HC Deb 06 May 1975 vol 891 cc1225-352
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Secretary of State for Defence, may I point out that I have a list of more than 50 right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate. The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. James) has just addressed the House on the subject of a shorter winter. I am talking about shorter speeches. I have received the most appealing letters from right hon. and hon. Members putting forward very good reasons why they should be called in this debate. If they are to be called, the only solution is that speeches should be really brief.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before you call the Secretary of State, will you indicate your decision about the amendments which appear on the Order Paper? One has been signed by more than 35 hon. Members. We are hoping that you will consider selecting that amendment. May I ask when you propose to announce your decision?

Mr. Speaker

I do not propose to select any amendments for debate today.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible for you at this stage to indicate whether you may not reconsider this matter tomorrow? I ask that question in view of the fact that so many hon. Members have put their names to the amendment referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and that no official Opposition amendment has been tabled.

Mr. Speaker

I have made no decision about tomorrow. I have made a decision about today.

3.57 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Roy Mason)

I beg to move, That this House, recognising the need both to provide adequately for the nation's security and to ensure that the level of public expenditure is contained within available resources, welcomes the statement on the Defence Estimates 1975 (Command Paper No. 5976); notes the circumstances in which further financial savings have since become necessary; and endorses the Government's determination to maintain efficient and well-equipped armed forces for the security of the United Kingdom. The statement on the Defence Estimates is my first Defence White Paper, and a long one. But I make no apologies for its length.

First, it gives the results of the defence review, including the wide-ranging consultations which have taken place since I announced the Government's proposals on 3rd December last year. It is a clear and comprehensive statement, giving as much detail as possible of the Government's defence policy, in its military, as well as its political, economic and financial aspects.

Secondly, I have been anxious to meet the recommendations of the Eighth and Ninth Reports of the Select Committee on Expenditure which urged that more information should be given on policy and strategic matters, as well as on costs.

In Chapter II, therefore, I have described extensively our operations in Northern Ireland and given fuller coverage of the military forces deployed on both sides in Europe, developments in East/West relations, and progress in NATO. Chapter III contains more information on exercises and operations ; chapter IV on Reserve and Auxiliary Forces ; and chapter VII on the content of our research and development and equipment programmes. In addition, there are two new annexes setting out the front line strengths of the Army and the RAF, alongside the customary table of the strengths of the Fleet.

Thirdly, there was no Defence White Paper last year, for reasons beyond my control; and I have thought it right to include in my White Paper details, fox example, of trends in recruitment, and new equipment coming into service, which would have appeared in the 1974 White Paper.

In Chapter I of the White Paper, as well as in my statement to the House on 3rd December 1974 and in the defence debate on 16th December 1974, I have dealt very fully with the background to the defence review. I have made clear that the results of the review are wholly consistent with the Government's commitments in the Labour Party's February manifesto and that of September 1974. I have explained that the review entailed a rigorous and fundamental analysis of every aspect of Britain's defence commitments and capabilities.

I have described the changes which, in the light of this analysis, the Government decided that it was necessary to make in order to reduce the burden of defence expenditure on the national economy and to release resources for investment and the balance of payments. I remain determined that this adjustment must be carried out in an orderly way over a period in order to preserve the efficiency and credibility of our forces.

I have made no secret of the difficulty of making the right political choices between the relative priorities attaching to our various commitments ; of avoiding, on the one hand, the retention of too many commitments which inevitably leads to ill-equipped, over-stretched and frustrated forces, and, on the other hand, arbitrary and short-term reductions which could have destroyed our credibility with our allies and partners inside and outside Europe, and also could have undermined our security.

But I am confident that, difficult though our task has been, we have made the right decisions. We have established clear strategic priorities, and we have explained these fully to our allies.

The Defence White Paper sets out the definitive decisions of the Government on all major issues of substance in the light of all the representations we received after we announced our proposals last December. I am indeed grateful for the understanding with which all our allies have approached these consultations.

We gave NATO the fullest opportunity to consider our proposals in detail and to make representations about them. We treated our non-NATO allies and partners with no less consideration. They have reacted reasonably and helpfuly, as we were confident they could and would if we took proper care to explain our position. We have also taken full account of the points made in last December's debates in both Houses; and we have produced many memoranda and twice given oral evidence to the Expenditure Committee's sub-committee on Defence and External Affairs. I was pleased to note the favourable terms in which its report described the defence review. The Committee also endorsed our strategy of concentrating resources on NATO, and, where possible, withdrawing from other areas.

The Government recognised, from the moment they took office, the need to tailor our defence commitments and capabilities to our economic and political position as a middle-rank European Power, and to ensure a modern and effective defence system geared to what we can afford. This cannot be done by relaxation of vigilance, wishful thinking, and blindness to political and economic trends. It can be done only by realistic planning for defence in the longer term so that political and economic realities always march in step.

The previous Government adopted a foreign and defence policy when they entered office in 1970 that did not take account of the räle which we could sensibly afford to play in today's world. They stuck rigidly to that 1970 statement of policy. Yet, at the end of 1973, even they were beginning to realise that their policy was no longer viable in the economic circumstances at that time. But instead of pressing forward with a fundamental review, they resorted, during 1973, to arbitrary financial cuts, totalling £291 million at 1974 prices. They must have known that such short-term cuts on that scale could not solve the basic problem. I have no doubt that in time, if they had had the chance, even they would have been forced to undertake a review similar to our own.

I believe that in defence we have set a pattern of reviewing its proper objectives. We have carried through our analysis to the point of political decision, and I believe we have made the right choices. Others in public departments, the public sector and the private sector might well find an example here.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

When the Minister of State for Defence wound up the debate on 16th December he described the Government's conclusions as being …a judgment, cool and considered, of what we need to spend to ensure our own security." — [Official Report,16th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 1290.] Now that the Government propose to cut a further 3 per cent., is it their view that the original judgment was insufficiently cool, or merely, after nine months, insufficiently considered?

Mr. Mason

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will just wait a moment he will realise that I intend to deal with the cut of 3 per cent. or the £110 million that he has just mentioned.

It is an illusion to think that massive cuts, more drastic and quicker than those on which the Government have decided, could have been achieved by cutting more of our non-NATO commitments. These are not costly compared with the cost of our commitments to NATO. Nor could massive and immediate cuts have been made without putting the whole of NATO strategy in jeopardy, destroying the cohesion of the alliance, and ruining our hopes for achieving a true and lasting détente.

Immediate and savage cuts in defence would have risked undermining Western security and Britain's credibility as an ally. They would have served notice to the United States—and to the Warsaw Pact—that Britain had lost interest in Western defence. There would have been a declaration that Britain had lost interest in a continuing balance of power in Europe and the Atlantic, through which realistic détente—and ultimately multilateral disarmament—can, we hope, be achieved. I was not willing to contemplate such a course.

There would also have been other effects of sudden and drastic defence cuts, apart from the military and strategic damage they would have caused. Manpower costs, including pensions and redundancy costs, would have been very heavy and extensive. We would have incurred heavy financial penalties on cancelled production and abandoned projects. The industrial and employment implications would have been very serious, at a time when unemployment was rising.

As it is, the defence review has resulted in savings at 1974 prices of more than £4,700 million over the period to 1983–84, and nearly £1,500 million in the period to 1978–79.

Over and above the defence review reductions, I have accepted a further cut of £110 million in 1976–77 at 1974 survey prices as part of the Government's economic strategy which my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, set out in his Budget speech. This cut, of nearly 3 per cent., has been contrasted by some with the 1½per cent. cuts to which it is thought that civil expenditure has been confined. But hon. Members should re- member that, apart from social security which was not cut, civil programmes were subjected to cuts not only of 11 per cent. on current expenditure on goods and services but also of 10 per cent. on capital expenditure. These civil programmes were thus cut by 3 per cent., and therefore there has been no discrimination against defence expenditure in the reductions which we all had to accept. Resources had to be released to make room for the needs of investment and the balance of payments at a time when the recovery stage in the present world trade cycle should be under way. That is why—from the defence point of view, reluctantly—I had to play my part in giving £110 million of the £900 million-plus so that by 1976–77 those resources can be released at a time when we expect that the world trade cycle should start to be under way once again.

A cut of £110 million in 1976–77 cannot, of course, be painless. Inevitably it will mean that equipment purchases will have to be adjusted, works and building programmes deferred, and some further job opportunities lost. But no major projects will have to be cancelled or major plans altered, over and above those which resulted from the defence review.

I hope, therefore, that hon. Members opposite will not carp at this reduction in view of their own past performance in the face of difficulties and in the light of their insistence, so recently reiterated both in this House and outside, on the need to reduce and control public expenditure.

Mr. Newens

Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to tell the House whether this cut of £110 million will in any way affect expenditure in future years? Shall we be forced to increase expenditure? Will expenditure be reduced, or will it remain the same as was previously projected?

Mr. Mason

Expenditure in the Estimates that have been printed will remain as projected, except for 1976–77 when we shall be cutting back £110 million—during 1976–77 only.

It is not my intention to trawl over the debate we had last December. I wish at this point to look to the future and to show how the defence commitments and capabilities which we shall retain will strike a responsible balance between economic reality and considerations of security, bearing constantly in mind the unique penalty of misjudging the size and shape of forces we need to ensure our security.

I will deal with our commitment to NATO first—the first priority of the Government's defence policy.

There are some who argue, particularly perhaps among younger people who have grown up without direct experience of war close to their homeland, that the Warsaw Pact does not threaten the security of Europe and that defence is a waste of resources. War, or the threat of force, is seen as something which concerns other people, not ourselves. It is a nice comfortable feeling such as ostriches have as the sand trickles into their ears. It is that happy feeling that the horrors of war in Vietnam and Cambodia could not possibly happen in Europe.

To meet these arguments I have set out in Chapters I and II of my White Paper the reasons why the Government believe that we must continue our commitment to NATO in the face of the massive forces which the Warsaw Pact maintains in Europe.

First, can we ignore the broad strategic nuclear parity which exists between the Soviet Union and the United States, consisting on each side of more than 2,000 inter-continental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles and long-range bombers? I do not think we can, because the Soviet Union's strategic forces could be used against Europe. Even less can we ignore the Warsaw Pact's very large force of shorter-range nuclear missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft which could be used only against Europe. Secondly, over and above this nuclear armoury, the Warsaw Pact deploys massive conventional capability in Europe.

Then there is the emergence of the Soviet Union as a maritime super-Power with a large and constantly growing submarine fleet already more than twice as large as that of NATO. That, too, is another, most significant point.

The concentration of maritime forces in the Soviet Northern and Baltic Fleets must be of particular concern not only to Britain but also to our European and American allies because of the threat which it poses to NATO'S transatlantic communications and to NATO's seaborne deterrent forces.

These fleets contain about 70 per cent. of the Soviet Union's nuclear powered submarines, about 65 per cent of her missile-firing submarines, and nearly half her missile-armed major warships. In the Eastern Atlantic, NATO's submarines are outnumbered by some 60 per cent., and of the Soviet total, almost half are nuclear powered. The discrepancy is even greater in the case of surface ships, where NATO is outnumbered by about 70 per cent.

In Central Europe, Warsaw Pact forces in peace outnumber those of NATO in both manpower and weapons. In total manpower the discrepancy is about 20 per cent., with the Warsaw Pact at about 925,000 and NATO at about 780,000 men. The Warsaw Pact has some 30 per cent. more soldiers in fighting units—525,000 men as opposed to NATO's 405,000. It has 3,400 tactical aircraft to NATO's 1,500, about 15,500 tanks to NATO's 6,000, and 6,700 field guns to NATO's 3,200.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

The clear and menacing figures which the Minister has just given to the House and which he quotes from his White Paper are surely a very natural and credible preamble to recommending an increase in defence expenditure rather than justifying a cut.

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members of the Opposition have stressed that point in past debates. But they always talk as though it is the United Kingdom alone which, first, can police the world ; second, can have maritime forces to protect all our sea routes; and third, must alone match the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. I am trying to point out that there is an imbalance. In due course I shall point out to the House why we took our strategic decisions when we carried out our defence review.

The Soviet Union is also improving the quality of its forces—we have recognised in the past that NATO has always had the edge—rapidly and relatively to NATO's improvements. Over the past 10 years Soviet defence expenditure is estimated to have increased at about 3 per cent. a year at constant prices, and some 5 per cent. a year over the past three years.

These forces are far greater than the Warsaw Pact requires for garrison duties or for the protection of Soviet sea-borne trade. The Warsaw Pact also has considerable additional advantages over NATO in terms of geography, and short and rapid reinforcement over land routes.

But, in spite of this military imbalance, NATO has, for 26 years, maintained its resolution and fulfilled its basic purpose of deterring aggression in Europe. Its continued strength is vital to our national interests and to our security. We have not taken it for granted, and we must not.

Therefore, I have ensured that, within our means, the United Kingdom will continue to make the strongest possible contribution to the alliance in the central region, in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas, in the United Kingdom and its immediate approaches, and through our contribution to the NATO nuclear deterrent. We could not have concentrated solely on a maritime strategy, or on the central region, or on a conventional strategy. To have done so would have seriously weakened the confidence and credibility of the alliance. The alliance depends on forward defence on land and at sea; on sea as well as air reinforcements; on the security of the United Kingdom against all threats; and on deterrence at all levels of possible conflict. All of these contributions are vital ingredients of the continued cohesion of Europeans within NATO, and of the commitment of the United States to station strong forces of their own in Europe, and to reinforce them.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Is my right hon. Friend able to say, either now or later in the debate, whether staying in the nuclear arms league means further atomic testing?

Mr. Mason

I have already indicated to the House on many occasions in answer to supplementary questions from both sides of the House, and in a written reply a fortnight ago, that at some time in the future—I do not know when—if we are to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent, it may be necessary to have another test. If it is possible to give my hon. Friend notice of it, I shall certainly do that. The maintenance of our nuclear deterrent happens to be part of our defence policy and plays a part in our defence strategy. Therefore, I must say that if necessary, we may have to have another test.

Each Service will have its part to play in the defence of the alliance. Britain contributes some 70 per cent. of the immediately available maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel areas. In a time of tension or war, these forces would demonstrate NATO's resolve to keep open sea communications between Europe and the rest of the world, and particularly for reinforcements from the United States. The effective defence in these areas therefore depends critically upon the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

In order to meet this task we shall be maintaining the new construction programmes for nuclear-powered submarines and for anti-submarine cruisers which are needed to counter the formidable and growing Soviet submarine threat, and we are continuing the construction of new destroyers and frigates, including the Type 42, which will considerably enhance the ability of our ships to survive attack by missiles launched from submarines, surface ships, or aircraft.

We shall be maintaining the professionalism and even enhancing the combat capability of our land forces so that we shall have a more modern, streamlined and cost-effective Army. We shall achieve this by a radical reorganisation of the Army's structure to adapt it to the tactical concepts and sophisticated equipment of the 1980s.

The United Kingdom's land contribution to NATO will be maintained at a level of 55,000 men, and 1 British Rhine Corps will continue to cover the same key frontage in the central region. Its front-line capability will be enchanced and the number of combat teams will be increased. On mobilisation, the size of BAOR would be more than doubled, and we hope to increase the number of reinforcements by some 5,000 men and streamline the home base to handle the mobilisation and deployment more effectively.

Although the Royal Air Force transport force will be cut by 50 per cent. no significant reductions will be made in front-line combat aircraft, and all the major re-equipment programmes affecting the front line will go ahead.

Arrangements have also been completed for the closer integration of the Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command into the NATO Command structure, as a result of which nearly 200 additional Strike Command aircraft, including Buccaneers, Canberras, Vulcans, Harriers, Hunters, as well as the VC10s, Belfasts and Hercules, will now be more readily available to the alliance in an emergency.

If we were to maintain our commitments to these crucial central areas of NATO, some reductions had to be made in those areas where our contribution could not, in our view, be effective. Our specialist reinforcement forces were originally designed to meet our former world-wide commitments and were out of proportion to our new räle in European defence.

Naturally we took fully into account the imbalance between the Warsaw Pact and NATO forces on the flanks of NATO, especially on the northern flank, in reaching our conclusions, and we consulted our allies fully before reaching our decisions. The choices we made were not easy, but I am convinced that they were right. As a result, the forces which we shall retain for these räles—which are spelt out in the White Paper—will continue to make a formidable contribution to alliance security.

Our careful consultations with the alliance have fully borne out our judgment of our priorities. Naturally, our allies were disquieted by the scale of the reductions we proposed and the weakening effect they would have on NATO's conventional capability vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact if they were not offset by compensatory measures.

We have been able to go some way towards meeting these concerns by certain modifications to our original proposals, and consultations with our allies are continuing on further low-cost measures which we may be able to take in addition to those already spelled out in the Defence White Paper.

Our ability to help will very largely depend on the degree of assistance and "host-nation" support that our allies can provide in order to reduce the cost to us of continuing to meet some of these commitments, and will be on the clear understanding that all our defence commitments and capabilities must be met from within the total of resources allocated by the Government to defence.

In spite of the military imbalance in Europe, we are following a policy of détente as well as defence. We believe that, provided we maintain credible deterrent forces, we can hope, with our allies, gradually to establish better relations with the Warsaw Pact countries.

This is not easy while the Warsaw Pact maintains such massive military power, but the Prime Minister's recent visit to the Soviet Union and mine to Romania were aimed at building a more productive and co-operative relationship between East and West irrespective of the differences in our political, economic and social systems.

The fruits of improving East-West understanding could be very great, and on a basis of equality and mutual respect we shall continue to pursue it, especially in the conference on security and cooperation in Europe and in the negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions.

In our approach to the adjustment of the equipment programme to the new level of forces, we have avoided short-term and disproportionately disruptive cuts in those projects which are now well advanced. Instead, we have been able to preserve the most important new projects in hand at the moment.

Looking ahead, we intend to take decisions on equipment progressively at the proper time, but with strict regard to the level of resources which will be available to defence over the next 10 years. This will mean, among other things, that we shall have to be more insistent than ever that all new equipment projects will make a cost-effective contribution to our military capability. We shall also be pursuing with increased vigour collaborative and co-operative projects within NATO in order to avoid the often wasteful duplication of effort of the past. The way ahead will not be easy but we believe that we shall be able to maintain the equipment of our forces at the proper technical level and still make subsantial budgetary savings.

Although changes in the forward equiment programmes will be made progressively and as smoothly as possible, the effects on employment in industry cannot, I am afraid, be evenly spread. Reductions will be most marked in the aerospace field. Even before the defence review it was clear that, with fewer new projects coming along, there would be a marked reduction over the next decade in the level of activity on military aerospace projects, particularly on the design side.

The defence review measures will affect the future loading of the principal aerospace constructors—Hawker Siddeley Aviation, the British Aircraft Corporation, Rolls-Royce and Westlands. There have been consultations with these firms and with the Departments of Employment and Industry to assist the orderly redeployment of valuable skills to non-defence work.

That is the keynote of an orderly and controlled adjustment of our defence forces over a sensibly long forward period. It allows the consequences, especially in terms of jobs, to be managed so that the effect on individuals, their livelihoods and their families will be reduced to the minimum.

While a reduction in planned expenditure is likely to affect future job opportunities, it does not necessarily entail redundancy. Redundancy in a particular factory depends on the availability of other work at the time and the way in which management decides to cope with the changing work load. I am glad to say that I do not foresee any threat of widespread unemployment in any region of the country as a result of the measures we have adopted as a result of the defence review.

In this regard, increasing attention is being given within the alliance to cooperation in equipment procurement and greater standardization. There are obvious economic advantages. With common equipment, we could avoid duplication of development; there would be longer production runs to meet larger orders, so unit costs would be lower; and we could get better value for money. Economies through co-operation in logistic support can follow. It is vital that we should all get the best value that we can out of our defence budgets, which are under pressure throughout the alliance. The operational advantages could also be considerable.

Within the alliance a particular focus of our efforts is to be the Eurogroup of Defence Ministers. Later today I shall be welcoming my colleagues to London for the meeting of the Eurogroup which is to be held in Lancaster House tomorrow.

I believe that Eurogroup has a distinctive and important contribution to make to the strength and cohesion of the alliance. I was particularly pleased and honoured when my fellow Eurogroup Ministers of Defence invited me to be their chairman during this year.

A central subject for Eurogroup to consider is the "two-way street" in defence equipment between the United States, on the one hand, and the European members of the alliance, on the other; that is to say, the suggestion that, in the interests of getting common equipment in NATO, the United States should buy equipment from Europe, just as Europe is buying from the United States.

I am looking forward to discussing this topic constructively with my Eurogroup colleagues at our meeting. I hope that we can take the right decisions on this, because this issue concerns a key relationship in the alliance, and much in the way of renewed confidence, cohesion, and material benefit could flow from such decisions.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the position of France in this matter in view of her relationship with NATO?

Mr. Mason

Yes. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. I reveal to the House that I should be very keen for France to take the vacant chair at Eurogroup. France plays a very important part in Western European defence industries. We have collaborative projects with the French and they have collaborative projects with other Western industrial countries within the NATO alliance. I feel, therefore, that if France would like to make an effort to co-operate fully within the Western European defence industrial force, the vacant chair at Eurogroup remains ready and willing to receive the French delegate.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider moving Eurogroup from its headquarters in Brussels, thereby making it more attractive for eventual French participation?

Mr. Mason

I should not be prepared to consider that at this stage. The Eurogroup is meeting in London this week. This is the first time that it has met outside Brussels, and it might be a useful precedent, but I should not want to take it beyond that. No doubt Ministers as they become chairmen of Eurogroup will probably want to have their annual meetings in their own capitals.

There are, of course, threats—political as well as military—and military imbalances elsewhere in the world other than in the NATO area.

There are those who argue that this is all our business and that we should be actively engaged all over the world as we once were in the days of our military, economic and political greatness, and there are those who argue that none of this is our business. The Government's view is at neither extreme.

We believe that, with a national income per head a little over half that of the Federal Republic of Germany, two thirds that of France and less than a fifth more than that of Italy, we are in no position to continue to police the world, and that it is not realistic to expect us to do so.

But we have decided that we must retain a military presence in some of our dependent territories—Hong Kong. Gibraltar, Belize and the Falkland Islands—and in certain other areas, such as Cyprus and Oman, where the withdrawal of British forces in present circumstances might have had adverse political consequences which outweighed the cost to Britain of maintaining a reasonable level of forces. Some withdrawals and adjustments have, therefore, already begun.

The process of adjusting the size of the Armed Forces and the numbers of civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence cannot, I am afraid, be painless. We must ensure that, when the reductions are over, we have not only the right numbers overall, but the right numbers in each rank, in each age bracket, and in each trade. Unfortunately, it cannot be done without some measure of redundancy. It would be impossible to avoid an unbalanced manpower situation without some redundancy. It is very sad that, in restricting defence spending to what we can afford, the careers of so many officers and men will have to be cut short. The redundancy terms are generous, but they cannot, of course, compensate the individual for the loss of a career.

All this would, I think, have been unnecessary if the size and shape of our defence forces had been continuously and realistically kept under review over the past few years. But, as things are, redundancies are necessary if we are to have the sort of forces in the future in which every man and woman, Service and civilian, knows that he or she is doing a thoroughly worth-while job and has a future career which will give continuing advancement and job satisfaction until the normal age of retirement.

The Forces Resettlement Service is already geared to the scale of normal out-flow—in the region of 40.000 a year—so it should be able to cope very well with the redundancies arising out of the defence review.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

We have available the redundancy figures as a result of the defence review. We do not have the figures for the redundancies that will be created by the further 3 per cent. cut, nor the changes in equipment procurement. May we assume that the right hon. Gentleman will give us some of the details of that?

Mr. Mason

No, because I am not expecting any further redundancies on the £110 million cut in 1976–77. What I am expecting is that some of the equipment programmes will be deferred and that some of the job opportunities in the industries that provide that equipment will be affected. When I have firm proposals I shall be able to make a further statement in the Defence White Paper for the year in question.

I am also very conscious of the problem of housing, where the Service man—and his family—sometimes finds himself at a disadvantage when he leaves the Services. I am hopeful that the situation will be alleviated by the circular which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will very shortly be issuing to local authorities urging them to bear in mind the special circumstances of ex-Service personnel and to take these into account in their allocation of housing.

I should like to mention some of the current operations of the Armed Services. First, and foremost, there is the outstanding work done, and still being done, by British Service men in Northern Ireland. Their task is difficult, often dangerous, and, in many respects, distasteful, but it is a vital task and one which, despite the discomfort and hazard, the troops continue to carry out willingly, thoroughly and effectively, and I cannot pay them too high a tribute.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On the question of housing, does my right hon. Friend agree that, apart from local authorities, something should be done about new towns which are far too slow in recognising the needs of Service personnel?

Mr. Mason

I hope that once the circular has gone out from the Department of the Environment about housing we shall quickly be able to make an analysis of how many local authorities are reacting in favour of the Service man. No doubt we shall be able then to examine also the problem of the new towns.

I think that most of the House will remember that, during the Cyprus emergency last year, all three Services played a part in a massive evacuation, allied with their humanitarian operations. This was an excellent operation, carried out in full view of the whole world, and it showed how professionalism and sensible contingency planning pays off when things get serious. More recently, the Royal Air Force has helped in the evacuation of British people from Phnom Penh and Saigon.

The Services have continued also to stand ready to provide assistance to the civil community in emergency and have undertaken numerous community projects. Much credit is due to the Service men who recently carried out with great efficiency the difficult and unpleasant job of removing the health hazard caused by the building up of rubbish in the streets of Glasgow.

There are many more examples. I have mentioned only a few, and no doubt hon. Members will draw other examples to the attention of the House. I have spoken at some length about the military imbalance in Europe and about the action that we are taking to ensure that Britain's contribution to the security of the NATO area is maintained at the highest level that we can reasonably afford. I believe that, given the stalwart conventional and nuclear defences of the NATO Alliance, there is no imminent threat of military aggression. But, as I have said in my White Paper, this is a political judgment which neither alters the military facts nor necessarily holds good for ever.

But the threat to the West is political rather than military. Any major Power with massive military power at its disposal could, if it so wished, bring political pressure to bear upon any country in Europe or elsewhere which, for whatever reason, had lost its political and military self-confidence. That pressure could be exercised not only on the external policies of the country concerned but also on its freedom of action internally.

Against this threat we have to safeguard our own freedom, our way of life, our belief in our common heritage of democracy and individual liberty, and our commitment to social justice, human equality and the rule of law. All these basic freedoms find their expression through our system of parliamentary democracy, and we must defend it and those freedoms against every threat from wherever it comes.

No one in this House wishes to see the day when—in this country or in any other country of the free world—the freedom to express dissentient views is curtailed, when minorities are not tolerated, and when intimidation and brutality replace the rule of law. These are the evils which we defeated 30 years ago, and these are still the evils which we must be vigilant against today. It is against the threat of these evils that we all need defence—civil and military, individual and collective.

Our Armed Forces, combined with those of our allies, are tangible evidence of our determination to protect the freedom of our people from interference or domination by the threat of force. Their dedication and professionalism needs to be recognised and acknowledged by a greater number of our own people, for our Armed Forces have a large part to play in ensuring that our precious freedom is preserved. We owe a great debt to those who are prepared and ready to defend our way of life for us.

Idealism is not the monopoly of a few, but the privilege of us all, and we all need to recognise that those ideals, which to some it has become unfashionable to talk about, are fundamental to decent human life and must be defended against any attempt to destroy them.

4.41 p.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for his White Paper, which has been with us for some weeks now, and also for considerable portions of his speech today—if by no means all of it. The House will be particularly glad to have this debate at this time, as we have waited an extraordinarily long time for it. It is now almost eight weeks since the White Paper was published. The whole issue of the White Paper and of defence generally cannot often have been discussed at a more serious or more important stage in our country's affairs.

It is a great pity that, due partly to the disarray of the Government's parliamentary programme, we have had to wait this long time for this important debate. This is also due to the fact that the Government have regrettably allowed several measures, important to them but highly unimportant to the country, to take precedence over this debate over the last few weeks. For instance, could we not have debated this matter last week instead of the nationalisation of North Sea oil or the Community Land Bill or the Employment Protection Bill? I regret that the Government appear to regard those measures as more important than the defence of the country. That is an attitude to which the Opposition cannot possibly subscribe. I have wondered whether the Government were waiting until after the Budget so that the Chancellor could put his hand into the defence review and possibly take some of the blame for the result.

It is always difficult to discuss defence matters in time of peace. No one knows better than those who have at any time taken part in defence debates or in defence itself that it is not a subject which impinges daily on the life of every citizen. But the Secretary of State tried to explain at the end of his speech why defence is still, at the end of the day, the most important responsibility of any Government and why any Government who fall down on that responsibility are guilty in a unique way of failing in their responsibilities.

I should like to add my congratulations to those of the Secretary of State to our Armed Forces generally for the way in which they have conducted their many duties over the past one-and-a-half to two years since we last had a full-scale Defence White Paper. The standards of the men and women in our forces, the professionalism that they employ and the standards of the operations which they can do when called upon, often at short notice, are today as high as they have ever been in the history of our forces. The same can be said for their morale, which in the visits that I have paid I have found to be exceptionally high. This is a great encouragement to everyone involved in defence. It is also encouraging to see some improvement in recruiting, which has caused concern at times and which we hope to hear more about today.

While endorsing warmly what the Secretary of State said about the conduct of our troops in Northern Ireland—the most difficult job that they have had to do for a long time—I would add that I doubt whether any other army in the world could have tackled that task with anything like the success and expertise that ours has done. Finally, and by no means going from the sublime to the ridiculous, I would single out the public-spirited and, in its own way, expert fashion in which the troops tackled the distasteful and unpleasant task of clearing the great city of Glasgow of the rubbish left around during the strike. Our Services and those who serve in them deserve the highest praise—as I am sure the whole House will agree.

It is impossible not to feel some sympathy for the Secretary of State in the difficult balancing act which he has to do, as was so clearly demonstrated today. The right hon. Gentleman has to perform as two men in these debates, and I do not know which räle he plays the more effectively. Dr. Jekyll gives us a graphic description of the build-up of the Warsaw Pact Powers; Mr. Hyde tells us that as a result we must reduce our force levels. Dr. Jekyll tells us of the necessity for our defence being of the highest importance to our national life; Mr. Hyde tells us that we cannot afford to spend too much on important matters of defence which all our allies think are vital. This dual act must be very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman, but, however well he may do it, it is simply not acceptable as a defence policy to describe, however graphically and expertly, the threats we face and then expect the House and the Opposition meekly to swallow the conclusion that as a result we must reduce our defences.

When the Defence White Paper was coming forward, I expected to have to produce a reasoned amendment to a Government motion approving the White Paper. As Opposition spokesmen do, I jotted down a few notes about what I might say. Alas, those notes have all had to be destroyed. I discovered that the Government had written their own reasoned amendment to their own White Paper. To paraphrase this extraordinary motion, perhaps a little unkindly, what it says is: "I have produced a White Paper, it has all gone wrong since, but 1 would like the House to approve it after all."

Labour Members below the Gangway have produced an amendment and have discussed with Mr. Speaker today whether it has been selected. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will have a good deal to say later about that amendment. I want to make just one thing clear about it now, before we get into the main subject of the debate. Anyone who has had anything to do with looking after the defence of this country or who knows anything about the state of the world today will quail before the pure irresponsibility of this amendment. If any part of it were to be carried out by the right hon. Gentleman—I hope, indeed I am sure, that it will not be—such grave inroads would be made in our ability to contribute to NATO that our allies would not stand for it for a moment and we could not hold up our heads. I hope that, whatever else it does, the House will pay no attention to the amendment. I hope that it is treated with the contempt it deserves.

We regard the White Paper as a highly dangerous document. It covers a period stretching as far as 10 years ahead. The decisions taken as a result will be with us for many years. It is dangerous because it weakens our defences beyond what any rational calculation would advise was wise and lets down our allies in a way which they have, in the politest terms, made clear they do not agree with. We cannot ignore the fact that the White Paper throws literally thousands of people out of work. I hope that that fact will have sunk in to Labour Members, because they might regard it as being very important.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be totally unaware that there is still a shortage of skilled manpower in British industry, and that so long as we go on wasting our manpower and deploying it into armaments instead of items we can export, we shall seriously aggravate our economic position.

Mr. Younger

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of visiting some of those people who are likely to be thrown out of work by this review and who know the facts. They have been here to tell us. Perhaps he would like to try out that argument upon them. I should like to hear how he gets on.

Mr. Robin F. Cook


Mr. Younger

I am sorry. I will not give way, because I must get on.

We expect to go into much more detail during the Estimates debates later this summer. Subject to any more we may hear in those debates I am doubtful whether we can expect to see the usual pattern of Estimates debates passing through the House without a vote. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I feel extremely disturbed about the effects of these cuts on the Services.

No defence decisions taken by any Government are likely to have their full effects in the lifetime of that Government. This places a peculiar responsibility on Defence Ministers, of whatever party, to bear in mind that in most cases they will not have to deal with the consequences. The consequences of this review will be with us for much longer than the four or five years which are—even at the most optimistic, or perhaps I should say pessimistic—the possible lifetime of this Government.

The public must be made aware that the decisions in the White Paper will have their effect a long time hence. Conversely, if a threat occurs in five or six years' time, which we have neither the men nor the materials to meet, the public cannot expect to ask the Government of the day, "Why has provision not been made? We wish provision to be made to deal with this emergency". Then it will be too late. Therefore, the responsibility of Government is very great.

As I said in our debate in December, it is no part of the Opposition case that there can never, in any circumstances, be savings on expenditure on defence. Indeed, it is the prime responsibility of Defence Ministers, and Governments generally, continually to search for ways of achieving our defence more economically and getting better value for money. This should never cease.

It is no part of my argument that there is something intrinsically wrong in getting our defence at a lower cost, if that can be done. Any review of defence must be based on carefully thought out needs, the strategic and military needs based on our foreign policy, the needs of the Government and of the country at the time. Any review that is based on anything else is based on bad foundations. We cannot discuss this matter as if the world outside did not exist.

It is somewhat surprising that this great enterprise of the defence review, of which the right hon. Gentleman has been so proud, for the results of which we have waited so long, and which has placed the Services in a great deal of turmoil and uncertainty for over a year, started as a fundamental review of our defence requirements. But it then sailed on its way oblivious, it appears, of the fact that the world situation has changed in many respects quite dramatically during the past 15 months.

I shall briefly remind the House of only some of the major new uncertainties that we now face and that we did not face a year ago. There has been a major crisis in Cyprus which involved our forces and which has totally altered the situation in that troubled part of the Mediterranean. It has affected two of our vital NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, in a very complicated and difficult way, and no one can see how the tangled and tortured affairs of those two nations and Cyprus will be sorted out.

In the Middle East there is certainly a no more stable position now than we had 15 months ago. Many people would say that it is rather more unstable. We have the prospect of the reopening of the Suez Canal, with all the implications that that has, not just for the Mediterranean but for the Indian Ocean.

We have experienced, and are still experiencing, what amounts to a revolution in Portugal—a NATO ally—where some important NATO installations are situated.

Finally, there are the tremendous effects—of which we are only just beginning to see the results—of the painful and heartrending upheaval in the Far East over the past few weeks.

However, throughout all this the defence review has sailed on unscathed. The aim of cutting our defence expenditure has not altered one whit up or down. As a result of all these events there does not seem to have been any alteration even from the position in December. We must ask ourselves whether it is prudent to continue on this course as if the outside world does not exist.

A defence review by any Government should be based first on our essential commitments. They should be matched against the resources available, and the cost should be assessed. If commitments can be shown not to be essential to our security they can and should be abandoned. Conversely, if commitments are clearly demonstrated to be essential to our security—and that includes our contribution to our NATO alliance, which is the most important single element in our security—they must be met. No commitment should be abandoned which is clearly demonstrated to be necessary.

The White Paper demonstrates beyond any doubt, to any objective reader, how essential many of our commitments are, but it then proceeds blandly to abandon them, which is not sense. That is the main burden of my complaints about it.

Paragraph 1 of the White Paper repeats the Government's announcement in the House that they had 'initiated a review of current defence commitments and capabilities against the resources that, given the economic prospects of the country, we could afford to devote to defence' ". Yet paragraph 9 says, Clear strategic priorities were established at the outset; but no arbitrary financial limit was set, which would have prejudiced the outcome of the analysis. That is true. But was it completely open, no arbitrary financial limit being set? The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, whom I am always fond of quoting, put it more clearly and in a way with which I agreed, in a speech in Portsmouth on 19th April 1974, when he said, If we are to behave rationally and constructively in government, we cannot simply pluck a percentage or figure from a hat and say that our defence expenditure must, at all costs, he pegged to it. There is no logic in such an approach. Those were wise words. There is no logic in such an approach.

That leads me to the kernel of the absurdity of the arguments in the White Paper, this great game of relating our defence expenditure to the gross national products of other countries—not, as might be thought reasonable, the GNPs of our enemies or potential enemies, but at our allies.

The October 1974 Labour Party manifesto said: The Labour Government is conducting the widest ranging defence review to be carried out in peace-time". It went on to commit a Labour Government to achieving annual savings…of several hundred million pounds. That was at a time when this open-ended defence review, with no financial ceiling, was still in progress.

It was closely followed by the right hon. Gentleman's December statement in which he announced that he had decided to reduce defence expenditure, as a proportion of our gross national product, from 5½per cent. to 4½ per cent.

Let us see whether this argument can be made to hold water. I do not see in the White Paper, and I have heard from no Minister or Labour Member. any justification for either figure. Nobody has told me whether 5½per cent. is too high or too low, and why, or whether 4½per cent. is too high or too low, and why. They are figures plucked out of the air and used for the purpose of mathematics in this exercise.

Mr. Bidwell

What is the hon. Gentleman's calculation of how much of the nation's resources should be spent on defence burdens and arms? He does not need access to secrets to give the answer.

Mr. Younger

I do not subscribe to the theory that the amount of defence we need has any relationship to GNP—I think that by the time I have finished explaining, Labour Members will agree with me.

The percentage of GNP that any country spends on defence clearly depends, first, on what that GNP is. Secondly, it depends on many forecasts which go to make up that GNP, particularly when one is looking a certain number of years ahead, as we are. Everyone knows that the forecasts of growth in the economy and of rates of inflation are extremely doubtful. Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a noted exponent of the art of forecasting the rate of inflation, he is not likely to win a Nobel Prize as the most accurate forecaster of rate of inflation.

The whole exercise has been based on a notional rate of growth of 3 per cent. per annum. Is there any hon. Member left who believes that, whatever happens to our economy, it will continue to grow at an average rate of 3 per cent. over the next 10 years? Does anyone have any demonstrable reason for being able to put that forward as a proposition?

Thirdly, the percentage of GNP depends on what one includes in defence. Some countries with which comparisons are made include the health expenditure on their forces, while others do not. Some have conscript armies. Others do not. Some include such things as housing families overseas as part of social expenditure, whilst other include it as part of military expenditure.

I give one interesting example to show that these are not just airy-fairy matters plucked out of the air. In France, one of the countries with which our performance is compared, the pay of retired Service men is not included in the defence budget, though it is included in our defence budget. The French defence budget would be 9,397 million francs or 20 per cent., bigger if it were included. That would make a big difference to the calculation of the percentage of GNP the French spend on defence.

I shall not weary the House with numerous other examples, which are boundless. Anyone hanging his hat on the principle or relating the two things is talking economic nonsense and should admit it.

Mr. Newens

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a need to keep down public expenditure, of which defence expenditure is part? If no plans are made to reduce defence expenditure, it is nonsense to talk, as the Opposition have talked, about the necessity to take action on this matter of public expenditure.

Mr. Younger

That is an entirely different point. I shall return to the general question of expenditure. I am trying to demonstrate that the whole business of relating gross national product and defence expenditure is economic and military nonsense.

Who would contend with any reason that our defence needs vary according to our GNP? Do we become more or less threatened if our gross national product rises? Do we believe that there is any direct relationship between the two? I do not believe that that can be demonstrated.

I do not see my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) here. He might have been able to help us. I wonder what would have happened if Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, had sat down in May 1940 to work out our allies' percentage of defence expenditure and to try to relate ours to it. If he had, many of us would not be here today.

Even if the argument were good, even if the argument about the relationship between GNP and defence expenditure held water, the people with whom we should draw comparisons are not our allies but our potential enemies, the people against whom our forces are likely to be ranged.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the French did not include retirement pay in their defence budget. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would probably be delighted to cut certain such items from his defence budget. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that even with the retirement pay included, to make a bigger defence budget the French would still spend, as a percentage of GNP, less than we do?

Mr. Younger

I have not calculated whether that is so. If the hon. Gentleman has, I entirely accept what he says. But it does not alter my argument.

Many other examples could be given, but I shall not labour the point any further. I hope that it is clear that economically the argument is nonsense. The White Paper makes no attempt to justify it, and I am not surprised. It is time we heard the last of this spurious argument. There are many good reasons why we can argue that defence expenditure should be higher or lower. Relating it to GNP is not one.

What happens if our GNP changes dramatically one way or the other? Suppose it rose faster than we expected in the next 10 years, with the result that the right hon. Gentleman's review left us with our defence expenditure below 41 per cent. of GNP in seven or eight years' time. Will his successor, in the unhappy event of his being a Labour Minister, have to tell us, "I regret to say that because our GNP has gone up our defence expenditure has fallen below 41 per cent. I therefore propose to increase defence expenditure to bring it up to that percentage"? The whole idea is nonsense.

The other contradiction in the White Paper on which I wish to spend a little time is the military judgment that has led to the cuts. The most interesting chapter on this matter is Chapter II, from which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted, and which he amplified in the splendid passage when he was echoing Mr. Hyde, curdling our blood with pictures of the build up of power in the Warsaw Pact. He did it excellently, and I do not need to reinforce what his White Paper says. In paragraphs 2–8 inclusive of Chapter II there is fact after fact clearly spelt out—the build up of the Warsaw Pact naval forces, the equality achieved in strategic arms, nuclear parity and so on.

At the end, what is the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman comes to? He says "This is all very serious. There are very large increases. Therefore, I have decided that we must cut our naval frigates by a seventh and our RAF transport fleet by half." So it goes on. Where is the logic in that? I do not believe that there is any.

The real solution comes back to the fundamental misconception of the whole White Paper—that it is designed to find a way of justifying a reduction in expenditure to which the Labour Party regrettably committed itself in February 1974 and again in the following October.

It is certainly very brave of the Secretary of State to have printed in his own White Paper all the evidence to show how false and wrong this decision was. I should, however, let him know that Members of the Opposition are not so green that they cannot spot a phoney when they see it, and this White Paper is a phoney. It is two different documents laid side by side, and we have had two Secretaries of State in the person of the right hon. Gentleman who has endeavoured to put both sides of the case, with the result of a White Paper which makes no sense.

The reactions of our allies to the White Paper are crystal clear. So clear are they that the right hon. Gentleman, again with commendable candour, has printed most of them in it. Bearing in mind the understandable desire of Governments to print White Papers to show themselves in the best possible light—and I make no complaint about that because all Governments rightly do it—it is startling what strong language the Government felt they had to put in about what our NATO allies thought of the White Paper.

Paragraph 13 states, Our partners and associates outside NATO have noted our proposals with some regrets but have in general recognised the economic imperatives which led us to make them. Paragraph 14 says Our NATO allies…have expressed considerable disquiet at the overall scale of the reductions we propose and the weakening effect which they would have…They have also expressed concern lest —and so it goes on. Paragraph 30 says our NATO allies…have asked us to reconsider those features of the reductions which they consider most damaging". The House will note that the term used is not "damaging" but "most damaging". And I think that every hon. Member who has spoken to any of our colleagues in any of the other NATO countries will have realised that there is a feeling of dismay at the cuts, that they very much regret that they have been necessary and that they wish, too, that we had not made them.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

I have been following the hon. Gentleman with enormous interest and a good deal of sympathy. There seems to be considerable logic in many of the points and criticisms he has been making. I must ask him, however, whether there are no economic imperatives—as distinct from the defence imperatives that he rightly stresses—arising out of our present situation that might impel even him to place some sort of ceiling, for the time being, and in agreement with our NATO allies, on the over—all level of defence expenditure. How far would he be prepared to let expenditure rise?

Mr. Younger

I think there are economic imperatives which come upon Governments at times like this when considering these matters. However, the whole defence question rests upon what our needs and commitments are. If the Government would like to tell the House that there are certain vital needs and commitments which are essential to us as a nation but which we are unable to afford, I could understand that. I could criticise it and try to demonstrate—and I believe I would succeed—that we could afford essential commitments and that we might have to find other ways of finding the money for them. I would be prepared to argue that. However, that is not what is being argued here. We are being invited to believe that nothing which is vital is being sacrificed, but my contention is that a great deal which is vital is being sacrificed. The vast majority of reaction in the Press in this country has been universally hostile to the extent of the cuts.

Perhaps I may briefly outline the details of the cuts and my reaction to them without going into them at length because I have no doubt that these matters will be covered by my hon. Friends. I believe that it is right to try to renegotiate the conditions upon which our troops are in Hong Kong, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some information in the debate about progress in those negotiations. This is the right approach and I have no complaint with it.

I shall spend no time on the strange and quite incomprehensible situation in Brunei where the right hon. Gentleman has, in spite of many requests, produced no reason whatever why the battalion in Brunei, which costs us literally nothing, is to be withdrawn by the Government. I will not weary the House further with that matter. It is a pity that we are removing our jungle warfare training school contingent from Singapore. The amount of money involved is very small and it will mean that the British Army will not have a jungle warfare capability in the years to come. That is a great pity, but I would not make any major issue of it since it is relatively minor.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

The right hon. Gentleman should tell us which jungle he wants to fight in.

Mr. Younger

I have no doubt that the hon. Member will have an opportunity to make his own speech later.

In the Indian Ocean the withdrawal from Gan and Mauritius would be acceptable provided there are to be alternative facilities in Diego Garcia. I should like to know how soon it is expected that facilities will be available for us in Diego Garcia, and to what extent they will act as a substitute for the withdrawal from Gan.

I make only a passing mention of the folly, with the vital necessity of keeping our oil routes open while we depend so much on Middle East oil, of so much energy and time being spent on the whole irrelevant business of trying to renegotiate the Simonstown Agreement. The base is there if we need it, and we can use it. It gives great security to that route which is vital to us.

We now come to the NATO area. I agree with the Secretary of State in his insistence that the top priority of our defence expenditure is our contribution to NATO and to the central front. However, my hon. Friends and I will be asking many questions about how genuine is the maintenance of our full contribution to NATO, particularly to the central front. We are keeping the forces on the ground at their level of 55,000, but I am not at all sure that the business of cutting our brigade headquarters has been proved out and shown to be workable, and it may prove not to work in the event.

I am not sure either whether it is true to say that we have not reduced our contribution to the central front in view of the large reduction in the United Kingdom mobile forces allocated to that front. Those forces were certainly committed to the central front and this is a form of weakening in our contribution there.

However, it is on the flanks of NATO that our cuts will be most resented by our allies and most damaging to the position of the alliance. It is all very well and quite right to say that the central front is critical to the position of NATO and we all accept that. But if there is one uniquely stable contribution which this country can make, surely it is in the defence of the flanks with our traditional ability to operate in a maritime räle. That surely concerns particularly the defence of the northern flank.

Nothing could be more central to our whole strategic identity in Britain than the northern flank of NATO—the whole question of the North Sea, the Atlantic and the Eastern Approaches. Yet it is there that our reductions in the fighting forces of the fleet will have their most serious effect and it is there that our economic future is so indissolubly bound up, with the exploitation of North Sea oil.

We shall want to explore very fully what we regard as the wholly inadequate provision so far being made by the Government for the future defence of North Sea installations, which will be extensive and vulnerable and which are absolutely vital to our national well-being.

The general effect of this review, demonstrated clearly in the White Paper, is that there is a need for us to maintain our defences, certainly in NATO, at least at current levels. Yet the White Paper, having demonstrated the growing threat, requires us to reduce our contribution to NATO.

I ask Labour Members who may disagree with me to address their minds to this growing threat because it is vital to understanding the complaints we must make about the White Paper. All must ask themselves what is the purpose of this massive build up of Warsaw Pact strength. Why should these countries build one new submarine a month? Why are they expanding their naval forces? Why do they maintain such a large superiority of forces on the mainland of Europe? I do not know the answer, but I am certain that this build up has some purpose. I cannot understand why the Warsaw Pact would be spending all this money and committing all these resources and people just for the sake of having a large fleet or conducting reviews in Murmansk. There is a purpose behind it. NATO, and Britain as a member of NATO, will ignore that purpose at its peril. It is our duty as an Opposition to point this out.

Let me make one other point about these cuts. Supposing that there was a case—which I do not accept—for such drastic cuts as we see in the White Paper, what is the point in carrying them out in advance of any concessions from the other side in the MBFR talks? Talk about throwing away every bargaining counter before getting to the conference table! This is folly. I hope that the Government will think seriously about it. They could get the benefits—if there are any—through cutting their forces, if that is what they wish to do, but for Heaven's sake let us get something for it. If the Government have any prudence they will hold back implementing these cuts. They will leave them on paper until we see some real progress in these talks, otherwise the whole thing is a waste of time.

This White Paper is the latest round in the long history of irresponsibility in defence by the Labour Party. It is not a case of not being able to afford adequate defence, it is a case of not wishing to afford adequate defence. It seems more important to this Government to pay for Socialism than to pay for defence. There seems to be no limit to the money at the disposal of the Government for nationalising companies, whether they are profitable or otherwise, or for baling out firms which run into trouble. There seems to be no limit to the money available for nationalisation of North Sea oil, a policy wanted by no one except some members of the Government. There seems to be no limit to the doling out of food and housing subsidies to the rich as well as to those who need them.

But defence is quite different. There must be cuts there to please Labour Members below the Gangway who carry the political weight in that outfit. The results will be disastrous for Western Europe. They will not be seen until long after this Government have disappeared. That is why we condemn the White Paper and the irresponsibility of the Government. We shall be voting against the White Paper when we get the opportunity tomorrow evening.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith North)

We now know that the Opposition will vote against the Defence White Paper.

The Secretary of State made a good job of introducing the White Paper in view of all his difficulties—and they are tremendous—within the Cabinet, the party and the country. The changes in the White Paper are of great magnitude in a world of increasing complexity. This is especially true in foreign affairs and in defence. It is difficult to see the pattern that is being set.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) met himself coming round the same subject several times. He did not know, or professed not to know, the reason for the huge build up of Warsaw Pact forces. The situation has not changed since the 1950s. The only time that the Soviet Union was caught out was at the time of the Korean War when it did not attend a vital meeting of the United Nations on a Sunday morning and did not exercise its veto. As a consequence the United States and its allies was able to produce a situation which was eventually stabilised—but not until China had realised what the Soviet Union was about.

Then China decided to lock the back door on possible Soviet entry into China. They came in. despite MacArthur, and occupied Northern Korea. This situation has been re-enacted in Vietnam. I recall the days of 1954 before Dien Bien Phu and the French Foreign Legion fighting a war it could not win. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It was not the French Army, the Diplomatic Corps or French politicians. That was the issue. That collapsed.

Then we had the American guarantees. Then there was Jack Kennedy in 1961. What did he say in his inauguration speech? He said, "We will pay any price, suffer any penalty, bear any costs to defend the integrity of freedom anywhere in the world."

The powerful American Government now know that the score was not as they envisaged. There is a different scenario in the world. When I used to go to the pictures as a small boy there was continuous showing. At some point, I would say, "This is where we came in. "This is where we came in 20 years ago, when the issue was teeth and spectacles, quickly changed by certain people into the emotive issue of general rearmament. What came from that? There was Defence White Paper after Defence White Paper, amendment after amendment. These amendments were not signed by the same people over the years but the same philosophy lay behind them.

My right hon. Friend could well have been spared having to deal with an amendment of the kind that has been tabled by my hon. Friends, in view of our difficulties. What will happen in the Far East, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand? The purpose of the great Soviet maritime fleet is just emerging. It has emerged since the Middle East oil price explosion. The danger is apparent, especially since in Portugal those in charge are not satisfied with the election result. If the Azores is denied to the American strategic bombing fleet, it will no longer come into Europe. Let us consider that.

The issue is now concerned with raw materials. The Soviet Union is prepared to fight second-class wars for first-class political commissions. There will be no confrontation across the tripwire in Europe between the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO: The NATO stalemate is for ever. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

Why, then, the essential build up of forces'? The issue is the world supply of commodities. What is to be the next target—Africa? Does anyone suppose that these infant aspiring democracies in Africa can hold themselves together under this threat? It is impossible. It is better that we should realise that we are an engineering nation and need raw materials for our engineering survival than to peddle amendments of the sort that appear on the Order Paper. This is no matter of idealism but a situation from which there is no running away. We have a burden to bear which we did not expect to have to carry.

It is astounding that in Vietnam the French Consulate has graciously accepted responsibility for looking after the British Embassy while we are away. It was the French who were originally concerned in Vietnam, which was part of their Indo-China Empire. One might think from what one hears that we were the instigators of this conflict. Was ever diplomacy conducted with such finesse? It was an astounding exercise in power politics that the French both in 1918 and in 1940 were able to contract out by not taking an effective part in European defence. The chair is still vacant and the sooner it is taken up the better. The amount spent on defence is calculated as a proportion of the gross national product. Our gross national product may well go down and if we want to make any defence commitment we shall have to contend with that.

The Warsaw Pact forces outnumber the NATO forces by 14 soldiers to one. Behind every combat soldier, 14 technical and skilled staff are necessary to maintain him. That is the best estimate I can get. That gives some idea of the immense resources behind the Russian effort. They must be tremendous, but the Russians are not subject to ballot boxes or financial resolutions. Motions might be put down, but they would not get very far.

That is the situation which the Americans bore, but they will not bear it any longer. Jack Kennedy went into Korea with a firm purpose and the snowball started—the emotive propaganda snowball which landed in Washington, on the campuses and on the lawns in front of the White House. Then the emotive bargaining started for the 800 American soldiers who were prisoners of war. I can understand the urgent desire of the American women to have their husbands home from a battle which was not theirs in the first place, America had the situation in the palm of its hand, but gave it up. The same pattern occurred several years before with the bombardment of the Yalu River. There was the same snowball. It landed in London, Mr. Attlee saw Mr. Truman and that stopped. These signposts in politics all point one way, to a loss of status and influence by the West and a gain by the Warsaw Pact countries.

The tripwire was proved unsuccessful when the Soviet Union brutally invaded Czechoslovakia. The Russians invaded not a free democracy but a Communist country because they wanted to please themselves what they did. Overnight they were in. The same thing happened in Hungary. The Russians do not want a confrontation and we cannot afford to have one. It is outside the bounds of possibility.

All the West is capable of is an all-in operation on the main avenues of trade and industry. It is impossible to match 240 divisions by any number of Western soldiers. We could not fight a war in the Far East because of the difficulties of supply. It has been proved conclusively with the Viet Cong that if people with a crusade are continually supplied with arms they will achieve their end. The United States was not committed to fight an all-out war. The Americans drifted into it by a series of blunders.

Lee Kuan Yew has read the signs aright. Thailand will read the signs aright and so probably will Manila. From now on there will be changes in the position of major trading nations and the proportion of the gross national product that is devoted to defence.

Our past does not foretell our future. Our past is a long way behind us. In 1938, which was one of the most fateful years in British history, the Peace Pledge Union was rampant throughout the country. A year later we were at war. I remember the famous Oxford debate when a resolution was passed to the effect that in no circumstances would the people concerned fight a war. Yet two years later those people were all Spitfire pilots.

It is necessary to be able to read things aright. As I see it, there will be no confrontation, nuclear or tripwire. There will be a different scenario. There will he successive insurrections which will produce rich dividends. Without the tools of industry we shall be unable to produce either guns or the future we want. Our oil policy is important provided that we manage it properly and diplomatically. Without an oil policy we shall not have a foreign policy. We have to undertake to reserve a ratio of strategic material for NATO on a permanent basis. That should result in the French being pulled back into NATO. No longer are the French dependent on the power and weight of America. That explains the international fuss that is directed against the Common Market. The fuss is designed to prevent the establishment of a common will and a common military purpose in Europe. We know who is manoeuvring and who is behind that policy. If someone were to say that the Market was a good thing, they would all be for it. A similar thing happened in 1939, involving even the great Harry Pollitt, and nine months later there was a change. That is why the emergence of a high-powered engineering society in Europe is what the Russians most fear.

The alignment of a common political will with a definite purpose is something that the Russians recognise. If nothing else they will demonstrate realism and come to the conclusion that a definite purpose will develop. At that time they will embrace it. They have done so before. For instance, they knew when to go into Cuba—namely, when the chips were down. The chips may well be down in Europe before very long. Of course, on the borderlands of Czechoslovakia, Roumania, East Germany and Poland, the Soviets are conscious of the benefits of looking into the European window. In their own countries they may not proceed fast enough and it is true that internally the chips are not all stacked in their favour, but externally we have a bleak future for the next 10 years.

In the Indian Ocean we have the neutrality of India and Sri Lanka and the denial of naval bases or air bases. For what it is worth, there will be the base of Diego Garcia, but who will take over Gan? It could well be taken over by the Soviets. Who will get the base at Mauritius? Again, no one knows, but it could well be the Soviets. No matter what we produce in terms of defence including aircraft, technical skill and scientific skill, once the package is whittled away and dispersed, the situation is less comfortable. I have in mind Cape Canaveral and the 14 miles of obsolete bomb alleys. High class engineers are working as bellboys.

Given the excellence of our defence instruments, it is clear that we have never achieved a proper share of the world market. The probability is that we shall gain such a share when we are in the Common Market. We deserve it and we should get it. We have the Jaguar and the Harrier, for example. There was the ill-fated TSR 2, the best project of all time. It is still under wraps. The project had to be shelved not because of a lack of excellence but because of commercial pressures from other quarters.

Instead of considering confrontation we must try to read Soviet intentions. Let us remember that China is friendly towards us and is in favour of Britain being a member of Europe. The Chinese are pushing like fury in that context, and I am with them. If there comes a quarrel it may come over India but who in their right senses would want to take over the Indian Continent? I certainly would not.

My right hon. Friend has asked the House to appreciate the argument and to understand what he is trying to do in spite of all the difficulties. There are many difficulties but we have done our best. I am now talking about the bulk of the Labour Party and in terms of a subject that has always been emotive within the party. We are seeking to stabilise the defence situation and the vast majority of us will continue to do just that.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton Pavilion)

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) has been warning the House over a number of years of the perils that face us. His remarks this afternoon, as always, were informed and were delivered with a combination of deep patriotism and brutal frankness and realism, which reminded me very much of Ernest Bevin. I am afraid that that is a spirit that has been largely lost in the Labour Party. Until it is recovered the omens for our country are bad. I shall return to some of the detailed points that the hon. Gentleman raised, but, whatever differences on economic and social poli- cies may divide us, I find myself at one with his analysis of the overall defence situation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) demolished conclusively the idea that our defence contribution should be determined by a percentage of the gross national product. I would add only one short comment to what my hon. Friend said. "From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs" is a good Socialist aphorism ; but, in defence terms, needs and abilities are not to be easily computed in cash terms. For example, the Germans are in the front line. They occupy the most exposed, dangerous and uncomfortable position, but there are corresponding economies. For instance, their supply lines are very short and their accommodation, such as hospitals and schools, is all close to where their troops are situated. Their situation and our situation are entirely different.

Britain's needs and Britain's survival depend on our access to raw materials and overseas markets, and on the return that we can obtain from our massive foreign investments. We are naturally immensely concerned with sea and air communications at both ends—namely, the approaches to Britain and the approaches to the sources of raw materials. We are naturally concerned with seeing as much stability as possible in the areas where we have investments. Those are our needs and they have called into being different abilities. Given our interest in communications we have developed pre-eminently among the European nations an expertise in sea and air power. As well as the conventional military techniques of fighting in Europe we have also developed the techniques of jungle warfare, arctic warfare and desert warfare. The costs cannot be computed in exactly the same terms as the cost of the direct defence of what is left of the truncated German Fatherland in Western Europe.

There are some who will dispute whether a military presence overseas can be of any value to trade or investments. That is a matter that we may be able to discuss on another occasion. I am glad to say that in this respect the Secretary of State and I are of the same mind. In paragraph 39 of Chapter I of the White Paper the right hon. Gentleman makes it quite clear that the presence of our troops in Oman is largely justified because they help to defend our oil interests in the Gulf.

1 agree with the Secretary of State that Britain can no longer be the policeman of the world, but even small forces at a decisive strategic point can exercise a decisive influence in preventing war or. indeed, in waging war. What is more. their withdrawal can lead to the precipitate dissolution of an alliance and the turning of friends into neutrals, or even foes.

We do not want to look at these matters entirely through national spectacles. The immediate problem facing the Western Alliance is the crisis of morale which our American friends are facing. I do not want to take up the time of the House in analysing this matter. We all understand the terrible succession of blows that the Americans have received. There has been the devaluation of the dollar, Watergate, and now the events in South-East Asia.

It is tremendously important that we give the Americans all the help that we can to recover their balance in the critical period ahead. I believe it is in their interests to continue with the efforts they have made to defend a free world. I do not believe that it is in their interests to retire into isolationism, but countries do not always pursue their own interests. We saw that before 1914, before 1939 and we see it in the present White Paper. It is incumbent on us to take every step we can to encourage the responsible elements across the Atlantic and not to feed fuel to the defeatist elements over there.

Looking beyond the intermediate situation—and I come to a critically important point made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North—we need to see matters in a European perspective. The great majority of the House are committed to staying in Europe. Europe can never be inward-looking. Europe, like Britain, will need access to raw materials and to markets. A point on which the Prime Minister takes pride is that before we entered the Common Market, but even more since we came into Europe, the Community has been developing association agreements with a number of overseas countries. Today, Europe is essentially a trade and increasingly a payments area, but one cannot divorce trade and payments from foreign policy and defence. In the natural course of events, if European union goes forward, it will become a defence and foreign policy union as well as a trade and payments union. It will then need to be able to safeguard the interests which it calls into being—European interests and the interests of its associated States.

If we look at the problem in that light, we should agree that the facilities which we still enjoy overseas—for example, in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean in the specialised military techniques which we have developed—are not just national assets but European assets. They are matters which we hold in trust for Europe. Today they have been run down to little more than a bone structure. But that bone structure still exists and, as our economy recovers and Europe grows, we could put flesh on that bone structure. But if we proceed to a policy of amputation and cutting off our limbs, they will be gone for good. They will be lost to ourselves and also to Europe.

It is a policy of amputation which the Secretary of State proposes. It involves a withdrawal from South-East Asia, from Gan in the Indian Ocean. It also involves the abrogation of the Simonstown Agreement and the withdrawal of our tactical nuclear strike forces committed to CENTO and the ending of our presence in the Mediterranean and in Malta. Only in Central Europe are we to try to maintain something like our full commitment.

The idea of concentrating our forces where the enemy is the strongest is not new. This was the great debate between Lloyd George and Haig, in the First World War, which led to the miseries of Passchendaele, whereas operations in the Dardanelles or Salonika might have produced an early victory. This was also the great debate between Roosevelt and Churchill as to the timing of the Second Front and American's refusal to accept Churchill's policy of striking the Axis at their soft "under-belly". There is no time to go into the merits or demerits of the direct or indirect strategy, but I suspect that the Soviets are essentially "soft-under-belly men". The Soviets' idea is to pin down the strength of the West in Central Europe while they gnaw at our vitals in South-East Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and even the Atlantic.

The White Paper is brutally frank about the decline in the credibility of the American strategic deterrent and about the Soviet preponderance in Europe, especially if one includes the Soviet forces stationed in Western Russia, and the enormous growth of Soviet naval power in the Atlantic. But the White Paper is strangely uncommunicative about events which have been happening elsewhere. We know about the delays in printing, particularly in modern times, but perhaps in the Secretary of State's speech, if not in the White Paper, he could have said something about the consequences of the Communist advances in Vietnam and Cambodia. Some older Members in the House will recall the Japanese advances in 1942. Even a few weeks ago it was still fashionable to deride the domino theory. Who will do that now with Thailand, the Philippines and, perhaps, other nations already moving towards neutralism?

Dr. Kissinger held a Press conference on Tuesday last week in which he said that the United States would be consulting New Zealand, Australia and Singapore about their common security. Ominously, Britain was not mentioned at all. Does it make sense, in the light of what is happening in Vietnam, to pull out of South-East Asia, let alone a commitment such as Brunei, for which we pay nothing, or to pull out from Gan when Diego Garcia is not ready or even Congressionally funded.

The right hon. Gentleman was silent on the Middle East, but there has been a big shift in the balance of power in the Middle East in respects which have gone unobserved both in the Press and in this House.

Mr. Tommy

The matter goes wider than that. Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that from Algiers right across to Indo-China there are 170 million Moslems and that Western diplomacy has never attempted to get into communication with that large bloc? It is a tremendous force for stability, if only somebody can establish contact.

Mr. Amery

I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman. If we could create a European defence and foreign policy, we would have the influence to take that kind of step. We shall not do so by ourselves.

I was about to turn to the situation in the Middle East, where there has been a shift in the balance of power which has not been fully noted. This has resulted from the collapse of the insurrection of the gallant Kurds. When fighting for autonomy they were defeated by the overwhelming weight of Soviet equipment, supplied to the Iraqi Army and backed by Soviet instructors. The outcome might have been different if the United States or Europe had been prepared to help the Iranians on the same scale as the Soviets helped the Iraqis.

I hope that the change of tone which seems to be coming from Baghdad indicates a genuine charge of heart. But whatever forthcoming events may show, the Iraqi Army, equipped and trained by the Soviets and bound to them by formal treaty, has been freed from its heaviest commitment. This must have its implications in terms of the balance of power in the Middle East, whether in the context of the Arab-Israeli confrontation or of the Gulf, an area from which we draw so much of our oil.

The White Paper refers to oil and to Oman, but says nothing about the establishment of Soviet naval facilities at the head of the Gulf at Um Qasr. There is no reference in the White Paper to the establishment of Russian naval facilities at Aden or of air and sea facilities in Somalia. Nor is there reference to establishment of Soviet facilities in Guinea, on the west coast of Africa—stepping-stone to Russia's ally, Cuba. When the Indian Ocean is becoming increasingly a Russian sphere of influence, and even the future of the Atlantic is in question, does it make sense to abrogate the Simonstown Agreement, which gives us an important point of influence there, where the two oceans meet?

Then we are to withdraw the tactical nuclear strike force which is committed to CENTO. What will take its place? That was the only nuclear force, to my knowledge—certainly while I was in the defence sphere—committed to the CENTO treaty. Will the Americans take its place? If not, who is to blame Iran or Turkey if either decides to take appropriate measures to develop its own nuclear power? Is that not a matter about which we should think again in the interests of Western security and of avoiding nuclear proliferation?

Turkey is already in a serious position because of its confrontation with Greece over Cyprus. Greece has withdrawn from NATO. The Americans have cut Turkey off from NATO supplies. This weakening of NATO's southern front at the very least poses a much graver threat to Yugoslavia and Albania than has existed for some time.

I am not disposed to criticise the Foreign Secretary over his handling of the Cyprus issue. I have had too much experience of Cyprus to dash into criticism on the subject of that island. But the influence of the Government in reconciling Greece and Turkey and in solving the Cyprus problem will depend on the stake which the Government maintain in Cyprus, in the Mediterranean and in Malta. As far as I can judge from the White Paper, that is the NATO view. It is not only my view.

As far as I could follow him, the right hon. Gentleman was totally silent on Portugal. It is odd that the map on page 6 of the White Paper—no doubt as a result of an arbitrary official delimitation of command structures—does not include Portugal, or, for that matter, Gibraltar, in the East Atlantic Command. However, the seaboard of Portugal is important to Atlantic communications. The Azores form the main stepping stone between America and Europe, and Madeira could also be important.

When I was Secretary of State for Air the Cape Verde Islands provided a vital stepping stone between Gibraltar and the Cape route to the Indian Ocean. Should we not again consider a larger presence in the Mediterranean and more air surveillance over the Atlantic in the light of what has been happening? We are, after all, facing a Soviet preponderance in the Indian Ocean and in the Atlantic.

I do not ask for cuts in the central front in favour of the periphery. I do ask that we should reinstate the proposed cuts at the periphery. The savings which those cuts will produce, taking the figures from the White Paper, are—out of a budget of nearly £4,000 million on defence—within the ordinary margin of error between estimates and outturn. What is more, they will be offset by the loss of a good deal of equipment which could be sold to other countries.

The risks which we face are out of all proportion to the gains which we shall obtain from the savings, especially if they are seen against the horrendous borrowing requirement of money which we are spending on desirable, no doubt, but inessential expenditure at home.

Here I come to the main point which was made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North. This is the crux of the matter. In March 1974, when the Labour Party came to power, it was possible for an optimist to think that the cards were stacked in favour of détente. However, the White Paper statement that "détente is not yet irreversible "must rank as the understatement of 1975. Détente, détente: peace, peace—they talk about peace where there is no peace. The Paris agreements on Vietnam were the foundation of détente. Those agreements are in ruins. It was our understanding that the Geneva Conference was to be a foundation of détente. There is no understanding. We see what has been happening meanwhile in the Middle East, in Kurdistan, in Cyprus and in Portugal. During that time the talks in Vienna on mutual balanced force reductions have led precisely nowhere. They are now in their third year. The talks in Geneva on European co-operation and security have led precisely nowhere. There is no advance in the building of confidence measures. There is no advance in Basket 3, that is to say, the horrors symbolised by the Berlin Wall--the inhumanity symbolised by the Berlin Wall—remain just as stark today as when the Foreign Ministers met at Helsinki in 1973. To hold a summit conference, which is mentioned in the White Paper, to wind up the security conference in these circumstances would be a mockery.

We must keep talking with the Russians. But the only serious answer to the situation which we see today is not to cut arms but to maintain and even increase them; and to hasten, above all, the formation of a European defence union which can stand as a second pillar to help the Americans in the task ahead. We must protect our assets and be seen to do so. I recognise the political difficulties which face the Government. Those difficulties are exemplified by the amendment on the Order Paper and by the reverse suffered by Mr. Frank Chapple yesterday. We know that there is an important minority in the Labour movement which is less than wholehearted in its determination to resist totalitarian subversion and aggression. I could develop that theme but I shall not, not only to save time, but because it is my belief that under the pressure of events the majority of Members of Parliament must work much more closely together on these matters in the future than we have hitherto.

I would only remind the Government of Edmund Burke's famous dictum: He trespasses as much against his duty who sleeps upon the watch as he who goes over to the enemy.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who has since left the Chamber, laid about the defence proposals with great gusto and evident enthusiasm, but I think it would be wrong if the impression were left on the record that if the Conservatives had survived the last two elections there would have been no defence review this year and no defence cuts. The Defence Estimates were produced in the autumn of 1973 in a different economic climate, before the three-day week and before the oil crisis, and at a time when the Prime Minister was still talking about Britain suffering from the problems of affluence. It is wholly inconceivable that the Defence Estimates produced in those days would have survived intact in this year.

The hon. Gentleman baited me and the other hon. Members who have signed the amendment with the threat of the unemployment that would result from defence cuts. He cannot have been unaware that only last month we had a Budget in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that as a result of his Budget 20,000 men would lose their jobs within the next eight months. Clearly, the massive increase in defence expenditure which had been planned by the previous Conservative Government could not have been budgeted for by any Chancellor without additional unemployment on top of that figure.

I suspect that the hon. Member for Ayr was aware of that fact when he spoke, because there was one interesting and significant omission from his speech. At no stage in the 40 minutes in which he addressed us did he indicate which cuts in the defence review a Conservative Government would restore if they won an election in the next year or two. I think that we are entitled to ask, if the Conservative Party feel that items which are being stripped from our defence expenditure are essential to our survival, which items will it restore, what will be the cost, and what other item of public expenditure will it drop so as to make way for those defence items?

Last, if the hon. Member for Ayr remains in any doubt that a Conservative Government would hold a defence review, I would advise him to look at paragraph 7 of the latest report of the Expenditure Committee. The Committee is on record as saying that a defence review this year would have been inevitable. The reason is that the Estimates put in by the Conservative Government in 1973 were wildly irresponsible, in that they provided for a growth in expenditure which was totally unrealistic given any reasonable expectation of growth in the British economy. The consequences of that folly are still with us today.

I give one illustration. I invite hon. Members to consider the case of Nimrod. In 1972 the Conservative Government ordered additional Nimrods. In December 1973 they assured the Expenditure Committee that these additional numbers were vital to our security. Yet in April 1974 we were told that they were surplus to requirements, that they could be phased out, while the Expenditure Committee was left expressing the pathetic hope that another country could be found to buy the redundant aircraft.

I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), who has now left the Chamber, that I do not think that a person has to be in the pay of the Kremlin to question whether that expenditure on the additional aircraft could not have been put to better purposes. My hon. Friend will wish to read Hansardto see the comments which were made after he left the Chamber. The mark of a civilised man in a democratic society is that he is prepared to accept that there are others in that society who sincerely hold different points of view from his without impugning their motives and their sincerity. Once we start to say that those who disagree with us are therefore necessarily traitors we are on the start of the slope which will end with the repressive society, which both my hon. Friend and I deplore.

Mr. Alan Clark

I feel that I must correct the hon. Gentleman on the subject of Nimrod aircraft. I refer him to a Written Answer which I received from the Secretary of State for Defence 10 days ago when the right hon. Gentleman said that all the Nimrod aircraft were in service and that there were no plans to dispose of any of them, the inference being that the previous Government's policy in ordering that number of aircraft was provident.

Mr. Cook

I shall check the Written Answer to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I appear to have missed it. However, if he consults the report of the Expenditure Committee he will see that the evidence given by the Ministry was at variance with that Written Answer.

Last December we discussed at length whether the proposed review met the manifesto commitment of the Labour Party last October and last February. I see no point in going over that ground again only six months later. However, let me take up one point. In that debate, emphasis was laid by the Government on the difficulties in achieving a real and absolute cut in expenditure as opposed to a cut in projected increases. One of the changes with which we have become familiar in the past six months is that we have become accustomed to seeing real and absolute cuts in other items of public expenditure.

If he were here 1 am sure that the hon. Member for Ayr would agree that in Scotland we have just seen a real and absolute cut of 50 per cent. in expenditure on school buildings. Last month, in the Budget, we heard of a real and absolute cut in the level of the housing subsidies. So real and absolute was it that The Guardiantoday conjectures that next year council rents will rise by an average of £1 a week. In the Budget we also heard of a real and absolute cut in overseas aid. It was a real and absolute cut which is pertinent to this debate. If the third war should ever come, I suspect that the flash point will not be Europe. It will be in the Third World where there is dreadful poverty and despair and where we are doing less and less to relieve it. It is building up intolerable pressures which may well provide that flash point. Therefore, it is ironic that in this debate we are having a greater real and absolute cut in overseas aid than in defence expenditure.

Moreover, I am struck by the fact that last October I went to the country, as did a great many right hon. and hon. Members, and as I am sure you did, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the belief that the Labour Party was putting before the country a manifesto which provided for increases in expenditure on school buildings, on housing subsidies and on overseas aid and, conversely, provided for a cut in defence expenditure.

I was touched by a telling phrase in the Defence White Paper which said that the Soviet threat could have real danger to the West only when the West ceased to maintain confidence in the democratic institutions of the West. There is a far more immediate and dangerous threat to confidence in British democratic institutions from the growing habit of political parties to fight elections with promises which they ditch within six months of taking office, than from the might of the Red Army.

What is more, since we discussed these matters last December, one additional item of information has come to light which casts doubt on how valid these cuts will be. There is an interesting table on page 54 of the report of the Expenditure Committee. I am not clear whether I understand it fully because it is a maddening example of petty censorship in which the table presents the answer by the Ministry to a question which has been deleted.

As I understand it, the table indicates that, since the White Paper was published, the Ministry has revised costings for 1976–77 upwards by £135 million in real terms and those for 1977–78 upwards by a real figure of £167 million. The significance of those figures is that they are both almost exactly half of the cuts promised in the defence review over those years. It is deeply worrying, so early in the life of the defence review, to face a revision of such magnitude. Even if we accept the targets proposed in the defence review as being meaningful and acceptable, it appears only three months later that we are in danger of achieving those targets to the extent of only 50 per cent.

This is not altogether surprising, because the effect of the defence review is to place even greater emphasis in defence expenditure on expensive and sophisticated weapons systems, and such procurement contracts are more likely than others to overrun costs. In the past six months some of us have questioned these expensive and sophisticated weapons systems. We have asked why we are building a through-deck cruiser at a cost of £100 million or so when in the 1960s we were told that withdrawal from east of Suez would relieve us of the need for this kind of large surface command ship with air cover. We have asked why Britain alone should be developing a fighter version of the MRCA. We have asked how much more will it cost, and why the Government rejected the advice of the authorities which suggested that SAM missiles might be cheaper and just as effective. Is it common sense to commit about 60 per cent. of our procurement expenditure to these two projects, as will be the case later in the decade?

Whatever the answers the fundamental point remains that that expenditure is irrelevant to the conflicts in which British Service men have been engaged since the war. It is ironic that the major reason why the Government have been compelled to revise the statistics for 1976–77 and 1977–78 is the Northern Ireland commitment. It is ironic, too, that we are presented with a defence review so obsessed with fighting the cold war that it omits to get its sums right in the one area where British troops are committed in a situation of conflict.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated already that he does not regard the White Paper as a paper on the cold war but as one providing for détente as well as for defence. I have read the White Paper carefully. Whereas I can see the defence, I find it very hard to spot the détente.

In one way, the White Paper represents a step back from détente towards confrontation. This affects the development at Diego Garcia where we are providing for a major United States presence. It is difficult to reconcile the statements in the White Paper, that this will be a modest development for refuelling and maintenance, with the knowledge that the United States Government have asked Congress to budget$96 million for this "modest" development. It is difficult to reconcile the statement that the base will not have a nuclear capacity, with the statement in Congress that F111 bombers will be stationed there.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the development at Diego Garcia represents a serious escalation in the arms race in the Indian Ocean. We have already the words of William Colby, the head of the CIA, that this escalation is likely to be matched by a similar escalation on the part of the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean. I argue that this kind of development is more likely to be harmful to the security of the West than to assist it. The development will go ahead in the face of hostility from other States round the Indian Ocean, including our allies Australia and New Zealand. These States resent the way in which the major, super Powers are prepared to turn the Indian Ocean into yet another pool in which they can continue their confrontation on a global scale.

The insensitivity of NATO commanders to this feeling amongst the littoral States is best illustrated by a quotation from a speech by the American Chief of Naval Operations in April last year. He said about the Indian Ocean: The Indians primarily, but other nations in the area, too, have talked about having a zone of peace in the area. We think this is a very dangerous concept. It is a dangerous concept to those whose only concept of defence strategy is to arm to the teeth in the hope that we shall arrive at a military stalemate, a military stalemate which never arises because the advance in technology and sophistication of each successive weapons system means that we are in a continually escalating arms race. Yet that is the fallacious strategy which basically underlies the White Paper.

There is another fallacy. It is the fallacy, held by the hon. Member for Ayr, that a country with a vulnerable economy can make itself militarily impregnable by spending a large amount on defence, although that removes ever more resources from an already weak economy. I can do no more than quote the Prime Minister who, when he introduced the 1968 defence review, said: There is no military strength whether for Britain or for our alliances except on the basis of economic strength; and it is on this basis that we best ensure the security of this country."—[Official Report,16th January 1968 ; Vol. 756, c. 1580.] The blunt truth is that we are now committed to a higher expenditure than was contained in the 1968 review. It does not free the real resources that we require in order to give ourselves a strong economy.

In the debate in December I concluded by saying that this would not be the last cut that we would see and that the defence review had left us with such a high level of defence expenditure that inevitably before long there would be further cuts to bring defence expenditure into line with our capacity. Within the past four months alone that prediction has already come true. We have had a further cut, which underlines the truth of the belief of those who said that we had not gone far enough in December and the truth of the belief of those who said that further cuts could be carried out if the will were there to make it possible. Nor will the cut contained in last month's Budget be the last one that we shall see. I shall be very surprised indeed if we get through the next 12 months without a further cut in defence expenditure, because it is folly to imagine that, with our stagnant economy, we can continue to carry a greater burden in defence expenditure than our major trading competitors.

Some Conservative Members should remember, when they refer to our allies, that they are also talking about the people who compete with us in the markets of the world for the sales of our exports. It is folly to imagine that the electorate will tolerate, in other forms of public expenditure, other cuts which will be necessary to maintain our present level of defence expenditure. Before the next 12 months is up we shall have another sudden, sharp cut in defence expenditure.

The real tragedy is that a succession of sudden short-term cuts will, in the long run, do far more damage to our defence and to Service morale than if we had, once and for all, carried out a radical surgery on our defence commitments and reduced them to a level which would give us the resources we need to create a strong economy, which is the only foundation we can really hope for to ensure our security.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. I did not wish to interrupt the flow of the hon. Member's argument, but I remind the House that it is in its interests that the long established courtesy of never involving the occupant of the Chair in the argument which is being advanced should be observed.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I shall, of course, withdrawn any such imputation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I learn every day in this place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I realised that it was a mistake on the part of the hon. Gentleman. However, it is for the good of the House that the neutrality of the Chair is recognised.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

I shall leave it to the Treasury Bench to defend the White Paper against the attack from its own Left wing, because I wish to be as short as I promised to be to the Chair. I merely want to make clear the reasons why I shall have no hesitation in voting against the White Paper tomorrow night.

During the 15½years I have been a Member of this House, it seems that each time a Labour Government take over from a Conservative Government we have a much-heralded defence review. Each time, we are told that the new defence review is to be the greatest ever carried out in peace time, and I suppose that so long as we go on having Labour Governments we shall go on having much-heralded defence reviews.

However, this review, like the last, is both bogus and dishonest. It is bogus because it is not what it purports to be. It is not a genuine reassessment of our military commitments leading to a consequential reduction in our Armed Forces and thus letting us have a financial saving. It is precisely the reverse. It is a deliberate decision arbitrarily to cut our military spending which, in turn, leads to a consequential and inevitable reduction in our Armed Forces, which results in our welshing on our commitments. It is dishonest because in spite of this it states that no arbitrary financial limit is set. It is also dishonest because it purports to perpetuate the myth that this is the result of consultation with our NATO allies, when we all know perfectly well that it has merely been a question of the Government informing our NATO allies of their intentions.

In my view, there could not be a worse time for massive defence cuts. They are against a background of a vast buildup of Russian and Warsaw Pact forces. I call in aid an article in the April edition of "NATO Review" by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton, who is Chairman of NATO's Military Committee. He said: The Soviets are continuing to increase their land, sea and air forces to an extent far exceeding anything that could remotely be justified simply for defence. This is a military reality which must be taken into account when détente is considered…the facts of military capability can now be counted with great precision, and it is evident that, apart from the size of the Soviet armoury, it is just not the right shape for what they claim to be purely defensive purposes. The one overriding precondition with which the allies embarked on negotiations for mutual and balanced force reductions with the Warsaw Pact was that there should be no diminution in Western security". So much for the suggestion that we have had consultations with our NATO allies, when a pre-condition of those talks was that there should be no diminution. But the Government are unilaterally cutting our defence forces.

However, these views are not just those of the admiral himself: they are the views of the Secretary of State, who also wrote in the self-same edition of the "NATO Review". He said: We must take account of the possibility that the USSR views its détente policy merely as a tactic designed to sustain a period of stability in international affairs during which the West might lower its guard. Mark those words— during which the West might lower its guard. Yet here is the first NATO member Government to begin to lower their guard. The Secretary of State continued: In my view, therefore, freedom, as I understand it, cannot be guaranteed if we ignore an existing threat such as is posed by the growing strength of the Warsaw Pact. To cap it all, he said later on, in the same article: I believe it is a dangerous error to assume that such military superiority has no significance except in the context of actual hostilities. Here he is in good company with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) who has made this point very often before. The Secretary of State said: Its existence can be used as a powerful instrument for political pressure and for the achievement of political objectives without recourse to war. The Secretary of State stated those beliefs in an article when he took over as chairman of the Euro-group. If he really believes that, as he says, how on earth can he present the House with a White Paper such as this one, as if it were actually a contribution to our national security and that of our allies in NATO? There can be no greater hypocrisy.

However, that is not all. This White Paper is not set merely against the background of the vastly growing Warsaw Pact forces. As has been mentioned, we have the background of the uncertainty in various parts of the world. The Middle East is certainly now in a state in which once more the Arab-Israeli dispute could flare up at any moment. In Cyprus, two NATO member States—Greece and Turkey—are at odds with each other. There is the position in the Indian Ocean, where the Cape route is the main route, for our vast oil supplies and most of our imports. The situation in Portugal makes part of the Eastern Atlantic uncertain. Nearer home we have the continuing running sore of Northern Ireland, with more uncertainty as a result of recent elections there.

In the Far East we have for the first time for many years a new victory for Communist aggression in Vietnam, a victory which can only whet the appetite of those who believe that salami tactics work and that gradually one can pick off one country after another. The danger is that each time this happens the credibility and the will and ability of the West to defend its own interests become less and less credible. It must be so, because each time there is a further push it is seen that the West will not use even its tactical nuclear weapons, let alone its strategic nuclear weapons. It is clear that at any moment during the Vietnam war the Americans could have brought the war to an end by using even tactical nuclear weapons, but they did not do so.

One wonders for how long a nuclear deterrent can remain a deterrent, if, gradually, in this way, the will appears no longer to accept it when it comes to defending the freedoms of which we talk.

Against this background the White Paper can be interpreted only as one of complete irresponsibility. To see now the policy of a further cut of £100 million to be imposed upon these cuts merely makes nonsense of any sense there may have been in the White Paper.

I promised to be brief, and I shall not go into further detail. I merely add that the Government Front Bench will not please their Left wing below the Gangway with this or any other White Paper on defence until they have cut defence out altogether, so they might as well give up any hope of achieving anything or of appeasing that Left wing, which simply does not believe in defence.

There is one thing that the White Paper will do. It will bring still more comfort than has already been brought to the enemies of this country, which are watching closely events in this House and in our Armed Forces.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Good-hew) always makes a pleasant and persuasive speech, but he followed the same line as the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) in suggesting that defence cuts are a unique wickedness which is perpetrated only by the Labour Party when it is in office. Hon. Members of the Opposition have been rather coy in omitting any reference to the fact that their Conservative Government, in December 1973, cut defence expenditure by £290 million. They must know in their hearts that the same economic circumstances which forced the Conservative Government of 1973 to make those enormous cuts in defence expenditure have made it imperative to make further enormous cuts this year. There has been no choice. The economic situation makes defence cuts absolutely essential.

The speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has left the Chamber, showed that the art of sabre rattling is no longer dead. He wanted to increase our Armed Forces to a large extent and to take on commitments, all over the world, which certainly have not been taken on for the last 15 or 20 years during which I have been a Member of Parliament. However, perhaps I should pass over that point.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on having made defence cuts—which are always painful—of the most judicious and selective nature. It is always difficult to carry out substantial cuts in a Department. I think that my right hon. Friend has achieved exactly the right mix. Some hon. Members do not agree with him. However, one very often hears requests for cuts in public expenditure, always from the Opposition side of the House. I wonder why defence is always regarded by the Opposition as their sacred cow, or sacred bull? Why is this always so? It is incomprehensible.

Mr. Antony Buck

The hon. Gentleman has just indicated that we made cuts previously. How can he in one breath say that we regard defence as a sacred cow and then point out that the Conservative Government made cuts? It defies logic.

Mr. Cronin

The Conservatives are quite different when in opposition from what they are when in government.

Sir Frederic Bennet (Torbay)

The hon. Gentleman has asked why we treat defence generally as being different from all other matters. I think that that is the point he has made. I should like his comments on this matter. The reason one does that is that the only ground for having any defence at all is that it has to be effective. If it is not it is no good having any defence. Defence, therefore, is in quite a different situation if it is cut below a certain point, because then the whole point of having defence becomes nugatory.

Mr. Cronin

The hon. Gentleman makes a different point in saying that there is no point in having a defence which is ineffective. However, such has been the nature of these cuts that the defence of this country has not been made ineffective. It has been made marginally less, but certainly not less effective. I have heard no arguments from the Opposition about that.

These defence cuts are proper in the circumstances. The further cuts made in defence in the last Budget are a little more uncomfortable. I hope that there will not be any further substantial cuts in the future.

It has been suggested that the reduction from 5.5 per cent. to 4.5 per cent. of the proportion of the gross national product spent on defence is particularly desirable. I accept that. I agree with the hon. Member for Ayr to the extent that one must beware of this gross national product figure, because to some extent it is a measure of the poor economic performance of this country. The worse our economy is, the lower is our gross national product and, therefore, apparently, the greater is our defence expenditure.

I should have thought that a more helpful statistic would be that in 1973 the United Kingdom spent$155 per head of population on defence, whereas France spent$176 per head and West Germany spent$231 per head. We are now comfortably behind our allies in this matter. Furthermore, our allies France and West Germany have largely conscript forces, and these conscript forces are, of course, very ill paid. They are not paid their economic worth. Therefore, that is a form of taxation on the unfortunate conscripts, and should be taken into account. Although these defence cuts are desirable, I should be happy to know that there were not likely to be any more substantial cuts in the immediate future.

One wonders—this question is certainly being asked by hon. Members on both sides—why the present level of defence expenditure is necessary. We must face the fact that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries regard political differences within themselves as intolerable. It is part of the Communist dogma. There is no escape from this view. But one cannot help feeling that they take advantage of any effective way of spreading their political doctrine to other countries, even by military means. In their own countries no other political system is tolerated than Communism. That is the Communist political system. When there has been any resurgence of more liberal types of Communism, as happened in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, it has been rapidly reduced by Soviet armed forces.

Hon. Members on both sides have referred to the situation in the Far East. We have seen what is happening in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I suggest that it is not beyond the bounds of imagination to assume that that could happen in Europe if NATO were substantially reduced. Therefore, it is prudent to take substantial precautions against the possibility of any Soviet or Warsaw Pact belligerency by military adventures in Europe.

It may be argued that there is no indication that the Warsaw Pact countries intend to take any form of bellicose action, but looking at the figures of armaments on the northern and central fronts, one may have doubts about the wholly pacific intentions of the Warsaw Pact countries. For instance, on the northern and central fronts, NATO has 12 armoured divisions confronted by 33 Warsaw Pact armoured divisions. One wonders why there is this overwhelming preponderance of Warsaw Pact armoured divisions on the northern and central fronts. NATO has 13 infantry. mechanised and airborne divisions, facing 37 Warsaw Pact divisions. Again, if their intentions are entirely pacific, why must they have this overwhelming preponderance of forces to defend themselves? One cannot help feeling that perhaps they do not have entirely pacific intentions. NATO has 7.000 tanks and the Warsaw Pack countries have 20,000 tanks on the central and northern fronts. The odds in aircraft and artillery are about two and a half to one against NATO.

In addition to this enormous superiority on the northern and central fronts—there is an equally large superiority on the southern front—the Warsaw Pact Powers can reinforce themselves rapidly to an enormous extent from gigantic military forces in Russia. We know that those Powers can also call on very large reinforcements from as far back as Siberia and Central Asia—reinforcements which can be brought over in a very short time. Therefore, I suggest that it is unwise to reduce our defence expenditure to a serious extent.

In many ways one can approve the amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) because it springs from the warm humanitarianism which is at the centre of Labour Party thought. However, I suggest that in the present state of the political situation in Europe —I am talking only about Europe; we should not have any commitment outside Europe—-I have some doubt about the Judiciousness of the amendment: I am not sure that it will have a useful effect on either the public or the Labour Party. I appreciate the sincerity with which the amendment has been advanced and the sincere sentiments behind it, but I think that it is bound to be harmful to the Government, and I am sincerely sorry that such an amendment has been put on the Order Paper.

I think that to most people who have some knowledge of economics the present cuts are tolerable, but that it will be a matter of real concern if they are carried further in the foreseeable future. The first duty of the Government is to ensure that the security of the country is beyond doubt. It is no use spending money on houses, schools, social services, and so no, if, sooner or later, all these matters are overtaken by a form of government which is considered deplorable by most hon. Members in this House.

6.47 p.m.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, because I do not intend to make a general speech on defence. I wish to make only two points which relate to my constituency and to constituencies which have Service men serving in them. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) hopes to catch your eye tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, to make a general speech on defence.

My first point relates to the housing of members of the Armed Forces. I should like to divide the matter into two parts: the problem affecting members of the Armed Forces, first, at the end of their careers and, secondly, during their careers.

In some ways it seems that those who have served for long periods—sometimes for over 20 years—are treated almost like forgotten men or nomads. I have a practical solution which I have repeatedly offered to the Secretary of State for Defence. I believe that a circular is to be sent from the Department to local authorities. That will be inadequate. In many cases the local authorities do their best, but, with the best will in the world. they are often overloaded.

My proposal is that on entering his period of service, a member of the Armed Forces, if married, or on marriage, should be entitled to put his name on the local authority housing list of his choice. That would spread the burden round the United Kingdom to a great extent.

Each of us has a place which he or she loves the best. Some of us even have great affection for places like Glasgow, which may puzzle others. For example, a man from Leicester would probably want to be on the Leicester housing list. However, the present situation is that no matter how much the local authorities endeavour to assist by giving a certain allotment to Service men, constituencies with bases are overburdened.

There are two bases in Morayshire, which is a most beautiful constituency. The combination of there being no practical solution to the problem and the fact that it is such a desirable place that people want to stay there anyway means that many people are trying to get on the housing list. Service men are not allowed to put their names on the housing list until they are within 18 months of the end of their service. That is not enough for the local authorities to give these men priority. If they were to give too many of them priority, understandably there would be an outcry from many other deserving people who also need houses. My proposal would let the man choose his place, and I suggest that in that way the problem and the burden would be spread. If the man got to the top of the list before he was demobilised he could keep his name there until he was demobbed.

I have thought out all the practicalities. The Ministry might argue that there would be difficulties, such as there being nothing to stop a man from putting his name on several lists, but there is an easy answer to that. After all, not many of us would get away with trying to have two votes. We have solved that problem, and I am sure that we could solve this one.

In rural areas where there are bases the Ministry should send circulars to the farming associations to acquaint them of the fact—of which many are not aware—that they can offer agricultural unused houses as hirings to some considerable advantage, because they need give only six months' security of tenure. The hiring would be terminable on a month's notice, and the bills would be paid. The farmer would lease his house for a period of six months. The rent would be according to a scale that was laid down, and he would know that his bills would be paid.

I suggest that circulars are of no use. Even if local authorities do their best to implement them they often cannot do so. I suggest that legislation is needed for this purpose. Why should men in the Armed Forces not have as many rights as do ordinary citizens?

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) has made a most valuable point, and I warmly support it, as I think many hon. Members will. She cannot be alone in having corresponded with the Ministry over the years to try to get better treatment for Service men who come out of the forces after many years, often after having spent much of their time abroad in circumstances of some difficulty. They find themselves faced with the problem of obtaining houses in their areas. I think that the Secretary of State made a valuable suggestion in this regard. Unlike the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn, I have some faith in circulars, but I suggest that when the Secretary of State's colleague writes to local authorities he should not merely ask for proper treatment for Service men but should demand it as of right. That is the least that we can do.

There has been some talk from Labour Members about cuts. The hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) referred to this subject. I have too much respect for the latter hon. Member to be anything but diffident about correcting him, but it needs to be said plainly that the Opposition have never been against cuts per se,nor against reviews, or scrutiny.

Indeed, one of the chief points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), in his cogent and wholly admirable speech, was that what we seek in terms of defence is value for money. I think that the hon. Member for Lough- borough had a better argument when he said that there must be a limit to the cuts that we can afford, for in the end no price is, or ever will be, too great to pay to defend the freedom that we take too much for granted in this country. The only question is whether this nation has the wit to recognise the danger in all its forms and in so many places, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Good-hew) said, the wit and the will to combat it. I suppose it was ever the same. It is all very well talking about negotiation. What one needs above all else is a sense of realism and a view of what is the reality in the difficult and hard world in which we live.

Noting the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, which we all greatly appreciate, I must say that many of us admire the work that he is doing and attempting to do in his sphere. Perhaps I can best express what I have to say by quoting what Sir William Blackstone wrote, about 200 years ago: The Royal Navy of England hath always been its greatest defence and armament…it is its ancient and natural strength…the floating bulwark of the island. Those are old words, but my purpose is to argue how relevant they are today.

Defence, in contemporary terms, takes two forms. The most obvious is the traditional, the task of countering aggression or potential aggression at sea. It is the duty of the Government, in the old phrase, to provide a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions. But even that responsibility is changing. It is now more important, in the context of the development of modern long-range weapons, nuclear and non-nuclear, and the huge expansion of Communist maritime power, to which the Secretary of State properly referred—while we speak of the Communists let us recognise them in this House for what they are, the most ruthless and sinister imperialists in all recorded history—to counter aggression and potential aggression from the sea.

By any criterion our strength for that purpose is woefully inadequate. The facts are demonstrable, and this White Paper is the proof. We have too small a manpower, now to be further reduced. We have too few ships. The inventory as one looks at it is pitiful, and by no means least is the refusal, or the reluctance, to develop or exploit new techniques, of which the Harrier is an outstanding example. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, I have no complaint, as I have constantly indicated, about economy in general, but in this particular I believe it to be sheer foolhardiness.

The Secretary of State has a dilemma, and it is often discussed in this House in various ways. It is said "What would you cut?", "Where would you economise?" and "Where would you put your strength?". I have one suggestion to make which I hope is constructive and will allow better value for money.

A modern ship is far too expensive as a general rule. I shall not weary the House with figures—they are within the knowledge of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—but I am certain that we could easily build more cheaply in every instance, with no loss of effectiveness. Those who order ships at the taxpayer's expense make the mistake of insisting upon perfection and the utmost modernity. At the original design stage that is true. The original cost is therefore always at a maximum. It is true, too, that the building of the ship progresses with continuous updating of design with variations which cause a multiplier effect. One finds this from one's own experience if one attempts to build a house or to have a boat built at one's own expense.

I always argue for simplicity in design. The first ship in which I went to sea during the war was what was called a Woolworth carrier, a merchant ship which had been adapted for service at sea. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) will remember that. I went to sea in the "Activity", which was later sunk off Russia. I look back at these carriers and remember how immensely effective they were, and inexpensive.

All that I have seen as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee leads me to believe that what I have said is entirely correct. We over-complicate in our ordering almost everything that we do. I commend to their Lordships the use of smaller vessels. It has been a consistent shock to me over the years, as it is in this White Paper, to see how few small ships we have, how few fast patrol boats we have. Only two are listed here. Even the Libyans and the Maltese have more than we have. Here is an area which is ripe for substantial expansion.

I must declare an interest—indeed, a prejudice. I served on motor torpedo boats for a short time at the end of the war. It is my belief that a number of these boats, about 100 feet long, carrying a single missile, would be immensely valuable in strategic terms. They would be economical in terms of first cost and continuing service. Their complement is small. They would be effective from the point of view of speed, mobility, modern design and good seakeeping in all but the very worst weathers. If the House wants an analogy, there seems to me a precise one in the provision of individual missile sites.

Dispersal is invaluable. At a time when the United Kingdom, to my regret—I do not know about other hon. Members—is abandoning so many of her responsibilities, with the building of a number of smaller boats, we could afford an inexpensive reversal of that trend. We could afford a presence in many places where the Royal Navy is never seen today. There would be a very good opportunity also for training. I hope that those suggestions are constructive.

I will explain the second theme that I wish to develop. This morning, I received 20 circulars in the mail. I dare say that other hon. Members had the same early morning experience. All, of course, were most important to the senders, some were useful, some not so useful, some invaluable to the receivers. One piece of paper which came through the post the other day was written by a Mr. McOustra, whom I had never met before. In one passage in that paper, he said: In the visible order of things, the exploration, cultivation, conservation and use of the sea and its foods, its fuels and its minerals are likely to be among the most beneficial works in the world in the coming years. For centuries, most economies have been largely land-based. We have scarcely begun to use the sea. A basic change in the balance of many economies may be beginning: a doubling of resources and scope; and expansion, adding sea to land. That is extremely well put and entirely true.

We have got used to the idea now of oil coming from the sea. We have always been used to part of our food coming from the sea. Within the next decade, certainly within the remainder of my life time, I hope that the sea will be an immense provider of riches. I therefore think that the time has come to look again at the whole complex of Government responsibilities in the sea.

Since I left the Navy as a mere sublieutenant 30 years ago in 1946, there have, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) pointed out, been dramatic changes in maritime matters, in patterns of world trade, in ocean fisheries, for example. Look at the substantial development in the sizes of ships. Look at the great tankers which now draw over 60 feet—unheard f draughts in my time at sea. That is 28 metres, to put it in the modern language so that hon. Members may understand me better.

Equally, Governmental responsibilities have grow'd like Topsy. There is the fear of pollution, which exercises our minds so greatly, the need for dumping control and prevention, the need for traffic routing in the Channel, in the Straits of Dover, off Cherbourg and around Ushant, and fishery conservation and support. Whoever thought that the Royal Navy would be engaged as it was off Iceland in recent months?

There is also the matter of the safety of offshore operations and the need for the expansion of hydrography, as I said in the debate on 28th January to which the Under-Secretary was good enough to reply with such care. Now, as the House knows, international legal and political regimes are in the process of revision. If that catalogue is not enough, never was there a greater need at sea for increased policing and surveillance. The potential and the actual need for law enforcement is truly huge.

Consider the question of piracy. There will eventually, I suppose, be a hijacking of a VLCC. We shall have by 1985 some 600 miles of pipeline coming to this country. We can visualise the need for security there and the dangers which exist. Then there is the matter of offshore installations. vulnerable as they undoubtedly are to guerilla activities of all kinds. Then there is the need for pro- vision of effective emergency services, the need for which was clearly demonstrated at the time of the "Torrey Canyon".

We talk a good deal about the need to integrate our defences within NATO. There is another side to this coin. We do not adequately evaluate the significance of shipping alone in the EEC. That group, with or without us, is the world's most important trader. In 1974, the third largest owner of a fleet of ships in the world was Japan, with 38 million tons gross. These are Lloyds' figures. Liberia was the second with 55 million tons. The Community fleets totalled 68 million tons, and of these fleets, the United Kingdom's merchant fleet is the largest in the EEC, at some 31 million tons.

When one considers the organisations which have responsibilities for various matters at sea, one discovers two things. The first is how long they have been established and the second is how many of them there are additional to the Royal Navy—Trinity House, Customs and Excise, Marine Survey offices, the Post Office, the coastguards, the hydrographers, the RNLI, which does such superb work, the various local and port authorities, the Meteorological Office and so on. What is remarkable is the number and diversity.

Is the present situation adequate? Is it properly co-ordinated and organised? I do not believe it is. None of the existing agencies by itself is properly equipped, devoted though they are, and they certainly are not directed in any way by Government to undertake the United Kingdom's expanding responsibilities offshore.

It is urgent that the work of the hydrographers be expanded in the national interest. In the debate to which I have referred the Under-Secretary was good enough to say that we should see the report of the ministerial committee on hydrographic matters not later than March. I hope that he can now tell us when it will be available.

We surely need to co-ordinate surveillance and law enforcement. The present system is at best haphazard and at worst non-existent. If the House believes that I exaggerate, let hon. Members go to Folkestone or the West Country and ask the Channel pilots for their opinion. We run great dangers in physical terms, quite apart from anything else. As to anything else, it is surely foolish when we depend so much upon the sea not to be taking the proper precautions and organising ourselves adequately.

The Royal Navy is a great national asset, a storehouse, after all, of highly trained personnel. The defence research and technology which we develop can be a substantial reinforcement to industry and can be put to practical use in this country. The Secretary of State spoke of the need to release resources. His proper priority is the support and exploitation of the resources which exist. Whether we speak of testing, hydrography, diving, the design of vessels, engineering, electronics or education and training, I hope that he shall see in time the Navy playing the leading räle in the rationalisation and expansion of the existing arrangements to make them more effective in our modern environment.

I is almost as if we have not noticed the great changes which are taking place, as if we are unwilling to live up to them and match them. I would want to see the Royal Navy playing the predominant part in what I would call the conquest for the benefit of this country and of the civilised world of ocean space.

I should like to quote finally another paper which came to me in the post: What is needed is a coherent way of bringing together the necessary political, administrative, technical and operational expertise for the effective enforcement of law and order in the marine environment and satisfactory support of peaceful marine activities. The Navy is a recognised guardian of authority, and has respected worldwide traditions of service, integrity, loyalty and self-discipline. It should be given a more effective role". How much I endorse those words. We now have the opportunity to reorganise our maritime affairs on sound lines, and it is high time we did so.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

The Opposition have put a galaxy of questions one after the other, like a cascade of water, with no apparent answer.

To be humorous in what is essentially a serious debate about Britain's defence and the White Paper, I could not help thinking that perhaps the reason why the Russians are putting so much of their resources into submarines is that they are running around the ocean bed seeing how the ocean might be developed and exploited in the interests of the Russian people and mankind.

The purpose of my participation in the debate is to express the unease of many of my colleagues in the Labour Party about the manner in which the Government seek to face up to the important matter of defence and the White Paper. From a Labour Party point of view, the so-called defence White Paper is a depressing document. The arguments are little different from the jargon of civil servants that we have been accustomed to reading in past Tory defence reviews. It is devoid of Socialist philosophical content, which is what the Labour movement, which produced our present Government, is all about. Our defence policies, together with all our other policies, were endorsed by the electorate at the last General Election.

There is a little germ of wisdom in what some Conservative Members have said, which is that questions of how much of our nation's resources we should spend on armaments, on provision for all three of the Armed Services, and the kind of weaponry that we should equip them with, cannot be divorced from economic or political questions.

The ideas from which our movement springs, and which are responsible for a Labour Government, are considerably different from the background and the confused state of Opposition Members. There is an air of unreality about the debate. We are living in a nuclear age, and this country is taking part in the nuclear arms race. The Opposition spokesman on these matters, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who is a Scot, has exhibited no concern about protecting the people of Scotland should a nuclear holocaust develop, and nor has my right hon. Friend the Minister. This matter is not dealt with in the White Paper. If such an occurrence is a possibility, as it is, there is a duty on any Government to apply their minds to the problem, even if in the end they say that it is so fantastic that they are not capable of protecting their people.

If that is so, the quicker we cease to be a junior contestant in the nuclear arms race the better. I am concerned about the Polaris submarine base. The whole orientation of the White Paper is to adopt the concept of assisting the United States in achieving parity in the production of submarines. We are attempting to develop our ability to fire missiles from a moving base instead of having them established on land. That is what the present discussion is about. We imagine that it has been discussed between our representatives and representatives from various NATO countries.

We are in a dilemma. The hon. Member for Ayr has kicked about the question of the relationship of defence spending to the gross national product. There is nothing holy about the GNP, but because of a resurgence of feeling within our movement a positive attitude was taken that we had to get the proportion down. We wish to cut by 2 per cent. the proportion of GNP spent on defence, but 0.1 per cent. over 10 years is an absolute nonsense. We might as well not bother about a certain target for GNP if we arc aiming to cut it on average by 0.1 per cent.

The purpose of our party, based upon its history, its policy of changing British society and achieving a new räle in world affairs for this country, is substantially different from that of the Conservatives. 1 can understand Opposition Members' bewilderment over a White Paper of this kind. It does not tell us—and nor have the Opposition—what kind of war we are supposed to be getting ready to wage. My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Williams) said at a party meeting that he felt that the world was heading on a collusion course, and not a collision course, between the United States and Russia, partly because of their mutual fear of China.

What about post-war Britain, with its 55 million people and the räle they must play in the future? I do not believe that the Conservatives will ever be in power again. I believe that we shall have a considerably strengthened Socialist resolve and a considerably strengthened Socialist Government.

When I was in the United States recently I visited Washington and New York. People there appreciate the reality of the need for nuclear shelters and so on. Provision is apparently made in those cities, but I do not know whether there are shelters for everybody. Unless we address our minds to that matter we shall be totally unrealistic.

There is a new spirit abroad. I witnessed collusion, to use the word again, between my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) and the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, finding 99½ per cent. agreement one with the other. We must not get locked in the past, but everything that my hon. Friend said demonstrated that he is locked in the past.

The world is in motion the whole time. Communist and Socialist developments are not monolithic. Why are the Communists building up their manpower? This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, to some extent, the Opposition, but I suggest that it is because of the imbalance of nuclear strike missile bases. The edge is completely with the NATO Powers in that regard. The psychology of the Russians must be tested. There is fear on both sides. Why should the Russian rulers want to lord it over other countries but for fear of an attack on themselves?

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)


Mr. Bidwell

My hon. Friends and I criticised what happened in Czechoslovakia at the time, and in a recent letter to The Timeswe criticised the attack on Dubcek. But Dubcek has nothing in common with Conservative Members. He is much closer to the Tribune Group in what he wants to do.

Mr. Younger

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the questions he has just been posing? The White Paper makes it clear that there is now virtually nuclear parity between the United States and the Soviet Union. We see the West reducing its conventional armaments all the time. Why is the Soviet Union increasing its armaments?

Mr. Bidwell

There is parity in numerical strength, but not in missile bases, which represent the real strike force. I remember when the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was the Conservative defence spokesman how he expressed his thoughts on the need for a citizen defence force. I believe in that, too, although I do not believe in many other things for which the right hon. Gentleman stands.

We must cut ourselves down to size. We must evaluate the situation and have more cutting down than we have done so far. As an exporting, industrial nation, anxious to improve its economic situation and desperately short of resources that are being dissipated, we should put the Army into employment, as is done in some other States. [Laughter.]That remark causes laughter, but those are the realities.

The great Powers are putting an enormous effort into anti-submarine warfare. They are building up an increasing ability to knock each other out. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has confirmed that future British nuclear tests cannot be ruled out. Of course they cannot, if we are to remain in this business. As the use of nuclear missiles shifts towards submarines, Britain becomes increasingly vulnerable. Our young people understand this. In the United States, the under-forties understand better than the older generation. They are not isolationists but are concerned about world problems. They had a much better understanding of what was going on in Vietnam. The people of Vietnam will rebuild their country in their own way without interference from outside Powers. If such interference is attempted, it must be exposed. The war just ended must not be followed by some other kind of imperialist occupation.

We are involved in the Atlantic ballistic missile submarine strategy, which puts our country in great peril. Our involvement is in contradiction to the Labour Party conference resolution which laid down the policy on which the party went to the electorate at the last General Election. I refer to composite resolution No. 12 of the Labour Party conference, 1973.

In debates such as this the Blimp element in the Tory Party gathers. We do not see many of the more realistic and progressive members of the party.

We must play our part in building up international rule and strengthening the United Nations agencies, matters which have been hardly mentioned in the debate so far. We have sometimes initiated United Nations resolutions on the vexed problems of the world, including the various mini-wars in various places, as a result of which we fear that an inter- national war will break out, building up to the use of nuclear armaments.

We on the Labour benches take second place to no one in the matter of patriotism. No greater patriotism is to be found than among the working people of this country. They do not salt away their money overseas. They do not invest their capital abroad. They are anxious to build a decent society in Britain and to defend it in a proper Socialist way, playing their international räle at the same time.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

Most of my adult life has been engaged in national defence. My nation has been under constant attack, and our traditional culture and way of life are ravaged as a result. As a nationalist, I have found that much of my energy has gone on national defence. Nobody can accuse me of being unaware of the importance of national defence.

But although I am passionately concerned about national defence, I have not noticed that bombs, shells and other methods of State violence have contributed anything to the defence of the life of my country. On the contrary, no one can doubt the terrible injury that wars have done to the quality of Welsh life. Although Wales was on the winning side, she probably suffered more injury through wars than those who lost.

There will be no winners in any future nuclear war. Russia and the United States have enough nuclear power probably to destroy every living thing on the face of the earth twice or three times over. It is claimed that the H-bomb or any other major nuclear warhead against which there is no defence will never be used. When in human history or where in human nature can we find anything to give us the assurance that there will be no world nuclear war? What possible confidence can we feel when we reflect on human nature and our experience of the past that there will be no such war? The odds are heavily on its coming at some time. The open questions are these: when will it come, and, when it comes, how much, and what kind of human life will survive?

As nuclear warheads proliferate, the day of nuclear war is brought inexorably nearer. Britain must bear a heavy part of the responsibility for this proliferation. Her insistence on remaining a nuclear power meant that she could not take the lead in confining the nuclear bomb to two or three countries. It was left to little Ireland to take the lead in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. I find it hard to believe that Britain was motivated solely by a passion for peace and security. Her possession of a few nuclear warheads, so obviously a bluff, was not thought even in Washington to add a feather's weight to the credibility of the Western deterrent. The consequences of Britain's failure of leadership have brought the prospect of nuclear war nearer.

My fear is that the situation will not be helped by another development that we are seeing in Britain's defence policy. This concerns the Common Market, which has hitherto been largely an economic device, a customs union. Now we see ambitious developments. There are increasing pressures for political integration in a huge super-State which will have its own foreign and defence policies. The movement towards this has been slow. There is no doubt about its direction, although this is denied by some. Thursday 8th May will be the 23rd birthday of the signing of the treaty to establish the European Defence Community. Although this was abortive, the hope still remains strong, and one can follow the developments in the "NATO Review". In April 1974 "NATO Review" carried an article which said: It is extremely important that the Community develops into a politicial and consequently a military entity. In April this year Mr. Gaston Thorn, the Luxembourg Premier, wrote in a leading article in the "NATO Review": The European Community must move towards increasing cohesion in every sphere including defence. On 16th February at Munich, Herr Walter Scheel, the former West German Foreign Minister, speaking of NATO said: Only a European union possessing genuine parliament-controlled powers in the spheres of foreign and defence policy will enable a positive solution to be found for the relationship between the European and American components in the Alliance. Dr. Kissinger in London on 12th December 1973 welcomed political union in the EEC and hoped that it would lead to a defence union. United Kingdom leaders backed this development. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), as Prime Minister, said of the EEC at Zurich in September 1971: It seems to me inevitable that progress towards a common foreign policy will be accompanied by increasing co-operation in defence". The present Prime Minister said at the North Atlantic Assembly meeting in London last November: European Defence co-operation can and should be taken further, but the achievements of the Eurogroup should not be undervalued. The Secretary of State for Defence wrote in last month's issue of "NATO Review" that the EEC defence Ministers also agreed that Europe should maintain a highly developed technological, scientific and industrial base. My final piece of evidence on the defence dimension of the EEC is that the Political Affairs Committee of the European Parliament on 13th January 1975 passed a strong and comprehensive resolution on defence and submitted it to President Ortoli. This would take the EEC's defence policy a big step forward. Things are therefore on the move, but they are on the move in the wrong direction.

The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) has expressed the opinion that the developing European State will within a decade be the one great power in the world. There is already close collaboration on many military projects, as we have heard today, of which perhaps the most noticeable is the MRCA of which the United Kingdom has decided to order 385 at a cost some months ago of £3.9 million each. Some experts have already expressed doubts about the effectiveness of this plane and many believe that it will be vulnerable to the latest SAM ground-to-air missile controlled by airborne radar. One notes that in joint projects which enjoy co-operation on an EEC scale, nuclear weapons are ominously taking an increasing place.

I believe that the defence of national life must be conducted in a different way, a non-violent way. This alone seems to me to offer a future to humanity. The resources of the human spirit are, I believe, adequate to the task. They have been displayed, I believe, in Vietnam in the victory of nationalists there, for that is what they were, in a situation where a small rural nation achieved a victory ever the imperialism of the richest and most powerful State the world has ever seen—

Mr. Cormack

The power of Russian arms.

Mr. Evans

I am speaking of the triumph of the human spirit in a 30-year war for national unity and liberation. This was a tremendous triumph for the human spirit, and it is on that power that we have to rely. If we cannot see that it was that kind of triumph, we are blind indeed. This great moral power must be channelled and used for the non-violent defence of the amazingly rich heritage of each of the nations in the United Kingdom.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall) (Haltemprice

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) must forgive me if I do not follow him into the wilds of Wales or the intricacies of the EEC. However, I must rebut him when he talks about Vietnam and the disasters happening there as being a victory of the human spirit. I remind him of the million of my co-religionists who fled from the North to the South, and of what has now happened to them. Hundreds of thousands are being murdered or absorbed into the Communist system against their will. The human spirit has nothing to do with what has happened in Vietnam. The same forces of Communism are building up in Asia as they are in Europe.

I am sure that most hon. Members will agree that the defence of the realm is the first duty of any Government. In order to assess how the realm should best be defended it is necessary to assess the dangers which it faces and then to work out how these dangers should be met. I fear that this is just what has not been done in the White Paper. We are not alone. We must obviously be part of the NATO alliance and consider the defence question as one for the alliance. I should therefore like to examine briefly the balance in NATO and try to assess the dangers, putting them under three heads—first, nuclear; secondly, the central front; and thirdly, the flanks.

The nuclear balance is the only area in which NATO has had a fairly considerable advantage in past years. Under the SALT I agreement the United States was allowed 1,054 ICBMs and 710 in 44 submarines. The Soviet Union was allowed a larger number—1,618 ICBMs and 950 missiles in 62 submarines. The reason why the Americans conceded a majority in numbers to the Soviet Union was that it reckoned it had an advantage in the number of warheads, that is, in MIRVs, and in the accuracy of its missiles. However, under the provisional agreement reached in Vladivostock, which one hopes will be the foundation of SALT II, it was agreed that both sides should have a ceiling of 2,400 nuclear missile carriers, including bombers, of which 1.360 could be MIRVed. One hopes that this limit will continue until 1985 and that that can be reduced by further negotiations.

Today the United States is building no new ICBMs. The Minuteman 3, completed several years ago, is its most modern ICBM. Its first new submarine of the Trident class is in the process of building, and it intends to build at the rate of about one and a half a year. In contrast to that, the Soviet Union this year is bringing four new ICBM systems into operation, three of which are MIRVed and most of which have four times the throw-weight of the missiles they replace. It has launched eight new D-class submarines and it is building four a year. These are armed with missiles with a range of 4,200 miles and it is clear now that if the Soviets continue on their present course, even under the Vladivostock agreement, they will have a far greater throw-weight than the Americans in the early 1980s. That is a potential danger to the West.

Mr. Hooley:

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the logic of the argument that when one has the capacity to massacre a population 10 times over, it matters to calculate whether one can do it 40 times or 50 times over?

Mr. Wall

Yes—the whole thing depends on a nuclear balance. When one side can exceed by a large degree the weapons of the other side there is a danger. That is the whole point of SALT I and II and the Vladivostock agreement. The aim is to achieve a balance and from that to try to cut back the numbers agreed, because no one wants to spend vast sums on those weapons.

I turn now to the balance in Central Europe. which has been dealt with in detail in the White Paper. For that reason I shall not quote the figures. The point has been made that the Warsaw Pact outnumbers the West in battle tanks by about 20,000 to 7,000. That is a serious matter, particularly as the Warsaw Pact countries probably outnumber the West in anti-tank and SAM missiles. We all know what happened in the Middle East and what lessons are to be learned from that short war. NATO has many other disadvantages. Reinforcements have to come from the United States, whereas Soviet reinforcements are immediately available, and so on.

It was Field Marshall Montgomery who said that an army should not attack unless it had a superiority of 3:1, which is another answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley). The Warsaw Pact has not got a superiority of 3:1 and therefore we have a relative balance in central Europe, which is why we have détente. The MBFR conference is taking place because the Soviet Union knows that it does not sufficiently outnumber the West in central Europe and is much more worried about its eastern flank with China.

If there is détente and nuclear balance, if there is stalemate in central Europe, what is to be done? The answer is to exploit the flanks. That is a fundamental lesson of any form of military strategy and it is what is happening today. In northern Norway there is one brigade group of NATO Norwegian troops facing four divisions of the Soviet Army with four divisions in the rear. There is a great deal of pressure on Iceland. I shall not go into the cod war, but the attempt to detach Iceland from NATO might happen again. There is pressure on Denmark. Listening to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) I wondered what the defence policy of the Tribune Group was. It must be rather like the political party in Denmark whose defence policy was to have a gramophone record saying "We surrender, we surrender, we surrender". That seemed to be the tenor of the hon. Gentleman's speech.

Only last month the Soviet Union mounted a major naval manoeuvre in the Atlantic, involving 200 warships. Today the Daily Telegraphpublished an article headed: Russia prepares for a prolonged war at sea. One paragraph in that article said: There is now growing evidence that the Kremlin believes a war at sea is possible without a nuclear conflict resulting, and especially so in the Indian Ocean, which Russia is set on dominating with its navy. That suggestion is one which should be given careful consideration by those responsible for our defences.

There is also the question of Portugal, to which reference has already been made. I shall not pursue the point, except to remind the House that NATO's maritime strategy is controlled by Iberlant, and that is near Lisbon. If Portugal does go Communist, and we all hope it will not, the whole question of NATO's maritime strategy will have to be reassessed.

In the Mediterranean we know of the trouble between Greece and Turkey. That is extremely serious for NATO's flank, as those two countries control the entrance to the Dardanelles. The North African coast, from which the Allies launced a springboard in the last war against the soft under-belly of Europe, is now potentially more hostile than friendly to the West. We all know the problems in the Middle East, particularly those concerned with supplies from the oilfields.

That leads me on to the question of the Cape route. Once again I remind the House that 12,000 ships a year use South African ports and 66 ships a day, carrying 1 million tons of oil for the West, pass Cape Town. Of these, 57 per cent. belong to NATO nations. This is the last time to denounce the Simonstown Agreement. It would be crazy to denounce that agreement, which gives all the advantages to us and, as far as I can see, virtually none to South Africa.

Two weapon systems are needed in connected with the Cape route and the Atlantic. They are maritime strike aircraft and aircraft carried by the Fleet ready to shoot down snoopers and other enemy aircraft in the vincinity. This means that the maritime Harrier is vital. I hope it will not be long before the Government announce that we are to go ahead with this aircraft. Does the Minister realise that the 20 Buccaneers needed by South Africa for the defence of the Cape route—the defence of our shipping, 57 per cent. of NATO shipping—is being withheld merely because his Government do not like the South African Government? This is in spite of a change to the policy of détente by Mr. Vorster's Government. Does he realise that the Government's attitude will deliberately cause unemployment in my constituency—a fact which I thoroughly resent? I hope that common sense will sink in and that the Government will reverse this extraordinary decision.

The White Paper refers to the number of Soviet submarines and nuclear-powered submarines. Let me give some other figures to the House. By 1980 the Soviets will have 255 submarines, of which 175 will be nuclear-powered. That is a far greater number than the potential number for all NATO nations. The White Paper has not been fair, in that it has not given the relationship between NATO antisubmarine vessels and the immense submarine power of the Soviet Union.

I remind the House that Germany started the battle of the Atlantic with 66 submarines. The Russians will have 255 by the 1980s. The comparative ratio of Allied anti-submarine vessels to German submarines in the last war was 1:5.9. Today the comparable ratio vis-à-vis the Soviet Union has been worked out as being 1:1.6. In other words there are about one and a half anti-submarine vessels for every Soviet submarine. We are dealing here with true submarines, which can probably travel underwater far faster than the anti-submarine vessels can travel on the surface of the ocean. Thus, we see how serious the situation could become.

I shall not weary the House with details of the Soviet surface fleet. Suffice it to say that it has the heaviest armed ships afloat. The Soviets are building two aircraft carriers at a time when we are scrapping our own. More important, they have a balanced fleet of surface, submarine and amphibious vessels, and 1.000 naval aircraft, and they Ire building up one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. They already have the largest fishing fleet and the largest hydrographic survey fleet in the world.

All of these are dovetailed into one another. They support each other. The crews are interchangeable. All are centrally controlled from Moscow, which is a very important factor. We certainly cannot say that all of our merchant ships, or even warships, are under a central NATO control, perhaps even in time of war.

If these are the dangers, what is the need? The need is for grater maritime strength and greater mobility. To counter nuclear submarines we need more hunter-killer submarines. We are building half of one such vessel a year at the moment. We are to reduce our conventional submarine force by 25 per cent. We need more not less maritime aircraft, yet the Government propose to cut them by 25 per cent. We need more anti-submarine frigates. The Government are cutting them by 7 per cent. We need the Simonstown Agreement, which the Government propose to denounce.

The second requirement is for more rapid and effective reinforcement of the northern flank and the Mediterranean, which means an amphibious lift, which we are now to cut by a quarter, transport aircraft, which we are cutting by a half, and helicopters, which we are cutting by a quarter. The serious reductions on the northern and southern flanks have been commented on by NATO. That has been soft-pedalled by the Government. I shall read to the House the remarks of a senior NATO officer in charge of the Mediterranean area. He said: The United Kingdom's current proposals would greatly reduce her traditional räle as a Mediterranean power. Further, it would seriously lessen NATO's already limited conventional capabilities, our vital external reinforcements and our tactical nuclear operations. I believe the results would far exceed those of her earlier withdrawals from East of Suez"— which was also under a Labour Government— and would ultimately deal a heavy blow to our deterrent posture as well as eliminate an important stabilising influence in the region. That is a fair summary of what we can expect in the Mediterranean.

We need mobility. We are giving up bases right, left and centre. We always do when we have a Labour Government. Now it has to be Gan, Mauritius and Simonstown. We shall therefore need more Fleet support and afloat support. Instead of that we are getting one third less. The Government say we should concentrate nearer home—presumably in the North Sea. I am sorry to see that we are not doing far more to protect the North Sea oil rigs. The Daily Telegraph said: One of the two ships which the Government has chosen for North Sea oil rig patrols is so old that she has been laid up for the past year awaiting sale or scrap. We need helicopters and fast patrol boats. If we want cheaper vessels, I suggest that today is the age of the missile. We can now get very effective missiles in small hulls. We used to lead the world in motor torpedo boats in the 1930s. The Government should concentrate on this development and thereby save money.

Our future lies in an integrated European defence. No individual country can afford to provide protection for itself. We must all act together. It has been said time and again in official circles that 50 per cent. of the money spent on research and development is wasted through duplication. I give one example. Of naval missiles, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air, the European nations produce 19 different types and buy two from America. Of Army surface-to-surface missiles the European nations produce 10 and buy two from America. Of Army anti-tank missiles, there are 16 European types and one is bought from America. Of air-to-air missiles, nine are produced in Europe and two come from America. Of air-to-ground missiles, 15 are produced in Europe and two in the United States.

Surely, therefore, the first task is to try to integrate European production. That is not a problem involving the companies. The companies are co-operating well inside Europe. The problem is one of design. The Minister will do a great service to the State and to Europe and at the same time cut defence expenditure if he will initiate a method by which responsibility can be allocated for the design of the missiles, for example, to the military committee of NATO. It is necessary for some high authority to design missiles rather than that should be done at national level. The order would then go to the companies with the design study and the companies would be able to set up the necessary consortia to develop and produce the missiles much more cheaply than at present.

That would have to be done in consultation with the United States. It will have to be made clear that Europe will buy United States missiles only if the United States buys European missiles in some other category. If each NATO Government allocated 1 per cent. of its research and development expenditure to NATO for that purpose, we should start to move towards a European armaments agency. We all know that it is necessary to save money on defence, if we can, but the reason for doing so—the percentage of GNP—put forward by the Government was completely demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger).

Let me remind the House what happened the last time a Labour Government were in power. We waited a year for a defence White Paper, which was produced in 1966. Subsequently there were six major alterations of the review, three of which were accompanied by major financial cuts. The White Paper was introduced in February, and in July there was a cut of £100 million. In 1967 there was a cut of another £100 million and in 1968 a saving of £110 million was announced. That precedent has already been followed. A few weeks after the defence review, there was a cut of £110 million. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) that there will be more cuts, and nothing could be more damaging or demoralising for our defence forces.

I believe that the Secretary of State has done his best, but he has not succeeded, because of pressure from Government back benchers. The effect of the White Paper on the Services and on industry will be discouraging to say the least. The timing of the cuts is disastrous, in view of the great expansion in the Soviet Union armed forces. In general, the White Paper is hypocritical and dishonest, in that it will bring dismay to our allies and delight to our enemies.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) spoke with great knowledge of nuclear weapons and weapons systems and attempted to draw profound conclusions from the numbers game. I am in disagreement with the hon. Gentleman's overall conclusions, except in one area. A matter which requires the reflection of the House on which he touched is that of strategic nuclear weapons. Judging by the figures that have been mentioned by the Americans and confirmed by the Institute of Strategic Studies, it is now clear that the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed by Russia is 50 per cent. greater than the number deployed by the United States.

Even if that is true, there is still the qualitative factor to be taken into consideration. Even if it appears that the Russians are ahead in the number of ICBMs they may deploy, we can still be in a state of nuclear parity. That is worth bearing in mind, because there are certain implications for this country and for the Western Alliance in the SALT negotiations which are now moving into stage 2. Some people say that it looks as though the Americans and the Russians are not so much on a collision course as on a collusion course.

One has to take into consideration political factors. It is wrong to concentrate too much on weapons and ignore the political realities. On Capitol Hill, to put it mildly, one finds a mood of disenchantment. It will be a long time before we see firm presidential leadership in the United States—certainly not this side of a presidential election. That is the background upon which we have to evaluate and discuss the defence White Paper.

I recall that many Opposition Members welcomed the Chancellor of the Exchequer's new sense of realism. He told the House that we borrowed about 5p of every pound we spent. We spend about 9p in the pound on defence. That is by to means a horrendous figure, but one does not need to be a mathematical genius to see that there is a problem there. There is no point in Opposition spokesmen denying that had they, by some mischance, been in office they would not have been faced with a thorough defence review.

In all the circumstances my right hon. Friend has conducted a thorough defence review. The White Paper is the longest that has been produced for many a year. It sets out in perspective the world situation, including information on the War- saw Pact forces, which is useful to the House. My right hon. Friend should also be congratulated on the way he has consulted his NATO allies. NATO members might not necessarily agree with the defence White Paper and may wish that it had never been, but they cannot complain about lack of consultation, because there has been full consultation.

We are not the only European member of the Atlantic Alliance to cut back. Other countries have been in a similar position and their actions have been received with overall sympathy. Everyone appreciates the appalling economic situation of the United Kingdom, which does not get any better as the days go by. In those circumstances we have to apply our criticism to the defence White Paper.

Of course, it would be wrong for us not to have a look at what is happening in terms of the conference on mutual and balanced force reductions. The real tragedy would be to have a defence policy imposed upon us which was a sort of disarmament by inflation. That would finally scupper the conference on MBFR. I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that there is precious little progress being made by the conference in the sense of a major breakthrough. The reason may well be, apart from the technicalities, that the Russians believe that if they wait and allow inflation to take its full course they will get not mutual balanced force reduction but force reduction without them having to reduce the level of their own forces. Alternatively they would be able to carry out a few reductions, given that the balance would undoubtedly overwhelmingly favour them.

We must also consider the political problem in terms of the White Paper and in respect of the conference on mutual and balanced force reductions. Further, there is the problem of the paralysis of British foreign policy for at least another 35 days until the results of the referendum are known. Whatever criticism may be made of the White Paper, I do not think that Conservative Members can criticise it for not being sufficiently Eurocentric. Clearly the weight of the White Paper is oriented to the possible unification of the Community of Nine. That unification will no doubt be complete as time goes by. The implications are clear in the White Paper.

Some of my hon. Friends have tabled an amendment which may or may not be called. Given the world circumstances I have just described, with certain American disenchantment and perhaps withdrawal from Europe and with the Russians waiting to see what they will get if mutual and balanced force reductions do not make progress through the negotiating table, what is the position of my hon. Friends?

I know that a number of my hon. Friends argue eloquently and consistently that given the present circumstances we should adopt a policy of neutrality. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), who is not in the Chamber, went a bit further than that. I do not wish to clash with him, but I do not think that he speaks for the Labour Party on these issues—at least, I think he will agree that he does not speak exclusively for the party. The Labour Party has always repudiated neutralism. It has always believed—and it has expressed this belief in annual conference after annual conference—that the only way towards disarmament is through collective security. That cannot be dodged, and I look forward with interest to the contributions which may be made to the amendment if it is called tomorrow.

I believe that the only solution is to build upon the Eurogroup. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has put a proper emphasis upon it. Although it is too early to talk about developing new defence arrangements in Europe, I believe that eventually such arrangements will have to come about. Eventually the House will have to consider such arrangements. Whether or not it is in a new framework, the essential ingredient will have to be a strategic relationship with the United States. The real difficulty that the House faces is how to try to arrange that relationship within the next 10 years. At this moment it is too soon to talk about such arrangements and to speculate, but the fact remains that broad outlines can now be seen in terms of possible development during the next 10 years.

One course that I hope the House will repudiate is that we should lapse into neutrality. I do not think that we can make progress in that way towards all the things that we wish to achieve. I believe that we have to defend the White Paper. I hope that my hon. Friends will do so. I consider that it is a defensible document. I shall be able to defend it in my constituency. The one basis upon which we can defend it is by a recognition of the difficulties that the country faces, and at the same time a recognition that Britain makes a major contribution to NATO. In future let us be prepared to spend on our armaments as much as we judge necessary depending upon our assessment of the threat to Britain's security.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) speaks with knowledge and authority. He has made the best case possible for the White Paper—the best case that has been made for it this afternoon. Of course, my right hon. and hon. Friends must accept that in our present financial plight—I doubt whether we would have been in such a plight if we had been in office, but I assume for the moment that we would have been—we would also have had to consider our defence expenditure. What disturbs my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself is the ease with which money is found for non-essential projects of which we disapprove in any case and yet we see the great difficulties which are found even by the hon. Member for Horn-church in finding money for adequate defence.

I must add my comments in support of those who have expressed disquiet about the White Paper. I do not believe that the problems have been faced honestly. If they have been faced honestly in private I do not believe that they have been deployed honestly in public. It is said that we spend more than our allies on defence, when that expenditure is expressed as a percentage of our gross national product. I dare say that on some calculations that is true. But even if it is true, what our allies spend is not the yardstick that we should adopt. The yardstick that we should apply is the threat to our defences. But the calculation that has been made is itself unsound. The expenditure of our allies is calculated differently. In Germany, for instance, nothing is included for education and welfare.

It will be known to the House that our dependants in Germany number 68,000— more than all the troops that we have there. Clearly, our expenditure on those dependants is very great indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) also mentioned how these calculations are made in France and are different. Having applied the wrong yardstick the White Paper goes on to give the impression that our reduced forces are equal to the forces that existed before the reductions were made, and that NATO does not really mind because it was consulted. Anyway, it is argued, we are keeping up the central front. It would be wrong to argue those propositions in detail at this stage of our debate but I do not think that any of them are true.

Furthermore, the future size of our forces has been calculated by reference to a growth rate of 3 per cent. a year. At present we are not achieving that rate. If we continue with this Government we never will attain it. Even before the debate was initiated after the publication of the White Paper we saw a further unilateral cut of £110 million. I believe therefore that the White Paper is a shifty document and that the Government are untrustworthy on defence matters.

These unilateral cuts come at a particularly inopportune time. We have the spectacle of Russia and its satellites rapidly growing in military strength. They are already well ahead of NATO. We have the MBFR conference making no progress. Why should it make progress if the West is willing to disarm unilaterally before it gets going? Further, we have a policy of détente. The fruits of that policy have been a great military victory for Communism in breach of every possible treaty in the Far East and a weakening of the will to resist in the West. We also have, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned, a totally disillusioned United States, which is showing signs of isolationism. A weak presidency may not be able to arrest that tendency.

I do not suppose that there has been a time within the last 30 years when our defence policy could have been so justly criticised. I believe the reason is that the Labour Party is in two halves. One half, which is not composed of neutralists, wants defence as much as anyone else, but the other half is not so sure about our social structure. I cannot rid myself of the feeling that that half is not so energetic in its will to defend that structure.

One military consequence of our weakness is lack of flexibility. Our troops are positioned and equipped to fight one war, in one place. It would be amazing if all our predictions came true. If so, it would be the first time in history. Smaller forces, such as our own, need mobility and reconnaissance. I deplore the fact that the maritime aircraft, the helicopters and Royal Air Force Transport Command are being done away with or reduced.

Our inability to react in a mobile way implies also the early use of nuclear weapons. I was disappointed that there is so little discussion in the White Paper on the question of nuclear weapons. Are we back on the "trip-wire" concept of nuclear weapons, or do we still believe in a flexible response? If we do, have we enough forces to give credibility to a response of that kind? The nuclear weapon is a diplomatic rather than a military weapon, but if it is to work it must be displayed—in other words, it must be kept in good repair and our intentions must, to the necessary extent, be believed by possible opposition.

I should like to turn to one or two detailed points. Our reinforcement plans for BAOR seem full of difficulty. For political reasons, we have undertaken to move our troops forward at the first sign of danger. We must realise that the enemy has the initiative, and one wonders whether we shall receive the length of warning that we should like.

We can expect the United Kingdom Government of the day to delay moving our reserves to Germany, both for economic and political reasons, because any such move would accentuate a crisis. Such reinforcements in Germany will have the task of, as it were, trying to board a moving train. Have we made the most meticulous arrangements for reinforcements? Have we the addresses of the reservists? Are they still there? Will the Post Office deliver the letters in time? Are the ships and planes earmarked—and where are they? Are the runways strong enough to take the aircraft, and how are the airfields to be defended?

The whole concept of reservist reinforcements is ramshackle. It is difficult to know what else the Government can do, but every care must be taken to make sure the system works. I cannot help remembering that the reservists from TAVR who are to go to Germany are being sent there by the Labour Party—a party which a few years ago did its utmost to abolish the Territorial Army, and failed by only one vote. That is typical of the frivolous attitude that sometimes informs the Labour Party on defence questions.

On the subject of equipment, there is a need for anti-tank medium and short-range weapons. I should like to know what the Government are doing on that score and what they believe is the requirement for new weapons and helicopters. What is the situation in regard to low flying by the Royal Air Force? This is an absolute need and was underlined by the recent Middle East war. I understand that German legislation is proposed forbidding flying under 500 feet and reducing the number of flights to about 5 per cent. of Royal Air Force present requirements. I believe that this is unacceptable for the efficiency of our Air Force. I hope that point is made clear to the German Government if they are set on bringing forward such legislation. It should also be represented to the Germans that any such action will breach their treaty obligations.

Whether that legislation comes forward or not, we desperately need ECM equipment in our aircraft. What is being done and when will such equipment come forward? Are we buying United States equipment as an interim measure? I should like to emphasise that no ECM equipment which is not automatic is any use. Flying at 500 knots at 100 ft. a pilot cannot fiddle with knobs, and the opposition is likely to have switches of frequency. May we be reassured on those matters?

I should like to mention one further point on the subject of organisation. I understand that experiments are to be conducted to do away with the brigade system. I believe that in peace time that would be possible, but I venture to say that five operational units in action at the same time on the very broad fronts of modern warfare are not possible if expected to be controlled at divisional level. I remember trying to undertake some-think of this nature during a battle in France. It was just not possible. The confusion was complete and we were lucky not to lose. We were well-trained, but there was just not room on the air. Therefore, I hope that a thorough experiment is conducted and that if the result is unsatisfactory the proposal will be scrapped.

Whatever credit we may have left to us on the Continent after the shifts and strategems as a result of our bad economic situation, I believe that the bearing and conduct of our troops have contributed to the good opinion which we still have abroad. Our troops are absolutely magnificent. They are professional, smart, and obviously efficient, and I believe that they combine, with the traditional British virtues, self-discipline to a high degree. If we had more of that self-discipline here at home we would be in a better position than we are.

8.16 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hooky (Sheffield, Heeley)

The central argument in the defence review is that we should concentrate our defence effort in Western Europe and on the seas around our shores and in the Eastern Atlantic. That is a sensible basic argument. The review also proposes that we cut the manpower involved in defence, both military and civilian, by 70,000 in the next few years. That again is a sensible decision, because it represents an economy in real resources. One can talk about thousands and even millions of pounds, but what is important is to get across what are the real resources which we are employing in our defence effort. I welcome the fact that our real manpower resources are to be redeployed into more sensible economic avenues.

There is one aspect of the White Paper about which I am not so satisfied, and I should like to spend a few moments on that matter. We gave up an Empire a long time ago, but we still seem to have an army on which the sun never sets. Paragraph 4 of the White Paper reads like something out of Kipling: Outside NATO Britain was maintaining forces in various parts of the world: independent territories such as Hong Kong. Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Belize; in Cyprus ; in the Far East…and in a number of other places, including Brunei, Mauritius, Gan, Oman, and the Caribbean. Kipling, no doubt, would have been startled to learn that on top of that we now have forces in Malta, Berlin, the Arctic and the Antarctic. This is a fantastic commitment, which is out of all proportion to our resources and abilities at the present time.

I am surprised that Opposition Members have not paid any attention to the last sentence of paragraph 4, which reads: These commitments imposed upon Britain an extra burden which none of her European Allies and trading competitors was bearing. I cannot comprehend how it can be argued that Great Britain, which Conservatives insist is less wealthy than either France or Germany, can continue to carry commitments which none of our allies carry.

Fortunately, paragraphs 33 to 44 of the White Paper indicate that some of these commitments are to be abandoned. In paragraph 33 we read: Some of these deployments reflect inescapable obligations…others reflect former aspirations to a world-wide räle. They absorbed a comparatively small proportion of the defence budget: withdrawal from all of them…would save £150 million a year at most. I am a fairly modest sort of chap, and a saving of £150 million on the defence budget certainly would delight me. It would be well worth saving.

The defence review shows that we shall be disengaging from Malta, Simonstown, Gan, Mauritius, Singapore and Brunei. That is welcome news. But we are contemplating a continuing miltary commitment in Gibraltar, Belize, the Falkland Islands and, most peculiar of all, Hong Kong.

The maintenance of a military garrison in Hong Kong, after abandoning all the stepping-stone staging posts across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, is a military absurdity. I am staggered at the number of men and the amount of equipment we shall leave there, amounting to five infantry battalions, an artillery regiment. reconnaisance squadrons, part of the RAF regiment and helicopters and minor naval forces. That is not altogether insignificant in terms of our total military resources. I am amazed that we shall leave five battalions of ground forces in Hong Kong with no effective air cover or naval support. It seems to me that if a serious conflict broke out in that part of the world this garrison would either capitulate or be massacred.

I cannot understand how the defence review, which is a sound document in many ways, can tolerate an absurd situation of that nature. If Hong Kong represented a splendid, shining example of Western social institutions and democracy, I might think it was worth it. But what is the situation? There are no democratic institutions in Hong Kong. There has been vicious exploitation of labour and child labour for many years. There has been appalling and widespread corruption. That is the set-up on which we are prepared to spend money by maintaining a military garrison.

It has been argued that the situation in Hong Kong suits the People's Republic of China. It does not mind about the Hong Kong situation. I wish all peace and prosperity to the 800 million citizens of the People's Republic of China, but I do not see why the 60,000 electors of my constituency should pay taxes to maintain a totally useless garrison in Hong Kong merely to suit the convenience of Peking.

If it is argued that the garrison has to be situated in Hong Kong for the maintenance of local law and order, my answer is that that duty could he performed by a local militia, drawn from local people and paid for by Hong Kong. I cannot see the slightest reason for maintaining a military garrison, 10,000 miles from the shores of the United Kingdom, to which we cannot give either air or naval support if a conflict arises.

I should also like to mention the squalid mercenary activities in which our forces, probably against their will, have been involved in Oman, which makes no military sense and which is a thoroughly disreputable exercise on the part of the British Government. However, I am sure that other hon. Members will develop that theme.

Fnally, I wish that the defence review could have paid a greater tribute to the work which some British forces have been doing as part of the United Nations international peacekeeping force. I believe that the contribution that the British forces have made in Cyprus has been distinguished and outstanding, and that it would be wrong if we did not pay a tribute to them in this debate.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

First, I declare my interest as an out-of-date soldier, but whose constituency contains many important defence establishments such as the RAF Station at Marham, with its highly important tanker force, RAF Swanton Morley, with some of the most highly thought of boffins in the Royal Air Force, and the Stanford batttle area, which affords us probably the best infantry training battleground in the United Kingdom.

I stress that I am no expert. I had never fired a shot from the time I was captured in the war until my visit to Germany a few weeks ago. However, my interest in the Services has always been keen.

I shall not stress those parts of the White Paper which have already been considered in detail. I should like to pay a tribute to the Secretary of State for Defence. I have great sympathy for him because I think that he must have had a most difficult task, in bringing forward this White Paper, because of the pressures from the extreme Left wing of the Labour Party.

As I am interested in the morale of the Services and in the well-being of the men and officers of the forces, I shall concentrate on that issue. I refer to the visit of an all-party delegation to the RAF and Army in Germany. All the members of the group were good time keepers, which is excellent as regards any group of Members of Parliament, and we had a first-class leader in the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand). Our programme was excellent. At first we thought that it would be almost too full, but in the event it could hardly have been bettered. I came back immensely proud of our forces. We probably have the finest-ever professional army, even if it is too small. The men of the RAF are also highly skilled. The members of the Armed Forces are generally well housed and looked after.

However, there are some deficiencies where we at home are not backing them up. Between wars, this nation tends to forget the forces, as it forgets agriculture when food is plentiful from all over the world. Our people do not remember agriculture until commodities such as sugar are scarce. All ranks in the Army are concerned at the shortage of spare parts and the lack of money for training.

The lack of money for training is shown by the fact that there has been no divisional exercise in the past four years and that many armoured cars are permitted to cover only about 600 miles per annum. Such is the state of training and the restricted use of weapons of our troops. It affects the morale of a highly trained professional force if its members find that they cannot get out to do the job for which they are trained. I believe that this explains why we found that between 75 and 80 per cent. of all ranks welcomed their service in Northern Ireland. They felt that they were doing something worth while, that it gave them the opportunities of leadership with small groups and that it made our Army a very fine body of men.

Again there is a serious shortage of spares for many of our weapons. It may be partly due to strikes and other matters affecting the industrial scene in our factories. But it is also due to our trying to sell many arms abroad so that we may be economically viable. I understand that there are more Chieftain tanks in Persia than there are with the Army in Germany. That does not seem to be the right way round.

I refer finally to the families of our Service personnel. Probably the most important factor affecting the morale of our Services, apart from the knowledge that they have the back-up of weapons and spares and the right to train as much as they want to, involves their being given sufficient pay to look after their families and to be able to live alongside those with whom they are living, namely, the Germans. At present, this is extremely difficult. In Germany, we found that they had all expected to receive notification of a pay increase on 1st April. We have seen 6th May come and go, the Secretary of State for Defence has spoken in this debate, and we have had no pronouncement on pay. I know that our Service personnel will be bitterly disappointed.

One of the most worrying features and, in my view, a bad psychological move occurred when the local allowance for living in Germany, which has been given over a long period of time, was announced at about the same time as the result of the pay review should have been announced. In many cases it showed a cut. This is for very peculiar reasons, probably known only to the civil servants who devised it. One cut affected a family with three children. Apparently the eldest child in any family of three children is meant to be able to baby sit. Given the right sort of parents, there are many families whose eldest child will not be left to baby sit with younger children. It is that sort of matter which has left a sense of grievance.

The other subject to which I must refer are the cuts which have been made in the RAF. These have been savage, especially as they affect officers and NCOs. I understand that about 600 officers and 1,200 NCOs are likely to go. The worrying feature to them is that the cuts are to be spread over a fairly long period from a few weeks ago when the Defence White Paper was published. It will be July 1976 before they know who are the individuals who will have to leave the Service. It is bad for any Service to have people who do not know whether they can continue in the Service.

I came back from Germany greatly heartened to realise that there is one section of our young people who are far better than a large number of young people of my generation and who are doing a tip-top job. In this House, we hear many grumbles about the younger generation. The fact remains, however, that our Army and Air Force in Germany are doing a wonderful job and need all the back-up that we can give them from this House.

4 p.m.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I am much impressed by the consistency of the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition. However, I wish that they would be more explicit. We hear their repeated cry for more and more arms expenditure. To be sure, they want more value for their money. However, before this debate ends, I hope that an Opposition Member will be good enough and honest enough to tell the British people that that is what they want—that they want more, albeit better, armaments expenditure. At the same time, from the other side of their mouths the Opposition are calling for cuts in public expenditure because it is public expenditure—and perhaps, on the side, the British working class—which causes inflation. That is their message. I hope that they will be honest and spell it out clearly at the end of the debate.

I am not in a position to play the game of amateur soldiers that is played so frequently by hon. and gallant Conservative Members. I shall offer my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence only a tiny piece of advice. I offer it with great caution. Having observed the Yom Kippur war from a great distance and through the media of television and the newspapers, I would suggest that he looks sceptically at his commitment to building tanks. Tanks are now on the verge of becoming as obsolete as battleships. We may commit the very great and expensive mistake of attempting to prolong the life of the tank by loading it up with a lot of sophisticated electronic gear which does not help the tank to do anything else but trundle along without getting hit too often. Tanks have become extremely vulnerable and very expensive pieces of equipment.

Manned aeroplanes do not seem to be worth the trouble any more. We know from the Yom Kippur war that it was necessary to fly dummy aeroplanes at the defences of the other side in order that those aircraft could be shot down, so that the next wave of aeroplanes could fly past. At that time, it was a sort of "try-out". Clearly, a weapon which has to be provided with a mock-up of itself in order to stand any chance of success is a weapon of questionable value. Therefore, it would seem to me, as a layman on such matters, that we should seriously consider not having manned combat or attack aeroplanes at all. We should set our minds to the possibility of using remote-controlled aeroplanes or missiles exclusively.

I say all this with a degree of caution. Certainly, the expenditure of tanks and manned aeroplanes in the Yom Kippur war was quite fantastic. They are vulnerable to people who are difficult to hit, namely, infantrymen and people who launch missiles from the ground.

I find the White Paper disappointing for the same reasons as I found its predecessor disappointing in the autumn. The cuts which the Secretary of State for Defence would have us believe are necessary are, in the main, hypothetical cuts. We could characterise the rest of the cuts by using the phrase "paper clips and pen nibs'. They are not significant at all. We are talking about an expenditure of £4,500 million.

Mr. Cormack

Absolute rubbish.

Mr. Litterick

This is all the more disappointing in relation to our own explicit commitment at the last election, a commitment for which the British people voted.

Mr. Cormack

Only 39 per cent. of them.

Mr. Litterick

The Government are not cutting this expenditure absolutely by hundreds of millions of pounds. Even an ultimate target figure of £1,000 million was mentioned in one of our policy documents at that time. In that context, we could reasonably express disappointment.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)

I do not want my hon. Friend unintentionally to mislead the House. As far as the defence White Paper is concerned, we are sticking religiously to both the election manifestos that the Labour Party produced last year. In no policy statement was the figure of £1,000 million mentioned. A resolution was carried at a Labour Party conference, but that is not a manifesto commitment. My hon. Friend should not suggest that it is.

Mr. Litterick

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that interjection. We are defining ourselves, respectively, very well. We now know where we stand.

One of the great difficulties about debates on defence is defining clearly what one wants it for. We can all say very easily "We want it to protect the country." But that is not a very helpful phrase. It never is, because in order to protect the country we must have some clear idea about what or whom we are protecting the country against. In the context of our type of military commitment, which is international, we find greater difficulty in defining the question and providing the answer.

I have looked at some of our treaty obligations. I have read the preambles to treaties such as those of NATO, CENTO and so on. They are all much the same. They tell me that they are about defending democracy, freedom, individual liberty and so on. But when I look at the institutions involved and the history of the operation of these treaties, I find inconsistencies. I discover that NATO was able, apparently without any difficulty, to embrace the Portugal of the dictators, the Greece of the junta, and the Turkey—well, Turkey is Turkey. They are hardly paragons of libertarian virtue.

Moving across the world to other treaty associates, we find countries such as Iran, which has a strange form of government, to our way of thinking at least—a government who keep in their prisons in excess of 2,000 political prisoners. The number is not precisely known, but there have been various estimates in excess of 2,000. The method of ordering political life there is, to say the least, authoritarian and extremely intolerant.

Moving to the subject of the Far East, one finds Opposition Members regretting—with great sincerity, I presume—the fall of a Government that held 200,000 political prisoners in its gaols.

These facts are very difficult to marry up with the argument that our enormously expensive defence effort is for the defence of liberty, democracy, and so on. It does not seem to be so. I wish that someone would get down to the job of defining in less equivocal language what all this expenditure is for. Helpfully, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) explicitly took up the term "neutralism". He expressed himself very clearly as being hostile to the idea. Also helpfully—although inadvertently, I believe—the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) expressed a rather strong and no doubt sincere plea for a jungle training school. I suggest that those two contributions have a relationship with each other and one which we should look at closely.

The term "neutralism" in the context of most conventional debates about defence, foreign policy and so on, explicitly or implicitly refers to the relationship one has either with the Soviet Union or with the United States of America. I believe this to be a great mistake. It misleads us. The hon. Member for Ayr was a wee bit closer to the mark—although without, perhaps, understanding what he was saying—when he was making his plea for a jungle training school. The most striking fact of international relations since the end of the Second World War is that of the 100 or so wars that have taken place, virtually every one has taken place in the territory of a poor country, a starving country—or what we often call an underdeveloped country. There have been very few exceptions, and they are easy to dispose of—Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and possibly we might include Germany, although we are talking about the post–1945 period. The remainder of the wars have taken place in the territories of hungry countries.

That fact is of enormous significance, because at the same time we find that in those wars—some fairly big, some very small—troops from a developed nation from the northern hemisphere were involved or equipment manufactured in the northern hemisphere was involved and used on a large scale. In other words, these were wars in which troops from the northern hemisphere fought people in the hungry world or supplied the military hardware by which those people could kill one another. We do not think seriously enough about this matter.

I suggest that our commitment to huge arms expenditure, ostensibly for the purpose of frightening one another—that is, we on the Western side and they, the Russians and their satellites, on the other side—is gravely misleading. We are indeed frightening one another to the detriment of the rest of the world, but the real conflict is between the nations of the developed world and the vast majority of the world's population which is hungry.

In the interests of pursuing what I suggest is our fantasy, we have robbed the world of much of its substance. We in the northern hemisphere, who represent less than 30 per cent. of the world's population—in fact, about 28 per cent.—control and consume more than 80 per cent. of the world's resources and means of production. When I say "We in the northern hemisphere", I mean us, the Americans, and the Russians, because they are of the northern hemisphere, too, and have an interest in exploiting the Third World. In their own way they do it, just as we in our way do it.

It is necessary that we cover ourselves in virtue in doing what we do. We cannot rob somebody blind and call it robbery. We must call it something else—protection. That is what we do.

I checked on the armaments expenditure of the five largest NATO members and discovered that during the last five years their total expenditure was$528,000 million. That is for only five members of NATO. I did not include Portugal, because Portugal is now in an unusual position, but her expenditure, as we all know, was until quite recently exceptionally high for a nation of that size.

It is not possible to total the arms expenditure of the Warsaw Pact countries because the statistics are not reliable. However, it is a fair bet that the scale of their expenditure is equally colossal.

Mr. Cormack

>It is a lot more.

Mr. Litterick

I said that it was a fair bet that it was equally colossal. The statistics are as unreliable for the hon. Gentleman as for me. It is not possible for anybody to produce reliable statistics on Russian armaments expenditure, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Therefore, it is a fair bet that their expenditure is on an equally colossal scale.

Mr. Cormack

A lot more.

Mr. Litterick

The hon. Gentleman is missing the point again.

We know that these five member nations of NATO spent․528,000 million on armaments in five years. In doing that we were pre-empting․528,000 million worth of iron, copper, zinc, chemicals and plastics and destroying them. We were dropping them into the ocean. Things that people need for their ordinary lives were simply made up and thrown away. The manpower of millions of unskilled, semiskilled, skilled and highly scientific people was wasted. We might as well not have bothered to train them at all because their skills were wasted. Those are the central mechanics of the inflationary engine that now dominates the world. Make no mistake about that.

Expenditure on that colossal scale by the nations of the northern hemisphere is ruining the world's economy in every sense. It is wastefully exploiting the physical resources of the world, it is destroying the world's financial system, and it is wasting the world's human resources. I am leaving out of account the people who are killed in wars.

All that is waste, yet hon. Members spent four days arguing about what causes inflation. The arguments were as relevant as the mediaeval arguments about the sex of angels. In the face of that colossal fact—and nobody mentioned it for the four days—complaining about my constituents' wages is as relevant as complaining about the heat of a camp fire when one is sitting under an active volcano.

This commitment to war and war mentality is psychotic. It induces delusions and fears of irrationality which are self-feeding. This House is also a victim, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is no less a victim.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

I should like to express in as few words as possible the doubts and fears which I have about the alarming course on which the future of our defence capabilities seems to be set as a result of the recent announcement by the Government.

I have no doubt at all about the integrity or honesty of intent of the Secretary of State and his team of Ministers. I have seen them in operation on both sides of the fence—from March to September last year when I was working in the Ministry of Defence with them and most of them had charge of Departments which they now run, and since October, when I have been listening to them in the House. I say this in sharp contrast to the alarmingly large number of their hon. Friends whose intentions about the future security of this country are dubious, to say the least.

Having said that, however, one is forced to the alternative conclusion, if one does not doubt his integrity, either that the Secretary of State has taken leave of his senses—because of the inconsistency of his actions as opposed to his fine words—or that he has lacked the moral courage to fight, for what he tells us he believes in, with his Cabinet colleagues.

In opening the defence debate on 16th December last the right hon. Gentleman said: …I was determined that the process of adjustment to the realities of our economic, strategic and political position should not be by a series of arbitrary cuts. Above all. I wanted to make sure that our defence priorities were seen to make sense and that our forces were seen to be tailored to what Parliament, the British people and our allies accept as essential to our security and that of the North Atlantic Alliance…I also had throughout in the forefront of my mind the other reality of the continuing threat to Western security posed by the massive and growing military power of the Warsaw Pact.—[Official Report, 16th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 1149.] Fine words, but what was the action to match them? First, a review which took little, if any, account of the continuing threat posed by the massive and growing power of the Warsaw Pact, and then, on top of the major review, the first of what my hon. Friends and I fear will be a series of arbitrary cuts.

When the Secretary of State, on 3rd December, made his first statement on the defence review, he started with the traditional ministerial bang. This was, he said, the most extensive and thorough review of our system of defence ever undertaken by a British Government in peace time. His proposals, he said, were the result of a careful study of all the relevant considerations. They are designed for the circumstances which we must expect over the next 10 years."—[Official Report,3rd December 1974; Vol. 882, c. 1351.] He was that day beginning his consultations with our allies, which he said would be "thorough and genuine". As usual, we finished with the traditional Socialist whimper. With the publication of the review, we find that the aim is, above all, to give effect to the decision of the Labour Party conference and the pledges of the Labour Left wing to achieve savings in defence expenditure regardless of necessity.

The thorough and genuine consultations with our NATO allies have produced thorough and genuine objections from them, but no change. We are left with proposals which will satisfy no one—certainly not me and my right hon. and hon. Friends, certainly not our NATO allies, certainly not those who have devoted their lives to service in our Armed Forces, and not even the right hon. Gentleman's own Left-wing rabble-rousers, most of whom, thank goodness, have chosen not to be here today.

Over the years, the Armed Services and the Service chiefs, who cannot by the nature of their jobs protest themselves, have looked to Ministers of whatever party to come to terms with the reality of our defence requirements and to fight their battles for them in the political arena. The Secretary of State and his hon. Friends have not even done that.

The last arbitrary cut announced in the Budget has been met with a monumental silence. Did any of these Ministers say "We have conducted the most extensive and thorough review ever undertaken and to add an arbitrary cut renders most of it worthless."? He did not. Would any of the Secretary of State's fellow Ministers have accepted such an arbitrary cut? Would the Secretary of State for Industry have accepted a throw-away line by the Chancellor to the effect that he could now no longer implement his plans for the workers' co-operative in Meridan or the Scottish Daily News? Of course he would not, nor would any other of the Secretary of State's colleagues. There would be hell to pay from any Minister who was told to make cuts behind which there was no rhyme or reason. Ministers would seek to defend their Departments. But from the Secretary of State there has been a deafening silence.

These cuts will leave us with weakened defence forces and with run-down industries which have played an important räle in the economy of this country by the development and sales abroad of military equipment of outstanding quality. It is important that the finality of these decisions should be recognised—that there can be no turning back once both the users and the developers of sophisticated equipment have lost the ability to acquire and maintain the necessary expertise and technology. Let there be no illusions about the effect of these cuts, despite the efforts made in the White Paper to paper over the cracks. Much emphasis is put on maintaining combat capability while reducing logistic support. This is the stated aim behind the reductions proposed in the strength of the Army. But let no one delude himself that by reducing the capability and flexibility of field headquarters, combat ability is not reduced also.

The removal of the brigade headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine, though probably the best plan the Service chiefs could have made, given the impossible demands put on them, will severely reduce the tactical mobility and flexibility of the fighting units in BAOR. The withdrawal of our amphibious and air-portable support to the flanks of NATO not only deprives the alliance of important reinforcements at a time when the flanks in particular are subject to political pressures and uncertainty, but again will deprive the forces of invaluable expertise and flexibility to deploy to meet unexpected threats in the future. The virtual decimation of our air transport fleet will deprive the Army of the opportunity to gain valuable training experience in other environments than Central Europe, and, indeed, the valuable experience of mounting joint exercises with the Royal Air Force. It is this sort of experience that has stood us in such good stead in the past when our forces have been called upon to do the unexpected—the most recent example being the evacuation from Cyprus, which was one of the smoothest of operations, largely due to the high standards of training of those taking part.

The tragedy is that as our forces lose these specialist skills so the flexibility of British response to unforeseen events becomes less and less and our reliability and good faith as allies to those whom we have a duty to help and protect becomes ever more in doubt.

It is a sad day when a Secretary of State for Defence tells us that in future he is basing defence requirements on the budgets of our friends and not on the forces of our foes. It is a sad day when he publishes in a White Paper the ever-increasing strength of the Soviet Navy and the reduction of our fighting fleet by over one-quarter. It is saddest of all to see a Secretary of State who is not prepared to fight on behalf of his Department—not only in terms of equipment and defence commitments, but in terms of human flesh and blood—for the men and women whose livelihood will be destroyed by these cuts.

It is here, above all, that we see the double standards of Socialism running riot. This week, when major confrontation looks likely over reductions of 20,000 in the steel industry, and the Minister concerned will defend to the last ditch all the overmanning and restrictive practices, and pump in endless millions of taxpayers' money in the interests of maintaining employment, the Secertary of State for Defence will consign three times as many jobs to the scrap heap, without a whisper of protest. As an honourable man, he has two choices open to him—to stand up and fight for those whose interests he is there to protect, or to resign.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) began his powerful speech by pointing out that the Government timetable was so congested that eight weeks had elapsed between the publication of the White Paper and the defence debate. One could go further and point out that the Government timetable is now so congested that they have had to choose a time for the defence debate that coincides with the Euro Group meeting in London, so that the Secretary of State for Defence—and we quite understand his reasons—cannot be present to listen to a large part of the debate.

It must have been a great disappointment to the Secretary of State for Defence that we could not have had a debate on this far-reaching review before it was overtaken by yet another unplanned defence cut, but it is largely his fault.

We know that much of the factual analysis for the review was completed not eight weeks ago but more than eight months ago. The review was delayed by the failure of Ministers to make decisions, a failure that was no doubt due in considerable part to a natural desire not to unveil the defence review before the autumn General Election and before the subsequent Labour Party conference was well out of the way. Meanwhile, while the Secretary of State's Cabinet colleagues have dithered, both the economic and strategic situations have taken a dramatic change for the worse.

The debate has shown yet again that the Secretary of State and those who occasionally support him on the back benches never understand why we do not accept that comparing the proportion of gross national product that we and our allies devote to defence is an adequate base for framing our national defence budget. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and the hon. Member for Lough- borough (Mr. Cronin) have very different points of view and seem incapable of grasping that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr demolished that case as powerfully as I have ever heard it demolished.

But let me try once again to explain why we are critical of this approach. The Secretary of State is a distinguished Member of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is rightly intensely concerned with safety in the mines. Suppose a new chairman of the National Coal Board said "We are concerned about safety in the mines. We want to make a far-reaching review of the whole question", and then told the NUM conference "We have done the review. We have found that the safety situation in the mines is bad, and is growing increasingly worse. However, we have looked at the amount of money that the coal authorities in Germany and France spend on their safety measures, and therefore we are reducing by 10 per cent. the amount we spend on safety measures." The NUM would reject that chairman. He would be driven with derision from his office. But what would he rejected as absurd from a chairman of the NCB is accepted as gospel from Socialist Defence Ministers.

There can be no doubt that the world has become a much more dangerous place since the review began. The strategic position has deteriorated sharply even since the publication of the review. In Cyprus and the Aegean, two of our NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, have come close to war. Cyprus, where we have vital sovereign base areas and important radar installations, has been ravaged by conflict. Our forces have played a spendid part there in helping to alleviate some of the suffering.

In the Middle East the Kissinger talks seem, at least for the time being, to have broken down. At the other end of the Mediterranean, in Portugal, the revolution which was greeted so warmly by so many just a year ago shows ominous signs of becoming a sullen, radical, military regime, strongly influenced by the Soviet Union.

In the Far East the United States has been gravely humiliated. But it would be unwise for those who habitually chuckle and giggle at the setbacks of our friends to cheer too loudly at the defeat that the United States has undoubtedly suffered. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) spoke in his robust speech about the attitude of the French. I was in Paris on Thursday. There can be no doubt that those who have been saying "I told you so" most loudly about the American humiliation have been the Gaullists, who argued for years that in a nuclear age no ally could be trusted, and that every country that intended to defend itself must be equipped with its own nuclear arsenal under its own national control.

It is true that many countries have signed the non-proliferation treaty. It is equally true that a 20-year-old student of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently designed a workable atomic device in five weeks, using unclassified scientific papers as his guide.

It is already clear that some of our friends are fearful that past American guarantees are now subject to a veto by Congress, and that in future it may be necessary for America's friends to negotiate with people such as Congressperson Bella Abzug as well as with the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. But if America is thought to be faltering, others may well take the nuclear option.

For the past 10 years NATO's strategy in Europe has been governed nominally by the policy of flexible response. That means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) reminded us when asking whether the policy was still alive, that conventional forces must be kept at a level strong enough to delay the moment, in the face of a major attack, when the alliance is faced with the choice of surrender or the use of nuclear weapons. By coincidence it was a German commentator who remarked recently that the doctrine of flexible response seemed to have been replaced by the doctrine of flexible responsibility.

At a time when the American public generally seems to feel it has been carrying too great a share of the defence burden, do the Secretary of State and his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence believe that the argument lie has deployed today will not be taken up and used by those Americans who want to see American support for the alliance drastically cut back? As Sir Frank Roberts, who was our former ambassador to NATO, to the Soviet Union and to Western Germany, said in a letter to The Timesyesterday: The degree of Britain's support for NATO could be of crucial importance to United States opinion at this time". He went on: But if the defence review is only to be the starting point for further unilateral reductions, this must impair our contribution to NATO not only directly, but indirectly through the…encouragement given to our allies to follow our example and so weaken national and collective security". Plainly this review and the Secretary of State's speech raise as many questions as they answer.

Is it not plain that the greatest danger to NATO lies on its Mediterranean flank? Why then, in the face of a cascade of criticism from our NATO allies, has the Secretary of State decided to make the largest cuts in the area of greatest danger? Here we note that the Government are slashing our remaining amphibious capability at a time when the Soviet Union is substantially increasing its own capacity for amphibious operations in this area. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said in a powerful speech that the Soviets are soft underbelly men. We are making that underbelly softer still.

There is another uncertainty over the £110 million cut announced in the Budget. What consultations has the Secretary of State had with our allies about the implementation of this additional cut. We gathered from the Secretary of State that more details are to be available in next year's White Paper but that meanwhile nothing important will disappear. Then, with a wave of his hand which would have done credit to Houdini, the Secretary of State moved on to other matters, giving the impression that this £110 million defence cut had gone up in a cloud of smoke. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us a little more about it this evening.

We note, sadly, that at moments of economic stress such as this there is a temptation to cut back on research and development. This is the budget about which, necessarily, least information is given. We shall watch with the greatest suspicions any moves by the Secretary of State in this area.

To cut research and development is indeed to eat the seed corn. I note that President Ford has recently asked the American Congress for an increase in the American defence research and development budget of just under 2 billion dollars. In other words, the increase for American research and development purposes is almost twice as big as the whole of our research and development budget before the recent cuts.

The total American research and development budget is almost 10 times as great as ours, which makes it all the more difficult for any member of the Euro Group to sell equipment to the United States in the two-way street about which the Secretary of State talked. Despite these enormous disparities in research and development budgets we are still ahead of the United States in certain areas such as vertical take-off. I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and others in hoping against hope that the latest unplanned defence cuts do not mean the end of the naval version of the Harrier.

The Secretary of State talked of releasing men from the Armed Forces and from the defence industries to help with the export drive. We know that there could be a massive export market for the naval Harrier. We also know that its development costs would be considerably less than the cost of the French anti-tank missiles which the Secretary of State is under considerable pressure to purchase for BAOR. We agree with the Secretary of State's remarks about the standardisation and joint development. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) made a most valuable point when he reminded us that Europe had developed no fewer than 16 anti-tank missiles in recent years—far too many. It may be that it will be necessary to purchase some foreign equipment to fill the gaps in our armoury. We hope that if that is necessary the Secretary of State will obtain some form of quid pro quo

That leads necessarily to the whole area of offset agreements. Last week, a week incidentally in which the House was asked to swallow an almost unprecedented amount of Socialist legislation, the value of the pound fell by almost 2 per cent. against the deutschemark. This will add £5 million in one week to the costs across the exchanges of maintaining BAOR. The Secretary of State talked about host country support, which I take it is the latest American expression for trying to negotiate offset agreements with the German Government. We would certainly like to know what measures the Secretary of State will take, what discussions he is having with the German Government and others, about measures to meet the escalating costs of BAOR in the face of this fresh decline in the value of our currency.

I acknowledge the powerful contributions made by the former Secretary of State for Defence—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—to the problem of manpower and recruiting. Our defence debates throughout the 1960s and in the early part of the 1970s were dominated by whether we could find enough recruits to meet our commitments. Now, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman has been able to solve at a stroke the problem he was unable to cope with as Secretary of State for Defence. By imposing fresh cuts in the Budget and fresh cuts in manpower for the Armed Forces, and by planning for a million or more unemployed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must, at least temporarily, have solved the Secretary of State's manpower problems, although we await with some anxiety the Pay Board's report and the annual review. I hope that the Minister, in replying to the debate, will tell us something about this, and I hope that an announcement will be made tomorrow.

The Royal Navy will be the least affected, but the Secretary of State has been rather more forthcoming on manpower cuts in the Army. We welcome the fact that the proposed cuts will fall on headquarters rather than on regiments. Few people can build up much affection for headquarters, and I suspect that the Government's decision owes a great deal to the massive campaign orchestrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr to save the Argylls. No doubt the memory of that has bitten deep into Ministers' souls. As one who spent some time serving in a brigade headquarters some time ago, I have never thought that brigade headquarters were most subject to elephantine growth. The decision to scrap brigade headquarters has important military implications, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) argued powerfully that before implementing that decision there should be an experiment covering one division for one year. Certainly we are making a considerable leap into the dark.

The heaviest reductions will be made in the Royal Air Force from which 4,000 men will go, including 800 officers. That will mean an enormous upheaval for the men who will be thrown on to a savagely depressed labour market which has little demand for their high skills. About 250 pilots are to be made redundant and they will be added to the 650 pilots who are already unemployed.

The White Paper says that full facilities for resettlement, advice and assistance will be provided for those who return prematurely to civilian life. One of the main problems facing these men is housing. The Secretary of State did not go far enough when he spoke of circulars to local authorities from the Department of the Environment. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) reminded us of the problem in Scotland. In many parts of the country—Greater London is a prime example—access to council housing lists is no answer. I hope that the Secretary of State will remember that help with housing is the most important element in resettlement assistance—and we have yet to see a viable scheme.

The manpower cuts which have already been announced mean that we shall continue to have a smaller proportion of adult men in the Armed Forces than any of our European NATO allies. We also have the smallest reserve forces. In the past I have pressed successive Governments to view the räle, capability and reward of those who serve in our reserve forces. I welcome the Government's recruiting drive and some regrouping of räles. But what is needed is more concrete evidence that the Government attach increasing importance to the räle of the TAVR.

At this point in my notes I have the words, "Agree with Secretary of State on tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment". But unless my ears were closed for a moment, I did not hear the Secretary of State pay tribute to the regiment. There can be no doubt that the UDR has a major continuing räle in protecting the whole community in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Secretary of State will take advantage of the present welcome lull in the level of violence to reappraise the räle and strength of the UDR.

The whole House wishes to join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to our Armed Forces for the skill and restraint with which they have conducted themselves in Northern Ireland. We are glad that for almost six months now the level of danger for the forces has been reduced, but the discomfort continues. I am sure the whole House supports the Secretary of State in any further efforts to improve the conditions of our forces in Northern Ireland. We all hope that our military commitment in the next few months can be still further reduced. But Northern Ireland continues to be just one intensely dangerous place in a world where the level of violence has been sadly rising in recent months.

The Government's response to the rising level of international violence has been to accelerate the cuts in our defence budget. If there is any defence that provides the basis for the Government's policy in this respect it would seem to be that the meek shall inherit the earth. While we all hope that the meek will soon be ready to take up their inheritance, unfortunately history teaches us that it is the strong who keep contesting the will. The Government's policy as laid down in the White Paper and in the Secretary of State's speech shows that we are, alas, not to be numbered among the strong.

9.29 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Frank Judd)

I know that the whole House will agree that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) will never find himself among the meek in advocating the nation's defence priorities.

In his speech this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence dealt fully with the background to the decisions announced in the Statement on Defence Estimates published in March. I am sure the House will agree that I do not need to go over that ground again tonight. Therefore, I shall seek merely to underline some of the more important aspects of the decisions which have been taken. I listened with great interest to what has been said by contributors from both sides of the House. The views which have been expressed have emphasised the strength of feeling and, indeed, the widely differing attitudes that exist in this House on defence matters.

The Labour Party manifesto on which we fought the October election last year clearly stated that The ultimate objective of the movement towards a satisfactory relationship in Europe must be the mutual and concurrent phasing out of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I do not believe that anyone who has participated in the debate would disagree with that objective. The differences, of course, arise in terms of how such an objective can be achieved.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), in opening for the Opposition, made two fundamental criticisms of our approach to the defence review. First, he maintained that the world situation had changed dramatically in the course of our review. He argued that we had failed to take account of that in announcing our decisions. Secondly, he challenged the validity of relating our defence policy to what we believe we can afford as a nation.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I agree that over the past year or so there have been certain changes in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Far East and Portugal. Of course, defence policy is not immutable; it must evolve where necessary to match developments at home and abroad. The final decisions which we are in the process of taking will be taken in the fullest consultation with our allies.

I turn to the hon. Gentleman's second point. I refer to a speech that he made to the Cambridge University Conservative Association a few weeks ago. I am glad to say that I read his speeches with as much attention as he evidently pays to mine. He said: There must be cuts in public spending to curb our galloping inflation and to reduce the extent to which we are living beyond our means. Those are fine sentiments, but there has been no indication where the hon. Gentleman would initiate those cuts. The plain fact is that even when we came into office last year the nation was spending more on defence than it could afford. It was also spending more in terms of wealth, than any of its major European allies.

All of us in NATO have a common aim, and it is right that each member country should make a fitting contribution, in keeping with its available resources to achieve that aim. The gross national product approach, with all its imperfections, is one method of assessing the size of that contribution.

There are those—this point has been well demonstrated in the House today—who believe that we have not gone far enough in cutting defence expenditure. They say that the right course is to make really drastic reductions in our defence capabilities in the hope that that will persuade the Warsaw Pact countries to do the same.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick), who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber, referred to cuts of £1,000 million a year. I recognise the sincerity of my hon. Friend's personal commitment, but I must point out that that has never been the Government's policy as spelled out in the manifesto at the last General Election.

Let us pause for a moment to examine the argument more closely. It can be argued that the Soviet Union maintains military capabilities on the present scale on the one hand because it sees itself surrounded by American and European and by Chinese forces, and history has taught it to fear an attack on its homeland. That was an approach which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) underlined in his remarks.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the Russians wish to ensure stability within the Warsaw Pact by stationing forces in their Eastern European satellite countries, and in so doing to provide themselves with a buffer against the West. That is one side of the story, but the other is that the Soviet armoury is considerably greater than is needed either to deter an attack from the West or to defend its own soil. As my right hon. Friend has emphasised, in practically every respect, whether it be manpower, ships, aircraft or artillery, the Warsaw Pact has a clear numerical superiority in the European and Atlantic areas. It is also taking a lead in the quality of its equipment. Yet it still continues to expand its military capability and to increase the amount of money devoted to defence.

I must say with all the sincerity that I can muster that I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the real Soviet objective is to assemble military power as part of its foreign policy in order to be able to exert political influence in the world. The implications of that cannot be ignored. They could indeed be grave for us all.

Mr. Hooley

Does the Under-Secretary not allow that, seen from Moscow, the balance of forces must include not only the NATO forces but also the Chinese forces? Although we obviously cannot add the Chinese plus NATO forces, the Russian Defence Minister must do just that.

Mr. Judd

That point must be taken. The Soviet forces are already stronger than necessary to meet those two threats, if the Russians see them as threats.

This brings me to détente and the development of a closer understanding between East and West.

Mr. Bidwell

How real does the Under-Secretary think that the point I have made about the missile sites is in Russian conjecture? I believe that the Under-Secretary has fairly approached this appraisal from the Soviet standpoint, which is important for our understanding of what we are talking about. Does the Under-Secretary take that aboard?

Mr. Judd

I expect that the Russians take it aboard. We would hope so, because it is part of our defence policy that they should do so.

This again brings me to the matter of détente and the development of closer understanding between East and West.

The benefits that improved relations could bring in terms of reducing international tension and in encouraging closer trade and other links would be considerable. It is clear, as the Prime Minister's recent visit to the Soviet Union has shown, that discussions can take place and agreements can be reached on matters of common concern despite the deep political differences that still exist between eastern and western Europe.

We are fully involved in the current East-West negotiations, with their emphasis on military security in Europe. We are playing a full part in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe at Geneva and in the negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions in Vienna. Moreover, we follow the bilateral US-USSR strategic arms limitation talks with the closest interest ; and we continue to seek progress towards effective international disarmament. We fully recognise the importance of giving every support to measures designed to limit the possession of nuclear weapons and detailed knowledge of their technology.

But we must have clear and unequivocal evidence of the East's willingness to reinforce political by military détente ; we have always to consider very seriously indeed whether, as we all hope, the Soviet desire is as committed as we know our own to be, or whether their aim is to weaken NATO's strength and solidarity by causing us to lower our guard. So for those of us who do not accept the real pacifist position, which in my view is never one to be lightly dismissed, if we genuinely want progress towards a relaxation of tension and comprehensive disarmament, we must recognise that not having accepted the real, full, pacifist position, all of us are in an altogether different ball game. We must maintain the means to contribute, in negotiations, to the stability of a united front.

Having decided that some defence capability is necessary, we are then faced with the highly challenging task of deciding just how much. We obviously cannot start by setting some quite arbitrary figure to spend on defence. On this I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) will agree with what I say. We must assess as precisely as possible the nature of the threat and how best to meet it. Then we must relate the outcome of that assessment to Britain's economic reality. It would be reckless and wasteful to spend a great deal of public money on a defence policy which was not credible, just as it would be criminally irresponsible to have the British armed Services overstretched in a situation which could not be sustained. We must therefore ensure that we spend enough so that we are not left unprotected and may continue to make a proper contribution to détente.

Hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), have argued today that we have damaged or seriously weakened the security of our nation or of our friends in the alliance as a result of this review. Their emotive cry is that no price is too high to pay for our national survival.

Of course, we must ensure that we have the adequate means available for our self-defence. But to do more than that—to spend more than we can afford—would be to weaken the very kind of society that we are defending. More money on defence obviously means less, for instance, on industrial investment, on the export effort, on housing, on our medical services and on the many other things which go to guarantee the quality of our society. We have to strike a balance. Even the Conservatives, with their big cuts in defence spending, had begun falteringly to recognise that Britain could no longer afford the luxury of a defence policy which tried to do more than meet just the essential needs for our security, although, as my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, they did not have the foresight to do as we have done and carry out a comprehensive review of Britain's defence policy.

My right hon. Friend has already spoken about the economic background to the review and has also dealt very fully with the further cuts which we have had to accept as part of the general reductions in public expenditure announced last month. In this connection, we all recognise the real misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). My right hon. Friend has explained that in our examination, which has been thorough and painstaking, we considered most carefully the political and military implications of reductions in our defence programme both within and outside NATO.

It was a Labour Government who were deeply committed to the foundation of NATO as a bulwark for the protection of freedom and social justice against the ruthless expansionist policies of post-war Russia. In the post-imperial era in which we live, the only credible defence policy for Britain is one which is integrated into that Atlantic Alliance. I am convinced that any erosion of the Western Alliance as a whole—any emergence of a new defence bloc—will undermine not only the effectiveness of our defence but also the fulfilment of our long-term objective of copper-bottomed, guaranteed détente between East and West.

In this review, as we have made clear repeatedly, we have attached the highest importance to ensuring that NATO is not undermined. NATO remains our first priority. We are confident that the defence review will not weaken that alliance. It will, however, result in very substantial savings on planned expenditure—£4,700 million over the period ending 1983–84. Our defence burden will be reduced to 4½per cent. of the gross national product. These are large savings, by any standard, and they will bring the proportion of the national resources which we devote to defence more into line with that of our major European allies.

The review covered the whole of the period up to 1983–84, so that there could be an orderly adjustment of our defence structure to meet a different set of commitments and capabilities. In view of the highly capital intensive nature of defence programmes, significantly larger cuts in the early years could not have been achieved without massive dislocation with very serious effects on the NATO alliance, our defence capability, employment and industry, and they would have created still more severe human problems.

As my right hon. Friend made clear this afternoon, in order to make the best use of the limited resources available, we have decided to concentrate British efforts in those areas where we believe that Britain can make the most effective and significant contribution. In our view these are the Central Region, the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas, the security of the United Kingdom, and the NATO nuclear deterrent.

In the Central Region, NATO's land and air forces are a vital ingredient of allied defence strategy. They are also a visible sign of NATO's political will and determination and of its military capability to deter and halt aggression from wherever and at whatever level it might come. But, in this vital area, the Warsaw Pact confronts the alliance with a marked superiority in manpower and conventional weapons and has formidable advantages of geography and reinforcement capabilities.

The British Army of the Rhine holds an important section of the central European front and, with the Royal Air Force Germany, plays a major part in the forward defence of this region. We shall maintain these contributions in accordance with our Brussels Treaty commitments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Williams) will be glad to know that it is our policy that reductions below this level can only be within the context of a successful outcome to mutual and balanced force reductions. In the meantime, we shall continue to provide for reinforcing these forces in time of tension or emergency and their effectiveness will be maintained.

The Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas are equally important. The credibility of NATO's strategy of deterrence in Europe, based upon flexibility of response, depends on the supply and reinforcement routes from Northern America remaining open. To ensure that these routes do remain open we must counter the growing maritime power of the Soviet Union and particularly their submarine force which overall already out-numbers that of NATO by more than two to one.

NATO's strategy at sea is thus inextricably bound up with its strategy in the Central Region—the two stand or fall together. If the balance of maritime power were allowed to shift so far in favour of the Warsaw Pact Powers that they had the evident ability to isolate Europe by sea, the effect on allied confidence and political cohesion would be profound. Further, the maritime environment offers a potential adversary a unique opportunity to apply pressure with less risk of escalation to full nuclear exchange. We must, therefore, be ready to meet any threat at any level so that the situation can be held to allow time for a peaceful settlement to be sought.

In the Eastern Atlantic, the main weight of the maritime forces immediately available to NATO is British and we shall maintain our contribution to the defence of this area virtually undiminished. Our new construction programmes for the anti-submarine cruisers, nuclear powered submarines, missile armed destroyers and frigates will, there-force, be continued. Here, I should like to correct a misconception—a claim made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh Central this afternoon—which still seems to exist in various circles. The räle of the cruisers will be an antisubmarine capacity, ideally suited to the North Atlantic, where, together with their Sea King helicopters, each virtually with the same capacity as a frigate, they will comprise a complete and formidable anti-submarine weapon. The maritime Harrier, about which my hon. Friend the Minister of State will speak tomorrow, would, if we decided to go ahead, be an added operational capability.

Our objective is to maintain the security of the United Kingdom and its immediate approaches. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) and other hon. Members will have noticed that we have renounced any intention of moving towards a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons and that we shall continue to assign all our nuclear capability to collective defence within NATO.

The hon. Member for Ayr, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) have raised points about our non-NATO commitments. The defence review was conducted primarily as a military exercise in which our commitments and capabilities were examined in accordance with clear strategic priorities. The main priority was the concentration of resources on our contribution to NATO in the defence of the United Kingdom. We looked at all non-NATO commitments case by case against these strategic priorities. Against this background we considered that we should be prepared to reduce the forces deployed outside the NATO areas, unless they were required to support our commitments to our remaining independent territories or unless there were other overriding political reasons for remaining.

On this basis we have decided that we must retain some military commitments in Cyprus, where the Royal Marines—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall will be glad to note this—have so recently completed an outstanding team of service with the Blue Berets of the United Nations, in Hong Kong—I am aware of the reservation of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley)—in Gibraltar in Belize, and in the Falkland Isles. We shall maintain forces in Malta until the present agreement expires. We did not consider that Brunei should be treated as an exception.

I note that the hon. Member for Ayr said that he could live with our decision to withdraw from Gan and Mauritius if he could be assured that the facilities in Diego Garcia would be available. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central has expressed concern about the modest plans for expansion of the facilities in Diego Garcia and the effect that this could have on escalating the arms race in the Indian Ocean. The fact of the matter is that the Soviets have already built up their forces there. The Soviet naval presence has increased suddenly in quantity and quality over the last five years and is larger than that of the Western countries. The expansion of facilities at Diego Garcia will improve the ability of the United Kingdom and the United States to support naval forces in the area. The question when the improved facilities in Diego Garcia may be available is a matter for the United States Government.

It has been suggested by Opposition Members that we have failed to give proper attention to the protection of our shipping on the trade routes throughout the world. We have been criticised by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion for preparing to terminate the Simonstown Agreement. The fact is, however, that the security of out oil and other supplies is a collective interest which we share with our allies. We shall be able to play our part. Although it is no longer possible for the United Kingdom to maintain a global military presence. the Royal Navy will retain the ability to deploy world wide. But we must all recognise that the days of special arrangements for Britain alone in the more far-flung parts of the world are past.

These are the main aspects of the review.

Mr. Kershaw

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Judd

No. With respect, I want to deal with the points raised.

I assure the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) that we have fully consulted our allies and whereas they have noted our planned reductions with some regret, they have understood that our economic difficulties have made them necessary. They have welcomed the assurance that NATO commitments will remain the first charge on our defence resources ; and we shall continue to keep in close contact with them about outstanding issues and the detailed implementation of our plans. In particular, we have agreed to discuss with them certain compensatory measures in those areas about which they have shown the greatest disquiet, although they understand that any changes would have to be achieved within the total of resources which we have decided we can afford to devote to defence. We are, for example, considering making available two additional Royal Marine commandos for the northern flank.

Our discussions will, of course, also cover NATO's southern flank. Some hon. Members have spoken strongly about our reduced commitment in this area, particularly in the light of the growing Soviet presence there and the imminent opening of the Suez Canal. However, as we have already said, Her Majesty's ships will in any case continue to visit this area and will participate in NATO exercises and in the naval on-call force in the Mediterranean. We shall also be continuing reinforcement options for the Special Air Service requirement in the region, and Gibraltar will remain a Royal Navy base.

The hon. Member for Beckenham challenged our decision to reduce our amphibious capability. I hardly think it necessary for me to stress my personal conviction that the Royal Marines are an indispensible part of our defence system. It is a question of ensuring that we use the available resources in the most cost-effective way, and we believe we have decided the right priorities.

It has been argued that, at a time when the United States Government is under pressure at home to reduce its overseas commitments, particularly in the light of recent developments in South East Asia, this is not the moment for us to be making reductions in our contribution to NATO. Of course we have had to consider very seriously the possibility that cuts by Britain might have caused the United States to have second thoughts about the defence of Europe. But I should like to underline the very substantial contribution which the European members of NATO make to the common defence effort. It is significant that according to American sources the allies of the United States in NATO provide 90 per cent. of the ground forces deployed in the European area, 80 per cent. of the ships, and 75 per cent. of the aircraft. These figures clearly demonstrate the major part which the European members play in NATO.

I have concentrated so far on the broader aspects of our defence policy. I shall now turn to matters nearer home and take up some of the points made by hon. Members regarding the räle of the Armed Forces in and around the United Kingdom.

At this stage I should like to applaud warmly the expressions of appreciation for the dedicated work by all our Service men in Northern Ireland and, in a different way, for example, in Glasgow.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) referred to low flying. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force will deal with that point tomorrow and with the next rise in pay for the Forces which was raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins). The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has completed its 1975 review. That review is now with the Government and we hope that an announcement can be made very soon.

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) argued that local authorities should permit Service men to put their names on housing lists well in advance of the expiry of their engagements and that if their names came to the top of the list before their discharge they should stay there until they could leave the Services and take up the houses. The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that the Department of the Environment guidance circular, referred to in Chapter 5 of the White Paper and now on the point of being issued, will urge both those points on local authorities.

Concerning our offshore interests, about which the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) specifically pressed me, the defence review will not in any way have impaired our capability in this area. The Armed Services will continue to carry out their traditional tasks, including fishery protection, hydrography and search and rescue. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to know that, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, I have decided to make available for search and rescue Royal Navy Sea King helicopters, which will provide an improved night and all-weather capability. Two of these aircraft will be continuously available, one at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, in Cornwall and the other at HMS "Gannet", Prestwick Airport, in Scotland.

On the offshore resources front, hon. Members will know that, to meet the need to safeguard our growing interests on the Continental Shelf, HMS "Jura" is now operational, and the tug "Reward" will follow her into service later this summer. Negotiations are taking place for five new vessels to be built based on the "Jura". I expect the first of these to be operational in 1977.

No less important, of course, is the Royal Air Force's räle in this new task of offshore protection. RAF aircraft regularly patrol each area containing oil and gas installations. These forces operate as an integral part of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Response can therefore be matched to the particular need within the capabilities of the Armed Services as a whole. I should like to emphasise that the full resources of the Armed Services are available to assist whenever the need arises.

I assure the right hon. Member for Taunton that we are determined to continue improving inter-departmental coordination in this sphere with all the power at our disposal. I should also like to assure him that the work of the hydrographic study group is now completed. The report is under consideration, as is the question of publication.

In a democratic society we cannot escape the essential inter-relationship of defence and the quality of our internal society. In my view, therefore, the more public debate that is stimulated on the subject, the better. No civilised person could be content with a situation in which so much money is spent on what is essentially an insurance policy when so much remains to be done in improving the lot of the millions of underprivileged people in this country and abroad.

How we are judged by future generations will depend on how well we have used the opportunities afforded to us by our membership of NATO to achieve meaningful peace and stability, thereby releasing resources for the desperately urgent fight for social justice and human emancipation throughout the world.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Stoddart.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.