§ Mr. Speaker
I have to announce my selection of amendments to the main motion on the defence debate. I have selected the amendments standing in the names of right hon. and hon. Members of the Official Opposition.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think you will agree that I am not the most contumacious of your flock. I do not frequently raise points of order with you. I must do so on this occasion. Since you and I first met, exactly 30 years ago at an historic Labour Party conference, I have always admired your sense of fair play. Now you are the protector of we Back Benchers. As you know from the Order Paper, 83 hon. Members have put their name to an amendment to the Government motion. We are regretting the spending of £5.6 billion a year on arms. By tomorrow there will be more names attached to that amendment.
In this debate there are three points of view. There is the Opposition point of view, which says that we should be spending still more money on arms. There is the Government point of view which is supporting a somewhat smaller increase. There is a further point of view which thinks that we are spending too much on arms. As I understand it from your ruling, groups one and two will be allowed to vote for their points of view. However, group three, representing half the Back Benchers on the Labour side and three Welsh nationalists, will be denied that opportunity.
That does not seem fair to me. It sticks in my gullet to have to vote for a Government motion which positively welcomes this increase in spending. I think that you may well say that you are bound by precedent. That is not so. I believe you will say that there is precedent for what you are doing. I want to quote to you two important precedents for allowing more than one amendment to be selected. I refer to the debate on the Gracious Speech and the debate on devolution. On 1325 both occasions Mr. Speaker selected two amendments. What we are discussing this afternoon is not chicken feed—£5.6 billion—and it is a two-day debate. Surely we are entitled to have two amendments selected.
Even if there were no precedent, I would say "Precedent be blowed. Let fairness come first." I have seen my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip about this and he has said that if you will agree to this request he is prepared to put our amendment "above the line" and thereby allow it to be voted on. I request, if you cannot come to a decision at this moment, that you consider this with your advisers this evening and let us know tomorrow.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has presented his point of order with great courtesy, as he always does. He was right to refer to our long friendship, but of course it does not influence decisions I make now—especially in view of the conference he mentioned. I am not concerned with the merits of the arguments involved. I have only to observe the rules of the House. If the majority wishes to change the rules to allow two or more amendments to be called, the House must take action. The time for the Select Committee to get to work on this question is long overdue. This question is not new. My predecessor in the Chair had exactly the same issue to face in the debate on unemployment and ruled quite firmly on the issue. I had it a few weeks ago over the discussion on the Government's White Paper. Exactly the same rules apply.
The hon. Gentleman asks me whether I will look at the matter again. I am always willing to look at things again. I must tell him that I do so in the knowledge that there is not one chance in a million that I shall be able to change my ruling.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. I regret the odds against our case, but you have not answered my question. If there are two important precedents for two amendments being taken, why cannot two amendments be taken on this occasion?
§ Mr. Speaker
They are not identical precedents. That is the trouble. The Select Committee recommended that in the debate on the Address there should 1326 be an experiment to allow more than one Division. My predecessor took the view in the debate on devolution, which lasted four days—roughly the same as the debate on the Address—that he could extend the rule. He declined to apply that precedent when it came to the debate on unemployment, which was a two-day affair, as is this debate. Nothing pleases me more than to see hon. Members happy, but on this occasion I fear that I am strictly bound by the rules of the House. It is a question for consideration by the Select Committee on Procedure.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Roy Mason)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the need to provide adequately for the nation's security, welcomes the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1976 (Command Paper No. 6432); and, being aware of the economic factors which have led to cuts in all sectors of public spending, notes with approval that the defence cuts envisaged will fall on support services rather than on front-line forces, thereby maintaining the British contribution to NATO, the security and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and peace in Northern Ireland.One of the purposes of my Defence White Paper this year has been to give the House and the general public more information than ever before about our defence policy and about the three Services. It reports on the implementation of the defence review; it gives details on the financial and support reductions flowing from the recent public expenditure survey; and it places the resulting contribution of Britain to the forces of the Atlantic Alliance in the context of East-West relations generally. I also give substantially more information on the threat, the military balance, and NATO's strategy and organisation.
In addition to publishing this White Paper I shall be continuing the policy that I introduced last year of seeking a wider audience for the basic facts in the White Paper, and in a form which will be more easily understood by a wider section of the community. For many years we have distributed a short eight-page pamphlet, primarily for schools and recruiting purposes. This year I propose to include more information in the pamphlet and to appeal to a wider audience. I hope that the pamphlet will be available in a few weeks' time, and I shall be sending copies to hon. Members.
1327 I believe it important that more of our people should know more about defence, and should know that our money and their money is spent to good effect on the Armed Forces and their supporting Services.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Will my right hon. Friend also make it clear that our people should know the consequences should there be a situation where we are asked to have a separate Scottish Army, a separate Scottish Navy and a separate Scottish Air Force? At the same time will he spell out the detailed information about the costs of such preposterous proposals?
§ Mr. Mason
My White Paper reports fully on the implementation of the defence review. We are making good progress in our policy of withdrawing our forces to the maximum extent possible from cur non-NATO commitments. We have now completed our withdrawal from Gan, Mauritius and Singapore. The Simons-town Agreements have been ended, and our forces in Cyprus have also been substantially reduced.
These reductions in our commitments have enabled us to concentrate almost the whole of our defence effort on to the Atlantic Alliance, and, further, to concentrate upon those commitments within the Alliance which we can meet most cost-effectively.
Of course, NATO expressed regret last year at the fact that we had been forced, by our own particular economic circumstances, to make reductions. But at no time did NATO suggest that we were undermining the security of the Alliance, or that we had got our priorities wrong. The House will have noted that I have been able to announce four further compensatory measures, in addition to the five that I announced last year, to improve our contributions to the flanks of NATO—commandos for the northern flank and combat troops and aircraft to the southern flank. We hope that host nations will be willing and able to provide 1328 facilities for these forces. To this end we are discussing with Norway the ways in which it might be able to provide facilities for our forces and with the Italians the details of the support they will give us at their airfields.
In the defence review we undertook a major and fundamental reassessment of our commitments and of the capabilities we needed to meet them. In the time available we could do no more than make a broad attribution of savings to the supporting services and the civilian establishments in this country. But I always visualised that when time permitted we would probe these areas more deeply. So when, for economic reasons, I had to make a further contribution from defence towards improving our economic prospects, it was to this area of support that I turned my attention, in order to find a limited financial saving without affecting our front-line capability.
The burden of the recent cuts has fallen on civilian numbers and establishments. The details are set out in my White Paper. As the House will have noted, nine depots and establishments in the United Kingdom will be closed. The level of activity at a number of others is being reviewed. A wide variety of other economies in the support area is also being implemented.
In addition, I am pursuing a variety of manpower reductions in the Ministry of Defence Headquarters, including the Procurement Executive. In total, I intend to reduce civilian staffs, as a result of the latest expenditure review, by some 10,000, and 3,000 direct job opportunities will be lost in the defence industries. But there will be no reduction of the numbers of Service men.
I would be failing in my duties as Secretary of State for Defence if I did not pay a tribute to the civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence. The volunteer basis of the Services gives us highly-professional long-service forces manning the key operational and supporting areas. But it has long been the policy of all three Services to employ civilians to the maximum extent compatible with the efficiency of the forces and with economy. A considerable body of civilians, equally qualified, devoted and long-service, are accordingly to be found carrying out a vast range of duties—industrial, technical, professional and administrative—in a 1329 wide variety of establishments in the support and administration areas.
I have had to cut the numbers of my civilians by a total of 40,000 in the defence review and the latest public expenditure exercise. I did so because it was preferable—in spite of the risks involved—to make cuts in the support and administrative areas rather than in the front line. I hope that my hon. Friends, particularly those below the gangway, will recognise that this will be a painful exercise, but I wish to reassure them that I shall do all I can to ease the problems as much as any good employer can. And I hope to make the reductions I have outlined with the support and co-operation of the staffs concerned.
I have, of course, given our NATO Allies full information about these further reductions, and the NATO staffs are examining them, consulting us, where necessary, about the details. I appreciate the concern expressed by the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee about the effects of reductions in defence expenditure on the security of the Alliance. But I can reassure the House that our Allies have recognised the pressing economic circumstances that made the latest public expenditure reductions necessary. I am confident that these reductions will not affect, quantitatively or qualitatively, our essential contributions to NATO, or our rôle within NATO.
That said, I should like to congratulate the Sub-Committee on the very thorough way in which it has digested the mass of material which my Department has provided for it, at its request, on the defence review and subsequent measures, and on its perceptive reports on defence. Obviously, I do not agree with all its comments and conclusions—to which I shall shortly be replying—but I recommend hon. Members to read, if they have not done so already, the balanced account given in the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee of the problems with which my colleagues and I are grappling.
Since assuming office, I have been determined to produce a coherent framework—in military, strategic and political terms—for our future defence policy. I have transformed our defence strategy from one which was diffuse and worldwide to one which has a single major objective—that of Britain playing her full part in helping to safeguard the security of the 1330 Alliance and the security of these Islands. I have transformed a 10-year defence programme, which was escalating rapidly in cost, to one which will maintain our security at a lower and more stable level of resources.
I shall have saved, at 1975 prices, £2,800 million from 1976 to 1980, for investment and for improving the balance of payments. Progressively over a period, and with a full sense of responsibility towards the security of the Alliance, I have reduced the defence budget, so that in real terms it will be smaller in 1978–79 and 1979–80, than it was in 1970–71. I have fulfilled up to the hilt the undertakings given in the Labour Party manifestos of 1974.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
My right hon. Friend is misleading the House. The reduction is only in projected expenditure. Compared with this year's spending there is a real increase. I refer my right hon. Friend to page 133 of the Public Expenditure White Paper, which shows that at 1975–76 prices we shall be spending £224 million a year more on defence by 1979–80 than we are spending this year.
§ Mr. Mason
My hon. Friend is misleading the House now, and he is also misleading it in his amendment. Therefore, I shall take a little time to correct him.
First, if my hon. Friend refers to table 4.1 on pages 132–133 of the White Paper to which he referred, he will recognise that the figures given are not budget estimates. They are not defence budget estimates in particular. The White Paper says:Estimates on a comparable basis for future years are derived by adjusting volume estimates (at 1975–76 prices) to take account of estimated trends in relative prices of certain elements in costs, particularly wages and salaries and housing and construction costs; in practice there can be a good deal of fluctuation about trends, and these estimates are not forecasts for specific years.
§ Mr. Mason
Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to transfer his sort of thinking on to the social services, where he has been creating a fuss, saying that they have been cut. He will see that on the basis of that thinking, spending on education will increase by £191 million, spending on health by £693 million and spending on 1331 the social services by £523 million. Therefore, I wonder why my hon. Friend and some of his hon. Friends have been making a fuss about cuts in social services. He is misleading the House.
If my hon. Friend looks at the defence expenditure budgets, he will see that last year I cut back £370 million, and I am saving £470 million on projected defence expenditure during the course of this year. Therefore, I am year by year progressively reducing the defence burden and carrying out the manifesto to the hilt.
Of course, these savings have not been made without cost in terms of jobs not only for Service men and Ministry of Defence civilians but for workers in the defence industry. I know that my hon. Friend and his colleagues do not want to increase the unemployment rate. Therefore, they will not want to slash defence expenditure as rapidly as they initially thought.
Let me give the facts. As a result of the Defence Review and the PESC exercise, 78,000 jobs will be directly affected. That is, 38,000 Servicemen and 40,000 civilians. In the defence industries, job opportunities will be some 60,000 fewer by the end of the decade than they would have been, with perhaps as many as 80,000 further job opportunities indirectly affected.
It is too often forgotten how important defence orders are for British and European industries. As many as a half of the 140,000 workers employed by the major companies in the British aerospace industry are currently engaged on military contracts either for the Ministry of Defence or for foreign Governments. These industries generate a further 140,000 jobs among sub-contractors, of which about 70,000 are on defence work.
In British shipbuilding about a quarter of the 70,000 workers are building ships either for the Royal Navy or for foreign Governments, and they are mainly in development areas such as Clydeside, Tyneside and Merseyside. At least as many workers again are employed in the associated industries as a result of defence work, and in some specialised areas the number can be as high as four times the number directly employed in the shipyards.
1332 Therefore, I must warn everybody who wants to slash defence expenditure on the scale suggested by my hon. Friends that rapid, rash and arbitrary cuts in defence expenditure could seriously aggravate unemployment—very often in development areas where alternative employment is not readily available.
Britain plays a very full part in the consultations within the Alliance, at all levels. The Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group continue to study problems associated with possible defensive use of nuclear weapons by NATO and to develop the political guidelines within which NATO's strategic and theatre nuclear weapons contribute to its strategy of deterrence.
The Eurogroup had a very active year under my chairmanship. I particularly welcome the establishment of a new forum—the European Programme Group. In this Group all the interested European members of the Alliance, including France, are seeking to pursue with greater rigour and effectiveness the arrangements for defence equipment procurement among the Europeans within the framework of the Alliance. I very much welcome the French decision to participate in the work of this group. I am sure they will make an important contribution to the achievement of better equipment standardisation, including the establishment of more equitable trans-Atlantic arrangements, such as development of the two-way street between Europe and the United States.
Britain also has a key rôle in the Alliance. We commit almost the whole of our combat forces to the Alliance, and, unlike our European Allies, we rely entirely on full-time, volunteer, professional Service men. The extent of their professionalism is a matter of pride to all of us who have seen the way Service men have conducted themselves in the difficult conditions of Northern Ireland and on the high seas off Iceland. They in turn are backed up by about 300,000 civilians, and nearly 250,000 reservists, all to be drawn on for essential tasks. The quality of our contribution to NATO is second to none.
We commit 55,000 troops and a large tactical air force forward, in West Germany. We contribute some 70 per cent. of NATO's immediately available maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and 1333 Channel areas. Moreover—and this is appreciated by NATO—all our major equipment programmes are intact following the defence review and the subsequent public expenditure cuts.
Above all, we ensure that we can always maintain the security and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and help toward the maintenance of peace in Northern Ireland. No praise is too high for the way in which the Army is tackling its difficult and dangerous job in Northern Ireland in guaranteeing this peace. I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our thanks to the officers and men who are doing such sterling work under the most arduous and trying conditions.
We are also playing our full part in improving the quality of our forces. I should like quickly to mention one or two examples.
Of highest importance in the maritime field are the anti-submarine warfare cruiser and nuclear-powered fleet submarine programmes. With the Nimrod, they will form the core of our future antisubmarine warfare capability. The ASW cruisers are essential if we are to deploy Sea Kings, each with an ASW capability equivalent to that of a frigate, in the most cost-effective way. As the House knows, I have decided to develop the Sea Harrier, which will enhance flexibility in deploying the ASW surface task forces and to develop the Sea Skua helicopter-launched anti-ship missile. We have also opened negotiations for the purchase of the American submarine-launched anti-ship missile Sub-Harpoon.
I announced last autumn my decision to procure the Milan infantry anti-tank missile if the terms were right. This will replace a number of obsolescent equipments, and will give the infantry a weapon which is lighter, can be operated by two men and has a far greater effective range and lethality. We hope to start series production of the collaborative 155 mm. gun next year, and later of the self-propelled version, the SP70. The three partners will use the same ammunition, and it is planned that even those of our NATO partners who are developing their own guns, such as the Americans, will be able to fire our ammunition and vice versa.
1334 I am particularly pleased that I have been able to announce our readiness, subject to negotiations with our collaborative partners, to order 385 swing-wing multi-role combat aircraft which will give the RAF a low-level strike aircraft and a new all-weather air defence fighter. All the alternatives to the MRCA air defence variant have been examined but, quite apart from the foreign exchange and industrial considerations, none showed any worthwhile overall advantage in financial and operational terms over the MRCA air defence variant, which will meet the operational requirement and represent better value for money than any other. As a British aircraft, it will provide many more jobs than any alternative.
The MRCA project is vital for the future of the British aerospace industry. It will employ at peak some 10,000 at BAC, 6,000 at Rolls-Royce and 8,000 in work on equipment and avionics. Indirectly it will probably employ another 12,000. But it has an even wider significance. It is outstandingly the most important European collaborative venture in the military field, and it is of cardinal importance to the future cooperative production of defence equipment within the Alliance. It will be a major step forward in standardisation both within the Royal Air Force and with other major European NATO air forces.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I declare a constituency interest, in that much of the work done in Britain on the MRCA is done by the Cameron Iron works at Livingstone. Would the Secretary of State confirm that if there is a separate Scottish Air Force it is less than likely that orders will come to Scottish industry and that industry in England or France or Germany would be preferred?
§ Mr. Mason
I can only reply to my hon. Friend that I will await his contribution and I will be able to give him a considered reply. I do not want him to be using this defence debate in order to try to score points over the Scottish nationalists.
Though our efforts and contributions to the forces of the Alliance are of the highest importance, Britain does not, of course, stand alone against the might of the Warsaw Pact—contrary to what some right hon. and hon. Members opposite 1335 would have us believe. We are members of an Alliance, and in playing our full part, we add to the strength and cohesion of the Alliance and our security and our freedom are inseparable from that of the other members of the Alliance.
There are many who question whether our security and our freedom are at risk. A generation is now coming into positions of influence and responsibility which has no personal memories of the horrors of war. Too many people sustain the comfortable belief that their freedom—and security—are not threatened. They seem to think that there is no need for them to pay the price of the insurance policy for the preservation of our freedoms.
For this reason, this generation is much more inclined to question the whole concept of NATO and to consider expenditure on the nation's security as wasteful. It is encouraged by people who, for a variety of different reasons—some good and some bad—would like to reduce our defences drastically. I do not have to tell the House how fundamentally I disagree with those who argue in this way, and I wish to explain why.
First, there is the question of whether we are threatened. In his speech to the Communist Party Congress on 24th February Mr. Brezhnev said that the Soviet Union had no hostile intentions and that the Soviet Union threatened neither East nor West. But there are at least two reasons why we cannot take those statements wholly on trust. The first concerns the capability of the Soviet Union to pose a political or military threat if it chose to do so. The second concerns the evidence available for evaluating the Soviet Union's possible intentions. We must remember that its capability to pose a threat is to some extent a function of the capability of the Alliance to meet it, and that its perception of our capability can also influence its intentions.
I have set out in my White Paper, as objectively as possible, the facts about the military balance between East and West in Europe and in the Atlantic. I will not seek to elaborate on these facts in this debate, but I should like to put the numbers into perspective. First, the balance of forces in the areas of most 1336 concern to Britain—though not exclusively to us—has tilted a little further in favour of the Warsaw Pact. This is a trend that we shall have to watch very closely. But this we are doing. NATO is armed and watchful. NATO's strategy, based on the triad of conventional, tactical nuclear, and strategic nuclear forces, provides an effective deterrent against any level of aggression.
Secondly, as I have stressed in my White Paper, the quality advantage of the Alliance's forces is being eroded. The Soviet Union has made striking qualitative advances in nuclear-powered submarines, infantry combat vehicles and new offensive aircraft. But NATO, too, has made a number of significant improvements in the fields of anti-submarine warfare, armour and anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft capability.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to antitank capability and also to the diagrams in the White Paper about the balance of forces between East and West. Can he say anything more specific about the anti-tank capability of NATO? The preeminence of the East in terms of its tank capacity is shown in this column to be immense. Would NATO have the capacity to respond?
§ Mr. Mason
The reason I mention anti-tank weapons in particular is that being introduced now throughout the Alliance are the new anti-tank weapons HOT, TOW, Milan, the one we hope to purchase with the French and Germans, and the Carl Gustav. A whole range of anti-tank weaponry is being produced.
Thirdly, the degree of regimentation imposed by the Soviet Union within the Warsaw Pact has, as a by-product, a very substantial degree of standardisation on Soviet equipment, but at a political price which no NATO country would dream of imposing or paying. Nevertheless, we are making considerable progress in increasing the standardisation and interoperability of NATO equipment. The MRCA will make a major contribution. So will the four-nation procurement of the F16, the purchases of Lance missiles, the introduction of new artillery by three nations and our purchase of Milan if the terms are right.
1337 Fourthly, the Warsaw Pact enjoys geographical advantages over NATO particularly in reinforcing troops in the forward area of Central Europe. Its lines of communication have been improved in recent years, and are relatively short compared with the distances over which American reinforcements would have to travel. Although this is a serious problem for NATO, it is one that we have lived with throughout the history of the Alliance. It is always taken into account in NATO's planning.
Fifthly, our latest studies of Soviet military expenditure indicate that Soviet spending on defence is greater than we thought. But the House should not draw the wrong conclusions. We know from our observations that we have not similarly underestimated the size of the Warsaw Pact forces. So these forces which we have observed are costing the Soviet Union much more than we thought was the case. I draw two conclusions: on the one hand that Soviet defence industry is less efficient than we had thought: on the other that the Soviet Union is perhaps more prepared than we had thought earlier to keep its economy at a high level of defence activity, irrespective of the price its people have to pay by way of lower living standards.
Finally, our greater knowledge of the Soviet armaments industry indicates that the development and production of armaments in the Soviet Union absorbs a lot of men, machines and materials. This deprives the agriculture and consumer industries of resources and implies a degree of repression of consumer choice which would be impossible in the West. I shall be releasing quite soon a significant paper on the Soviet arms industry so that the House can judge for itself the extent of Soviet investment of resources in armaments.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, Northwest)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of NATO, in the light of Britain's current economic and industrial problems will he say a word of justification for the proportion of gross national product that we spend on defence as against our NATO Allies and also about page 84 of the White Paper, where we are given details of the drain on the balance of payments—about £400 million a year—in West Germany, a country 1338 which is sitting on massive gold and convertible currency reserves?
§ Mr. Mason
I know my hon. Friend's views on defence. He will have noticed, of course, that last year our defence expenditure as a percentage of GNP was 5.75. This year, we are bringing it down to 5.5. So we are beginning to carry out the political commitment that we made to the electorate.
My hon. Friend can choose any statistic he likes to present his case. However, if he considered the expenditure per head in dollars, he would find that the figures were: Britain 214, Netherlands 220. Norway 228, France, 255, Germany 332 and the United States 416. He could also consider total levels of defence expenditure. These will show that we spend $12,000 million, France spends $13,500 million, Germany $19,700 million and the United States $89,000 million. So there are many figures which could be used. I always express defence expenditure as a percentage of GNP because that is the NATO yardstick by which we are judged.
§ Mr. Mason
No, I had better get on.
Neither should we forget that the Soviet Union maintains large numbers of troops in Eastern Europe not only to confront the West, but in pursuance of the doctrine of the limited sovereignty of Communist nations within the bloc. The numbers of these garrison troops are much greater than seem necessary to our eyes. But Russia has always been obsessed by its own security; and this obsession is, I believe, as strong today as it has ever been. We should remember that the Soviet Union faces not only west and north towards NATO, but to the east and south towards China; and it maintains large numbers of ships, men and aircraft because of its rivalry with the People's Republic of China.
We in Britain would also do well to remember that we are being constantly watched by the Soviet Union. On average, once or twice every week, Soviet long-range Bear reconnaissance aircraft trip our own air defences and are intercepted by our air defence aircraft. By constant round-the-clock vigilance we are ready to deal with any potential violations of 1339 our airspace. Yet even from outside our airspace, through satellite and aerial reconnaissance, the Soviet Union keeps a constant watch on Britain and on all the other Allies. NATO, in its turn, is no less watchful.
What is the precise nature of the threat which the Alliance is facing? It is, I believe, a political threat, There is no evidence that the Soviet Union is planning to launch a military attack upon the West. The deterrent forces of the Alliance are too well prepared, too well equipped and too well co-ordinated and politically directed for anyone but a lunatic in the Kremlin to contemplate military action against Western Europe.
In a period of tension, it must be realised that a vast array of offensive arms would be alerted—submarine-launched Polaris and Poseidons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, hundreds of long-range aircraft—all pointing to the heart of the Soviet Union. In addition, all the tactical nuclear forces and all the conventional forces of the Alliance would be similarly on the alert. There is still a frightening capability in the Alliance to inflict unacceptable damage on the Soviet Union.
But the use of political pressure, backed by the threat of military force, against any weak spot in the Alliance is a much more credible form of threat. I should now like to examine whether the Soviet Union also has the motive or intention to pose such a threat. Mr. Brezhnev said on 24th February that detente did not in the slightest abolish, nor could it abolish or change, the laws of the class struggle. He also said that the Soviet Union saw detente as a way of creating more favourable conditions for the building of "Socialism" and Communism.
It is a fundamental tenet of Communist belief that this struggle between the Communist and the Western democratic systems must end in the triumph of the Communist system and that it is the duty of every Communist and Communist Government to work for that victory by all means at their disposal. Communists in many countries are even prepared, on occasions, to subordinate national sovereignty as well as individual freedom to what they regard as the higher ideal of the triumph of the Communist system.
1340 Faced with such fundamental beliefs, the Alliance can only act on the assumption that the Soviet Union has the motive—perhaps even the intention—as well as the political and military strength, to take advantage of any political or military weakness displayed by the members of the Alliance, individually or collectively. But I believe, as I have indicated, that the Alliance is strong and cohesive and ready to deter any threat from the Soviet Union, political or military. The United States will continue to maintain strategic nuclear parity with the Soviet Union no matter at what level of strategic nuclear forces. In tactical nuclear weaponry the Alliance has significant advantages over the Warsaw Pact. In conventional strength, while we must be constantly on our guard against further erosion of the military balance, the Alliance's maritime, land and air forces, including those of the United States and France, provide adequate deterrence against any threat, political or military, that the Soviet Union might pose.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
Would the right hon. Gentleman comment on the suggestions by Brigadier Close and General Steinhoff, that with conventional weapons the Russians could reach the Rhine in two days and that in that time the United States would hesitate for fear of starting a nuclear war?
§ Mr. Mason
The hon. Member is referring to an essay, not a report. It has no credence in the NATO military councils. It will not go before the Military Committee of NATO. It was one essay by an officer.
As far as a surprise attack is concerned, with satellite photography and constant, non-stop, surveillance, a conventional surprise attack is much more difficult to launch today than ever before.
What of detente, that is, working towards a consistent relaxation of tension between East and West? We need to consider who is serious about detente. Ought the Alliance to conclude from Soviet capabilities and from our analysis of its possible intentions that detente is a sham, to be rejected out of hand because we suspect Soviet motives? Should we conclude that detente has been from the outset a pre-planned confidence-trick, a 1341 means of lulling the West into carelessness while the Soviet Union gains all the technology it needs until it is ready to cause the political collapse of Western society by subversion, political pressure and the threat of war?
We do not, of course, know whether the Soviet Union is becoming reliably more friendly. But equally we do not know that it is not. If we do not know, it is extremely foolish to close our minds to the possibilities of detente. We must remember that detente can bring advantage right across the spectrum of human relations to the West as well as to the East.
Our interest in a safe world, in the avoidance of war, is as great as, if not greater than, the Soviet Union's. At the same time it is in our interest to develop contacts and communications with the Russians and the other East Europeans in order to minimise misunderstanding and miscalculations of each other's points of view. We should also continue to arrange closer contacts between the peoples of East and West. This is not easy but it is particularly here, in the Western view, that the heart of detente lies.
The Soviet invitation of observers from Greece and Turkey to Exercise Caucasus at the beginning of this year may be a small beginning, but it can also be seen as the beginnings of a possible breakthrough. It may be an indication that the Soviet Union is trying to implement the confidence-building measures agreed at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Equally, we should remember that the Soviet Union does not have everything its own way, for example, in the Middle East and particularly in Egypt, and in Portugal, as well as in some cases within the Warsaw Pact's borders.
The alternative to detente is a return to the cold war, and the assumption that war, with all the unspeakable horrors which would accompany a war in Europe between East and West, could be a likely outcome. No one in his right mind wants that, not least because it would mean rapidly increasing defence expenditure and the awful consequences of another frightening arms race. So we must all, East as well as West, aspire to a real relaxation of tension. We 1342 already benefit from detente. We have better relations with the Soviet Union and the rest of the Warsaw Pact than we had during the cold war. But we must not deceive ourselves that progress in detente will be easy, or that we can hope to make progress from a position of weakness. There can be a real relaxation of tension only if there is a secure balance of power and an equilibrium of forces between East and West.
The NATO Allies must therefore be strong and secure and we must play our full part in keeping the Alliance strong and cohesive. I believe that we have that strength and that security. We must now force the Soviet Union to demonstrate that detente is not an empty word or a deceptive peace offensive to cause the West to relax its guard.
The Soviet leaders are, of course, very sensitive because they know that 1976 will be a year in which the Soviet Union will be put to the test over detente. There are so many things which the Soviet Union could do to show that detente is genuine. The Soviet leaders could make a reality of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe by allowing freer movement of people and ideas between East and West; they could make real concessions in the negotiations in Vienna on MBFR by reducing significantly the disparity in men and armaments there is in central Europe; they could show willingness in the SALT Talks to reduce, by agreement with the United States, the level of strategic arms and the over-kill on each side; they could dismantle the Berlin Wall, that monument of shame, that confession of all the inadequacies and viciousness of a repressive regime. These are only a few of the things which the Soviet Union could do in this year of trial.
So, I conclude: our precious freedoms must be safeguarded. It is my firm belief, my firm conviction, that the North Atlantic Alliance is the key to this. Britain is no longer the imperial Power she once was. We no longer have the strength to go it alone. Not even the massively powerful United States enjoys that sort of strength.
We are bound to judge how much effort we can put into our defences, not only against the threat, but also in relation to the strength of our economy. The balance is a difficult one, but I think that we have 1343 now got it about right. I do not want our teeth arms—our real contributions to the fighting forces of the Alliance—to be further eroded. But, above all, we must act in concert with our Allies. We have to help to maintain the cohesiveness of that Alliance. And we must continue to regard Western defence as one and indivisible.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'recognising that the previous year's defence cuts reduced the defences of the United Kingdom to "absolute bedrock" and being aware of the continued growth of Soviet military strength and of the increasingly unfavourable military balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, condemns the Government's proposals to reduce the United Kingdom's defences for the third time in a year'.The Opposition certainly join the Secretary of State in his praise of our Armed Forces. In particular we would agree entirely that no praise is too high for what they are doing in Northern Ireland and in the Cod War. I also join him in what he said about the civilian staff of the Ministry, which is an extremely efficient and dedicated body. In the same breath I should like to add a word about the late Sir Michael Cary, whose sudden death was a great blow to the Ministry. Everyone who knew him, knew him as a most gifted, talented and hard-working public servant. While we are paying tributes it would be wrong to let the occasion pass without doing so to Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, the greatest soldier we have had for many a long day, who died a few days ago and whose funeral takes place tomorrow.
As the House will have easily detected, there is a fundamental flaw in the case that the Secretary of State has attempted to deploy this afternoon. The general drift of his speech and of the Government's misleading motion is that the latest round of cuts can be shrugged off because, by some mysterious sleight of hand, they do not really damage defence capability. But, apart from its inherent implausibility, there is this fundamental defect which the right hon. Gentleman did not face. If what he said today is right, he was talking frivolous nonsense last year. If what he said last year was 1344 right, he was talking nonsense, or something rather worse, today.
Let me remind the House of the Government's line until quite recently. The Secretary of State used to tell us that a succession of short-term cuts was the worst possible method of dealing with our Allies, with the Services and with our military capabilities. I will tell him that a much worse way of dealing with them is to impose massive long-term cuts on the Services and then in addition to impose a succession of short-term cuts. That is the method that has been adopted by the right hon. Gentleman.
He used to tell us that he would not have piecemeal cuts. He said that he was therefore carrying out a defence review and he was not over-modest in his claims for it. At various times he described it asthe most extensive and thorough review … ever undertaken … in peace time".He said that it wasthe most severe examination … ever mounted in peacetime".Heaven forbid that he should ever undertake a defence review in war time. The "most comprehensive examination" was another of his descriptions. He told us that the reviewentailed a rigorous and fundamental analysis of every aspect of Britain's commitments and capabilities.He said on another occasion,we analysed every aspect of our defence policy. That is why our review has taken so long".Unfortunately the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not impressed by all that, and in his Budget last year he imposed a short-term, piecemeal cut of £110 million on the enormous £4,700 million cut imposed by the Secretary of State for Defence. That latter figure has now increased, because of the Government's inflation, to well over £6,000 million. Last year the Government's principal defence adviser, the Chief of the Defence Staff, pointed out that our defences were down to "absolute bedrock" which is the origin of the phrase in the amendment.
Yet the House is now being asked to believe that the Chief of the Defence Staff was wrong, that far from the Forces being down to absolute bedrock they are featherbedded; and that last year's 1345 review, the most rigorous, comprehensive, thorough, fundamental and far-ranging review ever undertaken, was incredibly incompetent and grossly misguided, and while it greatly alarmed our Allies and savagely cut our front line, it quite forgot to cut the tail.
As a happy result, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer demands another piecemeal short-term cut in defence expenditure of £534 million over three years, the Defence Secretary is able to find that money by, as the Government's motion put it, cuts whichwill fall on support services rather than on front-line forces".What a delightful coincidence. If it had not been for the Chancellor's mismanagement of the economy and his consequent demand to the right hon. Gentleman to cut defence expenditure, the Forces would apparently have been left with far too much tail. But the Chancellor's mismanagement and ineptitude has enabled the right hon. Gentleman to rectify that. How monstrously convenient. Rarely has the House been asked to believe anything so implausible.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either he made a complete mess of his review last year or he did not, in which case the cuts which he is making this year are very damaging. The right hon. Gentleman has to choose between those two explanations. There is no other way. I have no doubt that the second is right.
The White Paper is a cover up. It is what the Americans call a snow job. I shall show later why that is so. Any genuine economies—that is, those which lead to less overmanning and greater efficiency—we welcome. But cutting support and allegedly leaving the front line as it was is not a genuine economy and is a deception. As Dr. Kissinger said last week in Dallas:The belief that there is an unlimited amount of fat to be cut in the defence budget is an illusion. Reductions almost inevitably translate into a reduction of effectiveness.The rigid distinction which the motion seeks to draw between the front line and support, or between the teeth arms and the tail, has very limited validity. As has often enough been pointed out, there is no known animal which has only teeth and a tail. What is often called tail in 1346 defence is in fact the backbone, the muscles, and other vital parts.
There is not much point in having front line units which look strong if their weapons are not fully up to date, if they cannot be transported to the place where they are required, if they do not have enough fuel to move about when they get there, if they do not have enough spare parts to keep their equipment serviceable, or if they do not have enough ammunition to fire their weapons as often as they need. Those are the functions of the support arms, and indispensable they are. It is untrue to suggest that to cut them does not harm our contribution to NATO. Of course it does.
By cutting supplies over these last two years the Government are doing only one thing. They are reducing the time during which front line units are able to carry on the battle. Therefore, they are bringing forward the nuclear stage of the battle. That is the result of the Government's cuts. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he is thus acting in direct contravention of American strategy and the objectives of NATO.
The White Paper rightly describes NATO as the "corner-stone of our security". Deterrence, to be credible and effective, as we know, depends on three inter-dependent elements—sometimes known as the triad—of conventional forces, tactical nuclear forces and strategic nuclear forces. Each has an indispensable part to play.
The strategic element clearly depends pre-eminently on America. The tactical nuclear element, again primarily dependent on American resources, provides the essential link between the strategic nuclear and the conventional forces and, finally, the conventional leg to which we make our main contribution.
America plays a crucial part in all three elements, so one of Russia's prime strategic aims is to disrupt the Alliance between Europe and the United States. That is why we have so important a part to play in preventing the creation of conditions in which the United States might be tempted to leave NATO.
We can do this best by maintaining and improving our contribution to the conventional forces and thus reducing reliance on early recourse to nuclear weapons—in other words, keeping the nuclear 1347 threshhold high—which is a pre-condition of continued American participation. Unfortunately, the Government's policy points in exactly the opposite and wrong direction.
The White Paper describes some measures to meet NATO's requests at no extra cost. But they are "chicken feed", to use the expression of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), compared with the savage cuts that the Labour Government have made in our contribution to NATO in the sea, on land and in the air.
I think that we all agree with what the Secretary of State said about the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee. In its extremely cogent, well-argued and informative Report on the cuts—the Committee was writing before the latest cuts—it statesNATO's response to the review proposals, made by the Secretary-General and by individual allies, was to express regret that any cuts had been made. There was concern that the scale of reduction would effect the already unfavourable balance of conventional forces between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The reduction of reinforcement capabilities on the northern and southern flanks; the removal of naval and air forces from the Mediterranean area; and the decline in maritime capabilities in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas in particular were viewed with disquiet".As to the Mediterranean, there is a connoisseur's paragraph in the White Paper—paragraph 8 of Chapter II—which says:Resulting from the concentration of our forces in the … Atlantic and Channel areas, Britain's … forces will cease to be assigned to NATO in the Mediterranean from April 1976.Translated into truthful English, that sentence means that, resulting from the Government's cuts of one-seventh in our frigates and destroyers, the Navy is having to evacuate the Mediterranean.
The paragraph continues:Our only permanent ship presence in the area will be a Gibraltar guard ship. However, Her Majesty's ships will continue to visit the Mediterranean from time to time".So under the Labour Government, the Mediterranean for the Navy becomes like the China Seas or Tierra del Fuego—a place where the Navy may visit from time to time. If the right hon. Gentleman is here long enough, perhaps he will be writing in his White Paper next year 1348 that Her Majesty's ships will from time to time be visitng the North Sea and the English Channel.
Whatever arguments there may be about the blitzkreig theory on the central front—obviously more than one view can be taken about it, but I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's total complacency—I share the recently reported views of General Steinhoff, lately Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, that there is another option open to the Russians—an attack on the flanks which might appear to them to involve only slight nuclear risk.
The Northern flank is tremendously important to the United Kingdom, since it embraces both our North Sea oil and vital sea approaches.
The NATO Commander-in-Chief Northern Europe, in a lecture to the RUSI last week, said that the Government's cuts in air and amphibious transport are even more serious than the reductions in numbers of reinforcements. Previously, as he said, he could expect to receive the United Kingdom mobile reserve, a division of three brigades, the United Kingdom's joint airborne task force, the commando brigade, and Royal Marines. In future he would have only an air portable brigade and a commando group with greatly reduced air transport, amphibious capability and escorts. Nowhere in NATO, he added, was there such a serious imbalance between the conventional forces of the two sides.
Well might the Defence Sub-Committee say,The United Kingdom's contribution to collective defence cannot be significantly reduced without raising a serious loss of confidence among members of the NATO Alliance, on which our national security depends.Our forces are small and our reserves are few … We consider that the House should we aware of the consequences for our defence capability and for our contribution to the NATO Alliance if further major cuts were to be imposed.Since then, further cuts have been imposed, though certainly not for defence reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) last year destroyed the idea that defence spending should be determined by the size of the gross national product. I thought from some of the Secretary of State's remarks today that he was partially converted. He 1349 spoke far better sense on this subject today than I have ever heard him speak. However, it is the left wing of his party who still remain convinced. They seem to think that GNP is a sort of gun, a weapon that one can fire in order to impress one's potential opponents. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It is a blank. What impresses our potential opponents is the effectiveness of our forces, not the proportion of GNP that they represent.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will readily admit that no nation can be military strong if it is economically weak. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing is what the late Sir Winston Churchill did in 1952. He substantially cut back the 1951 rearmament programme of the Labour Government, and he did it on the basis that the country could not economically bear the sacrifices that that programme demanded.
§ Mr. Gilmour
No doubt what Sir Winston Churchill did was right. What the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and his hon. Friends do not recognise is that they are never guided by experience, because over the last 12 years the Labour Party has made almost a profession of defence reviews and defence cuts. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to find any single instance where any one of those reviews led to any internal economic improvement in this country. As far as I know, not one of them did so.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn said the other day that Europe was nothing more than a collection of cardboard stage sets, all bargaining with each other to see how little could be spent on defence. He was being unfair to many of our Allies, but what he said was certainly a just judgment on the present British Government.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Is my right hon. Friend prepared to comment on the use of a British Rail ferry to transport marines for a NATO exercise in Northern Norway? Is that indicative of the strength of the British and NATO forces?
§ Mr. Gilmour
That is certainly a fair comment.
Of course, defence spending should be determined—as I would think the Secretary 1350 of State is beginning to realise—not by some arbitrary assessment of what our Allies spend but by the nature of the threat that we face and the strength of Russia and the forces of the Warsaw Pact. That is something that the present Government refuse to accept. As the military balance tilts further against the West, the Government cut our defences. Because the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is no logical or defensible connection between what is going on in the world and what he is doing to our defences, he has to put in what one may call bridging sentences, sentences which try to bridge the chasm between the reality of international politics, which should forbid defence cuts, and the illusion that it is safe to make those cuts.
Let me take, for example, paragraph 3 of Chapter I of the White Paper, and in particular this sublime sentence:The British Government believes that, if all governments make a real and sustained effort to observe the standards of behaviour drawn up at Helsinki, then the prospects of achieving increased co-operation and confidence between East and West, based on tolerance and mutual understanding, will have been valuably and visibly enhanced.That should certainly put the fear of God into Marshal Grechko.
Here we have the Secretary of State, who concedes in those speeches, when he is not attacking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for what she has said about the Soviet threat, that what she actually said is true, wheeling his armoury on to the parade ground to give comfort to ourselves and our friends and to strike respect in the breasts of our enemies. And what is his secret weapon? It is the most monumental tautology ever perpetrated.
I suspect that if that sentence means anything at all—and I do not think that it does—the meaning could be summed up like this: if the Soviet Union starts to behave a little more like we in the West behave—or, in other words, like a free society—we shall stand a better chance of getting on with them. Quite so. No doubt the same would be true if the Soviet Union applied to join NATO. The White Paper does not go quite so far as to envisage that possibility.
Since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made her famous speech in January, her warnings have 1351 been widely confirmed—by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Haig, by Mr. Schlesinger, by Mr. Runs-feldt, and by the American defence budget and the German defence budget, and by many other authorities. As General Haig has said, there has been an explosion of Russian military capabilities. This is true of both quantity and quality. The Secretary of State admitted the other day, and again this afternoon, that we now know that the Russians have been spending far more than we thought, particularly over the last three years. There is another explanation to that which he gave. That is that the quality of their equipment is greatly improving. That is one of the explanations for the increased expenditure.
Indeed, comparing the figures of strength in this year's White Paper with those in last year's White Paper, although one cannot make an exact computation, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the balance has tilted against us by about 8 per cent. That is based on a rough comparison of the two diagrams, last year's and this year's.
Moreover, Marshal Grechko has recently made it clear that so far from so-called détente leading to a slackening of the Russian military effort, Russia will become even more of an arsenal than she is at present. Russian behaviour in Portugal and Angola has shown that while détente may be an aspiration, it is not a fact—or rather, if it is a fact, it is a very one-sided fact indeed.
The response of our Allies to these frightening and disagreeable developments has been predictable and natural. Since the Russians are expanding their forces and since the military balance is tilting increasingly against the West, they have decided to react by increasing their strength. Thus the Americans, the Germans and the French are all increasing their military budget. Only the British Government are out of step. They do not dispute the fact of Russian strength or the unfavourable military balance. They admit it. But, as though suffering from some dire disease of the intellect, they decide that the way to react to the unfavourable military balance is to make it still more unfavourable. They decided last year that the answer to strength was 1352 weakness; and they have decided this year that the answer to yet more strength is yet more weakness.
General Haig said on television the other day,1 am worried about cuts in defence expenditure whenever they occur in the Alliance, at a time when the strategic environment confirms that additional, not lesser, efforts are needed.That is the only sane reaction to what the Russians are doing, yet such is the insane world of British Socialism that the Government do the precise opposite.
Even if the cuts were as cosmetic and as little damaging to our forces as the right hon. Gentleman claims—and they are not—they would still be damaging to the Alliance. To cut at all when everyone in Europe knows perfectly well that this is the time not to cut but to expand damages our position in the eyes of NATO and damages NATO itself. The Secretary of State knows that cuts of defence expenditure in NATO have a domino effect, and he has mentioned that danger in speeches. Despite his knowledge he regularly knocks his own domino down every year regardless of the consequences.
Some people say that we should not criticise the Secretary of State because, after all, even though Labour has been in power for two years we still have some armed forces left to defend us, and that if the right hon. Gentleman had not been in his present office, the cuts would have been very much worse. They say that if the Tribune Group had had its way, we would be lucky if we were left with more than a detachment of the Clay Cross Home Guard. I take the point. When a "ban-the-bomb-er" trembles on the brink of the premiership, anything is possible within the Labour Party.
But I hardly think that that leaves the right hon. Gentleman in a very heroic posture. Does he agree with the statement that was made by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the days when he was Secretary of State for Defence? His right hon. Friend said:Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools, we have a heap of cinders.It may be true that the right hon. Gentleman has not been the poodle of the 1353 Tribune Group, but he has certainly been the poodle of his predecessor, who now presides so disastrously at the Treasury.
The responsibility is that of the Secretary of State. He made that very clear this afternoon by his almost incesssant use of the personal pronoun in its singular form.
I shall conclude by saying something about the Conservative Party's defence policy. In the past the right hon. Gentleman has expressed some confusion over and, indeed, some interest in the subject. We shall not make the mistake which the Labour Party made and which has wrecked the Secretary of State's term of office. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would have been an adequate Secretary of State if he had not been hamstrung by his Government's foolish commitment to make savage cuts in defence.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows to his cost, it is impossible for an Opposition to draw up a detailed and fully-costed defence policy when in Opposition. Such a process can be carried out only after full consultation with the Services, with our Allies and with industry. Moreover, the time that it now takes to produce new weapons means that major and sudden shifts are difficult to achieve.
Any Administration is to some extent circumscribed by what its predecessors have done. I am happy to think that the Labour Government's capacity for mischief in defence was limited by what the Conservative Government had done. To give the right hon. Gentleman his due, I have no doubt that he was equally relieved that his hands were tied to some extent.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in January,It is a time when we need to strengthen our defences. Of course this places a burden upon us. But it is one that we must be willing to bear if we want our freedom to survive.It is in that spirit—
§ Mr. Mason
Having said that, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain why, as Secretary of State, he cut defence expenditure three times in the final year of the Conservative Government's term of office. He made three cuts amounting to £250 million. At 1975 prices that would 1354 have amounted to £356 million this year. The right hon. Gentleman started the cuts.
§ Mr. Gilmour
It is true that the Conservative Administration made those cuts, and I regret them. However, I do not think that they provide much comfort for the right hon. Gentleman. He will remember that when those cuts were made the economy was heavily over-heated—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] An overheated economy is better than one that is frozen in stagnation. That is now the state of our economy. At the time that the defence cuts were made we had full employment. We now have stagnation, unemployment, and inflation.
§ Mr. Gilmour
Yes, we had the three-day week, but the right hon. Gentleman will remember that production under his Government has not yet reached the level that was attained during the three-day week. We decided that we should not be able to spend all the money that we had. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we were cutting from a very much higher level than that from which he is cutting.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Brynmor John)
The right hon. Gentleman's Government cut arbitrarily.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman's Government is also cutting arbitrarily. The hon. Gentleman is on last year's point. That attack is no longer available to the Labour Party. Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman will admit, the threat has become very much worse over the past two years.
On those three grounds I say that the cuts that the Conservative Administration made offer no defence for what the right hon. Gentleman has done. He has cut on a far greater scale and in far worse circumstances.
It is in that spirit that we shall strengthen our defences in accordance with our strategic requirements. We shall do so in full consultation with our Allies. Under us, defence policy will be decided on defence grounds, not on party grounds. The issue is far too important to be treated in any other way.
1355 We should like to see a relaxation of strained relations. We should like to see balanced force reductions in Europe. We shall be working for that end. However, we believe that those matters will come about only if the Russians see that, in their absence, the West is determined to maintain and improve its strength. They will not be brought about by unilateral disarmament by the West or by this country. As the West German Foreign Minister said the other day,Why should the Soviet Union be interested in a reduction of its military strength if we lessen our efforts to defend ourselves without asking anything in return?It is because the Government are running away from that obvious truth that we condemn them. After all, we are seeking to preserve peace by deterrence. That is why the Government's policy and their attempted cover-up in the White Paper are so futile. The Government may succeed in fooling their own party. They may succeed in fooling some journalists and some of the public. They may even succeed, though I doubt it, in fooling some of our Allies. But one thing that we can be quite certain about is that they will not succeed in fooling the Russians.
After all, it is the Russians, not the British public or our Allies, whom we are seeking to deter. The Russians will not be deceived. I hope, too, that the House will refuse to be deceived. I therefore ask the House to reject the Government's motion and to vote for the Opposition amendment.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I wish to speak in support of the amendment on the Order Paper which has already been signed by 83 hon. Members and myself. I am opposed to war and militarism on grounds of humanity. The resultant suffering is the worst evil of war. However, I am pressing my case today on £sd terms, on grounds of hard cash, as they also provide a strong case. The amendment reads:leave out from 'House' to end and add 'regrets that the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1976: (a) instead of reducing the current arms bill in fact increases it; (b) abandons Labour's election commitment to reduce the proportion of the gross national product devoted to arms to the level of the other European NATO governments: and (c) diverts 1356 money and resources which are urgently needed for education, housing, health, social services and re-equipment of industry '".What is the use of having colossal military strength and at the same time becoming economically bankrupt? The average family of four in Britain, although it may not realise it, now pays through income tax, VAT and other taxation no less than £8.10p a week to cover the arms bill.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Shadow counterpart on the Opposition Front Bench "You cannot pull the same trick twice". The so-called saving is spurious; it is not a cut when compared with this year's arms spending but only when compared with wild projections of arms spending made long ago in a very different world financial situation.
As for the Conservative amendment saying that we have cut arms spending three times in one year, the Tories know that this is arrant nonsense. When in December 1974 the Secretary of State for Defence stated that he was saving £4.7 billion in arms spending, that was given Press headline treatment. In fact, he admitted later in answer to a parliamentary Question tabled by me that arms spending was going up by £200 million that year and was then to be held at that level for the seven succeeding years. I would call that an Irishman's cut.
§ Mr. Allaun
I agree that the cuts in education and other services are cuts in projections. I am saying that what my right hon. Friend puts forward in the White Paper is not a real cut but a cut in projections only and is an increase on this year's spending. I am glad that he has admitted it.
§ Mr. Mason
Having embarked on a course of cutting back defence expenditure and having accepted that we are cutting back on projected defence expenditure, and the same in regard to social services, housing, schools and so on, will not my hon. Friend recognise that the 1357 defence cuts are now becoming real cuts—in other words that in the next two years they will be real cuts—not spurious, or phoney, or projected cuts—of £36 million?
§ Mr. Allaun
I am coming to the point. My right hon. Friend is now saying in his White Paper that he is saving £198 million a year by the year 1979–80. I happened to see that information in a handout to the Press which came into my possession on the day on which the Public Expenditure Survey was published. That is a saving only if compared with previous proposals. There is a real increase of no less than £244 million a year by 1979–80. If that is doubted, I refer the House to page 133 of the Public Expenditure Survey. That figure is stated to be at 1975 prices. God knows what the increase will be when one takes into account inflation. It will be enough to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer pneumonia.
On another page of the survey the increase is shown only as £3 million but, knowing the Defence Ministry, we can safely assume that it really means the higher figure of spending. I suspect that the high figure is nearer the truth. This year's arms spending reaches an all-time record and is due to soar far higher still. Labour's election commitment is to reduce the share of gross national product devoted to arms to that of our major NATO Allies. According to Dr. Frank Blackaby, Director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, one of the most eminent statisticians in the country, within five years this would save us no less than £1.4 billion a year—that is to say, if we cut our share of gross national product down to their share.
What could we not do with that annual saving? We could build nearly all the houses, nursery schools and hospitals we urgently need. Without such savings it is hypocrisy for us to talk about "war on want". One Conservative Member of Parliament has argued the case for ignoring GNP comparisons, but that is the method of comparison recognised by NATO. It is true that West Germany spends more on arms than we do. That is naturally the case because West Germany is a wealthier country. It seems ridiculous to me, and to many of my 1358 hon. Friends, that a poorer country such as ours should pay a higher percentage on defence than a wealthier country pays. We spend nearly one-and-a-half times the proportion paid by other countries.
As an excuse for this increase in spending, Conservative Members of Parliament and newspapers regale us with horror stories involving the Red Army sweeping across Europe. We can almost see the Soviet fleet sailing up the Thames or the Manchester Ship Canal.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
In parts of Scotland one can just about see the Soviet fleet. Part of that fleet is in the area surveying the activities of our own Navy.
§ Mr. Allaun
That is certainly true. But I hardly think that the NATO navy is unobservable to the Soviet people.
A recent article by Lord Chalfont in The Times is illustrated with a diagram showing 10 broad arrows sweeping from East to West showing us just where, and how many, divisions will invade us. This is intended to whip up fear of another country and thereby to get us to increase our arms spending. I expect that in the Kremlin there are similar maps showing with broad arrows where the NATO forces will invade Eastern Europe.
The best comment on this matter has been made by that distinguished American professor, John Kenneth Galbraith, who said:Each winter as the Pentagon budget comes under Congressional inspection, it has long been noticed in the United States that the Soviet Union has a sudden, seasonal and extensive accession of military strength. It also, in those pre-appropriation months, become dramatically more belligerent—today the Elbe, tomorrow Nantucket. Perhaps only as a manifestation of a spiritual affinity between the English speaking peoples, this cyclical tendency of the Soviet menace seems now to have spread to Britain. The thought crosses my mind that the practical inspiration may be the same.That is a very acute observation by Professor Galbraith. We have been conned in this way before. Hon. Members will remember the so-called "missile gap" some years ago which showed the inferiority of American missiles to the Soviet Union. This was used to justify a colossal expenditure on new weapons. Later it transpired that there never was a missile gap and that all the time the United States missile forces were greater than those of the Russians.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman can hardly cite Professor Galbraith and the missile gap, because the missile gap was promulgated by President Kennedy when he was a candidate, greatly supported by Professor Galbraith.
§ Mr. Allaun
Unlike some hon. Members, Professor Galbraith has learned from experience. He will not be conned a second time. Nevertheless, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Daily Express and other newspapers, and also the BBC, go on daily trying to chill our blood with their accounts of enormous Soviet armed forces, particularly naval.
I regret these forces more than the Conservatives do, but the Conservatives, and some hon. Members on this side of the House, overlook the even greater NATO forces. According to the present United States Secretary of State for Defence, NATO has superiority over the Warsaw Pact in naval and nuclear power. The militarists play down the news that the American Government's arms budget soared to $100 billion this year. The Opposition defence spokesman reminds me of the man who boasted about his brilliant eyesight. He got a friend to put a 2p piece in a tree 40 yards away and said "The date on that coin is 1967". As he walked forward to prove his point he tripped over a cow. The militarists are well aware of the Russian penny, but are blind to the American cow.
Both sides are at this game. Do not let it be thought that it is only one bloc. All this war propaganda is based on the assumption that the Soviet Union wants to invade the West. They are the "baddies", we are the "goodies".
The truth is that neither the American nor the Russian Government want a war, but they are so frightened of each other that they are preparing for one. That is how the arms race accelerates—an arms race which, by accident or design, could lead to the deaths of our children and our grandchildren and to the decimation of mankind.
The huge amounts we devote to military research and expenditure in this country are particularly damaging. Two out of every three qualified scientists and engineers in mechanical engineering in this country are working on weaponry. 1360 yet military output accounts for less than 20 per cent. of our total output.
No wonder we are falling behind Japan, which spends less than 1 per cent. of its GNP on arms and does not export any arms at all. Britain devotes the highest proportion of GNP to military research and development and the lowest proportion to civil research and development. Is it surprising that we are falling behind in the industrial world?
Our shipbuilding is in a real mess, yet expenditure on naval research and development is 10 times as high as expenditure on research and development for merchant ships. Resources devoted to manufacturing investment yield 72 times as much in exports as do resources spent on defence.
The Secretary of State denies we are increasing the arms bill and urges us to look at the number of jobs that would be lost by reducing defence expenditure, but this is untrue. The Select Committee on expenditure reveals that far from cutting the number of jobs by 5,000, as forecast by the Ministry, last year's defence review actually increased the number employed by the Ministry by 7,000. If the Secretary of State says that cuts are being made in certain sections of his Ministry, why is the total bill, at 1975 prices, rising? The answer is that arms expenditure must be going up in other sections of the programme.
It has not been denied that £400 million is being spent on updating our nuclear weapons, or that another British underground test explosion may be held in America this year. Perhaps this is for the Polaris missile or use by the multi-role combat aircraft. But in either case, the difference between a new generation of nuclear weapons, which we forsook in our election manifesto last year, and the updating of our nuclear weapons is largely a matter of semantics—word play and little else.
I regret that the Secretary of State should misquote Labour policy on nuclear arms. Several times he has told the House that our manifesto said that we could ask for the removal of United States Polaris bases only after successful multilateral disarmament had been reached. In fact, our manifesto of March 1974 said:We shall participate in the multilateral disarmament negotiations and as a first step 1361 will seek the removal of American Polaris bases from Great Britain.
§ Mr. Mason
There was a later manifesto than that referred to by my hon. Friend. In our manifesto before the October election we said:Starting from the basis of the multilateral disarmament negotiations, we will seek the removal of American Polaris bases from Britain.The manifesto goes on:We have renounced any intention of moving towards a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons.As I have told my hon. Friend and other hon. Friends before until, as I said in our last debate, I am red in the face, that happens to be a fact and we stand by it.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am delighted to hear that, but why then is £400 million being spent on nuclear updating?
The really serious objection to arms reduction is that it may cause unemployment. The supporters of the amendment are more concerned about unemployment than the war hawks opposite who have never had a taste of it. Some of us have—back in the 1930s. But we can cut arms without causing unemployment. This has been shown in two high-powered surveys—one by the United Nations and the other by the Economist Intelligence Unit. This is not merely a matter of theory, but of practice.
The proof of the pudding was in 1945. There were 9 million men and women in the Armed Forces and war factories and within a year, under a Labour Government, they were re-employed in peaceful industry without unemployment. What we are seeking today is a far smaller switch, not from a war economy to a peace economy, but from a big arms programme to a smaller one.
Dr. Blackaby points out that between 1953 and 1957 a Conservative Government cut arms spending by £1,150 million a year, at 1974 prices, which is even greater than the £1,000 million a year cut urged by the Labour Party annual conference, and in those years unemployment actually fell from 1.5 per cent. to 1.4 per cent. of the population.
Dr. Blackaby estimates that saving £1 billion a year on arms, spread over five years, will affect 60,000 jobs a year. He contrasts this with the 4 million workers 1362 who change jobs annually. It does not mean 60,000 dismissals a year. Most of the changes would be covered by retirement or voluntary exchanges of work. Alternative jobs can be found if the Government have the will, and this is just where the National Enterprise Board could be most usefully employed.
The joint shop stewards committee of Lucas Aerospace Companies, the stewards of Hawker-Siddeley, Vickers and Rolls-Royce have already considered alternative jobs on which their skills could be employed. This afternoon a deputation sent in a green card for me from the Hawker-Siddeley factory in Hertfordshire because the HS 146, a civilian plane, has been put on ice and 500 men and women are being declared redundant this weekend.
The men employed in the industry from top to bottom have thought of and gone into detail about the alternative work which they could do. These jobs include short take-off civil aircraft, battery-driven cars, lorries and buses, the harnessing of tidal energy, the jet propulsion of ships, machinery for the oil industry, and highly sophisticated medical machines not confined to kidney machines. Those men have listed 150 possible alternative jobs.
The arms industry is capital intensive. £1 million invested in peaceful industry will create more employment than if it is invested in war work. American statisticians have shown that for every $1 billion voted for the Department of Defence there are 10,600 fewer jobs available.
For all the derision of the Helsinki Agreement displayed in Conservative circles, some positive results have been forthcoming. One of these is the advance notice given by NATO and Warsaw Pact forces of military manoeuvres. That might help to stop what I believe is the greatest danger facing mankind, which is war by accident.
In conclusion I am glad to know that the opponents of the arms race in the House—I have been here 21 years—once a bare handful, now number over 100.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
In a moment I shall turn to some of the industrial consequences of the issues we are debating but, in the interests of brevity, I hope that the hon. Member for 1363 Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), will forgive me if I turn at once to the Secretary of State's speech and the White Paper we are discussing.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the White Paper—which I did carefully—and I could hardly believe my ears as I listened to the Secretary of State this afternoon. Here we are, discussing the great issues of defence on the last day of March. There was one word that was never spoken and one word never written in the White Paper—I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) will forgive me when I say that he mentioned it only once—and that was "Angola".
What has happened in Angola has changed the whole dimension of the strategic problem that confronts the West. By any standard, from a military point of view it was a remarkable operation. Thousands of tons of military material, including tanks and aircraft, were lifted by sea and by air from the Soviet Union to the southern Atlantic seaboard of Africa and married up with 12,000 to 15,000 Cuban soldiers and between 400 and 500 Soviet military instructors. Those men and materials proceeded across lines of communication of enormous length and great vulnerability; and this at a time when the Soviet High Command could not even be sure that the reception area to which they were going was under its control. At the time when the most massive part of the build-up took place, the MPLA had only Luanda and two airfields in its hands.
Whatever we may think of the political rights or wrongs of what the Soviets have done with their Cuban satellites, this is a military operation which must command our respect and admiration.
We have been accustomed to seeing the Soviets send military material to Vietnam in time of war between North Vietnam and the Americans. We have been accustomed to seeing them send military material to the Middle East both in peace time and when there was war between Israel and the Arab States. But to conduct military operations in the southern hemisphere across the Atlantic and to send troops from a base in the Caribbean 1364 introduces a totally new dimension into the world strategic problem.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun rose—
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
The right hon. Gentleman will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has just come back from Angola. He assures me—he is an honourable man—that the Cuban forces did not come to Angola until it had been invaded by the armed forces of South Africa.
§ Mr. Amery
I am sorry that I gave way, because I am not trying to score a political point or to say whether the Soviets were right or wrong. This is essentially a defence debate. We have just witnessed a remarkable military operation carried out by a State which we regard, by and large, as an adversary State—an operation carried out with the help of one of its allies, namely Cuba, over immense distances and involving a considerable quantity of men and materials. All I am arguing is that this brings a new dimension into the strategic concept that the Western world has to face. What has happened is outside the NATO framework in which all of us have worked most of the time. It is quite outside the old SEATO network and the Five-Power network. There is no Western Alliance organisation that covers that part of the world.
What has happened puts into question the basic concept of the White Paper. Eminent men, such as General Steinhoff from Germany, a prominent Belgian general, General Walker, Lord Chalfont and others have questioned the validity of NATO defence in Europe. The White Paper is confident that NATO is strong enough. The right hon. Gentleman re-interated his confidence in it today and I am inclined to agree with him. I hope he is right, but if he is right, Angola raises a major question on which I would have expected him to comment. If he is right, and if the Soviets cannot advance in 1365 Europe, what is this Angolan adventure about? Is it just an incident, or is it the first step in a grand design? It is no use locking the front door if we leave the back door open for what President Kaunda referred to as the ravening tiger and its deadly cubs.
What was the Soviet's purpose in going into Angola? Majority rule, in the sense of black rule, was already an accepted fact. There was no longer a colonial issue. Why did the Soviet Union make such a great effort? It must have been a tremendous effort to get the men and the material there, and they ran a great risk. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister talk with Mr. Gromyko, and I am sure that the Defence Secretary is privy to those talks. Have we any assurance that the Cubans and their Russian instructors are likely to be withdrawn? Is it at all likely that they will be withdrawn while the forces of UNITA are still quite strong in the field, and—I am interested to see—still drawing moral support from Zambia?
When we look at what is happening in Angola, when we see the influx of modern war material and of Soviet instructors into Mozambique, when we hear Mr. Brezhnev say, with all the authority of his position, that detente in Europe in no way inihibits the Soviet Union from supporting liberation movements elsewhere, when we read President Castro's speeches, and the very interesting interview given by Mr. Machel to one of the Sunday papers, are we not bound to ask ourselves whether it is the Soviet purpose to take over Central and Southern Africa by cajoling or compelling the moderate African leaders to join their camp, and by overthrowing the European leaders?
I do not assert that that is their intention; I am only proceeding on the old legal maxim that a man is believed to intend the logical consequences of what he does. When we see what is happening in Angola and in Mozambique, and when we read the speeches of Mr. Brezhnev—and it is very foolish not to believe what people say, recalling that we were blind or deaf to what Hitler said before the war—can we really say that there is no risk that this is the Soviet aim? And if it is, let us just look at what is at stake.
1366 On several previous occasions in the House, when talking about Southern Africa, I have declared a personal interest. I do so again today, not because I think that that interest in any way influences the judgment that I am bringing to bear but because it has helped me to elucidate some of the facts about what is at stake. We all know that our trade with Southern Africa is very nearly as large as our trade with the whole of the rest of Africa. Our investments there are enormous. It is very difficult to compute their value. Whether, with the increase in the value of the Nigerian oil investment, they are greater or smaller, is a matter for argument, but they must be worth somewhere between £2,000 million and £5,000 million.
But what matters much more are the raw materials that we draw from Zaire, from Zambia, from Rhodesia and from South Africa. Fifty per cent. of the copper we get in Europe comes from Zaire and Zambia. Fifty per cent, of the chrome of the whole free world comes from Rhodesia and South Africa. Seventy-five per cent. of the cobalt of the whole free world comes from Central and Southern Africa. Seventy-five per cent. of the platinum of the whole free world comes from Central and Southern Africa. Thirty-three per cent. of the uranium of the free world comes from South-West Africa and South Africa. Sixty-five per cent. of the free world's gold, 85 per cent. of the diamonds—industrial as well as gem—50 per cent. of the vanadium—essential to the hardening of steel—and 30 per cent. of the manganese also come from this area. In addition, there are vast reserves—the largest in the world—of iron and coal. There is no oil, it is true, but the tankers from the Gulf come round the Cape.
That is the situation today, but, in Brussels, the European Economic Commission has made a study of the requirements for the future. It estimates that the industries of Europe alone—leaving out the United States of America—will require an investment of between $50 billion and $60 billion between 1976 and 1995 if we are to get the minerals that our metal-using industries will require. At least half that investment will have to go into Africa.
1367 If we consider what would happen if this source of raw material were to be cut off, we see at once that the result could be catastrophic. There could be a dislocation which would diminish the supply. There could be an embargo, such as we had momentarily in the Middle East over oil. Or there could be a Soviet monopoly of these materials, in which case the Soviet Union could dictate to us the economic terms and, indeed, the political terms on which we received them.
The effect on the metal-using industries of this country would be of immense importance. It is very difficult to calculate the importance of this sort of hypothetical or potential development, but we have a standard, as it happens, by which we can measure it. We have been through this sort of thing since the end of 1973, over oil. In this House we all know perfectly well that the main cause of the recession through which we are going is not the mistakes that are sometimes imputed to the last Conservative Government, or even, with greater worth, to the present Government. It is the increase in the price of oil. This has hit the entire industrial world and cut the ground from under all our customers in the Third World.
It used to be said that the Arabs cannot drink the oil. Yes, but they have been able to raise the price to a point which has created a major slump here. That slump has produced unemployment. That unemployment has produced lower living standards. Those lower living standards have produced social tensions. Those tensions, among other things, have boosted the stock of the Communist Party in Italy and France.
If we were to add, to what we have already gone through with the increase in the price of oil, even as little as a similar dislocation and price increase in the supply of Central and Southern African metals, what would it mean—another million on the dole? It would not be much less.
Defence is not only about the protection of this island; it is about the protection of our vital interests. These interests are not yet attacked directly, except in as much as we had a limited interest in Angola. But they are directly and immediately threatened by the presence of 15,000 Cuban troops and 600 or 400 1368 Soviet advisers in Angola; by what has been said by Mr. Brezhnev; and by what is going on in Mozambique. Yet on this subject the White Paper is silent, and the Secretary of State is silent. I think this is wrong.
I agree that there is a little movement going on in the stratosphere of the West. Dr. Kissinger has tried to speak to the Soviet Union, but rather in the words of King Lear:I will do such things—what they are yet I know not—but they shall be the terrors of the earth.If the Cubans try to do it again, Dr. Kissinger has not told us what he will do.
The Prime Minister—speaking from where the right hon. Gentleman is sitting—told us that he had made it very clear to Mr. Gromyko that any further operations by the Cubans or the Soviets beyond Angola would be very reprehensible and would not be acceptable. To my mind, he did not go far enough. I should have liked him to say he wanted them to go bag and baggage out of Angola. But all this is words, and the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that diplomacy must be backed by power, economic or military, if it is to be effective. Now, since the threat, whether in terms of war material, Cuban volunteers, or Soviet instructors, is military, it will be very difficult to meet it unless we are prepared to make a military as well as an economic response.
Where will the next blow fall? It seems to me that Zambia is in the front line. It would be quite wrong to interpret President Kaunda's proposal yesterday as either naïve or foolish. He knew perfectly well that we could not respond to his proposal. He was putting out a distress signal to the West. He was saying "Unless you come in and do something I shall either be swept away or compelled to join the extremist camp." Of course, we cannot do what he asks. The question is whether we can help him in other ways, either by buying at the pithead the copper that he cannot move, or providing him with more military material and instructors. Can we help him to keep out of the contest and confrontation that the Soviets are seeking to mobilise? Zaire is in much the same camp. We cannot take all this on upon ourselves, but we might with our European allies.
1369 Rhodesia may be the next in line. I can hardly believe that we really think it is in our interests to pay Mr. Machel to take over Rhodesia on behalf of Soviet imperialism, whatever any of us may think of Mr. Smith. Raw material is pouring into Mozambique. Is it really sensible to continue the arms embargo against South Africa?
Of course, we in Britain cannot take on this whole issue alone. The right hon. Gentleman has said so often that we cannot be the policemen of the world any more. He is right about that, and no one on this side of the House including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has ever dissented from that proposition. But a special responsibility rests on Britain towards Central and Southern Africa. It arises from the enormous interests that we have there and from our very long historical association with those countries and our experience of them.
It is the duty of this House and of this Government to sound the tocsin, to ring the alarm wherever we can about what is going on; at the United Nations, where the Chinese have not been behindhand in reproving the Russians and the Cubans for what they have been doing; at the European Summit tomorrow; and with the President of the United States. I find it difficult to believe that when we were last in power a situation of this kind would not have resulted almost automatically in a visit of the Prime Minister of the day to see the leaders of Europe and the President of the United States.
But, also, there is a lot of homework to be done in Whitehall. What kind of effort needs to be made to check Soviet imperialism, collectively by the West—by NATO and by Europe? If we can assess the effort that is required, what contribution could we make to it? What could we supply by way of ground, air and naval forces?
What are the logistical implications? It may mean some co-operation with South Africa. We must not let our opinions of South Africa blind us or inhibit us to the very much greater British interests that are at stake. Winston Churchill never allowed his views about Marshal Stalin or General Metaxas to 1370 blind him from coming to their immediate support when they needed it.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was here a fortnight ago when his right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in the public expenditure debate made a speech in which he referred to Africa and said quite pointedly that British interests were much more in tune with Black Africa, to which we must give greater thought than White Africa.
§ Mr. Amery
That was at a later stage. Unlike the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), I do not see this picture in terms of colour. I see it much more in terms of the threat of Soviet imperialism to the moderate Governments in Zambia and Zaire and to the European-led Governments in Rhodesia and South Africa. I am interested and concerned not because of any particular affection for any of those Governments, black or white. The two African Governments are single-party Governments with no majority rule in the sense that we understand it. The two European-led Governments do not have majority rule in the sense that we understand it.
I am interested and concerned because of the extent of British interests out there and because of the dependence of British industry, European industry and British jobs on our having access to those raw materials and to that trade and the return on the investments involved.
Are the staffs in Whitehall looking at the local balance of power? Are they trying to see how the allies of the Soviet thrust in Mozambique and Angola and the guerrillas on their side compare in strength with the forces which could be mustered against them? How do lines of communication affect the issue? Their lines seem to be stretched very much longer than ours, but I may be wrong. At any rate, I seek assurances that the Government recognise the threat to British, European and Western interests as a whole that is posed by what has happened in Angola.
I should like an assurance that we are considering, with our own military advisers here in Whitehall, what should be done about it collectively and what 1371 contribution we could make towards it. I should like assurances that we are having discussions or will be discussing with our European partners and American allies not only the diplomatic steps which should be taken but, if necessary, the military steps to back them up.
Nothing else is at stake than the survival of the industrial economy of the West.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seemed to be building up a rather powerful case on the basis of a hypothesis in which he did not believe. The hypothesis was that the Soviets were planning to take over Southern and Central Africa, and the right hon. Gentleman said specifically, as I understood him, that he did not believe that that was the case.
§ Mr. Amery
I am sorry. I said the opposite. I pointed out that many distinguished men had said that there was a real danger that the NATO strategy in Europe could not hold the front. I went on to say that I thought that the Secretary of State was probably right in saying that NATO could hold the front in Europe, that I was inclined to agree with him there and did not expect a Soviet attack in Europe. I went on to suggest that it was possible that the Russians were pursuing an indirect challenge and going for the underbelly of the West. That was the threat that I tried to put before the House. I said that I did not think that there would be an attack in Europe. I said that there was a threat in the South.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I got the first part quite clearly. It was the second part that I misunderstood. When the right hon. Gentleman came to the second part, I thought that he put the hypothesis of an indirect attack and then said that he did not believe it. Obviously I misunderstood him, and I apologise.
However, the right hon. Gentleman shied away from what would seem to be the solution if his hypothesis was correct, namely, that there was so serious a Soviet threat to Central and Southern Africa that we had to try to resume, in part, our world-wide role, which we cannot possibly do. I think that he said that 1372 was not possible. He suggested that we should have consultations with our Allies, that we should make a song and dance about it in the United Nations, and so forth. To that, I take no exception, and I shall be very interested to hear what my right hon. and hon. Friends have to make of the right hon. Gentleman's general observations on the subject.
I turn to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour). I thought that on a serious subject he made a surprisingly flippant speech. However, I agree with him about two matters. One is this GNP business, to which I shall return in a moment. The other is in respect of what he said about Sir Michael Cary.
It is probable that I have had longer professional associations with Sir Michael Cary than anyone else in the House. It so happens that, 31 years ago, when I was the PPS to John Strachey at the Air Ministry, he came into the Private Office as head of it, and I worked with him for more than a year. Subsequently, when I became a Minister and went to the Admiralty, he was the senior civil servant there. I knew him well, for a long time. He was a great civil servant, and his premature death was a real tragedy.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had very few congratulations from either side of the House, and I want to remedy that to some extent.
I am delighted that our commitments overseas have been reduced in Mauritius, Singapore and elsewhere, including Hong Kong, but I note that in Hong Kong there are still four infantry battalions. I want to know what they are supposed to be doing there. If they are being used for police purposes, the whole cost should surely fall on the colony. It is a very wealthy colony, and it can afford to pay for them. If, on the other hand, these forces are being kept there to stop the Chinese hordes from bursting through the New Territories into Hong Kong itself, quite seriously we ought to bring them home as soon as possible and put them to practical and safer activities, perhaps in Northern Ireland.
I am glad to see that the White Paper has added some information not only about our forces but about NATO forces. It is now essential that we should try to consider our forces in the context of our alliances, so that we can see better 1373 whether our capabilities match up to whatever threat we may face.
On one thing the information in the White Paper is extremely deficient—the defence of North Sea oil. That is a prime British interest. It can be under threat from the air or the sea, from beneath the sea, or from the land. The threat can come from full-scale war or from guerrilla activities by the IRA, the Palestine Liberation Front or even from our home-grown "nutters" like the Tartan Army.
Conventional forces and conventional defences are not going to be enough against guerrilla attacks. For one thing, counter-intelligence comes into that to an exceptional degree. Further, I do not think the defence of this prime British interest is helped in any way by what I would call the dissipation of responsibility. I understand that no fewer than five separate Government Departments have a say in the safety of this great British interest. The protection of the pipelines and installations ashore, and of the pipelines and rigs at sea, should be entrusted to a specially created command. That command should contain elements of air-sea rescue, and even anti-pollution services, and it should certainly have a strong counterintelligence unit. But it should in fact be based on the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, with the whole of it under a single command and with direct responsibility to one Minister—the Secretary of State for Defence.
I come to a major doubt that I have about the White Paper proposals. It calls for a slow and limited growth in equipment spending, which we nevertheless expect to take a somewhat higher proportion of the all-over defence budget. The White Paper goes on to say that it will be combined with a roughly stable research and development effort. We ought to note that of the total equipment spending—that is to say, spending on new production, spares, development and research—the amount spent on straight research amounts to only 5 per cent.
The most striking feature of modern defence preparations is the speed at which weaponry goes out of date. A piece of equipment or a whole system is no sooner in service than it is obsolete. 1374 Therefore, I strongly believe that in periods of relative calm we ought to adopt the policy of leap-frogging. The procedure at the moment seems to be that when Mark I is actually in service, Mark II is virtually at the production stage, Mark III is getting nearer to prototype and research is proceeding on Mark IV. This is going to mean that we shall spend an enormous amount of money if, in comparatively calm periods, we attempt to put into service not only Mark I but also Marks II, III and IV.
I suggest that wherever it is at all practicable we should—I repeat—in calm periods, put Mark I into service and carry on with Mark II and indeed Mark III to the development stage and to the production stage where we can put enough of a particular kind of equipment into the hands of those who are to act as instructors. We should not put Marks II and III into service; we should wait until we reach the point where Mark IV is ready for service, and we should then put that into service leaving out the other two. This would mean that spending on the purchase of equipment over a period would be a good deal less. That, in its turn, would mean that some of the saving could go to greatly increase research, which I consider to be essential. While it would also mean that in certain periods the forces would be equipped with less than up-to-date weapons—and I am afraid that happens now—there would be the capacity rapidly to provide the very latest weapons if tension were seen to grow.
That brings me finally to the argument about percentages of the gross national product. I wish to goodness NATO would get out of the habit of using that yardstick, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) would do so also. It is an absolutely bogus yardstick, and so is expenditure per capita; because neither takes account of the need or the amount of threat. What kind of yardstick is there to measure the amount of threat? There simply is not one. The whole thing is guesswork in a very large way. It is guesswork about the extent and size of the immediate threat, about what the threat is to be in, say, 10 years' time. It is guesswork about the right size and type of force to oppose against that threat. 1375 It is all guesswork and I am concerned that it should be done not by the military, who tend to over-insure, but just by the Foreign Office. Though they are godlike, they are not always omniscient. I do not want to leave it to the cooing doves who hover in the stratosphere far from the facts of life. I do not want it done by the bullfrogs croaking away in their "Red Menace" marshes.
The best for which we can hope, and what I hope, is that we shall have that guess made by Governments who listen to their advisers, whether they are military or diplomatic, and who weigh their advice against the needs of the economy and then make a judgment. Of course, that judgment, too, will be a guess, but at least it will be an informed guess. It is because I think we have got an informed guess in this White Paper that I support it.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I agreed with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu) said. I am afraid that I cannot join him in terms of the bouquet he handed out to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Anyone who has been in this House for some time cannot fail to be impressed by the peculiar difficulty of the Secretary of State's task. He is in the position of many of the distinguished military commanders of history—he is fighting on too many fronts. Whereas he deals reasonably adequately with each of the threats he faces, from the Left, from the Opposition and from others who oppose his view, the various arguments simply do not hang together. That is why we are to have yet another debate on a White Paper which contains parts that all of us can accept but which, taken together, is so contradictory that it does not produce any coherent picture of the Government's policy or of how they will carry it out.
I cannot go along with the Secretary of State in many of the things he said today. I do not know how he can stand at the Dispatch Box and say that NATO does not think we have got our priorities wrong when it was so outspoken in its objection last year about what we were doing that they had to be printed in the White Paper. I do not know how the 1376 right hon. Gentleman can describe "minor gestures" on the flanks as improvements, when they are set against the total removal of our support for the southern flank of NATO and massive reductions in our contribution to the northern flank. How he can maintain that there is no effect, quantitatively or qualitatively—those were his words—in our contribution to NATO as a result of the defence cuts beats me.
I suppose that once more we are in for a debate on the defence White Paper which is in itself contradictory—a debate in which, once more, the Opposition will win the arguments but not, I am afraid, the vote. Once more there will be points upon which everyone, apart from the Government, will agree. The main lines of criticism will be agreed upon by most, except for the Government. No doubt most of the military commanders and the civilian heads of NATO will subscribe to what will be said from the Conservative Benches. I have no doubt that the balance of comment in the media will be favourable to criticisms that are made of the White Paper. Equally, I have no doubt that everyone will bear in mind that the Chief of the Defence Staff has gone on record as saying that before these cuts were made our defences were already down to bedrock.
There are those military gentleman who are free to express their views openly because they are not so directly part of our own Government service—such people as Admiral Lewin and Admiral Hill-Norton, who have made their views pretty clear over the past year or two. There has been monumental criticism from the all-party Estimates Committee Sub-Committee, upon which some of my hon. Friends have served with such devotion. That Committee details whole lists of telling criticisms of the effects of the defence cuts on our forces.
My point is that we are doing this for the third time within a year. We simply cannot go on like this if we have any responsibility for the future defence of this country. Decisions taken on this matter span a much longer period than the life of one Government or, indeed, of two or three Governments added together. The responsibility of the Government Front Bench in defence matters is a massive one, which cannot be dictated by short-term party political considerations. 1377 I was glad that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East mentioned the gross national product argument. I do not intend to return to that today, because I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) that the argument is, or ought to be, dead, in spite of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), who manfully struggles with it. I shall make one last point, which should give the coup de grace to the argument.
We have been told by the hon. Member for Salford, East again today that the gross national product method is still a valid way of assessing our contribution to defence. I remember pointing out that one of the objections to this was that if the gross national product goes up we do not require more defence, and if it goes down we do not require less. There is no relationship. The calculations that the Government made in their original White Paper last year presumed—a most extraordinary presumption—that the gross national product would grow by an average of 3 per cent. per annum over the period of the review. I remember that many of us at the time took leave to doubt whether that was a reasonable assumption.
It ought to be recorded that here we are, one year later, and the gross national product has not grown by 3 per cent. in this period. It has gone down, on my calculations, by 1.8 per cent. The Government should be re-working their calculations because of that, but we have not heard any mention of that. That is because they realise that it is sheer academic nonsense. It ought to be forgotten.
The White Paper once more spells out the threat against which our country and NATO have to provide. Once more it has to admit that the threat has not diminished but has become greater during the past year. Once more the White Paper comes to the breathtaking conclusion that therefore it is our duty to reduce our defences still further. The fact is, although the Secretary of State cannot admit it in debate, that these cuts are not made for defence reasons at all; they are made purely for financial reasons and it would be more straightforward to say so. Nor should we be deceived by the Secretary of State's ploy, which he tried a month or two ago—I imagine 1378 it was him, but I may be doing him an injustice—of leaking a supposed defence cuts figure of £1,000 million per annum to the Press and other areas of public discussion, no doubt in the hope that when the figure turned out to be about £200 million everyone would think that a great victory had been won and we need not worry.
The original White Paper cut our defences to a dangerously low level. The cuts were multiplied yet further, before the ink was dry on the paper. These cuts go still further. They are all extremely unwise and dangerous. The Left wing has won once more in this year's defence White Paper and with the cuts that have been announced. The speech of the hon. Member for Salford, East made me wonder why the Secretary of State pays so much attention to the views of the Left Wing. The Left's amendment has 83 signatures attached to it. It surprised me to note that there were absolutely none of those people present to support the hon. Member for Salford, East. I do not know where they all were, but their enthusiasm for the subject does not seem to be as strong as it once was. Maybe they, as well as anyone, can spot a bad argument when they see it.
The hon. Member for Salford, East made great play about the danger of our being conned by the idea that the growing might of the Warsaw Pact was dangerous. He suggested that we ought not to regard it as dangerous. If I had interrupted him then I would have asked him whether he did not think that we were nearly conned in exactly the same way in the 1930s. Was it not an extremely lucky thing that our predecessors, at the end of the eleventh hour, were not conned quite badly enough for us to be taken in the worst position of all? The Left Wing wishes only to get its hands on as much money as possible from the defence budget. The hon. Member made that pretty clear today. No evidence that I can find suggests that when defence spending is cut the money somehow miraculously goes to other good causes.
The hon. Member for Salford, East seems to believe that defence cuts help to create jobs. Today he produced the strange theory that when people are put out of work from defence projects they do not become unemployed, because they 1379 are too old, they retire, or they find other jobs. But he does not seem to think that others who are out of work find it so easy to obtain new jobs. It is a case of the wish being father to the thought.
The hon. Member is not being logical. From personal experience I know that defence cuts do result in the loss of jobs. In my constituency, a small but important factory—Scottish Aviation Limited—has had its future prospects decimated by defence cuts which are making its products no longer necessary. My constituents know that this is the case, and so does everyone else in the aircraft industry. The same is happening with Hawker Siddeley, the British Aircraft Corporation and many other firms involved in the defence industry. Over the last year or two there has been a steady procession to the House of people who work in these industries, wanting to tell us about the situation. Those people are very concerned.
I turn now to the effect of the cuts upon our forces. They have had effects in two important areas. I know that the Secretary of State would like to believe that they have no effect on NATO, but that simply is not true. NATO has had a rather bad year. It has suffered a series of reverses on the political side. A number of its members, including ourselves, have been cutting back on defence expenditure, and the political will of the Alliance is in a more uncertain state than it has been for a long time. That has been demonstrated to us in the past year or two.
It is false to suggest that the threat to NATO is purely on the central front. It is arguable that the threat, contained as it is by the determination of the NATO forces on the central front, merely extends the possibility of the most likely areas of threat being on the flanks. If confirmation of that is needed the Select Committee on page 19, paragraph 20, of its Report, makes clear that it is a question of the ability of the maritime forces of NATO to respond quickly to new threats once cuts made by ourselves and other nations have had their effect.
The cuts are guilty of greatly impairing our mobility within NATO. My hon. 1380 Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised the question of reports in the Press that Royal Marine Commandos will have to travel by British Rail ferry to operations in Norway. I hope that British Rail will be rather more on time for them than it is for the rest of us. The Minister should carefully consider not just the practicality of such a mode of transport but what sort of impression of the British Armed Forces it will create if they arrive by Sealink Ferry flying the British Rail flag. What arrangements are being made for such eventualities? Are the crews of these ferries to be temporarily enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve? If there is any danger in the operation at a time of tension, are they obliged to travel there if they do not wish to? Have any arrangements been made to consult the unions and British Rail? I doubt it.
The same applies to our air mobility, of which NATO officers and officials have been critical. In spite of many requests, we have never had an answer to the question of what arrangements there are for calling in civilian aircraft if there is an emergency with which the Regular Forces cannot cope. Under what obligation is a civilian British Airways pilot if he is asked, in a state of emergency, to fly to an airfield that is under fire? Are he and his family covered by insurance, and what arrangements for pensions and compensation are there for British Airways staff and that of other contractors who might be involved? We are entitled to know if there are water tight arrangements that will work without difficulty, trouble or discussions, should a crisis arise. There will be no time for discussion once the balloon goes up.
There is the unanswered question of the change of the organisation of British Army units, particularly in BAOR, and the abolition of the brigade. Everyone to whom I have spoken appears to think that the exercise held last autumn proved that the new arrangements do not work. I understand that the wireless communications involved proved to be too short in range for the distances involved. There is no doubt that these changes have made our Allies mystified and concerned at the effect on the overall command of the Alliance, because one major part of the Alliance's forces operates a different system of command from the rest.
1381 The Government must come clean about the difficulty that we experienced on last year's exercises and tell us how they are to be rectified—if they can be. They must satisfy the House that the system can be worked. I hope that the Government will take into account the views of our Allies if they feel that to have our forces on a different basis to theirs is a major disadvantage to NATO in time of crisis. I hope that the Government will not be too proud to think again.
The defence cuts will have effects on our home-based forces. There is no doubt that the stresses and strains of the economies and cuts of the last few years have really eaten into the standard of training of our forces. Morale is still high, and those on the ground do a good job, but every officer makes it clear that he would like training to be better and more up to date. That is particularly true of large formation training, which has been done very little indeed over the past few years. It is important for the Government to ensure that such training is done once more, because an army that has not experienced large formation training is almost bound to be in a shambles in the early days of a new crisis.
Shortages of supplies, including spares, petrol and ammunition are drastically reducing training, particularly training with vehicles, and it affects the morale and competence of the troops. The troops feel that they are not getting enough training in their vehicles because of the economies.
There is a sinister development. Cuts are said to be mainly concentrated on equipment and clothing, but from experience I know that this sort of equipment is always behindhand, anyway. Further stockpiling cuts will have an effect on morale before long. I hope that no one is reducing stockpiles of oil or oil-related products. Nothing could be more foolish in the present strategic situation.
In spite of what the Secretary of State says, there is no doubt in the minds of most other people that our NATO contribution has been seriously weakened by the cuts in the past year. There is no doubt that the further cuts will weaken the back-up to the forces we produce, and weaken their effectiveness. There is no doubt that the policy of frequent cuts 1382 makes it more difficult for us to exercise, within Europe, the leadership that we need to exercise and that our Allies would very much welcome. There is no doubt that our standards of training are slipping.
I could find no mention in the White Paper of that vital factor in every defence system and in all defence planning—allowance for the unforeseen. The one thing that is certain is that the unforeseen will occur. The style and type of a future crisis will be quite different from anything that we have had before. The commitments that our reduced forces are now undertaking leave no room for the unexpected. Half of our TAVR is needed to bring our Regular Forces up to strength. The matter is one that the Government will ignore at their peril.
There is one good sign this year in what is rather a catalogue of woe. Public opinion has at last begun to wake up to the ill effects of repeated cuts in our defence. I hope that it has not woken up too late. I believe that it has not, and that there is still time to make good the shortfall that the cuts have produced.
We should not forget that the Secretary of State said this afternoon that a policy of strength and deterrence had stood the NATO Alliance in good stead and given us 31 years of peace. If only the Government will realise that their cuts are damaging that situation, and will put it to rights, I believe that we can with confidence look forward to another 30 and many more years of peace.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Many of my Scottish colleagues and I spent the weekend at Troon. Like many of them, at the invitation of Gavin Laird of the AEF, I talked to the delegation of workers from Scottish Aviation that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) mentioned. In the opinion of many of us, Labour Scottish MPs, there is a real problem there. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence will do what they can about it.
As a recently-sponsored NUR Member, I take the gravest exception to what the hon. Gentleman said about the British Rail ferries! I repudiate his adverse 1383 remarks about them. I have every confidence that—dare I say it?—my members will carry the soldiers quickly and on time to Northern Norway!
This is the 14th occasion on which I have taken part in a defence debate. I register broad support for what the Government are doing in their White Paper. These are rather different days from those when Lord Wigg in his heyday used to go into the details of Blue Streak. Perhaps we should still have that kind of scrutiny.
I appreciate what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done as Chairman of Eurogroup. Those who are interested in defence in Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels, where I seem to spend a good deal of my time these days, have a high regard for what my right hon. Friend did in his important position. I am told by those who are in a position to know that he can claim with some justice to have brought about a greater co-operation in European defence. Europeans hold him in high esteem.
Had this been an ordinary occasion for some of us, I might have addressed the House on the subjects of the southern flank of NATO, the military effects of Greek entry into the Common Market, and whether the Greeks will use membership as a lever in their relations with Turkey. But there is one other subject of more immediate importance and relevance to the House.
Before next year there may have been a General Election, and it could be that the Scottish National Party will have 36 or more Members here. In that event, it would be difficult in my opinion to deny them the right to enter into independence negotiations between Scotland and England, negotiations that would bring to an end the Act of Union as we know it.
We must focus our minds on what might have been seen, only some months ago, to be a laughing matter—the possibility of the break-up of the United Kingdom and of Scotland's becoming an independent country. An independent country means independent forces. When pressed, the SNP says that there will be a separate Scottish Army, Navy and Air Force. I see the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) about to rise. I have 1384 his election manifesto in my hand. On page 11 he makes the position quite clear, saying:As an independent country Scotland wilt have its own diplomatic missions abroad, and Scots will travel with Scottish passports. Scotland will be represented at the United Nations and will be a member of the Commonwealth …However, it is also necessary to make clear our determination to defend our homeland at all times. The Scottish National Party is in favour of the principles of collective defence and advocates mutual agreements with other states to maintain peace and security. Scotland will need forces to defend Scotland (and oil and gas installations in the Scottish sectors of the seas round our coasts) and to meet international commitments undertaken as part of collective defence arrangements for Western Europe, or as a member of the United Nations. The cost of such a policy would be similar to that incurred by other countries of comparable size in Europe.In effect, that means forces as separate from those of the British Army as are those of Holland, France and so on.
§ Mr. MacCormick
It must be very disappointing for the hon. Gentleman to be making his speech before I have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—if I do. The hon. Gentleman has begun to treat the House to a description of things that might happen. Does he accept that the Scottish National Party commitment on defence is total loyalty to membership of NATO?
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is all very woolly, but it is also revealing. My Dutch colleague, Mr. Schelto Patijn and Mr. Lees Laban, would say exactly the same. The hon. Gentleman has made rather a giveaway remark. It is something that would also be said by Belgians, French, West Germans, Italians and so on. It reveals that there would be an Army as separate from the English, Welsh or whatever Army. Here is the basic confusion. I am grateful for that intervention, because it underlines the seriousness of the case I put forward. It shows that I am not putting up an Aunty Sally but describing a real prospect. I thank the hon. Gentleman for confirming that I am not just making a cheap, slick, debating point. It is the reality of the situation.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that Rosyth dockyard services the nuclear submarines, which are a part of the 1385 NATO force. Does he know whether the SNP is in favour of retaining the nuclear force within NATO and keeping its servicing at Rosyth?
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend hopes to catch your eye tomorrow, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if he does so he will be able to go into more detail about dockyards. The matter is symptomatic of a wide series of problems involving not only Rosyth but the whole pattern of defence research, to which I propose to come later in my speech.
I have a very specific request to make to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. Can the Ministry of Defence, within the next three or four months, produce some kind of paper—I do not think a White Paper is necessarily the best vehicle—setting out in detail the financial consequences and the costs of separate Scottish forces? If we are to have the breakup of the Services, let us be very clear and let the Scottish people, before they vote, be very clear, about precisely what is envisaged. I am asking my hon. Friends to use some of the expert manpower in the Ministry of Defence to bring forward a paper spelling out in detail what the cost would be in defence terms of breaking up the Services of the United Kingdom.
I would like to put it in practical and rather personal terms. For two years I was a tank crewman in what is now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards—then the Royal Scots Greys. Hon. Gentlemen may say "Heaven help BAOR in the 1950s." Nevertheless, I was the only Scot in that tank crew. One other was a Geordie, there was one lad from Barns-ley—who was under the happy delusion that Barnsley was the up-and-coming football team in the English League—and there was a Londoner. The composition of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards is not very different nowadays—one in three, or one in four, is a Scot.
I want to know precisely what are the consequences of such a unit being disbanded, on what basis and how they would be regrouped. Would a Scottish tank unit have access to the specialist facilities, which are necessary to any Army unit, at Bovington? This is the same issue raised by my hon. Friend from Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). Are the 1386 common facilities, which we do not share with the Dutch, Belgians and French—perhaps we should—to be available to separate Scottish forces?
We then come to the Scottish infantry regiments. I see that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) is wearing a Brigade of Guards tie. What is to happen to the Scots Guards in all this? I repeat the delicious remark of Mr. Harold Macmillan, attributed to him when The Sunday Times was discussing the mechanics of "The Fall of Edward Heath." Mr. Macmillan said it was very unwise of any Government to take on the Vatican, the National Union of Mineworkers or the Brigade of Guards. Are the Scots Guards to be hived off?
This is a very real issue. The hon. Member for Ayr would be the first to say that perhaps I am not the best authority on the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Nevertheless, what about the Scottish infantry regiments? A very high proportion of their soldiers are English and Welsh. Are they all to be disentangled?
§ Mr. MacCormick
Bearing in mind that it is not the policy of the SNP to disband any of the traditional Scottish regiments, would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it would be better if he bent his mind to the problem of how we shall continue that position if, as he believes, complete independence is inevitable?
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is just great. What is now suggested is that there should be a lot of English mercenaries in the Scottish regiments. Is that the proposal? It is fantastic. The hon. Gentleman says they do not want to disband the Scottish regiments. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that in my regiment two out of three men are English and Welsh. Yet what could be more Scottish than the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards? There are a lot of Englishmen in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. So let us be very clear what we are talking about. We are talking about the disbanding of units. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wants to come back to this. He does not?
§ Mr. MacCormick
This is the most disgraceful speech I have ever heard. Since we should be living in the closest 1387 association, as we shall always do, with the rest of the British Isles, there is absolutely no reason why the difficulties he mentioned should occur. If he wants any proof of that, let him look at the numbers of people from the Republic of Ireland who at present serve in the British Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I had better not pursue that too far. It may be a disgraceful speech in the view of the SNP but if my speeches are disgraceful it is because they are brutally realistic in pointing out precisely what will happen. Let us just be a bit clear and cold about this. The Scottish electors, if they wish, may return 40 or more Scottish nationalist MPs. I am just concerned that before they do, they should be absolutely clear what the practical problems are, and do not buy pigs in pokes.
Let us get back to a few of the practical problems. What will happen to the REME? They have a number of specialist garrisons. There are a lot of Scots in the REME. How is this to be disentangled? What about the Corps of Signals? Are we to have a special Scottish Corps of Signals taken away somehow from Catterick? If so, I just want to know from the Army Minister precisely what the cost of all this will be. This is a very costly operation.
At the beginning of the Secretary of State's speech I interrupted him on the question of information and asked him—I thought he promised to do so: I shall have to check it in Hansard—whether he would give information because he said that this is a very costly business. The Scottish electors, preferably before the next election, have to know how costly this is to be. I suspect that, when they know all this and what it really means, many of those who used to vote for the Tory Party and now vote for the Scottish National Party are likely to start scratching their heads—certainly those in Argyll—when they know what is up.
What is to be done in a Scottish Army, even in NATO, about the training of officer cadets? Will my hon. Friends put this in an explanatory paper? We also come to the serious question of senior officers. Suppose there were a separate Scottish Army. Even in NATO, 1388 presumably, senior officers and NCOs will have to opt one way or the other. My hon. Friend the Member for Both-well (Mr. Hamilton) was a distinguished sergeant-major. Which way would he opt? What about his pension rights? I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Navy is taking a note of this. I think we might have to have an explanatory document on forces' pension rights. All those retired soldiers living in Argyllshire will like to be clear on this.
Therefore we are getting into the whole question of the disentangling of the Services of the United Kingdom. This is what those who propose the break-up of Britain have to face. My right hon. Friend, in an aside earlier, said that he hoped that I would not use this debate at too great a length in order to peddle my own views, but these are far wider than my own views. This is the practicality of what the break-up of the United Kingdom means. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite, before they make up their minds, will study today's long leading article—the longest I have ever seen—in the Daily Telegraph and draw some conclusion from that.
We come to the question of the Scottish Navy. Here a different policy is involved. I hear that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) told all my European colleagues in the Assembly, "We would not be fighting Iceland. It is only the English who are doing that." I take that, at its logical conclusion, to mean that there would be an English and Scottish Navy.
This is particularly so when it comes to the defence of the oil rigs. I should like to know from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, whose seminars I have enjoyed in the past on this matter and whose interest in it I commend, precisely what would be the cost to Scotland of defending the Brent, Auk and a number of other fields and to England of the English defending the Forties Field. The Forties, in international law, would go to England and not to Scotland—an awkward fact but a fact nevertheless. I should like some idea of the cost of defending the oil rigs.
In the interests of time, I leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central the question of the dockyards, but 1389 I hope that we shall have a full reply on that. This question relates not only to Rosyth but to the common facilities at Haslar and Pyestock. How would this be separated out, if there were to be separation? We should do much better to follow the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu) and talk in terms of a United Kingdom environmental need.
Then there is the question of a Scottish Air Force. This would involve separate MRCA training, and I should like to know the cost. I believe that it costs £250,000 to train one MRCA pilot. This brings us back to economies of scale. Some of us who have gone to Munich to talk to Pancura and Gunnar Madelung know how difficult it is even for countries like Holland and Belgium to participate because their forces are not big enough. How can 5 million Scots have an effective stake in the MRCA without common training? On what basis would it be done? Then there is the question of the Nimrod squadron at Lossiemouth and the spares and training which that involves. Will there be a separate Scottish Nimrod unit?
This argument boils down to the preposterous. I see some hon. Members smiling. I would not have bothered the House of Commons with this matter even a year ago, but it is not so fanciful now, is it?
The practical question again arises when we consider the supposed move of Ministry of Defence civilians to Glasgow. If civilian numbers in the Ministry are to be cut by 40,000, I can imagine how the professional associations and trade unions would respond to any move to Glasgow, even in optimum times. But these are hardly optimum times. If I were a professional association or trade union leader in the current climate, and considering what is promised by the Scottish National Party, I would wonder whether there should be any move to Glasgow at all. I would see myself and my members returning in five years and having to buy houses in London again.
What is the attitude of the Ministry of Defence to this aspect of the move? This question interests a number of people in the centre of Scotland. If these difficulties exist, they should not be glossed over. They should be spelled out in all their stark detail. No stone should be 1390 left unturned. It is no good saying that it is all very difficult. If the trouble is that there is serious worry in civilian circles in the Ministry of Defence over Scotland becoming independent, it is better to say so. Some of us are beginning to believe that that is the basic truth.
It is not only independence which raises these questions. We should also consider the projected Assembly. I would not have raised this matter unless there were a strong demand for an Assembly with economic powers. How will those powers be fitted in with the strategy of the Ministry of Defence? Along with many of my hon. Friends, I have constituency interests here. For example, will the North British Steel Foundry at Bathgate still get its Admiralty orders if the United Kingdom Government is not wholly responsible for the economic strategy of all these Islands?
I will throw away the rest of my notes. I could go on a long time on this matter. Those who lightly contemplate the breakup of the United Kingdom had better think out in all its starkness and discomfiture what the break-up of the Services and the procurement policy of the United Kingdom will mean to people.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has made a novel contribution to our debate. I shall not enter into his argument, but I have no reason to challenge it. In his own way he has exposed the unreal world in which many people choose to live today, and he has done so in a most effective way.
Another group of people who live in an unreal world, I am afraid, are the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and those of his hon. Friends who support his point of view. They simply refuse to recognise that the peace and the freedom that we now enjoy depend entirely upon the maintenance of our external security.
The defence White Paper itself provides evidence of the growing military strength of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. It is incontrovertible that the evidence in the Government's own White Paper contradicts at every point the case for cutting our defence forces still further.
If I may say so with respect, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham 1391 and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) effectively revealed the implausibility—the word that he chose is undoubtedly justified—of the Government's whole case. We are entitled to put a very simple question to Ministers. If the Chief of the Defence Staff was right to say in July last year—we must press this again and again—that we were down to absolute bedrock, the Government must explain why the latest cuts, which the Secretary of State told his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East were real, not spurious or "phoney", do not put us below the safety level. The onus is upon them to fulfil that responsibility to the House and the country.
No comfortable words from the Secretary of State can disguise the stark reality of the growing imbalance of forces not only on NATO's central front but elsewhere in the world. I shall follow up later some of the pertinent observations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) about the changing attitude that we must take to the strategy of our defence in the free world.
The only thing, perhaps upon which the Secretary of State may be congratulated is that he appears to some extent to have thwarted the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cut our defences still further. The Chancellor has always wished to cut our defence to a dangerous level. It was a policy that he pursued consistently when he was himself Secretary of State for Defence, while he made his customary contradictory noises. He is a man who rides a bicycle in one direction, turns completely around, bicycles in the other direction, and says that he has not changed his approach. So we can congratulate the Secretary of State on having mustered sufficient support in the Cabinet to deal with the Chancellor, at least to some extent.
Even so, the right hon. Gentleman's speech, particularly that extraordinary long quotation of Treasury gobbledegook inserted in the middle, like the White Paper, reminded me of the old mnemonic:Minus times minus equals plus:The reason for this we need not discuss.The only difference is that the Secretary of State's version implies that minus plus 1392 minus equals plus. His explanation of the way in which the Government have three times cut defence in one year was implausible indeed, as my right hon. Friend said.
In our debate on 10th December, we discussed at some length the question of detente. More people now accept that detente remains an idea and not a fact. It will not become a fact until the Soviet tanks are beaten into ploughshares. It will never become a fact unless adequate defence potential, that is, a secure position from which to negotiate, is assured. Certainly, detente must remain an objective of our policy, but we must be realistic about it. The assurance of our ability to negotiate requires every member of the North Atlantic Alliance to make a full contribution to the NATO strategy.
That strategy of so-called flexible response now depends far too heavily upon the threat of nuclear war. If the Soviet forces could reach the Rhine in two days—and the Secretary of State did not deny that—the concept of a flexible response is not so very different from the old concept of the trip-wire. As the White Paper says in paragraph 32:But the possession of nuclear weapons is not in itself sufficient to ensure deterrence. It must be made evident to a potential enemy that we would be prepared to use them if we had to.The gravest danger now lies in the fact that without nuclear weapons there would be no balance left—and every reduction in our conventional forces lowers the nuclear threshold. That is a matter that all of us, however much we may know that we have to rely on the nuclear deterrent, must view with considerable concern.
It may be, as the White Paper suggests, that in Europe NATO remains our strength and our shield, albeit too dependent on nuclear weapons at an early stage in any conflict. But in a wider context the growth of Soviet military power at sea and in the air poses a more direct threat to the Alliance than does anything else. That is a subject upon which the White Paper and the Secretary of State today have been virtually silent.
Over the past decade or so Soviet military spending has increased by about 35 per cent. Much of that increase has been devoted to the expansion of global 1393 power, threatening vital overseas areas and the sea routes upon which we depend for our essential supplies. Between 1964 and 1974 the Soviet Union produced 249 new major combat ships. During OKEAN 75, which was a Soviet naval exercise observed by NATO units last year, more than 200 nuclear submarines and surface ships and 400 aircraft, in three oceans, were assembled for coordinated manœuvres. We were told by the Secretary of State this afternoon something of the degree of surveillance that can take place these days. We were told by the United States Secretary to the Navy, Mr. Middendorf, that these manœuvres by the Soviet Union were controlled through a sophisticated, worldwide communications network, including satellites. At the same time that these Soviet naval exercises were taking place, Soviet aircraft were operating from bases made available to them in Cuba, Guinea, and Berbera, in the Somali Republic.
Recent events in Africa serve only to underline the political as well as the military implications of Soviet expansion. We have to face the fact in this country, in Europe, and in the United States, that approxmatiely 80 per cent. of the NATO Alliance's oil and 70 per cent. of its strategic raw materials move through the waters along the west coast of Africa, now vulnerable to air and naval bases in Soviet-supported territories, to whose Governments we are now, incredibly, seeking to give aid at the expense of our friends and allies. This is the threat about which so many of my hon. Friends, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) have been warning us for many years.
The White Paper shows how the balance of ready forces in the Eastern Atlantic has shifted dramatically in favour of the Soviet northern fleet. But what about the South Atlantic? What about the Indian Ocean, from which we have been retreating for years? The Secretary of State says, with apparent pride, that that retreat is now almost concluded. It may be that NATO's direct responsibility under the treaty is limited to the territorial areas of the member countries, but Britain, above all, has a duty, as a nation geographically and 1394 historically aware of the oceanic dimensions of power, to react to the need for a new naval strategy. That was the message we heard this afternoon from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, which I would wish to reinforce to the best of my ability.
In my view, we should be urging the necessity of a significant Allied presence in the Southern Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. We should be urging upon the United States and France—and possibly Australia, in view of the anxieties recently expressed by its new Prime Minister, Mr. Fraser—joint action in these areas. We should be declaring our willingness to provide arms for our friends and allies against external aggresion. We should be using our influence in every way possible to convince the nations of Africa and Asia that their newly won independence, no less than the security of the whole free world, now depends on containing Soviet and Communist expansion. That is the new imperialism, and it is far more ruthless in its modern guise than ever before.
The plundering tiger and its deadly cubs are moving into Africa, to the detriment not only of British and NATO interests but of the interests of the African people themselves, black and white. Instead of hearing any indication from the Government of the dangers created by the new trends—trends that were apparent even before the events in Angola—the warning signals have been showing for a long time—we have had produced by them a White Paper in which the whole of our non-NATO responsibilities are dismissed in eight short paragraphs in which the Secretary of State takes evident pride but which constitute a powerful indictment of the Socialist policy of retreat and abdication from shore to shore.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the political implications of defence and of the presence of forces. What an encouragement it is to an aggressor, and what a blow to the morale of those who look to us for support, to read those eight paragraphs. There is the shabby agreement forced upon Hong Kong, the breach of faith with Brunei, and the senseless abrogation of the Simonstown Agreement. There is the substantial reduction of our forces, notably the RAF, in Cyprus. That, coupled with our Fleet 1395 withdrawals, makes nonsense of our commitments in the Eastern Mediterranean and to CENTO. There is even the withdrawal, announced with pride, of the Senior Naval Officer, West Indies and the announcement that Her Majesty's ships will no longer be stationed there. We see retreat after retreat.
Finally, in the face of a Soviet Fleet which Admiral Sir Terence Lewin has said now exceedsanyhing that could be remotely justified simply for defence",we have, in paragraph 55 of the White Paper, the frighteningly smug and complacent announcement thatThe withdrawal of forces from the Far East and the Indian Ocean is proceeding according to plan.That is some plan. It is much more like an epitaph. Even Gan is to be abandoned.
Next week we shall have a new Prime Minister. Let us pray that he will agree with the present Foreign Secretary who, on 10th November, said that we should not underestimate our potential influence in the world. It may be that our influence can no longer be dependent on military power. That is certainly the situation, as the Secretary of State said. But we still have the means, if we still have the will, to stand by our friends, wherever they may be. We still carry out a few exercises round the world. They are referred to on page 47 of the White Paper. That is almost the only reference to what is going on in the world about us.
We should not under-value the psychological and political importance of a significant permanent presence in some of these areas at present. Only thus can we demonstrate our positive commitment to our global alliances. Above all, let our new Prime Minister remember that in our time the true concern of men of responsibility is no longer the interests of their few but the destiny of us all.
§ 7.42 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
It would appear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has very few friends in the House tonight. I do not know whether I shall be cast in the rôle of defender of my right hon. Friend this evening. I do not know whether that would do him any good. 1396 Indeed, I am not sure that it would do me any good.
First, I want to make some complimentary comments about my right hon. Friend, but I shall have other comments to make in a more qualified way. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on producing a defence White Paper which, bearing in mind all the pressures upon him, represents a balanced statement. It maintains the essentials of support for NATO and, in particular, for the important central front. I agree with much of what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) on that matter, to which I shall return.
It was made clear to the country in two manifestos in 1974, and supported by the Opposition, that there would be a fundamental review of Government expenditure. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to right hon. and hon. Members that defence was bound to take its share of any cutback in capital expenditure. I believe that, had the Conservative Party been in power, it would have been forced to undertake a review of the kind undertaken by my right hon. Friend. That is beyond dispute. The country is faced with having to cut back in all areas. Therefore, no one should argue that defence should be immune.
I find myself in profound disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) in his contention that these cuts are phoney. I do not believe that these are phoney cuts in defence expenditure. Certainly we can point to an increase in defence expenditure for the first year or two years. I think that my hon. Friend would agree that this drift is due to inflationary factors. Any figures projected ahead are bound to show an increase due to that factor.
In the long term we shall see that these cuts are profound. It is to that area to which I wish to address myself. I agree that in the circumstances what my right hon. Friend has achieved has been commendable, particularly as there is and has been great pressure from the Treasury to make far deeper inroads on defence expenditure than has been achieved in the end.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
I understand, although I do not agree with, 1397 the hon. Gentleman's commendation of there having been a long-term review, which there was. But, there having been that long-term review, which was supposed to set the pattern for the decade ahead, surely he cannot defend that there should be a further arbitrary cut and yet another arbitrary cut. Would he care to comment on that matter before passing to his next theme?
As I made clear, I think that, in the circumstances as they unfolded, had the Opposition been in power they would have come to the same conclusion as my right hon. Friend. I think that takes care of that point.
We can always criticise the way in which these things were done. We cannot always be accurate in tackling a situation of this kind in economic circumstances with which none of us since the 1920s and the 1930s has been able to make comparisons. We are talking about a unique set of circumstances.
This raises the question of the nuclear threshold, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham referred. This area could cause great concern to some of my hon. Friends who seemed to miss this part of the argument. It is an important argument, and I am surprised that they should miss it.
If we pursue a policy of defence cuts which lowers the nuclear threshold, we increase potential tension in the world because we increase Soviet temptation. Certainly if the Russians feel that the nuclear deterrent becomes incredible—because the more we lower it, paradoxically the more incredible it becomes—we could reach a point at which Soviet strategists might say to themselves "In the circumstances, the Americans will never use the nuclear deterrent. The incentive for them to do so, in terms of the catastrophe which would fall upon the United States, is so huge that, for the sake of Soviet policy, we can ignore the Western nuclear deterrent."
I take the view that if that were to be the situation—it is not the situation now—tension would quickly rise. The Russians would be in the position of being the preponderant land power in Europe.
1398 There has been a great deal of argument based on an essay written by a relatively junior officer in the Belgian Army. In that essay he postulated the argument that it would be possible for the Russians to get through to Calais and the Channel coast in a matter of days and that, in consequence, the whole of Western Europe would be overwhelmed in that very short time. That is a situation which might arise if present trends continued. However, it is dangerous to argue that that is the state of affairs today.
I believe that this White Paper gives us an opportunity to see the logic of events and whether we can at long last work out a defence policy which is not in piecemeal fashion forced upon the Government by economic factors. The Government must tell the Labour Party and the country that they cannot have a rational, sensible defence policy based on that criteria. They must say that in future, although we accept that in terms of the gross national product—whatever the figure may be—we shall not be spending more than the comparable figure expended by other members of the European element of the Atlantic Alliance, we ought to do as much as they, not less, and in the end we must recognise that, for our defence policy to remain credible, we cannot allow the present levels of defence expenditure to fall any further. That has to be stated fairly clearly. I think that my right hon. Friend made a start in that direction today.
The lowering level of conventional forces is of extreme importance on the question of the nuclear threshold. It is bound to have an effect on the American attitude to Europe. The Americans are going through a presidential election. One does not know what the result will be. However, one knows that the current attitude on Capitol Hill and in Congress is to be extremely critical about the European defence effort.
But I think that the Americans can help here. This is where I think my right hon. Friend is again arguing a very good case—that the Americans can help to make a reality of the two-way street. That, above all else, will be a great boost to the European military-industrial complex. There is no doubt that in this area of defence procurement the Americans are immensely competitive, but they have 1399 not followed a very fair policy towards the European element of NATO. I think that they are beginning to recognise that, certainly at the political level. Let us hope that this will work in reality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East is arguing for further defence cuts. I should like to address a few remarks to him, although he is not in the Chamber at present. He quoted from a pamphlet written by Dr. Frank Blackaby. The basic thesis put forward can be summarised as follows:A cut of £1,000 million in defence expenditure will require 60,000 people in each of five years to leave their jobs, either in the armed forces or in the industries which supply them; each year 4 million people change their jobs. So there is no problem.I find that approach extremely questionable and dangerous. My own estimation, based on research that I have been able to do, indicates that if there were to be a £1,000 million cut in defence expenditure, based on the same criteria that I have quoted from Dr. Blackaby, 300,000 people would find themselves unemployed. In those circumstances, the Government—particularly a Labour Government—would be forced to invest large sums of money in alternative employment. In those conditions, therefore, any possible gains that there might have been from defence savings would evaporate.
My right hon. Friend has produced a defence White Paper which in all the circumstances can certainly command support from the Government Back Benches. However, a number of us will be prepared to warn him that he must in future make it absolutely clear that if some of the proposals being made by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, through its special study group, calling for cuts of £1.000 million in current defence expenditure, were to be accepted by the Government, it would mean not only industrial ruin for Britain but also that we would have a defence posture which would leave this country naked and defenceless.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
The first thing that is worth saying, speaking for myself at least, is that this is the best-written White Paper that I have seen during the last decade. It is actually readable, which is a great deal more than 1400 one can normally say of White Papers of any kind. I take the rather simplistic view that there is no point in producing White Papers that are indigestible. A great many of them are. We may be shorter of guns than we were previously, but we appear to have got some good scriptwriters in the Ministry of Defence. That is something to compliment, as a start.
There are rather serious gaps in content, though as a primer and a guide to our defence structure the White Paper is most useful. It is very cagey when it comes to giving any indication of forward thinking, either in terms of Britain's conventional contribution to defence or, for that matter, on the future of our strategic nuclear force, as Polaris inevitably will become obsolete. Equally, there is a failure to recognise the low level of public awareness in defence matters—although I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he had the intention of producing in digestible form a much greater degree of information about defence than has hitherto been given.
I genuinely believe that there should be some structure and programme to inform the public at large that we have commitments which of their nature are both essential and reasonable, and that it should not be argued that defence spending could be cut further when the next blow of the economic crisis hits us, as it undoubtedly will at some stage. The responsibility lies upon the Government to cultivate public opinion in a reasonable manner.
The attitude that we, as Liberals, take to the situation now is that we feel that much of the argument that has been taking place today—not all of it, of course—has been conducted on the wrong plane. There has been too much emphasis on quantity and on cost, rather than on quality, effectiveness and value. One of the major gaps in the White Paper is any indication from the Government of the measures they propose to take to encourage the standardisation of equipment and joint operational tactics within NATO and, indeed, within Europe. The standardisation of equipment, quite apart from offering the only major area in which a saving can be made, is vital for the future, in terms of the efficiency of the whole of NATO.
1401 The mistake is that the approach is being made from the wrong end. It is basically impossible to standardise equipment unless one gets the operational concepts correct first, unless one overcomes the—I was about to say "petty", but perhaps that is an unkind word—the essentially nationalist attitudes to defence that continue to exist. All right; we have flourishing NATO staffs, multinational staffs and quadrinational staffs, but the input to the strategy of NATO still tends to be fairly national. The consequence is that in the end it is still difficult to develop any common attitude to a common procurement policy and a common procurement agency.
The other day Dr. Luns estimated that NATO wastes up to £500 million annually simply by duplicating, as between one country and another, about 30 different anti-armour weapons, 20 different kinds of aircraft, and so on; there is a long list that can be advanced. The overall effect of that is subject to all sorts of estimates, but it certainly reduces the overall effectiveness of the Alliance in presenting an effective response to the threat from the Warsaw Pact countries, which the Secretary of State has clearly outlined.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
The hon. Gentleman is developing a very important point. It is unquestionably true that the Warsaw Pact countries have a decided advantage in this respect, in that they have to a very great extent standardised all their equipment. However, does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is not merely a question of national commitments or national pride; there are also problems in the attempt being made at standardisation. Attempts are being made in many respects to standardise equipment, but one of the great problems is the time that it takes to reach agreements. When a large number of allies are joining together, it takes months, sometimes years, before agreement can be reached, and by that time equipment which has been thought about in the first instance has become obsolete. It is being found that that obstacle is very difficult to surmount.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I do not dissent from anything he has said. It is a difficult matter, and it always takes a long time. I do not think that the 1402 approach is made with sufficient enthusiasm.
When I look across at the Government Benches I feel that there is still a lack of enthusiasm about European institutions. When I look at the Conservative Benches I feel that there is almost a preoccupation with national defence. Those attitudes prevent both major parties from pressing with sufficient determination for a genuine European approach to defence, as opposed to a special United Kingdom approach, far less the approach outlined by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).
One of the weaknesses of defence debates, and one of the reasons for the Liberal Party being most strongly in favour of the establishment of some sort of Select Committee on defence, is that it is very easy to go through a long list of weapons, shortages, and other matters. However, I shall mention one or two specific matters.
I intervened in the speech of the Secretary of State to ask about anti-tank weapons—an important question within NATO. A matter of great concern is the cut-down in the planned purchase of helicopters. It is of great concern, as the missiles that can be delivered from helicopters are perhaps the most effective mobile anti-tank weapons.
The White Paper emphasises that it is very important that NATO should continue to have the widest possible range of options. Cuts such as the withdrawal of Comets and Britannias from Air Transport have reduced the range of available options.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) spoke at some length about the effectiveness of British forces in Germany—a subject that causes a great degree of concern. It was also mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who made a striking speech about the nuclear threshold. I agree with the hon. Member for Ayr that although BAOR is at present still up to the high professional standards it has maintained for a long time, there is a serious lack of training and a lack of supplies in certain areas because of the slow rundown in equipment. It is questionable whether there are adequate spares for the Chieftain tanks. The infantry armoured personnel carriers are 1403 slowly going out of date. Unles something is done fairly quickly it is inevitable that standards will begin to drop. These are matters of considerable concern.
I turn briefly to the two amendments on the Order Paper. There is a tendency for the Conservative Party to emphasise quantity but not to indicate clearly where we shall get the money to pay for it. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said that the Conservative Party would spend more money on defence. However, his party is calling for cuts in public expenditure. It cannot have it both ways. The money must come from somewhere. It is necessary that we face the realities.
Secondly, there is the Tribune amendment. Like other hon. Members, I must ask where the Tribunites are to be found. Where have they all gone? I regret that they are not present. They have an almost fanatical obsession that defence is somehow bad. That leads them completely to ignore the self-evident facts about the build-up of Warsaw Pact forces.
I wish that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) was in the Chamber. I should like to ask him whether he wants to have any defence at all. It is self-evident that if we reduce expenditure on defence we shall be able to spend more money on houses, roads, hospitals and schools. That is a trite observation and an obvious thing to say, but it is foolish to reduce defence to a point at which it is no longer of any use. At a certain stage we choose either to maintain the existing level or to have no defence. Any level between those extremes is quite pointless, and a total waste of money.
There is the familiar argument whether Britain is spending an amount of money equivalent to that spent by her NATO allies. There is the old argument about GNP and per capita expenditure, which I shall not rehearse, except quickly to quote the 1974 per capita figures—the most recent figures to which I have been able to gain access. The United Kingdom is spending 155 US dollars per capita as against the French spending 162, the Germans spending 182 and independent Sweden spending 211. It is clear that the United Kingdom is bottom of the league in terms of per capita expenditure.
1404 It is unreasonable for the Tribune Group to ignore our low level of GNP and the obvious expense of maintaining an all-volunteer military force. Thirdly, the Ulster situation is a perpetual drain on our resources.
My conclusion is that the Conservative amendment and the Tribunite amendment—I know that the Tribunite amendment has not been selected, but it represents a significant view within the House—represent two aspects of unreality. In their different ways they both ignore certain facts. The Conservative Party ignores certain economic realities. If the Conservatives were in office they could not ignore them. The Tribunites ignore the demonstrable reality of the Warsaw Pact's growing strength.
In all the circumstances, I think that the Government's approach has the merit of being realistic and practical as far as it goes, although in my judgment it fails to outline a satisfactory defence strategy for the future along what really are the only possible lines—namely, the development of a European Defence Community and improved methods of collective defence.
§ 8.08 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian MacCormick (Argyll)
I am not often in agreement with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but there were some things that the hon. Gentleman said with which I had to agree. When he made the amazing prognosis that Scotland will achieve complete self-government at the next General Election I wondered how many of his hon. Friends in the Labour Party shared his view. I do not suppose that it is shared by many. I believe that the sensible approach is the one that I have always adopted—namely, an amicable and orderly transfer of power over a period rather than some cataclysmic event, the like of which causes the hon. Member for West Lothian such fear and trembling.
I shall place my remarks on defence under three chief headings. First, I shall consider the strategic position in which Scotland finds itself. Secondly, I shall take up certain aspects of employment which are connected with the Defence Estimmates. Lastly, I shall consider briefly some of the more practical aspects of defence relating to Scotland.
1405 I do not think that the mention of the word "Scotland" in this context need make any hon. Member shake with fear and dread of what will happen in future. A simple function of geography makes Scotland important in a strategic sense in the Western Alliance. But it is not simply a function of geography, because that would imply that the position occupied by Scotland in a strategic sense is static. Clearly it is not static. Because of the expansion in the last few years of Soviet naval power, it is true to say that the Soviet naval defence frontier has expanded as far westwards as to be on a line joining Iceland and Scotland. Whether we are living in Scotland in its present position, under some kind of devolved power, or in a self-governing Scotland, it will always be important for Scotland to help to maintain forces which can exercise a proper surveillance and provide facilities for proper deterrence to expanding Soviet naval power.
There is another reason for mentioning this matter which ties in closely with what the hon. Member for West Lothian and the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said. The effect of the move eastwards of the Soviet naval defence frontier means that the Secretary of State for Defence will have to look carefully at the question of the siting of our Polaris base at Faslane in the Clyde. It is not only possible but extremely likely that the Soviet Navy, with its present techniques, could shadow the entire British Polaris fleet in its moves from the Clyde to the Atlantic. That arises particularly because of the nature of the entrance to the Clyde estuary and clearly because of the relative proximity of that area to the areas in the North Atlantic from which the Soviet Navy is able to operate.
That being the case, I should be extremely interested to hear from the Government to what extent they are considering this matter. If we accept that it seems reasonable to move the Polaris base from the Clyde to, say, Devonport, it would then also be sensible to refit nuclear submarines at the same place as that in which they are based. I do not say that because I want it to happen, although I must say that I was originally opposed to the siting of a Polaris base on the Clyde because of its proximity 1406 to the main centre of population in Scotland.
The second Report of the Expenditure Committee for the Session 1975–76 said that there were problems in regard to safety. That was one of the reasons the base was put in the Clyde. I am trying to say that it seems to be common sense—and this is a matter which I am sure the Secretary of State for Defence has considered—to move our Polaris base from the Clyde to Devon-port or some other place. Perhaps we may hear something from the Government spokesman on that subject.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Frank Judd)
If I am to deal with this point in my reply, it would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would say what the SNP is advocating in this respect.
§ Mr. MacCormick
I was trying to indicate that nobody has a great deal of freedom to manoeuvre on this subject. I feel that it is inevitable, because of our strategic situation, that the Polaris base will have to be moved. That was the point I was making, and I was not seeking to make any party political point.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman says that he does not wish to make any party political point but I have his election manifesto which says:The SNP does not want Scotland to have nuclear weapons or bases on Scottish soil or in Scottish territorial waters".What about our obligations to NATO? Are they denied?
§ Mr. MacCormick
It is true that that is in our manifesto, but whether or not that were the case I ask the hon. Gentleman to appreciate that the base will have to be removed from Scotland because of the facts of the matter. In other words, it is no longer possible in terms of security to keep the Polaris base operating from an area such as the Firth of Clyde. Obviously it is easy for the Russian Navy to track every single one of our Polaris submarines as they leave port.
§ Mr. William Hamilton rose—
§ Mr. MacCormick
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman at the moment. I am coming to the next point. Indeed this is a point mentioned by the Member for Fife, Central and relates to Rosyth. 1407 If the move I have mentioned happens, it is more than likely that the present set-up in the Rosyth dockyard will be affected. I notice in the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee—and indeed this passage is underlined in black and is quite specific—We recommend that the Ministry should start planing now for the possible closure of one of the four United Kingdom dockyards….I know that it is not part of the present plan, but the danger exists. That danger is heightened by the fact that I believe it is inevitable that the Polaris submarine base will move away.
§ Mr. MacCormick
I am quoting from page Ii in the introduction.
I wish to move on and no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) will try to dot some of the "i's" and to cross some of the "t's" of SNP policy if he gets the opportunity to speak in the debate tomorrow.
I must re-emphasise that Scotland, as part of the Western Alliance, will have strategic significance in great measure. Scotland will also have practical needs. Some of these were sensibly mentioned by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. East (Mr. Mallalieu), who spoke about offshore installations and other resources which we must seriously consider protecting properly. However, this is not simply a question of oil rigs in the North Sea. Clearly once we extend our economic zone to 200 miles, an entirely new picture will emerge in policing these waters. That affects the fishing industry as much as it affects the oil industry.
I share the fears of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East about our present state of preparedness. Again I wish to draw attention to what was said in the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee. On page xliv, paragraph 100 of that Report, we see:Some features of the specification for the five new ships are unimpressive, particularly the relatively low speed and minimal armament …".There at least is the germ of something which could be serious for the 1408 future. I wonder—and this is an idea which I wish to throw out—whether in regard to the protection of our inshore areas we should think about creating a coastguard service similar to that in operation in the United States and shortly to be introduced into Canada. Since we face a situation where we never seem to have enough money to go round, that suggestion would give an opportunity to combine various functions that are at present spread among different people. For example, at present we have the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners who maintain expensive ships equipped with helicopters to look after the lights and buoys around our coasts, the coastguard service, which is minimal in many parts of Scotland, and the Scottish Office which controls and services the fishery protection fleet and, of course, the Royal Navy. This is a ridiculous number of functions being carried out under all these headings. The answer to this problem, as it is more of a policing function, might be the creation of a proper coastguard service.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On this important subject of the defence of our oil rigs, is this to be done by a British Navy or a Scottish Navy, a Scottish coastguard service or a British coastguard service?
§ Mr. MacCormick
One of the consequences of complete self-government would be that we would need the ability to police our own resources.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Whether it is called a Scottish Navy or a Scottish Coastguard, that would be necessary. In just the same way as the Secretary of State now operates the fishery protection fleet, we would require to operate it in future.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
He wants a Scottish Navy.
§ Mr. MacCormick
If the hon. Member for West Lothian and the Under-Secretary have finished their private debate, I shall sum up my arguments.
§ Mr. MacCormick
I wish that the hon. Member for West Lothian would bend his mind to look at the inevitable process of devolution in a co-operative, sensible and amicable way. If anyone is going to put a spanner in the works and prevent it happening amicably, it will not be myself. It is more likely to be he, by stirring up people's fears and inciting people to violent reaction. I have always been prepared to react moderately to any political situation, but what the hon. Member said earlier nearly made me lose my temper, which is saying something.
I was most impressed by the way in which the Secretary of State presented the White Paper because I believe that we in Scotland should play our part in the defence of the West both now and after self-government. I have advised my hon. Friends in the SNP to support the Government.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)
Far be it from me, as a mere Sassenach, to become involved in this domestic tartan argument, but I can clarify a point that was raised about the Select Committee's Report and its reference to the dockyards. We said that there were four major dockyards and that the reduced size of the Fleet no longer justified the continuation of all four. We recommended that consideration should be given to reducing the number of dockyards because of the comparable reduction in the size of the Fleet. However, we did not state our preferences.
§ Mr. MacCormick
I merely made my point as part of my comments about the possible withdrawal of the Polaris bases from Scotland.
§ Mr. Conlan
Even if the recommendations of the Select Committee were accepted, they could not be finally implemented until the 1980s. The decision is for some time in the future.
As I am the fourth successive speaker from the Government side who is prepared to support the White Paper, I may be considered guilty by association, but mere are proposals in the White Paper which are well worth supporting.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) accused the Secretary of State of claiming that the proposals in the last 1410 two White Papers—which cannot be viewed in isolation, as they are part of a continuing policy—were taken for military reasons, but everybody knows that they were taken for financial reasons. The Labour Party made it perfectly clear in the 1974 elections that in existing economic conditions we could not afford to spend, on defence, the amounts projected by the previous Government.
We said that we would take steps to reduce defence expenditure, and the Government have done this in conformity with their election manifestos and commitments. I am pleased that these decisions have led to a concentration of our defence effort in NATO and in Europe. It has been anachronistic for us to have forces in so many different parts of the world.
I am pleased that, with the exceptions of the Falkland Islands—one of our few remaining dependencies—Belize and Hong Kong, there will be no British forces outside the NATO area by the end of this year. That is a creditable performance by the Government and a programme for which many of us have been arguing for a long time.
It was also pleasing to hear the Secretary of State re-affirm that NATO is the linchpin of British defence policy.
We must have a credible defence policy. We must find the money to ensure that our forces are properly equipped and of an adequate size, and that their weaponry is of a proper standard. If we will the end, we must will the means. That means that we have to find the money to pay the forces properly, give them good conditions, and provide them with weapons.
I am an ex-engineer who worked for many years producing weapons for the forces. In my opinion the cuts will inevitably lead to large-scale additional unemployment. Some of my hon. Friends say that they will not lead to additional unemployment, and that there will be alternative jobs available, but I find it difficult to swallow that argument, because already we have 1,200,000 unemployed, many of whom are members of my union. Jobs are not available for them. In the North-East we have a rate of almost 10 per cent. unemployed, many of whom are engineers who could be employed on making ships, tanks and 1411 guns, but the work is not there. If more people are made redundant by these cuts, inevitably there will be additional unemployment.
I heard with great interest my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu) say that if the forces in Hong Kong are there for internal security purposes the Hong Kong Government should be 100 per cent. responsible for the cost. I totally agree with that. It is true to say that they are there for internal security purposes, because they have no chance of resisting any would-be aggressor from the north.
We must consider the new costs agreement against the background of the old arrangements, which were totally unsatisfactory to the British taxpayer. The Hong Kong Government made a fixed annual payment to the British Exchequer as a contribution towards the cost of the forces there. With inflation, that payment, in percentage terms, has become less and less. As a temporary measure the new agreement is an improvement, because for the first time it ties the Hong Kong Government to a percentage payment. As a percentage of the total cost, the Hong Kong Government will pay 50 per cent. this year, 62½ per cent. next year and 75 per cent. in subsequent years. That is a great improvement on the old arrangements.
We are engaged in the exercise of saving the British taxpayers' money, because of escalating costs, but what is happening in Hong Kong with the Gurkhas will add to the cost rather than reduce it. The Gurkhas have five battalions, which the White Paper proposes should be reduced to four. Three will be used in Hong Kong and the fourth will be on reserve and used as a rotating battalion. Where will that battalion be stationed?
At present there is a Gurkha battalion in Brunei and, according to the White Paper, negotiations are proceeding with the Sultan of Brunei for the withdrawal of that battalion. That fourth battalion will have to be housed somewhere. The military advisers say that it is required as a reserve for internal security purposes in Hong Kong. The battalion will probably remain in Brunei. We shall use the excellent training grounds there but 1412 will have to pay for the privilege. We shall also have to pay the full cost of that fourth battalion whereas at present, in the absence of any new agreement, the Sultan pays the total cost. When we are trying to save money for the British taxpayer, it is a crazy exercise to enter into a new arrangement which, by definition, increases costs.
I ask my hon. Friends to look at the problem of the Gurkhas and Brunei once again. If they proceed with the proposals contained in their White Paper it will mean that the British taxpayer will pay more and not less.
Finally, there are tremendous savings being made as a result of the proposals in last year's White Paper, and to be made as a result of the proposals in this year's White Paper. The Conservative Party is in great difficulty on defence. Constantly it is clamouring for cuts in public expenditure, and defence is the only area in which it is clamouring for increased expenditure. It is attempting to reconcile higher expenditure on defence and lower expenditure on the social services.
The Labour amendment is at the other end of the political spectrum. It regrets that the Government have not cut further the expenditure on defence. I believe that the Government are pursuing a sensible middle road between the two extremes, and that is the sort of policy I support.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence on holding during last year the chairmanship of the Eurogroup. In doing so I am sure that he added stature to himself and brought great credit to this country. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has had to leave—I know for good reasons—and I ask the Minister to be kind enough to convey my remarks to him. I know that in the Eurogroup he stressed as much as he could the need for rationalisation.
People from all the countries concerned say how necessary rationalisation is, but very little is done about it. Therefore any encouragement in this direction is to be applauded. I know that the Secretary of State is dedicated to it, and although he has now given up the chairmanship of the Eurogroup—it has gone 1413 by rotation to a Belgian—I hope that he will continue to press for rationalisation as hard as he possibly can.
It is hard to get agreement on rationalisation. This is understandable. Countries do not want to give up certain national interests which may affect their employment, or possibly the making of weapons which they consider to be essential in their own defence. Nevertheless, we must never as a nation give up trying to achieve rationalisation.
When I visit West Germany and other NATO countries, the commanders always stress how much more effective their troops would be if there were complete interchange of weapons and the common use of airfields. I therefore urge the Secretary of State once again to continue trying to achieve this. When we look at the excellent diagrams of NATO forces in the White Paper, we ought to write of 25 or possibly 50 per cent. of the strength because there is no rationalisation in the Alliance.
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) pay tribute to our Leader's speech in which she alerted the country about the growing might of Russia's rearmament. It did not make headlines just for one day. They continued for a week, 10 days or more. Her speech made the ordinary man and woman in the street more alive to the danger, which is well known by our troops in Germany, than almost anything else could have done. For that reason, she should be congratulated on making that speech.
I am extremely glad to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan), because he is a member of the same Sub-Committee as I am and has been since it started, and I know perhaps more than other people the very valuable work that he does on it.
Recently, our Sub-Committee published a major Report on defence which sought to assess the effectiveness of the Government's defence policy in relation to expenditure following the 1975 Defence Review. When it was made public some five weeks ago, it received an extremely wide coverage in the national Press. Our Report took as its starting point last year's White Paper. However, the policy has not 1414 markedly changed, and the conclusions which it reached still stand.
The Sub-Committee conclusions were agreed unanimously. The significance of that will be seen when I remind the House that the Sub-Committee, of which I have the honour to be chairman, is comprised of four Members from the Government side and four from the Opposition. In view of that, I hope that the Government will note the very serious warnings that we give in our Report about the effects of successive rounds of defence cuts.
I turn now to the different branches of our Services. One aspect of our Report which attracted much publicity was our recommendation that there should be a most stringent review of air defence requirements and of alternative ways of meeting this need until the air defence variant of the MRCA is confirmed.
As we all know, earlier this month, shortly before the Defence White Paper was published, the Secretary of State announced that a major review of the project had been carried out and that the Government's intention was to confirm the orders for all 385 MRCAs, including both strike and the ADV types.
In several of our Reports, my Sub-Committee has commented very favourably on the MRCA project as a whole. No one who has seen it fly could fail to be impressed by the technology and the encouraging example that it provides of a successful collaborative project. None the less, the House must be warned that we have not yet been satisfied that the ADV is entirely suitable for all its planned rôles. What is required from the point of view of the United Kingdom and its air space is an interceptor, for which task the ADV should be appropriate. In addition, we should like some further assurance that the ADV will be adequate as a fighter for service with the RAF in Germany as well as in this country.
The projected performance characteristics of some existing American alternatives or, for that matter, the Warsaw Pact fighters appear to be better than those of the MRCA which, as I understand it, will not go into commissioned service for some years yet. Like the rest of my Sub-Committee, we hope that the Minister can convince us of the wisdom of his decision.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Could the right hon. Gentleman please repeat what he has said? I am most intrigued. Was he saying that the MRCA was in certain respects inferior in ability to planes from Eastern Europe?
§ Sir H. Harrison
We would like, and I believe the House would like, the Minister's assurance that it is all right. In shipbuilding, we voiced concern that the shipbuilding weapons' system was falling badly behind schedule. The first anti-submarine warfare cruiser, HMS "Invincible", being built by Vickers at Barrow, has been seriously delayed and its in-service date has slipped. The type 22 frigates planned to carry the Sea Wolf point defence anti-missile system have also substantialy slipped back. I do not intend to develop the reasons for these and other delays but I should warn the House that there are two very serious effects.
It has meant that in the case of the anti-submarine warfare cruisers, the existing converted helicopter cruisers "Blake" and "Tiger" are now planned to run for longer. Thus, these vessels will have to be either refitted, manifestly an uneconomic task, or they will operate in an inefficient condition and at considerable cost both in time and money. A more serious point to note is that this new planned equipment will not be fitted in purpose-built hulls so that the effective lives of the missile systems will be less than hoped for, and the technology may be outdated soon after they come into service.
With every delay costs are increasing, since old equipment is uneconomic and the production costs of new ships and weapons systems have risen. We welcome the Harrier, also added to the programme, but I understand that it will not now be deployed as early as was originally hoped. I know that Ministers are aware of the very serious consequences of these delays and trust that in the next year the saga of delays will not be repeated and that everything will be done to correct this potentially grave situation. It is important that missiles are in the right weapons to make full use of them.
I will now speak of the Army. In our consideration of the Army after the 1975 review our deliberations have been dominated by three factors—how to sustain our contribution to the central front in the wake of defence cuts, the need to 1416 get into service as quickly as possible the guided missiles so essential to defence against the Warsaw Pact predominance of men and armaments, and the success of the Army restructuring in BAOR. We welcome the assurances given throughout the past year by Ministers and officials—and we have met many—in the Ministry of Defence that the Army's commitment to the central front is unchanged.
One of the results of reducing the command structure in Germany is to ensure that the number of fighting troops there is kept up to strength. None the less, we have some reservations about the situation in Germany and we hope that the Minister will be able to tell us or to publish fairly soon his conclusions on the exercises which have taken place on restructuring. Some of the cuts announced in the defence review of 1975 have had, or will have, effects on BAOR which I need not develop for they have already been mentioned in the debate, particularly in relation to the supply of spares and petrol and the training of tank drivers. After all, men join certain regiments to drive tanks and if they are limited in doing so they feel that they have had a very bad deal.
There is also the reduced helicopter programme, the cancellation and deferments of vehicles, ammunition, weapons and electronic systems. All of this contributes to the overall picture. This does not affect the front line directly but it concerns the support given to front line troops. It reduces the capacity of BAOR to sustain its rôle on the central front If the British corps is to retain its efficiency, the successful introduction of the new Army structure is even more important.
I want to comment on the planned—I believe it is a firm decision—purchase of the Franco-German Milan manned portable anti-tank guided weapon. I believe that there is still some negotiating to be done. I and my Committee saw a demonstration by West German soldiers of the weapon which was most impressive. Almost every general and brigadier to whom we spoke went out of his way to impress upon us how much they wanted Milan. This purchase fills a gap in our defences against Soviet tank forces and is to be welcomed. Nevertheless, we feel that there are some serious lessons to be learned from the purchase 1417 and the cancellation by the Ministry of the Hawkswing helicopter-borne ATGW which has been abandoned without a direct order for a competing foreign weapon being made.
British industry has the capacity to build first-class missiles and with encouragement from the Government would dearly love to do so. Unfortunately in the case of Milan no comparable British system was started until the early 1970's, by which time the Milan was almost ready for purchase. The Army is now being forced to buy a stop-gap weapon to meet a need which it might have seen developing years before.
It is unfortunate that in the case of Hawkswing, industry was commissioned to build a weapon, the requirement for which was altered after the main development work was done. My Committee will be reporting on the guided weapons industry later this year or early next year. We feel that perhaps the Army said that it wanted a weapon which would achieve very nearly the impossible. Industry, tried to produce it and perhaps it failed. But then the Ministry stepped in and bought something which was inferior to the product which had been demanded of British industry.
Greater co-ordination is needed between the needs of the Services, Government and industry so that the maximum use is made of the capacity of British industry to provide the required weapons and services. This does not mean that in future we should not collaborate in European consortia to produce weapons. We should do so. But greater emphasis should be placed in future on the coordination of all national interests.
I will not bandy figures about on this question of defence cuts. We have had too much of that. I would like to single out aspects from each Service to show some of the problems facing the Secretary of State and his Chiefs of Staff who, in a way, have to take even harder decisions than the Secretary of State. In the defence review the Government pruned several hundred million pounds a year from projected defence expenditure over the review period. Since then further cuts have been announced, £135 million for 1976–77 and more than £5 million in the three following years. This leads me to stress what was perhaps the most important 1418 lesson that my Sub-Committee learned in our inquiry—that further substantial cuts in spending will have a calamitous effect on current and future defence policy. A senior official from the Ministry said in evidence to the Sub-Committee that we had reached the limit, that we could not cut any more—but now we are making further cuts. That official was backed up by serving officers.
There is no scope for significant cuts in the number of Service men since our forces are already over-committed in BAOR and Northern Ireland. Any further reductions would stress beyond measure the precarious balance in Europe. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he was keeping this under constant review because it is important to the resolve of the nations of NATO that they should be able to rely on collective security.
Witnesses told the Sub-Committee that we had reached the limit in savings on arms and equipment and that no further cuts could be made. Although cuts do not have an immediate effect, by 1980 lower levels of expenditure would result in the Services holding fewer and less modern weapons and losing their deserved reputation as a first-class fighting force.
I welcome moves by the Secretary of State carefully to review the support and administrative elements of the Ministry and the Services. Having reduced the front line, it is right that other elements should be equally stringently reviewed. We welcome reductions in the number of civilians employed in support functions. We hope that the management review of the Ministry will contribute to the economy drive. I trust that my Sub-Committee's suggestions for centralising certain support functions of the Services will be taken into account.
Defence cuts inevitably result in reductions in jobs in service, civilian and industrial employment. In our Report we recognise the loss of job opportunities in the defence review. If further substantial cuts were made in line with those suggested by hon. Members in the Labour Party below the Gangway following Labour Party conference resolutions, the effect on unemployment would be dramatic. The savings of £1,000 million a year would result in the loss of 150,000 jobs and there would be redundancies 1419 both among Service men and civilians. The aerospace and guided weapons industries would be decimated with the loss of many thousands of jobs. Those making further shrill demands for cuts should take that into account.
I support the Secretary of State's determination not to cut further the major elements of our defence services. The pressure for further cuts will be strong if the economic growth based on the 3 per cent. mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) is not achieved. I warn the Government that if pressure to reduce the size or amounts of our forces is acceded to, the future for Western defence will be grave.
As an old Territorial soldier, I believe that the Territorial Army is still too small. Recruiting is going very well. Sadly, that is because of the high rate of unemployment.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is talking about the high rate of recruiting for the Territorial Army, he must be mistaken when he links it with the high rate of unemployment. If he were talking about the Regular Army, I might take the point.
The present recruiting campaign for the Territorial Army is going exceptionally well, and no one would be more pleased than I if we reached our target this year.
§ Sir H. Harrison
I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. He has more figures than I have. I agree that unemployment affects Regular Army recruiting, but it also affects TA recruiting. I obtained my information from a certain source. No doubt the Minister's source is much better.
The Government are taking a bit of a gamble by making the cuts. It may come off, and none of us would wish that it did not. But we are gambling with the lives of our wives, children and grandchildren by taking the easy course now. That is what worries me.
I hope that the Minister will give us a good reply to the debate.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. 1420 Harrison) referred to weapons that achieved the impossible. He said it with some relish. I do not want to pursue that point. We are talking about £5,632 million of expenditure. We hope that what is produced for that money will never be used. We are toying with expenditure for nothing or for death—death in a nuclear war.
In the Defence Estimates we are deliberately setting out to allocate mammoth resources not to beautfy life, to improve our health services and fight disease, to provide our children with a good education, to look after the elderly, the sick and the disabled, to build houses for the needy, or to clear our environment of pollution. No. We restrict expenditure in those areas in order to spend £5,632 million on defence. "Defence for what?" seems to me a reasonable question to pose.
Who are the enemies against whom we are defending ourselves—the enemies of whom we constantly hear talk? Let us assume that they reside in the East. They possess nuclear weapons. We are a tiny island, which, incidently, is devoting £985 million to the European theatre of ground forces. One wonders how they would be useful in the event of a nuclear war. Should that happen, it will mean death to the British people.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to our wives, children and grandchildren. I, too, am concerned about them, but I do not want to benefit them by pursuing activities that inevitably lead to war. I suggest the opposite point of view—that we should be directing our attention to producing for peace.
§ Mr. Mason rose—
§ Mr. Thorne
I shall not give way.
We are to spend £702 million on research and development. One could speculate on the impact of the yearly expenditure of £702 million on, for example, cancer research. In my constituency—the Secretary of State for Defence congratulated himself on this very recently—there will be produced 385 military aircraft, the MRCA.
§ Mr. Mason rose—
§ Mr. Thorne
I would like to point out that the Secretary of State is of the 1421 opinion that this is of value because it means that the work force of British Aircraft Corporation, Preston is now protected against the prospects of unemployment. To my mind mat is the most damning comment on the nature of our so-called civilisation—the fact that in order to provide workers with the opportunity to use their skills, we can manage to produce only a multi-rôle combat aircraft for purpose of destruction.
As far as I am concerned this is not a matter of votes or seats on these Benches, or the retention of a Labour Government, or anything of that description; I stand up and firmly repudiate this sort of expenditure when there are so many tremendous needs now facing the people of Britain.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
It is, of course, a pleasure to speak following the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne), who is a near neighbour of mine. I am sure that that speech will go down a treat with those of his constituents who work in the aircraft industry.
This debate has been one of attitudes as much as armaments. It was recorded, I seem to remember, that Mr. Haldane, the great Army reformer in the nineteenth century—he knew much more about philosophy than he knew about soldiers—one day, when he was Secretary of State for War, was approached on Salisbury Plain by a puzzled general who said, "Please, Mr. Haldane, what sort of Army are you planning?" He answered with one word, "Hegelian." That must have made it very clear indeed. We are justified today in feeling a little like that general. Haldane's Army reforms were successful, but so far I have identified in this debate only two Labour Back Benchers who are positively in favour of the Secretary of State's proposals.
We must question the Government's cuts on the grounds both of logic and of the philosophy behind them. The 1976 White Paper must be read in conjunction with its predecessor in 1975 and considered with the Chancellor's arbitrary swipe of £110 million, interposed between the two White Papers. I accept, of course, that all Governments, whether they are democracies or dictatorships, or of whatever complexion they may be in this country, must look critically at the cost 1422 of our Armed Forces and must apply standards of efficiency and economy, as with every other spending Department.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) questioned the attitude of the Conservative Party when we sought cuts in Government expenditure, save in this respect. He seemed to regard that as a curious attitude, but this is not so at all. I seem to remember that the language of Socialism is a question of priorities. So it is for Conservatives, and I presume it must be for the Liberal Party, as well.
In defence matters, we must beware of a myth and a temptation. The myth goes back a long way, certainly as far as the time of Mr. Gladstone, who regarded the Army and the Navy of his day as the great spending Departments. Perhaps that was true, but not today. But defence is also a temptation for the short-sighted politician. Expenditure on defence shows no obvious returns—no houses, roads, schools or hospitals to which a Government can point with pride, no increase in pensions or benefits to which they can refer. I must say, in passing, that those achievements are a little thin on the ground, at present, anyway. There is always a temptation for a Government to create advantages of that sort and then to woo the electorate with them at election time.
Inevitably, there is considerable defence expenditure on equipment, wages and pensions, with nothing to show. There is expenditure on new and necessary generations of aircraft, tanks and ships with nothing to show. Nothing, that is, save one thing—more than a quarter of a century of peace in Western Europe.
That brings me to the curious logic of the two White Papers. Both sides of the House—minus 83 hon. Members on the Government side—would accept that this White Paper begins with an impeccable analysis of the military balance, supported by graphs and diagrams which are comprehensible to the least expert—I had almost said "the meanest"—intelligence. No hon. Member, wherever he sits, would say that those figures were wrong.
What do the figures show? The White Paper says thatDuring the past year, the military capability of the Warsaw Pact has increased in numbers and in quality.1423 We all know that there has always been a preponderance of numbers in the East. They have large conscript forces, maintained by a military society. There is no doubt—and I stress it—that it is a military society.
Now, however, any comfort that the West might have gained from technical superiority in the past must be discarded. In the East, there is an offensive capability—which I distinguished from a purely defensive one—with the ranges of weapons, aircraft, ships and submarines all increased. Targets in the West have been brought closer and the destruction which can be wrought has been increased.
That is all set out in the preamble to each of the two White Papers. Despite détente, despite the Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation and whatever may be decided at Belgrade in 1977, despite MBFR, we in the West are still entitled, indeed, bound, to ask the reason for that build-up in the East. We are entitled to be suspicious. As the White Paper says, the objectives of MBFR will not be achieved without a more even military balance between the two sides than exists at present, andThe latest Warsaw Pact proposal is designed to preserve the disparities between the forces of the two sides.In the interests of their own people, any responsible Government in the West, and this Government in particular, must ask why.
The two White Papers plainly state the problem and the danger. We might therefore reasonably expect that we in Britain would be called upon to forgo cuts in defence expenditure, or even prepare ourselves for increased expenditure to strengthen our forces. But no—this is where logic and reason depart. Information about the danger in a harsh world is used to justify a reduction in our insurance against it. The Secretary of State for Defence is saying that there is now more danger of fire than hitherto and that therefore we can spend less on our precautions—less on fire insurance.
§ Mr. Walder
I should like to know whether that was intended to be a helpful remark.
1424 There are other arguments in the White Paper. They are specious and spurious, and they have been seized upon avidly by the supporters of the Left-wing amendment. They concern the level of spending of our NATO Allies. A number of my right hon. and learned Friends have disposed of that argument, and so I do not intend to rehearse the deficiencies regarding what I might call the GNP argument as being conclusive on defence matters.
Once again, therefore, we ask why we are being called upon to accept defence cuts when the dangers in the East have increased, and why we are being asked to compare ourselves with our Allies in Europe who do not necessarily have the same responsibilities as we do. No right hon. Member, 10 years ago, would have predicted that we would today have 16,000 troops deployed in Northern Ireland. We are getting dangerously near the situation in which we shall have no emergency potential available in the United Kingdom.
The reason why the White Paper has been cast in this form is fairly clear. It becomes clearer from an examination of the names of the 83 signatories to the Left-wing amendment. The reason is simply internal pressures within the Labour Party. In the last two years we Conservatives have heard that the Secretary of State and his junior Ministers have fought a tremendous battle to resist the three sets of cuts. Of course, they have our sympathy, but they have lost the battle. However sympathetic we on this side may be, there are limits to which we can go.
We are dealing only with comparatives in this matter—bad and worse. The Secretary of State cannot be acquitted entirely because both he and, for instance, the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) are here on the Labour ticket. Most times they are to be found in the same Lobby—though I do not know whether they speak to each other there. When there are proposals for increases in expenditure in all the areas of nationalisation, which will produce nothing and do nothing to improve the lot of their fellow citizens they are in the same lobby. The Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Salford, East and their respective followers vote and act together like a happy band of brothers. The 1425 left wing of the Labour Party, which comes to these debates, with all the enthusiasm and expertise of faith healers going to a conference at the Royal College of Surgeons, is arm in arm with the right wing of the party which only says apologetically that it does its best to keep the left quiet. Not very well, apparently.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
I enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) almost as much as I enjoy his novels. He referred to the internal pressures that gave rise to the 83 signatures. Of course those pressures exist. They come from people who have no homes, who have inadequate pensions, and whose children have no nursery schools. Is it conceivable that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the greatest respect, does not find these kind of pressures in his constituency? He must be a very insensitive man if he does not have them.
§ Mr. Walder
Of course pressures for that kind of expenditure exist. But I acquit myself of insensitivity. I hope that I can do the same for the hon. Gentleman. Has he not got constituents who are worried about our position vis-à-vis the threat in the East? Are they not concerned with security? Are they not concerned with preserving the very liberties which they use to complain to him about their lot? They cannot do that on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
The truth about defence cuts can be put very shortly. I should like to quote the words of a great civil servant. I shall do so carefully, and the House will understand why. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amer-sham (Mr. Gilmour) has already paid tribute to Sir Michael Cary, the former Permanent Under-Secretary of State. On 15th October he gave a lecture to the RUSI on "Britain's Armed Forces after the Defence Cuts". I stress that he made it quite plain that he spoke as a civil servant and within his duty to the elected Government. When answering questions he did not stray beyond the bounds of his appointment, but he said:If the real brunt of your question is, would it have been better if we had not made any cuts at all?, speaking simply as the Permanent Under-Secretary of State … I would say 'Yes of course', but that was not the problem with which we were faced.1426 That may have been the attitude of the Secretary of State for Defence, too. But in his case the Government and the Labour Party—perhaps I should more properly say the Labour Party conference—made the decision. Despite the dangers stated in two White Papers and the risks that were made obvious in their preambles, which are apparent to anyone who is neither impossibly naive nor politically motivated, a decision was made to cut expenditure on defence. Therefore, we have to be satisfied with smaller, more over-strained Armed Forces.
What I find inexcusable is that the Government come to this House and argue that, despite the reduction in manpower, teeth and tail—I maintain that distinction is becoming more unreal as we look at modern armed forces—and despite the cutback in R and D, because of their great review, all is well, if not better than before. That argument has been dressed up with a great deal of information, of which I understand the Secretary of State is proud. One is happy to receive that information and to look at the nice diagrams and hear about the bird protection unit, and so on, but I suggest that all that information is there as a smoke screen. It is an insult to our intelligence. Perhaps that does not matter. However, it is an insult to the right hon. Gentleman's intelligence and to the Service men and women who have to operate within the new, very tight limits. Worst of all, it is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate.
My last point goes back to the philosophy of expenditure on defence and concern over defence matters. The Minister of State put his finger on the problem when, in a previous defence debate he said that at the heart of every Socialist there was a pacifist. That may be so. I think that is true of all of us—not least those of us who have experience of wars, whether large or small. However, there is no pacifism on the other side of the Iron Curtain or, indeed, in a number of other disputed parts of the present harsh world in which we have to exist. That is sad, but true. Therefore, I think that for anyone who takes advantage of the benefits of a civilised democratic society, pacifism is something of a luxury. Ultimately it depends on the willingness 1427 of other men and women, in certain circumstances, not being pacifists. I admire the genuine pacifist if he says "I am prepared to live in the desert on a diet of honey and locusts". But if, on the other hand, he enjoys all the benefit of a free society without considering at any time how that freedom is preserved, I suggest that there is an element of hypocrisy in it.
The potential threat to our society has been spelled out. We lower our capability to resist at our peril. However, it is obvious that in the Labour Party there are at present patently many who care and are concerned about defence issues. They may have differences with the Opposition side of the House, but at least with them we can have a meaningful dialogue. Others are complacent. Some have deluded themselves. Some others are prepared to go on from that position to attempt to delude others. Some others—this is the sadness of the attitudes that have been revealed in the debate—plainly do not care about the defence of the very liberties and freedoms that we are exercising in this House tonight.
Therefore, quite obviously, for the reasons I have set out—some of logic and perhaps some of sentiment—we on the Opposition side of the House, when the vote comes tomorrow night—I would inform the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) that it is tomorrow night and not tonight, as he thought, however happy he may be in his bell-bottomed trews—we shall support our amendment, and we shall be fascinated to see what happens to the 83 hon. Members who have put down another amendment which demonstrates the divisions on the Government side of the House and, I think, reveals much of the motive for the defence cuts which have been introduced by the Labour Party.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Frank Judd)
The whole House will want to congratulate the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) on his characteristically thoughtful contribution to the first major defence debate in which he has been able to speak from the Front Bench. We shall look forward to many such contributions in the future. We know of his deep interest in defence. We are all 1428 eagerly anticipating the outcome of his current studies of the life of Nelson, but we ask him not to become so preoccupied with that distinguished hero in our military past that he should insist on always looking at defence policy through the wrong end of his telescope.
Several hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to Sir Michael Cary and to Field Marshal Montgomery. Again, the whole House will want to join them in the tributes to two distinguished men. They are, indeed, a sad loss to the nation.
At the beginning of my remarks, I know that the House will forgive me if I specifically pick out the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and pay tribute to his work and the work of his Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure. It has contributed a great deal to the knowledge and learning of the House about defence matters. All Ministers, indeed everyone in the Ministry of Defence, treat with great seriousness the criticisms and observations which he and his colleagues bring forward.
A great deal has been said this afternoon about the threat. There can be no doubt that the efficiency and strength of the Soviet armed services remain high in the priorities of their leaders. As Marshal Grechko has recently put it,The main thing is that our Armed Forces have become more vigilant and powerful and have raised the level of their training and readiness. Sure and steadfast they follow the paths shown them by the Party and the Central Committee.Whatever the commitment of the Soviet Union might be—intentions are one thing; they can change overnight-capabilities are what must guide us in shaping our defence policy. Russia has an improving military capability which could be used not to attack—we do not believe, as my right hon. Friend has said today, that that is in their scheme of things—but rather to nudge and elbow the world beyond the confines of the Warsaw Pact.
Confronted with this reality, the cause of detente and multinational disarmament remains the basic commitment of our Administration. In an age of possible mass destruction we must never lose sight of this objective as the ultimate guarantee of peace and stability. The road is a long and difficult one, but we must not 1429 allow ourselves to be sidetracked by pious hopes or the deceptive shadow of progress. As Dr. Sakharov has reminded us this week, nothing short of fool-proof international controls will do. I am convinced that progress in this sphere hinges on the ability we now have to negotiate from a position of collective strength.
I know that many intelligent and sensitive people recoil from all the paraphernalia of a modern defence system. I do not condemn them, but I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Clitheroe. Looking back over the past 28 years of tempestuous European political affairs, would we have been able to avoid a devastating conflict without the stability provided by the balance of military power and deterrence? Clearly, we must not become prisoners of this stalemate, but equally clear it would be unwise to advocate the dismantling of the system before we have developed a new relationship between East and West founded on rock-like guarantees.
Against that background the NATO Alliance has moved away from the former trip-wire philosophy to one of deterrence by the capability for flexible response. We do not need within this new posture to match the Warsaw Pact forces man for man or gun for gun, but we must be able to make a balanced response to contain any initial aggression, allowing time for diplomatic initiatives to be mobilised. To leave a gap in our ability to respond in such a way could well prove fatal. We might then be faced with having to back down or to escalate to an unacceptable degree—for example, by the use of nuclear weapons. To put it more bluntly, we could be faced with Hobson's choice. Our aim is to pose a sufficiently convincing question mark to deter the Warsaw Pact from embarking upon military adventurism in support of its political objectives.
We must ask ourselves about the implications for the West if the Russians ever established the ability, unchallenged, to isolate Europe by sea and to prevent the passage of essential supplies and reinforcements from the United States. Such an ability would obviously demolish the whole credibility of the strategy in the central region.
It is clear that we on this side of the Atlantic cannot escape our obligations to 1430 play a major part in keeping open these sea routes, for if our resolve were seen to weaken there might well develop within the United States new political pressures which would question its continued commitment to the defence of Western Europe.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) referred to the balance of forces between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the balance is tilted against us on sea, on land and in the air. Indeed, he emphasised that imbalance. That makes it vital that we concentrate our resources where the contribution that we can make is most significant. In our view that is in Central Europe, the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel. When it comes to the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, it is true that the Royal Navy still retains the ability to deploy its forces, together with those of our Allies, wherever our interests might be at stake.
The critics have predictably fallen into two groups. There are those who have argued that we have not done what we set out to do in our manifesto. I must tell them that I honestly believe them to be wrong. They may not have agreed with the wording of the manifesto, but it was on that wording that we sought the confidence of the British electorate in the General Election. We said then that over a period we would achieve annual savings on defence expenditure of several hundred million pounds. That is what we have endeavoured to do. Let there be no mistake—the cuts are real and deep, as the thousands whose jobs and careers have been affected by them will testify.
I wish that some of my colleagues who signed their amendment could have gone with me and my colleagues on our visit to defence establishments and joined us in our attempts to explain all the consequences of closure. Indeed, some of my hon. Friends who signed the amendment were members of delegations which pleaded for more work even within the context of the cuts. I particularly ask my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) to remember that fact.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) referred to 1431 the importance of defence orders for employment in industry. He attempted to argue that it was possible, and indeed easy, to replace this level of employment with civil work. He drew heavily on an article written in Tribune last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). He said that two out of three qualified scientists and engineers in the mechanical engineering sector were employed on defence work. I find that a rather unconvincing statistic since in 1974–75, the last year for which complete figures are available, the gross output of this sector was just under £7,000 million. Defence contracts for mechanical engineering in the same period amounted to £80 million, a little over 1 per cent. of the total output. While it is probably true that defence work, because of the highly advanced technology on which it is based, takes a more than proportionate share of qualified scientists and engineers, the claim that 66 per cent. of that effort is taken up in a sector that accounts for only 1 per cent. of the work seems to be rather out of scale.
If I have one concern above all others on this front, it is that when policies for economies involving large-scale job losses in our direct sphere of Government responsibility are advocated, those who advocate them should always have positive, detailed and convincing plans for the constructive redeployment of the human resources involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) was right to recognise this factor. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East also had something to say on that score. I was interested in his observations, but I cannot accept that defence cuts can be made without pain. I have seen too much evidence of this pain in recent weeks at first hand. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said earlier today, rapid, rash and arbitrary cuts in defence expenditure of the kind my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East would like to see could seriously aggravate unemployment in places where alternative jobs are hardest to find.
There is another point that I must put to the Government's critics. It is one thing to demand, as a matter of conscience, 1432 that our defence system should be dismantled, but that does not seem to be their position. In their demands for cuts, there is an implied acceptance of the need for defence. The position of those who argue for cuts would be a good deal more credible if they were to deploy positive and constructive arguments about the sort of defence system they wish to see.
In an open and free society, there is a great deal of room for searching and critical analysis of the tasks and organisation of defence. My right hon. Friend has previously called for such a great debate. With him, I look forward to the day when our critics on this front are ready to join in and to make their constructive contributions.
Of course it is not possible to define, in absolute and scientific terms, precisely what is the right amount to spend on defence—or, for that matter, on any other public expenditure programme. Defence has to take its place in the battle for relative priorities. But there is—as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said, and I am sorry to see that he is not now present—a band of expenditure below which we reach a point where it will become impossible to sustain a viable defence policy. If we allowed that situation to develop, we would indeed be throwing all our money spent on defence down the drain.
The other critics have been those, led by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour), who say the defence cuts have gone too far. It would be easy to score debating points about this kind of observation, but it is a temptation which I shall do my best to resist. My right hon. Friend reminded the House of the three ill-prepared, arbitrary cuts in defence expenditure under the Conservatives' reign. It is interesting that so frequently the people who call most loudly for cuts in public expenditure are the same as those who criticise such economies when they are made.
Hon. Members opposite criticised us after the defence review and said that we had reduced defence expenditure to a level at which our security and that of our Allies was in peril. Although the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham seems to be out of touch with 1433 his principal leaders, they have seen the light and have accepted that, if ever again they were to form a Government, they would not increase defence spending above the defence review level. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amer-sham plods his lonely way, claiming that they would strengthen defence. I cannot begin to imagine how he can reconcile those two objectives. After this first day's debate, the House is entitled to ask what is Conservative defence policy.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I told the House earlier today what was our defence policy. What the Minister has just said is totally untrue. We never accepted the cuts made last year. We voted against them and we do not accept them now.
§ Mr. Judd
We are well aware of the divisions on the Benches opposite though I did not recognise that they ran to such an open challenge from the Front Bench to the words of their Leader in a television broadcast.
Those of us who study the affairs of the Conservative Party with great academic interest note that the eminent think-tank of that organisation, the Bow Group, is calling for the cancellation of the anti-submarine warfare cruiser and the multi-rôle combat aircraft. What sort of defence policy would that leave us with?
Once again, the Opposition are nagging, this time about reductions in spending which leave our NATO commitments intact—reductions in support which are a natural consequence of the economies made in the front line in the defence review. We were clear that there could be scope for further economies in this area and we said so, though the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham seems to have forgotten that. Are the Opposition saying that we should spend more public money on retaining facilities for which, in the end, there is no longer a defence requirement?
§ Mr. David Walder
Perhaps I can put the Bow Group in context for the Minister. It was only fairly recently that the Group gave a dinner at which the Leader of the Opposition was received with acclamation. I look forward to hearing from him when he receives an invitation to have dinner with the Tribune Group.
§ Mr. Judd
Knowing the gourmets in Tribune Group, I suspect that it would be a very good dinner. The fact that the right hon. Lady was received with acclamation by the Bow Group may have been because they thought she was going to cancel the anti-submarine warfare cruiser and the MRCA. We must judge for ourselves.
The pedlars of doom in whose eyes the Russians always appear to walk seven feet tall should recognise that, in an open and free society, the quality of our external defence arrangements cannot be separated from the quality of our national life and its economic basis. We have to have strong industry and a strong economy a social system including housing, education, care of the elderly, health services and all the other assets of civilised existence which we believe provide us with something worth defending. But there are also those more fundamental values of freedom, justice and tolerance which we neglect at our peril.
Unless we remain at least as committed to sustaining and developing these pillars of our national life, our adversaries could too easily stand by and watch as our society disintegrated from within.
There are few countries more inextricably involved in the world as a whole than ours. If we fear the spread of totalitarian Communist influence and domination we would do well to avoid those attitudes which provoke it. To some of those hon. Members opposite—I am glad to say not all—it should be said that it has been the apologists for Franco, Salazaar, Caetano and the Greek Colonels, and today the apologists for Pinochet in Chile, for racialism in South Africa and Ian Smith in Rhodesia, who have spurred on the spread of Communist influence. It is these apologists, by their failure to make the same uncompromising stand against the ruthless policies and practices of the extreme Right as they make against those of the extreme Left, who provoke an idealogical confrontation, who are paradoxically the very allies sought by Moscow. The founders of the NATO Alliance have no doubt that it is was an initiative to defend the values of Western civilisation. In our support for NATO today we must never forget exactly what that means.
1435 Some of the specific points raised in the debate today will be fully answered tomorrow by my right hon. Friend and by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, but I should like to comment on one or two matters. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) challenged the White Paper for using the gross national product as the yardstick for defence spending. He must learn to accept that all members of NATO share their interest in defence.
§ Mr. Buck
Before the Minister goes on to the specific points, which I am sure he will deal with meticulously, may I put this to him? He spoke of the menace from the East and went on to refer to the menace from Right-wing elements. We all agree that there could be a danger there, but at present, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no vast Fascist power dominating the world scene? Let us all be vigilant to see that none arises. Should not the hon. Gentleman turn his attention to the passage in the White Paper which so graphically draws attention to the fact that the West ignores, which is that during the last year the military capability of the Warsaw Pact countries has increased in number and quality? Is not that the danger.
§ Mr. Judd
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his lengthy intervention. He missed the point. I was stressing that because of the size of the threat we face, we should be at pains not to play into the hands of those other forces in the world in a way which will lead to the polarisation of events in Latin America or South Africa.
The hon. Member for Ayr has to learn to accept that members of NATO share their interest in defence, and it is right that they should all make a fitting contribution to the cost of common defence. Has he not heard the phrase "Each according to his needs"
When we came to office we were spending more than we could afford on defence and more, proportionately, than our major European NATO Allies. We can all make play with selected statistics. What we have to remember is that they relate to a programme of men and materials, to a pattern of employment and 1436 to a purpose in maintaining security. It is legitimate to look at what other people are doing.
Despite the hundreds of millions of pounds we have saved by the reduction in the share of resources, I am not primarily interested in the statistical defence of our policies. I am not concerned primarily about any statistical attack on them. As a Government we stand on our record of achieving a balance between commitments and resources in the interests of this country within the Alliance. That is, above all, what matters.
On the nuclear deterrent, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East accused us of semantic juggling. I repeat for his benefit that the Government have renounced any intention of moving towards a new generation of nuclear weapons. However, as has been explained on many occasions in this House, and is repeated in the latest Defence White Paper, we are maintaining the effectiveness of Polaris.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
If no improvement in our nuclear weapons is to take place, why on earth are we to have another nuclear test underground in the United States this year?
§ Mr. Judd
We have said that we shall take whatever steps are necessary to maintain its effectiveness.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham compared the Mediterranean with the China Sea in speaking of the Navy. We do not underestimate the importance of the southern flank, no more than of the northern, but we believe that we can make a greater contribution to the Alliance by concentrating our defence effort on other areas. We are not, however, neglecting the southern flank, and the right hon. Gentleman himself recognised that we announced in the defence White Paper new measures to improve our involvement there.
As for the northern flank, its importance to the Alliance is obvious. We showed our recognition of this when we announced in this year's defence White Paper our proposals for additional Royal Marine Commando forces to be trained and equipped for operations in Norway.
§ Mr. Trotter
Does the Minister accept that these new reinforcements for the southern flank are no greater than our 1437 previous commitments and that exactly the same applies in the north? Those are existing commitments that we are continuing.
§ Mr. Judd
We are at pains to consult fully with our Allies. It was as a result of the consultations with our Allies that these measures were taken. They were measures which they regarded as important for us to take.
The hon. Member for Ayr also referred to supposed inadequacies in the British Army of the Rhine. BAOR is to be reorganised, with new-style divisions, in a way intended to reduce the manpower in the chain of command and to reduce the number of basic company size combat teams. This is a complex reorganisation involving a series of moves of men and equipment, and it is being subjected to extensive trials. These are still in progress and we cannot prejudge the outcome. But we are alert to the need to make adjustments where the trials suggest that this might be desirable.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) dwelt at great length on the affairs of Southern Africa and, in his usual courteous way, informed me that he could not be here for the winding up. Most of what the right hon. Gentleman said was more for the ears of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
We have made it quite clear that we deplore all outside intervention and interference in the internal affairs of Angola. I remind the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the United Kingdom can no longer afford to act as the world's policeman, nor do we believe that our long-term relations with the emergent countries of Africa would be best served by military intervention in their areas.
There has been reference to Hong Kong. I remind the House that we maintain a garrison in Hong Kong in support of our responsibilities for the external defence of the Colony. We do not pretend that the garrison could deal with a full-size Chinese attack, but we cannot shirk our responsibilities for the internal security of Hong Kong or the confidence derived from the presence of the garrison We have, however—my right hon. Friend will have more to say about this tomorrow—concluded an agreement with the Hong Kong Government which will 1438 involve a much higher contribution from them towards the cost.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu) suggested that we might leapfrog in introducing new generations of equipment. Of course, we ensure that new equipment coming into service represents a distinct improvement over that which it replaces, but modern sophisticated equipment takes a long time to develop and to bring into service, and a conscious decision not to introduce replacements could involve risks that we would not wish to take.
The hon. Member for Ayr also asked about supplies and in particular about fuel supplies. I can assure him that the limitations imposed by recent cuts in fuel allocations will have no effect on training programmes, apart from marginal implications for Fleet exercises and deployments which will not affect operational efficiency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East, in a very interesting speech, suggested the setting up of a specially created command to deal with the defence of our offshore resources. I am grateful to my Friend for his suggestion. He has, of course, a great deal of experience in these matters but, as he will, of course, be aware, the defence of our offshore oil and gas installations in war time forms part of overall NATO plans. In peace time it falls within the area of a single command—that of Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland and his Royal Air Force counterpart. The operational focus in his headquarters at Pitreavie, and the whole range of duties carried out by the Armed Services is directed from there.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) expressed considerable concern about the concept of separate Armed Forces in England, Scotland and Wales. He called for a paper setting out the cost of such an arrangement. Much of what he said was of wider significance, and I regret that I cannot cover tonight all the points that he made. In any event, many of them were matters for others of my right hon. Friends. However, I can assure him that we have no plans for separate forces of this kind. Quite apart from the immense costs involved, the key to effective defence at economic cost is greater integration and rationalisation.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I did not expect my hon. Friend to be able to deal with all those points tonight. However, I specifically asked the Ministry to set out in full detail, so that Scottish electors could understand, what was at stake. Will the Ministry be bothered to do this? If not, we shall go on and on until it produces the facts.
§ Mr. Judd
I have the immediate and ready assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian will be given the fullest consideration and that we shall certainly seek an appropriate way to make our findings available to the wider public.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
Will my hon. Friend also ensure that the United Kingdom Government or, if there is to be a separate Scotland, the English Government will not be protecting the oil rigs off the coast of Scotland at no cost to the Scottish people?
§ Mr. Judd
That was a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, and it will be covered by our paper.
It would be remiss of me not to place on record my admiration, which I share with all my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence, for the outstanding professionalism and loyalty shown by Service men and women and by the countless civilians working directly and indirectly for our defence programme. I said in my opening remarks that NATO's strategy was based on flexible response. But it is also based on dynamic integration. We can no longer afford to look at individual aspects of the defence system in isolation. There is no longer an individual role for the navies, the air forces and the 1440 armies of the Alliance. They are essentially all part of our closely interrelated defence structure.
Of course, the Services are right to continue to be proud of their respective loyalties. But in the many visits to defence establishments which I have been able to make as Minister, one of the most encouraging features has been the degree to which, amongst Service men and women involved in practical operational tasks, the understanding of Service interdependence is so deep and firm. If I were asked to pick one priority on which I believe we have increasingly to concentrate, it is to build on this inter-Service co-operation and to evolve still further a closely-knit defence system which, while continuing the finest traditions of the past, will set standards for the future of which we can legitimately be proud.
Those who argue that defence should bear the brunt of further economies should remember that, taking into account the defence review savings, the defence budget will be reduced, in 1979–80 for example, by 15 per cent., compared with the programme which we inherited two years ago. This is far more than any other public expenditure programme has had to bear. By 1979–80, the annual saving will be £929 million. But, within this reduced budget, we have thrown off the shackles of an out-dated defence policy. Our modern and effective forces are in future to be concentrated where it matters most—in the NATO area. The role is clear, and so is our determination to see it through.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Stoddart.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.