HC Deb 28 March 1977 vol 929 cc43-170

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22nd March]: That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977 (Command Paper No. 6735); and endorses Her Majesty's Government's policy of basing British security on collective effort to deter aggression, while seeking every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreements on arms control and disarmament—[Mr. Mulley.]

Question again proposed.

3.58 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. A. E. P. Duffy)

I listened with great interest to the contributions of hon. Members on both sides of the House to the first day's debate. I should like to begin by touching sparingly on as many of those contributions as possible before picking up the motion before the House and then observing briefly on the Official Opposition amendment thereto.

A number of hon. Members referred to the threat to NATO maritime operations posed by the Russian Backfire bomber. These aircraft are indeed a formidable and growing threat, complementing that already posed by the Russian submarine force. However, it would, I believe, be wrong to suppose that, just because it is such a formidable aircraft, it would have it all its own way. Defence at sea is based on defence in depth. In the first place, land-based aircraft of the RAF and our Allies will be available to attack or disrupt the operations of enemy aircraft. Then there would be the defence provided by the United States carrier-borne aircraft assigned to SACLANT. Thereafter, in our own case, apart from the contribution made by the Sea Harrier in dealing with Soviet reconnaissance and target-indicating aircraft, thereby complicating the attacker's task, we should have the very effective organic defence provided in particular by Sea Dart and Sea Wolf.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) questioned me last week about contracts for the sale of equipment to Russia by Lucas Aerospace and Plessey. I assure the hon. Member that the Lucas case is still being studied by Departments. Obviously no agreement can be given unless we are satisfied that our national interests and international obligations will be met. As for the Plessey case, full details of the level of technology involved have not yet been received from the firm. Thus, no major decisions on the project have yet been made by Government Departments.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) raised a number of questions about Exocet. The number of ship systems and missiles originally agreed in 1971 has not changed, although, as part of the general review of the project in 1975, it was decided that it was reasonable to reduce the allowance for in-service practice firing. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman noted, it is a powerful new weapon with which the Navy is well pleased.

Reference has been made to the cumulative effect of the cuts in fuel, spares and ammunition. These are not expected significantly to affect operational effectiveness or war reserves. We have heard a lot in particular about fuel reductions. I have had to endure taunts about a "half-speed Navy". The Fleet has been under standing instructions to seek to conserve fuel as a good housekeeping measure since as long ago as 1973–74. But significant savings have been achieved without detriment to training or the effectiveness of the Fleet—or to our surveillance effort, despite recent Press allegations—and we hope that the future 5 per cent. cut, in 1978–79, taken as part of the PESC 1975 cuts for 1977–78 to 1979–80, will be achieved by the continued application of good housekeeping measures, again without adverse effects on training or Fleet effectiveness. In the case of the recent reduction in the defence budget for 1977–78, we have made no cuts in naval fuel or ammunition.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) raised the incident between HMS "Brinton" and the French trawler, the "Daniel Roger", on 16th March. It is not my intention to discuss today the contributions of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to the offshore task, but I should like to put the hon. Gentleman straight on a few facts. There was no question of HMS "Brinton" being unable to keep up with the French trawler. The reason why she could not head off the "Daniel Roger" was that she was hampered by the close manoeuvring of other French trawlers.

The hon. Gentleman further commented that the new patrol boats are little, if any, faster."—[Official Report, 22nd March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1189.] I take the implication of his remark and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) to be that the Islands class will be no match for trawlers. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to look at some trawlers. In a recent study of all trawlers built in 1976 and likely to be encountered in our fishery protection areas—Soviet trawlers were excluded for lack of information—it was discovered that only some 5 per cent. had a maximum speed in excess of 15 knots, whereas some 40 per cent. had a maximum speed in the range of 11–12 knots. As far as the "Brinton" incident is concerned, action is being taken by the French authorities, with whom we have enjoyed close co-operation from the outset.

My hon. Friend the Member for Heeley also raised the question of defence expenditure overseas. I would remind him that, important though this is, it is not the whole of the balance of payments picture. Defence sales continue to make a valuable contribution to the balance of payments and are expected to reach some £850 million in 1977–78.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) accused the Government of hiding substantial defence cuts from the House. That is not true. His "evidence" for such a wild accusation was that the defence cash limit was only about 11 per cent. above the Estimates provision, whereas inflation, at an annual rate, has been higher than that. I assume that he was referring to 1976–77, since the cash limit for 1977–78 has not yet been published. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there have been no significant deferments or cancellations as a result of the application of cash limits.

Last Tuesday evening the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), in quite the most impressive speech that we have yet heard in this Parliament from an Opposition Front Bench speaker on defence, vividly reminded the House of the importance of sea lines of communication with his quotation from Admiral Gorshkov. If I may take issue with him on one point, it is with his use of the phrase "sea flanks".

In one sense, the North Atlantic is the heart of the Alliance. It is vital for economic purposes for the deployment of a major part of NATO's strategic deterrent force, and for mutual support and reinforcement in time of war. It is as much NATO's front line as is the central region in Europe. At sea, no less than on land, NATO needs to provide constant deterrence.

I would remind the House that in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force provide the main weight of maritime forces readily available to NATO. We are alive to Gorshkov's thinking, and by our contribution to collective maritime defence we show our clear determination to ensure that the admiral's ideas are never translated into fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), in a powerful and authoritative speech that was acknowledged as such on both sides of the House, also raised the question of NATO's flanks. Although it was decided during the defence review to concentrate the United Kingdom's defence effort in the central region, the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel, we have agreed to carry out specific compensatory measures of special value to the southern flanks.

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), in a speech of compelling authority, which befits a former Navy Minister, pointed to the importance of NATO's northern flank. In recognition of the importance that the United Kingdom attaches to this area the number of troops specially trained for Arctic warfare is being increased. In addition to the existing 45 Commando Group and naval air squadron, a further commando group, naval air squadron and a tactical brigade headquarters are being equipped and trained for winter operations in Norway.

The allocation of these forces and their regular annual exercises in Norway are a clear indication of our determination to defend the northern flank. Moreover, we are continually reviewing the arrangements for logistic support and field training in order to ensure that the maximum effort and impact can be obtained from these reinforcement forces.

My hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I visited Norway three weeks ago. We saw 45 Commando Group training alongside the forces of our Norwegian and Dutch Allies. We were most impressed by all we saw. Our Royal Marines, as always, filled us with deep pride. These lads, many of them only late teenagers, were wet because of the conditions at the first onset of thaw after temperatures well below zero, but they were in no way dejected, and in many instances they were looking forward to their return to Norway this time next year.

The Norwegians were most complimentary about the Royal Marines and about the contribution that we make to the security of North Norway.

Finally, I would remind the House that the United Kingdom contributes land and air forces to the multinational ACE mobile force, which can be deployed anywhere in Europe, and the United Kingdom mobile force, consisting of land and air forces for use in the central or northern region.

I turn now to the problem of NATO airborne early warning. My right hon. Friend attended a special meeting of the Defence Planning Committee of NATO in ministerial session last Friday. Hon. Members will have seen the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, and a copy has been placed in the Library. The Ministers reaffirmed their support for a co-operative programme to achieve a NATO airborne early warning capability and decided that, subject to approval by their own competent national authorities, an AWACS system would be established, that details of cost sharing and some other outstanding questions would be worked out rapidly, and that Governments would take all possible steps to establish an agreed programme by 1st July this year. My right hon. Friend, however, while endorsing fully the importance of the provision of an airborne early warning system for the Alliance as a whole on the basis of collective decision and common funding, reserved the position of Her Majesty's Government as to the best way in which Britain could make its contribution.

As the House knows, we have been pressing the Alliance to take a decision on this project. Unfortunately, it was not able to do so at the meeting last week. We shall, therefore, be considering most carefully our attitude to the project and the Nimrod alternative, in the light of the discussion at the Defence Planning Committee. I should not wish today to anticipate the outcome of the urgent reconsideration which we are giving to this matter, but, as my right hon. Friend made clear in his speech last Tuesday, if we go ahead with Nimrod, it would be on the basis that it would contribute to NATO's AEW capability and with the aim of making it compatible and inter-operable with whatever additional AEW capability our Allies decided to procure.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I am grateful to the Minister for carrying out his right hon. Friend's undertaking to report to the House on the NATO meeting on Friday. May I press him a little further on this? Will he tell the House what factors he will take into account when be makes this decision? Will they be exclusively NATO factors, or will factors affecting demand on the aerospace industry play a significant part? The Minister says that it is an urgent decision. May we please be told the time scale?

Mr. Duffy

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Both". I have already indicated in the statement that I have incorporated in my address that we are giving the matter the most urgent reconsideration, and I have named a date.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

The Minister says that he has named a date. Does he mean that he has named a date, or that he has a date in his mind, even if he is not willing to give it to the House, on which, if NATO has not decided that it will go ahead with the Boeing AWACS proposal, we shall go ahead with Nimrod?

Mr. Duffy

Again, the answer to the first part of the hon. Member's question is "Very soon", and I named the date by way of indicating the urgency that we attach to the consideration of this question.

Mr. Onslow

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is causing confusion. The only date that the Minister has named, as far as I can recollect, is 1st July, the date by which NATO intends to make up its mind. If he is talking about urgency in terms of a decision by 1st July, clearly there is a considerable confusion.

Mr. Duffy

I have said that we are giving the matter urgent consideration, and that will be on the basis of days, not weeks.

Mr. Onslow

What days?

Mr. Duffy

I have been very fair with hon. Members. They understand the position as well as I do, and they also understand the limiting factors of my position. I hope that they will appreciate that.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Duffy

No, not for the moment.

Mr. Mates rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Duffy

I strive, perhaps unwisely, to be helpful to the House, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that and allow me to proceed.

Having dealt, though briefly, with as many as possible of the contributions made by both sides of the House during the first day of our defence debate, perhaps I may now turn to the motion before the House.

Once again the Opposition have chosen to attack it without offering any alternative policy of their own. When challenged last Tuesday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) once again refused to commit himself. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said last week, the House and the country are entitled to know the cost of the Opposition's policies. Had last Wednesday's vote turned out differently, the country would have been faced with a blank cheque instead of a Conservative defence policy.

The right hon. Gentleman claims that the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee report shows that we have concealed the facts from the public. How, then, does he explain that the information on equipment reductions published by the Sub-Committee in its recent report had been published in the 1975 and subsequent defence White Papers as well as in the earlier reports of the Expenditure Committee itself and in answer to many and varied Questions from hon. Members on both sides of the House? Indeed, in its report on the defence review the Expenditure Committee complimented the Minister of Defence on how the review had been conducted. It would hardly have done so had it considered the information provided to be inadequate.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army pointed out just before the House adjourned last Tuesday, the efficient management of resources is as important as the level of resources themselves. By their defence review the Government ensured that the scarce resources available for defence, both physical and financial, were so concentrated as to provide the most effective contribution to NATO. The policy we inherited from the Tories was seriously overstretching our forces, and I believe that even they were beginning to realise that our commitments would become increasingly difficult to support.

I noted with interest that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham admitted that the Conservatives would not return to places from which the Labour Government have withdrawn".—[Official Report, 22nd March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 117.] The more general recent cuts have been prompted by the general needs of the national economy.

But when a budget is reduced, what matters is the way in which the reduced budget is managed. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said last Tuesday, our aim is to keep to the minimum the effect of any reductions on our front-line contribution to NATO. We have been able to achieve the reductions in 1977–78 without having any far-reaching reduction to our frontline contribution to NATO.

The motion before us today seeks endorsement of the Government's policy of basing British security on collective effort to deter aggression, while seeking every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreements on arms control and disarmament. It is not about a particular level of defence spending. The Government's policy, therefore, should be judged not on the basis of short-term economic measures but on the scale of its contribution to deterrence and détente.

We regard mutual and balanced force reductions as one of the testing grounds for Soviet commitment to détente. Like other participants in the talks at Vienna, we attach great importance to a successful outcome to the negotiations, and we are determined to do all we can, jointly with our Allies, to reach a satisfactory agreement with the East. Détente will be of little value unless there is progress towards the objective of undiminished security for each side at lower levels of forces.

But, as the White Paper makes clear, progress has been disappointingly slow. The East has so far failed to respond positively to the initiatives made by the West in December 1975. Nor has it shown a willingness to negotiate on the basis of our proposals for a common ceiling on manpower for the two sides. The onus is on the Soviet Union to demonstrate a serious commitment to détente in this important area of negotiations, but the Government, though fully committed to seeking every opportunity to reduce tension, are not blind to the potential threat that is posed by the massive military power of the Soviet Union and her allies. What critics of our defence policy often lose sight of, however, is that we do not face this potential threat alone.

Naturally, our Allies express concern at the economies that we are forced to make, but they realise that any effect on our front line will be kept to a minimum, and they are fully aware of the economic difficulties with which Britain is faced.

As a result of the defence review, we expect a slow and limited growth in equipment spending, and we expect the equipment programme to take a somewhat higher proportion of the defence budget in the future. The proportion of the budget devoted to equipment has been rising steadily since 1974–75, yet the Opposition amendment asks the House to accept that our forces are being seriously deprived of modern equipment". I find that a surprising and ill-informed judgment in the light of the maior re-equipment programme that just one of the Services—the Royal Navy—is undertaking and the continuing progress with which new equipment is being introduced into that Service.

On the part of the Royal Navy we recognise that the chief threat in the Eastern Atlantic area comes from the Soviet submarine fleet. Our naval forces are largely devoted to anti-submarine warfare, although they also possess significant air defence and anti-surface ship capabilities.

We are continuing to improve our capability in all these areas, and in particular that of ASW. The ninth nuclear-powered submarine has now entered service and three more of the class are under construction. The first of the new class of ASW cruisers will be launched at Barrow in May, and a second is under construction. We are building a new class of ASW frigates, the Type 22, the first of which has already been launched. These are planned to carry the Lynx helicopter, which will be operational by early next year.

On a recent visit to Yeovilton I was able to fly in the Lynx and hear at first hand the opinions of those who will fly and operate the helicopter. Their enthusiasm for its capabilities was most reassuring. I could not have been more impressed. I could not possibly bring to bear on it either their professional judgment or that of some hon. Members on both sides of the House. Nevertheless, I only wish that any sceptics now present could have been with me.

The Lynx will also be fitted to the general purpose Type 21 frigate, the fourth of which, HMS "Arrow", entered service last year; three more are expected to enter service this year. The building programme for the Type 42 guided missile destroyers is continuing, and two of this class, which is primarily intended for area air defence, have been accepted for service. A third will be accepted this year, and six more are under construction, including the order for the ninth ship of the class recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

I know from the interest demonstrated by so many of my hon. Friends—indeed, the acute anxiety displayed by some of them as they sought to secure building contracts for their own particular localities—that this warship-building programme is appreciated, at least on this side of the House. There have been no deletions of orders in our forward warship programme other than those arising out of the defence review which were announced nearly two years ago.

Aircraft and weapons are equally important. Apart from the Lynx, which I have already mentioned, work is under way on the Sea Harrier, which will enter service at the end of 1979. An improved version of the Sea Kings has already entered service, and the Sea Kings which are already operational are being modified to the improved standard.

New weapons now in RN ships include Seadart for area air defence, Exocet for surface-to-surface attack, Ikara for quick reaction against submarines at long range and the submarine-launched acoustic homing torpedo, Tigerfish. Weapons under development include Seawolf, to provide point defence at short range against fast low-flying missiles and aircraft, and the Sea Skua anti-ship missile which will be carried by the Lynx helicopters.

Our contribution to NATO is, and will remain, substantial. I do not believe that it is materially affected by short-term economies in our defence budget. I am confident both that NATO forces as a whole are sufficient to deter aggression of any sort and that the United Kingdom is pulling its full weight in the Alliance.

Mr. Mates

I hope that the Minister is about to give us an explanation of why there is a subtle difference between what he is now saying and what his right hon. Friend said earlier and to the Select Committee. The Secretary of State's words were "no difference to our front-line forces in NATO", but the Minister said "no material difference". What is the change in attitude? Does not the Minister realise what is happening as a result of these short-term cuts?

Mr. Duffy

No. There is not intended to be any difference of substance, even of emphasis, between what my right hon. Friend said last week and what I am now saying.

Mr. Mates

The hon. Gentleman is saying something different.

Mr. Duffy

What I was saying, and I should like to repeat it, is that the United Kingdom is pulling its full weight in the Alliance. The standard of training and the professionalism of our all-volunteer forces, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are both widely respected. In particular, in the naval sphere our European Allies look to us for training and guidance on tactical doctrine.

We hear a lot about GNP, GDP and per capita comparisons, but no one, to my knowledge, has come up with a convenient way of including equally important factors, such as value for money, quality of equipment, and professional competence of members of armed forces in any league table. I believe that in all these respects we score very high indeed, if we do not come out on top.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

About a minute ago the hon. Gentleman-referred to training and guidance on tactical doctrine that we give to our European Allies. That sounds the most terrible jargon. What does it mean?

Mr. Duffy

It means exactly what it says. I do not know how I could possibly simplify that statement, except to say, perhaps, by way of explanation and amplification—[Interruption.] On the contrary, I am grateful for the opportunity to say with pride that the Navy, for example, provides at Portland an operational sea-training school. Places are provided at this school for ships from overseas navies, from the navies of our friends and allies, and they pay for that provision. They receive benefit of the kind to which I referred and about which the hon. Member wanted an explanation. I shall gladly write further on the subject to the hon. Gentleman.

I have delayed the House long enough. I have attempted to demonstrate that, contrary to the opinions expressed in the amendment tabled by six hon. Members opposite, this Government have not and will not deprive the Armed Forces of modern equipment. The Government have not left them with insufficient conventional capability to deter aggression. We continue to play a major rôle within NATO and to provide substantial forces to the Alliance.

Finally, we support NATO as an instrument of détente as well as defence, and will continue to seek every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreements on arms control and disarmament. I invite the House to support the motion.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: regrets that Her Majesty's Government's defence policy has resulted in our forces being seriously deprived of modern equipment necessary to maintain, with the other members of the North Atlantic Alliance, sufficient conventional capability to deter acts of aggression, to sustain an effective fighting force in the event of actual hostilities, and thereby to strengthen our influence in formulating the policies of the Alliance". As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) pointed out last week, it is unprecedented since 1950 for a Government to fail to table a motion to approve their own statement on Defence Estimates. It is a reflection of how badly rattled the Government have become that they dare not ask the House to approve either their public expenditure programme or their defence policy because they know that they no longer command the support of their own party on either subject. The Government are merely asking the House to take note of their Statement. Regrettably, there is little in the White Paper worth taking note of.

The Under-Secretary of State, in his excellent wind-up speech this afternoon six days after last week's debate, made little reference to the fact that Britain's defence expenditure is being cut in the coming financial year by no less than £953 million and by £1,217 million in 1978–79. The Secretary of State does not seek to justify that severe blow to Britain's defence capabilities by suggesting that the threat of the Soviet Union has diminished, nor indeed, to do him credit, did the Under Secretary of State. Nor has he suggested that the terrorist war in Northern Ireland has been won. In the absence of either an abatement of the Soviet threat or a winning of that war, he fails to justify to the House why he is seeking to cut Britain's defence expenditure by such a large amount.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

It will assist the House if we may assume that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) is speaking—as I am sure he realises—as an official spokesman of his party. Will a Conservative Administration immediately increase Defence Estimates by £950 million this year and by £1,200 million next year?

Mr. Churchill

I am saying that the next Conservative Administration will substantially strengthen Britain's defences. The Secretary of State seeks to justify the cuts on the basis of Britain's economic failure under Socialism. He tells us that we cannot afford to spend more on defence at the present time and, indeed, that we must spend less. Can that be believed at a time when the Government are squandering thousands of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to finance Socialism which the nation has made clear it does not want? The money can be found to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, North Sea oil and development land. Taxpayers stand helpless as they see hundreds of millions more of their money being squandered by the National Enterprise Board, by Lord Ryder and British Leyland.

The money is there. It is merely a question of priorities. This Government prefer to cut expenditure on defence, to lower the nuclear threshold in Europe, to imperil peace itself and to undermine, by unilateral defence cuts, the prospect of securing a serious, viable arms-control agreement with the Soviets. In the order of Socialist priorities it is worth putting all these at risk to move forward to a Socialist-Marxist State.

The Secretary of State contends that defence must "bear its part" of the burden of public expenditure cuts that are being carried through by the Government. Perhaps he should get together more often with some of his colleagues and find out the contributions that they have made.

Last week I tabled several Questions to some of the Secretary of State's colleagues. I shall mention only a couple. I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many hundreds of millions of pounds had been cut from the education budget. The Under-Secretary of State told me: In respect of the expenditure in Table 2.10 of Cmnd. 6721–55 'The Government's Expenditure Plans' for which my right hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales are responsible, the reduction on the expenditure forecast in Cmnd. 6393 is £88 million at 1976 Survey prices, or just over 1 per cent. I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what had been the total reduction in his Department's budget for 1977–78 in money and percentage terms. I was told: There has been no reduction. The anticipated expenditure for which my Department is responsible in 1977–78 is, at 1976 survey prices, £76 million, or about 0.4 per cent., higher than that forecast in the Public Expenditure White Paper Cmnd. 6393."—[Official Report, 25th March 1977, Vol. 928, c. 700, 713.] The Library has done an excellent piece of research into the whole matter. It has produced a graph which can only be described by the word "jaws" since it shows social security spending going up through the roof and defence expenditure going down. It is clear that the shift of resources away from defence towards social services has been quite staggering.

In 1960 health and social security accounted for 29.2 per cent. of total public expenditure compared with 19.8 per cent. for defence. According to the public expenditure White Paper, by 1978–79 defence will account for only 11.3 per cent. of total public expenditure while social security will account for 36.8 per cent. Put another way, in 1960 health and social security expenditure was 50 per cent. greater than defence expenditure. By 1978–79 it will be more than three times greater.

Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)

Is the hon. Member now saying that if we get a Conservative Administration—and heaven knows when that will be—they will increase defence expenditure by cutting social services?

Mr. Churchill

I am not saying that. Under a Conservative Government there will be less unemployment. We shall not tolerate the situation in which those who are drawing unemployment benefit get substantial inflation-proofed rises at a time when those who are working have their pay strictly limited. We shall not tolerate a situation in which it pays people more to be voluntarily unemployed than to be in a job.

That brings me to another of the more fallacious arguments advanced by the present Government, which is that our defence expenditure compares favourably with that of our allies. Indeed, the Secretary of State seems to derive great reassurance from frequent declarations that Britain is spending 5.1 per cent. of her gross domestic product on defence, compared with the United States' 5.9 per cent., France's 3.8 per cent. and the Federal Republic of Germany's 4.2 per cent. But this conceals the fact that because our economic performance has been so poor—especially in the past three years of Labour Government, when industrial production has gone down rather than up—France, in the current financial year, is spending 18 per cent. more than the United Kingdom, the Germans are spending 20 per cent. more and President Carter is increasing the United States defence budget in the coming year by $10 billion—an increase equal to the entire amount of the British defence budget.

The Minister of State admitted that several of our Allies are increasing their defence expenditure and that Britain, almost alone of the NATO Allies, is reducing hers. I quote the Minister of State's reply to me of 25th March: In real terms there will be an increase in the cases of —the United States, Norway and Denmark— and a decrease in the case of the United Kingdom. The position in the other countries named is less clear since we do not know what allowance they have made for inflation, but we would expect a decrease in real terms in the case of West Germany".—[Official Report, 25th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 697.] I have made inquiries this morning and I am advised that that is not the case and that the West Germans do not expect to reduce their defence expenditure in real terms.

But anyway, this argument of using the GDP of our Allies as the yardstick for our own defence expenditure is wholly bogus, because it is not from our Allies that the threat comes. It is a pity that the Secretary of State and his Ministers appear unable to appreciate that fact. The only valid yardstick is the perceived level of threat. Nor am I referring to the political threat from below the Gangway, which seems to be strangely absent today. Despite the ritual howls for unilateral defence cuts, to which the Government pay a dutiful obeisance, it is significant that no hon. Member, even from the Left wing of their party, is suggesting that the Soviet threat has diminished.

Since the present Government came to office in 1974, much has changed in the world. It cannot be questioned that principal among these changes has been the level of the Soviet threat. It has become apparent in these last three years—indeed, it is conceded in the White Paper—that the Soviet Government's expenditure on their military forces, at 12 per cent. or more of GNP, is double what had previously been estimated by the West, and it is close to three times the NATO average of 4.8 per cent.

Mr. Mulley

If, as I accept, the difficulty of exchange rates makes comparison of GNP between allies difficult, it is equally valid in taking the percentage of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Tebbit

You silly little man.

Mr. Mulley

It is also the case that the growth of the Soviet expenditure is due to the rise in economic growth, and that the percentage of their GNP has not significantly changed in the past few years.

Mr. Churchill

The right hon. Gentleman has himself, however, made clear in repeated statements that the Soviets are currently, and have been for the past two or three years, accelerating their defence expenditure at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum in real terms, and that is a very substantial increase. Yet he can name not one of our Allies which is reducing its expenditure in real terms, apart from our own country. How is it possible that he can justify this in the face of our Allies believing that there is an increased threat? Indeed, he himself admits that there is an increased threat.

In terms of Soviet conventional forces, a direct consequence of this increased Soviet expenditure on armament has been the deployment against Western Europe of a greatly increased strength in offensive weaponry, especially in modem tanks and supersonic aircraft with a radius of action far greater than that of the aircraft that they have replaced. The fact of this massive deployment, the core of which is represented by no fewer than 59 Category I Soviet divisions permanently at the highest state of readiness and backed by a force of 15,000 tanks, has forced senior NATO officers to abandon the assumption of a 30-day warning or tension period, on which hitherto has depended the whole plan for reinforcing the peace-time strength of our front-line forces from Britain and the United States.

The power of the Soviet Union's standing forces in Eastern Europe, which are kept permanently in an attack deployment—they would be totally differently deployed if there were any question, as the Secretary of State in an earlier debate sought to imply, that they were there as a deterrent to the forces deployed by NATO—is today so great on the Warsaw Pact side that the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, believes that the West can now be sure of no more than 72 hours' warning in the event of a surprise attack by the Soviet Union.

The October 1973 Middle East war vividly demonstrated how it is possible for countries—in this case, Egypt and Syria—that are able to maintain large forces in forward deployment at full battle strength to take by surprise a nation or group of nations that depend heavily on large-scale reinforcement and mobilisation of reserves to meet any threat—as do all the NATO countries.

These are new facts of deep significance of which a majority of our Allies, by their decision, to increase their defence expenditure in real terms this year, have evidently taken note. When will the Secretary of State and, indeed, the Government as a whole wake up to these new and alarming facts and act accordingly, rather than utter unctuous bromides, as the Prime Minister and Herr Schmidt did recently in their television duet?

The fact that for 30 years the NATO Alliance has maintained the peace of Europe by successfully deterring all Soviet designs should not be allowed to obscure the reality that it is only very recently that the Soviet Union has acquired a serious offensive capability—something that never existed even in the time of the Tsars. For though Russian soldiers fought with great courage and determination at Austerlitz and Stalingrad, there was in the end only one thing that saved them from defeat by Napoleon and Hitler—snow.

Those days have long since gone. Now for the first time, the Soviet Union, having achieved both strategic and tactical nuclear parity with the West has built up a clear preponderance of conventional power in Europe. No action could be more calculated to disturb the stability of Europe or the peace of the world than this development. Yet the British Government, by their policy of unilateral defence cuts, persist in ignoring reality, and by so doing they are placing peace in jeopardy.

On this point, the unanimous report of the all-party Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, to whose diligence and judgment this House owes a very great debt of gratitude, was unequivocal and damning. I quote its words: our forces are being seriously deprived of modern equipment necessary to maintain, with the other members of the Alliance, sufficient conventional capability to deter the Warsaw Pact from acts of aggression, to sustain an effective fighting force in the event of actual hostilities, and thereby to avoid early recourse to nuclear weapons. The message is clear—in the opinion of the Committee the Government are guilty of lowering the nuclear threshold in Europe. In opening the debate, the Minister termed this part of the report, which features prominently in the Opposition's amendment, as "surprising". Perhaps it would help if he got about a little more. I appreciate his difficulties. With his desk piled high with paperwork he does not have the advantage of being able to get out into the field as much as, no doubt, he would like. None the less, he is not facing the reality of the situation squarely.

As the Labour Government embarked on their defence review, they sought to give the impression that the cuts which were to be made in Britain's defences related principally to doing away with the relics of our Imperial past to enable us to concentrate on NATO which Ministers claimed, with the now well-worn cliché, to be the "linchpin" of our defences. The Minister intoned those very words only last week. The present, Secretary of State still seeks to preserve this fiction by frequent references to the effect that there have been No cuts in our forces committed to NATO. And only last Tuesday he said: We have not cut back in the size of the forces as a result of any recent measures. Only in the narrowest semantic definition is that statement true. The general sense that he seeks to convey to the House and to the nation by such a statement is the reverse of the truth, as has been made emphatically clear by the Expenditure Sub-Committee's findings, which strip away the fig leaf with which the Secretary of State seeks to conceal the nakedness of his policies. Just one sentence beyond the Secretary of State's assurance that we were not cutting back in the size of our forces, he continues: I return to the real problem of the numbers that will have to be made redundant in the three Services. We estimate that the total will be in the region of 10,000 in the period up to 1979–80."—[Official Report, 22nd March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1100.] So he is well aware of the situation even though he seeks to imply that there are no cuts to our forces.

The Sub-Committee points out that the cuts to Britain's defence capabilities within the NATO area are no less than five times greater than the cuts elsewhere. This is to be found in the appendix of the Sub-Committee's report and the figure is £1,012 million for the cuts in the NATO area by 1978–79 in that year alone, compared with the £205 million to be saved outside the NATO area, even attributing the halving of our air transport capability wholly to the non-NATO area.

This brings me to another favourite but equally questionable argument of the Secretary of State about the "tail" and the "teeth". The gist of the argument is that the Government cuts—all £8,412 million of them—will be concentrated above all on the "tail"—by which most people would understand the Civil Service tail in Whitehall, but that has scarcely been pruned—while the "teeth" are to be strengthened.

This animal would appear to have a long tail indeed. In fact it must be an animal with an extensible tail which, as soon as one Minister has claimed to have amputated it, miraculously grows again, enabling a new Minister to conduct further acts of butchery on this unhappy species. But what animal is this anyway that has only a tail—now amputated—and teeth? What the Secretary of State is describing is a Socialist defence policy. It has no muscle, no brain, no flesh and blood, no limbs, no heart, no life support system—

Mr. Tebbit

No guts.

Mr. Churchill

—and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) says, no guts. What the Secretary of States describes is not even a skeleton—a skeleton at least has a backbone. So what are we left with? The tail has gone—all that remain are the teeth. Alas when they are examined closely we find yawning gaps and vast areas of decay. When put to the test, this brave Socialist beast that passes for a defence policy is represented by nothing more than a pair of false teeth and our Fred with his little horn-rimmed spectacles.

In spite of this lack of resolve from the Government, no one visiting British forces can fail to be impressed by the high calibre of officers and men alike who devote their lives—and are prepared to sacrifice them—so that we can go about our lawful occasions in peace. I would like to pay tribute to the late Chief of the Defence Staff, whose memorial service in Westminster Abbey 10 days ago some of us were privileged to attend. He was a great man, a fine airman, a professional respected by all three Services. Above all he was a patriot. Although he was Chief of the Defence Staff for no more than a few weeks, he had the courage to invoke his right of direct access—with that of his Service colleagues—to the Prime Minister to express his grave concern at what the Government were doing to the defences of the realm.

This, too, was the gravamen of the Expenditure Sub-Committee's report which pointed out that our front-line forces, especially Rhine Army and RAF Germany, are almost totally lacking in modern weapons of war and declared: The Ministry informed us in July 1975 that the anti-armour systems available on the Central Front were completely out of date". I am bound to tell the House that this was certainly still the case in January of this year when I had the opportunity of visiting some of our frontline armoured and mechanised units on the Rhine. Although they have facing them no fewer than 26,000 Soviet tanks—leaving aside other Warsaw Pact forces—our soldiers in the front line have virtually no anti-tank missiles.

A senior NATO officer in Brussels described this neglect to me by the British Government as "near criminal". Having seen the situation for myself and having discussed the matter with some of our soldiers of all ranks, I would agree with that assessment, but without the preposition. It is not "near criminal"—it is criminal. It is not just in anti-tank capability that our forces are grossly defective but in other fields of modern weaponry as well.

None of our front-line units, unlike their Soviet counterparts, has any integral air-defence system to protect them against air attack. Our armoured formations have no equivalent to the Soviet ZSU-23–4 quadruple radar-controlled guns, which proved so successful in the October 1973 war when they were responsible for shooting down more Israeli aircraft than all the SAM-2s, 3s, 6s and 7s put together. Our German allies have an equivalent weapon but there is not even a plan that I am aware of for providing British forces with one. Although the Redeye and Strella—man portable anti-aircraft missiles—have long been in service with United States and Soviet forces, ours still have no comparable equipment. The area deployment of the Rapier SAM system is inadequate in numbers and coverage and, in the absence of Blindfire, lacks an all-weather capability. Nor is it in any way a substitute for weapons in the hands of the front-line units which do not at this moment boast even so much as a World War II "pop-porn".

The Government cannot escape the fact that the reason our forces in Germany are so poorly equipped is a direct result of their defence cuts. It is categorically untrue for this Administration to seek to pretend that they have not cut the "teeth". The Expenditure Sub-Committee report says, with regard to the crew-portable Milan anti-tank missile: We had been told in April 1975 that the missile was available off the shelf although later the Ministry stated that deliveries could start within one year of placing the order. That was two years ago. Yet to date the weapon has still not been deployed. The Sub-Committee points to the fact that: The Government also announced on 23rd September 1975 that financial pressure had made it necessary to defer the introduction of a new type of helicopter-borne ATGW … the British Hawkswing would be cancelled, leaving a choice between the Franco-German HOT and the American TOW systems. Both these systems are now in service with allies … We note from an earlier paper that the Ministry have been evaluating the HOT and TOW systems since 1969 which seems to us to imply an excessive delay in reaching a decision. It might have been thought that the fact of the Middle East war of October 1973 would have prompted some greater sense of urgency in the past three-and-a-half years.

In a parliamentary reply last Friday the Minister of State, when asked whether there had been any increase since October 1973 in our estimated rate of wastage of missiles and war stocks in the event of hostilities, replied that there had been none. This is a matter of some concern in view of the colossal rate of wastage of modern warfare which was evidenced by that Middle East conflict.

There can be no doubt that there have been cuts in NATO, not only on the central front but on the flanks. On the southern flank we have seen the withdrawal of our entire amphibious capability. We are seeing the withdrawal, in 18 months' time, of the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would confirm that the Nimrod squadron in the Mediterranean is responsible for no less than 40 per cent. of all Soviet submarine sightings in the Mediterranean. Why is this great contribution that we make to the Alliance being withdrawn at a time when the Soviets are increasing their capabilities in that direction?

Furthermore, we see the run-down of the Royal Marines. The Under-Secretary of State said in opening the debate what a cause for pride it was to see "our lads" in the Royal Marines doing such a splendid job. Why then is he cutting them? Why is he disbanding No. 41 Royal Marine Commando? On the northern front we see that the Royal Marines will have to go into battle courtesy of Mr. Fred Olsen and his ferries.

The Minister asks, "What is wrong with that?" It may be comfortable, but it certainly is not war. The Minister of State may well laugh. But it will be the Russians who will be laughing if they see the Royal Marines trying to do a combined assault on some of the Norwegian fiords from British Rail ferries. It ill-behoves the Minister of State and his colleagues to laugh in such a callous fashion over the way in which the Government are failing to provide our troops with effective weapons of war.

The Under-Secretary has referred to Nimrod. There can be no doubt that an effective airborne early warning system is of the first importance to the Alliance and the sooner it is established the better. It is also clear that the Government have been right, thus far, in their policy of supporting the NATO solution. I am bound to say that my right hon. and hon Friends feel that this issue has now dragged on long enough. The Shackle-tons cannot remain in the air for many more years. Even if the Government were to announce a decision today they would still be having to fly in the airborne early-warning rôle up to 1983. The sooner this matter is resolved the better.

The Under-Secretary also referred to the Backfire bomber. It is significant that he spoke of the importance of the carrier in protecting naval units from this supersonic aircraft with its stand-off nuclear weapons. Does he not recognise that by doing away with the only carrier-borne capability this country has, we are both placing an undue burden on our allies, the Americans, to protect our ships, and diminishing our contribution to the Alliance?

The Minister also made mention of the Lucas and Plessey deals. It is suggested that these contributions to the NK-144 engine which powers both the Backfire and the Concordski would add only 1 or 2 per cent. to the range of these aircraft.

I would like the Minister to look into this a little more closely. My understanding is that unlike Concorde, which is able to cruise at Mach 2 without re-heat, the Concordski and Backfire require full reheat to cruise at Mach 2 and as a result could be using two or possibly three times as much fuel as a plane which has the power to cruise un-reheated. If those contracts were to go ahead—and we are grateful to the Minister for saying that there is no Government approval for either as yet—it is by no means impossible that those aircraft, which already threaten this island and the sea lanes approaching Western Europe, could also have a two-way capability to the United States.

It has been asked: What would be a Conservative policy? It is only right that I should refer to this today. I can tell the House that the yardstick will not be the performance of our Allies but the level of perceived threat to Britain and our NATO partners. Conservatives accept that there is no single thing more important to the British people than peace and freedom. We shall not double-talk our Allies on such a vital matter as national security. The first priority will be to ensure that our soldiers, sailors and airmen are not naked in the face of the enemy. We shall see that they get the necessary equipment to strengthen their front line. Above all we shall tell our people the truth about the situation confronting them today.

Under Conservative leadership Britain will show by her resolve and determination in the face of the Soviet challenge that presents itself today that we at least are prepared to stand up and be counted. By our example we shall encourage others in the Alliance to do more.

The Secretary of State is not unaware of the Soviet threat. Indeed it was the Secretary of State who, on behalf of the British Government, told the NATO Ministerial Conference on 8th December that he would be asking for increased defence expenditure. I quote the communiqué to which he subscribed his name and the honour of the British Government: Ministers expressed their serious concern at the relentless growth in the strength of the Warsaw Pact forces in which an increasing emphasis is being placed on offensive capability.… Ministers further noted that, although the Warsaw Pact forces are already far in excess of those required for self-defence, the Pact continues to increase its fighting capabilities". Nor is the Secretary of State unaware of the remedy required to meet this build-up and maintain the peace. The same report to which he put his name declares: Ministers agreed that further strengthening is needed in NATO's conventional forces, particularly in the fields of anti-armour, air defence and anti-submarine warfare.… Ministers recognised that the achievement of these objectives would call for real annual increases in defence expenditure by allied Governments.…Finally, Ministers pledged themselves to do their utmost to ensure that the necessary resources would be made available to maintain and improve their Force contributions". We know that the Secretary of State is not a dishonourable man. However, he has totally failed to explain to the House how, within days of pledging Britain's good name to our Allies, he went back on his commitment by announcing further cuts in defence expenditure. Indeed it is clear that he already knew that he would be making that announcement at the time that he subscribed his name to the Brussels communiqué.

What do our Allies make of such behaviour? What do our potential enemies think of it? What does he think the British people make of it? If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to convince his Government colleagues of the gravity of the situation as he and our principal Allies see it, does not his sense of honour impel him to resign the high office he holds and relinquish the responsibilities he is clearly not prepared to defend?

Before the conclusion of this debate we expect the Minister who is to wind up to tell the House and our Allies what steps Her Majesty's Government intend to take to fulfil their public pledge of real annual increases in defence expenditure", which they have promised.

5.13 p.m.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I regret that it has not been possible for Mr. Speaker to select the amendments standing in the names of myself and some of my hon. Friends. We believe that they would have put on record the significant difference of opinion between us and the Opposition. More important, they would have set out what we believe should be the Government's policy on defence.

I found it difficult to follow the rantings of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). I had difficulty in believing, certainly towards the end of his speech, and in view of his gesturing, that he has been living on the same planet as, say President Carter, who has been putting forward long-term proposals not for continuous expenditure on rearmament but for disarmament.

Let me return to the amendments that we should have moved had they been selected. They demonstrate clearly the widespread view held by the Labour movement in this country. The Government's motion is based on the policy of deterring aggression with security based on collective effort and of seeking every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreements on arms control and disarmament. I do not quarrel with the last part of that motion. Everyone everywhere wants to reduce tension through international agreement in that way. How much better it would have been, however, if the Government's motion had spelled out loud and clear, as we sought to do in our amendments, Labour's commitment to a policy of mutual and concurrent phasing out of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. We believe that it is only through a genuine acceptance of that approach that we shall see an end to our enormous arms bill and a real relaxation of tension.

We remind the Government of the Labour Party's manifesto commitment to reduce the proportion of the country's resources devoted to arms to the levels of expenditure incurred by the major NATO powers. My arithmetic, based on a study of the defence White Paper, shows a totally different proportion of spending on defence compared to our Allies from the figure arrived at by the hon. Member for Stretford.

According to my calculations, based on 1976 prices, we are not reducing our defence spending. On paper the overall figure appears to be about £200 million. But at 1976 prices that shows an actual increase. I and my hon. Friends believe that expenditure should have been decreasing both at current and at real prices. According to the defence White Paper we are due to spend £6,329 million this year at 1976 prices, and a slightly smaller amount in 1978–79. The NATO estimate of our spending for this year is greater at £6,574 million. It is a pretty safe bet that by December when we get the Supplemnetary Estimates that figure will have swollen to about £7,000 million.

These figures have been represented all round as a cut. The Conservatives have been howling that it is far too much of a cut. But it is no cut at all, and in 1976 prices it is an increase.

Last December my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised a cut of £300 million over the next couple of years. The cuts we have had so far do not amount to anything like that, and I hope that when he replies to the debate the Minister will say why we have not approached the Chancellor's figure. What has happened to our manifesto commitment? What has happpened to the far-reaching review of defence spending in 1975 which was aimed at getting us down to our manifesto commitment of spending 4.5 per cent. of GNP on defence? We are still sticking at the 5½ per cent. mark, and at the current rate it seems that we shall be stuck there for ever.

The proportion of GNP we should like to see spent on defence would release the much greater resources which every Government Department would like to get its hands on to meet the desperate needs of housing, education, social services and so on.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

Will the hon. Lady clarify a point which has been perplexing me for some time? Would she and her hon. Friends be satisfied if, in their ideal world, the proportion of GNP devoted to defence were reduced to 4.5 per cent.? Would she be happy with that, or would she come back to the House a short time later demanding further reductions?

Miss Richardson

The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point. The Labour Party's commitment is to reduce our defence spending approximately to the level of GNP devoted to defence by our NATO Allies. That is where the figure of 4.5 per cent. comes in. That would be a significant start. I would prefer, and I am sure that my colleagues would join me in this, to see that figure reduced still further. Do we not all accept, in our ideal worlds, that we should not have to spend so much money on defence? Or is the hon. Gentleman committed for ever to spending 5½ per cent., 4½ per cent. or 3½ per cent. of GNP on defence, irrespective of the changing forces and circumstances that prevail throughout the world?

Mr. Onslow

Since the hon. Lady is basing her argument not on an ideal world but on the performance of our Allies, who may live in an ideal world of which we cannot claim to be inhabitants, will she consider the proposition that because we are making all these cuts in our forces, our Allies are having to increase their spending on defence? Denmark is only the latest example. Does she rule out the possibility that, as their expenditure rises, ours will one day have to rise to match it?

Miss Richardson

I find it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman because we look at the whole subject from different points of view. He suggests that we do not live in an ideal world and are never likely to, but does he approve of the bold proposals that President Carter is making and his moves towards disarmament? From what he and some of his colleagues have said, I imagine that they disapprove of what the President is doing and that if he achieves something, the Opposition will not approve of it.

Returning to the defence White Paper and the Soviet threat, about which we have heard so much, the White Paper maintains that the Soviet Union allocates 11 per cent. or 12 per cent. of its GNP to its military programme. I regret that level of spending, as does everyone else, and I am sure that Soviet citizens, like British citizens, wish that such an enormous proportion of Government expenditure did not go on military spending but rather on housing, education, social services and so on.

I do not know where this calculation of 11 per cent. to 12 per cent. comes from. No one has explained it to me and there is no explanation in the White Paper.

Mr. Hooson

I think that the hon. Lady will find that it comes from the CIA.

Miss Richardson

The hon. Gentleman may be correct. I am not necessarily quarrelling with the figure, but there has been a sufficiently long history of exaggeration of Soviet military capability to make one hesitate when figures are quoted about the proportion of GNP spent by the Soviet Union on defence.

Various bodies have produced various concepts of Soviet capability. For example, great emphasis has been laid on the Warsaw Pact's superiority in tanks, but tanks have always been in the Soviet tradition. NATO has chosen deliberately to place less emphasis on them, although its tank and anti-tank weapons have a high kill capacity. It makes a nonsense of such comparisons when people play the numbers game.

Great stress is also laid on the Soviet submarine fleet, but what about the superiority of the United States in aircraft carriers? We cannot reach exact comparisons of the capability of one side against the other simply by playing the numbers game—by saying that if we have 10 tanks, they will have 10 tanks and if they have 10 aircraft carriers we must have 10 aircraft carriers. This takes no account of the different contributions made by different weapons.

Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)

Are not the claims that the Soviet Union spends up to 13 per cent. of its GNP on defence not even guesstimates, but downright bogus? Saying that is like considering the total defence expenditure of NATO countries against its predominant member, the United States. The contribution of other Warsaw Pact countries, such as Poland and the GDR, is lumped in with that of the Soviet Union and guesstimates are made of Soviet spending.

Miss Richardson

My hon. Friend is right. However we approach this question, the whole thing is guesswork.

I deplore the concentration of expenditure for military purposes in the Soviet Union. It has overstimated what is necessary for it to spend on arms in order to present a common front what it believes to be the enemy.

In our defence debates and in many foreign affairs debates—as in the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford—it is claimed that the Soviet Union represents a direct threat to this country and that its build up of arms is based on some idea of expansion. I see that hon. Members opposite are nodding in confirmation. Is it not worth considering that the build up might be based on fear and that the USSR's view of the balance of terror might have led it into a miscalculation of how much it should spend on arms? In the words of a reputable defence correspondent of The Guardian, the Soviet Union considers itself to be ringed around by steel".

In the North, we have Norway with its coastal submarines; Britain has an army of 300,000 or 400,000 men, with American air bases and four Polaris submarines; West Germany has an army of 600,000 men, substantial tank and antitank weaponry and thousands of American tactical nuclear warheads. France, although a doubtful NATO Ally, has an army of 500,000 and an independent nuclear force with submarine missiles. Stretching further round the Soviet Union, we come to Greece with 500,000 people under arms and a substantial navy.

Iran has 300,000 men under arms and a modern, United States-equipped air force.

Let us not forget China, too. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a serious point. If one is living in a country, however big and powerful it is, and sees oneself encircled by other countries, as the Soviet Union is from Norway in the north all the way round to China, at its back, which has about 850 million people, an army which must number well over 3 million and a nuclear capability of her own, would not one be frightened? Would not anyone think that there might be some cause for terror in one's heart, or would one take comfort from the fact that all these people were around one with their armies?

Mr. Onslow

The hon. Lady is perhaps better qualified than many in the Chamber to think as a person in Moscow does. As an open-minded person, would not she think it conceivable that someone in Moscow might say to himself, "What is it about us as a nation that obliges our neighbours to arm themselves so heavily in their defence?"

Miss Richardson

I do not find that an argument at all. From where we are sitting here, in Britain, I feel threatened by the fact that the Soviet Union has weapons, but I also feel threatened by the fact that we ourselves have weapons. I feel even more threatened because I believe that our possession of nuclear weapons and our threatened use of them—we have not said that we shall not use them the first time—makes us a target rather than anything else.

Returning to the visit of Mr. Vance to Moscow, and the hopes that we all pin on President Carter and his initiative in the SALT talks, I am very glad that our Government are giving every encouragement to this. Since this is a Labour Government I know that there will be as quick a response as possible if there is a movement forward in the talks. I cannot say the same of the Opposition, which is why I am thoroughly glad that the Opposition are not the Government of the day, in the light of current developments.

In Britain we are going through the agonies of public expenditure cuts. Departments have been forced to trim their budgets by millions of pounds, a fact which seems to have escaped some Opposition Members. We argue and agonise about holding back our housing programme, we argue and send deputations to Ministers, we complain about cutting back on our education programme, and, in spite of what Opposition Members say, we are worried about the difficulties which face people on social security.

In spite of statements that more money is being spent on social security, if the constituents of the hon. Member for Stretford are anything like mine, those who have to have recourse to social security will be very much feeling the pinch, and feeling that the Government should spend more on social security to bolster them against the rising cost of living. Yet, at the same time, the whole of the Opposition are screaming for more money, not less, to be spent on defence. The Opposition argue that we should cut public expenditure in every other way but that we should cut nothing off defence because that is sacrosanct.

That is why my hon. Friends and I have put down an amendment drawing attention to what could be done with the money and resources released by cuts in defence spending. Our amendment also refers to the redeployment of workers and resources away from arms spending to socially useful purposes. Of course we are concerned about unemployment, but may I make a direct appeal to the Minister? Why is there no response from the Government to the various proposals put forward—and I know that copies are in the hands of the Government—by groups such as the Lucas Shop Stewards' Combine Committee and the Vickers Shop Stewards' Combine Committee? Why is there no response to their very genuine efforts to seek to use their skills to design and manufacture socially useful products and to prevent the possibility looming in front of them of being made redundant at some stage because of their present concentration on arms?

People like that should be applauded for their social consciences and for thinking not just about jobs but of the contribution that they can make to society. In our amendment, which has not been called, we also remind hon. Members of how much we spend in foreign currency on defence. This is not generally made known to the public, but the foreign exchange cost of defence in 1976–77 was £1,017 million. That is curious. We cannot use sterling in maintaining our troops abroad, and we have to use foreign currency, thus building up an extra deficit on our balance of payments. Is it not time that we had a thorough look at the foreign currency element of our arms bill? I should be grateful if the Minister made some reference to this when he replied.

Last, I shall make a general reference to the question of nuclear weapons. I have long believed that we should not base our whole strategy on the contribution that we make towards nuclear weapons. I was interested recently to get hold of a copy of a Home Office circular dated 26th January, sent to the chief executives of local authorities and chief officers of police. The document is called "The preparation and organisation of health services for war", and it is about the preparation and organisation of health services for a nuclear war.

Hon. Members may recall a pamphlet issued some years ago which, although this is a serious subject, caused some jocularity because of the pictures of sandbags outside houses and the advice that it gave to householders about what to do in nuclear war. I am glad that the latest document is a good deal more realistic than the earlier document but, even so, it is still comic in some respects. For example, it talks about the unlikelihood of any area of the country being unaffected by any nuclear attack on our air space. It talks about every part of the country being affected by radioactive dust. People would be advised to remain indoors until help could be brought to them and—something that I would find a little amusing if it were not so tragic—people should wait for announcements to be made through the Press, radio and television, if any Press, radio or television centres remained after a nuclear attack, which I would have thought was doubtful. The whole thing gives cause for great depression. The document also says that general life-saving operations in areas of fall-out might not be possible until days or even weeks after a nuclear strike.

I recommend hon. Members to read this document. Apart from the advice it offers, it gives a picture of what Britain might be like if we were subject to a nuclear attack, That is why I believe that our concentration on nuclear weapons and possession of nuclear weapons and Polaris submarines, and the positioning of American bases on our soil, is doing no more than making us a target rather than defending the people of this country.

It is time that we recognised this, reduced our defence spending, and phased out our nuclear strategy and spent the money which was thus released to build a better life for the people of this country. That is the kind of real defence policy that I should like this country to have.

5.40 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I hope that the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) will not take it amiss if I say that I agree with her in many of her arguments. She said that tanks were in the Soviet tradition, and she repeated the statement. I agree with her and so, I think she will find, would the bulk of the population of Budapest and Prague.

At the beginning of the hon. Lady's remarks, she said that what she wanted to see was a mutual phasing out of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I see difficulties in this, but I do not altogether dissent. What my right hon. and hon. Friends have been criticising the Government for is the unilateral phasing out of their contribution to NATO. That is what we criticise. If we could get mutual and balanced force reductions, they would represent a big step forward, as would be a situation where the two pacts were no longer necessary. What we complain about is that our contribution is being reduced when the other side are increasing their contribution, not only in the NATO theatre but outside it.

Towards the conclusion of the hon. Lady's remarks, she said that she regretted the emphasis on nuclear weapons. The gravamen of what my right hon. and hon. Friends have been saying is that, although they believe that we should retain nuclear weapons, we want to have a rather stronger conventional capability than we have today so as not to fall back on our nuclear weapons too soon. If the hon. Lady feels as she says she does, she should be supporting the Opposition in trying to strengthen our conventional forces so as to make recourse to nuclear weapons more remote.

Then the hon. Lady said that we were spending too much money on defence. Here again, I have a certain sympathy with her. I think that we should spend a great deal more but that, if we are to spend only the amount that the Government are spending, perhaps we would do better not to spend it at all. We are getting very near the point where current expenditure on defence will be proved worthless.

Miss Richardson

A sum of £6,000 million?

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East) rose

Mr. Amery

I prefer not to give way to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) at this stage, because I am merely commenting on what the hon. Lady said.

The hon. Member asked whether it was not possible that the Soviet rearmament programme and the vast accumulation that we see are born of fear rather than expansion. I shall not go into the argument about that. Some of us spoke about it in our foreign policy debate. But, in a defence debate, we have to take account of the facts and of the potential danger which stems from the strength mobilised against us. This, then, is the starting point in today's debate.

In previous White Papers, we have, of course, always had the concentration on NATO, the central point of our defence. But, until this year, we also had an extensive deployment of forces overseas. All that has been wound up. Singapore, Gan, Masirah and Simonstown have all gone, and they have gone, oddly enough, at a moment when the Soviets have been increasing their stakes in the areas concerned. Nevertheless, far from strengthening our ability to play our part in NATO, it is clear from the Sub-Committee's report and from contributions made from a number of my hon. Friends that our forces in NATO are becoming increasingly less combat ready. Yet what we need is a strong defence in Europe and some freedom of manoeuvre to defend Europe's interests and the interests of the West worldwide.

Students of the inter-war years will remember Monsieur Maginot, who was French Minister for War at the end of the 1920s and who built a line. The Maginot Line extended from the Swiss frontier to the Belgian frontier. The object which Monsieur Maginot had in mind was to make a direct attack on France from Germany impossible. His line proved impregnable. It was never broken in 1940. His idea was that, if there were an attack, the battle would be in Belgium and that it would leave France free to send an expeditionary force to help her allies in Eastern Europe. In fact, the French Parliament and people interpreted it in a different way. They felt safe behind their line; and they failed to provide their army with either the tanks or the aircraft to fight the battle in Belgium. There was no question of any expeditionary force to defend their interests outside.

I cannot help feeling that the present Government and perhaps some of the other allied Governments are falling into the same error where NATO is concerned; and we are developing a Maginot Line mentality about NATO. We are not even bothering to keep up our NATO contribution to combat readiness, and we have given up altogether the idea of defending our interests outside the immediate NATO area. Yet the interests of Europe cannot be defended in Europe alone because Europe lives from its foreign trade and its overseas raw materials.

Clausewitz said that war was an extension of politics. It is always very difficult to see where politics ends and where war begins. But it is true that, since the end of the Vietnam war, the struggle against Soviet imperialism has shifted to central and southern Africa. We have been at war in that area now for at least two years, and we have suffered two major defeats in it.

The loss of Angola was the first of those defeats. Let no one say that it was inevitable. When the Portuguese decided to abdicate control over Angola, there was a Western influence, especially from Zambia and Zaire; there was a Chinese influence; and there was a Soviet influence. The Soviet influence came out on top as a result of the greater provision of training and weapons and eventually by sheer physical intervention. As a result, the Soviets have acquired control of the mineral resources of Angola, which are considerable in terms of uranium and other metals, of the ports on an important sector of the Atlantic seafront, and of the airfields. All this is now under Soviet control.

Much the same happened in Mozambique. There were several resistance movements at work there, too, and there still are. There was the same triangle of the West, the Chinese and the Soviets. Again, the Soviets have come out on top by the greater effort of intervention which they have made. In Mozambique, the Western reaction was so weak that the Soviets had no need to intervene physically.

Angola and Mozambique are already providing bases for further operations. We see the operations from Angola against South-West Africa or Namibia, though they are still in fairly early stages. But, whatever anyone may think of the leaders of the SWAPO movement and how far they are committed to the Soviet Union, their men are trained, equipped and indoctrinated in Soviet controlled camps. South-West Africa, or Namibia, is also important because of its mineral resources, its coastline and its harbours.

Other operations are in progress from Mozambique against Rhodesia. The scale is not yet very great. But there can be little doubt about the allegiance of the guerrilla forces themselves. Again, whatever illusions may be nursed in the Foreign Office about the allegiance of the leaders, the allegiance of the rank and file guerrilla is already acquired by the Soviet Union as a result of skilful indoctrination and the provision of training and supplies. If Rhodesia were to come under the same kind of domination as Mozambique, we should then have the whole of South-West Africa and Rhodesia under Soviet control on the border of South Africa, which in terms of minerals is the greatest treasure house in the world for West European, American and Japanese industry, and the vital Cape route.

Mr. Hooson

Is not the great difficulty in Rhodesia and Southern Africa generally that, if the mass of the people are not emancipated by Western democracy, to whom do they turn?

Mr. Amery

I see the hon. and learned Gentleman's point and, if this were a foreign affairs debate, I would be happy to argue it in greater depth, as I did in our foreign affairs debate the other day. My point here is to stress that, because there are justifiable local grievances, they do not diminish the military threat to the West which is developing and which is sponsored by the Soviet Union. In a moment I shall try to draw one or two parallels. But what is quite clear, and what has been made clear in the last 48 hours, is that South Africa is the objective of the Soviet inspired military operations that are developing.

It is a natural tendency for us in this House the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has just given expression to it to see these problems in terms of not only foreign policy but also local tension. But the issue that is at stake here is not really the interests of the local people. That is not what the Soviets are after. They are after the control of important physical assets.

I would substantiate my point by asking hon. Members to bear in mind what is happening in the Katanga. There is no question there of a racial conflict. There may be some tribal conflict, but there is certainly no racial conflict. There is a black Government, who happen to be pro Western, who are being attacked by a force indoctrinated by Cubans and Soviets and organised—so we are given to understand by the United States by Cuban officers. That force has been launched into Zaire, which is pro-Western, from Angola, which is a Soviet colony, with the object of seizing the Katanga copper belt. Katanga copper represents about 20 per cent. of Europe's requirement—about 10 per cent. of the free world's. Only a few score miles beyond Katanga copper belt lies the Zambian copper belt and that represents another 20 per cent. Therefore, about 40 per cent. of Europe's copper is at stake.

I suggest that in the minds of the Kremlin and Havana the object is to get their hands on the mineral supplies on which Europe depends so that while we are crouching behind an already inadequate NATO barrier we are being outflanked in a similar way to which Hitler outflanked us by occupying Eastern Europe before the war. I venture to suggest that the tempo of these operations is likely to speed up. President Castro and President Podgorny are not on a holiday safari. They are not taking photographs of the animals. They have gone there to kill. That is not only my view—the view of what some people might describe as "a right wing Conservative"—but also that of the Prime Minister of China, Mr. Li Hsien Nien, who said that in an interview in The Sunday Times yesterday.

What has been our response? What is the response to the threat to South West Africa, to Rhodesia and to Zaire? Our response to South West Africa is an arms embargo on South Africa. Our response to Rhodesia is sanctions and our response to aggression against Zaire is, in the words used by President Carter's own office, the supply of "non-lethal" supplies. Nothing could bring more aid and comfort to Soviet imperialism in its crusade than by hindering the efforts of South Africa and Rhodesia to defend themselves and by mocking Zaire, which is the largest and one of the most important of the pro-Western African countries, in their time of trouble. Just think of the merriment that must create in the Kremlin and in Havana.

This is not the occasion to discuss the possible terms of a settlement in Rhodesia and South Africa. All I am saying is that we ought to stop hindering the efforts of those who want to resist Soviet imperialism and who wish to keep the resources of that part of Africa out of Soviet hands. Perhaps we ought to think about matching the assistance which the Soviets give to their cats' paws with something equivalent on our own side.

I doubt whether this would lead to conflict because the pro-Western forces in the area are a good deal stronger than the anti-Western forces. But if we had to face the confrontation I can think of worse places to face it in. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs wrote an interesting book in which he advocated a blockade of South Africa if she did not stop helping Rhodesia. That was dangerous rubbish. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman goes to Cape Town that idea will be forgotten as youthful indiscretion. But I do not see why the Western powers together should not have in mind the idea of a blockade of a country like Angola or Mozambique if it did not stop aggressive action against neighbouring countries.

The Cuban precedent is one that we should all have in mind. It was an eyeball to eyeball confrontation and the West came out of it pretty well.

No one suggests that Britain could take on anything of this kind alone, and no one ever has. But we have great influence. We have great influence through our membership of the European Community, through our special relationship with the United States, on which the Prime Minister rests so much, and through our membership of the Commonwealth which gives us influence in the Third World. We could make a considerable impact on all of them.

But we shall have no credibility in these matters, nor can we advocate policies for greater effort to defend the West, when we ourselves are cutting down such effort as we are making. First, we need to make our forces in NATO combat ready, which they are not, and then to develop an expeditionary element which could join with the Americans and other European powers to meet the challenge if this were necessary. I do not think the IMF would worry a great deal if a little more money were spent on our defences. I do not think it would hold this to be very contrary to the letter of intent. Nor do I think the TUC would quarrel very much with the extra job production.

I have never been quite sure whether one can serve God and Mammon. It is damned difficult to serve the IMF and the TUC but this is one sector in which it could be done. I am told that some hon. Members will make the point that American and European opinion is simply not ready for this. There is a great deal of truth in that. We tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and we watch for the local problems and the local difficulties. I have seen this happen when Abyssinia was attacked by Mussolini. It was strongly argued then that it was quite wrong to interfere because there was slavery in Abyssinia. When Austria was invaded many people said that half the people wanted to be German. When Czechoslovakia was invaded many people said that that country discriminated against the German minority. Even on the eve of the war the great socialist newspaper in France, L'Oeuvre, said in a leading article: Are we do die for Danzig? It is difficult to distinguish the underlying issues from the surface issues in the mind of the public. But it is not beyond the wit of hon. Members in this House, particularly as a number of us have lived through it before. Our duty is to tell the people the truth and not to try to win votes by saying what we think they want to hear.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)

I am often in disagreement on these matters with some of my hon. Friends, particularly those below the Gangway, because they are for ever demanding more reductions in defence expenditure. The Conservative Party is for ever demanding increased defence expenditure. The Government stand somewhere between those two extremes, which suggests to me that their approach is just about right.

In the past few years there has been a drastic curtailment of the overseas activities of our forces. We have withdrawn from East of Suez and most other places throughout the world, with the exception of one or two small garrisons in such places as Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands, the Caribbean and Belize and Gibraltar, where we have treaty and colonial commitments. The commitment remains in Malta, which will be phased out in about 18 months' time. We also have the international commitment to support the United Nations' work in Cyprus. Over the past few years the Government have concentrated our defence efforts inside Europe, with a firm commitment to NATO, and I believe that that is the correct approach.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

The hon. Gentleman said that he thought that the Government had got it right. That was not the general view of the Expenditure Committee, upon which he sat. I did not notice a minority report by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Conlan

Perhaps that was my error. Perhaps I should have prepared a minority report and put this point of view. But generally speaking the Committee does its work extremely well—many hon. Members have paid tribute today and last week to its work—and we do so on the basis that we do not often indulge in fundamental disagreements, and I thought that for the sake of continuity of unanimity I should go along with the report.

I was about to say that reference has been made to the oft-quoted statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about trimming the tail without blunting the teeth. I must say that, as a result of the work I have done, of which the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) has just reminded me, I think that the tail is getting a little worn. Because of the heavy concentration this country is now making on Europe and NATO, there is little else to which we can look for future cuts. In other words, I am saying clearly that reductions in support for the three Services have gone so far that to take them further would mean damaging our commitment to NATO.

When one visits the Services in this country or overseas one finds those in them complaining always that they could do with more ammunition and more opportunities for training. They are professional soldiers, airmen and sailors, and all of them enjoy firing live ammunition. They do not like it very much when they cannot fire live ammunition and their training opportunities are restricted. We understand that point of view. Whatever walk of life we operate in, in order to feel that we are doing our job properly we ask for improved facilities and improved opportunities to do it better. Therefore, what those in the Services say to us is understandable and reasonable. I suppose that hon. Members, too, cannot be excluded from this approach. I suppose that if the facilities here were better and more profuse we should do our work far better. Therefore, there is nothing exclusive in the forces saying this to Members of Parliament.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is there not something slightly exclusive about the fact that members of the Armed Services are expected to put their lives at risk? That is rather different from what happens here. If we are asking men to risk their lives on behalf of their country, the least we should do is to provide them with enough equipment and ammunition, so that they can work out in advance whether they will be able to do the job.

Mr. Conlan

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am making the additional point that the present provision for the forces is adequate. It is not over-generous. They have nothing to spare, but in my view it is adequate.

I move to the philosophy behind the provision of defence expenditure. I know that Conservative Members fundamentally disagree with the approach made on the Labour Benches. There are those who say that if, as a result of economic conditions, public expenditure generally must be cut, defence must make its contribution. They have an argument. I also think that those who say that our defence expenditure must be judged on the perceived threat have a valid point of view. But it is clear that we cannot over-stretch ourselves in public expenditure generally if the economy is weak. We cannot over-stretch ourselves in defence, either, if the economy is weak.

There have been some good examples of the damage that can be done if a country over-stretches itself on defence when its economy will not support it. The most recent was Portugal, which, because of its colonies in Africa, spent far more on defence than it could support by its weak economy. We all know the results. We do not want to see another Portugal here.

I recognise that the build up of Soviet forces is a matter for grave concern. In my view, it is an offensive built up—hence the substantial increases in the Soviet submarine fleet. I have never believed that submarines are weapons of defence. They are weapons of offence, and the build up of the Soviet submarine fleet is threatening indeed.

But I do not believe that this threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact generally can be thwarted by building up our own forces to the extent of weakening our economy. The best hopes for peace lie in the successful conclusion of the SALT talks and the MBFR talks. I hope that progress will be made in both later this year.

I turn to the question of standardisation, to which we are devoting a great deal of time and attention nowadays. Perhaps I should use the new "in" term—"interoperability". Little progress has been made over the years since we have been making attempts to agree with our Allies on standardising equipment. What results have been achieved have been pathetically small. I am not sure that they have been worth the effort.

There is a school of thought that standardisation means that the equipment must be American. There is a great deal of influence of American defence equipment throughout NATO. In saying that, I am not criticising succcessive American Administrations. I believe that they have applied themselves to the task of reaching collaborative arrangements with their NATO Allies. I know from personal experience that leaders in Congress are enthusiastic about developing two-way-street arrangements.

What I am saying—and this is the nub of the problem—is that the American defence industries and their powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill will not wear it, and if they do not wear it, I am sure that the NATO countries, including the United Kingdom, are likely to be pressed to accept more and more American equipment for use within the Alliance.

I want to raise one question concerning the airborne early warning system. Last week, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), replying to an intervention by my right hon. Friend, said that she suspected that the AWACS system was part and parcel of a hard sell. I agree with her 100 per cent. There has been no attempt of any consequence to evaluate the relative machines that could do this job successfully. My view is that the updated Nimrods are quite capable of fulfilling this rôle for the United Kingdom and Europe in NATO.

Successive Secretaries of State for Defence have on four separate occasions at NATO Ministerial Council meetings failed to agree on whether AWACS or the Nimrod or any other possible alternative should be purchased, and there is unlikely to be any agreement at the fifth attempt. We have been told today that a further attempt will be made on 1st July at a meeting of the Ministerial Council team. I predict that no such agreement will be reached, principally because our European Allies in NATO are reluctant to accept the cost of financing this tremendous project.

I can find no enthusiasm for the Boeing version in Germany or anywhere else in European NATO. The only enthusiasm for it comes, quite naturally enough, from the Americans themselves. They have to support their jobs and their defence industries. They are mad keen to sell another 20 of their Boeing aircraft to NATO. But our Government have a responsibility to British industry and should not wait until 1st July.

I therefore urge the Government to make a decision quickly, and decide to purchase the Nimrods. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) said that the Nimrods cannot be in service until the 1980s, and by that time the ageing and outdated Shackletons will be that much older. Time is of the essence, and a decision should be made.

The Government, when resisting the blandishments of some of my hon. Friends, particularly those in the Tribune Group, to reduce defence expenditure more, have always used the argument, which I support, that it is terribly important to safeguard jobs in British engineering and defence industries. That being the case, here is a golden opportunity to make a defence commitment and safeguard the jobs of 7,000 of our aircraft workers. In these days of very high unemployment, that would be no mean feat. Let the Government order the Nimrods now and not wait until 1st July to make a decision.

I believe that when hon. Members opposite start throwing up their arms and squealing about the Government's defence policy, they are merely going through what has now come to be looked upon as an annual ritual. They say that the Government are wrong and should be spending more. Yet, at the same time, they clamour for cuts in all other Government services. The hon. Member for Stretford said today what none of his hon. Friends has had the courage to say. In reply to an intervention, he said "Yes—we would increase defence expenditure even if it meant cutting the social services." That must be remembered and publicised.

Mr. Forman

It has become an annual ritual only because, in the last three years, the Government have had their own annual ritual of cutting defence beyond the point at which it is safe so to do.

Mr. Conlan

The so-called ritual alleged against the Government is merely the ritual of being realistic. It is the realism of knowing that one has to cut one's coat according to one's cloth. That is all that is done by successive Governments. We do not have to take much notice of what is said by hon. Members opposite. They will indulge in this ritual year by year. They will make all sorts of claims that they will increase defence expenditure if ever they are returned to office, but I am sure that their promises will not be followed by their practice.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I agree with the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) that defence expenditure is a question of balance. He is right to that extent. In the 15 years that I have been in this House, in every defence debate certain speakers have been against any cuts whatsoever in defence expenditure. They were against any cuts east of Suez, and so on, and they have pursued their cause regardless of any changes in the situation of the country. On the other hand, among hon. Members opposite below the Gangway we have always heard pious hopes that there is no need for defence expenditure and that everything can be left in the hope that the potential adversary does not really mean what he says and that when he is rattling his sabre, he is doing just that and nothing more.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) when he expressed considerable reservations about the Government's defence policy last Tuesday. When the hon. Member for Gateshead, East refers to a balanced view, he should remember that there is a distinction between defence expenditure and any other: one can make a mistake with any other kind of expenditure—on social services, education, health and the rest—and redeem it, but if one makes an error in defence, it could be fatal. To that extent there is a distinction.

I think that most taxpayers would share the view expressed to me by a constituent at the weekend. He said "I would not like to pay it, but if I had to pay £1 a week more to feel secure I would prefer to do so." That is what it all amounts to.

But defence expenditure is not sacrosanct. There is room for cuts when appropriate. We have heard a great deal of rhetoric about the growth of government and swollen bureaucracy. Does anyone imagine that this tendency has not affected the Armed Forces as well? Of course there is room for the administrative cuts described in the White Paper.

I am amazed that anyone should claim from the Tory Benches that a blank cheque can be given for defence expenditure. There is room for cutting expenditure when our obligations are cut down, for example. In my experience, Conservative Governments have never hesitated to make cuts in defence, whatever they may have said when they fought elections. I remind the Conservatives of the economic crisis of 1972, which hit the then Conservative Government. Without warning or any kind of calculation as to how it was to be done, that Government cut the 1973–74 defence Estimates at a stroke. I think that they have been as liable as any other party when in office to succumb to the temptation to save on defence whenever there has been an economic crisis.

I want to put forward a view which I feel strongly and which I have expressed on many occasions. In many respects, in our defence cuts we are down to bedrock. It is a mistake to think that the people of this country are not prepared to accept some level of sacrifice to make sure that we are secure.

I agreed with the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) when she complimented President Carter on his initiative in stating clearly and simply the objectives of certain of his policies. Although he is increasing defence expenditure—and here I think that he has the right balance of caution—he nevertheless says that the whole aim of the exercise must be to try eventually to do away with nuclear arms and also to reduce drastically conventional expenditure. To any sensible man, to spend a great deal of money on armaments is an unfortunate necessity, rather than anything of which one can be proud or regard as a desirable end in itself.

I am more worried about the cuts suggested in the White Paper for 1978–79 than those planned for 1977–78, because although it is argued in the White Paper, and although Ministers so argued on Tuesday, that the cuts that have been made for the 1977–78 programme do not really adversely affect our commitment to NATO, where is the scope for further cuts in 1978–79 that will not seriously affect that commitment?

I must tell the Government that we shall do all in our power to prevent these further cuts in defence expenditure, particularly if we are right in our view that the economy is showing signs of improvement. If the economy shows an upturn, the very arguments used, no doubt in the Cabinet and in the country at large, to justify further cuts in 1978–79 will have been invalidated.

I come now to the 1977–78 savings in equipment. Of the three items suggested for the main cuts in equipment the only really worrying point is the postponing of the procurement of the medium-lift helicopters. The other two seem to be things that a country in straitened economic circumstances can bear.

The cuts in works and accommodation are highly regrettable but, when all is said and done, the civilian population has had to share similar cuts. It is just the kind of thing that one can expect from a country in straitened economic circumstances.

The smaller cuts in administration and the slimming down of certain services are probably reasonably acceptable, and there is possibly even greater scope for some rationalisation and saving; for example, in the Royal dockyards. My first acquaintance with Plymouth barracks and the dockyard was as an ordinary seaman in the Royal Navy in 1943. The ratio of admirals to ships in our Navy has changed drastically since then. We now have far fewer ships that it is difficult in the long run to justify four Royal dockyards. I know that this may be a hot local potato to hold in certain areas, such as Plymouth, Chatham, Portsmouth and Rosyth, but it is difficult to justify all four dockyards.

Where then, is the scope for the 1978–79 cuts? If I may respectfully say so, at times the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) from the Opposition Front Bench was so exaggerated as to be laughable. It was never at any time real enough to be moving. It lacked the "gravitas" and the penetrating and constructive criticism of his hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) who, on Tuesday, concentrated very much more on the long-term effects of some of these cuts.

I am amazed that today the attack was not concentrated very much more on the proposed 1978–79 cuts, which I think at this stage are still avoidable if proper pressure is brought to bear upon the Government and if there is an upturn in the economy. It is important from the point of view of the majority of hon. Members that defence in this country is conducted on a tripartisan basis.

The hon. Member for Barking referred to the fact that the Soviet Union might be as much actuated by fear as is the West, and there is an element of truth in that. I think that those who scoff at that kind of remark are showing a misunderstanding of the position, because an element of fear is involved. There are, of course, various other elements, For example, the Boshevik faction in Soviet history has always depended a great deal upon, and had a great deal of belief in, the effectiveness of armed forces and the belief that world revolution is to be extended through backing various local movements with pressure from a country militarily equipped, as is the Soviet Union. One real argument in favour of the West not letting down its guard is that a country that feels real fear and has a considerable military capability can in certain circumstances be a dangerous animal.

So far as this country is concerned, what we say in this defence debate has far less relevance than it used to have, because we are so dependent upon our allies. In many ways, this debate can be regarded only as a snippet of the debate that should be taking place in NATO as a whole. The interesting contribution by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), which I greatly enjoyed, would have been more appropriate if made in the American Senate, because the Americans have the capability of carrying out some of the world functions that he was suggesting. I am far from saying that I agreed with everything said by the right hon. Gentleman, but the speech illustrated that sometimes all that we can do in this House is to bring back a feeling of nostalgia to certain hon. Members, rather than make speeches that are relevant to the debate that we are conducting on the Government's White Paper.

It would be helpful in this House to have a full-scale permanent defence Select Committee. I know that there is a valuable Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee that is able to consider many aspects of defence, but there would be great value in having a very much enlarged defence Committee on the style that the Americans have in Congress. It would be valuable in helping to educate people outside the House, and inside it, on the the needs of the Services and the relevance of defence to foreign policy, and so on.

Mr. Onslow

The hon. and learned Gentleman keeps on saying this, but he never elaborates what he proposes so that we can test it against our circumstances. Is he aware not only of the difference between the American system and ours, but that the Americans take a great deal of their evidence in private and it is never published?

Mr. Hooson

I am aware of that; I have attended meetings in Congress. I think that it would be a valuable development here. I suggest it not only for defence, but for a reform of the procedures of the House. We should expand our procedures in this direction, and such a development would be valuable in defence.

As I have said it is important to ensure that the Government do not proceed with the 1978–79 cuts if the economic situation improves. Then, it is vital to ensure that our forces are properly equipped. We ask the Armed Forces to do a job. If we think that their job is necessary, the last thing that the House or any Government should do is deprive them of the proper equipment with which to do the job.

I am not saying that there is no scope for reductions in equipment provision. Obviously, there is always scope for sensible housekeeping. I often think that people make the error in defence debates of asking for blanket approval of all defence expenditure, and there are certain Members who will oppose any cut in defence expenditure even though that particular form of defence expenditure is not justified.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East raised the question of standardisation, or interoperability. It is a matter of great concern to the House and to everybody concerned with defence in Europe that we are so slow to bury our old independent ideas and achieve standardisation or interoperability of systems or equipment.

I have heard various versions of why the breakdown occurred in the negotiations between the West Germans and our-selves on the tank. I hope that the oft-repeated allegation that the West Germans did not believe that we would be able to pay or would be prepared to pay our share is not true.

It would have been a tremendous achievement from the point of view of Western defence if we had been able to agree with the Germans upon a heavy main battle tank. If European countries cannot agree among themselves we shall become more and more dependent for equipment on the United States. We should be making even greater efforts to get agreement among all our Allies, because NATO is in many ways very wasteful.

Every allied country puts a great deal of investment into NATO. I am all for this investment. However, we should ask ourselves whether we have value for money for our investment from the point of view of Western defence. We see excessive national partisanship, which is shown not only in the House but in Germany and other countries. The very slow pace at which we are bringing about proper and full co-operation and standardisation is a cause of alarm.

It is also necessary for the Government to consider cheaper, simpler and more direct methods of performing certain duties. I think that Britain should concentrate more and more on the naval side and try to persuade our Continental Allies to concentrate much more on the land side. We are making a considerable contribution to the centre ground forces in Germany, but there are certain expenditures by some of our Allies in Europe that might be better directed to strengthening this particular centre ground contribution on the Western front, thereby enabling us to indulge in a higher proportion of expenditure on the Navy and the allied sea defences generally.

Should we not be looking at cheaper methods of, fishery protection? For example, there is the Brittan Norman Defender version of the island class aeroplane—

Mr. Onslow

The Islander.

Mr. Hooson

I mean the Islander class aeroplane which, together with the Azteca launches, is used in other countries. This is a relatively cheap alternative, because the plane is cheap to buy and run and the launches are fast and again relatively cheap to run.

What have been the results of the two-year studies into the use of hovercraft for minesweeping purposes? Are arrangements to be made for further experiments in this direction? Are there adaptations that could be made in war time for the use of civilian hovercraft for this purpose? All those things, though not necessarily expensive, should be being investigated by the Government.

The most important thing that should come out of this debate is a general conviction in the House that it is necessary to restore the morale of the forces. This morale has sagged over a period through lack of sufficient training opportunities, lack of ammunition—or lack of live ammunition—for training, lack of helicopters, and so on.

I am a civilian, and, save for my wartime service, I have had no connection with the Services, except that I have always taken an interest in defence matters. However, it is my view that we should appreciate that the Services face real difficulties of morale when they are convinced that they have dated equipment and feel that their training facilities are poor and do not compare with those of some of our Allies, and when parsimony prevents proper exercises taking place in BAOR.

It is generally recognised that our troops do a magnificent job in Northern Ireland. Many tributes have been paid to them in the House. However, it should be recognised that what we require of our troops in Northern Ireland interferes actively with their service in Germany and, indeed, with the attainment of standards that are necessary for the discharge of their duties in Germany.

I wish that there were a way of our having a separate vote on the expenditure on our troops in Northern Ireland, because their activities are not part of the defence effort as such. Service in Northern Ireland is a heavy additional burden imposed upon our Armed Forces which is separate and distinct from their real job.

Already I have said that President Carter was right to reiterate in simple terms the aims of his policy. It should be the general aim of Western democracy to secure an international agreement whereby nuclear weapons are abolished and all expenditure on arms is reduced.

I am not impressed by comparisons based on percentages of gross national product as a method of assessing the defence contributions of various countries. I have no doubt that it is broadly right that 11 per cent. to 13 per cent. of the GNP of the Soviet Union goes on defence. It must be an enormous drain on the economy of the Soviet Union. The real point to which we should pay regard is the 5 per cent. increase in real terms in Soviet expenditure. It is the 5 per cent. growth in real expenditure, rather than gross national product, that gives rise for greater concern.

It must also be remembered that the GNP of the Soviet Union does not compare with that of the United States. That is why the percentage of GNP can be so misleading. To adopt a term used recently by an hon. Member opposite, we are in danger sometimes of making the Warsaw Pact appear to be 9 ft. tall, when the facts probably are that the defence effort of the West has reasonably matched that of the Soviet Union and its Allies.

I am sorry that in the preparation of the White Paper it was thought appropriate to give the portrayal indicated in Figure 1 on page 6, under the heading Increases in the capability of the Soviet Northern Fleet". I regard this as an entirely useless form of presentation. It would make more sense to show the whole of Soviet naval strength, since the Russians, surely, have as much flexibility as we have in the deployment of their strength, setting alongside that the defence capability of NATO or, more particularly, that of the United States if one were thinking purely of the Soviet Union and leaving the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries aside.

One figure on page 6 shows the number of Soviet submarines in 1976, which I regard as in many ways the most sinister development in the Soviet armed forces in recent years. But how many of those submarines are regarded as virtually obsolescent? I realise that one of our great worries about the Soviet Union is the qualitative improvement in many of its weapons over recent years, in both naval power and air power. But is it not correct that in recent years the Soviet naval forces have sometimes hung on to ships that Western countries would probably have sent to the scrap heap? Certainly the Americans would have done so.

I feel that this reinforces my view that one of the definite aims of Soviet defence policy is to be able, by the deployment of its fleet and otherwise, to bring undue and unacceptable pressure on other countries, as it did, for example, during the trouble in Portugal, with ships steaming up and down the ocean off the coast. It was done simply to give the impression of great strength, though not necessarily with any intention to use it. I do not believe that the Soviet Union did intend to use it. Nevertheless, I regard the Russian ability to apply unacceptable military pressure world wide as one of the most disturbing consequences of the growth of Russian power.

I believe that both in this House and generally in NATO we ought to have a more realistic and accurate assessment of the relative power on either side of the Iron Curtain. Defence Ministers and the chiefs of staff and so on must have such assessments, but I think that such information should be provided for Members of Parliament. I know that both Congressmen and Senators in the United States complain in much the same way, and I believe that there is a lack of intelligent assessment of the relative strengths of the two power blocs.

Mr. Mulley

The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that we made some reference earlier to the problem of security in relation to information. Plainly, if we were to give details and assessments in the form which he requests, we might well create some unemployment in certain branches of the Soviet forces.

Mr. Hooson

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, many people take the view that a good deal of the Soviet army, for example, is composed of what we should regard as Pioneer Corps units. Five satellite towns have been built around Moscow by them during the past 10 years. It has been said that the morale of the Soviet navy has at various times been extremely low—this has been said by dissidents from the Soviet Union. These views have been made known to NATO parliamentarians, so I believe that, without the disclosure of any great secrets, a more objective and accurate assessment of Soviet capability could be provided for the Western world.

The British Government should join with their Allies in Europe to try to make NATO more effective. One is amazed at the way, even at this stage in the life of the NATO Alliance, there is so much multiplication of research and development programmes. Most of the communications systems of the Allies are not even interoperable, even though we have now had the Alliance virtually for 30 years.

There should be far more liaison in sharing different tasks. As I have said, I consider that we should concentrate far more on sea defences if our political position in Northern Ireland ever allows us to reduce demands there.

Finally, there is a great need to rethink various NATO rôles. There is a strong case for the rationalisation of logistics in the Alliance. With the Alliance now 30 years old, we are still operating virtually as independent countries. In my view, our greatest achievement within the Western Alliance would be to have a lot more money spent on defence but to ensure much better value for the money we do spend as an Alliance.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

I have a good deal of sympathy with much of what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), especially his later observations about standardisation. Indeed, so much sympathy do I feel with him that I hope that, despite the way in which his party stuck its neck out last week—I hope that the damage to his own has nothing to do with that—we shall find the hon. and learned Gentleman in the Lobby with us tonight whe we vote for our amendment. I am sure that he will be much in sympathy with most of what we have to say.

The White Paper is similar to recent White Papers in that it presents much the same thing all over again. Initially, it spells out the ever-increasing threat with which we are faced, and then it tries to justify cutting our own forces in the face of such a threat. This is one of the rituals to which we have become accustomed. However, it seems that the Government are gradually slipping round to becoming more honest in the odd phrase here and there. For example, the Secretary of State has told us, as the White Paper itself has told us, that our Allies realise that the effect on our front line will be kept to the minimum. That is a more honest appraisal of the situation than constantly saying that we are cutting only the tail and not cutting the teeth.

There are others who know far more about these matters. For example, Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris last week wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph in which he said: Firstly, let us have no more of the claim that reductions in our national defence budget can still be made without damage either to our contribution to or our image in NATO. The truth is that such damage not only will be done but has already been done by previous reductions. All hon. Members who serve in the North Atlantic Assembly—there are several here, including the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery—and who meet other parliamentarians from NATO countries know that there is great anxiety that Britain's cuts will cause their own electorates and parliaments to call for cuts and that in the end the whole fabric of NATO will be in danger of falling apart.

We have constant references to "slippage" as though it does not matter. This is Sir Christopher's comment on that: Neither let us give credence to the fraud of 'slippage', by which virtue is sought from the fact that the manufacture and provision of equipment are not cancelled but merely postponed. At any given time the effect is exactly the same. For example, if we plan to have 300 Tornado aircraft by 1983 and the programme is 'slipped' two years to the tune of 100 aircraft, then if war comes in that year we shall be 100 aircraft short of our requirements. It is quite immaterial whether the missing machines have been cancelled or postponed—they will not be there when they are needed; and, of course, exactly the same applies to ships, tanks, artillery or any other major item in our armoury. We are told that much of the savings will come as a result of slippage, and there is the answer on slippage.

Moreover, General Sir Walter Walker, writing in the same newspaper, pointed out that the whole concept of NATO's strategy of flexible response has been jeopardised by the cuts. The hon. Lady the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson)—she is not present at the moment—should know, since we have reminded her in the past, that the more we cut our conventional forces, the lower becomes the nuclear threshold, and if we do not want nuclear war, we must maintain our conventional forces at a credible level.

The White Paper tells us in paragraph 133 that it is probable"— I ask the House to note the word "probable"— that a period of warning would be available. That is a change from previous White Papers. In the past we have always been told that there would be a period of rising political tension in which we could reinforce. We are now told that it is only probable that we shall have that warning.

For my part, realising the extent to which United States armed forces have to be reinforced across the Atlantic and the extent to which our Armed Forces have to be reinforced across the Channel, if need be, by Sealink ferries, if I were a member of the Soviet Government and I wanted to get to the Channel ports or beyond, would I create a situation in which political tension was rising? On the contrary, if I wanted to do that I should call a European conference on security and co-operation and sign a Helsinki accord in which I would make concessions. I would talk madly about detente, as the Secretary of State has done, and when I knew that the NATO countries had been lulled into a sense of false security, I should strike, knowing that they would have no time to reinforce.

It is no good saying that we should get a warning. There are often offensive exercises in Eastern Europe. Everybody assumes that they are exercises and that they will stop at the Iron Curtain. Everyone assumes that there is no increase in tension, but they could roll forward and we should be unprepared for them. The reference to pursuit of detente in paragraph 125 is a will o' the wisp.

Let us remember Angola and Mozambique. It is stupid to go on thinking that our defence depends merely on what happens in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) talked of Southern Africa. It is clear from recent Communist activities that there is a great danger to the whole of Western Europe in what is happening in Southern Africa.

We have seen this so often before. The Russians are very good at it. First, they start a propaganda war and they win it. Everybody thinks that Southern Africa is beyond the pale, that Rhodesia and Portugal are beyond the pale. They are all running different types of Government and they are all trying to achieve multiracial countries in different ways. We seem to assume that we know all about them when we live thousands of miles away.

Mr. Hooson

One of the great weaknesses of the West is that we have tended to lose some of the propaganda wars in these countries. The activities of our Governments, including the hon. Gentleman's Governments, have tended to lose us the propaganda wars.

Mr. Goodhew

The hon. and learned Member may take that view but many of us have been anxious about this in the past. What has happened—and I regret it—is that such conflicts have been made out to be racial when all the time they are East-West struggles. The ground has been prepared over the years for just what is happening now.

It is absurd to note that at Helsinki the Western Governments accepted the permanent denial of the rights of self-determination to the peoples of Eastern Europe. We accepted the frontiers as they now exist. Before we know where we are we shall find the same situation arising in Southern Africa, and we shall have lost the day. At Helsinki why did we not say that if the Eastern European frontiers were to be accepted as sacrosanct, the same must apply in other parts of the world in which we were interested? Southern Africa is one such part.

It is extraordinary that the United Kingdom Government ever since UDI, have insisted that they are still responsible for Rhodesia. That means that, whatever we say about Mr. Ian Smith, whatever any hon. Member may think about him, we say that we are responsible for the security of Rhodesians—black and white. They are being subjected to attack from outside their country and it is time that we understood that. Surely it is our duty to do something about it when we see that the attack is coming from outside, that it is being supported by foreign countries and that it is not merely a matter of internal riots.

I am disturbed that the Foreign Secretary has refused to go to Rhodesia to see for himself the peacefulness between the majority of whatever races, to see that the attack is from outside and to see that those who are repelling the attack are both black and white Rhodesians. He would also see that those who are being murdered are both black and white Rhodesians.

If the Foreign Secretary will not go, perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence will. He could assess the needs for defence, and British industry could supply any arms that are needed. I know that hon. Members on the Government side have steam coming out of their ears at the thought of that, but we have reached the stage where the issue involves the safety of Rhodesians. We either allow Rhodesia to go under and become the object of subversion and external attack or we take some interest in what is going on and do what we can to help.

After all, Mr. Smith had agreed to majority rule in two years and had accepted the package leading to that. It is ridiculous that we should stand by and allow Marxist controlled terrorist regimes to threaten a possible solution for that country. Let there be no mistake—they do not want a solution: they want chaos and revolution so that they can take over.

The same applies to South Africa. I visited South Africa in 1969. I was taken to a beautiful farmhouse at Stellenbosch and in the shade of a tree I saw a family burial ground. The first cross on which my eye rested was that of a young man who died at Ypres in the First World War. He went thousands of miles to die in the mud of Flanders because he believed that our way of life was being threatened in Europe.

Why on earth have we in the House and in the country not the courage to say that we know that the South Africans would be on our side if war broke out and that that young man's successors would fight for us? Why do we not admit that they are our friends and that we should help to defend them rather than to undermine their country, particularly as there is such a threat to British interests in that part of the world?

The change in Angola and Mozambique has altered our position. There are so many threats to our mineral supplies and shipping lanes that it is astonishing that no reference is made to them in the White Paper. We are still waiting for a Minister to talk about the effect of events in Southern Africa, the interests of this country and the interests of the people of Southern Africa and to say that as long as we are the Government of Rhodesia, that includes the Government of both black and white Rhodesians.

I return to the general situation. I shall read a short passage from the report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. I was astonished that a Labour hon. Member, who was a member of that Committee and who agreed to its conclusions should speak in an entirely contradictory manner and then quietly try to ease himself back after I had mentioned it. What we have here is a statement or, rather, a question, in paragraph 22, which says, We ask, however, whether it is now the Government's policy that defence spending should be treated on the same footing as that of any other department regardless of the effect on the operational capabality of the forces or whether the defence budget ought to be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to national and NATO security. We do not know quite where the Government stand. I do not think that they have answered that question during this debate.

We know where the Conservative Party stands. I am not quite sure where the Liberals stand. There has been much talk of the teeth and tail of the Armed Forces. In our Lobby tonight we shall learn from the voting on our amendment whether the Liberals are, as they hope to become, the teeth of the Labour Party, or just the tail.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

I shall be dealing in passing with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) in due course, but let me say at the start that, like a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am not happy about the piecemeal fashion in which defence spending has seemed to have been cut over the years, by Governments of both political colours.

It is understandable that the Ministry of Defence, having carried out a major review of all of its expenditure, should feel aggrieved that this was not accepted as the once-and-for-all, final cut that it would have to endure, though perhaps it would have been unrealistic of it to have thought that there ever could be a once-and-for-all review which could uncover all waste and disclose all overspending. Let me repeat, however, that I am unhappy about the way in which defence has been chipped away slowly, and I share some of the concern expressed by the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee.

However, I do not think that defence debates of this kind take us much further if on the Opposition side they simply become a catalogue of the most modern pieces of equipment that the British Army, Navy or Air Force do not possess and if, on the other side of the argument, on the Government Front Bench side, they simply become a reassertion that we have the best of all defences and the best of all possible worlds—that is, until the next round of cuts. What is essential, however, is to base the whole defence debate, as the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) tried to do, in the overall strategic context—though hon. Members may not be surprised if they find that I do not take quite the same view as the right hon. Gentleman, nor quite the same strategic context.

It is essential, as has already been mentioned, to look at probabilities as well as capabilities. Looking at the overall aims of the USSR, one finds that it is quite clear that the Soviet Union—its leaders have stated this in so many words—sees deténte as a context in which to continue the struggle with the West by other means. The question is: by what other means? We do not need to look into the crystal ball, or even to read the book, though that is important. What we can do is to examine Soviet actions over the period of 60 years during which the Soviet Government have been in power.

I would suggest that the main characteristic of Soviet action over those 60 years—although there have been one or two exceptions, which I shall mention later—has been caution. For instance, the assaults on Poland and Finland before the war were carried out in the knowledge that neither Germany nor the Western Powers would seek to defend those countries—at least, not from the Russian part of the assault. The post-war expansion of the Soviet army into Eastern Europe was done very certainly in the knowledge that, because of the way in which the war developed and the alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers, there would be no Western resistance to the expansion of Soviet armed forces into Eastern Europe. Since then, Soviet troops have been in action in East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but in all cases it has been within this cordon sanitaire which clearly, even at the height of John Foster Dulles's rhetoric, the West has conceded to the Soviet Union, and no risk was being taken by Moscow.

Mr. Forman

Is not the hon. Gentleman elaborating a rather dangerous argument from his point of view if he is saying that on the basis of 60 years of historical experience the Soviet Union pushes only at open doors? If we wind down our defences in the West, and particularly those of Britain, are we not in danger of inducing the Soviets to do precisely that in our case, too?

Mr. MacFarquhar

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I shall be coming to that point shortly.

However, if we take the East European area as a bonus for the Soviet Union since it staked out that territory, I think that what we shall see in other parts of the world, and what the Soviet Union has preferred, is what I would call surrogate aggression. The Russians have certainly supported Communists or neo-Communists or Marxists elsewhere, but they have always done it by sending arms or munitions. They have virtually never, as far as I can tell, sent Soviet combat personnel. The examples are Korea, Vietnam, Angola and one or two ocher places.

On the whole the Russians have avoided getting involved themselves. There was one major exception. That was been alluded to. That was the Cuban missile crisis, which was a gamble that cost Mr. Khrushchev his job and reaffirmed for the Russians that the best policy in all military affairs was caution rather than risk taking.

I have no wish to under-estimate the Soviet build-up, as the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) seemed to be suggesting. I accept that it would be possible so to weaken ourselves that the political impact of Soviet offensive strength as compared with our minimal defensive strength could be such that one could imagine a situation in which we could be picked off politically one by one.

However, in his turn the hon. Gentleman would probably concede that at present and in the foreseeable future there is no likelihood of our getting down to that dangerous level. We may disagree about the desirable optimum level of British forces and NATO forces, but we should probably agree that we have not yet reached that minimal level at which the Russians could afford politically to throw their weight about and expect Western Governments simply to collapse in front of them.

What I want to try to get Opposition Members' agreement on is that one important fact that must be remembered about the Soviet Union is that the Russians lost more millions dead in the last two world wars than any other country and that in the past 30 years they have enjoyed the longest period of peace—I include internal peace and not just external aggression—that that country has known, certainly for a century, and really for much longer if one considers their internal problems in the middle of last century. Short of a certifiable madman taking over in the Kremlin, no Soviet leader is likely to take a gamble which could very well result in the destruction of the Soviet Union and all that has been built up in the past 30 years after the destruction of the last world war.

The right hon. Member for Pavilion—I am sorry that he is not now present—rightly referred to Soviet interest in Africa, where I agree that the Russians feel that there is a field of manoeuvre distant enough from their own frontier for a few risks to be taken, especially if they can be taken with the help of a surrogate aggressor in the form of the Cubans. However, I ask Opposition Members—unlike the Russians themselves—to learn something from the history of the post-war era and the history of previous Soviet attempts precisely to gain influence and to stake out corners of Soviet domination in parts of the world.

The record is one of almost unbroken failure, from Guinea to Ghana, from Egypt to Syria, from Indonesia to—I hope—India. The record has been one of bringing in plentiful offers of help and both economic and military assistance, and then after a few years, whatever the immediate cause has been, the Russian influence has waned almost as quickly as it has waxed, and out have gone the Russians—not totally, but certainly they have been no longer in the dominating position that the people of the West feared at the initial stages.

The reason has been simple: none of the people in those countries has any intention of substituting one form of colonialism for another. I do not minimise the need for concern about Soviet motives in Southern Africa, symbolised by the Podgorny mission. I ask only that we remember that there have been previous high-level Soviet missions to Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia and that in the long run they have all ended up with the same results—that the Russians have been kicked out.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's broad perspective and I agree with much of it. Would he accept that the Soviet interest may not be to seize the minerals? After all, it is a country with many minerals of its own. It would be sufficient for the Russians to pre-empt the access by the Western world to these minerals. If they left behind only chaos or pre-emption, they would have achieved their strategic end.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I accept that that is the aim, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to recall that that was precisely the Soviet motive in the case of Indonesia, which is one of the countries richest in minerals, oils and other commodities. Indonesia wanted to better itself and did not wish its mineral and other wealth to be put into cold storage by the Russians—for the Russians' own political ends—and the Indonesians had no intention of letting the Russians carry out that policy.

I should point out, however, that, unlike the United States, which would not carry out such a policy, the Soviet Union is not rich enough to subsidise all these countries in Africa and elsewhere and to say to them "We shall pay you not to sell your minerals". Russia does not have the resources to do that. There is cause for concern in the long run, as has been shown in every case over the last 30 years. There is a case not for Panglossian optimism, but there is a reason for us to hold our nerve rather more than we sometimes tend to do.

I turn now to one aspect of our own defence policy—the nuclear deterrent. I was never an advocate of unilateral nuclear disarmament, and I have indicated in the Chamber over the years my own concern at the present state of our own Polaris fleet. I say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I have doubts about the viability of the Polaris fleet into the 1980s. The Government do nothing to reassure me or anyone else in our doubts by their coyness about disclosing the kind of technical advances and improvements and the kind of resources that they are devoting to improve that nuclear deterrent.

I should like my right hon. Friend who is to reply to see whether he cannot say something more specific on this subject and on related topics. I should like to know whether the Secretary of State for Defence has given any consideration to the kite that has been flown in some quarters, most recently by the Economist—that if the United Kingdom and France are to retain an effective nuclear deterrent at a price that they can afford—which is surely the basis of much of the arguments in this Chamber—they should be thinking in terms of latching on to the cruise missile system.

In passing I should like to point out to Opposition Members, who often praise France as a country that, unlike the United Kingdom under a Labour Government, realise the importance of defence spending, that even France had to cut back on its nuclear deterrent plans, to cancel its sixth nuclear missile submarine and its third set of land-based missiles.

We are now paying an estimated £100 million a year for the Polaris fleet, which is the equivalent of 400 cruise missiles. I am aware that at this stage of the negotiations that have just started between the American Secretary of State and the Soviet leadership on a new SALT agreement there is a need to hold back both in the United States and anywhere else in the West on the large-scale development of cruise missiles. That development could throw the whole balance sheet into disarray and could mean withdrawal from the limited agreements so far reached. While the Government are not at this stage working out plans for changing over to the cruise missile system, if they believe it right that we should continue to be a nuclear Power, will they be considering the cruise missile option in the future?

Finally, I turn to AWACS. I must confess that my conclusion, based on my right hon. Friend's speech last week and in this defence debate, was that if no agreement was reached at the weekend, Britain would forthwith declare that we would go ahead with Nimrod. Obviously, my assumption was incorrect, because that has not happened.

Perhaps in replying to the debate my right hon. Friend can at least tell us whether, if he considers that NATO has failed to live up to the ultimatum given by the Secretary of State for Defence in his speech last week, we shall immediately go ahead with the Nimrod system. It is a good defence system; it is a British system, and it would give British workers more jobs. Let us have no more havering on this matter, but let us have a decision in favour of Nimrod.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

The prospect for defence remains, today as it always has been, a balance between the economic and international arguments. Unfortunately for us at present both the prospects are extremely gloomy. But it seems that the Government pay undue attention to the economic gloom rather than to the military or international gloom. What I find particularly disturbing is that the results of the Government's reviews will affect the long-term efficiency of the British Services. The reviews seem to be based on the acceptance that we are the poor man of Europe. I find it depressing that we regard that as being our permanent situation.

Let us make no mistake about the fact that the cancellations and reductions in our strength will affect the Services for many years ahead, unless there is some complete change in our defence thinking. I do not accept that we cannot afford to defend ourselves adequately. In the last year £5,980 million was spent on alcohol by the people of this country, and that is substantially more than the total spent by the Government on defending those people. The total spending last year on tobacco was £3,106 million, which was a great deal more than we spent on equipment for all three Services. Defence has been singled out for cuts as a result of the Left influence in the present Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) earlier gave us figures showing the contrast between social security spending and national security spending. It is sufficient for me to add that social security benefits in 1975—the last year for which I can obtain figures—was nearly twice as great as the total cost of national security. It is a question of priorities, and this Government have clearly got them wrong.

One of the saddest features of the Government's defence policy is its direct effect on employment in the Services and the civilians who support them, and in the shipyards and armament factories. A total of 218,000 jobs are to be thrown away as a result of the Government's defence policy. What an additional increase will result in the social security burden from that sad effect of the defence review!

I must admit a particular concern that 11,000 jobs will be lost in the shipbuilding industry as a result of the defence cuts. There will be substantial reductions in the number of new ships being ordered at a time when shipyards desperately need orders and at a time when the Government are providing subsidies for merchant ships to be built for foreign ship-owners. Surely it would be more sensible for some of that money to be used to build more ships for the Royal Navy.

The size of the cuts has been commented on many times. It is interesting to reflect that since the defence review in 1974 we have had four more cuts and the effect for 1977–78 of these four subsequent cuts is to cut by a further 70 per cent. over the original massive cut which was to establish the pattern of our Services for many years ahead.

The cuts are said to have been caused largely by a reduction in our non-NATO commitments. It is interesting that the Government made no mention last week, this week, or in the defence White Paper, of our reduction in our contribution to the NATO flanks. They are substantial reductions amounting to almost total withdrawal from the southern flank and a substantial diminution of our capability to help our Allies on the northern flank.

Concerning our commitments to the central front, it appears to be true that the numbers of men committed are to remain the same, but it also seems to be true that the capability is in danger of being substantially reduced as a result of the cuts, details of which have been dragged from the Government by the activity of the Expenditure Committee. Details of those cuts will no doubt be discussed in the three individual Service debates.

One aspect I find most distressing is the concentration on reduction of research and development. At one point the Secretary of State said research and development people do not fight wars. It may be true that they do not actually fight with a bayonet or machine gun, but the work of the people in research establishments provides the essential support for those in the front line of the three Services. It is a false economy for us to cut back on research and development. It seems, judging from the comments of the right hon. Gentleman, that he attaches little worth to these important activities.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have commented on the huge military build-up by the Soviet Union. It is the offensive nature of this vast increase in forces that is so distressing. Its command doctrine, order of battle, equipment, training, all show that the forces are training for an offensive engagement and not a defensive one. Even if we allow for over-insurance on the part of the Soviets, the need to control their allies—if one can call them that—in Eastern Europe, there is no innocent or rational explanation of the extent of the conventional build-up on the central front in Europe. The Soviet Union not only has quantity, it now has quality. It is spending a great deal on research every year.

In last week's debate the Secretary of State referred to the comments of some who had said that perhaps the Russians would overtake us in technical developments in a few years' time. When he was being interviewed by the Expenditure Committee the right hon. Gentleman was a little more forthright. He gave it as his opinion that the Soviet Union could well overtake us within five years. We would then have the situation in which not only were we outnumbered two to one or even three to one but in which the quality of the forces against us was as good as our own. Then the odds will become unacceptable and our policy incredible.

War is not inevitable but we can invite it, as in the past. We must consider the intentions, the capabilities and the behaviour of the Soviet Union. Its behaviour has been fairly well outlined by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar). I agree with a great deal of what he had to say. Its capabilities are enormous. Its intentions at present appear to be governed by a sense of caution. But intentions can change quickly. There may be a change in leadership, which could change almost overnight the attitude of the Soviet Union. The intentions could be affected by what we do in the West, or, more accurately, by what we do not do for our own defence. We could not increase our capability other than over a period of many years. The advance of technology in all areas of warfare means that it must take many years to increase the capability of the front line.

Much of the debate today has been on the subject of Europe. This is understandable, because that is where the threat is nearest and, in terms of numbers, greatest. I find it interesting that, until the hon. Member for Belper referred to the strategic nuclear deterrent, not a word had been said about it in our debate. I find it incredible that in the White Paper this most important aspect of the whole of our defence policy and the defence policy of NATO is summed up by the words: four Polaris submarines … between them provide a continuous patrol as our contribution to NATO's strategic deterrent. There is nothing there about the future. There is nothing about what will take the place of the Polaris submarines. There is nothing about the cruise missile, referred to by the hon. Member for Belper. It is an obvious alternative for the future and one that is likely to be within the economic capability of countries such as ours.

The hon. Member referred to the French cutting down on their nuclear deterrent. That is true, but it is the sixth submarine they are cancelling whereas we have only four. He also referred to the fact that the French are not to go ahead with their third group of land-based strategic missiles. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have none at all.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I accept that. The hon. Gentleman will also accept that, theoretically at least, the French are going it alone, although in practice that is not so. Theoretically those are the terms in which they think and they need a three-pronged nuclear deterrent whereas we are part of the Western and American deterrent.

Mr. Trotter

I accept that that is so. But it shows what can be done by a country of our own size and basic strength. They have to do it alone. That is a much more formidable task. They have done it on a greater scale than we have done with assistance from America.

Paragraph 133 of the White Paper says: it is probable that a period of warning would be available before an attack came from the East. I find that word "probable" terrifying. Supposing that assumption is incorrect; supposing the improbable happens and there is an attack at 4 o'clock in the morning on Boxing Day; what would happen? The Secretary of State has referred to the additional strength of NATO. He suggests that it is stronger in its overall cohesion than in the individual total of its tanks, brains and men. One of its weaknesses is that it is under the command of 14 or 15 nations and is not like the forces of the Soviet Union where one man can make a decision. Can we imagine the chaos in the circumstances I outline?

At the moment the policy of flexible response is still a viable concept. It will remain so only if we have the necessary strength. Unless we improve our conventional forces, our whole policy will be untenable. We must make no mistake about it—that requires a sacrifice by the people of the West, including the people of Britain, whatever the social needs may be in this country or the other countries of NATO.

General Haig, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, speaking last week in Whitehall called for an increase of between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent. of existing expenditure on defence in real terms. The reason for that is simply that the Soviet Union is spending 5 per cent. more each year in real terms. We cannot afford to allow this balance to be affected to our detriment.

Michael Carver, the last-but-one Chief of the Defence Staff, and Admiral Hill-Norton, the Permanent Military Secretary at NATO, have cautioned the need for additional expenditure in this area. The Government appear to be deaf to their professional advisers. It is remarkable that there is no other important area of Government policy where the Government appear to be completely deaf to the continued public remarks of their professional advisers.

I turn away from Europe for a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) referred to the situation away from our own doorstep. Here it is a matter of diplomatic as well as military might. In the Third World there are few democracies. It is a fertile ground for Soviet interference. While the West is much stronger economically than the Soviet Union, unlike Russia we are by no means self-sufficient for our raw materials. We are utterly dependent on our imports of oil, raw materials and even food. To deny them to us either at source or en route could be as serious a problem in future as the threat of war.

I agree with the hon. Member for Belper that the influence of the Soviet Union has not succeeded in many places in the world, but the hon. Member did not mention the places where it had succeeded. It appears to have been successful in Somalia, Conakry, Mozambique and Angola. It appears to be building a wall of bases around Africa on our vital sea lines of communication down which most of our oil and raw materials proceed.

I believe that Communism is an unattractive type of régime. That is why it has not succeeded in many countries. But it is a sad fact that there are some pretty unattractive régimes about in the Third World and some of them are quite prepared to accept the benefits of arms and other aid from the Soviet Union, however unpleasant they may think Communism to be.

In this matter of defence we cannot accept an error of judgment. The Government have a sad habit of committing such errors. I think of the Chancellor who, year after year, says that he has got it right. We cannot afford the same sort of arithmetic when it comes to the military equation.

We cannot afford the sense of correctness that the Secretary of State conveyed when he was dealing with the problems of Tameside. As we cannot compute exactly the need for defence—that is impossible—what I say is that we must over-insure. We cannot possibly err on the low side.

The Secretary of State referred to the difference between essential defence spending, desirable defence spending and possible defence spending. What is essential is also possible, however, and I believe that the people of this country accept that verdict.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)

Much has already been said about the Government's policy of concentrating their defence effort on NATO. This year's Defence White Paper highlights that fact in its opening paragraphs.

Over the last couple of years or so I have made a point of seeing for myself the forces we deploy in our contribution to the Alliance. In the last two and a half years I have visited a variety of places.

I went to Northern Ireland where I saw the Army and the Royal Marines. I pay a personal tribute to them and to all members of the forces who are serving in that terrible part. I was particularly pleased to read last week of the success of the Royal Marines on Carlingford Lough. There they picked up a quantity of arms and arrested a number of terrorists. The Marines go quietly about their tasks and do not often make the headlines. That is also true of the several hundred Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel who are based in the Province.

In 1975 I went to West Germany and saw there the Army and Royal Air Force installations which are very much in the front line. I also visited Berlin, where I was much impressed with the efficiency of our forces, in co-operation with the other three military Powers, in continuing to manage the military Government.

More recently I made an interesting and invaluable visit to the Royal Navy. During the Summer Recess in 1975 I spent a whole day at the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose where I flew in a Gazelle of the 705 Naval Air Squadron, and I saw the Sea King helicopter, one of the deadliest submarine hunters in our entire arsenal. I saw, too, our helicopter pilots in the making, some of the best in the world. I also saw something of the search and rescue abilities of 771 Squadron, and here, again, I pay tribute not only to the aircraft of that squadron but to the search and rescue units, both naval and Air Force which turn out unselfishly, often in the most hazardous conditions, to assist Service, but more often civilian, personnel who find themselves in distress.

One of the highlights of 1975 was for me a day in December when with parliamentary colleagues we went aboard HMS "Ark Royal" when it was about to sail to take part in the winter exercises in the Mediterranean. Those who saw that marvellous BBC television documentary called "Sailor" last year will appreciate how that visit sticks in my mind. It is true that the vessel is getting on in years and probably will quite soon be pensioned off. It is, however, still an important and powerful unit of the Fleet. I look forward to the time when I may be invited to visit its successors, the through-deck cruisers "Invincible" and "Illustrious". These ships may be smaller than the "Ark Royal", but the punch they pack is just as powerful as that of the older ship.

Those of us who saw the "Sailor" programme can be reassured that we can be proud of our Navy, if for nothing else, for the high esteem in which it and its members are held by our allies.

Last summer with the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) I had the pleasure of visiting 45 Royal Marine Commando Group in its summer training quarters in South Wales. Only a few weeks ago, and again in the company of the hon. Member for Harrogate, I had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with 45 Royal Marine Commando Group in Norway, where it is making a vital contribution to the defence of our northern flank. It is operating right up on the Arctic Circle, sometimes in the most atrocious conditions. I have seen the efficiency and the high morale of those men and I can assure hon. Members that as a result of that visit I sleep easier in my bed.

Several high-ranking officers accompanied us on that visit, and one was a United States Marine Corps colonel—a gentleman and an officer. He was an officer of long service, having served in Korea and Vietnam. Beyond doubt he was a most experienced officer. He made me feel very proud when he described 45 Royal Marine Commando Group as one of the best equipped and best trained units he had ever seen. When he mentioned equipment he meant not only clothing but rations—United States slang for "grub".

During the visit we spent a whole night out in a field with the Marines. We pitched our 10-man tent after the Marines had shown us how to put it up. We were issued with 24-hour emergency Arctic ration packs. We had a first-class time and I would not have missed it for anything. It was in February, and we were 200 miles up in the Arctic Circle. There was about 3 ft. of snow. The Royal Marines were well drilled. They knew that I was an ex-miner and so I got the job of shovelling the snow away. A 10-man tent requires quite a large area, but we got the snow shifted and got down to the ice, and there we spent the night in sleeping bags enjoying our rations, which the experienced United States officer said were the best he had seen. I wish the 45 Commando Group well, because it will soon once more be taking part in a tour of operations in Northern Ireland.

During all these visits I have been very much impressed by the improvements to what is commonly called the quality of life for our Service men. I was an infantry soldier in the last war from 1939 to 1945 and I spent time in barracks, in old, terraced houses, in mansions, in tents in fields, and, on one occasion, in a holiday camp; we took over a holiday camp in East Anglia early in December 1943. By Christmas 70 per cent. of the battalion was down with 'flu. The moral of that is that one should not go to a holiday camp in December.

I, therefore, know a bit about accommodation, and I believe that Service men today enjoy an unusually high standard of accommodation. They have first-class married quarters, first-class medical facilities, first-class grub and first-class welfare amenities. They even have British television piped to Germany. In view of the quality of some television programmes some hon. Members may have their own views about whether that is first class, too. More important than anything else, however, are the first-class catering standards enjoyed by the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force and the Army. The catering standards of the British forces are on a level comparable to those of the Savoy Hotel, which I had the pleasure to visit a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. Churchill

The standards are better than those here.

Mr. Woodall

They are much better than those in this place, and are a far cry from the standards of my day.

On all my visits, I have seen the high morale and professionalism of our forces, and I am sure that this is representative of the Services. Of course, various defence cuts have affected the careers of some Service men, but we have maintained our front-line capabilities.

The forces now require and attract recruits of a very high calibre. I am sure that the recruits recognise this fact and are proud to be members of an elite, slimmer and less cumbersome professional force.

In the past three years, I have visited NATO headquarters twice and I know the enormously high regard in which our contribution to the Alliance is held there.

I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) and Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) that we should insist on NATO having the upgraded Nimrod AWACS. The Americans will naturally press the claims of the Boeing E3A and the Hawkeye, and if there is proof that either is better than the Nimrod I shall give way; but so far there is no such proof.

We have proved to the world that we can provide superior equipment. The Harrier jump-jet is the finest technological innovation of our age. It is a far better achievement than Concorde, and the Americans love it. Indeed, they fly it so much that they require spares much more often than we had anticipated. We have the know-how and the men, and we have proved that to the world. Let us keep it that way.

7.43 p.m.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hems-worth (Mr. Woodall) on his speech and on the good fortune that he has had on his journeys. I wish that his experience had been shared by some of his hon. Friends below the Gangway who would benefit more than they might suppose from the opportunities of which he has taken full advantage—but of which they seldom avail themselves—not merely to go through some of the experiences of ordinary Service men, but to talk to them and find out what motivates them.

The young men and women in the Services today do not regard themselves simply as members of an elite youth club. They know why they are there. They have a clear idea of the dangers facing this country and of the part that they have to play in the defence of their fellow citizens.

When we get criticism, whether from below the Gangway opposite or from the Liberal Benches, that these debates are something of an annual ritual and that the Opposition's criticisms of Government defence policy are ritualistic, we should remember what the Services have been saying about the defence cuts. I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Hems-worth by asking him to repeat what he has heard, but he knows what the Service chiefs have said. It is not a question of the Opposition manufacturing grievances against Government defence policy for political reasons. The phrase "absolute bedrock" was first used by the Government's most senior defence adviser.

That is the background to our debate on this White Paper, which is even more unsatisfactory than its predecessors. The debate itself is scarcely a compelling one, having been suspended in the middle so that other excitements could be arranged, and I do not think that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy would claim to have whipped us back into a frenzy with his opening speech—indeed, he seemed to exhaust the ammunition that he should have been saving for the Navy Estimates. Goodness knows how he will keep us awake that day. This is not the best way to debate one of the most serious political subjects that we have to face.

I am sorry to have to criticise the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) in his absence, but his speech was typically Liberal. It reminded me of Harold Macmillan's description of Liberal policy—a mixture of sound and original ideas, the only trouble being that the sound ideas were not original and the original ideas were not sound.

That was the situation today except for the fact that, thanks to the curious arrangement reached last week, a slight change has taken place in our proceedings. The spokesman for the Liberals is now called very much earlier and anyone who wants to know why had only to look at the Treasury Bench while the hon. and learned Member was speaking. The Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the Under-Secretaries for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were all there. I do not know why the Under-Secretary for the Army was absent on parade.

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

I was having a cup of tea and a sandwich.

Mr. Onslow

No doubt the hon. Gentleman was much better employed than his colleagues. None of them was actually listening to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery—they were just sitting there. But it is clear that the new arrangement commends itself to Ministers who do not have to interrupt their dinner when the Liberal spokesman catches Mr. Speaker's eye. This is a significant change of far-reaching impact.

Getting back to the unspeakable defence White Paper, I must say that it is a depressing document, not least for its particularly blinkered approach. It is a sad fact that as our defence commitment contracts geographically, the international implications of defence are increasingly ignored by Ministers in these debates. This is not the case with my party because our foreign affairs spokesman is to wind up the debate, as he did last year. I mean no disrespect to Under-Secretaries, but I wish that the Government would emulate this arrangement because it would do much to widen the scope of the debate and might even do something to improve its quality.

The White Paper is also depressing because there is so little in it about the defence policies of our Allies. Indeed, the Secretary of State's speech contained no reference to the debate going on in the United States Congress about standardisation and inter-operability or the significant report by Senator Nunn of Georgia, a close friend and influential confidant of President Carter. The Government seem to have no public awareness of these matters, and that is a great shame.

Elsewhere in the White Paper, there are signs of a desire to hide information rather than to provide it. There is a particularly clear example of this in the vagueness of the references to the arming of the Lynx helicopter with anti-tank guided weapons. The phrase some deferment in the timescale turns out, on inquiry, to be up to two years. That is how far the equipment of the Lynx with either HOT or TOW has already been postponed. This is information which should have been volunteered in the White Paper. It should not be necessary to try to drag the information out of a reluctant Government.

I also wish to criticise the White Paper on other grounds, perhaps grounds of detail but quite important detail. During the year covered by the White Paper, about 1,600 men and women were invalided out of the Services for medical reasons of one kind or another. I was very interested in some of the replies that I received to parliamentary Questions that I put down on this subject recently. I think that it would benefit all of us if this information were regularly included in the White Paper.

The number of Service men and women who died in the period covered by the White Paper, whether by natural causes or through accidents while on duty, amounted to a total of 413, of which 71 were accidentally killed while on duty. It is good to see that those figures were lower than in 1973. The number of deaths was down by 120 and the number of accidental deaths while on duty was down by 12. But it is still important to keep a constant check on these figures in the House. One wonders why, for example, the total number of deaths has decreased by about twice the percentage rate of the number of deaths while on duty.

Similarly, when we examine the causes of Service men and women being invalided out we see, for example, that the number invalided out because of psychiatric disorders fell from 996 in 1973 to 342 in 1976. In the same period, the number invalided out as a result of injury fell from 277 in 1973 to 246 in 1976, which still seems a very high figure. It would be worth knowing what notice has been taken of these figures and what official action is being taken to make them lower still, since we are ultimately the custodians of the health and lives of the men and women in the Services. There is bound to be some risk in Service life, but we must be satisfied that everything possible is being done to eliminate possible death or any injury serious enough to terminate a Service man's career.

I turn to a subject which is less grave but still important. We hear a great deal from Ministers about how the Government are "cutting the tail" of the Services. That is the whole burden of Government speeches. It is said that the tail has been cut but the teeth are untouched—though, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) already has pointed out, it is all too likely that at this rate the teeth will soon prove to be false.

The Minister is always boasting that the tail in uniform is being cut; but the civilian support from the Department of the Environment, the Property Services Agency—which one might call the tail of the tail—has been growing in numbers. There have been increases in the numbers of the non-industrial civil servants in the Property Services Agency who look after the barracks on which the Minister of Defence does not have any money to spend. Apparently the tail in uniform is not needed today, but the number of civil servants is increasing.

These are the administrative geniuses who were responsible for spending £1 million of public money in keeping empty a building which was to accommodate the staff of the Procurement Executive of the Ministry of Defence. While certain changes were carried out to accommodate that staff, £1 million in rent was spent on an empty building. There is the tail for you. I should like to believe that if the Ministers of that Department or in the Department of the Environment cannot do something about that, there will be Committees of the House that will find a way of looking at this matter at some time. Perhaps the Comptroller and Auditor General will pioneer the way.

I come now to what is to me the most important and topical question posed by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. That is the decision on the NATO AEW project. I am sorry if I took the hon. Gentleman aback by asking questions in his speech, but he has left me very confused about the time scale of the decision. All that I know for certain is that I do not think that a decision will be taken on 1st July or whatever is the NATO date. It is my feeling that the decision will be taken in the next seven days or so.

Mr. Duffy

I certainly did not intend to convey anything to move the hon. Gentleman to another view. The two essential points that I want to convey to the House are that the Government will take all possible steps to establish an agreed co-operative programme by 1st July and that the Government, however, while endorsing fully the provision of an airborne early warning system by the Alliance as a whole, reserved their position—that is, on the best way in which this country could make its contribution. I went on to say that the outcome of that could be in a matter of days rather than weeks.

Mr. Onslow

I certainly recognise the first part of what the Minister has said as a quotation from the communiqué issued at the end of the NATO meeting on Friday, but now he is talking about a matter of days or weeks. I think that he is saying something that nobody in the House heard him say before.

Mr. Duffy

I said that this afternoon. I have no doubt that it will be on the record.

Mr. Onslow

In that case, I apologise and withdraw. I thought that the Minister said "urgent", and I was trying to get him to define what that meant because it can mean different things on different occasions. I suspect that it will be in the course of this week. It was the phrase "days rather than weeks" that I missed. That makes it all the more important to press the Government on the factors that they are weighing when they take this decision.

The United States Defence Secretary, Secretary Brown, in a Press conference in Brussels after the DPC meeting, read out a message from President Carter to members of the NATO Defence Planning Committee: Your deliberations on the AWACS programme today are extremely important to the Alliance and I wish you the best of luck. I am sorry to say to President Carter that I am not sure what he meant by that. But whatever precise interpretation may be placed on those words, at least it is clear that this is a matter which is sufficiently important to be referred to specifically by the President in his message.

I should like to hear from the Government Front Bench their assessment of the situation and their assessment of the factors which will make them decide, whatever their decision may be. Of course there are factors, which include the effect on Britain's own industry as well as the effect on NATO, which have to be balanced. Nor am I expecting the Government to follow slavishly every decision taken by NATO Ministers. For instance, one NATO decision that is now regretted was the cause of our fitting a multi-fuel engine in the Chieftain tank, which thus emits a glorious puff of smoke when one puts one's foot on the accelerator, which is useful for revealing one's position but not much else.

I hope that the Government appreciate and are making it clear to the world that they have weighed factors such as the long-term effect on NATO standardisation of any decision which they feel themselves forced to take. I have in mind, for instance, the effect on the tank programme and the trials that are due later this year between the the guns put forward by the competing nations.

It would be a tragedy if anyone took the view that "The British were so damned insular in their decision on Nimrod that we shall so show them when it comes to a decision on the tank". It would be worse still if they said "We shall pay out the British with interest not merely on the tank but on the Harrier, too. We will not buy any of their cottonpickin' Harriers." When it comes to the next procurement of a trainer for the United States—the United States Navy is next in line and it is a very major order—suppose it is said "We will not let the British in on that, either."

Then again, it would be a tragedy if the Germans were able to say for any reason to any of their partners "You cannot trust what the British tell you across the table about standardisation. Look what happened when we came to the AEW crunch." Many of us believed that the German situation was the biggest obstacle of all. There seemed to be the makings of a permanent deadlock in the refusal of the German Service chiefs to give up the money needed to finance the purchase of AWACS. It may be that that decision does not any longer arise.

What I am trying to put to the Under-Secretary is that this is a very important decision to get right. We all know what Senator Nunn thinks about standardisation and inter-operability. We know what we ourselves have been saying. If we are to insist on an exception this time for reasons which are unanswerable in our own minds when it comes to the argument, we have to be sure that those arguments get across.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

My hon. Friend is carrying this argument a little further than some of us would wish. Does he contend that a foreign Power can say "If you do not buy our stuff, we shall not buy yours" and that it is likely to go on to say "If you do not buy our stuff, we shall not buy yours"? In other words, is he suggesting a total lack of reciprocity?

Mr. Onslow

It is unfortunate that the number of counters that we have in the area of international purchases is not unlimited. We have done very well in some areas—for instance, in avionics, guided weapons and the Harrier—but, looking ahead, I am not sure that there are major orders in prospect which this country might not find itself frozen out of by contenders in America, where the competition is very keen, and by contenders in Germany, France and possibly in other countries which have not yet come forward officially.

It is essential that we know our strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) may take the view that my thinking on this subject does not accord with his own. However, I believe that it is essential that Europe should maintain the capability to keep technology moving forward at a pace which the Americans recognise and from which they want to buy. That must be the overall consideration.

We have also to recognise that there are some weapons which the Americans can never afford to buy from us. On the other hand, they do not need to be able to make tanks in the United States, unless of course anyone thinks that there will be a tank war on the North American continent, which I do not. There are other items of military equipment which are eminently suitable to European manufacture where we should be aiming in the longer term and as a conscious policy to keep the technological capability and the leadership alive on this side of the Atlantic.

Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may feel that I am taking the argument further forward than they would like. I think that it is necessary to put it to the Government that they must think this far forward and be prepared, when they make their decision, to satisfy this House that they have taken full weight not merely of the short-term desirability of keeping workers in jobs in the factories of the newly-nationalised Aerospace Corporation but also of the longer-term need to maintain in this country the vital spark of technological capability which has to be our contribution to the European capability, and without which this continent will cease ultimately to be worth defending.

I am glad to have the Minister's attention on this point because he will have gathered that it is one to which I attach importance. I hope very much that it is one which the Minister of State will touch upon later this evening. I have corresponded with him about it, and I know that not everything that I have said is new to him. But I believe most firmly that, whatever happens, this House must be taken fully into the confidence of the Government and that in this area there is more need for debate and for the testing and questioning of attitudes and decisions than is ever admitted in the Defence White Paper and than we ever get a real chance to put across the Floor of the House.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I want to take up one matter referred to by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and point out that many of those to whom he referred as sitting below the Gangway take the trouble to visit British troops and to talk to them as much as he does. I can assure him that during visits to West Germany and Ireland in the past 12 months I have heard many Service men who accept that there can be substantial cuts in defence expenditure without doing irreparable harm to the Armed Forces. However, they make the point that they must be cuts in our military commitments and not in the means of carrying them out. As long as we are prepared to cut our commitments, they can see that we can carry out sensible reductions in some of our defence expenditure.

I should very much like to have had the opportunity to vote in support of the amendment in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Barking (Miss Richardson) and Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). However, I realise that our procedures meant that it could not be selected. I should also like to have had the opportunity to argue the case for the amendment and to make the point that we need far greater cuts in defence expenditure.

We have to make more progress in persuading the world to reduce armaments, and we must do all in our power to make the SALT talks successful. I should also like to have questioned our nuclear rôle and whether it had any value at all. However, these are much more long-term arguments. In the short time at my disposal, I intend to concentrate on the question that will be decided in the next 10 days if not in the next two or three days. It is our choice of an air defence early warning system.

If the Government announced that they would not make any purchase at all, I should be happy with that decision. But if they are to make a decision and to spend the money, there is a very strong case for their coming down in favour of the British system rather than buying a foreign system.

We are all very clear that the Shackletons carrying out the rôle at present have a limited life. Having heard many of the remarks made in this debate and elsewhere, I hope that they last as long as promised. There have been so many reservations about their future that one or two people flying in them must now question their reliability, though I am assured that they have just undergone a major refit—the last one possible.

I stress that at the moment we have a choice. In all the talk of standardisation with our NATO Allies we have to consider carefully maintaining our right to choose in the future. It is not certain that in 20 years we shall have exactly the same NATO Allies and that we shall be able to rely on the the other members of the Alliance as much as we can now. In making efforts to standardise we have to ensure that we retain the opportunity for choice in the future.

If we went for the American Boeing AWACS system, I believe that we should remove the choice for the future. We should lose all the technological development that has taken place in this country on the Nimrod AEW system, and the whole of the design team built up for the avionics at Marconi-Elliott would have to be dispersed. The result would be that we should not in five or six years, or at any other time in the future, be able to reassemble that expertise. One of the key factors must be that we should not only have the choice now but should ensure that we retain the choice for the future and, by having a choice, some control of the price that any system would cost us.

The importance of the number of jobs at stake has been strongly represented to Ministers. I must admit that there have been wide variations of the number involved. A figure of 7,000 has been suggested. Part of the argument is that if this technological work does not come to the Woodforde and Chaddeston factory at Manchester, the future of that factory could be at stake, and other jobs, not directly linked to this contract, could also be at stake. A lot of jobs are at stake and one of the requirements of British defence is that it ought to protect jobs in this country.

The major argument concerns the rumours that developed over the weekend, and the statement by the Minister today suggesting that NATO will not make a decision until its next meeting. The decision has been put off for four meetings and one wonders whether NATO will actually take a decision at the June-July meeting, or put it off again. Does NATO ever intend to take a decision? There have been more hopeful comments suggesting that a decision will be taken in a matter of days.

It seems perfectly reasonable for NATO to continue to put off taking a decision about the purchase of the AWACS system so long as we are prepared to go it alone and make a purchase for Nimrod. We could perfectly reasonably make a purchase for Nimrod and still fit in with NATO's pattern of standardisation.

It all depends on the level at which we standardise. Does one standardise, for instance, at the level of the gun or at the level of the ammunition? It is perfectly possible to have two different weapons using the same sort of ammunition. We could have identical weapons. Both the Boeing AWACS and the Nimrod AEW have a feed-back into ground control. They are both compatible because they can both feed back to the same system. It seems perfectly reasonable to go towards standardisation, because both systems use the same ground control.

From that point on there are certain advantages in having two different systems in the air. It would be a problem for an enemy wishing to jam them, because he would need to produce two jamming systems rather than one. There are other distinct advantages. Both systems have received a great deal of technical attention in their development. There has been more than one occasion when we have gone for standardisation or an American purchase and have discovered that, either because of escalating costs or the problem of compatibility, the product has been cancelled and we have been left high and dry.

If NATO purchases the Boeing system and we enter into a firm contract to go ahead with the Nimrod, the two systems will go forward into production and if there is a halt on one or other, the other is there as a fall-back. I believe that there are strong arguments for carrying on and making a British commitment to produce Nimrod.

The work force at Hawker Siddeley in Manchester has had at least three months of uncertainty over the whole issue. What it now needs is a firm and clear decision. I am sure that last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday many Ministers were feeling rather worried and uncertain about what the next few weeks would hold for them. That is the sort of feeling experienced by most of the work force engaged on the Nimrod project. Those concerned are wondering whether they have any future at all.

It is important for the Government to take away that uncertainty and make it absolutely clear as quickly as possible that they will purchase Nimrod. It would serve both our requirements and NATO's requirements for the next 20 to 30 years.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State on one thing only and that is when we look at the nationalised industries' experience there seems to be some kind of inverse relationship between the grandeur of the annual report and the success of the undertaking—the glossier the report, the less successful the undertaking was. We do not have this problem here, because we all know that our defences are rather inadequate at the moment. The same can be said of this White Paper. In my view it is sketchy in the extreme and it is very amateurish in its treatment of the real strategic problem that faces the country.

The basic need—I referred to this point when we debated the Secretary of State's salary a short time ago—is for real information. The Secretary of State may feel that there is plenty of real information here, but the sort of thing I have in mind is that Figures 1 and 2 in the White Paper show the increase in the size of the Soviet Northern fleet and Soviet forces in Central Europe from 1968. There are no comparison charts for NATO since that time. The strength of United Kingdom forces is shown for 1977–78 only. It would be extremely revealing if we could have a comparison going back for 10 years.

However, the United States Congress has been presented with the annual Defence Department report for the fiscal year 1978. I know that some hon. Members will say that our cousins in the United States have a certain fondness for weight in these matters and that they spend rather more money than we do on defence. But it is not simply the physical weight of the document but the depth of information that it produces. We have no equivalent here.

This debate is taking place with the real issues completely in the dark. For example, in the United States report there is an entire section on intelligence running to five pages, but there is no mention of that subject in our White Paper. There are seven pages on command, control and communications in the United States document—the absolutely vital sinews of any war machine—but there is no mention of this specific subject in ours. Research gets seven pages in the US report whereas the subject in our White Paper barely gets a page.

The United States Congress can debate this subject using a document setting out the prospects of defence strategy, the future assessments, options, objectives, capabilities and costs. All those subjects are set out for Congress to debate and assess, but we have none of these things.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) spoke most eloquently of standardisation. There is the usual ritualistic reference in the White Paper to the need to get together with our partners. Indeed, pages 15 and 16 of the White Paper remind us that we are members of the European Programme Group. It is desirable that we keep reminding Europe as well as the nation and the House of the importance of the defence industries to the overall national economic effort, because in the past such great achievements as the jet engine and computers have occurred because of the tremendous expenditure put into defence research and development in the first instance. We have more recently had major advances in polymers, adhesives, fibre reinforced materials, transport of fuel and liquid cargoes, lasers; minicomputers, telecommunications techniques and high energy propellants.

Hon. Members are fond of quoting Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver. The Secretary of State can be assured that I shall not make the bedrock quotation again, but I wish to quote a few lines from a recent article in The Times when he talked about the importance of maintaining a high standard of technological competence in this country. He wrote: The essence"— in this whole debate about standardisation— is to find the right balance in all these affairs: between the United States and Europe; between dependence and independence; between wholesale standardisation, which inevitably means domination by the powerful American defence industry, and the highest degree of both standardisation and interoperability which will permit the preservation of viable European defence industries. In my view, that is what the AWACS-Nimrod debate is really all about.

I shall not weary the House with my views on that. My position as a totally dedicated supporter of the British Nimrod project is well known. I look forward to an announcement to be made within a matter of days the Under-Secretary told us earlier, that the Government will no longer be put off by the apparent never-ending postponement by NATO of this decision.

Finally, I should like to say something about what I believe to be the supreme weakness of the White Paper. The whole philosophy is balanced on a pin. It is well known that the one-time United States nuclear superiority over the USSR has virtually disappeared. By 1980 the balance may well be the other way. This will come as no great surprise to the House, but what concerns me is that the United Kingdom has not yet reconsidered its position in the light of this change. Apparently, in 1977 we are still relying as confidently as we did in 1955 on the United States nuclear guarantee. Even a brief consideration will convince most people that that guarantee cannot be worth what it was 20 years ago.

A guarantee, like a deterrent, to be effective must be known to be automatic. The United States is very careful in what it says, but David Packard, a former Deputy Secretary of State for Defence, said in 1973: The United States would not use its nuclear forces against the USSR short of a dire threat to the United States. Paragraph 131 of the White Paper says: Adequate strategic nuclear forces are required to deter an all-out attack"ߞ but whose forces?

The former impregnability of the United States Triad, the land-based ICBMs, the submarine-based strategic missiles and the strategic bomber force were collectively the keystone of the United States defence posture. Now that parity has been achieved, Soviet power is obviously, by definition, as strong or virtually as strong as—and in some areas even stronger than—that of the United States. The guarantee of United States nuclear protection which Western Europe secured 20 years ago, and which some people believe it still has, is no more reliable than the mutual agreements exchanged by both sides in the Russo-German Pact of 1939.

It is true that, although the United Kingdom is doing nothing to update its Polaris system, the United States is working on the Trident SLBM system, but Trident I is not scheduled to appear on active deployment until 1979 at the earliest, and the first new ICBMs are not expected to become effective before the mid-1980s. Nor can the B 1 bomber fully replace the B 52 this side of 1985.

We must have expected the United States' nuclear guarantee to disappear as her own superiority became eroded. British Governments—successive British Governments—have failed to note and react to this development, and have persisted in basing their policies as though we were still back in the 1950s. Britain has failed not only to realise what has taken place but to appreciate the changing technological context. There are now opportunities for lesser Powers which are technologically competent, such as Britain and France, to assert a technological leverage which can affect the SALT negotiations.

The contention is that a nation which is competent enough to develop, say, a Mirage or Harrier has it within its power to develop the cruise missile. Whether France will want to bother co-operating with a country which has taken the wrong turning in strategic terms remains to be seen, but the clear opportunity exists to develop an Anglo-French cruise missile capability.

The importance of developing some form of European capability cannot be over-emphasised, because the next stage of the SALT negotiations will see the United States making arrangements on our behalf, even though the weapons systems deployed, particularly the SS-X-20, now comfortably cover all European major targets. It is important that Britain wakes up and realigns its strategic thinking. Once again the White Paper has missed the point. Without this appreciation, its other conclusions are worthless.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

This is not specifically a debate about detente, but more and more people should express support for the concept of detente. The word appears to have gone out of vogue in some circles, but I very much hope that the various negotiations being conducted will bring about a collective return to sanity.

It always appals me that the major Powers—and I would include the United Kingdom, just about, in a wide interpretation of what a major Power is supposed to be—spend so much money on weaponry which, hopefully, will never be used, and that so many men are deployed idling, not being disparaging, doing absolutely nothing to add to our productive capacity here, in the United States or in the Warsaw Pact countries. I very much hope that we shall reach a stage when in this country, Europe and the world as a whole defence forces are considerably reduced.

Nevertheless, the saying Put your trust in God … and keep your powder dry is as valid today as it was when it was first coined centuries ago. However, that does not mean that we should fall for the somewhat hysterical outbursts we often hear outside the House and, regrettably, inside it. We are not as an Alliance prostrating ourselves militarily before a potential aggressor. NATO is still not only a viable but an enormously powerful alliance.

In an article in The Guardian on 14th March this year, Robert Kaiser talked at some length of the frightening power of one Alliance. There was an unusual twist to the argument, unique in defence journalism, one would say. He wrote: Another Pentagon alarum? No. This exercise is a hypothetical press release from the Defence Ministry in Moscow—a description of US and allied military forces as they might be seen through Soviet eyes. It is important to look at the other side of the telescope to see NATO's strength, not as it is usually portrayed to its perceived weaknesses.

We are playing our part within the Alliance. That part may not be as grand as some Conservative Members would like, but it is appropriate to our existing financial situation. Should that situation improve, as it undoubtedly will, we shall perhaps be able to re-analyse our rôle and commitments. But at present an increased defence burden would be economically disastrous.

However, as I have said in previous debates and it does not make me particularly popular with all my colleagues—any further substantial cuts, or even less-than-substantial cuts, would severely undermine the ability we now have to discharge our obligations to NATO. I hope that this in some way explains my existing stance.

I believe that NATO is strong enough to deter a potential aggressor, particularly with its arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons. Yet the concept of flexible response presupposes adequate conventional capability. There has been a shift from total reliance on the nuclear deterrent. But I am not certain that the concept of flexible response is as real as it might appear. The cost of seeking to match the enormous conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact man for man and weapon for weapon is prohibitively high, not just in money but in manpower.

I wonder whether what we read about the ability to slow down if not stop an aggressor is real in practice. If there were a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe—a blitzkreig at a point in time and location of choosing by the Soviet Union—it could have a surprise element about it. That worries me. If it were a surprise conventional attack, I wonder whether in existing circumstances we would be able to respond conventionally. If we could not one wonders whether the concept of flexible response operates as it is envisaged.

I wish to discuss in detail one element in our defence—the reserve forces. They have been often ignored, and even more often undervalued. Too many people believe that our reserve forces were abolished 10 years ago with the Territorial Army. In some ways, I believe that to be the fault of the reserve forces themselves. If one looks for literature explaining how they operate, one looks in vain. The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) referred to the paucity of defence literature published in this country on defence matters, by Government or anybody else. That is no more true than in the case of the reserve forces.

The image of the reserve forces is still that of "Dad's Army". But that is a fallacy because they are very different indeed from the reserve forces of only 10 years ago. We see on television rather senile, ineffective and comic characters, but anyone who knows anything about our reserve forces realises that our professional part-time Army is highly competent and altogether different from that rather amusing image of its predecessors.

The White Paper does not overelaborate on the structure and rôle of our reserve forces. Indeed, only two pages are devoted to the whole subject. But one should not necessarily look in terms of paragraphs spent on a specific subject whereby to judge its importance. One should ponder on the fact that for only 4 per cent. of the total Army vote, the reserve and auxiliary forces provide over one-third of the strength of the British Army on mobilisation. So our reserve army is highly cost-effective.

While each NATO Government face demands to hold or even reduce their defence budget, the prospect of better value for money—that is, in expanding the reserve forces—must seem highly attractive. It is not difficult to conclude that smaller active forces and greater reliance on reserve forces is likely to be one of the ways in which Governments could seek to cut their defence expenditure. But, of course, Governments in attempting to cut their defence expenditure, must not evaluate their defence forces simply by the yardstick of economic efficiency but by the more important yardstick of military effectiveness. So I want to look at ways in which we can perhaps expand our reserve forces, along with other NATO countries, bearing in mind that one needs not only to seek for economic advantage but to ensure that one is able to cut one's coat to suit the cloth and also to maintain military viability.

I am proud that Britain is one of the few nations to rely exclusively on a voluntary army backed by, complemented and integrated with competent reserve forces. Yet reliance on reserve forces poses potential problems. My first question, therefore, relates to training. In days of old, one simply conscripted men from the fields, gave them spears, pikes or muskets, and pointed them in the direction of the enemy. The Second World War called for more sophistication from our soldiery. In today's conditions, with the growing sophistication of weaponry, a different type of soldier is required.

I do not support the view that only a professional soldier can obtain the physical requirements and technical abilities that are necessary of a modern soldier. I believe that, given adequate training, our reserve forces are able to perform that rôle just as effectively. One has to be certain that the training programme will not only raise the reservist to the standard of his regular colleague, but, more importantly, will raise him to the calibre of any potential adversary.

The skills and courage that are required to face an oncoming tank 50 yards away are not easily acquired, and I hope that the Minister is satisfied with the way in which our reserve forces are trained for this vital rôle. Indeed, perhaps the Minister can suggest ways in which we can improve the method of training. The odd night in the TA hall is obviously inadequate. It requires a lot of experience on manoeuvres and good instructors to acquire the necessary skills. They cannot be acquired by the odd trip to Germany once every three years. More attention must be paid to the rôle of training.

I wonder whether the Minister can suggest ways in which we can cut down the high rate of turnover amongst our reserve forces, which amounts to more than 25 per cent. annually. This is something that needs to be considered, because what is happening is highly wasteful. A lot of money is invested in training a soldier. One can see why some reservists no longer wish to remain in the TAVR and seek to return to a purely domestic life.

I think that the Minister should see what can be done to retain in the TAVR our young men and, some cases, young women. It is not simply a cash addition that is required. People are not in the reserve forces only for money. If training programmes are varied and made more interesting, if more interesting places are visited, and if reservists are able to relate the skills within the Service to outside life, that might deter the large numbers that leave after a short period—about 2½ years to three years—and induce them instead to stay on.

What happens about the ex-regular soldier also seems to be wasteful. The last thing that I want to do is to suggest any compulsion on ex-regular soldiers to return to training, but I believe that our reserve forces could be made much more efficient if there were some form of inducement to encourage ex-professional soldiers to train with their former units or to join the TAVR. That is something that should be considered, because in the event of general mobilisation we shall not have time to arrange reinduction courses for ex-professional soldiers. These soldiers, five years or 10 years after they have left the forces, have forgotten a great deal of what they learned while they were serving, and if they are called up we shall not have time to reintegrate them into military life. I hope that some way can be found of encouraging ex-regular soldiers to be more combat ready in the event of what we hope will not occur unfortunately taking place.

Secondly, for the reserves to function efficiently they must have at their disposal not just similar equipment to that used by regular soldiers and our allies, but equipment that is the equal of or perhaps superior to that of their adversaries. I hope that the Minister is satisfied with the amount and the quality of equipment available to our reserve forces and, by implication, to our regular forces, because I understand that in theory they operate similar equipment.

Thirdly, if one is seeking to make greater use of the reserve forces in our defence commitment, it is important to be aware that everything depends on the swiftness of mobilisation. It is no use having well trained reserve forces 500 miles away—or thousands of miles away in the case of the United States—if they cannot be mobilised swiftly. The scenario that must be frightening is where there is little political warning, where there might be a sudden attack, and where our reserve forces cannot be committed. One wonders whether the full-time forces that are available will be adequate to meet a conventional attack with a conventional response. However, it is to be hoped that our intelligence would be sufficiently strong to spot a covert mobilisation and that there would be adequate procedures by which our troops could be swiftly mobilised.

I hope that the lessons of the simulated mobilisation which took place two years ago have been learned. I do not expect any answers from the Minister, but obviously many lessons were learned. In view of the problems which arise when mobilising troops without any enemy harassment or sabotage, the mind boggles at the prospects of tens of thousands of soldiers going over from England and merging with tens of thousands of Americans, Frenchmen, Belgians and Dutchmen and all heading in the same general direction. If two planes could crash on an airport yesterday, one wonders at the problems that would be presented to air traffic control with all those planes flying over.

This is a problem which must have caused some concern, but I trust that our procedures are such as to give some guarantee that, in the event of mobilisation, our reserve forces would be committed without delay. There will not be a D-Day like situation for which we have months to prepare. There must be a guarantee that, if there is a conflict, our forces can be moved swiftly.

The Warsaw Pact, because of its numerical superiority and better lines of communication, would be at a considerable advantage in the event of mobilisation. If we are to rely on our reserve forces, it is imperative that they be moved swiftly.

I sought some information from the recent Report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, yet the report of the minutes of evidence taken for Tuesday 26th October 1976 contains more asterisks than words; it looks like a transcript of one of ex-President Nixon's conversations with his colleagues, except that it is information deleted rather than expletives. One thinks of the rôle of organisations such as British Railways, Sea Link, the Continental railways, Townsend, Thorenson and North Sea Ferries and British Airways. One hopes that adequate information has been given because, in the event of a swift mobilisation, there will not be the opportunity for a post mortem three months afterwards into where things went wrong. The first mobilisation could indeed be the last one.

I am attracted to the concept of a greater reliance on reserve forces, for all sorts of historical reasons, but we need to be able to answer these vital questions as to training, quality of weaponry and mobilisation procedures. In the event of a conventional conflict, our reserve forces, in alliance with our full-time forces, would be able to slow down the enemy so as to give sufficent time for the politicians to discuss matters, but I believe that at present our major strength is the nuclear deterrent to enable us to counter potential enemy superiority in terms of conventional forces. At the conventional level NATO must be better organised, have better weaponry, and have better mobilisation and training procedures.

Let us all hope that it will not be necessary to test the swiftness of mobilation because of the outbreak of war. Let us desperately hope that the parties to potential conflict will negotiate in such a way that, in the not too distant future, swords will be laid down and there will be international harmony. That is a perhaps rather Utopian hope. It may not happen for 10 years, 20 years or even longer, but I hope that the politicians in Britain America and the Soviet Union will reach an agreement that the enormous expenditure on weaponry and the manpower taken up in armed forces is totally unnecessary in the twentieth century and that we shall all return to sanity.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) made a number of serious charges regarding weapon deficiencies, failure to deliver, deferments and so on, and on the credit side we have had a number of speeches, of which that of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) was characteristic, testifying to the morale of our Armed Forces.

To that extent, the debate has followed a familiar pattern of exchange, but it has been notable in that, with the outstanding exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), and some element of thoughtfulness on the part of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), when he spoke of the reserves, all reference to our strategic posture has been absent. Indeed, when I listen to such transient references as are made by Ministers, I find them hard to understand or believe.

I draw attention to one sentence in the amendment regarding the sustaining of our forces, and I wish to speak with special reference to the existing state of protection of our infrastructure in this country, especially our ports, supply depots, communications and administrative complexes. The truth is that our large cities and our civilian population are totally without protection. There are no air raid shelters whatever. Nor is there any provision for making air raid shelters. Moreover, anyone wanting to make an air raid shelter cannot find any text, booklet or official guidance of any kind on how to build one.

It is worth considering in this debate the present fragmentary arrangements for protecting the civilian population. The responsibility for warning is in the hands of the police. But when the police give the warning, what do people do when they receive it? They have nowhere to go. There is nothing they can do to protect themselves.

Apparently, so one understands, a pamphlet called "Protect and Survive" has been printed by the Home Office, but it has not been released. I find it difficult to penetrate the various layers of obstruction which both the Home Office and the Department of Defence set up on this subject. The nearest I can find to an excuse for failure to release this pamphlet is that it would make people anxious and might even lead to panic. The civil servants concerned, however, have a fall-back argument to the effect that the pamphlet would probably be released 72 hours before an attack.

As far as I can tell, the pamphlet is largely based on an American booklet issued following the results of the Bikini tests about 25 years ago, and the only constructive recommendation it can make is that every householder should be advised to prepare a fall-out shelter room—a "room". In other words, at very short notice, with inadequate resources, joining in the general rush in which every other member of the population, presumably, would be engaged, the householder should make some rudimentary place to protect himself and those with him from fall-out.

I speak with direct knowledge of the arrangements in the South-West, where there are no emergency services to speak of. As we know, there is no civil defence. There are six area officers charged with responsibility for the whole of the South-West. The city of Plymouth, part of which I represent in the House, has only one area emergency officer concerned with the protection of a population of 250,000. He has no powers. All he can do is make plans, look at the situation, and make recommendations. He has no way of getting his recommendations implemented, and for such work force or facilities as he needs to draw on he must turn to the local authority.

These ramshackle arrangements are concerned with nuclear attack. There is no provision whatsoever for defending our cities, or the civilian populations that live in them, from nuclear blast. There is just a tenuous arrangement to try to mitigate the effects of fall-out.

Let us suppose—and it is possible in the light of existing tactical weapons—that our cities are subjected to attack by high explosives. The capacity of the enemy for delivering high explosives against our civilian population is 25 to 30 times greater than that of the Germans in the last war. I am speaking of manned aircraft attack rather than missile attack.

Our interception capacity is lower than it was then.

Plymouth was one of the most severely battered cities in the last war. One strike by the Russians could equal more than the total delivered in the last war. We know that from Vietnam where the Americans were using only high explosives, and yet they inflicted on North Vietnam a total high explosive tonnage many times greater than that exchanged on both sides during the last war.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

They lost.

Mr. Clark

I know that they lost, but whoever won, it was small consolation to all those who suffered under the impact of the sophisticated delivery methods that are available now.

The Russians are well equipped to deliver chemical and biological attack. The degree of protection for our civilian population against them is nil.

In the last defence debate I remember making a number of deliberately sensational statements about our capacity to intercept, to defend our islands and to protect our trade routes. The Minister made various facial expressions of horror and disbelief, but when he wound up the debate he did not refer to those matters. I take it that he accepted what I said and that my remarks were undeniable.

I hope that he will not again avoid reference to this state of affairs by dodging behind the protocol that questions about civilian defence are more properly questions for the Home Office. I hope that he will not do that, because unless civil defence questions are considered in our whole strategic context, there will be a serious gap and, indeed, a direct conflict between those two elements of our strategic posture.

It is conceivable to imagine a Cabinet meeting at a time of crisis in which the Minister of Defence states the possible options that are open to us. The Prime Minister has to turn to the Home Secretary and ask him what measure of provision we have to protect our civilian population. The Home Secretary would have to answer—if he chose to use the language of the Common Market—in a manner similar to that of General Gamelin to Churchill when at a time of crisis in May 1940 he was asked, "Where is the strategic reserve?" The General shrugged his shoulders and said "Aucune"—the Common Market language for saying "There ain't one".

There are no measures by which the civilian population can be protected. How can one expect a responsible Cabinet, charged with the task of protecting the security of the population of these islands, not to enter into negotiations if faced with the ultimate pressure? Unless there was a likelihood, or a probability, of the people of this country being subjected to a level of genocide greater than that which might be inflicted on them by a direct attack by high explosives or chemicals, how could a Cabinet possibly resist the temptation—indeed, the humane arguments—to negotiate rather than to risk war?

What is our present defence posture? If it has any ability at all, it is simply that of a small elite force sadly deficient in certain weapons but with very high human quality and very highly trained, but with an endurance of between three and five days, dependent on how much Benzedrine its members take, and with absolutely no reserves and no back-up, in terms of the amendment.

The real essence of strategy formulation is the analysis of pressure points. One has to analyse where one should apply pressure if one is of an aggressive bent, and where one may need to resist pressure if one's posture is defensive. The three points at which we are most vulnerable to pressure are, first and obviously, in Western Europe; second, on our trade routes; and third, against our civilian population. In that third sector we simply have no defence at all. We are completely open to the pressure.

There is no retort that we can make, other than the overtly aggressive and suicidal one of a counter-strike, and that only in the nuclear context. In the conventional context of a high explosive strike or the quasi-conventional context of a chemical attack, we have absolutely no retaliatory posture.

It is easy to see how this strategic confusion has grown up over a long period. There is a rapid turnover of Ministers in the various Departments concerned. Not all of them are necessarily very strong characters. I do not necessarily include those Ministers now occupying the Front Bench, but there may have been some who were not strong characters. They are anxious to use the temporary tenure of their positions as a means of ascending the rung, possibly to a more senior and not necessarily so tricky position. Therefore, they tend to postpone decisions and to avoid awkward meetings, such as meetings with the military chiefs of staff. They tend to use the Civil Service to deflect awkward questions from the Opposition and to write for them in draft the excuses that they need to justify the indefensible. Over the years all these things have accumulated and are to some extent to blame for the gradual divorcement of our strategic posture from any genuine sense of reality.

One could argue that a possible cure for this might be the establishment of a permanent Committee of this House which would be drawn from both major parties and which would have a power such as that of the equivalent in the United States, to hear witnesses, to be, more or less, in permanent session and to attempt to be a vehicle through which we might attempt to reassert a genuine continuity in our defence policy.

What we must get away from is the transient reference to different yardsticks, which change from month to month, whether they are proportions of gross national product, per capita spending, or different fiscal targets which wax and wane. These things should never really be the yardsticks by which we assess our defence policy.

We must try to return to a clear strategic analysis in which the ultimate guideline is the security of this nation. We may well have to think in constitutionally innovatory terms to bring that about.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)

I am conscious that, as we near the end of this two-day debate about the effect of the Defence Estimates, the wide commentary we have had shows that there are clear implications for foreign policy. Yet I realise that a rather straight path has to be observed so as not to court your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am aware that the Chair was somewhat austere in dealing with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) last week when he began to conjecture about the potential settlements in Rhodesia. Therefore, I shall do all that I can not to err in that way. I hope that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the dividing line is narrow.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) made some reference to the famous Clausewitz maxim. I suggest that the relationship between foreign policy and defence has been somewhat inverted from the time that maxim was declared. War no longer is strictly the logical extension of foreign policy, but rather the reverse. Foreign policy is largely devoted to the anticipation and prevention of conflict.

It is hard, therefore, to segregate the issues which arise and are interlocked in considering a nation's defence policy, as exemplified on this occasion by the Defence Estimates. We have to reach a balance of judgment on the central issue which has occupied the whole of the discussion, the impact upon our defence credibility, its status within the framework of our major alliance and the series of retrenchments which have been undertaken by the Government, the most recent of which has already been the subject of much debate, and the focusing of all those activities within the Defence Estimates.

On several occasions, the Secretary of State has made the point strongly that the defence review of 1975 was the most thorough-going operation of its kind ever undertaken and that he felt at the time of the review that the results represented a real and effective judgment of the extent of our defence requirements to look after ourselves and to meet our engagements to our Allies.

There have been less deep-seated proposals made about the way such a review should take place. One of the interesting comments which I think the Secretary of State had the misfortune of missing, was that he may have done better to strike a half-way house willy nilly, between the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). That would have given him a correct estimate of where he should have come out, it was said. I do not share those views but I commend them to him in his further reading of Hansard.

The Secretary of State asserts that successive cuts have not impaired our deterrent or the combative potential of our forces. I must tell him that the Under-Secretary's statements did not seem entirely to coincide with his. The Under-Secretary's remarks seemed to imply that a reappraisal, perhaps a downgrading, of our requirements was still made by the present defence intentions but that the original vision of the Defence Estimates 1975 was not a critical factor against which all should be judged.

Moreover, the Secretary of State seeks to have us believe that there is no diminished commitment to the central defence mechanism of NATO. There again, one senses a certain dislocation of opinion between him and the Under-Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), strongly supported by the conclusions of the Expenditure Committee, obviously thinks very differently.

If I may quote from the Committee's Report, this sentence strikes at the Secretary of State's assertions. The Committee says: we believe that this combination of reductions and delays in equipment programmes and manpower levels will, if corrective action is not taken, involve a significant impairment of the front-line capability of our forces as the effects of the cuts become progressively felt in the next few years. I believe that to be approximately the judgment of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I believe it to be the clear judgment of this Committee. Therefore when, as has frequently been the case in the debate, our Front Bench is challenged about what the Conservatives would do, I say that it would act to repair precisely the damage which this sentence implies.

The sentence contains the condition that if corrective action is not taken the consequences would be those foreseen. The intention of a future Conservative Government would be to take the corrective action necessary to redress the situation. It is irrational to say "Ah, yes. Specify that action in detail." As the Secretary of State knows, an Opposition does not possess the extremely detailed information necessary to set down a total, new Defence Estimate in all its complications. Inevitably, there would be a proper appraisal. The main intention is that which is clearly indicated in the Committee's report, the reinstatement of our capability.

I have listened carefully to the major part of this debate and have studied what I have not been able to listen to. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides for some extremely valuable contributions. Perhaps one of the most valuable was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) who spoke at the end of the debate last week. The conclusion I arrive at after such study can leave me in no doubt as to who has the correct answer to the present dilemma. The whole balance of judgment must lie in favour of the strong criticism which the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee has made, re-echoed by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I am not able, or prepared, to provide myself with the degree of technical information—which has been so widely evinced by so many speeches—to arrive at an answer which would be entirely of my own devising. That is not possible for me. What is possible is for me to make a judgment of what this debate has said. The debate has clearly said to the Secretary of State that he has gone too far, that we are in a position of danger which has to be redressed. Unfortunately, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, it is clear that it is not he who will do that. To mark our firm belief that this is so I shall obviously call upon my right hon. and hon. Friends to support me tonight in the Lobby.

I say to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party, that it would seem to be extremely difficult for him not to support our amendment in the light of his remarks, which seemed precisely to echo the text of our amendment. I shall find it hard to understand if he and his hon. Friends are unable to support us, if that is the only consideration, which doubtless it is not.

Mr. Hooson

I intend to vote tonight, as I aways do, according to my convictions.

Mr. Davies

It would be assuring if the hon. and learned Gentleman's convictions coincided with his remarks.

A further bone of contention with the Secretary of State is that he says that when cuts are required because of the economic situation the defence budget cannot escape unscathed. That view is shared by many of his hon. Friends. We all understand the point he is making, but it seems to ignore one fundamental difference between the two classes of public expenditure. On the one hand, there are those areas on which the House would wish to maintain the highest level of outlay compatible with resources available to the country. That means pensions, education and health. Certainly the majority of hon. Members believe that the utmost effort should be made in these areas. The whole thinking of Government and Parliament will be within the framework of the available resources. From time to time we have complained that the resources are not sufficient to meet the requirements of such programmes. It is intended, however, to fulfil those programmes as far as humanly possible.

On the other side, the whole intention is that, within the framework of security, budgets should be as small as the real requirements. The whole effort is directed to restraining expenditure to a limit compatible with the exact nature of the risk. This is as true of defence as it is of such matters as internal security. There is a contrast in approach between these two sorts of budget which must have a significant impact when it comes to seeking economies where these have to be made. For that reason a Conservative Government, believing that protection has been reduced below a level necessary to give assurance to the people, must act to redress what they regard as a shortcoming.

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his lengthy explanation of that point, but perhaps he will say how, as a member of a Cabinet which reduced defence spending in each of four consecutive years, he manages to square his comments now with what happened then.

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman shows less than his usual understanding of these problems. Surely within a budget where every effort is made to compress as much as possible the level of expenditure, each cut allows less flexibility in the making of succeeding cuts. It is useless for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Conservatives did it and therefore he has an equal right to do it. If we did it, it was because we felt we could, but, having done it, we limited the extent to which our successors could do the same.

The concept of minimum expenditure compatible with security makes a nonsense of the Government's case as it does of their assertion that the 1975 review was the last word in reaching an absolute minimum level of expenditure which was compatible with security. But the Government have found it possible subsequently to go in for successive and greatly exaggerated cuts, which have been criticised by the Sub-Committee.

Let me now turn to the strategic aspects of our diminished defence capability and consider the risks we run by playing brinkmanship with defence. We are undoubtedly engaged in a new era of détente. A new United States Administration has shown undoubted willingness and even desire to bring about some changes in the great Power relationships. There is no doubt that President Carter and his Administration see their rôle as breaking new ground and undertaking new initiatives in this area.

The new leadership in the United States confronts an experienced Soviet leadership that is entrenched in a position that it has held for a long time. There is a great contrast between the ruling elements in the two great Powers and this undoubtedly gives the opportunity for substantial changes in the nature of their relationship.

The global context of so many areas of world tension has moved into a phase which many of us recognise holds great opportunities for the solution of outstanding problems but which also carries escalating risks if they are not settled. This year will present occasions for us to look to the settlement of some of the most grievous difficulties with which we have been faced, but if we fail on those occasions, the consequences may result in the circumstances with which all our questions of defence comportment and our discussions in these debates are concerned.

Mr. Frank Allaun

I am exceedingly interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Does the leadership of the Conservative Party accept President Carter's policies for peace and arms reductions? I ask because so many of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters seem bent on injuring detente that I do not think that they could possibly support the President's proposals about arms exports not being made solely on commercial grounds, the control of nuclear weapons, cuts in arms spending and so on.

Mr. Davies

The answer to the hon. Gentleman must be that this party will assist in every way in the mutual reduction of weaponry—but it must be mutual. We react violently against unilateral reduction because we fear that it will bring about precisely the risks that I am now reciting.

The risks for the United Kingdom and Europe are even more intense than they are for the great Powers. It would be wrong to imagine that ours are subsidiary risks. They are main risks and perhaps the most intense risks. They arise not only from the impact of conflict but from the risks that we run by the nature of the very character of our countries which are more dependent on the outside world than are the super Powers. Our risks are the greater.

As a continent we have to ensure that these risks are carefully considered in any framework of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and in mutual discussion with a view to the reduction and limiting of the risks that derive from an excess of armaments.

It is particularly damaging that the United Kingdom's voice, which I believe could be the most credible in Europe, should have been diluted. It is not credible now. The effect of that on the principal object of our anxieties—the Soviet Union—must be to make it believe that if countries are prepared unilaterally to reduce their position, there is little point in entering into the complex business of mutual and balanced force reductions. It is being done for the USSR.

The leaders in the Soviet Union are wise. They have been in their jobs for a long time and they know the strengths and weaknesses of other countries. If they see a country withdrawing from a position that it has held for a long time, they are quick to take the tip and they do not propose any sacrifices on their side to meet the other country. The reason is that the distinctive European considerations will be inadequately voiced as a result of this very dilution of the capability of this country.

When I read the report of Ambassador de Vos on 16th December about progress in the MBFR discussions I found it most disappointing and troublesome to see how little progress was made and, apparently, how little movement was made by the other side to meet the reasonable requirements of those putting the Western case.

Now that Mr. Vance is in Moscow, I am concerned that issues will be so much further concentrated and focused on the major considerations of strategy and arms limitations as to set aside in a sense the real problems with which we here are perhaps more closely concerned, namely, the build-up of conventional armaments. I do not want to enter into a sterile argument about what proportion of its gross national product our country deploys in this area. What is unquestionable, and is contained in the White Paper itself, is that there has been a progressive and massive build-up in Soviet capability which we have answered by an apparent reduction.

However important strategic arms limitation may be for all of us, it gives us little satisfaction to see that the great Powers are concentrating on those issues to the exclusion of the build up of conventioned armaments. The great Powers are pursuing their anguished desire to withdraw from that most gruesome concept of strategic arms limitations the concept of mutually assured destruction. That, as a basis of policy, may have great reality built into it, but it seems to ignore the specifics of the lower-level conflict and the lower-level risks with which we are just as actively and deeply involved. The European presence and contribution in this other aspect of the confrontation is essential.

Another subject which has been referred to continually in the debate is that of the exact setting of the nuclear threshold, the point at which there will be a temptation or desire to deploy nuclear weapons to correct an otherwise uncorrectable conventional situation. This is of intense importance to us. The reduction of our military capability leads inevitably and inexorably to the lowering of the nuclear threshold, which brings great implications for us all.

I do not mean any disrespect to the United States in what I am saying. The United States has been the buttress of the whole defence of the West. But it has other major overriding preoccupations which are bound to be considered as primary. It is our task to ensure that those primary considerations are balanced by an understanding of the more particular, more restricted but just as calamitous considerations of those involved in strategic discussions with the Russians.

This also needs to involve us in a much more careful contemplation of what reliance is being placed on low-yield nuclear weapons in a tactical rôle. This is a very difficult and serious subject. I cannot follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), who suggested that we should try to seek some kind of independent Anglo-French capability in this field. There is a primary need for the Europeans to discuss and be involved in the questions concerning the use of low-yield nuclear weaponry. For all these reasons I think that any tendency to weaken Europe's voice—which is, has been, and will continue to be so strongly the United Kingdom voice—is in itself an addition to the dangers that we run.

My anxieties on the subject of the nuclear threshold and the deliberations about it arise in relation to the proliferation considerations, too, either where that proliferation is deliberate, as in the countries which are themselves developing nuclear explosive materials and capabilities, or in the non-deliberate area, as a side effect to the more normal peaceful transactions in nuclear fissionable material for generating purposes. All these add to the risk of the nuclear threshold being lowered unintentionally so that it becomes a quite unwished-for need at some fell moment to resort to nuclear warfare at a time when no wisdom would have counselled following that route.

I believe that the European voice is an essential element in the consideration of the evolving rôle of NATO and the need to review developments within the Alliance and to make that Alliance ever more flexible in relation to the changed circumstances around it. Many of these questions have been ventilated during this debate, but the essential problem surrounds the reality of the territorial boundaries put upon the NATO alliance both in its physical rôle and more particularly in its political considerations.

Where do the dangers arise before they emerge at the traditional point of conflict in central Europe, and how can they be minimised and contained? That is a question to which NATO needs to address itself, with a major contribution of thought and input by this country.

I cannot say that I know with any great precision what Soviet wishes and intentions are. But I am sure that the Russians mean to pursue what they call the ideological struggle through to the limit. I believe that their essential policy is opportunistic rather than structural. They simply see opportunities arise which assist them on their road to ideological domination, and they pursue them.

Are we sufficiently aware in NATO of the dangers arising from a kind of ratchet approach to ideological domination? Are we sufficiently conscious of the fact that we are not engaged in one big confrontation but in a series of inroads into the Western system which in the end amount to the equivalent of a single big confrontation? Have we given consideration to such a risk, and can we as a country have sufficient weight in that Alliance to rehearse these issues and to try to find the right conclusions to them?

How do we propose to ensure that the whole complex of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks, the Final Act of Helsinki, the pursuit of the North-South dialogue and the incorporation in it of the Soviet Union's own input to these matters can be comprised in some kind of global strategy? What effective machinery have we to do it? I am not conscious of one, and I do not think that we can last long without one.

I am certain that the time has come when we need to take a new look at these major strategic and military considerations. To do so against a background of diminished power and an inability perhaps in the event to meet the commitments that we have as they stand today and as the Sub-Committee fears we do will be the unwisest and most dangerous policy that we as a country could pursue.

9.29 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Dr. John Gilbert)

It is my pleasant duty to welcome the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) to our defence debates and to congratulate him on his extremely sober summing up. It provided a marked contrast to some of the summings up that we have had in recent defence debates. I would also welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the initiatives of the Carter Administration and the sober leadership being provided by the new Administration in the United States.

It is not without note that some of the attitudes of the new American Administration, particularly those of Dr. Harold Brown, the new American Secretary for Defence, are much more in tune with some of the comments made by some of my hon. Friends than with some of the more hysterical remarks made from time to time by Conservative Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) was mocked when she talked about the fact that the Soviet Union itself might feel encircled as a result of developments in the armaments and capability of the NATO Powers in recent years. But, as Dr. Brown himself was arguing, the fact is that the Kremlin could put together an equally scary brief with regard to American weaponry as compared with the scary brief about the Soviet build-up which the Pentagon has given to Congress.

Dr. Brown said that it was only one side of the story and added: Generally speaking, there is no reason for immediate or grave alarm about our ability"— he was talking about the Alliance as a whole— to deter major military actions by the Soviet Union. It is unusual to have to wind up a debate a week after it began. It has also been an unusual debate because of the frankness on the part of the Tory defence spokesman. We had two very illuminating speeches from the right hon. Member for Amersham and Chesham (Sir I. Gilmour) and the hon. Member for Stechford—I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill): he would never win Stechford. But I shall return to those speeches later.

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) on a speech which, unfortunately, I was not able to be in the Chamber to hear. But I gather that my hon. Friend complimented our troops on their extremely high standard of morale and professionalism. He commented on the very high calibre of recruits still being obtained in the Armed Forces and, based on his own experience of making a great many visits to the ordinary men and women in every rank of the Services, he was able to speak of the high regard that NATO headquarters had for our people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) made some remarks about the nuclear deterrent and the Polaris fleet. I hope to return to that later in my speech. He also raised some questions about the AWACS-Nimrod decision, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) in an extremely thoughtful speech. The hon. Member for Woking raised some serious questions of principle. He pointed out the repercussive effect of the decision that the Government will shortly have to take as between AWACS and Nimrod.

The House would not expect me to add anything new on detail this evening. My hon. Friend has only just returned from Brussels at the weekend and a great number of things have to be considered as a result of developments at that meeting. I am confident that the House will be receiving a recommendation from the Government shortly and that the House will be taken fully into the Government's confidence as to the reasons for their decision.

It might be appropriate if I deal with a few of the general principles involved in procurement policy along the lines raised by the hon. Member for Woking. Before I do, I ought to say a word to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, who mentioned the memoranda produced by the shop stewards' committees at Lucas and Vickers. I have read one, the Lucas memorandum, but I have not yet seen the Vickers memorandum. These are matters which should primarily be discussed between the employees of those companies and their managements. We recognise the extremely valuable rôle both companies have played in our overall defence procurement arrangements.

There has been a common theme in this debate and the last debate on defence, that of the employment implications of defence spending, both with regard to the number of industrial jobs at stake and the design capabilities behind those jobs. Conservative Members have properly and fairly asked many questions about the loss of job opportunities since the Government took office and the implications of the defence review. The total is about 218,000, taking together civilians, those employed in the Armed Forces and those employed in the defence industries. From these figures Conservative Members argue for more defence spending.

Here I should repeat what I told the hon. Member for Stretford at Question Time recently, that it is no part of the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence to create jobs as such. Our responsibility is to procure as cheaply and as effectively as possible for the Armed Forces of the country the armaments and weapons systems that they need. Many of my hon. Friends have also rightly expressed concern about the loss of jobs in defence industries in certain areas.

Mr. Conlan

Although my hon. Friend is arguing this way now, the argument against some of our hon. Friends when they have demanded even greater defence cuts in the past has been the protection of jobs.

Dr. Gilbert

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend—[Laughter.] That is a sensible thing to say, because he has made a very helpful comment, and my hon. Friend made a good speech this afternoon, which is more than certain Conservative Members did. They were not then even present. Conservative Members have often accused various of my hon. Friends—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I shall answer it in my own way in a moment.

Conservative Members have often accused various of my hon. Friends of hypocrisy in wanting less defence expenditure and wanting defence expenditure merely to preserve jobs. What my hon. Friends are now telling me, as I understand the many deputations that have come to see me and my right hon. Friend, is that, given that defence procurement is reduced, they want 100 per cent. of defence procurement money to be spent in this country if possible. While there is no element of hypocrisy in that—not that my hon. Friends need me to give them any protection—it is not possible to have 100 per cent. of reduced procurement money spent on equipment in this country.

First, any reduction in the total spent involves spreading overheads over fewer items. The immediate consequence is to increase the unit costs of the remaining items still being procured in this country, unless they will benefit from increased exports, a subject on which my hon. Friends are understandably sensitive and vigilant. Major increases in exports of a quantity that will produce substantial reductions in unit costs are unlikely, save in a few very limited areas of procurement. The consequence must be that for every reduction in procurement of defence equipment there are generated economic pressures to switch a fraction of the remaining procurement to foreign supplies.

My hon. Friends urge that it is self-evidently desirable that 100 per cent. of our reduced procurement be spent here. Desirable it is, particularly with the present levels of unemployment. But the less the total procurement the bigger the fraction that will be under pressure to be bought abroad. This tendency is reinforced by the continually increasing degree of advanced technology which is incorporated in modern weapons systems. This onward march of technology produces a remorselessly upward spiral of research and development costs.

The defence Estimates contain about £2,650 million for equipment expenditure. Of this, about £850 million goes on our research and development and about £1,800 million on production. This gives a production to research and development ratio of about two to one, or three to one when defence sales of about £850 million are taken into account. Of the £850 million, over one-third is spent in industry itself. Apart from the direct technological spin-offs from defence programmes, we sustain numbers of high technology scientists, engineers and technicians whose experience is useful elsewhere, and there is also the contribution of defence procurement to production jobs.

However, as my right hon. Friend said last Tuesday, we are going to have to look closely at the extent to which we can continue to preserve our present research and development capability. This brings me to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who spoke of the need for greater standardisation and interoperability in NATO, and expressed an understandable disappointment with the progress in these two directions over the past 30 years. I agree very much with what he says on this matter.

The fact that progress has been slow is due very much to the fact that benefits to the Alliance as a whole can often oly be bought at the price of costs to individual countries, and it would be as well for us to be clear as to the distinct implications of standardisation on the one hand and interoperability on the other. Interoperability—that is interchangability of ammunition, fuel, spare parts, and so on—is all one needs. Economic benefits in terms of lower unit costs because of long production lines arise only from standardisation. However, many penalties are attached to trying to get a greater degree of standardisation. Different countries have different procurement cycles for almost any piece of equipment that one can think of, and getting synchronisation of these cycles means that one country has to buy prematurely, with expenditure on its defence vote that it might not find tolerable, or buy too late and forgo a capability, operating with outdated equipment for a period, which is also unacceptable. There are also questions of differences in tactical doctrines and supply.

There is the problem for a country that accepts standardisation of another country's design of being landed with a piece of equipment more sophisticated and expensive than it needs. There is the problem of obtaining guarantees against cost escalation by foreign suppliers when one has given up a capability oneself. That is what standardisation means—giving up a design capability. So there have to be, for standardisation to be a serious runner, mutual sacrifices of capability as between allies.

This is very difficult to achieve across industry boundaries. It is less difficult to find within an industry, and less difficult to find within one weapons system. Over recent years there have been great pressures on other countries as well as on the United Kingdom to make progress in collaborative ventures, and that is why we have had in the last 12 months or so such a good deal of progress in the European Programme Group.

Hon. Members will be aware of many projects in the recent past that have been managed in this way. They include the Anglo-French family of helicopters—Lynx, Puma, Gazelle—the Tornado Aircraft, the Anglo-French Jaguar, the NADGE air defence system and the FH70 field howitzer. These projects have provided a basis of experience on which much work is still continuing, and they have provided the background against which we can take decisions on future projects through the sharing of R and D costs to enable systems to be developed that would be beyond the resources of any one nation.

I am clear that the future lies in more collaborative projects, but we must be under no illusions—this will mean a sharing of design capability with our Allies. However, it is as well to get these matters into perspective and recognise that, even after what I have said, no less than 90 per cent. of our defence procurement is with British industry, and that is still 85 per cent. when we are talking about the high technology avionics industry.

I think that it would be appropriate if I were to turn now to some of the military implications of the cuts that have had to be made in recent years. The right hon. Gentleman is under no illusions as to the drastic nature of these cuts. As I read him quoted in the Sunday Telegraph of 20th March, speaking at Torquay he said: We will increase defence expenditure. That is certain. Our security situation today is as serious as it was in the' thirties. The right hon. Gentleman has not risen, and therefore I take it that he was quoted correctly and not out of context. So be it. I hardly thought that a Tory defence spokesman would wish to remind us of our defence posture in the 1930s, but that is a choice of historical analogy that is up to the right hon. Gentleman. He is free to use what he wishes.

One understands that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking at that worthy body, the Conservative Central Council Conference. We understand that politicians as politicians belong to the same trade union, and a little hyperbole is understandable, but to talk in terms of our defence being on the same basis as it was in the 1930s is not hyperbole but sheer hysteria, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we provide the second largest navy in NATO. He knows that we provide the third largest land force on the central front. He knows that, after the United States and Greece, we give a greater share of our national income to defence than does any other member of NATO. He knows, above all, that alone among all the European Powers, we contribute to all three elements—NATO forces, strategic nuclear forces, tactical nuclear capability and conventional armaments, and he should not be infected by the language that is used by those around him. He should not be tempted into language of that sort even when he is in the bosom of the Conservative Central Council Conference, or whatever it is, at Torquay.

What the right hon. Gentleman would do about the matter is more to the point. How much more would he spend? We know from what he said on 22nd March—column 1106 of Hansard—that he would spend at least £1,000 million more. I do not want to quote the right hon. Gentleman out of context. I do not know whether he means 1 billion more this year or £1 billion more altogether.

I am astounded by the moderation of the right hon. Gentleman's ambitions. What a puny sum! If this country is as defenceless as it was in the 1930s, is £1 billion enough? Surely he would want to spend more than that. Would he not want to spend £2 billion, £3 billion, £4 billion more? Would he not want to spend the £8½ billion more that we wretched Socialists cut? How much more would he want to spend? He says that he wants only £1 billion more for a country as defenceless as it was in the 1930s. The right hon. Gentleman surprises me.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Could the hon. Gentleman say how much more his Government had in mind when last December they signed a solemn document saying that there would have to be very large increases in defence spending in real terms by this country, among others? Would the hon. Gentleman give us a figure as to what his colleague had in mind when he signed that document?

Dr. Gilbert

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the amounts we had to cut from the defence budget—[Laughter.] Absolutely. They are a matter of public knowledge. We are not trying to conceal anything. Everyone knows how much we had to cut. Those cuts were determined not by defence considerations, but by economic considerations. There is no question about that.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

No one has ever accused this Government of running their defence policy according to defence considerations. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the Press did not misquote me, but he has. All I said was that the threat to this country was as great as it was in the 1930s, which is rather different from what he said. As he has gone back into history, would he not agree that the Labour Party voted against every increase in arms during the 1930s down to the actual outbreak of war?

Dr. Gilbert

In view of the size of the majority the right hon. Gentleman's party had in the House of Commons in the 1930s, that is about as thin an argument as I have ever heard, even from the right hon. Gentleman. As for my misquoting from the Sunday Telegraph, I offer it to him to check— Our security situation today is as serious as it was in the 'thirties.

Sir Ian Gilmour

That is right.

Dr. Gilbert

Then I quoted it accurately; I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees.

We do not know how much more the right hon. Gentleman would spend in total on defence. The question is—what would he spend it on?

Mr. Amery

Does not the hon. Gentlemen realise that there is a very big difference between the 1930s and the decade we are now in? It was quite easy for Lord Swinton to build new aircraft in three years with the technology of the day. It takes 10 years nowadays. That is why my right hon. Friend was quite right in saying that we are much less well equiped at present than we were then.

Dr. Gilbert

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He is making the point I was about to come to—the lead time in procuring weapon systems. Hon. Members opposite have been accusing us of not having certain types of anti-tank systems. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it takes more than three years to procure them. So why were they not started on when the Tory Party was in power from 1970 to 1974? That is what I ask his right hon. Friends.

Now the question is on what the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amer-sham (Sir I Gilmour) would spend this unknown sum of money. We know that his hon. Friend the Member for Stretford would want to go back into Malta. The hon. Gentleman asked me some questions about abandoning Malta. The hon. Gentleman obviously has not been talking to his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, who said last week that the Tory Party would not return to places from which the Labour Government have withdrawn".—[Official Report, 22nd March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1117.] The hon. Member for Stretford does not want to rely on civilian ships and planes. He mocked the idea that our troops should move by civilian transport in time of tension and war. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman wants to spend money on a huge new fleet of transport aircraft and ships. Is that Tory defence policy? If it is, I can only say that it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and I shall let the hon. Gentleman have the full costing as soon as I can.

Mr. Churchill

Not only did the Minister misquote my right hon. Friend but he has now misquoted me. I have not said that it is Opposition policy for British forces to remain in Malta. What I said was that the Nimrods make a substantial contribution to the reconnaissance capability of NATO in the Mediterranean, and there is a strong case for retaining them.

Will the Minister now answer the question which I put to him earlier? Where is the money coming from for the increased levels of defence expenditure in real terms to which his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred in the communiqué of 8th December? Or does the Minister repudiate that statement?

Dr. Gilbert

The hon. Gentleman dodged the question about whether he would like civilian ships or aircraft, but I shall give him the costing as soon as I can nevertheless.

The right hon. Gentleman said—this is col. 1116 of the Official Report—that there is a need to preserve the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent. I give him the assurance that that is precisely the present Government's intention. As recently as 9th November last year, my right hon. Friend told the House: It is our policy to maintain the effectiveness of our deterrent."—[Official Report, 9th November, 1976 Volume. 919, c. 205.] At the same time, however, he stressed that we did not intend to develop a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons. The right hon. Gentleman finds that amusing. Does he propose to set about procuring a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons?

Mr. Amery

I should hope so.

Dr. Gilbert

His right hon. Friend would hope so. It will cost him £1,000 million a throw if he intends to go in for buying Trident submarines, for example, and it will quickly eat up the additional resources he expects to have.

Other hon. Members have spoken about our reserves, and there was a suggestion that we have something to hide in this respect. The truth is that there has been no reduction whatever in the

scales of our war reserves under the present Government, and our stocks broadly conform to NATO requirements, just as they did when the right hon. Gentleman left office.

There have been several references to training. Again, there has been no cut in scales under this Government. There have been shortages from time to time, just as there were under the Conservative Government, but there are no serious shortages at present and none of those which do exist is due to financial considerations.

The Tories have announced that they will cut other public expenditure, so the additions to defence expenditure must be added to the cost in those other fields. The hon. Member for Stretford spoke of spending on education and the social services, purposes which he plainly finds offensive, especially as he sees them rising while defence expenditure is not rising fast enough. So now we know. That is where the cuts would come under a Tory Administration.

What would it be—£3 billion or £4 billion cuts in other expenditure, on top of this Government's cuts, and then, added to that, other cuts to compensate for these additions, taking us up to about £8,000 million on defence expenditure? Thus, on the civil side we are talking of about £12,000 million or £13,000 million of additional cuts in education and social services.

The consequences would be too tragic to contemplate. Indeed, the idea is so frivolous that one cannot believe that any political party would put it forward seriously for consideration by the country at large, and if it ever did, the retribution which came at the polls would be serious indeed.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 277.

Division No.97] AYES [9.59 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Benyon, W. Brittan, Leon
Alison, Michael Berry, Hon Anthony Brocklebank-Fowler, C.
Amery, Rt. Hon Julian Biffen, John Brooke, Peter
Arnold, Tom Biggs-Davison, John Brotherton, Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Blaker, Peter Bryan, Sir Paul
Awdry, Daniel Body, Richard Buchanan-Smith, Alick
Baker, Kenneth Boscawen, Hon Robert Budgen, Nick
Banks, Robert Bottomley, Peter Bulmer, Esmond
Bell, Ronald Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Burden, F. A.
Bennett, Sir Fredric (Torbay) Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Butler, Adam (Bosworth)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Braine, Sir Bernard Carlisle, Mark
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Percival, Ian
Churchill, W. S. Howell, David (Guildford) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pink, R. Bonner
Clark, William (Croydon S) Hunt, David (Wirral) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hunt, John (Bromley) Prior, Rt Hon James
Clegg, Walter Hurd, Douglas Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Cockcroft, John Hutchison, Michael Clark Raison, Timothy
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) James, David Rathbone, Tim
Cope, John Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cordle, John H. Jessel, Toby Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Cormack, Patrick Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Costain, A. P. Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Crouch, David Jopling, Michael Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Crowder, F. P. Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rhodes James, R.
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Kaberry, Sir Donald Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Dean, Paul (N. Somerset) Kershaw, Anthony Ridsdale, Julian
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Kilfedder, James Rifkind, Malcolm
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kimball, Marcus Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Drayson, Burnaby King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward King, Tom (Bridgwater) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Durant, Tony Kitson, Sir Timothy Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Mrs Jill Royle, Sir Anthony
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Knox, David Sainsbury, Tim
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Lamont, Norman St. John-Stevas, Norman
Elliott, Sir William Langford-Holt, Sir John Scott, Nicholas
Emery, Peter Latham, Michael (Melton) Scott-Hopkins, James
Eyre, Reginald Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lawson, Nigel Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fairgrieve, Russell Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shepherd, Colin
Farr, John Lewis Kenneth (Rutland) Shersby, Michael
Fell, Anthony Lloyd, Ian Silvester, Fred
Finsberg, Geoffrey Loveridge, John Sims, Roger
Fisher, Sir Nigel Luce, Richard Sinclair, Sir George
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) MacCormick, Iain Skeet, T. H. H.
Fookes, Miss Janet McCrindle, Robert Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Forman, Nigel Macfarlane, Neil Spence, John
Fowler, Norman (Sutton 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 Sir Ian (Chesham) Mather, Carol Stokes, John
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Maude, Angus Stradling Thomas, J.
Glyn, Dr Alan Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Tapsell, Peter
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Mawby, Ray Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Goodhart, Philip Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Goodhew, Victor Mayhew, Patrick Tebbit, Norman
Goodlad, Alastair Meyer, Sir Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Gorst, John Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Mills, Peter Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Miscampbell, Norman Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N. Devon)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C.) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Townsend, Cyril D.
Gray, Hamish Moate, Roger Trotter, Neville
Griffiths, Eldon Monro, Hector van Straubenzee, W. R.
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Montgomery, Fergus Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Grist, Ian More, Jasper (Ludlow) Viggers, Peter
Grylls, Michael Morgan, Geraint Wainwright, Richard (Colne V.)
Hall, Sir John Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Wakeham, John
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Morris, Michael (Northampton S.) Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morrison, Charles (Davizes) Wall, Patrick
Hampson, Dr. Keith Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Walters, Dennis
Hannam, John Mudd, David Warren, Kenneth
Harvie Anderson, Rt. Hon. Miss Neave, Airey Weatherill, Bernard
Hastings, Stephen Nelson, Anthony Wells, John
Havers, Sir Michael Neubert, Michael Whitelaw, Rt. Hon. William
Hawkins, Paul Newton, Tony Wiggin, Jerry
Hayhoe, Barney Nott, John Winterton, Nicholas
Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward Onslow, Cranley Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard
Heseltine, Michael Oppenhim, Mrs. Sally Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Hicks, Robert Page, John (Harrow West) Younger, Hon. George
Higgins, Terence L. Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)
Hodgson, Robin Page, Richard (Workington) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Holland, Philip Parkinson, Cecil Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Hooson, Emlyn Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. Michael Roberts.
Hordern, Peter Penhaligon, David
NOES
Abse, Leo Ashley, Jack Bagier, Gordon A. T.
Allaun, Frank Ashton, Joe Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)
Archer, Peter Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Barnett, Rt. Hon. Joel (Heywood)
Armstrong, Ernest Atkinson, Norman Bates, Alf
Bean, R. E. Grant, John (Islington C.) Noble, Mike
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.) Grocott, Bruce Oakes, Gordon
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Ogden Eric
Bishop, E. S. Harrison, Walter (Wakefleld) O'Halloran, Michael
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hart, Rt. Hon. Judith Orbach, Maurice
Boardman, H. Hattersley, Rt. Hon. Roy Orme, Rt. Hon. Stanley
Booth, Rt. Hon. Albert Hatton, Frank Ovenden, John
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Hayman, Mrs. Helene Owen, Rt. Hon. Dr. David
Bradley, Tom Healey, Rt. Hon. Denis Padley, Walter
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Heffer, Eric S. Palmer, Arthur
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hooley, Frank Park, George
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W.) Horam, John Parker, John
Buchan, Norman Howell, Rt. Hon. Denis (B'ham Sm H.) Parry, Robert
Buchanan, Richard Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Pavitt, Laurie
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Huckfield, Les Pendry, Tom
Callaghan, Rt. Hon. J. (Cardiff SE) Hughes, Rt. Hon. C. (Anglesey) Perry, Ernest
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Phipps, Dr. Colin
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N.) Price, William (Rugby)
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Roy (Newport) Radice, Giles
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Rees, Rt. Hon. Merlyn (Leeds S.)
Carmichael, Neil Irvine, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (Edge Hill) Richardson, Miss Jo
Carter-Jones, Lewis Irving, Rt. Hon. S. (Dartford) Robert, Albert (Normanton)
Cartwright, John Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Castle, Rt. Hon. Barbara Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Robinson, Geoffrey
Clemitson, Ivor Janner, Greville Roderick, Caerwyn
Cocks, Rt. Hon. Michael Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cohen, Stanley Jeger, Mrs. Lena Rodgers, Rt. Hon. W. (Stockton)
Coleman, Donald Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rooker, J. W.
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen John, Brynmor Rose, Paul B.
Concannon, J. D. Johnson, James (Hull West) Ross, Rt. Hon. W. (Kilmarnock)
Conlan, Bernard Johnson, Walter (Derby S.) Rowlands, Ted
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C.) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Ryman, John
Corbett, Robin Jones, Barry (East Flint) Sandelson, Neville
Cowans, Harry Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sedgemore, Brian
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Judd, Frank Selby, Harry
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Kaufman, Gerald Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cronin, John Kelley, Richard Sheldon, Rt. Hon. Robert
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Kerr, Russell Shore, Rt. Hon. Peter
Cryer, Bob Kilroy-Silk, Robert Short, Mrs. Renée (Wolv NE)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Kinnock, Neil Silkin, Rt. Hon. S. C. (Dulwich)
Cunningham, Dr. J. (Whiteh) Lambie, David Sillars, James
Davidson, Arthur Lamborn, Harry Silverman, Julius
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N.) Lamond, James Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Small, William
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Leadbitter, Ted Smith, John (N. Lanarkshire)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C.) Lee, John Snape, Peter
Deakins, Eric Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Spearing, Nigel
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lever, Rt. Hon. Harold Spriggs, Leslie
Dell, Rt. Hon. Edmund Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stallard, A. W.
Dempsey, James Lipton, Marcus Stewart, Rt. Hon. M. (Fulham)
Doig, Peter Lomas, Kenneth Stoddart, David
Dormand, J. D. Loyden, Eddie Stott, Roger
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Luard, Evan Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R.
Duffy, A. E. P. Lyon, Alexander (York) Summerskill, Hon. Dr. Shirley
Dunn, James A. Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Swain, Thomas
Dunnett, Jack McCartney, Hugh Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton W.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth McDonald, Dr. Oonagh Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Eadie, Alex McElhone, Frank Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Edge, Geoff MacFarquhar, Roderick Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) MacKenzie, Gregor Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
English, Michael Mackintosh, John P. Tierney, Sydney
Ennals, David McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.) Tinn, James
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McNamara, Kevin Tomlinson, John
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Madden, Max Tomney, Frank
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Magee, Bryan Torney, Tom
Faulds, Andrew Mahon, Simon Tuck, Raphael
Fernyhough, Rt. Hon. E. Mallalieu, J. P. W. Varley, Rt. Hon. Eric G.
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Marks, Kenneth Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V.)
Flannery, Martin Marquand, David Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Foot, Rt. Hon. Michael Marshall, Jim (Leicester S.) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ford, Ben Mason, Rt. Hon. Roy Ward, Michael
Forrester, John Maynard, Miss Joan Watkins, David
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Meacher, Michael Weetch, Ken
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Mellish, Rt. Hon. Robert Weitzman, David
Freeson, Reginald Millan, Rt. Hon. Bruce Wellbeloved, James
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Miller, Dr. M. S. (E Kilbride) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Molloy, William White, James (Pollok)
George, Bruce Moonman, Eric Whitehead, Phillip
Gilbert, Dr. John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Whitlock, William
Ginsburg, David Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Willey, Rt. Hon. Frederick
Golding, John Morris, Rt. Hon. J. (Aberavon) Williams, Rt. Hon. Alan (Swansea W)
Gould, Bryan Moyle, Roland Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Gourlay, Harry Mulley, Rt. Hon. Frederick Williams, Rt. Hon. Shirley (Hertford)
Graham, Ted Murray, Rt. Hon. Ronald King Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Newens, Stanley Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Wilson, Rt. Hon. Sir Harold (Huyton) Woof, Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wilson, William (Coventry SE) Wrigglesworth, Ian Mr. James Hamilton and
Wise, Mrs. Audrey Young, David (Bolton E) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Woodall, Alec

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977 (Command Paper No. 6735); and endorses Her Majesty's Government's policy of basing British security on collective effort to deter aggression, while seeking every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreements on arms control and disarmament.