§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Goodhew.]
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Ian Gilmour)
It is barely two months since the House last debated defence, and since then there have also been three separate debates on the Armed Services. The House will not be surprised, therefore, if I do not have much to announce this afternoon. My intention is to devote the first half of my speech to a general review of the background to our defence policy, and more particularly to the outlook for Europe. The second part will deal with a number of points raised in the earlier debates and with one or two more recent matters.
On the wider front perhaps the most significant event in recent weeks was Dr. Kissinger's speech on 23rd April when he elaborated the philosophy that lies behind President Nixon's avowed determination to make 1973 the Year of Europe.
The House will agree that Europe should respond positively to the theme of Dr. Kissinger's speech. There is a great temptation to wait on events and to adopt an ostrich-like attitude. But this cannot be right. On the other hand, it would be foolish and dangerous to be swept along at a great pace without regard to the proper interests of security. In matters so important to our national well-being we must proceed cautiously and deliberately. We must not let euphoria over the prospects of détente cloud our judgment or blind us to the underlying realities. The military might of the Warsaw Pact continues steadily to increase, the tentacles of the Russian Navy reach out further round the globe. Whatever words of peace and good will come out from the Kremlin we must not forget that an atmosphere of détente can 759 evaporate overnight and leave us once again faced with the stark facts of military capabilities. Obviously, I would not go to the absurd extreme of saying we should disregard entirely the declared intentions of other countries. But I do counsel caution.
I know that remarks like these lead this country to be characterised in Communist propaganda as the last of the cold-warriors. It is also claimed that we are following a deliberate policy of sabotaging the prospects for a European Security Conference and for talks on mutual and balanced force reductions.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who lived through the last war or experienced the chilling climate of the early 1950's would wish to see a further relaxation of tensions in Europe. The Government would also like to see force levels reduced in Europe, but only provided that it could be done without detriment to our security. Therein lies the difficulty. We must expect many months, perhaps years, of patient negotiation. We must expect to meet setbacks and accept that false success would be worse than failure. It would be quite fatal to anticipate the outcome of any talks on MBFR by reducing force levels unilaterally now. There was a robust recognition of this crucial point in President Nixon's recent foreign policy statement and in a speech by his Secretary of State, Mr. Rogers, when talking of United States force levels in Europe.
I can well understand the pressures that exist in the United States for a substantial withdrawal of troops from Europe, and I am not so sanguine as to take for granted that they will always be resisted. MBFR talks may yield the fruit of a reduction in force levels with no diminution in security. Let us hope so, but reductions should not anticipate an agreement.
In the meantime I believe that the European members of NATO must pay regard to legitimate American demands that Europe takes a fair share of the defence burden. We should not, however, lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming proportion of NATO's conventional forces are contributed by the European members. As President Nixon has pointed out, although the United States contri- 760 butes about a quarter of NATO's forces in the Central Region, the European proportion over the entire European NATO area is far higher, amounting to some 90 per cent. in the case of land forces, 80 per cent. of air forces and 75 per cent. of naval forces.
Moreover, we should also recognise, as I have been glad to see President Nixon recognises, that American forces are not in Europe to meet Europe's needs alone but also in pursuance of America's own strategic and national security interests.
I believe that our own record of contribution to NATO stands up very well. Indeed it will be within the recollection of the House that we have come under some criticism for this reason. Yet I do not believe that there is any serious dispute over a wide spread of opinion in the House that NATO remains the fundamental cornerstone of our security.
The Alliance is more than just the aggregate of forces assigned to it. It embodies political will in a unique way.
It is remarkable that 15 sovereign States should have remained joined together in a commitment to common defence through all the vicissitudes of the last two decades. NATO has been the major factor in keeping the peace in Europe. It is now perhaps threatened by its very success. We must all be very clear that no outcome of the proposed talks on European Security and on MBFR would be worth while if the process of negotiation led to deep divisions between allies. The maintenance of confidence is critical to NATO's well-being. The present happy situation of mutual trust did not arise by accident but by hard work, and we need to continue to work hard in the cause of confidence. This means full and meaningful consultation and frank speaking between allies.
The House will have noticed that Dr. Kissinger's speech included a call for NATO to work out a doctrine for the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Nevertheless much work has, of course, already been done in this area by the Nuclear Planning Group in which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) played such a notable part. As the House will know, the Nuclear Planning Group has drawn up provisional political guidelines for the initial tactical use of nuclear weapons and has since been engaged on a number of 761 further studies in this area. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State will be attending the 14th meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group in Ankara next week when Defence Ministers will continue their discussions of this general subject of the rôle of tactical nuclear weapons.
Some hon. Members may seek to link Dr. Kissinger's remarks on tactical nuclear weapons with the lead story in The Times on Monday which said that the Americans intend to deploy in Europe a new generation of what are inelegantly called "mini-nukes".
The United States has not in fact put such a proposal to the Alliance. I would expect that if it did so there would be full consultation through the Nuclear Planning Group of NATO which plays a key part in maintaining confidence within the Alliance. Ideas of smaller, cleaner weapons have been mooted in the Press and elsewhere for some considerable time. They raise many fascinating intellectual questions such as when is a nuclear weapon not a nuclear weapon? What system of political control should govern their use? What happens to the nuclear threshold? And so on.
In debating these questions, however, we must never forget that behind the intellectual fascination lie the security and well-being of millions of people.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that these questions are not merely fascinating but deadly and that any suggestion of the sort put forward in The Tunes—if there is any basis for it—should cause him to go further than talk about consultation and say that the Government will look askance at any such proposal and without any belief that it is likely to lead to something which could be accepted by anyone?
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
In view of the enormous importance of the whole subject of "mini-nukes", would it be reasonable to ask the Government for the undertaking that before there is any fatal conflict or any serious decision there should be a debate in the House in which we are given as much information as we ever have been given, if not 762 more? Does he take on board the fact that many of us who have been interested in defence for some years think that this alters many of the concepts to which we have been used?
§ Mr. Gilmour
The business of the House is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. There is no question of any immediate decision on this issue. This is a long-term matter. There is no plan for the whole strategy to be changed overnight.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I was present at the conference from which the story in The Times emanated. Will my hon. Friend accept my assurance that there was no such proposal put forward by the American Government? This was merely a matter that was discussed among many others.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information.
Continuing on the lines of the comments of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), we must remember that deterence is not just a nicely calculated question of more or less, but a reflection of the general will of the people to defend life and liberty. As Dr. Kissinger has said, when talking of trade negotiations, we must always remember that we must not just rely on technical judgments. This is a matter of political judgment being brought to bear at the highest level.
Returning to my main theme, I am much encouraged, as we enter the so-called era of negotiation, by the small but undoubted progress towards a European defence identity exemplified by the steady gain in the status and authority of the Eurogroup.
One of the more important and lasting of the Eurogroup's achievements will be the commitment that Defence Ministers have made that before embarking on any major equipment project the possibilities of a collaborative venture will first be fully explored. The House will know of the efforts being made by ourselves and the Germans to agree on a common future main battle tank. This involves making a major effort to agree on the operational requirement, which in turn means harmonising tactical doctrine. We shall, after all, fight the same war should deterrence fail. Here again we shall need much political will to succeed.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If we are talking about political will and a European defence identity would it not be the right moment to ask whether these are the concepts which are in the mind of the Ministry of Defence? Ought we not, if these phrases are meaningful and there is to be a European defence identity, to have some say on French nuclear testing? I ask this in all seriousness. If we have no influence here it is rather hypocritical to use phrases such as "European defence identity".
§ Mr. Gilmour
That is a subject to which hon. Members will probably return in their own speeches rather than in the context of mine. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have answered a number of questions on this point. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary answered questions yesterday, possibly from the hon. Gentleman, on this. I must give him the answer which I am sure he expects, that I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend has said.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman has already made one irrelevant interruption from a seated position and that is enough
§ Mr. Mendelson
What the Foreign Secretary said is within the recollection of the House. Many of us listened to him. If this is to be a defence debate, and the Secretary of State is unfortunately in another place—a state of affairs that ought to be brought to an end as quickly as possible—is there not an obligation on the Minister to give an answer to a perfectly serious question?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman eventually because I wanted to encourage him to make his interruption standing up rather than sniping at me from a seated position. I do not think that what he said has added to the debate. It has nothing to do with whether the Defence Secretary is in the House of Lords. The Defence Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have made our attitude abundantly plain. We have made our attitude plain in the United Nations and to the French Government. There is nothing to be added at the moment. If the hon. Gentleman goes on asking the same question he is bound to get the same answer.
A viable British defence industry is, in the Government's view, an indispensable element of national security, quite apart from the major contribution it makes to our export drive. I take a close personal interest in defence sales as does my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State. I am very pleased to announce that on 7th May a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under which British industry will be responsible for maintenance facilities for certain aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force and for the associated training.
The work in Saudi Arabia will be undertaken by the British Aircraft Corporation under a contract from the British Government. It is envisaged that the Royal Saudi Air Force will progressively take over the work from the British Aircraft Corporation as trained personnel become available in sufficient numbers. The arrangement is a follow-up to an earlier one under which a number of British companies provided equipment and established facilities in Saudi Arabia. This is a valuable order for British industry, and also offers the United Kingdom an opportunity to provide assistance to a friendly Government, which has shown itself to be an influence for stability in the Middle East. My right hon. and noble Friend visited Saudi Arabia last month and was most cordially received by King Feisal and other members of the Government. While he was there, he signed a letter of Intent with the Saudi Defence Minister which Daved the 765 way for the Memorandum of Understanding.
I turn now to matters nearer home. Last week I announced the results of the second stage in our review of the Armed Forces' occupational pensions scheme. The announcement was generally welcomed for the substantial benefits it will bring to Service men and their dependants from 1st April this year. A number of examples were quoted in the Press, and there was a particular welcome for the better provision in cases of injury or death attributable to service. Invaliding pensions are now awarded after five years' service; and when young men are killed after short service, the widows and children will get substantial lump sum payments, and their pensions will be made up to fixed minimum levels if necessary.
We are also introducing payments into the estate of young single men who die in service. It is also worth pointing out that we are introducing a system of transitional payments before the pension starts. For instance, when a man dies in service his widow will continue to receive his pay for three months before she goes on to the widow's pension, and a pensioner's widow will likewise continue to receive his pension for three months after his death.
The combined effect of these improvements naturally varies from case to case, but is certainly substantial. Thus, if a corporal is killed attributably after four years' service, leaving a widow and two children, we shall be paying his widow a lump sum of £2,650 and she will receive Ministry of Defence and Department of Health and Social Security pensions totalling £39 a week.
One feature of the new scheme is that widows' pensions will, for service after 1st April this year, be at one-half the rate of the husband's pension instead of one-third; and we are now working out arrangements for some scheme of "buying in" by which Service men will have a chance to obtain the one-half rate in respect of all their service before 31st March 1973. This was mis-reported in one or two cases as a scheme for retrospective improvement for existing pensioners, though my announcement made it quite clear that the new scheme applies 766 to Service men still giving service on or after 31st March.
We realised that there would be disappointment that the new arrangements are not retrospective, but the plain fact of the matter is that if improvements in an occupational scheme had to be extended to those who have already retired, and their dependants, it would not be practicable for any Government to contemplate significant improvements of the sort I announced last week. For example, there are still half-a-million war pensioners from the two world wars, which gives an indication of the size of the bill that might be involved. I am sorry if any existing pensioners are resentful at the size of the improvements now being made, but I hope that these improvements will be taken by others as proof that in pensions, as in other conditions of service, we believe that provision for Service men must be kept fairly in line with good and up-to-date standards in the country as a whole.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Before the Minister leaves that matter, could he justify to the House why, as regards those serving after 1st April this year, these pensions will benefit all Service men, whereas as regards the transitional arrangements back to, I believe, August 1969, they will apply only to those injured or killed in Northern Ireland? How much would be involved in extending the transitional arrangements to cover every soldier who was killed or suffered injury in that fairly short period, and his dependants? Would not that be fairer?
§ Mr. Gilmour
There are a number of things which we would like to do but which it is not always possible to do. The explanation which I gave the right hon. Gentleman before is that we thought —and I believe the House and the country think—that Northern Ireland was a very special case. Therefore, we were able to achieve this ex gratia scheme which I believe has been very widely welcomed. Of course, from a defence point of view we should like to give very good pensions, as widely and as much as possible, but there are strict limits to what we can do. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point but we managed to establish that Northern Ireland was a special case.
767 The House will wish to know that my right hon. and noble Friend has now received the report of the Committee under Lord Nugent of Guildford on Defence Land Holdings. We are most grateful to Lord Nugent and his colleagues on the Committee for all their hard work over the last two years. Their report is a long and deailed document but my right hon. and noble Friend has decided that it should be published as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made. There will then be an opportunity for public comment and discussion so that all views expressed can be taken fully into account by the Government in considering the recommendations of the Report.
Finally I turn to a topic which is obviously of the greatest possible concern to the House as well as to the Services— namely, Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Has not the hon. Gentleman something to say on the decision announced since our last defence debate, namely, the decision to go ahead, at a cost of £70 million per ship, with the through-deck cruiser? That is a very important decision. Has not the hon. Gentleman something to say on it?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I have nothing more to say except, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that the figure is his, not mine. I can only say what I said in answer to a Question, that we have placed the order and it is going ahead. As I also said at the time, the Project Denfiition Study, on maritime V/STOL has been concluded and is now being evaluated. As I said before, we hope to reach a decision on that before the Summer Recess.
In Northern Ireland the security forces are continuing to achieve a degree of success in their campaign of attrition against the terrorists. During the first four months of this year 560 people have been arrested and charged with security offences, and 191 have had Interim Custody Orders served on them under the Detention of Terrorist's Order. Those arrested have included many of the people who have played a prominent part in organising and conducting violence, both in the Provisional IRA and in extreme so-called loyalist groups—although a few of the most wanted men have so far managed to evade arrest.
768 But in some areas, such as the Ardoyne, all officers of the local IRA unit have been arrested in recent weeks and the average length of service of the Commanding Officer is about a fortnight. This erosion of the IRA's experience and strength is shown by the increasing youth of the terrorists arrested, and the unfortunate innocent civilian casualties caused by indiscriminate or incompetent IRA shootings and bombings.
But the IRA has not been short of arms, and the Army has continued to undertake selective searches for arms in the last few months, with considerable success. Since the beginning of the year about 560 firearms, over 20,000 lbs. of explosives and over 50,000 rounds of ammunition have been recovered.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
Are there any figures indicating what percentage of those arms were of European origin?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I do not think so. I will inquire and perhaps write to the hon. Gentleman. Of course, he will realise that the country of origin of arms is not necessarily the country of supply so there is a slight ambiguity about any such figures
Much improved intelligence has enabled the successes in recovering arms and ammunition that I mentioned a moment or two ago to be achieved with as little disturbance as can be managed to the civilian population. Mindful perhaps of their need to retain support in the civilian population, the IRA's tactics recently have been to concentrate on selective attacks against the security forces. These typically take the form of sniping and ambushes in urban areas and bombing and mining in the rural areas and have, regrettably, achieved some measure of success. The continuing toll of death and injuries to the security forces is a matter for the very deepest regret. The Provisional IRA have also orchestrated a sustained propaganda campaign against the Army.
Because of their successes against the terrorists, the two parachute battalions currently serving in Northern Ireland have been singled out as the prime target of this campaign, with allegations of excessive force against the Catholic 769 population. But it is no new development for units which are hitting the terrorists hard, especially in areas where the terrorists have formerly been strongly entrenched, to be subjected to such attacks. Even within the past few days comparable allegations have been levelled at several other units.
There could be no clearer testimonial to the effectiveness of the Army's recent operations, and I need hardly remind the House that the Army acts impartially against violence and terrorism from whatever quarter of the community it may come. There are signs that the current propaganda campaign may soon have spent itself.
I know that the whole House will wish to express its admiration to the Army for the way that it has stood up to all the stresses and strains of the past four years and steadfastly continued to carry out its most difficult task with complete impartiality, very great courage and remarkable skill.
I can think of no better note on which to end my speech.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)
I thank the Minister of State for his announcement on Saudi Arabia. He did not give the details of what the deal is worth. There have been reports of £25 million, but I should have thought that the figure would be much more than that. I read a statement about it in The Guardian. Is it possible to be told a broad figure? If that is not possible, I shall understand, as there may be special reasons. However, if the Under-Secretary can give the figures, it would help.
I am glad that the Minister paid a tribute to the Army. As the Minister knows, only the other day I intervened when there was some criticism from one part of the House in relation to the conduct of our troops in Northern Ireland.
I believe we should sustain our Army in Northern Ireland. The morale of our people has been remarkable. The Minister has rightly paid a tribute to our soldiers. I wish to support that tribute on behalf of the Opposition. We trust that one day peace will come to Northern Ireland and that we shall not need the Army's presence there. But that is not 770 yet, and until then we must sustain our Army and it must play out its impartial rôle of restoring law and order. I am sure that everyone in the House supports that view.
We have recently had a major debate on defence policy. Indeed, the Minister indicated that we have had four debates, a general debate and three debates on specific subjects—the Army, the Navy and the Royal Air Force. The debate on 15th March was wide ranging. Today, hon. Members could follow that general pattern. However, I wish to deal with certain specific matters on which I shall be critical of the Government.
First, I deal with nuclear tests over the Pacific. On 9th May the Australia and New Zealand Governments initiated proceedings against France at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Both countries are asking the court to rule against France carrying out further nuclear tests in the atmosphere over the Pacific. We have been informed that Australia has asked the court for interim protection measures in the form of a ruling ordering France to discontinue tests while the case is being heard. New Zealand, which has applied for proceedings, will ask the court for interim protection measures within the next few days.
The Australian Government's contention, expressed in the application, is thatthe continuation of nuclear atmospheric tests in the South Pacific violates international law and the charter of the United Nations.The New Zealand application says that, having failed to resolve the dispute by diplomatic means, it is compelled to refer it to the court.
We all know that New Zealand has been very assiduous in this matter. Only recently new Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Hugh Watt, has visited France, and other parts of Europe, and has impressed upon France the protest of New Zealand. He has impressed upon the British Government that we must strongly protest against a decision to proceed. There is strong feeling about this issue in Australia and New Zealand. I am sure that Mr. Gough Whitlam, the new Prime Minister of Australia, raised this matter with our Prime Minister. Also, Mr. Norman Kirk, the new Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, has 771 time and again warned the French Government.
However, I believe that this is not a matter just for New Zealand and Australia. We have our responsibilities. Britain has a presence in the Pacific. After all, Pitcairn Island is the nearest land to the French testing area, and could be affected by fall-out. Moreover, we cannot ignore world and Commonwealth opinion. I am sure that when he met our Prime Minister Mr. Whitlam argued that Britain should support Australian and New Zealand efforts to dissuade France from further nuclear testing in the Pacific atmosphere. France should not be indifferent to the strong feelings of our Australian and New Zealand friends.
In this House members of all parties have expressed their concern. We had questions to the Prime Minister today. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who is not a Socialist, stressed the importance of the Commonwealth attitude. We also have on record speeches from the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), who has mentioned specifically our responsibility in relation to territories in the Pacific. No one could call him a Left-wing Socialist or even a moderate Socialist.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) raised this matter in Western European Union. On both sides of the House there are hon. Members who heard her intervention there, when she asked M. Debré, the then French Defence Minister, a question on this specific issue. The hon. Lady said:Will the Minister have conversations with the leaders of Australia and New Zealand to explain his point of view, as he has done so helpfully today"—that was when he addressed the Assembly—or revise the area in which the tests are to be carried out?What response was there from the Minister? He said:I do not think that the question falls within the competence of his Assembly.Our colleague's question was simply brushed aside and a measure of arrogance was revealed.
What is the Government's position on this matter? The Government have 772 stated—the Minister has repeated it today—that we have conveyed our views to France, that France knows our views and that we shall convey to France the views of Australia and of the Commonwealth. But this is not good enough. There should have been a forthright statement from 10 Downing Street on this matter. Why have the Government's statements been so tepid? Why are we pussyfooting on this matter?
There may be political reasons for this. Perhaps it is because we are now adopting a new European stance. I suspect that that is so. After all, we must appease France if we want concessions. We may want to modify the common agricultural policy, for example. France's rôle in this matter is important. It may well be that for these reasons we are playing down our attitude towards the French Government in relation to these nuclear tests. Perhaps we are seeking French support in the Community. Perhaps we are dreaming of the day when we shall have an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent.
I return to a matter which I raised in the debate on the Defence White Paper. I refer to my criticism of paragraph 9 of chapter I of that White Paper, which declares the following: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? After all, M. Debré, the then French Minister, declared in December at Western European UnionWe for our part consider that if defence is to be credible it must retain its national character.Although M. Debré is no longer the Minister of Defence, I am sure that his views are still those of the present French administration. I want to know what are the views of our Government. We need an answer today. During the Common Market debates, many of my hon. Friends raised this matter. Over and over again, when we discussed the terms of entry to the Community and the attitude of the Government, we asked 773 whether or not Her Majesty's Government made a deal with France privately and whether there is now a possibility of a leap forward towards the concept of an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent. I expressed concern on this matter. I should still like to know whether the Prime Minister discussed it with M. Pompidou. We have never been told the details of the conversations before the main negotiations. Of course we have had denials of any deal over nuclear sharing as part of the negotiations, but only recently we have seen a conflict of policy.
I have with me a statement made by Lord Carrington, Secretary of State for Defence, when he addressed the Royal United Service Institution as reported in The Times on 4th April this year. He said:The Prime Minister has spoken of the possibility of an Anglo-French nuclear force held in trust for Europe, and there has been a good deal of speculation in recent months that we are actively engaged in making such arrangements with the French. But this is not so.He was quite categorical. The Government may not beactively engaged in making such arrangements",but what is the Government's aim? Only the day before, as reported in The Times, the Defence Secretary made that statement the British Ambassador to France, Sir Edward Tomkins, declared at a Press luncheonthat Britain's entry into the European Community involved a fundamental change in British policy.He said:Our first priority is now Europe".Later, answering questions, the ambassador said thatMr. Heath's offer before he became Prime Minister of forming a Franco-British nuclear force still stood. But it could be achieved only in the distant future.Is this one of the aims of British defence policy? Are we seeking at some time ahead to go into negotiations and to seek to achieve co-operation with the French and create this organisation which has been so eloquently advocated by many Tories over the years? We had it often referred to by the Prime Minister himself in his famous Godkin Lectures at Harvard University in March 1967 when he said that we should have a nuclear force based 774 on existing British and French forces which could be held in trusteeship for Europe as a whole.
Many of my hon. Friends, representing a large cross-section of feeling in the Labour movement, have questioned the Prime Minister about this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) time and time again has posed the question to Ministers. In the last debate he repeated it and complained that there was a lack of response from the Government. I should like it to be dealt with in this debate. There has been plenty of time to consider it. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be forthright on this matter when he replies to the debate. It is an important question. It affects our relationship with the United States of America. We all know that under the MacMahon Act Britain and the United States have continued to co-operate on nuclear matters. As a consequence of that Act Britain is prevented from sharing nuclear knowledge with other States.
This matter could have serious repercussions in other countries in Europe in the Community, for example, in West Germany. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) recently said that it was a "a lousy policy" under which Europe was to sell butter to Russia. I think it would be a lousy policy in connection with West Germany's policy of détente with Russia and East Germany if that détente were sabotaged by a secret or, later, an overt Anglo-French nuclear agreement. This, of course, is the danger. Inevitably, if we seek to co-operate with France, which is not in NATO, we could give offence to our West German allies and, above all, harm the détente which is so important.
We also have our treaty obligations. We are signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but France is not a signatory. This should be borne in mind when we consider any proposals of the kind which have been suggested by the Prime Minister and even repeated by him in this House. There are wider questions covering the political aspects of nuclear sharing. Is there a need for increased European defence co-operation? Would this include both conventional and nuclear forces? If we accept the need for co-operation, what form will it take? Has the new Community a special responsibility as distinct from the 775 responsibilities that we have in NATO itself?
If one accepts the need for greater cooperation, how does one achieve it? The Labour Government emphasised the structure of the North Atlantic Alliance. From 1964 to 1970 I was privileged to be a member of that Government. The official British position was clear. The only possible context for discussing closer integration with Western European defence was that of NATO, which in nuclear matters meant the Nuclear Planning Group. I am glad that the Minister of State paid tribute to the group's work this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), when he was Prime Minister, stated in the House:We are prepared to discuss nuclear military co-operation, whether with France of with other allies in the proper forum, which is the nuclear planning group …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 22nd July 1969; Vol. 787, c. 1491.]I want to know what the position is now.
In an article in Le Monde in 1971 which caused Questions to be asked in this House, Jean Deniau, then Brussels Commissioner with responsibility for European and American affairs, demanded that the United States must revise the MacMahon Act of 1946 so that Britain and France might share nuclear secrets. Our Prime Minister was questioned on that, and he repealed his concept of an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent held in trust for Europe. This was on 21st October 1971. Many other Conservatives—I think of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and Mr. Niblock—published a pamphlet Towards nuclear Entente. The Minister responsible for our European negotiations, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), wrote a preface approving its contents which stated:We need a mini deal. A mini deal is something which a Conservative Government when returned to power might do well to investigate.Is this still the view of hon. Members on the Government side? Do they agree with the Foreign Secretary, who is on record as saying:There could be nuclear arrangements complementary to the NATO Alliance if necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July 1970; Vol. 804, c. 23.]776 This was in relation to co-operation with the French. Some hon. Members present today must have heard the Minister responsible for European negotiations, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, speaking in the Western Union Assembly in 1971. He said that once Britain had joined the Common Marketthe whole setting for defence co-operation and co-ordination between her and the Six will be transformed.He went onIn the future as the unity of Europe spreads and deepens, defence will have to be included in some framework of unity.What do these Ministers mean when they say this? The Minister of State the right hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), winding up the last defence debate, when pressed to stand firm behind the provisions of the non-proliferation treaty and that no nuclear deals with France were or would be contemplated outside the framework of NATO, said to my then right hon. Friend Mr. George Thomson:I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no proposal before either of the countries which is outside the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, both France and this country possess nuclear weapons and I believe that, in the long term, it would be wrong for me to rule out the possibility of some co-operation between the two nuclear Powers of Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July 1971; Vol. 819. c. 616.1We are concerned that the creation of an Anglo-French nuclear force would inspire difficulties and problems in international treaties for all of Western Europe, especially Germany, and the United States. There would also be reactions of the Soviet Union, with the consequent effect on European security and détente.
I know that the Minister has made a firm speech about Soviet intentions. I tend to accept his realism. I do not criticise him for that, but the Government are committed to trying to get an agreement. To obtain the sort of arrangements that I have mentioned would throw a spanner in the works. We wish to have a policy of détente with the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact. It is the official policy of the Government, and we must not wreck a policy which in the long term could create peace in the world. If we encourage arrangements for nuclear 777 sharing and develop contacts outside NATO we may jeopardise progress towards détente.
I have always paid a tribute to the rôle of the United States in Europe—the development of Marshall aid and America's efforts which saved Europe from chaos soon after the war. The American military presence is essential to our security and also to the security of the United States, as the Minister of State said in his opening speech. I believe though that there would be difficulties about this matter. There have been reports that even the President is agreeable to an Anglo-French nuclear link. On 9th May The Times carried a report from its correspondent sayingPresident Nixon will raise no obstacle to the formation of an Anglo-French nuclear partnership, according to sources on both sides of the Channel. Both Governments have been told privately by the White House that Mr. Nixon would not inhibit Britain from passing on to France some of the nuclear secrets acquired from America under the special Anglo-American treaty of 1958.However, there may be difficulties in Congress. Whatever the President decides in respect of defence policy, the purse-strings are held by Congress and the Senate. The Times report continues:There is also concern in London and Paris that the Watergate affair will reduce Mr. Nixon's authority to change the prevailing hostility to the idea in Congress.So, even in the United States there could be difficulties and controversies if that is true. The report in The Times was followed by another on 7th May.
This was dealt with by the Minister who spoke about his attitude towards the new generation of mini-nuclear weapons which could be used in the battlefield and which would be ready for use in Europe in the next three or five years. I am glad that we have had assurances on that, and I know that the Minister was fair in his reply. This is an important matter, and suspicions are naturally aroused. I know there has been a conflict of views here. There was an excellent article in The Guardian on this matter in which Professor Rotblat and some of our distinguished scientists commented on the proposals which have been put forward, suggesting that they were nonsense. They say there cannot be any small, clean atom bombs for use as tactical weapons.
778 However, we shall not deploy this argument, but we believe that the Government must have control of the military, and I am glad that decisions will be taken only at very high level on this matter. Any escalation would be harmful to the new security arrangements and proposals and to the desire for détente in Europe.
I agree with the Minister about Dr. Kissinger's speech. It probably marks a turning point in European affairs. While I do not entirely agree with the speech, I know that the Foreign Secretary has approved it, and I know, too, that the French have condemned it. The French are hostile to it, but we know that the speech marks a step forward. The new concept of an Atlantic Charter which spells out in great detail the attitudes on defence should be carefully studied at some later stage, and we should discuss it more fully not only in a defence debate but in a foreign affairs debate as well.
I cannot disagree in principle with the section on defence. Dr. Kissinger said thatAtlantic unity has always come most naturally in the field of defence.Obviously, there must be changes. He says that we face the challenge of maintaining our collective defenceunder radically changed strategic conditions and with the new opportunity of enhancing our security through negotiated reductions of forces.On the other hand, America reiterates its own firm contribution to the presence in Europe and I am glad that the United States has reaffirmed this in no uncertain terms. It is stated there in the speechThe United States is prepared to make its contribution.I could go on quoting Dr. Kissinger. He seems to have considerable influence in the White House. I sincerely hope that it continues. His speech is a milestone in European history and no doubt it will be discussed not only here but in the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg Assembly and the Western European Union.
I have broadly covered some of the issues which many people in this country are worried about. I believe that there is unity on the main strategy on defence. I believe that the keystone of our defence is still NATO. We must be realistic. It is true that the Soviet Union has built 779 up its navy—for example in the Mediterranean. It is still building up its forces in other parts of Europe. We believe that it is right however to negotiate from a position of strength and not from weakness. We must never risk the security of our country and I say that to some people who wish to disarm unilaterally. There must be no unilateral disarmament which would leave us in the parlous state of the 1930s. I can never forget that period. I remain firm and I stand by what I said in the previous defence debate. That I believe is the viewpoint of the vast majority of ordinary men and women in this country. I would not want to let them down.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I have just completed a report as the rapporteur of the Western European Union Assembly, the subject of that report being the three international conferences that are now taking place, the relations between them and the implications for Western Europe's defence of any result which may be achieved by any of them.
The chief anxiety that we should have in Western Europe is the lack of any movement towards either military or political integration within Europe itself. This failure to make progress is all the more serious because it comes at a time when Western Europe has to take part not only in East-West negotiations but in West-West negotiations. If one looked for reasons for this stalemate in European unity, this lack of progress, one might first assert that France will only act in what she considers to be her own interest; that the Germans, who have the economic and military strength to act, are so riddled with guilt that they are unable to take the initiative, when, in fact, Germany is the only country in Europe which is strong enough to do so. As for Britain, we have the political will to make progress, but we have not yet got the economic strength which is the basis of political will. The consequence is that no progress of any kind is made.
Despite all the noises that come from Strasbourg as a consequence of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) and his brave band of brothers, we are in a dilemma. On the one hand we have to try to alter the rules 780 of the Common Market in our own interest because we had to pay a very high price for entry: that is our short-term interest. But our long-term interest is to build the unity of Europe, and there could be conflict between these two things.
European anxieties are provoked by the necessity not only to negotiate with the Soviet Union at a time when the Soviet Union is becoming militarily more powerful, but to negotiate with the United States at a time when the withdrawal of American forces from Europe must become a reality.
Of the three conferences, the first one I visited was the security conference at Helsinki. This, I think, is the least important of the three. The Russians want from the West at Helsinki access to our economic potential. This is in our gift. We want from the East at Helsinki, first, concessions on the free movement of ideas and people across frontiers, on which the Soviet Union will be extremely reluctant to make any real concessions. The other thing we want from the Soviet Union is that it will re-write, as it were, the Brezhnev doctrine in favour of the inviolability of frontiers within the Socialist commonwealth itself. Quite clearly, the Soviet Union is not going to re-write the Brezhnev doctrine, and whatever result may come will be a matter of semantics and interpretation. So we can, if we wish, make economic concessions to the Soviet Union, but it is extremely unlikely to be willing to make concessions to us on those two important matters of substance.
The security conference is something which the Soviet Union has wanted for years. In fact, its origins can be found in Litvinov. The Soviet Union returned to the demand for a security conference in the middle 60s. But by 1972 she had already achieved recognition of the status quo in Europe, which was her prime objective in having a security conference anyway, and Russia is now faced with a forum in Helsinki where the advantage ought to lie with the West, if we play it carefully. The West should be able to play away for a win at Helsinki, which is not necessarily the case at Geneva or, more particularly, at Vienna in the MBFR negotiations. All we have to do is ape Mohammed Ali, or Cassius Clay, and say "We are the 781 greatest", because the majority of the 34 nations at Helsinki are "western" of one sort or another, and are likely to award us the verdict.
It could be, though, that the economic concession that the Soviet Union wants from Western Europe and the United States might be traded effectively against an agreement at Vienna on constraints, which might follow the reduction of forces across the board. So Helsinki might be useful from that point of view.
Following my visit to Helsinki, I went to Geneva to try to talk to the American and Russian negotiators in SALT 2. However, although we wrote letters, made telephone calls and made a nuisance of ourselves, not one American or one Russian would see us, because neither the Russians nor the Americans will see anybody on matters which they consider to be their province and nobody else's.
I do not think there was a great deal of European anxiety about SALT 1. Quite clearly, SALT 1 amounted to a non-aggression pact between the United States and the Soviet Union, and as such was in the interest of us all. But SALT 2 is different because what they are discussing is not their own weapons systems but our weapons systems. They will be discussing the American nuclear commitment to defend Europe, and the means whereby the Americans might be able to defend Europe in certain circumstances. They might also discuss the British nuclear deterrent, and the French nuclear deterrent, although it is true that the Americans have said they will not do that. The Russians wish to do so.
What I am really asserting here—and I am trying to return to my opening theme of European anxiety—is that the thing that really matters, the strategic nuclear balance, is something that is being discussed by the super-Powers in private. They will take decisions, which must impinge upon our vital interests, and all we can do is ask of the Americans that they consult. They did consult over SALT 1 and I have no reason to believe that they will not consult adequately over SALT 2.
This is the most important of the three conferences, I think, because, as negotiations in SALT 2 develop, what will be revealed increasingly is the gap between 782 the two American nuclear strategies. One strategy is designed to protect the United States from any attack by the Soviet Union; it is a strategy which is based upon the "assured destruction" of the Soviet Union itself: that is, the Soviet Union is deterred from attacking America by the inevitability of the American response against the Soviet civilian population—in other words a mutual assured destruction capability The other American strategy—and here I come to the gap which will be increasingly revealed as negotiations proceed—is the American strategy for the defence of Europe, and that is not based upon a mutual assured destruction capability strategy at all but depends upon the first use of American nuclear weapons against a Soviet conventional attack.
It is the gap between these two strategies—the one aimed at Soviet peoples, and the other at Soviet weapons systems—which will become increasingly obvious as negotiations continue.
The third and most congenial of the cities on my itinerary was Vienna, and I was there in April. I note today on the tapes that the West has finally conceded the Russian demand that Hungary, which was one of the original four in the preparatory talks in Vienna, should only have the observer status on which the Soviet Union insisted after Hungary had accepted our invitation to attend as a full member in MBFR. When one tries to speculate on Soviet motives for its insistence that Hungary should be an observer only, the only conclusion one can reach is that we are all watching the health of the President of Yugoslavia, because the Soviets will not accept constraints upon their capacity to reinforce Soviet forces in Hungary in a situation of instability that might well follow any crisis in Yugoslavia or the death of Marshal Tito. That is why the Soviet Union has held out on that matter, and she appears to have got her way.
My anxiety about MBFR is deeper. When one looks at the motives of the allied Powers for being in Vienna, they are all different. The United States, which originally had no wish to enter into any sort of European arms control negotiations, discovered MBFR as the way to keep Mansfield at bay. Here was a measure against which American force 783 reductions in Europe might be calculated against the evidence of any conceivable Soviet force reductions. In this way a good proportion of the boys might be brought back home. The British, as ever, went along as a favour to the President. The French, who are not necessarily anti-American as the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asserted, said "We shall not go to Vienna because we do not wish to encourage any move which might stimulate or speed up the rate at which America withdraws from Europe". So the French stayed away. The Germans went to Vienna because they saw the MBFR negotiations as a logical extension to their Ostpolitik, and a way of reducing defence expenditure in terms of the Bundeswehr. The irony is that it is the Russians who wanted a security conference but are now fed up with it, while it was the West that insisted that as a quid pro quo for Helsinki we should have MBFR talks in Vienna.
We now find that it is a far more difficult forum for us than Helsinki, and the Soviets have discovered that their capacity to gain advantage in political terms in Vienna is considerable. The proof of that is that in recent weeks the Russian negotiators there have introduced into the preparatory talks the old concepts of the 1950s of nuclear-free neutral zones in central Europe, which have nothing to do with force reductions. But they at least have one effect, which is to frighten the Germans into a more realistic attitude in Vienna.
Western Europeans have to decide whether it is in our interest to make the talks at Vienna short or long. Our real object is to keep the United States interested enough to stay in Vienna and to reach some sort of agreement with the Soviet Union which would mean that, when the Americans withdraw, they will withdraw with the minimum loss of force cohesion in Europe.
I was told by the American negotiator there that he looked for results from Vienna by this time next year. If he means what he says, that can mean only that the Americans will acept a percentage reduction vis-à-vis Soviet forces in Europe—not a proportionate reduction, but a percentage reduction—which will allow the Americans to take back 5 or 10 per cent. of their forces. Clearly, all the 784 fuss about the equations—how many tanks equal how many guns equal how many men—and how we should introduce geography into these complicated equations will go by the board. The Americans will take a political decision. That will be a percentage reduction of forces of 5 or 10 per cent. Then the whole process could begin.
It is in the Western European interest that the reduction of forces should in the first instance be limited to the forces of the super-Powers, and then the stationed forces. Once the Americans go, the Dutch and the Belgians will want to go too. Increasingly, in NATO Europe itself we shall get a NATO Europe of the three great Powers. After looking at the stationed forces, we shall finally have to look at the national forces themselves, because what we want to do is to leave the German problem until last in the context of MBFR.
If I am right in asserting that American force reductions are inevitable—not unilateral, but a percentage cut vis-à-vis the Soviet Union—this must press upon the main European neurosis, which is the fear that one day the Americans will abandon us. The strategy of flexible response depends broadly upon a certain number of conventional forces in being in Europe We have to ask ourselves the extent to which force reductions would make the strategy of flexible response useless. The answer is that we do not know. But there must be a position on the thermometer of reduction when the Soviets might consider that the Americans would no longer move to the defence of Europe were Europe alone to be attacked by conventional weapons.
We must increasingly come to the conclusion that nuclear weapons will never be used first by us. They can only be used second to deter the first use of nuclear weapons by other people. We cannot go back to a strategy of massive retaliation at a time of nuclear parity. That is impossible under SALT 2. We rely upon a flexible response strategy to make our own belief in the first use of nuclear weapons credible. But, as our own forces reduce, all our strategies are called into question.
If we are unable to defend ourselves in Europe by the first use of nuclear weapons, which sooner or later must be the case, we have to consider how we 785 raise a conventional force able to blunt the Soviet armoured thrust in central Europe, to protect the independence of the evolving State of Western Europe. Suggestions have been made about "mini-nukes". But is a mini-nuke a "nuke"? There are many who would argue that a nuclear weapon is defined only by those who receive it. The mini-nuke might be the weapon that we need to block and contain an attack by superior forces in central Europe. But, even if it were not the mini-nuke, we have to look for a conventional equivalent able to give us the power to meet that attack.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest. A serious writer on these affairs has been saying much the same. In the hon. Gentleman's view, does the same argument apply to British nuclear weapons and to the French force de frappe?
§ Mr. Critchley
The only military justification for the two independent deterrent forces is that they act in the final analysis to deter the first use of nuclear weapons against us. That is what they are in business to do.
I do not believe the bogy of the Anglo-French nuclear deterrent. I suspect that it is a device that some members of the Labour Party are inclined to use to distract attention from other defence matters which may be more embarrassing to them.
There is no need for Anglo-French co-operation unless and until we get a United States of Europe. That is some 50, if not 100, years away. We shall never get an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent because the sovereign Powers in the Common Market context will wish to keep control over the ultimate use of that weapon.
We must not kid ourselves. We cannot go on for ever putting our defence policy on the basis either that the Americans will come to our defence or that the Americans or anyone else will be able to use nuclear weapons against a conventional attack by the other side. The hard fact of strategic life is that nuclear weapons only deter other nuclear weapons. It is conventional forces which are needed to deter the conventional forces of others.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)
Both the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) referred to the amount of time that this House has spent recently discussing defence. It is little wonder that we have spent considerable time discussing the subject in view of the very high expenditure currently incurred on defence. In 1973–74 the staggering total of the defence budget was approximately £3,300 million. That is an increase this year, compared with last year, of a little more than 5. per cent. I can visualise that defence spending will continue to increase given that our existing strategy and approach to defence remains unaltered. Inevitably we shall have to meet the bill.
The decisions that are being made at present about defence expenditure arise from strategic decisions which were probably made a decade ago. I do not blame the present administration overmuch for the staggering total of defence expenditure. They are the victims of decisions which were taken in the early 1960s. If that analysis is correct, we must project our views forward not to the 1970s but to the 1980s. If we can anticipate the form of defence development in the next decade, defence expenditure 10 years from now will remain at an even but staggering total.
I am concerned that many of the projected defence developments will fall due to be paid for in the late part of this decade and in the 1980s. For instance, we do not yet know the total anticipated cost of the MRCA. I dare say that the Government are unable to make an accurate assessment of what the cost of those aircraft will be when taken into service by the Royal Air Force. We have heard today the cost of the throughdeck cruisers. The bills will have to be met in the latter part of the 1970s and in the 1980s.
We must be thinking in terms of a suitable replacement for the Polaris fleet when it is phased out in the 1980s. Do we replace that fleet with the American Poseidon, or do we not have the Poseidon but go for the Poseidon's successor? Whichever way it is, it will be frightfully expensive and, therefore, a tremendous burden in defence expenditure.
787 Then there is the question of the next family of guided weapons systems which are now being developed. What will they cost? Already we have had reports that the development costs are escalating almost daily. Further, the RAF's transport fleet will fall due for replacement in the 1980s. All these costs will come at approximately the same time. Whether the country can afford all these costs at the same time will obviously be a subject to debate further.
It is well known that the Americans have already taken the first steps in replacing its Polaris fleet with Poseidon. The time will come in the not too distant future when the Americans will not be producing any component parts for Polaris. What will be the situation then? Where shall we get our spare parts? What price shall we have to pay for these spare parts? Presumably the Government will say to the Americans, "Although you have phased out your Polaris fleet, we are still in need of Polaris spare parts. Will you please make suitable arrangements, as the appropriate supplier, to keep the production lines open." No doubt the manufacturer will say "To keep the production line open merely to supply parts to the British fleet will be terribly expensive. Therefore, the British will have to pay accordingly." What price shall we pay for Polaris parts? That will be another problem for the 1980s.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
No doubt my hon. Friend will take into consideration the Labour Party's policy of abandoning dependence on the American nuclear weapon, to run down the nuclear bases and to cease to place our whole defence aspect on the nuclear weapon. Clearly, that policy will be followed by the next Labour Government. Perhaps that will help my hon. Friend to answer his question.
§ Mr. Conlan
I hope that my hon. Friend is right and that that policy will be implemented. We must wait and see. However, the problem which I have posed must be faced. The result will be additional expenditure all the time. It is folly to believe that in the foreseeable future we can dramatically reduce the escalating costs of defence unless we are prepared to make radical and substantial changes in our approach to defence.
788 The Expenditure Committee has been examining defence expenditure. I have no doubt that in its wisdom it has found some elements of defence expenditure where if certain things are done there will be a reduction in costs. I am sure that the Committee's work has been fruitful in that respect. However, any suggestion and recommendation that may come from that source, from Government Departments or from governmental examinations of defence expenditure will be absolutely insignificant compared with the global sum of defence expenditure, because of our basic approach. We must find a new approach to defence if we are to reduce defence expenditure.
It is interesting that Canada has decided to combine its three Services. No longer is there a Canadian Air Force, a Canadian Army and a Canadian Navy. The three Services have now been combined. That has been done for economic reasons.
§ Mr. Conlan
For one uniform and for a common approach to their problems. Canada was forced to combine the three Services in order to reduce defence expenditure. However, there are a great many rumblings within the Canadian Parliament and the Canadian armed Services as a result. If we were to attempt such an exercise I am sure that the events in Canada would be a tea-parly compared with the events which would take place in this country. Members of the Canadian armed forces have resigned. Other ex-members of the armed Services have been writing irate letters to the Press condemning the decision. If we were to emulate the Canadian decision we would find that the members of the three Services would be equally divided. Probably no Government would like to claim responsibility for such a decision.
Reference has been made to the American approach to European defence and security. I do not agree that the American Government entered into the MBFR talks in order to keep Senator Mansfield at bay. That is a rather cynical view which I believe is inaccurate. I believe that the American Government have entered into these discussions with 789 deep sincerity, and I hope that the discussions will be successful. If they are, we shall be greatly assisted.
For some time past there has been great pressure inside the United States for the unilateral withdrawal of her forces from Europe. It is said that as the European war has been ended for 25 years why is it necessary still to send American boys out to Europe. The ending of hostilities in Vietnam has added weight to the demand for the return of American forces from Europe. It would be a mistake for the American administration to succumb to those political pressures at this crucial time of the MBFR discussions. If American forces were to be withdrawn unilaterally from Europe, part of the bargaining power of the West would be removed and I hope, therefore, that they will remain.
It is interesting to note that the two periods during which there was no United States presence in Europe—before the First World War and before the Second World War—led to world conflagration. The removal of the American presence might lead to a third world war, I hope, therefore, that for the stability and peace of Europe those forces will remain.
The whole range of defence expenditure will continue to increase, regrettable though that be, simply because the political will and the political decision to restructure our approach to defence are sadly lacking.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I will not follow the speech of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) except to say that I was interested in his survey and entirely agree with what he said about the increase in defence expenditure. I hope that he is wrong in saying that there will be radical changes in defence policy.
It is apt that we should be conducting a defence debate on 10th May. On this date and at this very hour 33 years ago the British Expeditionary Force—of which I was a member—was proceeding across Belgium to take up defensive positions on the River Dyle against the advancing Germans. Little did we know on that day 33 years ago that within three-and-a-half weeks we should be back 790 inglorious, through Dunkirk. As the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said, I hope that the lessons of the 1930s will never be forgotten.
I believe that there is agreement on both sides of the House about the successes of the British Army in Northern Ireland. The trouble is that the news is becoming stale and a large proportion of the British public is beginning to lose interest. People do not realise the difficulties which the British Army faces in Northern Ireland. To understand those difficulties we must cast our minds back to January 1972, the occasion of Bloody Sunday. After the events in Londonderry on that day the news media—television particularly—painted the Army in unfavourable colours. The Widgery Tribunal which was then set up to inquire into those events gave the less moderate correspondents the opportunity to highlight some of the more juicy bits. To cap it all, a monstrous article appeared in a well-known Sunday newspaper, written by a reporting team in an attempt to refute and undermine the findings of the tribunal.
This unhappy situation was changed about six months later by the successful Operation Motorman on 31st July 1972, when the no-go areas in Derry were successfully cleared. From that moment the Press changed its attitude and became kinder. Despite that, there is still a slight emphasis in the Press on the effects on recruiting and on the fact that the troops in infantry battalions which are embarking on third, fourth and fifth tours are not extending their engagements. No mention is made of the steady trickle of men who went from the forces into civilian life and are now gradually returning to the forces.
People are getting bored because they are unaware of the Army's task. Imagine what it feels like to be the parent or the wife of a soldier serving in Northern Ireland and hearing the morning radio news bulletin starting with those ominous words "Northern Ireland"—nearly always a portent of bad news. When Northern Ireland is not mentioned people are lulled into a false sense of security.
How many people going to bed at night realise the number of soldiers on duty in Belfast, Derry and throughout the Province? How many people realise that 791 patrolling goes on for 24 hours, night and day. How many people realise that soldiers on patrol present a relatively easy target for a determined man armed with an Armalite rifle with telescopic sights and, furthermore, that a shot can come from any direction and angle? How many people realise the numbers of soldiers who, though not on patrol, arc in reserve, waiting, fully dressed, for any emergency? How many people realise that in places like Strabane soldiers do not take off their clothes for a week? People should be told about the conditions under which soldiers live and the strain of the separation which they undergo.
The Army has been fantastically successful in this period. This success is undoubtedly due to a brilliant combination of professional skill, courage, determination and—another quality which is just as important—good humour. I would go further. I do not believe that any army in the world today could have carried out the task which the British Army has done so magnificently.
The Minister referred to the insidious and powerful IRA propaganda machine which is always aimed at success. Its chief means of attack is to accuse the British Army of brutality, but murder and bombing by their own adherents is fair game. These are some of the points that the British Army is up against.
I realise that in the past the public were made aware of these problems and displayed a magnificent response to an appeal made by the Daily Telegraph to provide television sets for our soldiers. This showed the interest that was taken. But force levels in Northern Ireland are very high—they must be reduced—and the effects are being felt in the Army.
Apart from the turbulence and the separation about which we hear, we are getting to the stage where young tradesmen in the Army are unable to get on with their trade training. That means that they do not get their tradesmen's rate of pay. It also means that large-scale exercises in Rhine Army, which are important, can no longer take place. Of course, it is realised that force levels are entirely dependent on the political situation.
I hope that, in view of what the Army is doing and has done, the news media 792 will try to give it that just publicity and praise which it so rightly deserves and which would provide the justifiable pride of this country in the Armed Forces of the Crown.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
The House could not fail to have been moved by the account given by the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) of the life of an ordinary soldier in Northern Ireland. It was good to hear this from an ex-professional soldier. I believe that he has done the House a service by drawing attention to this often forgotten crowd of men. British subjects like ourselves, who carry out these arduous, unrewarding and dangerous tasks.
About two months ago we had a similar debate of this character on defence, and the two principal characters in that debate are confronting each other again. The debate has gone on, as it usually does, in a quiet, uncontroversial manner. Those of us who are interested in defence always find the subject rather puzzling because of the vast amount of money that is spent and the number of times that it impinges on foreign affairs, which usually raise the temparature of the House. But on this occasion, as on previous occasions, the speeches so far have been well thought out and show that Members have knowledge of this important subject.
I was unable to attend the House on the following day when there was a debate on the rôle of the Royal Navy, which was conducted and led by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, whom I am pleased to see here today. In the last debate in which I participated I referred to the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, the Minister did not know or ignored the questions that I put on that occasion. My basic view is that he did not know how to answer the points that I had put across. I touched upon the need to give public information regarding future naval contracts.
In the debate on Navy Estimates on 21st March it was announced that a contract was to be given to Messrs. Vickers at Barrow for a command or through-deck cruiser. I wish that we could call them cruisers, but there we 793 are. I tried to elicit whether we. on the Tyne, would receive a contract. Unfortunately, I got no reply.
On 21st March, at column 525, the Minister gave an analysis of the types of vessel under construction and likely to be built. Therefore, I hope that when he replies to this debate he will tell the House whether any more of the Type 21 frigates are to be ordered. For the benefit of those who are not informed on naval matters or the rôle of some of the vessels in the Royal Navy, these ships can perform an operation on their own or participate in joint exercises. They are what might be termed the small-to-medium type ships.
The Minister stated that tenders were to be issued for the Type 22 frigate, which is a slightly larger version of the Type 21, and that some of these vessels should be in operation by 1978. I should like to know how many vessels of this type are to be built and when further orders will be issued for it.
I turn now to the orders for the large command or through-deck cruisers. These are obviously big stuff. Today the Daily Telegraph, which seems to have an insight that hon. Members and Ministers do not have, has given a figure. That cannot be correct, because the first ship of this type has not yet been built, and, as it is a negotiated contract, we can hardly expect a final figure.
I should like to renew the plea that I made on that occasion that there should be an announcement of orders for the second, third and possibly fourth of this type of vessel and that one should be given to the Swan Hunter group on the Tyne. Although the Swan Hunter group has a healthy order book for merchant vessels, particularly super-tankers, it would willingly undertake the work of building a cruiser of this size.
I hope that the Minister is aware that on the Tyne highly-skilled technical and craft facilities are available. There must be continuity of work there. These people will disperse if they envisage the possibility of redundancies. I should not like to see that—nor would the Government—because it is difficult to get this type of labour force together again. Swan Hunter could do the work, and I am sure that it will if it is given the opportunity.
794 The debate continued on Thursday, 22nd March. Again, in column 592, reference was made to the forthcoming command or through-deck cruiser. It was clearly stated that Vickers had got involved with other contracts and that the figure would not be available until the vessel was in its final stages of construction.
The article on page 12 of the Daily Telegraph refers to this type of vessel. The thought crossed my mind that it was significant that this article should be issued on the day that we are having a defence debate. It gives an alarming picture of an alleged defect in the vessel's capability, pointing out that it cannot stand up to a low-level attack and that we have not got the type of aircraft to give warning of such an attack. I should like the Minister to enlarge upon this article or to refute it completely. If it is refuted, clearly the work on these vessels can proceed without any further worry about air danger when at sea.
This brings me back to the need for the Tyne to be given a clear indication that it will be awarded one of these contracts. If the Minister cannot give an answer today, I suggest that he should give an assurance that it will be announced shortly. There are seven naval vessels under construction on the Tyne, but an order for this type of vessel is essential to retain the large body of personnel required for this highly complicated type of design.
Another point that I should like to raise is completely unrelated to the sea. As this is a wide-ranging debate, I should like the Minister to indicate when we should know what amount of land is to be released by the Ministry of Defence. In Northumberland, and no doubt in many other counties, we have been too placid in this matter. We thought to ourselves: "It is Ministry of Defence land. We will leave it like that". So far the contest to ease land away from the Ministry of Defence has not been very successful. The Minister should take note that a committee is reviewing this situation and jolly it up, and release land not only for building but for opening up to the public, because much of it is in the countryside, and use some of it for agriculture and forestry. My two points are widely diverse. One refers to the land; the other to the sea.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
This is the first occasion that we have had a defence debate since the tragic air disaster which affected so many of my constituents, and I should like to pay tribute to the way in which RAF personnel helped to alleviate the suffering after the accident.
Officers and men of RAF Lyneham who accepted an aircraft back from Basle two days after the accident with some of the survivors, as well as many relatives, on board did so in a quiet, helpful and understanding way. They put themselves to endless trouble in the middle of the night to provide food, assistance and ambulances. Subsequently, coffins were returned in quantity to my constituency and were looked after by RAF Locking. The way in which the officers and men of the station carried out the task was beyond praise and helped enormously in the way in which my constituents were able to take this great shock. I have written to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force along these lines but I felt it would be appropriate to pay tribute in the House today.
The form of our defence debates is by necessity somewhat of a hotchpotch. I make no apologies for repeating some of the things which I have said in recent debates.
I noticed that the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) had complaints similar to mine. Because of the multitude of detailed points raised, it is not always possible in a comparatively brief winding-up speech to get an answer to each individual point.
I should like to take the Minister's theme a little further. What he has said this afternoon, about the contribution of America to NATO and its future position as far as the alliance is concerned was very important and needed saying. He put it most clearly. This needed to be said by someone in the Minister's position. Perhaps the most important part of his speech was the very clear statement of the intentions of Russia and of the dangers that can follow from being over-enthusiastic about disarmament negotiations and a feeling towards détente. However, the question that remains unanswered—I have quoted this before and 796 make no apology for quoting it again—is the whole question of flexible response and the tripwire philosophy after its proven success of some 28 years.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army said in the Defence Estimates debate: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 … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March 1973; Vol. 852, c. 1613.]I have asked before why this policy is ludicrous and incredible. Surely the great merit of nuclear armaments has been their very awfulness, the total destruction if they are used in any sort of war and the fear of any aggressor that if he were to step across a predetermined boundary it would bring on him such a holocaust that there could be no possible profit in such an invasion. It is this, I believe, that has kept both sides firmly within their own boundaries, that has kept Europe and basically the world at peace since the last world war.
Once we begin to talk about a flexible response, about having a day or two of negotiations, seeing what we can do, using only strategic nuclear weapons in the first step, we shall be playing into the hands of our powerful enemies. We should continue to make it abundantly clear that if they put one toe over their boundary in an aggressive manner they will bring upon themselves all the might of NATO, with every weapon that it has at its disposal.
Hon. Members have mentioned that ghastly word "mini-nukes", which to me means only large shells. We talk about these weapons having an explosive force of 30 tons of TNT. It is convenient to be able to throw this through a gun or missile but why should we get so excited about it? If 30 tons of TNT were simply placed as a mine and exploded, the damaging effect would be 797 the same. Somehow, we have in our minds the great fear that nuclear fission has an awful effect. The fall-out and radio-active aftermath are, of course, a factor that up to now has been vitally important in the broad strategic concept of warfare. These small nuclear weapons, one understands, can have their radioactive content masked out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), in his last speech and before the article appeared in The Times, mentioned this and said that it was one more weapon in our armoury for maintaining peace in the Western world.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of credibility, is it not the case that it has been made clear in the United States that the only reason that would persuade that country to launch nuclear war was that it was being attacked? The incredibility of the tripwire philosophy, therefore, lies in the fact that no country will risk self-destruction because another country is threatened.
§ Mr. Wiggin
We have already heard a good deal about the French and their self-interest. There are times when we should make our self-interest paramount. As a part of Europe, politically and geographically, we must consider what would happen if, say, Russia were to have aggressive tendencies towards us.
To return to nuclear weapons, it may seem that the great threat on this front is the development of cheap nuclear weapons. Of course, there are methods of creating fission and fusion which are being researched right across the world, which would create a nuclear weapon of such cheapness that, although it might be large in size and, therefore, difficult to conceal, it would create a wholly different set-up of world power.
The development of electronics and all the other marvels of modern science could lead to Europe becoming an automated battlefield, in which the approach of the enemy was recorded electronically and fed into computers which would reel off what the approaching armies consisted of and respond automatically with other electronic weapons. There is a great temptation among our armed Services 798 to continue to look for more and more sophisticated weapons because they save manpower, they are effective and they would appear to have the desired military effect in an individual circumstance. But what happens when all these automated weapons have been fired off, when we have exhausted the non-nuclear weapons that will be used in the initial stages of flexible response? Then, the men and the cheap weapons will be there—the tanks of the Russian armies, and their aeroplanes, not particularly sophisticated but in vast quantities, their trucks and so on, and division after division of men whom they have and we do not.
When hon. Members talk about America pulling out, they should realise that America's contribution, in manpower alone, to NATO is so great that without it we should have to look very carefully at how we, as one of the NATO nations, would be able to continue to make our manpower contribution without some form of conscription or the calling up of our reserves.
A rather longer-term thought concerns our own Services and their future. I am thinking particularly of the function of the Royal Air Force within the coming decade or two. I would not wish my remarks to be interpreted as a suggestion that the RAF should be abolished, but I think that the Ministry of Defence would be right to have a look at the way in which air power has already become divided among the three Services. Is a missile that is launched from the ground and manned and crewed by the Royal Artillery so very different from one that sits on a ship and is crewed and looked after by the Royal Navy? It flies through the air as a flying machine, which can also be under the command of the RAF in a different form.
When hon. Members talk about amalgamating all three Services, they should remember that it is pretty well acknowledged that the Canadian experiment of amalgamation has been a failure. We must realise that the three Services were correctly split up for a specific purpose. It is ridiculous if today the Army and Navy each has a mini-Air Force while the Air Force has a mini-Army and the Army has a mini-Navy. All these things happen.
799 If we examine this carefully, we see that the only function of the RAF that is not precisely land or sea is that of the very high level fighter attacks now carried out by Phantoms and Lightnings. There is no difficulty in that responsibility being ultimately transferred to one or other of the Services by deliberate decision, when all the other functions would fall easily into the responsibility of either the Army or the Navy. While that sort of idea will no doubt cause horror in RAF circles, in economic, practical and business management terms it needs to be considered in the next five to 10 years.
I have spoken many times before about our reserves. I am afraid that I did not get much of an answer the last time that I raised one or two points about the reserves. The whole House accepts the absolute necessity for reserve forces. We need them for many reasons, not the least of which is that our regular forces are quite inadequate numerically to cope with any warfare involving a major Power. The benefits from reserve forces extend not only to this back-up function but also, of course, to the soldiers, airmen and sailors concerned.
The RAF and the Navy have special reserve problems. Reserve sailors and reserve airmen have to have equipment, and, as a result, the RAF only has reserves who extend the life of the existing aircraft—air traffic controllers and the like who can be called on to keep the back-up facility going longer. There are no reserve pilots as far as I know, and no reserve ground or maintenance crews.
In the Navy there is a reserve that goes to sea in minesweepers. I should like to see their expertise spread wider and their exercises go further. They should also have more ships, though I accept that there are physical problems in the hardware concerned.
With regard to the Army, I must immediately reject the statements we hear that this country is becoming very anti-military. We now have 60,000 men who voluntarily give up their time to serve in the TAVR. One hears many people say they do not think the TAVR still exists. I have urged Ministers time and again not to miss an opportunity to remind the nation that it does exist, is doing well, is well recruited and is well-equipped in general.
800 The TAVR is doing everything that a regular unit can do in terms of equipment, and very often in terms of manpower. Naturally, its training is not quite so good, because it does not have the time or the expertise, but the keenness is there and it will perform very well if it is ever called upon to do so.
The new units of the resuscitated old TA are desperately short of vehicles. It is essential that units of a home civil defence force be able to move and to communicate with each other. It is ridiculous that we are now going back to the situation that we had at the time the Labour Government disbanded the TA. In order to go on a weekend's exercise men had to bring their own cars. They still do it and manage. But it is not impossible to buy a couple of hundred Land Rovers. I know that the regular forces are taking the majority of the ordinary fully-equipped Army vehicles to Ulster, but the Ulster emergency has lasted nearly four years now, and the Army should be able to cope with finding equipment for the new units.
On such things as publicity, officer recruiting and the TAVR review my hon. Friend will know my views. I stated them in the Army debate, and I have heard nothing from him. I hope that he will have another look at the matter and see whether he can examine the whole of the TAVR review and decide whether the exercise is worth it in the circumstances of what it is to carry out, or whether he should make it a much wider exercise and look at the whole concept of the TAVR at the same time.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Peter Blaker)
I sent a letter to my hon. Friend yesterday. I do not know whether it has reached him.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I have seen my mail, but one can never tell with modern postal services. However, one notes the propitious way in which correspondence seems to arrive in conjunction with defence debates.
Finally, I should like to congratulate the British Aircraft Corporation. Little has been said about the great contract which it has won. The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said it 801 was £25 million but the figure of £250 million has been quoted. While one appreciates that a good deal of this money will spread over sub-contractors, there can be no doubt that it is an important achievement and that our defence sales people should be congratulated on what they have done.
It is easy enough for us to say these things, but it is a hard business in the competitive world of defence sales where other countries are trying to sell equipment at below cost price, and where other equipments have different merits according to the customer. It is very easy for those people to be forgotten. They do a very good commercial job of great help to British industry, and they should be warmly congratulated.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I should begin by making two apologies. First, I apologise to the Minister of State for not being able to be present during his opening speech. I explained to him that I was involved in a Select Committee.
Secondly, I must apologise for raising what may at first seem to be a rather parochial matter compared with the broad and very important issues that have been ventilated in other speeches. I want to talk about the Royal ordnance factories. When I think about the matter again I realise that perhaps it is not so small and parochial an issue after all, because the factories play a vital part in the production of our defence supplies.
Clearly, if we are talking about getting value for money, about economy in our defence expenditure, we must realise that it is crucial to use our Royal ordnance factories to the most effective extent. We should be extremely proud of them. They have a reputation and record that have never flagged. They are a crucial part of our whole defence preparedness. When the Government of which I was a member set up the Mallabar Committee in 1968 to study how the efficiency of the ROFs might be improved, its report gave them very high marks.
I shall not make a long speech, but as the context for what I want to say about my own Royal ordnance factory in Blackburn I want to remind the House of 802 the opening paragraph of the conclusions of the Mallabar Committee. It said:We found the MOD ROFs were well managed and controlled and there was clear evidence of cost consciousness and systematic cost control. We were impressed by the calibre of the management staff and found them strongly motivated by loyalty to the organisation and the Armed Forces in the achievement of a high quality, reliable and safe product.We should remember that, because it is still true, and it is still true about the ROF in my constituency.
I should have thought that that report would have given the ROFs the green light for the fullest future participation in the production of the supplies we need. But in 1971 the present Government followed up the Mallabar Committee by appointing the Rayner Working Party on the future of the ROFs. Thus there is an implication of a question mark over that future, an implication that perhaps there would be some drawing back from the full support and use of our Royal ordnance factories.
The Rayner Working Party made various recommendations that I shall not go into now. It also recommended that the procurement of fuses should be a matter for separate study. That study has been carried out by the Leitch Committee and is now complete. It has led to proposals that are now being discussed with the staff and trade union side of the Royal ordnance factory in my constituency, a large part of the activities of which are fuse production. With its modern and well-equipped production facilities, it is responsible for about 50 per cent. of current production of fuses in this country.
I do not intend now to go into the details of what the Leitch Committee proposed and what the Defence Department is considering. The matter is under discussion with the trade union and staff side, but the proposals have caused intense alarm because they seem to be designed to remove the production of electronic fuses from the Royal ordnance factory exclusively to private industry.
What I am doing this afternoon is both alerting the House and making a plea to the Minister. I want to pay him a a tribute. Naturally, when the proposals were circulated I had an immediate, alarmed and outraged approach from 803 both the staff and trade union side of the ROF in Blackburn. I invited a large deputation to London, and I am grateful to the Minister of State for having agreed to receive it at very short notice. I am grateful to him for the courtesy with which he listened to us. I am bold enough to say that I think we taught him something that perhaps he had not appreciated. Certainly he expressed his willingness to reconsider the proposals and to enter fully into discussions with the staff and trade union side at national level.
The hon. Gentleman has been true to his word to the extent that there has been a further visit by Mr. Leitch, the chairman of the working party, to the Blackburn ROF. I believe that the staff and trade union representatives were able to demonstrate to him that it is a palpable misstatement to say that the Blackburn ROF does not have an electronic and design capacity that would enable it to enter massively, efficiently and economically into this field. If it is not allowed to enter electronic fuse production, the result can only be contraction and redundancies. The requirement for conventional fuses is nearly at an end. Therefore, if the ROF at Blackburn, whose record of productive efficiency is unrivalled by any firm in this field, is now told that it may not be even a competitor for tenders for electronic fuses, it is being condemned to a slow death.
I make no complaint at all about the Minister. He is on probation. I only hope that he will emerge with a clear record at the end. I am grateful to him for having listened to us and for clearly being prepared to reconsider the situation with an open mind. Obviously, I do not ask the hon. Gentleman for a reply this afternoon.
I do not seek to elaborate my argument with the details that I could give. I hope that to do so will not prove necessary. But at a time when it is clear from recent cases in the drugs industry and elsewhere that concentration of production for a monopoly purchaser in private hands makes it very difficult for that monopoly purchaser to check the cost. and be satisfied that it is really getting value for money on the taxpayers' behalf, it is essential that the principle of the right to fair competition by Royal 804 ordnance factories should not be breached.
I want to remind the House of just one example that hon. Members will always have in mind. I will not talk about Roche, but clearly there is a kind of parallel. There we have the Department of Health, a massive purchaser on behalf of the National Health Service, having to intervene on behalf of the taxpayer. Here the Ministry of Defence is the purchaser. We all know that to control costs, to check other people's costing from outside in that situation, is far more difficult than if one has a foothold within. Indeed, it was the very existence of the Blackburn Royal Ordnance Factory that led to the exposure of the Ferranti Bloodhound affair. The Royal Ordnance Factory in Blackburn obtained an order for launch control posts on an at-cost basis. It was the Royal ordnance factory's performance on that job which eventually led to a committee of inquiry, into the complete Bloodhound order. It was the Blackburn ROF's submission of a fair and reasonable price for the launch control posts which sparked off the whole affair.
Therefore, I say that the House should hesitate long indeed before it deliberately decides to wind up one aspect at least of the work of a Government organisation which can help us to act as a waich-dog on costs in the public interest.
I feel strongly about this, as the Minister knows. I have a lot of material I can put before the House. I do not intend to do so because I hope—I dare to say I believe—that it will not be necessary.
In conclusion, I am not asking for an answer from the Minister today, but I am begging him to act quickly, to put out of their misery this fine body of men and woman at the Blackburn Royal Ordnance Factory who have served their country so well and so economically.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
We are extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for the way she has treated this matter this afternoon. As she has said, she raised the main point in dispute with me at the deputation. It was also raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who is also intimately concerned in this matter. We are giving it close consideration and 805 the decision will be announced fairly soon.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I am very glad to follow the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), not entirely because of her blue eyes but because we know there are other events of a local nature which might demand our attention elsewhere. The right hon. Lady's polemic ability is well known. She is my near neighbour, and I am pleased to see that we have stalemated each other.
It is sad, on a much more serious note, that this is such a poorly attended debate. It is, perhaps, some consolation to realise that debates on defence matters throughout the European Parliaments are also poorly attended. Defence is not a matter which raises great public interest, and there may well be a reason for that in that the public simply do not understand what is going on even at this moment in Vienna, Helsinki and Geneva. It has opted out of a consideration of those matters. There may be a certain amount of wisdom in this, as I shall hope to prove in a moment, but I should now like to refer to the three conferences taking place at this moment.
Between what is happening now in Vienna, Helsinki and Geneva there is no formal link. Nevertheless, in 1972 in Brussels the NATO Ministers said, looking upon the three sets of negotiations,that progress in each set of the different negotiations would have a favourable effect on the others.It would be foolish for us to try and consider the sets of negotiations as being separate, though quite obviously we have rather more intense interest in one of them than, I would suggest, in the other two.
One can also see this in context when one considers that the Russian threat to Europe is universal. I use the word "threat" advisedly. It may be a rather strong one but it is fair enough, when one looks at Russia's foreign and military policy, to look at her overall position and to judge her intentions by her capabilities, because her capabilities have increased immensely in the last few years.
It is right and proper for us to ask the very simple question "Why?". That 806 threat, of course, is posed in many more directions than the Central European front.
That brings me to the article in The Times on 17th May, the front page article about which I have already interrupted my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I was at that conference, and it should be made clear that it was a private conference and not one organised by any Government. I was there merely as an observer. A number of papers were put to the conference by defence experts, but, as I said to my hon. Friend when I interrupted him, it would be quite wrong to say that because that conference happened, because matters were discussed, there was any official statement of Government policy, whether from the United States or from any other of the nationals who participated.
That conference also had another lesson, because the participants were strategists and technologists. This sort of discussion can get a little out of hand, a little away from the practical details of real life. Being a defence strategist has become an academic task. The study of the subject has become in many ways almost an industry in the United States.
It reminds me a little of Haldane, who reformed the British Army. One day he was asked by a general what sort of pattern of army he hoped for in the future. He replied, presumably to his rather mystified military interlocutor, "I favour an Hegelian army". Sometimes, in some of the discussions that take place, we get a little near to that.
In looking at the Russians, I am much more interested in what is happening on the flanks of NATO, what is happening in the Mediterranean and what is happening in the Middle East. There we can see considerable and increasing activity by the Russian Navy. I am also interested in what is happening on the northern flank of NATO. I am much more concerned about these areas than the central one upon which all the strategists, amateur and paid, seem to concentrate. When I look at the Russian policy in Europe I am reminded, too, that there is an element of subversion implicit in Communist doctrine. We should never forget this when we talk about what I will call the "big league" disarmament negotiations. That exists and continues. 807 Anyone who cares to read Russian defence literature will accept that point.
When we go into these disarmament negotiations we present an element of disunity that is undoubtedly worrying. France is outside NATO. She still insists, if we follow what her Ministers say, upon national control. I think we would be prepared to accept that, but she seems to offer very little chance of co-operation with her neighbours and partial allies in Western Europe. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) is not now present. I am not seeking to take advantage of him by raising this matter in his absence. It is only a minor matter, but the right hon. Gentleman is slightly out of line when he attempts to criticise to such an extent any possibility in future of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation.
Almost inevitably at some time when we are dealing with the new generation of nuclear weapons there will have to be closer co-operation between ourselves and the French. Ideally there should be closer co-operation between ourselves, the French and the Germans. I realise, however, that there are severe limitations on German activity, and for the moment it would seem that the possession by the Germans of any nuclear weapons, whether massive or "mini-nuke" as mentioned in The Times, would obviously be regarded by the Russians as severe provocation.
The Minister of State, looking to the three conferences—MBFR, CSCE and SALT—was hopeful but not over-optimistic. He talked of a lengthy time scale, and to that extent he agrees with me. There is no easy, miracle solution to this problem of disarmament in Europe. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) about the security conference. It is the least important. It may well turn out to be only a propaganda exercise. It is concerned with the free movement of ideas and the like which may come about.
I must utter a word of caution, though, about CSCE. I do not think we should adopt a euphoric optimism similar to that of Peter Sellers in the film "I'm all right, Jack". No doubt the House will remember that in that film he was a Communist shop steward. When asked 808 by Ian Carmichael whether he had ever been to Russia, which he admired intensely, he said "No, unfortunately I never have, but I would very much like to have gone. Just to think of all those cornfields and ballet in the evenings". I I do not think that my hon. Friend is as euphoric as that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot may have over-emphasised the point that the SALT and MBFR talks are purely a conspiracy between the USSR and the United States, an agreement at top level by the great Powers. I do not think it is as simple as that. We ought not to be so suspicious of our ally or our possible adversary. My advice on that set of conferences is contained in another story which is about Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor. When a Council of Europe really did exist, some time after the Congress of Vienna, someone came to Metternich and said" I think I should tell you, Prince, that during the night the Russian delegate dropped dead". Metternich said "I wonder what his purpose was".
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
I begin by making similar observations to those of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder). This has been something of a North-East Lancashire evening, oddly enough. I am the hon. Member's neighbour, as he is the neighbour of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). It is two to one in his favour. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. He has great elegance of style, and in a debate on defence it is interesting to hear references to cornfields and ballet, all of which we have in North-East Lancashire, even if we do not have to my knowledge someone called Metternich.
I do not claim to be a defence expert. My sole reason for speaking is to support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has said about the Royal ordnance factories following the Leitch Report. My speech has been shortened because of the intervention of the Minister of State. I was pleased to hear that a decision will be taken shortly on a matter which is of great concern to many of my constituents who work in the Royal ordnance factory at Blackburn and have done so for many years.
809 I, too, paid a visit to the factory. I would not have ventured forth into my right hon. Friend's constituency had I not been invited. While I cannot speak with any expertise about the technical details of fuse procurement, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and conviction of the staff from the top downwards. They are convinced that they have the ability, the know-how, the design team and the facilities to compete with any private firm in the manufacture of electronic fuses.
The proposition is simple: whether it is right that a Royal ordnance factory with its long history and tradition should be excluded not necessarily from production but from being able to compete on equal terms with other firms, many of which do not have its facilities or traditions. I hope that the Minister will be true to his word and reconsider this. I have seldom come across workers at all levels so anxious to keep a factory going. They know, and this is beyond contradiction, that there is and will be a great contraction in conventional fuse manufacture. If they are to be left with the scrag-end of fuse production, morale is bound to suffer. It would be a tragedy for this area and these workers if that happened.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
First of all, I apologise to the House for being late. Before I knew that this debate was to take place I had arranged to join a deputation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I told my hon. Friend the Minister and Opposition Members of this, so I offer my apologies.
I have chosen today to speak on two subjects which I hope have not been touched upon. I should like to say to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), who has just spoken of the Royal ordnance factories that during the war I had to deal with the welfare of women and girls in those factories for the Ministry of Supply. I would like to congratulate the hon. Member on the way he put his point and to say that those factories are very well run. I hope that the Minister will give him a satisfactorily reply in due course.
810 I should like to draw attention to a very silent section of the Royal Navy, the hydrographers. The most famous ship, HMS "Challenger", did a survey from 1872 to 1876. It took 20 years to write up the various observations on the expedition, in 50 volumes, excellently illustrated. Today we must acknowledge that the exploration of the seas and oceans is of outstanding importance, and the Royal Navy and its officers and men concerned are to be congratulated and should have more recognition for the work they undertake.
My reason for raising this matter today is that I understand there are anxieties in regard to the shortage of technical manpower. If I may quote from the Annual Survey, it tells us that the five inshore survey craft are ageing and work is hindered by the slow progress in regard to the development of true solar system. I would have thought that this was something on which action could be taken. Perhaps when the Minister replies he will say what is to be done in regard to these ageing ships.
It also seems very unfortunate that there is lack of promotion in the Service. I understand there were no promotions last year to commander level. This means that we are getting short of men in this category. There is, too, an acute shortage of senior officers and officers of the rank of lieutenant-commander. If the standard of training is to be kept up. this situation is not good enough. It is not only our people who are being trained; there have been students from the navies of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. I hope that my hon. Friend will see that more promotion can be arranged and that more people can be encouraged to come into this very worthwhile service.
It is not only that this service is doing excellent surveys which are absolutely fundamental to keeping our ships sailing safely on the seas. If we take, for example, HMS "Hydra", when the Island of Rodriguez was hit by a cyclone, she saved the lives of six Maldivians whose boat had been blown away from Addu atoll. There were 13 of them. Unfortunately seven died, but the ship managed to rescue six who were later returned to the island of Gan. Just recently, HMS "Fawn" has been helping to save an 811 American motor vessel with 100,000 gallons of rum on board which was leaking into the sea. She waited two weeks until she was safely off the rocks.
Turning to actual surveys, I would like to give the example of the survey undertaken recently in the Bougainville Strait between the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville Island, an area which has not been explored since 1884. Fifty uncharted reefs were discovered and it was found that the depth of water had gone down since the area was previously charted; but the survey was able to find a passage one mile wide which was 33 metres deep. This is why it is so valuable to have such a service. Many more ships will now be able to go safely through that passage.
The Annual Report that I have mentioned is well worth reading, but I would like to know from my hon. Friend, without going into all the details of the report, what is being done in regard to studying the composition of the sea bed itself as a consequence of continual fishing and the constant spoliation of the seas through oil and other causes. I would ask whether it would not be possible for this service to undertake some of this work when on the high seas.
It is very interesting to note in the report that commercial operations have never looked healthier. In other words, the Royal Navy has been selling charts, and the income from this source in 1972 exceeding £1,600,000, mostly from exports. Charts are now going over to metrication and with more automation and computerisation at sea this has proved very beneficial both at sea and on shore in the work of the hydrographers. I would like an assurance today that the Minister well appreciates the very important work that is being done by this service and that he will see it gets all necessary support.
The other matter in which I am interested as a delegate to Western European Union is future relations between United States Forces and Europe. It was stated in WEU document 598 dated 31st December 1972 that the total of our services in Europe was 63,367, plus the Second Tactical Air Force. I gather that at present 4,600 of these men have been taken from BAOR and have gone to Ulster.
812 What part are our European allies to play in conjunction with ourselves and America in future? What worries me is that the United States armed service strength is being drastically reduced. I gather those forces are being reduced from 3.6 million to 2.2 million by mid-1974 and that they are now turning to the voluntary system which is costing them very dear. I do not know whether or for how long they will be able to continue recruiting. I gather, for example, that a newly-recruited man gets £1,550 per annum. Bonuses are £1,200 on recruiting and £6,000 for re-engagement after one term of office.
The European countries and ourselves cannot, of course, compete on those lines, but other difficulties are arising for our European allies. Germany and Denmark are reported to be having difficulty in recruiting even conscripts because they have provision for conscientious objectors. Conscientious objectors do not have to serve if they prove that their convictions are genuine. Therefore, those countries' forces are getting smaller. In the United Kingdom, 47 per cent. of our defence money goes on personnel. It would appear that unless we get more up-to-date equipment we are going to spend more on personnel than on equipment. I believe that we will be in difficulty in recruiting men if there is no up-to-date equipment.
If we are to have "Poseidon" for the four Polaris submarines, what is to be the cost? I believe the estimate is that if the MIRV replaces "Poseidon" in the United States programme as at present planned, this would cost about £680 million. What are likely to be our costs if we follow suit?
I would also like to know what the Government are doing in regard to the MRCA programme, because I understand that West Germany has found that the costs are rising so much that she has reduced her orders from 600 aircraft to 332. This comes from a WEU report. I believe that at present our Government have a commitment for re-equipping the RAF with 350 of the MRCA. I would like to know whether this is to be carried out and, if possible, to have an idea of the cost. The cost of the F14 fighter in the United States has risen to £7 million per aircraft. If a similar vast sum is to be spent on the Royal Air Force, 813 what will be left for the Royal Navy, which already lacks modern equipment and weapons for its nuclear submarines?
It appears to me that the Royal Navy, like its hydrographers, is being neglected. The research and development department of the Royal Navy is allocated only about 10 per cent. of the money for this kind of work. This is somewhat unfortunate in the light of the fact that the Russians are building up their fleet and when one remembers that thousands of our people would probably have starved to death in the last war had it not been for the Royal Navy—which also ensured that the other two Services were fed and could carry on—we simply cannot afford to neglect the Royal Navy.
It is vital that the Royal Navy should get its fair share of the defence budget. To re-equip with the MRCA is estimated to cost £2,450 million. If that figure is correct, surely it would be better to reallocate some of the money to the Royal Navy so that it could get a fairer share of the defence budget. I understand from previous debates that at present 35 per cent. of the defence budget goes on personnel costs, including 13 per cent. on civilian employees; 39 per cent. on equipment and research and development, including 13 per cent. on research and development itself; 8 per cent. on works and buildings—which perhaps could be cut down following the survey which is being conducted; and 5 per cent. on stores and services.
What of the future? We have a number of organisations dealing with defence— NATO, Western European Union, the Eurogroup and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. They are still far too segregated and a lot of their work overlaps. I should like to have arranged a conference between representatives of these various organisations in order to ensure less overlapping, particularly in re-equipment of the various Services.
I end on a cheerful note. In January 1973 the United Kingdom joined the coordinating committee in Europe known as "FINABEL". This is the first time we have been allowed to join an organisation which has a standing armaments conference dealing with the standardisation of equipment. I sincerely hope that this is a major step towards co-ordination of armaments and equipment so that, for 814 example, one member country will not build too many ships while another builds too many tanks. I hope that there will be real understanding in the planning of the Armed Forces so that we can have in the future a united European force.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Usually, I follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) with some measure of agreement. On this occasion I agree with that part of her speech in which she seemed to be supporting what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said. The hon. Gentleman said that he was not advocating the abolition of the Royal Air Force, but he seemed to put forward a convincing argument for its abolition. The hon. Lady was getting close to doing the same. Perhaps she wishes to utter the same sort of disclaimer as he did. Nevertheless, they have both convinced me.
I have some attachment to the Royal Air Force, having spent five years in it during the war. Looking back over the scene, one can probably say that an air force was a temporary necessity because of the state of technology at the time. One can perhaps say that the existence of an air force was a necessity in the historical and strategic circumstances from the First World War to the Second World War, and I suspect that the continuation of the Royal Air Force beyond the Second World War is rooted in some kind of sentimentality, which I myself feel, rather than in an assessment of the realities of the situation as it has become.
The United States does not find it necessary to have a separate air force. I was much persuaded by the view of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare when he suggested that most Air Force activities today are associated either with the Navy or with the Army and that there is little purely Air Force activity which is not associated with either of the other two Services.
My interest in this is that I believe that abolition of the RAF as a separate force would be one means of substantially reducing arms expenditure, since it would remove a completely separate area of procurement from the scene. It would leave only two areas of procurement— the Royal Navy and the Army—and this 815 would probably save a substantial amount of money.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I feel a little astonished. I think the hon. Gentleman said that there was no United States Air Force.
§ Mr. Jenkins
No. I said that the United States Air Force was associated either with the Army or with the Navy. There is a United States Navy Air Force and a United States Army Air Force. I suggest that that pattern might be followed here. In the United States, air activities are closely associated with either the army or the navy, and I suggest that the logical conclusion is the abolition of the RAF as a separate entity. However, I do not wish to spend any more time on the subject, having stated my agreement with the argument of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. I shall leave it there. I see, however, that I am getting a measure of support from the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles).
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles indicated dissent.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am somewhat confused. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is no such thing, for instance, as the United States Strategic Air Force? I thought we had slept quietly in our beds for the last 20 years because of its existence.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was not saying that. I was saying that the argument of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare in favour, as it seemed to me, of the abolition of the RAF as such and its association with a Naval air force on the one hand and an Army air force on the other hand appeared to be a very good idea. It should certainly be examined more carefully, and I understand that it has been examined from time to time in the United States.
I want to add to the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) about the question of land. I believe that there is probably a good deal of land about the place which is not being fully used. I know that this is often said about land in the possession of the Armed 816 Forces and that examinations have been made. When was the last examination made? Has an examination of the position of the land held by the Armed Forces ever been made by an organisation other than the Armed Forces?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Antony Buck)
Perhaps I may clear up that point at once. The Nugent Committee has now reported after examining the whole question of Ministry of Defence land. The report is to be published.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am grateful. I was not sure whether that was so. When is it expected that the report will be published?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I hope that "very shortly" means "quite soon". That being so, perhaps we can leave that point.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) spoke of the very arduous and difficult duty of the Army in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether it occurred to him that perhaps the Army is being asked to perform in Northern Ireland a duty which it is not proper for any army to be asked to perform; that is, fighting in circumstances in which the adversary is not another army in the sense of another formulated military force. I am increasingly wondering about that. The question whether it is proper that we should continue to maintain our forces in Northern Ireland will arise increasingly.
§ Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
We keep an Army for events of this nature, and its soldiers are trained to carry out tasks of this type.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Indeed. But is it proper that the Army should be used in the form of an armed police force? That is what it amounts to in Northern Ireland. We should ask ourselves whether the job which is being done in Northern Ireland is one which any army ought to be asked to perform. That question crosses the minds of many of us from time to time.
My final point is about nuclear armaments, a subject which hon. Members are probably beginning to know has concerned me for many years. It seems that the House is never more of a club than 817 when discussing defence matters. These debates are confined generally to experts on the subject, who talk in a fairly close and well-informed language but on the whole tend not to raise the deep issues of principle which inform the attitudes of the parties which are represented here.
Listening to defence debates, one sometimes has difficulty in realising that the Labour Party's background contains a powerful pacifist element. One finds it difficult to recognise the great debate that took place within the Labour Party between its pacifist element and those in favour of collective security, personified in the name of Ernest Bevin. This background has always been within the Labour Party. Therefore, members of the Labour Party are rather reluctant soldiers and armers. We tend to look at defence expenditure as a first possible economy. Our attitude differs, therefore, from that of the Conservative Party, which regards defence expenditure as a first and important expenditure. We are inclined to look at it as a last expenditure. That does not mean, however, that we have a great success in reducing defence expenditure when in office. But it is fair to say that since the present Government have been in power the amount of money that they have been spending on defence has increased very rapidly. That is why I have been examining the possibilities.
If a future Labour Government are to make radical reductions in defence expenditure, they will not do so by means of minor economies. They will do so only by major changes of policy. We are tired of spending 5.5 per cent. of our gross rational product on defence, which is rising to 5.75 per cent. under the present Government, compared with a European average of about 4.3 per cent., which includes the West German figure of only 3.7 per cent. If we wonder why other European countries seem to be better supplied with hospitals and housing and all the things that we lack so much it is to some extent because we are spending too much on armaments and defence generally.
Therefore, if we are to make these changes, it is no use saying that we shall be able to do so by minor economies here or there. We shall have to consider profound changes of policy. I have touched upon two of them. We shall have to consider whether the de- 818 ployment of our troops in Northern Ireland is something which is to continue for ever, or for how long it is to continue. We shall also have to consider the question whether it is proper for us to be engaged to the extent that we are engaged in nuclear weapons.
Britain has a tradition of acting on its own in these matters. We are now moving into a European situation in which, besides the Soviet Union and the United States, we are the primary nuclear-armed country of the world. We are the nuclear bastion of the West. We ought to ask ourselves whether this is a rôle that we ought comfortably to perform. The Labour Party does not think so and decided at its conference last year in favour of winding up American nuclear bases in Britain and in favour of opposing a defence policy based on the use or the threatened use of nuclear weapons by Britain and its allies. The Labour Party takes the view that alternative policies which are not based on nuclear weapons should be evolved. They are certainly much cheaper.
A defence debate which deals with the important minutiae of defence but fails to deal with some of these fundamental questions is a debate that does not go to the heart of the matter. One recognises that fundamentally it is difficult to divorce defence from foreign policy. Defence is conditioned by foreign policies and attitudes to some degree.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is taking notes. I do not believe that he is to wind up the debate—
§ Mr. Jenkins
My hon. Friend is taking notes. I hope that one of his notes is for the purpose of conveying to the Opposition Front Bench that at least one member of the Opposition wishes that the sort of attitude within the Labour Party, which informs the Labour Party and the country and will continue to inform the Labour Party at conference after conference, should be enunciated in this Chamber.
I am unrepentantly of the view uttered many years ago by Aneurin Bevan, that regional pacts were not a move towards peace. He took the view that if one 819 had NATO this generated the Warsaw Pact, and that the regional pact was a basic cause for very large-scale armament. He thought, by and large, that our defence contribution should be on a world scale rather than directed towards the maintenance of regional power. That is the sort of attitude which we ought to be discussing, and these are the sort of questions of broad political and strategic policy which ought to inform our defence debates. We ought to pay some account to these matters rather than to the important details which have been occupying us this afternoon.
§ Mr. Cormack
Did not Aneurin Bevan also say that we should not "go naked into the council chamber".
§ Mr. Jenkins
He had this wrong idea towards the end of his life, but none of us can be perfect. These are the sort of issues which we must begin to debate if we are not to run away from the realities which affect us and the problems which will have to be the concern of a future Labour Government.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
No one could doubt the sincerity with which the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) propounds his point of view, but I know he will understand when I say that I dissent vehemently from much of what he said in his speech. I think that the difference between the two parties— or certainly elements in the parties, and not including the Opposition Front Bench, as was exemplified by the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) this afternoon—is like that between the man who throws away his umbrella because the sun is shining and the man who takes his umbrella to get it serviced and repaired.
The hon. Member spoke about the expenditure of our allies but failed to mention the very large conscript army in Germany which enables them to reduce the cost of maintaining a very heavy commitment in Europe, as a consequence of which we can sleep peacefully in our beds. When he spoke about his nuclear policy, I could not help thinking: "It may not frighten the enemy, but by God, it frightens me".
This is the first defence debate in which I have presumed to trespass 820 because, as the hon. Member said, these have become the province of certain well-known experts, although, alas, not many of them are present this afternoon. I think it a great pity that we debate defence when the Chamber is so often so very empty. Of course there is a double reason today, because we know that there will be no Division at the end of this debate and throughout the country our colleagues are helping in the democratic process. But they would not be able to help in the democratic process with quite the ease and peace of mind they now enjoy were it not for the fact that we have a defence policy which has preserved our country over the last quarter of a century and more.
It seems to me that this is the most important subject that legislators can ever debate. If I cannot claim the expertise of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I can adopt the advice which was given by a farmer to a non-farming friend: "If you cannot recognise the breed, you can at least appreciate the need."
I want to concentrate my remarks upon Europe and NATO and the future of the alliance. Although this is often said, it seems that we stand at a cross-roads in history. The recent speech by Dr. Kissinger will, I think, come to be recognised in future as perhaps one of the most important foreign policy statements made in this century. I quote what I consider the key passage in that speech:In Europe a new generation—to whom war and its dislocations are not personal experiences—takes stability for granted. But it is less committed to the unity that made peace possible and to the effort required to maintain it.That is the continuing and expanding dilemma with which those of us who may be fortunate enough to be entrusted with guiding the destinies of this nation for the rest of the century will be faced.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) was absolutely right to sound the warning note which he expressed. The aim of the Soviets remains the same—the total dominance, indeed absorption, of Western Europe. Although the military threat may be a trifle more ambiguous than hitherto, it nevertheless remains. Of course the Soviets do not want war. By other means they wish to sap the resolve 821 of those who are against them, to spread dissension and take advantage of local conditions.
I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State to ask about the origin of arms in Northern Ireland. The fact that they originate from a certain country does not mean that they have been supplied by that country, but there have been very disquieting stories in the past couple of years and I have no doubt that certain elements have taken advantage of local conditions there. I say no more about that. We must remember that this kind of thing is not new. Terrorism and street violence were used by the Nazis in Germany to break down the fabric of the Weimar Republic and have been used time and again. It suits the purpose of the Russians to see certain adversaries in the West weakened in their resolve and in their capability. I take the line that we should beware of the Russians even if they bring gifts.
When one thinks in terms of détente, one should proceed with great caution. Just a week ago I had the privilege of being in Germany. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) present. He was in the same party. We had the privilege of talking to German experts in the Foreign and Defence Ministries and discussed Ostpolitik. I should describe Ostpolitik as a justifiable adventure, but it is an adventure. There is a danger that this policy will produce a new attitude of mind not only in Germany itself but throughout the West, leading to undue optimism. When we think of the agreements that have already been negotiated and signed, we see that they do not bring a great deal to the West. Perhaps those who visit East Berlin are now allowed the normal conditions of prison visiting, but East Berlin remains a prison to those within it.
I have the privilege of being chairman of the all-party Committee for Soviet Jewry and I have seen many examples over the last 18 months of what it means to live in the Soviet Union, what it means to live without the protection which we take so easily for granted. So when we talk about Ostpolitik and SALT, a European security conference and MBFR, we should be more than cautious. That is why I was greatly reassured by the remarks of my hon. Friend in opening the debate.
822 We should never cease to forget the time factor. In democracies time is important because those entrusted with governing a nation have always to keep their eyes on the clock, as it were. They have always to concentrate—and nothing concentrates the mind more than a coming election—upon public opinion. Those in the East do not have this problem to live with. For them, time is not important in this sense. We perhaps have to think in terms of a Parliament, but they can think comfortably in terms of decades. The Chinese are past masters of this, and so are the Russians. They can afford to be patient because they have not the degree of answerability that we have. We should bear this in mind. We must be very careful not to drop our guard in any way, not to create that sense of false security to which my hon. Friend referred.
We should always remember that the Brezhnev doctrine was occasioned by the rape of Czechoslovakia only five years ago. It is a new Monroe doctrine, but is far more sinister because it says that there shall be no interference in the affairs of Socialist States, not even internal interference by those who live in a State. Therefore, efforts to effect change made by those within become a justification for attack from without. When my hon. Friend spoke about Yugoslavia and the problems which may face that country on the death of Tito, he sounded a warning note which we should do well to heed.
I am not trying to be a scaremonger, and I do not say that the Soviets are planning an invasion and the use of force against us. It is, however, wrong to say that they would never use force. Bearing in mind the extreme vulnerability of the flanks of NATO, bearing in mind that if the Soviets went across the centre they would take on all the Powers at once but that if they went through the flanks they would take on only one or two, we should also bear in mind that the use of force in all circumstances is not out of the question. They will use force if they think they can get away with it, and it is our job to persuade them that they cannot. If they think they cannot, they will use what blandishments and stratagems they can.
One thinks of the story of the rich man who lived in great comfort, envied and 823 despised by his neighbour. His neighbour could not do anything to obtain the rich man's possessions, so instead he seduced his daughter. The neighbour outmanoeuvred the rich man. That story is not without its moral in this area of discussion.
I am not seeking to preach a gospel of despair. The Russians are realists and have shown that they can keep agreements if it is in their interest so to do. NATO has been a deterrent, but only because of its nuclear arm, and this is why we should be careful about what we say about nuclear weapons. We should not rule out the eventual emergence of a true European nuclear deterrent.
Of course, the flexible response is all. It is essential that we do not rely absolutely and entirely on a nuclear arm, but we must not under-insure. The lesson of the next two decades was spelt out by Dr. Kissinger in his speech of great vision and brilliance. It is that the United States wants co-operation and does not want economic competition to degenerate into conflict, thus poisoning the alliance. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that this does not happen. It is incumbent upon us to foster such organisations as the Eurogroup, which seems to have the most hopeful possibilities of all those schemes where we are working together.
It is in equipment and training that we should concentrate on getting together. Nine nations with nine different weapons systems are no match for the Warsaw Pact with a more or less common weapons system. We should be thinking in terms of a European tank and of developing a strategy of anti-tank warfare perhaps using the helicopter. However, I am not equipped to deal with this sort of technical question, although I appreciate its importance.
We must get our priorities right in talking about expenditure. We can spend thousands of millions of pounds on Concorde and Maplin and all the other things which may or may not be desirable, but we sometimes pull ourselves up short and sharp when we talk about spending £60 million on defence. To do that is almost to betray the future and it is something of which I hope I shall never be guilty.
824 This country has only 27 submarines, whereas the Soviet Navy has about 390. It is in the light of such facts and figures that we must look at the whole problem.
I look upon this as a sacred trust. Whatever we do about pensions and social security, education and housing, it can be put right and changed if necessary. If we created a system which weakened the Atlantic alliance we should be betraying future generations and they would be in danger of living lives where the freedom which we take for granted had been replaced by a dark and repressive fear, and perhaps something more odious than that.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Had I not been committed to a political meeting tonight for our former colleague from Billericay, Mr. Eric Moonman, I would have wished to raise certain issues with the Government—perhaps the French nuclear tests, the whole question of Polaris, Poseidon and Trident, the MRCA and a number of other controversial issues. However, I believe that one should not raise controversial issues unless one is present to hear the answers and I shall not be. Therefore, I shall say nothing about them. I shall stick to one subject which is offbeat and non-controversial.
For the first time in my life I motored over Easter through the area of the Somme in Northern France and had occasion to visit several of the war grave cemetries there. I should like to recall here and now that it is enormously to the credit of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that these cemeteries are magnificently kept. I had not seen them before, and the purpose of my intervention tonight is to ask the Minister if, through the usual channels which are available to him, he will record to those responsible for keeping these cemeteries my appreciation of the marvellous condition in which they are.
That is not only my opinion. The same opinion is held by Mr. Coles, who runs a chain of stores in Australia and who is known to some hon. Members. He had a family reason for visiting the war graves of Northern France. He lost two brothers in the First World War. He asked me to record that both graves were beautifully kept. The casual visitor 825 is given every help by the French employees of the Commission. Perhaps something could be passed on officially to the people who are responsible, because it may be that the excellent job that they do should not go unnoticed in this House.
§ Mr. Blaker
I entirely share the hon. Member's opinion on this matter and I shall see that his remarks are passed on to those concerned.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Defence debates used to be great occasions. Those were the days when Governments stuck to their primary function of defending the country and keeping law and order in the streets Nowadays things are very different— Governments intervene even in the price of lavatory paper. I saw a Parliamentary Question asking for action by the Government on this fascinating subject only a week or two ago.
Consequently, of course, the whole parliamentary system is grossly overloaded.
I suppose it is a matter of semantics whether parliamentary indifference stems from public indifference, or whether public indifference stems from apathy in Parliament. However, I am sure that the ghost of Benjamin Disraeli must be sitting on the Government Front Bench beside my hon. Friend the Minister today listening in astonishment to a defence debate unfolding without anything being said about the implications of the new Suez Canal project—just 100 years after de Lesseps's great scheme came to fruition.
Perhaps the indifference is only an expression of wishful thinking. The public are so opposed to war, particularly in this nuclear age, that they hope that by their refusing to think about it the problem will just go away.
It may be because of the idealism and internationalism of the younger generation, who seem to think that all wars in the past have been caused by the foolishness of their parents.
It may be because of the pacifist unilateral disarmament lobby, many suppor- 826 ters of which are sincere and some of whom are motivated by very Left-wing ideology, but all of them, in my opinion, are misguided.
It could be a lot to do with the attitude of the media, particularly of television, which give the impression that they are resolutely setting their faces against any serious discussion of defence subjects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) raised the question of the TAVR. How long is it since we saw any programme about the TAVR on television?
It may be, of course, just a swing of the pendulum of public opinion, or the mood of the nation. Before we get too depressed about it we should recall that Winston Churchill was unable to alert this House and the nation to a much more obvious, immediate and understandable danger which existed in the late 1930s.
Defence debates are increasingly concerned with trivia. The earnest seeker after truth may jump up and ask the Minister about the Mark 24 torpedo. The odds are he does not know what the Mark 24 or any other mark of torpedo is.
Instead, I believe we ought to be concentrating on the big issues—the overall expenditure, the manpower issues—and making clear to the public what are the dimensions of the real threat which justify the taxpayer's having to put his hand so deeply into his pocket for tax expenditure.
The evolution of grand strategy which I believe we should be talking about is a gradual process. We now live in a world in which peace is truly indivisible and peace time and war time are no longer two separate, clear-cut conditions.
Philosophically it is ludicrous, fantastic and, indeed, tragic to live in a world in which two rival super-Power blocs maintain an uneasy peace only through the existence of weapons of unimaginable horror and the competitive expenditure of vast sums of money on sterile military preparations.
Turning to the practical realities today, in this summer of 1973, we are in a sort of watershed situation. The Soviet bloc now has something like nuclear parity but with enormous conventional superiority over the West.
827 At least this state of affairs is recognised by NATO, which, to be fair, has existed for 25 years without ever giving up one yard of soil to the Warsaw Pact countries.
However, we must realise that the basic foundations of NATO are now very much shaken by doubts about the American political will to continue to make such a large contribution as it has hitherto and— a practical point but, it is hoped, only a temporary one—by the radical change in the American military establishment, which has now decided to go for all-regular forces. We must pay an enormous tribute to the Americans for all they have done and are continuing to do for NATO.
But in all this scenario which I am summarising there is one very baffling question. Why does the Soviet nation maintain such large military forces? Why does it have 400 U-boats in full commission at sea, roaming the oceans of the world? Why is it launching one brand-new nuclear submarine every month?
I believe it is impossible any longer to take seriously the suggestion that the Soviet Union really believes it is liable to be attacked by the West and excuses itself by saying that the whole Soviet concept is defensive. The Russian leaders are sophisticated people nowadays, no longer shut off from the world, and they must know that the West, with its high standard of living, would have nothing possible to gain from any pre-emptive attack on the Warsaw Pact countries.
If we accept this, only three other possible explanations remain.
The first is that the Soviet Union really intends a direct military attack at some point in time against the West, but I dismiss this. The same argument applies in reverse—that no prize could possibly be worth the risk.
A second but unlikely possible explanation, I suppose, is that the Soviet centralised economic system is so plain damned inefficient that it would collapse in disorder and unemployment if the USSR did not maintain huge forces and vast armament production. I do not think so, but it is a possibility.
The third possible explanation, which I believe is the most likely, is that in pursuit of undisguised political ambitions the 828 Soviet Union plans to be able to use its forces world-wide on an opportunist basis to extend its own influence and frustrate the trade and influence of the capitalist world, without resorting to declaring war at any stage.
In a striking article in the Daily Telegraph of 12th March this year its correspondent, Mr. R. C. H. Steed, wrote under the heading "Softening up the West". The opening paragraphs of his article are these:Never before had an advanced civilisation offered such opportunities and encouragement to a powerful enemy openly dedicated to its overthrow, or contributed so much to such a result by absorption in internal disputes and self-indulgence as if no danger existed … they seemed incapable of apprehending any threat, and at the same time showed an increasing lack of faith in their own values and an increasing reluctance to make any effort or sacrifice to defend or preserve them.So might some future historian write about the Western Europeans in relation to Russia during the era of what is called "peaceful coexistence" and "detente".
The author continues to quote examples taken from a book called "The Peacetime Strategy of the Soviet Union" published recently by the Institute for the Study of Conflict, in Whitehall. This book emphasises the extent of the orthodox Communist Party's activities in fomenting industrial unrest in the United Kingdom, pointing out that this is helping… a minority of manipulated militants to get control of the trade union movement and thence of the Labour party through the notorious 'block voting' system.The book also gives examples of related Communist Party activities in other countries, such as France, Germany and Italy. It says, with regard to Italy:There is no doubt that within the Catholic Church itself at various levels Communist cells are operating.Finally, it points out that in Britain theLeft-wing Free Communications Group claims a membership of between 500 and 700 in the Press, radio and television. Its objective of workers' control of the media, after allthe book continues,is shared by the Chairman of the Labour Party.If this analysis is an accurate one, and I believe it is, the threat is certainly not confined to Europe but is world wide. Here the new dimension which we face is 829 the extraordinary development of the Soviet Navy into a worldwide oceangoing fleet.
Faced with this situation, what action can the Western Powers take? I believe that first and foremost—and I put this very seriously to the Minister—we must break away from our obsession with the narrow military defence of the plains of Western Europe. It is absurd that NATO, by definition, admits no threat at sea beyond the Tropic of Cancer: that is to say, a latitude of 22½ degrees north, roughly in the vicinity of the Canary Islands—and that with half a million tons of oil for Western Europe rounding the Cape every day of the week Western Europe has no concerted naval plans for the protection of its overseas trade anywhere except in the North Atlantic.
Faced, as we are alleged to be, with an energy crisis of terrifying dimensions, neither Europe nor America seems to give any thought to the vulnerability of their oil supplies either from instability in the Gulf, where the oil comes from, or from interruption at sea in the long haul round Africa.
I believe that, pathetically slowly, this point may be beginning to be understood and at least the North Atlantic Assembly last year resolved to authorise the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic to make contingency plans for the protection of the Cape route.
Clearly, the whole future of the alliance is in need of drastic revision, and some tentative recognition of this is reported in today's newspapers. But I believe it will be a long haul and that we in Britain cannot wait for the formal moves the Minister was talking about today, but must act without delay both in our own interests and in anticipation of being successful in causing an awakening among our allies. This means a very substantial increase in the allocation of funds to naval and maritime air forces, and a radical recasting of defence plans to give vastly greater attention to the defence of our overseas trade routes, particularly round the Cape and in the Indian Ocean.
There are some signs in this direction; for example, the recent decision to order the first of the through-deck cruisers. I applaud this and congratulate the Government on it. However, in my view, the order should be for three straight away. 830 The second has been the decision concerning vertical take-off jets, which we have discussed ad nauseam and which I shall not inflict on the Minister again today. However, it must be pushed to a positive conclusion.
More co-operation on a bigger scale neeeds to be carried out with South Africa in terms of naval and maritine air forces. We have not yet had an answer about the sale of Nimrods to South Africa for the defence of the sea trade routes. We also need a continuous and not a spasmodic naval presence in the Gulf.
Finally the ANZUK forces based on Singapore must be maintained regardless of any backsliding by Austrialia.
To sum up, at this very moment in history when Russia has discovered the vital importance of maritime strategy Britain must not lose sight of it, nor allow her allies to do so.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
Since I first intervened, in a maiden speech, on defence matters 23 years ago there has been one consistent theme in all the White Papers on defence which have been published. It is the one summarised in paragraph 4 of the White Paper, which issues a grim warning about the growing extent in real and relative terms of Soviet power.
In the early days, going back to the years after the war, when the allies had an overwhelming preponderance and a monopoly of the atom bomb, this was taken fairly lightly. But those days have long since passed away. A comparison of the warnings given in paragraph 4 of the White Paper, rightly drawing attention to the growing size of the Soviet operation, with the other side of the picture and the generally accepted belief that the Americans in one way or another will phase themselves out of Europe, perhaps slowly—but there is little doubt that they will start doing it—and the fact that the French are still outside NATO, and bearing in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) said about the Germans having both the economic power and the manpower to make an effective contribution but being too riddled with a sense of guilt for what happened in the last two wars to be the effective ally that 831 one might otherwise expect, shows that the forces ranged against the Soviet bloc are pretty fragile.
I wonder whether we are building up forces appropriate to today's conditions. Basil Liddell Hart, an old personal friend of mine, used to say over and over again that we fight the next war on the text books of the last. Even with all those lessons in mind, I believe that we are still in danger of repeating that error.
Many people thought after the last war that the proliferation of atomic power, when it ceased to be an American monopoly, spelt a speedy end to civilisation. In the event they were proved wrong. The balance of terror—that grim phrase —precarious as it was, actually worked. We have had a long period not of peace but a period during which the likelihood of the outbreak of an atomic war has steadily receded, although there have been times such as the Cuban crisis when it was perilously near. We all remember the days of the nuclear disarmers, the marches, the demonstrations and the sentiments reflected in this House. All is quiet on that front now because the sheer credibility of either side taking the risk of nuclear war has subsided.
So it was that the emphasis for some years past has switched increasingly to conventional forces and to more sophisticated but still on the whole non-nuclear weapons. This new emphasis has become apparent in the forces mentioned in the White Paper. But I still wonder whether we are not preparing for the wrong kind of aggression still with our basically conventional navies, armies and air forces. I believe that we are already witnessing the kind of warfare that we should be preparing for, if warfare it has to be. Certainly it will not be nuclear. There will be no armies marching, no aircraft bombing and no navies confronting one another on the high seas.
I believe that we have had a foretaste of the form that the aggression might take, with the aircraft hijacker, the kidnapper and the small group of utterly ruthless men like the Black Septemberists armed with modern weapons and without scruples. Such people have already held whole Governments to ransom to secure their ends. I believe that this process is only in its infancy.
832 It is the sophistication of weaponry today which places such appalling power in people's hands. The ease with which incredibly small and devastating devices can be manufactured quite cheaply places a frightening concentration of power into a very few desperate hands. Skilfully used, this power can blackmail Governments and hold whole populations in terror. It can effectively overturn key sectors of industry and paralyse communications if it is applied ruthlessly at the right point and at the right time.
In such circumstances conventional armies, navies and air forces are not relevant. That is not an argument for not having conventional forces. It is one for developing them in such a way that there is a conscious and deliberate provision to deal with this kind of armed subversion. When the damage is done and when the citadel has fallen, it is no use mobilising the army, sending in a gunboat, turning out the air force and the rest. It is too late.
I do not see anywhere in the Defence White Paper, which otherwise I welcome, even a recognition of this new dimension of war, let alone any special measures to deal with it. It is no good saying that this is a police operation. It is too big and too dangerous for the police to tackle unaided. We have had a glimpse of it in a relatively primitive form in Ulster. There we have seen how 20,000 soldiers have been pinned down for months. That is a measurable part of our entire establishment coping with this sort of guerrilla subversion. Let no one dismiss it and say that it is a police operation and not one for the Armed Forces. It is not.
Over the years civil defence has been dismantled. But there might have been a nucleus of trained manpower there who would have been appropriate to deal with this threat.
When all is said and done, the defence of the realm is at risk. In all the millions of pounds that we spend we should spare some money urgently to carry out some research and make some provision to meet the growing threat of urban guerrilla subversion and armed activity. I remember my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell) making a very good speech about this in an earlier 833 defence debate. No one can say that I am breaking new ground. However, I should like to hear the Minister say that he is breaking new ground in making provisions to counter this real and desperate threat.
I do not profess to know the answer myself, but the problem must be known to our defence chiefs and must be appreciated by them. We know that our reserves are limited. That is why when they are deployed they should be deployed in the right way. Whatever form the next war takes—and it will not be a conventional kind of war—there will be no use in re-fighting El Alamein and Midway or re-invading the Continent. None of those matters will be relevant. The trouble will come from within. It will be quick, ruthless, and devastating. I want to see suitable provision in the Defence Estimates. The requirement may be for a special corps of people. I do not know the answer. The defence chiefs must be thinking about the matter, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will be able to give some reassurance.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
When I heard the subject for today's Supply debate I thought that it was rather a pity, to put it mildly, that a defence debate was to follow so soon after the substantial number of days that were spent during the last couple of months debating defence. Without in any way wishing to appear patronising, I accept that we have had a number of useful contributions. That goes to show, perhaps, that the normal two-day defence debate does not allow sufficient time to permit everyone who wants to take part in our discussions to do so.
It has been a worthwhile debate. We were interested in many of the Minister of State's observations, particularly his comments about the rôle of NATO. My right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has dealt substantially with that. The Minister of State said that there should be no weakening of the alliance. He said that apart from the material components there was also the important matter, which is perhaps of overwhelming importance, of the will to defend both life and liberty.
834 I shall not dwell on the issue of life, but on liberty. The alliance can be weakened from without. Members of the alliance can be lost on the way. However, if the whole concept is based upon the will to defend life and liberty, the alliance can in like manner be weakened from within.
We have heard important speeches during recent defence debates—some from Conservative Members—about Greece. That is the kind of situation which is tolerated and encouraged by the recent visit of the Chief of the General Staff. Those are matters which should be approached with great care. There is, of course, tyranny in Greece. Where there is tyranny, it must have its effect upon the will and the real meaning of the words "The will to defend both life and liberty." That is why the Minister of State, when he so rightly uses those words in future, would be right to consider entering a caveat with some members of the alliance.
I was interested by an answer which was given on 3rd May to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd). My hon. Friend asked the Minister of State how many men and ships were involved in the recent visit by Royal Navy ships to Portugal, the length of the visit, the cost and matters of that kind. It appears that three of Her Majesty's ships with their companies of approximately 850 men arrived in Lisbon on 30th April and stayed until 4th May. They were accompanied by a rear-admiral and a Royal Marine band. The purpose of the visits was to mark the 600th anniversary of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. The Department, which is so conscious of pounds and pence, was unable to quantify the costs of a visit of that nature.
When we were in government we were attacked strenuously time after time about the Beira patrol which the present Government, in pursuance of the mandate of the United Nations and their obligations thereunder, so rightly maintained much to the annoyance of many of their supporters on the backbenches. It makes rather odd sense to try to explain to the Royal Navy and to our forces that they may have to take part in the Beira patrol and then to tell them the following week to go to the junketings in Portugal. It seems sometimes that the left hand of the Minister 835 of State does not know what the right hand is doing. Alternatively, it may be the other way round; the right hon. Gentleman's right hand may not know what his left hand is doing.
All that we can sense from these matters is that the Government's foreign policy is ambidextrous. However, the rôle of the forces is held up to ridicule if that kind of situation is tolerated. If NATO depends upon the philosophy of the will to defend life and liberty, it is imperative that we should be conscious of and examine from time to time objectively the rôle of some of the members of the alliance.
I was glad to hear the Minister of State's statement about the German-British tank—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles rose—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles rose—
§ Mr. Morris
I have given way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman on dozens of occasions but very often he has not added to the usefulness of our debates.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he putting forward the proposition that the visits of the Armed Forces, wherever they may go, and the recreation which they have should be conditioned by the ideology of one or other of the parties within this House? Is not that a fantastic proposition to put forward?
§ Mr. Morris
I was putting forward a proposition whilst examining the Minister's words that the philosophy of NATO relies on the twin objectives of the will to defend both life and liberty. Where tyranny exists in the alliance—it is an alliance pledged to defend both life and liberty—it would be right for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to examine the members of the alliance and the rôle which our Armed Forces play in our association with them.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles rose—
§ Mr. Morris
I have given way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman; I do not do so again.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that steps are being taken in the pro- 836 duction of the German-British tank. Perhaps I have wearied the House on more than one occasion with the need to pursue that important objective. If we are pledged to carry out a joint and communal defence, much greater emphasis must obviously be placed upon using the same tools for the job. The hon. Gentleman has rightly put his finger on the matter and endorsed, if I may say so, what has been said on previous occasions—namely, that the heart of the matter for the European tank, as with the MRCA, is to get the philosophy right.
There has been in the past an enormous divergence of philosophy regarding the type of tank that is needed by this country and the type which is used on the Continent. Unless that gap in philosophy can be bridged, there is little prospect of common production of the same kind of weapon. I am glad that the Minister of State has noted this and I welcome the emphasis he placed on it. I wish him and the Secretary of State well in pursuing this objective. As we move into the conceptual stage of the post-Chieftain era, I wish them well because I cannot otherwise see our being able to allocate the large amounts of money which will be needed for a fairly short production line in this country going it alone.
I noted the Minister of State's remarks on the new deal which has been negotiated with Saudi Arabia. I congratulate the sales staff of the Ministry of Defence who worked on this under the guidance of the Minister of State. I am sure that he takes a great interest in these matters, as I did. The less one says about past difficulties in Saudi Arabia, the better. I hope that this arrangement will bring a reasonable degree of order and efficiency in the maintenance of equipment supplied in an important previous sale. I wish the Saudis well, but the Minister is right to emphasise that we must watch how deeply we get involved and ensure that the people on the ground in that country are able to take over as quickly as possible. It is a significant and important contract and I wish the British Aircraft Corporation well with this arrangement.
I am far from happy about the announcements which the Minister has 837 made today and on previous occasions about pensions. I understand the difficulties of making the new pension arrangements applicable to everyone because of the immense amounts involved. I understand also that Northern Ireland is a special case. It may well be that, because of the difficulties there, steam has been given to the Minister of Defence in winning his argument with the Treasury and securing fairly generous terms.
If Northern Ireland is a special case which has engineered this change of heart in the Treasury and enabled the Minister of Defence to win his fight, I do not understand why the transitional arrangements are confined solely to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland may be a special case, but to the family that loses its breadwinner in any other part of the world that soldier is a special case. The amount of money involved in the transitional arrangements which date back only to August 1969 is not very large. I do not understand why this retrospective arrangement should be confined to Northern Ireland and should not extend to any soldier, sailor or airman who has been killed or injured in any other part of the world in the last two or three years. There cannot be many.
Neither today nor at Question Time has the Minister attempted to defend or to argue this decision. All he has said is that Northern Ireland is a special case. With the utmost respect, I hope that he will not say that a large amount of money is involved. We are not talking of making the arrangements applicable to everyone. All I ask is for the hon. Gentleman to re-examine this to see whether the transitional arrangements can be applied to everyone. Everyone who has suffered since 1969 is to himself and to his family a special case. Although the Minister sought my assistance at Question Time, I cannot justify a retrospective payment that is confined to one set of people, and I am surprised that this cry has not been taken up by other hon. Members.
The Minister mentioned Lord Nugent's undoubtedly valuable work on defence lands. We look forward with interest to seeing the report when it is published and to the Government's reactions to whatever proposals it contains.
838 My hon. Friend the Member for Gates-head, East (Mr. Conlan), in an interesting and valuable speech, raised the problem, which has been canvassed before, of the cost of the MRCA and the cruiser programme coming together. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) also seized on this aspect in her zeal to ensure that the Navy had a proper share of the defence cake. I do not intend to go over this ground again, but a firm marker should be put down. Difficulty will arise with two sets of defence expenditure coincidental one with the other in the last part of this decade. Undoubtedly one will have to suffer. The Minister must be seized of this contingency and be sure that he has a plan to meet it, otherwise there will be escalating defence expenditure out of all proportion which will be difficult to defend in the House.
A fortnight or three weeks ago a national newspaper reported that the Government were concerned with the increase in public expenditure and that proposals which hitherto had been blessed with a measure of approval were being re-examined under the spotlight of the Treasury and were coming back again to the Ministry of Defence. The Daily Telegraph said that the first-off of the cruiser programme was one that had got under the wire. I do not know whether a new examination of defence expenditure is going on. The Under-Secretary of State may find it difficult to give a detailed answer but perhaps he or the Minister of State will write to me and tell me the expected expenditure on equipment. Has there been any change since the Defence White Paper was published? Cuts in defence expenditure are usually made on equipment; particular programmes are cut back or done away with or, perhaps more usually, a programme is moved sideways and orders are slowed down, so that the money is paid out in the next financial year. If that is going on, we should be told at the earliest opportunity.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) spoke of the conduct of our troops in Northern Ireland. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington said. We commend our troops most highly for the great 839 dignity and honour with which they have carried out a most arduous task in difficult conditions. The House is grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth for reminding us of this.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) was concerned with ensuring that there are enough shipbuilding orders for his area. At the time when I had responsibility for this matter, we had a bias towards the development areas. Perhaps at some stage the Minister will tell us whether that bias is continuing.
One matter which obviously concerns the shipbuilding industry, where there are great demands for a certain type of labour at a particular time when a ship passes from one stage to another, is redundancy. Unless there is a new ship to be built, the labour originally demanded will be in less demand and there may be redundancies. It is therefore necessary to have a forward-looking programme so that the demands on labour and skills in the following years can be slotted into place.
Under the Labour Government I called in all those in charge of our major naval shipbuilding firms to put them in the picture as best I could regarding the likely demands for the future subject to the allocation of contracts. That is usually competitive. Therefore, I could not give them a firm figure, but I could give them a planning figure of what they would be likely to be called upon to provide.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that we have discussed this matter from time to time. I do not propose to go into it now. Whether we are discussing cruisers or any other form of shipbuilding, it is necessary to have a long-term programme which is not cut about, so that we can plan rationally. In this way, whether it be for cruisers or a mixture of other ships, the yards can then plan the availability of skills. That is of vital importance. I should like to know whether, as in my time at the Ministry of Defence, naval shipbuilders have from time to time been called in 840 to Ministers to discuss and be put fully into the picture concerning likely future demands.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) referred to the Royal ordnance factories and in particular to the question of fuses. I raised this issue with the Treasury Bench in, I think, the debate on the Army Estimates. I do not wish to enter into the technicalities of fuse production. We are dealing with something perhaps much greater than the House really understands. Without a specialist definition of what is involved and the assistance of experts, I would not pretend to be able to take the House through the ramifications involved in this sphere.
Under the Labour Government a new arrangement was set up whereby the Royal ordnance factories had the lead in design and development of these necessary modern fuses. Indeed, the whole future of the Royal ordnance factories depended upon being able to carry out a programme of that kind. If they lose that initiative—they may have lost some already for all I know—the whole future of a large part of the ROFs will be extremely bleak. It would mean that, instead of being the initiators and designers, they would became the repetitive producers of other people's ideas.
If the Royal ordnance factories are to maintain their skills and retain their engineers and designers, it is imperative that the kind of issues raised by my right hon. Friend—the Minister has been thanked for the gracious way he has met representations—should come to fruition. If we are to maintain the ROFs as a major reserve producer of weaponry for part of the Services' needs, it is vital that they should be more than repetitive producers of shells and matters of that kind. They must maintain the lead in design in part of this area, otherwise there is a danger that the whole of their higher management and skilled engineers will go and they will be unable to recruit people of that calibre in future. So the effects are perhaps much wider than we imagine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) has raised with me the question of the future of 841 Hawker Siddeley Dynamics at Stevenage. I understand that this firm has been offered a large contract by MOD(Navy) for ship-to-ship missiles. I also understand that because of the cancellation of ELDO contracts there is a danger that 400 redundancies may occur in the plant within the next three months. It will take a year or more for the missile to reach the production stage. It will then need a large skilled force, but in the meantime it may have been disposed of. There are real fears in that area. I hope that the Minister—I do not expect him to deal with this matter tonight—will write to my hon. Friend as early as possible in order that these men may have their fears put at rest.
I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army for the note that I had from him today. A defence debate, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said, sharpens the return of ministerial correspondence.
I was glad to hear from the Undersecretary of the good use that is being made of cheap flights to BAOR by soldiers serving in Northern Ireland. I understand that so far 1,400 soldiers have made use of them. So that soldiers can make use of these facilities, all troops have one 72-hour break during their four-months tour. We congratulate the Government on what they have done in this respect. It was done following a visit to Northern Ireland by myself and my colleagues more than a year ago. I am grateful for the speed with which the Government have acted on and carried out that suggestion, and I am glad that so many men are able to participate.
Lastly, I want to deal with the question of atmospheric nuclear tests. This is not a national matter confined only to Australia, New Zealand, or France. Indeed, the boundaries where such tests occur cannot be drawn as national boundaries. The effects are felt from one end of the world to the other, but particularly in the locality where the tests occur. Indeed, about six or ten years ago there was concern in this country about the level of strontium 90, particularly in the westernmost part of the country. The record of the French in the Southern Hemisphere has been far from good. Although techniques have developed substantially from those of 20 years ago, their tests have been far from clean.
842 Why do not the French test underground? They have done it before in the Sahara Desert. Perhaps the increased expenditure that that involves and the pressure on the defence budget in France is one of the reasons for their not being minded to carry out tests underground. Another reason is that they do not want to be obliged to the Americans. They do not want to make a request to the Americans for the use of their facilities.
I am advised that the French are to carry out similar tests to those carried out by this country, by Russia and by America 20 years ago. The knowledge they will gain will be parallel to that which was achieved by those three other countries 20 years ago. The only difference will be that the pollution this time will be labelled "Made in France".
The attitude of the Government has been far too ambiguous. They have been far too late in the day in making the representations which they have made. I concede that the Foreign Secretary has now seen the light. He does not think that the tests should be held. He disapproves of the tests. He has made it abundantly clear to the French. But when the Australians came here to seek to enlist the support of the Government, and the New Zealanders in turn made representations, they went away grossly dissatisfied about the support they had hoped for from Her Majesty's Government.
It is rather odd that Conservative Members who make such a great play with the old Commonwealth and the ties of kith and kin and the loss of Australia and New Zealand—[An HON. MEMBER: "We have not lost them yet."] I understand that this sentiment is now confined to a narrower field than it was years ago. They still seem to make these noises, but the moment Australia and New Zealand seeks our support in a matter of vital importance to them, they get very little support.
I do not wish to weary the House with a catalogue of the miserable statements from the Government Front Bench which have been made from time to time. The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was asked on 15th May 1972 by one of his hon. Friends 843 what representations had been made. All he had to say was:As a depository Government for the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, Her Majesty's Government naturally hope that the French Government will decide to accede to the treaty. The French Government are aware of our views on the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May 1972; Vol. 837, c. 117.]
§ Dame Joan Vickers
At a meeting I personally questioned the French Minister of Defence, M. Debré. I asked him whether he would have firm negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. He snubbed me by saying the matter was not in order, but he had been talking about it for four or five minutes. At least we tried.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning that. My right hon. Friend mentioned some deliberations in the WEU. We find that month after month, when the matter is raised in the House, all we have from the Government is talk about hopes and statements like "We have told them of our views". There has been strangely lacking any steam from the Government to make the strongest protest possible at the French proposal to carry out these tests. As recently as February of this year, the Minister of State replied:We have no authoritative confirmation that a French test series will take place in the Pacific in 1973".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February 1973; Vol. 851, c. 53.]He has been saying exactly the same thing month after month. The whole world, except the poor Foreign Office, knows that the French intend to carry out the tests.
I shall not weary the House by going through what happened in January. The Minister of State for Defence said something in the same fashion on 25th January. He was asked about this and said:The French Government have not yet confirmed that there will be a test series this year. If nuclear tests are carried out we shall, as in the past, take all appropriate steps to look after the health and safety of the inhabitants of our dependent territories in the area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January 1973; Vol. 849, c. 626–7.]
§ Mr. Critchley
In the run-up to the Australian election, Mr. Whitlam said that, if he were to be elected he would send a senior member of his Cabinet to 844 the fall-out zone of the French nuclear tests. Has the right hon. Member any suggestions of a Member from his Front Bench to do likewise?
§ Mr. Morris
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is quite correct in that. I did not follow the Australian elections but I think that this matter related to New Zealand. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who spends some time on these matters, could consider and reread his views. My understanding was that it was the New Zealand and not the Australian Government, but I may be wrong.
I find the present naivety and innocence of the Government in telling the House time after time that they had no authoritative information about whether a test would take place as not unlike what the Foreign Secretary was saying about tests last year when he visited Canberra and Auckland. On 29th June he said:Our attitude is quite plain. We test underground if we test at all. They test in the atmosphere. This is a fact of life we live with, there is no point in taking a position on it.Perhaps the hon. Member for Devonport will bear it in mind that that is how the Foreign Secretary and her Government set out the position. This is not a fact of life. It is a fact of death. People for countless generations will suffer from the carrying out of these tests.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Following my question M. Debré lost his post, so perhaps the new Minister will have a change of heart.
§ Mr. Morris
Nothing would cheer me more than to hear that there had been not only a change of Minister but a change of policy in accordance with the representations which I am sure the hon. Lady made most convincingly.
But what is odd is the way in which the Foreign Secretary went on to discuss the situation last year. He said:We have made our position clear to the French and that is as far as I would go. Of course we have our people on the Pitcairn Islands. I have not seen a report from them in the last day or two"—I do not know whether telegrams come daily to the Foreign Office from the Pitcairn Islands—but after the last test, of course, the level of nuclear radiation was well below anything 845 that could be a hazard to health. We will see what they say this time.Yet when the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was asked what representations had been made from the Pitcairn Islands, the answer was that none had been made because no inquiries had been made; no initiative had been taken by the Government to discover the views of the people in the islands.
But there was more to it last year. In his caravan the Foreign Secretary went on to Auckland, where he said in a Press conference:You must not always believe what the newspapers say"—a very wise remark.Britain",—he said, unfolding this great news,has signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.I do not know whether this fact had been denied in the New Zealand newspapers, but he stressed the point, that therefore we were against tests in the atmosphere.Everybody has known for months past that the French were going to make a test. It is a little bit naive now to be surprised that they have done so.Everybody knew this year, except the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office, including the Minister of State reading the Foreign Office briefs, time after time said that there was no confirmation that the French would carry out their tests.
How right the Foreign Secretary was to point out to his undoubted tormentors in Auckland that it was rather naive to suggest that the tests were not expected that year. Everybody knows this year, in the same way. It is no good Ministers saying that there is no authoritative confirmation. Everyone knows that, unless there is a change of Ministers and a change of heart, these tests will be carried out.
The Government have been playing this down and hoping that the problem would go away, that it would not bother them and that there would not be agitation in this country. Now Austrialia and New Zealand have applied to the International Court. We have our locus in the International Court in regard to our position over the Pitcairn Islands, let alone over the other countries 846 involved—Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Samoa and all the other islands in the region, all of them deeply interested and involved. We have a responsibility for the Pitcairn Islands and a responsibility as a signatory of the nuclear test ban treaty. It is our job to consider our position in exactly the same way as Australia is doing and in the same way as New Zealand is doing. We should here and now be making the same kind of application to the International Court. I find it odd in the extreme that we are not doing so.
I know that these issues embarrass Conservative Members, but the hon. and gallant Admiral the hon. Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), will agree—this is not an invitation to him to rise once again— that we are told that every nation shares the high seas and no nation has the right to close them to any other nation. Those words are firmly entrenched in international law and endorsed by the Australian Prime Minister. If British ships, or any ship for which we have responsibility and which carries our flag, be it of the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy or any ship of the Commonwealth, is turned back from the area where the French are carrying out their tests, this important principle of the freedom of the seas, which has stood the test of time in peace-time, undoubtedly will be breached.
It is wholly wrong that we are not taking our place shoulder to shoulder with Australia and New Zealand in the International Court.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of Slate for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Antony Buck)
It gives me great pleasure to wind up this interesting and constructive debate and to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris). I think it would be in order to congratulate him on becoming "learned". We have always known that he was learned but we are now able to acknowledge that fact by so describing him. He will make a great deal of money as a leading counsel, and I congratulate him on taking his silk. I hope that the length of his cases will not be such as to cause his fees to become too exhorbitant.[AN HON. MEMBER: "What 847 about the length of his speeches?"] I had certain thoughts of that kind in mind.
In my speech tonight I shall attempt to answer as many points raised by hon. Members as I am able, and as time allows. I shall, of course, see that I reply to other matters by correspondence, or they will be dealt with by hon. Friends as is appropriate.
I will deal first with the observations made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the Government's attitude to the French nuclear tests in the Pacific. The position has been made absolutely clear by my right hon. and hon. Friends. We hope that Francs will accede to the partial test ban treaty and cease atmospheric testing. We have voted at the United Nations in favour of a resolution urging cessation of atmospheric testing. We have made our views known to the French Government and to the Australian and New Zealand Governments. Our position is absolutely clear and needs no further justification.
§ Mr. Buck
My right hon. Friends have spoken in the way I have described. We have voted as we have in the United Nations and made our views known to the French. I share the suspicions of some of my hon. Friends that the Opposition are trying to make too much of this for reasons best known to themselves.
On a related point, the right hon. Gentleman in his admirable—mostly admirable—opening speech showed that he was concerned about Anglo-French nuclear collaboration. He pressed for an assurance that no secret pact had been agreed. I am not entirely clear why he needed that assurance, because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has several times told the House that we have agreed that such collaboration must be a matter for the long term, and that no concrete proposal for it has ever been discussed between the two Governments.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the Saudi Arabian contract. I am 848 told that details cannot be provided, as the right hon. Gentleman, with his great experience of these matters, will understand. But I have authority to say that the figure he mentioned was erroneous, and that a more accurate figure was quoted by one of my hon. Friends. It is rather larger than the right hon. Gentleman suggested—[Interruption.]—through the newspapers.
As this is not a single-Service debate. I shall rove beyond what may be regarded as my more usual naval sphere, and spend some time talking in general terms about defence. But I am sure that the House will understand and forgive me if a faint maritime tinge appears from time to time.
I propose to isolate two general areas on which it might be useful for me to concentrate, first following up what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said about NATO and the situation that confronts it both in Europe and in its worldwide context. I shall then pass to what the House will agree is the major factor in enabling Britain to maintain her efficient and professional contribution to NATO—the men and women in the forces and their conditions of service. I shall also mention Northern Ireland.
The Opposition have said some interesting things about NATO. The present Government, like the previous administration, have as their highest priority the maintenance and improvement of the North Atlantic Alliance. The right hon. Gentleman deployed a similar theme in his opening speech. We, like the Opposition, are convinced that NATO provides our insurance for a future in which the West is free to determine its own policies without the East breathing down our necks.
How are we to interpret the ever-growing military strength of the Soviet Union and her Warsaw Pact allies if not as a means of putting the West under uncomfortable political pressure? We must remember that what we are up against is not an exclusively European or even an exclusively NATO threat. It extends world-wide. The Soviet Union's defence effort absorbs a much higher proportion of her national resources than is the case in most NATO countries, and her expenditure on defence continues to rise in real terms each year. Her military capability 849 as a result is growing steadily. The continuous introduction of new equipment in all Services is not only improving this capability but increasing the range of options open to her.
In March, during the debate on the Royal Navy, I drew attention to some aspects of the growing maritime power of the Soviet Union. The Soviet fleet has become a very effective instrument of policy, and it shows every signs of continuing to develop its capability for operations in distant waters. In 1963 the Soviet Union had 30 nuclear submarines. She now has 110. She then had 17 missile-armed cruisers and destroyers. She now has 60. In all, she has about 300 attack and cruise missile submarines and about 135 major surface combatant units.
There is continual Soviet naval activity in the North-West Indian Ocean. We have recently become aware that the Russians have established a small naval barracks in Somalia at the port of Berbera. This has not been announced before in the House.
Going to the Mediterranean, the United States Sixth Fleet, which helps to safeguard NATO's southern flank, continues to be challenged by the Soviet Mediterranean squadron. In the Atlantic, the increasing Soviet maritime capability is such as to cause doubts, frankly, about NATO's ability to reinforce the European theatre from the United States.
This again is a theme which my hon. Friends have deployed from time to time.
Then one turns to the Warsaw Pact ground forces, which comprise a threat of formidable dimensions. The Warsaw Pact has some 70 divisions immediately available for operations against NATO's 23. After reinforcement, it could be 90 against 27. We know that at present there are more than 100 armoured, mechanised and airborne Warsaw Pact divisions stationed in Eastern Europe and European Russia, deployed and trained for offensive operations, with all the advantages accruing from easy access to reinforcements and, of course, enormous reserves of manpower.
The Warsaw Pact, then, as a whole, has an overwhelming superiority over NATO in conventional ground forces. Our men are outnumbered by 2:1 in Central Europe; our tanks by 2½:1; our artillery by2¾:l.
850 The Soviet Union has some 11,600 military aircraft widely deployed, and a large efficient air transport fleet. In Europe there are some 5,360 combat aircraft, backed by 1,200 medium and heavy bombers in the Soviet long-range and naval air forces, as against NATO's 2,850.
Perhaps I may remind the House also that the Soviet Union's strategic forces now include some 1,500 intercontinental ballistic missiles, some 700 medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles, and about 60 operational ballistic missile firing submarines. We know that new strategic land and sea based missiles are under development.
In the face of this massive catalogue of military prowess, we can only speculate why the Soviet Union now appears to be prepared to negotiate on measures for détente. We are glad that she does so appear. This is a matter which has been mentioned by hon. Gentlemen opposite and, indeed, by my hon. Friends. Some factors which have caused her to appear to be willing to negotiate in this way are apparent, such as the need to meet domestic demands for goods and services, the existing situation relative to her own affairs in the East, and an acknowledgement of nuclear parity with the major Western Power. Furthermore, we can recognise that the areas of common interest between East and West may be increasing, which is hopeful. The Government's objectives certainly are to do all we can to ease matters in a new area of East-West relations in which tensions will be relaxed but security remains un-diminished. This last point must be, and is, basic to our approach to the talks which are now in progress and which have been mentioned during the course of this debate. Undiminished security, of course, depends absolutely on the maintenance of a strong North Atlantic alliance.
The development of our defence policy thus depends on the maintenance of the European Atlantic partnership embodied in NATO. The continuing health and credibility of NATO demand that Europe must play its full part and provide an equitable share of the forces required to defend the Atlantic area. This is where closer defence co-operation by the European members of NATO is so important. By working more closely together, wasteful duplication can be reduced and the 851 value of the European defence effort much increased.
I will not go into the activities of the important Euro-group as they are widely acknowledged. I am sure that the European direction is the right one for us to concentrate on in order to reach the twin goals of getting the maximum value for money and cementing our relationships with our allies.
Perhaps I can now turn from these rather broad considerations which determine our defence policy and concentrate for a few minutes on the basic requirement for implementing that policy; namely our men. Perhaps I should say personnel, because the women's and nursing services are also of great importance, and we all acknowledge that.
I will deal first with recruiting. In our previous defence and Service debates this year a good deal was said about current recruiting trends, and I will not repeat the details. The broad picture is that recruiting is tending to come down from the record levels of 1971 and 1972 but the trained strengths of the Services are up to the mark and re-engagement is continuing to improve, while the rate of wastage is decreasing slightly. As always, there are some shortages in some categories, and we keep a close watch on the age structure and are particularly anxious to recruit more young officers into the Army.
Those who are now joining all three Services are of extremely high quality. One has only to visit a mess in any of the Services to realise that what some have supposed were the days of the officer who was a chinless wonder with fire in his belly but no brains in his head are definitely over. There are plenty of brains these days.
Looking to the future, we shall need to recruit about the same number of men, 40,000 a year, out of a narrower age band and from a smaller pool because of present and forecast changes in the pattern of education and in the population structure. All of this adds up to the need to pay constant attention to conditions of service and to ensure that conditions of service are well up to all comparable work in civilian life and that the inevitable discomforts and constraints of Service life are properly taken into account.
852 Perhaps I can pick out some of the more important of those factors affecting recruiting. Substantial improvements have been made since 1970. Pay is obviously an important factor affecting the intake of recruits and the prolongation of service. We devote a lot of attention to this. I acknowledge at once that we started off with the help of the new military salary, which had been introduced by the Labour Government in 1970, and which provided a good basis for the subsequent improvements we have been able to make. In 1971 we set up three review bodies to advise the Government on the pay and allowances for those who had no collective bargaining machinery. Most important from the point of view of the Services is the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, whose responsibility covers all Service men and women up to the rank of brigadier and equivalent.
The first report of the review body was published in April last year and contained a useful summary of the reforms which have taken place in Service pay. It also recommended new rates. The review body also said that it would keep Service pay under continual scrutiny and make further recommendations as and when it thought fit. The Government's prices and incomes policy applies to the Services as to everyone in the community, but we have made it clear to the review body that we would like it to continue its work during phase 2 of that policy. I think that is the right decision.
Hon. Members will be aware that we have introduced important improvements in the engagement structure of our forces. We have taken into account the changes announced by the Government following the Donaldson Report. These were put into effect from 1st April 1971. As many hon. Members will be aware, one of the results of these improvements is that boys enlisted below the age of 17½ have the right to shorten their engagement on reaching the age of 18.
We also introduced the system of flexible engagements, which applies to those who enlist as adult Service men and those who graduate from boy service. This is known as the notice engagement scheme. It was introduced in May of last year. Basically, it gives the Service man the right, on completion of training 853 and 1½ years' productive service, to give 18 months' notice of leaving.
These important improvements, as I believe the House all round would agree, in conditions of service should be for the benefit of the Services as a whole and an incentive to recruitment, by getting away from the greater rigidity which the earlier structure had.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Before he leaves the subject of recruiting, could he bring the House up to date about the 15-year olds? He will know that the Royal Navy took 36 per cent. of its manpower at the age of 15, and the Army 22 per cent. Is he still tussling with his right hon. and fair Friend the Secretary of State for Education or has he lost the battle with her?
§ Mr. Buck
I would not put it quite like that. I have the greatest sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend on the question he poses to me, especially because HMS "Ganges", which I believe he has principally in mind here, is relatively near my constituency; and every year the boys come over to the Colchester Tattoo and, saving the presence of my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for the Army, rather steal the show from the Army from time to time, as I have often said to my Army friends. But I am afraid there does not seem to be much possibility that HMS "Ganges" will be able to continue in its present rôle. I admit to sadness about it. Perhaps my hon. Friend could himself have a tussle with my right hon. Friend about this matter, though I feel there are very strong arguments which make it not feasible for HMS "Ganges" to continue, sad though I feel that is.
I have dealt with Service conditions, with pay and with engagement structure. There are other factors, and one I would like to put before the House which is from my point of view perhaps most important is the matter of confidence— confidence in the Services and confidence in the determination of the Government to see that the Services are well treated. It is not entirely easy to see what makes for confidence but it is very easy to see what happens when confidence is lost. In 1968, following a series of defence reviews, recruiting slumped to 28,000 compared with the 40,000 plus which, as 854 I have said, we need each year. The next year, 1969, was not much better, and if that pattern had continued the strength of the Services would have been so seriously eroded that further major reviews would in turn have been necessary and the whole debilitating process would have continued.
By comparison, in 1971—a certain event happened in 1970 of which I am not making a party political point but it will not be lost on the House—confidence had been restored and recruitment reached the figure of 46,500. We are now back to a more modest figure a little below the 40,000 mark, but the change in climate is clear and welcome.
§ Mr. John Morris
Surely the hon. Gentleman must not give only part of the picture. He should give the figure for 1970 and try to tell the House exactly what happened before that substantial increase which occurred and the rising trend in those years because of the introduction of a military salary by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Denis Healey).
§ Mr. Buck
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been listening he would have heard me pay tribute a few moments ago to the fact that right hon. Gentlemen opposite brought in this scheme. I said that in terms which will be recorded tomorrow. But the event which happened in 1970, which I am bound to say I am prepared to stress if the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes, was an election; and a Government were restored who are not encumbered within their membership by people who do not believe in the armed Services. I am prepared to concede that hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite and we were agreed—[Interruption.] I was pressed on that point or I would not have dreamed of stirring up this matter at this stage. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman has outlined the very significant event which happened in 1970, which was a change of Government.
There is, however, one factor which no Government can rely on being able to control. This is the incidence and type of activity confronting the Services. But we do what we can, despite the difficulties which the Services are having— for example, in Northern Ireland. The House is aware of the various measures 855 we have been taking there to improve the conditions of the troops—the provision of better accommodation, extensions of leave, cheap telephone calls and many other things.
The devotion and forbearance of our troops in Northern Ireland is wholly remarkable. That has been stated on both sides of the House, and rightly so. I was in Belfast four weeks ago and met members of all three Services. I spent some time with units of the Army and the Royal Marines—the 2nd Light Infantry from Colchester, on its fifth tour in Northern Ireland, and 42 Commando. As on my earlier visits, I was tremendously impressed by the way in which they are conducting themselves and the way in which these men, some of them on their fifth tour of duty in the Province, are tireless in carrying out their difficult and hazardous rôle. They show remarkable understanding of the need for patience and restraint. What they are doing is worthy of all the tributes which have rightly been paid them tonight.
I turn now to some of the specific points raised in the debate. I have done my best to deal with the points raised by right hon. Members opposite, but, clearly, I have not done it wholly to their satisfaction. I will consider what further answers I can give them.
The hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) made an interesting contribution. He called for a new approach to defence. I looked forward to hearing in more detail what he had in mind, but was a little unclear about it when he had finished. I noticed that he did not cast blame on us for escalating defence costs.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) made one of his usual interesting and forthright speeches. He mentioned in particular the question of the media. I have great sympathy with all he had to say on that, having had certain encounters with the media of a not wholly satisfactory nature, relating to similar matters.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) raised the question of shipbuilding. I will not go into the details about the various parts of the programme, and perhaps I can take up the question of 856 Type 21 and Type 22 in correspondence with him rather than in the House now. I assure him that the capability and skill of the management and workers of Swan Hunter, including the old Wigham-Richardson, are not forgotten in the Ministry of Defence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) raised an interesting point. I will not enter the lists with him about tripwires. I will leave my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army to deal with that matter. I associate myself with what my hon. Friend said about the TAVR.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred to the interesting subject of the Hydrographer's Department. I am paying a visit to the Hydrographer ere long, and I will then go into the points about equipment and personnel which she raised. But it is notable that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is serving on a survey ship at the moment, and this must give some confidence that the Hydrographer's Department is not in such bad order as my hon. Friend indicated. The value of its work is vastly appreciated throughout the world. I will go into the other matters she raised more specifically in correspondence.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I hope that my hon. Friend enjoys his visit. However, coming from a Service town, I hope that I am not being unduly sensitive but I thought that his remark about "fire in the belly" was perhaps unfortunate. We depended on these men in two world wars, and it would be unfortunate if he gave the wrong impression.
§ Mr. Buck
What I said about fire in the belly was that officers today are not, as is sometimes suggested they have been in the past, chinless wonders with fire in their bellies but no brains in their heads. I would not have subscribed to that view, although occasionally, looking at the history of the charge of the Light Brigade, for example, in isolated incidents there might have been a little truth in it.
§ Sir R. Thompson
Will my hon. Friend not equivocate about this but just quietly withdraw the suggestion about chinless 857 wonders? It does not come well from a Minister who is supposed to be defending the Services.
§ Mr. Buck
If what I said caused offence to my hon. Friend, I withdraw it at once. Representing a garrison town, the last thing I would want to do is to cause offence. I was referring to the high calibre of the officers of today in what I thought was an amusing illustration. I am surprised that that was taken amiss. I unreservedly withdraw those remarks and apologise if I have caused any offence whatsoever.
In conclusion, it is the object of both sides of the House and all those who take an interest in defence matters that we should have greater publicity for the difficulties and the menaces which face our country and that the public should be brought to a better understanding of those problems.
The more that the public understand what we are confronted by, the more they will give wholehearted support to the basic aims of our defence policy and the more they will hold the services in the high esteem which they richly deserve.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.