Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23rd February]:
That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1972, contained in Command Paper No. 4891.—[Lord Balniel.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have selected 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 Government'.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Ian Gilmour)
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) yesterday said that there had been a great conversion on this side of the House to the Labour Government's defence policy. I thought at the time that in view of the behaviour of the right hon. Gentleman's party during the last few months, indeed over the last few days, it was a little insensitive of him to talk about conversions either forcibly or voluntarily made, but since he spent most of his speech trying to convert members of his party who sit below the Gangway who had signed the Amendment, I very quickly forgave him. I shall come to that Amendment later, and to some of the hon. Members who have signed it.
A glance at Annex B of the Statement on the Defence Estimates will show how important are the responsibilities of the Procurement Executive. About one-third of the total defence expenditure in the financial year 1972–73 will be spent in the equipment area. It is clearly vital, therefore, to have the best possible organisation for administering this. And I think that we now have this in the form of the procurement executive which, under Mr. Rayner, came into being last August.
1514 My right hon. Friend and I are confident that the major reorganisation which has taken place will create lasting and major improvements in the whole machinery for procuring defence equipment. The aim is to ensure not only that each product provides the best all round solution to the military requirement, but also that it comes into service when it is needed.
The benefits of the new organisation will not become fully apparent at once; defence procurement, however efficiently organised, operates over a period of years rather than months. But the new organisation has got off to an excellent start. Every aspect from personnel management to methods and procedures, from relations with industry at home to international collaboration—to which I shall return—from basic research to the rôle of the project managers—these and many other problems are being vigorously tackled by the chief executive and his controllers. Already it is clear that the organisation we have chosen was the right one.
I should, perhaps, remind the House that the procurement executive is an integral part of the Ministry of Defence, and under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State my responsibilities stretch rather wider than the procurement executive. They include responsibilities for scientific research and operational requirements. It is my job, therefore, to try to keep these three facets in phase with each other.
Of course, a totally tidy and all-complete equipment programme is not possible. There never comes a moment when we can plan from scratch and, having taken every relevant factor into account, make ideal and unchangeable decisions on our precise arrangements for the next 10 years. At all times we are to some extent prisoners of the past, the present and the future. The slate is never rubbed clean.
If we delay a decision on one equipment to see how it may be affected by a future decision on another equipment, we may in reality be deciding that the first equipment is never produced, since the delay may well mean that it would come into service too late for the Services.
Moreover, the industrial situation is never static, and, once again, it may be impossible to delay a decision as long 1515 as other considerations might ideally require, as to do so would mean a company laying off its design team or making many other people unemployed.
Further, nobody can ever be sure of the exact operational requirements over the next few years. Nobody can be sure of the exact pace or direction of scientific and technological advance in the future. Nobody can be sure, either, of industrial developments here in the next 10 years or what the export prospects may be.
I do not, therefore, want to exaggerate the scientific and rational element in our planning and in our decisions. We could be entirely scientific and tidy only if we lived in a world of our own, paying only the minimum attention to both industrial and military imperatives, and virtually ignoring what the Russians and other countries were doing. But that having been said, we do, within the inevitable constraints that are upon us, try to make as rational an assessment as we can of the best way of meeting our operational requirements out of our industrial and financial resources, acting either on our own or in collaboration with our allies.
Only when there are compelling reasons of timing or of costs or when there is no British equipment available or in prospect do we decide to buy abroad. Otherwise, we buy British or engage in collaborative projects.
This country has a good record of collaboration. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Maj.-Gen. Jack d'AvigdorGoldsmid) has made some kind references to existing projects. He will be pleased to know that we are not resting on past efforts. As we formulate our equipment plans, we examine carefully the scope for further collaboration, either through sharing projects with our Allies or in identifying areas where we can avoid duplicating each other's efforts.
Progress is not easy. Operational requirements must be reconciled, the times at which countries plan to introduce new equipment often vary widely, and each country is understandably anxious to preserve its own industrial base. Collaboration cannot be a wholly one-way process and there must be some sensible give and take. But in spite of the diffi 1516 culties there is a growing awareness that further progress must be made.
There are two developments which I am sure will give added impetus. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) asked about the work of Eurogroup in this context. The European members of N.A.T.O. are becoming more conscious of the need to secure the maximum effectiveness from their defence effort. Moreover, the enlargement of the E.E.C. will facilitate a more rational organisation and a more effective use of Europe's industrial resources; for example, by removing some of the present barriers to trans-national industrial partnerships.
Over a whole range of future requirements we are presently engaged in bilateral or multilateral discussions with our Allies over the possibilities of multilateral solutions. These cover, for example, battlefield communications, surveillance systems and future air defence systems. I fear that progress will not be spectacular but I am confident that we shall be able to extend collaboration sensibly to fields where at present there is wasteful duplication.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
What are the precise functions of the Ministerial Aerospace Board, which is mentioned in paragraph 21 of the White Paper? Will the Department make the key decision about whether we should participate in the American shuttle, a decision which must be made by the summer of this year?
§ Mr. Gilmour
The aerospace board has been set up, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are prominent members of it. It has met. It has responsibility for looking at the future of the civil aviation programme.
§ Mr. Gilmour
No. Civil aviation policy is decided not in my Department, although the procurement executive can, except in relation to Concorde, monitor and, if necessary, control a project. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace is the Minister primarily responsible for civil aviation policy.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. Gentleman has described, and the White Paper draws attention to:the need to maintain an adequate industrial base for the future programme, and to strengthen relationships with Defence suppliers.If this close domestic relationship is being developed for procurement purposes, may I ask the Minister to say what parallel developments are taking place in Europe? It seems on the face of it that the new development, which he says is so important, is likely to prejudice the rationalisation of co-operative effort in Europe.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I do not think so. if we rationalise and make closer the relationship with our manufacturers, this will help future European rationalisation rather than hinder it. There has not been established much new European machinery of the sort the hon. Gentleman has in mind, though I do not rule it out in future. At the moment we are acting rather pragmatically.
The House will recall that on 11th November last I announced that orders were being placed for 14 new ships for the Royal Navy, including four type-21 frigates and two type-42 destroyers: in addition, a number of small auxiliary ships were to be ordered. I can tell the House that this ordering programme, valued at over £70 million, has now been completed. The ships involved are being ordered earlier, but not at the expense of the rest of the programme because the defence budget targets have been increased accordingly.
Besides greatly helping to improve the capability of the Royal Navy. these orders, which were exceptionally limited to development and intermediate areas to maximise their effect on the employment situation, will over the next year create or preserve over 4,000 shipworkers' jobs alone; about two-thirds of them in Scotland. Additionally, there will be an increase in indirect employment in the shipyards and about another 4,000 jobs will be provided in sub-contracting firms throughout the country.
The Army Department will spend an extra £1 million in the coming year in purchasing tractors and dump trucks to meet a N.A.T.O. requirement for rapid repair of aircraft runways. These orders 1518 will create additional work for about 100 men.
New orders of aircraft for the Royal Air Force which have been announced over the last four months will also make a substantial contribution to employment in the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
Will my hon. Friend consider putting out to contract and tender with the aerospace industry on a much larger scale than is at present the case the third-line servicing of the Royal Air Force? The latest studies show not only the great economy to be achieved from this but better opportunities from the employment point of view.
§ Mr. Gilmour
My right hon. Friend has dealt with this matter by way of answers and questions in the House and has given my hon. Friend details about the position.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am rather confused. The Minister said that employment would be given for 100 men on this £1 million order. I represent the Leyland truck factories in my constituency. It may be my stupidity, but I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is getting at.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I think it must be. Our estimate is that 100 people will be employed, who would not otherwise have been employed, on making these vehicles. I honestly think it is a fairly simple conception.
The order for additional Buccaneers which is being brought forward will mean continuing employment for about 800 men in Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Brough and Rolls-Royce Scottish factories. The order for Nimrod, which I announced on 19th January, will give employment to some 2,000 men in Hawker Siddeley Aviation factories in the North-West and in other factories elsewhere. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House on 23rd November, 1971, we are ordering from Scottish Aviation at Prestwick more than 100 Bulldog aircraft to replace the Royal Air Force's Chipmunk aircraft. This will mean continuing employment for about 200 men in Scotland.
Finally, I am glad to be able to announce today another new aircraft order. During the past few months hon. Members on both sides have shown a 1519 great deal of interest in the choice of aircraft to replace the Varsity in the multi-engine pilot trainer rôle. A very thorough assessment of the available aircraft has now been completed, and the Jetstream has been judged to be the aircraft best suited to the R.A.F.'s requirement. We intend, therefore, subject to the conclusion of satisfactory contract arrangements, to place an order for about 25 Jetstream aircraft with Scottish Aviation Ltd. I believe that such an order will give considerable encouragement to the export prospects of this excellent aircraft and be appreciated not only in Prestwick but in Scotland generally. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Some 400 new jobs will be created, and altogether, at its peak, the contract will provide employment for about 600 people.
§ Mr. Gilmour
When manufacturers build things they employ people, and they make some estimates of how many people they are going to employ. It really is not difficult.
§ Mr. Gilmour
Manufacturers estimate that they will employ another 400 people most of the time and 600 in total at peak. That really is a perfectly straightforward matter. If the hon. Gentleman had had some experience of business he would understand it very easily.
The need to have and sustain an adequate and healthy industrial base capable, within available resources, of meeting our expected future procurement programme is fundamental to defence planning. We attach great importance, therefore, to strengthening relationships with defence suppliers. The National Defence Industries Council already provides for consultation at a high level between Government and industry on defence procurement matters of mutual concern. Membership of the council has been 1520 reorganised to include top management in the procurement executive. This consultative machinery is being expanded at various levels to embrace presentations to industry by the Services on future equipment plans, joint symposia on specialised technological areas, and the setting up of ad hoc groups to examine particular aspects of procurement policy.
Discussions are also taking place with industry about the quality standards we expect of contractors and on how we shall assess that they are fully met. It used to be the practice of the Services to devote very considerable effort to direct inspection at the place of manufacture. The emphasis now, however, is on placing the maximum responsibility with the manufacturer for the quality of what he produces. The trend is now firmly towards entrusting defence orders only to firms whose arrangements for quality and product reliability give the Department the confidence to reduce its own direct inspection to a minimum level or even dispense with it entirely.
Keeping in close touch with those industries associated with our defence needs, important though it is, is not by itself enough. We have not only to discuss but to act when a problem has been brought to light. Often action in this field means the Ministry having to be flexible and understanding. Often it will mean persuading firms to become more efficient. But at the present time action means very often that the Government having to sustain a vital defence industry by giving it the work it needs, when it most needs it. Preserving a healthy defence industrial base means just that; we cannot allow essential bits of it to wither away through lack of forward planning on both sides, or because of badly-phased ordering.
One of the vital areas for defence is the guided weapons industry. I am glad, therefore, today to be able to tell the House of new decisions in that field. As the House is aware, we have been studying ways of satisfying the R.A.F.'s requirements for both medium and short-range air-to-air missiles to supplement those at present in service.
We are asking Hawker Siddeley Dynamics to look into the possibility of modifying the American medium range Sparrow weapon to incorporate advanced new British components which are to be 1521 developed by Marconi Space and Defence Systems Limited and E.M.I. Limited. Meanwhile, since no suitable British weapon is available a small number of medium range Sparrow missiles is being acquired from the United States to top up our holdings for the Phantom aircraft. We have had to buy American because the previous Administration as a matter of policy abandoned the U.K. capability in the air-to-air weapons field and instead purchased American missiles for the Phantom.
As to the short-range requirement, I can now tell the House that the Government have decided, subject to a satisfactory outcome of negotiations, to place a contract with Hawker Siddeley Dynamics for project definition of a new missile known as S.R.A.A.M. 75. It is the Government's intention also to equip the Royal Navy with a new anti-ship guided weapon system for use with naval Lynx helicopters. Subject to satisfactory negotiations a contract for project definition will shortly be placed with the guided weapons division of British Aircraft Corporation. This missile is known as CL 834.
After the project definition phase, these two projects will be reviewed in the light of all the circumstances of the time, including the progress and latest estimated cost of the project, and the overall loading of the industry. A decision will then be taken whether or not to proceed to full development. Work in these initial stages of CL 834 and S.R.A.A.M. 75 will occupy important advanced technology resources in the British Aircraft Corporation and Hawker Siddeley Dynamics as well as in other British firms.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Could the Minister assist the House? He has given the employment figures for some other projects, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) is concerned about S.R.A.A.M. 75. What are the employment results of his present decision as regards project definition study and also the purchase of Sparrow?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the answer to that because we have only just made and announced the decision and, therefore, we have not had the necessary full discussion.
1522 Finally, I would like to deal with the Amendment which has been tabled. I am rather disappointed to see that only one hon. Gentleman who signed it is here, the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). He will, therefore, forgive me if I address my remarks almost exclusively at him. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, East yesterday produced a cogent argument against the Amendment in general, and I would like to adopt but not repeat that argument. My right hon. Friend yesterday reiterated the purely defence aspect of the situation and emphasised the threat to which we are subject. I would like therefore, to concentrate on perhaps the less obvious implications of the policy advocated in the Amendment.
I have already mentioned that a third of defence expenditure is taken up with equipment. There is little room for manoeuvre in manpower costs. So any cutback in the budget would therefore inevitably have to be borne substantially in the equipment area. Not only would we not have been able to add to the defence orders in order to help unemployment; we should have to cancel and forgo many other projects as well. That means that those areas and people who have benefited from our orders for naval ships on the Clyde, on the Tyne and at Leith and those who have benefited from the Nimrod, Buccaneer, Bulldog and Jetstream orders would not have benefited. It is remarkable that many of those who have signed the Amendment have a lot of constituents who are benefiting and who will benefit from these recent defence orders. Other hon. Members have constituents whose jobs are heavily dependent upon the maintenance of the defence budget even at its normal level.
No one doubts the sincerity of the hon. Member for Salford, East or of his hon. Friends who have signed the Amendment. But, equally, no one can doubt that their convictions can only be acted upon at the cost of making many of their constituents unemployed. So to support the Amendment is to opt for increased unemployment. Hon. Members opposite must know this perfectly well. Many of them whose constituencies, like that of the hon. Member for Salford, East, are in the North-West have written to me or been to see me to ask for 1523 increased orders for the North-West, for Hawker Siddeley. Many of my hon. Friends have done the same. They wanted us to place more aircraft orders because they were worried by the prospect of many more people being unemployed at Hawker Siddeley. We are now buying more Nimrods, yet many hon. Members from the North-West have signed the Amendment, which, if carried out, would mean there would be no Nimrod order and no Jetstream order either. The inference is perfectly clear. Hon. Members opposite consider their ideological prejudices more important than the employment of their constituents.
I recognise the pro-European direction of the Amendment, and I welcome the desire of hon. Gentlemen opposite for greater harmonisation of our defence policy with Europe. But, while I appreciate the zeal of the hon. Member for Salford, East for European integration, I think he is pushing far too fast and in the wrong direction. In any case the Amendment is sheer economic as well as defence madness.
So much for the inconsistencies of Labour Members. We are only pleased that their views are very far from being shared by the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
Can the Minister of State indicate why the Government do not employ a middle course in this respect and negotiate with the other countries in Western Europe to increase their supply of armaments and therefore take some of the burden off this country?
§ Mr. Gilmour
Whether or not the other countries in Europe increase their defence budgets, if we reduce ours, as I have explained at some length, that will still mean increased unemployment in this country. The employment situation as a result of our defence budget is the same irrespective of what people in Europe do, although on defence grounds we would welcome any increased effort made by our friends in Europe.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
My hon. Friend the Minister of State is giving employment to a great number of people, which we welcome. But why is he cutting down employment among his own employees in the dockyards?
§ Mr. Gilmour
The point of our increased shipbuilding orders was to keep a viable defence shipbuilding industry, and, therefore, it would not have been appropriate to place them in my hon. Friend's constituency.
We hope that in due course the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, East, who made such a sensible speech yesterday, will be able to convert his hon. Friends to a more enlightened attitude on defence.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
The House has conducted a debate on defence estimates and defence expenditure in a situation which, I think, is almost unique in that yesterday the House was presented with a report from its own Select Committee on Expenditure undertaken by the defence section of that committee. It is a great shame that it has not been possible for the House to have had a greater opportunity to read this report before the debate. Indeed, we have had very little time to look at the White Paper before the defence debates.
There is no area of governmental activity where parliamentary control is in reality less effective than in the area of defence. For far too long successive Governments and successive Ministers have been allowed to hide behind a shroud of secrecy and not subject their policies and their expenditure priorities to the same degree of scrutiny as that which we traditionally exercise in other areas of expenditure.
It is a significant advance in parliamentary scrutiny, criticism and control of the executive that an expenditure committee is now seriously looking at defence. I pay tribute to the Government for having made available a great deal of information which has hitherto never been disclosed to hon. Members, and that has made a valuable contribution to opening up the whole subject. We on this side of the House feel there is room for a greater relaxation in security classifications and I said this when I was in government, and we endorse the recommendation from the all-party committee that there should be far greater freedom to disclose classified expenditure figures. We understand that there are security implications, but I believe that all my hon. Friends, whatever their feelings about defence expenditure, would 1525 welcome more information and a clearer idea of the options. I hope that the Government will think, too, about providing time for a discussion of the report. Perhaps as a member of the Committee I should not comment on its merits, but I believe the report contains enough information to justify the House taking a further look at expenditure.
I believe that world military expenditure is far too high and, like many of my hon. Friends, I would thoroughly support any activity which is consistently aimed at reducing world military expenditure. It stands at the moment at about £500 billion and it absorbs some 6 per cent. to 7 per cent. of all world output. There is a grave danger that we shall learn to accept a continuing arms race. It has already become a part of twentieth-century life. But, as parliamentarians, we have a duty constantly to examine this expenditure.
With inflation and rising wealth in many Western countries, defence expenditure has increased to keep pace, but there have been two significant leaps. It doubled in the three years following the declaration of the Korean war in 1949 and it then increased by 50 per cent. between 1965 and 1970, largely as a result of the Vietnam war and as a result of Soviet military expansion and increased expenditure. However, this trend has not been followed in Europe. In 1952 Britain was spending approximately 11.8 per cent. of her G.N.P. on defence. That may not be comparable with the way in which we express defence expenditure now, but it is a fair approximation. In the same year, 1952, our European allies were spending 7.5 per cent. So even at that time there was a marked discrepancy between Britain and Europe. By 1959 our European allies were spending 5.9 per cent. while in Britain—
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
The hon. Member is referring to our European allies collectively and that, therefore, gives him an average figure. But that could be misleading because it could include Luxembourg, and I do not think her defence expenditure can be all that great.
§ Dr. Owen
Luxembourg is included but it is a weighted average. In Britain in 1964 we were spending 7 per cent. 1526 of our G.N.P. on defence. My hon. Friends should bear in mind that one of the substantial achievements of the Labour Government from 1964 to 1970 was substantially to reduce that figure to its current level. I would say to many of my hon. Friends who signed the Amendment before the House that I, like them, fought in 1966 and 1967 for defence cuts—and I have done that while representing a naval constituency. I am proud to say that I did so and openly advocated such cuts. I believed at the time that we should withdraw from East of Suez, that we should adopt a different world rôle, with a primary emphasis on Europe.
We were right to press for that, but we should not delude ourselves. To bring about that degree of reduction in percentage of G.N.P. was a painful experience. We had difficulties with our allies and the Services, and we had persistent and most obsessional criticism from Conservative Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well for them to say "Hear, hear". They are now accepting exactly the same defence policy as the Labour Government. There is not a jot of difference in it, and they know it. It is all credit to the Secretary of State who sits in another place that, for all the difficulties, he saw the sensible nature of the defence changes that had taken place and has carried them on substantially unchanged. I am glad to see the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary here, because he, too, has accepted many of the foreign policy judgments embodied in many of the defence cuts, particularly in relation to the Persian Gulf, that were so vigorously opposed by Conservative Members.
I welcome to that extent the degree of agreement between the two Front Benches, but when we left office in June, 1970 we had every intention of pursuing defence cuts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the then Secretary of State, was convinced that there was a possibility of multilateral discussions aimed at reducing defence expenditure. It is here that I part company with my hon. Friends, because I am certain that defence expenditure cuts by this country in the next decade can come about only by multilateral agreement, by negotiations with our allies, and that the most foolhardy 1527 step would be to make those decisions unilaterally.
We should see what some of our friends in Europe think about this issue. We on this side often pay tribute to the immense achievements of our Social-Democrat colleagues in West Germany for their Ostpolitik policies, but let us face facts. Neither the Chancellor, Herr Brandt, nor the Defence Secretary, Herr Schmidt, would dream of advocating unilateral defence cuts at this critical moment in the pursuit of détente. They know full well that their ability to conduct negotiation on détente, to pursue the policies we have all advocated for many years, depends on their having behind them a shield of security. They are as committed to N.A.T.O., to the European Improvement Plan, to the overall strength and stability of N.A.T.O., as we are.
Equally, it is no use our being anxious about defence cuts by our principal N.A.T.O. ally, the United States. If we were to pursue unilateral cuts, would it pursue unilateral cuts? I believe it is inevitable, and, as viewed from the United States position, probably right, that it should to some extent reduce its force levels in Europe. But those reductions should be planned and discussed with its N.A.T.O. allies and come about as a result of mutual agreement.
Where my hon. Friends' criticism of the Government is wholly justified is on the difference of attitude between the two Front Benches on the possibilities for détente and the objectives behind it. I was utterly astonished to hear the Minister of State say yesterday, in discussing the negotiations for force reductions in Europe:We want to strike a fair bargain which does not diminish security on either side.Nobody would disagree with that.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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1316.]If that is the right hon. Gentleman's concept of mutual and balance force reductions, it is a very different concept from that which was inspired by the then Labour Government in 1967 in the Harmel Report, which was agreed by all 1528 our N.A.T.O. allies then and in subsequent N.A.T.O. discussions in Reykjavik, Brussels and in Lisbon, when his own Government were involved. It has always been a part of mutual and balanced force reductions that they lead to an absolute reduction in forces, that one disbands forces. Obviously, the savings will not come in the first financial year or even in the second or third, but the end result is substantial savings if reductions can be achieved on a mutual basis. I see no point in continuing the arms race just for the sake of doing so. There are far more priorities for expenditure in this country to which I would gladly divert resources, and to which we did divert resources when we were in government. What I am not prepared to contenance—nor, I believe, would many of my hon. Friends who signed the Amendment—is anything that in the short term put in peril the security of this country.
The objective of defence cuts is one that I commend. I would go even further. As this country enters the Common Market, as we compete with European countries across the open tariff system, it will become clear that we shall not be able industrially to support a disproportionate defence effort. That must be apparent to our friends and allies both in N.A.T.O. and in the European Economic Community. It is reasonable and right—and I am sure the pressure is being put on by the present Government as it was by the Labour Government—to ask our European allies to ensure that their contributions compare reasonably with those of the countries paying the highest contribution. It is obvious that in any form of industrial common market no country can make a disproportionate effort. One of our major arguments against the East of Suez policies was that we felt that we were being saddled with overseas costs wholly disproportionate to this country's size and its place in the real world, particularly in Europe.
I do not dispute for one moment that Conservative Members wish to see mutual and balanced force reductions as much as we do. But since they took office they have always been the most pessimistic about them. One of the bases for their pessimism is their assessment of the threat in Europe. The White Paper is the second to start by re-emphasising the 1529 imbalance in Europe. It must be clear to any hon. Member who studies the facts that there is a marked difference between this country's assessment of the military balance and that made by our principal N.A.T.O. ally, the United States. To say that it is more optimistic and that we are more pessimistic is but one explanation. The pressures on both sides are different. We wish the American Administration to resist force reductions. They wish to show that in the fullness of time, if they do make force reductions, they will not be leaving Europe with an unbalanced military force level.
§ Dr. Owen
No. The hon. Gentleman made his speech in an intervention yesterday. I am going on to explain the point. I know the hon. Gentleman will not like it.
I am asking the House to look at the question of the military balance far more seriously than is normally the case in the opening few paragraphs in the last two Defence White Papers about the "threat" or the kinds of advertisement we see, usually for the Army, which talk about the crude two to one outnumbering of N.A.T.O. forces in Central Europe, the three to one outnumbering in armour and artillery, and four to one outnumbering in some essential types of aircraft. Anyone can play the numbers game. The facts are that the United States' objective assessment of the military balance is that we are roughly in balance. That was McNamara's belief in 1968 in his annual posture statement.
§ Dr. Owen
The present American Administration has not come out with quite such a categoric statement, but the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson), who is always quoting the Institute for Strategic Studies should examine a publication of that Institute, January's edition of Survival. He will find Frederick Wyle's assessment of the balance. He was the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and N.A.T.O. Affairs and left office in 1969. I believe that his assessment is exactly similar to that of most people in the Pentagon today. He says: 1530First, there is in fact a reasonable balance of conventional forces between N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact, and between the countries on each side in the Centre Region of Europe, with and without the backing of the principal power in each alliance: a global superiority in manpower, equipment, and budget by N.A.T.O., and a rough parity on the ground in Europe, with substantial equipment advantages in most categories.That may be too optimistic for hon. Gentlemen in this House, and I think it possibly is in some sense. I think the United States has tended to underestimate certain key factors, but it is certainly a long way from the pessimistic forebodings that come continuously from this Government, and of course from none more than the Secretary of State, who said, as reported in col. 400 of the OFFICIAL REPORT:The fact is that in Europe the Warsaw Pact has a marked superiority over the West…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd February, 1972; Vol. 328, c. 400]
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does my hon. Friend realise the danger of articles such as that of Wyle? This is the same kind of argument as that which says that the Americans can leave Vietnam and leave a viable situation behind them. This is the preliminary excuse for their going, and it is terrifying.
§ Dr. Owen
If my hon. and learned Friends reads the article and knows Wyle's commitment to the subject of European defence and N.A.T.O. he will realise that what he says is unjustified. Wyle has always been a very strong advocate of continued American contributions at a substantial level in Europe, as I am. He has always believed that the strength of the European defence effort is wholly dependent on the United States' contribution to it. If my hon. and learned Friend wishes, I can add another statement. I would draw attention to the statement of the Government, a very valid statement, on the question of mutual and balanced forced reductions at a conference in Munich only a few weeks ago which I had the honour of attending. The Under-Secretary of State for the Navy said, talking about Europe:…there are complications arising from the different size of Warsaw Pact and N.A.T.O divisions. Although there is something approaching equality of manpower there is also a crucial disparity in numbers of major equipments, of which, in terms of offensive 1531 capability, tanks and tactical aircraft are the most significant. Here we have some 14,500 Warsaw Pact tanks facing 6,000 of N.A.T.O.'s and figures of 3,500 and 1,300 respectively for tactical aircraft. These facts serve to illustrate the central problem of M.B.F.R., namely the enormous difficulty of applying mutual and balanced reductions to an unbalanced situation without producing a result which is even less balanced.I accept those figures, which are taken from the International Institute for Strategic Studies publication "The Military Balance 1971–72". But when we talk about numbers of tanks we must look at the capability of those tanks and the difference in their rôles. Tanks deployed by N.A.T.O. are primarily for defensive purposes. N.A.T.O. has always had a far higher percentage of anti-tank guns, for instance; and quite rightly so, because their primary rôle is defensive. So when we look at tanks we must look at their capability, and the Chieftains and other British tanks are in every way superior to most of the tanks of the Warsaw Pact countries.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Has the hon. Gentleman seen what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in another place—that the Warsaw Pact has a superiority of two to one?
§ Dr. Owen
I read what the noble Lord said in another place and I would say that the emphasis on his speech was on criticism of the Government for not pursuing policies of détente and disengagement. I agree with that. But on the question of balance in Europe I do not agree with the noble Lord, nor do I agree with him on the question of nuclear weapons. Those were not the views of the Government of which I was proud to be a member when they were in power, nor are they their views in Opposition. There has to be reliance on some form of nuclear guarantee; that is inherent in the strategy of flexible response. Many hon. Members, including hon. Gentlemen opposite, have argued that Europe must have a massive conventional capability, and I believe that that is the view of my noble Friend. I believe that this is politically impossible and that this is the view of the present Government.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
How can the hon. Gentleman tell us that we are not trying to achieve relaxation of tension and détente? We support the Ostpolitik, we 1532 are playing our part and are involved in the strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and the Berlin Agreement was signed last September. What further step does he think should have been taken which we have not taken?
§ Dr. Owen
I think it is a question of enthusiasm and emphasis. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not like to hear this, but they should listen. The basis on which they have to look at this is that if they support the desire for a mutual and balanced reduction of forces from a wrong assessment of the facts, they are not likely to achieve rapid progress. I am not unrealistic about the position; I realise that progress will be slow. President Johnson first suggested the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks in 1964; it is only now, in 1972, that the first break-through is likely to come on A.B.M.s when in May President Nixon visits Moscow. Of course these things take time, but hon. Gentleman have every right to urge the Government, as we do, to put as strong an emphasis as possible on this.
A more realistic assessment must be made of the military balance, especially since the assessment of this country is not in agreement with that of our principal N.A.T.O. ally. I am not necessarily saying that we should accept all the American views on the balance, but I believe that we are unrealistic in many of our basic assessments of the military balance on the central front and in Europe as a whole. I think this point needs to be brought home to the House.
I would say that there are in this report of the Committee, which did not feel able because of the limited evidence taken to form an assessment, two articles of interest. There is the article on military balance by the Institute of Strategic Studies—so often referred to by hon. Gentlemen opposite—which is very good, and another article from the S.I.P.R.I. Year Book, 1968–69. The figures in the latter may be slightly out of date, but it gives a rather more optimistic viewpoint. These should be studied by hon. Gentlement. It is no use bandying figures about without looking more carefully at the facts. Unless and until that is done, we shall not achieve the basis for negotiation of large mutual and balance reductions of forces.
1533 Having said this, I think my hon. Friends are right to urge this Government to reduce defence expenditure and pursue policies of détente. I must say to them that if in fact they are trying to do this on a unilateral basis they are threatening the success of what they and I wish to see. That was the view of this party in Government and it should not change because we are in Opposition.
There is one other major item of defence expenditure and that is the research and defence budget. It is well known to this House that the research and defence budget, which the hon. Gentleman who started the debate mentioned because he is responsible for it, involves substantial amounts of money. It employs, I believe, some 30,000 people, has some 30 establishments and spends over £100 million.
We on this side welcome, broadly speaking the setting up of the procurement executive. We believe it is doing a substantial job. We are greatly concerned—I know my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) is—that we are taking up too much of the scarce resources of manufacturing skills and equipment, and we must urge the Government to make strategic decisions in this whole area. I believe that the room for small, piecemeal changes and small economies is not great. What is needed is, first, a merging of establishments, and second, the eradication of some whole areas of research and development—a policy of much greater selectivity and considerable ruthlessness. This is one area where I do not believe this will lead to unemployment because industry is crying out for these skills.
Industry is crying out for these skills, and if we are to get industrial expansion it is unhelpful, to say the least, to have so much skill bound up in defence research. This area merits considerable study. It has been looked at several times by Select Committees of the House, and the conclusion on an all-party basis has always been that there is room for substantial cuts. I hope that the Government and the new procurement executive will pursue this with vigour.
On other aspects of the defence estimates I reiterate what are becoming old chestnuts, and they will continue to be reiterated by me for as long as I 1534 continue to speak from this Bench. The Government should look at the shape of the Navy. It is wrong. I have said before and I will say again that we need to build more nuclear-powered submarines and fewer surface ships. I draw to the attention of the House the important and difficult expenditure choice that will face the country at the end of this decade. The M.R.C.A. expenditure is coinciding very much with the cruiser expenditure, and there is little room in the defence budget for future years. We who expect to be on the opposite side of the House dealing with these problems three or four years hence are showing more concern about what will be happening then than in the immediate future. We therefore feel we should draw attention to this and to the need for it to be looked at again.
There are areas of defence where I should like to see more money spent, with economies in other areas. The argument that the balance of the Fleet has always been the same is no argument, when the Russians have so significantly changed the balance of their fleet in favour of under-water warfare and submarines, for saying that we in this country should continue to stay outside such a strategic change.
On he question of the M.R.C.A., most hon. Members thoroughly approve of the prospect of greater European collaboration in building together expensive military projects. This not only makes sense in terms of unit costs because of the larger numbers but also makes sense in terms of logistics, support and back-up in Europe. It also means that we can make economies. But the European collaboration has to take place at a much earlier stage, right back at the staff requirement and operational requirements stage, and we need to push this with a great deal more vigour.
For instance, in Europe the lorries run by various European armies, are practically without exception, national in origin, with different spares and different logistic back-up. This is a nonsense which cannot be tolerated for much longer. There are economies to be made there. Similarly, with aircraft types and with ships, where the different types of frigates and destroyers bear little resemblance to each other.
It is no use to talk on the one hand about European unity and on the other 1535 hand to put forward European force levels which constantly exclude France and even exclude the French divisions in Germany. Of course the French are not members of the military structure of the organisation, but they are and have always remained subscribers to the North Atlantic Treaty. The amount of money the French continue to spend on nuclear weapons is also of serious concern. It means that they cannot spend much on conventional weapons. By 1975 it is estimated that 20 per cent. of the French defence budget will be spent on nuclear weapons, although that technology is already available within the Alliance.
There is no doubt in my mind that collaboration in Europe on procurement and military strategic matters within N.A.T.O. can result in substantial economies. There is a need for this policy to be pursued with much more vigour. Everyone wants it, but the attainment of this objective has been severely limited.
In conclusion, I hope that when my hon. Friends come to make a decision on how they will vote tonight they will ask themselves whether the Motion will achieve its objective. If it were to encourage the Government to pursue policies of détente with the same vigour with which they are pursued by our Socialist colleagues in West Germany, the Motion would possibly have a good effect. If it were, however, to lend credence to the belief that unilateral defence cuts by this country are the answer to stability in the future and to world peace, then it would be gravely disadvantageous. We are a member of an Alliance, and our strength lies in the unity of that Alliance and in multilateral agreement. We in this country must realise that one nation alone is not capable of responding to the threat to our shores or to industrial competition. We need to combine; we need to adopt a multi-national identity. It is in multilateralism that the prospect of meaningful and safe defence expenditure reductions lies.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
Earlier this week the whole House showed and shared a sense of horror and sorrow at the outrage that occurred in 1536 my constituency of Aldershot when six civilians and a priest were killed. It is ironic that some advantage may come from this disaster, for the universal horror which has been expressed has led Mr. Lynch to move with unaccustomed firmness against the I.R.A. in the Republic. I think we are all, on both sides of the House, agreed that there can be no settlement in Northern Ireland until the South recognises, as does the North, that the ugly romanticism of the I.R.A. is the enemy of all reasonable people.
My intervention is for one purpose, to tell the House that the Mayor of Aldershot has announced this afternoon the setting up of a disaster fund for the dependants and relations of those who have died and for those who have been injured. I feel certain that many people, civilian and military alike, will wish to show their sympathy in this way for the victims of the outrage.
The relationship between Aldershot and the Army has always been close, but it has been strengthened by what has happened this week. We have strong feelings of admiration for the skill and restraint that the British Army has shown throughout the emergency in Northern Ireland.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof: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".The Amendment stands on the Order Paper in the name of 117 hon. and right hon. Members. Before anyone asks where they are, I will point out that there are only 15 hon. Members opposite present this afternoon. On a matter which involves nearly £3,000 million, hon. Members, particularly hon. Gentlemen opposite, seem blind to their responsibility for trying to secure the enormous savings which could be achieved.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell (Aberdeenshire, West)
There are 15 on this side of the House, and that is more than there are on the Opposition benches.
§ Mr. Allaun
Fifteen does not represent a record-shaking attendance. We are talking about the biggest increase, in cash terms, in the Army's expenditure in peacetime history, not excluding the period of the Korean war.
I am not an expert statistician, so I have asked the statisticians in the Library to work out how much the defence budget costs each family in the country. The cost to an average family of four of the £2,854 million works out at £3.97 per week. Of course some families will not pay so much in taxation, and others will pay more. The taxation comes from money spent on beer, tobacco, income tax, and so on, and this defence budget accounts for £4 per week per family.
It is remarkable that, with the exception of my 117 hon. Friends, most people do not seem to be very concerned about this matter. I am advancing a moderate argument. Indeed I am beginning to wonder at myself. I am becoming so moderate that one day I shall join the five hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me on the Liberal Benches—but if I do I shall certainly wear a steel waistcoat.
What we are proposing is that the British share of G.N.P. devoted to arms, which I was told in November by the noble Lord was 5.7 per cent., should be reduced to the average amount of G.N.P. spent on defence by European N.A.T.O. countries, namely to 4.2 per cent. The noble Lord said that if the figure were reduced, it would save the little sum of £600 million. If we were to reduce it to the Italian share of G.N.P., to 3 per cent., or to the West German share of G.N.P., to 3.7 per cent., we would save far more than £600 million a year.
With a sum of £600 million a year in our hands we could do all the things we dearly want to do. I want to see the building of 500,000 houses a year to relieve the terrible housing misery in this country. I believe that 500,000 houses could easily be built annually with this money. The T.U.C. and the Labour Party are pressing for the old-age pension to be raised from £6 to £8 a week. That again could be done out of this saving of money on defence. We have all heard with horror about what happened recently in one mental hospital, and I have no doubt that such cases could be repeated in future. All these matters require money to remedy them, and defence 1538 is the only sphere in which the present Government, or any other Government, can act without hurting ordinary working people.
I repeat the question which I put to the noble Lord yesterday: why should Britain spend a higher share of G.N.P. on arms than any other country in Western Europe, with the exception of Portugal which is engaged in a colonial war? The Minister said:… the simple fact is that the Soviet military capability is growing steadily … Its present expenditure is about 8 per cent. of the gross national product.I deplore the fact that the Minister was deliberately selective in his arguments. He omitted to mention that the Soviet Union is the great military power in the Warsaw Pact and that America is the great military power in the N.A.T.O. Pact and that, if the Russian share of G.N.P. is 8 per cent., that of America is, I understand, 9 per cent.
The Minister then proceeded to attempt to scare us—and this was not the first occasion—with reports about the Soviet Navy. He spoke about… its deployment in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd Feb., 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1313.]I dislike its presence there, it serves no useful purpose at all. And exactly the same applies to the United States Navy. What are they doing in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. They are much further from United States' shores than are the Soviet Union ships. The White Papers which were issued by the Labour Government—and I did not always agree with them—all maintained that there was no likelihood of Soviet military advance into Europe. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as former Secretary of State for Defence put forward this view in his White Paper, I do not remember it being challenged by the Opposition at that time. Is it not clear to all but the most hidebound militarists that neither the Americans nor the Russians have the slightest intention of invading East Europe or West Europe.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Then why is it that the Yugoslavs are so apprehensive about their security and are having to revise their ideas of partisan warfare and citizen force defence to meet a Soviet challenge, and why is it that the Romanians also 1539 are apprehensive about the Russians to their north?
§ Mr. Allaun
I accept the question. What Soviet Russia did in Czechoslovakia was absolutely wrong and indefensible, but this is partly due to the existence of the two military camps—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen may not accept it, but that is my belief. There are also other reasons, but I regard that as the dominant one. If that is the case, then I argue that neither side wants to invade the other. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman did not suggest that the Soviet Union wanted to invade Western Europe, any more than America wants to invade Eastern Europe. If this is the case, why should we go on wasting our resources in this way?
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
The hon. Gentleman has put forward the case involving stalemate in general in Europe, and I go a long way with him. Would he accept that the Soviet Union has the second largest and most modern fleet in the world? Why should the world's second largest land power wish to be the second largest sea power when it does not need sea communications to survive, as do these islands?
§ Mr. Allaun
The hon. Gentleman asks why the Soviet Union has the second greatest navy in the world. He might as well have asked why America should have the first greatest navy in the world. They are both equally foolish, and I am asking for sanity so that there should be mutual force reductions. Why should we act even more foolishly than the rest of the European N.A.T.O. Governments?
I was disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson). He should have taken the line of my hon. Friends and myself. The pursuit of drastic arms reduction is the official policy of the Labour Party, to which we on this side of the House belong. I hope I summarise his argument correctly by saying that he believes the time is not right to reduce arms, that the situation is one of détente and that we are on the eve of discussion of mutual arms reduction. I think that is a fair summary of his argument. He was really saying that this is not the time to take action. But it never is the time. Supposing at this moment we had a situation of acute 1540 tension in Europe. Would the argument then be that it is not the time to take action because the situation is so serious? One cannot win. It seems that it never is the time.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
There is a time, and I was a member of a Government which recognised that there was a time when we reduced defence expenditure from 7 per cent. to 5½ per cent. of G.N.P.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am grateful for that intervention. What I am asking goes further and reduces the percentage to 4.2.
My right hon. Friend's second argument was that he wants to see mutual arms reductions. I believe everybody is of this view. There may be some people who still believe in gunboats, but most sensible people on both sides want to see mutual arms reductions. I stress that our Amendment in no way conflicts with mutual balanced force reductions. The latter, mutual force reduction, should bring down the proportion for all countries and give additional help to our social services and other needs. In my view, Britain would be in a stronger position to argue for mutual arms reduction if her own contribution were not higher than the remaining countries in N.A.T.O., with the exception of America and Portugal.
Where could we make the cuts? The first sphere would be in research and development. We are spending £330 million a year on military research and development. I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) that it is a fantastic expenditure. It is almost exactly ten times what the State spends in two different directions on medical research. We spend £33.8 million a year on medical research and 10 times that amount on military research. This is a crazy situation. This is where the country could and should make cuts if commonsense applied.
The second item is the British Army of the Rhine, which involves direct expenditure of £263 million. If overheads were added, it would be a tidy sum more than that.
Thirdly, we could make cuts in our nuclear strategic forces programme.
Fourthly, we could make cuts in the development and production of the 1541 M.R.C.A. The latest figure which I could get appeared in Flight of 24th June, 1971. It is now estimated that it will cost us £630 million. However, I should like to take a bet that that by no means is the figure which it will eventually cost. Everybody knows that this has happened to all our previous weapons, without exception.
The last sphere in which we could make cuts is in the size of our Armed Forces. They should be reduced from their present size of 364,000 in uniform, plus 344,000 non-uniformed employees of the Ministry of Defence. Before anybody asks me whether I believe we should cut their pay and conditions, I do not think that I need to answer that question. It is quite clear that certainly we on this side of the House stand for good pay and conditions for both Servicemen and people in the ordnance factories. However, this makes it all the more important, if we are to increase their pay—in view of inflation and price increases it has to be increased—to make economies in their numbers and in other spheres of arms spending.
That brings me to my last point which was mentioned this afternoon by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement: would reduction in arms spending cause unemployment? My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who represents a town which is based on Vickers Armstrong, has had the sense and the courage to point out to the workers at Vickers that their employment would be far more secure if, instead of concentrating on the 7,500-ton Polaris, they were tendering for and building 100,000-ton oil tankers, and so on.
There have been two high-powered inquiries into the question whether arms reduction would cause unemployment. One was by the United Nations and the other by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Both have shown that, with planning, it is practical to transfer men from war production to peace production. I will illustrate my point to the Minister, because it may be that he has not had the experience. Imagine an engineer turning a small piece of metal on a centre lathe. It does not matter to him whether that piece of metal is to go into a tank or a tractor. However, from my experience of 1542 engineers with whom I have worked, I know that they would greatly prefer that piece of metal to go into a tractor rather than into a tank.
The proof of the pudding is that in 1945 we did not just transfer from a large arms programme to a small arms programme, which is what I am advocating today; we switched from a war economy to a peace economy. There were 9 million men and women in the Armed Forces or in the war factories. Within nine months they were switched from a war economy to a peace economy, with planning under a Labour Government, without unemployment. What I am suggesting is very moderate, and no doubt it could be done, but perhaps phased over about three years.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
No one disputes that at certain stages of the economic situation what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting can be done. However, the point with which he has to deal is: can it be done in a period of high unemployment? If it is as easy to redeploy people as he suggests, it is difficult to understand why unemployment doubled when the Labour Government were in power.
§ Mr. Allaun
I do not defend that. However, unemployment has now gone up to over 1 million, which is more than we ever imagined or would have allowed.
A high military budget is normally accompanied by a fall in economic growth rate. The example given to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness, who knows more about shipbuilding than I do, is Japan where tonnage has grown from 2 million per year to 14 million per year in a relatively short time, whereas our share of world shipbuilding has slumped dramatically. We devote between 90 and 98 per cent. of research in shipbuilding to military rather than to peaceful shipbuilding. My point is that an equal amount of research and development applied in the civilian sphere would ensure far more employment and production than in the military sphere.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I endorse wholeheartedly the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) who spoke about the Report of the sub-Committee of the Select Committee on 1543 Expenditure. The hon. Gentleman was a most valuable member of the sub-Committee, as were the other six members, of which I had the honour to be Chairman. The eight members of the sub-Committee got to know more about what is happening, by the kindness of the Ministry of Defence, than any hon. Members have done before. We produced a unanimous report because we kept the right objective before us. As part of the Expenditure Committee looking at the expenditure of the Ministry of Defence, we did not conceive it our duty to say which weapons or how many men should be employed, but we pointed out that, if it followed a certain course, that would be the expenditure. This is the report which we produced. I do not want to put hon. Members off by its size. Our report is in the first part. The rest contains the evidence which we took.
One remarkable point about our report, which is not in the White Paper, is that many words are missing and we have had to put in asterisks. We are grateful for what we heard, but we hope that in future the Ministry will be able to let us publish rather more, because it is only with knowledge of what is happening that we can have a true debate on whether we are spending our resources properly.
I shall take certain points in the White Paper and comment on them with partially my own views and some of the views of the Committee. I refer first, from my own point of view, to paragraphs 4 to 9. From the evidence we took and from what I have seen, there is no doubt that the Soviet threat is still as strong as ever and increasing in the West. That was underlined by my noble Friend the Secretary of State in another place yesterday. Though the Soviet Union may have built up its forces in the East, this has meant no slackening in the West. I welcome particularly the remarks in paragraph 8 about our contributions—increased contributions—in N.A.T.O. for the European defence improvement programme.
Taking one example of what comes under this programme, we visited Germany and saw the building of solid shelters for our aircraft, which should be bombproof. At present we do not have them. We and the Royal Air 1544 Force there considered that on our four airfields these are very necessary.
From our observations and from a visit to S.H.A.P.E. headquarters and talks with General Goodpaster and our own General FitzPatrick, the Deputy Commander, we also concluded that the slowness of integration between the different allies was most disappointing, particularly now that 52 per cent. of our expenditure is on personnel, thus limiting the equipment. Standardisation would help in this matter. That comes out clearly at paragraph 31 of our report.
When the Secretary of State gave evidence before the Committee, he said that one of the most disappointing aspects of N.A.T.O. since 1949 has been the lack of any real advance in the standardisation of weapons. He said that some standardisation had been achieved, and we know this. But the obstacles are still formidable. They must be overcome.
One of the difficulties is that countries want to re-equip at different times. Many countries, because of social or employment conditions in their industries, prefer to produce their own weapons. Many have their own research and development. Many are still reluctant to make themselves dependent on what they regard as possibly unreliable sources for weapons which they consider vital to their defence needs. Integration does not mean that every N.A.T.O. country must participate in every project. Experience shows that three countries combining is the best formula—such as over the multi-rôle combat aircraft. Such products can then be sold to the other N.A.T.O. allies. Much more can be done in the standardisation of equipment. Even if we have the same equipment, each country can produce its requirements.
At present there is a large variety of different types of aircraft in the German, Belgian, Dutch and British air forces. Their effectiveness is greatly reduced because the airfields of each country are equipped to deal only with the types of aircraft used by that country. The Commander-in-Chief told the sub-Committee that if, when one or more R.A.F. airfields had been put out of action, those R.A.F. aircraft which were airborne at the time could be diverted to airfields of other countries to be rearmed and reloaded the operability of 1545 the R.A.F. as a whole would be increased 200 to 300 per cent. These are very sobering thoughts for allies against one common enemy. For this reason, he said that he would give first priority to inter-operability, and then to standardisation of aircraft and weapons.
Second, I refer to paragraph 13. During the Christmas Recess I visited the new Five-Power Pact in Singapore. It is possible that I am the only Member of Parliament who has made such a visit. I hope that many other hon. Members will do so. I also went to Kuala Lumpur and met leading Ministers in Malaysia. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the ANZUK side under Admiral Wells is off to a good start. The Australian and British contingents are roughly on a par, while that of New Zealand, naturally, is smaller. But it is remarkable that New Zealand has placed her one regular battalion in Singapore, although rather under-strength. All the staffs are already integrated. The brigade commander is British. Fortunately, he has had experience in the trouble in Malaya in the early 1950s. He was staff trained in Australia.
As our battalion, we have the Royal Highland Fusiliers. They have had no jungle fighting experience, but they are becoming trained. They are alongside New Zealand and Australian forces, of which some men have had experience in Vietnam. The brigade was using signalling equipment from Australia, to achieve standardisation, and we paid for and hired our portion. There was a united financial control, with Australia and ourselves paying 40 per cent. and New Zealand paying 20 per cent., owing to the strengths. I was very glad to find that on our side there was only one joint command secretary covering all United Kingdom financial matters.
The staff of the Department of the Environment responsible for our defence buildings has been reduced from 2,000 to 400, but I am told that in future the task will probably be carried out by the Public Works Department of the Singapore Government. This should result in a saving.
It must be hoped that we can continue to take full advantage of the jungle training school in Johore, which is now to have a Malaysian commandant but will 1546 still have British instructors. Arrangements have been made for two British battalions to be put through a ten-week course each year from 1973 onwards. I hope that our commitments elsewhere, such as in Ulster, will not prevent this.
I saw something of our other two partners who are there on the ground. The Singapore Air Force, flying Lightnings, is training very well. The aircraft are serviced by Royal Air Force volunteers. The young Singaporian Army appears to be keen and efficient. It lacks good young officers and senior warrant officers and N.C.O.s, but in three or four years' time that will be rectified and it will be capable of giving as good as it gets.
I could not help thinking how much wiser is the policy of getting local troops in their own country to look to their defence. When I visited Changi Barracks, I recalled the utter folly of the Colonial Office in the years 1939 to 1942—be it from Whitehall, local men on the spot, or the Commander-in-Chief—which would not recruit a single Singaporian Chinese for labour battalions to clear fields of fire or to arm them to be soldiers. Naturally, those Chinese dislike the Japanese and they would have fought hard to defend their homes. That was one of the most crass, stupid policies, either of the civilians or of the military chiefs on the spot, and we paid dearly for it. It was one of the biggest blots in our history. However, I have said enough of those past times.
The Malay Army has been nearly doubled, and it has seen quite a bit of active service combating the Communist terrorists who are now showing much activity again. The Malay Navy is based in the Straits between Johore and Singapore, and, again, it is indebted to regular Royal Navy personnel who go out to instruct and to see that all the engineering side functions properly. There is no reference to it in the White Paper, but I want to pay special tribute to those airmen, soldiers and sailors who go abroad as specialists to train service men in different parts of the world and to look after machinery. Certainly their work is much appreciated out there.
I do not want to be controversial, but I found that there was much rejoicing in Malaysia and Singapore when the present Government reversed the complete 1547 evacuation policy of the Labour Government. I thought, knowing those parts of the world, that this was one of the more important issues at stake at the time of the General Election.
I want to say a word about B.A.O.R. In 1960, we saw the creation of a new fully professional volunteer British Army which today enjoys a reputation for high morale and efficiency. In Germany, this is very well deserved. We were assured that the pick of all our equipment is set aside for it. However, we must realise that it is a peace-time Army, with all the problems of the dependants. With the lowering of the age of majority to 18, this has meant that more recruits and very young soldiers are married. It increases the problems of accommodation, and we say in our report that some of the accommodation amounts pretty well to squalor. That is not to say that there are not excellent quarters in B.A.O.R., and it is fair to say that the Ministry of Defence had nearly got on top of the problem before the age of majority was reduced to 18. It is typical of us politicians to take a decision without considering all its ramifications.
Some of these younger married soldiers cannot get quarters when their battalions or regiments go out to Germany. They have to remain in hirings, especially round Munster, which is a University town where there is very little accommodation. What they get is poor and expensive. In our report, we recommend that this problem should be looked at as quickly as possible. For the same reason, there is an increase in the problems of schooling, health and hospitals. It is not realised by the British public at large that the Defence Vote bears a big sum which is purely for civilian matters.
In Chapter 2, paragraph 8, it is said that the peace-time strength would be more than doubled on mobilisation. This would take quite a considerable time. It is difficult to know whether this sentence can be substantiated and, if so, how soon, whether there would be a time of tension and, if there were a proclamation to call up reserves, whether our enemies might not take this as a warlike act and attack. It should be realised that, if this happened suddenly, not the whole of B.A.O.R.'s strength could at once go into action. Some personnel would be 1548 on leave, some would be on other duties, some would be sick. What is more, a certain proportion of weapons such as tanks and A.P.Cs. would be being serviced. But our troops are highly trained and, in a situation which we do not envisage and certainly do not want, I am sure that they would give a good account of themselves. One important point that we discovered is that, in such an eventuality, the German civilians on whom our Army depends so much in peace time would continue to function in the initial stages of any war.
Then I want to say a few words about manpower, which is dealt with in Chapter 4. We must all welcome the increase in recruiting. So far as I have been able to ascertain, men are satisfied with their pay and their terms of service. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is to be congratulated on what he has done in this respect.
As for our reserves, clearly it is very difficult for them to keep up their skills. Times move on and, as one who some years ago was a Territorial soldier, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I was glad that this Government increased the size of the Territorial Army. The White Paper shows that recruiting is going very well and that the 10,000 ceiling should be achieved. If this comes about, is it intended to raise the ceiling by a further 5,000?
I am glad that the White Paper pays tribute to the excellent work that the cadet forces do. I have found from my own experience that the contention that they are a good recruiting force for the Regular Services is fully maintained. This country owes much to the many hours put in by the volunteers, both officers and other ranks, who act as instructors to the cadet forces.
My sub-Committee has been considering where expenditure could be cut. We had a strong feeling that there was still too much red tape, form filling and old-fashioned methods of accounting. We all know the time that can be wasted over whether half a dozen pairs of pants have gone astray in the wash. The clerk in Whitehall with his room, his secretary, his lighting and heating is very expensive, and to waste hours writing stupid letters over 50p or £1 in these days is crazy.
We recommend greater power to write off these losses, even down to company 1549 commander level. Some degree of loss is to be expected. Chain stores write off 1 per cent. of their turnover for theft or loss. The present system was set up originally to prevent theft. From the taxpayer's point of view, it is silly to spend £100 to save £1, and we recommend that the Ministry should appoint a committee to investigate this problem. When we returned to this country, I was delighted to see in an O. & M. Bulletin that a Committee had been set up to look into handling pay. It has been decided that £500,000 a year can be saved by adopting new methods. We want to see similar methods applied to these small stores.
There is one final point that I wish to put to my right hon. Friend. I have always been a believer in the use of simulators for safety flying. We are good at this. We have a simulator in Germany for the Phantom, though we have not yet got one for the Harrier. I hope that it may be there by now. I understand also that a system has been devised called Simfire for checking the actual firing of weapons and that it is far in advance of anything that we have had until now. It was experimented with in B.A.O.R. and highly recommended. It could have a tremendous use on manœuvres. This is very important for better training. I believe that the Ministry is recommending it, and it would be pleasant to hear that it is to be forthcoming. It may be expensive, but I believe that we shall gain in better training.
Our Army and Air Force personnel in Germany face the most potentially powerful threat that we have against us anywhere in the world. Their great value is as a deterrent, and the knowledge that they will hit back. In being a good and efficient combatant deterrent, which I think that they are, they are playing a most essential part in the life of this country and in keeping peace in the world.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
I am pleased to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), and I look forward to reading his report among those 400 pages. I was encouraged to hear him say that his sub-Committee's report is only a relatively small part of the 400-page document.
1550 I see that there is a great deal of security blanking out. For example, in paragraph 41:The Sub-Committee were informed that increased costs were a matter of * * * to * * * per cent. The original contingency allowance was about * * * and it has now been reduced to * * * . The heaviest expenditure will come between 1977 and 1984 when it should be between * * * and * * * a year",and then it adds without censorship "at 1970 prices". I do not know whether other hon. Members remember a little book called "Mother Goose Censored". It certainly was one which by putting in blanks made innocuous rhymes look not sinister but extremely surprising.
We have to that this in stages. The Ministry of Defence has been much more helpful than it used to be, and one day we might have a Parliamentary Standing Defence Committee on the lines of our allies in N.A.T.O. I say that the Ministry is more helpful than it used to be because in the 1950s when on the Opposition Front Bench we wanted certain information which we thought was essential to mount a proper debate about British Forces in Germany we could only get it by asking Belgian Members of Parliament, who as members of their defence committee had everything we wanted to know about the British Forces in Germany. We have gone a little way since, and I am hoping that the progress will be continued.
I have been disappointed over the past few years that we have had so few discussions about what happens to nuclear weapons when we become part of a more unified Western Europe. The time has come for us to consider this. The Treaty of Rome is not concerned with defence, and even the Council of Europe, which is the European organisation of which all 10 countries are members, is not allowed to discuss matters of defence. The Prime Minister has spoken about the British nuclear weapon being "held in trust" for Europe, and it is important that we should find out in debate what this means.
I have been greatly surprised to hear French politicians explain this as meaning that Britain and France would cooperate to produce an exclusively European nuclear force. Britain, France, Germany and other European countries already collaborate in advanced military 1551 technology, particularly the production of aircraft. But the military implications of this co-operation are very different from collaboration in nuclear weapons. Why did Britain and France develop nuclear weapons? Surely it was because both wanted a greater share in the decisions governing the use of the Western deterrent. We sought a bargaining power in the use of the American deterrent force. Of course there have been other considerations. British Governments have feared that one day political pressures in the United States might end the special position of Britain under the MacMahon Act by which we have the privilege of obtaining American military nuclear information. Fearing this, some people have thought, and I have read about this and heard it discussed, that the best insurance against this was a link with France, however limited French experience may be, as the only alternative way of maintaining an advanced European nuclear technology.
On the French side, certainly ever since General de Gaulle came to power, they have always questions the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee and reacted in an extreme way. They have gone in for their own nuclear force and said things about the United States to which I will come later. We have to ask whether Europe wants to join a nuclear arms race and whether she can afford to do so. We all know of the astronomical sums needed to become a credible nuclear power of the size of the United States or the Soviet Union. Apart from the financial considerations, not enough thought has been given to the fundamental political problems which will arise. If we were to work with the French the result could not be anything comparable with the United States or Russia while the merging of French and British Forces might antagonise the Russians without achieving anything militarily.
Even more fundamental is the prospect that any such challenge might upset the delicate but relatively stable balance between the two super-Powers in our world of terror. I do not believe that there is a political rôle in Europe for a European strategic nuclear force. If it were to be truly European it would have to evolve some form of European poli- 1552 tical authority or shared nuclear command. That can only come from a close political organisation, which is far off. I have heard this argument, but it is putting the cart before the horse. A unified nuclear policy must follow not precede integration.
If it is suggested that what is called for is not a nuclear force but merely Franco-British co-operation, we are faced with other arguments. It really would be Franco-British, which would divide our N.A.T.O. allies into first and second-class Powers. Further, after the treatment which the Americans have received from the French, it is impossible to believe that the United States Congress would ever amend its legislation to allow France to have any access to United States nuclear information.
Perhaps Western Europe will become unified, but I do not think that is an argument for setting up a separate nuclear strategic force. It should not be regarded as a symbol of European greatness. The new African countries appear to think that having a national airline is a necessary status symbol. We do not need any of these symbols in Europe. At the heart of the matter lie the questions: What kind of Europe will evolve in the next 10 years, and what is the rôle of North America in relation to that? I regret that we have not debated these matters thoroughly in the last few years. It is not enough to debate them in Paris, Bonn, Ottawa or Washington. Members of the N.A.T.O. Parliaments interested in defence should have the chance of debating these matters together in one assembly.
Fortunately, an unofficial forum exists where members of the United States Congress and the N.A.T.O. Parliaments can come together and use this organisation for the exchange of views and for debate. This is a continuing process. I need hardly remind hon. and right hon. Members that such an unofficial organisation has been going since 1955. What we wish is to see the Government make this an official assembly on the lines of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Last year hon. Members on both sides joined in pressing this on the Government. People ask, "What can we do without France?" We can go ahead 1553 without France because that is what is done already in the N.A.T.O. Defence Planning Committee, but the door is left open. People say, "What will you do about Greece?" That has solved itself because Greece has abolished her Parliament and she has no parliamentarians to send to this Assembly. Of course there are arguments against it, but I beg the Government to consider the advantages in having a body like this.
I will remind the House of what Paul-Henri Spaak, who had been Prime Minister and had held every sort of office on both sides of the political fence, said in 1969, when Secretary-General of N.A.T.O.:For an administrative service, the fear of a parliament is the beginning of wisdom.He was then a civil servant and had seen both sides. In an official assembly, these matters would be debated, and we could discuss the problem of the E.E.C. and nuclear weapons.
Another point which could be discussed and which goes right to the heart of the matter is, what is N.A.T.O. for? Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), I wish that all our allies in Europe would do as much as we do in proportion to their gross national product. One of the reasons why I say this is that I believe that by building up balanced forces opposite, not opposed, to the Warsaw Pact we build an umbrella under which we can work for a détente with Soviet Russia.
I believe that Soviet Russia has now reached the stage of being interested in establishing a stable and peaceful Europe. I wish this to be tested in a European Security Conference. My right hon. Friend Lord Chalfont, argued in another place a few days ago that the Government had shown themselves most suspicious and reluctant about accepting a European Security Conference. I was not impressed with the arguments in favour myself until the Russians admitted that the United States and Canada had as much a part to play in European security as they did. Twice in the lifetime of many of us, Canadians and Americans have been killed in Western Europe, as have people from all parts of the Soviet Union.
I think that we can now test the Soviet Union on the security conference. I ask 1554 the Government to do all they can in the coming months to bring about a security conference, while of course in no way relaxing their support for N.A.T.O., the strength of which I believe makes the success of a security conference much more likely.
§ 6.03 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence opened this debate in a measured and balanced way, and put the threat facing the N.A.T.O. alliance very frankly before the House. I particularly welcome his emphasis on the threat which the conventional forces of the U.S.S.R. pose to the security of Europe and of the West as a whole. I wish that he had continued that argument a little further and had hypothesised a little more about the threat we face. One of the greatest weaknesses in this White Paper is that there is very little analysis of the type of war which is planned for our Armed Forces to have to face or even to have to fight.
I wish that some analysis could have been made of recent military experience. The most recent, of course, was the war in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. My right hon. Friend made a passing reference to this in column 1317, when he referred to the developments now taking place with President Nixon's meeting with Chou En-lai and Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese leaders and the emergence of Bangladesh and the war itself. But the White Paper did not draw the right deductions from these events.
The first deduction that I wish to draw is that they are transformations of the security situation in the Indian Ocean. From having been a power vacuum, the Indian Ocean could in reality become a Russian lake. There have been plenty of auguries. There has been much to presage this development, but, as so often, wishful thinking has got the better of us and we have been blind to the realities.
It was in January, 1968 that Kosygin made his visit to Delhi. The very next month, the Chief of the Soviet Naval Staff paid a visit to India. Base facilities were granted, particularly Vishakhapatnam, and we all know what has gone on since then. No Western person has got within 100 miles of Vishakhapatnam 1555 on the Bay of Bengal. I am not sure whether the House is aware that many of the sinkings of Pakistani naval vessels in the war and the destruction of a British ship, the "Harmattan", off Karachi, were achieved by Osa patrol boats equipped with Styx guided weapons. This is a development which we should study very carefully and from which we should try to draw the right conclusions.
This also underlines the Soviet Union's determination to get a position of strategic dominance at the exit of the Arabian Sea. She already has base facilities in Somalia, and we know what has happened in Aden. If there is an extension of base facilities in India as well, this could be a very grave development.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) was engaged in a most delightfully friendly way in fratricidal strife with his brotherly hon. Friends below the gangway, but he said one or two things which must be taken up. First, he said that, in Central Europe, we have one of the greatest concentrations of arms in the world but that fortunately it is one of the areas where at the moment the best prospects lie for disarmament and détente. I believe that "détente" will in the 1970s be as dangerous a phrase as "peace in our time" was in the 'thirties. Again, it fulfils many people's wishful aspirations and it is a noble aspiration in itself, but it does not accord with reality.
The reality is that, to the North, on the southern flank of the N.A.T.O. alliance, and of course in the crucial central land sector in which the Northern Army group of N.A.T.O. lies, the Soviets are immensely preponderant.
To suggest that they were somehow making these dispositions of forces for neo-colonial purposes, to keep down their Communist brothers in Eastern Europe, or, even more ludicrously, according to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, that it was done because of the obessions of the old men in the Kremlin with their rivals in Peking, is crazy. If one has rivals in Peking, why station all one's forces in Europe, where the only Chinese-orientated regimes are the Romanians, who are a very independent-minded member of the Warsaw Pact, with no Russian stationed on their soil, and Albania, which of course has no 1556 Russian troops at all? This was a very circuitous and illogical argument.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked more sensibly about how one analyses defence expenditure. He suggested that we should not be so simplistic as to imagine that one can compare defence expenditure by mere percentages of G.N.P. I helped point that out to him, I hope respectfully, by quoting the examples of East Germany and Poland and the fact that Sweden, which is very much admired by hon. Members opposite, devotes, on a per capita basis, almost 50 per cent. more to defence than we do.
One must analyse the Soviet military expenditure. This Lord Chalfont did in the debate in another place when he referred to expenditure by the Soviet Union in its science budget for research and development. We shall discover, if we examine this, that from October, 1964, lack the day, when Khruchshev fell, Soviet research and development expenditure was £5.2 billion roubles. Today it is estimated at £14.4 billion roubles. When hon. Members opposite speak of Soviet defence expenditure of 8 per cent. of the G.N.P., they are indeed deluding themselves for it is over 11 per cent. and it is rising fast, as the latest N.A.T.O. review shows. In that review there is an excellent article by the former chairman of the Department of Soviet Studies at the University of Bradford, which shows how the Soviets are able to close the technology gap by concentrating on R. & D.
In 1965 the U.S.S.R. had only 224 I.C.B.M.s, whereas the United States had 934. In 1970 the United States had only 1,054 and the U.S.S.R. had one-third more than that. I know that the United States possesses more seaborne systems, but this is still a very frightening development and we should take note of it. That is why I felt so angry about what was said by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. David Owen) who attempted to drive a wedge between the United Kingdom and the United States in their attitude to the Soviet threat. Mr. Nixon, in his State of the Union Message, said that the West faced an enormous threat and he called upon the American people in Election year to increase defence expenditure by over 5 per cent. Melvin Laird has also consistently emphasised this threat.
1557 We have gone full circle in the last 15 years. In 1957 we had a classic White Paper which spoke of massive reductions. Missiles were everything and conventional forces were to be virtually phased out. Doubts began to be expressed in the mid-1960s. I see the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) nodding his head. Perhaps he had a share in that. If so, I admire his prescience. From 1967 we had the strategy of flexible response and now we are told that N.A.T.O. strategy based on flexible response and forward defence is a strategy which is soundly conceived. Nonetheless, we do not have the reserve power or conventional forces to maintain that strategy.
Lord Chalfont, like his right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State, re-emphasised the day before yesterday that if we did face a major incursion, the choice facing the West would once more be suicide or surrender. It is as frightening as that once we get beyond the two or three days period in which we try to identify and check the threat and get political support for whatever military response is appropriate. This leads me to the reserve concept. I admire what the Government have done to encourage the Territorials. This is admirable and is one of the best features of the White Paper, but it seems a pity—I must repeat this—that they should so much neglect the naval, and particularly the air, aspect. People will think that I am getting my hobby horse out of its stable again, but it does not make sense to imagine that the Royal Air Force would have to fight only a three or four day war.
We do not know what kind of war it would be. There are all sorts of gradations of conflict and even if there were a nuclear exchange in which tactical weapons were employed, there would still be a need to augment the front line and to expand. There would be a requirement for less sophisticated systems to back up the more expensive sophisticated systems. I beseech the Government to be more flexible about this. When we have suggested linking a reserve of this kind with some sort of emergency force or some kind of volunteer service, it has been intensely depressing to have the voluntary spirit and enthusiasm and the technical expertise of these volunteers cast aside.
1558 I must develop on the naval side a little and I am sure that my hon. Friends would be upset if I did not do something for the Fleet Air Arm at this stage. I know and fully understand that the mess in which they find themselves is not of their making. It is quite extraordinary how policy changed under the last Government. I well understand why the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) resigned. It was a pity that the whole Admiralty Board did not follow Admiral Luce on the aircraft carrier issue. The 1966 statement on the defence Estimates said:The aircraft carrier is the most important element of the Fleet for offensive action against an enemy at sea or ashore and makes a large contribution to the defence of our seaborne forces. It can also play an important part in operations where local air superiority has to be gained and maintained and offensive support of ground forces is required.That is still the same today. Since then the Soviet Navy has increased by 500 units. It has probably increased in size by 33 per cent. overall and the Soviet Navy has become missile equipped. In 1970 it had 25 per cent. of its forces equipped with surface-to-surface weapons. By 1975 the proportion will be 50 per cent. Can anyone tell me that in 1975 we shall have surface-to-surface weapons widely in service with the Fleet? If so, those weapons will not be comparable in range with the sort of missiles that the Soviet Navy possesses. All the arguments are as strong as ever they were.
When we turn to the United States Navy Institute Proceedings of July last year, we find four good reasons why we in the West should retain carriers. The first is that the Soviet Navy is now virtually at parity with the navies of the whole Western world and only our carrier force gives us any edge or measure of advantage. Secondly, in weapon systems even the United States Navy hardly has an effective surface-to-surface guided weapon in service. Thirdly probably 50 per cent. of the United States Navy is 20 years old whereas more than three-quarters of the Soviet Navy is less than 15 years old.
Then lastly there is the whole question of how to provide air cover against the long-range intruder, the long-range bomber equipped with stand-off weapons, the TU/16 Badgers, of which the Soviet 1559 air arm has about 300 in service. These weapons have a range of 100 nautical miles and those of the TU/22 Blinders have a range of 150 nautical miles.
These arguments reinforce what the Government have chosen to do about "Ark Royal". However, "Ark Royal" will not always be at sea, and it is the 35 per cent. of the time when she is not at sea that particularly worries me, for that will be the time when the threat will be at its greatest. If I were a naval planner I would make sure that such a threat was kept very much in mind. People like Admiral Gorschkov are not fools.
§ Mr. Cronin
The hon. Gentleman is adducing an interesting argument in favour of aircraft carriers. He has not, however, mentioned that the Soviet Navy has, on grounds of cost effectiveness, turned its back on carriers.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I do not think that is so, although I am not privy to the defence intelligence possessed by my colleagues on the Government Front Bench. Nevertheless, I can read the periodicals and articles on the subject and also between the lines.
The United States Navy Proceedings show that the Soviet Navy has already the carriers for using helicopters, while no fewer than three V/STOL fighter designs are airborne in the Soviet Union today. There is as well the suggestion—it appeared in Time magazine—that the Soviets could be laying down a carrier hull.
The Soviets are also expanding their land bases. They can now deploy their long-range air arm from the North Cape to the Black Sea area and to the six bases which they enjoy in Egypt. The situation has been transformed. We have nothing comparable, although we have the technical developments, which should be exploited, on the naval air side, and this brings me to the question of the Harrier.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member and I do so only to inform him that he has been speaking for nearly 20 minutes and that 15 of his hon. Friends have indicated their desire to catch my eye in this debate.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. I am watching the clock closely and trying to avoid repeating myself. I promise not to take more than another few minutes.
It has been suggested that we should either go for the very sophisticated version of the Harrier, and try to get the Americans to fund it, or go for a cheaper option. I suggest that in the interim there is every argument for going for the cheaper option. If the United States Marine Corps can use it, why cannot we do the same on our commando carriers? We have said that we want periodically to uprate Pegasus. There is no reason why the Harrier should not be deployed for close air support duties with "Hermes" or "Eagle". The Jaguar would also make an effective naval aircraft.
I must in closing refer briefly to aerial matters. I appreciate that many hon. Members are not interested in the issue and I sympathise with them, but these matters must be considered. The Soviet Air Force is probably the most flexible instrument of mobile blitzkrieg in the world. The Soviets showed in Czechoslovakia that they were quite prepared to use it. Indeed, they could not have mounted that operation without a heavy lift capability.
It is clear that the Soviet Air Force has a considerable lift capability right through the spectrum, down to the lowliest helicopter. We do not have that sort of capability in support of our armed forces. We saw in East Pakistan how a helicopter-borne assault can surmount obstacles. In the North European plain the Soviet Union have an effective instrument of a similar kind. They also have a superiority of three to one in the air, and this nullifies what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton said about the effectiveness of our tank defences. They are bound to be outnumbered over the battlefield against such air superiority. Consider, for example, the number of interceptors that the Soviet Air Force can boast. They outnumber those of the West by ten to one.
This is, of course, an alarming and frightening threat. We should not be complacent. We must pursue such technical developments as are in train, including the Harrier and Jaguar. We must also wholeheartedly go for V/STOL 1561 because we are a defensive Alliance and are thereby subject to the possibility of a first strike. In that event we must have the reserve power if necessary to mount a protracted war of attrition.
To conclude, we have recently been experiencing a power crisis due to a shortage of coal. Goodness knows what would happen if an aggressor cut off our supplies of oil. The result would be far worse than anything we have experienced in the present fuel and power crisis; and the Soviet Union has the military power and is getting into the position of being able to do so.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson), in a well-informed speech, brought out the overwhelming preponderance of power enjoyed by the Soviets in Europe. I wish to deal with the consequences of that preponderance of power.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that when the Chiefs of Staff of Europe met at Lisbon in 1952 to decide what was necessary then for the defence of Europe they came to the conclusion that, in round figures, we needed 50 divisions at the ready, another 120 divisions available within so many days, 4,000 aircraft of front-line character, plus a strategic plan which would enable the great bulk of those forces to be held behind the Rhine so that the axis of advance of the enemy could be identified before moving in for the counterstrike.
Since those days the power of Russia has increased very considerably indeed; at least by 30 per cent. Thus, the Lisbon figures are not only inadequate but we do not have even one-third of the in adequate. The force required for the safety of Europe were denied to N.A.T.O. for two reasons; first, because the Powers of Europe were not prepared to pay for them and, second, because Germany was not prepared to provide the battlefield.
The realistic plans of the Chiefs of Staff were scrapped and instead an army was placed on the Elbe and Weser right forward in a position from which it could not manoeuvre and, it was about one-third of the size of Army we required. Speaking yesterday, the Minister, the noble Lord, told us that Europe had responded to the challenge. He cannot really believe that. He said expenditure on this had gone up by 1 billion dollars. 1562 That billion dollars would merely increase the enemy booty collected in the first week if they were to attack.
I remember working out with the late Sir Basil Liddell Hart and some people from the Staff College what would happen if the Russians moved at last light on a winter's evening when the North German Plain was frozen; and remember they are 20 to 50 miles closer to our deployment positions than we are ourselves. By first light next morning they could be on the Rhine. On the third day they could be on the Swiss frontier, and the Army of N.A.T.O. would be eliminated in a week. The rôle of that Army of N.A.T.O. is the rôle of a tethered goat. It cannot manoeuvre because it is tethered to its political position. Its horns are irrelevant. It is there for one purpose only—the rifle in the tree that covers it; the American nuclear deterrent. It is there to give credibility to the American nuclear deterrent and if that credibility ceases the Army of N.A.T.O. has no purpose left.
What does credibility mean? The noble Lord in answer to a Question the other day rather fell into an old error when he talked of a power to inflict unacceptable damage. Anybody who has an atomic bomb can inflict unacceptable damage, but that is utterly irrelevant. Credibility depends on being in a position to face the consequences of inflicting that damage. The only people with any credibility in the nuclear sense, probably, are the Americans. If Turkey were attacked they could use a nuclear bomb on a place like Odessa and then say to the Russians, "Face the consequences if you reply". That has a measure of credibility. We worked out with Strategic Studies that it would take about 13 nuclear weapons to make this island cease to be a country in the sense of being a governable unit. We are within immediate range of, and indefensible to, 700 Russian nuclear weapons. Are we deterred? We are indeed. The nuclear weapons in our hands are a rather ridiculous passport to admission to a so-called top table. They have no military importance.
We come back to the final thing, the only thing that matters, the American deterrent and its credibility and the belief that if the American divisions in Europe were scuppered the Americans might then, in this sphere, risk the appalling 1563 retaliation to which they are indefensible. This is easy to believe even today. It takes very little change to make that wholly incredible. The noble Lord said that Mr. Nixon had said he intended to maintain this American position. I personally am an admirer of Mr. Nixon as President. He is not perhaps the most attractive of men, but I believe that in his curious, self-pitying way he has shown considerable gallantry and staunchness; but he is not a dictator and has enormous difficulties on his hands. Senator Mansfield, majority Leader in the Senate, and Senator Fulbright, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, are demanding a reduction in this European commitment.
The polls, which are a very important political factor in America demand it; and we have had the article of Mr. Wyle to which my hon. Friend referred. He is one of those Americans who exist in that strange American limbo between the academic and the presidential and occupy themselves very often in cloaking the nakedness of American foreign policy with a kind of mist of sophisticated technical gobbledy-gook. That article is an example to any Communist propagandist in the art of subordinating objective truths to the superior truth of political desire. It is a kind of article which we have been having to justify the American retirement from Vietnam in terms of President Thieu being able, without American assistance, to do that which he was unable to do with that assistance—beat the Communists. This is the level of nonsense which is very worrying when we see it trotted out, perhaps to justify a retirement which would leave us utterly naked.
We are not helping Mr. Nixon in what I believe in his sincere effort to keep the credibility of the American interest in Europe. We do not want to go into the Common Market, but the Common Market agricultural policy is being designed to cut off America from a very important agricultural market and, even more, to cut off the people to whom she has given aid from that very important agricultural market. Again on currency, heaven knows if ever one nation owed a debt of gratitude to another we owed it to America in terms of currency. But in order to be good Europeans à la 1564 Pompidou we set out to be as uncooperative as possible when the burden on American finance of financing not only the defence of this free world but the development of the under-developed world proved too heavy a burden. We went out of our way, for no economic purpose—because the actual value of gold matters not at all in economic terms—but to provide France with a situation in which she was able to humiliate the Americans and to impose a form of devaluation on them.
Then on this question of China, whether China should come with or without the Taiwan into the United Nations, do we really have to vote against the Americans? Every one of these Europeans who depend upon America for their defence did so. Was that really necessary? When they and we are behaving like this, is the American interest in maintaining us, who were so unco-operative in both the economic and the political fields, and in defending us at such risk to herself? Does it remain credible?
Credibility is tottering. Credibility moves almost in reverse preponderance to the power of this nuclear arm. The more terrible it becomes, the more it multiplies, the more unlikely does it become that it could be used. The only thing that gives that credibility, the only thing that defends Europe, are those four American divisions and the thought that if they are attacked perhaps—perhaps! and that is enough—this awful consequence might result. Now we are having talks about reducing those forces and reducing American interest. It is not very credible now and any reduction will kill this credibility and we shall be left with that vacuum of power which is Europe, without the American screen, a Europe which has neither the will nor the authority to defend itself.
This is the sad reality. We have not the will in Europe to produce even one quarter of the forces necessary, and within this system of Europe we are not building any authority with the power to dispose of, to raise or to post an army, if it had one. We have created and are creating the historic power vacuum; and a power vacuum with Russia tottering on its edge is a most dangerous place to live in. What is going to happen? I do not 1565 believe that this policy is now reversible. It may be that if we had a Churchill with his kind of inspiration and belief in the Atlantic Alliance, that Alliance might once again become a vital and credible thing; but we have not got a Churchill. We prefer Europe to the Atlantic and that is losing all things.
What will be the effect of this loss of credibility. Will Russia charge into Germany? I do not believe that for a moment. Russia is basically a conservative power and she has learned that communisation does not necessarily mean Russianisation. She would be nervous of having to hold the whole of Germany within her system but I do not think she could avoid it. Whenever there has been a power vacuum in history, particularly Russian history, the Russians have tumbled into it.
As the noble Lord said yesterday, that accumulation of naval and military power so overwhelming on the borders of Germany could induce a sense of despair as to what can be done. And I see that despair coming in Germany and in a very quick time. It will be a despair when they see that they have no shield and when they see behind them allies who are worthless—and, let us face it, that is what they are. I cannot remember a war in which Italy started and ended on the same side. France's record as an ally, not as a fighting power when she is fighting for France but as an ally, is known to Czechoslovakia and to ourselves in 1940. Does any German think a Frenchman would die to save a German?
All through Germany patriotic unite-the-Fatherland leagues will spring up. They will be financed by German industrialists who are taking out insurance against the inevitable day, because that is how the German mind works. They do not want to go Communist but if they are going to go Communist it would be better to be on the management side. I have a bet with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) that within three years of our joining the Common Market Germany will be united and Communist. What will happen then? The working-class parties in Italy and France are Communist, too. Thus Europe will be a power vacuum. It is on the verge of 1566 collapse and the real power of the Communists and the real impotence of Europe will move to an inevitable conclusion.
Not every nation will fall in. Finland, by her gallantry and by her power of a citizen army, has maintained an independence. Yugoslavia has, to a considerable degree, done the same, not by ever attempting to become nuclear—she has never been so silly—but by raising a citizen army which would make an occupation intolerable to the occupier. Switzerland will remain free because she has the will and determination to resist this sort of thing.
These are the terms in which we ought to be thinking. Our nuclears will do us no good. We should have local defence and an effective Territorial Army trained not to go off and fight somewhere else but to fight in the old village and the old place so that it will be perfectly clear that occupation would impose an intolerable burden which would make occupation not worth while. This is the only deterrent which means anything, and this is the way in which we should be moving.
I confess to great pessimism here. All history tells us that this Christian civilisation of ours, which is no longer Christian, is moving to a conclusion which may be more dramatic than that of Rome. We are driving there with our eyes deliberately closed.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I cannot follow the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in the great eloquence with which he expressed himself. I agree with a great many of his ideas except the part about the Common Market, but he is very sincere, very well-informed and has great courage in putting forward his point of view. I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him in all the details of his speech.
I am delighted that we now have an Expenditure Committee to examine the details of defence spending. Last year I and a number of hon. Friends put a motion on the Order Paper that we should have an all-party policy committee on defence. Perhaps the Expenditure Committee is one step towards what we were seeking. The right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) mentioned 1567 that perhaps we would now be able to go to the Foreign Affairs and other committees in Europe—I went to one in Bonn—and it seems a pity, as they have opened their doors, that we cannot have a joint committee as he has suggested.
I wish to say one word in reply to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) who is not here. It concerns the question of cost. He forgets that we pay our Services well and that all the other countries he mentioned have conscription. If he wants to cut the amount of money spent he will have to consider introducing conscription, which I would not want. He referred to £ 3.09 per head for a family of four being spent on defence, but he must remember that this is an insurance policy. The Americans are also our insurance in the Mediterranean. Admiral Duncan said in a speech not long ago that if history is any teacher the nation which could control the seas would almost certainly have the strongest voice in settling disputes. Settling disputes does not necessarily mean going to war. What he said was very wise.
The rate of naval construction in Russia is three to four times that of N.A.T.O., and if this continues Russia will have more submarines than N.A.T.O., and America together. The Russians have at the same time built up their navy, which has no parallel in the history of any country in the world in peace time. They have also built up their merchant shipping to three times what it was three years ago. It is no longer now just a fleet of defence; it is a fleet which holds a three dimensional challenge in the air, on the surface and beneath the sea. So this is where the main danger lies.
For some time I have been a delegate to the Western European Union, and I have the feeling sometimes when I go there that I am living under a roof which is being continually patched while termites are nibbling away the rafters and that it might eventually fall and crush us. There is such a lack of planning and collaboration between the different nations and in regard to expenditure. This has been brought out very well in W.E.U. document No. 557, a report submitted on behalf of the Committee on Defence Questions and Armaments by the hon. Member for Bishop 1568 Auckland (Mr. Boyden), who was rapporteur. It states:That European defence should continue to be based on the integration of European and United States forces in NATO, and that NATO countries should continue to concert their policies on European security, disarmament and East-West relations in the North Atlantic Council".This has been discussed for some time.
The infrastructure of the defence support side of N.A.T.O. is stated to have been successful, but, regrettably, N.A.T.O. has not been so successful in the joint production of armaments. Exceptions are perhaps the G.91, the F104, the Anglo-French Jaguar or the M.R.C.A. aircraft. There has been some success with the Hawk, the Bullpup and Sidewinder missiles. There was to be a conference of national armament directors in 1968, and I do not know what has resulted. I hope my hon. Friend who winds up can tell us about any decisions made.
I do not want to go into details of naval matters, because we are to have a Naval Estimates debate. But I support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said about H.M.S. "Eagle". If we cannot keep her, surely we could offer her to our allies instead of scrapping her? We shall have a long time to wait for the through-deck cruisers; I gather that they will not be in operation for at least another 10 years.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Peter Kirk)
The first cruiser will, we hope, be operational in 1978.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
That is a wait of six years, anyway.
The French are more realistic. They have the "Clemenceau" and the "Foch", which carry 30 aircraft. Lord Mountbatten has said that it is necessary to have one and a half carriers or no carriers at all. He has had great experience, particularly in the Far East.
According to the White Paper, we are also to scrap 21 other ships. Surely some of them could be put to use, even if only we sold them at a reasonable price to some Commonwealth countries.
As Iceland may become neutral, it would appear that there is a danger to Europe and America not so much from central Europe but from the north, from 1569 Murmansk. What action is the North Atlantic Council taking? The White Paper says on page 3, on the subject of European defence co-operation:Within the Western Alliance the European countries should seek to co-operate more closely on defence and to establish a greater identity of view … Europe needs both to exert more influence on the major issues affecting Western security and to assume increased responsibility for its own defence.This is the era of Soviet maritime expansion. I am worried that in a time the Russians might easily surround us and exert a squeeze on us behind our backs. That is not an idea entirely of my own. The matter was discussed at a SACEUR meeting, when it was stated that:We may look back on the 'seventies as an era of Soviet maritime expansion, when, balked in Europe, they reached around us to exert the big squeeze behind our backs.My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) spoke in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph today about what could be done for the Navy with the £17 million to be spent on buildings at Bath for the staffs of the Admiralty. But I gather that if the Navy did not have those buildings the Naval Estimates would not be helped. Having been a civil servant in Malaysia, I realise the position. The buildings belong to a different Department, the Department of the Environment, and I do not think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would hand back to the Services the money saved if the Navy said it did not want the buildings. This sort of matter must be tidied up. If the Navy protested too much that it did not want the buildings the Department might say, "You are ungrateful. We shall give them to another Department." That is the sort of thing the Expenditure Committee might go into. It is a case of one Department working against another. If the Navy could have the money back, it would mean at least 2½ "Leanders", which would be a great asset to our Fleet.
One matter on which I agree with the hon. Member for Salford, East is that there should be more mention in the White Paper of arms control and disarmament. There could be no harm in backing a European Security Conference. 1570 After all, it was Sir Winston Churchill who said,Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.Perhaps because I am a woman, I prefer talking to fighting. We should take the opportunity, if it presents itself in a reasonable manner, as I think it will, to have a discussion as soon as possible.
Regrettably, we can no longer play a part in world peace-keeping, as we did in the Victorian era, but because of our geographical position, because we are an island, we must still protect our merchant fleet and fishing vessels. While I have some sympathy with the Amendment, I am not keen on appeasement, and I am not a pacifist. It would be useless to take the action the hon. Member for Salford, East suggests, especially in view of the U.S.S.R.'s current spending of 14.4 billion roubles on research, and the fact that it has over 1,500 missiles.
I should like the Government to consider the question of selling arms. I have always hoped that it could be done between Governments and not by the pushing of arms by various firms. Intergovernmental transactions might control or stop some of the smaller countries spending far too much on arms and creating small wars.
I was pleased to see in the White Paper that in January and this month a conference on Biological Weapons ban has been taking place. Such a ban is very near, according to the latest document from N.A.T.O. It would be a very great blessing, and a big step forward in East-West relations. I congratulate all those involved in the conference.
A resolution passed by the Western European Union last November recommended the North Atlantic Council to:Take the opportunity offered by the enlargement of the E.E.C. to harmonise the policies of Western European countries with a view to finding a solution to the problems of Central Europe …"—I shall not read it all, but I would mention two other recommendations, which were to:Consider the implications of a conference on European security in regard to full and detailed preparation and also the date and place of such conferenceand toEnsure that any withdrawal of United States forces from Europe does not result in a unilateral reduction in the level of forces in Western Europe".1571 I have had the opportunity of going twice to Ulster, and would like to give particular praise to the Royal Marines and the Devon and Dorset Regiment. All our troops have been excellent, but they happen to come from the West Country, and they have done a splendid job. It is very sad that the problem of Ulster is continuing as it is, but we should pay tribute to our forces for the rôle they have played in an intolerably difficult situation.
Malta has not been mentioned in the debate. Perhaps my hon. Friend who winds up will be able to say whether Mr. Mintoff is coming to England, and whether there is likely to be a successful and satisfactory outcome of the meeting with him, which would continue our happy relationship with Malta.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I propose to devote most of my speech to the operations of the British Army in Ulster. But I should like first to take up a few points made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) about the adequacy of our arms generally. She drew attention to the expansion of the Soviet Navy, and I think one of the dominating factors in this debate has been the enormous expansion of the Soviet Government's conventional armaments against the background of nuclear stalemate.
I do not think the situation is quite as gloomy as has been suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who made my flesh creep a little when describing what might happen, because it seems to me that looked at from the Soviet Government's point of view it is not surprising that they have increased their conventional armaments. They remember the Second World War, when they were overrun and 25 million people were killed. They see around them American bases, American forces deployed all over the world. And the Soviet Government have found that on every occasion on which their foreign policy has been dependent on conventional military power, they have failed. The occasions I have in mind are Cuba, Vietnam, the Middle East and Berlin. So it is not surprising that they wish greatly to increase their conventional forces.
1572 There are other favourable factors. There has been some progress in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and I think there is some evidence that the Soviet Government are finding the excessive expenditure on the defence budget rather a strain, not to mention the intense scientific effort for defence, instead of for more useful communal purposes.
Nevertheless, with the present Soviet situation we must be very careful in considering any reduction in armaments as far as N.A.T.O. is concerned. There is no escape from the fact that the Soviet Government have a dislike and distrust of Western Europe, based on our ideological differences and, of course, on our material superiority. It is much easier for the Soviet Government to conciliate their military lobby than to agree to more consumer spending, which has political and social repercussions which it finds rather unattractive. Finally, the monolithic nature of the Soviet Government is such that they lack all the checks and balances which Western Governments have, therefore it is always possible for some war-like people to gain control and to set in hand some reckless movement. So I suggest that there is no good reason for any reduction in arms as far as N.A.T.O. is concerned unless it is a balanced reduction on a mutual basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) did a very good service to the House in pointing out the big discrepancy between the amount spent on arms by Great Britain and that spent by our partners in Europe. He pointed out that we are spending 5.7 per cent. of our gross national product and that the remainder of Europe averages about 4.2 per cent. I should like to ask the Government why they are agreeable to this situation continuing. Perhaps the Minister of State would tell us. Why is it that we are spending such a disproportionate amount, making such a disproportionate contribution to the budget of N.A.T.O.? We know that the Secretary of State for Defence has been negotiating in a most tight and bitter way with the Prime Minister of Malta for a matter of a few million pounds. If we were paying only our proper contribution to N.A.T.O.s budget there would surely be a saving of hundreds of millions. I think that the Government are being excessively relaxed about the fact that 1573 the British taxpayer is carrying a much larger proportion of the N.A.T.O. budget than are our European partners.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
But in many other ways the British taxpayers, the British people, are having fewer burdens put upon them. The percentage of the British people of military age who have to do military service is lower than in any other European country and we have lower reserves than almost any other country, except Italy.
§ Mr. Cronin
I see the hon. Gentleman's point, but what is quite clear is that my constituents are being asked to contribute much more from their pockets to the N.A.T.O. budget than are their opposite numbers in other countries of Western Europe. That is an unsatisfactory situation and I should have thought that the Government would have taken some steps in N.A.T.O. to negotiate a better financial situation for us.
§ Lord Balniel
The point just made by my hon. Friend is completely valid, of course, and there is the further point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) that we alone of all the European countries have a voluntary system, which means that we have to pay our Service men as opposed to conscripting them. There is the further point that France spends as much in cash as we do and that Germany spends substantially more, and it is an increasing rate of expenditure.
§ Mr. Cronin
But the important question is, what is the proportion of the gross notional product spent? There is no escape from that. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should have conscription back in this country. I am merely suggesting that these figures show that we are carrying a much heavier burden than we need. But I do not want to dwell on this. I should like to concentrate on the operations of the British Army in Ulster.
First of all, what I want to make clear beyond any possible doubt is that I, and all my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I think, wish only to praise the British Army in Northern Ireland. They have shown restraint and humanity in appalling psychological circumstances. They find themselves being insulted and 1574 abused, living in appalling quarters, every day exposed to dangers from snipers' bullets and petrol bombs. They put up with this intolerable situation with good humour and with a courage which must excite the admiration of everyone in this House.
Having said that, I should like to say that one of the most deplorable tactics of the Government is that every time their policy in Ulster is criticised they try to suggest that this is an attack on the British Army. We heard this several times yesterday. This defence has been used by Ministers.
§ Lord Balniel
I think that is an intolerable suggestion to make and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to substantiate it by quoting from HANSARD.
§ Mr. Cronin
The hon. Gentleman may find it intolerable, but if he will look at HANSARD, at replies to questions to himself and his hon. Friends—in last Thursday's HANSARD—he will find suggestions from his side of the House that there have been attacks by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House against the British Army, which did not take place.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I have HANSARD for last Thursday open at Question No. 7 by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), which most certainly was an attack on the British Army and the regiment to which I belonged.
§ Mr. Cronin
I have not got HANSARD of that date in my hand and obviously cannot reply. I repeat that this has been the tendency of Ministers when attacks have been made on their Irish policy.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
The hon. Gentleman is an honourable man and is taking this matter very seriously. Would it not be better if he withdrew that allegation and then, if he finds that it is right, he can make it again at a future date?
§ Mr. Cronin
I am certainly not going to withdraw that allegation because I recollect only too well the intense 1575 annoyance I felt last Thursday when that accusation was made. I should be very glad to have the noble Lord's reassurance that there is no further intention of indicating that an attack on the policy of his Government in Ulster is an attack on the British Armed Forces. If we can agree on that, I shall be content.
The British Army has an intolerable job in Ulster and I think it has been seriously hampered by the efforts of the Ministers sitting on the Treasury Bench now who have agreed to policies which have made serious difficulties for the Armed Forces. First, internment has made the Roman Catholic population of Ulster 100 per cent. against the British Army. Secondly, the British Army is closely connected operationally with the Stormont Government. The noble Lord told us last Thursday, and again yesterday, that the General Officer Commanding regularly meets the Joint Security Council, which consists almost entirely of Ministers of the Stormont Government. How can the noble Lord expect the Roman Catholic population to consider that the British Army is impartial when it is meeting the Stormont Ministers in the Joint Security Council every day and receiving tactical directions from them? The British Army, quite contrary to its wishes, has lost all credibility as an impartial force in the eyes of the Roman Catholic population.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
If the situation is as the hon. Gentleman suggests, how is it that such a large number of Roman Catholics, against great difficulties and terror, are joining the Ulster Defence Regiment which is commanded by a Roman Catholic? Is not one Minister in the Cabinet also a Roman Catholic?
§ Mr. Cronin
I am not suggesting that no Roman Catholics are prepared to co-operate with the British Army. I am suggesting—and the facts bear it out—that the vast majority of the population do not regard the British Army as being an impartial force. This is obvious from the news received every day of the cooperation of a large part of the Catholic population with the terrorist organisations.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
If the hon. Gentleman has been 1576 following the news carefully, he will be aware that while up to about a year ago the terrorists often worked from behind large crowds in the streets, within recent months there has been a noticeable change. The terrorists are finding it more difficult to get the crowds out on to the streets to support their operations. This is entirely contrary to the suggestion the hon. Gentleman is making.
§ Mr. Cronin
I see the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think we can come to any agreement about this. By the very nature of its operations the British Army is moving largely in the Roman Catholic populated areas, and its operations tend to involve the harassment of the Roman Catholic population. This is obviously unsatisfactory, when the British Army is so clearly instructed in tactical operations by the Stormont Government.
The only effective way to deal with the situation is to transfer responsibility for security from Stormont to Westminster. This would have a tremendous psychological effect on the Roman Catholic population of Ulster and also upon the Opposition. The British Army would no longer be an obvious instrument of repression. The Social Democrat and Labour Members of Parliament in Ulster might be induced to co-operate, although this is a long way from their basic demand for an end to internment. It would also provide Mr. Lynch, the Irish Prime Minister, with a quid pro quo which would enable him to take stronger action against the I.R.A.
To transfer responsibility for security from Stormont to Westminster would be an act of political courage by the Government, and they should do it. They might lose the support of the Unionists Members of this House, or a large proportion of them, and this would make their political situation rather shaky, but it would put them in a much more honourable position.
Will the Minister who winds up the debate give an assessment of the success of the British Army in ending the I.R.A. campaign? There has been no significant decrease in I.R.A. activity, and the news we get from Ireland gets more pessimistic every month. The Times of 15th December, 1971 has this headline:Home Secretary says I.R.A. may never be totally eliminated.1577 That is not an optimistic assessment of the winning of the battle.
There is no way of completely stopping terrorist activity. The men in the I.R.A. go about in civilian clothes, and no one can stop them putting an attaché case containing a bomb in any place they choose, even with the most drastic security precautions. This is a battle which cannot be won, and there is no prospect of it ever being won.
No member of the Government knows what the I.R.A. really wants. There is a case for finding out what considerations would induce the I.R.A. to abandon its terrorist campaign. I fully appreciate that the I.R.A. is basically a criminal organisation, and that it is repugnant to have dealings with it. At the same time, it probably has some motives which are worth probing. The members of the I.R.A. are not sadists—perhaps some are, but the majority I should think are not—and they are getting no economic advantage out of the campaign. Most of them may regard themselves as being brave patriots, fighting for some cause. It might be a help for some form of communication to be established with the I.R.A. to find out under what terms it will agree to abandon its campaign.
§ Mr. Cronin
That is not necessarily so. The United States was faced with the same problem in Vietnam when the Government refused to have any communication with the Viet Cong. Now, United States diplomats sit down in Paris with representatives of the Viet Cong. Compared with the Viet Cong, the members of the I.R.A. are a collection of Victorian governesses. The Government should give consideration to establishing communications, even of a most unofficial nature, with the I.R.A. to see what inducements would cause it to abandon its campaign.
§ Mr. McMaster
I have just received some figures which show the position to be contrary to that which the hon. Gentleman has been portraying. In the week to 31st January the amount of gelignite used in terrorist activities in Northern Ireland was 245 pounds. During the week to 7th February, 1972 it was 140 pounds, almost half the previous week's total. In the week to 14th February, 1578 111 pounds was used. This is evidence that the scale of terrorist activity is on the decrease as a result of the activities of the British Army.
§ Mr. Cronin
I do not think one can come to any far-reaching conclusion on the basis of the number of pounds of gelignite used. The general situation seems to be that the I.R.A. is continuing its campaign of terror relatively unchecked. I suggest that there is a case for the Government to establish some form of communication with the I.R.A. to discover what considerations will induce it to abandon its terrorist campaign. There is no suggestion at present that it can be beaten by military forces.
My main theme is that until the I.R.A. can be induced, either by military force or by some form of negotiation, to cease its campaign, we obviously have to continue political discussions. Rut all the political discussions in the world will mean nothing unless they have the consent of the I.R.A. Ministers are seeking political solutions and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has suggested somewhat complicated political solutions. However, unless those solutions have the consent of the I.R.A. we shall remain in exactly the same position.
It is important to discover what the I.R.A. really wants. I suggest that the most important objective is to transfer from Stormont to Westminster responsibility for security. I suggest the dangerous and unpleasant burden which the British Army is bearing so well would be greatly reduced if the Government would take this single step. I suggest that the Government's obstinacy in this respect has no affinity with either virtue or wisdom. I suggest that the present Government policy of forcing a humane and reluctant British Army to carry out the reactionary and sectarian aims of the Stormont Government will be one of the darker pages of Army history.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I have on occasion heard the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) make an interesting and intelligent speech in this House, but that cannot be said of his contribution this evening. His speech was neither virtuous nor wise. He surely must realise that a propaganda war is taking place. If he believes that it is 1579 helpful in this House to call the British Army an obvious weapon of oppression, as he did a few moments ago, then I do not know what hon. Members in this House are coming to.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am not sorry the 'Ion. Gentleman has mentioned this point since he has proved what I was saying a little earlier. Every time somebody says that the British Army is being wrongfully used in Ulster, hon. Members opposite say that it is an attack on the British Army. I devoted several minutes of my speech to expressing my appreciation of the British Army in this situation. The hon. Gentleman seized upon one sentence of my speech in which I said that it was being used as instructed in a quite unjustifiable way.
§ Mr. Goodhart
The hon. Member must realise that the whole of his speech will not be reported in the Press of Ireland or of anywhere else. What will be seized upon tomorrow will be that one sentence in which he made his unfortunate refererence to the British Army being used as an obvious weapon of oppression.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that by taking the sentence out of context and emphasising it in an unfair way he has ensured the result which he says will happen?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I would have thought that when moving on this sensitive ground the hon. Member for Loughborough would have taken care not to use words which can be used by the enemies of Her Majesty's Forces against those Forces.
There was one point at least on which I agreed with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), and this was when he commented on the great difficulties of hon. Members when discussing defence matters because of the secrecy requirements. This point was reiterated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who has just carried out a splendid job as Chairman of the Defence sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee.
This point is very much brought home by the argument which is raging on these benches about the fate of H.M.S. "Eagle", which is a subject that gene 1580 rates a considerable amount of heat. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) in his admirable speech yesterday rightly made play of the value of the aircraft carriers in a surveillance rôle. However, back-bench Members in this House cannot judge whether the surveillance rôle of an aircraft carrier is of value and whether it will be of continuing importance. We do not know how effective the American spy satellite system is in supervising world trade routes, nor do we know how much information we get from the American satellite system or how quickly it is provided. Therefore, we cannot sensibly discuss the value of the surveillance rôle of H.M.S. "Eagle".
Unfortunately, what is all too clear, and cannot, alas, be classified, is the fact that we are completely out-gunned and out-rocketed by the Soviet Union in terms of long-range hitting power. We do not have any effective surface-to-surface weapons, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) reminded us, Russian rockets which have been handed over to the Egyptian and Indian Navies have proved very effective at long range. It is a sad fact that we should be out-rocketed by the navies of Egypt and India. It is surely, then, not sensible to send to the knackers' yards one of the few ships in the Royal Navy which are capable of a long-range striking rôle, particularly as we know we shall not have adequate surface-to-surface missiles for many years to come. This cannot be blamed on the Conservative Government or even on their Labour predecessors. This is a general gap in the armouries of all the navies of the West.
I trust that the plea by my hon. and gallant Friend for "Eagle" to be put into reserve rather than to be scrapped straight away will be listened to. At the same time I regret that the present Government have had to continue the policy of the Labour Government in withdrawing most of our forces from the Gulf. That was one of the worst actions taken by the Labour Government. The story is only too well known of how they sent one poor unfortunate Minister round the Gulf saying that they would honour their defence commitments. That Minister had barely returned to this country when he was put on a plane and sent back 1581 to say that the Government were going to rat. It has been difficult for this Government to repair the damage to our position in the Gulf by their predecessors.
I fear that there is a dangerous power vacuum in that area. Today, we have seen reports of disturbances in Qatar and the removal of the British military and police advisers from that country. The events of the last few days and weeks have shown how vulnerable we are when power supplies are cut off. It was not wise for us to withdraw so many of our Forces from an area on which we are so dependent for fuel supplies.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. Gentleman appears to be in some slight confusion, if I may modestly suggest it, between internal coups and a political vacuum to be filled by an external power. He must be as aware as anyone else in this House that even when we were in the Gulf coups were not an unfamiliar scene in the Gulf States.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am well aware that coups did take place. I am also aware that, despite the enormously explosive mixture of Arabs and immense quantities of oil and money, there was less bloodshed in the Gulf than in any other part of the Arab world. Also, the oil continued to flow while our Forces were there. We can only hope that it will continue to flow in future. However, that seems less certain.
I wish now to return to the Irish scene, although, alas, it is no longer just the Northern Irish scene, because in the last 48 hours we have witnessed the outrageous and murderous attack on the women of Aldershot by at least part of the I.R.A. The I.R.A. suggests that this is just the beginning of a protracted campaign of terror on this side of the Irish Sea. I see no reason for thinking that this is an idle boast on the part of the I.R.A., because there are an infinite number of soft targets in this country. I do not know whether it is true, as the so-called official wing of the I.R.A. has boasted, that its murder squad has now returned to the Irish Republic. However, that brings into question the communications between this country and the Irish Republic. One wonders whether terrorists are going to be able to shuttle backwards and forwards at will between the Irish 1582 Republic and this country. I wonder how long that situation can go on.
It is legitimate to suggest in a Defence debate that there should be controls and security checks on travel between Eire and this country. Northern Ireland has a long land-frontier with the Republic. It is not for us in this House to tell the Army and the security forces how to conduct their campaign in Northern Ireland. However, many independent experts in counter-insurgency to whom I have spoken believe that it is essential that some degree of control should be brought to the frontier. There is the argument that this would involve thousands of men. However, with the development of electronic sensors, control and surveillance of an area can be carried out by comparatively small numbers of men. I think that the time has come to consider this proposal very carefully. I believe that every vehicle travelling between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland ought to be searched as a matter of course.
§ Mr. McMaster
Is my hon. Friend aware that while it may be difficult to supervise a border of more than 300 miles, it is possible to defend in depth by checking at each of the many crossroads further back? If one only covers the border in depth this might be one way of controlling it more effectively.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I have no desire in this debate to try to tell the Army or anybody else how to do the job. However, it is right to point out that many people seem to think that this particular job sooner or later—and sooner better than later—has to be done.
The political argument about the deployment of the Forces in Northern Ireland has turned on the question of control from Westminster, a point raised by the hon. Member for Loughborough, who, I regret, appears to have left the Chamber.
§ Colonel Sir Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
Does my hon. Friend share my view that to make a highly controversial speech describing the British Army in Northern Ireland as an instrument of repression and then not to have the courtesy to remain to hear the subsequent speaker is a matter very much frowned upon in this House?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I expect that the hon. Member for Loughborough may be returning to the Chamber.
The argument presented by the hon. Member for Loughborough and, indeed, by Opposition Front Bench speakers, is to a considerable degree a non-argument, a play upon words. Whatever we say about the degree of control exercised by Westminster, in practice the security operation in Northern Ireland is bound to be a partnership between the Army, controlled from Westminster, and the indigenous forces.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) went to an absurd degree in an intervention yesterday, when he reproved the Army for carrying out an operation on information which had been supplied by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that that was putting the Army into an absurdly dependent position on the Stormont authorities. Nothing could be further from the truth. British Forces operating in Northern Ireland are bound to be dependent on information which comes to them from Northern Irish sources.
§ Mr. Maclennan
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who is not here to defend himself, I think that I should point out that he was making the point not that it was absurd for the Army to act on information from the R.U.C. but that the R.U.C., being directly under the Stormont Government and observed as such by the minority population, was itself unpopular, which meant that its unpopularity spilled over to the Army. That is the real nub of the problem.
§ Mr. Goodhart
Perhaps that was the point made by the hon. Member for Salford, West. But not even the Opposition Front Bench has argued that direct control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary ought to be taken over by Westminster. Therefore, it seems inevitable that any information given by the R.U.C. is open to that charge, whether or not one makes a grand statement that control of security has been taken by Westminster. We have to face the fact that the British Army can operate in Northern Ireland only with the co-operation of the people of Northern Ireland. No semantic change of these words can alter that fact.
1584 I welcomed the Hunt Report soon after the riots of 1969. The report called for the demilitarisation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. But I now think that perhaps, it went a little far in that direction. We have seen the Americans going into Vietnam and thinking that the main force war in Vietnam was too important a matter to be left to the Vietnamese, and then, eventually, when wiser policies prevailed, there was the policy of Vietnamisation which seems to be substantially more successful.
In 1969 we had the feeling that security in Northern Ireland was too important a matter to be left to the people of Ulster. We rather overdid this particular shift in our policy. I suspect that a wiser policy might be to build up the indigenous defence forces in Ulster. In that respect, I pay tribute to the work done by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army in respect of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I have been in Ulster recently and have seen the regiment at work. I was pleased to hear from the regular British Forces of the value they now put on the work of the U.D.R. I was also pleased to hear from the U.D.R. and others how hard the Under-Secretary had worked to obtain the equipment required. I believe that recruitment has gone exceptionally well recently. I hope that that will continue, and that the regiment's rôle can be expanded.
I listened with interest to the speech of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on the question of development and research—and very good listening it made. There was, however, one defect in it. We are spending £330 million on research and development for some very sophisticated weapons. But the war in Northern Ireland does not require very powerful or sophisticated weapons. It requires weapons that will stop people doing things we do not want them to do, such as throwing stones, rocks, petrol bombs and nail bombs. But we do not want weapons that will kill people. I regret that anyone who touches on this subject is apt to be labelled as a crank. I have been so labelled in the past when I have stressed the importance of non-lethal weapons. One has heard people say, "Here comes old Philip with his silly old nerve gases." But, alas, the problem now is to stop people throwing rocks at our soldiers and rioting but without killing them. If they are killed, 1585 the propaganda battle is lost as well. Some greater part of that £330 million research and development budget should be devoted to weapons that are of real use in the crowd situations which arise in Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on the splendid recruiting figures they have been able to announce, in particular on the splendid increase in recruitment for the TAVR. I hope that the Government will continue to press for an increase in recruitment to the Territorial Reserve Forces, because the events of the last few weeks have shown only too clearly how thinly stretched on the ground are the forces of law and order. One of the reasons why recruiting has improved so much in the last 18 months is the factor that we now have in office a Government which put defence in its proper place at the top of our list of priorities.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) always makes extremely interesting speeches in these debates. Therefore, I hope he will take it in the spirit in which it is offered when I say that, on reflection, he will probably feel that the remarks he made at the beginning of his speech were an unworthy reflection on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). It is because of our almost unbridled admiration for the way in which the British troops in Northern Ireland are operating under immensely difficult circumstances that we have a duty to examine honestly and openly any misgivings we may have about the context in which we are expecting them to serve in our name.
The strategy behind the White Paper is the nuclear deterrent and the willingness, if circumstances demand it, to use it first. The credibility of that deterrent must depend upon the fear of our potential enemies that we are prepared to use it. This must mean that we have to convince those potential enemies that we are prepared to take the retaliatory holocaust which would inevitably follow from our pushing the button. If we are to convince them of that, surely a comprehensive civil defence system is an indispensable element of a deterrent policy.
1586 I here hasten to say, before it is said from the other side of the House, that I have never been altogether satisfied about policy on this front since the original decision was taken by the previous Government to run down drastically the civil defence programme. Why do the present Government stick to this policy? It seems to be a serious gap in our credibility. Is it that the considered opinion of the Government Front Bench is that there is no meaningful defence against the retaliatory holocaust, that we must be seen to be willing to commit collective suicide as a nation if need be? I put these questions because it seems to me that in a responsible democracy the public has the right to know the philosophy on which the strategy is based.
Perhaps I put this view forward with special feeling because, representing as I do a constituency which contains one of our principle naval bases, it is not unnatural from time to time to find people asking in conversation what would happen to the civilian population of a city like Portsmouth in the terrible context of a nuclear war. I have heard people ask whether there are deep shelters in Portsmouth, and usually they go on quite entertainingly to discuss which senior citizens and senior Service personnel have their names on the list for entry to such shelters. I had even heard it suggested that one of the reasons why people stand for Parliament is to get into a deep shelter in time of need—a suggestion which I refute hurriedly! However, civil defence is a matter we should look at very seriously. It has been sadly lacking from recent defence debates.
Yesterday the hon and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), whose remarks we always enjoy again in debates of this kind, referred to the observation of the late President Kennedy which summed up the predicament of the possible stalemate of nuclear confrontation in the words:The greatest danger to the West is being nibbled to death in conditions of nuclear stalemate.If we take that thought seriously, we might also give a little more time to examining the observations of the late Stephen King-Hall on possible effective defence systems in the nuclear age.
1587 Sometimes I wonder whether a really radical look at our predicament might not result, as he suggested, in our recognising that there is a great deal to be said for a system in which we have a home defence force able to say to an enemy, "If you come, come. But the cost of coming, once you are here, will be so great that the coming will not prove to have been worth while."
Naturally, during the debate we have talked a good deal about Northern Ireland. Representing a constituency in Hampshire, I am well used to the Service traditions of the county. Even before the desperately tragic events at Aldershot earlier in the week, we had been struck already in our community by the number of military casualties and military funerals and the agony of the families who had suffered.
I refer again to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Beckenham when I say that it is because we have such a heavy responsibility to our men in the front line that we must be able to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that they are operating within a framework which shows the community of Ireland and of the world as a whole that their rôle is completely impartial. That must mean their direct accountability to Whitehall. Whitehall's direct responsibility for them should be beyond question. I know that the Minister of State is convinced that this is the case, but it is patently clear that the people of Ireland do not see this any more than do the world community or many people in this country. I ask the Government seriously to consider how this can be made more clear, if they are convinced that it is the case already.
§ Lord Balniel
I see the hon. Gentleman's point. It is the presentational aspect which worries him. But he will appreciate, as I am sure will everyone in the House, that our troops are answerable to the G.O.C. Northern Ireland, who in turn is answerable to Ministers of Defence, who in turn are answerable to the Houses of Parliament. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about the presentational aspect. However, the facts are clear beyond peradventure.
§ Mr. Judd
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I respect his sincerity. But, while I agree that to a large extent it is a presentational problem, 1588 there is more to it. The close involvement of the Army in co-operation with the Royal Ulster Constabulary complicates the issue. Therefore, I believe that we have seriously to take this point on board.
I make one other observation in passing about the rôle of our troops in Northern Ireland. The duties that they are being asked to perform are in some ways exceptional, though if we look at the rôle of the British Army in recent years in various parts of the world they are not so very dissimilar. I hope that we shall be assured before the end of the debate about the amount of consideration being given by the authorities to the need for increased amounts of specialist training for this sort of operation. It is a tremendous challenge to those involved, and it is unfair to send troops into a situation where a special form of training is required if they have not been given that specialist training to help them in the immensely problematical difficulties which confront them.
I come now to one or two other points which are important in the context of this White Paper. I should like to pick out the reference to the Beira patrol. I represent a naval constituency, and I wish to pay tribute to all those Service personnel who have been involved in maintaining the patrol in a stance which at times must have appeared almost ridiculous because of our refusal effectively to challenge the Portuguese, who so deliberately set out to undermine and thwart the international sanctions policy.
While discussing this area of the world, perhaps I might make one other observation. We have heard very little in this debate about the supposed Communist threat in the Indian Ocean which resulted in the Government's decision again to sell arms to South Africa and which nearly wrecked the Commonwealth as a result. I hope that we shall hear about this problem before the debate ends. I believe that the real indictment of British policy in that part of the world is that it could not be better calculated to encourage the spread of Communist influence in the African Continent. What we have to look at seriously is the interrelationship between our defence objectives and our foreign policy as it is conducted at the moment.
1589 In this White Paper there is a good deal of talk about conditions of service. Anyone who has regular dealings with Service personnel and their families will welcome many of the measures which have been announced. That concerning flexible engagement is a tremendous step forward, and the Government deserve genuine congratulations on their move in this direction. I applaud the concept of men serving because it is their choice rather than because there is an element of compulsion in keeping them in the Services. Having visited the detention quarters in Portsmouth and seen the psychological and physical misery of young men who have had no alternative but to work their passage out of the Navy, I believe this proposal is a civilised move that we must welcome.
There is one point that I do not understand. It may be my fault. It concerns how far existing Service personnel will be able to switch, all of them if they so wish, to the notice system which is to operate for new personnel. While it may affect only a small number, it will be a grave injustice if the opportunity is not there for all.
I thank the Government also for what they say about family welfare, especially in the context of the Royal Navy. The Seebohm Committee is doing vital and important work on this front. There are still special strains for naval families.
I would mention one other Service problem which has begun to worry me because of the number of cases that have come to my attention, and not only in the Navy. This is a problem which arises where, partly perhaps as a result of the strain on family life of Service conditions, a family has broken up and the wife and children eventually find themselves being expelled from the Service quarters without having built up any right to alternative accommodation elsewhere. This is a problem of different centres of responsibility, the local authorities being responsible for public housing and the Services for Service housing. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility for different Government Departments to get together and look at the problem and see whether a civilised solution in keeping with some of the other moves in the White Paper could not be found?
1590 There is one other point I want to raise about conditions of service. I have already had the opportunity of raising the matter in Adjournment debates. The hardship being suffered by a certain number of Service widows becomes more serious as they contrast their position with the greatly enhanced and improved conditions of service for current Service personnel and their families. I beg the Minister to look at this problem, particularly of the pre-1950 Service widows of men of non-commissioned rank. This is a declining section of the population but one which has suffered gross injustice for too long. Can the Minister and his colleagues get together and, now that pensions are being so generally reviewed in the public sector, do something to secure justice for this group? I would also like him to look at the principle of the taxation of Service widows' pensions in general because it seems that this is an area in which we are out of step with many countries.
Might I be permitted a few words specifically about the Portsmouth naval base. We are proud of the virility and technological punch of the new Navy. There are, however, a few points on which we are looking for reassurance. First, on the dockyards, I entirely endorse the Government's decision to use naval construction as a means of combating the injustice and hardship of unemployment where it is a grave problem in other parts of the country. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the difficulty of maintaining efficiency in the yards in their servicing rôle if they are for all time to be denied the opportunity of producing naval vessels, which is an important experience for the whole yard mechanism and personnel, and which can have tremendous benefits in terms of the quality of subsequent servicing work.
I would also ask the Minister to look at the morale of the labour force in the yards. There are some general references in the White Paper to productivity agreements. There is a danger that these people, fulfilling an important service to the community, are being allowed to drift behind once more because they are in the public sector. I have too many constitutents whom I see in personal terms finding it difficult to make ends meet in the face of constant inflation. I hope 1591 that the Government can really place their remuneration and financial wellbeing on a higher priority.
We have heard of the inquiry into naval land and the importance of coastlines and amenity and so on. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that in a city such as Portsmouth, although the Navy is more powerful in a sense than it has ever been, its economic significance to the local community is obviously not so great, proportionately, as it used to be. Yet we do not see any dramatic reduction in the demands on land by the Navy and the other Services. There is a land famine in the city. Land is desperately needed not only for housing and other social amenities but also for new, alternative industries to make up for the change in the Navy's rôle.
I endorse the remarks of my hon. and right hon. Friends who have said that if we are serious about defence policies we have also to look to disarmament and security conferences as a positive and front-line aspect of our overall defence policy. I found myself responding spontaneously and with conviction to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) when he said yesterday: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1329.]Again the Minister has sought to deny this allegation. He says that it was a most unjust observation. If it is, then let us see a bit more evidence from the Government that they are taking it seriously.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
While the hon. Gentleman is on this point of cutting down, would he like to see H.M.S. "Eagle" scrapped, or would he like to see her become an addition to the virility and punch of the Navy about which he spoke?
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) wondered whether we were overplaying our hand in the Indian Ocean by making too much of a fuss about the Soviet presence there. The significant thing about the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean is that it actually arrived in a place where it had never been before, in the same way that it arrived in the Mediterranean where it had never been before, and gradually increased its strength.
I too, pay tribute to the men of the Beira Patrol for their endurance in a somewhat fruitless task. I met them going on and off patrol in the Seychelles last summer and in the Persian Gulf the year before. If my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) had not pre-empted me, I was about to ask the hon. Gentleman what he thought about the previous plans for scrapping "Ark Royal". On the question of the "Eagle", I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could look at this from the other point of view—not at the prospect of keeping the "Eagle" but whether we want a viable carrier force and whether such a force is viable if we have only one carrier? A business with only one lorry will sooner or later have to take that lorry off the road or it may have a crash, and the business cannot be kept going.
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) in his place. I do not intend to talk about the Persian Gulf but I agree with what he said, particularly at this time of a fuel crisis. I wonder about the wisdom of the previous Government in setting off a course of events which it has proved impossible to reverse. The present threat is twofold. One is the massive build up in Soviet conventional forces, particularly sea power, and the extension of their fleets in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the South Atlantic and particularly around the North Sea. The second threat is what one might call the subversive threat.
These two threats are now more deadly than the nuclear threat with which we have lived for so long. When one talks about the conventional threat, one has only to consider the events of two years ago, when the Soviets moved a million men in 24 hours into Czechoslovakia, 1593 without Western intelligence getting wind of what was going on. This is what they can do and will do if they have a mind to do it.
What will their navies do? They have the ability, as they are spread out in strategic positions around the world, not to launch direct attacks on our shipping, but perhaps to disrupt our shipping lanes and to engage in exercises across our sea routes which could prove extremely disruptive and could lead to a very awkward situation.
These are the tactics which I think they will follow. Power afloat is political power and the power to influence people who are impressed by such things, in exactly the same way as we used gunboat diplomacy so successfully years ago.
On the subversive side, the aim of the Communists, both the Chinese and the Soviets, is to set up subversive centres in target areas—which they have been very successful in doing. The obvious areas are Cairo, Cuba and Hanoi. Less obvious—the new target areas—are in Aden, the Gulf and Ireland. These subversive centres are growing like mushrooms and they will grow wherever the West relaxes its guard around the world.
The problem with Northern Ireland is that there are two things to look after—the cities, Belfast and Londonderry, and the Border; and we have only enough troops to look after the cities. If we are to look after the Border, we must either remove troops from this other task or bring in more. Do we need more troops to do the job, to prevent terrorists crossing the Border from their bases? Sadly, I believe we do. Where will they come from? We have mentioned the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland. I know that there are technical difficulties in calling up the Territorial Army, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State explained last night. But such difficulties are there to be overcome, as we overcame them in the Bill introduced and passed yesterday on another matter.
Perhaps it could be explained whether the difficulty is that these men have signed a contract which prevents them from being called up for part-time duty or even for a month at a time—or whether it is a parliamentary difficulty that we face. There are 3,000 men there, trained, organised and very ready to help in this situation. We are very short of 1594 manpower; we should overcome these difficulties and use this reservoir.
As my hon. Friend said, there are ways and means now of keeping surveillance on the Border. One can make it a normal international border, with the normal formalities of papers and passports, or one can turn it into a natural barrier. Although the difficulties are great, we must cut ourselves off from the sources of terrorism and, if necessary, form a cordon sanitaire.
We have had a taste of urban terrorism in the United Kingdom in the last few weeks, both in the riots in London and in the events in Aldershot. We have seen this in other parts of the world and we have now realised that Britain is not immune. What happened at Aldershot was even highly predictable. It happened during the previous campaign of 1938 and 1939.
Once this kind of thing has happened, events can move very swiftly, so any necessary precautions should be taken now. Our best defence is a strong Territorial Army. The Government are to be congratulated on increasing the strength of the T.A. by 10,000 men. Not only may they have to be called upon to guard vital points like power stations; they are a force with local loyalties and knowledge and they are a cohesive force.
We should consider some kind of rescue service for disasters of any kind. I hope that the Government will carefully consider resuscitating the Civil Defence, for which there are volunteers ready and waiting to be called into service again.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) mentioned the word "conscription". He asked my hon. Friend, "Surely you do not mean to introduce conscription?" My right hon. Friend said, "Of course, certainly not." The House then heaved a sigh of relief. The recruiting figures are very good and this is a good sign that the voluntary spirit is there. But it cannot just be left. It needs arousing and sustaining.
At a time of high unemployment and great social disturbances about the country, our society needs buttressing and reinforcing. I wonder whether the time is not ripe now, when we are, after all, facing something of a national emergency, for young people to be asked to do a period of voluntary service for the 1595 nation, actively encouraged by the Government, industry and the universities. There are a hundred and one different jobs outside the Services that they could do and at the same time they could be given the opportunity of work inside the Services as well.
The question is whether this should be compulsory or voluntary. I am surprised that we have never discussed this before. It has been discussed in another place and not so long ago in a paper by the R.U.S.I. called "Mobilisation of Youth; Voluntary Service or Conscription?" But we have not discussed it here and the time has come to consider the matter very carefully.
It is not as if there were great hostility in the country at large. General FarrarHockley, when he was at Exeter College, Oxford, discovered by means of a survey that, from the age of 70 down to 16, 84 per cent. said that they were in favour of the reintroduction of national service, either purely for the military or in a wider concept.
At our present stage, we should carefully consider whether we should do something on a voluntary or even compulsory basis. So many people say that youth has lost its way; this may be our chance to give them a lead and the opportunity for service. Possibly, they may jump at the chance.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) will forgive me if I am a little personal and say that when I listen to a man with his particular background in military intelligence I get a little depressed because about some of the things he said he ought to know a little better, if I may say so without being impertinent. To talk about subversion and a threat from the Chinese and the Russians seems a misleading diagnosis of precisely what is the problem.
I had the good fortune to be in China in November. I found the Chinese very frank about this matter. They said that their military help to a number of Asian and African countries had run into some difficulty, but where they have provided what some may think of as a threat—although I would not myself think it was—was in the nature of the aid which 1596 they have given to countries of the Third World in simple machinery, for example, for extracting oil, and simple rice-milling machines. Fortunately or otherwise, I happened to be in Peking at the time of the visit of the Prime Minister of North Vietnam. Many Chinese made it clear that they have no control over what the North Vietnamese did or did not do. Perhaps this is one of the misunderstandings which we in the West have had. If ever there were a buffer State to China, it essentially is the buffer State of North Vietnam. Many of the associates of Chou en Lai would be surprised to hear it said that they have subversive control over what happens in Vietnam.
§ Mr. Mather
If the hon. Member had had intelligence training he might have understood these matters a little better.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think we can agree on the way in which the intelligence services have misled Governments of both parties about the nature of subversion. I do not, however, wish to continue on that line, I should like to concentrate on a single subject.
This is related to paragraph 21 on page 5 of the White Paper and to the Ministerial Aerospace Board. We are told that this is responsible for co-ordination. My speech is one of inquiry. I do not expect any kind of answer tonight, but it might be helpful to some of us if the Government were to reflect and perhaps to answer my speech next Thursday in the debate on the Air Estimates. My decision to intervene in the defence debate arises from the fact that a major decision has to be made on this matter. We are told by the Americans that a major decision has to be made this summer on whether Britain and Western Europe or Western Europe, are to participate in the space shuttle programme.
The first thing that has to be said is that this involves a great deal of money in one way or another. The estimate given is 5.5 million dollars, give or take 20 per cent. error. I had better declare straight away that of course there are people in the United States who say that it is not 5.5 million dollars, but that we are talking about a possible 25 billion dollars. There are people who say that this may be a major Apollo programme and that the answer is £200 millions which can be spent in 1973. That is 1597 rather like the camel which puts its head into a tent and we know that the hump will be coming later. I do not want to be naïve and to talk about the cost, but no one can deny the importance of the decision, for better or worse.
The S.B.A.C., Hawker Siddeley, the employers' engineering association, the electronic engineering association and many other organisations in this country take the view that on our participation or otherwise will depend the future of many sectors of the electronics industry in this country and the industrial stake is quite enormous. If we are to remain at the frontiers of technical knowledge it is argued that we have to partake in this venture at a certain percentage.
I am genuinely not clear about the Ministerial and departmental arrangements for a decision. I am told that Lord Carrington said that this was dealt with by my hon. Friends under the old Ministry of Technology and that it was a Ministry of Technology decision. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement shakes his head. Perhaps he can put me right and say what exactly is meant by the sentence:The Ministerial Aerospace Board proposed in Cmnd. 4641 has now been set up, to ensure inter-Departmental co-ordination on civil aerospace policy.My information is that it will be the Ministry of Defence who will take the decision.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Aerospace and civil aviation are primarily responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace, but in aerospace there are connections between civil and military aircraft questions and those are the prime responsibility of the Aerospace Board.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that perhaps the next generation of strategic weapons is mixed up in it and therefore perhaps I may be in order in pursuing this subject. On the question of costs, it is claimed for the shuttle that it would reduce the cost of putting per pound weight in space from £240 to £280, equalling £40, so there are great advantages if we want to do this kind of thing. It is a very fair question to ask: do we want to do this kind of thing? I do not claim that many of my hon. Friends would not have the most severe reservations and I am not making 1598 a speech to launch into a great attack on the Government for not saying "Yes" to the Americans. This is a genuine speech of inquiry, but it is my certainty that this subject ought not to go undiscussed in the House of Commons.
The question arises, why should we want to be interested in the shuttle? That is a difficult question to answer. It is like asking why a man should go to the moon. There are certain specific advantages, such as those in remote sensing of earth's resources, communication satellites, air traffic control and the whole question of the control of military aircraft. There is the whole question of spreading television education to developing countries, and there are many other issues, but I will not go into them in detail.
What I would like to ask is whether it is the view of the Government that the time has come for Western Europe as a whole to make up its mind on this issue, and whether next Thursday there could be some indication about what we are saying to our partners in Europe. This is not an issue about the Common Market, of course, but of European co-operation.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again but I should make it clear that this is not strictly a matter to be answered today, as he himself has pointed out, and nor is it a matter to be answered next Thursday, because these matters do not come under the Air Estimates. It is a civil aviation matter and comes under a different Estimate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is precisely the kind of confusion I had suspected, because if this is true, what on earth is the National Defence Industries Council doing, unless it discusses this kind of issue?
§ Mr. Gilmour
It discusses the industrial aspects of defence. Major defence firms are represented on it, and we meet together and discuss the future of defence policy.
§ Mr. Dalyell
When I read out the names of the firms which are involved and interested—McDonell Douglas, Hawker-Siddeley, Martin Marietta, North American, Rockwell and General Dynamics, B.A.C. and many others—I wonder what men like Mr. David Farrar, 1599 the co-ordinating director of the post-Apollo studies at B.A.C., would say to the answer we have just been given, because if we separate them and make a rigid division between civil and military I doubt whether things are any better than they were ten years ago.
Slowly and with a great deal of sweat and a great deal of difficulty, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) knows, the last Labour Government did something in this direction. I think they might have gone much further and faster, but I know it is a difficult problem, and they did something to bring sense into co-operation between defence industries and civil industries. If the Ministry of Defence on this issue is saying that it is passing by on the other side of the road like the Levite and that it will have nothing to do with it, we are back in as bad a position as we were in the early 'sixties. What is at issue is the whole future not only of civil industry in this country but of much of the defence industry. Does the Minister want to intervene?
§ Mr. Gilmour
Not really. What I was saying is that space is not a central part of the work of the National Defence Industries Council, and that, in view of the name of the Council, and in view of the people who sit on it, although my right hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace is present at its meetings, it is not very surprising that in fact it does not impinge upon it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Of course it impinges upon it. I wonder how industry will react to what we have been told tonight.
I would like, finally, to put my own view. I think it is true, in a sense, that any man who goes to China is influenced by China. I say this, but at the same time I have not been taken over by Mao. The truth is that there is an increasing number of countries in the world whose forces have some kind of socioeconomic function; that is, they do jobs other than defence. I am not saying that the Army has not other things to do. However, there is an issue here. If Britain is to take part in any kind of major space venture—I say "if"—it seems to me sensible to involve the Royal Air Force, partly because it has the organisation to do it, and partly because, 1600 if we are to have an Air Force at all and are to have, as we have and ought to have, technical people in the Air Force, we must give them a clear job to do.
So I say to the Ministry of Defence, "If you wash your hands of British participation in the post-Apollo programme it seems unwise a thing, from the Services' point of view, to do, because you will not get the high class recruits when you need them other than in the war that none of us wants to happen."
So the R.A.F., like the Navy, should become involved in this kind of satellite communication earth resource world, a world which may extend far beyond the immediate purposes for which we have had an Air Force in the past. Without striking an extravagant analogy, it is a bit distressing that the whole impetus of what I would call the hog back to the middle sixties is continuing today.
If I am wrong, there is no responsibility. I simply say there ought to be a responsibility, and if we are to partake in the whole post-Apollo effort—and President Nixon has given us a golden opportunity—the Royal Air Force ought to be involved, and it is extremely shortsighted of any Minister of Defence to want to wash his hands of this interesting sector of development.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
Though I hope shortly to follow him to Peking, the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the byways and back corridors of the Ministerial Aerospace Board.
Six years of Labour Government have eaten deep into Britain's self-defence capability. They were years which saw major setbacks in our aerospace and guided weapons industry. They saw the cancellation of the TSR 2 and the P 1154. Both of these aircraft, like Concorde, could have been world beaters and could today have been in service with the Royal Air Force and, indeed, with air forces throughout the free world. What is more, they would have provided work for British industry and British workmen.
The French have, off their own bat, made their own equivalent of the Polaris submarine and Polaris missiles. They have developed their own intermediate-range ballistic missiles and a highly 1601 successful version of the supersonic Mirage. The Swedes have developed a supersonic aircraft, the Draken; even tiny Israel, with a population only one-quarter that of Greater London, has been able to produce its own supersonic fighter-bomber.
There is today no purely British supersonic military aircraft either in production or on the drawing board. Colossal gaps have been left in our defences. The Navy has been reduced to a situation in which it no longer has adequate air defence and it is the only significant Navy in the world not equipped with surface-to-surface guided weapons. I am glad to say that under this Government this state of affairs is shortly to be remedied.
This Government have gone far to halt—indeed, in many respects reverse—the decline in Britain's defence capability. Recruiting shows a substantial upswing. The T.A.V.R. has been greatly expanded, construction for the Navy is going ahead, four additional infantry battalions have been added and, on the Prime Minister's personal initiative, the Five-Power Far East Defence Force has come into being in Singapore.
Additional front-line Jaguar squadrons have been added in Europe, further orders have been placed for Buccaneers and we in Manchester particularly appreciate—I trust that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) will endorse this—the Nimrod order, which will provide substantial work in the Manchester area. This is a record of which any Government can be proud.
There remain, however, areas of substantial concern. The past week cannot have failed to bring home to the people of Britain, and especially to the Government, how vitally dependent we are on just two or three sources of energy for the operation of our industry and for our very livelihood. In Trafford Park in my constituency 50,000 people are on halftime working because of the power situation.
On page 4 of the White Paper, referring to withdrawal from the Gulf, it is stated:All British resident forces have been withdrawn, but ships of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force aircraft will visit the Gulf regularly.1602 It is with sadness that I and some of my hon. Friends have seen the Government implement a decision of the Labour Government. A decision taken very much against the better judgment of that Government and forced on them by a tiny handful of Moscow-liners in the Labour Party.
Britain is dependent, and will be for the foreseeable future, on Persian Gulf oil for two-thirds of its supplies. The same is true of Western Europe as a whole and it is about time that N.A.T.O. sat up and realised this.
§ Mr. John Morris
The hon. Gentleman has talked about the reversal of policies, though I have been glad to hear the remarks in his last few sentences. Will he now tell the House how wrong he was in the speech he made last year when he said that the Conservatives had reversed the policies of the Labour Government on the Gulf?
§ Mr. Churchill
Several of my hon. Friends hoped that that would be the case and it is our sadness, as I said, that it has not been the case.
We have seen how effectively the Soviet Union has taken over control in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East and has established major naval and air force bases there, with more than 20,000 Russian military personnel. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence believe that if the Russians had the opportunity of gaining, without a shot fired, political control of our oil supplies in the Persian Gulf they would not do so? Eight hundred policemen may not be sufficient to break through the picket lines of Birmingham, but can he say that 800 men—one battalion—might not be sufficient in the Persian Gulf to safeguard energy sources 1,000 times greater than anything that was in Birmingham last week?
The instability in the Persian Gulf is clear. We have seen in recent weeks two attempted coups, one in Sharjah, the other in Qatar. So far no hostile coup has been successful but one must view this against the background of consolidation by the Soviet Union in Aden, and the fact that they are negotiating a treaty of friendship with Iraq at the moment and are shortly to open a mission in Abu-Dhabi.
1603 It is said, and it has certainly been the consistent view of the Foreign Office, that this policy cannot be reversed, but of course it can be. A battalion can be sent to Sharjah tomorrow for training in desert warfare, and I very much hope that serious consideration will be given to this. I would submit that it is fatuous to state, as is stated on page 4 of the White Paper, that:A continuing British maritime presence in the Indian Ocean helps to maintain vigilance in that area of strategic importanceif at the same time the Government make it easy for a hostile power to move in and directly take over the sources of energy that we seek to protect. That is something far easier for the Soviet Union to do than the interdiction of our shipping on the high seas. Have we not yet learned that it is futile to continue playing the game of gunboat diplomacy in a era when the Russians have 20 times the number of gunboats? Can my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues say that Britain's energy resources will not be better safeguarded by the presence of just one battalion in the Gulf?
On the wider and even more crucial front, namely, the defence of Western Europe and the United Kingdom, the picture is even graver and more threatening. I accept that this Government have taken major steps to provide for more teeth for our Armed Forces but we must ask the question: have we done enough?
§ Mr. Churchill
More teeth, more hardware.
It may be that some of us will disagree on the intentions of the Soviet Union but I believe that nobody in this House or indeed outside it can deny her growing military might, which is clear for all to see. She has today, according to this White Paper, 2,100 I.R.B.M.s and I.C.B.M.s deployed against the West. She has 90 Soviet divisions, that is 1 million men, under arms west of the Urals, apart from 63 Warsaw Pact divisions. She has a supremacy of three to one in tanks and three to one in tactical air power over N.A.T.O. in Western Europe. In addition she has become a growing naval power with more than 400 submarines deployed throughout the world.
1604 But it is, above all, when one looks at the defence budget of the Soviet Union that one sees what is taking place. I would draw the attention of the House to the relative position of defence spending today compared with 10 years ago with figures from the Military Balance. In 1961 the United Kingdom defence budget was $4,653 million. The defence budget of the Soviet Union was $10,180 million. By 1971 the United Kingdom defence budget had increased by 40 per cent. to $6,333 million while that of the Soviet Union had risen to $55,000 million, an increase of five times in a ten-year period. We have reached the situation where the Soviet Union having had a defence budget little more than twice that of Britain is today spending nearly ten times as much. In addition she devotes nearly twice the proportion of her defence budget to military hardware. The Soviet Union is now spending 20 times as much as Britain on military hardware.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would the hon. Member not agree, after our recent discussions on space, that the Soviet space programme almost certainly accounts for most of their budget?
§ Mr. Churchill
Maybe it accounts for a proportion, but it provides the basis of a colossal nuclear striking power for which the rockets are vital.
We must consider the intentions of the Soviet Union. The Guardian in an editorial yesterday, said the Soviet military power was clear and that the only argument was over what are her intentions. The Guardian says there is nothing to worry about, but can we in this House be sure about that? What is the purpose of this colossal burden of military spending that the Soviet people are being asked to shoulder? The White Paper rightly states that Europe needsto assume increased responsibility for its own defence".But what would our situation be two years, five years or eight years from now if the United States were to withdraw from Western Europe? What was suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in his moving and eloquent speech, might then come about. I very much hope that it will not and that this House will take the necessary steps to make sure that it never happens. But is European responsibility increasing fast enough? Is it 1605 increasing at all in relation to the Soviet Union? Are the Government satisfied with the amount of resources that we in this country and Europe as a whole are devoting to defence? The Minister of State rightly said yesterday that we must not judge our efforts by those of our friends but by those of our enemies.
I wish to conclude with some questions. First, do we have enough manpower? Is there not a case, following the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) and also of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton of a citizen army, for at least the introduction of a one-year or eighteen-month voluntary national service? I believe that this would not only help the employment situation but it would provide a sound basis for any large-scale expansion of our armed forces that may be required at some unforeseen point in the future.
Secondly, is not there a case for a fifth Polaris submarine? With the growing sophistication of the attack submarines, in which this country excels, are we allowing ourselves a sufficient margin by having only two—and sometimes only one—Polaris submarine at sea at any given moment? I have heard it argued that we have not sufficient manpower to man some of the Navy vessels, but four more Fleet submarines are being added to our strength, so surely manpower is not a problem, at least in the submarine context?
Thirdly, have we sufficient naval air power? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) raised the question of H.M.S. "Eagle". The sum of 10 million is all that is required to refit her, provided that she is not to be refitted for Phantoms. That would be £10 million very well spent. I do not favour endlessly refurbishing our older military equipment, particularly naval vessels, but until we have a vessel that will take over the rôle of "Eagle" we cannot be happy about seeing her go to the scrap yard. The Conservative Government said in the 1964 White Paper:The carrier force will continue to form the backbone of the Navy throughout the 1970's.Fourthly, I must ask about the supersonic version of the Harrier, which would have been in service with the R.A.F. by 1606 now if it had not been cancelled. We are led to believe that there is no requirement for it until 1980. By 1980, I doubt whether there will be a requirement any more. Why cannot we have it in 1975? Why cannot we make it a world-heater, too, and sell it to all the air forces and navies of the world?
Fifthly, can my noble Friends ensure that the next generation of missiles required by the R.A.F. and the Navy will be British or at least a joint European project, in the development and constrution of which we have a major part?
We all look forward to next month's Budget. With a Tory Government, that means looking forward to tax cuts. I may be alone—though I venture to believe I am not—in hoping that adequate defence will be given priority over tax cuts. I hope that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will press for more resources. More resources for more manpower and hardware. These resources would provide more employment and more security and enable Britain to take a lead in building up Europe's defence capability, which is so lamentable today, so that Europe may shoulder her fair share of western defence and keep her peoples living in peace and freedom.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)
It is rather pathetic to see the way in which the House debates foreign affairs and defence matters as if this country were still one which could form a significant opponent to any of the large, or many of the medium, Powers. When we hear the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) arguing for more equipment and masses more men, and even for some kind of volunteer conscription—a contradiction in terms—we wonder "What for?"
The world does not expect of Britain these days that it should stand up to the Soviet Union or China.
§ Mr. Cunningham
The rôle we should expect to perform in the world is much more modest. In particular, we should make sure that the problems which certainly are ours, with which others cannot cope, are properly dealt with by us. If hon. Members on the other side 1607 of the House had been less strong in their encouragement of the Labour Government in their period of office not to use the Forces for the one situation in the world which really was ours to deal with—namely, Rhodesia—then one might have greater sympathy with calls for an increase in the military might of this country.
There was not much to choose between the two sides of the House on the matter of military force in Rhodesia. There was a hair's breadth and little more between them. The world expects us initially to look after our own back garden, and Rhodesia was and still is our own back garden. So let us start there with the little patch we are responsible for and not let our minds roam so wildly about world affairs.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Since the hon. Gentleman has raised the question of Rhodesia, I wonder if he could tell me whether there is any truth in the statement that the Rhodesian Army was prepared to put down U.D.I. if the British Government had shown any willingness to send any Forces at all to Salisbury when U.D.I. was declared, and that it was the failure of his Government to take that action that allowed U.D.I. to be the success it has been?
§ Mr. Cunningham
I cannot answer that, but if the hon. Gentleman had listened more carefully I think he would have gathered fairly clearly that I do not altogether agree, and did not at the time, with what was done by the Labour Government, and I said so very clearly at the time. I think they failed in their duty, and I have said so many times before and will no doubt do so again. I do not think that particular way of dealing with the situation was the right way, nor do I know where it cropped up in that form.
I want to start by making a plea to the Minister to deal, when he winds up tonight, with a matter I have been nagging the Minister of State about for a week or two. I recognise that it is a great part of parliamentary technique, which I hope I shall never learn, that when someone makes a point at an hon. Member during a debate it is preferable 1608 to ignore it entirely in the winding up speech, which the Minister of State for Defence did when I was in this sort of tangle with him once before. So I am quite clearly asking him to deal with this matter when he winds up.
We have seconded military personnel to a number of countries overseas—an absolutely right thing to do. For some reason, which, frankly, I have forgotten, I wanted to know exactly where they were, in which countries they were situated. I thought in my naïve way that as a Member of the British House of Commons I would be entitled to that information, which there would be no difficulty in obtaining. However, I was told by the Minister who is going to wind up tonight that such information is confidentiol between Her Majesty's Government and the countries concerned.
What a lot of rubbish! Here we have British personnel, some of them paid by the British and some by the host country, seconded to other countries. It is an official act. It is something which no American Administration would or could dream of keeping from Congress, but in this country Ministers just blandly say: "We are not going to tell you the answers". I think that should not be sustained, and will not be sustained, and if it helps the Minister I may say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the previous Secretary of State for Defence, assured me that, if put to him, such a question would have been answered. I can see no reason whatever why the Minister should give a great deal of detail about ranks and so on but simply say in which countries British seconded personnel are currently serving. Many of them are serving under international agreements, some of which have been registered with the United Nations and some of which have not. I am not sure that the agreements are technically valid if they have not been registered with the United Nations, although secret treaties continue in default of the Charter. Most of the troops are covered by written agreements. I ask a plain straightforward question about a fact which I am entitled to know and, if the Minister does not tell me the actual facts tonight, I hope he will tell me what bogus reason he has for not answering my question.
1609 I ask the Minister also to say something about M.A.C.C., the Military Assistance to the Civil Community operation. A few years ago a great deal was written about this operation, and there was much enthusiasm for it on the part of some members of the Forces. I am thinking particularly of the G.O.C. in Edinburgh. My interest is mainly in the assistance which the Armed Forces, particularly the Royal Engineers, can give to the work done by the Overseas Development Administration. The Royal Engineers are mad keen to do this job. The defence Statement refers to the operation, but my impression is that some of the steam has gone out of it. This may be attributable to haggles between Whitehall Departments about who is to pay for it, whether it is to come out of the aid budget or whether the Royal Engineers will have to pay for it themselves. This needs to be cleared up.
Despite the generality of this debate, the principal subject on which we must concentrate is the activities of the British Forces in Ireland. Regretfully, it needs to be said that when an hon. Member criticises an action of the British Forces or raises questions about their activities, this does not imply lack of support for what the military in general is doing in Northern Ireland. I do not want British troops to come out of Northern Ireland; that would be as much a dereliction of our duty as it was not to do what we were talking about earlier in Rhodesia. It is our job to maintain law and order and justice in Northern Ireland, and that requires British troops to be there.
I do not know whether there is a military justification for having more British troops in Northern Ireland, but if there were a security justification for it I would support it. I should like to see Northern Ireland almost saturated with British troops. By doing that a far larger number of targets would be created, and that is objectionable. In the absence of something approximating to saturation, we are allowing large numbers of youths who are hostile to all authority to grow up in Northern Ireland with skill in the making of bombs which they will possess for 30 or 40 years. If the despatch of more troops to Northern Ireland is an efficient way of limiting that danger, then for God's sake let us do it. Nevertheless, the activities of the British troops 1610 must be watched over very closely by this House.
Paragraph 19 of the Defence Statement refers to the Compton Report. It is necessary to say something in qualification of the claims which are there made. It is said that the Parker Committee is examining the practices described in the Compton Report. This is not strictly true, because the Defence Statement was published in February and the Parker Committee packed up work on 31st January, when it presented its report to the Prime Minister.
I know that it is not the Minister's job to supervise the Parker Report, but I wish somebody would say why nobody has yet seen that document since it was presented to the Prime Minister on 31st January. Three to four weeks is a long time for a report of that significance not to see the light of day. If the Government wish to allay suspicions it is important for that report to be issued as quickly as possible. We should be told why there has been almost a month's delay.
It is not clear from paragraph 15 of the Defence Statement dealing with the Compton Report whether the so-called ill-treatment—which was physical brutality, though by a semantical exercise Compton said it was not brutality—was an accidental aberration either of individual soldiers or of an organised group of soldiers. It was activity for which those soldiers have been trained. There are establishments in this country which exist to train soldiers to stand men against the wall, to bombard them with noise, to put sensory inputs to their ears, to hood them, and so on. So far as we know, there is at the moment no positive intention to terminate that military activity. In so far as it was the R.U.C. which did this and not the military in Northern Ireland, the R.U.C. did so with military training.
In discussing the activities of our Armed Forces, it cannot pass without notice that it is surely contrary to the principles of this country and the traditions of this House that British troops should be trained to apply those methods to prisoners. This is not the place to argue that that activity is illegal but, whatever Ministers may have said, I am prepared to assert that it is, and there is 1611 very high authority for that statement. It is illegal, immoral and certainly stupid.
If we think back to our history in dealing with comparable situations, what is it that has made it possible for this country to live on after the troubles with Nehru, Gandhi, Kenyatta and so on? It was the fact that, though we may have put them in jail, we never tortured them. That alone made it possible to deal with them afterwards. If we wish to breed in Northern Ireland men who are so seared that to the end of their days they will want to shoot at British soldiers, this is a certain way to do it. The only way to treat prisoners in the hands of the British Army is by adopting the same standards as we apply in this country.
The terrible thing about these incidents is not that they have happened but that when they have been put before this House in an official report we, instead of holding up our hands in horror and saying "This must stop" have said "This is a very difficult situation and is not as clear as one's principles might suggest". It is time for this House to get back to the principles which are instinctive within us and apply them to Northern Ireland. Only in that way shall we get out of the morass and save ourselves from slipping further downwards.
The allegations which were examined and proved by Compton have been followed by further allegations. I have received, as no doubt have other hon. Members who show interest and sympathy in this subject, bundles of allegations. One of these was referred to in the House the other day when the Minister of State said that he had referred these papers to the G.O.C. in Northern Ireland and in turn the G.O.C. had referred them to the R.U.C.
I was not born yesterday. I do not believe every allegation of ill-treatment which comes from Northern Ireland. I am quite certain that some of them are untrue from beginning to end and that others are exaggerated. However, these new allegations have an element of apparent truth, just like the allegations into which Compton looked. I suggest that, if only to preserve the good name of the British Army, it is necessary to have some form of continuing investigation of allegations made against the British Army, other than the R.U.C.
1612 I could base that point on the fact that the Catholic community in Ireland will not believe the R.U.C. However, I do not need to do that. I will not believe the R.U.C. After Compton, after revelations which I did not believe when they were first made because I could not believe that British troops would be permitted to do those things, how can I accept that an investigation by the R.U.C., which was privy to doing those things in secret, is likely to be fair and thorough? It is contrary to human nature to ask the R.U.C. to find fault with the Army in Northern Ireland circumstances, or vice versa.
We need a small permanent commission to be set up to investigate allegations against the troops. That would not destroy the morale of the troops: it would give them the assurance that allegations would be swiftly and impartially investigated and that those which were wrong would be dismissed immediately. I do not wish to see these allegations proved, but disproved by an authority which I can accept as impartial. I hope that, when he winds up, the Minister will deal with some of the points which I have raised.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on his speech. He underlined three of the issues which should be in the minds of all right hon. and hon. Members: the growing imbalance in forces between East and West, the lack of hardware in this country, particularly of the Royal Navy, and the possible dangers that the West faces to its oil supplies in the Persian Gulf due to the withdrawal of British troops.
As the end of the defence debate last year I said that I thought that the Government had done more than could be expected, in the short time that they had been in office, to restore the cuts made during six years of Labour Administration. I said that I hoped that there would be a lot more to come.
I must admit that the White Paper is somewhat of a disappointment to me. It contains some very good things, but it has not faced up to the greatest threat since Hitler's blitzkrieg—namely, the phenomenal growth of Soviet sea power. This matter is often either laughed at or 1613 disregarded by the Opposition, but even the Conservatives have not really faced up to it as yet.
On the credit side I should like to refer to three particular areas. First is the establishment of the five-Power Force in South-East Asia. The House should note that the cost is about £10 million, which is what we always said it would be when the Labour Government said that it would cost at least £300 million a year to keep a force in Singapore and east of Suez. It shows just how wrong their estimates were over this factor and many others.
§ Mr. George Thomson
With respect, it was the present Prime Minister, not us, who, on television, priced this at about £100 million.
§ Mr. Wall
The right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. My right hon. Friend said that to keep Forces East of Suez might involve an overall increase in our defence expenditure of that amount but that the cost of having British Forces in Singapore itself as part of a Commonwealth Force would be about £10 million. According to the White Paper, that is a slight over-estimate. The figure is about £9 million. It shows that we are better at estimating costs than were the previous Administration—some £291 million better.
We must congratulate the Government on assisting the creation of a Federation of Arab Emirates in the Gulf. I agree that it is a great pity that there is not a British battalion undergoing desert training in that area in the same way as jungle training is undergone in Johore. If a British battalion was on the ground in that area it would do much to improve stability in an area vitally important to the West.
The Government have saved the Gurkhas, whose future was doubtful under the previous Administration. They have stopped the dangerous rundown of the Army and expanded the TAVR. They have boosted recruiting and introduced the new flexible engagements which have been welcomed on both sides of the House. Above all, they have ordered more Nimrods, which is particularly important because it will allow time, I hope, for foreign orders to be generated as it will keep the production line going for a further 6 to 12 months.
1614 I turn to the world stage. The threat of the U.S.S.R. is now world-wide because, and just because, it is a maritime threat. Also, we face the long-term threat of subversion and guerrilla warfare from Communist China. But the maritime threat from the Soviet Union is particularly dangerous because it is a conventional threat. The Soviet Union could gain its ends, without resort to nuclear power, by strangling our sea communications. N.A.T.O. covers only a restricted area in the context of the world scene, and not the Indian Ocean and the oil supply routes that lead from the Persian Gulf round the Cape to Europe.
Today, as time is short, I shall deal only with the N.A.T.O. area. I concentrate first on Central Europe, and then on the two flanks, north and south. In Central Europe we have a nuclear stalemate, and this is enhanced by the fact that the Soviet Union is more interested at present in China than her western flank hence we have a possible European Security Conference, M.B.F.R.s and so on. We all hope that these will be successful, though many of us have considerable doubts.
With regard to the British Army of the Rhine, there are certain weaknesses, which I hope the Government will deal with in the very near future. The first is the lack of modern tactical nuclear weapons. Obviously, the doctrine of flexible response depends to a large extent on having good mobile tactical nuclear weapons. Hon. Members will remember me saying six years ago that it was about time Honest John was replaced. Now that Lance is in full production in America and is held to be an excellent weapon, I hope the British Government will contemplate buying it as a weapon for B.A.O.R.
The only long-range strike aircraft that we shall have on this front in future is the M.R.C.A. The only thing I regret about the M.R.C.A. is its short range. Experts say that it is enough for the European theatre, although its range certainly rules it out for maritime theatres, and I have doubts that it is sufficient for Europe. The Harrier is now being deployed in some numbers in Germany, but we have yet to hear of the medium-lift helicopters which are essential to make full use of Harrier's flexibility on this front.
1615 On the Home Front we have seen the dangers of subversion and guerrilla warfare. One has only to look at what is happening in both the North and the South of Ireland. Therefore, the expansion of TAVR and, I hope, the reactivation of civil defence are matters which are concerns and should concern the Government. But it is not to the central front that I address my main remarks, because I believe, as I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House believe, that the likelihood of war in central Europe is remote merely because that war would almost automatically escalate to full nuclear confrontation. The great danger is that N.A.T.O.'s flanks are the seven oceans of the world, and since Cuba in 1962 the Soviet Union have woken up to the use of sea power. The Americans gave them the demonstration, and the lesson struck home.
I repeat, briefly, figures given to me at SACLANT only a few weeks ago. The Soviet fleet is the second largest in the world. Of that fleet 45 per cent. is under 10 years old; therefore, it is more modern that that of the United States. It has 90 nuclear-powered submarines, thirty-five ballistic missiles and 35 cruise missiles. These are backed by 260 attack submarines. The Soviet Union has the world's heaviest armed cruisers of the Kynda class capable of delivering surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles which outrange any in the West. Those are backed by 50 guided-missile destroyers and destroyer escorts and by a further 50 conventional destroyers and 100 destroyer escorts. The Russians have over 1,000 naval aircraft and an amphibious force of over 200 vessels. Their merchant fleet—this is maritime power in its full extent—was 2 million gross tons in 1950. It is now 15 million gross tons. By 1980 it is estimated that it will have expanded to 27 million gross tons and will be probably the largest in the world. They have a fishing fleet of 4,500 vessels, and the largest hydrographic and survey fleet in the world.
This mass of expanding maritime power represents a much more serious threat to this country, to Europe and to N.A.T.O. than anything that Kaiser Wilhelm or Adolf Hitler possessed in their days. This sea power, if it is used as the Russians already have shown signs 1616 of using it, could be used to strangle our sea communications by the threat of a conventional war alone, with no danger of nuclear escalation. That is the basis of this rapid and increasing Soviet maritime expansion.
To be a little more specific, I turn first to the northern flank and then to the southern flank. The largest and most modern of the four Soviet fleets is based on Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula. Its ships, both surface and submarine, have to pass either between Iceland and Greenland or between the Norwegian coast and Iceland. In Iceland we have already Communist Party participation in the Government, and there is growing pressure for the evacuation of the American base on the island which is there essentially for the surveillance of the North Atlantic area.
In Norway, General Sir Walter Walker, who until a few days ago was Allied Forces Commander in Northern Europe, is reported in a recent issue of the magazine Defence as saying:First, let us consider the present physical line up. Soviet Standing Forces in the Kola Peninsula outnumber the opposing Norwegian forces in the ratio of 4 to 1 in troops; 15 to 1 in armour; and 6 to 1 in artillery. They have seven times as many aircraft and these operate from a large number of forward airfields. The powerful Northern Fleet, largest of all their fleets, has some 500 vessels including no less than 160 submarines. Modern amphibious craft and a naval infantry brigade complete the picture, and in the Murmansk area, the Russians have constructed, and continue to improve, one of the most powerful military base complexes in the world.I suggest that the commitment to their northern flank is a problem which N.A.T.O. commanders have to face. It is intensified by the reluctance of the Norwegian Government and people to see tactical nuclear weapons on their soil in peace time. It is their right to make this decision, but it is for the N.A.T.O. commanders to be able to stage a quick reaction to any threat in this area. The House will have in mind what happened in the Second World War, when we reacted too slowly; we did not have air power, and we lost control of airfields. History could repeat itself. I suggest that one of the tasks of the British carrier forces—for both "Eagle" and "Ark Royal"—is to be able to stage a quick reaction on the northern flank. When one considers that the Americans have few aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and 1617 have to cover the whole Atlantic area and that those ships have to steam from North Virginia, clearly the importance of "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" should be underlined. When my hon. Friend again discusses the future of "Eagle", I hope he will tell us what the views of Saclant were on this subject.
I turn to the southern flank. Here, General Walker said about the north and south flanks:The difference between the two encroachments, as I see it, is that in the south, the prize for the Soviets is the control of the Mediterranean Sea. In the north, the prize is the control of Europe itself.I do not agree that the prize in the south is the control of the Mediterranean Sea. I do not believe that the southern flank of N.A.T.O. rests on the Mediterranean Sea. I did not believe it in the old days, and, now that the Suez Canal is shut it must be evident that the flank of N.A.T.O. lies on the Cape of Good Hope. The oil routes from the Persian Gulf, along which two-thirds of Europe's oil supplies have to come, are through the Indian Ocean, round the Cape and into the South Atlantic.
The House should wake up to the fact that N.A.T.O.'s responsibility ends at the Tropic of Cancer and that convoys that come round the Cape are, anyhow on paper, unprotected by N.A.T.O. and not the concern of N.A.T.O. until they cross the Equator and reach the Tropic of Cancer. This affects 50 per cent. of our oil, 25 per cent. of our food, and 5 per cent. of our minerals which pass the Cape of Good Hope. Those are figures given in the House last year. How are these convoys in the South Atlantic or Indian Ocean to be protected?
There are two ways—either by ship-borne air power which at the moment can only be carrier-borne but which later will include vertical and short takeoff aircraft carried in other types of ship or operating from land bases in co-operation with South Africa under the Simonstown Agreement. I hope that in winding up the Minister will explain why it is that South Africa has ordered her six new corvettes from Portugal and not this country. It is well known that South Africa wanted to order from Yarrow, and it is equally well known that it did not do so because the Leader of the Opposition said they would not be delivered if 1618 his party won a subsequent General Election. This shows the direct responsibility of the Leader of the Opposition for a certain degree of additional unemployment on the Clyde.
We must have air strike and defence capability on the sea routes, in these oceanic areas in the Atlantic or Indian Oceans. We are unlikely to have access to shore airfields in these areas except possibly in South Africa. We have no long-range aircraft, not even M.R.C.A., in operation. We have no long-range surface-to-surface missiles, and we have no adequate anti-submarine helicopter protection unless we operate from some form of aircraft carrier because the other ships carry only one helicopter. I am thinking in the context of the Russian submarine fleet of 300–400 vessels. We must retain the existing carriers until they can be replaced by some other form of ship. I do not want to continue these ships simply for some idea of military grandure. It is essential to close the missile gap, and it will not be closed until the through-deck command cruisers are at sea.
The argument advanced by my right hon. Friend about H.M.S. "Eagle" is that she would cost £25 million to £30 million properly to up-date so as to be able to operate with Phantoms. However, she has a far more advanced aircraft command and control system than "Ark Royal". In this respect she is better equipped than "Ark Royal". Yet the Government are planning to spend £17 million on new Admiralty buildings in Bath. They intend spending £1,300 million on cleaning our rivers, a very important task but not an immediate priority. I suggest that the Government have their priorities wrong.
The second argument was about manpower. My right hon. Friend said that "Eagle" would require ships' companies for five frigates. In a state of cold war or conventional war one aircraft carrier is more valuable than five frigates. An aircraft carrier off the coast in a cold war means something. The situation in Guatemala only a week or two ago proves the point. A fine ship like "Eagle" is impressive, and her aircraft can be seen, and—what is perhaps even more important in cold war terms—can be heard. Put five frigates off the coast and no one would notice them. They 1619 are too small. One aircraft carrier is more important than five frigates. If the Government want to save frigates, may I suggest that they remove six from the Beira patrol?
Everyone appreciates the excellent work done by my right hon. Friend at the Ministry of Defence and we congratulate him upon it. I am not at all critical of him in general, but just specifically. He said yesterday:… '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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1324.]What new naval weapon systems? Is my right hon. Friend talking about Exocet, the short-range system, or shall we really at last have a long-range guided missile system, something comparable to that mounted in the Russian Kyndas? I hope not, because it will take 10 years to develop and will cost far more than keeping "Eagle" in commission.
My right hon. Friend also referred to it being "deployed in quantity". Is he referring to the new cruisers? Will they be deployed in quantity? I thought that the maximum was to be three. I know how costs escalate and how succeeding Governments tend to pare away, and I doubt whether we shall see more than two eventually.
§ Lord Balniel
If I may simply explain to my hon. Friend what I had in mind, it was a combination of new naval weapons, the nuclear-powered attack submarines, the Sea Dart, the Sea Wolf and ultimately, of course, the cruisers which will come into operation around 1978.
§ Mr. Wall
Sea Wolf, surely, is a short-range surface-to-air missile, and Sea Dart will be fitted only in "Bristol" and a few of the new destroyers—about six by that time, I should have thought. The nuclear hunter-killer submarines will be excellent, when we have submarine-to-surface missiles—which have been in and out of the White Paper since hon. Members opposite were in charge and are missing altogether from the White Paper this year.
1620 I do not believe that we can fill this missile gap until these new cruisers are in commission, and, above all, until the super-Harrier is provided to operate from them. The White Paper is very vague about this, and, reading between the lines, it looks as if it will be at least a decade before the super-Harrier is in operational service. My right hon. Friend must agree that until then we cannot fill this missile gap and, therefore, need carriers with fixed-wing aircraft.
At a time when France is maintaining and extending her fleet, maintaining two carriers and ordering new aircraft for them, when the U.S.S.R. is reported to be laying down her first conventional carrier, this is not the time to scrap 50 per cent. of Britain's seaborne air power. Navy International says:Still, even at this stage, sanity can prevail and Eagle should and must be saved from the scrapheap.My right hon. Friend implied yesterday that the decision was made but that consideration would be given to what is said in the House. If the Government will not reconsider this matter, the only method open to my hon. Friends and myself who feel so strongly and wish to express our views about this matter of principle is to vote against the Navy Estimates, much as we would regret it.
Defence expenditure is 5.5 per cent. of our G.N.P., the same as last year, but, as the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) said yesterday, there is no increase in expenditure in actual cash—£262 million will go on inflation, £57 million on accounting charges and only £4 million is really an addition, and that is to help unemployment in areas where it is particularly high.
The total now spent on defence is not enough. I would go even further: not enough is spent on hardware, because we spend 66 per cent. of our expenditure on personnel and only 34 per cent. on hardware. In N.A.T.O. nations it is 60 per cent. on personnel and 40 per cent. on hardware. In the Soviet Union it is 25 per cent. on personnel and 75 per cent. on hardware. It is about time that we had more hardware.
I suggest that, in the face of Soviet maritime expansion, both Britain and N.A.T.O. are dangerously weak, particularly at sea. One thinks back to the 1621 position in the 1930s and compares it with now. Then, Hitler started a war with 66 submarines. Today the Soviet Union has 360. Then the left-wing of the Opposition in this House was pacifist and voted regularly against rearmament. Today the left-wing of the Opposition is either pacifist or Marxist and speaks, and may vote, against rearmament. Then the Conservative Government was facing severe problems of unemployment; the same applies today. The National Government then were afraid to face the truth about defence expenditure. I hope very much that today this part of history will not repeat itself.
I underline that the Government have got their priority wrong. I hope they will fulfil their election undertaking and give a higher priority to defence, especially to the production of adequate weapons, particularly those at sea.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I agree with the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on one thing. In his closing sentences he said that this Government have got their priorities wrong. We on this side of the House would agree, but not on the thesis about the need for increased defence expenditure. I found the hon. Member's speech very depressing indeed. I found the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) equally depressing. Both seem obsessed by the fear of what the Soviet Union might possibly be doing.
This is a record which we have heard played in this House and in the country ever since the end of the war. Where has it got us? It has led to ever-increasing defence expenditure, particularly when there are increasing pressures for more social expenditure to help to raise the standard of living of our people and to help under-developed countries for whom we have some responsibility—
§ Mrs. Short
No, I will not give way. We are in no way nearer to reaching any kind of agreement than we were at the end of the war. This marks the failure of policies pursued by successive Governments since the end of the war. I disagreed with my Government because I believed that, although they made some 1622 cuts in defence expenditure, those cuts were too little and too slow and we wanted them to go at a faster rate so as to meet the needs of our people.
I find it very depressing that this Government are increasing defence expenditure over the figure for 1970 to about 5½ per cent. of G.N.P. In 1970 it was 4.9 per cent. I deplore that any government of East or West Europe, or anywhere else, are increasing defence expenditure. I deplore that the Soviet Union's defence expenditure is so high and that many countries in Eastern Europe are spending a higher percentage on defence than we are. I also deplore very much that we are spending more on defence than any other country in Western Europe, in the Common Market for example. I cannot see why we should bear this burden. Why should we have to spend more of our resources on defence than West Germany, Italy or France, never mind smaller nations? If anyone on the Government Front Bench could tell us why, I should be pleased to hear it.
§ Lord Balniel
Perhaps I could answer the hon. Lady. She is utterly wrong for in fact West Germany is spending more than we are.
§ Mrs. Short
Perhaps the noble Lord should have a word with the Library or the Institute of Strategic Studies which provided me with figures that contradict what he said. The figures I have received are those which I have stated. If he would like me to do so, I will read them.
§ Lord Balniel
The hon. Lady is making a mistake. She is talking about a proportion of the gross national product. I am talking about real cash. France is spending as much and West Germany is spending more, and its expenditure is increasing more rapidly than ours.
§ Mrs. Short
I am talking, as I made absolutely clear, about the percentage of the gross national product. Therefore we really ought to resist, and I hope that the Government will resist, the blandishments of their hon. Friends behind them 1623 and below the Gangway for an increase in defence expenditure.
It comes ill from this Government to increase defence expenditure, as they are doing, at a time when they are saving paltry sums of money in ways which cause great suffering and great hardship to our people. I am thinking of the miserable, contemptible savings on school milk, for example, and the raising of the prices of school meals. They hope to save a few million pounds—and less than £1 million—through charges for admission to museums and galleries. It is absolutely contemptible, and yet we see an effective increase in defence expenditure getting on for £400 million. This is a measure of the Government's priorities. This is where I profoundly disagree with the attitude of hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
I, of course, am supporting the Amendment tonight. [Laughter.] Well, I am glad that even some of the newest additions to this House now realise how the party opposite to them feels about this question of defence expenditure. What is important is that this party reflects the point of view of people outside this House. I am sorry—I will say clearly, and it may please the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack)—that it is not an official Opposition Amendment that I have the pleasure of supporting tonight.
One of the things I find most depressing in this White Paper, as I mentioned, is the contention which, of course, is that of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, that, as it says in paragraph 7 on page 2,The Western Alliance must, therefore, remain resolute in avoiding any premature lowering of its guard: it must also insist that the imbalances in the forces confronting each other in Europe, which favour the Warsaw Pact, are taken fully into account in any negotiations on arms control or force reductions.If that means anything at all, it means that we have got to go on spending more and more on defence till we reach what the Government feel is a balance between East and West Europe, and then we shall start talking about reductions. When will they think such a state is reached? How long must be go on spending more of our G.N.P. on defence and armaments to reach the point at which they feel we might start talking about armaments 1624 reductions? It seems to me an absolutely Gilbertian and foolish situation.
We have seen over the last six years, to take only that period of time, proposals which have been made by Eastern European countries, large and small, to bring East and West Europe together, and we have seen them sabotaged over and over again. Always there are laid down more and more conditions which have to be surmounted before we are prepared to get round the conference table and talk. Proposals which were made six years ago are still being parried by the Conservative Party, which shows very little enthusiasm for them. Whenever Questions are put to hon. and right hon. Members in the Government about this whole question of a security conference we always get the same stonewalling replies, "We have got to wait till careful preparations have been made" or complaints that the Soviet Union has not allowed itself to be pushed into agreeing to talks about "mutual balanced force reductions" in Europe before N.A.T.O. can agree to sit down with the Soviets at a European conference. Then there was the pre-condition about the Berlin Agreement. The Berlin Agreement has materialised, but how much nearer are we to reaching a decision? Perhaps the Minister will give an up-to-date report on this and forecast a date when we shall sit down and talk the matter out.
I would have thought that Governments were mature and sensible enough nowadays to do what their peoples all over the world are yearning for, and that is to bring about some sort of modus vivendi preceded by a conference between both sides with a view to ending the threat of nuclear war and so releasing the enormous resources that are now being spent on armaments for the benefit of the people by way of more productive expenditure.
§ Mr. Cormack
—and, because she is always frank, she likes to explain her views with great clarity. Does she believe that the Government of the Soviet Union pose no threat whatever to the West? Does she believe that they are apostles of 1625 sweetness and light? Has she forgotten Czechoslovakia?
§ Mrs. Short
Certainly not. I made a speech about Czechoslovakia—the incident occurred before the hon. Gentleman was elected to this House—in which I did not condone what happened there. On the other hand, I tried to understand it; and in mentioning Czechoslovakia the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the position of the Soviet Union.
Some hon. Gentlemen opposite are obsessed with the alleged threat of the Soviet Union. The hon. Member for Cannock is one of them. He takes part in all sorts of rather dubious activities in this direction to demonstrate that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh?"]
§ Mrs. Short
I am answering the hon. Gentleman's interventions one at a time.
There is a persistent unwillingness on the part of many hon. Gentlemen opposite to understand the position. The Soviet Union was invaded during the war and suffered greatly, far more than any country in the world. This makes Russia defensive rather than offensive—[Interruption.]—and I do not believe that it has offensive designs on the Mediterranean, as the hon. Member for Haltemprice suggested, or on Europe, as he also suggested.
However, if hon. Gentlemen opposite take that view, perhaps they will explain why the Soviet Union has waited for so long before making any attempt to swallow up the Mediterranean or the whole of Western Europe. Their contention does not bear examination.
I condemn any country's increased expenditure on armaments, East or West, and it is time that we showed a rapprochement to the proposals which have been made over the years for a security conference for disarmament talks. Only by this means will the vast resources and enormous amount of skilled manpower now being used to produce bigger, better and more horrific weapons of mass destruction be used to increase the standard of living of our people and help to achieve the sort of things for which people throughout the world are yearning and longing.
§ Mrs. Short
No. The hon. Gentleman cannot seduce me twice—[Laughter.]—into giving way.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) said yesterday that if the Amendment were accepted there would be a cut of about £600 million in our current defence expenditure. I would welcome that and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would, too. I am equally sure that many spending Ministers would welcome the opportunity to share in spending that £600 million on the things for which even their supporters on the benches behind them occasionally press. But I do not agree with my right hon. Friend when he says this would make it impossible for the Americans to postpone unilateral cuts. The Americans, of course, are increasing their armaments expenditure very considerably. Nor do I agree with him when he says this would bring about disarray in N.A.T.O. and would cause difficulties about the lowering of the nuclear threshold. He also said it would give powerful ammunition—and I do not at all follow the logic of this argument—to those in West Germany who have aspirations to nuclear status and whose voices have been silenced by the effect of Herr Brandt's Ostpolitik. His policy of Ostpolitik has been very successful from our point of view but he has not silenced the reactionary opponents in his own country who are demanding nuclear weapons and also opposing his Ostpolitik.
My right hon. Friend must know there was recently a vote in the Upper House in West Germany which was lost by one; and the Bundestag is at present in process of having a three-day debate on the Ostpolitik and the treaties, and a vote is to take place tomorrow. We shall see what the strength of the Right in Opposition in West Germany is to Herr Brandt's policies. We support them, and the Government have said in this House that they support him. But I would have thought if we had shown some indication of being prepared to reduce our defence expenditure we would have supported those people in West Germany 1627 who are also anxious to see West Germany's defence expenditure reduced, even though it is lower than ours.
The world arms bill had trebled between 1949 and 1968, rising from 51,000 million dollars in 1949 to 153,000 million dollars. By 1970 it had risen to 200,000 million dollars, and, if it goes on at the present rate of increase, by 1980—which is only eight years from now—it is expected that expenditure on world armaments will reach 300,000 million dollars. This is 150 per cent. higher than the total health services expenditure in the world and 50 per cent. higher than the total education expenditure. So here again it indicates that many countries, all those with increasing armaments expenditure, have got their priorities wrong.
Vis-á-vis the Common Market, it is quite clear we are at a considerable disadvantage to them because of our rising defence expenditure. Militarists always claim—and this has been put forward from the opposite side today—that more armaments make us safer. They are always clamouring for more. The more defence expenditure we have the more they seek and clamour for. I wonder if anyone in the world feels safer because of the existence of nuclear weapons in any country. Do we feel safer because we have our Polaris submarines? [SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] The backwoodsmen over there think so, but I do not believe that that point of view would be shared by many people. Do we feel safer because America and the Soviet Union could blow each other to bits, and blow us to bits in the process? I do not think we do, and I do not think most people in this country or other countries, ordinary people, if they could express their point of view, would feel any safer.
Nuclear weapons are no longer credible, and now that this credibility is declining this is surely a time when we ought to reconsider our whole position with regard to defence expenditure and our attitude towards Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and not a time, as hon. Members opposite have been saying this evening, to spend more on more horrifying weapons of mass destriction, more sophisticated weapons.
I hope that the reply we get from the Front Bench tonight is going to be a 1628 constructive, not a destructive, one, and one indicating that the Government are going to make a genuine and honest effort to meet what I and millions of other people believe is a genuine and honest offer to seek agreement on arms reduction.
I am sorry this Amendment was not put down by the official Opposition nevertheless I shall go into the Lobby and support it tonight.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
With five minutes at my disposal I think in the interests of statistics that I should put on record that I seem to be the only back bencher in the House who welcomes the White Paper. I regard it as a most reasonable document. Hon. Members on the Opposition side must recognise that peace has its price and that in this document that price is a moderate one. My hon. Friends must realise that it is not possible within our national budget to create the perfect defence force capable of taking on any enemies in any part of the world, in any desert or jungle. This is impossible even for the super-powers and it is certainly beyond our means.
Perhaps the interesting thing which is dealt with in the White Paper is the dichotomy which now exists in our defence obligations as they affect people in the Services. On one hand they have to serve in and think about a sphere of operations in Europe where the danger is, in a sense, rather unreal—a possible danger but not one that is ever present in their mind or that of the public. At the other end of the scale we have the situation in Northern Ireland where the military danger is too real, where it is obvious and present at every moment. This is a central difficulty for the Government in terms of recruiting to the Services and, perhaps even more important, retaining people who are already in the Services.
There are a number of matters in the White Paper on which I would like to spend more time on. Persons of my cast of mind inevitably, when considering Europe, tend to think of the future and of the next generation of nuclear weapons. The White Paper is silent on this, but I would like to see some indication in the coming months of Government thinking on this subject because we 1629 all realise that some day we as Europeans, as we then shall be, will have to face the situation.
§ Mr. David Walder
The hon. Lady must speak for herself. We are Europeans and we must face the possibility at some time in the future that we shall not be able to profit from the American nuclear umbrella and the physical presence of American troops in Europe. I do not expect this to be found in a White 1630 Paper which is necessarily a limited document but I would welcome some indication of Government thinking.
I rather like the document. No doubt the Minister of State was assisted by his three junior Ministers, all of whom are ex-media men. Perhaps it was their influence which put in the maps and the diagrams. I welcome them all and I regard it, in consequence, as a much clearer indication of Government policy than perhaps some White Papers have given in the past. Having said that, short of sycophancy I can say no more.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder), with his usual engaging frankness, told the House that he was about the only back bencher who welcomed the White Paper.
We have had a wide-ranging and thoughtful debate, from the rather frightening picture—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That at this day's sitting, the Order of the day relating to Defence may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Eleven o'clock, and that the Harbours (Loans) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Fortescue.]
§ Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made.
§ Mr. Morris
Before I was interrupted, I was saying that this has been a wide-ranging and thoughtful debate, from the frightening picture painted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to the well-studied speech of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Wr. Wilkinson). I am sorry the hon. Gentleman is not privy to the secrets available to the Front Bench, but I am sure that in the course of time that will be remedied. We had a characteristic and sincere speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), as usual making a well-informed and very pertinent and consistent speech, began with his concern about a White Paper which he found somewhat of a disappointment. I think that I correctly understood him—and I think the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) also did—to make a threat to vote against the Navy Estimates, a threat which I think was echoed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
Like hon. Members who have failed to catch the eye of the Chair, I regret the curtailment of the debate, and I hope that those who have not spoken will be able to make some of their points in the forthcoming Estimates debates.
The White Paper boasts of good progress by the Government towards three 1632 broad objectives that we heard about in 1970.
I shall deal with the last first. It says:There has been a substantial increase in the number of recruits for the Services.That will be very welcome to the whole House, but the credit is not entirely the Government's. The introduction by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) of the military salary and the beginning of its implementation have been significant reasons for the increase in the number of recruits that was so badly needed. The Government would do well not to be so churlish as to try to ignore that point.
The other reason, for which I can give the Government full credit, is unemployment. The best recruiting sergeant the Government could ever have is over 1 million unemployed. To bring a historic phrase up to date, the Prime Minister would need to be an organising genius to organise both a shortage of recruits and over 1 million unemployed at the same time.
We are shown a graph of the rise in recruits for which the Forces hope in January, February and March this year. I hope the Government are right. I regret that they seem to be right about the large, rising graph of the unemployed, the peak of which seems not yet to be in sight.
Secondly, the Government take pride in the successful pull-out of the Forces as formerly organised in the Far East and the withdrawal from the Gulf. Of course, the flag continues to be shown in the Far East, but not much more, because the leading rôle has rightly been taken over by the countries in that part of the world. I appreciate very much the anguish of many Conservative Members, those who were so anxious over the years to retain the posture of world policeman, as they see the great change in the situation. The flag-waving in ANZUK is confined now to a battalion group and rotating Nimrods.
Of course, there are the ships. There is a force of ships said to do all sorts of things. Let me tell the House its task. It is on station east of Suez, first, to contribute to the five-power defence arrangements and the ANZUK force; 1633 secondly, to visit the Gulf; thirdly, to maintain the Beira patrol; fourthly, to maintain guardship at Hong Kong; fifthly, to provide a presence in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia areas. This is a task, according to the wishes of some hon. Members opposite, for a veritable armada, a task which is being carried out by a force of six ships.
Then, of course, there is the Gulf. Here the Government claim credit—and here we can congratulate them wholeheartedly—in that, first, all-British resident forces have been withdrawn, and, second, the Exclusive Treaty ended on 2nd December of last year. It would be churlish not to congratulate the Government on carrying on with the policy so rightly decided by my right hon. Friends in the Government in which I had the honour to serve. Of course, some advisers will be kept, and I note the toe-hold which they mention: British ships will visit the Gulf regularly. Well, they visit many parts of this country and many other parts of the world fairly regularly—and it will be no more than that because, despite all the gestures, the symbols, the reality of the situation is not much different from the policy we laid down. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester said yesterday:If the defence policy outlined in the White Paper had been served up to us by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East … we in the Tory Party would have been after him like a pack of foxhounds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 23rd February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1340.]With the fox so near I cannot understand how the hon. and gallant Gentleman has desisted from that cruel sport. And I do not weep at the ceiling, which even the noble Lord the Secretary of State has confessed in the other place has been adopted and which was so criticised by the Conservative Party as a way of implementing defence policy.
This debate has been dominated perhaps by the tales of woe on the other side of the House about the "Eagle". Perhaps the air is tonight full of chickens of this kind coming home to roost on the Front Bench opposite from all directions.
I come to the Government's third claim—the further improvement in the British contribution to N.A.T.O. Here again I welcome the improvements that have 1634 taken place. They are part of the philosophy of ceasing to be the world's policeman, and rather concentrating on our task in Europe. Before I examine this particular item in the balance sheet I want to ask some questions on the effectiveness of the British contribution generally and of that to N.A.T.O. in particular. First, I will ask the questions on general effectiveness. Are we getting the best value for money? I know that my hon. Friends are deeply concerned whether the expenditure of all this money is necessary. One of our proud claims when we were in Government was to change the order of priorities, in that we spent more on education than on defence.
Looking at the particular item—and I will come to one in a moment—I wonder whether Ministers are in charge of the Ministry of Defence, or are they pushed by whatever winds happen to blow strongest along Horse Guards Avenue?
In this connection my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huck-field) raised the Linesman/Mediator problem. Perhaps we could have an answer in the course of this debate or the debate next Thursday.
I question the colossal increase in the research and development programme, now running at £330 million, which is dismissed in two pages and 13 lines in this White Paper. Indeed, the only cheap thing about this Government's defence is the White Paper; at 47p it is the cheapest offering by way of White Papers that we have had for years. Unfortunately, because of sheer brevity, the impression gained from the way they have resisted, and desisted from, giving adequate information to the House is that some elements of the Ministry of Defence have sworn Trappist vows. In 1970, £222 million—
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the Linesman/ Mediator, he must recognise that he had a responsibility at least for Linesman if not for Mediator. If Air Vice-Marshal Crew is right, in 1969 the shortcomings of that system became apparent, but I do not remember the hon. Gentleman ever telling the House about its inadequacies.
§ Mr. Morris
I do not recall the date when the hon. Gentleman came to this House, but be that as it may, I am 1635 deeply interested in what has happened to the Linesman /Mediator since my time, and I shall be intrigued by the answers which will be given in the course of the debate before eleven o'clock.
When the Labour Government left office the figure for R. and D. expenditure was £222 million a year. We were able to say that this continuing reduction in the share of the nation's resources devoted to defence R. and D. was one aspect of the Government's policy which was actively pursued by ensuring that increased resources were available for R. and D. for civil purposes.
In 1971 that £222 million had leapt to £264 million, and it has now gone up to £330 million, a straight 50 per cent. increase over two years. There may be some explanation for this, but at least we are entitled to an explanation and the matter should not be glossed over in a mere two pages and 13 lines. There may have been a shift of a departmental Vote, which would explain part of the significant increase. When there is a dramatic increase of 50 per cent. over two years—and no cost inflation on its own can explain the substantial increase—at least we should be given an explanation. The figures for military aircraft have gone up from £92 million to £122 million, guided weapons from £49 million to £56 million and "other research and development", whatever that may mean, has gone up from £19 million to £37 million. There will be a good deal of jealousy in other spending departments of the Ministry of Defence if R. and D. has been allowed to have the lion's share of this increase, unless there is a transfer of a Vote from another Department. I fear that the trend we set has been reversed. Is R. and D. out of control? Can Ministers tell us that they are satisfied that they are getting value for money?
The dilemma before the Ministry of Defence is that if we buy British the cost of R. and D. goes up. If we take the other course—and I have been criticised time and again by hon. Members opposite for buying from abroad—that results in somewhat less expenditure on R. and D. I am aware of the problem, and I want to know, and be satisfied by, the explanation of this substantial increase.
1636 One matter which has been of particular concern to me and for which I had a responsibility is torpedoes. Hon. Members wending their way home on Christmas Eve will have seen the announcement that the final decision had been taken to purchase the Mark 46 lightweight torpedo from the United States. The greater part of torpedo development, regrettably, in recent years has been a series of non-events. I share some of this responsibility, and I put in train certain measures. I hope that some of the lessons of the past have been learnt.
I ask Ministers why—if they have acted on advice, as I am sure they have—the advice given to the Government to purchase the M.46 is rather different from my understanding at the time of the value of this American solution? I choose my words with care, as hon. Gentlemen will appreciate. Secondly, is it still possible, and is it wise, to continue with the other long-term solution which is in train—I will not mention its number—at the same time as we are losing the value and the benefit of the work which has been done and is now being abandoned on the short-term remedy? That is the most serious question of all, as I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will appreciate, and it is a continuing problem. We all appreciate that torpedoes are guided weapons, and we should like to know how close is the liaison, if any, between the Royal Navy and the remainder of guided weapons operations. I hope that Ministers are satisfied with the handling of naval research and development expenditure generally.
When we were in Government we were criticised about ship strength. The hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice was consistent in criticising our shortfalls. But have the present Government been less than frank in the figures they have placed before us? How right was the naval correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph—Mr. Wettern—last Sunday when he said:The decline in the size of the Fleet is twice as large as indicated in the Defence White Paper published last weekindicating that some ships will not leave their fitting yards this year, and others will be scrapped earlier than is shown in the White Paper? It may be that Mr. Wettern is wrong and the Government 1637 are right. If he is right, so much for open Government. It will turn out once again to be one of the less attractive fables of our time.
In the concern about H.M.S. "Eagle", the Minister of State knows full well that when he says to his colleagues on the Conservative benches that he and the Secretary of State will consider carefully the representations made, he knows—and the Government as a whole know—that the decision has been taken. Whatever may be said in this House today, or yesterday, or in the other place, they know full well that the decision will not be changed. When phrases like "considered carefully" are used in this House, it would surely be better if the hon. Gentleman would put his colleagues on the Conservative back benches out of their misery.
The other claim made by the noble Lord was about the unprecedented rate of warship construction in peacetime. I reminded him that the rate of nuclear-powered submarine shipbuilding remained basically the same as in our period of office. After consultation with one of his colleagues, he confirmed this in the debate yesterday. These are the capital ships of today, and we were criticised in almost every defence debate on this score.
What are the figures? In 1970 No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 were being built and No. 9 was to be ordered shortly. In 1971 No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 were being built and No. 10 was to be ordered this year. Now, in 1972, we are told that No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10 are being built and that No. 11 is to be ordered. The Government have not said whether it would be shortly, this year or at what time this will happen. It looks as if it is going at precisely the rate at which we were building and for which we were so criticised. No wonder the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice finds the White Paper disappointing. Perhaps it is the masterly understatement of our time.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) raised the issue of Polaris. I do not want to embarrass the Minister more than is necessary, but he comes down to the House month after month to repeat like a barrel organ that he is keeping his options open. He dare not admit otherwise to his hon. Friends. He 1638 knows that there is no intention of building a fifth Polaris submarine. He knows that there is no money in the costings, if there were, he would tell the House for what year and for what amount. If there were any money in the costings, I suspect it would not pay for any increase in the present generation of Polaris. It would be much better to put his hon. Friends on the Conservative back benches out of their misery.
In passing, having regard to the large figures of unemployment, I wonder whether there has been any change in policy about general purchasing. I do not mean purchasing pieces of equipment which we already buy in this country. Has there been a change in the balance between what we buy here and what we buy abroad?
The hon. and gallant Member for Lich field and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) wanted a bigger buy of Landrovers. Is there an option now that we might buy, say, lorries and trucks from abroad? What is the policy on foreign purchases generally having regard to the unemployment situation?
Lastly, I turn to a matter which has dominated a great part of the debate on which we have had speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), Islington. South-West (Mr. George Cunningham), and others, and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who regrets, with his usual courtesy, that he cannot be here.
I thank the Minister of State for Defence and his Department for the arrangements which were made for my right hon. Friend and myself and others of my hon. Friends to visit Belfast recently.
Against this background, I want to probe the claim that there have been further improvements in Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. Whatever has been done regarding equipment or infrastructure, our long and deep involvement in Northern Ireland has to be set against whatever effectiveness we have in Europe. Today we have more than 9,000 soldiers serving as infantrymen in Northern Ireland. I think the total is much greater. Some have been taken from B.A.O.R.—1,760, or whatever the 1639 figure is—and others are committed to B.A.O.R. if they can get away from Northern Ireland. The tragedy is that we never anticipated that British troops would be tied down in the United Kingdom on an open-ended commitment to keep the peace when their real rôle is denying those from outside who might want to wreck all that we value within our shores.
The late Gerry Reynolds, presenting one of our Estimates a few years ago, said that not one British soldier had been killed on active service in that year. This year, 58 have made the supreme sacrifice. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join in paying tribute to them.
I will not be drawn into discussing the whole of the Irish situation. As a Celt I have views on this matter, too. Last year, I gently reminded those who might be minded to throw a bomb, set a trap or throw a stone that they should sometimes think about the families of the boys at home watching television night after night and being deeply and passionately concerned about the treatment being meted out to our troops. I say with the utmost sincerity that the British public is rapidly getting more impatient with the treatment being meted out to our troops. That, and the Aldershot outrage, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Beckenham, is no help to the cause of those who want to see justice and equality in Ireland. That feeling will mount as the casualties are brought home. At our peril we in this House ignore the British public's feeling on this score.
Our boys in Northern Ireland work long hours. They are cheerful and they behave with dignity, bravery and patience. However, I suspect that they are longing to get back to real soldiering, to be reunited with their families, and hoping that the distasteful tasks which they have to carry out will yield to the tasks for which they were originally trained.
I welcome what has been done by the Government about cheap fares to the United Kingdom. For those troops who have come from Germany and left their families for four months, I wonder whether something might be done about a regular 72-hour leave plane to shuttle 1640 them backwards and forwards between Germany and Belfast. I hope that the Minister will consider that suggestion.
Our soldiers in Ulster would not pretend to be angels. They are a cross-section of our youth. I had the privilege last September of taking a passing out parade at Crickhowell. There they were—young miners, carpenters, labourers; and they are expected to behave under the full gaze of the television cameras and all the media as if they were a combination of elder statesmen and probation officers.
I have the impression that our Forces appear to be far too close and far too responsible to the Northern Ireland Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) mentioned that. I think that he carried with him the noble Lord, certainly in understanding his point. The truth of the matter is that the G.O.C. and the Chief Constable meet every Wednesday to formulate their plans. They report on the following Thursday to the Joint Security Committee. That committee consists of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, two of his Ministers, the Chief Constable, one United Kingdom representative and the G.O.C. To all appearances, certainly in numbers, the committee is dominated by the Northern Ireland representatives.
The House will recall what happened in August, 1969, when the G.O.C. was given full responsibility for all security operations in Northern Ireland. After October, when it became relatively quiet, it was possible to limit the nature of the G.O.C.'s responsibilities, from an overall direction of security to the co-ordination of the tasks with the R.U.C. But no one would pretend that the situation is today relatively quiet by any stretch of the imagination.
I understand the difficulties in which our troops are placed. I understand, I think, a little of the tasks that they are called upon to carry, 18 hours a day—hours that no self-respecting trade unionist would dream of working—for the period of four months that they are there on active duty. The position is made more difficult by their serving, directly or indirectly, the Northern Ireland Government and, at one and the same time, maintaining the balance.
1641 The hon. Gentleman will press the point that they are responsible to this Parliament and to Ministers here. Whether they be so or not, the impression conveyed is that it may well be otherwise. The impression in Northern Ireland, as I understand it, is that they are serving two masters, and it is no easier to succeed in that in military operations than it is in theology. I am anxious that justice should not only be done but should also be seen to be done. Whether or not they are unduly serving the Northern Ireland Government, whether or not there is too great an influence by the Northern Ireland Government, the British Government should do something at the earliest possible stage—I think that the noble Lord understands this—to correct the situation.
There is not time to look at all the points made during the debate. I support the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) when he commended the North Atlantic Assembly to the House, as he has done on other occasions, as a very useful and important forum for discussing the problems of European defence.
Lastly, I join, as I hope the whole House will join, in sending our best wishes to British Forces wherever they are in the world.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Peter Kirk)
I begin by expressing in advance apologies to a number of hon. Members if I do not mention particular points which they have raised. Owing to the peculiar nature of the debate yesterday, I find myself having to wind up almost one and a half days of fascinating discussion. Although I shall try to cover as broad a canvas as possible, I am comforted by the thought that within the next few weeks the more detailed points can be raised on the detailed Estimates and, I am sure, probably more powerfully dealt with them.
I suppose I should start by expressing modest, almost shy, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder), who is, I think, the only hon. Member to have expressed a kind 1642 word in the debate for this White Paper. I am grateful to my hon. Friend beyond measure. But, though compliments have been few, discussion has been intense and interesting. Perhaps part of this is due to the fact that the White Paper is a good deal shorter than we have been accustomed to in previous years and, therefore, hon. Members on both sides have found it possible to "buff" it out with their own ideas, all of which we found interesting.
There have been a number of themes, and perhaps I should turn to them first. Leaving aside the difficult and contradictory position in which the Opposition Front Bench found themselves in maintaining that our defence policy had not changed since June, 1970, and that what was now happening was outrageous, I pass to the general point with which both the right hon. Member for Dundee. East (Mr. George Thomson) yesterday and the hon. Member for Plymouth. Sutton (Dr. Owen) today opened the debate; namely, the relationship of our defence policy in the context of the general move towards détente.
I was interested, though not altogether convinced, in the attempt made by both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman to depict the present Government as a lot of wild-eyed cold warriors only anxious to get back to the early 1950s. They had very little evidence for this. The right hon. Gentleman produced none. The hon. Gentleman produced one sentence from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State yesterday. When challenged by my right hon. Friend to say what more we should be doing to achieve détente, the hon. Gentleman said that he had nothing particular in mind, except a good deal more enthusiasm. My right hon. Friend is well known for the cool way in which he approaches these problems. I shall try to demonstrate a little more enthusiasm tonight, especially as the hon. Gentleman quoted from a paper of which I am the author, which represents the considered view of the Government, and with which, curiously enough, the hon. Gentleman seemed to agree. Therefore, I shall try to place this in perspective, assuming that we shall have no further attempts on the part of either the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman to place my right hon. and noble Friend 1643 the Secretary of State in the ill-fitting mantle of the late John Foster Dulles.
I start from the point that there is no doubt that over the past few years Russian diplomacy has begun to show signs of greater flexibility on the arms question. There has been real progress in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and there has been the tremendous breakthrough over Berlin, which everyone recognises to have been a turning point. On mutually balanced force reductions, however, it is fair to say that the Soviet attitude has been much more unequivocal than on these other two matters. We have had talk about the desirability of mutually balanced force reductions. Mr. Brezhnev's speech at Tiflis was an outstanding example. But, at the same time, there has been a deafening silence in response to N.A.T.O.'s offer to send Signor Brosio to Moscow to find out whether there is a basis for further discussions.
I think that, in part, this is explained by the extreme complexity of the problem. We have found in the last 18 months, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members opposite found when they started looking at it after the Reykjavik Communiqué, there is no subject in which one can get so deeply involved, and one of the advantages of the last four years since the Reykjavik Communiqué is that we have come to have a clearer idea of our own force strengths as a result of an exercise that we have been doing in M.B.F.R.s and the way in which we might be able to cope with them. We are ready to meet the Warsaw Pact half way in any effort to reduce tension, and M.B.F.R.s would be part of that. But, as would be agreed by the Opposition, and as they have said, this must be done without jeopardising the security of the Alliance. It is our firm conviction that we shall never be offered the opportunity of satisfactory negotiations on M.B.F.R. unless N.A.T.O. makes it clear that the Alliance has the will and the means to defend itself.
This was the point the right hon. Member for Dundee, East fairly made yesterday, that just at this moment when we are moving into a period of détente it is the worst possible time for a unilateral reduction of armaments on either side—not only our side but the Warsaw Pact 1644 side, too. For this reason we in Western Europe must continue to do our best through institutions like the Euro-Group to continue to contribute to the strengthening of the alliance and if possible to increase it.
I must repudiate the idea that we are in some way going cool on détente or that we are anxious to stir up a cold war atmosphere or anything like that. What we have consistently done is to try to lay down as clearly as we can the nature of the threat as we see it, the complexities of reaching the détente which we hope to reach and the sort of timetable we have in mind for doing that. I do not believe that any Government or Defence Minister in any country can be criticised for stating the facts. The danger lies in his not doing so.
This is what the Government have been trying to do. Hon. Gentlemen say it is pessimistic; I prefer to say it is realistic. I believe that what we are doing is soberly to set out the facts as they were set out in the White Paper without over-dramatising but without under-estimating what has happened—to set out what we want done in this area and to move as rapidly as we can to that.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
I understood from the hon. Gentleman's nods when I suggested that perhaps he might give us some more information about this when he replied that he would do so. What he is doing is merely repeating what is in the White Paper and what Ministers have said before. Is he not now in a position to tell us when he will be likely to recommend some kind of meeting and what further conditions need to be agreed to before he is prepared to do that?
§ Mr. Kirk
I knew it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Lady. I am now coming to just that point and we could have saved at least 30 seconds. Both the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. Freitas) asked when the Alliance should move towards preparations for the conference on both European security and M.B.F.R. Although the two need not necessarily go together, it will probably be more convenient if they do, although it is not essential that they should. We have consistently maintained the view, and it is 1645 shared by all our N.A.T.O. Allies, that we will enter multi-lateral preparatory talks only when the final quadripartite protocol which will complete the Berlin agreement has been concluded.
Equally, the Soviet Union has insisted on linking this with ratification by the Federal Republic of Germany of the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties. There has therefore been a delay because conditions have been imposed on both sides, reasonable conditions if looked at from everyone's point of view. However we can now hope that the ratifications will take place within a few months. If that is so, we expect multi-lateral preparation to take place in the second half of this year and we hope to see the conference take place in the first half of 1973.
If the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton regard us as over-pessimistic it is a pity they were not here to listen to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). If he is a realist we are Pollyanna compared with him! It was an apocalyptic speech which ended with the recommendation that we ought to create little "Dad's Armies" in our Empire all over the world and batten down against the Armaggedon which is to come. I am not making fun of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has kindly said that he is unable to be with us at this point.
It is true that the strength of the Soviet bloc has increased particularly in the naval sphere in the last 10 years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) reminded us. We have laid great emphasis on this in the Defence White Paper and have been severely criticised by hon. Members opposite for doing so. We are also fully alive to the deficiencies on our side. The gap is uncomfortably wide. But I do not believe that the solution which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, that we can in some way turn our backs on Europe and scuttle back into the shelter of the United States, is a rational, practical or viable one for any British Government at the moment. Although I appreciate that he is as strongly opposed to our entry into Europe on military as on economic and ideological grounds, I do not believe that the sort of proposal that he put forward, of trying to save ourselves almost at Europe's expense, is one which 1646 we have any right to consider in this House.
We have certain tasks to do. The Soviet achievement of creating effective nuclear parity with the West has in itself created a new situation, but we began to respond to that five years ago when the previous Administration agreed with our N.A.T.O. Allies to the strategy of flexible response. What we have to do now is provide the conventional capability which is needed to back that strategy. The efforts which we in Europe and in the Euro-Group have so far made in this direction have been welcomed by the United States Administration, even if the hon. and learned Member for Northampton is not terribly impressed with them.
That leads me to the consideration of the balance of power, which underlies the negotiations which we have been discus. sing in this two-day debate. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who is Chairman of the sub-committee, will know that we have given them our best estimates—classified, I agree—of the strengths of both N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact. These are not far out of line with the conclusions of the I.I.S.S. annual military survey.
This leads into a discussion of what we mean by "parity of manpower Various related figures have been bandied about. I stand by what I said at Munich, which the hon. Gentleman quoted, that so far as pure manpower goes—head counting—the balance is not greatly to our disadvantage. But when one analyses that into divisions and equipment on both sides, I believe that the balance is to our disadvantage on the central front.
The trouble is that, in this sort of area, when one gets into the "numbers game", as the hon. Member said, there are so many other factors to take into account—such as who takes the initiative, who has the interior lines of communication, is there political pressure or is there not, is there Press censorship, for instance? We believe that in this respect there is a clear advantage lying to the Warsaw Pact, which is one of the reasons why no one is now talking about a general reduction of armaments—"knock for knock"—on both sides, there is talk of 1647 a mutual balanced reduction of armaments, which is much more difficult to achieve.
When the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton mentioned the McNamara estimates, he seemed to forget the analysis of those estimates made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) on 25th July in the House.
The right hon. Member for Kettering mentioned Anglo-French nuclear collaboration, and, in particular, questioned what the Prime Minister had in mind when he referred in his Godkin Lecture to nuclear forces held in trust for Europe. The concept of nuclear forces committed to the defence of Western Europe, as our Polaris force is at present, is clear enough. What we cannot say at present is what precise policy we should have to work out with our Allies to achieve that aim, because this involves consultation with Allies—and with more than one—which have not taken place and are not likely to take place in the immediate future.
That is why responsible statements on both sides of the Channel have repeatedly emphasised that any question of Anglo-French nuclear collaboration is a problem for the future and not the present. Both we and the French Government agree that it would be premature to engage upon it now.
So far I have been talking generally about Alliance problems and the approach of the Alliance to détente. Allied with the Alliance, if that is not a tautology, is a question which I know is very much concerning a number of my hon. Friends. I want to put it in the Alliance context because far too much of the discussion about the proposed phasing out of H.M.S. "Eagle" has been carried on in a purely national context, and of course, the whole of this discussion about air power can be effectively carried on only if we bear in mind that we expect to operate in close co-operation with the carrier-borne and shore-based fixed-wing air forces and the navies and air forces of our Allies.
My right hon. Friend explained at some length yesterday the Government's decision on "Eagle" and reminded the House, as it has been reminded again, that my right hon. and noble Friend the 1648 Secretary of State had said that he would consider carefully the arguments which had been deployed in this debate. It would, therefore, be only proper for me to comment briefly on the detailed suggestions made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) in the debate yesterday.
I do not want to misinterpret my hon. and gallant Friend's remarks, but I understood him to argue that "Eagle" should be refitted, possibly on the Clyde, by a private shipbuilder and placed in reserve for operation in some unforeseen emergency, manned perhaps by reservists and carrying Buccaneers, Sea Kings and possibly Harriers.
As for refitting her on the Clyde, let me first remark that I am not at all certain that the necessary technical skills and expertise would be available. But, assuming they were, and assuming that the extra money could be found—extra money because it has always been found that putting a ship out to contract docking is far more expensive than docking in the dockyards; for this reason we try to avoid putting ships out to contract docking whenever that is possible—a major disadvantage would be the time and extra staff that would be needed to draw up a specification for the refit by which the private shipbuilder could do the work.
I am informed that even more would be involved and that it would be more complex. Apparently this process could take up to a year to complete; and if one then added on the time it would take for the refit, it would be almost two years before "Eagle" would be ready to enter the maintained reserve. With the cruisers and the new naval weapons that will be beginning to be deployed in the late 'seventies, I personally do not believe that it would be a cost effective course of action.
But, even if "Eagle" were put in reserve, I have to confirm once again that, despite what my hon. and gallant Friend said, it is an extremely expensive and difficult business, in money and manpower, to maintain a ship of this size and complexity in reserve in any degree of readiness. After all, what would be the point of having it in reserve unless we could get it out and into action quickly?
1649 We could reduce the manpower figure of between 350 and 400 people, which my hon. and gallant Friend rightly said I had told him was the figure for keeping her in readiness, but the penalty for reducing it would be a significant lowering in the state of readiness of the ship, and, therefore, an increase in the length of time needed to bring her forward to meet the unforeseen contingency which he postulated. In other words, if we were to cut the manpower figure too much, the likely consequence would be that the emergency would be over before she was ready for service, and then, to borrow my hon. and gallant Friend's graphic phrase, we would look "proper Charlies".
As for manning the ship, my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the Fleet Air Arm presently becoming redundant. I am afraid that it would be no use for the ship's company. It would be useful only for flying the aircraft. Nor would reservists be available in the numbers we need; and, in any case, they would not have the training or expertise. I doubt whether we could divert them to this task without considerable penalty to their present duties.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The unforeseen emergency which worries us most is the 35 per cent. of the time—this is planned and admitted by the Minister—when "Ark Royal" will be going through planned refits. That is the sort of factor that could and should be allowed for and should not be obscured by a smokescreen.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
My hon. Friend is arguing only about the difficulties. I was somewhat astounded to hear from a friend only this evening that he had said to a chum of mine in the Smoking Room the other day "You wouldn't recognise Eagle ' in three weeks' time." However, the Minister said that the Government's mind was not closed on this issue. May we please be told what is happening on board "Eagle" now? Are plans for scrapping her going ahead? If so, a shindig should be made about it.
§ Mr. Kirk
I am as deaf as you are, Mr. Speaker.
"Eagle" is being de-stored at the moment. I have made it quite clear all along that the problem is purely a question of priorities within the defence budget. We shall certainly consider the points my hon. and gallant Friend has made, and my remarks tonight are merely my own preliminary reactions to them. It is all very well for him to say that we are arguing the difficulties, but this is precisely what the Opposition Front Bench have said about the M.B.F.R.s. If someone does not look at the difficulties we can get into an awful mess.
My hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) and Haltemprice asked about V/STOL. The "Ark Royal" trials proved the practicability of operating this type of aircraft from ships, but they did not provide all the answers. The plain fact is that no V/STOL aircraft exists at the moment with the developed capability for maritime operations. The present versions of the Harrier have been developed for close support work and ground operations. So if we are to use the Harrier in a maritime rôle some development of this capability will be necessary to allow it to operate effectively in its new environment.
The alternative to developing the existing Harrier would be to design a new aircraft altogether. A new design would give a better performance than the Harrier but would take longer to get into service. The "Ark Royal" trials have, therefore, left us with something of a dilemma. We have to consider the choice I have just described and compare all the operational advantages that a new design might provide with the disadvantages of the length of timescale and the extra costs that might be involved.
We have to consider what priority can be given to investment in maritime V/STOL capability as an interim measure as opposed to going for a more long-term measure which might have better export prospects. I am sure my hon. Friends will realise there is no easy and quick answer to this dilemma. We are pressing ahead as far as we can. 1651 The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are working closely together on this. The studies will, I am afraid, continue for some months yet and I cannot say when they will be completed. But as soon as they are I will inform the House.
I should like to say only a quick word about Northern Ireland, not because I underestimate the importance of the subject but because the Under-Secretary for the Army said something about this last night and we have had a large number of debates on the subject. The Army welcomes the information given by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that the Mayor of Aldershot is to launch an appeal, and the Under-Secretary would like to talk to him about the most effective way in which the Army can contribute to it.
On the vexed question of the Joint Security Committee, both the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary for the Army made the point that I would like to stress again that the Committee has no executive functions and is purely a consultative body. The executive function remains where it has always been, with the General Officer Commanding, who is responsible to Ministers, who are in turn responsible to the House.
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) asked about the Parker Report. It has been received and will be published very shortly. I ask hon. Members to be patient. The Government must consider their attitude to the report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) raised the question of Malta. There is still no further news. We are in communication with the Maltese Government, which have received an offer from our N.A.T.O. Allies which is fair and reasonable. We are clarifying the precise details of the offer in the hope that we shall receive a satisfactory agreement.
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West also referred to the question of seconded personnel, on which he has asked a number of Questions lately. He will know as a result of those questions that about 870 men are serving in this capacity, under arrangements some of which, though not all, are confidential 1652 between the Government and the country concerned, and some of which have not been set out in formal, published agreements. These men have been provided at the request of the country concerned, and because it was regarded as in the interests of the British Government to do so. In some cases the borrowing country pays the full cost, and in others costs are shared between the Government and the borrowing country. All but a small proportion of the costs are recovered to the Defence Votes.
My right hon. and noble Friend has given as much information in reply to the hon. Gentleman's Questions as he has been able to give without prejudice to the confidentiality of these arrangements with other Governments. That is all I can say on the subject tonight. At least the hon. Gentleman will notice that I have answered him, as he requested.
I should like to say a quick word to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) about the report of his sub-Committee. We have not had much time to study it yet, but we shall do so with great interest. I take the point about classified information and the large number of asterisks, which excited the attention of the Daily Mirror this morning in an editorial which might have been referring to something else. There is a problem here. We have made more information available to hon. Members than has ever been made available by the Ministry of Defence before. The need to classify the information does not reflect any lack of good will towards the sub-Committee or the House, but there must be a difference between information which we can give to the sub-Committee and information which we think is suitable for publication without damage to the national interests. There could always be a disagreement between the committee and the Ministry about this. We are anxious not to over-classify. This is the first shot. We may well have got it wrong. We are quite prepared, for that reason, to consider the report and its recommendation with great care, and we shall wish to consult my hon. and gallant Friend.
Linesman, I think, could best be dealt with in next Thursday's debate, when we shall have a little more time to explore exactly what happened in this rather complicated case.
1653 I turn to the Amendment, which I thought in the course of a long day would receive no support at all. But at the last minute it received massive support from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), to which obviously I must pay attention as I always do to anything that comes from that great city.
There is very little I need say about the Amendment, because the arguments against it were effectively deployed by the right hon. Member for Dundee, East yesterday afternoon and again this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. All I would say about it and about the general debate is that what proportion of our G.N.P., or how much in cash terms, we
§ spend on defence is and always will be a matter of judgment. It cannot be anything else. Our judgment is that the proposals that we have put forward in the White Paper are about right. Some of my hon. Friends disagree and say we should spend more. Of one thing I am absolutely certain; no one who has any responsibility for the effective defence of this country could possibly suggest that we should spend less. It is for that reason that I ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 41, Noes 168.1655
|Division No. 65.]||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Evans, Fred||Lipton, Marcus|
|Atkinson, Norman||Fisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham, Ladywood)||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Meacher, Michael|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Freeson, Reginald||Mendelson, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Orme, Stanley|
|Booth, Albert||Hardy, Peter||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Heffer, Eric S.||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Horam, John||Silverman, Julius|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Skinner, Dennis|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Deakins, Eric||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Kerr, Russell||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Kinnock, Neil||Mr. Robert Hughes and|
|Driberg, Tom||Latham, Arthur||Mr. John Prescott|
|Adley, Robert||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj. -Gen. James||Hornby, Richard|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Dean, Paul||Hornsby-Smith. Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Dixon, Piers||Howell, David (Guildford)|
|Astor, John||Drayson, G. B.||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Dykes, Hugh||Hunt, John|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Eden, Sir John||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Eyre, Reginald||Jessel, Toby|
|Benyon, W.||Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)|
|Biffen, John||Fidler, Michael||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Kirk, Peter|
|Boscawen, Robert||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Knox, David|
|Bowden, Andrew||Fookes, Miss Janet||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Foster, Sir John||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Braine, Bernard||Fry, Peter||Longden, Sir Gilbert|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||McCrindle, R. A.|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||McLaren, Martin|
|Bryan, Paul||Goodhew, Victor||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy|
|Carlisle, Mark||Gower, Raymond||Maddan, Martin|
|Channon, Paul||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Maginnis, John E.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Green, Alan||Mather, Carol|
|Churchill, W. S.||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Clark, William (Surrey E.)||Grylls, Michael||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Gummer. J. Selwyn||Mitchell, Lt. -Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)|
|Clegg, Walter||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Molyneaux, James|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Monks, Mrs. Connie|
|Cooke, Robert||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)|
|Coombs, Derek||Haselhurst, Alan||Morrison, Charles|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hay, John||Mudd, David|
|Cordie, John||Hayhoe, Barney||Neave, Airey|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hiley, Joseph||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Critchley, Julian||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Normanton, Tom|
|Crouch, David||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Nott, John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Holland, Philip||Onslow, Cranley|
|Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||Sheldon, William (Clapham)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Page, Graham (Crosby)||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Parkinson, Cecil||Soref, Harold||Waddington, David|
|Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Speed, Keith||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Spence, John||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Sproat, Iain||Wall, Patrick|
|Quennell, Miss J. M.||Stanbrook, Ivor||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Raison, Timothy||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Redmond, Robert||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Rees, Peter (Dover)||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)||Wilkinson, John|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Tebbit, Norman||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Temple, John M.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret||Younger, Hn. George|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Russell, Sir Ronald||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Scott, Nicholas||Trafford, Dr. Anthony||Mr. Tim Fortescue and|
|Sharples, Richard||Tugendhat, Christopher||Mr. Oscar Murton|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1972, contained in Command Paper No. 4891