§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Ian Gilmour)
I beg to moveThat this House approves the statement on the Defence Estimates, 1973, contained in Command Paper No. 5231.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should like to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'expresses its concern at the sharp inflationary increase in defence expenditure and, while paying tribute to the three Services and civilian personnel, particularly for their outstanding service in Northern Ireland, and maintaining that they should receive adequate remuneration, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take urgent action within the Alliance to bring our defence spending into line with that of our European allies, and further, to seek to ensure that total West European expenditure should reflect any improvement in the security situation following the European Security Conference'.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The Government laid down the objectives of its defence policy in its Defence White Paper in 1970. One of them was to give the Services a period of stability, something which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) acknowledged was necessary. But we can fairly claim to have achieved it where he failed. We have avoided those frequent, sudden and damaging changes of policy which bedevilled the later 1960s, and we have given the Services the chance to recover from the disruption and upheavals of the past.
But defence policy goes in step with foreign policy; and if, as we hope, world conditions change, and in particular if Western and Eastern Europe move into a more normal and civilised relationship, then of course our defence policy win be suitably adapted. Nobody wants to spend more on defence than he needs to, and if we get a chance to reduce our expenditure we shall take it. But history suggests that we are more likely to spend too little on defence than too much.
There are, as the House knows, a number of moderately encouraging signs, and the Government profoundly hope that what President Nixon has called the era 1504 of negotiation will in Europe and elsewhere eventually substitute relaxation for tension and confidence for fear.
But we have a long way to go before any such development can be said to have taken place. Early in the Vietnam war Senator Aiken of Vermont suggested that the best way to end it was for America just to say "we have won" and act accordingly. That course had its attractions for some people; but the way of achieving détente is not just to say we have got it when in fact we have not.
The Government will do everything in their power to pursue détente, and ensure peace and security at the various conferences and negotiations that take place. But the three things are indivisible. There can be no question of sacrificing security merely in the hope of achieving détente.
As the House is aware, there are some discouraging precedents of people prophesying disarmament and being proved over-optimistic. Lloyd George once told this House that he saw "distinct signs of a reaction against armaments throughout the world". But he thought he saw those signs on 23rd July 1914, a few days before the First World War began; so his vision was a little premature.
I am not suggesting, of course, that we are now in a similar situation. But without being anywhere near so spectacularly wrong as Lloyd George was in 1914, we should still be taking an enormous and unjustified risk if we were now to assume that an era of peace and good feelings had already begun.
Certainly there is no sign whatever of a reaction against armaments in the Soviet Union. Quite the reverse. We estimate that the total level of Soviet military expenditure has steadily increased by 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. per annum in real terms over the last few years. During the last year Russia has reinforced her frontier with China, but not at the expense of her forces in Europe. She has recently made major increases in her artillery, both field artillery and air defence, and there have been reports that she is increasing the number of tanks in her divisions facing NATO. This is entirely in line with her policy over many years which has consistently been to increase the quantity and quality of her equipment.
1505 In these circumstances, as the right hon. Member for Leeds East rightly said when he was in office,Piecemeal and unilateral western reductions without any compensating reductions on the other side would not improve European security or the prospects for a detente.As the House knows, the preparatory talks in Helsinki for the European Security Conference have been making progress. The military content of these talks is quite small, but their political significance will affect the climate of other East-West negotiations currently under way. Realistic steps towards détente have always been viewed with favour by Her Majesty's Government, and we hope the conference will make progress in lowering present barriers in Europe and increasing mutual confidence.
The military content in the mutual and balanced force reductions talks is of course very large. The largest difficulty here will be in negotiating an agreement that really is balanced. First, the Warsaw Pact have an overwhelming superiority in conventional forces, so that any man-for-man reduction would only exaggerate the existing imbalance. Secondly, the Warsaw Pact is a monolithic alliance firmly under Russian control and with a high degree of commonality in its equipment and tactical doctrine. It can therefore react very rapidly to any requirement for front line reinforcement. Finally, geography favours the Warsaw Pact; troop withdrawals by the United States across the Atlantic cannot be regarded as balanced by a similar withdrawal by the Russians behind their own borders. The negotiations will therefore be complex.
Meanwhile, it would obviously be pointless even to attempt to achieve mutual balanced reductions, if before doing so we for our part indulged in large unilateral reductions. I am sure that most of the House will agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East about that. NATO has kept the peace in Europe for 23 years, and our fundamental policy remains to foster the Alliance and to build up the European element in it.
I have so far concentrated on the major aim of our policy—the support of NATO and the defence of Western Europe. But we believe that this country still has an 1506 important part to play in other parts of the world. In addition to NATO, we are members of CENTO and SEATO; and we also contribute to the Five Power defence arrangements in Malaysia and Singapore. My right hon. and noble Friend recently returned from the Far East where he had discussions with the new Governments in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore—I am sorry; with the new Governments in Canberra and Wellington, and with the Governments in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
All the Governments concerned reaffirmed the defence arrangements, which we agreed upon two years ago, as a useful influence for stability in the area, and agreed that they should continue. As the House knows, the Australian Government have decided not to replace their infantry battalion and artillery battery in Singapore. They will, however, retain their naval and air contributions and logistic support elements for the ANZUK brigade.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
At what level are the Australians to maintain a naval and air presence? Have they said in what numbers they will remain?
§ Mr. Gilmour
Certainly not. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman has this prejudice against this force, which all the Governments in the area regard as extremely useful.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Is that all that the hon. Gentleman will tell us about the future of the ANZUK arrangements in Singapore? Whether or not he knows that there are new Governments in Australia and New Zealand, as opposed to Singapore and Malaysia, will he confirm that the present arrangements are under the command of an Australian admiral? Is the same command structure to remain?
§ Mr. Gilmour
This is obviously a matter which will be discussed within the alliance. All that I have told the House is that the basic arrangements will continue. That seems a reasonable piece 1507 of information to give the right hon. Gentleman.
One of our aims on taking office was to help enhance the standing and the reputation of the Armed Forces. This we have done. But much the most important factor in enhancing their reputation has, of course, been the behaviour of the Army in Northern Ireland. The restraint, tact and courage shown by our soldiers have impressed the whole country. In a provocative and delicate situation, they have discharged their duties with an extraordinary combination of bravery, skill and forbearance. Their conduct and morale deserve the highest praise, and they rightly receive it. Perhaps the best example of their skill was provided by Operation Motorman, which was carried through with speed and complete efficiency.
There have been the familiar claims that the Army has been guilty of harsh repression. The wildest allegations of brutal behaviour continue to be put about, often by people who should have known much better. But perhaps the House will have noticed a note of rising desperation lately in that sort of propaganda—not surprisingly, as the complete impartiality and good faith of the Army have been plain to all but the most bigoted and twisted.
Since the beginning of the year, the Army has continued to make progress. In January and February the security forces seized from extremists in both parts of the community 196 firearms, over 14,000 rounds of ammunition and about one and a half tons of explosives. The number of people arrested and charged totalled 249.
Of course, the situation is very far from satisfactory, but through their courageous and diligent work the security forces have brought some welcome relief to the people of Northern Ireland. In undertaking a vital task it is tragic that casualties should have continued. So far this year, 14 Regulars and three members of the Ulster Defence Regiment have been killed by terrorist action.
The House has been concerned for some time about provisions for death or injuries attributable to service particularly in the Northern Ireland context. I hope that we shall be able to make a statement shortly about improved provisions which 1508 will apply to all regular servicemen who are in the forces on or after 31st March 1973. These arrangements cannot, however, apply retrospectively; so we have decided to introduce a special scheme of ex-gratia annual payments to supplement existing benefits for regular Service men who have been invalided out and for the families of those who have been killed as a result of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland between 1st August 1969 and the end of March this year.
This scheme will also apply to the Ulster Defence Regiment. My hon. Friends will expand on it later in the debate. I shall now merely quote two examples. A widow with two children will receive up to £500 a year more than she now receives as a war widow's pension; and a completely disabled man will receive up to £400 a year more than he at present gets as a disability pension.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
What my hon. Friend has just said will be greatly welcomed on both sides of the House, but will he give consideration to special remuneration for those very brave men who risk their lives in the bomb disposal squads but get nothing extra for what is basically wartime work?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says about the bomb disposal men. Their courage is unrivalled. On the other hand, a great many other people in Northern Ireland are also doing jobs under near wartime conditions, so I cannot hold out any hope of our making the change for which my hon. Friend asks. But the matter will certainly be looked at.
The Royal Navy continues to play its part as the leading European Navy. Our Polaris submarines provide Europe's only contribution to NATO's strategic nuclear force. They also contribute vitally to national security by providing us with an independent strategic nuclear weapons system in situations where supreme national interests are at stake. We, therefore, keep a close running check on the whole complex of technological, intelligence, financial and political issues—none of which is static. I can assure the House that our nuclear force confronts a potential aggressor with the certainty of unacceptable retaliation, and that we shall do whatever is necessary to ensure its continued effectiveness.
1509 Our amphibious force of commando carriers and assault and logistic ships is a force unique among European powers to reinforce the flanks of NATO. The "Ark Royal" and her Phantom and Buccaneer aircraft will make a significant contribution to NATO's naval strength for some years to come.
Two years ago the right hon. Member for Leeds, East—to whom I gave notice—said this:The Government have not the slightest intention of continuing the 'Ark Royal' beyond the middle of 1973 They are continuing till then simply as an obeisance to some of their backbench supporters."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 19th November 1970; Vol. 806, c. 1557.]As the House will have suspected, the right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong then and he is still quite wrong now.
Naturally enough, there has been a certain amount of public interest in maritime V/STOL. The Harrier is the only military aircraft of its type in operational service. The British Government firmly intend to exploit the full potential of this advanced technology, and we foresee an important rôle for a V/STOL aircraft embarked on a through-deck cruiser.
The present Harrier is essentially a day ground-attack and land-based aircraft. For the maritime rôle we require a multi-rôle aircraft, capable of attack, reconnaissance and all-weather air defence operations. Project definition studies to establish the technical feasibility of making the current aircraft suitable for maritime employment and to assess the cost effectiveness of the best solution against the threat at the time are now well advanced. The problem is complex and some redesign work would inevitably be required. If the results of the project definition studies show that we should be able to produce a suitable maritime V/STOL aircraft which meets the requirement, our intention is to adopt it.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
In the interim pending the potential development of V/STOL for use at sea in the late 1970s and early 1980s, will my hon. Friend consider embarking an aircraft of the Harrier type AV8A for employment in the close support rôle, perhaps from "Hermes", as this would give the crews valuable experience on the type?
§ Mr. Gilmour
We are always prepared to consider anything. But I rather doubt whether that particular suggestion is suitable. However, we shall certainly consider it.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
My hon. Friend started his speech by talking about the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions. He will be aware that those do not include maritime power and that the greatest growth in the Soviet forces is in naval strength. How do we intend to protect our vital oil convoys from the Middle East round the Cape at the present level of strength of the Royal Navy, and what plans do the Government have for protecting these convoys which are vital in time of war or tension?
§ Mr. Gilmour
My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the talks do not affect naval forces, but I should be deceiving him if I said that I had any new plans to announce today about how to protect our merchant shipping. But the House will have seen in the White Paper that our navy—which is only one of the NATO navies—is an impressive and competent force.
In the Royal Air Force, the strength of the Harrier force has reached its planned level, but the aircraft is being progressively re-equipped with more powerful marks of the Pegasus engine. Further Harriers are to be acquired in order to maintain the front line strength for a longer period into the 1980s.
The RAF is taking its first deliveries of the Anglo-French Jaguar aircraft in the strike-attack and reconnaissance rôles. The build-up of squadrons equipped with Anglo-French Puma helicopters is complete. On the weapons side deliveries will start during the coming year of the Anglo-French Martel air-to-surface missile.
Looking further ahead, we have additional Nimrods and additional Buccaneers on order. But the most challenging project is the multi rôle combat aircraft, which is being developed jointly by the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Work is proceeding satisfactorily, and a further milestone has just been reached. The detailed review of the performance, timing, and cost aspects of the project, which the three participating nations initiated in November of last year, has now been 1511 completed. The results are judged to be satisfactory, and I can announce that the three Governments have decided to continue with the joint development of the project. They have also authorised preparatory work for production. The next review of the programme is scheduled to begin at the end of this year.
Because of time, I have not been able to dwell upon the activities and achievements of the Services, but my hon. Friends will be able to go into more detail and soon we shall be having the single-Service debates.
§ Mr. John Morris
Since the hon. Gentleman has dealt with the MRCA and as we have not had a statement on this for a long time, can he tell us what production is envisaged?
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
As the hon. Gentleman seems to be indicating that he does not intend to continue for much longer, may I make one point? He has made, without question, the most uninformative speech to which this House has ever listened during a defence debate, certainly during my time in the House. This is a matter of major importance, and the kind of information he has put forward is either contained in the White Paper or is of a kind that could be considered on the Estimates debates next week. Is it not treating this House with absolute contempt and fulfilling the criticism many of us have made, that, because the Secretary of State is not in this House, we are denied any contribution on the Government's strategic and disarmament thinking, and on defence objectives generally? This is a travesty of a debate.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman decided to make his speech before going off to catch his train. I am only about half way through my speech, I regret to tell him. I will be looking at the Opposition amendment in some detail.
The White Paper mentions the return to industry of Sir Derek Rayner. We owe him much, not only for his report, which led to the creation of the Procurement Executive, but also for being 1512 brave enough to take on the job of being its first Chief Executive, which he did so well.
The Procurement Executive while having its own coherent structure, is nevertheless an integral part of the Ministry of Defence, and this is an important element in its successful development. Its creation has improved the dialogue between the Service authorities, who must take a final view of the requirement, and those responsible for producing the equipment, who must assess the financial consequences of various options, form an opinion about the risks involved in areas of high technology, and consider export potential. The last can be of great importance in keeping overall costs down. Increasingly we shall be trying to set new requirements in the general context of the equipment programme as a whole, and to maintain a balance between those areas in which performance must be the overriding criterion and those where well-tried systems can either be given a longer lease of life or replaced at minimum cost. In all this we are of course working very closely with our allies who face precisely the same dilemma.
Defence sales are a part of the Procurement Executive. As the House may know, Labour's "Programme for Britain" says:a future Labour Government must make a sustained attack on the mounting stockpile of weapons of destruction which not only threaten the human race but drain the wealth of rich and poor alike. The appointment of a 'Minister of Disarmament' by the last Labour Government was a useful declaration of intent. But it is clear that the hard core of the problem, the arms race, remains untouched.Of course it does. The Opposition mention their appointment of a Minister of Disarmament, which achieved nothing, but in their current Left-wing frenzy they entirely fail to mention their appointment of an arms salesman, which has achieved a great deal.
Defence sales last year were some £350 million, and this year they are expected to be £400 million. Our defence industries export about one-third of their production, and that represents 4 per cent. of the country's total exports. Does the Labour Party's proposedsustained attack on the mounting stockpile of weaponsmean, as it appears to mean, that it would forbid the export of arms from 1513 this country? If it does mean that, very many people would lose their jobs, a number of companies would go bankrupt, and the balance of payments would be hit. If it does not mean that, Labour would be increasingthe mounting stockpile of weaponsinstead of attacking it, and it is guilty of a shabby attempt to deceive its more guillible Left-wing supporters. We look forward to hearing which of these rather unpalatable alternatives right hon. Gentlemen will choose.
I turn now to the Opposition's amendment. We would all agree with the passages in it paying tribute to the three Services and civilian personnel and saying that they should be adequately paid. The amendment contains two crucial phrases. One is the phrase calling upon the Governmentto take urgent action within the alliance to bring our Defence spending into line with that of our European allies".As it stands, that appears to mean that we should bring our defence spending into line with the Germans and the French. If so, we shall, if anything, have to increase our expenditure, as the Germans spend more on defence than we do, and the French spend not much less. So, if the amendment means what it says, we need not quarrel. I am not sure whether the Opposition Front Bench do know what the amendment means.
Perhaps it does not mean that. In that case the Opposition ought to do something about their drafting. Two years ago their amendment was scarcely literate. This year it means apparently the opposite to what they intended to say. If the amendment were meant to refer to the proportion of gross national product spent on defence, which I think is the interpretation right hon. Gentlemen opposite may favour, the House will, I think, agree that it would be churlish not to congratulate the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on his great success. This is the line he has been plugging hard for at least four years. Until now he has had no change out of his Front Bench but now, in defence as in everything else, the Labour Shadow Cabinet has given way to its Left wing.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The Minister was kind enough to tell me that he would be making a reference to me. 1514 Exactly a year ago his predecessor told the House in reply to a Question that the proportion of GNP spent on defence was 5.7 per cent. while the average for the NATO countries was 4.2 per cent. If we came down to their level it would save £600 million a year. That is what not I but the Labour Party put forward in Labour's "Programme for Britain" to which the Minister referred. I am delighted that the Government are seeing sense.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I am sure that that is a helpful intervention for the Opposition Front Bench. I will be dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point in some detail. When he does make his speech I hope that he will tell us what is his real objective. He would surely not be content just to cut our expenditure to 4.2 per cent. of GNP. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East, when he was Defence Secretary, suggested that the hon. Gentleman and his Friends would like no defence expenditure at all.
In an article the hon. Gentleman wrote recently in the AUEW Journal he referred toa vital resolution passed by the Labour Party Conference".That resolution said that the Labour Party was opposed to any British defence policy which was based on the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons either by this country or its allies and demanded the removal of all nuclear bases in this country. Such a resolution was diametrically opposed to the policy of the Labour Government yet it was accepted by the National Executive of the Labour Party of which, I understand, the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East are members. The hon. Member for Salford, East says that that decision must be respected by his parliamentary leaders—
§ Mr. Allaun
The Minister must recognise that other NATO allies, Italy and Germany, have no nuclear weapons. He must also recognise that these bases make us a sitting duck in the event of any nuclear war, even in the event of a missile accidentally landing on Moscow or Leningrad.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The chances of a missile accidentally landing on Moscow or Leningrad are very slim indeed. I agree 1515 that Italy and Germany do not have nuclear weapons. That seems to be a good argument for this country having them.
Anyway, the latest switch in policy by the Labour Party is a prime example of the point to which, as the House will have noticed, the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) referred last weekend—I gave him notice, too—when he said that the Labour leadership had beenchanging the Party's course at every shift of political wind and regardless of previous commitments".
§ Mr. Dalyell
Did I hear the Minister aright? Did he say that the fact that France and Germany did not have nuclear weapons was a good reason for our having them?
§ Mr. Gilmour
France has nuclear weapons. I said Italy and Germany. What I meant was that I think there is a strong case for there being an independent deterrent in Europe. I do not think it is a particularly new idea.
§ Mr. Gilmour
We are in Europe. I was not making the point about a joint European deterrent if that is what the hon. Gentleman was worrying about. Britain is in Europe and I think that Wales is, too. No doubt in a fully integrated Europe the defence budget would be equally shared. I did not realise that the other side of the House were in favour of a fully integrated Europe. If they are not, they must explain why they have singled out defence to bear the brunt of their European zeal.
Instead of doing as the Opposition suggest, we should pay more attention to the defence expenditure of the Warsaw Pact countries than to that of our allies. It must have escaped the attention of the Labour Party that the MFBR talks are between the West and the Warsaw Pact countries, not between this country and the rest of NATO.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Surely this is the greatest hypocrisy. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that whether we add to or subtract from the forces we have tee-ed up on their 1516 frontier, they could not last three days if the enemy moved. We all know that.
§ Mr. Gilmour
That may be the hon. and learned Gentleman's view, but it is not everybody's view. The job and object of NATO under Governments of both parties is to deter an attack—and there has been no war in Europe for the last 23 years.
The proportion of GNP devoted to defence is not the only method of measuring defence effort. The best method, some may think, is to measure the actual expenditure and, as I have already said, Germany spends more than we do. The Opposition should remember that only last year their spokesman said that considerable caution should be used in making comparisons on the basis of GNP. As the House knows, other countries have conscription and, as their conscripts are paid less than our volunteers, this means that there is a greater drain on their resources than the percentage of GNP indicates.
Instead of concentrating on the proportion of GNP, we should be more concerned to see that our GNP increases faster. Part of the trouble was caused by the lamentable rate of growth achieved by the Labour Party. If they had achieved the same rate of growth as the last Conservative Government managed to achieve from 1958 to 1964, the defence programme would now be taking not 5¾ per cent. but 5¼ per cent. of gross national product.
Many Labour Members are seeking to persuade the House that our expenditure on defence should be reduced to the European NATO average percentage of GNP. I hope that they will explain what items in the programme would be deleted to achieve savings of £850 million.
The other key phrase in the Opposition's amendment has even less substance. There is no dispute that the Defence budget this year shows an increase in real terms. But leaving aside the absurdity of their complaining about inflation within days of producing a rampantly inflationary programme, let us examine their allegation of asharp inflationary increase in defence expenditure…".The target for 1973–74 that we announced in the autumn of 1970 when converted to today's prices is £200 million 1517 below the 1973–74 Defence Estimate. Of this £200 million, £70 million is accounted for by the change in arrangements for making payments to suppliers of defence equipment announced in the 1972 White Paper; this is an accounting change and does not represent a new demand on national resources. The sum of £13 million covers several small items, such as the cost of the new Malta defence agreement. Of the remainder, £55 million is accounted for by the defence contribution to the Government's programme of measures to stimulate employment; these include the accelerated ship building programme and orders for Nimrod and other aircraft. The Opposition welcomed these measures at the time.
A further £62 million represents the extra cost of peace-keeping operations in Northern Ireland and of improved recruiting. Presumably the Opposition does not think we should have turned away these recruits, or that we should not have spent money in Northern Ireland.
If these measures are added to the target proposed by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, revalued at today's price levels, we get a figure of just under £3,300 million as against our figure of £3,365 million. So despite all the posturing, the Opposition would not have been spending a significantly smaller proportion of GNP than we now propose.
If all the Opposition mean by their amendment is that they wish us to consult our allies and encourage them to bring their expenditure up to the same proportion of GNP as our own, let them say so. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said some time ago that we should welcome such a development. But that would hardly satisfy the hon. Member for Salford, East. And if they are proposing a large unilateral cut in our own forces they must explain not only where they would make the cut; they must also explain why they believe that this is the right time to make it. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East and the Leader of the Opposition opposed such a cut in 1969, and their defence programme in 1970 contained no such cut in future years.
As recently as last year the Opposition Front Bench spokesman said: 1518Now, when the prospects of a negotiated détente look better than they have for years, is not the right time for making one-sided concessions. No trade union would approach negotiations and give its cards away in advance in this way. Unilateral cuts are not the way to prepare for multilateral negotiations".That is every bit as true today. This is the nub of the defence argument. The situation has not changed; we have not changed. It is only right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have changed.
Naturally, defence expenditure cannot be insulated from the country's economy, and no figure of defence expenditure is sacrosanct. Some of my hon. Friends would like us to spend more, other people would like us to spend less. We think we have got it about right.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I am just about to conclude. In the face of the increased Soviet build-up, it is vitally important that the NATO effort should not be damaged. Whilst negotiations continue to try to achieve balanced reductions on both sides, it would be crazy to indulge in large unilateral reductions. For these reasons, I commend the Defence White Paper to the House.
§ 5.10 p.m.
Mr. Fred Pearl (Workington)
I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'expresses its concern at the sharp inflationary increase in defence expenditure and, while paying tribute to the three Services and civilian personnel, particularly for their outstanding service in Northern Ireland, and maintaining that they should receive adequate remuneration, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take urgent action within the Alliance to bring our defence spending into line with that of our European allies, and further to seek to ensure that total West European expenditure should reflect any improvement in the security situation following the European Security Conference'.This is my baptism on the Opposition Front Bench in a defence debate. Having heard the Minister of State's account of events and also having examined the Conservative Government's Defence White Paper and the hon. Gentleman's attacks on the Labour Party, I must confess that I am rather disturbed. The Minister made a dreadful speech—and I mean it.
1519 The Minister should have concentrated on what the Government are doing. He can make a debating speech if he so wishes but it is traditional in debates of this kind, as I have learned over a long period of time in the House, that the Government should give an account of what they are doing and of what they are going to do. The Minister of State spent too much time in trying to make cheap debating points, instead of giving the House information. If the hon. Gentleman had looked behind him during his speech, he would have seen that that was the view of many of his hon. Friends.
I appreciate that there has been some Press comment about my own position on these matters in respect of guns or butter, which no doubt is a reference to my special interest in agriculture. I have always taken the closest possible interest in defence matters, even before I became a Minister. Let me say at the outset that each one of us, on all sides of the House, must be concerned with the security and defence of our country. Moreover, in a democratic society such as ours it is essential that Parliament and politicians of all parties should have ultimate control of defence matters—in the sense that the military must be subordinate to the executive, and they in turn must have the confidence of Parliament because the Government are part of Parliament.
I recently read the interesting book written by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) entitled "The Politics of Defence". In that book he said:Effective control of the nation's defence force must be one of the highest priorities in any democracy.I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend, and in this debate we shall be discussing defence and strategy issues—although those issues were dealt with in only part of the Minister's speech. We shall subsequently be debating the Estimates on the various Services.
I wish to pay tribute to the Services and especially to our civilian defence personnel. I wish to make special reference to our troops in Northern Ireland who are performing a difficult task. I pay tribute to the courage and patience of our Service men in face of cowardly acts 1520 of terrorism. The Secretary of State for Defence said recently in another place that considerable progress had been made in the last year in improving troop accommodation. The Minister of State referred to other matters affecting Service men in Northern Ireland.
I understand that a new barracks and a permanent construction for 700 men has been completed in Aldergrove. There are to be seven camps giving accommodation for 1,700 men, and a further five temporary camps to provide for 1,250 men are nearly ready for occupation. A third ship, the "Rame Head", provided by the Royal Navy, will accommodate a further 500 men. Next year we shall be spending another £4 million on troop accommodation and this is money well spent.
I welcome the statement about the payments of compensation and pensions to widows of Service men and to the wives of those who have been severely injured. We shall study the plan in detail and no doubt will seek to probe it on other occasions.
We must recognise that our troops are still operating in difficult conditions and many are on their third or fourth tour of duty. We must have sympathy and understanding for them. The morale of the troops is remarkable in view of all their difficulties.
I also wish to say a word about civilian personnel who work in defence establishments. The Government propose to rationalise defence research establishments. I have received strong representations from the Institution of Professional Civil Servants and from the Engineering Section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) has met groups of representatives on this matter, and those groups recognise the stark reality that staff will be discharged and in some cases with little prospect of re-employment. Morale in that section of employment is extremely low and I hope that the Government reply to this debate will seek to deal with the question of civilian personnel.
Let me give some examples. In the Services Electronic Research Laboratory at Baldock there will be 239 redundancies. There will be 421 redundancies at the Radar Research Establishment (Flying Division), and at the Signals Research 1521 and Development Establishment at Christchurch, in Hampshire, there will be a further 521 redundancies. At Baldock some 35 per cent. of male industrial workers are highly skilled with at least six years' training. About 80 per cent. of the women there have had three to five years' training and the rest are semiskilled. A very high proportion are older men and women who were promised security of employment, and who have worked at the establishment for many years. Some 64 per cent. of the men and 33 per cent. of the women industrial employees are over 50 and for most of them it will be impossible to obtain a new job. This could be a serious waste of skill and experience. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will make a statement in this debate to try to alleviate the great anxieties on this matter.
I come to the general points that have been made.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
What my right hon. Friend is now saying conflicts with the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition because it will increase expenditure and not reduce it.
§ Mr. Peart
I do not accept that point. It would be wrong to waste skills. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) for his helpful contribution. But we desire more information about weapons systems and programmes on which there could be a major saving. The manpower saving in respect of these establishments would in the end amount to a waste of talent and a waste of resources. I am surprised by my hon. Friend, who is a member of a trade union—and his trade union is very much concerned with this and it has made representations to me. I am surprised at his stupid intervention.
§ Mr. Tomney rose—
§ Mr. Peart
A debate on the Estimates affords an opportunity to consider the purpose of British defence forces. In any consideration it is inevitable that issues of foreign policy should arise and naturally there is the problem of the state of the British economy. The Minister seems to think that we on the Labour side were responsible for all the difficulties. Obviously those difficulties affect the issue and there are also many 1522 intangibles, for example the morale and will of our people.
Indeed, as has been said on a previous occasion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), defence spending and military forces are justified only in so far as they are necessary, first, to maintain the physical security of the British people against internal or external attack—and here we justify our 14,000 or more troops in Northern Ireland; secondly, to make our own specific contribution towards the maintenance of world peace through the United Nations—and an example of that is Cyprus; and thirdly, we still have a responsibility for the security of a few remaining colonies—and that includes Gibraltar and British Honduras. I was in British Honduras only last year and while there I spoke to some of our military personnel. That country will soon be independent but our troops still have a presence.
Inevitably we come back to Europe. The main function of our defence forces is to prevent a war in Europe. I cannot visualise a situation in which Britain would come under direct attack except in the context of a general European war. Such a war would inevitably involve the use of nuclear weapons at some stage. Here I give my own view. Even if the philosophy and practice of neutralism dominated our political thinking, we would inexorably and inevitably be sucked into a conflagration. If we look back on post-war development of defence we can see why the Labour Government and the late Lord Attlee and Ernest Bevin played a leading rôle in setting up NATO.
Successive Governments of all persuasions have accepted that peace can be preserved only by a proper British contribution to NATO, which must be accompanied by a contribution from other countries. Despite the inferences by the Minister of State, the Opposition believes in NATO. Moreover, I believe in military links of Britain and like-minded European nations with the United States. It is all very well talking about independence in the sphere of nuclear weapons, but we are not really independent. We rely on the United States which has helped to create stability and deter aggression. We must remember, and we forget it sometimes, that the United States also 1523 saved Europe with the Marshall Plan. I wish that some mention had been made today of the contribution that the United States has made in view of the difficulties it has faced over Vietnam and some of the problems affecting its service personnel.
The existence of NATO has established the probability that an armed invasion of any of its members would lead to the aggressor suffering damage out of all proportion to any possible gain. Even though Western Europe lies shoulder to shoulder with the Communist world, and with all the tensions that go with that, we must remember that we have enjoyed a degree of security against military attack and at the same time we have seen wars in other parts of the world, as in Asia in Vietnam and the Indian Continent, and in Africa and the Middle East. However, I warn the Government that we should not be complacent. I accept what the Secretary-General of NATO, Dr. Luns, said on 22nd March, 1972, when he addressed the Royal United Service Institute. He emphasised that we must not forget the importance of preparedness.
NATO therefore continues to exist, and I would argue that if it did not exist, if the alliance were dissolved, those countries close to Eastern Europe would tend to increase their armed forces rather than to reduce them. We have on record what the Swedish Social Democratic Prime Minister said in January last year when he wrote in the 1972 edition of the Socialist International Journal:We have demonstrated our intention to maintain our neutrality with strong defence forces. In relation to its population Sweden's expenditure on defence is among the highest in the world.We must remember that West Germany has a long frontier with the Communist countries. The end of NATO would probably stimulate expansion in Germany's armed forces and would hinder progress towards a détente in Europe. I want a détente in Europe and we should not be pessimistic. Ever since 1968 NATO has sought to pursue a policy of détente under various well-known labels. They have been advanced by both East and West. I refer to peaceful co-existence, renunciation of the use of force, the SALT talks, the Berlin negotiations, Ostpolitik and NATO's initiative in mutual and balance force reductions.
1524 They have been accompanied by pragmatic developments such as increased talks, both bilateral and multilateral, with the countries of the Warsaw Pact. We have also seen an expansion of East-West trade and there has been a new approach to China by both the United States and Britain. These are positive developments and we should encourage them. Whilst I defend NATO, therefore, I do not believe that we can assume that everything in the garden is lovely.
Many questions must be asked and I want to put a few to the Minister today. What is the optimum size and strategy for NATO forces if they are to minimise the risk of war and at the same time further chances of agreement with the Communist countries in the Warsaw Pact? What should be our contribution to NATO? It is all very well to criticise what our amendments says about contributions which could be shared within the Alliance, as the Minister has done superficially. But that is a distinct point of view.
There has been unprecedented inflation, not only in Britain, which has affected the costs of equipment. Costs have increased partly because of greater sophistication of modern weapons systems. The Minister mentioned the MRCA, but he did not give details even though my hon. Friend pressed him over and over again for information. He was coy about it. Instead of hurling abuse at the Opposition he would have served the House better if he had provided more information. After all, we have a right to know about costs, the development of prototypes and what agreements have been made.
These are matters on which my hon. Friends are right to probe the Government. It may be that this is an expensive project. It may need to be curtailed or pruned, but we have no information. The information was not forthcoming from the Secretary of State in the other place and it has not been given in the debate today.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the most rapidly expanding part of the defence budget, which is pay and allowances. The RAF has taken drastic steps to revise its manpower planning in order to provide more 1525 money for the sort of sophisticated equipment it will need in the future.
§ Mr. Peart
I was dealing with MRCA. We have had no information about it. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman if he is satisfied with the Minister's explanation.
Expenditure is a matter of concern to all. It has been dealt with by hon. Members on both sides of the House on previous occasions. The Ninth Report from the Expenditure Committee includes a report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee from 25th January to 1st October 1972. On page 2, paragraph 6, it states:We feel that we should draw the attention of the House to our increasing concern over the mounting financial pressure which is developing for the Defence Budget in the late 1970s. These costs could be even further exacerbated if there were to be increased spending over this period on the strategic nuclear forces.The Members who compiled that report do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East and other hon. Members on this side of the House. I refer to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), the chairman, the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), a distinguished ex-soldier, and indeed, the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). There is general concern about the matter, and it is not sufficient for the Minister so flippantly to dismiss our demand for more information.
The White Paper puts forward certain assumptions which we must examine in detail. It assumes, as before, that there is now an opportunity for negotiation in Europe. I come to my wider theme. In view of expanding Soviet military strength, such negotiations from the West must be based on a position of strength. I have argued this before. But where is that strength to come from? It does not come from indiscriminate spending, as could happen, unless there is a proper check on military programmes.
Without American support there is no possibility for Western Europe, as individual nations or as a whole, to maintain a defence position equal to that of the Soviet Union. A piecemeal programme of improvements, even for NATO, and 1526 increased spending on hardware will not solve the problem.
In Chapter 1, paragraph 9, the White Paper declares:Thus in parallel with the enlargement of the European Economic Community, a number of European countries will be developing and extending their practical co-operation in defence. That process should be facilitated by the opportunities that will arise in the Community for the removal of fiscal, legal and technical barriers to trade and to the free operation of enterprises throughout the Community.What does that paragraph mean? Have they considered Europe in view of what M. Debre has said? Many of my hon. Friends heard M. Debré, the French Minister of Defence, speak at Western European Union. He is on record as saying:If defence is to be credible it must remain national in character.How can the Minister square his thinking about Europe with that of the French Minister of Defence? M. Debré is a good friend of this country. He is an able man and a fine politician. Nevertheless, he believes that defence must remain national in character.
Entry into the European Economic Community and our attitude raises questions of closer European defence co-operation—in particular, that of Anglo-French nuclear sharing which has been one of the issues in the shadows of recent negotiations. Again we do not know the details. Whatever the arguments—many hon. Members raised this matter during the period of the Prime Minister's talks with M. Pompidou over our terms of entry into the Common Market—I suspect that both leaders are attracted to the long-term possibilities.
We are all acquainted with the Prime Minister's view in his Godkin Lectures which he delivered at Harvard University in March 1967. He expressed the view that we should have a nuclear force based on existing British and French forces which could be held in trusteeship for Europe and as a whole. It may be right to have this policy, but we have had no information about it. It may be wrong. Therefore, we should have more information.
Even in 1970, in a foreword in his introduction to a book published by the 1527 Oxford University Press, the Prime Minister reiterated his viewpoint:In my Godkin Lectures I was led by this train of thought to propose that the British and French nuclear forces should be pooled to form a joint deterrent which would be held in trust for Europe.Is that the Government's thinking? Are we to have a reply on this matter'?
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
Last year some of us posed this question and none has received the slightest answer. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could supplement it and tell us whether the idea of Anglo-French pooling has been discussed with the Germans?
§ Mr. Peart
It is not for me to answer that question. My right hon. Friend has rightly pressed the Minister to provide the House with an answer to this question. Hon. Members on both sides would like to know the Government's policy on this matter.
We have a special relationship with the United States under the 1946 Macmahon Act which prevents us sharing our knowledge with any other State. Therefore, any decision on this matter would affect our relations with the United States.
We all know that the late General de Gaulle attempted to make France a great nuclear power, that France refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and, indeed, has not signed it to this day. France has always been hostile to and resentful of America's nuclear supremacy. We must consider these facts.
The adoption of Anglo-French nuclear sharing would mean major changes in the balance of power in Europe and on the larger international scene. I regard this as one of the important matters in the debate. Even the Observer and other papers have taken up this matter, and I asked the Minister about it during Defence Questions. On 20th February The Guardian, for example, states:M. Debré has confirmed that the decision of the British Government to buy its second generation nuclear weapons from the United States has made impossible a common British-French defence policy.Our attitude is important. What is the Government's policy? Even today, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pressed the Prime Minister, there was uncertainty about the Govern- 1528 ment's attitude to this matter. Do the Government condemn France for having tests? Have they made further representations? Do they support New Zealand and Australia? We would like to know. Today there was evasion. Many of my hon. Friends will recall the incident.
I come now to the question of what will succeed Polaris. The Minister mentioned Polaris. Again, why cannot we have a statement? Over the years there has been too much secrecy and misspending. I remind the House of the history of Blue Streak and Blue Water and the desire of many people to have an independent deterrent. We know what that has cost this country. Nothing has been effective. Therefore, we have a right to ask certain questions. After all, we rely on the United States umbrella, whether we like it or not.
Are we to continue with Polaris? Are we to buy Poseidon'? Are we to Euro-peanise our nuclear forces, or do we rely on our own activities? Or do we rely solely on the American umbrella? These are key issues, the issues that we ought to be discussing.
As the Observer said on 25th February:The Defence White Paper published last week is a frustrating and disappointing document. It is frustrating because of what it does not say: there is not a word on the central problem now facing Britain's defence planning, which is whether or not to acquire the American Posiedon missile and thereby move into a new generation of rocketry which relies upon missiles with several independently targeted warheads. It is disappointing because of what it does say. Its only piece of political meat is a stolid, anachronistic repetition of yesterday's cold war doctrine.Many correspondents believe that, in his recent talks in the United States, the Prime Minister has won assurances that there will be nuclear defence exchanges between this country and the United States. All that I am suggesting is that here, in a major defence debate, we should be debating these matters. Instead of trying to score small party points, the Minister should have been dealing with these main issues.
After all, Washington has been much more forthcoming than Whitehall. I have here The Times of 7th February containing a report from its Washington correspondent, Mr. Emery, with a whole lot of information about the procurement of 1529 missiles and the likely dollar cost to Britain of purchasing the Poseidon sub marine-launched missile as a replacement for the Polaris.
I also have here, something which one can get in the Library, the final report to the Congress of the Secretary of Defence, Melvin Laird, covering the period from January 1969 to January 1973. I will not weary the House with the details in this document, but this is available information of a much more detailed character than we have in our own Defence White Paper, or what is given by Ministers. The Government must come clean on this and must make up their minds soon.
After all, we are now entering a new phase. Although we must be realistic, I hope that we will all welcome the talks which are now in progress on European security. Here and there, there may be a setback. We have had the preliminary multilateral discussions on European security and co-operation which began in Helsinki in November. There have also been the SALT talks which began in November of last year. We have had the preliminary discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions, which are continuing.
Above all, we have seen the Ostpolitik success of the German Government and of Chancellor Willi Brandt. Important treaties have been ratified among the Federal Republic, the Soviet Union and Poland which have loosened, as someone has said, the diplomatic log jam. As a result of ratification of those treaties, the Soviet Union agreed to the final signature of the four-power agreement on Berlin, and that came into force last year.
All this is positive progress. There have been agreements between the Federal Republic and the GDR, first on access of West Berliners to East Berlin and, second, on the regulation of traffic between the two States, which were in themselves dependent on the four-Power agreement on Berlin. These have now been completed and are in force. Now the two countries seek to move towards negotiations—final negotiations one day they hope—of a basic treaty which will mean recognition by both sides. This is a tremendous step forward and we must praise our friends in Germany.
I was glad to see that Major-General Sixsmith, writing in the Army Quarterly 1530 of July last year on the military situation in Europe, paid a tremendous tribute to Germany:Nothing that has happened since the earliest days of NATO has so altered the situation in Europe as the treaties now being ratified as a result of Herr Brandt's eastern policy. Although these treaties have done little more than recognise the legitimacy of the German Democratic Republic and subject to peaceful negotiation the existing frontier between Germany and Poland, they have removed a dangerous uncertainty from east-west relations.I want this process to go on.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that this euphoria is, in the opinion of some people, perhaps a little premature?
§ Mr. Peart
I could not accept that. But this is the viewpoint of a man of the calibre of Major-General Sixsmith and I believe that it is shared by many people. It is right to be realistic, but also to recognise that we must move forward; a negative attitude such as that which I detected in the Foreign Secretary's speech in our last foreign affairs debate is wrong.
Our policy should be to achieve a détente. I believe we can get it. I am not saying that we should unilaterally disarm or that we should overnight assume that everything will be rosy. Of course not. There will be hard negotiations, but at least a start has been made, and I should have thought that every hon. Member would have welcomed that.
These are the important issues. I accept that there are those who disagree with defence. I read a moving speech by Lord Soper in another place. There are hon. Members in my own party who sincerely believe that unilateralism and pacifism in the best sense are the right policies. I understand this, although I take a different view myself.
I should like to quote Professor Michael Howard, that distinguished writer on military affairs, writing in January's Foreign Affairs in an article entitled "The Relevance of Traditional Strategy":It is a sombre thought that, at a time when so large a proportion of the human race remains near starvation level, about six per cent. of the world's resources, or something under 200 billion dollars, is still being devoted to military expenditure, with no serious likelihood of this situation fundamentally changing 1531 during the remainder of this century. Social scientists will continue to seek basic causes. … Any sovereign state—that is, any community which wishes to maintain a capacity for independent political action—may have to use or indicate its capacity and readiness to use force—functional and purposive violence—to protect itself against coercion by other states.That is the reality.Such is the conventional wisdom which will continue to rule mankind until we develop a viable alternative, or until there develops so strong a global sense of community that coercion, the use of force to impose one's will on others, becomes literally unthinkable. At present, unfortunately, such coercion is by no means unthinkable even within the most stable of communities and the most powerful of sovereign states.I believe in that viewpoint. At the same time, I believe that we should try to achieve peace between the major power groupings. Within those groupings we in NATO, and we, the British people, in our own way, will make a distinctive contribution. But it must be rational and sensible and we must be aware also of the social needs of our people.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) made a speech which was considerably more robust than the Oppositions amendment. I was not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of the amendment. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was rather cross when my hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to the Opposition's amendment.
The division which exists within the Labour Party has been revealed in the course of the first two speeches. We heard the robust intervention from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), who seemed to be in favour of rather greater expenditure.
§ Mr. Tomney
My intervention was intended to be helpful. Any hon. Member who has known me for the last 20 years in this House, and who has heard the speeches which I have made on defence and foreign policy, must have realised that I was offering my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington a way out. I wanted him to think quickly whilst on his feet. We cannot and must not reduce expenditure in specialised divisions. My right hon. Friend missed the point completely.
§ Mr. Goodhart
Perhaps I might intervene in the strife which appears to exist on the Opposition benches. There was no intervention by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on behalf of the unilateralists and those who believe in a policy of full frontal nudity when considering conventional defence.
There are some divisions within the Conservative Party. There are those who believe that the Government have done their defence sums correctly. There are also those who believe that the Government should be spending rather more on defence than they have spent in the past.
If we consider the last five years, it is apparent that the proportion of the gross national product spent in this country on defence has declined and that the proportion of Government expenditure devoted to defence has declined. It is known that we are reducing our real expenditure on defence at a faster rate than our allies on the Continent of Europe.
I shall give two examples of the way in which defence expenditure has declined as a proportion of Government expenditure. In 1970–71 we were spending some £18 million a year more on the salaries of those in the Navy and Royal Marines—that includes their allowances—than we were on the salaries of those in the Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise. The Government have an honourable record on tax reduction. However, for the first time the combined salaries of the Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue staffs is now larger than the pay of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines.
Before the General Election of 1966 the then Prime Minister made great play of the fact that for the first time in our history expenditure on education was greater than expenditure on defence. Of course, there is a certain amount of argument about some educational statistics. The White Paper on Government expenditure indicates that expenditure on education now is £500 million greater than the spending on defence. In 1976–77 we shall spend £1,000 million more on education than on defence. The Government have not run wild with expenditure.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The hon. Gentleman's argument is extremely tortuous. The amount which we spend on education and defence depends on our needs. The real issue is what are our needs.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am trying to deal with criticisms which were made from the Opposition benches about the Government overspending on defence. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that our expenditure must be related to our needs.
Since the Government's White Paper was produced, and since the Estimates were produced, the need for defence expenditure has increased. During the last few weeks we have witnessed turmoil in the foreign exchange markets. We have seen the value of the German mark increase. We have seen the value of the dollar plummet and various other currencies fluctuating sharply. That must have had a damaging effect on the defence posture of the Western Alliance. It will cost us more money.
We shall spend some £209 million in Germany this year on BAOR. Clearly the increased value of the mark will increase that expenditure. As I understand it, our current offset agreements will not cover that increase in direct costs. There will also be substantial increases in indirect costs. We know that there are strong pressures in the United States to bring back the American forces. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the way in which the United States has contributed in the past to the defence of Europe. However, there are pressures to bring the boys back home. The fall in the value of the dollar and the increased value of the mark will substantially increase the pressures to bring the American forces back home.
Will the European countries step in and fill the breach? If so, there will be increased expenditure. If not, the doctrine of flexible response, on which hon. Members on the Labour benches have set so much store, will go out of the window. Changes in the exchange rate will affect our collaborative projects, particularly the multi-role combat aircraft. Obviously there cannot be a dramatic change in value between the pound and the mark without that affecting 1534 seriously the financial negotiations for the project. It is a project which is vital for the future of the German air force and our Royal Air Force.
The future of European defence depends on collaborative projects. We know that the pressure of the increased cost of manpower depends heavily on the defence budgets of a great many studies. A study has just been done in Germany which reveals that if present trends continue, Germany will be able to spend only 8 per cent. of its defence budget on weapon procurement. In this country we have done rather better than the Germans in balancing the cost of manpower and the cost of weapon procurement but the trend exists here as well as in Germany and in all the other countries of the alliance.
This means that in future we are going to be increasingly forced into collaborative ventures, not because these are cheaper—on the contrary, they are usually more expensive and more complicated—but because they are much more difficult to cancel once they have been started. This is what will save them, because if one has a venture which can be cut with only domestic upheaval, or a project which, if cancelled, would mean a major diplomatic row within the alliance, the tendency will be to cut the domestic project rather than the multinational one.
§ Mr. Tomney
A few years ago we had a fantastic aircraft, the TSR 2, which was shut out of the European market, chiefly by the American manufacturers. We have the Chieftain tank, which is superior to any other tank, and we cannot sell that either, for the same reason.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am not sure whether the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) would think that a reference to the TSR 2 in a defence debate was altogether helpful, but I do take the hon. Member's point.
I welcome the changes which the Government have made in defence procurement and I pay tribute to the work of the Minister of State, but I regret the reorganisation which will mean that there will be less direct Ministerial involvement in defence procurement matters. I also regret that the Controllerate of Guided Weapons and Electronics seems about to 1535 disappear as well. Closer Ministerial watch is needed on procurement at this time rather than a cutting down.
I also want to mention the splendid way in which the Army has been tackling the problem of terrorism in Northern Ireland. This is a type of conflict in which I have had some experience, having served in the Army for 18 months in Palestine at a time when it was heavily engaged in anti-terrorist activities. I know how difficult it is for the Army to operate and how spectacular its successes have been in recent months.
It is the responsibility of Ministers to see that the Army is assigned to the right rôle in Northern Ireland, and Ministers must also ensure that it does not exhaust itself in that rôle. In the first seven months of 1972, I made some substantial criticisms of the restrictions that were placed on the Army's conduct of affairs in Northern Ireland, but since then Operation Motorman has re-established the Army's presence in all parts of Belfast and Londonderry and so our security effort there has been made a great deal more effective.
However, I am still concerned about the strain on the troops. I hope that the publication of the White Paper will relieve some of the tension and reduce some of the violence. But our best defence is to make it plain to our enemies that we can outlast them. At present, we are putting too much strain on the troops. Many senior officers and junior ranks to whom I have spoken in recent months agree that a 12-month break between emergency four-month tours is reasonable. But at the moment far too many units are being sent back to Northern Ireland on emergency tours after a break of only eight months or even less. These frequent tours have a particularly bad effect on re-engagement, especially as a high proportion of those involved are young married men.
The changes needed to reduce this strain on the Army would not be very great but first an effort must be made to build up local forces and ultimately it must be recognised that the main responsibility for security in Northern Ireland must be borne by the inhabitants themselves. This means that more men are needed in both the Ulster Defence 1536 Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It may also mean closely looking at the rôle of the RUC, because the findings of the Hunt Committee, made some years ago, are now long out of date. There is talk of a permanent element in the UDR. I think that this could be helpful.
I note, meanwhile, that there are certain units in the Army drawn from Northern Ireland that are not sent to Northern Ireland. I can understand that when violence broke out it was thought right that these regiments should not serve there. It is now time to consider phasing them back into a Northern Ireland rôle because if they, with their military traditions, cannot make a real contribution to internal security in Northern Ireland, a regular element of the Ulster Defence Regiment would not be able to do so.
There must be a more flexible look at the entire call-up system of the T & AVR. It is wrong that hundreds of T & AVR recruits in Northern Ireland should be unable to take part in the internal security situation without going over and leaving their comrades and joining the Ulster Defence Regiment.
I join with the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) who, in an intervention in my hon. Friend's speech, paid tribute to the magnificent work of the bomb disposal squads in Ulster. These squads should receive some special allowance for their arduous and dangerous work. I have made this suggestion in the past and, alas, many members of these squads have since been killed or injured. They have now had to extend their work to this side of the Irish Sea—to London. But at least the bombs in London have reminded us that terrorism is not an abstract subject, something that takes place in the middle of Germany. Some of our enemies are a great deal closer to hand than that.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
May I begin with a very small point from SSAFA concerning the provision of British television by piping it to our forces in Germany, particularly in view of the Irish situation and men being constantly moved out of Germany with the result that there is great loneliness there. It would give them contact with things that 1537 are happening in this country. I believe that it would cost under £1 million, which in terms of modern Estimates is "peanuts", so I hope something can be done
I would like to turn straight away to Ireland. I do not regard Ireland with the level of euphoria which seemed to infect the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). I do not believe that the Army is succeeding. I judge by the fact that there are more murders and more explosions, and that to me is not a badge of success. But I do not blame the Army for this. I blame its political masters who impose upon it conditions which are unfair to any army.
An army which is asked to go and tight a guerrilla war is entitled to the protection given to an occupying force by the laws and customs of war. Those laws and customs were worked out by the nations over a period of 200 years and were given expression in the various Hague conventions. They gave occupying troops certain powers, and it was humane that occupying troops should have those powers, because the cruelty of guerrilla war and civilian resistance was so much greater. Those powers included powers of interrogation by methods quite different from those of civilian police—powers of reprisal and powers of collective punishment. I do not believe it is possible for the Army to succeed in Ireland or for any army to succeed when faced with a guerrilla situation. Our Army is expected to deal with a war situation by methods appropriate to a civilian police force in peacetime. I just do not believe that it can be done.
Speaking last year I said:At Question Time today we were told that in future interrogation will be based on the practices of the civil police. Cannot the Government realise that this is a slightly uncivil situation? When the police are looking for information, that is a leisurely procedure ending in a prosecution for a crime within a well-ordered community. In the present situation our troops are looking for information with the object of saving life. This information must be obtained quickly, because if it is not, the guns and explosives will be used to kill people.When the Government, coddling their liberal consciences' sit back and say 'We will use only those methods used by the civil police 'they should realise how lethal liberalism is and that the blood of those people who die because the information is not obtained 1538 lies squarely on their hands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1972; Vol. 833, c. 816.]A lot of people have died since then and many have died because the information was not obtained.
The second thing I recommended in that speech was that the explosions which were then beginning should be stopped. They could have been stopped by reprisal, by the method used by the Irish Free State in 1922 when it faced exactly the same situation. Whenever a bomb went off an officer of the IRA was taken out and shot. We might have had to shoot perhaps half a dozen of the IRA officers we had in our hands. It would have stopped the bombing and would have saved the lives of many hundreds of innocent people. It is inhumane to be weak. It is inhumane to ignore the laws of war and the experience of generations because one has been infected by inhibitions of this kind.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
Does not my hon. and learned Friend understand that urban guerrillas, to use the description of Mao Tse-tung, "swim in the sea of the people" and that the execution of prisoners would merely enlarge that sea and make it more turbulent, leading to more, not less, loss of life?
§ Mr. Paget
That was not the experience of the Irish Free State Government when they used precisely these methods to stop the explosions. I go on to collective punishment. We had a particularly horrifying incident a few weeks ago. A boy of 19 got separated for a moment from his patrol. He was mobbed by a gang of women, representing the inhabitants of that kind of area, and held down while his brains were blown out by a pistol. And nothing is done. If ever there was a classic instance which invited a collective punishment upon that area, that was it.
I will tell the House what the collective punishment should have been. There should have been a strict curfew involving the sealing of every door and window in that area, to be opened once a day to bring the refuse out and to pass in a very spartan ration. This should have gone on until every house had been searched and every inhabitant of the area had been interrogated. It should have taken some weeks. After such an experience an area is less inclined to see that kind of thing 1539 happen in it. These are the kinds of measure which are necessary. They are not inhumane measures. They are the alternatives to inhumanity. If we go waddling along in this kind of situation we get more and more suffering.
We have had a referendum—as though we did not know what the answer would be.
We divert our whole security forces to policing a number of voting booths and leave an open field for every bomber here. Now we are to have a White Paper. We know very well that that will not be acceptable to anybody. It cannot be. There is not a political situation here and we know perfectly well that the reaction to it will be a lot more bombs. At Question Time my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said "Keep it secret. Do not produce it until the last moment." Why produce it at all? What good will it do? There is not a political situation here. There never is in Ireland until the disrupters of any situation have been dealt with. That is all Irish experience. First we have to smash the rebellion. Then there can be a political situation. We cannot reverse the process. It does not work in Ireland.
I turn now to my third point. In 1952 the Powers which subsequently constituted NATO met at Lisbon to decide what was necessary—
§ Mr. Paget
My memory has become a little muddled. I thought that it was formed afterwards. In fact I was at Lisbon. But I accept what my right hon. Friend says. It may have been formed immediately before.
The purpose of the meeting of the chiefs of staff was to decide the minimum forces necessary to provide an effective resistance to the Russian forces which at that time were on the borders of a divided Germany. The answer came. It would require 50 divisions, a front-line air force of not less than 400 aircraft and another 120 divisions available for reinforcement at so many days' notice.
The other important requirement was that those forces should be held behind the Rhine. It was argued that if they were put in an advanced position they 1540 would be impotent, as Stalin's defence forces were impotent when Hitler's troops moved into Russia. It is a well-known fact that forces which are strung along a border are left with no chance of defending themselves.
The proposals of the chiefs of staff were rejected. They were rejected for two reasons. The first was that the armies of Europe had not the will to provide that number of divisions. They have never provided even half that number. The second reason was that Germany was not willing to provide the battlefield. Instead, we had less than half those forces posted on the frontiers of Germany where they could not possibly fight. That has been the situation, and they have been there simply as a trip wire, a demonstration force which would indicate that if they were hit the American deterrent would be brought into play. We have been defended by the American deterrent and by nothing but the American deterrent these past 20 years.
Now the American deterrent has gone. I recommend hon. Members to read the SALT Agreement. The basis of that agreement is that each of the great Powers has bared its heart to the enemy. Each of them has said to the other, "Save for two years, we agree not to defend ourselves. We agree to make ourselves destructively vulnerable to each other. We agree to accept the defence of the bee whose sting means death to itself." That is what the SALT Agreement means. It means that neither Russia nor America can use nuclear weapons unless the other uses those nuclear weapons. The credibility of American nuclear weapons to defend an ally has disappeared with the SALT Agreement.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
It is a pity that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not measured the tethered goat. Surely it is the presence of American troops forward in Germany who are vulnerable to a nuclear attack, perhaps of a tactical kind, which could provoke a nuclear retaliation by the Americans which is the ultimate deterrent.
§ Mr. Paget
I was about to come to that point. It is equally invalid. If the Russians were to move—and I do not believe that they would—no nuclear weapons would be required. Nor could we use them. I say that for this reason. 1541 We are so disposed that the whole German north plain is open. We cannot put a bomb in it. We cannot mine a bridge. Under the German constitution we cannot even control the petrol stations which are designed and laid out to supply an advancing army. If the Russians at last light and with no more than three divisions were to move, they could be on the Rhine by first light the next morning. If it happened to be a winter night and the river was frozen they could be on the Swiss frontier by the third day and the corridor which they had cut could be filled in by their seven airborne divisions. The whole NATO force would be in the bag on the third day.
I remember general staff officers under Liddell Hart working this out when we had an army game on it. That is the extent of the peril of the situation, and the advantage which is available to the Russians is that it would not create the concentrations which make for a nuclear target. Instead, by forcing us in on ourselves, it would compel us to provide those targets all the time so that we would not dare to initiate the use of nuclear weapons.
That is the reality of the defence situation. The trouble is that the present power vacuum is such that there is no will in Europe to fill it. There is no will in Europe to defend itself, whether it be a grouping of nations or individual nations. That is the dreadful fact.
The reality of a nation depends on a common will to defend itself. That is one of the reasons why I hate the Common Market. It is a political set-up with no will to defend itself. It is prepared to be fat and undefended and to get fatter on an undefended border which it has not the will or the power to defend—until the day conies.
I do not believe that it will even be necessary for the Russians to move a soldier. What will happen is that a feeling will develop in West Germany about its indefensibility. Inside Germany there will be a build up of patriotic "Unite the Fatherland" fronts. Those fronts will become more and more effective and, because of the relative powers there, a united Fatherland inevitably will be of the East. What then will happen to France and Italy where the effective working-class parties are Communist?
1542 That is the situation that we face and in facing it we are leaving ourselves naked because we have no means to defend ourselves. Let no one kid himself that our Polaris, even if it is converted to Poseidon, provides any kind of defence. It does not. Nuclear weapons are weapons of deterrence and, by their own definition, the owner of those weapons can be deterred.
How are we deterred? I remember working out, at a time when nuclear weapons were of a Hiroshima size, what would be required to reduce this country to a situation where it was no longer governable. The answer was 13 Hiroshima-size weapons. We are in medium range with more than 700 targeted upon us. With that kind of deterrent, how would we dare in any conceivable circumstances to use a nuclear weapon on the Russians? Not even the most nervous Russian would be tempted to fear such a folly as that. It is like a yacht with a popgun facing the full armament of a battleship.
Defence is still possible, by which I mean defence in real terms. But it is a defence which involves the will of a community to defend itself. When M. Debré points out the barrenness of NATO and that defence must be a national thing because there is no will save a national thing to take defence, he speaks the literal truth. It is not worth any nation's while to try to occupy another nation which is resolved to defend itself.
The curious thing is that the more sophisticated weapons have become the more impossible it is to coerce a civil population which is determined to resistance.
§ Mr. Paget
It is, I agree, quite impossible to do that. It is quite possible to suppress a small group of terrorists but it is not possible to suppress a whole nation, as we have seen. Nations which have a will to defend themselves, quite small nations—there are not many in Europe: Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia, Finland—apply the highest level of their effort to defence because they are resolved to make occupation of their country too expensive. We are doing nothing about that. We have no local defence, which is the only kind 1543 that matters and which alone provides any real deterrent. We are leaving ourselves naked for when we are faced with the collapse of Europe.
My criticism of the White Paper is that it goes in for gestures, poses and pretences which nobody believes and leaves utterly undone the thing that we need—a local defence based on territory, based on universal training. This alone can provide us with the protection which we shall need when the day comes, and it will come.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) certainly has not given the House a very cheerful account of the defence of this country as he sees it. He has questioned the credibility of the deterrent, although the deterrent itself may be more equal than it was. He is right, I suppose, to point out the vulnerability of the North German plain, but even when describing that I think he was doing less than justice to the NATO forces as I see their role, and I have visited the Central Command Headquarters and had a lot of conversations there in fairly recent years. So I certainly hope the picture he has painted is altogether too pessimistic.
I thought that the hon. and learned Member was on slightly stronger ground when he spoke of the lack of a European will for defence, in that so many of our European partners are not willing to spend very much on defence. I am glad that he has at least brought this debate back to the kind of broad aspects of strategy that we are used to discussing on these occasions.
I am very glad that we are able to welcome the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) to speak on defence from the Opposition Front Bench. He has occupied many high offices in this House and he brings to defence a certain practical experience which I think he will find useful. But I am sorry that he should open up his innings by leading the Labour Party into voting against a Defence White Paper.
I believe that the House is always in great difficulty on defence questions be- 1544 cause modern weaponry is getting so terribly complicated and is changing all the time. So much of it is secret, and hon. Members of the House have little enough opportunity to inform themselves of the latest changes and their tactical and strategic consequences. I was very glad to see that the Economist brought out a special supplement on the Royal Navy the other day, which I think would be useful to many hon. Members.
I believe that those of us who are privileged to serve on the Defence Committee of Western European Union get some very useful experience in that respect in our visits to various headquarters. We had a particularly interesting one to Washington a year ago. I take up what the right hon. Gentleman said, because we were told very much more than we should ever have got in this country in talking to defence chiefs. There were times when I really felt they ought not to have told us so much, but it certainly provided a very useful background in considering the defence of this country.
This is a bit of an as-you-were White Paper. To me, by far the most striking thing in it is the way it sets out, I think quite rightly, the enormous increase in Russian forces at sea and on land—the 1,500 ICBMs, the 60 operational ballistic firing submarines, the 300 missile submarines and the 90 divisions in Europe with another 129 Warsaw Pact and Russian divisions elsewhere. The whole picture appears to me to add up to a nuclear stalemate and also a conventional preponderance very much in favour of the Warsaw Pact countries.
When we come to look at the matter geographically, at the frontier of the Iron Curtain, it is still impossible not to be struck by the worry we have had for some years now about the great danger to the two flanks—the northern flank in Norway, which has been mentioned and which I shall speak about presently, and also the southern flank, because the straits in Turkey are obviously very difficult to defend. And surely there is the question of the vulnerability not only of the North German plain—I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman concentrated too much on that—but perhaps also of the upper Danube plain as well, which is good tank country.
1545 I do not suppose that many of us in this House imagine that a full-scale frontal attack is at all likely. What I think is a far greater danger now that we are at a conventional disadvantage is that we might get nibbling here and there.
Why is the Soviet Union continuing to build up its forces so rapidly? That is the question we should ask ourselves this afternoon. Is it because of their fear of China? I can well believe that they have something to be afraid of in this because from what knowledge I have of China I can never believe that it will give up for ever the old China provinces, such as the far eastern province. Nor can I believe that the Soviet Union would ever be willing to surrender them.
Or is it that the Russians have not really very much confidence in balanced force reduction? I do not know, but certainly I am glad to see that the Helsinki talks have gone as well as they have, although I should be more reassured if the Russian satellites had not fallen in so completely behind the Russians and if there had been some sign that the Brezhnev doctrine, which I believe to be so dangerous, was being abandoned.
But we are back to the basic fact, talking of the percentage of gross national product, that the Russians spend 11 per cent, and we spend 5.7 per cent. Even that distorts the fact that we spend a very much greater proportion of our 5.7 per cent.—we have to —on our manpower, and the Russians have a very much greater percentage of their 11 per cent. to spend on their weaponry.
The enlargement of the European Economic Community in these early stages has certainly not led to increased talk among either Ministers or parliamentarians about the defence problems of Europe. They are not discussed in the European Parliament. We are not allowed to discuss them in the Council of Europe, for the simple reason that it is against our statute because of the fact that neutrals take part there. It is really only in places such as the Defence Committee of WEU—which is rather under a cloud, as is the whole of WEU, at the moment, I suppose—that these discussions can take place. It is a great pity that the Council of Ministers of WEU, designed for this purpose, cannot discuss defence any more—not through 1546 this country's fault, I agree, but rather through the fault of France. If we are to retain WEU, we should work towards that.
It is strange that Norway, on the northern flank, having recently had a vote by referendum and decided not to join the Community, should now decide by a 56 per cent. vote in favour that it would like to come in. In fact, it cannot do so for another four years, so I am told. However, the fact that the Norwegians are out has had the byproduct of bringing their minds to take a little more interest in NATO. Nevertheless they still do not allow allied troops to be stationed permanently on their soil, neither do they allow atomic weapons to be there.
Those of us who have had an opportunity to visit Norway's troops in the north must have been struck by the impossibility of their task and the impossibility of reinforcements arriving in time, with their inadequate airfields and their situation facing a huge number of Russian divisions. I was a little surprised when my hon. Friend the Minister of State prayed in aid "Bulwark" and "Hermes" to put that situation right. If his information about the number of Russian divisions up there is the same as mine, I cannot believe that they are relevant.
Since the north of Norway is so important to us for the surveillance of the whole of the North Atlantic, one must have considerable anxiety about the situation there. Only recently we had a scare when an unknown submarine was detected in a Norwegian fjord but managed to escape without being identified or forced to surface.
I come now to the Royal Navy, and I quote a short passage from the supplement in the Economist:In thus deciding to run a multi-purpose Beet with multi-purpose ships, Britain has chosen a very ambitious course.That criticism should be looked at seriously. The impression one gains from Annex C of the White Paper, with regard to both the Navy and our other Services, is that we have too many people spread about in penny packets. Although there is a reference in paragraph 15 to the Indian Ocean and our vigilance there, it is difficult to detect anything very much in that part of the world, where the Russian 1547 fleet is operating more and more, apart from the Beira patrol. It is significant also that the Russians are taking so much interest in exploring the sea bed round the Cape and in that area, in view of the way in which they are able to place reliance on submarines in their new fleet.
Are we placing enough emphasis on home defence? Are we not tending to look at defence a little too much from the point of view of our imperial past and the commitments which we have now almost entirely given up?
It seems curious that this nation, which developed the aircraft carrier, by inventing the angled deck, the mirror landing site and the steam catapult, should be contemplating giving up its last carrier at the very time when the Russians are building their first, after a great deal of observation of what we are doing. The north of Norway and the North Cape are certainly a place where an aircraft carrier would be of the greatest use.
Is the balance of the fleet correct now, or are we trying to do too much and not doing quite enough of anything? "Bulwark" and "Hermes" have both been adapted for the commando carrier rôle, a rôle described by my hon. Friend as unique. It is unique, perhaps, because other navies do not believe that that is the right way to spend the money and the manpower? I suggest that that kind of role belongs much more to the past.
One reads that Sea Kings are to be flown from "Blake" and "Tiger", those aquatic chameleons which have been cast in almost every role one can imagine. Twenty years ago they were very nearly scrapped, but they have gone on being changed from one role to another, without being suited to any of them because they were built as cruisers. We have left it to the new Soviet Navy to build the "Moskva" and the other special helicopter carrier—the name of which I forget—purpose-built and obviously much more efficient for carrying helicopters about the sea. I do not question the use of helicopters at sea today. What I do question is whether some of our money would not have been better spent on more submarines, entirely nuclear-powered, and more helicopter carriers rather than on frigates and ships which have been adapted such as "Bulwark" and "Hermes".
1548 Those of us who have had something to do with the Royal Navy for some years know that there is a kind of endemic disease among Controllers of the Navy. They love conversions. They always try to convert. I can remember great arguments about conversions, and in every case I can think of it would have been far better if the ship had been scrapped in the first place and a really modern one built instead. I very much hope that we can now get away from conversions.
We have a good forward-looking Controller now. I hope that we have some new designs. Let us move on to the forefront. The Royal Navy still has a great reputation worldwide. Wherever one travels, in Europe or in the New World, one finds that to be so. But we must stay in the forefront technically. It is not good enough to be undecided about whether we carry on patching up old ships for roles to which they are not fitted.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
My hon. Friend should be fair to the Navy Board. It is not the board's fault that it patches up old ships. It is our fault in the House.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
I entirely agree, and I am disappointed that, under a Conservative Government, we have not been able to spend a little more on the Navy. We must look again at the shape of the fleet and consider whether it would be worth while altering course.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) for drawing our attention to the Russian forces. When he refers to the nuclear stalemate between East and West, I do not dissent, but I prefer to call it a nuclear balance. It may be a balance of terror, but it is a balance. Under the umbrella of that balance, we have an opportunity to work for détente, and it looks as though there is a possibility of it being achieved.
I was glad to hear the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I am pleased to see him back after his illness. He was for some time a constituent of mine, and a loyal constituent, too. My hon. and learned Friend referred to a remark about the White Paper on Ireland which my 1549 right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had made at Question Time. The point my right hon. Friend made was that there should be no rush of instant comment. That was his plea. The White Paper will not satisfy everyone—of course not—and the only chance it has of achieving anything will be spoiled if people, especially politicians, rush to the television and radio and make comments on it in the days immediately after publication. I know how important this is. I have in my constituency more people from Northern Ireland, because of the steelworks at Corby, than has any other constituency in Great Britain. I have been asked to comment on the White Paper within an hour of its coming out, and I have refused. I am sure that it would be wrong to make such instant comments. That was the point of my right hon. Friend's observation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) raised the problem—it is a problem—of the Prime Minister's remark about our nuclear deterrent being held in trust for Europe. In the corresponding debate last year I asked a series of questions about this but received no answers. This year my right hon. Friend has asked a series of questions, and I too shall ask them. If this debate is not to degenerate further and further each year we must have answers to such important questions.
My right hon. Friend mentioned M. Debré. We must take account of the French elections. Anyone who has been in France recently knows that it was the arrogance of the Gaullists which made them so unpopular all over Europe. The Government will remain a Government of the Right, but they will become less nationalistic. I should like to think that M. Debré will not be Minister of Defence. but we must wait and see.
Although France will not be so nationalistic in future, and although I do not think she will want to get back into NATO I believe that she will want closer collaboration with some of her allies in NATO. I think that because of our nuclear power some French ministers will want us to help them find a role for their nuclear force. Because the Prime Minister has spoken about our nuclear weapons being held in trust for Europe there is wishful thinking amongst French politicians.
1550 But the military implications of such collaboration are very different from the kind of co-operation that we now have with our other allies in NATO.
Let us go back and see why we and the French developed nuclear weapons. We did so because we wanted a greater say in the decisions governing the use of the Western deterrent. Successive Governments in Britain feared that one day the climate of opinion in the United States would change and that under the MacMahon Act we would not have any more access to military nuclear information, while in France successive Governments did not believe the American deterrent to be credible.
Whatever the reason, the developments went ahead, and I believe that most people now recognise that if the French and British nuclear forces were merged we would merely annoy the Russians without achieving anything militarily. I do not use the word "annoy" in a teasing sense. The prospects of a nuclear war are so serious that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union want to have smaller Powers dabbling in it. The super-Powers, America and Russia, have achieved a delicate balance, and I do not want to disturb it.
If the Prime Minister's phrase "in trust for Europe" is defined as meaning a policy of working towards a European nuclear force, I cannot see how it fits into European politics at all. It has been obvious for some years that if it were to be truly European there would have to be some European political authority, and even the most ardent Europeans—and I am one of them—will acknowledge that that is a long way off. We must recognise that a Western European nuclear policy must follow, not precede, Western European integration.
If, on the other hand, the Prime Minister's phrase about its being held in trust for Europe merely means Franco-British nuclear co-operation, I believe that it would divide our NATO allies. I interrupted my right hon. Friend, and I apologise for doing so because the question was for the benches opposite. I do not see the Federal German Republic comfortably fitting into a community in which there is a Franco-British nuclear force.
Apart from the political problems, we are a law-abiding country and we must 1551 behave in a law-abiding way internationally. We are subject to certain obligations. For example, under Article 1 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty we are forbidden to transfer to France either nuclear weapons or physical control of them. Secondly, under bilateral agreements with the United States, we undertook not to pass on information and equipment which we received from them. Thirdly—and this was mentioned by my right hon. Friend—we cannot ignore the partial test ban treaty. The fact that France regularly violates it with her nuclear tests in the Pacific does not mean that we should condone such action. Incidentally, I was very disappointed at Question Time today to hear what the Prime Minister said on this.
I cannot speak for others, but it is my view that all those who have been interested in NATO and have spent hours explaining it to the public over the years should not forget that its purpose was to achieve a military balance between the Russians and the Americans. The success of NATO lies in the fact that we are able to have a détente, but how are we to retain that balance? How are we to make NATO more effective?
We are entering into a period during which there will be even more need than in the past for discussion and debate about NATO. The next generation does not see NATO as we do. Having been through the war, we see it as tremendously important to our defence, but we have to discuss and debate it. Are we, as Members of Parliament, satisfied that we have the machinery for that purpose? We still have no Standing Parliamentary Defence Committee with access to information from Government Departments. We have no facilities for cross-examining Ministers. Indeed, unlike many of our NATO allies, we have no system of cross-examining officers and officials.
At least as important as putting our own house in order and getting people in the country interested in NATO is the need to debate the problems with Members of Parliament of other countries. The hon. Member for Dorset, West referred to Western European Union. In this context the United States and Canada play such an important part that I should like to debate with Congressmen in the 1552 United States and with Members of Parliament in Canada our mutual defence problems in NATO.
For example I have found—as I am sure other have—that even important United States Senators and Congressmen have no idea of the size of Britain's defence contribution, which I need hardly remind the House is larger than that of any other ally of the United States. Ministers often refer to the possibility of the withdrawal of substantial American forces from Europe. United States Congressmen and Senators do not appreciate the effect that that would have on Europe. They argue as if a withdrawal would be a spur to greater effort by our Continental allies and by us, but that is not so. The prestige of the United States of America has been so enormous in the military world since the war that a withdrawal would be interpreted by the man in the street in Europe as a sign that the great American people believe that there is now no threat from Russia.
It is only recently, as a direct result of debates in the North Atlantic Assembly, that American Congressmen have begun to learn about some of the problems that worry us in Europe. There is one matter which worries nearly everybody on this side of the House, and it worries some hon. Gentlemen on the Government side too. That is our belief that the presence of Greece in NATO is, on balance, a liability rather than an asset. I believe that one has to weigh the military importance of the geographical position of Greece against the emotional fact that the Greek regime appears to many—and especially to younger people—as destroying the very basis of the NATO alliance. There is disagreement, but the fact that there is such a disagreement was never appreciated in the United States until we had several debates on it in the North Atlantic Assembly. They have gradually begun to realise this fact of life.
I believe that many misconceptions and genuine misunderstandings would be made much less likely if there were an official forum for debating the problems of the Alliance among Members of Parliament and Congressmen.
It is not always remembered how important American Senators and Congressmen are. Our chief job is to act as an 1553 electoral college, choose a Government and criticise them. But the day-to-day power of Congress and especially the Senate is enormous. It is with them that our duty lies. We should recognise this fact. We should recognise that we should try to encourage our Government to create the institutions which will enable us to bring our influence to bear on America in debate. That is the way in which they understand influence being brought to bear.
I am asking for an official Consultative Assembly of the North Atlantic Treaty on the lines of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, which many hon. Members know. The present unofficial assembly is much less effective than it should be considering the importance of those who attend. In Bonn in November there were nearly 20 American Senators. They have great power and importance in the world. They brought great influence to bear in this rather amateur organisation. The staff consists only of the Secretary-General, fortunately a highly-efficient man, and four or five people who support him.
The fact is that the British Government, after a very shaky start when the organisation was set up—I had something to do with it at its beginning in 1955—have become reconciled to it. The total cost to Britain is only a few thousand pounds a year. Yet there have been problems recently in getting the British Government to pay their share—less than £10,000; I do not know the exact figure—of the cost of the increasing expenses of running this small office in Brussels. We have been making ourselves look ridiculous. Fortunately, I am told, within the last week or so, Cabinet Ministers—let us just think of Cabinet Ministers being involved in making decisions on about £6,000 or £7,000—have decided that they should pay to help this organisation to run.
There should be no question of this situation arising. If Luxembourg and Iceland can follow the United States' example and pay up quickly, we should not be the odd man out.
It was never more important for European and North American parliamentarians to have a really effective forum. I want the Government to support the North Atlantic Assembly, and 1554 for the Whips to give it their blessing, for without that these bodies do not work efficiently. But I also ask the Government not only to support it but to seek to make it an official forum of NATO on the lines of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell (Aberdeenshire, West)
I am delighted to follow the fascinating speech of the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas). Having sat here since the debate began, I have been fortified by the opening line of the White Paper, which saysFor the Western Alliance 1973 will be a year of test and opportunity.That is really the story of my life. It reads more like a popular Press daily horoscope. That line set the White Paper in the wrong context. Nevertheless, I agreed with my hon. Friend the Minister of State when he said that it conformed with the Government's policy over the last two and a half years in reversing what we consider were the worst aspects of the policy of the previous Administration by modest changes—they have been modest—in the size, equipment and deployment of the fighting Services, and changes in the procurement of arms and supplies.
I do not agree with those who have criticised the White Paper today for being un-straightforward. I think that the White Paper is straightforward. In some parts it is even candid. But it has avoided, as it did last year and the year previous to that—a fact upon which many of us have commented—the strategic debate in depth. It is that which seems to have occupied most of the highly intelligent comments which we have heard from both sides of the House.
The White Paper will embarrass no one. It will not embarrass the White House, the Kremlin or the EEC Commission. It is a document of détente, despite the increase in the budget of about £523 million; but it is a schizophrenic document. This is a dangerous way of testing the options for European security. I shall give my reasons for that statement.
Any White Paper dealing with defence must first tell the British Parliament and people what the Government think Russian aims are. We have mostly been talking about Russia. As someone who 1555 has been a soldier, I would say that Russian aims are fourfold.
First, the Russians want to contain China because they are frightened of the Chinese and they have the sight of China as a growing nuclear power and, indeed, now as a growing naval power. Second, they want to bring about the withdrawal of United States' forces from Europe. Third, they want to eclipse the United States as a world super-Power. Fourth—and this is probably the most controversial thing for the Opposition benches which I shall say—the Russians want to neutralise, to pacify and to disarm Western Europe so that Russia—I put in brackets the word "Communism"—can bring a dominant influence into Western Europe.
I know that these remarks are in no sense agreeable to some hon. Members who have spoken today. But it is a fact that the Russians are spending 11 per cent. of their gross national product on defence, and if one extends that, one finds that 40 per cent. of their economy is devoted to defence and related activity, and 25 per cent. of their resources. A nation devoting that amount of its money, time and energy must have some purpose, with clear and well-defined aims.
Despite this posture of détente, the Russians have been expanding their efforts all the time that the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks have been in progress. The American George Ball said the other day that the Russian elephant is now trying to be a whale at the same time. The Kremlin believes that time is on its side, as it always has. It is part of the Kremlin's philosophy. The Kremlin believe that, despite the possible attractions of an emerging consumer society in Russia, and despite the bleatings of the Russian intelligentsia, it can in the end subvert the West.
People may ask, how vulnerable is Europe? My answer is that it is very vulnerable. I believe that Europe has only a 50–50 chance of not being subverted by Communism. Unless we make very stringent efforts to avoid this, it will happen in the lifetime of many of us, and certainly in the lifetime of our children Détente is a monumental Trojan horse. It is opening a way to the Soviet subversion of Europe.
1556 When the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks started in 1969, I interpreted them as a device by which the United States would be paralysed. Three indisputable facts have arisen since the talks started. The first is that the Soviet missile force was increased by about 266 per cent. by 1971, half-way through the talks. The second fact is that this year the Soviet Fleet of Y-class submarines is a match for the United States Polaris force of 41 submarines. The third and even more frightening fact is that, according to some experts, by the end of 1973 the number of missiles in the Soviet ICBM armoury will be double that of the United States' forces.
Therefore, I repeat what many of us, including myself, have said in previous debates: NATO strategy, because it is always based on political rather than military considerations, is something which we shall always find incredibly controversial, particularly on the Government side of the House, where we are frightened of the expansion of Russian power.
We have argued today that our strategy is one of deterrence rather than defence. We find it even more difficult to follow the right course and also to be fairly critical of this White Paper. There are the problems of the vulnerability of the West in terms of its sealanes, oil supplies, subversion and the fact there is no common EEC foreign policy, which means that it is impossible to have a common EEC defence policy. We have discussed two other great imponderables, the first of which is the future of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation. Despite the excellent arguments of the right hon. Member for Kettering, without this there can be no long-term Western European defence. France outside NATO, possibly pursuing her aim of the leadership of Europe—despite what is said about her declining nationalism—is definitely against an integrated European defence system.
Another factor which has not so far come out has been the future of the German Army. I was in Germany three weeks ago and I returned with a feeling of concern and worry about the future of the Bundeswehr. It is our main land force in NATO but I believe—and I am not being impolite to the West German 1557 Government or Army when I say this—that it is operationally suspect in the NATO context because of the incredible political direction which seems to exist at every level in the Army.
I wonder whether this is not leading us to the far-sighted view that we shall eventually have to go for integrated land forces in Europe. This may be a thought ahead of its time and if it is I am glad to have registered it today.
What is the British strategy? At the moment it is presumably a stalling operation by my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. If it is not, how, in the present state of European disarray, can defence be seen as anything other than the key to unification? Perhaps this explains two of the puzzles about the White Paper which have been evident on both sides.
First of all there is the decision over the successor to Polaris. I do not agree that we have not been given a great deal of evidence. Only last month the Expenditure Committee of this House published the report of an interview with Mr. Duchene of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. It was shown in that interview that there was an immediate choice for Britain and that it was vital that we took a decision at once. That was vital for the seaborne strategic nuclear missile system. We have to consider the consequence of maintaining Polaris, which is well explained, or the Poseidon alternative with or without the MIRV warheads or the later systems which are known as ULMS or Trident.
Secondly, although the Minister tried to explain the delay in commissioning the maritime seaborne Harriers, we are worried and want to know whether this is a question of the cost of development. If it is not to be developed to go into the new cruisers, what is the point of developing the cruisers?
I agree with the right hon. Member for Kettering on the need for a Select Committee on strategic options. This is so apparent when we have a White Paper so incredibly reticent about things of which we all know and about which we read in our daily papers. Yet we are not given the chance to discuss them in an academic and sensible way on the Floor of the House.
De we deter, defend or police? I think we probably do all three. The 1558 answer is that at the end of it all, the fighting Services have to supply security. Various general Service problems are brought out in the White Paper. Recruiting is rightly one of them. I reckon that we shall attract the best men into the Services only by acknowledging that it is a unique and wonderful way of life. The way to get men to join the Services is by being able to explain this to their parents. This is a matter of public relations and of a first-rate image of the Services, which I am sure we have.
There are aspects with which I want to deal relating to the gamble on the future of our air power in terms of adopting MRCA and the possible restrictions on the Jaguar. When the V-Bomber force and the Canberras are withdrawn our long-range manned strike capability is eliminated. The White Paper would have been improved if it had spelled out what the Jaguar aircraft will do and if it had told us something about the future family of aircraft. The "teeth versus tail argument", which is an across-the-board general Services argument, is well explained by the fact that 25 per cent. of the defence budget goes on hardware and research and development while the remaining 75 per cent. is spent on personnel and support, and all the other things which do not show up very much at the end of the day if one is trying to take on these vast forces on the other side or having to control a situation such as that existing in Ireland. This is the built-in seed which sows destruction unless we revert to a cheap conscript army like so many of our European allies.
I have said before that we shall have to bring conscription back. Everyone looks terribly gloomy on both sides of the House when I say this and even gloomier when they read it outside. This is a worthless alternative in the present ethos of society. Therefore we have to concentrate on the Regular forces and we shall have to go on spending money in that disproportionate ratio of 75 per cent. as against 25 per cent. for real hardware.
A lot of economies can be effected in the Services by pruning, particularly among staff. I am sure that we all recognise this. The pruning that can go on among the staffs of the three Services concerns an area in which we ought to operate through a Select Committee of 1559 this House. There should be a motto hanging above the heads of the admirals, generals and air marshals—with apologies to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) who I see stirring beneath me—which should say, "The best is the enemy of the good". So often we just put in that little extra which is unnecessary.
I want to deal with a few distinct problems of the Army. The Army in Europe is tactically unbalanced for either nuclear or quick conventional warfare. The demise of the tank as a battlefield weapon is something which the British have been as late to recognise as they were late to recognise the demise of the horse. We did not get in quick enough with the tank and we shall not get in quick enough in the next development, which is moving away from the leviathan, which the tank is on the battlefield, to re-equipping armoured regiments with helicopter gunships and anti-tank missiles. That is where the future of anti-tank warfare lies, not in the anti-tank tank. We have too much armour and conventional artillery and too few mortars, helicopters and infantrymen. That is speaking as a professional soldier and I do not apologise to the House for doing so.
The Army is now a police force-type Army. This will require a new look at the facts of life. We shall obviously have to retain that general capability for the type of rather academic situation we have talked about in terms of the details and the conventional forces available for the war we shall never fight in Europe, because it is impossible to fight it. The police force-type rôle is something we have to develop.
We have heard today of some unmentionable political subjects under the heading of counter-subversion.
The expansion of the TA stands out here. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) talked about Ireland, as he has done so well in previous debates. I could not have agreed with him more. The only lesson to be drawn from Ireland is that there is no compromise with terrorism. There never has been and never will be. Anyone who has had personal experience of dealing with this must realise that fact by now. All that he said—and I am sorry he has left the Chamber—was so right. 1560 There is no compromise with terrorism—one lives only to die at the hands of it.
As a reluctant European but one who tries to make things work, I say that it Great Britain as a sovereign Power has now been abandoned for the concept of Britain as a European power, let us go towards some sort of European unity on which our future obviously depends, bearing in mind that Europe is the object of a Russian softening-up process. If Europe is not a political reality, how can it become a military reality? The Government must in all fairness be seen to have a more virile attitude towards this strategic debate. It is the duty of their supporters as much as their opponents to insist that that is the case.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Towards the close of his speech the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Col. Colin Mitchell) mentioned the police role of the Army and the need to develop this aspect. I want to pay my tribute to the way in which our forces have conducted themselves in their thankless task in Northern Ireland. I believe that there will be no solution by the use of the Army in Ireland because in my opinion it is for the Irish to solve the problem themselves, whether in Ulster or the Republic. That does not mean that I do not admire enormously the fine work done by the Army in carrying out what is an impossible task. I pay a particular tribute to those who are concerned with bomb disposal.
There is one thing that we might do which could help the morale of the forces. I do not believe that anyone joins the Army to fight in Northern Ireland and handle civilian subversion. When soldiers are killed or wounded compensation is not paid in the same way as it is in the case of those who are injured or killed in civilian life, for example on the roads. This is something which e should consider by way of capital payment.
There is only one basic defence need in our country and that is to be a firm member of the NATO alliance. All the rest pales into insignificance beside that fact. This debate has been to a degree sadly lacking in any sign of getting down to brass tacks about Government defence strategy. I agree with the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Pcart), who 1561 made an admirable speech. He elevated this debate to a bipartisan level in a way which has not been apparent from the Government Front Bench. I agree that the White Paper was both a frustrating and disappointing document.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
Is not the fact that it is such a disappointing debate so far due to the incompetence of the Minister of State in opening it? I thought he treated the House in a deplorable manner.
§ Mr. Hooson
I do not wish to add to that, save to repeat that I thought the right hon. Member for Workington elevated the debate.
We have two basic problems to face. Over the next few years there will be a substantial reduction of American conventional forces in Europe. There is no doubt about that. President Nixon has sent us his new ambassador to NATO, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, a man very close to him and easily the youngest ambassador to go to Brussels on behalf of the United States. He is a man who has been in President Nixon's domestic Cabinet for four years.
I am certain that his role will be to bring all the pressure he can to bear on the other NATO allies to increase their share of the conventional defence. We ought to be establishing in debate here what will be our attitude to this pressure. There is no doubt in my mind that the American administration has no intention of totally withdrawing its nuclear and conventional forces from Europe. Here I disagree with the second of the four points which the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West suggested were part of Russian policy. I do not believe that the Soviet Union wishes the United States to withdraw from Europe. The Soviet Union prefers the stability which the United States provides in Europe.
I was in the State Department last year during a NATO military tour of the United States with two or three colleagues. I was given a briefing there which told me more about defence than was ever disclosed by our own Ministry. The Americans made it clear that bilateral balanced force reduction talks are much more important, in their view and 1562 in the Soviet Union's view, than the European security conference.
There is tremendous political pressure in the United States to bring conventional forces out of Europe. This pressure is being resisted by the United States Government, but President Nixon intends substantially to reduce American conventional forces and wants to do so by means of balanced force reductions with the Soviet Union. The real issue here is whether the withdrawal of Russian forces to the Siberian border is equivalent to the withdrawal of American troops across the Atlantic. I am certain that we and our NATO allies will be under pressure from the United States to increase our conventional forces.
The second issue with which I wish to deal is the nuclear problem. I have always been against a British nuclear deterrent. The very word "deterrent" means that one must have a massive deterrent if it is to make sense. The British nuclear weapon, together with the French nuclear weapon, makes up no more than the bee sting of President de Gaulle. This bee sting must be compared with the enormous power of the Soviet Union. The defence of Western Europe is not credible unless it is under a NATO and American nuclear umbrella. The Soviet Union, with problems of her own on the Chinese border, does not want insecurity behind her in Europe.
It is my view that Britain cannot afford politically or unilaterally to develop any idea of sharing with France a European deterrent. I agree with the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) that this would be counter-productive and would split NATO down the middle. What would the Germans think if we were to pool our nuclear forces with France? We would annoy the Russians and also, I believe, the Americans. I do not think that the nuclear arm has any part to play in Western Europe's contribution to the NATO defence alliance.
It is of the utmost importance that we help maintain the United States within the NATO alliance and to make sure that she maintains conventional and nuclear forces in Europe even though I expect her to reduce her conventional forces. That should be the prime aim of our policy. We cannot afford to spend money on developing our nuclear arm but should concentrate our money on 1563 conventional defence. I am sure that these are the two basic needs for Britain, to make sure that we fulfil our role in NATO by developing our conventional forces and getting out of the nuclear race altogether.
We hear words bandied about the House which are quite meaningless. For example, we hear a great deal about the percentage of gross national product spent by Russia on her armed forces compared with our expenditure or that of the United States. This ignores the fact that the gross national product of the United States is immensely greater than that of the Soviet Union. What is in issue is comparison of the forces provided by the expenditure on either side.
We are faced in the world by two Leviathans, one of which, the Soviet Union, is under increasing pressure on her eastern borders. The only need for this country at the moment is to make sure that the alliance is in good shape and to persuade our European allies not to think of a European defence community but to play their full part under the NATO umbrella.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I was interested to hear the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) but I am not certain that I agreed with all he said. I wish to place on record my disagreement with the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas). I believe that it would be a great pity if Greece were not in NATO and that it would leave the Turks very vulnerable. I hope that the Government will not take the right hon. Gentleman's advice.
The fact that we have not had a world war is very much due to the doctrine of deterrence. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) obviously did not consider the fact that the various nuclear weapons may neutralise the chance of war. He also spoke about nationalism. Unfortunately, in the last war nationalisation did not save France, Holland or Belgium. They collapsed very quickly, and this proves that one cannot just rely on nationalistic spirit.
I do not speak today in this debate merely because I represent Devonport, but mainly because I should like to 1564 comment on why so many hon. Members obviously question the need for an enlarged defence Estimate. I have had considerable experience of defence matters. I was for 14 months in Indonesia and spent over four years in Malaysia during a critical time, and I know exactly what can happen in such circumstances.
I agree with one aspect of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and that is on the question of a curfew. I should like to see a curfew in Ulster. In Indonesia we had a curfew from six o'clock in the evening until six the next morning for some months and it was very effective. However, when I have raised this matter with the Government I have been told that a curfew is not possible in Ulster. But I know that it worked very well in Indonesia, and similar methods were adopted in Malaysia.
Most people associate Her Majesty's forces with war, but our history shows that the chief role of British forces has been to help to keep the peace and to maintain it. It is remarkable that so many men and women have given up their lives to go to make peace in various countries of the world—and I think, for example, of the Commonwealth. Perhaps pacifists in the House will recall that in the long course of Christendom the military career has been an honoured one. There have been saints with military careers. This goes back to St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, and also to St. Joan of Arc. Many people who have fought for their country have been made saints.
We have heard a great deal about the troops of other countries, but I believe that Britain has the finest, most couragous, best-trained and most patient forces in the world. This was seen when our forces were in Malaysia and in Cyprus, and I saw them in the confrontation in Borneo. We must make sure that we give them the equipment they need. It is unfair to send our forces overseas even in a peace-keeping rôle and not to provide them with the proper equipment. The money for which we ask in the name of defence is not wasted if it assists in keeping world peace.
We have heard a good deal about the money spent by the Soviet Union on her forces—namely, 11 per cent. of the Soviet GNP. But Mr. Kosygin admits that 25 1565 per cent. of Soviet resources are given over to defence, and a Soviet economist has said that some 40 per cent. of their resources are devoted to defence-related activities. In NATO the figure for the United Kingdom contribution is 5.3 per cent., for France and Germany 4.5 per cent., Denmark only 2.8 per cent., Canada 2.6 per cent. and Luxembourg 1.7 per cent. We in the United Kingdom spend more than other European nations because they rely very greatly on conscripts, and I believe that we are the only country in the alliance which does not rely on conscripts.
It is worrying that the number of conscientious objectors in Europe is increasing rapidly and this will make its forces even smaller. Only 3.4 per cent. of men of military age in the United Kingdom are in the Regular forces as opposed to 5.1 per cent. in France, 4.2 per cent. in Germany and 7.1 per cent, in Russia.
I wrote a letter to The Times in reply to the correspondence which appeared in that newspaper from the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). I suggested that it was acurious argument that Britain should relate her defence expenditure to that of her allies rather than her potential enemies or her own security.On the subject of average expenditure in NATO, I said that it must be remembered that NATO includes expenditure by Luxembourg, Denmark and Norway, whose populations respectively are 400,000, 5 million and 4 million. Since the population of the United Kingdom is 56 million, I suggest that we are not spending sums which are out of proportion with those spent by other European countries.
Moreover, I consider that Britain is more vulnerable than the other countries which I have mentioned because we are dependent on sea communications. Furthermore, we are spending £28 million in Ulster. The fairest way of getting a real understand of the amounts of money we spend on our forces is to examine the document "Defence Expenditure", Command 5245, in which recommendations were made relating to the division of expenditure. That document suggested in recommendation 5 thatConsideration should be given to removing expenditure on health, married accommodation and, especially, education from the Defence Budget.1566 I agree with this recommendation entirely, especially as so many of our forces are stationed in the United Kingdom.
I was amazed at the reasoning given in the observations made by the Ministry on that recommendation which simply do not seem realistic. On the question of the presentation of Votes and accounting, the Ministry said that the definition of the defence budget would remain unchanged even though it may not be regarded as part of defence. But the defence budget can be governed only by what the Treasury allows the Services to have. It does not matter which Department gets the money so long as we can be given a clearer picture of what is happening.
The Ministry's actual words were:It is proposed that, in future, while the definition of the defence budget would continue unchanged, the annual Statement on Defence Estimate would show how much expenditure on health, married accommodation and education services is included in the Defence Budget…I thought that was an odd reply, because either the Treasury will give the money or it will not to different Government Departments, but we can always discover the figure for ourselves. In fact the amount is about £296 million, so it does not need to be spelt out in detail. We should like to see a change to other Ministries so that one can see what is spent on hardware and what is spent in human terms. Therefore, I do not consider the Minister's reply on this topic to be satisfactory.
I should like to know when the Jarrett Committee is to report. A number of observations which have been made by the Expenditure Committee are designed to fulfil proposals that are expected when the Jarrett Committee reports—for example, in regard to a recommendation that one of the two Service hospitals in Cyprus should be closed. I mention this matter because it has been suggested in this debate that there could be considerable prunning, and the various suggestions which have been made do not seem to have been implemented.
It is essential for Britain to be able to pursue a role with her own forces, as was suggested in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy, 1970. I think that we are now beginning to do so. And we must now face the situation of what 1567 will happen when the United States withdraws her forces. This appears to be more likely because the Americans are hurt at their lack of success in Vietnam where they have lost so many men. I doubt whether they will want to go on sending troops overseas in large numbers to fight a war which is not for their own protection. We must establish and maintain a sound financial basis on which to carry out defence policy in the future. As was mentioned before, that is a realistic point of view. We could spend more on the Services if our gross national product was at a level of that of France or Germany.
I want to raise the question of the various organisations which deal with defence. There are NATO, WEU, the Eurogroup, the North Atlantic Alliance, CENTO, SEATO and so on. There must be a great deal of overlapping in all these organisations. I was impressed with what the right hon. Member for Kettering said about the North Atlantic Alliance because that alliance seems to involve the Americans more than any other organisation. Also, the Eurogroup has produced interesting documents such as the European Defence Improvement Programme. But in the case of WEU, although we send delegates there, there seems to be no action, and nobody ever seems to read the reports. The excellent report produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for the North Atlantic Organisation has been published and read widely.
In future, therefore, we must consider whether all these numerous organisations are needed to deal with defence. That, I suggest, should be one of our first considerations. The consideration we have been trying to put forward in WEU is that we should like to see similar weapons used by the British, the Dutch and the Americans. There are contingents from all three nations in Norway now and they do not have interchangeable weapons. This is unfortunate.
I do not intend to discuss the Navy today because we are to have a Navy debate, but I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister, as "Ark Royal" has been mentioned and as it is apparently due to die in 1977, how soon we will have the through-deck cruisers. I was very pleased to see today that a 1568 £7 million naval contract has been given for radio communication equipment for the new Type 21 frigates and Type 42 missile destroyers. This represents a great advance. But now that the equipment has been ordered, when will it be ready?
One of the subjects we have also discussed in WEU is how to decide between nations what type of ship should be built. The last time we discussed the subject it seemed to me that there were too many frigates and not enough submarines. As ships take such a long time to build this is one way in which matters could be facilitated, by having a definite planning programme. I raised this matter in WEU and the answer I was given was "We want every kind of ship we can get". However, I feel that we should have a programme for ships.
The Minister mentioned widows of troops killed in Ulster. I have raised several times the scandalous manner in which the pre-1950 widows have been treated. The Government have given pensions to the over-80s but the women about whom I am concerned were married when pay was very low. Some of their husbands were earning a shilling a day in those days, and these women brought up families. As a result of the old system of drafting from individual ports, instead of the present system of centralised drafting, 60 Devonport women were widows as a result of casualties on one ship, HMS "Courageous". There may not be many of these widows left but I would be grateful if the Minister, to whom I have written on the subject, could look into the matter because it is important.
I should now like to refer to paragraph 29 on page 8 of Command Paper 5231. The staff side of the Procurement and Executive Whitley Council and the trade union side of the Joint Industrial Council gave their reasons for opposing the reorganisation. I gather that the scientists and ancillary staff gave their reasons to the executive and they want to make it clear that they are not against rationalisation of defence and research establishments. They agreed with Mr. Rayner in paragraph 79 of the White Paper on Government Organisation for Defence Procurement and Civil Aerospace.
1569 In Command Paper 4641 it is stated thatadvantage should be taken, and taken quickly, of the opportunity to bring the defence research and development establishments, including the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, under a single strong management and to give that management the task of rationalising them".Procurement executives on 1st April 1972 stated they had only about seven months in which to consider reorganisation and they said, and I have sympathy with them, that this was insufficient time. The closure of three establishments and the compulsory transfer and perhaps the unemployment of 2,000 staff should be looked into further. I would like to ask my hon. Friend, therefore, whether the decision in paragraph 29 of the document we are discussing today could be deferred. This would make for a smoother working of the matter and perhaps, for example, there could be a second stage.
On recruits, I should like to put forward a suggestion for 16-year-olds. I was not really in favour of the raising of the school leaving age, because anyone who wished to stay on could have done so and a lot of young people did not want more academic training. Twenty per cent. of Service recruitment came from the 16-year-olds. If they are compelled to stay on at school it will mean they will have to have a new curriculum and I wonder whether thought could be given to providing cadet training for them. They could devote perhaps one or two days a week to cadet training instead of doing normal lessons. I know that a lot of young men have already been for tests and did well and wish to go into the Services, but they now have to wait another year and I do not know whether they will still want to join up when the time comes.
I should like now to deal with the fishing fleet. I should like to know what protection, if any, it will get from the Royal Navy. I do not see how we can go on as we are. I realise that it may be said that we are bullying a small country, but if we cannot come to a diplomatic arrangement after what has been said at the Hague Court, some other action must be taken. There are fishermen in Plymouth and I feel strongly about this matter.
1570 I should like to know what is happening in Malta. It is stated in Cmnd. 5231 at page 5, paragraph 14, thatThere are a number of matters relating to the operation of the agreement which are at present under discussion between the British and Malta Governments.Perhaps we can be told what those matters are and whether agreement has been reached. There are a large number of Service personnel in my area and it is disturbing when the men go overseas, the women follow them and then they all have to come back. This is especially unsettling in regard to education for the children.
I should like to pay a special tribute to the Royal Marines, some of whom have been in Ulster four times, and to the Devon and Dorsets. There are many other excellent regiments, but I mention only those two because they come from the West Country.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
This has been an unreal debate. It is the first time I have participated in a debate on defence during my time in the House. At the outset I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). He did his best to raise the standard of the debate after the deplorable display by the Minister who opened. The Minister treated the House in a most flippant manner and while his music-hall style jokes seemed to get a few laughs from the Tory back benches, the content of the speech was deplorable. We could see the yawns on his own side after a while and it is a pity that he wasted 40 minutes of the time of the House in telling us nothing. Three of his colleagues will have an opportunity of speaking from the Front Bench in the remainder of this two-day debate and we hope that they will rectify the situation and give us some of the answers we have been seeking.
The Opposition's amendment makes too much reference to Europe and not enough to activities in other parts of the globe where we have commitments. I should have liked to see something added to bring this to the attention of the House. The Minister said that we still have commitments to both SEATO and CENTO. We do not know whether there is to be a reappraisal of these commitments, whether they are satisfactory, whether there is to 1571 be an extension or a reduction, or what additional role the various branches of the Armed Forces may play. We just had a bald statement. In view of our commitments in this sphere of operations—we have fewer now than a few years ago—I believe that we should have some sensible replies.
I have been impressed by the knowledge displayed by so many hon. Members about this important part of our activities. Although I disagree with some of the content of the speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell), may I say how much I admired his skill of presentation as an ex-professional soldier in getting his points across. He is to be congratulated.
I was also impressed by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas). But my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in his usual gloomy, horrific way, put the House into a state of despondency and silence. I wish that he would stop making such statements, because they do not bear any reality to the facts and they spread undue alarm not only in the House but throughout the country.
I should like to draw attention to the White Paper, page 10, paragraph 8, "Ships and Equipment." It will be noted that a contract is to be negotiated with Vickers for a new class of cruiser in 1973–74. I assume that that means Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness.
I should like to comment, as I have done over many years on all matters connected with armament work, that there are far too many negotiated contracts. I realise the difficulties that have been experienced. It is easy to argue in favour of a negotiated contract, but in this period of razor-edge competition within the United Kingdom's shipbuilding industry, in which at least four firms are in a position to compete, I think that tenders should have been submitted and an analysis made of the ultimate cost.
I hope we shall be told whether further orders are to be placed in 1974–75. I hope so, because from Annex D we see the names of the ships of Her Majesty's Fleet, their types and their current and, in some cases, reserve rôles for refit and conversion. Many of us follow the fortunes of these vessels. Some 1572 are very old indeed. A number which are in reserve should not be in reserve. They are clapped out and should be scrapped. Therefore, I hope that at some stage during this debate we shall be given an analysis of what the precise position will be in 1974–75.
We ought to have a statement on how many cruisers of the new class are to be constructed, where they are to be constructed and which companies will obtain the orders. I make no apology for mentioning in this connection the Swan Hunter Group on Tyneside. It has been building ships for the Royal Navy for about 150 years. The group has constructed some of the finest ships ever built. Many of them are still in the list in Annex D or on active service. We know that on both the north and south banks of the Tyne seven or eight vessels are being built for the Royal Navy, but they are not in the cruiser category. I should like an assurance that at least one of these new vessels will be reserved for the Swan Hunter Group. I do not want the Minister to be put off because that company is doing very well. Indeed, British shipbuilding generally is doing well. But Swan Hunter has one of the most expert collections of individuals who make up the staff concerned with Admiralty work. It also has the services of Newcastle University which has a school of naval architecture. It is important not only to Tyneside but to the general morale of the people in that part of the country that a cruiser of this new class should be built there. I hope that the Minister will give us some indication of the Government's thinking about this matter for the year 1974–75. If four or five vessels are to be built, clearly competition between four of the yards in the United Kingdom would be worth while.
I turn now to the question of recruits. In two eloquent speeches by hon. Gentlement opposite we heard pleas for good-quality recruits for the Armed Services. I agree, but they must have the right quality of equipment. It is no use getting bright young men to join the Royal Navy if they are to work with out-of-date equipment. There can be nothing more demoralising for a young recruit than to go to Plymouth to do his training on ships which are sometimes 25 years old. I have watched these ships limping in and out of Plymouth Sound. It is not 1573 a nice sight. I should like these personnel to be trained in superior types of vessels.
I always make short speeches, for which the House is grateful. On this occasion I shall pursue my usual practice and conclude by saying that it has been a short but, I hope, instructive speech for the Minister.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) because I share his interest in the Navy and particularly in shipping and shipbuilding. Some of our largest aircraft carriers which are now being phased out were built in my constituency. Therefore, I share many of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman about naval contracting. I should like to see Harland and Wolff again occupying a part of that shipbuilding programme, particularly in view of the employment which it would create in this troubled area of the United Kingdom and the part that that might play in helping to reduce tensions and other problems there.
I also intend to make a brief contribution to the debate. For that reason I will restrict my remarks to the situation in Northern Ireland which forms an important part of the White Paper and perhaps represents one of the most serious commitments of our Armed Forces today.
First, as I and my colleagues on both sides of the House have said in the past, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Army. We have seen soldiers in our streets in their ordinary way performing acts of great valour, courage and heroism. I refer particularly to the bomb disposal squads who until three or four weeks ago had had a short period of respite but who are now facing another bomb campaign, which has been mounted in recent weeks and which tests them to their limit.
I should also like to say a word of praise to the soldiers who go out on patrol and are engaged on such duties as protecting children on their way to school. It is despicable that snipers should lie on roofs waiting for one soldier to come past, a soldier who, perhaps because he is occupied with seeing children safely into and out of their schools, is not fully on the alert. Such soldiers are picked off in daylight by snipers in a cowardly fashion, 1574 using telescopic sights. They do not have a chance.
It is because of the heroism of soldiers facing duties in these conditions that the House should not let this debate pass without expressing its gratitude for their work in trying to keep the peace in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, a large number of soldiers have been killed. The Defence White Paper says in paragraph 18 that 179 soldiers and two marines have been killed since the beginning of the troubles in Ulster. Of this figure, 127 were killed last year.
That total of 127 killed last year follows all the steps which have been taken in Northern Ireland, both by the Government of Northern Ireland and by this House, to try to rectify the grievances in Ulster. They include the measures suggested by Lord Hunt—the disarming of the police, the disbanding of the B Specials, the setting up of special independent housing committees, and other measures right up to the dissolution of Stormont itself. The result of all these actions has been nothing but an escalation of the violence.
This leads one to ask how realistic is the statement in the White Paper which calls for a political initiative and which speaks of the Army's rôle as being that of winning the confidence of all sections of the community and persuading them to repudiate extremists in their midst, so that the political initiative towards a peaceful settlement should not be jeopardised. How realistic is it to imagine that some further political initiative, on top of all that has been done, can bring peace in Northern Ireland?
I listened with particular interest to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northamption (Mr. Paget). I know that his remarks fall rather harshly on the ears of the House, but when one thinks of the reaction in London last week when two bombs went off—just two—with the one unfortunate death, one realises how much people in Northern Ireland have been putting up with. We have had 2,500 bombs, and some 750 people have been killed. The total of deaths among the Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the police and the police reserves is 228, of whom all but two have been killed by IRA action. The Irish Republican Army has claimed this to be the case.
1575 Why then do we maintain the fiction that the role of the Army is to stand between the two sides in Northern Ireland? Why does the White Paper pretend, in speaking of extremists, that one is as bad as another? Can one really claim that when one side has killed, and has claimed to have killed, 226 soldiers in three years out of a total of 228? This is totally unreal and we should face up honestly and squarely to reality. Until we do, we shall never see peace in Northern Ireland.
Dealing with the rôle of the Army in Ulster, as I said, I do not imply any criticism at all of the ordinary soldier himself, who is performing his duty perfectly. But I am criticising my own Front Bench, the Government, the people who lay down the lines along which the Army must operate. The rôle of the Army is the rôle of a peace-keeping force, a police rôle, a rôle which does not allow it to take any initiative but permits it only to react to events.
This means that the Army cannot carry out a search of premises or of an area where soldiers are being killed every night. Areas like the Falls or the Ardoyne—very small, limited areas—are not searched unless some specific information is given to the Army. How can the Army combat terrorism in Northern Ireland with its hands tied behind its back in this way?
The history of events in Northern Ireland is indeed a sad one. We have had the plebiscite, which I and, I was pleased to see, a number of my colleagues went over to observe. One polling station was on the North Lodge road, part of my constituency that I know very well, because it is where the first soldier, Gunner Curtis, was shot. It has always been a stronghold of the Provisional IRA. I went down twice, once at 10 in the morning and once just before the station closed at 7.30 p.m. Only one couple had gone into that polling station to vote throughout the whole day. Just two votes out of several hundred or 1,000 who were entitled to vote.
That makes one realise the intimidation which is being practised in Ulster. I know that there was a boycott but what boycott is 100 per cent. without intimidation? We all know the cranks in our area, the people who would go 1576 in just to spoil their ballot papers. But no one dared to go near the polling station. This is the background to life in Northern Ireland—a background of fear, intimidation, and deliberate acts of terrorism, pursued quite deliberately by the Irish Republican Army and the Provisional IRA.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who was responsible for defence under the last Labour Government when some of the political initiatives were taken, said during the Budget debate just a week ago that a large section of the community—he was referring to the trade unions—had reached the end of their tether. Their patience was exhausted, he said, and they had reached their limit. Well, really. The threshold of the patience of the trade unions must be very low. Think of the people in Northern Ireland, who have suffered over 750 dead and 7,000 injured—men, women and children killed, shot and blasted. They have been patient and must go on being patient. How long can one expect people to be patient under attacks like this?
With the death toll mounting, week by week, month by month, and year by year, in spite of all the political initiatives of this Government, some other solution must now be sought. This is the solution, I am afraid, which was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell). We cannot be soft with terrorists. We must go on to the offensive. First, we must define our enemy. Is it right that men who have planted so many bombs indiscriminately throughout the country, and who have murdered and continue to murder, may belong to a body which is accepted in Britain?
Is it right that the IRA should not be outlawed in this country? Is it right that it should be able to hold meetings in England and collect funds? Is it right that its members should be invited to appear on the BBC and other radio and television channels? Let us consider what the people in Northern Ireland think about that? We must define our enemy and then mount an all-out offensive against it.
It is not sufficient to ask soldiers to wait until they are shot at before they can 1577 react. The White Paper refers to the fact that during Operation Motorman there were some 27 battalions in Northern Ireland. They have now been reduced to 18. Is it not possible to bring in a few more battalions to patrol and thoroughly to search as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton suggested, the areas in which soldiers are continually being shot? They are clearly defined, and it is possible, by using curfews and other means, including modern methods of testing people's hands, such as paraffin tests, to discover whether such people have been handling explosives. It is possible to search out the enemy, and that must be done in a sudden and quick campaign. We must put in all the soldiers that we have in such a campaign.
The alternative is continuing slaughter before we finally take the action which I suggest. If we take it later, the casualties are likely to be heavier. The preparation of our enemy, the IRA, is improving all the time. It was not using rockets a year ago. It is now using armour-piercing rockets, which are modern Russian weapons. It has the most up-to-date explosives and modern rifles with telescopic sights. It has some rifles equipped with night-scopes. They are expensive and the soldiers have only a few at their disposal.
Time is not on our side in Northern Ireland. We must treat the situation as a wartime situation. The IRA has declared war on Britain. The result of the plebiscite last week shows clearly that the majority in Northern Ireland wish to retain the link with Britain. However, there is a small minority which wishes by force to impose its will on the majority. It must do so by force because it knows that it cannot do so by democratic means. We must engage it and defeat it, otherwise it will continue its campaign until there is a reaction in Northern Ireland which can degenerate only into civil war.
We must also win the propaganda war. Not enough attention is paid by the Ministry of Defence and the Army to that aspect of the campaign. It is interesting to note that the Army is now concerned with the existence of the UDA. It is perhaps surprising that that body did not come into existence earlier. It came into existence only a year ago, just after the initiative which suspended Stormont. Operation Motorman was mounted only 1578 after a peace treaty was negotiated with the IRA, which the IRA broke a few days later by a campaign which was conducted during one day's violent bombing in the centre of Belfast. Scores of explosions took place within minutes of one another. That led to Operation Motorman. The Army entered in force, it knocked down the barricades and opened up the so-called no-go areas.
For three years my hon. Friends and I suggested that the Army should not tolerate the existence of no-go areas in the United Kingdom. The answer which we received from our right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench was always the same—namely, "We cannot knock down the barricades. We cannot send the Army into these areas because there will be too many casualties." What happened when the Army showed that it was determined to go in? There was not one casualty. It was the existence of the no-go areas which allowed the IRA to train, mount and build-up the campaign to its present level.
The Government must disabuse themselves and must rid themselves of the friction which appears in the White Paper, which says at Paragraph 17, page 6, that the Army's rôle in Northern Ireland is to assist the civil power. That is a total mis-statement of fact. We all remember that in 1969 the Army took over control of security in Northern Ireland. The GOC became chairman of the Security Committee. He controls not only his own force but the police. He has done so since 1969. The White Paper speaks of political initative. It speaks as if the army's rôle is to stand between the two sides in Northern Ireland.
We must rid ourselves of these fictions and phantasies. We must decide who our enemy is and mount an all-out attack upon him. If we do so, we will have the same success as the Army had during Operation Motorman. The majority of the minority population—what is sometimes called the Republican population and sometimes, although I do not like using the word, the Catholic population—would welcome that. It is fed up with the pressure put upon it by the IRA. It is fed up with the IRA members coming round every week and collecting money. It is fed up with the IRA making them lose their jobs and burning 1579 property. It is only when the Government and the Army take determined steps that we will end the present troubles in Northern Ireland.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Hon. Members who make short speeches warm the cockles of my heart. I shall try to warm the cockles of my hon. Friends' hearts. I was warmed to the soles of my feet when listening to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). I intend to be just as pithy as he said he was. Like my hon. Friend, I have not taken part before in one of these debates. I do not wish to curdle anyone's blood in the way adopted by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
I wish to give the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) a clear and stark message about what is happening off the shelf of the coast of Iceland. That is a subject which goes far wider than the interest of my constituents. I do not think that the Government are clear about how delicate and dangerous a situation it is. If one man is shot or killed, or if one of the tugs or fishing vessels goes down, it is my understanding that the Government will send in the Navy.
I wish to make my remarks in the context of Paragraph 21 on page 16 which, under the heading "Iceland", says,In addition to normal patrols to distant water fishing ground, frigates of the Fleet have been available since September 1972 in case they are needed to protect and assist British trawlermen in the disputed fishing grounds off Iceland.When I turn over the page I see that the rest of the world is mentioned. There is the Caribbean, with ships of the Royal Navy, with detachments of Royal Marines, carrying out the Bahamas Patrol. There is Oman, which we can discount. There is the Beira Patrol, where we are doing what I believe is a fine job. It could be a better job. Indeed, it could be the finest job we could do if we did it a bit better. Then there is the Gulf, which Royal Navy ships and Royal Air Force aircraft have visited. The White Paper says that in Hong Kong Her Majesty's ships carried out guardship duties.
1580 How many frigates have we got? Many of us—and not only those of us from fishing ports—would like to know whether, in the sad event of protection being needed, the frigates would be available. They are now outside the 50-mile limit. I am not taking sides on this question of a so-called Imperialist nation, a big chap, bullying a small, developing nation. I do not wish to operate gunboat diplomacy. But if we have a navy, what is it supposed to be for? Apparently, it is not off Iceland for the purpose for which people think, and it is sheer hypocrisy and deluding the men out there to suggest that it is.
These men of ours have been going into the Arctic at a time when there is darkness for 20 or 21 hours a day. They see bearing down on them the Icelandic flagship, the "Aegir", which can be a fearsome sight. It does not display lights, which is contrary to international law. It bears down on these smaller 600 to 700-ton trawlers from Britain.
Last week, I put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs a Question about the cutting of warps. It is no joke when a warp is cut. There are two warps to each trawl—and if one is cut it can whip back like a lash. A man aboard a German vessel had his leg amputated by one of these warps. A man could be decapitated by one. If both warps are cut, the whole gear goes and the vessel loses £2,000-worth of equipment. There have been 34 such incidents.
The Financial Times has reported on the amount of harassment going on. There is not a single skipper, bosun or deckhand in Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood, Leith or Aberdeen who does not think that conditions will not get worse. The fleet has moved from the south-east, were it has been fishing, to the west. It is stationed there for a fortnight at the wish of the owners who, obviously, want to catch fish and make money.
But this means that the boats have moved to the doorstep of the capital city, Reykjavik. Iceland is a nation of 200,000 people. They are nationalist and vehement in their views. The Icelandic Government have said clearly what they intend to do. Without being too blunt about it, I point out that many of our boats are fishing outside the 12-mile limit 1581 but within the 50-mile limit and some of them must be seen from the land. This is a dangerous situation for our men and dangerous politically for the Government.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs told us last week,If things get any worse, the Navy will have to intervene…In the last resort, I must impress upon the Icelandic Government that it may be necessary to use Her Majesty's Navy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March 1973; Vol. 852, c. 411.]What is the Government's policy? Do these words mean what they say? If not, the Minister of State had better say so and not mislead men who I believe are the most courageous and intrepid of our people. To fish in the Arctic is no joke. Often there are waves 50 or 60 ft. high and the temperature can go down to 40 degrees below zero. These are men who need looking after. I say that to the hon. Gentleman very seriously, as do all my colleagues from the fishing ports.
The British Ambassador to Iceland, Mr. Mackenzie, whom I know, is a first-class man. He speaks Icelandic and knows the situation inside out. He is one of the best men we could have in the job. He has been called home and he will give a factual report and correct and intimate advice to the Secretary of State, so I hope that we are quite clear in our minds about what is possibly going to happen.
I say this to my right hon. and hon. Friends—if there were to be incidents and we were to have a siutation in which shots could be fired, this House would have to face a very serious situation. That is the message I want to give to the Minister and I hope that he will carry it to the Foreign Secretary and that the Government will think hard about the matter.
In its article, of which I believe every word, the Financial Times said:The fishing industry believes it was Iceland's tactics to halt the winter fishing programme, thus demoralising those from Britain seeking cod, plaice and haddock, within the contested 50-miles.The British fleet is now facing a new wave of harassment, partly accounted for by political pressure, partly because the Icelandic gunboats have been able to return on station following their involvement in the Westmann Islands volcanic eruption rescue and clearing-up operation.1582 I know the Westmann Islands, which are delightful. The Financial Times went on:…attitudes at sea have hardened…I do not like to find deckhands in Grimsby petitioning for the Navy to go in. I do not want the Navy to go in—make no mistake about that. I want a settlement if at all possible, and I hope that the Government, with Ambassador Mackenzie here, will get down to it and tell the House what steps they intend to take in the near future.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the highly specialised subject with which he dealt.
I think that the debate has taken a somewhat pessimistic view about Russia and our capacity to defend ourselves from her. I have faith in the NATO alliance and I have faith also in Europe that it will increase its will to defend itself. I am sure that we, now in Europe, can do much to lead this attitude. It seems to me also that many hon. Members are too inclined to think that we on our own can redress the balance. We cannot. We are already committed more than any other country in Western Europe, as has been pointed out, and I think that we are doing as much as we can now. But I think that we are not spending our resources in the best way.
I welcome the progress, outlined in the White Paper, of the East-West negotiations and the progress towards a reduction in nuclear pressure. But any progress in these terms must also mean that the balance between nuclear and conventional forces and arms will change. Those changes must particularly affect the Navy. Whether the Navy can look forward to a lesser nuclear threat or not will not affect it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Digby) who thinks that the balance of the Navy is wrong. The White Paper tells us Russia will complete six new missile submarines this year. Compare this with our own Polaris fleet—still only four; and one of those from now on is to be refitting, leaving only three operational. In effect, it means that only two could be at sea at any one time. With 1583 four we get two operational and if we had one more, for which I have been pleading for a long time, we could get three operational—a 50 per cent. increase in our operational nuclear fleet. Why are we not building that fifth?
Another factor is that those four ships we have are getting older and will need replacement. Why are we not thinking about those replacements which we need and shall need in the not-far-distant future? What of the carriers? We now have only one, "Ark Royal What on earth is the use of that? She is to be refitted this year and then we shall have no operational carrier at all. We might just as well throw the "Ark Royal" away now and have done with it. On the other hand, I am convinced that we need carriers, and rather than throwing away the "Ark Royal" we should be keeping her and add to our carrier fleet. If we need ships such as "Ark Royal" we should build them or perhaps buy them from America.
It seems to me that the RAF has convinced the Government it can meet all the air requirements without carriers. This is not my experience. I appreciate that aircraft have improved enormously since my time at sea, but their range is still restricted and the fleet needs air cover, and this can be provided only by a carrier as part of that fleet.
What of our other needs? The RAF operates from fixed bases and those bases abroad are held at the whim of some local politician. Carriers are mobile and can be deployed anywhere in the world. I know that carriers are extremely expensive, but has anyone costed them out in comparison with a RAF station, with its costly runways, buildings, quarters, schools, hospitals and all the tail that goes with an RAF station? Has anyone costed out an RAF station against the cost of a comparable carrier? Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the comparable costs are.
I do not believe we need or can afford the large carriers. We need the modern equivalent of the wartime Woolworth carriers. A year or two ago through-deck cruisers were talked about. Where are they now? They do not appear in this White Paper. All this White Paper says is that, 1584Subject to satisfactory negotiations the contract with Messrs. Vickers for the first of a new class of cruiser will be placed shortly.What are these ships? Are they through-deck cruisers, in other words, carriers? Are they jump-jet ships or conventional ships? Perhaps the Minister will give us some details of their design.
On the other hand, the building programme is to some extent encouraging. We have four nuclear attack submarines, six guided missile destroyers and eight frigates now under construction or being ordered. They are to enter service by the end of 1977. Why does it take five years to build up a comparatively small fleet like this? Are we using the shipbuilding resources to the full? This has already been mentioned by one hon. Member opposite. In my own constituency Vosper-Thorneycroft, for example, have a small yard. They have a better and larger one at Southampton and another at Porchester. They have 18 major fast patrol boats under construction, being built for foreign navies, for export. Where are the boats for the Royal Navy? The White Paper says four are to be built—and only four are mentioned. That these boats are effective warships the Israelis know only too well. Why do not we have more of them?
I regret to note from the White Paper that recruitment to the Services is expected to be some 7,000 lower this year than last year—down nearly 20 per cent. —and also that further difficulties are expected in future through the raising of the school leaving age. I might remind the House that I urged that this school year, from the age of 15 to 16, could well have been spent in the Services, certainly so far as the Navy is concerned, and I am sorry that the Department of Education did not accept that proposal.
The re-engagement figures are disappointing, too, especially those at the end of the longer terms. The figures show that they drop from 93 per cent. at the end of 14 years to only 19 per cent. at the end of 22. Are these older men at the end of their long service being encouraged to re-engage?
In the wider context, I want to touch on Malta. I hope that the Government will be tough and explicit in the talks which are going on about the operation of the agreement made a year ago. I 1585 have a great regard for the Maltese people. I well remember their gallant fight in the dark days of the war. Our quarrel is not with the Maltese people. It is with their leader, Mr. Mintoff. He must somehow be brought to realise the facts of life.
The fact is that Malta today has a purely negative rôle. It is of virtually no value to us, and NATO's interest, especially that of the Italians, is to stop any potentially hostile power occupying it. The White Paper tells us that the Nimrod forces will be increased in size. The replacement of the Shackleton by the Nimrod, the military version of the Comet with a cruising speed of some 700 m.p.h., means a flying time of about five minutes between Sicily and Malta, and that is completely insignificant.
Obviously a detailed examination of the Navy's contribution to our defence will be the subject of a later debate next week. But the points that I have raised I consider to be vital in the whole of our defence structure, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give due weight to them.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
I do not intend to take up any of the detailed matters raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink). I understand his constituency interests. I say only that in modern warfare, with air-to-surface missiles and other strategic missiles pinpointing targets, despite the hon. Gentleman's love for aircraft carriers, they are virtually sitting ducks. I say no more about that.
I did not intend to intervene in this debate. But I have been provoked. I always respond when I am provoked. I cannot help it. I have not spoken in a defence debate for several years. A long time ago I used to take part in defence and foreign affairs debates, but I have not done so now for some time.
Today we are dealing with a White Paper which is a verbal statement of accounts. It is not a White Paper in the true sense. A White Paper has to be based on strategy, and no one in the Western world knows what strategy is. We cannot know.
The debate has been conducted in an atmosphere of going back to where we came in. We came in a long time ago. 1586 It is rather like going into the cinema half way through the programme and only coming out after seeing the programme round again.
We came in first after the war in 1947 when we found that the Russians' diplomatic and strategic attitudes were not as friendly as we had hoped. We saw the startling collapse of the European defence community and the lack of will on the part of French politicians, who had taken no part in the war, to arrange for defence in conjunction with our other allies in Western Europe. Out of that NATO was born, under the guidance of Ernie Bevin, and from that time on there have been ups and downs and large expenditures by all countries. That is why the Opposition amendment is welcome to me, as any amendment of this kind would be to the Government of any country, because it seeks to reduce the most wasteful national product of forces' expenditure. This in total is a wasted product, but diplomacy and strategic requirements demand that we have these forces.
My mind goes back more than 22 years to the Berlin airlift. At that time, despite our troubles in Great Britain, with the nation's civilian houses almost bombed out of existence and with strict rationing, we undertook to ration bread in order to feed the people of West Berlin. It was a singularly courageous action by the British nation. Following the death of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, Hugh Gaitskell was appointed to the office. Such was the effort required on defence expenditure that we had to arrange a Budget which did not suit certain people. People resigned on the basis of charges on teeth and spectacles. Charges were imposed on the provision of teeth and spectacles to provide money for defence expenditure, which was estimated at £4,000 million—a tremendous amount of money in those days.
The resignation of the late Aneurin Bevan and other colleagues I had better not mention led to a virtual split-up of the united front of the Labour Party at that time. In one respect at the close of the examination Bevan proved to be correct. It is a poor politician who does not learn from experience, and I do not consider myself a poor politician. I know now, with hindsight, that the £4,000 million bill at that time was too heavy for 1587 the engineering industry of this country. The programme could not be carried out and should not have been entered in the Estimates. We might have had a continuance of the Labour Government had it not been so. But such was the state of panic in Europe at the formation of NATO that it was undertaken.
I intervened earlier tonight—and I must say that everyone ignores my reputation for tolerance and courtesy. I am the last person to annoy anybody, yet here is my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) almost ruining a beautiful friendship and getting terribly annoyed with me. The amendment calls, quite rightly, for the reduction of expenditure. He made a great patriotic speech. The amendment is welcome in calling for that reduction of expenditure, but he went on to grumble about the closure of specialist factories in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams). I know those factories. They are highly specialised factories manufacturing components for ballistic missiles, and if there is one thing we must keep in mind it is that behind every modern army which operates anywhere in the world there must be the concomitant of a modern engineering industry.
That is why I intervened, to help my right hon. Friend, and he took it the wrong way—and it was only six o'clock at night. I am surprised at him. Does lie not know that I am naturally tolerant?
I did not mind that so much, but the hon. Member next to him, whom I do not even know—
§ Mr. Tomney
He started charging about like a Welsh rugby forward who has not been selected. I thought he was going to pack in the pack and sling the ball at me. Now that he has been promoted to the first team for regular service, now that I recognise him, I will extend to him the tolerance and courtesy for which I am well known. I promise I will not annoy him in future.
To get back to the purpose and the guts of this argument, we have a situation which does not improve militarily with the years. We are confronted, as has 1588 been said in this debate today, by the Soviet Union, with the singleness of mind which has never lost its theme or threat throughout the whole of its existence. It has now entered into a different diplomatic, strategic and political phase. I think we have seen the last invasion by Soviet armed forces, in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It is a great pity it had to happen and the Western world had to let it happen, but it did.
This means that a confrontation with strategic nuclear weapons is a nonstarter, and probably a confrontation with tactical nuclear weapons is a nonstarter also. That is to be hoped, because nobody wants a conflict on that scale, with all its consequences. But, having said that, this changes the whole strategic concept of the political power basis. It was only in Cuba that we saw a manifestation of the effect of nuclear forces, which forced the Russians back across the Atlantic. They were prepared at that time to try it on and install in Cuba intermediate ballistic missiles. They were met head on, not entirely by the political will of President Kennedy but by the political will of Dean Acheson, who was advising Kennedy. That was where the political will was, and as a result the Russians went home.
I believe that that was the last major confrontation we shall see in this part of the world. I do not know what will happen in the Far East. But the Vietnam war has clearly demonstrated that, unless the political will of the people is committed to any operation, the military will will not succeed. That is what was lacking in the whole Vietnam operation in the Far East.
In the new situation which we face, diplomats go back and forth, visiting China and the Soviet Union, and a new atmosphere is being created. We have not entered upon economic, political and diplomatic warfare. At this moment in history, the Americans can put the screw on the Russians to a great extent, but they are refusing to do so. Russia has had two terribly bad harvests, and the odds are that the next spring harvest will not materialise. Yet the Americans are prepared to sell from their strategic reserve wheat pile enough wheat to keep the Soviet Union going. The atmosphere is completely changed. This is what 1589 gives people a little hope that, having moved away from warlike confrontation, we are now in the era of economic and political confrontation.
The same is happening in China. We have a firm £200 million order, I believe, if we are prepared to undertake it, for jet aircraft for China. For strategic reasons, perhaps, we are not prepared to undertake it, or perhaps, because it is a new aircraft and so secret, people do not want to put it in any other nation's stock. But China is a long way from Great Britain, and we know that, in diplomatic terms, if we want to take the weight of Russia off our back we had better put the weight somewhere else. There are 1 million Russian troops standing along the western border of China, and China is concerned about it.
One principle has been proved in my experience, a principle which we must keep in mind as Western democrats. Aneurin Bevan stated it years ago in this Chamber, in what was probably the best speech he ever made. Communism, he said, cannot and will not succeed in any society which has a modern engineering-based civilisation. It has succeeded so far in the Soviet Union, and it will succeed in China for a time, but not for long in either of those civilisations. If we proceed on that basis, we can create a new atmosphere in diplomatic considerations.
Despite the failings of NATO—and they are manifest—NATO is the institution which we must keep in being and in which we must put our trust. I do not know what the future of NATO will be in Europe. I can understand the annoyance felt by this country, and probably by Western Germany, towards the French, but I think it probable that the French, with their brand of political philosophy, had thought the matter out more quickly than we did. They deliberately took out of NATO their entire contribution, naval, military and air, and they let other people, mainly ourselves, take care of the defence of Europe and carry the can to a great extent. We did it, to our great economic cost. I do not think that if France gets a nuclear weapon she will want to share it with anybody else. I do not think that a united nuclear weapon is on. I do not think that the Americans want France to have a nuclear weapon.
1590 My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and I have discussed this in WEU. The fewer fingers there are on the instrument, the better. The impetus must be through the chancellories and through economic, political and diplomatic channels. With the realisation that there is nuclear polarisation there is a balance of mutual terror, and within that balance nations live according to their own systems, hoping that their systems will triumph over all others. I have no doubt about the benefits of a Western world, with its free thought, culture, the exercise of a free conscience, and its higher living standards, which I am sure will triumph in the end. But we have a long way to go before we achieve that.
The remarkable thing is that the thinkers in the White House in Washington have learned to appreciate the problem. Had they not, why would they have their strategic wheat reserves available for the benefit of the Russian peasants? They could have let them starve. It was on, but they just did not do that. India had bought the Canadian wheat. All the Australian wheat stocks had gone to China. America was the only possible source of supply for Russia, and she responded. That tells me that something is unfolding which we should push along, and the sooner we push it along the better.
Now that my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington has taken on his new job of Shadow Defence Secretary, I promise not to intervene again in defence debates. For personal reasons, I have decided to put defence matters behind me. I have enough trouble without them. But I ask my right hon. Friend to believe that when I intervened it was for the best of reasons. I know quite a lot about scientific industry, having been employed in it, and how difficult it is to replace men once they are dispersed. That is what he was thinking about. That is why the Government had to support Rolls-Royce. They could not do otherwise. Most of the scientific and technical staff are in that industry. There are some things that one just has to do.
If, from now on, we are to proceed on the political and the strategic fronts in the way that has been outlined, I am prepared to say that I shall be very friendly towards China, for obvious 1591 political and diplomatic reasons. If we do that, we shall begin to turn the table the way that we want it to go.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
It is not for me to criticise decisions of the Chair. A sentence of death, just like the five-minute spot, concentrates the mind marvellously, and this is the second year running that I have been in this curious position.
I have one comment to make to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). I was in China last year. I think that it would be wrong to assume that because there is undoubted tension between China and Russia, therefore Russia of necessity will reduce her forces or her interests in Western Europe.
Having said that, I should like to come back to the debate which I confess I have found rather extraordinary. The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart)—he is not here now, but he was a moment ago—moved the Opposition amendment, but said nothing about its contents. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) seemed to want to reverse what I thought had been the whole drift of defence policy over the last 25 years. Indeed, he would encourage us in Britain to increase our conventional forces, which I should have thought was an extraordinary thing to suggest in the face of the preponderance of conventional forces possessed by the Warsaw Pact countries. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), of whom I expected a great deal, has disappeared.
It is inevitable that Oppositions concentrate on cost when they look at defence White Papers. It is fair to say that the two problems of cost and disarmament are the problems which face Western Europe and the United States of America. However, it would be wrong to take disarmament too far, in the sense that right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition expect, perhaps, too much from détente in Europe.
We shall be moving into a difficult period for disarmament, because there are a number of technical reasons which will make that process increasingly difficult in the future. We shall be looking not so much at the quantity of armed 1592 forces and weaponry but at the quality. Even observation by satellite, though it can ascertain quantity, cannot ascertain quality. We are moving into a period when we shall have nuclear devices with what I would call multifarious heads, so the question is really one of the quality of the weapons, not so much the quantity. Obviously, on-site inspection will be resisted by the Russians. This is yet another difficulty in the way of what one would consider a complete and satisfactory disarmament process.
As regards the cost, we all know that there is a complete distinction between the position of the Warsaw Pact countries and our position. They spend their money on weaponry. We are forced to spend our money on the wages of men employed. A regular force such as we possess is more expensive than a conscript force, the sort of force employed by the Warsaw Pact countries. In Britain we are still faced with the question of attracting men and women into the forces and, perhaps even more important, of retaining them.
I see no possibility of the defence of this country getting cheaper in the future. It will become increasingly expensive if we are to maintain the sort of regular forces which we maintain at present. To take any other attitude would be over-optimistic and far too hopeful.
A number of my hon. Friends have mentioned the successor to Polaris. Whether or not that be Poseidon, it will clearly cost more. Obviously Governments hesitate to spend money on defence when there are many other things on which they can spend money which are more attractive and, if I may say so cynically, of more electoral advantage. Patently defence is not a subject which interests the public at present. They see on one side the all-too-real situation in Northern Ireland, and they look to Europe and see a situation which I do not think that they appreciate or understand.
The deterrence war is difficult to understand. It becomes unreal in the public mind. Nevertheless, we have a duty to make plain to the public the position of our defence forces and to advertise the tasks which they undertake.
We make a mistake in a debate such as this to concentrate entirely on the 1593 question of costs, as if our Armed Forces were a body of men who take State money and perform certain functions. It is not as simple as that. They perform arduous tasks, they make considerable sacrifices and they are subject to disciplines which do not affect the ordinary member of the public. It is very easy, by loose words in this Chamber to discourage members of the Armed Forces. It is equally difficult to make up the ground which we thereby lose.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I am truly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) for allowing me to intrude upon his Front Bench time in the debate. I have promised him that I shall not take more than five minutes. Looking through the 1973 Statement on the Defence Estimates I am intrigued to know why we do not have more mention about the underwriting of the position of Gibraltar. The people of Gibraltar, many of whom are members of my union, the Transport and General Workers' Union, depend a great deal on the dockyard and the Royal Navy.
Confronted as they are by a Fascist regime in the north and a feudal regime in the south, the presence of the Royal Navy, the RAF Hunters and the infantry battalion is very comforting. I hope that in replying the Minister will be able to say something consoling and comforting to the people of Gibraltar.
The other point I wish to raise arises from paragraph 29 of the Estimates dealing with the rationalisation of the Ministry's research and development establishments. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and myself have today seen deputations from the Signals Research and Development Establishment at Christchurch and from the staff and trade union side at Pershore. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd has also seen these deputations. I speak not as a constituency Member but as a member of a trade union which has many members in these establishments.
Their case is not that they want to pit Pershore against Farnborough or Christchurch against Pershore. Broadly speaking I feel that the phasing-out should be 1594 slowed down. If we look at the situation in the Worcestershire area it will be found that the unemployment figure there has been something like 7.8 per cent. compared with the national average of 6.9 per cent. In the Pershore establishment there are something like 500 staff, and to transfer 60 "mobiles" as they are called and 187 "industrials" to Farnborough would be much more expensive than the Department has forecast.
§ Mr. Wilkinson rose—
§ Mr. Huckfield
I cannot give way. What estimate has the Department made of the hidden cost of this move, the cost of providing additional houses at Farnborough and additional schooling facilities? I hope that there has been a thorough-going investigation of the true and hidden costs of such a move.
What estimates have been made of the increased flying congestion in the Farnborough area? Irrespective of whether we build Maplin the increased congestion in the Farnborough area, from the projections of civil air traffic growth produced by the Civil Aviation Authority, leads me to conclude that night flying will have to be extended at Farnborough.
Perhaps the most worrying thing, and I have no wish to pit establishments against one another, is that if more work is transferred from Pershore to Farnborough, the latter will then have to be put out to private enterprise contract. How much more would go to private industry because of this? The real worry is that because Farnborough will be even more overloaded, much more work will have to go to private enterprise.
I do not want to pick on any establishment. I only want to stress the concern of those at Christchurch, Baldock, Per-shore and Malvern. I want to stress the concern of those people, their wives and families. They want a job, and I hope that the Department will look again at the question of rationalisation. Please slow the thing down, please guarantee the continued employment of these people.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I willingly gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huck-field) because I knew of the points he wished to raise. I have had an opportunity of discussing his latter point with the men who came up from the establishment. One of the points they made, and it is unfortunately all too common in industrial relations nowadays, was that the consultation they were promised was more illusory than real. They feel that a case has not been made out to their satisfaction. We shall return to this subject when we debate the individual Services, so that the men concerned may feel that they have had justice, which is one of the functions of this House.
Almost every debate on the Services is inevitably a mixture of the general, the strategic and the particular. We have certainly talked a great deal about strategy. It is also an occasion for an amplification of points which are never made in the White Paper. Like so many before it, the White Paper is unsatisfactory in parts. What was far more unsatisfactory—although in view of the injunction of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) I make this point as uncontentiously as possible—was the complete absence of a defence of the White Paper by the Minister of State.
Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman might have believed we are debating not our amendment but the White Paper. For him to have spent so little time on the White Paper and so much time on our amendment reveals the paucity of information at his disposal. He made the point that we were divided on defence. I do not think he would have made that statement had he known the sort of speeches that were about to be made by his hon. Friends. But let us concede that defence divides the parties: it is a division not only between parties but within them, and the sooner we recognise that fact the better.
Following the speech of the Minister of State and that of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) there were speeches from the Conservative benches by, among others, the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell) and the 1596 hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), each of whom made fundamental criticisms of their own Front Bench. Another Conservative Member mentioned the policy on aircraft carriers. He may be right or wrong, but he certainly regarded the Government's policy as fundamentally wrong in keeping one aircraft carrier in isolation. If that proves anything, it proves that the Government side of the House, as well as the Opposition side, can be too sanguine about the divisions among its own ranks as well as about the divisions between hon. Members on this side of the House.
The underlying theme of the Defence White Paper—a document which envisages projected expenditure of £3,365 million—is the whole bearing of finance and whether too much is being spent on defence or whether, as some Conservative Members have argued, not enough is being spent. If the debate has shown anything, it is that the Minister did not do the country a service when he sought to suggest that we should not discuss this sort of finance and that somehow there was something disreputable in seeking to do so. But one of the tradtional functions of Parliament is the capacity to scrutinise, to check and, if necessary, to criticise. I believe that those of my hon. Friends who have said that too much money is being spent on defence—and I include my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun)—and also those who have said that too little is being spent have provided a valuable service to the country in bringing their views forward.
It is possible to make a case on merits for the increase both in money terms and in real terms for the Defence White Paper. I do not propose to swop quotations with the Minister, but he well knows that in the past he and his hon. Friends have said that defence expenditure could not he divorced from the current economic climate. It is not good enough to keep the legend on the defence budget down to only 13 lines. That is not my idea of the sort of advocacy that should be adopted in explaining an increase of 5.6 per cent. If a case is made for this expenditure, and if the Government believe in it, the House has a right to know the facts and to hear how they are defended. 1597 Both the inadequate legend and the extreme vagueness of Table 1 do not perform a proper service. There has been a 5.6 rise in real terms over the 1972–73 Estimate and we are entitled to ask in detail about the factors which have caused this increase. Although the Minister mentioned some of those factors, he did not go into sufficient detail. There has been an addition of ¼ per cent. of the GNP, and as recently as 23rd February 1972 the Minister spoke of 5½ per cent. as being the fair figure.
In trying to play the expenditure game the Minister has been less than fair. The Secretary of State for Defence has on a number of occasions said that our expenditure as a proportion of GNP was very much larger than defence expenditure in other European countries. Indeed, he said this in a debate only last year.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
It is true that the proportion of GNP devoted to defence is greater in this country, but the proportion per capita is smaller On a per capita basis, we spend the same as Holland, less than Norway and a great deal less than either Germany or France.*
§ Mr. John
Accepting the Minister's figure, and taking it as a proportion of GNP, I must tell him that many of us believe that the first line of defence in any country, and certainly in this country, is a just and compassionate society. Therefore, if excessive expenditure distorts that vision and is likely to damage the cause which we seek to defend, it is the proportion of GNP which is important and must he examined.
I should like to ask the Minister a number of questions. Will he give a breakdown of the figure of £49 million in Table 1? Will he say how much of that has been allocated to peace-keeping operations in Northern Ireland and how much to "Improved recruiting"? The noble Lord in another place said that £28 million of that was to be so allocated.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Peter Blaker)
That is correct—£28 million is the right figure.
§ Mr. John
If that is so, I should like to ask about the increase represented by the other £21 million. The other figure
*See column 43, 19th March 1973.
1598 is mentioned under the heading "Improved recruiting". We have seen the figures and we note that there is a decline in two out of the three Services. In terms of the Royal Air Force it is a deliberate decline, but the decline in the Army is accidental and apparently outside Government control. What does the improved recruiting concept represent in this context? Does it mean improved terms and conditions, enhanced rates of pay, or what?
I wish to refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) concerning the placing of the cruiser order. I should like the Minister to be more specific about the item relating to regional aids. A figure it mentioned has been given and I should like to know whether it merely adjusts for inflation, whether it gives extra projects to the regions, if so where they are allocated, how many of them there are, how many jobs they will create and over what period the employment will be secured. These are in no sense hostile questions but are matters on which the House is entitled to answers. It is the sort of information singularly lacking in the Minister's opening remarks.
There is another aspect of expenditure upon which the Minister placed too little weight. The vital difference between Germany and Britain concerning defence is that in net terms Britain's defence expenditure, since forces are stationed abroad, causes a strain on the balance of payments. The figures are shown in both gross and net forms. I hope that the Minister will give an indication of how he sees the future as regards the cost of maintaining our forces in friendly countries.
One factor that we all understand is the mounting cost of our operation in Northern Ireland. None of us grudges the payment of extra money to maintain the forces there but we deplore the senseless barbarity which causes this to be necessary. We deplore the regular loss of British lives in that part of the British Isles. Our soldiers have conducted themselves magnificently in the most difficult conditions that can be imagined for a modern army. I believe that the strain of doing so is enormous for them.
As one hon. Member has said, the cost of being separated from one's patrol in 1599 Northern Ireland is not necessarily a "rocket" from the commanding officer, but a terrifying death. I believe that our young men out there in those conditions deserve the highest commendation from us. Unfortunately, as is the way of life, in many instances death in Northern Ireland no longer makes front page news but as reported appears on later pages.
The message that I hope our forces will take from this debate is that although they may have slipped in news value, they have not slipped in the genuine admiration of this House for their dignity and courage, nor has our sympathy for the dependents lessened in any way. They are doing what is primarily a temporary job because of the need to find a political solution. I heard one of my hon. Friends and at least two hon. Members on the Government side express views of the situation which were a negation of the Government's point of view. We all hope that the White Paper may give rise to an era of more friendly cooperation and more normal proceedings between the communities. That must be our earnest hope and also that of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has worked so hard to that end, and of all those of us in the House who have given him unstinted support.
But to say, as some Members have done, that the answer to the problem is to out-terrorise the terrorists, to prove our greater virility by taking our hostages and shooting them, is something I can only fundamentally repudiate from this Front Bench. Not only is it abhorrent and uncivilised but it is self-defeating. If we fight a community and we impose communal punishment, as was advocated, we punish the community. Since, according to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), a community cannot be coerced, we are creating the very situation that makes the problem intractable. Therefore the suggestion is self-defeating. I say to the troops in Northern Ireland, on behalf of the Opposition, that they have our unfeigned admiration. The situation in Northern Ireland and elsewhere creates a problem which I touch upon only briefly because time will not permit a more thorough examination.
I hope that the incident of last Thursday was an isolated one but it strikes a 1600 chord which has been struck in this country about the government of the country. I hope that the Government will get clear at this stage that it is for politicians to make the political judgments about the use of forces and about the nature of threats. I say that because of a book which is much commended and has been highly publicised in the last year which seems to transgress the line between political judgments by the forces and military judgments. I hope, therefore, that we can be reassured that this point is firmly understood by the Government and that they have no desire, as we have no desire, to see the political soldiers free in this land again.
I should like to deal with another matter which touches on two points which have been made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton. I refer to the problem posed by Northern Ireland postings of men who have families in Germany. I read in the Defence Estimates that there is to be an increase in hirings of one-third by the end of 1973–74. They will have almost doubled since 1971–72.
I had always understood that both sides of the House accepted that hirings were both an expensive and unsatisfactory way of providing accommodation. We have heard of hirings being found many miles away from the base where Servicemen are operating and of young wives and families being left in a foreign land friendless and bewildered. It is therefore somewhat to my surprise that I see no reference in the Defence Estimates to the work of the Housing Commandant Association, which was mentioned in the 1971 Estimates as having been set up, which was designed to help the families of Servicemen separated by the exigencies of the Service. I hope that the Minister will give us some information about how that association is now working, how it is staffed and whether, in view of the increase in lettings, it will be applied to Germany as well as to this country. We now know that Servicemen leave their families in Germany when they serve in Northern Ireland. It is a good argument for the association to be involved with families in this country. I hope that the Government will mention it.
1601 I hope too that the ex-gratia payments, which are very welcome, for the relatives of the deceased and badly injured in Northern Ireland will be further expanded during the debate. Naturally we welcome sums which, at £500 and £400 per annum, seem generous. All we ask is that the fact that they are ex-gratia payments does not mean that the recipients will be less favourably treated than those who come within the new pension scheme and will receive that sort of payment as of right. If we can have that assurance, I believe that the whole House will welcome the Government's initiative and generosity.
The Government rightly start their White Paper by stressing the difficulties of recruitment as a result mainly of the raising of the school leaving age. I believe that that caution is more than merited by the facts which have emerged during the last year. I know that the Royal Air Force has deliberately restricted its intake. Therefore, the reduction in recruiting drop in that Service is deliberate.
That is not true of the Army. I hope that the Government are not being complacent at what they might take to be the comparatively low percentage fall in recruitment for the Army. I ask them to look carefully at the figures. They show an overall drop of 13 per cent., but a 27 per cent. drop in adults and a 19 per cent. drop in young soldiers. The wastage rate among young soldiers, particularly among the youngest soldiers, means that the increase of 23 per cent. for apprentices and 10 per cent. for other juniors may make the figures not as good as they appear. The "Donaldson option" wastage rates in the Army are 34 per cent. in 1971 and a projected 34 per cent. for 1972.
I do not know whether those figures are yet definite, but they are certainly high and the investigation currently being carried out is thoroughly merited. I should like to know in what way this investigation will be carried out and when we may expect its results. If the school leaving age is to impose another problem on Army recruiting, this investigation into wastage assumes critical importance.
Put crudely, only a comparatively small fraction of the community is initially attracted to Service life. The majority of young men are not so attracted. It is vital therefore that we retain in the Ser 1602 vice all those who have that initial attraction for it. We cannot afford the loss of partially- or perhaps highly-trained soldiers. A wastage rate of 34 per cent. is certainly not satisfactory.
I am glad to see that the Nugent Committee on Defence Lands is expected to report soon. Having dealt with 500,000 acres, its task has been a mammoth one. It is now to release all those acres which are surplus to our Service requirements. I appeal to the Government that, if at all possible, that land should be kept in Government control, so that it can be developed in a balanced way to match both our housing needs and our environmental and amenity needs. I believe that public ownership of this land would produce a much better result. The claims of the former owners are now becoming very attenuated with the passage of time. As an absolute minimum, however, the Government should secure that the public has an undisputed right of access to that land, much of which is of outstanding natural beauty.
So we face the year 1973–74 with this twin problem. We must remain vigilant about the question of costs while at the same time, as our amendment says, not stinting our admiration or our reward for the high skill and competence of our forces. We believe that to increase expenditure at the expense of the economic and social base of this country might be a distorting factor which will lead our defences to be weakened in the long run.
We think that it is through co-operation in NATO and with matching contributions by our allies that we should seek to defend ourselves. We reject the views of those hon. Members opposite who believe that by unilaterally spending greater proportions of our GNP we would somehow secure stability. We shall never secure stability alone, but only in concert with our NATO allies. But we are proud of the quality and the professional skills of our forces, and their pay must be commensurate with that skill. The quality and the courage of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force is the admiration of all and the envy of many.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Peter Blaker)
This has been an interesting debate, characterised by many questions 1603 raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, not least by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who faced me with a veritable barrage at the very last moment. I fear that I shall not be able to answer all the questions because of the limits of time, but I will do my best to answer as many as I can. Others will no doubt be dealt with by my right hon. Friends on Monday, and we have the single Service debates still to come.
I can immediately answer two of the questions of the hon. Member for Pontypridd. He seemed to find it puzzling that we were planning to spend some £20 million more, mainly attributable to improved recruiting, when the recruiting figures had dropped off. The key factor which the hon. Gentleman has omitted to take into account is that when a recruit is taken on, he stays in. Therefore, he has to be paid not only for the year in which he is recruited but for subsequent years. The hon. Gentleman will find, if he looks at them, that the figures for the total size of the Army are higher than the year before.
The item dealing with regional aid has nothing to do with inflation. It is the consequence of the bringing forward of the shipbuilding programme, which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State quite a long time ago. It will benefit such places as Tyneside, the Clyde, Wallsend, and other places. There is also to be considered the building of the extra Nimrods and Buccaneers.
I welcomed the speech by the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). I welcome his tribute to the forces in Northern Ireland, as I did the tribute which was paid to them by the hon. Member for Pontypridd. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's support for NATO and his remarks that we should not be complacent. I welcome his remarks on the negotiations with the Warsaw bloc which he said should be based on a position of strength. What I found most interesting about his speech was that he did not say anything about the Opposition's amendment.
§ Mr. Peart
I hope that what I did say about the amendment will not be misinterpreted or forgotten. I spoke about inflation and the cost worry. I quoted the White Paper. It is not true to say that I did not deal with the 1604 amendment. Mentioned in the amendment are matters such as Northern Ireland, about which I spoke.
§ Mr. Blaker
That is an interesting intervention. The right hon. Gentleman says that the only parts of the amendment with which he dealt were inflation and Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Blaker
I listened carefully and I was anxious to know whether the right hon. Gentleman supported the Opposition's amendment. I confess to the House that at the end of his speech I was in as much doubt as I had been at the beginning. Nor did I hear very much about the amendment from the hon. Member for Pontypridd.
Every hon. Member who has spoken about Northern Ireland has rightly paid tribute to our security forces. I, too, with my responsibility for the Army, should like to add my word to what has been said. Many hon. Members have visited the forces in Northern Ireland. I find that it is a remarkable and humbling experience. They are living and operating in difficult conditions, although the conditions are better than they were a year ago. They have to undertake difficult duties. They work long and irregular hours at all times of the day and night. They work in dangerous conditions and in a situation which they must often regard as one of complete unreason. However, to their great credit, they know that they have a job that must be done, and they do it with skill, discipline, courage and, above all, self-control. There is no other Army in the world which could do such a job as well as our Army.
I remind the House that the security forces include not only the regular Army but the Ulster Defence Regiment. I shall not say a great deal about the UDR because we had a useful debate on the subject not long ago. It is easy for those of us who spend most of our time on this side of the Irish Sea to take for granted the activities of the UDR. That is largely because their activities are, generally speaking, although essential, unspectacular, conducting checks on hundreds of thousands of vehicles each month, guarding key points, patrolling in dark lanes of the countryside where they know that so many of their colleagues have been killed in similar conditions.
1605 I want to emphasise two aspects of the work of the security forces. One of their tasks is that of responding to and countering violence from whatever quarter. The Army is there to uphold the rule of law and not to differentiate between any religious or political groups—and that is one of the answers to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who unfortunately is not in his place. The security forces differentiate only between those who obey the law and those who break it. In the heated atmosphere of Northern Ireland, perhaps the clearest indication of the Army's impartiality is that it has been criticised and accused of bias by both sides.
I illustrate one aspect of its impartiality by quoting the figures for arms finds. During January and February, 117 firearms were seized in predominantly Catholic areas and 79 in predominantly Protestant areas, while nearly 7,000 rounds of ammunition were found in predominantly Catholic areas and 7,300 rounds in predominantly Protestant areas.
Secondly, I want to emphasise the Army's success from Operation Motorman last July until the end of last week. Arms finds have included 435 rifles, 353 pistols, 39 automatic weapons, more than 114,000 rounds of ammunition, more than 75,000 pounds of explosives, four rocket launchers, five rockets, three mortars and 14 mortar bombs. Although, regrettably, casualties both of the regular Army and the UDR continue, there are clear signs that we have been getting on top of the gunmen.
§ Mr. McMaster
I do not think my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I spoke. Will he not admit that, of the 228 members of the Army and police who have been killed in Northern Ireland, 226 have been killed by the IRA, which has announced each day following a death that it was responsible? Is it not the case that only two of those killed died as a result of other action? Will my hon. Friend now abandon the fiction that the Army is keeping the peace between two warring groups? It is one group and one only that has killed over 99 per cent. of the soldiers and police killed, and admits that it has.
§ Mr. Blaker
I cannot vouch for my hon. Friend's figures but I repeat that the Army is there to see that the law is respected. I have just mentioned some of 1606 the figures of the Army's finds from both religious areas, and I think that is the answer to my hon. Friend.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
My lion. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) has given remarkable statistics. Would my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State or his colleagues deny or confirm the figures which have been suggested?
§ Mr. Blaker
I cannot confirm or deny the figures off the cuff. I do not deny that the majority of the deaths have been caused by the IRA. Of course one cannot in the nature of things confirm who was responsible for a lot of the killings. One simply cannot answer the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles).
I say this about the Army in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to find the words to express one's admiration for all that the troops are doing there, but I want to tell the House of some words spoken recently by the former Agent-General of New South Wales, who had spent a few days in Northern Ireland. He told me personally about his amazement at the great control with which our troops behaved despite danger and the constant provocation to which they are subjected. In a public speech he said,The Army may well have done a better job in such peculiar, bewildering and hateful circumstances, but if so history does not record it. They are carrying out an unpleasant task and thankless duty with a discipline and compassion that I am astonished and proud to have seen.I could not put it better than that.
The House will agree that we owe it to our soldiers to make sure that the conditions they are living in are as tolerable as we can make them. We cannot do everything that we would like, largely for operational reasons. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Workington spoke of some of the improvements in accommodation which we have managed to achieve in the last year. A good deal has been achieved also with regard to the conditions of service. A number of measures are mentioned in the White Paper. Since then we have introduced special leave flights from Northern Ireland to Germany 1607 by RAF aircraft, more coin-operated telephone boxes—bringing the total to 183—an allowance of 26p per week for telephone calls to BAOR, more television sets and more live entertainment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), in a very interesting speech, in which he devoted much time to the problem of the burden on the Regular forces involved in Northern Ireland, made a number of suggestions. He suggested that the objective should be a 12 months' interval between tours. I very much welcome that aim, but we have to be realistic and we have to give priority to meeting the needs of security as they are from time to time. My hon. Friend mentioned the Irish regiments. They are taking their share of unaccompanied service in the Army as a whole and in that way are helping in the problem of finding units for emergency tours.
We do not use those regiments in Northern Ireland, and perhaps I could briefly mention the reasons for that. It may not be generally known that Irish regiments have not been stationed in Northern Ireland since 1933 except for training, staging or ceremonial duties, and, as we know, they have, happily, not been caught out in the sectarian bitterness which is such a tragic feature of the situation. Despite the need to spread the load, we are quite sure that it would not be right to deploy them during the current emergency in Northern Ireland for reasons which I believe will be apparent to the House. I am not making a sectarian point. All Irish regiments are recruited from both religious groups in the community.
It has been argued that we need more UDR. I do not disagree, but the present strength of the UDR is still somewhat below our 10,000 target. I hope that we can get up to that level. We have not got there yet, but this is not for want of a desire to have extra members. My hon. Friend also mentioned a permanent element for the UDR. We have looked into this question a number of times. Perhaps it is not generally known that within the UDR there are a number of full-time posts for permanent staff for administrative duties, which relieve part-time members for other duties, including The guarding of the UDR armouries. 1608 There is room in the regiment for more people to join for such duties. But as for a full-time operational element, which is probably what my hon. Friend had in mind, not only would legislation be needed but its creation would not lead to a reduction in Regular force levels in Northern Ireland, which I believe was the point he had in mind.
With regard to the TAVR, he mentioned something about changing its conditions of service so that it could be of benefit in a Northern Ireland context. In fact, it has a role in the Army's order of battle as reinforcements for the Regular Army. That is the role which was specifically given to it by Parliament. The task of supporting the Regular Army in Northern Ireland has been given by Parliament to the UDR, and its terms of service, its recruitment, training and location are fitted for that task, and it is possible, according to a scheme which the Government introduced in 1971, for members of the TAVR, as individuals or groups, to transfer to the UDR with reserve rights to return to the TAVR in due course. The opportunity is there for members of the TAVR who wish to take it, and I should be glad if more of them were to do so.
I was asked about redundancies at the research and development establishments. The right hon. Gentleman raised this point in his speech, and I should like to give an answer on this important subject. In reply to the hon. Member for Ponty-pridd, I might say that consultation over this matter was extremely careful and thorough. The facts are that some 2,000 staff would be affected by the moves. Between 700 and 800 of these are mobile staff who would be offered employment at other research and development establishments. The remaining 1,300 are non-mobile but, if suitable and if they chose to move, many would be able to remain on our pay roll since the rationalisation would create nearly 900 new jobs in other establishments. For those who did not choose to move—and I accept that many older employees would be in this category—we should endeavour to find them employment in conjunction with other Government Departments some of which are substantial employers of labour in the areas affected.
During the three to five years which the process of deployment will occupy 1609 normal staff wastage will help reduce the size of the redundancy problem. Overall there will be some reduction in job opportunities. The object of the operation is to enable us to do the same job absorbing fewer resources.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield
May I press the hon. Gentleman on this point? What research is his Department doing into the hidden costs of these moves in terms of people having to find other houses, of the cost of additional schools and so on?
§ Mr. Blaker
The staff associations have brought up a range of matters like that, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that they have been examined very carefully. I am confident that by careful planning we can reduce the redundancy problem to manageable proportions.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton asked about television for our forces in Germany. We should very much like to be able to introduce such a service as soon as possible. We recognise the factors which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned. It has been on our list of outstanding improvements in conditions of service for some time. But it would be a major project presenting considerable technical problems. I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman's rough estimate of cost of under £1 million was pretty optimistic, according to studies that I have seen.
The present position is that studies are being undertaken to see whether a project is feasible. We are thinking in terms at the moment of a live project. The results are not yet available. I ought to add that even if the technical problems could be solved we should need to consider how the cost could be accommodated within limited financial resources likely to be available.
§ Mr. John Morris
This matter has been canvassed on and off for some years. May we have an assurance that in next year's White Paper there will be a definitive statement analysing the situation and saying what the Government intend to do about it?
§ Mr. Blaker
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I regard this as one of the most important problems on my desk at the moment and that I propose to push ahead with it with all possible vigour.
1610 I am afraid that I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) about the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. However, it has been reported to me. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend meant what he said.
§ Mr. Blaker
Perhaps I may leave the hon. Gentleman, if he is not satisfied, to pursue the matter further with my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Navy, who will be ready to deal with it on Wednesday.
§ Mr. Johnson
May I have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will mention it on Monday evening, assuming that he intends to intervene in the debate?
§ Mr. Blaker
The hon. Gentleman's remarks will certainly be drawn to the attention of the Minister who is winding up the debate.
I turn to the Opposition amendment.
§ Sir G. de Freitas
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the questions that were put both last year and this year from both the Front Bench and from here about what the Prime Minister means to do about the British nuclear deterrent?
§ Mr. Blaker
I will not deal with that question now for reasons of time, but I will ask that those remarks be carefully looked at by my right hon. Friend on Monday.
§ Mr. Garrett rose—
I am not giving way any more. I think I have given way five times, and I must have some time to deal with the Opposition amendment, even if the Opposition do not want to hear about it, which is the clear impression I have had throughout the day. [An HON. MEMBER: "We want a whole speech on it."] If the Opposition put down an amendment, one assumes that it is meant to be taken seriously.
§ Mr. Blaker
I will not give way. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be very shy about the whole thing. I am not clear 1611 whether there has been one speech in favour of it, but at any rate it has been moved, although the right hon. Gentleman almost forgot to move it.
§ Mr. Peart
I hope Ministers will not be childish now. I think it is a really deplorable attitude. We have tried to put our case and I hope I put it sensibly, but we need answers to our questions. If there is to be a reply on Monday, well and good, but my right hon. Friend did press this matter a year ago.
§ Mr. Blaker
That may well be, but I have answered a good many questions and I have just replied to the right hon. Gentleman's intervention.
Turning, if I may, to the amendment, what is the purpose of putting down such an amendment? The Opposition amendment calls for urgent action to reduce our defence spending by a very substantial sum. It is a pretty ambiguously worded amendment, but it has been made perfectly clear by the acting leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun)—
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you give us some advice on the procedural situation regarding the amendment put down by the Opposition? I understood that this was a two-day debate and that the amendment would be dealt with properly from the Front Bench at the end of the debate, thus giving the opportunity for hon. Members on this side to have their questions answered by the Government Front Bench spokesman.
§ Mr. Speaker
I can give the hon. Gentleman my advice at once. That is not a point of older. It has nothing to do with the Chair.
§ Mr. Blaker
Everything indicates how embarrassed hon. Gentlemen are about this whole question, but it is clear, as interpreted by the author of this line of thinking—the hon. Member for Salford, East—that it calls for a very substantial cut in defence spending. It also refers to the European Security Conference. There is nothing wrong with the European Security Conference. Indeed, my hon. Friend who opened the debate has made it clear that we on this side of the House welcome moves towards détente, 1612 as hon. Members opposite have declared they do. We welcome the success of Herr Brandt's Ostpolitik. We welcome the SALT negotiations. We are taking part in the negotiations for the MBFR talks and the Conference on Security in Europe, and we shall play an equally full part in the conferences themselves in the hope that something of benefit will come from them for the peace and stability of Europe. We have as a party a noble record in the field of arms control and, as one who was a member of our delegation to the signing of the nuclear test ban treaty, I pledge my own support for the soundly based principles of disarmament and arms control.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell) referred to détente as a Trojan horse. It depends very much on the state of mind and the standards with which one approaches such measures. The important thing is to approach them in a firm state of mind, not a flabby state of mind. The way to prepare for negotiations with the Russians is certainly not by way of an amendment of the kind put down by the Opposition, because what that amendment calls for is not mutual balanced force reductions but unilateral unbalanced force reductions. It calls on the British negotiators—
§ Mr. Blaker
It calls forurgent action within the Alliance to bring our defence spending into line with that of our European allies.It is perfectly clear from what has been said in other contexts and at the Labour Party conference what that means. [Hon. Members: "Rubbish."] It calls—
§ Mr. Blaker
—in the words used by a celebrated former Labour Minister, for the British negotiators to go naked into the conference chamber.
§ Mr. Blaker
If hon. Members will listen for a moment, I shall tell them what their amendment involves. If they are seeking to persuade the House that our expenditure on defence should be reduced to the 1613 European NATO average on a GNP basis, will they explain which items in our programme would be deleted to achieve the saving of £850 million which would be involved? Here are some figures. BAOR costs £354 million. NATO's fleet of destroyers and frigates costs £177 million. The RAF capability of strike, attack and reconnaissance costs £199 million. All those three together do not reach the figure required.
British cuts of that magnitude would of themselves leave serious holes in NATO's defences, and the effect of an example of that kind on the alliance would be positively catastrophic. We should be starting a landslide among our European allies which would destroy NATO's strategy of flexible response and leave us with no credible defence posture whatever. I remind the Opposition that the strategy of flexible response was worked out at a time when they were in power, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) played a notable part in working it out.
It should be made clear that we cannot go back. If the strategy of flexible response goes, as it inevitably would if the amendment were put into effect, nothing else is left. The tripwire strategy of John Foster Dulles no longer makes sense. We abandoned it for good reasons in 1968, because it had become incredible. Now, with effective nuclear parity between the super-Powers, any idea that the Americans would launch their strategic missiles in response to, say, a limited incursion into central Europe is ludicrous.
What effect would the right hon. Gentleman's amendment have in the United States Congress? Hon Members 1614 have referred to the pressures in Congress for a reduction in United States forces in Europe. What effect does the right hon. Gentleman think an amendment of this kind would have on American thinking?
§ Mr. Blaker
Successful negotiations with the Russians demand two qualities in particular, firmness and patience, and the amendment shows neither of these. In past years, we have negotiated important agreements with the Russians, but only by dint of long hard slogging and patient determination, a determination on the part of the West to stick to what really matters, and a refusal to lower our guard prematurely. The last lines of the amendment, referring to the European Security Conference, show that the Opposition have deluded themselves and are trying to delude the nation into thinking that early results are likely from the MBFR conference and the European Security Conference, and that further reductions in addition to those referred to elsewhere in the amendment are likely before long.
When he was Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East defended his Government against an amendment in similar terms, and he warned his hon. Friends that, once we cut defence—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.