§ [FIRST DAY'S DEBATE]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State to start the debate on the defence White Paper, I should say that I have a tremendously long list of right hon. and hon. Members, all of whom have very good reason to be called for their interest in this subject. They will be called only if the speeches of their colleagues are as brief as to make that possible.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun).
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)
I beg to move,That this House endorses Her Majesty's Government's policy set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1979 (Command Paper No. 7474) 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.As hon. Members may recall, this motion is in similar terms to that approved by the House last year. It seems to me to summarise the consistent and continuing defence policy of Her Majesty's Government and our efforts to achieve, on the one hand, defence and deterrence and, on the other, as an ultimate enhancement of our security, detente and disarmament.
I do not regard these two objectives as being in any way in conflict. On the contrary, in my view, the highly desirable goal of multilateral disarmament can be attained only from a position of adequate defence forces to ensure deterrence. Equally, we can achieve these objectives only by collective effort, by working in close association with our allies and friends.
It is therefore entirely appropriate that this House is holding its annual two-day debate on defence only a few days before NATO celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, which falls on 4 April. For 30 years the North Atlantic Alliance—a wholly defensive alliance—has kept the peace in Europe. There have, of course, been a number of stresses and strains. It would be surprising in an alliance of 15 sovereign 42 nations if there were not. But it is a matter for congratulation and thanks that, 30 years on, Europe is, in the recent words of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, the most secure continent in the entire world, leaving aside Australasia. For those of us with memories of the first half of the twentieth century, this is a profound change.
It is only as part of the NATO Alliance that we in Britain can continue to enjoy freedom and independence in the face of the very large armed forces that are maintained in Europe by the Soviet Union and her Warsaw Pact allies. The collective security which the Alliance offers to its members is founded on the firm commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty that an attack within the treaty area against one or more of the members of the Alliance will be considered as an attack against them all.
The past year has been a successful one for NATO, despite the problems that remain in a number of areas, particularly on the southern flank. Perhaps the most significant event has been the Washington summit in May, which reaffirmed the commitment of each member nation to maintaining Alliance solidarity and vigilance and to providing a defence effort at the level made necessary by the Warsaw Pact's offensive capabilities. At the same time, the summit reaffirmed the Allies' determination to pursue a constructive and positive relationship with the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European countries.
At the summit, the NATO nations endorsed the long-term defence programme begun at the London meeting the year before. The purpose of this programme is to make a reasonable but firm response to the continuing military build-up of the Warsaw Pact and to show our determination to use the defence resources of the Alliance in the most effective way through greater cooperation and longer-term co-ordinated planning. At the same time, the summit reaffirmed the commitment of all the Alliance nations to detente and to realistic multilateral arms control and disarmament.
There is no inconsistency between these two aims of deterrence and detente. The Government are determined to see a reduction in the armed confrontation, across the dividing line in Europe, but 43 we cannot expect to achieve the mutual reduction in forces which is necessary if our security is to be preserved, or as we hope enhanced, if we start from a position of weakness. We must have an adequate defensive force to ensure that our deterrent posture remains credible.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's belief in the need to have arms for the country's security, how is it that he mentions, on page 5 of the White Paper, under "Defence and Deterrence",the Government's objective of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control"?Does he really still believe in complete disarmament in a world in which the Soviet Union is behaving as it is, and arming as it is?
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Member should follow the logic of his own argument. One would have complete international disarmament only if the Soviet Union and her allies were equally disarmed, with verifiable arrangements. I should have though that that was a wholly desirable objective.
To achieve this level of deterrence does not require NATO to match the Warsaw Pact tank for tank, gun for gun and aircraft for aircraft, but if we are to sustain the credibility of our deterrent posture, the Alliance must have enough forces to fulfil the strategy of forward defence and flexible response. It must be able to convince any potential aggresssor that the risks of any aggression, at any level, are simply not worth taking.
But it is no part of NATO policy to engage in an arms race in Europe. On the contrary, the Western aim is to reduce the level of military potential in Europe through balanced and verifiable arms control which would provide the same level of security for all. Both sides in the MBFR negotiations are agreed that the objective should be to contribute to a more stable relationship and to the strengthening of peace and security in Europe. We are working for an agreement which would achieve approximate parity, at a lower level, between the 44 forces which NATO and the Warsaw Pact maintain in central Europe.
A successful MBFR agreement on these lines, coupled with the new strategic arms limitations agreement which we hope will shortly be concluded between the United States and the Soviet Union, will offer the prospect of a firm foundation for our future security.
I said last year that the key to the MBFR negotiations was the achievement of an agreed assessment with the Eastern side on manpower data. A further year of negotiations has not achieved this, despite the very considerable efforts made by the Western side to find the source of the discrepancy between the figures tabled by the Eastern side and our own estimates of Eastern forces. We will continue to press the East to make a constructive response to our questions on data.
There is, unfortunately, no sign that the Soviet Government and their Warsaw Pact allies intend to reduce their military expenditure. In fact, it continues to rise, and this extra money is almost entirely devoted to the improvement of the quality of their weapons and equipment. This continues to be a matter of great concern to the Alliance.
Faced with these Warsaw Pact improvements, NATO has no alternative but to improve its own forces and devote additional resources to defence, if a credible defensive strategy is to be maintained. The only alternative—which would be quite unacceptable—would be to revert to the old tripwire strategy of deterrence by the threat of massive strategic nuclear retaliation against an attack of whatever kind. The Alliance has rightly rejected this course. Instead, it has agreed to the long-term defence programme, to which I have already referred, which consists of a number of measures intended to improve the readiness and capability of NATO forces in order to strengthen their deterrent posture and to meet the defence needs of the next decade. Britain is playing her full part in these measures, many of which will produce benefits to the Alliance out of all proportion to their cost.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question on a very serious matter? In the past two months, have not the Government gone 45 back on their previous commitment? In our election manifesto, we said:We have renounced any intention of moving towards a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons.That pledge has been repeated constantly by my right hon. Friend and others in the House—until 26 January, when, in what was clearly a carefully-thought-out written reply, the Secretary of State said:The time has not yet come for a decision to be taken on whether to proceed with a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons to succeed the present Polaris force."—[Official Report, 26 January 1979; Vol. 961, c. 268.]Is not that a very different position? Either we have or we have not renounced a further generation—a successor to Polaris. Will my right hon. Friend make the Government's position clear? We believe that we should renounce, otherwise there will be great trouble inside the Labour movement.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am sure that my hon. Friend will deploy his arguments at greater length and with his customary persuasiveness when he speaks, as I am sure he will, very soon. He asked about the commitment in the manifesto. It was that we would maintain the present Polaris force as long as it was effective, and it will be effective into the 1990s. In that sense, therefore, it is much too soon to take a decision now about whether it would be right to have a successor, because of all the developments which may take place in the next few years. It is necessary for this to be judged. In any event, the question of replacing an asset is not a serious one until that time is reached. I could not say today that in no circumstances would I be in favour of moving towards a new generation. I accept that the arguments for and against are very finely balanced. The answer depends a great deal on what happens in the next year or two. If I said "Yes" and gave my hon. Friend total satisfaction, that would not prevent someone else from taking a different view in the future.
I was talking about the long-term defence programme and the study, which is still in progress, of the modernisation of NATO's theatre nuclear forces. We need to be sure that each link in the deterrent chain that joins NATO's conventional, theatre nuclear and strategic 46 nuclear forces remains sound and credible for the 1980s. We also need to consider the implications of the Soviet decision to strengthen medium-range weapons not covered by SALT with the SS20 and Backfire. This is not just a military problem; it has highly important political and arms control aspects.
In pursuit of our objective of curbing the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, we are also engaged in intensive negotiations with the United States and the Soviet Union on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Such a treaty would be a milestone in arms control and would make a significant contribution to detente.
Unfortunately, there is no escaping the need for the Alliance to devote more resources to defence if deterrence is to be maintained, unless we can achieve significant multilateral disarmament measures. This is why all NATO Governments accepted the aim of a 3 per cent. increase in their defence budgets, in real terms, in each of the five years beginning in 1979.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
Would my right hon. Friend tell the House whether or not all our allies have committed themselves and implemented the commitment to a 3 per cent. increase, as proposed in the present White Paper?
§ Mr. Mulley
I cannot say whether every one has done so, but most of them have. The financial years differ. We do not begin ours until next month, but all the major countries have fulfilled that commitment.
The defence budget Estimates for 1979–80 represent an increase of 3 per cent. in real terms over the defence budget for 1978–79. The size of the defence budget, at Hi billion, shows the determination of the Government that we should continue to make a substantial contribution to the Alliance in resources, manpower and equipment.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth) rose—
§ Mr. Mulley
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to take responsibility for making a long speech by giving way too frequently, particularly in view of your observation, Mr. Speaker, about the long list of speakers.
§ Mr. Trotter
I refer the Secretary of State to the written answer that he gave me on 5 March. Will be explain how we shall now be spending £83 million less at 1979–80 forecast outturn prices than was intended by the Government in the 1976 public expenditure survey? How does that fit in with a 3 per cent. increase?
§ Mr. Mulley
That 3 per cent. increase is not related to 1976. As I have said, it is related to 1978–79. That is the base on which the 3 per cent. is calculated.
Expenditure on equipment next year will be £3,493 million, approximately 41 per cent. of the defence budget, as compared with the figure of £3,279 million at the same price level for the current year.
About 40 per cent. of spending on new equipment will be for aircraft and aircraft engines and their associated equipment and weapons. We have a very comprehensive programme of new aircraft and weapons. To give some examples, we are planning to acquire 385 Tornado aircraft; we are providing 11 Nimrod early warning aircraft and two squadrons of Chinook medium-lift helicopters. We have acquired a squadron of VCIO aircraft for conversion as air-to-air refuelling tankers. The new Skyflash medium-range air-to-air missile is now entering service. The fuselages of the Hercules transport aircraft are to be stretched to provide additional airlift capability. We are forming a sixth Rapier surface-to-air missile squadron to protect RAF Lossiemouth.
On the maritime side, the new warship construction programme is going ahead rapidly. Last year, we announced orders for a new nuclear-powered submarine, the third anti-submarine cruiser, one Type-42 destroyer, and three Hunt class mine countermeasures vessels. We have also placed an order for 15 Sea King helicopters for the Royal Marines and for a further 10 Sea Harriers. This year, we plan to procure a new class of 12 extra deep armed team sweep vessels for mine countermeasures.
Last September, we announced the decision to proceed with the project definition of a new main battle tank to replace the Chieftain in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, we are developing an improved armour-piercing round for the Chieftain. The Milan anti-tank guided weapon entered 48 service six months ahead of schedule in November 1977 and we have delivered the weapons to infantry battalions in Germany at twice the rate originally planned.
The planned size of the Army has also been increased by 6,000 men and we have formed a new infantry unit to provide a demonstration battalion at the School of Infantry, replacing a cap-badge battalion to augment the numbers available for service elsewhere. We have kept the Gurkhas at five battalions instead of four.
The statement on the Defence Estimates not only sets out the Government's policy for the future but reviews the events of the past year. While the commitment of our forces and our defence budget is now almost entirely to the Alliance, there still remain other areas in which our forces play their part in promoting international security. In particular, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary explained to the United Nations General Assembly last September, the Government are prepared to make a positive military contribution to United Nations peacekeeping activities.
We are at present contributing about 800 personnel to the UN force in Cyprus, together with logistic support for that force and for the UN force in the Lebanon. We have also expressed our willingness to make a military contribution to the proposed UN transitional assistance group in Namibia.
Unstable situations still exist in many parts of the world, which the Soviet Union and some of its allies appear willing to exploit. Disregard of the indivisibility of detente must inevitably put at risk the further improvement of East-West relations. But it would be wrong to look at all these situations purely in an East-West context. We should, instead, encourage peaceful settlement of the disputes through negotiation by the countries and regional organisations themselves.
It no longer makes sense—if it ever did—for Britain to seek to act as a kind of global policeman, to be prepared to intervene with military forces anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, there are ways in which we can help developing countries to secure their own defence by providing places in training establishments in Britain and by offering technical advice on the spot.
49 It is also right that we should be willing to supply friendly countries with the equipment that they need for their own defence, provided that we do not thereby disturb the balance of security in the area. We expect that sales abroad of military equipment in the coming year will amount to about £1,100 million, even after allowing for the cancellation of the orders from Iran.
These sales represent between 70,000 and 75,000 job opportunities in British industry and help us to sustain a comprehensive and effective defence equipment industry in this country which could not be maintained on its present scale solely from the purchases for our own forces. It also reduces the cost of our own equipment.
These figures show that the degree of dependence on Iran of the British defence industry can be exaggerated. Iran was, indeed, an important market, and the collapse of the Shah's regime has brought serious economic, political and industrial consequences for us. We are regrettably faced with an immediate need to reduce employment in the Royal ordnance factory, Leeds, and we are urgently studying how we can maintain the capacity at Leeds and retain the skills there which we shall need when production of the next generation of tank for the British Army, MBT80, begins. We are pressing ahead with development of this tank as fast as we can, but it will not be until the mid-1980s that production of this tank can get under way at Leeds.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
How can the House know that overseas sales of arms reduce the unit cost of weapons systems, since the Government never publish any figures that can tell us anything about the cost of production of any weapons system?
§ Mr. Mulley
I do not think that my hon. Friend is totally right when he says that no figures are given, but it is a matter of common sense that if, having spent the research and development costs of an aircraft or a missile, one spreads that cost over 300 or 400 instead of 200 or 300, which might be our own requirement, the unit cost must be that much lower.
§ Mr. Mulley
If one is selling the same product—which is usually the case.
As to the future of the SHIR tanks, we are looking urgently at the possibility of alternative suitable outlets, and shall take our decisions accordingly. The tanks are, of course, designed with Iranian conditions in mind, and they are not an alternative to 1VIBT80, which will be a tank of later design intended for the European battlefield.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will, if they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, give the House more information about our re-equipment plans. I should like now to refer to the people on whom the effectiveness of our Armed Forces ultimately depends—the men and women in the Services.
The past year has not been an easy one. The many and varied tasks which have been placed on them have been a considerable burden. Not only have they undertaken their primary task of contributing to peace and security in Europe and elsewhere; they have continued to discharge their heavy burdens in support of the civil power in Northern Ireland, where 13 earned awards for gallantry and 21 gave their lives. I am sure that the House will join with me in expressing appreciation for the devotion to duty which the forces have shown in this difficult task. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I am sure also that the House will join me in commending the steadfast way in which the Services have stood ready to provide emergency and disaster relief to the civilian community here at home. The disruption to the Service men involved and to their families has often been considerable, but the tasks have been accepted willingly and without complaint, and the community has every reason to be grateful to them.
I am glad to say that the recruiting figures over the year show that the Services are able to attract an increasing number of our young men and women. The number of Service personnel recruited in 1978 was over 5,000 more than in 1977—n increase of about one-sixth. At the end of 1978, however, the total strength of the Services was 6,000 fewer than at the end of 1977. Some of this reduction reflects the defence review rundown, but another cause has been the 51 high level of premature outflow. This has caused particular difficulty, since a large part of this loss has been among the more experienced and highly skilled officers and men.
Of course, there is always a considerable outflow of trained men from the Services into civilian life. This reflects the fact that the Services are largely a young man's occupation. The skills which many men and women acquire in the Armed Forces are very much in demand in civilian life.
The outflow following requests for premature voluntary release, however, is running at too high a level. We are studying the causes of this very carefully and applying remedies where we can. It is my hope that the substantial increase in pay which the Services will be offering from 1 April this year will have a beneficial effect. I cannot say what that increase will be, since it will depend on the recommendations of the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which is due to report very shortly.
The award will, of course, be backdated to 1 April, but I should like to reaffirm the Government's absolute and firm commitment, which we made last year, that in April 1979 the Armed Forces will receive half the shortfall identified by the review body last year—that will be 9½ per cent. on average—plus an updating to reflect the movement assessed by the review body of the earnings of the particular comparators which are used to calculate the military salary and that full comparability should be achieved on 1 April next year.
There are, of course, other reasons besides pay which cause men and women to leave earlier than we like. One factor that undoubtedly has contributed to the outflow has been the turbulence and increased family separation which have been an unavoidable consequence of the reorganisation of the last few years. We are already taking a number of measures to reduce overstretch and family separation.
Perhaps most significantly we have, as the House knows, authorised some increases in strengths—for example, the extra 6,000 men for the Army. These increases are intended both to improve our operational capability and to relieve 52 overstretch. As the Armed Forces get closer to their full strength, the present levels of separation and turbulence will decrease and this in itself will help recruiting and retention further.
Over the last few months we have also been able to introduce various improvements in conditions of service designed specifically to encourage family unity. These improvements have admittedly been of limited scope but they are nevertheless very important to the individuals concerned.
For instance, we have made it easier for families overseas to return to the United Kingdom when their husbands are posted on emergency tours abroad. We have also introduced some improvements in the leave travel arrangements for those whose families live in the Scottish Isles, and we have introduced assisted travel home for those Service men abroad whose wives are expecting a child in the United Kingdom.
Although the level of premature voluntary outflow is still too high, I am glad to say that there are some signs that the rate is levelling off. For example, the latest figures that we have for officer applications show that so far this financial year—that is, to the end of February—777 Army officers and 557 RAF officers applied for premature voluntary release. These figures compare with 851 and 715 for the same period in 1977–78. The Royal Navy figures, conversely, show a slight increase, from 302 last year to 334 this year.
The overall trend looks as though it is levelling off, but we need more evidence of this before we can be sure. To be candid with the House, the position remains worrying. The Government attach great importance to correcting and reversing the trend. It is worth remembering that with the increasing sophistication of defence equipment the Armed Forces require high standards, and the skills that many of the soldiers, sailors and airmen have are much in demand in the community as a whole, where there are still severe shortages of skilled men despite the current high level of unemployment.
We in the United Kingdom can be proud of the contribution we make to the North Atlantic Alliance. The cost of this contribution will rise in real terms 53 next year by 3 per cent. As I have said, our allies are also increasing their contributions. It is no cause for congratulation that these increases should be necessary, nor do they mean that the Alliance is engaged on a great rearmament programme, or that the risks to peace are greater, but the improvements in capability introduced by the Warsaw Pact have made a NATO response necessary if peace and security for us all in the West are to be preserved.
But, as I said last year, we must respond to the increasing capability of the Warsaw Pact forces in other ways as well. The Soviet Union and her allies must understand that constant increases in their military capability pose a threat to detente and to stability. It is for this reason that British defence policy and the defence policy of the whole Alliance rest on tthe twin pillars of detente and deterrence. This is why the Government place equal emphasis on the search for arms control and disarmament on the one hand and maintaining an adequate level of Alliance defence on the other.
It is on this basis that I commend the motion to the House.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
There is a certain sameness about these annual defence debates. Every year we on the Conservative Benches think that the position is so grave that the Government cannot possibly make it worse, yet every year they succeed in doing so. This year the deterioration has been much greater than usual. In spite of that, the Secretary of State has just given us his annual lullaby. His speech was perfectly in tune with his White Paper, which was also his annual lullaby.
The White Paper bears very little relation to the true course of events in the last year. It tries to veil the deperately dangerous level to which the Government have reduced our defence forces. There are only two significant paragraphs in it, and neither reflects any credit on the Government. One of those is paragraph 403, which reveals the shameful, disturbing and entirely unsurprising fact that the disastrous exodus from the forces has continued because of the disgraceful treatment that the Government have meted out to them. Rarely can there 54 have been a simpler or more straightforward case of cause and effect. This exodus is the most damaging thing to have happened to the Armed Forces in peacetime this century.
Any even moderately competent and well-intentioned Government would long ago have taken steps to reverse it, but not this Government. The exodus was entirely predictable, and it was predicted by us and by many other people. That it should have happened while unemployment has been at 1.5 million demonstrates the disillusion and despair that the forces have suffered. The Government stand convicted of neglecting their prime duty of safeguarding our free institutions.
The second paragraph to which I refer is paragraph 147, which indicates that while the White Paper is an extremely unattractive prospectus it is not even an honest one.
Most of my remarks will be addressed to those two paragraphs, but it would be appropriate for me to pronounce the epitaph on the Labour Government's maiming of our defences. The verdict on the Government's stewardship of the nation's security at a time of ever-growing threat and on the Government's treatment of the welfare of the Services can only be wilful neglect on both counts. The Government have given the Services their worst five years ever in peacetime. That is the epitaph on this dying Government's defence policy.
The core of any country's defence policy is the morale of its armed forces. Everything else, as Napoleon well understood, is secondary to that. The Government's greatest delinquency has been their constant sapping of that morale. Far be it from me to detract from the achievements of the previous Prime Minister and Defence Secretary in this respect. They certainly did enormous damage. But their achievement was as of nothing compared to what the present Prime Minister and Defence Secretary have done.
The Government's greatest claim is that their last three years of office have not been quite as bad as their first two. That is not exactly a ringing testimonial, but even that plea in mitigation cannot be made about defence. For the forces the past two years have been worse than the first three. I blame the Secretary of State for not having resigned last year. 55 He has done his best for the forces, but the sad fact is that that best has been nowhere near good enough. The ultimate responsibility lies with the Prime Minister, and for the Queen's first Minister to compel the Armed Forces to suffer such grievous damage is unforgivable.
The Prime Minister is no stranger to failure. He has held all the great offices of State, and he has failed in all of them. Nevertheless, I believe that history will judge—if I may borrow the Foreign Secretary's pomposity for a moment—that his neglect of the Armed Forces has been one of his greatest failures. I acknowledge that that is a high claim, but I believe it to be true.
The morale of the Prime Minister is much less important than the morale of the Armed Forces. The latter depends on the possession of good and sufficient equipment, and the consequent knowledge by the Service man that he is capable of doing his job with maximum efficiency. It depends, too, upon adequate spare parts, fuel and ammunition so that the equipment remains fully usable. It depends upon a reasonable degree of manning so that the Service man does not continually have to work immensely long hours because nowhere near enough people are available to do the work. It depends upon a proper recognition of the importance of defence and, hence, of the supreme importance of the Armed Forces. It depends, finally, upon the Service man being given a reasonable rate of reward for the arduous and dangerous job that he does.
All those conditions must be fulfilled, but, if one or even two of them are not, such is the discipline and dedication of the Armed Forces that morale would probably survive. It is the unique achievement of the Government that they have broken every one of the conditions of service that a man in the forces has a right to expect. In consequence, the forces have continued to vote with their feet against the way in which they have been treated, and men have been leaving in large numbers.
What an appalling commentary upon a Prime Minister and a Government. They have made exiles of their own defence forces. They have driven out men whose one wish was to serve their country.
§ Mr. Newens
I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. Will be tell the House what he would regard as an adequate increase in expenditure? What would be the total level of defence expenditure if the right hon. Gentleman, speaking for the Opposition, had his way? Surely, in view of his criticisms, the House and the Government have a right to know what the right hon. Gentleman considers is adequate.
§ Sir I. Gilmour
The hon. Member must know that until we have seen the books—we have been talking for long enough about the way in which the Government have been fiddling the books, and I shall have quite a lot to say—
§ Sir I Gilmour
The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) is normally quite well intentioned in these matters, but he shows his ignorance on defence when he says "Answer the question". It is not a question that any Opposition could conceivably answer, and he should know that. It is an absurd question.
§ Mr. Mulley
The right hon. Member had made a serious allegation about the Government's fiddling the books. I do not know exactly what he has in mind in that context. I think that the House and the country are entitled to something other than just the shrill voice of complaint echoed by yet another Opposition spokesman. What would be the Conservative defence policy? They have not even thought fit to put a proposition before the House on this occasion.
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I can well understand the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety to talk about our defence policy. It is certainly much more interesting, much more relevant and much more important, but that is a subject that the House will be discussing next year, when we discuss the Conservative White Paper. This year we are discussing the Labour Party's White Paper—its last.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence drew attention to the remark by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) about 57 the Government's fiddling the books on defence expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman did not see fit to withdraw that remark. Will be now do so, or justify it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I did not hear the remark. I shall leave the matter to the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour).
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I shall justify it later, as I said I would. That was not the first time that I made such a remark, and it will not be the first time that it has turned out to be true.
I shall deal with the conditions of service one by one. First, I deal with the provision of good and serviceable equipment. Here we have impartial witnesses. The Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, to which, as in the past, the House owes a great debt of gratitude for its work and for the valuable information and judgment that it provides for us, reported on page 12 of its second report for the Session 1976–77:In our view, the point has now been reached where 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.Then Dr. Luns, in his letter to the right hon. Gentleman, referred tothe adverse impact on the United Kingdom front line forceswhich the Government's defence cuts had created. The Select Committee on Expenditure pointed out last year, in its report on British Forces, Germany, the damage done by the Government's cut of 50 per cent. in the air transport force. There is no doubt that the Government have deprived the Services of adequate equipment.
I turn now to the availability of spare parts, fuel and ammunition. Clearly, if anything the position is even worse. I quoted, in an earlier debate, evidence before the Select Committee on Expenditure to the effect that the Navy could not go at full speed. Nearly every hon. Member will have an example of the shocking state to which our forces have been reduced as a result of the Government having 58 starved them of essential supplies. During an exercise last autumn, in Germany, at least one armoured regiment had half its tanks unusable because of lack of spares. That is as horrific as the Government having last year to put 56 Chieftain tanks in mothballs because there was no one to man them.
The Select Committee in its last year's report on Germany said:We regard the low numbers of antiaircraft and anti-armour missiles held by operational units as profoundly disturbing.…My view is that the position is even worse than people think.
I deal, thirdly, with the questions of manning and conditions of life in the forces. Anybody who has visited almost any unit of the Services will know what a problem that is. The Government admit that and the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon that it was inevitable. It was not inevitable it was due to the Government. I have been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who cannot be here today but will be here tomorrow, that, as we know, over 50 per cent. of soldiers are married and that on average they spend about 50 per cent. of their nights away from home.
Part of the turbulence is, of course, due to the situation in Northern Ireland, which is not the fault of the Government. I paid a brief visit to the Army in Northern Ireland recently and, as always, I was struck by the superb way in which it tackles a difficult and dangerous job. No praise is too high for our forces there and we, on this side of the House, associate ourselves with the remarks of the Secretary of State about them. But turbulence is not confined to the Army. It affects all three Services and is largely the fault of the Government because they have not treated the forces properly. Many Service men have been forced to leave and, in consequence, there is now too much work for too few men. Consequently, conditions steadily deteriorate.
Fourthly, there is the proper recognition of defence. The Government have shown what they think of the importance of defence by their cuts, and their planned cuts, in expenditure, which now amount to nearly £12 billion. There is no conceivable justification for such cuts. Even the Government admit that the threat has been growing and, as the IISS has pointed 59 out, for the second year running the pattern is one of the balance tilting steadily against the West.
The right hon. Gentleman always tries to make the balance seem less unfavourable than it is. Last year he suddenly included the French forces, and this year he has equally suddenly reduced the number of Russian tactical aircraft on the central front by 700. I only wish that the Secretary of State were as skilled at weakening the Russian forces as he is at weakening our own. But he has achieved the Russian reduction merely by altering the boundaries.
Our forces have seen the Labour Government progressively weakening this country at the same time as they have seen the Warsaw Pact greatly strengthening itself. The forces also see the consistent attempts of the Tribune group and the Labour Party to weaken our forces still further. Last year the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who is not here today, complained of my saying that the Tribune group was hostile to NATO, even though, to give it its due, it has made this hostility quite plain. Only the other day the hon. Member asked the Secretary of State:Is he aware that many Labour Members are not enamoured of either the Warsaw Pact or NATO? Is it not time that we had a distinctive Labour Party Socialist policy to deal with these matters?"—[Official Report, 16 January 1979; Vol. 960, c. 1485.]The hon. Gentleman may not have been against NATO last year, but he is certainly against it this year. That point brings me to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), who is chairman of the Labour Party this year, and his hon. Friends. Even by their standards, it is a profoundly silly amendment which talks of a "massive increase in military expenditure". By no stretch of the imagination is that true. There is a very small increase. The amendment says that that increase will "add to world tension".
I wish that the Tribune group would explain why, in its view, the massive rearmament programme of the Soviet Union does not add to world tension while the small and inadequate British increase in expenditure adds to world tension. The members of the Tribune group will shortly have to explain to their constituents—luckily many of its members are in mar- 60 ginal seats—why they are always against British defence and are wholly complacent about the vast growth in the offensive military capability of Russia.
The amendment goes on to advocatepolicies designed to redeploy armaments industries to the manufacture of alternative socially useful products".That is doubly absurd. It is absurd, first, because it ignores the fact that under this Government there have consistently been over 1 million unemployed and that there are now 1½ million unemployed. It is absurd, secondly, because it suggests that the defence of this country is not socially useful. That is not what the constituents of the Tribune group Members believe.
Finally, the amendment reaffirms the Labour Party'scommitment not to proceed to a new generation of nuclear weapons.I look forward to reading in Hansard what the right hon. Gentleman said in answer to the hon. Member for Salford, East. I hope that it is clearer there than it has been to me here. Naturally those hon. Gentlemen ignore the fact that the Warsaw Pact has proceeded to several new generations of nuclear weapons. No doubt the Tribune group Members will enjoy, very shortly, explaining to their constituents why the enormously powerful new Russian mobile continental ballistic missile, the SS20, which can reach every city in Western Europe, is a wholly peaceful, unprovocative weapon while any smaller British answer to it is warlike, provocative and intolerable.
Last week the hon. Member for Salford, East made a nasty and silly attack on that very distinguished public servant, the Secretary-General of NATO. Dr. Luns has done a great deal for the West, and I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the credentials of Dr. Luns as a defender of democracy and as a believer in a free society are a great deal better than those of many Members of the Tribune group.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
I can say for myself, and for other Members of the Tribune group, that we never defended Fascists.
§ Sir I. Gilmour
The commitment of the hon. Gentleman to the defence of a free society is not very clear. In any case, I 61 cannot do better than adopt the judgment of the electrical trade union on the hon. Gentleman and his friends. That union said that it had tried to wreck the nation's defences. Unfortunately, it is still trying to do so. One of the executives of that union said that the antics of the Labour Party executive did not reflect the position of British trade unionists. I am sure that that is true, but that does not prevent the Labour Party executive from doing considerable damage. If by any extraordinary chance we were to have another Labour Government, those people would do even more damage in future.
In view of the bad behaviour of the Labour Government and their shabby treatment of the forces in the four respects that I have mentioned, there would still have been an exodus from the Services even had the Government taken the trouble to pay Service men properly. But of course the Government have made no attempt to do that and, as a result, there has been a stampede out of the Services. I turn to the subject of pay in some detail because the behaviour of the Government has been scandalous. They have treated the Services worse than anybody else. If the Secretary of State can think of any other group that has been treated worse than the Armed Services; the House will be interested to hear of it.
The Secretary of State cannot claim that the difficulties over forces' pay have stolen up on him suddenly or caught him unawares. My hon. Friends and I have been telling him about it for years and he has paid not the slightest attention. He stood in the picket lines for his union at Grunwick, but he has never been anywhere near the picket lines for the people that he is supposed to look after—the Armed Services of this country.
In the debate in June 1977 we told the Secretary of State that the situation then was disastrous. He did nothing. The same thing happened in a debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) in December 1977. By the time of our debate last year, the fact of the exodus was plain and I told the right hon. Gentleman that there was "an unprecedented crisis of morale." He did nothing whatever to deal with it. The number of captains leaving prematurely had gone up by 60 per cent. in one year. The same was happening in all the Services.
62 In spite of he Secretary of State's promising to give the Services a square deal, he took no action. If the right hon. Gentlemen had been captain of the "Titanic", he would not have noticed that his ship was sinking. He would not have launched a lifeboat; he would merely have launched an inquiry to find out why there was rather a lot of water about and then gone to his cabin for a snooze.
I turn to the most extraordinary episode in the whole disgraceful saga. After the Armed Forces Pay Review Body found that the forces were being paid one-third less than they should have been, the Government decided to move the forces not one inch towards comparability. They further decided that comparability should be achieved only in two years' time.
The Secretary of State has achieved a worse result for the forces than any of his colleagues have for the workers for whom they are responsible. The Secretary of State is far too amiable to deal with his hard-faced colleagues who are against defence. Consequently, he has won the wooden spoon.
Instead of being treated worse than other people, the Armed Forces should have been treated better. They have a unique strategic importance. They do not go on strike. They are not overmanned; they are undermanned. They are used to keep community services running when other workers go on strike. They receive no overtime. For reasons of justice, supply and demand and common sense, the forces should have been paid properly.
Ever since Boxing Day thousands of Service men have been standing by to provide essential services. At one time no fewer than 37,000 Service men were standing by to help the Government and the country in their industrial troubles. The reward for their public spirit is that they have been treated worse than those people who do not show that public spirit. The alarming drain from the Services continues.
Paragraph 403 of the White Paper states that"The total numbers of men and women leaving the Services for all reasons during 1978/79 continued to include an unusually high outflow among the more experienced and highly skilled categories following requests for 63 premature voluntary release. If current rates of outflow from this source continue"—that is dreadful verbiage. The Secretary of State should not talk about these matters as if we were discussing effluent. The White Paper continues:the consequences in the loss of trained Officers and men will be serious for the Armed Forces, and the Government attaches great importance to correcting this trend.The Government attach great importance to it, but they do nothing about it. That paragraph of the White Paper is a piece of self-condemnation and an admission that the decision that the Government took last year not to improve comparability was utterly wrong. The paragraph adds:the Government hopes that, as pay is restored to comparability, the normal pattern of outflow will be resumed.That is even less than what was said last year by the Secretary of State. He said that he hoped that what the Government had donewill have the effect of reversing the recent trend".—[Official Report, 22 May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1152.]We now know that that was utterly wrong. The trend has not been reversed; it has continued.
The right hon. Gentleman made some play with the fact that not so many officers were leaving this year as left last year. We welcome that. But he did not say that the situation was cumulative. About 1,668 left in the first 10 months of this financial year, but, on top of that, 2,000 officers applied to leave last year. Surely that is disastrous. The House will prefer the assessment by the Chief of the Naval Staff, who said that the situation had reached "crisis proportions".
Last year the Secretary of State said that he was watching the situation "very carefully". I have no doubt that that cheered everybody, but what difference did it make to anybody or anything? As the Secretary of State has done absolutely nothing, what difference would it have made if he had watched the situation carefully, very carefully, not carefully or not watched it at all? The answer is, none at all.
The Secretary of State and the Government stand condemned out of their own mouths. They took an unjustifiable gamble that their refusal to pay the forces properly would not lead to an extension 64 of the exodus. That gamble failed, with disastrous results. We welcome the improved recruiting figures, but the new recruits are no adequate substitute for what the Commander-in-Chief, RAF Germany calledhigh-quality, irreplaceable people who have left.Last year I said that the Government should have gone half-way to comparability 12 months ago and achieved comparability this year. I said that that was what a Conservative Government would have done and I pledged us to restore comparability this year. That pledge stands. We shall restore comparability this year. In doing so we shall not be singling out the Services for uniquely favourable treatment. We shall be merely ending a uniquely unfair discrimination against them.
Taking account of what they have proposed and have done, I reckon that the Labour Government have done the Services out of about six months' pay. That is the price of a Labour Government. I repeat: we shall restore comparability this year and we shall see that this type of thing never happens again.
I turn to the only other significant paragraph in the White Paper—paragraph 147. Before I quote from that paragraph, I must explain that I wrote to the Secretary of State last December asking him to make clear that the Government's 5 per cent. policy had no application whatever to the forces. On 22 December he replied:The Government's 5 per cent. policy will only affect the settlement for the Forces next April to the extent that it influences the movemens in the earnings of the Forces' pay comparators. It will not be directly applied to the Forces.That should have meant the disappearance of the 5 per cent. for all purposes. But that was not so. Paragraph 147 of the White Paper states:The provision in Estimates for Armed Forces pay assumes an increase of 9½ per cent. representing the staged increase to which the Government is already committed, and a further 5 per cent. reflecting the limit for the current round of pay policy.The paragraph goes on to say that the Government are committed, and adds:To the extent that the settlement may exceed the Estimates provision the Government will decide, in the light of all the 65 circumstances at the time, whether the defence cash limits should be adjusted to meet any additional costs.I then wrote to the Secretary of State, because the Armed Forces Pay Review Body cannot possibly recommend 141 per cent. It must recommend something between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent.—probably about 25 per cent. So the House will see that the meaning of that paragraph is that the mythical 5 per cent. is now being used not to control the forces' pay increase but to keep down, artificially and inexcusably, defence expenditure. In other words, the Government are saying that the forces' pay increase will probably lead to a cut in the defence budget elsewhere. When the forces receive the pay increase, their equipment is likely to be cut again to pay for that increase
That would be unjustifiable, so I wrote to the Secretary of State to ask why the figure of 5 per cent. appeared in the Defence Estimates. I said that if the paragraph meant what it seemed to mean the White Paper was not worth the paper on which it was written. I said that it was fraudulent, because it tried to conceal a cut of about £200 million in the defence programme. I received from the right hon. Gentleman a reply that was classic, even by his standards. He said:we included in our Estimates an increase of 5 per cent. over and above the already promised 9½ per cent. in line with the pay policy.But the Secretary of State had already said that the 5 per cent. limit would not apply. He added:This seems to me a perfectly sensible arrangement; indeed, it would have been improper of us to try to anticipate the Review Body's judgment by forecasting what they might recommend and making provision accordingly; this would simply have been guess-work and could have been regarded as an attempt to prejudge the Review Body's findings.In other words, rather than run the nonexistent risk of appearing to prejudge the review body's findings, the Secretary of State preferred to include a totally wrong figure as a basis for the Estimates and, as a result, his Estimates were £200 million lower than they should have been. To call such behaviour frivolous would be flattering. For a Secretary of State to want his Estimates to be lower than they should be beggars belief.
§ Mr. Mulley
The presentation of Estimates this year, not only for defence but across the board, is in a new form, following recommendations by the Select Committee on Expenditure. The cash limit is embodied at the outset, instead of increases in pay and prices being taken care of in Supplementary Estimates. We make it clear in paragraph 147 that when we know what the size of the review body's award is we shall have to consider what adjustment to make to the Estimates. There is no question at all of our going back on the commitment to pay what the review body recommends.
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I am glad to hear that—I accept it—but what I am talking about is the defence budget elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman has not given an assurance on that. However, there is even better to come, because on the question of what the Government would do when the Armed Forces Pay Review Body did report, and showed the estimate to be grossly inadequate, the right hon. Gentleman quoted two sentences from the Chief Secretary. These were:The Government will review each case as settlements are reached. Certain adjustments may be necessary, but for central Government expenditure on manpower, the general principle will be that a substantial proportion of any excess cost above the provision already made will have to be absorbed within the existing cash limit.The right hon. Gentleman's comment was:Equal weight should be given to the two sentences just quoted".That is like giving a traffic direction saying that when a driver reaches a T-junction he should turn both left and right.
Even that is not the end of it. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:There is no question of making cuts in the defence programmeAs the House will realise, that is flatly untrue. There is a question of making a cut of almost £200 million in the defence budget.
There is another discreditable aspect of this matter. In increasing defence expenditure next year, the Government have claimed to be responding to NATO's call to increase defence expenditure annually by 3 per cent. in real terms. 67 I pointed out last year that the claim was bogus, and the Expenditure Committee reported, in its eighth report of last year:Although the Government can justifiably claim to be responding to the letter of the call by NATO for an increase in Defence expenditure, the amount by which it will actually rise in 1979–80 is less than envisaged previously. We believe that the House should be fully aware of this fact.That was a considerable rebuke to the Government, but, leaving that aside, the right hon. Gentleman said that the rules had changed substantially because, as he told the House last year:the defence budget is increased to take account of pay and price increases".—[Official Report, 13 March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 58.]Our charge against him is that because the defence budget is exceptionable, and because the forces are not responsible for their own pay increase—it depends entirely on other people—the right hon. Gentleman has once again failed to safeguard the interests of defence. This is especially damaging since one of the most important causes of the exodus, and of the sapping of morale in the forces, is the continuing cuts in defence expenditure and the consequent inadequacy at their equipment.
It is clear that there is an immense amount for the incoming Government to do. The air defence of this country, the defence of the sea lanes, the nuclear deterrent—about which we look forward to hearing further instalments of the argument inside the Labour Party—the reserves, restoring the cutting edge of the front line in Germany, adequate ammunition and spare parts, and many other things, are all necessary. But the first thing to do is to deal with the pay and conditions of the Services. That must now be our overriding priority, because without that nothing else will work. First we should restore morale, and then we should restore material.
In summary, the greatest guilt of the Government in their defence policy over the past five years has been their craven refusal to act on the evidence of their own eyes. This has been particularly serious in two areas—first, in their failure to maintain Britain's defences in the face of a growing threat that they themselves have acknowledged in successive White Papers and, secondly, in their failure to 68 give the forces a fair pay deal and thus stop the disastrous exodus. Labour has done such damage that we shall have a huge task in repairing it. But repair it we must, since, as the Chief of the Naval Staff warned only last week,extremely grave dangers lie ahead".We shall treat the forces as they deserve. We shall see that they are properly paid and equipped. We shall deal honestly and fairly with our allies. We shall ensure a strong Britain and a stronger NATO. Only a stronger Western Alliance can provide security for this country. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said,Defence must be our first duty".The Government's failure in defence has been massive and manifest, and I ask the House to reject their policy.
§ Mr. Madden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that in the course of his remarks the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) accused the Government of fiddling the books in relation to defence expenditure. When challenged by the Secretary of State, the right hon. Gentleman said that he would seek to justify the charge in the course of his remarks. As he has failed to do so, I ask you to request the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, to withdraw his remarks, since to leave it on the record would be not only seriously to mislead the House but also to leave an entirely wrong impression in the minds of the public.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
As hon. Members will recollect, I indicated that I did not hear the actual remarks, but I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he would justify his references to the fiddling of the books. So long as it was a reference to the Government, and not a personal reference to any hon. Member, it would be in order.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to make it clear that it was, of course, a reference to the Government. I would not dream of making any such reference to the Secretary of State, as I think he well knows. I am sure that he did not take it personally.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'declines to take note of the White Paper because it provides for a massive increase in military expenditure to £8,588 million in the year 1979–80, which will add to world tension, divert resources from urgent social needs and contravenes Her Majesty's Government's election pledge to give active support to policies designed to redeploy armaments industries to the manufacture of alternative socially useful products, as advocated by Lucas Aerospace and other workers; and reaffirms Labour's commitment not to proceed to a new generation of nuclear weapons.'I suspect that Conservative Party leaders are thinking of making Soviet military power, and a still bigger increase in Britain's already tremendous arms spending, an election issue. They will make a big mistake if they do. There are few votes in war talk. The British people are not stupid. They have had a bellyful of war. Therefore, fire-eating speeches from, for instance, the Leader of the Opposition—the "iron maiden" as some people call her—the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I, Gilmour) and the militarist hard-liners will increase the feeling that these are dangerous people to have in charge when the hope of the world is to extend détente between East and West.
The British people are being subjected by Conservative Members of Parliament, and by Conservative newspapers, to psychological preparation for a war with Russia. That is the thing about which they talk most. The Daily Telegraph is full of it—for my sins I read it every morning. Today, its defence spokesman indulged in this psychological conditioning.
I am not saying that Conservative militarist hard-liners want war, because no one outside a mental institution wants war, especially today, when a country can be completely devastated in a few minutes of warfare. They do not want to see, as we do not want to see, humanity incinerated. But I believe that they are pursuing a policy which makes that conflagration more likely. They are preparing to win a war against Russia. Surely the aim must be to prevent it. Their ideas are based on the assumption that war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact powers is inevitable. 70 If one accepts that belief, the third world war will, in fact, become inevitable.
I do not like the Soviet Government any more than I like the American Government, which is precious little, but I do not believe that they want war. In the last war Russia lost 20 million people. I also do not believe that it wishes or intends to bomb or invade the West. It would be no benefit to her if she had service men stationed all over Europe, trying to suppress continual national uprisings. That would be a foolish game.
We hear so much about the Soviet military threat that one might think that the Pentagon had gone pacifist. In most weapon systems, such as aircraft carriers and advanced nuclear missiles, NATO is far more powerful than Russia. Last week the press was full of accounts of two great new Soviet aircraft carriers of 40,000 tons that were being built, but the Warsaw Pact countries have three aircraft carriers and NATO has 25, and several of the American aircraft carriers are each 83,000 tons. We must keep some sense of proportion.
The USSR is trying militarily to catch up with the West, for the same reasons as our war hawks say that we must spend more on arms. We should consider who first developed the atom bomb. America was first and Russia caught up. Next, America produced the hydrogen bomb and Russia followed suit. The American Polaris submarine was a similar instance. If NATO deploys the cruise missile and the neutron bomb, we can be certain that the Kremlin will soon do the same. I repeat that it is America which has made the military running.
There was a remarkable admission by the air correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, Air Commodore G. S. Cooper, on 5 March. He wrote:This report from American sources highlights the success of the United States triad concept, which compels the Soviet Union to budget for defence against three separate methods of strategic attack; from land, sea and air.That means that the American Government positively want Russia to increase its armed forces. They may consider that it will weaken her economically.
The Right-wing Tory extremists are suddenly falling in line with Communist 71 China. That is a touching love affair which deceives no one. Tory Members and their newspapers are hoping that China will fight Russia for them. The Labour Party national executive came out last month strongly against the sale of Harrier planes to China. Our main reason was that it would worsen relations between the West and Russia, undermine the relaxation of tension and ruin the prospects for the disarmament and nuclear arms limitation talks. We agree with trade with China but not with supplying her with weapons, and advanced ones at that. Countries can have non-military contracts with China if they refuse to sell her arms. America and Germany are receiving huge contracts from the Chinese Government and refusing to deal in weapons, and we should do the same. The Far East is a long way from Britain, but if war starts there it could finish up on our doorstep, and that would be far more costly than the loss of an arms deal.
A few minutes ago I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether in the past two months the Government have backed down from their previous commitment on nuclear weapons. At the last general election the Labour manifesto said:We have renounced any intention of moving towards a new generation of nuclear weapons.That pledge has been constantly repeated inside and outside this House, until 26 January. On that date, in a written reply, the Secretary of State said:The time has not yet come for a decision to be taken on whether to proceed with the new generation of strategic nuclear weapons to succeed the present Polaris force".—[Official Report, 26 January 1979; Vol. 961, c. 268.]That is back-tracking and a breach of a clear commitment. From what the Secretary of State has said this afternoon, it appears that we have not renounced that new nuclear generation. In reply to my question he gave a completely unsatisfactory reply. He said that it was much too soon to make a decision. A lot more will be heard about this.
I am speaking on the policy of the Labour Party, which has been decided democratically by its delegate conference. We are bitterly opposed to a new generation of nuclear weapons. In the same way as having American nuclear bases in Britain, they make our island extremely 72 vulnerable. If by design or accident a nuclear bomb falls on Leningrad or Moscow, the Russians will not set up their equivalent of a Royal Commission to discover where the bomb comes from. They will wipe out all possible sources. Aneurin Bevan once said that there was no label on a nuclear bomb. Ten missiles with hydrogen bomb warheads would destroy our crowded island, and the dying would envy the dead.
If the new generation of nuclear weapons that the Ministry of Defence is considering is the cruise missile with its electronic map of Europe, the Minister should admit, as American Government officials have, that fears of that missile have caused delays in the signing of the strategic arms limitation talks, stage II. I urge the Government to help stage III, which we hope will begin shortly, by offering to divest themselves of any intention to proceed with a new generation, whether of Polaris submarines or cruise missiles, and seek the removal of United States nuclear bases, as they promised in the 1974 election manifesto. Such an offer from us may greatly encourage the success of stage III of the SALT talks. Any suggestion of going back on the existing commitment would damage the prospects for nuclear disarmament.
The Defence Estimates show an increase from £7.1 billion last year to £8.6 billion this year. That is an increase in cash terms of 24 per cent. We all know roughly the figure of inflation. It is nothing like 24 per cent. Despite explanations that I have secured from statisticians, I am not satisfied that the real increase is only 3 per cent. But, even accepting that it is, I still say that seven of the 13 European NATO allies have welshed on their commitment to or at least failed to carry out the demands of NATO.
As evidence for this, I quote from the communication from the United States embassy in London, dated 13 March. This communication published a release from the office of Representative Les Aspin, who currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the Government Operations Committee, and is chairman of the Oversight Sub-Committee of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Those credentials are surely good enough for anyone. He says:It is now apparent that most of America's NATO allies have not kept their end of the 73 bargain. Of the 13 allies only six plan to increase their 1979 Defence Budgets by 3 per cent. beyond the inflation rate. Iceland is excluded because it spends nothing on NATO defence. Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey all plan Defence Budgets with a real growth substantially below 3 per cent., Canada and Portugal call for real reductions in their 1979 Defence Budgets.These countries already spend a lower proportion of their resources on arms than we do, and now we are increasing our expenditure by a higher percentage than they are. I am not saying that these countries should increase their spending to our level. On the contrary, I am saying that we should come down to theirs.
Of course, Conservative leaders want far greater spending on defence but they do not say how much. It might be interesting if Tory Front Bench spokesmen were to say how much they want to spend on arms. I suggest that if we were to quadruple our arms spending they would still cry "Not enough." Their arms spending is a bottomless pit.
I refer to a recent Conservative Party political programme on television which was a clever and dangerous piece of propaganda. It was devoted solely to a speech by that wily old bird, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, to whom I pay tribute. There has been a subsequent speech on the same theme by Admiral Sir Terence Lewin. Their main argument was that we should not "appease Russia" because that country was threatening the world. Just as we should have squared up to Hitler when a relatively small action by ourselves and others could have smashed him, so should we act together against the Soviet Union.
That parallel, like most parallels in politics, is dangerously misleading. In the 1930s there was one great Fascist military Power bent on seizing and conquering Europe. Today there are two super-Powers—America and Russia—neither of which wants war but each is so frightened of the other that each is preparing for it. Russian and American leaders both say that they can only negotiate from a position of superior military strength. Since it is impossible logically for both to be more powerful than the other, the arms race intensifies. It is the preparation for war which takes us nearer to the precipice.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) will agree with me that one of the most brilliant Left-wing pamphlets of the last generation was that of the present Leader of the House, who wrote one entitled "Guilty Men". In it he condemned the Conservative Party for failing to recognise the danger of Nazi Germany rearming. He criticised the Tories bitterly for failing to grasp the hand that the Soviet Union then stretched out to us to join with it to contain the Nazi menace.
The hon. Member today seem to be pursuing a neo-Chamberlainite policy—burying his head in the sand, refusing to recognise the danger, refusing to rearm to meet it, and when a hand is stretched out to help from the other side he refuses to grasp it. One might call him a member of the Red Cliveden set or a Red Fascist.
One of the most interesting aspects of this was the reaction of the Left wing of the Labour Party to the Sino-Vietnamese conflict. When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia we heard scarcely a squeak from the Tribune group. When the Chinese invaded Vietnam there were massive protests from the Tribune group, which were endorsed by the executive of the Labour Party. Naturally, one would think that in a conflict between two Marxist States some of the Labour Left wing would have been on one side and some on the other. But no. They all fell in with the crack of Moscow's whip. One cannot be surprised if certain sections of the press call the Tribune group "Moscow's agents". I do not call them that because I think that they do it for free.
The hon. Member for Salford, East tells us that we should not sell arms to China in the present situation. But unless the Chinese are strengthened—and they are weak, compared with the Soviet Union—Vietnam will become a base for Soviet imperialism against the whole of South-East Asia. I beg the hon. Member to realise that it is only the resistance of the national liberation movements that China is fomenting in Cambodia and Laos which prevents Vietnam from being a base for Soviet imperialism now. If the hon. Member does not understand that, 75 he will not begin to understand what I am talking about.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was not listening. In my last few words before I sat down, I explained the difference between the 1930s and today. Today there are two military Powers, neither wanting war but both so frightened of each other that they are preparing for it. The right hon. Gentleman, by his anti-Soviet tirade, is trying to prepare this country for a war against Russia, and I am not playing that game.
§ Mr. Amery
The hon. Member for Salford, East is wrong. There were two super-Powers in the 1930s—Nazi Germany and the Entente Cordiale of Britain and France. Neither wanted war, and the only reason why the Nazis went to war was that they thought that we were a pushover and that we would give in all along the line.
When the Prime Minister came back from Guadeloupe, he made a statement about the talks and took me to task because I said something to him on the lines of what I just said to the hon. Member for Salford, East about China. The Prime Minister asked whether I wanted to return to the climate of the cold war in the 1950s. How I wish we could return to the security which we then enjoyed.
I fear that the House, and certainly members of the public, may well have forgotten how, for 20 years after the war, the nuclear preponderance of the West ensured that no local conflict, such as the Berlin blockade or the Korean war, would ever escalate into a global war. Even as late as 1962 over Cuba, the Soviets had no choice but to back down in front of Western nuclear supremacy. In that period, although the Germans were not yet rearmed, a "tripwire" of forces was enough to guarantee our safety, not just in Europe but world-wide.
The milestones of the recession since then make sad reading. In the mid-1960s the Soviets acquired the capability of inflicting unacceptable damage on the United States. From that moment it became clear that no American President would risk the devastation of the American homeland by defending his allies, however close, with American 76 nuclear weapons. The supremacy of the West had gone. But we were not yet in danger. It was thought that our superior quality in conventional weapons was almost a match for the superior quantity of the Soviets. It was thought that our preponderance in theatre nuclear weapons presented an almost impenetrable second line. Behind this was the unquantifiable value of the strategic nuclear weapons, not only of the United States but, in due course, of Britain and of France. The Germans had rearmed and the Chinese had left the Soviet alliance.
There appeared to be a balance, an uneasy equilibrium. This was the basis of the doctrine of "flexible response"—that neither side could hope to overcome the other. It was an uneasy balance but, while it lasted, a healthy one. This was the strategic military basis for the political concept of détente. The Soviets had not given up their imperialist ambitions. The imperialist forces inside the Soviet Union, negative and positive, had not abdicated o but, as they could not break through the ring, Moscow decided that it was better to co-operate rather than to advance.
The White Paper is based on the assumption that the strategic doctrine of flexible response is still valid and the political concept of detente is also valid Neither is true. It may have been true for the period between 1968–69 and 1974–75, but it certainly is not true now. The Soviets used the time to modernise their forces, extend their ocean-going navy and develop a long-range airlift, to build up Cuban and East German mercenaries and to train national liberation forces. That happened while we—and this applies to the West, not just to the Secretary of State for Defence—slept. Not only did we sleep, but we pulled away all the elements of flexible response outside NATO and the West Pacific.
The withdrawal of the Americans from Vietnam, of the British, Australian and New Zealanders from Singapore and Malaysia and the rundown of the Seventh Fleet to a point where, according, to the latest Japanese defence White Paper, it can no longer protect the Pacific sea lanes, meant that there was no element of flexible response left in South-East Asia.
In the Middle East the British withdrawal from Aden and from the Gulf, 77 and the rundown of our forces in Cyprus, meant that there was no element of flexible response left in the Middle East. In Central and Southern Africa the breaking of our agreement with South Africa over Simonstown and the treating of South Africa and Rhodesia almost as enemies meant that no element of flexible response was left in that part of the world. We had withdrawn all the elements of flexible response from all the areas between the Western Pacific and Western Europe. No wonder the Soviets moved in. They moved into Vietnam and are now trying to turn it into a base for Soviet imperialism. They moved into Aden, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Angola and Mozambique and are stepping up support for SWAPO and for the Patriotic Front.
The survival of NATO—the White Paper is what one might call "Nato-centric", because it speaks only of NATO—depends, as does the survival of Japan, on the supply of oil, minerals and other raw materials from the Middle East, Southern Africa and South-East Asia. It is a Maginot Line mentality to believe that we can defend our interests only in Europe. But even if we could—here comes the rub—the doctrine of flexible response does not make sense any more even in Europe.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
I am listening with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman's analysis, but he said that Britain had been asleep at some period in recent history. He went on to detail a number of events that occurred while we were enveloped in this big sleep. Was any part of that time during the Tory period of office from 1970 to 1974? Was there a sudden awakening during that period, or did we continue to slumber, as he saw it, during the period of office of his Conservative right hon. Friends?
§ Mr. Amery
No, it is not a good point, but it is a good debating point.
When the Labour Government decided to withdraw from South-East Asia and the Persian Gulf, the withdrawal from the 78 Persian Gulf had not yet finally taken place when we came to office. We were advised that it was too late to reverse it. I think that was a mistake. I thought so, and, indeed, said so at the time. I do not wish to discuss my own personal position. I was a member of the Government who took the decision, so I must bear my share of the responsibility. But it is only a debating point, because the decision and preliminary steps were taken by the then Secretary of State for Defence, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The point I was trying to make is that even in NATO the doctrine of flexible response is no longer true. In conventional forces we are no longer ahead of the Soviet Union in quality. That may be the case in electronics, but I am not sure even about that. We are certainly not ahead in quantity, because the White Paper makes clear that the Soviets outnumber us by three-to-one in tanks and artillery and two-to-one in tactical aircraft. I am told that if the Soviets were to choose the time and place of an attack. they would outnumber us by 20-to-one.
In theatre nuclear weapons the Soviets now have the edge on us. The SS20 and the standoff missiles of the Backfire bomber are pieces of equipment we do not possess. A good deal of research has been undertaken in the United States, and no doubt in this country, as to what the response might be; but this has not been developed and it will be some years before it can be deployed. Even in the strategic nuclear field, if Dr. Kissinger is right—and he would not have said so unless he had pretty good information—the Soviets are now in a position to knock out 80 per cent. of the land-based missiles of the United States without destroying major cities. This poses an evident political problem which Dr. Kissinger outlined in his interview with The Economist. Furthermore, the industrial base for our arms industry has been so run down that it will be quite a business to replace it.
We have experienced over a generation a recession from supremacy through parity to inferiority in relation to the Soviet Union. The gap grows daily. The doctrine of flexible response is no longer tenable. In consequence, detente is still less possible. We are entering a high-risk period and we should have no illusions about that. The White Paper and 79 the Secretary of State's speech give no indication of the colossal change in the world balance of power that is taking place. The British public have not been told, the House of Commons is scarcely aware of it, but our friends and allies in the front-line positions are only too clear about it.
I shall say nothing about the hesitation of the Turks to accept American marines in the Iranian crisis or the hesitation of the Saudis to accept an American presence. But in Germany nothing is more striking than the revival of neutralism inside the governing party. Chancellor Schmidt, who is known as a good friend of the Atlantic Alliance, was foremost at Guadeloupe in saying "Don't prod the Russian bear". Why did he say that? It was not from his fear of the Soviet Union but from a lack of credibility in the ability of the West to defend Germany.
I do not say that the Soviets will exploit their temporary superiority by embarking upon a major attack. The margins of superiority that they enjoy are too narrow for that. But the House should expect that they will pursue a much more forward policy in the next year or two than they have pursued so far. I do not know whether that policy will take the form of an attempt to restore their position in Yugoslavia or an attack on the vulnerable flanks of NATO. But it looks as if their intention is to play it "long"—as might be said—in Europe and the Far East and concentrate on the oil of the Middle East, the resources of South-East Asia and the minerals of Southern Africa.
The Soviets have taken on board the lesson of 1973, which showed how vulnerable Western and Japanese industry are to any cut-off of their raw material supplies. They realise that they could bring us to our knees without running the risk of a nuclear shot. The signs are that they are moving almost daily into higher gear. Consider the little border war in the Yemen, the Ethiopian incursions into the Sudan, the guerrilla activity against Rhodesia and South-West Africa being stepped up, and a new Afrika Korps being formed in Angola, presumably to reconquer the old German colony of South-West Africa.
80 Where does our duty lie? The House should address itself to that question. First, we should tell the people the truth and not encourage illusions about detente and disarmament, as the Secretary of State was trying to do. We should face the fact that there is no future until we recover parity in any discussions about either detente or disarmament.
§ Mr. Litterick
I have listened to part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with some care. I am sure he is aware that last year the NATO Powers spent $40,000 million more than the Warsaw Pact Powers on military equipment and manpower, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the benefit of his thoughts on that matter and tell us how it is that such a massive superiority of expenditure produces a position of inferiority?
§ Mr. Amery
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the White Paper, he will see the extent of our inferiority. The White Paper is like a still photograph—it shows the picture of today. I have been trying to show the House—I hope that I have not been boring—where we started from, where we have come to and where we are going. Where we are going is pretty sinister.
The Vienna talks do not merit a paragraph in the White Paper. I shall not criticise the SALT II agreements, except to say that if they were to entrench Soviet nuclear superiority they would be doing us a great disservice. I have consulted experts on the subject and I cannot see how the number of MIRVed warheads that are placed on a missile can be verified. The protocol governing the deployment of the cruise missile, although only temporary, seems sinister because it will be easy to prolong and difficult to change it. The non-circumvention agreement seems sinister also. These matters seem to be stages towards the decoupling of Europe from the United States.
We should be wary of SALT II and certainly not praise it. It should provide 81 an added incentive to create, within the NATO organisation, a European defence community to cope with the problems that may face us if there is a SALT III. Leaving aside those details, our objective should be, at least, to restore parity between the West and the East. Britain cannot do that alone, but our combined diplomatic and defence effort could make an important contribution.
Traditionally, Britain has been the architect and animator of alliances. Let us use our influence to build up NATO to full strength. We have taken a step in that direction by the 3 per cent. increase in expenditure. General Haig believes that it should be 5 per cent., and I suspect that subsequent debates on the individual Services will show that he is right. But it is more important for NATO to realise that it cannot live if the raw materials on which industrial Europe and Japan depend are cut off. Therefore, a means must be devised by which we can undertake the protection of these vital interests. Ideally, the United States, Europe, Japan and China should get together. In practical terms, the only way that the matter can be approached in the House of Commons is for Britain to use its influence in that direction in the European Community, the Commonwealth and the relations that we have left with the United States.
Clearly, the most vulnerable and vital area is the Middle East. Iraq is now the gendarme of the Gulf. It is tied to the Soviet Union by treaty and equipped with forces scarcely less inferior to those with which the West had equipped the Shah of Iran. There is no other military force in the area that is comparable—wealth, yes, but force, no. I was glad to hear the American Defence Secretary, Dr. Harold Brown, saying that, if necessary, the United States would be prepared to defend the oil interests of the Gulf by force. If it comes to that, Europe should be alongside. Europe and Japan are even more dependent on the oil of the Gulf than is the United States.
We should make every effort to build a southern tier of those countries on both sides of the Red Sea which are friendly to us and sense the danger of Soviet imperialism.
§ Mr. Amery
No. In the southern tier on both sides of the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.
The situation is much less acute in Central and Southern Africa. The Foreign Secretary has talked about the danger of escalation against South-West Africa and Rhodesia. If we consider the logistics and the communications between Cuba, the Soviet Union and East Germany in relation to Central and Southern Africa, we must accept that nothing less than a major expeditionary force would be able to see off the combined forces of Rhodesia and South Africa. We do not need to contemplate intervention there. All that we need to do is to lift the sanctions on Rhodesia and lift the arms embargo on South Africa.
It is urgent that we should renew our relations with South Africa in the interests of defending the Cape route. I do not underrate the importance of the issue of apartheid, but compared with the issue of life and death that we are facing it is secondary.
In the Far East, our first task as members of the Commonwealth must be to give support to the ASEAN group. I hope that we shall heed the advice of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, perhaps the wisest Commonwealth statesman of all. I hope, too, that the Prime Minister regrets the brush-off that he gave Mr. Lee in talking about his 83 "illusions" of Soviet imperialism in the Indian Ocean. I welcome, as does South-East Asia, the Chinese intervention in Vietnam, as a means of preventing Vietnam becoming a base for a"domino"attempt against South-East Asia.
Next, we should encourage the rearmament of Japan. It is a rich country, and there is no reason why it should not take more responsibility for maintaining the sea routes on which it depends and so give the United States a little leeway to make a greater effort in the Indian Ocean.
Then, we should strengthen China in every way that we can and not be bogged down by ideological considerations. Do not let us forget that Chamberlain's brush-off of Litvinov in 1938 made us incapable of resisting Hitler at Munich and led directly to the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement. We have an opportunity of making a friend and ally today. We may never have it again.
Nothing would be more likely to deter Soviet adventurism than the knowledge that it could lead to a war on two fronts. That is why I thought that the Prime Minister was talking in Chamberlain terms when he spoke of not making the Soviets afraid of encirclement. They are not afraid of encirclement, any more than the Nazis were. If there were real encirclement, they might be afraid.
I salute the Chinese initiative in Vietnam. If they had not done what they did, they would have been exposed as "paper tigers". As it is, the question is whether the Russians are "paper bears". If the Chinese can do it, weak and exposed as they are, what a lesson it is for us. If only we had stood up to the Soviet and Cuban invasion of Angola or Ethiopia in the same way, how much safer the world would be today.
§ Mr. James Lamond
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I find his analysis of these matters interesting, though I do not often agree with him.
How can the right hon. Gentleman say that it would be right for us to send a military presence to Iran or any other friendly State in that area without intervention from any other country while he supports the Chinese aggression in Vietnam on the ground that if they had not done what they did Vietnam would have 84 become an area in which the Soviet Union could have had troops?
If the Soviet Union were doing the same thing in Vietnam as the right hon. Gentleman suggests that we should do in Iran, how could it be right for China to prevent that, when he would be the first to complain if the Soviet Union prevented us from doing it in Iran?
§ Mr. Amery
I apologise to hon. Members if my speech is growing longer because of the number of interventions. If the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) reads my speech, he will see the point that I have been making. If I try to answer him in detail now, it will take a very long time.
I come to the contribution that we have to make on the defence side to back up our diplomacy. There are many points covered in the White Paper on which I do not wish to comment. They will be the subject of later debates. I wish to deal with the matters that are scarcely dealt with, or are skated over, in the White Paper.
We must reach an early decision on how we are to maintain the independent British strategic nuclear capability. The fact that the Soviets are within a year or so of reaching nuclear superiority over the United States makes it more important than ever that we should have our own strategic nuclear capability. It confirms of the wisdom of Attlee, Churchill and others who carried forward that programme.
Unless we have a strategic nuclear capability of our own, we shall be open to blackmail. The correct form of the capability is a matter for professional judgment. If it is to be underwater. I have always doubted whether four boats would be enough. The French plan to have six and are talking of seven—as only one arm of their nuclear deterrent. The cost will be considerable but, spread over the 12-year life of the boats, it will not be impossible.
The cheapest way would be to buy off the shelf from the Americans. Perhaps the most effective way would be to work out something in co-operation with France and other European countries; but, in the absence of such co-operation, we may have to do it alone. It is therefore urgent to take a decision as it may be a long time before we can develop our own 85 new weapon. If it were seen by others that we were not going ahead, the perception of our refusal would knock out the credibility of even the deterrent that we have today.
We also need a reply to the theatre nuclear weapon—the SS20—and the Backfire—again under our own control. Since these two weapons are deployed on Soviet soil, we cannot expect the United States to hit back at the Soviets if they were to hit at us.
When I see that two American brigades have been put into the Northern Army Group, I cannot help drawing the conclusion that these are pegs on which they will hang divisional reinforcements to fight a deep penetration battle as an alternative to a nuclear battle. Therefore, we. must have our own tactical theatre nuclear weapons under our own control.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) raised the whole question of reserves. All that I wish to say is that I gather that about 20,000 men leave the Armed Forces every year and there is, apparently, no liability on them for refresher training once they have left. If we provided for them to have such training, it would not be long before we had the elements of a second British corps.
In the same context, I plead for a strengthening of the TAVR and for attention to be paid to the call of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Sir G. Rippon) for a civilian volunteer force. We could be confronted in a crisis, even short war, with a serious fifth column problem.
But the essential and urgent issue is to have some force to intervene outside NATO. The eyes of the storm are in the Middle East, Southern Africa and South-East Asia. The main burden will fall on the Americans, but there is a need for a British contribution. It would be easier and relatively cheap if we still had the bases that we once occupied in the Far East and in the Gulf, but there is no use crying over spilt milk.
There is action that we could take that would involve no cost. The British, Americans, French and Dutch frequently exercise their navies in the Indian Ocean. Could we not establish a permanent presence, co-ordinated between us? Could we not also announce the formation of a 86 small task force, consisting of an amphibious ship, with a commando embarked, with half a dozen frigates or destroyers and a submarine, available at 48 hours' notice?
Next—this would involve some cost—could we not reconstitute the Joint Airborne Task Force as it existed before 1974? It was a remarkable force—the envy of NATO. That would involve expense because, of our 60 Hercules aircraft, I gather that only 40 are ever operational, and I understand that our parachutists do not undergo regular parachute training at present.
But there is a real need, which goes beyond these immediate suggestions, to build up a mobile field force of brigade group size, deployable by sea or air and supported by comprehensive logistic arrangements outside the NATO area. It would not be committed to NATO, but it would be available to NATO in the event of a European emergency. That is not beyond our ability and capacity. There would be professional objections. The Services have taken such a hammering that they have forgotten the inherent flexibility of sea and air power. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our neglect of the Mediterranean.
The best way to finance the increase that I propose would be prudent management which increased the GNP. The Japanese spend only 1 per cent. of their GNP on defence, but it amounts almost to as much as the 4½ per cent. that we spend. The alternative is to cut waste. Let us not forget that Mr. Attlee's Government spent 11 per cent. of our GNP on defence. They were in so many ways more patriotic than the present Labour Government.
If my analysis is rejected, if the danger is not as I suggest, what I propose would be a waste. But, as I stand here, I am astonished at my own moderation.
I apologise for detaining the House for so long, but I come to one last point. A turnabout from appeasement to resistance involves real risks. The Soviets know that we are potentially much wealthier and technologically much more advanced than they are and that, once started, we would easily catch up and in due course overtake them. Hence, if we adopt the right course, there will be pressure in Moscow to bring matters to a 87 head. But, if we are honest with ourselves, have we any choice? If we stand still and do nothing while they accelerate in their development, we shall be reduced to a state of military impotence which will mean either defeat or surrender without fighting. If we allow the oil and minerals to be taken away from us, we shall be besieged and starved into surrender. But, if we stand up now, there is a very good chance of saving the peace.
The uncertainties of nuclear war are great. We can still bring superior power to bear locally in threatened areas. We could well give the Soviets pause. They are cautious people. They want the fruits of war without war, if possible.
Our Chinese friends say that war is inevitable. If we go on as the Government are going on, the answer is "Yes", it will be inevitable. But it need not be inevitable. We have the strength to stem the tide of aggression and I think that we just have the time. The only question is: have we the will?
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that, although this is a two-day debate, there is a substantial list of right hon. and hon. Members who are anxious to take part. They certainly will not be accommodated unless there is real restraint in the length of speeches. I appeal for brevity.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) will be given every opportunity to speak for the Conservative Party during the coming general election. His exhibition of nineteenth century sabre rattling would be nothing but favourable to the cause of the Labour Party.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he wished that we now had the security of the 1950s. Does he recall the 1957 defence White Paper? That White Paper had the purpose of running down all conventional forces and of relying simply on the nuclear deterrent. That White Paper was the worst blow that our Armed Forces ever suffered, and it came from a Conservative Government. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about the 88 security of the 1950s, I earnestly suggest that if he consults that 1957 defence White Paper he will not make such a howler again.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the 1957 White Paper was an absolute disaster from which many of our present troubles stem?
§ Mr. Cronin
I am glad to have the support of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). I agree in almost every way. I am sure that Opposition Members in their hearts would not reject the suggestion that the 1957 defence White Paper was an act of incredible folly perpetrated by the Conservative Government and that we are still attempting to recover from its effects.
I turn now to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour). I note that he has left the Chamber. That rather surprises me. I should have thought that such a speech, which struck me as being provocative in its irresponsibility and slanders, would have prompted the right hon. Gentleman to have stayed in the Chamber to defend it from attack.
§ Mr. Cronin
I hope that he will be careful how he corrects that speech. It did him no credit. The right hon. Gentleman descended to the depths that he has achieved on many occasions in the past—indeed, every year for the past few years.
First, the right hon. Gentleman said that there was no justification for any defence cuts. My recollection is that the Conservative Government made defence cuts in 1972. In 1975 there was 25 per cent. inflation, due entirely to the reckless expansion of the money supply by the Conservative Administration. Never before in peacetime had the money supply been so madly expanded. It went up by 24 per cent. in 1971–72 and by 28 per cent. in 1972–73. Inflation was the reason for defence cuts. To say that only defence should be exempt from those cuts seems to be the height of folly. But that has been said by the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. Will the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) 89 confirm that it is Conservative Party policy that defence expenditure should take priority over all other Government expenditure? That, in so many words, is what was said by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham.
§ Mr. Cronin
In other words, defence expenditure takes priority over any other Government expenditure. It is good to know that we have that commitment from the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what, in his opinion, takes higher priority than defence?
§ Mr. Cronin
I am sure that everyone would think in terms of health, social security, social services and education.
§ Mr. Cronin
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), who intervened from a seated position, is making a fundamental error—
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Surely the highest form of social security is defence. Unless a country is adequately defended and properly protected, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Secretary of State for Defence, said, all the other money could and would be wasted and squandered.
§ Mr. Cronin
The most important aspect of defence expenditure, if it is to be effective, is that it should be enough for the purpose. I suggest that we have enough expenditure for the purpose.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Cronin
I really cannot give way to any more interventions, otherwise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not be able to fulfil my commitment to you to make my speech as short as possible.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I assure the hon. Member that I shall not object if he refuses to give way any more.
§ Mr. Cronin
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said that a Conservative Government would have given the Armed Forces an immediate 32 per cent. increase last year. What reckless irresponsibility! What effect would that have had on trade union settlements in the course of the winter? Fortunately, we are coming through this period of exaggerated claims by some of the unions. We are weathering the storm of trade union difficulties. But what would the effect have been if we had given 32 per cent. straight away to the Armed Forces?
§ Mr. Churchill
Does the hon. Member seek to justify the penalisation of a group of workers who have forgone the right to strike and to organise in trade unions? Does he insist that they should be subjected to a 32 per cent. cut in their pay compared with other categories of workers purely because the Government are prepared to take advantage of their situation?
§ Mr. Cronin
They were never subjected to a 32 per cent. cut. They simply slipped back, like other people—the nurses, for instance.
§ Mr. Cronin
I cannot carry on this dialogue with the hon. Member for Stretford while he remains seated. I am suggesting that if the Armed Forces had been given a 32 per cent. increase it would have had an intolerably provocative effect on the trade union movement.
My final comment on the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham—and I applied the same stricture to the hon. Member for Stretford when he was a defence spokesman—is that he talked about the impairment of the morale of the Armed Forces. He put forward some plausible arguments. Obviously, they have suffered in their pay. They are unhappy about their equipment and about undermanning. These are legitimate complaints. However, the right hon. Member left out one very important aspect of all this, which is that the worst damage is done to the morale of the Armed Forces by the reckless irresponsibility of and false speeches made by Opposition Front Bench 91 spokesmen. I suggest that they have no cause to be proud of what they have done. We have to try to approach this debate rationally, and I hope that if the hon. Member for Stretford listens to me carefully he will learn something, be a wiser man and perhaps be restored to being a Front Bench defence spokesman.
I do not think that anyone questions that there is a threat from Warsaw Pact forces. Anyone who knows about the history of the past 40 years and who has seen country after country in Europe overcome by Soviet forces must feel some disquiet. The more recent adventures of the Soviet Union also cause disquiet. One has only to think of Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia and Vietnam to feel it.
I do not believe that the Soviet Union wants war, but I should have thought that, on the basis of her present military capability, we ought to bear in mind the possibility that the Russians will go in for some adventure likely to lead to war or the threat of war.
There are favourable factors. As the White Paper points out, there has been progress in SALT II, and apparently the mutual balanced force reductions are being held up by a problem of mathematics, which I hope will soon be resolved. But there is no escaping the fact that the Soviet leaders are pursuing what they call the continuity of the ideological struggle and are carrying on an expansionist foreign policy.
The capability of the Warsaw Pact Powers, obviously, is extended well beyond what would be necessary for defensive purposes. I sympathise with the points of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), but I think he was a bit selective in his statistics when he talked about carriers, because in practically all other aspects of armed forces the Soviet Union has considerable superiority.
I find it very disturbing that Soviet defence spending is between 11 per cent. and 13 per cent. of Russia's gross national product and has been increasing since 1973 by about 4 per cent. a year.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend the figure out of my head. The fact remains, however, that there has been an increase of 4 per cent. per year.
The Opposition make a fundamental error in their assessment of defence when they keep talking about parity. The right hon. Member for Pavilion insisted that we should have parity not merely in conventional weapons but in nuclear weapons, too. I suggest that that is totally unnecessary. All that is required is armed forces, both conventional and nuclear, of sufficient strength to deter the Russians from war—not to take them on at their own game—and that does not require parity or anything like it.
If the rulers of the Soviet empire see that an action which they might think of could lead to war and could escalate into the use of nuclear weapons, they will not take it. Deterrence is not a matter of parity. It is a matter of having adequate armed forces. It does not require parity.
The risk to the Soviet Union is that if it takes on some adventure which might lead to war it has to cope with the United States, which is well deployed in Europe and has a tremendous nuclear back-up. I suggest that we have to ensure that the United States maintains its commitment to Europe. To do that we have only to make sure that we comply with its wishes by making a reasonable contribution. It is quite unnecessary to talk about our requiring to have parity with the Soviet forces or having to contribute towards parity.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has retreated from that. In any sense of the language, parity means equality.
It is important to ensure that we have the United States continuing its total commitment to Europe. To do that, we have simply to make sure that we make a reasonable contribution to the defence of Europe. If that can be done, I think that the Soviet Union will find it too risky to indulge in any dangerous adventure in 93 Europe. But we have to do at least as much as we are doing at present, and I suggest that there is no case for any substantial reduction.
People who want unilateral conventional weapons cuts are increasing the risk of nuclear war. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East wants to reduce conventional weapons. In doing so he is bringing on the danger of the horror of nuclear war which he, more than anyone else, wants to avoid.
I suggest, however, that we are getting rather bad value for our money in NATO. We ought to have very much more standardisation. I appreciate that there are immense difficulties about this. There have been some successes. The Tornado aircraft, which is now flooding into the RAF in great numbers—
§ Mr. Cronin
They will come next year. Last-minute touches have to be made to them. They will come next year, very much to the delight of the RAF.
I suggest that we need much more standardisation. In terms of defence equipment, NATO is a sort of military tower of Babel. Everyone is using different weapons and different equipment, and something must be done about it. The last SACEUR, General Goodpaster, said in 1974 that we were losing about 30 per cent. of the money spent on equipment because of this lack of standardisation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should continue his efforts to ensure standardisation in NATO. That would probably amount to a handsome saving in money.
If one understands what the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition says, defence will be an important issue at the coming election. It is important that the man on the bus to Clapham understands the issue and that he should not be taken in by what the right hon. Member for Pavilion says. No impression should be given that a future Labour Government will cut defence any further. The Conservative Party, at the next election, will spell out the figures of the relative superiority of the Warsaw Pact Powers in central Europe. There is great danger that the electorate will not accept further talk of cuts by a Labour Government. They 94 will consider their security very highly. The Conservative Party will not hesitate to bring out all the facts. I warn my right hon. and hon. Friends that we must avoid giving any impression that there will be further cuts in the Armed Forces by a Labour Government. This would lead, I fear, to serious electoral difficulties.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) is one of the more measured contributors to these debates from the Benches opposite. Of all his hon. Friends, he is one who usually makes a correct analysis, although we may not share the same conclusions.
I want to continue the generous atmosphere in which I began by paying a compliment to the Government. In one sense, the presentation of this White Paper is a considerable improvement on that of its predecessors. The detailed survey of the present capability and projects is welcome, especially the specification on equipment. There is more detail in this year's White Paper. That should be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides. It is most useful and most informative. But the White Paper still lacks detailed comparative assessments with the equipment, manpower, research and development activities of the Warsaw Pact countries.
The annual report of the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff to Congress on the defence posture of the United States always sets out the position clearly. It is a superior document to our White Paper in two regards. First, it is not afraid of identifying weaknesses as well as strengths. Secondly, it assesses capability in comparative rather than absolute terms.
So often, our White Papers are complacent documents which simply list our equipment, the number of guns, aircraft and ships. This, in isolation, is of little value. The American documents generally set out a more comparative analysis and are much more helpful to legislatures.
The emphasis in the White Paper on detente and disarmament does not inspire confidence that our impoverished defences will be strengthened. Like my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), my eye was caught by page 5, 95 which states that the Government's objectiveis general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.It seems that the Government have made a pretty good job of this objective unilaterally, without any international supervision. The undue emphasis at the beginning of the White Paper on these matters is misplaced.
Turning from the presentation to the content and policy of the White Paper, I should like to refer to three aspects. The first is the allocation of the defence budget between the three Services. The second is the priority and importance which I, like many hon. Members, place on research and development in defence. The third is to give the Government some hints on policy towards strategic arms limitation talks.
On the allocation of the defence budget, I point out that the year-on-year percentage allocation among the three forces, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, has been roughly constant. In reply to my parliamentary question the Secretary of State said that this year the Navy will be receiving 28 per cent. of the budget, the Army 35 per cent., the RAF 28 per cent. and other sectors 9 per cent. It is a shame that the White Paper makes no reference to the allocation of the annual defence budget among the various forces. It is broken down under various other headings but not among the three Services.
Looking back over the past 20 years, from the figures given by the Secretary of State in his answer on 6 February one sees that the year-on-year change in the allocation to each Service has rarely been more than 1 per cent. Is this a coincidence? Or are there good objective reasons, based on an assessment of the needs of each Service, for these differences? I suspect that it is more for the convenience of the Chiefs of Staff and to avoid an annual haggling match over the proportion of the defence budget they receive. It would be reassuring to know that the allocation to each Service is decided on the basis of objective need rather than convenience.
For a number of years I have taken the view that the allocation to the Royal 96 Air Force has been insufficient. I believe that the urgent need of any Government at the present time is to rebuild our air defences. That should be the priority in our defence expenditure. The present allocation to the Royal Air Force, which has barely changed, should be increased. Even though the largest proportion of equipment expenditure—just under £1½ billion—goes on air systems, there is a desperate need to rebuild our airborne defence capability. When one thinks of the Tornado project and the programme ahead, the purchase of the two types of Tornado aircraft, the tri-national Tornado training establishment and the proper remuneration of trained pilots, one must recognise that this will demand more resources and a greater proportion of the overall defence budget.
It is also hoped that a new tactical combat aircraft will be coming on line in the 1980s. Although reference is made in the White Paper to the work of the independent European Programme Group and consultation with other European countries on the design capability of this aircraft, there is little indication of the strain that will be placed on the defence budget over the next 10 years, or when decisions will be made about production of this aircraft and its coming into service. I hope that the Minister will be able to say more about this aircraft, which, I believe, is the AST403. It has been the subject of some parliamentary questions to which there have been stonewalling replies over the last year.
I wish to make some remarks about the importance of research and development in defence. In the forthcoming year about £1,160 million has been allocated for research and development in defence. This amounts to about 14 per cent. of our total defence budget. Of this total, only £167 million, just under 2 per cent., will go on research. The remainder is for the development of approved systems, and relatively little will be spent on experimental work to obtain technological improvements and innovation in defence. The Soviet Union, by comparison, has been spending up to 30 per cent. of its defence budget on research and development. The pay-off is to be seen in a generation of conventional weapons which are superior, in many cases, to our own and in the advances of high technology, such as satellite technology. Will the Minister say what effort is being made to 97 spearhead advances in our research and development in defence?
A new high-level defence research and intramural resources committee has been established. I should like an assurance that it will be actively sponsoring and putting forward programmes in five areas critical to our future defence capability. The first is satellite technology. The second is the futuristic area of high-energy laser and charged particle beam technology. The third and fourth are two areas of more immediate importance to us—electronic counter-measures and electronic counter-counter-measures, where, even in the White Paper, the superiority of the Soviet Union is recognised. The firth, and by no means least, is anti-submarine warfare technology.
It is important and worth while to pay tribute to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force anti-submarine units which have worked so hard over the last year and in previous years. However, we have an important decision to make over the next few years about our future submarine nuclear fleet. If there are major advances by the Soviet Union or the Western allies in anti-submarine warfare detection, this may imperil or question our judgment and our decision. So far, the submarine remains the most undetectable launching pad for nuclear missiles and there has been no major break-through in detection technology, but if such a breakthrough were to come we should seriously have to reassess our priorities before this expensive and all-important decision is made.
There is a need for greater commitment to research if we are to counter Soviet innovation and ensure that new equipment is not obsolete before it is brought into service. A major responsibility therefore lies with the Secretary of State, with the Controller of Research and Development Establishments and Research, and with the new high-level committee which has been set up if we are to avoid a gap in our technological and defence capability.
I should like to turn now to the Government's policy on SALT II and any future discussions on strategic arms limitation. I know that the White Paper says that the Government will support efforts to bring SALT II negotiations to a successful conclusion, but the Secre- 98 tary of State's principal objective should be to ensure an effective role and mutual strategic arms limitation rather than a piece of paper with high-level or presidential signatures.
The undertakings and the experience of SALT I have shown that the Soviet Union had 50 per cent. more intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the United States and that even the superiority which the United States enjoyed at the time the agreement was signed in missiles with multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles has been more than whittled away by the Soviet deployment of similar missiles in the intervening years.
Within five years, it is likely that the Soviets will have a commanding lead in strategic nuclear capability and, through the new class of Typhoon nuclear submarines, will probably have superior launching facilities before the Ohio class is even put into production in the United States. My conclusion is that the Soviet Union used SALT I to its advantage and that we must not allow it to do so with SALT II or future agreements.
Since the British Government are taking an active part in the discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union and presumably—because they have been kept informed—have some influence on the conduct of those negotiations and the conclusions, I would set out three objectives which the British Government should have in influencing those talks.
First, there should be concessions on the limitation of Soviet medium-range missiles aimed at Europe. It is of little or no value to us if the Soviets agree to decrease their intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the United States but at the same time steadily build up the number of SS series missiles aimed at Europe.
Secondly, strategic arms limitation agreements must not be used by the Soviet Union as breathing spaces in which to build up its cabability in an area or a system of defence in which it is deficient. An example which springs to mind is the fact that the Soviets have been building up to 50 long-range bombers a year while the United States has ceased production entirely and has, of course, cancelled the B2 project.
99 Thirdly, there must be more satisfactory systems for implementing the provisions of these agreements, for exchanging data and for observing manoeuvres. The disagreements which have recently arisen between West European States and the Warsaw Pact countries over the manpower figures for the Warsaw Pact in implementing mutual and balanced force reductions illustrate once again the need to ensure that the provisions of those agreements are not circumvented by different definitions of what constitutes a soldier or a missile carrier.
It is of little or no value to have a specific list of arms which should be limited if, when it is put into effect, there are differences of opinion about the definitions set out in the agreement. That makes a mockery of any agreement and raises the threat that it is simply a piece of paper with presidential signatures rather than an effective and valuable international treaty.
I hope that the Secretary of State will take these points on board. Even if he does not, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will pay serious heed to some of the anxieties and pressures which hon. Members on this side would like incorporated into our defence strategy. We look to the next Tory Government to take these points on board and to restore our defence capability to a level which not only ensures our national security but also makes the Soviet Union realise that real strategic arms limitation is in its interests as well as in ours.
§ 6.36 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
The debate so far has oscillated between excessive pessimism, in the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), and excessive optimism, as expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), associated with a curious amendment on the Order Paper which, although its movers undoubtedly wish to achieve a safer world, would have precisely the opposite effect.
There is no question but that the stability of the last 30 years has been achieved by the existence of NATO and the fact that the Soviet Union has been faced with a deterrent power which has inhibited its military and political objec- 100 tives. There is now nuclear parity between the two super-Powers.
I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Pavilion on his statement that we have reached a point at which a genuine debate must start on the whole area of flexible response. This theory, which has held NATO together for a number of years and has made the American nuclear guarantee credible, is now in some doubt because of the way in which the Russians have deployed intermediate nuclear weapons in central Europe. Therefore, this Russian capability has to be offset.
I am not saying at this moment that I believe that the theory of flexible response would not be operational were the Soviet Union to attack. That would be a serious thing to say. What I am saying is that, in the 1980s and 1990s, we might reach that state of affairs if we do not take effective action.
There are a number of real options here. In the Assembly of NATO parliamentarians, we have had quite a debate on this subject. The opinion seems to be that this gap can be rectified by the deployment of the cruise missile option. As the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) will know, I do not take that view—at least, I am somewhat hesitant about it—but I am certain that it is essential that we keep our own independent nuclear capability.
It would be wrong for this country to take the decision to abandon it. I see no reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have to make a decision about another generation of a British independent deterent now.
No, it has nothing to do with the general election. I do not believe that the decision needs to be taken now. I believe that the Polaris echelon will remain operational for at least another 15 to 20 years. By far the cheapest option would be for us to maintain the Polaris nuclear capability.
The Americans are considering moving to another generation, but they are stockpiling the capability for Polaris. I think that it would be possible for us to reach some accommodation with the Americans 101 —a follow-on from the Nassau agreement—which would allow us access to that know-how and which would enable us to retain these vessels in service for the next 10 to 15 years.
However, that raises one great difficulty. I believe that it means that if Polaris is to remain effective we might have to consider deploying one more vessel. I greatly regret that the decision to cancel the fifth Polaris submarine was taken by a Conservative Government—
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I thought that the fifth Polaris was cancelled by the then Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), and that when we returned to office in 1970 it was not restored to the programme.
The decision was taken in 1965. I therefore withdraw what I said. I have my dates slightly in error, because I am trying to deploy a difficult argument.
So Polaris may well be the best option for us to consider. There are a number of alternative options, but all of them, I believe, would be more expensive.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) was most cautious when asked about the levels of defence expenditure. In spite of an exchange, he did not elucidate too much on the matter, although on previous occasions he has given some indication of the percentage increase he would favour. I submit, however, that the right hon. Gentleman should also become a little clearer about how he sees the follow-on generation of nuclear weapons. This is a critical question because, given that, we would be able to judge just how much any increase in defence expenditure would be consumed by a new generation of nuclear weapons.
In my option, on the figures that I have worked on, I believe that we could keep the present system running roughly for the next 15 years or more at about 2 to 2.5 per cent. of our defence budget. If we go for an American system—the one the Americans are considering deploying—that could mean that about between 7 and 9 per cent. of the defence budget would be spent on nuclear weapons. I think that that could be done only at the expense of conventional weapons, and 102 that would be a profound mistake. If we are to bring an element of reality in the 1980s and 1990s back to the theory of flexible response, we have to maintain our conventional capability.
Therefore, I would very much favour my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State taking no decision about the follow-on from Polaris now. There is no need to take that decision until well into the 1980s, or even the 1990s, provided that we can reach some arrangement with the United States. That would be the best course by far for us to try to follow.
My hon. Friends have tabled an amendment which would bring about the instability which I understand they wish to avoid. In the amendment they refer to amassive increase in military expenditure to £8,588 million".In moving the amendment my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East implied that somehow, according to his figures, the United States and its allies in NATO had spent more money on defence and deployed more forces than the Soviet Union. I do not know from what base line my hon. Friend started his argument, but there can be little doubt that in the past 10 years the Soviet Union has developed a powerful military machine and that it intends to deploy it for political purposes. It is now doing so around the world. There is the real possibility that if we do not take the right decisions now there will be an irreversible shift in the balance of power in favour of the Soviet Union. In those circumstances, the policies being advocated by my hon. Friends would bring disaster.
I am, however, pleased by the declaration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and by the defence White Paper that he and the Government do not intend to go down that road. Although the increase in defence expenditure has been derided by the Opposition, in my judgment the increase should be a reason not for censure but for congratulation. We have kept our side of the bargain by making a 3 per cent. increase in spending within NATO at a time when the Americans hesitated. The Americans were keen to increase their defence expenditure, but they hesitated at the post, although ultimately, due to the influence of Congress, they went ahead in the right direction.
103 I do not want to give the impression either to the Conservatives or to my hon. Friends that I believe that war is inevitable, I do not. We can deter the Russians and we can reach arms control agreements with them. SALT II is an example of negotiations being successfully completed in a given area. The MBFR conference may show a breakthrough in the next few months. I believe that arms control is obtainable, but it must be based firmly in defence, which is the only language that the Soviet Union understands, and when it understands that message it will become interested in arms control and eventually, I hope, in disarmament.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (Newham, North-East)
Last night BBC Television screened "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner". I could not help being reminded of that when listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Horn-church (Mr. Williams). He has a lonely role indeed when he tries to talk sense from the Labour Back Benches on the subject of defence. I congratulate him, but I sympathise with him. His will probably be the only Back Bench speech from the Government Benches in this debate that reflects a responsible attitude to our defence problems. He has a long distance to run if he is to convince many of his hon. Friends to do likewise. Even so, I disagree with him in his kind remarks about the White Paper.
We are holding this debate, by coincidence, just before the debate that may well bring down the Government on Wednesday. Although it is a coincidence, I hope that there is something significant about the fact. I hope that in some way our deliberations today and tomorrow will help to promote the argument about defence policy during the general election campaign. The defence of our country ought to be one of the major issues in the election. For some elections past that has not been the case. Neither foreign affairs nor defence has played a substantial part in the political dialogue. Politicians of all parties have tended to be too parochial, and are probably underestimating the deep concern that many people feel about the preservation of peace and of our basic freedoms.
104 There are four worrying trends illustrated by the White Paper. They are not trends peculiar to the year that has just passed; they are trends that have accelerated during the last year.
The first is that the armed forces of the Soviet Union are becoming still larger and stronger than those of the West. The second is that within the Western Alliance Britain is seen to be—and blamed—by her allies for not playing her full part. The third is that the cumulative effect of defence cuts, the letdown on pay and the general feeling that the Government and the people do not really know enough, or care enough, about what our Service men are doing is leading to the critical drainage of trained and experienced men and women from the forces. That drainage includes many middle-ranking officers and NCOs who have reached positions of responsibility and who had the potential to give further leadership and take higher responsibility. These are the people who are opting out.
The fourth and most dangerous trend of all, which is in the background, is the creeping success of Soviet militarism in various parts of the world. If, in the coming election, we had only to argue about the defence policy described in the White Paper, that would be sufficient reason for a change of Government in this country, but in this sphere of defence we do not have to rest—I regret this— simply on what is said in the White Paper; we have to look at what will be said in the Labour Party manifesto, which has not yet been finally drafted.
It was not the Secretary of State but the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), the chairman of the Labour Party, who moved the amendment, who, in terms of Labour Party theology, was speaking for the Labour Party. I hope that his views will not prevail in their entirety when the manifesto is drafted, but I certainly believe—and I regret this—that his views will have a considerable impact on the compromise reached between the Cabinet and the national executive committee in drawing up that manifesto.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams
The right hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the Labour Party is not that recent. He must know 105 that my hon. Friend the Member for Sal-ford, East (Mr. Allaun) spoke for himself and for a group on the national executive committee of the Labour Party. It does not follow from that that he spoke for the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Prentice
The hon. Member for Salford, East speaks for a majority on the national executive committee. He also speaks for a majority in the annual conference of the Labour Party, which last went on record with a definitive statement on defence in 1976. In the document "Labour's Programme 1976", which dealt with defence, it was said that in addition to those cuts in our defences already made by the Government there should be further cuts of at least £1,000 million a year at 1975 prices. The statement including that objective was approved by the curious mechanism of the block vote by a majority of 5,883,000 to 122,000. The hon. Member for Horn-church shakes his head, but "Labour's Programme 1976" was approved by that majority.
That document came from a body set up by the national executive committee, which studied the matter for about 10 weeks. During that time I resigned from the working party because I could not accept its basic premise. In the end, because of the pressure within the national executive committee, that document was accorded only the status of a discussion document. That is the truth. It is not the policy of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Prentice
I understand that there was a discussion document. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornchurch on resigning from the working party. However, I am referring to the policy statement itself, called "Labour's Programme 1976", which contained the commitment to which I referred. That was a commitment to cut defence expenditure by at least £1,000 million a year at 1975 prices. That is on the record. What is more, I understand from leaks from Transport House—which is a leaky establishment—that a further working party, at the end of 1977 or early in 1978, updated the figure to around £1,800 million a year. This was not a matter of public documentation, so I am open to criticism.
106 The Labour Party manifesto will be worked out by a horse-trading deal between the Cabinet and the national executive committee, though I expect that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence, and their colleagues will be able to resist such suicidal commitments as the ones that I have outlined, but they will have to give something away in return. A further leak from Transport House last week, referred to in the Sunday Telegraph of 25 March, suggested that they will be giving away, in return, a firm commitment to the removal of all American nuclear bases from Britain.
I do not know whether they will do that or whether they will include a figure for a cut in defence expenditure, but it is clear that the options before the country in the general election will not include the defence White Paper that we are now discussing.
The policy of the manifesto to some extent—none of us yet knows to what extent—will have been shifted further towards the point of view represented by the hon. Member for Salford, East.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. James Wellbeloved)
The right hon. Gentleman recalls that the election manifesto on which he stood at the general election in October 1974 said that it was the aim of the Labour Party to reach a situation in which American nuclear bases would be removed from the United Kingdom under multilateral disarmament arrangements. That remains the policy of the Labour Party, even though the right hon. Gentleman has gone to other parts.
§ Mr. Prentice
If that is so, and it is seen by the Under-Secretary as part of the process of multilateral disarmament, he should bear in mind that the viewpoint of the chairman of the Labour Party and those who agree with him is not multilateral disarmament but unilateral disarmament. We would all like to see multilateral disarmament, if it could be properly negotiated. That is not the issue, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I am suggesting that the whole country had better look carefully at the fine print in the defence paragraph, and in all the paragraphs, of the Labour Party 107 manifesto when it comes, presumably, in a week or two's time.
The White Paper contains little discussion of the global strategic situation. That is why I thought that the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was such a valuable contribution to the debate. We should not debate the subject entirely in a NATO-oriented way. We should have regard to the total threat to our democratic way of life which is presented by the current strategy of the Soviet Union throughout the world. The exposition of this, apart from that of my right hon. Friend, to which I would like to refer, is the one given by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Haig, when he addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday 22 February this year. The gist of the document is his statement that theinterrelationship between events occurring outside NATO's geographic boundaries and the security of the alliance itselfwas the most important challenge facing the Western Powers.
In the list of last year's events, General Haig includedThe emergence of Soviet client States in Afghanistan, South Yemen and Ethiopia; the development of Soviet naval and air bases in Aden and Ethiopia; the growth of Soviet involvement in southern Africa; and the invasion of Cambodia by Soviet-sponsored Vietnamese forces.I shall not quote other activities, because the events of that period should be well known to all hon. Members.
General Haig used a phrase that is pregnant with meaning for us all. He said that risks had been created of a'syndrome of inevitability' in which even historically friendly Third World States adjust their stances to accommodate those whom they perceive as the winning side".Surely we should be discussing that above all.
This year we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of NATO. The main architect of NATO was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. If he were around today, he would not think much of those who are sitting on the Treasury Bench, and even less of those who are sitting on the Government Back Benches.
The lesson of those 30 years is that when the West has been united and when 108 its firmness of purpose has been clear there has not been a shooting war. Elsewhere, where the situation is more vague and loose, Soviet aggression succeeds, step by step.
The final paragraph of General Haig's evidence to the Committee states thatThese effects reinforce the need for a concerted Western approach to the management of global Soviet activities. This requires of the West well co-ordinated regional policies which encompass Western political, economic and security assets as integral components of a comprehensive, balanced global strategy. As the West's major power, the United States has no alternative but to lead in this effort.I profoundly agree with the last sentence, but, if the lead is not coming from the United States, other Western Powers, including Britain, must do more constructive thinking and take part in more positive diplomacy to try to bring about a global strategy.
The Secretary of State said that Britain could not be the world's policeman, Of course it cannot. But it can be—and is—part of a grouping of Powers that could have and must have a policing role that is relevant to the threat that faces us.
Some Labour Members have said, as if it were a great truth, that the Soviet Union does not want war. Of course it does not; it wants victory without war. It has achieved the results to which General Haig referred without the loss of the life of a single Soviet Service man. It has achieved the results by subversion, infiltration, the use of Cuban mercenaries in Africa, and modest expenditure on economic and military aid. The "syndrome of inevitability" has come about by default, because there has been no response from the West.
I do not pretend to have a blueprint to put to the House, but I have some suggestions about our thinking. First, within NATO—and preferably beyond NATO, including Japan and other countries—there should be more-co-ordinated, strategic thinking. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion about the need for substantial Japanese rearmament. Japan should be playing a larger part in the defence of the free world. I should particularly like to see the rebirth of the Japanese navy in Far Eastern waters. Secondly, I should like to see the use of selective economic aid and selective military aid to help our friends. We do some of this already but 109 usually it is too little and to late. Thirdly, the Western Powers as a whole should be able and ready to undertake the type of operation that the French undertook at Kolwezi. That was a rare example of a European Government doing the right thing at the right time, and doing it well.
The major counter-argument is the syndrome that affects the West, and the United States in particular, as an aftermath of Vietnam. The terrible years of losses and sacrifices resulting in defeat have created in the United States and, to some extent, in other Western countries a nervous isolationism. That is why the Soviet Union is getting away with such easy successes.
If the Soviet Union can have these successes with relatively little sacrifice, it should not be beyond the ingenuity of the incoming British Government and other Western Governments to work out counter-strategies which also will not involve intolerable sacrifices and which can succeed. This should be one of the main items on the international agenda for the 1980s.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
There has been much talk about the changing balance. I shall try to follow the Chair's suggestion and stick to one aspect of the White Paper.
Last year the NATO Powers spent $188,430 million on military capability. In the same year the Warsaw Pact Powers spent $159,582 million. That is a grand total of $338,012 million.
§ Mr. Litterick
I am rather pleased that the hon. Member asked that, because it is not difficult to tell him what that money bought. It bought more inflation, a hell of a lot of anxiety and a waste of scarce materials and labour on the most incredible scale, and it disrupted and distorted the economies of all the nation States involved in NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In addition, because of its colossal scale, it made war in Europe and elsewhere that much more likely.
§ Mr. Cormack
Did it not also buy more weapons and provide more research in the Warsaw Pact countries, bearing in mind what percentage of their expenditure goes to pay the troops compared with how much we pay our troops?
§ Mr. Litterick
That is a timely interruption. Total military manpower in NATO is 4.8 million. In the Warsaw Pact countries it is 4.7 million. They are not my figures. They are not Washington's or Moscow's figures. They are the figures produced by the Royal International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) may wish to describe the members of that organisation as Kremlin front-men, but that is not a generally held view.
One cannot help but recollect that Conservative Members have used phrases such as "the ever-growing threat", "the overwhelming preponderance" and stuff such as that. Some civil servants do the same. Some Ministers are not up to seeing what is being done. We are talking not about acute military imbalance but about a situation which endangers every nation which participates in this stupid and destructive exercise.
§ Mr. Cormack
The hon. Member fails to understand his Government's White Paper. Does he accept that the Warsaw Pact countries pay their troops infinitely less individually than we pay ours?
§ Mr. Litterick
There is that strange fact which does not fit in with the rhetoric that we have been hearing—4.8 million compared with 4.7 million and this huge difference in financial outlay by the NATO Powers compared with the Warsaw Pact powers.
In its September issue of "The Military Balance", the Institute for Strategic Studies said:North Atlantic Treaty countries, including France, maintain rather more men under arms than the Warsaw Pact".It gave a number of examples, one of which is ground troops and marines, of which 2,845,000 are deployed by NATO and 2,660,000 are deployed by the Warsaw Pact. At the end of its list of examples, it added the rider that the Soviet Union had a large number of her divisions—43—deployed on her border with China. Later, the same publication pointed out that one-third of all the 111 Russian aircraft in existence were deployed on the Chinese border.
Having said that, we must all remember that China has defined the USSR as her enemy, and I believe that one of our senior air marshals went out of his way to share that definition on our behalf. Therefore, Russia's enemies are deploying a hugely overwhelming force. Apparently, since we are all hell-bent on self-definition, Russia's enemies include NATO and China. That encapsulates the largest army on earth, the largest air force on earth and the largest navy on earth. Having said that, there is no chance that the USSR and her piddling little allies can possibly match what the United States and its relatively powerful allies can put together by way of military power.
In his address to the naval academy as Annapolis last year. President Carter went to great lengths to point out that the military technology deployed by the United States matches anything on earth and that in most arms of the Service is superior to anything else that exists. He pointed out at great length to the American people that American industrial and military potential is overwhelming in relation to any real or imagined foe on earth.
We come to the question of potential resources. The White Paper, and some hon. Members, have mentioned that the USSR spends a large proportion of its gross national product on military potential—11 per cent. to 13 per cent. One Labour Member also emphasised this. But he revealed the fact, as did the Secretary of State last year, that no one quite knows what this is 11 per cent. or 13 per cent. of. The World Bank tells us that the Russian GNP is approximately 43 per cent. of the American GNP. It does not take a difficult exercise in arithmetic to work out what 11 per cent. to 13 per cent. of the Russian GNP means. I shall spell it out. Eleven per cent. of the Russian GNP is equivalent to 4.7 per cent. of the American GNP. Twelve per cent. of the Russian GNP is equivalent to 5.2 per cent. of the American GNP. Thirteen per cent.—the Secretary of State's upper limit—of the Russian GNP is equivalent to 56 per cent. of the American GNP. The United States spends 7 per cent. of its GNP on military capability.
§ Mr. Litterick
The hon. Gentleman should check his sources. If he does, he will discover that there is a difference between GDP and GNP. I am being specific. I am talking about GNP. The World Bank figures make this very clear and very easy to calculate if one has the will.
I am prepared to accept sensible criticism from hon. Members. I appreciate that the statistics are not all that reliable. I realise that often we cannot find out from our own Secretary of State many of the things that we need to discover about our military expenditure. Therefore, it is much less likely that our Government will know about other Governments in other parts of the world, particularly secretive Governments such as the USSR. In my experience, that Government are as secretive as our own in this respect. If hon. Members try to find out from our own Government how much anything costs in the military sector, they will discover true secretiveness. Our Government will not even tell us what is published, even when they know that it is published.
Perhaps hon. Members might want to compare the per capita expenditure. Here again, the picture is illuminating. The Warsaw Pact per capita expenditure last year was: Romania 43 dollars per head; Hungary, 62 dollars; Bulgaria, 49 dollars; Poland, 73 dollars; Czechoslovakia, 121 dollars; the German Democratic Republic, 180 dollars and the USSR, 520 dollars. The figures in seven NATO countries were: Denmark, 259 dollars; United Kingdom, 239 dollars: Holland, 301 dollars; Norway, 316 dollars; France, 325 dollars; Germany, 337 dollars and the United States, 517 dollars.
The true imbalance comes out when one compares the populations. Now that we know the great disparities in wealth—which our common sense should have told us about anyway—there is this enormous disparity in the relative wealth of the two blocs. Therefore, it is not so necessary for the NATO group to spend high proportions of its gross national product on armaments, although we should argue about what is high or low in this context, and yet we do not. Not 113 only do we not understand what is militarily necessary for certain things, but we do not understand what an economy can bear. We do not make a serious attempt to understand this.
It is certainly the case that we, the British, spend proportionately more than all but two members of NATO, one being the United States, with an infinitely higher GNP, and the other being the wretched Turkey, whose State is so involved in killing its own citizens that I doubt whether it is of any use to NATO.
§ Mr. Litterick
The hon. Gentleman does not even read the polite press, or he would discover what the killing rate is in Turkey these days, not to mention the fact that it occupies half of someone else's country.
As President Carter said last year at Annapolis, it is obvious that the spending power of the NATO countries is infinitely higher than that of the Warsaw Pact countries. There is no chance of the Warsaw Pact countries matching NATO, except in specifically chosen sectors of armaments. This they have clearly set out to do. It seems to me ironic that they have chosen an old-fashioned technology with which to do it—tanks. I doubt very much whether their tank armies would last very long. Tank armies tend not to last very long nowadays. They melt away when faced with the kind of anti-tank weaponry that now exists. From this White Paper, and from earlier ones, we know that NATO has quite sensibly decided on a defensive tactical strategy in this respect. There is a powerful emphasis on anti-tank weaponry. I would not give any large tank formation much of a chance against those weapons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sal-ford, East (Mr. Allaun) quite properly talked about the Labour Party's defence policy. He talked about the commitment to reduce arms expenditure. In this context, he is as concerned as I am that we do not overstretch our resources and cripple ourselves in economic terms in our efforts to match those nation States that have larger and more powerful economies. As a result, we are spending proportionately more than Germany and France, and we cannot afford it in economic terms.
114 My advice to the Secretary of State and his friends is that if we were to think seriously of reducing our military expenditure to an average NATO level of about 3.7 per cent. of gross national product, we should save £1,700 million to £1,800 million per annum. Those resources are precious, and the development and production of weapon systems is costly in terms of highly skilled manpower. For the first time we would have to think of substitute activities for armaments production. We have so far given no serious thought to that, and it is time that we did. We are knocking hell out of our economy in an attempt to keep up with stronger economies that can afford to spend more on armaments. We would do ourselves a favour, and in the long run do our friends one, too, if we faced the facts of life and cut back substantially so that we can deploy our manpower and resources more productively. We should then consider how that released manpower and resources could be productively deployed for peaceful purposes.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) would take some rivalling as an exercise in self-deception. If the hon. Gentleman believes one-quarter of the bilge that he has put over to the House, he will believe anything. I was in the Soviet Union last year, and for my nightly reading the Russians kindly provided at my bedside the speeches of Mr. Brezhnev. I take his speeches seriously. There is nothing that he has done that he has not expressed himself on. He claimed that the Soviet Union was the greatest military Power on earth. It is difficult to reconcile that with the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman when he referred to the USSR and her "piddling" allies. I prefer Mr. Brezhnev's opinion of the relative might of the Soviet Union to that of the hon. Member for Selly Oak.
§ Mr. Hooson
I was being generous. I always thought that that was what was wrong with the hon. Member for Selly Oak, but I refrained from saying so. The Government should resist the kind of nonsense that the hon. Gentleman has just put over. At the same time, they 115 should resist every reaction of the kind suggested by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour).
The more I listen to the debate, the more I am convinced that the Government have got it about right on defence. In 1977, as the Secretary of State for Defence will remember, I was a great critic of the Government. The speech of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham would have been appropriate in 1977 but is inappropriate now. Since then, the Government have agreed to a 3 per cent. increase in real terms, which is to be continued.
To a great extent, the West is in danger of doing itself harm. The right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) referred to some of the reverses of the West, but he forgot certain things. Since I have been in this House, China has become completely detached from the Soviet Union, which is a most significant change in world power. A few years ago, Egypt was regarded as going down the Russian road in a big way, yet that has completely changed, and Romania is now making substantial noises about her contribution to the Warsaw Pact. The West should not demonstrate an inferiority complex, as many spokesmen on these matters tend to do.
I always enjoy the speeches of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), but his comments were more appropriate to the late nineteenth century and viewing the world from an Imperial standpoint. A global strategy can easily be a euphemism for an imperialistic view. There has been a global strategy. The United States and France tried hard to stem events in Vietnam and so did this country in many ways in the post-war period. The right hon. Gentleman, in his review of present changes, referred to the Gulf area, but he appropriately forgot Iran, where we had all the hardware and armaments necessary, and on paper it was a great and substantial tiger in that part of the world.
We are engaged in a competition which, although it has touches of imperialism, is to a considerable extent ideological. It is no use winning the battle of tanks and arms unless we also win the battle of minds and hearts.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman's 116 amusing speech, but perhaps I may correct him. He said that my speech would have been appropriate in 1977, and went on to take seriously the Government's 3 per cent. extra a year. The 3 per cent. extra in 1979–80 was achieved only as a result of great cuts in 1977–78. Secondly, the Government will spend less in 1979–80 than in 1977 they expected to. The hon. and learned Gentleman is at fault in thinking that there has been a change.
§ Mr. Hooson
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I disagree. There were cuts in 1977–78, as there were in other major countries. That is why President Carter insisted on the 3 per cent. increase. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech mentioned the increase in Soviet power, but that took place from the early 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s. In 1972–73, the Conservative Government made the most swingeing defence cuts, with no prior notice. When one is in Opposition it is all very well to say that defence is the top priority. The Prime Minister of the day, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), representing the view of the Cabinet, said that all services, including the Armed Services, had to accept cuts. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was a member of that Government.
I have no brief for this Government, but from mid-1977 until 1979 there has been a restoration and an increase of 3 per cent. in real terms. If that policy is carried through throughout the NATO countries, it will to a large extent restore the balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery Mr. Hooson), who takes such a close and informed interest in defence. From the speech today of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), no one could imagine that he was Minister of State and Secretary of State in the six months in 1973 when the Conservative Government made cuts in defence, in real terms, greater than any that I have made during my period in office.
§ Mr. Hooson
I cannot comment on the comparability of cuts, but they take place under all Governments. Most sensible Members would agree that we should 117 spend as much as necessary for our security. We do not need to spend any more, yet we must err on the side of caution. A mistake on defence and security is liable to be fatal.
When one listens to the viewpoint of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), one understands the problems of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. The hon. Member for Salford, East represents a viewpoint that is totally different from that of the Government and from the majority of people in this country. But it is very important that a Government who have been prepared to increase their defence expenditure in a way that this Government have over the past two years should be encouraged to continue to do so. I believe that there is great scope for a common approach to defence problems. Too often we try to make partisan points on a subject like this, which does not really lend itself to them.
I was a great critic of the Government in 1976–77, but there has been a change of heart. All the NATO countries realise that we are approaching a very difficult period in our relations with the Soviet Union. The present Politburo, in its period of changeover, rather reminds me of the geriatric ward of our local hospital. One sees it wheeled out on State occasions. As the right hon. Member for Pavilion once explained to me, people become very dangerous in their old age, especially when they have armies to play with. But when we are faced with a change of leadership in the Soviet Union —and obviously there will be one—it is very important that NATO should be in a position to show that new leadership that certain options are not available. That is why it is so important that we should be effective in our defence at present. We must show any potential Russian leader that there is no option available in attacking the West.
I have never subscribed to the view that the Soviet Union is likely to attack the West. I do not believe that it is probable or even very possible. But Russia is prepared—Mr. Brezhnev has never made any secret of this—to use Soviet military might throughout the world as a means of encouraging what the leadership calls national liberation forces, progressive forces, and so on. By 118 that, Brezhnev means that where there is internal insurrection the Soviet Union will assist it in whatever way it can. This explains the Soviet attitude in Africa and elsewhere. The battle is not just militaristic. The Russians do not wish it to be primarily militaristic. They see it as an ideological battle, backed up by militaristic forces. There is a subtle but very important difference between the two things.
One of the great failings of the West has been the tendency to be on the defensive in the ideological battle. One of the most important initiatives of modern times was President Carter's initiative on human rights. For the first time in a decade the Russians were suddenly pushed into trying to justify their own system. They were in the dock in world opinion for a change.
The debate today is similar to that of last year. I am glad that the Government have reversed their old ways of the first disastrous two years in office—
§ Mr. Hooson
That is in my nature. There was a great change of heart, and I believe that the Secretary of State deserves some praise. Throughout the time that I have known him—and that has been for many years—he has not blown his own trumpet but has been consistent in defence matters and is a true patriot. He has made great efforts and has succeeded in getting the Government back towards the right lines.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
I cannot really share the optimism of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). I share the anxiety that is growing among many people throughout the country and was reflected by Mr. Harold Macmillan in an impressive television broadcast. That anxiety was further underlined by Admiral Sir Terence Lewin, who shared Mr. Macmillan's opinion that there was similarity between the 1930s and the present time.
I have only the faintest recollection of the way in which my elders felt when the last war broke out. However, I remember that they felt that there had been a betrayal by the Government in leaving 119 the nation in such a perilous situation. Thinking of my own children, I ask myself whether we are guilty of repeating the same error. I get no consolation from those who draw comparisons between expenditure by the Warsaw bloc and expenditure by the free world. At the end of the day, all that matters is how we stand in relation to each other, and no one can dispute that the military power of the Warsaw bloc has steadily gained on that of the free world.
We in the United Kingdom must assess our contribution in the light of our resources. Many of us insist that there must be a curtailment of public expenditure, but we want to see a sensible order of priorities. Defence is not one of those matters in which it is sensible to have a curtailment.
I cannot claim to be an expert in these matters, but I have had the privilege of serving on the parlimentary delegation to the Western European Union and I have accompanied its armaments committee on some interesting visits to defence organisations in Europe. A year ago we went to the headquarters of Allied Forces (South) and had a look at the problems in the Mediterranean. I was startled to find a preponderance of the Russian Navy in that area with easy access from the Black Sea through the Mediterranean into the Atlantic.
Last month we were in the headquarters of Allied Forces (North) and were given a briefing of their problems. It was staggering to realise the concentration of the Russians on the Norwegian land frontier and the concentrations of Soviet submarines at Murmansk. The evidence shows that the Russians have easy access to the Atlantic which is far greater than anything the Nazis had in the last war.
It is important to think about the United Kingdom's role in the defence of the free world in the event of another war. I can only come to one conclusion on this, and that is that it is our job to see that the battle of the Atlantic in another war, should it occur, is won and that we maintain the vital supply links. That should be our primary role. We are a maritime nation, and our greatest capacity will be at sea, either on the surface, beneath it or above it in the air.
120 When we look at the White Paper, do we have any assurances that that is where the effort is being made? Are we not attaching too much importance to the European front, which is some sort of political legacy inherited from the Brussels treaty when there was an unreal fear about possible future German aggression? We need to re-examine how to deploy ourselves to Europe's best advantage as well as our own.
There are many aspects that disturb me. For instance, we still have the hang-over from the Brussels treaty in respect of German participation in the effective defence of the Western world. Why should there be a provision to exempt one of the wealthiest nations in Europe from participating in a nuclear deterrent for Europe? Until we face these problems we shall be unable to concentrate our resources where they can be of best effect to the world.
None of us will argue about the history of the last 20 or 30 years. We all agree that there has been a measure of stability, and we are thankful for it, but it has rested on the stalemate between the two super-Powers. How long can we continue to leave the peace of the world resting on the unreal assumption that that peace depends on two super-Powers? Clearly, the emergence of China introduces a new dimension. The proliferation of nuclear weapons also introduces a new dimension in relation to the peace which has been maintained in the last 20 years. There are seven nations which at present have a nuclear capacity of some kind or another.
Many respond to the nuclear threat by saying that we should have a treaty to hold back the proliferation of nuclear weapons. That is an admirable concept, but how real it is? I would not like to see that concept used to justify any abandonment by the United Kingdom of its nuclear deterrent.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) assumed that the Polaris missile would be valid for 10 or 15 years hence. I believe that is a totally unrealistic view. On what basis is it thought that the Americans will stockpile these missiles in sufficient numbers to provide us with a deterrent? I do not believe that, in the absence of Polaris, we can leave the matter in abeyance for another year or two. It is important that the United Kingdom 121 should take the fundamental decision as to the successor to Polaris.
These decisions must be taken not in our own selfish interest but in the interests of preserving the harmony and integrity of the whole Western Alliance. We have been fortunate in that our American allies have been generous and understanding over the political problems in Europe. However, I live in fear and anxiety that one day disillusionment may cause our allies in America to pull back. It is not right for us to expect them to continue to carry virtually the main burden of the defence of the free world. Even if they are willing to do so, I am not sure that that is the proper course to take. The European collective effort must be one of real meaning, and I hope that the United Kingdom will set a positive example.
I share the worry over the misuse of resources at a time of great economic need, but I suggest that expenditure on defence is not necessarily bad economics—indeed, in the present situation it might make for good economics. There is a clear case for the United Kingdom to look to the improvement of the Royal Air Force and the provision of new aircraft in the short and long term. Who will compete for the provision of a new military transport aircraft to succeed the Hercules C130? Surely our aerospace industry and the industry in Europe have a good potential to compete for that contract. Certainly our much-depressed shipping industry would benefit considerably from a defence budget to build ships, not necessarily entirely as a military effort.
I found the remarks of Admiral Sir Terence Lewin last week somewhat frightening. He said that in the last war 280 Royal Navy ships were sunk by mines—more than by any other means. He also said that 35 Russian merchant ships visit British waters every day. When we consider the problem of securing our coastline against attack by mines, I believe that there is a good case for the immediate development of our anti-mine capacity.
Sir Terence rightly drew attention to the fact that the Russians now have 355 submarines, of which at least 155 are nuclear-powered. He also mentioned the Backfire and Badger aircraft possessed by the Russians. I should like to see a switch in resources to our Navy and RAF in order to secure the vital supply lines in the Atlantic.
122 I was delighted to hear the unqualified statement by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) to the effect that those who serve in our forces should be fully and adequately rewarded. I believe that good defence begins with the manpower of the Services. I appreciate that the Government have expressed their intention to implement the result of the review body. However, I hope that these assurances are not based simply on comparability with wage levels in civil life, without considering the hardships and sacrifices of those in Service life. Comparability relates not only to equality of wages. There must be a plus factor in compensation for sacrifice and the difficult duties performed.
I join the Minister in praising the Army serving in Northern Ireland. Every day my admiration for Her Majesty's forces there grows. Furthermore, my resentment grows for those who miss no opportunity to detract from the character of the Army and to demoralise its personnel. From time to time mistakes and errors of judgment occur. It is important for the Army that such errors are recognised as such and dealt with as quickly as possible, so that they should not be allowed to be used as ammunition for those who seek to disparage and undermine the Army's role in Northern Ireland.
The whole business has gone on for too long in Northern Ireland. Any Minister responsible for defence services cannot honestly discharge his role and envisage the indefinite commitment of the Army to Ulster on the present scale. We need to apply some new thinking to the situation. Too many units of the Army are committed to the problem of Northern Ireland—a problem which has lasted for too long and which I believe should be pursued without the necessity for such a large Army commitment. That requires radical new thinking in political terms, but it requires no radical new thinking in terms of the forces of law and order. The civil power must have resources of its own to enforce the law, and the sooner it reaches that stage without having to call in the Army as a back-up, the better.
The Army should make up its mind whether, through the UDR, it should have a virtually permanent commitment to the civil forces in Northern Ireland. This has been mentioned before, and in some quarters there is a recognition that the 123 role of the UDR needs to be reviewed. I should like to be assured that more thought has been given to the matter and that there will be progress on it.
For the sake of Ulster, we seek a solution to the problem. For the sake of the defence of our nation, we want the commitment of the Army to Ulster lessened. In case a sensational propagandist thinks that I am arguing for the withdrawal of the Army from Northern Ireland, I shall conclude by saying that I am doing no such thing. I am simply arguing that its role in aid of the civil authority should be diminished. I hope that its garrison and national duty to Northern Ireland will be maintained and supported on an adequate scale for a long time to come.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
Once again we are discussing the statement on Defence Estimates. I assume that the Minister has read it through. I read it through for the first time. In all respects, I found it rather dull and unimaginative. I am certain that all hon. Members are activated by the same motive—to preserve peace. What divides us is the way in which that should be achieved.
Men and women who think that they will never suffer anything from the Russians are extremely lucky. In that number I include the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). That attitude is extremely fortunate. But there are some of us who are certain that we may suffer from action by the Russians. We are more unfortunate. We do not know when that will be, or even whether it will happen, but we feel that we must be ready for it. That is what drives us on to see that we are adequately rearmed.
We now have to examine what the Government are doing this year to see that we are adequately defended from any attack. Perhaps I should first give an account of the Defence Sub-Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman. The Committee has reported on joint training trends, the Chieftain tank engine, British forces in Germany, and the logistic support for the front line. We are now inquiring into the possible options for nuclear deterrent for any future Government. Many of us will be pleased 124 that defence planning is up 3 per cent. in real terms in line with President Carter's initiative.
However, I issue a word of warning that this brings us back to where we were in 1975. Our commitments to NATO are as strong as ever. I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply whether the 3 per cent. increase will be repeated next year.
On personnel costs, the proportion of 42 per cent. of the budget is a little less than last year. It caters also for the increase in Service men's pay. It is to be hoped that that will prevent trained men leaving the Services at the present unacceptable rates of pay. The loss of a trained man is far more important than one new recruit. The shortfall in manpower is worrying. It was commented on by Admiral Lewin, who is shortly to succeed as Chief of Defence Staff. Then there will be a serving admiral who has to command in war and who is himself extremely worried. I believe that this is one of the most difficult situations facing any Government at the moment.
How can we make Service men feel that they are being amply rewarded compared with persons in civil life? The Committee found that fear amongst the men; it saw it in Belize, particularly amongst naval personnel in a frigate guarding the men there. Although the White Paper tries to pretend that everything is all right now, the scale of the front, particularly the naval front, of the Warsaw Pact countries is steadily increasing. The figures are shown in the White Paper, demonstrating the imbalance of our forces compared with those in the Eastern Atlantic.
We should not be complacent about the matter. It is sad that at present there is no sign that the Soviet Government intend to reduce their military expenditure; it is increasing. All our efforts go to NATO and building up its capabilities. Britain is the only country in Europe to commit forces to NATO in all three Services. In carrying out that support for our NATO commitment, all three Services have extensive re-equipment plans.
In the Navy there is the new class of large anti-submarine cruisers—HMS "Invincible" and "Illustrious". The Chieftain tank will be developed in the late 1980s, and until it is ready there will be 125 further improvements in the deployment of Milan and a helicopter-borne system. We are procuring TOW from the Americans. Work on an improvement to the British anti-aircraft missile system—Rapier and Blowpipe—is continuing, and they are already in service in BAOR.
Although great reliance has been placed on getting the Tornado into service, I regret that it is rather behind schedule, particularly the British variant. It should not be forgotten that it is planned to increase the Army by 6,000 men. I hope that that will lead to improved standards of training and readiness.
I am glad that we continue to play a significant part in promoting the security of other friendly countries. Many officers and men in the British Services are seconded to serve with Commonwealth and foreign forces. Large numbers of personnel from those countries also attend courses and receive training in this country. That is excellent. The more that each understands how the other functions, the better it is for all.
We are also playing our part in United Nations peacekeeping. My Sub-Committee visited, at long last, Belize and the frigate that remains in that area. I was not able to accompany my colleagues, but it was reported to me that, here again, there is great worry about pay. I ask the Secretary of State to see that the long-delayed increases in pay are implemented in full.
The freedom of the Atlantic is particularly important in time of war. We have assigned our major warships to NATO and we have to consider seeing how we can protect our shipping from submarines. I am glad to note that the recall of Regular reservists is constantly under review, with the aim of reducing the time required for mobilisation. I also notice that the RAF's survival depends on Bloodhound and Rapier in local air defence in Germany and in this country.
In addition, the RAF Regiment will provide a Rapier squadron during this year. I ask the Minister who is to reply to let us know whether that has taken place or is still planned to take place later this year. Hardened aircraft shelters are available for all RAF airfields in Germany and I am pleased that a programme of construction of such shelters at selected RAF airfields in the 126 United Kingdom began this year. Unfortunately, some do not understand the significance of those shelters. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force knows that I have had difficulty in my own constituency. The wider context must always be understood, and those shelters are vital to the survival of us all.
We have been glad to give support to exercises in support of NATO, helping to make our combined troops more effective. Nevertheless, we have, all the time, the problem of Ireland, and it is a great drain on our Regular forces. Sad as it is, it would be optimistic to say that there are any real signs of the problem decreasing. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that many brave deeds are done in Ireland, and we are grateful to all the men and women who carry them out. I am pleased that some of them have been rewarded.
We also carry out deployments and operations in the rest of the world. I can think quickly of places such as Malta, although it is sad that the rundown there will be completed at the end of the month. We still have Gibraltar, with all that that means for us. It is most valuable, particularly as it gives us an extra dockyard.
Every hon. Member must realise the importance of production. What is often not realised is the amount of research and development which must go with it. Figure 7 in the Estimates shows that expenditure in that area has been increased considerably.
We also have to look at the safeguarding of our valuable offshore resources. I am particularly glad that two more Island class patrol vessels are due to enter service this year.
How often we read in the Estimates that something is to happen next year. If only they could all happen fairly quickly, we might feel more secure. Although the immense sum of more than £2,500 million is being spent on defence equipment this year, I say to those who are so keen to abolish our defences that nearly 250,000 people are given full-time employment in these defence industries. Great efforts are made to see that our defence sales are adequate in the light of what we can produce. Fortunately, we have a higher target for recruitment, but, according to the White Paper, we have fallen 127 short in certain categories, mainly among the more skilled Service men and those training to be officers. We must not think that manpower can be replaced altogether. With respect, it cannot be replaced by womanpower. Although we are very glad to have women in our forces, we must not think that they can replace men in the Services.
I am also glad that steps are being taken to improve living accommodation, and particularly that thermal insulation is being carried out in married quarters. I should like an assurance from the Government that that work is on schedule and should be completed by March next year.
I end on a personal note. This may be the last time that I shall speak in the House. I spent three and a half years in the war as a prisoner of the Japanese. That was not a pleasant way to spend a war, and no one who went through it would want to go through it again. When I was in the Territorial Army it looked as though we might be called up during the Korean crisis. I told my wife that if I were ever again posted as missing, she would know that I was dead. I said that I would go out with a tommy gun and shoot as many of the enemy as I could before they got me. That was what the war produced in me, and I would react in the same way again.
I have had the honour, since being an hon. Member, to be Chairman of the Sub-Committee on defence matters. I have enjoyed the work immensely, and I hope that I have been of service to the Expenditure Committee and the House to make up for what I did not do in the war.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
I should like to pay a personal tribute to the work carried out over the years by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). He has served us well as Chairman of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee and I am sure that we all wish him well after Wednesday, or whenever the general election may come.
This is a normal debate on defence. As usual, the White Paper is a bromide. It is what we have come to expect from the Secretary of State. It refers to the 128 idyllic aim of general and complete disarmament and the many discussions on detente and disarmament. It refers, in particular, to the United Nations—a body which has shown itself quite powerless in this area. There is the usual reference to the strength of Russia and its Warsaw Pact allies, and there are tables showing how NATO is heavily out-tanked outgunned and outnumbered in ships and planes.
The White Paper goes on to recall how, under this Government, the number of men in the Services has fallen every year. The Ministry of Defence is the only Department in which manpower and services are cut under a Labour Government. It is the only Department where the figures are mulled over in detail every year. I genuinely feel sorry for Defence Ministers in a Labour Government. They are patriotic men who are interested in their jobs, but, by God, they have trouble with those behind them on the Left wing of their party.
Relative poverty is used as an excuse for cutbacks in the defence of this country, but that excuse is never used for cutbacks in any other service. It is only defence which comes in for particular cuts.
I thought that the Secretary of State wriggled when I intervened in his speech and pointed out that £83 million less will be spent in the coming year than was intended to be spent under the 1976 public expenditure survey. I could not understand how the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) could evade that fact when it was pointed out to him from the Opposition Front Bench. Despite the fact that we are told that there is to be a 3 per cent. increase in defence spending, in real terms it is £83 million less this year than the Government foretold two years ago.
I believe that the contrast between our White Paper and the massive tome published in America is, as usual, extremely interesting. The American Secretary for Defence, Harold Brown, in his report, unlike our own, refers to shortages in the American Services. He readily confesses that all is not well. There are difficulties in stocks, in readiness, in repair and in reinforcement levels. He goes on to say that these problems are also experienced by America's allies in Europe. I have no 129 doubt they include the United Kingdom, but he is too diplomatic to refer to us by name.
It is extraordinary how, year after year, there is no reference in our White Paper to any of the problems in our Services which those of us who are interested know exist. There will always be some problems in the Services, but, during the period of a Labour Government, those problems multiply every year.
I believe that Harold Brown's paper presents a much more sombre picture of the dangers facing the West. I should like to quote one sentence which should give us cause for concern. He said:NATO, despite its basic strengths, cannot have as much confidence in its non-nuclear deterrent as I consider prudent.I believe that to be a worrying statement by the American Secretary for Defence. There is no similar sentiment anywhere in our White Paper. Furthermore, the Americans in their paper survey the world scene in a way hardly touched upon in our Paper.
There is a direct reference to China in the White Paper, but, as we might expect, there is no reference to the difficult problem of whether we should sell the Harrier to China because we do not want to upset Labour Members who are against that deal in case it should upset any friendships there may be with the Soviet Union.
The White Paper fails to focus attention completely on the reasons for and the results of Russia's extraordinary concentration on military power. Military power is the only direction in which Russia rivals the West. It certainly does not in either the life-style or living standards of its people. In creating such military power for their country, Russia's leaders impose enormous sacrifices on their people. One is entitled to ask why. I can see no innocent explanation.
The military have enormous influence in the control of Russia. The Defence Minister is a marshal—Marshal Ustinov—and the deputy Ministers are either marshals or generals. The mind boggles at the thought of Marshal Mulley or perhaps Colonel-General Brown. Thank goodness we do not have any military influence to that extent in our political life.
130 Year by year the balance is changing, and it is changing slowly but surely against NATO. There can be absolutely no room for complacency. Yet complacency is the hallmark of the White Paper as it is of its authors.
The Soviets have not attacked in Europe, but they have taken every opportunity to fish in the many troubled waters elsewhere in the world. Mr. Gromyko has just been to Syria. I do not believe that he has been there to talk about detente and disarmament; he has much more sinister motives than that.
The new aircraft carrier "Minsk"—twice as powerful as any surface ship in the Royal Navy—together with a large amphibious vessel, is operating off the coast of West Africa. It seems incredible that we are scrapping "Ark Royal", just as the Russians are building up a powerful new fleet of aircraft carriers.
I do not believe that the effect of the trouble in Iran has yet been fully perceived in the West. I suspect that in the battle between Marx and Mohammed, Marx will come out the winner. The machine gun is probably stronger than the Koran. We must wait and see. I hope that I am mistaken. But wherever there is trouble—whether it be religious racial, tribal or social—the Russians are always ready to assist dissenters, in marked contrast to their own country where they persecute their dissenters.
The record of the Soviet Union in aid to the Third world is confined almost exclusively to the supply of shiploads of armaments. The West faces a moral dilemma in its dealings with the Third world, most of whose countries are not democratic as we understand the word. We have problems in dealing with these totalitarian regimes because of our ideals. Russia has no such difficulties, because it is a totalitarian State. Its Government have no need to heed public opinion and very little notice is taken of world opinion. So, thousands of miles away from Europe, Russian activity is constantly taking place and is adversely affecting the vital interests of Britain—for example, supplies of raw materials, especially oil—and bases are being established on our supply routes. There is also the subtle effect of inevitability if the Third world thinks that the Russians will always win.
One consequence of this activity in the Third world is likely to be that the United 131 States, whether it likes it or not, will be forced to become more involved militarily in areas outside Europe and the North Atlantic. I believe that there will be a more frequent need for an American naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Britain should be ready and willing to assist in this task. The presence of a British force, however small—even one frigate—would be of great assistance, not least psychologically, in an area through which 60 per cent. of Western Europe's oil flows. Having maintained the farcical and pointless blockade of Rhodesian oil for years, we can surely make no less effort to help the United States, if asked, when our own vital interests are involved.
Developments in far distant parts, be it in Arabia, Africa, the East or perhaps in future in the Americas, could have a direct effect on our security in Europe. General Jones, the head of the American Services, in his powerful and forthright annual posture statement, recently said that it would take the whole of the concentrated efforts of the United States to deal with a major outbreak of war in Europe. What would be the state of affairs if such a war should break out and at that time the Americans were heavily committed in another part of the world? The reinforcements upon which we depend to prevent nuclear war breaking out and to retain the conflict in a conventional engagement would no longer be available, because they would be tied down in the sands of the deserts or the jungles in another part of the world.
In the normal way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we would have the opportunity to raise detailed points about the Services in individual debates in the weeks ahead if we were fortunate enough to catch your eye. But it seems that that may not be the case this year.
I shall therefore refer briefly to a number of the greatest weaknesses as I see them. First, there is the need to replace Polaris. There is not a word about this in the White Paper. Indeed, almost the only reference to the Polaris system is to spell out the names of the four submarines. Considering the attitude of the Government's Left-wing supporters and the declared policy of the Labour Party, it is perhaps no wonder that the Government are seeking to avoid this issue until after the election. For- 132 tunately, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are well aware of this need. I think that little more needs to be said now, because they, not a Labour Government, will be making the decision.
Our Polaris force has a useful part to play as part of SACEUR's tactical nuclear force. That subject is not talked about much in this country, but it is referred to quite openly in American literature. I believe that SACEUR has a high regard for the possibility, in a nuclear engagement in Europe, of being able to use the United Kingdom's Polaris boats to counter the SS20 missile threat of a long-range tactical nuclear engagement. So it is not just as a strategic weapon that I see the need for replacement.
I pay tribute in at least one respect to Government Ministers, and that is for the ready way in which they co-operate in arranging visits for those of us in the House who are interested in the Services. It is true to say that they have not been let down as a result. On those visits, one finds without exception just skill, together with dedication of a sort that is all too rare in so many parts of our industrial life today. If we had the same dedication in civilian life as one finds in the Armed Forces, Britain would be in a far healthier condition economically than she is today.
As regards other naval matters, I must refer once again to the Mark 8 torpedo, the antiquity of which can be judged by the fact that it was in service before the present First Sea Lord went to sea. The First Sea Lord has since developed into an outstanding asset for the Navy, but I am afraid that the same cannot be said for the old Mark 8. It is a weapon from a bygone age, the use of which would require our submarines to advance themselves so close to the enemy as to put themselves in peril because of the short range and inaccuracy of their main weapon.
As for the RAF, I content myself with referring solely to the need for the adequate air defence of Britain. Surely the first priority of any Government must be to protect the skies above our country, especially for a Government whose members must themselves have lived at the time of the Battle of Britain. There has been a remarkable change in the power of the Soviet Air Force in the last few 133 years. General Pauly, the commander of the American Air Force in Europe, assesses the increase in its range as sevenfold and in its payload as fivefold—a near total transformation in the air power of the Soviets from a defensive to an offensive orientation. It is not surprising that, as a result, the American Air Force is constructing bomb-proof shelters at all its bases in this country and that very late in the day the RAF itself is beginning to construct a few. But there is a problem. It is only if an airfield is covered adequately by a missile defence system that money is made available by NATO for building these shelters. Perhaps that explains why specific airfields are being chosen by the Government for missile defence.
Our air defence is quite inadequate. There is no other word for it. In 1940 we had more than 700 fighters. Today we have only some 80 in our front line. The RAF skill is tremendous, of course. In terms of the skill of its pilots, there is no better air force than the RAF. But the numbers are pathetically small. There are more fighters in the RAF's museum than there are in its front line, and that is an astonishing state of affairs, and we read in the White Paper that there will be a shortage of pilots for years ahead.
The size of the United Kingdom air defence region for which we are responsible is perhaps not wholly appreciated by all right hon. and hon. Members. It is a huge area. It includes a very large part of the Atlantic, and this is the area through which vital convoys will have to pass, bringing the vast majority of the United States reinforcements which will be necessary if we are to see a war in Europe remain a conventional engagement. They would be subject to air attack by the formidable and ever-growing long-range Russian Air Force armed with missiles, and there would be a very considerable need to defend those convoys. We simply do not have the aircraft to do it. We do not even have the aircraft to defend our own front door, let alone the Atlantic. This is a disgraceful state of affairs, and I believe that tackling this problem is the highest priority for the incoming Government in a few weeks' or months' time.
I do not intend to say very much about the Army, but I shall say a little 134 about home defence. This is rather kept a secret, presumably because it is almost non-existent. Of course, the Russians know how weak we are, but our own countrymen do not.
We read on page 19 of the White Paper that 70 per cent. of the Army's forces would be deployed to the European mainland in the event of war. On that calculation, it seems that only 50,000 men would remain to defend the United Kingdom. To put that in context, there are 125,000 policemen in the country. To put it another way, there would be one soldier left in the country for every 1,000 civilians. That again is wholly inadequate. I hope that the new Government will turn their attention to this, especially as the Defence Sub-Committee has pointed out that there are tens of thousands of men available in the reserves and that no plan exists to mobilise them in an emergency.
During 1978, we saw the creation of what might be called "Fred's Phantom Army". In February it was announced with much publicity that 1,900 more men were to be recruited for the Army. In August a further 4,000 were to be recruited. What were those 6,000 men to do? They were to fill many roles. There were to be new infantry battalions, large numbers of men were to be sent to Northern Ireland to relieve the overstretch there, there was to be an additional battery for the commandos, foreign civilians in Germany were to be replaced with soldiers, and so on.
What is the fact? At the start of 1978 there were 163,000 men in the Army. At the end of 1978 there were only 158,000 men in the Army. We have not got 6,000 more soldiers as a result of the creation of this phantom army. We have 5,000 fewer. As the new units have been formed, one can only presume that overstretch in the Army is a great deal worse than it was a year ago. This is borne out by the continuing flood of men seeking to leave the Army, as with the other two Services. The statistics given by the Secretary of State today were not at all comforting. There may have been some slight reduction in the stream, but it is still a stream.
Skilled and highly trained men are bleeding away at a rate that the Services cannot continue to support. Premature 135 voluntary retirement has become one of the main problems, and when that is coupled with a failure to re-engage it becomes extremely hard to replace these skilled men by recruits. Recruits take a great deal of time to train to be brought to the level of those leaving, and they, in turn, are in danger of leaving for better-paid jobs in civilian life.
The more overstretched the Services become, the more they bleed. This is a vicious circle. The attitude of mind of the Government towards Service men is wrong. The Service man is appreciated a great deal more by the public than by the Government. The public know of the gallantry shown in Ulster. It is known that Service men, at the drop of a hat, are prepared to give up their Christmas to put out a fire in a neighbour's home, that they are prepared to take a member of the family away in an ambulance and that they are prepared to act as refuse collectors, generally doing these jobs for less than the men on strike. There is a complete lack of confidence in this Government among the Services, who year after year have suffered worse than anyone else. They will not have to wait much longer, for the whole question of confidence in the Government will be decided in the near future.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I hope that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks. I intend to intervene only briefly. I did so last year, and I wish to raise two specific issues that concern me. I would like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to page 48, paragraph 406 of the Defence Estimates, which says thatRe-equipment of the Air Cadet gliding schools with Venture self-launching gliders is continuing and should be completed by 1980".Taken on its face value, one considers that statement admirable. One is led to understand that the re-equipping of these schools is going ahead. But one has to consider the schools to which the document refers.
I have to put some facts to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he is aware of the situation. Gliding school 612, stationed at Debden, is closed and disbanded. Gliding school 613, at Halton, is almost dis- 136 banded and is doing virtually nothing. The detached flight at RAF Benson is doing very little and has been taken out of the London orbit. Gliding school 615, at Kenley, is now disbanded and there is no gliding. At gliding school 617, Manston, there is very little gliding, for a whole variety of reasons. At gliding school 623, Tangmere, there is no gliding. This leaves gliding school 618, where there are a tremendous amount of gliding and a large number of cadets. There is now a proposal for the airfield used by gliding school 618 to be sold and taken over by contractors for building. This means that that gliding school will be unable to continue gliding. I therefore draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that there will shortly be no gliding facilities for air training corps in London.
How can such a confident statement be made in the White Paper in the face of my list of gliding schools that have closed and one—618—that is due to close shortly? How are these schools being re-equipped? Have they been re-equipped? Is the Minister proposing to open them all shortly so that flying can take place?
My only other point relates to upholsteresses in the dockyards, a matter that first raised four years ago. In the defence debate last year, I again mentioned that 25 upholsteresses in the dockyards were being refused equal pay. The only Department of State that is refusing to give equal pay to such women is the Navy Department. It has refused to listen to me or to negotiate with my union. After many discussions, I have got nowhere. I raised the matter with the Department of Employment. The Secretary of State was extremely helpful and has tried desperately to get the Navy Department to see sense. Still there has been no success.
I have raised the matter in the European Parliament. This country has signed the protocol agreeing to equal pay for work of equal value, yet still no means has been found of forcing the Navy Department to pay the rate for the job.
We were originally talking about £4 a week for 25 women; with the passage of time, the figure is now about £8 a week. Yet still the Navy Minister refuses to do the honourable thing as a good employer.
137 I have tried to explain to the Minister, apparently without success, that these women are accepted in every other Government Department and in outside industry, that they do work of equal value, that they are entitled to, and elsewhere receive, equal pay.
It is sad that, year in and year out, not only in meetings with my own Government and in this Chamber but in the European Parliament, I have had to try to get my right hon. and hon. Friends to behave as decent employers. The Secretary of State has just re-entered the Chamber. He is a personal friend of mine, whom I hold in great esteem. The same applies to the other Ministers on the Front Bench. But now I have to say that enough is enough for me. I have done all I can to get the Department to see sense, but it has wilfully refused to do so. Therefore, unless there is some positive response, which I cannot believe will come, I shall be in the other Lobby from my right hon. Friend tomorrow night.
Now that I have spent four years seeking justice for 25 women, only to be met with the Department's refusal, we have come to the end of the road. If this is what they believe, I cannot go along with them. I have totally supported their policy over the years; I have been loyal to them. Oh, that the Navy Minister could have shown that sense of loyalty to me, that he could have done something for these women who have waited all these years for justice.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) was complimentary to the Secretary of State, but he should have remembered the Government's record on manpower. It is to this subject that I should like to turn the attention of the House. To get it into perspective, we should look back over the five miserable years that the Government have been in office. Happily we have now reached the end of the road with this the last debate on a defence White Paper under this Government.
The picture that we now see does not have much air or light about it. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. 138 Allaun) seemed to paint a red glow in it. I do not know whether it was a red sunset or a red dawn, but it seemed to have a tinge of pacifism about it, and it opened our eyes to the struggle that exists within the Labour movement on the question of nuclear and conventional armaments.
In 1975 the Government produced a defence review that was to formulate a strategy for defence over the following 10 years with an escalating pattern of defence cuts amounting to just under £10,000 million, a colossal sum by any standard. At that stage all the Service men involved looked at the whole picture and came to terms with it, recognising that the Government were there to govern for three to four years. They coped with the situation and settled down to it. Successive cuts were subsequently introduced, however, one implemented in 1975 just after the original review, three in 1976 and another in 1978. Herein lay a root cause of the manpower problems that exist in the three Services today.
Those cuts led to a great feeling of insecurity for jobs in the Armed Forces and outside. A large number of jobs have been lost. I wonder what the hon. Member for Salford, East would say to the work forces at the Leeds ordnance factory. They are in some difficulty and anxiety over the loss of the Iranian orders. I wonder what they would have to say to him, since his policy is to ensure that industries such as the industry in Leeds are run down, so that we may have socially acceptable production, bearing in mind that well over 1 million people are now unemployed. The hon. Gentleman is the chairman of the Labour Party. What prospects can he offer those people?
It is this insecurity both with jobs and on the question of promotion that, with a general job frustration, has built up over the past few years. I am referring to delays in the introduction of new equipment, problems over spares, and the general demoralising effect of a Government not able or prepared to stick to their strategy in the country's interests. This has culminated in intense anger over pay and allowances. Suspicion about the independence of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body quickly took root and led to a lack of recognition by Ministers of the position in which Service men find themselves.
139 This is one of the key areas in which I indict the Government for not having recognised the position of Service men. Service men's wives and families have been and remain very hard put to make ends meet. The Service men themselves have been overstretched—the Secretary of State referred to that factor.
The average number of ship hours spent at sea has risen. In 1957 it was 1,970. In 1967 it had already risen to 2,760, and in 1977 it reached 2,810. There has been a continuing and difficult amount of work for the Army in Northern Ireland. There has been a strain on the RAF for aircraft manning. All this has been done against the background of financial anxiety for our Service men, coupled with a sense of resentment that their case has not been properly heard, understood or recognised by Ministers.
In addition to these problems, Service men have been filling the gaps created by the firemen's strike and, now, the strike of ambulance men. This has exacerbated the feelings about and focused attention upon their pay shortfall compared with the pay of outside industrial workers.
Now we wait to see what the result will be from the Armed Forces pay review. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) said, the figures in the White Paper do not exactly spell confidence among Service men on the question whether they are to be given the sort of deal that they were supposed to have been promised by the Government. The result has been a massive exodus from the Armed Forces. The very people on whom we depend, the men with the skills that we need, have got up and gone from all three Services, in large numbers. We must commend those who have remained for their fine spirit, calibre, determination and dedication to the Services in very difficult circumstances.
It is the human element within the defensive structure that is most important. Wars are won by the skills, energy and leadership in the Armed Forces, and not by machines alone. We cannot win wars unless we have the people with the skills and the ability to win. The training in those skills is a very long process; it is certainly arduous and costly in many 140 instances. To lose men and women with such skills imposes a debilitating weakness on our defence capability. Such losses are immesenly costly to repair and may take years to replenish.
That situation translated into an industrial comparison would mean that the management was on the road to bankruptcy because the company was losing people who were creating the stability and wealth of the firm. No doubt, at the annual general meeting, the board of directors would be heartily ousted by the shareholders, given the voting strength. I believe that that is what will happen to this Government as surely as eggs are eggs when the time comes for a general election. The Government stand indicted on a charge of mismanagement of the nation's investment in defence and of incompetence in employee relationships. I leave it at that.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I intervene briefly because I am deeply concerned about the attitude taken by the Opposition. Sometimes I get the impression that they are roaring for a war when they start talking about building up our Armed Forces to the extent that they want when they are in Opposition, although that does not apply when they are in Government.
When we consider the pay of Service personnel, we should recall the record of the Conservatives years ago. Then, the pay of Service men was very low indeed. But one must bear in mind that their pay is sometimes as much as a country can afford. On the other hand, I believe that our Service men and women should be paid far better than they are. For example, if ever there was a special case, the Army's duty in Northern Ireland is one. Sometimes I wonder whether it is not the fact that the Army has that kind of battle to cope with that is holding back recruitment among many young people. The Army's task in Northern Ireland is a most difficult task for anyone. It is nothing like being at war. One does not know one's enemy or when one is going to be attacked. One has to wait until one is shot at—one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Sometimes I think that that sort of situation is a deterrent to many young people who would otherwise join the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
The hon. Gentleman will recall that, in the days of which he has spoken, the Services got free accommodation, for example, and that when the military salary was introduced by a Labour Government, Labour committed itself to keeping comparability. But the Government have not done so.
§ Mr. Wainwright
One can argue whichever way one likes, or whichever way the hon. Gentleman cares, but in the situation of years ago there is nothing to be proud of in the way that we paid our Armed Forces. We were glad of them in 1939, and we did not pay them so much then.
I pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for the contribution that he has made and for what he suffered during the last war. His contributions in the House have been exceedingly good and his chairmanship of the Sub-Committee is something of which we should be proud. He has carried out his duties and responsibilities during the last few months under a great handicap. One can only admire what he has done.
It is always difficult to get at the whole truth when making comparisons between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Those of us who live in NATO countries cannot criticise the evidence put forward by NATO. I wonder whether the people living in the Warsaw Pact countries and the USSR believe our figures. I confidently believe that we have enough firepower to prevent Russia from attacking this country. I do not think that the Soviets would dare to attack. They might have land forces which we might find difficult to counter, but a major war would be too terrible to think about. Russia knows that, and for that reason will not attack Europe.
Whatever comparison we make, I feel confident that, with the United States, we are far stronger than the Russians. Our back-up would be far greater, though there would be some difficulty because the United States is thousands of miles away. Although the United States has a great deal of strength here, its greatest strength is at home. That is a disadvantage, but I do not think that Russia will make the effort to attack this country.
142 When we talk of the arms build-up—which is spoken of so glibly by the Conservatives—we must bear in mind that as we build up, our so-called opponents will do the same. So it will continue. At some stage we have to say "Enough is enough." Bearing in mind our economic position, we are spending as much as we should spend on defence. The more we build up arms, the more the Warsaw Pact countries will build up arms. Fear and the wrong use of comparisons make us build up at too great and costly a rate.
I am no pacifist, but I respect the views of pacifists because of my fear of the outcome of a war. The genuine pacifist is entitled to his view. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East, (Mr. Allaun) is probably a genuine pacifist in his attitude to conflict and the present build-up of arms. I have no sympathy with anyone who is a one-sided pacifist, because that is entirely wrong.
As we watch the increase in the forces of the Soviet Union, we ask ourselves: why are they building up? What is Russia's fear of the future? Why should they fear us? We have no desire for war. The Soviets may think as we think, but when one examines what they are doing in the world one must take another view. They are causing more disruption than any other country. That is how the Soviet Union is using its power and influence.
An Opposition Member said that it was easy for the Russians to talk to dictators. I accept that, because Russia is a dictatorship. Many of the new Governments are dictatorships. It has always been easy for one dictator to talk to another. That was proved before the beginning of the last world war.
Why cannot we do more? Why cannot we get into the hearts and minds of other nations when help is required? I am not talking of help to build up arms or to create conflict, but help to improve standards of living. More could be done by the Western world.
We may be building up our forces too high and unnecessarily. But I agree that Britain must be strong enough at all times to help to defend itself. It cannot defend itself by itself. It must have the help of other countries and, therefore, we must make our contribution to NATO.
143 I am disturbed about the shortfall in our Armed Forces. They are being run down, not deliberately but because the outflow is greater than the inflow. That means that members of the forces believe that they are not being dealt with fairly.
When a young man joins the forces, he intends to begin a career. He may be disillusioned in the first few months, but many undertake to stay on for 7, 14 or 21 years. It is a great loss if he leaves after he has been fully trained. We should examine more carefully why young men wish to leave the forces. It is important that we do not spend money on training people to make up for those whom we lose because we do not look after them in a fair and just manner. An inquiry should be set up to examine why people leave the forces.
What is the difference in the rates of pay between our young men who serve on the Continent and the German, French and other young men serving there? Any difference in the rate of pay will cause disillusion, disappointment and disaffection. We now believe that our troops will receive a decent salary by 1980. But promises do not always materialise. Promises do not always remove dissatisfaction.
Are we capable of looking after our fishing rights and oil rigs? I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Defence the other day, but it was transferred to the Secretary of State for Energy. In the event of war, we should have to examine the present method of guarding our oil rigs and fishing areas.
I sometimes believe that our whole attitude towards defence is wrong. We believe that we must build up our defences all the time in order to protect ourselves against someone who is also building up. But when all is said and done, it is the leaders of nations who create war. It is not the people. The people do not want war and have no desire for war, unless their emotions are whipped up by their leaders. We should, therefore, concentrate on converting the hearts and minds of men to peace. We should do all that we can to bring about peace. But we must never forget that until there is greater understanding among mankind the defence of this country must be as good as is necessary to ensure that we can safeguard our own people.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The majority of speeches in the debate have looked out of the front door of the nation towards the world, especially Europe, and to Russia and the menace of Communism, but this House would do well to look at the back door. It should realise that the back door of this nation has been kicked in and that in Northern Ireland a serious threat to the whole security of the United Kingdom is developing.
It is all very well for hon. Members to concentrate—it is right for them to do so—on some of the larger issues, but it is an indictment of this Parliament, of this Government and of the previous Government that, after 10 years, four sobering paragraphs in this defence White Paper deal with a critical situation in part of the United Kingdom.
One would be terrified to think of a situation in which this nation would he plunged into war at the present time, when the back door of the nation has been kicked in and a successful guerrilla operation has been mounted and continues to gain momentum.
A sobering sentence in paragraph 231 of the White Paper states thatLargely as a result of the renewed bombing campaign at the end of 1978 the number of bombing incidents rose by some 18 per cent.".If one takes the months of this year, one will see how that bombing campaign has escalated.
Heretofore, although the IRA used mortar bombs, it did not do so successfully. But it was proved beyond a shadow of doubt the other night that it has now mastered the technique of mortar bombing. One has only to look at one of the villages in Northern Ireland to see the devastation that was caused when those mortar bombs rained down upon that village. My information from the security forces is that large consignments of mortar bombs and explosives are available to the IRA at the present time and that they will be brought into action in an escalation of this bombing campaign.
Much has been said about NATO, but we must remember that the Irish Republic is not a member of NATO. In the mortar bombing to which I referred, those responsible brought their weapons and their 145 bombs across the border, carried out their attack and slipped back over the border. Of course, that is all that we shall hear about the matter. Even if the police in the South were successful in making an arrest, those people could not be extradited to Northern Ireland in order to stand trial for their dastardly deeds.
In Northern Ireland the security and defence situation is serious. Last Wednesday I said in this House that Northern Ireland was in for a holocaust of bombing. I did not realise how quickly that would happen. The following night there were 32 bomb outrages right across Northern Ireland, which were specially and carefully planned. As yet no arrests have been made. If any part of the United Kingdom as large as Northern Ireland can have 32 bombs let off by terrorists in one evening, our security is in peril.
The attitude of the Government and this House before the last war was criticised today from both sides of the House. It has been said that they did not face the menace of Fascist Germany and tried to ignore the fact that it was building up military power. I have been a Member of this House since 1970, and it has conveniently turned a blind eye to the increasing peril to the defence of the nation. In 1970 it was said from both sides of the House that there was no such thing as the IRA and that it would not be a guerrilla war. Those of us who have followed the coffins of the victims, who sit in the homes of the bereaved, and who have this on our doorstep, and hon. Members who have had gallant members of the Army shot dead in Northern Ireland, know the stark reality of the situation.
As the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) said, what may be deterring young people in Scotland, England and Wales from joining the Army is the fear that they will be sent to Northern Ireland. There is no need for any young man from England, Scotland or Wales to fight the enemy in Northern Ireland. There are men in Northern Ireland who are prepared to do that job. It is the duty of the Government to see that young men from Ulster who are prepared to join the Ulster Defence Regiment are used to put down the menace of IRA activities. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) felt that the Royal Ulster 146 Constabulary should have the primary role. No hon. Member for Northern Ireland on the Opposition Benches would disagree. Troops have been withdrawn from Northern Ireland, and as that withdrawal increases there is a danger that the RUC will not have the equipment or manpower to fill the vacuum.
There has been a great cutback in the after-hours payment to the police and a direction that they cannot expect as much overtime as before. If the Army is withdrawn and the police are not allowed to work overtime, the RUC cannot fill that vacuum. In my area the police are stretched as a result of withdrawal by the Army. Every Opposition Member for Northern Ireland would like to see the RUC take the leading role in this battle, but that can take place only when the RUC has sufficient strength and sufficient armoury to do the job.
I add my voice to that of other hon. Members who have given the highest possible praise to the Army in Northern Ireland for the courage, determination and sacrifices of the men involved. These men work very long hours. In some parts of the Province their accommodation is frightening to behold. I visited an Army unit near the border some time ago and found that because of the situation in that area members of the Army had to live in the most appalling conditions. Also, in that part of South Armagh there is no social life whatsoever. These men felt cut off, isolated and very much alone, yet their morale and courage were strong and they were ready to answer the call of duty.
All decent-minded people of every shade of opinion in Northern Ireland will join me in paying tribute to the men in the Army in the Province. I do not speak only for Protestants; I also represent a large Roman Catholic population. We have proportional representation in our elections in Northern Ireland and we know how people vote. I pay tribute to the work done by the men in the bomb disposal squad. They defuse many terrifying bombs which could do untold damage to life and property. In doing this important task they take their life in their hands, and only the highest words of praise can be given to them.
All armies make mistakes. When such mistakes are made, the Army should face 147 up to them and the Ministers responsible should see that as far as possible those mistakes are not repeated. In doing that, they will make the Army more credible in the eyes of the whole population. This is a vital point, which needs to be hammered home in the debate today. There is a campaign in Northern Ireland to cast slurs and smears on all the forces of the Crown. It is an attempt to undermine the forces, because they are seeking to defend and maintain the lives of the people and the constitution of the land. The only way in which the IRA can effectively undermine the forces of the Crown is by its propaganda machine and through smearing the members of the security forces and the RUC. Therefore, I hope that when mistakes are made they will be investigated, the truth will come out and the errors will not be repeated.
I turn to the question of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The people of Northern Ireland are prepared to support it and the young men in the Province have been supporting it by joining it. However, the UDR must be seen to have the full confidence of the Government. Because it is an Ulster-recruited force it must not be treated differently. It must not be said that this regiment can engage in duties only in what are known in Army jargon as "Orange terrorities". The UDR must demonstrate that it can operate across the whole Province. It is ridiculous to say to a regiment of the British Army "You can go so far, but no further. You will not operate in that area because it is Republican. You are not acceptable there."
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that the Front Bench speeches are due to begin at 9.10 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
They will hardly begin at 9.10 tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because we have already reached that time. However, I shall not continue my remarks for much longer.
148 I agree with the right hon. Member for Belfast, East. I do not think that any regiment in Northern Ireland should be limited in its tour of duty in the Province. The UDR will be needed to back up the RUC. At the weekend there was a riot at Duncairn Gardens, where the police were able to contain the rioters only until the Army came to assist them. If the Army is to be withdrawn, we must see that the UDR is ready, able and permitted to work in all parts of the Province.
The House must realise that two ambassadors have already been done to death by IRA terrorists. It is likely that there will now be a mounting campaign. The defence of the nation is at stake when guerrilla warfare can be waged effectively in any part of that nation. It is the duty of this House and the Government to deal with the situation. It is surely an indictment of the White Paper that it contains only about four paragraphs on Northern Ireland. It emphasises the fact that the menace to our defence in that area is not being properly dealt with.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
I am glad to have this opportunity of addressing the House, albeit a few minutes later than expected because of the intervention of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I wish to echo the theme adopted by the hon. Gentleman.
I am happy to take part in this debate because I have the privilege of representing one of the prime garrison towns in this country. Therefore, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces, and particularly to those serving in Northern Ireland. I believe that no armed forces in the world other than our own could sustain the burdens of our forces in Northern Ireland. I refer not only to the Army and the Royal Marines, in Northern Ireland, but also to the tremendous efforts and courage of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment. I have had the privilege of going on patrol with both of these admirable units. I wholeheartedly endorse what has been said about their courage and dedication.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) also rightly paid a tribute to our Armed Forces. It was 149 very kind of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army to facilitate our recent visit to Northern Ireland. While we were in Northern Ireland, a vast store of explosives was discovered. The situation would have been even worse had that cache not been found. Those enormous quantities of explosives were made harmless by the courage of perhaps the most heroic of all the professionals serving in Northern Ireland—the bomb disposal units.
I do not believe that any forces but ours could do the job with such success. I agree that the success has been limited, but I sympathise with the view of the hon. Member for Antrim, North that there should be a more full and lengthy appraisal of the work of the Armed Forces and the RUC in the White Paper.
Therefore, I was glad of the opportunity to make this speech, first, to pay the tribute that I have paid to the courage of our Armed Forces, the RUC and the UDR in Northern Ireland, and, secondly, because the prospect of making this speech caused me to spend a considerable part of my weekend—in between constituency functions—examining past debates on defence and the Armed Forces.
All hon. Members would agree that a ritual on defence matters has developed. It is a ritual based on the tablets handed down from on high each year—the defence White Paper. In going through the past debates, I was saddened and made to feel nostalgic to read the speeches that were made year after year—they were interludes of wit and humour combined with profundity—by the former hon. Member for Clitheroe, the late David Walder. He always spoke briefly, even from the Front Bench. He obeyed the advice of the Texan oil magnate to politicians "If after 25 minutes you don't strike oil, stop boring". I also hope to obey that advice tonight.
Ritualistic though the debates have become over the years, I shall be a little controversial now. As one reads through successive White Papers since this Government came to power, one finds that they are schizophrenic documents. They start with setting out the deployment of the menace. Labour Members below the Gangway, the movers of the amendment, would do well to read those 150 parts of the White Paper in greater detail. They should look at the full deployment of the current balance in forces in central Europe, if they hold similar beliefs to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun).
The balance of power has been moving steadily against us. The response to it, almost invariably over the years in the White Papers, has been the further reduction of our forces. There is the element of schizophrenia in the documents because the deployment of forces is set out and then, right from the first White Paper that was produced by the Government, there has been a cutting down in our defence forces. There has, however, because of NATO pressure, been an easing of planned reductions.
Comments have been made in previous debates that there is a marked lack of information about the Government's ideas on the broad strategy of the NATO Alliance and strategy outside the Alliance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) made the point that there was not much profound strategic thought to be found in the White Paper. That point was also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice). We would like to see more strategic thinking outlined in the White Paper. That is the document on which the great defence debate is based.
The House would, for example, be glad of an analysis of the situation in the Mediterranean, particularly with reference to what is happening at its eastern and western ends. In the east, there is continuing tension between Greece and Turkey. An increase in the defence effort of our Italian allies has helped there, and the powerful presence of the American Sixth Fleet has assisted in maintaining a degree of stability. I visited the fleet a little while ago with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), whose speech we all enjoyed earlier in the debate.
The Government are in possession of the full facts, and there is no doubt that a detailed appraisal by a Minister is particularly needed, since the collapse of the Iranian regime has created a situation of great instability affecting not only the Gulf area but, in the view of most commentators—a view that I share—going 151 right through to the Eastern Mediterranean. That has significant repercussions. An analysis of the Government's thinking on the situation there in relation to Greece and Turkey and what has happened in Iran would be appropriate for a document of the character of the White Paper.
There is a strong case for saying that a powerful naval presence, through a group operation, is needed in that part of the Mediterranean in the near future. I hope that we shall be told whether that is a possibility. Group operations are mentioned in the White Paper. As a former Minister for the Royal Navy, I am particularly interested in such operations. I visited Stockholm last year in my capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Ombudsman and I was delighted to find a Royal Navy group operating there—a powerful guided missile destroyer, a frigate and submarines. Stockholm was full of British matelots, who were fine ambassadors to Sweden, though they were not helped by the fact that not only had they not had a pay increase for a long time but they were not receiving a cost of living allowance.
When our forces are deployed in group operations in places of high expense, they should receive a cost of living allowance. I hope that at some stage, even if we have to await the debate on the Royal Navy, a Minister will deal with that difficult problem. We ought to see that our forces are properly paid especially when they go to expensive places.
Going from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, I had hoped to see more in the White Paper about the situation in the Iberian peninsula. I hope that we shall be told what is the position in relation to Spain becoming a member of the NATO Alliance. It has been a matter of considerable gratification to us all to see that, touch wood, Spain has been steadily moving towards democracy. Perhaps this is the time for a step forward and for Spain to become a fully integrated member of NATO. It would have been appropriate for that possibility to have been dealt with, as strategy ought to be dealt with, in the White Paper.
There remains in our relationship with Spain the continuing difficulty over Gib- 152 raltar, although I have not heard so much about that problem from the Spaniards recently. Gibraltar is an area where we can effect what are called in defence jargon "low-cost or no-cost" improvements. It is wholly wrong that there is no missile or gun at Gibraltar to dominate the straits. That is ridiculous.
I spoke to the Premier of Gibraltar some time ago, and I know that he would have no objection to Exocet being set up there. We also have no mine-laying, or sweeping capacity centred on Gibraltar. That is an area on which we should concentrate, and I wish that there had been more about it in the White Paper. The White Paper should deal not just with the details but with the broad strategy of the whole of our worldwide scene.
The bare facts relating to Northern Ireland—that stricken Province—are outlined in paragraphs 230 to 234, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North pointed out. I think that there should be greater expansion of the difficulties encountered there. One of the lessons that I learnt from my last visit was the need for an initiative to get better across-the-border co-operation. I appreciate how difficult that can be, but it seems wholly absurd that there should be only a circuitous route in direct communications through to the Garda or to the Army in the South. I hope that the Minister will say something about that aspect when he replies to the debate. I feel that there should be a diplomatic offensive to improve across-the-border co-operation. It is highly frustrating for our defence forces, having got terrorists on the run, to have to stop at the border while the terrorists are able to slip across and get away.
I share the total condemnation of the IRA, so redolent in what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. What amazes me is that some people should get sentimental about the IRA, as exemplified in a programme which some of us saw on BBC television fairly recently. The IRA is a terrible organisation. One of its methods of disciplining even its own people is to use a Black and Decker drill on the kneecap or to shoot the kneecap or the tendons at the back of the knee. It is a dreadful organisation. It is gratifying that more and more people in Ireland now realise that it is a terrible organisation.
153 I should like to deal with as many as possible of the contributions which have been made on both sides of the House. After the Secretary of State's speech, the hon. Member for Salford, East moved his amendment. I am sorry that he is not in his place. I hope that he will forgive me for mentioning him in his absence. I anticipated that, as the mover of the amendment, he would be here. It amazed me that he could suggest that the Opposition were pursuing a policy that war was inevitable. The hon. Gentleman makes some remarkable comments in this House from time to time. Some are wholly absurd. But he never made a more absurd comment than that. I do not think that anyone on the Government Front Bench would suggest that the policies which we wish to pursue are in any way based on the premise that war is inevitable. The policies put forward by the Opposition are designed to secure proper protection and to ensure that a balance is maintained so that war does not break out. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, even with his extraordinary views on defence matters, would have appreciated that.
We then had the admirable contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion. He reiterated the point that I have already made, that there should be far more in the White Paper about strategy. It should deal with the broad issues. Similarly, he called for a recasting of NATO. I have much sympathy with that view. I think that an incoming Government will have to consider whether they should initiate a diplomatic initiative relative to NATO's geographical guidelines, which no longer make real sense. We shall probably have to carry out some conversion work on some of our allies in this respect—the Scandinavian countries and so forth. NATO, ideally, should be a defence shield for the whole of the free Western world. Therefore, the geographical guidelines no longer make a great deal of sense.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) made a slightly surprising speech. I am sorry not to see him in his place. I had not notified him that I should be referring to him, but I anticipated that he would be here. He showed surprise that our top priority should be 154 defence. It seemed wholly remarkable that the hon. Gentlemen should express surprise about that. But at least we got, as we have in former years, a certain amount of sense from the hon. Member. He made the point strongly that the Soviets were carrying on an expansionist policy, and his assessment was one of which his hon. Friends below the Gangway should take cognisance. He gave additional credence to the tables in the White Paper illustrating the build-up of Soviet forces.
Then we had an interesting contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson). He made a fair point, in that in my view it might be a good idea to look again at the allocation of the available money between the various Armed Forces. With a name like Nelson, however, and with my being a former Minister for the Royal Navy, I do not think that my hon. Friend can expect too much support from me for the proposition that the Royal Air Force should at once get a bigger share of the cake. We shall want to be in full possession of the facts before we decide that. But at least there is an argument that there should be a sensible discussion about the balance between the Armed Forces.
My hon. Friend gave a very wise warning about the fact that, relative to the Warsaw Pact countries, strategic superiority was, as he put it, on the horizon. Again, he warned about the dangers of there being agreement on the limitation of intercontinental ballistic missiles with no such limitation on the shorter range missiles.
Then came the contribution of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams). He spoke of the nuclear parity and called for a full debate on the flexible response. I noticed with interest his hesitation about the cruise missile. But I was gratified to discover on the Government Benches a firm and stated believer in the maintenance of our own independent deterrent. Without it, any Government would he very much weakened, as has been said by great men who have graced the Labour Front Bench in the past and who spoke of sending us naked into the debating chamber, and so on. If there were any marked change in the balance, the security of the world could be destroyed.
155 We had a most interesting contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East, who spoke of the creeping success of Soviet policy. He is probably in a better position than almost anyone to warn us of the dangers in the unlikely but nightmarish thought of there being another Labour Administration with the Left taking control, resulting in the cuts in defences being even more horrific than they have been.
§ Mr. Buck
A feeble cry of "Rubbish" comes from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, but he knows that the menace of the Left is there.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) made a wholly predictable contribution. However, he is not here, so I shall not bother to deal with what he said. If he has not the courtesy to be present for the winding-up speeches, the nonsensical matters which he put before the House can remain on the record for others to read without further comment from others.
Then we had an interesting contribution from the Liberal Bench. However, as it is now empty and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is not present, I shall not bother to deal with his strange intervention either. I have already mentioned the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, who paid tribute to the Armed Forces serving in Northern Ireland. It was also refreshing that he should pay tribute to the United States, which we take too much for granted. There is undoubtedly a feeling almost amounting to loneliness in the United States. When I went with my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth on the aircraft carrier, there was great lamentation that we were going out of the aircraft carrier business as developments such as the catapult and the angled deck were invented by us. It is right that tribute should be paid to our United States allies who maintain so much of the viability and force of NATO.
We heard a contribution from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who will be sorely missed in future debates. He has made an enormous contribution to thinking about defence matters in this House. It was 156 good to hear his contribution, which contained a great deal of wisdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth pointed to the fall in manpower, which is a wholly valid point, and called, as I have been calling, for a survey of the world scene.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) talked about gliders. I do not intend to comment on his speech, although his point about dockyards seemed valid. I would have liked to see the White Paper give a closer analysis of the situation in the dockyards. I made this point last year. I hope that it will be noted. The dockyards are heavy employers of labour and considerable spenders of money. A separate document might be considered dealing with them in some detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), in an admirable speech, highlighted the manpower situation.
As always, this has been an interesting and useful debate although slightly ritualistic. It is gratifying to those on this side of the House that it will be the last debate of this character presided over by Ministers of Defence of the Labour Party.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his schizophrenic reading of the White Paper. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy will give some thought to his most debatable schizophrenia tomorrow if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye.
Before turning to points that have been raised by hon. Members during this debate, I would like to make some general observations of my own.
This is the sixth defence debate that I have attended as Army Minister and I have also taken part in four Army debates during that time. In the course of these debates I have come to appreciate why, in parliamentary terms, the title of Ministry of Defence is so apt. It is an easy target both for those whose natural aversion to war tends to blind them to the realities that still require armies to train for defence and deterrence and also for those who see the threats in very 157 simple terms—perhaps too simple—and imagine that the answers are equally simple. Certainly, their responses are simple-minded, almost Pavlovian.
Let me take the disarmers first. Some of the realities which they tend to ignore or to belittle are set out for all to see in the White Paper we are debating today. I refer, of course, to the figures giving details of the increase in Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces over recent years. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) said last year in the defence debate that the country that arms itself beyond what is required for its defence sooner or later likes to exercise that power. I shall be saying more about the lion. and gallant Gentleman later.
I do not have to share that view of the military psychology to find it disturbing that the increases noted in the White Paper are increases in forces which already outnumbered NATO forces in Europe, for, while we prepare in the hope that our preparations will never be tested in battle, we cannot ignore recent events in the rest of the world which demonstrate that resort to arms is still a grim reality, regardless of the political ideologies of the countries concerned.
It would be nice to imagine, too, that we could beat our swords into ploughshares and our tanks into tractors, but it is not that simple. With 1.4 million unemployed, we have reason to be grateful that defence industries provide jobs for 270,000 people directly and about the same number indirectly—a total of about 500,000 jobs. I have yet to meet a Member of Parliament who advocates closing down a defence plant in his own constituency. Defence spending generates more employment pound for pound than any other form of private and public spending, because a smaller proportion leaks into imports—so let no one use defence spending as an excuse for our poor economic performance.
But Opposition Members also suffer from an inability to face reality. In Opposition they find it easy to suggest to the Government how to improve our defences. Their answer to an increased air threat to these islands is simple—more air defence aircraft and more missiles. More Soviet tanks in Eastern Europe? Why, then, we need more Chieftains in 158 BAOR, and more anti-tank weapons. More Soviet submarines? Then we need more frigates for the Royal Navy. All these were suggested by Opposition Memmers during last year's defence and separate Service debates, and have been suggested again today.
In addition, there were calls for more Polaris submarines, greater war reserves, a revised and expanded civil defence organisation, greater parachute capability, more research, new measures for offshore protection and, of course, more manpower and improvements in both pay and conditions of service. We heard similar suggestions today. They all have one thing in common: they cost money. Last year, the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) mentioned the need for an increase of at least £1,400 million in the defence budget. Even the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), then an Opposition spokesman, recognised thatThis inevitably requires the commitment of substantially greater resources to defence." —[Official Report, 14 March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 351.]Let them say where all this extra money would come from, bearing in mind that theirs is a party committed to reducing public expenditure and that theirs was the Government who imposed arbitrary defence cuts in 1973. It is when I hear Opposition Members running up their fantastic bills for all forms of new equipment in response to the slightest change in the threat as seen by Lord Chalfont and his ilk that I begin to see why some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway are so concerned about an arms race.
It is easy to spend freely in opposition, when one does not have to worry about limited real resources, the length of production lead times, the need to produce equipment that will have an economic in-service life and not be made obsolescent by next year's technological development, or the need to man all this equipment. Perhaps it is just as well that the Tories will not have to see their grandiose plans collapse in the face of the realities of Government for some time yet.
We can never be satisfied with our level of defence. In one way it will always be more than we would wish, since we wish for peace; in another way it will always be too little while a potential enemy has superior resources. None the less, I 159 believe that this Government have succeeded in putting our defence policy on a sound long-term basis, and, without giving way to the panic of Opposition Members, have in company with their NATO allies allotted a prudent increase in our budget in response to the increase in the Soviet threat.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Is the Minister implying that he, as the Minister responsible, is satisfied with the pay and allowances that the men in the Army, for instance, are getting?
§ Mr. Brown
It was a mistake to have given way. I shall come to the question of pay and allowances later.
I want to pay a tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye. He said that at the time of the Korean war he was in the Territorial Army and he was afraid that he might be called up and sent to Korea. Having suffered incarceration by the Japanese for three and a half years during the Second World War, he told his wife at that time that if ever he was reported missing again she was to make up her mind that he would be dead, because he would take a general-purpose machine gun and kill as many of the enemy as he could before he was killed. It was a great blessing that he was not called up at the time and sent to Korea. He would have been a tragic loss to the House of Commons. The work that he has done as Chairman of the splendid Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee has been of great value to the House, and I am sure that the House will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement when the time comes.
I visited Belize after the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Sub-Committee went there. I can report that the troops out there were greatly impressed by the interest and the knowledge displayed on military matters by all members of the Sub-Committee.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked whether the 3 per cent. increase would continue. A similar increase is planned for 1980–81. The figures for 1981–82 and 1982–83 shown in the public expenditure White Paper, Cmnd. 7439, represent the revaluation to 1978 prices of the 1981–82 figures shown in the previous White Paper. Consequently, these figures 160 are provisional. No decision has been taken about the defence budget for these years.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also asked about thermal insulation. The programme has been accelerated with the aim, as explained in the statement on the Defence Estimates for 1979, to complete the work by the end of March 1980. I have every hope that this date will be met. Other improvements are in hand, and modernisation of single accommodation is proceeding as quickly as possible.
In today's debate we saw demonstrated by the Opposition again and again the same attitudes of unreality as we have seen in the past. The speech by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) was a fine example. There were just two points in it with which I agreed. First, I naturally share the expression of gratitude by the right hon. Member and the House for the work of all the members of the Armed Forces.
Secondly, I am inclined to agree that the right hon. Gentleman's policy is much more interesting than ours. After all, a total mystery is always more fascinating than a straightforward policy planned on the basis of economic and political reality. The right hon. Gentleman referred disparagingly to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as having held all the high offices of Government and as having been a failure. Unlike my right hon. Friend, the right hon. Gentleman has held only one high office in which, by his own yardstick, he was a complete failure.
§ Mr. Brown
It took a Labour Government in 1975 to put right the forces' pay problems caused by his Government and his stewardship as the Secretary of State by resolving to put them to the top of the pile with a 30 per cent. increase. The right hon. Gentleman also showed his complete failure to understand the workings of the cash limits system, as was shown by his comments on the provision of 5 per cent. for forces' pay.
Since the Armed Forces Pay Review Body—which, as the House knows, is entirely independent of the Government—has not yet reported, we have no means 161 of knowing what level of increase it will recommend, and therefore no means of knowing how much the forces will receive, or the cost to the defence budget. For the current round of pay policy, therefore, we included in our Estimates an increase of 5 per cent. over and above the already promised 9½ per cent., in line with the then pay policy.
For those Service men and women earning less than £70 a week, the provision in the Estimates is rather greater than 5 per cent.—up to £3.50 in line with the Prime Minister's statement in the debate on 16 January. This is a perfectly sensible arrangement. It would have been improper to try to anticipate the review body's judgment by forecasting what it might recommend and making provision accordingly, as this would simply have been guesswork. It would have been neither fair nor reasonable.
This leads me to the question of pay and manpower. On the subject of pay, I am sure that I do not need to repeat the Government's firm commitment to restore full comparability by 1980. Nevertheless, I do so. I underline it once more. I add that I expect the AFPRB report to recommend a substantial increase this year, which will compare very favourably with recent settlements in civil life.
Many alarmist claims have been made about Service manpower problems, and I welcome the opportunity to put these into their proper perspective. First, let me say openly that there is a problem—
§ Mr. Jim Spicer(Dorset, West) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
No, I shall not give way. I have too many points to answer.
Let me say openly that there is a problem, and that if it were to continue over a long period it would have very serious consequences indeed. That is why the Government sounded a warning note in the section on personnel in this year's White Paper. But, the Government having admitted that there is a problem, I believe that there has been an attempt by the Opposition and certain sections of the press to exaggerate it for cheap political advantage.
I said that I wanted to put the problem in perspective; these are the facts. 162 Recruiting this year is up, although still less than we would wish, given the high targets, especially for the Army, which is to be expanded by 6,000 men. The overall number leaving the Services has not altered significantly over the last few years. What has changed is the higher proportion of premature voluntary retirements, which result in the loss of more of the experienced and skilled men whom we would expect to serve longer.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer rose—
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) has just shown his face, although the debate has been going on for six hours. I am not giving way to him. The hon. Gentleman has just come in. It is an impertinence to ask me to give way to him when he has only just arrived in the Chamber.
The skill to which I have referred is difficult to replace, and if the trend continues it will be very serious for the forces. But there are grounds for optimism. The figures are certainly no worse than last year's, and the overall officer applications for premature release are beginning to fall. I believe that the very substantial pay award that I expect the forces to receive shortly will set this trend into reverse.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong, I believe, to think that this problem is entirely to do with pay. It is also, in part, a reflection of wider changes in society, where there is much greater job mobility amongst skilled men than in the past. There is also a growing tendency for wives to go out to work—something that is often much more difficult in the Services; and, whilst the turbulence associated with the defence review and Army restructuring is largely over, there will always be more turbulence in the Services than in civil life, especially while the Northern Ireland commitment continues. So I am afraid that the Services may have to learn to live with the fact that, in future, fewer skilled men will wish to 163 make the Army their sole career than in the past.
The right hon. Gentleman criticised our equipment standards in a very ill-informed manner.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer rose—
§ Mr. Brown
No. I shall not give way.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should consult his hon. Friend the Member for Stretford, to whom I have had to explain, almost in words of two syllables, repeatedly over the past year, that the only tanks in mothballs are those in the war maintenance reserve—that is, tanks that would be required only in war to replace battle losses.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to shortages of spares in BAOR, particularly in respect of tanks. In an organisation as large as the British Army, some shortages are bound to occur from time to time as a result of design problems or manufacturing difficulties.
§ Mr. Brown
No. I shall not give way. Let me finish this point. There is no general shortage of spares in BAOR. Temporary problems are tackled as they arise and are overcome by prompt management. Difficulties have been experienced, for example, in meeting spares requirements for the CVR(T) range due to poor deliveries from industry, but it would be totally unacceptable to allow as many as half an armoured regiment's tanks to be made immobile as the right hon. Gentleman said. Such shortages as have occurred have been made good without impairing either the training programme in BAOR or BAOR's operational efficiency.
§ Mr. Churchill
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has made the most outrageous statement about the calibre of 164 men in the Armed Forces? Is he not also aware that the thing that really differentiates Britain's Armed Forces from those of other countries is the very high level of skill? Is he now saying that we must make do without these skills in the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force? Is that' his policy?
§ Mr. Brown
That statement proves my lack of wisdom in giving way to the hon. Gentleman. When he speaks of outrageous statements, he really knows about them. There is no greater authority in this Chamber on outrageous statements than the hon. Member for Stretford. If he reads my words tomorrow in Hansard, he will see that he is grossly misrepresenting what I said.
The right hon. Gentleman is not alone in his ill-informed criticism. His colleague the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) recently made a speech in the United States in which he made several quite untrue allegations. I am particularly sorry that he chose to display his ignorance abroad, where it can only serve to denigrate the efficiency and effectiveness of our Services. The hon. Member is reported to have said that the introduction of Milan and Tow had been delayed. The House has repeatedly been told that the delivery rate of Milan has been accelerated. This was clearly stated in the 1978 defence White Paper and I myself told the House over a year ago that the rate of deployment of Milan in 1978 would be double that originally planned.
As the 1978 defence White Paper also made clear, the decision to buy Tow brought forward by two years the date at which an improved helicopter-mounted anti-tank guided weapon would be available to the Army. There has been no delay in this programme, and firing trials of the weapon from Lynx will start this year. The right hon. Member also criticised the mobility of the infantry. Let me remind him that the FV 432 vehicle is in service as an armoured personnel carrier and that progress on its successor—MCV 80—has been described in successive Defence White Papers.
The House will have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us how much he would spend on defence. All he could find to say in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. 165 Allaun) was that he would not say until he had seen the books—in other words, he has no idea yet.
The theme of my speech has been the realities of defence. Facing the realities of Britain's defence in the 1970s has been the theme of this Government's defence policy from the defence review onwards. Our posture, our plans and our equipment now form a sound basis on which to build our security for the future. It seems as though this debate could be something of an end-of-term report—although possibly a few months prema- 166 ture—in which case the verdict should be "Has made steady progress this term. We expect even better things next term ".
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.