate on the supplementary White Paper, I referred to manpower as being one of the most difficult problems we had to face. We inherited a very grave manpower situation. But I am glad to say that this is now past and there is no point in going back over the reasons for it.
In 1968–69, the Services could recruit only a bare 28,000 other ranks, and they were critically weakened not only in numbers but by the imbalance in the age structure caused by the lack of recruits. We pledged ourselves to remedy the situation and we have done so. In 1970–71, in our first year of office, the figures rose to 39,000, and in 1971–72 the total should exceed 46,000, the highest figure since 1963.
§ Lord Balniel
This is a remarkable achievement by any standards and there is no sign of any falling off.
§ Lord Balniel
There are several reasons for this dramatic change. The economic situation may have played some part, but not to the extent that one might expect. It is a fact that on the whole—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is quite clear that the noble Lord does not intend to give way. I hope that hon. Members will allow him to continue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) would do best for the moment to remain seated.
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The other day I was told off for speaking out from a seated position. I was told that if I wished to intervene I should rise in my place. I am now rising in my place and asking the right hon. Gentleman to give way on a specific point which he made.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Walton knows the rules of the House as well as I know them, perhaps better, and it is quite clear that the noble Lord does not intend to give way to him. He is entitled not to give way, and the hon. Gentleman knows that in those circumstances there comes a moment when he must not persist any further.
§ Lord Balniel
I have explained that in my opinion—the hon. Gentleman may take a different view—unemployment is not a major cause for the improvement in recruiting. There are, however, several reasons for the dramatic change, which I shall try to explain. What we have tried to do is to raise the standing of the 1322 Services in public esteem. We have tried to improve the conditions of service—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Let it be clearly understood that I must have obedience to the Chair by everyone in the House, of whatever party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear"]—and I need no cheers from either side for my Rulings. Lord Balniel.
§ Lord Balniel
We have tried to improve the conditions of service—career, pay and opportunity—so as to offer young men and women a fine and worthwhile life. It has involved substantial changes in the engagement structure. Last year we decided to adopt the Donaldson recommendations for boys. This year we introduce a new scheme which is a revolutionary break with the old traditions of fixed engagements for the Services.
If I were asked to select one reason for the improvement, I suggest that it is the evidence of a profound change in the attitude of the public towards the Armed Forces. In a recent attitude survey, the public were asked to say whether they considered the Armed Forces absolutely essential, fairly essential or not essential. Of those asked, 79 per cent. thought the Forces were absolutely essential this included 59 per cent. of the 16–24 year olds, the main age group from which we recruit. Only 2 per cent. thought that they were not essential. Similarly, 65 per cent. of those questioned thought that the Forces provided the best career possible or a very good career. Above all else, these figures are a tribute to the Forces themselves for their bearing in Northern Ireland.
Looking ahead, however, there is no cause to be over-optimistic. Some of today's problems will loom larger in the years which lie ahead. There will be rather fewer boys in the recruiting age group, and the raising of the school-leaving age to 16 later this year will have a serious effect. Continuous efforts must, therefore, be made to improve and modernise the whole range and conditions of service. The Services were given an 1323 interim 7 per cent. pay award last August and a further review in the normal biennial cycle is at present in hand. A comprehensive review of Service pensions is also in hand and the qualifying age for pension increases will be reduced from 60 to 55 from 1st December next.
Last year we adopted, as I have said, the Donaldson recommendations. This year the White Paper announces a new notice engagement to complement the Donaldson changes. This is directed primarily towards adult recruits, although boys will be able to covert to it at the age of 18. The broad principle behind the new scheme is that a man must complete his training and give 18 months' productive service. He is then free to give 18 months' notice at any time and to leave the Service when he has worked out this period of notice. This is an entirely new concept of engagement for the Armed Forces. Apart from Canada, Britain is unique in having her Armed Forces on a voluntary system. The new proposal is a major step forward in making our engagement structure freer and more relaxed. There is certainly a risk in relying more on the attractions of a Service and less on compulsion. But we live in a free society, and, in so far as possible, our Forces should reflect this society where freedom of choice and not compulsion should be the keynote.
§ Mr. Heffer
Would the right hon. Gentleman now explain to the House in which areas the main recruitment has taken place? Has it come primarily from areas with high levels of unemployment? Has he any figures on this subject? Is there real freedom of choice for those recruited'?
§ Lord Balniel
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's point in detail, but the broad picture remains very similar to what it has been for the last decade. The proportions from different parts of the country remain fairly similar. That is a very generalised answer, but if the hon. Gentleman puts down a more detailed Question, I would certainly answer it.
I have spoken over-long. Finally, I come to the decision to scrap H.M.S. "Eagle" after her last commission, because I know the strength of feeling which exists in the House on this subject. I share the regret of hon. Members 1324 about the necessity for this decision. An aircraft carrier, fully worked up, is a major unit which one does not lightly discard. It is also a sad occasion when a ship such as "Eagle" reaches the end of her life, even after serving 20 years with the Fleet. I know that my hon. Friends will deploy their arguments, but they might like to know the arguments we have had to bear in mind.
In deciding whether to run on "Eagle", we have had to look not at the present but many years ahead to assess whether that would be justified in the light of other improvements being made to the Fleet's capabilities. It is a complex judgment involving competing demands of men and money and the credibility of the carrier as a fighting ship in the future.
The decision on "Eagle" is quite a different matter from that in respect of "Ark Royal". She has not received a major refit since her modernisation in the early 1960s. Unlike "Ark Royal" she could not operate Phantoms. But like "Ark Royal", she has a very large ship's company. If we were to run her on much beyond 1972, "Eagle" would have needed another big and costly refit. If we wished her to operate Phantoms—and this would have been the only sensible course of the 1970s—we should have had to adapt her specially during her refit, accepting the increase in cost, which might have amounted in total to £25–30 million. We would also have needed to find aircraft for her. Possibly most important of all, we should have had to lay up other operational units in order to provide manpower for her ship's company. At about 1,400, this is roughly equivalent to the ship's company of five frigates.
Our view was that these sacrifices were too great to accept. Even if we had chosen to accept them, "Eagle" would not have been in service long enough before the new cruisers and other new naval weapon systems were beginning to be deployed in quantity to make the cost of refitting her truly effective. We also looked at the possibility of keeping "Eagle" in reserve after 1972. But this option was open to the same difficulties of manpower, money, and the value we would get from it. If we were to have brought "Eagle" out of reserve 1325 for service in the 1970s, her operational capability would have been no better than it is today. In particular, her Sea Vixens would not have been a proper match for any kind of aircraft they could have expected to confront.
For all these reasons, the Government's conclusion was that the right course was to withdraw "Eagle" from service in 1972, as previously planned.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I am listening to my noble Friend's arguments very carefully. But can he assure the House now, at the beginning of the debate, that the Government's mind is not already closed, and that they will listen to the views of the House.
§ Lord Balniel
I was explaining the arguments that had led the Government to their conclusion. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State has said that although he doubts whether a change in the decision will be made, he will consider very carefully the arguments which he feels sure will be deployed during this debate.
I have spoken for over-long in what is a curtailed debate, so I end by saying that the Defence White Paper records progress in policies which I hope command the support of most hon. Members. Clearly, there are some who want more spent on defence and others who want less spent on defence. We cannot please everybody; that is normal in the political world. But the last year has been unique in one respect, in that almost day by day on television we have seen the conduct of our Services on operational duty. Whether or not the House agrees with our political decisions, I believe that almost everyone is indebted to, and very proud of, the conduct of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland and throughout the world.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
I am inclined to begin by echoing the words of the noble Lord at the end of his speech, that in defence debates we cannot please everybody all the time.
As Mr. Speaker referred to an Amendment on the Order Paper, perhaps I should make it absolutely clear that the fact that the Opposition have not tabled an official Amendment to the Motion is 1326 far from meaning that we have no criticism to make of the Government's handling of defence policy, nor that the immense block of public expenditure, rising steeply in relative terms, if not absolute terms, should not be subjected to the most vigorous scrutiny during this debate and the other defence debates on the Estimates that will follow.
To me, the feature of overriding interest in an otherwise dull Defence White Paper is that it reflects in its opening sentences one of the most remarkable conversions in British politics, the conversion of the Conservative Party to the broad policy of its Labour predecessors, policies it had denounced in speech after speech in defence debates when the Labour Government were in office, policies it had described as unpatriotic and reckless and a betrayal of the nation's security. Yet the first paragraph of the White Paper takes pride in a Conservative Government bringing to an end Far East Command on a timetable laid down by the Labour Government. It records as one of their own achievements the withdrawal of British Forces from the Gulf, again keeping to the timetable decided by the Labour Government.
It is interesting to compare the rather bland statement in the White Paper, and the perhaps even blander statement by the noble Lord, with what the Prime Minister said when he visited the Gulf as Leader of the Opposition. The following report appeared in The Times of 31st March, 1969:Mr. Heath emphasised once again the party's intention of maintaining British Forces in the Persian Gulf area if the Conservatives were returned to power. ' We have quite a different policy toward our friends in the Persian Gulf ', he told reporters at the airport.The various things the noble Lord mentioned today—our residual presence in the Gulf training missions, occasional naval visits, and so on—all sound very familiar to me. They are part of the policy of the previous Labour Government, which was to be so very different from the policy of the incoming Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
I have asked the right hon. Gentleman before why it was that the Labour Government, in contradiction of their previous policy, suddenly decided to withdraw from the Gulf, and, the right hon. Gentleman has 1327 never been able to give me an answer. Can he give me an answer now?
§ Mr. Thomson
I shall come in a moment or two to deal with the general answer to the hon. Gentleman's point. If he feels as strongly as that about the matter, he should be asking those on his own Front Bench why in Government they have turned a complete somersault on the question, when it was open to them to take a different decision.
The White Paper represents the culmination of the process by which the Government have accepted, with essentially minor modifications, the massive and historic change in Britain's defence rôle overseas brought about by their predecessors. If only they had shown the same degree of realism, common sense and continuity in domestic economic policy, and had carried on as much of the Labour Government's domestic economic policy as they have of our defence policy, the country would be a much happier place today.
Nevertheless, the current defence budget, at £2,854 million remains a massive diversion of resources from what could otherwise be constructive purposes in terms of personal living standards or increases in the social services. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) never tires of reminding the House of the number of homes, schools, or hospitals, for example, that could be built with money provided by savings in defence. He is right to ensure that none of us ever forgets that.
Our defence expenditure reflects the world-wide phenomenon that mankind is spending more on the means of self-destruction than ever before. According to the Swedish Institute of Peace Research, in 1969 the human race spent 180 billion dollars on methods of killing each other and only 14 billion dollars on methods of giving mutual aid.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
Could not this sorry state of affairs be due to the massive military expenditure of the Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union? East Germany and Czechoslovakia, for example, which are very similar to Britain economically, spend 5.8 per cent. and 5.9 per cent. respectively, of their gross national product on defence. The Soviet Union spends 1328 over 8 per cent., and Sweden, which is much vaunted in this context, has a per capita defence expenditure in excess of any of these countries—in fact, in excess of almost any country in the world except Israel. Let us get these things into perspective.
§ Mr. Thomson
I would not have given way if I had thought the hon. Member was going to make a speech instead of an intervention. I am astonished that he does not recognise, at this early stage in my speech, that I shall come to these important features of the international defence situation in due course. At the moment I want only to express general agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East about the problem of the arms burden on humanity as a whole. Incidentally, one of the most tragic features of the international arms race is that it is often the poorest countries which spend the largest proportion of their G.N.P. The United Arab Republic spends 13 per cent. of its G.N.P. on arms and North Vietnam and South Vietnam spend 21 per cent. and 14 per cent. respectively.
A continual high priority for all civilised Governments must be international action to promote disarmament and to ease the arms burden. In central Europe we have one of the greatest concentrations of arms in the world but, fortunately, it is one of the areas in the world where at the moment the best prospects lie for progress in this direction. We are at the beginning of what President Nixon has hopefully called an era of negotiation. This is especially true of East-West relations in Europe. The climate for détente in Europe has been greatly improved, partly by progress in the S.A.L.T. talks between the Soviet Union and the United States and especially by the success of Chancellor Brandt's Ostpolitik. The progress that has been made owes nothing, however, to any contribution that the present British Government have made to détente. Their contribution might more accurately be described as pouring cold water on every hope which is expressed in this direction.
We saw it in the tone of the Defence White Paper. We saw it in the tone of the Secretary of State for Defence in another place yesterday and we saw it again in the tone used by the noble Lord 1329 in the speech he has just made. In our view there can be no doubt that the prospects for exploring mutual and balanced force reductions in central Europe are much more promising today than at any time since the end of the war. Of course, the noble Lord is perfectly right to say that there are formidable technical difficulties, but it is foolish continually to take refuge in these technical difficulties to the point at which the Government are left with no serious hope of making real progress.
It is beyond argument that the level of arms on either side in central Europe now represents a gross over-insurance. I would say, incidentally, to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson), who made his defence speech a moment or two ago in the middle of mine, that I think the general balance between the Warsaw Pact forces as a whole and the N.A.T.O. forces as a whole is very greatly exaggerated by the kind of figures he quoted. But I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), if he catches your eye, later in the debate Mr. Speaker, will go into that aspect of it in more detail. It is equally beyond argument—and we ought to recognise it on this side of the House—that this over-insurance is going on at a greater rate on the Soviet side than in the West. There is no denying that the Soviet Union is increasing its arms expenditure while that of the West is either steady or, on the whole, decreasing. It seems probable that this is related not to the N.A.T.O. front as such but more to the Soviet Union's needs for what are, essentially, colonial troops in Eastern Europe and what I can only describe as the obessional preoccupation of the old men in the Kremlin with their Communist rivals in Peking.
The levels of Soviet expenditure are a reason for vigilance but not for dragging our feet in the search for lower force levels in Europe and that is exactly what the Government have been doing on this matter since they came into office. It is known amongst the major members of the alliance that the British Government are the most reluctant, the most sceptical and the most pessimistic in the pursuit of détente. We get it again and again in the speeches from the Government Front Bench. I do not deny the difficulties in 1330 working out force reductions which leave the balance of security unimpaired. That must be an essential test. But the Soviet Union seems even more reluctant to get down to brass tacks about balanced reductions than are the British Government. The Soviet Union prefers the easier political postures of a conference on European security than getting down to hard thinking about realistic disarmament.
Nevertheless, in my view, exactly as it has turned out in the S.A.L.T. talks, I believe getting round a table will immediately begin the useful process of mutual education. The very act of getting round a table and discussing these difficult problems will create a better climate. It will erode distrust and, I believe, as has happened with the S.A.L.T. talks, gradual progress will begin to be made as the political climate improves and there is a greater degree of mutual understanding about the respective positions.
What would upset these possibilities and hinder détente would be a sudden unilateral act of arms reduction. Now, when the prospects of a negotiated détente look better than they have for years, is not the right time for making one-sided concessions. No trade union would approach negotiations and give its cards away in advance in this way. Unilateral cuts are not the way to prepare for multilateral negotiations.
This is where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East. I share his goal of reducing the arms burden hut I believe that his method of promoting what would amount to a very substantial unilateral cut in the British arms budget would hinder détente instead of assisting it. A unilateral cut by Britain of the magnitude he proposes—of about £600 million—would have a thoroughly destabilising effect on East-West relations. It would make it impossible for the Americans to postpone unilateral cuts while the disarmament negotiations take place and it would create disarray in the N.A.T.O. Alliance. Such a prospect might initially please the more short-sighted members of the Kremlin. But I suspect that even there the more long-sighted would be deeply worried because the chain reaction of unilateral cuts would force an agonising reappraisal of N.A.T.O. strategy. It would lead inevitably to the lowering of 1331 the nuclear threshold and the demand by the non-nuclear members of N.A.T.O. for nuclear weapons. It would give powerful ammunition to those in Western Germany who have aspirations to nuclear status and whose voices have been silenced by the success of Brandt's Ostpolitik, based, as it has been, on Western solidarity. I ask my hon. Friends to recognise these risks for I know they are as unpalatable to them as they are to me.
It is tempting to make comparisons between percentages of national wealth spent on defence but this has to be done with considerable caution. Percentages spent on defence budgets reflect many variations between nations, variations created by geography or history and sometimes simply by different methods of calculating the defence budget. Luxembourg, for example, spends, I think, 0.9 per cent. of its G.N.P. on arms. I accept that this reflects that it is a tiny country, the size of a British county. Yet that figure spectacularly reduces the average because it is counted in working out the average as if it were equal to Britain or Germany.
Germany spends less than Britain or France because of the historical resistance to its becoming again too militarily powerful, a resistance which is fortunately as strong inside Western Germany is it is in the rest of Europe. We spend more than others, partly because we have a highly-paid professional army where the others have lower-paid conscripts. We contribute more wealth and they contribute more manpower. Some of our allies are finding difficulty in maintaining lower-paid conscripts on the basis of selective service against highly paid industry outside and they are contemplating increasing their expenditure. If their expenditure increased, I wonder whether my hon. Friend would wish to reduce his proposed cuts accordingly. I suspect not, because I understand his perfectly honourable conviction—a conviction in a pacifist tradition which has always been a respected, but minority, view within the Labour Party—that massive unilateral disarmament is safe and wise.
I must tell my hon. Friend, in great friendship, that, if he were a German Socialist Deputy in the Bundestag, I think that he would be arguing not that the 1332 Germans should go up from 3.7 to 4.2 per cent., but that 3.7 per cent. was too high. He would be right from his own point of view. He is primarily interested not in percentages, but in an absolute reduction in the British level of defence expenditure. and percentages form an incidental argument.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
My right hon. Friend has made several references to my view. I will not now make a speech. However, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend: first, does he recognise that this is not only my view but the view of 117 right hon. and hon. Members? Secondly, if he were in Germany—he asked me what I would do—what would he do? Why should we contribute a greater proportion of our gross national product to arms than does West Germany?
§ Mr. Thomson
These are both perfectly fair points, and I will try to deal with them. I see nothing sacred about spending 5½ per cent. of our G.N.P. on defence. I find nothing repugnant about the principle of seeking to harmonise European defence budgets. My hon. Friend would hardly expect me to find it repugnant in view of my attitude about European co-operation generally. Whether we are inside or outside the Common Market, if the European nations co-operate together more closely in the harmonisation of their budgets and the more equal sharing of defence burdens, we could gain advantages in cooperative joint procurement in both the hardware and software sphere which might give welcome defence economies. Therefore, the principle of more equal sharing of defence burdens within the Alliance is a matter which commands wide support.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point about the number of signatures on his Amendment, but I put it to those who have supported the Amendment that the way in which the attempt to bring about a fairer sharing of defence burdens within the Alliance is done, the degree of agreement within which it is done, and the timescale on which it is done, are important.
As far as I am concerned, 5½ per cent. is not a sacred figure. Indeed, if our wealth starts to go up at a faster rate and 1333 our defence spending stays static, the figure will automatically go down. It is not inconceivable that it might be below 4.2 per cent. in quite a short time if we get a good growth rate from the present Government. None of us would then be saying that we ought artificially to raise defence expenditure.
Apart from that, we ought continually to be looking for ways of reducing the defence burden by negotiation with the Warsaw Pact, by co-operation with our allies in the ways which I have suggested, or by economies in our own equipment. However, these economies should be justified on their own merits and not be subject to a blanket cut on a large scale.
Apart from feeling that the 5½ per cent. is not something to which I am attached, I see something politically significant about it. We on this side of the House have to face the fact that, although the defence budget has been rising in money terms because of inflation, in real terms it remains broadly in line with the targets set by the Labour Government, with relatively minor exceptions, which I will mention later.
I think that we on this side of the House ought to bear in mind the success which we have had in converting the Government to the concept of a defence ceiling squarely within the nation's economic resources. In opposition they regarded this concept as the ultimate heresy. They bitterly attacked my right hon. Friends, who were then Defence Ministers, in their long struggle to bring defence expenditure down from about 7 per cent. of G.N.P. to its present 5½ per cent. But now they accept that concept. Indeed, the Defence Secretary yesterday, in another place, used these words:all of us … recognise that the size of the Defence budget must be limited by the very proper calls on our resources by other Departments."—[OFFCIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd February, 1972; Vol. 328, c. 400–1.]What the present Chancellor of the Duchy regarded as an outrageous betrayal of security when he was in my place as Shadow Defence Minister has now become the conventional wisdom.
I should like to examine the defence budget figures in more detail. In money terms they are soaring to £2,854 million. However, no less than £262 million of that represents the rise in prices over 1334 which this Government have presided during the last 12 months. At constant prices, as the White Paper makes clear, there is a difference of £61 million from the published target. Of this, £57 million represents a purely accounting charge in regard to recording Service purchases. It does not, therefore, represent a rise in defence expenditure. The remaining £4 million relates to extra defence expenditure to alleviate the tragic unemployment resulting from the Government's economic policies.
If one wearily tries to disentangle the course of Tory defence expenditure from rising prices—it is quite a task—since they came to office, the story is broadly like this: they accepted the Labour Government's targets, and since then they have added altogether about £34 million to the defence budget in real terms, to save jobs in places such as Clydeside and Lancashire, on extra naval vessels and Nimrod aircraft. Then there is £10 million extra as the price of the Tory election pledge to expand to battalion strength the regiments which had been reduced to company level.
It is utterly bogus for the Government to claim, as the Minister did in his speech, that they have given the Services security and certainty after the radical defence reviews of the Labour Government. The truth is that the degree of stability which Servicemen now deservedly enjoy is an inheritance from this side of the House. If hon. Members opposite will look at the Conservative Government's first White Paper, Cmnd. 4521, they will find that the Labour Government's figures for 1971–72, 1972–73, and 1973–74 are set out. They are £2,327 million, £2,230 million and £2,230 million. Inevitably, these are provisional figures, but their publication established the clear intention of giving the Services stability after a period of rapid, painful, but necessary change. We faced that change despite constant sniping from the then Opposition. That the Conservative party now recognise that we were right is proved by the way in which they are operating, with the exception which I have mentioned, within our defence targets. Their acceptance of the formerly detested defence ceiling is illustrated by the complaint that the Defence Secretary made yesterday, that the welcome rise in recruiting is causing him to make uncomfortable economies in equipment.
1335 The whole House will be glad about the recruiting figures which the noble Lord described to the House, since the former levels were beginning to cause questions to be asked about the viability of a purely professional non-conscript defence force. I think that both sides of the House are entitled to share the credit for these recruiting figures. The outstanding contribution of the last Government was the introduction of the military salary; the outstanding contribution of the present Government has been a high and persistent level of unemployment.
I note that the next biennial review of Services' pay is due in April. I should be grateful for information later in the debate about the Government's intention in this regard. Now that their mishandling of the miners' pay claim has shattered their unjust policy of picking on the public sector as a kind of backdoor incomes policy, I profoundly hope that the Services will not be made the scapegoat for the Government's defeat by the miners. I should be grateful for further enlightenment on what the Government propose to do about this award in April.
I strongly support the policy of the short engagements described in the White Paper and which the noble Lord has just been describing to the House. The Service man who re-engages is by far the best recruiting sergeant. The figures for young Service men who stay on despite the new option to shorten their engagement following the Donaldson report are basically encouraging. We welcome, so far as it goes, the new option for a Service man to take on the kind of engagement from which he will have the right to give 18 months' notice of his intention to leave. It is a modest enough concession, 18 months' notice, but it is a concession in the right direction.
I was much impressed by an article in The Times recently by an Army officer typical of the modern Army, an officer who is doing social research on a defence scholarship in Edinburgh University. He showed that what he calleda quiet social revolution has been taking place in the Army over the past decade since the end of National Service.and he added these words:The results are very encouraging, particularly since most of the changes that have occurred have been generated from enlightened 1336 thought within the Army, rather than from social pressures outside it.He made a further point which, with facts and figures, was convincing to me, thatthe soldier of the 70's is a volunteer who is certainly better trained, better paid, better housed, fitter and more self-discplined than the national norm.This picture of the modern British soldier—with the notable exception of his housing—was amply confirmed for me last week when I paid a visit to the men serving in Northern Ireland. The Defence White Paper properly gives pride of place to the task the Army is performing there, and I would like to conclude by giving the House one or two impressions which I brought back.
Yesterday's outrage in Aldershot has brought tragically home to people on this side of the Irish Sea the kind of indiscriminate enemy that soldier and civilian alike face, and civilians of both the Catholic and Protestant communities, but despite the constant television coverage I do not think there is sufficient awareness in this country of the difficulties and discomforts which the forces face, quite apart from the dangers, which are part of their professional job.
I think of the midnight visit I paid to the men of the Queen's Own Highlanders who were guarding a municipal bus depot and eating, sleeping and living in a garage, amidst the Corporation buses which have been such a target for the I.R.A. These men were luckier than their predecessors, my local regiment, the Black Watch, who had to sleep, I gather, in the repair pits underneath the buses. There have been improvements, but their sleeping quarters are still cramped and congested. They were working on an 18-hour day for four months, broken only by one 72-hour leave. Apart from that, they are lucky to get one day off a month, and when they do get that day off they are so tired they just flop into their bunks and sleep—which may be a good thing, since these soldiers' normal off-duty resorts of the pub, the dance hall or the cinema are, generally speaking, out of bounds, unless they are lucky enough to be in one of the organised camps in Northern Ireland. Many of the troops on this demanding routine, against a background of constant tension, are not infantrymen. They are people manning some of the most sophisticated of the Army's weapons systems and normally 1337 never have to undertake the foot-sloggers' routine of guards and patrols.
Despite this, the morale of the troops appears remarkably high, and I should like, as did the noble Lord, to pay tribute to their high degree of patience and impartiality. I have seen no signs at any level that their experience makes them anti-Catholic or pro-Protestant. They went to protect the Catholic, community from Protestant extremists. They are staying to protect the Protestant community from Catholic extremists. They would prefer to have to do neither, and one of their constant nightmares is that one day they might have to do both at once. It is worth remembering that these Service men reflect the normal religious composition of the British community as a whole, and contain the normal proportions of Catholics and Protestants and others.
I would like to say to some hon. Members opposite in this connection that we on this side of the House are becoming a little tired of being accused of being anti-Army when what we are against are some of the tasks laid on the Army to ease the political problems or to assuage the political prejudices of Stormont politicians.
I was struck, as anyone must be, by the youth of many of our soldiers. It is not simply a sign of advancing middle age on my part. The Times published on 15th February a harrowing feature on the front page showing the faces of the then 50 soldiers—now, regrettably, 58—killed in Northern Ireland. I was disturbed to notice that nine of them were aged 18 and one was only 17 years old. I think it very important to discover whether these youngsters represent a disproportionately high share of the casualties. The soldiers are being asked to do a job where their safety may depend greatly on their prudence, their patience, and their general level of experience.
I am reminded by a correspondent that in 1950 the age of soldiers serving in Korea was raised in the House, and within a few days the then Secretary of State for War, John Strachey, had announced that no soldier under 19, either Regular or National Service, should serve in Korea. The Minister will find the reference to that in the OFFICIAL REPORT dated 19th September, 1950, Vol. 478, 1338 column 1700. I mention this because I hope that before the end of the debate the Minister will be able to give me a considered comment on the subject.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith)
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House. He was referring to the unfortunate death of a soldier aged 17. Since that time, as he will be aware, no soldiers have been sent to Northern Ireland till they are 18. There was a change.
§ Mr. Thomson
I am glad the hon. Gentleman reminded me of that. It had slipped my mind. Nevertheless, the main point I am making about the 18 year olds is that this policy ought to be investigated.
I returned from Northern Ireland with two views, which, I admit, I had before I went there, strongly reinforced. The first is that the duty which politicians in this House and in Stormont owe to the serving soldiers is to show them some political light at the end of the tunnel so that they need not feel that their discomforts and dangers are endless. My second conviction—it has been reinforced by the event we discussed earlier today and which will be discussed in the House later this evening—is that the responsibility for security in Northern Ireland should now rest and be seen to rest unequivocally in Whitehall and Westminster.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East did not get a satisfactory answer from the noble Lord when my hon. Friend earlier in this discussion raised the question of responsibility for security—to put it at its very mildest, in the twilight area of how responsibility for security and law and order is divided between the G.O.C., responsible to the Ministry of Defence, and the Stormont Government. It ought to be made clear.
I say this not because I believe that such a step is a political panacea. It will create problems as well as solve some important problems. I say it primarily as a defence spokesman because I believe that against the present polarisation in Northern Ireland we owe it to our soldiers. The deployment of troops in support of the civil power in any part of the United Kingdom is an 1339 emergency situation. If it persists, as this emergency has done, the security police must clearly be under the control of the central Government. This would be taken for granted if troops were to be used in Scotland or Wales. It is the necessary price which the Stormont politicians must recognise they have to pay for being part of the United Kingdom. It is the soldier—this is the point my hon. Friend has in mind—who has to bear the consequences of political decisions in the security field. These political decisions, from what I regard as the massive political miscalculation of internment onwards, determine the degree of danger and provocation the soldier has to face. In present circumstances, in justice to the soldier, the degree of danger and provocation he has to face, must depend on the political judgment of the Government who send him there and not on what Stormont regards as its own political necessities.
Finally, I return to what inevitably has been the recurrent theme of my speech, and that is the level of British defence expenditure compared with that of our Allies. I repeat what I said earlier. I think there would be general agreement about the desirability of more equal sharing of the burden within the Alliance, and the desirability of the proportion of the G.N.P. spent on defence by those who are engaged in collective security being roughly equal between one nation and another. But this is not what is at issue. The issue we have to face here is whether one seeks to do this by drastic unilateral action or through multilateral negotiation either between one alliance and another or within the Alliance.
I do not for one moment doubt the sincerity of those who believe in a big unilateral gesture by the United Kingdom. I have always recognised and respected the genuineness of their belief. But I remind them that on the issue of unilateralism against multilateralism the majority view on this side of the House has for generations been in favour of collective security and multilateral disarmament as against unilateral action.
I remind my hon. Friends that there have been many occasions in the past when there has been the grossest and most unjust representation by the Tory party of the attitude of this side of the 1340 House to defence expenditure in general. At a time when the hope of multilateral force reductions is a live hope and depends on solidarity, perhaps above all at a time when we face the outrages which are so much in the public mind as a result of what happened in Aldershot yesterday, my side of the House should take no risk of being misrepresented by urging on the country a unilateral cut in British expenditure of about £600 million.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I hope the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) will excuse me for not following him into the ideological quicksands of his closing sentence in which he tried to equate multilateral disarmament with the predicament of our troops in Ulster.
The White Paper we are talking about today is like the curate's egg, good in parts. I will first say a word or two about the good parts. We all recognise and pay tribute to the better feeling in the Services and about the Services. This is happily reflected in recruiting, which has marvellously improved. I welcome the additional naval shipbuilding and the additional four battalions which the Minister of State told us about today, including the 3rd Battalion of Greenjackets and the 1st Battalion Royal Hants. Good for Winchester! The Buccaneers and and Nimrods are also very welcome.
In passing, I should like formally to thank the Government and all Ministers on the Front Bench for the gift of H.M.S. "Belfast" to the Belfast Trust. Their imaginative gesture has paid off to the extent that 160,000 people have visited the ship during the three winter months.
That, I am afraid, is all that is good about the White Paper. Overall, not enough material is available in the hands of the Services to enable us to face the present threat and to make up for the leeway of the Labour years. We must not forget the tremendous leeway which accumulated during the years of Labour Government. If the defence policy outlined in the White Paper had been served up to us by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), we in the Tory party would have been after him like a pack of foxhounds.
I will outline briefly why I say this. I hope the Minister of State and his 1341 ministerial colleagues understand that our criticism is designed to help them and not the reverse. By and large, we think that they are doing a good job with the resources they have, but those resources are inadequate, and that will be my theme today.
Despite the usual pattern of defence debates, I believe that this House is not the proper place to discuss detailed and technical decisions of the Ministry of Defence. It is not my job to teach the Admiralty Board to suck its eggs, but it is our responsibility in the House to speak out loud and clear if a sufficient share of the resources of the nation is not being allocated to defence. Defence is being starved and has been starved for many years past, particularly during the years of Labour government.
The OFFICIAL REPORT is littered with quotations from Conservative Front Bench speakers when in opposition. Certain remarks stand up like milestones, for example the remark of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) that "Either this country is adequately defended or it is not". It has not been adequately defended during the last six years, and the White Paper does not show a sufficient increase in resources to invalidate my right hon. and learned Friend's remark.
Before urging right across the board further defence expenditure one should, logically, say a word or two about the threat. The Minister of State pointed out how this is always overlooked in a democracy. There is always something more urgent, just as this debate today has been overtaken by more urgent affairs. The Minister of State outlined the threat, and so does the White Paper. Both emphasise the threat of the enormous growth of the Soviet Navy. This was well summed up in an article in Time magazine on 31st January, which I hope the Minister of State has seen. According to a tabular statement in that article the Soviet Union has 90 nuclear propelled submarines—and each month one more is being built and completed—and 260 conventional submarines. One cannot possibly say that a force of nearly 400 U boats is a defensive force.
The danger lies in the pressures which may be exerted, as my right hon. Friend said today. Some years ago President 1342 Kennedy summed up the predicament in these words:The greatest danger to the West is being nibbled to death in conditions of nuclear stalemate.Given that this is the threat—and we do not disagree about the threat, it is obvious for all to see—the response to the threat outlined in the White Paper is very feeble indeed. The second half of the White Paper which outlines what response we shall make to the threat has many shortcomings.
First, there is not enough infantry. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in another place said yesterday that there was not enough infantry. I suppose it is generally agreed on both sides of the House that the protection of Ulster will be a long job, whichever way it goes. The description of the life of the troops in Ulster given by the right hon. Member for Dundee, East was in itself an argument for more infantry. Units should not continually be required to go hack again and again for further tours in Ulster to endure the conditions which the right hon. Gentleman described.
Also, the Royal Air Force is not adequately equipped and what my right hon. Friend said this afternoon about the shortage of combat aircraft sums up the situation very well. The R.A.F. may not have to drive off raids now, but it should not be kept short of material. The White Paper does little or nothing to encourage the R.A.F.
I have two specific points about manpower which I should like the Minister to deal with when he winds up. My right hon. Friend spoke last year about the 15-year old engagement, the proposal that boys who wished to volunteer for any of the Services at 15 should be absolved from doing their last year at school, should enter the Services and continue their general education pari passu with their military education. We have not yet had an answer on this. I think perhaps one year is a sufficient time to consider this suggestion, which I should have thought would have been attractive both to the Minister and to his right hon. and fair Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Next, would my hon. Friend in his reply confirm that there will be no disadvantage to men whose tours overseas, 1343 for example in Malta, are curtailed. Servicemen, for the first time in centuries, are now adequately paid, and many have entered into hire purchase commitments to buy motor cars, and so on. They may find themselves in difficulties, and I hope that no disadvantage whatever will accrue to these men.
I wish mostly in my speech to deal with H.M.S. "Eagle". The Government have been extraordinarily coy on this subject. They announced only just before the House rose for Christmas that "Eagle" was to be scrapped. The Government no doubt hoped that this announcement would be lost in a cloud of Father Christmas beards and tinsel paper, and would go unnoticed; they thought that by the New Year the matter would have been quietly forgotten. But this has not been the case. This issue stood out like a sore thumb. I have had a very large mailbag on the subject of H.M.S. "Eagle". She is a fine ship, and in many ways a better ship than H.M.S. "Ark Royal". Until about a fortnight ago she was a viable operational aircraft carrier.
When my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence took office he mentioned the gap which existed in this sphere. He saidFirst, we are remedying a real weakness in our naval forces which would have resulted in the 1970's from the policy of the previous Government to phase out the aircraft carriers before providing the necessary alternative weapons.That is the crux of the matter. We shall in time get the necessary alternative weapons, but we have certainly not got them yet.
I do not regard the missiles about which the Government is thinking, such as Exocet, as in any way satisfactory alternative weapons. Missiles can only be used to start or continue wars. But it is only aircraft flown by human hand, with observations by the human eye from those aircraft, which can bring back the necessary information to enable Governments to get on the hot-line to stop wars.
One of the arguments advanced is that H.M.S. "Eagle" needs a refit. Of course she does, as does any ship which is in commission. But it would be quicker to 1344 refit "Eagle" now, to bring her to a serviceable state, whether or not she is given the ability to fly Phantoms, than it would be to build frigates as an alternative. The building of frigates will be a very much longer job. Certainly the shipyards on the Clyde would be glad to undertake the refit of the "Eagle". They do not normally refit aircraft carriers, but undoubtedly could undertake this work very satisfactorily. Against any refitting costs should be offset the cost of the unemployment relief being drawn by people who are now unable to find work on the Clyde. I feel that this argument should be borne in mind when considering the cost of a refit.
There are also large holes in the argument on the manpower side. It is said that H.M.S. "Eagle" cannot be manned, and yet at the same time Fleet Air Arm personnel are being made redundant, and such redundancies are going full speed ahead. The Government have only to halt that trend and would immediately have a considerable contribution to the ship's company in the very categories that are needed. If "Eagle" were brought back into commission, she would probably be a great deal more useful than H.M.S. "Blake" and H.M.S. "Tiger", which are among the worst abortions which have ever been thrust on the Royal Navy.
If "Eagle" were kept in reserve and were commissioned in case of emergency, it must be remembered that naval reservists, who are mentioned in such glowing terms in the White Paper, are available to serve on her. There are practically no reserve ships available now, and it would be an admirable arrangement if such reservists were able to serve in "Eagle".
I have been told by my hon. Friend that 350 to 400 men would be required to keep "Eagle" in maintained reserve. My hon. Friend is falling for a line of thought which the Royal Navy has adopted in an amiable way over the centuries, namely, that they will never use one man if they can use ten. A figure of 350 to 400 men is quite needlessly large to keep a ship in maintained reserve. If H.M.S. "Eagle" were sent to the Clyde, she could be looked after by civilians without any use of naval manpower at all.
I sum up my argument by saying that this fine ship should be in reserve to 1345 cope with unforeseen contingencies. She may well be needed for use in case of damage or breakdown of H.M.S. "Ark Royal". This can happen at any time. Ships can go out of action—or can make a better job of ramming Russian ships than the "Ark Royal" did recently!
Secondly, there is a requirement to strengthen the N.A.T.O. reserve. We would look proper Charlies if H.M.S. "Eagle" was taken out of commission and in six months N.A.T.O. was screaming for assistance and we were unable to help. Thirdly, there is the consideration involving Royal Air Force Buccaneers for which shore bases are not available. It is not adequate for Ministers to say that the task of aircraft carriers would be taken over by the R.A.F. flying from shore bases since in most cases we no longer have such bases.
We also need "Eagle" as a potential anti-submarine carrier, operating "Sea King" and other helicopters.
The emphasis at the moment should be on tracking Soviet U-boats, and the only way to do so in this nuclear age is by helicopter. Frigates go at only half the U-boats' speed in heavy weather, and are at a great disadvantage when opposed to a nuclear submarine. The only way to track such submarines is by the use of helicopters and, since helicopters must take off from a deck somewhere, why not from H.M.S. "Eagle"?
Furthermore, I believe that the broad decks of "Eagle" would be admirable for flying the Harrier. We have all heard about the trials over the past ten years, and "Eagle" might well be useful in that respect.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman costed the proposals which he is putting to the Government?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Yes, the Government have done the sums. The hon. Gentleman can see this if he cares to study the relevant parliamentary Question.
The question of "Eagle" is only one aspect of the whole larger question of trade protection. This affects the future ability of the Royal Navy to carry out its traditional rôle of the protection of British trade routes. It is a basic fact that 120 merchant ships from overseas 1346 enter ports in Western Europe every day, seven days a week, to discharge 1 million tons of cargo. Since we are entering the European Economic Community, we must recognise the importance of overseas trade routes to Western Europe. If we are to make our full contribution to that Community we must insist that it be outward-looking rather than inward-looking.
Britons cannot make a living by staying at home and taking in one another's own washing. Any Government which fully appreciates this point will not turn "Eagle" into bedsteads and razor-blades.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this hour. I must apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) for not following him in his argument. The closest that I ever came to the aircraft carrier which he has mentioned was once when I was a lorry driver and carried the bevel gears of the ship's engines. That is the nearest that I ever got to it, so the hon. and gallant Member may forgive me for not following his argument.
I am one of the signatories of the Amendment which is on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and others, which I hope will be selected tomorrow night. I cannot help feeling that instead of being overawed by the Soviet threats referred to almost continuously by occupants of the Government Front Bench, we should be thinking much more on the lines of the S.A.L.T. talks, a lot more about a European security conference and a lot more in terms of reductions in the percentage of the gross national product which we spend on defence. I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments of the Amendment, which has been signed by more than 100 hon. Members on this side of the House.
I wish to refer particularly to one extravagance which I think this country can well afford to do without and that the country should stop kidding itself about. I refer to what is stated on page 42 of the White Paper that we have before us. Under the heading "Other Projects", in reference to research and 1347 development under the subheading, "Electronics", there is the paragraph:Linesman/Mediator, a control and reporting system for air defence and air traffic contol.I make no secret of the fact that this has been an old stalking horse of mine. It usually attracts my Parliamentary Questions at 50 a time and I usually get non-answers at 50 a time from the Government Front Bench. I hope that we shall get more significant and meaningful answers on Linesman/Mediator in this debate than we have had so far.
This is a sort of early warning radar system which is supposed to be part of a N.A.T.O. chain stretching from Turkey to Canada. It is supposed to stretch 300 miles around the coasts of this country, although it is not too fussy about the west of the country. It was originally conceived in the 1957 White Paper on Defence. That was the first time that the party opposite announced that nuclear retaliation and a nuclear striking force would henceforth be the hallmark of this country's defence policy. Although that was thought of as an essential part of the 1957 White Paper, the technology and the thoughts behind the White Paper are still riddled through and through Linesman/Mediator. In essence it was an early warning radar system dreamed up a long time before the Soviet threats to which hon. Members opposite frequently refer and certainly before the threats by the increasing Soviet Navy to which the hon. and gallant Member referred. It was a 1957 concept dreamed up long before the nuclear submarines we shall hear a lot about in this debate. It was originally thought of in an offensive capacity and now we are relying on it to give us a comprehensive notional defensive picture of both missile and aircraft attacks on this country.
If this system is supposed to be so good and can give us all that is claimed for it as a comprehensive national picture—and we have had extravagant claims made by the party opposite for Linesman/Mediator—why are we at the same time strengthening the secondary radar defence of this country? I give credit to Mr. Chapman Pincher of the Daily Express for publishing the story about this because it must have taken some rooting out. I hope that he and the Express will stick to their guns. We 1348 are going through the process of souping up our Second World War radar system and it is not Linesman/Mediator that we are to rely on but that old fashioned system souped up. The radar system feeds data into the headquarters of R.A.F. Strike Command at High Wycombe and that is still the main part of our early warning radar system.
I have often asked spokesmen on defence of the party opposite what kind of fall back is provided. Of course they say that if Linesman/Mediator fails we have an adequate fall back, but I submit that the only fall back is in these Second World War radar systems. If we have only this kind of fall back then I do not think we can count on all the extravagant claims made for Linesman/Mediator. We have the system at Fylingsdales in Yorkshire with a four minute warning, but that does not deal with conventional strategy or aeroplanes but primarily with missiles. Then there is the B.M.E.W.S. system. What protection are we supposed to derive from the fact that that American-controlled system provides a 15-minute early warning? That is the purpose of the B.M.E.W.S.; it is not supposed to protect us, but to protect the American deterrent.
I hope that whoever winds up the debate will tell us about other elements in the N.A.T.O. chain of defence. If those elements do not contain anything but B.M.E.W.S., Linesman/Mediator and souped up Second World War radar systems, we should be very much concerned about the state of protection in this country. N.A.T.O. and the Soviet Union seem to be putting an increasing reliance on the concept of conventional saturation. If we start to use conventional saturation with aeroplanes, even when Linesman/Mediator is fully operative—and we are told by the party opposite that that might be by the middle of next year—Linesman itself will be saturated. If we are to go back to lines of conventional strategy and use more and more aeroplanes and submarines and conventional forces, we shall find that we have a system which is not attuned to this new emphasis.
The deficiency of this supposedly marvellous early warning system is that all its energies face east. There is nothing to protect us from our enemies if they Many in the Royal Air Force are getting 1349 increasingly worried that Soviet bombers and missiles could come through the back door. The whole of the radar system is attuned on the supposition that the attack would come from the east. That is not something which we can always rely upon. Apart from this, Linesman/ Mediator is all concentrated in hangar No. 1 at West Drayton. The Americans had the sagacity to locate S.A.G.E. in 24 buried sites. All that the Russians would need to do would be to drop a bomb on Hangar No. 1 and bang would go our early warning system if it all depends on Linesman/Mediator.
I say, "Linesman/Mediator" because we are concentrating on a defence early warning system and civilian traffic control. I have been highly critical of the way in which Linesman/Mediator has been introduced to control British civilian air traffic. The British Airline Pilots Association has been very much concerned about this, and so have the air traffic controllers. It is no secret in this industry that Mediator has been acceptable to the staffs who have been operating it only because their promotion prospects have been improved and because some of the ground rules of air traffic control have been changed over the past year. If we are to get Linesman acceptable only on the same kind of basis, again we have just cause to be worried. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it is precisely the computerised part of the civilian Mediator for air traffic control which is very worrying, and it is this kind of equipment which is also most deficient and most worrying in Linesman.
I come now in a few words to the way in which the contract for Linesman was handed out. Many of us who are "computer watchers" were amazed when Plessey got the contract. It is not a company which had previously been involved in computer projects, though it is an excellent component manufacturer. It seems that the contract for Linesman was handed up on a "Buggins's turn basis", because Marconi-Elliot had most of the previous contracts. I hope that we shall be told about it, especially in view of the rumours that are circulating to the effect that Plessey would like to get out of the contract altogether. We know about the cost escalation. We know the obsolete technology. We know 1350 that Plessey is not only worried about the contract but about its reputation.
I pay tribute to newspaper correspondents like Rex Mallik who have pointed out that it is not only a 1957 concept but also 1957 technology with which we are dealing. We are dealing with a computerised system which has to rely upon reserve batteries, the number of which would cover a football field. We are dealing with a computerised system which will need 2,000 personnel to operate it. It may be that they will go round wearing air raid wardens' hats, on bicycles, and with wind-up telephones so that they can keep in touch with each other. If we need 2,000 personnel to operate a highly computerised system like that, that is all that they must be doing.
It is a technology which is rapidly becoming obsolescent. It is a technology whose language in softwear is not compatible with some of the other N.A.T.O. languages. It is a technology which is even worrying the manufacturers.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
Before the hon. Gentleman tries to make any further party capital out of this will he tell the House whether he has seen an article in the Aeronautical Journal for January, 1972, which describes the limitations that the hon. Gentleman is discussing and makes the point that by 1969 the shortcomings of the system had become obvious. I do not remember hearing about that at the time from the Government of the day.
§ Mr. Huckfield
If the hon. Gentleman cares to look back, although I do not take any personal credit for it, he will see that I was trying to table Questions on the subject even then.
I want to know, too, why it is that we have not installed the datalinks in this system. At the moment, we rely upon telephone connections. The more interfaces that we have between the data retrieving points, the slower the process works and the more opportunity there is for mistakes.
Again, when will it be working? If and when it is working, what kind of system will it be? Is there to be some kind of second complex to back it up? I am aware that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has asked for a 1351 complete paper from the Ministry of Defence on the subject. When the Committee has finished its controversial discussion with Rothschild, I hope that it will take Linesman/Mediator to task.
I cannot help feeling that this is just about the biggest confidence trick to have been perpetrated since the introduction of large-scale civil defence. I was always suspicious about the advice given in civil defence about whitewashing windows and, if possible, making tea in dustbins. I cannot help feeling that this is one of the biggest whitewashing projects that we have ever had. Certainly it is one of the biggest and most whitewashed. Certainly it is one of the biggest dustbin's-full of technology that we have had.
If we want to bring down our percentage of the gross national product to the European average or below, Linesman/ Mediator is where we should start.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I apologise in advance to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) if I do not take up any of his points. I want to be more down to earth than he was.
May I begin by giving my personal tribute to the Army in Northern Ireland for its constraint, its professionalism its discipline, and its good humour, sometimes in intolerable conditions. In my estimation, no other army in the world today could have put up such a fine performance.
The criticism has been made that there is nothing devastatingly new in the present White Paper. It reports good progress. It gives news of equipment. Above all, it reflects stability.
There are hon. Members on this side of the House who, because of the Soviet threat, would like to see the defence budget having a greater share of the gross national product. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has other views, of course. We know that at present we are unlikely to get a greater share. However, one of the frightening features of the defence budget is that 50 per cent. of it goes towards the pay of personnel, which leaves only about 39 per cent. for equipment. Our job is to ensure that the money that we 1352 have is spent in the best possible way. To that end, I believe and hope that we shall do much more in the way of standardisation of equipment, especially with our N.A.T.O. allies.
Standardisation means not only a financial saving. In some cases, it means a great improvement in inter-operability, and that applies especially to the Royal Air Force. We are pleased to read about the M.R.C.A., a co-project with Germany and Italy, of a project with France for Jaguar aircraft and helicopters, another with Germany and Italy for 155 millimetre medium guns, self-propelled and towed, another with Belgium for a new range of air-portable tracked, aluminium-armoured, combat reconnaissance vehicles, the first of which the Scorpion, is to come into service very shortly. It is to be hoped that standardisation can be carried on even down to details like our soft vehicles, because I am sure that we shall get savings in that way.
I do not propose to discuss the Navy or the Royal Air Force. I shall leave those to hon. Members better qualified to discuss them than I am. I intend to confine my remarks to the Army, and I speak under three headings: first, manpower; secondly, a word about B.A.O.R.; and thirdly, about our reserves.
The recruiting figures shown in the White Paper are admirable. I am convinced that they are not connected in any way with unemployment. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will relish the fact that perhaps unemployment has had its effect in urging people to reengage. But I am certain that it has not caused people to engage initially. They are engaging initially for three reasons. The first is the introduction of a military salary. The second is Northern Ireland. A young man joins the Army to do something worth while. Conditions in Northern Ireland may be unpleasant, but he feels that he is doing something useful. The third reason is stability.
Today, we see a great contrast with the period under the last Administration, when, particularly in the years between 1965 and 1968, every White Paper detailed cuts and further cuts. It is pleasing to hear about the resuscitation of these four battalions, because it is in 1353 Northern Ireland that the burden falls upon the infantry; and it is for that very reason that they are so important.
My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the 15-year olds. They form 20 per cent. of the entry. As we know, in all the Service establishments and units, education is included as part of the curriculum. Surely, we ought to be allowed to retain them initially at that age. The officer recruiting, on the other hand, is not so good. The figures for Sandhurst are down. The figures for the short-service commission at Mons are down although the university cadets entry system is improving. I hope that this new stability we are getting will encourage careers masters at schools, who advise boys, to take a rather more sympathetic approach to Service life than they have in the past.
I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of a "notice engagement", because there is no question that the Donaldson Committee pointed out that a long engagement is a deterrent when it is not known what the conditions of service life are going to be. I would ask the Minister to tell us, in his winding up, a little more about the centralised selection system for the Army now operating at Sutton Coldfield, and what effect that is having on the Army.
In November last the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee which deals with defence visited Germany and the Army and Royal Air Force there. I would like to raise three points which although minor are worth raising. The first was found to be common to both the R.A.F. and the Army and concerned the amount of unnecessary paper work that is connected with the issue and checking of all forms of stores and equipment. We felt this to be wasteful of manpower. Although very thorough it was entirely unproductive. The powers of commanding officers of write-off were ridiculously small in comparison with the value of the equipment they held on charge. We thought both these two points could be looked into.
A second point concerns medical coverage in the Rhine Army. The White Paper points out that there is a shortage of doctors. In the Army a doctor is attached to a regular unit, and over and above that there are field ambulance units and hospitals which also have doctors. Soldiers 1354 marry much younger now and there are more wives and families in Germany at present than there have been in the past. When units go out on training, usually for between six and nine months in the year, their doctor should go with them. This means that either the families or the unit suffers. We felt that in the same way as civilian teachers are provided for soliders' children in schools, so doctors should be provided for their care in the garrisons.
A third point I wish to raise is a hardy annual which comes up every time a Member of Parliament visits the Rhine Army—the general request that there should be British television programmes in Rhine Army. I know that that would be expensive but it is very much wanted. May I refer to a final point concerning the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve. Here, thanks to the action of the Government, we have had an expansion. We have had a new armoured car regiment and 20 new infantry type units; and the recruiting for these new units is going amazingly well. In the county association of which I have the honour to be chairman our recruiting is already 100 per cent.
Today the Territorial Army requires a period of stability, in exactly the same way as the Regular Army, but that does not mean to say that improvements cannot be effected. I should like to see three improvements. First, an improvement in the machinery for call-up. At the present moment in an emergency there is no means for a partial call-up. If the TAVR is to be called up it has to be called up in toto. We have seen that in Northern Ireland, where there are no less than 3,000 TAVR. It has not been able to call on those men for that very reason. I go further. We have seen the distressing events of these last weeks. We have seen how the police have been overburdened, and had the emergency got worse it is possible that the Services might have had to be called up to carry out the transportation of essential supplies. A partial call-out of the TAVR there would have produced a uniformed, disciplined body with communications and mobility, which would have been able to support the police, not in dealing with strikers but in backing up the police and perhaps taking over some of their routine duties.
1355 We know also that civil defence, as we know it, has completely disappeared and nothing is left in this country for any emergency, whether it is a landslide or a "Torrey Canyon." These are occasions when a partial call-out in an area might be extremely useful.
May I plead secondly for a few more soft vehicles of the Land Rover type and wireless sets for the newly-formed infantry type units. The present scale is very meagre. This would not be expensive and would add to those units' interest and efficiency. Finally, looking ahead to the future, it may be that the United States might reduce its force levels in Germany or in Europe. If that happened there might be a greater demand for more British troops. We know that the regular forces, on a voluntary basis—and long may they remain on that basis—cannot be enlarged to any great extent. The only possible way of increasing their strength would be by increasing the size of the T.A.V.R. which already has a rôle to reinforce Rhine Army. Therefore, looking ahead, possibly in the future, to the expansion of the T.A.V.R., could I ask the Minister of Defence in particular to lend a rather more sympathetic ear to the retention of several drill halls which are now in dispute.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I was in agreement with one point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) and that was when he spoke about the possibilities of rationalisation through joint procurement projects in Europe. Had this been a long debate I should have liked to have asked the Government at some length how they see this being achieved and what part the new Procurement Executive will play in this. The White Paper describes in considerable detail the arrangements that have been made for domestic procurement but says little about how this is to be encouraged in the work of the Eurogroup.
In the short time available I want to put one or two questions about the rôle of the British forces in Ireland. The House was deeply shocked by the horrifying outrage perpetrated yesterday at Aldershot and every one of us would wish to join in expressing our sympathy 1356 to the relatives and friends of the victims of this brutal and indiscriminate act. What happened at Aldershot has again tragically demonstrated the evil nature of the enemy our Army now confronts in Ireland. Those who seek by such acts of violence to spread confusion and fear must know that every bombing and every shooting stiffens our resolve to protect our fellow citizens from such insensate and murderous attacks.
The task of the Army in Northern Ireland is one of the most difficult that it could be called upon to undertake in peace time. It calls for qualities of courage, watchfulness, patience and, above all, restraint. Over 15,000 men are now stationed in Northern Ireland, about six times more than it was originally expected would be necessary.
They have a formidable task, for a quite disproportionate disruption of civil life can be caused by a few outlaws using the methods of the urban guerrilla. I am glad to have had the opportunity of visiting a number of units of the Army in Northern Ireland with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson). I can testify from my personal experience to the Army's consciousness of the need for these potential qualities. The tour of duty in Northern Ireland is on a rota of four months, and that is quite right. Most of those serving there are living and operating in conditions which my right hon. Friend so graphically described and which are extremely rigorous and continually demanding.
I was struck by the good-humoured acceptance on the part of the soldier of what is a most distasteful and stressful job. We have an Army of men, not saints; but I pay high tribute to the men of the many regiments who have distinguished themselves by their service in Northern Ireland since 1969. The tasks which they have been called upon to undertake are not among those which soldiers expect to have to face, especially in peace time. This makes the record of our soldiers all the more creditable.
Having said that, I must state with some firmness that the Opposition is dissatisfied with the political direction of the Army. Equally, the Opposition rejects some of the political assumptions which provide the framework for certain of the military operations upon which the 1357 Army is engaged. It is common ground that the rôle of the Army has greatly changed since those summer days over two years ago when it was welcomed, particularly by the minority community in Northern Ireland. Whereas the prevention of inter-communal strife was the original purpose of the Army's task, as it is now conceived it has a more multifarious rôle.
Under the umbrella concept of assisting the civil power and maintaining law and order the Army is being called upon to play a number of different rôles in different parts of the Province. The escalation of terrorist violence has led to the widening of the Army's rôle and its methods of operation. Thus in Belfast a direct effort is being made to eliminate terrorism by capture of the terrorists and, although I say so with considerable caution, apparently with a certain degree of success. In Londonderry the Army is entrenched between the two communities. It is not employed at present in an all-out campaign of the Belfast type.
In the rural areas it appears that the Army is seeking to back up the operations in the cities by vigilance. On the Border some effort is being made to check the flow of arms and I.R.A. men into the Province. In addition to these predominantly military rôles the Army is available to the civil power to strengthen its hand in the event of civil disturbance. It is probably not wholly realistic to attempt to draw a hard and clear line between Army activities which are of a predominantly military character and those which are primarily of a policing nature. The rôles are interwoven.
What is clear is that the success of the Army in its military rôle in limiting the effectiveness of the I.R.A. depends to a considerable extent upon the degree of confidence which the minority community has in its performance and political direction. Only if the Army enjoys that confidence will the doors be closed to the terrorists and will the flow of information be made available to us. It must be said that that confidence is almost wholly lacking. Above all, it appears to have been undermined because the Army is now firmly identified by both communities as the policing instrument of the Stormont Government. 1358 There are three main reasons for this identification of the Army with Stormont. First, some of the military operations are thought to be more designed by politicians to show the flag to the majority community than to achieve military results. In practical terms the cratering of roads and the Army's patrolling of quiescent country towns appears to have yielded small dividends. Secondly, it is now recognised that the Army stands behind the R.U.C. to back up its policing control of crowds. It is inevitable in this situation that the Army is seen to be clearly acting at the instance of the civil power which is Stormont.
Thirdly, notwithstanding the answerability of the G.O.C. to the Government, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the Joint Security Council chaired by Mr. Faulkner which meets once a week, ostensibly as a consultative body, gives every appearance of being a body which decides in practice how to deal with the developing situation in which the Army is involved. In the Joint Security Council the advice of Stormont is dominant. There is now in Northern Ireland a wide expectation that the United Kingdom will take the political initiative to break the deadlock and fulfil the promise that the Government made to seek means of securing a permanent rôle for the minority in the Government of Northern Ireland. That initiative is militarily imperative if progress is to be made in the war against the gunman and the bombers. This is particularly true of Londonderry.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has put forward his proposals. As part of this awaited initiative the United Kingdom Government should seek to strengthen the capacity of the Army to eliminate terrorism by taking steps to end the identification of the Army with the Stormont Government. It is not only a matter of the Army's image, although that is vitally important; it is ultimately a question of political responsibility for decisions which are being taken. These decisions must be taken here. The present division of responsibility for the conduct of security operations is highly anomalous and should be ended. The Government should start by taking a long hard look at the Joint Security Council.
1359 I must put two further less essential points to the Under-Secretary. Is he in a position to say, in the light of the action which the Government of the Republic of Ireland is taking at this time against the I.R.A., what prospects there are of obtaining the co-operation of the Government of the Republic of Ireland in controlling the danger?
Secondly, in view of the interest that we all have in the conditions of operation of the Servicemen in the area, would he look into the possibility of providing air transport direct to Germany for those of our troops who are based there, and whose families are living there, to enable the 72-hour break in the four-month tour of duty to be a real recreation and respite from the trials of service in Northern Ireland?
In the tragedy of Northern Ireland many innocent people have already lost their lives, many constituents have fallen in the struggle. The Opposition is wholly determined that conditions of peace and order shall be restored.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith)
It is with great pleasure that I welcome the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) to the Dispatch Box for the first time in his capacity as Opposition defence spokesman. I think all of us appreciate the care and attention he has given to the problems of Northern Ireland, in particular, and the sympathy he displayed on the basis of his first-hand knowledge. I warmly appreciate that one of the first things he did on achieving this responsibility was to go there and see things for himself. He quite obviously appreciates the tremendous complexity of the operational rôle of the Army in the province.
I hope he will not think that I am being unduly contentious if I emphasise most strongly, and ask him to bear in mind when having conversations with people in Northern Ireland, that there is no question of the British Army acting as a tool of the Stormont Government or any particular faction. It is quite clearly under the control of Westminster. What he said is just part of the myth of the situation. People exist on myths about 1360 Northern Ireland. Let me make it quite clear to him what is the responsibility on which the G.O.C. operates—and the position is quite clear and has certainly not been changed since this Government took office: the G.O.C.'s responsibility is unequivocally to the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, the very directive under which he works as Director of Operations in Northern Ireland is issued to him by the Chiefs of Staff. There is more I could say, but I did not expect to intervene in the debate and would have preferred my hon. Friend to do so, but he has decided to wind up the debate later.
Many other questions have been raised and there is one to which I will refer very briefly. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) wanted to be assured that there would be no financial disadvantages through curtailment of overseas tours, and had particularly in mind forces which are being withdrawn from Malta. I can give him that assurance categorically.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) raised a number of points. I am grateful to him for the support he has given consistently to the Army since it has been engaged in this arduous campaign in Northern Ireland. It is a little early to judge the effects of the central recruiting centre, but early reports indicate that the theory is likely to be successful—namely, that those who wish to join a particular unit will find themselves getting the right job in the right place at the right time in the Army. Therefore we should have very contented soldiers.
I am looking personally into the question of television in B.A.O.R. I am sorry that I cannot report anything to the House this evening, but the House will be informed in due course of any plans we might have to bring this facility to our soldiers.
I was asked about the T.A. in Northern Ireland. It must seem to many people ridiculous that there should be such a highly trained force there which is unable to play a direct part as a TAVR in the problems in the province. If the Government decided, for example, that the circumstances justified the call-out of the TAVR—and the hon. Member 1361 knows the various call-out liabilities—the Queen's Order would indeed formally cover the whole reserve. That we know, but it would still be up to the Secretary of State for Defence to decide which members were to be sent notices to report for duty. Partial call-out is therefore feasible. But the position in Northern Ireland is rather different: it is that members of the TAVR can be called out only for permanent service, full-time service, giving up civilian jobs. It is not possible to call out members for weekend and evening duties, like the U.D.R. As far as the U.D.R. is concerned, it is possible for members of the TAVR to leave it and to serve as part-time members of the U.D.R.; we welcome those who wish to join and to serve the interests of the province in that capacity.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) for the many encouraging words of support he addressed to the Army and for the compliments he paid our forces in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, he referred to our attitude in respect of disarmament and the need for a détente, and it was in a most unfair way. I do not want to be unduly controversial as I see that he is absent at this time, but he made the rather stale charge that the Government are dragging their feet over mutual and balanced force reduction. We had this charge last year. He knows, and other hon. Members who have studied the matter for a number of years know, that mutual and balanced force reduction is a very complex matter and that to find a reduction formula which leaves the security of both sides unimpaired is difficult.
There are two things for N.A.T.O. to do in relation to M.B.F.R. One is to study the enormous political and military complexities of the subject. This is being done, and our own country is making a major contribution to those studies. The other is to take an early opportunity of discovering whether the Russians—assuming that they are prepared to discuss M.B.F.R. at all—are prepared to talk anything like the same language as N.A.T.O. To discover this was precisely N.A.T.O.'s object in appointing Signor Brosio's exploratory mission last October. Her Majesty's Government supported the appointment of that mission and still hope that the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries will receive it.
1362 The Soviet see no contradiction in from time to time professing interest in M.B.F.R. while increasing their naval strength in the Mediterranean, in talking about the need for world disarmament while expanding their fleet on a worldwide basis, in discussing strategic arms limitation with the United States while strengthening and expanding the range and variety of their nuclear weapons.
A very important point was raised by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). It was a specialised point and I hope that it will be agreed that in the very few minutes at my disposal it would be impossible for me to deal adequately with it, but I assure him that in what remains of the debate tomorrow one of my hon. Friends will deal with the matter.
Finally, a major feature of the I.R.A.'s activity has been the ceaseless torrent of propaganda, unscrupulous distortion of the truth and downright, manufactured lies. Undoubtedly, one of the major objectives of their campaign is to try to distort and undermine the reputation of the British Army, presumably with a view to fostering hatred, alienating the Catholics of Northern Ireland from the forces of law and order, attracting sympathy abroad and producing a sense of unease among British people and attacking the Army's morale. One of the encouraging points from both sides of the House has been the warm and encouraging words of sympathy and support for the Army from hon. Members.
As right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House know, I have some responsibility for the Ulster Defence Regiment. A few days ago a member of that regiment, a Roman Catholic, was dragged from the cab of his bus when carrying out his normal day-time job. He was hooded, shot and dumped in the street. I ask hon. Members and those outside this House who sympathise perhaps with the political aspirations of the I.R.A. to reflect for a moment on this. Is this supposed to carry forward the cause of a united and peaceful Ireland? Is this the action of freedom fighters devoted to a just and honourable cause? Does this show how the I.R.A. has, as it claims, the Catholic population of Northern Ireland firmly on its side? He was a decent and honourable man who served in the U.D.R.
1363 The I.R.A. says that the Army seeks a military solution. We do not. I have never met a general in the British Army who seeks a military solution. I know that the I.R.A., which calls itself an army, does. It is a tragedy to me, and I hope to all hon. Members, to see a single soldier shot. I hope that the effect of the sympathies expressed today will be to encourage them in carrying out their duties.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Jopling.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.