§ Mr. Speaker
Before we begin our business for the day, I must tell the House that an unusually large number of right hon. and hon. Members have indicated that they hope to catch my eye during the day. Obviously, they will not all get in, although it appears that a large number of hon. Members are secretaries, deputy secretaries, chairmen or vice-chairmen of various defence groups in the House. I know that there are also hon. Members with important constituency interests. I can only tell the House once again that the number of hon. Members I shall be able to call depends largely on the length of the speeches of those who are fortunate enough to catch my eye.
I should also tell the House that I have decided to call the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
I beg to move,That the salary of the Secretary of State for Defence should be reduced by half.This motion is directed against the Secretary of State because we strongly believe that he should have resigned his office, but our condemnation goes far wider than that. We condemn the whole so-called defence policy of the Labour Government since they came to power in 1974. They have cut, or plan to cut, defence expenditure by over £8,000 million, they have gravely diminished our defence capabilities, they have damaged defence industries and they have lowered the morale of our Armed Forces.
The House will have been interested recently to read the reports of Cabinet meetings. I am referring not to all the copious leaks from the Cabinet about its agonising over the IMF loan but to the reports of Cabinet meetings in 1946. They record how Ernest Bevin came to recognise that, after the defeat of Germany, Soviet Russia provided the real threat to this country. We can well 1437 imagine the caustic and contemptuous terms in which Ernest Bevin would have condemned the unilateral disarmament practised by this Government. The contrast between the realism of Bevin and Attlee and the neglect of our forces by the present Government merely shows how far the Labour Party has deteriorated under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and the present Prime Minister.
To give the Government their due, they do not pretend that their defence policy has much to do with defence. It bears very small relation either to our defence needs or to the international situation. They are concerned with quite different matters. That is where the profound difference between the two sides of the House lies.
We believe, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, that it is the first duty of every Government to safeguard their people against external aggression and to guarantee the survival of their way of life. It follows that defence policy should be based on the defence needs of the country. That is elementary but, unfortunately, it is too advanced for the Labour Party. The Labour Party does not believe that. Its priorities lie elsewhere and, as a result, the Labour Government cut defence to be able to spend in other fields.
As I said, the Government do not claim that their defence policy is related to defence needs. They have produced two defence White Papers, in both of which they have chillingly depicted the great threat posed by the Russians. It was clear from the 1976 White Paper that the balance had deteriorated against the West by about 8 per cent. In both White Papers the Government spelt out that the Russians were increasing in strength. They then drew the totally irrational conclusion that therefore we should reduce our defences. As the Russians get stronger, the Government say, we should get weaker. We believe that that is an abdication of duty by the Government.
It needs no great application of logic or knowledge to show that our defences are now below the critical level, because in July 1975 the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Field-Marshal Carver, said publicly on television that we were down to "absolute bedrock". Field-Marshal 1438 Carver is a man who chooses his words carefully. Since he made those remarks, the Government have cut defence expenditure on three occasions. If we were down to absolute bedrock and then three further cuts are made it is plain that we are now below bedrock and, therefore, below the critical level of defence. That is plain—QED. That is why the Chiefs of Staff went to see the Prime Minister before Christmas. That leads me to the conduct of the Secretary of State for Defence.
When I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after his statement on the economic situation, whether he would confirm that these latest cuts endangered Britain's defences and the unity of the Western Alliance, he replied that that was not the sort of question that should be asked and that it was contrary to normal practice. In ordinary circumstances that would have been right, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer ignored, rather wisely, what the Secretary of State had said the day before. In answer to a similar question by me on the previous day, the Secretary of State said:The Chiefs of Staff must speak for themselves".When will he allow them to speak for themselves? Can they speak for themselves? What did he mean by that?
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)
The right hon. Gentleman earlier gave the answer. He said that Field-Marshal Carver did speak for himself when he was Chief of the Defence Staff.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I take that to mean that the Secretary of State is admitting my charge. If what the Secretary of State said has any meaning at all, he is admitting that the Chiefs of Staff think that our Forces are now below the critical level. The Secretary of State's intervention can mean nothing else, but that does not lie very well with what he went on to say. Having said that the Chiefs of Staff must speak for themselves, he went on to say:they do not feel that our defence is below the critical level."—[Official Report, 14th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1172.]On the next day the Chancellor of the Exchequer wisely did not commit himself to that extremely rash statement by the right hon. Gentleman. If the Secretary of State says again this afternoon 1439 that the Chiefs of Staff do not think that we are below the critical level, we shall not believe a word he says. We shall not believe him unless he fulfils his undertaking in the first part of his answer to let the Chiefs of Staff speak for themselves. If he does not, we shall not believe him. His credibility is extremely low.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
It is a novel and extraordinary constitutional doctrine that a Minister's advisers or civil servants should speak their opinions in public. Is not the right hon. Gentleman being unfair to the Chiefs of Staff? If our defences are being cut to well below the critical level, as he suggested, have not the Chiefs of Staff a duty to resign?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I was quoting the Secretary of State. It was he who said that the Chiefs of Staff must speak for themselves. The hon. Gentleman's quarrel is with him, not with me. Secondly, I do not believe that it is the duty of the Chiefs of Staff to resign. I believe that it is the duty of the Secretary of State to resign, and I shall explain why.
The Chiefs of Staff went to the Prime Minister because they were gravely alarmed about the state of our defence forces. We all know that the Chiefs of Staff often see the Prime Minister and other Ministers in the ordinary course of events, but this was not the ordinary course of events. We also know that the Prime Minister often wants to see the Chiefs of Staff.
What is very unusual—despite what the right hon. Gentleman said before Christmas—is for the Chiefs of Staff to ask for their constitutional right of audience with the Prime Minister. That is very unusual, and they did it because they were gravely alarmed. If the Secretary of State shares the apprehension of the Chiefs of Staff, obviously he should have resigned. I think the Secretary of State for Defence must have agreed with the grave apprehensions of his Chiefs of Staff. I find it difficult to see how he could disagree with them. If he did, I hope he will tell us the source of his information or knowledge which enabled him to disagree with them. And if he did disagree, if he found himself in puny disagreement with the Chiefs of Staff out of ignorance or because he had 1440 different priorities, he merely showed that defence was not his primary interest. If that is so he has lost, and deserves to lose, the confidence of his professional advisers and of the Armed Forces.
The right hon. Gentleman has also lost the confidence of our allies, because when he attended a NATO meeting which came out in favour of defence expenditure he did not dare say that the cuts would take place. Either way, the Secretary of State should resign. He can be of no further good. For all his amiability—we all like him personally—he can be no good. In a very weak Government he is now a total passenger. He would have done his reputation a great deal of good by resigning.
In fairness to the Secretary of State, it is not his fault entirely. We blame just as much the Prime Minister, the previous Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the whole Government. The Secretary of State knows well that even before these cuts there was a considerable morale problem in the Forces. At least one instance has been given to him by the Opposition, and there are many others.
This is not surprising, because the right hon. Gentleman may be able to fool certain people in this House but there are two groups he cannot fool—the Armed Forces and the Russians. Both our Armed Forces and the Russians know the facts. Our Armed Forces know of the enormous Russian build-up which is taking place. General Haig, the Supreme Allied Commander, pointed out this week that in Eastern Europe in the last few years the Russians have raised their tank strength by 40 per cent. and their artillery strength by 50 per cent. Our Armed Forces know that. They also know about the great increase in the Russian navy and that this enormous expansion of Russian maritime capability gives the Russians, as the right hon. Gentleman's own NATO communiqué said, a chance to bring military pressure to bear all over the world.
Our Armed Forces also know—and we hear less about this than about the threatening Russian naval strength—about the very grave, increasing and striking growth in the Russian air force. The Soviet Air Force now adds one combat wing per month to its front line. To put it another way, as the Chief of the 1441 Defence Staff said in the summer, they are building 1,800 military aircraft a year, of which 800 are of the most modern types.
Faced with this increasing threat, our Armed Forces find their strength being continuously reduced by the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said in 1968, when he was Secretary of State for Defence:I think the Services can be rightly very upset at the continuous series of defence reviews which the Government has been forced by economic circumstances—and maybe economic mistakes too—to carry out.That is even more true today. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not tell us today that these cuts will not damage our contribution to NATO. We know that they will, just as the previous cuts did. Wherever they fall, they will do damage, perhaps most of all if they fall in the Eastern Mediterranean. All our troops know that. They have had their spares, their ammunition and their fuel cut. They know that shortages affect their training and their efficiency and cannot fail to affect their morale.
We read today about the 5 per cent. cut in naval fuel and the effect that this will have on the Royal Navy. I hope that the House realises that this is a result not of the latest defence cuts but of the last cuts but one, or perhaps even the last cuts but two. We do not know the results yet of the present cuts.
I want to read an extract from the minutes of evidence given before the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, the report of which came out yesterday. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) asked the witness:On the consumption of fuel, you refer to a 5 per cent. reduction in naval fuel consumption. What constraints is this going to place on the Navy in carrying out its normal peace-time role?The reply was:The main constraint that fuel reduction involves is a reduction in speeds of passage. The effects of this are threefold: ship availability is reduced because ships take longer to carry out a given mission; training standards suffer because most military evolutions require high speeds. If a ship is proceeding at an economical cruising speed, it probably cannot carry out military evolutions realistically. There are also effects on manpower where perhaps a sailor is at sea when he could have been at home if the ship had gone faster.1442 What a way to run a navy. The Armed Forces are almost the only people in this country now who do not go on strike, but the Government are well able to meet that challenge—they impose a general go-slow upon them. That applies not only to the Royal Navy but to the Army and the Royal Air Force as well.
Fortunately, this effect on morale has not yet reached our forces in Northern Ireland—or at least it had not done so when I visited them in November. Morale there was very high still. But the Government need to be careful. Our troops in Northern Ireland are carrying out a most dangerous, difficult and thankless task with exemplary courage, fortitude and forbearance. Surely the least they can expect is a Government who do not cut security whenever they have a chance. The Government must realise that they are taking a risk, not only elsewhere but in Northern Ireland as well.
The Tory attitude to defence is, of course, quite different from that of the Government. We believe that the defence of the country and the freedom of the West comes before everything else. None of the desirable things that everyone wants to do can be securely achieved unless our defences are properly maintained. Nor can detente. Detente means the relaxation of tension, but there is no possibility of genuine detente unless Western strength is maintained. The sort of detente we have at present, in which we relax and the Russians do not, is no good at all. We are all in favour of detente provided that it is genuine and provided that it is mutual, but we shall never achieve it by unilateral disarmament. The world is becoming increasingly interdependent and also increasingly unstable. As the late Alastair Buchan said in his Reith lectures:There has been a quantitative change of colossal proportions in the inter-dependence of Western societies and in the demands we make on natural resources.The result of that change is that diplomacy is much more complex and that defence of Western interests requires a much wider range of instruments of policy than defence alone. But the preservation—or, rather, the redress—of the military balance is the fundamental precondition, and anyone who thinks that freedom can be preserved without our being able to defend ourselves should have a word with the Poles and the Czechs. Moreover, because of the long lead time of modern 1443 weapons, one cannot rearm overnight. One has to start long before the greatest point of danger is reached, and the Russian arms build-up is gathering pace.
So when we return to power we shall strengthen our defences. We believe that to be vital, and our allies agree. The Supreme Allied Commander said recently:All the nations of the Alliance need to do more if we are to maintain a credible balance.At present, the Government are doing less and less, and we shall reverse that process.
But, of course, it is not only we on this side of the House who deplore the Government's defence policy. It is not only we and the Chiefs of Staff who are concerned about the weakness of the country. The all-party Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, which does invaluable work for the House, had this to say in January 1976:The United Kingdom's contribution to collective defence cannot be significantly reduced without risking 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 be aware of the consequences for our defence capability and for our contribution to the NATO Alliance if further major cuts were to be imposed.As we know, the Government ignored that warning and imposed three more rounds of cuts. The cuts next year will be not far short of £1,000 million, and in the year after that £2,000 million.
Our allies were deeply anxious before the latest cuts. Dr. Luns has given grave warnings, and in London last November the Supreme Allied Commander said that those Western leaders who thought that they could solve their internal problems by cutting defence were confused. He did not say which politicians he thought were confused but we all know who he meant.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is more courteous than some of his hon. Friends.
The Shadow Defence Secretary has twice spoken of three sets of cuts. Will he accept from me that our arms bill in the last four years has gone up in cash terms from £3.8 million to £6.1 million and that in real terms, at 1975 constant prices, there has been an increase of £200 1444 million a year in that period? That is even without allowing for the £571 million Supplementary Estimate last month.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I do not think the hon. Gentleman has noticed the inflation that has been going on under his own Government. As he well knows, defence has been cut very substantially indeed. That should be a matter of great moment to anyone concerned with the defence of the West. Those who are not concerned with the defence of the West do not have to worry.
As General Haig said, there has been an expansion in Russian military capability, and fortunately our allies have all reacted differently from the way in which the Government have reacted. We must consider why the Government are so sharply out of step with our allies in the West and why they are acting directly contrary to the national interest.
In the debate just before Christmas the Minister of State for Defence said,It would be irresponsible for any Government to make any major reduction in our defence spending outside the contexxt of the mutual and balanced force reductions ".—[Official Report, 14th December, 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1241.]I do not know where the Minister of State has been during the last two years but that is exactly what the Government have been doing for the last two years. They have unilaterally disarmed this country while the Russians have been rearming. On the Minister's own showing, therefore, his own Government are irresponsible.
Irresponsibility and sheer ineptitude are no doubt part of the explanation, but they are only part of the explanation, for the Government's disastrous conduct. The real explanation is the one pointed to by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) in his article in The Times on 15th December when he said that what the Cabinet was considering, when it was considering the Government expenditure cuts, was not the essential needs of the country but what it could get through the Labour Party.
As many hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway do not like any defence spending for Britain at all, defence cuts are, of course, the easiest way of keeping them sweet, if that is the right word, and 1445 stopping the party from splitting. Thus the national interest is disregarded in order to propitiate men whose commitment to free institutions, and the defence of the West, is neither enthusiastic nor conspicuous.
In the short debate on defence before Christmas one or two hon. Members below the Gangway complained of our suggestion that they were not concerned with the defence of this country. If they are concerned with the defence of this country, they have a very funny way of showing it. They lose no opportunity whatever of trying to weaken the defence of this country and trying to weaken the Western alliance.
It goes without saying that it is quite unjustifiable for the Government to decide their policy not on national needs but on mere convenience of party management. It is also very stupid, because the Left is insatiable and will never be satisfied with defence cuts. The only thing that will satisfy the Left will be to abolish defence altogether.
Labour's absurd programme for Britain 1976, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the last Labour conference, proposed further cuts of £1,200 million a year at 1976 prices. Cuts of that sort would totally cripple our defences. No doubt that is the intention. We should be left virtually defenceless.
The House need not take my word for that. I can quote as witnesses two present members of the Cabinet. When the House has been reminded of what they had to say it will not be surprised that the present Prime Minister removed them from the Ministry of Defence and installed the present management. When he was Minister of State for Defence the now Secretary of State for Transport said that cuts of this size wouldso severely undermine the position of NATO that we could see a complete reversal of the situation that has existed since 1945."—[Official Report, 15th June 1976; Vol. 913, c. 301.]The then Secretary of State for Defence said on 13th July:Any further reduction—even of much less than £1,000 million a year by 1980—I wonder what he meant by that? I would think something like the cuts that we have had since he made those remarks— 1446would require savage cuts in the Armed Forces and many equipment orders would have to be cancelled. Our allies would no longer regard us as serious allies and partners. The disarray that would be caused in the NATO Alliance would place at risk the whole of the security of Europe, not least our own. Our enemies would be able to take advantage of our weaknesses.Referring to the cuts of £1,000 million, he said that such cuts would entail at best a policy of neutrality and at worst surrender.
Yet that is the policy of the Labour Party. It is the policy of the Labour Party Conference. It is the policy of the Labour Party National Executive Committee on which the Secretary of State sits and it is the policy of the Tribune Group. But of course the Tribune Group goes even further.
A Tribune Group document issued in July agrees that there is a contradiction between many of the aims of Labour Programme 1976 and adds:and the fundamental commitment, accepted by all British Governments for the past quarter of a century, to NATO and other military alliances. These are designed to achieve security and stability for existing regimes which are situated within the Western sphere of influence. This end is in many cases incompatible with support for movements seeking to achieve radical social change".I take it that by that the Tribune Group means Communist revolution. It goes on:In the absence of positive steps towards mutual and concurrent phasing out of NATO we consider that Britain should progressively reduce her commitment to NATO.It certainly would.
That document must have caused great satisfaction in the Kremlin but, unfortunately, nowhere else, because the attitude of the Labour Left Wing is unique outside Russia and the Warsaw Pact. The Chinese are certainly very anxious that Western defence should be maintained and they despise those who seek to weaken it.
Marshal Tito, who is not a very Right-wing figure, also takes a very different line on defence from the many vocal hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. Speaking on 20th December he said that Yugoslavia must improve its national defence so thatit would be capable … of deterring a would-be aggressor".1447 I doubt whether even Government supporters below the Gangway think that Marshal Tito believes that NATO or the West is the would-be aggressor. We all know from where Marshal Tito thinks the aggression is likely to come.
Even the Italian Communist Party is more pro-NATO than the Tribune Group. In June, Signor Berlingeur said that he did not want to leave NATO. He went on:I feel more secure staying in".The Tribune Group really should get together with the Italian Communists. They would find them a most civilising and Westernising influence.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to say a word about this. Instead of basing our policies on the situation in Britain, about which we are concerned and about which the British people are concerned, is he suggesting that we should base our policies on what emanates from the Italian Communist Party, the Chinese, the Yugoslavs or, for that matter, Moscow? We in the Tribune Group believe that our defence policies should be based on British interests. That is what that document was about.
§ Mr. Gilmour
The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) fell below his usual level in that intervention. I was trying to suggest as tactfully as I could that the Tribune Group's foreign policy seems to be based on Russian interests and not on Western interests. Therefore, the Tribune Group is on its own, and it is futile and damaging of the Government to subordinate the national interest to trying to maintain Left-wing support.
The Government's record since 1974 and their continued obeisance to the Left is a shameful story. This has happened in other areas as well, but the difference is that in other areas the Left has normally stopped the Government from doing the right thing. In defence, it merely forces the Government to do the wrong thing.
From the national point of view, there is no conceivable justification for these cuts. We know, because the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) has told us, that there was no careful consideration of our capabilities or of our commitments. We know that 1448 these cuts will weaken our contribution to NATO. We know that our allies are appalled by them. We know that the Chiefs of Staff are gravely alarmed by them. We know that the Government's sole reason is to propitiate the Left.
There is only one possible conclusion to be drawn. It is that the Secretary of State and the Government have put their party before their country. They have failed in their national duty, and I hope that the House will support this motion.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) for giving us the opportunity to debate the important subject of defence in advance of the publication of the annual White Paper next month. I am particularly glad to have the chance to put some facts on the record since the serious and outrageous allegations which he made against the Government cannot be sustained on a basis of the facts and assessments—political, military or in terms of public expenditure. I shall try to cover the major issues—the principles of our defence policy, what the right hon. Gentleman called the Soviet threat, our contribution to the Alliance, the figures of defence expenditure and the state of our forces, including the points he raised about the position of the Chiefs of Staff.
Britain's defence rests firmly on the North Atlantic Alliance. Our commitment to NATO is an absolute one. Our security depends on the cohesion of the Alliance, and this in turn depends on the maintenance of a significant and effective contribution from us. The central point we are debating today is the size and character that this contribution should be.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham argued that NATO's forces were too small in relation to the threat from the Warsaw Pact. It is of course true, as my predecessor made clear in last year's White Paper, that the military capability of the Warsaw Pact continues to grow. No one would deny this. We estimate that over the last three years the Soviet Union has increased its defence expenditure by 5 per cent. in real terms and now spends between 11 per cent. and 12 per cent. of GNP on the 1449 development of new weapons and on the maintenance of its armed forces.
I accept, of course, that comparative percentages of GNP can be only a rough and ready guide to military capacity, since they depend upon the relative levels of income and rates of economic growth which may in consequence produce a much greater defence capacity from a lower percentage of GNP. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Warsaw Pact forces have increased in quantity and, more importantly, in quality. The lead in military technology that the West has hitherto enjoyed is being eroded as Soviet scientific and industrial capacity expands.
It is for this reason that it is essential to achieve progress in arms control and disarmament. We have to find ways of achieving stability—[interruption.] If Opposition Members would not like to see the level of armaments all over the world reduced, I am sorry for them and for the people whom they represent.
§ Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)
Would not it be fair to say that if Iron Curtain countries are spending more on their own defence, it is ridiculous that we should cut our own defences? Is it not foolish for the Secretary of State to say that just because there is a danger from the East, therefore, we should cut our own expenditure in the West?
§ Mr. Mulley
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of listening to the rest of my speech, he will find that I could not in a couple of paragraphs deal with all the matters that he raised.
§ Mr. Mulley
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that this was equally a relevant factor in 1973, to which I shall come later in my remarks.
I am sure, despite the evidence to the contrary, that it is the hope on both sides of the House that 1977 will bring success in the SALT talks, which are of such vital importance to us all in the West—and in the rest of the world, too—as well as in the Vienna negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions in Central Europe. We must all hope that the Soviet leaders will come to realise that continued growth in military power, especially the imbalance of forces in Cen- 1450 tral Europe, threatens to undermine the stability of Europe and, therefore, of the world.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
Although I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that, does not he agree that the Soviet Union is more likely to take disarmament seriously when the imbalance is going against it rather than very much in its favour?
§ Mr. Mulley
Certainly it is the case that we have to sustain the level of NATO forces. I shall be coming on to deal with that matter and the very substantial contribution which we make to NATO—incidentally, rather more than was made at the time when the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) was himself a member of the then Government.
The Warsaw Pact's military capability does not by itself constitute a threat to the security of the West. We have to look also at its intentions. There is no reason to believe that the Warsaw Pact is likely to attack NATO. In recent years tension between East and West has been markedly reduced. But political intentions can change quickly while a buildup of military strength is inevitably a slow process. Indeed, the increases in Soviet forces which we have noted in recent years must reflect decisions taken several years ago. NATO must therefore maintain forces in sufficient strength to deter any form of aggression and must maintain the will and the determination to resist it.
The essential feature of the North Atlantic Alliance is, as I have said, its collective nature. Naturally, the United States makes by far the largest contribution to the military forces of the Alliance, but she cannot be expected to shoulder the whole burden. The European members of the Alliance and Canada must all make an appropriate contribution.
In the defence review the Government decided to concentrate Britain's effort in those areas where we can make the most significant contribution. These are the central region and the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas, together with the security of the United Kingdom and its immediate approaches, and our contribution to the NATO's nuclear forces. In these vital areas the defence review did 1451 not materially change the effectiveness of our contribution.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
May I take the Secretary of State back to the important point about the reason for the Russians spending so much money on arms? Will he tell the House at what point in time this decision to spend so much more was arrived at, why the Russians took the decision, and why they have not revised it since?
§ Mr. Mulley
It is quite impossible, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, to give clear answers to why the Russians react in particular circumstances. Let me give some facts and figures that will be unpleasant to the Conservatives, because they are not prepared to take defence seriously and to listen to the facts on which argument should be based. Some members of the Opposition think that we are quite capable of defending ourselves totally alone against the whole of the world. I sense that from the noise made by the Opposition rather than their actual words.
Let me briefly give some facts and figures to demonstrate how significant the British contribution is. We keep an Army of four divisions in Germany, with a peace-time strength of 55,000 men which can be doubled quickly in an emergency. In addition, RAF Germany deploys a balanced force of strike, offensive support, air defence and reconnaissance aircraft.
NATO relies on the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force to provide the main weight of maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas. Our contribution here numbers over 100 ships and some 26 squadrons of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Alone among the European members of NATO we operate nuclear-powered fleet submarines—the capital ships of the present day—nine of which are now in service. We are also the only European Power to contribute strategic and theatre nuclear forces to the Alliance's general deterrent.
These forces must be equipped with modern equipment if they are to remain effective against the improved Warsaw Pact equipment now coming into service. This re-equipment is a costly but necessary programme to which we devote very substantial resources. For example, our anti-submarine forces are being kept up- 1452 to-date with two new anti-submarine through-deck cruisers under construction, more nuclear-powered submarines and improvements to the Nimrod maritime patrol force.
§ Mr. Mulley
No, I will not give way. I made that mistake before.
The Army is greatly enhancing its anti-aircraft and anti-armour capability with the entry into service of Rapier and Blowpipe, the procurement of Milan, and improvements in the Chieftain tank.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. It is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.
§ Mr. Mulley
The Royal Air Force has the new Jaguar and is procuring the Tornado multi-rôle combat aircraft. We hope to contribute also to a NATO programme for airborne early-warning aircraft, which will greatly increase the effectiveness of our air forces.
§ Mr. Mulley
We want to strengthen the cohesion of NATO, and we have made it quite clear that we wish to take a decision within the Alliance. No decision has yet been taken but I asked in December that a decision should be taken then. However, some of our allies wish the matter to be deferred.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
On the MRCA Tornado aircraft, I understand that there have been considerable difficulties with the undercarriage. As so much of our defence depends on this particular piece of equipment, will the Secretary of State give us some information about how the difficulties with the undercarriage on that particular aircraft will be dealt with?
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Member is quite right—there have been difficulties, but I understand that the programme is now on time. My hon. Friend will deal with equipment matters when he replies to the debate.
There is no question but that the British contribution to the Alliance is a major one in quantity and especially in 1453 quality. The British forces are all professionals. They are supported by some 300,000 civilians. Their value to the Alliance is substantial. This is why our allies have looked with concern at the cuts we have had to make in the defence budget—because we play so important a role in NATO's plans and state of readiness. They are, of course, also concerned that we should re-establish our economy on a sound basis.
I turn now to the figures of defence expenditure, and I shall seek to put them into perspective and distinguish between fact and fiction. On the one hand, the Government are accused of cutting expenditure to a dangerous extent by the Conservatives while, on the other hand, some of my hon. Friends are inclined to argue that we have made no reductions of substance at all but have produced only paper economies. Obviously, as a matter of logic both views cannot be right. Yet, as is often the case, there is some truth and a lot of fiction on each side of the argument.
When this Government took office, we inherited a defence programme of worldwide political and military commitments which was beyond the nation's means and over-stretched the capabilities of the Armed Forces themselves. Yet, despite having cut the defence budget three times in their last year of office in 1973, the previous Government left us a programme that involved an increase in defence expenditure by 22 per cent. in real terms above its 1974–75 level over a five-year period. Plainly, those who framed this programme had lost touch with reality. One of the first decisions of the Government was therefore to initiate a defence review with the aim of bringing our defence spending more into line with that of our major European allies while maintaining a modern and effective defence system.
The effect of our decisions in the defence review and since, including the changes announced by the Chancellor on 15th December, has been to save a total of £8½ billion at 1976 Survey prices over the 1-year period ending in 1983–84. The release of resources on this scale must be recognised as a major contribution to our economic recovery.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the increases in defence spending projected by the previous Government. They timed them almost exactly to coincide with what in his earlier evidence he attributed to the preplanning of the Soviet Union, which accounts for its considerable increases now. Does that not show considerable prescience on the part of the previous Government?
§ Mr. Mulley
If the hon. Member will contain himself, I hope that I shall carry him with me when I describe in more detail the situation as it was in 1973 when the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was in the Ministry of Defence.
§ Mr. Mulley
I will not give way.
The savings, large as they are, have not had the disastrous effect on the defence programme so vociferously claimed by the Opposition, since the reductions have been matched by a corresponding reduction in commitments. Our contribution to NATO's central region remains as effective as ever before as a result of the defence review. Indeed, it was in this context that in a television interview Field-Marshal Carver made his much quoted remark, to which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred, of having reached "bedrock". We have not made cuts in this area since the review, and have no intention, in advance of mutual and balanced force reductions, of reducing the forces which are maintained in Germany in accordance with our Brussels Treaty obligations.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
For 20 years or so I have been deeply concerned about the Brussels agreement, particularly with reference to the offset costs. In November we were told that serious negotiations were taking place. As these offset costs are costing us this year £600 million, are we to get the Germans to meet that bill, as we understood they would when the 1954 agreement was reached?
§ Mr. Mulley
The conduct of these negotiations is not directly a matter for me, but as soon as there is a statement, 1455 I am sure that the House will be informed.
The defence budget cuts announced in July and December last year amount to £200 million in 1977–78 and £230 million in 1978–79—12 per cent. of the total public expenditure cuts of £3½ billion then announced.
As I understand the Opposition, they would have preferred us to make much larger cuts in public expenditure. Defence expenditure represents 10 per cent. of total public expenditure, and the £430 million represents 3.8 per cent. of the previous defence programmes for those two years. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will remember the figure of £430 million.
I have been asked where the cuts will fall. We are still working on the final details for the next financial year 1977–78, but we expect that the savings will come as to between £60 million and £70 million from the works programme, and about £80 million within the equipment area by deferring planned expenditure on a range of items for all three Services, including an airborne early-warning aircraft on which a NATO decision has been delayed. The remainder—about £50 million—will be found by a combination of administrative and support economies.
§ Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he was going to delay work on an airborne early-warning aircraft. Which solution does he favour—the British solution or the American solution to that requirement?
§ Mr. Mulley
I say in short—and I hope to carry the Opposition with me in view of their proper concern about NATO—that I favour a NATO solution.
I have already informed the Secretary-General of NATO, Dr. Luns, of the defence budget reductions. I told him that our aim would be to make the savings in a way that would keep to the absolute minimum the effect on our frontline contribution to the Alliance. For 1977–78 there is not enough time to consult the Alliance as fully as I should like, but we shall discuss the outcome of our study as soon as it is ready. For 1978–79 there is time to consult NATO fully, and I have undertaken to do so at an early and formative stage in our study of the measures required. We are most anxious 1456 to have the views of our allies and to work closely with them in every way.
§ Mr. Mulley
I cannot give way to hon. Gentlemen at the end of every paragraph. If I do so, I shall never get to the end of my speech.
One of the consequences of cuts in defence expenditure which worries hon. Members in all parts of the House is that for employment, especially at this time when unemployment is our most pressing and serious national problem. Almost all our expenditure represents jobs—directly in the Armed Services, or for civilians employed by the Ministry, or job opportunities in industry, especially in the aerospace, shipbuilding and construction industries. Therefore, any reductions must mean loss of employment prospects—roughly at the rate of one job for every £10,000.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham and I know other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been concerned about the representations made to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on these questions by the Chiefs of Staff and the wide and usually inaccurate publicity given to this meeting. I should like to make one point absolutely clear: there is nothing new or unprecedented in the Chiefs of Staff exercising their formal right of access to the Prime Minister. In recent years, this has happened on several occasions—in 1965, 1968 and 1970.
The Chiefs of Staff are invited to be in attendance at Ministerial discussions of defence matters, as the nature of the business requires, as, for example, in the preparation of annual estimates and the defence White Paper. I, of course, kept the Chiefs of Staff fully informed as discussions proceeded, and the Prime Minister readily agreed to meet them to hear their views at first hand.
As is the case with expert advice given to Ministers by their advisers in other fields, the advice which the Chiefs of Staff give to Ministers is, of course, confidential and in the defence field there is the additional problem of security considerations, affecting not only ourselves but our allies and NATO itself. Subject to these unavoidable restrictions, I am anxious for the fullest information to be 1457 made available and for the maximum amount of informed parliamentary and public discussion to take place.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I hope that before my right hon. Friend leaves this point he will tell us the broad lines of the worries of the Chiefs of Staff. My hon. Friends below the Gangway say that the Chiefs of Staff always have worries, but so has everyone who is running a service. We listen to the educationists and the health experts and so on, and we are also entitled to hear the views of the people who are chiefly concerned with our defence services. We do not want to hear any secrets. We want simply the import of their worries and to know why the Government believe that those worries are unrealistic.
§ Mr. Mulley
My hon. Friend is right when he says that there is a difficulty about defence. Expert advisers in other Departments that I have served—in education and transport—also do not make their views public, but of course in each of these areas there are many people who are not subject to any restriction and who put the case very persuasively, I am sure the House will agree, for more expenditure on their particular interests. The Chiefs of Staff are no exception to that.
They naturally would like more money spent on defence and they can make a strong case in military terms for doing so. But, as successive Supreme Allied Commanders Europe have made clear, their job is to advise Ministers on the military capability of the Warsaw Pact, and they must accept the political decisions being made by Ministers and Parliament. That is the position in this case.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he meant when he said that the Chiefs of Staff could speak for themselves?
§ Mr. Mulley
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman never made an ill-considered remark in reply to a supplementary question. He will recall that I was reprimanded by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) at the time when I said that. Clearly, one accepts the position of the Chiefs of Staff. What I had in mind was 1458 that it was important that the Chiefs of Staff spoke for themselves directly to the Prime Minister. They are entitled, because of their special position, to have this right of access.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. Of course, we all appreciate the difficulty facing any Government in their relations with the Chiefs of Staff and how much can be made public. But does not the Secretary of State think that it would contribute to the serious debate in the House today on what is a serious situation if he would answer in broad terms the question put by his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)?
§ Mr. Mulley
I have done my best to do that. I shall be very happy to consider any ways of making more information available, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman reprimanded me for suggesting that the Chiefs of Staff should make a public statement. I am sure that he would not expect me to put them in an embarrassing position by saying exactly what their position is, but any question of our defences being dramatically below the level needed for the safety of the West is complete nonsense.
§ Mr. Hooson
If the right hon. Gentleman cannot tell the House what advice the Chiefs of Staff gave to the Prime Minister, can we take it that whatever advice they gave was rejected by the Government on political grounds?
§ Mr. Mulley
It would be very unusual to say. I would be tempted to quote what was said by Mr. Goschen to the Duke of Devonshire on these matters. It was much ruder than anything I would say about defence advisers. Military people, like educationists and doctors in their respective fields, can all make very strong cases for additional expenditure, and are very disappointed if planned expenditure is not carried out.
§ Mr. Mulley
I must get on. I have already given way several times. To sum up, in the next two financial years——
§ Mr. Mates
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I realise that he has been interrupted in his flow. He said a moment ago that the Supreme Allied Commander had said that it was a political decision—that the level of forces should be decided politically, according to the strength of the Warsaw Pact. Earlier he said that the Government's policy was to adjust the level of our defence spending according to the level of the defence spending of our allies. What do the Government think is right?
§ Mr. Mulley
I said neither of those things. I hope that Opposition Members will not seek to inject their speeches into mine. It is unfair to hon. Members on both sides to do that. I said neither of the things which the hon. Gentleman was trying to attribute to me, as he will see from Hansard.
In the next two financial years, in real terms at 1976 survey prices the defence budget will be of the same order of magnitude as in 1973–74 and 1974–75 —between £5,400 million and £5,500 million—although less than in the period 1975–77, when it was at an annual rate in excess of £5,600 million.
Our slow economic growth has meant that while we spend less on defence than France and Germany we still spend a higher proportion of gross national product than they do. As our economy recovers, as a result of the measures that we have taken, we shall be able to make a greater contribution to the Alliance 1460 while maintaining our aim of bringing defence expenditure as a percentage of GNP more into line with that of our major European allies.
§ Mr. Mulley
I have already referred to the three cuts made in 1973 by the previous Government, totalling £250 million, which at 1976 Survey prices—the basis of the current figures—amount to £439 million. They thus cut in one year from a lower total a bigger sum than our post-defence review reductions over two years.
Although I was not aware of the 1973 secret intelligence reports, the increase in Warsaw Pact military strength and of Soviet technological capability must have been developing over a number of years and must then have been known. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was in the Ministry of Defence at the time. He did not resign. On the contrary, he was promoted after the cuts to be Secretary of State. Nor do I recall Opposition Members noisily shouting that the security of the nation was at risk or that NATO was threatened.
I do not question the sincerity or integrity of the right hon. Gentleman in deciding in 1973 that wider national, economic and public expenditure considerations demanded a reduction in planned defence expenditure. I hope that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will acknowledge that similar considerations may apply in present circumstances, particularly since the cuts are smaller in both real and relative terms.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The Minister will remember that during the last Government my hon. Friends and I were continually criticised by Labour Members for spending too much on defence. The Minister should make up his mind: Did we spend too much or too little?
Secondly the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the reason why there were no cries from the Conservative Benches that our security was in danger was that it was not in danger then. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that if we cut something it meant that there was less for him to cut, not more.
1461 Thirdly, will not the right hon. Gentleman accept—because it is undeniable—that we left the forces of this country in far better shape than we found them, and in much better shape than they are now.
§ Mr. Mulley
I do not agree with either of those last two propositions. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on the phrase "bedrock—QED" which he used in his speech. If we are cutting below bedrock, they were a long way below bedrock in 1973, because in real terms the level of expenditure was less, and everyone knew that the strength——. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but I suggest that his speech today was made for purely political effect, and that he did not believe in it.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I have been trying to think up a simple question which I hope the Minister can answer. It is as follows. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts that there is no risk of NATO's attacking Russia or any of the other Warsaw Pact countries, and if he does not think that they are likely to attack us, or to want to do so, what on earth does he think they want their great build-up of forces in the West for?
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. and learned Gentleman's views might find favour with some of my hon. Friends. The purpose of the forces on each side is to deter the other side from attack, just as at school the children who are less likely to return aggression are more likely to be subjected to it.
The record of Tory Governments in office is usually very different from their promises and protestations in opposition. This applies in defence policy as in many other issues. There is no reason to suggest that another Tory Government would be any better than the last. Indeed, I should be very interested to see the results of a secret ballot of Tory Members on this proposition.
Like the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, I have spent much of my speech talking about money and policies. But we must not forget that effective defence depends on people. Despite our other differences of view, I am sure that hon. Members on all sides of the House will join me in paying 1462 tribute to the high standards maintained by the men and women of all three Services.
Since I took up my present responsibilities in September, I have taken every opportunity to visit units and establishments of all three Services. I have been immensely impressed by their enthusiasm, efficiency and high morale. Standards are even higher than when I was last a Defence Minister 12 years ago. I have seen the magnificent job that the Army is doing in Northern Ireland in extremely difficult circumstances.
I should like to join with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham in paying tribute to the work that the security forces in Northern Ireland have done over the last year. It has not been an easy time for them, as the tragic casualty figures show, but we can look back on a year of solid achievement in the fight against terrorism. This has been marked in particular by the increasingly successful partnership between the RUC and the armed Services, including of course, the vital contribution made by the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
This year is only two weeks old, but already there have been serious attacks on the security forces, resulting, sadly, in the death of three soldiers. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in expressing sympathy for the families of those who died. These attacks serve only to increase the determination of the Services, which know that the work they do in support of the police is a vital contribution to the achievement of a peaceful and secure future for the people of Northern Ireland.
With the extension of our fishery limits to 200 miles on 1st January, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, together with the DAFS Fishery Protection Service, assume responsibility for policing some 275,000 square miles of sea. Three RN frigates and four RAF Nimrod aircraft are currently assigned to the task full time, in addition to the Fishery Protection Squadron. During this period the frigates will be relieved by patrol vessels of the Island class. The full resources of the Royal Navy and the RAF will continue to be available to assist in fishery protection if required.
§ Mr. Mulley
So far we have only two weeks' experience of the new regime, but these policing arrangements appear to be working well. Forty-two boardings have been made and three trawlers have been warned for fishing illegally.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must ask the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) to contain himself.
§ Mr. Mulley
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, with little reward to myself or anyone else.
The quality of our Armed Forces is demonstrated daily, not just in these two operations, but elsewhere in Europe where we share with our allies responsibility for the defence of Western Europe. The courage and professional competence of our Service men are second to none and although our economic circumstances require that we reduce our planned defence expenditure over the next two years, our forces will still make a substantial and valued contribution to NATO. It is the Government's intention that they should continue to do so.
I believe, therefore, that we are proceeding on the right lines in the best interests of the nation in present circumstances. This debate is essentially about the choice between the Government's defence policy and that proposed by the Opposition, with all its irresponsibility and unsubstantiated allegations. I ask tall my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Conservative policy by voting against the motion.
§ Sir John Hall (Wycombe)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the speech we have just heard, would I be in order in asking leave to move a further amendment to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State to £1?
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Almost at the end of his speech, the Secretary of State referred to the Province of this country in which I have the honour to represent a constituency. Certainly no hon. Member for a Northern Ireland constituency could approach any proposals or decisions regarding the Armed Forces 1464 without inevitably thinking first of the possible impact on Northern Ireland.
My colleagues and I acknowledge that in handling the civil portion of the decisions announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer before Christmas the Government took particular account of the special circumstances of Northern Ireland and tempered the wind in their application to the Province. We look to the Government to ensure that on the military side also the special circumstances in Northern Ireland are taken into account in considering the impact upon employment and the economy generally.
I can offer one positive suggestion if the Secretary of State is looking for increased efficiency and savings from that quarter. We have welcomed the decision to increase the full-time element of the UDR, to which the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute, but have been disappointed by the rate at which that decision, which was announced many months ago, has been implemented. I think the Secretary of State will find that a considerable redistribution of the load and a considerable genuine economy could be made in Northern Ireland when a larger rôle can be discharged by the UDR in the very areas and for the very purposes for which it is designed.
The UDR cannot discharge that rôle fully unless its full-time element is considerably larger than at present. The Secretary of State will be serving his own budgetary purposes as well as increasing the efficiency of the security forces in Northern Ireland if he will accelerate and pay special attention to increasing the full-time element in the UDR.
My colleagues and I have often felt that debates are particularly unsatisfactory when they are in reality motions of censure upon the Government and turn upon major matters of policy but yet the wording of the motions before the House gives no indication—and is designed to give no indication—of the alternatives between which a decision is intended. Certainly the motion that is being technically debated this afternoon is no exception.
I should be the first to admit that the prospect of halving the salary of the Secretary of State or of any other Minister is an appetising one; and I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that, if he were dependent for the maintenance of his 1465 salary upon his performance at the Dispatch Box, one would have fears after this afternoon for its size in the coming months. Nevertheless, it is not good enough for us to be debating crucial matters of defence without having before us on the Order Paper, even in outline—here I disagree with what were almost the concluding words of the right hon. Gentleman—the alternative proposition that is being presented to us.
On a Supply Day, when the subject is chosen by Her Majesty's Opposition, the Order Paper is free. There is nothing to prevent—indeed, there is every reason in favour of it—Her Majesty's Opposition from placing upon the Order Paper an outline of their own intentions and of what would be their alternative proposals, so as to test the feeling of the House and enable the House to address itself to a genuine question.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The right hon. Gentleman must know that the Government can always table an amendment to a motion that is put forward by the Opposition. Therefore, there would not be an opportunity to test the opinion of the House.
§ Mr. Powell
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has mistaken me. I am not complaining that the House is not in possession of the Government's views and arguments. I am complaining that neither the Order Paper nor, if I may say so, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) has placed the House in possession of the other arm of the argument.
The right hon. Gentleman emphasised in considerable detail the growth in Russian strength. He referred to a 48 per cent. increase in one branch of Soviet arms and a large increase in another. I waited on tenterhooks to hear him draw the conclusion that there should be a proportionate increase in those arms in our own forces. I am most anxious to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, and I did detect five words—namely "We shall strengthen our forces". I accept that the right hon. Gentleman said that. It was the one indication in the whole of his speech of the intentions of Her Majesty's Opposition. Year after year the whole course of these debates has been that as each instalment of cuts of prospective 1466 expenditure—the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) has a strong case; it is only prospective expenditure—has come along, the proposal has been opposed by Her Majesty's Opposition; but the next time there has been no question of reverting to the previous level or to the level before that.
If there were a sort of Dunning motion before the House that the size and effectiveness of our Armed Forces has diminished, is diminishing and ought to be increased, there would be something to which the House could direct its attention. However, even that would be unsatisfactory, because it is surely not a question of balancing and arguing about percentage increases and reductions of total defence expenditure. I submit that we should be contributing on the Floor of the House different views about the balance between the component parts of the forces, the rate at which the different parts of the forces are being developed, and the whole thinking that underlies the structure of the forces——
§ Mr. Powell
I shall give way to my old colleague in these matters in a moment—for, as has been said this afternoon, it is those matters and those decisions now that determine what will be the size and effectiveness of our forces 10 and 15 years ahead.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I think back to the time when the right hon. Gentleman and I were colleagues on our party's Defence Committee. He will remember, when he was chairman of the committee, setting up a sub-committee to examine the future of the forces. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the committee's report ran into the sand and was never produced in the House by him or anyone else.
§ Mr. Powell
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for reminding me of the work that we did together. Whether I was still in a position on the Front Bench to offer up the results of the work that we did together I cannot at this moment recall; for I can never remember exactly where April 1968 fell in the course of events. But generally my hon. and gallant Friend is quite right: it is easy for groups of Members and 1467 individuals to work actively on various aspects of the Armed Forces and endeavour to produce some underlying philosophy by which the proposals of Governments may be judged, yet he and I know very well how fatally great is the temptation, against which I am protesting, for the Opposition to take refuge in generality and, as the Opposition have done today, in mere formality.
There is an unbridgeable gap between the commitments, to which the Secretary of State appealed, and the threat, which was frequently referred to by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, on the one hand, and on the other hand the specific forces which it is deduced from those commitments and that threat ought to be maintained in peace.
Perhaps the House will bear with me for a moment while I illustrate the nature of the gap from a matter of personal recollection. In 1941–42 I was in charge, so to speak, of the threat to the Middle East which would result from a German attack upon Turkey. I very soon became aware of the enormous range of hypotheses that might be applied in estimating the size and timing of that threat.
For almost all of 1941–42 we were engaged in a life-and-death struggle on the Western Desert Front, and rightly or wrongly, I conceived it to be my duty not to exaggerate anything that might divert the attention or the forces of the High Command from that crucial struggle. Your heart would be melted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you were able to contemplate the almost insurmountable difficulties in fighting their way across the Anatolian plateau with which I confronted any German forces that might have crossed the Bosphorus and be heading for the Middle East. They were slowed up almost to a standstill. However, when things changed at the end of 1942, when the prospect in the Middle East altered, what a change came over the capabilities of German forces attacking the Middle East through Anatolia! Difficulties that had previously been all but insurmountable virtually disappeared. Capabilities of railways and the speed and capacity of trains all altered. I do not say that it happened overnight; but it happened over a very short period.
1468 The deduction which I draw is that in the last resort these are political and not military decisions. The step between establishing a commitment in terms of an alliance or establishing a threat in terms of the armed forces of countries that may be our enemies and deciding upon what forces this country should maintain in time of peace is essentially a political and not a military step. It will be found quite impracticable to say that £100 million, £300 million or £500 million more or less upon the defence budget means that the threat cannot he met or that the commitments cannot be fulfilled. What we are doing, and what the Government are doing, when we consider the size, composition and preparation of our Armed Forces in peace is in reality something quite different. It is nothing more nor less than deciding what sort of forces and what scale of forces are appropriate to a nation such as we are, situated and circumstanced as we are. I believe the only rational approach to the constitution of the Armed Forces of an island nation such as ours in time of peace is to recognise that.
In a speech nearly two years ago, on 7th May 1975, I ventured to detain the House by endeavouring to set out in some detail how, from such a basis, a logical deduction might be made as to the shape and preparations, if not the absolute size, of the Armed Forces. I argued that, if we constituted our Armed Forces in that way, we should be in a position, without damaging their structure, to make adjustments according to the budgetary requirements of one year or another and moreover that the decisions of the Government would then be able to be criticised rationally by those who opposed them.
I do not wish to repeat that speech this afternoon. I want only to draw attention—the Secretary of State gave me a lead in this direction—to a change that has taken place in the last few months, which is much more dramatic in its effect for the future than has yet been appreciated. I refer to the extension to 200 miles round these islands of the territorial waters of the United Kingdom. It is an act of State of profound importance, quite apart from the European Economic Community or the question of the common fisheries policy. We have deliberately made ourselves 1469 responsible for the policing of that vast area of our own waters, as we claim them to be, around these islands in the context of fisheries. But we cannot stop there. We are responsible for the policing of those waters in every aspect by which the economy or safety of these islands may be affected.
It is true that in the past—no doubt it would be true again—the decisive single naval engagements were fought at great distances from these islands. Yet the struggle which has been critical to our survival in war has been waged predominantly in, under and above those waters around these islands which we now claim exclusively as our own. We have in a sense entered into our own patrimony and rendered dramatic and tangible what has always been the prime responsibility of our national defence policy.
I believe that in this change there can and ought to lie the inspiration to remould the shape and philosophy of our defence forces as a whole, to establish the primacy of the maritime element I include the air as well as the naval forces of all kinds—and to treat our domination over that air and sea area which is indisputably ours as the basis for thinking, for training, and for the military ambitions of our people.
I do not believe that if we did that we should in any way be reducing the true effectiveness of our contribution to the Alliance which, so far as I know, both sides of the House necessarily support; for in the last resort, the impregnability. if we can make it so, of these islands to invasion and domination of their sea and air space could again in future, as it has several times been in the past, be the guarantee of the liberty and ultimate victory of our allies upon the continent of Europe. I think that we ought to be talking about those forces in much more detail and with much more pertinacity than we have seemed to succeed in doing in previous debates.
In times gone by Governments have stood or fallen by their naval building programmes. The Secretary of State referred to the continuation of the development of our nuclear-powered submarine force, which he said rightly was the capital ship of the future. Undoubtedly it is the element which, if a single element alone can be decisive, would be decisive in 1470 conferring that control over our insular environment to which I have been referring. So the rate at which our submarine forces are developed and the extent to which they, as against other branches of the Services, have claims upon the resources which are available ought to lie at the heart of these defence debates. I do not believe that we fulfil the responsibility which is placed upon us if, first, we rest content with the proposal and rebuttal of cuts in total terms, real or specious, or, secondly, confine ourselves to allegation and repudiation of percentage changes here or there.
Historically, the greatest dangers which we have encountered in the past have been due to our inability to perceive in time fundamental military changes which have taken place. We have continued along the same tracks, maintaining forces of the same kind with roughly the same balance—a little more, a little less—and not been sufficiently alive to the changes in our own position and in the world around us.
My speech this afternoon is intended as a protest against our falling again into this danger. I express the hope that we shall find a way, with the assistance of Her Majesty's Opposition——
§ Mr. Powell
I was concluding. I am sure we all hope that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will have an opportunity to participate in the debate. Now that he has punctured my last sentence, I shall not try to recover it. I shall sit down.
§ 5.17 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on introducing a constructive spirit into the debate. As the debate wore on I was frightened that it would soon degenerate into the kind of debate that the right hon. Member for Down, South was criticising, particularly in view of some of the interventions that were made in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
In a previous defence debate, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) said that he thought that we were witnessing "disarmament by inflation". It was a striking phrase. However, I do not 1471 think that is the explanation, because in many respects these matters are indexed. I think that we are witnessing disaramament by the cost of technology. That aspect is causing the greatest concern. That is why I have tried in the past to draw attention to some of the priorities in terms of equipment.
When considering equipment, one is forced, like it or not, to look at strategy and the whole approach to defence. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said that the Opposition, should they become the Government, would increase defence expenditure. Whether that means increasing it by 10 per cent. or 15 per cent, he did not let us know. If it is 15 per cent, it means, perhaps, seven extra frigates or 20 extra aircraft.
Is that the right choice, in terms of value for money? As we are now faced with another cut-back in defence expenditure, has the time come to have a fundamental review of the weapons systems which the Chiefs of Staff are recommending to my right hon. Friend?
I think that the time has come for a serious reappraisal of the rôle of the Royal Air Force. I served in the RAF and am a great admirer of the Service. I know that it plays an important part in our defence arrangements. That is not in question. But when one examines the cost of modern aircraft one is bound to ask what vital equipment other parts of the Armed Services are giving up, or at least having in fewer numbers.
Since the Royal Air Force has given up its strategic rôle—and nobody denies that it has, least of all the Air Force—it has become a basically tactical force. It does have a strategic capability but its rôle is primarily that of a tactical force in aid of the Army in the forward positions of NATO.
The time has come to split defence in two broad ways. This proposal was examined during the 1974 fundamental review but it was rejected. I want to resurrect the idea of splitting defence into land/air and sea/air. I find it absurd that the Royal Navy is being forced to take on extra responsibility as a result of the 200-mile limit without the necessary air cover. One might also question the Navy's priorities in terms of the big ship concept. There is a strong 1472 case for producing more smaller ships and equipping them with missiles and the technology to deal with bigger ships.
§ Mr. Trotter
Is the hon. Member aware that this winter the Navy had only one large ship in operation? We already have a Navy of destroyers and frigates.
I do not totally agree. My remarks are directed towards the long term.
I know that the Secretary of State is faced with the problem of making £300 million worth of cuts, over two years, on the existing forces. It is up to all of us to try to contribute towards a solution to that problem.
I have done some work to see if there could be a saving by merging the Army and the Air Force in Germany. It is difficult for hon. Members to obtain accurate figures, and no doubt the ministerial team will question some of my figures. So far as I can see, the RAF, in terms of equipment and procurement, has between 31 per cent. and 36 per cent. —probably nearer 31 per cent.—of the total overall defence budget. That represents about one-third of the budget. I cannot believe that that is right. In the short term it would be possible to make some savings, but, as in most mergers, the economies expected do not always come to pass.
When discussing mergers many people refer to local government reorganisation, which resulted in more money being spent. I am not advocating, for the short term—although I do for the long term—that such a merger should be complete. But the present tail needs to be examined. If one has four people to deal with every Service problem it surely would be better if there were only three persons to do so. I hope that my right hon. Friend will address himself to that simple proposition. I hope that he will not totally dismiss it, because it might be worthy of further examination.
When opening the debate for the Opposition the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham criticised the Secretary of State for Defence and claimed that his assessments of the Chiefs of Staff's advice to the Prime Minister was puny. I am not sure of the right hon. Gentleman's exact words.
If I misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman I willingly withdraw.
The time has come to resurrect the independent review body which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer set up when he was Secretary of State for Defence. The body was composed of independent experts who evaluated advice from the Chiefs of Staff if there were disagreement. The carrier dispute is one example of disagreement among Chiefs of Staff, and I think there was also disagreement over the TSR2. The Government should consider resurrecting this independent review body, which, unfortunately, was abolished by the Opposition when they were in government last time.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
In his calculations about mergers, and so on, does the hon. Member consider that any arm of the Services except the Royal Air Force could provide us with protection in the oceans to the north and west of us?
I want to develop my case. A split in the way I suggest would cover that point. I am addressing myself to a more serious issue and I know that I am open to question on some of the detail of the proposition that I am making. I address myself to the important issue of the evaluation of advice from Chiefs of Staff. It would be best handled in the manner I suggest, thus enabling the Secretary of State to have a second opinion.
A number of hon. Members are finding themselves in a difficult position tonight. not only because of past speeches—and I have delivered my share——
§ Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead)
My hon. Friend knows that I agree with his general approach to defence, but before he leaves the question of mergers and amalgamations in the Services will he please comment on the Canadian experience? The Canadians were in favour of amalgamation of all Services, but they are now moving away from that idea.
I do not recommend anything like the Canadian proposal, which involved the whole of the three Services. I am in favour of seeing how two Services can be merged on an experimental basis in Germany.
1474 I am in a difficult situation, because I have always taken the view that defence must have priority in terms of overall expenditure because it is of fundamental importance to the security of the nation. Since the end of the war Labour Governments have always given priority to our commitment to NATO. The right hon. Member for Amersham was right to refer to the role of Ernest Bevin in an earlier Labour Government who exercised sound judgment in the formation of the Atlantic Alliance.
My quarrel is not with the Government. I understand their position. They are under immense pressure from a number of my hon. Friends below the Gangway who have outlined their views on numerous occasions and have an amendment on the Order Paper tonight. I must say to them, as I have said previously, that if we were to accept their advice it would imperil the future of this country and endanger the very objectives that I know they have in mind—mutual balanced force reductions, and reaching an accommodation with the Soviet Union. Yet in spite of this and in spite of the cuts that the Government have made over the years, my hon. Friends still ask for more.
In those circumstances it is very difficult for those of us who take a more plural view always to make our position absolutely clear. I cannot, in any circumstances. subscribe to the view that the alternative policy that the Opposition have put forward is in any way superior to my own Government's view. In fact, the vagueness of the Opposition's proposals makes them extremely suspect.
Therefore, I am looking very much towards my own Front Bench for real, solid reassurances that the present Labour Government, who I am proud to support, gives top priority to NATO and will resist any encroachments in the future which imperil this nation's contribution to NATO.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)
Although during the last two speeches a number of important propositions and appraisals have been made, we seem to have gone astray a little from what I would call the fundamentals of the debate today—that is basically, in my appreciation at least, whether the latest round of 1475 cuts suggested have put us into a dangerous position or have endangered our security. That is a matter on which we must all make up our individual minds.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) mentioned not only the Chiefs of Staff—on which we failed to get any elucidation—but also the remarks of the present Secretary of State's predecessor. It is quite clear—any layman would understand it as such—that last year, before these latest cuts were announced, he said that we had then reached the point at which if any further cuts were made our security would be endangered. I notice that the present Secretary of State, in his long speech, never once referred to that.
My right hon. Friend also referred to one or two of the findings of the Sub-Committee on Defence and External Affairs, of which I have the privilege of being a member. As the Secretary of State did not mention it, whoever replies to the debate for the Government ought to deal fairly and squarely with the appraisals made by a Select Committee of the House, which after all represents absolutely equally both sides of the House and in which the findings have been absolutely unanimous. To summarise, they are to the effect that if any further cuts were made other than those already made—which had already caused us to reach danger point—we should be endangering the security of this country.
Today, the Minister must either repudiate the findings of an all-party Select Committee or he must accept them. Leaving the Chiefs of Staff on one side, the Minister must also repudiate or accept what the previous Secretary of State said—that any further cuts would endanger our security. Was he speaking correctly then? Do the Government accept the position or do they say that he had no right or authority to make that statement at the time and that it was incorrect?
There is a fundamental difference, which has not yet emerged in speeches today, between the two sides of the House on defence, or at least between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. I believe that on balance it is fair to say about the Labour Party—moderates, the Tribune section and all the other sections—that its aim is to spend as little on defence as possible, as compared with 1476 social priorities which it regards as higher. I am not suggesting by any means that all members of the Labour Party wants to run down our defences to danger point, but it is a fair assumption to say that overall the Labour Party traditionally does not put the same priority on defence and security needs as does the Conservative Party, and that the Labour Party regards defence as simply one of a number of items of Government expenditure.
That point is proved. Very often Conservative Members get teased from the Government side of the House. We are told "You Conservatives are always proposing cuts in Government expenditure, yet you propose increases in defence expenditure". I have always stood for that, and I repeat it today. Yes, we do place an entirely different priority on defence expenditure, different from all other forms of expenditure, for a very simple, fundamental and understandable reason, which is very easily understood by the public. That is that one cannot judge one's defence forces just by what one can afford. One must judge them by what forces are needed to safeguard this country's security. That is the starting point in our minds, and it should be the starting point in the minds of everyone else.
Incidentally, when one travels abroad one finds that with other Governments of all political shades it is that standpoint from which they start, whether it be Israel or any other country. They say "What forces do we need to protect the security of our own country? Then we have to start thinking where we can find the money and men to provide it." That is not the theme of the Parliamentary Labour Party right across the board.
During the recess I visited Australia. I have only just returned. It is an interesting fact that the new Liberal Government in Australia, taking over an economic situation just about as bad as that which we are enduring here, have nevertheless, while cutting Government expenditure right across the board, proposed and had accepted a 16 per cent. increase in defence expenditure.
The interesting thing is that although there are very widespread criticisms of many of that Government's proposals at present from the defeated Labour Party, there has been virtually no criticism about the fact that the Australian Government 1477 have decided that at present the world is such a dangerous place that, economic hardship or not, defence needs must take a higher proportion of Government expenditure than hitherto. The same has happened in a number of other countries in varying degrees of economic development. Only here, in coming to a conclusion on our defence needs, do we say that we must expect that defence has to share the cuts along with all other Departments.
Once and for all, I hope that the Opposition Front Bench will repudiate that notion. I was heartened when our Shadow Minister said today that we shall reverse the trend and shall spend more on defence. I hope that in winding up the debate the Opposition spokesman will spell it out and say not only that we shall reverse or halt the trend, but that we recognise that where security is needed there is a totally different priority. I hope that he will say that we shall judge our needs in future not by looking right across the board to see where a Chancellor can find this or that cut but by what is needed to maintain the security of this country.
Shadow Ministers should start to say this now. I hope that it will be included in whatever election manifesto we put before the country, and in no uncertain terms. I would not mind if we lost votes over it, but I am fully confident that the general public share our philosophy on this matter and not the philosophy of the Labour Benches.
We have had cuts under a Conservative Government. It is not altogether fair to say that none of us protested about them at the time, because some of us did. There has been a series of cuts since, however, and the process has now become a regular one. Whenever we are in economic difficulty, when the pound takes another lurch, when the IMF demands cuts, the Chancellor asks each Department how much of a reduction he can expect. The Armed Forces always have to bear their share.
Where will this stop? If Ministers now say that, despite what has been said by the last Secretary of State, by NATO and by the Select Committee, they still believe that we have a credible defence, but only just, what will happen in the next economic crisis? Will 1478 the Chancellor then say again that every Department must pay its share? Will there be another percentage cut in the defence Forces' budget? As long as the present Government are in power, that is just what will happen. We shall have this debate all over again. We shall be told that, despite what the Chiefs of Staff and everyone else have said, we can still provide a credible security even after further cuts.
Were that true, we should not need our present defence Forces. If in an economic crisis we can, without endangering our security, always make further cuts, I do not see how Ministers can justify our present level of defence expenditure against their own left wing.
§ Mr. Litterick
I think that the House will easily follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but is he not overstating it? Can he tell us factually the last year in which defence expenditure fell, in real terms? That would put his argument in perspective.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I could not answer that question specifically, but I am glad that it has been asked because it proves the main theme of my speech. That is that I do not give a damn whether it has been raised or not raised in recent years. I do not judge this country's defence expenditure by whether it has been raised or lowered, but by what our prospective enemies are spending and how much we need to spend to match our defences against theirs. That is the test—not whether this or that party conference has advocated this or that reduction.
So my view is that defence expenditure should be based not on proposals for reductions but on the needs of this country in the face of changing situations overseas.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I do not of course, Mr. Speaker, share your disappointment, because I am anxious to hear the rest of my hon. Friend's speech. 1479 May I attempt, through my hon. Friend, to answer the question of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick)? The proportion of our expenditure devoted to defence was reduced in real terms in 1934, 1935, 1936, and 1937. As a consequence, because we did not meet the manifest and increasing threat of the enemy at that time, we failed to prevent and came close to losing the war that was forced upon us.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I agree with my hon. Friend. I think, Mr. Speaker, that your disappointment should be directed to some other hon. Member, because I was about to reach my conclusion.
A Labour Government are always in the dilemma that they possess in their ranks, if they are to maintain any shadow of unity, those who do not want any credible defence forces at all because they do not want to remain part of the Western Alliance. They do not mind becoming a Finland; they do not mind being neutral in the global struggle. The Labour Government at this time have to embrace within their so-called defence of our defence needs the fact that, if they are to keep a number of their own colleagues happy, they must take a serious risk from time to time, and continue to do so, with the maintenance of this country's security.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) to move his amendment, I should point out that the amendment will in no way limit the debate, so far as I am concerned. It will still be possible to discuss the proposition about the Secretary of State's salary.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof,'this House believes that arms expenditure should be reduced, not increased; notes that, far from the illusion that arms spending has been seriously reduced, there has been a real increase since 1974; welcomes the proposed cuts of 1½ per cent. next year, and 3 per cent. the following year, but considers these inadequate; asks the Government instead to carry out its election commitment to reduce the proportion of Great Britain's resources devoted to arms to that of the major European NATO powers; urges that the savings be devoted to housing, health, education, social services, overseas aid and the re-equipment of British industry; and further calls upon the Government to draw up immediate plans for 1480 the redeployment of workers and resources from arms production to socially useful purposes, along the lines of the suggestions made by the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards' Combine Committee and the Vickers Shop Stewards' Combine Committee.'The amendment has been signed by 50 of my hon. Friends. The signatures were obtained last night, when there was a very thin attendance on both sides of the House. If there had been the normal attendance, I can assure the House that there would have been 100 signatures—the same number as we have obtained on similar motions on previous occasions. If the amendment is defeated, all the signatories will vote solidly for the Government and against the Opposition's motion, because the Opposition want an increase in public expenditure on arms and we want a decrease.
I should like to broaden the discussion a little by accusing the "Big Arms Spenders", in Parliament and the Press, of adding to the present risk of war. Some of their minds are filled with the idea of winning an East-West war. There will be no winners in World War III. The only victors will be the worms. The task of our generation is not to win such a war but to avoid it.
Accelerating the arms race by either side is no deterrent.
§ Mr. Allaun
I will. It increases tension and the war danger. Conversely, arms reduction lessens tension and improves the prospect of peace, whether it is done by East or by West.
I am not fond of either the Soviet Government or the American Government, but I believe neither wants war because both are composed of relatively sane people. Yet each is so frightened of the other that they are both preparing for war. So the arms race gathers impetus, taking the human race nearer the precipice.
Some politicians and Press lords daily try to curdle our blood with accounts of "overwhelming" Soviet might. I probably dislike military might more than they do, but I wish to point out that NATO exceeds the Warsaw Pact Powers in total annual expenditure, in Services manpower and in naval strength, according to American Government sources.
1481 The International Institute of Strategic Studies, which is hardly a Soviet body, stated this month that the military spending of NATO is "only" $17.7 billion—about £10 billion—a year greater than that of the Warsaw Pact powers. How much more powerful than they must we be? In any case, both sides already possess enough nuclears to wipe out every man, woman and child on the earth several times over. That is what I call overkill.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
In that comparison, is account taken of the pay of the forces involved? I believe that the pay to the Soviet conscripts is very low indeed compared with what we and the Americans pay.
§ Mr. Allaun
The pay of the Soviet forces is certainly lower than ours, as is the pay of the Germans, the French, the Belgians and those of all the other countries which have conscription, because conscription is a way of getting armed forces on the cheap. I hope that no one will return to that point.
We in Britain just cannot afford to waste our resources on the present scale. What is the good of having military might if we have economic near-bankruptcy? Military might provides no defence. A dozen nuclear missiles landing on our country will decimate our people, and we could not prevent the arrival of these missiles if they were ever dispatched. So the spending of still more resources on arms is a waste. If there have to be cuts they should be, as the amendment says, in the arms programme and not in housing, health, education, social security, overseas aid and re-equipping industry.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams
Would my hon. Friend care to speculate why the Soviet Union has such a heavy defence programme, and what are its intentions?
§ Mr. Allaun
The Soviet Union has a large defence programme for precisely the same reason that America has a huge defence force. The Americans are considerably stronger than the Russians. As I have explained, that is because each country is frightened of the other.
The cost of our military research and development, which is now £702 million a year, would provide an extra 70,000 1482 homes a year. If the British people were asked—as they were once in a Gallup Poll—how they would prefer the money to be spent, they would much prefer it to be spent on social development rather than arms. I can produce figures if required.
§ Mr. Hooson
If the question were put in those terms, everyone would answer "Yes". Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the consequences were put to the people, namely, that they might lose their liberty and be dominated by another country, they would not answer in the same way?
§ Mr. Allaun
My reply is that it is difficult to defend oneself in a nuclear world because the only recourse is to drop nuclear weapons on another country and kill millions of equally innocent people.
The Opposition motion is to halve the defence Minister's salary. The Opposition claim that the Government have already cut military expenditure by £8 billion. On this point I disagree with both Front Benches, although we shall support the Government if our amendment is defeated. The alleged cut of £8 billion is a fiction. It is a reduction not in current spending but in comparison with wild proposals for a colossal increase in arms expenditure over the next 10 years, as suggested by the Tory administration in 1973 in a different economic climate.
It was asked earlier in the debate when the last cut was made in British defence spending. It was in 1953, under Winston Churchill, who made a more drastic proportionate cut than has been made at any time, with the exception of 1945.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I should like to get away from monetary expenditure and ask the hon. Gentleman whether, if the size of our Armed Forces were reduced by half tomorrow, he thinks there would be any reaction among the Warsaw Pact countries to that move.
§ Mr. Allaun
Yes, I think that the reaction would be extremely encouraging from our country's point of view. Mr. Brezhnev, in a recent speech, undertook for any cut by the West to make a proportionate decrease in the East. That is a very sensible way of going about it.
Talk about "further" cuts is nonsense. The arms bill has gone up, not down, in 1483 real terms. In the past three years there has been an increase in the annual arms bill in cash terms from £3.4 billion to £6.1 billion. Admittedly, inflation accounts for a large part of that, but not all of it. There was a real increase, in constant 1975 terms, of £200 million in a single year—1975–76.
If we are to make real cuts in the arms programme, we must ensure that alternative work is provided for every worker who might otherwise become unemployed. That proposal is now being considered in depth by a high-powered committee of experts set up by the Labour Party meeting in this building. We ask the Government to start to plan this conversion immediately in the way in which the Labour Government successfully switched 9 million Service men and arms workers to civilian employment within 18 months in 1945.
Engineering workers at factory and national union level are pressing for that. Shop stewards have come forward with valuable proposals for socially useful alternative work. Some aircraft workers, for example, stress that their facories and skills are particularly suited to produce the expensive and highly sophisticated machine tools—many of them electronically controlled—that we are at present buying from America, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
The shop stewards committees referred to in the amendment have also come forward with plans for the production of advanced medical equipment and with longer-term projects for battery-run cars, wave energy, solar heating and a hybrid road-rail vehicle with pneumatic tyres.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) speaks with great sincerity and puts his ideological viewpoint very firmly. When asked by an Opposition Member what would be the result if we reduced our defence expenditure by half, he said that the result would be extremely encouraging from our point of view. What if he is wrong? It behoves a country to be prudent in defence matters because if a major mistake is made in the calculation the result can be irremediable. That was almost so between 1934 and 1937, when the mistakes made by both sides of the House 1484 were based on political judgments. I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that it is a political judgment and not a military assessment that is the ultimate test. We were so wrong in our political judgment as to make the position for our country and Western civilisation almost irremediable.
The hon. Member for Salford, East was followed by the hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). In my experience defence debates are often dogged by ideological differences. The extreme Right of the Conservative Party has always been against any defence cuts. I remember its tremendous ideological adherence to the view that we should have a massive presence east of Suez when the country's position had been so changed in the world that on any detached view it was impossible to sustain it.
We have from the left wing of the Labour Party the other ideological viewpoint. It wants to cut defence expenditure whenever it can, irrespective of the long-term defence interests of the country. One could argue, I suppose, that it is safer for a country to have no defence expenditure at all rather than ineffective defence expenditure. We should put ideologies aside and look at our country as it is today in a changed situation, facing a threat certainly from one direction and possibly from elsewhere, and ask ourselves what is the prudent course for us to take.
When I listened to the Secretary of State, I could not help feeling that he was speaking with all the confidence of a Minister whose salary had actually been cut by half. It seemed to me that he paid the price beforehand, such was the conviction conveyed by his speech. I understand his feelings. He is a very intelligent man and he knows that there is a world of difference between defence cuts as a result of a considered review and arbitarary cuts such as those we are considering. That is why his heart was not in his speech. He had obviously been defeated in the Cabinet and had to come here to answer politically for a decision taken politically by the Cabinet as a whole. We understand his position, and perhaps we should not be too frightened about his salary.
1485 The essence of my defence philosophy is that the majority of our people do not want to take a real risk with the security of the country. They abhor war—the younger generation in particular see war as a dreadful thing in all its consequences—but equally they abhor the thought of the risk of losing their personal liberty and their way of life. They are aware that there are forces in the world which really believe in dictatorship, in the exercise of military power and might, not necessarily to attack a country but to bring such external pressure on it that it has to change its internal complexion. That is to me an unacceptable form of pressure that this country and the West should safeguard against.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
It is rare that one hears a Liberal talking about defence. To make sure that we all understand the hon. and learned Gentleman, may I ask whether he is saying that the Liberal Party now believes that defence expenditure should be increased? Is it the Liberal policy to continue with the nuclear deterrent?
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman obviously pays no attention to defence, otherwise he would know that the Liberal Party does not believe in increasing defence expenditure. But we think that if there are to be reductions they should be as a result of an overall review in the NATO context. The question of the independent nuclear deterrent is a matter that needs quite separate examination, and it is not the subject of this debate.
I want to deal with the amendment. I can sympathise with the all-out pacifist view. I can understand that there are people who believe that there is no point in having defence of any kind. But we live in a world in which the majority of other people and those in control of other countries are by no means pacifist in their views and are willing to use, and intend by their political philosophy to use, armed force to achieve their ends and impose their will. Someone once said that freedom is like the air we breathe: we notice it only when it is absent. We have tended to take for granted much of our freedom, and I think that we must be aware that eternal vigilance is its only guarantee.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I refute the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman about pacifism. I agree with the amendment but I am not, never have been and never will be pacifist. I served in the Second World War, as did many Opposition Members. I do not want in any way to bow my head to anyone who would attack the country. I was one of those who framed the amendment. We framed it in such terms as to ensure the adequate defence of this country as we see that it should be defended, taking into account all the circumstances. I wish to refute categorically any accusation that there is pacifism in the amendment.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman has made his own position clear, but the position of others who have signed the amendment may be quite different. I am pointing out that total pacifism is a much more acceptable viewpoint than that of ineffective defence. If we are to have defence, it must be effective and not ineffective.
There has been much discussion about the undoubted growth of the armed strength of the Soviet bloc forces and the relative decline of the West. I think that the most important element in the defence of the West is not necessarily the hardware but is really the morale and intellectual will of the West to continue to live, and live in its own way. That in itself is useless, however, unless one has the hardware to support the will. But I do not subscribe to the view which implies that if one believes in defence one always has to believe in additional armaments. That was the view put, in effect, by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) when he interrupted me just now.
I much agree with the viewpoint, expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South, that there has to be a constant reassessment of the kind of threat that is posed to the country. I agree with his assessment that probably we should be increasing our maritime capability in all its aspects and relying perhaps in a different way on our land forces.
There have been vast changes in the 20 years in the position of the West. There have been inevitable changes in attitude. There has been less chauvinism in this country. A great deal of the Tory pressure in the past for excessive 1487 military expenditure was based on pure chauvinism. I do not say that the majority of the Tory Party would now subscribe to that view, but it was very characteristic of the debates in the House 13 or 14 years ago.
I think that there is in the country and in the West generally a tendency to overstate our own shortcomings, to criticise and, indeed, to be hypercritical of our own country, and to underestimate and understate the shortcomings on the other side of the Iron Curtain. We have heard enough from Russian dissidents recently to know the severe penalties to the human spirit from living under a régime which believes in an iron dictatorship and in spreading the power and influence of that dictatorship through armed pressure without necessarily employing armed attack.
Therefore, I think it is important that this country, in common with the other NATO countries, should constantly reassess the threat posed by the Soviet bloc. As there are changes in our attitudes, no doubt there are changes in the Soviet viewpoint. There is, however, one great distinction between the open democracies in the West and the way they work and the way in which the Soviet bloc works. One has the impression in the West of constant confusion and uncertainty, with no policy and short-term expedients being resorted to. We had such expedients in 1973—three cuts in defence expenditure by the Tory Government within seven months. That sort of thing happens in all the NATO countries. We have these constant shifts and changes.
On the other hand, one has the impression that the Soviets came to a decision a long time ago and that they are following a definite defence policy, part of which includes detente—which means something different to the Russians from what it means to us. We should constantly review the situation. There is far too little co-ordination in the Western Alliance. There is far too little co-operation between its members and there is a great deal of duplication in defence expenditure. I have no doubt whatever that, with a proper national review and within the NATO Alliance, we could have much greater cost effectiveness in our defence. That is what we must aim for.
1488 In view of the constant changes in the West and the uncertainties and pressures that we have here today, the Russians are bound to ask whether the West has the will to resist or whether it will crumble internally when subjected to a great deal of external military pressure.
It is dangerous to have arbitrary cuts such as those now proposed. Defence expenditure is of a different nature from other expenditure because it is irremediable, or remediable only at great cost. We need to have a constant and careful review.
I do not think that we have sufficient debates on defence matters in this House. I think there should be a permanent Defence Committee that constantly considers defence implications. In a valuable speech, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) made various suggestions which should be examined in detail and, in particular, in committee at much greater depth than is possible in a debate of this kind.
A major factor that must be considered is the effect of any cuts of this kind on the situation in Northern Ireland. Tribute has already been paid to the rôle of the Services in Northern Ireland, but we must also consider whether it is now seriously interfering with the training programme of the Army of the Rhine.
We obviously need greater co-ordination of defence policies in the Western world, particularly in the light of changing circumstances. What is really needed in this country is a long, cool look at our defence policy. What is needed is a committee that constantly assesses changes. We should avoid short-term cuts in defence expenditure.
I was defence spokesman for my party about 10 years ago and I recently resumed that responsibility. I have always generally been in favour of cutting defence for the reason that I see no point whatever in spending one penny more on defence than is absolutely necessary. Any sensible person would take that view. But when we have evidence—it is already clear—of a massive build-up of Soviet forces, I think that to make arbitrary cuts of this kind is entirely irresponsible.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is absolutely 1489 right about the need for a Parliamentary Defence Committee. I do not know what the hon. and learned Gentleman has been doing in the last few years, because the Expenditure Committee is just that. It is a pity that there is no Liberal representative on it.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has made the only defence contribution to this debate from the Opposition Benches so far. The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right in his strictures on the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) about the vagueness of his statement in relation to defence. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham talked about the morale of the Services. That is always a Tory gambit when there is a Labour Government.
I remember that from 1967 to 1970 the Tories were saying in every defence debate that morale in the regiments and squadrons was disappearing because we were running the defence of the country. I visited scores of military establishments and never found one word of truth in what was being said then. It is exactly the same story now. I shall be happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he can point to a particular regiment, squadron or unit and say that morale has fallen.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I do not think it is right to mention particular units across the Floor of the House. But the name of one particular unit has been given to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force and it was not denied. It was agreed that there were other units as well.
§ Mr. Boyden
The largest number of troops are in Ireland or BAOR, and I would have thought that their morale was extremely good.
It is absurd to take a figure and say that below that figure there is decay and disruption and that our forces are threatened. The right hon. Member for Down, South was absolutely right when he said that there is a considerable varition in the effect of cuts and the effect of the actual money devoted. It would have been much better if the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham had given specific examples with regard to 1490 equipment and manpower where the cuts would be damaging and would provoke a crisis.
I want to confine my remarks to specific matters and refer to the Defence Committee of the Expenditure Committee, which has been working for a considerable time with regard to many matters. I particularly want to mention training. A report is now with the Committee, commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) when he was Minister of State for Defence, and the report makes some valuable suggestions. On reading that report I felt that not enough energy was devoted in the Ministry to making the costs of training less while making it more effective.
The actual cost of Service training in the current year is not far short of £500 million. It is approaching about 10 per cent. of the defence budget. Most training establishments have spare capacity In fact, there are some training establishments, such as in the Army, where it would be possible to have the same kind of training for the RAF in one particular area either by co-locating similar training units or, better still, evolving a common training policy.
The actual organisation in the Ministry of Defence for looking at training is rather weak and suffers from the fact that those men of experience—the directors of training—have a strong vested interest in maintaining the training quantity and arrangement for their own particular Service. This was forcibly brought home to the Defence Committee when the directors of training came to the Committee to discuss this very subject. I was astonished to find that there are four Services—at least, there are four directors of training—because the Royal Marines have their own director of training. Though the directors are all good military people, they have an extremely complacent attitude about the need for common training and working together to see whether considerable economies can be made. I suggest that the Secretary of State should look at defence training programme and consider, in the light of the report, whether he should not make some changes.
There are a number of administrative changes that the Secretary of State could 1491 make that would produce some economies almost at once. If my right hon. Friend decided that there should be cuts in the length of training in almost all courses, and left it to the directors of training to make suggestions regarding the cuts, I think he would get some astonishing results.
For example, in the training of telegraphists, teleprinter operators and telephonists there are separate training establishments for each Service, but at the end of the day the work is almost entirely the same. The length of the basic course varies in each Service. One course lasts three weeks, one lasts four weeks and one lasts five weeks. Therefore, if pressure is applied, there can be rationalisation, and I should have thought that those whom I have mentioned could be trained on a common basis in a common establishment with a standardised length of course.
The very fact that each Service has a different period of training for the same subject calls for some investigation, and the very fact that there are still situations of this description suggests that there has not been the concentration on training and training economies that there could have been.
One economy that the Services have made is the arrangement whereby one Service trains for another—the agency arrangement. But, out of some 30,000 men under training at any given time, there are not more than 2,000 being trained on an agency basis, and the number of common Service establishments is very few. Some are very high-level. Others are not so high-level. But the very fact that both high-level training and what might be called low-level training are done on a common basis suggests that a great deal more could be done. Automatic data processing, work study, nuclear biology and chemical defence training are all done on a common basis. But almost all adventure training, which I venture to call low-level, including free-fall parachuting, mountaineering, gliding and sailing, is done on a joint basis.
The Expenditure Committee felt that, for example, in catering, MT driving and MT mechanical maintenance, considerable economies could be made if there were common training. So far there have been reports and studies, but there 1492 has been no movement on the ground to produce the kind of training that would result in economies.
To underline what I have been saying about telephonists, I cite the example of the training of dog handlers. It would not save a great deal on the defence budget, but the RAF and the Army train their dog handlers on different systems and in different places.
§ Mr. Mates
Of course the jobs are different. The RAF Regiment uses dog handlers for one specific task, namely, to guard airfields. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the variety of tasks undertaken by Army dog handlers, especially in Northern Ireland, where they have a police rôle, a security rôle and a search and detection role. Their jobs are totally different.
§ Mr. Boyden
But the end result, which is the way that the dog behaves after his training, does not seem all that different. The Army is proposing to rebuild its veterinary establishment at Melton Mowbray. I suggest that this would be a good opportunity to look at the problem. I suggest that training in dog handling is one area which might be put on to a common basis.
In the illustrations I have given, I suggest that there is sufficient evidence of the need for a much more active investigation into the subject of common training not only along the lines of the Expenditure Committee but also in a much more thorough way. I hope that the Secretary of State will take this seriously. It could produce considerable economies. My right hon. Friend should call upon the Defence Training Committee to make a progress report on what it has in mind.
The other matter to which I wanted to refer was touched upon by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. It is the scope in NATO for much greater cooperation and much greater efficiency from the use of the same money. For some time the Expenditure Committee has been studying the difficulties of the failure to have common operational machinery—for example, to get different national aircraft to operate from the same airfields. Such matters are relatively simple and raise no 1493 problems for the Warsaw Pact countries because their equipment all comes from the same source. But in the case of NATO we need a much greater effort by SACEUR and the NATO Secretariat with the individual nations. This has been on the cards for a long time. Western European Union has been hammering away at it. There is to be a conference at the beginning of March on this subject under the auspices of WEU. However, the need to bring pressure from the British angle is outstanding.
Recently the Expenditure Committee discussed these matters with a number of Dutch Members of Parliament, and they made a number of very constructive suggestions for much closer integration between the Dutch and British forces. There are already very close naval connections, but a variety of suggestions were made which would be of considerable benefit and be economical.
Earlier in the debate one of my hon. Friends spoke about the integration of the Army and the Royal Air Force, and another hon. Member intervened and put to him a question about the Canadian experiment. I hope that we shall not go along that line. I have met many Canadians over the years and I have spoken to many of their military people. There is no doubt that it has been almost a disaster for the Canadian forces. It has not been so very important. of course, because the role of the Canadian forces can fit in more to an integrated base than those of almost any other country. They play a prominent role in the United Nations, and their emphasis on integration of this kind is more appropriate there.
When the Canadian integration scheme was brought into operation, there was a drastic reduction in the number of men in their Services, from 120,000 in 1964 to 82,000 in 1973, so that there was the most favourable opportunity to make a success of the experiment. The Canadians failed to make a success of it, and it would be a fatal mistake in producing integration, common purposes and common training for our Services to get rid of units which had proved to be a complete success over the years. I refer specifically to the regiment, the squadron and the ship. It would be difficult to get rid of the last of those, 1494 though perhaps the Opposition think that my colleagues have that in mind. When I went into the Army Department in 1967, however, I thought that there was a strong case for a corps of infantry. It did not take me very long and many visits to regiments to discover that the Army was right to have built up the traditions of the regiment. The same applies to the squadron in the Royal Air Force.
What is more, although I have been stressing the need for common training, I do not agree with the directors of training or with those higher up in defence circles that it would weaken the spirit of the regiment or the squadron. In fact, I can see possibilities of improving field operations because people have been trained together and have grown up together in this way. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has any designs on the regiment. From my experience, I have no doubt that in the Army the regiment is the most efficient unit devised over the years. It is the envy of our NATO allies, and I am sure that there will be no interference with it.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I believe that there are about 80 Government supporters in this House who are members of the Tribune Group. If my arithmetic is correct, some 45 Labour Members have signed the amendment. The Tribune Group is calling for a further cut over and above the cuts already announced—a cut amounting to an additional £1,000 million. That is well known.
§ Mr. Litterick
To put the matter in its true perspective, it should be pointed out that it is the Labour Party which has made such a call. It made it in 1973, and it has repeated it every year since.
§ Mr. Critchley
That reinforces what I was about to say, because I should like to know what are the motives behind the Tribune Group. What is it setting out to do? What are its motives? What sort of Britain does it want?
I suspect that the members of the Tribune Group are the same people who were described rather unsympathetically by the late Hugh Gaitskell asa collection of neutralists, unilateralists and fellow travellers.1495 They are, in fact, mounting a threat to the sort of foreign policy and defence policy which the Labour Party has always stood for. They are advocating further cuts in defence, the size of which, if implemented, would make our contribution to the NATO Alliance useless and worthless.
Everyone knows this, but what is so annoying is that these Tribune Group Members pretend to be radicals in favour of saving money of retrenchment, or moralists who are uniquely concerned with the wickedness of weapons. In fact, they are neither. They wish to make Britain a neutral nation, and it is curious that it should be the right wing of the Labour Party—the social democrats—who have failed in the intellectual battle of revealing precisely what the Tribunal Group wishes to achieve.
The Tribune Group wants Britain to become neutral in the context of the East-West dispute. The group favours neutrality, either as an end in itself or as a first step towards Britain changing sides. The group's members fear and dislike the United States more than they do the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Critchley
The hon. Member will be jolly lucky if he listens to a speech in this place which contains only one assertion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have had occasion to look in the direction of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) at other times. I hope he will remember that.
§ Mr. Litterick
I shall try not to be provoked by any more ignorant assertions this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Critchley
I should remind the hon. Member to read the publication which comes out weekly carrying the name of the group to which he belongs. Why, if the Tribune Group is hostile to capitalism in this country, should it be so surprising that that hostility is universal?
There are three forms of neutrality, and no one ever asks what it is that the Tribune Group wishes to achieve. Its members are allowed to pretend to be in favour of something else. But they 1496 either favour an utterly disarmed Britain, a half-armed neutrality without nuclear weapons—certainly not in any alliance which depends on nuclear weapons—or a fully-armed neutrality. We do not know which sort of neutrality the Tribune Group favours, because no one has asked it, and it has never been obliged to defend its position and say which of those three forms of neutrality it espouses. If Britain is to become neutral, the obvious effect of such a radical change in British foreign policy would be an upset in the balance of power, and this would make the situation in central Europe, which is at present reasonably stable, quite unstable. Is this the Tribune Group's objective? Its members should think this through. They should not escape the burden of thinking through the consequences of their own attitudes.
If they are in favour of a smaller United Kingdom contribution to NATO, are they happy to see our forces replaced by German forces? Have they thought that through? The truth is that, despite what they claim, money has little or nothing to do with their attitude. They wish to see a fundamental realignment of Britain in the context of the East-West dispute.
There are fallacies which underline the concept of neutrality and its advocacy. There are those who believe that if Britain became neutral other countries would follow suit, and there are other people who say that once our virginity is restored our influence in the world will be much greater.
Let me make it quite clear that no country in the world—Socialist or otherwise—is utterly disarmed. Therefore, no one could conceivably follow such a British example. Secondly, are we to imagine that the restoration of our virginity would increase our influence in the councils of the world? I think it would mean that we would have less influence on our friends, and I doubt whether it would mean that we would have very much influence on the Soviet Union. The Russians would regard our neutrality as something in their interest. The real truth is that the Tribune Group Members feel neutral between the United States and the Russian alliance. They want Britain to leave NATO and the Atlantic Alliance. At best, they see American capitalism and Russian 1497 dictatorship on all fours, and at worst they want Britain to change sides in the context of the cold war.
If those in the right wing of the Labour Party are not prepared to take the intellectual battle into their camp, someone else has to do so.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
As I propose to refer to the Secretary of State, I apologise for being absent for a short time during his speech, for reasons of which you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that this debate today is very different from defence debates in the past, because today we are being asked to approve or agree with a policy to reduce our defences when we have every reason to believe that this reduction is being made contrary to advice given. That makes a tremendous difference to the effect on people who really believe that the defence of this country should be of prime importance to any politician.
Before I develop the argument, I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) is not here. I respect his views, but I wonder whether he has given any real thought to the reasons why Europe has been free from any major conflict for 32 years—the longest period in the lifetime of anybody here. The reason is, of course, that we have had some sort of balance between the forces of East and West. The argument for cutting our forces below a level that would encourage aggression is surely contrary to what my hon. Friend really wishes. People like him should ask themselves whether Hitler would have started the war in 1939 had we been capable of devastating Berlin at the beginning of the war, in the way we were at the end.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I have been following my hon. Friend's speech very closely. Is he really implying that the two world conflicts we saw in Europe were conflicts between East and West—the Russians and us? I do not see it like that at all.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I do not think that anything I said indicated that. From time to time there are countries which, given the opportunity, will exercise military influence throughout the world. Fortunately, we have ceased to exercise that 1498 sort of rôle, much to the benefit of this country and mankind generally. I put the question again—would Hitler have started the war, or would the Russians have invaded Czechoslovakia had Czechoslovakia been capable of unleashing atomic weapons on Moscow? These are questions that we should ask ourselves when we are asking what sort of weapons we should have. I do not discuss weapons with the objective of starting a war; on the contrary, I discuss them with the objective of stopping a war.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has departed. I went along with his argument for quite a way, until the intervention in his speech, at which point he thought it necessary to restate Liberal Party policy. I do not think that he was restating his policy, because what he said did not not tie in with anything he had said before. If he were to ask himself whether the Czechs would now be in their present position if they had had atomic weapons he would be forced to the conclusion that there is at present a call for atomic weapons.
It is suggested that there would be no victors. If one reads deeply into what is happening in Russia, one can see that certainly the Russians are counting on being able to overcome a first strike. One has only to consider the number of people who are now trained and the millions of pounds that are being spent on underground shelters. The Russians have reached the stage at which it is estimated that a first strike would kill only 8 per cent. of their people, as opposed to 25 per cent. of the people in the West. We must ask ourselves whether, if they could reduce that percentage even further, a temptation would not exist for them.
What we should be discussing is not how we shall win a war but how we are to prevent it starting. Anything I say is motivated towards that end. I am not an old blimp who thinks that we should keep up forces for the sake of our imperial past. When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, as Secretary of State for Defence, was giving the reasons why we should stay in the Far East, I was arguing why we should get out and concentrate our defence in Europe, which is our home base. However, having got our forces out from everywhere else it 1499 now seems that we are incapable of protecting even the home base.
It is no good saying that the Russians are peaceably inclined when they are spending on defence the amount of money that at present they are. Uncomfortable as many of us in the House today are at what is happening, no one is more uncomfortable than my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, because they must know in their own hearts that what they are asking the House to approve just does not make sense. Nobody could ever fault my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as a kindly, genial person. My only regret is that 11 years ago, as Minister for the Army, he was cutting the reserves away, and that his boss at that time was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Knowing what a good job my right hon. Friend did on that occasion, I am not surprised to find that he has his present position when further cuts are required.
He must know that the Chiefs of Staff do not approve of what is being done. I should like an assurance that they do approve. We heard earlier the suggestion that the Chiefs of Staff ought to resign. God forbid that they should when they at least are able to say to the Government "We will do whatever you tell us because we are your servants, but we wish to make clear what you are letting yourselves in for, and you should not stand at the Dispatch Box and tell the House that we approve of it". Whilst we have such Chiefs of Staff we have a hope for the future.
I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to take into account the damage that has already been done to the forces and that will be done if we make further cuts. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) said that there was no demoralisation of the forces. If that is so, it is a tremendous tribute to them. My right hon. and learned Friends know that our forces are untrained, in so far as they cannot get the petrol to carry out exercises or the missiles to fire from the aircraft. Our forces will be trained in the first few days of any conflict that starts.
The capabilities for moving our forces to any area of conflict have almost ceased to exist. No wonder the Government are investing in travel agencies. That seems to be the only way in which we can get 1500 our commandos over to Norway. Have we any aircraft available to move tanks or helicopters to any scene in which they are required?
I want to bring the argument down to the individual man. A few weeks ago we were told that the Parachute Brigade of the Territorial Army was being disbanded. I have had not only a past but a continuing personal interest in that brigade. I did not ask questions about it in the House when the announcement was made, because one is always in difficulties in plugging a unit in which one has a vested interest.
I ask my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench whether they realise what is likely to happen to the soldiers in those units. I understand that they are likely to be given the opportunity to do three training drops a year. If a man joins that unit in the next month or so and is sent on a parachute course he may do this year's training in March or April. At the end of that course the chances are that he will not do another jump for 15 or 17 months. The worst time for anyone who has done parachuting is when he first finishes his course. A delay of perhaps 18 months will not improve matters. These men will be asked to jump on exercises when not only their lives but the lives of many of their colleagues will be at stake.
This is a personal interest that I voice, but the situation is reflected throughout our forces. We are not even giving our forces the basic things with which to train. I am worried when I hear Regular Army officers saying that our reserve forces are in some instances better trained than the Regular Army. We must recognise that we are depriving our forces of the basic things that will help them to become good soldiers.
I shall be unable to support my right hon. and hon. Friends tonight because I believe that what they are doing they will regret, even if they do not regret it at present. I only wish that they could take some other action, and I should like to think that perhaps one or two of them may find it impossible to remain in their present positions.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
By now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will have become accustomed to the habitual 1501 pattern of these defence debates. That pattern consists of a sparse attendance on the Government side—at any rate, above the Gangway—a plurality of Opposition Members who wish urgently to expose the scandalous manner in which the Government are treating the Services, and a number of banal, soothing and utterly inconsequential clichés uttered from the Government Front Bench at the beginning and end of the debate which have absolutely no effect on the dangerous course that the Government pursue.
Today, however, for the first time, I detect indications that the whole House of Commons is beginning to feel the nature of the perils at which we have arrived. Not only the moving and convincing speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) but that of his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and even the speech of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) show that serious misgivings are developing on the Government side. We may be able to draw some encouragement from this and possibly even be satisfied with the result this evening.
On a personal note, I well remember that when I was a student and a self-styled defence expert I was given a book to review. The title was "The Politics of Western Defence". The right hon. Gentleman will not remember this, but I even telephoned him about the book some 18 years ago. If I had been told then that the author would one day be in charge of the nation's defence, I would have thought it an excellent choice, of a thoughtful, intelligent, patriotic man to whom we could safely entrust the security of the country.
I find it incredible that the author of that book has changed to such an extent that today he can preside over the death by a thousand cuts which is being inflicted on the Services by the Government of which he is a member. The Government made cuts in March 1974, December 1974, April 1975, February 1976, July 1976 and December 1976, and are making more today. An aggregate of £1,700 million has been taken from defence spending. Yet the Secretary of State, unlike his predecessors, who gave convincing and serious assurances couched in the gravest language and quoted the nature of the threats 1502 with which we were faced, has no comment that is in the least constructive or reassuring.
I ask the Minister who replies to the debate to confirm or deny four propositions relating to the condition of the Services. The first proposition is that the RAF no longer has any interceptor capacity other than against single intruders into our air space, and that it has no capacity for defending us for more than, at the very longest, 24 to 36 hours against escorted bombing attacks. I do not think that this is regarded any longer even as a feasible operational requirement.
The second proposition is that the Royal Navy is incapable of guaranteeing the new fishing limits against intrusion, or of running even two convoys, one from the Atlantic and one from the Persian Gulf, still less of performing those two tasks simultaneously.
The third proposition is that the garrison strength in Britain is lower than it has been at any time in the past century. We have hardly the capacity to defend ourselves against an amphibious or paratroop attack by a lot of Cubans, still less by the Soviet Union.
The fourth proposition is that many units of the Rhine Army have undergone only one course in the last year of firing live missile ammunition, and that field morale and efficiency are in serious jeopardy because of restrictions in the use of fuel and equipment.
In addition to these immediate failings, there is the long-term question of weapons procurement. All Labour Members must know that the Government have in their hands the ability to reduce unemployment—I hesitate to use the phrase "at a stroke"—by exporting the defence industries of this country. The defence and weapons production industries are among the very few successful exporters and earners of foreign currency. With motor cars, textiles, and so on, we are in net deficit, but on weapons we are in net credit on foreign exchange.
Were we to implement a proper weapons procurement system, and genuinely to co-ordinate and encourage the marketing and exporting of British weapons, we should have the capacity greatly to improve the equipment of our forces, to contribute significantly to our 1503 foreign exchange earnings, and to reduce substantially the excessive number of unemployed. But instead of adopting constructive solutions of this kind, the Government, as is their conditioned reflex, tend to resort to the solution of the gimmick.
A classic example is the suggestion by the hon. Member for Hornchurch, made, as it were, out of the blue, that the RAF should be abolished. The hon. Gentleman devotes a considerable amount of time to studying defence matters, and I am always glad to listen to his opinions, but is not this a classic example of trying to avoid the fundamental point, which is that defence expenditure has been reduced well below the safety level? Is he not simply seeking to catch a quick headline by a sensational suggestion which would not only multiply cost and reduce efficiency but would cause serious structural damage to the way in which defence services are arranged? We would have great difficulty in repairing the damage when we returned to office.
No one denies that the Army needs a close-support air component, and that this should be under the command of the senior officer on the spot. The Army's close-support component is highly defective. It should have more anti-tank helicopters and vertical take-off strike aircraft, and a better transport capacity. But that major responsibilities of air defence, such as interception, surveillance of our air space, and strategic bombing should be abolished or subordinated to land-bound generals is a suggestion that seems to be unworthy of consideration.
Ludicrous as it is, the suggestion has at its root a refusal to face facts or to deny the argument that we cannot afford a certain level of defence. I do not impugn the integrity of Labour Members who may have strong pacifist convictions, or other ideological commitments which lead them to believe that social tension results from spending too much on defence, that death-dealing weapons are objectionable, and so on. But the argument that we cannot afford defence is untenable, because we are among the most highly-taxed nations in the West. It is ridiculous to say that the revenue is not there to spend on defence.
What we are saying is that we have the money, but we do not wish to devote it to defence. People speak of easing 1504 social tension, or to use another fashionable phrase, of the social wage, to which so much Government spending is devoted. The Government published figures yesterday showing that the social wage was £795 a year for every man, woman and child. That is not a wage but a bounty, paid out by Governments to purchase the votes of those whose support they seek.
Governments—the existing Government is not the first to practise this—put their own security of office above that of the country. They divert tax revenue to what is, crudely speaking, the purchase of votes and away from the proper purposes which national security would demand. This philosophy is at the root of the argument that we cannot afford proper defence.
§ Mr. Litterick
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the prison service forms part of the social wage? Would be regard that as a bounty for those who are beneficiaries of that accommodation?
§ Mr. Clark
There are certain elements in present prison expenditure of which I do not approve, but I did not know that it was included in the social wage. I was interested to read, in a definition of the social wage, that a number of factors which I would have included have been excluded. If I put the social wage at £800 a year per head, that is probably more of an underestimate than an exaggeration.
Despite the many high-sounding truisms uttered by Ministers, the only shock that will convert them before it is too late is a decisive vote by the House. There are signs that the perils are beginning to be perceived on the Government side of the House, and it is only by Back Benchers, regardless of party, making known their misgivings in the Lobby that the security of the United Kingdom will be sustained.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I found some difficulty in following the erratic speech of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). I was puzzled to hear that he was worried that we might be attacked by parachuting Cubans. That is not usually considered to be a risk against which the Ministry of Defence should guard.
1505 This debate is one of the most bogus uses of a Supply Day that I can remember in my 21 years as an hon. Member. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) should lend his name to it. He is an amiable person of unquestionable integrity, but in 1973, when he was a senior Defence Minister, the then Conservative Government cut defence expenditure by £250 million. In present-day terms that is equivalent to over £400 million and is much greater than the cut which is currently being proposed. Far from protesting about cuts, the right hon. Gentleman took part in the exercise so enthusiastically in 1973 that he was promoted to Secretary of State for Defence. Yet now he leads the attack on my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for doing exactly the same thing.
Although it is surprising to see the name of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham on the motion, it is not so surprising to see the name of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). He is a newly-appointed Front Bench spokesman and we understand his enthusiasm and know about his natural ebullience.
§ Mr. Townsend
If the hon. Gentleman had three hospitals in his constituency and one was closed, would be not regard that as a good argument for not closing the others?
§ Mr. Cronin
The previous cuts made by the present Government were based on a general reduction of defence commitments. The defence review made them reasonable. However, this is past history. The debate is about cutting the salary of my right hon. Friend who has been Secretary of State for only a few weeks.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham quoted Field-Marshal Sir Michael Carver, who said in 1975 that our defence expenditure had reached bedrock, and General Haig, but whoever heard of a general being completely happy with the armed forces at his disposal? It is only natural that he should try to obtain more. Whoever heard of a surgeon being happy with his operating theatre or a headmaster who did not want more equipment for his school? It was a little ingenuous of the right hon. 1506 Gentleman to quote the remarks of those generals.
The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that the morale of the Services had been impaired since he was Secretary of State. That is untrue.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I hope the hon. Gentleman will make clear that he was not impugning the integrity of the generals or the Government's professional advisers.
§ Mr. Cronin
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman could have heard what I was saying. There was no question of my impugning the integrity of any officers.
In the last nine months I have twice been to sea with the Navy, and for equestrian purposes I have visited the Household Cavalry barracks twice a week for several years. I have taken advantage of these opportunities to find out the state of morale, and I suggest that it is extremely high. Obviously the Services do not like cuts, but any young officer in the Navy or the Army will say that they have learned to live with them. They all recognise our difficult economic circumstances. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham does no service to our Armed Forces when he suggests that their morale is low.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted from the useful report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, which warned in January last year against further defence cuts. I supported that report at the time, but our economic circumstances have changed completely since then and it became obvious that there had to be much larger cuts in public expenditure with defence taking its fair proportion. In fact, defence expenditure has not been cut so much this time as has the spending on other programmes.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the visit of the Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister, but these visits are not infrequent. The right hon. Gentleman did little justice to the Chiefs of Staff by suggesting that they are dissatisfied with defence expenditure and that the only action which they could take was to complain to the Prime Minister.
The Chiefs of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Humphrey, Admiral Sir Edward Ashmore, General 1507 Sir Roland Gibbs and Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Cameron, are men of immense experience and the utmost integrity. If they felt that the efficiency of the Armed Forces had been reduced by as much as hon. Members opposite suggest, they would feel it necessary to resign. If they felt that our defence capability had been so reduced as to constitute a danger to this country's security, they would have the right and duty to resign.
There have been resignations in the past. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Fisher, resigned during the First World War and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army then threatened to resign unless certain action was taken. This is not uncommon and has occurred more recently. I am sure that these officers would have resigned if they had felt that the country had been put in danger by the Government's action.
§ Mr. David Walder
Is not the hon. Gentleman being a trifle naive when he uses the phrase "If the country were in danger"? My hon. Friends are saying that the Chiefs of Staff are concerned about the cuts. Does the hon. Gentleman think that they called upon the Prime Minister to wish him the compliments of the season?
§ Mr. Cronin
Of course the Chiefs of Staff are concerned about the cuts. We are all concerned about the cuts. That is why we are here. I am suggesting that, if the cuts are so serious in their nature as to endanger the country, the Chiefs of Staff would certainly resign. If they had resigned, they would have done so under circumstances that financially would have been extremely comfortable. They would have suffered no financial hardship if they had taken that course.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
The hon. Gentleman is being grossly unfair. The Government have taken a political decision. It is not fair to say that the Chiefs of Staff should resign to make their point. They have made their point over and over again. They made their point when they went to the Prime Minister. It is the politicians who have refused to take the advice of the Chiefs of Staff. It is Ministers who should resign, not the Chiefs of Staff. The hon. Gentleman knows that Chiefs of Staff have resigned in the past. They have done so while he 1508 and I have been Members. Their resignations have done no good. I remember the present Chancellor of the Exchequer dismissing the matter with a wave of his hand when he was Secretary of State for Defence. Further, the Chiefs of Staff would lose financially if they were to resign.
§ Mr. Cronin
I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has misunderstood me again. I have not said that the Chiefs of Staff should resign. I said that the fact that they have not resigned indicates that there is no serious deterioration in defence as a result of these financial measures.
§ Mr. Cronin
I have made it clear that they are men of integrity. They are people for whom I have the highest admiration. The mere fact that they are continuing to hold their offices and doing the best they can indicates that the danger is not serious.
It is obvious that the security of the United Kingdom is not seriously prejudiced. The total of these cuts is 3.8 per cent. of defence expenditure. Conservative Members speak as though the Armed Forces have been decimated by these cuts. The cuts are of a small percentage and they will be in the form of cuts in various works of various types, in administration, in support costs and in equipment. I suggest that, if the cuts in equipment are to be only 1 per cent. of the total cuts of the 3.8 per cent., they cannot be of a very serious nature when set against the total expenditure by the Armed Forces.
I suggest that the cuts are sensible and reasonable in their nature in terms of the economic situation. However, I hope that there will not be any further cuts of a substantial nature. There is no doubt that the British forces must make their contribution to NATO, and NATO must make it obvious to the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces that it would be a doubtful matter for them to undertake an attack which would have any conceivable success. It should throw some doubts in their minds as to the possibility of nuclear retaliation. That is something that should be in their minds.
1509 I draw the attention of Conservative Members to a publication called "The Military Balance 1976–1977" published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The institute has none of my hon. Friends who are members of the Tribune Group on its council. In fact, the council consists largely of generals, air marshals and defence experts from all over the world. In the concluding chapter, which is entitled "The Theatre Balance"—that is, the balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact—it states:First, the overall balance is such as to make military aggression appear unattractive. The defences are of such a size and quality that any attempt to breach them would require major attack The consequences for an attacker would be incalculable, and the risks, including that of nuclear escalation, must impose caution.Those are the words of an organisation that devotes itself to the study of defence matters. It has no party or political purpose behind it and is of a multinational nature.
I suggest that the House should pay more attention to an international organisation such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies when referring to the capability of NATO and our contribution to it than to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham.
I seriously hope that there will be no further substantial cuts. I should have some difficulty in going through the Lobby to support any further defence cuts. My attitude if there were substantial cuts in future would be somewhat like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) as he feels at present. Although I think that he is being rather premature, if there are further defence cuts I should be inclined to follow his example.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
Has my hon. Friend taken fully into account the statement made by a previous Minister who said that we could not make any further cuts?
§ Mr. Cronin
I have done so, just as I have taken fully into account the total change in the economic situation between the early part of last year and the end of last year. That is the change that initiated these cuts.
1510 There is no escape from the fact that the Soviet Union is a potential aggressor. Since 1940 no fewer than 10 formerly independent countries have been overrun by the Soviet Union. Either puppet Communist Governments have been installed in them or they have been taken over and integrated into the Soviet Union. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany have been overrun by the Soviet Union's armed forces in the past 35 years. It would be most unwise for any responsible Government to assume that its desire for more territory or more puppet States had now been satisfied. I suggest that the Government must have that in mind before they consider any further defence cuts.
Does the Soviet Union have the power to resume its aggressive policies? In the central front in Europe it has a small majority of ground forces, double the number of tanks, double the number of aircraft and immense capabilities of reinforcing its forces in Europe. Whatever cuts may be contemplated in future, I suggest that they should be discarded by the Government. The people of this country will hound out of office any Government who at any time seriously endanger their security.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
It would be a difficult and daunting task for me to attempt to take up the tortuous logic of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). I shall comment on only one facet of his speech. The hon. Gentleman was trying to say that in the end he reluctantly agreed with the cuts because of the changed economic circumstances. However, he made no mention of the fact that there has been no change in the potential enemy's military circumstances. There can he no argument that as we become inevitably economically weaker we must equally inevitably become defensively weaker. That argument makes no sense.
§ Mr. Cronin
Surely the hon. Gentleman must be aware that defence forces cannot be efficient and cannot serve any useful purpose unless they have a sound economic base behind them.
§ Mr. Mates
I would say the opposite. No country can maintain any economy, 1511 however weak, unless it is soundly defended. Without sound defence, we have nothing. That is where we differ in our points of view.
I take up the point made by the Secretary of State for Defence when he rather discourteously accused me of misquoting him. I see that his ministerial colleagues, by nodding their heads, seem to agree that I misquoted him. The right hon. Gentleman was quoting from his predecessor the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who on 16th December 1974 said:We promised … that our defence burden would be brought into line with that of our main European allies."—[Official Report, 16th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 1164.]The Secretary of State said that was the basis upon which the Government had been planning their cuts to bring them into line with our allies.
Later the right hon. Gentleman quoted the Supreme Allied Commander Europe as having said that it was for the military to recommend the level of defence that was required and that it was for the politicians to decide the level of defence which would obtain based upon the threat from the potential enemy. The Secretary of State seemed to think that was a sound proposition too. These two propositions are totally inimical.
I should like the Minister of State, either now in one word or later, to say upon which of these philosophies the Government's policy is being based. It cannot be based upon both. If it is based upon the latter, the only honest thing would be for the Government to say "The threat is such that we require such-and-such a level of defence to be credible and to deter, but alas, we cannot afford it. As we cannot afford it, we have decided to cut some of it against the advice of our Chiefs of Staff and against our own better instincts." That at least would be honest and we could argue about it.
Yet that is not what the Secretary of State said. The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor and other members of the Government, each time they have taken another slice out of the defence budget, have repeatedly said "Never mind. It is still all right."
That is not a tenable position. It is particularly not tenable as a result of what the former Secretary of State for 1512 Defence said when he reported to the House upon the major defence review. At that time I was in the Defence Department and played some small part in the construction of that defence review. The then Secretary of State said:I was determined that the process of adjustment to the realities of our economic, strategic and political position should not be by a series of arbitrary cuts. Above all, I wanted to make sure that our defenc priorities were seen to make sense."—[Official Report, 16th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 1149.]There was to be no series of arbitrary cuts—just one well-thought-out, well-planned cut which was to reshape our defence forces to their new rôle for the next 10 years. That was the announcement of the major cut of £7,000 million. Since then, as has been said—I shall not bore the House with the details again—there have been another five cuts. What have they been if not arbitrary? There has been no argument that they were logical. There was no argument that we were changing our rôle further. The only argument was "There are to be cuts in public expenditure, and defence must take its share."
That is why the major accusation against the Government is that their policy makes no sense from any point of view. That is why it is objected to by the Oppositon, by the Liberal Party and by the left and right wings of the Labour Party. No one can make any sense of this policy because there is no logical consequence to what the Government allege they are trying to achieve.
I hope that the Minister will tell us either that he is determined that we shall do no more and no less than our allies, and to hell with the enemy, or that he would like to meet the threat which he admits is present, but that it is not a priority within the Government's policy or that he is not bothered about it. No one can understand any logic in this sequence of cuts. No one understands why they have come about and, worst of all, where they are leading.
The Secretary of State when challenged, said that the Army in particular was in no way being made less efficient or less operational for its major task now, which is in Northern Ireland. That is undoubtedly true. But, as a result of that priority—I do not believe that the Minister would deny this fact—a serious 1513 defect is taking place within the Army's professional, operational and training capacity in its other rôles outside Northern Ireland.
Complacently, the Secretary of State said that we were sticking to our treaty obligations, that we had 55,000 troops in the British Army of the Rhine and that we shall continue to fulfil our rôle there. I should like to know when last there were 55,000 troops in the British Army of the Rhine. It has been a very long time since the British Army of the Rhine was in any way up to strength. Indeed, as the House was told, some years ago special permission was sought from and granted by the Supreme Allied Commander for troops to be withdrawn because of our Northern Ireland commitment. That kind of complacency does no good to the Government's defence policy. The bulk of the Army simply is not there. When it is there, it is so restricted that it cannot train to do its major job as part of NATO. That is why our NATO Allies daily grow more angry with us and daily trust us less. We used to be the most reliable ally in that partnership. Sadly, that is not so today.
Far more significant in the long term are the options which will have to be faced within the Services as a result of this apparently never-ending and never-to-end series of arbitrary cuts. I have no doubt that this is part of the reason why the Chiefs of Staff took the extraordinary step of demanding their right to plead their cause personally to the Prime Minister.
I hesitate to mention naval matters within earshot of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (RearAdmiral Morgan-Giles). However, as he has left the Chamber, I shall not now so hesitate. The Royal Navy will surely face a philosophical crunch of major proportions as a result of these extra cuts. We shall have to decide whether we can any longer maintain both an ocean-going and a small-boat offshore Navy. There are sound reasons, into which I shall not go in detail in view of the time, why we must maintain both; firstly, to protect our own waters and installations and ultimately our own shores; secondly, to protect our shipping, which still trades throughout the world; and, thirdly, to be 1514 a credible and active partner in the southern part of NATO in the Mediterranean.
We shall no longer be able to perform all those tasks. There will come a time when we can no longer say "We will delay the building of this or that ship; we will delay the refitting of this or that ship." We shall have to say that we cannot do both. If we are to have a credible Navy, we must give up one rôle or the other.
That has happened with the Royal Air Force. We have had to give up our rôle of transporting troops. The last time that happened—incredibly efficiently—was when the totally unexpected requirement arose for the evacuation from Cyprus. Would any Minister stand up and say that could have been done by charter aircraft from the civil fleet? It was only the result of the training, understanding and co-operation that had been developed over the years that enabled both the Army and the RAF to get together in the emergency to do a proper job.
When we can no longer do that, when we have to send Marines on an exercise on a civil ferry because we have no capability to transport them, is there any point in maintaining those forces? We are approaching a threshold beyond which we shall have so to change the shape and future of those forces that we shall no longer be able to maintain our current commitment to NATO, which the Government still say is absolute.
Let us consider the practical effect of these cuts. It may seem common or garden to talk about restrictions on training. Indeed, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) said that we spend too much on training. What point is there in investing thousands of millions of pounds so that we can keep ahead technologically of the Warsaw Pact forces—which we do because our Air Force is well equipped and we have the latest missiles—if we cannot train our forces to use them? What point is there in providing the British Army of the Rhine with the latest battle tank if we cannot send it out to train?
It is all very well to say that we have the equipment, but if our forces cannot be brought together in a dark part of a wood on a winter's morning in the rain we might as well not have the tanks. 1515 We have been held in respect in the past by our NATO Allies. They have seen that our Army is properly trained and can do its job. I accept that it has sometimes been behind in equipment and perhaps in manpower, but our allies have known that when it was needed the British component of the force would be there and would be able to do the job required. The same cannot be said for some other allies, and that is common knowledge. The burden of Northern Ireland is having its effect on the troops of the British Army of the Rhine.
At the weekend I spoke to a senior officer of the Royal Engineers who had just returned from a round of visits to Engineer units in Germany. He told me that he was seriously worried about the Royal Engineers' ability to carry out their primary rôle because recent emphasis in training has been—rightly—to prepare them for their duties in Ulster. They have had to down tools and learn to be infantrymen. They do four-month tours in Northern Ireland and do a first-class job, but when they return, because of the fuel restrictions, they are not able to train for their primary rôle as engineers and cannot go out and lay bridges or practice other duties which are essential to keep the fighting forces going. There is anxiety about the capability throughout BAOR to do its task. That must have an effect on morale. Morale is high at present and, of course, troops can and do make the best of a bad job. But when they can no longer do their job because it demands more than the equipment which is available, inevitably morale will fall. I pay tribute particularly to the junior officers and NCOs concerned for the morale of troops because they are virtually confined to their barracks, whereas five years ago they were out and about on their tasks. It is a tribute to these young leaders that morale is as high as it is.
Once again we see double standards from the Government. They pledged themselves to defend us, and they have failed. When they cut defence, they throw people out of work. A howl would come from the Government Benches if the Government cut jobs to the extent of 60,000, as they did in the 1974 review, in any other industry. If that number of workers were thrown out of work in the car, steel or coal industries, one can 1516 imagine what would happen: the Government would fall. But because these are people who dedicate their lives to the defence of our country, not a word is spoken. Nobody on the Benches opposite complains about careers cut off in midstream of the thousands who are thrown out of work.
These double standards are no more apparent than when one observes the Secretary of State trying to defend what he has done. He has failed. The Ministers who are responsible for our defence have failed to carry the day with the Government. It is no good telling the Chiefs of Staff or saying that they or the Services are to blame.
Ministers know more about the threat than I. If they cannot carry their colleagues with them about the seriousness of the threat and the perilous state to which our defence could fall, and if they are honourable men of integrity, they should resign.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
I support the amendment, which is signed by about 50 of my hon. Friends. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) said, there would have been many more signatures had hon. Members been available to sign last night.
The amendment speaks of the illusion of the cuts in arms expenditure. Great play has been made of the so-called cuts in defence expenditure, but they are not really cuts. They are simply cuts in the unrealistic totals which the Tories threatened to spend in government. It is nonsense to suggest that a reduction in projected spending is a real cut.
The illusion was reinforced on 14th December, when we debated the Supplementary Estimates. The Secretary of State asked for a further £500 million. We made it clear then that we did not criticise the part of that sum for increases in pay to members of the Armed Forces, but we also said that it was unacceptable for the Government to ask for another £500 million and then attempt to placate us by saying that they were cutting some hundred million pounds a few days later.
The Secretary of State gave a brief outline of what the cuts will mean. Although it was difficult to hear what he 1517 said because of the noise from the Opposition Benches, I understood him to say that there was between £50 million and £70 million of work in progress. He said that £80 million of the cuts would be in equipment and that most of these would take place as a result of the delay in equipment procurement because NATO had not yet reached a decision on Nimrod. The Secretary of State said that the rest of the cuts involved administration. We are right to challenge whether these are real cuts or whether they are simply caused because NATO has not reached a joint decision on the kind of equipment that it requires.
A number of reasons have been put forward about how we should decide on our level of defence expenditure. None of them has convinced me. It is all very well to talk in vague terms about the security of the country and to call in aid the defence chiefs. I cannot imagine that the defence chiefs have ever been satisfied with the amount that we spend and I do not believe that they will ever be satisfied. Opposition hon. Members and some hon. Members in my party gave a better, more responsive and sympathetic hearing to the defence chiefs than they did to workers in other parts of the public sector who are telling us about the effects of public expenditure cuts on housing, health, education, and the rest. I would not pay heed to the so-called Chiefs of Staff in their demand.
Many hon. Members on the Government side have continued to support Labour Party policy, which is quite clear. It is that we should reduce our defence expenditure to the level of that of the other NATO countries as a proportion of gross domestic product. That seems to me to be a legitimate demand. It has been twisted around by certain people, who have said that perhaps we ought to base defence expenditure on the size of the population. As I have said previously, how ludicrous it would be if it were suggested that a country's defence commitment should be based on the size of the population. Goodness knows what China and India would then be spending on defence to keep in line with the United States or the Soviet Union if that argument is to be used.
We note also that our NATO Allies spend less on defence as a proportion 1518 of their GDP—their wealth creation—than we do. Not for them defence expenditure. Over the last couple of decades they have ensured, unlike Britain, that their resources went into capital investment, and that investment created a much higher level of economic growth. We feel the backlash of that with our continuing import bill and the continuing import penetration of manufactured goods, creating considerable unemployment.
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) talked about levels of defence expenditure, and so on. I ask him to think about Japan. He may be able to produce all kinds of arguments, but Japan, I believe, spends about half of 1 per cent. of her GDP on defence. What Japan has done is to push those resources into capital investment and industrial development.
§ Mr. Mates
Yes, but by the treaties signed after the Second World War Japan was forbidden to create any defence forces, and the Americans specifically undertook to defend the Japanese themselves. That was the situation until the last year or two, anyway, so of course Japan did not have to spend money on defence. That was being done for the Japanese. If the hon. Gentleman could find a country that would do that for us, I would be the first to accept the offer.
§ Mr. Thomas
That was true initially but it is certainly not true today.
As a proportion of our GDP, we are spending on defence more than our NATO Allies—except Greece and Portugal, I think. We stand well up in the league table. The amount that we have devoted to defence since the last war is one of the major reasons for our economic decline, because the other countries—West Germany, France, and so on—have been devoting their resources to capital investment and the regeneration of their industries. It was not until France got out of the Algerian commitment that the French began to regenerate their industries.
What can be more inflationary than defence expenditure? We hear much from the Opposition Benches, from the militant monetarists, about the causes of inflation. We hear about money supply, and rushing up the M1 and the M3, 1519 domestic credit expansion, and so on. We never hear anything about military expenditure in that respect. What can be more inflationary than to be spending £6,000 million a year on something that no one uses or buys? That must be inflationary expenditure.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Without dealing with the hon. Gentleman's main argument. may I ask him to withdraw the suggestion that the soldiers in Northern Ireland are doing a job that no one wants done? Will he also say on which other ally he would wish to become more dependent? Does he wish us to become more dependent and a capitalist America, a nuclear France, of the Germans, whom he has so often attacked?
§ Mr. Thomas
I have not even mentioned the situation in Northern Ireland. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman connects that with what I have been describing about the inflationary effects of defence expenditure. I should like to see the British soldiers, who are ordinary working-class lads, out of Northern Ireland as quickly as possible. But that will be achieved only by a political settlement. It will not be achieved by a military settlement.
Secondly, I am making the point that we should be spending no more and no less in terms of our wealth than the other NATO countries. It is ludicrous that we are passing across the exchanges £600 million or £700 million a year in hard-earned currency to West Germany, which is sitting on a massive gold and convertible currency reserve surplus. We have been doing that year after year. Over the last three years we have given West Germany, over the exchanges, the equivalent of what we have now had to crawl to the IMF to borrow, and we have had to cut back on all our social services to do it.
Offset arrangements have been mentioned, but even those were near to useless because they merely meant that West Germany bought from us what she would have bought in any case to offset this £600 million or £700 million a year. Our overseas military commitments this year are likely to cost about £1,000 million in foreign currencies. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us the exact situation. However, that is never mentioned when we are discussing our balance 1520 of payments problems and our other problems.
Jobs have been mentioned. I am not asking, nor is the amendment asking, for workers to be thrown out of jobs and into the dole queues. I suggest that those of my hon. Friends who sit below the Gangway have a far better record than practically anyone on the Opposition Benches in fighting against unemployment.
§ Mr. Thomas
If the hon. Gentleman reads the amendment, he will see that we make it absolutely clear that we are disappointed that after two years in office we have not yet begun to plan for the redeployment of workers, whether in the defence industries or the Armed Forces. That is contained in our amendment. We want to see the creative and innovative skills of the workers in aerospace, for example, being devoted to socially desirable projects, and to reducing the amount of imports.
Here we have an industry such as aerospace which employs the bulk of our technologists and probably a higher proportion of our craftsmen and innovators than any other industry, but the hon. Gentleman says that unless they are employed in making weapons of destruction they must be unemployed. We repudiate that notion.
§ Mr. Thomas
No. I have given way three times, and others wish to speak.
We are appealing to the Government to set about planning the redeployment of these workers and resources on more socially desirable and economically essential projects and products. We are not saying that they should be sacked and put into the dole queues.
§ Mr. Thomas
if there are any double standards, they come from Opposition Members who, if they had their way, would make cuts in public expenditure that would make the inter-war years look like an economic miracle. I have never heard a squeak from the Opposition about unemployment in the education, health and social services, or local authorities. The Opposition are quite happy to raise the unemployment level by another 100,000. We are appealing to the Government to begin to plan the redeployment of these workers and the resources concerned.
There is one thing on which I know Conservative Members will go along with me. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend will make a statement on how much progress has been made in achieving effective trade union organisation in the Armed Services. Many of us on the Government Benches want to see such a development. Right across NATO, in countries which are held up as examples to us, the armed forces are organised in unions. We want to see effective collective bargaining in our Armed Forces. Those Conservatives who shed crocodile tears about the Tommy, and the effect on him of redundancy, should support us in that.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) will not expect me to follow him into his ideological quicksands. However, if there were trade unions in the Forces the one thing for which those men would be asking is the tools to do the job properly.
I think that most hon. Members will have enormously appreciated the sincere and thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw). As he said, this debate is different from previous defence debates. I agree that, with certain exceptions, more sense has been spoken and there does not seem to be quite the usual ideological divide between the two sides of the House. I think that it is time to speak up, and I hope that the nation will wake up.
There have been five successive rounds of defence cuts by this Government— 1522 three during 1976 alone. The Government should be asking themselves what the Service man thinks. What does he think when he is told that he will have a "review to end all reviews" and then has to face five lots of cuts? Militarily these cuts are absolutely wrong, as was shown by the remarks of the Chief of the Defence Staff and the much-discussed visit of the Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister.
We must castigate the Secretary of State. He looked today about as unhappy as I have ever seen a Minister at the Box. He has come in sackcloth and ashes in relation to his remark about the Chiefs of Staff. I appreciate and entirely sympathise with his remarks that any of us can make a mistake. I know that only too well: I have done it myself. But we have all seen a thoroughly unhappy man today. As Secretary of State, he must have received the top secret briefing which has been mentioned. I am very sorry for any man who knows those facts and yet has to try to put across this sort of policy.
There is a real problem about how to make more widely known the advice of the Chiefs of Staff. One frequent suggestion is a Select Committee on Defence. Obviously, its members could not have the full top secret briefing which only the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have—and which, I believe, the Leader of the Opposition should have, although that has not been the practice so far. But I do not see why the Chiefs of Staff, who are sensible and responsible people who know how to look after themselves, should not be allowed to give evidence to a Select Committee. No harm, and possibly a great deal of good, would be done.
We see equal absurdity in the economic arguments for the proposed cuts of £100 million in 1977–78 and £200 million the year after. According to the Chancellor, by then we shall be out of our economic difficulties anyway: so there is no possible excuse for the cuts. The Government cannot have it both ways. Either they have sorted out our economic problems, in which case by the time the cuts are applied they will be unnecessary, or they have not got the economy right.
The Chancellor is the evil genius in this situation. It is his salary which should be cut. As Secretary of State for 1523 Defence, he presided over the greatest and fastest withdrawal in British history from any positions of influence we occupied anywhere in the world. He is the architect of our national disgrace. Those are strong words, but we must face the fact that we are in a disgraceful condition compared with our situation in 1964. All over the world—in NATO and Europe, at sea and in the air—our position of influence has virtually vanished in 10 or 12 years.
To me and to many Service people—my "bamboo wireless" still works—the Chancellor's motives have always been suspect. Certainly, had he been a serving officer he would never have passed the positive security vetting in the Ministry over which he presided for so many years.
If the Government's commitment to NATO means anything, it means that Britain must behave in such a way as to retain the confidence of our NATO partners. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said, the latest cuts cannot fail to diminish the confidence that we enjoy within NATO. The Army in BAOR and Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) so eloquently pointed out, is more than fully stretched already. The Royal Air Force is terrifyingly under-equipped.
As for the Navy, which can perhaps make Britain's greatest contribution to NATO, the latest suggestion is that it should face 5 per cent. fuel cuts. That is absurd. All Royal Navy ships spend the vast majority of their time travelling at the economical speed of 12 to 14 knots—15 or 16 miles an hour in landlubbers' terms. The ships burn more fuel per mile if they go more slowly, so ships go at that speed to save fuel. Therefore, the only ways to conserve fuel are to slow down and not use full speed, even in an emergency, or to cut the training function.
I am talking particularly about antisubmarine training. The Royal Navy is the world's expert in anti-submarine warfare. No form of training is more important now, when the Soviet Union is building up its submarine force and commissioning one new nuclear submarine per month.
1524 If we are to survive in any emergency against those submarines, which are essentially weapons of attack, and if we are to pursue the technologically advanced anti-submarine methods of the present day, ex hypothesi our ships must go fast. These nuclear submarines go far faster than has ever been admitted by any nations which possess them. One cannot train for anti-submarine warfare at slow speed. So I see no sense in the suggestion of a 5 per cent. fuel cut.
Such a cut, of course, would also affect NATO strength on the flanks and our capacity to ensure the free flow of exports and imports along the trade routes of the world. Is it not absurd to reduce the Navy's fuel allocation just when, in the last couple of weeks, it has been given the vast additional task of fishery protection and the defence of our oil rigs, a matter which rightly worries hon. Members on both sides of the House?
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) is a sensible fellow and we know his commitment to the forces. However, I entirely disagree with his argument about reconstituting the Royal Air Force. I am surprised that he, having served as a National Service man in the RAF, should put forward such a suggestion.
There are many reasons against such a change. The first is the damage to morale. Each Service has its own way of doing things. I speak not as a member of the Royal Air Force but as a great admirer of it who has flown with it in peace and war. The RAF, like the other Services, has its own traditions, its own slang and its own techniques which have been built up over the years. I had the privilege of being on loan to the RAF for a year in the Middle East. When three aircraft had been totally destroyed beneath me, I thought it was time to go back to the relatively quiet waters of the Royal Navy! But I shall admire the RAF and its way of doing things until my deathbed.
The strategic arguments against the proposal made by the hon. Gentleman were extremely well summarised in a letter in this morning's Daily Telegraph from Air Chief Marshall Sir Denis Smallwood. Anything I could add to that letter would be superfluous. I remain unconvinced that there would be any economies. We 1525 have an integrated Ministry of Defence, and to go back to the Trenchard arguments of the 1920s and reorganise the RAF all over again would be an absudity.
Instead of cutting away at defence expenditure for the sake of the internal politics of the Labour Party, I invite the Secretary of State to think back to some of the great events in the past history of the Labour Party. Let us think back to the bravery and farsightedness of Mr. Attlee when he went ahead with the production of the atom bomb. Let us think back to the Labour Government's involvement in the Berlin blockade—a significant event in our national history. Let us think back to the great Ernest Bevin and his stalwart defence of British interests everywhere. I end by imploring the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to show some guts and do their duty by the country.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)
The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) will, I am sure, forgive me if I do not follow the main part of his speech. I confess to being totaly at a loss in the minutiae of discussions on the Armed Forces.
I begin by going back to the accusation made by the Opposition about the amendment to which I and several of my hon. Friends have put our names. The accusation was made that there was something sinister behind the amendment. There is nothing sinister behind it; it spells out clearly exactly what it means.
If there is anything behind the amendment, it is the deep worry of a large number of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Labour Party and the Labour movement that we are spending such a disproportionate amount of our total resources on defence, particularly at a time when we are in desperate economic straits and are cutting back on health, housing, education and reinvestment in our economy generally. That is what is behind the amendment.
I view the defence strategy that we have operated for many years under this Government and previous Governments as being a danger to the country rather than a defence for the country. The possession of nuclear weapons by a country that is sandwiched between the two major 1526 Powers—assuming that we would not use them on a first-strike basis—is a danger to us. I am not against armed forces or against a certain level of defence spending. I am not a pacifist, but my view is that concentration on nuclear strategy is extremely dangerous, if not suicidal.
I am glad that the Government have reduced their increase. That is all we can say about the so-called reduction of the past year or so. It is not nearly sufficient. Hon. Members will doubtless have seen the interesting speech made by Professor Robert Neild over the weekend. He is a distinguished economist, who has held several international posts and has also been in the Cabinet Office. He argues, as we do, that such a high proportion of spending on arms frustrates exporters by diverting resources which could be available for investment and research in other fields. That is precisely what my colleagues and I have been saying for so long.
Anxiety has been expressed by my hon. Friends, Conservative Members and others outside the Chamber about the effect on employment of conversion from arms spending to spending on social projects. That is why the amendment asks the Government to start now to make plans. We do not say that they should do this overnight, because we know that that would be impossible. We ask them to make plans for a re-think about our arms industry, and to begin now.
We are accused of threatening unemployment by converting arms industries to industries for social purposes. I wish that the Government would get themselves straight on their present employment policy in the arms industry. I accept that there should be some arms building here, but why do we have to place so many orders in the United States of America? We are told that some orders for American equipment include offset arrangements for substantial parts of the contracts to be manufactured in United Kingdom companies. Surely, the outcome of the understanding about this offset is that the United States companies concerned are prepared to allow British manufacturers to compete with American manufacturers for the contract work, but that almost certainly means that that work will in the end go to American-based companies, and those orders will not be placed in this country.
1527 One example of this that has been referred to during the debate is AWACS and the Nimrod early warning system. What is the position there? We should like to know whether our contribution will go to the United States. The Secretary of State said that it was a NATO decision but, with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, I fancy that it will be an American decision, because AWACS is based on the American Boeing.
I turn to the question of alternative work. I do not know how many hon. Members have actually looked at the corporate plan to which reference is made in the amendment. It is worth reading. It is not just a pie-in-the-sky, airy-fairy idea, which has come from some workers who are not, perhaps, intelligent enough to know what it is all about. It has been thought out, mulled over and examined by the workers in these industries and by others who have assisted them over a long period. The summary runs to 26 closely argued and highly technical pages. The full plan includes five sections of 200 pages, also very closely argued and technical, and showing that the workers have done their job. It deals with actual proposals for which feasibility studies have been done.
These proposals include developing a hybrid system connecting internal combustion engines to a generator for use in battery-powered road vehicles; it proposes to look further into the development and use of airships; it suggests that the money that Lucas Aerospace spent 10 years ago on developing a railway actuator should be re-examined to produce a vehicle suitable for being taken directly from a railway to a conventional road surface; there are ideas for components for low-energy housing; there are proposals for further developing the industrial ball screws for which Lucas was once famous; there are proposals for producing kidney machines, which would be of great social and medical benefit and would have a large export market. It is an exciting document, worth reading, and I commend it to hon. Members.
§ Mrs. Knight
Has the hon. Lady, in this context, considered the pool of unemployed that we have already who are not able to find work of any kind? Is she considering that as an aside and going on to transmogrify the present 1528 situation in the defence industries, or what?
§ Miss Richardson
I should be pleased if we could develop some of these other industries, too. Some of the products suggested are not confined to conversions from arms in the form I have mentioned. I believe that we should be developing new industries and new products. If that is the point that the hon. Lady is making, I agree with her. I am glad that she supports us in wanting to do something about our pool of unemployed.
We recognise, however, that this scheme could not be done overnight. We are asking the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade, the Department of Industry and the Department of Employment to look closely at this plan to see exactly what can be drawn from it and what help can be given.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
The hon. Lady appears to be concentrating only on defence industries. Does she not recognise that many of the redundancies in the past have been among Service men? How many Service men has she talked to about these proposals?
§ Miss Richardson
I have discussed the proposals with individual Service men. I, too, wish as many of them do, that they were able to become members of a trade union, so that in the Labour movement we could discuss these things with them. Of course I am not in favour of increasing unemployment from the Armed Forces. I would prefer to reduce defence spending by changing our nuclear strategy, perhaps, in the first instance, rather than by reducing the numbers in our Armed Forces. I agree that we must maintain the Armed Forces, but I also believe that there are many members of the Services who would be happy to do a peace-time job, if they could get one in this day and age. Of course we must plan carefully for phasing out from the Armed Forces. I know Service men who have joined the Armed Forces because they were unable to find a job in civilian life. That is a wrong way for us to go about it.
Could consideration be given, in the whole context of our discussions about defence, to getting more information out of the Ministry of Defence? In studying the last two White Papers, I have found that what is wholly undesirable about 1529 them is the incomplete information they give, the vague and meaningless phrases which they contain. For example, the last White Paper mentioned Polaris in only two short comments in one chapter. One comment was about maintenance and the other was about naval bases. In another chapter, we were told that Polaris submarinesprovide a continuous patrol as the United Kingdom's contribution to NATO's strategic deterrent".I find that very explanatory. In another revealing comment, the White Paper said thatThe effectiveness of this force will be maintained.What kind of information is that to be given to the House of Commons and the public?
Both phrases I have quoted are based on reasonable assumptions. They have been known for the last decade. What we want to know is the specific strategic rationale for the Polaris force, the kind of improvements which may be necessary to it, or perhaps the cost of those improvements, the reasons for the two new nuclear tests we have recently carried out, whether there is any forward thinking about replacing Polaris or doing without it. If it is said that we might be doing without Polaris in 10 or 15 years' time, why cannot we do without it now?
Other countries, including the United States, are giving more and more information. The scant information which comes from the Ministry of Defence reminds me of a joke about a Government Minister who was invited on a trial flight of a new hot-air balloon. After a little while, the balloon got lost. The pilot dropped it down to find out where they were, and they found themselves flying low over a field. They passed over two labourers. The Minister leaned out and said to them "Where are we?" One of them looked up and replied "You are in a balloon." The Minister thought about this for a while and then said "That is a perfect reply to a Parliamentary Question. It is short, accurate and gives away no information at all." That is the kind of reply which we have all too often had from our Front Bench—from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office in particular—about our 1530 strategy and our foreign policy, and it is time we had very much more information.
I repeat our hope that the Government will think carefully about their defence strategy. In addition to the points that have already been made in the debate, I hope that they will consider very carefully the fact that there is a serious and considerable body of opinion, not just in the Labour movement but in the general public, which feels that there is an inordinate concentration of our wealth and talent on defence and armaments, which should be put to more socially useful things.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I thought it would be quite some time before I found myself able to agree in any way at all with the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), but as regards the amount of information provided I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's point of view.
It is rather ridiculous that we should be having a debate on as critical a matter as the defence of the country without more information. It is rather like an exercise in shadow boxing. In addition to the customary Government secrecy to which we are normally treated in all departmental matters, we have the extra refinement that any statements about defence matters would be injurious to the security of the realm.
I suspect that if we knew how serious the position really was we would probably wish to meet in camera and have the debate in a Committee Room upstairs. I was given some information this evening from an active source that is so serious that I do not feel that I can pass it on to the House.
The Ministry of Defence should be far more relaxed about questions, particularly if it is worried about what the Soviet Union might know. I do not think there is anything worth while that the Soviet Union does not know already. Next time we want a full briefing, we could do worse than go along to the Soviet Embassy and get briefed there about Britain's defence capability.
What tends to happen is that information emerges piece by piece. We find that there are to be cut-backs on maintenance that will mean a reduction in the number of serviceable aircraft. One 1531 has also read in the newspapers—yesterday and this morning—about economies in ships and that our ships will travel slower. The Government simply cannot go on with this process, for one reason if for no other. I am probably wasting my time putting this point to the Government, but I shall do so none the less because of the rather cavalier way they have treated the Services in previous cuts. It is totally immoral that any Government should provide the Services with certain tasks yet not provide them with the means to carry out those tasks. That is the situation with which we are now faced.
Hon. Members below the Gangway on the Government side who support the amendment know that perfectly well. But they do not really mind, because once we get past this particular series of cuts they can demand that if a certain task is not being carried out it should be abandoned. That is the next logical step. One gets to the stage that, when part of the Armed Forces ceases to be viable or able to do the task with which it is charged, it becomes more vulnerable to attacks from Labour Members below the Gangway who might say "We might as well get rid of this group because it cannot do the ".
One cannot over-emphasise that in present circumstances, should there be any form of confrontation in the near future, there will be no time for us to come in from Civvy Street and put on flying suits. We are talking about a highly technical environment. We are talking about a possible war of two or three weeks' duration. We shall not have time to say "We shall be able to make good once we see how the situation is deteriorating".
The analogy with the police is a sound one. That might explain why Labour Members below the Gangway do not care for them either. If, for example, the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) should have his home broken into or be attacked in the street, he would expect the police to be on the scene pretty fast. The hon. Gentleman would not want to be told that police cars were travelling slower because they were economising on fuel or that two police cars were on duty rather than four because of a maintenance drive.
1532 The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) rightly drew our attention to the assumption by this country of our responsibility for 200 miles of territorial waters. In that context I feel that the analogy with the police is totally sound. Members of the Labour Party would immediately call for adequate naval cover for their constituents who were manning trawlers and also for the arrest of any foreign trawlers fishing illegally.
I well remember that during the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 two Labour Members called for a British military involvement and shortly afterwards voted for defence cuts. They took the view that the British forces should be there doing a job with no questions asked.
Hon. Members opposite would no doubt call for urgent Royal Navy and Royal Marine support for any of their constituents on oil rigs who had been menaced by some hazard. But they should be aware that the Royal Navy might be required for urgent intervention due to collisions, wrecks, sabotage, oil slicks and search and rescue.
With all those tasks, we must give the Royal Navy the means to carry out its rôle. It is heaping folly on folly to provide the Royal Navy with equipment—I am talking about the new Ireland class—that will be manifestly unsuitable for the job. Everyone, apart from the Ministry of Defence, seems to agree that this will be the case. This class of vessel will be too slow. It has no helicopter capability and it costs £2.6 million per vessel.
If we are to pay that sort of money, let us get it right. The irony is that we are designing and producing a vessel that we are selling to the Mexican Navy, known as Azteca, which is perfectly suitable for the task.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on the Royal Navy. In strategic terms, we must support the Royal Navy in order to protect the sea lanes along which comes so much of our food and raw materials as well as reinforcements from the United States to support the northern and southern flanks. Speaking of the southern flank, I hope that the Minister of State can refute the suggestion made in one of the daily newspapers earlier this week that the Secretary of State's 1533 visit to Cyprus could be the precursor of a British withdrawal from that island.
The calibre and quality of our forces are, in my observation, as high as ever. They are as professional as any forces anywhere in the world—in fact, better than most. They are so inadequately supported with regard to equipment and training, however, that General Brown, of the United States, was correct when he described their capability as "pathetic". As for the northern flank, NATO exercises in the last few months have shown, if we needed any proof, that our ability to reinforce Norway is so totally inadequate as to be virtually Gilbertian. This has made the British guarantee to the northern flank a laughing stock.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) was right to look at the challenge facing the Royal Navy and the opportunity which will be offered to a new Conservative Government to look at the right mix between larger and smaller ships. No one can say when and from where the next challenge will come. There could be any manner of threat in the seas round our shores, and we can speculate how long in terms of weeks or days we could survive a blockade by the Soviet navy. There could be any form of diversionary activity designed to distract attention from the increasing civil discontent and unrest in the Warsaw Pact countries. There could he a thrust into Yugoslavia after Tito's death.
Whenever and from wherever the challenge comes, and if there should be hostilities—which heaven forbid—this Government will stand convicted before the bar of public opinion as having been guilty of criminal neglect by encouraging our enemies to believe that they could attack us without suffering the consequences.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) made a very amusing reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford. East (Mr. Allaun) awaiting police assistance and a police vehicle failing to arrive because of lack of fuel. I cannot resist making the comment at the outset of my remarks that last month the local authority in my con- 1534 stituency met to consider the cuts before it as a result of the Government's restrictions on local government expenditure. One cut which it was asked to approve at that meeting was precisely a 10 per cent. cut in police vehicle mileage in order to economise on fuel.
That provides me with a neat introduction to my speech, because I have been amused—if that is the right word—by the repeated attempts of the Opposition to put the blame for the cuts that we face on Members of the Tribune Group and those who signed the amendment, as if it were we who were responsible for the economic package, including these cuts, which we debated shortly before Christmas. Political memories may be short, but the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) cannot have forgotten that when the House debated those cuts it was we who voted against them. I do not know the degree of paranoia that the Opposition have developed. It may be that they believe that we were acting out a cover life to conceal the fact that under instructions from the Kremlin we had written the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the fact is that we voted against that package, and I do not remember seeing the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham in our Lobby that night.
If anyone is to blame for this package of cuts in defence expenditure—assuming that blame has to be attributed to anyone—it does not rest so much with my hon. Friends as with those who, in the preceding two or three months, repeatedly demanded cuts of £4,000 million, £6,000 million and £10,000 million in public expenditure.
It is the most deplorable cant for the Opposition to demand cuts in general public expenditure and then to squeal when they hit the one area about which they care. When the last Conservative Government faced the reality of having to cut public expenditure, they cut defence expenditure. If they were in office now and were cutting public expenditure, they would cut defence expenditure, too. I do not know anyone outside this House who is daft enough to believe that it is possible to cut public expenditure without cutting defence, or that it is possible to reduce the number of 1535 civil servants without attacking the Ministry of Defence, which is one of the largest employers of civil servants.
If we consider Britain's expenditure on the social services, on education and on health and we compare it with the position abroad, we see that it is not out of line with our European competitors. We see that the majority of members of the EEC spend more of their gross national product on these services than we do. It is only on defence that we spend a significantly higher proportion of our GNP than any other member of the Common Market. This means that if it is accepted as economic policy—and we do not accept it—that a cut in public expenditure is essential, inevitably it will produce cuts in defence expenditure.
There is another general matter to which I draw attention at the outset of my remarks. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that one feature of this round of cuts which they dislike is that they are short-term, disruptive and damaging. I accept that there is some validity in that criticism. Obviously it is difficult to make sensible cuts in expenditure for the next financial year having been told about them in January or December preceding the start of that financial year. Yet those of us who have signed the amendment have argued for the last two or three years that we should take a long-term view of defence expenditure and attempt to reduce it in line with our economic base and our economic ability.
I look back to the first debate on the defence review nearly two years ago, when an amendment in similar terms to the present one was moved. It was precisely a future series of short-term, damaging cuts which I prophesied in moving that amendment, and that is precisely what has happened. There have been five successive cuts in defence since that debate two years ago because we failed then, in the defence review, to reduce our defence expenditure in line with our economic base.
We cannot claim credit solely for the Tribune Group in predicting the present position. It will be remembered that two years ago we had before us a report from the Expenditure Committee in which it was said:The Committee would also draw attention to the very serious implications for future 1536 expenditure if the Ministry of Defence continue to base their forward approach on an unrealistic projection of the growth in the gross national product.Hon. Members will remember that the prediction of growth in the GNP on which the review was based was 3 per cent. a year. But of course we did not have a growth of 3 per cent. or anything like it—partly because we failed to reduce defence expenditure in order to release resources for manufacturing industry. Our failure to achieve that rate of growth has meant that the prophecy of the Select Committee has come true. There have had to be further cuts in defence expenditure to bring it into line with what we have actually achieved economically.
I take on board the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). It is high time that we got beyond debating defence in terms of a global budgetary total. It is interesting, and a rather sad reflection on this House, that in the whole of today's debate since it was initiated only one hon. Member has actually referred to the precise cuts outlined by my right hon. Friend in opening. That hon. Member was my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas), who alone referred to what is actually involved in the cuts before us.
If one looks at the cuts that have been announced one has difficulty in accepting them as being the kind of drastic inroads into our capability and our contribution to NATO which some hon. Members have suggested. The largest single figure that the Secretary of State mentioned was £80 million, which is achieved by delay in ordering equipment, and the only individual piece of equipment to which he referred was AWACS. But there has been a NATO decision not to go ahead on that, so even if the Secretary of State had wished to go on with it he could not have spent any money there. That cut is clearly illusory.
We must get away from the way in which we have been handling our defence policy over the last two years, in which we have had short-term cuts and have then looked at the budget and found areas where there has been under-spending or a contract which has not been fulfilled, and have announced that as a cut in the defence budget. We must take up the point made by my hon. Friend 1537 the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) and look at the weapons, and scrutinise our weapons systems and the strategic doctrine underlying our weapons policy. I have considerable sympathy with the points that my hon. Friend made about using precision-guided munitions rather than manned aircraft to back up protection of our airspace, and using rather smaller ships to protect our fisheries and offshore patrols—which seems to be the main rôle of the Royal Navy in the future—rather than laying down large through-deck cruisers, as we are doing at the present time.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
Surely the whole point of the defence review was that this scrutiny was applied in the most far-reaching, searching and thorough manner. What does the hon. Member want to reintroduce?
§ Mr. Cook
There is no dispute between the hon. Member and myself. If the hon. Member goes back to the 1974 debate and reads the speech I made then he will see that I said that there had been no scrutiny of defence, and there had been no vision of the way in which foreign relations were developing. Also, we failed to take on board a number of predictable points, such as the extension of the fisheries limit to 200 miles.
I am aware that there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, so I shall limit my remarks. I want to draw the attention of the House to one point which has not been given adequate attention, but first I wish to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West, on BAOR and the cost of foreign exchange. I was particularly heartened to read an article in The Guardian last month which said that the Secretary of State, on taking office, had called for a paper which he wrote in 1967 pointing to the enormous foreign exchange costs of BAOR.
If my right hon. Friend was concerned about it in 1967 he has every right to be even more concerned about it in 1977. In 1967 the total cost to us of BAOR, in foreign exchange, was £94 million, for which we received an offset of £77 million, leaving a net balance of £17 million. Last year, for which figures are available, the foreign exchange cost was 1538 £403 million, for which the offset agreement was for £40 million, leaving a net cost to us in foreign reserves of £363 million.
In the current year the total foreign exchange cost is £500 million and there is no offset agreement at present. Every penny of that sum is a net loss to us in foreign exchange. It is nonsense that the country in Europe with one of the most severe balance of payments deficits should be making that kind of contribution to the country in Europe with a high balance of payments surplus.
When other countries run up against this problem they are not so squeamish in taking action to protect their own interests. France, for example, only four months ago withdrew 10,000 troops from Germany because the Germans had failed to come to an agreement about the cost of new barracks for them. There appeared to be no anguished debate in France, and no Chiefs of Staff calling on the Prime Minister. In particular, there was no reference to the effect that such a decision might have on the multi-lateral talks in Vienna on force reductions.
I emphasise that point. In the three years that I have been in this House every time we have debated defence or mentioned BAOR, almost inevitably the Minister has responded with bipartisan support by claiming that we could not touch BAOR because of the talks in Vienna which were aimed at reducing the number of troops in Europe. Yet in those three years I do not think we have once debated the talks, what our strategy at them should be, or what policy we should be adopting there. What has been the effect of those three years of negotiation? At the end of that period the NATO side has tabled new figures, up-dating the figures it originally tabled, which show that there has been an increase in the number of troops in Europe on the Western side.
Some of us are beginning to suspect that that was precisely why the talks were set up, and there are one or two quotations I could give which buttress that suggestion. There was an interesting quotation from Mr. Louis Michael, who is director of the American Defence Department's MBFR Task Force. He said:Our MBFR position is structured especially to attack"—1539 the disparity between East and West, butEssentially, we are … applying MBFR, or participation in MBFR, in support of the basic objectives … namely, strengthening of our conventional defences, and getting our Allies to do more in terms of supporting their share of the burden.In other words, there were some who from the outset saw the talks not as a means of reducing troop levels but of maintaining them, and in that they have been very successful.
If we are told that we cannot cut BAOR because the talks are going on, the least we are entitled to expect is for some action to be taken by the Government, following discussion in this House, to break the deadlock and the log jam that has built up in Vienna so that these talks secure some success. I believe that we shall have to accept national sub-ceilings rather than simple Alliance totals, which is our present position. Our present position of refusing to accept national sub-ceilings appears to be held because we do not wish to give the Russians any right to control the number of troops in the West German Army.
Let me refer here to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) who mentioned the remarkable growth of the West German forces, which is the biggest single difference in the strategic balance in Central Europe over the past decade. I see no reason why any hon. Member concerned with the future of Britain should be reluctant to take the chance, through national sub-ceilings negotiated in Vienna, to put a full stop to the growth of West German forces. I offer that as my modest contribution to the debate in Vienna.
Whether that approach or some other approach is adopted to break the deadlock, the important fact is that unless the deadlock is broken, unless there is a sign of progress in Vienna, it is inevitable and perfectly proper for us in Britain to say that if we cannot make progress multilaterally we must reassess our own contribution and see whether it is in line with our capacity. After all, Britain is still the second largest naval Power in NATO. We still make the second largest contribution to the naval forces of the Alliance. Does that make any sense, in terms of the relative distribution of wealth and shipbuilding capacity in the Alliance? Or if 1540 we are to continue to play that rôle, can we also afford a contribution to both the land battle and the air battle?
If we continue to attempt to be a first-class military Power long after we have ceased to be a first-class economic Power, the attempt is doomed to failure. The very attempt will put such a burden on our economy that we will be unable to strengthen our economic base in the way that is essential if we are to meet the military ambitions of Opposition Members or the social service ambitions of Labour Members.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
Many hon. Members have referred to the defence review of 1975. I doubt whether the Government have taken any steps since that review which have done more than the present cuts to dissolve respect and lose the confidence of those overseas or at home. That was the most thorough review of our defence pattern and posture. It set the plan for the next 10 years and a great many people, certainly everyone in the Services, felt that there was at last some hope that they could look forward to a period when they could plan decisively and with some assurance that their plans would not be deflected. Since then there have been many other cuts.
I condemn what the Government have done in shattering the hopes and plans not only of our own forces but those of our allies. I condemn even more heartily the way in which the Government have carried out the cuts which have been made since that review. I wonder what picture we present to nations abroad. We are grappling with economic problems, having undertaken a thorough review of our defence forces, but the Government still go on chipping away at our defences, a matter which profoundly affects the responsibilities which our allies in NATO have to shoulder as a consequence. Defence is an integral part of our foreign policy. We should not underestimate the effect that speeches in this Chamber have in other countries. What we do in defence has an effect on foreign policy and certainly has an effect on what other countries think of us.
The cuts which face us today are yet another example of Left-wing influence over the Government. They are designed by the Government only to enable them 1541 to remain in office. There are Members on both sides who know that this is true. The defence needs of our country should be outside politics. We should be able to have a free debate to decide our commitment in terms of manpower and armaments to meet the threat posed by a potential aggressor.
I greatly respect the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), who today brought into our proceedings some of the spirit of what Parliament should be. He is a man with deep convictions who will stand up and vote against his own party for what he believes is right.
§ Mr. Banks
The visit of the Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister was historic, and it is no use pretending that it was otherwise. They went with the purpose of trying to deflect the Prime Minister from going ahead with the cuts. We know that they were unsuccesful, and that is a tragedy not just for them and for our Armed Forces but for the whole country. Their anxiety has proved justified.
I understand that the Chiefs of Staff even took the Secretary of State with them. He presents a sad figure today. I regret that in the time leading up to the Cabinet decision to make the cuts there was no whisper of a resignation or suggestion by the right hon. Gentleman of throwing down the gauntlet and saying that there had been enough cuts and that the Services could take no more.
One small cut has received publicity in the Daily Mail today. The memorandum sent to the Navy about the need to restrict fuel is a small matter, but I am glad that the Daily Mail reported it on the front page. The paper should be commended for doing so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) referred to the memorandum, and one of my hon. Friends at least received an honest answer to a question when all the consequences of the proposal were spelt out.
I accept what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said about the need for speed in passage, but I served my term of National Service in the Royal Navy, where we were taught first about 1542 the need to find, search out and kill the enemy at the fastest possible speed and, secondly, the need for one to look after the safety of one's own ship.
The first essential is that the man in the operations room of a ship must not be hindered by restrictions which might affect his mental processes and hold him back from taking the fastest possible action. This was discussed in the Navy many years ago and it was agreed that fuel restrictions would affect captains psychologically, whether they were aware of it or not, when they had to make decisions about which course to take and at what speed to travel. Captains would feel restricted by the need to conserve fuel and this factor at the back of their minds would make them act with a natural caution. It is a fundamental mistake to make such cuts; we must use our ships to the maximum possible advantage.
Our worldwide rôle has gone, but I do not like to hear the insidious way in which some Labour Members refer to our old rôle as an international Power. It is fatuous for them to say that some hon. Members on this side still seek a rôle wider than any we could imagine for ourselves now. That is in the past; it was a different age.
What a different picture we now present abroad. Once we were respected as a nation which undertook the responsibilities of other nations in the search for peace. Now we are seen as a country which is begging and borrowing. How pathetic we must seem to nations which remember our past—a past which Socialism buries in earnest and with relish. Some Labour Members opposite scorn our triumphs. They forget that many lives were lost while we were seeking to bring security to the world.
The country deserves a better Government. We should be able to manage our economy. We are an intelligent people. We have a sophisticated industrialised society. We have a wealth of experience and a wealth of history behind us. We have people of immeasurable talents. There is great respect for this country, yet we are in such a sorry mess. In the past two years we have rushed into decline. That is because we have a Government who are governing under a mistaken philosophy and not with the will and understanding of all the people.
1543 It is with those home truths in the background that we know that our defence has now been withdrawn to NATO. I accept that there is no alternative but to consolidate our forces within NATO, but I do not accept that we should ignore the rest of the world and not be concerned with what is going on in it. What happens in Africa or the Middle East is of fundamental importance to Europe and to peace. I should like to see a widening of the NATO perspective so that we have forces at our disposal to use outside the areas of the NATO Alliance. It is our task to counsel NATO on those lines and to use our counsel within the partnership of the European Community to ensure that we have a common foreign response to events as they occur and as they threaten peace and security.
The Secretary of State gave us the impression that by concentrating and maintaining our contribution to NATO we are all the more secure. I am deeply concerned about the shape of the defence forces at our disposal as a result of the succession of cuts that have taken place. The picture is not a happy one. Our Navy has increased responsibilities for fishery protection without the proper ships to do it. The frigates now patrolling the 200-mile limit are sophisticated, lethal weapons. They are now being worn by chasing up and down looking for foreign trawlers illegally fishing. These are the ships on which we depend for defence. If we are to operate them effectively, their crews must be trained to peak efticiency in operation through training and exercising. The fact that they are now engaged in a different sort of task creates a weakness within the defence capacity of the Royal Navy.
We are short of ships. I have no doubt that we are short of a great many ships in different areas—for instance, minesweepers and patrol vessels. We now have no commitment to the Mediterranean and the southern flank of NATO. When we talk about our contribution to NATO, we must not forget that we contribute nothing in the way of ships on permanent station in the Mediterranean and that we have a weakness in the Northern Approaches as well.
I suspect that we are short of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters and anti-submarine warfare helicopters. 1544 The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is complacent about our reserve forces. We all know that recruitment is up, but what about establishment and the number of reservists that we should like to see trained so that they can buttress our forces stationed in Germany and be available in time of emergency?
Our forces in Northern Ireland are doing a most remarkable job but they leave a weakness in NATO because of their operations and lack of training. I am deeply concerned about the amount of ammunition that is available to the forces for training. If we watch a Western movie on a Saturday night, we probably see far more shots fired as we look at our television screens than a battalion fires in one year in practice training. Our commandos are doing excellent training in Norway for snow battle, but we need to be able to get them to those areas quickly. It is no use putting them through a training commitment when we do not have the means to get them to the area where they are desperately needed when the gauntlet is thrown.
Our men in the forces are still the finest in the world. I bow to them for their remarkable tolerance in being messed around with these continual cuts that threaten their employment and their future, cuts which they know are threatening the safety of the country.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
Extreme concern has been voiced in all quarters of the House today about the latest Government cuts in defence expenditure. That is not surprising, for as long ago as 18 months the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Field-Marshal Sir Michael Carver, publicly declared that Britain's Armed Forces were down to "absolute bedrock". In the past year our Services have suffered cuts totalling a further £1 billion. In the financial year 1977–78 that means a net cut in planned defence expenditure of nearly £1 billion, rising the following year to £1.2 billion—a reduction of 18.4 per cent.
The Secretary of State for Defence, in his robust speech this afternoon, made a remarkable revelation—I hope that it was noted below the Gangway—namely, that for every £10,000 cut from the defence budget one job is lost. I do not think 1545 that message has yet permeated through to Mr. Len Murray or Mr. Hugh Scanlon. At the present rate of defence cuts of £1 billion a year over the next few years, we are talking about 100,000 jobs being destroyed by this Labour Government since they came to office. Put against the Government's much-vaunted job creation programme, we see that they are destroying 100,000 jobs.
There can be no question of these cuts being absorbed, as has been suggested. They will inevitably mean a significant cut in Britain's military capability and commitments. The Government have sought to justify previous cuts on the ground that we must liquidate the relics of our imperial past and concentrate on NATO as the linchpin of our defences. I do not dissent from that judgment.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), in a most courageous speech, made it clear that we need defence expenditure to prevent, not to create war. The hon. Gentleman pointed to the fact that our part within the NATO Alliance has contributed to 30 years of peace. We diminish that contribution not only at our peril but at our children's peril.
It is crystal clear that last year's defence cuts amount to a running out on certain of our commitments to NATO. The Secretary of State for Defence has been unwilling to come clean on this matter. But is impossible to dig down below the bedrock without reaching a critical level in our defences.
It was particularly odious that, on a previous occasion at the Dispatch Box, the right hon. Gentleman should seek to dissociate himself from his defence team by declaring that they could speak for themselves. That statement he knew to be untrue. We are glad that he has retracted it today.
Why is the Secretary of State keeping the views of the Service Chiefs concerned secret from Parliament? Surely not on grounds of national security, because no secret is involved there. The only basis on which the information is being withheld is the least justifiable reason of all—to save the Government from extreme embarrassment.
I strongly endorse the call made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member 1546 for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) to let the Service Chiefs appear before a Select Committee of this House in order that they may speak for themselves to the elected representatives of the people and not have their protests swept under the carpet in a shoddy, offhand way which will not commend itself to this House.
§ Mr. Cronin
Can the hon. Member remember any occasion in history when the Service Chiefs, whilst still serving, have expressed opinions that are contrary to those of their Ministers?
§ Mr. Churchill
I say that the action of the Service Chiefs in jointly seeking a special interview with the Prime Minister is unprecedented in peace time since before the last war.
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Member must have some regard to the facts. Earlier I gave him three dates, which I stand by. They are 1965, 1968 and 1970. It is not in any sense an unprecedented event.
§ Mr. Churchill
It is not without significance that all three dates to which the Secretary of State alludes were when a Socialist Government were in power. I shall not withdraw what I said, because I am bound to say to the Secretary of State that this is the first time that all the Service Chiefs together have sought the right of this special access to the Prime Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) said that above all this was a decision on party political grounds. There can be no doubt about that. The Secretary of Defence and his colleagues appear in such a bad light because the Service Chiefs are seen to be representing the national interest—which is their duty—while the Government are failing to represent the national interest and have regard only to party political interests below the Gangway.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
In 1950 and 1951 we were told that the Russians would sweep across the Channel ports in 48 hours if we did not have a big rearmament programme. Since a Labour Government started that rearmament programme in 1950, and since the distinguished grandfather of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) substantially cut defence in 1953, when the Red menace 1547 was still supposed to be with us, how can he justify criticising us for doing the same?
§ Mr. Churchill
I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the great service that Clem Attlee did for this country in his robust approach to defence, whereby, keeping most of his Cabinet colleagues in the dark, he went ahead with the programme to develop Britain's nuclear weapons. It is absolutely true that my grandfather cut defence. As the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) know, we were coming to the end of the Korean war and there was no massive Soviet military build-up in Central Europe.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) said that Clem Attlee kept his colleagues in the dark over the development of nuclear weapons. That is often said, and is totally untrue. If the hon. Gentleman consults Hansard for May 1948 he will see that the fact that the Government were developing nuclear weapons was stated in Parliament for anyone who was interested to hear.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am delighted to have that reassurance. I was referring to the initial stages of the decision to develop nuclear weapons. I accept that later on in the period of the post-war Labour Government this became public knowledge and was the policy of the Government as a whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) asked what Tory policy is. Tory policy in defence matters is to reverse the disastrous trend of recent months, of cutting on a totally arbitrary basis the support that our troops are getting. We are committed not only to not further reducing the expenditure on defence but, indeed, to restoring cuts whenever necessary to deal with identified areas where we are not fully protected in regard to our national interest.
Unilateral disarmament is unwise at the best of times. In the face of a growing threat, it is utter folly. The Secretary of State is by no means unaware of the threat; indeed, he was 1548 party to the communique released on 8th December last year following the ministerial meeting of the NATO Defence Planning Committee in Brussels, at which—I quote the statement—Ministers … reaffirmed their support for the Western position in the Vienna negotiations and the importance they attach to the principle that NATO forces be maintained and not reduced except in the context of a Mutual Balanced Force Reduction Agreement.That notwithstanding, within one week further unilateral cuts were announced by the Secretary of State for Defence. One is bound to ask whether the Secretary of State actually saw the terms of the communique before it was issued in the names of himself and his colleagues, and whether he stands by those terms. Perhaps the Minister of State would kindly inform us of that when he makes his winding-up speech.
With Soviet naval power in the Mediterranean rivalling that of the United States today, the continuing political differences between two NATO Allies—Greece and Turkey—over Cyprus remain a matter of concern. Even if the Cyprus bases did not have military significance, including their significance as a counter to growing Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean, it would be wholly unacceptable from a political angle if, as a result of the defence cuts, the British Government were to consider abandoning the Cyprus bases, with all the instability and acrimony between Allies to which that would give rise.
However, it is above all on the northern and central fronts of NATO, where the Soviet Union confronts the Western democracies, that the situation has today become so serious. Leaving aside all Warsaw Pact forces, the Soviet Union today confronts Western Europe with the greatest army ever seen in peace time, comprising more than 100 divisions with a manpower of more than 1¼ million men, backed by an armoured force of more than 25,000 tanks. Sixty per cent. of these forces are described as Category 1—in other words, Permanently kept in a high state of readiness.
NATO forces, excluding the Mediterranean countries of NATO but including France, find themselves outnumbered by a ratio of 1.5 to 1 in manpower and 2.5 to 1 in tanks by the Soviet Union alone.
1549 However, it is not only on the ground but in the air that the balance is increasingly going against us. Including all the tactical air power that the United States and the Soviet Union are likely to deploy in the European theatre, there is an adverse air balance against the West of about 2 to 1–7,500 Soviet aircraft versus 3,750 on the NATO side.
If this conventional imbalance does not provide grounds enough for alarm, the remorseless build-up of momentum of the increasing Soviet defence budget—which the Secretary of State told us today was growing, in real terms, at 5 per cent. a year—and of armaments, production most surely does.
It was announced in the communiqué following the NATO meeting early last month thatThe Soviet Union is currently estimated to be spending about 13 per cent. of its gross national product … for military purposes, which is a very much higher level than obtains in NATO generally.The Soviets are today spending approximately three times the average 4.8 per cent. of GNP of NATO countries, including the United States. Since 1968, United States defence expenditure has dropped by one-third, while Soviet expenditure has been increasing, on average, by 3 per cent. a year, and is now increasing more rapidly.
The fact is that the Soviet Union is outspending the United States by 40 per cent. at present and, because it devotes only half as great a proportion of its defence budget to the pay and pensions of its forces, it is in effect today spending twice as much as the United States on research and development as well as on the procurement of new armaments—a fact which I am sure is calculated to cheer the heart of the hon. Member for Salford, East.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Will the hon. Gentleman, whose speech has confirmed our view of him as a Right-wing extremist—I am speaking as a moderate myself—tell the House that the figure he has just quoted, of a 40 per cent. excess of Soviet expenditure over that of America, came from the Central Intelligence Agency in a document yesterday? As Mandy Rice-Davies said in another context, "They would say that, would they not?"
1550 Finally, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what would satisfy him as an increase? I suspect that even if our arms expenditure were trebled and the country completely bankrupted he would still be demanding more and more expenditure.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am afraid that, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am not privy to the CIA document to which he referred. Though recognising that he has a high regard for the efficiency of totalitarian production east of the Oder-Neisse line, I am bound to say that the sheer volume of hardware that is coming off Soviet production lines is sufficient evidence in itself of what the Soviet Union is putting into defence today.
I shall refer briefly to that production, because to many people it is the single most worrying fact about our present position in the West. While United States tank production over the past five years has averaged less than 500 a year, that of the Soviets has exceeded 3,000. It is likely that the Soviet Unioin will be producing between 3,000 and 4,000 of the ultra-modern T72 tanks in the course of this year. At an average production rate of close to 300 per month, the Soviets are out-producing Britain's entire inventory of 910 Chieftains every three months, according to the Institute of Strategic Studies' "Military Balance", and out-producing the United States tanks in Europe, which amount to 2,500, every eight months.
The Soviets are building more than 1,000 supersonic tactical aircraft, leaving aside all their bomber aircraft such as the Backfire. These are ultra-modern supersonic tactical aircraft—Flagons, Fencers, Fishbeds, Floggers and Foxbats. At an average production rate of 85 per month, they are reproducing Britain's entire inventory every two months, our inventory being 192 supersonic aircraft, according to "Military Balance", and every two years they are reproducing all 26 wings of the United States Tactical Air Command.
In medium and long-range missiles the situation is even more worrying. The Soviets are believed to be deploying their missiles at present at a rate of 250 a year, with more than 800 warheads—a figure likely to rise very sharply as the new Delta I and 2 submarines which 1551 have been launched in the past 18 months are equipped with the newer MIR Ved missiles. At this rate of deployment the Soviet war machine is reproducing Britain's entire inventory of missile warheads, which is 64, every four weeks.
What is the purpose of this terrifying rate of arms production, unprecedented in any nation in peace time, including Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the outbreak of war? I do not pretend to know the answer, but the Secretary of State gave us his version. He said that it was part of the deterrent policy on both sides. Deterrent against whom? Of whom in NATO has the Soviet Union to be afraid? Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us what his right hon. Friend has in mind.
However, I do not share the excessive pessimism of those who believe that the Soviet Union is hell-bent on the path of war with the West, or that its leaders have concluded that, as a result of their massive investment in civil defence in factories and apartment buildings—above all for the Communist Party leadership—its population would be largely unharmed and that no more than 10 per cent. would be killed in an all-out nuclear exchange. I do not accept that view. I believe that hon. Members, even those below the Gangway on the Government side, will concede at least that whatever this vast output of tanks, missiles, submarines and tactical aircraft may be intended for, it is surely not for our benefit.
More realistically, it is clear that the Soviet Union is seeking in the years ahead to increase the options available to it while decreasing those available to the West. It is doing so with a view ultimately to dictating to Europe and the rest of the world the lines on which it has already dictated to Finland—although in the gentlest possible terms. In 1974, following an indication of Soviet wishes, special legislation had to be introduced and passed in the Finnish Parliament in order to confirm President Kekkonen in office without election.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that if half of what he has said is true, it would be the best policy for Britain to get on good terms with the Soviet Union? Does he seriously suggest that Britain can play a significant rôle in outmatching what he has described?
§ Mr. Churchill
I am all in favour of Britain's being on good terms with the Soviet Union, provided that it is not seeking to remove our liberties and democratic way of life. But the last thing that Britain should do is to encourage by unilateral cuts in defence expenditure the imperialist militarist designs of the present Soviet leadership—not only because it is wrong, not only because it is not in our people's interests, but above all because it undermines the whole basis for any serious international agreement for mutual balanced force reductions or the limitation of strategic weapons.
The new Administration which is on the point of taking office next week in the United States is committed to concluding a further SALT agreement with the Soviet Government, if that is at all possible. We must wish them well in their efforts to call a halt to this insane nuclear arms race, which not only squanders resources that could be put to better use but threatens the very continuation of life itself on this planet.
When all the factors are considered, it must be concluded that the strategic nuclear balance between the two super-Powers today is as close as it is ever likely to be. The same is probably true of the nuclear balance in Europe. We are therefore standing at what could be a unique crossroads in history. We should be delinquent if we did not grasp the opportunity that it presents, if there is a real possibility of concluding an agreement which effectively limits or, better still, ends the arms race while safeguarding the freedom which we in the Western democracies and most of us in this House hold so dear by assuring the maintenance of a wholly effective deterrent capability.
The Secretary of State said that he would like the talks to be successful. How can Britain help in that? The answer is emphatically not in the way in which the Government are going about it. No single action so undermines the whole process of bilateral or multilateral reductions as the introduction of unilateral reductions. It is time that the Government came to their senses and realised the damage they are doing to the interests of Britain and the whole of the free world by undermining these negotiations, 1553 on which so many hopes for the future are pinned.
I shall be glad if the Minister of State will enlighten us on one specific matter. There have been recent reports in the Press of a British manufacturer contracting to assist in fixing fuel flow problems in the engine of the Soviet TU144 Concordski. Will the Minister please give the House an assurance that the engine of the Backfire bomber, which poses a direct threat to Western Europe, our own homeland and all the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic and more than 100 of which have already been deployed, is not the same NK144 engine as that in the Concordski? It has been suggested that the Backfire engine is identical with or is an uprated version of that engine. This engine fault is why, nine years after its maiden flight, the Concordski still has not been introduced into passenger service.
It would be wholly unacceptable to the people of this country if we were to repeat the mistake made by the post-war Labour Government, which sold a few prototypes of the Nene jet engine only to find that 15,000 copies were produced and put into MiG 15s which later shot at our allies in the Korean war.
The Government are letting down the very men on whom, in the last resort, our freedom and democratic institutions depend. It is a scandal that, at the same time as our Armed Forces are being asked to fight a major anti-terrorist war in Northern Ireland—facing the long hours and constant danger with total dedication and courage—they should be let down at home by the politicians. They can take a lot—they do take a lot—but the endless uncertainty caused by five cuts in defence in the past two years, gnawing away at their ability to fulfil the task assigned to them, is more than should be asked of them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) drew attention to the severe lack of training and the reduction of fuel in the Navy, so that we now have a half-speed Royal Navy on the high seas. My hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) said that there is a shortage of equipment for the troops when they carry out the tasks assigned to them. The Secretary of State 1554 trumpeted about the new equipment that was coming into service but passed very quickly over the fact that he was cutting expenditure on equipment in the coming year by an additional £60 million.
The forces feel that the Government are not backing them—indeed, that they are leaving them in a critically exposed position in the event of a war in Europe by slowing the procurement of vital equipment, particularly anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and by running down vital war stocks in Germany.
I remind the Minister of State of the statement issued by his right hon. Friend and his colleagues following the ministerial meeting of NATO on 8th December 1976. The communiqué concluded:Ministers conclude … that there there is for all of the Allies to undertake further measures if the Alliance is to reverse effectively the adverse trends in the NATO/Warsaw Pact conventional military balance. Accordingly Ministers agreed"—including our own Secretary of State for Defence—that further strengthening is needed in NATO's conventional defences. Ministers recognise that the achievements of these objectives would call for real annual increases in defence expenditure by allied Governments.Is it because the right hon. Gentleman is living in "Alice in Wonderland" that he subscribes his name to such a communiqué saying that he is pledging this country and the Government to increasing defence expenditure in real terms when he knows that he cannot begin to sell that pledge to his hon. Friends below the Gangway and a week later he announces in the House further cuts in defence expenditure? Whom does he think he is fooling?
The issue before the House is whether the Government should be allowed to get away with running out on their obligations to our allies and going back on their commitments to NATO within one week of their reaffirmation. Above all, does this House have the will—nay, the determination—to ensure that our forces get the support they deserve, the support which our people would wish them to have? Her Majesty's Opposition demand that they should get that support, and I believe that the House tonight will insist that they do.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Dr. John Gilbert)
My first task 1555 is the pleasant one of congratulating the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on his first major speech at the Dispatch Box. I enjoyed it enormously. Apart from anything else, it was a clear indication of why the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) is starting to use the sort of language that we never expected to hear from him. We may well expect him to take further steps in future to prevent himself from being upstaged by his new colleague. [Interruption.] I never expected to draw blood quite so easily or quite so soon. However, it is interesting to see that Opposition Members are sensitive, and we shall note that for future occasions.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Stretford for having given me notice of the question about the Lucas contract. There is a difference between both the engines and the performances of the engines in the two types of aircraft. We have been in consultation with the Lucas company about the contract and we will, of course, be referring it to COCOM in due course.
§ Mr. Churchill
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that, although there may be differences, there are grounds for believing that there are very great similarities between the two engines—indeed, that the Backfire is to be an unrated version of the Concordski engine? Would it not be better if the Government were to take this matter in hand rather than leave it to our allies in COCOM?
§ Dr. Gilbert
I was aware of this matter before the hon. Gentleman raised it. I assure him that it has been looked at and the strategic considerations perfectly taken into account. There is nothing for him to be concerned about.
Until a few minutes ago this had been a quite thoughtful debate—[Interruption]—distinguished by the absence of some of the hon. Members who are now making noise. However, it is good to know that those hon. Members have an interest, if only in coming in for the winding-up speeches.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With regard to those hon. Members coming in for the winding-up speeches, may I draw your attention to the fact that there are only seven hon. Members sitting behind the Minister?
§ Dr. Gilbert
If that is the Opposition's sense of arithmetic, I leave it to them. [Interruption.] I must say that hon. Members opposite must be hard up.
There has been little of the impugning of the motives of those with whom one disagrees that has so often been a melancholy feature on occasions such as this in the past. Two basic questions must be considered in a defence debate. The first is whether our defences, when considered in company with those of our allies and in the light of any perceived threat, are adequate and balanced. The second is whether we can get our present level of defences more economically and can sustain that level without doing ourselves irreparable economic damage of a sort that, in the long run, will impair our ability to meet even our present level of defence commitments.
Most Opposition speakers, as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Toxtoth (Mr. Crawshaw) and for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), have addressed themselves primarily to the first of those questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and his fellow signatories of the amendment standing in his name have addressed themselves largely to the second question, while the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), in a most thoughtful speech to which I shall return, held that the answers to those questions were necessarily incompatible.
Dealing with the amendment first, I start with the general proposition that no one wishes to spend one penny more on defence than is absolutely necessary. I thought that that would be a generally agreed proportion. However, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said in a most disparaging tone that many Labour Members below the Gangway did not like any defence spending at all. What on earth is wrong with that?
§ Dr. Gilbert
Does the right hon. Gentleman actually like defence spending? Does he actually like spending money on weapons of mass destruction 1557 when we would much prefer not to spend it on such things?
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Since the only way of protecting the West and our freedom is to have weapons, of course I like spending money.
§ Dr. Gilbert
Of course we recognise the necessity to spend money, but I did not think we actually liked doing it. We are learning something about the right hon. Gentleman. Maybe he was not parading under false colours. He actually likes spending.
§ Mr. Hastings
Does the Minister think that what he has just said is likely to improve the morale of the Armed Services at the moment?
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am glad to have that intervention from the hon. Gentleman, who has not been here throughout the debate.
§ Dr. Gilbert
Cheap it may be, but it is a fact. I would have thought that everyone in the House could think of things on which he would rather spend money than on defence expenditure if it were possible to do so in terms of our national security. I must say that the Conservative Party is showing a very different face in public from that which I had expected.
Of course, defence spending is a penalty which we impose upon ourselves to protect our society. That is understood perfectly. But I am amazed by the reception given to the proposition that this is not a form of self-indulgence which we actually enjoy. I had not realised that there were so many masochists among Opposition Members.
It is no reflection on the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) or on those who devote their lives to our defence, whether it be in the Services or in our defence industries, to say that all of us would far prefer, if it were possible in terms of our foreign policy constraints and in terms of perceived threats, not to have to spend that money. That is a proposition which I expected would meet with universal acceptance. However, we learn that that is not the case.
I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East, who claims 1558 that the last set of cuts were actually fictitious. I have debated this claim with him both here and in another place. I agree with him that most of the figures bandied about in this and other debates have represented cuts in planned programmes. But it is also the case that defence expenditure in 1975–76 was some 3 per cent. below expenditure in 1971–72 in real terms. There has been a real cut in defence expenditure, and this has involved a reduction in manpower strengths, both Service and civilian. It has involved the paying off of some ships. It has involved the disbandment of some RAF transport squadrons and the closing of some bases overseas. I do not think that it can be reasonably argued that these were not real cuts.
I turn now to some of the other matters raised in the debate. There is a lot of truth in what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) said, although I did not agree with all his terminology. There was an element of disarmament by virtue of the increasing cost of advanced technology. My hon. Friend also questioned the big ship concept. As I understood it, he wanted smaller and cheaper ships. But, as I am sure he will appreciate, only a relatively modest proportion of the cost of a new fighting ship these days reposes in its hull. The overwhelming proportion of its costs is in the equipment with which, necessarily, it has to be armed.
Although certain types of equipment such as electronic counter-measures are relatively cheap to provide, missiles to deal with attacking aircraft or attacking missiles are diabolically expensive, and there is little point in putting ships on the high seas if they are to be sitting ducks and unable to defend themselves without highly expensive weapons systems. This is always a question of balance. I have to say to my hon. Friend, however, that there is no escaping the fact that the costs of individual units in the Fleet will go inexorably upwards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch also referred to the reorganisation of the Royal Air Force as a means of making substantial savings. I have no reason to believe that there could be any large-scale economies from a merger of the sort that he suggests. I do not know of any country at the 1559 moment which has reorganised its air power in that way. However, I should point out to my hon. Friend that our forces on the Continent are completely integrated in the NATO command structure. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, BAOR is under the command of NATO's Northern Army Group, whereas RAF Germany is part of NATO's Second Allied Tactical Air Force. What my hon. Friend suggests would involve a complete restructuring not only of our own arrangements but of the NATO military organisation, with considerable political and diplomatic implications.
The last point he made was whether the Ministry of Defence should resurrect the independent review body. I listened carefully to what he said but I was not sure if he was referring to the Programme Evaluation Group, which was started by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—and wound up by the Conservatives, or whether he was referring to some other outside group of observers. I endorse the judgment of the Conservatives in government that the role of the Programme Evaluation Group has been rather subsumed in a strengthened defence policy staff. However, I shall be happy to look in detail at any suggestion that my hon. Friend wishes to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) raised the question of offset purchases from the United States. I suspect that there is a certain amount of misinformation in circulation on this subject. Since the signing of the memorandum of understanding on reciprocal purchases in September 1975, a number of British firms have competed successfully for United States Government contracts—ejector seats, head-up displays, battery computers, and so on. Since 1970—the past seven years—military purchases between this country and the United States are just about in balance. Our own success owes a great deal to the Harrier aircraft, but since 1970 there has been a genuine two-way street in defence procurement between this country and the Americans.
§ Mr. Churchill
Perhaps the Minister will tell us what is the Government's reaction to reports from Capitol Hill that 1560 the Harrier had been grounded for a high proportion of time in its service with the United States Marine Corps, as a result of the unavailability of spare parts. This has been attributed to the defence cuts by Britain and the fact that there is not adequate provision of British spares.
§ Dr. Gilbert
As I understand it, the reason the Harrier has been grounded—the data to which the hon. Member refers are a little out of date, but that is not his fault—is that it has been such a successful aeroplane that it has been used far more intensively than anyone could have foreseen. I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen laugh at that. They should boast about the Harrier, which is one of our successes. Good heavens above, what a party of patriots they are! The aeroplane was so successful that it was more intensively used than anticipated, and the need for spares therefore was higher than anticipated, and the Americans just had not ordered them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), who is Chairman of the Expenditure Committee, asked questions about the Lewis report on training. I am hoping to publish that report soon. Mr. Lewis was appointed by my predecessor as an independent expert to undertake an examination of training. His recommendations were submitted to the Defence Sub-Committee in September last year, and up to now we have not had any reply at the Ministry from that Committee. The main thrust of this substantial and wide-ranging report was that the scope for economies through joint training—the potential scope—is relatively small compared with the total cost of the overall Service training, but the main criterion for undertaking joint training is whether it can provide savings which would not come from single Service measures.
My hon. Friend also suggested that we should pursue some of the ideas of the Dutch Government in this respect. I have had brief informal discussions with the new Dutch Defence Minister and I certainly propose to carry them forward in line with my hon. Friend's suggestion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth, like the hon. Member for Petersfield, raised questions about the availability of transport resources for moving our troops to areas where they 1561 might be needed. The hon. Member asked about air transport and my hon. Friend about sea and rail transport. On the former, the combination of both the Hercules and the VC10 fleets can meet all our priority one commitments to NATO for reinforcements, and that continues to be the situation.
As for transport by sea and rail, I can assure my hon. Friend that the capacity of the Channel and East Coast ports, through which the men, munitions and vehicles would have to go, is considerably in excess of what would be needed in a time of tension preparatory to war. The capacity of these ports for carrying a single day's holidaymakers in the summer season is far in excess of what would be needed in terms of a planned programme of build-up in a time of tension, should one occur.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) asked about the impact of the economy measures on Northern Ireland. Of course, one recognises how serious they have been, and they are much regretted. However, as far as I know, there will be no further measures with an impact on the economy of that part of the United Kingdom. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman is disappointed at the rate of implementation of the conversion of more of the Ulster Defence Regiment to a full-time basis. There are many applications in the pipeline and it takes time to process them. If the right hon. Gentleman is aware of difficulties in that processing, I should be obliged if he would let me know.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough said that it would be ingenuous to quote general officers on the subject of defence cuts. I do not go entirely all the way with my hon. Friend, but it is perfectly true that any adviser worth his salt will recommend further expenditure on the subject for which he is responsible. I should be very surprised if the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, or any of his colleagues who held ministerial responsibility for major spending Departments when they were in office, could not endorse that view from their experience.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
Is it not the case that after 1562 the 1974 review the hon. Gentleman's colleague, then the Minister of State, said that the review represented the judgment, cool and considered, of what we needed to spend to secure our safety in this country? Is it not that which is worrying our Chiefs of Staff?
§ Dr. Gilbert
The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that over the last several years there has been a systematic rundown of our defence commitments, and quite rightly so. I am glad to say that that was largely endorsed by the Conservative Party. As a result of that rundown we now concentrate on our NATO commitments. As a result, it has proved possible to accommodate these cuts without any serious impact on our operational capability.
I turn again to the remarks of the hon. Member for Petersfield. We can all make a slip of the tongue in the course of a debate. Referring to BAOR, the hon. Gentleman said that the Army was not there. A moment later he quite properly corrected himself, saying that the bulk of the Army was not there. That assertion was only a little less preposterous than the first, Of course the Army is there. We have 55,000 men there. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that for many years under the previous Government there were a few thousand men from BAOR in Northern Ireland on 48 hours' notice. Nothing has changed in that respect since this Government took office.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am not seeking to put words into the hon. Gentleman's mouth. All of us would far prefer it if there were no British Army operating in Northern Ireland, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, while the training and experience in Northern Ireland are not wholly applicable to what troops might find on the central front, they have given soldiers experience under fire which has proved extremely valuable to them.
The one point on which I take issue with the hon. Gentleman is his statement that we used to be one of the most 1563 reliable Allies in NATO, and that, sadly, that was not so today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I note that that proposition, which was largely echoed by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend, finds some support among Opposition Members. The right hon. Gentleman said that our present defence forces bore very little relation to our defence needs.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I said that the Government's current defence policy bore little relation to our needs.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have 55,000 men in BAOR and that the Royal Air Force deploys a balanced force of strike, air defence and reconnaissance aircraft in Germany. These forces are integrated with NATO commands. In addition, NATO relies on the Royal Navy and the RAF to provide the main weight of our ready maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel area. Our contribution here numbers about 130 ships and 13 RN and RAF squadrons of fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters. Alone among our European Allies we operate a nuclear-powered fleet of submarines, of
§ which there are now nine in service. We are the only European Power to contribute strategic and theatre nuclear forces to the Alliance's general deterrent.
§ I now turn to the future, beginning with the Navy. There are five new classes of warship under construction. The re-equipment programme includes the Lynx helicopter and Sea Harrier. Reprovision of the Army includes the Milan anti-tank guided weapon and planned improvements in the Chieftain tank, such as the new laser sight. In the RAF, further squadrons of Jaguars are being formed, and that is not all.
§ In percentage terms, our contribution is higher than that of any other European country in the Alliance. My right hon. Friend can hold his head high when he speaks in the councils of our Allies in Europe. It is disgraceful of the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that our forces will have only a very small relation to our defence needs.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 77, Noes 214.1565
|Division No. 29.]||AYES||[10.0p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Hatton, Frank||Newens, Stanley|
|Atkins, Ronald(Preston N)||Hayman, Mrs Helena||Ovenden, John|
|Atkinson, Norman||Heffer, Eric S.||Parry, Robert|
|Bennett, Andrew(Stockport N)||Hooley, Frank||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Buchan, Norman||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rooker, J. W.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Ryman, John|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kelley, Richard||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Kerr, Russell||Selby, Harry|
|Clemitson, lvor||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Sillars, James|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Kinnock, Neil||Silverman, Julius|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Lambie, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Corbett, Robin||Lamond, James||Small, William|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Swain, Thomas|
|Edge, Geoff||Lee, John||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Litterick, Tom||Tierney, Sydney|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Loyden, Eddie||Torney, Tom|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Flannery, Martin||Madden, Max||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Maynard, Miss Joan||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grocott, Bruce||Mikardo, lan||Dr. Oonagh McDonald and|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N)||Miss Jo Richardson.|
|Abse, Leo||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Buchanan, Richard|
|Anderson, Donald||Boardman, H.||Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)|
|Archer, Peter||Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Campbell, Ian|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Cant, R. B.|
|Ashton, Joe||Bowden, A.(Brighton, Kemptown)||Carter, Ray|
|Bagier, Gordon A.T.||Boyden, James(Bish Auck)||Cartwright, John|
|Barnett, Guy(Greenwich)||Bradley, Tom||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel(Heywood)||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Cohen, Stanley|
|Bates, Alf||Brown, Hugh D.(Provan)||Concannon, J. D.|
|Beith, A. J.||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Conlan, Bernard|
|Bishop, E. S.||Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Cowans, Harry|
|Cox, Thomas(Tooting)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||John, Brynmor||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Cronin, John||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Johnson, Walter(Derby S)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Cryer, Bob||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Jones, Barry(East Flint)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Cunningham, Dr J.(Whiteh)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Davidson, Arthur||Judd, Frank||Sandelson, Neville|
|Davies, Bryan(Enfield N)||Kaufman, Gerald||Shaw, Arnold (llford South)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Lamborn, Harry||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Leadbitter, Ted||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Sillars, James|
|Dempsey, James||Lipton, Marcus||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Doig, Peter||Lomas, Kenneth||Snape, Peter|
|Dormand, J. D.||Luard, Evan||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lyons, Edward(Bradford W)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Dunn, James A.||McCartney, Hugh||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Dunnett, Jack||McElhone, Frank||Stoddart, David|
|Eadie, Alex||McGuire, Michael(Ince)||Stott, Roger|
|English, Michael||MacKenzie, Gregor||Strang, Gavin|
|Ennals, David||Mackintosh, John P.||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Maclennan, Robert||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McNamara, Kevin||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Magee, Bryan||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Mahon, Simon||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Tomlinson, John|
|Forrester, John||Marks, Kenneth||Urwin, T. W.|
|Fowler, Gerald(The Wrekin)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Meacher, Michael||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Freud, Clement||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Walden, Brian (B'ham L'dyw'd)|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|George, Bruce||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Moonman, Eric||Ward, Michael|
|Ginsburg, David||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Watkins, David|
|Golding, John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Watkinson, John|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moyle, Roland||Weetch, Ken|
|Graham, Ted||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Weitzman, David|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Wellbeloved, James|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Noble, Mike||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Oakes, Gordon||White, James (Pollok)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Ogden, Eric||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Hardy, Peter||O'Halloran, Michael||Whitlock, William|
|Harper, Joseph||Orbach, Maurice||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Padley, Walter||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Palmer, Arthur||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Horam, John||Pardoe, John||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Park, George||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Parker, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Huckfield, Les||Pendry, Tom||Woof, Robert|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Penhaligon, David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hunter, Adam||Perry, Ernest||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Price, William (Rugby)||Mr. James Tinn and|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Radice, Giles||Mr. Donald Coleman.|
|Janner, Greville||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Question accordingly negatived.|
|Main Question put:—|
|The House divided: Ayes 265, Noes 288.|
|Adley, Robert||Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Benyon, W.||Brittan, Leon|
|Alison, Michael||Berry, Hon Anthony||Brocklebank-Fowler, C.|
|Arnold, Tom||Biffen, John||Brotherton, Michael|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Biggs-Davison, John||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Blaker, Peter||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Baker, Kenneth||Body, Richard||Buchanan-Smith, Alick|
|Banks, Robert||Boscawen, Hon Robert||Buck, Antony|
|Beith, A. J.||Bottomley, Peter||Budgen, Nick|
|Bell, Ronald||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Burden, F.A.|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Holland, Philip||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Carlisle Mark||Hooson, Emlyn||Pattle, Geoffrey|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hordern, Peter||Penhaligon, David|
|Channon, Paul||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Percival, Ian|
|Churchill, W. S.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Clark Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Pym, Rt hon Francis|
|Clegg, Walter||Hurd, Douglas||Raison, Timothy|
|Cockcroft, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rathbone, Tim|
|Cooke Robert (Bristol W)||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Cope, John||James, David||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Cordle, John H.||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jessel, Toby||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Corrie, John||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Rhodes James, R.|
|Costain, A. P.||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Craig Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Jopling, Michael||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Critchley, Julian||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Crouch, David||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Crowder F. P.||Kershaw, Anthony||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Davies Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Kimball, Marcus||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, lord James||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Knight, Mrs Jill||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Knox, David||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Durant, Tony||Lamont, Norman||St. John Stevas, Norman|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Scott, Nicholas|
|Elliott, Sir William||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Shaw, Giles(Pudsey)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lawrence, Ivan||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lawson, Nigel||Shepherd, Colin|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Shersby, Michael|
|Farr, John||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Silvester, Fred|
|Fell, Anthony||Lloyd, Ian||Sims, Roger|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Loveridge, John||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Luce, Richard||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||McCrindle, Robert||Speed, Keith|
|Forman, Nigel||Macfarlane, Nell||Spence, John|
|Fowler, Norman (Sulton C'f'd)||MacGregor, John||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Fox, Marcus||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Sproat, Iain|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Stainton, Keith|
|Freud, Clement||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fry, Peter||Madel, David||Stanley, John|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Marten, Neil||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde)||Mates, Michael||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mather, Carol||Stokes, John|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Maude, Angus||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mawby, Ray||Tapsell, Peter|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mayhew, Patrick||Tebbit, Norman|
|Goodhew, Victor||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Gorst, John||Mills, Pater||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Miscampbell, Norman||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Trotter, Neville|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Moate, Roger||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Gray, Hamish||Monro, Hector||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Grieve, Percy||Montgomery, Fergus||Viggers, Peter|
|Griffiths, Eldon||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wakeham, John|
|Grist, Ian||Morgan, Geraint||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Grylls, Michael||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Hall, Sir John||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Walters, Dennis|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Morrison, Charles (Davizes)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Mudd, David||Wells, John|
|Hannam, John||Neave, Airey||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Nelson, Anthony||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Hastings, Stephen||Neubert, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Newton, Tony||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hawkins, Paul||Nott, John||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Onslow, Cranley||Younger, Hon George|
|Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Heseltine, Michael||Page, John (Harrow West)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hicks, Robert||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Page, Richard (Workington)||Mr. Michael Roberts.|
|Hodgson, Robin||Pardoe, John|
|Abse, Leo||Archer, Peter||Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)|
|Allaun, Frank||Armstrong, Ernest||Atkinson, Norman|
|Anderson, Donald||Ashton, Joe||Bagier, Gordon A. T.|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Ginsburg, David||Mikardo, Ian|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Golding, John||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Bates, Alf||Gould, Bryan||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Gourlay, Harry||Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Graham, Ted||Moonman, Eric|
|Bishop, E. S.||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Grant, John (Islington C)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Boardman, H.||Grocott, Bruce||Moyle, Roland|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Hardy, Peter||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Harper, Joseph||Newens, Stanley|
|Bradley, Tom||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Noble, Mike|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Oakes, Gordon|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Ogden, Eric|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Hatton, Frank||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Orbach, Maurice|
|Buchan, Norman||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Buchanan, Richard||Heffer, Eric S.||Ovenden, John|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Henderson, Douglas||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Hooley, Frank||Padley, Walter|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Horam, John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Campbell, Ian||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Park, George|
|Caravan, Dennis||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Parker, John|
|Cant, R. B.||Huckfield, Les||parry, Robert|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Carter, Ray||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Pendry, Tom|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Perry, Ernest|
|Cartwright, John||Hunter, Adam||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Radice, Giles|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Coleman, Donald||Janner, Greville||Reid, George|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||John, Brynmor||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Corbett, Robin||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Cowans, Harry||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Judd, Frank||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Kaufman, Gerald||Rowlands, Ted|
|Cryer, Bob||Kelley, Richard||Ryman, John|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Kerr, Russell||Sandelson, Neville|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Davidson, Arthur||Kinnock, Nell||Selby, Harry|
|Davies, Bryan(Enfield N)||Lambie, David||Shaw, Arnold (llford South)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Lamborn, Harry||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lamond, James||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Deakins, Eric||Leadbitter, Ted||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lee, John||Sillars, James|
|Dempsey, James||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Silverman, Julius|
|Doig, Peter||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Small, William|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lipton, Marcus||Spearing, Nigel|
|Dunn, James A.||Litterick, Tom||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lomas, Kenneth||Stallard, A. W.|
|Eadie, Alex||Loyden, Eddie||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Edge, Geoff||Luard, Evan||Stoddart, David|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Stott, Roger|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Strang, Gavin|
|English, Michael||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Ennals, David||Mc Cartney, Hugh||Swain, Thomas|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McElhone, Frank||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||MacKenzie, Gregor||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Maclennan, Robert||Thompson, Georgs|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McNamara, Kevin||Tierney, Sydney|
|Flannery, Martin||Madden, Max||Tinn, James|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Magee, Bryan||Tomlinson, John|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mahon, Simon||Torney, Tom|
|Forrester, John||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Urwin, T. W.|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Marks, Kenneth||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Walden, Brian(B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|George, Bruce||Meacher, Michael||Ward, Michael|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Watkins, David|
|Watkinson, John||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Watt, Hamish||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)||Woodall, Alec|
|Weetch, Ken||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)||Woof, Robert|
|Weitzman, David||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Wellbeloved, James||Williams, Sir Thomas||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Welsh, Andrew||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|White, James (Pollok)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Whitehead, Phillip||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)||Mr. Peter Snape and|
|Whitlock, William||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)||Mr. Frank White|
|Question accordingly negatived.|